February 2010

Win My Copy: Bioshock 2

February 23, 2010

There aren’t many things I enjoy more than giving games away to our readers. This week I’ve got a copy of Bioshock 2 for Xbox 360 that I’m ready to send to one lucky reader. The rules are simple, you have to be 18 and live in the US or Canada. To enter, just make a post in the comments telling me why you deserve the game. I’ll announce the winner on our Twitter feed (@SnackbarGames) Monday morning (March 2nd).

To spice things up, if you Retweet the link to this story, I’ll enter you a second time. Easy enough? Ready, set, go!

Bioshock 2

February 21, 2010

BioShock 2 returns us to Rapture once again, and this time puts us in the shoes of a Big Daddy. Rapture is still familiar, but there is enough unfamiliar territory that makes this return journey something pretty exciting on its own. A lot has changed, but at the same time, a lot has remained the same. 

The story follows Project Delta, one of the original Big Daddies trying to get back to his daughter, who had become a Little Sister. Delta had supposedly been presumed dead, but he awakens back in Rapture. And with the help of a mysterious man named Sinclair, he tries to stop the new leader of Rapture, Sofia Lamb, and get his daughter back. The story has a few interesting twists and turns, and while it is not as powerful as the story found in the first game, it is still excellent. 

Rapture is as beautiful and as haunting as you remember it, with amazing visual effects put to good use, as well as excellent sound design. The soundtrack itself still fits the game’s 1950s environment well, and the voice acting is top notch. However, as impressive this game is technically, Rapture still feels like the same old place we remember from the first game. This removes a lot of the mystery, and leaves us with new locations that still feel incredibly familiar.

Gameplay wise, there have been some much needed changes, but there is still a lot that is present from the original. You have a bunch of new guns, including the Rivet Gun, and instead of a wrench, you are equipped with the standard Big Daddy drill. You still have plasmids as well, most of which are from the original, but with some minor improvements. You still use your weapons and plasmids to defeat the same enemies from the first, with a few notable additions, like the hulking Brute Splicers.

The guns and plasmids handle exactly how they did in the first, and despite playing as a Big Daddy, you tend to forget you are one after a while. The hacking mini-game is much improved and now in real time, and you can now turn Vita Chambers off from the start (instead of waiting for it as DLC). But this game is more difficult than the first, so it might be recommended to leave them on your first time through the game.

You still fight other Big Daddies to get to the Little Sisters they are protecting, but instead of simply choosing to save or harvest them, you can now pick up the Little Sisters and have them harvest Adam for you from dead Splicers. Of course, when you put them down and they start harvesting Adam, you must defend them from incoming Splicers. These parts were pretty annoying and became tedious after a while, but thankfully are not required if you wish to save the Little Sisters. 

And once you deal with all of the Little Sisters in an area, a Big Sister appears; she is a much more formidable foe than the Big Daddies. These enemies move fast, have tons of plasmids to combat you with, and can take you down quickly if you aren’t careful. However, unlike the Big Daddy appearances, the Big Sister fights are scripted and you will know when they appear. It ruins the surprise of running into one in a level, as you would a Big Daddy. The fights themselves are intense, but they are also poorly implemented.

Overall, the single player portion of BioShock 2 is excellent. Gameplay wise, it is a huge improvement over the original, but at the same time it still falls short of the original. And then there is the multiplayer, which is surprisingly fun. Not as deep as the multiplayer you would get from Modern Warfare 2, but still a way to spend some time in Rapture after the credits have rolled. The unique thing about the multiplayer is it is a prequel to the events of the original BioShock, during the civil war that tore the city apart. It is a unique approach to multiplayer, and gives it a more interesting dynamic.

As for modes, you have your standards, such as deathmatch and team deathmatch, and a capture the flag mode called Capture the Sister. And every so often, a Big Daddy suit will spawn, giving the team who gets it a nice advantage. The multiplayer is a solid portion of the game, and while it might not have staying power, it still is a good time. 

BioShock 2 is a sequel I wish did not exist. Not because it’s a bad game, but because it’s an unnecessary game. However, as a sequel, it does a great job of returning us to Rapture almost exactly as we had left it a few years prior. 

Pros: Great story; beautiful and haunting environments; excellent sound design, soundtrack, and voice acting; gameplay is overall a huge improvement over the original; fun multiplayer

Cons: The mystery found in the original game is lacking; Big Sister fights are poorly implemented; Little Sister gathering missions are still tedious


For over four years, gamers have been playing ‘just one more turn’ into the wee hours of the night in Civilization IV. Now they know when the much anticipated sequel will be released. Firaxis Games announced today that Civilization V will be released this fall for the PC.

Not much information was released regarding it but what we do know is listed after the break. READ MORE

There’s been a murder in New Angeles (or the moon colony of Heinlein), and you’re trying to figure out the guilty party — and maybe even uncover the conspiracy behind the killing — while dealing with your own personal issues. You’ve got twelve days, and you’re not the only one working this case. 

Welcome to the sci-fi noir world of Android, by epic game designers Kevin Wilson and Dan Clark (published by Fantasy Flight Games, like most of Kevin Wilson’s output).

Assuming the role of one of five characters, each with his or her own abilities and issues, you and the other players have to manage your time (basically actions) each day as you try to gain the most victory points. While a substantial amount of points can be gained by proving your guilty hunch correct (this isn’t Clue, and there isn’t one “correct” guilty party), that’s not the only patch to victory. You might want to investigate the conspiracy (represented as a simple puzzle with four branching paths) or make sure your own house is in order first (each player has several “plots” that represent various personal problems; each one has several possible outcomes, both good and bad). There’s a lot of balls to keep in the air, and not a lot of time in which to do so. Setting your priorities is just one factor of the strategy you’ll need to survive.

The bulk of your turn will consist of moving from one location to another. Each detective has an arced, compass-like ruler that represents how far his or her vehicle can travel for one time; if you have a dropship pass you can spend it and one time to move to any location, regardless of distance. Once at a location, you can follow up any lead that may be present, gaining either evidence (either incriminating or exonerating) to place face-down in the “file” of one of the suspects or digging into the conspiracy; some locations might also have their own ability that you can use once per day at the indicated cost of time and favors (basically the game’s currency, available in four different types plus character-specific types that count as multiple normal types). When you follow up a lead, it is moved to a different location by the player on your right, representing the trail of evidence. Time can also be spent to play one of your “light” cards, if you meet the conditions listed on it, or to draw a card of your choice (either one of your light cards or another player’s dark cards, played during their turns); you have a Twilight State that shifts up and down as cards are played, so you usually have to balance your light and dark usage. Finally, you can spend one time to discard a card if you’ve reached your limit and anticipate drawing more; cards can also be discarded to reduce costs of other cards, so this option is rarely used but sometimes necessary. There are other ways to spend time, but those are the major ones.

As you go about your business you will accumulate good and bad baggage on your current plot, determined randomly at set-up. Each branch of the plot has different conditions to gain baggage; some are passive (whenever you place evidence on a suspect), some are active (whenever you sacrifice two time). At certain times during the game the plots advance: if there is more good baggage than bad, they resolve positively; otherwise (including ties) they resolve negatively. After the first plot fully resolves, you randomly select one of your remaining plots for the second week of the game.

After the final day of the game, the evidence on the suspects is revealed. Different types of evidence have varying effectiveness against different suspects (e.g., few witnesses testify against “Vinny the Strangler,” although he’s not so good with paperwork and other documents); the highest-valued evidence in a suspect’s “weak” file and the lowest-valued evidence in their “strong” file are removed, then the guilt is totaled up. Whoever has the highest total is the murderer (and whoever has that suspect as their guilty hunch receives points) while everyone else is innocent (and the players’ innocent hunches pay off). Then other sources of VP are added up and however has the highest total is the winner.

Mechanically, Android appears to be very complex due to all of the available options but in reality it’s simple enough that most players should pick things up quickly. The real trick is keeping the attention of new players, as the game can theoretically take at least three hours to play; if they’re not having fun, that can drag on and really hurt the experience. The theme of Android is awesome, and a strong hook to get players interested along with the cool-looking art and other bits, but often overlooked due to the time it would take to read the flavor text on the cards — especially while you are watching other players’ actions to see if you can play dark cards against them and/or give them bad baggage. Bear in mind that the suggested age range is 13+, due to the extensive reading, complex mechanics, and somewhat mature themes.

Due to the time commitment, Android will probably need a game session dedicated to it, most likely on a weekend. I would definitely recommend printing out some player aids and/or rules summaries from BoardGameGeek.com as well, as they condense the game’s 50-page rulebook down to a manageable — and less intimidating — size (to be fair, most of the large-type rule book’s space is artwork and flavor, but still). There are six different murders — most with their own special rules — as well as several event cards (which happen on non-plot days, including one of three murder-specific ones) to keep things fresh over multiple plays, should you decide to give the game another go. Due to the price this is definitely a “try before you buy;” it’s certainly not for everyone, but those who enjoy the theme and mechanics will find themselves coming back to it as often as possible. 


This week we’re predicting release dates and pondering the closure of the studio that brought us Guitar Hero.

Current Scores:

Andrew Passafiume: 5

Graham Russell: 5

Shawn Vermette: 40

Gran Turismo 5 delayed until fall

Polyphony’s best selling racing sim has met with delay after delay in its slow plod towards a release. Last year Sony finally gave it a release window of Spring 2010, hoping to rely on it to give the PS3 a much needed exclusive to combat the release of Conviction and Alan Wake on the 360. However, rumor has it that it will be delayed yet again and will finally be released this fall.

Andrew: This wouldn’t surprise me much at all. The game has been delayed so many times at this point, and with Sony wanting to spread all of its big first party titles around, I can see it happening. God of War III is the big exclusive for the spring, so Gran Turismo 5 could be one of the big exclusives, if not the big exclusive for the fall. 95%

Graham: I think that Duke Nukem Forever has tainted our judgment a bit on things like this. It’s completely possible that it’ll meet its target…oh, who am I kidding. There’s no firm date yet, so there’s no way such a big title will be hastily scheduled for May or something.  Yeah, it’s slipping, and Sony will have to crack the whip to get it out before winter. 64%

Shawn: I didn’t see much realism in the whole Spring 2010 launch period to begin with. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that this project that has so far failed to ever touch a production milestone will actually come out this year at all. Since this rumor also posits it coming out this year, I’m going to have to lower my prediction certainty a bit. 65%

Halo: Reach to be released September 21, 2010

Sure, it might be a stretch to speculate on a specific date for Halo: Reach right now, when the beta hasn’t even been released yet. However, Halo 3 was released September 25, 2007 and its beta started on May 16. The Halo: Reach beta is starting during the same short time frame, on May 3. Thanks to this and the magic of comparing release schedules, Halo 3: ODST was released September 22, 2009, a release date of September 21, 2010 is not out of the question for Halo: Reach. The question is, are we right or not?

Andrew: I definitely see this happening. ODST sold incredibly well in September with not much competition, so why not release Reach around the same time the following year? But I do consider the fact that ODST did fewer units than Halo 3 did two years prior. Whether that is due to the release date or the fact that ODST was not a fully fledged Halo title is not really certain, so Bungie could try a different launch period.  90%

Graham: So we’re just pulling dates out of the air now? It could be the week after, the week before…heck, they could launch it on a Sunday or something. And you guys are so incredibly certain that it’s the one date, so if it’s any day at all but that one I’ll pull out ahead with such a lead that it’s not even funny? Well that certainly makes my decision easy. 1%

Shawn: Microsoft seems in love with the whole September release date for Halo, having launched Halo 3 and Halo: ODST during that month. Due to that fact, and the fact that games are always released on a Tuesday, there’s a very limited number of possibilities. Therefore I shall go out on a limb and say it is an absolute certainty. 100%

RedOctane closed by Activision

Despite posting a profit for last year, Activision has recently announced layoffs at a number of studios and closed one. Rumor has it though that Activision is closing another studio, RedOctane, founding studio of Guitar Hero. Activision bought RedOctane for $100 million a few years ago and quickly reaped a tenfold profit off of them, announcing a year later they’d made $1 billion in revenues on Guitar Hero. However, the rhythm genre has fallen of rough times during the past year and it sounds as if RedOctane will now be feeling the squeeze as well. Would Activision really close a studio that has been so profitable for them simply because of one down year?

Andrew: I doubt this, I really do. I know they have laid off some people at Radical and Neversoft, but I don’t think they would close an entire studio because of it. RedOctane continues to make profits for Activision based on the peripherals they design and the Guitar Hero license in general, even if the music game industry hasn’t been as successful in 2009 as it has been in prior years. 10%

Graham: I think the key here is that RedOctane is now and has always been a publisher. Sure, they make a few accessories, but they don’t develop games, so they’re pretty much duplicating Activision’s efforts. Closing RedOctane as a separate studio isn’t a sign that they didn’t like their performance, as they can move key personnel into Activision Blizzard’s HQ. Yes, this is happening. Honestly, I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner. 97%

Shawn:  Unlike Andrew, I find this to be fairly credible. The last few Guitar Hero games did not come from RedOctane, so Activision obviously doesn’t need them in order to produce the actual games. Additionally, rhythm games fell very hard last year. Whether that was a result of market oversaturation or the end of the rhythm game era is yet to be seen, but Activision is playing it safe by only releasing one Guitar Hero game this year. Market conditions and a payroll that is likely pretty high both contribute, I feel, to making this a true rumor. 80%