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Rikonian Revuze (Video Games)

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Alpha Protocol
Reviewed By: Lord High Rikonian (7/4/2010 9:56:27 PM)
Overall Rating: 3.00 orphans
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Review: Alpha Protocol is fun. It has pretty good graphics, it has a nice selection of gadgets and weapons, it lets me shoot people, and it has that moral choice system that lets me express my primal psychotic douchebag nature in a safe manner. The character log even keeps track of how many orphans you made. Not just kills, orphans. If you kill a dude, the game looks up his data, goes "Oh, this guy had 3 kids, so 3 more orphans." Seems like there's a lot for a demented gamer to like.
Yet you're probably noticing that all of the subcategory ratings are higher than the overall game rating, and wondering what the hell is up. Well, I'll explain that first.
There is something I dislike about this game, and it is the reason why its aggregate score is lower than all the subcategory scores: Saving is a pain in the ass. In most games today, you can save at any time (or at least any time you're not actively fighting). Alpha Protocol lets you save during a checkpoints only. Checkpoints are worse than save points, by the way, because save points can at least be used again. Seriously, if you make a game that requires checkpoint saving, then you deserve rabid weasels to eat your eyeballs. And your balls too.
But that is not all. Conversations and cutscenes are unskippable. And there's a couple places where a checkpoint is followed by a string of unskippable cutscenes and dialogs. Today, I had about 15 minutes of cutscene after cutscene after cutscene. This is an annoyance, and a pretty unforgivable one.
Here's a tip for any game programmers out there: if a player cannot, at any non-final-boss-battle point in the game, get to a save menu and an exit menu within fine minutes or less, then you have failed. Not only as programmers, but also as human beings. In fact you have failed as mammals. I recommend cutting some lines into your necks and jumping into the ocean because maybe you'll do better as fish.
Aside from that horrible aspect, I like this game, though it is not my favorite, and I doubt that it wil have much replay value for me. However, other people tend to hate it, and for the wrong reason. The complaints that I hear most often (that the stealth and shooting controls suck) are unjustified.
Alpha Protocol is an espionage RPG. What that means is that your abilities are stat based and the controls will suck until you get the stats raised. It's the same way in Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls series. If you want to headshot people, you have to put some points in to your gun skill, otherwise your shot may go wild.
My character is pretty proficient with stealth and pistols, and the controls for those are fairly good now (because my stats are raised). I've gotten through several missions already and controls and gunplay difficulty seem fairly well balanced. Occasionally, the NPCs act kind of incredibly stupid, like when I'm fistfighting an islamic terrorist and his friends are not shooting. If these guys are willing to blow themselves up, I figure they probably wouldn't care that much about friendly fire. But then, that may just be because I'm playing on the easy setting.
For the most part, I like the way guns are handled. However I have a fairly major complaint: no sniper rifle in inventory? What the fuck?! Oh you can get a sniper rifle, in certain missions, if a you pay a guy a few hundred bucks. But you can't move the sniper rifle, it's basically treated as a turret. Not since the baldheaded genetic ubermench who cannot jump over a foot tall obstacle has a character limitation felt so arbitraily forced. Come to think of it, old shinyhead had a sniper rifle. It's called a briefcase, Obsidian! New elite technology for hiding sniper rifles in. Put it in the sequel (Beta Protocol: Revenge of the Orphans!), damnit!
Of course, no espionage RPG would be complete without dialog and quicktime events. I'll handle dialog first.
The dialog as written is very clever and funny, but the implementation sucks! Similar to Bioware games you have a conversation with a few options. However, these options are in real time, with a timer ticking down to make your decision. This system would be clever, except it means that dialog cannot be skipped or hastened. And that makes the dialog a stygian slog through a hell of Obsidian's own making, where you want to escape, but cannot, because you haven't gotten to the fucking checkpoint yet.
The minigames are pretty well designed. For the first time, lockpicking actually feels like lockpicking. Kudos for actually giving a reason for the XBox controller triggers to be analog! Circuit bypassing and hacking are also fairly well done, though hacking is annoyingly tricky at times.

Playing Advice: Despite the flaws (the many many many flaws), this is a fun game. However, I recommend waiting. It's not really super earth-shattering, and with the flaws, the game really isn't worth the full price. So get it used or wait for the retail to drop a bit.
Ron Howard is the Opie of the masses

Reviewed By: Lord High Rikonian (11/7/2009 3:06:18 PM)
Overall Rating: 4.00 kicks to old dude's spines
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Review: Crackdown is good semi-mindless fun. If it were new, I'd say it's just a rental, since I beat it in a week. However, since you can get it for 10 bucks as of the writing of this review, go ahead and buy it, as you'll probably go back to it again sometime.
The game is fairly simplistic. The goal is straightforward: 3 gangs with 7 leaders, you kill all 21 of these guys and you win.
But the game is jam packed with fun goodness. It was made by some of the people who made GTA. And you can see some of the GTA elements: automotive mayhem, inappropriately funny crude humor, gang violence, car radio stations. However, this game actually has better driving controls than GTA (though they're still the least reliable of your tactics).
Luckily, you can also use a wide array of guns, bombs, or your own genetically enhanced strength to kill gang members. The guns range in usefulness from damn good (the 480 round rifle you start with and the 800 round rifle you can snag from the Shia-Gen) to the incredibly useless to the increbily fun "bad guy go boom" Firefly rocket launcher. And the ability to target heads for quicker kills or limbs to weaken your foes does add a much needed tactical element to gunplay. Your brutality can also be unleashed upon the civilians, of course, but that penalizes your skill advancement. Still, small price to pay for kicking an old man in the spine, sending him into oncoming traffic and causing a 5 car pileup. Or for kicking a minivan off of a suspension bridge. Or for running up behind a cop car and kicking its rear bumper, thus sending the cop car skidding and flipping forward into a traffic jam. I (accidentally but it still counts) killed some gang members with that one.

Playing Advice: Of your 5 core attributes, strength will likely raise first, as kicks are usually a one-shot kill and require no ammo. But be sure to use your guns and bombs early on, because you'll want those skilled raised too. And be sure to always look out for the orbs to raise your agility, because it will make it easier to bypass ambushes and get the drop on your foes, instead of them getting the drop on you.
Driving is pretty worthless, as even with a good car, most times the enemy will sidestep at the last second and you'll end up plowing into a civilian instead, which slows your driving skill advancement (which would be a worse downside if driving didn't kind of suck anyway).
For tough boss fights, remember, you don't have to get out, you just have to get in. And if you can get in kicking range of your foe, you can probably kick him to death before his friends can shoot you to death.
Ron Howard is the Opie of the masses

Dragon Age: Origins
Reviewed By: Zerebus (12/6/2009 5:39:30 PM)
Overall Rating: 5.00 Bloody Skulls
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Review: BioWare returns to the Dark Fantasy genre in Dragon Age: Origins. Players take control of a customized human, elf, or dwarf who is then thrust into a midieval land struggling against the onslaught of the demonic Darkspawn.

Dragon Age: Origins utilizes tried and true fantasy elements such as elves, dwarves, and dragons, but each element is spun in a new, creative way. For example, elves largely live in poverty, the dwarves are a haughty race overly concerned with lineage, and the orcs are called Darkspawn. See? Originality!

The game story is epic. And by that I mean to say that the game story is EPIC. You should not attempt to finish this game in one sitting, nor even should you attempt to play this game as a rental. Entering into the Dragon Age and taking up the mantle of the Grey Wardens is a serious time commitment. It is entirely possible to play this game for 50 hours straight and still not have the end in sight, and that's WITHOUT downloading the extra content that Bioware offers in their online store.

But enough with lauding the best RPG game of the 2009 Christmas shopping season. This review is for the Xbox 360 version of Dragon Age and as such I must take a moment to speak of the bugs.

First, there are the little graphical bugs. Hair that passes through solid objects, solid objects that pass through solid objects, and otherwise epic scenery marred by poorly rendered elements like, say, trees. Individually, every graphical bug is forgivable. However, after seeing your companions fold their arms and stick their hands directly into their forearm bones for the hundredth time, the little bugs start to become annoying. Of course perfect rendering would likely have come at the price of game speed and fluidity, but for a game that appears to be running on the same graphics engine as Mass Effect we are allowed to expect better.

Next, there are the minor story bugs. That's right, if you go out of your way then you can create situations where the game demands that a certain NPC be present where none exists (and vice versa). And then what happens? People start talking to ghosts! In short, the possibility tree is missing a few leaves, which can be annoying to completionists.

Lastly, there are the serious bugs. I was witness to a 50+ hour game profile becoming corrupted. The save files were suddenly rendered unreadable and my uber mage was consigned to the void. Oh how I wept. As far as I have read online, this bug is unique to the Xbox 360 version of the game, so consider yourself warned. Fortunately, a bug like this is typically among the first to be corrected in a patch. Now if only BioWare would get around to making one...

Now after all that talk about bugs, one might wonder why I give Dragon Age: Origins a rating of 4.7 / 5 Bloody Skulls.

The Answer: DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS IS AWESOME!!! No, seriously. This game is the most immersive, detailed, and breathtakingly beautiful game I have seen in a long, long time, and I've seen a lot.

Parental Advisory: contains vast amounts of blood, sexual references, and both implied and oddly rendered sex scenes (there is no true nudity in this game - at the most, characters strip down to their underoos).

Playing Advice: The difficulty level of this game is highly variable. Players who are not ready to jump from character to character, rapidly issuing menu specific commands after every few seconds of battle should probably stick to the Normal or Casual difficulty levels.

Dragon Age: Origins
Reviewed By: Lord High Rikonian (11/21/2009 11:14:14 PM)
Overall Rating: 5.00 TPKs
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Review: Dragon Age: Origins is in many ways well-trodden territory. If you enjoy Bioware's games, then this is the gold standard (or should I say the sovereign standard?) of Bioware RPGs. If you've ever played KOTOR (and if not, what the hell is wrong with you?!) you know all about the over-the-shoulder perspective and the winding pathways. And if you've ever played Neverwinter Nights, then you're familiar with the power wheel interface, the look of the medeival themed armors, and the sound, especially that fricking looped song they play at the taverns.
Plus the classic good and evil plot-driving dialog options we all know and love from Bioware.
But this is not just a retread. The characters are fresh and very well voiced. The powers are well designed and executed. The plots are compelling. The visuals are crisp. The voice acting is top notch. And the morality engine decisions are just as deliciously wicked as we expect form Bioware (although you could play the game the good way too, if for some reason you wanted to do that). Although, I do miss the good/evil slider bar (or for you Mass Effect fans, the pussy/douchebag slider bar).
Unlike prior Bioware games, you have a 4-character party, which is nice because it lets you mix things up a bit more while still getting to play with your favorite characters in party. And you'll want to mix it up, because the characters have some great conversational sequences. And they do this more frequently than in KOTOR or Mass Effect. Good thing these characters are so interesting. Well, for the most part. Alistair the Warden/Templar is a bit annoying and whiny. But I think the developers must have known this. Mainly because in one scene he complains about his "manly feelings" being hurt, an obvious refence to Carth "whiny bitch" Onasi. But Alistair isn't that bad, even though he is the worst charcter, primarily because the others are so great. Morrigan the shapeshifting witch woman, voiced by Claudia Black, is my favorite. But Shale the golem is a close second (it reminds me a bit of HK47, and I just find unliving automatons who are so blithely psychopathic amusing).
But the game is not perfect. The controls are a bit clunky, and the camera will sometimes swing around so that columns or walls are between you and your chosen target. And choosing your chosen enemy to target can be vexing. Usually whoever is in the center of the screen is selected, but not always, and it is very easy to think you're targeting a nearby enemy only to have your character push past the close enemies to run after some archer or spellcaster.
But even with the weak control scheme, this game is highly engrossing, fun, and richly detailed.

Playing Advice: You want this game. Don't rent it, buy it. Believe me, this game is so jam packed you will want go back to it.
And when you play it, save often, because this game is, as I said earlier, brutal. And don't buy it if you'll need to get anything done in the near future.
Also, I have played both the XBox 360 and the PC versions of this game. If you have to choose between console and PC, then I'd recommend console. Sure the quickbar on the PC version is nice, but maneuvering your character using the cursor keys is far too clunky, especially for a game that mixed tactical positioning in with the RPG combat. Trust me on this, you'll want the precision of dual analog thumsticks when you're trying to get to backstab position or get out of the way of a dragon's tail.
And why the frel didn't Bioware add controller support for the PC version? Pretty much every serious PC gamer has at least one controller for the PC, and it really is a vastly superior interface for moving the characters than using the keyboard.
Ron Howard is the Opie of the masses

Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom
Reviewed By: Lord High Rikonian (11/8/2009 3:56:44 PM)
Overall Rating: 2.00 nagging undead dreams
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Review: note: this review was written for the XBox 360 version
Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom, aside from being the unholy union of two potential Steven Segal sword and sorcery movie titles, is also a haunting, yet disappointing union of old school and contemporary RPG video game design.
The Kingdom Under Fire series was originally an RTS series, but Circle of Doom is marketed as an RPG. Technically this is true. It has a few NPCs who you buy stuff from and get quests from, and it has levelling. But this is the VRPG distilled to its most basic form. A cliff's notes RPG. There were a few NPCs: 3 magic idols that randomly appear in preset locations that you trade with, and whatever one or two people are in your dream world (more on that later). When you're not in the idol/sleep safe zones, everything is a monster. There's not even one single moron who can only repeat the phrase "there are monsters tot he north!" whenever you get near.
And the "quests" are for the most part just "kill # _________s" laundry lists. Even your quest to find a plant seed for an idol to make a magic seed conists of killing 10 plants (the first 9 don't have a seed, tenth does, no matter where that tenth plant is).
Combat is simplistic. You can have 2 weapons equipped, A and X buttons are mapped to those weapons. Melee combat is a standard "first couple hits are normal, third is a flourish" system. You can also assign 2 special abilities (to the B button and R trigger), but that just brings me to another complaint: Learning skills is another of the "hey kill a bunch of these things" quests, and you can have only 2 of these quests active at a time.
To make matters worse, this is one of those games where the maps are predefined paths. Think of the most restrictive parts of KOTOR, and realize the whole damn game is like that! And a lot of the time, the path you're supposed to tread upon is visually subtle so you miss where you're supposed to turn. This is particularly a problem in places where the paths move up and down and you must walk above or below other paths,thus making the overlay map far less useful.
But the game isn't all bad. The visuals are stunning. Truly beautiful graphic design. And the dream world angle is interesting, though far too limited in scope (a game concept that will hopefully be refined for future games).

You choose one of 5 characters (there's a 6th unlockable one), each is weak or strong in speed and HP. I picked Leinhart the half-vampire prince because he's a high-speed character and I do well with those. His dreamworld is kind of funny, it consists of a graveyard with his dead dad (who was a real dick. "Oh my stupid son, how you've always embarassed me, blah blah blah") and some hot half-naked vampire elf chick.
Though to be fair to undead douchedad, Leinhart is kind of an idiot. When trying to get the Idol of Death to help him, he opens with "hey you old bag of bones!" and he calls the Buddha statue idol of greed fat. Though he is apparently capable of learning, because I was half expecting him to tell the Idol of Love to take her top off or something, but he didn't.

Playing Advice: Don't rent this, as it may take you a while to beat it. If you really want it, you can find it for cheap. I bought mine at a Blockbuster going out of business sale for 5 bucks.
If you get it, then be prepared for lots of repitition. You will be swarmed with mobs of monsters, then advance forward to face more mobs. Remember to have a strong melee weapon and a ranged weapon to hold the hordes at bay. Using left-trigger to enter targetting mode and left thumbstick to strafe side to side is highly effective against shambling hordes, while Magic Shot ability is very useful against enemies that lurk on the walls or the ceilings.
Ron Howard is the Opie of the masses

Mass Effect 2
Reviewed By: Lord High Rikonian (2/6/2010 8:07:07 PM)
Overall Rating: 5.00 biotic boogaloos
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Review: In many ways this game is an improvement over the already great Mass Effect.
For one, the graphics are stunning. The planetscapes and city hubs and even the characters look truly exceptional and detailed. Really, the only weak points of the character rendering are the teeth and eyelashes of humans. And that's something that's only detectable in the dialog extreme close ups.
Gun combat is for the most part similar, except that they've added a need for ammo. I have a bit of a problem with this, because guns have actually been advanced to a less useful level of technology. They try to rationalize it with some lame "oh hey our guns used to overheat so now we use disposable heat sinks to cool them, so we can shoot at a faster rate than the old guns", but these guns aren't all that much faster. Also, why can't the braniacs at the Alliance make a gun that, when the heat sinks run out, fires at the same rate of cooldown as the old guns? Aside from the weaksauce rationale behind ammo use, gunplay is great. I tend to favor the SMG, but I also kick ass with the sniper rifle and the flamethrower.
Biotic/tech power use is pretty much the same. You pull up the power wheel, pick your power and it goes off. However, this is subjected another annoying change to the Mass Effect formula. In Mass Effect 1, every power had its own cooldown, so you'd use Lift, then use Overload, then Throw, then shoot a couple guys then use Lift again. In Mass Effect 2, however, you have a power cooldown that applies to all powers. Each power has a specific cooldown time, but that cooldown blocks you from using all powers. This sucks, but still, powers are a fun and useful aspect of Mass Effect combat.
COmbat difficulty is much better. I played through in normal, but out of curiosity, I replayed some fights in casual. It was actually super easy in casual (something that Bioware kind of frakked up when they did Dragon Age).
The economic system has been refined. In the original game, you couldn't swing a dead verren without hitting a hundred thousand credits. Bioware realised they made money too prevalent, and took things way the hell the other direction for Dragon Age, then swung the pendulum back, actually landing in the sweet spot with this game. Money is scarce enough to where you don't end your first playthrough with tens of millions of extra credits, but not so scarce that you leave most of the good gear unpurchased.
Levelling is simplified. Instead of a long line of tick marks to fill in, each power has only 4 levels. At first glance, this seems like a duplo-ification of the leveling process, and maybe it is, but really it is a bit of an improvement. In the last game, after all, when you got to the higher levels, it took a lot of slots in a given power for the differences to become apparent. This new system just groups that point expenditure into a single purchase.
The mini games are also much improved. Breaking into a lock looks like hacking a circuit, and hacking a computer actually looks like some sort of hacking, as opposed to the lame "Simon" game the last version had.
And of course, there is the witty writing we expect from Bioware. Cheesy pop culture refs, hilariously demented dialog options, and the classic Bioware pussy/douchebag morality scale. But there is one thing missing. In most Bioware games, there's one character that just annoys me: Carth, Mira, Ashley, Alistaire (though Al got less annoying and actually entertaining on subsequent playthroughs). But none of the characters in Mass Effect 2 were bad.
And that's the elements. So how do they all fit together? Brilliantly. The game is fast, clever, thrilling, funny, immersive. Prepare to lose your evenings. Prepare to look up at your clock and be shocked to see that it says 2 AM. Prepare to wonder where your weekend went.
Although I did find the ending a bit weak. It turns out that the colonists were not abducted at all, they were all just stuck inside their homes unable to pull themselves away from this great game :p
OK, seriously, the ending is very strong. It's an epic slog through the enemy army followed by a good crisp brutal but not tedious boss fight. This is how you do final boss fights, Bioware. Not making a rogue click a damn crossbow for 20 minutes.

Playing Advice: First off, as with any Bioware title, this is a buy, not a rental. There is a lot to keep you occupied, and you will want to revisit it.
Second, hold off on mining systems that are away from the mass effect relays until you upgrade the number of probes your ship can hold. It'll save you a lot of fuel.
Third, always have at least one squad member with overload and one with warp.
Fourth, save often.
Aside from that, everything really falls down to playstyle.
Ron Howard is the Opie of the masses

Plants vs. Zombies
Reviewed By: Persephone977 (11/12/2009 5:21:33 PM)
Overall Rating: 4.00 zombies and peashooters
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Review: This is a great game with a simple premise. You plant flowers like peashooters and wallnuts to stop the zombies from getting across your yard and eating your brains. As you progress through the game, there are more kinds of plants to defend your house, and more kinds of zombies to protect it from.

Minigames and puzzles add to the playability of the this game, but it is pretty addictive just in the adventure portion. Completing the game opens up new minigames and additional puzzles, as well as a new zen garden feature.

This is a game that is fun for everyone--casual gamers will appreciate that it can be picked up and played for an hour here or there, while more hardcore gamers will enjoy the strategy required to complete the various levels. The minimal cartoon violence and humor attached to this game makes it suitable for most ages as well. This is a fun game!

Playing Advice: Be sure to plan your strategy to incorporate both offense and defense. It is wise to have at least a row of sun-producing plants. Sometimes a particularly difficult area will be doable after a break.

Viking: Battle For Asgard
Reviewed By: Lord High Rikonian (11/12/2009 7:07:18 PM)
Overall Rating: 2.00 severed limbs
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Review: Viking: Battle For Asgard has a some good stuff going for it. It has pretty good graphics, and the characters' movements are fairly realistically rendered. But Skarin, the Viking you play as, is a bit of a butisface, who looks like Beuwulf got beat with the unsettlingly-weird-looking-stick in the Uncanny Valley. But the rest of the graphics are pretty good.
However, the controls are very weak. There's a strong attack button that works fairly well, but the fast attack is somewhat buggy, sometimes leaving you briefly incapacitated. This pretty much defeats the purpose of a speed attack button.
Combat is very repetitive. Maybe a couple quick attacks, then a hard or two. However, there is some fun to combat. You can slice limbs off during the fight, and then hit X one more time for a brutal flourish attack that either runs the foe through, chops off the remaining limbs and the head, or runs the enemy through and then chops off the remaining limbs and the head. Doing this gets you orbs that restore your magic power and sometimes your HP. However the game seems to like denying you the green HP-boosting orbs when you really need them. It also likes putting you up against several foes at once, with no backup.
Like Circle of Doom, this game makes some half-hearted (probably because some viking cut it in half with his sword) attempts at including RPG elements, but they just serve to annoy. There is no levelling system. You just buy all your advancements at shops.
You can learn special moves at an arena (by purchasing them from some dead Viking who bitches about not getting to hang out in Valhalla because some loser mortal wants to learn a jumping sword attack). The special moves do add some variety to combat, but they are not very useful in mob fights, because the good ones all move you forward (further into the mob) so now you're out of special move tokens and surrounded by foes all wailing on you. If Skarin were a bit more agile this would be fun.
But he is a sluggish and clumsy avatar compared to other faster video game characters, such as Leinhart, the chick from Jade Empire, Darth Revan, the Neravarine, Mario, the guy from GTA 4, the guy from GTA 3 and 2, and the guy from Grand Theft Personal Mobility Scooter.

Playing Advice: I can't really recommend this game. Sometimes a game like this is a quality sleeper that went under everyone's radar. This game, however, was deservedly unnoticed. It's highly repetitive, and I got bored with it after just a couple days.
Ron Howard is the Opie of the masses
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