Category Archives: TBGNP Perfect 10

Reviews for games that doen’t exist, but should.

Terminator: Survival

The Best Game Never Played

Terminator: Survival (Action Survival / PC, PS3)

 

Introducing the Genre

Like all great games, this one combines genres in a new and interesting way. There are survival elements with shooter gameplay, a dash of stealth, and RPG character design, having victory dependent on some very tricky problem solving . Some elements seem taken from the old NES Jaws, the indie hit Spy Party, The Sims, The Ship, and the standard 3rd person shooter’s navigation and combat.

 

Introducing the Game

In the battle of genre vs franchise, I usually compare both. There’s never been a mix of genres to create a game like this, and all the games in the franchise never quite reached this level of emotional investment and recreating the feel of the movie as this one. This is a game that could only have come out now, with the high level of detail for cities, the city’s square mileage, store and building interiors, object physics, high polycount of models, destructible environments, and dense crowd AI. There’s never been a game that perfectly captures the terror of being against the world with the paranoia level of Slender, like this one, Terminator: Survival.

 

Gameplay

For a long time, I couldn’t imagine how to properly design or play a real Terminator game. What would make it a real Terminator game compared to any other shooter with a robot in them? How would you recreate the feeling and struggle of the characters in the movies?

The game is a mix between open world, sim, role-playing, shooter, and a unique cat & mouse mechanic, like a reverse-Assassin’s Creed. The city is yours to roam like a GTA clone, complete with bystanders and police. All the time, someone is hunting you.

Once you’ve made contact with a soldier from the future, you two are joined at the hip. When you’re on the run, you cannot just camp somewhere in a corner. Remember, being thrown in a hole somewhere for the rest of your natural life is just as good as being dead. You will never be able to do whatever it is that you do to help or threaten Skynet.

Both characters have basic survival needs such as sleep, money, food, water, sanitation, and entertainment. These are reminiscent of the gauges on each Sim from The Sims or for characters in the game, The Ship. The “needs” prevent you from just camping in one spot. Venturing out when you know you’re being hunted adds a certain level of tension.

There is a rich character creator capable of generating unique faces for you, your companion, the Terminator, and the random faces in the crowd. Just because you remember what each one looked like in the last game, it doesn’t mean they’ll have the same face in this game. Since some Terminators are based on real people, your protector from one game might be your nemesis in the next.

Besides cosmetic features, the character creation screen for your character has a skill set that reminds me of some pencil and paper RPGs. You pick skills to have some ranks already developed, the more you use your skills, the more they level up, but only marginally. You cannot max everything out, and there’s a point to that. Your character in this run through will be different from your last, your next, and the one from the player down the street.

Your companion, if you’re able to find them, are generally your opposite. If you created yourself to be some kind of soldier, then your partner is more of an intel/tech specialist. If you have absolutely no knowledge of first-aid, it’s a good bet that your protector will. This fosters a sense of cooperation, reliance, and ensuring that they are always valuable. A word of warning, if your bodyguard dies, then they are dead, that’s it. You should protect them while they are protecting you.

Like Kyle Reese said, it doesn’t feel pity or remorse, it will not stop until you are dead. This can actually work in your favor since a gun wielding maniac attracts it’s own wanted level. Once a T-888 has you in its sights, you can fight or flee. In the opening of the game, fleeing is usually the best option.

Terminating a Terminator is never a straightforward task. Like the movies, Terminators can soak up a ridiculous amount of small arms fire. All that really does is slow it down, force it into hiding to repair itself, or bring the police to bear on the both of you. Having a Terminator on your tail is like having a wanted level in GTA.

An infiltrator robot is of no use if large swaths of skin are torn off, revealing the metal underneath. Once you shake the terminator, it will be in hiding longer based on the amount of damage you’ve dealt. Enjoy the downtime.

In your downtime trying to collect money, food, weapons, and the necessities of life, try not to commit too many crimes. The police can chase after you just as easily as the T-888. If you get arrested, you’ll have to break out. Your resistance partner might be able to help. There’s a good chance that the terminator will hear of your arrest and come to shoot up the police station, just like in the first movie.

Well now you’re an escaped criminal. This is where you’ll be forced to change your appearance, just like the terminator if it had taken severe damage. Fleeing can be on foot can only work for so long. Unless the terminator is severely damaged and limping, a vehicle is usually the best chance of evading.

There could be frequent car chases, or you could use the car as an offensive weapon against the T-888, assuming you don’t have a swarm of police bearing down on you.

Killing it will involve recreating scenes from the movies, as in some kind of industrial equipment, high explosives, thermite, electrocution, crushing, acid, smelting, radiation, or freezing. Those are just some of the more obvious ways. Desperation and creativity may reveal some others. People who watched the TV series might be at an advantage.

 

Story

“… making this the third victim with the same name in as many weeks.” You hear on a news broadcast that three people with your exact first and last name have been murdered. In the future, the character you create is very important in some way. The specifics aren’t important. What’s important is that Skynet deems you valuable enough to target for termination.

Terminator: Survival expands upon the universe created in the television series and the first two movies. We’ve seen from The Sarah Connor Chronicles that John and Sarah were not the only targets of Skynet.

One terminator, or more, models determined by difficulty level between T-800, T-888, T-1000, or T-X, are sent back to terminate your character. There is also a human resistance member sent back in time to help you. How the game plays out, life or death for you or your companion, is up to you.

This game recreates the story conditions of the first movie. One terminator is sent back in time to terminate a very influential person in the future. Additionally, a resistance member, a very mortal one, has been sent back in time as a bodyguard. You’re outmatched, outgunned, and forced to flee. There are no offensive missions where you can really take the fight to Skynet and attack future Terminator assets like Cyberdine in Terminator 2, or several sites in the TV series, The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

Perhaps if there’s ever a sequel, the developers will shoot for a T-2 vibe and allow you to plan attacks against Skynet, maybe meet up with famous characters like John & Sarah Connor, perhaps have your very own Terminator at your command.

 

Graphics

The developers had a grand vision that they were able to achieve with today’s technology. They were able to render a very destructible sandbox world in incredible detail. I think it’s fair to say that the Grand Theft Auto series set the bar in regards to sandbox cities. This raises the bar just a little more with the addition of the “flavors” of the city, industrial districts, commercial districts, residential districts, a port district, an airport, a stadium, destructible elements like storefronts, malls, gun stores, a military base, a police station, warehouses, construction sites, highways, insides of buildings, and more. There is a slight loading time in between some of the different zones, but that’s the trade off for the graphics detail.

 

Music

Bear McCreary, my favorite robot musician, delivers his signature style and emulation of the original Terminator themes. If you liked what you heard on The Sarah Connor Chronicles, you’ll like what you hear here. The music sets the appropriate mood for when you’re running, hiding, evading, or involved in an all out firefight.

 

Sound

This almost mixes with music, considering who was doing the score. Lots of drums, metal banging on metal. I think the soundfont from the series was used for most of the climactic battles. Voice acting is solid, especially the signature line, “Come with me if you want to live.” Gives me chills every time, no matter who says it.

 

Controls

I was surprised that this game was available for both PC and consoles. Navigating the menus reminded me of how Mass Effect dealt with interaction, weapons, AI commands, and such.

The combat easily shifts between vehicular combat and cover based shooting. When not drawing a weapon, interacting with the rest of the environment is fluid.

 

Multiplayer

This is one of the highlights of the game. It could have been a solid game without multiplayer, but developers went the extra mile. There is a multiplayer battle mode that allows you to play asymmetrically with up to two players as humans, and more as terminators. Or, another game type with terminator on terminator action. Depending on what team you’re on, you have a photograph of your target and must protect it, or terminate. The different models are available for play, T-800, 888, 1000, or T-X.

Single player pauses the game while you choose some options, but in multiplayer, it doesn’t. So you have to be quick. Also, the need for sleep is removed in multiplayer, it’s mostly played in near real-time.

There are a few default skins for your characters, just in case you want to be obvious, like Arnold, Robert Patrick, Kristanna Loken, Linda Hamilton, Lena Heady, and more.

It all takes place, single and multi-player, in the not too distant present/past. There’s no future or post-Judgement Day maps to play on, no bleached skulls and hunter killers(except in Mods). Maybe that’s being saved for a sequel.

 

Depth/Replayability

With the ever randomizing of character skins, every game begins unpredictably. There might be some games where you never meet your bodyguard. Some games might end quickly, one way or another.

The depth of the skill system gives you challenges and gameplay styles different each time, depending on your mood. One game might make you a perfect burglar, in another game you’re a wealthy philanthropist, in one you’re a hard boiled soldier with a computer hacker sidekick.

Then there’s difficulty levels which determine what model of Terminator is sent at you and how many. In one game you might try to destroy it or them in new and different ways.

Multiplayer gives the game a great party value to play with friends cooperatively or competitively.

Lastly, MOD support, at least for the PC, means this game can have unlimited depth.

 

Personal

The PC version is obviously superior, if only for the MOD support.

Bear McCreary may or may not be an actual robot. I suspect he is, since his career seems to have been tied to robots for a very long time. Bear composed the music for the re-imagined Battlestar: Galactica, with humans at war with the robotic Cylons. He scored Dark Void where humans are at war with a mysterious robotic race. Mr. McCreary accepted the gig since he was inspired by Capcom’s robot war epic Mega Man 2 when he was younger. Lastly, he did the music for The Sarah Conner Chronicles. So, robot? To be determined.

Creating my character’s skills and adding points into things like my finances reminds me of picking my job in Oregon Trail.

 

Boiling it Down

Recreating the terror of the Terminator movie in a game, perfectly.

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Mega Man: The Power Wars

The Best Game Never Played

Mega Man: The Power Wars (Fighter-Brawler MOD / PC)

Introducing the Genre

In the late ’90s, MOD tools were the big hot thing to include with every PC game. Unreal had an editor that let users easily import skins and design levels. Quake III was the same way. Some dedicated users designed Total Conversion (TC) packs for older games, making an unlicensed new game around the old engine. Duke Nukem 3D came bundled with it’s Build 3D engine for players to edit and create their own levels. Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Warcraft II, and Starcraft all came with their own map editors. Half-Life was probably one of the most famously modded games. Several of the mods went on to become stand-alone products that could be bought in stores. Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat were both originally mods of Half-Life that became unbelievably popular. Half-Life 2 comes with it’s Source Development Kit (SDK) tools, as well as any other Source games like Alien Swarm.

Introducing the Game

One of my favorite games of all time that I will swear by until the day I die will be One Must Fall: Battlegrounds. I loved the original game, it was the only fighter that I was ever really good at. I went out of my way to go download extra hard add on tournaments. When I heard the sequel was in development, I followed it very closely. I was fortunate enough to be in the beta test and when I heard there were going to be mod tools for the game, my mind started spinning, overwhelmed at all the possibilities. This was the game that sparked my interest in 3d modeling as a whole. I learned to model as a result of this game. It was all so I could make this mod. Since the cancellation of Mega Man Legends 3, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to share my ideas for this game. This mod would have been a sequel to the Mega Man arcade games The Power Battles and The Power Fighters. I had several of the items made, some partial models, and a title screen that read, Mega Man: The Power Wars.

Gameplay

The Power Wars was supposed to be a mod for One Must Fall: Battlegrounds using its mod tools. The tools, unfortunately, never fully materialized and I was left a little disappointed. The gameplay wouldn’t have changed much from the brawling of OMF:BG, though there would be particular additions needed to make it uniquely a Mega Man game and not just a skin.

OMF:BG featured interactive arenas with hazards and power-ups. I’d include power-ups from the Mega Man series such as energy pellets and weapon pellets that would fill the focus meter. I created a Met model, those little hard hat-wearing guys from every Mega Man game. Populating the arena occasionally with low level familiar baddies would be a hazard. I also would have included bladers, and Mega Man’s most deadly hazard: spikes!

OMF had unlimited continues, though I would have liked to have a limited number of lives, replenished by extra 1-up helmets that randomly rarely spawn or drop from enemies interfering with the combat. That tension and mortality was always a constant consideration in the back of my head in every Mega Man game.

Every robot in OMF had a projectile weapon. Most characters in the Mega Man series have some kind of arm cannon, which would replace the basic projectile for every character (down, up, punch). Using the energy from the focus meter, a charged shot would be fired instead of the normal blast.

Instead of mixing and matching pilots with robots, like OMF, there would be fixed characters with their own stats. I planned to include Mega Man, Bass, Protoman, and Sniper Joe from the original series. Then X, Zero, and Vile from the X series. Eventually I’d probably have added Duo, Yellow Devil, King, Dynamo, Axel, and Sigma. Or, offer entire “tournaments” made up of each of the 6-8 robot masters from each game.

The Warlord robot from OMF:BG featured transforming parts that changed his basic set of moves. I imagined this same mechanic would play into any of the Mega Man characters for switching weapons, or for merging with Rush and Treble, or summoning Eddie and Beat.

Story

OMF:BG tells its story at the beginning of every round. There’s a little pre-fight banter between the characters. The story wouldn’t have broken any new ground. It would have played off of the same relationships each character had already established. Bass is struggling to prove to Dr. Wily that he’s the only robot he needs, and he’s more powerful than Mega Man. Protoman is fighting to watch his brother’s back, as well as wipe out that cheap copy, Sniper Joe. Mega Man takes it upon himself to stop all of Wily’s robots, just like he’s always done. Of course, the struggle is told through the battle and through the player.

Graphics

The graphics would be only as good as I would make them. I planned to keep the polycount low, for the sake of speed and accessability on as many systems as possible. I had no idea exactly how fast the game would run once I added all the details, so low was the safe bet. By now, I’m sure most systems can handle if I added more detail to each player model.

Music

Mega Man is pure Capcom at its best. There’s something about Capcom’s music that is so memorable. Mega Man’s opening themes, Wily’s Castles, Protoman’s whistle, ending themes, or certain stages. I have a large collection of Mega Man themes, originals and remixes, in my music library from OC Remix, VG Mix, and The Sauce. I have no musical talent myself, so I’d ask permission from some of my favorite artists, Injury, DJ Dan, Star Salzman, AE, Game Over, and The Megas. Boss fighting themes, game overs, boss select, all would have both a new and familiar feel.

Sound

I planned to sample the Mega Man sounds from their original sources. I was going to use whatever sound files I could capture from the Mega Man X sound test mode, or whatever files I could find online. I’d like to use the highest quality samples from the SNES Mega Man 7 or the Playstation Mega Man 8.

Controls

I’d have made the choice to have kept the same OMF:BG control scheme. In most reviews, the control scheme is one of the most heavily criticized points. To me, it seemed perfectly natural and intuitive. There’s never been any game like it, so there’s never been any control scheme like it. It needed to be unique.

The OMF:BG control scheme would give each character a previously unknown level of control. Jumping, high-jumping, rolling, evading, air dodging, blocking, 360 degree freedom of movement, 8 different basic attacks with 8 additional aerial attacks, and a plethora of easy to execute special moves. Each character, although very similar in appearance, would have a unique fighting style that helps to establish their identity.

Multiplayer

Mega Man games have never really been about multiplayer, but OMF: BG certainly was. One of the unique selling points of this game was the fact that there could be an indeterminate number of total combatants. It could be a one on one battle, or a one on two, two on one, or tip the scales and make it two on ten. Players can host games online or on the local area network, making both the original game and the mod perfect for LAN parties. The OMF:BG format of multiplayer would offer something I’ve always wanted to see, a chance to see Mega Man and Protoman fighting back to back against Wily. Power Battles and Power Fighters had that, but it needed to up the ante, scope, and scale. Imagine if the pair had to fight all 6 robot masters from the first game, simultaneously, in a fully 3D environment?

Depth/Replayability

The original OMF:BG had a nearly infinite level of depth. The addition of multiple opponents, as many as your system could handle, then adjusting their varying levels of difficulty, then considering their robot/pilot combo made sure you would always be challenged. That’s not even considering human opponents or allies thrown into the mix.

This Mega MOD wouldn’t have such an infinite level of depth, though I hope the general level of fun would be enough to keep players fighting. The inclusion of unlockable characters like X, Zero, and Vile, might extend the lifespan of the game for a while. Additional DLC like the Mega Man 1 bosses, Mega Man 2 bosses, and so on, would do the same. It might also keep me too busy developing to play the game much. Regardless, the Mega Man games have a lasting charm and I still replay them on occasion. Hopefully this game would have the same staying power.

Personal

You can see some of the finished and partial models for the mod on my other site.

OMF:BG is one of the best fighters or brawlers ever made. The level of control it gives each player is still unmatched.

This game and mod are the reasons I began to learn 3d modeling, so that when the mod tools eventually came out, I’d be ready.

I also had a Gundam Wing mod in mind and a 90% complete modeled and textured Deathscythe. That would have been the Gundam game I’d been waiting a decade for.

Boiling it Down

A Mega Man fighting game that I’ve always wanted to play, and the treatment that I believe the character deserves.

Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi 2

The Best Game Never Played

Masters of Teras Kasi 2 (Fighter / PS3)

Introducing the Genre

Fighters and I have a very negative history, with one exception. I could never afford a regular trip to the arcades in their heyday. I didn’t own a Playstation or PS2 back when they were still considered “next gen” consoles. The only fighting game that I owned was the original traditional Mortal Kombat for Genesis. I maintain the belief that the best fighting games of all time are still One Must Fall: 2097 and its sequel One Must Fall: Battlegrounds. Though I still have some experience when housemates brought in other consoles and let me practice on them the Dead or Alive series, some of the Mortal Kombats, and Street Fighters. I remember a very odd-fighter-game-out that was Star Wars called Masters of Teras Kasi.

Introducing the Game

This was a sequel that was a long time coming. The poor performance of the original didn’t necessarily invalidate the concept. Though as is often in the industry, one bad game can doom a franchise. Investors don’t see how buggy the execution was, only the poor reviews and sales. It’s all about the numbers. Thankfully, Lucas Arts is a financial powerhouse and can afford to take a risk to produce a sequel to a game that was not well received. To that end, we can finally settle the questions that so many young children tried to answer with action figures of “who would win in a fight?” in Star Wars: Masters of Teras Kasi 2.

Gameplay

The first Masters of Teras Kasi was an aberration. The developers looked at what the most popular fighting games were doing and decided to go against it. This game is just as curiously different, but this time it’s in a good way.

There are various gameplay modes that borrow from the traditional modes and add a few more. Deadliest Warrior was a very realistic fighter that allowed one-hit kills if the blow was lethal enough. That’s one of my chief complaints with a lot of the Star Wars games that let you play with a lightsabre. It ends up taking several strikes to kill anyone, no dismemberment, it’s more like you’re playing with a giant glowing whiffle bat. The “deadly” mode allows weapon strikes that aren’t blocked to do tremendous damage. So, yes, you can literally disarm Luke Skywalker. Or, just shoot him, but be careful of ricochet.

The ring-out can be turned on and off, but this time it’s a little more drastic. When fighting on cloud city, you don’t just roll off a tiny platform, you plummet to your doom. Falling off the Hoth platform will freeze you to death. Swamp ooze of Degobah will drag you down beneath the slime. When I first played the original Masters of Teras Kasi, I always thought that ring-outs were just cheap deaths. However when an experienced player plays an unexperienced one, it is a strategic gamble. The “superior” player can grow overconfident and can be responsible for his own undoing.

If instant death isn’t your thing, you can fiddle with the options to produce a more traditional fighting game experience and then proceed to beat each other senseless. Weapon damage can be decreased and the arenas can have force fields put in place.

Beating the game is only a fraction of the content available. You start out with a roster of characters identical to the original Masters of Teras Kasi. Yes, Thok and Hoar are back, too! Then, every time you beat the game, you have the option to unlock a character or skin. This way, you don’t have to play for 255 straight rounds, or 20 consecutive hours in order to unlock just one thing. I’m looking at you Smash Bros. It’s like a chess pawn graduating on the 8th rank. You can unlock characters from the original movies, the prequels, the Clone Wars saga, some games, a little of the expanded universe, and then some silly options. Some of the characters are mostly palate swaps, but occasionally someone fundamentally different is unlocked, like General Greivous, Proxy, or a rancor.

The force powers we’ve seen are all represented somewhere somehow. Force push is a form of projectile that forces the opponent to land far back. Pull acts like Scorpion’s spear. Sabre throw and lighting act just as they sound. Speed is a defensive and offensive flourish that lasts for a short time. Lightning is exactly what you’d expect. They’re not overpowered. They’re still no match for a good blaster by your side.

Unlike the traditional Street Fighter and new Mortal Kombat’s 2D axis fighting system, this game still relies on the same 2D axis and 3D environment that allows you to sidestep. It’s mostly the same system that was in place in the first game, but the side steps are much more dramatic and are more rolls and leaps rather than just steps. That helps the image of the game’s controls being more responsive. It also makes the fights look a lot more dramatic and intense.

Story

The framing story is told in the iconic scroll of the opening credits, like any good Star Wars game. It’s nothing as world changing like the introduction of Starkiller in The Force Unleashed. It’s basically a small side story and retelling of the first game. It’s little more than an excuse to get all these characters together hand having them fight. That way they can include characters from the different eras and expanded universe.

Graphics

Not the highest or most technically impressive game of the year. The polycount suffers just a bit for the sake including all the different characters and features, like the large number of interactive arenas, different character skins, and the move sets. Still, it’s a very impressive game by any standard.

One of the most impressive graphical treats was seeing certain characters that have previously only been depicted in the Clone Wars animated style, being redesigned to match the art style of the rest of the characters. In particular, Ashoka Tano and Cad Bane.

Music

Star Wars. John Williams. ‘Nuff said.

Sound

I remember reading a long time back about how George Lucas made the Star Wars sound library available to the public for fan films. He deserves some props for that. That library is one of the single unifying things among all the Star Wars projects and helps lend them credibility. It’s instantly recognizable.

Controls

The original Masters of Teras Kasi had incredibly unresponsive controls. Moves only chained together in one particular combination unique to each character. Buttons that didn’t chain just looked like the character was randomly spasming. Using anything else but the character’s combo against another player was exactly the result you’d expect from a trained fighter versus an untrained one.

In the sequel, the animations and the overall game speed are significantly faster, which make the characters and the controls that much more responsive. Not everyone is a ninja, some are faster or slower than others, but the responsiveness is probably one of the most welcome fixes.

Multiplayer

This is a definite party game! This is a game to invite people over for a few hours and pass the controller back and forth while the audience enjoys pizza and heckles your inappropriately timed jet pack boost of Boba Fett that leads to a ring-out.

Even though there is online connectivity, this game is best played in the same room with people. It’s a perfect game for a console LAN party. Each player can bring over a television and a console and play online. Or, just connect two controllers and play on the same screen. There’s not much difference, it all depends on the amount of space available.

Depth/Replayability

Each tournament, from start to finish, shouldn’t take more than 45 minutes. There are difficulty settings that can extend the playability of the title. Unlockables also extend the playability, but only to the extent that the player wants it to. Once you’ve unlocked your favorite character or skin, you can stop unlocking, or continue. You aren’t forced to suffer hours and hours of padding just to unlock your favorite character. Darth Vader is just as easy to unlock as the AT-ST. Some people might just want to get Kit Fisto and then stop, but that’s a good thing. It might decrease the lifespan of the game, but it’s more of a graceful bowing out rather than a repetitive chore. Hopefully, getting your favorite character unlocked right off the bat will encourage people to play with them more and more, rather than striving for them and then feeling like the game is complete.

This fighting game must be applauded for its depth. The new Mortal Kombat has more than 30 playable characters and then the occasional DLC character. This game took a cue from MK and had a large roster to include characters from multiple eras and series.

Personal

I’m very surprised this has not been tried again sooner.

Who’s the best bounty hunter, Boba Fett or Cad Bane?

How would a fight between Boba Fett and Han have gone if Boba didn’t roll a 1?

I was delighted to see the inclusion of characters from Shadows of the Empire, Dash Rendar, Prince Xixor, and IG-88. Hopefully, this will drum up some more interest in reading, or allow for a proper Shadows sequel.

I like the Gramorrian guard Thok a little too much. Though I always love giant monsters. Bowser was always my favorite Smash Bros character, maybe that’s why.

Silly characters like Wicket, Jawas, Admiral Akbar, Wampa, Jar-Jar, R2-D2, and the AT-ST are completely unnecessary, but appreciated. If you lose to an R2 unit, it’s as humiliating as losing to Dan from Street Fighter. It really shows off a player’s superiority and rubs their face in it more than any MK fatality would.

Starkiller seems less whiny. I like that.

Boiling it Down

The definitive Star Wars fighting game. It’s about time.

Rock Band: Muppet Edition

The Best Game Never Played

Rock Band: Muppet Edition (Musical/Multi-platform)

Introducing the Genre

The musical genre of game is a relatively recent invention. I didn’t grow up with them. When I first saw Dance Dance Revolution, I never expected it to have the amount of staying power that it did. I never imagined that so many casual gamers would lay down so much money for a peripheral device that would only be used for one game, adding a physical component. Then came Karaoke Revolution, Singstar, and the vocal component. Finally, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Power Gig introduced an instrument component to the musical rhythm game genre.

I was never good at any of them. They never resonated with me. I’m a big 1980s music fan, so the number of songs that appealed to me in all of those games was pretty small. There’s the occasional music/rhythm game that stood out from the crowd like PaRappa the Rapper, Amplitude, and Gitaroo Man. Those appealed to me more since the more unreal something is, it seems the more I like it. I feel the same about racing games.

Introducing the Game

I don’t like the typical music/rhythm game. It’ll take something pretty special for me to get into it. The specialized genre Rock Band and Guitar Hero titles like Queen and Lego were appealing, but not enough reason for me to put down the cash for a game/instrument combo. But after 5+ years of waiting and wanting to find a music/rhythm game that appeals to me, finally, it’s time to put on makeup, it’s time to light the lights, it’s time to meet the Muppets on the Rock Band: Muppet Edition!

Gameplay

There is a story mode of Dr Teeth getting the band some work. There’s also a “Jam Sessions” mode where you can play songs without going through the main story. Multiplayer can be cooperative or competitive. It’s all pretty standard Rock Band material. If anyone has played or just seen the other games played, you know what to expect. There are attachments for all the common Rock Band instruments and a MIDI piano(For Rowlf).

At the end of each song, Statler & Waldorf will judge you, harshly. Yes, even if you’re good, they will make fun of you. That’s part of what makes this a Muppet game, not just a Muppet-skinned game. You also get to make your own Muppet character and band in the Multiplayer modes.

Story

The story takes place before the events of the new movie. Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem are in a slump, but now they’re trying to make a comeback tour.. Kermit, Gonzo, and the rest of the Muppets make some guest appearances. It’s a basic “career mode” game of going from gig to gig, trying your best to please the crowd. By the end, it culminates in a spectacular endurance-testing medley and mash-up of some of their most classic and rocking songs. It’s pretty touching, actually. I’ve never had emotion for the characters in a music/rhythm game in the Guitar Hero/Rock Band setup. That is, unless you count The Blues Brothers World Tour for Kinect.

Graphics

During the single player, you’re working with Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, but during the “Jam Sessions” you can create your own band with a powerful Muppet creator that kind of reminds me of the Spore creature creator.

I can’t comment on the polycount, but to me it just looks better than most of the Guitar Hero/ Rock Band characters. Maybe I’m just very partial and biased in favor of classic characters like the Muppets. The Muppets just look nicer. Since they’re not in the least photo realistic looking, achieving their proper aesthetic is possible.

Music

Fantastic! Since the band gets the occasional visit from another character, there are songs from all the different Muppet movies, like “Stepping Out with A Star” and “Rainbow Connection” along with some material from The Muppet Show.

Instead of a pack of songs that are from a bunch of different artists of the same genre, these are a bunch of different genres all from the same artist. I like more songs on this game than any other Guitar Hero collection. I believe that focusing the game on an artist, a great artist, an artist that deserves their own game, will be better than “Now That’s What I Call Guitar Hero vol. 6”

Sound

This sound of any game is usually most noticed when they do something that doesn’t exactly match up. The entire Muppet crew is behind this game. Everyone sounds just how they should. Frank Oz brings his A-Game, along with the rest of the Muppet cast.

Controls

The game has the full Rock Band toolkit with bass, guitar, microphone, drum set, and for Rowlf, a MIDI USB keyboard. The drum kit comes with some additional padding so whoever is playing as Animal doesn’t wear it out or break it entirely.

Multiplayer

This is a great family game, suitable for all ages. Family and friends can get together in the same room and play. Or, they can play online, over long distances. This is a great game by itself. When you get another player, it takes on another dynamic. It’s a different kind of fun. There’s also a versus mode where one player can compete against another for the high score, if that’s your thing.

Depth/Replayability

If you’re already a big fan of the music/rhythm genre, then this game might have a little more replay value than most.

This game is a good example of how to increase replay value without padding. Once you finish a concert, you can go back and replay it at any time. There is also a “Jam Sessions” mode that lets you play other songs that don’t appear in the story mode.

There is depth demonstrated in the character creator. So if you like the character creation process in RPGs, Spore, or the other Rock Band games, you’ll be delighted with this tool. You get to make your own Muppet.

Personal

Whoever did the motion-capture for Animal, must have had a very good time. I had a fantastic time playing him.

“Manah-Manah” is my favorite song on the entire track.

There’s an option for the microphone player to either sing normally or do their best Kermit imitation.

Statler & Waldorf’s constant jibes at your performance, even when you’re doing well, are hilarious and timeless. I’m tempted to completely tank a song sometimes just so I can hear what they say.

When you’re doing exceptionally well, and if the venue is appropriate for it, Gonzo will launch himself out of a cannon during your performance. You can trigger it like “Star Power” from Guitar Hero. It acts like a score multiplier.

Boiling it Down

A surprise addition to the Rock Band collection of games, and probably more deserving than most other artist-centric named editions.

(Manah-Manah, do do, do-do-do)

Contra FPS

The Best Game Never Played

Contra FPS                         (FPS/ PC/XBOX360/PS3)

Introducing the Genre

FPSs seem to have fallen into a slump recently with the realistic military shooters being the biggest draws as of late. If it’s not a realistic military shooter, it’ll be some steroid pumping space marine in a very by-the-numbers experience. It’s been a while since I’ve been really surprised by a game and impressed by its uniqueness. Duke Nukem Forever could have surprised me, but that original 2 weapon limit and regenerating health were huge disappointments. (Thank goodness for patches)

Games like Duke Nukem 3D and Serious Sam pushed the boundaries of what was expected and what was possible. The locations in Duke 3D were interesting and realistic(to a point). The weapons in Sam and Duke were outrageous and different. The enemies in Serious Sam were plentiful and original enough, it never felt like “I had played this before.” Vanquish was enjoyable, it had a nice dynamic arcade power-up system. What it lacked in weapons, it made up for with style.

It reminds me of Earth Defense Force and X-COM Enforcer, a rowdy arcade shooter that emphasizes action and does it well.

Introducing the Game
Japan has dropped the bomb, and that’s tough to admit. Once upon a time, Japan was the best at making games. Now, it’s like they’ve lost their way. The best that Nintendo has to offer is repackaging their old back catalog of games and hope they still sell well. Knowing that, it was hard to know what to expect from a new version of an old favorite, Contra. Imagine my surprise and partial disgust to see it as a 1st/3rd person shooter.

Gameplay

At first glance, an over the shoulder or first person Contra viewpoint isn’t the intuitive leap most fans would expect, however, it seems to work. The game runs at a constant breakneck pace that keeps you on your toes. It’s as if a game were made by Luc Besson.

Most of the game takes place in 1st person, which I admit, is a little different for a Contra game. Normally Contra is played with a 2-d perspective. The advantage of that is that you can see creatures behind you. To replicate that, there’s a small motion sensor in the corner like Aliens. You can see if someone’s running up behind you. You can also change the display into a rear-view mirror. It’s kind of hard to make out precise details, but you don’t really need to. All you really need is to see motion.

One of the greatest staples of the Contra series has been the ultra-over-the-top action, explosions, massive bosses, and the ridiculously overpowered weaponry. The action all takes place in 1st person, except during moments where you don’t have control. The camera switches to 3rd person between level changes, or whenever the landscape irrecoverably changes itself, like when a bridge collapses, when a massive sink hole appears, or when the bosses introduce themselves. It’s similar to the system used in Serious Sam. The explosions in this game make Jerry Bruckhimer look shy. The buildings, the environment, random doodads along the way, and the endless hordes of aliens. The bosses are just as over the top as you remember, even more so. The giant turtle boss from Contra III was never more intimidating than when it’s seen in first person.

Now, the weapons. This is one of the more spectacular innovations to FPSs in recent years, there’s no ammo limit, like Earth Defense Force, minus the reloading. All the favorites are back, some with alternate firing modes, various versions of how they operated in various games from Contra 1 to Contra 4. Homing missiles fire in a stream, or volley. Laser fires in bursts or a constant ray that can overheat over time, and it can shoot through walls. Flame thrower works like a steady flame beam, area denial(not that that stops the endlessly charging alien minions), or grenade launcher. Lastly, my favorite, the spread gun. There’s not much new to say about the spread gun, it’s hard to improve upon perfection.

One of the other staples of a Contra game is the incredible difficulty and the one-hit kills. In a way, that’s more realistic than the modern “realistic” shooters with regenerating health. This installment is a bit unrealistic in the way they handle gunfire. The aliens fire weapons that move at very slow speeds, so they’re easy to dodge. However, that also presents a typical Contra problem, the entire area can be slowly saturated with fire. Even if you do get hit, you have multiple lives, a rarity for any FPS.

Story

It wasn’t until I played Contra 4 that I realized the abundance of effort to goes into tying the games together into continuity. The DS cartridge contained a nice short and sweet history of the franchise, and which games don’t count into continuity.

Since the story spans many decades from good old Contra 1 on the NES to Contra: Shattered Soldier where the main character has grown into an old man by that time, a quick time-traveling adversary is introduced. Lots of the old and classic bad guys and bosses return. The four heroes from Contra 1, 3, & 4 return.

Graphics

The polycount is on par for any modern shooter, but the graphics take a little lighter turn. The art style has a lot of contrast. Instead of having a dozen different shades of brown and gray. Aliens and your teammates, if any, are colors that contrast sharply against the background.

Music

There’s already a selection of Contra music on my iPod from games past. This game will make it there, too, hands down. Most FPS games nowadays have “dynamic soundtracks” that flare up when the action starts, and ease back into more subtle background music when the action dies down. Since this game plays like a Luc Besson movie, there’s never any “calm” periods. So the soundtrack is free to rock. All. The. Time.

The opening menu has the original Contra theme, the game has some remastered classics in Bonus missions, classic levels that were redesigned to be played in a 3D gamespace. The music brings back the pleasant memories of gaming past.

Sound

The sound is a welcome change. Instead of the realistic bullets of a typical first person shooter. The lasers, flame throwers, homing missiles all create a unique sound that I’m not tired of hearing anymore. A little unrealism goes a long way.

Controls

There are a few additions to the standard FPS control scheme. A double tap on the right or left trigger will spin the character around 180 degrees, in case someone is coming up behind you. The grappling hook from Contra 4 returns, along with the screen clearing bombs of Contra 3. Any FPS aficionado should get the basics down pretty quickly. Getting used to the additions shouldn’t take too much learning, either.

Multiplayer

Part of what made GoldenEye and Star Fox 64 such classics was their 4-player split-screen co-op. Contra is always better with a friend. Contra has always had 2 players, but like the other greats, this one has 4. It’s a change-up, but a welcome one. If you can’t get 4 players together locally, the on-line cooperative component lets you connect at a distance.

Depth/Replayability

There’s a lot of gimmicks that try to pad games with forced and artificial replayability. Morality systems are the ones I despise the most. This game’s replay value is established by an addition from the past: the Game Over screen. You will die, a lot.

The game is short, if you’re good at it, about the length of a Luc Besson movie. Honestly I don’t know if my heart could pump adrenaline so constantly for much longer. It probably wouldn’t be healthy. Unlike RPGs, with their long 40+ hour length, a short game is much more likely to be replayed since you can start and finish in such a short time. You’re never overwhelmed with the thought, “oh, I don’t want to go through the entire thing all over again.” It’s a very “bite sized” game, like Space Invaders EXtreme.

I can’t say that the game has very much depth to it. It’s a Contra game, after all. There’s a few alternate paths within a level and alternate level choices. It’s more than I expected, it’s more than I needed, it’s appreciated. This isn’t standard fare for a Contra game, in fact it’s not standard fare for any modern FPS.

Personal

I’ve been waiting for a little unrealism for a long while, a little outrageous arsenal, rampant destruction free of any political sensitivities, and the return of the spread gun. Oh, how I’ve missed that. ❤ It ties together the elements that made Contra great over the years. It could be called Contra All-Stars.

The alien hive level creeped me out better than most alien hives. I’ve never seen them up close like that.

Thank goodness there is no friendly fire.

There’s an awesome semi-scripted event that occurs sometimes during a particular boss fight when it picks you up in its giant claw and holds you close to its face. If you don’t shoot it in the face enough times for it to drop you, it will eat you and you have to fight your way back up and out of the esophagus.

Boiling it Down

Contra, the evolution of a genre, done the way that it should be.

Tremors!

Originally written on 7/13/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

This is a difficult game to compare. Normally when a game comes out based on some pre-existing intellectual property, it’s been a clone of some other game. Green Lantern and Thor are two of the biggest recent offenders. I thought we would be done with the God of War clones after Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.

But this game actually reminds me, in part, of Ghostbusters: The Video Game. I compare them for the way that they both follow their own rules. They don’t slap a pretty package over top of another game. This isn’t some mod of another game that you’ve seen before. It has a set of rules that it established and you play by them.

This is not a conventional shooter that has a pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, and grenades. This is it’s own creation. It has to be, because any traditional shooter load-out would just not work.

Introducing the Game

I remember wishing there were a game based on this franchise for a long time. I think I was mostly fed up with all the shooters that were coming out at the time and just blending together. They all seemed the same to me. One raised the bar, once in a while. Then every game from then on would try to copy that.

Though at the time I made that wish, the hardware may not have been available to do the series justice. The genres may not have evolved to the point where, conceptually, this game could have been made.

The original movies were favorites for some old friends of mine. We’d gather for a marathon every now and then whenever they were playing on TV. They were a guilty pleasure. At first glance, making a game out of them is not obvious, but in reality, it turned out to be wicked fun! This is my review for Tremors! The Game.

Gameplay

This is what sets the game apart from the rest of the action and shooter games out there. You are playing cat and mouse with a great beast that has certain abilities and certain vulnerabilities. The enemies in this game aren’t the traditional AI soldiers that hide behind cover, throw grenades to flush you out, or employ squad based tactics. Traditional firearms and tactics will only get you killed.

The Graboids are a colossal adversary. The game doesn’t always give you free access to Burt Gummer’s armory, so you will have to outwit them. It reminded me of the moment in the first Half-Life where the green tentacle monster comes out of the rocket engine test chamber and hunts you by sound. I wished there were more moments like that, and this game delivers.

Besides the graboids, the later levels include screechers, and ass blasters. Not only do you have to consider your footing, your noise, but also your heat signature. There are items in the game that can all affect them, and even correct them. Even if you make a mistake, it’s not always a lethal one. That helps add a little bit of the tension. There were plenty of times where I died, and plenty of times that I was able to pull myself up onto a rock a split second before a graboid gets me. No “insta-death” means that there is much less frustration than some other games which don’t allow you to make a mistake at all.

Occasionally, the game does give you full access to Burt Gummer’s armory and you can pick and choose what equipment to take into the field, depending on what your mission will be. All the traditional and untraditional graboid hunting items are available to you, regardless of the mission. Just like the Tremor movies, sometimes the plan goes awry, and just because intel says you’re going up against graboids, that doesn’t mean screechers won’t appear and throw the whole plan out the window. So it would be wise to take some thermal camo along, just in case.

The dynamic mission ‘monkey-wrenches’ add a unique level of tension that most games just don’t have. If you’ve played level 1, then you know level 1. Level 1 will always be level 1. But in Tremors, there may or may not be screechers attacking you. The idea of randomizing certain things is an idea I’d like to see in more games. Nowadays anyone can go look for a walkthrough or buy a strategy guide and beat a game by following the certain patterns laid out. Randomizing the levels ensures that players actually have to be good and know the game they’re playing, rather than just reading a guide.

Story

The story for Tremors is little more than an excuse to go graboid hunting. Graboids appear in another southwest corner of Nevada. They’re traveling along a line that heads towards Las Vegas. The state of Nevada, and several casino owners, hire out the veteran graboid hunting crew to deal with the problem.

Each level does rack up a few kills, however the game doesn’t end until the climax in the middle of the Las Vegas strip. It’s just more dramatic that way, and another excuse to virtually demolish a major city. It’s fun. Again I have to make a comparison to Ghostbusters with the amount of property damage you get to- I mean accidentally cause. But it’s Vegas, they can afford the repairs.

None of the major characters die in the game, and that’s nice. It takes some of the horror out and makes it a bit more campy and fun.

Graphics

I’m kind of tired of earth tones, browns, and bleak, drab environments. But that’s where graboids live, so I have to put up with it. When the story moves to Vegas, though, there are plenty of bright lights and neons to contrast the early levels.

The creature models are exceptional. They are part of what makes the game really scary. When you see a graboid burst out of the wall(like in the underground Vegas subway levels) and the snake-like tentacle-tongues start waving around, I jump a bit each time.

Music

The western country twangy soundtrack reminds me a bit of Firefly, or Starcraft and Starcraft 2’s Terran music. If Firefly had a second season, this is what some of the music would have sounded like. The Red vs. Blue band, Trocadero, might have had a hand in it. I know they do good western music.

There’s an interesting element in the action scenes. Instead of heart pumping heavy percussion music that you might normally find in an action or dramatic scene, it’s almost cartoon-like upbeat, like a road runner cartoon. That’s what the music was like in the movies whenever they were running for their lives.

Sound

I hate the sound. But in a good way. I’ve heard that graboid and screecher screech noise so many times right before I died, it’s not funny. I like to hate them. Every time I hear that noise I just want to blow something up or pull the trigger on something. I love hearing their death wails. The sound really gives the graboids some character, and make them a little bit nightmarish at the same time. It provokes a very strong reaction.

Controls

the controls are traditional enough, movement, action keys, the usual fare. The main difference that sets this game apart is the weapons. At times you’ll control a heavy construction vehicle, a remote controlled toy car(with a bomb attached to it). There are a few traditional automatic weapons to use when the graboids show themselves. There’s some climbing involved that reminds me of a par court game like Mirror’s Edge, and some pole vaulting. But that’s all for humans.

In multiplayer or instant action games, you get to control a graboid, screecher, or ass blaster. Controlling the graboid is a unique experience. It reminds me in part of some of the aliens from Natural Selection or the zombies from Left 4 Dead. Since the graboids have no eyes, they have to rely on sensing vibrations. The interface for controlling one is drastically different than the humans. You see different colored pulsing lights of different intensities to determine the location and intensity of a vibration.

A strong enough vibration, like one of Burt’s home made bombs, can send the graboid rocketing in one direction out of control. Other than that, the mind of the player will have to gauge what the meaning of all the vibrations are. That way decoys like RC cars and tractor lawn mowers still work on human players. Or, the player/graboid can wise up and not take the bait.

Multiplayer

Most of the levels from single player are available in multiplayer, and some of the areas from the movies like the town of Perfection, Nevada.

There are several game modes like a competitive graboid hunt with two players trying to rack up kills. You can play graboids vs humans. Players on the graboid side can choose between graboids, screechers, or ass blasters. The humans have a mode of survival where the goal is to escape, survive, and outwit the graboids rather than fight them. Those are the modes where you don’t get access to most of Burt’s armory.

Depth/Replayability

The randomness inherent in the missions is an excellent device to provide replayability. It’s much more effective than any cheap morality system. The randomness makes it as replayable as a multiplayer map in a shooter. Depending on the enemy line-up, the map can go well or completely disastrous. It all depends on how clever and well prepared the player is. This also provides an unofficial challenge. “Can I take out a graboid without explosives?” “What if I use the bulldozer to crush it this time?” If there were a PS3 version of this game, I’m sure those would be achievements or trophies. However, I always find personal challenges more satisfying.

The single player campaign has a wealth of weapons to choose from, most from the movies, and some new ones. Choosing your weapons allows for the player’s personal preferences to shine through. That amount of control is something I always welcome in a game. It reminds me of Tribes, how you always had the chance to deck your character out in a specific set of gear before or change mid-round. There are no “sniper” “heavy weapons” “scout” classes. They’d all excel in a conventional fight, but this game is all about the un-conventional fight. They’d just get eaten up.

Personal

I haven’t had this much fun eating friends since Giants: Citizen Kabuto.

I love the flamethrower, but I want one in every game. Instead of hiding your heat signature, it effectively “jams” a screecher or ass blaster like a smoke screen. And, it’s hilarious to watch the little guys scramble around on fire. Against graboids, though… It’s not as effective, since they can just burrow again to put the flames out. It’s still satisfying.

There’s too many games out there that worry about “balance.” Each side has to have some “equilivant” class to one another. I always loved throwing balance out the window. Games like X-COM purposely put you at a disadvantage and force you to overcome it. Some levels in Starcraft or other RTSs put you up against an overwhelming unbeatable force. They don’t expect you to beat them, just to hold out for a time. That’s interesting. The goals of each side are different, which create a different play dynamic. It’s different than most team based shooters.

I’m easy prey if you know I’m me. Most of the graboid players online expect the humans to attempt a decoy or two first to lure them away. The graboids stay still, waiting. I’m usually that first “decoy” they never go after. Yes, I’m just that reckless.

The destroyable buildings are fun, from either side. Hiding on the rooftop and watching it sink out from under you is tense. Being the giant monster that gets to destroy it is fun!

Watching that hump of sand move across the desert is a good kind of scary. Hearing people scream in LAN parties is particularly satisfying.

Boiling it Down

The team based multiplayer game for people tired with the status quo.

The Tick

 Originally written on 4/7/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

I’ve had my fill of traditional brawlers. There have been too many all trying to copy each other. Journalist, critic, and bartender Yhatzee from Zero Punctuation made himself a stamp for his reviews that said, “Like God of War but.” Yet there’s still copycats like Bayonetta, the new Devil May Cry, the bastardization of literature that was Dante’s Inferno, and more. I’m looking at you Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2.

Introducing the Game

I first saw this game on the headlines on GameTrailers. That’s where I see most announcements. I approached the title with caution since it was a franchise game, of a franchise I like. I didn’t want to see it horribly cheapened and have the label slapped onto a game that didn’t represent it. Though we’ve seen a resurgence of good, higher quality franchise games, especially superhero games. There are now more good ones than bad ones. This one turned out to be one of the good ones. It’s about one of my favorite heroes growing up. He’s big, he’s blue, he’s nigh invulnerable, he’s, The Tick!

Gameplay

There’s a lot of love put into this game. It controls just like one of those action brawler clones, but I’ve never had this much fun! You are The Tick! He doesn’t do 17x hit combos with a super long extendo bladed weapon. He’s like a big blue version of The Hulk. He’s impossibly strong and tough, with unlikely speed and endurance.

Action games seem to have gone through some sort of “attack inflation.” By that I mean, for some reason, 17x hit combos are possibilities. Wouldn’t a real “strong” character be able to do in 1 hit what someone else can do in 17? Maybe it’s a real strong tough monstrous beast? Well, there’s a lot of these beasts, which reduce how strong and impressive the hero is.

The Tick readjusts the market. You’re going to have a lot of 1-hit kills right off the bat and throughout the rest of the game. But that doesn’t make it any easier! There’s an endless amount of hooded, masked, costumed thugs, bank robbers, and minions for you to pound.

Since you’re nigh invulnerable, you don’t really have to worry about being nickel and dime’d to death from the minions. Even a bomb exploding in your face isn’t as devastating as is may be to anyone but him. You have a very large and rapidly regenerating health meter. So you can only really die if you take several tank shells to the face in rapid succession, or sit there and let the minions swarm over you.

Those minions I mentioned, tend to grab and latch on to you. This prevents your health bar from regenerating as quickly. The more that latch on, the stronger the effect. Picture the walking headcrab bundle from Half-Life 2. Then, you can always pick them up and use them as projectiles. I normally don’t like regenerating health systems, but at least here it makes sense.

You have a broad range of attacks available to you, all demonstrating just how big, blue, and invulnerable you are. It’s not quite as broad as some other heroes who can make a “combo” out of any string of button presses. It’s also not difficult to imagine The Hulk doing some of these, like a thunderous clap, or hurling people, objects on the street, and debris. If he somehow manages to sneak up on an enemy, he just comically flicks them in the head to knock them out. His regular punches tend to send henchmen flying. Instead of a standard “jumpkick” he causes a tremor when he lands, or belly flops on top of someone. Due to his massive size, he can also charge in yelling his battlecry, “Spooooon!” and trample the lot. Some of the moves are on a short cooldown to encourage diversity.

Instead of driving a special Tick-mobile or flying with a cape, the Tick usually travels via rooftop. He can leap extraordinary distances and usually impacts with some property damage. If you land on the street from a great height, he buries himself halfway in the concrete and screams his head off. But he’s okay, he just shakes it off like the nigh invulnerable bug that he is. And that’s half the fun, getting to run around as The Tick, even when there’s nothing to do, just running.

The boss fights are usually a sort of action puzzle. Combat alone never solves them. You have to use logic, cartoon logic, or even worse, Tick logic. WWTD? The Tick never comes up with the plan, but usually the villain will explain it in enough detail that you know exactly where the monkey wrench should go.

I normally don’t like quick-time events, but this game takes them to a silly place. There are some events which really don’t need QTEs, like dialing a telephone. It’s simple, but the Tick seems to make it into a life and death battle with good versus evil. Then, there are some moments, like wrestling Bobzillia’s tongue into submission, that seem to be a parody of the feature and the genre. One of my favorites was a safe cracking scene to get into The Terror’s secret vault. The QTE went on for what seemed like forever. The Tick kept on muttering numbers “ 37 left” and “42 ½ right.” Arthur and American Maid kept telling me to hurry up. When I finally quit in frustration, The Tick grabbed the door and tore it off the hinges. Way to go, Tick!

It also wouldn’t be The Tick without seeing the wide spectrum of other superheroes that inhabit the world. Arthur is almost always with you, hovering around, trying to stay out of danger. Diefletermaus and American Maid make frequent appearances. The rest appear though a function resembling an old school brawler, a “call” button that calls a random hero to your side for a brief time. The other heroes appear useless, but they at least attract attention off of you. Sewer Urchin leisurely gases people with knockout gas in his own time, or causes them to cease attacking and cover their noses and mouths when he’s near. The Caped Chameleon rarely fights, he just leaps around the area, blending into the background, drawing attention to himself, getting people to chase him. While they appear silly and rather useless, the effect they have in battle is still better than the AI teammates in most games.

Story

The story is another one of the franchise game “all star” reunions. Games like Ghostbusters, the early Spider-Man games based on the movies, and Batman Arkham Asylum tried to throw everything and everyone in there. So does The Tick. It’s a world overpopulated with super heroes and super villains that you’re going to see all your favorites, even the Bi-Polar Bear has a brief cameo.

The plot involves The Terror planning something so devious, so devastating, so diabolical, that Mayor Blank has The City’s police all camped out on The Terror’s front lawn, leaving the rest of the city unprotected. That’s when the rest of the rogues gallery seize their opportunity to cause trouble. First, the Tick has to deal with them, then The Terror.

They’ve got the characters right. Diefletermaus is still as promiscuous as he is afraid of commitment, The Caped Chameleon still can’t do plaid, Sewer Urchin is still extra smelly. American Maid is the only competent one, The Human Bullet and Fire Me, Boy are always late to the party, or cause more damage than help, Big Shot is incredibly trigger happy, Arthur is nervous, Bi-Polar Bear can’t bring himself to get out of bed, Captain Lemming still can’t fly, and Barry still wants the rights to the name, “The Tick.”

I always found stories with the Tick to be inspiring. No matter what, no matter the odds, no matter the impossibility, no matter the incomprehensibleness, he never gives up. His big blue optimism is contagious. In a sea of heroes that can be morally gray, the Tick is true blue. His love of justice and right, his innocence and incorruptibility are refreshing.

Graphics

The graphics are cell shaded, just like a cartoon ought to be. I don’t know if it would still look like The Tick otherwise.

The animations are what really sell the game. They’re some of the silliest I’ve ever seen. When The Tick picks up a minion, there are several different visual options. He either picks them up by their collar and just holds them while they try to get free, stuffs them under his arm, or lifts them up by the front of their shirt. All of that work just shows how much the developers loved making this.

The city will take incredible amounts of damage as your crusade for justice continues. It will repair itself, but I’m still amazed at how much property damage I can cause. Throwing people through windows, breaking desks into splinters, grabbing anything off the street and hurling it, busting through walls, and tearing metal doors off their hinges.

Music

The main theme from The Tick is present. That ought to be a given, but there are some games which sometimes forget to include it. Ocarina of Time, I’m looking at you. The Tick’s main theme also goes under variations, like elevator music.

As far as I can tell, the rest of the music from the series appears in one place or another. Or it might not be from the series, but it’s definitely done in the same style with the same instrument set. That silly vocal chorus serves to remind you what kind of game it is you’re playing.

Sound

Oh, high praises here. Playing the Tick takes a very special voice actor. Thankfully, the original voice from the animated series returns. He has the innocence, the sincerity, the confidence, and enthusiasm that makes the Tick so lovable. I wouldn’t have minded the live action, Patrick Warburton version either. They both do good work.

I love the explosion sound effects, and other general destruction sounds. I caused so much damage! The “strain” of metal weakening as I tore a door off its hinges, or the rubble sounds as I planted myself into the concrete, falling from a great height, and the crumbling sound as I punched through a wall are so memorable. They last a long enough time that it feels like there’s a real weight to them.

Controls

The Tick moves with surprising speed and agility. There’s not much warm up time to any action. It doesn’t look “realistic” since he doesn’t pivot properly, but I don’t care. That deliberate negligence of detail actually makes the game run smoother and more quickly.

There’s actually a button to control the Tick’s antennae. At first, it made me laugh, wondering what possible use that could serve. But it’s actually a subtle danger indicator. The antennae lock on to danger and always lean in that direction. If there is no immediate danger, then they’ll point you where you need to go next. Pressing the button cycles through points of interest, like a floating target lock. It also helps so you don’ t always have to manually aim when you’re throwing cars at people.

Multiplayer

Sadly there was none. I would have loved to play partially as Arthur, even if he’s not as big or blue. I’m sure he could be useful, like Tails from Sonic 2 and 3.

Depth/Replayability

I can play this any time I’m in the mood to laugh.

Like a good action game should, you get a broad range of abilities to work with, an abundance of objects to interact with, and other heroes to call. The precise method each player chooses to work their way through each game lets each player’s personal style show through. The Tick is not limited by having one move and slowly unlocking more. That would cripple the experience and make it exactly the same for everyone. There is a careful balance of the amount of force the developers should use in shaping the experience, and letting the player shape the experience. I always felt like I was in control.

Personal

You’re going to end up doing a lot of property damage in this game. The roofs, the streets, the storefronts, are all going to need major repairs. So are the automobiles that were parked on the side of the street. Those cars all seem to easily burst into flame. Lots of other things, too. They’re just as flammable as anything in the original Golden Eye.

The only thing this game is missing is the ability to play as some of the other superheroes like the Caped Chameleon, Sewer Urchin, or the only actual competent hero, American Maid. Even Arthur would have been nice. I’ve always loved flying.

I think the reason I like the Caped Chameleon so much is that he reminds me of Nightcrawler in a weird way, his cavalier attitude, his disappearing into the shadows, and his heightened agility.

I feel sorry for the poor MoCap people who had to be flung around over and over to make all the different animations.

For your own sake, listen to Arthur. If he’s telling you to retreat from a big bad monster, you can’t beat him that way. He’s like Navi from Ocarina of Time. There’s even a joke in game where Arthur starts off a conversation with, “Hey, listen!”

Boiling it Down

This game is for anyone anyone who’s had enough with ultra violent anti-heroes, and the young and innocent at hart. Spoon!

The Blues Brothers World Tour

Originally written on 4/5/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

Music & rhythm games existed before the guitar peripheral. Once that came, it changed everything. Rock Band and Guitar Hero showed up, along with a few copycats. There were Karaoke games that needed microphones. Before that, DDR was the big “peripheral” fad with it’s dance pad. Then the Kinect changed everything by mapping the whole human body. I remember seeing Dance Central and thinking to myself, when I get a Kinect, that’s the dance game for me.

Introducing the Game

Dance Central went out the window the instant I saw this. It came out of nowhere. I was raised on these guys. I couldn’t not buy this. Since the music genre established itself as a strong competitive force, specialized genre music games like the 1980s, Queen, Aerosmith, or LEGO’s kid friendly songs appeared. I didn’t see this coming, but it needed to be made. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome The Blues Brothers on their World Tour!

Gameplay

This game lets me finally live out my dream of being one of The Blues Brothers. The game includes full Rock Band instrument compatibility, but boy oh boy, that’s only the start. You’re going to need a lot of space to get the full experience. There is room for up to 4 dancers. You can, of course, pick and choose which parts to play. There’s a software upgrade to the Kinect sensor if you want to play Blue Lou’s saxaphone, Mr Fabulous’s trombone, or Murph’s trumpet. It maps your finger movement. You can play any part in the band. Seriously, who here reading hasn’t wanted to be a Blues Brother?

There’s plenty of “concert” songs if you just want to play or revisit a familiar area or event like Queen Mousset’s or Juliet prison. There’s a “story” mode that continues the journey of Elwood. And there’s a long series of tutorial modes that will help you get the hang of the game. It’s not just a “game” it’s a teaching tool. Dan Akroyd is actually teaching you all the moves.

There’s an option to do some driving, evading the police, as well as all the other people Elwood manages to infuriate along the way. But it’s optional. You couldn’t have a Blues Brothers experience without the Bluesmobile, right?

Story

I think the story of how this game came about is better than the actual game in the story. Dan Akroyd has always had a strong love of the blues as a whole. He wanted to share that love with as many people as he can. That’s a part of how The Blues Brothers routine came about. He wanted to spread and share this unique form of American music that was pretty much lost at that time. He was partially responsible for bringing it into the public eye on Saturday Night Live with his partner and best friend John Belushi.

When someone new, someone who was raised on his Blues Brothers music, approached him with the opportunity to reach a new generation, they came together to produce this game.

The game’s story picks up with Elwood, Buster, Mighty Mac, Cab, and the band evading the police from the end of Blues Brothers 2000. They all skip the country and perform on a world tour, bringing the Blues to other countries that might never have experienced it. There are even a few cultural songs redone in blues style, along with the classic Blues Brothers discography. In each country, Elwood is training lookalikes(you) to throw off the police. So when he finally comes back to the United States, he’ll be able to perform anywhere, just claiming to be an Elwood lookalike.

Graphics

The graphics are good, as any modern game would be. But what stands out the most is what th Kinect sensor does to your face. It has some optional automatic magic to tint all your clothes black, put a fedora on your head, and give you black sunglasses(precise position can be adjusted).(As if I didn’t already have the required uniform for just such an occasion.) Because performing as The Blues Brothers in a tie die shirt and sweat pants just doesn’t look right at all.

Dan Akroyd got to go into a motion capture studio, have his face scanned and performed the moves himself. Without that, I just don’t know how I would feel about the game.

Music

The music is why I bought this game in the first place. Nothing can compare. Elwood actually recorded some new tracks just for this game(available on iTunes). My favorites, Lookin’ For A Fox, Soul Man, Rawhide, and Love Light are all there, and more.

Sound

They got the band back together for this one, including some of today’s Blues and Soul artists, James Marsters and Ghost of the Robot, Joss Stone, and more. Every Blues Brothers movie has a ton of musical guest stars. Aretha Franklin was the best!

Controls

Well, it’s a Kinect game. So, if you can’t get the controls down, you’ve only yourself to blame. If you want to play the musical portions, those are available, but you’ll have to get your own musical interface device. I hear they updated the software after launch to accept Power Gig guitars, too.

Multiplayer

The Blues Brothers is plural. I don’t think anyone considered for half a heartbeat to make this a one player only game. You can have up to four performers dancing on stage. But I think it works best with two. After all, most of the songs are for two people anyway. There’s online connectivity, so you don’t need 4 people in the room if it gets too crowded. There’s also a “battle of the bands” mode that has you face off against others for putting on a good show. But I’ll stick with cooperative, that’s just more my style.

Depth/Replayability

There’s a big number of songs that don’t appear in story mode. Hopefully, everybody’s favorite will be there. This is the perfect title to break out at parties. It’s good music, classy, classic, appropriate for all ages with enough dexterity to play. I honestly don’t know what rhythm and music game could trump this. I’ll be playing this for a long time to come!

Personal

“I can show you all da moves.” Just hearing that little sound byte in the training mode made me feel like a little kid again.

I felt just a bit silly doing, “Stand By Your Man.” But, that’s all part of the fun. Slinking along to Cab Callaway’s, “Minnie the Moocher” made me feel like I was back in the 1940s. It makes me wish there were more opportunities to bust out that dance.

Celtic songs with a harmonica? Why hasn’t this been done before!? Normally I love the beautiful and haunting, lovely echoing voice of a woman that sings Celtic songs, but the deep bass of Elwood Blues puts a whole different spin on it. You’ve got to hear it!(Who knew Elwood could Riverdance?)

Even if you don’t have the microphone attachment, it’s really hard NOT to sing along anyway. It’s as instinctive as making your own lightsaber sound effects in a Star Wars game, even if they’re already included, or as instinctive as tilting the controller to make a hard turn, even when it’s not at all motion sensitive and has no bearing on the gameplay.

Besides the music and the guest stars, the story mode helps complete the full Blues Brothers experience by letting you drive the Bluesmobile in segments between performances, usually evading some new enemy you’ve made along the way like the local police, Interpol, bar owners(beer is not free for the band!), and bounty hunters who want to bring Elwood back to the US. It also helps to promote your concerts. The more area you can cover, the larger your turnout will be. And yes, there will be car crashes, driving through malls, jumping bridges, and as much property damage as a Ghostbuster.

Boiling it Down

The music. No pharmaceutical product can ever match the high felt when the rhythm is grooving, the band is rocking, and the crowd is wailing.

Dragon’s World

Originally written on 3/25/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

I’m a sucker for anything dragons. Bahamut was always my favorite Final Fantasy summon. I loved Draken, perhaps more than it deserved. I made a dragon creature in Spore. I feel guilty whenever I have to fight a dragon in any action / RPG. The friendly dragon Scorch from The Lost Vikings 2 was one of my favorite characters to play. I always root for dragons in movies like Dragonheart and even Reign of Fire. I never had a PS3, PS2, or PS1 so I missed games like Lair, Drakenguard, and Spyro. I was happy to see the friendly dragons in King’s Quest VII The Princess Bride, and The Longest Journey.

This game is also an intriguing animal simulator, not like a virtual pet, but closer along the lines of Wolf Quest, Savage(lions), and Spore. You actually play and experience the life of a wild animal. You’re not creating a virtual pet. You are the pet. The above mentioned animal games do their best to mimic the lives and challenges of the creatures they feature. Though instead of a real-life animal, it’s an animal without a strong frame of reference.

Introducing the Game

This is a game I’ve been waiting for! You’re a dragon! That’s about it, but that’s all you’d need. I remember the MMO, Horizons, promised that as an option, along with a dozen other varied and different species I’d never seen in a fantasy MMO before, faeries, angels, demons, giants, and more. All I wanted was the dragons, I knew they could carry their own game. And this is it, Dragon’s World.

Dragon’s World was the title of a documentary from The Discovery Channel produced around the end of 2004. It followed a “discovery” of a partially preserved dragon body frozen in ice. The Discovery Channel experts did their thing and based on the discovered “evidence.” What followed was an amazing amount of theoretical speculation about if dragons existed, how did they live, fly, fight, survive the dinosaur extinction event, the ice age, and survive into the middle ages, and eventually die out. Even though it’s all a lie, it’s all presented as if it were real.

Gameplay

As I mentioned before, the gameplay is all about the life of a dragon. It takes place in several historic and pre-historic settings. It’s kind of sandbox that way. You begin life as a hatchling, exploring the surrounding area. There are some basic needs to fulfill, the likes of which players of The Sims or The Ship should be familiar with. You’ll have to hunt for food from different hunting grounds, subdue it, find a watering hole, mark your territory. As you grow, you set out to make your own territory, and possibly defend it.

In the prehistoric age, if you choose to play there, you’ll have giant monster on monster battles against dinosaurs. Surviving the ice age is very difficult, food is scarce, but the environment is very pretty. The middle ages is probably the most interesting and dynamic. Castles and cities pop up. Civilization encroaches on your lair. On the up side, food is abundant! You can either snatch livestock like sheep or cattle. Or, in a humorous nod to the fantasy genre, you can raid a castle, destroy bits of it until a you see a princess, kidnap her and bring her back to your lair. If you can manage that, you’ll have a steady stream of food right to your lair. Heroes will regularly come looking to rescue her. Besides princesses, you can also steal and horde treasure.

Robbing and looting is a double edged sword, sure it’s fun, but it does draw more attention to you than you might like. The more you do, the more attention you get. It’s like gaining a wanted level in Grand Theft Auto, sure it’s fun to see how high you can get it, but you know your game may end very soon.

Attracting a mate is part of the game. The better lair you can provide, it increases your chances of successfully attracting a mate. You may also try soaring and roaring around, listening for responses. You may have to fight a rival or rogue also seeking a mate(depending on the gender of your dragon). If you ever find one, mating itself is rather tricky. The mating dance is aerial. The female begins a series of maneuvers that the male has to match. At this point, the gameplay focuses much on stunt flying. The finish line is as high as each of you can fly, and dive bomb as close to the ground as you can, together, like how some birds mate.

Sim games don’t usually have this much action. Fighting games don’t usually let you detail your character like this. Flight sims are usually too realistic. This game has everything I’d want in the amounts I want it.

Story

The story is little more than survival. It’s not a story driven game. No princesses to save(in fact you can kidnap a few). There is a living world to explore. You can dominate it as much as you like, conquer it, move on to other lands, settle down in a lair, or just be nomadic.

Graphics

The “character” editor is the most advanced I’ve seen since Spore. While Spore had to be versatile, and could create just about anything, this editor stick to the basic skeleton of a dragon. There are greater texture resolutions. Animations are a bit better since there is much less than the infinite combinations Spore had to calculate.

You can cover yourself with scales or hide, spikes, horns, and claws. Have a long neck or short neck, two-legs or four. Wings can sprout from your back or be webbed to your arms. Fire, frost, lightning, or venom breath weapons are available, along with many patterns of coloration. Much of it is cosmetic, but it adds a sense of ownership and identity to the creature.

The game was designed for Western dragon lovers. There might be a few Otaku who wanted to play an Eastern dragon, and they’ll be disappointed. Maybe a sequel or expansion will offer it.

The weather effects are a real spectacle! Flying in the rain, diving above and below the clouds, is such a simple but satisfying mechanic. Running through the trees and wooded areas as a hatchling is cute. Climbing mountains with speed and fluid grace, using your powerful claws and muscles, is like watching a work of art.

Music

There’s a change in music depending on the environment. While playing in the prehistoric age, the music is more primal and percussive. In the middle ages, the music gets more what you’d expect, Gaelic.

Sound

It’s a little more useful than the horn in a driving game, but roaring for the sake or roaring is fun. Especially if you’re on a mountaintop and get to hear the echo. Swoop down and roar to send livestock running, or some soldiers who were out for a trophy. Other dragons might answer your call and mimic you, especially hatchlings. It’s all a lot more fun than it should be.

Controls

Dragon on dragon combat is the most controller intensive part of the game. Ground and aerial combat require two different control schemes, but they’re each intuitive. Switching between one and the other didn’t take too long to get used to. The animators must have watched some episodes of Wild Kingdom and watched how many different animals fight with jaws, claws, and tails. As a dragon, you can leap forward and pounce, swiping with all four of your claws, sprint or whip your tail around like a lizard or alligator, pull a 180 like a snapping turtle, you can maul, rend and tear using your claws or hind legs, depending on your orientation. Your jaws are nearly always available to clamp down and tear. It’s all very violent and primal. I just hope it doesn’t influence kids to try and recreate what they see on the playground. Especially the fire breathing.

In the air, your goal is to outmaneuver the adversary and then clamp down with your jaws, and while you’re attached, rend and tear as much as you can while they try to shake you off. Your breath weapon is also available.

Defending is about evading or parrying at the right time. Besides the “parry” button, you can drop into a dive, roll, hop, or jump. Parrying at the right time can prevent another dragon from getting a claw or jaw on you. So it’s good to come at them from an angle other than the front.

Multiplayer

I’m very glad there was no multiplayer for this. If this idea was conceived in the wrong frame of time, it could have become a shallow MMO. The lack of multiplayer also means the polycount is higher than MMOs. If there were other players and their actions to consider, the slightest lag could change the outcome of a fight.

Depth/Replayability

I always get more enjoyment than most out of editors. I could spend hours in the character editor alone and forget, “oh, yeah, there’s a game that came with this.” I’ve made a few different dragons and play through each of them, depending on my mood. One is in the prehistoric era, and one in the ice age. I have two in the middle ages, playing separately. One is trying to live peacefully, and the other one is razing the countryside.

There’s no “real” end. You could consider dominating the island to be the end of the game. It’s not “re” playable, as much as it is endlessly playable. You could say it’s as endlessly playable as World of Warcraft.

Personal

Once upon a time, I was playing the original Discovery Channel’s Dragon’s World DVD in the common area at an army base. A bunch of folk just arrived from basic training and took a load off. They never saw the DVD cover, or the disclaimer at the beginning. So the whole room was watching in complete rapture. It didn’t help that I didn’t bother to disclose it was all fake. And I asked, “Why haven’t you heard about this? Where have you been the last month? This has been all over the news!” I’m a mischievous trickster at heart.

I love flying as fast as I can, flaring out my wings to stall, roll into a ball, then dive and pull up in a different direction to rapidly change direction. The game didn’t hold my hand and tell me how to do it, it’s just something I figured out. They didn’t simplify one button u-turns or loops. I wonder what it would be like for Kinect?

Boiling it Down

Best/Only dragon simulator?

Dinosaur Island

 Originally written on 3/23/2011

The Best Game Never Played

Introducing the Genre

I’m glad to see that games are following the educational trend. Games have increased in difficulty by adding educational value to them. The more intelligent players have an edge over action junkies. The Surface Runner, the new Carmen Sandiego are two great examples. There are some other genre bending survival elements taken from the new Tomb Raider. And in a weird way, there’s some virtual pet-ness like The Last Guardian.

Introducing the Game

I first discovered this game by accident. I thought I was checking out a video from the new Jurassic Park game. But after the trailer, I had to check out more. Further investigation revealed a deep physics puzzler and educational game. An educational game taking full advantage of next gen hardware? The idea alone was worth a look. Welcome to Dinosaur Island!

Gameplay

High octane gameplay with some educational segments hidden in.

The nature of the dinosaurs doesn’t remind me of AI monsters as much as it reminds me of virtual pets or the griffin from The Last Guardian. They may play with their food, hunt you, or defend their young and perceived territory. Fighting squads of soldiers with guns who have a sense of self preservation and hide behind cover, is something gamers have learned to overcome. Surviving a run for your life against something that can wipe you out with a thought is an entirely new challenge. During your orientation and tour of the scientists, reading the information in your PDA, all the information you learn about them, their habitat and behavior will be used somewhere. For example, firing a compound’s “food cannon” with raw meat into the jungle can draw carnivores away from you.

The nature of the driving segments remind me slightly of Zombie Taxi where you have to rescue people and run for your life. What would be mini-games or quick-time events have been replaced with educational segments similar to The Surface Runner’s electrical repair, an electrical diagram comes up that you have to solve. As a handyman, that’s part of your job anyway. Replacing mini-games and quick time events are a welcome change I am very thankful for. It seems there was a time when those dominated and permeated action games as a whole. Creative ingenuity had stagnated. There’s a segment where you have to use “mechanical advantage” to open a door. You can use materials that would break like wooden planks, but if you can find a crowbar, it would work.(Gordon Freeman would be proud). At one point or another you will be making several versions of the basic machines in physics.

With all the physics and mechanics puzzles, it reminds me of a 3D practical application of the Rube-Goldberg machines from Crazy Machines or The Incredible Machine. Your vehicle can carry just about anything in the back. All the random junk you carry with you makes this perhaps the closest thing to a MacGyver game I could imagine. You have to be clever sometimes to work through a problem. And many of the puzzles have multiple solutions.

Story

The story starts out familiar. Dinosaurs are recreated on an island somewhere in the Pacific. A park is built around them. That’s where the similarities end. It takes the core premise of Jurassic Park, but the events and consequences that unfold around that scientific breakthrough are totally different.

There are several scientific observation camps set up in each region of the island. It was engineered to recreate various biomes past and present to see how well the dinos would survive in today’s environment. Scientists could observe and record the behavior of the dinosaurs under these conditions. It was a great setup while it lasted.

The game begins and “it’s your first day” of work. You’re a handyman, technician, and gofer for the scientists. It’s reminds me of the opening to Half-Life. The scientists are showing you all around the island in a jeep(foreshadowing). They stop to observe some of the herbivores and tell you a little about each one. Sometimes giddy scientists tend to ramble, but listen to everything they say, it might come in handy if the entire island goes out of control, as unlikely as that is.

After the opening sequence, time flashes forward three months. You’ve established a friendly working relationship with the scientists on the island. And as I’ve established in past articles, it’s relationships that are at the heart of good storytelling and drama. A mysterious “something” happens and all the animals begin to simultaneously panic and act out of character. A volcano on the island begins to ramp up to erupt. The order is given to evacuate. Most of the scientists never leave their little individual habitats. You know the island the best since your job takes you all over, frequently. Your job is to collect all of the scientists and get them to safety.

I thought this was a fascinating story overall. There’s no “villain” character. There’s no hatred towards any one faction or another. No super secret shadow organization. It’s just about survival and running for your life. I like how they took the premise of Jurassic Park, without copying everything that happened. It never felt like they were “copying” anything. It’s just another story with dinosaurs in it.

Graphics

The graphics are some of the most pleasant I’ve ever seen. Not everything takes place at night in bad lighting, like horror survival games like to do. I know that’s a traditional horror “trick,” to hide horrible things in the dark, letting your imagination fill in the blanks of the horrible thing you can’t quite see. The situations are scary, but not “horror” scary. These aren’t monsters, but beasts and animals, and react as such. They’re rendered wonderfully in game, not meant to be horrifying, but more majestic and regal. They’re the star of the show. Sometimes I enjoyed being eaten, just so the camera could get a good look at the dinosaurs.

Music

Okay, after analyzing the gameplay, this seals it. The creators were definitely fans of MacGyver. When you’re “working” a problem, a jingle begins playing using the same instrument set from the series. The times I was running or driving for my life, I’d think John Williams was in the back seat, serenading me with excerpts from Jaws.

Sound

I appreciate sound artists. Recreating the sound of an extinct creature can’t be an easy task. Recreating a park full and having an island destroy itself, is a masterpiece. I didn’t recognize any of the voice cast, the scientists or the handyman(Sadly, it wasn’t Richard Dean Anderson). Sometimes that’s for the best. They all did a good job.

Controls

The control scheme is unique. A unique game would need it. If you’ve played games with physics puzzles in them like Twin Sector, Amnesia, and Half-Life 2, then some of the physics puzzles will be familiar territory. Driving and running for your life is WASD, with some action game influence. Amnesia elements appear, like having to hide in a closet. Other physics problems might be more adventure game-ish that bring up a menu and expect you to solve a diagram with some old point-and-click methods. The game intuitively and seamlessly jumps between genres. If you’ve played at least one of all the different represented genres, you’ll easily adapt to this game. Just don’t expect this game to be any one extreme or another and you should do fine.

Multiplayer

There’s no limit to how many “handymen” are actually on the island. You’re not “the chosen one” or anything. There is a multiplayer cooperative mode that lets several players run through the island at the same time, fixing problems and collecting scientists. Synergy, a mod for Half-Life 2, allows cooperative play like this through the single player campaign. They’re both loads of fun.

My Uncle and I played this game. A lot. We had lots of fun just goofing around in-game. Racing against a T-Rex, we’d try and run each other off the road in our jeeps, cut each other off, or in some other way, get the other killed, eaten, torn apart, gored, spiked, or crushed. On the other hand, we had plenty of fun trying to play cooperatively, one of us driving and the other riding shotgun. One of us trying to repair something critical or grab a scientist, the other grabbing the attention of the T-Rex(ramming into it’s ankle tended to work well, but watch the tail!)

Depth/Replayability

Given the randomness and “virtual pet” aspect to the dinosaurs, their placement, temperament, and reactions are impossible to predict. There are a few scripted chases and hunts that move the story along. But outside of that, one area filled with Stegosauri may be empty or sparsely populated the next time. During your travels, the island has a life of its own, like the Spore universe.

Many of the roadblocks have multiple solutions to them. On the second and third playthrough, you can feel free to think up another crazy solution. Instead of winching a fallen tree from the road, you can try to blow it up. Or, “go fishing” with some bait and have a triceratops trample it to pieces. I love the fishing segments!

Personal

Woot! Physics! Every time I have to, I mean, get to, pry open a door, I feel great. I’m tired of playing action games or FPSs with all these doors that I can’t open. I just want to tear them apart or blow them up with the rocket launcher, and that still never works. Being able to use a crowbar to jam and pry open a door is a dream come true. In your face, doors! (I have special hatred for doors, read some of the other articles)

The climax of driving up the volcano to redirect a lava flow to the ocean and save the dinosaurs is one of the best, most memorable, and most satisfying climactic scenarios I’ve seen in a while. It takes the “terrain deformation” promised to us in games of the past like Red Faction and takes it to an extreme.

Besides the physics puzzles, this might spark a younger player’s interest in studying dinosaurs.

I wish that there was more time to spend with the dinosaurs before all heck breaks loose. That would be an interesting game in itself, Sim Dinosaur Rancher.

The first person bare knuckle brawl(chairs, planks, fists) with a velociraptor might have been a bit unrealistic, but damn was that intense!!!

I think some of the MacGyvering solutions were taken from the show.

“Open the door, get on the floor, Everybody walk the dinosaur!” I couldn’t help but imagine playing this on the jeep’s radio during some segments.

Boiling it Down

Physics, dinosaurs, volcanoes, biology, nature, math, electronics, “When am I ever going to use this stuff?” Right here!