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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update

Welcome back again.  As you can see, we are starting to populate the site with new content.  There are few new writers and contributors waiting in the wings with new content.  If you are interested

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Site Update, GaMExpo, Nerdvana Con, Life Updates

What to Watch: You Tube

Top 5 YouTube video’s of the past week (with one blast from the past). Each week, on Tuesday, I am going to post 5 videos I think are worth watching on YouTube.  I’d love to hear what you

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What to Watch: You Tube

Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Bac

Welcome back to Killer Betties! It’s been over three years since I’ve made a post, but I am back. Before I get to what I’ve been doing for three years, I want to talk first about The

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Rosethorn’s Ramblings: Welcome Back, TWD, The Bar, and Other Random Thoughts

Football Manager 2017 Review

Football Manager 2017 is a football management simulation video game for the PC developed by Sports Interactive and published by Sega. Gameplay: In terms of gameplay, it is really fun. You can create

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Football Manager 2017 Review

Volunteers Wanted

Killer Betties is going through some growing pains and we need more bodies (and pens) to keep up with it. If you have any interest in writing video game reviews, previews, interviews or editorials, p

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Volunteers Wanted

‘Lumines Live’ Review (Xbox 360)

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by on October 18, 2006 at 6:23 pm

Lumines Live 1The popular PSP game comes to the Xbox 360 through the system’s Xbox Live Arcade, after much ballyhooing and repeated setbacks and delays. With its mix of puzzle action and techno dance tracks, it looks to be just what the system’s puzzle fans have been longing for. But after finally getting my hands on the game, is it really the same amazing game, or is it…well…puzzling?

Much like all the greatest puzzle games out there, Lumines Live is easily accessible, and its fundamentals are so graspable you’ll be linking combos like mad right from the moment you boot the game up; but like any really good puzzle game, to truly grasp the full potential you must learn the ways of the warrior, perfecting your game, and learning what blocks to place where at the exact right moments and planning ahead like a grand champion in chess several moves in advance.

The core fundamental of Lumines Live is that rectangle based grid system made of tiny square blocks. While the music plays, a single line goes from left to right, all the while you are trying to place blocks down in the grid system. Each piece is made up of four squares in a two by two system, with the only differences being how many of one colored are represented in the four block system. As a piece descends onto the board, it’ll either be made entirely of one color or design or two. For the pieces with two different colors or designs, they’ll come with either a ratio of 1 to 3, 2 to 2, or 3 to 1. To advance through the game and ultimately rack up all the points you can, you must erase these placed pieces by matching up like-minded colors in a two by two square. Now, that right there is the main gameplay mechanic, but it expands and gets a tad more complicated as you go along.

Though you never get any larger pieces, multiple colors, or varying shapes, you can chain combos together, which adds to the depth of the game. Chain combos happen by getting multiple matches before the track line goes across the playing board on one swipe; the more you get matched the more points you get. You can also expand on the two by two matches before the line sweeps across them, by placing matching colors so that they attach to them. For example, if you match four white pieces together, you can drop another double white sided piece on top of it or to the side to have those squares of the piece merge and get taken out at the same time. The rest of the challenge of the game comes from the fact that after a skin (aka levels) is over, the game seamlessly merges to another one, by changing the background art, the music playing, and the look of the pieces; you can go from orange and white blocks on one level to zebra and leopard blocks the next. The changes can be discombobulating at first, which leads to part of the challenge. Also, as the game advances through skins, the speed gets quicker and quicker, which every good puzzle game fan knows usually means imminent doom as you struggle to make sense of it all.

Lumines Live 2The main mode is that of the Challenge Mode, which is a continuous advancement through the skins until you ultimately lose (these scores can be uploaded to the Leaderboards, which is why you’ll try to perfect this mode and rank as high a score as you can). The real draw, besides advancing up on the Leaderboards, is that this is the mode you have to play to unlock the skins; you actually have to play on a particular skin to be able to unlock it and use it in other modes.

Besides Challenge Mode, if you are the single player type, you’ve also got VS CPU, where you play a game against the computer in various rounds of difficulty; Time Attack, where you see how many matches you can make in whatever given time you choose to participate in; Puzzle Mode, in which you try to recreate shapes with puzzle pieces to clear the level; and Mission Mode, where you must perform certain actions in the game, like clearing a level with only one move.

Remember when I said in the intro that the game was puzzling, well here is where that comes into play. You see, if you download Lumines Live, you’ll get to experience all these modes of play, but you won’t be able to “really” own them. In regards to the Puzzle Mode, Mission Mode, and VS CPU, you’ll only get a taste to whet your appetite, so you’ll have to fork over even more money and points to get these modes. Was the game released before these could be implemented or is this simply a way to pilfer the money from the gamer’s pocket? The lack of the Puzzle Mode and Mission Mode didn’t affect me too much, because I’m generally not a fan of those type of Modes, but the one level of VS CPU I got to play was really engaging and wish it had been included.

Thankfully, if you are looking to battle, you can play Local Versus (on the same system with another person in your own room) or you can play over Xbox Live. The fundamentals of the gameplay are the same as in the regular single player game, only now the board is split into two. The twist of the multiplayer is that as you make combos, you force the player’s other screen in which they can place pieces to get smaller, making it so there is a quicker chance of them building up pieces above the level of play and losing the game; imagine a game of tug of war and the line is the flag. The downfall to this mode, sadly, is the terrible, terrible lag; not once have I played a game where it wasn’t bogged down with choppy gameplay. Lag can be overcame in some games depending on genre, but puzzle games are not one, because too many times I ended up not spinning a piece enough times or moving it too far in one direction because the lag kept my moves from being responsive. Sure, the mode is still fun, but only barely and will remain that way until it becomes smoother in the execution.

The graphics and sound are both nice. I love the trippy colors that flash across the screen and the music helps to envelope you even more into the game as the colors and sound blend perfectly. The music also compliments the gameplay perfectly, as it really feels like you are creating the music, because every time you move a piece, drop a piece, or make a combo you’ll hear sound effects (like record scratches) that blend into the actual song playing in the background of a skin.

Lumines Live 3Let’s get this straight: I love the game. Lumines Live is an amazing puzzle game that is both relaxing (thanks to the simple puzzle matching aspect and the cool as ice grooves) and yet tension filled at the same time as you try not to go across that top line and get the dreaded game over screen. The reason for the score you see below you is for a two-fold reason: 1) the multiplayer is atrociously laggy, and 2) though the game has seemingly taken forever to be released for Xbox Live since it was announced, it feels like a rush job considering how much was “left out” for a pack you must buy for even more money and points at a later time. If the game I’m playing now had/fixed those two issues, it would easily be a five star game. But with those major shortcomings, it knocks the game down. Lumines Live gameplay is a five no question, but the game itself doesn’t live up to that stellar system.

Rating: 3star
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‘Professor Fizzwizzle’ Review (PC)

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by on September 4, 2006 at 9:27 am

Frozen CowIs there anything more rewarding and yet frustrating than a good puzzle? To sit and dwell on something, and think over and over about how to do something, only to be foiled time and time again. And then that “Ah ha” moment comes along and suddenly all that time spent toiling away makes it all seem worth it. Say hello to Professor Fizzwizzle.

THE STORY SO FAR
You play as (can you guess?) Professor Fizzwizzle, who created a bunch of robots to help him around the lab, but the only problem is instead of shutting them off that night, he accidentally sent them into a rage, and now he needs to get back to his lab so he can shut them down. Really, the story doesn’t play a factor whatsoever, because you are really only coming for the puzzles; it is basically just there to tie the idea of the gameplay together. So since that is all I have to say about that…next!

GAMEPLAY
The game is completely old school 2D flat backgrounds with slightly round 2.5D characters and environments. The hovering levels typically consists of various ground types, ladders, and other such environment hazards. As you begin a level, you’ll see that positioned somewhere on the level is a warp pad, which will take you to the next level, indicating that you have successfully completed that level in question; the problem comes in that you can’t easily make it from one point to the next. Standing in your way are boxes you must push to specific locations, barrels you must roll, powerups you must utilize – you name it.

You’d think pushing a box would be easy, but it all depends on the ground type – boxes slide easily across grass, and move by themselves on ice, but they stop once you hit sand, only able to easily glide if you freeze them with a powerup. The game is really all about positioning, as you’ll need to use boxes to climb to new heights, bounce barrels off trampolines to place them so you can roll on top of them to an overhanging ladder, etc. You’ve also got magnets that come into play, such as using their repelling factor to either push them onto switches you need to use to open up gates impeding your progress, or even using their attractive principles to make a stepping stone that hovers over empty space, because the land it attaches to is a metal girder.

Mad RobotsSome of the levels are extremely easy, where you’ll complete it on one try, while others will take you multiple tries just to even put a dent into them. Controls are easy with the arrow keys doing most of the work for the more precise and pinpoint accuracy, though you can move the Professor around by left clicking to a place you want him to run (it is a more difficult time to control, but if you are lazy, nothing beats playing a game with one hand). Levels typically only take less than a minute to fully complete, but that is only after you know each and every move, but the time it takes up to that minute can be only several to up to a good hour depending on how long it takes for that puzzle to click with you.

The puzzles come in four varieties: Regular, Advanced, Kids, and Alphabet. The Regular levels are like the normal difficulty of a game, as you’ll experience everything the game has to offer, but everything should be doable after you put enough thought and time into any given level puzzle. The Advanced levels are a little more time consuming, requiring more thought and concentration than the Regular levels. As for the Kids and Alphabet levels, they are aimed more towards the younger puzzle solvers out there, as these levels are really easy compared to the others, and have cute little levels designed like objects, such as trains or letter themed levels like an apple for A and cat for C (the levels are actually designed to look like these objects).

One of the coolest features about the game, should you not be able to figure out a level, is you can apply to Solution through the game menu (where you can also incidentally easily restart the level from the beginning with the quick click of a button) so you can either see what you might be doing wrong or in the extreme case have the game fully complete the level for you, which allows you to then move on to the next level. Yes, it is a cheat applied to the game, but some of these puzzles are tough, and allowing the player to move on should they run into a mental roadblock is great design by the developers.

The game also features a level editor, which allows you to create levels and exchange them, testing the mental prowess of people across the world. It is a pretty powerful tool set in the gameplay mechanics, as you have all the parts you’d need to create some really dastardly hard levels.

GRAPHICS
Simple in complexity, but they have a cheerful cartoon quality about them, and the Professor himself is animated rather nicely, as he moves fluidly whether he is running, slipping on ice, or flailing like crazy falling from a great height.

SOUND
Much like the graphics, the sound work of the game is simple too, with light and fun pops and mechanical grinds making up the bulk of the noise, while the same looping music track plays over every level (it will burrow deep inside your head with its relentlessness and make you want to put on the radio or a CD of your choice).

MoonIN CONCLUSION
If you hate puzzles stay far away from this game, because though it starts out easy, you’ll spend quite a bit of time studying these levels, trying to discern the path you must take to complete it. If you love puzzles, however, you’ll find a lot to like about Professor Fizzwizzle. Sure, the graphics and sound aren’t too much to write home about, but they convey nicely what you are there to do, which is rack your brain over some tasty teasers.

Rating: 4star
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‘City Life’ Review (PC)

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by on July 14, 2006 at 10:23 am

Actual game boardMany games these days are of the Sims variety where players simulate anything and everything depending on the game system. The popularity of this type of game has been an enduring theme in PC gaming for many years. One of the first and best of these types of games was Sim City, where players built their own functioning city from scratch. For many years and through several versions this idea was expanded, but there was one factor never touched on and that was how to make Sims from different income levels interact. City Life addresses this and attempts to go where no Sim City has gone before.

City life is a simulation city builder in the old Sim City mold. Players start with only city hall and must build streets and develop housing and businesses just as was seen in many of the older games of this type. The new twist is the insertion of six separate and distinct types of citizens for your city. The six types are Blue Collar, Have-Nots, Fringe, Radical Chic, Elites and Suits. In order to succeed in this game you have to have all types of these citizens and they have to get along without causing trouble, which sounds easier then it is.

The game interface is rather easy to understand, especially if you are familiar with builder games. The tutorial is text so you have to do some reading if you are new to this type of game. The first decision upon starting the game is selecting where you want to build, what climate and so on. Once this is done it’s pretty much whatever you want to do, as the first order of business is to build City Hall and some roads and homes.

DowntownAs is common in these types of games the Sim citizens have desires, the earliest being power and waste disposal. Unlike the classic Sim City type games you won’t be building power lines nor making underground pipes. All you need to do is construct an energy plant and a few waste disposal areas nearby, so far so good. From this point on the game is different from traditional city builders. In those games you just waited for money to build up and then placed new building and such. After you have power and waste disposal, the first of your problems arise, as the people want education and shopping as well as medical care.

This may all seem straightforward at this point, but it really isn’t. The reason it isn’t is that you need different types of citizens to make certain services and businesses work, and things like schools and shopping centers are drains on your economy. To run a school or a grocery store, you need Fringe citizens; the problem is at the start, all you have are Blue Collars. So you have to figure out how to get fringe to live in your city.

This is where the strategy of the game kicks in, figuring out the way to lure them in and then getting them close to where they will be useful. Many of the businesses that make money that you desperately need to remain above water require high level citizens of the Elite and Suits professions, which are hard to lure to your city, but you have to start with Blue Collars and then Fringe.

HousingOnce you manage to get Fringe to move in to your city, new things unlock for you. New business and recreation opportunities, as well as better waste and energy management happen. Once you start having two types of citizens they begin to demand police and you will see the beginning of urban tension. Unless you build expensive buildings the citizens of different classes will attack each other, and this will escalate into riots and people will begin to leave the city in droves, which will destroy your economy as taxes are your major income source.

If you are doing things correctly Radical Chics will appear where the Fringes live and they in turn will spawn Elites eventually. Suits and Elites prove the most difficult to lure to your city. As tension between classes rise you will need police and swat teams, and these are HUGE drains on your economy. You will also have to provide firemen as fires can wipe out huge sections of the city easily.

This game has a good graphics engine that allows extreme close-ups so you can see what your city lifers are up to up close and personal. The buildings are well done but there aren’t very many different types. One of the fun things is the streets change color slightly so you will know what group of City Lifers like a particular section of the city.

As the population increases more building types are unlocked from the game menu as are things like better hotels and other improvements. If things go bad economically you can borrow money, but this is always a bad idea in the long run. It’s better to remove wasteful buildings rather then watch your available funds dry up.

The FringeThere are some quirks in this game. You can be making money hand over fist when suddenly your economy goes in the red for no reason, nor does the game tell you what is wrong. At one point I had a huge economy with Suits moving in, and suddenly they were leaving and I had no idea why, and I had no idea if this was working as designed or if it’s just a bug or bad programming.

All of this makes for a nice city builder with a twist, the social component. If you dream of building cities and like urban planning you can have some fun with this, but it isn’t really a lot different from recent entries for this type of game. There was potential here for much more, and they appear to have dumbed down the Sim City model, which I don’t think was really the way to go.

Rating: 3star
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‘The Da Vinci Code’ Review (Xbox)

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by on June 26, 2006 at 3:18 pm

ChurchIf you want the pinnacle of movie tie-in games then look no further than The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay. If you want a game that represents everything that is wrong with quick movie cash-ins then look no further than The Da Vinci Code. Since Da Vinci Code fans all love puzzles, here is an anagram to properly describe this game: A SMUG CHESS KIT.

THE STORY SO FAR

If you don’t know the story of The Da Vinci Code by now then I’m surprised you’re reading this, because you shouldn’t be able to see this since you have no eyes! Yes, I’m imaging the Bringers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But seriously, as much controversy as this story has caused in the time since the novel’s release, it would’ve taken a considerable effort to either not feel inclined enough to go read the book yourself, not catch the insane amount of television specials covering the ideas proposed, or pony up the money to see the movie.

But if, for some unimaginable reason you don’t know the story, here is a quick blurb. You play as Robert Langon, a symbologist, who is called to The Louvre to investigate a murder that happened there, because his name is written at the crime scene next to the dead body. While there Robert meets Sophie Neveu, a young, French officer, who has past ties with the deceased. On the run from the cops, evil albino monks, and the Christian religion as a whole, Robert and Sophie must follow the clues that have been left for them if they want any hope at all in finding out why they are being pursued and finding what long lost secret is out there for them to discover.

PuzzleThe story of The Da Vinci Code is solid and intriguing…if you haven’t read the novel. For someone who has never had any prior experience to the story, the game does a good job of getting you the gist of it (though they change a few story points to make the game…well…more a game) while including a little more history regarding symbols should that be your thing. As someone who has read the book (thank you jury duty) and both seen the movie, I’m a bit tired of the story by now. I mean, it’s still a good story, but there usually comes a point when everything loses its impact. As the story unfolded there was no intrigue or suspense as I came closer and closer to discovering the mystery. Imagine if you met someone and they told you the same story each time you met them; you’d be interested the first time around, but as you wait for the payoff or the punch line, there is everything else to wade through.

The game presents its story through cutscene after cutscene and voiceovers that occur when you run across interactable pieces of the environment that are used to solve the puzzles, though you’ll really not care since they are all presented in a rather uninteresting manner. The cutscenes are animated in such a way as to give high school performances an Oscar winning luster and the voiceovers sounds just like you’d expect them to sound – someone reading a history book out loud.

GAMEPLAY

Since there is no multiplayer (and for a game of this type, what really could they’ve done anyways) gameplay is strictly limited to the single player variety. Though commercials and screenshots alone would have you believe this is some action game combined with stealth elements, you couldn’t be farther away from the truth. The Da Vinci Code is an old school adventure game, but without all the pointing and clicking. The game actually controls a lot like Syberia did for the Xbox in many regards.

You’ll use the left thumbstick to control your character and the right to control the camera. The A-button performs an action (such as examining something), the X-button is used to attack, the left trigger is to go in stealth mode (ie crouch), the right trigger runs, and the black button calls up your inventory. The controls aren’t advanced at all, but the game is so simple in concept you wouldn’t expect them to be. And though they aren’t advanced, they will from time to time come off that way because some actions shouldn’t be as hard to activate or to perform as they are presented here.

As you run about the open environments, you’ll look for things you can either pickup or investigate (you’ll know thanks to a big button that appears saying “press me”). Items you pickup will go into your inventory, and from here they can be used, combined, or examined. When you find an area you can investigate, your camera will zoom in as if you are looking through your character’s eyes; here you’ll swing a camera around looking for anything that will highlight so you can interact with it.

The LouvreWith objects in your inventory, you’ll use these to solve the various puzzles. For the most part, puzzles are easy, really easy. Rarely will there come a time when you see something and have absolutely no idea what to do. Hmm…I see dogs blocking my way and there are some bowls, maybe I need food. I have food, but now how to call them over. Ah, there is a bell. It really doesn’t get any easier than this. The only puzzles I actually had to cheat on were the puzzles where letters were represented as symbols and you had to replace the symbols with the proper letter. The reasons these were hard because you have so many letter choices and everything is blank, so it is just a lot of trial and error, which I can’t stand. Trial and error for a purpose (Splinter Cell) I can handle, but trial and error because you don’t know how to do it any better, well, I’ll pass. And though the game has a hint system, rarely does it do any good, because it will maybe give you three vague hints, and then just keep recycling, never helping you more and more till you figure it out. “Look at your notes” – really, thanks hint system, I never would’ve thought that, oh wait, yes I did, it was the first thing I did!

Beyond puzzles you have these ridiculous QTE events (I love you Shenmue, but blast you for your influence reaching to games like this) that you’ll have to perform for every day tasks like cutting bolts, lifting something, or pushing something. Ugh! Now, if there was a button to make my character flip this game the bird, then maybe I’d press those buttons faster, but as is, there is no hurry to them unlike in Resident Evil 4 or Shenmue where if you weren’t quick you were done for.

And finally we come to the combat portion of the game. This so called “combat” (yes, I’m using finger quotes as I’m typing) happens whenever you aren’t sneaky enough, which is itself a joke since you can pass right next to someone, pass right to the side of their peripherals, or walk right in front of them through vague shadows that don’t obscure you a bit and they still won’t see you. Even if you are caught, it doesn’t matter much, because as long as you have a one on one scenario you can always win. Combat involves pressing the attack button until the enemy grapples with you (you can occasionally get the upper hand in a grapple), but typically you’ll have to perform a button press scenario to turn the tides. Once the tides are turned, you can choose to push (worthless) your enemy, throw (equally worthless) them, or attack (ding ding we have a winner). To attack you once again do a string of button presses to make your character perform a canned fight scenario; do this about two or three times and every enemy will go down. Fighting is always a chore and a bore, but it gets even worse when there are more than one enemy, because you can be about ready to perform your attack when the other person will hit you and screw up your process. If your partner is on the screen at the same time, they’ll try to help, but often they would grab the person I was dealing with just fine, which meant I couldn’t quickly perform the required attacks to easily do away with them and move on.

The Old HouseGRAPHICS

Everything is rather “meh” in this game: characters generally look so-so to below average, environments are rather barren of objects, and everything seems rather dull. I’m trying to think of something, anything, that really made me go “oooh” but I’m drawing nothing but blanks.

SOUND

The music: bad. The voicework: pretty bad, and some of the line readings are lacking so much energy you’ll want to fall asleep or skip the cutscene altogether. The sound effects: are you kidding me? Say you find an object you can swing as a club and you hit it against the wall, you’d expect a sound wouldn’t you? Well, you don’t get one. Pick a can off the ground and throw it, you’d expect a sound right? I think you maybe, maybe get something that sounds like paper crackling, but it is definitely not a can being bounced on the ground.

OVERALL

Let me make this as perfectly clear as I can: read a book! Seriously, if you want to experience the story of The Da Vinci Code, read the book. If you hate to read, settle for the movie, though you are missing out since books are always better than their movie screen counterpart, especially in this case (amazing considering the pedigree behind it) as it loses a lot of the joy that comes from discovering the clues. And never, ever, under any circumstances, play the game. It is a terrible adventure game. A terrible movie tie-in game. And a plain old terrible game…period. Remember that anagram I started the review off with…

A SMUG CHESS KIT = THIS GAME SUCKS

Rating: 1star
Our Scoring System

‘CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder’ Review (PC)

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by on June 20, 2006 at 9:10 am

Crime SceneThe newest entry in the CSI crime solving series, 3 Dimensions of Murder lets players get into the gory– and I do mean gory– detail of Crime Scene Investigation. The latest point/click installation allows you the player to interact with the scenes in 3D, which was what intrigued me from the start. Having played a few point/click games and being a CSI fan, I jumped on this game. Was I disappointed? Yes and no.

3 Dimensions of Murder starts you as a rookie CSI. After plodding through the tutorial, you’re set loose on a ‘real’ crime scene. Of course, as a rookie, you can’t handle it by yourself, so you get to work with a different CSI mentor as you progress. You start out with Warrick, and with each new case you get a new mentor. You have the tools of the trade (camera, swabs, gloves, brushes) and you use these tools to gather up the evidence in order to solve these unusual and really bloody crimes. There are a total of five cases to solve, each one taking at least 90 minutes to solve, so you’ll get a good amount of game time out of this one.

Gameplay is easy to pickup to a point. The tutorial teaches the player how to use some of the tools you’ll need in the field. In any of the given scenes, your cursor changes shape and color to indicate you can interact with this part of the map. When up close, the toolbox will pop up to tell you to do something specific to a piece of evidence. When working with witnesses or suspects, the game gives you set questions you can ask, and leads you through the process. And if you get stuck, you can ask your in-game mentor for help. This is good for first time gamers who haven’t any experience with the CSI game interface. However, once you get used to it, it’s a bit tedious having your hand held by the computer. When I played, I wanted to take pictures of things but couldn’t because the interface wouldn’t let me. In one case in particular, there was blood on a windowsill that I wanted to test, but it wasn’t deemed ‘essential’ by the interface so all I could do was look at it. And when I asked the mentor for help, I hated getting chided, “You know this is going on your evaluation.” I was thinking, “Give me a break, this is my first case.” In another situation, I was given a handgun, and I knew I wanted to take it apart to inspect it. In real life, I’d know what button to push and what parts to move in order to field strip the weapon. But in the game, there was no way of knowing what I was supposed to click on in order to get it to fall apart. And then to hear Stokes tease me about my evaluation grade made me grumpy.

AutopsyThe sound and voice acting are first rate for the most part. The soundtrack isn’t overbearing and lent itself to the creepiness of a crime scene. I was happy to hear the real actors reprise their roles for the game. It was nice to hear Grissom tell me ‘Good luck’ and then quote some obscure philosopher. That made the immersion complete. I really felt like I was in his office, thinking, “What the heck does that have to do with anything?”

Graphics are ok. The 3D modeling on specific objects is nice, but as for movement or facial expression, it’s only average. I liked that the developers inserted scenes from the Las Vegas strip when changing locations, just like in the show. I only wish that they could have used these scenes in place of “now loading” ones, instead of seeing the Bellagio and the Sahara… and then “Now Loading.” Again, it breaks up the immersion of the game.

What had me a bit confused was the game rating. It’s rated M for mature because of blood and gore among other things. Now the show itself is gory, but not M material. And though there is blood all over the place and graphic reenactments just like on the show, it’s nowhere near the intensity of what you see on TV.

Overall I liked this game. As a fan of the show, it’s nice to get into the thick of things and act like an ‘almost detective.’ Though it’s only average graphically, the substance in the stories/cases will keep a player intrigued and involved almost as much as the show itself.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘Aveyond’ Review (PC)

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by on May 4, 2006 at 9:02 am

Ah, 2D sprites in a RPG…how I’ve missed you so! That sentence isn’t dripping with sarcasm either, because old school sprite based RPGs are my bread and butter. Final Fantasy III, Chrono Trigger, Secrets of Evermore, the Lunar series…yadda yadda yadda. I could go on and on about my favorite genre. Now comes Aveyond for the PC, and while it isn’t on the same caliber as those beloved games I just listed, it does have an old school charm about it that helps it overcome some of the downfalls.

Crystal TempleTHE STORY SO FAR
Like all RPGs, the story is what ultimately drives the player to battle the same monsters over and over, all so that they can level up enough to stand toe to toe with a boss or either earn enough money to buy that armor with the better defense rating.

Aveyond – a sequel to the game Ahriman’s Prophecy – starts off on a hilltop as two opposing forces battle each other. A priestess, having been defeated, sends a butterfly off to go and find the chosen one. The butterfly flies great miles until it finds you – a young girl named Rhen – and then transports you to the priestess so that you can help her. After you gather the priestess and bring her back to your village, it becomes all too clear she knows your father. But what secrets lay there?

Meanwhile, the evil Ahriman is plotting to get the priestess, as he has plans for conquest she can’t interfere with. After our priestess heals up, she temporarily gives her ring to Rhen for safekeeping, a slave trader captures her (mistaking her for the priestess he came to get), and so Rhen is shipped across the world where she is forced into slavery for three months.

However, it isn’t long before you are discovering your powers, freeing yourself from the bonds of slavery, and striking out to complete your destiny.

The main story of Aveyond involves this quest as you trounce about the world, gathering certain individuals for a certain rite, as you attempt to destroy Ahriman once and for all. Though this is the main quest, there are also little side quests to simply complete to complete them, because some really don’t offer you anything for your troubles, unlike some RPGs that will reward you a gift or something for your troubles. For instance, a witch has a young girl captured, and she can’t escape without her ruby red slippers. Well, once you manage to find who has the slippers and manage to procure them, you return them to the girl and then…POOF!…she disappears with nary a thank you gift being mentioned. Now, some will give you presents for your trouble, so it all just depends really.

SnowWhen the game tells its story, it isn’t all that bad, but there is a lot of downtime where hardly any story is happening, and it is just you and your team battling various monsters. I had hope that the beginning prologue like area would be a sign of things to come, as this was very story heavy, but after that I was often left with long stretches of time where I didn’t really know what was happening in the story or what I was supposed to do next. Given this is an old school RPG heavy on the linear nature, a certain degree of handholding is required to move the story, but too many times I was just lost. For example, you have to eventually escort the priestess to Aveyond, but she won’t leave your party when you get there. It turns out that you have to meet some lonely hermit in the woods before she’ll leave you and go to Aveyond. Now, the funny thing is, you are specifically told to take her to Aveyond and NOT to find this guy. Since the game didn’t tell me what to do I eventually had to go find a strategy guide and then a help forum JUST so I could find out how to get her to leave my party.

GAMEPLAY
Aveyond plays like an old school RPG. You’ve got your band of characters (form battle parties of up to four characters), you’re leveling up, a turn based system that has you imputing all your moves at one time and then these are interspersed with the enemy battle routine to determine how quickly your side attacks and in what order they attack, you’re money gathering (gold pennies in this one), equipment upgrading, etc.

Like old school RPGs, the characters are diverse and nobody can do everything, so it really becomes a balancing game of partly who you like and partly who can do the best job for you. Rhen attacks with swords and has various magical/sword attacks partially dependent on whether she has any of the special swords, Lars is offensive magic, Dameon has healing and defensive spells, Elini performs powerful creature summons, etc.

One thing different about Aveyond is that it incorporates the ability to see your monsters so there are no random encounters like in the Final Fantasy series. It is much more like the Lunar games, as you can see where your enemies are, and if you so choose, you can try to run around them instead of fighting. The problem is the hampering ability of this system, as if you hit one creature, you don’t battle it’s preset number of characters (such as one spider representing three spiders) but rather all you see on the screen. So if you are trying to dodge around three flying birds and you hit one, you instantly do battle with all three instead of just a group that one is attached to. This also means you can’t pick them off one by one easily, as sometimes even monsters off the screen will be registered and you’ll have to attack them.

There are two main faults of Aveyond that hamper the enjoyment factor to a degree: the uneven balance and walking around with no sense of what to do next.

I’ve already mentioned an instance regarding how it can be frustrating to figure out what to do next, and it carries over to every corner of the game. You are supposed to go save these druids to complete your quests, and they are stationed at various temples and such throughout the game, but there is no clear cut way to go about saving them as you don’t really know which one should be your first, second, etc.

As for the uneven balance, the battle areas can have drastic jumps between difficulty extremes, as one area can be filled with easily dispatched enemies that don’t do a lot of damage, while just one screen over can lead to instant death. For instance, I was leveling up through this area to earn some money, I find a giant tree community, head down one hole and instantly saw these frog like creatures. Since the areas are in such a close proximity, you’d assume they would be on the same difficulty level, but these monsters hit me for over a 1000 hit points at a whack!

Battle ScreenAnd that is another problem…the hit point values. You can easily find yourself going from just a couple double digits worth of damage to over 1000 in a matter of seconds, just depending on if you find the right weaponry or not. Defense is the same, because while something can be attacking you early on for a good amount of damage, as soon as you find the best armor and upgrade it usually nulls all their attacks so zero hit points will be all that registers until you move on to the next area.

Though the problem is pretty severe early on, it does slowly seep into the subconscious as you gradually just let go of your frustrations and accept it for how it is. As soon as you get your first party of four well-equipped characters, you should be dealing with the issue by then.

GRAPHICS
The graphics are cute…there is no way around it. The main characters of the game (as well as the NPCs in the game) all have this anime look to them with cute little small frames and big ol’ eyes. The enemies aren’t that bad looking, but they aren’t all that detailed either and are just kind of there.

The environments are nicely stylized in their sprites as the scenery changes from snowy fields of the North to the dark of the vampire ridden town to the tree top houses that would make any Ewok proud. So while you may be running around with no sense of where to go, you’ll at least be running through some interesting environments, which have a nice and popping color palette so everything is typically upbeat with little in the way of drab, muted colors.

There isn’t much in the way of animation, as the only things that move are typically your characters (about two or three frames of animation) and some animated bits in the environment, but overall it is lacking. For example, battles could be more engaging had battle animations been included, but typically it is just a character quickly flashing white to signify they are attacking, and then a number value appearing over who they attacked to show how much damage they did.

WitchesSOUND
Sound? Sound? Well, there isn’t much. This was the most disappointing aspect of the entire game. Now, when I play old school RPGs, I play through the game with the music on, and only mute it and crank my own tunes during long hours of leveling up. With Aveyond there is essentially no music. Sure, the opening starts with music, but after that there is almost zip, zippo, nilch, nadda, etc. Battles are silent affairs for the most part, as the only sounds will be the ambience of the environment (either no sound at all, a few birds twittering away, or the drip of water in a cave) with absolutely no sound effects whatsoever and the only music being the winning ditty that plays after a successful battle.

I actually thought my speakers were broken, because nothing that should generally produce noise was doing so, and I thought they had gone kaput. Given the indie nature of this game and how one woman essentially did it all, I can look past this to a degree, but it did affect my enjoyment.

Editor’s Note: Apparently the music problem wasn’t that of the game but rather my media player (Windows Media Player 10) as it does have a soundtrack that plays during the game.

CLOSING COMMENTS
There are some things in this game you’ll have to look past if you want to enjoy it. Aveyond is far from the flawless diamond I had hope for, but if anything it did make me miss this style of RPG gameplay. I love stories and RPGs do them the best. Sure, by now they might all use the same clichéd (young child goes around world collecting something to beat someone), but you know what, it works.

WoodsI didn’t play the game’s predecessor, so perhaps some elements of the story were supposed to be implied and were thus lost on me. That might be the case, I don’t know yet. I’d have to play the other game to get a feel. I know the game is certainly referenced, but it didn’t really feel as if you had to have played it.

For what it is, it is an enjoyable game that will appeal to the old school RPG fans out there. It isn’t the greatest, and it doesn’t evolve the genre, but it did leave me wanting to play the first game in the series. With a reported 50+ hours of gameplay and 60+ quests, there is certainly a lot in this game to keep you busy.

Download a trialPurchase the game now!

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

‘Dwice’ Review (PC)

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by on April 20, 2006 at 3:00 pm

Dwice LevelIf there is a puzzle game to be had with various shaped blocks falling to the bottom of a screen, rest assured that Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov’s name is probably attached to it somewhere. You know, I never thought shape recognition was so hard…till I spent some time with this game. Heck, picking two straight shapes is even a problem for me now.

Puzzle games aren’t known for their grandiose storylines…it’s a simple fact of videogame culture. I mean, does Tetris, Hexic or any other puzzle game for that matter contain a story? Well, Dwice actually incorporates one, if only to sale the idea. In Dwice, the world has just experienced a new Ice Age, and the world is covered with ice and snow. As you traverse said globe, you’ll work to eliminate block puzzles to save various villages from avalanches, and in the hope that you can clear away the ice and make those locations a warmer climate (cause really, Egypt should not have snow on top of their pyramids). Heating the world…the crux of the game.

As with any self-respecting puzzle game, ease of use and simple gameplay must be at the forefront for anyone to care about it. Tetris – turn blocks and place them to form lines. Hexic- spin hexagons to make groups of three of the same color. The goal of Dwice is to select two puzzle pieces of the same shape so that you can eliminate them from the board, and thus slow down the decent of the puzzle block avalanche so it doesn’t crush the village below. Also, if you can manage to isolate one block by itself, it will simply melt away, so that is a consideration you need to keep in play as well as you left click to your heart’s content with the mouse. Now, just like in those other games, though the mechanics are simple, there comes some depth in how you generate points, which is always the ultimate goal of any puzzle game. In Dwice you collect points by matching pairs of blocks, but yet there is also another method; instead of simply clicking two straight line pieces (for example) you can receive more points by clicking two straight line pieces of the same color.

So what makes matching shapes such a challenge? I mean, when I was young, I’m sure I had one of those toys that made you slip round pegs into round holes and square pegs into square holes, but the shapes in Dwice aren’t so well defined. When I first started the game, I was instantly hit with the feeling of “Why is this difficult?” Why? Cause the blocks were moving fairly slowly and I was easily double clicking shapes because there just wasn’t that much variety; this feeling lasted for a few levels. Then, of course, came that moment of “Ooooh! So that is what this game is about!” You see, after those first handful of levels (training levels I’d say) the game starts mixing them up and adding slight variations that throw you off track.

The Dwice WorldIn a way, think of the bottom of a Tetris board and how – if played perfectly – you’ve got all those various shapes turned every which way to make a perfect section without a single gap present. Now imagine that falling at you and you’ve got to twist and turn your mind to see what shape is exactly what. See, the game gives you pieces, which upon first glance, look like one another (I can’t tell you how many times I double clicked things and got frustrated when I absolutely thought I was right but wasn’t). Straight lines, slight squares, and plus signs aren’t a challenge, but when you start throwing in “L” looking shapes, bridge looking shapes, and various zigzag patterns it becomes quite a challenge to discern what from what (the fact that they are twisted in all these different directions add to the challenge as well).

You aren’t alone, however, as powerups are sporadically spaced throughout the descending avalanche puzzles, which will do one of several things depending on what type it is. You’ve got powerups that slow down the avalanche’s descent, bonus multipliers, extra points, quakes (breaks up the pieces into smaller sections), fire (eliminate all the pieces on the board), and then you’ve got the ones that go in your stockpile so that you can use them whenever a situation gets particularly hairy; these include dynamite (a smaller version of the quake), ice picks (eliminates one entire piece), and fire lines (a smaller version of the fire, whereas this one only goes partly up the board instead of all the way up it).

If you should accidentally let an avalanche reach a village, don’t worry too much, as there are a total of three houses there (sort of like continues or extra lives) and as long as you have one left you are good to go; after a village house is taken out approximately one-third of the bottom section of the board is removed so it isn’t like the avalanche instantly claims your other remaining houses at the exact same time.

Dwice features two main modes of play. You’ve got the Quest Mode, the core experience of the game, which has you jet setting across the globe in hopes of freeing these climates from the frost that has struck them. As you advance to different locations, you conquer them by playing a type of “boss level” where you’ll have to not only manage one board, but two! If you thought one was hard, wait till two, but at least here you can cross click, so if you have a plus sign on one side and another one on the other side, you can click both of them to remove them from their respective boards. After that location is complete, you’ll pack up, move on, and try to rescue another place. Quest Mode features 60 levels spread across nine different locations. The second method of play is the Arcade Mode, which acts as an endless avalanche stream that continues until it manages to take all your houses.

Since it is a puzzle game about blocks, the graphics don’t have to be that advanced…and they aren’t. Your villagers are basically just giant heads with arms and legs, your puzzle pieces are fairly flat and boring, the effects are so-so, and the backgrounds have a 3D (aka roundness) to them that really makes the 2D placed over them standout.

Dwice ComboAs for the sound…well…it’s pretty grating; it sounds like it was done on a MIDI keyboard and the hook repeats so many times you’ll quickly find yourself cranking your own tunes or none at all instead of listening to this single track. Besides the music, the only other sound comes from the “clinking and plinking” sound that comes from selecting and matching pairs and the sound effects certain powerups cause.

So what is the final conclusion? Like most puzzle games, it is easy to pickup and play, but after a while you’ll figure out that it’s truly made for those difficult spots and really making you think ahead and plan your moves. The game isn’t for everyone, but I’m sure puzzle fans and Alexey Pajitnov’s followers will eat this baby up. Still, if given the choice of picking Dwice or either Pajitnov’s Tetris or Hexic to play, I’d probably go with one of those two alternatives instead.

Rating: 3star
Our Scoring System

Download the demo or purchase the game.

Animal Crossing: Wild World Review (DS)

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by on April 13, 2006 at 10:00 am

Animal Crossing: Wild World is a clever and engaging game that has taken the traditional simulation game and transformed it into a ‘personal MMO.’ On Monday, April 10, 2006, 105,833 players logged in and played the game, according to the statistics on Nintendo’s Wi-Fi gaming hub. As of March 5, 2006, over 2 million copies were sold. So what’s so captivating about it?

Animal Crossing is at heart, a simulation game, where you set up your house, garden, furnishings, clothing and museum collections. Your first sessions in this game are likely to revolve around a series of tasks directed by Tom Nook, and the initial pay-off of your initial mortgage. This experience is not much of a grind. You are given multiple options for how to make money (bells) in the game and the first mortgage is set at an accessible level.

In keeping with the life-simulation theme, Animal Crossing is a persistent world. Your village clock follows a typical day. The sun rises and sets. Villagers eventually retire for the night, and the stores close. Sunsets in Animal Crossing are lovely. The game follows the seasons, and in the winter the world is covered in snow. In the spring, some of the trees turn pink, and the fall is speckled with fall color. Weeds grow and you have to pick them. Flowers wilt, although watering them will bring them back to life. It has a peaceful, almost bucolic feel.

The DS version has let go of the series of fed-ex tasks that dominated the play of the GameCube version. On the DS, your relationship with others in the village is ultimately up to you, and there are no obvious penalties for not fostering relationships with townsfolk. If you do, they are likely to reward you with presents, or tips about the game.

The port to the DS has a nice integration with the stylus, and you can choose to use it or buttons. It also takes advantage of the dual screens. On occasion, balloons with gifts will float past the top screen, and you can use a slingshot to pop the balloon. It’s hard to keep an eye on both screens, however, and if you are wandering through the village it’s very easy to miss the balloon as it goes by. The only take-away with the DS port appears to be the inclusion of the old NES games that were present in the GameCube version. Playing those older games was one of the more charming elements, and it’s unfortunate that they do not seem to have been brought over.

One of the nicest aspects to Animal Crossing: Wild World is that it lends itself to 10-15 minute play sessions. In that time, you can accomplish a nice chunk of the day-to-day business of the game, and progress at a reasonable pace.

It is, however, a hard game to rush through (unless you prefer time travel.) The village economy can be encouraged along through orchards bearing non-native fruits. It is well worth exploring the Wi-Fi capabilities early on so that you can gather fruits from other towns, even if you don’t intend to play in other towns very often. Tending to the orchards over the course of a couple of weeks will supply you with a booming economy. You won’t bat an eye at the incredibly high prices for later mortgages. Well, maybe you will, but they’ll translate as time and money and it’s all perfectly doable.

The game does reward diligent attention to ‘taking care of business’ and tending to your home, furnishings, and gardens. This adds a nice cooperative component to the multi-player aspects of the game. Your home will accommodate up to 3 roommates, and they can all assist in paying off the mortgage, furnishing the house, etc.

There are two schools of thought on how to approach Animal Crossing gameplay. Admirers of the Happy Room Academy diligently work to payoff the mortgages and acquire a mansion, attend to their furniture collections and pay special attention to the use of color in their homes. They are consistent donors to the museum, and make sure that the museum has pristine collections of art, dinosaurs, fish and bugs.

Other players take a more “brew your own” approach, and ignore the HRA letters while they create their own environment. You can create tiles using a wide variety of color palettes and tools, and then place the tiles throughout the village. Through carefully planned tiling, you can ‘landscape’ your world to be anything you can imagine.

Is Animal Crossing: Wild World really a MMO? If you consider your village an instance, and open your gates to encourage visitors, it does have a MMO quality. Developing a robust economy would be very difficult if you didn’t visit other towns, and there are some stages of the game that you can only get if you participate in the multi-player aspect (for example, the final upgrade to Nook’s store is triggered after a guest visits and makes a purchase in your town.) It is fascinating to see what others have done in their town, and it certainly fosters a sense of cooperative competition.

All in all, Animal Crossing: Wild World gets 4 out of 5 stars. Our scoring system reserves 5 out of 5 games for those that have universal appeal, and simulation games such as this do not appeal to all gamers. It is, however, a brilliant example and definitely wins ‘best of breed.’ It will be fascinating to see what Nintendo does with the Animal Crossing franchise in the future.

RATING: 4 out of 5
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‘Grandia III’ Review (PS2)

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by on March 30, 2006 at 8:54 pm

As fun as Grandia III is, it lacks in depth and game time; the game lasts anywhere between 30 and 40 hours depending on how long your battles last and how much you run around building up your characters (which you won’t need to do as the battles are not challenging). On the other hand, you will want to do plenty of battling once you have had the pleasure of using the combat system. Pleasure it is, as this game has one of the best combat systems of any RPG game, anywhere. Before we get to that though, we’ll look at what else Grandia III has to offer.

We first meet Yuki, the main hero, in his hometown. He is a younger boy who is completely obsessed with building a plane and becoming a pilot. His mother, yes, his mother, climbs aboard his newest plane without him knowing. The trouble begins when her weight, which the plane was not built to handle, drags the plane down and they crash smack dab in the middle of trouble. Of all the games ever made, not one comes to mind where the mother and the son are fighting alongside each other. Miranda is younger – in fact she looks like she could be Yuki’s sister – and there are some really great moments of her showing why she is the mother. Already this game is different. Or so you think. In the beginning the game has a lot of great storylines, which seem very off the beaten path. As the game plays on, the story slowly starts to become more and more standard. Common elements, such as the young guy forced to be the hero, the girl who needs extra protection, good versus evil, and saving the world (that may not even know it’s in trouble), eventually prevail. There are some interesting ways in which the story is told though, such as conversations around the dinner table, which allow you to choose the order of who speaks and when. What is most disappointing is the introduction of characters who you think are going to be major players, that never show up again. There are holes in the storyline and there is no depth to it at all; it leaves you to imagine a lot, and unfortunately, those things you are forced to imagine should be presented to you in the game.

Like many other RPGs this game has a lot of focus on presentation. The characters themselves are animated very well. While every once in a while their mouths don’t go with their words, they are still really well done. The environments are beautiful at times, with perfectly placed rays of light or a setting sun. The cutscenes are incredible and this is one of the places where the game really shines. They are perfectly executed and full of excitement or emotion. The way they are directed tells the story well and the graphics are outstanding. The music is well chosen for each stage of the game, and while not completely out of the norm, it is well done just the same.

Another downfall to this game is the length. As mentioned before the playtime is around 30 hours. Part of this comes from the fact that the game is completely linear. In the early stage of the game there are few – maybe only one – minigames and side quests. As the game goes on, it gets even worse. While in most RPGs you can wander around for hours fighting and completing other quests, most of the time in Grandia you can’t leave the storyline. In fact your character will say something to get the team to turn around and get back on track. There are no chances – especially in the beginning – to explore. Once you move on to disc 2 you can fly around in the plane and explore a little more, but there is not really much to see. It has become the norm for a RPG to be replayable, choosing different quests, adventures, and doing things in a different order. There isn’t much replayability in Grandia III. Once you are done, you are done. Unless of course you just really like the combat system.

The combat system in this game sets the game far and above the rest. It gives you so many different creative options when in the midst of a battle that every battle can be completely different than the previous, if that is what you desire. The system works by watching a circle at the top left hand corner of the screen. There is a circle in the middle of the bigger circle, on which your characters’ faces will move around. On the outer ring, the enemies follow their circle, and if you pay careful attention to them and what they are doing you can stop them right in their tracks. There are three sections to this IP gauge. The first is the command phase. This is the phase where you will decide which action you are going to take. The next phase is the execution phase and this is when that action is carried out. Once your character hits this line, he or she uses the magic, attack, or item usage that you have chosen. The third area is a waiting period that is stuck between the other two phases. This works the same for the monsters, and in fact this is where the battle gets fun.

During the time the monster is waiting to reach the execution phase, you can cancel its attack by using either a critical attack or a special attack. This will stop the monster’s attack and move it back a little on the IP gauge (or a lot) depending on which attack you used to cancel. If you use simple attacks, you will build up your skill points for your special attacks. The combo attack will not cancel the monster’s attack so just be forewarned! Keep a close eye on that monster because you can actually know ahead of time what monster is doing what attack. Be careful! The monsters can also cancel your attacks. In some cases this can make a battle very long, especially when you are up against a boss; it may be because you spend too much time canceling their attacks and defending rather than being on the offensive. So just pay special attention to that IP gage. If you time your attacks right you may even get an aerial attack that happens when a character hits a monster into the air and another character attacks that same monster while it is still up there. This does more damage and looks really cool! If you can finish a battle without taking any damage, it will add extra skill points to your gauge. For those people who like less the battles and cringe at the word strategy, you can turn on an option where the other characters help to tell the character who is taking his turn what he should do to be most effective. This is actually really cool, as it makes battles a little easier and more enjoyable for those of us out there that may be new to gaming or just really stink at strategy.

As far as items go, you can equip mana eggs, which help to amplify your magic. You can also extract the magic from the egg and equip it to yourself to give your character a new magic skill. The same goes for books. You can equip the books to improve strength, health, etc. Or you can extract a new skill from the books to add to your arsenal. The only disappointment here is that there is not an abundance of items to be found in the game. This can be major downer for RPGers who lust after stronger weapons, and just plain cool armor.

This game has mild language usage and a little drinking as well, but when it comes to RPGs this may be a really great game for younger players. It is not nearly as deep and dark as some of its counterparts, and with its talk of dreams and aspirations, it may be one that parents won’t shudder at the thought of buying their children. Grandia III is a fun game, with its quirky characters, great graphics and awesome battle system. It may not be for the serious RPG player, but it definitely has some great elements and is worth the buy.

RATING: 4 out of 5
Our Scoring System

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Forza Motorsports Review (Xbox)

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by on May 16, 2005 at 11:49 am

For the longest time, the best racing simulation on the consoles has been Gran Turismo. I played the first, the second, and the third. I loved them all. I was excited to hear Gran Turismo 4 was coming… until last fall. I was at the Penny Arcade Expo, watching a kid play some random Xbox racing sim at the Microsoft Game Studios booth. It looked good, no doubt about it. The thing that caught my eye though was that his bumper was damaged and dangling from the back of his car. Damage had never been in Gran Turismo, and I loved this aspect in other racing games. The name of that racing sim was Forza. I went home after that and looked over the information available for it. On paper, it seemed to be everything I loved in Gran Turismo, plus a lot more. I played a demo of it at a local Gamestop. It must have impressed me enough, I bought an Xbox the day Forza shipped.

It doesn’t take long to realize the basic gameplay is almost identical to Gran Turismo. You have various events that require certain cars. You have many upgrades and options for tuning the cars to maximize their potential in these races. The similarity ends here though. In order to play future races in Gran Turismo, you were required to beat certain races to acquire a bigger license rating, but not in Forza. Instead your driver gets experience based on how much earnings he wins in a race, and future events are unlocked at higher levels. For instance, there are several races that require your driver to be level 10.

The first thing you do when you first play Forza is make a couple choices. In the beginning you must choose a home region(North America, Asia, Europe), which will dictate the prices and availability of cars and parts. This choice brings you to your next choice, which is deciding on your very first car. You have a little over $20,000, just enough to buy any starter car. Some of the starter cars are pretty bad, but some are actually pretty good. I chose Europe and could get an Audi TT. It’s no supercar, but at least it’s not a slow hatchback. They explain in the manual that some cars will be common everywhere, and thus will be cheap everywhere. Some cars are only common in certain regions, so they will be cheaper in that region and normal price everywhere else. Some cars are rare in all regions, and thus are more expensive than other cars. Along with other statistics of your car, you have a rarity rating. This rating improves when you get upgrades for the car. Your earnings at the end of each race also improves due to a bonus based on how rare your car is. You have to spend money to make money after all.

There is a highly adjustable difficulty system. The harder you make the game, the more earnings you will receive in each race. You may need to adjust settings for a balance of difficulty. For example, you can turn off the stability assistance to net a 10% increase in earnings, while taking off fuel/tire pit stops in endurance races for a net loss of 25% earnings. The better you get, the more challenging you may want to make it so that you can get that cash faster.

The usual tuning upgrades we have come to expect are in Forza, plus a lot more in the visual department. There are complete body kits to purchase, various spoilers that affect down force differently, window tint, wheels, and more. There is also the best editor ever in any racing sim for customizing your paint and creating decals. In Need For Speed: Underground you can customize about 4 layers on your car. Comparatively, in Forza you have 600 layers to work with.

If you choose to turn on simulation damage you’ll experience a whole new racing game. If you hit a wall head on, you may your headlights shattered or your bumper barely hanging on — depending on how hard you hit the wall. Smash in one of your fenders and your car might want to turn right all the time. You’ll also take a hit to your earnings at the end, as the repair bill is taken right out of whatever credits you may have earned.

Something Gran Turismo has always been lacking is multiplayer. In Forza, the developers went all out on it. You can race online via Xbox Live for credits that you can use in your single player career. The best part of playing Forza online is probably the ability to swap parts and cars with other people. This can be a cheaper way to get parts for your car or a way to get more money for a car you want to sell. The ELO ranking system is used to determine who races who online, so you never have to worry about being put up against much better race drivers. It takes in account many variables to determine who you should drive against, such as how much a win or lose could help or hurt you.

All is not perfect, there are a couple quirks with the game. Sometimes it seems I am touching another car even when I can see we aren’t touching. That is made worse by how badly this affects your driving. Barely touching another car or a wall seems to just spin your car out of control, something I’ve never seen happen so drastically in a race before. In a game like this, losing control means you lose the race. This has been a huge frustration for me. Another big frustration is, I never have enough money! I have to redo races I’ve already beaten just to make enough money to get a couple upgrades that might be enough for another car to win a race I haven’t done yet. Due to restrictions on races, I have to find some way to spread out $4000 in earnings across 5 cars, when a single part could cost more than that. I think higher earnings per race could help.

Is Forza a winner? Definitely. I think any Xbox user should grab this game if they haven’t already. It’s few frustrations are greatly outweighed by the reward of hours of fun gameplay.

RATING: 5 out of 5
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