Showing posts with label ps3. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ps3. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews NHL 14

Also on PS3




It's too bad that EA Sports doesn't have any competition for the hockey gaming market anymore. While the previous two editions of its long-standing hockey franchise were impressively playable--if not exactly groundbreaking refinements of the superb game that was NHL 11--too little of note has been added this time around. EA Sports is really pushing things this year with a game that incorporates nothing significantly new aside from arcade-style hitting, more fighting, and a lame re-creation of NHL 94.
It has now been two decades since NHL 94 changed hockey gaming forever, so EA is marking this with what's ostensibly a souped-up version of the usual release. But just like in Madden 25, there isn't much here worth blowing out the candles over. Game modes are similar to those offered last year. You still play one-off matches, get into careers running a player or a whole franchise, take on GM duties, mess around with Hockey Ultimate Team card-collecting, relive big games from last season in the expanded NHL Moments Live, and take the whole shebang online for multiplayer games, tournaments, and leagues.
Controls are identical to what was offered last year, save for the addition of a one-button deke move and some finicky dangles that are tough to pull off on a regular basis. And like last year, some moves are still overpowered, most notably poke-checking. You can control the nuances of nearly every stride and shot, or drop down to basic button-pushing as was offered in 1994. The game continues to include most of the international hockey world, from Major Junior in Canada and the elite European leagues to the NHL and its minor-pro AHL affiliate clubs. Team rosters are a little messed up, though, apparently dating back to June, and even the first downloadable update includes some noticeable mistakes and omissions, like the absence of the new division names that were announced in July.
Graphics and sound have been ported over almost intact from last year's game. Visuals remain very good, with impressive animations and TV-accurate depictions of players. The broadcast duo of Gary Thorne and Bill Clement spouts the same lines as before, the sound effects are ultrafamiliar, and the soundtrack includes the standard alt-rock lineup of new and old tunes where the most prominent track is Wolfmother's "Joker and the Thief" from its 2005 debut disc.
Additions are present, though they don't amount to much. The big new feature change is that the Be a Pro franchise mode, where you play an up-and-coming phenom or an existing star, has been converted to a slightly more elaborate role-playing experience called Live the Life. It never rises above being more than a half-baked version of what 2K Sports has been doing with its NBA 2K series, where you gain endorsements, design shoes, and even mess around with the media to make a name for yourself. Live the Life functions similarly, but there's no meat on this bone. Interactions are handled through bland text screens. You choose from several possible answers when teams quiz you before the draft, for instance, or simply say yea or nay when sponsors come calling with deals like putting your toothless mug on billboards in exchange for cash.
The results of how you mouth off to your team or the press directly translate to scores given to four audiences--fans, teammates, management, and family--that govern how things work off the ice. Be too much of a prima donna, and your team and management hate you, and might just trade you out of town. It's all too boring and rigid to feel authentic. Scores go up and down immediately after you finish answering questions, making the whole thing seem like you're painting a good guy like John Tavares or a nut like Steve Downie by the numbers, rather than creating a real hockey player.
The other headline new feature is NHL 94 mode. This is a retro option where you play arcade hockey just like you did in the Clinton era. It's a great idea, although it doesn't include many actual retro touches. The mode acts more like a dumbed-down NHL 14 sped up and locked to an old-school top-down camera. You get the distinctive blue-tinted ice, stars under players, 16-bit sound effects, and the zippy action that made NHL 94 so great back in the day. But the game uses the new graphics engine, mostly modern sound effects, and the current rosters.
Other modern touches that could have been more meaningful, like online multiplayer and league play, aren't supported in this mode. Ultimately, it's as if EA Sports couldn't decide between going full retro with the complete 1994 game or doing a modernized take on a classic, so it compromised and did neither. The result is barely a passing nod to this legendary hockey game, with the most standout detail being the bleepy-bloopy music you might remember well from long-ago marathons on the Sega Genesis.
Gameplay changes are also very slight in NHL 14. This is the second year of EA Sports' newest physics engine, but the action on the ice isn't noticeably smoother this time out. Granted, the skating physics are still very good. Momentum continues to be extremely well handled, especially when it comes to sharp turns and stops. Opposing defensemen get really aggressive in front of the net, and it's routine to see the net knocked off its moorings when forwards drive hard into the crease.


Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews Diablo 3

Also on PS3 and Windows PC





After causing calluses on clicking fingers far and wide on PC, Diablo III has come to consoles and swapped the mice and keyboards for gamepads. The result is an experience that feels somewhat different; clicking the screen to guide your heroes around isn't the same as having direct control of their movements with a thumbstick, though whether you think one control method or the other is better is purely a matter of personal preference; both are equal to the task. The console versions of Diablo III also don't look as sharp as the PC original, but the impact of the atmospheric art design is undiminished. Most importantly, Diablo III on consoles still makes slaughtering thousands of monsters good fun, especially if you're doing so with a few friends. You begin your quest just after what appears to be a flaming star falls from the heavens and crashes into the cathedral in Tristram, the doomed town where the events of Diablo took place. This cosmic occurrence has the unfortunate side effect of reanimating the dead, and the people of New Tristram find themselves besieged by corpses long ago put to rest. Diablo III's story is unremarkable, but it weaves in plenty of references to and appearances by characters from earlier games and enriches the established lore of the series. Fans of Diablo and Diablo II will immediately feel drawn into this world.
You certainly don't need any familiarity with the series to jump right into Diablo III, however. If you've played earlier games, you'll likely get even more out of Diablo III--the music that plays in the New Tristram area may send nostalgic shivers down your spine--but the gameplay is welcoming and easy to grasp for vets and newcomers alike. You choose one of five character classes, and though they become quite distinct at later levels, they all start with nothing but basic offensive skills.
That may sound dull, but in fact the rate at which you acquire new skills is part of what makes Diablo III so hard to pull yourself away from. You very quickly open up slots for new types of abilities; if you're playing as a demon hunter, for instance, you begin with a basic archery attack, but you can soon supplement this with resource-draining skills like a rapid fire ability, enemy-slowing caltrops, acrobatic somersaults that can get you away from enemies, and other techniques.
These skills are divided into distinct categories--primary, secondary, defensive, and so on--and by default, you can have only one skill from each category equipped at a time. This is a sensible restriction if you're a novice player, because it helps ensure that your character is well rounded, with a complementary assortment of abilities. However, if you prefer a greater level of character customization, you can turn on what's called elective mode. With this on, you can opt to equip whichever skills you want in your available slots, rather than being limited to choosing one from each category. But if you do this, be mindful of your character's resource pool. If you select two monk skills that cost spirit (the monk's resource) and no skills that generate spirit, you're going to have some trouble slaughtering the legions of hell spawn you encounter.
Choosing one skill always means not choosing another, since the number of buttons you can assign skills to is always equal to the number of active skill categories you've unlocked. (Once you've unlocked all six skill categories for your class, for instance, you have just six buttons to which you can link skills.) But you can change your selected skills at any time, giving you free rein to tinker with your abilities until you find a combination you're happy with.
You never sink points into skills to make them more effective, so you never have to worry that you're not making the best choices. Rather, as you level up, you unlock both new skills and new runes you can apply to existing skills. From level 13 on, for instance, witch doctors can apply the numbing dart rune to their poison dart attack, which adds a slowing effect to this offensive ability. You can eventually unlock a total of six runes for each active ability, though you can have only one rune at a time activated on any ability. This system prevents you from squandering your character's growth by sinking points into skills that leave you ill-equipped for challenges to come, and lets you customize your abilities on the fly to better tackle the challenges you're currently facing.
It's not all about unlocking skills, however. It's about employing those skills to slaughter the monsters you encounter as you travel the world, and collecting the loot the fiends drop. This is where Diablo III's habit-forming pleasures lie. The randomly generated environments encourage exploration; you never know what treasure (or what powerful foe) you might find down each cathedral hallway or desert trail. Enticing art design draws you into these realms. In and around New Tristram, a foreboding mist hangs in the air, and ancient ruins crumble as you visit places long undisturbed. In the lands around the elegant city of Caldeum, you traverse stark landscapes of cracked earth and bone.
You explore ornate, musty manors and spider-infested caves. You make your way through rat-infested sewers and emerge into a dusky, teeming oasis. And though the inspiration it draws from The Lord of the Rings is a bit obvious, a setting in the game's fourth act effectively makes you feel like part of a desperate, large-scale war between humanity and the forces of hell. Just when you've had your fill of one region, it's time to move on to another, and each location is so different from the one that preceded it that you feel as if your quest to rid the land of evil is taking you across a vast and varied realm.

Games on the AVE: Gamespot reviews Grand Theft Auto 5

Also available on Xbox 360 and Windows PC





Where do you begin talking about Grand Theft Auto V? Do you start with the vast, varied, beautiful open world? Do you start with the innovative structure that gives you three independent protagonists you can switch between on the fly? Maybe you talk about the assortment of side activities you can engage in, or the tremendous number of ways in which you can go about making your own fun. Or perhaps you dive right into the game’s story problems, or its serious issues with women. GTA V is a complicated and fascinating game, one that fumbles here and there and has an unnecessary strain of misogynistic nastiness running through it. But it also does amazing things no other open-world game has attempted before, using multiple perspectives to put you in the thick of cinematic heist sequences and other exhilarating, multi-layered missions like no open-world game before. Those perspectives come courtesy of Michael, Franklin, and Trevor. Michael’s a former criminal who’s dissatisfied with his current life of privilege and relaxation. His marriage is on the rocks and he struggles to connect with his shallow daughter Tracey, who dreams of making it big in reality TV, and with his lazy, entitled son Jimmy, who spends most of his time spouting hate-filled trash talk while playing video games online. Franklin’s a talented young driver and repo man who doesn’t seem to have too many opportunities to move up in the world, until he has a chance meeting with Michael. Michael finds Franklin easier to connect with than his own children, and he promptly takes him under his wing and ushers him into a life of big-time crime.
And then there’s Trevor, a former friend and business associate of Michael’s who is now a methamphetamine entrepreneur living in a desert town north of Los Santos. Trevor’s a truly horrible, terrifying, psychotic human being--and a terrific character. He possesses a chilling combination of intelligence and insanity, and he’s so monstrously violent and frightening at times that he almost makes the other two protagonists seem well-adjusted by comparison. Exceptional voice acting and animation help make Trevor a character you will never, ever forget, even though you might want to.
When circumstances reunite the long-estranged Trevor and Michael, the tensions between them complicate the entire group dynamic; Michael, Trevor and Franklin may work together, but they don’t always get along. Their dialogue is sharp and snappy and it’s usually a joy to watch them interacting with each other, but unfortunately, the characters sometimes behave in ways that don’t feel consistent. For instance, Franklin takes the moral high ground in an argument with a paparazzo, then casts his reservations aside to help him take degrading photos of a female celebrity. And when Trevor shows up in Michael’s life after an extended absence, the speed with which the two start working together again is at odds with their deep-seated reservations about each other.
Perhaps most troubling is a mission in which you’re instructed to torture a man. Trevor states that torture doesn’t work, and the person ordering the torture is an arrogant and corrupt government official, suggesting that the scene is meant to be a critical commentary on the United States’ use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” methods. But the fact that Trevor (and you, if you want to progress through the story) tortures the man regardless, and that he does end up spilling more information as a result, sends a very different message. These moments of hypocrisy and inconsistency diminish the otherwise strong characters; it feels like they are leaping into situations not because it's what they would actually want to do, but because the mission design demands that they must.
Thankfully, the missions are frequently incredible, which makes it a bit easier to overlook the occasional contradictions in character behavior, if not the mixed political messages. The high points of the game are the heists, big jobs planned by Michael and the gang. These jobs usually give you a few different options for how you want to approach a situation, and your choice completely changes how the heist plays out. On one job, for instance, one option has you posing as a janitor to infiltrate a building and plant bombs, then triggering the bombs and entering the building with your crew disguised as firefighters. The other, more direct option involves parachuting onto the building and busting in, armed to the teeth.
These are elaborate, multi-stage sequences that involve prep work. You might need to acquire equipment ahead of time, find a good place to hide a getaway car, and make other arrangements before you’re ready to pull off the job. You also need to select supporting members for your crew, as some jobs may require a hacker, an additional getaway driver, or another gunman. More skilled crew members typically take a bigger cut, but if you hire cheap, inexperienced people, they may end up failing at their tasks and compromising the operation. Of course, not every step of this process is thrilling, but these early steps make you feel more invested in the job when it does go down, and they evoke the feeling of films like Heat in which the slow buildup to the crimes makes the payoff in the action-packed scenes more intense.
These missions and many others have you switching between characters. You might rappel down a building as Michael, provide sniper cover for him as Franklin, and fly a getaway helicopter as Trevor, all on one mission. In another exciting mission, you take out a plane’s engines from a great distance as Michael, then pursue the doomed, burning aircraft over land as Trevor. It’s exhilarating, swapping between these roles and these perspectives, and it’s part of what makes GTA V the current pinnacle of open-world mission design. Even putting the three-protagonist structure aside, the mission design is frequently surprising and sometimes stupendous. You don scuba gear to infiltrate a heavily guarded laboratory via the ocean, recklessly fly a small aircraft into the bay of a large cargo plane, and get thrust into all sorts of other memorable situations.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Games on the AVE: Gamespot Reviews The Bureau: XCOM Declassified


Also available on PS3 & PC






A shooter based on a beloved strategy franchise? It's the kind of idea that makes strategy fans nervous, but games like Command & Conquer: Renegade have proven that the possibility isn't meritless. The Bureau: XCOM Declassified is not a great argument for an XCOM spin-off, however. It often puts its best foot forward, but while The Bureau mimics some of its inspiration's touchstones, it doesn't re-create their impact. The result is a third-person cover shooter that is decent fun but ultimately rings hollow.What the Bureau nails is its retro-futuristic atmosphere, which channels an early-1960s view of the world straight from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog. Protagonist William Carter looks as if he leapt from a postcard or periodical advert from the era: his hair is shellacked to perfection, and a heavy turtleneck sets off his freshly shaven face. Environments look slightly yellowed in the way we often imagine the 1960s, given how photographs fade over time. Sectoids--alien mainstays in the XCOM universe--have the big bulbous heads and skeletal bodies of the extraterrestrials you might have seen described in Amazing Stories magazine. This was the era of famous alien abductees Betty and Barney Hill, whose descriptions of bald-headed, gray-skinned invaders fueled generations' worth of pop-culture depictions of men from outer space. The Bureau looks like a Hill hypnosis session come to life. The Bureau's structure somewhat resembles that of a typical XCOM strategy game. You spend some of your time in XCOM headquarters, getting updates on recent global events, before heading into the field and confronting the alien threat the planet faces. And this being an XCOM game, you don't just go it alone but rather take two squadmates with you and issue them specific orders: take cover over there, call in an airstrike, target this enemy, and so forth. Carter and his squadmates all level up, earning new abilities and improving old ones as they go, by way of The Bureau's skill trees. At first, you're only healing fellow squaddies, ordering them to boost you with stims and perform critical strikes on outsiders and laser turrets. In time, however, you're pulling healing drones out of thin air and temporarily convincing foes to become friends.
You're not stuck with the same two squadmates, but can hire and choose from a variety of them. You can also rename them and customize their physical appearance, which you'd think would keep The Bureau in step with its strategic siblings. But this is one area in which the shooter copies elements of the series, but cannot capture its essence. In 2012's XCOM: Enemy Unknown, your connection with your squad was closely tied to the tension built into every move. Losing a squadmate was devastating not just because you had named her after your girlfriend, but because she played a valuable role on the battlefield--and because you invested a lot of time and mental energy into each element of the skirmish in which you lost her.
Unfortunately, The Bureau doesn't capture that tension, nor does it make any given squadmate feel more valuable than any other. Though you can revive a squad member should he fall, it's possible for one or both to perish in battle. In an XCOM strategy game in which you take six soldiers into the field, losing a buddy is a setback you typically push through, hoping the percentages work in favor of your diminished squad. In The Bureau, losing a squadmate makes battle a monotonous slog, making loading the most recent checkpoint the most appealing option. And where you would carefully construct a squad in Enemy Unknown for greatest effectiveness, any old soldiers will do in The Bureau. Once you select your initial squad, there's no pressing reason to use anyone else, unless you want to mix things up just for the sake of doing so.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Games on the AVE: Gamespot REVIEWS Medal of Honor: Warfighter

Also on PC & PS3




Upon completing Medal of Honor: Warfighter's campaign, you are met with a heartfelt dedication impressing upon you the heroism of the men in uniform the game depicts. The attempt at sincere emotion is commendable--but it rings hollow, coming as it does at the end of a bog-standard military shooter that celebrates the killing of hundreds. The battlefield fantasy itself offers a few surprises, but they're crowded out of your psyche by the indifferent hours of shooting and military chatter that surround them.
"Linear." The word is commonly used to identify any number of shooters that usher you along a narrow path, interrupting your progress with a bit of sniping, the shooting of a turret, or an explosion-heavy cutscene. Warfighter's issue isn't that it fits this common modern-day shooter template, but that developer Danger Close doesn't use the linearity to the game's benefit. By directing the experience so tightly, a developer can build momentum, giving the action an arc that develops tension and ultimately reaches a zenith. When a game intends to be a playable action film, as so many do, managing that arc is key to delivering a memorable experience.
Medal of Honor: Warfighter doesn't craft such an arc, and thus feels more like a pastiche of shooter tropes than a self-contained experience with its own identity. Yet there's something worthy here--the glimmer of a Medal of Honor that might yet hew its own path if the right elements are cultivated. The basic shooting and movement models are a good start, not because the guns are that remarkable, but because there's a sense of weight to your sprints and your leaps. You're given the ability to take cover and lean or peek before taking aim, lest you get pelted with lead; at times, this encourages you to consider your surroundings and preserve your own well-being rather than rush forward, spraying the room with bullets.



The shooting is occasionally put to good use, too, such as in a noisy showdown during a raging rainstorm, the palm trees waving and bending in response to the heaving winds. Other levels are just as visually impressive, like an on-rails boat shootout during which fires rage and floating debris threatens to ram you. Elsewhere, you use the blazing shine of your enemies' flashlights as beacons for your violence in various locales. The Frostbite 2 engine that gave Battlefield 3 life is used well enough here, occasional visual glitches and distracting screen grime notwithstanding. These visuals are much more effective on the PC than consoles, but on any platform, Medal of Honor: Warfighter isn't always just a sea of brown, though you can still expect plenty of dusty roads and crumbling hovels to fill your field of view. If only the gameplay could consistently uphold the promise of the most atmospheric levels. To Warfighter's benefit, it's not as much of a turkey shoot as its 2010 predecessor, though enemies still pop up in the most predictable places, inviting you to gun them down. The excitement is also undercut by your AI teammates' unlimited supply of ammo; there's never any need to scrounge the ground for enemy weapons, which diminishes the sense that you are in imminent danger. (A little improvisational spirit could have gone a long way.) But it's the moments you most expect to deliver the brightest sparks that are most devoid of them. The aforementioned boat chase requires no skill, neither from a driving nor from a shooting perspective. Ditto for the obligatory helicopter gunner segment, in which you mow down nameless grunts from above. Without challenge, there needs to be something else to keep excitement levels high--but there aren't enough foes to shoot or other sources of thrills to compensate.
Warfighter checks other paradigms off its list, too. There are the parts where you sneak up on enemies from behind and gruesomely stab them, and the parts where you snipe the baddies lurking in distant windows. There are the parts where you call in airstrikes to annihilate entire buildings, and there's the bit where you shoot down a helicopter with a rocket launcher. There are seemingly endless door breaches, in which time slows to a crawl while you and your AI teammates charge into a room and litter the floor with corpses. Things explode real nice, but these sequences are all segmented sharply from the surrounding gameplay. The game signals "hey, here's the part with the sniper rifle," and you dutifully perform the necessary actions so you can continue.
There are several scripted set-piece sections that stand above the rest, however--and in fact, stand above the campaign in general. All of them involve vehicles. Some of these driving sections are ridiculous and entertaining, directing you to incite crashes, and then showcasing the destruction in slow motion, Burnout-style. The camera that so lovingly caresses the chaos flies in the face of Warfighter's meager attempts to identify the drivers as everyday heroes, but the tension of avoiding oncoming traffic and the joy of watching your four-wheeled victims flip with abandon are both guilty pleasures. The game's most surprising turn of events is a vehicular stealth sequence in which you must slip into designated safe spots to avoid prowling enemy drivers. It's a neat idea, executed well, that generates tension and has you fearing your possible discovery. It's not difficult to succeed, but even so, this portion is elegant and imaginative.

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Podcast on the AVE: BlvdAve Radio Ep. 79 "A Contract with Black America"

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