Archive for the 'Game Reviews' Category

09
Nov
09

DJ Hero: A Hip Hop Historian’s Review (Xbox 360 Standard Edition)

jazzyjeffscratching_large Just like many other kids who were alive in the 70s/80s, I remember watching the Grammys where Herbie Hancock did a live performance of ‘Rock It’ (which at that time had the most visually eclectic music video to date.)  There was a lot going on in the performance – mannequins were moving around and other Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions swung in the background.  But what I remember most was the DJ in the background, where for the first time ever I saw someone scratching.  After that, I fell in love with the art and later with the skills of so many accomplished DJs, including Grand Wizard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, Jazzy Jay, Jam Master Jay, Chuck Chillout, Marley Marl, Red Alert and Premier to name just a few. 

Very late into the craze, I decided to save up my money and get DJ equipment myself.  With immeasurable hope, I turned the pages to the back of a Source magazine advertisement and bought two of the most inexpensive Gemini turntables and a mixer that money would buy.  (They even threw in ten albums which I desperately needed, as buying two of each record wasn’t something that my 12-year-old budget was ready to handle.)

When my box and turntables arrived, within about 3 hours I realized a few things.  First, I learned that you pretty much get what you pay for.  But most importantly I learned that even the most expensive gear and dedication wouldn’t buy the years of practice and perfecting of the art it takes to be a true Hip-Hop DJ.  Watching DJs as a kid, all I saw was the scratching and crossfading.  But only when I used the turntables myself did I see just how much skill was involved.  I had to try to remember the positioning of the song, so that when I went from one turntable to the other, I would be at the correct position.  I had to remember to discern between what I was hearing in my headphones versus what was coming out of the speaker.  All in all, I developed more respect for the art of DJing that day than I ever had watching it alone.

Over the years, the art has been mastered and taken to new levels, as evidenced by watching movies like Scratch and guys like Mix Master Mike, Cut Chemist and many others.  DJing is such an iconic art that in Japan (where arcade gaming, although on the decline, is much more popular than it is here) there are more than a few games that feature turntables and simulate DJing.  I always wondered if one of those games would make it stateside and, more importantly, if they would be worth playing.

A bit over a year ago, I remember hearing that Activision reserved the name “DJ Hero”, (among many other Hero-based game names they reserved).  Ideas began to circulate in my mind about how a game like this might play out.  Exactly how would they translate the art of DJing to a video game?

About six months ago, I had my first look at the DJ Hero controller, and I was pretty impressed.  It looked like the iconic Technics 1200 model turntable that every Hip-Hop aficionado is familiar with.  (And actually I’m pretty surprised that Technics hasn’t attempted to sue Activision – the resemblance is more than minor.)  However, when I saw the screenshot, I thought I was seeing only part of the peripheral.  Where was the other turntable?  Well, Activision aired on the side of simplicity for the controller rather than authenticity.  Initially I thought this was sacrilegious to only have one turntable.  But after having played the game, I think – for now, at least – that they made the right decision.  So, does this game bring me closer to the experience of actually simulating the art of DJing?  Read on to find out.

Continue reading ‘DJ Hero: A Hip Hop Historian’s Review (Xbox 360 Standard Edition)’

21
Nov
07

Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer

When it comes to most games that I purchase, I’m probably being robbed. Sixty bucks for about 5-10 hours of gameplay — by my own choice. There’s probably 10-15 hours worth of gameplay in the average game today if you consider all of the “extra modes” that games usually include to increase the perceived “good value”. But after awhile, repetition sets in and I stop playing. Most sports games have lost their appeal for me. And these days, it take a pretty special game to truly make me feel that my $60 was money well spent.

Guitar Hero is probably the only game that I’ve purchased in recent years and received more enjoyment than than the $90 put towards buying it. The original Guitar Hero provided me and my friends with hours and hours of gaming fun. It was just perfect. The song list was comprised of old time favorites and new songs that quickly became favorites. Guitar Hero II had some of my favorite tracks, but the general consensus was that it just didn’t seem to have the same appeal as the original song list. In looking ahead to Guitar Hero III, the song list seemed to return to the days of glory. My Name is Jonas by Weezer, One by Metallica, Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar, and, my personal favorite, Paint it Black by The Rolling Stones, made this new version of Guitar Hero the game to buy. However, there’s another game that was waiting behind the curtain… one that curiously enough was developed by the folks who made the first two games.

Rock Band is being developed by Harmonix — the studio that made the first two Guitar Hero games. (There’s been enough said about the split. Let’s just say that Harmonix is now doing Rock Band and Neversoft, makers of Tony Hawk, are doing Guitar Hero. OK?)

Two guitar-based games? Two years ago, we barely had hopes that the first one would be accepted. But now we’ve got this new “Rock Band” which incorporates singing, bass and lead guitar and the drums. It all seemed kinda strange to me. What could Harmonix legally take from the old series and bring to Rock Band? And more importantly, what would my old favorite, Guitar Hero, be like without them?

Well, the verdict for both games is in. I’ve played em both. Guitar Hero III has been in my PS3 for about three weeks now. And it’s fun. Real good fun. However, the one thing that I think gamers are in agreement about is the fact that, in an effort to add some flavor to the game, they’ve detracted from some of what made Guitar Hero the ‘pick up and play’ game that had Wii-like mass market appeal. It’s almost inexcusable that upon booting the game, you don’t have a complete song list. By now studios should understand that many people treat Guitar Hero and games of the like as karaoke-type games: they get a bunch of friends and play for fun. Why force people to play to unlock songs? But let me not get into details here — I’m not writing to give a review. Let’s just say what’s most important: it’s loads of fun. I look forward to coming home after work and banging out Evenflow and Paint it Black to ease some tension for many months to come.

I had a lot of doubts about Rock Band. For one, the song list seemed a bit uninspired. There were some great songs on it (Say It Ain’t So, Dani California, Epic, Paranoid, Highway Star) but as I looked over the playlist, I saw a lot of great bands — but “wrong” songs. Anyhow, my doubts also turned to the fact that at $170, would this really be worth it? How many times would I have one other person over to play — much less three other people — to justify the cost? And this big question mark for myself and many others was the inclusion of the most intriguing part of the package — the drums.  See, we’ve done the guitar. (Guitar Hero).  And we’ve done the microphone (Karaoke Revolution).  And as much as there have been games like Donkey Konga and a few others, I had to wonder: would a drum set even work accurately? And four players?? How is all of that information going to be represented on the screen at the same time — and not give everyone a headache? (I get confused sometimes with only two guitar scroll bars on screen. Imagine four sets of streaming data??!!) And what about this new guitar? Yeah, it looks ok. But I’m used to my Guitar Hero controller. And on…and on…

Well, this afternoon, I had a chance to check out Rock Band. And…well…. I’m in love. Continue reading ‘Guitar Hero III? Good Stuff. And Rock Band?….I’m a Believer’

09
Nov
06

Gears of War: Review

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OK, I’ll cut to the chase: Gears of War is one of the best games that I have ever played. Ever.

I had ridiculously high expectations for Gears of War. Cliffy B (Lead Designer) talked about “changing the way that we’d be playing shooters”. He talked about Hollywood-level production values. He talked….and talked… until I started yawning and waiting for a release. And then the game released. And I realized that everything that he said, he’d delivered on.

In terms of genre, I believe that Gears of War can best be described as “a first-person Sci-Fi Action Shooter played from the third-person perspective.” But mark my words — the same way that we refer to free-roaming action games as “GTA-type games”, we’ll be talking about over-the-shoulder shooters with cover as “Gears-of-War-type games”.

You play in the Campaign mode as Marcus Phoenix, a six-foot-five-inch tough-as-nails Marine. The game opens with Marcus sitting in prison, until he’s “broken out” by fellow soldiers who need him back in action. Without giving away the story, things pick up right away and before you know it, you’re battling enemies. The “Locust” are the race of enemy creatures that recently emerged from their hiding placed within the center of this fictional Earth-like planet during a day of infamy commonly known as, “Emergence Day”. Feeling helpless and not wanting to surrender their city to the Locust, the government relocated everyone to shelters and destroyed the rest of the landscape. Your job is to work with your Marine squad to, what else, save the world.

Yes, the story is a bit cliche’. But it completely works. The setting helps to completely immerse you in the story as you progress. As much fun as the actual gameplay was, I found myself caring about the outcome of the story.

Graphics

The graphics are quite simply the best that an Xbox 360 game has ever displayed. Period. The ruined buildings are breathtaking. As you’re running through the battlefields of play, at several points you’ll find yourself wanting to slow down the pace and actually look around. They’re just that beautiful. The mood of the story is very grim and dark, and the folks that did the lighting helped tremendously to create that mood. Unlike Doom 3, this is a dark setting where you can actually tell what’s happening. Every polygonal character — from the enemies to the weapons to the cars and tombstones that you’ll use for cover as you battle — they’re all shown in incredible detail. I was playing the game in 1080i on my High Def 27″ TV. I’m sure that on a 42-50″ Plasma or DLP TV that this would be truly amazing in 720p. It’s the type of game to make you consider going out to buy a better-quality TV.

One incredible scene has you batting in a rainy nighttime landscape. The feeling of immersion combined with the sound of the rain in 5.1 is indescribable. This has to be played to be appreciated. Continue reading ‘Gears of War: Review’