Tag Archive: third-person shooter


Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was nothing short of a surprise hit. Turning the ever-popular Plants vs Zombies into a third-person shooter was risky at best, and downright insane at worst. But the folks at PopCap take pride in their willingness to push their supremely popular franchise in different directions and see what will take root with their growing fanbase. So, when it came time to decide what to do next, they decided to turn things on their ear again and make the Plants the bad guys.

That’s right, in Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2, the Zombies are on the defensive. After the events of the first Garden Warfare, the Zombies have successfully conquered Suburbia, renamed it Zomburbia, and set about making it a perfect little paradise where they can munch on brains all day long. The Plants may be down, but they are far from out, so they’ve enlisted the aid of new allies to take the fight back to the Zombies and reclaim their beloved home soil.

While this may not change much about modes such as Team Vanquish (PvZ’s version of Team Deathmatch), it completely reverses modes like Gardens and Graveyards. With Zombies on the defensive and trying to protect capture points, you’ll need to figure out new strategies with your favorite classes from the last game to be effective as a Plant or a Zombie. Also, because you play this four-player co-op version of Horde mode from the perspective of the Zombies versus AI-controlled Plants, Garden Ops has been renamed Graveyard Ops.

Besides the change in viewpoints, Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 is bigger than its predecessor in every way imaginable. The game will ship with more maps at launch, all of which are brand new. Zomboss has tried his best to mold Suburbia in his own image, changing the entire world’s landscape. In our short time with the game, the we played a multi-tiered level that featured Zomboss Zombie’s making a factory, a clear tactical target for the Plants to attack.

The game also offers new classes, including some inspired by the time-traveling aspects of the mobile Plants vs Zombies 2. Plants from the future have come back to quell the threat of Zombie-piloted mech suits, and Zombie pirate captains enter the fray as surprisingly effective snipers. A Zombie superhero specializes in melee and shooting laser beams from his eyes.

So, if you were a fan of the first Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare, its sequel looks ready to deliver a deeper, over-the-top experience in the same vein that has made Plants vs Zombies such a huge hit.

Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 will launch in the spring of 2016 for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC.

We ask fans about their impressions of the new Star Wars: Battlefront trailer from Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim.

Sowing the seeds of fun

Whenever someone decides to do a spin-off—whether in movies, TV, or videogames—it’s a huge risk, since it’s rare to end up with a good one, and even rarer for it to actually be successful. So, when PopCap revealed that they had a small band of developers at the studio working on a title called Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, most of us were intrigued, but we worried if this tower-defense franchise could survive the sudden transition into the world of third-person shooters.

Taking elements from both Battlefield and Call of Duty, Garden Warfare mixes in some strategy gameplay and PopCap’s own brand of offbeat humor to create a wholly unique experience that’s wildly fun to play. Eight total classes (four plants, four zombies) playable across seven different modes provided me probably as much, if not more, enjoyment as I get from the shooters this game takes its inspiration from.

The element that grabbed me right from the get-go? Garden Warfare has the most interesting customizable classes I’ve seen in quite some time. Though you only start with four on each side, each class also has six unlockabale options that do more than just provide a new skin. This means there’s over 50 playable characters, each with their own degrees of originality. For example, the Peashooter has a Commando alternative that does less damage per shot but has a higher rate of fire.

Their use on the battlefield isn’t where this uniqueness ends, though, as each gradation is fully customizable. Garden Warfare offers hundreds of different items to unlock to give your plants and zombies their own distinct look and style. Whether it’s sunflowers with top hats, Chompers with zebra stripes, or All-Star Zombies with 3D glasses, there’s no reason everyone’s characters should look the same.

And, thankfully—for once—you don’t have to worry about microtransations when it comes to getting items. Instead, you unlock them via a free, in-game card system. You get cards from packs you buy with silver coins, the traditional Plants vs. Zombies currency. You can earn coins by completing matches and doing well, or you can perform certain challenges in a match (revive three allies, kill two Sunflowers with one shot, and so on). It may be a bit of a grind, but it won’t cost you anything extra on top of the money you’re already paying, a welcome change away from the policy of most EA games.

The combination and balance of characters is also intriguing and requires a lot more to master than you might expect. The Zombie Scientist is both the healer and shotgunner class for the zombies, while the Cactus is both the sniper and the explosives expert for the plants. Having a balanced team when you go into battle is critical and requires pinpoint communication between everyone on your team, especially in more tactics-driven modes like Gardens & Gravestones (think Capture the Point). A nice touch is being able to change classes mid-battle, in case strategies need to change on the fly.

Not everything about Garden Warfare is sunshine and rainbows, however. Even though the game has the lowered price tag of $40 ($30 on Xbox 360) to make up for the absence of any single-player, I still found it lacking the content you’d expect from a multiplayer-exclusive experience at launch. While the game lists seven modes, there’s really only Garden Warfare’s take on three: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Point, and Horde Mode.

Team Deathmatch serves as the basis for three modes by itself with Team Vanquish (straight-up Team Deathmatch), Classic Team Vanquish (any customization features are wiped away), and Welcome Mat (beginner’s mode). Capture the Point is seen in Gardens & Gravestones, which also has a Classic variant. In Gardens & Gravestones, the zombies must try to capture six to seven different points in succession. If the plants stop the zombies just once, the match ends. Finally, there’s Garden Ops—which, obviously, is Call of Duty’s Spec Ops, which originally was their take on Horde Mode. This is the only mode to feature a local and online option (exclusive to the Xbox One version) and sees up to four players taking on the role of plants and facing off against 10 waves of increasingly difficult zombies.

Besides the lack of modes, the game also has a paltry list of maps to fight on. Some modes only have one map, while others have a maximum of five (some of these being day/night variants of a map), and although it’s great to see them all done in the same bright and cheery art style of the main series, it gets repetitive when you’re cycling through the same areas again and again. At the very least, though, the maps fit the modes. Team Vanquish only supports smaller maps to up the encounter rates, while Gardens & Gravestones has large, expanded maps to allow for more strategic maneuvering when looking to capture points.

Now, don’t get me wrong—even though there’s not really a lot here, the game is still tremendously fun, especially when you’ve got a full room playing 12-on-12. The gameplay’s fast and frantic, and each mode brings nuance to the tried-and-true formulas. Garden Ops allows you to grow friendly plants that were all featured in Plants vs. Zombies 2 to provide extra defenses, while Gardens & Gravestones actually makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something when you capture different areas and push the front lines forward. I just wish there were more modes to try, and while content packs are coming down the line, I can’t judge what doesn’t yet exist.

Even though there’s a bit of a bare-bones quality, content-wise, to Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, it’s definitely one of the good spin-offs. No matter what genre they tackle, the developers at PopCap really care about this franchise, and they clearly put forth a great effort. From the deep class system to the solid controls to the tiny details like zombie-movie references in the graffiti scattered around the levels (my personal favorite was “You’ve got red on you” from Shaun of the Dead), there sure is a lot here to love.

Developer: PopCap Games • Publisher: EA • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 02.25.14
8.0

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is a polished, tremendously fun time even without all the options or content of its multiplayer contemporaries.

The Good A surprising amount of depth and customization in the character classes.
The Bad A lack of maps and modes at launch.
The Ugly Here’s hoping the port-a-potty with a zombie inside was clean before the Chomper swallowed it whole.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, and is coming to PC at a later date. Primary version reviewed was an Xbox One retail copy provided by EA.

A line of action figures and Minimates based off EA and PopCap’s upcoming Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare are in the works,Diamond Select Toys announced.

Their official unveiling is expected to come at the annual Toy Fair in New York City this coming Sunday.

The first series of Minimates features two zombies versus two plants: All-Star Zombie and Engineer Zombie facing off against Cactus and Pea Shooter. As a bonus, an extra plant, Marigold, is included as well. Each Minimate stands two-inches tall, features 14 points of articulation, and sports various interchangeable parts and accessories. The box set is suggested to retail for $19.99.

The first assortment of action figures comes in four sets of pairs. Each pair contains a zombie and a corresponding plant to do battle with. The figures stand five-inches tall and features multiple points of articulation. Sets include Scientist Zombie (equipped with Healing Station) coupled with Gatling Pea Shooter (equipped with Chili Bean), Soldier Zombie (equipped with Commando Head) bundled with Ghillie Cactus (equipped with Potato Mine), Engineer Zombie (equipped with Turret) paired with Chomper (equipped with Spike Weed), and All-Star Zombie (equipped with Imp Bomb) combined with Dark Sunflower (equipped with Marigold). Each pair is set to sell for $24.99 each.

Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare is set to hit Xbox 360 and Xbox One on February 25, 2014. These action figures are not likely to be available, however, until sometime this summer.

All four one

Nowadays, it seems that whenever a developer wants to make a shooter, they have to include four-player co-op. Some franchises simply make controllable clones that fade away whenever a cutscene or button-prompt event triggers. The better ones, like Borderlands or Gears of War, actually try to create unique individuals for each player. But rarely does the core experience ever deviate, whether playing alone or with friends.

With Fuse, Insomniac Games wanted to mix things up. Instead of giving us the same streamlined co-op experience in a shooter, the Resistance developer wanted to add elements that promoted co-op play as much as possible.

Fuse begins when a covert, four-person team working for an off-the-grid mercenary contractor named Overstrike takes on an assignment to destroy items left behind in a compromised military installation. These four agents quickly meet resistance from a rival gun-for-hire organization called Raven, which has been tasked with extracting the items. Only by tapping into some of the experimental weapons found at the bunker—powered by an alien substance called “Fuse”—can the Overstrike team hope to escape the now-botched operation with their lives.

Fuse’s story is as generic as they come. You’re given four characters who you learn about over the course of the game—but not enough to actually care about beyond the fact that if they die, your mission ends and you need to restart from the nearest checkpoint.

In fact, if you asked the three of us in the EGM office who played Fuse what the character names were, maybe through a combined effort, we could come up with all of them. Whenever we tried to use the actual character names, we just ended up confusing each other, especially with gender-neutral Izzy. It just became easier to call the protagonists “Shield Guy,” “Crossbow Guy,” “Stealth Girl,” and “Healer Girl,” because they were more defined by their weapons than the paltry character development Insomniac attempted here. Couple the forgettable characters with your standard “save the world” story, and Fuse won’t be winning any awards for its script, that’s for sure.

But where the story falters, the gameplay comes through. The best way to describe Fuse’s action is that it’s like a third-person bullet hell. Every weaponized projectile you can think of is constantly flung at your characters, filling the screen at times and making teamwork and cover a must—especially against the bullet-sponge bosses. This frantic, panicked pace gives the action an addictive quality I haven’t experienced in quite a while.

This gameplay doesn’t just permeate the campaign either. In order to wedge in some replayability and give you an alternate way to reach the game’s level cap, a Horde-like mode called Echelon is featured. Twelve waves of the campaign’s hardest enemies will come after you and your squad as you attempt to accomplish a variety of random objectives. It’s not exactly something we haven’t seen before, but the Fuse flare for fast paced action and the objective randomization is a nice touch.

The unique weapons Insomniac has crafted­–continuing to hone what many have called their forte for quite some time now—also complement the action. Dalton’s shield isn’t just a defensive barrier for the team, but it can also give boosts to friendly fire, and the shield can dissolve enemies if they get too close to it. Jacob’s crossbow can act like a sniper rifle, but should your shots miss or not kill, they can be strung together to envelop nearby enemies in liquid fire. Izzy has a special healing grenade that she can toss around the battlefield, and her assault rifle can encase enemies in crystal, stopping them in their tracks. Finally, Maya can create miniature black holes with her rifle and turn invisible to perform stealth kills. When you start finding ways to combine these powers, not only is it more effective at wiping away your enemies, but you also gather more experience.

Aside from the story, there’s one other huge flaw here: The action comes at one speed—no matter how many AI characters you have. This turns a 7-to-8-hour experience with friends into a 15-to-20 hour grind by yourself. It’s not that the AI is bad; it’s just that their priorities aren’t properly balanced. The AI is great at getting you back on your feet if you go down, but if you’re facing a room full of tough enemies or one of those bullet-sponge bosses, the fights become drawn-out and tiresome, as the AI will barely pull the trigger. Sure, you can bounce from character to character with just a press of a couple of buttons—but you’ll still only have one gun firing at the bad guys and actually hitting them, which seems like a torturous way to make you want to play with your friends.

Fuse has a fantastic foundation. The game looks and sounds great, while the RPG systems and frantic, arcade-like gameplay mechanics really pull you into the experience when playing with buddies. But I know how hard it is to get a crew of guys together to do most anything nowadays—never mind play games. Keeping that and the lackluster story in mind, Fuse makes a strong showing but falls short of being an elite shooter.

Developer: Insomniac Games • Publisher: EA • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.28.13
7.5
It’s a technically solid game, but Fuse lacks a soul; the story and character development are bland beyond belief. The gameplay is a saving grace, though, and the experience can get quite addictive when working with a few friends—but it can also become a tiresome grind when playing solo.
The Good Fun action sequences and one of the best four-player co-op games available.
The Bad Poor story and character development; not as well-balanced for single-player romps.
The Ugly Arguing with friends over who takes control of which character.
FUSE is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

Chills but no thrills

When the original Dead Space broke onto the scene, it was one of the most horrifying new IPs to come out in a long time. Its isolation of protagonist Isaac Clarke aboard the lifeless, planet-cracking spacecraft that was the Ishimura left a lasting impression on gamers as much as the Marker left aboard Clarke’s broken psyche. Not to mention the hallucinations that Clarke experienced blurred the lines of what you were experiencing to the point that you were questioning yourself as you turned every corner.

This terror was quickly ingrained in the DNA of the franchise as it provided some of the most legitimately fear-inducing moments we’ve had in games in quite some time. Then we moved onto Dead Space 2, and although Isaac’s isolation had been diminished and the action aspects ramped up, his hallucinations were stronger than ever and some of the most haunting instances of the series, surpassing even the best of the first game, were had in the nursery and during the sequence where Isaac returned to the Ishimura’s husk.

Now we have Dead Space 3. When this game had been announced, many were thrilled at the idea of what new depths Isaac might fall to. But, then we were informed that the versus multiplayer had been scrapped and in its place was a co-op campaign. The removal of versus multiplayer was not a huge loss, but gamers everywhere were filled with a new and very palpable fear by this news as the terror aspects of Dead Space could be a thing of the past due to the inclusion of a friend serving as a ground to reality in co-op.

Well, the good news is that the co-op was worked in seamlessly to the campaign so that John Carver fits right in with Isaac and the two have the making of a classic duo as they played off each other magnificently. His own unique story only helps flesh out the Dead Space universe and having a buddy there does not ruin any of the game’s major moments. Visceral could not have incorporated the co-op into the main experience any better and kudos to them for not making it a separate mode. The only real problem he may pose is for completionists with no friends out there as you need to play the game through co-op at least once to get one hundred percent. And no, he does not destroy the terror potential of the game as he has his own demons to deal with.

The bad news, however, is that Carver couldn’t destroy the horror of Dead Space 3 because there is no horror there for him to destroy. Yes, it seems that fans of the series’ worst nightmare has come true and they didn’t need to come into contact with an alien artifact for it to happen. Dead Space 3 completely abandons the idea of survival horror and immerses itself in action sci-fi. Only a few cheap scare tactics remain, like Necromorphs randomly popping out of the snow, and a continuing obsession with the thought that a bunch of tentacles makes something terrifying (only scary if you’re a girl in an anime).

Part of the diluted fear factor I felt came from the human cult enemies you sometimes must fight against. Not only do your tactics change as you are now going after more traditional headshots, but you are forced into trying to use cover with one of the most busted cover systems I’ve ever seen because cover functions are added to buttons that already have very specific purposes and it’s hard to tell if you’re close enough to a box to take cover or if you’re going to recharge your stasis by accident. This frustration during these moments took away from any of the frantic feel the game may have been going for. The only good that comes from the human enemies is their leader who gives off a classic Gary Oldman villain vibe that I was really able to get behind the more I saw him.

Contrary to how it may sound, however, Dead Space 3 isn’t a bad game. Not by any means. My desire to be scared half to death and to shoot only undead masses aside; Dead Space 3 is actually probably the most impressive game of the series from a technical standpoint. From the look of the characters and environments to the smoothness of the previously mentioned co-op, Dead Space 3 is an accomplishment in terms of what this game puts on your TV screen. And there is a lot to put on your screen.

One of several major additions to the game this go around is side missions. This removes a lot of the linearity of the first two Dead Space games by allowing Isaac and John to freely explore several of the facilities on Tau Volantis and other places you’ll end up, and easily add another five or six hours to the game should you choose to do them all. Unfortunately, after the first couple, you’ll start to realize that the side missions, unlike the rest of the game, were very cookie-cutter in their design. You enter a new offshoot of a facility, fend off a few waves of Necromorphs, and get a loot chest full of ammo, medicine, stasis refills, and new items to put together at the Bench (more on that in a bit).

So, the action during the side missions may be somewhat one dimensional but at least one other reward you get besides loot is the side missions help expand on the story. More so than the previous two games combined, Dead Space 3 explains so much more about not only the areas you’ll explore in the game, as each main and side mission have their own special story behind them, but also of the universe that Isaac and John occupy. In fact, you learn so much that Dead Space 3 actually could serve as a fine entry point for newcomers to the series, should they be so inclined.

Another great wrinkle in the story and game play this go around is how there is a clear focus on Isaac’s engineering background. It is still lost during most action sequences when he is mowing down Necromorphs, but at least now with the larger array of puzzles and obstacles put before him, Isaac puts his engineering skills to use to come up with solutions that make sense for his character.

We also see the engineer in Isaac come out with probably my favorite new addition to the game, the Bench. Whenever Isaac comes across a workbench, he can take tools and parts he finds scattered about the world to make new or improve existing weapons. Like some mad scientist, you can create hundreds of different combinations that range from just your standard plasma cutter to a flamethrower with an acid tipped rocket launcher attached. You can also craft medicine, stasis refills, and other consumable items at Benches should you have enough raw materials that can also be found throughout the game.

Of course, you can also buy the materials you need for certain weapons through a micro-transaction system if you really need more or are too lazy to scavenge. Although I personally don’t enjoy the precedent that sets considering you’re already dropping $60 on the game to begin with, that becomes an issue of personal preference of how a player plays and I’m not going to knock the game for it being there because I’m sure someone out there will take that shortcut, no matter the costs.

As much as I love the Bench, though, it also created some problems in regards to your inventory system and how much you hold onto at one time. To solve this, Isaac can no longer carry as many weapons as he wants. He is constantly limited to two on his person at any given moment. Weapon specific ammo has also been replaced with universal ammo clips for all your weapons in the game. This is a double-edged sword as it makes sense since you will more than likely create such a hodgepodge of weaponry that it might be harder to find and carry specific ammo for each one. On the other hand, part of the fun of the first two games I felt was managing your inventory and keeping track of everything so you didn’t end up with nothing but a handful of bullets left while surrounded by Necromorphs. It feels like a cheap solution to something that might not have been thought all the way through when created.

When all is said and done, Dead Space 3 is a very highly polished game and there are many great things here to applaud. The storytelling, character development, co-op, graphics, and game play variety are top notch. Several new features like the side missions and the Bench all add unique nuances to the game play not seen in the series before, but also create their own set of problems that don’t seem to have been fully thought through. Dead Space 3’s biggest flaw though is that if you were looking for a good scare, this game will not provide it for you. Whether or not this is a trend the series will follow, we will have to wait and see. But for this particular title for sure, you won’t even have to turn the lights on.

SUMMARY: An enjoyable, highly polished experience that will fill in a lot of the story gaps for returning fans, but if you’re looking to be scared, Dead Space 3 is anything but survival horror.

  • THE GOOD: Expands on the lore of the Dead Space universe more than the previous two games combined
  • THE BAD: Doesn’t even try to be scary anymore
  • THE UGLY: Micro-transactions introduced via the new Bench feature

SCORE: 7.5

Dead Space 3 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for the Xbox 360.

No Payne, No Gain

It’s been more than ten years since Max Payne burst onto the scene with his gritty urban nightmare of corruption, betrayal, and sweet bullet time mechanics. A long time has passed for both us and Max, and a lot has changed in that time, but some things, like watching a bullet bore its way through a thug’s eye socket in slow-mo, never gets old.

In Max Payne 3, we see Max has moved from the familiar streets of New Jersey and NYC to Sao Paulo. There, he is a bodyguard for one of the wealthiest men in the city. And although his job title may be different, there is a seedy underbelly just teeming with nasty lowlifes who want to make Max’s life more difficult, even if he doesn’t have the emotional ties to the new people he finds himself rubbing elbows with. And things are only harder for Max now as he is older and not much wiser as his diet consists mostly of cocktails comprised of hard liquor and painkillers, constantly weighed down by the crippling depression of the events that happened in the first two games.

Max Payne 3 continues in the footsteps of its predecessors by telling an enthralling story with one of the most dynamic characters we’ve ever had the pleasure of controlling. Max’s dedication to the people around him, even if he has quit on himself, is admirable and pitiful at the same time and the brilliant voice acting by all those involved, including the returning James McCaffrey as Max, can’t help but pull you in. Not to mention the game looks great and the new physics system takes into consideration every bullet you fire and move you make. If you dive into a wall, expect Max to be jerked out of bullet time and into real time as he crumples up and if you shoot an enemy in the kneecap while he’s balancing on a high ledge, there’s a really good chance he’s going to go splat.

There are some flaws to Max Payne 3 though that also rattle you right back out of the immersive illusion the game creates. The most notable is the pacing of the story. A lot of mid-level cut scenes seem to pop up out of nowhere just as you really start to get into a groove with the action and bullet time. It’s great to be the person triggering the special scene as you fill a South American gang member full of SMG bullets, but it seemed like every time you moved into a new room, a short scene was triggered that almost always put you at a disadvantage at the start of the ensuing gunfight. And if you die, the game’s haphazard checkpoint system could send you a lot further back than you’d prefer, forcing you to do over some frustrating sequences multiple times and sucking you not only out of the story, but the fun out of the action.

Max Payne 3 also suffers with its cover mechanics. Clunky and slow moving, Max rarely seems to be in a rush to get down behind some boxes or against a wall, even with a hail of gunfire aimed for his face fast approaching. When compared to the premiere third-person shooters out there, this is one mechanic that Max definitely falls flat on.

If you can get past these few blemishes though, there is a lot to bring you back to Max Payne 3. Aside from the golden gun and clue collectibles in each single player level, there is also an arcade version of the campaign and the multiplayer is something that fans will easily get into. Forcing your friends to slow down whenever you initiate your bullet time as you line up that perfect head shot is satisfying, especially if you’re like me and prefer the Free Aim controls option. And with a bevy of modes ranging from your standard Team Deathmatch to some interesting takes on Capture the Leader, and the ability to create your own crew that gives you special bonuses, there is more than enough there to keep third-person shooter fans coming back for a long time.

When all is said and done, if you can get past the couple of control blemishes and don’t mind the trial and error feel to some of the action sequences, Max Payne 3 is a story chock full of action that both old fans and newcomers to the franchise should enjoy.

SUMMARY:  The unique storytelling and charismatic narration will pull you into an enthralling experience, but glitchy cover mechanics, poor checkpoint management, and off-putting pacing will rattle you out of your gaming reverie more often than you’d like.

  • THE GOOD: Dark, gritty, and action-packed
  • THE BAD: Glitchy cover mechanics, questionable story pacing
  • THE UGLY: Bald Max Payne looks like Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad

SCORE: 8.0

Max Payne 3 is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was on the Xbox 360.