Category Archives: Xbox 360

Resident Evil 6

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On the third main title after rebooting the series into a more action-oriented third person shooter with horror  elements Resident Evil seems to have forgotten lessons learned with the fourth and fifth iterations as well as the minimal necessary to make a Resident Evil. While Resident Evil 4 was still the series we all learned to love, Resident Evil 5 was more of a “great game, mediocre RE”. This time there’s absolutely no excuse, Resident Evil 6 isn’t a good game by any sort of standard.

Capcom chose Resident Evil to be their larger-than-life franchise, somehow that happened. A game that started minimalistic in nature, boasting large focus on exploration and puzzle-solving became a Michael Bay movie. Actually, Michael Bay could learn a thing or two about silliness after playing Resident Evil 6.

Basically every trick in the book of cringy action was used, sometimes in a matter of moments apart. Car chases, jumps over helicopters using motorcycles, avalanche run-aways, bullets flying, explosions everywhere. Lara Croft got it easy with her falls and constant moaning, these guys take a beat and won’t even shed a drop of blood.

Everything is blown way out of proportion, like it was a matter of life and death to make the most unrealistic, action-packed piece of incoherent gimmicks, mashed together just for the sake of showing off. The dialog didn’t help either, from the egotistical jibber-jabber so often uttered by Jake (the new character), to Leon’s usual cocky style. The writing takes lesson with the rest of the team, every single overused catchphrase in existence made it way into the final product. It’s so silly that it’s funny.

Another major annoyance is the omnipresence of Quick-time-events. QTE are special moments, generally in cutscenes but not always, that require the player to press one of more buttons at the right moment or move the analog stick in some distinct manner. Resident Evil 4 had those but they were somewhat rare, like escaping a boulder that otherwise would kill you or the famous Krauser fight. Resident Evil 5 brought that back and was a bit more bothersome. Resident Evil 6 on the other hand makes it almost unbearable.

What I can’t still wrap my head around is how they managed to take a step back gameplay-wise. Resident Evil 5 had taken all the right choices at least when it came to controls. You might not like the third-person control scheme but there’s no denying that if the series is bound to follow that path, the fifth installment was the best Capcom had to offer. This time the field of view is minimal, the camera is somehow stuck right behind the character model which blocks half of the screen.

The problems was so serious that Capcom had to release a free update to cater to that, so much the player-base was complaining. I had the unpleasant experience of playing through two of the main campaigns before the update and I must say that the game nauseated me in a few moments, the screen wiggled way too much and the movements felt absolutely unnatural, even for someone who played a whole bunch of the previous two installments. Something was off and while the update made things much better, widening the field of view, it’s still a step back.

There are three different campaigns you can play, somewhat similar to what the scenarios were in the first games. It’s actually superior because, at least the first three chapter are pretty unique in each. In the last two chapters the plots start to intertwine and so much that seemed to have happened out of sheer luck in previous campaigns finally get a reason behind it all.

Though the way they handled the stories is pretty satisfying, they managed to take another step back. The chapters are amazingly big, some of them might take up to two hours in the first play-through and highers difficulties.. Resident Evil 5 had broken the chapters in smaller sections and it was fine the way it was. They ranged from 5 to 45 minutes depending on whether it was your first time or not. It worked, why mess up something that worked? After huge community backlash, the free update added the option to start a chapter during different moments, like it was in Resident Evil 5 (1-1, 1-2, 1-3…).

Now they added a whole bunch of checkpoints that don’t actually save the game, instead, they just reload you in case you die. This is a much worse issue than it sounds. If you decide to stop playing at any time you need to get to the next save point, not checkpoint. I lost a few good improvements early in the game because I just couldn’t understand it. Sometimes, after you died, it would appear a typewriter (classic Resident Evil save mechanism) saying it had been saved, but it just wasn’t the case, I had to reach probably another cutscene for, who knows, get to stop playing without having to redo the last 20 minutes of gameplay.

In a chapter you might get like three or four save points while having like 20-25 checkpoints. The saving system is absolutely abysmal. At least the game doesn’t require any sort of exploration from your part, you simply walk straight and you’ll bump into the right path. Which reminds me of another issue. Capcom added a GPS system that tells you exactly where you need to go and where exactly is the item you need to get or lever you need to pull. I didn’t really want them to have this leash in me in such a linear endeavor so I disabled it, it turns out that when you disable the GPS you also disable the HUD. Really, Capcom?

One thing I thought was pretty cool in Resident Evil — or any game that features it for that matter — is how well you have your statistics laid out for you. Everything, from shots fired with each weapon to how many of each enemy you’ve killed is displayed in the record menu. You can even find how long you’ve traveled running, dashing or walking, or aboard any of the vehicles included in the game. Can’t get any better than stats.

It doesn’t feature any sort of competitive multiplayer — thank God — but it does feature one of Resident Evil 5’s best selling points, the co-op. Every one of the three campaigns is played by two characters which can be played with another person instead of the AI. The AI will pretty much hold its own and not get much in the way of what you need to do so it’s a problem at all to play this alone. It’s better than having Sheeva/Chris as partner in the fifth one, at least.

There’s also a fourth bonus campaign that was made for solo playing, after the big free update it could be played in co-op as well. I can’t stress how much of a must have this update is. It also added another difficulty setting called “No Hope”, to meet fans’ demands for a true difficult experience. It basically disables the add-ons you’re able to purchase and equip for your character while ramping up a few features like not recovering your health after dying.

Several techniques can be bought from collecting bonus points in the game, like damage reduction, better scope for the sniper rifle or superior odds of an enemy dropping items. Only three of them can be equipped at a time and some even have different levels within them, like three levels of damage reduction, each level costs much more but yields more favorable results.

In Resident Evil 4 the series started a trend of slowly losing its survival-horror soul. Though this game might have some creepy locations and a few moments which the atmosphere reminds the good old days, as a whole this is an action game, A Gears of War with a worse cover and evade system.

To cover you need to press a whole bunch of buttons and keep the shoulder pressed. To go off cover and shoot is weird since having only the laser sight you only get to know where you’re aiming when you’re unprotected. The added aiming system might halp if you haven’t disabled it like me, but it’s still to wide to be of any use other than finding the enemy’s general direction.

Evading is another pain. Why they chose to make reloading a single press of a button while using the evasive jump it’s required to ready-up the battle stance. Again, both situations in Gears of War are much more intuitive, the cover slide is awesome, you can’t simply stay in cover without having to hold any button and the evasive maneuver is performed by simply pressing a button and the direction you’re willing to go. If you want make a Gears of War at least make it right.

Two other modes aside from the main one are available. One of them is the now recurrent Mercenaries which hasn’t changed much. You still have to fight your way through hordes of enemies trying to score high and get more time to do so. The other one is actually interesting, it’s called Agent Hunt and you get to join random people’s games as the enemy. It seems that even first timers can have people joining their game if they chose to enable it in the mane before the game starts, which can cause trouble.

Resident Evil is one gigantic mess of a game, not entirely bad because it’s not completely broken, just a hassle to play while having the two previous games in mind. The level os silliness is unbearable, the controls have taken a major hit and while Capcom moved fast to offer a free update that solved at least a few of its more technical problems, the problems regarding the game itself are beyond fixing. A sad moment for one of the best series video-games has to offer.

Gears of War: Judgement

Right from the get-go you realize why this is called “Judgment”. Somehow, Damon Baird, one of the original four in the group since the first Gears, is being judged in a rather trumped-up trial. The form in which the charges are presented and how the seemingly superior ranked official storms on them makes everything seem conspicuously biased. Still, all of them are given the chance to speak and give his version of what had happened.

They take turns unfolding the story and each time you control a different character rebuilding their narrative in real time. Apparently they weren’t supposed to had done something that they did, why? Because they disobeyed direct orders. Not unlike what Marcus Fenix had been doing throughout the series up to that point, but still, let the tribunal hear and the official would give his final and unquestionable verdict.

The first few minutes might have more meaningful storytelling than all the other 3 Gears of War games combined. Not that it ultimately matters, you basically go from action sequence to action sequence shooting down gruesome enemies that seem much enraged as you are, in a battle that it’s never really clear when or why it began in the first place.

The fact the narrative works better this time around might have to do with the fact that Damon Baird is a better developed character than Marcus Fenix. Gears of War dropped a lot of the raucous macho attitude in favor of a more harmonious relationship between the four characters.

There’s also the addition of a woman character, Sofia Hendrik, who surprisingly doesn’t look like a masculinized modern day feminist. She stands as the the voice of reason in a group of air-heads. She still fights though, and is quite good at that. Along with Damon Baird, the other member of the secondary group in the original trilogy is also present, Augustus Cole. The fourth member is another friend of Damon, a guy named Garron Paduk, who is much more aligned with Gears’s type of taciturn, scarred manly men who prefers to shoot first and never ask any question.

This is typical Gears, episodic, full of action and explosions. They actually took down a notch in the noble task of introducing newer enemy variants at every few seconds. Gears of War 3 was basically one gigantic puzzle on how each enemy behaved and could be beaten.

The most important new feature are the Declassified Missions. Picture it this way, during the re-telling of the events in the game there will be a strange foggy Gears symbol attached to a wall right before some action sequences, if you inspect it you’re given the option to change the occurrences to a more extreme version. Of course you’re going to have to play that more extreme version so it’s up to you to accept or not this new “path”.

Some of them simply state that at that moment a fog had come down on them and the visibility was weakened. You’re going to have to deal with the fog during the whole sequence. Some of them state that a poisonous gas was released so they had a limited time to reach their destination, if you missed the time, you were dead.

Some extras are tougher than others so you can try to beat it and change your mind if you somehow are having trouble with it. The bonus for enduring this higher challenge is that you get more stars at the end of each episode. Depending on how well you did you might receive up to three stars which can unlock new stuff for both single and multiplayer.

The most important thing you can unlock by getting stars is the Aftermath chapter, which is not exactly related to the events of Judgement and in fact sheds a light on some of the events that took place in Gears of War 3 but wasn’t part of the Marcus/Dominic storyline. It features the length of pretty much a regular chapter and the very presence of it might be due to the fact that Judgement might leave the impression of being a DLC thrown in together in full package for revenue.

Another important change was made to how controls work, and the changes are excellent! You no longer need to count on the unresponsive digital pad of the Xbox 360 controller to change weapons. You simply press Y to change to your secondary. To throw grenades you no longer need to equip them, they used the left bumper to throw nades. By tapping it you’ll do a quick throw, if you hold then the trajectory will be shown. The left bumper used to be used for telling the objective and no one really needed that, Gears of War has always been a corridor and what you needed to do was to shoot anything that moved.

My take on this is that Judgement is solid as a stand-alone full-length release, it just doesn’t follow the main storyline, but it’s certainly within the reaches of Gears. The fact that it features nothing new in terms of gameplay wasn’t an argument not to release both sequels to the first installment. Let’s be fair here, Gears didn’t try to redefine gaming, action, or third-person shooters in any way; not in the beginning, not now.

The multiplayer might as well be the best you can play in all four games. The usual deathmatch to see who scores big and kills the most is still the main meal. The latest addition is a mode called OverRun. This is pretty much a take on Gears if it were a team-based shooter. It works so well that it would be a shame if this mode doesn’t become a constant recurrent in later iterations.

In OverRun you get to play as both the COG (good guys) and the Locust (bad guys). Your objective as the COG is to prevent the Locust to completely damage the entrance to the Emergency Hole, denying them the advance in the course. If somehow you fail twice they will reach the last of a three-part round in which their task will be to destroy the generator.

If the COG successfully defends the advance of the Locust they immediately win the round. The roles are then changed and whoever was defending now has to attack. Whichever team gets farther wins the game. If both teams manages to reach the generator and destroy it then the team that did it fastest will be the winner.

To do that you assume the role of four classes in the COG and 8 different types of Locust. As the COG you simply change your role. You can be the engineer and repair the defenses, a soldier who inflicts damage and restores ammunition, a medic who deals damage and can revive downed team-mates or the scout who snipes from afar and can reach higher places in the maps for better vision.

As the Locust you need to start with one of the four regular, weaker grubs, while gaining score points. If you earn enough points you can become a much stronger enemy, like the Serapede (a giant centipede imune to front attacks) or a Corpser (the big shielded guys). Controlling the opposition — not only in multiplayer with human-like controls — and getting to control monsters like the Corpser is an amazing feeling. Some might be overpowered, but still, whoever manages to do better will win the round and some always have to win anyway.

The co-op is solid as well. The four characters are always together so it doesn’t feature different paths like it did in previous Gears. Playing with 3 other people online, especially if you know them, is pretty satisfying and the whole game was build from ground up for this very purpose.

So Gears of War: Judgement might be the black sheep of the family in Gears, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. The OverRun multiplayer by itself is one of the best multiplayer mode I’ve played in a while and the campaign is good old Gears. There’s not much not to like except the fact that the main team of protagonists aren’t featured. I actually thought it was a plus, but to each his own opinions.

Gears of War 3

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After 3 installments it’s kind of hard to keep things fresh and interesting. Gears of War is not the sharpest tool in the shed anyway, the focus has always been and will probably always be action. From checkpoint to checkpoint the campaign evolves and the brief moments in-between stand as return to wellness. They try hard to add depth to the overall experience, the story seems better developed, better told, taking more twists. Still, no one will play this game because of that.

The single player campaign is long enough to keep you satisfied. I grew accustomed to shorter games. When you manage to deliver a short but sweet dose of gameplay I won’t complain. Still, it’s always nice to see a game that takes its time; of course RPGs are expected to be doing that but action games tend to get shorter.

The shortcomings so easily found in today’s games are so evident here. The game tries hard to keep the player engaged in something that’s not really all so deep, we got used to the characters so it’s much easier now. It’s all basically a giant pathway leading to what was planned, impossible to ever feel lost or exploring. Sure there’s the lost items you go around trying to find but most of the time they’re in ingenuous locations, nothing too fancy that feels like you’re going way off.

The player basically has at h is disposal the weaponry from previous games functioning in much the same way. Some additions are present though. The Digger is a strange little weapon. Worked by a big guy similar to Boomers instead of going up you launch a projectile that digs beneath the ground until it finds a target. Most covers will be useless at this point. Let’s just forget how improbable a weapon like that sounds and just feel glad for the developers’ imagination.

Most enemies are recurring, though now they mostly seem to be infected by a yellow chemical that seems to infect even humans, making them extremely volatile. Some have morphing post-death formations, launching acid-balls at you and your teammates. Another grotesque appearance are the armored locusts, real tanks when it comes to bullets but somewhat weak to explosions. Unfortunately getting consistent doses of explosions is not the easiest task, let alone how unwieldy it is.

The campaign consists of 5 chapters, each with it own number of acts. Some go as far as 6. They don’t seem to pass by easily though, there’s quite a lot to shoot. As always with Gears you have some acts that are different than the usual bullet rain. Vehicle driving while shooting everything in the way is an example, there’s also a submarine cruise through giant sea monsters and marine mines.

The multiplayer rocks as much as previous games, since most player base should relocate to the newest version expect to have better chance than Gears of War 2 to find a good community, but most players must have moved on to Judgement. With the nest Gears of War and remakes coming it doesn’t look too good. The usual modes that more often than not revolve around killing your enemies while doing something else, it might be simple deathmatch or king of the hill, there’s several to choose from but the basic principle stays pretty much the same.

If competitive multiplayer is not your thing–I know it’s not mine–there’s co-op that feels much better at home in Gears. You’ll be facing the locust army in a group of four anyway, why not take the CPU from the control of the other 3 and put in some buddies you might have? Sounds like a great idea. Again, you need people who play the game and if you don’t all hope’s not lost for you yet. You might want to join a random party online, not as much fun you’d have with a group of friends but at least you’re playing with humans–or whatever the case is for those who populate online shooting games.

There’s nothing really wrong with Gears of War 3. It’s a safe game from all perspectives. If you enjoyed the last 2 in the series there’s a solid 100% chance you’ll like this one. Some might say that’s unfortunate because they lack creativity, but do we really need it at this point? From now on we might need to start requesting some advancements, but the formula has done great things in the past and this title is as solid as any of the previous ones.

Fortunately the third-person shooter genre is not saturated as the first-person scene. Gears of War does its job right and deliver a solid experience from start to finish. There’s a lot of new stuff to be found but the core gameplay is intact. If you came this far you might as well go ahead and finish the fight against the locust once and for all. At least until the next spin-off or full-fledged release that is.

Need for Speed: Most Wanted

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In 2003 Need for Speed Underground was being released, and it was awesome. You got the chance to drive cars you otherwise wouldn’t even touch in real life at incredible speeds you wouldn’t even dream of achieving. It had that “Fast and Furious” kind of charm, you start the game, get a cheap-ass car, start racing, tune the ride, improve the car, more speed, more tracks, and so on. Need for Speed: Most Wanted comes after the second Underground and it’s clear this really shouldn’t be named simply “Underground 3”, we have the series moving forwards again, this time the leap wasn’t as steep as it was when the first Underground was released, but some aspects are new, some are back, some are back from a long hiatus, and some had a little decrease in value or appearance.

For those already accustomed to Underground’s metropolitan night-time neon-reflecting city Most Wanted holds a surprise, the races and every other thing you do is at daylight. While I must agree that the feeling of illegal racing with cops on your back trying to bust you at every change they get could easily be boosted if it was night instead of day, the game still manages to create nice locations with its predominant yellowish-pigmented atmosphere. The cutscenes, at least especially them, will have a somewhat blurred touch which will feel like part of the game’s personality. The racers won’t be the least shy of wrecking the streets with their high-customized super cars for the whole world to see it. And they will actually see it, if you start causing too much trouble somewhere in the map the police will be called, and if you stick for too long rollin’ on those areas or if some roaming patrol ever get the descriptions of you car and spots you, then a pursuit will take place.

Police chases are back on the Need for Speed series and Most Wanted is the first game of this “new era” to have it implemented. The chases are at the same time awesome and frustrating. They’re awesome because it adds a whole new universe to be explored aside from racing, for you to proceed through the game you have to literally become the “most wanted” person in the game. And they’re frustrating because they can get really hard, to a point of you having to count on luck for some stuff. There’s no laying low here, if you choose to take on the game you have to get the cops attention and eventually increase you street reputation, so this is a racing game with a plus sign. It has wanted degrees, the more of a mess you make around the more it will become a pandemonium and the chances of escaping harmless will start getting slim. At 1x you have just one or two patrols on your back, you won’t have a hard time losing them or destroying their cars. But at 5x things get messy, you’ll be treated like Osama Bin Laden riding a car in the middle of New York; helicopters, heavy SUV’s, roadblocks, spike strips and dozens of elite police cars on your back trying to stop you, the artillery is not light and they won’t go easy on you, if they get you to stop you’re done, the car you’re driving will be held by the police until you pay your dues.

The story is actually interesting, which is rare for a racing game — let alone a racing game made by EA. Of course it’s still a little cliché and if what is actually presented wasn’t so limited this could have turned out amazing, and also a strange exception. You are some nameless guy who is fooled by some other guy, this other guy is not nice, actually the contrary, he is an egocentric jerk, full of prepotency and arrogance. This bad guy has a crew, who share the attribute of their leader in no less extense. They will sabotage “your” car during a street race to take it from you, then use it to reach the highest point of the so called “Black List”. The Black List is the list of the 15 best drivers around, the big shots. Needless to say it’s up to you to get a new car, a modest one, and start climbing your way until you reach the bad guy who got your ride. To do that you’re gonna have the help of a chick called Mia Townsend and some other guy known only by the name of Rog. Now, another interesting thing about the story is that you never get to see the face nor the body of the racer you control, not even in cutscenes, the characters speak to your character by looking straight toward the television, so it seems like they are actually referring and speaking to you. They did an awesome job doing this. It could be better if they had explored the Black List characters in a more meaningful way than only showing their pictures, cutscenes with them fronting you would have been awesome.

So you basically move on from one guy to another on the Black List, at each one you have special requirement to be met before you can actually race against the Black List guy, they are divided in wins, Milestones and bounty. The wins are victories accumulated in normal street races against 3 other drivers, as happened in other Need for Speed before this one, you have more than one type over the regular 3-lap circuits, you also have drag races, sprints, max speed challenges, tollbooth, lap knockout. All these types of races have something in common, you have to win some kind of race against computer controlled players, the difficulty in these is well calibrated, they aren’t easy, in fact, the last races will be hard, but the real problem with difficulty doesn’t lie in normal racing. Something worth mentioning is the few number of drag races you’ll encounter through the game, it’ll take some time until you finally reach your first drag race, and when you do and think the situation is gonna change with more of them to come, you’ll probably feel disappointed to find only a handful available. The next type o challenge are milestones, and this is all about breaking the law, you’re gonna have a list of things you need to do in a pursuit and when these criteria are met you receive a boost in your bounty. The bounty will depend on pursuits as well, but you don’t actually have objectives to go for, you just need to make a giant mess, the bigger the better.

You continue earning money out of winning races and you still can buy vehicles to customize them with different colors, decals, performance parts, etc; but it’s not hard to notice this ends up not being the game’s central focus, as happened in the last two Need for Speed. The focus here are really the chases and the different aspects taken from it. Sure, the free roaming is cool, and the city in which the game takes place is pretty well designed, but it also feels shallow to just roam around doing absolutely nothing but drive, you can get in a police chase or trigger a race, but that can also be done through the menu by simply choosing to do so, start a pursuit or go directly to a race, without the need to keep driving around until you find something. The right to just roll the streets can be a good thing because you get to know the map, and that kind of knowledge in a chase could be a valuable triumph since every time you get involved in a chase you need to successfully evade it for the completed objectives related to milestones during the chase to be counted, and not get your car held by the authorities. To help you with that, you have the pursuit breakers, which are strategically placed locations where you can pass through to cause some kind of “situation” in your favor, for instance, if you have a lot of cops on your back and your life is already living hell, you can simply drive through a gas station to make it blow making the cops go straight to hell. Of course you need to have the cops near you when you trigger these places, there are a lot of them scattered around the city, and the locations are marked on your displayed map.

If you’ve had enough of the career mode you still have the Challenge Mode at your disposal. Nothing really new here, just a selection of challenges for you to perform, everything related to racing and pursuits — which doesn’t sound much encouraging for those searching something, even the slightest, different from what you do in the career, more for those done with the career mode and looking for more of the same. Still, it is required if you are a completionist, and if you found the game the least fun I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to add some more gameplay time. Actually, making a game last is never a bad thing. But if you’re really a completionist you also have the rap sheet to worry about, which lists the a ranking with the best racers — or worst racers? — in categories like who had the longest chase or who took down the most police patrols in chases. You still have the challenge of trying to come first in every ranking of the sheet, also not an easy job.

If you’re fan of the Need for Speed franchise this is an easy recommendation, it might very well be the most well-developed game in the franchise yet, bringing back the police chases and adding a whole new dimension of gameplay mechanics. For racing fans looking for pure racing with nothing fancy on the side should be aware that the chases aren’t skippable and actually required. The high difficulty is mostly thanks to the police pursuits which can very well turn out frustrating to some, the racing part is solid as ever, never giving much attention to what’s possible or what’s not when driving the cars, no simulation here folks, to a point where your car never gets damaged, after all it would be even more frustrating in pursuits. The career mode will hold you long enough, and the challenge mode will keep you busy for a little more if you choose so. A solid game recommendable to anyone up for a good challenge.

The Orange Box

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Maybe what Valve thought on doing was simple. They had Half-Life, a “good-ass” game like some would say, they had two expansions for Half-Life only available for PCs, and they had Team Fortress 2, which is a multiplayer game with some interesting game mechanics. You add Portal, the one exclusive barely-released game and we have a deal, a great deal. Adding such good games at a reasonable price, a price of one actually, sounded too good to be true; maybe not quite, but it was damn good. They actually went ahead and did it, if anyone overlooked any of the games listed then he ought to purchase this, even if overlooking is not the case, Portal is already a good motivation, the rest you get to play all over again to re-experience each moment.

Half-Life 2 is first, and this game was beautifully ported for the Xbox 360. It has survived the test of time, in fact, maybe one of the best examples of that. The graphics are as good as they were for the PC and things like face expressions are still amongst the best ever seen in video-games, with everything flowing at solid framerate. The physics was the aspect that most caught the eye when it was released, thanks to the Havok engine, and it still amazes people up to this day, even the most veteran gamers. What actually enhances quite a lot, and stands as the one thing that sets this game apart from the rest of the first person shooters out there, is the Gravity Gun, without this little insanely practical device this game wouldn’t be the same. Story-wise you assume the role of Gordon Freeman as he attempts to save what’s left of the planet from an alien invasion, it’s up to Freeman to lead the remaining citizens into a final act of resistance against the alien oppressors. This was released in 2004 but it still feels fresh, certainly aged graphics and gameplay are no excuses for anyone to overlook this amazing game, and with a deal like this, it’s no excuse at all.

The two Half-Life 2 expansions included are brief but will give you some more gameplay time that will feel like enough in the end. Both are good and follows the story and gameplay mechanics of the original, but they are also inherently distinct. In Episode One you have sudden change of atmosphere, right away, most parts of the first episode will have a certain survival horror feel, a never-changing impression especially boosted because of the underground parts with no light and the possibility to not use ammo at all and just “run away” from enemies. The Episode Two puts you back into the action, with more imaginative places, new enemies and different kinds of challenges, the story also develops in a more meaningful way in the second episode than it does in the first. In addition, the Episode Two is slightly longer than Episode One. Different is good, and in the case of the two expansions it is true, if you’ve played Half-Life 2 already, there’s really no setback on trying these two up, let alone not liking them.

Portal is the big surprise, it uses the physics found in Half-Life to create a game truly innovative. The concept is actually simple, but opens space for many possibilities in terms of puzzles. You have a gun that shoots two portals, one blue and one orange, and create a link between them, it’s up to you to use these two portals to overcome the puzzles in the 18 stages of the game. The increasing difficulty is well calibrated, the game itself is challenging but nothing major. When you finish it you’ll be able to replay many of the courses using different approaches; like the advanced maps, which are basically 6 of the maps found in the main game with some modifications adding extra difficulty. You can also have a race against the clock trying to finish the maps in the least time possible; less portals use, trying to finish the map using the least number of portals possible; and least steps, when you attempt to finish a map with the least number of steps taken. What makes Portal shine is its simplistic easy-to-learn gameplay added to complex stages, making the difficulty entirely in-game while trying to overcome what’s imposed. Portal ends up being a really fun game which is not shadowed at all by the high caliber releases also found in the pack, and holds up pretty well even alone. Although short, it’s a satisfying experience with good replay value.

And for last, and certainly not least, we have Team Fortress 2, which is an exclusively multiplayer, you can play through the internet. The game has a sharp look, often mistaken with cel-shade, which fits nicely. There are 9 types of classes to be chosen, as well as 6 different maps. The objectives depend on each map but they often have something to do with territory attacking and defensing, and also infiltration. What makes this game different from others is that each class has its own weapons and skills, and you’ll basically want to have most of them in your team so you’ll have more tools for reaching your goal, good communication is essential for success as well. Team Fortress 2 is has a good dose of multiplayer fun, and serves right for the deal, since none of the previous games have multiplayer. Definitely a worthy inclusion that, given you have internet connection on your Xbox 360 and a gold membership for Xbox Live, you’ll certainly enjoy quite a lot, especially because it has a little more of the fun factor than the average online multiplayer first person shooter.

It sounds only fair, first you have what I should call the main meal of the 5, Half-Life, alongside with its two released expansions; the fact that you get it complete is good enough. Then you have Portal, which would be the dessert, quick and sweet. And of course we have the multiplayer, which could be described as an after-meal gathering with everyone in the living room, happy and fun. Entrée anyone? Well, still sounds like a hell of a meal.

Pure

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Pure is a game developed by Black Rock Studio and published by Disney Interactive Studios. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking that you didn’t know Disney was out out there actually publishing good games, but this time it’s actually true. Pure is good indeed, not just good, this game is awesome. Between the time spent releasing a High School Musical game or whatever other cash-in release for the DS or the Wii, they’ve actually managed to do something right.

Pure is a racing game with an asterisk. That means you race but you also have to work out some other stuff along the way. I’m talking tricks. They play a huge role in Pure, it’s through them that you’ll be able to gather boost power, the more tricks you do the better, the tougher they are, even better; if you start repeating them they’ll earn you less points, always aim for fresh tricks. They are triggered by 5 buttons in the controller while also pressing some direction on the stick. The “A” button takes care of the easiest quickest less-valued tricks. The “B” button is responsible for the middle ones. The “Y” button will deal with the harder more advanced ones. They are increasing techniques, at first you’ll only be able to perform the basic ones, after some nailed tricks, the B-button will be liberated, after more tricks, the more advanced will become available; whenever a player falls, he loses a certain amount of juice in the Thrill Bar — the Trill bar is how it’s called the boost meter, also the bar responsible for freeing buttons for tricks –, thus losing the ability to perform harder tricks, being forced to build up juice all over again. Beyond these regular tricks lie the special tricks, you need a complete bar and a star to do it, and are executed by pressing both “LB” and “RB” and a direction on the stick. These special tricks offer the ultimate level in points earned and aesthetics; they are just too cool, each character has one exclusive special trick which somewhat reflects their personality, the rest of the specials are shared with all characters. You can also perform frontflips and backflips by double tapping the stick up or down.

To get the air needed to perform a trick you need to find a dirt ramp along the track — it won’t be hard. The harder and more valued the trick is, the more air you’ll need, as it will take longer to finish the move. For the special tricks you need to find one of the huge jumps around the course, a few jumps have what it takes to support a trick that takes that much long to be completed. To jump you simply need to press down and up just before leaving the ramp, in the game it is called “preloading”, simple and effective. You won’t find much trouble controlling your vehicle, the controls sometimes seem a little rounded but you still have full control of what you do. When falling from a jump you can control the vehicle using the character’s weight — well, you, actually, just use the analog stick –, you can fall while already preparing for an upcoming left turn or incline the vehicle to match the irregular ground you’ll be landing; the better you can land with all wheels reaching the ground at the same time, the less speed you’ll lose with the landing.

One might think the key to winning is knowing when to save up juice and use at the right time, it’s important to be aware. If you reach special status you get a star in your juice meter — meaning you can then perform special tricks — and you’ll be able to use the specials even if you use all the boost and lose mid and hard tricks, this way you can use all boost and when you’re out, perform a special and recover practically everything back due to the high amount of score you get from them. But the real key to success does not dependent on boosting, you can win basically any race without using it, with them serving more as a pre-ramp skill to get more air and perform more tricks — which, by the way, the more you link together, the more the multiplier ups, meaning more points earned. The real key to victory is finding out the secondary paths of the courses. At first, you’ll find it strange that some racers will be able to finish the race several seconds before you could, even with you not making that much mistakes, maybe they are using a different route than the one you’re using. There are several ways of completing a track, some pathways require just attention to notice them camouflaged somewhere in the middle of a course, some will require you to use a ramp to reach a suspended place, the boost will come in handy for these occasions, some will cut you quite some time, others not so much, while others will impose a harder terrain to drive on. It’s your call whether use them or not.

There are three main types of competitions: race, sprint and freestyle. In race you start a 3-lap race against others, whoever crosses the finish line in first will be the winner, pretty straightforward. Sprint is basically the same as race, but the tracks are way shorter, some with laps of less than 20 seconds, and the number of laps is increased to 5; sprint competitions are known for being very intense in a generalized mess kind of way, but pretty fun. Freestyle is the best elaborated type of competition here, it’s also very fun, counting with the game’s good trick system; the system actually revolves around points and tricks, rather than racing and time; in this mode you are given a fuel bar and a score display, both depend on tricks, the fuel bar will go down until it reaches zero and the only way to postpone it is to nail a bunch of sick tricks and combos, while the score display will transform whatever trick or combo you do in points, and will dictate the winner; as you can see it’s not about time, even though if you nail more tricks and combos you’ll naturally stay alive longer in the field, it’s all about score; there are various power-ups scattered around the courses to help the player with some facilities, like instant special trick allowance or temporary fuel bar freezing.

The single player experience can be called brief, but it’s intense, and that’s what matters. You have 10 events, each with an increasing number of race, sprint or freestyle competitions, going from 4 to as high as 7. You have online multiplayer but you don’t have physical split-screen multiplayer, which is a crying shame since a game like this pretty much demands it; maybe what we see here is the reflection of the impending decadence of split-screen multiplayer over online matching, or maybe they have just forgotten, who knows. There’s also only a handful of different tracks to be chosen from, but they are pretty good and it takes too much for them to get old, maybe in a future sequel, a higher number of tracks would be greatly appreciated, but so far, so good. The difficulty in single player is also pretty good, it’s surely not easy, but not hard as much for you to try to commit suicide in the middle of your living room.

Vehicle customization turned out to be pretty satisfying, you have lots of little pieces to build your ATV from scratch, with the possibility to lean towards top speed, acceleration, handling, boost and tricks. You can have up to 10 different vehicles in the garage. As you advance in the game you’ll be able to change your character’s looks as well. Graphically this game also shines, the sense of speed is great, the details are amazing, the overall job is nothing short of great. In the music department the game doesn’t disappoint either, lots of fast-paced rock tunes will accompany the player; the sound effects are also amazing, and most of the time more recognizable between the frantic gameplay and the musics with sound of motors humming, people screaming and many other things, the effects kind of suffocates the actual music, not allowing you to really pay too much attention to the music tracks, but they are indispensable as well as the rest.

Pure ends up doing everything right gameplay-wise, the system is great and works wonders, helping debut a great game that shouldn’t be missed by any racing fan, as well as anyone wanting a purely awesome game. While the fun will not last that much, it will be frantic, intense, and ultimately incredibly satisfying. The absence of physical split-screen multiplayer should not keep you away from purchasing this great game, after all the online is there, even though it’s clear that this is a problem which should be corrected in the sequel, and let’s just hope there is a sequel sometime in the future, creating a franchise like this only to let it fall into oblivion is not the smartest thing to do, that’s for sure.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion – Shivering Isles

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We all know Oblivion’s flaws – the constant freezing, some annoying bugs and the fact it reaches an end eventually – and with this expansion pack one of the flaws can be postponed. So anyone who liked Oblivion should have this, no matter how, especially since the game of the year’s edition is being shipped with both expansions – Shivering Isles and Knights of the Nine – which makes it an even more essential deal. You can also purchase at the fine Xbox Live Arcade or at a store in a physical purchase. No matter how you get it’s worth because who wouldn’t add a 20-30 hours of gameplay to the already gigantic and awesome Oblivion? Certainly not anyone who liked the game, that’s for sure. Not even counting this expansion pack is longer than most games today.

So, you install the pack – either by downloading, buying the physical release or by the secondary disk of the special edition – start the original game, load your character, doesn’t matter which one it is since you can experience Shivering Isles with a level 40 as well as a level 5 character, not mattering how advanced you are in the original game or how many tasks you have completed, wait a while on your game doing something or travel to somewhere to pass the time and you’ll receive a new message task, the message tells you that there’s a problem with a mysterious door located somewhere in Tamriel. Make it your current objective and head there. Arriving at the location you’re gonna hear stories about the world inside it, and of course at this point you eager to find out more about it. You enter this new world.

It goes like this, the leader of these lands is the Daedric Prince of Madness, called Sheogorath – the Madgod – he’s the big shot around there. He rules a land divided in two, the light-colored Mania and the dark-colored Dementia. Each has its own duke and duchess and they don’t get along very well, to a point of having two different places in the city, each for one kind of people; the rest of the land is also divided, into Crucible and Bliss, following the characteristics of each populace. This divided land is facing problems with an event known as Greymarch, this apocalyptical occurrence happens periodically since long ago but this time the Madgod plans to not just stand there with his arms crossed. The Greymarch is when another Dadric Prince, the Daedric Prince of Order, invades the land and destroys everything. It’s up to you to help the Madgod and stop him.

As well as in Oblivion you choose if you wanna focus on the main story or not, there are many other tasks to be done in Shivering Isles, many related to the subject of divided population, but also item hunting, assassinations, and all that. The main story shows a slight change of direction depending on which choice you make in certain situations, the choice has to do with the two distinct sides and even though the rest of the game and tasks continue the same and available no matter which choice you make, the main storyline suffers slight differences and rewards you with distinct items based on what decision you’ve made. As you advance helping the Madgod you get promoted to higher levels until you finally reach the highest point, as his successor. This works much like the guilds in the main game, where you also go climbing in position and gaining respect of the others. There’s also additions like new weapons, types of armors, creatures, ingredients.

Shivering Isles is actually a parallel world to Tamriel. Even though the map of this expansion isn’t as big as the main game’s, it’s still very big, with many locations scattered around and with many tasks to attend. Visually it has its own style but overall it looks pretty much like the original technically speaking, so no graphical enhancement can be noted. Actually the presentation is pretty much Oblivion, what shines here is the opportunity to play this amazing game again with multiple brand new events and a new main story. And this time the main story plays a much bigger role, meaning that most of side-quest are somewhat related to what’s going with the world of Shivering Isles – actually more the inner war between the two sides than the actual threat of doomsday.

If you still are not sure about this you should ask yourself a very simple question. Ask “Did I like Oblivion?”. If the answer to that question is yes then you absolutely should get this, because it uses Oblivion’s formula and game mechanics to offer an extent of gameplay that’s surely worth the purchase. If you didn’t like Oblivion then you should go look for a more suitable game for yourself. It’s quite simple really. The game overall manages to maintain almost the same level of awesomeness as Oblivion delivered, with a nice new main story, new tasks, new dungeons, new items, new locations. Everything will seem fresh, though the system will be familiar enough. A great motive to re-experience this amazing RPG experience.