DDR Ultramix 4

March 20, 2007

Oh man, I haven’t played a DDR game at home since high school, so when Konami’s newest for Xbox showed up at our offices, I got more then a twinge of nostalgia. I’ve been out of the game for a long time, spending a quarter or two here and there when I see an arcade machine, and I haven’t whipped out the dance mats since the original Xbox DDR release. Suffice to say, I am a little rusty. Having missed the rest of the offerings for Microsoft’s console, I can’t comment on the difference between this version and the last, but I can safely say that Ultramix 4 delivers on everything Konami said would show up on the Xbox versions.

The song selection is the first thing any DDR fan will page through when faced with a new DDR game and Ultramix delivers on this front. You know that song about wishing your girlfriend was hot like (me)? That’s on here, and tells the story of a lot of this mix. While catering to old fans with DDR mainstays, Ultramix 4 rolls out recent club hits. Your little sister will definitely recognize more than a few songs. 70 songs ain’t nothing to sneeze at either, and all are danceable. This release could definitely have the subtext “Club Edition”.

Let’s talk modes. DDR Ultramix 4 has more modes than any DDR game, period. Hell, I think there are more modes here than in any game on the Xbox. Some stand-outs are the Quest mode, which is a welcome addition, replacing the annoying “arcade mode” single player of earlier editions. Now, instead of running through sets of 5 songs like in the arcade, you can compete in clubs and earn money. It works, but is more than a little skeletal. Also on the list are some awesome party modes that, while for the most part gimmicky, offer a change of pace for DDR veterans. Fans who have only played the PS2 DDR games will be pleased to hear that you can actually play with (gasp) four people! I know, blasphemy, but it really works and it is a welcome addition. What else does the Xbox edition offer that the PS2 doesn’t? An online mode! You can take your dancin’ skills online now, with competitions and online downloadable content. This is definitely a welcome addition, and something that just couldn’t have been done on the PS2.

A warning, however, to those of you who suffer from epileptic seizures. DDR Ultramix 4 uses more damn flashing lights and randomly changing images. It actually detracts from the game as a whole, as it is very hard to concentrate on the arrows when in the background, a million pixels are changing every second. The presentation, while seizure-inducing, is great, however. The interface works the same as it always has, but with slick transitions. Load times are basically nil in this release, as the menus transition in and out of songs very quickly.

DDR UltraMix 4 really delivers. I couldn’t be more happy with it as a long-time DDR player looking to come back to the game. Everybody who enjoys DDR and has only stuck to the PS2 releases really needs to check out what Konami has been doing on the XBox, because it’s just a whole other ball game.


August 31, 2006

Given the massive appeal of the [i]Unreal Tournament[/i] series, it’s no surprise that game developers often try to emulate the success into one of their games. This is where [i]Warpath[/i] for the Xbox comes in, and ultimately, where it fails. Sure, [i]Warpath[/i] does have a similar build to [i]Unreal Tournament[/i], and almost everything you see in the game is reminiscent of the series it is inspired by. That is its biggest flaw, that it simply doesn’t have much to offer that hasn’t been done already. What hurts the game more is that games like [i]Unreal Championship[/i], released years ago but have ultimately the same premise, have long been in the bargain bin. The budget pricing of [i]Warpath[/i] may interest some people, and it doesn’t do anything wrong, but it just doesn’t do anything different or interesting.

The premise behind [i]Warpath[/i] seems about as predictable as the game itself. Three races are at war with one another, fighting over the system of Kaladi, a virtual utopia filled with resources waiting for the taking. These three races are known as the Ohm, the House of Kovos, and The Human Coalition. For the most part, that’s all the background that you get, and while there are some A

[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!

It is an Ubisoft trend to release expansion packs for the Xbox shortly after the main game was released, as you can see in recent titles such as [i]Ghost Recon 2: Summit Strike[/i], [i]Rainbow Six 3: Black Arrow[/i], [i]Farcry: Instincts: Evolution[/i], and now [i]Rainbow Six: Critical Hour[/i]. Although the last [i]Rainbow Six[/i] game that was released was Lockdown (underrated by critics and disliked by fans alike), [i]Critical Hour[/i] isn’t exactly an expansion to it.

[i]Rainbow Six: Critical Hour[/i] is a “Best of” the [i]Rainbow Six[/i] games, selected by the developers at Ubisoft and fans as well. There isn’t really a story, other than John Clark retiring, and placing Ding Chavez in charge. John Clark presents future recruits to Rainbow, seven of the most intense missions that Team Rainbow has been through. These missions are taken from the first [i]Rainbow Six[/i] game, and [i]Rogue Spear[/i]. For those that never played these, this collection will be brand new, full of surprises and excitement.

Of course, all of this has been redone in today’s technology. The graphics were fixed up in every aspect. They aren’t as impressive, or jaw-dropping as in Farcry: Instincts, however, they still look better than the majority of Xbox games currently out there.

The sound is pretty good. Music is tense when it needs to be, dramatic when it needs to be so, and triumphant when you completed your mission. Weapons sound quite good, pretty realistic as far as I could tell. Voice acting, when there is any, is typical, mainly from John Clark. Of course, people from various countries (say Weber, who is from Germany), have their own accents, which adds to the uniqueness.

[i]Critical Hour[/i] is a return to more slow paced, tactical oriented game play that [i]Rainbow Six[/i] games have been known for. You can set up what you want your team to do in a very user friendly format. Just click A for your team to perform the action, or hold down A for more advanced selections.

The game features a save option that let’s you save anywhere, which is incredibly useful, since you never know when and where you will be ambushed.

The game isn’t very long, but considering this isn’t really a new game, but a stand alone “best of”, it is acceptable. You will probably spend about half and hour or so on every mission, because of messing up or dying. To increase replay value, you can always jump on Xbox live for a game.

An online portion is presented in the game, but I have not been able to try that out, due to the lack of Xbox Live.

If you like tactical shooters, like the [i]Rainbow Six[/i] series, and you have thirty dollars, then I can safely recommend this game for you. Even if you aren’t terribly into tactical shooters, or [i]Rainbow Six[/i], [i]Critical Hour[/i] will definitely provide you with a few hours of entertainment. Your thirty dollars will be well spent.

Real, time and strategy. Three words that when placed together make many a PC games player yell in joy, but they’re more likely to make me groan. A few years ago, Koei changed that with a splinter series off of their wildly successful series [i]Dynasty Warriors[/i], [i]Kessen[/i]. [i]Kessen[/i] combined effective management of units in battle with full on, hack and slashing action. True, it wasn’t exactly most people’s idea of a real-time strategy game, but it definitely fits the definition and added another dimension to what people like me see as the main problem with pure RTS games – action. So fast forward a few years later and we have a Korean entrant into the strange hybrid genre that [i]Kessen[/i] had created. [i]Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders[/i] is actually a sequel to a mediocre PC RTS game, but has taken a completely different direction to its predecessor. Out go the point and click interface and in control pad based one, but while there is still a degree of PC like input in its mechanics, [i]KUF: TC[/i] for the most part feels every part like it was designed with the Xbox controller in mind. But let’s wait before we get to the game’s gameplay, and talk about its other aspects.

[i]Kessen[/i] was based on the same scenarios as the [i]Dynasty Warriors[/i] games were based on; the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms. [i]Kingdom Under Fire[/i] on the other hand is based on an original source, and quite an interesting one it is too. It tells of a land called Bersia, a fantasy world inhabited by humans, orcs, elves and you probably know the rest. Typical Lord of the Rings, but what makes [i]Kingdom Under Fire[/i] quite untypical is that it is not about heroic quests or maniacal destroyers. No, it reflects a world of conflict, where different races simply cannot get along and feel the need to wage war on one another based on differences of creed, and outside appearances. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Thus the game is divided into four campaigns, two for each of the major sides in the story. On the human side, players can take control of the talented Knight Gerald or the stoic Religious defender Kendall, and for the dark forces players can play as the incredulous Dark Elf Lucretia, my personal favourite, and the superhuman one-man-army Regnier. Yes, Regnier is a human, but one with a rather unique… back-story. Each campaign has it’s own difficulty level and all four tell the same story, from four differing viewpoints. The game does a good job of not portraying the forces of Hexter and Vellond, (the orcs and Dark Elves), as not out rightly evil, in an unbiased fashion. Typically, games, movies and books show these sides as evil and bad, and there’s that, that’s all that there is to be known about them. Yes, they are the aggressors, this time anyway, and yes they hate humans very much, but, not only are these two armies in fact merely the unwilling pawns of a power struggle between Regnier, and Valdemar, the Lord of a race of half-vampires who only hold sway in the east of Bersia thanks to Regnier’s temporary support, but it really isn’t like the human forces are any less guilty of unreasonable hatred towards the other side. Because of this, the games narrative from both sides is genuinely enthralling, and somewhat unexpected, the most tragic, pitiable character in the end, is none other than Lucretia.

And I just can’t write this review without mentioning it… the first half of Lucretia’s campaign has some of the funniest dialogue I have ever seen in any videogame. Her banter with her officers, the air headed Dark Elf Cirith and the cold hearted, sarcastic Morene, a half vampire overseer to Lucretia’s unit, is absolute gold. Although it does tend to rely a bit too much on the word “bitch” sometimes, and the ridiculously forced accents that all the Dark elves seem to have is a bit off-putting, and the game also suffers from some weird aural glitches, seeing as how none of the characters can say the word “Patriarch”, perhaps the uttering of which might collapse all of Bersia or something, all is easy to forgive thanks to a good, if shoddily translated script and some, not too much, genuinely decent voice acting.

Graphically, the game is very impressive, on the whole. Whilst admittedly units tend to just be multiple copies of the exact same character model, it doesn’t matter too much in the middle of battle, and the main players of the plot are rendered extremely well, as they ought to be. The levels are absolutely huge, impressively so. In fact, perhaps they’re even a little too large since generally there isn’t a huge amount of units on a map at the same time, with a few notable exceptions. Still, this does mean the game lends itself well to guerrilla tactics and stealth. Also of note are the abnormal units, things like giant scorpions, storm mammoths, storm riders, bomber wings et al. The sightings of these support units are quite impressive and add variety to the appearance of battle. The game has a rather different soundtrack from what one would normally expect from a medieval fantasy games. What you would expect is an orchestral, dramatic soundtrack, but what you get are rock guitar, hard riffs and screaming solos. I personally like the soundtrack as it gives the game a different feel aurally, a difference matched in its approach to its gameplay, art and story. A lot can be said for a game that goes as far as it can to be unique even when one could argue it is full of clichA