May 15, 2007

XBOX 360- Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars

Real-time strategy games are usually more suitable for personal computers, but that didn't stop Microsoft and other game developers from giving it a shot on the XBOX 360. "Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II" proved that real-time strategy games can be just as fun on console systems as they are on the PC. Well, due to the overwhelming popularity of that game, another RTS game has been released for the 360 and it promises to be even better. That game is "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars".

The story, as well as the way it is presented, behind C&C 3 is one of the reasons for its popularity. Just as in previous titles ("Command & Conquer" and the expansion-pack, "Tiberian Sun"), the GDI and Brotherhood of Nod will be fighting for supremacy over the planet. The big difference this time is an alien race, known as the Scrin, has joined the battle. It is not completely clear why they have arrived, but many suspect that it is due to the increase of tiberium infestation all around the world. So not only does the GDI have Nod to deal with, but they must defend against this new alien threat as well. Overall, the plot is excellent, and the addition of the new alien race just makes it even more intriguing.

One of the most unique features in this game is live-action video. Most RTS games will have cutscenes with computer generated characters rather than real actors. Those cutscenes are typically much more visually appealing than the actual in-game graphics. "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars", like its predecessors, use real life actors to tell the story and relay your missions objectives. Michael Ironside (Starship Troopers; voice of Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica), and Billy Dee Williams (Star Wars- Lando Calrissian) are just a few of the faces you will see in C&C 3. The experience is certainly different from what most gamers are used to, but that's not at all a bad thing.

Now on to what really matters, the combat. The combat in Command & Conquer 3 is extremely fast paced, as units can be created and deployed within seconds. Obviously, there will be some of the classic RTS features, such as collecting resources and upgrading through the tech tree, but constant action is really what this game is all about. It's not uncommon to be fully immersed in combat even if you are only 2-3 minutes into the mission. Most enemies, on most missions, will be extremely aggressive and they won't usually give you too much "rest" time. In order to stand a chance, you must constantly be churning out units to replace those that you have lost. It's important to remember that each unit has certain strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, if you concentrate on building a single unit type, you will likely be decimated by it's anti version.

Players have always had two different forces to control in C&C; the Global Defense Initiative, which relies on brute force and strength in numbers, and Nod, which is more tactical and strategic. During a campaign, a player would be just going up against the other side. With only one enemy type, you basically knew what you were up against and could effectively prepare defenses. But, since the Scrin have joined the war, missions will undoubtedly get a bit more dangerous as well as complicated. The Scrin are a great addition to the game because they are so unlike the other two forces, both in appearance and in management. All three "military" forces will have their share of strengths and weaknesses. All you have to do is enhance those strengths and exploit those weaknesses.

Although the fast action and even faster troop creation are key factors, players shouldn't ignore upgrades and the tech tree. During the first few minutes of a mission, things will be pretty simple. Your newly created units versus the enemy's. However, as time passes, the enemy will begin upgrading his units and developing his base. Hence, you should be doing the same. Part of the tech tree is the powers tab. Powers are obtained by building various structures throughout your base. Powers will come in handy during a large battle, as they can tip the scales in your favor tremendously. Climbing the tech tree and acquiring upgrades is not free though. Usually, it'll cost quite a lot of resources. The best thing to do is start slow and upgrade when you can spare the money. After all, a "fully upgraded" base with no units to defend it will quickly become a "completely destroyed" base.

When you have had enough of the campaigns and want to some "real" action, you can take your skills online and go up against some real competition. That's not to say the AI (during the campaigns) was dull and ineffective. It's just that actual players tend to act more randomly than a preprogrammed enemy; thereby making the action even more intense & exciting. There are numerous match types players can create or join in on; versus, capture the flag, and king of the hill are just a few of them. The game also makes use of the XBOX live vision camera during online matches. Players may talk to both their allies and their enemies whenever they want. A small box with the video feed (just like in the campaigns) will appear and the player will be able to see your off-screen actions. The only conceivable advantage is the ability to distract your enemy with the video feed, rush in all your units, and then deliver the killing blow. Other than that, it is just a pleasant and fun social feature.

Controls are crucial to a RTS game, especially one that is so involving as "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars". The PC version is obviously much easier to use with the help of the keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately, the XBOX 360 does not have that advantage and the game controls must be compounded into the controller. But just like Battle for Middle-Earth II, the controls are easy to figure out and even less of a hassle to use. Most actions will be done with the A button, such as creating, selecting, moving, and attacking with the troops. The other actions you perform will usually be done with the triggers, bumpers, and the D-pad. Holding the right trigger will activate the sidebar; from there you can use the D-pad to select different powers, organize troops, create buildings, place buildings, etc. The biggest annoyance that players will notice relates to selecting and moving units. In general, the system works just fine. The problem is that the cursor tends to snap to any close units or buildings. Even though it seems to be a minor issue, you'd be surprised at how frustrating it can get; especially when things start getting chaotic. If it weren't for the easy to use controls, this game would have failed miserably. Luckily, the control scheme came out on top, which ultimately turned this game into a sure-fire hit.

Aside from the very original live-action videos, this game has a pretty strong graphics presentation. Each individual unit has a very creative and incredibly detailed design. Explosions and laser fire have very impressive effects, but that tends to get overshadowed when the screen gets overcrowded with units. For the most part, visuals are pretty smooth, having very few noticeable glitches. The frame rate will occasionally slow down when the screen gets cluttered with enemies, but thats not unheard of for a real-time strategy game.

"Command & Conquer" has always been a popular franchise for PC users. By extending its reach to the XBOX 360, it only stands to gain even more popularity. To put it bluntly, "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars" is a great game, and you would be crazy not to pick up a copy and experience it's greatness for yourself.

May 10, 2007

XBOX 360- Spiderman 3

The web-slinging, villain catching, wall climbing, web-head is back and is better than ever. "Spiderman 3" has been a long awaited game and now that it has finally arrived, fans could not be more excited. With it being on a next-gen console, like the XBOX 360, the Spiderman experience is sure to be better than ever. Surprisingly, many critics and game magazines gave this game about a 6 or 7 out of 10. However, many gamers agree that this game is definitely worthy of an 8 or 9 because of some of the new features and the awesome amount of fun the series still contains.

As you probably already know, "Spiderman 3" the video game is based on the movie, but in no way is that a bad thing. Obviously, the game will not explain the entire story and there will be bits and pieces of information missing, but thats not uncommon for a movie based game. Just like in the movie, you'll be able to play as "Black Spidey", go up against Venom, Sandman, as well as the New green goblin. And, just like in "Spiderman 2", you will face numerous villains that have no connection with the movie, which adds to the game's appeal. The story can get confusing at times, as you might not know where you stand with the story's unfolding events. Truth be told, Spiderman games were never much for deep plots, just lots of action. It might help if you think of it this way; the story was left up to the movie, while the action has been left up to the game. So if you want to understand more of the plot while playing, go see the movie.

Missions are aplenty in "Spiderman 3", making it hard not to find something to do. Fortunately, story missions and sides missions are completely separate; which is great for someone who just wants to speed through the game and just complete the main story. Then again, if you do like completing side missions and building up your skills, theres nothing stopping you from doing so. The side missions are great for when you get bored with the plot and want to do something different. Of course, just swinging around the city and performing those insanely awesome acrobatics will alleviate the boredom too.

One of the best things about "Spiderman 3" has got to be the sandbox feature, which allows players to go anywhere and pretty much do anything. Swinging through the city is just as fun in previous games as it is in this one. New aerial moves have been added, which makes each jump exciting to do and even more fun to watch. The city is simply huge and has plenty of places for players to explore. Exploration has its bonuses too, which you will come across while playing. While swinging from one place to the next, you will often be alerted to criminal activity in the area. You can stop what you are doing and help resolve the situation or you can just go about your business; its up to you. Some of the random crimes you will undoubtedly recognize, while others are new additions to spice up the gameplay. Exploring the city, climbing buildings, stopping criminals, and having fun is what this game is all about. So be sure to take time some time to enjoy the game, rather than just "beating" it.

The combat system in "Spiderman 3" is almost identical to "Spiderman 2". It's familiar, but it doesn't really bring anything new to the table. Obviously, there will be different combos and web slinging skills, but for the most part it's still button-mashing mayhem. During big fights, you'll constantly be pounding on the punch and kick buttons to take out thugs with your semi-powerful combos. Thugs won't be much of a hassle one on one, but when there numbers start increasing, things can get a bit rough. Throwing in some of your web abilities helps out during the bigger fights; plus, they're all fun to use. Use your web to swing an enemy around your head and then release him violently into a building. Use a web blast for a powerful "ranged" punch that will send an enemy flying back into the air. Use webbing as a rope and quickly pull enemies to you, then send them flying with a powerful kick or punch. One of the coolest things to do in combat has got to be tying up a thug and then hanging him from a street lamp, all the while you continue to beat up his accomplices. There are many useful, not to mention powerful, combos you can pull off with your web abilities and hand-to-hand maneuvers, so don't be afraid to try out new button combinations.

The newest feature in combat is the new spider-sense system, which slows down time and allows the player to dodge most attacks and deal out crazy amounts of damage. It isn't that much of a help during small thug fights because thugs are already no match for your abilities. But during boss fights, it's not a luxury, it's a necessity. Many boss fights will force the player to activate spider sense if he/she wants to stand any type of chance. If spider-sense was less required and more "optional", it may have come off with a better feel. The whole aspect feels like it is forced upon the player. The combat system as a whole isn't anything revolutionary, but it isn't boring either. Once you get used to the new spider-sense and get down some of the basic attack combos, the game starts getting much more enjoyable.

One of the biggest boasts about this game is the ability to play as the black-costumed Spiderman. By the time you do finally get to use the alter ego, you will have "almost" completely forgotten about him. But when the time comes, it is pretty sweet none the less. You'll get an assortment of new moves and combat attacks that the red Spidey does not have access too. Not only that, but the black Spiderman has enhanced agility, strength, and endurance. The black Spidey is definitely fun to play as, but like always, all good things come to an end. Be sure to treasure playing him for as long as you can.

From a pure gamers perspective, judging on only the games mechanics, appearance, and combat system, it isn't hard to see why critics gave this game a 6 or 7 out of 10. Truth be told, it does have numerous faults that can't be ignored. The graphics as a whole, although decent, seem to lack in terms of next-gen capability. Most of the buildings are nicely detailed and look quite good; however, practically everything else looks somewhat lacking. Spiderman himself actually has great details and a good overall appearance, but everyone else looks kind of, for lack of a better word, crappy. Enemies will sometimes be knocked through walls, yet the walls don't break. They simply sail through the corner of a building as if it wasn't there. Enemies will also get routinely stuck behind invisible barriers that stop them from moving altogether. Those are just a few of the graphical flaws and glitches that players will cross paths with.

Another noticeable problem is the camera. Controlling the camera while you swing around the city should be an easy task, but generally speaking, it's not. You will often find yourself frustrated as you try to position the camera (while moving) so you can get a clear view of the environment and everyone in it. It will get extremely irritating during timed missions, as every single second counts. Ultimately, the camera will be the cause for quite a few "mission restarts". It may take some time to get over the "camera angle anger", but once you do, the game will be much better.

Those are some of the main problems found while playing, and in any other game those would be colossal issues which could not be overlooked. The thing is, players are willing to overlook all of the games faults as long as they get to play as Spiderman and websling from building to building in search of action & adventure. Because Spiderman games don't come along all that often, players tend to cut it a lot of slack when the game finally releases. As long as there is some action, some adventure, and some good Spiderman "mythology" thrown into the mix, players will flock to it like bees to honey.

Overall, "Spiderman 3", for the XBOX 360, is a pretty good game. Even with its obvious flaws, it still ends up being a fun gaming experience that everyone can enjoy. If you thought "Spiderman 2" was fun, wait until you get a hold of this one!

May 01, 2007

TMNT- XBOX 360 Game Review

Its not hard to figure out which XBOX 360 games took time and patience and which ones did not. One XBOX 360 title that had a lot of potential was "TMNT", which is of course "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles". The amphibian brothers, that so many have loved for so long, have not had a video game appearance in quite some time, let alone a big-screen appearance. However, that has changed with the release of "TMNT". Unfortunately, there is some bad news. The game only seems to have been created because of the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, which is also titled "TMNT". Why is this unfortunate? Well, that's because "movie games" don't really give a good gaming experience. So does "TMNT" fit into that category? Honestly, it's a coin toss. There are some good aspects and some bad ones. You'll just have to see if the good outweighs the bad.

The storyline for "TMNT" seems to follow the movie pretty well. Bits and pieces are added here and there, but you'll see how it syncs together with the movie. If you're not familiar with the movies plot, heres the deal...

.....The turtles (Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael) are beginning to drift apart after the defeat of Shredder, their long time nemesis. It isn't long before each of the turtles is out on his own, doing things solo. During this "family separation", strange events begin unfolded in the city, which ultimately reunites the 4 brothers. Max Winters, an immortal tech-industrialist, has awakened ancient monsters known as the "Stone Generals". With their help, and the help of a few others (namely the foot clan, which has come under new leadership), he seeks to conquer the world....

"TMNT" can be seen as a toned down version of "Prince of Persia". Instead of focusing on action and fighting (which is what the Ninja Turtles are all about), the game focuses mainly on platforming. There will be plenty of double jumping, wall running, ledge hanging, gap leaping, pole swinging, back flipping, and climbing. As a matter of fact, platforming makes up at least 2/3 of the game.

Each turtle has special talents that will be used during platforming. If you come across a large gap, use Michelangelo's nunchuku helicopter maneuver in order to hover across. Have to climb a wall to get past the area? No problem. Use Raphael and his sai to scale the wall within seconds. Most of the games levels are actually designed for you to use specific turtles, but you may switch between them whenever you feel like it. The platforming doesn't seem to be as intricate as "Prince of Persia"; yet, it's not always a walk in the park either. Sometimes it'll be just a simple jump, while other times it will be a string of different jumps and maneuvers that you will have to pull off simultaneously. Even with the obviously flaws (such as the camera angle), the platforming in "TMNT" is a lot of fun.

It would be great if the combat portion of the game measured up to the platforming, but sadly it doesn't. Combat seems to have taken a backseat to other aspects of the game, which definitely has hurt it's overall appeal. Each turtle has his own type of attacks and his very own unique combo: 4 turtles, 4 combos. Therefore, if you get get tired of using one combo over and over, switch to a different turtle and use him for awhile; otherwise, combat will get boring way too fast. Besides the combos & basic button smashing attacks, you will also be able to use "team moves". When you use these "tag-team moves", another turtle will enter the area and perform a devastating attack with your help, which will usually take out numerous enemies. The tag team special is definitely the highlight of fighting in TMNT.

The combat wouldn't be that bad if the enemies were a bit smarter or tougher. To dispatch enemies, all you have to do is keep hitting the attack button. Most enemies are stupid, as they will run right into your flurry of attacks without a second thought. There will be moments when the turtles shine and the fighting stops being so ridiculously repetitive, but those moments are few and far between. Luckily, due to the frequent platforming, you won't be bombarded with an insane amount of combat at any one time.

The graphics and visuals in "TMNT", for XBOX 360, seem to be on par with todays standards. If they weren't, this game would have been even more of a let down. Although each version is good in its own way, it's the XBOX 360 version that rains supreme yet again. It has better detail, more textures, a crisper image, and dramatically better lighting. The detail & look of the turtles is nearly identical to that of the movie, which is definitely a good thing. Overall, the details and animations are simply excellent, especially when you see the turtles performing their awesome acrobatics. The graphics department undoubtedly made a big save for "TMNT".

It's obvious that this game was not created for the sake of gamers and their consoles, which would have made things turn out for the better (for the game at least). Instead, it was mainly created as a cash cow for the new CG movie. This cash cow may not have failed miserably like other "movie games", but in the eyes of many, it didn't succeed either. Dropping $50 on "TMNT" is completely up to you and your expectations for this game. But either way, it is still worthy of a 5 day rental; even if its only for the sake of playing “The New Ninja Turtles Game"!