Archive for April, 2012

It’s FREE-kin’ Sweet!

Brian and Stewie’s adventures in the multiverse. Peter versus the giant chicken. The greased up deaf guy. These are just some of the hysterical moments we think of when we think of Family Guy. Now, in its 10th season and with nearly 200 episodes under it’s belt, including several seasonal and movie based spoofs, it is time for our favorite family from Quahog to invade the digital realm in a way, well, you just might not be ready for.

Family Guy Online looks to immerse you in the world of the animated sitcom in ways you never thought possible by actually putting you inside of Quahog as its newest resident alongside the Griffins. Dubbing itself a Free-to-play ‘MMLOL game’ (Massively multiplayer laugh-out-loud), you’ll get to choose from four classes stemming from the main members of the family (for a small fee you can also unlock the ‘Brian the Dog’ class). There’s the Peter class representing your tanks, the Lois class representing healers, the Meg/Chris teenager class representing your brawlers, and the Stewie class representing your rogue class. And you can customize them to look as outrageous or mundane as you want with chances to unlock more costume parts by completing quests that tie directly into the show.

And the quests are really what will make Family Guy Online stand out. Helping various characters from the show that act as your NPC quest givers, you try to impress the almighty Mayor Adam West in trying to be the best Quahog citizen possible. And if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll want to do every quest as not only does it help you towards the overall end goal of the game, but each quest has unique dialogue performed by the actual cast of the show as well clips that set up each quest to let you know just what episode this task was inspired by. Plus, Adam West serves as your overall narrator and as long as they keep making Family Guy episodes, you can bet there is a good chance to see the game expand later on.

Not to mention, it wouldn’t be Family Guy if you didn’t have insane non-sequiturs. We were able to go hands-on with the first handful of quests available in the game (including trying to set the fastest time record for catching greased up deaf guy, or just smashing Peter’s collection of Trashmen records…we get it…the bird is the word) and after getting over the fact that we were exploring locations like The Griffin’s House or The Drunken Clam, there were literally hundreds of random things in the world to interact with that had nothing to do with the task at hand, like pulling a midget from a well. Just another normal day in Quahog for sure.

What might be the nicest aspect of the game though is that even with (hopefully) a ton of other players online is that the guys from Roadhouse Interactive, the main developers behind Family Guy Online, are trying to craft a personal experience for each player as well as a social one.

“So your first quest when you enter the game is to talk to Peter Griffin. Pretty easy, I know, but we want to hand hold you a little in the beginning. But when you talk to Peter, he actually gets up and out of his lawn chair that he’s lounging in, and talks directly to you. We’re doing some pretty amazing things from a technology standpoint in terms of instantiation for gamers, so even though there are multiple people in the world who may be talking to Peter there, you’ll still see him get up and out of the chair only for you. And this is important to us because the source material, Family Guy, is so character driven. So instead of him just standing there with a question mark over his head, we created a way for the characters to react and engage you specifically and we think that will help the gamer and their created character feel important,” says Roadhouse Interactive Co-Founder and CCO Ian Verchere.

After our brief sojourn in the virtual Quahog, we sadly had to bid farewell, but what we saw had us very excited. The class system is something that MMO fans will immediately be able to recognize and the attacks fit each character class perfectly as we fought off enemies that made sense to the world and quests before us. And when you mix a great looking, fully realized 3D Quahog with solid controls and the classic humor of Family Guy, I think it’s going to be hard for fans not to embrace this digital world when the open beta launches on April 17th, especially considering its F2P status.

Out of the Shadows

Mark of the Ninja puts you in the shoes (or footy pajamas) of a nameless ninja who has been chosen by his respective clan to be their hero in this dire time of need. As part of this process, he has been given special tattoos that grant him peak human abilities (think Captain America’s Super-Soldier serum) so that he can run faster, leap higher, and detect things that no ordinary man would notice. There is a price though. As time goes on, the ninja’s new power will slowly start to drive him mad and so he must complete his mission before he loses his humanity and his clan’s hope for survival is lost along with it.

Although the art scheme and side-scrolling game play will immediately be recognizable to many as Mark of the Ninja is done by the same team who did Shank and Shank 2, this project is more than just a departure for Klei Entertainment from that over-the-top run and gun style, it’s a whole new way of life.

“The genesis of the game really came out of the fact that as an archetype, especially for a stealth game, the fictional construct of the ninja is so rich. But there aren’t actually any ninja games about being a ninja. There’s Tenchu, which came out 14 years ago, and that’s it. A lot of the other ninja games are crazy, over the top action, very much like Shank. And that’s fine and those games are good in their regard, but we thought it was just like a squandered opportunity to not have a stealth game that is actually about being a ninja because you get so much for free from that archetype. You don’t need to explain a lot. You say ‘ninja’ and people immediately understand it and then you can just focus on layering all kinds of nuance, and atmosphere, and themes, and other stuff on top of it,” says Nels Anderson, Klei Entertainment’s Lead Designer on Mark of the Ninja.

And they definitely stuck to their guns with the stealth aspect. I was able to play the tutorial level and was amazed at how many options I had for dispatching potential foes as I hid in bushes, hung from tree branches, smashed lights with ninja daggers, leapt to rooftops with a grappling hook, and crawled through vents in order to ambush and take out some unknown mercenary force who were invading our dojo. The real difficulty of the game seems to come in just making up your mind and choosing a method to take down a foe, not actually figuring out what the method was. And should my choice fail and I was spotted, the advantage was quickly lost and more often than not I was cut down, as ninja stars will typically lose to automatic rifle fire.

The most impressive part of the Mark of the Ninja though may have been how easy it was to lay out those possible paths to my end goal once I got used to the controls due to the feedback I got as a player.

“We wanted all the stealth mechanics to be very, very clear. So, the game isn’t about figuring out what’s going on. ‘Am I concealed? Did that enemy detect this?’ and we didn’t want some awkward analog mechanic or something like that. We wanted to make sure it was obvious. Not ham-fisted beat you over the head obvious. But very clear, very usable, so your surroundings become another tool you have in your arsenal. So the character himself, his appearance completely changes. When you’re in light, when you’re exposed, you can see the colors and detail of the character, but when you’re in darkness, he’s all black with white outlines and red highlights. So you know, just from looking at your character that you’re concealed and safe or vulnerable and exposed and need to get somewhere else,” mentioned Anderson.  

Being able to “see” through doors, see how far the sound of my footsteps would echo, and the clear differences laid out between being in shadow and being in the light made the game play that much more enjoyable.

All in all, it was great that I truly felt like a ninja, more so than in any other game I’ve played in a very long time, as Mark of the Ninja seems to have found that sweet spot of giving you just enough action and just enough puzzle-like challenge and exploration as you figure out enemy positions and work to remove them or avoid them altogether. I am definitely looking forward to tossing some more smoke bombs and shuriken when Mark of the Ninja is released this summer on XBLA.

Fight for Right with the Might of the Dragon

The 80s were a time when the groundwork for many of today’s great gaming franchises and genres was laid out. This era of 8-bit goodness is what galvanized many of us gamers into becoming the hardcore players of today and still inspires many developers and publishers on the creative side. And one of those classic genres that is still emulated even now is the side-scrolling beat ‘em up. And one of the best of that era was the original Double Dragon.

But even as the side-scrolling beat ‘em up has continued moving ahead, the Double Dragon franchise never moved past the early 90s and so for many of us, a nostalgic piece of our childhood has remained there, never updated or revamped like many other classic franchises of the era. Until now.

At PAX East 2012, we were able to go hands-on and play the first two stages for Double Dragon: NEON, an overdue re-launching of that classic franchise being spearheaded by Majesco Entertainment and WayForward Technologies. This game isn’t just a spruced up port of those original Double Dragon games on the NES and in the arcade though. The best way to describe what we saw overall was a blending of those original beat ‘em ups with some over the top elements from something like Big Trouble in Little China including a spaceship and Marian being strung up in a Kim Cattrall like pose after her kidnapping.

In all this, the game will look to pay homage to those original games while mixing in some tongue-in-cheek 80s humor and references that will make all children of the 80s smile a little bit. You’ll see it in everything from the art style to the high-five co-op mechanic (more on that in a bit). And there are a lot of things that do get carried over from the original games to appeal to the old-school fan.

From the game starting with Marian getting punched in the gut and getting carried off by random thugs, to Abobo being the first boss you face, and Linda still cracking her whip, which you can in turn pick up and use against other foes, old-school fans will hit a lot of recognizable beats before the story starts to take a new direction with the new main antagonist, Skullmageddon. My only concern is that newcomers to the series may immediately see the art style that tries to blend those yesteryear layouts with today’s sensibilities and not pick up on many of the game’s throw-back references and pass on something they don’t quite understand.

In order to help lure in new fans though, the game will look to have the polish we’d expect from a modern title and feature a lot more complex moves and abilities that will take advantage of current controllers. The controls felt great, even in the somewhat early build we played, and a series of new and more involved combos allowed for juggling enemies like never before. There is also a new abilities bar that, although not active in our demo, is supposed to allow you to customize your own 80s mix-tape cassette with a variety of Double Dragon inspired powers like throwing fireballs.

I think a key that will appeal to fans old and new though will be the co-op, or as the guys from Majesco prefer, “bro-op”. Supporting both local and online 2-player co-op, where players can take on the roles of the brothers Jimmy and Billy Lee, the game has added mechanics to try to stress that NEON, much like the original arcade games, is best played with a friend. And in that, we get another popular 80s reference being worked into the game, the high-five. Although the animation right now may not be the most masculine of maneuvers by the Lee brothers, there is actually a key strategic element to this as depending on what direction you hit the right joystick to initiate the high-five, you can share health or your ability meter to help your friends stay in the game.

When we were done with the demo, I have to admit I was pretty impressed. As a side-scrolling beat ‘em up, the game handled very well and in terms of staying true to the tone of Double Dragon, I think NEON is a fine successor to bring the series back into the limelight. Now, it’s just a matter of seeing what final product looks like come this summer on XBLA and PSN.

The Son of Sparda Returns

It has been over a decade since Devil May Cry smashed its way onto the gaming scene with fast paced, highly stylized action sequences, and introduced us all to our favorite half-demon, half-human, Dante, with his dual pistols and giant sword. And in honor of the new game that is supposed to launch later this year, Capcom has decided to bundle together the first three chapters of Dante’s video game life and give us the Devil May Cry: HD Collection.

Now, the name obviously denotes that this collection sees the first three games get a new coat of paint and now can all be played in stunning HD graphics. But aside from this, Capcom has also introduced some extra behind the scenes bonus content for the diehard fan base and almost 100 achievements/trophies between the three games that should keep all you completionists out there busy long into the night.

Unfortunately, since the game is mostly just a port though, we also get to see many of those last-generation games’ flaws. Compared to what we’ve gotten in this current console generation, Dante has not aged well at all. The cameras, the controls, and a lot of other very basic elements that may have been on par 10 years ago, are now null and void. Not to say they make the game unplayable, but anyone who hoped to use this as a way to catch up on the series incase you missed a title here or there may be in for a rude awakening and it may take even those who played the games the first time around a little while longer to re-adjust than they might expect.

But once you do get used to it again, all the great action and things that made this series great to begin with will rise up. The style meter, Devil Trigger, combo and mid-air attacks, and Devil Arms are all right where you left them and so if you’re looking for an excuse to replay these games, this is it. Not to mention that with the suggested retail price of $40 for the disc, you’re looking at less than $15 per game, which is the same as a XBLA or PSN title and Dante, even an older, less cutting-edge Dante, is still worth that much. So, even though it may show its age compared to what we’ve become used to, if you are a diehard fan of Devil May Cry or a newcomer looking to see what it’s all about, this is a solid time killer that is worth its price of admission.

SUMMARY: Although the games may not have aged as well as hoped, fans of the series are still going to be getting their money worth with the convenience of having three games on one disc, nearly 100 achievements, and some behind the scenes bonus content.

  • THE GOOD: HD graphics, achievements, bonus content, and all for less than $15 per title
  • THE BAD: Technically speaking, none of the games have held up as well as we may have hoped
  • THE UGLY: My fighting ability according to the style meter

SCORE: 7.0

Devil May Cry: HD Collection is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.

Back to the Beginning

If there is one thing the Resident Evil series is good at, it’s embracing its past and squeezing every possible scenario out of it to continue fleshing out the back-story for this beloved series. With that idea in mind, Capcom gives us Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City. Taking place at the same time as Resident Evil 2, you play as one of six members of Umbrella’s elite hit squad called the U.S.S. (Umbrella Security Service) whose sole task is to ensure that any illegal incidents that could shine a bad light onto Umbrella never come to surface. And Raccoon City is as bad as it gets. So you’ve been covertly inserted into the city to make sure the B.O.W.s do their job and no survivors or information get out before things in Raccoon are cleaned up.

For as much good as RE: ORC does at times, it does just as much bad unfortunately. There are seven campaign missions that you can play with up to three friends online, but the fact there is no option for a local split-screen campaign or versus modes is a big fault in my book. The story mode lacks a lot of the character development and overall depth that we’re used to seeing, but it still feels really fun to progress through this special mission as this badass unit and take down all these zombies and creatures that we’ve seen in previous titles, like Lickers or Hunters, with controls that are more suited to the action game this is clearly trying to be. Of course, some hardcore fans may not enjoy the fact this game distances the series from its survival-horror roots, but I had a lot of fun with it and so was able to forgive them for going off the reservation this time around.

The game also has six very different main characters or classes, which gives you a nice bit of variety if you want to try them all out. Unfortunately, the game only supports four players at a time in campaign and four-on-four matches in versus though. And having more people allowed to play would definitely be the way to go because if you see how often the friendly A.I. suicides itself in the campaign, you’ll want as many of your friends around as possible.

The controls are also hit or miss. While the gunplay is very good, with dozens of weapon and power unlockables and upgrades, the cover system is flawed due to it not being button prompted, but is just initiated whenever you press up against a flat surface. The melee combat is also solid as you perform character specific combos, and if you have enough energy, a character specific execution move that can instantly take out your opponents. There is also a running tackle though that makes no sense because it really does no damage and if you miss your target, it takes so long for your character to get back up that you’re nothing but a sitting duck.

The clear saving grace for this game though is the multiplayer. Four different modes that pit you not only against another team, but also random B.O.W.s and zombies in each level. Think of them as the ultimate level hazards. The four modes include your standard team deathmatch, a ‘Heroes’ mode where you pick a classic character from the series up to this point and you can keep respawning until all four heroes have been killed once, a ‘Biohazard’ mode which is your basic capture the flag, and a ‘Survival’ mode where you have to beat back the enemy team and various creatures as you wait for a helicopter to extract you. What’s most fun about ‘Survival’ is there is only one helicopter and only four seats available so half the players will lose and often there will be a mix and match of teams that make it out as once that helicopter lands, it is every man for himself.

When all is said and done, I think a lot of third-person shooter fans and Resident Evil fans will enjoy what Operation Raccoon City is trying to do with a really fun multiplayer and a decent campaign that is worth a couple of quick playthroughs. The game looks and sounds great, although I still can’t believe Capcom didn’t come up with more than a handful of zombie skins, and most importantly is fun more often than not. Some more polish on the controls, ally A.I., and a local multiplayer option would have definitely kicked this game up a notch, but as is, it is worth a look to fans of shooter multiplayer modes and Resident Evil.

SUMMARY: Another unique look at the events of the original Resident Evil outbreak combined with a fun and inventive multiplayer should help Resident Evil fans look past the sometimes clunky controls and poor ally A.I.

  • THE GOOD: Fun multiplayer modes and a unique take on the classic Resident Evil story
  • THE BAD: Poor ally A.I., no local multiplayer options, and clunky controls
  • THE UGLY: That Capcom is still using the same five zombie skins since the series launched 16 years ago

SCORE: 7.0

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.


We can tell you the serial number on the trash compactor Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie fall into on the first Death Star. We can give you weapon specs comparison between an A-Wing and an X-Wing. We know Han shot first. We are the diehard fans of Star Wars and many of us have been waiting for the ultimate gaming experience that will give us the level of immersion we desire into our favorite sci-fi universe. Unfortunately, this is not the Kinect game we are looking for.

Kinect Star Wars is best described as a series of party atmosphere mini-games with a Star Wars theme. The main Jedi Destiny campaign does offer a bit more length and a deeper story than the other modes at least, where you play as a Jedi Padawan to a long forgotten about Jedi Master between Episodes I and II. You can wield force powers, handle a lightsaber, ride speeder bikes, and serve as a gunner in space battles.

The idea of all these things are phenomenal, and had a full game been developed around them I could see this actually being a memorable Star Wars game. Instead, you succumb to a bevy of gimmicks that make you feel less like a Jedi and more like Bantha Poodoo. Slow, deliberate movements are required to use your lightsaber, instead of the fast frantic action we’re used to seeing, and there is almost no need to use the force aside for a handful of moments that feel like button prompt events except you’re waving your arms. The story for the main campaign was solid, but aside for the first-person on-rails space missions that might give you flashbacks to games like X-Wing vs TIE Fighter, you could never really get into a rhythm with the motion controls.

The other modes in Kinect Star Wars don’t fare much better though for the most part. The Podracing campaign only has six races in it, and although it features many familiar faces that Episode I fans will immediately recognize, the motion controls are overly sensitive. I understand that Podracing is supposed to be difficult, but you try holding your arms straight out for a 12-minute race on Coruscant or for ten minutes in Cloud City and then see how well you can steer.

The Duel of the Fates mode is even more bare bones than the Podracing though. The entire mode is only five battles with only two of which actually being worth mentioning where you can face off against Count Dooku and Darth Vader himself in Cloud City. And this may be the most gimmicky of all as the entire time all you’re doing is blocking easily telegraphed moves and waiting for an opening to strike yourself. Flailing around has never felt so crummy.

There were a couple of fun modes that I’m sure could liven up a party if given the chance and should everyone love Star Wars. The Rancor Rampage mode is basically like playing old-school Rampage in full 3D and as a Rancor. You can bulrush buildings, eat Stormtroopers, throw droids across the map, and more. This mode was also relatively responsive due to the simple movements necessary really to wreak havoc across the four maps and two modes you could play this in.

The final game mode that seemed to work was Galactic Dance-Off. Yes, now you too can be a slave girl in Jabba’s palace or see who would win the epic dance-off in the Carbonite Freezing Chamber between Lando and Han to such classics as “I’m a Princess in a Battle” (set to Christina Aguilera’s ‘Genie in a Bottle’) or “I’m Han Solo” (set to Jason Derulo’s ‘Ridin’ Solo’). It’s really just Dance Central set to a dozen or so Star Wars song spoofs, but it actually worked well and had me and my friends laughing hysterically as we proceeded to make complete nerfherders of ourselves.

At the end of the day though, this is not what Star Wars fans want. It may appeal to small children on some level with the couple of modes that work, but there is really no depth or long-lasting appeal to anyone over the age of ten. Some of the modes can be entertaining and the main Jedi Destiny campaign story has some potential, but gimmicks and poor game play hold this back. Not to mention, I think a lot of us are sick of stories that are told during or before the prequels. For many of us, the original expanded universe took place after Return of the Jedi. Grand Admiral Thrawn anyone? At the end of the day, I think we’d all be better off just retreating to Dagobah than devoting any serious time to this game.

SUMMARY:  This is not the Kinect game you’ve been looking for. A cute array of mini-games and a decent length main campaign could make this a fun party game with a Star Wars theme, but if you were looking to finally feel like a Jedi, you might want to stick to the bathrobe and flashlight a little while longer.

  • THE GOOD: Some modes provide a party game atmosphere with a Star Wars theme
  • THE BAD: Not the hardcore experience most Star Wars fans really wanted
  • THE UGLY: The very existence of spoofed pop songs with a Star Wars skew

SCORE: 5.0

Kinect Star Wars is a Xbox 360 exclusive. 

Dust to Dust

Whenever we think of the apocalypse nowadays, it always seems to be vampires ruling the Earth, the dead rising from the grave, or nuclear fallout, and the various problems that would then result from surviving any of those hellish fates for the planet. But what if the biggest problem you would find yourself facing is your fellow man?

Driven to the brink of madness like starving dogs fighting over a single slab of meat, I Am Alive is an interesting glimpse at human nature as you play as Adam, a man who was stranded on the other side of the country when an event happened that shook humanity to its core and after a year of traveling on foot, has finally come home to look for his family. What’s most interesting about I Am Alive is that what happened before doesn’t really matter as your primary concern is dealing with its effects on the environment you find yourself working through now. Never specified, whatever triggered the apocalypse has pushed what’s left of humanity to their baser natures and your primary enemy has become other survivors, and the dust from the fallout of whatever cracked the earth in two.

The atmosphere that I Am Alive portrays hits you like a ton of bricks from the second you take over as Adam. Dark, bleak, and desolate, even the tutorial may make you want to give up hope. But, as you press on, you’ll come across other survivors as you search for your family. Some folks are friendly, and some not so much. And then there are others still who won’t attack you unless provoked and you have to choose whether a confrontation may be worth what they are hiding.

Once you peel back the layers of atmosphere though, you begin to realize that I Am Alive is a very bare bones game. The graphics are barely worthy of the last generation of consoles, never mind this one, and the combat is more like an intricate puzzle than something you would expect in a survival game. Many situations play out where you have four enemies encircling you and only two bullets. A surprise attack with your machete could take out one, but that still leaves one unaccounted for. At first this requires some fast thinking and faster trigger work, but once you realize there is no real A.I. and all the enemies slip into one of only two or three patterns and the game becomes repetitive and dull when it comes to the combat aspects.

The character development is also very poor and as sad and as bleak as this world you are in is, you have a hard time caring for many of the NPC characters and their simple fetch quests. I admit though, there was one shocking moment I had where I did feel bad for an NPC after I failed her. If only I had found a second food can in time.

The controls for the most part are a bit stiff, but you can work with them once you get used to Adam’s limitations. And the inclusion of a stamina bar makes a lot of sense and makes your exploration of this new world the most hazardous to your health as running out of energy while climbing a skyscraper could lead to instant doom. It also gives the game a bit more of that realistic atmosphere as Adam is clearly no Nathan Drake or Altair. Despite this flash of ingenuity though, I Am Alive’s strong atmosphere and interesting premise isn’t enough to pull it up to elite status everything considered.

SUMMARY: A wonderful job creating the bleak and oppressive atmosphere of the post-apocalyptic world you find yourself in, the combat and character development leaves much to be desired.

  • THE GOOD: Moody and atmospheric unlike most any other survival game out there
  • THE BAD: Repetitive, puzzle-like confrontations with poor enemy A.I.
  • THE UGLY: The last generation graphics are more depressing than the actual tone of the game

SCORE: 6.0

I Am Alive is available on Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PS3 (PSN). Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.

Return to Sera

When Gears of War 3 launched in September of last year, we were promised a string of high-quality DLC that would expand both the single player campaign and the top of the line multiplayer. Ever true to their word, Epic has delivered every step of the way and that streak continues now with the Forces of Nature DLC.

The final piece of the Season Pass offer (not to say there won’t be more DLC in the future), this DLC, priced at 800 Microsoft Points ($10) for non-Season Pass subscribers, provides five more new maps that can be played in all multiplayer modes, sees the return of the fan favorite Guardian mode, and includes seven new gun skins and four new character skins. Not to mention all you achievement hunters out there will have fun going after 10 more achievements for a possible 250 points from this DLC just like all the others before it.

For those who are unfamiliar with Guardian, it is basically a game mode where one player on each team of five is named “Leader” and the rest of the team has infinite respawns as long as that player remains standing. Forcing players to balance going on the offensive to try to remove the opponents’ leader, and to stay back and help protect your own leader, who is permanently marked with a bright star above their heads so both teams know where they are at all times, is the beauty of this game mode. Sometimes entire matches can be finished in five minutes, while other times you’re looking more at a series of 10-15 minute rounds depending on skill and play styles.

The five new maps are also something to behold and can greatly affect matches due to their stark differences. Three of them (Artillery, Cove, and Aftermath) are completely original while we see Raven Down from Gears 1 and Jacinto from Gears 2 re-imagined to the point where they are unrecognizable. Raven Down and Cove are extremely tiny maps forcing constant confrontation while Jacinto has many nooks and crannies to dig into and provide a natural formidable defense. Artillery is also much more spread out than any other map and encourages your team to move as a single unit to hopefully pick off your foes whereas Aftermath has a lot of high points perfect for sniping.

The skins are also nice touches and I know a great many people were thrilled to see Mechanic Baird as there were sometimes entire teams of Delta’s resident wise-guy as I was playing. Along with this, Commando Dom (best described in the Gears novels), Savage Grenadier Elite, and Savage Hunter were also included in the skins.

So how does this latest Gears DLC compare to those that have come before it? Quite simply, it provides the same level of quality we’ve come to expect from Epic with the Gears franchise. There were, however, a couple of Day 1 glitches that popped up in the post-game stat tracking, but I’m sure that’ll be patched sooner rather than later and really doesn’t take away from the overall game play experience. So, if you are a fan of Gears of War and find yourself easily sucked into online match after match, much like yours truly who kept saying ‘just one more’ until 5AM yesterday evening (morning?), then this is easily a must have.

SUMMARY: With new and re-imagined maps, the return of Guardian mode, and some new weapon and character skins, the Forces of Nature DLC maintains the streak of high-quality DLC that Epic has already delivered to us for Gears of War 3.

  • THE GOOD: Return of classic Guardian mode
  • THE BAD: Day 1 stat tracking glitches
  • THE UGLY: This is the last DLC of the Gears 3 Season Pass

SCORE: 9.0

Gears of War 3: Forces of Nature DLC is an Xbox 360 exclusive.

Falling to pieces

The Harry Potter franchise is beloved by millions of people around the world. Movies, books, and, of course, video games have all seen the boy with the lightning bolt scar enter their medium and be met with success for the most part. And so with such a popular franchise, it was only a matter of time before our dear Harry joined the ranks of Batman, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars and was LEGO-ized. But does the conclusion to the boy wizard’s saga hold its own in this unique universe, especially when ported over to the new PS Vita handheld?

Quite frankly, this may be the worst game the LEGO series has put out there on the market to date. The only real positive that I saw with this game is that much of the LEGO inspired humor that is a staple for this series remains intact with its ample cartoonish embellishment in order to get points across without the use of voice acting and fans of the Harry Potter movies will surely pick up on all the key moments and giggle in delight no matter what your age. And speaking of the movies, much of the music from the films was licensed so at least you got a moderately authentic feel in that regard.

But after that, this game takes a nosedive like someone jumping off a ledge with the wrong broomstick between his/her legs. The first thing you really notice is the graphics do not really take advantage of the PS Vita’s processing power, much like every other port we’ve seen to the handheld console thus far, and this is especially evident in the cut scenes. It looks more like the 3DS version may have been the one directly ported over and if that’s the case, that’s a bad move for the Vita. This would make sense though if TT Games was cutting corners since the PS Vita version features touch controls, but again, like many games that also have console brethren and so also implement a full button layout control scheme for the Vita, the touch controls are tacked on and really offer no enhancement to the game play whatsoever.

And speaking of the game play, this is probably the weakest movie adaptation yet by the LEGO folks as unlike Batman, Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Star Wars, there is a lot less action in this game as much of the story is advanced by solving puzzles and playing mini-games. This may tie more directly into the movie franchise, but as a gamer it can get tedious quickly in LEGO form as many of the puzzles continue to be focused on a demographic under the age of 12, even if the franchise may appeal to a wider audience.

The biggest mistake this game makes though may be removing the online multiplayer features from LEGO Harry Potter Years 1-4. This is especially a death knell for the Vita version as the system’s highly touted connectivity is absolutely wasted here. So, at the end of the day, LEGO Harry Potter Years 5-7 is just another weak port of an already released game with limited scope to begin with and that maintains many of the problems of its console brothers, but they either become more evident on the Vita or forget to take many of the positive points of its console brothers along for the ride. If you’ve already bought this game for another system, there is really no point in buying it again and if you haven’t, this is not the system to experience it on.

SUMMARY: Nothing new in terms of game play when dealing with the basics of the LEGO series, LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 for the PS Vita is one of the more dull adventures set in a world crafted from the classic building blocks. Combine this with no multiplayer, tacked on touch controls, and the fact that the game has been available on consoles for months already, and this port is barely worth anyone’s time.

  • THE GOOD: Maintains classic LEGO games humor
  • THE BAD: No multiplayer, one of the duller adventures in the LEGO series
  • THE UGLY: Poor Harry’s scar is much more noticeable in LEGO form

SCORE: 3.5

LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS, DS, PSP, PC, and PS Vita. This review was done for the PS Vita version of the game.

Starting a Revolution

The Assassin’s Creed universe has become one of gaming’s most dynamic and fluid on-going stories as it explores history in a unique and thrilling way. Turning some of history’s most interesting personalities and settings into some of gaming’s most interesting sidekicks, antagonists, and levels, you never really can predict where they are going to go next until Ubisoft reveals the next step themselves. And now that they’ve pulled the veil back on Assassin’s Creed III, the questions have all shifted to just what can we expect next from a game that is being put together by the team who did AC1 and AC2 and has the best and brightest from Brotherhood and Revelations coming on board as well. Fortunately, EGM has some of the answers.

The first thing we have to talk about is the time period. Many have stated that the game takes place during the American Revolution and although this is true, it might be more accurate to describe it as Colonial America as the game will actually start in 1750 and end somewhere in the 1780s so you’ll see many events leading up to and post-war as well. There will be plenty of battles from the American Revolution, of course, as this wouldn’t be the largest Assassin’s Creed yet if they didn’t explore much of that in detail, but don’t be surprised if a lot of the fun is just trying to work your way through 1760s and early 1770s Boston and New York with a heavy red coat population looking to hunt down our newest assassin. Boston and New York will also serve as your two primary hub locations during different years for much of the game.

And speaking of our newest assassin, we finally have learned how Desmond’s bloodline made the great leap across the Atlantic. Connor, a half-European, half-Native American, will have to explore and embrace both his Native American heritage as part of the Mohawk Nation and his European roots if he is to overcome this new Templar threat that will have him working both sides of the American Revolution as he fights the Assassin/Templar war from the shadows. Part of him embracing his Mohawk bloodline will be in the form of the weapons he will use.

The first new weapon that fans will immediately embrace is the tomahawk. For those who prefer up close, brutally bloody moments, this handheld axe will fast become a favorite for many. There is also the bow and arrow that will lend a completely new element to taking out enemies stealthily due to the quiet nature the weapon. Although we did not see any game play with the bow, we were promised it would be there and that it would change how many approach missions as assassins. There will also be the return of iconic weapons such as hidden blades and there will be A LOT more guns due to the advancements in gunpowder over the years that Connor will be able to take advantage of if he can get his hands on a few. I’m sure the British can lend our new hero a few, no questions asked, right?

Another new weapon though that got most of our attention was the rope dart. Not quite a grappling hook, the rope dart can also give Connor some ranged attacks as well as really strike fear into nearby patrolling troops. We also saw it in action for one encounter, but it definitely let its mark on us. Connor was perched in a tree as a British patrol of about six soldiers walked by. Connor threw the rope dart into the chest of one of the patrolmen and then jumped off the branch of the tree still holding the rope, basically hanging the now dead red coat to serve as a warning for later patrols. Connor then leapt into combat with the remainder of the group and we saw some thrilling new counter-kills including one where he placed a rifleman’s head against his own gun and used his foot to blow the soldier’s brains out.

Now, I had mentioned that Connor had been in a tree when that sequence started and that is because many of your missions, about 30% to be exact, will be taking place on the frontier. Since much of America was still wilderness in the 18th century with just a few cities serving as colonial hubs that would later expand outward, it would make sense that much of the game has Connor moving through this untamed land. And since the game takes place over such a large period of time, you will see many areas in both winter and summer. So a lake in one level could be frozen over in the next so you could then run over it. And being in the Northeast, this also means a lot of snow for you to move through that affects Connor’s speed and stealth abilities, but was absolutely gorgeous to look at, even if it is more recommended that he try to stick to tree branches.

And since much of Connor’s free-running in these areas will have him moving through trees and over rocks, the AC team gave him the most fluid climbing mechanics yet as many of the foot and hand holds that we are accustomed to are no longer present and Connor will have to improvise on the fly. And with the frontier being 1.5 times bigger than Rome was in Brotherhood, it’s a good thing that Connor can climb trees to help get around more quickly in this massive piece of real estate.

Another interesting aspect of the frontier, and again continuing with Connor’s Native American heritage, will be his encounters with wildlife. Startling animals could alert soldiers to his presence, but skinning and killing them could also allow him to sell meat and fur back at the city hubs for money and I am sure several side-missions will center around this mechanic.

And speaking of city life, Connor will spend a good portion of his time here, too. More NPCs than ever before will be seen on screen in the hustling and bustling Colonial New York and Boston that will be in ACIII. There is also new free-running mechanics here as the chase-breakers from multiplayer have found their way into single player. Now you can dive through open windows and cut through actual building or apartment interiors when being chased to escape your foes, making this easily the largest Assassin’s Creed game yet, inside and out.

Mentioning NPCs reminded me though that Connor will not be alone in his fight. Some of history’s greatest characters will once again be getting the Assassin’s Creed treatment as George Washington and Ben Franklin will be mission givers in this game as you take part in history yourself with Paul Revere’s Midnight Run or take orders from General Israel Putnam at the Battle of Bunker Hill. And speaking of Bunker Hill and NPCs, the most impressive thing I’ve seen in games in a while was the rows upon rows of individually rendered and modeled British soldiers during the Battle of Bunker Hill.

When prompted as to how many were on screen at any given time, the folks from Ubisoft assured us there were over 2,000 British soldiers on screen at any one moment firing volleys of bullets from their 18th-century rifles as we moved through the trenches, trying to be stealthy in the middle of a war and not get shot by accident, as we approached our target, a British captain and high-ranking Templar official, who was assassinated in one smooth running motion as Connor took advantage of the chaos of battle around him.

When all was said and done, with everything that we had seen, I was quite simply in shock. The massive world, the new characters and weapons, and the setting were enough to knock my socks off. The new game play and combat elements the Ubisoft team had implemented along with working our way through the frontier were absolutely gorgeous to look at and if they are anywhere as smooth as many of the elements from the previous Assassin’s Creed games, then there is not a doubt in my mind this will be the greatest adventure yet. I just wonder how Desmond feels about all this.


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