It's our most action packed issue to date. While the co-op scene has been quite quiet this year so far, the single player scene is jam packed with goodness. We've got 8 reviews of the biggest games so far this year, and some from last!
PB Winterbottom....................................................................... Page 2
Ticket To Ride.............................................................................Page 3
Jurassic: The Hunted ..............................................................Page 4
Battlefield: Bad Company 2.......................................................Page 5
Blood Bowl .............................................................................. Page 7
Heavy Rain ..............................................................................Page 8
Explanation of Scores:
- Golden Billy - This is a must buy title. Truly excellent in almost everyway.
- Silver Billy - A solid title with a few flaws.
- Bronze Billy - This one is probably a rental if it interests you.
Publisher: 2k Play
Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
by: Sam Tyler
LIVE and PSN have become a nurturing ground for independent developers looking to sell their games to the widest audience possible. The Odd Gentlemen are one such developer, starting off as a student project, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom managed to transcend its indie roots with the help of 2K Play who released this highly stylized puzzle game on XBLA. You play as the titular Winterbottom, a gentleman thief, whose fetish is for pies. However, your over indulgent pie snatching antics lead to a rip in the space time continuum, a hole in which you whole heartedly jump in pursuit of a giant pie!
The game is set up as a series of hub levels, each of which introduces a different rule set to the game. On a basic level you are able to create a set of Winterbottom clones that you send out to assist in pie collection. You can use them in various ways e.g. hit switches, jump gaps, or use a seesaw. As the game progresses the levels become more complex and you must use all your clones in a specific way so that you can collect every pie, which is required for you to complete the level. Each puzzle is set within a contained area; The Odd Gentlemen stop the game from becoming stale by regularly adding new variants such as a timer or having to collect pies in a certain order.
Winterbottom is a game that is heavily influenced by the fantastic Braid. This is no clearer than when you enter a new hub of puzzles. Like Braid, Winterbottom has a different style of puzzle in each area. What starts off as a game that manipulates clones, soon becomes more brain teasing as other factors are introduced – none of which I want to spoil here. With several hubs, plus a series of time trial bonus levels, there is plenty here for a bargain 800 MSP. The time to complete the main game itself will depend on a player’s skill level, but 5 hours seems about right. The continuous challenge and altering of the puzzle dynamic keeps the game fresh throughout.
I leave possibly the best element to last – the aesthetic of the game. The world is a twisted version of Victorian Britain, mixing Charles Dickens with Tim Burton. The Odd Gentlemen have taken the brave step of making the game black and white, and it looks brilliant for it. The music is also great and really adds to the atmosphere of the game; so rarely do I hear a catchy tune in games anymore. There are also some great illustrations and quirky poems between levels that act as a very amusing narrative. With its fantastic look and feel, challenging puzzles and good value for money, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is certainly one of the best XBLA games that I have played.
Publisher: Playful Entertainment
Developer: Next Level Games
by: Marc Allie
Ticket To Ride for Xbox Live Arcade is a video game conversion of a very popular board game. The fun theme, charming graphics, sounds and music, and surprisingly deep gameplay are compelling, and the XBLA version might just be a bit better than the unplugged version.
In Ticket To Ride, players share a common goal: claim as many different routes across the United States as possible. Routes between cities can be claimed by trading in railroad cards of the matching color. Gray routes can be claimed by any color cards, while rainbow colored locomotive cards are "wild", counting as any color. Say you want to build on a route that is four spaces long, and orange. On your turn, you might discard three orange cards, and one rainbow locomotive to do so. Five railroad cards are exposed at all times, and during your turn, you may draw any two of these railroad cards (unless you choose the "wild" locomotive, in which case your turn ends), or take your chances and draw two off the top of the deck. The route claiming works cleanly, and since it's so similar to the mechanic of other games, such as Phase 10, it's easy for even new players to catch on.
Destination cards are used for final scoring, and add strategic options to Ticket To Ride. At the beginning of the game, players are dealt three destination cards, and must choose two. The cards show two cities, and have a points value. To earn the points, you must have a continuous route between the two listed cities. Cities that are farther apart are worth more points, but be careful: if you cannot connect the two destinations by the end of the game, you instead lose the point value of the destination card! On any turn, you may draw three destination cards if you like, but must keep one. This leads to some serious decision making. Should you press your luck and try to connect, say, Seattle to Atlanta? Or would Chicago to New Orleans be more manageable? The final turn of the game begins when any player runs out of trains to place. After this, fulfilled destination card points are added, failed destinations are subtracted, and a bonus is given for the longest continuous route. The winner is the player with the most points.
Four players can enjoy the game locally, or up to five in a mix of local and online. Ticket To Ride for XBLA costs but a fraction of the board game itself, so it's a great way to try the game out. Only a few things keep it from being the definitive version of the game. First, when you play locally, each player needs his or her own controller, though only one is used at a time. I'd have preferred an option to pass one controller around. Second, and perhaps most grievous, is the fact that players can see which destination cards opponents have, which, to my knowledge, the board game version does not allow. This means more cutthroat play; since you know what routes your opponents need the most, you can screw them over by claiming them first.
Still, Ticket To Ride is a great translation of a fine board game. The rules are easy to learn, but the strategy will keep you interested through many plays. I found that my wife and 8 year old son enjoyed the game just as much as I did. If you are looking for a relaxing, enjoyable game, that's accessible to even a very casual player, Ticket To Ride is a good choice.
Developer: Cauldron HQ
by: Katrina Pawlowski
Say you're out with an expedition crew to find a scientist who disappeared around the Bermuda Triangle 20 years ago. Would you really be surprised that you ended up on an island inhabited by Dinosaurs and the wreckage of several decades worth of transport vessels, including WWII planes and cargo ships? Craig Dylan (referred to as "Dylan" through the game, because that's the cool thing to do) is pretty shocked, but he showed up armed with some survival skills in order to get him through. As Dylan you'll pick up weapons, and punch Dinosaurs in the head when they get a little too close for comfort.
The story for Jurassic: The Hunted has daughter of scientist Dr. James Sayrus searching for her missing father in the Bermuda region. Right away, you meet a Turok wannabe named Rock, and then the plane is sucked into a vortex which leads to this Jurassic island. Dylan is separated from the group, and spends a fair amount of time talking to himself in order to figure out what's going on. Eventually Rock gets in contact with you via static walkie-talkie, giving you a bit more direction in your quest through Dino-inhabited land.
After your first few close-encounters of the Raptor kind, Dylans radio fires up and he's informed more-or-less of what's going on by Rock. His mission is to find the encampment where missing Dr. Sayrus, his daughter, and Rock are holding up. Traverse through many areas searching for weapons and clues, and finding areas to hold up in, while fighting off swarms of raptors. These survival rounds were interesting, as you have to reinforce "windows," and stop several raptors from making a snack out of Dylan. This scenario alternates: exploration, survival, story reveal, rinse, repeat.
Your enemies through the game are primarily raptors of varying shapes and sizes. Some are tiny and act as major irritations as they're hard to hit and fast, others are large and vicious, ready to make a meal of your character. Other smaller, regular enemies include Pterodactyls, Dilophosaurus, and over sized scorpions. "Boss" dinosaurs include a few unhappy Tyrannosaurus Rexes, and an unfriendly Spinosaurus nicknamed "Spike." One thing I would have liked to have seen here, is a few herbavour stampedes. I wanted to outrun frantic Triceratops, or have to find my way around a Stegosaurus fighting for its life.
Generally speaking, the story is entertaining, the characters are believable, and the attention to detail (planes and ships from various eras and nationalities wrecked on Bermuda,) and last-but-not-least, playability. The game was one of the smoothest, most glitch-free first-person shooters I've ever played.
The one and only real complaint I have: It's lacking co-op. The survival sections of the game, and exploring dino-infested areas would have been so much more complete with a buddy. Every cheesy B-horror dialog line, goofy dinosaur movie reference, and amazing over-the-top action moment I wanted to share, but wasn't able. I can only hope that a sequel will allow us to play together, since the characters are reunited (hint, hint, devs).
Publisher: Electronic Arts
MSRP: $59.99 / $49.99
by: Jim McLaughlin
Battlefield: Bad Company 2 pretty much fixes what I didn't like about its predecessor, stuffs the whole package into a blender, and promptly explodes. The campaign is 13 missions long, and lasted me about six hours. The characters retain their richness from the first game, but now they're thrust into an cheesy plot. However, the ridiculousness of the story is lost among impressive visuals, incredible sound design, and a few gimmick levels that rival Modern Warfare 2's over-the-top action. One level in particular seems to be an excuse from which the use of several World War II weapons in multiplayer was contrived.
Gone is the a la carte credit system for unlocking weapons and abilities in multiplayer; instead, you now have a handful of weapons that are class-specific and can be added to in the form of variable scopes, different types of grenade launchers, and accuracy upgrades...and then there's a pool of weapons - each unlocked by reaching a target overall rank - that cannot be adjusted and are available to any of the classes (Assault, Engineer, Medic, Recon). Every handgun and every special ability (such as extra ammo, quicker vehicle reloads, etc.) are available to any class, . These "perks" don't add a huge jump to gameplay, but they can give you an edge. Plus, having more control over your soldier is a good incentive to jump online more often.
Despite liberal use of particles, I've seen no framerate slowdown. I've lost hours of time with this insanely fun game, and I've developed several killer headaches as a result. The only real complaints I have about Bad Company 2 are: DICE still hasn't found a way to keep players from "stealing" the most interesting vehicles (like helicopters), and connectivity with the EA servers is shaky. Once you're in a game, you're gold...but it has taken me up to six tries just to access the multiplayer menu, thanks to glitchy connectivity with my EA profile. Side note: you can make private games now, and joining your friends from the main menu is a snap (and you're automatically added to their team...imagine that!).
It's obvious DICE has future plans for Bad Company 2, as made evident by the in-game Store that already has a weapons camouflage / character skins pack and a map pack dated (March 18th and April 1st, respectively) on the Xbox 360 version. I look forward to many long evenings and many sensory-overload induced headaches from the new king of multiplayer shooters.
by: Mike Katsufrakis
Though many games lift portions of their design from their contemporaries and few people complain, the fact that Darksiders lifts a lot of its structure from the Zelda series suddenly makes it a federal crime. Can a game that borrows elements from many excellent games be considered excellent in its own right? For my money, the answer is yes.
Darksiders stars War. You know, the Biblical War, who has 3 other friends with an affinity for equine travel options and end-of-the-world scenarios. Unfortunately for War, someone triggered the Apocalypse early and placed the blame on him. In an interesting twist that the Book of Revelations forgot to mention, the Horsemen, Angels and Demons all have to play along with a group called the Charred Council who seem to be the official referees of the Apocalypse. In any case, War is blamed for wiping out humanity early and must seek out bloody revenge against those who falsely accused him. Joining him on this journey is Mark Hamill as the Joker (not really).
Combat is very fast-paced, similar in vein to the God of War series. War swings his blade, Chaoseater (how metal is that?) and can string together combos using it and a variety of sub-weapons. Though you can block, it seems that you're most likely to use the dodging and dashing mechanics to defend yourself. Mastering the combat is essential to success in Darksiders because the amount of damage enemies can unload onto War is fairly substantial. While you earn multiple life bars throughout the game, later enemies can hit you hard enough to lose several to a single blow.
The real star of Darksiders is its dungeon design. Taking cue from the Zelda series, each dungeon contains a key item that you will need to learn to use effectively in order to proceed. Think I'm off with the Zelda comparison? You get a friggin' hookshot, and it is awesome. Puzzles range from mundane block pushing to creating explosive chains to using a Portal-inspired gun to create pathways for energy beams to travel around a level. At the end of each massive dungeon is an equally impressive boss. Darksiders really nails a sense of scale in these fights, and they're all suitably epic.
With solid combat, excellent dungeons, a flaming horse, colorful art direction and epic scale, Darksiders comes highly recommended. Besides, any game that has direct homages to Panzer Dragoon, Shadow of the Colossus and Portal is OK in my book.
Publisher: South Peak Interactive
Developer: Cyanide Studios
by: Marc Allie
As a card-carrying geek, I've spent plenty of time in game stores, tossing cards onto a table, rolling dice, and generally doing nerdy stuff. Many times, I noticed a group of.. shall we say, overzealous gamers, yelling and screaming at one another over a table full of miniatures. My curiosity was piqued, but these guys were the nerdiest of the nerds, and so I kept my distance, much as a young lion stays away from feasting adult males on the Serengeti. What was this game that caused such an emotional response? Blood Bowl, a Warhammer-themed, turn-based, bloody miniatures-based version of American football.
My game store days are few and far between lately, so I was definitely interested in checking out Blood Bowl for the Xbox 360. After all, playing a game like this in video game form would be cheaper and easier to store and set up, and I thought a good tutorial would acclimate me to the rules more quickly than would learning from a rulebook. After spending several hours with the game, my experience with the video game version of Blood Bowl has been decidedly mixed.
The tutorial is not very helpful at all. Instead of a narrator walking you through the rules slowly, building on previous knowledge, you are presented with a clunky text overlay atop the playing area. There are several tutorials, and it is not immediately clear which should be only viewed first. The interface of the game is easy enough to figure out, but the actual game mechanics are not. This was quite intimidating to me, even with my limited background knowledge of Blood Bowl. It was far easier to figure out what was going on by just playing matches against the AI set to easy. Still, it is tough to get a handle on the core game mechanics, which really work behind the scenes in this version of the game.
The presentation of the game itself is much better. You can switch between manual and automatic camera on the fly, zooming in and out to any level. The grid based movement is hidden until needed, which helps to immerse you in the brutal gameplay. Character models are well done, depicting huge, scary orcs, nimble elves, and knight-like humans. The varied races all play differently, as you'd expect, and you quickly learn to avoid the big nasty green guys who will make your poor little human runner end up with a broken neck, or worse yet, pound him into a spray of blood. This is something you can't really get in the table top version, other than in your imagination, and is where the game really shines.
Once you have honed your skills, you can take on friends or play ranked matches online. I don't consider myself good enough to even try these modes yet, but I did notice one glaring omission. There are no online leagues, which is really a shame, and could have worked very well. Building up your team's stats by playing against others online would be far better than the offline campaigns against the AI.
Blood Bowl isn't a perfect adaptation of the "real thing", but it is certainly passable. The core game elements are well balanced, which is why the game has remained popular for so long. While the Xbox 360 version is far from flawless, it does deliver a visceral, bone-crushing experience, once you get past the questionable tutorials and less than ideal interface issues.
Developer: Quantic Dream
by: Jason Love
You’re at a mall with your wife and two sons on a lazy Sunday afternoon. While your wife and one of your sons goes into a store to look for shoes, you and your other son hang out outside of the store. He gets bored and wanders off, despite your protestations. Suddenly, he’s lost in the mall crowd. What do you do? Quantic Dream’s latest release, Heavy Rain, is built upon finding out your response to this, and even more emotionally trying situations, throughout the course of the game.
The underlying premise behind Heavy Rain is that a child serial killer has chosen his next victim, and you have four days in which to find the child before he’s killed. While that answers the question of “what is the game about” in a conventional sense, it really doesn’t address the experience of the game, which lies in the who and the how. Over the course of Heavy Rain, you control four different characters, each of whom has his or her own motivation, flaws, and personalities, and each of whom must face his or her own trials. As the player, though, it is really up to you to decide exactly what kind of people these characters are, and how far they’re willing to go to see their convictions through.
The greatest strength of Heavy Rain is that it does everything in its power to make you feel like you aren’t just playing another game – experiencing the story and events as they unfold – but are an actual, active determinant in causing the story to play out however you choose. That degree of freedom you’re given in order to create your own story and experience is, essentially, what Heavy Rain is all about. No other game I’ve played has given me quite the same feeling, even if it is only illusory at times, that I am creating a world of my own design by choosing to tuck a child into a bed, or choosing to not open a door and instead walk away.
While the game is not without its flaws – the voice acting can be a bit spotty at times and there are a few plot holes – the overall experience of Heavy Rain is easily one of my top ten all-time gaming experiences, and I cannot recommend it enough. Despite this, Heavy Rain is not a game that’s going to appeal to everyone. If a game filled with QTEs and semi-long narratives sounds like something you want to play, then you’ll likely enjoy Heavy Rain. Even so, I strongly recommend playing the demo first to see if you’re a fan.