Braid – Review

Braid

For various reasons Braid does not fit to current gaming industry. It has no zombies, no shooting not even a multiplayer. It is an old fashioned 2D platformer with main focus set on logical elements — clearly, it does not sound like a recipe for a success in present times. So, what should be expected from a game prepared according to such formula? Without exaggeration, one of the most unique experience of the decade!

Braid was in production for three years. That is a lot, especially for a game that can be finished during a single afternoon. However, as soon as you start it you will realize that none of this time was wasted. Every element of Braid is incredibly polished: The graphic design is delightful, the music is delicate and soothing, the story is intelligent and most of all: the puzzles are diabolically clever. It gets even more impressive once you realize that Braid is basically a one-man project — besides graphics and music all work has been done by Jonathan Blow — a man gaming industry needed for a long time.

Blow filled his game with lots of references to the most famous representative of the genre — Super Mario Brothers. Tim, main protagonist, jumps on the heads of enemies to get rid of them, avoids deadly plants coming out of pipes and hurries to rescue the princess. What is more, one level is a reminiscence of a classic Donkey Kong stage with ever higher platforms connected via ladders. However, Braid is far from being a simple copy — Blow took all these staple elements, mixed them with technical novelties and fresh design and created a game that is both old school and modern.

braid review1

As in any platformer, in Braid you have to move from the left to the right side of the screen, jump a lot and try hard to omit any obstacles. Okay, you don’t have to try that hard to omit obstacles. That is because Tim posses a very special sort of abilities — he can manipulate time flow. If you fall into the pit or get hit by a goomba you can always go back in time and try once again. It does sound like pretty much of a facilitation but main purpose of this game is not avoiding death but solving puzzles and to do that you will have to master Tim’s abilities.

The game is divided into several chapters — world as they are called — in every of them time manipulation mechanic is different. For example in world four time flow is directly connected to Tim’s movements — when he goes right time flows forward and when he goes left time reverses. In another chapter he can create a shadow of himself existing in parallel dimension that will precisely repeat the path he had taken before time reversal. In yet another one, Tim carries a ring, which when dropped will slow the time locally

In Braid there are 60 puzzle pieces, 12 per world, and to gain access to the last chapter you will have to gather them all and subsequently assemble five pictures. The game allows for a little nonlinearity here since you don’t have to collect puzzle pieces in any fixed order — fortunately, because getting each one of them requires solving a conundrum and doing that on the very first attempt can be problematic.

The quality of puzzles is rapturous. Starting slowly with almost effortless tasks the game gradually throws at you more and more demanding both intellectually and dexterously challenges. Yes, this game is difficult. Frequently frustrating, but that’s the beauty in it and precisely the reason why Braid is so compelling. Every piece collected is a success, every problem solved a triumph and it gets addictive — you cannot simply walk away from an unbeaten puzzle. Gameplay gives horrid amounts of satisfaction and the more time you spend on a single challenge the more rewarding it feels once finally your brain clicks and solution lies bare in front of your eyes. I fear to imagine what a fiendish mind must it take to craft such conundrums.

Concept of time plays a big role in Braid — appearing not only in gameplay but also the story. The plot is told by fragments of books, placed at the beginning of every chapter, giving us insight into Tim’s thoughts or describing events from his life. Also, these text introductions are neatly connected to new mechanics appearing in subsequent worlds — that gives Braid something unique: a coherency between two aspects of the game. This correlation between mechanics and story is perhaps best visible at the dramatic ending where time manipulation is used directly as an instrument to depict the plot.

At first sight the story feels quite fairy-tale. Tim strives to rescue his beloved princess, whom he lost for unknown reason. It may look trivial but do not be deceived by appearances — in fact it is a depressing tale about unfulfilled love and human inability to undo past mistakes. Well, you wouldn’t expect that kind of seriousness from a game that looks like a pastel painting but it fits in well and acts as a pause between sets of effortful puzzles. However, there are fragments that seem overly enigmatic or incomprehensible at all.

With all its virtues Braid ends far too early — it takes from six to eight hours to finish. However, it is six to eight hours of unique, almost perfect gameplay endowed with stirring and mature story. To me Braid is a real gem — shining brightly among hundreds of other repetitive games — clearly demonstrating that, no matter of budget, with creativity and ambition one can still make excellent games.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 Multiplayer Impressions

Multiplayer

Treyarch has hoped to bring significant changes to Call of Duty multiplayer by overhauling the create-a-class system, while still ensuring that Black Ops 2 feels like a CoD game. Have they succeeded? Sort of.

In General:

With Black Ops 2, CoD’s graphics are as good as they’ve ever been, but they still leave you feeling like they could and should be better. While there have changes have been made to the engine, the engine itself is still the same one that has been used for years.

As usual, the sounds of CoD are solid. Voice acting is good, guns sound satisfying, and the lobby music gets you rightfully pumped for combat. More importantly, the controls are as tight as ever. It’s simply the classic CoD control system, but somehow it feels better.

The Maps:

This is where there is more to be desired. Not a single map is awful-there aren’t any that I vote against every time they popup, but there isn’t a single map that I consider to be an instant classic. When thinking about great CoD maps I tend to think about Crash, Backlot, Afgan, Crossfire, Rust, not Black Ops 2’s Drone or Hijacked. Each map looks quite different and there is a nice variety in terms of maps of different sizes, but I find myself spending most of my multiplayer time playing the Nuketown 2025 playlist.

Pick 10:

I had high hopes for the integration of the pick 10 system and the reality fell short of my expectations. In Black Ops 2, unlike in previous games, when creating a class you have 10 slots. A primary weapon takes up a slot, a perk, attachment, etc.There are also “wildcards” that take up a slot, but allow you to do something that you couldn’t otherwise do, like take a primary in place of a secondary. Don’t want a secondary? You don’t need one. Want two lethal grenades? There’s a wildcard for that.

This system does allow for more diversity among the types of classes that gamers can create, but it isn’t perfect. Sometimes 10 just doesn’t feel like enough-it feels like you somehow have less equipment than you should be allowed to have. Going along with this, perks have been altered so that they only affect your character and not your weapons. This sounds like it makes sense, but sometimes it doesn’t.

In the past Sleight of Hand made players have faster reloads, now a weapon attachment does that. Personally, I think it would make sense to have a perk that makes your character faster at reloading weapons or have the ability to aim faster. I don’t think that it makes sense to have to attach a fast mag or adjustable stock to do this same thing. Maybe I’m alone in this, but some how, I don’t think so.

Score Streaks:

Kills are still hugely important, but now assists, capturing flags, defending points, and almost everything help you get your streaks. Classics like the UAV and Sentry Gun remain as well as new streaks like the Hunter Killer Drone and Hellfire Missile. The bane of my existence, the RC-XD has made a comeback as well.  This system is similar to point streaks from Modern Warfare 3, but there is only one kind of them instead of the three options presented to you in MW3. Overall, the system works well, but like most things in Black Ops 2 there is room for refinement.

Conclusions:

If you loved CoD multiplayer in the past, you’ll still love it in Black Ops 2. If you’ve hated Call of Duty in the past, you’ll still hate it. The emphasis on player choice with the pick 10 system is negated by its short comings and the fact that you have to unlock just about everything. Treyarch has ditched their monetary system that they established in the original Black Ops and like in every CoD game, the rich get richer.

Inexperienced and unskilled players are the ones that need the most help and the best equipment, but they are the ones that rarely get to use it. Should you happen to be a highly-skilled, no-scoping machine, I don’t think that you need a special sight that highlights enemy targets or one that enables you to see and fire through walls.

Black Ops 2 showed promise and looked to bring the most significant changes to the franchise since CoD 4: Modern Warfare and while that may in fact be true, these changes are nothing ground-breaking. True to form the CoD formula is the same, the fans are the same, the haters are the same, and Activision is continuing to make a whole lot of money.pecial sight that detects enemy targets or one that allows you to see and shoot through walls.

Borderlands 2 DLC Review: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty

Borderlands

Borderlands 2’s first batch of story DLC dropped last week. Unless you purchased the Borderlands 2 season pass (four DLC packs for $30), then Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty will cost you $9.99. So, is it worth it? That depends.

It’s worth noting that you do not have to have beaten the main game to access the DLC. As long as your character is a level 15 or higher, you can experience all that Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty has to offer.

The new DLC adds more loot to hoard, a few new challenges for your badass rank, several vast regions to explore, something else to shoot at, new ridiculous characters to interact with, and roughly eight hours of gameplay. The best new feature is Borderlands 2’s first vehicle without wheels that players can actually pilot (you can’t pilot buzzards).

The Sand Skiff looks like something out of Return of the Jedi (and its supposed to). Hover around in one of these for a while, blasting enemies with explosive harpoons, and you’ll certainly feel like a pirate; a Borderlands pirate anyway. Despite the fact that the sand skiff seems to never want to stop moving, it proves to be the most satisfying vehicle to drive on all of Pandora; it just feels better than anything on four wheels.

Something small that I wish was fixed is that it isn’t immediately apparent how to get to the DLC once you’ve downloaded it. To access the DLC, head to a fast travel station and select “Oasis.” After sitting through another Marcus-narrated cut-scene, you’ll find yourself just outside of the town of Oasis just as it is being raided by pirates. After saving the day (naturally) you meet up with who is quite possibly the best of the new NPCs, Shade. This depressingly lonely yet laugh-out-loud hilarious man will get you pointed in the right direction. Then it is up to you which mission you decide to do first.

Just like in the main game, the DLC’s biggest strengths are its characters and room for exploration. Unlike the main game, the story falls a bit flat. its not as bad as the original Borderlands (whose ending infuriated many), but it isn’t nearly as satisfying as Borderlands 2’s either. Another issue is the lack of variety in truly new enemies. Some familiar foes make a return, which is to be expected, but the bigger problem is that many of the pirates are simply the same old bandits that you’ve been slaughtering for hours, but with different skins.

A feature that is much appreciated is that the enemies of the DLC scale to fit the level of your character-sort of. It is supposed to scale, but sometimes the foes at the end of your barrel are a few levels lower than you and occasionally they may be a couple of levels higher than you. The higher your own level, the less difference that this disparity seems to make, but this feature still could have been better.

Gearbox Software set the DLC bar pretty high with the four story-based DLCs it released for the original Borderlands. Unfortunately, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty doesn’t quite meet expectations. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t great.

If you’ve already nabbed a season pass, you’ll likely still be satisfied with the DLC (partially because you got a discount and partially because you’ve already committed to purchasing all four DLC packs). If you are a hardcore vault hunter or just want a little more to the game, download this DLC. However, if you are more casual, don’t plan on grinding a character to max level (50 for now), or don’t plan on a second play-through, unless money is of no importance to you, you may want to consider spending your 10 dollars elsewhere.

Dishonored Review

Dishonored

New IP’s are a huge risk at this point in this console generation, right now gamers are mostly looking for sequels that they have come to know and love, while some of us are itching for something new, something original, something out of the norm to give us a breather from the Call of Duties and the Assassins Creed’s. Arkane studios is here to give us that something new. It is called Dishonored, a first person stealth action game that feels like something between Bioshock, Splinter Cell and Assassins Creed. With the Wii U, Xbox 720 and Playstation 4 just over the horizon will Dishonored be a sneaky success or will it leave us hoping for the new console generation to leap out of the shadows soon?

You play as Corvo Atano, Lord Protector of the Empress of Dunwall. As Corvo arrives from a business trip he was sent on, he is approached by Emily, the Empresses daughter and future Empress of Dunwall. Emily tells you that the Empress needs to speak with you, as Corvo is speaking with the Empress Emily see’s a dark figure in the distance. Corvo immediately draws his sword and gun as he knows something bad is about to happen. You fend off a couple of the assassin’s, killing them with the accuracy of your gun and swiftness of your sword but one man can only do so much. Two more assassin’s leap down, one paralyzing you with his powers and the other shoving Emily out of the way and grabbing the Empress thrusting his sword into her stomach while all you can do is watch. The assassin’s then grab Emily and vanish, leaving you to stumble to the ground over to the dying Empress as she pleads “find Emily, protect her, you’re the only one who will know what to do”. The guards then show up, of course, as you are clutching the dead Empress in your arms then being blamed and taken into custody. It’s a very well played out and emotional opening scene that will get you excited to begin you’re path of justice and revenge.

Corvo is then thrown in jail and after a few months of captivity you escape with the help of an anonymous source who knows you are innocent. This is where the game kicks off as you escape prison and join up with some loyalists who know you are innocent and want to bring justice to the men that framed you. The story is pretty much just as simple as it sounds. You are accused of the murder you did not attempt, then you seek revenge on the people that framed you and took power over the city. There are a few twists in the story but unfortunately they are fairly predictable. However the game is a joy to play from beginning to end even though the story is not that original.

The characters make things a lot more interesting as they are wonderfully acted and voiced. The relationship between Emily and Corvo is done well, as you can tell that Emily see’s Corvo as a father figure and close friend, and at the same time you can tell that Corvo truly cares for Emily even though Corvo is mostly a silent character throughout. Piero is the master inventor and the one who supplies you before your missions with whatever you need. Piero is very subtle and kind of strange as he speaks very softly and slowly. Others think he is creepy but as the game goes on you just realize he is misunderstood and simply has bad people skills. While some of the characters are plain and generally boring, most of the characters are genuinely interesting and you’re understanding of them will change as you get to know them. You will meet many different characters as you are set out on you’re quest for revenge.

The game is set in Dunwall, a fictional city based on a Victorian age London. The city thrives on new industrial technology that runs on whale oil. The rich and powerful rule the city while the poor live on the rat infested streets only to become victim to the rat plague which eventually turns people into walking corpses known as weepers. Despite the overall dark tone of the game it’s an absolute pleasure to look at throughout, and you will notice that from the moment you start. The graphics style could be described as an oil painting in motion. You feel a sense of depression and bleakness as you roam the lower parts of the city where you see mostly grey and brown. Then once you get to the upper parts of the city the colors are vibrant and varied.

Each section of the city is set up as a sandbox type environment which allows you to tackle missions and seek out your targets through many different paths whether it be under the city through sewers, on the streets through alleyways, through dilapidated buildings, or prowling on the rooftops. This provides many options of choice and forces players to think outside the box instead of a linear path that holds your hand like many games do these days. Also once you find you’re target after much investigation, listening in on peoples conversations and doing side missions to help you with you’re quest, the main target can be disposed of through several different means. Sure you can bust in and shoot everybody in the room then stab you’re target in the face if you want. But there are always other options as well. For example one mission gives you the option to poison the targets drink, another gives you the option to knock the target out, strap him to an interrogation chair and brand his forehead with a heretics brand getting him banned from the city forever. There are some truly creative options at you’re disposal here and you will want to eventually try them all to see what happens. This brings up the option of multiple playthroughs as the second time you play a mission can be totally different depending on the path you chose to reach your target and the method you chose to dispose of said target.

The environment isn’t the only aspect of the game that gives you options. The gameplay is very choice driven as well. Throughout the game you will have many different options to take down you’re enemies with. Corvo has magic abilities that are given to him by the outsider, a being that is said to be neither good nor evil, that chooses to grant people special powers for the right reasons. Throughout the game these powers can be unlocked and leveled up as you find runes and bone charms in hidden areas within each setting. There are many powers such as dark vision, which allows you to see through walls, blink, which allows you to teleport short distances making it easier to sneak past guards and onto rooftops, and swarm, which summons a swarm of rats to devour you’re enemies skin right off their bones. As you play through the game you will unlock many other cool powers to satisfy you’re killing needs.

Corvo is also equipped with a sweet looking sword, which can be used to take down oblivious foes with a swift stab to the neck, dispatch enemies quickly if you are surrounded, and it can also be used to block incoming attacks and if timed right can send the enemy stumbling backwards, which obviously you take advantage of with one of many gruesome finishers. Corvo also has two ranged weapons, one a crossbow which is used to take out enemies from a distance more stealthily. The other a pistol, which is used for quick close up kills. Finally Corvo also has a few gadgets at his disposal, such as grenades, spring razors (which act as bouncing betty explosives) and re-wiring tools that can be used to re-wire things such as security doors known as walls of light to hurt you’re enemies instead of you. All of these combat options are available in a wheel that is brought up by holding down the right bumper just like in Bioshock.

The gameplay is extremely fun once you get the hang of it. I would be sneaking through an area (or simply not sneaking at all, whatever you choose) and get spotted, all the sudden being surrounded by 5 enemies at once. I pull up my combat wheel and select stop time (another one of the cool powers) right before one of the guards fires his gun. I move behind the enemy that just fired the gun, time starts back up I  watch the guard that was previously behind me get blasted away by his buddy, I slit the guards throat that I am now magically behind, I pull out my pistol and shoot the guard to my left, turn around and windblast one of the guards to my right causing him to fly backwards onto the ground then parry the incoming strike of the other guard to my right and brutally slicing off his head, finally stabbing the other guard on the ground before he can get up to attack me. All of that being performed faster than it took you to read it. That is when Dishonored is at it’s absolute best, when you perform every move perfectly and come out of a fight truly feeling like a legendary assassin.

Which also brings me to the games two biggest flaws. It takes a lot of time with the game to become that good at it. It took me quite awhile to completely get the hang of things. At the beginning I found myself often switching to my gun instead of a certain power because guns and powers are both used  in Corvo’s left hand and triggered with LT. Therefore if you are hiding behind cover and wish to use dark vision so you can see who is on the other side, you might accidentally select you’re gun and hit LT, firing the gun and giving away you’re position. Even after hours of play when you know how to use everything, you can find yourself doing this because the powers and weapons are so close to each other on the wheel and it can be very frustrating.

Another flaw, which I think is the biggest flaw in the game, is that the game is much more fun to play the way I described above. It is way more satisfying to be able to use all of the tools at Corvo’s  disposal because everything he can use to kill people with is pure fun to use. Every fight can be played out a little differently by mixing up you’re combat and like I said that’s when Dishonored is at it’s best. However the game strongly encourages you to be stealthy, and even punishes you for not being stealthy and killing a bunch of people as opposed to knocking them out. If you finish missions with high chaos, which is what happens when you kill a bunch of people, the city will become darker and more infested with rats and weepers. Essentially making you’re playthrough a little more difficult. Also if you’re an achievement whore like I am, most of the achievements are based on being stealthy and not killing people, so I missed out on all those achievements.

Now, this would not be a big problem if being super sneaky and knocking people out was just as fun as killing people, but its not…not at all. The only two ways to render someone unconscious is to sneak up behind them and choke them out or shoot them with a sleep dart…and that’s it. If you’re thinking well that doesn’t sound nearly as fun as the combat described earlier, you’re exactly right it’s not as fun. This is a big problem because their are different possible outcomes for being sneaky and generally not killing people but it simply wasn’t as fun as being on the warpath of vengeance and killing everyone I saw.  Especially when you get good at it. Now don’t get me wrong it’s still fun to be sneaky and finish a mission without anyone even knowing you were there. In one particular mission at a masked mansion party, I was sent to identify and kill one of three sisters. As I snuck all the way to the mansion without being detected I came across a guest book. I thought hmmm can I sign this? Sure enough I picked up the pen and signed Corvo Atano at the end of the list. The man that was supposed to be hung for killing the Empress signed the guest book at a party he wasn’t invited to, and disposed of the crooked sister without anyone ever knowing he was there. So sneaking through missions can make you feel like a supreme badass assassin as well, it’s just not amazing like it is when all the gameplay elements are clicking.

As a whole Dishonored is an extremely fun and interesting game. It is filled with wonderful characters, settings and missions that you will almost certainly want to experience all over again right when the credits start to roll. The end outcome is a little unsatisfying but everything throughout the game is well worth experiencing to get there, and with it’s tremendous replay value it is most definitely worth you’re 60 dollars. Just remember, revenge solves everything.

Final score 4 out of 5

The War Z: First Impressions

War Z

The War Z released a couple days ago, although I use the word released very loosely. For one, the game’s in its Alpha stage, so this is by no means a full release, or even a beta. Secondly, the launch was, to say the least, plagued with issues. The game was scheduled to come out October 15th, but wasn’t available until around 6:00 PM EST after being delayed hour after hour.

Following this, the client became available, and the download for the Alpha was around 1.5GB if I’m remembering it right. This includes 30% of the full Colorado map that will slowly be increased as we approach the Beta part of testing, which is in the last week of October.

So after you download the game and get in, you make a character and jump into a server. Oops, this is plagued with issues too. Players will constantly get a “client needs updated, please restart” message, forcing them to close the game, and restart, only to find that no update is available. From first hand experience, I can say this is very, very frustrating, as sometimes the game loads painfully slow.

But once you’re able to get in, this is both the best and worst part. The game itself is fun. There’s undead roaming, but the real threat is other players. You’re trying to get guns, water, and food, and you’ll have to deal with real players while you attempt to stay alive. Do you trust them? Kill them? It’s up to you. This is incredibly fun and tense, especially if you have a rare item.

Now for the worst part. The state of the game right now is dreadful. The zombie animations are horrible, the graphics are terrible, and the game crashes tons. I know this is an alpha, but the game should be at least somewhat stable. Worst of all, the developers decided it was a good idea to allow players to be able to kill each other with flashlights in just a couple hits, whereas for zombies it takes around 10 shots to the head.

Despite these issues, The War Z is still incredibly fun, but I can’t recommend you play it if you want any sort of stable experience. Hopefully things will be better by later in October when the beta begins. I’ll keep you updated on anything War Z in the meantime.

Angry Birds Trilogy Review

Trilogy

The Angry Birds Trilogy is out for the consoles, hoping to expand its userbase, no doubt. But is this trilogy worth picking up if you’ve already got these games on your phone? Or, worse yet, digitally downloaded on your console? It’s hard to say, it depends on a lot of things, but let’s get to the review.

First off, the game’s graphics look great on the big screen. It’s nice to see the jump in quality from squinting at your phone to see the birds to playing this on a huge 1080p screen. It looks great. Big praise to the graphics. The sound is the same, but also sounds better coming out of actual speakers instead of a phone.

The gameplay is the same Angry Birds tried-and-true formula that you’ll get on the phone, tailored for consoles. The analogue sticks works great for lining up the shots to shoot the birds out of the slingshot. The gameplay here is addicting, it’s a lot of fun, no doubt. And you’ve got 3 full games to get through.

Try not to bother with the Kinect or Move integration, these really don’t add much to the experience. In fact, quite the opposite. They complicate it and make it more frustrating to play than anything. Stick to the good old controller and you’ll have a better time. And playing this game with a controller is a lot more comfortable than a phone, at least, for me. And you don’t have to worry about scrolling back and forth to see where you’re shooting, playing on the big screen allows you to see the full level.

Unfortunately, this trilogy doesn’t include the recently released Angry Birds: Space. It’s unclear if this will be made available digitally for PSN/XBL or in a second Angry Birds Trilogy. Either way, the three games you get should keep you entertained for quite a while.

So, is it worth it? For anyone who hasn’t experienced Angry Birds, it’s worth it, just wait for a price drop. $40 is just way too much. Especially considering you can get them for a couple bucks on your phone. If you already own them on your phone, unless you’re a huge Angry Birds fan, there’s really no point in getting this, it’s the same experience. But it’s still darn fun.

Final Score: 4/5

Sleeping Dogs Review

Sleeping Dogs

Sometimes you just have to accept a game for what it is, and not criticize it too much for what it isn’t. Sleeping Dogs IS an extremely entertaining game with smooth and varied gameplay and a surprisingly engrossing story, with a wonderfully realized Hong Kong setting. Sleeping Dogs IS NOT a game with new, unique ideas looking to bring something original to the table. If you can except what it is and what it isnt’t, you should have a blast with Sleeping Dogs.

You play as Wei Shen, who grew up in the rough streets of Hong Kong and after his childhood moved to America with his family in search of a better life. Looking to change his ways Wei joins the police force in America and is then assigned to an undercover job in Hong Kong to infiltrate and take down the Triads, the most vicious gang in all of Hong Kong. This is where the story starts off as Wei gets in with the Triads through his old friend Jackie. As Wei gets introduced to the Triad leaders he has to prove himself worthy so that he can be accepted as a true member.

On the other hand Wei is still an officer of the law and can’t do anything too drastic or he will be released from the case. The game is split between Triad missions and cop missions and depending on how well you perform you get experience points for both sides.

For example if you are on a mission and you kill a civilian, your cop ranking will go down. If you are on a triad mission and you don’t beat up a bunch a people and generally cause havoc, then you will get less triad points. These points can be spent on upgrades from new melee takedowns to the ability to action hijack cars (which is awesome and will be explained shortly).

The split between Triad missions and cop missions provides a great balance between beating the crap out of a bunch of people, stealing cars, running from cops, shooting people and all kinds of other crazy things. To actually doing real police work like hacking Triad leaders computers to bugging rooms and sneaking around taking pictures of drug deals in order to bust them. It is paced very well between the two and is nice to come up for a breath of fresh air in the more subtle missions. It also creates a sense of tension throughout the game and working on both sides takes a toll on Wei which gets worse and more stressful as the game goes on.

As the story plays out you develop real relationships with the triad members as you try to take down the rival gang together. Eventually you start to question if Wei is getting too deep because of his relationships with the Triad members but you feel for him because as the player you have become invested in these characters just as Wei has. It makes the story much more engrossing and will ensure that you are interested in the final outcome.

Not only is the story surprisingly good, the gameplay is an absolute blast in every aspect. Sleeping Dogs takes gameplay elements from a few other popular games and while this may seem like they are ripping off those games, you won’t care. Sleeping Dogs melee combat is a lot like the Batman Arkham series where you can punch and kick people in the face with the press of a button and can counter attacks when the enemies turn red. You can also use the environment to take down your enemies. These opportunities are extremely violent and pleasing.

Melee moves can be upgraded as you level up throughout the game. The melee combat simply never gets boring. Its gunplay is like the Max Payne series, where you can go into slow motion as you rack up kills or it will automatically go into slow-mo as you jump or slide across a barrier. Running up to an enemy, sliding over cover, punching him in the face, disarming said enemy then barrel rolling into stance while shooting the other enemy in front of you all in one fluid slow motion movement makes you feel like a total badass. However the shooting itself is not as slick as other third person shooters.

A lot of the times you will be hiding behind cover trying to peek out real quick and score a headshot only to miss even though the aiming cursor seemed to be right on. Despite the slight un-accuaracy of the guns, it’s still always fun. The free running and parkour is a lot like the Assassins Creed series. You can climb onto ledges, run up walls and jump from unrealistic heights. While for the most part fun, the sections where you have to chase after somebody are sometimes a little too drawn out and always feel a little clunky.

However if you can get past how goofy Wei looks when he runs and sometimes stumbling on a surface every now and then it isn’t a big deal. The driving is a little more on its own standards as it’s a lot more enjoyable than GTA’s driving and not as fun as an actual driving game such as Need for Speed, but that’s OK, it’s not a driving game. There are a lot of cars to choose from once you get enough money from doing missions and side missions around the world. The car chases during missions are fun because the driving is just fluid enough for it to be enjoyable and you can shoot while your driving. During a car chase you can shoot a cars tires out which sends the car into a totally unrealistic action movie flip and then you can shoot the under side of the car to make it explode before it hits the ground. Its awesome and just another aspect of this game that never gets boring.

You can also get the ability early in the game to perform an action hijack. Which has Wei open the car door while behind another car and once you get close enough you can press A which will make Wei jump out of the moving car onto the top of the other car. He then opens the door and throws the poor victim to the ground and flips into the car. Again extremely unrealistic but extremely awesome. While all of the gameplay elements of this game are not very unique and are for the most part ripped from other successful games, you will not get bored with what you are doing, whether it be fighting, shooting, running, or driving.

Sleeping Dogs offers all kinds of other stuff to do in the wonderful setting of Hong Kong. There are many side missions to find around the world and other random events that you can choose to do or not to do. The side missions don’t really create any extra narrative they are more of fun distractions from the more serious main story. You can participate in street races, help a Triad member escape from the cops, and a bunch of other random things. Most of the side missions are fun and worth doing although some of them are more time consuming than entertaining.

There are car shops and clothing stores scattered around the world which give you options to customize what your character looks like and what he drives. You can also participate in martial arts clubs to test and practice your melee combat skills and if you can win the final round you will get a nice cash reward. Also scattered around the world are health shrines that you can pray at to increase your max health. The main story will take you from around 10 to 15 hours itself and you can easily up that to 20 or 30 if you try to do everything the game has to offer.

Like I said, Sleeping Dogs is a game you will love if you accept it for what it is, and accept it for what it isn’t. The story will suck you in and make you actually feel like an undercover cop and what it would be like to play for both sides. You will develop relationships and feelings for the characters that you are trying to take down and it will make decision making harder as the game goes on, which is a good thing. Every gameplay element is a joy to play in its own right, and the extra stuff that is scattered throughout the the wonderful Hong Kong setting will keep you busy past the main story. While Sleeping Dogs has it’s fair share of flaws, it’s a fun game from beginning to end.

Final score: 4 out of 5

Empire: Total War Review

Emprie

Empire: Total War is the next entry in the grand strategy series from Creative Assembly. Total War is an acclaimed franchise, spawning hit games like Rome: Total War and more recently, Total War: Shogun 2. These strategy games see you taking control of a country and setting you loose. Do you try to take over all the lands? Do you try and forge alliances with powerful nations? Do you try to focus on a strong trade and economy system? The choice is yours in Empire: Total War.

Empire: Total War is the first game of the series to be set in the 18th century, and has a heavier emphasis on the technology and advancements of that period. Guns and canons play a much larger role than in previous games. Boasting better graphics, a more streamlined, detailed style of play, and the biggest battles yet, how does Empire: Total War fare?

The gameplay in Empire: Total War is definitely the best and most refined of the series. The gameplay takes part in two different sections. The first section is turn-based, and has to do with moving your units around the world, interacting with cities in your provinces, and negotiating with other factions. You also have special units, such as spies and religious missionaries, that can be sent to mess with your enemies.

The game is very detailed, but how detailed is up to you. If you don’t want to manage taxes, you can have them automanaged. Same for cities. Everything has a cause and effect in Empire: Total War. You’re responsible for your actions. If you declare war on a small nation and overtake them to gain more land, other factions may be more hesitant to ally themselves with you. Things like this make the game very fun and worth playing over and over.

The other side of the gameplay involves the battles. When one army attacks another, the game jumps into a real-time strategy interface. You can see all of your units, and the battlefield. Here, you issue orders and do your best to combat the enemy. Different unit types are vulnerable to and good against other enemy types, so learning what units are best for what is quite important. You control all of them in real time, so you need to be quick on your feet. Of course, if you’d rather skip the battles, you’re free to autoresolve them.

The depth of Empire: Total War is very impressive. The game has such an unprecedented amount of control, that it can be overwhelming to new players. Thus, I’d recommend new guys tone down the difficulty and turn taxes and cities onto automanage until you get a feel for the base game, then enable things to your liking.

Empire: Total War also introduces, for the first time in the series, real time naval combat. These battles are less enjoyable than the army battles, but they’re an interesting idea nonetheless. They tend to progress quite slowly, though. With a few enhancements, these could become a staple of the series.

Overall, Empire: Total War is the best entry in the series so far. The graphics look great, and the 200, 300 man battles are epic to witness. The diplomatic side of the game is still really fun. Choosing who you ally yourself with, who to go to war with, it’s all very in depth and very fun. The amount of strategy and planning, as well as the depth of the game, is as deep as you want it. This is a game grand strategy fans should get as soon as possible.

Final Score: 4/5

Spec Ops: The Line Review

Spec Ops

Spec Ops: The Line is a gritty, dark third-person shooter released for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Spec Ops sees you taking control of Captain Martin Walker, accompanied by two other soldiers, through the ruins of Dubai to try and find out what happened to Colonel John Konrad and his Battalion. Featuring third-person squad based gameplay with a driving narrative, how does Spec Ops stack up overall?

The story really shines here, and I found this quite surprising. I went in expecting a frag fest with an attempt at a good story, but this one really delivers. The first couple of chapters aren’t too compelling, but by chapter 3, you’re growing attached to these characters and want to see what happens, where the plot goes. It’s a very immersive, action-packed story with twists and turns galore. Anyone who likes narrative driven shooters, do not pass this up.

The gameplay itself doesn’t shine quite as much as the story, instead falling into the average category, but it works for what it is. The action is fun, intense, and at points, brutal. The shooting feels tight and I don’t have many complaints with the controls, everything was responsive enough. In addition to the strong, pushing narrative, the game often forces you into a dilemma and gives you only a minute or two to decide. These choices are hard, and you often feel overwhelmed, trying to juggle which is the lesser of two evils. These are by far some of the toughest choices in gaming.

The game also comes with a multiplayer mode, complete with ranks, unlocks, and everything you’d come to expect from a multiplayer military shooter. This, unfortunately, falls prey to average gameplay. There’s not much to keep you here. In the single player, you’ve got the narrative and characters driving you forward. Here, you’re just shooting other guys. There’s nothing to set it apart, and there’s no reason to pick this over Gears Of War or Uncharted, both of which have a far better, fleshed out, unique multiplayer experience.

The graphics in Spec Ops are, at times, gorgeous. Namely, the chapters that take place at dusk. The sand gets a cool horizon effect going on. During the first few levels, the dull brown of the sand can give off a bland vibe. Give it a few levels, though. It gets better, I promise.

The sound is great. Voice acting is completely believable, the guns have a consistent and loud bang to them. The bombs and grenades shake the world around you and enemies alert each other of your presence by barking orders at each other. No real complaints on the sound end.

Overall, Spec Ops: The Line is a great game. The decent gameplay, fused with the amazing storyline is reason enough to finish this one. Trust me, you’ll want to find out what happens in the end. Not only that, but the combination of the moral choices and the fact that there’s 4 different endings make replayability a very easy thing. You’ll want to see what you could’ve done differently. The multiplayer is a bit of a dud, but like I said, there’s better options. Get this one if you want a story-driven military shooter with a mature tale, and a gripping narrative. You won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 4/5

Darksiders 2 Preview: All the Details So Far

Darksiders

Darksiders 2 is one highly anticipated game expected to hit the stores in August and probably the most anticipated game of that month. Not to mention the fact that it’s the game that has the power to keep THQ above the sinking line and act like their life vest.

And why not admit it, Darksiders 2 is a really exciting game – a game that already started to get preview copies sent to big name websites out there. I am sure you are very curious to find out more about the upcoming game, so check out a list of all the details known about Darksiders 2 so far, list made by The Gaming Advisory. It’s pretty impressive:

– Everything in Darksiders 2 is bigger and more refined than in DS1 (for example, each of the 4 areas in Darksiders 2 is as big as the world of the original game)
– 25+ hours for main storyline, with crapton of sidequests and sidejobs.
– It has an upgraded engine that has more user-configurable options and can show much more on the screen (especially on the PC version)
– Great mix of agile combat [no block, only dodging], agile traversal [much faster than in DS1] and puzzles
– Storyline that will greatly expand upon the lore of DS1, new & old chars. Story is running in parallel with DS1 during majority of the game, far away from Earth and War.
– Expanded character building options – fully featured skill trees, and fully customizable gear.
– Because of all the new loot announced for the game, all animations are this time rendered in-game.
– You get rideable horse from the start of the game
– Bad news: NO multiplayer, NO co-op modes
– Xbox 360 version of the game officially confirmed as one disc only.
– There is a Nightmare Mode in the game which means that if your character dies, you lose all your progress in the game and have to start over. For the hardcore players.
– Trading of items between players is announced as an option of the game.
– Fast Travel, again is available in Darksiders 2.
– In addition to traditional weapon combos, your secondary weapons can be chained-in for their “signature attack”, Scythe has its own rhythm-based/delayed-button press combos, and legendary weapons have their own special attacks.
– Re-spec of tech trees is possible!