Red Dead Redemption

I was able to score Red Dead Redemption during a Black Friday weekend sale for $35, excited for a game I had heard good things about but reluctantly giving Rockstar more of my hard-earned cash in order to play what I hoped wasn’t yet another “Rags to Riches” sandbox game that allowed me to kill people, earn money doing missions, buy property, and explore like every Grand Theft Auto game I have ever finished. It was fun in Vice City, but does it really need to be repeated in Liberty City (3 times by different characters who all seem to “Run” the city at almost the exact time without ever meeting?)

Well I was partially right, but once I started playing, I couldn’t stop until I finished both the game and the DLC “Undead Nightmare.” In this review, I will take a shot (get it? That’s some Old West humor for you… see? shot? No? Well then…) at covering the game and the DLC, and why you should give Rockstar one more chance for redemption. Red. Dead… Redemption.

The place is Southwestern America (and part of Mexico) in a fictitious area divided into three states: New Austin, Nuevo Paraiso, and West Elizabeth. The area is populated with Cowboys, Indians, Outlaws, and many more colorful characters. Buffalo still roam on the open Prairie and city skylines are distant rumors by the locals.

You play as John Marston, a former outlaw in a gang run by a man named Dutch van der Linde. Your wife and son have ben held hostage by government agents, who will only return them after the death of van der Linde’s gang leaders. John hunts down the gang and confronts them, only to be shot and left for dead until he is found by a rancher named Bonnie McFarlane, who takes him to a doctor.

After recovering, Bonnie starts you on your quest to seek revenge on the men who left you for dead. She gives you a horse and some money for completing start off misisons and sends you on your way…

Now I know after reading most of this, it doesn’t seem like the type of game that a lot of people would enjoy, especially since Rockstar is known for pretty much having one type of game, with different environments and very little difference in story. This one doesn’t stray too much from the tried and true Rockstar game development, but what’s fresh is the Spaghetti Western feel that you are immersed in while playing the game. Put simply it is Grand Theft Auto set in the Old West. But it’s more Vice City, and less GTA: IV.

One of my favorite mechanics of the game is the ability to go into “Dead Eye” mode. By pressing the Right Trigger, you slow down time, throw on a Sepia filter and gain the ability to aim your shots at specific parts of your target. This allows you to place as many shots as you have in your gun (or how much time you have earned for Dead Eye mode) and aim at a person’s hand (to shoot their pistol and disarm them) or their head (to kill) during a duel or shootout.

I liked that you were able to search for buried treasure by pulling out a paper map with interpreting hand-drawn clues to find treasure and finish challenges. The achievements you could earn for doing (sometimes mundane) activities that you only see in black and white Westerns were a nice touch. I laughed way too hard when I earned the “Dastardly” achievement by hog tying a random person, placing them on train tracks and waiting for the 4:15 to arrive on time.

I loved that Rockstar took their usual humor and odd characters and threw them into the Old West, having you run into a man selling snake oil, a curious man who dug up corpses, nuns in a Mexican Convent and so on. There was adult humor thrown in (as is expected in Rockstar games) and much ultra-violence.

I must say the scenery in the game is very well done. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the different areas of the world that I was in, and just taking in the scenery. Though some of the curves in the game could’ve done with a little more anti-aliasing, but that’s a small complaint honestly.

I loved that the Wilhelm scream made it into the game. Shootouts become almost comical anyway when you’re blowing up whole carriages (wait for it, it’s later in the game), or mowing down whole armies of men with a hand-cranked mounted machine gun, or lock-on shooting (lather, rinse, repeat). But to have all of this chaos and gunfire going on and hear a random enemy fall to the ground with a Wilhelm Scream is just priceless.

I’m not big on gathering missions, so I pretty much skipped all of the flower-picking missions entirely, except where it was required for the storyline. Also, I thought this game was far easier to complete than some of the Grand Theft Auto games I had played previously. Maybe it was due to the fact that there was assisted aiming, Dead Eye Mode, or an almost unnecessary need for any other gun except for the various repeaters that you could collect. There were only a few missions that made me rage (which is unusual since the GTA games have a laundry list of missions that have to be repeated over and over due to failure).

I enjoyed the openness of the Wild West and the horseback transportation… for a few minutes. After that it became tedious and irritating, since your horse only has a set amount of Stamina. Once you gallop for a few seconds, the Stamina bar is completely drained and you have to wait for it to reset. This becomes irritating really fast when the next mission is on the other side of the state and there isn’t a Carriage (taxi) you can hire. You will be able to gallop faster and for a seemingly longer time on the dirt roads that criss-cross the state, but unfortunately they weave around so much it’s almost faster to trot in a straight line (as the crow flies) instead of gallop all the way south to turn and go north while following a road.

Finally I will mention that the game itself has 15+ hours of playtime. At least it did for me. That’s finishing the entire story and then going back and doing some of the side missions for the ‘cheevos and some of the other required activities for 100% completion.

The pros do vastly outweigh the cons, and this game is definitely worth a play. And this is coming from a person who loved Vice City, enjoyed GTA:3, loved San Andreas (most of the time) and decided to give up on the whole GTA series after playing less than half of GTA:IV. The best part? You don’t get telegraphs from your cousin asking to go to a floorshow every 30 minutes.

Naughty Bear

While you wouldn’t always associate Teddy Bears with brutal slaughters because of an anti-social bear not being invited to a party due to his namesake, this game tries to distance the traditional opinions of mild mannered bears in every way possible.

The game’s premise is quite simple: You are Naughty Bear, a friend to no one on an island of Teddy Bears. There’s a big bear fiesta and you’re not invited (obviously for the same reasons your name is Naughty Bear). You did try to make a present and play nice, but after being laughed at the only obvious answer is to go on a homicidal rampage through the different parts of the islands, slaughtering your neighbors along the way.

There are several ways that you can eliminate the ones that laughed at you: You can simply grab a weapon and go to town on them, sending stuffing flying all around. You can try to set a trap, and try to lure the unsuspecting bears out before you slice their head off (or bludgeon them to death with a club). You can also use various items in your surroundings for a contextual kill (for instance, you can freeze a person in a refrigerator, shove a phone through their head while they try to call for reinforcements, and so on). Finally there is an “Ultra-kill” where you scare a victim so badly that they end their own life with whatever weapon they happen to have.

You will use these ways of killing to go through 7 levels (each having their own unique challenges) of a mad rampage as you ruthlessly seek revenge on the other bears for laughing at you and calling you names, not ever letting you join in their reindeer (Teddy Bear) games.

I found the game both fun but frustrating.The fun part being able to figure out new ways to kill the bears while going through the challenges, watching the scared bears run away while tripping over their own two feet. I also enjoyed driving the bears insane, leading to them taking their own lives.

The ninja guards were funny at first… then they became frustrating because there was nowhere to hide from them. This makes certain challenges (such as the “don’t get touched” challenge especially difficult).

The challenges were interesting the first few tries, but after failing the same challenge over and over, I was ready to move on. Also by that time it had become more of a challenge to keep the camera from getting caught up on the edge of the map as I try to hide from my enemies in the woods. The camera would seem to spasm and want to look at something completely irrelevant to who I was hiding from, and that got annoying really fast.

While it doesn’t feel like a short game, doing the same challenges over and over does get a little tiresome. The storyline was good, but don’t expect too much out of the storyline of one bear’s revenge.

I wouldn’t rush right out to buy this one. Perhaps rent it first and test the waters.

Modern Warfare 2

Editor’s Note: Not sure of the original air date of this one exactly, so we’ll just say December of 2009 until I can get a better estimate.

Modern Warfare 2 starts off five years after the first game, and brings you in as U.S. Army Ranger Private Joseph Allen in Afghanistan, who under command of a few familiar faces from the previous game, helps try to stop the Ultranationalists in their new plot to execute Vladimir Makarov’s campaign of terrorism in Europe.

The game takes you to many different locations such as a Russian Air Base, a war-torn Virigina suburb, Washington D.C., Rio De Janiero, and may other places, as you help take down Makarov, who has taken the place of Zakhaev as the “head bad guy and enemy of the U.S.”

GAMEPLAY:

This game was very easy to jump into, since there was yet another training mission at the start of the game where you can run an obstacle course and learn the controls (which haven’t changed since the previous MW).

Anything that was thrown at you throughout the game was quickly explained and easy to grab onto, so there were no awkward spot where you have to wonder to yourself “WTF am I supposed to do here?”, which was a welcome development.

STORYLINE:

I had to look up the story for a refresher to write this review, not because I had forgotten what happened, but more so I could understand fully what was going on, as a lot gets thrown at you all at once.
The storyline play through is a good seven hours of playtime, which is pretty good for a first-person shooter in my opinion.

SPECIAL OPS SIDE MISSIONS:

A new feature to this version is a mode called “Special Ops”, where you can earn stars for playing through special missions on different difficulty levels. You are able to play online if you prefer, or offline by yourself.

There are twenty-three missions in all, each with “normal”, “hardened”, or “veteran” difficulties.

MULTIPLAYER:

The multiplayer for the PS3 was great and easy to jump into. You are given a few options to start as far as match types and classes (which can be customized as you level up in rank), but you can use one of the pre-made classes until you do.

If you aren’t used to playing FPS’s on consoles, you may have a little trouble leveling up since the game feels “stacked against you,” so tough it out and you will soon unlock better weapons, skills, and bonuses.

THE CONTROVERSIAL “NO RUSSIAN” LEVEL:

DO NOT SKIP THIS LEVEL!!! Though it is a whole mission based on a very graphic and hopefully not repeated in real life event, it is critical to the storyline if you play it.

Yes, I did play it and was made uncomfortable by it, but I felt that it was important that you play it to understand why things went down the way they did and also to get a better grasp on the situation.

Yes, you are asked at the very beginning of the game if you want to skip the controversial level, and you can pause and skip at any time if you feel uncomfortable, but I don’t think you should.

If you are bothered by it and end up skipping, then at least read about what happens and why it does on a website.

To quote Wikipedia on the subject: “In his review for Game Informer, Adam Biessener writes that while the level ‘makes the player a part of truly heinous acts’, he also notes that the ‘mission draws the morality of war and espionage into sharp focus in a way that simply shooting the bad guys cannot’. Biessner concludes that it is one of the more emotionally affected moments in the game, is ‘proud that our medium can address such weighty issues without resorting to adolescent black-and-white absolutes’.

God of War Collection

Editor’s note: I re-read this one as I was editing and preparing it for re-upload and it’s a bit cringey in places. I fixed a few things here and there but it’s kind of the same review as it originally aired.

This week’s review is going to be short but sweet, since I haven’t actually finished the game (and can’t give it a full review).

The God of War Collection came out for the PS3 a few weeks ago, and after waiting patiently for ANY retailer in my area to have a copy,* I was finally ready to have another go at killing a god.

GOD OF WAR 1

You play as Kratos, another Spartan Badass who decides that having his life spared in return for being a slave for the Greek gods isn’t really what he wanted in life.

Kratos embarks on an epic journey across many different areas (land, sea, fire and surprisingly no ice…) encountering Sony’s take on different beings in mythology such as Harpies, Medusa, Hydra, etc.  in order to retrieve Pandora’s Box to gain the power to kill Ares, the Greek god of War.

The game itself does offer quite a challenging story, including various battles, puzzles and the like, but never in a way that got boring or old.

It was never “find the blue key and jump over the pit three times to locate the red door after completing a short puzzle for the fourteenth-frickin time,” but more of a “kill EVERYTHING that gets in your way, solve a puzzle that shouldn’t take too long and don’t forget to CHECK EVERYWHERE for hidden chests and power-ups.

At the time of this writing I have just descended into the “depths of Hades” (which I’m pretty sure was the PERSON that lived in the Underworld and kept the dead, not the place itself)…

Well skin me alive and call me Shirley, I was wrong: HADES: (from Greek ᾍδης, Hadēs, originally Ἅιδης, Haidēs or Άΐδης, Aidēs, meaning ‘the unseen’) refers both to the ancient Greek underworld, the abode of Hades, and to the god of the underworld.

Hades in Homer referred just to the god; the genitive ᾍδου, Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: ‘[the house/dominion] of Hades. Eventually, the nominative, too, came to designate the abode of the dead.”

Thanks Wikipedia, hopefully teacher won’t ask me to cite my sources as they think using you is… well not good.

Anyway, back to the thought I left: As of now I am nearing the end of the game (seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel if you will) and can safely tell you that playing this game on the PS3 is a good idea, since it has a great story (if you didn’t already know from playing on the PS2) and made the transition to the “current gen” with little problem.

I did think some parts had a little “lag” between when I tried to execute a finishing combo to when (or if) it happened, but I think that animation issue was in the original game as well…

Also fans of the original game remember the quick-time events that usually gave you a more “brutal” execution and more souls (in handy orb form) to power up your weapons and abilities. Yes, it’s all still here.

People new to the game have no idea what I’m talking about, so here’s a crash course: In the original game you had the ability to execute your enemy by completing a quick-time event after their health got to a certain level. Once you initiated the event by pressing the circle button, you would have a random combination of either buttons (or directions on the left joystick) you had to mimic. Once you successfully completed the quick-time event, Kratos would either stab an enemy with their own weapon, rip off their wings and curb-stomp them (in the case of the Harpies) or just rip their effin’ head off (Medusa, I’m lookin at you. Wait, no I’m not). Then you would get red orbs and sometimes some magic or health for your troubles.  So enjoy!

Also new to the PS3 version is trophies (and I don’t know about you, but I’m a whore for trophies…. mmm trophies…) and also as some may already know a graphics update so it runs in HD.

The graphics update is great and all for those that care about how pretty a game is, but I would rather have a playable game with a good story versus something that was a polished turd, but hey, to each their own.

Oh and PS: you can get a trophy for playing the little “mini-game” after defeating the Hydra… called “Rockin’ The Boat”

Infamous

There have been few games out on the PS3 that I have seen and immediately said, “I must play that.” Infamous was one of those games. As soon as I saw the demo for it, I was hooked. Playing through solidified my first impression, and I soon had a brand- new copy in my grubby little hands.

Upon first play of the demo I realized that this would be a game that would be great, and the sandbox style of the game kept it interesting. Instead of forcing a linear path, you were able to pick what mission to do next, where to go, what side mission unlock you wanted to find and even the karma level you wanted to be at.

You play as Cole Mcgrath, a messenger who wakes up to find himself at ground zero of a large explosion that mysteriously took place in the middle of a crowded city. After you arise and start to flee, the first thing you will notice is that the bustling city is now reduced to what looks like a war zone.

You are then informed through a cleverly stylized “cut scene” that the explosion turned the city to ruin and chaos while Cole has earned new powers.

Using only these new powers, it is up to you to defend the city and destroy the villains… or become one yourself.

What really captivated me about this game was that even though it seemed like it was building off of older game ideas, it was still a fresh and new video game.

I know there have been games that relied on a “good choice / bad choice” system, but I haven’t seen one that made it such an integral part of the game.

From the first time the game pauses and gives you the choice to be good or bad, you are able to change your karma based on your actions.

Heal a person who is on the ground dying, and it gives you good karma xp.

Drain a bad guy to take their health, get bad xp.

Either way, you go through the game gaining xp by playing missions, helping people, and killing bad guys. The xp is used to buy upgrades to your unlocked electrical super powers.

Your karma also affects how the citizens of the city view you, by applauding and taking pictures when you have good karma and throwing things at you when you have bad karma.

Also new is that you don’t have to search for a restaurant, food vendor, or hospital to heal (I’m lookin’ at you GTA: IV). Since you’re Electricity Man, you can pretty much heal anywhere there is an electrical source (granted, you’ve turned the power back on for that area), even using people to replenish your health (if you choose to go down the “dark side”).

The game is also fun in that you can run around like an electrified Spider Man and “blow things up,” which was actually one of the main ideas the developers tried to center around, contrasting with their previous endeavor (the stealth-based game Sly Cooper). You can grind along power lines shooting bolts of electricity at guys who want you dead, and even fling them off of a tall building by shooting a shock wave in their direction (one of the the more satisfying attacks of the game, in my opinion).

I always enjoyed battling the enemies and finding new ways to destroy them using environmental elements to help out, such as blowing up a generator or oddly-placed gallon of gas, or throwing an electrical grenade and blowing up a car around three bad guys.

This is definitely a game that I will be re-playing, as I am already planning on playing again, taking the alternate karma route (I chose the utilitarian “Good” karma path for my first play-through).

Zombie Apocalypse

Have a few spare dollars laying around, burning a hole in your pocket?

Like killing zombies in creative ways?

Like blood and gore?

Then you should try Zombie Apocalypse for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC*!

On a more serious note, this is a game that I found on the PSN that grabbed my attention pretty quickly and has so far been really entertaining.

You play as one of four characters (perhaps maybe an homage to Left 4 Dead? Or maybe “borrowed from”) who run around in a top-down environment grabbing powered-up guns, getting points for slaying zombies, saving citizens, and staying alive.

You go through hundreds of zombies all running at you from different parts of the screens as you gather up shotguns, machine guns, flame-throwers and teddy bears.

“Teddy bears?!” you say. Yes, teddy bears.

Another homage to Left 4 Dead (or again “borrowed”): you can toss a teddy bear that acts just like a pipe bomb. It attracts zombies to gather around it instead of you and will blow up entire groups of them at a time.

The point of the game is to basically survive as long as you possibly can.

There are different modes of play that have different modifiers, such as “blackout”, where you play in an area that has had a power surge, “chainsaw only” (pretty self explanatory), and so on. Once you defeat all the zombies in that particular level, you are scored by how many you killed, if you had a “no grapple bonus” (achieved by not being touched by the zombies), and so on.

Seems easy so far right? Here’s the challenge: Once you get far enough the zombies actually get better at killing you, by having special abilities like being able to use a shotgun, being large enough to pin you automatically, running up with dynamite in their hands (like the combine zombie in HL2:E2), throwing scissors at you, or even vomiting on the ground (which slows you down if you run through it).

You do get some help though, as each level has a way to environmentally kill zombies. No, this doesn’t mean the game wants you to slaughter the enemy in the most “green” way possible, it means that you will have things handy like a helicopter turned on its side with the blades still going, gas pumps to set the horde on fire, car destroying machines to compress zombies into little cubes and a mulcher to turn zombies into… well… mulch.

There is a multiplayer and story mode for the game, so if you’re feeling social you can jump online and kill zombies with up to three other people. Because I always say “nothing brings people together like setting fire to a zombie horde.”

There are also trophies in the PS3 version for those people who need that sense of accomplishment (like myself).

All in all it is a very good game and for the price on the PSN it is pretty entertaining and lengthy.

Mirror’s Edge

(Editor’s Note: Originally written in 2010)

You are a “Runner” named Faith, who lives in an unnamed city that is under complete totalitarian government control, including invasive surveillance. Your sister, Kate has been framed for killing a man named Robert Pope, a man who was running for Mayor in order to try and bring change. While trying to prove her innocence, you find out that the plot goes even deeper than a simple set up.First off it is being sold as a “First Person Action-Adventure game” which is a change-up for a lot of gamers in that it is set as a first person shooter, but the point of the game focuses more on stealth, acrobatics and fleeing from enemies rather than how many guns you can carry. There is a combat system in the game which was refreshingly simple: You can jump, slide, kick and disarm.

Given these four options for kicking the crap out of your enemies allows for some freedoms: I personally enjoyed sliding up to an enemy and kicking them in the crotch before slapping them silly and stealing their weapons. The actual act of disarming an enemy takes a little getting used to as you have to remember to stay calm or else get killed. You can only steal a weapon from an enemy once it turns RED. If you try too soon or too late then you will most likely get pistol-whipped and shot at point blank range.

On that note, let’s discuss the challenges: The game starts off simple enough, with a short training run where you learn how to run, jump, slide, wall-run and all the skills you need to know throughout the game. I personally enjoyed the fact that the game tells you 99% of what you need to know at the very start of the game. The only additional thing you will learn is for certain weapons, but other than that, you know everything you need after completion of the training.

The look of the game is absolutely beautiful, though it is very clean and simple. You will spend most of your time on the tops of buildings, running, jumping, sliding and shimmying your way from one obstacle to the next. If you are playing for the first time, I would definitely recommend playing with the “Runner’s vision” turned on, which turns certain objects red and will guide you through the game while still giving you some freedom. Yes there is a path you HAVE to take to progress through the game, but it isn’t like running through a hall. You can choose how you get from Point A to point B.

Though the scenery is simple, it is very immersive and actually made me feel vertigo because of the heights of the buildings. There is no HUD, which is unusual for many gamers (but may be growing in popularity because of this game and Portal). This causes problems because you never really know how much more damage you can take. The lack of the HUD didn’t impede the game-play at all, but rather made it more realistic. For instance, when battling an enemy you never know how many times they can shoot you in the face, or how much damage you can take from a fall. This should help you choose more carefully the path you are going to take.

Overall I thought that Mirror’s Edge was a very strong game, and the only the only thing I disliked was the length, which is noticeably shorter than other current-generation games. This can be a very frustrating game at points, so hopefully you are patient and able to play the same level over many times. The reason I say this is you will by dying. A LOT.

This is a game that should definitely be picked up if you own a Playstation 3, Xbox 360 or PC. If not bought, please rent as this is a must-play.

SPOILER ALERT: As of this writing, there is a squeal in the works, as the ending of Mirror’s Edge wraps up the story but does leave the door open for a follow-up storyline.

Reviewer Tip:

One thing I will mention is that YES YOU CAN pick up a fallen enemy’s weapon, even if you didn’t take it from them before you killed them. You don’t pick it up automatically by standing over it, and unless I missed it, the game never tells you how to pick a weapon up off the ground until far later in the game. This is probably purposely done to keep up the challenge level in the game and not give you a shortcut by simply blowing away all the enemies with well-placed shots… but I digress. Press “triangle” while standing over a weapon on the ground to pick it up and have at it. I personally tried to stay away from using weapons unless necessary. There is a trophy that is unlocked called “Test Of Faith” which is earned by not shooting a single enemy.