The Darkness (360) – Initial Impressions

Played through about 2 or so hours of the game so far.   It’s got a weird combination of Deus Ex and Condemned: Criminal Origins to it in that there feels like there’s some non-linearity and that you have a couple opinions besides pure firepower to deal with tight situations (including some stealth attacks and the Darkness powers).  The setting (in this case, NYC late one night) also brings these games to mind.

I’m a bit odd about what the game considers “dark” where your powers are supposed to manifest themselves better; the graphics don’t see to have a strong contrast between light and dark, but there are several profiles that can be set depending on your TV along with a gamma setting to adjust this further; however, there’s no ‘guide’ (eg, selecting a profile to make a near-black square disappear or the like) to help with the lighting setting.

My only concern in the longevity of the play is how many more powers the character manifests.  When you defeat a foe regardless of method, you eat their heart, and eating so many hearts raises your Darkness level, but there are only 5 such levels in the game; the fact I hit one within a couple hours makes me hope this game isn’t too short.

I was almost tempted to see how long into “To Kill a Mockingbird” (the movie with Gregory Peck) is used within the game, shown somewhat early in the game.

Haven’t tried multiplayer yet.

Shadowrun (360) – Initial Impressions

Short answer: this isn’t worth the $50/$60 out of the box, but it begs for more downloadable content that could make it worth that.  However, I’ve yet to hear of any, so in the short term…

The game takes a tabletop RPG and makes it into an FPS.  For something like Shadowrun, this is actually ok, because a lot of the tabletop RPG’s emphasis was the mix of magic and technology.  But unfortunately, there is no single player missions here: the game is all about the multiplayer combat.  I think that’s a big mistake: there’s nothing in how they’ve set up the game that would prevent even a mediocre single player FPS to be in place, granting the player powers over time like a typical FPS; some of the magic and tech like Gliders and Teleport would allow for interesting puzzles as well.    While you can play against bots in single player mode, this isn’t the same as a full-fledged campaign.

As for the multiplayer mode, the game itself is interesting.  You select one of 4 races with various advantages and disadvantages, and then at the start of each round, enter a Counterstrike-like menu to buy tech, magic, and weapons.  While in a match, you keep all tech and magic, but you have to buy weapons should you die.  Because of the mix of races and the magic and tech, this game then gets some elements of a Team Fortress classes, though well less defined: there’s obvious counterparts: teleporting elves as your scouts and minigun-wielding trolls for your heavy guns gun, but then there’s enough choices that you can create a class that works best for you.  In the current game modes (1-flag and 2-flag CTF), you don’t respawn after dying, though a teammate can revive you with Resurrection; however, this makes for an interesting gameplay mechanic that if that teammate should die, you’ll start bleeding out and either must find a healing Tree of Life to keep your health up, or make a quick sacrificial move before you die.  I played about 3 matches last night (and through the tutorial screens, natch), and there’s already a lot of different strategies that I can see.

Where the game is aching is the fact that it feels like there could be so much more added to the MP experience.  Two gameplay modes is not enough, and there’s no reason for very similar modes like from Halo to work here such as Territories or even simple team deathmatch broken out into rounds.  I think I also would have liked to seen a few more magic and tech powers; I found it very easy to gain all of those available by the end of a 9-round match, where instead I would still like to have options to pick from.  The menus are set up to suggest the possibility of additional modes and content down the road, but I think for a $50/$60 pricetag, this game needed those in here from the start.  I’ve a sneaking feeling that when these modes are released, we’ll be having to put some points to them (though how this works with Vista users is unclear yet).

I will say that, without knowing the development history, it feels like Shadowrun and Crackdown were conjoined twins separated at birth.  A lot of the elements of both games have similarities even though they were developed by different studios but that the combination of the two games (the MP elements of Shadowrun, and the SP elements of Crackdown) would have made for a top notch game all together.  However, that’s just my impression, I may be way off base with that.

Breakdown (XBX) – Initial Impressions

As a short diversion between RPGs and other games soon to be out, I pulled out a cheap pickup of Breakdown.  An original Xbox title now playable through backwards compatibility on the 360, it’s a first person shooter that takes the “first person” concept to nearly as far as it can go without wrecking the fun of the game.  For one, while there is shooting and other weapons, you quickly become more involved with using melee combat to get past difficult foes, so you can swing one-two punches and upper cuts.   Certain actions not shown in many FPS are forced on the player; you have to actually reach down to pick up ammo from dead soldiers or objects from the ground, and when you reach security doors, you need to pull out a security card and then swip it to get through.  These actions aren’t overly trivialized – they’re just long enough that it’s risky to do them in the heat of battle; that is, the game prevents you, as you likely would in real life, from running to a dead soldier to grab their ammo while a gun fight is blazing because of the time it takes, as opposed to many FPS where you can do this as part of the game.  It may seem a bit silly at first, but it actually works pretty well once you start getting into the midgame.

The game is unfortunately very bland in the graphics department.  All the levels have been rectangular hallways so far with minimal decoration, and though while I’m still in a building, it would have helped to have some diagonals as needed.  There was at least one interesting point as per the character gaining memories, I stepped out momentarily into a desert region (possibly part of some hallucination) while still in the middle of the building, to return to find that it likely never existed.  But even there in the desert, there wasn’t much different to look at.

It’s also the type of game where I wish they spent a bit more time thinking about checkpoints (the only points that you can restart your game after game over or a save game load); there’s been a few that have had a semi-difficult fight followed by a rather hard one which, should you fail the hard one, you have to repeat both fights.  I know the idea of quicksaves/loads isn’t really good for FPSs, but it would help with as distant the fighting portions are in this game, to err on the side of more checkpoints.

Definitely no big rush to finish this, but definitely one to finish.

Call of Duty 2 (360) – Replay Impressions

So I’m going for what I think are easy Xbox Live achievement points in that completing Call Of Duty 2’s missions on the hardest, Veteran mode, should be relatively easy (60 points for each mission plus an overall bonus).

That was a huge mistake at least in that thought process.

I realize that for the computer AI to get a leg up over you, the player, it needs to cheat a bit, but I swear, just getting through the entire Russian campaign took a heck of a long time simply because there were so many points where you’d be shot immediately after poking your head around the corner because the game cheated badly with soldiers knowing exactly where you are as if I were playing a wall-hacked CounterStrike game.  Again, I have to say it is a matter of making it fair to the computer since once you’ve died, you now know where to expect the enemy and thus makes it easier to defeat them, but there’s also something to be said about the near-perfect aiming with machine guns at long range that makes me wonder how many tricks the AI is pulling here.

I’m similarly working through the harder levels on Gears of War, but it’s interesting how learning to use cover in Gears is helping me alot to think about some strategies on the more open points for COD2.

And it’s actually surprising that this game looks, well, poor, given what’s come out since, but more that it feels much more like a direct PC port or a game where the graphics engine was standardized among all consoles and PC and not given any spit and polish for the 360.

Condemned: Criminal Origins (360) – Review

Criminal Origins - Cover As one of the original XBox 360 launch titles, “Condemned: Criminal Origins” wasn’t considered as one of the A-list titles for the console. However, the game, developed by Monolith and distributed by Sega, may be a sleeper hit, as it combines a simplified first-person action game with a dramatic horror story intertwined among the game in a method that other games like F.E.A.R. or Doom 3 have tried but failed. While not perfect nor an significantly impressive showing for the technology, “Condemned” is still a great game with hopes for more games to come in the future in the same vein. Continue reading

Call of Duty 3 (360) – Review

Call of Duty 3 - Cover Continuing the popular series of World War II-themed first person shooter, Call of Duty 3, developed by Treyarch and published by Activision, pretty much stays the course from it’s prequels, adding a few small items to gameplay and story that generally make the game a bit better. Unfortunately, the game ultimately lacks anything really new or exciting to add to the current gaming market; I wouldn’t call it stale, but pretty much lackluster despite being a good challenge. Continue reading

Resistance: Fall of Man (PS3) – Review

Fall of Man - CoverBeing one of the few console-exclusive games for the release of the Playstation 3, Resistance: Fall of Man, created by Insomniac Games, was heralded as one of the top titles for the system. While the game graphical flexes the muscle of the new console, the game itself falls flat, providing a somewhat above average FPS game with a few interesting weapons and online play, but really not breaking any new gameplay foundations, particularly in light of other recent titles for other systems. Continue reading