Video Game Review: Crysis 3 [Xbox 360]

Crysis 3 [Xbox 360]

Crysis 3
System: Xbox 360 [also on PS3 and PC]
Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Crytek
Release Date: February 19, 2013

In a year already loaded with big name sequels (i.e. Bioshock Infinite, Dead Space 3), somehow Crytek’s Crysis 3 got lost in the shuffle. Surely, a big budget first person shooter with gorgeous visuals would manage to snag a large slice of the pie, right? Unfortunately, no, that is not the case here. Instead, Crysis 3 offers more of the same with little to differentiate itself from its superior predecessors.

The story, never a strong suit in this series, is basically a rehash of before. Aliens are still invading the earth, and the evil CELL organization is up to no good. It’s up to the Prophet character and his powerful Nanosuit to save the day once again. Even the game’s setting is familiar; whereas Crysis took place in the jungle and Crysis 2 in New York City, Crysis 3 is set in a jungle in New York City. Yeah.

The plot is absolutely ridiculous and is just there to pad out an already thin single player campaign, which itself can be completed in a mere 4-5 hours. The campaign feels even more linear than Crysis 2, as much of the game’s progression requires following along Prophet’s old comrade, Psycho, from checkpoint to checkpoint. Occasionally there are wide open areas that allow some semblance of freedom, and that is when the game is most fun.

Crysis 3 [Xbox 360]

Using the Nanosuit remains a real treat, as the abilities to use both heavy armor and cloaking features are what sets Crysis apart from other FPS titles. Being able to go invisible for short bursts at a time allows the game to be played stealth-like; this is especially convenient when there are nasty enemies lurking about. The heavy armor feature is helpful, too, for those who just like to go in with a heavy rain of fire.

The biggest addition to Crysis 3 is a bow. At first, this feels like an underwhelming inclusion, and Prophet even remarks as such when he first receives it. However, this is not an ordinary bow; it’s basically an all-in-one killing machine. This new weapon is incredibly overpowered, as it allows Prophet to stay invisible while firing, and it can wipe out enemies from a significant distance. Using the bow almost makes the game *too* easy, and I found myself not even using it unless truly desparate.

Crysis 3 [Xbox 360, 2013]

The actual combat and shooting are solid, and the controls are tight. There are plenty of weapons to choose from, and the enemies are diverse enough to keep things interesting. It’s just a shame that the campaign is a mostly unmemorable affair that never fully utilizes the groundwork laid by the core gameplay mechanics. There are no noteworthy set-pieces as found in the first two games, and it truly feels that Crytek were just going through the motions with this effort.

The multiplayer is extensive and has the ability to be a huge plus; unfortunately, it is nearly dead just three months after its release. I have put in a few hours online, but never saw more than a few hundred people playing at a time. Nearly all of them were playing Team Deathmatch, and several of the other playlists had no gamers at all. That is absolutely sad for such a new release, especially since the stealth/armor mechanics are a refreshing change of pace from the Call of Duty series.

Crysis 3 [Xbox 360]

When you do manage to get into a full game, the experience is enjoyable. The maps are pulled straight from the campaign, and they are big enough to take advantage of all aspects of the Nanosuit. Perhaps the recent price drop will bring in a bigger online community, but I’m not holding my breath.

In a nutshell, Crysis 3 is a visually stunning game — one of the prettiest on the Xbox 360 — but it is a hollow one. This had the potential to be truly special, but the rushed campaign is a huge disappointment and a major step down from the first two games. There is still a competent shooter underneath, but there’s no question that this will be known as the black sheep of the Crysis series.

7/10

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Video Game Review: Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD [PS Vita]

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD [PS Vita]

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD
System: PS Vita (HD version also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: First-person/third-person action-adventure
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Just Add Water
Release Date: December 18, 2012

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD is an upscaled version of the 2005 Xbox title of the same name. In this, you play as The Stranger, a Clint Eastwood-esque bounty hunter — complete with poncho! — who is looking to raise some cash for a life-saving surgery. In order to get this money, he visits various towns to accept bounty contracts, most of which have high payoffs for bringing back the bounties alive (though they pay well for dead captures, too).

Gameplay consists of both first-person and third-person shooting, and the transition between the two is seamless. Instead of using the L2/R2 buttons (which don’t exist on the Vita), a simple double tap of the front touch screen will move between the two views. The third-person view is critical for advancing between areas, as the Stranger will plop down on all fours and run extremely fast. Switching to the first-person view opens up the gun-play, with standard controls like many other shooters.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD [PS Vita, 2012]

As this is an Oddworld title, weapons are anything but conventional. The Stranger’s main weapon, the crossbow, can use several different types of ammo, all of which are actually live creatures. Boombats, zap flies and stunkz are just a few of the different types of critters that can be hunted and captured as live ammo, and each one has its own unique characteristic. Some work as rockets, some work as cannon balls, and others are used to stun and knock enemies down. As such, there are enough options to suit multiple styles of play, though most will likely find two or three types that they will want to use exclusively.

The game takes place in a relatively large world full of weird little anthropomorphic characters. Many of the towns are inhabited with chicken-like creatures — their ridiculous voice acting never ceases to amuse me — and they will give you helpful hints if you get stuck. In fact, it’s near impossible to get lost, as pushing the square button will prompt the Stranger to remark on what he’s “gotsta” do next. Another handy Stranger function is the ability to beat his chest in order to heal himself (this is done by pressing the triangle button rapidly). He’s quite a handy little character, and he makes a good central protagonist.

Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath HD [PS Vita, 2012]

Most of the game revolves around finding and acquiring bounties, but just as this becomes repetitious, the story goes in a completely different direction and introduces an all-new set of allies and foes. This is a refreshing twist, even if the final act relies more heavily on shooting than ever before.

For $15, Stranger’s Wrath HD offers a lot of bang for its buck. The campaign can last anywhere from 15-20 hours, and it’s a fun ride throughout. The game is incredibly well-suited for the Vita as well, as it is easy to pick up and play in short bursts, and the HD graphics look pretty damn slick on the OLED screen. If not for the dated CGI cut-scenes, this would blend in perfectly as a brand-new title.

On a system starved for shooting games, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath HD stands tall. There certainly isn’t anything else like it on the Vita.

8/10

Video Game Review: Dead Space 3 [Xbox 360]

Dead Space 3 [Xbox 360]

Dead Space 3
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Third-person shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: February 5, 2013

Despite the emphasis placed on horror in the first Dead Space, the series’ gradual transition to full-blown action gameplay seemed inevitable. After all, in the eyes of corporate big-wigs, gamers don’t want to be scared; they want to blow shit up and dismember aliens, right? As such, even though we all knew Dead Space 3 would focus on action, the change is still startling, and unfortunately disappointing as well.

Set three years after the Sprawl incident of Dead Space 2, the game once again places you in the role of Isaac Clarke, the engineer who has now become quite handy with a gun (and chatty, at that). Isaac is dragged out of his self-made isolation in his rather disgusting apartment on the moon, and he is forced on a mission to help find his ex-girlfriend and her missing team. Once again, he encounters an endless amount of Necromorphs along the way, with the added bonus of also having to fight off Marker-crazed Unitologists (essentially cult soldiers).

Dead Space 3 [Xbox 360]

The plot is basically more of the same from the Dead Space series, but the game does go in an interesting new direction when Isaac arrives on the snowy planet of Tau Volantis. Being able to play in blizzard-like conditions is a nice change of pace, even if these moments are often interrupted with forays into the familiar dark, gloomy interior settings.

Being able to play on an ice planet is fun, but it can’t mask the fact that the campaign is lacking in any major “wow” moments. The first two games were full of such moments — who could ever forget the introduction of the Necromorphs in DS1, or the eye scene in DS2 (not to mention many others)? After finishing DS3, I have had a hard time remembering much of anything. In fact, by about the 2/3 mark during the campaign, the gameplay grew monotonous to the point of me just wanting it to be over with.

The campaign is longer than before — it took me nearly 15 hours to finish it single player with all optional missions completed — but there is little diversity to keep things fresh. This is a major issue, though it is helped somewhat by the addition of a brand new co-op mode.

Dead Space 3 [Xbox 360]

Now, games can be dropped in and out of using the online co-op feature. In this, one player is Isaac, and the other is John Carver, an EarthGov Sergeant. They have separate personalities, and there are a handful of co-op exclusive side missions that can explore these differences more in-depth. Being able to play with a friend makes it a little easier to overlook the shortcomings found in the campaign, though it is somewhat infuriating that part of the content is exclusive to co-op.

There has been quite a bit of controversy regarding another new feature in Dead Space 3 — its weapon crafting system. Instead of only being able to acquire a dozen or so weapons, you now have the ability to make your own guns based on different parts you find throughout the environment. There are a ton of possibilities, and if you put in the necessary time, you can make some pretty badass weapons.

Dead Space 3 [Xbox 360]

The controversy for this feature comes in the form of microtransactions. Basically, EA has given the option for impatient/lazy gamers to spend real money to acquire the materials needed to craft certain weapons. I had no problems whatsoever finding the elements and parts I needed during the course of the campaign, so this feature does not bother me in the slightest. In fact, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. This isn’t something that is forced onto gamers — it’s entirely up to them if they want to dish out any extra cash to change their gameplay experience. Of all the common complaints with DS3, this is the one I don’t get.

And yes, Dead Space 3 does have its fair share of problems, but it is still a competent third-person action game. Fans of the horror aspects of the series will no doubt be disappointed by the reliance on action, but those especially interested in the Dead Space canon will likely still enjoy this. At the very least, the game warrants multiple playthroughs, so there is a good amount of replay value, and it can be fun to kick back with a friend. It’s just a shame that the series has already gone so far away from what made the first two games so great.

7/10

Video Game Review: FIFA 13 [Xbox 360]

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360]

FIFA 13
System: Xbox 360 (also on pretty much every other current system)
Genre: Sports (Soccer)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: September 25, 2012

I don’t often buy sports games the year they are released, but I couldn’t pass up getting FIFA 13 this year. A lot has changed since the last version I played, FIFA 11, and what we have now is one of the most complete sports experiences I have ever seen.

Upon firing up the game, the options are nearly overwhelming. Just take a look at the different modes offered: Games of the Week, Ultimate Team, Seasons, Career, Be a Pro, Pro Club Seasons, Skill Games, Online. To the unaware, it would be difficult to even begin to think about where to start.

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360] -- Ultimate Team

I began my FIFA 13 playing career with the Ultimate Team mode. I had dabbled with this before, but never gave it the time of day it deserved. In this mode, you are given packs of cards in which you receive different players, attributes and other options. By playing and winning matches, you earn points that can be used to purchase more packs of cards, with the ultimate goal being to continually improve and upgrade your team. Cards can also be purchased, sold and traded in the online marketplace, allowing you to target certain players if desired. It’s an addictive little feature, and EA has undoubtedly made a great deal of money off of it by allowing impatient gamers to purchase more points with real money as well.

After spending a good amount of time with Ultimate Team, I moved onto “Be a Pro” and created a virtual version of myself. Soccer was always my weakest sport to play in real life, but I fit right in on the cyber confines of FIFA. As a young striker, I joined the celebrated club of Bayern Munich (an ode to my German heritage), but they had little room for me until I worked on polishing my skills. I accepted a transfer to the Scottish Premier League, becoming a starting forward for Dundee United. It didn’t take long for me to begin to establish myself, scoring my first ever hat trick in my second match, and quickly building up my attributes thanks to strong performances on my end. Unfortunately, a couple of injuries derailed my promising start (thanks to me abusing the “sprint” button, apparently), and the team struggled to play well without me. After finishing the season, which was mostly successful on an individual level despite the injuries, I decided to try out another mode: Seasons.

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360] -- Gameplay

I found Seasons to be the most challenging and addictive mode yet. In this, you pick a team and embark on a series of head-to-head matches against other gamers online. Every “season” has 10 matches, and you are required to earn a certain amount of points (three for a win, one for a draw) in order to move up to the next division level. If you fail to reach this goal, you will be relegated back down to the level below you. It’s a very competitive mode, and I found myself outclassed often by others online. After tightening down the settings to only match up against teams of the same star rating as my own, I began to achieve a bit more success, eventually moving up to the next division. A series of devastating defeats sent me right back down to relegation status, however, and I had to work my way back up. While frustrating at times, the level of competition in this mode is fierce, and it’s a great way to improve your own game.

FIFA 13 [Xbox 360]

The Skill Games feature is a welcome addition, as these drills serve as in-game tutorials of sorts, helping improve passing, shooting and dribbling skills. Best yet, they can be completed during the load screens for offline games. I can’t think of another game that offers such useful loading screens.

Between all of these different modes, I have spent a lot of time with FIFA 13, and I have absolutely had a blast with it. There are some minor issues here and there — occasionally my passes went to the wrong player, and I ran into a handful of laggy games online — but this is still an incredible soccer/football title that offers a seemingly endless amount of replay value. For fans of the sport, buying this is a complete no-brainer.

9/10

Video Game Review: Crysis 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Crytek Frankfurt
Release Date: March 22, 2011

The original Crysis gained a tough reputation due to its demanding PC hardware requirements. It was deemed to be “unplayable” on consoles, and it took four years before it was finally able to be ported over. Apparently Crytek realized that it would be better to have multi-platform releases, so the inevitable Crysis 2 was designed with consoles in mind. The new CryEngine 3 graphics system has made all of this possible, and the end results are stunning. This is one of the best-looking games on the Xbox 360.

Set three years after the original, Crysis 2 takes place in New York City, which has become a warzone thanks to both a nasty virus outbreak and an alien invasion. Yes, those Ceph bastards are back, and they are wreaking havoc on the city. The main protagonist this time is a soldier codenamed Alcatraz, who survives a brutal submarine accident upon deploying NYC. With little other options available, Alcatraz is essentially selected as the “Chosen One” and he receives the same Nanosuit that Prophet wore in the first game. From this point on, his goal is to rid the planet of those nasty aliens while also fighting off U.S. Military personnel that are hellbent on destroying the Nanosuit.

The Nanosuit is the centerpiece of the Crysis series, and it is at its best here. There is no question that Alcatraz has the holy grail of armor, and it makes him out to be a huge badass. All of the suit’s capabilities return from the first game, including cloaking and advanced defensive mechanisms, but everything is intensified. Even better is the fact that the Nanosuit can be customized and upgraded over time. As aliens are killed, their technology can be collected and used to bolster four different areas: Armor, Power, Tactical and Stealth. This essentially allows the game to be played in different ways, as an emphasis can be placed on stealth, gunplay or a mix of both.

I love that the game offers this ability, as it is a great thrill to sneak past a group of aliens and then open up and let them have it in the next area. As the game can be completed in different ways, this adds to the overall replay value.

One thing that I enjoyed from the first Crysis was that most of the game took place in a large, open world. This is not the case here in the sequel, as Crytek have opted to make this a more linear shooter. It’s not quite on the levels of Modern Warfare’s strictly on-rails gameplay, for example, but there is little to explore on the streets of New York. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing, it’s just different.

The game’s campaign has been stated to be close to ten hours, but I finished it in less than seven. I used a mix of stealth/action combat techniques, so the time length may vary depending on what style of gameplay is used. In comparison to the first game, the campaign is notably easier with a seemingly endless supply of ammunition available. I had a hard time finishing Crysis on “normal” mode, but here it was almost too simple. While Crysis 2’s campaign is certainly a lot of fun to play through, it has less “holy shit” moments than the original, and the final “boss” is a bit of a letdown. In this department, it is slightly disappointing, even though the Nanosuit is much more powerful.

Crysis 2 has an advantage in that it includes a deep multiplayer mode. This uses a leveling-up system similar to that of Modern Warfare, complete with killstreaks and custom classes, but it differentiates itself with the use of cloaking/armor abilities. Unfortunately, the online community is very, very small at the moment, so it may take some work to get a good session going. However, when that happens, the multiplayer aspect is a real treat and offers a nice alternative to other online shooters.

Crysis 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

I would be remiss not to discuss more of the game’s visuals. This is simply one of the best looking shooters available on a home console, and it is a huge step forward from the original’s recent port (which wasn’t too shabby itself). New York City, despite being utterly war-torn, is beautiful, and much of the game is based on real locations. To really show off its graphical power, there is an obligatory level that takes place in the rain — truly a work of beauty.

While I prefer the open-world nature of the original, Crysis 2 still has a lot going for it. The mix of gameplay tactics is brilliant, the campaign is a fun ride, and the game itself is a technical marvel. I wish there were more memorable moments like its predecessor, but this is still one of the more underrated releases from 2011. Fans of FPS and action titles should definitely look into picking this up, especially as it can be found for as low as $9.99 these days.

8/10

Video Game Review: Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Crysis
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, originally on PC)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Crytek Frankfurt
Release Date: October 4, 2011 (PC release: November 13, 2007)

Released in 2007 strictly for PC, the original Crysis gained a bit of notoriety in the gaming world due to its demanding hardware requirements. A high-end gaming rig was necessary to be able to run the game, and not many could play it at max settings. It was famously stated by Cevat Yerli, the director of Crytek, that Crysis would never be able to be played on consoles.

Well, four years later, we finally have Crysis on XBLA/PSN, and it looks pretty damn good.

The new CryEngine 3 was created with the console in mind, and the developers took advantage of this new technology to bring the original Crysis experience to a brand new audience. Stripped down to its single player campaign, the game comes as a $20 downloadable title.

Set in the year 2020, Crysis places gamers in the role of soldier Jake Dunn (codename: Nomad). Nomad, along with the rest of the elite Raptor Team, has been sent to a remote island off the coast of the Eastern Philippines to investigate a distress signal sent from U.S. scientists. Upon arriving, it is discovered that North Korean forces have taken over the area and are well on their way to unleashing a powerful ancient alien artifact found in the middle of the island. It is the Raptor Team’s job to put an end to the entire threat, taking down North Korean and alien forces along the way.

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

It’s a pretty daunting task, but Nomad is aided in the form of his high-tech Nanosuit, which provides enhanced strength, speed, armor and a cloaking ability. These features can only come in bursts, however, as the suit needs to be recharged after a certain amount of time. Being able to switch between cloaking (temporary invisibility) and beefed-up armor is a unique feature, and it allows the game to be played in multiple ways. Depending on your preferred style of play, you can run through guns-a-blazin’ or stealthily maneuever past most enemies. Since you are only able to use the functions in limited doses, it often takes different strategies to accomplish certain goals.

While Crysis plays as a linear shooter (at least in terms of providing mandatory objectives), it is presented in a wide open world that allows for deep exploration. There are multiple ways to get to the intended targets, and there are also secondary objectives that can be completed along the way. For those that revel in sandbox glory, this will be a very rewarding experience.

Weapons are mostly standard fare — assault rifles, shotguns, missile launchers, etc. — but they can be customized from the get-go to suit your needs. Flashlights, laser dot sight, scope sight, and upgraded ammo are just a handful of traits that can be changed with every acquired weapon. This impressive amount of features, everything from customizable weapons to the badass Nanosuit, helps make Crysis stand out from other like-minded shooters.

Crysis [Xbox 360, 2011]

Graphically, Crysis looks great (considering its age), but it does suffer from some small issues. Minor details, such as blades of grass, are rough in appearance, and there are occasional problems with graphics being drawn in on the fly. Still, it’s a major feat just to be able to play this on a console, and it can hold its own with some of the early generation Xbox 360/PS3 titles.

As a $20 downloadable game, Crysis is a pretty good deal. The single player campaign lasts 8-10 hours, and the achievements/trophies are set up in a way that rewards at least two separate playthroughs. Crysis is the type of shooter that we don’t see as often on consoles, as it presents a great open world that allows for some flexibility on the part of the gamer. It also helps to have some variety in the form of enemies, as the transition from enemy soldiers to badass aliens is a welcome one.

The bottom line is that Crysis is a mandatory pickup for those who have been curious about it over the years, and it is a great buy for fans of first person shooters in general.

8.5/10

(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]
Dead Space 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Survival Horror, Third-Person Shooter
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Visceral Games
Release Date: January 25, 2011

There is a popular comparison going around that Dead Space 2 is to Dead Space what the film Aliens is to Alien. This is surprisingly accurate.

The original Dead Space was a brutal survival horror adventure that placed gamers in the role of a silent protaganist named Isaac Clarke, who was investigating an abandoned ship with unknown enemies. With Dead Space 2, Clarke is back, but this time he is well-spoken and knows what he is up against. No longer an inexperienced combatant, Clarke is a grizzled veteran who kicks a whole lot of alien ass, not unlike Ellen Ripley from Aliens.

Dead Space 2 takes place three years after the original, with Isaac waking up in the Sprawl, a metropolis built on one of Saturn’s moons. He has no memory of the last few years, and he is still haunted by visions of his long-dead girlfriend. The man has lost his mind, and his disturbing hallucinations impede his progress to stop the latest Necromorph outbreak. In a way, it’s more of the same, but this time Isaac feels better suited to take care of the mess.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

The gameplay is more action-oriented, and there are now new weapons to help deal with the catastrophic alien mess. The old, trusty weapons from before are still available, such as the always reliable plasma cutter, but it’s fun to play with new toys such as the Detonator, a proximity mine launcher. Enemies are still defeated by slicing off their limbs, creating gruesome and gory bloodbaths.

The wonderful kinesis/stasis functions are back as well, and they are crucial to the gameplay since weapon ammo seems a little scarce to come by this time. The same weapon upgrade system is in place to help build up Clarke’s skills and abilities.

While the combat is very well-executed, Dead Space 2 really shines with its atmosphere. The game succeeds at creating undeniable tension, and there is always a sense of dread while wandering around the Sprawl. Even locations such as a nursery or a shopping mall are creepy to wander about since you never know what will be around the corner. This overall creepiness is aided by little things here and there to make you jump, such as lights flickering randomly or an alarm clock going off unprovoked, or even just hearing something crawling around in the walls. With the lights out and the volume turned up, this game can be pretty damn scary.

Dead Space 2 [Xbox 360, 2011]

Dead Space 2’s campaign lasts about 8-10 hours, but its “New Game+” feature warrants multiple playthroughs. My first thought after finishing the game was to start a new one, this time using my powered-up weapons from before.

A multiplayer option is unnecessarily tacked-on as well. It offers similar gameplay to Left 4 Dead, as it pits humans versus monsters, alternately switching sides after every round. It is a decent enough feature, but it is pretty basic and the online community barely has a pulse anymore.

Dead Space 2 does everything a good sequel should: it builds upon all that made the original so great, then expands upon that in all facets. The atmosphere is even more tense despite the beefed up weapons, and the core gameplay is damn near perfect. It doesn’t hurt that the game is simply stunning to look at, and gore fans will really get a kick out of some of the new death animations. EA has a great franchise on their hands, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

9/10

The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

The Saboteur
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Release Date: December 8, 2009

One of the most criminally overlooked games to come out in the last couple years.

The Saboteur is a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox adventure game that is set during World War II in Nazi-occupied Paris, France. It also happens to be Pandemic’s last game before the studio was shut down for good. You play as Sean Devlin, an Irish racecar mechanic who gets cheated out of a race and subsequently becomes involved in a serious revenge plot against the Germans. The story revolves around a number of ethnic stereotypical characters, but this never becomes an issue since it is presented in an easygoing “adventure movie” narrative. Some liberties were taken with the realism factor, but it is all done in the name of making this a fun video game.

Other than the 1940’s France setting, which is really freakin’ cool, what sets this game apart from other sandbox titles is its style. The Saboteur utilizes both color and black & white to its full advantage. In areas of heavy Nazi occupance, the game’s world turns black and white. As Sean helps areas of the city fight back and resist the Germans, color slowly starts to seep back into the locales. This transformation is so simple, yet so utterly brilliant. I can’t think of any other games that do something like this, and it’s amazing that merely a different palette can evoke such power in a video game.
The Saboteur [Xbox 360, 2009]

Whether you want to play through the story missions or just blow up Nazi installations is entirely up to you. You have the freedom to do whatever you please, and you are given the entire city of Paris (as well as some of the countryside) to do it in. The game takes pride in the fact that you can play through guns-a-blazin’ or opt for a stealth route by sneaking around in Nazi gear. While this option is nice, it is much more fun to run around Rambo-style than it is to sneak past guards. The stealth mode is actually a lot more difficult than it should be, as the enemies are often way too quick to sniff you out and blow your cover. It’s possible to get through the game this way, but not really optimal.

In terms of pure gameplay, The Saboteur is a blast. The 1940s setting is perfectly encapsulated with music from the era, classic vehicles and old-style fashion. Devlin has free reign and can steal any car he wants, climb any building (with slick Uncharted-esque controls) and purchase weapon upgrades from a number of black market dealers. When you tack on the side missions and hundreds of “freeplay events” scattered around the game world, it could take a good 40 hours or so to 100% the game (it takes roughly 10 hours to complete just the story on its own). In a world like The Saboteur, it is easy to get sucked in and not want to leave.

It amazes me that this game flew under the radar when it was released in December 2009. I didn’t know anything about it until just recently myself. The Saboteur is an all-around fun game with a good amount of depth, and it excels partly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While the stealth features could have been polished up a bit, this is still one of the best sandbox games I have played. Definitely a steal at the $20 or so it runs for these days.

8/10

Video Game Review: NHL 09 [Xbox 360]

NHL 09
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: September 9, 2008

When it comes to sports video games, I am a casual fan. I rarely buy the new versions, which are usually nothing more than slight gameplay tweaks with updated rosters. It is hard to justify spending $60 on a game that is marginally improved from its previous year’s edition. Although it is now two years old, NHL 09 is a game that marked a significant improvement in the popular EA Sports hockey series. For casual hockey fans looking to save some $$$, NHL 09 still delivers a lot of bang for its buck.

NHL 09’s biggest addition is the “Be a Pro” mode where you get to create your own player and rise through the ranks of professional hockey, starting in the AHL. This mode is a blast to play since you are in total control of your character only. This gives the game an entirely new dynamic, and is certainly one of its most entertaining features. Online play is also largely improved, although it offers little value now unless you have a group of friends to play with. Several changes were made to the game’s controls to make the gameplay feel even more realistic. The analog-stick shooting will take some time to get acquainted with for the uninitiated, but after getting the hang of them it is hard to go back to the old “NHL 94” style controls.

NHL 09 looks beautiful, the arenas have great atmospheres, and the commentary is never annoying. With such a strong presentation and a large number of game modes (including the ever-expansive dynasty mode), NHL 09 is a very strong offering from EA Sports. If you are a casual fan like me, do yourself a favor and pick this up. NHL 09 still holds up today, aside from the obvious outdated rosters.

8/10