Monday, January 16, 2006

“Dead or Alive 4 (Xbox 360) Review”

I love Street Fighter II. (Yes, this is a DoA4 review, but indulge me, dammit.) I mean, as far as I’m concerned, fighting game-wise, nothing has topped it. Ever. The Street Fighter II series has some intangible qualities that no fighting has ever been able to reproduce, much less improve upon. The gameplay is simple, yet complex. The characters are now iconic. Hell, even the music is memorable.

But even still, instilled in me is the ever growing need for something newer and shinier, something better than what is already nearly perfect. No sooner had I mastered wake up dragon punches all those years ago that I started looking for the next ‘it’ game to replace it. Early on, it was Mortal Kombat. Killer Instinct made a run for the fighting game title. Then you had the barrage of SNK games. Some were good. Many were horrible. But in the end, even the good ones couldn’t compare to SF2.

Then came the 3D fighting games, and soon, button mashing became a viable fighting game strategy. This sickened me. Never in its admittedly short history, going back to Karate Champ, had the fighting game genre ever been even remotely easy to play. If you were a newb at Street Fighter, and you played someone that even kind of knew what he was doing, you got destroyed. End of story. Too bad. So sad. Suck it up and try again. And again. And again. Just like everyone else before you. All SF2 players had to go through this rite of passage before even being able to consistently throw a fireball, much less use it at the right time, or ultimately combo into it. SF2 took skill.

And these 3D fighting games, man, I mean, button mashing… ugh. And yeah, OK, I admit that button mashing isn’t going to win you any tournaments. But still, it gets you a lot further than it should. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not blind to the fact that 3D fighting games take skill to master, but it’s just not satisfying. Punch, Punch, Kick, Punch. Should *never* be considered a ‘move.’ And furthermore, it shouldn’t take 1/4 of a life bar away if you connect with it. (This is what sucked about KI, by the way.) Sure you have the timings and counters and shit like that, but honestly… all that stuff just seems… not… cool, I guess. It’s not that it doesn’t take skill to play games like Virtua Fighter or Tekken or Dead or Alive 4, it’s just that the skill needed to play those games just seems sort of gay. It’s kind of like being good at synchronized swimming. It’s hard and shit, no doubt, but wouldn’t you rather be good at real game like football or basketball or even golf?

So you’re probably thinking I hate Dead of Alive 4. The strange thing is, I don’t. As I said, I’m always looking for that one game to supplant SF2 as the best fighting game of all time. So I’m always welcoming the next big fighting game with open arms. Unfortunately, DoA4 isn’t the ultimate in fighting games. But, I begrudgingly admit that it’s still quite a bit of fun.

Perhaps I’m influenced by the fact that DoA4 is my only fighting game option on the Xbox 360. Or perhaps I’m enchanted by the online aspects of the game, or even by the hi-res boobies. In any case, I like this game. I admit it. And that should mean something from a guy that has hated nearly all 3D fighting games.

Graphics – 8.4

A sore point, for me, about the Xbox 360 is the lack of truly jaw dropping graphics in the 1st batch of games. DoA4 is among the games that disappoints graphically. Perhaps, it’s unfair to judge something based on how you think it should be, but you know what, I never said I was going to be fair. The graphics in DoA4 should be much better than they are. Period.

Of course, DoA4 has the obligatory jump in resolution and texture detail, a less than apparent jump in polygons, and a very nice framerate. Ho-hum. Boring. What I wanted to see in this generation was gameplay graphics that matched the graphics in the pre-rendered endings. Instead, what I got from my Xbox 1.5 was DoA 3.5.

Let’s take the characters’ hair. Where do I even start? It’s ass. The long flowing hair on the DoA 4 characters looks simply terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Terrible. Why did they bother with long flowing ‘hair’ if they make it look more like magical ribbons that seem to move of their own volition… independently of any implied game physics… even going as far as going through the characters’ bodies. I mean, the hair polygons clipping into the shoulders of most of the characters is really noticeable. If they couldn’t do the hair right, they should have just left their hair short like in previous games.

The backgrounds are pretty good I guess, but nothing too great either. I really like the waterfall level. But when your character falls into the water, I want to see their clothes get wet. I want to see their hair droop down, soaked with water, and I want to see droplets of water go flying from their hair as their heads are popped back with a nasty kick to the face. But apparently we’ll have none of that.

The graphics are simply adequate with respect to the rest of the Xbox 360 games. People who jizz in their pants when they talk about the graphics would also probably be quite happy playing with an empty egg carton. They are easily amused. The graphics in DoA4 are nothing special people. Let’s be real.

Gameplay – 9.0

This is the real heart of the game. SF2 looks like ass by today’s standards, but the gameplay keeps me coming back again and again. I’m happy to report that the gameplay of DoA4 is decent. It’s got a nice feel to it, and while it’s very spam friendly, there are some definite skills that can be learned that will allow you to dominate less experienced players. Countering is one of those skills.

Let me just say that what I call a ‘counter,’ the game calls a ‘hold.’ Let me also say that whoever named the move where “you stop an opponents attack and retaliate against it with an attack of your own” a ‘hold’ is an idiot. It’s a fucking counter. Using their logic, a ‘throw’ would probably be called a ‘maneuver.’ Most likely this same idiot (probably Itagaki) is also the guy that named the guard/counter button, the ‘free’ button. Why not call it the ‘defense’ button? I chalk it up to the long history Japanese people have of being retarded when they name something in English. “Donkey Kong” anyone?

In any case, countering is a big deal. Apparently, it was a much bigger deal in earlier versions of DoA because it was overpowered. It had a long window where the counter was active, and it did way too much damage. The counter window has been reduced in DoA4, as has the damage performing a counter does. These are good things. That being said, there are 4 different ways you can counter in the game: forward + free (counters mid kicks), back + free (counters mid punches), up-back + free (counters high attacks) and down-back + free (counters low attacks). That means, if you’re really just guess as to what your opponent is going to do next, you only have a 25% chance of countering. Or more importantly, you have a 75% chance of getting pummeled. A word to the wise, don’t guess on what kind of counter to use. If in doubt, simply block.

The good players can pick up the attack strings being used against them and intelligently counter the last or next to the last attack. This is where being spammy gets you your ass handed to you. If you always do the same three fucking punches, a good player is going to start countering you.

Outside of counters, you have a lot of other nice subtleties in gameplay like stun moves that temporarily incapacitate your enemy if they block and multiple part throws. Nothing really new here as these things have been done before, but its still doesn’t change the fact that these moves deepen the gameplay.

Matches tend to be over pretty quickly when played at default settings: 2 rounds with the ‘Normal’ life bars. Almost too quickly. Over time, I preferred to play first to 3 rounds and with the life bars increased to Maximum to allow for longer rounds. This is with regard to Vs. mode of course. For single player games, you want that shit over as fast as possible because you’re going to be wanting to get through the game quickly to unlock bonus characters and costumes.

That brings me to the modes. There are only 2 modes worth a shit in my opinion, Story mode and Versus Mode. Story mode is how you earn the majority of your shit, so you probably want to play through that a few times. It’s not too bad. The rounds default to 1 round. But Versus mode is where I spend most of my time. That and Online Versus mode, which is basically the same shit. Time Attack and Survival? Fuck those. They’re only there to stretch out the game. Having to go through those modes to unlock the last few things really sucks.

Back to the online aspect… DoA4 does a great job of giving you an easy way to experience online Versus. Basically, the layout of online is like a virtual arcade. A group of 2 thru 16 people join a lobby. Register, then they join a game. People play their game. If it’s not your turn, you wait in line and watch the others play. When your turn comes up, if you win, great, you stay on and take another challenger. If you lose, back to the end of the line. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s awesome, and it works really well.

The only bad part of playing online is that the game can lock up on you from time to time. It generally does that when you mess around with the guide button while the game is loading. It does NOT like that. It’s easy to avoid, but it’s a bug that shouldn’t be there nonetheless. Oh, well.

What else do you wanna hear? About the Spartan? She sucks. Slow and predictable. The online lag? That just depends on your connection to the other guy. Sometimes good, sometimes bad, but almost always playable. About the special DoA4 joystick? Yes, I have it and it rocks. I can’t wait to use it to play SF2 over Xbox Live Arcade. ;)

In summary, if you like how 3D fighting games play, in particular the DoA games, you’ll love the gameplay. There really isn’t a competition with regard to fighting games… soo… there you go.

Sound – 8.0

All I know is that Itagaki seems to have a hard on for Aerosmith. Why do they keep licensing Aerosmith for DoA games? WHY? Blech. Well, besides the Aerosmith, the rest of the songs aren’t bad, but they are easily forgettable. The punches and kicks and groans and grunts sound about right. The voice acting is a bit lame, however, not because it’s bad, but because it’s all in Japanese. I mean, the Americans, the Chinese, the French and German… all speak perfect Japanese. All except the Spartan. The lady who does the voice of the Spartan seemed to be the only non-Japanese name in all the credits. ;) It just doesn’t seem right that Bass speaks perfect Japanese.

Value – 9.1

If you like fighting games, you’ll play DoA4 a shitload. You can find it at some places for $49.99, but mostly it’s $59.99. Either way, if you want a fighting game, you’re gonna have to pay it. The value totally depends on how much Versus fighting you do and whether you play online. Overall, for me, it’s a great value.

Overall – 8.7

One last time: this is the only fighting game for the Xbox 360. If you liked older DoAs or even Tekken or some other bullshit, get it. End of story.


Penalty on offense. Illegal Block to the back!

That's a hardcore game of pattycake!

You were warned! No counting cards!!

Mmmmmmmm... boobies.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

"Call of Duty 2 (Xbox 360) Review"

Let me start by saying that 1) I didn’t play Call of Duty 1 or any of the CoD offshoots for the consoles and 2) I hate FPS controls on consoles – two analog sticks are shit compared to a keyboard and mouse. Couple that with the fact that I normally wouldn’t play a PC game ported over to a console, and it’s a miracle that I even played CoD2 for the Xbox 360 let alone bought it.

Here’s the deal though: the game just looked oh-so-nice at the Xbox 360 demo kiosk at Best Buy. Sooo smooth. Mmmmm. I’m a sucker for a high frame rate. Then I visited another Best Buy and they had the demo Xbox 360 setup up on a big HD TV with surround sound. Some kid had set up camp on one of those comfy gaming chairs. It looked like he’d been there all day. He was playing through the CoD2 demo like he’d done it ten or twenty times before. I stood and watched for a bit, and I suddenly found myself actually considering getting the game at launch. I kept trying to reason myself out of it… thinking that it was stupid to buy CoD2 for the Xbox 360 because if I really wanted to play it, I should play it ‘properly’ on my PC. It’d be cheaper too.

But, alas, I gave in and bought CoD2 on launch day. My final reasoning was that I would never actually play a single player campaign on the PC (I’m strictly multiplayer/deathmatch on the PC) and that even though I had a pretty high end PC, that it just wouldn’t look as nice as it did on the Xbox 360. Also, the rest of the launch titles pretty much sucked (more on that another time.) Oh, and Best Buy was handing out $10 off any game coupons too. So that helped.

Graphics – 8.9

The graphics are pretty good. No doubt. They are not so much ‘next generation’ graphics, as much as nice, solid graphics. The polygon counts aren’t unbelievable, but they’re pretty good. The textures are pretty good. The frame rate is pretty good. It’s just pretty good dammit!

While most of the demo (and the rest of the game in fact) runs at a nice 60fps, there are times where tons of explosions and/or smoke screens slow the framerate down to a reasonable, but less than perfect 30fps or so. But about 90% of the time, the frame rate is silky smooth.

The character models look well done. Their animation is on the nicer side of things, but they do get repetitive after a while. Seeing a guy walk up to a doorway, stand up against the wall and peek his head around the corner about 100 times kind of kills it.

Quite honestly, this game looks like a really nice PC game, which on its own isn’t that impressive when you think about how there we’re supposed to be in the next generation of graphics. However, when you think about how the Xbox 360 costs a mere $300-$400 dollars, it’s quite impressive they can muster up $3000 PC graphics in HD.

Gameplay – 9.0

Before I get into the actual gameplay, I have to bitch about the save game bug I came across…

First thing I noticed is that while I had let friends play CoD2, and they had made it all the way to the British missions (the middle part of the game), I couldn’t select the British missions anymore. It was very strange. I continued playing through the Russian Campaign and finished it. Then all of a sudden I was thrust back into the first Russion mission: a training mission. Since the game doesn’t allow you to move on until you finish the missions in order, I was confused as to why I was sent back to the start. Well, apparently the game had ‘forgotten’ that I had done these early missions somehow. I shrugged it off and re-did the first few missions. I didn’t really mind because my friends had been the ones that had played the early missions.

I moved on to British missions, and about halfway through those, I noticed my Russian missions were again grayed out as if they hadn’t been completed. Sure enough, after I finished my current set of British missions, I was thrust back into Russian Training… again. What the fuck? Something was very wrong. After some searching on internet forums, I found out what I didn’t want to find out: the game had a save game bug. Apparently, it was triggered when your profile loaded after the game loaded. It would keep track of where you last were, but not what you had completed, and if you saved in that state, you fucked yourself. Or rather, the game fucked you because it would save it in a state that let you finish off your current mission while claiming you hadn’t finished the missions before it. Which is a load of crap because you can’t even get to the later missions without finishing them in order.

Anyway, I found the work around: basically, never use the “continue to the next mission” option. Always save after every mission and then select you new mission from the Mission Select menu. Most importantly, upon first booting up the game, make sure your shit got loaded. If it didn’t, reload the game by going into the Multiplayer menu and exiting back into the Single player menu. It’s a load of shit that I had to do that, but it worked. I expect that type of shit from PC games that get patched a lot, but not from a console game.

Anyway, on to the actual gameplay… the controls were quite well suited to the Xbox 360 controller. I was pretty worried about that. It’s usually pretty fucked up trying to squeeze tons of PC controls onto a few buttons on a controller, but this worked well. I think it was because you only could carry two weapons, so weapon selection was easy. I always hate cycling through weapons on console controllers. Same with grenades… one shoulder button for smoke grenades and another for frag grenades. Easy. The sensitivity of the sticks seemed spot on as well. I really liked how when you hit the 'aim/zoom' button, you looked down the sights of the gun. Very cool and easy to use. Overall, it was just pretty nice to control. I didn’t have much problems with it.

During the game, you play as different soldiers. You start out as a Russian Soldier fighting the Germans on the Russian front. The levels are all fought on the snow covered grounds in the middle of a Russian winter. Next you move to a British Campaign where you play mostly as a British grunt with a short break as a Tank Commander. These are African missions and are all desert based. Finally, you get to play as an American soldier. These are fought in Western Europe and are the general village in temperate weather missions. All, with the possible exception of the tank missions, are very fun and quite enjoyable. The tank missions seemed a bit tacked on to me. They weren’t very deep. Still, they weren’t bad and they did offer a nice break from the FPS action.

For the remainder of the missions, the FPS missions, you pretty much follow the Star on the radar to your next objective. Most of the objectives are quite clea, and you don’t have to run around trying to figure out what to do. You do some recon, some holding down the fort, some taking back an area, and a lot of killing of dirty Nazi bastards. If you’ve played any FPS game, you’ll probably feel quite a home.

I like the use of smoke grenades as a battlefield tactic. The computer controller Nazis actually have trouble finding you in the smoke. Which brings me to the AI. A lot of people have been touting the AI of the characters in CoD2 as really fucking awesome. I’m here to tell you that they are pretty awesome indeed. They tend to work as a team and are no where near as dumb as say… they bad guys in Perfect Dark Zero where they’re complete morons. It really adds a sense of realism and urgency to the missions to know that the Nazis aren’t dumb drones easily picked off.

Your teammates aren’t nearly as impressive. Not because they’re idiots, but because it seems like only certain team members are allowed to die. One of my favorite characters was the Scottish gunner in the British Campaign. That guy was funny as shit. And he never died. Which is a good thing, but still it was kind of obvious who the main characters of the Campaign were and which grunts were gonna get offed. Kinda like the Star Trek missions where Spock, Kirk, McCoy and Ensign Smith beam down to the planet surface to investigate hostile activity. Guess who’s not beaming back up?

Overall, the gameplay was rock solid with fun, enjoyable missions.

Sound – 9.5

The game itself is, how should I put it, engaging. No. Enthralling. No. It’s immersive. Yeah, it’s immersive. I saw a documentary on the making of CoD2, and the developers pointed out that some old soldier dude told them that once the first shot was fired, they never stopped talking to each other. This really made a huge difference in my opinion. While in most FPSs, you play a pretty much silent one man wrecking crew, in CoD2 you really do feel like you’re part of a team… a squad… or whatever the fuck you call your group of guys in military speak. All I know is that my fellow soldiers always kept in contact with me, and it was relative speech too. They say stuff like “Jerries on your right, behind the boxes!” That’s a nice touch.

I also played this in 5.1 with a nice subwoofer. Honestly, you have to. This game sounds amazing. If you’re in another room, you’d think CoD2 was a movie. The voice acting is superb and the sound effects are massive. The resonating boom of explosions, the firing of guns in the distance, the battle chatter from your teammates and the radio, they are all simply awesome. The only problem I saw was that you played a silent hero, which doesn’t make sense since your not even playing the whole game as a single guy.

Value – 8.0

At $59.99, no game that you just play through once is gonna be a great value. I got mine for $49.99, and that’s not too bad. If you trade games in, its even a better deal. You can finish the single player missions at the default skill level in about 10-15 hours. Perfect length as far as I’m concerned. If you play on Veteran, you’re looking at a lot of restarts that will lengthen the game.

There aren’t that many Xbox 360 achievements since they basically involve finishing the game at the Veteran (i.e. hardest) difficulty setting. I’m still going through the game again to do those.

As far as multiplayer is concerned. I honestly don’t know. I didn’t try it. I was turned off by the backlash of people online that have complained bitterly about lag whilst playing CoD2 over Xbox Live. If you play on LAN, I guess it could be fun, but you’re talking about rounding up 3-4 more people with Xbox 360s and the game. That’s probably not gonna happen.

Overall – 8.9

This game was solid. I highly recommend it to FPS fans, even the ones that hate console FPSs… like me. The story was engaging and the level of immersion was phenomenal. The only ones I wouldn’t recommend this game to are people that suck at FPSs and people that have played the PC version. Everyone else should go out and get this game for their Xbox 360. And apparently, everyone did as CoD2 was the number one selling title for the Xbox 360 in 2005. 


Thursday, January 05, 2006


Just testing this gamercard thing. If it works, there should be a flash version of my Xbox Live gamercard below...

Hmm... that didn't work. How about the straight up jpg of it?

OK, that works...

Fuck. I just tried it with IE. The flash gamercard works ONLY with IE. What a crock of shit.