Rock Band 2 Review – final

The new tour mode still has the same basic setup as before, where you’ll play single songs or sets of them at various venues around the world – many of them are real-life places – and get as many fans and stars and money as you can to get to better and better arenas. You’ll also be able to hire staff, some of which are really just a way to force you to finish a specific challenge before you can move up, but on the way you’ll get a choice of managers each with their own perks, a merchandising girl, a sound guy, roadies, a bus, eventually a plane, and more on your way to the hall of fame.

Playing in this mode is way more fun than before, as you’ll have much more in the way of choice of what songs to play than in Rock Band. You still won’t be able to veto that one RB2 song you absolutely loathe (and don’t get me wrong, the track selection in this game is just as fun as last time, but everyone will still find at least a half-dozen songs to hate) but you will be able to mix in your tracks from the first game if you exported them as well as any new downloaded songs.

rock2As with the first game, I have found a few tracks to be a surprise in just how fun they are to play. Foo Fighters’ “Everlong”, Nirvana’s “Drain You”, and System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” are all tracks I expected to be pretty good, but they are just a blast – and our impromptu band which has been revolving in and out of the house since Sunday still hasn’t unlocked every track, but the absolute best has to be “Master Exploder” by Tenacious D for just ridiculous fun.

Still, even when everyone else has gone home I can keep working on the band’s progress, because this time you can play your band in their world tour while solo. You won’t be able to compete in the fixed challenges that have been added or compete in the daily Battle of the Band competitions (where your band competes with those on your friends list to get the best score on one of several challenges changed out by Harmonix every few days – and once you top your friends list, you start competing with the rest of the world), but playing alone still winds up being much more fun than just going methodically through a list of songs like the first Rock Band and every Guitar Hero game so far.


Rock Band 2 Review

Get out your mandanas, because it’s time to rock – again.

It’s time to get out your cheap plastic instruments again, folks, and tear up the charts with some great new songs with Harmonix’ Rock Band 2. Of course, many people playing the first never stopped due to the weekly additions of new tracks, but with the release of the sequel, we’re getting a huge infusion of songs to play and some great new features that will make playing the game either alone or in a group easier than ever. The focus is even more on the music than before, so get three of your buddies and set aside a few days to take on the latest tracks.


Rock Band 2 doesn’t change the formula – it just tweaks it. The first game showed us a vision of the “right” way to play a music game, where four people got together to all play cooperatively, and RB2 tries to perfect the formula while giving us a great selection of new tracks. It’s easier to play alone, it’s easier to play with friends, and it’s also easier to compete against others as a band. Mix in a slick new visual style, the same on-screen antics by the band members and plenty more convenience in the way of setting up controllers and band members and simply playing the game, and I think you’ll find that your original Rock Band disc will have become completely obsolete.

That’s also due in part to the patch for the original game that allows you to export the original Rock Band tracks to your hard drive for play in Rock Band 2 – the charge is a one-time fee of $5 for re-licensing those tracks, and it’s well worth it to be able to take those original tracks and mix them in with your downloaded music (all of which works in Rock Band 2, including the stuff sold under the first game many months ago) and the new stuff that is offered in this release. All told, the Rock Band series, according to Harmonix, will have 500 songs available to play by the end of this year, and all will be playable in RB2.

And that’s really where Harmonix has differentiated themselves from Activision and their upcoming Guitar Hero : World Tour. Sure, the new GH has some cool instruments and also reproduces a whole band playing with guitar, bass, drums, and mic, and hell, they even have real musicians like Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Corgan represented in-game with motion capture, but put simply, Rock Band 2 is all about playing a huge range of music with your friends. Rock Band 2‘s music is made up of 100% master tracks, although Harmonix has gone on the record saying that we may still get less-desirable covers in future downloadable tracks.


Enemy Territory : Quake Wars 360 Review – 2

For console gamers, many of the good things about Quake Wars also apply to Frontlines : Fuel of War, an underrated online shooter that made it onto consoles earlier this year. What you get is a moving, unified front with lots of action in the way of aircraft, vehicles, and ground troops that counter each other in a big rock-paper-scissors cycle. The game naturally funnels people into the same area on the map, making sure that even though the maps are large and the player count isn’t massive, you still get a lot of intense fighting. Quake Wars is a little rough around the edges and the presentation isn’t as slick compared to popular recent online shooters on the 360. Jumping into games isn’t quite as fast or easy either, but the depth of the action once you do get in is what sets this game apart.


All that being said, this is a no-frills port of a title that many PC gamers themselves just couldn’t really get into. It’s not a total mystery as to why Quake Wars didn’t capture its intended PC audience, and I’m pretty sure that when it comes to the 360, they probably still won’t find it. Most gamers want a nice simple learning curve, even if the game isn’t very deep once you get into it. And while it’s hard to fault this solid console port in any one area – the graphics are good if not great, the frame rate is solid, the online play works fine, and the action is intense – it’s just not quite as good overall as many other games out there. This was true on the PC when it was pitted against The Orange Box, and it will be on consoles when put up against titles like Call of Duty 4 or the ridiculously popular online play in Grand Theft Auto IV. Maybe it’s the lack of persistent perks that come from extended online play, maybe it’s just that the competition on the 360 recently has been really fierce, but Quake Wars just doesn’t feel right for this console-based audience. The learning curve is steep and while there are bots to play against, there is no dedicated single player campaign to play through. And those bots do stupid things often enough that you’ll find any kind of single player enjoyment tarnished or even ruined.

If you’re looking for a sci-fi action game with plenty of depth and great online play, you could do a lot worse than Quake Wars. If you’re looking for a strong narrative and interesting characters, go out and pick up Mass Effect or BioShock instead, as this game is almost entirely built around multiplayer. Oh, sure, you can play the campaign with bots, but it’s not going to wind up being very compelling. Get this one for its online action, which moves quickly and rewards those who have the skill and knowledge to play to the strengths of the many weapons and vehicles.

Enemy Territory : Quake Wars 360 Review

While they’ve never said it, id Software, Activision, and developer Splash Damage have likely had a frustrating year in dealing with the Quake franchise. Enemy Territory : Quake Wars was the next big thing in online shooters when it was released on the PC in early October last year, but the game and its steep learning curve never really took off with gamers. The release of Valve Software’s Team Fortress 2 in the Orange Box package cemented Quake Wars‘ somewhat mediocre sales. Now, the guys behind the game have released an Xbox 360 version of the game hoping to capture console players’ attention.

quakeOne might expect that a shooter that’s complex compared even in the realm of PC games would probably be simplified to the point of being almost a different game when it’s moved to a console, but that’s not the case here. Quake Wars has just about all the depth of the PC version, with lots of special abilities for the game’s five classes and plenty of different gadgets and perks that are different between the Human and Strogg sides. Sure, a few things are changed and simplified from a control perspective, but the game’s signature attributes are all here. The player limit is a slightly oppressive 16 for both single player and online modes, but because of the way action is funneled into a front line that moves as the attacking team completes objectives, the maps won’t feel empty or barren.

The story goes like this: Earth is being invaded by the aggressive, alien Strogg race, who can turn humans into Strogg with a gruesome process. It’s the first stage of the war – chronologically, the game is a prequel to the classic PC shooter Quake 2. Across the game’s twelve maps, one side or the other will be on offense, trying to further the goals of either defending Earth as the GDF (Global Defense Force) or, as the alien Strogg race, subverting it and conquering it. On one map, the GDF will be trying to destroy a Strogg water contamination facility or steal alien technology, while on another the Strogg will be actively trying to take down a major new GDF weapon that could end the war. It’s these objective-based maps, each with their own little story, that add flavor to the game. It’s a nice contrast to most other games’ scoring system that resembles a sporting event more than all-out war.

Playing Quake Wars from one side or another is almost like playing a totally different game, with the completely unique set of weapons, perks, vehicles, gadgets, and objectives on each map. But don’t expect to jump right into this one too quickly, though; Quake Wars includes a tutorial, but most gamers won’t get too much out of it and the spoken tutorial help that is peppered throughout the PC version as things happen across maps is just gone here. It seems strange, too, considering that PC gamers are usually the ones that are happy to dig into a deep online game, so it’s going to take a little bit of work for a console gamer to get used to Quake Wars‘ added complexity over the online FPS competition that’s out there.

quake2There is one area that did get oversimplified, which was the perks you get from completing goals and such inside a campaign. These have been replaced with a system that boosts your character’s stats and they’re the same for each class, and then when you combine it with the PC version’s dumping of that progress every time you get into a new game or start a new campaign, it adds up to almost zero progression in your character. Building up a character in an online game is something console gamers have started to get accustomed to, and it’s a shame that it was taken out here.

2 Games to Look For in 2015

Resident Evil 5

Capcom’s long-awaited horror sequel is almost here. The fourth game was a reboot for the series, combining a fantastic storyline and great action with just enough of that movement-limiting feeling that makes the Resident Evil series so challenging. The new fifth game adds a cooperative element between the two protagonists while continuing to make sure that you can’t just blindly run-and-gun it like a shooter. Previews so far have been very positive, so if you liked RE4, it seems like a given that you’ll enjoy number five.

Wii Sports Resort

wiiOf all the Wii games that get kicked around, few have the instant fun factor of the original pack-in, Wii Sports. Its infectiously simple gameplay leads to more depth than you first thought as everyone improves at each game, and its accessibility is top-notch. The sequel takes everything to a beach resort where new sports come into play, like fencing and jet skiing. With the new attachment to further refine the Wiimote’s motion sensing capabilities, we’re not just looking at the same stuff with sand and oceans in the background.

Either way, will people pay full price for a Wii Sports sequel, and buy the appropriate attachments for the rest of their Wiimotes ? Will they even be in stock in local stores ? We’ll find out soon.

Heavy Rain Review 2

Of course, things don’t have to turn out with Ethan starting to repair his relationship with Shaun. You have the option to widen the gap between Ethan and Shaun by screwing up when you throw the boomerang, or not, say, playing with Shaun on the seesaw, or pushing him on a swing. Heavy Rain’s design is firmly rooted to a linear track, but your actions are not. In almost every chapter of the game there is some scenario or situation that comes with ramifications, whether they’re immediate or affecting something later in the storyline. They can be as minor as Shaun remaining despondent, or, say, one’s physical appearance being damaged, or as significant as what ultimately happens to a major or minor character. After Shaun is kidnapped by the Origami Killer, a serial killer who drowns his victims in rainwater, it becomes clear that the game is as much about death and sacrifice as it is a study about what makes make life worth living. Particularly in Ethan’s case, the intense psychological torture and suffering he is forced into is emotionally gripping, almost reminiscent of the sheer abuse exacted on Snake over the course of Metal Gear Solid 4. The point is, just like in real life, you have the ability to play a situation the ‘wrong’ way. And because of the level of emotional investment you place in these characters, chances are you’re going to do everything in your power to make sure they don’t end up hurt. The psychological effect of this is ingenious—choices in Heavy Rain carry real weight, and threats to your mortality are panicked, harrowing experiences. There are no checkpoint restarts here.


Heavy Rain’s most important fulcrum lies in its narrative, however. The game is split up in a series of chapters that flow (more or less) in a strictly linear line, and generally alternates characters between Ethan, Scott Shelby, a private investigator; Madison Paige, a reporter; and Norman Jayden, an FBI profiler called into to investigate the latest in the series of murders perpetrated by the Origami Killer, all of whom become gradually more involved and connected to each other. For the most part, the plot is well-written and executed, although things will occasionally pop up without much explanation (Jayden’s futuristic Added Reality Interface glasses, which he uses for forensic purposes, seem an especially odd sci-fi element for a story set in 2011). The story, taking elements of Seven and Saw (which, let’s face it, is just a poor man’s Seven to begin with) has some minor imperfections, and has a few plot elements which may or may be explained, depending on your actions. But the human approach he generally takes over that of a stereotypical thriller keeps things both interesting and thoroughly engrossing.

Oddly, Quantic Dream relied almost entirely on European actors doing American accents, which could have derailed the entire game had the voicework been poor. The result is that occasionally an unintended accent slips through here or there, though such instances generally are confined to minor characters. Despite a cast of (to western audiences) unknowns, the acting here is generally top notch, with the major players all delivering expert performances (the game’s somber score is also excellent). In particular, Pascal Langdale and Sam Douglas (playing Ethan and Scott, respectively) are worth noting for their natural qualities. The high quality of the game’s production values is uniform, in fact. Quantic Dream has been working on Heavy Rain since 2006, and it shows, particularly in the amazingly rendered detail seen in the character models. The game’s numerous sets are also well designed (although their linearity often makes the levels feel like walking around a movie set), but the environments themselves remind us of the misery that’s buried deep in the characters, plot, and setting. Even in all of its moodiness, the first time you see the thick dust hanging in the air of an abandoned, dilapidated apartment building, you’ll know this one’s something special.

Like Indigo Prophecy before it, Heavy Rain is what you might call an imperfect masterpiece. While there’s nothing as patently ridiculous here as Indigo’s attack of the giant invisible inter-dimensional space fleas, Cage still likes to cull oddities, however small, into the narrative space, making some of the game just a little wonky at times. He also occasionally fails to affect the right emotive response in a scene, such as when Madison is forced at gunpoint to strip for a sleazy club owner. And although I don’t want to get into spoiler territory, let’s just say that you can’t always entirely trust Cage, either. Still, if he can deliver a game whose narrative focus is on emotional connection, and is ultimately about love (which he has), a few incidental tangents are acceptable. Missteps or not, Heavy Rain’s legitimacy to the medium is a commentary against the often too-myopic approaches to game design—a quality that should be both recognized and lauded.

Heavy Rain Review

David Cage is a man of deliberation. Where most developers don’t bother much with characterization or dialogue interaction, he revels in it. Rather than pointing a gun at someone to solve all problems, he prefers to create characters that use their heads. Hell, in game from Cage, you may not even be solving a common problem, from a game design standpoint—say, getting past or around an obstruction, or fighting your way out of a situation. Instead you might just have a conversation with someone. It could even be something as simple as making dinner for your son.


This is exactly what makes a game like Heavy Rain so polarizing, not to mention a ‘threat’ to the status quo of the typical games-as-big-business mentality that so often bottlenecks the medium. Simply put, it isn’t the same old thing. The game isn’t an entirely new concept—Cage and his dev studio Quantic Dream used a similar design model, taking the tenets of adventure game and changing the parameters to affect how the storyline plays out in 2004’s Indigo Prophecy (and to some primitive degree in the Dreacast-era Omikron before that). Heavy Rain is essentially an evolution of this somewhat-freeform adventure design, but one that’s generally more sophisticated than its last-gen predecessor. That Sony has put so much effort into getting the word out about this one shows their faith in the project, a surprising move considering just how different Heavy Rain is compared to just about any other game out there. In many ways, it’s about as far away from the status quo as you can get, despite a story revolving around four people’s relationships to a series of serial killings.

These are the more nuanced elements of the game, however. What’s also intriguing about Heavy Rain is how Cage has continually stressed that this is a game for mature players. The reactionary response to this has been crude and obvious: what about the sex? Where’s the nudity? But to keep an ejaculatory focus on this aspect alone completely misses the point of what the game is actually about. Cage is right—Heavy Rain is made for adults. But it’s because of its overall emotional maturity, and, later, psychological anguish, that makes it so. We get a glimpse of this from the game’s opening, actually, as architect Ethan Mars, one of the four main characters in the game, gets ready for the day in his beautifully designed home. After getting out of bed, showering, shaving and brushing his teeth—all of which are handled with on-screen contextual commands that float around your character—Ethan makes his way downstairs to greet his wife and two children. It happens that today is tenth birthday of the Mars’ eldest, Jason, and after Ethan speaks to his wife about party preparations for that afternoon, he decides to go outside and to roughhouse with the boys. Once outside Ethan can pick up either Shaun or Jason and zoom them around the back yard on his shoulders, have a fake lightsaber duel with them, and pick up one each with his arms. It may be a pretty typical day in upper middle class America, but in terms of gameplay this is anything but. Even so early on in the game, you can already start to feel the emotional connection Ethan has to his family.

Later, after tragedy strikes, Ethan is sitting on park bench with Shaun. He tries to get him to open up, but his son is distant. With a little effort, he teaches Shaun to throw a boomerang, and in an effort to make him happy, buys him candy. It’s clear that the boy is still troubled, but temporarily feels better. Again, the empathic power of a father trying to re-connect with an offspring Cage is conveying is hard to ignore. Ethan himself is even a wreck, no longer caring enough to shave or dress with much care. A near-constantly updated internal monologue is available for you to see what the character is thinking at any time, and in this scene, Ethan silently worries about his deteriorating relationship with Shaun. It’s these little things that resonate with you in Heavy Rain, which is as much about the characters themselves as it is about telling a story. While the game clearly plays at and borrows heavily from cinematic conventions, Cage’s refusal to stick entirely to tightly edited scenes of action is admirable—the kinds of day-to-day scenarios of real-life humanity seen here are rare in a medium that’s more often than not driven by primal, competitive design sensibilities.