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Velvet Assassin Review

It’s hard to get stealth games right. With games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell doing it so differently, it’s hard to say which game does it the best. Velvet Assassin doesn’t try to re-invent the stealth genre, but it does go back to the old school ways that make it rather challenging, intense, and satisfying.

Velvet Assassin follows the story of Violette Summers who is based off of the real-life assassin – Violette Szabo. At the beginning of the game you’ll learn that Violette is unconscious on a hospital bed, and because of this, you’ll be reliving her missions as she remembers them. You’ll relive 12 missions, learn why Violette is in this condition, and get more history as to why Violette was on these missions.

As said before, this is a stealth game. The stealth is most similar to Splinter Cell, but a little simpler. When Violette is in a dark area her silhouette will be outlined by purple, so either she’s in stealth or not. The main part of the game revolves around Violette moving around in shadows quietly taking out soldiers in her way, collecting intel, or setting explosives. These parts are made better by the atmospheric sounds and intense music–even when Violette isn’t in an encounter with an enemy, the music makes everything much more tense and uneasy.

To help set the mood, levels will often remind you that Violette is in the middle of a war zone. You’ll often see military vehicles such as cars or tanks, dilapidated buildings, and civilians that were executed. The dialog shared between German soldiers is often really interesting to listen in on. The dialog isn’t far-fetched whatsoever as you’ll hear them talk about women, death, their families, drinking, war, etc. Letters can be found and read which contain personal messages from soldiers to their families. These are well worth the read since they add personal feelings to the soldiers you’re killing.

The game relies heavily on the player’s patience, and it requires a lot. Sitting around waiting for an enemy to turn his back or waiting and learning a soldier’s path is imperative as Violette will have very limited ammo. There are a few ways to get a soldiers attention so you can sneak around them like whistling, turning off a nearby radio, or breaking a fuse box.

Though Velvet Assassin sounds and looks wonderful, that’s not to say everything else is great. Unfortunately, the enemy AI is rather dumb and simple. Enemies can be easily tricked and it seems they either see really poorly in dark areas or surprisingly well depending if they’re on high alert. Enemy soldiers are also well equipped to take you out on sight. If Violette is caught she’ll more than likely die with a few gunshots as she’s rather fragile. It’s always helpful to have an escape route planned before going in for a kill just in case.

Stealth kills are what you’ll aim for most of the time. There are a number of different animations for these kills, depending on what weapon you have equipped. There are gas-filled rooms that will have soldiers in them, and sneaking up behind them and taking their gas-mask off is always great. Stabbing people in the face, ear, chest, or neck never gets old either. When Violette makes contact with an enemy, whether it’s with a knife or fist, it has a nice and believable thud to it. Soldiers sometimes have grenades attached to their belts allowing you to pull the pin and let him explode.

The stealth action is broken up by shooting sequences. While these can be optional, it is the easy way out of tricky or timed situations. Shooting sequences are easily identified when the game gives you a shotgun, or anything that isn’t a pistol really, with enough ammo to play Call of Duty. These sequences feel a bit out of place since the whole game is about stealth, but makes sense given the setting.

During certain levels you’ll be able to switch outfits. Having a disguise means you’ll look like you’re part of the SS and enemies won’t pay too much attention to you. When in a disguise, a meter will appear on screen. When you get closer to an enemy it will shrink. If the meter is completely gone, then an enemy knows you’re a fake and will start shooting. Switching into a disguise is great, but the meter isn’t all that great and feels tacked on.

As you progress through the game you’ll learn more about Violette. At times she gives narration during a mission explaining the situation she had to go through. At random points during a mission Violette will slip out of consciousness and she’ll overhear a conversation between the two men standing at her bedside. These conversations are usually the most interesting as you’ll learn more about Violette’s history and what’s going to happen to her body.

You’ll find morphine throughout levels, which basically giving you a free shot at an enemy. When you activate the morphine mode the area around Violette will turn white, flower pedals will float in the scene, and she’ll be invincible for a short period of time. This is mainly used to get out of sticky situations. When she goes into morphine mode, Violette will have a rather sexy nightdress on. This seems a little weird as Violette isn’t over-sexualized in any way during the game outside of this instance.

Finding collectibles nabs you experience. For every 1,000 experience points you can increase one aspect of Violette – strength, stealth, or morphine. You can increase every aspect 5 times and then it’s maxed out. Improving her stats didn’t do a whole lot, as she still died with very few shots and didn’t seem to improve anything too drastically in the end.

Velvet Assassin isn’t perfect by any stretch. Checkpoints are few and far between. Trial and error is a big part of figuring out how to take out certain enemies without getting caught. The games’ two difficulty modes might as well be the same since in normal difficulty you can easily die with two or three gun shots. Enemies will always be on a fixed path, making them way too predictable. These issues can really keep the game from being enjoyable, especially since the difficulty spikes randomly.

It’s easy to have a love/hate relationship with this game. Sneaking around and then silently killing enemies is satisfying, but it gets bogged down by uneven difficulty and unforgiving checkpoints. It’s also hard to recommend this game since it requires so much patience and falls too much on trial and error. It all comes down to personal taste. Do you like stealth? Do you like challenge? If you’re even slightly interested, it’s worth at least a rental.

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May 25, 2009 Posted by | Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Metal Gear Solid Touch Review

Metal Gear Solid Touch is an interesting take on Metal Gear Solid 4. MGS4 has remarkable storytelling that is one of the best we’ve seen in years. Take that story, sum it up, and then have shooting gallery-like gameplay with touch-screen controls and you’ll have Metal Gear Solid Touch.

MGS Touch is set up in a way where you’ll read a bit of text and then jump in to a mission. The missions consist of Old Snake hiding behind a piece of cover and then occasionally popping up to shoot enemies. You’ll do this by dragging your finger to move where you’re aiming and then tap the screen to shoot. Old Snake will always stay crouched behind cover, but only when you start shooting does he stand up and take the risk of being shot. If your health is dangerously low you can stay behind cover and your health will replenish.

If you’ve played MGS4 you’ll immediately recognize the setting. Perhaps the worst thing about MGS Touch is that you don’t move, at all. In each level you’ll stay stationary, essentially an Old Snake turret if you will. Old Snake will stay behind his piece of cover while enemies pop out from objects within the level. The levels look like they took a picture in MGS 4 and made a level out of it for MGS Touch. If you zoom in on the level at all it immediately becomes a blurry mess. If not zoomed in it does look rather good for an iPhone/iTouch game.

Since it is a mobile game it does have its limitations. I encountered many cases where the game will slow down drastically when a smoke effect appears, an explosion occurs, or when something big jumps on screen. Luckily these effects don’t last very long, but it’s still enough to break the action.

Since this is a shooting gallery type game, playing it is mighty simple. Enemies that are exposed will have a slowly filling circle around them. Once that circle is filled and blinking red they will attack and hide back behind their piece of cover. Aside from just seeing cover with enemies popping out behind them there will be goodies scattered around, such as idols that can be shot for extra health or new weapons. Exploding barrels can also be shot to easily take care of surrounding enemies.

MGS Touch is like a story book broken up by fighting sequences. While MGS Touch does have the story of MGS4 backing it up, it’s told in a way that doesn’t make you care. The story is told through text which is summed up in a shoddy way. The overall quality is straight up missing in the story and doesn’t play that big a roll in the game. MGS Touch tries to stand on its own, telling the story while giving as much background information as possible (see screenshot below).

At first when I was reading through the bunches of pages explaining the controls, I was overwhelmed. The long tutorial made the controls sound complicated, pinching in for this, pinching out for that, scrolling, tapping, whatever. Getting into the game wasn’t bad at all though. Your default weapon will be an M4 but if you pinch the screen you’ll zoom in, which means you’ve switched to your SVD sniper rifle. To zoom out you pinch outwards. That’s all there really is to it.

Since this is a Metal Gear Solid game, you’ll hear familiar music and sounds. When you beat a mission you’ll be rewarded with Drebin Points. With these points you can go into the shop and purchase various artwork. Other than that there really isn’t a point to replay MGS Touch. If you have played MGS4 then there really isn’t much point in playing MGS Touch, since the two vastly differ in quality. Ultimately, it’s a sub-par shooting gallery game that isn’t very Metal Gear Solid-like.

Perhaps the biggest flaw with the game is me. My hands are rather big so touch screen games have never been my forte. Using my finger to aim never works well for me since my finger will take up a huge chunk of the screen, causing me to guess where I’m aiming. Maybe I’m not the only one here?

Available in the iTunes app store for $7.99

May 1, 2009 Posted by | Review | Leave a comment

New Fable II Achievements Added for Future DLC

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New achievements will be tagging along with the upcoming Fable II DLC, See the Future, due out in May. Some of the achievements require some interesting actions, such as making love 25 times or scoring 25 groin shots. Others require you to dress in a costume and scare citizens or make them laugh.

The total count will be 250 gamerpoints.

The Nutcracker 10
Score 25 groin shots, or see another Hero do so.

The Paramour 10
Make love 25 times, or see another Hero do so.

The Concierge 30
Open all the Demon Doors in Albion, or see another Hero do so.

The Visionary 50
Take a look into the future, or see another Hero do so.

The Con Artist 25
Find all 10 of Murgo’s statuettes, or see another Hero do so.

The Howler 10
Scare five people while dressed as a balverine, or see another Hero do so.

The Ghastly Jester 10
Make five people laugh while dressed as a hobbe, or see another Hero do so.

The Repugnant 10
Disgust five people while dressed as a hollow man, or see another Hero do so.

The Gladiator 30
Score a total high score of 20,000 points or more in the Colosseum, or see another Hero do so.

The Multiplicator 20
Achieve a multiplier of 10 or more in the Colosseum, or see another Hero do so.

The Combatant 20
Defeat the necromancer in the Colosseum, or see another Hero do so.

The Fowl Player 10
Dress as a chicken and kick five chickens during the Colosseum battles, or see another Hero do so.

The Colourist 15
Collect the dyes hidden in Murgo’s magical items, or see another Hero do so.

April 23, 2009 Posted by | News | Leave a comment

Fallout: New Vegas Announced

Like this, but post-apocalyptic

Like this, but post-apocalyptic

At an event held in London, Bethesda announced the next installment in the Fallout world. Fallout: New Vegas will be released next year (2010) on PC, Playstation 3, and Xbox 360. Obsidian Entertainment will be developing New Vegas, while Todd Howard and his team still work on a mystery project (next Elder Scrolls, please!). Bethesda’s Pete Hines has said that New Vegas will not be a sequel to Fallout 3.

Unfortunately that’s all the information that was released from the event. As soon as more information is released, I’ll be jumping on it. In other-words, Ill be glued to Twitter for the next few weeks.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | News | Leave a comment

Interview: James Silva, Creator of The Dishwasher

The Dishwasher was originally an XNA game for Microsoft’s “Dream, Build, Play” competition and became one of the winners. How did it make the jump over to a full fledged Xbox Live Arcade game?

It was a neat, sometimes baffling, sometimes frustrating process.  Unlike 99% of XBLA titles, the game is powered by XNA, so to bridge the gap and add in all of the XBLA functionality, they gave me this library called Extensions for Arcade so that I could implement things like Leaderboards and Achievements.  We had to get a bit creative about implementing localization and making sure the right legal warnings pop up in the right territory.  And a lot of the tools for XBLA development were very command-line-eriffic (like for themes), so I had to nerd out a bit.  All in all, it was a lot of work and a lot of fun, which doesn’t really make it work, does it?

Now that The Dishwasher has been officially released on XBLA, how has the attention been for you so far?

The reception on The Dishwasher has been amazing!  People have been thanking me for making the game, and I want to tell them that that’s not how it should work; I’m supposed to be the one thanking them for buying it!

How was it working with Microsoft? Were they very obtrusive? Did they add or taking away anything from the game?

XBLA games have a very specific list of requirements about menu systems, behaviors, and bugs (or lack thereof).  Nothing on that list conflicted with my vision for the game, and overall Microsoft was just great to work with.  Right from the get-go, they were very clear that it was still my vision; they’d be there to make recommendations, but The Dishwasher was still my baby.

That said, they did recommend I put in the Practice Room.

What was the length of the development cycle like from concept to completion?

From concept it was about 5 years–I had the idea while working as a dishwasher and going to community college.

The whole XNA project took just over two years, from the first line of code to passing certification.

The games story is told through a scrolling comic strip, how did you decide to go with that style?

While I’ve never really been a collector, I’ve always had a thing for the concept of the graphic novel.  I used to draw comics when I was a little kid.  I’ve never been particularly good at it, but then again, I guess when you make a decent game, people can forgive less-than-brilliant comics.

The Dishwasher definitely has some dark humor to it. Where did you get the idea for the Dishwasher characters and the game in general?

There are a lot of influences and a lot of archetypes.  In terms of thematic influences, here’s a nod at The Crow, Tim Burton, Versus, The Matrix, and Edward Gorey.  It’s delicious macabre exuberance!

Was The Dishwasher the first game you’ve made or do you have a bunch of games saved on a hard drive somewhere?

I’ve got 2 games on Community Games: ZSX4 Guitarpocalypse and ZP2K9.

Do you have plans to support The Dishwasher in the future? Are you working on any other games?

I’m pipelining!  I don’t have any concrete release plans set out, but I’m still playing with XNA, and I’ve got no less than 3 projects that need finishing right now.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Feature | Leave a comment

Crystal Defenders Review (XBLA)

Crystal Defenders has been released on a number of consoles now, iPhone, PC, DS, Wii, and now it comes to the Xbox Live Arcade. This release by Square Enix has the gameplay style of a tower defense game but with a Final Fantasy theme slapped onto it. The game comes with three modes, an interesting amount of units to deploy, and a level of challenge that is oddly addicting.

If you’re unfamiliar with tower defense games, you strategically deploy units on a map to take out waves of enemies while collecting currency to upgrade your units or to deploy new ones. Crystal Defenders follows that description completely. You’ll battle on 12 different maps, though really there’s only 6 since every map has an alternative advanced version. The normal maps have only one path while the advanced maps usually have two with less space for your units. If an enemy reaches the end of the path it will take away one of your 20 crystals, and in some cases multiple crystals.

As far as the selection of units go, you’ll have ground units and then some that will attack both ground and air. The units look like they were taken straight out of a Final Fantasy game on the Super Nintendo. They range from a soldier, different types of mages, thief, archer, and many more including crystals you can deploy to increase certain stats of nearby units. If you feel like you’re about to lose, you can scroll up or down in the unit selection menu to choose a summon. The summons were taken from a plethora of Final Fantasy games and will either deal a massive amount of damage to the enemies on-screen or buff your units for that turn.

Graphically it does look a little rough. It looks like this game belongs on a hand-held. Played on a bigger screen it looks pixely and doesn’t seem like it was scaled up very well . There isn’t a whole lot of music to listen to in the game, but what is there fits right in with the game.

The pacing of the game is rather slow. Going from wave 1-30 can soak up some time since you need to decide how you’ll set up for the next wave. Enemies will walk slowly from point A to point B while your units hack away at them. There is a fast-forward button so if you’re confident about you’re current setup for that wave, you can go ahead and zoom through. As soon as I found this button, I didn’t sit through another slow wave again.

It’s weird that Crystal Defenders turned out the way it did. Games with the title of Final Fantasy or games baring a similar theme have an expected level of quality to them. This is not one of them. The challenge is oddly addicting and the theme does have some charm, but if you’ve played one level you’ve pretty much seen the whole game. The twelve levels look remarkably similar and there isn’t much enemy variety. The only thing you can do is place units on a map, upgrade them for more attack power and reach, then hope for the best. While the game can be fun, there is little to no reward for any of it.

Crystal Defenders is available on the Xbox Live Marketplace for 800 Microsoft points ($10).

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Review | Leave a comment

Peggle Review (XBLA)

peggle_headerPeggle was originally a flash game that was released by PopCap games a while ago. Along the way they’ve released different versions such as Peggle Nights. Now it comes to the Xbox Live Arcade to wonderfully grace our televisions. This release of Peggle will have four single player modes along with three multiplayer options. Whether you’re familiar with Peggle or not, this is one game that is sure you keep you coming back for more.

The concept of Peggle is very simple. You shoot a ball from the top of the screen and hit as many pegs on the way down as possible. Lining up your shots is key as you’ll need to make some tricky shots by bouncing the ball off of walls or other pegs. The object is to eliminate all orange pegs or blocks by hitting them. If you happen to land the ball in the moving hole at the bottom you’ll receive a free ball. It’s a lot of fun just dropping a ball into a bunch of pegs and seeing how it plays out. A lot of times it will play out in a lot of cool and neat ways.

Peggle is full of character and is sure to put a smile on your face in one way or another. When you beat a level, not only will you be honored by seeing the best phrase ever, “Extreme Fever”, but you’ll also hear a choir bust into song. After the last orange peg has been hit, the ball will move in slow motion as it makes its way down to the bottom where bonus point slots lay.

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There is a number of modes for you to play, Adventure, Quick Play, Master Duel, Challenge, as well as some multiplayer modes. The single player modes have basically the same concept, while multiplayer modes will have different people taking turns to get the highest score.  When you start up a game you’ll have the option to choose from 10 unique characters, each having their own special ability. The abilities range from a super guide, to flippers and multiballs. They come in handy in the later levels where orange pegs may be difficult to reach. Abilities can be activated when a special green peg is hit, usually a couple in a level.

Ultimately I can’t really say anything bad about Peggle. It’s an undeniably addicting game that’s extremely easy to pick up and play. The only flaw I’d say it really has is it being a little too difficult on some levels, but even saying that there’s always some way to easily take care of a not-easily-accessible orange peg by using a different ability or by attacking it from a different angle. Any version of Peggle is recommended, but the release for Xbox Live Arcade is no slouch and will keep you coming back for more.

April 3, 2009 Posted by | Review | Leave a comment

Fallout 3: The Pitt DLC Review

welcome-500x3001The Pitt has finally arrived, taking you through the journey of a slave in the nuclear remains of Pittsburgh. Along the way you’ll encounter new characters, enemies, and acquire new weapons and armor.

To start off you’ll need to listen to the new distress signal that can be heard across the Wasteland, starting your journey to The Pitt. You’ll meet up with an escaped slave, Wernher, who tells you how to gain access to the Pittsburgh ruins. Once there you’ll almost immediately have to make some choices, most of them changing how things play out later on.

The new area is aptly named, since the place is essentially a hellhole. Crossing the bridge to get into The Pitt sets the tone for what’s to come ahead, as it’s covered with blown up cars, rubble, and frag mines, while corpses are dangling above you. Entering into the city, not only are you greeted by slave raiders, but there’s a disease that has plagued the city which catches up with everyone within a few years turning people into Trog’s – monsters who are ready to tear the flesh off of anyone. You’re set off to find a cure for Wernher’s friends, who no doubt probably already have the disease.

Aesthetically The Pitt isn’t very appealing as everything is in ruins, but graphically it’s impressive. The graphical style stays the same as it did in the Wasteland and won’t be as pretty or colorful as in Operation Anchorage, the previous expansion. The Pitt is a dark and gloomy place with haze and smoke filling the sky. You’ll see dead slaves around the city as well as chopped up corpses hanging from hooks or in bloody piles. You’ll talk to other slaves and raiders who have gross battle wounds and almost glowing eyes, likely due from the disease setting in. It makes for a very unsettling feeling as you’re forced to do some uncomfortable things to progress in the story.

The Pitt is finished once you complete three major quests, taking 2-4 hours max. You’d think since the setting is in Pittsburgh there would be a lot of areas to explore, but this is not the case. There is a very small Downtown area and an uneventful Uptown area. The biggest area to explore is the Steelyard, where you can access a few buildings and collect ingots which you can then trade-in for armor and weapons.

This expansion fits perfectly into Fallout 3, more so than Operation: Anchorage, and gives you some very interesting weapons and armor to try out like the auto axe – a chainsaw with four blades spinning at the end. It’s a little hard to justify the $10 purchase price with only the few hours of gameplay, but the content that is featured is well done and fits so well into Fallout 3 that it’s worth checking out.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Review | , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Bioshock 2 Details

Over the course of the day, rumors about the new Bioshock 2 details have been flying everywhere. The rumors said that co-op would be introduced and Big Daddies wouldn’t even make an appearance. Since then the magazine, Game Informer, and 2K have come out and said that they can not confirm or deny these rumors but we shouldn’t believe everything we read on the internet.

Now, a tipster on Kotaku has the magazine in hand and told them all about the first details on Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams.

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The rumor saying that Big Daddies not making an appearance in the game couldn’t be more wrong. According to the magazine, you will be one. Infact, you’ll be a renegade Big Daddy in search of your own Little Sister. Being one of the first, you’ll take out rival Big Daddies with your massive hand-drill and plasmid powers.  Just like the original Bioshock, you’ll be able to choose to either harvest or take other Little Sisters as one of your own.

In certain areas there will be corpses strewn about the area in Rapture which your Little Sister can harvest ADAM from, telling you a Big Sister is near by. Big Sisters are lightning fast and will hunt your character throughout the game.

More details can be found in the April issue of Game Informer which should be out now.

March 14, 2009 Posted by | News | , , | Leave a comment

The Beatles: Rock Band Getting Never Before Heard/Released Songs

89_the_beatles09/09/09 is when The Beatles: Rock Band will grace our homes, and hurt and wallets, but we can’t wait for that to happen. Recently announced by Dhani Harrison on Billboard, son of Beatles guitarist George Harrison, that in addition to the many great hits that will be in the game, never before heard/released songs will be featured. No word yet as to what those songs will be.

The game will comprise of 45 songs in total. The standalone software will cost $60, software with individual guitars will be $100, and the limited edition, which is assumed to have every instrument, will cost $250. A setlist has not yet been released but Harmonix will be able to choose songs from Please Please Me (1963) to Abbey Road (1969).

March 12, 2009 Posted by | News | , , , | 1 Comment