Tag Archive: 2k


Best for business

Back in August, when I got to go hands-on for the first time with WWE 2K15, 2K revealed that the series would fall more in line with NBA 2K and feature a career mode for the first time. This past week, I was able to go hands-on with MyCareer mode for WWE 2K15 for about 45 minutes and take a look at life in the squared circle at three separate stages.

First, however, I must say that I was a bit disappointed I wasn’t allowed to play at all with the customization features for which the series is known. Of course, you’ll be able to do this in the final game, but “my” wrestler was pre-made. Although the couple of created characters we played with gave a nice overview of different hair colors, body types, and luchador masks, it wasn’t really the same as actually being able to dig through the creative options.

Beyond this, though, WWE 2K15’s MyCareer mode impressed me in a lot of ways. I began my journey as a wet-behind-the-ears rookie with a 55 overall rating. Without any pomp and circumstance, I was thrown into one of the seven rings available at a digital re-creation of the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, the company’s new home for training up-and-coming superstars.

And who was there, immediately barking orders and telling me how awful I was? WWE head trainer Bill DeMott. Now, Mr. DeMott is a very nice person, and I was fortunate enough to actually meet him at the Performance Center last week. But when you’re one of his students and you step into one of his rings, things change, and my created wrestler had Bill’s ire fall upon his head several times—and it was awesome.

As I worked matches in the ring, I received a one-to-five-star rating based on how I did in the and the show I put on for the crowd (if there’d been an audience besides good ol’ Bill). A match’s ebb and flow is also taken into consideration, so dominating against a jobber might not be best for business when you’re trying to tell a story in the ring. This made the new stamina bar (which I’ve now confirmed cannot be turned off) make a lot more sense, since it allowed my opponent a chance to get in a few strikes and provide at least a little bit of offense as I tried to catch my breath to perform my finisher. After the match, I got points to spend on my wrestler and level up his in-ring abilities, such as arm strength, speed, and stamina.

Once I was done messing around with my rookie, I flashed forward in my career and made it to the main RAW roster. At this point, I’d only been on the show a few weeks. It was immediately evident that no matter whether I won or lost, MyCareer mode would carry on and adjust accordingly. If I was in the midst of a rivalry, matches against other wrestlers weren’t as important, but they helped set up the story—a rival might interfere with our match or try to get in a cheap shot when I wasn’t looking. And even if I lost the match against my rival, I could still elevate my status in WWE and try to become a main-eventer.

Since the WWE had clearly invested a lot in me, though, in order to help elevate my brand, they wanted me to start a feud with an established star—and, in my case, I drew Daniel Bryan. I had the choice of shaking his hand to start a friendly rivalry or giving him a low blow. I gave him the low blow, which promptly started a “No!” chant led by my character.

I then flashed forward one more time to almost seven years into my career. By this point, I’d won a few titles, including the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and main-evented some pay-per-views. I was still wrestling at a high clip, but then Brock Lesnar decided to show up and demonstrate what he thought of me by F5’ing me in the middle of the ring. This prompted a Twitter feud between Brock’s advocate, Paul Heyman, and me, where I could choose to respond to Heyman via a couple of options—much like I had the choice on how to kick off my feud with Bryan. Meanwhile, in the ring, over the course of several weeks, Brock and I continued getting in each other’s faces—until finally, Heyman said the two of us would meet in a no-disqualification match at the next PPV.

Though I only saw a brief glimpse of MyCareer mode, it definitely feels like something that I could play again and again just to see how my superstar’s career could change each time based on decisions I made. Also, storylines you might see in real life started to unfold organically, which made it feel like I was watching actual WWE programming and not just playing a game. If MyCareer can give me this feeling for hours on end, WWE 2K15 now has a mode to elevate the franchise to the next level—and I can’t wait to really dig into it on the new generation of consoles.

It’s time to play the game…

Even though 2K bought the rights to the WWE franchise last year during THQ’s liquidation, longtime developer Yuke’s had already done a lot of the heavy lifting for WWE 2K14 by the time the deal had been finalized. This year would be a different story, however: NBA 2K developer Visual Concepts had the chance to bring a few of their tricks to the table and elevate the bar for the franchise alongside Yuke’s. So, it was with great anticipation that I got a chance to go hands-on with WWE 2K15 at the annual SummerSlam preview event.

Right from the get-go, I got the sense that 2K is trying to bring WWE in line with its other major sports franchise by giving players something the series has never had before: a career mode. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play this mode, but here’s the way 2K outlined it: To begin with, you’ll create a wrestler via the same celebrated customization system we’ve seen for many years now. From there, you’ll work your way up from the WWE training facility in Florida to the developmental territory of NXT to undercards on shows like RAW and SmackDown to winning lower belts to main-eventing PPVs—and finally, with some luck, end up a WWE Hall of Famer.

Longtime fans of the series should be happy to know that this is all in addition to WWE Universe mode, where you get to be the all-powerful GM of WWE programming and put who you want in whatever kind of matches you want. Both these experiences side by side could offer the WWE franchise the one-two single-player punch it’s desperately needed over the years.

But that’s not all we’re getting. I got a chance to get some hands-on time with the new 2K Signature mode, which follows in the footsteps of previous years where we learned about the Monday Night Wars or the Attitude Era. This year’s incarnation will tell the stories of celebrated WWE rivalries, including Triple H versus Shawn Michaels and John Cena squaring off against CM Punk—and I got to play the first match of that latter rivalry. As with previous years, classic WWE footage will help set up the matches that you’ll relive in the ring.

Once I was actually able to step into the ring in 2K Signature and Exhibition is when things got most interesting with WWE 2K15. The first major change fans will notice? The visuals. While some models were clearly placeholders (CM Punk, for example, looked like someone just put a wig on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in Create a Superstar), and parts of the arenas still need some touching up, the elements that were fully rendered and ready to go looked great. Cena, Cesaro, Randy Orton, and even Goldust looked unbelievably lifelike and animated as smoothly as the NBA players do in NBA 2K, so I can’t wait to see how everything looks in the final product.

The other major in-ring changes, though, came in terms of gameplay, with two new features that could rub longtime WWE fans the wrong way. The first of these is a new rock-paper-scissors-style early grapple system. In order to try to tell a more accurate story like those seen every Monday on RAW or at a monthly PPV, early grapples will be met with a minigame that starts with a button press, which signifies one of three hold attempts you’ll go for. Whoever picks the superior hold will have the advantage, and then both players will use the right stick to try to find the “sweet spot” and further progress in this new quicktime event. If you progress fully, you either escape the hold if you picked the inferior selection at the beginning, or you’ll do a minimal-damage move like an arm wrench.

The idea is that every WWE match doesn’t start off with a bunch of power moves (unless you’re Brock Lesnar). There’s a slow buildup to the moments that make us start chanting “This is awesome!” After two or three of these early grapples, business will pick up, and the action will progress like players are used to, with the full array of moves available to do damage. Personally, I didn’t mind the new minigame mechanic, but I could see how after dozens of matches, it would start to grind on some people. Thankfully, there’s an option to turn them off, though they’ll be set “on” as the default option.

The other new mechanic ties into the interface, which has also seen some changes. Wrestlers now have three lifebars, which drop from green to yellow to red—the last of which represents the best time to try to pin your opponent. You also have a percentage meter that dictates when you can use Signatures and Finishers. At 100 percent, you can bank a Signature. At 150 percent, you can bank a Finisher. You can have a Signature and three Finishers banked at any given time, though I’m sure there’ll be options to modify that as well. The last—and easily most controversial—addition is a default stamina meter that’s now included in the UI.

The issue with the stamina meter is that by the time you get to the latter stages of a match and are ready to finally use your Signature moves, perform an OMG! Moment like throwing someone through a barricade, or finally hit your Finisher and win, the stamina meter won’t let you do it. You need at least half a stamina bar alone to perform a given Finisher. And every regular move, counter, or just running around the ring depletes it. While it’s unknown if the stamina meter can be turned off, I sure hope it can, because it really ruined the pacing of all the matches I played. Yes, it does seem to fall more in line with the simulation style 2K wants to achieve, but I just don’t know if WWE fans want a pure simulation when it comes to wrestling. After all, the sport itself has the over-the-top quality of an arcade game. Moving the needle too far in the “simulation” direction could have unintended consequences, and many of my personal frustrations centered on that damned stamina meter.

There was nothing worse during my hands-on time than having three Finishers banked in the 2K Signature match between Punk and Cena—and then not being able to hit any of them because Punk was worn down. I’d have to leave the ring and walk laps around it—with the dunderheaded AI-controlled Cena slowly following behind me—until my stamina returned and I could get back in the ring, perform a GTS, and win the match. And in Exhibition mode, my opponent and I were just taking knees and catching our breath, yelling at the meter to fill up faster and helpless to do anything in the ring to further our cause.

Even with the ill-advised addition of the stamina meter, I’m more excited than not about WWE 2K15. Once all the models have a full coat of polish, the game will look better than ever before, and I’m particularly excited about the career mode. But the minor gameplay tweaks seem to give the game too many simulation aspects, and that could hurt the overall experience come October.

A not-so-Royal Rumble

It’s been a difficult transition from current-gen hardware to next-gen for a lot of the yearly sports franchises, but these titles seem to fall into one of two categories. Some series are taking the challenge head-on, while others are trying desperately not to rock the boat, with hopes of riding out whatever wave of momentum they’ve built up over the last seven years to survive their final current-gen entry.

WWE 2K14 falls in the latter category. Even taking events like a huge publisher change into consideration, it feels like the franchise is just ready for current-gen to be over and done with and is biding its time.

It’s not that WWE 2K14 is a bad experience. I still had a lot of fun with this year’s version of WWE’s annual gaming series, but a lot of its features and ideas seem stale, with little innovation in any of its modes. The same glitches and AI shortcomings that seem to pester the game year in and year out persist—Extreme Rules matches remaining counterfests where wrestlers just keep ripping whatever weapon they have out of each other’s hands and doing no real damage, players seeming to meld through the ropes instead of climbing over them, or character models looking like they’re floating off the mat when you go for the pin.

A perfect example of the lackadaisical approach taken to this year’s game is the WWE Universe mode. This option is so outdated that it still lists the Wednesday-night show as WWE Superstars, even though it’s now WWE Main Event and Superstars has been relegated to an Internet-only show on Friday nights. The only real addition to the mode this year is the Rivalry feature, where you can change storylines to force wrestlers to face each other—with varying stipulations—week in and week out. It’s really just a small customization feature that doesn’t do much for the experience as a whole–and serves to add more clutter to a user interface that’s already in desperate need of an overhaul.

Sure, it’s still interesting to create a character—or take control of one of your favorites—and put them through the paces of a year in the WWE and see if you can become top dog. But how about we expand this into NXT, the WWE’s developmental promotion? You could start as a rookie and really work your way up or learn new moves through a mentor, just like on the show. This could give us a chance to tell a much longer, more detailed story than we could before. And can we at least get the schedule of shows right? Yes, we can create our own, but let’s at least start from an accurate default.

While on the subject of creating things, I do have to say that while nothing’s really changed with the character, entrance, moveset, or arena-creator modes, nothing really had to, either. I can’t imagine these being any better than they already are, besides perhaps offering more options with greater detail. Hopefully, that will come with some of the added horsepower next year. The WWE series is known for having one of the best creator suites in the industry—and that, at the very least, remains in pristine condition.

Something that has seen some changes, however, is the story mode. Last year told the tale of the Attitude Era, while this year brings us 30 Years of WrestleMania. The major focus of this mode revolves around reliving 46 epic matches from three decades of the most dominant brand in wrestling, trying to pull off the same iconic moments that made these matches classics to begin with: Hogan bodyslamming Andre at Wrestlemania III, Stone Cold Steve Austin refusing to tap to Bret Hart in WrestleMania 13 (one of my personal favorites), all the way up to John Cena versus The Rock from just last year.

Hardcore wrestling fans will be able to recognize this is just an extension of last year’s mode, but instead of focusing on one specific time period (which also happens to be the shortest chapter here to prevent too much crossover), it draws from the WWE’s long history. It also conjures up a lot of memories of 2009’s WWE’s Legends of WrestleMania game—mostly early on—in regards to the matches chosen and the objectives given. It was like déjà vu; I had this constant feeling I’d already played half the mode before I even started it. However, it’s still tremendously fun to relive so many vintage moments, and it serves as a great learning tool for younger wrestling fans—or a trip down memory lane for older ones.

But there’s a lot more to 30 Years of Wrestlemania than just reliving the best matches of yesteryear. Another option in the mode is challenging “The Streak.” Here, you’re presented with two choices: Defeat the legendary Undertaker at WrestleMania, where his AI’s been amped up to near-impossible levels to offer you the truest test of your wrestling skills, or play as the Undertaker in the ultimate Gauntlet match against the entire WWE roster.

The Gauntlet match choice sounds much tougher than it is, though. Most combatants don’t really start to put up a fight until you’ve eliminated at least 25 guys, and the Undertaker recovers his health after every five. A score is assigned in either option, giving the entire mode a very arcade-like feel; it’s a nice change of pace from the rest of the simulation-heavy game. But unless you become obsessed with bettering your score, this mode sorely lacks any replay value. Even a difficult Undertaker can be countered after you learn his timing, and the Gauntlet match can take close to an hour for each runthrough of the roster, which is far too long for anything to be deemed truly “arcadey.”

WWE 2K14 is a decent entry into the series, but it lacks any changes that could help the franchise stay completely fresh and fun; this feels like a mailed-in effort before the advent of next-gen. The customization options we’ve come to know and love are still here to complement the most robust roster of old-school and current wrestlers yet. It just feels like the overall presentation and WWE Universe mode need to see the same spit-and-polish effort that goes into story mode every year.

Developer: Yuke’s/Visual Concepts • Publisher: 2K Sports • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 10.29.13
7.0
30 Years of WrestleMania will be a fun stroll down memory lane for older, more diehard WWE fans. Otherwise, WWE 2K14 feels like a mailed-in effort before next-gen hits, especially as the WWE Universe mode starts to show its age.
The Good 30 Years of WrestleMania is a great follow up to last year’s Attitude Era mode.
The Bad WWE Universe mode is starting to show its age; same glitches we see every year.
The Ugly Mae Young. Just because.
WWE 2K14 is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

With Great Power Comes Great Executions

The first Darkness game introduced us to young Jackie Estacado, a mafia hitman whose usefulness had run out on his 21st birthday. Just when all seemed lost, a dark legacy that had been passed down Jackie’s family for generations came to fruition as the two-headed snake, dark elemental force that is The Darkness took control, saving Jackie. Once word got back that Jackie had survived the hit though, his girlfriend Jenny unfortunately got caught in the crossfire of the target on Jackie’s back. Enraged, Jackie fully embraced the Darkness and its near omnipotent power and brought a bloody revenge upon all those in the mob.

Flash forward two years later to the start of The Darkness II. Jackie is now the Don of the mafia. With the help of estranged occultist Johnny Powell, Jackie has kept the Darkness under wraps for almost his entire time as Don. But there are people out there who know what Jackie hides and if he isn’t willing to satiate its murderous hunger, they’ll take it from him and do it themselves.

Much like the first game, The Darkness II does a brilliant job of storytelling, opening up with Jackie sitting by himself in a dark room, acting as narrator once again between chapters, recounting the adventure we are about to play through. And what an adventure. From the opening scene with Jackie sitting in an Italian restaurant (which you just know is going to go wrong because what self-respecting Don sits with his back to the door), the action is almost non-stop as Jackie uncovers a plot to steal the Darkness away from him while also fighting his guilt driven demons that haunt him from the death of Jenny in the first game. But terrific storytelling technique aside, there is so many new elements to The Darkness II that it’s almost impossible to compare this to its predecessor aside from how it pushes the story forward.

The first change you’ll notice comes visually. Using what they call “graphic noir”, 2K and Digital Extremes hand-painted all the environments you fight through and then laid the cel-shaded characters on top to really make the game seem as if the Top Cow comic book came to life. And there are no more telling moments for this than in combat as you rip your foes to shreds. And you literally rip your foes to shreds as the combat has gotten a complete overhaul too. I will say that it took more time than I’d prefer to get used to, but once you do, you’ll be tearing through your foes like a man possessed (pun intended, pun always intended).

The major new feature that was a tad difficult to adapt to at first is quad-wielding. Quad-wielding allows you to shoot guns in each hand as well as wield each demon arm at the same time. But once you get used to it, you can literally be attacking in four different ways at once with this. Include a new physics system that allows you to interact with the environment more and you can grab a car door and rip it off its hinges and use it as a shield with one demon arm, while picking up a parking meter and throwing it like a javelin with the other demon arm, all while you’re shooting through your door-shield’s broken window with a shotgun and an assault rifle.

I’ll give you a second to pull yourself back together after your head exploded from the awesomeness that was contained within that last sentence. And speaking of making your head explode, the new executions you can do with the demon arms are absolutely brutal. From the wishbone that tears guys apart right down the middle to more classic decapitations, Jackie knows no mercy.

Now, you’re probably thinking that this could get monotonous as time goes on. How many ways can you skin a cat and all that. But in that comes another new RPG-like feature where for every execution Jackie does you earn “dark essence”. Dark essence allows you to improve upon Jackie’s abilities and you can gain more essence by getting more creative with your kills and also eating enemies’ hearts (which also regenerates health in a pinch) or unlocking and then using a plethora of special moves.

As time goes on, you’ll definitely need to learn new and more harrowing moves to even the odds as your enemies start to get very creative very quickly in combating you. Yes, you are no longer just facing some mob grunt with spaghetti stains on his shirt as the A.I. has clearly been improved as well. The Brotherhood, the folks looking to take the Darkness from Jackie, is prepared. Along with having some nasty mumbo jumbo of their own up their sleeves, they are also armed with light cannons, grenades, and other weapons that can temporarily debilitate The Darkness and leave you wide open for feeling the pain.

But what kind of Don would Jackie be if he didn’t have a few friends? And one in particular just happens to be of the demonic kind. Unlike the first game where you could wield a small army of Darklings, now you are limited to but one little chaos-causing imp, but with it comes a bevy of new powers for him, too. From throwing him across the room as a distraction, to taking over control of him and gauging out the eyes of your enemies with his thumbs, this is no ordinary Darkling. But Jackie has some human friends, too, and there are going to be some tough choices for Jackie down the road that will really have an affect on things. But that’s all part of being a Don, right? Needing to make the tough choices? The bottom line is that all of the new and improved combat features fit very nicely into the game and offer enough variety that will keep you from being desensitized as you’re constantly splashed with enemy blood in a bevy of ways you didn’t think possible until playing this game.

There are a couple of small things that irked me the wrong way with The Darkness II though. For as good as all the combat is and as much as I wanted to really love the story itself and not just the way it is being told, Jackie himself gets on my nerves. He tries to be a pitiful character, but he is not a good guy. He killed people for a living before wielding the Darkness and now you expect me to believe he has a conscience and he’s depressed because his girlfriend is dead? The dichotomy of the character just doesn’t work for me and I often wanted to reach through the TV and smack him and be like “YOU HAVE AN OMNIPOTENT DEMON INSIDE YOUR HEAD AND ARE A MAFIA DON. STOP WHINING AND GO KILL MORE THINGS AND LIKE IT!”

Another minor negative is the demon itself. Mike Patton returns to voice The Darkness (Kirk Acevedo is no longer voicing Jackie, instead replaced by Brian Bloom) and the scratchy, almost gurgling voice of the demon is like nails on a chalkboard every time he screeches out a command. If you’re trying to tempt me into embracing you again, don’t try sounding like Krang from the late 80s-early 90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. I think they replaced the wrong voice actor there.

And speaking of replaced, the versus multiplayer from the first game is gone. Admittedly, it had its problems with lag and what not, but we’ve come a long way in four years and I would have liked to have seen what the versus multiplayer could’ve done now, especially with the quad-wielding and the fact that the game is a first-person shooter at its core. But, in its place at least we have the new co-op mode called “Vendettas”. And Vendettas is pretty sweet. Taking place at the same time as the single player campaign, Vendettas is its own standalone story where you can choose from one of four colorful characters who all wield a small piece of The Darkness and represent one of the powers that Jackie can wield himself. And if the single player campaign is an action drama, then Vendettas is a dark comedy and is a great change of pace from the main game. So much so, it feels like it could have been on a separate disk itself or as a DLC addition and it would have been worth it.

All in all, Darkness fans will likely have a field day with this game as the extra time between titles (four, almost five years at time of release) seem to have been well worth the wait considering the polish that this title exudes.

SUMMARY: Better A.I. and combat mechanics than the first Darkness, gorgeously painted environments, and the same ol’ omnipotent snake-headed dark force makes for one heck of a game play combination.

  • THE GOOD: The “graphic noir” backgrounds make the game feel like a comic come to life
  • THE BAD: Jackie isn’t the most lovable of protagonists and so it is hard to root for him
  • THE UGLY: The remnants of the poor cat your Darkling skinned to make a hat

SCORE: 9.0

The Darkness II is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.

THE BUZZ: 2K has released their first official trailer for MLB 2K12 highlighting their “My Player” mode.

EGM’S TAKE: The trailer shows a young up and coming middle-infielder in the White Sox organization as he moves through the ranks until his first major league at-bat against 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP winner Justin Verlander.

Along with the “My Player” mode, 2K is stressing their enhanced A.I. this year and having a youngster get schooled by Verlander in his first MLB at-bat helps stress that. Throw in the great commentary crew of John Kruk, Steve Phillips, and Gary Thorne setting the stage and the feel, even if not the look, of a MLB game is all around you.

As I watched this, I couldn’t help but think though that 2K needs this year’s game to do well so highlighting their strengths is a must as even with having the Xbox 360 all to themselves, they typically do not do as well both critically and sales-wise compared to the Sony exclusive series The Show. And with 2K’s contract with MLB coming up, there is a chance that both parties could walk away as 2K is tired of bleeding money, even after signing that fat contract with MLB back in 2005, and MLB is tired of the series taking two steps forward and then a step back. And without 2K willing to put the money into a better graphics engine for the game, fans will continue to gravitate over to The Show just on looks alone, as shallow as that may sound. But let’s all enjoy the rookie striking out for the time being and think happy thoughts, shall we? Pitchers and catchers report soon after all. The full trailer is below.

Are you folks fans of The Show or 2K? What do you think of the trailer? Do you prefer making your own player or just jumping into Franchise mode? Let us know what you think with comments below!

Originally Published: June 21, 2011, on EGMNOW.COM

A WAR OF THE WORLDS

WHAT ITS ABOUT: Set in the early 1960s, the world is under attack from an unknown alien force. As a member of the secret government organization known as XCOM, you must put together a crack field team to analyze and somehow subdue this threat to humanity.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: This franchise reboot sees a major facelift from the original’s tactical tradition. Not just a first-person shooter, XCOM will put your wits to the test in not only building and leveling up your team, but also how you act in the field. Will you capture enemy weaponry for personal upgrades later or turn them against their alien masters right in the middle of the fray? The choices are near endless.

WHAT RAY THINKS: Easily one of the longest demos at E3, I wouldn’t have minded seeing even more. XCOM has a strong, cinematic feel while mixing in elements of both Bioshock and Mass Effect. Weird and wonderful weaponry will constantly be at your fingertips while you command your units on the fly in the field and also dish out as much punishment as you can yourself from the first-person perspective. I can’t wait!

-Ray Carsillo

A Shock to the System

Originally Published: February 25, 2010, on Examiner.com and 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

I had stated in several articles that my anticipation for Bioshock 2 would bring me to tears and hysterics in the halls of 1050 when it finally hit store shelves. Unfortunately, when a game is surrounded by so much hype, there is always the possibility that the high you think you will have ends up falling short. That disappointment is part of the reason why I’m only getting to this article now. It’s not to say that Bioshock 2 is a bad game. It just wasn’t what I was expecting on my return to Rapture.

Bioshock 2 sees a brand new protagonist familiar to the confines of the intended utopia beneath the sea. Simply known as “Subject: Delta”, you play as an early prototype of the famed Big Daddies from the first Bioshock who is “killed” in the final days leading up to Rapture’s fall. Your carcass is left to rot in the middle of the streets of Rapture where you remain undisturbed for 10 years. Somehow, someway, you are brought back to life and are now forced to wander around Rapture searching not only for your lost memories, but also for the original Little Sister you were sworn to protect.

The first thing you will notice is that the graphics are still just as sharp as they were in the first Bioshock. There are moments where you will jump at your own shadow, literally, as the lighting effects cast eerie outlines of your own form against walls and floors. It sometimes takes you a second to remember, that Big Daddy shadow, a figure ingrained into your memory as an enemy, is actually your own, which only adds to the creepy atmosphere of the dilapidated Rapture.

In terms of sound, something the first Bioshock was lauded for, Bioshock 2 is just as strong. Heart pounding atmospheric instrumentals mixed in with classic 40s and 50s tunes provides a dichotomy that shocks your system more than any plasmid you may find in the game. Rounding out the great peripherals is the tremendous voice acting throughout. Whether a meaningless thug splicer’s grunts of rage and desperation to the pleas of your original Little Sister all grown up, the voice acting is some of the best in gaming.

The plot is brilliant, but there is one question that plagued me through the entire game. If in the original Bioshock, Rapture was falling apart as was and this game takes place about eight years after those original events, how has most of the structure remained standing and that there are still humans around, whose fate you decide, who haven’t succumbed completely to the temptations of Adam (the substance that grants you the ability to splice your DNA and give you powers)? I felt this little hole wasn’t explained as fully as it could have been and will just have to be chalked up to some of the mysteries and wonder of Rapture will just have to remain unsolved.

As you move away from the creative aspects of the game, you start to see the cracks in the proverbial Big Daddy’s armor. The gameplay is very good, but even on the hardest difficulty, which wasn’t that hard because of no real penalties if you die, I blew through the entire game in what felt like no time at all. Then consider that the game removed the ability to backtrack into previous areas you’ve explored as you move through Rapture. This sense of exploration and being able to go back to collect audio files or collect Little Sisters you may have missed was a critical part of the original Bioshock‘s gameplay. Rapture felt a lot smaller and more restrictive this time around, even with being able to go into the ocean for short intervals, than in the first game, and I refuse to believe it was a creative decision to draw a parallel to you being trapped in the Big Daddy suit. You also have to remember to quick save a lot more often because the game froze at several key moments and needed to be rebooted. That is a huge glitch.

There were some new positives to the gameplay though. Using Little Sisters to harvest Adam from all the corpses around Rapture was this game’s masterstroke and using new weapons like the Trap Rivet and the Mini-Turret to help protect them forced you to come up with new and inventive strategies continuously if you wanted to get the game’s best ending (there are six in total depending on the decisions you make over the course of your adventure).

And you needed to think up new strategies constantly because the enemy A.I. is impressive. You light an enemy on fire and they will seek out water. You hack a camera or turret and they will avoid it as best they can once they find it. And add in new varieties of enemies like the hybrid Big Sisters and the plasmid overloaded Brute Splicers and at least you can say there was an effort to amp up the difficulty.

One of the reasons why the gameplay was lacking could have been that the inclusion of the new multiplayer mode simply took up too much space on the disc. The only real knock on the original Bioshock was a lack of multiplayer, so 2K made it a point to include one with Bioshock 2. Unfortunately, I would just rather have had more of the single-player mode if this was the best multiplayer 2K could have come up with. Being able to have up to 10 player death matches, team death matches, capture-the-flag with Little Sisters, and territorial control matches, you have a very basic multiplayer system. The problem is that players cannot take a lot of damage before they die so many matches, although competitive, really don’t require a lot of strategy as it is simply more a race to see who can light who on fire first and hack the handful of turrets scattered about each level.

Bioshock 2, although it didn’t move me to tears like I had anticipated, is a very solid game. It does a wonderful job for the most part of adding to the history of Rapture and its collapse as it develops new characters while adding shades of depth to characters long gone from Rapture. The multiplayer seemed thrown together and more of a move to pacify critics of the first game than anything else, and I would rather have seen the space used for the multiplayer used to be able to backtrack in a larger single player mode. Even with a couple of knocks on the gameplay and multiplayer, Bioshock 2 would be a solid choice for a purchase, especially if you are as big of a fan of the first game as I was.

Ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Graphics: 10.0: The graphics push the Xbox 360 to its limits with shadow and lighting effects that you just do not see in enough games. The details of the deformed remaining inhabitants of Rapture are shockingly clear and the overall theme of this sunken paradise is as sharp as can be and is enough to earn a perfect score for looks.

Audio: 10.0: Voice acting is such an underrated part of games sometimes, but great voice acting helps to keep you within the immersive experience that many games strive for and Bioshock 2 succeeds on every level. Add in great SFX like the pitter-patter of a leak on your iron helmet and critical atmosphere-setting instrumentals mixed with classic songs from the post-war period and I predict Bioshock 2 as my front-runner for best sounding game of the year, no matter what else will come out in the next 10 months.

Plot/Plot Development: 9.0: Bioshock 2‘s plot is a worthy addition to the mythos that was established in the first game. Aside from a couple of plot holes that I’m still not quite sure about, Bioshock 2 helps to develop some of your favorite characters from the first game as well as introduce some great new characters.

Gameplay: 6.5: The enemy A.I. is spectacular in its complexity and how it reacts to your moves. Unfortunately, not being able to backtrack into previous explored areas, not being penalized for dying, not being nearly as long as the first game, and the freezing that takes place about once per level, really knocks this score down to a barely passing level.

Replay Value: 5.0: One playthrough of the story mode is really all you need, especially if you get the best ending the first time through (like yours truly). The inclusion of a multiplayer bumps it up a couple of points, but not many because the multiplayer seemed thrown together and clearly takes up too much space on the disk. I was very disappointed with this attempt at fixing the first Bioshock’s most obvious flaw.

Overall (not an average): 8.5: Even with the gameplay flaws and real lack of replay value, this is still a very solid game. The story is compelling and this is one of the most visually stunning games to come out in some time. I hope that the folks at 2K take a look at this game very closely and fix these new problems they’ve created in time for Bioshock 3.

Bioshock 2 is out now for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

-Ray Carsillo

Originally Published: February 23, 2010, on Lundberg.me and SportsRev.TV

This week I reviewed Bioshock 2 and Spider-Man 1602 #5 (of 5). I also featured actress/model Estella Warren as my hot chick pick of the week.

Stepping Up to the Plate

Originally Published: March 4, 2009, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com) and Lundberg.me

For many the wait is torturous. The gap between the Super Bowl and the beginning of baseball season is like a walk through the Sahara of the sports world in which basketball and hockey simply serve as a reminder of a once full canteen now vapid of nourishment.

Don’t fret, though, the gaming world has attempted to provide an oasis to fill our needs for the next month. Just released this week was MLB2K9 for all systems and MLB: The Show ’09 as a PS3 exclusive.

Normally, MLB2K sets up 2K sports for the rest of the year since they have coverage of all three systems and their competition has only the PS3. You would figure that 2K would attempt to provide the best gaming experience out there as they need these sales to get through the fall when they typically get punished in sales by EA Sports in hockey and basketball. You would figure.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. MLB2K9 is as sad an attempt at a video game as Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li was as a movie. 2K is blatantly taking advantage of the fact that they control the market during this time of the year as they are the only MLB title that reaches all three systems, a combined total of 97.29 million hardware units, which gives them a far more reaching audience than MLB: The Show, which only reaches the roughly 7.98 million American PS3 owners, which also happens to be the worst selling of the three main systems. (Numbers provided by http://www.vgchartz.com/ and accurate as of February 28, 2009)

Knowing they have the baseball game market cornered, 2K’s oasis is simply an illusion. This game has more glitches in it than New York City has potholes. While playing the game, I would position my outfielder directly in the circle censor to mark where the ball will fall only to have the ball literally fall through my glove. No error animation, no misjudging the ball, it falls through my glove and this happened several times a game.

And this is only the icing on the cake. The player animations are unrealistic and many stances and motions are recycled from player to player. The graphics are poor to the point that players look blocky and unrealistic, a problem that was corrected in the last generation of video game systems.
Even the menus on the pause and start-up screens are difficult to navigate. You have to go through multiple sub-menus before you find the game doesn’t even have the options you were looking for to begin with. Then again, that might have just been the difficulty in navigating the menu. After trying three different sub-menus looking for controls, I just gave up and played with the game’s defaults.

This game is an abomination and will sell well only because for about 75% of gamers out there, it is their only MLB option.

On the other side, MLB: The Show ’09. This game teleports you out of the Sahara to the French Riviera. And there are no French people around. That’s how good this game is.

First off, the basics are all covered. Smooth mechanics and animations, solid graphics, easy to navigate menus, and good gameplay. From there, The Show ’09 takes you above and beyond your typical baseball video game.
The greatest aspect of this game is the overall accuracy to real life. Every player’s stance, motions, and mannerisms have been emulated in this game to at least some degree. The batter’s hot and cold zones have been mapped out accurately and strongly enforced. If you connect with a fastball in one of your cold zones, it is a lot less likely to travel out of the ballpark than if one floated into your wheelhouse.

Add in a batting reticule that you have to maneuver to aim your swing and then watch it contract depending on your skill as a hitter makes offense a lot more challenging than in previous games.

Amidst a plethora of new features and innovations for The Show ’09, the most impressive easily has to be the one called “Sounds of the Game”. This is one of the most exciting features in any sports game to date.

The “Sounds of the Game” feature allows you to download 30 second music clips for everyone in the game. In other words, the music accompanying every at-bat as each individual player approaches the plate, every reliever entering from the bullpen, even hecklers in the crowd can be customized to your liking. You want an authentic Mariano Rivera entrance? Metallica’s Enter Sandman is there. You want Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline after every Red Sox game? Not a problem. And yes, Yankees fans, the Bleacher Creatures are available as well.

Of course, you don’t have to have it be authentic either. You can have Mariano come out to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell if you prefer. The possibilities are near endless and allow you to truly customize the game to your liking and give it an authentic feel you just don’t see in other sports games.

Even though MLB: The Show is far and away the best baseball game out there, it’s a stretch to warrant going out to buy a PS3 for this alone and that forces most people to end up having to settle for MLB2K9. This is really a shame because the only thing that MLB2K9 has better than The Show is their cover athlete. Tim Lincecum over Dustin Pedroia. I’m a Yankees fan, what can I say? I despise the Red Sox.

Whether you have a PS3 or not, both these games are out now and will hopefully provide you with enough sports nourishment to last you another month before baseball season finally gets underway.

-Ray Carsillo

Originally Published: October 14, 2008, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

With basketball season right around the corner as the pre-season has gotten underway, we take a look at EA and 2K’s continued slugfest for sports gaming dominance. Unfortunately, this would be similar to a highly anticipated Pay-Per-View bout you regret days later that you actually paid to watch because the most recent entry into these franchise’s respective libraries has finished off the bloodbath.

Traditionally the 2K games are very strong when it comes to basketball, and compared to their effort in the hockey realm, this is worlds better. The graphics are sharper, there are no glitches I can think of, and the pre-game movies of real game footage are a great touch. After that, this game takes a nose dive. Think of Wile E. Coyote when he keeps running off the edge of the cliff, but doesn’t fall until he recognizes there is no solid ground underneath him. That is what this game is. The game starts up and all the bells and whistles disguise it as a solid game, then you actually begin to play the game and you just plummet.

You end up being afraid to shoot the ball because there is no way of knowing what could or could not go in. Ridiculously impossible shots drop in for the opposition and you can’t even make a simple lay-up. It’s a frustrating experience at best. And don’t even get me started on the miserable defensive controls set up. If you miss a single shot you will lose every time because the computer will make a ridiculous 90% of their shots. Even with an okay franchise feature, all the bells and whistles make this a rental at best. What good is a franchise feature anyway with such horrible gameplay?

After another sorry entry from the folks at 2K, EA had a chance to deliver the knockout blow that would end what was supposed to be this heavyweight masterpiece. EA did not waste their opportunity. EA’s NBA LIVE 09 may not look as pretty as 2K’s offering, but everything else about it is amazing.

First, the newest and most amazing feature is called NBA LIVE 365. As long as your system is connected to the internet, your game will receive a feed every 24 hours updating rosters, player hot/cold streaks, injuries, and player development. This means that the team you play with will be as accurate as if you were playing with the actual team. If Tony Parker is more likely to pass to his left in a particular situation, you can bet it will happen in the game. Every shot you take is given a percentage of if your player is likely to make it or not before you press the shoot button so even if you don’t know anything about basketball, you know you had better not be shooting from three point land with someone like Eddy Curry (or anywhere for that matter).

Additionally, if you want to play a game from back in the season that happened in real life, maybe to give your favorite team a chance at revenge, it will use the rosters and hot/cold streaks back from that point in the season. All part of the new LIVE 365 package.
Even aside from LIVE 365 making this the most accurate sports game ever, the gameplay is solid. The controls come easily and quickly for even the most novice sports gamer. Defense is intuitive and you can call your own plays on offense. Free throws are difficult, but not impossible, and the overall feel of the game is just smooth. Add in a strong dynasty feature and you’ve got a winner on your hands.

The only down points are that the graphics aren’t as polished as you would like for the current generation of consoles and you would like a superstar feature possibly like in Madden or NHL 09, but the LIVE 365 feature is more than enough to satiate any diehard basketball fan.

You hear that sound? That’s the sound of Wile E. Coyote hitting the bottom of the canyon. Or if you’d prefer, 2K hitting the mat as they go down for the count.

*beep beep*

-Ray Carsillo

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