MEMBER PROFILE FOR Kraft

Total Reviews: 17
Average Overall Score Given: 7.63529 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 4732

Reviews
Beautiful Katamari

Overall: Very rarely can you sum up an entire game into a three-word phrase, but I think I've managed to do it this time. Beautiful Katamari: Rollin' crap up. Usually such brief summaries are requisite to puzzle games, like Tetris: Stackin Blocks. Or older game like Asteriods: Shoot Rocks! But please don't let the short misnomer deter you because never has rolling crap up into a ball been so entertaining.

For some reason there is something oddly addicting about adding things to an object to see just how big you can make it. I'm sure we all at some point had a rubber band ball as a kid. Pee-Wee even had his giant foil ball. This is a lot like those except without the chance of popping yourself in the eye with a weak rubber band or getting sent to jail for indecent exposure at an adult theater. Yes, 360 owners now have a way to indulge themselves in the Katamari series that Playstation owners have been enjoying for years now.

Gameplay: For those of you who are uninitiated in the realm of Katamari crap-rolling, it's a fairly easy concept. You start with a little ball (presumably made of ticky-tack covered with super glue) and begin rolling it around in an effort to collect stuff. At first you'll be grabbing tiny things like toothpicks and coins but by the end of the game you will be ripping countrys, continents and even planets from their foundations to add to your conglomerate m@!%#*! of oddities.

The plot behind Katamari games have always been asinine at best. You play the prince of all cosmos, an acorn sized son of the King of all cosmos. The basic plot has always been the King does something that destroys half the universe and it is your job to roll up big balls of stuff for him to turn into new planets, stars, satellites and such. Honestly the plot doesn't really matter because the King is about as coherent as a sugar-deluged kid with ADD who accidentally dropped some acid. Very quicky you will byp@!%#*! the plot all together to get more gameplay in.

Each level has a time limit, size goal and side goal for you to accomplish. Usually you get about 2-7 minutes to do all the damage you can. The goals vary from stage to stage. When you are rolling up a new saturn your job is to collect as many ring-shaped objects as possible. The sun you roll has to contain lots of objects with 'energy'. So on and so forth. At the end of the level you get a point rating that factors in your size and how well you collected what was asked of you.

Graphics: Graphically the game is very, very mediocre for a 360 game. It may be on par with what you would expect out of a Live Arcade game, but for shelling out 40 dollars it doesn't seem like they did much to upgrade. All the objects in the game look like they were built from legos and smoothed over with a bit of wax. Animation is practically nonexistant and it seems that none of the 360's advanced power was utilized for anything special such as extend draw distance or more onscreen objects. Of course to Beautiful Katamari's defense I will say that the quirky graphics are kinda what adds the charm to this very Japanese game.

Audio: The soundtrack is where this game really shines though. From J-Pop to Acid Jazz, if you looked at the soundtrack on paper it would make absolutely no sense and seem like a mish-mash of non-compatible styles... but for some reason in game it works together well. Unfortunately the sound is metaphorically crapped on by some very harsh, repetetive and obtrusive sound effects. The worst part of it is you will eventually start rolling things into your katamari that are making these sounds hand have to listen to them over and over until you roll enough more stuff to bury them.

Suggestions: So is this game worth buying? Depends really. Have you played any Katamari game before? If you have I would give a definate 'no'. Being a Katamari veteran I burned through the entire game in about 2 and a half hours. There is a little replay value if you factor in trying to max all your point values for every level but the game gets very repetetive while doing this. There is an online multiplayer aspect but it is weak and not much fun at best. You do a 1 on 1 challenge to try to roll things up and can ram the other player to knock collected objects off of them. While this sounds fun in theory your katamari doesn't actually grow so the gameplay seems rather restricted. They could have made it more fun by having a 4-player arena for a Hungry Hungry Hippos type of gameplay but alas, this didn't happen.

Of course if you haven't played Katamari this may be a fun game to indulge in. Being only 40 dollars may make it worth it as new players will have a bit more of a learning curve and in turn get some more playtime out of it. But even still most may find it better as a rental as it is still an exceedingly short game no matter how you look at it. Either way, whether you buy it or rent it Beautiful Katamari is worth checking out for the sheer quirkyness of it.

Happy Crap Rollin'

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 ESPN NFL 2K5

Overall: At first you have to wonder exactly what Sega was thinking. 19.99? Are they really that hurting for ESPN game support that they have to go the Nintendo route of things and slash prices like it's going out of style? But after you get your hands on this game, and think about it for a while, it all becomes crystal clear. To start off with, Madden had one huge advantage this year: they started supporting Xbox Live. What that means is that Sega doesn't have that near-stranglehold on the Xbox market that they have enjoyed and needed to do something about it. To just say they 'did something about it' is quite the understatement.

If Sega and EA were not companies but actual people, then Sega just grabbed EA, spun them around, bent em over and stuck it to them hard with what is quite possibely one of the best football packages ever to grace a video game system. While diehard Madden fans will sit there and try to argue the same old things (the physics in Madden are better! Madden has a better franchise mode!) those of us who play both games regularly know that if there is a difference, it is negligible by this point. Even if all of the 'madden is better' stuff were actually true, it is blatantly obvious that ESPN = more bang for the buck... much more.

Last year the ESPN license did some nice things for Sega's sports lines. Throwing ESPN into the mix of an already decent and steadily improving game could only mean good things. Last year ESPN delivered plenty of eye and ear candy providing Sega with a game that was not only fun to play, but was fun to watch as well. No longer were the days of extremely repetetive commentary and boring cutscene, ESPN brought about good verbal audio and their signature 'glamour' fillers. This year takes that aspect of the ESPN license and runs with it like Faulk breaking through the secondary towards the endzone. This game is stupid fun to not only play, but to just sit back and enjoy. Honestly I could turn on a sim, crack a beer and watch it for an hour... which is something I haven't been able to do with a game since DOAXBV. It's honestly something which needs to be seen to be believed. As far as the overall presentation, ESPN just layed a backhand across Madden's face and is now forcing Madden to wear women's dresses in public. It's that awesome.

Gameplay: Since Sega brought its NFL series to the Xbox, Sega fans have always known that the mechanics have always been great. Sega football has been a joy to play since day one and every year they have improved upon this. This year is no exception. We see the return of many of the great systems that have been implemented, such as Maximum Passing, Hot Routes and other gameplay systems. The big one that has been added this year is the Maximum Tackle system. This is a two fold system that can benefit you both on offense and defense.

On the offensive side the way it works is if someone wraps you up for a tackle you can frantically press the A button to try to break loose of the tackle, or at the very least milk out and extra yard or two before the defender brings you down. At first I was a little worried that this was bringing a 'button mashing' feel to the game that I wasn't anxious to see. But then I realized that when I am 3 and 2, and get wrapped up a yard from a first down, I am usually mashing the hell out of buttons anyways, so with this system it is actually going to do something for me now!

The defensive side is a little more straight forward: Maximum Tackle lets you use two different kinds of tackles. The first one is the classic textbook wrap-up. When you wrap the runner or qb up you have a good chance of bringing them down, but they might be able to get a few extra yards before they hit the turf. The other tackle is a power tackle. This tackle will stop them dead in their tracks, but the negative side is this tackle is easier to avoid. The power tackle ends up being a judgement call, if you think you have the runner figured out, get ready to nail him with a pad cracking dive... else you might want to think about doing the whole wrap-up thing.

One thing that appeared last year and made another return is the First Person mode. I'm not sure why, but this isn't really advertised much on the literature for the game, even though Sega thought it fit enough to bring back for another year. I must admit, playing a football game in first person is pretty cool... but ends up being extremely difficult. While this is most likely the case in real life (if it wasn't hard then everyone would be in the NFL) I found myself only able to play so much before I got tired of not seeing my defenders and my pockets collapsing to the outside blitz and not knowing to try and evade. The mode is cool, none the less and it is nice having yet another option in the game.


Graphics: From the home theater technical aspect this game is a beauty. For all you video nuts, you will be happy to know that ESPN supports 720p so you can milk the visuals for all they are worth. On the other end, the audiophiles will wet themselves to the Dolby 5.1 encoding. While 5.1 really isn't necessary for a football game, it really adds some life to the atmosphere and brings us closer to the realization of all games supporting this standard.

As if all this wasn't enough, Sega decided to laden this game with even more features that will draw out the life of this product. A big one is the 'Crib' feature. If you haven't seen or heard of this feature before, here is the lowdown: You have a house, and earn points to pimp it out. Points are earned for a variety of reasons, meeting team goals, franchise goals, player goals, even for such things as exploring the menu systems. As your points wrack up you can buy things for your crib (furniture, games, bobble head dolls) or even add stuff to the game itself (unlock cheats, buy new soundtracks, buy mini-games). Think of cribs as the EA 'card system' but not nearly as stupid and as boring as collecting trading cards.

As funny as it is, one of my favorite features thus far is the ability to edit stadium soundtracks. You can take music that you've ripped to your xbox, and select clips from it to accompany many of the things that will happen in the game. For instance, when the other team intercepts the ball you will hear Jack Black come over the loudspeakers and yeall "F**k you, you f**king b**ch!". Or I can score a touchdown and the other player has to listen to the Bloodhound Gang tell them to 'Kiss me where it smells funny!'. This feature is golden and adds that much more personality to this game.


Audio: At this point I haven't even touched Xbox Live. There is soooo much to do on my own that playing against someone else has yet to even interest me until I unlock more stuff for my own amusement. With a price like this, though, I seriously doubt anyone is gonna have trouble finding a game vs. anyone else. Live, as with many other games, is going to add major playtime to this title, at least until 2k6 rolls around!

So Madden has finally gone Live, but is that going to be enough to compete with this 20 dollar piece of gold? I seriously doubt it. Madden will still get support from the long-term die-hard fans, but with a marketing strategy like this it is not hard to imagine Sega converting quite a few EA loyalists into their camp. The only thig we have to wonder about now is if this will bring a new trend in price chopping to our yearly sports titles... or you could not think about this and go get yourself a copy of this game as quickly as you can!

The Scores:

Visual: 4.5 out of 5 While the presentation gets a 5 out of 5, there does seem to be occasional frame stutters outside of the actual gameplay. I'm not too sure but it doesn't seem like a flying ESPN logo should really tax the Xbox enough to make it stutter

Sound: 5 out of 5 Commentary, top notch. Sound options, the same. Sports games have always been notorious for crappy repetetive commentary and lackluster music, but this is no longer the case. And as Pepsi would say, ESPN's sound is the choice of the new generation.

Gameplay: 4.6 out of 5. While the gameplay is steadily improving, there are still a few quirks. For instance: in any mode above pro you will get intercepted so many times it isn't funny. The defender could be running with his back to the QB then suddenly spin around, jump and intercept a pass he wasn't even looking at. While this does happen every once in a while in real life, the frequency it happens in this game gets to be ridiculous

Overall: 4.8 out of 5. ESPN 2K5 is the total package backed by a killer price. If you have any interest at all in football it would be a mistake not owning this game. Screw renting it, you will have paid for a 1/4th of the game already. Go pick it up.

See you all on the gridiron,
Kraft

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance II

Sequels to things that are surprise hits: its usually not a very pretty story. Surprise hits usually mean one thing, and that is that someone lucked out when making it. Now and again a person will stumble on a great element without even realizing it which launches their game into the limelight surpassing all public expectations. Nobody knows this better than Black Island Studios after their Baldur?s Gate: Dark Alliance was heralded as one of the best RPGs of the year by many sites.


Now keeping in mind that no one expected it to be as good as it turned out, my doubts were running high for the sequel. The hype behind it was starting to vaguely remind me of the hype behind Matrix: Reloaded after The Matrix movies' initial success... and we all know how that one turned out. So when I got a copy of Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 to review my hopes were high, but I was also ready for the worst. A long story short, I was not disappointed!


For those not familiar with the Baldur's Gate style of gameplay, imagine the fun hack and slash world of Blizzard's Diablo series and mix in a much deeper roleplaying element. It ends up being a real time action game with some great RPG elements stirred into the mix. To start out with you have 5 classes to select from, a warrior, wizard, cleric monk or a rogue. Each character will start out with different physical attributes as well as a few different innate skills that can be used in and out of combat. As you venture through the world you will gain experience from killing all the baddies and level your character up. Each time you level you are rewarded with skill points that you can spend on a vast array of skills, character improvements and spells. When I say vast I am not kidding as it took me a good 10 minutes just to flip through them all and see what they did before I finally decided what I wanted to start spending my points on.


It is quite apparent that strategy guides for this game will be sought out as there is a lot of different things you can do with a character. My first character was a warrior and I was faced with a lot of decisions right off the bat. Did I want to specialize in one handed weapons or two? What's more important, total hit points or hit point regeneration speed? Should I invest in more defensive abilities or go stronger attack abilities to kill things faster? Most likely the configuration I am playing isn't the best one and there are many better ways of doing it. On the other hand even with my less than perfect configuration this game is still a blast to play. Three difficulty settings give this game a lot of replay value as well as provide a very easy learning curve for people new to the game series. Finding the Easy mode to be a walk-through? Go ahead and start over on the Normal mode and go to town!


Along with the depth of the normal game Black Island Studios decided to add a feature that is booming in the RPG genre: item creation. When Diablo 2 was released it brought with it the grand idea of customizing weapons by placing runes in the hilt for different attributes. Soon other games like Everquest had tradeskills allowing you to create items from scratch. Baldurr's Gate has followed suit by allowing you to create items in game with pieces of stuff you collect. In the pre-release manual there is already a big list of all the gems and runes that are available, what attributes they will provide and what different kinds of armors there are along with armor class and damage modifiers. While not something that was imperative to making the new Baldur's Gate a good game, it definitely helps add even more life to the gameplay and gives players a little something extra to try if they are so inclined.


One thing about Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 that makes it such a pleasure to play is the amazing graphics. There really isn't anything new and innovative to the graphical setup; it is a standard 3/4 overhead view which is becoming the set standard for games of this type. Where the greatness comes is the attention to detail. Beautiful textures, smooth framerate and fluid graphical effects give this game a smooth polished shine. There is a wide variety of levels from forests, to indoor mansions, pretty much anywhere you could ever think to swing an axe or cast a spell is in this game.



The actual stylings of the graphics themselves are quite akin to what we have seen in other 3/4 overhead games such as Hunter: The Reckoning. Since there is no scenery flying by you there was a lot more work put into the overall ambience of the atmosphere. Cool little nuances here and there, such as light filtering in through a window, water rippling as you step through it and more really give this game a splendid touch.

One other problem that was overcome is the fact that games like this can often have bad camera problems as items and enemies are obscured around corners until it is too late. It didn't take much to fix this, all they did was give full camera control to the player. The right analog stick now lets you swing the camera around to the desired position, allowing you to check every nook and cranny of a level for whatever you happen to need. The only minor complaint I have is that the zoom system is an all or nothing deal: either you are zoomed out for a bird's eye shot or you are zoomed and can only see about 15 ft. in front of you. There were many times where I was wishing there was a median as I wanted to see further, but still needed to be able to scope stuff out in detail.


The one aspect of the game that kind of let me down was the music. It definitely wasn't bad, but it didn't match up to the rest of the game. Now maybe I have been spoiled by movies and what not, but I was seriously hoping for some epic music that really set the monster bashing mood. Instead I received some mediocre, short orchestral pieces that were recycled over and over again. Now while music usually isn't enough to ruin a game for me, it will certainly add a lot to it... but unfortunately the music in Baldur's Gate didn't do that. Custom soundtracks might have helped by allowing me to play my Lord of the Rings soundtrack as I ravaged some orc looking creatures, but I didn't even get that much.



The voice acting thankfully made up for some of what the sound left out. While not as grand of an implementation as you would see in series such as Legacy of Kain, the voice acting was pulled off rather well and all of the voices fit the characters. The only voice that seemed to be a little off was your actual character's voice when you were in town and tried to do something you weren't supposed to, like kill a villager (I kahn't doo thaht here...) Aside from that the voice acting really helps to further the plot as you quest through Baldur's Gate.


All in all the game is rock solid. It is a blast to play through by yourself and even more fun when you team up with a friend to take down the evil around Baldur's Gate as a rampaging duo. The game is decently long as well, I've been playing it for close to 10 hours and have just completed the first of 4 acts which means there will be enough baddy slaying to keep you occupied for quite a while. If you are an RPG fan you need to pick this up. If you liked the gameplay in Hunter: The Reckoning you need to pick this up. If you like both of the prior then you DEFINATELY need to pick this up. Everyone else should probably pick this game up as well, as it is a solid addition to anyone's game library!


Overall Score: 9.4 / 10 Legacy of Kain: Defiance

It is obviously the season for high-profile media franchises to tie up all the loose knots and come to a halt. Already the Matrix finale has come and gone, Lord of the Rings is soon to reach its climax and now the long running Legacy of Kain gaming franchise is about to end. The series has been around for longer than a lot of gamers who might actually play this game. The original game, Legacy of Kain: Blood Omen, made its appearance on the PC long ago as an overhead 2d game which introduced us to Kain and his quest to rule the world of Nosgoth. Soon the popularity of the game brought sequels appearing on Playstation, Dreamcast, PS2, Gamecube and Xbox. With the arrival of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver we were introduced to Kain?s undead lieutenant Raziel.


If you haven?t played the Legacy of Kain games, you are missing out on a lot. In a day and age when plots run thin and gameplay rules all, the Legacy of Kain series will surprise you with its in-depth story and intriguing plot twists that will compel you through one game and build your anticipation for the next in the series. In the previous four games you alternated between playing as Kain in one game and as Raziel in the next. As many of us have found out by this point Kain and Raziel are for the most part mortal (well, actually immortal) enemies? and for good reason. Raziel was one of Kain?s best Lieutenants, but when Raziel evolved faster than Kain, Kain became jealous and had Raziel murdered. Raziel was then resurrected by the god of their world to take the role of a devourer of souls. Of course this existence isn?t what Raziel wanted; he was more interested in taking his revenge on Kain.


Around this base plot there is interwoven another grander plot involving a race of creatures called the Sarafan, but by explaining them I would be ruining a lot of plot for this game? so if you are interested, then go out and play some of the previous Legacy of Kain games. The main focus of this final game though is Kain and Raziel. Finally after numerous installments the battle between the two will come to an end in one of the most epic video game adventures since some past game that was fairly epic.


The gameplay has taken a drastic turn away from the focus of previous Legacy of Kain games. In most of the previous games (excluding the first 2D Kain game) the biggest focus was placed on environmental puzzles. To progress through the levels you had to solve series of puzzles involving crate pushing, switch flipping and other various acts to open doors and allow further progression. Even the bosses were beat not by beating the un-living crap out of them, but rather by finding the secret of how to beat them that usually involved using the surrounding environment and your vampiric powers. Well for this Legacy of Kain game, the developers obviously said ?to hell!? with that idea and instead decided to focus on the fighting system.


In past games there was an emphasis on ?smart? fighting. This involved sneaking around, using stealth kills and employing your powers to defeat enemies without ever having to touch them. LOK: Defiance has taken a slightly different approach which makes it feel less like a Splinter Cell type of game and more like a ?Streets of Rage? filled with vampires. While it is nice to see a change, it is not all for the better. On the plus side, there is now a massive combo system where you could possibly rack up dozens of hits on an enemy without him even touching you. This is cool and all, but what it means is that the fighting is going to get uber-repetitive rather quickly.


They tried to balance the gameplay out by adding ?sword powers? which let you cast devastating spells after charging up a meter. This meter is filled by beating up enemies. The problem is, by the time you?ve defeated enough enemies to fill it, there are only going to be 1 or 2 in the group making it practically worthless? and after you charge your sword it will empty if not used relatively quickly. What this means is that the whole super-cool sword-spell casting system doesn?t really matter until the latter levels of the game where enemies are plentiful. Of course a plentiful amount of enemies doesn?t mean you?ll have fun killing them. Defiance really seems to skimp on the total amount of monsters there are available to kill, and after slaughtering your 10,000th Sarafan demon you will quickly grow tired of fighting and opt to run right by them instead.


The bosses can be described much like the enemies. Except for a select few bosses, most of them seem ridiculously similar. Not only that, but all you have to do is usually run towards them and beat them up. As I mentioned a few select bosses hearken back to the olden days of Kain where defeating someone required you to identify their weakness and exploit it. Unfortunately for this game, the weakness you need to exploit is usually not too obvious at all. There were many times I about gave up even trying to defeat a boss until I stumbled across the solution. This is hardly rewarding though, as I didn?t think of the solution myself and just happened upon it.


Speaking of not rewarding, did I mention that there is no sense of accomplishment when finishing a lot of game areas? This is because many of the areas are recycled versions of others. By the end of the game you will be so sick of being in the two story vampire cathedral that it won?t be funny. This is a really bad flaw for a few reasons: One reason is because it makes progressing through certain areas of the game incredibly dull to the point of not being worth it. The other disadvantage is that certain textures are so overused that you will frequently get lost and have no idea where to go because everything you see looks like everything else. This would have been an easy problem to solve just by adding some more textures? as I bet there is plenty of room left on that big ol? DVD.


Visually the game looks great? for a Legacy of Kain game. If you?ve played Blood Omen 2 for the Xbox you will know about what to expect. Legacy of Kain games don?t look to redefine the realm of graphics, but they put enough work into them to keep the game flowing and add to the atmosphere. You will come across vivid texturing, decent shadowing and some great visual and environmental effects. It is up to Crimson Skies standards? Not even close? but it does look better than Blood Omen 2 and won?t have you cursing the art team that worked on it.


The one area of the game that was noticeably off was the voice synching during cut scenes. Nowadays the idea of a CG movie in a game is getting to be more and more of a moot point. Game systems have the power to generate good movies on the fly, so why waste the space and money to create some encoded video for a game? Of course, if you are going to do cut scenes in a game with the graphics engine you might want to make sure that their lips match up to the words. Saving money is one thing, but you need to keep the quality up at the same time.


For a game that had a simultaneous release across all three consoles the game looks fine. After a bit of playing you will notice that the Xbox version didn?t seem to get any extra loving, but as most people will play this game for the story line it really doesn?t matter that much. Of course with some high profile games around the corner such as Deus Ex, let us hope that Eidos isn?t going to be making a habit of this and realizes that the Xbox is capable of a little more than they are throwing at it.


Now usually I hate writing about game sound issues because for one it is boring, two it is usually difficult to totally screw up, and three, there isn?t a whole lot of writing that can be done about it. Of course Legacy of Kain: Defiance is the first game I?ve played in a long while that really shines here. The greatest feature of Defiance is hands down the voice acting. I?ve always loved Kain games for this reason, but Defiance goes above and beyond to deliver believable dialogue that actually adheres to the character?s personas and dispositions. There was more than one time when I could actually feel how upset a character was just by the way that they spoke. Kudos to the entire voice acting team for a wonderful performance. Oh, and make sure to check out the unlockable voice acting outtakes in the bonus features section!


So all in all it stacks up to be a decent game. For Kain fans out there this game has been a long time in the making and has finally been delivered to us. If you played any previous Legacy of Kain games, then this is one you will have to pick up. For anyone else out there, if you are looking for an action game that is easy to get into and has a compelling plot, this isn?t a bad one to try out. Eidos, thank you for finally delivering on this. Though it isn?t the greatest game out there, it finally lays to rest my questions about the fate of Kain and Raziel. I can now sleep a content man!


Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Counter-Strike


The game is old, there is no denying that. In a day and age where computer parts are outdated in half a year and we see blockbuster after blockbuster roll through the gaming world, is there any room for a rehash of a game that has been around for much longer than the Xbox itself? Microsoft seems to think so as they commissioned VALVe studios to port Counter-strike over to the Xbox game console. The story behind Counter-strike has been quite an amazing one thus far. It originally started as a mod for the hit pc game Half-Life and was created by a bunch of guys in college who figured it would be a cool thing to do. Soon it started rising in popularity and quickly surpassed the original Half-Life in terms of popularity. It was at this point VALVe took quite an interest in this mod and the people who made it and decided to hire a bunch of the guys who worked on it for their own team.




Ever since then Counter-strike has been run by the good folks at VALVe and remains to this day one of the most popular online shooters, surpassing any other mod for any other game (including CTF for Quake). So why would Microsoft decide this is the game that the Xbox needs? Simple: Xbox is renowned for its FPS capabilities. Halo set the standard, now more and more games are further showing that it is possible to enjoy a shooter without the need for a mouse and keyboard. So now not only does the Xbox sport many of the best modern PC shooters (RTCW, Rainbow Six 3, Halo) but we are getting a revamped version of a classical favorite as well. Of course keep in mind the term ?classical?. As you will read, in no way does CS raise the bar in any single part of the game. Graphics, while improved from the PC version aren?t up to current Xbox standards. There really aren?t any uber-cool innovations to gameplay that we haven?t seen in other titles. But does this make it a bad game? Of course it doesn?t. With 10 million people playing Counter-strike on the PC you know it has to be doing something right.




So what have millions upon millions of PC users found in this game that makes it so much fun to play? It?s easy: fast paced shooting with a vastly intriguing ?buy system? that lets you purchase a wide array of weaponry. With everything from pistols to machine guns, shotguns and even sniper rifles, the online gameplay is enough to keep you occupied for countless amounts of hours. Of course notice I said ?online gameplay?. Counter-strike never has been, nor is the Xbox version, meant to be played as a single player game. The Xbox does have a single player mode, but it should be considered as more of a training device rather than an actual game to play on your own. Multiplayer is what spawned Counter-strike and multiplayer is what will keep this game alive for a long time to come.




The gameplay itself is not complex at all, and this simple beauty is one of the reasons this game is so ridiculously fun to play. There are a grand total of two types of game modes: demolition and hostage rescue. They are self explanatory enough, but since I have plenty of space left on this webpage I may as well clue you in! Demolitions involves terrorists attempting to bomb one of two predetermined locations on a map. Surprisingly enough it is the Counter-terrorist?s job to prevent this from happening. There are 4 possible outcomes to each match: the terrorists can win by either killing all of the counter-terrorists or successfully detonating the bomb and the counter-terrorists can win by either killing all of the terrorists or defusing the bomb after it has been activated.




The hostage rescue scenario is even simpler still. Either you rescue the hostages on the map or you don?t. Again, you can also win by default after killing the entire other team, but honestly I find it more enjoyable to gloat after sneaking the hostages out under their noses. These two modes combined form the entire premise for the game itself. It might not look like a whole lot on paper (or screen in this case) but sometimes simplicity is all you need. Any more gameplay modes and online play would just start getting cluttered and obtrusive. There is, of course, a little more to the two modes than meets the eye. As I mentioned before there is a cool ?buy system? that lets you purchase weapons.




Before every match you will have a set amount of ?buy time? where you user your cash to purchase a vast array of weapons and items. The starting amount is set by the server operator, and you can get more money by killing people and by defeating the other team. This lets you continually upgrade your weapons based on your performance. Of course not all is lost if you are losing. Say someone on the other team just bought a slick 5000 dollar rifle. Now lets say you and your team have some cheap 450 dollar pistols. All you have to do is set up an ambush somewhere, whack the guy from the other team, and someone can pick up their gun. Suddenly you earned yourself a slick gun without wasting a bunch of money. After this, watch out for ambushes though!




The weapons themselves are plentiful and you will soon find your favorites and stick by them. There are a total of 5 pistols, 5 rifles, 5 submachine guns, 2 shotguns and a heavy duty saw for mowing down groups of people. Add to that three types of grenades (flashbangs, high explosives, and smoke bombs) and body armor/helmets. All of this can be purchased through a great ?pie buy? interface that will let you buy your stuff in just a few seconds after a bit of practice.




So we now have a game with solid gameplay modes and plenty of weapons, what else needs to be covered? Control of course. Consoles are a unique subset to the FPS genre, and configuring a controller properly will make or break a game. So how was this approached? Easy, start with something you know works: Halo. If you have played Halo before then chances are you will be fairly well versed in the controls for CS. A few things are slightly different, as the left trigger is for crouching, not grenades and grenades are queued up by hitting the black button. Also zoom is triggered by hitting the B button and not by clicking in the left thumbstick as before.





A few more things were tweaked as well. VALVe added a wonderful feature called ?quick look?. What this does is allow you to set your sensitivity really low in order to precisely aim shots, but still allows you to turn quickly when needed to. This is achieved by clicking in the thumbstick while moving it to turn. What this means is you can precisely unlead a clip of ammo, and when you run dry you will be able to turn and haul !&%$@#* out of there with ease. People who love to handle sniper rifles will definitely benefit from this feature.




One other large factor in whether or not a game will be fun is the levels. Bad level design will kill a game faster than a bug lamp will kill a moth. Luckily for Counter-strike there are literally hundreds of maps that have been tried and tested by the PC CS community and us Xbox players get to see the cream of the crop. 13 maps (including the legendary Dust map) have made their way over to the Xbox along with 7 other brand new maps that are exclusive to the big X. Not only that, but VALVe has already confirmed that new maps will be available for download this holiday season. Each map is practically a work of art from a gameplay stance. You will find choke points, sniper spots, great ambush locations and more. Maps are what got CS on the map with the PC mod, and the maps continue to aid in the addictive nature of CS on the Xbox.




Gameplay will only take a game so far these days though; otherwise we would all still be playing Pac-Man and Missile Command on our Ataris. As it stands, graphics is where it is at on the Xbox. Ask any Xbox owner what one of the selling points was when they purchased their machine and most people will list mind-blowing visuals as one of them. This has never been more apparent than this holiday season as we see title after title coming out that looks polished and amazing. So is CS one of these titles? Not even close. While it has gotten a much needed revamp over the aging PC counterpart, CS doesn?t hold a candle up to other modern shooters such as R63 or even older games like RTCW.




Now please note I didn?t say the graphics totally suck, I just said they aren?t as good as other games. Considerable work was done updating the graphics and you do have to realize that this game is running on the (now seemingly ancient) Half-Life engine. The game is totally re-skinned, and when I say totally I am not kidding. VALVe stripped this game down to its core geometry and started from scratch on the graphics. What this means is the days of pixilated 16 bit textures are gone and now more vibrant and detailed 24 bit textures are in their place. Also more polygons were added to take further advantage of the increased power of the Xbox and give the visuals a little more realism.




A few other added features and effect were also thrown in to compliment the gameplay. The ?iris effect? which is growing in popularity makes an appearance in CS. For those of you who haven?t experienced it yet, the iris effect simulates your eyes adjusting to the light when going from dark to light environments and vice versa. Also there are plenty of more terrorist and counterterrorist skins that you will be seeing depending on the level you play. All of this add up to a game that may not be the greatest looking thing out there, but definitely isn?t slacking too bad. Oh, and for all you lucky HDTV owners out there: VALVe was nice enough to include 480p support to give it more clarity on the big screens (please take notes here, EA).





If you have played the original PC version of Counter-strike you will quickly notice that not much has changed in the ways of sound. All your favorite weapon fire, death grunts and voice command are still intact and seem to have not been altered at all. Of course due to lack of space on a controller the voice commands have been limited to 4 choices being ?follow me?, ?stay here?, ?taking fire?, and ?need backup?. Of course if you buy this game you better have Xbox Live which means everyone will have voice communicators making these pre-programmed commands a moot point.




The only music you will find in the game is the menu music which is? there. As it has been so long since I?ve touched CS on the PC I can?t remember if it is the same menu music, but it is neither remarkable nor is it obtrusive. It can get a little old after a while, but that is just because I have spent so much time playing this game. While I do believe every game should have a custom soundtrack option at this point, it is excusable for CS not to have it because you will need to use audio clues to survive.




?Audio clues to survive?? I hear you ask, ?What would I need that for?? Well, CS is one of those great games that include in-game Dolby 5.1 support. This means that if you have a decent sound system hooked up to your pretty TV then you will be able to hear enemies coming just by listening to their footsteps. Hiding behind a corner and being able to tell an enemy is coming from the left is just the type of advantage you will need to gain the upper hand in a firefight.




The only other portion of the audio is the voice communication. Now due to the fact that shooters seem to require a bit more bandwidth, the voice quality isn?t quite the same as what you will find on other live games. Of course you will be able to hear your teammates and that is what counts. As this is one of those great games when teamwork is key, voice communication is almost a necessity if you expect to defeat the opposing forces.




So after reading this you may still be wondering if this game is for you. Being the nice guy I am I will provide you with a quick checklist of things to consider before purchasing Counter-strike. First, do you have an Xbox? If not then you may want to pass this title up. Next, do you have Xbox Live? If not, then again, you may want to pass this title up. Honestly it is hard for me to even recommend Counter-strike for people who like to have LAN parties due to the fact that there is no split screen. This means that to have a full game of 6 on 6 you will need to get a room big enough for 12 TVs and 12 Xboxes, and then try to find room for additional pizza and beer. That might be a daunting challenge for a lot of people.




Of course if you do have Xbox Live and you are a fan of first person shooters, then this is definitely the game for you to own this Christmas season. The fast-paced and dynamic-yet-simple gameplay is guaranteed to keep people hooked for hours and hours on end. And as I am one of those fps fans who has Xbox Live, I would like to thank the guys at VALVe for providing me with another reason to keep myself broke just a little longer.



Suggestions:

Get your butts working on HL2! And don't forget about us Xbox owners who would gladly give select body parts to see it end up on our system... Most of us would likely give even more body parts to see it as an Xbox exclusive :) Of course we could just pay you money for it like most normal people do.



Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge

And finally the wait is over. It seems like Crimson Skies for the Xbox has taken years to come out and there is a reason for this: it literally has taken years. The history behind this title reads like a soap opera in the game development industry. The original team dumped tons of time into development and came out with a game that for all purposes was boring and not fun to play. So how do you fix that kind of problem? Simple! Fire everyone and start over! So they did and development for a new version of Crimson Skies began. So often games that take this long to develop become over-hyped and are a total disappointment at launch. (Did someone say Duke Nukem Forever?) So what about Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge? Is it going to suffer the same fate as the rest of the long awaited, hyped-up let downs? After playing it I can answer with a resounding 'hell no'! Crimson Skies is a game that Xbox, and especially Xbox Live, has long needed ever since the hopes of Battlefield 1942 were shot down by EA.


Now before I begin this review of the soon to be released blockbuster I should probably warn you that I am a flying junkie. Ever since the days of yore I have played any type of flight sim I could get my hands on from the olden days of Commodore64 Apache games to the latest and greatest F-22 flight sim. I was a bit skeptical of Crimson back in the day for the fact that it looked less like a flight sim and more like a glitzy arcade game. But then again, Sega's Afterburner was an arcade game and it rocked, so I made sure to keep an eye on Crimson. Then came the moment of truth when I played the demo at this years' E3 and to keep a long story short I was totally floored by it. Screw Halo 2, Rare, booth babes and anything else going on, Crimson Skies was definitely the highlight of my trip. Booth babes were definitely up there too, but Crimson ruled all. Ever since then I have been anxiously awaiting a chance to play the whole package and when the chance finally came I nearly crapped myself in happiness. Luckily I own 3 different pairs of underwear in case this happened!

So enough about my lack of clean underwear! Onto what you all are reading this for: the actual game! So here is the quick and dirty of Crimson Skies: You fly a plane (duh) in what Microsoft Gaming Studios calls an 'alternate reality where commerce took to the air after the depression'. This alternate reality looks more like the set from The Rocketeer, but that's fine because as far as I'm concerned that was a great movie. The very beginning of the game throws you into a fun movie sequence where your character (Nathan) wakes up in bed next to a naked woman (good) and notices a guy standing over him with a gun pointed to his head (bad). The man then informs you that you lost your plane and your zeppelin in a bet last night. So right off the bat we know the main character is a boozing, gambling, womanizing flyboy who is quite frankly someone high up on my list of people I would like to hang out with. assuming they were real. Of course it also turns out that you are someone who doesn't honor your bets, as you manage to steal your plane back, steal your zeppelin back and then steal the plane of the guy who had the audacity to call you on your bet! With a great main character like Nathan you know the plot is going to be great which means that for the first time ever we will have an Xbox Live game that is fun to play in single player mode.


The actual gameplay itself is a perfect mix of exploratory flying and linear missions. There are times when the game will push you into a direction and give you a certain task to accomplish. Other times you will just be flying around exploring and looking for stuff to do. Of course the exploration isn't just a boring 'fly around and look at the pretty scenery' situation; there are plenty of bonuses to be found from cash to upgrade tokens tucked away in spots that will test your abilities as a pilot. Once you are done exploring you can look for work to do to make money which range from people asking you to do escort missions to requests such as taking down groups of bandits which have been causing havoc in the area.


On top of this there are certain points in the game where you encounter 'boss characters' that need to be dealt with. These range from armor plated zeppelins to giant mechanical creatures a 'la Wild Wild West. At these points you will find that shooting down everything in site isn't going to get you any further and you actually have to start looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the target. This adds a little more depth to the single player game and really keeps it from becoming a monotonous shooter. Then you can also add to the list of goodness that this game is adequately long to be worth the purchase to someone who doesn't have Live. I've been playing crimson for a good 15 hours and have barely scratched the surface of what is available for the single player game.



Then we have the feature that many of us have been drooling for: Xbox Live gameplay. Crimson Skies will be our first aerial shooter available for online play and even before it is release I can assure you it is going to be a hit. It has everything going for it: 16 player support means there will be tons of action going on. There are 6 game modes including standard dogfighting, team dogfights, capture the flag, keep away, team keep away and a crazy spin off of capture the flag called 'chicken'. With a great game and all these game modes this will add unending replay value until we (hopefully) see Crimson Skies 2 grace our Xboxes.


Now here is the one part of the game that is going to either make people fall in love with it or turn away from it: the controls. For those of you who are looking for a true to life flight sim, look elsewhere. While this game does give you the ability to do control your pitch and roll, there is no yaw control and both pitch and roll are controlled by one stick. This means if you move your stick to the right your plane will automatically roll and pitch up to turn. There is no way to change it so the player is stuck with the more 'arcade' setup. Of course you still have the abilities to pull off true-to-live aerial maneuvers from immelmans to Cuban eights, but there is no point since there is a more 'arcade' way to do that as well. With the use of both analog stick you can cause your plane to automatically pull of precise maneuvers which happen much faster than just doing them manually. This means that anyone can play this game and effortlessly pull off split S's, barrel rolls, snap rolls and immelmans without having ever taken a flight class. Even with the arcade style setup, though, this game is a ton of fun to play once you get the hang of it.


Graphically Crimson Skies is a solid performer. It is by no means the prettiest game out there, but it is definitely one of the better looking games available for Xbox. The frame rate is constant, the movie sequences are well polished and presentable and the explosions are great. Nothing is quite as cool as watching a zeppelin explode into a huge fireball and fall out of the sky while you imagine the captain sitting there saying "I KNEW we shouldn't have filled this with hydrogen!" Then you get to watch the zeppelin crash into the beautiful landscape. No detail was missed when creating the different flying environments. You'll get to weave your plane through desert canyons, lush coastal regions, huge industrial cities and more. These levels are a bit exaggerated looking more like a real life rendition of comic book sets, they are still visually pleasing to the eye and offer plenty of nooks and crannies to navigate through and test out your elite piloting skills.


Even the subtle effects play quite nicely. For instance, you are flying close to the water and someone starts shooting at you from behind. You will not only see the bullet splashes in the water but some of the water will come up and hit your screen then bead off as you continue flying. It is things like that which let the gamer know that the developer cares about their game and took the time to tweak everything out!


There is one beef that I do have with this game, but it is a minor one. I am of the opinion that every game should have custom soundtracks, whether or not the in-game music is good. If you don't want to give us control over the in-game music, at least let us listen to our favorite tracks when we are gunning it out in multiplayer. But I suppose this is only a minor problem since the soundtrack really lends to the atmosphere of the game. Remember my reference earlier to the Rocketeer? Well this reference is still valid when it comes to the music. You will be subject to a lot of orchestrated 30's music which is far from what we like to call 'exciting'. but is good enough not to be a nuisance and doesn't interfere with the ability to enjoy Crimson Skies.


The rest of the sound department shines as well. Sounds is a place where most games tend to fail in as the music becomes repetitious, sound effects are monotonous and thrown and commentary is bland to say the least. Crimson doesn't suffer from these ailments. Your plane engine happens to sound like a plane engine, bullets whiz by in a realistic fashion and hearing people complain as you shoot them out of the sky never gets old. Nathan has a steady stream of one lines he will deliver every once in a while as you bag another kill as well.


So the final verdict on the whole project? Well, you have great graphics, great sound, 10 different planes which are almost all upgradeable, you have 6 different multiplayer modes, you have the ability to jump out of your plane and man anti-aircraft guns, there are explosions, vendettas, online play. This game has it all. Ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to the first game which has successfully pulled off an amazing online and offline game in the same package. Yeah, and you thought you would have to wait until Halo 2 for something like that! Needless to say I wish we had more 'total package' games like this and my hat is off to Microsoft for putting this game on the market. Crimson Skies was definitely worth the wait and on October 21st your wait is over. Go buy this game!


Suggestions: I do realize there was no such thing as radar in the 1930's, but a way to lock on to people would have been nice for tailing a target. Aside from that this game is immaculate and I am sure you will be hearing that comment for a long time to come! Now get to work on Crimson Skies 2!

Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 Otogi: Myth of Demons

I kid you not. This game is more Japanese than Japan is now. I?m not talking about a nice plate of Japanese food at a Japanese restaurant; I am talking about 1000 A.D. chilling out in a Japanese temple with the Emperor of Japan while drinking sake type of Japanese experience. Of course as Otogi was originally released in Japan over half a year ago this is not too surprising.



So a majority of you are probably thinking ?so what?? at this point. Well, now that the Xbox is finally getting some great RPG?s in its library, the only place it is still lacking is in the Japanese inspired gaming genre? and let?s face it, there are a lot of gamers out there who love those types of games.



Of course not everyone is a fan of Japanese games, so I?m sure the rest of you are wondering if this title is for you. Well here are a few questions you will need to ask yourself to find out. Do I enjoy collection big friggin swords and whooping demons with them? Am I entranced by pretty colors and cool magical spells? To I like to demolish anything that isn?t made by nature? and even some things that are? Does Diet Dr. Pepper taste more like the original Dr. Pepper? Ok, that last one won?t help you that much? but if you answered yes to any of the questions prior to that then you might want to take a look at Otogi.



To some it up in one long sentence using as many commas as possible, Otogi is a glitzy, colorful, Japanese, demon bashing, sword wielding, magic using tool of mass destruction which actively encourages you to smash, bash, demolish, destroy, kill and maim anything that moves, or doesn?t move for that matter. If that wasn?t enough commas for you, here are some extras. ,,,,,,

One of Otogi?s biggest downfalls is that it is a relatively short game. Sega estimates that the game can normally be finished in less than 15 hours. Of course this is only if you play the game straight through from start to finish. You have the option of going back to any of the 25 levels you have previously beaten and attempting to collect all of the items if you happened to miss anything the first time through. You?ll find yourself doing this periodically to scrape together a little more money to buy that cool sword set you were looking to get.



That?s right, Otogi has a little bit of an RPG element with the fact you can buy stuff for your character. Of course don?t expect to be offered hundreds of different options: usually you have the choice between 3 or 4 different weapons, spells and accessories between each level. These selections do change every once in a while when you advance though, so there is a bit of variety. Each weapon and accessory changes your attack, defense and magic rating, so picking the right weapon for your playing style becomes crucial later on in the game.



As I have already states, this game involves a lot of breaking stuff. Your first goal is to break demons. Well, destroy them actually. Destroying demons releases energy which will fill your magic and health. You will notice that while you play your magic will slowly deplete even if you aren?t using any of your mystical powers. This is because you are a creature of magic, so you slowly consume your reserves just to stay alive. Once your magic runs out you slowly lose health until you die. This creates a rudimentary time limit that can be lengthened by killing every bad guy that crosses your path. Aside from destroying the demons you are encouraged to destroy everything else too; from houses, to brick walls and even trees. This is because there are souls trapped in various objects, and releasing these souls is what earns you some major cash to upgrade your gear.



Otogi?s controls seem very much like one of their previous games: Gunvalkyrie. If you have played Gunvalkyrie before then don?t let this comment scare you off. A lot of people don?t like Gunvalkyrie due to the fact it is so freaking hard and they tend to blame it on the controls. Luckily Otogi is a much more forgiving game and doesn?t require complete mastery of ultra-complex combos to get through a level. This means that the games difficulty is still hard, but rewarding instead of frustrating. Basically you have the ability to jump, double jump, dash, use a regular attack, a power attack and cast magic. While this doesn?t sound like a lot of control you will soon find out that massive midair combos can be linked together making you look like a genuine magical Japanese Samurai. Once you get the hang of it you will be able to impress your friends and pick up girls at game stores with Otogi on display!

You can really see that Otogi drew a lot of influence from other games Sega has produced. This is obvious in the graphics area if you played Panzer Dragoon Orta last year, as its Japanese styling very closely resembles that of Otogi. Of course this is great news because Panzer Dragoon was a beautiful game and a pleasure to watch. For those of you who haven?t played Otogi or Panzer Dragoon, they both incorporate very lush and vivid colors for the atmospheres and have a strong emphasis on magical attacks and explosions. This adds to the fun of mass destruction as things look really cool when you tear them apart.



Otogi also manages to keep a very decent frame rate even with the carnage taking place. Most games with explosions and destructible levels have nasty stutters in the frame rate when things are falling apart. The only time I really noticed any slowdown with Otogi, though, was when I was simultaneously destroying a building while be assaulted by multiple demons at ones. Even then it wasn?t a severe drop and would hardly be noticeable unless you were looking for it. That means you can also add ?smooth playing? to the list of reasons why Otogi is such a great action game.


By this point I am really getting tired of saying the word ?Japanese?? and this is probably one of the few times anyone has ever seen the words ?Japanese?, ?Xbox? and ?great game? all in one article. But since I still have to discuss the sound section I will have to say it one more time: the soundtrack holds true to the Japanese theme. You can?t expect to have custom soundtracks to a game like this, as bashing demons through temples just doesn?t mix with 50 cent or any other music that is out there right now. You don?t have to worry though as the soundtrack is varied enough that it actually compliments the gameplay and can really get you even more involved with the story.



The sound effects do a great job of holding their own too. Well rendered grunts, smashes, sword swooshes and screaming demons add to the experience. The only place where the sound suffered was some of the repetitive audio clips when you are fighting bosses. Each boss seemed to have about 4 lines that they would repeat over and over. Now when it takes you 2 or 3 attempts to defeat a boss it tends to get old in quite a hurry. Sega should have either recorded more sound or shut them up. Of course this does bring up the great point that we are lucky to have English sound at all. Otogi was originally released in Japan so all the voices had to be re-dubbed. The new English voices are great to say the least, and shows that Sega is aiming to please anyone on Earth who wishes to play this game.



To summarize, this is a wonder addition to the action/platform genre from Sega, and in my honest opinion is one of the best action games to date for the Xbox. Of course some might be worried that 15 hours is a little short: my advice to you is to rent it and try it out... chances are good that you will end up buying it anyways. Oh, and if you didn?t get to read ?Japanese? enough or see enough commas, then here are a few more to satisfy you! Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese, Japanese.


Suggestions: Woohoo! Otogi 2 has been announced! Make sure we see this in the US, Sega. And possibly make it a little longer, as that seems to be the complaint heard the most on our site.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Pro Cast Sports Fishing

Now I am going to be completely honest with you up front: I am not a huge fishing enthusiast. I do go fishing a few times a year and manage to snag some decent size bass and crappie, but it is definitely not a forte that bleeds over into my video game life. In fact, I can only remember one fishing game that has kept me truly interested in it, and that was Blue Marlin for the NES. I will attempt to remain impartial in this review, but in my eyes fishing isn?t nearly as cool unless you are actually there with a six-pack and some sunscreen.


One big plus this game has is that it is the only fishing game out for the Xbox at this time. Obviously there are people who are different from me and like this type of game, otherwise they wouldn?t sell and there would be no demand? so this review might be something worth looking through if you delight in digital angling. As for the rest of you? eh, read this anyways as I took the time to write it and at the very least it could possibly improve your literacy and reading skills!


Overall as a fishing game Pro Cast Sports Fishing is a solid entry into the field with no totally hindering flaws that will drive people away from it. It does have its quirks and some minor annoyances, but they aren?t detrimental to the game experience. One thing that was really irritating to me right off the bat was the menu that was used. To be total blunt, it took too long to navigate through them, as each menu screen usually had only 2 or 3 options. This could have been consolidated into one main menu screen which would have worked a lot better. Also, the character selection was quite limited and included the stereotypical middle-aged bearded guy with a pot belly, the 24 year old college guy, and the girls in her twenties who was probably thrown in there to appease the demographics watchers.


The game does find a way to breath some interesting gameplay into itself with an awesome simulation mode which turns out to be more of a fishing RPG though, so maybe that alone will be enough to justify the buy to all you fishermen and women out there!



Gameplay is where this game will make it or break it. When I first started playing this game it was just like real fishing. That is, I would sit out on the water for a good half an hour before getting so much as a nibble. It is at this point that I would usually turn a game off any yell ?next!? Well, I really wouldn?t yell next, but I?d put a different game in the Xbox? Of course since I am reviewing this game I really wasn?t about to ditch it after ? an hour and say it sucks, as the nice people over at Capcom probably wouldn?t appreciate that. After a bit I started noticing I was getting the hang of it a bit, as fish were actually being attracted to my lure. Of course at first all I got were the retarded fish who think lures are fun to watch but by no means fun to eat, so at various points I would have 3 or 4 fish chasing my lure going ?huh, interesting.? (Once again, they didn?t really say anything, as fish can?t actually talk? fool.) After a bit more work they actually started biting at my lure! Of course as in real fishing just them biting it won?t snag them on your line, you have to gently caress the rod until the lure is placed?. THEN YANK THE HELL OUT OF IT! With any luck you?ll snag him and get to reel him in.



There is obviously more to this game than just casting and reeling, casting and reeling, and perhaps some more casting and reeling. On top of all that you have this to look forward to also: casting and reeling! No, I?m just kidding, there are also other game modes that add some depth to the gameplay. When you look at the menu you will find there are three game modes. One is the simulation, which is probably the coolest part of this game. As I said before, this is a fishing RPG for the lack of a better term. As you enter more tourneys and catch more fish, you can buy new stuff such as new rods, lures and boats. Much like in real life, the acquisition of new sporting goods materials is one of the greatest joys known to most men.


Arcade and free fishing are decent, but rather limited. Arcade involves giving you a set time to catch a fish, and then comparing you to all the computer players who were fishing also. Of course since you are restricted to a small point on a lake, you don?t ever see these guys. The ?beat the clock? thing is fun a few times but kinda loses its luster fairly quickly. On the other hand, free fishing loses it?s luster immediately. Why even bother playing the game if you aren?t achieving something? My opinion: stick with the simulation mode. It might sound daunting but it is definitely the most fun.


One last word about the gameplay: this game is not very in depth when compared to other games out there. You aren?t going to be making lures from scratch or fine tuning your drag or many of the other crazy things other games let you do. This game is easy to pick up and play without reading through a ridiculously long manual. This may be a turn-off to some, but hopefully it will be appealing to others.



The games visuals are? ok. There really isn?t a better way to put it. While the graphics in no way detract from its value, it is definitely not taking any advantage of the Xbox hardware and could be easily reproduced on any other system available? Dreamcast included. Of course, don?t let the fact that the graphics aren?t top-of-the-line quality wean you away from this title. Even with the general oldness of the graphics, it pulls off environmental effects nicely, including waves on the water, a nice fog rolling in the morning and others.


One thing that was fairly tedious and trying was the camera though. It totally has a mind of it?s own and there didn?t seem to be any way to control it. What was really frustrating is when your lure went below a foot of water, the camera snapped from an aerial view to underwater. So what if you have your lure bobbing at around a foot of water? The camera is constantly snapping back and forth in a rather sickening motion. After a while though you learn to avoid that one-foot mark and the camera can actually become an advantage. This happens when you figure out that the camera angle usually shifts when a fish takes interest in your lure. This means all you have to do is cast and start steadily reeling it in until the camera view shifts. At this point you get to stop reeling and start whipping out all your best asty-lure? moves!



The audio is really what you would expect from a fishing game: some decent background music in the menu?s, decent sound effect on the water when fishing? Nothing too above and beyond, but hey? it?s a fishing game. How ?above and beyond? can you actually get? As for me, I am happy that the reel sounds like a reel, and when I cast there is a satisfying ?ploop? when the lure hits the water. If you want custom soundtracks, use a pair of headphones. You?d have to use headphones on a lake anyways, so consider it a fine addition to the realism of this title. Nothing about the implemented sound is obtrusive, and nothing stands out. This, in the end, is a good thing as it means the sound doesn?t get in the way of the gameplay.



Suggestions:

Excellent first entry Capcom! I think a lot of fishing fans will be wishing for a little more customization, but this is a solid title for the price it is being sold at.



Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Island Thunder

So what happens when you have a squad of war-mad ?ghosts? who have just taken down an ultra-nationalist communist movement but still have and itchy trigger finger? You do what any good American would do and send them into Cuba! Ghost Recon is now back and reloaded for the follow-up to it?s smash original smash live hit. Titled ?Island Thunder?, this new game pits you against the scum-bags of Cuba after the death of Castro as you fight to bring this impoverished country some of the things all Americans have been enjoying for years, like hour long lines at poll places and months of being assaulted with political propaganda! They should only be so lucky!


Well, the truth behind the matter is, you won?t give half a thought to the game?s plot. At one point I was shooting Ethiopian?s and had no idea why. Last I heard Sally Struthers was still sending them food. Not a lot of people bought the original Ghost Recon for it?s involving plot and offline play, and chances are even less will buy this one for the same reasons.


Island Thunder is a glorified expansion pack that features a new set of maps (8 new maps and 4 from Ghost Recon) and a few new weapons (including the SOCOM and a really fun automatic grenade launcher). Cool? Definitely. Frustrating? Beyond a doubt. The guys over at Red Storm had promised us downloadable content before Ghost Recon had even hit the shelves. They spoke of such things as downloadable maps and downloadable weapons. But I suppose instead of giving it away for free they may as well package it up and market it as a new game, charging an amazing 40 dollars for it. Honestly I sat there in the store holding the game and thought ?are a few new weapons and maps really worth 40 dollars?? The answer was of course ?no? but I bought it anyways, as I knew I would probably get my moneys worth in the long run. Unfortunately I don?t believe a lot of people are going to see it this way and that might hinder the sales.

As you might have guessed, gameplay is where this game is focused. This game was measured, custom fit and tailored for the Xbox Live audience and it shows? sort of. What kills me is that the one aspect of the game that would have been easiest to change, and was complained about immensely and criticized, remains the same in Island Thunder. Those of you who played Ghost Recon at all probably already know what I am going to talk about: the menu. Honesty, compared to the rest of the game how hard is the freaking menu to program? This is easily the least intuitive, hardest to use menu I have ever come across in a game. Tabs can hide from you with no readily available explanation as to where they are. The first time I played Ghost Recon online it took me a good 10 minutes to figure out I had to hit the start button to access my buddy list? as hitting the start button for your buddy list really isn?t the first thing someone would think to do. But enough about the menu; we?ll just leave it at Red Storm screwed up with it. Twice.


As I said before and I will continue to say until the end of this review, gameplay is where it is at. Island Thunder offers an experience much different to the gun blazing rampage games out there such as Unreal, Mech Assault and many other shooting games. It offers a fairly realistic wartime experience to people without all the inconveniences of bullet wounds, battle fatigue syndrome and death. Not all people go for this type of action, as one bullet will more often than not take you down completely. If you are the person who prefers subterfuge to flagrancy and would rather stealthily move around the map waiting for that perfect kill, then this is your game. More often than not you aren?t going to be charging in somewhere with your gun blazing, or you?ll end up dead like you would in real life. This game will also require immense team strategy if you plan on playing it competitively on live with your friends. Some of these maps are huge with all sorts of choke points and sniper perches, so coordination is a must. Of course you also need to remember that if you didn?t really like the original Ghost Recon, then you aren?t going like this one and shouldn?t even bother. Everyone else who loved Ghost Recon on Live, go buy this, even if it is overpriced for what it actually is.

When I said that weapons and maps were the only new things in the game, it wasn?t completely true. There are a few tweaks in the graphics department as well. Of course the only problem is I could describe them all in one line. For those of you who played Ghost Recon and were pissed that it only offered 480i resolution, prepared to be pissed again because Red Storm didn?t change it! I?ll admit, this game looks fine on a small TV, but on a big HDTV this game looks like utter grainy crap. Honestly we are getting to the point that 480p is the LEAST a company should be allowed to offer. Aside from the actual display mode, a few aspects of the in-game engine were tweaked, such as new and improved textures for the maps, and they finally fixed the night vision. In the original Ghost Recon it could be high noon and you could slap on your night vision goggles and see perfectly. Now if you try to put on your goggles in all but the darkest of conditions, all you will see is retina burning green? and lots of it. Ghost Recon?s graphics are definitely sub par when compared to the rest of the Xbox games coming out nowadays, but luckily the fault in graphics doesn?t hinder its amazing multiplayer action.

Sound is even worse than graphics as they managed to change NOTHING in this department. There is sill no option to change music in the menu, the menu music still gets annoying and all sound bits (minus the new mission briefings) are just recycled from Ghost Recon. I see how not listening to music on the battlefield might be seen as a plus, but come on? I want to smuggle out a set of headphones! So with one musical track in the menu and a handful of in-game sounds and noises, the sound department remains passable and just like the graphics, it definitely won?t take away from the multiplayer experience.

Suggestions: Why the oversite of obvious flaws? This is your second run with practically the same product and you let these things slip?

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Bloody Roar: Extreme

Every once in a while a fighting game comes along that really pushes everything we know about fighters to the next level. Mortal Kombat brought us realistic and very graphic brawling. Killer Instinct gave birth to genre of combo systems. Soul Caliber integrated weapons and so many different moves per character that your head would spin. Yes, now and again there comes a game that will completely blow your mind with its new and innovative features and characters. Bloody Roar Extreme is not one of these games. To be perfectly honest, this game looks like it has what it takes to be at least a decent fighting game. It has pretty graphics, different buttons you can press and it?s own gimmick: having your fighter change into an evil beast (or a penguin? more on that later), but it just isn?t enough in the end to make this game appealing to a hardcore fighting game fan. Then again, this game is perfect for those younger games (13 and under) that might struggle with the enormous fighting systems found within other fighting games currently available. Of course this game is also suitable for those of you that MUST own every fighting game for a system, or that really liked those goofy animorphs books.

The gameplay is the section of Bloody Roar Extreme that is probably the most lacking and under-developed. At first glance it looks like a decent fighting game. There is a decent sized lineup of 14 regular characters and two hidden ones all with their own custom beast form that you can transform into during a battle. Of course, this is about where the area of decent selection ends. Once you pick a character and enter the game you will find a ridiculous lack of buttons and combos for each character. Buttons are limited to a kick, punch, throw/block and a beast button. To add a little more variety they made a ?super-beast? button and the triggers will sidestep. Combos take practically no practice to pull off and usually involve doing multiple punches and kicks right in a row, leading to senseless button mashing if you are ever doing bad.

There was one glimmer of hope in the gameplay department and that was the beast transformations. They do tend to add a bit more strategy to the game; as you fight your opponent your beast energy bar will charge up. The more aggressive you are the faster it will charge. This is where the bit of strategy comes in: if you don?t use your energy in one round it will come back to the next. So lets say you are almost dead, but have the ability to change into a beast. Do you go to beast form and risk dying? Or should you go ahead and lose, then unleash the beast next round and maul your opponent. Another bit of strategy comes from the two different kinds of beasts you can become. As a regular beast, you have a certain amount of beast energy. You will remain a beast until either you lose all your beast energy from getting your butt kicked, or you attempt your super beast move. Of course if you miss with the super move then tough cookies for you and you will revert back to your original form. Of course, you also have the option of switching to an even more extreme beast form. In this form it doesn?t matter how much you get hit, you will remain a beast for a certain amount of time. You can also pull off all the super moves you want until the timer runs out. Now, this is great if you have an enemy that is consistently kicking your butt, as you will have the chance to even the score by busting out a few super moves. But then again, if you are controlling your opponent well you might want to stick with the regular beast form as being a beast means you do more damage per hit? and a lot of smaller hits for damage is way better in this game than a few super moves.

So while the beast change will add a little depth, it isn?t a whole lot. What was incredibly disappointing was the fact that all of the beast moves were the same. For every character it is a quarter circle forward, quarter circle forward then the beast button, or the same thing but with quarter circle backwards. This means that once you have one character down you can pretty much play with just about any of them. The base combos for the players differ a bit, but with only 10 or so unique combos to a person it really doesn?t take much time or brainpower to figure them out. The only other attribute that Bloody Roar Extreme possesses is multi-tiered levels, but you seem to break through at random times, so all it is really doing is giving you some eye candy.

The last area of the game is probably the various modes it offers. This is nothing outside of what you would expect to find in a fighter. It has arcade, versus, survival, team battle, time attack and a training mode. What is funny about some of these modes is the fact that while this game is for the most part overly simplified; it is impossibly difficult to beat. The last few battles of any of the options will leave you wondering how the hell the computer can predict the future so well, as it will be blocking moves you haven?t even though of performing yet. This was the final straw for this game. I couldn?t even get the cheap thrill of clobbering the boss that I can from other crappy fighting games.


Unlike the gameplay I really don?t have any major complaints from the graphics department. The colors are vibrant, the frame rate is ultra-smooth (looks to be a consistent 60 fps at all times) and the character models are all nicely done. Well, actually that is sort of a lie. I do have a problem with the character models. It?s not so much the way they look, but the way they seem to be blatantly ripped off of other games. A lot of times while watching the CG movies or playing the game I thought to myself ?Hey, that looks like Paul from Tekken!? or ?Hey, that looks like Cloud from Final Fantasy!? This actually happened WAY more times than it should have which leads me to believe that tons of time was spent on all the beasts, and their human counterparts were an after though. This is even more apparent when closely examining the different character models in the game. The actual human models look 10 times worse than their awesomely textured and drawn beast sides. Of course this complaint aside the graphics do look good? and cheesy. I understand that blood doesn?t always make a fighting game good, but if a huge wolf monster gouges out the throat of some guy, why exactly is he bleeding what appears to be hot pink electrical sparks? Also, all of the super moves and big combos are showered with neon green, pink and various other colors of neon effects. It is pretty in its own Lisa Frank sort of way, but overall I kind of found it to be tacky and really distracting. Actually it wasn?t that distracting as there was really nothing going on with this game to be distracted from.

I?m not sure why, but every game I have touched for the first time in the last 3 weeks has had a mediocre selection of crappy rock songs. Bloody Roar Extreme really didn?t let me down in this area either, as the songs got old incredibly quick. How crappy is the music? So crappy that Hudson Soft didn?t even bother listing the bands on the official Bloody Roar Extreme webpage. So if they didn?t feel like talking about them, then neither to I. Aside from the music I suppose you could say the sound effects are all right. They weren?t crappy enough to distract from the actual game and the voiceovers for some of the characters were borderline decent. This doesn?t make a whole lot of impact though, as each character has at maximum about 2 lines to say. The bad point in Bloody Roar Extreme is definitely the music though. I?m not saying that every fighting game has to track down the hottest bands to get their music on the official soundtrack, but at least give us the friggin? option to turn your crappy music off and let us turn our selection of much better music on. Is this seriously asking too much?

Suggestions: This is a great game for the younger crowd. How about working on a serious fighting title now? You know, for those of us who enjoy more involved fighting games? (And for the love of god either get some good music or let us use our custom soundtracks!)

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 MotoGP 2

What looks like MotoGP, sounds like MotoGP and plays like MotoGP? (Aside from MotoGP of course.) That?s right! It?s MotoGP 2 for the Xbox. Looking at this game you would assume they hardly changed anything from the original, and that assumption would be totally correct. MotoGP 2, much like the original, is a test in dexterity, timing, planning and patience? and in some cases, how many curse words you can link together in a single sentence. People who don?t care much for simulation type games should probably steer clear of this title. The first time you ever play a Moto GP game you will most likely find that you spend most of your time sliding on your butt across gravel, grass and pavement with your bike flying off in a different direction. Once you get by this incredibly steep learning curve you will find an extremely addictive racer that will please any fan of the racing genre. Unfortunately if you are a MotoGP fan and already own the original, this game (aside from some new tracks) really doesn?t have enough to offer to justify buying it.

If you?ve touched the original Moto GP game at all, you know that Climax had already practically perfected the motorcycle physics engine. Because of this there weren?t many changes made going into the new game. Driving a bike in this game is just like driving the bikes in the predecessor. There are a couple of differences though: driving off the track and into the dirt or gravel will hurt your time a lot more (the clock will go twice as fast). This was most likely done to discourage people from cutting corners to clip a few seconds off their lap time. Now the only way to do well is to keep both tires on the pavement. The only other change seems to be that flying into the dirt carries a bit more of a chance of you flipping forward after your front tire catches on something. Now for the MotoGP newbies out there, this game is a sim to the max. Even the more arcade oriented stunt mode runs on practically the same physics as the regular game. Not only are the controls realistic, but the amount of tweaking you can do to your bike is admirable for any time of racing game. Some of the things you can change are the wheel base width, tire hardness, gear ratio and other such aspects of your motorcycle. Enough about the physics though, as there is plenty more to the gameplay to discuss. The biggest feature of this game is definitely the Xbox Live feature. In fact, when you put the game in it will load up and have you enter your Xbox Live profile, then say there is an error when you tried to log on and finally ask if you would like to resort to playing offline. Of course offline offers plenty of gameplay options between a well developed career mode, a quick race mode and stunt mode. That alone is enough to keep someone involved with Moto GP 2 for quite some time. Of course, if you do happen to have Xbox Live, this game will offer you a ridiculous amount of gameplay.

Climax did everything they could to cram as much realism into Moto GP 2 as possible and the graphics show it. From near-perfect movement physics to wonderful weather effects, this game will give you the impression of being right on the track while pushing your bike to its limits. The weather effects are probably the most impressive thing in the game: the rain will splatter and roll of your screen, if it is a hot day you will see heat waves in the distance? Even the sunsets make you want to park your bike on the side of the track and just sit and enjoy it for a while. Not to be outdone by the weather, the terrain is just as impressive. When you are at a standstill everything is very nicely textured and detailed. When you are cruising at 150 miles an hour, these great visuals will blur by you creating a very impressive speed effect, giving you the feeling of going? well? 150 miles an hour. The last aspect of the graphics would probably be the models themselves, which keep on par with the rest of the visual department. All cycle and driver models are wonderfully constructed and totally customizable when creating a biker. Of course as I said before; this is the same as the original Moto GP. There is only one true improvement over the visuals from Moto GP 2?s predecessor and that is the crash animations. Now when you wipe out your driver will tumble around as he skids to a halt with the whole situation being amplified by wonderful camera angles expressing just how bad of a driver you are.

The sound is where Moto GP 2 suffers the most. The sound effects in the game are realistic enough, but then again in a racing game there aren?t a whole lot of sound effects to be made. The one final field that this game could have stood out in was the soundtrack, but with a wide selection of mediocre rock tracks it really doesn?t add much at all to the game. Luckily there is the option to use your custom soundtracks while in-game which makes listening to music while you are driving much more tolerable.

Suggestions: Don?t get me wrong, this is easily the best motorcycle sim ever? but why not add something new? Maybe you could add some crazy make-believe tracks or some different multiplayer modes. Either way, with a new release of this game it needed something new.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 RLH: Run Like Hell

Do you ever have those moments when you realize that you have lost a piece of your life? You know; when you spend time doing something just to realize that it did nothing but eat your time and waste precious moments of your life that you could have been doing something else? Well, I just had one of those moments while playing the aptly named Xbox game ?Run Like Hell?. If you are wondering why I said it was aptly named, then here is the reason: Should you ever be wandering around and notice this game in front of you, you?d better run like hell in the other direction. From one aspect of the game to the next, Run Like Hell manages to fail in practically every department. Interplay released this game for the PS2 where it got terrible reviews across the board then decided to change practically nothing and release it as a plague on Xbox owners. The premise of the game is simple: Aliens have taken over your space station, now go take it back. As many games and movies have shown, Aliens + space = a cool scary production. Somehow Interplay managed to botch this formula, which is a real shame considering the lack of truly scary horror games on the Xbox.

One of the first big problems this game runs into is how bad the gameplay actually is. With an elaborate control scheme of ?move? and ?shoot?, there isn?t a lot to this. Of course Interplay tried to spice it up with the ability to lock on to different enemies and a melee attack with your gun, but it doesn?t help. What ends up happening is you shoot an enemy, run backwards, shoot him again, run backwards, and if he ever gets to close, smack him with the butt of your rifle and knock him to the ground? and they shoot him yet again. Interplay did attempt to add a scare factor by having enemies pop out of unsuspecting places, but they usually appeared where you couldn?t see then and you?d get attacked from behind. That is a lot less ?scary? and a lot more ?annoying? in my books. There is an addition of level puzzles to figure out information that you need to go on, but these puzzles have no logic or thinking to them. Usually it is trial and error until you happen across a solution. Most of the times these puzzles involve dying over and over and over before you realize just what you have to do. So what are the positive aspects of this gameplay? Well, there is one really cool button that tends to help this game out a lot. It is the ?eject? button on the front of your Xbox. Unfortunately your Xbox doesn?t have an ?incinerate game disc? button on it, or I would recommend using that one.

The terrible visuals only added to the terrible gameplay, as this game didn?t handle well or look well to boot. The one slight happy glimmer in the graphics department was a few of the character models. It looked like a lot of work went into them as the textures were nice and clear with very smooth blending and no nasty edges. This was most apparent on the texture model of your character. Of course it doesn?t matter how nice you look when your movements are jerky and someone stole all of your good level textures and replaced them with charcoal drawn replacements. In fact there are places in this game where the textures are missing? that?s right, they forgot to add the textures into the game! This is especially funny as I have heard complaints of this on the ps2 version, and they had even more time to clean up the Xbox version. Should you be a masochist and decide to play this game, keep an eye out for the beer bottle/cup that doesn?t exist, yet they drink out of it. I guess since they are in space they don?t need any real cups.

Now, the audio department is definitely the best area of the game. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with the game itself. The one thing I liked about Run Like Hell is the fact that one the main menu it had a selection that let you watch Breaking Benjamins play their hit song ?Polyamorous?. This music video includes a lot of clips from the game that somehow make it worth playing, but that is only a clever deception. While this music video is cool (as I?ve been a fan of Breaking Benjamins for a while) the rest of the audio department has the same lack of substance the rest of this game is suffering. I will admit that some of the voiceovers are nice. The main character, Captain Connors, is voiced by Lance Henriksen from the movie ?Aliens?. Also Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) does a voiceover for a nurse in the game. As far as the rest of the game, let?s just say less is definitely better. Every now and then during the more (supposedly) scary scenes some various rock music will kick in, but it isn?t even good rock music so it really doesn?t add a whole lot to the overall ambience of the game.

Suggestions: Interplay: while I am all for adding more games to the Xbox library, this is not the type of game I would like to see added. If you make a game on one system that isn?t good then maybe you should at least try fixing it before plaguing another system with it. In every area this game tried to excel it fell incredibly short. It wasn?t scary, it wasn?t enthralling, and the only feeling that it ever gave me was that I wasted 4 bucks to rent it.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So when I was told there was a game coming out that let me delve into a primetime Blockbuster full of lust, betrayl and action I said "No way!? They are making a Friends video game?!" Well, not quite... Fortunately, even though I still have yet to see my Friends game, Electronic Arts has Buffy: The Vampire Slayer to keep me company. While I must admit I am not the most adament of Buffy fans out there, this game definately brings the television experience to your XBox.
Luckily Buffy has finally killed a trend. For some reason it seems whenever a game is created from a form of media it has a lot of things going against it. Blade 2 was less than satisfying, Shrek was a strikeout and Bruce Lee, a game that had incredible amounts of potential, was a total disappointment. With this long streak of commercial ventures gone askew I was a little weary when I popped the game into my box. I was greeted by Giles (Buffy's trainer) who so kindly filled me in on the story behind the game, which I am pretty sure is just the opening dialogue to the actual show. Either way, even if you have never watched the show you won't be totally lost going into this game.


Here it is. The place where the game has the most chances of faultering. 100 people were surveyed with the question "How is the gameplay in Buffy" and the 3 most common answers are on the board. So what do most people, including myself, think? Survey says... Awesome! As far as the fighting system, take the combo system from spiderman, throw in some slow motion supermoves and add the ability to impale people with sharp objects. This is the kind of system that should have appeared in Bruce Lee. The fluidity of it is great, and stabbing people in the hearts never grows old. Like all hack and slash games go, though, this game brinks on the edge of tediousness at times. Luckily newer harder enemies show up as you go along and a decent storyline help spice up the game to make you want to keep playing.

Of course the first wow I got was from the visuals. Just think, Sarah Michelle Gellar at your disposal whenever you want to see her... kick vampire butt (lets not get too carried away). Texture details are awesome, after hours of playing I didn't see any pixelation at all. Speaking of things I didn't see, add slowdown and crappy draw distance to the list. This game is an all around beauty that makes me proud to own the XBox. And if you are a Buffy fan, it will make you proud to... well... be a fan I guess. Trust me though, you won't be disappointed

The dialogue from this game is also incredibly well executed uncluding recorded comments from all of the show's actual actors and actresses. The dialogue for the most part is witty, funny and keeps you interested in the game. I do need to note that I am just talking about the cutscenes right now. The actual ingame voices become very quickly repetetive to the point of annoyance. On the other end of the sound spectrum the sound does a good job keeping the atmosphere. The original Buffy theme is, of course, intact along with other gothy sounding music that does a good job of complementing gameplay, but isn't really that memorable. You most likely won't be caught humming any of the tunes during the day.

Suggestions: A decent game based off a TV show? Get out of here... but somehow you managed to pull it off. Way to go!

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon

"Kraft, movement in southwest quadrant on your six. Possible bogey." No way, I've been watching that west ridge like a hawk, nothing could have gotten behind me. Oh well, I've got decent cover, may as well check. How in the hell? How did he get back the..... My words fell silent as I felt the pain of a bullet ripping through my chest. Wait a second, I didn't feel any pain. Oh, thats right! I am just playing a video game! Lucky for me I can delve into the realm of squad military action without the hassles of real bullets and the risking of my life thanks to the folks at Ubisoft and their creation: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon. The first person shooter genre has always been dominated by solo ventures where the lone gunner takes on the entire opposing side. That makes good in recreations of Rambo-type movies, but what about the real life situations where your life rests in the hands of not only yourself, but your teammates? Finally real life gets a taste of the action with a game that isn't dependant on how many big guns you have, but on your ability to observe, plan and execute in the field. Sounds like it would be a great multiplayer, doesn't it? The good news is that it is. Ghost Recon was one of the premier titles to come out very close to the public release of Xbox Live, and for the most part it didn't let its players down. With realtime voice with your entire team it brought a new level of tactics and strategy the likes of which have never been seen in a first person shooter. Unfortunately, though this all sounds quite wonderful, there are definitely some drawbacks and shortcomings to be found. One of the most blatant ones that you have to deal with from start to finish is a very awkward and very confusing menu system. In game and out you will find yourself opening the manual again and again to try and figure out how to work it. The match finding on XBL seems to be a little bit weak, and also if people are ignoring you, there is a 90% chance you aren't holding down the white button to talk. These are trivial though and don't affect the online gameplay. Of course the single player game is another bag of problems in its own right. You will quickly find out your AI teammates are quite bipolar in their performace. One minute they will be shooting and killing people you haven't even seen yet, the next minute the will stand there while they are mowed down by an enemy... I guess they are under the impression if you don't move, they can't see you. But it isn't all bad and even the single player game has it's virtues that will keep people interested at least for a while.

This section is going to be broken down into two parts, the online play and the offline play. I almost consider them two entirely different games as you will play each one in a separate fashion and gain a totally unique experience from each. Since absolutely everone will probably play the single player game at some point in time we'll start there. As I said before, your teammates are either an immense help or a huge hindrance. You will probably find out very quickly it is much easier to take control of each squad separately instead of controlling one and leaving it to the AI to control the other. This cuts down on fatalities, though it does take a little longer to finish the mission. The game itself is average in length, you can breeze through it in about 8 or 10 hours on easy mode. Ubisoft entices you to play further with a series of unlockable items, people, maps and even gameplay modes, which almost all can also be used in the multiplayer setups. Totaling 50 unlockable items, you will begin breezing through them rather quickly until you hit around 40 when they become borderline impossible. Of course a little practice and you'll eventually be able to get those also. This is where the usefulness of the single player mode ends. After doing most of the unlockables on GR I never looked back to single player and it has been multiplayer ever since. Multiplayer has one huge distinct advantage over the solo missions, and that is your teammates have the potential to not be idiots. They also have the potential to actually communicate back and forth with you. Notice I keep saying 'potential'; just because someone can talk to you and not run out into a cornfield standing straight up doesn't necessarily mean they will. I have heard about people who don't like the online experience, but after a bit of discussion it almost always turns out they were playing with a bunch of random crappy people. Get some friends that you know and are willing to put some play time into this game and pretty soon you will be having more fun then you thought possible. The only area of actual gameplay that some people might have is the speed of a game. It must be emphasized that this is a THINKING game and not a balls to the wall Unreal type game where you are going to be running in guns-a-blazing and think you are going to make a difference. If that is the kind of fps you are looking for, feel free to look elsewhere.

The graphics of this game are pretty average. It's got come cool CG movies for an opening, but after that the game is totally engine driven, and it isn't the greatest implementation of the game engine they use. The development team, Red Storm Entertainment, said they reworked the engine to better implement the Box's built in hardware vertex shaders. I'm not quite sure what doing this improved, but the textures seem flushed out and grainy in places and all the shrubbery gets very flat and pixelated when you are crawling around in it. It seems that though it doesn't affect gameplay, a little more time could have been spent taking the graphics to that 'Xbox level' of quality. The rest of the graphics are either average or hit and miss. Character models are decent and they did a really good job with the ghillie suit for the sniper. The bullet holes show up where they need to be, though oddly enough if you actually walk face to face with someone you are playing with, where they are pointing the barrel and where you see it pointing don't exactly match up. The fog effect looks very layered at times and is almost annoying, and on top of all of that, the draw distances are sub-mediocre at points, leaving you wondering what good a sniper rifle is when you can't even see as far as the scope goes sometimes. It does need to be said that though the graphics aren't the best out there, this game is all about the gameplay and the shortcomings in the graphics department don't hinder the gameplay much at all.

The sound section hardly requires any discussing as in game it would have been very distracting. In the menu the music is that standard sullen, rhythmic military music with the snares in the background and the long drawn out horn chords. Once ingame you will actually have to use your ears to tell where very important sounds, like gunfire and shouting, is coming from. Positional surround audio is definitely an advantage as you will quickly identify where people are coming from or running to. Red Storm covered the sound effects well enough, the guns sound like guns, your guys will yell 'I'm hit!' when they get shot in the leg or arm or something like that. One really cool sound effect is when you have a grenade explode near you, you will be temporarily deafened by it. The other effect that stood out was during the raining stages. Hearing the rain patter around you and gunfire blasting from the field gives you that feeling of 'holy crap, I'm about to get shot in the head..."

Suggestions: You need to be more on top of the bugs on XBL. Game has been out for 3 months now and still not even one patch to fix all of the known bugs? Also, the gameplay rocks, but it's time to take a bit more time on the graphics department to give that overall wonderful experience.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Many movie franchises have come and gone, most hardly worth mentioning, few with a great amount of power. But from the fires of Electronic Arts came a new franchise, the ultimate franchise: the one franchise to rule them all. Already the Peter Jackson?s Lord of the Rings trilogy has drawn an incredible amount of people to the theaters, and the third movie has yet to be released. With something this immensely popular it was without a doubt that a videogame would appear using the movie?s license. The question was, would it live up to the grandeur that we have come to expect considering the hype and popularity of the series? The answer, for the most part, yes. This game attempts to blend actual footage from the latter part of the Fellowship of the Rings and the entire Two Towers movies seamlessly with relentlessly fun gameplay. This game, like all others, does have it?s shortfalls, but will definitely satisfy anyone out there yearning to step into the shoes of a human or elf, or possibly even manage to squeeze themselves into the shoes of a dwarf. As I popped in the game I set my controller back as I figured a game of this type would have a great intro; it didn?t disappoint. Taking from the first movies description of the creation of the ring, you see Isildur preparing to fight the armies of Mordor. All of the sudden the game went from live action to digitalized in a smooth transition. I found it rather odd, though, that Isildur was just standing there as the Orcs wailed on him with their axes? it took me a good thirty seconds to realize that I was actually supposed to be playing! Quickly I snatched the controller up and started whacking buttons hoping to cease the pummeling that was going on. Slowly but surely the game taught me how to play it with audio clues and after a few minutes I was killing Orcs like it was my job. A very interesting introduction to a game by any means, no menu, no options, you end up being involuntarily thrust into the gameplay. After the battle at the heart of Moria, the cutscene takes back over and fills you in on the rest of the storyline and gives you the chance to choose between Aragorn the ranger, Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf. Overall the gameplay is swift and enjoyable, though EA may have made it too swift, as the game seems a little too short. I managed to play through this game in a little over 4 hours to the very end, though there is some replayability by being able to play through the levels with all three characters.

The gameplay itself is not innovative or new by any means, but that doesn?t mean it isn?t enjoyable. Reminiscent of the styles of older games such as Double Dragon games like that, there isn?t much side-to-side moving, just very linear forwards and backwards. Though this is very restrictive, the path you take winds through the wonderfully rendered world of Middle Earth so it isn?t too frustrating. The actual combat system is very simple, involved basic moves such as quick attack, fierce attack, parry and push. As you gain experience in the game you can purchase combos that let you fight with more powerful moves. Also each of the three characters has a ranged attack varying from the bows of Aragorn and Legolas to the thrown hatchets of Gimli. The downfall to this system is in very active fight scenes you will find your self quickly regressing from strategy and moving into the evil realm of button mashing. The game does a wonderful job of making it seem like there are a lot more enemies coming at you than there actually are. A 10,000 Orc army at Helmsdeep would be a daunting task for a professional level SGI machine, much less an average Xbox. Instead EA used many less exquisitely rendered characters fighting in the background and implemented an array of fighting noises and moving shadows which engulf you and make it seem as if you are in the midst of a huge scene from the movie, when truthfully there might only be about 25 actual interactive characters.

I?m quite torn in the visuals department. On one hand I would like to think that for a licensed game, Two Towers looks just fine. But then there is the other more reasonable hand who realizes just how EA treats its? Xbox games. They are at it again with Two Towers: they released it on the PS2 almost 3 months before the Xbox games. Of course that 3 months gave them time to develop it and tweak it to take advantage of the Xbox, right? Nope, this game is on par, if not worse than the PS2 version. While the fluidity of it all stays intact, some of the textures in the landscaping and such seemed almost muddled and washed out in places. Also, the digital cut-scenes, though they flow smoothly, could have used an extra couple of polygons. I am praying that it isn?t pre-rendered as the Xbox could handle more than that on the fly. But as I said before, whether or not this is all that the Xbox is capable of, it does a good job bringing you into the world of the movie. Many extras were also added to the game, not in the line of gameplay, but as bonus material relating to the movie and the making of the game. By playing through the game and mastering it you will unlock concept art, screenshots and eventually even interviews with all of the actors who did extra voiceovers for the game. This is definitely a perk for people who absolutely love the movie, and this game almost plays out as something that should be bundled with the movie, as they are quite complimentary to each other. Of course if you aren?t a big fan of the LOTR franchise, you will probably have a hard time caring less about how much fun Elijah Woods has playing this game.


I?m quite torn in the visuals department. On one hand I would like to think that for a licensed game, Two Towers looks just fine. But then there is the other more reasonable hand who realizes just how EA treats its? Xbox games. They are at it again with Two Towers: they released it on the PS2 almost 3 months before the Xbox games. Of course that 3 months gave them time to develop it and tweak it to take advantage of the Xbox, right? Nope, this game is on par, if not worse than the PS2 version. While the fluidity of it all stays intact, some of the textures in the landscaping and such seemed almost muddled and washed out in places. Also, the digital cut-scenes, though they flow smoothly, could have used an extra couple of polygons. I am praying that it isn?t pre-rendered as the Xbox could handle more than that on the fly. But as I said before, whether or not this is all that the Xbox is capable of, it does a good job bringing you into the world of the movie. Many extras were also added to the game, not in the line of gameplay, but as bonus material relating to the movie and the making of the game. By playing through the game and mastering it you will unlock concept art, screenshots and eventually even interviews with all of the actors who did extra voiceovers for the game. This is definitely a perk for people who absolutely love the movie, and this game almost plays out as something that should be bundled with the movie, as they are quite complimentary to each other. Of course if you aren?t a big fan of the LOTR franchise, you will probably have a hard time caring less about how much fun Elijah Woods has playing this game.

The sound department seems to be the area that they put the least amount of work into. All of the actual gameplay music is ripped directly out of the movie. This isn?t a terrible thing, as the movie has a wonderful soundtrack to begin with, but doing this seems to shout ?Hey! I was rushed to the shelves because all I am is a capitalist cash-making tool! BUY ME BUY ME!? Maybe you could have made a little custom music, EA? They did make up for this somewhat in the character voices department, as they enlisted none other than the actual cast to do the voiceovers. Recording new lines for the movie are Elijah Woods (Frodo), Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Orlando Bloom (Legolas) and John Rhyes-Davis (Gimli). Don?t expect droves and droves of new audio though, as it is usually delivered in bits and pieces during the gameplay and some of it tends to get quite repetitious during long fight sequences. Again, like with the gameplay and every other area of this game, it isn?t new, it isn?t innovation, but it is good.

Suggestions: EA, why do you have to play me like this? I know my Xbox is capable of so much more. Also, where is the multiplayer? Honestly this could have been the best thing for multiplayer combat since the original Gauntlet came out in the arcades. It?s always a shame to see this kind of potential go to waste.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10

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