Crysis comes to consoles, and four years after its release on the PC, there’s still nothing quite like it.
- Vast, beautiful environments give the action lots of flexibility
- Nanosuit powers make the shooting even more fun
- Lots of enjoyable vehicles to drive
- Great visuals and sound effects.
- Linear, more predictable final hours
- Frustrating checkpoints.
Any discussion of 2007′s PC shooter Crysis inevitably turns to its graphics. It was–is–a beautiful game, boasting incredible technology that makes it one of the most lifelike adventures to date. For some, its excellence as a shooter is secondary, which is too bad: Crysis is a fun and challenging game that doesn’t rely on its technological wonders to make an impact. Now, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 owners get to experience these wonders for themselves, and they should be pleased to learn that the game holds up well, due in part to some interface tweaks pulled directly from Crysis 2. The console Crysis isn’t as beautiful as the PC original, or even this year’s sequel, which may be why its flaws seem more readily apparent than before. Don’t take that to mean that Crysis isn’t a looker, though: It’s absolutely attractive on its new platforms. More importantly, shooting humans and aliens amid lush jungle foliage and frigid ravines is as entertaining as ever.
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Crysis tells an alien invasion story, though it’s hours before you tackle the extraterrestrials head on. It’s clear from the initial moments, however, that something’s not quite right. You play as Nomad, a member of a special forces team dispatched to a verdant island in the Pacific, where North Korean troops have captured a group of scientists who stumbled upon something–important. Crysis isn’t big on storytelling, but it makes effective use of its mysteries to keep you wondering. And when the moments of discovery arrive, they subvert your expectations. Entering an alien vessel doesn’t provoke the sci-fi shoot-out you may have envisioned but a prolonged weightless reverie that is thick with atmosphere and conservative with action. Some defied expectations aren’t as welcome: The final linear hours turn Crysis into a more typical sci-fi shooter than the first hours indicate, which isn’t to say that the later levels are mediocre–they’re just not as special as the early, expansive ones.
The first half is where Crysis makes its mark. The island is thick with foliage and dotted with outposts, where rickety structures and military depots might hide ammo and weapons. The environments are huge by shooter standards, allowing you multiple methods of approach. You could try a direct route, hopping into one of the game’s many vehicles and zooming forth to unleash gunfire from the top-mounted turret. Or you could be surreptitious and snipe your North Korean foes one by one. However you proceed, you rely on your nanosuit to support your style. Thanks to this fine bit of technology, you can leap great heights, sprint at high speed, improve your armor, and cloak yourself. On the PC, you must activate these abilities separately. The console version takes a cue from Crysis 2 by smartly integrating speed and strength modes into its running and jumping mechanics. The nanosuit abilities and spacious levels lead to impressive flexibility, which is further enhanced by weapon mods. You can equip silencers, assault scopes, flashlights, and even special ammo, which allows you to further specialize your skills as you make your way from one objective to the next.
The resulting action is a blast, and the variety of environments and possible approaches keeps you on your toes. Helicopters hover ahead, forcing you to lay low or scavenge for missiles so you can bring the bird to the ground. Hop in a speedy all-terrain vehicle and zip past your attackers–or hop out and face them head-on. Your walking speed seems a mite slow, but the gunplay translates well to a controller. The autotargeting is not overdone as it so often is in other shooters, meaning you have to earn your victories with skillful shooting. Enemy AI occasionally undercuts the excitement, however. For example, drivers may stay seated when you approach, allowing you to blast them in the face with a shotgun. But your armored foes generally put up a good fight, and cloaked operatives further amp up the challenge in certain locales. Ironically, alien enemies aren’t so tough, in part because you face them mostly in linear environments. Nevertheless, several battles against these hovering tentacled monsters are still enjoyable because you have to pay attention not just to the ground, but also to the sky above.
Crysis may last you 9 hours or more, depending on how much time you spend exploring and taking on side missions. While most games include harder difficulty levels, the higher levels here do more than just make enemies harder to kill. On hard, you can no longer fire a vehicle’s mounted gun while driving; on delta difficulty, you get no crosshairs, no grenade indicator, and enemies speak Korean. This is as it was on the PC, though a few elements have been removed. One is the oft-maligned Ascension level, in which you shoot down ETs as an aircraft pilot; another is the online multiplayer. More importantly, the ability to quicksave has been removed. Checkpoints are often far apart, so expect to replay healthy chunks of action should you die at an inopportune time.
Then there are the visuals. They’re beautiful, of course. The rays of the sun provide a luminous glow where they shine through gaps between trees. The ocean water ripples and flows realistically under boats and against docks, and destructible environments contribute to the authenticity. A well-tossed grenade might have the walls of a cabin falling to the ground, which is not only great to look at, but it’s also a tactical consideration, especially if you are standing in that same cabin. That said, there has been some expected loss in fidelity over the PC version. Many textures–particularly those on vehicles, rocks, and buildings–don’t look that great up close. Some objects shimmer into view, most noticeably in the later levels. Crysis looks impressive nonetheless, with countless shadows spreading across the forest floor so convincingly that you expect to feel a low-hanging branch brush across your cheek.
Crysis has stood the test of time, even if its faults are more apparent in retrospect. Parts of the campaign drag (a trek through a dark mine), while the final stretch sacrifices flexibility for scripted battles. But this first-person shooter’s excellence is inescapable. Four years later, as more shooters embrace corridor shoot-outs and scripted set pieces, the expansive jungles in Crysis are as refreshing as ever. If you’ve grown tired of the same old turkey shoots and have yet to indulge yourself in the PC version’s pleasures, now’s a good time to take a tropical adventure. At $20, this downloadable island getaway is a real deal.
By Kevin VanOrd
You know a game is going to have problems when you wait at the initial loading screen for five minutes until it finally tells you that it’s 139% loaded, and then everything crashes. Fray, a simultaneous-turn, squad-based, tactical game, does itself no favors with foibles like that never-ending startup screen, and it just gets worse from there.
Ostensibly, Fray is about three rival corporations, each with its own special ability, fighting with each other for points and prestige in a virtual-reality combat simulator. Gameplay, again ostensibly, consists of putting together a squad of troops, equipping them, and then taking command against a rival squad (or multiple squads) in a fight to the death. Troops come in fairly standard “classes,” including Snipers (good for long range support), Assault (good for charging into a fight headlong), and Medics (good for healing stuff), and the ostensible goal is to try to put together a well-rounded squad that can deal with any contingency. Players set their squads up each turn, simultaneously, give them orders as to what to do, and then both click “ready” and their choices unfold, also simultaneously, and they both deal with the results – at least ostensibly.
Okay, so why all the “ostensibly”s? Because most of Fray’s gameplay only exists in theory. So much of this game is broken, from loading screens to weapon functions to multiplayer matchmaking, that you’re lucky if you ever get to see one of your guys fire a weapon, let alone the end of a match. Just starting the game is a crap shoot, with everything from hanging to crashes to buttons simply not appearing any time you double click the icon. Once you’re in the game, good luck finding players to match up against – there’s no single-player mode at all – and, should you manage to join a game, good luck seeing it through without it crashing or timing out. Lag is pervasive, key bindings fail to do what they’re supposed to, and graphical artifacting makes the maps look like jpeg-compressed versions of themselves.
Stability and control aren’t the only major issues, though. Almost all the game’s text — including its non-interactive, hopelessly brief tutorial – is poorly translated into English, with confusing wording and tons of unclear grammar and style errors. The design of the combat is confusing, and lacks explanation: why does splash damage penetrate certain types of objects, but not others, for example? How am I to know which ones are which?
While the idea behind the simultaneous turn set up is interesting, it doesn’t make a ton of sense in a small-squad tactical game where exquisite planning and timing is key. Either you’ll end up feeling rushed (as the clock ticks down after your super fast opponent has already finished his setup) or bored (as you wait for your slow-ass opponent to finish his setup), and with no AI to practice against, you’re bound to end up making tons of frustrating, rookie mistakes time and time again. This is exacerbated by the complete lack of matchmaking system in Fray; every time you join a game, it’s one you choose at random, and you’re just as liable to end up against a rank noob as you are against one of the game’s playtesters, leaving every match feeling unfair and pointless. There’s also only the one game mode (deathmatch, essentially), and a small number of maps to play on.
There’s not a whole lot to say about Fray that hasn’t been said before about countless other games that were unnecessarily rushed out the door half-cooked. Neither its features nor its execution are worth the asking price.
By Eric Neigher
It’s a lightweight package, but UEFA Euro 2012′s great presentation captures the grand atmosphere of the tournament.
- New tournament-focused commentary is excellent
- Captures the Euro 2012 atmosphere thanks to sharp presentation
- Still plays a great game of football.
- Expedition mode is dull and unrewarding
- Adds little to the core FIFA experience.
UK REVIEW–UEFA Euro 2012 marks the first time EA has released a FIFA tournament tie-in as downloadable content. Finally, there’s no need to get gouged on another full-priced boxed product just so you can see England actually win something for once. It’s just as well, too, since Euro 2012′s content is rather thin on the ground. The usual array of licensed stadiums, kits, and new commentary certainly capture the atmosphere of the tournament, but there’s little else to do outside of chasing silverware or playing the mind-numbingly dull Expedition mode.
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The centrepiece of Euro 2012 is, of course, the tournament itself. You pick one of the officially licensed teams, get drawn into a group, and then jump straight into a game. All the setup options in FIFA 12 are present, so you can manage your lineup, formation, and tactics with ease before each match. An assortment of nicely detailed new stadiums decked out in UEFA purple along with excellent new commentary from FIFA stalwarts Clive Tyldesley and Andy Townsend also lend an atmospheric touch to the action.
The feel of that action remains identical, so there are no new tweaks to get to grips with. The great strategic play of the tactical defending system, the smooth animation from the physics-powered Player Impact Engine, and the subtleties of precision dribbling from FIFA 12 keep each match fast-paced and full of drama–it’s a satisfying and fun game to play. It’s disappointing, then, that after making your way through to the finals and taking your chosen team to glory that the trophy celebrations are somewhat anticlimactic. Sure, there are fireworks and a bit of trophy kissing, but it’s all rather brief. You can’t help but feel that after all your hard work, you and your team deserve a little bit more before being thrown back to the main menu.
Aside from the main tournament, Euro 2012 features a brand-new mode called Expedition: a cross between football, Risk, and a card collecting game, if each of those things suddenly became incredibly boring and unrewarding. You start off by picking a star player from a country of your choice, with the rest of your squad made up of random reserve players. That squad then sets off on a journey across Europe, hoping to beat numerous home nations along the way. But you can’t just challenge anybody you like. To challenge teams, you must build roads, which are awarded only after beating your first team.
Also awarded to you is a player from the opposing team, whom you can use to replace one of your own players or reject entirely. Beat that team again, and you’re awarded a player ranked slightly higher. Beat them yet again, and you’re awarded a star player. It’s a repetitive way to build up your squad–and it’s also the only way, given that your players don’t improve over time. Your final reward for beating a team is a piece of mosaic. Beat all 53 nations three times each and, joy of joys, you have a completed picture. It’s hardly the best incentive for playing through so many matches, and it doesn’t take long before your brain has turned to mush due to the banality of it all.
More compelling are the online modes, which come in the form of challenges and an online tournament. Challenges work just as they do in FIFA 12, where different match types and rivalries are fed through to a central hub for you to play through, albeit with a Euro twist. The hub is sparsely populated at the moment, but expect a lot more content to filter through once the tournament gets started in the real world. There’s also standard online play, which lets you take the Euro tournament online or play friendly exhibition matches. They add little to the standard online modes of FIFA 12, but they are enjoyable nonetheless.
And really, that’s all the Euro 2012 DLC is: a fun, well-presented FIFA skin that adds little to the core experience. If this were a full-priced retail release, there’d be hell to pay for EA, but as it stands, this isn’t a bad way to spend your cash (1800 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live or £15.99 on PlayStation Network), particularly if you’re eager to take your team to glory in Europe. Just, for the love of God, don’t try to do so in Expedition mode.
By Mark Walton
When the credits rolled at the end of Borderlands 2, I knew I loved it. Its exceptional writing, fun combat, constant stream of loot, fun quests and the sense of place sucked me into Pandora for hours and left me hankering for more story content. Now that we finally have more, though, in the form of Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty, it’s obvious the original campaign set a high bar that’ll be tough to clear. Pirate’s Booty provides hours of fun for people longing for more Borderlands 2 gameplay, but the story, characters and quests feel flat compared to the core campaign.
As soon as you hit level 15 you can instantly fast travel to Oasis, the starting point for the Pirate’s Booty content. Doing so triggers an awesome cinematic intro where you learn about a long-lost treasure. You’ll also meet Captain Scarlett, a sand pirate who you’ll help in an epic quest to uncover a host of loot. The story starts off great, with hilarious and well-written characters like Shade, but quickly stumbles into mediocrity. A few quests for Shade and you basically never see him again, leaving you with a slew of other characters which, despite having occasionally witty or charming dialogue, largely never come all that close to being as engrossing or great as I’ve come to expect from Borderlands.
Likewise the narrative just doesn’t develop into anything especially good. Captain’s Booty doesn’t have a lead protagonist or antagonist binding it together in the way, Handsome Jack, Angel or Lilith do in the mainline story. As such it suffers, resulting in a story that’s almost entirely predictable (and at times downright boring). Archetypal stories don’t need to be boring (see Star Wars, Lord of the Rings), but Captain’s Booty doesn’t have interesting enough characters or plot twists to make it engrossing. That being said, the last part of Pirate’s Booty is almost enough to redeem it, as the final zones’ story and loot payoff makes the experience feel rewarding.
If all you want is a reason to get more loot, levels (assuming you haven’t maxed out), and to shoot your way through more of Pandora, Captain’s Booty mostly succeeds. Combat encounters remain interesting and fun despite mostly putting you up against re-skinned enemies in pirate get ups, if only because your characters abilities and weapons feel like playing with toys. The occasional unique enemy like the Anchorman helps mix things up, as his ability to yank you to him from far away kills camping strategies. I think it’s good to establish a sense of place, something the DLC does as well as the original campaign with its visual design, but it’d be nice to see more creativity taken with the pirate theme than just putting a captain’s hat or cutlass on the host of familiar foes.
Likewise there’s plenty of loot to collect and quests to fulfill, though the latter doesn’t live up to the quality established by core Borderlands 2 experience. You won’t find any weapons or other gear in the main quest that’ll blow you away, but new level 50 raid bosses, including one you can kill for a new currency called Seraph Crystals, give the most dedicated of us something to chase long after the many hours of Pirate’s Booty quests run out.
Not that most of the quests are particularly interesting – most of them boil down to typical MMO-like fetch and kill quests. The main campaign of Borderlands 2 had its fair share of these objectives as well, but they were peppered throughout a lengthy narrative that also had a large number of inventive and inspired quests, even better writing and a slew of fantastic characters. If you’re susceptible to the more typical and generically structured quests (and I’ll admit, I am), then you’ll find plenty to get sucked into, even if it’s a bit boring and makes you retread environments a lot more when compared to what we’ve seen before.
Borderlands 2: Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty delivers exactly what you’d expect: more Borderlands. So long as you’re not an overpowered, max-level character you’ll find hours of quests to complete, a host of loot to collect and plenty of pirate-themed baddies to send to an early grave. You’ll also experience the same shortfalls as the core game, including scarcely utilized vehicles, as well as a comparatively disappointing narrative and more generically designed quests. No, Captain’s Booty is not an exceptional follow-up to Borderlands 2, but it is a good piece of content that gives plenty of reasons for anyone to jump back into Pandora.
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 offers fast, fun games of Magic: the Gathering, but is hampered by a less-than-ideal control scheme and limited deck building.
- Easy to set up for quick sessions
- Several different competitive modes
- Challenge levels teach you how to take advantage of advanced mechanics
- Great fun in multiplayer with friends.
- Deck construction is extremely limited
- Dull campaign mode
- Controls are frustrating to deal with
- Bare bones presentation.
It’s hard to believe that Magic: The Gathering is almost 20 years old. The revolutionary collectible card game has had a massive influence on games, both tabletop and electronic alike, and it continues to drive at the forefront of an industry it established. For all of its popularity, however, it’s not an easy experience to translate into video game form. While Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 doesn’t offer all of the varied nuances and experiences that make the physical version of Magic so compelling, it does a serviceable job of translating the card game into a quick, easy-to-play format that casual players and veterans alike can enjoy–provided they can get past some of its caveats.
Amount of things that will soon be going down: a lot.
The rules of Magic: the Gathering involve players drawing magic power from varied sources, casting environment-altering spells, summoning creatures and fighters big and small, conjuring powerful magical artifacts, and using them to beat the crap out of each other. There’s far more nuance than that, of course; there are several different “colors” of spells with varied strengths and weaknesses, as well as numerous types of monsters and items with distinct traits and abilities. Magic is a strategic and competitive game that requires a great deal of forethought and reaction.
Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 simplifies things somewhat from the original card game by making the complex structure of Magic more palatable to newcomers and casual players. Rather than carefully choosing and constructing your deck of tricks card by card, you play one of several different preconstructed decks with distinct play styles, advantages, and drawbacks. As you play through the various single-player modes, you unlock new decks to use, as well as earn additional cards to augment each deck. Play itself is also streamlined and simplified, as DotP 2012 consolidates certain beginning and end phases of turns in the regular game into two “main” phases with a combat phase in between. While hardcore Magic players might balk at the changes–the inability to create a custom deck from scratch, in particular, will certainly turn off a few veterans–they help make the game a lot easier to dive into for a general audience.
There are numerous play modes available in DotP 2012. In Campaign mode you battle computer opponents, earning new decks and additional cards as you progress. In between matches are also optional, clever puzzle challenges that set up an established game situation–usually disadvantageous to you–that ask you to make smart use of the game rules and card abilities to turn it around. Going through the standard Campaign mode will also unlock Archenemy mode, which is new to the 2012 edition of the game. In this mode, you and two computer-controlled players take on a single, highly powered opponent who can bend certain rules and play powerful, environment-altering “scheme” cards each turn. There’s also Revenge mode, where the opponents you beat come back with bigger, more powerful decks. Unlike many other games in the card battle genre, there’s no overarching story or any sort of dialogue with characters going on during the campaign; you just beat one guy and move on to the next. It’s a bit of a disappointment because it would have been nice to interact, even superficially, with the world of Magic: the Gathering’s interesting characters and settings.
If you don’t feel like trudging through the campaign, there is a quick-play mode that will let you set up a game against up to four computer opponents in a standard winner-takes-all competition. The variant modes are more interesting, however; besides Archenemy, there’s also Two-Headed Giant, a two-versus-two team competition where you and a computer-controlled buddy (or a local player) combine forces and share a life pool while taking on an opposing two-player team. Competitive play against other human opponents is the biggest draw, however, and it’s done quite well. You can play either standard or ranked matches against friends or random players in any of the available game variants (though Archenemy, due to its nature, is unavailable for ranked play). Getting a group of friends together to play good-natured matches against each other or collaborate in one of the team play modes is tons of fun, but going up against random opponents is still something of a crapshoot. A common complaint in the last iteration was that players would disconnect if they started to lose a ranked match. “Cord pulling” out of a match in DotP 2012 is now counted as a loss toward a player who disconnects, but there are still other ways to grief an opponent, including stalling for as much time as possible. Online bugs also seemed to be present in rare cases, as we encountered a match where the game simply stalled forever as a player tried to activate a card ability, forcing us to concede.
While DotP 2012 can be a lot of fun, much of the enjoyment you potentially derive from the game comes from finding Magic: the Gathering interesting to play. The graphics are merely adequate (don’t expect any cool animations of the monsters you summon, for example) and the sound effects are nondescript and inoffensive. You also have to fight with the controls every step of the way as you attempt to enjoy the game. DotP’s control scheme feels awkward and unnatural with a controller because highlighting certain cards to zoom in and read their effect information requires choosing it like a menu selection with the analog stick–except you actually need to use the right analog stick to choose certain cards for some reason. If your opponent is casting spells, it can be extremely difficult to highlight and read the effects of the spell in the limited time before it takes effect, which leads to cases where it comes into play before you can react. Pressing buttons a split second too early or too late can lead to missed plays and annoying dialogue pop-ups.
As it stands, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012 provides a way to enjoy a simple game of Magic: the Gathering. Its limited customization options, serious control issues, and lack of extra flair keep it from being as interesting an experience as it could be, but you can still have a good time by getting a bunch of online or offline buddies together for games. And at $10, it’s certainly more affordable than going to your local card shop and buying cases of cards.
By Heidi Kemps
Despite its short length and easy puzzles, this episodic adventure still captivates with strong storytelling and compelling characters.
- Great visuals
- Expert voice acting brings characters to life
- Interesting story.
- Puzzles offer little challenge
- Only takes a few hours to finish.
Films of the ’80s are notoriously responsible for spawning a deluge of supercheesy fashion fouls, hokey acting atrocities, and cringeworthy fads. To some extent, the Back to the Future movie trilogy is guilty on all charges, but if thoughts of flaming tire tracks left by a heavily pimped-out DeLorean evoke feelings of fuzzy nostalgia, then you’ll find lots to love in this resurrection of the franchise. As an all-new episodic adventure game series, Back to the Future: The Game shows a lot of promise with its debut installment, even if the puzzle complexity and overall difficulty is dialed down a bit lower than it is in developer Telltale’s other games.
Instead of rehashing the events that played out in the films, Back to the Future: The Game explores new territory and continues the time-hopping adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Emmet Brown. It’s About Time picks up a few months after the events of the third film, and all is not well in Hill Valley. Doc has gone missing for months, and the city is determined to sell off his estate to cover his past-due financial obligations. Marty is reluctant to let the sale go through, and even more reluctant to let any of Doc’s possessions go to his nemesis, Biff Tannen. But soon the DeLorean mysteriously shows up with a recorded message from Doc who is stranded somewhere in the past, and Marty has bigger problems to deal with. Marty has to figure out a way to save his old pal, which kicks off an oddball time-traveling rescue mission set in Hill Valley’s prohibition era. The entertaining story that follows is enhanced by believable character interactions, imbuing the adventure with a great sense of authenticity.
Marty and Doc are strong and likeable lead characters, and the impressive visual designs mixed with the expertly delivered voice work make them all the more entertaining. Doc is actually voiced by Christopher Lloyd, while the other main characters are voiced by sound-alikes. The killer verbal delivery sounds spot-on, and Marty sounds especially good. Even with a cartoonish sheen, the characters and locations really come to life in the first episode. The game is one of Telltale’s best-looking efforts yet. Hill Valley offers a highly detailed and interesting streetscape to explore. However, it’s a little disappointing that the town is not more interactive. When Marty enters most buildings or storefronts, your point-of-view remains stuck out on the sidewalk. During such moments, Marty typically engages in a quick snippet of dialogue behind closed doors before being booted back to the street. There are only a handful of key indoor locales in which to venture around. They’re well developed and offer some neat puzzles, but they’re few and far between.
The PlayStation 3 control scheme works similarly to its PC counterpart, though remapped buttons make it easy to quickly access various submenus. The left thumbstick moves Marty around directly, and you can select hot spots you’re standing next to with a tap of the X button. The shoulder buttons let you cycle through available hot spots to interact with manually. It’s a nice touch that saves a little time when you don’t feel like manually walking across the screen to grab something. Moving from one area to the next often switches camera angles. This can make it awkward to get your bearings at times, but it doesn’t take long to figure out where you are or which direction you’re moving in.
A well-penned story, compelling characters, and a stellar presentation drive the game more than anything else. When it comes to the gameplay and puzzles, It’s About Time is surprisingly light on challenge and content. The flow and scope of the game is very standard adventure-gaming fare. You follow the plot cues and often find objects to interact with or items to pick up and carry around until they’re needed. Most puzzles you encounter are interesting and well thought-out. For example, trying to figure out a way to con the young version of Doc into finishing a peculiar invention to unknowingly save his older self has you running around on a cavalcade of amusing errands. The puzzles almost always skew on the easy side, so while they’re still enjoyable to solve, you shouldn’t come to It’s About Time looking for a challenge. If you do find yourself stuck, there’s a scalable hint system that you can call on to give you a nudge in the right direction.
Despite lacking some of the complexity and puzzle depth of Telltale’s other work, Back to the Future’s premiere episode still holds you pretty tightly in its grip for the few short hours it takes to plow through it. It’s a brief trek that packs plenty of plot and personality to balance out its other shortcomings. Considering the strength of the story and the fact that the plot thread runs throughout the whole series, you’re sure to be left feeling anxious to see what comes next. This series holds a lot of promise, and the taste in episode one definitely provides a strong foundation for Telltale to continue building on in upcoming episodes. The future looks bright indeed.
Mercury Hg is cheaper, safer and more fun than playing with real volatile chemicals, though the experience is short lived and simple.
- Fun gameplay with tight control
- Easy to get into
- Great value pricing.
- Doesn’t last long
- No wildly different modes
- A little too simplistic.
There’s something timeless about those old labyrinth toys that tasked you with guiding a metal ball by tilting a maze. It’s a simple concept that has translated well to video games as most famously seen with the Super Monkey Ball series. Taking the same concept and replacing “metal ball” with “blob of mercury,” the Mercury games became favorites among puzzle game fans since the series debuted on the PSP many years ago. Mercury is about more than just hastily tilting a platform to make your blob flow from point A to point B; it forces you to think about the traps in your path and how the physics of your mercury blob can help (or hinder) your progress. This is no different for Mercury Hg, which brings a host of new levels to modern HD consoles, though it has lost some of the challenge and longevity in the transition.
The main goal in any Mercury Hg level is to tilt a mazelike platform with the left analog stick as you guide a blob of mercury (or more than one) to the goal. The catch is that you want to do this quickly and without losing any of the mercury that makes up your blob. The blob isn’t totally cohesive, so if you get too close to an edge, you start to lose mercury as it drips down into an abyss. There are also many ways in which bits of your blob can split off from the whole, such as hitting the corner of a wall or landing from a fall with a lot of momentum. When this happens, you need to be extra careful with how you tilt the platform because it can be easy to send some bits off the stage while trying to guide other bits to the goal. In a pinch, you can hold a button to attract the blobs back together into a cohesive whole rather than try to force them back together with physics, but this ability comes at the cost of speeding up the clock, which you don’t want to do when going for a high score or trying to beat a specific time. The PlayStation 3 version of the game features a Sixaxis control scheme that allows you to tilt the PS3 controller to tilt the level instead of using the analog stick. This feels natural and can be a fun way to play, but it also feels a little touchier and less precise than the default control option, so you may not want to use it for harder levels unless you’re up for a tougher challenge.
The main game is composed of 60 discovery levels. Each of these has a total of four atoms for you to collect by fulfilling certain requirements: completing the level, finishing under the par time, finishing with 100 percent mercury, and collecting all of the pickups. These atoms go toward unlocking the later level groups, though there are far more atoms available than are required to unlock every stage, which makes collecting them less important if you merely want to complete each maze. Each stage has a par time of less than a minute or two, and some can be completed in mere seconds. But there’s an addictive quality to the gameplay that makes you eager to hit “Next Stage” over and over again.
Most of these levels are pretty easy, perhaps to a fault. Many of the hurdles from previous Mercury games are gone, such as enemies and temperature puzzles. There are obstacles, such as magnetrons and anti-magnetrons, which try to pull your blob in or push you away, but most of your peril comes from the environment in the form of hills or holes. You often come across paint shops that change your blob into another color, which you need to do to activate certain switches or pass through certain walls. This gets particularly tricky when you need a secondary color such as yellow, but you don’t have a yellow paint shop. You have to split your mercury into two blobs, paint one blob red and one blob green, and then combine them again to make yellow. It’s a neat puzzle mechanic that should have been utilized more often to create more challenging levels.
By beating levels quickly and nabbing collectables, you can unlock challenge and bonus levels, which are where the difficulty really starts to ramp up. Bonus levels are the same as their discovery counterparts but with a different objective: You can’t finish the level unless you have 100 percent of your mercury intact, and you don’t start with all of it. So you have to carefully collect vials of mercury strewn around the stage while making sure not to lose even a tiny bit of it to one of the many obstacles. Challenge mode forces you to play several levels in quick succession, fulfilling certain requirements that get tougher as you move forward. For example, stage one of a challenge may require you to finish its three levels in under 120 seconds while collecting at least 10 pickups. Stage two may pit you against the same levels, but this time you only have 90 seconds, need 15 pickups, and can’t lose a drop of mercury.
Mercury Hg has a nice aesthetic, with slick menus designed after the periodic table of elements and in-game graphics that feature clean designs with many vibrant colors. There are also a lot of neat stage effects like tiles that form in front of you as you move. Stage backgrounds react to the music being played as well, throbbing and pulsing with the beat. The included music is good, but you have the added bonus of playing the game with your own custom soundtrack, with the background being affected accordingly. It’s not much, but it’s a lovely touch and helps give life to the environment without getting in the way of the gameplay.
Playing through the discovery levels won’t take you long, especially if you ignore most of the secondary challenges. The entire mode can be completed in a single sitting and never gets dreadfully difficult. You can add longevity to your experience by competing for higher leaderboard scores, which is made more enjoyable by the ability to download ghost data of top players to play against. You could certainly ask for more, such as some of the party modes from earlier Mercury games or more stages with more complex puzzles, but for a mere $5, it’s hard to complain much. It may not fulfill all of its potential, but Mercury Hg is a fun game that will give you a few hours of enjoyment and can easily be picked up by anyone in the mood for a good puzzle game.
Super Soldier presents a bland-looking world with a bevy of mechanical problems, but beating down foreign aggressors still delivers patriotic fun.
- Detailed animations give your attacks serious weight
- Stringing together long combos is satisfying
- Good variety of objectives.
- Sluggish moves lead to frustration
- Automated platforming lacks excitement
- Tired visual design
- Dull story.
Captain America really savors a good beatdown. Once locked in a hand-to-hand fight with the foreign soldiers who threaten his patriotic ideals, he unleashes every punch, shield bash, and thunder kick in slow-motion to relish his physical superiority over his non-super adversaries. In Captain America: Super Soldier, you tear through opposing forces with xenophobic glee, and the exaggerated manner of your attacks lets you appreciate Cap’s athletic prowess and diverse move set. But the fine animations come at the expense of speed and flexibility. Defeating even low-level enemies takes much longer than you would expect from the likes of The Star-Spangled Avenger, and his lethargic attitude becomes downright frustrating when you face off against large groups. Captain America: Super Soldier encompasses heroic highs and human lows, resulting in an uneven stroll through hostile Germany.
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Comic book detractors have been known to levy all manner of criticism at the medium. From saying that comic books embody adolescent power fantasies to claiming they distort the view of female anatomy, there are many ways to disparage these visual stories. But rarely do you hear that they are boring. Captain America: Super Soldier unfortunately embraces this last descriptor. Red Skull’s single-minded quest to form an army of super soldiers is told in such a dispassionate way that it’s difficult to follow along with the twists and turns, let alone care about them. Sleepy voice actors that yawn trite lines hide motivations, and there aren’t many noteworthy events to grab your attention. Presentation issues carry over to dull visual design. Captain A tramps through a variety of similar-looking environments, and the unrelenting march of browns and grays dampens your spirits even more than the opposing army.
Once you look past the oppressive atmosphere, Super Soldier becomes a lot more respectable. Combat is your main means of interaction, and dispatching foes with panache gives you a warm appreciation for this well-muscled patriot. Although there is only one button dedicated to up-close attacks, Cap has a wide assortment of moves in his repertoire. Combat blows are randomly triggered based on who you’re fighting and the length of your current combination. You might punch a German soldier in the belly, slam his face into your knee, or perform a rising dragon punch complete with red, white, and blue fireworks. Each individual animation is well crafted and lets you feel the pain as you beat down silly chumps. Counterattacks let you cover your backside when you’re busy smacking another dude in the chops. Obvious button prompts warn you of an imminent attack, and you can chain long combos together by mashing your attack and counter buttons at the appropriate time.
In the early stages, combat is a strong point. Stringing long attack sequences together carries with it a heroic thrill, and making smart use of your agility ensures you don’t suffer retaliatory blows. But by the time you reach the midpoint of the game, your carefree fun is stymied by this inflexible system. Enemies come in a variety of forms, and many of them require specific techniques to defeat. For instance, one wily robot shoots missiles your way, and you have to catch them with your shield and then throw them back to cause a debilitating explosion. But floaty controls make it tricky to block when you’re surrounded by aggressive enemies, aiming your shield in first-person mode is a time-consuming task, and singling out a specific assailant isn’t always possible. Furthermore, your animations take so long to unfold that it’s possible to get caught in an inescapable explosion. Knock-back attacks derail your fun in a hurry, resulting in tiring ordeals as you struggle to right the wonky camera, aim at the appropriate enemies, and avoid offscreen attacks.
Despite these late-game issues, combat is still the best part of Super Soldier. When you do find a good rhythm, there’s an inherent satisfaction in shoving your nationalistic superiority down a nonbeliever’s throat, and periodic unlockables inject you with new powers to keep things fresh. And though the blue-clad Captain isn’t known for his intellect, puzzling traps do a good job of mixing up your objectives. These conundrums frequently entail smashing the appropriate electrical box, though you have to pull off some fancy maneuvers to expose its feeble circuitry. Your shield–so sluggish in combat–is instrumental in these circumstances. You may have to ricochet gun blasts around a wall or nail a number of switches with one smooth throw, and figuring out what needs to be done and then executing it perfectly does embolden your cerebral side. Straightforward level design ensures you always know where to go next, though a number of optional objectives give you a chance to tinker around if exploration is your thing. Elective puzzles, breakable walls, and other distractions help to immerse you in the world of international sabotage.
The most devious of your secondary goals are challenges that provide difficult tests in your adventure. These time-based missions present you with specific duties, and you need to master your combat skills and movement abilities to pass with flying colors. These take an assortment of forms, including puzzle-solving, platforming, combat, and every combination thereof, which injects a healthy variety into your skull-bashing hijinks. However, certain scenarios fall flat because of mechanical limitations. Quickly defeating enemies is not The Captain’s strength. Beating down enemies like you normally would (or countering their attacks) takes far too long, and even winging your shield and then finishing them off with a ground stomp doesn’t always work. Cap focuses on the strongest enemy at any given time, so you may stand over a fallen foe and still not attack him. Challenges in which you aim for targets with your shield also have issues. Rotating the camera is inconsistent when pointing at the screen, and it’s easy to accidentally lock on to the wrong target when you’re trying to move quickly.
Not only is Captain America superstrong, but he also has superior agility. Unfortunately, the moments in which you must scale your environment are the weakest parts of this uneven game. Jumping from platform to platform is mostly automated. As long as you’re holding the analog stick in the correct direction, Cap lands right where he should. This removes any semblance of challenge in making impressive leaps, and subsequently, much of the fun drains away. Without the fear of failure, you dutifully go through the motions without any emotional investment. Despite the win-button approach to jumping, seeing Cap hurdle gracefully through the air still carries with it some excitement, even if you don’t have much direct control over the proceedings. However, later on, the game takes a serious turn for the worse. Sliding rails demand you leap off at exact moments, and the gravity holding you to these beams doesn’t always kick in; thus, letting you fall back to the ground. The camera also makes it difficult to see which way you need to go at times, resulting in tedious sequences where you try to figure out where the exit point lies.
The different elements are showcased in boss sequences in which figuring out what to do is more challenging than actually doing it. There’s a good variety, but many sequences fall back on tired quick-time events, and the controls aren’t responsive enough to make these enjoyable. America’s greatest patriot deserves a more robust and thrilling game, but there’s still enough engaging content in Super Soldier to satiate any longtime Captain America fan that is thirsty for a digital offering of his fascist-bashing adventures.
By Tom Mc Shea
Are you getting sick of playing games that don’t actually let you play? You know the ones I mean: they funnel you down a narrow path, don’t give you much freedom in what you can do, and rely on cinematic set pieces to drive the spectacle. I am, and that’s why Dishonored is such a refreshing experience. It picks up where games like Deus Ex and BioShock left off, and puts choice back in the hands of the player.
As Corvo Attano, protector to an Empress, players find themselves in Dunwall, a grimy port city whose population is being decimated by a rat-born plague. It’s an industrial setting; a fishing town grown rich off the back of the whale oil that powers the city’s circuits. It’s also a hive of corruption, political machinations and power grabbing, and this all comes to the fore when the Empress is assassinated, and Corvo sets out to avenge her death.
That vengeance can take many forms. Unlike so many video game protagonists, Corvo is not pre-ordained to be a mass murderer. The entire game can be completed without killing a single person, so guards can be avoided or knocked unconscious, and non-lethal options can be found for assassination targets.
Of course, if you want to cut a bloody swathe across Dunwall, that’s catered for too. Just be warned: killing your way to the end of the game has a number of ramifications. More dead bodies means more rats and more guards, and a darker overall conclusion.
If you’re anything like me though, you’ll probably take an approach that’s somewhere in the middle – at least for your first play-through. Whatever you do, the mechanics are highly versatile and each setting has been designed to give players multiple options for achieving any one goal.
By way of example, in one mission Corvo has two targets to take out inside a brothel, but there is, of course, an alternative to killing them. If you can find another guest in the complex and get him to give up the code for his safe, you can then give this code to a character in the Distillery District and he’ll make both your targets disappear. In my first playthrough, I got the code, but went and eliminated both the targets anyway, then took the contents of the safe for myself.
The mechanics are highly versatile and each setting has been designed to give players multiple options for achieving any one goal.
These kind of options make missions much more engaging than if players were simply tasked with the usual ‘go here, kill this’ objectives. That said, it’s actually the moment to moment gameplay choices that make Dishonored so compelling.
What happens, for instance, if you need to get past a ‘wall of light’? These electrified gateways are set up throughout the city and will fry anything that’s not authorised to pass through them. You might be able to circumvent it by climbing up onto the rooftops and traversing around, or use the possession power to scurry through a drainage pipe as a rat and get to the other side. On the other hand you could deal with the gate itself by removing the whale oil tank that’s powering it, or hack into the system and reverse it. This last option is perhaps the most entertaining, as it means you’re now able to step through, but any guards who give chase will be instantly incinerated.
The approach you take will at least partly be determined by how you’ve customised Corvo, and these options are incredibly robust. Each of the game’s ten powers can be unlocked in any order (after Blink), and each can be upgraded. Runes hidden throughout the world are the currency for unlocking and upgrading powers, and that hunt is brilliant fun in and of itself. For my first play through, I focused on using and levelling up three core powers: Blink, Dark Vision and Agility.
Blink is a short range teleport that’s useful for moving from cover to cover, getting the jump on enemies and scaling buildings. Dark Vision lets players see enemy movements through walls, and also highlights other important objects in the world. Agility, on the other hand, is a passive power which increases jump height and movement speed, and reduces fall damage. As you can see, I opted for agility and stealth above all else.
To further enhance my cat burglar-like skills, I also spent cash upgrading my boots for quieter movement, and activated perks – via the game’s hidden bone charms – to drastically reduce the time it takes to choke an enemy, as well as to increase my movement speed in stealth mode and while carrying corpses.
You may well choose completely different abilities and perks. If you’re combat-focused, whirlwind sends enemies flying and is really effective, as is slow time, which actually freezes time when fully levelled up. While some powers are more useful than others, it’s a good selection and great fun to experiment with. They’re backed up by more traditional weapons: crossbow, pistol, grenades, spring razor, and so on, and these can all be upgraded too.
Dishonored’s nine missions are all very distinct. You’ll attend a society gala in disguise, scale a bridge, escape from prison, wander through flooded slums and stalk across rooftops. You’ll take part in a duel, carry an unconscious man through a gauntlet of enemies and decide whether or not to become a torturer. Each mission is designed as a sandbox, allowing players to utilise whatever approach they want, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll take your time, getting the lay of the land, discovering alternate routes, listening in on conversations, taking on optional objectives, looking for secrets and treasure, and generally just playing.
Players who really take the time to enjoy the experience are rewarded too. The more runes, bone charms and money you find, the more you can augment and upgrade your character, and the more bad-ass you’ll become. In fact, by the last couple of missions I was almost too powerful; able to stalk, choke and kill with ease. Good thing there are hard and extra hard difficulty settings to move on to, which ramp up the perceptiveness of enemies and increase the general challenge.
It’s also worth noting that taking out the actual targets in each mission can often be a bit of a letdown. In almost all cases you’ve got a serious advantage over them – no matter how heavily guarded they are. That’s not much of a deal breaker, however, because Dishonored really is about exploration and experimentation as much as the end goal. This is one of those games in which you’ll save often, reloading again and again to try different approaches, until you get each gameplay vignette just right.
Even though the odds are very much in your favour (on normal difficulty at least), the gameplay evolves nicely alongside the story. New factions and enemy types are introduced, which help shift up the vibe and introduce new challenges. One mission in particular pits Corvo against foes that aren’t so easily outmanoeuvred, and it’s a great touch, even though I’d have loved to see that sub-story pushed a little further.
In fact, that goes for a lot of the game. It’s a fascinating world with a memorable cast, not to mention an interesting overarching tension between mystical pagan magic and industrialisation, but all these elements never really feel like they come to fruition. The experience is still engrossing from start to finish, however.
You may also have some small issues with the controls. Climbing ledges – particularly when getting out of water – sometimes isn’t as smooth as it could be. The mechanic for sneaking up on guards and grabbing them from behind can be a little temperamental too – nothing worse than coming up behind a guard and blocking instead of grabbing. It’s also a little disappointing that the well-implemented first person perspective doesn’t extend to carrying objects, which just hover in space, in stark contrast to wielding weapons, powers and knocking guards out. Oh, and you’ll come across a few invisible walls in the play spaces, too, which is a bit of a shame, but probably unavoidable. None of these concerns are deal breakers, as Dishonored is very much a joy to play.
It’s also one of the prettiest games of recent years. The art direction is nothing short of incredible, and it’s matched with a visual aesthetic that makes the world look like an oil painting in motion. Dishonored isn’t competing on detail; it’s driven by soft textures, intelligent use of colours and contrast, and beautiful lighting. From terraced urban streets to industrial warehouses, menacing fortresses to regal palaces, it’s Victorian England meets City 17 meets whalepunk. The character modelling is superb too, even if the facial animations could be better… and the oddly oversized hands could be smaller.
As is becoming standard, PC owners are in for the biggest visual treat. Dishonored does look excellent on console – I finished it on Xbox 360, then started again on PS3, and thoroughly enjoyed playing on both. You may notice minor frame rate issues and a little tearing, but nothing that will really take away from the gameplay. That said, it’s significantly better-looking on a modern PC, so that should be the platform of choice for players who have the option.
It’s a shame that Dishonored’s story isn’t greater than the sum of its decidedly memorable parts, but its gameplay absolutely is. Each mission is built as an elaborate network of choices for players to explore, and the same can be said for Corvo himself. Each player’s selection of powers, perks and other upgrades will inform how they see and interact with this world, and no two play-throughs will be exactly the same. Dishonored is a game you’ll talk with your friends about, and that you’ll want to play multiple times. In this game there are always other paths to be taken and other challenges to conquer, and that’s a refreshing thing indeed.
By Cam Shea
The Walking Dead: Episode 1 is bloody, brutal, and hard to put down.
- Gripping storyline and first-rate characters and dialogue
- Fantastic, stylish artwork
- Panicky, crazy action sequences.
- Shallow gameplay
- Camera angle is too restrictive in many scenes.
This is not your average Telltale Games adventure. The developer best known for all-ages affairs like the Back to the Future and Tales of Monkey Island franchises has nimbly waded into the guts and gore of the zombie apocalypse with the first episode of its five-part take on The Walking Dead. A New Day is chock-full of all the bursting brains, eaten entrails, and sudden deaths of leading characters that feature prominently in both Robert Kirkman’s award-winning comic series and the freewheeling TV show adaptation. Marty McFly might not approve, but you certainly will if you have even the slightest taste for good zombie stories and a strong stomach to deal with the many gross-out moments.
What makes A New Day so compelling is its attention to appearance, plot, and character development. To help with clarity, the art sheds the black-and-white style of the comics in favor of vibrant color, though it uses similar art to that drawn by Charlie Adlard in the current issues. Fans may yearn for an option to go into a black-and-white mode, but the game art builds nicely on its paper inspiration. The PC and console versions of the game look much the same, although the PC edition is best overall with the smoothest animations. The PlayStation 3 game stutters regularly, although never for long enough that this causes any problems. The only issue is the camera, which is often too close to the action to get a good look at your surroundings. You get a good cinematic view of everything, at least, although this doesn’t help much when you’re scrounging through the drugstore for goodies or checking out nearby zombies.
The story has been crafted adroitly to weave in and out of the events told in the comics and on TV, blending the new with the familiar. So while you take on the role of the previously unseen Lee Everett, the adventure takes you through parts of rural Georgia also visited by Rick Grimes and the gang. Many of the events here fill out backstories from the comics. You visit Hershel’s farm before he started that interesting collection in his barn, for instance, and rescue Glenn when he gets trapped during one of his scavenging runs.
All of the characters are very well written and voiced as individuals (none of the TV actors reprise their roles here, though), which makes you care about whether or not they get munched on by ravenous corpses. It’s difficult to get up from the game, so expect to finish it in a two- or three-hour single sitting. Granted, there are some cliches. Lee is a stereotypical man of mystery, with a sinister past that may involve his killing the US senator messing around with his wife. His kid sidekick, Clementine, while lovable and tough in her own right, is obviously a plot device to help tragic Lee find his way again.
Actual gameplay is of a more so-so quality. Although this is a point-and-click adventure, the puzzles are few and far between. Exploration is a must in a couple of places, and there are a few spots where you need to gather items to push the plot forward. Controls are basic. On the PC, you use a mouse-and-WASD combo, occasionally resorting to the number keys to change between the standard looking, taking, talking, and using abilities. Consoles work in a similar fashion, with the left stick moving, the right stick taking care of the point of view, and the four face buttons handling character abilities. Other than the control scheme, there isn’t much to figure out. Most of the game deals with interacting with fellow survivors through dialogue.
Conversations typically give you limited time to respond to comments, forcing you to decide whether to blow somebody off or make nice. No selections are absolutely wrong. You can be tough on a coward who ran away instead of helping a friend avoid being chomped, or be kind to a sharpshooting gal in the hope that she might just save your life at some point. Key dialogue choices change how the game plays out, although not in wildly dramatic ways. You make a friend, you make an enemy, somebody notices you telling a lie, that sort of thing. The main difference between choices is the severity of the tone taken by other characters when speaking to you.
Quick-time action sequences bring up more important options. You find yourself a heartbeat away from zombie chompers on more than a few occasions during A New Day. When this happens, you’re given a few seconds to either left-click/button-mash a wavering cursor on a zombie skull or hammer some keys/button-mash to fend off the dead guy’s groping hands and snapping teeth. Miss this, and you’re a juicy burger. Nevertheless, none of this is very challenging, and the mechanics are simplistic enough to draw in casual gaming fans of the Walking Dead comics and TV show.
The first surprise attack comes so suddenly that you barely have a chance to react before the teeth sink into your neck, but after that you can cruise through the moments of zombie mayhem, most notably a screwdriver/axe beatdown in a motel courtyard. What’s more shocking are the times when you’re forced to make the call between saving one friend in peril and giving one up to the hungry dead. These moments are unsettling and very true to the horrific nature of the comics, where beloved, long-running characters can be torn apart without notice.
Telltale’s Walking Dead series is off to a great start with A New Day. This is more story than game, so there’s little challenge in the hours you spend fleeing and fighting and talking about the zombie hordes. But that approach works here, allowing the game to build upon the cruel, character-driven comic series and stand apart from more mayhem-oriented zombie games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island. This also lets you get to know the cast in a more intimate manner than would be possible if the episode were all about splattering zombies and solving puzzles. Although given the source material, you still probably shouldn’t get too attached to anybody.
By Brett Todd