Category Archives: Game Reviews

Colonial Marines Review: An Express Elevator to Hell (and not in a good way)

Video games have been borrowing from the Aliens franchise for a long time.  Halo’s space marines are almost carbon copies of the foul-mouthed, rough and ready colonial marines from the film franchise. It’s not hard to see where the space-horror franchise Dead Space drew its inspiration from, and even Samus Aran herself was inspired by the iconic female heroine of the Aliensfranchise, Ripley. It only seems fitting then that the granddaddy of them all to get its own big budget video game. Well, Aliens: Colonial Marines is finally here, and it’s about as fun as being raped by a facehugger.

On its surface, Colonial Marines sounds promising. Picking up were Aliens left off, the game follows a group of marines sent to investigate a distress signal left by movie characters Ripley and Corporal Hicks after the events of the film. The reality is a storyline of absolute zero consequence. On top of that, rather than adding to the mythology of the franchise,  it instead stomps all over the continuity of the films and doesn’t even bother to explain why.

Upon arriving in orbit over LV-426, the marines discover the U.S.S. Sulaco, the ship Ripley and Hicks flew away on at the end of Aliens and the same ship seen in an entirely different star system in Alien 3. But it’s back at the colony, for reasons never fully explained. What follows is barebones plot that only serves to let players follow in the footsteps of the Aliens film. The only problem here is that Hadley’s Hope, the main setting of the film and the primary location featured in the game, was blown sky high by a colossal nuclear explosion that could be seen from space at the end ofAlien just a few months ago. This is apparently no big deal for the writers of the game. Your marines, seemingly immune to massive levels of radiation, simply stroll on into Hadley’s Hope, finding it to look almost identical post-nuclear explosion as it did in the film.

This is all bad, but it gets worse. A reveal towards the end of the game completely eviscerates the continuity of the film series – a literal WTF moment so mind boggling that even the game’s main characters can’t comprehend it.  As the baffled marines ask how this shocking plot twist came to be, they are literally told “We don’t have time to explain that right now.” And the game doesn’t ever make time. The question goes unanswered, even after the credits roll. It’s a slap in the face to fans of the films, and makes me question whether or not the games writers ever even watched the movies to begin with.

I don’t understand it either, Bishop.

Now, this could forgiven (maybe) if Colonial Marines made up for its atrocious story through stunning visuals and intense gunplay. Sadly, this isn’t the case. The game, with the exception of one mildly interesting and suspenseful stealth sequence where you are stripped of your weapons, consists of running from point A to point B, blasting everything in sight. Occasionally players will participate in what I’m assuming are supposed to be epic and intense last stand scenarios reminiscent of the film. Instead, players are treated to boring segments that involve finding a safe corner and lying on the trigger until the game tells you to move on. The previously mentioned stealth segment and two terrible boss fights are the only attempts at diversifying the gameplay.

A big problem with the core gameplay is how devoid of intelligence the game’s enemies are. As viewers and fans of the movies know well, the Alien from which the franchise gets its name is the ultimate predator. They are incredibly stealthy, have the ability to climb on walls, are covered in razor sharp spines and claws, and have that nasty second mouth thing. The Aliens featured in the game must be another breed entirely, because, aside from occasionally leaping onto a wall, these monsters from outer space are about as dumb as they come. Their only tactic is to run straight at you and hope for the best.

Colonial Marines also suffers from an extreme lack of enemy diversity. You will fight hundreds, upon hundreds of the same brain dead xenomorphs. Only twice in the game will you encounter the terrifying and grotesque facehuggers. Only twice towards the end of the game will you fight a slightly different brain dead xenomorph. Sprinkle on top one segment featuring bizarre blind, exploding aliensand another handful of segments featuring equally brain dead human enemies in the form of Weyland-Yutani mercenaries, and you have every encounter in the game. The guns are even boring and uninteresting. I used the starting weapon, the pulse rifle, almost exclusively the whole game, finding the other weapons ineffective. Even the flamethrower, used to devastating effect at the end of Aliens, is underwhelming.

Fun fact, the game doesn’t actually look this good.

Once again, some of this could be forgiven if Gearbox delivered a dark, spooky and atmospheric setting to cover up the poor AI. Instead, we have what could easily be mistaken for an original Xbox game. Poor character animations, from the marines to the xenomorphs, take players out of the experience. Textures pop in and out almost constantly. The games lighting does little to elevate the games already dirt poor graphics. The result is an Aliens game that bears almost no resemblance to what makes the film franchise so enduring.

There is some fun to be had in the game’s co-op mode, if only because misery loves company. For fans of the film exploring familiar locations in Hadley’s Hope while discovering audio logs and the “legendary” weapons of the film’s fallen marines is fun fan service, but ultimately to call Colonial Marines a missed opportunity is an understatement. Gearbox has not only managed to contribute nothing to the Aliens franchise, but may have actually detracted from it through their sloppy and irresponsible use of the film’s continuity. Simply adapting the film would have been a better call. After the final cut scene rolled and the achievement “Game over, man!” appeared on my screen, I was relieved for all the wrong reasons. I wasn’t relieved because I had completed an eight hour long campaign of terror, suspense and blood pumping action, but because I could finally wipe the game from my memory and ignore its status as “official canon.” Game over, indeed.

NOTE: This review is based solely on the campaign and co-op experience played on the Xbox 360. I did not play multiplayer.

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Dishonored Review – The Power of Player Freedom

Player choice and freedom is an idea many video games try desperately to capture. Ultimately, the vast majority fail, instead only offering brief glimpses of what a game could be like if it truly let you play it your way.

Dishonored is not one of those games. In the dark, steam punk, rat plague ridden port city of Dunwall, developer Arkane Studios gives you, the player, incredible power. Better yet, they give you freedom to do whatever you want with it.

Players done the mask of one time royal bodyguard turned assassin Corvo. After a bloody coup that leaves the empress you swore to protect dead and her daughter stolen, you are framed for the deed and imprisoned. After a daring prison escape you learn of a resistance aimed at removing the conspirators who captured the throne. From there the game is a series of daring assassination missions on key targets, paving the way for the return of the rightful heir to the throne of Dunwall.

Every mission sends players to a large, open ended environment. Aside from a few clues, it’s up to you to piece together the best way to eliminate the selected target. First you have to figure out how to get there, which is where the real beauty of Dishonored’s gameplay comes in.

Central to the Dishonored experience is the Blink ability. Corvo’s first magical gift from the Outsider, Blink allows players to navigate huge gaps of space in the blink of an eye. Warping across rooftops or quickly appearing behind an unsuspecting guard can be done instantly, eliminating the slow and methodical pace many games with an emphasis on stealth suffer from. Combine the Blink ability with the open environments and multiple ways to reach and accomplish each objective and you have a freedom that is almost unheard of in video games, aside from pioneers such as Deus Ex.

A variety of tools are at the player’s disposal. Corvo, being a bodyguard, is skilled with both swords and guns, and thanks to a little visit from the mysterious otherworldly presence known as the Outsider, he isn’t half bad with magic either.  Stopping time outright? No problem for Corvo, magician extroidinaire. Summon a swarm of man eating rats? Easy. Possessing one of said rats? Done with the press of a button. Players can find hidden Bone Charms that provide small passive bonuses such as more mana regeneration or faster knock-out attacks, allowing you to tune Corvo to your playstyle.

Now combine all of this together and you begin to experience the possibilities, and fun, of Dishonored. Should I possess a rat and sneak into the Overseer’s office through a grate? What about Blinking up to the balcony, stealing the key from a guard and opening the door? Or I could simply waltz up to the heavily fortified front door and hack, slash, and shoot my way inside. The choice is yours – there is no wrong way to play Dishonored.

Except when there is.  My only real gripe with the game, aside from a plot twist over half way through and a rather abrupt ending, is that though the choice of playing the game your way is there, if you want a certain ending (of which there are several) your play style must adapt accordingly. Killing enemies in the game has consequences in how NPC characters react around you and the state of the already dismal Dunwall. Players that kill with reckless abandon will receive a much darker and more depressing ending than those who snuck their way past every guard and performed the nonlethal options for removing assassination targets. While the choice in how to play is yours, so are the consequences. If you want the best ending, you really only have one way to play the game; with the upmost stealth, essentially eliminating a large, and satisfying portion of the game – the combat. Sword play involves well time parries to be successful, making it hard to simply hack and slash ones way through large groups of enemies. When combined with one of Corvo’s magical abilities however, such as Stop Time, you can quickly become an unstoppable force.

Perhaps the true star of Dishonored is the richly detailed world of Dunwall and all the interesting characters that inhabit it. Upon your first encounter with the Outsider you are granted a strange and grotesque, heart. This heart speaks to you, showing the locations of bone charms and hidden runes used for upgrading your abilities. When pointed at an NPC, the heart dives deep into the characters mind, revealing their inner thoughts, experiences and thoughts. I spent at least an hour just learning the hidden fears and ambitions of random NPC characters, even learning some very interesting background information about some of the games more important characters. Players can learn about the world of Dishonored and the city of Dunwall by reading books and notes littered throughout the game. It’s there for players who are into that sort of thing (I am) but is completely optional. From just looking and exploring the game environments you get a sense of Dunwal being city of real history, now suffering from a crippling plague that is bringing the once proud city low.

Dishonored is one of those rare games that truly is a joy to play. It’s variety of refined gameplay and it’s simple but precise controls combined with a detailed world setting evoke a near perfect mixture of gaming nirvana that is part Deus Ex and part Bioshock. Arkane Studio knows that if you give gamers the tools, they will figure it out how to play the game themselves. It’s this trust and faith, to simply let gamers play the game, which makes the game great. There is no hand holding in Dishonored, no right or wrong way to accomplish any given task. There is only freedom – and all the fun that comes with it.

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L.A. Noire Review

After many years of playing as various renegades in open world games, whether it be New York City or the Wild West, Rockstar Games and developer Team Bondi bring us a new type of open world character, the honest cop. Part Grand Theft Auto, part old school point and click adventure game, L.A. Noire is an incredible cinematic experience, even if it does have some flaws.

Players find themselves in the shoes of Detective Cole Phelps, a rising star in the Los Angeles Police Department in the year 1946. From the get go Phelps seems a drastic departure from previous Rockstar game characters, Phelps is a 100% without flaw, justice obsessed do gooder, or so it seems for most of the game. The game centers around Phelps rise through the ranks, first starting as a regular patrolman and working his way up to the traffic desk and then homicide and vice. With the help of various partners through the game, players will solve murders, hit and runs, and bust drug deals.

The verdict of Detective Phelps? Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!

The game uses some incredible new facial recognition technology to render actor’s faces into the game, capturing every muscle movement. Several times while playing I encountered actors I have previously seen on TV, only recreated perfectly in the game. As neat as that sounds on its own, it also serves an important gameplay purpose. A large chunk of the L.A. Noire experience is interrogating suspects. Phelps will bust out his trusty notepad, and players will select various questions to pose to the numerous suspects found in the game. Once you pose a question to a suspect, you then have to determine if they are telling the truth. If you believe they are not hiding anything, you select the truth option. If you believe they are holding something back, but you don’t have any evidence to support your claim, you select doubt. Finally if you do have evidence to contradict what the suspect says, you select lie. The basis on which you make these accusations rest solely on the suspects facial expressions. You have to watch closely as suspects give their statements. If your person of interest is constantly looking away, or scratching their head, there is a good chance they aren’t telling the truth. This great technology adds much to the gameplay and visuals of the game, adding realism to an already incredibly realistic 1946 Los Angeles.

Sadly, although I greatly enjoyed L.A. Noire, I feel like the game is incredibly hit or miss, mostly because all in all there is actually very little game here. L.A. Noire more closely resembles an interactive movie. Besides the interrogation gameplay mechanic, the detective work is broken down into driving around town, looking for clues, fist fights, chasing suspects, and the occasional gunfight. The shooting segments are almost identical to GTA or Red Dead, and while fun, don’t offer anything new. Chasing suspects is not as exciting as it sounds, as players just hold down the right trigger and run after the fleeing individual. Much of the game is scripted, and involves you chasing suspects on foot or by car until the suspect stops or crashes. The simplistic fist fighting segments are interesting and help break up the action, but once again nothing incredible. Driving from crime scene to crime scene represents the largest chunk of L.A. Noire’s gameplay, and this is all optional as you can instruct your partner to drive you from destination to destination. The next biggest chunk of gameplay is searching for clues, which involves you walking around an area until your controller vibrates and then looking at various items of interest.

Surveying the scene of the crime

The game has realistic visuals, incredible acting, awesome cinematography, great writing, and a story that keeps you in the deep in the detective experience. However, I feel like more could have been done with some aspects of the game, especially the crime scene investigation segments. If you are a fan of cinematic, story driven games and are looking for a cool crime thriller, check this game out. If you are easily bored and don’t want to be staring at an in game notebook for several hours, best skip this one.

DO play this game

To experience a great story

To be immersed in a realistic 1940’s world

To try your hand at detective work

DO NOT play this game

To have crazy fun in an open world sandbox game

Expecting over the top shoot outs and action sequences

If you don’t like lots of dialogue

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Mortal Kombat Review

Mortal Kombat has really impressed me. I had only a vague familiarity with the series having only played Mortal Kombat 2 maybe twice at a skating rink. I felt like I was taking a gamble when I purchased Mortal Kombat a few weeks ago. Of course I had followed coverage of the game online and the more I saw the more intrigued I became, but I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy the game so much. It has everything a fighting fan could want and then some. Check out my video review for my full thoughts, plus the ever popular Mortal Kombat song.

Mortal Kombat Review from Cameron Koch on Vimeo.

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