May 2006

The [i]Silent Hill Experience[/i] is not a game, let’s start out with that. This UMD was released around the time of the movie for promotion, and to cash in on the collectors.

The UMD features two animated graphic novels set in the Silent Hill universe, one of them being exclusive for this UMD. While the idea was great, in reality it fails. Unless you are an extremely fast reader, you won’t be able to read all of the text in the text bubbles and such, making you miss key information, and just making the experience (pun intended) frustrating. The stories aren’t really Silent Hill-esque, but are still ok. However, the music that underlines it is excellent.

Speaking of the music, there are twenty selected tracks from all four games. I personally think this is the best part of the disc, and the reason I won’t sell it. The music has a great atmosphere and can really get you in the mood of playing some Silent Hill. There is also an interview with the composer

There is also some movie stuff, such as interviews and trailers. Good stuff, but these will probably be in the DVD version of the Silent Hill movie, so this set isn’t something worth buying the UMD for.

While SHE is pretty cheap, I can only recommend it to collectors and fans of the series. The only part that makes SHE stand out is the music, which are available to buy anyways. The digital comic idea failed due to it’s speed, and the movie things will probably be available later. Unless you are a die-hard Silent Hill nut, [i]Silent Hill Experience[/i] is strictly a rental.

True Swing Golf

May 29, 2006

I approached this game with little seriousness, remembering how I was the champion at [i]Mario Golf[/i] for Game Boy Color back in the day. This game had nothing on me, or so I thought. I expected a calm relaxing game of golf.

The game begins by asking whether you’re right handed or left handed, as you’ll be using the stylus as your virtual club. You then have to select an attitude (cool or wild), which seems to have no considerable impact on the game, although if you miss a long put a wild character will act a bit more passionate.

The modes of game play are in itself limited, even though I wasn’t expecting much from a golf game. There’s four modes altogether, including Stroke Play, Match Play, Free Round, and Championship. In stroke play, you play alone. In Match Play, you play against a computer. Free Round is simply a training mode where you can play the same course over and over again to sharpen whatever skills you feel you are lacking in. Championship mode is a tournament, in which you can win money to buy golf goods at the Club House. By the by, Match Play and Championship mode feel EXACTLY the same, with the exception of earning money. Unfortunately, each game play mode feels exactly like the other one, devoid of any emotion or feeling whatsoever. The only time I felt slightly exhilarated was when I scored an eagle in Championship mode.

[i]True Swing Golf[/i]’s unique feature is the ability to swing the golf club with the touch screen. Simply take the stylus and ride it up the touch screen to the golf ball, and you got yourself a swing. I also noticed that it measured how fast and powerful I hit the ball through how fast I whizzed across the touch screen, which is a nice addition. This also led to many, many, many anger outbursts, as I would totally whiff the ball on several occasions. In addition, while putting, there is a nice red tracking line, which at first seems very convenient. But I noticed that sometimes it would simply stop between the hole and my golfer. This added to the frustration, as I would have to “guesstimate” while putting.

Furthermore, since the DS is a portable system, I brought this game with me on the road for an hour drive to my grandparent’s house. Let’s just say, I highly do not recommend this game to be taken on the road. It requires a very high level of concentration along with a steady hand. I cannot imagine playing this game during a bus ride, as the controls require you to be very specific.

To be honest, the game does bring a novel idea to the table, but it ultimately doesn’t deliver. It is devoid of any real entertainment, even on those rainy days. However, if you are a golfer, and own a DS, this game may be for you. The 20 dollar price tag is a good bargain for this game, if you’re the type that watches golf on TV. The controls rely on you to have an understanding of golf before you play it. To the average gamer, this game scores a double bogey.

When it comes to videogames, Rockstar has in its short life become synonymous with pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable with regards to action, violence, and sex. However, with regards to the developers’ latest creation the company has broadened its catalog to include Table Tennis, and in so doing has proven that it is not a one-trick pony.

Table Tennis is exactly what you would expect, and while the concept is far simpler than other Rockstar-developed titles, the experience is nonetheless exhilarating. You might just shrug this sports title off but to do so without playing it first would be a mistake, as matches within Table Tennis can be just as intense, brutal, and a sweat-inducing as those found in any other arguably more conventional sports title.

Another facet of Table Tennis that enhances its appeal is that, like any great game, it is easy to pick up and enjoy by anyone, but mastering the intricacies of all it has to offer takes a lot of time and devotion. In addition, while the initial tournaments are fairly simple, the game can and does become unapologetically difficult as matches continue. Heated matches will find you holding your breath as you and your opponent bat the ball back and forth for several minutes before the camera slows down to show the ball barely touch the corner of the table and bounce just beyond your opponent’s reach. The core gameplay may be simple, but the ferocity of Table Tennis should not be taken lightly.

All of the gameplay is backed by solid graphics that really add to the feeling of being in an intense grudge match between two seasoned athletes. Players’ clothes wrinkle and sway with every stroke, while beads of sweat form on both players as the match continues and intensity increases. Clothes even begin to evoke stress as well with dark sweat spots appearing on the players’ outfits. This may only be cosmetic but it sure turns the notch up just one more level with regards to realism. Adding to this are the noises made by the crowd as they they react to the ongoing game, including chants for the winning player’s country and moans following a narrowly missed return. Meanwhile only after successfully keeping the ball in play, a techno soundtrack kicks in to fuel your aggression even more. This is a game that is not only fun, but seems to drive you to win.

Table Tennis‘ controls are simple yet effective. They give you the option of using your right analog stick or the face buttons for your hitting techniques, which is a nice feature, as using the analog stick almost feels like you’re actually swinging the paddle yourself. Different types of returns put different directional spins on the ball, which can affect how the ball reacts once it strikes the opponent’s side table. Other options, such as charging your shot for a more powerful return, of performing a tricky soft lob just over the net just add more depth to an already deceptively deep game.

One of the best features of Table Tennis is its multiplayer support, both offline, and over Xbox Live. Whether you’ve got a friend sitting next to you, or you are competing with others online, expect to waste hours in front of the television paddling the ball back and forth. The game is insanely addictive, and when you grow bored of the single player tournaments, the prospect of taking your skills up against other real players will keep you up late at night and coming back for more.

Table Tennis is a surprise hit. It doesn’t try to offer anything other than what the title indicates, and yet this is exactly why the game succeeds. It doesn’t offer a robust set of playing modes, and instead simply does one thing really well. Whether you decide to play for 30 minutes or have an all night tournament with your friends, Rockstar’s latest offering provides fun in spades.

Score: 87%

[i]Ten Hammers[/i] is the second of the [i]Full Spectrum Warrior[/i] titles to arrive. First of all, this game is in no way shape or form for the run-n-gun shoot ’em up type of gamer. Patience, strategy, skill, and tactic are required to be able to adapt to this type of game play. Overall the graphics were good, I wasn’t awe-stricken though highly amused at bodies caught in explosions or falling off of ledges. Game play was adaptable due to its slow moving and lengthy searches of corners or buildings. I like a good game that requires you to have tactical thinking.

At first you will need about an hour or two to learn the controls via the ingame guide in the first level. The controls, although difficult to get used to, create the complexity the game needs to take the level of strategy where it needs to be.

When it comes to playing, you must take this game slow. The available commands range from setting your squad to cover a fire sector, which is where you grant permission for your team to fire at. Your men will automatically assign two men to cover the fire sector and two to cover the other exposed directions. You can also order smoke and frags to be thrown, or pick up wounded soldiers. There are also several movement options. You can order your squad to move in different formation types; Tight, which will keep the men in a tight formation; Hot, which will allow your men to shoot at enemies they may encounter while moving; and Scout, which will have one man scout out a corner, bunker or barricade – if he encounters an enemy he will return to the squad, if not the squad will regroup with him. And last but not least you have the option of Precision Fire, the closest you will come in the game to actually pulling the trigger, allowing you to tell your selected team member to fire when an enemy is exposed.

There are also a couple of options that are not readily available, but rather at certain points of specific levels. For example, C4 and Air strikes (no planes, only helicopters). The C4 is used to destroy road blocks and enemy vehicles. The C4 can be difficult to deploy on an enemy tank, since you must rely on strategy to distract them. As for air strikes, I didn’t ever use them since they are near impossible to get to shoot what you want. It would have been better if the pilot would have some sort of AI, rather it seems to shoot (50mm cannons only) where you put the laser and then retreat.

After you get done with the first level, you not only are in charge of Alpha squad, but also Bravo squad. This I liked, although it gives you more to do, you have the opportunity to flank the enemy with more men, and well as create more distractions. In addition to getting two squads, you can split each squad into 2 two-man teams; A1, A2, B1, and B2. You have the option to split up or regroup at any time in any mission. In select missions you are also granted a third unit. Charlie squad. This is always a 1 man squad in a Bradley Armored Vehicle, or as a sniping unit. One really cool feature is while switching between squads, the screen instead of a straight cut-to, unless you are a great distance from the other squad, rotates and zooms to their position. Allowing you to have a better feel and view for the battlefield.

When it comes to AI it seems like the enemies had the only type of intelligence in this game. You will definitely want to pick a spare controller when you pick up the game as you are in for some serious controller throwing with this game. The most annoying part of the slow AI that your squads offer is even while you may have a fire sector where you know the enemy is, your team is still slower to react than the enemy who has time to walk out, aim, then shoot one of your squad members. After nearly four or five takes at the same enemy, your guys will finally take him out, leaving you with a wounded soldier that requires you to pick him up with one of your other team members, thus putting you down two men. If you are lucky enough to reach a CASEVAC(medic/ammo truck or station) your men will lay down the wounded man and a guy will come out to take his place(unless too many men have been wounded). And when one of your guys goes down, the screen tints yellow, and zooms to and plays in slow motion your downed man falling, all the meanwhile the enemy is still shooting at your other team members possibly taking them out as well. Once you have a total of 3 men wounded without reaching a CASEVAC, it is mission failed. There is an autosave at checkpoints, so no need to worry about having to replay the entire mission.

One feature that I was looking for and would have liked to have seen would have been the ability to plan an attack and apply certain movements or orders to be sent to different squads at the same time, for example the ability to set 2 squads to breach the same room from different sides on a certain command. None the less you couldn’t and I found it quite difficult to set up distractions or complex strategic attacks from multiple flanking positions while encountering numerous enemies. Every action your team takes requires you to switch to that team, select team member and give command. So for that precise timing tactic, this is very difficult. This is also where the zoom while switching squads is less favored.

And finally for multiplayer! I was hesitant to take this game on Live as I feared a severe walloping, although I was quite curious to see the game types and how this game could actually be played online. Unfortunately when I tried to get on Live, it couldn’t find a match for me. It appeared that there was no one online. The game types were listed as; Co-op Mission, Versus Mission, and Optimatch. None of these selections found me a match. I was very disappointed with this.

To wrap it all up, this definitely deserves a look if you are into strategy and can think on your toes. But if you are impatient and are looking for “action”, this game packs a punch at Butterball speeds so it’s not for you. I did not finish this game yet, but am quite certain that if the number of people on multiplayer doesn’t improve then I won’t be playing it for some time as I couldn’t imagine any type of replay value. Overall rating, rent it!

After reading article after article pertaining to the release of the Xbox 360, I told myself that I was not going to buy an Xbox 360 until two separate conditions were met. 1) I had an HTDV with surround sound and 2) [i]Halo 3[/i] was out. Well, this past holiday season condition #1 was met however as we all know, still no [i]Halo 3[/i]. The new HDTV and surround sound was starting to look mighty lonely without a next generation gaming machine sitting next to it, poor me 😉

So then I got to thinking… “isn’t Tom Clancy putting out another Ghost Recon game soon for the Xbox 360?” So I hopped online and starting hitting the gaming sites and reading over the forums for any mention of this new game. There it was, [i]Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter[/i]. “The name sounds riveting,” I thought to myself. I moved on to check out the posted screenshots and videos. I was hooked, this game looked amazing! “That’s it,” I told myself, “I think I need to scratch [i]Halo 3[/i] from my #2 prerequisites list and replace it with [i]Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter[/i]!”

Finally the day came, Ubisoft announced the game had gone gold. I checked the bank account, looked good. Man, I thought to myself. “Am I really ready to take the plunge into the Next Generation of gaming?” I decided that I was going to stop off at the local Wal-mart on the way home [i]just[/i] to see if they happened to have an Xbox 360 Premium package on hand. I started down the Xbox 360 isle when there she was, a single premium 360 bundle sitting all alone behind some enclosed glass like some piece of artwork on display. I quickly scoured for the nearest sales associate and hastily asked if they would unlock the glass so that I could release the Xbox 360 from its prison cell. “Wow,” the associate exclaimed, “you are not even going to let it sit on the shelf for 15 minutes?” I begged his pardon, “What do you mean?” The associate let me know that he had just place the unit on the shelf not some 15 minutes ago. “This is fate,” I told myself, “You shall be mine.” I grabbed [i]Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter[/i] off the shelf, paid for the units and away I went.

I got home, unpackaged everything, and popped in the game. The 1st thing that got me, was that I was forced to update my Xbox 360 before I was allowed to play. If I declined the update, I would not be allowed to play the game. I decided not to let that get on my nerves and continued onward (although it really did). I watched through the introductory video with mouth ajar and eyes wide-open. I had seen this video before online, however it looked and sounded so much better with a 56″ DLP and 6.1 surround sound! Gun fire to the right, bombs exploding to the left, this game truly knows how to utilize my 6.1 sound setup.

I started off the game by going through the tutorial. As soon as the level loaded, I exclaimed “Man check out these GRAPHICS, this game looks amazing!” I moved my soldier around and proclaimed “the physics of his body movements are surreal!” Giggling like a little school girl, I moved my character along to see what else my new game had to offer. I was anxious to see all the new moves and special abilities I had available to me in this version. Oh boy let me tell you, I sure am glad I went this tutorial route and did not just jump into the game because there are so many cool new features. One of these new features is a wall hug. While walking and running around, whenever you come near a wall, you are automatically brushed up against it in order to use it as cover. Ubisoft spent a lot of time with the feature, and I promise you will like it! This new wall hugging feature ties into another cool feature that I like, the Action icon.

The Action icon appears on the bottom of your screen whenever any type of action needs to take place. For instance, I came to the end of a corridor whose wall I had been hugging. Still attached to the wall, I continued to press forward on my thumb stick and had my soldier peer ever so slightly around the corner. Further movement on the thumb stick allowed me to control exactly how far my soldier would stick his head around the corner. After playing around with the corner peeking feature I went ahead and selected the exit action icon to release me from the wall and allow me to progress along. The action icon will appear for all types of necessary actions including climbing over objects, healing teammates, re-supplying ammo, and commanding your squad. This leads me into one of the most important features of this game, your AI based squad.

Most of the games I have played recently have had AI based teammates/enemies that I would personally class as “mildly retarded.” I’ve had AI based teammates run into grenades, remove themselves from cover to only get mowed down by bullets, and not fire towards enemies that are standing 10 feet in front of them! So, my expectations were high for the AI in this game, being “next-gen” and all. After playing through a few levels (that’s about how long it takes to really get the controls down) my opinion of my AI based teammates was good. They were not perfect in the field, but they are a much better improvement over past AI. Also in terms of the enemy AI, I must say they play smart; Ducking for cover, using random objects for cover, taking corners and peaking around them to shoot. I was impressed.

Ubisoft made controlling your team easier than ever by having you move your squad with the use of the UP button on the directional pad. Simply point your crosshair in the direction you want your team to go and hit UP. Your team kicks it into gear and moves into place. If you have your crosshairs pointing towards the corner of a building some 100 yards away and then select UP, then your squad will automatically know to not only run to that building and use it as cover, but to also use the building’s corner to peek around and see what lies ahead. If your squad does see something ahead, they can either do 1 or 2 things, it all depends on whether you have your squad in Recon mode or Aggressive mode (can be alternated between by select the R1 button). In Recon mode, you team will alert you of their findings. In aggressive mode, your team will alert you and then also engage enemies upon sight. Now, it’s not as though your AI team of 3 simply jumps from behind the wall and starts firing, the team uses squad based tactics to safely eliminate the target. They will use the wall for cover and also take turns firing, making sure to always cover one another.

The game also has your AI based team members taking advantage of the action icon too. Say there is a tank along your path and you plum forgot your anti-tank rocket launcher, no problem! Simply put the tank in your crosshairs and select the action button, which in this case is stating “Attack.” Your team will take stance and have your demolitions man step forward. With a ‘woosh’ by my right ear, my demo man sends a rocket to the side of the tank. The tank explodes in a loud, fiery, neighbor waking up explosion.

This game has it all. Great graphics, great use of surround sound, great character physics, large detailed environments, and truly amazing game play. This game was my birth into the next generation of gaming, and if this is any indicator to what is coming my way than I am truly excited. To put it simply, you NEED this game.