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Review: Bioshock

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BioShock_boxBioshock was released all the way back in 2007  (which seems like quite a while in terms of game releases), near enough the same time as the launch of the Xbox 360.  Before I re-played this game for the Game Club, my last save on the 360 was dated August 2009. So would you kindly take a seat and read on, as we see if Rapture is still a city worth re visiting or if it should stay at the bottom of the ocean.

In Bioshock you play as Jack, a character who doesn’t really say much. After surviving a plane crash and swimming to a lighthouse, you find underwater transportation to the city of Rapture, a so-called underwater utopia created by a man named Andrew Ryan. You quickly learn that Rapture is not the magical gum drop land it was probably intended to be because most of the residents have totally lost their minds and want to murder you. People seem to be hooked on something called ADAM which changes your genetic code, giving the recipient special powers. The game does a great job of explaining the story through use of audio diaries, which give audio-based background to the game while you are still playing. The story is filled with regular twists and turns that will keep you interested right up to the end. Since there is so much depth to the plot, I found I understood more when going through the game multiple times (not to mention these are hidden items that you can drudge for when not on an initial playthrough).

Bioshock plays as a first person shooter with role playing elements. The game gives very clear goals and even a quest marker for where to go. Don’t worry completionists, you have plenty of opportunity to explore the world and discover secrets and additional information of Rapture. You also find plasmids which unlock super powers for your character such as shooting electricity or even bees out your hands if you choose it. Alternatively you can use plasmids for more passive results such as improving your melee damage, healing abilities, and several other traits.

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You can also hack devices like vending machines to receive discounts or hack automated cameras and turrets, which will attack enemies instead of you. When you hack you enter a mini game, which is Pipe Mania basically, connecting the pipe parts together so the fluid flows to the right target. Unfortunately if you fail to do this in the limited time you will receive damage and possibly trip an alarm. Hacking is fun to begin with but gets quite tedious quickly, so fortunately like with most things in this game you also have the option to pay for a hack or use a auto hack tool to bypass the mini game entirely. Of course there is always the option to not be so nerdy and just not hack at all.

bioshock_3If you haven’t figured it out already, Bioshock allows you to play the game as you want. You can stealth or go guns blazing (the latter is more tricky on harder difficulties). You have a lot of choice into how to advance in the game, and even better, you can switch out your abilities should you want to change your gameplay style. The only potential issue is Bioshock can come across as quite easy on any difficulty. Even on hard mode, if you die you just get resurrected instantly in a close by vitality chamber. There is practically no penalty for this and you just continue on in the game.  A hardcore mode was added in the first update for 360 and PC, so any of those that have online access and update – not to mention the port onto PS3 and iOS – will also have a Hardcore mode that will give you a game over with any death, but this is almost canceled by the game’s ability to let you save and load anywhere.

The graphics in this title are absolutely phenomenal.  Rapture is unlike anything else you will probably see in other video games and a lot of thought clearly went into the art direction, which is consistently  demonstrated when you pay attention to the consistent writing on the wall as well as items and bodies positioned in specific places. This can show you how far Rapture has probably fallen from grace. Bioshock is set in 1960 and the art style is inspired by Art Deco, but of course since Rapture isn’t like your typical city above the ocean things have been changed for this specific utopia. The water physics are also very impressive, water will flow down stairs and pour from the ceilings very much convincing you that you are in a underwater city. The game also makes excellent use of shadows; you will regularly encounter silhouettes of enemies projected on the wall making you kind of dread what could be round the next bend.

bioshock_2Character models and enemies are also very impressive.  The most common enemies are splicers, which are disfigured people, and their reaction to you and the world very much mirrors a society gone wrong. Much like yourself, some of the splicers also have powers, like teleportation.  The other most notable foe is the Big Daddy, giant creatures in a diving suit that protects a character called a little sister (but I’ll get to them shortly). These incredibly threatening creatures actually won’t harm you until you either attack the Big Daddy itself or get too close to the little sister. When that happens the brute goes feral and will attack you with full force. Consequently even to this day the Big Daddy is one of my most memorable characters in gaming.  Returning then to the little sisters, these are little girls which have a parasitic sea slug in their stomach, allowing them to collect ADAM. Once you have taken down the Big Daddy protector you’re faced with the moral choice of harvesting the girl for maximum ADAM – this kills the girl in the process (you don’t see any child mutilation, but you can clearly tell what’s about to happen) – alternatively you can rescue the girl and receive a small amount of ADAM. Surprisingly choosing either path only leads to a different ending and has little effect on your progress in the game, which will call this further into question due to how the story progresses.

Bioshock still holds up to this day. The game has aged well, the graphics still look great on whatever system you choose to play the game on, and the gameplay doesn’t feel too dated. Bioshock is also very much a game you need to take your time with and just enjoy exploring the world of Rapture.  Rushing through it will do little for your enjoyment and potentially hinder the experience. Each time you pick up the game you will probably play it differently and with the amount of  player choice and gameplay style, it is unlikely two playthroughs will be the same (although the plot does remain consistent save for which of the two endings you receive).  Bioshock was great in 2007, it is great today, and will likely stand the test of time for years to come. If you still have not visited the world of Rapture would you kindly do yourself a favour and play it.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

Want more Bioshock?  We featured the first 90 minutes in a quick look as well as did an entire game club podcast if you wish to check them out.

Bioshock was reviewed by a personal copy of the reviewer, no codes of any kind were provided.  This review is based on the Xbox 360 version but it is also available on PC, PS3, and iOS devices with little content difference.  

Written by jamalais

September 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Version: Doom

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I was gonna write a retrospective on this, but honestly in podcast form we’ve covered Doom not once, but twice!  From those episodes came a project that has taken six months and over six hours to put together in one near 15 minute video.  I compare the PC, 32x, Jaguar, SNES, PS1, 3DO, Saturn, and GBA versions of Doom so you don’t have to, complete with bad language and snarky remarks (sorry parents).  Check out this version of Versions for Doom, but fair warning: there is some adult language.

Written by spydersvenom

September 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

Retrospective: Resident Evil 4

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Editor’s Note:  Although I love classic games as much as the next guy, few games get to be restored as often as Resident Evil 4.  Therefore, the recently released Ultimate HD Edition has the most cleaned up, 1080p native graphics to date and thanks to screenshot technology being what it is we were able to grab those assets directly from the game without any quality loss.  We at GH101 have decided to feature screens from this version in the interest of clarity, despite the fact that they do not faithfully represent the graphical fidelity of the many previous versions.  Hopefully purists will forgive us.  – Fred Rojas

The Story of the Scrapped Versions

re4_boxWhenever a game sits in development hell for too long, it has an adverse affect on everyone’s feelings for the game.  The examples are too many to count but a couple quick mentions are the likes of DiakatanaToo Human, and of course Duke Nukem Forever.  With a few exceptions, games that take too long to make can’t help but not live up to the hype and therefore disappoint an all-too-eager audience.  One of these exceptions is Resident Evil 4.  Originally announced in 1999, the concept was a Playstation 2 game with a brutally strong protagonist that was more action focused per the ongoing desires of Shinji Mikami (series creator that has been trying to go more action oriented since Resident Evil 2).  This new iteration was appropriately tasked to Hideki Kamiya, notable for his director work on Resident Evil 2, and in connection with Noboru Sugimura, writer of Resident Evil 2.  After a European trip that netted a Gothic art style and given the goals of the game it was decided that the camera would have to be dynamic and movable (much like Capcom had started in Dino Crisis) and thus ditch the traditional pre-rendered background in exchange for a fully rendered world.  Much of the development style, tone, and even Kamiya’s direction involved a what was described as a “cool” world and eventually it got so far removed from the roots of both the survival horror genre and Resident Evil series and instead integrated demons and a new protagonist, Dante.  A small fraction of the Capcom Production Studio 4, named Little Devils, converted this new concept with the juggling bug this team had seen in Onimusha: Warlords and eventually renamed the project to Devil May Cry in November 2000.  While it spun off to a good game and an ongoing franchise that still lives today, Devil May Cry left Resident Evil 4 in a rut without a dev team (and some hardcore RE fans still refer to the game as Resident Evil 3.5 since the core concepts remained intact).

It wasn’t until nearly a year later, late 2001, that the large scale Capcom Production Studio 4 team regrouped to begin development on Resident Evil 4.  Sugimura was still involved at this time and his scenario company Flagship and the original concept was Leon Kennedy breaking into Umbrella’s European headquarters to save a girl (who’s identity has never been revealed) while fighting various types of zombies and other creatures a la the original game.  At this time the third person view was already the gameplay style although Leon was overcome by the Progenitor Virus, thus giving his left hand special abilities, and included first person action sequences like we saw hints of in previous games.

re4_hookmanAs time went on the concept developed into the demo that was shown at E3 2003 known as Maboroshi no Biohazard 4 (Hallucination Biohazard 4 in English), but it has been come to be nicknamed Resident Evil 4: Hook Man Version by those that talk about it in the RE circles (FYI: Resident Evil is Biohazard in Japan but not here due to the metal band’s trademark).  Development of this version began when Flagship’s original scenario was dropped and Mikami brought in Yasuhisa Kawamura, scenario writer for Resident Evil 3, to make a scarier game.  At first the movie Lost Souls was the template and it featured an unnamed female protagonist that found herself in an abandoned building with a killer on the loose.  An in-between version re-introduced Leon as the lead, had him working with a mutated dog as a sidekick, and eventually making his way through Umbrella creator Spencer’s Castle to rescue a girl and fight his way out (with Hook Man as the killer and a newer version of the Nemesis character).  Eventually this was adapted into a final version that would become the demo.  In this version Leon was traversing a haunted castle, infected with a virus, and it was causing a mix of various jarring camera effects and hallucinations.  To help with the goal of a scary atmosphere and merge the perspective of the player with Leon, an over-the-shoulder camera, laser sight, and quick time events (QTEs) were integrated, some of the more notable attributes of the final game.  Enemies in the demo ranged from suits of armor that came to life and eventually a the Hook Man, a ghostlike zombie with a torn hook for a left hand, as a final enemy for the demo.  You can find a 5 minute video of this build on YouTube (pardon if the link isn’t valid over time) that was found in the Biohazard 4 Secret DVD that came as a pre-order bonus for Resident Evil 4 on GameCube in 2005.  Cost of development and technical obstacles forced Mikami to step in and assist in scenario writing and development, something Kawamura has gone on record saying he’s ashamed of, and completely scrapped the game.  It was 2004 and Resident Evil 4 was back to square one.  Fortunately you can find most parts of this version (aside from the demo video) in other Capcom games: many of these assets ended up in the PS2 game Haunting Ground, the Progenitor Virus concept was the base for Resident Evil 5, and of course the Spencer Estate concept was revitalized in the RE5 DLC Lost in Nightmares.

The Deal With Nintendo

re4_3In November 2002, Capcom announced a 5 game deal with Nintendo that would see five of the titles coming to the GameCube, known as the Capcom Five, and among those (despite some miscommunication) only Resident Evil 4 was to remain console exclusive.  After rumors suggested that users and investors were adding pressure to move the game to the much more successful Playstation 2, Mikami even came out and claimed he would “cut his  head off” if RE4 ever made its way to another console.  In late 2003 Shinji Mikami took over directional duties and had a large part in scenario and writing duties to completely re-invent the series.  He spread a massive campaign in interviews and told the Capcom Production 4 Team that the focus was to be on action and not horror.  To assist with this he dropped the Umbrella involvement completely, created the Ganados concept, and clearly borrowed from many earlier versions of the game, including the new Dante-like look and personality for Leon.  By E3 2004 Capcom locked down a January 2005 release for Gamecube and then to everyone’s shock an awe a Halloween 2004 announcement for 3 new Resident Evil PS2 titles revealed that a port of Resident Evil 4 with expanded content would be hitting the PS2 later in 2005.  This made Gamecube fans livid, some of which admitted to purchasing the nearly dead console purely for the now three year prospect of finding the game only on Nintendo’s console.  For the record, Mikami did not cut off his own head and the PS2 version did come out.  I have never been able to find out if there was any action from Nintendo for breaking the exclusivity, although in those days it wasn’t always a paid or contractual deal so perhaps Nintendo had no leg to stand on.

The Game

After all that hype and pressure, it’s a miracle that Resident Evil 4 is as wonderful as it turned out to be.  If you’ve never played it, the genius of Resident Evil 4 is that it sticks to the basics of game design while also offering a look and feel that is fresh.  Easily one of the most gorgeous games from that generation, I still contest that the Gamecube version is the best looking from that time period, so if you have a choice that game really was developed for that console.  Additionally the game was long, like 15-20 hours long, and didn’t feel as such.  Each of the five chapters feel like complete games in and of themselves and while enemy types and bosses do reappear from time to time, the environments and scenarios are unique for the most part.  Even more striking is the way that game develops alongside the player as a whole.

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In the first act you are traversing the woods of Spain as Leon, completely unaware of what’s to come but you know it’s not going to be good.  Eventually you get introduced the Ganados, who at this point are townsfolk that have established farming villages along the countryside, but of course they are violent toward you.  After killing off a pair of cops that accompany you, the Ganados turn full attention on you and with the different ways they attack based on where you shoot them and how close you are too them, it’s clear that these are no zombies.  Ganados will throw weapons at you (that yes, you can shoot out of the air), duck under your laser sight, run around you, and overall give you that sinking feeling of being entirely alone against the world.  Not only that, but the world is quite jarring for the time, with the over-the-shoulder camera and focus with the laser sight on where to shoot everyone, it’s a steep learning curve.  That’s why the first main area, a central town, is so pivotal and one hell of a demo.  You enter into this town that is fully populated by Ganados that all give chase upon your arrival.  You can go in and out of houses, down different paths, jump out of windows, and navigate a small space where you have almost no idea where to go next.  Since your perspective only allows for what’s directly in front of you, a somewhat accurate interpretation of what being in that situation in real life is like, it’s dangerous to take a corner without knowing what’s going on and you always take a risk of being jumped when you dare look behind you.  Sure it’s seen as somewhat tanklike controls today, but back then it was about as good as you were going to get out of Capcom.  Then the chainsaw guy arrives, a larger sized villager with a potato sack on his head and eye holes cut out, and he begins to chase you at a much faster pace than the others.  This doesn’t meant that the horde of Ganados back off either, you’re now thrown in the mix with all of them.  No matter how many times you shoot Chainsaw Guy he won’t die for good and you have limited ammo at this point and most people will probably get caught by him at least once, which triggers and instant death where Leon’s torso is sawed diagonally across the sternum.  It’s freaky and it demonstrates the biggest change in Resident Evil 4: you won’t be scared, you’ll just feel immense tension, which triggers a different kind of fear.   When those church bells ring after a certain period of time and clear the town of danger, I had to literally take a break and step away from the game.  My thoughts at the time were, “damn, that was close.”  It was a great rush.

re4_2From there the game digresses into a somewhat interesting storyline that contains a mass of interesting and tactical scenarios.  Whether it’s fighting the sea creature in the lake, tackling El Gigante for the first time, eventually meeting and dealing with Salazar, knife-fighting Krauser, and eventually unraveling the mystery of Las Plagas, Resident Evil 4 is a thrill ride.  Each new area of the game will challenge the skills you had previously learned and try to force you to use them in new ways to the point that your cumulative skills make the initial Ganados fight seem like a walk in the park.  When I completed the game for the first time after getting the game for my birthday in 2005 (I had a Gamecube for the few other Resident Evil games on the platform) and again that Christmas on PS2, it was fantastic and I couldn’t offer it up to enough people to experience.  Capcom and Mikami had gambled big – the series was to be discontinued if a failure – and they had succeeded admirably.  For better or worse, Resident Evil would never be the same.

It sold well.  1.6 million units on Gamecube and more than 2 million on PS2, not to mention eventual ports to the PC (terrible initial attempt) and Wii before receiving HD remakes on 360/PS3 recently and eventually the Ultimate HD Version on PC this year.  I think the reason it keeps being remade is that Resident Evil 4 still looks amazing today, now with updated assets and filters, and the gameplay, while seemingly dated, is still that perfect mix of locked in time and tolerable to a modern audience.  If you have yet to experience this game and are even somewhat of a fan of Resident Evil, you should pick this game up and give it a go.  It was a steal at $50 back in 2005 and today it’s a reminder that not all re-invented games in development hell end up being underwhelming, dated messes.

Written by spydersvenom

September 5, 2014 at 3:41 pm

Podcast: Would You Kindly

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This week Fred and Jam tackle the Bioshock game club.  Irrational Games (as 2K Boston) follow up the System Shock series with a new underwater utopia gone wrong and plagued by warring factions.  With inspirations from popular culture and depression era architecture, Bioshock proves that the devil really is in the details.


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Written by spydersvenom

September 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

Quick Look: Bioshock

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Bioshock

This month’s game club is none other than the 2K Boston (Irrational Games) 2007 release Bioshock.  Unlike many of the games in our game club, it’s not the first time we’ve touched this game so instead of the usual banter we focus on gameplay elements, historical development context, and of course the slew of minutia that makes this nearly 7 year old game seem timeless.  Click on the icon above to view the video (embedding bypassed to improve home page load times). Due to a microphone balancing issue, my commentary is sometimes drowned out by the game’s audio

Written by spydersvenom

August 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

Podcast: Shmup Game Club

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shmup_post

This week we are joined by listener Jason (@albirhiza) to discuss our Shmup Game Club: Giga Wing 2, Velocity (Ultra), Radiant Silvergun, Power-Up, and Sine Mora.  Campaigns, tactics, high scores, and more are covered as we dissect some of the more contemporary additions to the genre.


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Retro Game Challenge: Radiant Silvergun

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For those of you gearing up for this week’s Gaming History 101 shmup game club, I’ve got the Radiant Silvergun (links to my review/coverage of the game) campaign through to completion on a video here.  Don’t expect the best playing in the world, I’m okay but I’m no match for the one-lifers who take this game on.  It was more like 50 lives in my case, but nonetheless, I managed to complete the game despite some self destructing bosses.  Click on the box art for the video.

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Written by spydersvenom

March 30, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Retro Review: Hydro Thunder Hurricane

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ht_hurricane_boxWhen I think of summer I think of warm sunshine, outdoor activities and blockbuster movies.  It doesn’t seem I’m alone, either.  Developer Vector Unit has taken all of the thrills of the classic arcade boating racer and compiled a sequel that delivers on all counts.  The only issue I can see is that it holds quite strong in the nostalgia factor and it may be difficult to convice those not familiar with the original that this is nothing more than just another arcade racer.

Hydro Thunder always seemed to me like the popular Nintendo series Wave Racedone right.  You race with boats and therefore are confined to the way a boat moves along water (and in the air in this title’s case).  It takes some getting used to, it rides too close to both racing sim and arcade racer at times, but once you’ve mastered the basics it really opens up.  There’s a little bit for everyone here including traditional races and tournament cups, missions where you have to drive through rings along the track, and “gauntlet” missions where almost every corner and main drag is loaded with explosions.  Most people may take a moment or two with the various modes, but the draw of Hurricane is clearly in the traditional boat races against 16 opponents.

As a fan of the original arcade, I can’t seem to remember doing anything more than racing against people.  The new rings and gauntlet modes were probably good ideas in the development studio, but seem to exploit the more annoying aspects of boat racing.  Anyone who’s driven a boat knows that it’s all about anticipating what’s coming and trying to react appropriately, which means that tracks with obstacles that come out of nowhere seem unfair.  With the length of the tracks and the fact that most require multiple laps, it’s just frustrating to do a near perfect run and then have it all taken away at the end due to one or two screw ups.  For me, this is where the extra modes, while appreciated, ultimately prove to be unnecessary and had me shifting all my focus to racing.

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When you start racing in Hurricane a smile is immediately brought across your face.  It’s no longer about your screw ups or faults, but more about beating the person in front of you and just like recent releases Split/Second and Blur, every race that doesn’t see you in 1st place is a fun new challenge.  With the other modes, nothing changes.  You drive the same track with things in the same place and it’s all about the perfect run.  When racing, the variables drive your urge to keep playing the same scenario over and over again.  Integrate offline or online multiplayer, which can only be used for racing, and you have a reason to return to this title a lot.  With eight tracks, this title doesn’t bring much less than a full retail release and it has successfully captured what makes its more expensive competitors so addicting.

Screenshots from this title don’t do Hurricane justice – it is beautiful.  Sure, it doesn’t have the gusto to compete with hard hitters like Gears of War but the lush environments and dynamic color choices make up for it.  Water effects leave some realism to be desired, but then again Hydro Thunder does beg a suspension of disbelief to play.  Little details like water splashing across your screen or brief moments of scripted events were definitely appreciated.  Sound design, on the other hand, seemed a bit more run of the mill.  A standard announcer and basic catchy beat accompany you along every track and I must admit there was some clear effort with water-based sound effects, but it’s all pretty forgettable.  This is where the ability to use your own music as a custom soundtrack really enhances a game like Hydro Thunder and is highly recommended.

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Hydro Thunder Hurricane should be embraced as a game equivalent to a summer blockbuster film.  It’s not perfect – the controls still feel a bit sluggish and unresponsive at times and the AI balance goes from simple to impossible quickly – but you have to love it for what it is: just plain fun.  It never forgets its roots and makes enough enhancements to make it a steal for fans of the original in the arcades (remember we paid $1 per credit on that machine).  It does come at a time where the market is a bit oversaturated on arcade racers, but at it’s price this may be a strength in separating Hurricane from the pack.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane is available on XBLA and was purchased by the reviewer for $15 (1200 MS points).  It was completed in 4 hours with an overall playtime of 8 hours.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on August 3, 2010, at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 7.5 out of 10.

Written by spydersvenom

March 11, 2014 at 11:00 am

Retro Review: Dead Space

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Dead_Space_Box_ArtWhen you first read or hear about Dead Space, it may not seem to peak your interest as much as it should. In truth, Dead Space is an experience from start to finish. This game is going to suck you into a world that will literally take over your living room if you let it. Aside from that, the universe is big as well. You can currently pick up the graphic novel, telling the early story, and as of yesterday the animated movie also released, which tells of the events leading directly into the game. Couple that with the announcement that Dead Space 2 is officially in development and there’s no reason to skip this game.

In order to appreciate Dead Space, you want to play it at night, with surround sound (as sound seems like a bigger factor than visuals), and pair these factors with being alone. A high-def screen helps, but is in no way as necessary as surround sound for this game. From the very beginning to the tense ending, you will treat this game much like being the leader in a haunted house: at the edge of your seat.

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The basic plot begins in the comics (you can download a fully read retelling of the graphic novel for free in either XBL or PSN) and tells the story of a monolith found in a mining colony. As you probably expect, strange things happen in the colony that lead to tragedy, but before they do, the monolith is uploaded to a mining vessel called the Ishimura. The animated film tells the tale of what happens when the monolith makes this move. The game takes place when a small team, including game protagonist Isaac Clarke, travel to the Ishimura in response to a distress beacon.

Things aren’t quite right the moment you enter the ship and you are immediately thrown into a world containing the most tense moments I’ve ever experienced in a game. You will get many jumpy moments, that in truth are just cheap scares, but the more stressful part will be responding to these moments. Unlike most games, the Necromorphs, enemies of this game, cannot be killed by traditional means. The term “strategic dismemberment” is used to signify “cut off their limbs”, forcing you to actually have accuracy and very limited ammo makes this twice as important. This is one of those games where you can run completely out of ammo and never be able to make it through the rest of the game, so save often and keep at least 2 saves rotating (you can do this in both versions).

dead_3This game is not really the scare fest that it was advertised at, but at the same time, like a bunch of college kids at a haunted house, journalists are a little too quick to claim this game isn’t scary. You will jump quite a few times early in, but once the freak out of the jumpy creatures is over you will be left with nothing more than tension. That tension, however, will keep your heart racing through the second half of the game. The scale can go from small (your size) to incredibly large (boss battles and several new enemies that introduce themselves). It’s freaky to say the least in this too-close-to-avoid atmosphere stolen right out of Event Horizon.

There are several aspects of this game you won’t find anywhere else, beginning with the lack of gravity. The first time you see gravity turned off it will wow you with how seemingly accurate it can be. Fighting creatures in zero gravity seems to give you an advantage that you don’t find in other areas of the game and help to further the idea that your environment can often be your strongest weapon.  Stasis, which allows you to freeze creatures and certain items in the world, is easily the most useful tool in the game, but just like ammo it is very limited. Telekinesis, the one tool Isaac has an unlimited supply of, will allow you to grab and throw items and limbs of your enemies (and surprisingly does this much easier than the similar “force grab” of the Force Unleashed). Just in case you were running out of things to keep track of, vacuum areas will keep you rushing to as you have a limited supply of air for which to overcome obstacles that at times can be incredibly tough.

The controls are smooth and responsive, however from time to time you will get turned around with the complex control scheme (especially in the Xbox version, in my opinion). Having played both games, I preferred the way the PS3 handled the controls and chose to complete the game on PS3, however the controls are quite similar on both consoles, so the choice is really preference. The virtual HUD is great for holographic cut scenes, however when you run out of ammo and need to add stasis or check ammo supply, the fact that you don’t leave the game just adds one more thing to keep track of. I died at least a couple of times while being chased trying to exit the supply screen. Graphically this game looks almost identical on both systems (saw a few graphical tears in the PS3 version I didn’t see in the 360 version, but I was looking very hard on a large screen). While the box of both claim 1080p, this game is actually in 720p on both consoles and only upscales to 1080p (and not that smoothly) with some forced adjustments, however the game looks almost the same in 720p and 1080p, so just enjoy! The Ishimura is flooded with plenty of blood-soaked sets that are disturbing to any onlooker, so no kids allowed (and my fiance was a little unsettled after watching for about 20 minutes, so I now play without her around).

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There are some additional flaws with the game, namely that you are so low on ammo in the second half of the game that it becomes much more frustrating than tense, especially during late boss battles. The “new game +” feature, which allows you to keep all your upgrades and start a new game, is great except that you can’t change difficulty. I also didn’t understand why you have to complete the game more than twice to fully upgrade everything, this just seems too limited. The difficulty is above average, but once you’ve completed the game at least once, is possible (but with a lot of time and frustration). The trophies/achievements sadly don’t offer much to do other than the linear storyline has to offer.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on December 1, 2008 at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 8.7 out of 10.

Written by spydersvenom

February 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Retro Review: DeathSpank

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deathspankDeathspank has been described as being like a myriad of popular games such as Diablo and Monkey Island, but while it does share similarities to these titles, Deathspank is its own game.  What’s most impressive about it is the multitude of things to do in a download title.  DeathSpank not only has a brilliant and hilarious script but the gameplay aspects offer enough variance that most gamers will be pleasantly pleased.

DeathSpank’s mission is simple: recover an ancient artifact that is appropriately named “The Artifact”.  Along his quest DeathSpank will meet with plenty of other adventurers, townsfolk, and enemies.  Like most action RPGs, the main quest is only a small part of the game that opens up the large world map, but there are plenty of side quests (115 quests in total) to explore.  While they vary from the mundane – you’ll create the ultimate psychedelic lair for a talking tree in a series of fetch quests – to the unique – beating the crap (literally) out of demons – the one constant is that the game always remains funny.  Designer Ron Gilbert is best known for his work with the Secret of Monkey Island and the recent Penny Arcade Adventures games and it definitely shows.

ds_01DeathSpank plays like a basic hack-and-slash title, the closest comparison I found was last generation’s Balder’s Gate series, complete with dungeon crawling (or rather cave crawling) and loot drops.  This is where I feel the Diablo comparisons are inappropriate given the fact that DeathSpank lacks the variance and multitude of loot that made Diablo so addictive.  While there’s plenty of goodies to be had, many of them are upgraded versions of weapons you found early on the game and by the end you can basically purchase an epic armor set from a street vendor.  Still, it is great when you come across a cool new weapon or piece of armor that is much stronger than what you’re wearing and as expected, many make your character look ridiculous.  I also like the fact that aside from questing or locked treasure chests, many of these items will be acquired from simply killing a random foe – don’t expect heavy loot drops from big enemies or bosses because you usually get nothing at all.  The basic leveling system serves only to limit what weapons and armor you can wear at the time and I had to do some grinding on top of all the quests to reach the max level 20.  You don’t need to be that high to beat any of the bosses, however, as none of them posed much of a challenge.

ds_02This is not to say DeathSpank isn’t without its flaws.  The map system is vague at best and often times you’re wondering around aimlessly to find some stupid gate or single item that’s right out in the open.  Each quest has a series of hints to guide you in the right direction, but they require you to open fortune cookies that you discover along the way.  The number of fortune cookies you discover is very small in comparison to unlockable hints and in some cases all of the hints still won’t get you to the right place.  Certain enemies possess powers that their levels don’t suggest and can kill you in one hit, even if you’re near the top level with impressive armor.  This would be annoying given that every time you die you drop some of your money except for the fact that I wasn’t able to spend even a third of the money I collected, even when being frivolous about my spending at the end of the game.  Thankfully DeathSpank has far too many positives for you to spend too long with the negatives and with 30 different outhouses on the map, which serve as both respawn points and fast travel locations, dying and getting around are rarely an issue.

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Graphically this title looks really good, especially when you consider it’s a download game.  While the style is somewhere between cell shading and a Paper Mario style – all the structures look like pop-ups in a play and have no depth – it works with the feel and writing for the game.  Audio spared no expense either with a playful background track and voice-overs for every character.  It would be easy to justify a text only game, but thankfully all of the actors, especially Deathspank’s similarity to cartoon hero The Tick, deliver the lines with perfect comedic timing.  Multiplayer was present in the game, but since there can be only one DeathSpank, additional players assume the role of mage sidekick Sparkles, who wass hardly as fun to play.  Another big flaw is that the multiplayer is confined to local only, which is one of my biggest gripes about somewhat similar action RPG Trine, and makes me wonder why it was even integrated at all.  Seriously, these days there’s no reason that online multiplayer isn’t possible, especially since I first played the demo for this game back at PAX ’09.

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DeathSpank takes what I love about so many other games and blends it together in its own comedy-filled mix.  In truth, its writing and gameplay are exactly what I hoped Brutal Legend was going to be and sadly was not.  Don’t be misled by the concept of multiplayer because DeathSpank is a game best reserved for single player.  This game was designed with a smaller dose arcade title in mind, complete with simplified loot systems and shorter quest times, which is definitely not a bad thing.  These days I’m annoyed and intimidated by starting 40+ hour RPGs and DeathSpank‘s short 6-8 hour experience was a breath of fresh air.  The summer of download titles has begun and it seems that at present, DeathSpank is leading the pack.

Final Score: 4 out of 5

This review was originally posted on July 20, 2010 at a previous site I was senior editor at, That Gaming Site, and was converted over with permission.  Additionally the review score was adapted from a 10-point scale that originally gave the game a 8.0 out of 10.

Written by spydersvenom

February 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Tagged with ,

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