Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Review: Assassin’s Creed 3

Posted: December 14, 2012 in Review

assassinscreed3

Assassin’s Creed 3 offers variety of mechanics, story resolutions, though not franchise’s best.

Reviewed by David Tadros

 
Those who are familiar with the Assassin’s Creed franchise know a bit of the complexities that have been fleshed out by developer Ubisoft.  Since 2007 we have followed the story of Desmond Miles as he rejoined the mysterious group known as the Assassins in their fight against the Templar.  We’ve followed Desmond into the Animus – the machine that uses genetics to grant the user the ability to relive the memories of one of their ancestors – as he trained using the experiences of Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad and Ezio Auditore to learn the ways of a master assassin.  And we’ve been enthralled by the developing story arcs that saw Desmond fighting, not only to save the Assassins from the growing power of the Templar, but also to save the world from destruction.  Assassin’s Creed 3 – the fifth home console title in the series – follows the same formula as its predecessors.  More mysteries involving the First Civilization are fleshed out, Desmond’s small group of Assassin’s are still on the run from the Templar, and Desmond must use the Animus to relive the memories of one of his ancestors to unlock the way forward.
 
Unlike past Assassins Creed titles, Desmond’s story has been drawn out significantly to the point that infiltration and assassination missions are now intertwined into his limited gameplay.  Though each Desmond mission acts as a stopgap between Animus missions, Assassin’s Creed 3 really shows the potential of having a future title set in current times, rather than the past.
 

As with past Assassin’s Creed titles, AC3 has two main plot stories; Desmond’s experiences outside the Animus, and the story of one of Desmond’s ancestors.  Where AC1 placed players in the shoes of already established assassin, Altaïr Ibn-La’Ahad and AC2, Brotherhood, and Revelations focused on the memories of Ezio Auditore as he grew from a teenager out for revenge to a tired-out elderly man, AC3 turns to a new ancestor, Connor Kenway.  Unlike his ancestors, Connor did not grow up in a family surrounded by Assassins and Templar.  This protagonist was raised by his Native-American mother and knew little of his English father.  Players are given the opportunity to relive pivotal moments in Connor’s life as he grows from a boy into a young man during the Revolutionary War.  Connor’s story for revenge soon becomes entangled with the war between the Patriots and the Redcoats as well as the Assassins and Templar.  This places Connor in the middle of some historical moments in American history.  Connor’s understanding of the world plays a big role in his sense of justice and right, and he constantly questions the morals of those around him.  Instead of backing the founding fathers as our history books always do, AC3 shows some of the consequences of war and the hard choices that had to be made for freedom.

Ubisoft has a track record for creating historical settings and does not disappoint in AC3.  The setting of AC3 centers on Boston and New York City during Revolutionary War times.  These settings allow Connor to be involved in, or even put in motion, some historical events such as the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s Ride.  We even see sequences where Connor commands troops in battles such as the Battle of Bunker Hill.   Though these sequences do seem coincidental at times, we see the ambition put forth on Ubisoft’s part to try and get players to feel as though the Revolutionary War is upon them.  Unfortunately, as some gameplay elements are gained, some elements that have been present in past Assassins Creed games are lost, such as the need to climb buildings and run across rooftops.  In past Assassins Creed games, the settings were in cities that were hundreds of years old and had time to develop into massive sights.  AC3 takes a different timeframe, long before the massive skyscrapers of the current New York City skyline, in a time where the city was still in development, eliminating the need to race across rooftops and I found myself either running to a destination or riding a horse.

Similar to the gameplay introduced in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, Boston and New York City feature ways to lessen Templar control and gain Assassin allies.  Both cities have liberation contracts in which you assist by performing various tasks that differ from district to district. For example, in the poorer sections of town you will need to burn contaminated blankets or carry the sick to a doctor, while in the farmland you will need to protect farmers as they collect their crops or save civilians from violent Redcoats.  After completing all the contracts in a district you have the option to go on a mission and, if successful, recruit a new assassin.

Many of the main story missions are assigned at the Davenport Homestead. This location acts as Connor’s home base and has it’s own set of development options.  Starting out as only a few structures, the Davenport Homestead can grow over time by completing Homestead Missions.  These missions add various non-playable characters to the homestead that produce resources that are used for crafting new items and trading for income.

Outside the developing cities of Boston and New York City lies the massive frontier featuring mountain ranges, trees, rivers, and lakes.  The scenery here is one of the most detailed I’ve seen in a video game since Red Dead Redemption, but may be one of the most overlooked features in Assassins Creed 3.  The ability to fast travel to different areas allows players to completely overlook the frontier portions of the game.  The scenery isn’t all the frontier has to offer though, a new hunting mechanic has been added to Assassin’s Creed 3 in which animals in the frontier can be captured and skinned for funds.  While some animals, such as deer, raccoons, rabbits, and foxes will run away from you if detected, other animals, such as cougars, bears, and wolves will openly attack you if you get too close.  This adds new mechanics to the game and can actually take some time to master.  The cleaner the kill, use of one arrow or one stab with your hidden blade, the more the animal skin is worth.  This element encourages players to use bait or traps to capture animals, rather than shooting them with a bullet.

Speaking of bullets, Assassins Creed 3 adds a few new weapons to the assassin arsenal.  First is Connor’s signature weapon, the Tomahawk.  After acquiring the Tomahawk after sequence six, Connor uses it as his main weapon and as a way of zipping across ropes like a zip line.  The Rope Dart can harpoon enemies while they are on foot or horseback, and can be used to hang enemies from trees.  Pistols and Muskets are also new features in the game, each powerful and usually cause a one shot kill.  The downsides of using these weapons are the long reload sequence that must be fully completed without interruption in order to shoot the next round, and using these firearms will alert other nearby enemies of your location.  Though Muskets act as a bayonet in close combat situations, and act as a way of defending and attacking in close quarters.  The Bow and Arrow is by far my choice for long-range attacks as it is quieter and has a shorter reload time.  This new edition is also a great weapon to use during hunting.

Arguably the greatest editions to Assassins Creed 3 are the Navel Missions.  In these missions, Connor captains a ship along the eastern coast of America and battles British Navel fleets for control of the area.  Upgrades to the ship’s equipment can be purchased and enhance the durability and power of the vessel.  A variety of cannonballs are also made available with their own status effects.

Some of the biggest problems with Assassins Creed 3 may lie in the fact that this franchise has been put on a yearly release schedule.  We’ve seen the biggest leap in basic gameplay development from Assassins Creed 1 to Assassins Creed 2, which gave players a two-year gap between games.  But since the great success of Assassins Creed 2, Ubisoft has opted into releasing a new AC game every year.  This has left AC3 marred with basic gameplay that has not changed enough from its’ predecessors and a large amount of glitches that impaired my overall enjoyment of the game.  Assassin’s Creed 3 also suffers from a large disconnect between it’s side missions and the main story line.  In past AC titles, side missions added to the overall storyline by rewarding players with new weapons, a large sum of money, or some story elements that added to the understanding of the world.  In AC3, players can choose to completely ignore the side missions, and will not lose much from the experience.  In this respect, the game falls short.  The new fast travel mechanics even made it easier to pass up these side missions.  Though I was able to get to the next story mission faster, no longer was I stopping along the way to complete a side mission that was marked on my map.  The plot points of the main storyline were so interesting that they left me ignoring the side missions in favor of getting to the next story beat.  Though some of the side missions can be entertaining, the developers did themselves an injustice by disconnecting them so much from the main storyline.

Final Score – 6.0

Though I did enjoy the majority of my experience with Assassin’s Creed 3, I can’t help but feel a bit burned out from the yearly release schedule.  The franchise has come a long way, but is not adding enough gameplay innovations to completely justify a yearly release cycle. Though Desmond’s story has seen some resolution in this latest release, Ubisoft has left enough room to continue the franchise and has already planned another release for quarter 4 2013.  Will the next Assassin’s Creed impress enough players to convenience them to come back again?  We can only wait and see.

by: David Tadros

 

In the year and a half that we have been capturing video game footage, we have had experience primarily with two HD capture devices, the first device being the Hauppauge 1212 HD-PVR and the second being the Blackmagic Design Intensity Extreme.  The key differences between the two devices are the ports, the capture resolutions, the lag, the pricing, and added necessities.  When examining the two side-by-side, each has it’s pro’s and con’s.

USB 2.0  Vs. Thunderbolt

Firstly we can examine both devices and notice one key feature that the Blackmagic Design Intensity Extreme has over the Hauppauge 1212 HD-PVR, and that is the Thunderbolt port.  While the Hauppauge 1212 uses a USB 2.0 connection, the Intensity Extreme utilizes the new Thunderbolt technology, allowing the device to transfer at incredible speeds.  Not only does the transfer speed increase with this connection, but also the lag drops significantly.  In our testing we have seen about a five second lag from the capture source to the computer screen with the Hauppauge 1212, while the Intensity Extreme seems to have little to no lag at all.  This may not be a deal breaker to many, but the added ability to play straight from the computer screen may be enticing to some.

The use of Thunderbolt gives the Intensity Extreme a leg up over the Hauppauge 1212’s USB 2.0 port when streaming gameplay footage to popular websites such as Justin.TV as well.  While it is possible for both capture devices to stream gameplay footage, the Intensity Extreme is more seamless in its delivery as the computer recognizes it as a video input device.  This feature allows the user to simply select the Intensity Extreme from Justin.TV’s drop down menu.  The dropped lag also seems to aid in syncing audio.  Where it may be difficult for some to live stream using the Hauppauge 1212 due to it’s five-second capture delay, syncing audio with the Intensity Extreme proved to be much easier in our experiences.

The Intensity Extreme’s Thunderbolt port also features the ability to power the unit and daisy chain to multiple Thunderbolt devices.  In our experiences we’ve used the Intensity Extreme with an external Thunderbolt hard drive using the same Thunderbolt port on a Macbook Pro with seamless operation.  The two downsides to the Intensity Extreme’s Thunderbolt is the lack of a second Thunderbolt port on the unit as well as the lack of an included Thunderbolt cable.  Using the Intensity Extreme will force the user to keep the device at the end of the Thunderbolt chain, limiting the ability to use Thunderbolt monitors that have only on input.  The lack of a Thunderbolt cable also sets the user back $50 on top of the Intensity Extreme’s $284 price tag.

In’s and Out’s

Examining both the Hauppauge 1212 and the Intensity Extreme’s in’s and out’s you will notice that both devices are capable of capturing devices using composite and component cables.  The key difference between these devices is the Intensity Extreme’s inclusion of both an HDMI in and out.  Using HDMI the capture resolution is bumped up from 720p to 1080p.  While the Hauppauge 1212 can capture in 720p and 1080i, it lacks the ability to capture in 1080p.  Though the Intensity Extreme does capture 1080p, we were disappointed to see that the fps was capped out at 30.  The inability to capture 1080p at 60fps leaves the user unable to capture gameplay footage from the Xbox 360 as the console is unable to drop its fps.

Necessary Accessories

Though the Intensity Extreme may seem quite easy to use for many users, the device demands great speeds from the target hard drive.  In our experiences, capturing footage using an internal hard drive was very difficult using the Intensity Extreme forcing the purchase of a Thunderbolt external hard drive.  The Hauppauge on the other hand, records to an internal hard drive easily.  Though both devices benefit from external hard drives, the Hauppauge proved to be more consumer friendly as it’s required transfer speeds were much less strenuous on the target hard drives.  As mentioned previously, the Intensity Extreme does not come with a Thunderbolt cable or HDMI cables.  The Hauppauge 1212 includes the necessary USB 2.0 cable as well as a component cable, allowing the user to begin using the device right out of the box.

Software

Users of OS X will find using Blackmagic Designs included software to be easy and effective, while Windows users may be turned off by the Intensity Extreme for it’s current lack of support.  We see this situation changing as soon as Thunderbolt ports become more prominent on Windows based computers.  The Hauppauge 1212 is opposite to the Intensity Extreme in this respect as it only provides first part support for Windows computers.  Mac users will be forced to purchase a program, be it EyeTV or HDPVR Capture, to allow the device to work on the platform.  One major difference between these devices is the ability to use the device as a pass-through.  While the user is able to have the Hauppauge 1212 continually connected without the use of software, the Intensity Extreme requires an application to access the video output.  If an application is not currently using the Intensity Extreme, the output channel to the external monitor or television shows a blank screen.

Pros and Cons

Intensity Extreme

Pros

HDMI in’s and out’s as well as a breakout cable for component and composite inputs

Included program that works well with OS X

Ability to capture up to 1080p

Realtime Capture – Lag free.

Computers recognize the device as a video input

A wide variety of resolution, aspect ratios, and compression settings.

No external power supply

Cons

Lack of support for 1080p at 60fps

No support for Windows

Inability to use the device without an open application or computer (Output Pass-through)

No second Thunderbolt port.  Device must be at the end of the chain.

Does not include Thunderbolt or HDMI cables

Hauppauge 1212

Pros

Simple installation

Support for Windows

Audio/Video pass-though without an open application or computer

Includes necessary cables

Cons

About a five second lag to the computer

Cannot capture in 1080p

No HDMI

Cannot be recognized as a video input

No first party support for Mac OS X

Bottom Line

While both devices are capable of many of the same features, the Intensity Extremes Thunderbolt port, HDMI in and out, and the ability to set it as a video input device makes it a bit easier to use than the Hauppauge 1212.  While the Hauppauge 1212 is priced at $180 and includes all necessary cables, the lack of first party support for Mac users may be a turn off, as well as the need for work arounds to access the ability to live stream and the significant lag.  The Insanity Extreme’s price point of $284 seems reasonable enough, but still may be disappointing when realizing the required $50 Thunderbolt cable is not included.  The lack of support for Windows may also turn off many potential buyers, but as Thunderbolt becomes more readily available on PC’s, we can assume support for Windows will eventually be added.

 

Review: Rhythm Heaven Fever

Posted: April 20, 2012 in Review

fever

It’s maddening more often than entertaining, but Rhythm Heaven Fever’s catchy tunes and varied, gratifying gameplay make it worth seeking out.
By Callum Rakestraw

The one and only major problem with rhythm games is the need for a good sense of rhythm to play them. And you either have it or you don’t, all but locking you out of such games if you don’t possess said sense.

Although in most cases, “good” isn’t enough; superb would be the better word. Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven series is a prime example of this, asking players to master the beat of a myriad of wacky minigames, which range from playing golf to picking up pieces of food with a fork. They all seem deceptively simple on the surface, but turn into hellish tests of both endurance and rhythmic abilities right from the get-go. As the first installment to land on a home console, Rhythm Heaven Fever lives up to its reputation, bringing its special brand of crazy to a more appropriate format.

Chances are you might already be familiar with this series through 2009’s entry on the DS, which served as its debut outside Japan. If you aren’t, however, then the best comparison would be WarioWare with longer minigames and tighter timing. It’s an apt comparison because each minigame is radically different in theme. One moment you’re screwing heads onto robots, the next you’re dancing with a group of shrimp, or playing badminton while flying a couple of small planes, or assuming the role of a wrestler answering questions from a reporter, or… you get the picture.

The sheer randomness of it is a delight. You never know what absurd scenario you’re going to find yourself in next. The art style remains consistent throughout — a sort of anime-esque style with lots of vibrant colors — though there are some differences in terms of character design sometimes. Regardless, the style works, making characters highly expressive as they move along to the music.

Screwbot Factory: one of the earliest and easiest games, but also one of the best.

You don’t follow the tune too closely, however. It certainly does act as a guide, but a good number of the games have a separate rhythm to adhere to. Visual and audio cues that are easy to follow make up the general assortment. Though occasionally the cues are invisible and have to be identified through trial and error, because the timing is so tight that mere visuals or audio are unable to guide.

Example: A game titled “Monkey Watch,” which sees you controlling a monkey riding a hand of a clock high-fiving other simians who emerge from hatches surrounding the clock-face. The window of opportunity on it, however, is super tight. You have a split second between when the primates pull their hands back and when you pass them that you’re able to high-five them. There’s a definite rhythm to it, which you ease into easily before the “off-beat” variety starts cropping up, at which point it becomes a ton more difficult. So much so that its cues don’t manage to help even marginally. Makes me mad just thinking about it… grr. That blasted game… damn you!

Thankfully, if a game proves too hard, you can skip it entirely after several consecutive failures. All you have to do is drop by the cafe and let the barista do its thing, letting you merrily continue on to the next potentially anger-inducing game.

Rhythm Heaven, despite its hard-boiled nature, keeps up a feeling of fairness throughout. Seldom do any of the games feel truly impossible, even if you’ll feel otherwise whilst playing. It’s simply a matter of patience. Taking the time to properly learn the nuances of each minigame is the only road to success. Each game gives you a brief practice round to get acquainted with they all work, but it’s only enough to understand the basics. Playing the actual game itself is the only way to master it – trial and error, in short. It takes a long while to get the hang of the games, in this case, but you do often feel yourself getting better and better with each attempt… even if your performance does end up going south towards the end. And it will. Time after time, until you finally get it and are overtaken by a huge sense of relief and reward for completing such a near insurmountable challenge.

Generally the frustration factor is a lot lower here than it was in the DS game, though. And the controls are to thank. On the DS, Rhythm Heaven exclusively relied on the stylus for input, which saw all manner of movements: from swiping, to tapping, to flicking, and sliding, Rhythm Heaven DS had it all. It wasn’t broken, mind you; it was functional. It just lacked accuracy. Finding the correct millisecond to swipe is a lot harder than discerning the moment to tap a button. Less delay, looser timing.

Fever only uses a few buttons: A, B, A and B, or some combination thereof, but never all three at once. Such a basic configuration ensures that everything runs smoothly, eliminating the feel that the controls are at fault for failure.

Slashing demons proves to be one of the more unusual activities available.

Rhythm Heaven has 50 games total, all spread among ten sets of five, each culminating in a remix that combines the four games of that row into one long song, swapping between games at rapid pace. They act as the ultimate test of your abilities, to see how good a player you are. Each remix has a consistent theme, both visually and musically. A tropical motif dresses characters in beachside apparel, backgrounds made colorful and sunny as a jubilant tune beats along to the steady rhythms beneath each game.

As the very crux of Rhythm Heaven, the music is as infectious as it is varied, subtle sound effects fleshing out the compositions to their fullest. Tracks move in symmetry to your actions, attaining a harmonious performance that only the most carefully crafted music games can achieve. Most, if not all of its soundtrack is sure to stick with you, frequently playing in the back of your head.

Fever contains a healthy amount of re-playability as well. From medals earned from superb performances and the extra games unlocked from obtaining them, to the set of activities devoted for cooperative play, Rhythm Heaven Fever ensures you’ll get the most out of its entrancing experience.

Final Score – 9.0

As one of the last games to come from Nintendo before it retires the Wii in favor of its tablet-controlled successor, chances are this game will see a small audience as everyone begins packing away their consoles. Even so, at least Nintendo is sending off the Wii with a bang, having saved its best for last. If you still have your Wii set-up, or are willing to bring it back out for another spin, then Rhythm Heaven Fever is well worth your time.

Review: Journey

Posted: April 2, 2012 in Review

journey
By Callum Rakestraw

A magical multiplayer experience.
Journey is a very simple game. It’s about a journey to a mountain far in the distance through a land buried by sand. That’s it. And yet, for such a basic premise, Journey is quite complex. It elicits a web of emotions, running the gantlet from happiness to sadness, from excitement to despair, and so much more, all over the course of a two hour trip. It establishes connections between players — strong ones — without words, but merely through each other’s company, facing the trek together.

It’s so much more than Thatgamecompany’s previous works, because it doesn’t feel purely experimental (flOw) or overtly artsy (Flower). It’s a game trying something new and confident in its ideas, never beating you over the head with its themes; precisely what a game like this should be.

Journey tells a wordless story. Its tale of an expedition to a mountain is an enigmatic one, using visuals, music, and gameplay to convey. You control a figure in a red cloak who’s able to interact with cloth and tapestry in mysterious ways, such as restoring damaged strands or calling on clusters of living tapestry pieces to ascend. What you are, exactly, is never explained or even hinted at, just as the world and what happened to it is never told. Murals hint at a civilization that once was, remnants of buried structures lending a sense of what the world looked like at one time. Journey never makes anything clear, however; it always shrouds the land in the unknown.

Movement is Journey’s sole function. All of the game’s mechanics serve that one point. Flight overcomes obstacles and lets you cover ground quickly (a frequently growing scarf your character wears powers this ability). Speech calls on creatures who will recharge your jump/flight abilities and carry you onward and upward. There are no battles, no puzzles, no challenge. Only walking.


Got a long ways to go. At least you won’t be alone.

This journey isn’t one you have to take alone, though. Throughout your travels you’ll randomly encounter other players out of the blue. No notification that someone has entered is given, nor is their PlayStation Network ID shown. They just appear; strangers walking the same road as you. Strangers that you’re able to accompany, should you choose. Nothing ahead of you is impossible to achieve without another person, so it is entirely possible to go on alone. Just keep running forward, ignoring the cries of the person trying to grab your attention. They’ll fall behind eventually. But it is awfully lonely out there…

Moving forward alone is a different experience than a shared one. Crossing the seemingly endless dunes alone doesn’t affect anything on a mechanical level, but on an emotional level.

That’s what’s special about multiplayer in Journey. Even with no actual speech (you can only chirp at varying tempos), and no clear identity, somehow bonds manage to be forged. Something changes after you meet another. Suddenly you become attached, afraid to leave each other’s side. Working together and assisting each other get around (you can keep each other afloat — jumping, in other words — by chirping while airborne) make a lone journey intolerable. It all just seems so… sad, trudging on alone after you’ve walked the roads before you with someone. These connections, therefore, cause unexpected separation to be that much harder to bear.

Many times throughout journey there will be times where movement is mostly out of your control. Sliding down massive inclines of sand lessens your control. Staying close to your partner suddenly becomes difficult, as they take a different turn than you. A small glow appears at the edges of the screen when your companion falls out of view, pointing you toward their general vicinity, fading gradually as you grow farther apart. And if and when they’re gone, the realization is heartbreaking. Truly.

Losing someone in Journey is painful. While there’s always the chance another player will come along, the loss never gets any easier, as its likely your first partner is one that stuck with you for most of the trip, especially so if you become separated as the end is in sight. To lose them there is downright devastating. To come so far, accomplish so much, only to be separated just as the climax is in sight… it’s powerful stuff.


Scenes like this hint at the fate of a civilization that once was.

Journey is able to achieve emotional resonance because of the music. It’s the secret to Journey’s success. A soft hum, punctuated by the occasional high note, plays in the early goings, setting the mood of mystery and wonder of the desolate landscape splendidly. Over time, the music gradually increases its tempo, starting with a playful series of flute produced beats to accompany a walk with energetic cloth creatures, and ending with the orchestra in full force as the end is just inches away. Each track introduces a subtle change in emotion to match the atmosphere of the area.

Composer Austin Wintory understands the influence music can have when used correctly. Unlike so many other games where it’s simply there to reinforce a certain tone or just serve as background noise, music is intrinsic to Journey. Its adventure relies heavily on its orchestra to carry the story along, invoke the right emotions at the very moment they’re needed.

The art of Journey is no slouch, either. It is, in a word, gorgeous. Absurdly so, even, sometimes. Both the technical and artistic aspects are incredible. The way the sand parts as you walk through it, the way it flows in the wind and sparkles under the light; the intricate decorations of the cloaks, and the ruins themselves. It’s all marvelously beautiful. Without giving anything specific away, there’s this one moment where the sun is setting as you move past a series of pillars. In this scene, the camera frames the sun between those pillars, its red glow shining brilliantly against the sand and buildings around the area. It’s breathtaking.

Final Score – 9.5

No doubt the two hour length and $15 price tag is likely to turn many away. Truly a pity, for what occurs in those two hours are more powerful and memorable than most 60 hour games are. It makes the long development processes of Thatgamecompany on such compact games clear. Because though they may be short, they’re always tightly designed and executed, nary a blemish or piece of filler in sight, and ensure that every component works in complete service to the other. A real triumph.

bulletstorm

Reviewed by Mahervin Slick

How many times in the past have you been in the middle of a campaign when, in a moment of destructive genius, you end up bringing your enemy to his demise by shooting him in the ass, or unloading an entire clip of bullets into nothing but his foot? If you’re anything like me then your answer to that question is “hundreds.” Now, how many times have we been rewarded for such innovation? Not nearly enough. Developers ‘People Can Fly’ and ‘Epic Games’ have teamed up in order to provide us with a game that can finally give us the pat on the back we all so rightfully deserve. ‘Bulletstorm’ is a sci-fi themed first-person shooter that sets itself apart from the competition by actually rewarding players for killing enemies in highly creative and messed up ways. The campaign, flawed though it may be, is packed with immensely satisfying combat and general moments of brilliance. The story, on the other hand, is packed with immensely horrendous dialogue and general moments of idiocy. As long as you remember to mute your television each and every time the characters begin to speak to one another you should end up enjoying the hell out of this game.

‘Bulletstorm’ begins on board a ship outside of Confederate space. You control Grayson Hunt, a space pirate who has apparently caused enough trouble to warrant a five-hundred million dollar bounty to be placed upon his head. We find out through a flashback that Gray is a former member of Dead Echo, a now-defunct squad of confederate mercenaries who were hired to assassinate gun runners, slave traders, and mass murderers. Shortly after murdering one of their targets, however, Gray and the other members of Dead Echo discover that they had actually been manipulated into murdering innocent civilians. Still thirsty for revenge years later, present-day Gray orders a drunken attack on the ship of the man responsible, effectively sending himself and everyone else on board both the ships to a whole new world of pain – literally.

After an overly long introduction, the game picks up on a former resort planet now inhabited by criminals and warring tribes. Having crash landed, Gray is forced to fight his way through countless enemies in hopes of finding his way off the planet. Luckily, Gray is not alone on this journey as he is accompanied by Ishi Santo, another former member of Dead Echo, who has essentially been recreated as a cyborg in order to survive the injuries sustained in the crash that brought him to the planet. Ishi makes it very clear early on that he does not appreciate the horrific situation that he is in and holds Gray personally responsible. The tension between the two as well as the conflicting feelings Ishi harbours as a result of his make-shift operation helps keep things interesting as the story moves forward.

The adventure itself is very linear, to the point that your AI companions will lead the way if you hesitate to move forward at any point. Exploration is both limited and rarely rewarded; from time to time you will find a separate path that contains a hidden box of ammunition, but that’s about as good as it gets when you wander off the beaten track in Bulletstorm.

The average-at-best story is made even worse by the immature dialogue and excessive expletives exchanged between each of the vulgar characters in the game. Profanity in video games is nothing new but is brought down to a whole new low in Bulletstorm. There may be moments where you find yourself entertained by random chatter in the game but in reality you will most likely spend the majority of the game sighing in disgust. There is such a thing as trying too hard to be funny and Bulletstorm goes out of its way to prove it.

Although ‘Bulletstorm’ falls short of delivering an original and compelling story, it more than makes up for it with gameplay. The main draw of the game is the way in which the new ‘skillshot’ system is implemented, which rewards players with points for killing enemies in various and unique ways. Sure, kicking an enemy into the air and shooting him in the chest a few times will get the job done, but will it net you as many points as shooting an enemy in the testicles before kicking him into a cactus? These are the types of questions gamers must ask themselves in order to accumulate as many points as possible. Acting as the games form of currency, all points earned can be used to purchase ammo as well as upgrade the various weapons discovered as the game progresses. Discovering the many different ways in which you can punish your enemies keeps the game fresh and exciting throughout, even when it starts to lose a little steam about three-quarters of the way through.

The controls are pretty much standard fare for what we have come to expect of first person shooters these days, however the game does introduce a ‘kick’ mechanic, which upgrades the effect of the standard melee attack, and the ‘energy leash,’ which compensates for the absence of grenades. The ‘leash,’ which can be used to grab enemies and pull them into cacti and electrified wires among other things, never runs out or degrades and will most likely become your most relied upon weapon throughout the course of the game. There are a few enemies that are fast enough to dodge the kick and the leash but almost every enemy in the game is vulnerable to the slide. Each of these three attacks hurl enemies through the air and slows down time, allowing you a greater opportunity to inflict more damage and to kill with more skill. In addition, you will be required to use the kick and leash at certain points in order to remove objects that will otherwise prevent you from progressing on your journey. Fans of ‘Dark Sector’ will notice a familiarity with the sniping system in the game, which zooms in on the bullet as it leaves the rifle and gives you the ability to direct the bullet in slow motion in order to strike a dodging enemy. This system slows down the action and almost completely removes the challenge of sniping found in most other first person shooters, but that’s not to say you won’t still be satisfied each and every time you successfully guide a bullet through the skull of your enemy. Given all of the weapons at your disposal, the overall difficulty of the game borders on easy and therefore those well-versed in the world of first-person shooters should have little to no problem completing the entire campaign on the hardest difficulty within ten to twelve hours.

If the campaign was too short for you liking, you can always revisit small chunks of it in ‘Echo’ mode. Echo mode allows you to play through shorts sections of chapters from the campaign in order to earn as many skill points as possible in hopes of getting a good ‘star’ rating. The downer here is that you’ve seen all of this before. It can be fun if you are the type of person that wants to show up everyone on your friends list with your high score, but if you were hoping for something fresh then Echo mode probably isn’t for you.

In contrast to some of the titles previously developed by Epic Games, the environments in Bulletstorm are bright and full of color. From character models to weapons, the graphics as a whole are top-notch. There were some textures that were noticeably rough but nothing that distracted from the gameplay.

The sole multiplayer mode in Bulletstorm is ‘Anarchy’ mode, in which you team up with other players online and work together to earn as many skill points as possible in order to proceed to the next level. This mode is very shallow and gets old quickly. The lack of a competitive multiplayer mode keeps the online aspects from being fresh and exciting and instead offers more of the same.

Despite it’s shortcomings, Bulletstorm is a hell of a lot of fun. The gameplay is exciting and refreshing and should keep you coming back for more. Bulletstorm isn’t going to rewrite the way interactive stories are told, but it is going to help change the way you kick ass … and shoot ass … and whip ass. And there ain’t nuthin’ wrong with that.