MEMBER PROFILE FOR Casper

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Reviews
Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow

I've always been a big fan of UbiSoft, especially since I've been playing the Xbox. I would have to say that out of all the companies that work on games for us, UbiSoft just has everything that needs to be done to make a realistic game down pat. From the lightening in dark areas of maps to the crickets you hear on your surround sound setup, these games are made to suck you right into the game like no other. It started last year with Ghost Recon, which had a huge following on Xbox Live, to Splinter Cell, a game that Metal Gear Solid fans from all over, as well as action stealth lovers across the globe, would cherish as the perfect game. You know a game is mind-blowing when the magnificent shadows, flawless thermal vision, gorgeous night vision when hiding, and the moves that you could pull off just to stay hidden have you staring at your television in amazement. This is the type of game that UbiSoft wants gamers to play and experience - one that will help you forget what is really going on out in the real world.

Yes, this review is out about a week after the game was released, but you know what? I honestly have not been able to get myself off of Pandora Tomorrow. I'm not sure if I could put my finger on it, but I would have to say that this is by far the most addicting experience I have had in a video game in quite some time, and it is mainly because of the online experience. I will get to that later, but for now, let me just say something. This game is the biggest game that will be out this year next to Halo 2 - and that is even a close comparison, especially for those that are not huge Halo fans to begin with. Pandora Tomorrow has it all in one package.


Campaign Mode:

If you do not have Xbox Live, this game gives you enough gorgeous levels that you play as Sam Fisher to keep you into this game for awhile. The controls have been reworked a bit since the original, but all for the better of course, as UbiSoft has tried to perfect this game as much as possible to get all those that missed out on last year's hit another chance to feel the intensity. While the original had near flawless animations, this year's has added many new spy moves to make Sam invisible even to an eagle, plus new toys so he?s decked out more than Inspector Gadget while they still managed to keep the realistic graphics in the game. I will never forget the experience I had in Nice, France while on the train. I don?t know which made me more nervous ? the fact that I had Sam under a train while holding onto a support pole, crawling my way under an entire car, or that I was able to climb outside of the train and do a hand-to-hand crawl past passengers and then a train comes flying by and you barely hold onto the beam. Thankfully, I have the AirFlo controller for games like this, if not, the controller would slip out of my hands from all the sweat.

The levels are fairly long, as is the story, and you can go through this game multiple times in various ways without playing it the same way twice, it is that open. You are allowed various audible levels on each map, some ending the mission as soon as you are spotted. This allows you to work your game plan around what you feel would best fit the objective at hand. Some would prefer to just shoot out the lights and then sneak up on someone and grab their neck to knock them out, while others would prefer to just give the terrorist the slip after whistling a certain way to distract them.


Xbox Live play:

See, this is where the game is at for me. I had to force myself to beat this game in campaign mode to get this review in, but I can not get through to some people how addicting this game is on Live. 2 vs. 2 on Live might not sound like the normal run-and-gun FPS? everyone is accustomed to, but that?s what makes it what it is ? a true stealth multiplayer, something no game has been able to pull off in this manner. So you want to be a spy, huh? Well, here are some smoke grenades, a few flash bangs; a spy bullet or two; and a couple of sticky cams; but realize you only have a taser gun and the shadows to overcome the heavily equipped mercenary. Mercenaries are given assault rifles; frag grenades; cute little mines that beep a lot before you blow up, and some spy traps that use invisible lasers to detect a spy?s location. As a bonus to the toys, the spy?s get a choke hold move if they are good enough to sneak behind their opponent and hit the A button at the right time to choke them up (hence, the CasperClutch? that I have become popular with). After doing so, you can kill them by snapping their neck, knock them unconscious, or drag them around the map for a nice view of the scenery while whispering sweet nothings into their ear. The mercenaries are unable to do a thing once they are choked up and can only hope that if they spot someone behind them, that they are able to use their astonishing melee attack against them so they don?t get eliminated.

Seems a bit unbalanced, right? Wrong. This is where UbiSoft has excelled like no other. The spy?s are setup in a normal third-person view like the campaign mode, while the mercenaries are setup in first person ? and not an easy one I might add. The spy is given a mission at the beginning of the match ? either Neutralization Mode (neutralize the ND133?s on the map); Extraction Mode (basically Capture the Flag with ND133?s); and Sabotage Mode (spy?s have to place a modem nearby the ND133?s to neutralize them). With these various game types, there is a vast amount of games to be played on Live, not to mention bragging rights. Players are ranked on Xbox Live using the popular ELO ratings from Rainbow Six 3. As this isn?t flawless and has yet to be really announced to the public of what points each objective or move does, it does even out the playing field as I can get into a game and look at a player?s ranking to tell basically how experienced my opponent or teammate is. Even though a few of the gamers that prefer the ?arena-style? of Rainbow Six or Counterstrike style games tend to complain about the 2 vs. 2 aspects of this game on Live, I will not be the first when I say that it shouldn?t be any other way, great choice. Those without the superb broadband connections can even host full games now in case they have problems to searching for a game. Speaking of searching for games, another reason Xbox gamers love UbiSoft is that a few days after a known problem was found when using Optimatch to find games, there was a patch released to fix this issue. It?s good to have a company that cares about the gamers, but it would have been nice have this thoroughly tested a bit more and fixed pre-production.

While I sit back and praise the graphics on this game, I will not say that they are flawless for everyone. Why does one of the best designed games for the Xbox not support 480p? I can?t see why anyone would ignore that when they make the game this good, but alas, it is not only UbiSoft that has done it, but many other developers out there decide not to help out the older gamers that take pride in their high-tech setup, minus the common Dolby Digital. One reason I bring this up is because I notice that when walking with Sam, the neon light that is on his back shows some pixels that usually wouldn?t be noticeable in other games, even after adjusting the brightness, and it tends to get a tad annoying when you have this extra boxy glare that is around him. This is only noticeable in certain shaded areas, so it?s more of a slight distraction, rather than a flaw.

Suggestions: All in all, I love this game and realize that I will not be going near another Xbox Live game until Halo 2 comes out, or some sleeper hit decides to come out of the woodworks. I have faith in UbiSoft giving us enough downloadable content to keep us up more hours out of the night than our boss will allow and realize that this could possibly ruin a much needed summer for those that have suffered through a horrendous winter in the Northeast.

Overall Score: 9.8 / 10 Project Gotham Racing 2


Project Gotham was our first racing goodness on the Xbox, as it was available at launch and purchased by everyone that wanted a great racing game and one that showed the power of the Xbox at the same time. This series has been a favorite amongst everyone and will undoubtedly begin to flaunt another power that Microsoft has given us: XboxLive. Not only does PGR2 have what it takes in the graphic department like the original, but to be able to challenge your friends and the best in the world using the XboxLive service is something that no game has done so far. When preparing for a race, there is now a window in the corner that will show the top time of all gamers on XboxLive and you can even download the ghost car to race that top time. Never before have you been able to challenge someone on Live in this way and Microsoft is on to something with this.



To stray away from the Live aspect of this game for a moment, let?s just take a look at what has changed in the two years since the original. Of course the original thought of Kudos comes right to mind when you think of this game, some saw it as frustrating, while others thought it was a novel concept to avoid the simplicity of just the start / finish lines. Kudos hasn?t been totally revamped, but it sure did get much better with new categories that are viewable after each race to see what you did right and what you missed so you can try to get it accomplished on the next go-around. Combo bonuses are now included, so you can now earn Kudos for linking moves together before your Kudos Stash moves to your Kudos Bank (total points for the round). You also can collect Kudos for your position, clean race, overtake, air, two wheels and race line amongst other tricks that can be used to grab some Kudos. Once your bank reaches a certain goal point, you get Kudos Tokens, which in turn, helps you upgrade to a better car in that circuit or save them to get a speed demon later on.



There is so many cars this time around, you?ll be wishing that you could take a bus at the end of the game after all this driving. Bizarre Creations went out of their way and put in over 100 cars for you to play with and more 225+ songs to jam to while you?re cruising around in the gorgeous maps of Hong Kong, Chicago, Sydney, or Stockholm. Music by Accidental Superhero, American Hi-Fi, Bif Naked, Erik Sermon, Sir Mix-A-lot, Tyrese, Uncle Kracker are just some of the names that you will recognize in PGR2?s radio stations. Oh, and did I mention that in addition to all that music you can have your own custom tunes to jam to, a feature that is almost required for all Xbox fans when seeking a multiplayer game. Maps were gorgeous and beautifully laid out. The shading off of the road in between bridges or other overheads was flawless, in sync with your cars shading also. Flocks of birds were seen flying over head in formation, but no droppings were found on my Pagani Zonda S thankfully, since I just took all morning waxing it.


The AI was finally improved in the game. My main problem with the AI in the original was that they would just go in the exact same race line each time, being predictable after awhile so it was easy to know where you were going to pass them. They seemed to add a bit of aggression to the drivers this time, as after I would bump into one more than once, they would carry out a vengeance and take me out on the next corner. You can go from getting a steel medal to a gold medal and the differences between them are like night and day. If you want to take it easy and earn some Kudos to get cars sooner, then take the steel medal challenge, as it?s easy as pie. The gold requirements almost force you to run a perfect lap and have one of the fastest cars in the circuit in order to finish it.



The challenges have returned from the original, but have been adjusted in single player a tad. The timed run let?s you race against a total race time while earning Kudos. The Street Race is you versus four to eight AI cars, trying to place what you selected prior to the race. In the speed camera challenge, you have to race through a bendy track to get to a certain speed. Gold is usually over 100 mph, but the rest are doable early on in the game (Silver = 93-98 mph). One-on-One is a balls-to-the-wall race against the AI just like in the original. Cone challenges got trickier this time, having a good chunk of the course cut off with cones so that you have to be very careful to not go out of the path to lose Kudos. Overtake is also back, but make sure you have a fast car if you expect to catch up and pass 7 cars in 3 minutes.


The series have been adjusted to fit certain car categories and add more vehicles on the table. Compact Sports, SUV, Pacific Muscle, Roadster, Sports Coupe, American Muscle; Grand Touring; Track Specials, and Ultimate are just some of the series that you will be able to race in. Once you get the main handle on the game, you?ll be able to view around and check out your cars in the garage or the showroom. In the Garage Mode, you get to walk around and take a look around at what cars are available for that circuit. While looking around in first person mode, you?ll notice the cars that have yet to be unlocked under cloths, fans on the ceiling and yellow paint on the floor. I didn?t notice any toolboxes, so I guess this was more of a paint shop then a mechanical shop. The Showroom is astounding. You can tour through all the cars in game in a huge building. There are still sheets over the ones that are still locked, but you can test drive them when you get farther in the game, even before buying them with Kudos. You can go up hallways that lead you to other showrooms showing off different styles of cars from various parts of the globe. I was rolling out of the showroom with a Jaguar XJ220 that you'll only own if you win the Powerball or get struck by lightening while playing your Xbox and make a TV movie out of it. You then get to run a few laps around the test track and compare each cars time to your previous runs, testing out the handling, braking, and acceleration on what car you?re planning on purchasing.


The Live experience is what will not only show exactly what makes the Xbox the best console out there, but why Xbox has now made the best online gaming network to date. You will now be able to download Ghosts of the XboxLive subscribers whether they?re online or not. Being able to race the Ghost of the top players on Live should be motivation enough, if it?s not, then how does having a new challenge every week fit you? Well, that?s what Microsoft?s plans are heading into this, as it will provide an even long term effect on playability. Not only will you be able to do this while on Live, but you can access the Ghosts while playing single player as long as you?re connected to XboxLive. This was unheard of before this as no game has let you compare your scores or race against past leaders like this, while still being able to play on Live after that. I?m very impressed with this game and Microsoft?s lean on XboxLive, it?s where it?s at.


Suggestions: Work on more realistic dynamics for the car, as they don't all spin that easy on turns. As far as anything else, you guys turned this around nicely, great job!!

Overall Score: 9.8 / 10 NHL Hitz Pro


I will confess right now that I?m a hardcore Hitz fan. That?s right, I said it and I?m proud of it. I have the first 2 games for the Xbox and still play 2003 on a nightly basis with my friends. I played so many games of 2003 that I went through 3 disks already and have found every bug in that game, which really isn?t that hard, but there was never any fixes for them. Create-a-player was my hook. My best player was 7?0?, 250 lbs, had a huge horse head and was named Mr. Marbles. He could shoot over 110 mph for a slap shot, pummel everyone on the ice and after a fight, the announcer would scream ?Mr. Marbles? The Destroyer? ? good stuff. My whole team has a special character and are all sporting my friend?s names and some characteristics. The speed, pickup and play game style, and addictiveness for this game has turned this series into a must own for myself.



So after I got my hands on the game, I was very shocked to see what they did to this series. New and improved menu layouts, 5 on 5 play, bigger rink, more fundamentally sound hockey? Did Midway sell out to try and keep up with ESPN and EA? They did, but they did it in style. This game has now proven to be a competitor to the 2 sports leaders. But they changed their complete image. They went from a cartoonish game to a much improved sim, but is it still Midway? I?m still not too sure yet, but whatever you want to call it, it?s definitely a great hockey game.



The game play is much improved this year, as the addition of two more players on the ice has now opened up many more plays then the previous ?pass and shoot a one-timer?. The deke and guard puck moves are still the same, but now, when you?re behind the goal, you can go for the new wraparound move that was added. This basically takes you from directly behind the goalie, snaps you around tremendously fast, and allows you to try a nice Gretzky-like shot. The AI has been upped quite a bit, making it much harder to just slam everyone around and take out the goalie (I had times that the goalie just knocked me on my butt while I was skating).



Hero equipment was a nice add-on feature to look forward to during franchise mode. By accomplishing various tasks during the games, you get awarded equipment that is actually ?used? by real players. Each piece of equipment adds to your franchise players stats. You can get Turco Pads, the Sakic Stick, or even the Domi Helmet (they should have made them boxing gloves, but I won?t get picky). Speaking on the topic of boxing, the fighting system has been changed. Fighting and hockey go together like white on rice; it?s essential and one of the few reasons why I watch the sport. The previous versions of Hitz had a sweet system ? low punch, high punch, and grab ? which led to some very cool finishes. So what did they do to improve it? I guess someone at Midway thought that playing ?Rock ?em Sock ?em Robots? was cool again and made it so you have to tap a random button each time faster than your opponent to get one hit in, three punches to win. Why? Why did they do this? I disliked this so much that I disabled fighting during the game because it was just a nuisance; very disappointing. Franchise Mode is setup so that you can make your own team (no special heads anymore) and add attributes to your players, but while playing no-name teams. That kind of takes the fun out of things because you don?t really know who you?re playing to start your team, but it does help you get used to the game and you can get updates using the franchise status option in the menu. Once you?ve completed the set amount of games required for Franchise Mode, you get promoted to the NHL to play with the big boys in Season Mode.



Pick-up Hockey has been added to get a nice quick game in of backyard hockey. You can either play on the Local Pond, City Park, or Parking Lot while setting how many goals the other team must score to win. This was a nice add-on being that on the Parking Lot, it?s roller hockey, but you can?t play with your custom teams, just the 2 teams they decide you should play with. It?s nice to have this in there when you don?t feel like getting sucked into a season with your franchise. Scotty Bowman is also back giving you some tips, if needed, on how hockey is played, but he brought some friends this year, a handful of NHL All-Stars. Scotty gives you you?re tips, you do the task, and then a clip from a pro player comes on telling you why you did what you just did. Glenn Murry (Boston), Nicklas Lidstrom (Detroit), and Stephen Weiss (Florida) are just some of the players they got to help out with this game. Nice touch as it adds that much more to the simulation edge Midway was shooting for with this game.



Overall, this game is great competition for ESPN and EA. With the new Pro style of games, Midway Sports can now keep up with the others and hopefully broaden their fan base. It?s just that for this writer, I don?t see why something that wasn?t really broke got fixed?.and totally changed around.


Suggestions:
Hopefully Midway decides to stick with the arcade style they are known for in the future and not drift away from the hardcore extreme style of their games. Listen to the fans of this game and let us play together on XboxLive, it?s there for a reason.


Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 ESPN NFL Football 2K4

When Sega announced that it would be working more directly with ESPN, you could only imagine how amazing this game would be presentation-wise. What was not expected was that it was going to be the best football game of the year. To say that ESPN NFL has changed for the better is an understatement. With new additions this year like The Crib, First Person Football, and with all of the fixes to tighten up the Xbox Live! Experience, this game can not be overlooked. Hearing Chris Berman saying ?He could?.go?.all?the?.waaaay? while watching your favorite player on NFL Primetime is something that we all hoped for.



The layout of the menus and pre/post game shows is what you see every Sunday when watching highlights of the NFL, but this time, it?s you that makes the realistic highlights shown in the game. The Crib allows you to unlock items to stack up your little bachelor pad with everything from bar stools to bobble-heads to mini games. Air hockey, paper football, and trivia are some mini-games that can be unlocked while getting various accomplishments in the game. Each team has their own bobble-head doll on the rack and you can even play with their heads with the right analog. I caught myself moving Jevon Kearse?s head around while listening to ?Hypnotize? by Biggie Smalls ? using the custom soundtrack feature.



When it comes to game time, this is definitely one that you can just pick up and play. If you?re not up for being an owner and controlling your team?s fate for a few seasons, then you can play First Person Football (FPF) against the computer. Mind you, if you do go with this option, I advise that you are prepared to step directly into the game. With this brand new feature that has yet to be used by any game, this is more than just getting into the game; this is putting you right onto the field. The sounds of linemen crunching, defensive end?s screaming and quarterbacks barking their calls, you are in your player?s head, literally. With only limited view to the left and right, it is a bit tricky to get used to when passing, but when running or on defense, you can see the holes in the line so you can bust right through for a big gain. Drop back with the quarterback and find that open receiver, while having a lineman come right at you, go into ?bullet time? and dodge the incoming attack and throw that pass for a nice game.



If FPF mode is too much for you, then take a shot at the franchise mode, facing your team off against the rest of the NFL, using this year?s NFL schedule. You can have the AI assist you in free-agent pickups and trades, or you can try and steal an up and coming player from a contending team to help give you that needed edge. When you?re the owner, your main office is setup with a computer for you to get ?emails? which are player updates, power rankings, latest injuries, and weather reports so you can get enough prep before the game to make yourself a football guru. You can play the preseason games, or skip past them and get straight to the real games. Berman introduces each game, making his pick for which player to look out for, plus, his known style of team intros ?Titans?..Dolphins? and then it?s game time. The camera zooms around the field and the shading of the stadium and players is so amazing you can feel the goose bumps when you hear the crowd roar for their team. The player models are the best I?ve ever seen in any sports game. Watching the Jets play the Dolphins, you can even see the cowlick in Chad Pennington?s hair while calling the coin toss ? insane! With the revamped play calling that was added to the game this year, ESPN went with the EA-style of 3 plays wide and numerous plays specific to each team. With the ability to change your RB or WR with the press of a button when calling a play, you can throw your opponent for a loop and keep your guys healthy at the same time. Hot routes and maximum passing are back and ready to be used to get that extra slot open to bust in for the big score. The same announcers are back and just as funny as before, but I did notice some times when they do a slight pause when announcing stats, odd being that it wasn?t an issue last year. The running game has been enhanced this year, as it?s the strongest that the 2K series has ever been. Another improvement that I?ve noticed as that you can actually hold onto the ball after getting hit hard, unlike last year when I had a few safeties sneeze on my WR and he dropped the ball. The new player animations added this year make this game a must have. Running a play, spinning, seeing your knees actually bend and calves tighten on the juke moves put a lifelike look to the game. After a nice run or big play, you will get a shot of either your player using ESPN?s real game presentation including height, weight, college and years as a pro or you will get the amazingly real looking replays in a mini screen, just like when you watch the Sunday night game on ESPN. Also, when the referees screw up a call, just challenge that bad boy and pray that they aren?t the 3 blind mice when it comes to watching the replay.



In last year?s edition, I would play 2k3 on Xbox Live and get upset because of other gamers using the ?zoom-out? feature to try and distract me while I was either kicking or getting ready to hike - very annoying to say the least. This, as well as not being able to call a timeout when messing up your kick, is just some of the improvements that have been made to enhance the Live experience. When someone wants to quit the game, you can either choose to let them do it without getting a loss (in case either you or your friend picked the wrong team/uniform/playbook) or force them to forfeit and get a drop on their record. Unfortunately, there are divergence errors back, but I?m hoping that ESPN will get on that and fix those issues as soon as possible Even though ESPN does not support XSN, the Live experience is simply amazing this year, almost perfect. For a real rush and challenge, try and play one of your friends in FPF, but make sure before you sit down in your chair to have a fresh pair of Depends on, because this is where all of the excitement is at and when you have a blitz coming in on you, you start to shake. I?ve been hit so hard in FPF mode that Ricky Williams got knocked out cold, the screen got fuzzy and then I was looking into the sky as my trainer came over and asked if I was OK?..WOW!. ESPN is the best sports game I have played to date and for anyone interested, I will be handing out beatings on Xbox Live.



Suggestions:

Get involved the XSN or come up with a system for gamers so it is easier to organize leagues and tournaments. Try and get a lock on the divergence errors on XBoxLive. The cheerleaders, at least make a better attempt so they don't look like a Fixodent commercial with the smiles. And on a side note, not all NFL Teams have cheerleaders (Jets and Giants), learn that.



Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 Outlaw Golf

This is a complete sim of golf. The overall look, feel, entertainment of this game is out of control. It is very realistic, but yet funny as hell at the same time.

I had originally expected this to be one of those 3-button-swing golf styles like the other ones, but using the analog to it's absolute best was ingenius. The composure meter is great also, when you start sucking, you lose your composure, so you keep sucking, until you start hitting better, or at least on the course.

The grass, the water, the sky, the bridges...I haven't seen many games that contained as much fine detail as this game. Hypnotix used the full potential of the Xbox, a major plus coming from a new developer.

The music is very tolerable and keeps you interested in the game. As far as the comments and remarks from the announcer and golfers, it hasn't been too repetitive as of yet, which is good compared to how much they say. The introductions are repetitious, but that is expected.

Suggestions: Online play and some more boards wouldn't be bad. Also, some secret hidden characters would be pretty neat to play for. Also, heckling the other players and having the crowd yell at you would be cool too.

Overall Score: 10.0 / 10

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