Category: Review


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Systems – PS3

Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer – Naughty Dog

Genre – Action/Adventure

I never really got aboard the hype train for Uncharted 2 when it was announced. Even when I played the game at PAX I was even more confused at why people were so hyped up about the game. I really enjoyed the first Uncharted but never really thought it would become the large, much beloved franchise it has turned into. After playing this game I can understand the hype better, yet I believe it’s not quite as good as people claim.

As soon as the game kicks off you know what it is, the action movie equivalent of video games. It’s mostly about the flash and bang with loads of high-octane combat and amazing set-pieces. But as soon as the game goes for a long pause you realize what it really is. Pretty silly and dumb.

In the beginning of Uncharted 2 you find a mortally wounded Nathan Drake hanging off a train suspended over a precipice. And as you make your way back to safety the game utilizes flashbacks to show you what happened to Drake and how he got into this dire situation. It’s a fantastic way of kicking off a game and really keeps you pressing on to find out what happened, but in the end it comes off as anticlimactic as you find out what happened to Drake and the cheap copout Naughty Dog pulls.
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And that’s mostly the theme you’ll be dealing with throughout Uncharted 2, from amazing moving set-pieces to highly intense ‘boss’ fights with helicopters and tanks. And then when the game takes pause to tell the story or to throw some puzzles at you, you’ll be in a downer until you get back into the next shooty-bang section.

Concerning the story, there seems to be something missing from it. In Uncharted 2 you get caught up in an adventure concerning Marco Polo and his lost ships that seems like something ripped out a potential Indiana Jones movie. But ultimately the story seems almost aimless most of the time compared to the determination and focus of the first game. For most of the game you’ll be wondering who you’re chasing after, and if Marco Polo’s mysteries even matter anymore.

Comparing this game to its predecessor again the characters seem to be more tired and worn-out this time and much less interesting. Drake is less entertaining and funny, the romantic relationship between him and new female character Chole seems awkward and unbelievable, and there’s a lot less interesting banter between characters this time. Compared to the last game which was filled with a compelling adventure and likable and fun characters, this game just doesn’t have any of that.

Also the first game had way more puzzles than the second game, which would’ve been forgiven if the puzzles were interesting and entertaining, but Uncharted 2 keeps the first games old sin of just outright telling you how to solve the puzzle. When you approach a puzzle Drake will say “HEY, I’VE SEEN THIS BEFORE!!11one!” and the game will flash a journal icon telling you to open it, which then tells you exactly how to solve the puzzle before you. It seems like Naughty Dog can’t design smart puzzles because they have to come outright and tell you how to solve them.

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One of the most obviously great things about the game is just how good it looks, and damn does it look good. Sometimes I felt like my brain couldn’t handle just how much work had been put into making the game look amazing with such careful attention to detail. And thankfully the campaign takes advantage of this by taking you to many different environments. The animations of Nathan Drake are also amazing, which are incredibly realistic and well-implemented into the situation Drake happens to find himself in.

One much improved feature of Uncharted 2 is the gun and mêlée combat, guns actually have a weight to them and enemies go down way quicker, with head shots that actually do something this time.  And mêlée combat seems to have been improved to becoming something more than mashing on the Square button, including counters and environmentally aware combos.

The game also tries to introduce stealth combat where if an enemy is unaware of you, you can silently approach them and take them out without anyone else noticing. It’s incredible simplistic, and ultimately useless as the shooting is so awesome that you just want to mess fools up that way.

Unfortunately the cover system still hasn’t been improved too much, and it’s still hard to get out of cover and move to different pieces of cover. To a point where the cover system was hampering my experience as I was getting killed over and over again because Drake was so fond of the chest-high wall he was hiding behind that he would ignore me when I tried to get him out-of-the-way of grenades.

And here’s a brief mention of multiplayer, it’s good and more then the tacked-on feature people were expecting. It’s a progression system that every multiplayer has where you’ll get perks and such to improve your dude. It’s solid and fun, something that’s a nice bonus for people buying the game and worth checking out.

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Uncharted 2 as an action game is incredible and outstanding, but as a successor to the first Uncharted it’s almost a disappointment. The puzzles are – still – way too simple and makes you feel even stupider when the developers try to tell you exactly how the puzzles need to be solved. And the cover system is still broken and gets in the way of the excellent combat. On that note gun-combat is fantastic, mêlée combat is fun, and multiplayer is good and worth checking out.

In the end though it’s the characters and story that take the biggest hit, which is a great shame as Uncharted 1 had amazing character interaction and banter with a driven story that this game lacks. But the end cut-scene of the game made me smile and instantly reminded me of Uncharted 1, this convinced me that the Uncharted series has potential to regain what it lost in this game, and makes me hopeful for the future.


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Review – Batman: Arkham Asylum

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Systems – PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (PS3 Version Reviewed)

Publisher – Eidos, Warner Bros. Interactive, DC Entertainment

Developer – Rocksteady Studios

Genre – Action/Adventure

Superhero games have a long lineage of sucking badly, and continue to do so. But from the shadows of Gotham City comes Batman to save the day. Batman: Arkham Asylum is everything you would want from a Batman game and everything you would want from an action game combined in one. Making Batman not just a superstar of films and comics, but now of video games.

The game starts of with Batman capturing the Joker and taking him to Arkham Asylum, the place where all of the thugs and villains Batman has defeated over the years get checked into. After you get separated from the Joker he promptly escapes, while locking everyone inside Arkham and at the same time letting all of the thugs and villains out. And all of them want a piece of Batman. It’s a dark and desperate story of probably Batman’s toughest night ever and it shows as throughout the game your costume gets torn to pieces.

The visuals are beautiful, easily some of the best seen this generation as they create a dark and disturbing place in Arkham. And the audio is no slouch either. The dialog comes to life with help from the voice actors, most of them from the animated Batman cartoon series, with standouts being Mark Hamill as the Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn.

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The careful attention to back story is also great, with the Riddler showing up to give you puzzles that unlock new character profiles which will be extremely useful for anyone who only knows Batman from the recent films. Also there’s many audio recordings which reveal more about the villains which brought a very Bioshock-esque feel to the game. Overall the attention to detail and incredible atmosphere of the game is probably the best I’ve seen since last year’s GOTY Dead Space.

With this amazing setting also comes 3 distinct aspects of the gameplay. The first being the melee combat is a very simple single-button combat system for attacking, dodging, and defending. What makes the melee combat so satisfying is just how smoothly the combat flows together. Using these simple commands to make each fight seem like a unique and challenging experience.

The second is the stealth system which is very empowering. Batman apparently still doesn’t have bullet-proof armor, so when thugs with guns start showing up to ruin your day Batman has to take the fight in the shadows. The game almost turns into a puzzle game, where you’ll have a room of thugs that you can take out in a myriad of different ways. From grabbing them while hanging off a gargoyle, to stunning them with a batarang then getting in close and knocking them out. It all gets more and more satisfying with the more gadgets you get.

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When leads me to the final aspect of gameplay, the exploration and gadgets. The game is a pseudo-Open World where you can explore the grounds of Arkham at your pleasure, but to get to certain places you’ll have to use your gadgets to open the way. As the game goes on Batman will acquire new gadgets to open vents, or blow up weak walls. It’s very much like how a Metroidvania game would progress which was something I wasn’t expecting out of a Batman game, but works very well.

All of these systems are tied together with an experience and upgrade system. You gain experience from beating up punks, solving riddles, finding collectibles, and more which you can then spend on upgrades for Batman.  It ain’t no Mass Effect, but the upgrades are well-worth having and make the game way more interesting. These upgrades include throwing multiple batarangs, unlocking new combo’s for melee combat, upgrading your health, and much more.

There are some rotten spots to this game however. Super villain’s have always been a strong and important part of the Batman franchise, but unfortunately most of the boss battles are very bland and boring compared to the rest of the game. It’s pretty disappointing to be fighting an awesome super villain like Bane or Killer Croc, and finding yourself bored out of your mind. Even the final showdown at the end of the game is a disappointment.

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There’s one major exception which I would like to mention. In various parts of the game you’ll face off against Scarecrow, and the way he effects Batman, and finally battles him is amazing and almost scary. That’s all I would really like to mention as I don’t want to spoil the experience for you folks. But it’s easily something to chalk up there as one of the greatest experiences of 2009.

Another major turn-off is Detective vision, in this mode you can see enemies through walls and allows you to see important objects easier. The issue here is the same I had with Halo 3: ODST, that you’ll probably spend most of your time in Detective mode as it’s incredibly useful and there’s no real reason why you should turn it off, expect, you know, the game looks amazing and seeing red skeletons walking around really can break the atmosphere  for the player.

After you finish the lengthy single-player campaign there are a bunch of challenge levels for you to go through, of both the brawler and stealth variety that can be entertaining for a while. But ultimately they just couldn’t keep my interest without the story driving me. Important note for PS3 owners out there, you folks get the exclusive DLC making the Joker a playable character in challenge mode which is cool as he plays totally different from Batman.

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Batman: Arkham Asylum easily stands above all of the other games this year by being not just a good Batman game, but probably being the best super hero game ever made and one of the best games this year. The graphics are amazing, with a moody atmosphere that rivals the best this generation, with a great story and incredible voice acting from the folks from the Batman animated show. All of this is included with awesome gameplay including fluid combat, empowering stealth sections, and an impressive list of useful gadgets, fun exploration, and clever riddles to solve.

Unfortunately the game can be a bummer due to the fact that most of the game’s boss fights are bland and boring – with exception of the Scarecrow levels – and the incredibly useful Detective mode can really hurt the immersion of the game for players who don’t turn it off often. But don’t let this turn you off the game, it’s an amazing experience for Batman fans and gamers, buy this game and enjoy.


Review – Axel & Pixel

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Systems – Xbox Live Arcade

Publisher – 2K Play

Developer – Silver Wish Games

Genre – Adventure

Axel & Pixel is a point-and-click adventure game where you play as Axel a painter, and Pixel his dog. After a nap you two wake up to find yourselves in a strange world, now you must embark upon an incredible journey to get back home. It’s a charming and fun quest, propelled by the games great humor and fantastic characters, if shallow with many rotten spots.

What immediately jumps out as you boot up the game is how amazing the game looks, is employs a weird and barely used art style of using real world textures and environments with very Nickelodeon-looking cartoon characters exploring it. It’s a very surreal look and sometimes downright unsettling and creepy with a very Dark Crystal-esque vibe that’s almost dark in nature as some pretty intense things happen that offsets the cartoon happy-go-lucky attitude it has sometimes.

The game is divided up by seasons, starting off in Spring and ending at Winter where you’ll face off against a final enemy. In total the game has 24 levels which is a decent-sized experience, made more memorable by its charming cast of characters. It has a very child-like quality to its humor, but it works well and I found myself smiling and laughing throughout the adventure.

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Unfortunately the game is marred but its simplistic gameplay, unlike most popular adventure games Axel & Pixel mostly does everything for you. From auto-equipping items you need to use, to having a built-in clue system in the game. I never had to use a single clue as puzzles in the game can primary be solved by moving your cursor around the environment until it lights up telling you that you can manipulate it. In a way the game is almost more of a photo-hunting game instead of an adventure game.

The game tries to mix up the experience, but ultimately fails. First off the game will sometimes throw odd and very forgiving quick-time events into the mix, which really don’t add anything to the experience and are poorly implemented. Also between transitions into new season there’s driving levels that are downright frustrating and resemble bad flash games.

The two worst are the sailing mini-game and the hot air balloon mini-game, the problem is they take damage when you run into the environment, and with the games weird art style is can be hard to tell what’ll hurt you and what’s just a background object. While the last mini-game, a driving section, seems like a bad rip-off of Trials HD and is almost completely mindless and boring.

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Axel & Pixel is a very charming, funny, and interesting experience with an amazing art style and a great cast of characters. It’s a good-sized adventure, but the simplistic gameplay will probably turn-off many adventure game fans and the weak QTE’s and terrible driving sections will drive many other people off. If you can slog through the poor gameplay, you’ll find a charming little game hiding inside waiting to jump out and grab your heart.