Monthly Archives: December 2009

Level Up – Episode 2: Holiday Gift Guide

N64 KidWith the holidays creeping up on us, we figured it’d be a good time to go over some of our top picks for presents to request, give, or steal from your local electronics store.

Just kidding, don’t actually steal stuff (if you do, though, we’d love it if you threw some love our way). While you’re not breaking the law, though, you should listen to episode 2 of Level Up, or download it to listen later:

Fighting:Street Fighter IV Ryu

  • Street Fighter IV
  • BlazBlue: Calamity Trigger

Platformer:

Shooter:

Action / Adventure:Assassin's Creed II Ezio Dive

Puzzle / Strategy:

  • Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
  • Halo Wars

Racing:Need for Speed: Shift

  • Need for Speed: Shift
  • DiRT 2
  • Forza Motorsport 3

Rhythm:

RPG:

  • Dragon Age: Origins
  • Demon’s Souls
  • Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story

Sports:FIFA Soccer 10

  • FIFA Soccer 10
  • NHL 10
  • MLB 09: The Show

Downloadables:

  • Shadow Complex
  • Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony
  • Fat Princess
  • Flower

The site that Britton mentioned for those free iPhone games is Appvent Calendar, which is actually a pretty clever and fitting name. Blacksmith Games, the people behind this freebie treasure trove, is handing out a new free iPhone game each day until Christmas, so get them while they last!

And just for the record, I do play a lot of sports games when I get the chance; find me back in 2006, and you’ll rarely see me not playing a 2K sports game. I just don’t own a lot of them because given a choice between a barely revised annual iteration of Madden or an epic cinematic experience like Uncharted 2, I’ll choose Uncharted 2.

Also, just to clarify, I was talking about playing with multiple people on the same team with sports games in the podcast. 4 players with FIFA or NHL = fun, 4 players with NBA = trouble, and, just for completeness, 4 players with a football game = boring for everyone except the quarterback.

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God of War Collection Review

GoWC LogoThe God of War series has always been held as somewhat of a standard in frenetic hack ‘n slash action games. They have impeccably responsive controls, an uncanny ability to take camera control away from the player without making them mad, and disgustingly epic set pieces. Effectively, God of War games are another step towards discovering the Holy Grail of game design.

GoWC Box ArtThis is why rereleasing God of War and God of War II in a collection for the PS3 is an amazing idea. The first GoW sold admirably in retail, but the second one got unfairly shafted due to its late release in regards to the PS2 lifecycle. Putting those two games, which many hold as some of the greatest ever made, is pretty much the best advertising possible for the impending God of War III since those that never played a GoW game before will realize what they’ve been missing out on, and old fans will remember how great those oldies were.

Of course, a straight port wouldn’t be the God of War MO. No, there are actually some pleasant surprises to be had with the collection. First off are the graphics. In various interviews and press statements, it’s been revealed that all of the game’s textures have been redone and sharpened up, the frame rate has been locked into a silky smooth 60 frames per second, and the resolution has been cranked up from the PS2’s 512 x 448 to a deliciously HD 720p. This all may not sound like much on paper, especially for four year old games, but it makes a world of difference in practice. GoW II actually looks so good that it could easily pass for a current gen release. Never has ripping people in half been so beautiful.

In an awesome fever of fan service, Bluepoint Games also saw fit to include Santa Monica Studio’s original behind the scenes videos with the collection. It’s odd that you have to fire these extras up from the Video section of the XMB, but that slight inconvenience is easily negated by how awesome the featurettes are.

GoWC Colossus BattleThere’s also the mild annoyance regarding switching between the two releases while in game: you can’t. It’s unlikely you’ll find yourself needing to go in and out of the two games that this will become a real problem, but it’s unfortunate nonetheless.

Of course, being that nothing else has changed in these games, there’s also nothing else you can read here than reviews back in the day haven’t covered. Kratos’ storylines are always amazing, fighting feels intense without being overwhelming, and the controls make everything you do feel immensely satisfying. With the right stick dedicated to evasive maneuvers, the camera is completely controlled by the game, but it is handled so masterfully you won’t care at all. Best of all, though, these two games are so unapologetically brutal. Metalocalypse fans will definitely be pleased.

There’s also a nice little surprise to be had that’s completely unrelated to GoW I or II, and that’s a code to download the E3 demo of God of War III. This demo alone makes this collection worth it. All those things stated for the full games goes double for the download, and that’s saying a lot given that it’s just a demo of an unfinished game. It looks super sharp and provides a greater thrill through combat than before, especially since the game somehow got even bloodier.

For $40, you just can’t go wrong with this collection. You’re getting two full, universally praised games, a smorgasbord of video featurettes, and one of the most hyped demos to come out of E3. All of that will easily provide you at least 50 hours of fun, which is undoubtedly the best value you’re going to find in just about any medium. Happy revenging!

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Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time Review

A Crack in Time LogoLet’s say seven years ago you found an amazingly delicious type of candy, as in it looked and tasted like the best thing on Earth ever. Eating it was like dipping your tongue into liquid concentrate of awesome. However, as the years wore on, the sensation became less special, which isn’t a slight on the treat itself because it definitely wasn’t a bad candy, but it just wasn’t special anymore. That’s kind of how it feels to play Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time.

If you’ve played any other Ratchet & Clank game, then you already know what to expect from A Crack in Time, and you’ll definitely already know if you like that sort of game. Almost nothing has changed except the weapon selection, the graphics, and the story, which can be said about every sequel since Going Commando.

A Crack in Time Box Art

The R&C series has always been known for its off-the-wall weapons, with each game packing in 20 or more new, zany creations for the player to use during their quest for intergalactic justice. Knowing that, it was a really big disappointment to find out that A Crack in Time only has five or so fresh weapons to offer, and even those aren’t all that original. Those five are still definitely fun to use, but half the fun of R&C games is discovering how best to use your ever expanding arsenal. Now that A Crack in Time has largely taken that away from the player, the fun side of things falls to other facets of the game.

The gameplay is pretty much unchanged from previous installments of the series. In fact, once you get Clank back (spoiler alert? Maybe?), series veterans will be pulling off old moves like the long jump sans prompting. Though this sounds like a bad thing, you should consider how well the game handled before and how much fun the core gameplay is on its own. There was really nothing much for Insomniac Games to do except tighten it all up, and tightened it up they definitely did.

After playing the other six non-handheld iterations, it’s clear that A Crack in Time is the best handling one of the bunch. The differences are minute, but just know that experienced or not in the series, you’ll definitely notice how fun it is to simply move about in the world. Shooting, jumping, and wrenching all feel excellently refined and streamlined for faster action, especially the tweaked wrench throw and the hoverboots.

In addition to feeling the best, A Crack in Time also looks the best. Tools of Destruction blew people away back in 2007, and somehow this game looks even better. At certain points during the cutscenes, it’s hard not to think that Pixar had a hand in this. Clank looks especially impressive with his brushed metal texturing and lack of discernable aliasing.

A Crack in Time ClankThe cutscenes may look great but don’t convey much story-wise. No R&C game’s story has thus far held up to the one from Going Commando, but A Crack in Time‘s somehow seems especially lackluster. The ending is cheesy and predictable, overused action tropes are strewn about like literary sprinkles, and the impetus for Ratchet’s side of the game just feels so bland, despite how much it really means to him. You’ve gone so long being the only Lombax in the universe and felt fine, and now you’re expected to flip everything and believe that getting your parents back is paramount to everything else? No dice. Finding Clank, though, really made going through the entire story worthwhile and ties up Tools of Destruction quite nicely. It’s also pretty fun to watch the story unfold through the game’s dialogue, despite the extremely hit-or-miss nature of the humor.

A Crack in Time RatchetThe game’s style also feels a little stagnant, like week old bagels left out on the counter. The game is about as linear as it gets, the difficulty is definitely on the easy side even on Hard mode, and smashing boxes for ammo and health just feels so uninspired. In an admirable attempt to remedy the linearity, though, the game turns space into an open world where you can land on various planets to find Zoni, gold bolts, and weapon mods. There are only six or seven of these little planets per sector, which is disappointing since they also offer the only platforming and combat sequences that even approach becoming a challenge. However, since the game is constantly rewarding you with experience, bolts, and upgrades for going out of your way to gather these collectibles, it becomes rather addicting trying to fetch all of these goodies and actually gives reason to use your ship.

Flying through space, unfortunately, is a somewhat sad affair. Space travel is limited to a flat plane, which makes dog fights and exploration much more manageable but also a lot less fun. It ultimately leaves an extremely strong desire to play some Star Fox.

If the space fighting mechanics had been more fleshed out, they could have easily been turned into a nice little online multiplayer distraction. In fact, after Up Your Arsenal‘s fantastic multiplayer component, it’s always been disappointing to find out the PS3 R&C iterations never include some sort of competitive or cooperative mode.

A Crack in Time WatchHowever, some unexpectedly awesome fun can be had as Clank in the Great Clock. During these segments, Clank must solve puzzles that involve cloning himself through time pads to press the corresponding buttons needed to open a door. This mechanic (best described as single player co-op) is nothing new for Flash game addicts (Google “Cursor* 10” or “Chronotron”), but it’s fun nonetheless. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the game, there just needs to be more of it, preferably with some increased difficulty as even later puzzles can be solved on your first attempt.

A Crack in Time is definitely a good game. It handles well, looks absolutely stunning, and can offer up plenty of fun. If you’re looking for some new legs on the R&C horse, then you’re out of luck because this is just more of the same. If you’re looking for about 12 hours (more if you’re into maxing out your gear) of high quality Insomniac design, then you’ve come to the right place.

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