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Halo 3: ODST (Xbox 360)

By Vance on August 5th, 2010

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (PlayStation 2)

By Vance on July 16th, 2010

Way of the Warrior (3DO)

By Vance on December 4th, 2005

Jade Empire (Limited Edition) (Xbox)

By Vance on July 20th, 2005

Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)


The Good
The engine is a solidly built one, easy to pick up and get going and always offering more to adapt to. While the story is pretty much the stuff of late night direct to tv movies, the enemies are well-designed and fun to blow up, especially the later ones. Graphics are pretty good, with some decent environmental effects and very little fill-in. The game was made for multiplayer, and if it was released later during the online push it'd probably have more longevity, though with the release of Halo 2 this is kind of moot.

The Bad
Larry Niven, creator of the Ringworld novels, should have sued until the design staff was completely naked. The titular Halo is obviously porked from his novels and is underused as a plot point. Well. I suppose that's harsh since there really is no plot beyond variations of what we've seen in the movie Lifeforce and the game Space Hulk. It's an odd bird that games are relying more heavily on narratives and still skimping on any kind of story, but that's another discussion completely. As is, the main purpose the Halo has is to arch across the sky like the great Thong of the Universe.

I think my main problem with the game is ethical, read: Microsoft. Originally a Mac and PC game, this was another casualty of Microsoft's epic set of buyouts in an attempt to get exclusives for it's XBox console in the heat of the console war. Computer gamers were ripped a new one and XBox fanboys had a new rallying cry, giving the upper hand to the last company that needed one. Bungie changed it's tune from being a Mac enthusiast company to the usual party line of wanting to be on the cutting edge and allying itself with the right people. Make what you will of that.

The biggest complaint with the game is the artificial stretching out of the levels. Yeah, sure, the game features some long levels, but if you broke it down to the key architectural components some of the levels would be about 50 feet long. The two main offenders are the inside of the alien ship (and how) and the library. If you can keep track of which direction most of the enemy are coming from, cool. If not, both directions are gonna look the same and it may take a minute or two to sort it out. Not cool. With a lack of scripting to keep encounters fresh, the only thing that'll see you through to the end of the single-player campaign is the very fast and fluid gameplay. Really, it stands out post-Half-Life, but one very nice facet of a gem doesn't forgive the weaknesses everywhere else.

The Bottom Line
Are you chanting the XBox war cry? You already have this game on your shelf, then. Everybody else should give it a whirl, have a bit of fun with it, repeat until bored.

By Vance on November 18th, 2004

Extreme Bullrider (Windows)

CAUTION: Rapidly ejecting discs!

The Good
The admittedly small amount of wheat this game was traded for made a very delicious banana loaf.

The Bad
Everything else. In typical Head Games fashion, the models are under-detailed and under-rendered. Gameplay is laughable (move the mouse a bit, now click the left button... you've now mastered the controls for every Head Game ever!), and the entire experience is simply painful. The technology would be right on target if this were published four years earlier, but the gameplay itself would still be ass.

The Bottom Line
I wouldn't.

By Vance on December 11th, 2003

WinBack: Covert Operations (Nintendo 64)

Gaming Hall of Shame

The Good
The N64 cartridge ejected quite easily from the system. That's about all I have to say that is nice, except that I don't remember the graphics suffering from the prevalent N64 haziness. Lots of the fog effect to hide shoddy distance pop-up, though.

The Bad
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA STOP THE PAIN PLEASE OH GOD! Ahem. I was with the press leading up to this release, and I remember the fanboy chant of this being the game to knock down Metal Gear Solid. This already set it up for a fall in my mind. If only I knew how far that was to go. First, the voice acting is worse than most, yet still not QUITE as bad as the Shenmue dubs. Second, the music was rather tired and repetitive. Third, not only is the story a typical "stop the nukes!" hash but the narration is awful and the characters all play out like really flamboyantly gay G.I. Joe rejects. Gameplay is deceptively varied, but in the end it degenerates into a series of endless, repetitive gunfights where you end up using the same tactics over and over and over again.

The Bottom Line
Don't. It's probably about a dollar or two in the bargain bin, but say it with me. Just. Say. No. Let somebody less well-informed open Pandora's Box. And that says a lot, seeing as I hate reviews that go along the lines of "NOBODY SHOULD LIKE THIS GAME EVER BECAUSE I HATE IT BLAH BLAH BLAH"

By Vance on October 4th, 2003

Silent Hill 3 (PlayStation 2)

By Vance on August 27th, 2003

Phantasy Star Online (Dreamcast)

Celebrating really bad Sega games!

The Good
Preeeeeeeetty colors. The graphics were truly well done. There are some good cheats in character creation to ensure that you create a unique body.

The Bad
Everything else. Even though the graphics were good, it's because there wasn't nearly enough variety in them. You tromped through the same level at least two dozen times before going to the next of three total levels, and the only thing done to make each level different is to switch door locations. The rock-stupid enemy AI gets predictable about five minutes in, the translation was serviceable but not overly skilled, and the music is great until it loops around about ten seconds after it begins. Also, after a promising opening, the story goes on hiatus until the very end.

The Bottom Line
The series had a problem with making dungeons WAY too large for meaningless filler, and this game felt like a single dungeon. Hack hack hack, upgrade, hack hack push button.

By Vance on June 18th, 2003

EarthBound (SNES)


The Good
There's a very singular kind of imagination here, and it spills over from the plot to the settings. Areas, though extremely cartoonish, merge seamlessly with the music and mood to create a very solid gameplay experience.

The Bad
I have to dig for bad things, but this definitely isn't for people who can't get along with strange, strange games. Sometimes the difficulty of a new area ramps up a little too high for the player to cope easily.

The Bottom Line
Somebody must have gotten a group of five-year-olds together, fed them acid, and then made frantic arm motions while screaming "You're going on an adventure! YOU'RE GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!!!" and then wrote down everything they said afterwards. The story is tweaked, the dialogue is tweaked, even the items... the whole thing is surrealism as expressed by a kindergardner. To top it all off, every new area tends to be genuinely interesting to explore, and the admittedly simple gameplay never gets in the way of the sense of discovery. Overall, a fine RPG for a collector.

By Vance on May 17th, 2003

Shadow Hearts (PlayStation 2)

By Vance on May 10th, 2003

The Space Adventure (SEGA CD)

By Vance on April 11th, 2003

Legends of Wrestling II (PlayStation 2)

I can't breathe from the laughter. That's me body slamming the Hulk. Huh, a review?

The Good
I don't watch wrestling, which to me has always been huge men in tiny tights lunging into each other. But ever since the advent of Create-A-Wrestlers I've loved the games, and one wasted school year was spent in college with a friend recreating the entire theater department in digital, trashable form. And now we have a completely buffed up creation system in Legends of Wrestling II, one that is currently being used to recreate all my coworkers for steam release exercises. While still not giving me the options I need to make truly diverse wrestlers (out of 8-10 different face types, all have the same sneer that screams of lactose intolerance) this year's iteration by far gives the most flexibility of the bunch. Plenty of categories, plenty of matches, lots of moves and styles to choose from, a great package. The graphics are also a thing to love, and I'm proud to say that the PS2 is still having its limits pushed back further and further.

The Bad
Well, it's still wrestling. This one suffers less on my list than most because it's old school. Less smarmy attitude, and there's our childhood hero the Hulkster. The guy who used to encourage all his little Hulkamaniacs to brush their teeth, eat balanced meals, yadayadayada. Okay, so this is still a good point, but you get what you pay for, right? The bad: Controls don't have too much improvement, despite being faster than older wrestling games. When two other fighters are grappling you can have trouble hitting one of them, and it often feels like you're trying to drive a tank around the inside of a thimble to line up shots. The Create-A-Wrestler still has certain limitations that need to be worked on. And finally, it's only for two players, so four-player rumbles will involve moving the furniture out of the way.

The Bottom Line
This is for two groups. People who love old school wrestling with a passion and people with too much spare time like myself. Whether you want to go toe-to-toe with dearly departed Andre the Giant or pile drive your friend without the usual girly whining or lawsuit threats, this is highly recommended if you don't have a current wrestling game already.

By Vance on January 1st, 2003

Shenmue (Dreamcast)

The soda-buying simulator

The Good
The level of detail is unsurpassed by any other Dreamcast game I have ever seen, period. This is the closest thing to walking down an actual street in a claustrophobic small Japanese town besides actually getting a plane ticket and just doing it. Also, the playable Sega classics in the arcade will have you yearning for the days of the single quarter game.

The Bad
Um... where's the game? Fight sequences are extremely rare until the later part of the game, which tries to make up for the lull by having you beat the drud out of about 50-60 guys. Until then you're treated to Ryo's burning hunger for vengeance taking the form of him wandering around town looking largely apathetic to the events around him. The plot advancement is pretty tepid, featuring you asking every single person you come across the same question again and again, some of which the player has observed in the intro. It's a pretty boring verbal scavenger hunt. "Have you seen a... car?" "Why yes, it was a... black car." And thus you start asking everybody if they've seen a... black car. Ryo's personality is bad enough, but the budget voice talent will have even the most die-hard dub fan turning on the original voice track with subtitles. Also, considering this is about a sixth of the intended product... not cool.

The Bottom Line
It's a fascinating attempt, and certainly one that took a whole lot of sweat and love from the developers. I just couldn't imagine forking over full price for it.

By Vance on May 26th, 2002

Donkey Kong 64 (Nintendo 64)

It's... Banjo-Kazooie. Except with a little... no, it's Banjo.

The Good
Big honkin' levels with lots of replay built in. Purty colors courtesy of the N64 expansion pack. Five different characters. Rareware gameplay is always a plus.

The Bad
Rapidly degenerates into your father's Oldsmobile with lots of easter egg hunts. Expansion pack required... damn you, Nintendo, and your obsession with cartridges! Differences in characters largely cosmetic. Large credit card bills from buying new controllers after psychotic fits induced by "fun" racing mini-game. Characters can't fling own poop.

The Bottom Line*
It used to be that Rare was a bold innovator of every genre it touched. Goldeneye redefined the FPS game and is still superior in many aspects to today's offerings. Banjo-Kazooie out-Marioed Mario, and Diddy Kong racing... well, okay, that one was just Mariokart in 3D, so what? It still rocked. Sadly, though, Rare has realized that it's "not getting any better than this" and has simply been rereleasing its old engines with new characters and game concepts. Perfect Dark is Goldeneye, except with better graphics, slower framerates, and a story that makes a good argument for bringing back Mystery Science Theater 3000. Likewise, Donky Kong 64 is Banjo-Kazooie with kiddie guns, jungle themes, and monkeys. The main difference is that in an attempt to keep players involved, the team decided to make you complete tasks in later levels that would unlock items in earlier levels. This is actually a nice idea and would have worked if the whole process weren't so damn tedious. Oh well, welcome to the creativity levels of most developers, Rare. Burnout's a risk in this industry. Oh, and did I mention that some of the mini-games embedded in the larger game are so frustratingly hard that after approximately 457 kazillion jillion tries you automatically (in real life) turn into the Hulk a SMASH CONTROLLER! Ahem. Sorry, flashback. This attempt to up the playing experience and keep players playing to achieve the ultimate ending has done its share to increase the ratio of underage drinkers, is my guess. Not that I am bitter. Still, it's an okay game and if you're a Rare fanatic (understandable, it's hard to top their otherwise solid engines) then you should at least spare it a try.

By Vance on February 17th, 2002

Grand Theft Auto III (PlayStation 2)

You can have my controller when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers, mom.

The Good
This is the classic game paradigm. Not in any pedestrian sense of pushing back boundaries or anything like that, but by refining what exists, throwing in lots of extras, and creating a damn convincing illusion of a living, breathing world. You can forget the straightforward goal for hours and hours and find dozens of other things to do, both on foot and in vehicles. You can pick up fares in taxis, rescue injury victims in an ambulance, chase down felons in a cop car, attempt to fly a wingless plane, and even gain money performing stupid aerial stunts, complete with the old Dukes of Hazzard slow-mo pan shot. It's hard to do this game justice in a simple review, and it's impossible to justify enjoying the extremely antisocial and politically incorrect goals. So I won't try. I'll just say I like it and you can deal with that. What I'm saying is that this game is a subtle return to the ideal that YOU affect the game, a freedom that's been severely cramped ever since 3D became the new standard and made games smaller. This one feels like it's bursting at the seams, with a city, weather, day cycle, pedestrians, traffic, operating shops, and trashable environments. Just walk out and pick a fight. Cops around? You'll be chased. Use lethal resistance and they'll step up their efforts likewise. Do a few more bad deeds and in come the choppers, then the FBI, then the tanks. Steal a boat and find another island. Watch as you abuse your car and the section that gets hit or scraped takes the abuse, windows smashing out and trunks and hoods flying off. Just TRY it. And the biggest accomplishment is possibly that even with this foray into 3D, the gameplay remains largely unchanged, but greatly enhanced.

The Bad
Well, like any other game, if you look hard enough cracks start to show in the virtual world presented. Cars and pedestrians will sometimes appear in the distance by magic, and a lot of the time the ones out of your line of sight vanish by the time you look back over at them. On foot, it can be really hard to target the particular target you want in a crowd of pedestrians, and in a hectic situation this can be fatal. I could gripe about the later missions being REALLY HARD, but maybe I'm just a whiner.

The Bottom Line
Lock the kids in the basement and indulge. If you describe "The Godfather" as "one of the great comedies of our times," you're not only really warped, but perfectly suited for this game.

By Vance on February 8th, 2002

Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion (Nintendo 64)

Hey, somebody spilled some Half-Life in my Turok!

The Good
That guy who always yells his own name (Turok himself) in the first two games is shot stone dead in the first two minutes, which comes as a great relief. Also, with a high-res pack the graphics look real purdy-like and the character animations are pretty good for an N64 release.

The Bad
Of course, really good animations don't mean too much when the rock-stupid AI has the enemy running back and forth while trying to find its way around a stool. Also, this time around the trademark dinosaurs only make a small appearance, presumably hitting the catering table the rest of the game. No sir, this time around they decided to go with the Half-Life style of scripted sequences, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, they also decided to go with the Half-Life storyline, which is possibly one of the cruddiest concepts anywhere. The story has been jerked to one side to make it officially Turok, but the monsters-running-amok-on-our-world-and-hilarity-ensues-with-plasma-weapons thread is unmistakable, and still very stupid. Also, I haven't played the first one in years but I don't remember it handling this horribly. Either the engine is severely dated or they decided to enhance the experience by removing the controls.

The Bottom Line
Eh. It has moments, sure, but it takes all the worst of the genre it copies and only hints at the best. If you're one of the space monkeys who liked Turok 2, go ahead and give her a whirl.

By Vance on February 8th, 2002

Twisted Metal: Black (PlayStation 2)

By Vance on July 25th, 2001

Persona (PlayStation)

By Vance on July 2nd, 2001

Pagan: Ultima VIII (DOS)

Umm... ah... well...

The Good
Well, it still had the same basic feel, STORYWISE, mind you, of the Ultima series. The implementation isn't as bad as most people claim, the debunkers probably mostly being those weird purists who resisted the new interface and graphics rehaul back in Ultima 6. The new spellcasting system is also slightly less cumbersome in the long run, something that definitely needed fixing after the switch to real-time. Oh, yeah, and the graphics were a lot cleaner than the previous outings, so that the Avatar didn't get lost whenever I passed a tree.

The Bad
Okay, I try being nice. REALLY I try, but I think that badness is inherent in most every game there is. It's just the varying degrees we have here. Ultima 8 is well balanced in these respects. First, even though the new interface is not bad, it's a radical departure from the RPG style of the old Ultimas. Richard "I wear costume jewelry" Garriot should have remembered that his audience consists of people whose idea of strenuous physical activity is placing a conference call, and all the additional clicky-clicky action here gave several people heart attacks. And to be serious, some of those platform jumping sections were pretty rediculous. Second, while the story is still pretty involved, it seems that the Avatar has to behave like a total hooligan to achieve his goals. This is fine for Ultima, or should I say Ultima One through Four, but hey, we're an Avatar now! I fully expected part 9 to depict a fall from grace, but apparantly the moral here is "Hey, it's not my planet. Let's litter!" If there is actual alien life in the universe they probably haven't contacted us yet because they have played Ultima 8, and they know we suck.

The Bottom Line
This is actually a nice game. If you don't mind something different, something a little more actiony, try it.

By Vance on October 18th, 2000

Trespasser: The Lost World - Jurassic Park (Windows)

The Arm Simulator

The Good
A very novel, and potentially intelligent game idea. The physics at work here can be absolutely astounding, and I spent a large amount of time at the beginning of the game just holding onto a barrel and rolling it around on its base. There were probably Raptors watching from the bushes, wondering where I had gotten the hallucinogens. Also, the graphics are simply astounding with the right hardware.

The Bad
That noted, I DIDN'T have the right hardware. At first the game's graphics only played in a weird kind of negative color scheme, and I had to reinstall. Second, the arm controls are so awkward that by the time I can usually level a gun at a charging dino, I've poked him in the eye with it and I have to resort to slapping him into submission. At one point I gave up on playing the game and just tried to get the girl to slap herself, then spending an hour playing "Jurassic Park: Contortionist" and reducing the once proud Minnie Driver into a twisty circus freak. Another gripe is with layout. Why are there a selection of guns at the beginning of each area that would make Heston proud? Did the guys from "Deer Hunter" get bored with the ten point bucks and decide to find themselves some bigger game and just left their spares lying around? And for such an advanced physics engine, why is it possible to die when you just jump off the back of a pickup truck? Granted, I had one cool moment in this game when I slammed a door on a dino's head, but after that I just started to notice that they all looked a little embarrased to be appearing in this game. And that life meter! "Oh, 'scuse me, I need to check my left boob to see how hurt I am. Just wait a sec' while I pop this baby out..." I felt dirty. The Lara Croft thing no-no me.

The Bottom Line
I didn't have to pay for this game and I still felt raped. Dreamworks is the Extreme Headgames of the adventure genre, and we should wait for somebody competent to pick up this great idea.

By Vance on October 18th, 2000

Star Wars: Jedi Knight - Dark Forces II (Windows)

By Vance on September 29th, 2000

Hardwar (Windows)

By Vance on September 29th, 2000

Privateer 2: The Darkening (DOS)

A strange departure from the series, both superior and inferior

The Good
The story was really fascinating to me. At first I thought the amnesia spin and everything was going to take me back to countless plots that had been spun before, but that wasn't true. The only reason I picked this title up in the first place was the ensemble cast of great actors, and for anyone who wants to see Christopher Walken play a role where he actually manages to ditch his native New Yorker accent, here's proof he can! As far as gameplay, the Privateer magic is still intact. The ability to configure your own ship and make your own lifestyle is still as addictive as ever, and being able to play the game at your own pace is also a major boon. Just save up the cash for better guns and a cooling system, take the ship up, and punish the first pirate that used to pick on you so. Now TELL me the last time a moment in a game was so rewarding!

The Bad
Ah, well, yes. Ahem. The reason the above moment was so rewarding is that the hours and hours leading up to it are so RIDICULOUSLY BUTT-HARD! Here, here, here, do this; Go into the nav screen, enable the search option, type "no talent" and hit enter. This will enable the cheat option and you can THANK ME LATER FOR SPARING YOU FROM HAVING TO BEAT YOUR JOYSTICK CONTINUOUSLY AGAINST THE WALL! I took a two-year hiatus from playing this game because it just annoyed me that much. During that bile-filled interim I got my hands on WC: Prophecy and learned how they twisted Robert's characters around in his absense. This prompted a telephone call wherein I asked Origin to stop making games. Really. I called their CEO "that smug-looking, fat b*d," much to the receptionist's delight, and thanked her for her time. Ah, but I digress. So either make note of the cheat functions here or get Ritalin before playing this game.

The Bottom Line**
A thoroughly entertaining game that will only age you about a decade or so if you're easily frustrated.

By Vance on August 10th, 2000

DreamWeb (DOS)

Ah, the mixed-bag that is edgy software...

The Good
The story was really intense. If there's one thing to love about the loosening of content in games, it's that it allows designers to come up with concepts that may draw the player deeper into the story. Here, a young man is charged with the task of saving the world by destroying seven powerful figures bent on world domination. What's really different is a total lack of glorification in the act of slaying them; the line between heroism and murder is completely blurred. What would otherwise be a Matrixy tale of a sci-fi Robin Hood gives way to a spectacle that at once fascinates and horrifies. This is gritty. This is necessary. This is storytelling from a really underappreciated angle. Also, the emphasis on adventure over action is good to my opinion. The designers obviously tried to make a living, breathing world akin to the Ultima series, and in certain areas they succeed brilliantly. The constant downpour, background noises, and extra newscasts you can pull up through the internet on this game are all atmospheric gold.

The Bad
Unfortunately, the same advantages are also pitfalls. For every innovation in atmosphere that works, there's something that falls flat. Too many objects can be picked up, ala Ultima. This wouldn't be bad if not for the fact that in Dreamweb, it's really hard to tell what will or will not come in handy later. Also, certain items could be used as substitutes in puzzles, but the game won't let you make these handy substitutions. The second major gripe is once again the adult content. It seems that once developers get the greenlight to use racy material in a game, they have a tendancy to overdo it. I really don't care what people put on the screen, but it does tend to cheapen the experience when something overly raunchy or sexy gets put in just for the shock effect. Point in case, on the way to the first murder you have to pry a door open with an axe. In the room beyond you come upon two guards, and with no time to draw your gun you must bury the axe in the first one's chest. Inventive. Cinematic. I fully accepted the resultant gore. Now, in the NEXT room you find your target doing an extremely pixellated version of the Virtual Nasty. Okay, the guy was already marked as a decadent rock star, we know already! Were these guys afraid they'd lose our attention if they didn't top off the axe thing? Here is a very good example of that fine line and how to leap over it with gusto. The final gripe; The ending. Sure, I was expecting something dark, but at least give us more of an explanation! There are several loose ends flapping about here, and without a sequel this just aggravates.

The Bottom Line
Here is a game of actual substance. Trust me, it's there. Just look past the "Hey ma, we got ADULT CONTENT!" typicality of the material.

By Vance on August 8th, 2000

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