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Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Substance Review

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Editor’s Note:  Jam originally wrote this review back in August of 2015 and somehow I missed it for almost six months.  This won’t happen again but I figured we should still show love to a great game and a great review.  Sorry Jam.

Metal Gear Solid 2 was possibly one of my most anticipated video games back in my youth. I eagerly awaited its release in 2002 (a little later than the rest of the world in Europe because game companies hate us). Kojima had been very smart in teasing the hotly anticipated sequel to the PS2 classic with various trailers and that infamous pack in demo with the full retail game Zone of The Enders, which no one played. We just couldn’t wait to play as Snake. On release I’m happy to admit my fan boy goggles were literally set to “Fan-tastic” as I played this game and loved the ever loving hell out of it and not buying in to some of the games criticisms post release. Well I’m older and detestably more mature so its time to return to the title and see how it fairs today. To research for this review I played through the game on the the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on Xbox 360 and PSVita. The game had multiple releases on a lot of consoles but this review pretty much speaks to every version of the game.

mgs2_snakeMetal Gear Solid 2 puts you back into the shoes of the legendary Solid Snake, who has now gone rouge with his new pal Otacon from the first Solid game. They have formed the ultimate bro-mance to travel the world and take down metal gears (those are bipedal tanks if you’re not up to date with the series). Snake ends up on a ship passing through the Hudson River in a scene which is frankly fantastic if you’re a fan of cinema. Snake casually smokes a cig in his rain coat and gradually picks up his pace to then bungee jump off a bridge onto a ship. Re-watching this cinematic is still wonderful and possibly my favourite opening in the series. So you’re all happy playing as your hero Solid Snake. You fight a Russian girl, you take pictures of a metal gear along with sleeping soldiers, and then the game ends. Well, at least your control of Snake ends.  It has become known as the biggest historic bitch slap to the face of gaming history. After playing literally a couple of hours of the game, you are then put into the shoes of the far less interesting character: Raiden. Yeah, Raiden is no Solid Snake.  He has blonde hair, is pretty skinny, and lacks that testosterone appeal that we are used to from the much preferred Solid Snake. So you play as Raiden thinking “no big deal we’ll get back to Snake soon.” Wrong! You continue as Raiden for the rest of the game. So it’s kinda of disappointing but doesn’t completely ruin the gaming, its just not the Metal Gear story we were expecting.

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Written by jamalais

February 8, 2016 at 11:00 am

Altered Beast Review

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Altered Beast was a game that lived in screenshots.  Like it or not, the arcade System 16 classic was less known for the roller skating rinks, bars, and bowling alleys that it was intended to get popular on and instead became the poster child for early Genesis advertising.  I say this as someone who was under 10 years old at the time it premiered, though, so perhaps it was burning up the arcades, but all I seem to remember was it coming home.  I did get a chance to play the title in coin-op form at my local bowling alley, but after a handful of attempts that never got me further than the second level I gave up on replaying the game.  When it came home, however, I needed it on my Genesis and I replayed it constantly.  In fact, for a game that is not only easy but also quick to complete (probably about 30 minutes), I find myself replaying it more than most other games from my past.  This even more odd given that, sadly, Altered Beast is not a very good game.

altered_beast_arcade_beast_modeThe premise is that of a centurion of Greece brought back by Zeus to save Athena, his daughter, who has been kidnapped.  Upon your resurrection, you now gain the ability to take the form of different animals in a sort of “were-” hybrid (werewolf, weredragon, werebear, etc) that can be accomplished by collecting power-ups in the level.  Beyond that Altered Beast is nothing more than a walk to the right and beat up everything in your path game, often known today as a brawler, but given that it pre-dates most of the Konami licensed brawlers and Capcom’s Final Fight, it was significant for the time.  Levels can vary in length, but if you know the game in the least – and what needs to be done – you’ll clear each one in 5 minutes or less.  Given that there’s only 5 levels, that’s a short time span.  When I refer to knowing what needs to be done, that’s the need to destroy the albino wolves in each level, which contain the power-ups needed to make your character’s strength grow and eventually trigger “beast mode.”  Each level rotation has 3 albino wolves and it takes 3 power-ups to go into beast mode, so you have to do it right the first time through or go through another rotation of the level that is usually harder than the first.  Beast mode refers to your character transforming into the aforementioned were-beasts from earlier and has even crept its way into pop culture as a meme.  While there are new enemies in each level, they all take basically the same amount of hits to defeat and aside form some basic change in behavior, don’t differentiate very much.  That’s still not to say this game didn’t have talent behind it because designer Makoto Uchida would earn some notoriety for his future work on Golden Axe and a personal favorite Dynamite Deka (Die Hard Arcade series).  Co-designer Hirokazu Yasuhara is even more notable with his planning and design on the early Sonic the Hedgehog titles before moving on and being involved in the design of Jak & Daxter titles with Naughty Dog and eventually the first Uncharted.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

Undertale Review

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Undertale is a game that is hard to ignore if you are a retro gamer.  It strikes me as a bit of the hipster’s version of an SNES title because it seems to check all the boxes that get several communities pumped up as well as intrinsically embracing what is great about contemporary retro.  Couple that with the fact that it was almost completely created by one person, Toby Fox (who had art help from Temmie Chang), and there’s no doubt Undertale is an achievement.  None of this really matters for a review, though, which forces the critic to look a work right in the face and give his or her opinion.  Is Undertale a one-man-band achievement that results in one of the most impressive indie titles that hearken back to the days of 16-bit?  Sure, but that’s all left to award ceremonies and Fox’s peers to decide.  Is it the “must play” retro game that garners all the glittering prizes and game of the year nominations from my peers?  Perhaps not.  While I can admit to being entertained by the title – especially the very notable fourth wall breaking aspects that you almost never see coming – Undertale is weakened by the zeitgeist and harmed by the fact that no one on the Internet can just let you play a game anymore.  That game, while great, leaves more to be desired.

undertale_introUndertale began to make waves with the Earthbound crowd and while it’s not quite as heady and definitely not even a fraction of the length of those titles, Undertale does grow from those roots.  Personally I was never all that fond of the series (although I have not yet played Mother 3), but the humor was undeniably charming and Undertale embraces and builds upon that humor in spades.  You play as a character named “the child” who is given a name of your choice and skates that line of androgyny just enough that your avatar can identify as whatever they want.  An introduction explains that there are two worlds, the humans and the monsters, that have become separated from one another and whenever a human enters the world of the monsters they become corrupted and never escape.  As your quest begins, you start to learn that the irony of this is that monsters aren’t all that bad and much like humans just have a wide spectrum of personalities and behaviors.  The theme is hammered home when you discover that interactions with monsters are just that, interactions, and just because video games have taught you that fighting is the only way to go that you have a slew of other options.  From this point on you journey into the world to behave as you wish and reap the consequences of quite literally all of your actions along the way.

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Written by Fred Rojas

January 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

Jade Empire Review

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The original Xbox was a system with some incredibly gems on it that really didn’t receive much appreciation until near the end of the consoles life cycle. The game developer Bioware were all about the Xbox with their main hit on the system being Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic then later down the road in 2005 they brought out one of the most overlooked titles from the company Jade Empire.  Jade Empire really never found its audience, even to this day. Just mentioning this title to people today brings question marks in peoples minds. I remember seeing the game in an Official Xbox Magazine and being incredibly excited by the screen shots. Then the game came out and people just sort of forgot it was there. Today the game is passed off as one of the weakest titles in Biowares back catalogue.

Jade Empire is a Western developed action role-playing game (RPG) you play as a martial arts hero that you choose at the start of the game. You can choose between 5 set character models (6 if you have the limited edition or special edition), you can choose to go with pre-selected stats or you can customize the heroes stats yourself. You unfortunately can’t customize your characters appearance which is a shame considering Bioware’s previous Star Wars title allowed you to alter your characters appearance.

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Written by jamalais

January 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

Posted in PC/Mac, Reviews, Xbox

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Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours Review

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When you think of space shooters, the Darius series is probably not the first one you would think of, so it came as a wonderful surprise to to see this title come from out of nowhere and single handedly brought about what could be the renaissance of the space shooter series.  Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours (DBCS) is a love letter to the Darius series as well as anyone who has nostalgia for the shoot-em-up (shmup) genre. This series first started all the way back in 1986 and was infamously known for its merginging of space and the ocean. By this I mean that enemy ships all look like mechanical fish. It has an incredible design to it that you’ve just never seen anywhere else. Although the Darius series has not seen recent titles in the West, it has been living on with a lot of popularity in Japan on the portable and arcade scene.

The DBCS concept is pretty simple: you’re in a small space ship flying through various environments and your goal is to unload bullet hell onto any fishy looking space ship that happens to disturb your casual flight. The main hook of this game is the “burst” feature, which is a super charged cannon and unloads a devastating beam of death once you have acquired enough charge. It’s an essential feature to use against the gorgeous looking boss battles which range from giant mechanical crabs, lion-fish, and swordfish. It felt like quite the trip to the mechanical aquarium for me as I used to be quite the enthusiast of fish in my younger days and seeing some of creatures recreated in this game brought a smile to my face. What I love about the boss battles in this game is how you’re presented with a giant “WARNING” sign before each foe appears, you have this feeling something sinister is around the corner. Despite seeing this screen hundreds of times it never got old for me. If you’re skilled with the cannon, you can time it just right for when the boss decides to give you a stream of its own beam of death, which you can counter and land an even bigger beam of destruction back at the baddie. This moment when I was clever (or lucky) enough to pull it off was one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve had in gaming for quite some time. Its not all burst beams though, ships come in different fins and shells and you can pick up power-ups to upgrade your ship along your level.

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Written by jamalais

December 31, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Tomb Raider Anniversary Review

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The original Tomb Raider was more than just a 32 bit title that launched a strong Playstation franchise, it was a cultural phenomenon.  For those that have ever played it, especially if you’ve recently gone back, it’s rather difficult to appreciate that game without the amazing strength of nostalgia.  Fortunately when Crystal Dynamics took over for the franchise with Legend the company’s second project was to remake the original.  As the following reviews will attest, it was a good faith effort to not only switch up the mechanics and polish the weaker points of the first game, but ultimately the need to keep many of the levels and designs intact tarnish the experience.  Crystal Dynamics played it safe with how little it tweaked of the original formula and what resulted was a game that feels so updated and tight at some points and so sluggish and archaic at others.

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Written by jamalais

December 15, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Tomb Raider Review

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The original Tomb Raider exploded in popularity on its release in 1996. People were blown away by the 3D graphics and the title helped promote the Sony Playstation despite being released in mind for the Sega Saturn. The game was praised to high heaven by gaming critics and it launched Lara Croft into icon status by being the first digital character to feature on the cover of Face magazine in the UK. Lara would then quickly go on to be more of a sell out than Krusty the Clown. Her image was used to sell various products like the Lucozade energy drink and Land Rover vehicles. After all why not, she was huge in the UK. This game was the talk of many playground conversations when I was younger not just because of the mythical “Nude Raider” code but gamers would discuss how to get through difficult sections of the game. Guides were not common place back then and the small ones printed in magazines lacked the impressive detail we see in fan made guides online today. It was considered a badge of honour if you were able to finish this game without using cheat codes. Its almost twenty years now since this game came out so I made this months Game Club my personal mission to finish this game without a guide. After lots of blood sweat and gamer tears here are my thoughts.

Time has not been kind to Tomb Raider along with the rest of the back catalogue of early 3D 32 bit games. Before I get started on the game itself I really wanted to hit home that I am very nostalgic for games of this era. Resident Evil on Playstation one still remains one of my favourite games of all time, my enjoyment of titles from this generation seems to have actually grown as I got older. This is the beauty of nostalgia, unfortunately for the someone who doesn’t share this connection you’ll probably go into a lot of these old 3D games and have issues with the controls and be generally turned off by the graphics. I acknowledge all these negative points yet I still enjoy these games. I feel these points are worth bringing up before you hear what I have to say about Tomb Raider now.

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Written by jamalais

December 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

Ongoing Series: Tomb Raider Anniversary

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bii52_7zTE&list=PLlLaoX7aLm9_SQKgn6U4d0WzCuoZi7OQO&index=1]

For the November game club we are playing through Tomb Raider, both the original and anniversary. Fred is tackling Anniversary. By popular request two versions of each video is being uploaded: one with and one without commentary. This has commentary, so if you wish to see the one without simply go here.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

Shadowgate (2014) Review

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This review originally published on The B-Team Podcast site.  An agreement with that site and GH101 allows the reviews to run in both locations.

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If you were around for the point-and-click adventure boom on computers in the 80s and early 90s, then you’re probably already aware of Shadowgate.  While Sierra and LucasArts battled it out for the number one position – Sierra always won, by the way, even if it didn’t have the better games – there were a handful of developers that released lesser known adventure titles.  Of those, one of the more prominent were known as “MacVenture” titles, which were menu driven point-and-click adventure games specifically for the Macintosh and created by ICOM.  These games were so popular they ended up getting ported to microcomputers, received color, and eventually even made it onto the NES.  Shadowgate was one of those MacVenture games and when I played it on my NES as a youngster I couldn’t believe the amount of horror, death, and adult themes that appeared on a console riddled with childlike concepts.  Much like other adventure titles I had to try everything on everything, but unlike those other titles I would die all the time and merely be sent back to the scene just before my death.  This meant that if I was patient and persistent enough, I could overcome the challenges and complete the game.  The idea that I couldn’t get stuck and barely got penalized for being experimental was the key drawing point of Shadowgate and its peers with the enchanting story being the icing on the cake.  Now, almost 30 years later, Shadowgate has been re-imagined and somewhat brought it into the modern times resulting in a title that is unapologetically retro and yet refreshing for veterans all the same.

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Written by Fred Rojas

November 6, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Posted in PC/Mac, Reviews

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Condemned: Criminal Origins Review

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Condemned Criminal Origins premiers as a console exclusive on the Xbox 360 – it later came to PC – in late 2005 (launch window), but represents a striking change for video games.  Sure, titles like Grand Theft Auto III and Manhunt were garnering attention for brutality, but those were still third person perspective titles that lacked true realism for the average player.  On the other hand Condemned is first person, the weapons are almost solely melee, the audio is in surround sound, and the vibration in the controller combined by the jarring view on screen when you get hit makes the whole experience realistic.  While violence-hating senators and parental groups hardly took notice, looking back it’s a visceral simulation of the brutality of those darker recesses of society we pretend doesn’t exist.

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Written by jamalais

November 3, 2015 at 3:00 pm

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