The latest version in the iconic series from NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. Entertainment returns to the game’s root with fast action, brutal results and a story mode that takes players back to the first three “Mortal Kombat” games in an effort to change the future. Fatalities make a return as well as a new move called X-ray.
The controls are deceptively simple. Each button on the controller works a particular body part – one button for left arm, one button for right leg, and so on. Using the D-pad or an analog stick in conjunction with the button makes the character perform more complicated maneuvers.
And, as in the past, stringing together a series of buttons and stick movements creates highly specialized and devastating attacks. However, the game is successful with the more basic movements for beginners as it is detailed for the experienced players.
While the characters and background are rendered in three dimensions, fights take place in a two-dimension plane. The details in the movements and battle effects are highly rendered and graphic.
No where is this more evident than in the new X-ray move. A bar at the bottom of the screen fills up as moves are used. Once completely full, the X-ray move can be used.
Cinematics are shown as a character performs a devastating series of attack that demonstrate in gory and specific detail what bones are being broken or which internal organs are being destroyed. The imagery is gruesome and groan-worthy, but won’t let you avert your eyes.
Fatalities are also more detailed and violent. These moves are seriously not for the faint of heart or stomach. More than once during my game play, others watching were heard moaning or yelling, “Gross!,” which made me want to perform those actions again and again. There are also Fatality moves that utilize the surround environments to deadly effect.
Fan favorite characters are back including Liu Kang, Scorpion, Kitana and Sonya Blade. Other playable, never-seen-before characters get unlocked during game play.
The single player story is cheesy, but gets you into the action quickly and uses a variety of characters throughout. Each stage has the player controlling a different avatar through a series of fights to advance to the next stage.
Combat difficulty ramps up as you advance, but there are battles where the difficulty seems to shoot extraordinarily high for some reason. Specific tactics seem to be needed to get through those particular fights – for example, counterpunching only or flying attacks only.
The story involves Lord Raiden sending a message back in time to himself to prevent Shao Kahn’s ultimate victory (“Mortal Kombat: Armageddon”). It plays out like .. well, a movie.. but offers the basis for the battles and tournaments to take place.
Single player action is expected to last more than eight hours. It took me about 10 hours to complete including the climatic boss battle at the end, which ended up being fairly easy once I figured out a particular series of moves to win.
There are other modes of play that help with fight training, skill tests and tutorials that allow you to practice Fatality moves over and over again.
The Challenge Tower consists of fights and mini-games that test your skills and hone your moves. There are also special modes that randomly change the fight rules, award coins for breaking items, check your eye sight with a hidden ball game, and test timing with a fast strike game. With 300 different challenges, this mode will keep you busy for quite some time.
The new Tag Team feature lets up to 4 players play in a tournament or single competition. The tag element allowed for combo attacks using one character setting up the move for another with devastating results.
The Fatality tutorial outlines the specific buttons and stick movements to carry out the graphic final battle attack. A box on the ground also highlights where a character needs to be standing to perform the strike.
The opponent offers no resistance, so there is no pressure and it allows players the time and direction to perfect the awesome maneuver. Plus it is just fun to see how combatants are dismembered.
There are also battle modes for online action including ladder challenges and tournaments. Sadly, due to the PlayStation Network outage, I was unable to check those out at this time.
“Mortal Kombat” is a triumphant return to the roots of the classic fighting game with traditional battles as well as the new tag team mode. The Fatalities are as graphic as ever and the new X-ray move ups the carnage and gross-out factor.
Despite storyline dialog that is more in line with a B-movie, the single player action does move along at a brisk pace and offers great variety in characters and action. If you’ve never played a “Mortal Kombat” game before, this is a good way to get a handle on the characters.
But if you are a long time fan of the series, you will be impressed with the improved graphics, original content, and battle challenges. It is a worthy addition to the series.
“Mortal Kombat” is available now for the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, and strong language. The PS3 version also contains Kratos from the “God of War” series as a playable character, and the game can also be played in stereoscopic 3-D.
The third-person shooter from Zipper Interactive and Sony puts gamers in the role of a NATO operations commander who is deep into a battle with insurgents in a peacekeeping mission. The insurgents deal a crippling blow to NATO early in the game and you take it upon yourself to find who is behind the attacks.
With two American soldiers and two South Korean soldiers, your squad battles through six days over gun battles, stealth missions, and guerilla warfare. Each pair is specialized; the Americans are heavy troops with high damage weaponry while the South Koreans are adept at sniping and reconnaissance.
Ben Jones, game designer at Zipper, told CNN at a Washington, DC, demonstration that a lot of effort went into the single player campaign.
“The cinematics are fantastic,” Jones said. “This is a full fledge campaign in a single theater. We made some big investments in the animations and the audio. And the AI (artificial intelligence) on both sides is massively better.”
As the ops commander, game controls allow you to direct and position your 2-man squad team in locations or have them concentrate their fire on specific targets. Jones said the team-based play sets “SOCOM 4” apart from other games in the genre.
“You can direct (the teams) in very powerful ways,” he said. “It is all about your style of play and making the best choices possible. Almost as if you were in the military.”
D-buttons control which team you want to give control. Different buttons indicate where you want them to move or which targets you want them to attack first.
Tactics play a big part in getting through the campaign. Deciding if you want to take the lead and have your teams follow or stand back and direct their action will impact how the game plays out for each gamer.
Weapons upgrade as they are being used to increase power or accuracy. There are also many variations of weapon types available to offer as many choices as possible.
Standard plays similar to the single player game as far as health regeneration and lives. Classic mode harkens back to previous “SOCOM” titles where there was only one life and death actually means something.
Jones said there are unlockable weapons and gear in multiplayer and they really worked hard on the matchmaking to have balanced combat between players.
A 5-player co-op campaign recruits you and four friends to work your way through a completely different scenario than the single player campaign. You choose which missions you want to tackle and how you want to deal with them.
Overall, “SOCOM 4” utilizes the squad commands very well and improving weapons as you go is a very nice touch. The team members feel real and exhibit individual personalities beyond the normal grunts in some squads.
During stealth missions, you get to play the female South Korean officer, which offers a nice change of pace and is done very well. However, the enemy AI does get a little stupid during these missions and sometimes can’t even see a dead comrade’s body right in front of them.
The variety of play – single player, multi player and co-op — and the unique command structure make “SOCOM 4” a good shooter for any type of gamer.
“We give you a lot of suggestion, but there is a ton of flexibility,” Jones said. “It is all about your style.”
“SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy SEALs” is available now and exclusive to the PlayStation 3. The game is Move controller compatible and also can utilize the SharpShooter accessory. It is rated M for Mature due to blood, strong language and violence. This review was done on the PS3 using a preview copy and the DualShock 3 controller.
Jax and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, and Sly Cooper and Bentley battle for supremacy in a galactic game show while sinister plots hatch in the background. The game was designed exclusively for the Move controller and involved more than 50 platform levels.
We talked with Harley Baldwin White-Wiedow, design director at Nihilistic Software, to find out how the game came together and why those iconic characters were chosen.
Was the idea to make this a Move game to show off the controller’s capabilities? Why the Move controller over a traditional Dual Shock controller?
When we started building this game, we started with the goal to build a game from the ground up that was for the PlayStation Move. Sony asked us to take a look at the controller, and it was really interesting, really exciting. The kind of data we could get and use was really deep, so we wanted to explore the capabilities, and of course, once we knew what it could do, we wanted to show them off.
The characters are classic and beloved. Did you start from a bigger pool and whittle down to the six and how were they selected?
Well, certainly there are a lot of PlayStation Heroes – lots of beloved characters that have been exclusive to that platform. We did want to do a game that had a kind of internal coherence, though, so we chose the characters because they worked well together, and because we felt that they could inhabit the same physical and narrative space and be more than the sum of their parts, rather than rubbing up against each other awkwardly. Also, this cast of characters gave us a similar set of mechanics and histories that we could use to inspire specific game play elements, so that was a win.
Do the characters behave as they do in their own titles?
We worked pretty closely with all three of the original developers to ensure that they were the right personalities. We really wanted Ratchet to be Ratchet, etc., so we spent a lot of time on that in terms of art, and their worlds, and their roles in the story. Game play wise, we focused on delivering a mash up that is really made for the PlayStation Move, rather than the traditional action/adventure platformer that is really more suited for the Dual Shock. We kept the game accessible and made sure we were letting players explore what the technology could do, and have more of a pick-up-and-play experience.
Are there particular benefits to playing one character over another during each scenario?
Absolutely – each character has his own set of abilities that change the experience, so depending on the situation or the player’s goal, some abilities will have an advantage over others. We really wanted each character to be valuable in and of himself, so that people could play with different characters and have different experiences and compare those.
Was the game geared toward a particular age group or fan group?
One thing we knew we wanted to do from the beginning was keep the game really accessible to young gamers and new gamers. We wanted families to have fun with this game, and kids, and people that you don’t necessarily think of as gamers, but who like to have fun with some pretty cool technology. We also wanted to make sure that for those who are fans of the franchises, we seeded the world and experience with lots of little elements that they would immediately recognize and appreciate.
“PlayStation Move Heroes” is available now and an exclusive title for the PlayStation 3 and the Move motion controller. It is rated E10+ due to fantasy violence.
A follow-up to the 2007 surprise smash hit, “Portal,” the game from Valve puts you back in the test chambers at Aperture Laboratories many years after the ending of the first game. You play again as Chell, a female test subject, who has been in stasis for many centuries, and are once again trying to escape from the lab.
You are aided early on by a helpful robot ball named Wheatley, who wants to get out as well. However, you eventually run into GLaDOS (Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System), the homicidal computer from “Portal” who you destroyed, but is now seeking revenge – in the name of science.
The game play is a series of platform-based puzzles that require the use of the portal gun to traverse. The gun fires two types of portals that form an opening to get to hard to reach places easily.
Not every surface can be used as a portal, so proper selection of targets is key to advancing in the game.
The Weighted Storage Cube and Companion Cube, a small box with hearts on the side, are back to help with weighted triggers. There are also Redirection Cubes that contain lenses to deflect laser beams, or Thermal Discouragement Beams as they are called.
The puzzles require logical thinking and are smartly done. If you didn’t play the first game, “Portal 2” does start with some basic puzzles to help you understand how the physics, mechanics and portals work. But the difficulty ramps up quickly after a few test rooms.
There are some new elements to help work out the puzzles. Aerial Faith Plates launch you and other objects around the room and often help in adding momentum, which is sometimes critical to get to hard to reach places without a portal.
Liquid gels are also available later in the game that provide different properties. A blue gel helps Chell bounce while an orange gel boosts her speed as she moves along the floor. A white gel covers walls or floors that normally can’t be used as a portal and allows for one to be created.
There are puzzles that will require the use of one, two or all three gels to complete. And much like Chell, these gels can be flung through portals to reach places they normally wouldn’t.
All of these additions to the puzzle solving make for a very intelligent game. It is often best when entering a new room to stop, take a look around, and analyze the scene. Be sure to look in all directions because the way out may force to you to go in a different direction that the obvious one.
The story is fantastic, and the writing and dialog remain one of the cornerstones to this series.
GLaDOS’s voice is dripping with sarcasm and malice even though her tone is soothing and calm. Wheately is silly, frantic, and almost childlike in his guidance.
The humor remains dark and dangerous, as it was in “Portal.” GLaDOS often lies about concern or danger, then admits her lie and seems to revel in the deception.
Without giving away any story spoilers, the game is pretty much divided into three parts and introduces the CEO and founder of Aperture Science, Cave Johnson. Johnson was heard in promotional videos for the game and has a sarcastic, shoot-from-the-hip attitude that just adds to the great dialog found throughout “Portal 2.”
The single player version takes about 6 to 8 hours to play depending on how fast you can solve the mind-bending puzzles. But the action doesn’t stop there.
“Portal 2” offers a co-op version for two players, each operating a robot with a portal gun. GLaDOS puts Blue and Orange, the two bots, through test rooms much like Chell had to experience.
It is truly a co-operative game and cannot be done with just one person. The rooms are designed for interaction between the two robots to get to the exit of each chamber.
The puzzles are more complex since they do require cooperation, but the devices and mechanics remain the same. And the dangers are more pronounced since they are just robots (i.e. – falling to your death means shattering into pieces).
Orange and Blue can communicate by using indicators to show what needs to be moved or where a portal should go. They can also gesture to one another for a wave, a hug, or even a high-five after a job well done.
A random partner can be found online, but it is infinitely more enjoyable to play with someone in the same room or with a friend. These puzzles can take some time to solve if you’ve never seen them before and a friend might be more willing to cut you some slack if you are analyzing your options.
There is no drop-in or drop-out during co-op play. If one player leaves the game, the session is disconnected. Another reason to play with someone you know.
GLaDOS keeps up with the sarcasm, but doesn’t show any empathy for the robots. Her dialog remains funny and brutal at the same time.
Xbox 360 players can play each other across the Xbox LIVE network. Steam, the online gaming platform, is supported on the PlayStation 3 as well as PC and Mac computers so players on the different platforms can play co-op with one another. It is the first title that Steam supports on a gaming console, but likely not the last.
The co-op adventure lasts about as long as single player adventure, but the interaction between Orange and Blue make it worth playing repeatedly with friends.
“Portal 2” was scheduled to be released Tuesday morning, but a Steam promotion gave gamers the chance to get the game released early by purchasing a package of independently produced games. The release threshold was reached around midnight Monday night for it to be downloaded from Steam.
Overall, “Portal 2” is a sublime game from start to finish with humor, wit, intelligence and drama that continue from the debut title. The action remains fresh and original, and the dialog spurs spontaneous laughter even in the deadliest situations.
And in case you were wondering, there is no cake.
“Portal 2” is available now for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC and Mac. The game is rated E10+ due to fantasy violence and mild language. This review was done playing the single player version on Xbox 360 and the co-op version on PS3 and PC (through Steam).
The first-person shooter from Kaos Studios and THQ expands on the current conflict with North Korea, but delves into a future where North and South Korea unify and ultimately occupy the United States in 2027. You are Robert Jacobs, a former pilot who is thrown together with a band of rebels intent on regaining America.
The depiction of a brutalized and beaten-down Colorado city is very well done. In the game, the Korean forces have erected a wall around the city and the remaining homes and businesses look as if they have been under siege for quite some time.
It is hard to find an oasis in the bleak surroundings and the scene accurately portrays the sense of doom that has been plaguing America since their wartime loss. The Resistance remembers the glory of the USA and wants to do what it can to bring it back.
Game play is straight forward, first person shooter with a massive emphasis on shooting. There is very little stealth or strategy involved as the game progresses along a pretty strict linear path from one shooting gallery to the next.
Weapons are typical automatic rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles and pistols as well as grenades. Ammo is scarce early in the game but seems to become easier to find as the story moves forward.
The characters who initially rescue Jacobs and assist him throughout the missions are almost stereotypical with very little persona outside of their comfort zone.
There is the strong, but calm leader, who ends up getting killed during a cut scene. There is the overbearing, foul-mouth who just wants to attack at nearly every chance.
There is a female NPC who is good at stealth and is really the only character who exhibits any emotion other than anger. And there is a character of Korean descent that is great at fixing the tech, but is the target of racial hatred.
None of the characters really connect on any level. Even when they die, it doesn’t really evoke any empathy from the player and just feels like another casualty.
The game is frequented by buggy movements and apparently awkward loading areas. Often, a scene will be completed and an opening will appear, but instead of walking through, your NPC will block the way for a minute or so before moving on. Other characters will also appear to be having some sort of fit when standing around as they shake violently before progressing.
It was really hard to feel immersed in the game play. While there were objectives to be met, there was no real sense of accomplishment in getting them done.
In fact, there was one scene where I decided to stand off to the side just to see what would happen. The NPC completed the mission without my help.
The story and the idea of the alternative future with a unified Korea as a world power had great potential. Trying to retake American soil against overwhelming odds is rooted within our nation’s foundation and would have made a great tale for a FPS/strategy style game.
In one scene, the Resistance fighters crest a hill overlooking the town they are attempting to flee only to see it in flames from Korean rockets and explosives. Instead of exploring possible revenge or expressing remorse, the characters quickly gloss over it and head to the next shooting ground.
It was that sort of repetition that brought the game down. Individually, the pieces felt like they were there – good action, nice story – but without any sense of accomplishment or involvement, “Homefront” stagnated, hampered by slow transitions and spotty animation. It also didn’t help that the single player campaign was over quickly (6 hours for me).
“Homefront” also stirred up controversy with its choice of a real world opponent. The game has been banned in South Korea and censored in Japan, removing all references to North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-il.
On the positive side, the multiplayer action was better than the campaign because it took the elements that worked and added objectives that felt real when accomplished. Ground control mode or team deathmatch mode pit one side against the other, but there are bonuses and points that let you change your actions and weapons while the fighting still rages on.
Kill streaks can also gain players additional abilities, like increased weapon damage, to help achieve your goals. The nice twist: the longer your kill streak, the more likely you are to be targeted by enemy forces.
Players become “Instigators” for completing mission elements and the opposite side can then use Hunters to eliminate you. The more missions you complete, the more Hunters that can be assigned to find you and kill you.
It makes the game feel alive in multiplayer action and it really does take teamwork to win. It is just too bad those qualities couldn’t transfer over to the single player.
“Homefront” is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It is rated M for Mature due to strong language, violence, and blood. This review was done on a retail copy for the Xbox 360.
The 17th title in the “Need for Speed” series, this is the second one developed by Slightly Mad Studios and a direct sequel to the 2009 “Shift” title. “Shift 2: Unleashed” (Electronic Arts, Slightly Mad Studios) does its best to put the player in the driver’s seat and have them experience as much realistic racing as possible.
The game features 125 cars and more than 100 different tracks. Executive producer Marcus Neilson said they wanted to use the momentum from previous titles and improve on the handling, artificial intelligence, and graphics.
“We wanted to give the players the cars they wanted to drive,” Neilson said. “It was all about driving innovation forward.”
The most obvious improvement is the helmet cam view. Most driving games have a cockpit view, but “Shift 2” puts the player in the seat and straps the helmet on your head.
The view is affected by G forces as you accelerate and brake. As you approach corners, the view changes slightly to let you peek around to see what’s coming up just as a real driver would.
Professional racer Tommy Milner demonstrated the game at an event in Washington, DC, and helped developers understand what drivers experience in real racing cars. Milner was on the winning team of the 2011 Dubai 24 24-Hour Race so he knows what it is like to spend a lot of time in the driver’s seat.
“The helmet cam was a little distracting at first, but it got really clear a couple of laps in,” Milner explained. “It is first-person intense and naturally instinctive when you are driving.”
Milner said the focus on the road remains crisp, but as the course becomes more demanding, items in the periphery become blurred. The dashboard gets out of focus and the side and rear view mirrors blur because the intensity of the course demands your attention.
“I use some of the same techniques I use in real life. My brake points on tracks I’ve done in real life are identical to the ones I need in the game,” Milner said. “All of these little details in the game make it more realistic.”
“We want to deliver the most authentic driving experience ever, and we listened to the drivers a lot,” Neilson added.
Handling and tuning on the cars has also been expanded. Race winnings translate into better upgrades for your vehicles, allowing you to transform a Ford Focus into a super powered Works racing machine.
Drivers can also experience night driving for the first time with just their headlines to light the way. If you choose the full damage setting, take care to protect those lights. Driving twisty road courses with only one headlight is absolutely nerve wracking.
“Racing at night, you lose your reference points you use during daylight,” Milner said. “At nighttime, you have to relearn the track.”
For online racing, Autolog is back. Introduced during “Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit,” the Autolog feature takes racing into the social realm with your gaming friends.
Not only can you compete against others by posting faster times than your friends, you can also recommend and get recommendations about great races and tracks. When you post a personal record or best time on a course, Autolog will notify your racing friends and give you bragging rights – until one of your friends comes along and takes the title away from you.
“We are targeting a slight different demographic from the gear heads,” Neilson said. “We really wanted to make a racing game for racing fans.”
The career mode is where “Shift 2” really shines with a progressive learning curve and exciting races to choose from. The path is not linear, but does unlock different levels as driver experience increases.
From the beginning, new drivers are dropped immediately into a couple of evaluation races. This way, the game can automatically find out which settings are best for your driving style.
Don’t worry. If you want to change the settings, you can. But the early races give you a great feel for what is coming up in the career mode.
There are several competitions available at each level and winning gains valuable experience points and money for upgrades and new cars. Real and fantasy tracks open up and feel genuine with rough streets courses and winding road courses.
Overall, “Shift 2” delivers on its promise of realism and brings home the checkered flag. The helmet cam view and feel adds something not found in other racing games. It challenges the driver to really immerse themselves in the course and the race.
The AI is smart and will give room (or crowd you) depending on how you are driving. They don’t follow a predetermined route at all costs, which has always been frustrating in the past.
The variety of cars and tweaks available can put you in just about any machine you would want to race. And the upgrades allow you to make your dream car ready to compete in nearly any classification.
“Every race is fun and different,” Neilson said. “We’ve created a game that keeps up the energy. We wanted to make sure every second is intensive and fun.”
“Shift 2: Unleashed” is available now for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. It is rated E for everyone with notations on mild suggestive themes and mild violence. This review was done playing a retail version of the Limited Edition game on the Xbox 360.
With their most recent expansion release, it seems Blizzard’s hold on the market share would grow even tighter. However, another game company is taking the plunge in the MMORPG arena and taking a little dig at the gaming giant with an ad that says, “We’re not in Azeroth anymore.”
“Rift” (Trion) is set on Telara, a world that apparently is a nexus of sorts for different planes of existence. These other worlds invade Telara through physical rifts and allow monsters to attack important cities and people. Your job is to stop it from happening.
Players get to choose from two factions, Guardians and Defiants. Each has their own races and tactics to employ during the game and both can choose from four classes (warrior, mage, rogue, and cleric). The two factions aren’t necessarily battling each other, but are trying to show which way is the best to save the world.
Skills are built up using souls, which unlock powers and allow gamers to customize their characters as they match their style of play. A character can have multiple soul systems so they can change their abilities as needed.
Executive producer Scott Hartsman said the initial idea was not to start a new MMORPG, but it was to create a new gaming technology that would allow Trion to build games in different ways.
“There were visions for some slightly less formed ideas for what the game would eventually be,” Hartsman said. “It was all about think of all the cool stuff we could build if we had technology that would let us do 500 players in one place, 1,000 players in one place, big events that start up and shut down on their own. A world that is truly alive.”
Hartsman said their own technology had to be created first before they could figure out what to do with it. They were looking for something that was social, dynamic, and fun that would utilize their design to the fullest.
The ability to track online players’ locations and keep tabs on what actions they are doing led the team to develop a fantasy MMORPG. Trion CEO Lars Butler choosing the fantasy genre was an obvious decision.
“Because of the technology (we built), we wanted to take on the most established online gaming category first,” Butler explained. “We felt we had what it takes to substantially address some of the shortcomings that this genre still has.”
Trion servers are broken down by function, rather than taking care of a particular piece of virtual real estate in game. For example, they use servers to handle non-player character functions in the world, a different set of servers that handle boss events, and another set that handle player functions.
Hartsman says by dividing the servers along functions, more processes can be started and stopped more easily with less impact to the world overall. Getting them to all work together seamlessly was hard.
“Yeah, it was hard, but it was well worth it. We’re really just now at the point we’re about 25% into all of the things we can do with our technology and we’re looking to add more.”
“What people see in ‘Rift’ right now is pretty revolutionary as well as a great foundation for us to keep adding more unique types of things to do.”
The technology is flexible enough to handle the weight of the world without crashing and still be expandable for additional players or additional game features.
“Even the best fantasy MMORPGs out there are still mostly static. They have very limited social game play,” Butler said. “They’re getting old.”
“Rift” launched at the beginning of March after a beta run and a Head Start run, which allowed early gamers who signed up extra time in the world before the official launch. After the launch, there were some complaints about server wait times because Trion underestimated the demand on day one.
They doubled the number of servers in the first few days and eventually triple the initial number of servers in an effort to get the wait times down. Trion is also working on migrating players away from overcrowded servers to new servers in an effort to get everyone’s cue time to zero.
Trion developed the fantasy elements and story to populate their massive world to make the best use of their new technology. While acknowledging that the fantasy gaming genre is a difficult one to stand out in, Hartsman said having the ability to get players gathered together on a moment’s notice to battle a widening rift was one of the advantages of using their technology.
And despite the good-natured jab at Blizzard with their advertising, Trion believes there is room for two successful MMORPGs.
“Ten years ago, people were comparing everything to ‘Everquest.’ This year, people are comparing everything to ‘World of Warcraft,’” Hartsman said. He said talk about comparing “Rift” with “WoW” is more about gamer culture than direct competition.
But he said there are differences that make “Rift” unique in the genre.
“The fact that there is always something interesting going on in the world and the fact that the world itself can be a dangerous place and a place where there is new danger, new adventure … gives the game a sense of urgency and banding together with other people adds a whole lot of excitement that only ‘Rift’ is doing.”
“Rift” is available only on the PC. It is rated T for Teen due to alcohol references, blood, mild language and violence. There is a 30 day period included in the purchase of the game, but requires a monthly subscription for continued play. It is also available in English, French and German.
It has been three years since 2KSports put out a tennis game in this series and they decided to go back to the drawing board for their latest. They wanted to keep the elements that made the “Top Spin” franchise great while still tweaking some things to be easier for new players to join the fun.
Shot selection is done using a press and hold system. Each button on the controller corresponds to a particular type of shot – slice, normal, top-spin, lob.
The power of the shot is determined by how long the button is held and the effectiveness of the shot is determined by the release of the button and timing of the swing. I did spend some time in the practice area, but the controls became second nature very quickly.
There are refinements that can be added to each shot, like making it an inside-out shot or utilizing a drop shot when you want to draw in your opponent. But if you never use these, you will still play a solid match.
Opponents include 25 professional and legendary tennis players. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the Williams sisters are included as well as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi (the bald version). Sadly, John McEnroe and his world famous outbursts were not included.
Each tennis player is true to their real world style of play and looks really life-like with their movements and facial expressions. Expect Novak Djokovic to be super aggressive and Michael Chang to run all over the court.
Game developers doubled the number of animations from their previous titles to over 4,000 to provide as much realism as possible. Even the background noise during the virtual matches was recorded from real matches, including specific cheers for specific players.
The real fun is making your own player and see how well you can do. Gamers start off by designing their player’s look, and then refine their beginning skills in several different categories.
Created players can build on three different tennis styles to suit their particular game. Serve and volley, offensive baseline play and defensive baseline play can be improved as experience levels are earned.
Think of it as a tennis role-playing game with powers unlocked as levels increase.
Coaches can also boost certain skill sets for added bonuses. They also provide skill challenges (for example, hit 50 slice shots) to increase those skills bonus points.
How you choose to play, what coach you use and what skills you buff offer a wide variety of unique players to create. And it doesn’t matter what game mode you use your player. Skills are built no matter if you are playing against the computer or competing online against a human opponent.
Online, the Top Spin World Tour allows you to take your player and really see how well you can do against players from around the world. There are also weekly seasons to challenge your skills over a shorter period of time.
The men’s and women’s tournaments are separated so don’t think you can garner some easy experience points by picking on the weaker sex (you figure out for yourself which one that is).
There is also the 2KOpen that features matches against star players, quicker matches and random venues. Experienced gained here also contributes to the overall growth of your player.
The entire game was designed to be immersive, realistic and authentic. “Top Spin 4” hits all three of those points with a powerful overhand smash.
The play is addictive and earning experience points makes me feel like my player is truly growing towards becoming a star. My only gripe is the AI curve as I won 44 matches and 9 tournaments in a row before falling to my first defeat.
While I like winning as much as the next guy, even opponents like Federer and Andy Murray fell easily to me as I was building up my player. However, once I got to level 18 (there is a level cap at 20), Nadal crushed me in straight sets at the French Open semi-finals and played like he hadn’t in previous games.
That lack of consistency was a little frustrating, but is easily overlooked. It forced me to work harder on perfecting my shots and timing.
Winning the minor tournaments should be easy. Winning the Slam tournaments should feel like I need to bump up my game and “Top Spin 4” aces that.
The game is deep and fulfilling for tennis fans while still remaining fun for the afternoon for beginning players. And the signature shots (between the legs while running away from the net) are still as awe inspiring as they are in real life.
“Top Spin 4” is rated E for everyone. It is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii. The PlayStation Move controller is also supported for the PS3 version. A 3-D display is also supported for monitors that can use that function. This review was done with a review copy for the PS3 and used the DualShock 3 controller.
We’ve got a great battle for you between two heavy hitters, “MLB 11 The Show” (Sony) and “MLB2K11” (2KSports). Both of these titles are vying to be the best and bringing some new features, so let’s get to the action.
1st Inning – Pitching
Both titles use buttons to select the type of pitch and the right analog stick for the delivery. “MLB 11 The Show” is a simple pull back, push forward motion with the analog stick for the velocity and direction of the pitch. The more you use a pitch, the better it becomes. A sliding bar indicates the best time to go from back to forward on the stick for optimum accuracy.
“MLB2K11” uses the left stick for direction and right stick for a series of movements that correspond to the type of pitch you select. For example, a cut fastball might require a move to the left followed by a sweeping motion down. The success of the pitch is based on how well you time the power of the pitch with an expanding reticule and how accurate you are with your analog movements.
For ease of playability and not feeling like I have to contort every pitch, “MLB11 The Show” gets a run.
2nd Inning – Hitting
Analog hitting is something both games do, but again, there is a difference in the execution. “MLB2K11” uses the left stick to indicate the direction you want to try to hit the ball and the right stick to make contact. A simple swing is a push forward and a power swing is pull back, then push forward. Bunting is done with the square button.
Analog hitting on “MLB 11 The Show” is all done with the right stick. Set if you want a normal swing or power swing using the circle or square button respectively. Pull back on the stick to have the player stride, and then push forward to swing. Bunting is just a push forward motion.
Both are easy enough to use although I cannot figure out if there is a timing to striding that helps hitting with “MLB 11 The Show.” However, check swings are a bit easier with the stride, so I’m giving a run to both games.
3rd Inning – Fielding
Fielding in the games is identical. Move the left stick to get your player in position and use the correct buttons (or move the right stick if you are doing analog controls) to throw to the proper base.
While fly balls in each game use a circle shadow on the field to indicate where the ball is traveling, “MLB2K11” changes things up a bit by utilizing a second circle inside the shadow to more precisely tell you where the ball is coming down. That second circle changes in size depending on the fielding rating of the player trying to make the catch. The better the fielder, the smaller the circle.
For that, “MLB2K11” gets a run.
4th Inning – Players
Each game is associated with the Major League Baseball Players Association so all the current players are in the game and their likenesses are recreated in digital format. The rosters are updated online, but when I tried to get the latest Orioles roster, “MLB 11 The Show” didn’t include Vladimir Guerrero in the lineup while “MLB2K11” did. I did find Vlad in the free agent pool however.
Both games try to recreate a realistic look and feeling with their digital players. “MLB 11 The Show” seemed to do a better job at portraying facial features and reactions without being repetitive. “MLB2K11” had a couple instances where players would have sunglasses while walking up to the batter’s box, then suddenly loses them when they stepped in. Also, the quality of their players didn’t look as good as “MLB 11 The Show” and would sometimes repeat the same motion over and over after every pitch.
Movement out in the field felt more natural with “MLB 11 The Show” with fluid action and no noticeable hiccups. “MLB2K11” had more than a few glitches when transitioning from fielding to throwing, but nothing that took away from actual game play.
“MLB2K11” gets a run for the roster update out of the box, while “MLB 11 The Show” gets 2 for a better look for the players and smoother animation.
5th Inning – Stadiums
Both games do a great job rendering the major league parks with all the identifying quirks and traits that make them unique. And both have generic looking minor league ball parks.
Since there is no real difference, no runs awarded. They both do an equal job at stadiums and atmosphere.
6th Inning – Living the Dream
Each game has a mode that allows you to create a player and take them from AA rookie to the Hall of Fame. “MLB2K11” My Player mode provides a mentor that tells you what you need to work on in the minors to get your call up. Skill points can be earned at each at bat, fielding chance, or running opportunity. Increase your skills enough and you will earn a promotion to AAA or the big leagues.
“MLB 11 The Show” also lets you earn skill points and advance your way through your organization but offers more options when setting up your player. You can figure out what type of player you want to be, i.e. contact hitter, power swinger, speedster, etc. Players also receive evaluations and training to make them better and get them ready for the majors.
I played as a 2nd baseman and an outfielder in both. The infield experience was similar, but in the outfield, the camera angle on “MLB2K11” sometimes made it difficult to tell where I needed to go to catch the ball. It got to be really frustrating at times.
“MLB 11 The Show” scores this inning.
7th Inning – Real Life
Baseball is a game driven by statistics and virtual baseball is no different.
“MLB 11 The Show” has developed a weather database that attempts to accurately reflect the real weather expected at each MLB stadium. That weather also affects what happens on the field and each player rating.
“MLB2K11” tries to bring the real game into your virtual game by adjusting player skills as the season progresses. If a player in the real world gets on a hot streak, he will experience a hot streak in the game. Likewise, if he is not playing well, expect his performance to lag in game.
Both utilize real world events to affect the game play, but with the in-season adjustments, “MLB2K11” gets the run.
8th Inning – What’s New?
“MLB2K11” has some improved camera angles, a new revamped fielding system and did upgrade their player models (although it still could use some work). The AI is better, but glitch at times when it misses easy plays or throws to a wrong base.
“MLB 11 The Show” offers a new co-op mode that allows for 1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 2, or 2 vs. CPU. They also support the Move controller and offer a Challenge of the Week, where gamers can earn points toward prizes. They also offer 3D functionality on the PlayStation 3, if you want to see bats and balls flying at you.
Both games earn a run this inning because the new enhancements do add to both games.
9th Inning – Bonus Item
As our contest ends, each title has one more bit of excitement to offer.
“MLB 11 The Show” has a limited edition DualShock3 wireless controller that is white and has baseball seams where the left and right buttons are located. It is very nice, but only worthy if you have a PlayStation 3.
“MLB2K11” is once again offering $1 million to anyone who can pitch (and record) a perfect game using specific criteria. Last year, Wade McGilberry won the prize using a spring training roster and game. This year, the contest does not actually start until Opening Day, so the challenge level has been raised.
One run for the awesome DualShock3 controller and one run for the potential of winning a million dollars.
Both games want to reach for as much realism as they can. Overall, the smoother animation and player renderings make “MLB 11 The Show” a better choice in achieving the immersion and realism. There seems to be more variation in movements and reactions with “The Show” and appears cleaner that “MLB2K11”.
That said, the in-season adjustments in “MLB2K11” are an interesting real-life addition to your season. The contest was a close call, but either game could be a winner in your collection.
Both games were reviewed on the PlayStation 3 using the DualShock 3 controller. “MLB2K11” is available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, PlayStation 2, PSP, Nintendo DS and PC. “MLB 11 The Show” is available on the PS3, PS2 and PSP. Both are rated E for Everyone and available now.