Video Game Review: Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

Killzone: Mercenary
System: Playstation Vita
Genre: First-person shooter
Developer: Guerrilla Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: September 10, 2013

For the past year or so, Playstation Vita owners have been clamoring for a new, big-budget exclusive AAA title. The recent focus on indie games has resulted in an impressive downloadable library, but there’s something to be said about having a portable blockbuster title. Enter Killzone: Mercenary, the first FPS worth playing on the Vita.

Money is the name of the game in KZ:M, as you play a mercenary by the name of Aaron Danner, a man who has no allegiances to either the ISA or the Helghast. Basically, he goes wherever the money is, and this lack of devotion offers a fresh look at the ongoing battle between the two sides.

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

In the game’s single player campaign, money is acquired by killing enemies and scavenging supplies, with headshots and silent takedowns being worth the most. This cash can in turn be used to purchase ammo, new weapons and special VAN-Guard equipment at conveniently located Blackjack stations scattered throughout every level. By unlocking more and more equipment, you can customize your loadouts as you see fit. Prefer to go the stealth route? Buy some light armor and a silenced handgun, and you’ll be able to sneak past most enemy-infested areas. If you would rather go in on full-on badass mode, you can load up with some heavy-duty weapons and go nuts. The choice is yours, and you can use these loadouts anywhere and anytime you want.

The campaign, while lacking in memorable set-pieces, is still good fun, but it is also rather short. I finished my first playthrough in a mere four hours, though beating the game does unlock multiple new ways to play each level. Every single player mission can be replayed in the form of three new contracts — covert, demolition and precision. Each of these contracts require you to play the level in a different manner while providing several goals that must be accomplished in order to earn the full amount of money. Although it can feel redundant to play through each level multiple times, there is plenty of replay value here for those willing to do so.

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita, 2013]

However, it’s clear that the meat-and-potatoes of KZ:M is its multiplayer mode. Thankfully, it does not disappoint. There are three ways to play online: free-for-all, deathmatch and warzone. The first two are self-explanatory, but warzone is easily the highlight of the group. In this mode, you join a 4v4 battle that lasts for five rounds, each one with a different goal than the last. For example, the first round requires teams to collect the Valor cards from fallen enemies. Another round forces teams to hack VAN-Guard capsules that have fallen from the sky. While every round is a variant of the same goal (kill the enemy and get more points), they are different enough to keep every game fresh.

Rather than go the conventional XP route that many FPS games use online, KZ:M uses a unique Valor card system. By playing well (and often) online, you can earn a higher-ranked card. If you play poorly, your card goes down in rank, also making you a less valuable target to scope out. Killing enemies online also makes them drop their cards, which in turn are worth a little extra cash. This is an invigorating spin on the FPS online formula, and the card-collecting has a “gotta catch ’em all” feel.

Killzone: Mercenary [PS Vita]

As for the transition of Killzone‘s console gameplay to a portable device, well, it’s damn near flawless. The controls are intuitive and easy to get the hang of, with the only major difference being that sprinting is performed by double-tapping a button rather than pushing down the analog stick (not possible on the Vita, of course). There are a handful of touch screen commands as well, though all of them mesh with the button controls organically.

This is also a visually stunning game, not far off from an early PS3 title. It’s easily one of the best-looking games for the Vita, and if you’re looking for a title to show off the system’s power, this is about as good as it gets.

With its replayable single player campaign and addictive online multiplayer content, Killzone: Mercenary has a lot of bang for its buck. This is an impressive portable effort, one that will still likely be looked at years from now as one of the system’s crown jewels. If you’ve been craving a high quality FPS on the Vita, this is exactly the game you have been looking for.

9/10

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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

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: Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Call of Duty: Black Ops II
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC and Wii U)
Genre: First-person shooter
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch
Release Date: November 18, 2012

Love it or hate it, the Call of Duty franchise has been an intriguing one to watch over the years. What started as a series of World War II shooters has turned into a brand split into two territories. Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare series and Treyarch’s Black Ops have been alternating entries over the last few years, with both of them being neck-and-neck in terms of quality. With this year’s Black Ops II, Treyarch may have just taken the lead.

Building on the foundation set by its Cold War era predecessor, Black Ops II takes place in two different time periods: the 1980s and the year 2025. In the 80s, you once again take on the role of Alex Mason, the protagonist from the original game. Now retired, Mason is recruited on an unexpected mission in Angola to extract his old buddy, Frank Woods. In 2025, you play as his son, David, who has followed along in his father’s military footsteps. The common trait between the two settings is the rise of terrorist mastermind, Raul Menendez, who eventually grows to be a despicable villain seeking to create a new world war in 2025. In a nutshell, it’s the type of story you would expect from Call of Duty, but it’s so over-the-top with bombastic action set pieces and explosions that there’s never a dull moment.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

The inclusion of a futuristic setting is an exciting and much-welcomed development, as it offers a breath of fresh air from years past. The year 2025 is host to a wide variety of new military equipment, and the game isn’t afraid to throw them into the mix. One early campaign highlight has you gliding into the jungles of Myanmar using some sort of flying squirrel outfit — one of the best introductions of any level in the series. Being able to play with new gadgets is a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a greater emphasis placed on this in future installments.

Another compelling addition to the campaign is the Strike Force mission concept. These are optional levels that allow you to control and issue commands for an entire squad. The missions can be completed via an “Overwatch mode” from above, or by controlling individual soldiers/vehicles/etc. on your own. They are a nice change of pace from the normal linear structure of the main levels, though there is room for improvement. Sometimes AI units will remain stuck in a position, letting enemies run by them without firing. The controls can also take some getting used to, but still, it’s great to see Treyarch trying something new.

Completing any of the Strike Force missions can also alter events in the main campaign — in fact, there are several branching storyline options scattered throughout. Important characters can live or die by your actions, and these decisions will greatly affect the story’s ending. In this sense, there is a bit of additional replay value, which is a good thing since the campaign still only lasts approximately six hours (typical of the series).

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

But regardless of the game’s largely enjoyable single player mode, nearly everyone plays Call of Duty for its multiplayer action. In this regard, Black Ops II does not disappoint. There aren’t nearly as many groundbreaking revelations online, but there are still new features sure to entice even the most seasoned veterans.

In an effort to help even out the playing field, there is a new “Pick 10” create-a-class system in which you can only keep a total of ten items (i.e. weapons, perks, grenades, etc.) on your person. This adds an element of strategy since you have to decide what pieces are most important to your style of play. Matchmaking overall has been improved to line you up with players of similar skill, and so far the results have been quite good.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Another pleasing change is the removal of Killstreaks in favor of “Scorestreaks” — basically the same concept, but now these streaks can be built up by completing objectives (i.e. capture the flag) rather than just killing enemies. New scorestreak rewards are included as well, with several different options available to use based on your preference.

Essentially, this is the same Call of Duty multiplayer we have had for the past few years, just with a few new bells and whistles. There are some connection kinks that still need to be worked out — I have lost connection for no reason on more than a few occasions — but I suspect these will be cleaned up as usual over time.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II [Xbox 360]

Since this is a Treyarch game, the popular Zombies feature is back as well. Not just restricted to the familiar Survival mode, there are two new ways to play: Tranzit (a story-based version) and Grief (two teams compete against each other while fighting off the onslaught of zombies). Fans of this feature will appreciate this new group of options, though it remains best to play with people you know. I had a difficult time getting matched up with random players despite thousands being shown available. When playing with a buddy (or three), it’s just as fun as you might remember.

With a strong combination of three entirely different main game modes — campaign, multiplayer and zombies — there’s something for everyone in Black Ops II. I had a blast playing through each of them, and multiplayer junkies will especially get their money’s worth here. While a handful of minor issues keep this from being perfect, this is still another excellent entry in a series that shows no signs of slowing down. And hey, if every Call of Duty is as good as this, why bother stopping at all?

9/10

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

Video Game Review: BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

BioShock 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC and Mac)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Marin
Release Date: February 9, 2010

I purchased an Xbox 360 late in 2008, and one of the very first games I played was BioShock. I was smitten right away. Crashing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and discovering the idealistic world of Rapture hidden underwater was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Critics and gamers alike had similar reactions, and its success meant a sequel was inevitable. Despite BioShock 2 (BS2) being released in 2010, I never got the chance to play it until recently (largely thanks to Microsoft putting this on sale for $10 last week).

As soon as I began my BS2 campaign, a flood of memories came rushing back. I didn’t realize how much I missed Rapture and its bizarre 1960s setting. Even though it had been years since I last entered this underwater dystopia, it felt like I never left. Everything was so familiar.

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

Set eight years after the end of BioShock, this time around you get to play as a Big Daddy, the large (and dangerous) protectors of Little Sisters. I was initially apprehensive about being able to play as one of the most-feared enemies from the first game, but my worries were quickly put to rest. The Big Daddy isn’t overpowered at all, and he has access to the same weaponry and plasmids as the previous protagonist.

Basically, everything you know and love from the first game is back again. The haunting atmosphere, the ability to harvest/rescue Little Sisters, the frenzied enemy “splicers”, the copious plasmids (including access to the Big Daddy’s drill) and gene tonic power-ups. Looting corpses and safes for ammo, cash and ADAM (the game’s version of XP) is still commonplace. It’s all there.

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

Being more of the same is a double-edged sword with BioShock 2. Part of what made the original so alluring was the sense of discovery — Rapture was a new and exciting place with so much to see. Now that we are familiar with the locale, it has lost a bit of its “wow” factor. More could have been done to expand upon the first game. At the same time, it’s great to return to such a unique world and play through the perspective of a different character.

Undoubtedly the biggest difference between the two games doesn’t come from the single player campaign, but rather the addition of a new multiplayer mode. Much like playing the role of a Big Daddy, I was skeptical of this inclusion. BioShock was a tremendous single player experience — was multiplayer really necessary?

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

The answer is still no, but the multiplayer is surprisingly well-executed. This mode is tied in wonderfully with the game’s universe, and it offers a fun diversion from the main content. It’s pretty basic stuff — the XP system gives access to new plasmids, weapons, etc. as you progress — but the addition of random Big Daddy suits during matches adds an interesting element to the gameplay. The online feature isn’t a particularly deep mode but it does complement the campaign quite nicely.

Between the two modes, I put in a good 15 hours into BioShock 2, and I quite enjoyed my time with the game overall. Sure, it’s more of the same, but there really isn’t anything like the world of Rapture. I will be happy to come back once again for next year’s BioShock Infinite.

8/10

Video Game Review: Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Borderlands 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Action RPG, First-person shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: September 18, 2012

It’s hard to believe that it has been three years since Gearbox Software’s Borderlands created a smash sensation just by merging two long-running gameplay tactics — shooting and looting. With the long-awaited Borderlands 2, Gearbox has upped the ante and delivered the goods just like any proper sequel should: by keeping what worked so well before while also refining the overall experience.

Using the same gorgeous cel-shaded visuals that impressed the first time around, Borderlands 2 begins five years after the ending of the first game. Four new Vault Hunters are introduced, and they are on a mission to find new villain, Handsome Jack, who has taken over Pandora and is ruling the land with an iron fist. Just like before, each hunter has their own traits. There’s Salvador, the Gunzerker, who is an absolute brute that becomes especially dangerous when holding two guns. There’s Maya, the Siren, who can suspend enemies in midair, making them easier to target. There’s Axton, the Commando, who has the unique ability of making turrets appear out of nowhere, mowing down anything in sight. Finally, there’s Zer0, the Assassin, probably the most used character this time around. He has the ability to go invisible for a short period of time, allowing for deadly sneak attacks or other stealthy actions.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Each character offers a different playthrough experience, and they can even be tweaked via skill points to allow for greater customization. For example, Zer0 can be built into an impeccable sniping marksman or a melee fiend, depending on your personal preference. With four unique characters (and a fifth now available via DLC), the amount of depth and replay value in the game is staggering.

While Borderlands 2 can be played on your own, it undeniably works best as a co-op adventure. With up to four players, the game becomes an absolute blast while working together, especially if each user has a different character. Tag-teaming enemies by suspending them in air via Maya’s “Phaselock” and then throwing down Axton’s turret is a thing of beauty. Playing with others also increases the difficulty and the chance of finding better loot, allowing characters to level up faster. When playing with friends, there is little to no monotony while traversing the expansive Pandora, and it’s fun to even go back and replay missions just for the communal experience. Again, this still works quite well in single player, but this is arguably the best co-op experience of the year.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Borderlands 2 offers well over 100 quests in total, and the rewards for completing them include cash, weapons or other forms of loot. It’s always a rush to finish a quest or two then turn them in to hear the familiar “cha-ching” sound. In fact, searching the environments for any and all types of loot can be an absolute addiction. Any box, locker, barrel or even port-a-potty that has a green light on it can be searched for new goods. Oftentimes these will only have a few dollars in cash or ammo, but every now and then it’s possible to come across a new, badass weapon. There’s no greater joy than discovering that an enemy dropped a rare, orange gun that is better than anything else you own.

Seriously, if you have any addiction to Diablo or other hack ‘n slash looters, Borderlands 2 will consume you.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

I would be remiss if I did not mention the game’s improved writing and overall storytelling. The original lacked true narrative substance and didn’t have very many memorable characters. That’s not the case at all here, as new writer Anthony Burch has penned a more rewarding plot with even more humor than before. The new villain, Handsome Jack, is hilarious as he randomly appears over the in-game communication system just to verbally abuse the Vault Hunters. Old favorite, Claptrap, the peculiar little robot, is back and full of even wittier banter than before. Other new characters such as the English gentleman, Sir Hammerlock, and the 13-year-old ball of terror, Tara, are quite memorable.

Now, while the writing is improved overall, it occasionally dabbles into low-grade humor that appears to have been included with teenagers in mind. For example, there is one sidequest that involves hunting down a particular monster species in hopes of coming up with a new name for them. One name suggestion? “Bonerfarts.” Yeah.

Moments of immaturity aside, there are some rewards within the writing, particularly when you stumble across any of the countless hidden Easter Eggs. From references to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Breaking Bad, the Double Rainbow Guy and the Skyrim “arrow to the knee” meme, there are endless bits of pop culture references scattered throughout. It’s a real treat finding them all.

Borderlands 2 [Xbox 360]

Aesthetically, Borderlands 2 also offers a number of improvements. The cel-shaded visuals are even more beautiful than before, especially when it comes to viewing the landscapes far off in the distance. An early area takes place in a cold, icy environment with large icebergs in the background. Looking up at the star-filled sky is always fun, especially when observing the full moon with a space station nearby. The game owes a great deal of its charm to its graphical appearance, and it does not disappoint at all. The voice acting is also noticeably better this time, and the music hits all the right notes.

In short, Borderlands 2 has all the makings of a strong “game of the year” candidate. Right now, I would be hard pressed to find something better. Its flaws — such as the occasional juvenile humor, and a somewhat overlong tutorial — are incredibly minute in the grand scheme of things. If you have friends to play this with, purchasing Borderlands 2 is a no-brainer, and it comes highly recommended even when going solo. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to looting.

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: Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]

Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]

Singularity
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: June 29, 2010

Take a large heaping of Bioshock and sprinkle in elements of Half-Life and F.E.A.R. and you have a pretty good idea of what Singularity is all about. A much overlooked first person shooter, Raven Software’s Singularity is something that I would have known nothing about if a friend of mine had not brought up his love for the game. While its influences are readily noticeable, Singularity is able to mold them all together into its own unique adventure.

The game takes place on Katorga-12, a fictional Russian island that served as the breeding grounds for a bizarre experimentation during the Cold War. You play as Nathan Renko, a soldier sent to the island to investigate a recent mysterious blast that damaged an American spy satellite. After a rude helicopter landing, Renko discovers that things are very, very wrong there, and he begins slipping through time between the years 1955 and 2010. It turns out that the Russians were messing around with the powerful Element 99, with their master plan being world domination. As is expected with any good-natured protagonist, Renko sets out to end all of this madness.

Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]

While the story isn’t going to win any awards for creativity, it is deep enough to maintain interest, and the frequent jumps from past to present day keep things fresh. In order to actually do the time traveling, Renko is equipped with the TMD (Time Manipulation Device), a badass weapon that is the game’s major selling point. Not only can the TMD propel Renko through time, but it can also turn enemies to dust — a very handy trick, no doubt. The TMD allows Nate to have objects sent to him (a la Half-Life 2’s Gravity Gun) and it can send massive pulses of energy that maim enemies. When I say “maim”, I mean it. There are some pretty gruesome deaths in this game, and shooting enemies can lead to limbs flying everywhere. Outside of the impressive TMD, there are standard weapons available, including assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as an awesome Seeker rifle that lets you control its bullets in slow motion. Needless to say, there are a lot of cool toys available.

The sheer amount of weapon choices makes combat a blast. There’s nothing like shooting an enemy with the TMD, then quickly reverting it into a mutant which in turn starts attacking anything around it (i.e. the bad guys). There are two main types of enemies to slaughter: evil Russian soldiers from 1955 and then their disgusting mutated counterparts from 2010. A handful of exciting boss battles and some clever puzzles also keep things rolling throughout the roughly ten hour single player campaign.

Singularity [Xbox 360, 2010]

Singularity has the added bonus of a surprisingly great online multiplayer mode. Drawing heavily from Left 4 Dead (in the form of humans vs. mutants), the multiplayer allows you to choose the type of character you want to be, as well as their special abilities. I wasn’t expecting much from the online portion, but I quickly got sucked into the experience. Unfortunately, the game itself wasn’t a big seller and therefore the online community is fairly small one year later. If you can get a good game going, however, it’s a lot of fun.

The overall game isn’t without its faults. There are some annoying moments (most of which involve Phase Ticks, equivalent to Gears of War’s ticker enemies), and it can take a little while to learn all of the TMD controls. There are also some laughably Russian accents used by the handful of recurring characters. Still, these are all minor blips on what is a surprisingly engaging experience.

Singularity doesn’t really try anything new, but as a compilation of excellent aspects from various other games, it certainly succeeds. This is a bargain bin title these days, and it is a steal at $20 or less. It’s a shame that this wasn’t the big seller Activision was hoping it would be, because this is one of the most interesting first person shooters to come out in recent years.

8/10

Video Game Review: Homefront [Xbox 360, 2011]

Homefront [Xbox 360, 2011]

Homefront
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Kaos Studios
Release Date: March 15, 2011

The year is 2027. North Korea has a new leader, Kim Jong-un (Kim Jong-il’s son), and he is hellbent on world domination. After uniting both North and South Korea together, the Republic has taken over Japan and has now begun a devastating assault on the United States. The US military has been incapacitated by an EMP strike, and the entire West Coast is in disarray. Small pockets of resistance forces have popped up to fight the Republic, and Homefront places you in the middle of one these renegade groups. This is a pretty interesting concept since most first person shooters are based on foreign soil, and ultimately it was this premise that inspired me to look into Homefront. Unfortunately, this great idea is poorly utilized.

The first thing I noticed about Homefront is that it looks like every other FPS on the Xbox 360. The character models and environments remind me of the Battlefield: Bad Company games, and many of the levels have similar thematic elements to Call of Duty. In essence, Homefront comes off as a poor man’s version of both.

Homefront [Xbox 360, 2011]

The single player campaign is short. Painfully short, actually. At just 4-5 hours in length, you can complete it in one evening of play, if you so desire. I can deal with short campaigns if they are well thought-out enough, but Homefront’s killer concept quickly deteriorates into a generic formulaic design. Every level is basically urban warfare where you shoot a bunch of Koreans, run to the next location, shoot some more, and then continue repeating this process. There is little in the way of variance, outside of one mission where you get to fly a helicopter. I had no attachment to any of the characters, and I found that the scenes where emotions were meant to be evoked were rather dull and lifeless. Throw in some idiotic and slow-moving AI characters (who you have to follow through the *entire* game), some ridiculous product placement (I can’t even tell you how many NOS/Full Throttle vending machines were “randomly” in the way) and just general lack of excitement, and you have a very underwhelming campaign.

Homefront’s multiplayer mode, on the other hand, is clearly where the game redeems itself. While fairly light on modes/options, the multiplayer is significantly better than its single player brethren. Online games can host as many as 32 players, which can create some crazy and chaotic experiences. Leveling up is the ultimate goal online, and the game uses a fun Battle Points system that allows for the purchase of vehicles and weapon upgrades. While the multiplayer isn’t anything groundbreaking, it is a refreshing change of pace from Call of Duty, and it has a good-sized community at the moment.

Homefront [Xbox 360, 2011]

It should be noted, however, that online play is severely limited if you buy Homefront used or if you rent the game. Without an online code found in new copies of the game, you can only build your character up to level 5, which means you will miss out on many of the great perks available at later levels. You can buy an online pass for $10, but this extra fee will surely infuriate many gamers.

In short, Homefront is a tale of two games. The single player campaign could have been great, but it didn’t even come close to living up to its full potential. The multiplayer experience is much better, and gamers who play exclusively online will get a lot more out of this. I would recommend renting Homefront if you are curious about the game, but there’s no way in hell I would advise paying its normal $60 price tag.

6/10