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Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PlayStation 2)

By kbmb on August 26th, 2006

Resident Evil 4 (PlayStation 2)

A fantastic opening scene to a worthless game.

The Good
Why, it's been ten years since I sat in the dark, trembling, navigating the twisted halls of that horrifying mansion. Yeah, I was a lot younger then, so I guess it was a stretch for me to expect the same level of sheer horror with the fourth installment of this famous series, but the opening scene left me feeling very, very optimistic. No, I guess I wasn't as scared as I once was, but I was more than entertained.

The opening scene leaves you, Leon, trying to make your way through a village of angry, ravenous villagers. Survival horror at its best, this is exactly the kind of game I'd been looking for. They're not zombies, but they're just as stupid, and this time they're armed with pitch forks and knives and torches, and then there's this freaky guy in a hood with a chainsaw!

You quickly find yourself without ammunition, having to barricade yourself in a house, make your way outside along the roof while the never ending flood of angry villagers pour in from the windows and through the door and all seems completely and utterly hopeless.


The game goes straight to crap after that, but I'll touch on that in a moment.

There are many improvements over previous Resident Evils, most notably the aiming system. No longer are you bound by the evil camera's placement. Now you view Leon from a sort of "just behind the shoulder" view, and use a laser on your gun to determine where you are aiming. This allows for a lot of very precise aiming. You can use it to easily take the head off a raging villager, or knock the pitchfork out of their hand, or even hit their stick of dynamite, blowing up everyone around them.

The graphics are nice, too. And the inventory system is much more manageable, as well.

The Bad
The Bad? Well, pretty much everything. The game has such a lovely opening scene, I just don't know what happened. The game does a complete 180 at that point. Rather than fighting your way through a hopeless situation where you have no ammunition and angry villagers are trying to kill you and you seriously have to THINK ABOUT HOW YOU ARE TO are suddenly given an almost infinite amount of ammunition and hundreds of cult members are thrown at you. It was almost like a really bad version of Serious Sam.

There are no zombies in this game. Not really. Yeah, they walk like zombies, and they groan, and they're not all that smart, but they're not zombies. They're sedated cult members and/or people infected by parasites that cause them to be violent. Violent, but slow. Like a zombie, but not quite a zombie.

The village in the beginning had this creepy guy with a bag over his head and a chainsaw. An absolutely horrifying thing, running from that guy as he corners you in one of the crumbling buildings in the intro...then you realize he's just "Bad Guy #3" and you can just expect him to come by again and again, another lifeless nobody that you have to kill with your never ending supply of ammunition.

The cutscenes look nice, but the dialogue is embarasing. Sometimes I can't tell if Leon was trying to be serious, or if he was just really, really, really bad at comebacks. And the big bad cult leader boss guy was obnoxiously arrogant, or just plain stupid. The fact that by the time you reach the end of the game, and you've killed enough people to fill a small country and he STILL thinks you're a "stupid American" who is no threat to him is's not scary. It doesn't make him seem like a bad guy. It just makes me pity him and wonder how a guy like that managed to get any followers at all.

Resident Evil 4 also allows you to loot GOLD BRICKS and GOLD COINS from the fallen. That's right, Resident Evil 4 has some sort of wacky economy, and Leon isn't too picky with what he grabs off the bloody corpses weighted down with bullets. You can use this money to purchase new weapons and new upgrades for your guns from a strange merchant who has absolutely zero depth and there is never any explanation to why he is there or where he came from or why he shows up in the middle of the cult's sacrificial ceremony. Scary? Mysterious? Intriguing? No, just retarded. At least you can kill him. But you can't loot him.

Resident Evil 4 takes you from Awesome Village Town Intro to Underground Cave to Mysterious Cult Church to Mysterious Cult Mansion to Mysterious Cult Castle to Mysterious Cult Secret Hideout and even Mysterious Cult Island. One muster also wonder who the insane architect was who built Mysterious Cult Castle, what with the sole key to a certain area being the combination of two other keys, one which must be located in the middle of a lava filled dungeon, which would otherwise serve no purpose. Ah, but it wouldn't be Resident Evil without absolutely insane architecture.

The Bottom Line
The game is worth a rental just to play through the beginning areas. Your heart pounding as you run away from a horde of angry villagers, running along the rooftops and through windows and around the farmland in a futile effort just to survive is awesome.

Everything that follows though, it just stupid. It's the same stuff we've been seeing in the last three installments, but with about ten times the amount of zombies -- and they're not even zombies. They're slow, handicapped cult members with the occasional plant growing out of their neck.

Just play Serious Sam. It's more colorful, it controls better, and the weapons are better.

By kbmb on August 26th, 2006

Harbinger (Windows)

By kbmb on March 30th, 2005

Halo 2 (Xbox)

By kbmb on November 12th, 2004

kill.switch (Windows)

A pretty pointless game, but if you have an hour to kill...

The Good
The graphics weren't too bad, and the cinematics that showed every few missions were really stylish, action-packed. Well done.

Every game nowadays has some sort of gimmick going for it. This game's gimmick is the ability to take cover behind just about everything, from garbage cans to computer desks to wrecked cars. You have the ability to pop out and shoot your targets, or if you're under really heavy fire you can opt to just move your gun away from cover and shoot blindly into the area. At times, this is really quite fun.

The game isn't hard at all, and most enemies die in one or two hits, so it's great fun to just charge into a large area, dive behind a trash can and blow everyone away. Since every bullet hole on the wall comes with a slash of debris, action-packed gunfights are just plain fun to play.

The Bad
Well, for one, if you could skip the unskippable cinematics and tutorial level, you could beat the entire game in under an hour. This is about the shortest shooter I've ever played, and that's a real disappointment because, despite its flaws it was fun to play.

You play the game in third person. There are a few reasons for this. One has to do with the "storyline," (hahaha) another other has to do with game design. Playing this in third person wouldn't have been a terrible thing if it weren't for the terribly awkward perspective. Unlike most third-person action games where the camera follows you just behind your head in the air or something, kill.switch's camera appears to be about three feet to the right of you, and twenty feet back, zoomed in. It's hard to explain, but you'll instantly notice something is really not right with the view. It works usually, but if you ever get caught in a small room or try going around an object from the left, the view will almost always become obstructed and this often leads to your death.

Speaking of death, why is it that I can take forty bullets to the chest and still be charging into battle with a mighty fury, but if someone whacks me with the butt of their rifle I'm instantly dead?

The game lacks an in-game save. This isn't so much a bad thing though, really, since most levels are about five minutes long.

Lots of little glitches here and there. Often, enemies can shoot right through objects, and twice I've had enemies walk right through walls! Once, I was getting shot at from some unseen location, and I couldn't seem to get away from the gunfire no matter where I hid. After I died, I watched as a soldier magically rose from underneath the stone floor I was standing on.

The Bottom Line
Although very, very, very short, the game was fun to play while it lasted. If the game had a more sensible perspective and got rid of some bugs, it could have been a lot better. Oh yeah, the cinematics are unskippable, so if you happen to die (most likely from a bug or a camera issue) then you have to sit through it again. Argh.

By kbmb on October 28th, 2004

Xenogears (PlayStation)

Potential ruined at every corner. A huge let-down, a frustratingly stupid game.

The Good
There is a lot I wanted to like about Xenogears, and while I thought it was a hugely idiotic game, there was still quite a bit lying around that at least made some of the game worth putting sixty hours into.

Around the time the game came out, console RPGs were going under a graphics trend involving 3D characters on prerendered two-dimensional backdrops. I appreciate that this game does the exact opposite: 2D characters on 3D terrain. It not only makes this game stand out, graphics-wise from the rest, but it also works very well and looks fantastic. Especially with a Playstation 2's "smooth textures" option, which blurs the sprites so that they don't appear quite as pixelated during close-ups.

Like a long, complex, deep story? Xenogears has probably the deepest story I've seen in a console RPG. Throughout this two-disc adventure it seems that every fifteen minutes you uncover a new layer, a new plot twist, a new side of Fei. The story dives so far under these layers you might want to keep a notepad handy to keep track of everything going on.

There are two modes of combat: with a Gear and without. Outside of a gear you fight using weapons and martial arts and can string together combos and such, and inside a gear you have to manage your status and fuel consumption. While I thought both modes were very lacking, I still enjoyed having to adapt to two distinct fighting environments to survive.

The Bad
Unfortunately, it seemed that for every great idea this game had, there was something there just made to counter it. As I said, this game's storyline is long and complex and very, very deep. But rather than immersive and exciting, I found it to be convoluted and annoying. The storyline itself is very good, but the execution and presentation of it make it far too annoying to enjoy.

This game has hands-down the most stupid and annoying dialogue I've ever seen in any game. It almost seems as though it's just a really, really poor translation. Awkward grammar, misspellings, incorrect punctuation, and more "..." per conversation than any game I've ever played. Here's a pretty good example of what 99% of the dialogue in the game looks like:

Fei: "..."

Elly: "...?! ...What's wrong, Fei?!"

Fei: "...What? ...Nothing?!"

Elly: "..."

Fei: "...?!"

Elly: "Okay?!"

Fei: "...I'll be okay?! ..."

Now, I just made that up...I'm pretty sure. But that exact conversation is not unlikely to have been found in the game somewhere. Having to sit through that kind of crap made whatever story this game had to give almost unbearable. I wanted to like the characters, but I just hated them instead. Or rather, I hated the people who wrote the damn dialogue.

If you can get past the bullshit dialogue, sometimes the characters are almost worth their presence, but then you realize that this game consists entirely of cliched characters. Characters such as the nerd, the rebellious royal youth, the annoying kid, the shy, deep main character, the large, detached mean introvert who has a soft side to him although he'd never admit it, the mad angry villain who wants to rule the world for no real reason...and the list goes on. As I said, sometimes the characters have...something in them that really shines through. But those instances are a rare occurrence.

Having to play through the game utilizing two different methods of combat was a neat thing, but I really wish they'd have just left Gear combat out of the game altogether, or just changed it to something better. Unlike normal combat, which is flawed but still fun to do, Gear combat consists mostly of making sure you don't run out of fuel. The fights in Gears are never hard, unless you run out of gas, in which they're still not very hard but they're more annoying. Combat on the ground is fun, and the sprites are great to see kick each other around, but about a half hour into the game you get pretty much the most powerful combos you're going to get and there's no reason NOT to use these combos. You can stack up some points by not using these combos and then executing a really long combo, but do the math and you'll see that you'd be doing just as much damage by doing the combos as you would by saving up combo points, and you'll probably get hurt less too.

The game has a pretty deep story for you to experience, but be prepared to grab a walkthru or something before you play this game. There's almost never a clear indication of where you're supposed to go next. Sometimes, the only clue you're given is "make yourself at home" and the plot WILL NOT advance any further until you've spoken to one specific character in some specific area, and there may be a hundred different characters in twenty different areas for you to talk to, and there is no clue for whom you're supposed to meet! If I put sixty hours into the game, I'd say at least twenty were spent wandering around talking to every single person and sitting through line after line after line of increasingly stupid dialogue until I finally found that one guy - who, by the way, may not have had any importance at all as far as the story goes! - that allowed the plot to go a little further until the next vague "why don't you make yourself at home" mission. In one particular part of the game, the plot doesn't advance until you've spoken to EVERYBODY in a certain area. That's like thirty people. AND it does not indicate that this is what you're supposed to do! As a rule, I only use a walkthru as a very last resort, but having spent two hours in the same fucking area I finally looked it up and found, hey, you have to talk to EVERYBODY and I missed one or two people during my frustrating need to advance the story.

There are areas in the game where encounters come at an insane rate. I can't remember many battles, save for boss battles, being very hard, but it's just throw-your-controller-against-the-wall annoying when you can get from Point A to Point B because you get an encounter every two seconds.

The Bottom Line
Looking back at this game, I think I could have enjoyed it if they had just made a few changes. Rewrite the entire damn dialogue (or shorten it by about sixty thousand lines by getting rid of all instances of "..."), and make a clear indication of who you have to speak to next, and I think I could have really enjoyed the game. Sure, it would have been flawed, but at least it would have been bearable.

Xenogears has a deep story, a lot of interesting characters, a unique graphics style and two unique modes of combat. Unfortunately, the dialogue is horrible, the quests are frustrating, the characters taken from the Big Book of Cliches...

Oh, there's something there. But it's buried under a mountain of frustration.

By kbmb on October 17th, 2004

Sudeki (Xbox)

A waste of time. Shows potential in so many areas, but little good ever comes of it.

The Good
What did I like about this game? Not much, I must say, which is sad because throughout the game there seems like so much more could have been done if only a little more time had been spent on it. A lot of things are hinted at, but nothing ever surfaces.

The intro is nice. It's a sort of shadow-puppet history lesson on the world(s) of Seduki with a nice rhythmic poem to go with it. The game thrusts you into the character of Tal, an apprentice knight of some sort, son of a drill sergeant or something. The world Tal lives in is very, very beautiful. The world is convincing enough while the graphics retaining a sort of...Warcraft-ish cartoon feel to it. I've heard this game compared to anime, but I don't really see it except in the eyes (see: "The Bad" below).

The game is very simplistic and very easy to get into. It's your standard console adventure/action/rpg fare: smash stuff to find money or healing potions, open random treasure chests to get more stuff, etc.

Combat is easy to figure out. You can do various combo moves, some more powerful than others. Using items in combat is fun, since it doesn't actually 'pause' the game while you do it, but rather slows time down. It slows it down enough for you to find and use the items you were looking for, but not so slow you can get up and use the bathroom while you do it. Two of the four main characters you can fight as have to fight in first-person, which has its own style of gameplay. You can switch weapons mid-combat, which can all have different strengths and weaknesses.

Weapon customization is very nice. You can imbue your weapon with various enchantments, like 'slow', 'weaken', 'poison', and so on. Some weapons have built-in enchantments, others have more enchantment slots. You could have a host of weapons, each with their own enchantments that you could switch in and out of during combat, making you one force to be reckoned with.

The world is a joy to wander around in. Many of the quests you undertake involve you traveling from one town to another, and the walk there is very nice. It's nice to just kind of sit back and look at the landscape around you. The other towns are unique enough not to look recycled, and there are tons of NPCs of various races to chit chat with.

The character Elco is a pretty cool guy. Frankly, I hated all the characters except Elco. The storyline picks up a bit towards the end, which, at least for a while, made the game worth playing.

The Bad
Ugh, but the game isn't worth playing. It's a waste of time and I wholefully regret spending fifty dollars on this load of crap. But where could I start?

Combat is about fifty percent of the game and it blows. It's either too easy or too hard. When it's too easy, you just have to keep using combo attacks over and over and over until the enemies die. When it's too hard, you usually have all four characters in battle at once, and while you fight the monsters your buddies seem to be committing sepuku. Keeping them alive is a chore, even when you change their AI settings.

The voice acting isn't too bad, but the quality of the sound and music is beyond awful. It sounds as though it were recorded in some kid's basement on his Counter-Strike microphone headset. And the volume goes up more than a few notches during cinematics, which I'm sure pissed off my upstairs neighbors.

The storyline goes nowhere until about halfway through the game, and even then while the storyline progresses, your actions don't. You spend your time hunting for these crystals and doing quests for various people to get them to trust you enough to let you do a different quest for them. It isn't until almost the very end that it finally comes together and you set out to do a quest that actually means something, by which time I really didn't care anymore. The sad thing is, the storyline actually IS interesting, and the game's lore IS interesting, but it just doesn't present itself until it's too late.

The characters are all uninteresting or stupid. There's the slut, the cat-slut, and then the main character, Tal, who isn't that annoying but there is so little depth to the guy (save for a cutscene halfway into the game in which he confronts his father...which like many of the game's promising moments, goes absolutely nowhere and contributes nothing to the game) and he doesn't say enough to be stupid, annoying, or interesting. Elco, on the other hand, is a cool character, and towards the end it was almost a reward to be spending so much time with him, but again, there just isn't enough THERE to make it worthwhile. He has a love interest, for instance, and while you hear about her a few times throughout the course of the game, she only shows up once for a very unthrilling escort mission.

Yeah, that's by far the worst part of the game: despite all its other flaws, it really could have been something with more depth. If the characters were more interesting, if the quests you went on had more meaning, if the storyline fleshed out more earlier in the game, it could have been better.

Graphics are pretty good throughout the game, but the faces look weird as hell. I'm not into anime, but last time I checked this wasn't anime. Unless 'anime' translates to "giant freaky eyeballs with massive pupils and enormous breasts".

The "puzzles" in this game are really annoyingly easy, too. Normally I hate block puzzles, but I was almost insulted by the simplicity of these. It's almost as though the developers had a block-puzzle quota to fill but knew how annoying block puzzles actually were so they just said 'fuck it' and left them half-finished. A good example of a Sudeki block puzzle involves about ten blocks to move around, but only two you actually have to move. It was more puzzling wondering why so many blocks were included in the puzzle at all.

Considering how annoyed with the game I was, by the time I reached the ending I wasn't very surprised to find it was just as bad as the rest of my experience with Sudeki was. You fight the big bad boss (after an almost hilariously useless ten minute-long cutscene) and then the credits roll. Which leaves a ton of questions unanswered. So what happened to the characters? What happened to the kingdom afterward? What about the mirrored worlds? Did the war end afterward? Did the light come back? It really makes the eleven hours I spent playing this game seem absolutely wasted.

The Bottom Line
A huge waste of time. Throughout the course of this game there are hints that there are greater things to come, but take it from me, there aren't. Uninteresting and/or annoying characters, a terrible combat system, stupid AI, kindergarten-level puzzles, terrible sound quality...oh, I could go on. Check out the 'screenshots' page -- you'll be experiencing the best the game has to offer and saving yourself fifty dollars.

By kbmb on September 1st, 2004

Burnout 2: Point of Impact (GameCube)

A fantastic intense racing game bogged down by terribly cheap AI tricks.

The Good
Combining the best from Need For Speed and Destruction Derby, Burnout 2: Point of Impact really pleased me, especially since it goes for about twenty bucks now. It's an arcade racing game with heavy emphasis on insane crashing -- there's even a racing mode specifically made for crashing and getting high scores based on the amount of money you caused those involved! Races are very, very intense, very fast, and included are about thirty different courses and a plethora of cars to choose from.

Rather than placing you along a closed course like those other silly racing games, Burnout 2 places you in the middle of a busy freeway, residential streets, one-way tunnels -- in the wrong direction -- any kind of situation that puts innocent drivers at risk of being the next victim in some crazy race to the finish line. You gain "boost" points by pulling off stunts, such as catching air, nearly-hitting traffic, lengthy drifts, or just seeing how long you last driving in the oncoming lane. It provides you with a boost of speed that lasts for several seconds, or, well, until you blow it and cover the road with your car's (and all other cars' involved) guts. It's a hell of a better incentive than Kudos Points.

The Bad
Unfortunately, while the game is great fun, it's almost completely ruined by the cheap AI in single player. They act like they're attached to your car by some invisible rubber band. If you're doing well, they're doing well. If you do poorly, they do poorly. Generally, if you're WAY out there in first place, it doesn't really matter how far you've gone, how good you're doing, the computer is always right behind you. And the same goes for last place. You can sit there in the starting area for thirty seconds and let the computer get a headstart and be able to catch up within two laps. And because of this crap, the only lap that really means anything to the game is the very last lap. It doesn't matter how well you've done the previous four laps -- it's that last lap that makes the difference. So it's especially frustrating when you're having the best race of your career, only to slip up inches behind the finish line and end up in last place, where, judging by the skills of the computer AI earlier in the race, you should have lapped them all by now! I can understand, and heck, even appreciate why they did this. It's to keep the race intense. To keep all the cars right next to each other increases the risk of a multi-car pileup. But when your objective is to race, to win, not just to crash, it's frustrating.

Also included is a "pursuit" mode (which would have been really awesome if you could have played as the escapee rather than the cop, but oh well) which gets more and more frustrating the farther into it you play. The object of this game is to "ram" the opponent about ten times before he reaches the finish line, but unfortunately for you, his car doesn't obey the same physics laws that yours does. In almost all situations, he cannot crash. He will just bump other cars out of his way (and right into yours usually), sometimes he will pull off impossible turns so that he stays in front of you and keeps the game "interesting". Funny thing: if he somehow gets behind you, you instantly crash.

I think the crash detection could be a little more sensitive in places, and less sensitive in others. A lot of times you can hit walls, cars, other things almost dead-on and just "slide" off like your car is covered in grease. Other times you'll barely -- or not even! -- nick an object and the camera will go into crash-cam and your car will slow to a stop...but no crash actually occurred.

And finally, another horrible design decision is that, in order to unlock the next car/course/whatever, you have to score a gold medal in a series of races in a row. So if you spend an hour getting gold, gold, gold, gold, gold, gold...and then get silver (because you made a mistake on that last lap) then the entire effort was for nothing. Oh, it was fun, sure, but you didn't get to unlock anything.

The Bottom Line
Despite the terrible "rubber-band" AI, this is one of the funnest racing games I've played. Multiplayer is a blast, even though the Gamecube version occasionally suffers from minor (almost not noticeable) framerate issues.

Tons of cars, game modes, and courses to unlock, this game just keeps bringing me back in for another go.

By kbmb on September 1st, 2004

Doom (DOS)

By kbmb on July 12th, 2004

Doom (SNES)

A clunky herky-jerky port of a DOS classic.

The Good
I'm writing this short review mostly because of a stunningly different perspective on the technological achievements for the SNES port of the original DOS title, Doom. I don't know what version HE played, but it certainly wasn't the same one I did.

What's good about this SNES port? Well, for one, it's Doom. It's Doom in almost every way you remember it on your PC. So many monsters that at first glance you'd think it's impossible to overcome. Fight through the tunnels of Hell itself and conquer evil for the good of mankind. It is Doom. If you want to read more about Doom, a PC review would be much more informative.

As it goes on the SNES, though, it really is Doom. So people who didn't own a PC, or didn't have the hardware required to run it, had a cheap alternative to get in on the run-and-gun action. Also, if you're more used to using gamepads, you have that instead of a keyboard.

The Bad
But the SNES was not built to play a game of this calibur. Running through the halls in this game, even when there's nothing on screen but the walls themselves is like watching a slideshow. Quite frankly, this ruins the game. I remember getting this game for SNES in an attempt to fool my mother into letting me play this horribly violent game that was forbidden to play on the PC. After all, SNES has Mario, Zelda, Disney games...Doom? Surely it's a different game than the PC version.

Well, it certainly was that. Oh, all the blood and gore might have been there, but it was just impossible to enjoy it if you couldn't get more than a few frames a second out of it.

The Bottom Line
I think this game would have been killer on the SNES if some effort had been made to make it smoother. Get rid of some textures, lower the sound quality...something. Something more than they did. I don't know what exactly made it run so poor, only that it ran so bad it was virtually unplayable.

It was an okay port, really. I mean, it was Doom. But for those of us who had seen it run on a decent computer, it just wasn't the same.

By kbmb on July 12th, 2004

The Suffering (Windows)

By kbmb on June 22nd, 2004

Sonic Advance 2 (Game Boy Advance)

By kbmb on June 14th, 2004

Conan (Windows)

Fierce hack 'n slash goodness! Don't pass this one up!

The Good
What a fantastic game. This is one of those games that get you hooked and pull you right to the end. "Just one more level", you keep repeating to yourself, and before you know it you've traversed a dozen and more levels and conquered evil and now you have to find some other game to play...or go back through on a harder difficulty.

The graphics in this game are great. They don't push the limits of cards, nor are they dated. I feel they're just right for the time. Great in most places, pretty good in all others. I can't really recall any part of the game I was disappointed with the graphics quality.

The cutscenes were fun to watch. The dialogue I felt was very well done. Governer Arnold didn't do the voice for Conan, but the guy who did did a very good job. Lots of emotion, lots of "might" in the voice. The animation was good in the cutscenes -- lip syncing was better than I expect from most games nowadays.

There are probably close to fifty different attacks and combos you can learn in the game. I loved experimenting with the different combos, and even though toward the end of the game there were only two that really proved to decimate my opponent, I still had tons of fun mixing others into the mix. Some of the battles I wish I could watch again. Like facing seven armored skeletons at once, swiping overhead with my sword and then down below, then turning around and swinging my sword in a 180 degree arc, smacking three others, then doing a criss-cross sword move, then thrusting forward, then jumping backward and jump-kicking one, then grabbing one's head and punching it square in the jaw. Heck, there were so many different combinations you could throw into the mix that every battle could be a different experience. And the animation is fluid and for the most part, monster targeting isn't a problem at all. And with four different weapons available to you at any given time (well, save for the beginning of the game when you really only have one), there's just all that much more to experiment with.

The game is of a fair length. I finished it in just two days, but I also put in quite a few hours in it. The levels are very varied, each one requiring slightly different tactics as you fight different monsters. The levels consist of mountains, ice caves, tombs, jungles, deserts, volcanos, towns, temples, and others. I particularly enjoyed the harbour level in which there is very little fighting. It was a temporary change of place that lasted just long enough not to derail what was a straightforward hack 'n slash action game.

Also something I really appreciated was the way the "continues" work. First, you can't save anywhere. You have to find "sacred stones" and use them to save your game, and let me tell you, these stones are sparse. So you could go literally forty-five minutes at a time without being able to save, and one would certainly be really PISSED to play that long and then die at the hands of a monster and have to revert back to the last savegame. Heck, that's enough to make one stop playing altogether and quit. But in Conan, you're given a second chance by fighting in an arena to prove to Crom you are worthy for a second chance at life. Each time you die in any particular battle (or perhaps it's a time limit thing?), these afterlife-arenas are harder as more and more monsters are there to try to thwart your attempt to appease the Gods.

The Bad
HOWEVER, Crom is real stingy sometimes and WILL NOT resurrect you if you die OUTSIDE of battle. Meaning that, say, a monster knocks you into a wall of fire and you die. Well, the fire killed you so game over. Or let's say you FALL THROUGH THE FLOOR AND INTO BLACK OBLIVION. Game over. Or maybe the camera suddenly changes just as you are walking accross a thin platform, causing you to lose your perception and you fall off and die -- game over. Conan is a buggy game. Surely the developers saw how Crom neglecting to resurrect you outside of battle is a bad thing when more often than not it's the game's bugs that will kill you, not your own idiocy.

The camera is okay only about 40% of the time. It tends to "lean" toward targets, sometimes targets that either aren't there, or aren't there yet. I've had occasions where the camera won't even look at Conan at all, but instead stares at some wall that to me seems absolutely insignificant. I had to walk pretty far away from the wall before the camera came back to me. Some locations, the camera will fly to a fixed location. I suppose this is for a more cinematic feel, but it plain sucks. It's hard enough to cross a bridge with swinging hammers trying to knock me off -- it's a real pain in the ass to do it when the camera is at an angle that you can't tell how wide the bridge is anymore.

A few occasions I've had Conan fall right through the floor and to his doom. Twice this was just on the cave floor. Poof! Conan gone. Another time was when trying to get on an elevator, and Conan somehow managed to fit his muscle-filled body through a two-inch crack in the floor and die. There was one particular jumping puzzle which took longer to beat than most parts of the game due to a whacky camera, Conan's unpredicatable jumping tactics, and a floor tiles that, when they fall, seem to spawn some sort of vacuum that sucks Conan down with it.

The very last part of the game is the most abnoxous horrible game-bug fest I've ever played. See, you have to fight about twenty of these monks. Now, these monks are REALLY DAMN ANNOYING because they will cast spells at you, slowing you down, and once you're close enough to attack, they run away. And cast spells. And then run away. And not only that, but there's a magical wall where, if you touch it, you die (and Crom will deem you unworthy). To make matters worse, there is an invisible nothing in the middle of the level that Conan will for some reason target and attack instead of what he SHOULD be attacking. This and the jumping puzzle really ruin what was a great game experience.

The Bottom Line
Despite a jumping puzzle, the last fight, a mean camera and some clipping issues, this was one of the funnest games I've played this year. This is a game that I enjoyed playing through every single level, and I wasn't really ready for it to end, yet. Most games, particularly hack 'n slash, I tend to grow bored with halfway through and finish it just for the sake of finishing it.

Fans of Conan lore and/or hack 'n slash games, or those who just like that RPG feel of earning points for killing monsters will enjoy this game. Also a great story that was gripping from beginning to end, with great cutscenes, great voice acting, great graphics...

A great game!

By kbmb on May 18th, 2004

Far Cry (Windows)

Absolutely incredible. Sets a new standard. Blew away all my expectations.

The Good
A while back, maybe six months or so, I was cruising and saw a trailer for the game "Far Cry." The trailer was titled "AI" or something. This, my friends, was the worst trailer I've ever seen. The entire three-or-so minute video focused on this "advanced" AI which featured enemies taking cover behind rocks, walking around doing nothing, scratching their butts, and yelling to each other during combat. It was wholly unimpressive. I couldn't help but think Far Cry was going to be the dumbest waste of time I've ever played. I mean, "idle animation"? Come on. Idle enemy animations have been the norm since Goldeneye 64 and probably before that, even. "Advanced AI"? I saw a guy take cover behind a rock. What the heck is so incredible about that? Quake 2 was doing that quite well all those years ago.

Yeah, Far Cry looked like just another mediocre half-assed first-person shooter.

Having spent the last twenty-or-so hours playing through this remarkable game, I must confess I couldn't have been more wrong. To say this game is anything less than great is near blasphemy. This game absolutely blew away all my expectations, and it has raised the bar significantly in the first-person shooter genre. This game has made a great leap, much as Doom had before it, and Wolfenstein 3D before that.

But where to begin? Well, let's start with what is probably the most obvious orgasmic element: the graphics. Any reasonably detailed screenshot will give you a good idea of how amazing the graphics in this game are. The tropical jungle-covered islands, surrounded by beautifully rendered water. The highly detailed character models, the guns, the buildings, the...the everything. Yeah. Everything in this game just looks beautiful. I don't think I've played a game yet that has just very beautiful.

My favorite part of the game, however, is not the graphics. No, graphics, beautiful as they are in this game, usually take a back seat in my judgement of games. And this was another element I was skeptical about. Sure, it looks good, but that doesn't make a good game. Oh, but was I ever surprised, for what this game should be hailed for is the sheer size of the levels and the nonlinearity of it all. Well, to call it nonlinear is perhaps misleading. After all, all your objectives are straightforward: get to point B without getting killed along the way, and pick up a key card while you're at it. But there are ALWAYS more than one way to accomplish any given task. There are almost always a different route you can take, a different object you can utilize, a different method of attack. Every time you replay an area, chances are you'll be doing it different than the way you did it before. Imagine: a group of soldiers are guarding something in a small shack alongside a beach. You could A) Sneak through the jungle foliage and silently pick them off one by one, B) See that explosive barrel over there by where those guys are? C) Find an alternate route and attack them from the flank, D) Just rush in and kill'em all like a maniac, E) You wander the beach, considering your options, when suddenly a patrol boat spots you. They open fire on you and you take cover behind a rock. They call the soldiers from the dock that were guarding that object to come assist. This, my friend, only opens you up to even more options. Do you shoot the soldiers in the boat, commandeer the vessel, go around to the docks, shoot whomever's left guarding the object, grab it, hop back in your boat and drive away while all the soldiers are on their way to where the distress was called from...or what? What do you do? You have but moments to think, but your options are nearly endless.

Did I mention the size of the levels themselves? Granted, these levels require a pretty long loading time, but oh it is so worth it. In almost all cases, whatever you see in front of you, all around the island, from top to bottom, underneither perhaps, around the other side, up the mountainside or into caves, it is all part of the level. You can pretty much go anywhere in the level at any time, although typically you'll be heading to your main objective.

The vehicles are awesome as well, if a bit funky to control. Various jeeps with a gun turret, a patrol boat with a gun turret, a hang glider, a motor boat, large trucks, fork lifts...take your pick and take'im for a spin. Some levels are set up for great stunts, too. One of the first levels will probably send you soaring over a cliff in a jeep. It's magnificient the first (and fiftieth!) time you do it.

Not only are the levels gigantic, but they're varied as well. There is also a continuity to the game. The course of the game takes place over two days, I believe, and you're awake through pretty much all of it. You start out in the day, and as you progress you enter the night, then morning again, and watch again as it gets darker as you go on. Some levels take place on giant ships, small campsites, enemy bunkers and bases, caves, rivers, swamps, and of course the jungles, cliffsides, mountain peaks, even a volcano. And what's really great is that none of it seems out of place. This game boasts its ability to render a massive enviornment, but unlike some games that have boasted such things in the past, the indoor environments look just as good. The game transitions from indoor to outdoor absolutely flawlessly.

The physics! In Max Payne 2, when enemies died, they sort of just fell apart like sacks of flour. In Far Cry...well, it just looks so much better. More lifelike. And corpses have wounds on their body, so you can see just where and how much damage you inflicted upon them.

The greatest thing, perhaps, about this game is the immersion. A lot of people will scoff at the lack of a quicksave feature, but I, for one, have never appreciated the lack of it as much as I do having played this game. I'm a sucker for the quicksave. I probably quicksave three or four times a minute in most games. I just can't help it. But Far Cry doesn't let you do that, and that is just...oh, how can I explain it? The checkpoints occur often enough that you won't get frustrated with the levels, and while you're PLAYING the levels...oh, man, it is just plain intense. Knowing there is no quicksave, knowing that if you die you'll have to revert back to your old save...well, that's one thing. But picture this. You find yourself in a shootout just outside some installation. You take cover behind some barrels while the enemy soldiers continue to shoot at you, knocking the barrels around and attempting to get you to come out. You're low on ammo, but you think you can take them, if you're good. You reload and get ready to pop out and shoot when you hear a massive growling sound. From above, mutant apes suddenly pounce on the soldiers and one comes after you. You waste an entire clip on the quick moving opponent and watch in delight as the apes chew up the soldiers. You realize now that perhaps you don't have the ammo to take your opponents. Your fear is confirmed when you see a jeep pull up and more soldiers pour out. And you are even more certain of your demise when from the bushes come a behemoth creature with a rocket for an arm. Screams and gunfire fill the air in chaos and you are most certainly dead...except for the jeep. You sprint right through the middle of the battle, taking a moment to shotgun a soldier in the face to keep him out of your way. You leap into the jeep and peel off just as a crazed mutant ape jumps at you -- and misses, barely. Just down the road you see a pack of monsters coming your way. You slam on the breaks, spin a '180 and floor it. You run over that damn monkey that tried to get at you, you drive, and drive, and you drive the hell away from there, the sounds of chaos slowly fading behind you. You see the "saving game..." message, and you realize you're safe.

Imagine that sort of thing happening a lot.

This game is not just run 'n gun. It has a lot of scary-as-hell elements at times, too. When the power goes out and the lights turn off and all you hear is the drip-drip-drip of water...and then "grrrroOOWWWLL!!".

The AI is also exceptional. While it does make mistakes (I think at this point in time it's still impossible to make truly lifelike AI) it feels more like an actual...well, human mistake. But in either case, the AI is great. Enemies will flank you, even going for that extra detail by physically issuing each other orders. They'll take cover behind trees and rocks, they'll crouch and sneak toward you in the foliage. They'll go for the high ground and snipe you from there. They are devious, and for the most part, really, really good. They're not omnipitent, either. They won't always see you, just as you won't always see them.

And on top of all that, the game has some twenty levels. Considering the size of any given level, this will keep you busy for hours and hours.

Far Cry...what a beautiful game you are.

The Bad
Of course, like any game, this game too has its flaws.

First of all, the story. The story is great, I think, but what the HELL is the back-story? Who the hell ARE you, and WHY are you here? I'm sure if I read the manual or looked it up on the 'net I might know, but the game really introduces you into the story in an awkward way. The very first thing you see is a cinematic of your boat getting hit by a rocket and you finding yourself hunted by mercenaries and you yourself hunting them, following the orders of some scientist and for what reason you don't really know.

One particular level is the stealth mission from Hell. I usually prefer stealth missions, but this's just rediculous. I don't know many games that have had a more difficulty stealth mission than this one. Well, I guess it makes it all that much better when you beat it :)

Occasionally the ragdolls die in funny ways. I've seen a few enemies die in a sort of Elvis-like stance, and even seen one die looking as though he were doing a back-bend. Every once in a while a guy will die in a way in which part of his body is stuck in the wall, and he'll flip around like a chicken without a head.

The game requires quite a bit of power to run it, and unfortunately that means a great deal of people won't be able to see it. As far as I know, it's also only being released on DVD, so that probably shuts a few more people out. Installation is also 3.5 gigs or more, which may shy away even more people.

The Bottom Line
Far Cry has set a new standard for first-person shooters and games of all genres. The graphics and gameplay is unequalled. The options available to you at any time make this game worth replaying over and over again.

By kbmb on March 26th, 2004

Iron Storm (Windows)

A very original setting; a very forgetable game.

The Good
I really enjoyed the setting of this game. I confess, I don't know a great deal about war history other than we fought zombies and cyborgs in World War II, so I imagine that someone with a little more knowledge would probably get more out of this than I would. The game takes place in the 60s. The only difference is, World War I never ended and it still rages on.

The weapons are pretty cool. By "cool," I don't mean gatling laser chainsaw-missiles or anything rediculous like that. Instead, Iron Storm arms you with clunky "new technology" weapons that might have existed in that era had World War I never ended. They're not accurate, they're not fast, but they're the best we've got.

If there's one thing this game has going for it, it's its original atmosphere and setting. You begin in the trenches, fighting alongside your comrades against the enemy while helicopters fly overhead, bombs go off around you showering you in dirt and debris, and in the distance you hear the echoes of more chaos. Despite its mediocre graphics, the sound, environment and setting can really immerse you in the game.

The Bad
Unfortunately, aside from the original setting, there's nothing in this game that sets it apart from any other first-person shooter. Your options when dealing with NPCs is limited to "hear what he has to say" or just shooting them. 99% of your objectives is basically to get from Point A to Point B alive, which means taking down hordes of bad guys. Now that wouldn't be so bad, really, but the game doesn't give you enough meat with it. Every enemy (save for the...ehm...exploding dog) looks identical, aside from bodies and some blood splatches on the walls there's no real battle remains. There's really nothing exciting about combat. Aim gun. Fire. Advance. Aim gun. Fire.

And combat isn't easy at all. You'll find bad guys just spawn out of nowhere once you reach a certain area, which is really stupid if you decided to take a path the designers obviously didn't want you to take. In the very first level I had about ten bad guys spawn right in front of my comrades once I armed a turret (by the way, another stupid first-person shooter cliche exists in this game: any time there's a turret you can man, there will be a horde of enemies coming at you to chew down...many times in Iron Storm, though, the enemies won't even charge. They just stand around waiting for you to shoot them like it's some target range) and of course, it was up to me to save my buddies since they can't hit anything smaller than a barn.

You also can't lean around corners and shoot, which means in order to get a shot off you pretty much have to expose at least half your body when firing, which really sucks especially if there are snipers around, which tend to kill you in one hit.

Another problem that makes combat really tough is that often times you'll be getting shot at from God-knows-where. Bullets don't leave trails and muzzle flashes are so small you don't notice them at all...if they even exist? Also at times it can be tough to tell if you're getting shot at all. The screen doesn't turn red to indicate a hit or anything like that. Instead, you just sort of slide over a little and your little health meter drops a bit. When there's a lot of explosions going on around you and you're kind of moving anyway, you might find that you had just been shot all to hell and had no idea.

I admit, I did not beat this game. Heck, I doubt I even made it half way. I arrived at a spot in which I was advised to remain hidden, and that seemed an impossible task. The moment I was able to see the enemy, they also could see me, and then a helicopter would fly overhead and kill me forty times over. I could not get past this part, and by that point, I was too tired of dying over and over and over and over again to continue.

The Bottom Line
With such an original setting it's sad that this turned into a bland exercize in quick-saving. The weapons all look cool, the story is neat, and if you have some tolerance you can really immerse yourself in the game. But be prepared for some tough battles, buggy AI and bad game design.

By kbmb on March 17th, 2004

Jagged Alliance 2: Wildfire (Windows)

Wildfire is really nothing more than a buggy "real world" mod.

The Good
The new weapons are nice. This time around, even your cheap mercs often start with new gear, including some nice weapons, rather than the ol' "two six-shooters" from the original Jagged Alliance 2.

The new storyline is neat, if you thought the original was too comical or something.

Almost, if not all maps have been drastically redone. New tiles also add new strategic elements to the game.

The Bad
Ugh, it's a mod! And a buggy one at that. I, for one, can't even beat Drassen because the game freezes every time I get a headshot, or if I have a certain merc selected and I view a certain area. It doesn't seem to be random lockups, which makes it all the more annoying. If I want to move Steroid here, I can't do that, I have to move someone else FIRST, or the game will freeze.

The new storyline is...well, it's more real, but I didn't care for it. I want to take down a nation's dictator, not rustle with drug cartels.

They just reworked some old dialogue and stuff to fit around their new story. It just...doesn't feel like anything more than a mod. And mods should be free.

The Bottom Line
If you can't get enough JA2, or you're looking for a more real-world mod, this is worth picking up. But until they release some patches for it, it's virtually unplayable.

By kbmb on March 10th, 2004

Wilderness: A Survival Adventure (DOS)

By kbmb on March 3rd, 2004

Warlords IV: Heroes of Etheria (Windows)

A very simple and addictive strategy game.

The Good
There is a lot to like about this title. The best part, I think, is the sheer simplicity of it. There's only one resource (save for magic, I suppose), and every town is identical in the setup. Unlike other Heroes of Might and Magic-style "conquer the map" games, Warlords IV doesn't bog you down with micromanagement or resource hoarding. Rather, your only resource comes from the towns used to produce units. Every town you conquer gives you +30 gold a turn, and every unit takes a little bit of gold as upkeep. Keep more towns, get more gold, more units, conquer more towns, etc. It's a very simple and direct system that gets straight to the point and doesn't make every battle a constant tug-of-war for the multitude of various resources.

The RPG elements rock. Every single unit levels up, allowing you to upgrade four or five different abilities, and every single unit has its own special ability that makes every single unit, right down to the weakest, cheapest one, valuable. All the different races and different units and abilities available to you allow you to come up with a multitude of army combinations, and just cramming a "brute force" fifth-level-creature army into an army of eight won't always mean victory. For instance, if you were facing creatures of evil, some Knights with their "Smite Evil" ability would certainly come in handy, with a unicorn to heal them and a hero with the "fear" ability to knock down the opponent's combat rating. Throw in some archers, a siege unit, and an Archon to "Bless" your troops, level them up a bit by fighting monsters (thus making them stronger in their combat, life, or other special ability ratings) and you'll have an unstopable machine on your hands. That's just one combination -- with so many races and units and unit skills available, there are hundreds more at your disposal!

Combat is fun. It is by no means a strategy gamer's masterpiece, but it is very fun. You basically pick which unit (out of your army consisting of up to eight (up to sixteen if you are defending a town) goes up against whatever unit your opponent chooses and they fight to the death, aided by a percent-to-shoot archers or other support abilities. With high level heroes involved in the battles, the battles can be tense and quite exciting, even if they're over rather quickly.

The campaign is a series of provinces you must conquer -- thirty-two in all, though you only have to conquer ten, I believe, to win the game. Each province you conquer aids you some way in your next battle, by either giving you a powerful hero for free, or giving you a speed or money bonus, or allowing you to play as another race altogether in any future battles.

The Bad
The storyline is boring. Just plain boring. It's sad to say that, because it really didn't have to be. The campaign's story is something like this: thousands of years ago a cataclysmic event called "The Sundering" nearly destroyed the world. Now some Dark Elf chick wants to attempt the Sundering spell once more, and so now you are hot on her trail to stop her. Along the way you have to do some tasks for a dragon, conquer some warlords to gain their respect, and fight your way to the Dark Elf chick herself to stop her. Between storyline battles there is an absolutely dull cutscene that are nothing more than half a dozen drawings (which you see again and again and again) with the most absolutely boring narration I've ever heard. If they could have thrown in some other elements than "go kill them" or "go kill them" or "go kill them", it would have been much better. Or a plot twist, or something that might mix things up a bit.

Also, it seems that every single race in the game really, really, really, REALLY wants to kill one another. The Sundering potentially can destroy the entire world -- one would think the Elves wouldn't mind sharing their knowledge on where to find a certain artifact that would aid you greatly in stopping the Dark Elf...but no, rather, the Elves will only give you the knowledge if you defeat them in a massive battle. The Dwarves have something that can stop a certain spell from being cast. Rather than negotiate or seek their aid, you must KILL THEM ALL AND TAKE THE ARTIFACT. The Dragon can tell you where to find the Dark Elf and stop her...but he wants you to kill the Ogres and take their whatever-he-wants and then he'll help you! I understand the need to progress the story with gameplay, but surely there was a better way to do it than by fighting a battle every time you need something. After all, the fate of the entire world is at stake.

Missions are pretty repetetive, though it is expected with such a simple game. Some events that occur in battles help break up the monotony ("A group of undead arrive at your capital. They remember the Sundering quite well, and they don't wish to will aid you," for instance.) but they usually only happen within the first few turns and then never again in the battle. Most battles were won (for me, at least) by creating a powerful army and blitzing straight to the enemy's capital, which would have been really damned annoying had the computer used the same strategy against me.

There is a rather annoying movement quirk in the game that Ubisofts insists is not a bug and won't fix. If you have an army that has run out of movement points, and you move a unit with movement points remaining into that army, that unit loses all its movement points. I don't see how this is logical. I rememember in games such as Heroes of Might and Magic that it was often a perk to move units in and out of parties to act as scouts. Send them out to investigate and move them back into the party with what movement points they had left. Why is this not so in Warlords IV?

During the campaign, a mission might say, "You'll be fighting Undead as you attempt to conquer the province of Whatever..." or something. This is really misleading. All this means is that the main opponent (there are often one to three other warlords to be fought in a map) is Undead. All this does it determine the warlord capital's particular race. It does NOT mean the map is filled with undead. In fact, aside from that one capital, there may not BE any undead on the map. The mission's briefing is very misleading, especially when choosing your own race for the mission. If I was told I would be fighting Knights or Empire (two human races), I think I would choose the Undead as my race, as some of their units have the "Manslayer" ability, which when fighting humans would raise their combat and give a bonus to attack when fighting. Only I would be fighting all other races, and probably not that much humans.

Also, I think it would have been much better to have a more lasting or perminent bonus from conquering provinces. All but the "you are now allowed to command this race" bonuses only last until your next battle. Most of the bonuses you get from conquering provinces (save for the experience and levels that comes from fighting anyway) are just "Some Hero will join you in your next battle!" There are a few others (+3 speed, +1000 gold to start), but they're not that great, and they only last one battle, so in the end, my only real purpose for conquering every province was just to get the experience to level up my warlord and heroes. It would have been nice to have something like +1 morale, or +3 gold income, something kind of how Rise of Nations did it in their "Conquer the World" scenario.

Why weren't all the races from Warlords: Battlecry II included? It would have only kicked more ass.

The Bottom Line
Warlords IV is an addictive, simple turn-based strategy game. Those who love Heroes of Might and Magic type games but don't want to deal with stressful micromanagement should love this game. The combat is unique and very fun, with a plethora of combinations available.

By kbmb on March 2nd, 2004

Contract J.A.C.K. (Windows)

What a disgrace.

The Good
Nice graphics.

Seeing some of the characters from NOLF1 and 2 was neat.

If you like Serious Sam gameplay this could be fun...

The Bad
An absolute disgrace to one of my all-time favorite series. Characters that were once vivid and hilarious are now two-dimensional and stupid. Rather than the excellent first-person shooter action gameplay found in NOLF 1 and 2, you find yourself thrust into a Serious Sam-esque game style set in the No One Lives Forever universe. Bad guys will come pouring out of every single hole in the area and they won't stop coming until you've genocided the entire Italian nationality.

Levels are dull. Some nice detail here and there, but mostly it's crap. Nothing very imaginative, save for the space level -- oh wait, that was done in previous episodes. No, there's nothing special about the levels.

Aside from a mounted gun on a motorized ski thing, there's nothing much to say regarding weapons. Oh yeah, the vehicle handling STILL sucks.

This game has absolutely nothing to do with either No One Lives Forevers. Despite Monolith's constant claims that you "take part in Cate Archer's adventures from the dark side", you see her maybe once and that's it.

I encountered serious frame rate problems at times, often in areas that weren't really all that detailed or polygon-heavy.

The Bottom Line
This game right plain sucks and never should have been made. They've tainted one of my all-time favorite series.

If you wanted a goofy Serious Sam experience set in the No One Lives Forever universe, hey, this is your game. But if you have any respect for No One Lives Forever you'll stay away from this steaming turd called a game and pretend it never existed. God, I wish I had.

By kbmb on February 28th, 2004

Worms 3D (Windows)

Wow, what a disappointment!

The Good
The cutscenes and music are cute. Gameplay is typical Worms-style mayhem, probably great fun for a group of friends to sit around and play around with. The campaign is an improvement over previous Worms games.

It's in 3D. For what that's worth.

The Bad
As a standalone game, this is a pretty cute little game. But it's not just a standalone, not just some original title. This is the latest in the legendary Worms series, man. And because of that, we, the customers, the fans, expect a lot from a game that carries this title.

Frankly, I just don't get it. Was this the same team that developed the other Worms games? It sure doesn't seem like it. It feels like they took the very basic elements of Worms and spent the rest of the time working on their fancy-pants new 3D engine.

Is Worms 3D fun? Well, sure, to a point. I didn't play any multiplayer -- I should note that. I didn't think that would be fun for very long. I only briefly played some campaign levels and a skirmish or two before I decided this game was crap and uninstalled it. But that's all you really need to get the gist of the game. No, I can't comment on later campaign levels, but as I said in "The Good", it was one of the high points of the game. But the gameplay itself, isn't.

From the first time I played the demo of Worms on my old 486 computer God-knows-how-many-years-ago, one of the absolute funniest gaming moments is watching worms tumble down hills, go flying, smacking into walls, and falling into craters. And while this is found in Worms 3D, it's just not at all to the same extent. First, the worms almost never "go flying". You have to hit them head-on to make them fly. Explosions will hurt worms, but aside from "ouch!" and some damage being taken, you wouldn't know the worm got hit at all. The worm just stands (sits?) there while the explosion takes place, and then you see he got damaged. It just seems stupid to me that worms are suddenly so solid on the ground, when any explosion, no matter how small, would at least make the worm slide around a bit in previous games.

Also, the perfectly-rounded craters (and jagged charred destruction of napalm in Worms Armageddon) have been replaced with awkward, small "staircase" craters and seemingly no effect from fire. This probably has to do with engine limitations, but, it's just damn stupid. I want big deep round craters that my worm can fall and get stuck in. In previous games, that was an unfortunate outcome and forced the player to devise new strategies -- or heck, dig a tunnel with a blowtorch (which has also been removed, I might add) and pop out of some ledge somewhere. With the craters as they are in Worms 3D, I've never been able to just hop my way out of one.

Land area is ridiculously sparse. In previous Worms games, my favorite maps were the ones that had the most land, because it was just FUN to see the destruction the worm war caused, and even funner to dig tunnels, blast craters and build girders around the area. In Worms 3D, even with the land set at 100%, you're basically given five or six TINY floating platforms. Most of the time they don't even sink into the water, they just HOVER in the air. And they're thin! Two blasts from a bazooka and you fall right through, into the water, dead.

The shotgun used to be a very strategic weapon. Unless you were very close to the target, you had to make some pretty judgemental shots. It could mean victory, it could mean a wasted blast. But in Worms 3D, the shotgun is the equivalent of a sniper rifle. Aim, line target up with crosshair, boom. And what's even dumber, the worm usually goes flying with the shotgun. So I ask, why would you BOTHER with any other weapon that may or may not send the worm flying, if it even hits, when you can just use your 100% accurate shotgun that always sets the target airborn? The only motivation you might have is the fun of watching the world get destroyed, but that simply IS NOT FUN in Worms 3D. At least not after the first four minutes.

There is much more to complain about, but you get the idea.

The Bottom Line
The sad part is, this game should have been great. It feels like it was being developed when the technology wasn't available to make this game what it should have been...but no. The technology was readily available. Did Team 17 have a major staff change? What the hell happened that made this game so pitiful? You would think that long before this game got released, someone would point out that they forgot to add 90% of the things that made the Worms series so great.

Skip this game, I say. Aside from some shiny new 3D graphics that aren't so great anyway, this game is just a dumbed-down version of Worms Armageddon.

By kbmb on February 11th, 2004

One Must Fall: Battlegrounds (Windows)

There's really not much to like about this game.

The Good
One Must Fall 2027 (or was that 2097?) got some pretty mixed reviews. Some people loved it, other people hated it. I rather enjoyed it. It was one of the only fighting games on the PC, and even today our selection is pretty limited. One thing that set OMF apart from other fighting games was the use of hazards on the fighting grounds and screenshot-summaries at the ends of the battles, which I really liked.

One Must Fall: Battlegrounds kind of follows that sort of thing. There are hazards, big giant robots, smack-talk between computer players, and summaries at the end of the battles. And more than two robots can fight in an arena at a time.

The Bad
Unfortunately, there's just nothing to really like about this game. To say the controls are awkward and unresponsive is to say the Holocaust was "not a nice thing". Combos are ridiculously hard to perform because you're forced to hit the next attack in the combo in a certain sequence at just the right time, which can be anywhere from when your robot finishes punching, to halfway through some jump-kick. I can't really explain it as well as I want to. It just doesn't work, mostly due to the robots' attack movements which can go from fast to a crawl without warning. Because of this, your best bet to play online would be to practice, practice, practice with one robot until you get all his weird movement crap down in your mind.

The graphics are okay, sort of, but really nothing special. The robots look like they're taken right from some kiddy anime cartoon, which would have been cool if that's what the art direction was going for, but I don't think it was. If this game were cel-shaded, it could be cool.

The after-match summaries suck. The screenshots they show, usually captioned with something like "Look how Player 1 took Player 2 down in this shot!" are often either of some un-combat jump, or maybe just the robot standing around, or they're blocked by something.

The robots are goofy and not at all interesting. Even worse are the pilots, whose smack talk resembles some poorly translated Zero Wing cutscene.

There are some other features, like crowd-pleasing bonuses if you do more damage, but it's little more than some pointless extra feature that they threw in for kicks.

The Bottom Line
Ugly controls, ugly graphics, ugly ugly ugly. If you got five or six players together and fought in a match, it could be pretty fun. But due to the awful controls and clunky movement, this game is very newbie-unfriendly. If you want to do good online or against the computer, you'll have to spend a lot of time just getting used to the awful controls of your selected robot.

In my opinion, it's just not worth it.

Funny that the game isn't released on a console. One Must Fall: Battlegrounds feels just like a really pathetic console-to-PC port.

By kbmb on February 8th, 2004

Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)

By kbmb on January 30th, 2004

XIII (Windows)

A fantastic FPS. Blew away all my expectations.

The Good
I didn't even know this game was released until recently. According to Mobygames, it was released in the beginning of October? I found that very strange, since this game was hyped to Hell and back during developement, and yet when it was finally released I heard absolutely nothing about it. That really led me to believe that the game was a huge flop. And I read some rather unsettling reviews on top of that, and a lot of people complained about terrible stealth missions. Oh, and the lack of a savegame feature...ugh. Everything I heard of this game just made me think more and more that it wasn't worth it. But thanks to online game trading sites, I managed to get ahold of a copy quite easily, and I must say that after finishing the game, I'm just astounded that this game isn't getting more attention.

This is the first cell-shaded game I've played, and boy did they take the time to make it absolutely perfect. The comic book graphics, the panels that appear on-screen, the three-panel still shot when you kill someone from a distance, in particular, is just wonderful. I've never been a big comic book fan, but I just love the style in this game. In almost any part of the game, were you to take a screenshot, you may not be able to tell whether it was in-game or part of an actual rendered comic book. Bravo, Ubi Soft!

XIII is a first person shooter. Despite its comic book style, it's still just a first person shooter, but it doesn't fail there at all, either. Plenty of guns to keep you occupied, head-shots (almost always) are instant-kills, walking makes you quiet, and lots of vents to crawl through. You sometimes take on enemies one at a time, sometimes you take down fifteen at a time. Lots of things you hide behind, and you can even use parts of the environment (knives, chairs, bottles) to aid you in combat. If you're not a first-person shooter fan, the game probably won't entertain you, but if you are a FPS fan, this game is great.

Also for use in your arsenal is a grappling hook, which, unlike many other games, works wonderfully. You can't use it anywhere, and in fact, it's only used in key parts of the game, but it works. You might have to use it to swing to a ledge, and you'll find that it works great. You won't be surprised by some strange force of physics that throw you around like a rag doll in the wind. Using it to sneak down to some bad guys talking about their evil plans was great fun.

There are about thirty-five levels in all. The levels are varied enough, although the sequence of advancing through each level doesn't change much. Outdoor areas tend to lead you through the environment, up hills, through swaps, accross snowy fields, etc. Indoor areas lead you through vents, computer rooms, smashing windows. What I mean is, you pretty much know what you're going to be doing in any level based on what kind of environment you find yourself in. Call this a good or bad thing, if you want.

The storyline is also intriguing. The whole "d00d I can't remember who I am!" thing has been done to death, but thankfully the story isn't really about that, so much as it is about the "Number" guys and their evil plots. Learning about yourself and regaining what little of your memory you can was a lot better when it wasn't the main focus of the plot. XIII is one of the few first-person shooters I've played lately which really had me glued to my seat. I didn't beat this game just to beat it, I beat it because I wanted to see the entire story.

It helped that the game isn't very hard at all. Bosses are tougher than normal guys, but not THAT much tougher. You won't spend an hour trying to beat a certain spot. At least, I didn't. I found the game to be very easy, and I liked it that way. I'm tired of realistic "die in one or two hits" FPSs, just because they make you exercize the quicksave/quickload buttons until your fingers bleed. No, this game isn't realistic, it's a run-and-gun game that's loads of fun to play.

I heard a lot of people complaining about the stealth missions. I can only think of one level in which took me more than three tries to beat because of the stealth elements. Seriously, I don't get what the big deal is. Yeah, if you want to just run in and kill everything, then you're probably going to really suck at the stealth missions...but heck, you don't even really need to be that stealthy. All you have to do is knock out the guards before they can reach an alarm, or hide the bodies well enough that a passing guard won't find it. I loved the stealth missions. They were easy, they were exciting, at times very tense. Bring on more stealth missions like these!

The Bad
The only thing I really didn't like about this game was the voice acting. Everybody does a fine job except for David Duchovny. I don't know why they spent the money to hire the guy to do the voice acting, considering he has about a total of ten lines in the entire game that aren't "Oh" or "Unf!" or "Who am I?"

Also another thing that annoys me is that there is no lip-syncing. When a character talks, it looks like they're chewing some bubble gum.

The Bottom Line
XIII is one of the best first-person shooters out there. The storyline is great, the graphics are breathtaking, and the style is everything it's hyped up to be. Don't believe the poots that found the stealth missions too hard, because honestly, they're not hard at all.

Aside from Duchovny's voice acting ability and the "bubble-gum chewing" lip-syncing, I find this game almost flawless.

By kbmb on January 30th, 2004

Dead to Rights (Windows)

A fun game with lots to like, but it's just way too long and way too repetitive.

The Good
I've heard this game compared to Grand Theft Auto III and Max Payne, and in a way, I can see why. This game features a real "life means nothing" Grand Theft Auto III approach regarding casualties and features some funky slow motion dive what-not like in Max Payne. But it's wrong to compare this game to either, as its similarities lie only in style, and only a little at that.

I had little expectations for this game when I picked it up. I saw the commercials and it looked like another one-gimmick mindless console game, and it didn't get great reviews. When it came to PC, it got even more mediocre reviews, but I got it anyway because I figured it would be good for a weekend-long run. I was surprised at the sheer length of this game, and to be honest, by how entertaining it was.

Let's not be soft, here. The game isn't much, really. Graphics are so-so and by the time you get to the fourth level you've seen everything there really is to see. But there's still a lot in those four levels you come to appreciate. At least, I did.

The game is a third-person shooter, similar to oh, say, Grand Theft Auto III or Max Payne. Some things set this game apart from others of the genre by slow motion dives, taking hostages, unleashing your dog on bad guys (who brings you back their gun -- useful if you're out of ammo) and other really cool cinematic stuff. One thing in particular I enjoyed was the "disarm" action, in which you take the opponent's gun and shoot them with it in various styles. It ranges from the "I take your gun and break your neck" to the "I take your gun, punch you in the face and shoot you in the head" to "I grab your shotgun, slam the butt of it into your fist, get down on a knee facing away from you, put the shotgun to my shoulder and blow your head off causing you to do a flip backwards landing in a pool of your own blood", and there are several others in addition to that.

Another thing I was particularly impressed by was the sheer lack of value on human life in the game. The way everyone must die. You can take a hostage and use him as a body shield and, should you no longer need him, you execute him. You either snap his neck, put the gun to his head, or throw him to the ground and blow the back of his head off. This ain't Splinter Cell where you just knock'em out, heh heh.

Most firefights are really fast paced and rather cinematic to a degree. Slow motion dives, explosions, taking hostages, using your dog, and the plethora of weapons to really makes every fight entertaining, right up to the end.

And the cinematics are also fantastic, if laughably over-dramatic. Consider one CG scene in which Jack Slate uses the force of a motorcycle's explosion to throw him into the cargo bay of an airborne aircraft, gunning down the bad guys as he goes down. It's a real treat to watch, but you really can't help but chuckle at it all. The opening cinematic is also one of the best ones I've seen.

Some other plusses to this game include chapter selection, for chapters you've beaten, and the option to go replay "min-games" which include dancing at a strip club, weight lifting, and bomb-disarming. Also the game has a rather fun rail-shooter level.

The Bad
This game's got a lot going for it. Fun fast firefights, slow motion, great "disarms", a dog, guns, girls...but there is a dark side to this thing.

First of all, this game is about eight chapters too long. Just so you know, the game is fifteen chapters long. Not six, not eight, not ten, not thirteen, it's fifteen. I think I only finished this game just so I could finally beat the damn game because, like I said, by level four you've seen really all there is to see, and the story is lengthy and annoying at times. It's not really that the story is too bad, it's the number of plot twists that serve no other purpose than to extend the game one more chapter that really gets to you. You'll see as you make alliances with people who turn on you in the next chapter, forcing you to spend a chapter "getting revenge", only to make another alliance with someone who turns on you the next chapter.

Some of the features of the game were implemented so poorly. One thing you can do is lean up against the wall, and do a move where you jump out suddenly, gun at the bad guys, and jump back to the wall. But there are almost NO WALLS that allow you to do this. You can lean up against the wall, but most walls simply won't let you jump around the corner from, due to the angle of the wall, or some object at the corner, or something. That was frustrating, as almost every good opprotunity to use this move prohibited you from doing it.

The difficulty sure increases suddenly about halfway through the game. It's not like the bad guys are necesarilly harder, it's that they start spawning at all sides of you and Jack Slate has a habit of picking the most unlikely targets when shooting. The way you shoot in this game, by the way, is by auto-targeting bad guys and shooting, and the firefights are way too fast to be choosing your target. You just hope Jack picks the one right in front of you that would die in one hit, instead of the sniper way off on the clocktower you have no chance of hitting. You hope, but Jack Slate thinks he can do it anyway. As the game went on, and I started enjoying it less, I turned the difficulty down to help get through some of the annoying spots in the game, but that just felt like cheating, because you almost can't die on "rookie" mode. Normal difficulty is far too hard at parts, rookie is just God-mode.

Boy do levels ever get repetitive. First of all, as I'd mentioned a few times, the game is just too damned long. And it makes it seem even longer when some of the levels are just...argh. Let's say, you arrive in a large room with three doors. Two of the doors are locked, so you go through the one that isn't locked. You get in a fight, advance to the next room, get in a fight, advance, fight, advance, fight, advance, fight, and then fight some sort of boss who drops a key. So you backtrack back to the large room with three doors, but all the bad guys have returned! So you fight, backtrack, fight, backtrack...and then you do the exact same thing for the second door. Now you have a third key. Fight, backtrack, fight...and then when you arrive back at the large room, you have to get in a HUGE fight and fight an even bigger boss, and then go through the third door, fight, advance, fight, advance, fight, advance...and then finally fight the end-boss and finish the level. One horribly annoying level was a docks level, I believe, in which you go from indoors to outdoors, to indoors, and so on for what feels like an eternity.

There are also way too many characters in this game, which means there are way too many bosses, and most are pretty insignificant and they don't really have much depth. I can understand the greedy mayor, the prisoner guy who wants revenge, and the evil ex-partner, but the others are just pointless. There's some Yakuza girl who helps you out for seemingly no reason, the ex-boxer, the "twins", some crazy guy with a hat. Many more, none too memorable.

The Bottom Line
All in all, it was a fun game, but just went on way too long. At least toward the end you're treated to a lot of great CG scenes, and the firefights are pretty fun, but the game's difficulty increases way too much toward the end, the characters aren't very memorable, levels are hideously repetitive and targeting seriously needs work.

But still, there are great parts of the game. Fighting a bunch of clowns in a cemetary, throwing one to the ground and blow his head off with a shotgun, or the many hilarious and over-the-top disarms.

I'd recommend it. It's got enough in it to be a fun game. Just don't expect it to be a "weekend rental" because it's a lot longer than you think.

By kbmb on January 27th, 2004

Half-Life: Counter-Strike (Windows)

A paradox in entertainment.

The Good
If you've never heard of Counter-Strike, well, I'd like to meet you, shake your hand, give you a hug and move to whatever cave you've been living in all your life. The fact is, Counter-Strike is the most played game on the Internet, it is probably the most well-known game, and it is, in a word, a phenomenon. At any given time there is around 20,000 servers up and running with a good twenty-or-so people in most of them. Everquest can't even compete with those numbers.

Counter-Strike is a perfect game, really. It is an arcade shooter with "one-hit kill" realism, which makes for fast games and can rely heavily on team strategies to accomplish. There is enough realism in this game in which your life does amount to something (this isn't Quake where you can take forty hits, possibly die, and just come back to get revenge) but arcade enough to keep everyone entertained. There aren't many maps that get played, just a select few really, but that's fine because these maps have everything you'd want in them. There are different game modes which keep things interesting. Basically, there is enough in this game to keep you entertained for thirty hours at a time.

But let's face it, folks. The real entertainment in this game doesn't come from the gameplay, nor does it come from the game modes, weapons, arcade gameplay or realism. It comes from the players themselves, and therein lies the paradox...

The Bad
...because it is the people that make up this game, and it is the people that also destroy it. This is not a game for the intelligent -- this isn't a game for the remotely conscious, the people who are only half in-touch with reality. This is a game for idiots and homophobic thirteen year old wiggers. Every laughable thing you've heard about the populace of Counter-Strike is indeed, true. Let me tell you a story.

I knew what Counter-Strike was. I remember playing it while it was in beta, but that was brief and was no good because I was on dial-up at the time. Any gaming forum I visited would always have some sort of Counter-Strike thread, whether it was to admire it or make fun of it. I've seen screenshots, I've heard stories, and all the while I could only think that this was exceptions. People aren't that stupid, people aren't that...that way. These were just exceptions. But somewhat recently I finally decided to give Counter-Strike a shot. After all, the most popular game on the planet must be entertaining, right? Well, the game is, but sadly, the people ruin it.

I don't think I could even give an example here. I admire Mobygames for their ease on censorship, but surely even they have their limits and were I to quote a single line from any Counter-Strike dialogue I don't think this review would get approved. To put it bluntly, this game hosts the most vulgar, most disgusting, most hope-depleting band of people that until recently, I thought were just a myth.

But can it still be fun? Oh, surely, it can. If you can turn off the chat, if can be fun. If you can turn off the voice chat so you don't have to listen to some prepubescent eleven year old kid call you "faggot" and "wallhacker" every time you get a kill, if can be fun. Or even better, if you play on a private server with people you know, it can be fun. Or, if you just want to laugh at horrible decay of our youth's intelligence, it can be fun.

Or if you're just an eleven year old racist homophobic can be fun.

The Bottom Line
A phenomenon in multiplayer gaming, Counter-Strike is a paradox in entertainment. On one hand, you have a perfect combination of realism and arcade with strategies and team-tactics thrown in...and on the other hand, you have proof that a good percentage of the human race ought to be launched into the sun. There are ways to enjoy the game if you're not a complete moron, still.

And there is such satisfaction from knifing one of those jerks from behind.

By kbmb on January 23rd, 2004

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