On one hand, 25 years of the “Zelda” franchise has provided many hours of enjoyment for fans everywhere and chronicled the adventures of everyone’s favorite green-hat-wearing elf, Link. This game has that.
On the other hand, I was looking for something that was going to advance the franchise in new directions and possibly break into some new ground. That didn’t happen.
“Skyward Sword” is full of what we’ve come to know and love about Link. Maze-like terrain, challenging dungeons, familiar weapons and, of course, trying to find Zelda are all here. There is little that is unfamiliar to the franchise that we haven’t seen before.
Epona, Link’s trusted horse, has been replaced by a riding bird to carry him around to distant locations. Unfortunately, there isn’t much challenging or exciting about riding around on a flying bird after you’ve done it once or twice. But since Link is based out on a floating city in the sky, trying to ride a horse around could get very messy very quickly.
I was also confused about where this game falls in the “Zelda” timeline. Link appears to be slightly older, but doesn’t have any of his traditional garb or weapons. He is a recruit in the knights’ program. He has to earn his familiar hat and clothing. Contrast that with previous games where Link looks like a kid, but apparently has already been promoted to knight with all the corresponding equipment.
Nintendo has said “Skyward Sword” lays the foundation for the events in “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time,” but it doesn’t feel like a precursor at all.
Link also is missing personality. He is, as always, silent, but really has no reaction to anything that happens around him. In an early segment, Link is getting bullied around, but shows no outward emotions or response. It is Zelda who comes in to chastise the bullies and defend Link.
The gameplay pace is slow with plenty of moments of inaction. It is almost leisurely as Link goes from one mission or dungeon to the next. There is no sense of urgency, but it does allow players to fully explore without feeling like they are missing something.
Environments are vibrant with collectibles and creatures lurking around every corner. There is a maze like quality to try to get to some areas with only one path in and one path out. Usually, some puzzle needs to be solved to open the pathway and allowing Link to continue.
Instead of Navi (“Hey, Listen!”), Fi, a mystical creature that almost acts like a computer artificial intelligence program, helps out whenever something new comes up or if a player gets stuck on what to do next. Fi lives in the handle of the sword and comes when summonded. She can also evaluate your gameplay as well as the surrounding area for any dangers or monsters.
Combat is decidedly different since the game requires the use of Nintendo’s Wii MotionPlus Control, which allows nearly 1-to-1 control from the player’s movements. Defeating monsters or solving some puzzles takes precise motions to get by blocks or cut open pathways. This was a welcome change from straight button pushing and injected a new level of challenge during combat.
The nunchucks attached to the Motion Plus Control act as the shield during combat and also help with special moves such as rolling or shield bashing. The two controllers together worked very well and made the combat enjoyable without making it tiring.
In the end, “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” is a good, but not great, game that sticks to the successful path that Link has been on for the past 25 years. Some minor tweaks don’t inject new energy into the franchise, but this is one series that keeps fans happy with familiar concepts and characters.
However, I wonder where Nintendo will be able to go next without needing to seriously consider some radical changes.
“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” is available now in Europe and North America. It will be available in Japan on November 23 and in Australia on November 24. It is a Wii exclusive title and is rated E10+ for Everyone 10 years old and older due to animated blood, comic mischief and fantasy violence. This review was done with a review copy of the game.
“Saints Row: The Third” is an over-the-top, sexually charged romp that reveals some of the most outrageous, funny dialog around.
Everything about this new title, from THQ, in the franchise is not to be taken seriously. The environment, the combat and the characters are all designed to take players on a wild ride of fun and action.
The story picks up with the Saints having conquered all the other gangs in Stilwater and branching out as a media empire. They have their own energy drinks, bobble heads, comic books and more. This just makes them a target for the next crime group who wants what they have.
Players get dumped into a new town, Steelport, with new gangs to assimilate and a new government agency determined to get rid of crime. While the game evokes memories of “Grand Theft Auto” in some pieces, the missions are ultra-violent, outlandish, and filled with enough OMG (oh, my God) moments that the resemblance can be forgiven.
A cell phone acts as the start for all your activities. It shows a map, list of potential missions, upgrades, music choices and more. Get to know your phone because it will guide you throughout the game.
Feel like driving around a high speed with a tiger in your car? You can do that. Rescue hookers from a violent gang? You can do that. Dive out of a plane without a helicopter and hit the ground in a tank? Yep, that too.
There are more than 160 missions to be completed, but the basic story line doesn’t require nearly that many to complete. Many of the missions are repetitive, meaning once you complete it and get credit, you can do the same thing somewhere else to gain more money and raise your level.
Most of the missions involve killing someone, or lots of someones, so the combat is important. It is a shooter game with many weapons choices from dual wielding pistols to calling in targeted air strikes. The combat is solid, but not anything revolutionary. Your character can take quite a beating so don’t flee at the first sign of bullets flying.
The more mayhem you cause, the more respect you gain. Respect is how your character levels up and unlocks bonuses, vehicles and weapon upgrades. And your mayhem isn’t just based on getting around in a car. You’ll also have access to helicopter, jets and tanks to destroy your opponents.
Some missions will end with choices for you. Choose one over another will unlock certain benefits or gameplay while closing off other avenues to you. Some of these choices have far reaching consequences so think for the long term when faced with these dilemmas.
There is a lot of sexuality infused in this game. Prostitution and fetishes abound and are evident in everything from the surrounding to some of the weapons. Many buildings are also dedicated to using sex as a selling tool and players can gain money from buying up those businesses and shops.
Excessive load screens do slow down the pacing of the game. There are too many instances of “complete mission – load screen – cut scene – load screen – go to new mission – load screen – arrive at new mission – load screen.” You get the idea. While the load times for the most part aren’t long, they are annoying in their frequency. Some of the cut scenes or mission exposition moments are only a few seconds long before heading off to another load screen.
The dialog, however, is what really makes this game fun. The interaction between characters is outlandish and hilarious. There are many “she said what?” moments and places where you wish you could rewind for a few seconds just to enjoy what was being said again. It is never too serious and goes well with the entire feel of an action comedy movie.
There is also some star power in this game. Actor Burt Reynolds makes a significant appearance as himself in the game and the lead character does act like a total fanboy around him. Quite funny. Also, Hulk Hogan voices a wrestling character (not much of a stretch) who doesn’t look like the Hulkster, but does have some of his trademark moves.
Oh, and did I mention there are zombies? And a game show that uses the slogan, “Murder Time, Fun Time!”?
Co-op action is drop-in, drop-out so a friend can join in some of the activities. There are also specific co-op missions that are not part of the campaign, offering some variety. And there is a Whored Mode, which is a what you think it is – horde mode involving 30 waves of increasingly difficult prostitutes and it is your job to kill them with some very unusual weapons.
“Saints Row: The Third” doesn’t try to be serious, but plays on excesses in violence, media and government control. It isn’t even close to being realistic and doesn’t pretend to be.
What it does offer is some laughable dialog, high-paced combat, magnificent moments to make you go “wow” and does it all with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It is a great change of pace from the more realistic games out there and will keep players busy for a long time.
“Saints Row: The Third” is now in North America, Europe and Australia. It will be available in Japan on November 18. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, drug references, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual content and strong language. This review was done using a preview copy for the Xbox 360.
The game builds off lessons learned from the other titles in the franchise and developers worked hard to make the region of Skyrim come alive. Players get to start as one of ten different races – from Argonians (lizard men) and Khajiit (cat men) to the more typical human, elf or orc races.
You don’t choose a class for your character as in previous games. Developers at Bethesda Game Studios wanted gamers to have more flexibility to let players do what they wanted to do. There are still skills to be learned and enhanced, but the player could potentially become skilled at wielding a sword and shield before deciding they want to learn to use magic spells.
“Be who you want to be and do what you want to do,” game director Todd Howard said. “You can choose your abilities as the game goes on and get rewarded for your choices.”
Obviously, focusing on one discipline will increase your power faster than if you tried to learn to be a thief, then a mage, then a fighter. However, the options are there to let you change your mind if you are so inclined.
The environments are amazing and not just for show. Climb to any of the tall mountaintops and look around. If you can see it, you can walk to it. Everything in the game is designed to make you feel like you are in a real world.
Moving around in such an open location can be done on foot, carriage or horseback. Once you visit a place, you can then return using a fast travel mode that gets you there without incident, but it does use up the same time in game as if you had walked there.
Cities have their own unique style and certain creatures can only be found in what could be called their natural habitat. Nearly everything can be picked up, examined and possibly sold later to someone else. But you’ll get weighed down in a hurry if you grab every plate and cup you come across.
Non-player characters also have their own look and feel. However, it is the person-to-person interaction where some of the detail breaks down.
When your character walks into a room, everyone turns to face you. While at a party on a quest, all the partygoers kept looking at me while walking around the room and into each other. Even while talking to someone else, their eyes were locked on my position. It was creepy.
The animation of the non-player characters also seems stiff and repetitive when projected against the richly detailed and free flowing environment. They will also occasionally walk themselves into corners and not be able to figure a way out.
Enemies will also occasionally suffer from the same bug. Pursuing creatures will get hung up on a pot or doorway and not be able to move. The benefit for the player is the ability to attack repeatedly with ranged weapons or spells with impunity.
Combat controls differ between the console and PC versions, but the premise is the same. Each hand can hold a weapon or cast a spell. Changing weapons or spells, even in mid-combat, is a simple pause and reassigning of the new item.
Potions, poisons and other items are accessed in a similar manner. The trick is to not get so involved in the fight that you lose track of your health when there are 15 healing potions in your inventory.
Not everything is out to kill you and, indeed, some creatures you come across will actually help you battle your foes. Finding out who is inherently going to stab you as opposed to shake your hand is usually a trial-and-error proposition, but one that can quickly be spun to your advantage.
Oh, and there are dragons.
Dragons are key to many of the stories told in the game, but there are also random dragons that swoop over towns while you are trying to sell some loot. The choice then becomes whether to battle the dragon right away (and damage the town) or track him back to his lair.
Hundreds of quests, including 180 specific storyline quests, will keep players interested for many hours. Some of the quests are very specific depending on what skills you’ve chosen to master.
“Other quests are random or can change depending on the outcomes of previous missions,” Howard said. “It is a game for people who play a lot of games.”
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” is truly a wide-open game with many possibilities and visually stunning places to explore. There are many “wow” moments to discover and those personal interaction bugs are a mere annoyance that can be overlooked.
Players will feel like they truly are in Skyrim. Just keep an eye on the sky.
“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” is available now in most markets, but due to be released in Japan on December 8. It is available for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes and use of alcohol. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 version.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” continues the franchise’s tradition of high action, detailed fighting and a super competitive multiplayer mode while still trying to let players play the way they want.
The latest in the highly popular and very successful series hits all the high notes in its cinematic single player campaign and its intense multiplayer mode. They also bring back the Special Ops mode from “Modern Warfare 2” that mixes the best of both modes.
The single player campaign, while short, takes you hopping around the globe to major cities in the world’s most powerful countries. Instead of battling in traditional hotspots (i.e., a desert locale), the story puts you inManhattan,LondonandBerlinto name a few.
Each city is richly detailed and the combat against a smart artificial intelligence is intense. The pacing from city to city varies due to the different missions and story in each location. One city will be frantic and offer a sense of finality while another city might be a bit slower, but nonetheless engaging.
There are some unexpected and tragic moments through the single player campaign, but it brings the “Modern Warfare” franchise story to a worthy end. I wish it would have lasted longer, but the plot flowed nicely.
The Special Ops mode takes the intense AI from the single player and adds elements that are usually found in multiplayer action. Creative strategist Robert Bolling said the development team wanted to give people who normally only tackle the single player campaign the opportunity to experience some of the rewards only found during online multiplayer.
“We noticed there were a lot of experiences that you were missing out on if you only played single player or vice versa you only played multiplayer,” Bolling said. “We wanted to find a platform that allowed the type of player from each of those to have those shared experiences rather than missing out because it wasn’t their style of play.”
Sixteen missions tie in to the campaign, but offer achievements like kill streaks, customization of weapons and a progressive ranking system so even the most “lone wolf” player can climb up the leaderboard. The Survival mode is particularly grueling with wave after wave of opponents coming after you.
The core of the multiplayer action stays pretty true to its roots. Huge battles, lots of action and an experience point system keep players involved and interested.
Most of the modes remain the same with one new additional mode. Collecting tags from dead bodies adds a cool twist to straightforward killing of an opponent and actually promotes teamwork, something that lacks from time to time in multiplayer action. There are 16 new maps to set the scene of your victories.
Bolling said they have 30 million players who have played the franchise online and a new Elite program will help provide stats, tips and bring together the franchise community without dividing them among consoles. He also tweeted on day one that they are already banning gamers from leaderboards and from playing because they are attempting to play unfairly or boost their rank.
While the multiplayer hasn’t changed much, it never really needed to anyway. The “Modern Warfare” franchise has a great track record of additive online play that is enjoyable and exciting.
Fast and furious multiplayer action, cinematic single player campaign and a Spec Ops mode offering the experience of both modes takes “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” to the top of the class. At least until the next one comes out.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” is available now for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, drug references, intense violence and strong language. This review was done using the Xbox 360 version.
If you’ve seen any of the early trailers from “Bioshock Infinite,” there is quite a bit of emotion evident from the characters.
It is a tumultuous time for the United States and the conflict between the anarchist Vox Populi and the nationalist group, The Founders, creates high tension as the player characters move through the environments.
There is also drama as the game protagonist, Booker DeWitt, tries to rescue Elizabeth, a 20-year-old woman with some special powers. She can manipulate “tears” that rip open time and space.
However, her control over those powers (at least from the trailers) is suspect at best. But what really sings is the raw emotion that Courtnee Draper, the voice of Elizabeth, brings to the character.
Irrational Games has released a new video showing how Draper, Troy Baker (voice of Booker) and BioShock franchise creator Ken Levine work to tap into their creative sides to bring out the best. It is a great look at what goes on to produce some fantastic performances.
With lessons learned from previous titles and a sense of finality to the franchise, “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” fulfills and exceeds expectations with a wonderful storyline, dynamic action and witty dialog from the characters.
The latest in the franchise from Naughty Dog, “Uncharted 3” returns to follow Nathan Drake on yet another historical adventure that promises fortune and glory, but invariably involves a lot of peril and danger. As in games past, Nathan is a treasure hunter who follows clues to find lost riches in far off lands and gets help from other characters in his missions.
The game storyline follows the path of Lawrence of Arabia as written by T.E. Lawrence. Amy Henning, the writer for the “Uncharted” series, pulls elements from Lawrence’s book and weaves them into a stunning narrative about Nathan’s search for a lost city called Iram of the Pillars.
Keith Guerrette, lead visual effects artist from Naughty Dog, said Henning really opened up the characters in the game and delves deep into Nathan’s past as well as the connections his companions have with him. While some of the story is told in flashbacks, it never feels disjointed or out of place and flows with the action in the game.
The pace, for the most part, is quick and occurs over several different types of environments. From a vast desert to historical chateaus, the scenes are beautifully rendered and lend themselves to deepening the moment. There were a couple of missions that seemed stretched out and bogged down the story in places, but those were few and far between.
Many times, I felt like I was in a movie, specifically any “Indiana Jones” movie. There were specific moments when it was very similar to what I’ve seen on the big screen. For example, one mission had me chasing after a caravan transporting my longtime friend, Victor Sullivan, through a narrow cavern in a scene that was very reminiscent of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Also in the theme of Dr. Jones, Nathan will have to solve puzzles and uses his journal to reference solutions. The puzzles were not extremely challenging once the clues in the journal were deciphered. There are other little touches that are Jones-esque, but they add to the story rather than taking away from it. The action is high adventure with a twist of humor and whimsy along the way.
The dialog helps keep the mood light as character banter flows naturally and feels like what it is – conversations between people who don’t take themselves too seriously, but have experienced and been involved in life-changing events. There is humor, caring, concern and sarcasm that one would expect from long time friends. It feels natural and gets the player emotionally involved.
The game rises above its predecessors in the action department because, Guerrette says, they just scratched the surface of using the gaming technology in “Uncharted 2” and were really able to exploit what they learned in “Uncharted 3.”
“We’ve been building up to this one,” he said. “We went in thinking how can we take our tech and art and make them even better?”
While there are subtle effects in the environment like shadows from a fire, ripples in water or disappearing footprints in the sand, the dynamic action fills the screen during intense missions where Nathan takes on his enemies while the background moves. These “movement within movement” moments elevate the combat and action while never seeming overwhelming.
Much of Nathan’s movement occurs along the sides and rooftops of buildings, ala “Assassin’s Creed” action. That motion becomes more challenging as floors and walls are also moving around.
Combat has been fine tuned, but did seem uneven at times. Guerrette said the development team worked hard to eliminate some of the cover problems that were evident in previous titles. Melee was improved (I enjoyed getting up close and personal with my enemies) and moving while firing is nearly mandatory.
Stealth has also been improved and is an effective tool in some missions. There was one mission, however, where I used stealth to eliminate all the bad guys and avoid raising the alarm – only to discover two bandits guarding a door that I could not stealth kill. It was a little bit frustrating to work so hard on being stealthy when there was no way to avoid having to be obvious to advance.
Targeting specific areas on enemies also didn’t seem to matter. There were examples where I shot an enemy multiple times in the head before he would fall down. Yet, it would take the same number of shots in an enemy’s arm to get him to collapse. That aspect appeared to improve as the game went on, but I’m not sure if that just wasn’t due to more powerful weapons I found later in the game.
Nathan can also throw back grenades that are tossed his way. The audio is funny, but the effects are devastating.
A split screen co-op version (a fan request) offers a unique story with the chance to unlock multiplayer bonuses and skills. This version can be played either on or offline.
The multiplayer version has also been improved with increased cinematic techniques, boosters and the ability to upload great (or not so great) gameplay moments into social media platforms. A buddy system can be used for cooperative play in multiplayer or you can go it alone during competitive play.
The action has a typical multiplayer feel, but looks better than expected. If not for getting ambushed by opposing players, the scenes could be mistaken for single player action with their intricate details.
“Uncharted 3” is an outstanding adventure game that gives you a feature film feeling. The environments are open and interactive. The story is unique and fresh. And the characters are portrayed in ways that make them feel real and emotional.
While developers wouldn’t say if this was the final act for Nathan Drake, there are moments in the game that answer lingering questions from previous games. Those are the “ah ha!” moments that put an extra shine on a wonderful game.
If this is the end, “Uncharted 3” provides a fitting conclusion with an immersive game that keeps players invested until the final treasure is obtained. Popcorn not included.
“Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” is available now as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. It is rated T for teen due to blood, language and violence. This review was done playing the retail version of the game on the PS3.
Zombies live in our movies, our video games and in our humor. They are the creepy part of our brain that finds scary things cool and frightening. They are, of course, imaginary.
A neuroscientist at the University of California – San Francisco has been examining the zombie phenomena and using it in his studies of the human brain. Bradley Voytek is considered a scientific zombie expert after serving on panels with horror film maker John Romero and author Max Brooks.
Voytek put together a virtual 3-D model of what the zombie brain would look like and uses it in his classes to teach students about brain damage.
“It’s really hard to get people interested in neuro-anatomy,” Voytek said. “It’s not really hard to get them interested in the brain. But one tactic I’ve used to generate interest is talking about zombie brains.”
He said people with particular types of damage to their brain tissue, whether through accident or disease, can exhibit what people would recognize as zombie actions. By identifying where the damage occurred and relating it to the “zombie” behavior — slurring of speech or decreased motor skills, for example – Voytek said medical personnel can treat the brain better.
“What parts of the brain would have to be damaged in order to cause zombie-like behavior?,” he said. “For us, it has been a really geeky exercise.”
Vortek attributes his zombie geekdom to his love of zombie video games and comic books. He said that growing up, he loved reading zombie comic books, which is how he started. He now plays zombie video games like “Left 4 Dead,” the zombie expansion pack for “Call of Duty,” and is looking forward to the new “Dead Island” game.
Vortek said there is one particular animal that is actually controlled by a brain fungus – the zombie ant. He said the fungus infects the ant’s brain and takes over its motor functions to force the ant to climb to the highest point around.
The fungus then causes the ant to explode, spreading the fungus all over the forest. Scientists have witnessed this unusual behavior but don’t know how the fungus is able to accomplish this.
In entertainment, people who get bitten by zombies will often turn into zombies themselves. Voytek hedges when asked if there is some virus or bacteria that could ever really turn people into zombies.
“Probably not,” he said with a smile. “But there is some pretty weird stuff out there. There are some really strange mad psychoses out there and that are very culturally specific.”
Kuru is a incurable, degenerative disease that was highly prevalent in the Fore tribe of Papua New Guinea. It causes intense body tremors and pathological bursts of laughter. It was spread throughout the tribe via cannibalism of dead relatives.
While Voytek points out that the whole “braaaainnnss” thing with zombies didn’t come around until the 1980s with the “Night of the Living Dead” movie, there is a scientific basis for why brains could be the main course for a zombie.
“Brains are very, very high in fat content, much more so than other parts of the body,” he said. “There is also something called a prion, which is an infectious protein, and there are certain diseases in humans that are transmitted by prions.”
“Zombieism would be cause by a prion disease since its route of infection is caused by people eating tissue from the brain (like the Fore tribe). That’s our only explanation on why brains.”