MEMBER PROFILE FOR CrazyCougar

Total Reviews: 66
Average Overall Score Given: 8.17121 / 10
Total Forum Posts: 2646

Reviews
G.I. Joe

Wherever there?s trouble, G.I. JOE is there! G.I. JOE is the world?s frontline special ops team, the best of the best. Operating out of the G.I. JOE PIT MOBILE HEADQUARTERS, they are our first defense ? and best offense - against any threat to peace and freedom. G.I. JOE has diffused such a threat, scoring a decisive victory over the forces of COBRA, a ruthless organization determined to rule the world. The cataclysmic Nanomite plot of COBRA COMMANDER was stopped at the last moment and the BARONESS, one of his top lieutenants, is now cooling her heels in the holding cell of the G.I. JOE PIT MOBILE HEADQUARTERS. But as G.I. JOE turns its attention to mopping up a splinter group led by COBRA weapons supplier M.A.R.S. Industries, COBRA COMMANDER puts his retaliatory strike in motion. It?s G.I. JOE: The Rise of COBRA.

G.I. JOE is a highly trained, classified special operations unit composed of men and women from around the globe. Officially, these warriors don?t even exist. Few know the truth ? That G.I. JOE fights a secret war, as the first and last line of defense against forces that seek to plunge our world into chaos. Wherever there?s trouble, G.I. JOE is there. Now you know? and knowing is half the battle.

The BARONESS has escaped, and in the process has taken HEAVY DUTY, one of the JOES, as a hostage of her own. Brought to you by the people at EA, with licensing by Hasbro, G.I. JOE: The Rise of COBRA puts you in command of some of your favorite characters from the show, as well as the movie, as you seek some of your fellow JOES, as well as fight COBRA forces along the way, in an effort to shut down the company supplying COBRA with their weapons, as well as stop COBRA from trying to take over the world. Defeating COBRA takes more that a good team. You must hone and master a combination of fast reflexes and smart tactics to outwit and outfight the overwhelming forces that COBRA COMMANDER has in store for you.

Being a fan of the G.I. JOE cartoon back in the eighties, I was really looking forward to playing this game. I was, however, a bit skeptical since the trend of movie based games succeeding hasn?t had the greatest record. Needless to say, I was not disappointed. With an intriguing story line and pretty much non-stop action, this game provided me with more than enough to get my JOE fix out of the way. The first level starts with you using a team of DUKE and SCARLETT as you fight your way through COBRA forces in an attempt to rescue HEAVY DUTY, a heavy weapons specialist taken hostage when BARONESS made her escape.

As most of us know, the reputation of movie based games has not fully lived up to expectations, so needless to say, I was a bit wary as to how this gaming experience would be. I have to admit, I wasn?t disappointed. I found myself remembering my childhood as I saw all of those old characters from the cartoon that I enjoyed watching while growing up. As of the time of writing this review, I have yet to see the movie, so what I?ve figured out is that this basically picks up where the movie leaves off. I?ve made it through the arctic region, heading to the desert region, and have unlocked a couple characters and a good old Public Service Announcement from back in the cartoon series of the eighties.

Before each mission, you select 2 soldiers from the roll call. Each member of G.I. JOE has unique weapons and abilities, offering an exciting mix of specialties for each mission. If you find that one soldier really isn?t working for you, you do have the option to change out your soldiers using teleportation chambers found in each mission. Search for Intel briefcases, file cards, and dog tags of contacts as you fight your way through each mission. As you fight through each mission, GENERAL HAWK and the Integrated Force back at the G.I. JOE PIT MOBILE HEADQUARTERS constantly update your objectives as new data comes in. Occasionally, they also drop armored vehicles and carry out airstrikes to help you get through some of the tougher areas.

As you fight through each level, you build up special combat actions and the ability to use your accelerator suits. Special combat actions are unique to each player and can get you out of some tough situations. The accelerator suits temporarily boost your speed and come equipped with an unlimited supply of tri-stinger missiles and a chain gun. While in the accelerator suit, you are resistant to enemy fire, so when you find yourself in a jam, if your accelerator suit is available, activate the suit and unleash havoc upon all those that threaten you.

With 3 levels of difficulty to choose from, Casual, Advanced, and Hardcore, this gaming experience will provide challenge for even the most seasoned gamer. For the inexperienced player, casual mode is relatively easy, and if the player dies, there are unlimited lives. Advanced gives the player one life for each character per checkpoint,, whereas that hardcore difficulty provides the biggest challenge, as each of the characters are provided with only one life for the entire mission. If both characters die, the mission is over, and must be restarted. With its simple and addictive gameplay, it doesn?t take long for the gamer to immerse his or herself into the world of G.I. Joe and fight the forces of evil.

When you first start the game, the controls you find are very easy to master. The first level gives you a mini tutorial on how to fire your weapons, take cover, and the all essential movement of your character. Using these basics, you progress through the levels. While some of the levels seem to be relatively easy to progress through, some just seem downright hard or next to impossible on Hardcore difficulty, so this should provide a decent challenge to gamers, so long as they remember the basics that they are taught in the beginning.

Graphically, this game takes you into the world of G.I. JOE, with beautifully drawn landscapes and characters. While visually the graphics were nicely done with a variety of levels to battle my way through, there were however, a few glitches that I did come across, such as the 2D white rabbit that I saw in the one level in the arctic region. Glitches such as these can take away from a game as gamers tend to see these as areas that weren?t completed, and they start to look for more inconsistencies in the game, which in turn takes away from the actual gaming experience.

All in all, this is a very good game, while with its flaws, overall submerses the gamer into the world of G.I. JOE. With a few phrases from the series, and possibly even from the movie, though I?m not sure on that point, this was a very enjoyable gaming experience. Wherever there is trouble, G.I. JOE is there. So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

Suggestions: During a 3rd person shooter such as this, a stationary camera sometimes takes away from the game, as it did in this case. When looking for items, such as Intel briefcases, sometimes they are hidden behind things where a rotating camera would help players find these items. Also, the targeting system, while good in its simplicity, could have been improved. I found myself on multiple occasions trying to target an enemy, and I wind up targeting a point cluster box.

Also, online multiplayer would be a nice improvement, as people on Xbox Live like to play their games online. Having local multiplayer is a nice feature so that 2 friends can get together and play a game, playing it on Xbox Live would just enhance that multiplayer experience that much more. Another suggestion would be to add more character phrases. I?m not sure how many times I heard ?You should have surrendered? just in the arctic region alone. Other than that, overall a very sound game.

Overall Score: 7.3 / 10 'Splosion Man

The Summer of Arcade has had nothing but stellar titles and Splosion Man is one of those must have for anyone that enjoys a great game, especially a puzzle-side scrolling adventure fanatic. The game feels very much like Cloning Clyde in many aspects but is so much more fun in just the fact you get to constantly blow stuff up. Splosion Man is developed by the fine folks at Twisted Pixel Games whom have brought you the critically acclaimed title ?The Maw?. Microsoft Game Studios is credited with the publishing rights on this one. This game weighs in at a price of 800 MSP and its well worth every point you spend.

The game is basically a 2.5D, if you will side-scroller/action/puzzle game. Yeah it is quite the little package. The game itself is very simple in concept but the graphics are stunningly colorful and well done. You?ll have the occasionally cut scene detailing the character and his rivals, but for the most part you?ll be side scrolling your way throughout the game. The puzzle part of the game lies in the fact that you must figure out how to complete each and every level. And the action comes in the form of detonating your character to destroy enemies and reach areas not attainable by standard methods. I will detail this a little more in the next few paragraphs.

So the premise of the game is to basically traverse each level and figure out how to get from the start to the finish. You?ll use your character?s ability to detonate his own body to destroy enemies, climb to new heights and propel yourself into areas unattainable by a standard jump or climb. The control scheme in the game is very simple. Any face button will detonate your characters and you use the left stick to move and aim your trajectory. The only thing you will find difficult is traversing some of the wide gaps or timing a few jumps and explosions with flying barrels that explode when detonated which gives you extra boost in your jump.

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 Madden NFL 10

The dog days of August are upon us and the sounds of crashing pads and helmet to helmet collisions can be heard on any football practice field in America. From Pee-Wee football to the Pros, the preseason has officially started and with that comes the arrival of the newest Madden game. Madden 10 hits most store shelves on August 14th and is one of the most anticipated titles year in and year out among most football fans. Each year since coming onto the 360 platform, EA has taken baby steps to upping the ante on their title, and this year is no different but there is one exception. This year?s Madden has taken more than baby steps towards being the ultimate football game for all football fans to enjoy. Why is that? Well, read on and find out. I?ll touch on some of the main new features and what is good and not so good about Madden 10. If I tried to include everything, we?d have and encyclopedia on our hands so I will keep it simple.

Madden 10 offers you a wide variety of game play tweaks, changes and animations that ultimately contribute to one of the best NFL licensed games we have seen in a long time. While there are still some quirks and stiffness to the player models when they move, EA has really revamped their animation system to give a more natural look and feel to the movements of players on the field. Ea has literally replaced many of the old animations with completely new and improved versions such as running styles, passing styles, tackling, etc. Runners now seem to have a more natural lean to them when running rather than looking like they have a vertical pole running from the back of their neck straight down to their tailbone. The whole game has been tinkered with in one fashion or another and all of which is for the better of the game.

Field textures look fantastic and the stadium renditions are beautifully mastered. This year?s Madden really focuses on presentation and television style broadcasting. The integration of the NFL Network presentations and just general on field animations give you the look and feel of what you may actually see on any given Sunday. Referees will have conferences on possible touchdowns while the chain gang will make their way onto the field to measure possible first down conversions. After a while these extra goodies do get old, and thankfully can be skipped with the press of a button.

As I stated, EA has also tweaked the actually game play. The running game seems a lot smoother than it has in the past and while it?s still not perfect it is a step in the right direction. The blocking for the most part on running is pretty good, but there are times when your run blockers run off away from the play as if they are locked onto a certain player regardless of where that player is on the field. When it comes to pass blocking though, the folks at EA have really come through an actually created a pocket. Now some pass rushers, dependant on ability, can bust through of course and they should be able to. The pocket will break down when you roll outside the tackles for sure, and the defense is very quick to react to a rolling QB. One of the great new features in this game is the added pressure on the QB that he actually feels. Your controller will rumble when pressure is approaching if that QB?s awareness ratings are good. If you try to throw the ball when getting hit, expect a duck to come flying out of his hands which more times than not will be intercepted by an opposing player within 10 yards of the ball. I can see this animation happening a little too often against real life opponents only due to players whom run their defensive ends around the outside and quickly get pressure on the QB. So the jury is still out on that one.

The overall game speed has been slowed giving a better feel for thing happening on the field and a much more realistic experience. While isn?t perfect by any means, it?s very close to being the game everyone wants to play. EA had even mentioned that they used 2K footage to help establish a better game and build upon things 2K has done in the past. The game speed is a great start and while some will say that a few of the animations are still over the top, I think they look great and feel very natural compared to previous renditions of the game. The specific QB throwing animations definitely look great and feel natural as well, and you?ll have to adjust for each QB you play with in the game.

The defensive AI in this game is a lot smarter than it has been in the past which is great. Sure every once in a while the AI will just leave you scratching your head, but for the most part it?s very good. Defensive backs react to the ball and will actually jump routes or even knock the ball out of players hand when they make a catch. The infamous ?rocket catch? seems to be gone, but I am a bit skeptical because videogame football always tends to bring out the folks that like to exploit everything and anything they can just to get a win. Then again, that goes for any video game in general.

The biggest addition to the game is the new Pro-Tak animation system. This new innovation allows up to 9 person gang tackling and all new player animation steering, branching and real time manipulation. Some players can break out of or even truck through gang tackles, but of course a skill like this is based solely upon their rating to do so. Another on any given Sunday option is the ability for referees to blow the whistle even if the runner hasn?t gone down. If forward progress is stopped, the refs will blow the play dead as they do in real life. To me this is a huge feature that has been added because it impacts things such as fumbles and injuries that should not have occurred which can greatly affect the outcome of a game.

One of the downsides in Madden 10 is the commentary and voice over acting. Almost all of the voice interaction seems to be very fragmented, whether it is in the NFL Network highlight show or the in game commentary. While some fragmentation could be expected with the Extra Point Show, it really is unforgiveable with the in game commentary. Especially when compared to the likes of NHL 09 with Gary Thorne which had amazing on the fly commentary that never seemed fragmented and always rolled smoothly with what was happening on the field. Hammond and Collinsworth literally sound like they are in 2 separate booths at times which can be a little annoying.

The only other extremely annoying new feature in the game is the fight for a fumble. While it can be turned off in some game modes I still tend to think that this mini-game should not be there to begin with. When a player puts the ball on the ground, both teams must fight in the pile to gain possession of the football. A mini game comes up on screen and you must mash the appropriate buttons matching the on screen command to pull the possession bar your way. The button you are pressing changes at certain points during the scuffle and the team which mashes the correct button the most will be the one that ends up with the ball. Now I completely understand the concept of the mini game, but in all honestly this is something that should be left as a random result and we should be kept in suspense as the players scramble in the pile to gain possession. I think you should just watch a small cut scene and then the game presents you with the results. That is just my opinion of course.

You?ll also have some of the typical players running out of bounds, and just plain stupid AI at some points in the game. The overall feel and game play is leaps and bounds beyond what it has been in the past though, and these complaints I have mentioned while annoying will not detract from your overall experience. With the exception of the lame duck throw and the fumble fight mini-game, I think the game is very enjoyable to play. Madden reaches out to both the casual player as well as the hardcore guys that want to control every aspect.

There are online options galore in the game such as accelerated games to keep game quick online. Selectable weather allows you to select the weather you want to play in or go with a Weather Channel Live Feed to play in whatever the real life weather is at that current moment. How about being able to select mix-n-match uniforms? Now you can select how you want your team to look on the field when online. Want the Alternate Jersey with white or dark pants? Then do it. Very cool stuff indeed.

One option that I do have to mention is the Elite Status you can obtain on Madden. By downloading this option your online account gains Elite Status. You?ll be able to access VIP Lobbies, Leaderboards and the new Elite Gametype. Elite gameplay features All Madden difficulty and is tuned for exclusively hardcore players in ranked games. This comes at a cost of 400 MSP points which is equivalent to $5. It is your option to purchase this status, but it is not required. It does not affect the game experience if you do not purchase the extra. You?ll also be able to purchase ?Boosts? for your offline games. Rather than Boosts, let?s just call them cheats. Again, this is your option to buy and is NOT required. You play franchise as normal when you don?t have the cheats. The cheats will act almost as Madden Cards did in the past and given you extra ability to do things you normally cannot do. Say a player is retiring and you can?t talk him out of it. With a certain boost, you can force him to stay another year without question.

Not only has the game play been changed up and tweaked for the better, but Madden 10 introduces a new option that folks have been waiting for. Online Franchise is a huge new feature in this year?s game and will probably be one of the most played options in the game other than standard ranked games. Online franchise allows you and up to 31 other people to compete in a 10 year franchise mode with trades, free agent signings, injuries, rookie drafts and real NFL scheduling. Almost everything you can do in an offline franchise can be done with buddies in an online franchise.

We have to get one thing out of the way, and while its not?s a huge issue it could be one that upsets a few people in the gaming world. Before playing an online franchise you must activate the option in the menu. To do this, you enter a code printed on the back of your Madden manual. Once you have successfully done this, the online franchise mode is open for good. You are only limited to 5 different franchises at one time, but can play the mode for the entire life of the game. The thing that might tend to upset some folks is that the code can only be used once. So in other words if you rent the game and do not receive a manual, or someone whom rented before you had already used the code than the option cannot be unlocked or played. The easiest solution around this is to purchase the titles yourself. Now Ea will offer you a separate option if you purchase a used copy or rent the game. You?ll be able to purchase an unlock code online, but at the time of this review no price point has been specified. If I had to guess, I would venture to say it?ll cost you about $5.

I can only imagine though how the community will accept this. But let?s consider a few things that you get for that $5. You get a full live online franchise with other players and each player has control of their own destiny. Full web integration and even support with an iPhone App is available as well. Yeah that?s right, you?ll be able to access and run your franchise from a computer or even on your iPhone when not in the area of your console. The online franchise is laid out quite well, and while I would rather have seen some limits able to be set on signing free agents or trading players it all still works very well with a commissioner whom is on top of his game.

Also included in this year?s game is the online co-op. While its only 2 persons versus the AI, it?s still a nice advancement towards putting 2 versus 2 online or even more in the future with full 5 on 5 or even 11 on 11. The game is fun to play with a buddy, but camera angles tend to make the game mode a bit annoying. The camera changes based on your position and location on the field which can tend to give you bad angles and looks. On defense, due to the camera angle, you?ll also get some bad angles especially when changing players on defense since you are not locked into a specific position for the play like on offense.
For the offline folks, you?ll have plenty of game mode options at your finger tips. Franchise, Superstar Mode, Madden Moments, and Mini-games are all included. And of course, you?ll be able to import NCAA Draft Classes in franchise mode.

Overall Madden 10 is a great football experience for anyone who doesn?t have animosity for EA and isn?t a fan boy of the former competitor. I could go on and on about all the new goodies that Madden has brought into the gameplay and presentation, but this would end up being 10 pages worth of text easily. Everyone that loves the game of football should definitely give this game a try, especially for the online franchise part of things. The Madden guys have really turned the corner this year and on a path towards one of the best football games every in the next year or 2. If you are an NFL fan and do not hold a 2K vendetta against EA than you should be playing this game. Sure it isn?t the perfect football game and folks will find exploits to take advantage of or there will be certain things such as the activation of franchise or Elite status that will irritate certain individuals. But in the end, Madden 10 is the most complete NFL licensed console game to date and will provide you endless enjoyment until Madden 11 comes around next year. You have to have this title in your library if you are a football fan at all.

Suggestions: My main suggestion would be to tone down the ?lame ducks? that seem to appear way too often. What happened to the tuck rule? But I would also like to see more commissioner customization in franchise more such as salary caps to avoid players from signing every good player available and creating a super team in online franchise. Overall though?.Great job EA!!!

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 King of Fighters XII

Have you ever longed for those days where you spent all day in the local arcade, slugging quarters into the latest and greatest fighting game? Do you wish you could go back and be the champion taking on all comers young and old? Well, here?s your chance to relive those days with The King of Fighters. Marking the 15th Anniversary of The King of Fighters, Ignition Entertainment and SNK PLAYMORE bring you The King of Fighters XII, the legendary 3-on-3 fighting game series masterpiece that united rival brawlers from SNK PLAYMORE?s classic arcade game.

This installment of The King of Fighters continues the epic martial arts showdown and reemerges with a complete graphical overhaul. All sprites used over the past 14 years of the game franchises history have been discarded and replaced with brand new 2D high-definition, high-resolution sprites on detailed 2D backgrounds. This game brings you 22 hand-drawn characters from SNK?s arcade history. While 22 characters may seem like a lot, this is the lowest amount of characters for any of the KOF games. However to make up for this, each character was hand drawn over a period of months to bring you the best character models they can offer. The outfits on each of the characters are colorful and tasteful at the same time.

While lacking a story mode, the game does offer a few choices of game modes for the player to choose from. Arcade mode pits your team of 3 fighters against 5 other teams of 3 fighters each. Each match can consist of up to five rounds, and the match is over when all 3 players on one team have been eliminated. After the third round, a short cut scene is shown, and then it?s back to the action. After the fifth match is completed, you have the option of uploading your clear time to the Xbox Live leader boards. There are achievements to be gotten by clearing the Arcade mode under a certain time. There is also a Versus mode that you can fight one-on-one or three-on-three. These fights can be either single player or two player fights.

Also included is a practice mode that you can use to practice learning your combinations of punches and kicks. Some of the options available to you here to better your game playing skills are what your opponent will do. For example, you can set the opponent to be a computer, an opposing player for sparring purposes, or even as a dummy. The dummy is exactly that, he or she will just stand there and take whatever you have to dish out. If you choose the computer as your opponent, you can even determine how the computer acts. Some of the options you have are whether the computer will move and how it will move, whether or not the computer will attack, if the computer will guard, and even the difficulty of the computer opponent.

There are a couple changes from the past versions of the franchise. The Tactical Shift System from The King of Fighters 2003 has been removed from this version of the game. However, this installment introduces the ?critical counter? system. How this works is when a player lands a close strong punch or kick as a counter, the opponent is temporarily stunned allowing the player to unleash a volley of attacks for a short period of time. If a Super Special move is used the moment that a Critical Counter occurs, the player will see more special effects than usual. Also, introduced with this installment is the new ?Guard Attack?. This allows the player to intercept and hit and incoming strike damage free. One other feature introduced is called SOUSAI, or Deadlock. This occurs when both fighters hit each other with equal attack, and therefore cancel each other out and push the characters away from one another back into a neutral stance. You can even set the Critical Counter Gauge to max so that you can practice the critical counters and perfect your volley of attacks.

The Online Mode provides you with the opportunity to flaunt your skills online against other players in the world. In the online mode, you have a few choices as to the types of battles you want to participate in. Arcade matches reward you with battle point rankings. In arcade mode, a maximum of 8 players can join the room to fight. Players await their turn while the matches go on. There are also ranked matches for players to choose from, in which players can increase their ?True Skill? ranking. The last option for online play is a player match, which does not increase either battle points or ?True Skill? ranking.

Also in the Online Mode, the player also can view the leaderboards to see how they rank up against the rest of the world. Within the leaderboards, there are several different tabs to look at. First and foremost are the Battle Point leaderboards and the True Skill leaderboards. Here you can find the top ranked players as well as see your ranking in the leaderboards. Also, there is a leaderboard for the Time Trial, which is how quickly Arcade Mode was completed. Another of the tabs covers character usage. It shows percentages of how much you use each character. And last, but not least there is a tab for all the replays that have been uploaded so that you can see how well others have done.

One nice feature that I did come across while playing online is the Replay option. This option gives you the choice to save the replay of the fight that you just participated in and upload it to the leaderboards so others can watch in awe your mastery of the game. Replays can be saved from both online mode as well as versus mode. You also have the option of viewing your online profile, which includes your rankings as well as your record of wins and losses.

When it comes to the sounds in the game, it?s what you would expect from a Japanese fighter genre. The music and the sounds that the fighter makes are what you would expect from a stand-up arcade back in the late 80s or early 90s. While the music is rather enjoyable, the sounds of the fighters are very repetitive. The only gripes that I found with this game are the slow response in multi-player, the lack of ability to see how your friends rank on the leaderboards, and the inability to back out of the character selection screen.

All in all, SNK PLAYMORE has more than fulfilled expectations of what would be expected from this series. The artwork of the characters is beautiful. The reworked backgrounds only add to the eye candy. Even though many games are going the 3D fighting route, The King of Fighters has done extremely well by sticking with what works for them. The animations in the background are extremely well done and with a variety of locales to choose from, the controls are relatively easy to learn. The only thing I could find a gripe about was the Online Play. Every match that I competed in seemed to be a bit slow to respond.

Suggestions: It would be nice to see improved online playability, as well as the ability to find your friends on the leaderboards and some improved menu interactions, such as the ability to back out of character selection screens.

Overall Score: 8.0 / 10 Overlord 2

Have you ever just wanted to wreak havoc on the world with no repercussions to ever face? Think of the fun it would be terrorizing villages and its residents and just destroying everything in site, just because you can and you feel like it. Well as an evil Overlord in command of minions you can do all that and more in the second installment of Overlord published by Codemasters and developed by Triumph Studios.

Right off the bat you are thrown into the world as am adolescent overlord candidate and being teased by the local children. Along with the help of several minions you teach the village kids a lesson and make your way into the village. From there the story begins and you are introduced to the Glorious Empire asking that all magic doers be turned over. Immediately the villagers hand you over in order to avoid a fate of death and destruction. After making your way through some Empire soldiers, you sink with your Yeti friend into the icy depths of a local lake. And so the story begins...

The first level is a bit of a tutorial and a chance to learn the controls. There really isn't anything difficult about the controls, its just a matter of getting used to sending your minions out to do your dirty work with the triggers or use of the right and left analog sticks. If you are new to the series you will quickly learn what the Overlord games are all about. Whimsical Humor, parodies, and plenty of comical antics to keep the game fresh and at times laugh out loud funny. One example of this humor comes at the expense of cute little baby seals scampering about on an artic ice flow. You'll hear your narrator say look at the cute baby seals, and suddenly you get a closeup of this white furry seal with big black eyes staring at you and being all cute. Right out of a World Wildlife Foundation commercial. Then your minions start running around clubbing the seals to collect their life force. It just doesn't seem right, yet it seems oh so right at the same time. Yes, it is a bit disturbing that I feel that way.

You'll have four types of minions at your disposal, each having their own personality and special attributes and abilities. The groups are simply named after colors which they are represented by on screen as well. First was have the Browns. The Browns are your do all, say all group of thugs. They'll taunt enemies and sing songs while enjoying a good fight. The Reds are your minions of fire so to speak. They are able to throw fireballs and have quite the hot headed tempers. Your Greens are more of your stealth minions. They'll sneak up on unsuspecting enemies and take them out quicker than Sam Fisher could ever dream of doing. And Finally you have your Blues. The Blues have magical abilities that allow them to heal fallen comrades as well as pass through enemy lines without harm. Altogether these minions make quite a force to be reckoned with and the human world is in for a pretty rough go of things when you come to town with your army.

Something new and actually very cool in Overlord II is the ability for your minions to mount up and ride creatures and wolves throughout the world. You'll use these mounts to traverse gaps not normally passable by foot and they also increase the speed and attack damage as well. These minions are not your typical dumb breed anymore. Oh no, they have shaken the learning disabilities and can now band together to run war machines such as catapults and even disguise themselves to pass through villages undetected until its time to unleash their terror. I also found the minions quite comical in the fact that they will put on trophies such as fallen soldier helmets. You should see this fairly early in the game when you face off against the Empire's army.

In line with the minions grabbing helmets and putting them on comes the fact that you can tool your minions to make them stronger and more fierce. Of course any minion with upgrades is stronger than one brought straight out of a minion gate. So be sure to buy upgrades whenever you can, and you'll even be picking up weapons and armor from certain enemies throughout the game.

An all new storyline is brought into Overlord II and as mentioned a new Overlord is in charge as well as smarter and stronger minions as I just described. The humor seems to have been elevated more than the first title and as I mentioned, there are quite a few moments that you will chuckle out loud and your significant other will just look at you and shake their head. At least my wife did.

When it comes to gameplay, everything should be fairly familiar if you have played the first title. You'll use the thumbsticks in combination to sweep your minions across an area. Or you can use the right trigger to send them to a specific location, item for destruction or and enemy. You'll use the ?A? button to attack with your Overload and multiple button combinations to perform special attacks such as a 360 Overlord attack. There are also button combinations to control your minions from simple?B? presses to combinations of buttons to operate war machines and ships. While some of this may sound complicated, it truly isn't bad at all and easy to pick up and play for most.

One thing I did notice with the sweeping motion was many times your minions would start to sweep but them run back to you if you did not continue with the sweeping motion and lead them to their destination. It could get frustrating at times, as well as certain camera angles could detract from you getting a good sweeping action. Nothing to bad, but noticeable enough at times that I did grumble a bit at the game.

Despite the few qualms I had with the camera or the sweeping motions, the gameplay is solid and very easy to catch on. If anything the sweeping motion and the clunky camera could definitely use some improvements. There are many things to master from standard attacks to magic casting to complete destruction or domination of the land. You'll definitely have an enjoyable time playing this game.

Graphically the game looks great. The landscapes are full of color and the character models are done quite well. Especially the minions themselves. You'll immediately understand how mischievous they really are by just watching their actions and how they carry themselves. They love to be bad! The parodies and innuendos throughout the game in the way characters are drawn definitely add to the games overall appeal and presentation. With the exception of some camera issues as I mentioned there really isn't anything bad or disheartening when it comes to the game graphically.

When it comes to sound the game does everything quite well. From comical quotes you'll hear to the singing of silly little songs by your minions while they terrorize the land just adds to the atmosphere this game is trying to build. The voice acting is spot on perfect I think and each and every minion seems to have their own personality that comes through whole heartedly. Event he characters scattered throughout the world have comical one liners and demeanors that come out in things they say or how they act even.

One of the best things any game can have is a multiplayer option. Overlord's multiplayer gives you plenty of game modes to choose from. You'll be able to play the following ? Split Screen, Co-Op Survival, Co-Op Invasion, Versus Dominate and Versus Pillage. Of course the split screen mode is to play on the same 360 console, but the other game modes are playable across Xbox Live. There are no leaderboards with the Survival co-op mode. You can play ranked or player matches in the versus modes and you'll get full leaderboards with those modes. In the few matches I played with friends, I didn't see much lag or interruption and the games were quite fun and just as amusing as the single player.

I have to recommend this game to anyone that enjoys a comical satire or parody as well as whimsical dark humor. It's full of destruction, fun and mayhem and the game really never gets stale throughout the entire campaign or the multiplayer. If you played the first game and liked it then you should definitely pick this one up. Even if you didn't play the first game, you should check this title out or maybe even go get the first title and play through it and then follow it up with Overlord II. I honestly do not think anyone would be disappointed giving this game a run through. I mean seriously, how often do you get to run around and bash cute little baby seals with a club and enjoy it!

Suggestions: I'd love to see even more variety of minions brought into the game. So many colors to choose from and each can have their own personality. The possibilities are endless. Other than that I would also love to see some DLC. Maybe thats where more minions could come from, as well as maybe some storyline expansions. I do think the controls need tweaked a bit because several times the sweeping action just didn't work well for me. And the camera angles could be frustrating too. But overall great job guys! Loved the title as I did the first one.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 NCAA Football 10

Do you smell it? Come on take a deep breath and you can smell it like the rest of us. Thats right, football season is just around the corner and the arrival of NCAA Football 10 pretty much signals that fact. EA has had a solid run with the NCAA series over the years and continues to produce even better iterations each and every year. This year is no different as EA once again delivers a solid NCAA experience and one that any college football fan would be happy to pick up and play.

The thing that separates Madden and NCAA football is atmosphere. There is something about the college gameday atmosphere compared to an NFL gameday that EA captures perfectly in NCAA Football 10 and definitely sets this game apart from its NFL big brother. From the college marching bands playing fight songs ringing throughout the stadium to mascots running the endzones, it can all be found in the game. And there are plenty of game modes and options in this years game to keep you playing for quite some time.

So lets get right down to it. Graphically, the game once again moves forward with polished player models, lighting, animations and simple menu interfaces. The game plays very similar to last years version with some new AI enhancements, but you'll quickly jump into this one and feel right at home. When it comes to sounds, EA has pulled out all the stops and given you the most inviting college atmosphere it can with the pumped up crowds, cheerleaders, commentary and marching band music. The moment you start the game up and a fight song begins playing you feel the excitement start to boil in your veins.

The sounds are authentic and really add into the college electricity and atmosphere. Nothing like hearing the 100, 000+ crowd all fired up at beaver Stadium. The band playing the fights song and the players crashing helmets and pads on the field. The NFL Experience is great and all but does not compare to a big time college game in the least. Even the Super Bowl has nothing on a huge college rivalry game when it comes to crowd noise and atmosphere and that is well portrayed throughout his game. Commentary is as it usually is, with some repetition taking place as you play more and more games, but that should be expected of course. Brad Nessler, Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso make their return as your commentary crew and once again do an oustanding job.

As I stated the game modes in NCAA this year are many, and there are a lot of new things as well. The first mode I would like to discuss is the Season Showdown. This is a competition of sorts in which you earn credits towards your favorite school, which you are locked into once you start up the Season Showdown. These credits are accumulated by other gamers that are fans of the same school and posted on a leader board throughout the real life college season. You gain credits by competing online vs your Showdown opponent, against the CPU, web-based mini games and much more all in an effort to determine which school is number one at the end of the real life football season. There are a total of 12 different ways you can earn credits. Some of those being web based and other being in the game.

The next new enhancement to the game modes is the Team Builder. You will go onto the web and use a team editor to create your school from its colors and prestige to its style of play and hometown. You can upload your own team logo or choose from hundreds of pre-loaded graphics. You have full roster customization as well as the ability to edit your uniforms and stadiums and then share them across platforms where they can be used in Dynasty Play or Play Now modes. A very cool feature indeed and one that will be interesting to watch and see what people create. I highly suggest going to http://teambuilder.easports.com/ and checking this option out. Now you can have your favorite local University, or maybe you Alma Mater in the game even if its not in the 120 team original roster. One thing though, when inserting your team into dynasty mode, you will have to swap out another team from the current roster. So choose your team and division wisely. I truly cannot wait to see some of the designs and team uniforms that talented and creative artists out there come up with and upload for everyone to see. That is what is really going to make this mode. EA has done a superb job implementing the web and design tools into their games and it only continues to get better each year.

Yet another new mode is the Road To Glory option. Here you will take a created upcoming superstar from his high school championship days throughout his college career in hopes to be the next big thing. Both Erin Andrews and Kirk Herbstreit will follow and highlight your career with video and photographs. You'll have a dorm room, once in college of course, that will house all your trophies and accomplishments over your college career. This mode is a lot of fun and its is quite a treat to hear yoru created player being talked about. On the field, dependent on your position, it can be a little frustrating and daunting due to camera issues.

Of course you have the standard game play modes such as Dynasty Mode, Online Dynasty, Play Now, Mini Games and Online versus Play. The ESPN License is used throughout the game and is never really to overbearing. Another thing that doesn't detract from the game is the in game advertising. It gives the feel of a more real life experience or telecast if you will. Online dynasty works the way it has in the past except all off field actions are streamlined and tweaked. You'll also be able to import up to 12 Team Builder teams into your dynasty for some great fun and of course bragging rights.

The thing everyone wants to know most about is the gameplay itself. While there are many improvements in the AI and the way players move and scamper about the field, overall the game plays very similar to past iterations. The play calling interface is simple to use and on the field you can get as in depth as you like with the many defensive and offensive adjustments that can be made.

Each school has their own scheme and style, but you can obviously choose from any playbook throughout the 120 school roster. Speaking of rosters, no, you can not see real names of athletes in the game. You can download the rosters from a friend, create your own rosters and share with friends via the EA Locker option or you can have the game just create generic player names. The choice is yours.

When on the field, as I stated everything will feel very familiar. The game gives you 4 difficulty levels to choose from with Freshman and varsity being the easiest 2 difficulties and quite frankly to easy at times. All-American and Heisman is truly the levels of difficulty you should play on if you are looking for a challenge and quite honestly a sim experience. Also in the terms of difficulty, EA added in a new EA family setting that allows even the greenest of players to jump in on the action. Family Play allows you to play the game with one button to snap the ball, kick, punt and pass. The AI also assists the player in making catches. And the play calling defaults to the ?Ask Corso? option so knowledge of football play calling needs to be at a bare minimum.

Running , passing and catching all seem pretty familiar and while some tweaks have been made it still feels very much the same. Some running backs can barrel through the defenses, while other are laid out with the first hit they take. Typical college ratings and gameplay as expected. One thing that you will notice is that dropped passes due seem to be a thing of the pass. A wide open receiver will catch a pass 9 times out of 10 and drop them only when defenders are around or a big hit is in detection as well as blocking seem to be a lot better than they have in past years and with each year it gets better it seems. While occasionally you may have a clipping issue or a transparent defender it seems, its very few and far between. What issues I did have were that it seemed many of the gains always ended with the ball carrier pushing forward. Sure there were times they were pushed back with gang tackles, but more times than not, even with multiple tacklers the runner still managed to go forward. Spots of the ball also seemed a little skeptical to me and were never challenged. There were times when I thought I was a yard short, or my opponent was, and the first down was given. So that is still something that needs to be worked on. The QB seems a lot smarter and will throw balls away but he also has those dumb moment where he fired a ball off backwards directly towards the sideline. Again, not a major issue but happens every once in a while. As I stated earlier, the camera issues in The Road to Glory mode can get a little sketchy at times and make it difficult to follow the action or even continue the play in the right direction after a pass your way.

Overall, once again EA delivers with yet another awesome college experience video that any football fan should have in their game library. Sure, if you are strictly and NFL guy this may not interest you all that much, but the fact that you can import your roster into Madden 10 when the time rolls around should entice a few NFL brethren to pick this one up. I highly recommend this title to anyone that deems Saturdays a national holiday and find themselves in front of the TV from early afternoon until late Saturday night. Graphics, sounds, gameplay and a slew of options will keep this game fresh throughout the college season. And you also need to jump into the Season Showdown and help your favorite school take home the Season Showdown Championship! What are you waiting for? Go buy it now!

Suggestions: The game has so many options, but one thing I would like to see is EA cut a deal with NCAA to include real player names. I understand the legalities and the roadblocks involved to making this happen, but it truly would make the experience 100% authentic. I would also like the option to add your Team Builder School in without having to swap it out with another school. I also am not to sure about the dynamic camera in Road To Glory Mode. There were quite a few times I would get turned around due to a stupid angle of the camera. Thinking it might be better off to keep the default view period no matter what position you play. I would also like to see the fair play option brought back into the game as I didnt see evidence of it in this years version.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Disney Pixar Up

Right off the bat I am going to admit that I am a huge fan of Pixar Animation and their movies. So its safe to say that I enjoyed the game at the very least from that perspective, but when it all boils down to it, I enjoyed the game regardless of the Pixar tag. Sure UP is a movie based game, and a typical family friendly platformer that most animation films receive from game developers. But the game is actually a lot of fun to play and the Pixar comedic relief so loved in the films is just as prevalent in the video game.

So to easily describe the game would be to say its your typical platformer with lots of crevices to leap across, bosses to beat, and a whole lot of collectibles. There is nothing wrong with describing it that way but the game is so much more when it comes to gameplay. The controls work well with the game, the graphics are colorful and sharp, and the sounds are basically straight out of the movie. So when I say any Pixar fan will enjoy this regardless of age, I truly do think that is the case.

Lets get a little bit of background on the storyline of UP. The story is centered around Carl Fredricksen and his quest in to fulfill his late wife's dream of having their home in the most beautiful place in the world which we learn is Paradise Falls. Carl was faced with being put into a retirement home and decides to take it upon himself to move his house via helium filled balloons to the falls. As he is leaving on his journey, he gets an unexpected companion by the name of Russell. Russell is a young boy trying to earn his Assist the Elderly badge for the Wilderness Explorer program. So the adventure begins and the two will run across talking dogs, airships, long lost adventurers and a bird named Kevin.

So thats the basic storyline of the game and what you are setting out to accomplish. Detailed animated segments separate the levels to give you even more detail as to what is taking place as your adventure continues. The segments are done in an old news reel format with a narrator, but you'll also have quick little movie spots with the main characters as well. The game does a great job of telling the entire UP story and is one of the few games based on an animated movie that does it well.

Graphically the game is done very well. Smooth animations, character models and the environment all help keep the story moving along and don't ever really detract from the overall gaming experience. A few times the camera angle could get a little frustrating when try to maneuver or fight off a big boss such as the green anaconda. But overall you'll find that this game fits the standards expected in the ?next-gen? console era.

In the sound department of the game, things should be exactly what you expect. You'll have actual voice over work from the movie characters, along with sounds typical for any platformer type of game and a soundtrack that coincides with the movie. While the game doesn't have the most compelling soundtrack and voice over work it still gets the job done and has the allure that Pixar is known for.

The gameplay in UP gives you single player experiences as well as same console multiplayer. You'll have many mini-games you can play with another person sitting beside you as well as drop in and out co-op throughout the single player campaign. Of course as mentioned, there are plenty of unlockables as well which can be achieved by collecting artifacts, coins and different colored bugs throughout each level. As you collect bugs and coins through each level you'll also unlock new cards that give you access to more unlockables. Be sure to break apart all that is destructable such as small rock formations and fruit scattered about the environment.

The game starts out with you playing the role of Dug the Dog flying a plane around and shooting down other bi-planes in a ?dog? fight defending Carl and Russell floating above Paradise Falls in the house. It was a strange beginning to the game but you come to find out that the game is actually the back story to the situation you are thrown into at the start. You'll then be thrown into the main storyline of how things got to that point.

Controls are fairly simple when in single player mode. You will have to switch back and forth between Carl and Russell to perform certain tasks such as scaling thin ledges, reaching high points on a map, etc. With the simple press of the bumper button you can switch back and forth. There are certain unlockables hidden from view that can only be accessed with certain characters such as Carl, Russell or Dug. As I suggested earlier there are certain times when the camera is a little clunky and frustrating but unbelievably this problem is few and far between.

The game has various tasks for you to complete and collect. There are levels where you'll find yourself sliding down waterways collecting coins and avoiding boulders, or maybe you'll be fending off dogs and tying balloons to their back and sending them off to the clear blue sky. But in the end the game does get very repetitive and will be one for the younger audience, but also achievement hunters. Fans of the movie will have fun with it for a few hours, but most will not take the time to unlock all the content due to the repetitive nature of the game.

I personally found the game enjoyable for the hours I spent playing with it. And the time I spent playing co-op and multiplayer with my daughter was enjoyable as well, but in the end the casual gamer will get bored quickly with this one and truly only find a few total hours of playtime. I highly recommend the game to folks that are fans of Pixar and to those that have younger children in their household. The gameplay is simple enough to pick up and play for anyone that can hold and work a controller. And the multiplayer modes will keep a family of four busy for while and full of giggles. THQ has delivered yet another family friendly game and they should be commended for keeping families in mind when creating games.

Suggestions: The only suggestion I could possibly think of is online co-op would have made the game more enjoyable in the end. While I realize these games are lower budget titles, it would still be nice to see some focus onto Xbox Live features. The game was still fun, but I would have loved to seen some Xbox Live integration.

Overall Score: 7.1 / 10 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers! More than meets the eye. Transformers! Robots in Disguise. Folks that were kids throughout the 1980's remember that jingle to this day and its send chills of nostalgia up their spines. The Transformers were an icon in American Pop Culture and many of us were thrilled to see them brought to life in the first movie and game. The movie was great and so was the game, but the game had some flaws and major elements missing that just didn't make it top notch. Don't get me wrong, it was still a fun game to blow crap up and fight as your favorite Transformer from childhood.

So fast forward to 2009. We have a new movie and a new game to coincide with the movie's release. Both have huge expectations to live up to. Well, this isn't a movie review site so, I won't get into the movie aspect of things but rather of course focus on the game. Enter in game #2, Transformers: Rise of the Fallen. I am not going to go into the meaning of the title to much as it directly relates to the movie and game plot. Some things that were lacking in the first game was online multiplayer, ability to transform on the fly from robot to vehicle and back with a simple button press, and the game camera needed a lot of adjustments. There were other minor things that avid Transformers fans found wrong with the game, but lets chalk those up to more cosmetic than game hindering.

Graphically the game is great. The Transformer detail of each and every character is perfect and displayed beautifully on screen. The environments can be a little dull at times and repetitive in the city landscapes but with all the explosions and battles taking place you'll be quick to overlook this. The hud overlay for the game is done well and does not detract from gameplay at all. You'll have radar on screen as well as your health and special ability bar. These are tucked away in the corner of the screen and do not interfere as I said. Some of the cinematic cut scenes seemed almost movie like and I found myself watching all of them, not only for the storyline but because they were well done. The menu system is easy to navigate and you'll actually be located in a ?War Room? where you will be briefed on each mission and have the ability to make upgrades, see unlockables, view leader boards, etc. All the conversations that take place in this war room are directly related to your performance in each mission.

The sounds are mostly the original cast from the movie and the voice over work is well done. You'll notice even Bumble Bee has a voice in the game which made me quite happy. The transformation noise is distinctive and right on the money as well. Some of the weapon sounds or vehicle sounds can be a bit on the generic side of things at times, but then again most of these are sounds are coming from mindless drones anyhow.

Overall the control system is not terrible, but it could be better yet. The ability to transform from robot to vehicle and back with the simple pull and release of the right trigger is great. Nothing like jumping off a building as Starscream and transforming into a jet in mid air. Or maybe running down the road as Iron Hide and leaping right into truck form without losing a step. So simple! The aiming system seems to have been tweaked quite a bit as well and for the most part works well throughout the game. There are still times that the control system and the camera system do not quite work hand in hand, but its less prevalent than it was in the first game. Overall the whole control scheme seems to be simplified yet complicated at the same time. There are many multiple button combinations to perform special abilities such as hover, ground pounds, etc. But all of which can be mastered by even the most novice gamer. While a lot of the control system seems overwhelming I had found with some time put into the game that it actually wasn't a bad system at all. One thing that did seem difficult was the driving aspect of things. You could seem to get lost very easily with the speed of the game whether in the air or on the ground and I would have liked to seen a better system in place with that regards.

So first things first. Our new game brings us online multiplayer. Thats right, you'll be headed on to Xbox Live and play as either a Decepticon or an Autobot. You can play as a Decepticon on the Autobot side and vice versa, but the host of the match can set the Faction option to on meaning you can only play as the same faction of the team you are assigned to be on. There are 15 playable characters online across 5 game modes. I was informed at E3 by one of the games producers that downloadable content was planned and while he would not give specifics, he did say it could come in the form of game modes, more Transformers and maps. So lets hope for all 3!

Let's just give a quick brief rundown of the online game modes. First off we have your typical death match modes. You'll have a singles Deathmatch that is pretty much all for themselves. Here you can choose to be any Transformer you want, from the available choices of course. Secondly, we have Team Deathmatch which pits the 2 teams against each other. As mentioned before, there is an option to turn factions on or off. With the Faction option off, you can play as any Transformer you like, but with it on you'll be relegated to your team faction (Autobot or Decepticon). Our third game mode is Control Point which is basically a territories style game where you must capture and hold points across the map. To win you must control and defend the most control points. Battle of the Shard if our 4th mode and is in essence as capture the flag mode. Finally, One Shall Stand is a team leader style game that pits 2 teams, each with a leader whom they must protect. As long as the leader is alive, players can respawn on the leaders position. But once the leader is dead than the match becomes a battle to eliminate all of the remaining players. Those remaining players can still kill the other leader and put the other team in the same situation.

All of the game modes are playable across 5 maps initially. The maps, while not small, are not really large either and makes some of the game modes a complete firefight at times. I truly believe the maps should be much larger as you have quite a mixture of flying machines as well as ground travle machines that can move quickly across the map. I definitely hope DLC maps come in a much large scale. You'll also have the ability to play in ranked or player matches. As usual, the player matches do not count for any stats and are meant for more casual players or setting up private rooms with you friends. Of course, you will have leader boards to view and full stats of your online performance in ranked matches. One more thing to keep in mind is that some Transformers are only available on some maps from what I have seen. But you can select a team of all the same Transformer it appears and I am not sure if I like that. I would hate to go into a room full of Megatron or Optimus Prime.

So now that you have a taste for what available on the multiplayer side of things lets get into the single player campaign. The campaign at first glance looks rather small but there is a lot to do and the whole leader board system is based on speed as well as points. You'll receive medals for completing levels in certain amounts of time. The quicker you complete it the better the medal ranging from bronze to platinum. You'll also be awarded points which translates into Energon cubes that can be used to upgrade your character abilities and weaponry.

The whole single player campaign is divided into an Autobot Campaign and a Decepticon campaign. To complete the entire campaign mode you will need to play as both the Autobots and the Decepticons. There are unlockables throughout the single player and are achieved by performing tasks, collecting Energon, using special attacks related to specific Transformers, etc. What is really cool is that some of the unlockables include full length G1 Cartoons including the creation of the Dinobots. I found myself watching these immediately when I had them unlocked.

So single player takes you through a series of locations scattered across the world. All locations are directly related to the movie, but the game allows for creativity in the missions at hand and do not directly relate to the movie. While the game does loosely follow the movie storyline with its cut scenes and general storytelling the developers have added much more with their own ideas and missions. I had actually started playing the game before seeing the movie just a few days ago and I have to say I was so excited that Bumble Bee talked in the game. I was sadly disappointed when he did not in the movie. I swear I waited that entire movie for the moment he got his voice back and it never happened. So boo to Michael Bay and yeah to the Luxoflux!

You'll have your basic storyline missions with side missions to be completed as well. Basically each area has 3 main storyline missions which must be completed to proceed further in the campaign. You'll also be earning Campaign tokens, and each level requires you to have a certain amount of the tokens to become playable. From what I could see, this truly never really comes into play because you'll be well above each levels minimum requirement fairly early in the game.

The single player will most definitely give you quite a few hours of gameplay and the medal and leader board system will have folks going back to try and beat their previous time to increase their online ranking. The split campaign is a great idea and deepens the single player experience all the more. Even though I enjoy being the good guy, there is always a moment when being the bad guy is so much more fun. And Transformers: ROTF delivers that feeling.

This game is fast and furious. There is constant action similar to the movie and there is rarely every a dull moment. While the control scheme does seem to take some flak from all of us, it really is a improved from the first game. A third game should be getting pretty close to perfect. The game is action packed, with online multiplayer as Transformers. Who could ask for more? If you are a fan of Transformers than you need to do yourself a favor and pick this one up. Even if you are just a casual fan or not even a fan, you should check this one out at least in the rental store. You'll definitely have some fun at the very least with the title.

Suggestions: Please add more Transformers via DLC as well as more maps for online gameplay. Some more unlockable content would be a great addition with some more single player missions as well. Overall though, I enjoyed the game and will for some time to come yet. I guess my most important suggestion would be for you to run with the license and create even more Transformer games whether there is a movie to back it up or not.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10

Ah yes, Spring has gone by and Summer is upon us (if you are in the northern hemisphere that is.) The sunny skies and beautiful temperatures lure everyone to the golf course. And the release of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10 is upon us as well. EA Sports decided to release Tiger much earlier this year to coincide with Father's Day in the US. And I have no problem getting Tiger in my hands earlier than expected especially with this years high quality game.

Yes, I said it right off the bat. Tiger Woods 10 is going to knock your socks off if you are a golf fan or a fan of the series. The game boasts all the features you have come to know and love and has added in a variety of new features as well including Live Weather, Playing with the Pros online and a host of online daily and weekly tlly the game looks great. Whether is sunny skies on Pebble Beach or a torrential downpour on TPC Sawgrass the game's presentation is top notch. Character models look awesome and the create a golfer feature that uses the Create-A-Face feature seems to have been fine tuned to work better than it has before. Each course is detailed in every aspect from individual grass blades to rippling water hazards. This is definitely one of the best looking games in the series to date and probably of all console golf games of the past. You'll get full tournament galleries watching your every shot that grow and wain with your performance. I mean honestly, this game has it all graphically. The courses look amazing in every detail and are recreated to the point that if you have played on one of these courses in real life you'll recognize subtle things here and there.

In the sound department, welcome in Scott Van Pelt as your new color commentator. If you have not seen some the promo videos of him heckling Tiger about not being in the game then you should go check them out on YouTube. Anyhow, Van Pelt definitely adds a welcome change of atmosphere and comic relief to the game which seemed to be getting stale over the years. Kelly Tilghman provides the main call and seems to mesh well with Van Pelt's antics and witty one liners. Of course there will be some repetition in commentary but it does not seem to be quite as prevalent as in years past and honestly does not get on your nerves when it does happen. When it comes to the courses and ambient sounds of your surroundings you will find no lack of support here. Whether its birds chirping or bull frogs croaking in a hollow, you will hear it. The rain is not over done either and is tolerable unlike some games that seem to think rain sounds like its pounding a tin roof without any kind of break in the loop. One of the coolest sounds is the ambient galleries cheering on other things taking place on the golf course. Say an eagle was made on a nearby hole, you will hear the crowd react and the roar of their cheers will echo through the course.

Gameplay is solid in Tiger 10. While not a lot of huge differences in the game mechanics for Tiger 09 players there are subtle differences. One of the biggest differences in the game is the putting mechanics using the Precision Putting option. I used to pride myself on being a decent to good putter in the Tiger Series, but that went out the window with the precision putting. You really have to think putts through now and play the correct breaks and slopes to have a shot at making good putts. You'll have the standard amateur mode which gives you the ability to power up shots and spin the ball while in mid air. And Tour Pro difficulty also returns and for those unfamiliar with it, this mode is a lot more difficult and closer to real life golf.

There are a ton of game modes as I mentioned earlier which can be played online or offline. You'll have the standard game of golf like stroke play, match play and skins but you'll also get mini games and tourney challenges that pit you up against the pro's in certain conditions upon certain courses. You'll need to complete these challenges in order to unlock the courses for you to play in the Play Now mode. You'll also unlock apparel and better equipment through the challenges, career mode and other modes of play.

The same skill system is back from last year and the same frustrations seem to follow it as well. You'll gain and lose skill points from your performance in round, challenges and even in online tourneys. So if you don't want your golfer's attributes affected then I suggest when going online to play single player tourneys that you use an established pro or even Tiger. Your attributes are affected the same whether you are playing amateur difficulty or the Tour Pro mode. A bit unfair I think, especially for some of the conditions they use online. The skills are capped at 10, but you can add a 2 point bonus for each of the 4 categories for a total of 12 max points.

The swing mechanics for this years game seem to have been tweaked a little but not changed all that much with the exception of putting. Sidehills, wind and bad lies all seem to affect the ball the way they would in real life which is definitely welcome. There were times when it seemed the wind would have little to no affect on the ball and could be quite frustrating when you play it a certain way only to find your ball go straight as an arrow as if there was no wind. With putting, you'll have Classic Putting and Precision Putting at your disposal and can decide which you would rather use. Personally, I like the Precision Putting but I just have no mastered it yet nor am I even close to mastering it.

Another one of the new features I enjoy has to be the ability to play the courses under Live Weather conditions via The Weather Channel. So if its pouring in the town home to your favorite golf course then you'll be playing in the pouring rain in the game. Now of course this is an option you can choose to have on or off in your single player adventures and even when playing versus online. You won't be as lucky when playing the predetermined online events and tourneys.

Speaking of the online events and tourneys, Tiger 10 boasts an all new online tournament system that has been updated on a regular basis since the game hit shelves in mid June. You'll have a lot of singles events at both difficulties with varying conditions such as extreme playing conditions to amateur live weather tourneys. You'll also get to play with the pro's which is a single play event that matches you up against the what the pro's are actually doing on the real life course. You only earn earn money from these events and there is no world leader board for this mode of game. You'll only find your name on the event leader board along with the top pro's playing in the tourney. Unfortunately there is no flight system in place for the online tourneys, or at least one that works well and you'll see golfer shooting unbelievable scores of -28 in a round compared to say your -10. I am not sure if there really is a perfect system as folks will always do what it takes to put themselves a top a leader board in any game it seems.

EA's Gamernet Challenges also make a return and allow you to post or play challenges created by folks playing the game. Long drives, Special Shots, 9 Round Scores and 18 Round Scores are all the types of challenges you can participate in and you'll earn Gamernet Points from each challenge you complete or bust. Gamernet points are also gained while playing your career mode and can pop up at anytime throughout the course if you fall under the right conditions set by another user.

As I stated, there are plenty of options, game modes, unlockables and events to keep you busy throughout the year with Tiger 10. One can easily spend hours of their day busting challenges or playing through their career mode. All the things you have come to love in Tiger are here including trophy balls, course records, and the fairly new Club Tuner. Honestly speaking, if you are a fan of golf or the Tiger series than this game should most definitely be in your library. Do yourself a favor and go check it out.

Suggestions: A better flight system is needed for online tourneys to better group players of the same ability levels. I would also like to see some FREE DLC come to the game rather than having to pay for fantasy courses or a course that was handed out to pre-order gamers.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Sacred 2: Fallen Angel

At one time, Diablo was the game of choice when it came to looting RPG style games. Then along came World of Warcraft which has been a staple of the PC gaming world for quite some time now. We have been waiting for a Diablo or World of Warcraft clone to come along on the consoles, and it seems that we are one step closer to that moment with Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. Sacred 2 is a hack and slash/RPG/looting game that fulfills many needs of those yearning for a World of Warcraft style game on the consoles. It has a few shortcomings, but overall it gets the job done and satisfies the yearn of a great looting title on our beloved console.

Sacred 2 is not the most beautiful game to look at. The environments are vast and do portray the climate and general aura of the land, but when it comes to detail there is not much to be seen. You'll be able to zoom out or zoom in on your character using the right thumbstick, but more times than not you'll want to be zoomed out. When zoomed in over the shoulder of your hero you just cannot see where you are going or whats ahead of you. The game details do look great in zoom mode and the forged weaponry looks awesome such as a weapon forged to create flame damage. That looks very cool. Game details such as enemies are distinguishable even with the less than stellar graphics, and your hero has some interesting detail included with the gear he/she can equip and the weapons that he/she carries. I personally think different camera views or even a first person type of view could have enhanced the graphical experience so much more. What we do have visually actually works in the game and does not detract from the overall experience. I would have liked to have been able to tilt the camera down to at least ground level instead of the three quarter view which is used consistently. One graphical error that happens quite often is that quite a few times I found NPC's hanging in mid air or suspended over villages. At first I thought maybe they were just magical and practicing some spell, but realized that not to be true when one of the weapon merchants was suspended in mid air too. Overall the graphics are somewhat of a mixed bag if I had to judge them as a whole.

The sounds of the game are nothing to go crazy about. In fact, the voice acting in the game is a bit on the corny side throughout the campaign. Enemies will come out with things like ?I don't want to die.?, despite them attacking you first. Or even more so, your main character has some one liners that wouldn't even be good enough for the three stooges. I used the Shadow Warrior and his voice was extremely reminiscent of the Two Worlds main hero voice which was just completely over the top in heroic terms. A bit annoying after a while honestly. As for environment sounds, there really isn't a whole lot to say other than they could have been a little more in depth or perhaps exciting at times. As for the soundtrack, well its not Halo 3 in that category, but once again it seems good enough to fit the tone of the game. You'll get different changes in tempo according to the action on screen.

But while all of that may seem like a downer to some folks, its the gameplay that one should look at to judge how good or bad a game is. Sacred 2 does have some drawbacks, but as I stated earlier its overall delivery in the gameplay category definitely gets the job done and should be quite satisfying to dungeon crawlers across the world. As I mentioned before, the game holds many similarities to Diablo, World of Warcraft and typical dungeon crawler style games with plenty of looting, enemies and leveling to be done.

When you start the game you begin by making your character choosing from 6 different types an each with their own special abilities, skills, mounts and weaponry. Those classes are: Seraphim, High Elf, Dryad, Temple Guardian, Shadow Warrior and Inquisitor. You'll also get to determine which path you are going to take throughout your campaign; either Light or Shadow. Light of course represents Good and Shadow represents Evil. You'll also have to choose a Deity which will give you a special summoning power such as causing enemies to fight each other, or they become blinded, etc.

One of the really cool features in Sacred 22 is the ability to play cooperatively. You can play with 2 players on one console or up to 4 players over Xbox Live. You can even take 2 local players and play with 2 other folks on Live. You'll be able to open your game up for anyone to jump in at anytime and give you a hand. You can also take you character and jump into anyone's game across live and keep the level and loot you accrue while playing with that person or persons. So lets say you just popped the game in for the first time, created your character and just want to jump into online action. You can do so immediately and then come back and start your own campaign with that same character. And again, any gold, weapons or level gained online will be with you in your own game. A very great feature is you ask me. Along with coop, you will also be able to participate in Player vs Player matches (PvP).

Something that can be somewhat of a negative in the game is the fact that the person that starts a game online is essentially the host or server. So when joining games you have to hope that the host has a stable and fast internet connection. Otherwise get ready for lag heaven, and this could be catastrophic in PvP matches. I really wish they would allow the person with the fastest internet connection to take over hosting responsibilities in any room. I haven't experienced much in the way of lag or bad connections, but it is something you need to keep in mind.

So lets talk about the control scheme a little bit. Everything you need to do is a button press away and you can assign hot keys to specific weapons and talents. One thing that can get annoying is the fact that the game actually remembers how many times you press an attack button. For instance, say it take 2 kills to take down an enemy, but you hit the ?A? button 4 times then it will still attack 2 more times even though the enemy is down and out. There are times when this will hurt you such as a moment when you need to heal, but you have to wait for the attack sequence to end. Meanwhile you end up dying because the enemies around you continue to attack while you are swinging at air. Frustrating to say the least!

Other than that little control scheme debacle, everything else seems to works well. With button presses you can get to your inventory easily, heal, attack, summon powers, etc. Its all based upon how you hot key your items and assign them to the buttons. One thing that did become a little annoying was that the left bumper is assigned to to talk to talk to NPC's in the game AND it is also the trade button. So when playing coop there are several times when one would try to talk to an NPC but their partner would hit the left bumper too and then the trade screen would pop up. Very annoying. Hit detection or just general attacking seems to at times be a bit frustrating. You can be swinging away at enemies and never hit a single soul. Even when you are surrounded. So yes, the game does have some glaring issues that can become frustrating.

Sacred 2 has a wide array of things you would expect in a vast looting RPG. You'll be able to forge weapons into more powerful weapons, and learn new skills and combat arts. You'll earn skills points which can be used to build up your attributes and skill levels. The level cap for characters in the game is 200, which should give players plenty of playing time with their favorite created character. Overall the game as a whole is a lot of fun to play and does a lot of things right. Unfortunately there are a few glaring issues that seem to hold it back somewhat and keep it from being a truly great game. I have enjoyed the time I spent with it and will spend many more hours without a doubt. If you like looting games then you should definitely pick this one up. The single player alone is fun, but being able to play online with buddies or go into PvP mode is all the more bonus and makes this game stand alone in its class on the console. There is so much detail I could go into within the game and much of it is done very well and will not disappoint the most diehard dungeon crawler fans. Do yourself a favor and check this title out.

Suggestions: I would love to see more specialized items and weapons categorized by color. Rarity is a key element of looting games and there is really nothing that distinguishes rare items from normal items that I have seen other than value. I would also love to see the world/story expanded through DLC add-ons in the future.

Overall Score: 7.1 / 10 X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Right off the bat, X-Men Origins: Wolverine has 2 things against it and they would be the facts that this game is based on a movie and also superhero video games do not have a great reputation. So to be able to shake off those factors as game really has to come off and give the gamer a wow factor immediately. One of the top things going for the game is the fact that Raven Software was leading up the development. They are known for such games as Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends which were superb superhero games. So let get right down to it. Does the latest Wolverine title break the mold set by previous movie and superhero games?

That answer would be a flat out yes. The game is action packed and full of everything you would expect from a superhero game. The game plays true to the violent nature of Wolverine from start to end and it doesn?t once pull any punches. You?ll see dismemberment after dismemberment and plenty of blood to go along with that. Raven Studios chose to go the ?Mature? audience route and it pays off extremely well in presentation. Wolverine is not meant to be dumbed down in any fashion and you can bet that doesn?t happen at all in this game. The game does follow the movie plot to a degree and as I mention in the upcoming paragraph you should be impressed with the cinematic interludes that tell the story. Hopefully this game launches a new Wolverine series, as I could see myself owning each and every one of them just for the fun factor alone.

First thing you will probably notice is the graphical nature of the game. Each environment is portrayed extremely well and the lighting at times is absolutely phenomenal. And we?re just talking about the gameplay. The CG cut scenes are absolutely breathtaking and at times you?ll be taking a second look to be sure you aren?t actually watching a scene from the movie. Animations seem to be spot on for both Ai attacks and Wolverine?s own attacks. The only issues I had with the game graphically were a few camera glitches and headaches. But nothing too serious that would warrant a huge subtraction from the games overall review score. A few of the cut scenes seem to get some skipping here and there, and at one point I thought my 360 had frozen but it carried on shortly after that thought crossed my mind. I have read of some clipping and jumping outside the level taking place but personally did not experience it. With the amount of detail put into the games levels and environments it?s probably safe to assume that you may find a graphical rift somewhere, but that should be expected.

As I mentioned the camera angle at times was a little clunky and wouldn't allow you to see from an angle you needed to. For a game that has platformer aspects to it, this can be quite frustrating. Another thing I ran into was aiming while on a turret gun. I guess this doesn't really fall into the graphical realm of things, but it was quite hard to aim at moving objects and maybe that is because I was riding on the back of a boat and they wanted to give the feeling that it's not easy to aim while riding on water. Again, just pet peeves and really not game breaking things here.

When it comes to sounds, the game is right on par with what one would expect. There really is nothing outstanding to say about the voice acting, musical scores, or environment sounds. As stated, things will sound exactly as you would expect them to. You?ll hear the sound of people being impaled by Wolverine?s claws, typical gunfire, and ambient environmental sounds. Now I am not saying this is bad for the game, it?s just as expected.

When it comes down to it though most folks want to know how the game plays and I have to say the game plays very well and is a lot of fun. You?ll hack and slash your way through each level and there does tend to be some button mashing. One thing I did notice is that however many times you press the attack button will be the number of times Wolverine attacks. This is good and bad. For instance, if you instant kill and enemy with one swipe of your claws, but you hit the X button 3 times, he?ll swing 2 more times before leaving the attack animation. This can get a little frustrating at times. Other than that though, the game really does play well. There are puzzles to solve ala Tomb Raider, button mashing sequences in order to access new areas or kill off big bosses, and then as mentioned there is just the typical hack and slash style. So the game offers action and puzzle solving wrapped into one package and it seems to work very well.

The controls are not to bad in the game either, and for the most part work very well int he game. You'll have the regular attacks using X and Y. The A button jumps and the B button grabs. The left and right bumper allows you use your lunging technique and the triggers allow you to activate special moves. All of the controls are simple and easy to use and really do seem to fit the game scheme well. Even for a button masher at times.

The game offers you 3 levels of difficulty. I played on both easy and normal and while there are some subtle differences, and most noticeable against larger hordes and big bosses, there really isn?t a whole lot of difference between the 2 levels. Hard difficulty is locked at the beginning of the game so I think its safe to assume that you need to beat the game on normal at least to get to the next level of difficulty. I can see hard being extremely frustrating at times though especially with some of the issues that the game has with camera angles and locked in animations.

As you progress you will level up Wolverine as you did with characters in Marvel Ultimate Alliance. You will learn new skills and special abilities as well throughout the game which come in quite handy. As you earn skill points you can enter a menu and apply these skill points to Wolverine allowing stronger attacks or increased health. You?ll also be collecting plenty of special power ups and collectables throughout the game as well to unlock special bonuses such as new character skins or bonus missions. Once again, as a whole the game gives you quite a bit of variety and really should be considered by any super hero fan.

Now unfortunately there is no online play or co-op involved. I am sure we could all think of some online game modes that could be fun, but I am not sure if this genre of game is quite at that point. As for co-op, I mean really. Wolverine works alone, so why shouldn?t that be portrayed in the game as well. In the end, this has to be one of the best movie adaptation games as well as super hero games I have played in quite sometime. I really enjoyed my time with the game and look forward to heading back into the game at the hard difficulty level. Bottom line is, if you like super hero games then this one should really be a no brainer for you as its fun to just run around dismembering every single part of an enemy?s body. And the graphics are great as well. Put that together with the leveling up, item collecting and puzzle solving and you got yourself a winner.

Suggestions: Please allow the animation to break once an enemy dies no matter how many times I pushed the button. A little more in the way of collectables and hidden unlockables would also be a welcome addition. Also allow cut scenes to be skipped, especially once you reload from a checkpoint and you have already seen the ctscene. Overall though, very fun game and please keep this type of gameplay for future renditions or other origin titles.

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Wanted: Weapons of Fate

Very rarely do we get a game based on a movie long after the movie has already been released, but that is just the case with Wanted: Weapons of Fate. The game is based off a movie released earlier this year which is in turn based off a comic book series, so there is plenty of material for developers to work with and put together s solid story and great gameplay. Unfortunately, the great gameplay doesn?t really make an appearance in the game.

This title consists of basic gameplay elements: Run, take cover, shoot and then repeat the sequence until all the enemies are gone. There are some added elements in the gameplay such as curving your bullets and slow motion bullet time ala Max Payne, but in the end the novelty seems to just wear off. The level designs are pretty straight forward and consists of multiple cover points, strategically placed explosive objects as well and plenty of enemies at every turn. We?ll get into the gameplay a bit further along in the review.

Graphically, the game is on par with what one would expect from the Xbox 360. Character models are fairly representative of their real life counterparts, and you?ll find quite a bit of destructible environment throughout each level. Cover points such as concrete pillars will fade away to mere rubble with each and every bullet impact which of course provides you with less and less cover. The slow motion bullet time effects are fairly well done and are truly reminiscent of the Max Payne series. You?ll also find it quite thrilling for the first level or 2 when viewing the curved bullet animation that follows your bullet through the air until impact with its destined target. In the end though, both items where off in thrill and novelty and quite frankly just become a bit to repetitive and gimmicky for my taste.

The voice acting in the game is very well done and really does help the story along quite well. This is one thing that will keep you playing the game, at least through one playthrough. Explosions, gunfire and yelling enemies are nothing out of the ordinary but again enhance the experience at least somewhat and aid in making the game somewhat fun and believable. You?ll have a pretty good soundtrack throughout the game that increases with drama as the on screen action gains intensity. One of my turn offs with the sounds and truly any video game is the use of extreme profanity. Sure the rating on the box warns and allows for the profanity, but honestly is there really a need for the F-Bomb to be dropped on a constant basis. It?s definitely a game I would have to think twice about letting my son play.

On the note of vulgarity and profanity, I also found it quite disturbing that the developers/storywriters felt the need to include those tactics in the naming of levels as well as difficulty degrees. Without going into to much detail, the first level comes up in bold letters and is named ?Clusterf***?. I am sure you can fill in the blanks and figure out the level?s name. To me, there is just no need for something like that, and despite a game ESRB rating, I would hope folks would have some decency about themselves. As I mentioned, this vulgarity also makes an appearance as the easiest difficulty level. The difficulty, rather than being ?Easy?, is known as ?P***y?. Again, I think you can fill in the blanks. In my opinion, just ridiculous, so I will just leave this subject at that.

Let?s chat about the game?s gameplay options a bit. You get the single player campaign. Yup, that?s it. No online multiplayer. No bot play or local multiplayer. Just a single player storyline to play through and that is it. Now you?ll be able to view plenty of unlockables such as developer comments, quotes, pictures from their Xmas Party, etc. You?ll also be able to view unlocked concept art, movies, and comic book items. It?s a little hard to believe that a first person shooter does not come included with some sort of multiplayer aspect, especially with the popularity of shooters online. I think it would have been pretty cool to use the curving bullet system against real live opponents. Oh well, moving on.

As I stated earlier, the gameplay is fairly straight forward. The game truly uses a cover system which plays heavily into some aspects of the game such as taking out shielded opponents. It actually works quite well most of the time. You?ll hide in cover and fire off some rounds blindly, and then flank your opponent while still undercover to get a better shot on them. Again, this works effectively against shielded opponents. There are also some close combat sequences but its just the matter of pushing the ?B? button when close enough to an enemy to knife them. No real skill needed.

One of the novelty features of the game, but truly what the character is all about is the ability to curve bullets through the air and around obstacles to hit opponents under cover. Again, there is nothing really difficult about doing this. You?ll hold the RB button when you have your aiming reticule in the vicinity of the intended target and the bullet path will appear. It will appear red if there is something in the projected path to the target, but once you move the trajectory a little and it becomes white you just leave go and off your bullet goes. Don?t worry; you never miss if you fire when the aiming system is white. Usually when you use a curved bullet against the final enemy in a section it breaks into a slow mo cut scene showing the bullet on its path to its target. You?ll see it fly and impact its target and is actually a very cool little animation. But as with everything in this game its gets repetitive and boring after a few times.

One thing that I found very frustrating was the turret guns. When I first hit a turret level, I would constantly be killed, even at the easiest level and could not complete the objective. Then I realized that by simply not firing or aiming the weapon you no longer took and damage and would heal immediately. This is something you?ll want to keep in mind since the first turret objective you run into is during the second level.

A few other things that would come to mind as low points for the game would be that while the bullet curving system is cool and all it honestly takes no skill whatsoever. You never get a sense of accomplishment from taking out an enemy across the level hiding behind a wall. Its just point and let go of a button. I wish they would have put more time into that aspect of the game since it is supposedly your main skill of expertise. The other things I would have to mention as being downfalls would be the lack of multiplayer, the use of profanity in the form they use it, and the lack of gameplay options.

In the end this game truly does serve its purpose to promote a movie. Or wait. Maybe it doesn?t since the movie has already been released and is no longer in theatres. Ok, then really there is no point to the game other than something to kill a few hours or maybe hold you over until the next big title. The title had promise and looked like it was going to be quite fun to play after playing through the first level or 2, but once the novelty wore off that?s where the game then became repetitive and quite frankly a bit boring. If you are a fan of the comic book or the movie, then you will probably want to play this, but other than that its just a rental for most at best

Suggestions: The game severely lacks gameplay modes. The inclusion of online play should be a no brainer for a shooter and for this title to really get any kind of popularity it should be there. I would have loved to see the skill of curving bullets to be a little more advanced and give one a sense of accomplishment. Overall not a bad title, but not great either.

Overall Score: 6.9 / 10 WWE Legends of Wrestlemania

The topic of the day at the school cafeteria lunch table was always the latest ongoing feud in the WWF (now known as the WWE). We were all teenagers arguing as to whether wrestling was real or fake. Or maybe the argument was whether the blood was real or even that they used razor blades hidden in their mouth to cut themselves open. There were Hogan fans, Slaughter fans, 4 horseman fans, and honestly too many different fan bases to even mention. But one thing we all had in common was that we loved wrestling. And the WWF was right up there with Star Wars and Indiana Jones when it came to important things in our adolescent lives.

Well, here we are some 20 years later and Wrestlemania is celebrating its 25th anniversary. So why not a better time to introduce a new wrestling title to the world, especially one that is based upon the legends we grew up with and worshipped at times. THQ brings us WWE Legends of Wrestlemania, so let the nostalgia begin! One thing that I have to mention right off the bat is that this game is completely separate from the Smackdown vs Raw series and literally does not have much in common other than the WWE license and the ability to import the entire SVR 2009 roster. The SVR team is continuing work on SVR 2010 and that has never ceased during the development of Legends. Those worried that the control scheme for Legends will be carried over to SVR 2010 can put that worry to rest. I can?t stress this enough that the 2 games are completely separate, so keep this in mind as the review goes on. Don't make the mistake of comparing the 2 titles.

I am going to get right down to it. Legends of Wrestlemania is an outstanding title and accomplishes so much with the simplest features and controls schemes you will find in a game since the early days of video games. You?ll be treated to more than 40 WWE Legends and managers whom have played key roles in Wrestlemania?s 1 through 15. The simplistic approach to the game and the full legendary roster quite simply add up to a super nostalgic title that in every way will have you reminiscing about days gone by. And for those that aren?t of the time period the game is focused on, there is plenty of unique WWE video footage to bring you up to par on why these matches took place and why these legendary Wrestlers were at odds in a rivalry. Some video footage has not even appeared on any official WWE DVD's and is exclusive only to the game. So whether you are an old fogey like me or just a fan of wrestling, you will definitely find this game enjoyable from the moment you fire it up on your 360.

So let?s discuss the visuals of this game a bit. You will immediately notice that the character models are very well done and have a super hero like appearance to them. The larger than life appearance was completely intentional and represents a heroic or almost iconic stature for each and every Legend. So yeah, even King Kong Bundy and Dusty Rhodes actually have some muscle tone to their bodies which may not have been so evident in real life. You will be quick to notice that all of the wrestlers have their signature moves and even taunts which you have seen them do in real life. I?ll get into the taunt feature a little later in the review with a specific example that I thought was absolutely hilarious.

Each and every Wrestlemania venue including Caesar?s Palace in Las Vegas, NV which was outside and the home of Wrestlemania 9. Fans will be wearing wrestler related T-Shirts and holding up signs as you see at every WWE event. They will even react to the heel and hero in every match in a positive or negative way. Each member of the crowd reacts independently, and while it?s not one of the greatest crowds in video game history it serves its purpose well. The entrance overlays for each and every wrestler are specific to the time period and Wrestlemania TV graphics which once again is just one of those little things that makes this game so great in subtle ways.

The animations in the game are completely built from scratch as well as the character models. Even the character models that you import in from SVR 2009 look great. They will look exactly as they would in the SVR game. Your created superstars can be imported and will look exactly as they would in your SVR 2009 game. All the imported characters will adopt the legends control scheme.

When it comes to the sound department, all the sounds are on par with what you would expect. You?ll hear all the original entrance music for all the Legends. JR and Jerry Lawler will give you all the play by play and color commentary with lots of tidbits of little known information for you to absorb. Of course due to obvious reasons such as a few wrestlers passing away, voiceovers are not included in the game. While it would have been cool to hear Hogan and Andre jawing it up prior to their big match, it obviously wasn?t possible. So again, there is no way to really fault the game or developers for leaving something like this out.

Gameplay is the one thing that folks will love or hate. I personally think that the simplistic control feature is ingenious and makes this game even more nostalgic than the content that it contains. You?ll use only the left stick and the four face buttons on your controller to perform all your basic maneuvers, finishers and taunts. We?re talking old school here people. And remember, this game is not a sister product of the SVR series so there is no reason to complain about them changing a control system. The SVR control system was never a thought to even be used. The game accomplishes perfectly what it sets out to do from the beginning with this control scheme and that is to give a retro feel to the game. One which all of us old fogeys are accustomed to from the old Nintendo and arcade days. Simple is great. Your X button is your strike button. Y is your block or defend button. A is your grapple button and B allows you to run, climb the ropes, get out of the ring and pick up objects. Some button combos will also perform actions such as taunts and finishers. Simple! And it?s fantastic.

There are chain combos throughout the game that pit wrestler against wrestler in a race to press the correct button to chain a combo or carry out a finisher. If you nail all of the buttons in order you?ll lay heavy damage down on your opponent. But if your opponent hits one of the buttons before you do they?ll either break up the combo or counter it with their own hold or attack. Again, it?s very simple and basic and truly is almost like a gunfight at noon and whoever is the quickest to draw wins the fight. Finishers will require you to hit a button sequence as well to complete the full move set. Miss one and you will not pull off your complete finisher.

As you compete in a match your wrestler has 3 levels of aggression. Of course he starts out at level 1 and with each hit and maneuver performed on your opponent you?ll increase meter that shows how close you are to leveling up. To perform a finishing signature move you must have your wrestler at level 3 and hit the button combo when prompted. You stamina bar is also located on the meter and will increase with some maneuvers and taunts as well as decrease with each hit you take. You can also gain power ups by using taunts such as increased speed. These power up usually only last about 10 seconds or so. Speaking of taunts, as I mentioned I just wanted address something I thought was hilarious. It was Wrestlemania 15 which is Stone Cold versus the Rock. I was Stone Cold and put the Rock down on the mat. So I used a taunt to power up and to my surprise I see Austin flip Rock 2 middle fingers! Wow! I literally laughed out loud at this. In the background I hear Jerry Lawler yelling to JR, ?JR! I think Austin is telling the Rock he is number one!!!? Classic stuff and figured I would throw it out there for you.

One other thing that needs to be mentioned pertaining to gameplay is the interaction of the managers. While you do not have control over managers, they will interact in the matches just as they do in real life. Jimmy hart will scream into his megaphone, or maybe Mr. Fuji will blow chalk into your face. How about Paul Bearer raising the Undertakers urn and somehow having power over the opponent? Or maybe you?ll enjoy Bobby Henan standing on the ringside screaming at you. What is great about this is that when these managers interfere your wrestler will become distracted and turn his attention toward the manager. At this point, you will be locked into an animation that allows your opponent to come up from behind and lay some smack down on you. You?ll see it coming, but you will be helpless. What a great feature!!! The managers tend to interfere when their wrestler is taking a beating and they try to help out their wrestler gain an advantage. No worried, your manager, if you have one, will do the same for you.

When it comes to game modes, there is a bit of variety here but some will think it comes up a little short in this mode. I have to once again say that simple is better with this game. The game modes are as follows: Exhibition, Wrestlemania Tour mode, Legend Killer and Online Multiplayer. With exhibition you?ll be able to put wrestlers of your choice against one another in any type of match. This includes using SVR imported wrestlers versus legends. There are 11 differnet match types to choose from, which you'll have to unlock.In Wrestlemania Tour Mode you?ll get to Relive, Redefine and Rewrite matches from Wrestlemania history. Again all the matches are taken from Wrestlemania 1 through 15. I?ll get into those specific modes in a minute. Legend Killer mode is basically a 10 man gauntlet style tournament. Your goal is to take a created legend or SVR created superstar through 10 consecutive matches to become a new ultimate legend. Your created wrestler will lose stamina with each match the longer each matches go, so your goal is to end each match as quickly as possible to conserve stamina. You?ll also gain experience points (EXP) that can be used to increase the attributes of your wrestler. EXP is gained by performing certain objectives in each match. There are a few different level teirs in this mode which adds some depth and difficulty.

The Wrestlemania Tour Mode is the bread and butter of this title. As I stated you?ll have 3 modes in Tour Mode. In the Relive mode you will try to replicate the match and the events that took place during the match. You will play as the winner of the match in this mode. When playing the Rewrite mode you will play as the loser of the real life match and try to rewrite history by winning the match. Finally in the Redefine mode, you have the chance to re-imagine some of the biggest matches in Wrestlemania history. You can set the conditions of each match to redefine history. Each and everyone one of the modes is unique and will contain objectives for each match that are used to unlock match types and new movie montages to view.

Online play allows for up to 4 players to compete online. You can have one versus one matches, or 2 versus 2 matches. You?ll be able to choose player matches or ranked matches and be able to view leader boards which rank you according to your points you earn from ranked matches. From what I experienced, the game played smooth online with very little to no lag. Now keep in mind there are not a whole lot of people online at this time. Now the online isn't as extensive as one would hope, but it gets the job done.

When it all boils down to it there really isn?t much bad to say about the game. Sure it could be a little more in depth with its game modes and features ins ome areas. A few more Tour Mode matches would have been great as well as quite a few wrestlers added into the roster that are missing but deserve to be there. I have a feeling we?ll see some of this via downloadable content. The game plays very good and it has decent collision detection as well as a great nostalgic atmosphere. A lot of the younger generation will probably shrug this one off and wait for SVR 2010 since they can?t really appreciate what this game brings to the table for us old school gamers. As I played the game I go chills up my spine from all the great memories that just came up one after another. I could remember where I was and who I was talking to about these matches as a kid when they happened. Not many games can do that. But I have to say, even if you are a younger generation wrestling fan, you should definitely check this title out and give it a run. There is so much fun to b had with it and you truly will miss out on a great game if you wait for SVR 2010.

I could go on and on about all the minute details and features in this game, but that would end up being another 20 paragraphs. So let?s just stop right here and say, this is a must have for any wrestling fan. Do not let this one pass you by. Great roster, graphics, music, movies and game modes will have many of us playing this off and on for months to come. Some may feel the control system does not give them much control but I beg to differ. It works well for what this game is and intends to do. The more you play it the better it becomes. Folks may even say its a bit clunky, and I guess at times it can be, but what control system for any game doesn't have its downside. Even top teir games have control issues that folks don't like. If you go into this game with an open mind and realize it has no association with SVR then you should love it.

Suggestions: Definitely give us some more matches for Tour Mode along with a whole slew of Legends Wrestler Packs via Marketplace. Thats pretty much a no brainer. Maybe even add some newer matches from more recent Wrestlemania;s along with those new wrestlers. I am sure that may be where the next game is headed, but you got the full package right with this game, why not use it. Would also love to see some Wrestlemania or Tournament modes online for folks to compete in.

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X.

Kick the tires and light the fires! Ubisoft brings us a new flight game in the form of Tom Clancy?s H.A.W.X. which is deemed as an official Tom Clancy product. So that can only be a good thing, right? Well, I am a huge fan of the Tom Clancy games but I honestly feel that this one may be reaching a little to include itself with the likes of Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell. It has a general storyline like all the Clancy titles and even ties into the Ghost Recon world somewhat, but something is lacking overall whether it?s an in depth story, or just a lack of stellar gameplay. So let?s get down to the review and see if we can figure out what might be keeping this game from being an elite Tom Clancy product.

You?ll be strapping into the cockpit of a wide variety of fighters as Captain Crenshaw. You are part of an elite fighter group known as H.A.W.X. commissioned by the United States Air Force but eventually becoming a gun for hire fairly early in the game. As the game progresses and the storyline builds you end up fighting for the US Air Force once again against your former employer Artemis. Artemis is a private security organization that provides support in the form of weaponry and soldiers to the highest bidder. Anyhow, that?s just a general run down on the story without giving away to much of the storyline.

H.A.W.X. is a flight game that has a little arcade mixed in with a little simulation. Diehard flight simulation lovers will have a hard time holding interest in this title. The visuals are great and absolutely breathtaking at times, but the gameplay tends to lean more towards the side of old school Afterburner. Ubisoft has already stated that they were not going for a flight simulation aspect for this game, so we really can?t hold the arcade feel against it. It is a fun game to play but can get repetitive very quickly and again the in depth storyline that we are so accustomed to with Clancy products just isn?t there to reel you in the rest of the way. I found myself moving onto another game after about an hour of playing time or 1 or 2 missions each and every time I popped this game in.

When it comes to sounds, there really isn?t anything that blows your mind or the sound barrier for that matter. It?s all typical afterburners, missile lock beeps and explosions as one would expect. You will have the typical voice chatter of your wingmen and commanding officers breathing down your neck over the com or briefing you on situations at hand or on the mission ahead. A lot of the chatter and briefing is fairly generic and seems very similar to games that have come before this one such as Ace Combat 6 or Over G Fighters. The voice acting in the game is about par and again nothing that really pops out and grabs you or sucks you into the storyline. Once again, I am just a little disappointed in the fact that a game that touts itself as a Tom Clancy title just lacks in any kind of substance in storytelling. One thing worth mentioning when it comes to sounds is the ability to issue voice commands to your wingmen. Clancy games have really started to integrate the voice command system into their games and once again it seems to work very well.

Visually as I mentioned the game can be quite breathtaking at times. With actual satellite image provided by Geo Systems you?ll be flying over real life locations with real life landmarks present and in 3D. For instance flying over Chicago you will see the Sears Tower and hopefully won?t crash into it since its obviously the tallest building in the game. Or maybe when you are flying over Washington DC you?ll take notice to the many landmark monuments that dot the landscape. You can fly in Free Flight to check out the cities in more detail and I would suggest doing so. Especially if you are familiar with any of these cities or landscapes you are flying over in the game. You will be quite amazed at the detail. The plane models are well done and seem very accurate to their true life counterparts and you?ll be treated to some spectacular views from within the cockpit or outside the plane from directly behind. Again, this view reminds you a lot of old school Afterburner.

One thing that I just can?t figure out the purpose or even why one would have the desire to play is the assistance OFF point of view. You?ll play the game at a three quarter view from outside the plane and quite a distance away. Now, one of the benefits of this mode is the ability to pull off extremely tight maneuvers that you cannot do from the normal view. This aids in making quick turns as the enemy does and avoiding missiles as they close in on your plane. But this view takes a lot of getting used to and you?ll find yourself a bit disoriented at times with the way the camera stays on your target at all times. You?ll also do a lot of barrel rolling until you familiarize yourself with the touchy control sticks and frankly will turn the wrong way at times due again to your point of view and the focus on the target you are trying to take out. I do not know if I even want to call this a great concept that needs polishing. I am sure some folks will love the view, but it definitely was not my cup of tea and I only used it when I had to and to be able to get the achievement for 1 hour of flying time in this view.

You?ll have a few different game modes with a lot of unlockable content and leveling. Those modes would include your standard campaign mode which you can play as a single player, or play online co-op with up to 4 other players across the world. When starting a campaign you can select to make the game session public for anyone to join or a friends only mode. You can also just set it to single player if you just feel like going at it alone. There are 3 levels of difficulty: Normal, Hard and Elite. In co-op mode each player can choose their own difficulty level and are not locked into what the host is playing. Those difficulties affect your weapons payload and damage taken for the most part. All missions in campaign can also be replayed individually to accomplish certain goals you may have missed the first time around, or perhaps you just want to increase the difficulty to earn more XP. You?ll also have the standard online modes you would expect with the Clancy line of games such as Team Deathmatch.

H.A.W.X follows the path of Rainbow Six in its leveling giving you multiple tasks that are worth a certain amount of XP points that is applied towards a running XP total. Each rank you obtain is based on achieving a certain number of XP points and each rank increases that number. You?ll have tasks such as shooting down 50 enemies with your cannon, or taking out 4 enemies at once with multiple missile targeting. You can accomplish multiple feats in one mission which can help you level up fairly quickly through the ranks. As you level up you will unlock new planes and weapon kits for specific planes as well as unlocking maps for use in free flying and online play.

The overall gameplay of H.A.W.X is very arcade with only hints of actual flight simulation thrown in. You?ll carry well over 100 missiles on your plane, but you?ll be limited to only 5 defensive flares. Yeah, I am scratching my head on that one too. When you take damage your missile total will decrease. The more damage you take the less ammunition you will have available. Most of the missions are fairly straight forward and easy to complete. There are a few frustrating escort missions that are probably best served in a co-op match rather than by yourself such as one mission where you have to escort and protect Air Force One from a hornet?s nest of enemy fighters. Like I mentioned earlier, the assistance OFF mode is not my thing and really does not add to the gameplay value at all, but again some folks will probably love this view and solely use this method of piloting alone due to the extreme maneuver abilities of your plane.

In the end, H.A.W.X is a fun game to pick up and play with some buddies online in either co-op or even online versus but for anything more than that it?s a bit disappointing. The missions seem generic and extremely choreographed and many times you?ll feel like you are flying the same type of mission you did in another flight title. If I had to recommend the game to folks, I would say if this is your first flight game then by all means pick it up. If you absolutely love games with co-op features then again this is a no brainer and you should pick it up. Other than that its just a casual flight game that you?ll play for a while, but will eventually end up putting it on your bookshelf to collect dust.

Suggestions: I would say in order to keep this title fresh it needs to have plenty of downloadable content such as new planes, skins, and maps for online play. Even some new innovative games online would be nough to keep a lot of folks playing this one for some time. Also more co-op missions would be great as this seems to be one of the key features of the game.

Overall Score: 7.6 / 10 Major League Baseball 2K9

Ah yes, the smell of popcorn and roasted peanuts is in the air. Crowd chants such as ?Yankees Suck? begin to fill the bowels of cities like Baltimore, Toronto and Tampa Bay. Its that time of the year. Baseball season is back and of course we have an all new baseball game to play in the form of Major League Baseball 2k9 by 2K Sports.

So lets start off with a little history on the MLB 2K series. MLB made the jump to the 360 with MLB 2k6 which ended up being a disaster for the most part due to all kinds of issues with the game from minute visuals to game breaking bugs. Kush Games was the developer in charge and with Ben Brinkman, lead designer on MVP 2005, things looked to be headed in the right direction. 2K7 rolled around and while the game looked visually stunning there were still technical issues that hindered the game all around. Many folks still live by the notion that 2k7 is one of the best baseball games to date, while others continue to wait for that ?best? baseball game to come along. 2K8 introduced new pitching and hitting mechanics and while innovative and interesting, the game lacked a lot of polish especially online. The game was practically unplayable when online and once again this was a game killer for most. So near the end of the real life baseball season, Kush Games was ?fired? and Visual Concepts was given the reigns to take the title in a new positive direction.

So here we are. Its spring 2009 and MLB 2k9 is now on store shelves. The game looks quite stunning and while some will still argue that 2k7 was more of a visual masterpiece I am one to disagree. 2K7 is great and a beauty of a game, but 2k9 has so much more in other detail. Yes, it has some graphical issues as well, but so has every other game that has come along in the history of videogames. Visual Concepts only had a limited amount of development time to work on this game and quite frankly did an exceptional job with what limited resources they had available. Visually the game looks great, the new batting and pitching mechanics are very well done and headed in the right direction. And most of all online play is smooth as silk compared to the past renditions of the game. With all that said, there are quite a few issues that hinder 2k9 from being the cream of the crop this year and we'll get into that as this review progresses.

So lets discuss the game graphically first. Visual Concepts has always been known for their stunning graphical accomplishments in sports games. And they continue to step up the bar in 2k9. Many folks will faithfully argue that 2k9 took steps backward, but I truthfully disagree. Yes, there are a few head scratchers here and there but overall the game looks fabulous. Player models look great and there are plenty of signature style pitching deliveries as well as batting stances and swings to keep the diehard fans content. There are also plenty of generic stances and deliveries as well which will tend to upset those same diehard fans. Especially fans of say the younger up and coming players. The old saying you can't please everyone comes into play heavily here. Stadium renditions look fantastic and once again you'll have those season ticket holders whom will notice immediately if something is out of place or missing, but overall the game accomplishes a lot in the stadium department. Smooth animation, especially online, is the key to this game. At the time of this review patches are still in development to fix a few hiccups that occur such as slowdown in the outfield possibly along with a few other glaring gameplay issues.

The dynamic lighting in the game is done quite well. Afternoon games will progress through the early evening into the night seamlessly and it carries a very natural feel. There are plenty of shadows to represent the height of the sun and day games are very representative of their real life counterpart. Night games look great as well and give a feel of playing under the lights. The only downside is that the sky when cloudy seems very pixelated at times and can get rather ugly.

On a down side graphically are those head scratchers I mentioned. The first time I played the game I immediately noticed the dust clouds that floated off the infield dirt when players ran up the basepath. Sound like a great thing, but not every field is a dust bowl, and quite honestly it looks as though the dust clouds were created using MS paint. While its not a gameplay issue it really does detract from that visual masterpiece I discussed earlier and is laughable if not aggravating. The game could do without the dust clouds as its just plain ugly. Great concept, just poorly executed. Another downside to the game graphically is the blank out of town scoreboards. It just does not make any sense as to why these are blank and contain no information at all. The least they could have done is put up static numbers just for appearance purposes. I am truly hoping its blank for a future update that brings in real time scoring or something, but I am not holding my breath either.

The game has a great TV style presentation with overlays, fading black screens to represent commercial breaks, and plenty of replays. Paired with the new seamless commentary by Gary Thorne and Steve Phillips this game is top notch in the presentation aspect but falls short in a few areas in the game itself. While playing a game you no longer get any information displayed on screen as to who is batting when you are the pitcher. A name and possibly their game stats would be a great plus. Heck I would even take something in the way of career or season stats in franchise mode. Online it makes it impossible to know who you are pitching too and can be quite deadly if you don't stay on top of it. As the batter you have no idea whom is pitching to you or what his stamina is like, pitch count, or even again any kind of career stat or season stat. How about his game totals thus far? This is an extremely glaring issue and makes for a nightmare when playing against a live opponent online. I hate to call anyone stupid, but who the heck is the moron that thought it was a good idea to take away information like this.

One other glaring visual that is worth mentioning is the in game advertising for Pepsi and State Farm companies. I realize that these folks pay the bills in a lot of ways, but the display of the logos throughout the stadiums is frankly disturbing and gaudy to say the least. Of course real life stadiums are full of advertisements and may have even more signage in place than the game does, but due to variety of sponsors it does not detract from the stadium in anyway. I would have liked to seen the development team get a little creative and make some of their own silly billboard ads to replace the repetitive nature of the main sponsors. Another unforgivable trend in this game is to create fake billboards and erect them in the oddest places just to house a sponsor logo such as the State Farm sign in Wrigley. In the end, you kind of get immune to the signage and tend to not even see it anymore but in the end its just about the ethics or the lack of for that matter.

As stated earlier 2k9 was pretty much built from scratch by Visual Concepts and many things that folks have come to know and love in the past iterations have been dropped for the time being in order to just create a solid foundation to build upon. Depth in the form of editing player stances, pitcher repertoires, ability to change rosters on the fly in quick games are all missing in the game along with some other potentially important aspects. Many folks find this unforgivable and immediately denounce this game without truly getting into the game itself. I for one have played the game with an open mind and have overlooked many of the gameplay bugs that I will mention and find that this game is truly top notch when it comes to solid gameplay.

First up lets talk a little about the new batting interface. In last years game there was a timing step that had folks pulling back on the stick to replicate a loading of the swing and then following through with the swing once the pitch is thrown. This year its only a 2 step process. You will load you swing by pulling back at anytime prior to the pitch being thrown. No timing issue is involved. When the pitch is released you will then make a decision to push the stick forward to swing or hold off and take th pitch. The pitches are so much easier to read this year and you won't have to be guessing and predetermine if you are going to swing or not prior to the pitch, especially online. You can actually watch a pitch and hold off if it looks to be a ball with ease. Along with the right stick movement, there is a left stick called Influence. You push this stick up or down and any direction to influence the hit. In other words, if you push up and to the right, you will most likely influence the hit to be a fly ball to right field. Unfortunately, pushing up with the default difficulties results in homeruns more times than not. At the time I am writing this there is a supposed patch on the way to limit the homerun fest. Lets hope so.

The pitching interface is also now a 2 step process rather than a 3 step process that was introduced in 2k8. You will still use the right stick to perform the pitch, such as a fastball is straight down followed by an upward movement of the stick. The difference is now that you are trying to fill the yellow pitching cursor to its fullest point as it expands rather than waiting for it to retract and hitting a small pinpoint circle. The key to pitching is mixing up your pitches, speeds and locations. Do not throw things right over the plate on a regular basis or your are going to get rocked. Both the pitching and batting are much easier methods and really streamline the online play which is hugely important to many folks.

Fielding is fairly similar to last year with throwing that can be accomplished with either a button press or a right stick movement. Timing your throw inside the blue area on the throwing meter is key and crucial to making plays in the field. At times there are some issues such as slow release times from infielders when trying to throw out a runner or turn a double play, or choppy animation in the outfield that will cause you to miss a flyball or line drive altogether. There are also instances of players going through foul territory and outfield walls and getting stuck unable to make any kind of play. It does not happen often, but it is there and quite frustrating when it happens. Another glaring problem is the fact that at this point there is no collision detection in the field of play. Players can run through other players without worry and the ?Call off? button is pretty much rendered useless. Again, hopefully this is fixed in an upcoming patch, but currently is a bit unacceptable and the QA guy that passed this as okay should be out of a job.

Many find that the AI is overly aggressive and they swing at every first pitch on a regular basis. Yes, this is true so you really shouldn't throw into the strike zone on your first pitch knowing this information. Instead throw an outside unhittable pitch and then begin mixing it up with different pitches and speeds and you'll see the strikeouts pile up. As stated earlier if you choose to throw in the zone constantly then just prepare to give up a lot of runs. While the AI is extremely aggressive its not to the point that you cannot play realistic baseball as some would like to suggest. Again this is something that is to be addressed in a patch so at this point in time it may not have even been worth mentioning.

Overall the gameplay is solid and a lot of fun to play if you overlook the few things that I mentioned. I am not going to go into all the glitches and inexcusable flaws because it is my understanding that many will be fixed in the upcoming title updates/patches. So need to even harp on these. Plus you can read several reviews and compile your own list or check out 2K's forums to get the lowdown on what is the latest grudge being held against 2K and Visual Concepts. A few of these problems though would include easy 2nd base pickoffs, 1st baseman not aligning properly wiht the bag on force plays, wall detections issues, and some issues of honeruns going into no mans land and not actually counting.

So lets talk a bit about the options included in this years game. One of the new features is the Living Roster updates. As big moves are made and players are called up and sent down throughout the season the living roster is to reflect those movements on a fairly regular basis. Each time you load up 2k9 a check will be made to see if there is a new update available, if you have Living Rosters turned on. Now for those wondering, these rosters are only for exhibition, online and starting a franchise. Once you begin a franchise your franchise roster is locked into that franchise and will not update which really should be a no brainer but it seems there are quite a few that can't understand this. I am not going to explain it for those folks because frankly its not that difficult to understand. A Playoff mode is included in the offline play that allows you to jump right into the playoffs and make your way to the world series. Many people have asked and I just want to make this clear. There is no WBC mode or teams in the game upon release. Maybe it will come as DLC later on but I would not count on it personally.

At this time online play is a homerun fest for a lot of folks, especially the ones that really don't know how to pitch. Regardless though, even well thrown pitches anywhere close to the zone can be roped over the fence just by the simple action of pushing up on the hit influence left stick. 2K made an announcement that this would be addressed in the upcoming patch so lets hope thats the case. Online play also includes the team 2K options as well as online leagues which are extremely in depth and well done. You can view your leagues on the console as well as on 2K Sports as well. The stat tracking is amazing and will make a lot of baseball enthusiasts happy. You'll also have an online homerun derby which can be played offline as well versus the AI.

Baseball is full of so many details. Each detail has a certain importance that can be larger or smaller for each and every individual. Some folks will be upset about no homerun stadium celebrations or that the crowd does not get excited at the right times. While others could care less. Just because someone has more passion than another or vice versa does not make either fan any less of a baseball fan. Each person has their wants and desires to be in the game but not all will be fully content once its all said and done. If you seriously play this game with an open mind you will see that it has a lot of potential to be one of the best baseball games ever next year. Sure this year lacks some polish and options. And yes, there are some glaring defects in the game but 2K seems to be addressing those as they come and is really trying to please the masses. My hats off to them in that respect. My thumbs down also goes to them in some of the flaws that were let into the game for the public to experience. It truly is the best of both worlds in this situation and while many reviewers have been ripping this game apart and praising the competition all in all 2K stands ready to challenge the competition with this solid foundation of a game in 2k10.

Do not miss out on this title. Despite the things you see and hear, one should really give the game a try for themselves and come to their own conclusion. As I stated, play with an open mind and you'll find that you really can have an enjoyable experience with this game and that the defects and issues really do not detract completely from the game in the end.

Suggestions: Continue support of this title through patches. Please find a way to lessen the Pepsi and State Farm advertisements with generic comedic relief. Light the scoreboards. Please include player information overlays especially for online play. Tweak the difficulty of this game to lessen the homeruns.

Overall Score: 7.4 / 10 Street Fighter IV

There is nothing like the days of playing Street Fighter in the local arcade or bowling alley Pumping quarters into the arcade like they were pennies seemed to be just common place. I dropped several $10 rolls into the machine over my youth and to this day I still am no better at Street Fighter games than I was the first time I played it. Then the Street Fighter series hit the home consoles and now you did not have to worry about spending your weekly allowance within a day in order to beat the game. Ah, the nostalgia of this title!

Well low and behold a few month back we got Street Fighter IV Turbo Remix on the Xbox Live Arcade and folks rejoiced. Skip ahead a few months and we come to find out that there is a full retail version of Street Fighter IV on its way to the Xbox 360. And the fans rejoiced! So does the retail version stack up against its previous classic iterations which seem to be etched in video game history. Well, I am here to tell you that this game does complete justice to the series and aura of the Street Fighter name.

You'll find a few new characters, all new fighting venues and plenty of new attacks and combos that are all displayed in brilliant graphical form. While the game is graphically beautiful throughout, it still holds that Street Fighter feel and look that folks have become so accustomed too. I personally think thats a great thing and it really does tap into the memory banks of days past sitting with buddies beating the crap out of each other with our favorite character. Speaking of characters, all the characters you have come to love and hate are in the game as well as a few new ones to wet your whistle. Each character again holds to its original past self in great fashion and even the new characters feel as if they have been a part of the Street Fighter world all along.


Every fan of the game will immediately be familiar with the game and be able to take their favorite character through arcade mode. All the combo and special moves you have come accustomed to over the years are right at your finger tips once again. The only gripe for most will be that the Xbox 360 controller really does not seem like the perfect fit for what you are used to when playing the Street Fighter series. The D-Pad is a little more loose than most would like it to be and becomes evident at times when trying to pull off specific combos. On a side note though, a 6 button arcade stick is available for purchase and would seem like an ideal investment for any fan of the series that plans on playing this on a regular basis. I have also heard many players using a method called ?sanding the dpad? in which you basically make your controller dpad a little more responsive to your presses. I don't condone the sanding option, just making mention that some folks feel the need to carry out this controller modification.

So lets get right into the game itself. You'll find quite a few modes available from the main menu. They include: Arcade Mode, Versus Mode, Xbox Live Battle, Challenge Mode and Training Mode. You'll also be able to view a gallery with art and movie cut scenes as well as a player data screen that will detail your time playing the game with leaderboards, medal lists, character records and player records. You will also notice on the main screen that there is a player status displayed. This status displayed an icon and a title which you earn and apply to your name as you unlock them. It is basically your avatar in the game and on the leaderboards. There is also 2 other things listed in this status. The first is Request Status which allows a second local player or an Xbox Live player to jump into your arcade mode by sending a request to join you at any point if you have the option turned on. The other is Battle Points in which you earn by fighting opponents and plays into your Xbox Live ranking along with a point system.

Arcade mode and Challenge Mode will be the most popular for a lot of users, but if you just want to get down to fighting real life players than head to the Xbox Live Battle mode and you can fight ranked or player matches. You will only earn Battle Points for competing in ranked matches though.

Thats the basics of the gameplay modes and I could go on more and more about the smaller details of each mode, but in the end its all fairly familiar and straight forward. So lets head onto discussing the graphics a bit. SFIV for the 360 keeps the 2D fighting style that has been a staple asset of this gameplay. There are plenty of upgrades to the backgrounds and the character models that make the game fresh and exciting without giving up the true core of what SFIV really is and thats a 2D side scrolling fighter. You'll also notice many of the special attacks have been enhanced graphically but still remain simple in design and again holds this title to its roots very well. One thing that really stands out is that while this game is a 2D style game, all the character models are 3D rendered and many of the cut scenes are a beautiful thing to behold. Some of the attacks you can perform will actually be shows in a 3D animation which doesn't take away from the game's overall nostalgic sense, but rather adds to the experience and should be welcomed by most veterans.

As I discussed earlier, the gameplay holds to its origins fairly well with the exception of a somewhat out of place Xbox 360 controller. As in the past, the moves are all combinations of buttons and dpad movements and folks will be pulling off their favorite combos in no time. There are some new aspects to the gameplay now that add to the experience while holding true to the gameplay associated with the series. One of those aspects is called ?Focus Mode?. While this mode will not have to be mastered to play the game and progress through the levels it is just added depth for the fans of the series to learn and master. Basically this mode allows the player to charge up a meter to perform a focus attack that will knock down the opponent if executed properly and contact is made. Its nto difficult to perform the maneuver, but timing is key and a missed attack could leave you hanging out to dry for your opponent to attack. The Focus Attack is somewhat a defensive maneuver as well though. While performing the attack you can take a hit and continue to perform the attack.

Along with the Focus meter, there is a Super meter that fills up during the match with each successful punch or kick landed and allows you to pull off super attacks and special moves. The Ultra Meter is another meter that fills with each hit you take. It's used to pull off devastating Ultra attacks that are cinematic in nature if executed properly and can really turn the fight around quickly and put your opponent on their heels. All of these especial combos require meters to be full, but you can pull off Ex attacks that only require a portion of the meter to be used. I don't want to get to in depth into the gameplay features as this game really is pick up and play for most folks and they'll have fun with it. The veterans and fans of the series will truly be the ones digging deeper and will find an abundance of new things to learn and master.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the modes included in the game is online play. I have to say that my experience with online wasn't always the most pleasant. Many hiccups within matches caused delay in performing combos and just as I thought I was about to attack my opponent I was suddenly trying to defend myself. SFIV is truly meant to be played locally more than over a network it seems, but that doesn't mean you will not run across good connections and matches. I had a few smooth interactions that felt like the person was right in the same room with me. So I guess my recommendation would be to take online in stride but be prepared for some frustrating moments that leave you scratching your head.

Overall SFIV is a great game with a lot of depth. Plenty of combos to learn for each character, plenty of unlockables and online play should give fans of th series plenty of gameplay time. One thing worth mentioning is that SFIV is in essence the same SFIV you have been playing since you were a kid with a few new characters, bells and whistles thrown in. For most this will be a good thing, but for those that were looking for something new and fresh in the Street Fighter universe will be somewhat disappointed. Its a must have for any fanatical followers of the series, but just another Street Fighter title that you feel like you have already played for the casual gamers.

Suggestions: I guess my only gripe would be related to the online play and the lag I experienced. I am not sure if a patch would fix anything but it just seemed that the network code didnt always mesh together well with opponents and I would be seeing a completely different result on the screen than my opponent. Other than that, the game was great and brought back fond memories of my teenage years and playing this game. Good job.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

The newest installment to the beloved Banjo-Kazooie series finally arrives on the 360. Rare and Microsoft also teamed up to release the original Banjo on the Xbox Live Arcade for nostalgia as well and if you preordered the new game you got the Arcade game for free. Anyhow, this review is all about Rare's newest Banjo iteration 'Nuts & Bolts'. So lets get right to it.

Rare has kept the same humor and many of the characters you have come to know and love an incorporated them into the new game. Right off the bat you'll notice the whole Banjo world has been modernized and brought up to next generation specs. The characters even have upgrades in their appearances as well and they are very representative of their previous counterparts. What's funny is the comedic relief you will find throughout the game that refers to the graphical upgrades such as Banjo having a much more square nose than previously remembered by in game characters.

The graphics are colorful and quite detailed, yet simple and fun enough to entice any age player into the world and have lots of fun building all sorts of contraptions. The only downside to the game at times would be the camera angle which can tend to get you turned around in the wrong direction or get locked into a wall of a building when facing the opposite way. Overall though, all aspects of the game are a visual pleasure that will enhance your enjoyment of the game.

When discussing the sound of the game, once again everything is done quite well while left fairly simple. One glaring thing that tends to limit the age group of this game to a higher age is the fact that all character dialog must be read. There is no voice over at all throughout the game, and this becomes even more of a factor when it pertains to following the single player campaign storyline. Even for an adult at times the text dialog appears and disappears quicker than you can read it. Maybe I am a slow reader or something, but there was a few times I was not able to finish reading the dialog displayed on screen before it went to the next line of character dialog. So its not only a problem that the game scrolls through the dialog quickly, but the fact that some of the age groups that may want to play this game and understand whats happening may not be able to do so because they may not be able to read or read well as of yet. As for everything else in the game when it comes to sounds, the game delivers pretty much exactly what you would expect from a Banjo game. Each storymode level has its own unique set of sounds that seem to fit quite nicely with the theme.

Finally before discussing specific aspects of the game I'd like to touch on the controls a little. For the most part, controls are very basic and should be pick up and play for most. At times the vehicle control can be a little sketchy but its mainly due to camera issues more than anything. As with any 3D platformer there will be times that you'll miss jumps and what not due to poor depth perception portrayed in the game, but its really not a huge issue at all. Just frustrating when you have to climb all the way back up to where you were and try again. The vehicle editor is done fairly well and is presented in an easy to use format that is simple to control and build you own creations This is probably one of the most fun things in the game so its good that the controls are set up well. Other than these things though, the game plays as you would expect for the most part.

So lets get to the core gameplay. You have been transported along with many familiar faces in past Banjo games to a ?cyber? world if you will that is created by a character named L.O.G. He has set up many gaming arenas in his virtual world in which you'll have to build vehicles, complete mini games and collect many musical notes in order to obtain puzzle pieces. These puzzle pieces unlock new areas for you to explore in the game when you deposit them into a central puzzle bank. Each puzzle piece is obtained by completing a task given by a game character in each of the worlds and its sublevels. Most levels have 3 puzzle pieces to acquire. As you obtain a certain amount of puzzle pieces you will be informed that a new world has been unlocked for you to explore. You'll also collect music notes which tend to act as the in game currency. These music notes will allow you to buy things such as character upgrades in strength, speed as well as have the ability to purchase new vehicle upgrades.

Kazooie carries a special wrench that was given to you by L.O.G. In the beginning sequence of the game. This wrench is used to summon your vehicle to your location on the map at anytime as well as used to lift and carry objects such as puzzle pieces or enemies. The camera angle and the mechanics of the lifting process for the wrench can get a little frustrating at times. Eh, maybe a lot frustrating at times. I found myself several times trying to put an item into my vehicle loading tray only to either miss completely or end up grabbing the vehicle itself. After some practice and getting used to the wand you'll handle it a lot better, but it still has come issues that can make gameplay a bit frustrating.

As you collect puzzle pieces and deposit them in the bank, you are granted access into new worlds which will have greater and more difficult tasks for you to perform. Each of these tasks sometimes require a special type of vehicle whether it be land , air or water based. Collecting music notes will allow you to buy part upgrades and new blueprints for vehicles. You'll enter into Mongo's workshop to build your vehicle creations from a blueprint or you can even venture off into your own ideas and create your own masterpieces. This is probably the most rewarding part of the game. As I stated earlier the whole building system is easily understood and controlled. You'll see how much power, ammo, speed and what not is achieved by a special meter that appears when viewing a certain part. This meter also shows your overall vehicle performance in the areas mentioned. Build yourself a flying machine with plenty of weaponry, or maybe you just want to build one for speed. As I stated, some puzzle piece tasks require you to have a certain vehicle. So be sure to buy all the blueprints you can or create your own blueprints as you proceed through the game.

There is plenty to do in the single player campaign and it should keep you busy for quite a few hours just collecting and unlocking new worlds. I rather enjoyed playing the single player but will admit that quite a few of the challenges set forth for you to obtain puzzle pieces can be rather frustrating. Most of the puzzles you have to figure out are not overly difficult which makes this a game for all ages. But younger folks may need a helping hand from time to time.

One very cool aspect of the whole build your own machine concept and the blueprints is the fact that you can trade these blueprints online with your friends. Thats right, you'll be able to send and receive custom blueprints for user created vehicles via Xbox Live. Speaking of Xbox Live, not only can you trade blueprints online and save them to your vehicle database, but you can also play multiplayer online as well. There are ranked and player matches that you can compete in as well as an option call a League Match which is a series of connected matches. The league allows you to jump quickly into all the events or you can specify the specific events you would like to participate in against other online in a custom league. You'll also be able to rewind time online to correct things such as driving off a cliff in a race. Now only you will be in the rewind mode and other online players will continue as usual while you are rewinding your mistake and picking up back in the action once you have corrected your mistake. So yes, you lose valuable time for rewinding but it can also help you more than trying to fix your mistake by driving back to the track but having to take a different route.

Overall, Nuts and Bolts is a fairly fun platformer that most folks should enjoy. Diehard Banjo fans may find somethings a bit disappointing as the whole game has been pretty much taken in a new direction but its definitely a fresh direction and I look forward to future variations of the series. You'll be frustrated at times, but you'll have more fun than frustration in the end. If you like collecting things than this game is definitely for you as there is plenty of collecting to do. If you like mini games than this game is for you as well since there is a huge variety of games such as old school arcade games to bingo to racing head to head. One should find many hours of enjoyment and at the reduced price of $40 new upon release you really can't go wrong on this one.

Suggestions: I found myself getting very frustrated with the camera at times as well as the carrying of objects and them getting stuck or just not going where I directed them to. I also had a few instances where I could not get something out of the water such as a globe when I dropped it off of highest point of the main town map. Eventually I was able to get the camera right and grab the globe, but it took me a good half an hour before doing so. Please look into possibly adjusting the camera or targeting system a little better. Other than that I would love to see some new level downloads or possibly maybe some downloadable vehicle databases.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Call of Duty: World At War

Only one year ago we were talking about COD4 and Infinity Ward and now we have yet another Call of Duty title on our hands, but make sure you don't call it COD5. The latest installment of the series comes from Treyarch whom delivered the lack lustered Call of Duty 3 a few years back. After Infinity Ward made the jump to modern warfare, our friends at Treyarch decided that it was best for their game to head back to the World War II era once again. Honestly, I myself think the COD series is best served by the WWII scenario more so than the modern warfare. Now of course COD4 was a great game which would be why Treyarch pretty much used every bit of COD4's gameplay and engine that it could while still trying to remain a unique title.

Treyarch takes back to WWII but at least serves up some new scenarios of which we haven't played before. You';; be taking on the Germans as US and Russian soldier on the Eastern and Western fronts, as well as hitting the South Pacific fighting the Japanese. The new scenarios definitely are a welcome addition to the COD series, but after a while it just seems like the same old Call of Duty in a World War II setting.

So at first glance as you begin playing Call of Duty: World at War you'll recognize the COD4 gameplay and structure is very evident. The only real difference is that instead of modern weaponry, you are now using old school weapons and sites. This is truly most evident in the multiplayer aspects and I would even be will to call it completely identical to COD4. Sure there are different weapons and vehicles as well as new maps and perks, but really its the same game as COD4. Why fix something that isn't broke I guess.

One of the defining factors that sets World at War apart from its big brother is the addition of co-op play in the campaign mode. Now you and up to 3 of your buddies can run through the campaign mode together which is a great addition to any game. The campaign mode is laid out fairly well and you'll jump from front to front fending off the Germans and Japanese. From the co-op sessions I played the games were relatively lag free and a lot of fun. This definitely made the single player a much more enjoyable experience and more games should follow this trend.

Graphically the game is right on par with what we saw from COD4 and even does better in a few areas. To me intricate details that can go overlooked are what makes a game great graphically and I think one of the best small details I saw were the artillery strikes. Not so much the impact of the strike on the targeted area but more so the way it looks when its incoming. When you hear the siren warnings of an impending strike take a look to the horizon and you'll see what I mean. You be able to watch the smoke trails of the shells as they are launched towards the target. You can follow them all the way across the sky until they impact the ground. While this doesn't really impact gameplay I found it still to be one of those things that sets the game into a higher category graphically.

Other than that, the game looks great and runs at a high frame rate with no slowdown that I noticed. Attention to detail, like the artillery strike, is key and I one of the most graphically intense gameplay moments would have to be the first time you see a flamethrower. The fire looks amazing and frankly eclipses any flamethrower that I have ever seen in a game before. The fire is intense and the results are smoking, no pun intended. Kudos definitely go to the graphics team on the flamethrower in the game. Explosions look good but as of late explosions look good in pretty much every game that comes along.

The weaponry and accessories are all WWII era equipment and seems to be a gripe among many folks because the weapons fire to slowly or they are a bit inaccurate at times. Well, think about it folks. We are talking about 60 plus years ago. The weapons should be inferior to that of modern combat. I like the fact that you need to have some skill to use the weapons of the time period. Of course there are a few power houses in the ammunition dump when it comes to strong guns but overall the weapons are fairly well balances and the attachments that go with them seem to work well too.

When it comes to the sounds of World at War there really isn't anything that stands above previous iterations of the series. In game weapon and vehicle sounds are right where they should be and really are probably the best you can accomplish. I mean seriously, guns and vehicles really do not have that many different sounds nor are they complicated in nature. So once you get the sound down as I think this game has, then there isn't much more you can do for future titles. Some interesting things I noticed were the air sirens that warn of incoming artillery strikes and the dogs ambient barking as they travel the map in search of enemies. The rest of the sounds in the game are that what you have come to expect with Call of Duty. Battle cries, sergeants screaming, cliché one liners that you have heard in all Call of Duty games are in this one as well. Not to much of a wow factor in the sound department in my opinion.

When it all boils down to it, the Call of Duty series is all about the online experience. And World at ar delivers on that experience just as COD4 did. Well, honestly, it is COD4 with a World War II overlay so why shouldn't the game be good. You'll instantly recognize the online portion of the game being that of COD4 with all the options you grew accustomed to last year. The ranking system is pretty much the same and the perk system works the same as well, only you have a few new perks that are related to the time period of WWII.

One of the most annoying and really one of the only pitfalls of the game is the spawning system. There really is no rhyme or reason to the spawns as you'll find yourself spawning in the middle of gun battles or right beside an enemy looking directly at you. Most of the time this results in immediate death, and huge frustrations. I like the random spawn points which tends to deter spawn camping, but in the end I would rather take my chances with a spawn camper than be killed immediately upon spawning just because I ended up in someone's line of fire or an artillery strike for that matter.

The prestige level has been increased from 50 in COD4 to 65 in World at War. You'll also obtain the flamethrower at level 65, so this should make for some interesting decisions as whether you want to move onto prestige mode and start over again, or hang onto the flamethrower for a while and remain at level 65. Some other changes to the game would include your rewards for achieving a certain amount of kills in a row. At 3 kills you'll still earn the recon radar that indicates enemy positions on the map. At 5 kills you earned an Attack Chopper in COD4, but now you'll earn attack dogs which will seek out and kill enemies. Now the dogs are not indestructible, but they are vicious and do some major damage to enemies and you best bet is to follow the dogs to enemy location to finish off victims that may have fended off the dog attack. Finally, once you hit 7 kills in a row without dying you will be garnered with an artillery strike rather than the air strike in COD4. The artillery strike seems to have a longer duration and a much more widespread targeting area than the air strikes. I personally think the artillery strike is much better than the modern day air strikes.

The perk system is pretty much the same but with one welcome addition. You now have the ability to be a medic once again, well of sorts anyhow. If a player has the second chance perk they can revive any person that is in last stand before they die. You'll just have to head over to their position and inject them with the medicine and off they go. You will of course have the typical perks such as martyrdom, deep impact, juggernaut, etc. Some of the new grenades included are toxin grenades, sticky grenades, and anti tank grenades along with the normal frag grenades and smoke grenades. You can also obtain Molotov cocktails which are pretty fun but take some getting used to when used in battle.

Along with the standard multiplayer matches you'll be treated to a new game mode as well. If you finish the campaign mode you'll unlock what is called the Zombie mode. In this mode you'll basically be locked down in a boarded up room and have to fend off Nazi Zombies coming at you from all directions. The windows and doors are boarded up, but the zombies will tear them down to get inside after you. You'll earn cash for each zombie you kill and this cash can be used to purchase new weapons as well as repair broken boards blocking the windows. As you pass each level of zombies, the difficulty increases more and more. Eventually you'll have zombies attacking from every direction and you won't know which way to turn. This game is most fun with 3 other buddies online of course.

When it all boils down to it, much of World at War is COD4 with a World War 2 overlay. That makes this a great game no matter how you look at it. The multiplayer is fun, but can be a bit frustrating at times with the spawn system. I would have liked to have seen a little more variety in the game, but I still love it despite its huge resemblance to Call of Duty 4. I really think Activision made a good choice in keeping with what was doen well last year and building upon that while not changing to much other than the time period. There are plenty of maps and weapons as well as challenges to keep one busy for quite some time. This is definitely a title you should have in your library if you are a fan of first person shooters.

Suggestions: The spawning system online definitely needs to be tweaked quite a bit. The way it is right now completes frustrates many including myself and actually has me turning off the game from time to time. Look forward to more maps and maybe new weapons in the future as well.

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Shaun White Snowboarding

Shaun White is one of the most popular faces on the snowboardning circuit and one of the most recognizable faces with the long red hair, when you can see it of course. His style is that of none other and he always amazes the crowd with over the top performances at competitions across the world. So it only makes sense that a developer would use his popularity to create a brand new snowboarding experience on the Xbox 360 console. What surprising is that it was Ubisoft who took on the task. Known most for their Tom Clancy series with multiple IP's and continually churning more titles out, I found it quite shocking that Ubisoft through its hat into the sports ring. Especially the extreme sports genre. So with that being said, how did Ubisoft do for its first try at snowboarding?

Well, the last snowboarding game we had on the 360 was Amped 3. It was received with both jubilation and disappointment so it was pretty much a guarantee that Shaun White Snowboarding (SWS) would be under a microscope from the minute it was announced. Ubisoft employed it's Assassin's Creed game engine to SWS due to its vast and open world vision. While there is still a lot of work to be done with a sequel, the engine seems to work well for the vast mountain landscapes. You can go anywhere your little heart desires on the mountain face and the environment seamlessly generates as you proceed down the slopes. Very little to know transition in loading times from point to point appears which makes getting from point to point painless. Shaun White himself even appears throughout the game promising to teach you the ways of focus as you achieve more reputation and unlocking new events and areas for you to explore.

You'll be treated to all sorts of licensed gear and a host of customizable options to create your character including various clothing style, boards, etc. There are 4 vast mountain regions for you to explore and they truly are vast with plenty of jumps, cliffs, halfpipes and rails to combo out your tricks. The regions are as follows: Park City, Europe, Japan and Alaska. Each has its own distinct landscape and environment. Scattered across the regions are hidden icons which you collect to unlock new items, and you'll can also see the challenges and competitions on the mountain by viewing the map. Each challenge is color coded for difficulty. New events open up as you complete challenges and find hidden tokens across the mountain.

While the game looks pretty good and plays pretty good most of the time there are some major trouble spots in the game that due cause quite a bit of frustration. A lot of this frustration is due to the camera angles coinciding with the control system. The control system is fairly straightforward as it has been with most snowboarding games of the past. Your main buttons you use are the thumbsticks and the right trigger and thats really the extent of the control system. Most of the other buttons have small functionality and very little to do with the snowboarding aspect of the game. For instance, the B button throws snowballs and thats it. The D-Pad is used as a hot key of sorts to change music, set up multiplayer, etc. Again nothing to do with the actual snowboarding trick and maneuvering.

So back to the frustrations. As I stated most to the frustration is due to the camera angles and at times almost unresponsive controls. You'll find yourself getting caught upside down off of a ramp with no ability to right side yourself because the camera is turning at a certain angle. Now of course you can adjust the camera using the bumpers, but doing so usually results in giving up on the trick at hand. There are times when the camera gets stuck in a downward angle and you cannot see whats ahead of you without tweaking the camera somewhat. Again, you either lose some speed or focus from having to adjust your view. The right and left stick combination to pull off tricks and tweak them works good most of the time, but there just seems to be times when the game does not respond or react to the controls and you usually end up taking a face full of snow.

SWS is a blend of the Amped series and SSX Tricky. Some over the top antics can be performed at times as well as down to earth tricks. For some this may be disappointing but I think it really is a good mix of sim and fantasy. I mean seriously, this is a snowboarding game and it should be fun, not a simulation in my opinion. Let me do 2160's while jumping off a huge cliff into a ravine at top speed. Sure its over the top, but the game really should go one way or the other and not try to be in between fantasy and simulation.

When it all boils down to it, I really have to say that this game is truly meant to be more of a hang out with your friends online experience than single player or even online competitive play. There is no real direction as to what you are to be doing throughout the game. You'll run across icons in single player that represent competitions where you will earn reputation and cash to buy new board, clothes and accessories. But really you'll have to identify them on the map and take a chopper to the closest drop off point or take a ski lift and work your way to the icon using your map. But the lack of any kind of distinct linear storyline really hurts this title in the single player aspects and that is one of the main reasons I really think that the game was geared as a hang out and board with friends on line experience.

That brings me to the multiplayer aspects of the game. You can drop onto the mountain with friends or others folks online at anytime. Just a press of the D-Pad and you can be riding with live opponents down the slopes. You'll be able to race, compete in some challenges and competitions or just hang out and carve your way down the mountain socializing. There are 3 multiplayer only game modes for you and your friends to enjoy ? King of the Hill, Rat Race and Betting Challenge. While the extra modes are appreciated they still really don't add a whole lot of excitement to the game which is unfortunate. Maybe a paintball style mode riding down the slopes would have been cool especially since we know that Ubisoft knows how to do the FPS genre.

One of the higher points of the game is its licensed soundtrack containing great songs from the past to top songs of the present day. I have to admit that its a good time carving down the slope to the likes of Blue Oyster Cult or Pat Benetar. As for other sounds in the game, nothing really stands out as a wow factor and they are all sounds you would expect from a snowboarding game. I guess really there is only so many ways to make kicked up snow sound. But as I said, the high point is in the soundtrack when it comes to game sound.

Overall SSW is a decent game and you'll find some fun for a while with both single player and multiplayer. You'll also find frustration at time when you are stuck and have to get off your board to try and get going again or maybe the camera just ends up getting completely turned around on you. I have to give props to Ubisoft for taking on this project and it shows huge promise for the next installment for sure. If you are in the market for a snowboarding game then this is probably right up your alley. Its hard to suggest the game to the casual gamer unless you have a lot of friends with the game. I look forward to SSW2 and what Ubisoft builds upon, but unfortuantely the bottom line is that this title just falls a little short in to many areas. For some reason the game just lacked a fun factor for me, and I have always enjoyed snowboarding games in the past. This game felt like almost a chore to play it and as I stated before it's fairly confusing at times to try and figure out what's next to progress deeper into the game.

Suggestions: A more linear storyline with objectives and cut scenes would definitely help this game get to the next level in the eyes of gamers. You just get lost in sorts as to what you are supposed to be doing next and where you should be going.


Overall Score: 6.5 / 10 WWE Smackdown vs Raw 2009

THQ powerslams the latest version of the WWE Smackdown vs Raw series onto the Xbox 360 console. Over the year this title has increased in quality and its safe to say that the 2009 version of the game has once again raised the bar in the series. With the addition of create-a-finisher along with tag team partner interventions and all new superstar abilities the game keeps getting closer and closer to what you expect to see every time you watch a WWE presentation. Oh did I mention the Hell in a Cell matches? The game ships with 54+ wrestlers on its roster from all 3 show brands. Each championship belt will be present and in the hands of the current champion when the game was developed.

The graphics are superb and the character models resemble their real life counterparts completely. It really is amazing when you look at the amount of small detail that is put into each character model. The Divas look amazingly beautiful as well with each and every detail of their....well...lets just say they are very life like as well. Jerry ?The King? Lawlor would be in puppy heaven. The arenas are well done and the amount of unique crowd members is pretty high which makes for a non repetitious crowd that seems to move independently. One of the standout features when it comes to the graphical nature of the game is the player entrances. As I said earlier the game has gotten better each year and that is completely evident in the entrances. You'll get that same anxious feeling from the entrance of The Undertaker as you would watching it on TV or even better in person.

The sounds in the game are in depth and it looks like a lot of voiceover work was done by all of your high profile characters in the WWE business from announcers to the wrestlers themselves. The ring announcing is spot on when it comes to match commentary and the JR/King combo is thankfully still in this game. They must have done all the recording before JR made the move to Smackdown earlier this year. All of wrestler musical entrances are true to life, well at least for the time when the wrestler was of the persona portrayed in the game. We all know how wrestlers love to change identities and theme song entrances.

There are plenty of game modes to keep you busy for quite sometime. You'll be able to jump into exhibition matches by yourself or with a buddy. Or maybe you'll want to take one of 6 predetermined Superstars on the ?Road to Wrestlemania?.You'll also have your typical career mode where you can take any wrestler of your choosing and guide them to championships throughout their wrestling career. There is a ?Create? option that allows you to create your own finishers, superstars, entrances and move-sets. And of course you have your Xbox Live option which includes Ranked Matches, Player Matches, and the Highlight reel where you can upload or download screenshots and user-created highlight reels. I'll go into the game modes in a little more detail in a bit.

For you know what to expect when it comes to game modes and options so let's talk about the gameplay for a bit. The controls are fairly simple and just take some time to learn which button or button correspond with each maneuver. All buttons on the controller have some sort of use to them including both analog sticks. Different moves will require different button combinations such as holding the right bumper and moving the left stick will cause you to run. You will quickly notice that the buttons are extremely responsive and that means everything in a wrestling game.

Most of the time the collision detection seemed to be very well done and right where it should be. I ran into a few instances of wrestlers running through a boot to the face. I also noticed a few punches that I threw which I thought I had landed had no effect on my opponent. But these instances were far and few between. I would easily say that the collision detection is right where it should be 98% of the time. Tagging in and out of matches seems to work almost flawlessly and frustration doesnt set in all that much as it has in the past. Again, I think that goes hand in hand with the fact that the collision detection is well done and the controls are very good.

THQ has also included some all new abilities and maneuvers for you to take advantage of in your matches. A total of 21 to be exact are included and set each wrestler apart from one another giving each an advantage over opponents in certain situations. Each wrestler will have the special ability listed in their attributes like Referee Shield where you hide behind a referee while shoving him into an opponent or being a certain type of match specialist. Of course all these abilities are predetermined and can be found when viewing a wrestler's details.

One other thing I wanted to mention was the inclusion of illegal tag team moves. Your partner on the outside of the ring waiting on the tag can now intervene in the match illegally such as distracting the referee, pulling down the top rope to allow for an opponent to fly over the rope, or even forcing a tag from your partner by slapping them on the back. These maneuvers put a whole new spin on things and really allow you to play as the real life tag team partners would such as DX.

So lets talk about the game modes a bit. In Exhibition mode you can take and wrestler or wrestlers and pit them up against anyone you like. You'll have the standard one on one, two on two, triple threat, fatal-4-way, 6 man, handicap and royal rumble matches to choose from. Each of those option has multiple conditions or match types you can set . In all the total numbers of unique matches you can create is 56. How is that for variety?

The Road to Wrestlemania is a really neat option that allows you to play through a storyline as one of 6 predetermined superstars - Triple H, CM Punk, Undertaker, John Cena, Chris Jericho, or Batista and Rey Mysterio. The Batista/Mysterio combination can be played as alone or co-op with a buddy. Your goal is obviously to progress through the story and ultimately meeting up with your opponent in a Wrestlemania Match. You'll face off in various matches along the way against various opponents all connected with the storyline in one way or another. Typical WWE creative juices are flowing in this mode and the storylines are actually quite good and enjoyable as you progress from show to show. Now some will probably be upset that you can only choose from 6 superstars in this mode and you cannot use your own Created Superstar or other favorite wrestlers. While I would love to see a Road to Wrestlemania option for every wrestler on the roster this would really be a whole new game itself. And truthfully most folks will want to play with their created superstar anyhow in the other modes, so to me this is no big deal.

Career mode allows you to take any wrestler from the roster and run them throughout a career in the WWE. You can use a real life wrestler or use your created superstar. There isn't much different This mode is where you'll increase your created superstars rating by selecting them as your character and progressing through the mode. You'll have the opportunity to win all the belts, but watch out because your same goals of obtaining gold are the same goals of everyone in the WWE locker room. Form alliances and enemies as you make your way to legendary status.

In this year's game you can now create your own finishing moves. You'll have up to 10 slots to piece together moves to create your overall finisher. With each manuever the list will deplete in options mostly due to your final positioning after the last move which makes complete sense. You'll string together your combo and finally select your finishing maneuver. You'll see a preview of the move and once you are satisfied with the final result just click finish and save it. Once saved you can apply this manuever to your created wrestler. The option is very basic and easy to use and really does work well. Its agreat start and I am looking forward to how they will evolve this option in future games.

Xbox Live of course is included and you'll be able to play with up to 3 others in tag team bouts or go one on one in ranked or player matches. You'll have the option to include created wrestlers and created finishers in the match if you like as well. Online player seemed very smooth and very little lag was experienced during my online time. I did notice a little issue with collision detection at times but that could also be the product of different connection speeds and not necessarily the game itself.

While playing any of these modes you will come across the new Inferno Match that THQ has included with this years game. In an inferno match you primary goal is to throw your opponent out of the ring through the fire that surrounds it. The temperature of the ring increases with every blow, and will increase to its maximum temperature if a finisher is hit at any point during the match. You'll have to knock the sense out of your opponent and then grapple them, dragging them to the edge fo the ring and then throw them through the flames over the top rope. The match type is very well done and is a lot of fun to play. Any new match types are always a welcome addition to the game for sure.

Overall, WWE Smackdown vs Raw definitely lays the smack down on its predecessors and opposition. While the game may not be perfect, it is however a very good game and great representation of the WWE. All of your favorite superstars are included and all the match types you want are there for your enjoyment. The addition of all the new features is welcome and definitely adds to the spice the game already has for wrestling fans across the video game world. I would highly recommend this years title for anyone out there that enjoys wrestling. Each year the title has gotten bigger and better and they have really done well raising the bar this year and setting a higher bar for 2010's game. Some may feel the game is just a rehash of last year's game but I really feel the game has made plenty of steps forward making it a must have for wrestling fans.

Suggestions: Something I would love to see in any sports game is a spectator mode of course. The ability to watch other matches online while they are taking place would be absolutely huge and would only expand the fanbase of the series. Something else I would like to see is the ability to scan you own face into the create a wrestler mode where you could create a real life representation of yourself to take into the career modes or online against other opponents.

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa

Games based on movies and TV Shows are a dime a dozen now and most of them do not live up to their silver screen counterparts most of the time. Madagascar 2 brought to us by Activision falls right into that category of not living up to it's movie counterpart. Kids will have fun with the game, especially the elementary crowd, but there are some major flaws that even detract from the game for that demographic. We'll talk about that in a bit.

So for those that do not know, Madagascar follows the adventures of a few animals that escaped from the Central Park Zoo in New York City. They were shipped back to Africa to live in the wild, but the problem was that the animals were domesticated and had no recollection of their African wild heritage or lifestyle. As time went by, they adapted to their surroundings but still yearn for the comfy and cozy lifestyle of New York City. Fast forward to Madagascar 2 and you find that the main plot of the movie is the animals trying to make their way back home from Africa.

The storyline is not the issue with the game. Neither are the graphics or sounds. Nope, this game begins to fail when it comes to the gameplay itself. It can get quite frustrating at time with bad camera angles and confusing mini games. Even my 7 year old daughter took issue with some of the mini games and not being able to execute maneuvers properly.

I honestly thought this game was going to be your typical platformer where you run around and collect items moving from level to level as you progress through the storyline. Sadly, I was greatly disappointed as it turns out that Madagascar 2 is really just a mini game party fest. Sure there are some things to collect and you progress through some levels between cut scenes but only to get to the next mini game really.

When it comes to variety of mini games this game definitely excels. There is what seems like an endless supply of different mini games using the characters from the movie. They each have special abilities which make each game unique to that certain character. For instance, all water games will involve the Gloria the Hippo, while games that involve kicking will of course involve the Marty the Zebra. Get the drift?

Graphically the game is colorful and the characters are well represented. This is very representative of the movie in the end, but still isn't enough to consider this game as good in anyway. You'll be treated to both cut scenes designed specifically for the game and actually clips from the movie. Quite a few of them are comical and a treat to watch. In all honesty, the clips and cut scenes are really the shining factor for this game. Where the game suffers is with the camera angles. At times the camera will be completely flipped in the wrong direction having you spin it manually using the right stick to get it back to where you would like. Also quite a few times it was difficult to judge jumps and what not when running through a platformer style level. I found myself falling quite a few times making jumps I thought I made but alas ended up missing the landing point.

The sounds in the game are what you would expect for sure. All the original voices from the movie seem to be in place especially for the main characters. So that helps the game out a bit towards making it at least enjoyable to some degree. Many of the sounds from the original game have been used again in this game so if you played the first game you'll notice a lot of familiarity such as the roar you hear from Alex, the lion. I tend to love to listen to King Julian and his funny one liners and he definitely helps make the game enjoyable just from his cut scenes alone. His sidekick Mort is quite funny as well in the game. But really, its gameplay that is supposed to make a game fun, not the sounds, and its sad but that fun factor just isn't there with the gameplay.

The storymode, which you have guessed by now, is a mini game feast. Anyone that is a fan of mini game compilations will be quite happy with what Madagascar has to offer and again many kids will enjoy it a lot for the most part along with some frustrations though. You'll start the story out learning some basic maneuvers as King Julian shows each main character of the story (Alex, Marty, Glory and Melman) the basics of the game and certain special attributes they have and how to use them. As you progress through the movie storyline you'll play mini game after mini game after mini game. Each game is fun the first time you try it and holds a little interest but that quickly wears off. I found myself looking forward only to the cut scenes rather than what lies around the next corner for the gameplay itself.

Each level contains tokens which you can use to purchase special items such as character costumes, special content, and even some bonus game content. One thing that kinda baffled me is that all the cut scenes require you to purchase them as well even though you unlocked them in the story mode. That was a bit odd I thought, but I guess it gives kids something to strive for and play the game more. The duty free store is located at the main menu outside of the story mode.

The other gameplay option in the game is Africa Arcade which allows you to play the 10 mni games with other players locally. Probably one of the more fun games is the Mini Putt Putt Golf course. Playing with others adds a little fun to the games, and should really be enjoyable for kids to compete with one another, but again it falls short in the end and there really is nothing that makes you want to keep coming back for more.

Honestly, this truly is one of those kids only games. Even if you are a fan of animated movies such as myself and enjoy the games that coincide with the movies you'll still probably find this one tough to really enjoy or at least keep your attention. That is how I felt while playing it unfortunately. The fun factor is just not there and the cut scenes and movie clips just aren't enough to save this game and make you really want to sit and finish each and every last bit of it. For most, this will probably be a gift for their kids or a rental to get some easy achievements but really thats about all it is good for in the end. Save yourself a few bucks and just rent the game or wait for it to hit a bargain bin and you'll definitely avoid some disappointment. If you have an elementary school age child, they may find this enjoyable but my own 7 year old lost interest pretty quickly.

Suggestions: If you are going to make a game that is centered solely around mini games then please make that a selling point of the game. I knew there was mini games, but I did not realize that it was the entire game and very little platformer style play. The camera need to be tweaked quite a bit as there was many times I found myself having to adjust it manually to be able to see what I was doing or trying to do. In the end I was really disappointed with this title due to it being a mini game fest.


Overall Score: 5.5 / 10 MotoGP 08

The MotoGP series of games has been a staple game during the existence of Xbox Live. Back in 2002 all the beta testers were treated to the first MotoGP title in their Beta Testing Kits and I think just about every tester fell in love with the game. Many hours and hours were spent playing the game even though it was a demo at the time. The game was released and many folks were immediate fans of the series. It had the perfect balance of arcade and simulation style racing that one could just pick up and play. The graphics were ahead of their time with bike models and the track landscapes as well.

So now we skip ahead to the year 2008. Climax and THQ are no longer at the helm of this elite flagship series and Capcom has now taken the rights completely of MotoGP. Many of the things that Climax incorporated into the game are present, but in all honestly, while MotoGP 08 is a great motorcycle racing game it does seem to have a regressed feeling in the series but it does show promise and signs of greatness. One thing to keep in mind is that the new MotoGP games on the Xbox Platform do not have anything in common with Climax's previous iterations other than licensing rights. Capcom was the sole licensee for the Sony machines and now holds the sole license for the entire MotoGP series allowing it to bring its own rendition of the sport to the 360. Many things are similar and will be familiar but thats only due to the common ground of the sports itself.

So lets start off with the graphical nature of the game. There are some great things in the game and some not so flashy things. I think the track environments have some what regressed graphically. Don't get me wrong, they look good, but they just aren't where they were with last year's title and one's before that. The bike models are solid, and the attention to detail on the riders as well as the textured leathers is quite appealing. Probably the most standout graphical accomplishment in the game is the rainy races. The spray of rain hits the camera as it did in last years game but with a bit more intensity and it actually looks even better. At times it makes it almost difficult to see turns due to the rolling drips and drop splatters on the camera lens that distorts and disguises the track. The menu systems are crisp and clean and well done, so its easy to navigate to the things you want to do.

The only other graphical aspect that I saw a bit of a decline was in the replays. While again, it looks good, it just isn't to the quality that it had been previously. I would expect a TV quality broadcast of the replay, but alas that just isn't the case. I honestly think that the downgrade in track graphics is really what detracts from the quality of the video. At least the sky look great whether its sunny or stormy. And a few of the chase camera angles are extremely well detailed, but I really didn't enjoy the angle as you are basically staring at the rider's rear end and nothing else. Not something that's up my alley.

The sounds seem to be pretty much what has become the norm for the game although the 125cc series has some peculiar sounds to say the least. The first time I hit top speed on my 125cc I noticed an all to familiar sound that didn't fit into this game at all. As a matter of fact, it's a sound straight out of the Star Wars sage. When you engine is red lining you'll hear it make almost a Pod Racer style of noise. You know the sound I am talking about and when you hear it the first time, it'll be the first and only thing you will think of. Now I am not well versed in motorbikes red lining and the sound it should make, so this may in fact be the actual sound but it really does sound odd.

Other than that, all the sounds fit perfectly in the game. The bikes rolling in the distance or the other side of the track as you race down a straightaway are echoing and sound great. During rain storms you will hear rumbles of thunder that really add to the realism of the rain effect. The games soundtrack has some great rock and roll tunes that fit perfectly into the attitude of MotoGP, and when they play during replays it makes the graphical nature of the replay less dull.

Controls in the game have somewhat regressed as well. There are 3 levels of control to choose from ? Arcade, Simulation and Advanced. With the arcade mode you'll be able to zip in and out of turns without much effort or skill required other than a bit of braking and timely acceleration at the apex of the turn. Most casual gamers will stick with this control scheme as it really does make the game and enjoyable racer no matter your skill level or familiarity with the MotoGP Series. The simulation and advanced controls are much more in depth and what a seasoned veteran of the game may come to expect when hopping on their virtual bike. No matter what control scheme you choose, they all seem work well with the game and gives players of all skill levels something to enjoy when playing the game.

The street racing that had come to fruition with the last few MotoGP titles on the 360 is replaced by the 125cc Series and the 250cc Series. Of course you have the standard MotoGP Series as well that houses all the names you'll recognize easily if you watch the sport at all. You'll get a the entire track selection from the MotoGP circuit, most of which you will be very familiar with after riding one or two laps around if you have played this or any MotoGP title in the past.

When it comes to game modes you get the standard Career mode. As you progress through the career mode starting out in the 124cc class, you'll unlock new teams in the 250cc and MotoGP classes which will allow you to compete at those levels. Its all based upon how many points you earn each race with the Ducati Team being the last team to unlock after almost full completion of all 3 series. As you progress through each race you'll also unlock new helmets and upgrade points. The upgrade points can be used to build up you stats in Max Speed, Acceleration, Braking and Traction.

You'll also be happy to know that you can customize the bike's setup to you liking. This includes changing the the compound of your tires, suspension, turning speed and your gear ratio. Each track is different so trying out different setups can be very useful in finding your fastest combination. Again, it really all depends on how you ride the bike yourself in the end. The perfect setup for a track may not be the perfect setup for you personally as a rider.

Each race in the career mode allows you to practice, qualify and race the scheduled track. You'll be able to practice to find your perfect setup, then take it to qualifying where you'll be given a set amount of time to record your fastest lap. Once the qualifying period is over then your fastest lap is taken at that point and you are placed onto the starting grid according to that time. You'll see the weather conditions during qualifying and get a feel for what race day will be like. Also from the main career menu you can view standings, the teams you have available to ride for, and helmet selection.

Career mode is pretty basic and straight forward. Nothing to in depth or complicated about the mode and you can honestly dive in as much as you like if you are into the whole custom bike settings and upgrades. The different levels of difficulty range from very easy to extremely challenging on the highest difficulty of Champion. You'll have to be virtually mistake free to win at the highest difficulty and some knowledge in custom bike settings doesn't hurt either.

Other game modes include Quick race, Time attack, Championship, Challenges and of course Xbox Live Multiplayer. Multiplayer includes up to 12 riders per session and it can be quite fun. Lag does not seem to be an issue from the time I was playing online and this honestly brings back the good ole memories of Xbox Live Beta testing where I spent several nights online racing until 3 or 4 in the morning. You can joined ranked or player matches as well as just race with friends in a private player match. Race options include the number of laps you can set, the weather including night racing on some tracks, the game style, collision on or off, and of course track selection as well as the bike class.

Overall Capcom has done a great job with MotoGP 08 and while some diehards of the series may grumble a bit at the changing of the guard from Climax and THQ to Capcom. The title shows a lot of promise for the future and I truly hope that after several years of just doing the MotoGP series on the Sony machines that Capcom takes full advantage of the Xbox 360 and takes this game to new heights. If you are looking for a good motorcycle racing game then this should be your title as the different level of difficulties and control schemes allow for anyone to pick it up and play.

Suggestions: Its time to take this game to the next gen level Capcom. The graphics in this game really could run well on the original Xbox so some limits need to be pushed now that you are in the next generation of systems. I would like to see a bit more depth to the upgrading. Also I would love to see the total racers online get bumped up from 12 to more like 20. That would be ideal.

Overall Score: 6.7 / 10 Tom Clancy's End War

Ubisoft takes the Tom Clancy Series in yet another direction and honestly does quite well with End War as a real time strategy game. In essence you could call this a game of technologically advanced ?Rock, Paper, Scissors? since each class of vehicle is dominate over one yet vulnerable to another. With the addition of a voice activation command system that is quite frankly perfectly done, this game has plenty to offer the casual gamer as well as the hardcore strategist. The voice command system and the online persistent war are just 2 solid features that should have any gamer impressed and definitely wanting to play the game more than once. So what is End War about and how is the gameplay? Well, lets talk about that right now.

In the year 2016 someone finally pushes the button and a nuclear attack takes place on Saudi Arabian soil. Of course this is where you find the world's primary oil production so the world is crippled by the attack. The following year the United States and Europe form a coalition ballistic space program to ward off anymore nuclear attacks across the world. Meanwhile, Russia becomes a world super power once again as they are the primary supplier of the world's energy and they see massive economic groths. As the year 2020 rolls around 3 super power factions have formed across the world's regions ? The United States of America, The European Federation, and Russia. Each faction has a wartime expertise over another faction in the theater of war. And so our game begins.

Graphically the game is done well and can be considered next gen as that seems to be the gage all gamers like to use when judging a game. The game gives you a three quarter top down view of the battlefield that allows you to easily jump from unit to unit by selecting the unit in your battalion and pressing the X button. The level of detail both up close and distant in very well done. You can zoom in or pan out of most areas which allows you to get up, close and personal with units and see what exactly they are doing.The maps are simply laid out and easy to understand.

As for the sounds, you'll hear the typical battle cries of squad members across the battlefield as you do with most shooter games and real time strategies. There is your typical voiceover acting that you see in games like this which try to help move the storyline, but it really isn't anything over the top. But where this game stands out is the voice recognition system. Ubisoft seems to have all but perfected the voice command aspects of video games in End War and really has done an outstanding job incorporating it into the game, but have also given it a very natural feeling and makes you want to play this game solely using a mic for the most part. I'll discuss how the system works with gameplay a bit later, but let me just go on record stating that this feature is definitely a high point of the game and one that should be tried. Sure voice activation has been done before, even by Ubisoft themselves, but folks this system works so well I the game that the bar has been set for all other game developers.

You'll find both single player campaign which really helps you get accustomed to the game as well as an extensive persistent war online between the 3 factions. From the main menu screen of the game you will find the following gameplay options ? Theater of War, Skirmish, Solo Campaign. There is also a Community extras location where you can download some exclusive content in the game just by linking your gamertag with Ubisoft.com. You can also view saved game replays from this option which could ultimately help you create better strategies and hone in on your weak aspects of the game.

The solo campaign is of course the single player experience of the game and the Prelude to War campaign is basically an advanced tutorial of sorts that prepares you for online play. This option also gives you the basic storyline of events and missions that lead up to World War III. So I highly suggest that you definitely complete the Prelude to War. Not only will you learn the basics, but you'll also learn why the 3 factions are fighting and now engaged in an all out battle amongst each other. Once you have rolled through the Prelude to War and have learned the main aspects of the game you can then proceed to the World War III option.

You'll begin your solo campaign by doing a voice analysis. As I stated early the voice detection system is well done and honestly probably one of the best I have ever seen. The game will record and learn your voice pattern eventually calibrating itself to understand your every word, or at least the commands that are used within the game. Most of the time with voice activated games you have to be strong on your words and belt them out with some authority and extreme clarity. I am completely impressed and happy to say that with End war's system you can talk in a normal voice tone as if you were commanding real life units over the radio. Once you have ?trained? the game to recognize your voice you'll find that the voice command system is simple and almost perfect. It also adds a whole new side to the game instead of just sitting there directing a cursor around the battlefield and pushing the A button constantly.

To command your units you'll use commands such as unit, attack, move to, retreat, etc. One example of an attack command would be - ?Unit 1 Attack Hostile 2?. This will command whatever vehicles or infantry you have assigned to battle unit 1 to move to and attack the enemy hostile battle unit 2. As I stated earlier, its a game of advanced rock paper and scissors and each group vehicles or infantry in vulnerable to one group while dominate over another. For instance, Helicopter Gunships are effective against tanks, but take a beating from transports. And transports are effective against Helicopter Gunships but vulnerable to tanks. You'll also have infantry groups which include engineers and rifleman. These groups are used for assaulting positions on the ground quickly and securing uplinks which is one of your objectives in many game modes. As for other vehicles classes, you also have available to you both Artillery and Command vehicles As you progress you'll gain access to thing such as air strikes and WMD attacks as well.

The game is simple, yet it can be quite advanced in the same retrospect. The combat tree I mentioned earlier that pertains to which vehicle is more effective against which vehicle is rather simple and easy to remember. The command system can be quite basic but there are a lot of things that can be done across the battlefield which will take some time to learn and grasp. Especially when you go online against opponents that have fully upgraded units. We'll get into this a bit more when I discuss the multiplayer aspects. Not only are you responsible for commanding your units to attack or move to cover, but you'll be responsible for setting rally points using your sitrep, calling in reinforcements and what kind of reinforcements they will be, securing uplinks, setting landing zones, etc.

As you progress through the single player campaign your units will gain rank and experience with each and every battle they fight in. Units can be completely destroyed or just incapacitated. If a unit is incapacitated, you will not be able to assign them any orders, but they will still show up in your squad until they are evacuated safely from the battlefield. Evacuations are done automatically but that does not mean they will always be successful. If you want a unit to survive and be evacuated safely you'll have to attract an enemies attention away from the disabled unit until the evac chopper arrives and carries the unit off.

In campaign mode as well as multiplayer mode the voice command system works amazingly well and really does allows you to complete multiple tasks across the battlefield from one location rather than jumping from point to point and clicking on spots and using the A button to execute commands. While the game has many different facets and tasks to be completed during a battle as I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, using the voice command system makes these things all the easier to be completed and you'll soon be strategizing with the best of them. I truly think if the voice system was difficult to use or it had trouble recognizing commands that this game would really suffer from that in the end. But thankfully all is well in the land of voice commands!

Now of course in todays video game world if you don't include online multiplayer then you are putting your game out on an island where many folks will ignore it. Ubisoft has included multiplayer in a big way, incorporating an online persistent war that has thousands of gamers participating. You'll go online and compete in head to head battles of 1 vs 1 or 2 vs 2 fighting for the faction that you choose. Your units will gain experience and cash which can be used to upgrade your weaponry, and this is a must. A new player that enters the online world for the first time will not stand a chance against a more experienced veteran of the game mostly due to the fact that their forces are so much stronger. Trust me, I learned this first hand. The ultimate goal of you faction that you choose to fight for is to control all three capitals in the world

There is plenty of upgrading and customization online as you gain experience and rank. Your units will start out with the rank of Recruit, but you can work your way up to the highest rank of Legendary. There are a total of 6 ranks altogether online. As a unit increases in rank they will gain valuable attributes such as higher morale and better combat capabilities as well as access to better upgrades.

You will find multiple multiplayer game modes over and above the persistent online war. These game modes can be found in the Skirmish option from the menu. These matches are not ranked. You can find AI controlled opponents or face off against friends or matchmaking opponents.

Since the game has the voice command system you'll have to use the right bumper button to speak with opponents when playing online. The only time you can talk freely with your opponent without pressing a button is during the pregame lobby and the after match lobby. Honestly though, this really isn't a big deal because I know I will be using the voice command system all the time when playing. I had to admit though, I really wondered how it was going to work before heading online the first time. The same goes for 4 person multiplayer matches as well where you have a teammate. You'll needed to press the RB to open up a voice chat line with them. This may be annoying to some but its quite necessary when using the voice command system.

Overall, Tom Clancy's End War delivers a solid gaming experience even to those who are not so much fans of the real time strategy games. Real time strategy players will find plenty to love in this game and as I have stated several times the voice system works extremely well and adds even more value to the gameplay. The graphics are good and the sounds are what is to be expected. The online persistent war is a definite high mark in my book and adds plenty of replay value to the game. The only downside to the online play would be the fact that you really don't have a chance as a casual player against a veteran player who has put a lot of time in the game and upgraded his units to the fullest of their abilities. I would hope for a more solid matchmaking style system that always places you up against a player of the same caliber or at least in the same ballpark when it comes to abilities. There may be matchmaking involved but so far I haven't seen it as I have only run up against very experienced players well above my stature. I would highly recommend the game to anyone that enjoy real time strategy games, but I would also suggest it to the casual gamer as well. Its a fun game in every aspect and should be enjoyed by most.

Suggestions: Please refine the online matchmaking system to find opponents of a similar skill level. I have been annihilated many times online due to my opponent having all the upgrades for their units or at least having many more than I myself had. I would also like to see standard ranked matches apart from the persistent war online that earn you cash to spend on upgrades. Other than that I can't say enough about the voice command system. Great job.

Overall Score: 8.1 / 10 Midnight Club: Los Angeles

The long awaited arrival the Midnight club series finally arrives on the 360 console. Rockstar has a large fanbase that goes with the title fanbase and I am sure that sales of this game will completely reflect that. Along with the fact that the game is very good and a lot of fun to play. Let's get one thing straight though. This racer is in no way a driving sim or meant to be one for that matter. Its pure unadulterated fun at high speeds and insane driving technique through the streets of LA. It's good to have Midnight Club join the next generation of racing titles.

For those new to the series or just need a refresher, Midnight Club is an open world arcade racer. In Midnight Club LA your primary goal is to build a reputation in the city as the premiere and most talented driver on the circuits. You'll start your campaign off in an old beat up economy car but have the chance to drive bigger and badder cars as you gain experience and reputation. This includes muscle cars, tuners, exotics and ml have full range over the city of Los Angeles, and there will be plenty of races for your to compete in from easy to hard difficulty. Each race is represented by an icon on your map and these icons are color coded for difficulty. Green being the easiest and red being the most difficult. Along with the race icons you'll find representations of hangouts, garages, landmarks and gas stations. All of which play an important part in the game one way or another.

We'll get into the actual gameplay modes a bit later in the review, but for now lets talk about the game graphically. As with any Rockstar game that takes place in an open world environment you will have a full range of the city and most areas are accessible with the exception of a few driveways and what not. The city representation is amazing and for folks that have been to LA and driven on the streets you will find an unbelievable similarity to what you know in real life. Hats off to Rockstar on their graphical translation of the city into the video game. Graphically the game is top notch and its well polished. From the car detail to the hustle and bustle of the city everything is done with a sense of perfection in mind. Even the different times of day can make the city breathtaking. The morning light just starting to glisten over the LA landscape is definitely something to behold and is so well done that you will literally feel like you are driving around town in the morning. And I have to mention the weather effetcs as well. There is nothing like driving at 120 mph at dark with a driving rain. Relfections from puddles and rain slicked roads is just absolutely amazing.

There is always something to look at or catch your eye just as it would in the real world. People walking the sidewalks, local traffic, real world boutiques and businesses are all present on the street of LA and add to the realism of the city in every aspect. Despite the game being and arcade racer, the fact that the city is so representative of real life it almost gives the racing a believable feel to it no matter how ridiculous a stunt you pull off. There is also a great GPS system that allows you to see a top down view of the city and its streets. The GPS is well done and has a satellite imagery feel to it as you'll feel like you are looking at actual Google Maps of the city. You can even change to a 3/4 view when zooming in on the map and Rockstar's city map almost puts Google's map system to shame with its fluidity and detail.

Wile driving the city I noticed a few technical issues like people walking inside of walls or cars cascading through a solid object, but honestly they are few and far between. And truthfully the graphical beauty of the game really makes these issues almost non existent or easy to forget. Overall, the game is a graphical masterpiece and the lighting, fluidity and detail of the graphics just make this game a blast to play.

The game offers a large soundtrack with just about something for everyone's taste except those that like the good ole boys from Nashville. Yeah, sorry no country music to jam out to. Car and motorcycle sounds are right where you would expect along with the ambiance of the city itself. Racers communicate with you across telephone which really does come across as realistic. And the police scanner can be quite hilarious when dispatching police to pursue and intercept you when being run from the law.

But the game isn't just about graphics or sounds. Midnight Club LA delivers in the gameplay department as well. You'll have a wide variety of car classes to unlock and buy as you progress through your career. Also there is a huge variety of race types, events and series for you to compete. These will unlock as you gain reputation and stature among the underground racers across the city. Gaining rep is simple. Every race you take part in gains more reputation for yourself as well as cash in your pocket. The more reputation and cash you have the options become available to you. See extremely simple.

You'll be able to engage in racers by coming up behind them and flashing your highbeams which will trigger the driver into race mode. Sometimes you'll race to a starting point which will gain you rep points, but this is not required. You can skip the race to start altogether if you like and jump directly into the real race. As stated there are quite a few race styles ? Red Light Races, Circuit Races, Ordered races, Time Trials, Telephone Races and Freeways Races. All the race styles are marked on your map by a specific icon and you can tell the difficulty of the race by the color of the icon. As I stated earlier , green icons are the easiest and red ones are the hardest.

There is also a race editor included that allows you to create your own racing circuit through the city. You'll be able to choose the style of race as well as set all of the checkpoints. There are 2 ways of creating your racing arena. You can use the ?drive and drop? method which allows you to drive a certain path and place markers where you like as you come across them. Or you can use the bird eye view and place markers while viewing the map of the city.

There is so much to do offline in the career mode that it literally would take pages and pages to write about, so we'll just chat about the online portion of the game. When connected to Xbox Live you'll be able to enter into an Online Cruise mode which will place you into an online lobby with 15 other drivers. You can choose to enter races from here against others in the room or you can access the menu and host or join races whether they are ranked or player matches. One very cool feature is that while online if you join a session that is currently in a race then you will become a spectator until the next race starts. Sure its been done before, but it is still a cool feature rather than sitting in a lobby waiting. You can also build your own race using the Online Race Editor if you so desire.

Online play offers you a variety of race modes which include Free For All Capture the Flag, Babewar Capture the Flag, Splitbase Capture the Flag, Stockpile, Splitbase Stockpile, Keep Away and unordered races. Other features included in the online portion of the game include Rate My Ride, Photo Albums, Selling Vehicle Profiles and Custom Playlists.

If you like racing games then you should absolutely love Midnight Club LA. As I stated, its not a simulation driving game, but a fun arcade style racer that gives you plenty of options to keep you busy for quite a long time. The controls are great and you'll quickly get the hang of drifting around corners at high speeds or racing on 2 wheels when trying to break another driver's slipstream. If you like games like Burnout or PGR then you'll absolutely fall in love with this title. Do yourself a favor and go pick it up today.

Suggestions: This game is absolutely stunning when it comes to graphical aspects, and gameplay is right where it should be for an arcade racer. The only thing I could suggest would be downloable car packs, and maybe some more variety in music such as 80's or even modern day pop tracks. Other than that, thumb's up Rockstar. Job well done.

Overall Score: 9.1 / 10 Far Cry 2

Ubisoft has released its second title in the Far Cry series and they seemed to have advanced in every aspect of the game. The main campaign mode of the game takes place in an African atmosphere where 2 rival factions have exploded into war against each other. You primary mission is to find The Jackal, whom has supplied the opposing factions with weapons and ammunition. Where there is a civil war of some sort, you will find the Jackal as he seems to be the main arms supplier in the region. You must search and kill The Jackal to end this endless supply of weapons and hopefully put the region back into a state of peace.

So thats the storyline, but lets just talk about the game in a graphical aspect for a bit. Graphically, the game is outstanding and stands above many of its FPS competitors. The lighting effects are well done, and the general African region environment really makes you feel like you are driving through a third world country in unrest. Textures are extremely detailed, even down to the smallest leaf of a tree. And the explosions and fire effects are top notch as well. We'll get into the fire side of things in a bit.

The environment is fully destructible meaning you'll leave your mark anywhere you go and fire a weapon, whether its just your standard hand held weaponry or a mounted gun on a jeep. Attention to detail was evident in the fact that you could literally prune a tree with your machines gun and watch the branches fall individually as they broke from the main tree due to the bullet penetration. I literally chuckled when I was unloading on an enemy camp and took notice to this landscaper's dream. Well done Ubisoft.

But one of the most outstanding things graphically and which also plays into the game strategies is the use of fire and the terrain. Fire will burn out of control and literally engulf a whole area of dry grasses leaving a burnt path of destruction in its wake. It looks amazing and in all honestly captures the destruction and power of a burning wild brush fire completely. To say the least I was impressed with the use of fire and the terrain. It plays into game strategies as well which we will discuss a bit later.

The sounds in the game are right on par with what you would expect. Everything is right where it should be when it comes to sound which includes gunfire, ambient environmental sounds, and definitely the crackling rage of a burning brush fire. The voice acting is just fine and comes across well in the game which definitely keeps the storyline intact and interesting. Nothing like a game where the voice acting is so bad that it detracts from the storyline and you find yourself skipping over most fo the scenes in order to avoid the dialog. Thankfully that is not the case in this game most of the time.

Controls are fairly simple and most FPS fans will be happy with the way it feels and plays. For my own tastes I foudn the intital controla a bit to senstive and would constantly aim past or over my targets while moving the reticule. This is simply corrected in the game options menu by adjusting the sensitivity degree. Driving is simple as it only requires left and right stick movements as well as right and left trigger combinations for the gas and brake. So very simple controls, yet right where they need to be for the game and keeping it fun for everyone.

Alright, let's discuss the campaign mode a bit. There are 6 characters for you to choose from each having its own classification whether it pertains to special ops or an explosives guy. Your choice doesn't really affect the campaign in terms of gameplay. These characters are more suited to just be used to fit your own style of play. There are plenty of missions and side missions to complete throughout the campaign. But I have to say that with the vast landscape and world you are playing in that it seems there should be even more to do. I got the sense that something was missing from time to time during my long drives across the country side to get to the next missions destination. Of course you can always just explore to find the hidden diamonds across the land, which you will receive an achievement for in the end, but still there was just something missing or so it seemed. Don't get me wrong, there is a ton of stuff to do and it will keep you busy for quite sometime. Whether its a main story quest or side mission given to you by one of your in game buddies, you'll always have something to do somewhere. All of these missions add up to payment in diamonds which can be used to buy new weapons and upgrades for existing weapons.

There are also plenty of vehicles to be driven which can take damage in your gunfights, but you'll find yourself fixing them quite a bit too. Sometimes its almost better to park your vehicle before entering an enemy camp or installation and walk in. Now of course, some facilities will require you to scout out the area which will have you walking into prime locations above a camp or guard post. When scouting an area, you'll be able to spot ammunition, enemies, and health packs that will then be displayed on your map making it easier to create an attack strategy. Of course you can always run into a camp without scouting it and guns blazing which I am sure some folks may just do rather than taking the scout time. That'll work too, most of the time.

The AI is a little on the dumb side at times. I found myself shooting them in the back many times when they would walk around a building that I had been located at and then just standing there looking for me while I walked around the building and came up behind them. Also several times they just kinda stood out in the open in a guard stance as if I hadn't even shot them and by the time they realized they had been shot 2 or 3 times, I was putting the final bullet in them for the kill. Now granted while playing the game I was not playing at the hardest difficulty and the AI is probably a little smarter at the harder level, but I still don't think the AI is going to be the msartest cookies in the world and react how they should in certain situations. At least not from my interactions with them.

Another thing that can get a little annoying is the fact that you have contracted malaria and this is made known to you early in the game. So you'll have to constantly obtain medication to keep your strength and health. You can always go to one of your safe houses which are places where you have cleared out an enemy and can now sleep and regain strength. I just found it annoying after getting into the story a bit. Now I haven't quite finished story mode yet, so there may be more to this than I know and it could evolve into part of the storyline. Time will tell.

So campaign mode is definitely a good aspect fo the game but could use a little more work to keep it moving along. I realize that this is an open world type of game that allows you to do anything you want at anytime, but if thats the case then I really think some more mini games or side missions need to be scattered throughout the mode.

Now of course, any FPS that comes to the 360 world has to have some sort of online features and gameplay or it just will not be accepted by the gaming community. Far Cry definitely delivers an online experience that should be played by all FPS fans. I mean how can you not want to create your own maps and take them online for the gaming world to enjoy, or not enjoy for that matter. I have seen some community maps online that put developer created maps in this game and other games to shame. It's amazing the creativeness of folks in the online community and how they apply that to these maps.

While there are only 4 actual gameplay modes, the unique maps that these can be played on deifnitely enhance the multiplayer aspects of this game. You'll have your typical Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch as well as a Capture the Flag mode known as Capture the Diamond and finally a mode know as Uprising. This game mode seems to be somewhat a mixture of popular game modes from other games. Each team's objective is to control points on a map which can only be captured by the Captain of the team. The Captain must control the area for 20 seconds before the point is captured and the ultimate goal is to kill the other team's Captain. If you kill the Captain then they can't capture any objective points. Simple enough.

All of the game modes are fun and will always give plenty of playtime to fans of the game. Nothing like running around the map with a flamethrower in hand lighting up anything and everything you can including enemies. Oh and by the way, if you are a sniper you may want to rethink your strategy of laying in high grasses since those grasses are fully ignitable and you aren't fireproof. Definitely use the fire to your advantage when playing online with folks. You gotta love the smell of fried enemies in the morning!

One other thing to mention about the online multiplayer is that it uses a class system as I mentioned earlier when discussing the single player. The class system online comes into play a little more so than it does offline and you'll earn diamonds as you play online that will help you upgrade your weapon packs and evolve your combat strategies and techniques with those upgrades.

Overall Far Cry 2 is a solid FPS experience despite the few shortcomings it has. Online play definitely puts this game on the map with other successful first person shooters and it should npt be overlooked by any fan of the genre. As I stated, the ability to use custom maps online is a bonus to the already solid gameplay and should give you many hours of fun and excitement. Be sure to always check out the map community for the latest and greatest maps and don't be afraid to dabble in the creation of a few of your own as well. Once you get the basics down for the map editor you can really create some superb arenas for the entire world to enjoy. I would gladly recommend this game to anyone that loves shooters.

Suggestions: As mentioned I would have liked to have seen some min games or more side missions scattered throughout the maps. Even if they really had nothing to do with the storyline and just an extra way to earn diamonds for upgrades. Other than that, I really like the game and see myself playing this for a long while.

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Monopoly

EA Games brings the popular board game of Monopoly to the Xbox 360 console and for all intended purposes of playing Monopoly, its a fairly fun game. But setting aside the basic gameplay that is expected this tile falls short in more ways than not. Despite being considered a budget title at its $39.99 suggested retail price, the game itself really should have been released as an Xbox Live Arcade title with a price tag of no more than $20. Why is that? Well lets get into the review and find out.

From the moment you start up the game you'll be familiar with most of whats going on. Its a matter of learning the controller layout for performing tasks such as buying properties or building houses. The game controls are very basic and only require hovering a pointer over certain items and pressing the A button to perform the task at hand. Unfortunately there is no skip cut scenes option, so some of the gameplay gets drawn out longer than it should while Mr Monopoly wets his pants and explains in a jubilant voice what could be happening or what just happened. This can tend to get very repetitive and again is unfortunate that you cannot skip past his mumbling. Other than that, the controls are simple and each and every option is performed with a simple button press.

The game itself ships with a total of 9 different themed Monopoly boards from the Classic version to a World version and even a Sweets version. Each board has properties themed to the specific board such as World Cities for the World Board and the typical Atlantic City street names for the classic board. All the things you are familiar with on the real life board are included with the virtual boards such as Chance, Community Chest and the typical Pay Tax spaces. To unlock these new boards you'll have to play the ones already unlocked. You have whats called a passport which you get stamped each time you land on a property you have never landed on. These stamps are collected and you'll attain certain plateaus of stamps collected to open up the new boards.

There are 2 gameplay modes plus 9 mini games for your enjoyment as well. Obviously you have the typical Monopoly game where its your goal to buy as many properties as possible, form monopolies, build houses and hotels and collect rent from the other players with the final goal of bankrupting each person. Unfortunately the game only allows up to 4 players in a game at a time unlike the 8 that could play in the real life version. Oh and by the way, there is NO multiplayer over Xbox Live. Multiplayer is only local and is a huge disappointment for this game and probably a deciding factor as to whether folks will buy it or only rent it. Who in the heck made this decision and what were they smoking?

The second gameplay mode is called the Richest Edition, which gives you 3 gameplay modes within itself. Each gameplay mode has a different goal and strategy and really does not have much in common with the original game other than it uses the same boards and properties. The modes are as follows: Developer, Industrialist, and Tycoon. Another huge downfall to the game is that each player in this game mode must have their own controller. You cannot share a controller among players. Again, who is making these decision and why?

In Developer mode consists of 6 rounds where players will compete in mini games to determine who is the Richest player. Before each round, 4 die are thrown and the numbers on those die determine the amount of player pieces for each player are dropped onto the board. If you come in first you'll get to choose which die amount you want, and so forth down the line. For instance, if a 6 is displayed and you choose it, then 6 of your game pieces are dropped randomly onto the board. You'll have to pay rent in the form of your own properties if you land on other player properties, or you can buy unowned properties that you land on. The goal of this game once again is to see who is the richest player by the end of the 6 rounds which is obtained by owning the most properties on the board in most cases. This game typically takes 30 minutes or less to lay a full game. The Industrial mode is basically a longer version of the Developer mode with 9 rounds rather than 6. More spaces come into lay with this round Finally in the Tycoon mode is the longest of the 3 Richest Edition gameplay modes and lasts a total of 12 rounds. A trading session occurs every 3 rounds which allows players to form monopolies by trading properties with another player whom may have your final piece of the 3. All aspects of the regular edition are included in this mode and it will take you approximately an hour to play.

As mentioned, there are 9 mini games included as well which can be played individually from the main menu as long as you have them unlocked. If you have played the game in any of the Richest Edition games modes, then it will be unlocked for you. There is a little variety here in types of games, but for most players it will not be the part of the game you spend most of your time on. The 9 mini games are as follows: Get Out of Jail, Go to Jail, Pay Hospital Bill, Pay Doctor's Fee, Take a Ride on the Reading, Elected Chairperson of the Board, Sale of Stock, Advance to Go, Christmas Fund Matures, Pay School Tax, Bank Pays You Dividends, and Advance to Nearest Railroad. As I stated most of these games are fun to give a go a few times, but that will be about the extent of you enjoyment. If you have kids, they may enjoy this part of the game a little more so than the regular monopoly game.

Graphically, the game is sharp and the different board variations are well done and representative of their themes. I honestly could do without Mr. Monopoly strolling the inner part of the board, especially when you have to wait for him to finish talking before proceeding onto the task at hand. Another thing that irritated me was the fact that anytime you advanced to Go or some property via a Chance or Community Chest card, you would have to actually watch the player piece hop every square on the board to get from point A to point B. Could you please let me skip that?

The sounds are what is to be expected with themed music for each board, Mr. Monopoly's voiceovers, and the rolling of the die and hopping of the game pieces on the gameboard. Nothing really that says a lot of effort was put into the sound aspects of this game.

When it all boils down to it, the lack of multiplayer for this game is a huge disappointment and will probably be the main reason the game is not embraced by most folks. Also the fact that many more technical and masterpiece games have been released on arcade giving EA no reason not to have considered this as an XBLA title with a lower price tag than $40. There really are way to many little annoyances beside the lack of Xbox Live that make this game collect dust on your gaming shelf rather quickly. If you must have your monopoly fix, then by all means head out and pick this one up but really you could probably pick up the newest edition of the actual board game and have a lot more fun with it.


Suggestions: The biggest and most important suggestion is to include mulitplayer on Xbox Live. How can this be left out of a social baord game??? Also please allow players to skip cut scenes or speed up play with the press of a button such as holding the A button to make pieces move faster, etc. I was looking forward to this game but feel really let down after actually playing it without the suggestions made.

Overall Score: 5.0 / 10 FIFA Soccer 09

Soccer, or football as its called in every area except the US, is probably the most popular spectator sport worldwide and the fans are passionate about their game. So you can best believe that fans will be fanatical about any video game representation of their beloved sport and EA Sports seems to have captured the hearts of many folks with FIFA 09. Thats a pretty big task having a game like Pro Evolution soccer which carries some very supportive fans of its own.

As with all of their mainstream sport titles FIFA offers a wide range of options at your finger tips and Be a Pro Modes which put you right into the game as your own created player whom gains experience points for playing well. You'll also have the traditional game modes at your disposal too, but in the end its the Be A Pro modes that seem to harness the best aspects of the title.

I'll go on record saying that I am far from being a soccer fan, even to the point that I know very little of the sport or its rules. So this review may reflect my ignorance of the sport at times and my apologies for any misinterpretations. This review will encompass all the options, graphics and sounds as well as some basic gameplay discussions to help you get a feel for the game and what it has to offer. You can be the final judge on the title by viewing other reviews and opinions and also using your own opinion from previous iterations of the title.

Lets start off by going over the controls. To me the game of soccer is mainly about kicking a ball around the field, passing to teammates and setting up goal scoring opportunities. In a sort, I would have wanted to compare it to ice hockey which I am very familiar with, but to my surprise the game is so much more technical and the control scheme definitely reflects that. There is the typical ball control which includes guarding the ball, special pass techniques and shooting styles. This is listed as the Attacking controls in the manual. You'll have a wide range of passing techniques as well at your disposal from lob passes to headers. Again, I was extremely surprised at the complexity of the controls when it came to just moving down the field and setting up your scoring opportunity. You'll also have skilled maneuvers which allow you be quite tricky and almost showing off with the ball as you progress down the field. Anything from step overs to juggling will have your opponents wondering whats next. The control scheme while fairly complex seems to work well with the gameplay and it really does give you a good sense of control moving around the field. If you decide to be a goalie in Be a Pro mode, you'll have your own set of controls for that position as well.

While my understanding of the rules in soccer is rather low to non existent, the game really does seem to help us less knowledgeable folks. For instance, I understand what an offsides call is and its very precise as to when an offside call is made in hockey, but I found myself a little baffled in FIFA. The nice thing is that at any point I was in danger of being called offside a small checkered flag would appear warning me of the impending violation. This would allow me to make an adjustment without having my offensive attack interrupted. From what I can tell and the research I have done it seems the rules are very well portrayed in the game and should keep those die-hard soccer fans happy and content.

One thing I found very impressive was the color commentary included. The calls seem to give a sense of realism and actually helped me understand the game from time to time. They also used terms and phrases as to which I had no clue what the heck they were talking about so this would definitely lend to my thinking that this game should make a soccer fan feel right at home. The crowd cheers and groans also add to the experience and realism of the game. Soccer fans are passionate about their teams and their sport and I believe that is definitely captured in this game.

Graphically I thought the game looked great and contained very smooth animations and control of your player's movements. The stadiums are recreated very well and the textures especially on the field seem to fit right in with the game. The uniforms are colorful and very distinguishable from team to team. You'll find that the character models are fairly representative of real ife human movements and there is quite a bit of graphical customization when creating your pro.

There are plenty of game modes both online and offline that allow for multiple ways to enjoy this game. You'll have the typical exhibition matches which allows you to choose your favorite team from any professional league on the planet and pit them up against your most hated team. There is the Be A Pro mode as stated which allows you to create a superstar and bring him up through the ranks as a rookie all the way to becoming a legendary player among the soccer greats. The Be A Pro mode is available to play both online and offline. You'll gain attributes that help increase your players abilities and move you one step close to that legendary status.

Online play allows you to form your own team with 9 other buddies and take on other teams across the world in ranked matches using the FIFA Soccer Clubs mode. The really cool feature about this mode is that regardless of your created player's online attributes both teams are identical when it comes to attributes and it all boils down to the real life skills of you and your buddies versus that of your opponent.

In the Be a Pro: Online Team Play mode you'll be teamed up randomly with 19 other players. You'll select your position that you will play throughout the entire game and at the end of the game your gameplay will be evaluated and you'll receive experience points to be added to your player's skill attributes which will increase his abilities on the field over time. Each game you play gives you the opportunity to earn more points to better your created player.

There is something called the Adidas Live Season which allows you to customize your game to that of the performance of your favorite real life teams and leagues. A code to download an update for free is included on the back of your manual, but you'll have to pay to get other updates if you so choose. Updates are supposedly put out on a weekly basis from October 2008 to May of 2009. Not sure if this is an option that will be widely popular or not, but a few folks may be interested in it none the less. Frankly I would think you could just go in an edit a teams attributes to reflect their real world, but then again that could be a lot of work. Pay to play? No thanks.

Interactive League is an option that allows you to play as your favorite team online against rivals online that reflect real world situations. Your result, along with that of others who support the same team will determine where your team in ranked in the overall world rankings. In this mode its not just about your own win/loss record, but a collective effort of all those that play using the same team. Of course you'll have your standard EA Online Leagues which allows you and 31 friends to participate You'll be able to set your own rules and play against folks across the world.

And finally when it comes to online options, you'll be able to upload videos of replays you saved using the Instant Replay features. You can upload those to EA Sportsworld for the world to see your best or most embarrassing moments. This is always a cool feature no matter what sport you are playing.

Offline play includes Be A Pro Mode, which can allow 3 friends to join in and help you progress your pro's career. The better performances you have the better your pro will progress and become a star. As well as, sub par performances on a regular basis could lead to your demotion and quickly find yourself playing for the club's reserve team.

There is probably so much more to this game which I cannot even begin to understand due to my lack of knowledge of the sport. But I have to say that even with the fact of not being a fan of the sport, I had a good time and pleasant experience playing this game. The controls, while complex at times, are simple enough for anyone to pick up and play and soon be scoring goals as well as slide tackling without getting a yellow card. The graphics are very good and the sounds fit quite perfectly in into the scheme of the game and add the sense of realism and fanaticism that goes with this game especially outside of the United States.

I would highly recommend this game to any soccer fan and would also go as far to recommend it to someone looking for a bit of a change in the sport genre of games. Will this be played for hours on end by a person like myself? I highly doubt that, but again its the product of not being a fan. I could see a fan spending many days and hours just building up the experience of their created player online let alone playing their offline career. EA definitely delivered a solid soccer title that can appeal to the most passionate fans as well as the casual fans. Check out FIFA 09 today and be the judge yourself.

Suggestions: Add in some basic tutorials or even easy game mode on the game of soccer explaining it in depth to those of us that are not knowledgeable of the game. Most regarding the rules and penalties of the game as I had a hard time understanding exactly what was going on at times and why I was being carded or tossed from the game.

Overall Score: 8.7 / 10 Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant

Crash Bandicoot and the gang are back for another go on the Xbox 360, and as usual the Activision delivers yet another solid Crash platformer. There are plenty of collectibles, unlockables, upgrading and lots of levels to progress through which will keep you busy for quite a few hours. Overall, the game doesn't bring anything new to the table really for the series and will appeal to more of the younger audience as well as platformer fans.

Graphically, the game is colorful and well done. The characters are drawn very well and give each one a distinctive personality of their own. The game relies on a lot of comedic relief for both young and old and the expressions and movements of the characters portray that very well. The level designs on a graphical sense are extremely detailed, colorful and vast allowing the game to appeal to many folks both new and old to the series. A few times I ran into issues of lousy camera angles for crossing thin walkways or having to jump from area to area and more or less guessing as to which direction I had to jump , run or how far for that matter. That truly is one of the only annoying things I found about the game.

When it comes to the sound department, there really isn't much to say about the game. It has some fairly funny voice acting throughout which adds to the humor of the game, and the voices remain the same from past iterations of the game. The musical score is energetic, but tends to get a little on the repetitive and somewhat annoying side after a while, but honestly with the platformer genre what game hasn't had an annoying soundtrack after listening for a while. Dare I compare to Super Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog? Game actions such as busting crates or collecting orbs is exactly the same sounds you came to know in the last game and the game before, and the game before, etc.

The control scheme of the game can get a little tricky sometimes making it difficult for the younger crowd. At times, the camera angle made it tough to really get a view of the direction you are heading, or trying to view hidden items on levels below you character. Also, there is a specific spin and jump technique that while not difficult for most may be a little on the tough side for the younger audience. This technique is unavoidable as it will need to be used to reach some points of levels or to even proceed further into a level. Other than that, its pretty much spin, punch and jump using the standard buttons making it fairly easy for anyone to pick up and play.

You find a little customization right off the bat with this game as well. So you don't feel like playing as the normal looking Crash? Well then change up the skin. You can change up how Crash looks as you play the game by selecting different skins which basically change his clothes and hair color. You can do this right from your ?House? in the game as well as access other bonus content such as concept art, watch in game videos, view your stats and view monsters you have come in contact with throughout the game.

To me it seems the game follows the base premise set in the previous release ?Crash of the Titans?, but with a storyline change of course. Once again Cortex is out to destroy Crash and his Bandicoot friends with a new elaborate mind controlling system. Your goal is to of course stop his evil plan. As you progress through the game you'll unlock upgrades by collecting the orbs dropped by destroying items and killing enemies. These orbs, known as Mojo, will reward you with such abilities as longer spins without getting dizzy, jumping higher and stronger attacks. You'll also find power ups and collectibles scattered throughout each level as well. All the characters that you have come to know and love as well as the entire evil cast are included in the game.

Once again, as with the last game, you'll be able to ?jack? enemies and control them as you sit atop their back. These larger enemies are used for breaking down walls you couldn't as Crash, or for taking on the bigger and badder creatures of the land. You'll have some special attacks that can be used to destroy your enemies as well as beat some of the bosses. As your ?jacked? creature takes damage you'll be able to jump off and onto another once you see the ?B? icon displayed above their head. To ?jack? a creature you simple have to fight them, stun them and when a ?B? icon appears above their head simply push the B button on the controller and you are now in control. Some areas or items are only accessible with bigger mutants, so if you run across an item or area you cannot access or destroy, then go find yourself a bigger creature to jack.

One thing that does make this game even more family friendly is the cooperative mode. You and another person can sit and play through the game together and work as a team to easily clear each stage of the game. One player will be Crash, while the second player will portray a mask that circles around Crash. The mask will provide magic abilities which should let you easily handle anything that comes your way. If the player portrayed as Crash needs some help battling enemies than Player 2 has the option to jump out of the mask fro double the attack and speedier mojo collection. Sorry, the cooperative mode is only for local play and not over Xbox Live. Bummer, huh?

So while the Crash series really doesn't bring anything new and exciting to the table with this new chapter in the story, its still a fun game to sit down and run through. Achievement folks will probably love to get their hands on this one as the achievements are fairly simple and range from performing certain attacks to destroying a certain amount of enemies. There are a lot of levels to progress through and quite a bit of hidden items to locate. So this should keep one busy for a little while at least and I would highly recommend it to anyone with younger kids as Crash is colorful, funny and appealing to that specific audience. Crash may not be the sharpest tool in the woodshed, but he definitely provides a great fun for any fan of the platformer genre and is the perfect mascot for this type of game. Activision delivers a solid product once again with the Crash series and will probably continue to do so as long as there are platformer fans out there. To me, Crash is out modern day Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario Brother.

Suggestions: I guess my only suggestion for the game would be the inclusion of Xbox Live Co-op play as well as some sort of leadervoards online. The game pretty much meets the standards I thought it would for the genre, so honestly the inclusion of Live could push this games review scores higher.

Overall Score: 7.0 / 10 Blitz: The League 2

Its 4th and 2 on the 2 yard line with just over 20 seconds left in the championship game and you trail by 3. Do you depend on the league star whom has brought you to this point to pound it in for the win, or do you kick the 3 and move onto overtime? This is just one of the many decisions that may come to your attention while playing throughout the campaign of Blitz The League 2. Midway brings us the second installment of the series, and they have delivered a solid and fun football experience that any football fan could enjoy. Blitz has over the top tackling, player movements and plenty of content that would make the NFL rules committee cringe. The Blitz series is in many ways is the evil step sister of the NFL where you will find many of the things that really do go on in real life NFL day to day operations such as juicing, player altercations and ratings boosting.

Lawrence Taylor returns as the cover boy and one of the primary characters in the campaign mode, but he isn't the only big name you'll run across playing the game. One of the first things you will notice is the color commentary. Why that sounds like John Madden! Um, wait. Yeah, it sounds like John Madden but its comedic genius and impressionist Frank Caliendo doing his John Madden impression and frankly ? no pun intended ? its quite hilarious. Another comedian/actor, Jay Mohr, lends his vocals to the game as well playing as your agent in Campaign Mode. He'll also make a cameo as the Prison warden later in the story, but we'll just leave it at that so we don't give away any of the storyline.

The campaign storyline comes straight from the write of the hit series The Playmakers which appeared on ESPN briefly until the NFL came along a flexed it's muscle to get the show off the air. Blitz has everything in common with Playmakers and touches on all the subjects that the NFL does not want you hear about such as the scandals, doping and tampering schemes to generate more revenue for the league. My hats off to the campaign mode and the story that entails, as it will not only keep you entertained but it will also make you think about the real world quite a bit and what things may actually take place.

Basically in campaign mode, you play the role of the next big thing coming out of college nicknamed Franchise. You played high school ball and college ball in your home town and now your desire is to play for the hometown professional team as well, but you have been drafted by the LA Riot. You tell the commissioner that you will not be playing for the Riot and that you will only play for the local team, which you create. So the drama begins and the plot thickens as the commissioner's primary objective is to make the most money for the league he can with little regard to player wants and needs. This storyline takes twists and turns and Lawrence Taylor, whom plays the role of the old league veteran on his way out, plays a a large part in the storyline as well.

As you proceed through the story, you'll start in Division 3 and play against other Division 3 teams on your way to a championship. You'll have a certain number of games to win in order to make the championship game which will be displayed on the main menu screen before each game. As you win a championship, you'll then move up a division where you''ll face harder opponents and stronger players. Of course your players gets better with each game played based on your performance. You'll earn sponsors for the team which will reward you new and better equipment that will give you boosts in certain aspects of the game. You'll also have the ability to train players and your superstar before each game increasing their overall rating which in turn increases your overall team rating.

There are many mini games scattered throughout the game as well both as stand alone games and moments within campaign games. One such mini game would be the ability to administer medical aid to your injured players. You'll have a large circle which represents the general area of the injury with a bullseye at the exact location of the injury. As the player grimaces around in pain you'll have to inject them with the juice or painkiller and you goal is to get as close to the bullseye as you can. Easier said than done. The closer you get to the bullseye will result in less time off due to the injury. The play could miss one play or several plays dependent upon your success. Another mini game within the game is the ability to set broken bones. You'll be asked to move both the left and right stick to a reference point or at least as close as you can. Once again, the closer you get the better results you have and the quicker your player can return to the playing field.

As I initially stated, Blitz is all about over the top hits, maneuvers and injuries. You'll earn power ups with big plays and vicious hits that will increase your Unleashed Meter. This meter allows you to slow down time and lay out big hits on your opponent whether on offense or defense. If you completely fill the meter, you'll be able to pull of a special Unleashed maneuver which can result in turnovers on defense or bone crunching stiff arms on offense. Its all about stamina in this game and the more your player has the better he will perform. You'll lose stamina for getting steamrolled by opposing offenses, or taking late or dirty hits. In the same regard you can take away stamina from your opponent with the same maneuvers.

Campaign mode is definitely worth a play through for the storyline alone. But you'll find a surprisingly deeper game than expected with upgrade options by the use of juicing. Juicing is the use of performance enhancing drugs and you can combine them to make some powerful combinations for the period of one game for any player on your team including the Franchise. There are repercussions such as increased injury rate for juicing up a player to gain advantage in a certain aspect of the game.

Aside from Campaign mode there are 6 bonus game modes to play. 2 of the game modes must be unlocked to play. There is bonus content on the disc such as concept art, campaign cut scenes, game trailers and video shoots of game production. You'll have to check some of these out especially the one with Frank Caliendo and Jay Mohr talking about their involvement.

There is online play and from what I played it seemed fairly lag free. There really isn't anything out of the norm in the online play to discuss as its just like playing a quick play game or a campaign mode game but against a real person. Of course there are leaderboards and you can play the mini games online as well. You'll have the ability to use any team online as well as any user created team. There is an option when creating a match to allow user created teams or not.

Gameplay is fairly easy to pick up and play successfully against the computer. The fast pace of the game will at times leave you trying to figure out which guy you are or who has the ball when on defense, but overall its still a decent control scheme and is fairly fluid in the game when make cuts, jumps, tackles, etc.

Graphically speaking the game looks very good and has great weather effect. The puddling on the field from the heavy rains looks great and the field seems to gather snow cover throughout the game in snowy games. The player models are well done and the facial expressions seem to capture the moment on the field whether it be an injury or a beat down. The cut scenes are fairly well done and the campaign cut scenes really add to the drama unfolding in the storyline.

The sounds in the game fit quite perfectly and the mockery they make of John Madden as an announcer is actually quite hilarious at times. The language in the game can get a bit extreme for my taste, but the game specifically carries a rating that allows for that content. Also you have to remember that this storyline was written by the writer of The Playmakers which pushed all kinds of limits. There is a wide variety of rock and hip hop to please both crowds and add atmosphere to the game.

One downside to the game would have to be the loading times before each game. Sometimes it seemed like I sat there for 2 minutes or so before actually having an offline game begin. Sure they have some fact about the league and players for you to read while waiting, but after a few games those facts just are not interesting anymore and they also get very repetitive.

Overall, the bottom line is Blitz the League 2 is a very fin game as the Blitz series always has been. In no way should it be considered a football sim or even close to that for that matter. Its an over the top game that should be enjoyed for being just that and pushing the limits of football to the extreme. I would have rather watched a real life Blitz League than had to suffer through Vince McMahon's XFL endeavor. If you are a straight up sim football player than you probably won't find much fun in this game and find yourself frustrated. But if you love the game of football period and have enjoyed previous versions of the Blitz series then you should thoroughly enjoy this game. Great campaign mode, plenty of unlockables, and lots of mini games should keep a person interested for quite a while. Do your self a favor and at least rent this one if you love football and you may find that its really enjoyable. With the budget title price tag, many folks will probably want to pick this one up though.

Suggestions: I would like to see a little more of a long standings campaign mode through several years rather than just playing through the 3 division levels. Maybe more character development included. The ability to create your own stadiums from scratch would be great as well, or even downloadable new stadiums. Still a very fun game though.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 LEGO Batman the Videogame

We've smashed LEGO's in the Star wars universe, and traverse the globe looking for artifacts and smashing LEGO's as Indiana Jones. Well, now it's time to visit the world of DC Comics. Traveller's Tales brings us the latest edition of the LEGO sage with Batman. You'll find everything you expect from the series in this game and a few new twists as well. There are plenty of unlockables including vehicles, characters, suit upgrades and secret areas.

You'll get to play as Batmam or any one of the heroes included in the game. You'll also get to play as anyone of the super villains as well, and we are talking more than just in Free Play mode. We'll get into that a little bit later in the review. The game mode options available to you are the campaign mode and free play mode. Campaign mode is made up of 6 story lines which consists of 5 levels in each. You are limited to only using the characters whom are assigned to that specific chapter, but you'll have access to some different suits when playing as Batman or Robin. Free Play mode allows you to go back and play each of those levels with multiple characters at your disposal which allows you to access areas not previously accessible using the story mode characters. You can play locally with up to one other person. Sorry no Xbox Live co-op which was something everyone expected to be in this game and sadly was not included.

Past LEGO games have been based upon movies and followed the movie storylines for the most part, but Batman does it a bit differently. The basic storyline is that Batman's most well known arch enemies break out of the Arkum Asylum and reign terror and havoc upon the city of Gotham. You'll play as Batman, and sidekick Robin, and capture the escaped villains. There are 3 parts to the Hero campaign mode with each story headlined by either the Joker, Riddler or Penguin. Those super villains will have a host of accomplices such as Poison Ivy, Scarecrow or Mr Freeze to help them in their quest for chaos and ultimate defeat of the Bat.

Now you'll notice that I mentioned the Hero side of the campaign. Yes, that does mean there is a villian side as well to the campaign. You'll get to play as all of the villains included in the game in their own storyline quests to rob and destroy the city of Gotham. To complete the game at 100% you'll have to play both campaigns. As with the Hero mode, you'll have items to collect and areas to unlock as well as earning plenty of LEGO studs to use in the store later.

The gameplay is pretty much the same as it has been in past LEGO games. You'll have to solve puzzles to advance into new areas. You'll also collect LEGO studs, mini kit parts and red LEGO blocks which gain you access to new things later in the game. Some areas and items are only accessible with certain characters unlocked throughout the game, so you'll have to go back and play Free Play mode once you've unlocked those characters.

There are several different costumes that allow your characters to perform multiple tasks they cannot do when dressed. For instance, Batman has a demolition costume that allows him to destroy shiny objects that cannot be destroyed with regular attacks. Robin has a magnetic costume that allows him to walk on vertical and sometimes inverted metallic surfaces/ Throughout each level there are stations that allow you to change a characters costume to perform a specific task at hand. You can change back to your previous costume by jumping through the holographic image at the changing station. In free play mode, you can change costumes by pressing the left or right bumper. Any costume that you have unlocked to this point will be available for your use.

There are some vehicle levels which resemble many of the vehicle levels from the Star Wars series. These levels tend to be a shoot'em up style of gameplay with torpedoes, mines pulled by a cable and plenty of barriers to destroy to advance to the next section of the level. As soon as I played one of these levels, whether it was in the Bat Car, Boat or Plane, I immediately thought of LEGO Star Wars. Whixh in my opinion is a good thing, but the levels can be a bit on the easy side and tend to have no real purpose other than just blowing lots of stuff up.

One thing I would like to mention is that Traveller's Tales created a very cool design for jumping between Hero and Villains sections of the game. When in between levels, you'll be hanging out in the Bat Cave where you can access new levels and the store. Located right beside the story is a lever that allows you to switch from the Bat Cave to the Arkum Asylum where you'll then become a pair of villains and have access to all the villain levels as well as the store. The store is where you can purchase characters, vehicles, suit upgrades and more. As you progress further in the game, you'll also gain access to some secret playing areas as you could in both Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

Overall, the LEGO world shines through and shows that its a great world to make a video game. The Batman saga seems to fit right in with the fun and comical relief that the LEGO games provide and as always you'll find it extensively fun to run around and just smash up the City of Gotham into thousands of LEGO pieces. Graphically, the game is pretty good but there is something about Batman that just doe not seem right. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but something just doesn't seem write with his appearance. All the other characters seem to represent their real life counterparts, and honestly Batman is just fine the way he is. Its just something that bugs me, and as I stated, I can't figure out what it is.

As for the sound, you'll find your typical chimes, smashes and explosions as you would in any other LEGO game. As with all the previous games, you'll find the original musical scores from Batman movies. This is definitely a welcome addition to the game, and while the game itself does not follow any movie scripts, it still has a movie script feel to it.

If you enjoyed any of the previous versions of LEGO games, then you'll definitely want to pick up Batman. You'll find that its just as fun as the other games and somewhat more at times. I mean come on, its Batman. I can't wait to see what other Super Heroes are on tap for a LEGO game of their own. Maybe there is a Justice League of America on tap for our future!!! How cool would that be? So what are you waiting for, head on out and pick up the game now. You won't regret it.

Suggestions: Once again, a job well done with the recreation of a well known character brought into the world of LEGO. I'd love to see multiplayer co-op over Xbox Live though, and hope that this is soon included in every LEGO game that comes to the 360. Would also love to see a Justice League or a lot more super heroes brought in with their own games. One suggestion would be to really allow for some sort of auto colleciton system for studs because there are several times when I miss out on picking up studs due to the limited time they remain on screen.

Overall Score: 8.5 / 10 Baja: Edge of Control

There is nothing like pure off road racing especially when racing across an open desert, winding through dirt trails and climbing over tower rock formations. Thus we are introduced to BAJA: Edge of Control from 2XL Games and THQ. This is the first time someone actually took on the challenge of recreating the BAJA racing league in the next gen consoles. BAJA Racing has been gaining more popularity over the past few years and has garnered some network attention from the likes of SPEED and ESPN. Many are still unaware of what BAJA Racing actually is all about, but this game should shed a lot of light on the sport.

Thus far the game has taken a lot of flack for less than stellar graphics, which I personally cannot disagree with at all. The game does seem to regress in the graphics category when it come to what is expected on a next gen console. Not all the graphics are terrible, but wrapped as a whole, don't expect a whole lot of eye popping beauty because frankly there is none. But a game should be more about the fun factor and how well its plays in my opinion. And well, while there are shining moments in the game and some great concepts, it does tend to fall short of the fun factor after a while and more along the lines of frustrating when it comes to an unforgiving AI.

First off lets talk about what you get for options when it comes to the game. You'll be treated to over 160 sponsored vehicles which are spread across eight vehicle classes. Over 100 tracks are shipped that are encased within 9 vast open worlds with more than 1000 miles of drive-to-horizon landscapes. Each open world can be driven in a free ride mode that allows you to traverse the terrain and explore every trail and mountain as far as you can see. There is quite a bit of detail in the environments despite the lackluster graphics such as desert wildlife, cracked hard clay terrain, and plenty of desert plant life. I guess the best comparison to some of the terrain is that it probably would be better suited in a flight game where you do not see it up close. When up close, you'll tend to see the flaws and lack of detail in the actual textures.

So as stated, you have a free ride option in the game modes along with a career mode, tutorials, and multiplayer for up to 10 drivers online and across a LAN, and up to 4 drivers on splitscreen locally. So lets discuss the career mode first. When starting career mode, you will be required to buy your first vehicle from the Baja Buggy division. This is your lowest and slowest class of racing vehicles in the game and probably one of the most frustrating. I literally was swearing at the game and ready to put it down due to an extremely frustrating and impossible AI that I ran across in the first few events. We'll discuss the AI a little more in depth a little later as this really is a huge problem in the game and a main reason the game does not score real high in my book.

So, once you have purchased your first vehicle, you will then join a league. A league consists of multiple races across a circuit, rally races, hill climbs and open class races. You'll earn XP and money for your finishing position in each race which is used to advance further into your career and unlock more vehicles. You'll also have the opportunity to sign with sponsors to earn extra cash but its called a contingency sponsorship which means that you must cross the finish line at the end of the race with the sponsor logo still in place. You ask why wouldn't the logo be in place? Well, contact, wrecks and just plain abusive driving can knock panels off of your vehicle and those panels are where the logo's are placed.

As I stated, when you wins races you'll unlock new races and events along with sponsored vehicles which can be used online or locally in free ride. The sponsored vehicles that you unlock cannot be used in the career mode. You are limited to using only generic vehicles which you upgrade with parts and sponsors. You'll get a wide variety of parts with different levels of upgrade value and you'll be best suited to mix and match parts that are specific to your driving style. In other words while it may seem best to fully upgrade all your parts to the top performance level, you may in fact make your vehicle unstable or even uncontrollable with much skidding, spinning out and instability. For those that love to tweak and tune every aspect of their virtual vehicles then you'll find yourself in a virtual heaven. Once your parts are installed, you'll be able to go in and tune those parts to your liking whether it be working out your own gear ratios, or adding some camber to your wheels to allow for better handling. Once you've got your machine to your liking or think you do, then you can take it out for a test drive to test out the newly installed parts and tune up.

The first few races of each league usually do not require much in the way of upgrades to be competitive. You'll actually be able to run away from the competition with a stock vehicle in the later classes as the bigger vehicles seem so much easier to control. A standard race league consists of multiple circuit races where you obtain XP, money and league points in an effort to earn the most league points once the league is complete. Rally races pit you against the clock and you basically will run a few legs of a track in order to end with the best time overall. There will be other vehicles on the track that you will come across along with higher class vehicles that will run you off the road if you do not get out of their way as they approach. The Open Class races pits you up against vehicles outside your class and cars are started on a circuit track spaced according to class. When running the rally races you'll have a repair helicopter at your disposal, which mimics real life. With the press of the Y button, you can call in the helicopter which will land ahead of you along the track to repair you. All you need to do is keep and eye out for the chopper and stop, and you are good to keep racing with a fully repaired vehicle. A damage meter will come up, or can be called up with the press of the D-pad to see what damage your vehicle has sustained.

Finally, Hill Climb events are a bit different than what you have grown accustomed to with other rally racing games. Instead of racing against a clock up or down a track, you'll now be racing against 7 other drivers in a 2 lap shootout up and down trails meandering over towering rock formations. Your goal is to finish first in the race, and you'll find multiple routes up and down the hill.

There is a lot of depth in the tuning of vehicles and quite a few races across all 8 classes to keep you busy for quite sometime. But one thing that you'll have to really overlook or at least be patient with is the AI in this game. At times it's ridiculous what the AI drivers do and the lines they take and you'll find yourself scratching your head or even more you'll be screaming at the television. I found myself literally locked with other vehicles while they end up taking me out and driving off as if I was a fly on their windshield. Other times, you'll see the AI follow a race line as if you were not even there and they'll practically drive right through you knocking you off the track or locking up with you wheel to wheel where you basically cannot get free without stopping and allowing them to just drive away. Its almost as if the AI is designed to follow a specific line around each track without regard to where you are at. So basically if you are in their line, you are pretty much toast as they will take you out. Brakes or steering wheel? I guess they have neither in the AI vehicles because they sure don't use either one when it comes to giving you some room or backing down. This AI really makes the game frustrating and truly kills what really could be a great and fun game.

Moving onto the online play, you can race in either ranked or player matches. You'll be able to select basically every type of race you can compete within your career but you'll also have a few longer race options to choose from. These races are called the BAJA 250, BAJA 500, BAJA 750, and BAJA 1000. What interesting about these races other than their length is the ability to actually allow the AI to take over driving for you in case of a potty break or a quick snack. The 1000 race takes in upwards of 3 to 4 hours to complete, so the AI substitute driver option is a welcome option for sure. This is a first in any game as far as I know and its truly quite innovative. Dependant upon the race your are running, the number of racers can vary. Lag seemed very minimal from the races are took part, and the online play tends to be a lot more fun than the actual career mode as long as you are not running with AI drivers. There are plenty of leaderboards for you to browse and its fairly easy to search for a specific leaderboard for a specific race type a track.

When it comes to sound, this game shines brightly. This is one of the highlights of the game that has to be complimented. All sounds sound very authentic, and the different classes have distinct engine sounds that set them apart from each other. You'll definitely know when you have a higher horsepower engine breathing down your neck on a track. One of the small things that really doesn't matter much, but should be mentioned is the passing public traffic. It literally sounds as though they went out to a highway and recorded the actual sound of a car or truck passing. Sure, a small thing but definitely shows the quality that can be found in this game.

As was discussed earlier in this review, the graphics do really fall short of the bar that is set today. After what we have seen lately in games like Dirt and now Pure, there really is no reason why the graphics shouldn't have some shine to them. I understand that the draw rates of the horizon and the complexity of the game allowing you to drive anywhere into the horizon limits the detail somewhat, but honestly this game really could have released just like this on the original Xbox. One thing that really bothered me was the local public traffic and the lack of detail that went into these vehicles. They are pretty much just square boxes driving down the road. The racing vehicles have the most details, but have plenty of jaggies in the decals and smaller detail points. Again, pretty much unacceptable when it comes to a next gen game.

Controls can be quite frustrating at first in the game, especially with those Baja buggies which handle about as well as a tricycle on the beach. With some practice and time invested in the game you'll learn to use the E-brake and clutch to get the most out of turns and keep your speeds up. As you play the game you'll also learn how vehicles respond to different terrains. You'll also notice that tire and suspension upgrades will help quite a bit. The higher class vehicles handle so much better as well, even at top speeds.

The game has several high points, but unfortunately the lower points seems to erase those high points in most gamer opinions. Online play can be quite fun, and as you unlock higher class vehicles, the game does get a little more enjoyable, but its that darn AI that really puts the final nail in the coffin for this game. Would I recommend this game to folks? Sure, especially if I know they primarily play online. The problem is that many of the vehicles to be used in multiplayer have to be unlocked in the career mode and that may be just a little to frustrating for some folks. This game really could have been a must have with some more attention to the AI and some polished graphics to appeal to the general mass of gamers that feel graphics are more important than gameplay.

Suggestions: Please put out a patch and fix that ruthless and unforgiving AI. Allowing folks to pass and giving up a line goes both ways, and the AI should show the same courtesy that I try to give them.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Rock Band 2

Less than a year ago we were all treated to the release of Rock Band, and while the game was a smashing success it lacked some options that folks thought would have easily been available in the game such as an online Band option or even the option to switch up instruments within your own band but alas neither option was available. Well, here we are with the release of Rock band 2 and it seems that Harmonix listened to the community and included many options lacking in the previous title but have brought us many new options as well. To the relief of many you'll be happy to know that your original instruments will work with Rock Band 2 so there is no need to purchase the new peripherals unless you really want to.

For those that may have been hiding under a rock and never played the first title then here is a quick run down of what the Rock band series is all about. Rock Band allows you to form your own band with 4 major components, each having its own playable part in every song. You have the vocals, guitar, bass and drums. The object of the game is to hit the colored keys on your instrument to match the colored notes on the screen as they cross a line across the bottom of the screen. For the vocals, you'll be judged on pitch and accuracy. You'll be awarded points, and can earn extra points by activating multipliers by stringing notes together and activating overdrive when you hit special notes and fill a meter. Thats basically the general run down of the game, so lets get into what is new and improved with Rock band 2, and trust me, there is a lot of improvements and new options to be discussed.

Without a doubt, Rock band 2 puts the original title to bed immediately the moment you fire it up and interact with the menus. Songs are cached for faster loading from the initial start of the game which really does seem to help quite a bit with the way many game modes play out. You'll create your character and form your initial band. This option pretty much reflects the previous version with the exception of one major difference. Since the game allows you to play with friends over Xbox Live, you'll be able to not only assign 3 other members to your band whether they are local players or online players, but you'll also be able to assign substitute band members that can step in when regular members are unavailable. Another great new feature is that you are now not locked into one specific instrument for your character as you were in least years title. So say you are regularly playing the guitar for the band, but you decide you'd like to play the drums for a few sets then go right ahead. This change is more than welcome and was a must especially for online play since some of your friends may only own 1 instrument which would cause you to shuffle the band a little. Without this option you would have to lock in a person for vocals, guitar, bass and drums and thats all they would ever play. In my opinion, thats just not as much fun.

So as I stated, you'll notice changes immediately when you start browsing through the menus of game modes. You'll have the standard quick play and training modes, but you'll also see the Tour option which will open up a whole new world of game modes. When you select the Tour mode, you'll be prompted to choose either Local Tour or Xbox Live Tour. Lets check out the Local Tour first.

Local Tour will have you load up your band and character. You'll see the following mode options on your screen: Start Tour or Continue Tour, Play Challenge and Battle of the Bands. The Tour is somewhat as what you would expect if you have played the first game with a few additions. You'll now be able to hire a staff to help you earn money and fans and the more popularity you gain will earn you better staff options. As usual you will play from city to city accumulating fans, stars and cash to unlock new venues. Challenges will come up periodically such as playing harder songs in exchange for more fans or cash, etc. You'll also see some venues with trophies beside them and this reflects that a challenge is taking place here. More on this in a second.

Next up we have the Play Challenge option. This option is somewhat interlocked with your career mode in the fact that you will earn money and stars. As I stated previously, you'll also be able to participate in these challenges as you progress through the tour mode, but this option gives you all those challenges in one nice neat list to go through. There are challenges specific to each instrument and the band as a whole. There are seven degrees of difficulty when it comes to the challenges and obviously the tougher songs will be found in the seventh difficulty level while easier songs are in the first level.

Final there is the Battle of the Bands option. This had to be the most interesting option to me as it allows you to compete in challenges that give you an score which is ranked into an overall leaderboard and against friends. Basically as you play each battle it out with friends and other bands across the world to try and obtain the top leaderboard spot. What is even cooler is that you can check out your battle history, status, and friend rankings all with the click of a button. Each battle is a timed event and you'll be able to see how long the event has to go by viewing its details when clicking on it.

You have the usual online game modes such as tug of war and score duel along with the online Tour Mode. In score duel, you'll compete against another player and see who can finish the song with the most accumulated points. With tug of war, you'll basically go up against an opponent alternating parts of the selected song trying to outperform the other person and win over the crowd. Playing perfectly is the way to go on this one if you really want to seal victory.

But the most intersting facet online has to be the fact that you can compete in the World Tour with friends. Sure this is the way it should be but what you need to know is that at anytime a buddy can jump into your current "solo" career and give you a hand. In other words, if you started a tour by yourself, and are having some difficulties obtaining fans or gaining cash then you can invite a buddy or 2 or 3 into your band to help you out. Its just like playing with some buddies locally and the lag is pretty much non existant. When I say that, I have yet to experience any kind of lag yet, so it truly is like playing with some buddies in your own living room. This option is what folks were looking for in the first game and now its part of the second game and is a huge plus in my book.

The gameplay is spot on and has quite a few improvements. The instruments seem very responsive to the on screen notes and most will not experience any kind of lag at all. If you do experience lag issues with notes not registering that you know you nailed, then you can do a calibration which seems to solve any issue almost all the time. For those of you that have the original Rock Band, you'll be happy to know that you can use an export feature included with the last Rock Band update and bring over any song that you want to into the new version of the game. Just load up Rock Band and you'll find the feature in the Options menu. You'll be able to download song from the Store as you could with Rock Band 1.

The Rock Store allows you to shop for clothing, instruments, hair styles and tattoos as well check out your closet for all the items you currently own or have earned in the tour mode. Another new option is the ability to create your band's logo which will be visible to everyone on Xbox Live, so be sure to be creative. You'll be able to colorize your logo along with layering symbols, text, and preset graphics which are completely customizable in size and rotation.

Graphically, Rock Band 2 takes on the music video feel when it comes to visuals. You'll be treated to some wild visuals during in game performances, especially when shooting a video in your tour mode. The characters haven't changed a whole lot in appearance but there are plenty of options for you to really customize your character to a specific look/ As you progress through the tour, you'll unlock new gear and earn cash to buy new instruments and threads. Each venue is also very well detailed and add to the rock and roll feel of the game.

When it comes to sound no other game matches the quality of rock bands. All of the songs included are master tracks and come through crisp and clear especially for folks that have surround sound systems. The song list is quite extensive and ranges from 70's legends to modern day bands. There is a little bit of everything in this game for everyone to listen, play and enjoy.

In summary, Rock band 2 is well worth the purchase especially is you own the instruments from the previous version. You can purchase the new wireless guitar, or the drum set along with a cymbal attachment, and a new microphone which includes the standard controller buttons on the neck of the microphone. A stated earlier, the purchase of these new instruments is not required to play the game if you have the previous instruments. There is plenty of downloadable content on tap and you can be sure with the impending release of Guitar Hero World Tour that Harmonix probably has a few things up their sleeves. Rock band 2 is the perfect follow up act to the original Rock Band, and should be in everyone's library that is a fan of this genre. There really isn't much bas that can be said about the game other than that some of the songs are ridiculously hard even on medium difficulty. But then again, thats probably just me because I would never boast myself as a good Rock Band player.

Suggestions: The game is top notch and has very little room for improvement, but if I had to choose something then I would have to say to add more free downloadable content into the mix. The instruments are not cheap by any means and a break here and there would be greatly appreciated.

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 TNA iMPACT!

TNA, which stands for Total Nonstop Action, has been around for 6+ years but has not quite gained the popularity of its rival, the WWE. As of late though, the brand seems to have taken up interest among more and more professional wrestling fans across the world. With the help of more air time on TV and now a new video game TNA could be on its way to actually being on a competing level with the WWE very soon. You'll recognize many of the faces of TNA of which most have made their way through the WWE at one point or another. The 2 brands seem to trade off superstars on a regular basis anymore.

So TNA finally has brought out its own video game to the next gen systems in the form of TNA Impact. And I honestly have to say that Midway has done a very good job in delivering the product and making a pretty good wrestling game that fans should enjoy. You'll find over 20 TNA superstars featured along with their signature moves, several venues and plenty of TNA match types. All of which should keep you busy for quite a while.

The game features an exhibition mode, a story mode, and online play as well as plenty of videos of real life matches from the TNA history books. Also included int the game is an extra DVD which features an inside look at the making of the game and a few big matches dating back to the early days of the TNA brand. Its definitely worth taking a look at if you are a fan of TNA in the least, or just a wrestling fan period.

There is a create a wrestler option as well which will allow you to deisgn your own personalized wrestler with a vast array of looks, clothing, moves and accessories. You can use this created character in the story mode or in any exhibition or online match as well. While creating the character is fairly basic, you can still come up with pretty lifelike and interesting characters.

In the sound category, the game once again is on par or better with a lot of their in game announcing and story mode voice over acting. Mike Tenay and Don West do an outstanding job with their voice over work for the in ring commentary and the commentary seems to be just as intense as the action on the screen. If you have watched TNA on Spike TV you will know that these guys put their heart and soul into their commentary and it seems the same has happened in the game as well. Jeremy Borash is also included in the mix of commentary and story mode action. The in ring sounds are authentic in nature and seems to have a high level of intensity which seems to be the sole purpose of this game. TNA is all about non stop action and the sound department has definitely carried that over into the game.

Graphically, Midway has done an outstanding job capturing every little detail of the wrestlers and their signature maneuvers. Each character is easily recognizable and fantastically reproduced on the screen in complete detail. The wrestler entrances start out pretty great but quickly fade away as the wrestler makes his way to the ring. I can understand that entrances could get repetitive after a while and this is probably most of the reason they were cut short, but I still would have loved seeing Sting make his way to the ring and raise the bat to the crowd, or Scott Steiner up on the turnbuckles kissing his fabricated biceps while taunting the masses.

The arenas and rings are pretty basic when it boils down to it, and I do wish you could take your fight into the crowd and steal people's chairs while beating the living heck out of your opponent. Nothing like grabbing weapons from the crowd, but alas thats only a dream. You'll find some chairs scattered outside the ring that you can pick up and smack your opponent with, but after about 4 hits with the chair it then disintegrates into mid air. They sure don't make chairs like they used to! Each ring is designed well, and seems to react well with collisions, rope maneuvers, etc. One of the stand out features in TNA is the Ultimate X division which features 2 wires hanging above the mat which intersect in the middle of the ring. Players will traverse these wires using them to pull off some pretty unbelievable wrestling maneuvers. Your goal is to unhook the intersection of the wires to win the match. And for the most part it works well in the game. There will be a few times when the rope starts bouncing that you'll take notice that your wrestler isn't holding onto anything yet remains suspended above the ring. The crowd is fairly basic as well, but all in all the each arena and it's features work well with the game and do not come across as being bland in anyway.

Now onto the gameplay. We have all grown accustomed to the WWE vs Smackdown series and already have some expectations for how a wrestling game should play. Well TNA doe a good job in the gameplay category. Collision detection seems to be spot on and you won't find yourself swing through opponents or drop kicking air even when you think you hit your opponent. The button controls are fairly straight forward with power coming from pulling the left trigger while hitting the same buttons for normal hits and kicks. You'll be able to grapple and pull off simple grapple style maneuvers. You can even pick up the chairs outside the ring and wail away on your opponent as I mentioned earlier. Each and every character has a finishing maneuver which can be triggered by filling your Impact meter. The Impact meter will fill as you wreak havoc on your opponent with various combos and moves. When the meter fills completely and flashes, you will hear a sound informing you that the meter is full and you'll then have to grapple your opponent into a head hold. Once you have your opponent you can then hit B and pull off the finisher. Now just because its a finisher does not mean your opponent cannot kick out of the final pin.

When you are pinned or stunned in the game you'll be prompted to quickly jiggle the thumbstick quickly in order to regain composure or to kick out of the pin. Kicking out of the pin successfully all depends on how much damage your body has taken. So you will not always be able to kick out, so just keep that in mind. When jiggly the stick a meter will appear and it will fill up as you quickly move the stick. If you are able to fill the meter and it turns to green then you'll kick out of the pin. Again, its fairly difficult, but kicking out of anyone's finishing move should be difficult. Thats why its called a g the ropes and pulling off high flying maneuvers also seems to work fairly well. At times the AI will just stand their and take the punishment you deal out from the top of the ropes, but a human opponent can dodge the attacks or even counter them if they are on their feet and moving around. Getting onto the ropes is simple and pulling off the high risk maneuvers is once again simple as well with the press of a button.

As I stated earlier the game ships with a story mode which is in fact a pretty good and compelling story. Even for wrestling! The story starts out with an up and coming wrestler name Suicide who rises to the top of the ladder and obtains the championship belt. Other folks had different plans and wanted Suicide to take a dive in the match, but he refused to do so. Once the match is over, he pays the price and is beaten to a pulp outside the arena and left for dead. He then awakes in Mexico with very little recollection of his past or his name and recovers after extensive plastic surgery and operations to save his life. Of course, being in Mexico, he makes his way back into professional wrestling unaware of who he is. This is where you character comes into play. Since there was plenty of extensive plastic surgery, there is no problem bringing in your character to play the part of the main character that used to be Suicide. A very believable scenario, again I know. Pretty crazy when we're talking professional wrestling.

You traverse through many matches making your way back to TNA and working your way up the ladder again. You'll make friends and enemies along the way, and who knows, maybe you'll get your shot at the title once again. But you can best bet there will be some folks standing in your way on the way to the top. Perhaps even the folks that took you out once before. This all makes for a compelling story and drives you to continue winning matches and moving further in the story mode. I'd have to say this is one of the best story modes that I have played in a wrestling game in quite some time. While its pretty linear in design, its got depth and keeps up your interest which is pretty important to me.

Xbox Live play seemed fairly lag free, smooth and responsive to controls from what I played. Now of course a lot of lag is based on your opponents connection to you so not everyone will always experience smooth online play of course. There are online leaderboards based no your wins and losses and you'll gain rank titles as you pile up the online wins. All the match types that are available offline are available online as well including tag team, ultimate x and others.

Overall, Midway has put out a solid wrestling product that should compete with its rival very well. Even if you are a fan of the rival faction, you should definitely give TNA Impact a run through. I think you'll find that its a very well made game and I look forward to the future of this franchise. While there is room for improvement in all the aspects of the game, it does not mean that the game is less than par. Its right where it should be for the first of the series, and I would be willing to say its a little better than I was first expecting.

Suggestions: In the create a wrestler mode please allow us to import our own music tracks into the game for entrances. Broaden the list of wrestler's included in the game. Allow us to create our own Pay Per View cards and play through them, almost like a GM mode if you will.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 NHL 09

The leaves are turning to autumn colors to the north, the mornings are crisp and cool and all the kids are back in school. This can only mean 1 thing! It's time to lace up the skates, tape up the stick and head onto the frozen pond for some good old hockey action. The NHL kicks off in October and EA now brings us its latest edition of the NHL series with NHL 09. Sure its safe to say that in the United States that hockey just doesn't have a ton of popularity among sports fans, but I will tell you right now that you may not want to pass up on this game. It might be time to learn the game of hockey.

Yes, thats right. NHL 09 is the cream of the crop when it comes to video game hockey and there is so much to do, see and play that you'll find yourself playing this title for quite a long time. 2K used to hold the title as the best video game hockey out there, but the past 2 years for EA have put them back on the map and this year NHL 09 puts EA leaps and bounds above 2K in the hockey genre.

The game ships with a ton of gameplay modes and one will have a hard time figuring out which game mode they want to focus on the most. You'll be able to create a player in the Be A Pro mode and play their whole career starting on the 3rd string of an AHL team all the way up to becoming a legend in the NHL itself. You will also be able to take that same created player online and play in the online leagues which features a 6 on 6 hockey with a predetermined team or just jumping into some pick up hockey games.

So lets give a quick run down of the single player game modes. You'll have the standard Play now option which allows you to just pick up the controller and play as the NHL team and face off against your favorite rival. We then have the ?Be A Pro? mode, which as stated earlier, allows you to create a player in either a skater or goalie position and take them through their career starting with the AHL and ending up with the NHL. Well thats if you are good enough because of course if you are not so good, you can be shipped right back down to the AHL. You can also jump right into the current career of your favorite professional player if you so choose in the ?NHL Pro? mode. Both modes give you options to either be on ice throughout the game or actually sit out on the bench and rest up while another line is on the ice. As you progress through either mode, you'll earn attribute points which can be applied to several different categories.

Moving on, Franchise Mode is in the game and allows you to control all aspects of your favorite NHL/AHL team combination. You'll be able to make all the decisions you need to make to get your team to the NHL Stanley Cup Finals such as calling up or sending down player to and from the AHL. You can also play as the NHL affiliate to better get a feel for up and coming players that may become stars on your NHL team.

Tournament mode gives you 4 different options to work with. First up is the EA Sports World Tournament in which you play as your favorite team from any country from across the world. The players play for their native homeland teams such as Team Canada, USA, Germany, etc. You are placed into a Pool and continue to win to earn points to advance deeper into the tournament. Then we have the Elitserien Cup, where you will select any playoff team and battle your way to the Elitserien Cup. Your third option is the SM-Liiga Cup, which again allows you to select a playoff team and play through the tournament in order to win the SM_Liiga Cup. Finally you have the Montreal Canadians Cup. You select any NHL team and win against 7 other NHL teams to face off against the Montreal Canadians Centennial team.

You also get a ?Create A Play? mode, Practice Mode, and Shootout mode. In practice you'll be able to work in shooting drills, skating drills, team practice and goalie practice. So it's safe to say that the single player in this game offers many options that will keep you busy for the foreseeable future at the very least. But we've only scratched the surface when it comes to what this game really has to offer because the online play adds just as many options to the gameplay experience.

But before we dive into the online lets discuss a few more options that will be at your disposal outside of general gameplay modes. In the menu you will find an EA Sports Media Hub option. This option allows you to manage videos and photots with EA Sportsworld.com. You'll also be able to customize music with your own tracks to acoompany team intros, goal celebrations, and more. There is even a tutorial in the game to show you how to add your custom audio tracks and apply them to in game si new option is the Performance Tracker which allows you to keep track and view all your milestones, stats, and hockey cards that you have obtained for your Be A Pro created players. This is also where you can edit your created player as well as add atttribute points that you have earned along the way while playing in career or online. You'll have many different categories to add points to as I mentioned earlier and dependent on what type of player you created some categories are obviously more important than others.

Now lets discuss the online aspect of the game which seems to be drawing the most attention. EA is touting the EA Online Leagues as the first sports game massive multiplayer online game. And I really can't disagree with the description. Basically you'll have a few options when going online. You can play the typical online ranked game where you and another person face off with full control of every player on each team in some one on one action. But the real action and the most fun comes with the Online Team Play whether its just a pick up game, or an actual league game.

So first off, you'll have the option to join or create a club. When creating a club, you'll select the name of your club and your jerseys. The you can send out invite to folks to join which can include friends or just random folks you play with. Your primary goal is to build a team that is a force to be reckoned with in the online leagues. Players will start out as with very little in the attribute section of their player but with online playing time they will slowly accumulate points which can be applied just like the single player Be a Pro mode. You will earn these points in both League games and Online Pickup games. The more you play the better your player will become and this will become evident by your report card. Yup, thats right. You'll be getting report cards and have an overall score representing your abilities. After each game you'll be issued a report card telling you where you were strong and what you need to work on giving you a final overall grade. Your overall player grade is viewable to anyone and allows teams to go out and find a player that may be strong in an area they are lacking as a team.

When it comes to gameplay in the Be A Pro mode, you;ll be in control of your player and your player only. An arrow will show on the ice to show your that you are out of position and direct you back to a general position location. Positioning is key in the game of hockey and helps team cycle pucks, and create scoring opportunities. Your position is also very important in defense as you never want a guy to have a clear shot at the next, nor do you want to screen out the shooter from the goalies view. So be sure to play attention to the arrow, and no worries, you will receive a positioning grade at the end of the game letting you know how you did all game. As stated earlier, your player can player anyone of the skater positions or you can even play the goalie position if you so desire. Point attributes earned in a game can only be applied to the player in the respective category they played. Thats either skater attributes or goalie attributes. You can't earn both in one game.

Gameplay is spot on when it comes to fluid motions and great controls. Why anyone would want to resort back to button hockey of any sort is beyond me. The skill stick using the right analog adds so much realism and control to the game that button hockey just seems ancient now. You'll be able to perform dekes, shoot quick wristers, or take strong slapshots using the skill stick and you'll quickly learn what your strong and weak points are as well. But there is nothing more rewarding to go one on one with a goalie and deke him out of his skates and hit the back of the net with the puck and you know you did it all yourself with the skill stick. The camera seems to always be in the right place and you have the ability to adjust that as well if its not to your liking.

There really is not any glaring issues when it comes to gameplay. Sure, folks will find their money goals and plays when it all boils down to it and they learn the ins and outs of the game but that is prevalent with any sports game anymore. Money plays are just a part of the game and its up to you to learn how to stop them because frankly thats your only option. If I had to pick something that was annoying it would have to be the new stick lifting that you can do with the push of the A button while on defense. You'll come to notice quickly online that folks like to use that tactic a little too much and it really does take away from the game somewhat when you run up against a constant stick lifter. Just tell one of your buddies to blast him with a nice forecheck, then repeat, and repeat and repeat.

When it comes to sounds, EA has put it in the game. The sounds on the ice and in the arenas are genuine and sounds crisp and clean, and most importantly it has a great soundtrack. Finally, no hip hop or rap!!!! I've heard enough of that from the other EA Sports title to last me a lifetime. Good old rock and roll is a good representation of hockey and is the primary theme behind the soundtrack. That immediately gets 2 thumbs up from me. Voice communications online seem to work well and should for good reason as you are now reliant on your team mates and setting up scoring chances or knowing what a team mate is going to do. Avoiding offsides takes a bit of practice, but more importantly communication from your team mates is key. A few times I ran into an issue of not being able to hear our goalie, but it has seemed more like an intermittent problem than a concern.

Gary Thorne and Bill Clement are your in game commentators and do a pretty good job. But as with any sports game commentary you'll run into repetitive lines of dialogue after logging in some playing time. At times the commentary also seems to be a bit on the delayed side, especially on breakaways or quick scoring opportuni, the game is absolutely stunning. There is very little to no frame rate issue which leads to smooth animations and even more importantly, very smooth gameplay. Almost too smooth! Player models are well done and represent their real life counterparts with extreme accuracy. The shating animations are beautiful and the hits are just amazingly brutal at times.

Overall, as I stated earlier, if you are a sports fan at all then you should own this title. It has everything you could possibly want. Sure its hockey and its not the most popular sport out there, but if EA continues to build upon this game then the NHL may just get back on the map as one of the 4 major sports in America. I can't suggest it enough that one needs to buy this title or in the very least give it a rental for the online play. Be a Pro mode is outstanding and the Online League action is just awesome.

Suggestions: Allow fo more customization of the Be A Pro characters such as using the Xbox Live Vision cam to bring your own face into the game. It was a bit disappointing that feature was left out since it seemed to work well in Tiger and Facebreaker. Also customizable jerseys for your online teams would be off the hook.


Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise

Growing up as a kid I never once had a pinata at any of my birthday parties. So in all honesty, until I grew older, I really did not know what a pinata was for, or the goodies it could contain inside. Well, the first Viva Pinata title for the 360 was my first experience with pinatas, and I have to say it left a lasting impression. I was in love with the little buggers from the start and played the death out of the game. So to my delight earlier this year I come to find out a second Viva Pinata game was coming. Okay, so it's actually the third if you include Party Animals, but that one doesn't count in my book. Well let me just say that this game rekindled my love for those cute little candy filled characters once again. The folks at Rare have done an outstanding job on delivering a quality title for everyone to enjoy no matter what your age.

Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise is everything the first game was and more. You'll be able to team with up to 3 other players in one single garden both offline and online. You'll be able to trap and bring in exotic pinatas from the Artic or the Desert regions of the game, and once again you'll be able to send your favorite little pinatas off to parties to gain notoriety among its peers. If you loved the first game, then there is no doubt in my mind that you will absolutely adore this game. The depth of the game is measured by how much effort you put into it. But trust me, the game is excessively deep and there is plenty to keep you busy literally for months to come.

The game is pretty much pick up and play for the grizzled Garden Masters of the first game, and its very easy to pick up and play for new players introduced to the game for the first time. The wealth of information and tasks is abundant in this game and will keep you busy for hours on end. Yes, you literally could lose a whole night of sleep easily with this game because it just keeps pushing you to do more and more and entice bigger and better pinatas into your garden. The basic concept of the game is the same as the previous version which was basically make the best garden you can and keep all your pinatas happy.


There are plenty of new features in this game such as the previously mentioned online/offline co-op, mini-games, new pinatas, terrains, items, etc. The game is loaded with new items and pinatas that its almost overwhelming to a degree at times. You never know which pinata to focus on making as a new resident in your garden. Maybe you just want to focus on one species and romance the heck out of them until you have a whole herd. Thats all up to you!

Graphically the game is very well done. Everything in this game looks fabulous. The colors are bright, the details are extensive, and the animations are cute, funny and very well thought out. The game is both attractive to the younger crowd and the older crowd. There is enough humor in the animations of each pinata to have any aged person chuckling at times, or saying how cute. What's even more impressive than the colors and animations, is the attention to detail on everything. When you have snow terrain laid, you'll notice that the precipitation that always falls over that terrain is snow, while when you have grass or dirt it's purely rain. The transition from one precipitation is flawless from what I have seen and there is almost a mixed bag line of rain and snow at the grass and snow common border. You'll also notice that each and every snowflake falling is not just a blob of white stuff falling, but actually is an intricate snowflake design. Those are the kinds of subtle details that this game has and make it a top notch title.

In the sound department, again the game excels in almost all aspects. The interludes during cut scenes seem to match up perfectly to what is being displayed on the screen. The subtle background music while working on your garden does not really get annoying at all as its more of a soothing and soft musical score which once again fits the game perfectly. I am sure there will be plenty of folks firing up the stereo or iPod to listen to their own tunes while working in the garden. Each pinata has its own distinct sound it makes. For example a Piena is basically a representation of the real life hyena and you will find him chuckling, especially when he decides to lift his leg and pass some gas from time to time. He thinks that is quite funny. The game features the same voices of characters as the last version, or so it sounds like it and once again each voice fits its character perfectly. Including Professor Pester who proclaims his victory when destroying one of your prized pinatas. Okay, that I found a bit annoying, but mainly because I know he just destroyed one of my most valuable pinatas. Heck what am I saying. Professor Pester is just annoying, period.

You get quite a few game modes to tinker with this time around. You have your standard campaign mode where you build a garden in single player continually advancing in levels and earning new items, upgrades, garden expansions, etc. You'll also be able to play the Just For Fun mode, which is a sandbox mode which allows you to just go in and play the game without the challenges that arise in the normal campaign and most tools and options are available to you immediately upon entering. There is a system link feature that allows folks to connect over a LAN and play some co-op in your garden. And finally, there is the new Xbox Live feature that allows you and up to 3 others to participate in your garden and make it the best out there.

Lets talks about the Live feature for a second. First off, when going onto Live you'll be asked if you would like to load a garden or start from scratch just as you would in the single player campaign. Then you can invite up to 3 friends into the garden to help you maintain the garden. You can set your visitors permissions with 3 different types. The Only Looking option only allows a person to come into your garden and look around. Limited Access allows another player to do some things and Full Access allows a player to do everything you can do as the owner of the garden. Another feature that uses Xbox Live is the mini-game such as races and Beauty Competitions. You can compete against others to once again gain notoriety or just take a break from the day to day business in your Central Garden. You[ll be able to load up your favorite or most valuable pinatas to take place in the events.

The campaign mode is pretty straight forward and if you played the first game you'll feel right at home with all the options and tasks set forth for you to achieve. You'll once again be romancing pinatas in search of wildcards and twins or just trying to get the master romancer award. If you remember from the last game, it was very difficult to land a wildcard or twin pinata, but no worries this time around. Once you have romanced a species 5 times, you will be able to hatch wildcards and twins by collecting all the flashing hearts in the romancing mini-game. If you need a certain leaderboard time, you'll be treated to more wildcard variants as well, so there are some limited rendition of pinatas floating around here and there. But alas those limited renditions can be put up for sale or scanned onto a pinata card that can be downloaded and printed from www.vivapinata.com.

Huh? Yup that brings us to a very cool new feature included in TIP. New to the game is the inclusion of something called Pinata Cards. These cards can be scanned by an Xbox Live Vision Cam and the pinata pictured on the card will be dropped right into your game. A card comes packed in the game when you buy it, but you can go to the previously mentioned website and download any pinata you like and drop it into your garden. Of course, the ones you download and print will come at a cost. For instance, if you printed out a Limeocerous card, you will have to pony up 3800 chocolate coins in order to be able to drop it into your garden. The cards that ship with the game are free to drop into your garden. To scan in a card can get a little tedious and you'll need to be sure your lighting and focus are properly adjusted for it to work. Oh and a side note, you'll also have to be at least a level 4 gardener to use this feature.

This review could go on and on with all the details of the game and probably end up being about 10 pages worth of text so I won't go to much farther into it. But I do want to mention another new feature in the game and that is the ability to teach your pinata tricks. You'll notice in your toolbox that there is something called a Trick Stick. This tool is used to teach pinatas tricks and also command them to perform a trick. A pinata can learn a new trick by eating something just as they do when they become a color variant. When a pinata eats something that will cause it to perform a trick you will have to tap the pinata with the trick stick mid way through the trick in order for it to learn it. Each pinata can learn up to 2 new tricks individually. And of course a pinata that can perform is more valuable than one that can not. So get out there and start feeding you pinatas food out of the ordinary diet and you may come across some color variants or tricks.

As I said, this review could go on and on with all the new features and wonderful aspects of this game, but that would just get overwhelming. My best suggestion to everyone would be to go out and get the game and dive into it yourself. You'll soon find yourself addicted and hooked like the rest of us. The game is for all ages and can be as deep as you want it to be. It all depends on the time and effort you invest into the game. Without a doubt this is one of the top games for the Xbox 360 console and should definitely be included in every 360 owner's library.

Suggestions: Give us more downloadable pinatas. I would also love to see even more types of terrain added as well as maybe specially area pinatas according to their world region such as by country or continent. Great game none the less!

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 Rapala Fishing Frenzy

There is nothing like waking up early on a Sunday morning and heading out to the local fishing lake or reservoir for some good old relaxation. Load up the tackle box with your favorite lures, baits and your rod and reel and you are set. Will today be the day you land that lunker that has been teasing you week in and week out? Well now you can get that same feeling minus the fresh air and price of gas of course while playing Activision latest release of Rapala Fishing Frenzy.

Past Rapala branded fishing games have been a bit on the less than desirable side and I was extremely skeptical going into this one for sure. Most of the titles have seemed more like an advertisement for Rapala gear and accessories than a game about fishing. But it seems that my skepticism may have been a bit premature as Fun Labs and Activision seem to have finally brought a decent fishing game to the market for the Xbox 360 console. Alas, there is still plenty of Rapala product plugging throughout the game, but it seems so much more subtle this time around than in the past.

I am going to get this off my chest now as its really the only major glaring issue I have with the game. Unfortunately I am displeased to inform you that the game has no multiplayer options...again. Sure, it finally has online leaderboards so you'll at least be able to compare your catches with others across the world, but honestly why is it so difficult to include a multiplayer aspect of the game. Until a fishing game comes along with online multiplayer options it really will not garner much excitement out of myself and many other virtual fishermen I know. My suggestion to any developer is to take a look at Pro Fishing Challenge for the original Xbox. It featured online play for up to 8 people and online leaderboards. Today's gamer is all about online play. How can this be left out of any game? Anyhow, thats my small rant so lets get to what makes this game a fairly good title when it comes to fishing titles.

Graphically the first thing you will notice is that the underwater environments and fish models are absolutely outstanding. I was in complete awe looking at the underwater scenery while also trying to concentrate on catching the fish struggling to get away. The fish are completely recognizable to their real life counterparts and seem to move in the same fashions as they would in real life. Any true life angler will probably be impressed when viewing this game graphically. The water is well done both on the surface and below the surface. As you have already probably guessed, the game is a below the water fishing game which means you'll see the complete surroundings as well as all the fish swimming around including small schools of bait fish. You'll actually get a sense of being underwater when in that perspective due to the color tones, dirt and debris floating in the water, etc.

At times the camera can be a little out of place, especially when a fish has taken interest in your bait and is moving in for the take. Most of the time you will not get a glimpse of the fish approaching your lure until its about to bite and chances of spinning the camera and figuring out which fish is showing interest is slim to none. So if you are trying to catch a specific fish, but another species is checking out your lure, you won't know until its to late basically. At times I have seen the camera go under the terrain of the lake into a world of infinity which can be quite annoying. Eventually it rights itself, but it is still a glaring graphical flaw in the game.

There are seven real life fishing lakes for you to fish. Each lake scenery contains a lot of extra scenery not really seen in a fishing game before such as floating boats at docks and piers and ducks floating in the water whom take off when approached or a lure is casted in their direction. The foliage, bridges, shadows and weather on each lake is done fantastically as well. You'll see the water pelting on the surface from above and below the water which adds some great realism to the game. You'll also be treated to 19 species of fish to catch ranging from your typical Bass species to several varieties of panfish, catfish, trout and perch. Each fish has its own online leaderboard as well, so you can check out where your lunkers stand against the world. As I stated, the fish models for each of the species are well rendered and very similar to their real life counterparts. You'll easily recognize most of these fish if you are a real life angler.

When it comes to sounds, there really isnt a whole lot to get excited about. You'll hear standard casting sounds, boat motor sounds, underwater sloshing, etc. The in game music could also use a bit of an upgrade, and you are probably better off just turning up the stereo or putting on the Ipod. Honestly though, its fishing and I really wouldn't know what kind of sounds could be added to make the game exciting. Sure the music tempo picks up when you hook a fish, but as I stated the music itself is a bit on the dull side and after a while you'll just not want to hear it anymore.

As I had mentioned, prior Rapala games were lackluster and less than desirable especially when it came to gameplay aspects. You had to many limitations and it just really wasn't all that much fun/ Well I am happy to say that a lot of those things have been addressed in this years game. Previously, you could not use a trolling motor to tweak your boats position. Well, now you can. Previously, you did not have a full range of motion to aim your angler to cast out your line. Now you have 180 degrees of range to cast off the bow of the boat. This is a huge plus, as last year you literally had to reposition your boat to try and hit certain spots you wanted to cast into. And of course you can motor around the lake in your 250hp bass boat. All of these actions are accomplished through a quick cycling of the dpad to the left or right. You'll also have access to a GPS which will show you the hotspots on the lake as well as a fish finder which shows you the fish under the water. You can gauge sizes of fish too by looking at the finder because the big ones really show up as large fish on the finder compared to the smaller and more regular sized fish.

Something else improved in this years game is the fishing itself. Not only are you trying to catch fish to add to your live well totals, but you are also going for high scores that accumulate as you pull off button combinations while reeling the fish in. It does have a bit of an arcade feel to it, especially with the button combo bonuses which give you certain boosts but are mostly there to increase your score. For instance, you'll get a Reel In Bonus, and it does seem to bring the fish in quickly for a few feet. The manula states that the Reel In Bonus will reel in the line 30% if the combo is entered correctly. The combos are fun but honestly they didnt seem to have much value in actually catching ths fish, but moreso just increasing your score. The button combo system does seem to break up any kind of boredom that may set in while pulling in a huge fish, but as stated the score means nothing unless its one of your goals you have to complete for the challenge at hand. Now if you miss some combos you risk losing the fish, so don't just ignore them. Especially the intital stick combo that hooks the fish. You must hit that one in order to land the fish.

While reeling in the fish, it seems that you will only need to be pushing the thumbstick left and right to counter fish movements, pulling the left trigger to reel in, and pulling the right trigger to let the line out. Thats about the extent of what it takes to catch a fish other than the occasional button combos thrown in. Each fish has a stamina meter which seems to be base don the type of fish and its size. The smaller the fish, the quicker the stamina goes down and you reel him in. The larger the fish, of course, the longer it takes you to reel him in and you'll also see a lot more button combos.

For those that enjoy various styles of casting, you will be sadly disappointed. There is only an overhand cast, but at least you can control the power and distance of the cast. There really isn't much to it. Just face in the direction you want to cast using the left thumbstick, and then pull the right thumbstick back for power. The further you pull the stick back, the more power is added to the cast. Push the right stick forward to cast and off goes your lure into the depths.

There are a ton of lures and equipment to choose from and you'll use quite a few different lures to catch target fish for each challenge or event. All of the popular Rapala lures are included in the game as well as the colors and sizes. There do seem to be some lures that seem to catch anything and everything, but to really catch the big lunkers you will have to have the right lure and color modes are fairly limited to Tournament Play, Open Fishing and Quick Play Challenges. In Tourney mode, you'll have 3 different competitions spanning across several lakes. Each competition is an increase in difficulty level. You begin with easy and work your way up to hard. The difference between difficulties seem to mostly be the button combos and fish that seems a little more elusive and picky when it comes to lure selection. The conditions you have to meet to beat each tourney also increase with difficulty. But I really didnt see any huge strides in difficulty between easy and hard. Open fishing allows you to go out and just fish any unlocked lake for whatever you like. And finally the Quick Play Challenges give you certain conditions that need to be met across each lake such as catching 5 large mouth bass, or scoring over 10,000 combo points total in a certain amount of time. There is also an Extras option which allows you to view your player statistics and your Angler's den which houses your accomplishments and tournament trophies.

Overall, this is a solid fishing game and has quite a bit of fun to offer for the virtual anglers out there. You'll find yourself sweating a bit to get those monster bass into the boat from time to time and find it pretty rewarding to watch your character lift the fish out of the water. The addition of the online leaderboards at least gives you something to compete against, but the lack of online multiplayer is a glaring issue and really needs to be addressed in the next version of the game. I have enjoyed the game thus far though, and will probably periodically toss it in the 360 just to try and catch a Top 10 fish or two for the online leaderboards. You can pick this title up for $40 in retail and to many folks that may be worth it, and I can't say it isn't really. If you enjoy virtual fishing than you should check this one out as the Rapala series made serious strides of improvement over previous versions.

Suggestions: This is a no brainer, but online multiplayer is a must and really needs to be added into this series. In this day and age of gaming its inexcusable for a title to ignore online aspects. I would like to see more characters, lakes and fish available for download in the near future.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09

In the real life world Tiger Woods dominates the sport and shines brightly as the best to have ever played the sport hands down. In the video game world the Tiger series has been trying to get to the same threshold and command the same respect from virtual golfers. Well I am happy to say that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 has made great strides towards that threshold and respect.

You'll find many aspects of 09 to be familiar from previous iterations of the game and it will be easy for veterans to pick up and play the game and perform well right off the bat. What the game does differently is it allows the less skilled or new users to pick up the game and feel like they are able to compete with those veterans. The swing stick seems like its been totally revamped and actually displays itself in the lower left corner so that you can keep track of your entire backswing and follow through. If you are pulling the stick back at an angle, then you will immediately know it and can readjust before hitting the ball.

The menus are easy to navigate as usual with any EA game, and you'll find plenty of things to do in this game. There are mini games, training modules, career mode, online tourneys, multiplayer and plenty more. You will not be at a loss of variety one bit with this game and it should keep you busy for quite a long time. There are also plenty of new features in the game to add a whole new level to your Tiger game play.

Graphically the courses are magnificently recreated in wonderful detail, realism and scenic views. 16 real life courses ship with the game and I am sure we'll see a few more roll down the pipe in the form of downloadable content. Or at least I hope so. One of the most stunning views I happened to see was the sun setting over the Pacific ocean while playing Pebble beach. The oranges and purples reflecting off the ocean was absolutely amazing and it carried over onto the fairways and greens of the course. The view literally took my breath away as the real course would do the same. The character models are once again well done and lifelike and you'll find that creating your own golfer with your own face using the tools provided is rather accurate and has surprisingly good results.

The sounds in the game are what is to be expected from any golf game. Ambient course sounds ring across the fairways such as rolling waves from the Pacific, birds singing, crowd cheers, and much more. The typical swoosh and ping sounds are realistic and once again nothing overly dramatic, but nothing out of the ordinary. The commentary has changed up a bit bringing in a few new announcers which will add a little new variety to the game, but eventually it gets repetitive and annoying at times.

One scary thing that I have to mention is the appearance of microtransactions in the game. As you play the game you will earn virtual money that can be used to buy accessories, equipment and clothing to increase your golfer's attributes or just change one's appearance. you will immediately notice that not only are these items purchased with vitrual money, but you could also use Microsoft Points as well if you so desired. Everything is unlockable with virtual cash which is the way it should be, but it's just the fact that these microtransactions are even an option that scares me for the future of video games.

One of the brand new features in Tiger is the addition of Tiger's own coach, Hank Haney. from the moment you start up the game and create your golfer, you'll meet up with Hank. He will have you complete some simple tasks and evaluate your performance. From that you'll receive a grade on the following categories: Power, Accuracy, Short Game and Putting. These rating will rise and fall with your performance in all single player game modes. One time that the ratings are not affected is during online multiplayer matches. Without any kind of special gear or accessories you can obtain a total rating of 10.0 in each category. When you add in accessories and equipment that rating can be as high as 12 in each category. While the system is not without flaws it works fairly well throughout the game and is definitely a welcome addition. As for the flaws, I have found that there are times when I play a course the way I feel is best for my play style such as lay ups or no extra power added to a shot and I'll tend to get penalized. I have also seen my short game decrease when I am sticking shots close to the pin and might get one or 2 shots off line here and there. You'll also see some unfair rating decreases when playing the mini game matches against the AI such as battle golf or one ball.

Now after you play some events, Hank will grade your performance and give you specific challenges which directly relate to areas that he feels you need to work on. These challenges are fairly straight forward and will give you the opportunity to increase your ratings in categories related. You'll have an initial challenge without a timer to earn you standard rating increase. Then once you successfully complete the drill you'll then be given an opportunity to pile on some more points in a timed challenge where you try to complete the drill as many times as you can during the allotted time period. You'll earn second bonuses for each shot successful try.

Another new addition to the game is the integration of EASports Gamernet challenges. In the past all challenges were accessible and playable only by going online and accessing the Gamernet option. You could view those challenges based on their category, and participate in them if you so chose to do so. You could post your own challenges online as well. Points were rewarded for beating challenges and posting challenges of your own. Now the system has been totally revamped and integrated seamlessly into the game. You can still access all of the challenges through a menu option which a fine and dandy. But now Gamernet challenges will pop up whenever you are playing the game in a single player mode and as long as you are connected to Xbox Live. You won't have to do anything extra other than play the game as you normally would. If you beat the challenge, then you'll get credit for it. If you don't beat the challenge then you just continue playing without missing a beat. The challenges are now condition based meaning that at anytime you can run across one when playing the game if you meet the conditions laid out for the challenge.. So as you play the single player PGA Tour Schedule, you can come across Gamernet challenges such as Longest Drive, Closest to Pin, etc. without distraction.

As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay seems to be tweaked just a bit to benefit all players. You can select from 2 swing styles: Swing Stick using the analog stick and 3 Click meter. The 3 click meter is a visual representation of you swing where you will click a button to start the meter, stop it at the power desired with another click, and finally stop the meter one last time as it decreases to try and hit your ball accurately. This swing style may be perfect for those that just can't seem to pull the analog stick back and push it forward straight. The other style is the Swing Stick which allows you to pull the analog stick back to represent your backswing, and push it forward to represent your follow through. Its not about how fast you pull the stick back and push it forward to generate a good shot. Its more so about the fluidity of your swing and how accurately you pull it back straight and push it forward.

In this year's game there is also a Club Tuner included. This tuner allows you to tune the clubs to your specific swing style. You can add power, draw, fade, loft, etc. One thing to keep in mind is as you adjust the specific categories of the club you will also decrease the ?sweet? spot of the club. The sweet spot is the part of the club that you always want to hit the ball with to get the best result from the club. The smaller the sweet spot, the more chance there is for you to have errant shots. Its a risk and reward system honestly. Anyone that bumps power up to 100% will have a super small sweet spot and will hit huge drives, but if they even remotely have a swing that isn't perfectly straight both back and forward they will be greatly punished with a ball that sails out of bounds or way off course.

One last new addition I would like to mention would be the new simultaneous multiplayer aspect of the game which is basically a page taken right out of the old Links series on the Xbox and PC. You will no longer have to spend multiple hours online to get one round of golf in with a buddy. You can go online with up to 4 other players and play a round in the time it would take you to play one round in single player. This is due to the fact that each player plays each hole at their own pace. Your opponents are represented by colored ribbons that stream across the sky representing their exact shot they just took. For instance, if you are in a party of 4 players and decide to sit at the tee box for a few moments you'll get to watch where everyone hit their tee shots. A colored ribbon will display the path of your opponents ball from impact to landing. The bottom line to this feature is now you can go online and get 4 to 5 matches played in the amount of time it used to take you to play one without simultaneous play. One thing you should be aware of is that when playing a hole each one of your shots is limited to a specific amount of time on the shot clock. You can set this shot clock to count down from 10 to 60 seconds. If someone exceeds the shot clock, they will be penalized a stroke.

When it all boils down to it, Tiger 09 is the best golf game to hit a console in quite a long time and it should be a welcome addition to any virtual golfer's gaming library. The new features alone make the game 100 times better than previous versions, and the new simultaneous play online is just magnificent and should have been implemented long ago. Many game modes, challenges and online play will keep this game spinning in console trays for quite sometime. Do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy if you are the least bit interested in virtual golf. You will not regret the purchase.

Suggestions: Definitely add a few more courses via downloadable content! the 16 that ship with the game are great, but I really look forward to even more options to play. Possibly make the multiplayer ball ribbon in simultaneous play a little more transparent. At times another player's ribbon can detract from making shots or putts on the green.

Overall Score: 9.1 / 10 Too Human: Part 1

Too Human finally arrives on our 360 with much anticipation from gamers. Did Microsoft Game Studios succeed in delivering a must have in your 360 game collection? Well, for the most part, yes they did. The game overall is very well done, and despite some issues plaguing the game here and there, its definitely a title I would recommend to anyone on my friends list.

The game is best described as a hack and slash RPG with plenty of looting, leveling up and equipment crafting throughout. Looting seems to be the primary focus of the game, and I have to admit its pretty darn cool to hear the dramatic sound effect that chimes in when you pick up something of great value. Different from most hack and slash games, you'll actually use the analog sticks for attacking purposes rather than button mashing. Your buttons are mapped out for special attacks such as battle cries, or powerful ruiner attacks. For th most part this works well most of the time and is welcome from the typical button mashing. Definitely saves wear and tear on your thumb.

One of the glaring issues in the game is the camera angle and targeting system. You'll find yourself getting turned around a lot and facing in the wrong direction or targeting the wrong enemy. A quick tap of the left button will center your camera, but with the fast paced action and the numerous amounts of enemies this becomes a repetitive action. It does not really deter from the gameplay, but becomes more of a nuisance than anything. Another issue I ran into was one point where I died outside of combat. I had just stepped onto an elevator and began to proceed upward when my character died. When I respawned it put me back to the bottom of the elevator shaft without an elevator. The door was locked behind me so I couldn't leave and come back. I had to quit the game and restart from my last save point. Luckily, it was just outside of where I was stuck and I was able to proceed from that point without having to redo anything.

You play the game as Baldur of the Aezir, and your sole purpose is to protect humanity and restore the world to what it once was. Your brothers and sisters are all gods under the watch of Odin. One of those brothers whom you will go to battle with in one of the levels is the almighty Thor. A lot of Norse mythology comes into play along with a technological twist but it is blended together beautifully and works very well for the story. As the story unfolds, you come to know that Baldur is more than he appears and it has me excited for the next game to see how the whole storyline plays out.

While the game is mostly linear, meaning you'll pretty much always have a set path for you to follow, you'll still get your chance to roam around quite a bit. There are many secret areas to be found in which you'll do battle with enemies in order to collect some loot, or you'll venture into cyberworld to visit with the Norne and complete tasks, open doors, and once again collect lots of loot and skills.

You'll get 2 modes of play to choose from with this title. You can choose from either single player campaign mode or take your character online for some online co-op with a friend. The campaign mode has an intriguing storyline with some plot twists and cliff hanger moments. Keep in mind that title is the first of three in what is deemed as a trilogy. The story ending definitely opens up for the next game with plenty of drama. The single player campaign can probably be completed in under 10 hours of gameplay, and a lot of that time is consumed by cut scenes. A quick press of the back button will help skip past these scenes if you so desire.

The second mode of play is online co-op for you and a friend. You'll basically get to choose one of 3 levels. You'll also be able to set the looting system up to specific conditions such as free for all, loot only specific items, etc. The difference between online co-op and single player campaign is that online you will see the cut scenes and story interludes as you do with single player. You'll just hack and slash your way through each level picking up lots of loot and basically leveling your character up to 50 eventually. Keep in mind, the chances of leveling your character up to level 50 in single player the first time through the story is practically impossible. At least from what I understand after playing the game from beginning to end. You can run through campaign again with your created character at the level you were at when you finished the previous campaign. One thing to keep in mind is that the monsters you fight will always resemble the level of the strongest character in the duo. So if you are just starting out the game, do not jump in with a level 50 guy into a game because you will get annihilated.

So lets get into the game mechanics and options a but. From the initial start of the game you'll create a character. You will be given the option to choose your character class from 5 choices. Those choices are: Champion, Defender, Berserker, Commando, and Bio Engineer. The Champion class is the most rounded class and excels in Air Combat, Critical Strikes, and One Handed weaponry. The defender excels in defense of course and has high hit points, armor with the Hammer and Shield as the equipment of choice. The Berserker is your damage dealing class whom uses dual wielding weapons and has high melee damage. The Commando's weapon of choice is rifles and his forte is ballistics such as explosive attacks and technological weapons. Finally the Bio Engineer is your healer class whom has high hit points and focuses mostly on regeneration and healing. The class you choose will cause the game to be played somewhat differently, but in the end you still be hacking and slashing your way through each level no matter what character class you are.

As you progress through your campaign mode you slowly level up your character by killing enemies. The loot you pick up will be level specific and obviously the higher graded loots will require you to have a higher level. Each loot has a color style to it ranging from gray to red. Red of course is the highest grade and best equipment you can have. You'll have to get your level into the 40's to be able to apply any red gear to you character. 50 looks to be the cap level for the game as at the time of playing that is the highest level online I had seen. The loot is divided into 4 categories: Weapons, Armor, Charms, and Runes. Weapons and armor are self explanatory. The Runes allow you to add effects and attributes to your character by placing them into empty rune slots on equipment that allows you to do so. The Charms are somewhat of a mini game in itself. Each charm will give you a goal to complete such as killing a certain number of enemies, accessing wells, etc. You'll also earn skill points as you increase levels which you can distribute onto a skill tree. This tree will add stronger attacks and aly the game is beautiful and the cut scenes are well done and interesting. Some textures are a little on the bland side at times, but overall the game is exceeds folks expectations for next gen titles. Only one downfall to the cut scenes would be the death scenario. Each and every time you die you are treated to a cut scene of a Valkyrie descending from the heavens to take you to Valhalla. This is pretty neat to see the first or second time, but after that you'll just skip past the scene to get back into the action. Oh wait, you can't skip it! Yup, thats right. You spend 20 seconds staring at the same cut scene after each death with no ability to skip it. I guess thats your punishment for dying since you always pick up where you left off after each death. I'd still like to be able to skip the scene though.

When it comes to sound, the game again exceeds most expectations. Voice acting can be somewhat corny and amusing at times, but all the characters have their moments and non moments. The orchestral background music is very good and adds to the whole charisma of the game.

Again, overall the game is very well done and should be played by anyone that like a good action game or even an RPG. If you liked Oblivion than you should give this game a try for sure. Odds are that you won't be disappointed. Online co-op would probably have been better if they would have allowed up to 5 people as then you would have been able to form a group using each character class. As it stands, there isn't much value to the different classes as is other than giving you a little replay value in the single player.

Suggestions: Allow for up to at least 4 other players online, as this would give more value to the character classes. Definitely allow folks to skip the death scene. After several deaths this scene gets quite annoying. Overall, nice job on the game.

Overall Score: 8.4 / 10 Top Spin 3

2K Sports brings us the third iteration of the popular Top Spin series with all new professionals, court venues and mini games galore. You'll get the same in depth career mode you have become accustomed to with the series as well as Xbox Live Multiplayer. In the past Top Spin has been a fairly solid title with minor issues here and there, and it seems that Top Spin 3 follows that same trend. Don't get me wrong, its a solid title and one that tennis fans should have in their collection. One of those glaring issues would be the fact that you still cannot play doubles online with a person from your friends list. You can only play doubles online by having 2 people on one console versus 2 folks on another console. Seriously folks, after 3 tries we still can't get this right? But to a lot of folks this isn't a glaring issues and the gameplay and depth of the game makes up easily for that debacle.

The game ships with an enormous amount of content. You'll be treated to 40 beautifully rendered venues that are scattered across the entire world. Your standard surfaces are included from grass to clay and you'll be able to participate in front of casual spectators to fully packed arenas. It all depends on the venues you choose from 39 professional tennis players or even use your own user created player. All players including your user creation are all playable online as well.

Speaking of creating players, Top Spin 3 includes a fairly in depth create a player mode that allows you to really customize your character to your exact liking. You'll start out by choosing a preset male of female character. You'll then go into an editor that will allow you to customize every feature from their body type to the way their face looks. Unfortunately you can only use preset components and will not have the ability to physically resize or tweak features. Each category has a set amount of presets you can choose from and while the combinations of those presets can be many, you still don't quite get the in depth customization other games have provided in their create a player mode. This is one spot that EA destroys 2K when it comes to player customization. You'll also get to select your tennis style which will include how you hit the ball, your player animations, attitude and the grunts he/she make on the court. Yup, you definitely gotta have grunts in tennis! Once your character is created you can now begin your career and start building your characters attributes.

Along with the enormous amount of content you'll also get quite a few options of gameplay to choose from in the main menu. You can jump into a standard exhibition match right away using any pro's you would like, and it can be doubles or singles. There is an in depth career mode, which we will discuss a little bit later in the review, There is also a Top Spin School which is basically a tutorial of sorts that teaches you all the aspects of the game and how to make the best of your shots. You'll also find a player area and this is where you will distribute your XP earned to level your character up, buy new accessories at the mall, and view some history on your player.

The Xbox Live option allows you to go online and play either in a player match or a World Ranked match. You'll first select the player you want to use, or you can load a created player by pressing the start button. In player matches you'll be able to join search or create matches to your liking. When creating a match You can set the numbers of sets per match, gamers per set, tie break and which venue you would like to participate. All 40 venues are available to play in from the moment you first go online so you don't have to worry about unlocking anything. As I stated earlier, you can play doubles online but only if you and your real life buddy are playing on the same console versus another pair across the internet. I guess one day off in the future we'll finally be able to play doubles online with 3 other folks on live and they won't have to be in the same room.

So Top Spin gameplay as you know it has been revamped quite a bit. The developers seem to have taken more of a simulation aspect to the game rather than a pick up and play style. This is both good and bad. Now when hitting the ball it is more about timing and button release than anything else which adds great substance to the word simulation. It take a little getting used to but after some practice it really does seem to work very well. I was extremely frustrated with the timing issue for the first fews sets. Either I would completely miss the ball, or I wouldn't hit it to the part of the court I wanted to. But once you get your timing and sequence down you'll find the new swing and hit system to be very good. Player movements are smooth and what would be expected of tennis player movement and reactions. All your standard shots are back and risk shots have returned as well. Online risk shots seem to really unbalance the gameplay, and frankly need to be toned down and they also tend to be very fail miserably more than not. Now I am sure there are folks that have gotten the risk shots down to a science and will beat you into submission with risk shot after risk shot, but for the casual player the standard gameplay is difficult enough.

When it comes to graphics the game shines brightly. The venues are extremely detailed and the player models move realistically and are smooth as silk. Each court surface type is perfectly rendered and coupled with the realistic player movements gives you the complete feeling of actually playing on that specific surface. One of the things I found that actually impressed me was the sweat build up on your shirt. As you progress through matches and have to work pretty hard to win your points, your shirt will progressively get wetter with sweat.

When it comes to sounds the game doesn't seem to have taken many steps forward. Sure the sounds of the ball being hit back and forth is authentic, and crowd cheers are fairly realistic but there are things missing. Commentary would be a welcome addition to the game. A type of TV broadcast, especially for the Grand Slam events would be ideal and make the game so much more enjoyable. Player arguments with the line judges would be cool to listen to as well, but alas no drama is added into the game in any form. Bottom line is the game is very monotonous when it comes to the sound department and could use some background ambiance, music or something. Otherwise it is just a modern day Pong when it comes to excitement.

When it all boils down to it, Top Spin 3 is a simulation game that will be perfect for many tennis fans, but will be extremely frustrating for the casual pick up and play gamers. The graphics are well done, and the sounds could be better but still work for what the game tries to do. Online play seems solid ignoring the fact of no online doubles among multiple 360 consoles. And there are plenty of unlockables to keep your character looking the part of the professional tennis player. For those casual gamers, you may be best suited to stay with Top Spin 2, but for fans of the series this may just be the game you have been looking for. While many gamers scream for more simulation aspects in sports games, this one may have crossed that fine line of being a fun game for everyone to only catering to a few.

Suggestions: Tone down the simulation aspect of the game and revert back to more of a pick up and play style. Add online doubles for 4 seperate 360's across the world. I want to be able to double up with my buddy in Arizona.

Overall Score: 7.9 / 10 Madden NFL 09

It's kind of hard to believe that it has been 20 years since Madden football was born, but that is the case. EA Sports delivers Madden 09, which is the 20th Anniversary edition and features the newly acquired NY Jets quarterback, Brett Favre as the cover boy. EA has decided to release a regular edition Madden for the cost of $59.99 which will feature Brett on the front. They are also releasing a Collector's Edition which comes in a hardcover trifold DVD packaging that features a black cover and the Madden 20th Anniversary Logo on the front. The CE version comes with Madden 09, an early copy of Head Coach 09, and a special NFL DVD which contains special video footage. The CE edition is worth the $89.99 price tag alone, if you are planning on getting Head Coach which releases a stand alone version in early September. You'll save yourself $20 and get a jump on the competition by being able to play Head Coach for almost an entire month prior to its release. The Bonus Content disc has some cool video, but in all seriousness you'll probably watch it once, skip through the stuff you actually want to see, and then it will never see a disc tray again. Most of the footage that is captured on the DVD can be seen on NFL Network. There is one feature in the Collector's Edition that does stand out, that is the inclusion of a playable version of Madden 93. The teams have been tweaked to reflect the current NFL teams, but overall the gameplay is just as you would expect and remember. Man, has video game football come a long way!

So, onto the boiling question in most gamer's minds, is Madden 09 worth it, and is it better than Madden 08? The answer is plain and simple, yes, and honestly this could be the best Madden title to date. The graphics are gorgeous, the gameplay is smooth, and the defensive AI seems to be tweaked a bit where they actually react to the ball quicker than in the past. The running game has also been streamlined, and it seems in combination with the tough defense, running the ball seems so much more natural and gives real life results more times than not. Madden 09 is chocked full of features and new gameplay elements that definitely make this a must have for any football fan. The games commentary features Tom Hammond and Chris Collinsworth. I honestly would have rather had Al and John in the booth, but in my opinion, its great to have TV style commentary back in the game after experiencing the radio style commentary. John Madden is relegated to half time duties rather than booth commentary, but at least he is a visible and audible part of this 20th anniversary celebration.

When you first pop Madden 09 into your Xbox 360, you'll be greeted by Mr. John Madden himself. He will begin to describe the new feature of the Madden IQ that is included in the game. You'll have the opportunity to set your IQ at that time, or you can skip it for the time being. The Madden IQ basically helps the game adjust to your skill level. If you are a heavy runner and do it well, then the AI is going to become smarter and learn your tendencies. If you are great with the passing game, the AI will again adjust itself to your level to be able to give you a challenge. For the most part, this works fairly well, but it could probably use a little tweaking. Madden IQ is basically in essence a custom slider set up to your style of gameplay and ability level. Something that I found to be extremely cool is that your IQ will fluctuate with each game you play versus the AI based on your performance in the graded areas. Some folks will be happy to know that this is just a perk in the game and does not have to be used. You can turn the Madden IQ and use the normal difficulty levels for the AI such as Rookie, Pro, All-Pro and All-Madden.

When it comes to gameplay, Madden 09 has impressed me for the most part. The running game has tweaked and the defensive AI has been solidified quite a bit. The defense seems very proactive, more than reactive, which means making dumb passes will probably cost you more times than not. From the games I have played it seems that the AI now has the real smarts to jump routes, especially on out patterns. So if you are not paying attention you could end up seeing quite a few defenders taking your passes the other way. Tackling seems extremely sound and the defense really flies to the ball and makes solid tackles. The collisions and the animations that go with those collisions are spot on and there will be times you will cringe from the impacts and results of the play. The defensive controls are simple enough for the average player to grasp, but they have enough technicality to allow the veteran player to make all kinds of adjustments on the fly. I did notice that a few times the AI offense seemed to have some ?dumb? moments such as the QB dumping off to the half back in the flat and the halfback catches the ball and just runs out of bounds even when a defender is no where near them. It didn't happen a lot, but when it did it would be one of those scratch your head moments. It had nothing to do with the way I was playing defense or the formation I was in.

On offense, the play calling is very similar in style to NCAA football. You'll be able to choose plays via Madden suggestions, formation, type of play or player. Prior to the snap you can of course call audibles, assign hot routes, switch run directions, etc. The running game requires patience and technique this year which is a welcome addition. You'll be able to shake off would be tacklers with the highlight stick, but with the reactivity of the defense you find quite a few defenders approaching you after the first miss. The passing game is pretty familiar to everyone and there is not a lot of difference between this game and past years. One very cool feature is the inability to recognize your receivers downfield if you drop back to far. The button icons disappear at a certain point once you run back to far. Fluid animations allow the user to transition from catch animations back to straight gameplay without missing a beat. This helps quite a bit in trying to avoid those big hits.

EA has introduced the new ?rewind? system into the game which will allow you to learn from your mistakes. You'll be able to use this backtrack feature by pressing the ?X? button to rewind the previous play and replay the down. While some may enjoy the tool for truly learning and understanding how offenses and defenses work, and whats calls work best in each situation, mostly its a tool most folks will not use more than once or twice. Or to quick reverse a bad play they may have had in franchise mode.

You'll be treated to many game modes which has become common place for Madden. From the initial start up screen you can play a quick play game, start a franchise, play superstar mode, play some mini games or take your game online against the world. You'll also have the opportunity to select the Madden 93 option if you bought the Collector's Edition and head off into retro goodness. Its fun for a while, especially for reminiscing about the good old days, but you'll quickly want to get back into the present to play some of the best Madden to date.

Franchise mode is pretty much the same as it has been in the past. You'll be able to draft players from your imported draft classes using NCAA 09. You'll start with the current season and work your way through multiple future season with drafts, preseasons, and training camps. Not a whole lot can be said about new innovations for the franchise mode. And no, unlike NCAA 09, there is no online franchise mode. Another unfortunate oversight on someone's part. Superstar mode is pretty much the same as it was in Madden 08, and as with the franchise mode, not a whole lot to speak about when it comes to new features. Overall, I have loved the franchise system over the years and enjoy this one just as much and will probably play it on a regular basis.

Virtual Trainer and Madden Test are two new options you will find in the game modes menu as well. The Madden Test is the game mode that allows you to determine your Madden IQ. You can choose this option if you chose to skip it when you first started the game, or you can retake the test if you like to establish a new IQ. The Virtual Trainer becomes available once you play your first game and every game after that, and allows for you to train using specific simulated scenarios on areas you need improvement according to your game performance. You'll be able to set up scenarios with or without blockers, defenders, etc. Its a pretty good tool for training purposes.

Of course the Mini Games are present as they were in last years version. You'll be able to compete in the following events against the AI: 40 yard dash, Bench press, QB Challenge, RB Challenge, Coverage Challenge, and Lineman Challenge. You'll earn points for performing well at each task and your goal is to obviously earn the most points to win. You can select the difficulty level and the events you would like to participate in as well.

Madden Moments is a mode that allows you to play in specific real life game situations from the previous NFL season, including the final minute and a half of the Super where the Giants pulled off the big upset over the Patriots. These moments have specific requirements in order to complete them such as beating the Ravens using the Dolphins by scoring the game winning TD in overtime. A field goal won't complete the challenge for you.

If you are into Fantasy Football then you'll find something in Madden 09 as well to wet your whistle. EA jumped into the Fantasy Football arena a few years back and now has integrated their tools and draft kits into the game. You'll be able to keep track of your team in the game as well as play with your team in the game. There are already draft tools available for download on Xbox Live marketplace. From what I have experienced from playing EA's Fantasy Football, this should prove to only get better and better and may actually be my primary choice in the future when it comes to playing Fantasy Football.

One of the new and most anticipated features in Madden is the addition of online leagues. Online leagues can consist of 2 to 32 owners total. That's a plus! So you would think that with 32 owners that the league would default to an NFL style league set up with divisions, conferences and the current schedule. Well, that is not the case. No matter how many teams you have in the league, you will be confined to one division and one linear type of schedule. The schedule boasts a flex style which means you can play any opponent on your schedule at anytime you are both online, but thats about all the good that the schedule system has to offer. When you set up your league you will be able to choose 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 or 11 games. You would think that is the number of games in your season, but alas its not. It's the number of games you play against each opponent. So, if you have 10 teams in your league and you select the 11 game schedule then that means you will have to play 99 games to complete your season. Do the math, that is 11 games against each opponent. To some, including myself, this is a flaw in the schedule system.

Another problem in the league feature is the lack of being able to create divisions and conferences. So how are the 2 super bowl teams determined? Well, dependent upon the number of teams you selected to participate in the league, the top certain number of team pertaining to the overall amount of teams gets a playoff spot. In other words, if you have a 32 team league, the top 12 records gets a play off spot. No division winners, no wild card spots, etc. Honestly, who even thought this concept was a good idea? Now you have the option to turn off the playoff system as well. So that pretty much means the guy with the best record at the end of the season wins the trophy. All I can say is.. huh?

On a very positive note pertaining to the league system, you will be able to assign trophies to your league which winners will be able to display proudly in their EA profiles as well as in the game accomplishments. You'll also be able to use unique rosters which will allow for fantasy drafts. Injuries and fatigue can be turned on as well as the weather can be set to random, game skill level can be set to a certain difficulty.

The bottom line is, while the online league system is welcomed to the Madden series, it falls a bit short in its overall design. This system more represents an extravagant ladder system rather than a league system with the exception of the trades. There will be plenty of folks that will use it without gripe since they are playing the game online anyhow and the trophies give them something to strive for. But its just extremely disappointing to real football fans in the end that had hoped for an online NFL system. Its a great first try and hopefully EA will implement an NFL model into the mix in next year's version. I am glad that EA has ventured into the online league arena, now get back to the drawing board and use those great talents and ideas that are displayed throughout the rest of the game.

When you decide to take your game online for regular matches you'll find the familiar lobby system that you have come to know with Madden games. EA is on the ball right from the start with roster updates and hopefully it will continue through the life of the game. You'll be prompted to load the current online roster the moment you create a session or jump into an online game. At the time of playing this game for review purposes the servers were smooth as silk with no lag at all. Games played online just as they do offline, but that could change once the masses hit the servers after launch day. From what I see though, if you have a good connection with your opponent you should see very little to no lag at all. You'll also be able to upload videos and snapshots from your both your offline and online games for everyone to view at easportswolly the game is jaw dropping with fluid animations, field degradation, weather and excellent player models. The sounds are authentic and bone crushing in some high impacts. As stated, the commentary is good even with Collinsworth as the analyst and the soundtrack should please both the rockers and the hip hop crowds. I could go on and on about the improvements and strides that Madden 09 has made and it all boils down to the fact that this is a must have title for any fan of video game football. The game will satisfy the appetite of both casual and hardcore football fans and its mixes those two worlds together very well. If you were on the fence about purchasing Madden this year, I would say its time to get down off that fence and head on out to your local retailer and pick up a copy today.

Suggestions: Please redo the online league system to reflect the NFL format. Include divisions, wild card, a custom schedule creator or even random schedule creator based on the number of participants.

Overall Score: 9.3 / 10 Soul Calibur IV

Soul Calibur IV has been on everyone's radar for quite sometime. Well folks it has finally arrived onto our beloved Xbox 360 consoles and it seems that its been well worth the wait. The graphics are stunning, the gameplay is solid, and there is plenty of online goodness for all gamers to enjoy. This game should be a welcome addition to almost any gamer's library whether you are a fan of the genre or not. And the inclusion of Yoda in the 360 version just makes it all the more worthwhile.

The Soul Calibur series has written itself into video game history as being one of the elite fighting games. It has also established a large following of fans that will swear by the name Soul Calibur and protect its integrity to their death. Well those folks will be happy to know that SCIV is a fabulous and welcome addition to the Soul Calibur library of games. But for folks that may not be familiar with the Soul Calibur series lets give a quick run down as to what the game entails.

The SC series is a weapon based fighter that boasts beautiful backdrops, a cast of unforgettable characters and storylines as well as stellar gameplay. Each character has its own themed fighting style and weaponry along with an array of special moves and attacks. You'll progress through each character's storyline to unlock new characters and weapons.

Now onto what the latest offering has to offer the gaming world. You will get plenty of bang for your buck with this title. The game gives you several different modes of play including online multiplayer. First off lets discuss the Story Mode. Each character in the game has a story to tell which culminates in a cinematic final cut scene that at times leaves you wanting just a little more. The storylines only last about five rounds for each character. But with the enormous roster of characters, you'll have plenty of playing time in the story mode. As I stated earlier in the game, Yoda is exclusive to the 360 version while Darth Vader is exclusive to the PS3. The storyline that ties Yoda into the games overall universe and quite well done. I definitely suggest checking this one out before really diving into the game. And yes, Yoda is unlocked at the start of the game so you will not have to wait to play as the Jedi Master. Also included in the mix is ?The Apprentice? whom is featured in the upcoming title The Force Unleashed.

Anyhow, as stated each character plays through 5 levels with the final level being the ultimate battle against the big boss. Each level you will face off against 1 or more consecutive opponents which will all need to be defeated in order to advance to the next level. You'll unlock a few characters and weapons while playing this mode dependent upon who you face and beat.

The next mode we'll discuss is the Tower of Souls. You basically fight your way through multiple floors of enemies in order to take control of the tower. Each level consists of a few floors which must be cleared to move onto the next level. When you begin this mode you'll only be able to ascend the tower, but once you have cleared 20 floors you'll then be able to descend the tower as well. There is plenty of unlockable content throughout the entire tower so you'll definitely want to give this mode a try. One of the cool features is that you will be able to designate a team of your favorite characters which you can cycle through in almost a tag team style as you proceed through the floors of the tower. You'll also want to be sure to upgrade you character armor, weapons and skills as you get into higher levels. Mix and match different character groupings to see what works best for you and your fighting style.

As I just mentioned, you'll have the ability to upgrade character skills, weapons and armor. The skills that you can assign to your fighter is based upon a point system. There are various types of weapons and equipment that will assign a point value to skill category. The skills you get to choose for your fighter are dependent on the skill value and how many skill points you have to ?spend?. Some skills will be locked at first but will become available as you progress level up the style attribute with your characters. You'll also be able to style each piece of clothing and armor you wear with your own color schemes. Some characters appearances cannot be altered such as Yoda. You can also create your very own fighter from scratch choosing the style, appearance, clothing, weapons and skills. This character can be leveled up just as the in game characters.

One of the biggest and most welcome additions to franchise is online multiplayer across the Xbox Live network. You'll be able to use any character and customizable character online and it seems to be fairly seamless online and quite enjoyable. Not a whole lot to mention here as the online plays very similar to the offline modes. There is one pretty neat feature online and that is the ability to have matches with or without equipment and weapon effects active. Of course, without weapon/equipment effects basically pits you one on one and the best actual fighter wins rather than the best attributes. You'll compete in either ranked or player matches with up to 4 other players.

The controls of the game are extremely responsive and seem to work well with the game. There are plenty of moves that can be performed with button combos and stick movements. You'll also have the ability to pull off special finishing maneuvers called Critical Finishers which will inflict great damage upon your foe and end the match with a final swift slow motion cinematic. Very impressive to say the least. These finishers are caused by the new armor damage that is inflicted on your opponents. If an opponent blocks to much he poses the possibility of losing pieces of armor due to your blows. When their Soul Gauge goes red its time to hit A, B, X and Y buttons simultaneously. Just so you know, using default controls the left bumper is preset to simulate pressing those buttons.

Some of the more diehard veterans of the game may find it troubling that button mashing can be quite successful in this game. I am not an expert at this type of game and can hold my own against seasoned veterans just with some typical button mashing and key blocking of their shots. While I will be unsuccessful more times than not, its still out there for the casual users to be able to jump in and coy the game is absolutely gorgeous. Lighting and shadows are done beautifully on both the character models as well as the backdrops for each and every stage. There is always some sort of ambiance to each scenery backdrop. For instance, there is a Star Wars level that depicts your battle inside a Star Destroyers hangar bay. Outside you'll see an epic Star Wars battle taking place while Tie Fighters and X-wing fighters race past you and your opponent. Dead or Alive 4 and now Soul Calibur IV have set the precedent for fighting game backdrops. Thumbs up and frankly I was in awe quite a few times while admiring the artwork and displays of graphical masterpieces.

Overall Soul Calibur IV is a must have for gamers in general. Gorgeous graphics, fluid gameplay, online multiplayer and just plenty of unlockables and game modes are just a few of the reasons that you should at the very least give the game a try. I hope to see Darth Vader make his way to the 360 in the form of future downloadable content at some point. But for now, I am quite content with what Soul Calibur IV has to offer as is.

Suggestions: Bring Darth Vader to the 360 if possible via DLC, and possibly some other characters and venues!!! Also, would be great to have some tournament style matches online for both ranked and player matches. Other than that, great job!

Overall Score: 8.9 / 10 Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath

Electronic Arts recently introduced Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wraith into the Xbox 360 world. This title had previously been released on the PC as an expansion pack earlier this year, so some marketing guru's probably figured why not give the console gamers a taste as well. For the price of $39.99 in retail, I guess it's not a terrible idea. You'll get more storyline, a few new weapons and scenarios and frankly a better interface system than the original C & C 3:Tiberium Wars. The only problem is trying to convince gamers that buying a stand alone expansion pack on a console system is a good investment. Well, for first time C & C players on the 360 it will be a lot of fun. For those that have played the first one, you'll have quite a few flashbacks from the original game. My first run in with this was going into the basic training mode. It was exactly the same as the original game. I will admit I was taken back a little by that initially and didn't have high expectations from that point forward.

Diehard fans of the C & C series will feel right at home and love this expansion pack as much as they loved the prior version. There is plenty of new gameplay, new video cut scenes, and of course the online multiplayer that was done pretty well the first time around and enjoyed by many. You'll get a Campaign mode, which can be played at 3 difficulty levels and contains 13 various style missions. You'll be playing as the Nod this time around in an effort to re-establish the Nod brotherhood. You'll destroy rogue groups of extremists and activists who have chosen to fight for their own cause at times. There are 9 different factions named within the game, but you only get to play as the Nod throughout the entire Campaign. That was a highly disappointing aspect of the campaign mode. A full featured storyline allowing you to play as any faction would have been great, but would have probably raised the price as well.

You are also treated to a mode called Kane's Challenge. At least this mode allows you to play as all 9 factions. Kane offers up 10 different challenges for you to complete using each of the 9 faction. So when you think about it, you'll have 90 different scenarios to play before completing this game mode. While the scenarios are in essence a deathmatch mode versus the AI, each faction will give you a different variation on how things play out. Honestly, its a fun mode at first but can get a bit on the boring side once you have played through it with one or two factions.

You'll also have a mode called Skirmish to play around with. This mode allows you to put yourself into a battle with up to 3 other AI controlled opponents. Skirmish is basically a training tool you can use to better yourself for online play. You'll be able to choose any of the 9 factions, as well a choose who your opponents are too. You'll also be able to set up the map you prefer to do battle on as well as the type of player personality the AI uses. Those personalities are: Balanced, Rusher, Turtle, Guerilla, and steamroller. Each personality is pretty self explanatory as to what play style they follow. So again, this makes for a great tool to match up against those feisty folks online. You have trouble beating someone that just all out rushes you with everything they got? Then practice against that style of player in skirmish and you'll be good to go in know time.


While C&C has always favored heavily at being so much more playable using a mouse and a keyboard, the Xbox 360 version converts the controls fairly well. At times the system can be a little clunky when trying to use the radial wheel with the right thumbstick and press a button at the same time. But in all honestly the radial wheel menu system works very well. There are a few D-pad menu's to deal with but overall the system works well. With that aside though, the menus are easily accessible and very crisp and clean. Also the cursor movement with use of the analog sticks works very well in the game just as it did with the original C&C: Tiberium wars. I guess the old saying ?If its not broke, don't fix it.? definitely comes into play here.

Most players that play this game will have already rolled through the first release of the series on the 360 and will be familiar with most of the aspect of the game. They'll be the ones to roll online and get to destroying their opponents right away. Online play gives you five modes to choose from: Versus, King of the Hill, Capture and Hold, Capture the Flag, and Seige. Wow, sounds a lot like FPS shooter modes! I played this online with a few friends and in a few random matches and found the online gameplay to be smooth and lag free for the most part. At times the game seemed to bog down a little from mass amounts of action taking place on the screen, but it was very minimal.

Graphically speaking, Kane's Wrath is well done. The menus and navigation systems are easy to use and very clear and accessible. Whether the game is zoomed in or zoomed out, you'll always be treated to some great graphical detail within each map and the character models. At times the camera can be a little clunky and you don't always seem to be able to get the right angle or distance you are looking for on certain battles. But honestly the game does quite well in its presentation. The video cut scenes which have become a trademark of the Command & Conquer series are high quality in video but frankly low budget when it comes to acting skills.

Overall for the price you can't go wrong with this title, especially if you are a fan of the series. If you love real time strategy games, this is just another solid title for you to pick up at a reduced price due to its ?expansion? tag. If you are looking for a much better online experience than Tiberium Wars, then you aren't really going to find that here. Its truly not all that much different online. Bottom line is, fans of the series its a must have, and those that are not can probably just rent it for achievements or just a few online games. Much of the gameplay remains the same from Tiberium Wars with the exception of a new storyline and scenarios.

Suggestions: I would have loved to be able to play as any of the factions involved throughout this story. now the realization that this is only an expansion pack makes me understand why that wasn't the case, but I still would have liked the option. The radial wheel still needs some tweaking but overall its a very good system and works well with the game.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Unreal Tournament 3

Unreal Tournament 3 finally makes it way to the Xbox 360 after first releasing on the PS3 and PC almost seven months ago. There is almost a cult like following for the Unreal games, and there is no doubt that Midway hopes for the same on the 360. From the moment you start playing the game, you'll immediately notice that the game is very similar to previous versions in controls and general aspects. But the graphics obviously are a huge upgrade and the gameplay is pretty darn solid. So most if not all Unreal lovers will be quite happy with the latest installment in the series.

UT3 offers you a single player experience and of course the Live multiplayer experience as well. You'll find that both options offer you many hours of gameplay and fun. One of the best features that involves both the career mode and Xbox Live is the new coop mode that allows players to join up with a buddy and progress through the storyline. This option is what all of your big titles should have and UT3 does not disappoint in anyway. Coop campaign mode can also be done via splitscreen on the same 360 console or over System link as well. Oh and by the way, you can carry a guest into matches played on Xbox Live. Your buddy will have the ability to log in under their gamertag as well if they have one readily available on the same console or a memory card. They'll earn achievements for playing just as you will. So grab a buddy, set up splitscreen and get into some Live action online.


There is a bit of a twist to the campaign mode. As you progress through the single player campaign you will unlock cards. These cards can be used to alter the gameplay a little for the level you use them on. I would probably compare it to the old Madden card system where you earned boost cards for your players or you could affect the other teams abilities. Some cards will boost the skills of your team while others will hurt the enemy. All cards are beneficial to you in one way or another. Now I did notice that a lot of the cards earned you are able to hold onto them and use them on a later mission. But there are a few instances where the game requires you to use them immediately on the next mission upon earning them. Still a pretty cool feature and adds some fun factor to the game as well.

Now of course everyone loves the single player campaigns, but in today's gamer minds its all about Xbox Live multiplayer it seems. Well, you'll be happy to know that the game has some fantastic multiplayer aspects. The game originally ships with 16 maps and 6 different game modes. The maps vary in size and all of them fit quite nicely into the fast paced gameplay of UT3. Your game modes of choice are Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Vehicle Capture the Flag, Warfare and Duel. Weapon variety is fairly vast as well giving you 13 different weapons to dismantle and obliterate your competition. And if weapons aren't enough then how about 15 different vehicles to man in Vehicle Capture the Flag. You'll also have plenty of power ups and deployables at your disposal such as armor, ammo, traps, weapon upgrades and shields.

All of your weapons and gadgets are easily accessible through the user interface. You can progress forward through your available weapons one at a time by using the right bumper. Or you can bring up a radial wheel that allows you to point to the weapon of choice using the analog stick. Granted the PC version of the game works so much better for switching weapons, but this will do.


The vehicles, and there are many of them, are basically controlled very similar to the way you controlled vehicles in Halo 3. You basically move the aiming reticule in the direction you want to move, push forward on the left thumbstick and off you go. Simple concept to grasp for most folks. Some vehicles even support multiple players. One person controls the vehicle while another sits in the gunner position. You will find that vehicle control can be a bit frustrating just as it was in Halo 3 at times,e specially when in a fire fight with someone running around you.

The newest game mode to hit the Unreal world is Warfare. The game is completely team objective based and uses a moving battlefront system ala Frontlines: Fuels of War. The maps are vast and you'll have vehicles to help you obtain and complete your objective at hand. Basically, the enemy has a shield system which you have to weaken and destroy. You do this by controlling Nodes, which basically are enemy points on the map that give them access to certain vehicles and weapons. You will have to established a linked network of Nodes up to the enemy base to completely open the power core to attacks. Some Nodes are more important to others, and on a few maps you will come to learn that there are special Nodes that do major damage to your enemies power core via hefty attacks such as launching missiles. At times, the announcer in the game will tell you of Nodes that are vulnerable to attack right at that moment. You'll also be able to see these Nodes on your mini map. Once you have established a link from your power source to the enemy base you'll be able to destroy their power source and win the match. Included in the game play is a interesting orb system that allows immediate control of a neutral or enemy Node when a person on your team carries the orb to a Node control point. Each team starts with an orb in their base and one of the players can pick it up and becomes designated and Orb Runner. You cannot use any vehicles to transport the orb. You can only proceed on foot or hoverboard. The game can get quite strategic at this point, and this feature actually helps losing teams try to make a comeback in games.

Over and above the campaign and online multiplayer you'll also have the option to jump into instant action versus bots. You'll be able to set up all of the match setting including game mode, map, difficulty, etc. And some of the best news for fans of the game and fans of splitscreen is the option to play in splitscreen with a buddy in quick play matches.

Graphically, Unreal Tournament 3 is stunning. Character models are detailed extremely well and maps are full of minute details. Texture mapping is top notch as well as the shadows cast across each and every map. You'll be treated to a great visual feast when playing UT3. At times some gameplay will be hampered by loading textures or details, but this has honestly become almost acceptable behavior with any game that uses the Unreal engine. Overall, you will not be disappointed in the least by the game's look and feel. All the blood and gore is there from past iterations of the game. But don't worry parents, there is an option to dumb down those gore effects. But really who would really want to do that to this game. UT is all about the blood and gore!!!

The controls in the game are quick and fast paced and you really have to be on your toes, especially when online. At times, the default settings can be a bit touchy and may affect how well you actually do in the game. But luckily there are plenty of options for tweaking those controls to your style of play.

When it comes to the sounds of the game, the game once again does not disappoint. Voice acting can get a little mundane but again in today's games voice acting does not always get top billing and the game usually speaks for itself more than the characters. Thats exactly the case with UT3. Every weapon and vehicle has its own distinct sounds and you'll get completely immersed in the maps and the way the ambient sounds play into the action. Trust me, you'll know when you catch a missile in the face. Every sound you hear will be completely expected.

Overall this game is top notch and a must have for FPS fans. There are plenty of modes to play, the storyline is great and fun to play, and the graphics are absolutely amazing. When you first start playing you really will get a Gears of War type of feeling from not only the visuals, but the dark side of things as well. The characters almost seemed modeled after Marcus and the boys at times. You are getting everything the PC and PS3 have to date all wrapped up into one package. My recommendation would be to pick this one up if you can. You will not regret it.

Suggestions: Overall the game is really great! More maps, weapons and vehicles via downloadable content would be the only suggestion that I would have that comes to mind. Just be sure to support the game.

Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 GRID

Just last year Codemasters brought us the graphical masterpiece DIRT. Once again, they have shown their graphical expertise in driving games and delivered GRID.  From the initial intro movie to the actual gameplay you?ll notice GRID?s superiority to all other driving games that have come before it.  You?ll come to love the stunning tracks and cityscapes to high impact accidents as you progress through the game.  GRID does it all and does it quite well.  You get quite a few games modes to hone your driving skills from the typical career mode to online multiplayer featuring up to 11 other cars racing side by side through narrow city streets and winding Cliffside roads.

As stated, graphically GRID stands out from all driving games prior to it. The precise detail and car modeling is absolutely outstanding. City recreations from around the world are realistically done with great detail. When racing down the streets of Washington DC you?ll come to notice great landmarks such as the Washington Monument in its full glory accenting the background. While you don?t really have time to take notice to all the detail put into the trackside activities, let me assure that there is an awful lot of detail in place. You?ll notice waving flags in the breeze, camera flashes from the stands, and even fans leaning over the barriers cheering you on. There are also plenty of fabulous lighting effects that need to be mentioned such as how the sunlight glistens through the foliage of trees and breaking the shadows apart. Without a doubt this game can boast beautiful graphics.
The replay function displays the graphical capabilities of this game at its best. The lighting effects stand out unbelievably and the realism of the game is displayed in the various camera angles making you feel like you are actually watching a real life race at times.

Sounds are always important in video games, and especially in driving games. You?ll be pleased to find out that GRID does not disappoint when it comes to the sound aspect either. Each car has its own distinct engine sounds which seem to fit the car perfectly. Nothing really generic from what I heard. Even more impressive is the distinct sounds changes of the engine and ambient sounds of the racetrack when switching between driving views. Another pretty neat little feature is the crowd?s reaction to your performance as you progress through races. Just stop and pull over once and listen to the booing that commences! If you are performing well in the race, then the crowd will be standing behind you through from start to finish.

The controls and driving aspects of the game offer up a solid mix of arcade and simulation gameplay. At times, you'll find yourself driving in and out of turns at high speeds and the next time you hit that turn you may get over confident and find yourself smashing into a barrier. You'll be happy to know that there are several driving cams for you to choose from which includes an impressive in car cam.

When it comes to variations is racing styles, GRID definitely delivers. You'll get 5 different race types, some of which have specific subdivisions of categories. Those variations are: GRID Racing, Drift, Touge, Endurance and Demolition Derby. All of which are playable race modes online as well. GRID Racing is your typical racing. You'll face up to 20 cars (offline) and the winner is the first car to cross the finish line. Drifting is pretty self explanatory, but there are a few different subcategories to give you lots of drifting fun. The Touge is head to head racing on a narrow Japanese mountain road. Of course endurance races are longer than usual races, of which includes a 24 hours of Lemans. And the final variation is Demolition Derby which again needs very little explanation.

As stated the game gives you various game modes to sink your teeth into. The first and primary game is known as Grid World in the main menu. This in essence is you career mode for single player. You?ll start out as a rookie that gets offered a job to start driving professionally for a small company. As you progress through your career you?ll unlock better cars and have the ability to purchase bigger and better cars as well. In career mode, you?ll earn points that unlock different tiers of racing which contain multiple events. There are drift events, standard racing events, and demolition derbies to compete in. You?ll have to race most of the events in each tier to be able to progress further into the career. As stated the more points you earn the more races you unlock. Points are awarded based on your performance of course.

You?ll progress through many seasons, gaining sponsors which earn you more money. You?ll also come to a point in time when you now become a racing team and have the opportunity to hire a new driver. This driver will help your team earn points and reputation, but at a cost, of course. The better skills the driver has, the less profit you will make as his contract will demand a higher percentage of your race winnings. So be sure to choose wisely when picking your team partner. Your ultimate goal is to be the top team on the circuit, and that may come at a price at some point. There are 3 regions in which you?ll compete across various cities located in those regions. You?ll race in the USA, Europe and Japan.

One of the pretty cool features in the career mode is the 24 hours if Lemans race. You?ll compete at the prestigious testing circuit ? Circuit de la Sarthe. The cars are divided into 4 classes and you?ll only be competing against the cars that are in the same class as yourself. So you do not have to be the first car to cross the finish line, only the first car in your class to cross the finish line. This race marks the end of each season.
Damage plays a factor in all of your races. You'll slowly produce wear and tear on your ties, engine, bodywork, etc. That wear and tear is represented by oicons that are diplayed on the screen. Crash to many times and you may be looking at a DNF. Ah, but there is a lifesaving tool that Codemaster's introduces into the racing world. If you happen to have a serious wreck, or the competition takes you out unfairly then you'll have an option to rewind the race a few moments and change the outcome. The number of flashbacks that you have is dependent upon your difficulty setting. You can also turn off the flashback feature to increase your winnings in career mode.

Single player is definitely a solid experience. There are many races to complete and several variations of racing styles to mix up the monotony. The AI can be overly aggressive at times dependent on your difficulty level and they will hold their lines despite you possibly being in their way. But as with most games in todays gaming world, online play is what most folks are concerned with. Well, you'll be happy to know that the multiplayer section of the game is just as impressive as the offline.

You'll compete head to head in rooms of up to 12 other drivers. You'll be able to participate in the typical ranked, player, and private matches. When you compete in public matches, you'll be subject to a voting session between races that allows the participants in the room to select the region and event for the next race. Players will first vote for the region they want to race in, and once the region is selected then the voting switches to the event. The online ranking system is based on the amount of racing you do, who you race against and who you beat. Overall the online package plays very well with very little, if any, lag at all.

I would have to say that GRID is probably one of the best racers to date on the Xbox 360 console. The innovative Flashback feature is a very cool addition that will make those frustrating moments in racing disappear. The graphics are top notch which isn't much of a surprise when it comes to Codemasters and driving games. Most of all the handling and controls of each and every car are a great mix of simulation and arcade. Both expert drivers and amateur drivers should fall in love with this title.

Suggestions: I think one of the main suggestions would to give an even larger selection of cars to drive. In todays driving games, it seems the more cars you have in your game inventory the better you are received.

Overall Score: 9.1 / 10 Guitar Hero: Aerosmith

Activision has decided to milk the Guitar Hero series for everything it can, and why not? It seems there are plenty of folks willing to buy the same game multiple times even though the cover is different and there are a few different songs inside. Hmmm, I thought that?s what downloadable content was for? You know to add new songs to a playlist. Well regardless, we now have Guitar Hero Aerosmith to play and toss aside. Especially since it seems we?ll be getting a Metallica version of GH later this year and then Guitar Hero 4 arrives in the late fall. I understand there has been many folks calling for band specific versions of the game, but after playing this I have to think that its really not such a good idea.

So is Guitar Hero Aerosmith worth your $60? Well, I guess if you are a diehard Aerosmith groupie then the answer would be yes. Otherwise, Guitar Hero Aerosmith is the same game as Guitar Hero 3, only with different songs and a slightly different progression through career mode. You see as you play through the career mode you?ll be forced to play a certain number of songs and an encore to get to the next venue. The only difference is, the first 2 songs of each set are from folks that have opened for Aerosmith on tour at one time or another. Once you play those 2 songs, you?ll then play as Aerosmith for the rest of the set including an encore. You'll also go up against Joe perry in a head to head battle. Yup same type of battle that you played in Guitar Hero III. Have you caught onto the pattern yet?

Between each set you complete you?ll get to watch a short documentary video of the guys talking about their career and their path towards where they are today. Are there any interesting tidbits? Eh, not really. But again, fans of the band might find it amusing at some points or even entertaining. I for one can only take so much of Steven Tyler to begin with and he honestly becomes quite annoying in these short video segments as well. The one good thing about the video segments is that they are short and you can press the A bbutton to bypass them if you like. Thank goodness.

There are forty plus songs included in the game, most of which are Aerosmith tunes of course. You?ll find hits dating back to the 70?s all the way to their most recent album in 2007. Many of the songs that have made Aerosmith who they are today are included in the mix. I was disappointed to see the ?Dude Looks like a Lady? was not one of those songs, even though there is an achievement by this name included in the game. I predict they?ll squeeze your pockets for more money with downloadable content at some point and include this one then. Sure why not, you already have my $120 from buying the same Guitar Hero game this year but with different songs. Sarcasm intended.

Gameplay has not changed at all in this title. As stated, if you played GH3 then you?ll know exactly what to expect from this game with the exception that it?s centered on Steven Tyler and the boys. Included is co-op play, battle mode, single player career, and practice. The same levels of difficulty are included in the game but the game does seem easier even on the harder levels. I normally cannot play on hard at all, and I can actually finish songs completely. Expert is still difficult for me, but I am sure the GH masters will come to find it a bit easier as well. But you?ll find that everything else is the same. Heck even the tutorial is ripped straight out of GH3 word for word including the God-like and Devilish instructors. I mean come on, couldn?t they have at least did Tyler and Perry voiceovers or something.

Graphically speaking the game is right on par with Guitar Hero 3 once again. At times Steven Tyler looks quite creepy, but then again it lends itself to sort of realism when it comes to real life. I?ve seen Tyler look just as creepy performing live. The venues are basically ala Guitar Hero style graphics and animations. Honestly, I really don?t think there was a whole lot of effort put into this game graphically as they already had the basics and just needed to change some colors, shapes and lighting. They did capture some of Steven Tylers signature movements on stage but thats about the extent of any deviance from the GHIII game. The coolest venue is probably the Half Time venue which is basically supposed to emulate the stage and arena that Aerosmith played while performing the Super Bowl Half Time show a few years back. But again, nothing over the top or eye popping. And I honestly think they carried over the same crowds from Guitar Hero III. I mean really, where are the groupie chicks sitting on their boyfriends shoulders falshing their....well nevermind.

Overall, for me personally the game is just a cash cow for Activision and truly not worth the $60. It would be so much more worth the purchase if it were a 30 or 40 dollar title, especially when it?s basically the same GHIII game that just came out a few months ago. If you are a true fan of Aerosmith than you?ll probably want to have this in your collection, but if you are the standard gamer that enjoys the GH series. Just wait for Guitar Hero 4 later this fall, and rent GH Aerosmith to satisfy your possible craving for this game. For first time Guitar Hero players, then maybe one will want to pick this up with the wireless guitar included, but even then I would have to suggest just picking up Guitar Hero III instead, then renting this one at a later time.

Suggestions: If you are going to make band specific games then at least make effort to somewhat change the game and focus on some new content or gameplay specific to the band. Please don?t start releasing tracks as DLC that should have already been in the game to begin with ala Dude looks like a Lady.

Overall Score: 7.2 / 10 Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit

Atari brings Dragonball Z to the 360 for the first time. The cartoon itself has a Star Wars like cult following so the game has a lot to live up to in order to meet expectations of many. Graphically, the game lives up to that hype. The artists have captured the beauty of the cartoon and Japanese anime almost to perfection. Colors and character representations are right on and at times you?ll feel like you are actually playing the cartoon. The cell shading in this game is simply amazing at times, and the typical graphical displays you come accustomed to in the television show are definitely mimicked well in this game. There are plenty of characters in the to satisfy the most diehard Dragonball Z fan, and each one is rendered in some great detail.

Dragonball Z is another fighting game that honestly has the feel of Street Fighter games from the past. You?ll have special moves and combos that you can create as well as special power up attacks. All in all, its your typical fighter game underneath with a lot of beautiful graphics and cutscenes laid out over top. Some differences in the fighting aspects of the game would be the inclusion of something called drama pieces. These pieces are used in the middle of the fighting to help your character obtain an edge. When activated, a friend that you choose at the beginning of the match will come to your aid. Sometimes this aid is in the form of defense, or other times it can be in the form of a special attack.

The game itself can be a button masher for some folks and honestly they could be quite successful with that technique as well. There are some blocking and defense techniques that seems to work well, and special attacks can be deflected or countered, as can any move really. SBut for the masters of the game, they will probably be able to takeout button mashers fairly easy. The controls are fairly simple though for anyone to pick up and be successful. You'll find the opponents not very aggressive on default difficulty, but with some tweaks and increases in difficulty they can get almost frustrating. So with that being said, the AI seems fairly balanced and the fighting system does not have a huge learning curve for most folks.

As with any fighting game you?ll have a small array of special attacks to use. You?ll gather an aura which is known as Ki. This Ki builds up automatically as you r match progresses and you?ll be able to release the Ki in small amounts, known as Aura Actions or one large amount known as an Aura Spark. Aura Actions include a Heavy Smash, Mega Crush, Pursuit Attacks, and EX Super Attacks. Your gauge only needs to have one bar full in order to use the Aura Actions, but you?ll need a full gauge in order to launch an Aura Spark. Aura Actions include a Heavy Smash, Mega Crush, Pursuit Attacks, and EX Super Attacks. The Aura Spark includes a Vanishing Move, Vanishing Attack, and Ultimate Attack.. All of which are very powerful but require the full Ki Gauge to initiate.

The game offers a variety of game modes including Z Chronicles, Versus, Trial and a Training mode. There is also a tutorial mode for you get down the basics when first playing the game. But overall the game is fairly simple and it uses mostly button combinations to perform attacks and defenses. The Z Chronicles is your ?Career? mode of sorts. You?ll get to take part in actual past scenarios from the cartoon. As you progress through the game mode you?ll unlock even more scenarios to take part. You will also unlock a few characters for use as well. Z Chronicles is good for one play through but honestly that?s about where the fun ends for the casual gamer. For Z fans, it probably lives a bit longer.

Versus mode gives you quite a few modes of play. You can battle against the CPU, or take on another real life player locally. You can also watch the CPU vs the CPU. Oh joy. Where most folks interest lies is in the online multiplayer. There really isn?t anything that stands out about the multiplayer honestly. You?ll fight against live opponents just as you do against the computer. There are Leaderboards of course. But that is about the extent of it.

The trial mode gives you a few different options to play the game. First there is the survival mode which pits you against opponents as long as your health lasts. Your health regenerates somewhat after each round, and opponents get tougher as you progress as well. Once you have played the Survival mode you?ll unlock Time Attack mode. Time Attack is basically what it says. You?ll face a series of opponents and your goal is to beat them as quickly as possible. After you have played Time attack you?ll unlock the Battle Point Mode. You once again face off against a series of opponents, but this time your primary goal is to accumulate as many points as possible.

As I stated earlier there is a training mode as well that allows you to set matches up to your specific wishes. You?ll be able to adjust character fighting styles, difficulty levels, turn moves on and off among many other things. This mode can definitely help you increase your skills against those button mashers online.

Overall, the game does not having a long lasting appeal to the casual gamer. Its fun in the beginning but it quickly gets repetitive with the drama scenes, dialogue and basic fighting. You?ll find yourself repeating the same maneuvers over and over while fighting. There is a large number of characters to use, but in the end even that doesn?t increase the need to play this game on a regular basis. The sounds are taken right from the cartoon itself, and the graphics and backgrounds are beautifully rendered, but again its not enough to make you want to keep putting this game in. For fans of the show, the enjoyment may last a lot longer. But in the end, I have to say that this one is only good for a rental at best for most folks. There isn?t enough unlockables to keep you coming back for more.

Suggestions: Cooperative play could have been huge in this game, and it would have worked very well for both online and a co-op career mode. A unqiue storyline in the single player would have been great, especially if it would have given fans of the show something new to gossip about.

Overall Score: 7.5 / 10 Battlefield: Bad Company

The second iteration of the Battlefield series on the 360 comes to life as Battlefield: Bad Company. DICE and EA have introduced new gameplay and a seamless storyline into the series and it seems to make the game extremely fun to play online and offline. Battlefield 2 still had many followers online, so is Bad Company enough to entice those folks into the new world that awaits them. Many folks got the opportunity to play Bad Company in a Beta Test a few weeks back, and there is also a demo that gives you a glimpse of single and multiplayer segments. For those that don?t know, you can play the demo an actually gain some rank that will unlock weapons for you in the full version of the game.

A few new twists have been brought into the series. A mixture of Mercenaries and Battlefield add a whole new style of play and storyline. In single player mode you play the role of Preston, convicted of a crime by the military and sent to Bad Company as his punishment for his crimes. Bad Company is mainly made up of misfits from the military branches. As you continue through the storymode gold becomes your main objective while doing dirty work for the military. Online play is also highly focused on obtaining gold and defending you stash. While the single player is great and enjoyable to play, the online play is really where Battlefield stands out.

There are plenty of collectables and unlockables scattered throughout the single player and multiplayer. You?ll search buildings and crates in hopes of recovering new weapons and gold bars in single player, while in multiplayer you?ll earn credits to purchase new weaponry and gadgets when ranking up. There is ranking system online that consists of 25 total ranks and you move through those ranks based on the amount of points you accumulate as you play online games. You earn points for kills, vehicles kills, assists, defenses, etc. There are many similarities to the Call of Duty 4 ranking system in this sense and why not, it works well.

The graphics are very well done with high resolution explosions that look very realistic at times. The terrains are details, and the destruction is abundant across the maps. You?ll be able to blow holes into buildings to get a better shot at enemies hiding inside, or maybe you?ll mow down a tree line with a 50 cal or tank to get a better view. The ability to blow holes into buildings definitely adds new gameplay strategies in online and offline play.

Once again, Battlefield is loaded with drivable vehicles. You?ll be able to hop into all sorts of light armor and jeeps, tanks and attack gunships. The vehicle controls are extremely simple and will allow for anyone to hop in and ride off into the sunset to fight their enemy. But be careful as there is plenty of anti-vehicle weaponry at the disposal of your enemy. From heavy artillery to laser guided missiles and rocket propelled grenades. Again all of which are easy to use and can take you out in a heartbeat if executed properly.

You?ll also be able to earn patches and medals to proudly display in your profile which is viewable at badcompany.ea.com. Speaking of the website, you?ll be able to view your statistics and upload battlefield moments from online game sessions for your friends to view and behold. One of the really cool things you can collect while playing online is another soldier?s dog tags. You do this by sneaking up on someone and using your knife to take them out. You?ll be able to brag to your buddies about taking their dog tags as well!

In typical Battlefield fashion that maps are huge and expansive. Even though multiplayer is 12 on 12, you?ll feel like there are many more folks playing then thee actually are. Part of this reason is because of the spawn system. When you get killed, you are returned to a screen that allows you to select your soldier class, weapon kit and where you would like to spawn. You can either respawn with your squad or back at the closet base to pick up a vehicle or just get out of the action for a moment. You?ll also see what your squad mate is doing before deciding to spawn on him which is cool because if he is in the middle of a fire fight with 5 enemies you may not want to spawn there.

As mentioned previously there have the ability to select your soldier class and weapon kit before entering the battle, and you?ll have the ability to change up that kit each time your die. The kits are as follows: Assault, Demolitions, Specialist, Support, and Recon. Each kit has its own set of weapons, gadgets and unlockables. Each kit is also designed for a specific task. For instance the scout is obviously your sniper kit and will allow you to use laser strikes to drop a barrage of missiles onto enemy vehicles and e have been many complaints from folks about he lack of proximity chat, the limit of 4 man squads, etc. But all of this comes together online very well if the game is played correctly. Don?t get me wrong, proximity and team chat would be welcome editions to the game but the lack of them does not make the game any less fun. You have to remember that this is not your typical team deathmatch, but more of an objective based game online. If you are labeled the defenders than it?s your responsibility to see that the gold creates stay in tact and out of enemy hands. If you are the attackers, well then it?s your responsibility to destroy the gold crates by arming them with a charge or just blasting the crap out of them with conventional weaponry and lsowly push the enemy front backwards until you take over their base. Many folks don?t take into account that you can disarm a charge as a defender once it?s been armed. You?ll here a siren and a red flashing light will be illuminating the area alerting the defenders that the crate has been armed with a charge. What?s frustrating is many folks continue to just run and gun and ignore the alert. This can make the game frustrating. But when you get into a room or squad with folks who know how to play the game it becomes very strategic and team based. That?s what the game is all about.

While working as a squad you?ll receive radio communications from HQ which will inform you of things happening on the battlefield. When you or one of your squadmates identifies a hostile whether it?s a vehicle or a sniper, you?ll be alerted by this and a red icon or dot will show up representing the enemies location on the map and on your screen. If an enemy gets out of your line of site, the dot will eventually go away unless another member of your team has their sites set on him/her. You?ll also receive communications when under attack from behind or when your gold crates have been armed with a charge.

The sounds are nothing over the top, but are still very well done. Tanks sound like tanks, choppers sounds like choppers, etc. You?ll here the distant explosions and gunfights as you hear in most shooters. There is some comedic relief in the single player storyline and the voice acting is pretty well done and gives the story some personality. Will you fall in love with the characters? Eh, probably not, but they do keep the storyline moving along. The lack of proximity and team chat tends to bum some folks out, but it really isn?t a glaring issue as stated earlier.

Overall Battlefield Bad Company is a great game and a step up from the previous Battlefield title on the 360. Folks will have fun with the game for quite a while, and any additions of maps and possible game modes will only help this game maintain a long game life online. There are plenty of maps, weapons and unlockables to keep folks busy for a while. As well as the ranking system for folks to obtain those officer ranks will keep folks playing.. But will some folks go back to COD4 fairly quickly? Yes. While this game is great, it really doesn?t stand up to the bar that COD4 set back in November of 2007.

Suggestions: The inclusion of team chat or proximity chat would be a big plus in the game. Team chat could definitely add to the strategic value of the gameplay. Would love to see more stat varied weaponry as well and maybe the addition of some new unlockables or special equipment for each class. Overall though, great game.

Overall Score: 9.1 / 10 Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm

Finally the wait is over and Deadliest Catch: Alaskan Storm has steamed its way onto shelves across the US and Canada. Greenwave Games, Liquid Dragon Studios and the legendary Hansen family bring you a pure crab boat simulation of what it?s like to be a Bering Sea crab boat Captain. So has the wait and numerous delays been worth their weight in gold? For the casual gamer, this game may not appeal, but for hardcore simulation gamers and fans of the show Deadliest Catch on Discovery Channel the wait has been more than worth it. Honestly there is a cult like following for this game that is almost scary. We?ve seen the clan thing is big in shooter titles, but to see something like that taking place in this game is simply amazing and scary at the same time. There are many folks that are simply fanatical about this game.

The game is inspired by the Hansen Family who own one of the most popular boats featured on the Deadliest Catch Show. Captain Sig, Edgar and Norman Hansen put their heads together to come up with a game concept that would allow fans of the show and gamers to experience what it is like to work on a Bering Sea crab boat. You?ll take the role of Captain on one of five boats featured in the game, or you?ll have the opportunity to create your own boat from those boat templates. Your primary goal is to catch as much crab as you can during the fishing season but you have secondary tasks to keep an eye on such as keeping up crew morale, giving them breaks, plotting course and pot strings, etc.

There is a general concern among gamers that the game is based on a TV show. The general TV/Movie based games tend to be well, really bad in most cases. You need to get that thought out of your head when considering a purchase of Alaskan Storm. This game carries the Deadliest Catch name and features boats from the show, but it is NOT based on any storyline from the show. The game is focused completely on what it is like to be a Captain on a Bering Sea crab boat. So clear your head completely of any thoughts that this is your typical TV show game. That is furthest from the truth.

Some of the stand out features in this game include: 34,000 miles of actually Alaskan coastline recreated in with great precision and detail, Four true to life Bering Sea Harbors, 20 real life fisherman, five authentic Captains and crab boats. Another big feature is the inclusion of the US Coast Guard for the first time in any video game. You?ll have a chance to pilot the 370 foot USCG Cutter Mellon.

Alaskan Storm features several modes of gameplay for you to enjoy. You?ll have your standard career mode where you will progress through King Crab and Opilio seasons. You also have a few mini games and challenges that you will need to complete in order to unlock some boat upgrades that can be applied for single player and multiplayer use. Speaking of multiplayer, yes, there is a multiplayer mode that will pit you against up to 7 other Captains online competing see who can make the most money in an online season. Those online seasons can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. All of which can be controlled by the host when setting up the match. There is also a virtual tour of the Northwestern that will allow you to completely free roam the vessel and learn a lot of interesting tidbits about the fishing industry and the boat itself.

The general physics in this game are simply amazing when it comes to the wave simulation on the Bering Sea. Since the weather is completely dynamic and in real time, you will experience calm seas at one point and then a storm could roll in and you?ll find yourself hanging on for dear life as the boat sways and rolls through 40 foot seas. Depending on the intensity of the storm and the time of the season, the storm could produce small nuisance swells all the way up to high winds, snow, icing, and 40 foot swells. You?ll have to focus on keeping the boat upright and keeping your crew safe on deck as you continue to do the task at hand. Sometimes you just have to grin and bear the weather in order to make some money, other times you can run for cover.

The graphics in the game have high point and low points. The water looks simply amazing and the sunsets on the Bering Sea are simply breathtaking. The boats rolling through the seas look outstanding and there is a lot of attention to detail on every vessel. Some folks have expressed concerns about drab terrains, but all in all it?s the top of the world folks. Its rock, ice and snow! What kinds of textures are you expecting truthfully? And seriously, why are you even worried about the land masses when your primary focus should be on the water and trying to haul in the crab. A few things I have noticed that have been a little disappointing would be the pile of crab that is dumped out of your pots. It literally looks like a pile of, well, I really can?t use that word in a professional review. I really think some more attention could have been paid to some of the smaller details in the game such as this. This is one of those things that?s painfully obvious and in plain sight throughout the game. This one thing could have used more attention in my opinion. It doesn?t detract from gameplay, it only takes from the overall visual experience.

The sounds in the game get a bit of a mixed emotion from me. The boat engines and standard workings on the deck of the boat are pretty much what I would expect. The ambient sounds of the sea are present as well such as the pesky seagulls that follow your boat around the sea looking for a quick snack. What the game is lacking in is the voice category. One thing that many fans will be disappointed in is the fact that Mike Rowe didn?t make it into the game. His voice has become a staple in the Deadliest Catch series and would have been .a top notch addition. The voice acting in the game is a little on the dare I say corny side at times. There are a few times I would rather the crewmember just salute me with one finger rather than say something. The mood would come across so much better in those instances. As an overall, the sounds are just a mediocre portion of the game. On a good note, how can you go wrong when Bon Jovi fires up the vocals in the opening title screen. That makes up for all below standard sounds!

Let?s move onto the game and gameplay itself. The game starts you out in a tutorial to give you the basics on piloting your vessel into a dock and around the harbor. You?ll head out to sea and drop a few pots, learn how to use all the tools at your disposal in the wheelhouse as well as how to command your crew. Once you have finished the tutorial you?ll unlock career mode. This is where the real simulation and fun begins. Its time to see what you have and how that will translate into profit by the end of a season. One of the great features you will learn to use in the tutorial is what is called Fast Travel. This comes in quite handy online for sure. Fast Travel allows you to travel quickly from point A to point B by setting a waypoint. In the single player mode, fast travel only allows you to avoid actually driving the plotted course yourself which could in fact get a bit boring if going a long distance. When in fast travel mode in single player, the clock will tick in real time as if you were driving in real time. Where as online, the season clock does not deplete when you use fast travel meaning you only use a few seconds compared to a few hours of the game clock when driving yourself. Very innovative idea and again it comes in quite handy. You will still have to drive the boat to pick up and drop pots and perform other tasks, but this is a great travel system for getting to your favorite fishing spots without losing much time online or having to fall asleep at the wheel when in single player mode. This mode does not detract from the game in anyway when used.

When you start your career mode, you?ll be asked what boat you would like to use. You can select from 5 real life boats and Captains, or you can select the customize option and create your own boat. The boat editor is very basic and only really consists of you selecting a boat template from the existing real life boat. You?ll then paint the boat to your own specified colors, including trim, hull etc. The paint system is very cool because rather than giving you standard colors to choose from, you in fact get to use a color wheel which gives you literally millions of options. Once you have painted your vessel, slap a name on it using the text tool, and then select your wheelhouse style. You?ll be able to upgrade parts and special items on your boat as you finish each season. It?ll take money though to make these upgrades so be sure to do well.

Before leaving the harbor you?ll have to hire a crew, buy some bait, fuel and pots. When hiring your crew you?ll have to assign job titles to each person specifically so be sure to read their description to see what job they are best suited for. Each crew members takes a share of the total profits at the end of the season, so make sure you don?t have all high percentage crew members on board your boat or you will make no money. You?ll have to take a look at their stamina and morale levels throughout the season and try to keep them rested and happy or some may in fact quit on you, get hurt often or just have a bad attitude which brings the whole crew down. If your crew?s morale is low, they aren?t going to work very well for you.

This game is very technical and it has multiple facets for you to understand and learn to become successful. Let?s first discuss a few terms for those that aren?t fans of the show. You have 2 types of crab you are in search of in the game which are King Crab and Opilio crab. You?ll only be fishing for one crab species per season, both in single player and multiplayer. To catch crab you have to use something call a ?pot?. This is basically a trap that allows crab to enter, but they cannot get back out once they have entered. Each pot is loaded with bait and dropped off the side of the boat to the sea floor. You then have to let the pot ?soak? in the water for several hours to allow for crab to enter and fill up the pot. Each pot is part of something call a ?string?. A string is basically a line you take where pots are dropped at intervals. In the game when you actually go through the process of dropping a pot, it actually represents 5 pots dropped so a string of 40 pots would mean you only have to drop 8 actual pots. This helps speed up the game little in a sense.

So your goal in the game is to drop strings in areas where you think the crab may be. You?ll use a fish and game survey chart to show you hot spots and give you starting points but a lot of the time you will have to use instincts and single test pots to determine where the crab are at. The crab move and migrate realistically on the sea floor, so where you might have been hitting them one time may be bone dry the next time you drop pots there.

Using a menu system you?ll have to command your crew to drop pots, pull up pots, break ice or take rests. From time to time more specific actions will be taken on an individual basis such as cooking a meal for the crew or fixing something on the boat. When you approach a line that you set for a string, or maybe a string you already dropped, you?ll have to tell your crew what action you are about to take. If you select drop pots from the menu, then your crew will prepare a pot for dropping into the sea. This includes getting the buoys ready, bating the pot, closing the lid and dropping it into the sea on your command. If you selected pull up a pot, then your crew will stand ready to retrieve a pot that has been soaking. They?ll throw a hook, pull up the pot and sort the crab. The third option in the menu is breaking ice. Your boat will collect ice on the Bering sea in the winter months and you must keep that ice from collecting on your boat or it will become unstable. Your crew will come out with sledgehammers and break the ice from the boat. This takes time and energy so be sure to rest them up after the task is complete. The final option is to give them rests. Some crew members will ask for individual breaks, and you can give it to them but there are times when you give the whole crew a break. These breaks raise moral and bring back energy of course. Breaks are usually given when traveling from string to string or heading into port.

As you pull your strings, you will get crab counts which add to your total crab weight and obviously your profit at the end of the season. You?ll keep the crab in a hold which will keep them alive until you get to port. Well most of them anyhow. When you finally go to port to offload, you will sell off your crab and will receive costs for crew shares, fines, and stored pots retrieved once a season is over. The final standings for both the single player and multiplayer aspects are based solely on profits and not the actual amount of crab in pounds caught.

The multiplayer aspect of the game is very similar in all aspect of the game with the exception of a few things. Instead of facing off against 5 AI boats, you?ll now face off against up to 7 other live Captains. One of the cool features but also down sides is the voice chat system in the game. To add a sense of realism, you will use a radio style communication system which will only allow you to converse with one other player at a time. Some one can hail to you and you will hear them, but you?ll have to switch to their channel in order to speak with them thus ending your conversation with the person at hand. In competition aspects of the game, it?s a great feature. But in social aspects of the game it?s a dagger in its heart. There is no group chat at all. It is neither in the pre game lobby or the post game lobby. Communication is just one on one throughout the entire match.

Overall the game is a great in depth simulation and the gameplay outweighs many of its bugs. The game is not perfect by any means and could definitely use some polishing via a patch for some of its issues. Most of the bugs are cosmetic and do not detract from the overall gameplay. They are annoyances more than anything. There are a few bugs that will be discussed among forums that could probably use some form of downloadable patch or update. But in my opinion no game is perfect and every game has something it can do better in one area or another. Most fans of the show will absolutely go nutty over this title, and casual gamers who take the time to get into the game will enjoy it as well. Will everyone enjoy the game? Absolutely not. It?s a love it or hate it type of game, but in the end I think more will love it than hate it. Greenwave Games and Liquid Dragon Studios have done an outstanding job on recreating the job of a Bering Sea crab boat Captain. And to all of those folks that have been wondering what its like, well here is your chance. I would highly recommend this game to anyone that watches the show or is a true life commercial fisherman. I would also recommend it to anyone that has the least bit of curiosity; you will not be disappointed in the depth of the game.

Suggestions: Group chat is a must!!! Please either send out a patch to include this OR at least be sure to include it in DCAS 2 if there is such a title in the pipeline. Try to include a few more real life boats or add some downloadable content. New crab variations would be cool as well. Make the boat editor even deeper and customizable rather than just using a template of already existing boats. Other than that, great job guys on making a good game. Definitely broke the unfortunate mold of shooters and racers on the 360. Kudos.

Overall Score: 8.2 / 10 Kung Fu Panda

Jack Black has become an icon in the minds of kids young and old with his recent host appearances on Nickelodeon Kid?s Choice awards. Well Jack is back as the wannabe Po the panda in ?Kung Fu Panda?. As a father, the game is perfect for my 7 year old daughter, but just as fun for my 11 year. Heck its just as fun for me, but no comment on my age. Panda is a great modern day action platformer that has lots of stuff to collect, smash and throw. This is one of those quality fun games to sit down and play with your kids, since it does have local multiplayer. You?ll unlock even more multiplayer options as you progress through the single player levels.

The story is basically about this panda bear named Po whose dream is to be a kung fu master. He happens to fall into a circumstance, literally, that names him as the next Dragon Master, an elite kung fu specialist. Well lets just say that our panda friends isn?t in the best shape of his life, and isn?t the most graceful thing on 2 feet, err 4?no I mean 2.

The game offers a lot of variety in attacks from strong to fast. All of which are upgradeable after each level using the coins that you collect while smashing your way through each area. The stronger your attacks the better chance you?ll have against the stronger and larger enemies later in the game. You also have special attacks, which are upgradeable as well, that you can learn as the game progresses. One of my favorite is a belly flop maneuver that has Po jump up in the air and slam into the ground sending all close enemies flying into the air. This will destroy most small enemies immediately and do significant damage to larger ones. As you progress through the levels the game teaches you new attacks and special maneuvers. Some levels are even designed to help you master your techniques.

Another special maneuver your Panda performs is called the Panda stumble. Basically, you stumble and fall into your opponents and sometimes enough to even go into a panda roll. You?ll basically be a big bowling ball of destruction rolling through the level knocking off enemies and collecting coins. At some points you?ll be forced into the panda roll as to proceed further in the level you?ll have to roll along a predetermined path. Be sure when rolling to keep your eyes open for coins and special hidden icons.

Most enemies are not difficult to defeat but will take some thinking on your part. Usually larger enemies can only be killed using strong attacks, while much smaller enemies can be destroyed using the fast attacks. The previously mentioned special attacks come in quite handy at anytime or circumstance.


As I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of collecting to do in this game typical of any platformer. Be sure to break everything as you progress through the level to try and maximize your coin total. As I said, these coins are used to upgrade your characters abilities as well as buy some new costumes. So be sure to collect as many as you can. There are special icons located through out the levels as well. You will unlocked special content and new multiplayer modes for finding these.

Each level will also give you specific items to find such as family vases, fireworks and more. Some of these items are required to complete the level, while others just help you finish the level at 100%. If you like achievements, you?ll always want to collect everything you see in order to complete that 100% perfect level. Food items will replenish your health and shiny white globes of energy will increase your special energy. Be sure to use these items when up against tough bosses in order to stay alive.

The level design is very basic but perfect for this style of game. You?ll follow a linear path in each level with very little deviation. You?ll have to solve some puzzles in order to get to certain areas such as using a giant crossbow to pop confetti balloons blocking your path. Or maybe you?ll need to bounce on trampolines to get to a high point of the level. You?ll also have some balancing acts where you?ll have to take you tubby body across a thin rail or rooftop holding left or right to keep your balance. Always be on the lookout for hidden items though, as again this will allow you to complete the level at 100%. You miss one and you?ll have to go back and play the level again to get your 100% if that?s what you want. There are 13 levels in all for you to explore and complete. Some of those levels allow you to play as other characters from the movie as well.

The graphics and animations are spot on for this game. Very colorful backgrounds and goofy looking characters will have all kids giggling. While we?re not talking movie quality animation, it is still good and enjoyable to watch. The voice acting is right on with the actual actors in the movie taking part in the voice over. While I wasn?t ever sold on Jack Black as a panda bear prior to the movie or game, he does a good job convincing us that his character is a carefree teenage panda with one goal in mind. That goal is to become a Kung Fu Master!!!

Overall as a father on this Father?s Day weekend in the states, I would highly suggest this game to all dad?s for their kids. I myself love a good platformer, and is that game genre is up you alley then you aren?t to old to play this game. Great humor, animations and storyline add to the fun and keep the game interesting and moving along at a good pace throughout. This one is definitely a good break from the typical FPS?s and Racing games we typically see on the Xbox 360 anymore.

Suggestions: Online multiplayer mode could have probably been a lot of fun with this game. I would have liked to have seen a little more open level design, but overall the game was pretty good and a lot of fun to play.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 LEGO Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures

Traveller?s Tales brings us another installment of the beloved LEGO series only this time its themed using the Indiana Jones Trilogy. Once again the geniuses writing the storyline do an outstanding job of not only capturing the main plot of the film and famous scenes, but manage to include their own humor intertwined. The game looks fabulous and every Indy detail you would expect can be found in this game. And how can you not get excited as soon as you hear the famous Indiana Jones theme song trumpeting in the background as soon as you hit the start screen. Some of my favorite scenes from the movies have been recreated in LEGO fashion and done with class, humor and professionalism that is unmatched. Tt Games should be proud of what they have put together with all of the LEGO themed games thus far.

The game includes over 60 playable characters, including everyone favorite :ShortRound. Holding true to past LEGO iterations you?ll be able to go in and replay levels in Free Play as anyone of these characters. Once again as with the Star Wars series, some characters must be used on or to complete levels in free play mode. As you progress through the story mode you?ll unlock new characters, as well as gain the ability to purchase unlocked characters in the ?store?. You?ll gather LEGO studs as you have in the past from destroying objects throughout each level and use these to make your purchases.

You?ll begin your journey with the Raiders of the Lost Ark. Along with a crew of explorers and guides; you make your way through the forest looking for a hidden temple that is home to the treasure you are seeking. Along with the help of your guide, you?ll make your way through the jungle and into the temple where your treasure resides. You will encounter booby traps, jungle natives, giant spiders and even an occasional alligator. The game itself really focuses on using both characters throughout the level. At some points you will use both characters to solve puzzles, and you cannot solve the puzzle without doing so. Also you now have the ability to carry tools and extra weapons with you. The tools such as a wrench or a shovel need to be sued to uncover objects or fix broken machinery. You will have to switch to the character that has the tool in which you need to complete your task. If you require a tool but do not have one, there will always be one hidden in the vicinity of your location. Do a little searching and breaking things and you will find it. From time to time, you?ll have to backtrack in a level a little with items you find in order to complete tasks you ran across earlier.

One thing you will notice is that the storyline or level design does not always hold true to the movies. For instance, your backstabbing guide in the first scenes of the movie actually does not make it back out of the temple. In the game, he?ll be alive and well at the end of the level. Well for obvious reasons not only pertaining to gameplay, they can?t be killing off characters in the game. As for the level design, its full of puzzles and redesigned to make the game enjoyable. You all remember the room that holds the treasure in the original movie. A bit boring actually for a video game level if you ask me. The developers spruced up the room with moving platforms, alligators and water to make things more interesting. If it weren?t for the developers own vision, the level would probably be a bit boring. The same can be said about every level. There are similarities to the storyline, but in essence its transformed into what would make a good game and make the scene fun un a video game

Once you have completed the first level, including running from the natives to get into the awaiting plane on the river, you?ll be whisked away to Barnett College. Barnett is basically your home base where you?ll be able to spend your hard earned LEGO studs, select levels and lots of other stuff. At this point in the game you will now have unlocked the other 2 movies in the trilogy and you can play them whenever you like. You do not have to play the movies in the order they appeared. Jump around from movie to movie if you like. Be sure to explore Barnett College as you?ll find lots of goodies scattered throughout the level. You?ll find an area where you can piece together your own LEGO characters, basically known as the art room. Or you can go check out the artifact pieces you have collected throughout each mission. Whatever the case, there is plenty to do in Barnett College alone.

LEGO Indiana Jones is great for all ages. Some of the puzzles are a little more complicated and will require some thought, while others are pretty much no brainers from the start. As I suggested earlier in the review, you?ll be required to work hand in hand with your partner in the game to complete some puzzles. At some points, you will take control of character ?A? and move into a certain position. Then by pressing the ?Y? button, you?ll switch to character ?B? and complete the task at hand while the other character waits in position for you. This will involve stepping on buttons to allow the other to cross a certain area, or having your partner push a moving platform or item into place so you are in position to get to a higher normally unreachable point.

Indy comes equipped with his famous whip which allows you to swing across ravines, trips up enemies and destroy anything and everything in site. There is even a romantic side to Indy with his whip. Try snapping your whip at one of your female companions when you have a chance and you?ll see what I mean. Indy, you dog! You'll be able to fit yourself with new weapons, tools or hats that help you complete certain tasks at hand. The bazooka is a pretty fun weapon to mess around with. The game also features many vehicles and animals at your disposal including motorcycles, trucks, cars, bikes, elephants and horses. And man those horses can throw you pretty good. Hold onto those reigns!

Honestly, there is really only one downside to the entire game. That would be the exclusion of online co-op. For some reason that option was left out of the Indy game, yet it was present in the Star Wars: Complete Saga game and will be present in LEGO Batman at the end of the summer. Not sure what the thinking was in this maneuver, but it?s a bit inexcusable. This game would have been all but perfect had you been able to team up with a buddy on Xbox Live and run through the levels. The game does allow you to play with 2 players locally on the 360, but that?s it. This is definitely a disappointment. The game does have the Free Play mode which allows you to select a group of characters and go back into a level to complete tasks that you were unable to perform in story mode. You?ll be placed into the level with 8 characters at your disposal dependant upon your initial selection, each of which has certain abilities that allow you to complete objectives and reach places you couldn?t before.

Overall, LEGO Indiana Jones is a must have for any fan of the LEGO genre or of the Indiana Jones movies. It holds true to the trilogy storyline and includes quite a few characters, secrets, and goodies to keep you entertained for quite a long time. They have captured the film character personalities perfectly and you?ll come to love the game characters just as you did in the movies. Indy has the same sly ladies man demeanor in the game that he carried in the film. And Willie is just as annoying in the game as she was on screen at times, especially with her scream ability that can break glass!

As stated earlier folks of all ages will find something enjoyable in this title which seems to be the trend with every LEGO themed game coming along. The folks at Traveler?s Tales are really onto something with the LEGO series and I honestly hope to see it continue for quite some time. Can you imagine a LEGO Master Chief????

Suggestions: For the life of me, I cannot understand why online co-op was not included in this game. In today's video game world, that is almost a must and its in the Star Wars game as well as the upcoming Batman. The ball was dropped here for sure. I'd also love to see online adversarial play in the LEGO world. Can you just see Team Deathmatch in LEGO style??? That would be too awesome!

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Viking: Battle for Asgard

Sega brings us the first Viking genre game on the 360, and they did a fairly nice job with it. You play as Skarin, a Viking given immortality by the Gods in order to fight against Hel and here Legion army. The game has a strategy feel along with the standard hack and slash style gameplay that provides just enough variety not to get overly repetitive at any point. You?ll come across times when button mashing is almost a must in order to stay alive. The biggest feature boasted by Sega is the epic battles. You?ll be able to lead an army of Vikings and dragons into battle at certain points during the game. Other than those times though, the rest of the game is hack and slash mixed with stealth moments.If you love blood and gore, then you will love the finishing moves and assasination moves performed by Skarin.

Camera angles can get a little bit clunky at times while trying to attack or even maneuver through tight spaces, but overall there wasn?t a major glaring issue. At times it seemed that button responses didn?t exactly coincide with what I was trying to do, but again nothing terrible or unplayable. The graphics themselves were good for the most part. At times there seemed to be some choppiness when you would have large amounts of legion warriors surrounding you and attacking, but again nothing unbearable. On the topic of sound, there is really nothing standing out about the game?s sounds. To me the sounds are basically what I would expect to hear, and the voice acting is ok. Not brilliant, but ok.

Without giving away too much, the storyline seemed to go very well throughout the game and seemed to be progressing to an epic finish. Unfortunately for me, I thought the story failed miserably in the end and was greatly disappointed in the outcome of things. At times throughout the game, the storyline did seem a little strange and certain moments seemed out of place as well. So if you are looking for a game with a dramatic and engrossing story, you may want to look elsewhere. This game is mostly about the gameplay.

You?ll travel across 3 islands which are broken up into sections. These sections contain tasks for you to complete. Most of the tasks are centered around clearing an area of the Legion forces. In the beginning of the game you don?t have much at your disposal other than your sword. You can obtain throwing axes from the local merchant, and can carry up to 3 on your person at a time. These axes can come in quite handy as they take out several legion when thrown into a group. You?ll also be able to purchase flame pots from the merchant, which in an essence are grenades that can hurled into legion crowds as well. The merchant also has the normal health packs and what not for sale.

As stated, you will start the game with a limited set of attacks and weaponry. As you progress through the game you will learn new attacks and have the ability to upgrade you weapon with gold found throughout the regions. Be sure to find all the gold you can as you explore since you?ll be needed a lot of it when learning special moves in the battle arena. The battle arena, one located in each of the three regions, allows you to learn new advanced attack maneuvers. You?ll be instructed to perform the task and once performed you?ll be granted the ability to use this move in battle. The moves cost you gold, and start small in price but range to 8000 gold for the final attack. Many of these abilities and maneuvers come in very handy throughout the game, so be sure to learn all you can early.

One of the moves you learn is a stealth attack that allows you to sneak up behind enemies and take them out without alerting their buddies nearby. You basically sneak up on the enemy and hit the ?X? button when prompted. To early or to late on the button and you risk being seen by the enemy. This attack comes in quite handy when infiltrating camps full of legion personnel as it allows you to deplete numbers silently before actually outright attacking the bases. Don?t be afraid to use the maneuver often as there will be times you regret running into a camp Rambo style and then find yourself swamped by every legion warrior in the vicinity.

As you progress through the regions you will find and rescue other Vikings which will be added to your Viking army. Finding these Vikings are crucial to completing each section of the vast world. We?ll discuss more on this shortly. You?ll be given tasks by the leaders of each Viking group rescued in order for them to commit to joining your fight against the Legion. Some of these taks include clearing out caves or camps of Legion and returning a Legion banner or flag as proof. As stated, once you begin to build up your numbers you will be allowed to summon your Viking army to help attack certain points in each map. By simply calling up your map, you can order and attack of a region. Your Viking friends will march into battle with you and help clear out the Legion at hand. This option is not available on every Legion encampment. Only at certain predetermined points of the map are you allowed to do this, and you can see this by calling up your map and looking to see if the option is available to you.

During these epic battles your Viking brethren will fight by your side and attack the legion on their own. Along the top left hand corner of your screen you will see your health bar, and then a red bar underneath. This red bar represents how much charge you have to release a power up on your weapon. You can power up your weapon using the upgrades purchased from the weapon specialist in each Viking base. You?ll be able to choose from 3 power ups: ice, Fire and Lightning. These attacks have multiple levels of upgrade but you can only upgrade them when the game allows you which seems to be linked to once per region with exception of the final region. When you power up your weapon during a Viking attack on the legion, all those Vikings in range of you will also have their weapons powered up for the duration of the power up cycle. Other than this power up, your attacks and the weapon at hand will be your only upgrades. Later in the story you will get another upgrade of your weapon, but it falls within the storyline so its not really anything you need to purchase or obtain.

Your ultimate goal in each of the three islands is to take back the main city under legion control. To do so, you?ll have to gain the ability to summon dragons. In the first city of Darkwater, you must charge a dragon stone and take it to a summoning point located in the lower portion of the map. Once you have charged your stone, and summoned your dragon you will now be able to order and attack of on the legion inhibiting the city of Darkwater. When you attack a city with your Viking army, the dragon will accompany you and will follow your commands to attack certain points on the battlefield. Your primary objective is to destroy the Legion Shamans to end the battle. The dragons attack is only available when you have dragon stones available. As you defeat Legion Champions, Giants and Shaman you will gain Dragon stones to launch more dragon attacks. Each target will tall you how many dragon stones are needed for an attack when viewing your map. While all this is taking place, your Viking brethren will continue to fight and destroy the legion until no Shaman is remaining. Each of the three regions allows you to summon a dragon which in the end gives you 3 dragons at your side for the final battles. Sounds great huh? Well, unfortunately even with more dragons you still only had one command as you did when you only had one dragon. So having more dragons doesn?t really benefit you at all.

Overall, the game was enjoyable to play. Difficult and frustrating at times, especially some of the areas where it was key to use stealth to infiltrate Legion camps and achieve a goal. But after some trial and error, and mapping out your plan of attack or non attack for that matter, you can always get through a map. The maps were vast and the tasks to complete were many in the end. The game itself will probably only take around 6 hours to completely finish which may make it more of a rental than a purchase for some folks. Viking offers to levels of difficulty for you to play, and the higher difficulty does add a bit of a challenge, but its not overly difficult and may actually in fact not be considered difficult by advanced gamers. I think the game could have benefit more from a deeper leveling up, a stronger storyline, and possibly a wider variety of weaponry. Again, good game and I would recommend anyone to play it, but it does seem to be lacking in some areas.

Suggestions: I would have definitely liked to have seen some more upgrading with the weapons, and possible a variation in weapons available other than the typical sword and axe combination. I would have also liked to have seen a leveling up system for your character rather than just the advanced moves that you purchased and extra health. Finally, something just wasnt right with the story, especially in the end. I felt extremely disappointed by the final cut scene and almost robbed if you will of my time. Overall, I had fun with the game but it was lacking in a few things such as those I mentioned.

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Vegas 2

Ubisoft brings back the Rainbow Team in the second installment of the Vegas Series. Rainbow Vegas Six 2 features a once again terrorist ravaged Las Vegas, and it?s up to the Rainbow Six team to put an end to the threat. You?ll traverse through casinos, back alleys, parking garages, and roof tops to carry out that goal. Terrorists are at every corner awaiting your ammunition to be sprayed heavily upon their positions.

At first glance, Vegas 2 seems to be Vegas 1 with new maps and missions, but after a little playtime you?ll come to realize there is a little more to it than that. Not a lot, but enough to make it worthy of a purchase for any Rainbow Six fan. Its definitely a must buy for any first timer to the series. The graphics are not eye-popping but compliment the game pretty well for the most part. There are some texture issues here and there, but nothing glaring that will take away from your gaming experience. At times there are a few framerate issues, but again nothing overwhelming or totally distracting. Sounds in the game are generally the typical sounds one would expect from any FPS. The ambient sound of a casino in the background definitely adds to the overall effect and reality of where you are fighting this terrorist war. You have to love putting a few bullets into a slot machine and having it drop its contents all over the floor, while it rings ?Jackpot?. Probably the only way I?ll ever be able to get one of those things to dump its winnings for me. As for gameplay, you have 2 person co-op in the story mode, 4 player co-op terrorist hunt, and the typical online play with your general modes of play for any FPS.

One of the coolest features is the ability to continually unlock weapons and level up your character in any gameplay mode through the acquiring of XP. So now when playing 4 player terrorist hunt with your buddies, you will not only reap the XP from the terrorists you kill, but you?ll also gain a final XP reward for completing the mission as well. As you level up, you?ll unlock new weapons, accessories and gear that you can equip to your fully customizable character. The game also features the ?Create-A-Face? mode using the Xbox Live Vision cam as the first iteration of this title did. The feature seems to work pretty well, but will take away some customizable options for you character when using a Vision Cam face. As stated, you?ll be able to equip your character with all types of gear and weapons. Heavy Armor will help those that take a lot of enemy lead into their body, but it will slow you down and lessen your maneuverability greatly. Light Armor can be worn to give you better agility and overall quickness. Most folks will find a happy medium somewhere in between.

Once you have your character customized, you can than use them in any game mode. Want to go online and show your handsome mug to the world? Then go for it. Maybe you just want to be a star, then play through the story mode as yourself. Allowing you to use your character in any game mode is a definite plus in this game. For those that are veterans of the Vegas 1, you?ll be treated to some unlockables immediately upon creating your character. You?ll also gain rank immediately as reward for your prior service.

The leveling up in Vegas 2 is very well done, and as stated each game mode gives you XP which counts towards your overall rank and level. You have 3 different areas of expertise (A.C.E.S. in game) to level up: Marksmanship, CQB, and Assault. Each area of expertise has certain requirements such as long range shots, headshots, grenade kills, stealth kills, etc. which will earn you XP points for accomplishing. The highest number level is 20 at the time of release, but that will take some time to obtain. Each level is attainable by gaining a certain amount of XP points. Once you have obtained a rank, your current XP is reset in a matter of speaking and you then have a new goal in XP points to obtain. When I say ?current XP?, I am referring to the amount of XP you are currently gaining towards your next rank. Your overall XP is always visible to you and is never reset. In other words, to obtain the highest rank, which is Elite, you will need to gain 400,000 XP points in total. Good thing you gain XP in all games modes!

In the story mode you will play as Bishop, the team leader. If this is an online co-op match, you will play as Bishop or the first player on a local machine will always play as Bishop. The second player will play as your companion. You have 2 other AI controlled members of your team, and only Bishop has the ability to control them and direct their actions. There are achievements to play as Bishop?s partner so you?ll want to do both. The story mode doesn?t sway much from the original in gameplay. You?ll want to stay in cover as much as possible and use your team mates to gain strategic advantages. At times, you will be prompted to use your team members to disarm bombs, open locked doors, etc. Again, only Bishop can command the team members to do so.

Story mode can be played using split screen or on a system link. You can also play story mode online with another player whether it be a private match to invite one of your friends, or just a public match that allows any Xbox Live player to join. Again, if you are hosting the game then you will always play as Bishop, and the joining player will play as a member of your team. Unfortunately as you can tell by reading this, story mode is only limited to 2 players. Disappointingly 4 player co-op for story mode was not included with the final release of the game. Hopefully, a later update will come along and resolve this.

On the bright side, when playing Terrorist Hunt, you can have up to 3 players join you in your fight against terror. Again, this can be done locally or on Xbox Live. For those that do not know, Terrorist Hunt is a game mode that pits you up against a predetermined number of enemies on a map. It?s your team?s goal to eliminate all terrorists on the map. The game ships with 12 maps to do your hunting, with more on the way via downloadable content no doubt. As stated earlier, you and your buddies can accrue a lot of XP playing Terrorist hunt. The higher the difficulty, Realistic being the hardest, the more XP will you will gain from killing enemies and completing the mission at hand. You can change out your guns and equipment between matches. There are times when you?ll definitely want to have a shotgun in your arsenal, so keep that in mind.

Online Adversarial mode ships with 5 modes of player versus player action. These modes are: Team Deathmatch, Deathmatch, Attack and Defend, Team Conquest, and Team Leader. Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch are self explanatory and nothing out of the ordinary. Attack and Defend will pit 2 teams against each other. Both teams fight for control of an objective, with one basically attacking the location while the other is defending it. There are 3 types of objectives in this mode of play. First ?Item Extraction? has one team trying to locate and recover and item while the other teams goal is to stop them. ?Hostage Rescue? consists of one team trying to free and extract hostages while the other team tries to put and end to the rescue. Finally ?Demolition? sees one team trying to plant and detonate a bomb while the other team tries to diffuse it before detonation. Team Conquest is your basic capture and hold type of territories game. You must locate and hold 3 satellite transmitters for a total of 30 seconds each to win this mode. And last but not least is ?Team Leader?. This mode consists of teams supporting and protecting a team leader who is making his way to an extraction point to win the game.

Generally online play is not too bad. There are some frame rate issues, and a bit of lag to deal with at times. But overall, the maps are laid out nicely for lots of action. Spawn killing/camping shouldn?t be too much of an issue since you respawn with a temporary invulnerability shield. So be sure to take cover as quickly as you can when respawing. With the amount of maps, and the various modes of gameplay this title should keep the online community busy for a while. And again, we all hope for plenty more of content via Xbox Marketplace in the near future.

Overall Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is not a huge upgrade from Vegas 1, but it?s still a good game regardless. Most diehard Rainbow fans will definitely have this in their game library from day one and be satisfied with the final product. And as stated earlier, if you are new to the series, then this is a must have. 4 player Co-op terrorist hunt is a favorite among many and definitely adds to the value of this game. The Xbox 360 definitely has its fair share of First Person Shooters and only a few of those shooters really rises to the top of the heap. Vegas 2 can be considered one of those titles.

Suggestions: The exclusion of 4 player co-op in story mode was a bit disappointing. This mode is a definite must have for this type of game. Other than that, another solid addition to the Tom Clancy library of video games.

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Army of Two

In this modern day of gaming online cooperative play seems to be increasingly important among gamers. Army of Two delivers on the premise, and does a pretty good job as well. While you won?t find anything too innovative about the co-op play, you come to learn that teamwork in this game is definitely a priority.

Army of Two is a first person shooter that sets you as a soldier or mercenary for hire. You?ll be dispatched, along with your partner, to locations to take out high profile terrorists and leaders that the regular military is not willing to undertake or be associated. As a private military you get paid for everything you accomplish while in the field. All objectives are worth a certain amount of cash, and your livelihood and well being depend on you getting paid. Its your job! This cash that you earn is used to purchase and upgrade new weapons, attachments, body armor and facemasks. There is a little bit of customization for each weapon that allows you to customize the weapon to your style. We?ll discuss this more a little later in the review.

This game will seem very familiar to folks that have played Gears of War or Splinter Cell titles of the past. Army of Two has a cover system, and a fire from cover system as GoW had. Comparisons to Splinter Cell come in the co-operative actions you partake and assisting your partner to areas not obtainable by your self. Remember using your partner to lift you up to a higher level, and then pulling your partner up after you. Well that?s in this game. Sure, I guess you can say ?How else are you supposed to get to higher places?? Well I understand that, but this really does seem like a direct rip off of the Splinter Cell series. The gun fighting and shooting blindly from cover come both from Ghost Recon and Gears of War, and again feel like direct rip offs of the aforementioned games.

Graphics and sounds in this game are what can be expected of the next generation console. While again, it?s nothing that is going to pop your eyes out of your head, its acceptable. There is some destructibility of the levels through gunfire, explosions. The frame rates are smooth and do offer a great gaming experience that is easy on the eyes. That?s a definite plus in most books. Some of the gunfire sounds are pretty generic, and the voice acting is not terrible. Some of the dialogue can get a little annoying though. Overall, sounds in the game are ok though.

The storyline, while nothing over the top, is your basic hunt down the bad guys and save the world story. You?ll play as one of two ex-Army Rangers that have decided to work for the private military as mercenaries and get paid as you progress. There are a few twists and turns in the story as you progress, but again the story isn?t what?s going to grab your heart and soul for this game. There are not a lot of cinematic interludes to break up the action, and the missions seem to flow fairly well from one to the other.

One thing that Army of Two boasts as innovative and new to co-op play is a feature called ?Aggro?. When you have aggro, this basically means that all the attention is on you from the enemies. This will allow you partner to sneak around enemies unnoticed, and ambush them from behind. Some enemies require you to do this as it?s the only way to kill them, so be sure to learn how to use the aggro. You can transfer this agro to your partner at anytime using the dpad if you are taking to much fire and are close to dying. This will in turn direct the enemy?s attention away from you in order for you to recover health. Some agro is obtained by the weapons you carry and how they are equipped. A more powerful weapon such as a heavy machine gun will draw attention from enemies quicker than a standard sub machine gun. So you?ll have to work with your partner and equip yourselves properly to accomplish your goals previous to each mission. One thing I did find interesting was when your partner goes down, you have to stop what you are doing and go heal him. If he dies, then the level is over and you'll have to restart. You can drag him into cover if needed, or heal him right on the spot he was injured, your choice. The game uses a health regeneration system which you use automatically when in cover. But take too much damage and you'll sit on your rump and have to wait for your partner to heal you or die.

A second and truly the final innovative feature that Army of Two can boast is the use of your environment as a shield. You?ll be able to wield certain things such as metal doors or car doors as a shield. One guy will hold the shield and move forward while the partner follows closely in formation behind the shield bearer providing fire on the enemy. You can use a melee attack on enemies as well when in this shield formation which is pretty cool. Honestly this really is about the only innovative feature I can recognize in this game.

While I wouldn?t consider the parachuting levels innovative in any way, they are quite well done graphically and mechanically. At times you will have to parachute into hostile territories. One team member will be in control of the weapon and the other will be in control of guiding the parachute down to your landing point. You?ll want to make sure to carry a sniper rifle as it makes the most sense to snipe your enemies before you get to close for them to shoot you. One thing though?.I didn?t see any kind of effect on the parachute trajectory when using a sniper rifle. Wouldn?t you think the recoil and kick of a sniper rifle would at least cause you to sway a little in the air? I?ve never fired a sniper rifle while parachuting, so maybe I am wrong in thinking that.

As stated above, as you earn money from completing your goals you?ll be able to buy new weapons and customize those that you have. You?ll even have the opportunity to ?pimp? them out if you like. This usually consists of diamonds, gold and shiny parts covering your weapon. Gold weapons, huh? Hmmm, very Call of Duty 4 reminiscent don?t you think? And the pimping out really is not that much of a wow factor. The pimping out option is cut and dry and only allow you to specifically add set modifications. There is no personal customization other than the way you mix and match the options available to you. About the only thing this does for you, is jack up your agro on the weapons stats. There are points throughout the game that give you access to the weapons supply store. Usually this takes place prior to each mission. You?ll be able to switch out weapons, buy new ones, and upgrade dependant on the cash you?ve obtained from the previous mission or missions. You?ll be able to switch out your stock, barrel, ammo, attachments and pimp the weapon. You?ll have the following categories to choose from when in the store: Primary Weapon, Secondary Weapon, Special Weapons and Armor. You?ll have the opportunity to buy different masks to give your character a different look, but again these masks are preset in design and do not allow for any kind of customization. So as a whole the customization aspect of this game is very linear and will not add much variety to setting you character apart from others you may encounter online.

As we discussed earlier, cooperative play is the key aspect of this game and is the main focus of the gameplay. You can play through the single player campaign with the AI, but the game really thrives and lives on playing with human partner. You?ll have actions that you can perform with your partner such as helping each other get to higher points on a map, switching weapons (a useless option), and co-op sniping. The only actions that you will really find useful are helping each other get to higher points on the map. The others are kind of pointless. Oh by the way, if you want you can interact with your partner in celebration by way of a high five, playing an air guitar jam session at any time you want?.Whoop-die do.

You?ll have 4 options to choose from when starting a campaign: Single Player, Split Screen, Private Co-op and Public Co-op. Single Player will put you side by side with the AI of course, and I will say that the AI is fairly smart in this game, but you?ll do most of the killing it seems as there will be times when he just stands around admiring the scenery. Split Screen allows you to play through the campaign locally with a human opponent. Of course, a private co-op game allows you to play with your buddies online. The only thing is, when creating a match you can only load up a co-op game from the last checkpoint you obtained. You cannot load up a certain level. Its either the last checkpoint or the beginning of the campaign. Public co-op play basically allows any players to join you that are looking to complete the campaign with another real live person instead of the AI.

Online versus play consists of 2 vs. 2. No 4 vs. 4 or 2 vs. 2 vs. 2 vs. 2?.Only 4 people to a game lobby and that?s it. This is somewhat disappointing as the game could have been all the more interesting having multiple pairings roaming a map at a time. It would completely change strategies going forward and planning your assaults. There are only 3 game modes available to play: Warzone, Bounties, and Extraction. Rounds length can be set to 10, 15 and 20 minute increments. And these game modes can be played on a whopping 4 maps.

In Extraction your primary goal is to rescue and carry POW?s or VIP?s to a safe location. These objectives are randomly spawned throughout the map. When playing Bounties, you?ll have to find and eliminate certain targets such as gang leaders. Warzone is a combination of both Extraction and Bounties. You?ll have additional objectives to accomplish throughout the match as well which will increase your cash intake. The primary goal of all these game types is to make money. More money. And even more money. You?ll face off against your human opponents as well as AI opponents in these matches which can deter and change your strategies a little for each objective.

All in all, the multiplayer of this game is where the fun factor lies for most. The campaign is short and nothing too spectacular. Many of the bosses are basically the same and most of the AI enemies are pretty lousy shots. A lot of folks will stand by this game due to its cooperative play, but unless EA plans on completely supporting the title with loads of maps, weapons and game modes in the future this game will be more of a flash in the pan. Multiplayer is fun for a while, and will satisfy most. So if you are looking for a good co-op game then this one may be for you. If you are looking for originality, you'll find some here, but most of the game is a combination of several great aspects of other big name games.

Suggestions: Please support the game with more online game modes, weapons and maps. Also allow for more character customization to give players more unqiue opportunities to stand out from others online. Campaign was was way to short, and maybe some missions could be added later.

Overall Score: 7.7 / 10 Lost: Via Domus

Lost is a huge primetime TV fan favorite, and Ubisoft has decided to bring you its version of the show in Lost: Via Domus. You?ll play as a photojournalist headed back to the US on Oceanic Flight 815. And as with the TV show, the flight mysteriously crashes onto a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. You?ll interact with the real life main characters you?ve come to known on the show. As with the show, everyone has a hidden past including yourself, and it?s your goal to redeem yourself to gain passage off of the island. You come to realize early in the game that your troubled past also means that someone wants you dead, but who?

The overall feel of the game gives you the sense of watching a television show. At the start of each level, after the first level, you?ll get the ?Previously On Lost? style of replay which shows you keys events of the storyline from the previous mission. While not overly important, it does add a little neat spin on things and makes you feel like you are watching and participating in a TV show. The graphics aren?t off the hook, so don?t prepare to have visuals that will knock your socks off. Some of the areas, such as when exploring a cave can become quite dark, even when torches are lit and you at times can lose your way. The sounds are quite basic as well. No real ambience when traveling through the jungle that I would have expected such as exotic animal noises and such. Voice acting is done by the original actors of the show and seems to be well done but again, nothing over the top.

The story starts out with the plane crash of course. You somehow miraculously survive the crash, as other have, and now must find your way through the jungle to the crash site. You come to realize quickly that your character has lost his memory and you have no recollection of who you are Now your main objective becomes gaining your memory back through personal items, talking with other characters and taking pictures. The game uses a question and answer system to gain information and progress through the storyline. You?ll collect items lying around the scenery in order to use for trading to acquire other items that you need. You?ll also use these items to help with recalling your memory at points. The game makes use of a journal which you?ll use throughout the game. Its broken into 4 categories: Quest, My Memories, Help and Completed. You?ll access the journal to view what you need to complete and what has already been completed.

There are several puzzle-style missions in order to achieve items and certain points of the story line. As stated earlier, you are a photojournalist with amnesia. At certain points in the game you will trigger a flashback. These flashbacks can be triggered by speaking with certain individuals or during certain events during the story. During these flashbacks, the screen will become blurred and you?ll be viewing a part of your past. Your goal is to take a snapshot of key elements in the flashback, which you can see in micro flashbacks prior to entering the memory. If you capture a successful snapshot, you?ll regain some key elements of your memory. There are also hidden items in the sequence for you to find and reveal even more things from your past.

The flashback sequence adds to the overall storyline and helps you regain your memory. Its not very difficult, and the entire flashback will replay from the beginning if you fail at capturing a successful snapshot. As stated, these sequences are not difficult and are more of a side mission to aid in revealing the whole picture of the story.

There are two puzzle-style missions found throughout the game. One mini game has you accessing computer files using simple logic. It?s a fairly simple and straight forward process. The other has you restore electric panels to working order within the plane wreckage. These missions have you reconstruct a circuit line with different watt fuses. These fuses can be picked up throughout the game, so be sure to pick up any fuses as you run across them. You?ll have to match up the total power of the circuit marked in colored ink on the board to the final red squares that change each time you put a fuse in. Three types of fuses each take a certain amount of power away from the overall circuit, so you will have to figure out the right combinations. Once you have figured out the puzzle, and restored the panel to working condition you?ll be able to proceed further into the story.

As you progress through the storyline, be sure to interact with anyone and everyone you can as each of these individuals will provide clues to you in conversation. You also want to be sure to explore areas thoroughly in order to find all items. There is some action in the form of shooting enemies once you have obtained a gun. You can only shoot certain enemies and items, and these will be marked clearly by crosshairs. Again, nothing really over the top here, it?s just something else to do within the game and will help you progress.

The game is pretty basic and straightforward when it comes to how you play it and what you need to do to accomplish your goals. It?s hard to say if passionate Lost fans will find this game inviting as its got its own storyline with a few tie ins to the actual first two seasons of the show. As stated a few of the main characters that have been around the show since the beginning of the show are there to help you on your journey. Overall, the game does not really stand out as a fabulous must own title, but if you like puzzle solving quest based games then this one should be right up your alley.

Suggestions: A bit more action in the game would have done wonders than question and answer sessions, and puzzle based mini games. Give the ability to play as other characters within the story.

Overall Score: 6.8 / 10 Lost Odyssey

We all know Hironobu Sakaguchi?s work from the classic Final Fantasy series. He combined great storytelling together with traditional RPG gameplay to create enjoyable games for everyone. Now Sakaguchi brings that successful formula to the 360 with Lost Odyssey. Does he succeed in establishing the traditional RPG as a viable genre for today?s gamer?

You start the game as Kaim Argonar, an immortal who has traversed the world?s wars fighting to stop them over the last 1000 years. But Kaim has lost his memory, and as he completes his current journeys his primary goal is to try and regain his memories that have slipped him. This proves to be key to the storyline of the game, and not so much a side story. The city of Uhra depends on the production and consumption of magic energy to protect and defend their city. But something strange has happened at the construction site, Grand Staff. Kaim is summoned by the Uhra Council to travel to Magic Staff and find out what issues lie there. Due to your immortality, they have deemed you as the only one who can travel their safely.

Another immortal, Seth Balmore whom you had met earlier in a cut scene, will travel with you on your journey. You?ll also be accompanied by a mortal, Jansen Friedh who dabbles in magic, and at times can just be plain annoying with his dialogue. You?ll find out why he accompanies you fairly quickly in the story. So that?s your starting party. You'll gain other party members as the story progresses.

The first 30-60 minutes of the game contains some fighting sequences, but focuses more solely on establishing the storyline through many cut scenes. You?ll make your way from the initial battlefield you start on, to the city of Ulhra. The cut scenes are very well done, and you?ll honestly get to know the characters very well just by watching these scenes. Something that Mistwalker emphasizes very well in this game is facial expressions. You?ll know exactly what a character is feeling or thinking at times by just watching their facial gestures. It?s actually amazing at times what they have accomplished with the facial movements of each character. This is one of the outstanding and innovative features this game can boast, and is something basically no other game has yet even come close to mastering.

The game itself is your traditional turn-based style RPG, and you truly will feel like you are playing a game from the last decade at times with the exception of the beautiful graphics. For any fan of Final Fantasy or any other traditional JRPG, this is a must have. You?ll have various, skills, weapons and magic at your disposal throughout the game. You will collect new items by exploration, and obtain some items only through auction houses and shops. As with any traditional RPG, you will gain party members to help you in your quest. You will increase their skills and abilities as well as yours throughout your endeavor. The weapons you will use are pretty basic and don?t have much upgrade ability. You will use rings to enhance certain aspects of your attacks such as strength, defense, etc. We?ll talk more about the ring assembly system in a bit, which is a welcome addition to the standard RPG gameplay.

One thing I noticed while playing, all battles would take place randomly without any kind of notice. In more recent RPG?s, including the most recent Final Fantasy for the 360, you can actually seek out enemies to fight because they are visible throughout the land. In Lost Odyssey, you do not see your adversaries until are in the fight screen. All landscapes are barren of enemies making it difficult to just run around and level your character up. Part of this is probably based upon the linear nature of the game. While each area you traverse allows you to roam freely throughout, you are still headed to one destination to move forward to the next area. So in all honesty, the term ?open-world? applies, yet it doesn?t apply. I think the game would benefit more from displaying random enemies throughout the worlds, and allowing you to level up a little faster than the game allows you now.

Customization of your characters is very limited unfortunately. There are no clothing upgrades that we have grown accustomed to with more recent RPG?s. Your character will look exactly the same at the end of the game as it did when you started the game. Fairly disappointing aspect of the game in my opinion. Weapons are very basic and have no upgrade ability either, other than the ring &t; it receives if wearing a ring. You?ll be able to swap out current weapons for more powerful weapons, but there is no option to enhance any weapon really. What you have in hand is what you get. As an immortal you will also be able to learn skills, but only when you ?Skill Link? yourself with a mortal in your party. Mortals are the only ones that have the ability to learn skills as they level up on the battlefield. As the mortal learns a new skill, you can set your immortal characters to ?skill link? with that mortal and over time they will learn that skill as well. This is the only way you can learn a new skill with your immortal.

One of the more interesting concepts in Lost Odyssey is the ability to create rings that enhance your characters. Rings are used to enhance attacks, magical abilities, HP recovery, etc. You?ll gather ingredients from battles, in auction houses/shops, talking with NPC?s, and finding hidden items throughout levels. When you view the ring assembly menu you?ll be able to see ?ring recipes? for any type of ring you have some or all the ingredients in order to create. If you have all the ingredients, you can just click on the name of the ring type and you?ll be asked if you would like to form it. If you only have some ingredients, the ring type will be grayed out, but you?ll be able to see what ingredients you still need to locate. As you discover new ingredients, new types of rings and their recipes will come available in the list. Even though you have 5 fingers that could where a ring, you can only wear one at a time. Again, a disappointing aspect to the game.

The battle system is pretty straight forward in the game, and pretty much what you would expect from this turn-based RPG. You?ll see the order of the player attacks in the lower left hand corner. The game integrates a system call ?The Wall? that allows you to put more powerful characters in the front row of a battle formation, while the lesser characters or magical characters can remain in the back row. The folks in the back row will take less damage than those in the front. Your ?wall defense? is known as Guard Control or GC. You?ll be able to see the status of your GC in the upper right hand corner of the screen during battles. GC can be replenished using certain spells or skills.

Now when wearing a ring, the ?Aim Ring System? comes available when in battle. As stated Enhancement Rings add special effects to an party member?s normal attack. The Aim Ring System determines how much strength the effect has during a normal attack. When attacking an enemy, using your normal attack, you will hold the right trigger. Holding the right trigger causes an outer ring to shrink in on the target ring. You want to release the right trigger when the outer ring overlaps the inner ring. You?ll receive a rating of Perfect, Good or Bad based on your performance. Get a perfect and you maximize the rings effect, but get a bad and rings effect will fail.

The typical RPG status ailments are all here during battles such as Paralyzed, Sleeping, Poisoned, Frozen, etc. All of these ailments can be cured using items in your inventory that you have purchased or found. You can cause these ailments on your opponents as well using various items, skills or spells as well. If all the members of your party are ?KO?ed? then you will be reverted to the last checkpoint. But you can revive individual characters during the battle. Immortal characters will revive themselves during battle after a duration of turns has passed or you can revive them with spells or items. Mortal characters can only be revived using items or spells.

Once a battle is over, you?ll get the Battle Results screen. This will show you experience you have gained, as well as any items obtained or skills learned. That?s the battle system in a nutshell. Again, nothing totally out of the ordinary, but its definitely a system that works well with this game.

You?ll travel over land and sea throughout this game battling enemies and revealing a great storyline as well. The world is vast, and as mentioned while somewhat linear in the end, each area has a lot of points to explore. Be sure to explore as much as you can to find new items, dreams and storylines. At times the story can beomce quite and emotional ride, and you'll find yourself having sympathy for the characters involved. A large part of that is once again due to the excellent work done in facial expression and display of actual feelings. There are a few mini games found throughout the game as well, such as one called the Music Box. You?ll spend many hours in this game if you want to experience everything it has to offer. Lost Odyssey spans 4 disks. For those worried about the switching of disks, have no fear. Switching disks does not take away or interfere with your game experience at all. Loading times were a concern among many before the retail version hit screens, but I am happy to say that the loading times between areas are mostly on the short side and acceptable. If you are looking for an standard turn-based RPG, then this game is most definitely for you. While it doesn?t offer anything hugely innovative, the story is well done making the game quite addicting. The battle system works well for the most part, and the enemies are a decent challenge as you progress further into the game. Check it out if you are interested in the RPG genre at all.

Suggestions: The game is great with a few minor flaws. Retail Packaging comes to mind first and foremost! Please find a different way to package multiple disc games. The Japanese received an actual case that had a spot for each of the discs, while the North American version had 3 discs piled on one another and 1 disc in a sleeve tucked on top of the manual. Make enemies visible within the world for easier leveling up abilities rather than running around hoping to find an enemy. Add character customization, upgradeable weapons and armor.

Overall Score: 7.8 / 10 Frontlines: Fuel of War

Modern society is completely dependant upon the world?s oil supply. Each and everyday millions of people consume the world?s oil in one way or another whether it be heating, driving or operating machinery. What would happen if that oil supply ever ran out?

Frontlines: Fuel of War takes on that very scenario in this objective based game. The western world, primarily the US and Europe, have formed the Coalition, while the east, consisting of Russia and China, have formed the Red Star Alliance. You play as the Coalition throughout single player on a quest to stop the RSA from taking over the remaining oil supply located in the Caspian Sea region.

THQ and Kaos bring us this modern day shooter with a fantastic storyline and some unique multiplayer gameplay. The creators of the classic ?Desert Combat? and members of the R&D team for Battlefield 2 team up to bring us this brand new shooter. Dedicated servers allow THQ to push the amount of online players in a lobby to 50 for the first time in a console shooter. From experiences thus far, the games have been lag free so it looks as though THQ has really beefed things up and the servers will hold up quite nicely. The maps are laid out very nicely in order to accommodate the vast number of players per game and they also make for some interesting strategies. The game offers both single player and multiplayer modes.

Single player is a pretty straight forward style of campaign. You go through 7 levels, taking objectives to proceed further towards your final goal. The storyline is great, and makes you think what could really happen if the oil supply were to ever run out in real life. In my opinion, the single player career works as a great tutorial to prepare yourself for online battles and I highly suggest giving it a run through. But with this game, the online multiplayer is where the game shines.

Single player and multiplayer are similar in that you have to take objectives in order to win. These objectives are grouped along the frontline in each map. You will need to take the entire grouping of objectives on the frontline to advance towards your final objective. In single player, you and your squad, The Stray Dogs, will take objectives one by one advancing to one final objective to finish the level. There are 7 levels in total to finish the campaign. Enemies do not take back objectives in single player as they do in multiplayer for the most part; they are only out to kill you. Now multiplayer is a whole different story and we will get into that a little later in the review. Also in the single player mode, once you secure an objective the game uses its autosave feature so you will start at the last secured objective in the event you die before taking your next objective

The single player campaign allows you to select from 3 difficulty levels, with normal being the default. You can adjust one level up or one level down in difficulty if you prefer. Enemy AI at the normal difficulty is not stupid, nor is it the smartest AI either. At times, they?ll keep heavy fire upon you, but then suddenly seem to ignore the fact that you could still be hiding around the corner regaining health, and direct their attention to someone else. You can then jump out and gun down the opposition pretty quickly with little to no resistance. Your squad mates seem to help you quite a bit which is a welcome change from most squad based shooters. They will gun down enemies, use various weapons and drive vehicles without the retardation factor seen in some games.That?s not to say that they will never just stand around, or run the wrong way. It just doesn?t happen constantly.

The multiplayer experience will traverse across 8 maps, some large and some small. You?ll be fighting in close combat streets, or sniping across oils fields and mountain valleys. The best way to describe the online play rather than using the typical "objective based" term would be to call it a virtual tug-o-war of sorts. Both teams battle to secure objectives and move their front line closer to the final objective. The vehicles you have at your disposal will be dependant upon the map you are playing and yes, you?ll even be able to fly jets You?ll also pilot gunship choppers, transport helicopters, tanks, anti-aircraft vehicles, hummers, etc. Vehicle controls are a very good mix for both novice and elite pilots. The combat system in Frontlines focuses completely on teamwork between squad mates. Running as a lone wolf will more than likely get disgruntled team members rather than completed objectives. So keep that in mind when you go running off to go solo in the closest vehicle. A squad leader can give highlight targets, send commands and even act as a respawn point as long as he/she is still alive. When part of a squad you?ll also be able to see squad member highlighted on the map. A great feature in the game is the inclusion of VoIP chat in every game. All squads receive their own private VoIP chat channel which allows them to communicate only with each other without the hassle of excessive or annoying open chat during the game. No more trying to talk over the singing 10 year old that just won?t shut up all game. Let alone just a few seconds to allow someone else to talk.

You?ll have access to multiple weapons, both allied and enemy. You can pick up weapons and trade out to secondary weapons by pressing the ?Y? button. In the weapons selection screen, you?ll be able to select your primary weapon, secondary weapon or your specialized ?roles? which include drone control, airstrikes, ground support and EMP technology. I?ll discuss the roles shortly. Ammo boxes are located throughout maps and only require you to walk up to them to load up on fresh ammo. One thing to keep in mind is that if you prematurely reload, you drop the entire clip and any remaining ammo in that clip before loading up a full clip. You have 6 weapon classes to choose from in multiplayer:

? Assault: Assault Rifle w/grenade launcher, Pistol, and Frag grenades
? Heavy Assault : Heavy Assault Rifle, Pistol and Frag grenades
? Sniper: Sniper Rifle, Pistol, Frag grenades
? Anti Vehicle: Rocket Launcher, Pistol, Anti Vehicle Landmines
? Special Ops: Sub Machine Gun, Pistol, C4
? Close Combat: Shotgun, Pistol, Frag grenades

It?s been said that the weapons/targeting in Frontlines is not very good. Most notably the sniper rifle and its supposed inability to one shot kill. I can say for a fact that the sniper can and will take kills in one shot if you hit what you are shooting at. If you have been hit by a sniper, you know that it does damage just by seeing the blood red screen and knowing you are close to dying. But I am glad to see that you MUST be perfect with the sniper rifle for one shot kills rather than having an abused overpowered weapon. But in general, all the weapons seem to work very well for the task they are meant to do.

Along with the weapon class selection, you can select a specialized role. These roles allow you to use special weapons and abilities. This is where the game can get very interesting online. Each role has 3 levels in which you obtain by killing opponents and completing objectives. Your roles show on the lower right hand corner and become yellow when that ability level is obtained. A good squad will have player of each role enlisted in battle and can work together. One of the extremely unique but fun roles is the ability to control drones. Some drones have weapons such as machine guns or rockets, while other drones are used strictly for detonation purposes and spying. Each drone can be used in various ways, and many users will probably get very creative with their uses. Drone controls mainly consist of basic thumbstick movements as well as trigger and bumper presses.

At the time of release, online game modes only consists of the frontlines mode in which you grab objectives to move the battle lines closer to the final objective. As in single player, you gain all the objectives on the frontline and the front moves forward to the next set. The difference with multiplayer is, now you have an enemy that can take back objectives you have already completed. Hence the importance of having a squad or multiple squads that works together in search of a common goal. If you lose a previously secured objective to the enemy, than the front line will once again move back to the prior point and you will not have access to the next set of objectives until you recapture the enemy secured objective. The online play can be a complete chess match which can include guarding of objectives, sniping, use of vehicles for quick movement of squad members, etc. I am sure there will be folks out there looking for strictly death match and capture the flag style games, but honestly, that is not the point of this game and unnecessary.

Many people have been concerned with the graphics after playing the single player and multiplayer demos. While I will admit that the graphics are not eye-popping, I cannot see how anyone can say they are terrible. Yes, there are some jaggy edges at some points, but nothing unbearable. The only downside that I have seen in the graphics is some slowdown when a lot of action is taking place on the screen at one time. The screen can tend to get a little jumpy on occasion, but again it?s nothing unbearable. People tend to compare games to the big boys of the industry, and sometimes that?s just not fair. This game holds its own in the graphics department, and more so in the gameplay.

One of the things I noticed immediately was the great sounds both distant and present. While the sound of a tank firing can be pretty typical and easy to replicate in most war games, the sound of impact the shell makes and the explosion thereafter in the distance is well done. You will also notice that sounds generate from the direction they are coming from. Say an explosion occurs behind you, the sound will be less prevalent than if you were facing it. The same goes with fired weapons and vehicles.

What makes this game a lot of fun are all of the little things and new innovative things. I had no idea that a parachute could be deployed when falling from greater heights or flying vehicles until I fell off of a smokestack and the command to deploy chute appeared on the screen. Very cool feature! You can also jump out of helicopters and jet to deploy your chute as well. Could come in handy when you are about to get shot down. Many folks have called this a Battlefield 2 rip-off and I have to say it?s quite the contrary. The developers have taken many things that worked well in both Desert Combat and Battlefield 2 and packaged them into a brand new game. Frontlines is probably the first squad based shooter that makes you focus completely on teamwork to be successful. Sure you?ll have a good game or teo playing as a lonewolf, but you?ll have a lot more success working with team members in a squad. This in itself should be something that all clans should look forward to. Summing the game up, anyone that has enjoyed Battlefield 2 or any squad based shooter should definitely think about picking this one up. Frontlines: Fuels of War combines great things that have been enjoyed across multiple titles into one nice package with an immersive style of gameplay that really sets a bar for squad based shooters. You won?t regret adding this to your library of 360 games.

Suggestions: Include in-game clan support as this game just beckons for such a feature. Of course downloadable content including new maps, weapons, and possibly vehicles would be a plus. New innovative game modes rather than the typical deathmatch and capture the flag. Also a co-op feature would be a definite must have in future iterations of the game.

Overall Score: 8.6 / 10 Burnout Paradise

Take me down to the Paradise City, where the grass is green and the girls are pretty! But is the grass really greener in Paradise City than other installments of EA/Criterion?s Burnout Series? Well, I think its safe to say that most won?t be disappointed with the new direction that EA has taken the series.

The first time I fired up Burnout Paradise, I have to admit I was in love. I mean seriously, I was in heaven the minute the intro to Guns N?Roses ?Paradise City? began to play. From that moment I had high hopes and expectations for this game, and gladly I came to find out that I would not be disappointed. For the most part.

The games begins initially by introducing you to DJ Atomica, you on air personality that will guide you through the game as well as keep you entertained as your radio DJ. If you have an Xbox Live Vision Cam, be sure you have it connected from the initial start of the game. You?ll be asked to pose for your initial Driver?s Learner Permit. Say cheese! Of course, if you don?t have a camera then the game will just default to using your current gamerpic . You can always hook up a camera at a later time to update your license photo.

Once you have your Learner?s Permit, you?ll be tossed into your first ride and onto the streets of Paradise City. The junk yard is your garage of sorts where you will find all of the cars you have unlocked throughout your career progress. A total of 75 cars are available to unlock initially, with more on the way via marketplace without a doubt. The cars are grouped into the following classes: Stunt, Speed and Aggression. By the class name you can get the picture as to what a car is to be used for specifically, but if you find a favorite you can still use it as much as you like for any type of challenge.

Burnout Paradise boasts and open world style map that allows you to go basically anywhere you want and complete any challenges when you want. Once on the road, you?ll notice that each intersection is where you will find your challenges. To start a challenge you must hold the left and right triggers simultaneously, basically causing you to burnout. You will be able to compete in 120 different single player challenges that will help you unlock new cars and better your license status. There are 5 varieties of challenges: Race, Road Rage, Burning Route, Marked Man, and Stunt Run. Race challenges are just that. A race against other cars from point A to point B. You objective of course is to win the race using any route that gets you to the finish line quickest. Do not be afraid to use shortcuts and alternate routes to obtain the win. One of my favorite challenges is the Road Rage races, which many will recognize from Burnout Revenge. Your objective is to get the target number of Takedowns before time runs out or you total your car. The next type of challenge is called Burning Routes. These challenges are geared to each specific car, and can only be completed once you have the car in question unlocked. The Marked Man challenges pit you in your current car against 2 opponents who are there to take you out. You basically have to race from point A to point B without having your car totaled by your opponents. If you make it to the finish, you win the challenge. Finally, you have the Stunt Challenges. These challenges give you a specific score to obtain by getting air, doing barrel rolls, flatspins, crashing billboards, etc.

Not only do you have the 120 single player challenges, but you now have something called Road Rules. Road Rules are specific time and crash records set by you for every road in the game. You can turn your road rules on by pressing right on the dpad and then scrolling to Road Rules and setting it to either Time or Showtime. Time Road Rules are just a speed event in which you try to set the fastest time from the beginning of the street to the end. You must start these timed events at the either end of the street and stay on the street the entire time until you get to the end. Showtime Road Rules is a new concept brought into the Burnout Series. Many Burnout veterans are very fond of the crash challenges that had you smashing and crashing as many vehicles as you can for money totals. Well, with Showtime, you are still trying to obtain the highest crash total you can, but now you have full control of your crash. What? Well basically, you control your whole crash, where you go, what you hit, etc. When entering Showtime mode, you press the right and left bumper simultaneously, at which point your car will explode and begin rolling down the road. You can maneuver your car using the left and right thumbstick while gaining momentum by tapping the A button. Your Showtime will continue until you run out of boost. Your boost will increase as you hit a certain amount of cars, busses, and signs. You want to be sure to hit all the busses that you can as they add multipliers to your score. You will be able to set Road Rules both online and offline.

Another objective in the single player mode is to find hidden billboards, smashes and super jumps. Smashes are obtained by crashing through gates scattered throughout the city?s landscape and there are 400 of them for you to find. Some are obvious while others are not so obvious. Billboards are obtained by using your environment to smash through them. Only the Burnout Billboards are smashable and count towards your Billboard total. The super jumps are scattered throughout the map as well and are marked by barrels with flashing lights. Locate all the billboards, smashes and super jumps and you?ll unlock an achievement as well as a car for your junkyard.

Now of course most folks are most interested in the online play. While the single player has a lot of variety in modes of play and challenges, the online play is lacking quite a bit in this area. That?s not to say it isn?t fun, but for those looking for a lot of variety will not find it. You can only race online in ranked rooms. No road rage races, no crash competitions, no team events. Yes, to many this may be disappointing, but the online does contain 500 online challenges for you to complete with others. Basically, you can complete these challenges with friends or other online players. There are challenges for 2-8 players which can range in jumping over each other at a specific spot on the map, to meeting up with everyone at a specified place. Some challenges you will work together as a team to obtain while others require each player to complete the specific challenge. For instance, one challenge may be for your whole team to drift a total of 4,000 yards. Another maybe for each player in the challenge to drift a total of 2,000 yards. Again, it all depends on the challenge at hand. The host of the room starts each challenge, and only the challenges specified to the number of players in the room are available. So if you only have 2 people in your room, then you will only be able to complete 2 player challenges.

While online ?freeburning?, you can set Road Rule Times and Showtimes with your friends. You?ll actually be able to sit there and watch your friends crash down the road in their showtimes. Pretty fun to do. Any smashes, billboards or super jumps you obtain online also count towards your final total so you can work together with friends to find ones you may be having trouble with.

Overall the gameplay of Burnout Paradise is spot on and great fun. The lack of multiplayer modes will be a hinderance to some, but for most both online and offline will be sufficient and worth the purchase of the game. The graphics are stellar with wonderful crash sequences, and excellent car models. The map is vast and allows for hours of exploring and fun. Find your own routes through the city or create new ones using super jumps. And what?s better than burning through the city listening to some classic tunes as well as current rock on your Burnout radio. Burnout radio includes over 70 songs, from Guns N?Roses to original Burnout series musical scores. You?ll be completely satisfied with a purchase of this game for both the online and offline experience. And you can be sure that EA will most likely add more cars and possibly games modes via download content in the future.

Suggestions: Please consider adding more game modes for online player via DLC such as team events found in Burnout Revenge. If DLC is in the future, please add more challenges as well. I would love to see the map expanded as well, across the bridge under construction area preferably. Overall though, great job and looking forward to whats in store via DLC.

Overall Score: 9.3 / 10 Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock

Are you ready to rock???? Well, get ready to rock with Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock brought to you by Red Octane and Activision. Neversoft jumps on board the Guitar Hero train as the developer since the acquisition of Harmonix by EA. The third iteration of the series brings back the same gameplay with a few new added features to enhance the fun. You?ll get a plethora of songs ranging from the 70?s to present day with a wide variety of artists for a total of 60+ songs. Plus you?ll be able to download new songs and packs from the marketplace. Now for 360 owners this third version comes right on the heels of Guitar Hero II which released in the spring. So is it worth your hard earned money to pick up the newest version. Well read on and decide for yourself.

For those that purchased Guitar Hero II back in the spring you will be happy to know that your wired Xplorer guitar works just fine with GHIII. So if you like you can just purchase the game alone. But honestly, the new Les Paul wireless controller is great. First and foremost, the fact that it is wireless makes it a must have. Secondly, for those that are only experiencing the GH series for the first time, you?ll be ecstatic to know that you can use this guitar with GHII. So go out there and get a marked down copy of the game only. You won?t regret it. The Les Paul is probably the best guitar to date in the series and just feels great when playing it. No wires hanging, fret buttons seem more accessible, and the guitar just feels of better quality all around.

When it comes to the gameplay, honestly there isn?t a whole lot different about the way you play the songs. Notes travel down the screen and you have to strum and hit the colored fret keys in perfect time with the notes on screen. Many folks have expressed opinions that GHIII is much easier than GHII. Neversoft has lengthened the time window for hitting notes which does in fact make the game a bit easier. Now, don?t misunderstand me. If you play the game on Hard or Expert it is still going to be fast paced and difficult for most. Only the seasoned veterans will probably notice the subtle changes that have been made. I for one not being one of those seasoned veterans have a heck of a time trying to keep up on hard, let alone the expert difficulty. Does this deter from the fun factor of the game? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact it probably increases the appeal to new folks being introduced to the game for the first time.

But enough of that mumbo jumbo, how does the game stack up to its previous edition? You?ll be happy to know that there are various game modes for you to strum to your heart?s content. If you like single player, then you?ll feel right at home in the career mode. A few subtle changes have been added to the mix, but for the most part you?ll recognize the career format from Guitar Hero II. They have added a storyline into the career mode that is represented by animated clips between each set you play. The clips continue towards a great finale. Each level of difficulty offers a different variation of the story but they all result in the same ending. You?ll also be able to unlock different songs in the playlist by playing the various difficulty levels.

There are 3 moments in the career mode in which you?ll be treated to a little something different than you are used too. Within the career mode you?ll come across boss battles; at which point the player is required to compete against a boss character: Tom Morello, Slash, and Lou the Devil. The boss battles pit you against the aforementioned personalities in a duel of sorts. You?ll both play the song but instead of star power appearing at various points you?ll now have Battle Power. This new feature allows you to attack your opponent with various tactics such as broken strings, higher difficulty, amp overloads, etc. These attacks make it increasingly difficult for you opponent to complete the song. You can store up to 3 attacks in your queue at anytime and unleash them on your opponent as you would unleash star power. Winning boss battles will of course earn you money for the store, but it also unlocks the characters as well for purchase. Do not fret (no pun intended), you?ll have 3 opportunities to beat the boss, but if you cannot then the option to skip the battle will be given to you so you can progress in the career.

A new feature to the game is the addition of Co-op Career. Unfortunately at the time of this review there is no option to compete online or use local network play in this mode. Both players must be on the same console to participate in this mode. If you don?t have 2 guitars, have no worries as one of you can use a standard controller to play. While difficult for some to get used to at first, it works well with a little practice. You?ll only be granted 6 tiers of songs to play, as compared to the 8 tiers in single player. But each encore song in co-op is unique only to this mode. So I encourage you to find a buddy and play through this mode at least once. You?ll also notice that the story line is completely different in co-op but again results in the same finale, but instead of a final boss battle you just need to complete the final set.

Battle Mode is a competitive mode between two players either locally or over Xbox Live. Two players compete against each other, trying to complete a song while successfully using Battle Power sequences to earn attacks that can be used against their opponent. Players once again are able to store up to three attacks and can activate these temporary effects by tilting their guitars upward. Again, there are various attacks that can be used to throw your opponent off. But maybe you just want to sit and jam with another player online. Well, go right ahead. GHIII allows you to go online and play through sets with other Live players. Each player will be able to choose songs from a playlist and play them cooperatively with another player on live.

Visually the game doesn?t look bad, but its not going to knock your socks off either. You?ll notice that there isn?t much change in the stage sets and what not from Guitar Hero II other than locations. Basically it all feels the same for the most part. The character models would be my biggest gripe. First off, there is no real character editor for a player to go in and create their own rocker. With the addition of online play this is a highly disappointing issue that will hopefully be addressed in the next iteration. Yes, you can change the clothes and guitars of your characters but it just doesn?t fill the void. My second gripe would be just the way the characters look. Brett Michaels looks a bit on the anorexic side. He honestly looks a bit on the ?Dawn of the Dead? zombie side. The character models seem to have been brought over from the Tony Hawk series, which in my opinion is not a good thing because the models seem very stiff and manufactured. Even the fact that they used motion capture for a lot of the moves in the game, it really doesn?t seem evident at all when you have to look at poorly designed characters.

Finally let?s talk about the soundtrack a bit. Guitar Hero III seems to get the job done when it comes to signing the top bands that people want. How can a game go wrong when it includes Metallica?s ?One? from the And Justice for All album? Also included in the mix are bands like Guns n?Roses, The Rolling Stones, Slayer, Iron Maiden, and Aerosmith. And many of the tracks are master recordings. What?s not to love when you get to play actual tracks of Metallica or Guns n?Roses? To date this has to be the best compilation of artists and tracks in the series. Oh and for all you Halo nuts out there. You can download the Halo Theme Song exclusively on the 360 marketplace for free.

Overall while the game hasn?t moved forward much in the graphical sense, Neversoft has done a good job with keeping the integrity of the Guitar Hero series in tact. The game is loads of fun, especially with a few buddies over. This has to be considered one of the best party games out there. And with the addition of online play folks will definitely find a lot of replay value in this title.

Suggestions: Make Co-op Career mode online to allow users more options to play with their online buddies. Please redo the character models as many of them look like walking skeletons or zombies for a lack of better terms. Other than that, thumbs up on a job well done with this series.

Overall Score: 9.2 / 10 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

The Call of Duty series has always been known for its World War II theme and gameplay style, but the folks at Infinity Ward have decided to step into the present day with Modern Warfare. Is this a wise decision for Infinity Ward, or should they have stayed in the WWII era? Well after putting in well over 15 hours in the first few days after release, I am here to tell you?It was definitely a wise decision!

Infinity Ward returns to the COD series as the developer in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Without a doubt this is great news for many of the veterans and fans of the series. While COD3 (developed by Treyarch) wasn?t a terrible game, many folks believed it to be sup par to the quality that Infinity Ward had set with previous iterations of Call of Duty. I have personally enjoyed all the previous titles in the series, and was most certainly excited about the newest addition to the Call of Duty legend. So lets get right to it then!

Call of Duty 4 has a robust single player campaign that pits you as the US Marines or the British SAS dependant upon the level you are playing. The game is broken down into a prologue and 3 acts with sub chapters in each. You can go back and replay missions once you have played through them once. All of the achievements in the game are based on the single player campaign. Some of them are level specific in which you have to perform a certain task in order to unlock the achievement. There are quite a few levels in the single player that will be embedded in people?s memories as classics. One that comes to mind quickly is the ?All Ghillied Up? level where you play as an SAS sniper. This level is all about stealth and it can get quite intense, even while lying quietly in the grass. The ghillie suit, which is the grassy camouflage of a sniper, is absolutely amazing in this game. And that statement is true for both single player and online play. You?ll literally walk over top of a sniper without noticing him online if you are not paying attention. Yes, it?s that good. And before you ask, it?s only worn by snipers.

Single player is great and all, but Call of Duty 4 is all about the multiplayer. This game would still score high even without the single player campaign. For those lucky enough to have participated in the beta earlier this year, you got only a small sampling of what was to come online. 3 maps were included in the beta, but in the full version there are 16 multiplayer maps total. And rumor has it that DLC maps and game variations are not too far off in the future. Every map has a specific play list that allows a variety of game variations to be played. You?ll choose your game mode of choice from a play list when searching for a game to join. There are currently 13 game variations to choose from ranging from standard team death match modes to all sorts of objective games. In most games you have the ability to have up to 12 players in a game. There is one game mode called Ground War which allows for up to 18 players.

Finally, games are starting to take note from Halo?s success and include the party option. COD4 allows you to invite some friends into your pre-game lobby and party up as well. Once partied up, you can enter ranked matches and play together as a team. The server will keep your team together in the games, so you?ll be able to play under a clan tag if you so desire. More on the clan tag option later in this review.

When you first log in to the multiplayer menus, many options are dimmed out and inaccessible until you play a few online matches. Most of your equipment you use online is unlocked as you progress in rank. You earn XP during each match you play online and these points accumulate into a total value to help you increase your rank. You?ll get XP for kills, assists, completing tasks and challenges. Do not fret about the unlockables though. You?ll unlock plenty within your first hour of play online which will in turn keep you wanting to play more and more.

Once you get to Rank 4, you will unlock the option ?Create-A-Class?. This new feature allows you to create and customize a profile specific to your needs and desires. You select your weapon class, and choose your primary weapon. Here you can put on any attachments that you may have earned thus far online, but remember that some attachments will affect your Perk selections available. Certain attachments will actually replace your Perk 1, such as a grenade launcher. Next, you?ll select a side arm, and then finally choose a special grenade. Now is where the ?Create-A-Class? gets interesting. Your next step is selecting your ?Perks?. Perks are basically specialty skills your character possesses when online. You can select up to 3, but only 1 from each category. So choose wisely.

Perk 1 is basically explosive oriented. There are 7 options to choose from ranging from C4 specialist to a Bomb Squad perk that allows you to be able to locate enemy explosives. When you create your first class, only a few of these options are unlocked. But no worries, you?ll unlock the rest of the perks in this category and others as well fairly quickly. Perk 2 contains perks pertaining to health increases, extra powerful ammunition, quicker reloads, etc. Finally Perk 3 has 8 options, again which have to be unlocked as you progress. One of my favorites in this category is called Last Stand. When this perk is activated, you will not die immediately when shot. No, you will actually fall to your back and pull out your pistol. At this time you?ll have about 10 seconds or so to take out anyone you can before you die. Now of course, your shooter can finish you off if he sees you have Last Stand. As I stated earlier, you only get to choose one Perk from each grouping, so customize it to your gaming style.

In the online menu you will also find an option called ?Barracks?. Here you?ll be able to view Leaderboards, Challenges, and create a clan tag. Let?s just get the clan tag option out of the way first. When you create this tag, it attaches as a prefix to you Gamertag in the multiplayer lobbies. That?s it! It?s only a visual identifier and nothing more. So for those looking for a distinct and fruitful clan option will be a bit disappointed. Hopefully a much more in depth clan option can be added through an update at a later time. In the Barracks option, the Challenges option is the most important thing you?ll want to be checking out. Here IW has set up challenges for you to complete. You?ll receive XP points when completing these challenges which of course help you continue to increase your rank. There are challenges for each individual weapon, as well as general tasks such as calling air strikes or blowing things up. So be sure to check out the challenges as you unlock them to see what you want to work on next.

While playing online you?ll have the ability to use some perks, such as the RPG, by pressing right or left on your D-Pad. Some perks, such as Last Stand or Juggernaut active at all times and do not need to be accesses. The D-Pad is also used to call in UAV, Air Strikes and Helicopter support. The UAV is 30 second radar that appears on your HUD showing the location of enemies. This UAV is activated by pressing right on the D-Pad when you get a 3 Kill Streak. When you obtain a 5 Kill streak, you will have the ability to call in an air strike. When you push right on the D-Pad, a map will appear on your screen and you will select the location you want the air strike to occur. (HINT: Be sure you have a UAV enabled so you can see the enemy?s current location.) Finally, if you are good enough to get a 7-Kill streak you will get the ability to call in Chopper support. Once again, just hit right on your d-pad and a friendly helicopter will come to your teams aid and mow down any enemies it sees in the open. Here?s another hint for you folks. If you are on the receiving end of an air strike or chopper support, take cover in a well sheltered building. Be sure it has a complete roof as well, or you?ll be a sitting duck.

Another great addition to the gameplay is the melee knife attack. Some may wonder where to equip your knife for stealth attacks, and what weapon does it replace. Well, don?t fret because your knife is equipped at all times without taking up an inventory spot. To use your knife attack, you just click the right thumb stick when in melee range of an opponent. Oh the sweet satisfaction of sneaking up on someone from behind and knifing them in the back. Luckily you can?t hear your opponents or you may hear some words you really shouldn?t use in public.

From my experiences so far, the online play has been smooth as silk and Infinity Ward has many defense mechanisms in place to ward of cheaters. If you have a stand by button your modem and want to try the old trick of hitting stand by and creating an advantage for yourself, don?t do it. IW can confirm these users and will in fact ban your ability to host matches. If there are extreme circumstances, you could even find yourself banned from live altogether. So, just keep that in mind.

The graphics in this game are phenomenal. Foliage acts as great cover for snipers in the ghillie suit, and the damage taken to buildings and various objects via gun fire is well defined. I haven?t experienced any slow down issues at all in either single player or multiplayer. This is a great thing due to the amount of action taking place on the screen at all times. I have heard several folks complain that the sounds were recycled from previous games, but I have to say that the sound effects are right on with what is happening at all times. I mean honestly folks, how many sound variations to an M16?s gunfire are there? Some of the sounds, such as the battle cries can get a bit repetitive and sometimes downright annoying, but again it really doesn?t deter from the gameplay.And finally, the controls make the game easy to pick up and play. You can customize the controller to your liking of course, but all in all the triggers act as you grenade toss and you gun trigger. X is your reload button, and the D-pad is for your perks and special circumstances.

Overall, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a must have for any FPS fan. The lack of a distinct clan support will turn some folks off of course, but this doesn?t deter from the actual gameplay in the least. The visuals and sounds of the game are right where they should be, and the actual gameplay is superb whether it?s multiplayer or single player. One of the few downfalls of the game would be the lack of split screen support whether it be having a guest online with you, or just going through the game in co-op. This exclision is a glaring defect to many folks. I highly recommend this title to anyone and everyone that has any interest in the FPS genre.

Suggestions: Please include some sort of actual clan support instead of just a visual representation in the lobby. Clans seem to be an important assett to FPS fans, and a full fledged clan vs clan system would be superb. Also include some sort of split screen co-op, or online guests.

Overall Score: 9.4 / 10 ESPN NHL Hockey 2K4

?We Will ..We Will?Rock You!? Plays in the background as the puck drops in the final minute of play in Nashville, TN. Legwand wins the faceoff and passes off to Timmonen. Timmo passes down ice to Walker waiting on the right side. Quick pass to Legwand at the point! He shoots! He scores!? INTENSE! Sega along with the help of the ESPN licensee has scored a game winner with a brilliant job of making NHL 2k3 an even better game in 2k4. ESPN NHL Hockey 2k4 is chock full of extras, animations, and game play that will satisfy the need of any diehard hockey nut. Some of these option include mini-games, token collecting for special unlockables, in depth franchise and of course fluid online play. The ESPN style overlays and themes make you really wonder if you are playing the game or watching Tuesday Night Hockey. ESPN announcers Gary Thorne and Bill Clement call the game in almost unbelievable accuracy. If you want the best hockey game on the market you?d best be looking in the direction of ESPN NHL Hockey 2k4.

This game is an outstanding addition to any sports buff?s collection. I would highly suggest picking this up immediately if you haven?t already. Sega has now knocked off the mighty EA NHL Hockey series and you can be sure they plan on staying at the top.

One of the first things you will notice in the new game is its gameplay. It?s as smooth as silk and the graphics are definitely greatly improved over last year?s title. New deke moves with the use of the right analog stick are a great addition to an already solid control scheme. Scoring takes a lot of skill on the higher difficulties (Pro and higher) while on the lowest 2 difficulties you can pretty much light up the lamp as much as you like. You?ll have to master the one-timer, as the one-man scoring maneuvers from last year are not near as easy to pull off. I am referencing the ?Swoop? (S-maneuver) for those that know exactly what I am talking about. While it is still possible to pull of this maneuver, it is not nearly the scoring opportunity it was last year. Goalie AI is much more solid disallowing this ?cheap? maneuver to be depended upon as your only offense. Did I say it was impossible to score with this maneuver? No, but a lot more difficult and those that rely on this as their only scoring opportunity will sadly lose most of their games. SUGGESTION : Learn your offense and do not rely on these ?cheap? maneuvers to begin with. Those of you looking for a good fighting engine will be greatly disappointed again this year, as it doesn?t seem like they spent much time in this area. So don?t expect Capcom vs Marvel when the gloves are tossed off. Most people will be happy to hear that the ?up? and ?down? ice debacle form last year has been fixed. Now, when you play as the home team you always go up ice twice no matter which team you are. These are just a few of the great improvement made in gameplay. I could go on and on for pages about player handling, puck physics and so forth.

Online play is so fluid its ridiculous. There is still the somewhat discerning divergence error or synchronization error. Most of this is due to an opponent making line changes before the puck is ever dropped. It seems that if you can play through to the first stoppage of play and then make your line changes you?ll be able to finish out a lot more games without errors. The unfortunate side of the online tends to affect league players. Last year you were able to load a profile with all your league settings, so you needed only to remove your voice mask when the game started. This year you have to set all your settings once you enter the game with your opponent. Voice mask is off by default, so at least they got one thing right. ESPN allows you to use sliders to adjust your gameplay quality, from game speed to penalties to aggression. Tweak them to your preference. I have personally been playing game speed 1, penalties 4, and All Pro difficulty and the game statistics have been so realistic its scary. It seems unfortunately that there is some sort of cheat that affects the scoreboard and issues multiple wins for one game. This is one issue that needed fixed from last year and seems to be somewhat overlooked. NHL has also instituted the quitting option, which means if your opponent feels the need to quit, you will be given the option to allow it or not. If he decides to just pull the plug he will be given a DROP on his Live record. Sega says they will use this statistic to possibly reign havoc on the quitters. That?s a definite plus for all of us legit players online. Justice can finally prevail.

Sega has decided to add an option to their hockey series called ?The Skybox?. Basically it is to rival Madden?s long time Madden cards. You use the crib to spend credits on unlockables, view challenges complete, player records, trophies won, etc.. There are old-timer jerseys to unlock from as far back as the early 1900?s. You can also unlock mini-game such as air hockey, mini-rink and pond hockey. All three have there own appeal. I personally enjoy the pond hockey the most as there are no rules, its 2 on 2 and very fast an fun. Its high scoring and a great multiplayer game! Also included in the games arsenal of extra is an All Star Skills competition. Here you will test your skills of accuracy, speed, puck control, strength and many other tests of skill. If you?ve ever watched the NHL Skills Competition on TV then you are probably frothing at the mouth to compete yourself. Go ahead and try and tee of with the hardest shot, or act as a sniper and pluck the targets out of the net in an accuracy contest. You want to know what the best thing is about the skills competition? Not only can you show up the computer, but you can take the competition onto Xbox Live and compete against the most skilled players from around the world! Now that?s an option! As you complete the skill challenges in single player you will earn tokens to use toward unlockables. You will also notice many of the token challenges have to do with season play as well. You?ll have to win a game in the Stanley Cup, win 5-games in a row on Pro difficulty, have a 3 game road win streak, and these are just Level One Challenges. 2 other Levels to complete.

As I mentioned before the graphics have been improved 100 times over. The arena renditions look outstanding and the reflective ice is just sweet. A lot of folks were upset that the camera angle seemed so distant last year, and Sega took that into account this year and put the camera right on top of the ice at a ¾ angle. Player animations and goalie saves are almost unreal. You?ll see players making that last second dive at the puck to poke it in the net as he slides by. The goalies butterfly, lay out, dive, glove, stick handle, stand on their head?need I go on. It?s amazing! I haven?t seen any slowdown at all during gameplay, and that is a plus as hockey is a fast paced game and would suffer greatly from a framerate problem. Ice animations, such as ice spray when stopping, players being checked into the team benches and glass breakage have not been forgotten. Player checks have quite a variety of styles. They are well done and enjoyable to watch.


Once of the most outstanding features in the game is its sounds!!! The commentary is almost 100% dead on with every on ice maneuver and pass you perform. Gary Thorne sounds like he is actually watching the game as he calls it. That is definitely impressive as I have never seen commentary so !&%$@#* good in any game! Bill Clement gets a little repetitive in his analysis, but I guess there are only so many ways to talk about a player without needing another disk or 2. The crowds chant player names and get quiet and loud with the performance of the home team. You?ll hear all the unique goals horns and buzzers from every arena in the league. The sounds are just absolutely solid in this game and you couldn?t really ask for much more. Any game that includes the great tune ?We Will Rock You? by Queen has to be one of the greatest sports titles ever made. I mean how could sports games have lasted this long without that tune laying in the background to fire up the crowd!


Suggestions: Suggestions: The game is outstanding, but I would possibly add the possibility of using downloaded rosters online. Speaking of online, the scoreboard ranking system and glitches really needs to be fixed. It?s unfortunate that many of the legit players have to suffer due to the tactics of a few that just want to see their name in light. Also, bring in some sort of hockey pregame show or even a post game highlight reel.


Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 NCAA Football 2004

A light mist hangs over Happy Valley as strings of traffic pour in from all the major routes. Yup its Saturday!!! Time for some great college football in University park, PA. Marching Bands, ranting coaches and top ESPN announcers, this game has it all. Choose from over 160 Division 1-A and 1-AA schools or take one of your favorite classic teams from past years onto the field. NCAA 2004 creates such an atmosphere of college football its almost ridiculous. I found myself looking for that unprecedented #1 ranking in the polls, only to get shafted by the computer ranking system a few times. Its so true to real life! Its a great feature to have to wonder if you'll get ranked #1 or be victim to a conspiracy. With the addition of the Sports Illustrated trademark, you'll be aware of any ranking conspiracies or other valuable information such as Heisman candidates, upsets, players of the week, and more.

Run the option, call and audible to play action if those safeties are cheating up, or just go over the top if your QB has the arm. Every college play you could dream of is in the game along with formation like the wishbone or Maryland I.

This game has everything from practice squads to a truly deep dynasty mode. Now of course college atheletes are non liscensed players so do not look for popular names to be on the field. You'll just see their number. You can edit this if you like. As you progress through dynasty years, those #'ed players will be replaced with named players you recruit. If you are looking for that college football game to satisify every need you have then look no further than NCAA. I suggest you go pick it up right now, because you'll be hooked if you are a college football fan. WE ARE........PENN STATE!!!

When it comes to creating a sense of college football, NCAA has nailed it on the head. Control is surpisingly quite smooth and easy to learn. Running the option is an artform in this game, which it is in real life. Don't expect to run it pefectly every single down, because the AI will adjust quickly. You need to mix up your plays a little.

The play selection screen is simple in the fact you pick you formation and then you pick your play. Running plays will be blue while pass plays will be yellow. Depending on what school you pick will determine what play selection and formations you get.

Dynasty mode in this game has to be among the best out there. You can choose one or a few schools to play with through the years. You'll be offered contract extensions or other coaching opputunities with other schools as you progress through each year. As you get better and win more, the better oppurtunies arise. Also, the more you win, the better chance your school has of moving into a better conference and increasing their prestige. Your players will also increase or decrease in abilities from year to year depending on your performance.

In the offseason you have the wonderful task of trying to land a few of the blue chippers looking to play some college ball. You'll receive a certain amount of credits for a 5 week period. You must use the credits to pay visits to your recruits and try to entice them to play ball at your school. Be sure to keep and eye on your team needs and fill those before trying to land the #1 guy in the country. Players will either show interest towards your school, or just basically snob you off, so keep and eye on their reactions to your offers. You don't want to waste credits on guys that have no desire to play for you. Once the recruiting is over, you'll have to cut your roster to 55 players if it isnt already there. Then you'll go through a breif training week, where you'll see what guys improved and what guys stayed the same. The off to your next season. Hint: If you want a shot at #1 with a smaller school, be sure to adjust your schedule with a few ranked teams before starting the next season.

As you play your games, you earn credits which allow you to buy Madden cards. These cards range from team boosts to cheats to classic teams unlocked. Before you know it you'll have enough tokens racked up to buy all 340 cards. The classic cards need to be earned in the Classic Team Mode.

Classic Mode puts you in famous game situations from college history. You'll be placed on the field and need to win the game in the time remaining. A few of these situations are pretty tough, while a few other are easy as pie.

You'll find record books, trophy cases, career stats and anything else you could hope for in a football game. And for those of you that have Madden 2004, you can import your graduating seniors into the Madden game for drafting in the NFL. Now thats a really kewl option!!

The stadium renditions for most of the schools seem to be right on. I am amazed to play in some of the football stadiums. The crowds are not the most innovative feature but you see plenty of movement and the band bouncing back and forth while tooting a tune. You gotta love the intro's to a few of the teams, like Notre Dame for example. The classic patting the sign as they walk down the steps in not left out. Most of the teams just come out of a tunnel, but I there are a few unique intros like ND.

The cheerleaders haven't changed much. Its nice animations but they still look a little on the jagged side. You'd think an animation could be top notch. The mascots still show reaction to play on the field along with cannons firing for those schools that have them. Coaches also get animated on the sideline showing their appreciation or disgust for calls made on the field.

One of the best visual animations I think I saw, was right after I scored with my running back. He ran right up to the ground camera in the endzone and posed Heisman like. Next thing I knew I got an unsportsmanlike conduct call for excessive celebration. UG! Darn freshman!

Framerates are very smooth, and the players look outstandingly real. The face are still a little on the spooky side as they can tend to have that blank stare going, but how often are you going to be checking out someone's face instead of trying to juke around his whole body.

College football is all about the atmosphere, and NCAA recreates that atmosphere with superiority. The marching bands playing alma maters when a TD is scored is the most noteable college reality int he game. You're crowd will be loud and into the game when you are doing good, or quiet and almost non existent when you are stinking up the field. You'll here players chanting, QB's audibling, and ref's calling penalties with clarity.

The announcers from ESPN's college gameday are the perect accent on a pretty much flawless game. Listening to Lee Corso and his quirks and comments can get quite funny. At times, they'll tick you off in the pregame when they go against you and pick the other team. But that should inspire you to prove them wrong and they'll admit it at the end of the game. Play by play is dead on and called as the action happened...Not a play later like some games have been known to do. As you break records, they'll congratulate you or they'll show doubt in some of the calls you make on the field. Depending on what school you are playing with or the school you are playing against, you may or may not have a televised game. If the game isnt televised, then you'll have a PA Announcer calling your number on the play just like at a real live game.

So basically music, television announcers, and on field sounds in this game are super and take this game to untouchable levels for any competitor looking to match NCAA.

Suggestions: Bring more schools into the mix as you did this year. Maybe get a little deeper in the recruiting process such as offer potential recruits trips to the school during the year to check out the facility and stuff.

The game is solid and I would hope only extras would be added, but no changes to the gameplay.

Overall Score: 9.6 / 10 Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003

Silence comes over the crowd as Tiger lines his birdie putt up for the win. He stands over the ball and takes his stroke. Its in the hole!! Tiger dominates yet another tourney.

And that?s just what Tiger Woods 2003 has done on the Xbox. It has dominated the small community of golfing titles available. This game has everything you want in a console golfing game. Graphics, gameplay, control, and sounds, its all here.

All the negativity towards EA lately should be set aside for this great game. EA even offers online tourneys for players to compete in using a ?submit your code? system. So to a degree the game is online, but I know that will not satisfy most Xbox gamers online expectations. If anything just pick this game up for a quick rental and you?ll soon see the addiction so many true life golfers have with this game.


There are many different gameplay options available. Match play, stroke play, Tiger Challenge, Scenarios, Online Tourneys, and that?s just a few. Your best option to start the game would be to compete in matches with you friends to build up money to add stats to your golfer. 105 in each stat category is the best you can have, just so you know. You also may want to try the skill zone, as you can build quite a hefty purse to buy stats with.

The skill zone consists of hitting golf balls onto bulls-eye targets at different distances. You?ll have to master the forward spin and backspin to keep the ball on the target.

Match play and stroke play are self explanatory for the golf fan. Match play consists of hole by hole play, whoever finishes the current hole wins that hole and receives one point. This will continue through 9 or 18 holes until a winner is declared. The winner is the one who finished the most holes first. (Just a rough description of it) Stroke play is just standard golf. The lower your score at the end of the round the better. Lowest scores obviously wins.

The Tiger Challenge consists of 25 different challenges. Some are one on one, and some are skins or match play events against several computer players. Your goal is to complete all the events and earn your Tiger tour card.

Speed golf is a 1 or 2 player split screen. The object is to beat race your opponent from tee to green trying to be the first one to finish the hole. You?ll receive money for accomplishing certain events before your opponent such as being the first one to drove off the tee. It can get quite addicting so just beware.

Those are just a few of the gameplay options you have to choose from.

Tiger Woods 2003 uses an easy analog stick interface for hitting the ball. Pull the stick back for your backswing and push it forward for your forward swing. You can add power and spin by tapping the white or black buttons during your swing and during the flight of the ball. The spinning of the ball can be become quite useful. Putting can become quite easy once you get the general distances down. Be sure to play the wind as it will come into play almost always.

Overall gameplay is solid and offers quite a bit of replay value, whether it be playing in online tourneys or just sitting around with friends. The game can get quite easy after playing for hours and hours, and especially once you get all your stats built up.


EA has done an outstanding job recreating the real courses offered in Tiger Woods 2003.Even the fantasy courses look great with sea spray and fog. Trees sway, and flags flap in the wind. The sand blasts look excellent when coming out of the bunkers, not that you really want to see this. The water on the courses is quite basic with no real special effects. You?ll take notice to a lot of Easter Eggs planted throughout the courses such as wildlife and other objects. I won?t delve into them but keep your eyes open and take a look around every once in a while. You?ll find some interesting things.

One of the coolest features at first is the slow motion for great shots. After a few times though this can get quite annoying. It does give you time to get some good spin on the ball though, so I guess that?s a plus. Here?s a hint, when your heart is beating hard(you?ll feel this via the vibrating controller) just leave the shot go. Don?t add any spin until the last minute if needed. I?d say 7 times out of 10 the ball may be going straight into the hole.


The sounds in the game are great. From the menu soundtracks with some rocking tunes, to the gentle sound of the breeze swaying through the trees at Pebble Beach. You?ll have birds chirping, planes flying over, crowds cheering, even ?Nessie? the mysterious sea monster makes a cameo voice over. All the sounds are well done and well placed throughout the game. You?ll notice sounds getting closer and farther away as you move through the golf courses. Definitely have the surround sound on for this one. It adds to the whole experience.

The heartbeat is about the only annoying thing in the game. This occurs during a clutch shot or eacht ime you are trying to reach the green in 2 on a par 5.


Suggestions: Make this game Xbox Live compatible. Man it would be awesome to have some great golfing tourneys on XBL. Also, get rid of the slow motion cut scenes. It makes the game boring eventually especially when you know you are going to have a great shot no matter what and just set the controller down and let the game do its thing. Make the players think is all I am saying.

Make courses available for download via XBL.


Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 NFL 2K3

First word that comes to mind is......AWESOME! This has to be one of the best football games ever made to date. Graphics, sound, great gameplay, dynasty......its all there. Being a diehard Madden fan for the past 10 plus years I had my doubts about this game. But Sega just became the new kid on the block with 2K3. The game pays attention to detail which is key in any console football game.

And guys it Xbox Live compatible!! That is probably the newest and kewlest feature in any football game.

If you like football and I mean really like football, 2K3 is the one for you.

First thing that I would notice about te gameplay is it is dificult. You definitely dont just jump into this game and whoop up on the CPU 66-0. The AI has to be one of the bet out there, calling audibles on you on defense and offense. You have to be on your toes and know the defensive schemes. You also have to know your offensive play because it isn't just hike and run for 80 yards anymore. If you dont follow your blockers on running plays you aren't going very far.
Gang tackling is a great feature to slow down guys by the name of Bettis. One guy holds on while the others get there to finish him off. Its about time this feature was added to a football game.
Passing, whether you use maximum passing or regular passing, is difficult. You can't just throw to your favortie receiver all the time. So no money plays are in this game!
Franchise mode is quite deep. Allowing you to scout upcoming prospects at the NFL Combine. There is a mock draft to look at just to get an idea of where certain guys you are interested in will go in the draft. You are able to sign and release players very easily but not without penalty. Don't forget about your salary cap.
One downfall I did see, is when you put a guy on the trading block you will receive offers from other teams for that player. While this is great it seems that when you try to accept an offer the CPU turns you down cold almost everytime.
The addition of the ESPN style of presentation adds to this game immensely. While it can get a little annoying hearing the Sportscenter theme song its still cool. There are weekly wrap ups and players of the week to see which is great.
Overall gameplay is great for any diehard footballer.

Visuals are no less than stunning. Whether it be the various elements of weather or the detailed players and their faces, its all good. Has to be one of the first games I have seen that cloud shadows cross the field in real time. Makes for a realistic looking perspective.
Player models are smoothly animated and not overdone. They are almost life-like in cetain situations.
The animated sidelines has to be another key feature to see. While not really related to gameplay its nice to see guys moving around over there instead of standing as statues.
The crowd could use more animation and personality though. that would probaly be the weakest point of the graphics. The stadiums around the crowds are outstanding renditions.

The play-by-play, while getting better in all console football games, till needs work. A little enthusiasm at key moments during a game would be a huge advancement. Yes the calling can get a little repetitive but its still good.
The on field sounds are great. You can hear guys jawing back and forth across the formation. Defensive players yelling at the QB, using his actual name too.
The crowd could probably use a little more personality too. Maybe have some of the homefield chants you hear on a regular basis across the NFL. I do like the fact they used actual excitement music that you would hear playing in stadiums in real life.

Suggestions: My main suggestions would be the adding a little more personality to the non gameplay issues of the game. Such as crowd, reactions, animation, etc...
Work on the player trade module as it doesn't seem to work when I get offered something for a guy in my trading block.
Maybe add to the weather by having downpours then slow the rain down, then downpour again. Just variations in the weather would be kewl.


Overall Score: 9.0 / 10 NFL Fever 2003

The graphics for the game look out standing, but the gameplay is somewhat lacking. Even to the point of unrealistic at points. The weather situations looked good especially in the snow, you can actually see the footprints they leave in real time. I don't think the game advanced much from last year except with the additon of online play. Online play is a definite plus, but there's a better football game out there also with online play.
If you are the occasional football gamer then Fever isnt a bad choice. While not realistic it could be fun. But if you love football, and love detail I suggest you look elsewhere.

One of the key downsides in Fever is the passing game. Not every pass is a high arc and it seemed that most thrown by the QB's were. Brett Favre throws bullets, even 30 yard bullets, and does not have a rainbow effect to his passes. That would be the first thing I noticed. Secondly, the game seemed fairly easy to play again, with very little difficulty in completing passes and large gains on the ground. So sayingt hat the AI is not near as tight as they were saying it would be.
The dynasty mode is deep but could still be better. I do like the player progression and feel that all games should have this type of system. It would help you in making decisions on when to start a hot guy over a slumping guy. So that definitely deserves a thunbs up.
Controls are fairly simple to grasp which makes the game very easy to catch on and make those big plays. And one nice feature is whether you are controlling a "fat" guy or a "little" guy you can tell the difference in agility and speed.

Fairly easy game for the beginner in console football games to pick up and play.

While I havent had the chance to play Fever online, this could possibly be the best gameplay feature. Nothing like going against your buddy in a good football game no matter what the title is.

The visuals here are the best thing about it other than online play. Stadium renditions are sharp and crisp. Player models, while they look good still seem to be a little to "super heroish" for me. Aaron Brooks, Saints QB, does not have 27 inch pythons for arms as an example.
The dimples on the jerseys were a little overdone in my opinion. Almost looks like thay are wearing chainmail armor instead of a nylon jersey.
Reflections and lighting were very well done also. The reflections on the helmet is a neat feature now popping up in most football video games.
There really wasn't one standout visual that puts this game ahead of the rest. But it still looks good.

Its time to get some real football announcers. Microsoft has the bucks to sign a deal with a network or something to pep this game's play by play. While some original comments are made , and some enthusiasm at the right times, it is still lacking of some real football talk.
While many aren't keen on Madden's words of wisdom, that's football and belongs in the game. There is no sense of a guy who knows what he is talking about in this game. Almost like cue card reading. I hate to compare it but these announcers are as bad as Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. And ya see what MNF did, see ya Dennis. My point is these announcers do not fit the game of football at all an should be replaced with some real footbal commentary.
The sounds on the field are nothing out of he ordinary, but still sound good. So no major improvements there.

Suggestions: I think the game needs a complete overhalu for next year. Fever is a gem waiting to shine. But the right areas need to be attended to first:
-Deeper Franchise
-Player Models toned down from super heroes
-Gameplay made a little more difficult w/better AI
-Replace those announcers!
If just these adjustments were made it would make Fever 10x better. But there are so many more tweaks that you could surprise us with. Good luck!

Overall Score: 6.0 / 10 World Series Baseball (Sega)

This has to be the best baseball game ever released. Its about time. World Series was solid before this title but they raised the bar on this one. Great job Sega!! If you like stats, its got'em. You like the long ball, it's got'em. You like realistic stadium renditions, it's got'em. Plenty to do and see in this game and has a great franchise option too. Highly suggested ot any real basbeball fan looking for that winter pastime or maybe when they go on strike.

The gameplay is great and most likely the best I've see yet. There are still moments when you don't have total control of a players movements which can get a bit irrating. But for the most part this issue is non-existent compared to other baseball games on the market. Very easily accessible menus let you jump right into gameplay quickly. You can set up a franchise or just play a season, thats up to you and remember a season is 162 games plus playoffs. Of course you can adjust that to your liking. Personally I completed a full season and won the World Series in my first year.

The pitcher batter interface works very nicely and can be quite a bit challenging against certain pitchers. Look out for Tim Wakefield's knuckler. It's nasty! But hittable!

A few issues that I did not like. First of all, I did not like the fact that you couldn't access previous box scores from past games. I had a few accounts where I wanted to see what my starting pitcher did against a team previously but to my avail it wasn't accessible. That in my opinion is not acceptable. We have an 8 GB hard drive at least to store that info. Come on Sega!

Secondly, there is not enouhg recognition for some amazing feats in the game. I acquired Jeff Weaver from Detroit to play for me in Baltimore. His third start he pitched a perfect game!!! Yes perfect! 27 up, 27 down! Here I am finishing the game waiting for some amazing commentary or something special to come up on screen. NOTHING! The commentators didnt even mention once that he was on his way to a possible perfect game. That has to be one of the greatest feats in baseball and no recognition. Maybe I'm asking to much, but definitely didnt like that. Also didnt like the fact I couldn't go back and look at the box score of that game later or after the season! Thats goes back to point #1.

Point #3 would be for the announcers to have a little excitement when landmarking events are taking place such as a perfect game. They will comment on a player looking for his third homerun of the game or one thats looking to go 5 for 5 but nothing to do with the momentum of the game. Thats a bit of a disappointment to.

My final point would be that there is no way to release a player from your minor league roster. At least I couldnt find one and if anyone out there knows how let me know! LOL!

Anyway other than those few points that may be minor to some folks and a big deal to others like me the gameplay is great!!! Hours and hours of fun!

Stadium renditions look awesome for the most part. One thing that did not appeal to me were the landscapes in a few of the stadiums. For one, that definitely is not the skyline of Baltimore in the background at Camden Yards. The warehouse looks great but the city looks pathetic. Comerica looks good as well as a few others with realistic backdrops. I just think if you are oging to have a perfect rendition of the stadium the surroundings should be included.

The players are still not quite right. Although getting better and the animation runs smoother. They still have big bulky muscles and a lot of times the skin colors do not match the actual player. Once again a bit picky but ya gotta be for a game this close to greatness!

The commentary is very good in this game with a variety of comments to hear. But sometimes the commentary did not fit the game situation such as a perfect game situation or possibly a game winning situation on hand. But for the most part all the commentary was very good, and doesn't get repetitive too quickly.

Suggestions: Points that I did not like were mentioned above and I think should be addressed.

1 - Total player control throughout the game.
2 - Recognition from game of accomplished baseball "feats". I.E. - perfect game
3 - More excitement in commentary in certain situations.
4 - A little more control over the roster in GM mode. Such as being able to release players and such.
5 - More detail and research into the stadium backdrops especially city ballparks.

Overall Score: 10.0 / 10 NCAA Football 2003

NCAA 2003 is one of the greatest college football video games I have ever played. It has school spirit, team spirit, the drive of college atheletes and most of all great gameplay!!! Graphics are stunning as is the commentary and fight songs. This game is a definite two thumbs up in my book and should be in yours. There are only a few very minor flaws in this game that can easily be overlooked while playing. That makes for a great game!

The game plays fairly simple. NCAA gives you and easy button style menu to choose your plays on either offense or defense. The AI isn't a brain yet but its getting better each year so dont expect the burn the defense with your favorite play every time. The passing game uses a little preciseness from time to time whether it be having to throw a lob pass or making sure you rifle that ball into the receiver. As for the running game, its definitely "in the game". Run off tackle, up the middle, counter left, option. Doesnt mater you are likely to pick up a few yards each run or maybe even break the big one.

There is a dynasty mode that surpasses all others. Once you get past the first year your players you recruit will have actual names instead of just numbers. Due to NCAA rules and regs current players are not allowed to have their names displayed in the game. Bummer. Don't wanna mess up some promising kids career though, we all no who the big names are and what number they are anyway. You will try to recruit the top prospects in the country to play for your school and if ya cant get them you may be in trouble in years to come. So be sure to make plenty of visits and calls from your coaches.

The bowl ranking system here sucks! But how can you expect it to be any good whent he real system dont even work. LOL! Thats not EA's fault, blame those panzies in the NCAA boards.

While you're at it take your favorite mascot in a head to head battle with your least favorite mascot. There's just something appealing about a Blue Devil tackling a huge Orange. Take that as need be.

Trophies, awards, and championship bowl games are all here. This game is it man!

I did have the game freeze up on me twice and had this same occurrence in last years game. Not quite sure why, but I had to replay that game because the only thing I could do to unfreeze it was turn off the Xbox. Didnt like that too much escpecially since I was winning the frozen game and lost the replay version.

Each year the players, fields, stadiums, and weather looks better and better. And this year is no exception. The animations are fairly smooth even though there seems to be some slowdown near the goallines sometimes. Not always but it does happen.

The fields get torn up in wet weather, which I think is really kewl. And the player uniforms get muddy and grimy too. Thats a plus. I still dont like one thing though, and thats the fact that you have tall guys and short guys with the same exact build. Its like they took the tall guys and shrunk him to make another type of player. I think this player should be totally different.

The commentary for this game has to be one of the best out there. All three commentators have many different things to say through out the game which leads to less repitition. You constantly here fight songs playing in the background to get the hype into the crowd during certain situations or after a score.

As for the thunder during rain, hmmmmmm, it seems to me at the sign of lightening and thunder our true life games were always called off or postponed til it passed. Never quite understood that in this game. But if thats the least of sound worries, then there aint a problem.

Suggestions: I would very much like to see a much more detailed crowd in the stands. Maybe see the band doing there instrument dances and so forth. Thats petty but would be kewl and add to the school spirit already present in the game.

When creating your player models i think you should use about 10 different sized people or more. Shrinking and enlarging one player model doesn't quite fit the realism I am looking for. Just a suggestion, maybe you do that already and I am just not seeing it. The little running backs look like the tall wide receiver's "mini me".

Overall Score: 10.0 / 10

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