Xbox 360

The Splatters review



There are puzzle games and there are puzzle games that use physics. This game my friend is the epitome of physics puzzle games. If randomness isn't "your bag" look the other way otherwise be warned that The Splatters is a Tour de Force in the "oh, I get it" moment. "I don't get it" isn't an option. 

Now, lets have a physics lesson. The Splatters is derived around the simple mechanic of "splatting". Manoeuvre your splatter around the environment to splat them to the point they explode into a bunch of liquid that activates bombs that are scattered around the arena. Blowup all of the bombs and move on to the next objective. As simple as that is it's anything but that once you are introduced to more mechanics later on in the game. Unfortunately that is where the problem with the first few hours creeps its little head. The entire initial portion (Become A Talent) of the game is a giant tutorial. Although it does do a rather good job of giving you fun things to do with your new found skills you are quickly brought back to the classroom so to speak to be taught yet another skill for far too long. 

Among the skills you'll learn besides flinging your Splatter around is forward flip and reverse flip which are not what you think they are. Flipping in this game is essentially rewind and fast forward, but with a gigantic catch. You ARE NOT manipulating time. What you are doing is pushing the momentum of what you just did in the reverse direction. All of the physics properties that your Splatter has is thrown into the other direction giving you some really cool opportunities to have your head explode in delight or what is often the case, frustration.



As clever as this game can be with its physic modeled gameplay that is ultimately what will make you want to put the controller down over time for at least a break every once in a while. After you get over the solid presentation that grabs your eye with bright colors and a wackey soundtrack get ready to pull your hair out if you still have any. Much of what you learn throughout the Become A Talent section of The Splatters is straight forward all the way up until you start to get into situations where the physics take over and you feel that you don't really know what's going to happen when you are required to make an elaborate shot that is entirely dependant on rather or not the game cooperates with what you want to happen. Once this sets in you'll be restarting, restarting some more, and restarting even more after that. Thankfully the game resets itself stylishly fast or this would be a deal breaker almost immediately as you are asked to accomplish more and more complicated shots. 

Once you're out of the Talent mode and unlock the other two modes "Combo Nation" and "Master Shots" that is where the meat of the game stands and just as stated before, get ready for frustration on an epic level if you aren't a Splatter savant. Combo Nation requires you to chain together stunts as much as possible to achieve your allotted star value in the classic 1,2, or 3 star rating. Improvising your shots is a must, otherwise you'll quickly be wanting to throw your controller into orbit. Master Shots is also exactly what it sounds like. You are given a type of shot to achieve in the form of a cloud shaped just so. Make sure not to reposition your Splatter in this mode and let it fly with the exact shot the game tells your to perform. Fail to accomplish the goal exactly like its asked and you'll need to restart until you get it just right.

On top of the gameplay is a surprisingly well organized set of social features that allow you to show off your accomplishments after each and every event. Accompanying the classic score leaderboards is something called Splatter TV. In Splatter TV you can watch clips of other players as they accomplish crazy feats of Splatter physics. This feature can be a big help for those who just don't get it and need to see how it's done even if it's just to see how to do specific stunts with your Splatter.

Ultimately though, the physics based gameplay of The Splatters is it's triumph and downfall all at the same time. As dependant as the game is on the physics being the catalyst for everything you do it's the very thing that will cause frustration. If you don't get it almost immediately you will likely hate this game with a passion. Those who so called "get it" will have a blast and be more than willing to over come the quirks and constant restarts. Physic savants do need apply. All others who are wary, maybe you should look the other way.

How our review scale works?

Review: You Don't Know JACK


The world of trivia is what it is. You either like it or you don't. But, when it comes to fond memories of You Don't Know Jack going way back to its PC roots where you and your buddies would sit around a single keyboard abreast to a single key as your buzzer it's all gravy. Over the years though, a proper release of You Don't Know JACK has been absent minus a web incarnation developers Jellyvision concocted sometime ago. Fortunately fans of the game from yester year have need not worry about wheter the game still holds up, it does.

On first look everything you would remember from You Don't Know JACK is all there. The wackily worded questions intertwined with irrevent humor? Check! Dis or Dat? Why yes. Check! "Screwing" other players in the game? Check! Jack Attack? Of course. Check! So, is that it? Nope, there's more to be had now.


With this newest incarnation of JACK, you'll be greeted with a few wrinkles to the formula that change things up just enough that give a little bit of a much needed edge where you don't feel you're just going through the motions if you've played any of the versions that have come before. At the beggining of every game you'll be introduced to what is called the "Wrong answer of the game". You'll get what turns out in the end to be a clue at the beginning of every game as to what wrong answer you should be looking for to score a cool 4,000 or 8,000 points (Round 2 doubles your points) by getting the answers wrong on purpose.

Semantics aside, what separates YDKJ from the other trivia games outthere is the raunchy humor that is very much not for the family as much as on the surface the game seems like it would be a perfect fit. On the contrary, keep you kids far far away unless you want to be put into an awkward spot when Cookie decides to make jokes about "whoopy" leaving you "with some explaining to do".


Unfortunately all is not well in You Don't Know Jack land. As the Xbox 360 version of the game is what was played, what you'll likely come across is the game most glaring flaw. Assuming you'd like to have as many people in the game as you possibly can in addition to what you may have on hand in person, prepare for some sad news. Mixing of local and Xbox LIVE players is not and option. Either you play the game by yourself on Xbox LIVE or play it local only. To call that a major oversight would be saying Jeopardy would be missing something without it's iconic opening theme song.

Everything is there (minus the huge ommison above). 73 episodes of You Don't Know JACK goodness brought up to todays speed, big button support if that fits your fancy, a presentation that seldom gets old, and last but not least it's half priced. You can't go wrong with this game unless you are eternaly alone. Playing by yourself is most defintely doable, yet, the magic of "not knowing JACK" is in the fun of reactions from others. If you can grab a few buds the mound of episodes found on the disc will last you for quite some time. Just remember -- no matter what, You Don't Know JACK!



Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops

Who would have thought that after last year's enormous Modern Warfare 2 launch, that the Call of Duty franchise would continue to reach new heights? Nobody expected Black Ops to sell better than Modern Warfare 2, but to everyone's surprise, the game actually ended up selling 5.6 million copies in the US in the first 24 hours of its release. Not only is that 900,000 more copies than Modern Warfare 2 sold in its first day, but the game was selling out everywhere, including the rarely-sold-out Amazon. The game has now been established as the largest entertainment launch of all-time, but does it have the substance and staying power to live up to that daunting title?

Much like its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2, the game contains campaign and multiplayer modes. The campaign for Black Ops takes place during the Cold War, which allows battles to take place across many places and times. This is apparent, even at the beginning of the game, as the first few parts of the campaign see you in locations such as the Soviet Union and Cuba.

Try as it may, however, the campaign of Black Ops simply cannot amount to the overall epic stature of Modern Warfare 2. The story may be much more realistic and diverse, but, really, how do you top Washington D.C. being invaded and overthrown? Sure, interacting with the likes JFK and Nixon was pretty cool, but it definitely lacked where Modern Warfare 2 excelled.

For those still wondering, yes, the phenomenon known as "Nazi Zombies" that started in Call of Duty: World at War, is back as well. For those unfamiliar, the zombie mode, the mode places players in the center of a barricaded area. You can reinforce the areas and salvage weapons, but most of all, you'll be fighting off increasingly difficult waves of zombies. The mode is still one of the best modes of any game in recent memory. It remains one of the most fun versions of this new wave of survival modes found in shooting games, easily beating Gears of War's Horde mode and Halo's Firefight.

The main draw for many in the Call of Duty franchise, however, will always be the online multiplayer. Luckily, Treyarch has outdone themselves in this regard. The multiplayer is arguably the most well executed it's ever been in the series. There were many that complained about various issues from Modern Warfare 2, but it seems as though many of those have been fixed.

There are a few issues, however. Some of the reasons we found ourselves tearing our hair out over multiplayer stems back to the killstreak rewards. The ones we hate in particular are the dog and the RC Car rewards. The dogs, which were annoying in World at War, are even more hate-inducing now. They are more difficult to overcome and they tend to kill the player in one strike, rather than pouncing on a player, allowing them to fight back.

The RC Car, which is obtainable at a very low killstreak level, making it as commonly found in multiplayer as the spy planes that give away enemy locations. These RC Cars feel overpowered and way too common. Sure, if you can find a player hiding in the corner using the RC Car, it's an easy kill, but more times than not, you'll be stalking another player, when you suddenly hear a "whheeeeeee" then see an explosion and you're dead. It's enraging at times, but we aren't sure yet if the issue is that it's overpowered or we just haven't developed an effective strategy to deal with it yet.

Treyarch also takes a bit of a different approach to leveling up than we've seen in the past. This time around, rather than instantly unlocking certain killstreaks and guns at certain levels and milestones, you will be able to pick and choose which unlocks you want to obtain, based on experience points you earn while playing through. This makes it feel much more rewarding to earn these new abilities and gives a player incentive to press on.

Speaking of giving the player incentive to continue playing, you are also now giving the chance to take on "contracts", which allows you to try and complete certain tasks in a certain amount of time for a lump sum of experience points that you can use to level up. These range in difficulty, but usually aren't very easy to accomplish. They can be weapon or situation specific, and there are an abundance of them, so there is always going to be incentive to keep playing to earn these points.

There will always be those that complain about little things here or there, but when it's all said and done, Call of Duty: Black Ops is a phenomenal game that deserves to have the successful launch that it has earned. After Modern Warfare hit the market, people sort of assumed that Infinity Ward was the superior Call of Duty developers. With Black Ops, however, Treyarch has definitely made a case for themselves. The campaign may not be as epic, but it is more well thought out and tells a better story. The multiplayer is the best we've seen in the series and the zombie mode is just icing on this very well constructed cake. Black Ops is a definite contender for game of the year and deserves to be mentioned alongside the greatest first person shooters of all-time.


Review: Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor was once an illustrious war franchise on the previous generations of consoles. The games were very well received and were genuine competitors with the Call of Duty franchise. Fast forward into this generation of consoles, and the Call of Duty franchise rules the war genre with a totalitarian iron fist. Nary a single quality title has challenged the throne of the Call of Duty franchise since the dawn of this generation. Just when it appeared a chink could be in the armor with Call of Duty 3, Activision released the now classic title, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The title brought the war genre out of the 40's and into the present day in a big way. The title set the bar for any future titles in the genre and has yet to be matched, except arguably by its incredibly cinematic sequel, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Now, just when it appeared that nobody would be able to match the sheer strength and popularity of the Call of Duty series, the Medal of Honor franchise suddenly threw its hat into the ring once more. The initial title showed a modern war setting with a promise of a cinematic experience that looked to match that of Modern Warfare 2's film-like storytelling.

The game's engine is very much based off of DICE's other Call of Duty-competitor, Battlefield: Bad Company 2. In fact, if you didn't know any better, you might think you were playing a DLC pack for Bad Company 2. This is good because we absolutely loved Bad Company 2, but it also makes it difficult to justify the purchase of this title at full price if you already own that title.

This was definitely felt during the beta testing phase where fans complained that the multiplayer was essentially taken from Bad Company 2. Luckily, DICE and Danger Close tweaked the title to provide a different multiplayer experience. The multiplayer is squad based and forces players to take on the roles of Snipers, Riflemen, and Spec Ops. The great thing about these classes is that they force the players to craft their strategies completely around what class they take on. In a move that is taken straight from the Call of Duty multiplayer modes, players can earn killstreaks, which allows players to call in airstrikes or mortars in order to inflict more damage to the opposition. Players also level up and earn more weapons, much like in other games. While the multiplayer mode isn't quite as padded as the one found in Modern Warfare 2, the community seemed much more mature and goal-oriented, which leads to an inevitably better experience.

Now, to be clear and completely fair, though the gameplay is similar, the flow and story of this game is completely separate from the Bad Company franchise. Bad Company is much more about a tongue-in-cheek story about a group of knock around guys fighting in a war, while Medal of Honor is a very serious and realistic take on the current war in Afghanistan, starting directly after the events of September 11th, 2001. In fact, this title might be the most realistic title ever released on the subject matter of war.

That realism is definitely a plus, but at times it can hurt the title in terms of what it was trying to accomplish in competing with Modern Warfare 2's cinematic feel. Sometimes the realism actually prevents the title from achieving a level of epic-ness due to the "movie moments" being lesser. It has yet to be seen if players want a realistic account of a day-in-the-life of a soldier in Afghanistan, or they want a cinematic adventure of jumping through the ice-covered mountains, but as far as sales are looking right now, it's looking like fans prefer Modern Warfare 2's style of storytelling.

Bad Company 2 looked absolutely gorgeous, and Medal of Honor carries on that tradition. The character models look fantastic and the environments have a very gritty feel to them. Now, this game definitely falls victim to the typical war video game issue, where, due to the setting, the colors in single player tend to focus on brown and gray hues, which can be tiresome and boring to play through. Luckily the game is fast-paced enough to not let the player get bored at looking at the scenery and the multiplayer maps take place in a variety of locales, so you can break it up a bit that way.

As far as other aspects of the presentation, you can't get much better than Medal of Honor. The sound is phenomenal. As you make your way through the various missions, you'll hear conversations, you'll hear music of the culture and you'll hear battles off in the distance. The environment definitely feels as though its alive, which is a major key to why it succeeds in its presentation. One of the coolest moments comes as you realize that the gunshots echo based on where you are, which is somewhat surreal the first time you notice it. It's just little things like that which make Medal of Honor great as far as sound and graphics go.

Medal of Honor is, by all accounts, a good game. It suffers from the oversaturation of the market and the fact that it is trying to be realistic and cinematic at the same time. The overall experience is a blast. The battles are as intense as we've seen in war games and the firefights are strategic and realistic. The only issue is that there might not be a place for this game in the Modern Warfare dominated market. We hope this isn't true, because without competition, there is no drive for progress. Medal of Honor comes off as slightly bland and unnecessary, but the game is great on its own terms. If you are a fan of Bad Company 2 and are itching for more like that, look no further than Medal of Honor. If you are a fan of Modern Warfare 2 and are looking for something thats more like a film than a documentary, maybe check out games like Mass Effect 2.

Review: Rock Band 3

When Harmonix told us that we'd "be surprised by how big Rock Band 3 is", we were all skeptical, yet we were ready to be blown away. While we knew a little bit about what Rock Band 3 was going to accomplish, we had no idea as to what we were in for. With the announcement that the game would not only perfect the formula that has made them one of the heavyweights in the gaming world, but also actually take strides to teach players how to play real instruments, we realized the magnitude of what this game could mean.

The first thing you have to look at with a game such as Rock Band 3 is the massive list of improvements and additions that the game has over its predecessor, Rock Band 2. Rock Band 3 takes the core gameplay elements of Rock Band 2, which many feel to be the top in the genre, and adds one of the most robust list of features ever seen in any sequel of any genre. The additions range from small to enormous and impact the player's experience exponentially.

The biggest, and most heralded additions are obviously the new instruments and the impressive Pro-Mode. This time around, instead of simply keeping the instruments locked at vocals, guitar, bass and drums, Harmonix has filled a much-needed gap with the addition of the keyboard. The five instrument scheme works amazingly within the Rock Band formula and the keyboard peripheral is made of very high quality. With the keyboard, players can use the realistic keys to play in normal mode, which consists of the classic five colors found on other instruments, or they can play it in Pro-Mode, which assigns nearly every key a scrolling indicator that makes the player actually work to learn to play the keyboard as an instrument.

Pro-Mode isn't limited to the keyboard, however. Pro-Mode also works for every instrument in the game. For Pro-Drums, you attach cymbals to your Rock Band 2 or 3 drum kit. Then, once you select how many cymbals you have attached (anywhere from one to three), you'll be forced to not only hit the cymbal when it's time to hit the cymbal, but you'll be required to hit the correct cymbal. The way the game indicates this is instead of scrolling rectangular notes at you, cymbal hits will show as circular. This definitely takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you will find that Harmonix has completely revitalized the fun of drumming. As someone who lost interest in Rock Band drumming several years ago, I've now found that drumming is in tight competition for my favorite instrument in the platform.

If drums and keyboards aren't really your thing, but you still want to learn a thing or two from this game, you can purchase a Pro-Guitar and learn how to play the various Rock Band 3 songs on guitar and bass. The great thing about Pro-Guitar and Pro-Bass is that they are actually played on guitars that have real frets and use all six strings. For Pro-Guitar the game will replace the five colored rectangles with six strings that have a special tablature language that signals what fret and string must be pressed and plucked for individual notes and different shapes that show what chords must be played in the higher difficulties.

There will be two models of Pro-Guitars released for Rock Band 3. The first guitar, the Fender Mustang, consists of partial strings where you strum and uses touch-pad technology on the frets. This will, more or less, simply simulate playing a real guitar, while the Fender Squier, which comes out in 2011, will be a real guitar that is functional within the game. Unfortunately, neither Pro-Guitar controller has been released yet, so we have been unable to use this features as of yet.

For you vocalists, you aren't completely left out in the dark. Though there may not be an official "Pro-Mode" for vocals, there have been a few significant upgrades which will make the experience much better. The biggest addition is certainly the harmonies, which have been brought over from The Beatles: Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band. While it still remains that all three mics used in the harmonies must be on the same machine due to the slight lag that is created through playing online. This may seem like a minor detail, but there are very few casual players that have three mics lying around, as well as two friends that would want to harmonize with them. The other improvement that vocals has seen is the fact that the "shaky-arrow" glitch, which made the vocal arrow shake and fall outside of the vocal bars, has been fixed and is no longer an issue.

Outside of the really innovative Pro-Modes, there lies the classic mode, which made Rock Band famous in the first place. While this mode is largely the same as what we played through in Rock Band 2 from a gameplay standpoint, the layout of which you select your playstyle has been vastly improved. You can choose to "Play Now", which lets you opt to play through quickplay or complete several road challenges to increase your stardom, or go on to the career mode, which will allow you to progress through hundreds of goals separated across the five instruments and their Pro-Mode counterparts. As mentioned before, the entire setup and menu system is very intuitive and feels miles beyond anything we've seen on either the Guitar Hero or Rock Band side prior to this game's release.

Before you get to rocking, however, you need to create your characters and edit your band. The logo designer is pretty much the same as we saw in Rock Band 2, only with different designs. Once you have a logo and a name for your band, you can choose to create characters to put in the band. The character creator has progressed from Rock Band 2 as much as any other feature of the game has. Now, instead of simply choosing a face, skin tone and body type, you can go into a full-on edit mode where you can stretch and warp the face in nearly any way you see fit, much like we've seen in sports titles and Guitar Hero titles.

Once you create your character, you can dress them up in any accessories or clothing items you want. They did go a questionable route of including shirts from bands like The Doors and The Who, which you must pay $1 of real money to be made available for your character to wear, but you don't have to go that route if you don't want to. If you don't feel like going through the character creation process for four members of the band, you can always appoint stand-ins from the ready-made characters that we've come to know from the previous Rock Band titles. The only issue here is that there is no way to easily define what character plays what instrument, so if you want one guy to play guitar while your character sings, you have to jump through various hoops to achieve that.

Once you're ready to rock, you can navigate through the aforementioned menus to select the song, goal, or road challenge that you want to play. The best part about these three modes in this game is the fact that they are all integrated into progressing your band through their careers. This is something new to the genre. Before, if you wanted to gain more fans for your band, you had to play through World Tour mode, or if you wanted to achieve goals, you played different goals in career mode. Now, you can achieve goals and gain fans all at the same time. Even in Quickplay, you will gain fans for performances. This idea really meshes with the idea that you are here to "start a band and rock the world". As you progress through gaining more fans, you'll see cutscenes of your band. They start simple with your band sitting in a diner and deciding on a name, and work their way up to getting ready to run onto stage at a huge music festival. These also really add to the overall feeling of the game itself.

The most simple mode is Quickplay. All you do here is go through and play the songs you want to play. It's as simple as that, but Harmonix has taken this simple idea and created an enjoyably simple experience. Now, if you're a DLC hoarder, you don't have to go through the over 2,000 available tracks to find the one you're looking for. Now, you can sort by nearly any method you can think of. You can sort by song name or artist name like in Rock Band 2, but now you can sort by multiple options at a time. So if you want to only find country songs that you've gotten four stars on guitar and start with the letter "L", you can find that song immediately. There's even a new feature that allows you to rate any song, including on-disc tracks, so you can sort songs on songs that you really like. If that sounds like too much of a hassle, you can create a playlist and save it, so if you and you're friends like to play the same ten songs every time you get together, Harmonix has got you covered here.

With the Road Challenges, you will work you're way from being a locally touring band to touring the world by playing different sets at different establishments. These sets range from a pre-determined list of three tracks from a particular artist that you have in your library, to you playing to the interests of the crowd at that bar, club or venue. Either way, you'll always have a choice of whether you want to choose a custom set of classic rock songs, a three-set of Blink 182 songs or a random three-set of Nu Metal tunes. Another thing that Road Challenges implements is a system that awards "Spades" in addition to stars on songs. Spades are bonus currency that unlocks more venues to play and extra challenges. They aren't earned simply by playing well, however. You'll be given a random task at the beginning of the set, such as activating overdrive as many times as possible, or getting as many streaks as possible, or even nailing individual sections of the songs while you play through them. As you earn more spades, you'll unlock new tours that you can take. Touring will see you selecting a tour route and going across the country or even the world on those routes. Harmonix did an excellent job of creating a addictive feeling of being rewarded through this mode.

The final main mode is the career mode, which is essentially turned into the "My Goals" mode. In this, you'll be given hundreds of goals that are both general and instrument-specific. Some are tied to achievements and trophies, while others are simply tasks to shoot for within the game itself. The title does an amazing job of tracking your stats and accomplishments and lets you know exactly how far or close you are to achieving each and every goal set forth. This mode makes you incredibly prone to the "just one more hour" syndrome that every game, music or otherwise, should strive for. You can't begin to count the number of times you're ready to quit, but you see how close you are to achieving a goal, so you play another set. Each time you achieve a goal, you'll also unlock new customization items, as well as earn more fans. Goals aren't just tied to this mode, however. As mentioned earlier, everything is highly integrated, so if you achieve a goal in Quickplay, you'll be notified and it will be crossed off the list in your "My Goals" section.

Of course, every music game ever created is made or broken by the group of songs available. Lucky for Harmonix and lucky for us, the game with the most features ever seen in a music game also has the most robust library of songs. There are 83 diverse tunes on the disc with hundreds of tracks that can be imported if you are an owner of previous Rock Band titles, and a DLC library that stretches beyond the 2,000 song mark. With the recent release of The Doors' Greatest Hits and the promise of greatest hits releases from huge artists like Bon Jovi and Billy Joel, Harmonix shows absolutely no sign of slowing down or shying away from the model that has made them thrive in the music genre.

There is one thing that must be realized for anyone that is reading this and is thinking about delving into the Rock Band series for the first time due to the praise that this title is receiving. All of this entertainment comes at a very high price. If you are starting from scratch and want to get the full experience, you can expect to pay well over $1,000 in order to get all of the instruments, the game, and a decent amount of downloadable content. This is a very steep price for new players to the series and something that is definitely a commitment that many people will need to shy away from in this economic climate. Luckily, there is enough to do on just one instrument to justify the purchase of the game with just one instrument to start out.

Rock Band 3 is by no means a perfect game, but it really gets closer than anything we've ever seen in any genre. The graphics are improved over the previous title, the feature list is almost as robust as the song list, and incredible strides have been made to improve the series over the last two years. If every series took the Rock Band approach and improved their series by this much with every sequel, the gaming world would be a much better place. Rock Band 3 is, without a doubt, the best and most complete music game we've ever seen and will certainly be looked back upon as the game that turned the music genre away from the abyss of normalcy and the business-as-usual mentality.

Review: Fallout: New Vegas

War never changes. Those same words that fans heard at the beginning of previous Fallout titles echo through the introduction of Fallout New Vegas as well. Not only does that saying provide excellent commentary to the nature of mankind, but also to the nature of Fallout New Vegas. That is, not much has changed since Fallout 3. While all of the spectacular visual and gameplay based elements remain from the previous title in the franchise, it is, in fact, a double-edged sword.

The game takes place in a different location altogether, but it certainly has that trademark Fallout feel to it. The world looks desolate; scoured by nuclear war and all but conquered by gang members. Without a doubt, this trademark is the defining aspect of the franchise, so while it might feel repetitive and taken from previous iterations, the Fallout franchise knows how to create a mood better than any other series out there.

With the environment really being the biggest difference between this title and Fallout 3, it really means that the environment in Fallout: New Vegas needs to step it up a lot in order to differentiate itself from that of its critically acclaimed older brother. As far as the environment is concerned, the setting can be hit or miss. At times, it can feel like you're playing an apocalyptic version of Red Dead Redemption, since much of the game's setting takes place in the desert, but other times, such as when you go through towns and such, you'll see the life that helped make Fallout 3 not seem as empty as you thought at first glance.

Unfortunately, these interactions are more spaced out than in Fallout 3, so you can go a long time without talking to anyone if you so choose. Once you do meet up with individuals, however, the title uses the same style of conversation trees found in Fallout 3. Most of the time this method works, though sometimes glitches will occur and certain options will not be selectable. We'll get into the glitches of this title later on, however.

One of the huge disadvantages this game has when compared to Fallout 3 is that you aren't provided with as much back story for your character when you are cast into the role. In Fallout 3, you literally controlled your character from birth. You learned about what a big deal leaving the vault was, you learned about how important your device, the Pip-Boy, was, but most importantly, you learned to be emotionally invested in your character.

In Fallout: New Vegas, you start out as an adult that is left for dead in a shallow grave. While the introduction to New Vegas is much more cinematic than the introduction to Fallout 3, it takes much longer to feel that same connection to your character, if you ever achieve that connection at all. While we didn't expect Bethesda or Obsidian to take the same route of Fallout 3 and recycle it for New Vegas, it is certainly worth pointing out.

Another theme that has been migrated over from Fallout 3 is exploration. This game, and this franchise really, is almost 100% about exploration. There is little linearity in the title, unless you are trying to simply play through the story mode, at which point, you will experience the expected linear plotlines. What is great about this title is that, like its predecessor, Fallout New Vegas allows the player to complete side missions in any order. If you want to take your level 1 character with terrible weapons out into the area that has Deathclaw, the most fearsome enemy in the wild, colonies and take them on, you have that option. We can tell you from experience that this is a bad idea, but if you feel so inclined, go take on the Deathclaw Alpha Male with your handgun.

While often times we feel that open-world games really tend to give you a false sense of freedom to make the game seem longer, in special games, like the Fallout, Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption franchises, open-world sandbox type of design is perfected to the point that you will enjoy your exploration of the known world more than you will enjoy the story itself. This is why we can't encourage you enough to try to explore every nook and cranny in this title. Just like in Fallout 3, there are some serious "WTF" moments that will make you either laugh or groan audibly.

The gameplay is still the same style as the previous title. You can choose to play as third or first person perspective, but we prefer first person. In the third person mode, the game has always felt a little clunky to us. With first person, the gunplay is not nearly as accurate as it is in shooters like Halo or Call of Duty, but it is easier than when in third person. If you still don't like the aiming mechanics, you can utilize the V.A.T.S. system, which will calculate your chances of hitting the specific part of the target by factoring in several variables, such as distance, the character's proficiency with his/her current weapon, accuracy of the current weapon, angle of the targeted area, and even the size of the targeted area. All of these factors will give you a percent of how likely you are to hit the area before actually pulling the trigger, so if you want to go for the headshot, but you only have a 23% chance of hitting the head, you might want to aim for the leg or chest if those areas have a higher percentage.

In addition to the missions and exploration, players can also participate in side games that includes utilizing the various features found in the casinos, such as Blackjack and Caravan, which can net you serious money, or end your run at riches, just as they can in real life.

Fallout: New Vegas is certainly a large enough title to warrant being a standalone retail game, rather than DLC for Fallout 3, but the features might not quite back that up. The game is built on the exact same engine that was used for Fallout 3, so the differences are fairly negligible when it comes to the core experience. There are a few new features, such as being able to recruit multiple companions to assist you with a mission, rather than just the one that you could recruit in Fallout 3, but other than that, the features list doesn't really impress all that much.

The only major issue with Fallout: New Vegas is really the amount of glitches found in the title. While it's true that most of the glitches are minor and not game breaking, we've heard reports of players defeating the final boss by having him stuck behind a rock, as well as reports of players being unable to load saved games. Even the non-game breaking glitches have the potential to ruin the experience for one reason: immersive-ness.

The title really builds upon the notion that the game has a setting that the player will be able to find themselves completely immersed in. While this works most of the time, when you see an enemy run into the corner and stand facing that corner while you unload on him with a revolver, it kind of takes you out of the experience. Issues with not being able to advance in the title or being able to skip over missions altogether due to the conversation options being glitched have also been reported. Luckily, Bethesda has released one patch already and is working on another that will hit "soon".

Fallout: New Vegas is directed at those fans that played through Fallout 3 and couldn't get enough of the story arc. The title will definitely please those fans, but may leave many disappointed. With its spectacularly open environment, players could play the title for hours without ever completing a main mission. While everything good about Fallout 3 was migrated over, everything bad, like glitches and sometimes poorly structured missions, were as well. Fallout: New Vegas doesn't live up to the lofty expectations set forth by its predecessor, Fallout 3, but it is definitely a worthy title for those looking to dive back into the post-apocalyptic United States.

Review: NBA 2K11


Do you like Michael Jordan? Well, it doesn't matter if you like Michael Jordan! 2K Sports' Visual Concepts has gotten into bed with arguably the greatest athlete (all sports withstanding) ever. Does this holy matrimony work in the end? Yes, yes it does.

When you boot up the game for the first time you'll be presented with what can be called a Michael Jordan fan's orgasm of a moment. Assuming that you're well aware of the lore Michael Jordan carries with him, the first glimpse of the game is Michael running out of the old Chicago Stadium tunnel as very familiar music plays from the stadiums sound system as the crowd goes wild in anticipation of MJ joining his team on the court. The camera follows MJ out the tunnel and you're put immediately into the throws of the 1991 NBA Finals with the Chicago Bulls vs the Los Angeles Lakers.

Scottie Pippen with his famous flat-top fade is all there, as well as Horace Grant with his "scubaman goggles". Additionally the commentary is on point with tons of references back to 1991 stats and other random quips. Mind you, this isn't an all Bulls affair once you complete all of the Jordan Challenges and soared through the rest of the Jordan specific experience Visual Concepts has tailored. All of the teams that come along for the ride via the Jordan Challenge as Chicago Bulls opponents can be selected for regular exhibition play as well so you can get your Carl Malone or Larry Bird on at anytime.


Where the overall game shines is in the details. Even in the pause menu, faded in the background of the buttons on screen you have Lebron James clutching his newly adorned Miami Heat Jersey from the infamous "The Decision". Pause the game again and you'll be greeted with yet another image of someone else from around the league. Occasionally, while taking the ball up the court stats of the current ball handler will make it to the lower third stat breakdown so you can see how that player is doing so far. Again, a very subtle inclusion, but something that adds that little touch to the presentation. 

During any given game what you'll immediately notice if you've played any of the previous NBA 2K titles is the dramatic improvement in the defensive play. Passing lanes are covered in such a way that it will require you to rethink the way you play the entire game. No more are the passes to players who are clearly out of position only to magically still receive the ball even if their back is turned to the play viable anymore. Lazy passes will get stolen. If you're thinking about passing the ball up court, think twice or maybe even four or five times before you make that pass. If you go into this game thinking old habits will roll right into 2K11 you will be frustrated beyond belief when pass after pass is tipped or straight up stolen time after time. An issue found when going into the paint a few times though is that your player will literally get stuck and not be able to shoot the ball even if you have driven into the paint only a few feet from the basket. Commanding your player to pivot is the only response that still works if this happens. It's something that is extremely infrequent ( and hopefully just a bug), but nonetheless is infuriating when it does happen.

Again, when was the last time you played a basketball game and actually had a 'kicked ball' happen? That's the amount of detail found in NBA 2K11.When was the last time you saw a computer controlled team get a back-court violation called on them? Never, right. The AI in the game makes mistakes which really adds to an experience that feels authentic.


Then there's My Player. And as you'd expect, My player is where you can create a player and draft him onto your team of choice assuming you get that far through the Draft Combine that is now included in the game and not a separate experience as in the past with your created player. The usual is all there, like creating the physical appearance, play style for every possible signature move, what type of eye brows your doppleganger will have down to what brand of shoe (including various styles offered by the selected brand) you want to parade around in.

Expect to put a good deal of time into creating your player if you at all care what he looks like. If options are what you like, that is exactly what you get. Unfortunately all is not rosey. During this entire process the "2K insider" will popup on the bottom right side of the screen with random and mostly off the wall comments and quotes from figured around the basketball world. Calling this annoying after only the 3rd time hearing it is a brash understatement. Whoever okayed this needs to be slapped on the wrist hard.

Collecting up to 40 different JORDAN shoes is also apart of the overall process. Complete drills and other accomplishments and you'll get rewarded by being able to equip certain special items. While in a Jordan Challenge you may notice Michael Jordan with his signature shoes on, but the rest of the players on the court are wearing current day Jordan shoes. A weird omission for sure, but a small distraction it definitely is. During a quickgame or NBA Today game you'll get previews for upcoming games that are on the real NBA Schedule so you can play them on that day for yourself which is now a staple of the 2K Sports games all around in general, but the interface has been overhauled this time around. Some may not like it, some will.

One of the often omitted or just plain skimped on portion of any sports title is the Half time show. There's no Chris Berman like genius like the fabled NFL 2K5, but instead you're greeted with the majority of advertising you'll see in the game as highlights from the first half of the game and around the league are recapped. The entire thing is draped in the colors and logo of HP in the guise of the HP Halftime update. Much like certain other brands in other games (*cough* Snickers *cough*) you will see HP ALOT. 


There's a 'see who's online' option in the menu much the same as some other titles so you can page through your friends list without having to step out of the game into the friends list of the system (Dashboard/XMB) which is becoming somewhat of a standard. Then there's the nail in the coffin for virtual sports gamers everywhere in the direction of whether you should pick this game up. Relegated to the PC only for the longest of times in sports games was a feature that allowed you to save and quit mid-game. NBA 2K11 has this feature on a console and it is glorious. Have something interrupt your b-ball action like "real life", so what. Pop into the menu, select 'Save and Quit', and feel at ease as you load your saved game for when you return to the court at a later time.

When it comes down to it this game is not for the faint of heart looking to just throw the ball around from time to time. Basketball fan's will literally get all hot and bothered by the sheer amount of detail found in NBA 2K11. Whether you're a Jordan fan or not, you'll be given a taste of what so many consider the golden age of the NBA with some rather convincing recreations of basketball yesteryear.

Pickup and Play modes are there (NBA Black Top), but the meat of the game is in its astoundingly good simulation of the NBA. With today's technology and know how, this is easily the best simulation of basketball you are going to get.


XBLA Review: Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain Smiley

Twisted Pixel, the geniuses behind XBLA favorite, 'Splosion Man, have returned with another off-the-wall title. This time, instead of 'Sploding your way through a labratory, you'll be blasting fools away as you travel through four different comic books.

Comic Jumper: The Adventures of Captain smiley is really a hodgepodge of several different titles. The game takes the gameplay of Duke Nukem, the graphics of 'Splosion Man and the wise-ass nature of Matt Hazard and puts it into one title starring a superhero with an emoticon for his head.

Captain Smiley is definitely not your typical hero. He's clumsy and jealous, but the real kicker is that the star on his chest is actually attached to him biologically. Not only is this star (aptly named 'Star') a separate character altogher, but he constantly gives Captain Smiley a tough time, which leads to some very entertaining banter.

The story is definitely one of the most original concepts in the history of the Xbox Live Arcade. You star as the previously introduced Captain Smiley, one of the biggest stars in comic books. Unfortunately, as you'll see for yourself in the first mission, Captain Smiley's comic has been terrible lately. A very funny live-action cutscene after the first mission shows the comic being buried at a playground, given away for free at comic shops and even used as toilet paper (ok, thankfully you don't actually see this, but it's definitely implied).

The sales of the comic have turned down so sharply, that the team is actually broke and getting canned. Turns out that the only thing Captain Smiley can do to make some money and attempt to save his comic series is to actually make cameos in more successful comics. That's exactly what you'll be doing throughout the entire game. You'll go from comic book to comic book, completing missions to help the characters in each universe.

The graphics are very nicely done. You can certainly see the 'Splosion Man-esque graphical style throughout the game. As you travel through the four comics, the art direction changes. This is a great touch and as you go, you'll see everything from modern comic-style to cel-shaded to black and white. The character models are very embellished, as they are in comics. Basically, if you are into comics, you will love the graphical direction of Comic Jumper.


The melee gameplay of Comic Jumper, however, is hit-or-miss. The beat 'em up aspect of the game can be a little frustrating. While the game does do a good job of giving the player a few different ways to interact with up-close adversaries, the combat can feel a bit clunky. This is very much remedied as you get futher into the game and get to use various weapons in melee combat.

We much prefer the gun combat, which can actually become really rather difficult. The main difficulty-increasers are certainly the enemies, who can take a lot of punishment. They also have a knack for over staying their welcome at times, with enemies coming out just as you thought you made it through that particular wave. You'll definitely find yourself in your fair share of Contra-esque firestorms. Luckily, the game does a generous job of giving the player checkpoints, which you'll definitely need since you don't regenerate health unless you die.

The controls during gun sections are pretty intuitive and fast-paced. You use your left stick to run through the levels and your right stick to aim. To make matters easier, you use the right trigger to fire and the left trigger to jump. It all works out very well, but if you prefer to do it another way, you can also use the face buttons for a more old-school feel.

Throughout the title, you'll find various Easter-Eggs for other Twisted Pixel titles. The best tip of the hat has to come in the form of actually having 'Splosion Man and The Maw arcade machines in Captain Smiley's lair. Of course, to play them, you actually have to own the games through the Xbox Live Marketplace, but it's neat to see them in there. Captain Smiley and Star even make reference to the criticism that many people had concerning Twisted Pixels' DLC releases for The Maw, which is incredibly humorous and does a great job of addressing the critics.

Overall, Comic Jumper is a game that takes a level or two to feel better than average, but once you get going, the story and above average gameplay will grip you unmercifully. The banter between Smiley, Star and the other characters are as entertaining as we've ever seen in any title, and the story is always entertaining to the point that you'll find yourself laughing out loud on occasion. At $15, you'll get more innovation and fun than you will in most $60 retail titles. Sure, the game has a few flaws, but they are very easily overlooked when the overall product is this well-made.

Indie Game Review: Jump'n Bounce


Sure, most games in the Xbox Live Indie Games section are gimmicks featuring avatars or somewhat short-lived, but every so often, a gem comes along that just separates itself from the rest. Jump'n Bounce, a game developed by DeRail Games, is a retro arcade-style title that is both addicting and well-made.

The game  is the first of three "new retro arcade" titles that DeRail will be releasing into the Xbox Live Indie Games library featuring the smile emoticon, Hug. Jump'n Bounce requires you to get from the start point of a level to the goal, which is represented by a large star, much like in the Mario 64/Mario Galaxy titles. While the mission is simple, actually completing the mission is not always so easy.

Much like most arcade titles, the first couple of levels act as an easy tutorial, building the confidence of the player, while teaching them the ropes of the game. The learning curve is a sharp one, however, as the next few levels will likely knock the player down and have them begging for mercy.

Each level contains checkpoints and several obstacles, including spark-like creatures that move in simple, predetermined patterns, to Sonic the Hedgehog-esque spikes. Touch any of these obstacles and Hug will explode and he will be transported back to the last checkpoint.

Along the way, Hug will be able to collect retro sprites that will give the player bonus points and extra lives, which will be VERY valuable as the levels get more and more difficult later in the game. Luckily, if you run out of lives, there is a continue option at the main title screen.

With most levels, the player will be able to determine for themselves what the path of least resistance is. In an ingenious turn of level-design, DeRail decided to include several paths in each of the levels. Some will be there for the beginners to just simply pass through, while other paths will be there for the high-scorers and speed demons.

Everything about this game's presentation screams "retro," which is the main goal of the title. The entire level is presented at all times, which allows players to plot their every move out before they get to hopping and prevents players from hopping into a hidden danger due to awkward camera angles. Overall, the entire game is just one big nod to the designers that forged the way for the current kings of video games.

Just like the retro arcade titles, there is an actual high-score leaderboard, which allows for name entry. If you're the kind of person that shares your Xbox with someone else, this will definitely spark some great competition. Entering the game, only to see that your roommate has beaten your latest high-score is one of the greatest motivators to try and improve.

The gameplay feels tight and responsive. As Hug, you have three ways to move. You can jump, which is the base move, you can double tap the jump button and perform a valuable double jump, and you can slam Hug down hard after a jump, which will allow him to break through the softer bricks and get him to the jewels and 1-Ups.

With all the praise we've given the title, we haven't even covered the best part of the title: the price. While this probably could've passed for a $5 title on the Xbox Live Arcade, this title is able to be added to your library for the measly sum of $1 (80 Microsoft Points). With all of the prices going up on Xbox Live, it's nice to find a great value like this.

That being said, if you're a fan of classic platforming and feel like administring yourself a healthy dose of nostalgia without the dated-feeling, you'd be foolish not to pick this title up. Even if you're worried about the lack of features and modes, which can be an issue for those extended play-sessions, you'd be foolish to skip the free trial mode, which will give you a perfect glimpse into what this game is really all about. Jump'n Bounce is easily one of the top titles, if not THE top title, in the Xbox Live Indie Arcade. The bar has been set by DeRail Games for all Indie developers.

Review: Madden NFL 11

Here we go again! With the new season of America's biggest sport just around the corner, it's time to take a look at the latest installment of the one and only NFL title on the market. Sure, we've criticized the title in the past for the lack of innovation since they signed the exclusive contract with the NFL in 2006, but we can't really fault them; they put out a quality and fun title year after year.

That doesn't mean that fans don't crave more from the series. From 2006 until 2009, fans were clamoring for more innovation and new features. From refs showing up on field to field goal nets blocking the kicks from going into the screaming crowd, Madden 10 gave many fans what they were clamoring for, but with Madden 11, EA Sports looked to perfect upon that formula.

The most obvious addition to the Madden franchise with Madden 11 is the addition of GameFlow, a revoluationary new system that is best described as "The 'Ask Madden' feature on Steroids" (though the NFL would likely find some reason to be upset with that description). Essentially, with GameFlow enabled, between each play, you'll be prompted to either use GameFlow (which will select a play that fits best with your pre-determined gameplan and the situation at hand) or use the full playbook. This cuts out much of the playcalling and leaves it to the "coach", which makes many of the calls very realistic. It also speeds up the game significantly, or as EA Sports says "allows you to play an hour-long game in 30 minutes." This works particularly well in single-player, but probably could use some fine-tuning for when multiple players are using the same screen.

The GameFlow works incredibly well with the new pre-snap control system. Before, you would be forced to run through seemingly endless menus to find the play you want, which would lead to several "Delay of Game" penalties. To remedy that issue, EA Sports has implemented a system that uses the d-pad for pre-snap calls like hot routes and coverage audibles, while offensive audibles can still be accessed via a simplified menu that can be viewed by pressing a single button. The d-pad system works perfectly once you get used to it, but the audible menu for offense leaves a little to be desired on same-screen multiplayer.

As far as actual gameplay goes, the title remains pretty similar to it's predeccessor. The game plays very smoothly and the pass and run games remain fairly balanced. That's not to say there aren't some key frustrations that will cause you to want to throw your controller into the wall, however. Interceptions have been rightfully toned down to add realism, but the manner in which EA Sports tried to fix the issue was by making the players drop incredibly easy picks. With this, players like Ed Reed see balls going straight through their hands on any mode more difficult than All-Pro.

Even outside of the easy picks being dropped, sometimes players will just seem to give lackluster efforts towards going after the ball in an interception attempt. Throwing one's arms up to their chinstrap and then dropping them down just as quickly doesn't quite qualify as giving 110% in our eyes.

Another issue that had us ready to create EA Sports Ultimate Frisbee 11 with our disc was the officiating. For the most part, we can't complain. The calls are generally fair and calls like holding and facemask don't seem as random as they have been in previous installations. Occasionally, however, there will be some absolutely terrible calls that wouldn't even be made in the worst of calls in real life. While sideline calls are always in question in real and virtual life, at least in real-life, the refs can review where the receiver's feet were and make the correct call. In Madden 11, the ref can still review a sideline catch, but sometimes the calls will be blatantly wrong even after review.

The most infuriating, yet satirically comcial at the same time, had to be one instance where Peyton Manning threw a pass, walked forward three steps and tripped over a defender on the ground and the defender got calls for Roughing the Passer. We don't know if this was ridiculously incorrect or if EA was simply making fun of the NFL's incredibly sensitive policy when it comes to QB protection (particularly concerning Peyton Manning and Tom Brady). We think it's probably the former.

If you want a good looking football game, you can't get much better looking than Madden 11. The player models have been improved slightly over last year, but the most noticeable addition has to be in the players' faces. Recognizable players, such as the aforementioned Peyton Manning, where pretty recognizable in Madden 10, but lesser known players, like Baltimore's Joe Flacco, just received the generic face treatment. Now, however, most players look eerily similar to their real-life counterparts.



A small addition that the team at EA did that really adds to the feel of the game was making the field goal nets sensitive to where the ball is, rather than acting as sheet metal and staying stiff when the ball hits. The presentation in which the games are presented have been upgraded as well. From the commentary to the graphical overlays, nearly everything in this aspect has been given an overhaul.

While, on the surface, these new features in the presentation department look and feel great, it actually amounts to becoming the only major issue with the game. The commentary is the most blatant issue. From overused terms to obviously incorrect calls by the play-by-play announcers, there are so many things that are so laughably bad that it takes you right out of the game. For instance, if a player gets free, the announcers will likely say "and no one will catch him!" in anticipation of a touchdown. Unfortunately, 9 out of 10 times when this call is made, the player is caught and the announcer just seems foolish.

Within the gameplay, sponsor's such as Doritos, Verizon, and Old Spice will pop-up, as they would in a typical broadcast. We don't mind hearing "Here's your drive summary, brought to you by Verizon" or "Let's look at the Old Spice Redzone Report" every so often, but when the announcer uses the same hackneyed phrases over and over again, it becomes highly distracting and ridiculously annoying (I swear... if we have to hear "Old Spice: Smell like a man, man!" one more time...). There's also an issue with the color commentators sounding more enthusiastic when talking about the sponsors than they do about the game.


Occasionally you will get a few graphical glitches and overly repeated cutscenes as well, but they aren't nearly as distracting as the commentary issues. The most distracting glitches, aside from the usual stuff that Madden usually has, like players walking through walls and refs, has to be one that occurs when a cutscene shows the QB from the defensive perspective. If you look over the focal point of the QB, you'll notice that all of the fans are facing the wrong way, as in they are looking towards the back of the stadium. It must have something to do with the camera being in a reverse angle, but it rarely happens, so it can definitely be excused.

In addition to the typical Franchise, Exhibition and Superstar modes found in Madden 10, players will find a more-fully featured online mode, as well as the features that were added to Madden 10 through DLC like the retro AFL mode and the fun trading card-based Ultimate Team mode. The only issue that players might stumble upon as far as features go is in the use of EA Sports' "Online Pass" idea, where if you don't buy the game new, you'll have to pay $10 to play the title online.

All in all, Madden NFL 11 is perhaps the greatest football title ever created. The presentation, despite it's many flaws, is above average, the graphics are amazing, the gameplay is better and more streamlined than ever, and it's just an all-around fun title. It's very full-featured and will certainly leave more people satisfied than disappointed. Any issues that were mentioned in this review could easily be fixed with a patch, so we'll be hoping that EA Sports hears the pleas of the fans and does the right thing. With those fixes in place, the game might become known as a near-perfect title. As the title is now, however, it's just an extremely well-executed and phenomenally fun game.