23 January 2010

Unreal Tournament III - PS3, Xbox 360

I got into gaming journalism because I believe games are the most influential new storytelling medium of my generation (that’s Generation X if you need to know). But I also got into it because I love a great game. Readers of this blog understand our definition of a great game boils down to one simple question: Did you have a great time playing it?
By that standard, I’m here to tell you that Unreal Tournament III is a great game.
I was new to the series when I played this one. As I hunkered down with my XBOX 360 copy, I didn’t know what I was getting into. The main character looks like he could be Dom’s brother (“Gears of War”) and the opening “story” was a little light on details. Then I was dropped into the first mission of the campaign. It’s not really a campaign as much as it is a series of training missions to familiarize you with the real meat of the game — the online mode. Everyone knows this game is all about online frag fests. I’ll get to that later.
But let me tell you first how nice it was to be dropped into a map with decent AI opponents and tons of weapons and power-ups at my disposal. Back in the days before online console gaming was common I would play games like Perfect Dark on the N64 and rejoice in the “bot mode” when I couldn’t get the boys together for a game. Sure, it’s nothing like playing against a human being. But it’s a nice touch, one I wish more FPS games would carry over from the old days.
In UT3, these bots are far superior to those on the N64 classic. They’re nothing compared to the warriors who await you online, but the deeper you get into the campaign mode the more satisfied you will become when your team wins. This is especially true in Warfare mode, which requires a sophisticated amount of AI bot coordination and offers a ton of satisfaction with victory, even when you’re the only human being in the room.
I know a lot of you skipped right over the campaign to go online for blood, and I don’t blame you. The action online is lightning fast — no lag here — and filled with variety. Again, the Warfare mode I mentioned above is particularly satisfying — especially when you’re playing with friends.
As for the graphics and overall presentation, this is what we’ve come to expect from the franchise. The game is beautifully crisp and the level design is fantastic. Characters have the telltale thickness that has become a hallmark of these games, vehicles look appropriately cool and the campaign cutscenes are as good as it gets. For a game that moves this fast and has this much going on, everything looks and plays beautifully.
You’ve got a lot of options when it comes to FPS games. Don't miss this one. It flawlessly executes its mission in a way that few games can match. It knows exactly what it wants to be and it succeeds. The 360 version includes split-screen mode for co-op play, new characters and five additional maps.
And it was published by Midway, our old departed friend.
By Victor Paul Alvarez

Smackdown vs Raw 2010 - Xbox 360, PS3

Finally … the champ is here.
I’ve been a longtime wrestling fan for many years and played my share of wrestling games. I’ve been to plenty of events, met wrestlers and heck, I’ve even gone to wrestling school. Hopefully that qualifies me enough to be a wrestling fan and give me opinion on THQ’s grappler. I shell out my cash every year to pick up the latest copy of SVR with great anticipation for it to be the better than that last. That is usually the case, but with the good always comes the bad. Not this time. Smackdown vs Raw 2010 is the best wrestling game yet. It’s beautiful, deep and will satisfy even the most judgmental wrestling fanatic.
From the blood, sweat and tears to the long golden locks of HHH, THQ captures the detail and presentation of the WWE. If anything, presentation really puts you in the game and makes you feel like you’ve laced up the boots of your favorite superstar. You would swear you’re watching a pay-per-view event right in your living room. Some great examples are the in-depth instructions and presentation before the 30-man Royal Rumble. It is exactly like ordering the PPV on TV as you watch the announcer informing all wrestlers and fans exactly what to expect for this match. The game gets so detailed that you’ll see a wrestlers feet barely miss the floor before sneaking back in under the bottom rope ready to go another round in the rumble.
As far as the gameplay, fans of the franchise will feel right at home.
Every SVR game comes packed with match types and this one is no slouch. THQ added a few extras like the Championship Scramble and some brand new back stage brawls. With so much content you won’t find yourself running out of matches but instead spending more time thinking of what the match will be and the stipulations. One thing I did notice was the removal of the Casket Match which has always been a lot of fun to play but with the amount of extras it’s not that hard to forgive. Another personal favorite was the fact that all arenas are unlocked straight out of the case. No more battling crazy tasks to unlock the ECW arena or Saturday Night’s Main Event. They are all there as soon as you pick up the controller to play with a buddy. Each arena is also equipped with all the logos and stages that you would find at the actual event right down to the entrance graphics and brand name announcers. Presentation is everything and having the WWE Live logo pop up before each match and then ending with the WWE credits is down right fantastic. You really cannot ask for more for a total broadcast experience.
Smackdown vs Raw 2010 packs a knockout punch. With an overwhelming amount of content the replay value for this game is through the roof. Any wrestling fan will find it hard to put the game down whether playing online, with friends or in one of the many single player careers. There's even a “Build your own story” mode where you can create your own storyline that you have been dying to see on Monday Night Raw.
This is a game you can always put down and then pick right back up again for some of the finest sports entertainment you’ll ever find on a video game system. It’ll be a long time before this game is topped.
I’m headed back to the ring for my shot at being the undisputed Heavyweight Champion of the world. All challenges welcome.
By Stephen O'Blenis

Bayonetta – Xbox 360, PS3

"Action-packed, non-stop, heart-pumping, edge of your seat action." These are common words used to describe any summertime blockbuster movie. These buzz words have become associated to action movies for years but don't rush down to your local theater just yet. I'm talking about a video game.
Yes, a video game. This game embodies every one of those words and then some. Never have I played a game that doesn't give you a break. There is pure and constant action. The only break you'll have is a saucy cinematic that ties the story together and, trust me, you'll be hoping for these breaks. Welcome to the world of "Bayonetta."
"Bayonetta" is simply the most action I have ever experienced in a video game. To borrow a common phrase, it's like "being on a non-stop roller coaster" of action. The story is basically about a witch who has been asleep for over 500 years and now she has awakened and cannot remember her past. She seems to be caught in the battle between heaven and hell and uses her extraordinary skills to blast and slash her enemies to bits. Bayonetta is not a woman to mess with. She has shotguns on her legs. Need I say more? The bosses in this game are like nothing you have ever seen. Yes, "God of War" does a sensational job but "Bayonetta" has just about the largest boss battles ever. Every time you think you've seen the unreal, it just gets crazier. I won't even mention the final battle. This game should come with a warning label. It contains so many "look at that!" moments you don't want to play alone. I literally would look around and wish someone was in the room with me to see what I just did. Incredible.
The gameplay is top-notch, the controls tight and the graphics are outstanding. Everything that makes a game great. The amount of weapons and moves cannot be obtained with only one play through – and trust me when I say that the first play through on normal is no walk in the park. You'll be pushing 15-17 hours of action. There were sometimes that I wanted to pick up and play but I just couldn't because I knew I was just too tired to continue. You need energy for this game. How many games can you say that about?
"Bayonetta" is large on all scales. Her arsenal is huge, her move set just seems to continue to grow and the items you pick up along the way never seem to stop astonishing. The game is simply great. So I guess the question remains, "Can a brand new game be one of the greatest of all time?" Keep in mind that the main character is also female and, other than Lara Croft, female characters don't get much love from the video game world. I say, absolutely. This game is something I will always remember. That is what makes a game great. The story, the characters, the action. Everything you would find in a blockbuster movie is in a blockbuster game. Just because a game is new doesn't mean it isn't able to sit among the greatest of all time. So strap yourself in and hold on; you're about to fall under the spell of "Bayonetta."
By Stephen O'Blenis