Friday, July 31, 2009

Shatter Review

It seems like every time I turn around, another retro game is getting reimagined for today's world. Luckily, most of these games turn out to be awesome and Shatter is no different, updating Breakout and continuing the trend of totally amazing retro remakes.

The first and best thing to notice about Shatter is just how much style it brings to the table. The backgrounds are beautiful, futuristic abstracts that look like they could have been lifted from lost Rez levels. The soundtrack is good enough that it can stand on its own as a fantastic piece of electronic music. And from the menus to the paddle to the balls, everything looks gorgeous and has its own identity.

Shatter keeps the experience fun throughout by throwing crazy scenarios at you with the different block types. It kept me on my toes and engaged, something Breakout never did considering it had about the intensity of a game of Tetris or a screensaver.

The real beauty of Shatter is the way it allows you to customize the experience. It can as mellow or balls-out crazy as you want it to be. If you really want to relax, you can fire one ball out and keep repelling it to the other side of the screen to let it do all the work for you. If you want shit to go completely bananas, you can fire out all the balls at once like some manic game of pinball.

It's not a perfect game, but Shatter brings enough new ideas and content to the table with such a fantastic sense of style and with such cool music that the whole package becomes very easy to recommend to anyone. And it's only $7.99.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Killzone 2: Napalm & Cordite Review

I can't think of many more satisfying experiences playing games online than launching a bolt through two enemies at close range, fastening them to the wall before the bolt explodes and sends them flying. Thankfully, the newest map pack for Killzone 2 makes this kind of experience possible against friends.

Arctower Landing

The featured weapon pick-up on Arctower Landing is the boltgun, and it's a ton of fun to use. If you're lucky enough to pick it up and are at least halfway decent at the game, you'll instantly become a demigod capable of terrifying destruction. It's absolutely thrilling to use, impaling people left and right for one-hit kills and watching your score skyrocket. Getting to use the boltgun online is alone easily worth the price of admission.

That said, it's unfortunate that the rest of Arctower Landing doesn't hold up as well. Playing in a server with the full 32-player roster was way too chaotic for my taste. The map just isn't big enough to support it, so spawn camping and questionable deaths are far too frequent. At one point, my team got pushed back all the way to our original spawn point and with 16 players trying their hardest to keep us there, we simply couldn't get ourselves out of the situation for the rest of the match. Even in matches that weren't totally one-sided though, deaths still often felt cheap.

The most fun I've had on Arctower Landing was in a game with five other people. It was intense without being frustrating, and as a plus, everybody got to use the boltgun a fair amount. Contrast that with the 32-player match where I touched the boltgun once before immediately getting sniped from somewhere.

Suljeva Cliffside

Suljeva Cliffside is in many ways the complete opposite of Arctower Landing. The featured weapon is the flamethrower, which isn't nearly as awesome as the boltgun, but the level itself is so much more enjoyable than Arctower Landing that it more than makes up for it.

The flamethrower is still quite fun to use and allows for some great situations where you can rain fire down on groups of enemies from above in a truly spectacular fashion, but it simply doesn't compare to the jaw-dropping power of the boltgun. By picking up the flamethrower, you're pretty much guaranteeing yourself a couple kills and a potentially hilarious suicide. It's really easy to accidentally ignite yourself, and once you're on fire, you're pretty much done for.

The actual level is designed really well, with both factions starting out in bases at opposite sides, meeting in the middle at the flamethrower in an alley that is the perfect width. This alley has just enough cover and alternate routes to keep things varied and strategical. Whether I played a small match or a huge one, everything stayed fair and manageable, leading to some great back and forth action.

The Killzone 2 Napalm & Cordite map pack is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the quality of the level design, but both of the new weapon pick-ups are fun additions that keep matches fresh and gratifying. For $5.99, it's definitely worth it if you're still playing Killzone 2 online or looking for an excuse to get back into it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Battlefield 1943 Review

Since I was far too busy sinking hundreds of hours into the superior Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and its Spearhead expansion when Battlefield 1942 was big, I went into Battlefield 1943 without fond memories of assaulting the beaches of Wake Island or scaling Mount Suribachi. Which is unfortunate, because then I could probably just laugh off some of 1943's frustratingly archaic game design and reminisce days gone by.

Battlefield 1943 has some serious issues. It only has three maps, and those constantly repeat thanks to the infuriatingly bad random map rotation. Often you'll be stuck playing the same map four or five times in a row, emphasizing how few maps there are in the game. Which is a shame, because all three of those maps are actually really good. You'll just get tired of playing the same one over and over.

1943 also suffers from some balance issues that hold it back. The sniper rifle isn't powerful enough to justify the achingly slow fire rate as it usually takes at least two shots to kill someone, which can sometimes be difficult with such uneven terrain and chaotic battlefield conditions. Making matters worse are the icons that appear over enemies' heads even when they're behind buildings or on the other side of the map, preventing any surprise flanking tactics or covert sniping.

The planes in 1943 are especially vexing. Even once I got the hang of the wholly unintuitive controls, I still feel like they're almost completely useless. The game offers no feedback to let me know, for instance, how far I should be firing ahead of enemy planes to hit them and the icons to spot people on the ground need to show up earlier. The only things I've found planes consistently good for is parachuting to a flag quickly and crashing into other planes.

Perhaps the worst part about planes, though, is how necessary they are. At the start of every map, you'll spawn on an aircraft carrier off-shore, so the first five seconds of every match are a race to nab a plane. Otherwise, you're stuck in a boat, unless you don't make it in time before your teammates selfishly take all of them without waiting, in which case you get to swim to shore, which takes ages. The fourth map that recently unlocked, Coral Sea, focuses entirely on air combat and is easily the least fun aspect of the entire game. At least it's quarantined to a separate mode.

Despite all these maddening flaws, Battlefield 1943 still manages to be a fun WWII-themed shooter. As I mentioned earlier, all the maps (except Coral Sea) are really well-designed and visually interesting. In fact, 1943's art style is extremely striking, managing to be refreshingly bright and colorful without feeling "cartoony." The little touches like the music that plays while in a jeep add a lot to the overall experience.

All the weapons feel and sound magnificent, with the rifle in particular being absolutely outstanding. The destructibility of the environments really changes how the game is played. Tanks become terrifying beasts that can level the building you're hiding in and walls become very temporary obstacles in your escape route. It's also incredibly thrilling to blow through a wall and storm into a building in order to get to someone.

Mixing tanks, planes, jeeps, parachutes, bombing runs, and normal foot soldiers seems like it would be too chaotic, but actually, that's when 1943 is at its best. Occasionally, all the toys in the sandbox will click together in such a spectacular way that you won't be able to stop grinning. Though it feels cliché to mention at this point, you'll have a ton of "Battlefield moments" to rave about with friends later.

Ultimately, Battlefield 1943 is a game with a lot of significant, glaring issues, but is still a blast to play nevertheless. The highest compliment I can pay Battlefield 1943 is that, at its best, it totally reminds me of the fun I had with Allied Assault. Definitely worth the $15.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

You're In The Big Leagues Now, Kid

Welcome to

After a very long, exhausting process, I finally managed to free up the domain name and claim it (again). Without boring you with the details, suffice it to say that you should never, ever use Microsoft Office Live to register a free domain name.

No more needlessly typing in ".blogspot" to get here. I'm pretty pumped.