November 2005

Podcast Epi 13 Update

November 28, 2005

For all you SB Podcast fans out there, I wanted to let you know that the next episode in our podcast will be up sometime tomorrow. I was in the process of moving this weekend, so my time was very tight. So please stay tuned tomorrow for the next podcast episode. Keep Listening.

My Mario Holiday

November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving was good, but it is back to the daily grind. Less than a month until Christmas. Man I love the holidays.

I spent most of this weekend playing DDR: Mario Mix and Mario Party 7 with a little Metroid Prime Pinball thrown in the mix. It was a good weekend. Reviews of DDR and Metroid Pinball are already done. They should be online by tomorrow.

Perfect Dark Zero

November 27, 2005

When the original Xbox launched in 2001, it hit the ground running with what was inarguably the single biggest reason to own the console from day one – Halo. Bungie’s seminal shooter went a long way towards putting Xbox units into gamers’ homes, not only in that first holiday season, but also in the months and years to follow. In an ideal world, I’m sure Microsoft would have loved to have sent Master Chief along with each and every Xbox 360, to provide that same burst of excitement that he sparked back in 2001. But having only released Halo 2 last year, the logistics behind getting Halo 3 out the door were a relative impossibility. Still, Microsoft has more than one big property in their hands. And in lieu of Master Chief and Halo it became obvious that Perfect Dark Zero was going to assume the position of blockbuster shooter for the 360 launch. Starring the saucy Joanna Dark, the Perfect Dark series itself sports a rather impressive pedigree – it’s forerunner on the Nintendo 64 being one of the smash hits of its time, and one of the best multiplayer console games of all time. While failing to reach the heights of Halo’s 2001 debut, Perfect Dark Zero is a stunning display of the power, intuitiveness, and all-inclusiveness of the 360 platform – and with its engrossing multiplayer, will likely be to Xbox Live what Halo was to Xbox LANs so many years ago.

Perfect Dark Zero, as the name implies, is actually a prequel to the N64 classic. Though familiarity with the series isn’t a necessity, fans of the original will likely get a bigger kick out the story. You star as the eccentric red-haired beauty Joanna Dark, who is going through the ropes to become a team member in her father’s bounty hunting business. The plot thickens from there, almost predictably. The story is fairly linear in focus, not unlike a big action movie, though the terrain you traverse includes everything from city streets to jungles to industrial complexes. The story, clocking in at around 12-15 hours, never really rises above the level of popcorn action flick, and there are some truly bizarre twists (especially near the end), but it still serves its purpose as a conduit for explosive action.

Oh, and what explosive action it is. The mission types you’ll encounter run the gamut from straightforward run and gunfests, to stealth missions, to escort jobs. There’s even a little vehicular combat thrown in for good measure. The gunplay is, for the most part, pretty standard fare. What makes PDZ a little different is the ability to take cover behind walls or objects and fire shots while in relative safety. If your enemy is too up close and personal to take out from cover, you can execute a rolling maneuver, which makes you duck out of your enemy’s reticule, if momentarily, and gives you the opportunity to reload. If you’re feeling particularly brazen, you can actually rush enemies and snatch their guns out of their hands – but that’s not recommended for the feint of heart.

PDZ also sports a health system reminiscent of Halo, which is more forgiving on those on who prefer run and gun tactics. Your health meter goes down predictably as you take fire, but as long as you find cover before you’re cut down, you’ll regen a considerable amount of health. You can’t go crazy about it; because you’re max health will slowly wear down as you take damage, but it’s nice that the health system is so tactile and forgiving, because the mission objectives certainly aren’t. Breaking the mold of most shooters nowadays, PDZ doesn’t allow the player to save at will. In fact, your progress is only saved at designated checkpoints, of which there is a scant few in each level. This can be something of a nightmare on the higher difficulty settings, as there are some support objectives and big firefights that one probably only wants to have to deal with once. Still, it’s nice to see a developer stick to their guns and not go easy on the player for once. If you’re really stuck, there’s always the option to turn down the difficulty to Agent, and use the waypoints to guide yourself around the level. It’s not recommended, as it takes away much of the intensity of the experience, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.

The arsenal at your fingertips on PDZ is impressive, running the gamut from simple pistols to sub-machine guns to high-tech plasma rifles. What distinguishes the weapons in PDZ from those in other shooters is that each and every weapon has a distinct and situationally useful secondary, and sometimes even tertiary, function. These secondary functions can be as mundane as the equipping of a silencer as on the PSP pistol, or as bizarre as the Laptop Gun’s ability to transform into a sentry turret. Each and every gun has it’s own distinct balance of accuracy, damage, and secondary function utility, making familiarity with the weaponry an absolute necessity. You only have four weapon slots to use, so you have to choose your poison carefully. You can carry as many as four pistols that’s your bag, but the bigger more powerful guns take two or three slots.

While you’ll become familiar with the tools of your trade in single player, it’s in PDZ‘s Combat Arena that you’ll truly gain an appreciation for the attention to balance and detail that Rare put into the game. The multiplayer modes aren’t exactly pioneering – you’ve seen most of what they have to offer already. But with PDZ‘s excellent combat system, original arsenal of weapons, and seamless Xbox Live support, it feels like your first deathmatch all over again. The multiplayer modes are split up into the deathmatch and dark-ops categories. The deathmatch bracket features many of the mainstays of multiplayer shooter mayhem that we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. You’ve got killcount, team killcount, capture the flag, and territorial gains. You can customize your matches by adding bots of varying degrees of difficulty, customizing the weapons cache, and even selecting the size and specific parts of the game’s six maps that you want to play. Deathmatch is fun if you can’t muster up enough people for dark-ops and feel like wasting some bots, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the dark-ops mode.

Featuring the onslaught, eradication, infection, and sabotage modes, Dark-ops is vaguely reminiscent of Counterstrike in that you have a set number of credits that you use to purchase weapons between rounds You score extra credits for completing objectives and credits are taken away for no-no’s like teamkilling. In onslaught, a team of attackers is tasked with taking down a fortified defensive position, manned by the team of armed defenders. The attackers don’t get much in the ways of weapons, but they can keep spawning, where the defenders have to make due with a single life. Infection is somewhat similar in that a small number of players are A


November 27, 2005

Neversoft’s Gun, a gritty look at the harsh reality of life in the Old West, takes more than a few cues from what was put together in Grand Theft Auto III. However, while we have seen more than a few games attempt to recreate the same lightning in a bottle that was successfully captured by Rockstar, most if not all of these attempts has come away feeling like little more than watered-down copycats. That said, Gun succeeds on its own while building upon the ideas of somewhat open-ended exploration and a tight adult-themed narrative wrapped around an immersive set of missions. However, unlike GTA, Gun‘s timelessness is literally cut short by offering an experience that is over far too quickly. Gun‘s story has you step into the role of a vengeful gunslinger named Colton White who is on the road to find those responsible for the murder of the man he has until recently known as his father. In so doing you’ll take on the absolute best and worst the Old West has to offer, including villainous outlaws, corrupt politicians, and brutal Native Americans. The story of how Colton’s misadventures play out is helped along by some impressive voice talent which is headlined by the likes of Thomas Jane, Kris Kristofferson, Tom Skerritt, Ron Perlman, Lance Henriksen and others. While the dialog itself oftentimes is written in an amateurish manner, its delivery is more than competent. Neversoft has with Gun spared little expense in weaving a believable and engrossing tale of blood and revenge in the Old West.

Perhaps the greatest thing about Gun is that there is such a wide variety of tasks to be accomplished, and each of these is relevant to not only the overarching story, but also the particular mission at hand. Everything that you would imagine as being part of the Old West experience is tantamount to what Gun offers, from numerous gunfights at high noon to rampant acts of lust, greed and murder. You even get to ambush a train with TNT. As a set piece, this game plays to the period arguably better than most any other game to come before it, and it genuinely feels like you are taking part in a series of events in the untamed West rather than just playing a GTA clone that has been shoehorned into the late-1800s.

You don’t judge a meal by how long it takes you to eat it, but it should still leave you satisfied. As good as Gun is, the fact that it can be completed from start to finish in a single sitting of just a few short hours definitely leaves behind the feeling of wanting more. The whole experience is equivalent to having an entire season of HBO’s Deadwood condensed into a single feature film. Sure, it could be done, but the lasting impression would feel unnecessarily abbreviated, as it does here with Gun. There are times when you’ll wish a given plot point could have been stretched out a bit more, but instead you’ll be dragged along to the next entertaining yet equally brief task on the dusty road to the game’s conclusion. Even with completing most of the side missions, you will probably be watching the credits roll by after only seven hours or so.

Part of the reason why Gun is so much fun to play is because Neversoft has managed to make instantly accessible to a variety of skill levels what is essentially just a typical third-person shooter control scheme. The analog sticks move you and the camera around, and when activated they take care of aiming as well. There is also a psuedo-bullet time mode called Quickdraw that can be briefly activated which slows down the action and allows you to quickly deal with swarms of enemies before they can react. In addition, for those who feel uncomfortable aiming on their own, Gun offers a way to simply flick the stick to automatically target the next-closest enemy, as well as a way to keep the reticule locked onto a target as they move. These settings can be toggled on or off at will, and when combined with the game’s numerous difficulty settings this makes Gun easily enjoyably by most anyone.

There is a great deal of freedom in Gun, but that freedom is tied together by the game’s numerous core and side missions. Unlike GTA, where you were basically dropped into a self-contained world and left to your own devices, in Gun you have a much more defined set of options, and it is simply up to you which ones you decide to take on to accomplish. The world feels vast, but it lacks much of the sandbox approach that players experienced in the GTA series. That is not entirely a bad things by any means, since much of the narrative’s drama would likely have been lost if you could simply forego the plot altogether and go off doing your own thing for hours on end.

In terms of presentation, Gun shines on any system on which it is played. However, while it looks great on the current generation of consoles, the improvements made to the game’s Xbox 360 version are so painfully infinitesimal that it begs to be asked why the game was even ported to the platform. Sure, some of the textures are more refined, but overall none of the improvements justify the higher price tag afforded by being an Xbox 360 title. The game definitely feels like it was forcibly ported to the new platform as a quick cash grab, and as such fails to take advantage of any of the benefits of being on a more advanced system.

Altogether, Gun is one of the best action games to come along in recent memory. It’s unfortunate that the experience ends so quickly, but few games twice as long leave behind such a lasting impression as remains after completing this adventure in the Old West. A tight and well-told story, coupled with memorable characters and fantastic gameplay mechanics highlight what is in effect a terrific third-person action title that is destined to age much better than other similar offerings. In fact, this might just be the best Old West-themed game ever. Now go tell Miss Kitty to fix you up with a nice hooker.

Score: 80%

Happy Thanksgiving

November 23, 2005

The day is almost over and most of you are probably gone for the day, but I wanted to wish everyone a safe and Happy Thanksgiving from the Snackbar Games/Movie Thunder family. Those of you with 360s, enjoy them.