Video Game Review: Borderlands 2 (by Gearbox Software / 2K Games)


2K Games and Gearbox Software have finally unleashed the sequel to it’s successful IP, Borderlands on game consoles, and wow, it’s wonderful to return to this universe. Some of my friends on Xbox Live introduced me to the original game and we had quite a bit of fun making our way through it. It was easy to have the sequel on our must play lists.

Here’s what you need to know about Borderlands. The game exists within a barren wasteland known as Pandora. In this place, we have The Vault. If found and opened, it will yield an unimaginable treasure, and as a result, Vault Hunters come from far and wide to seek it out. Along the way, you end meeting some strange characters and fighting against weirder ones. What set Borderlands apart was that it was something of a shooter / Role Playing Game and that it also contained a massive amount of weaponry. Working off of an XP system, you can upgrade your character by killing any enemies you find on the landscape, which is normal for any RPG, but the amount of different weapons in the game was massive.

It was rare to run into the same gun twice.

Borderlands 2 basically picks up where the last game left off in terms of development. Gearbox has introduced four new types of characters to work with, new landscapes and guns. Since the graphics engine is more akin to games like XIII and maybe even The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, the game moves very fast and there’s little lag online when playing with 3 other players in a Co-Op battle.

The guns in the game all have attributes of their own, such a reload factors, damage strength and scope strength (if they have them). Some guns can be used as grenades when they use up a clip. Others have Elemental qualities (which I love), in that they can set enemies on fire, shock them with lightning or shoot corrosive acid. As you level up in the game, so the available weapons, so you’ll find yourself selling or discarding the ones you’ve carried along for more powerful upgrades – unless of course you happen to own one revolver or two that you just can’t part with. Trust me, that happens.

The four characters in Borderlands 2 are the Siren (my personal favorite), who has a focus on Elemental Ability and healing factors on the battlefield. The Gunzerker is pure brute force, can duel wield weapons and can beat an animal senseless with his melee tactics. The Commando can send out a sentry turret as a backup in battle. The Assassin, new to Borderlands, has tactics similar to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, where he can blend in with the background and send out a decoy to confuse the enemy. His sword allows for massive melee damage when he’s out of ammo.

The skill tree system in Borderlands 2 has been upgraded from the first game as well. There are upgrade paths for every character with a limited amount of points to use, which help ensure that once you fully fill a skill tree – say one that allows you to cause elemental damage to everyone in the environment when using a Siren’s Phaselock ability – you’ll want to play the game over again to work on another path. It helps to shape just how you want your character to go, and is really fun when working in a team environment. One character can focus on healing the team, while another can be pure attack. If you have communication between your players, there’s no limit to how well you can do in a battle.

If Borderlands has any limitations, it’s that you can’t benefit from having your Single Player character work in a Co-Op environment. For example, if you have a level 20 Gunzerker, he can jump into a friend’s game who is only at the start and be a major effect on the battlefield, but it gives that high level character next to nothing in XP as they’re only fighting characters that are far weaker than them. Additionally, the high level character won’t benefit from any of the missions in the game (after all, they’ve already gone through them in their own game) In a way, it’s very smart, because it helps newer players level up, but the best way to go through a Co-Op game is to start from the very beginning together. This way, you all can level up around the same time and move forward as a group.

Overall, Borderlands 2 is a fantastic game to play if you have a team to work with, moves very quick and has no shortage of ammo or enemies to blast away to your heart’s content.

E3 2011: Mass Effect 3 (Trailer Deluge)


To say that Mass Effect 3 is one of the most-anticipated titles in the next 9 months would be an understatement. The franchise has been one of the most popular and critically-acclaimed video game series of the past five years and this third game looks to cap off a trilogy that many consider the Star Wars (original trilogy) of video gaming. The third game was highlighted not just in the Microsoft E3 Press Conference but also in EA’s own Press Conference which just goes to show how  much this game means not just to EA but to Microsoft (even after the franchise finally became available to PS3 users I still consider it an Xbox 360 franchise).

In both conferences so many trailers were unleashed on those who were in attendance. Whether it were gameplay trailers, more trailers hinting at the story, trailer’s showing the game in demo right up to certain gameplay changes made for this final leg of the trilogy. One piece of news that was interesting was announced during Microsoft’s press conference and that was Mass Effect 3 having Kinect (the hands-free Xbox 360 controller system) capabilities.

One piece of news that every fan of the game was waiting for and finally got was this: Release Date – 03.06.2012. I may end up catching a virulent case of the blahs and call off work on that date and the rest of the week.

E3 2011: Halo 4 Announcement Trailer and Halo: Combat Evolved Trailer


Above is the announcement fans of the Halo franchise have been waiting for and below is the second most-awaited one. First, the announcement that a new Halo trilogy being developed by in-house developer 343 Industries was something fans have been waiting for news of and today those wishes have been answered as the announcement trailer for Halo 4 was shown at Microsoft’s E3 2011 Press Conference. The trailer pretty much starts off around the time of the final scene which ended Halo 3 with the iconic Master Chief and his gal pal, the A.I. Cortana, floating towards an unknown planet.

Rumors abound that said planet may be the long-lost homeworld of the franchise’s Forerunner race which created the Halo rings in the series. Just think of the Forerunners as similar to the Ancients of Stargate franchise. I know more than a few friends and acquaintances who have tired of the franchise. I, myself, don’t play it as much as I used to, but I still buy the games since I’m a sucker for world-building sci-fi and fantasy franchises and the Halo Universe is definitely one of the better ones to come out of the gaming industry.

Halo 4 looks set to have a Holiday 2012 release (just in time for the end of the world it seems).

The trailer below is the one some fans of the franchise have been waiting for as well and that’s the news that the very first game in this franchise, Halo: Combat Evolved (first released for the first Xbox in 2001), will be remade using the new graphics engine developed for Halo Reach. So, this game is pretty much just like the very first game millions of gamers ended up loving and obsessing over but with new clothes and fancy things. Here’s to hoping the gameplay and weapon mechanics remains just like the original.

Modern Warefare 3: Teasers (America, England, France, Germany)


It looks like Activision has released a tad early the teaser trailers for the third game in their wildly popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series of first-person action shooter. Leaks began to appear about Modern Warfare 3 days prior to the release of these simple teaser trailers. With EA and DICE already months ahead of showing the public and game journalists peeks into their much-anticipated Battlefield 3 the ball was now in Activision’s court to respond.

The Modern Warfare fan-base continue to remain loyal to the series, but already there’s been chinks in the series’ armor as the previous entry in the game saw the head of it’s development studio, Infinity Ward, fired from Activision then followed by nearly half of the lead programmers and designers of the Modern Warfare franchise. This showed a weakness in Activision’s biggest franchise outside of World of Warcraft (which I still think more a Blizzard game than Activision). EA and DICE had an ok attempt to knock off Activision from the modern combat FPS genre with Battlefield 2, but it wasn’t enough. It looks like Battlefield 3 may be the one title that could do the job.

Modern Warfare 3 will be set right after the cliffhanger of the previous game and take players through battlefields in 15 cities around the world (the US, France, England and Germany being some of them). Just like Battlefield 3, this game will have fully destructible environments and a much more expansive gameplay map. Players will return to controlling vehicles (though Activision doesn’t specify if they’ll be on-the-rails vehicle controls or fully-controllable vehicles like those for Battlefield 3) like the AC-130 gunship and an M-1A2 main battle tank.

It would be foolish of anyone to say this game will tank. This game could be just a massive rehash of the previous two game with updated graphics like it’s new Black Ops sibling, but with the tens of millions of fans worldwide it will still sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of units. The question now is whether the strong push from EA and DICE with their retooled Battlefield 3 will be the needed kick in Activision’s collective pants to improve on their signature franchise instead of just sitting pat and hoping brand-name recognition makes them tons of money again.

Modern Warfare 3 is set to have it’s worldwide release on November 8, 2011.

Battlefield 3: GDC 11 “Fault Line” Gameplay Trailer


This week has been quite the busy couple days over here in San Francisco. The Games Developers Conference (GDC for short) for 2011 is in town and being held over at the Moscone Convention Center. This conference is one of the biggest for industry insiders and games developers. While most of the stuff talked about in the conference are stuff that really only developers and publishers would understand and find interesting, the conference has also become a sort of launching point for announcing future titles for the different gaming platforms.

One such game which just had it’s first gameplay trailer introduced to much acclaim is the first-person shooter title from EA and DICE: Battlefield 3. This series has been one of the more popular games on the PC and has made major in-roads into console gaming. 2010’s Battlefield: Bad Company 2 received universal acclaim and some had even seen it as a title that could possibly dethrone Activision’s juggernaut franchise: Call of Duty. While said dethroning didn’t happen gamers and pundits still saw the Battlefield franchise as the one to finally take on that Activision jugger and actually win. It just may take the next title, Battlefield 3, to do it.

This trailer is all gameplay and has no prerendered scenes. What people see in the trailer is exactly how the game will look (at least for the PC. Whether the 360 or the PS3 will look just as good only this summer’s E3 can answer). The game will be using DICE’s latest graphics engine, the Frostbite 2.0 which will allow for a more realistic and fluid motion for all the people in the game. This title will also be the first one to utilize Frostbite 2.0.

As much as I enjoy playing the Call of Duty titles I do see how some have started to see how stale it’s starting to get. Activision hasn’t been challenged in so long that they really haven’t improved much on how the franchise plays. Maybe EA and DICE releasing Battlefield 3 and delivering on all they’ve promised will give Activision the kick in the ass it needs to keep the Call of Duty from becoming the Guitar Hero of military first-person shooters.

Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops


The Bottom Line

We’ve left World War II behind, but we’re still a long way from what you might have come to expect from Modern Warfare.

Unfocused Ramblings

It wasn’t a love of Wold War II or shooters or tactical game-play or basically anything else that forced me to indulge in the Call of Duty franchise. It was the multi-player, and the necessity of playing with friends that initially sucked me in. Much like Halo, it seemed like I was on the outside looking in if I refused to play whatever the latest “hot” shooter was. As a person who is primarily interested in partaking of these games with friends, the particulars from shooter to shooter often don’t matter. I imagine there’s more than a few people reading this review who feel the same way.

Well, if the particulars of your shooter aren’t as important as playing the latest title with your friends then fear not; Call of Duty: Black Ops is a shooter. It’s more or less what you’ve come to expect, and your friends are going to play it anyway.

If you’re curious as to whether you’ll truly love this shooter, however, feel free to read on. It presents a significantly different experience than you are used to from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Some people are going to love the changes presented by Call of Duty: Black Ops, and some people are going to hate it. I earnestly suspect that few people will feel lukewarm about it.

The big differences? Well, Black Ops does its best to eliminate the practice of “quick scoping”, and reduces both the power and accessibility of kill streak rewards. Combined with faster access to the best weapons, and Black Ops basically wants its players to have the best of everything quicker, more easily, and to less ultimate effect than its predecessor. If you enjoyed the advantage of quick-scoping with your sniper rifle, or the fact that some of the strongest weapons were not available from the start, then you may have trouble adjusting to the new environment in Black Ops. Your sniper rifles aren’t going to be as strong, and your run-and-gun types are going to fare better. Submachineguns are going to be stronger than ever.

Interested yet? If so, buy the game, play with your friends, and love the fact that your franchise is going to churn out a game every year. Not everyone has that luxury!

The Big Question

Tell me how often we can re-play the same shooter before we get bored. I, personally, am tired of Halo. Is this inevitable for Call of Duty as well? The weapons are different, and the feel is earnestly different from Modern Warfare 2, but these games share so many themes that it’s inevitable that we ultimately tap this resource out. How do we proceed from here, and in what direction? Do the players prefer the Modern Wafare feel where the killstreaks actually diminish player importance (even as they make you feel like a badass) and low-profile sniping wins the day? Or do people prefer running and gunning with aging machine guns, destroying a host of foes on the move, while killstreak rewards, while powerful, are not always going to be game-changers?

Overall Game-Play: 8.5

Well, the control scheme for shooters has been established. We know that we have to learn what guns we’re best with, and what strategies counter dangerous weapons well. In other words, the formula for shooter controls is well-defined, and it’s not particularly wise to branch out. Maybe we differ on what button B and button X should control, but I think we’re going to agree on the function of the sticks.

Call of Duty: Black Ops is eminently predictable in terms of its control scheme, and you’ll have to work hard to convince me that’s a con. Why deviate from a scheme that has produced so many hours of pleasure?

Story 6.5

You won’t be astonished by the single-player campaign. Of course there are twists and turns in the story. Of course, it’s competently told. But if you’re looking for innovation in level design or game-play, then you are definitely looking in the wrong place. The game-play is tight, and the story is fine, but I can’t necessarily recommend Black Ops if you’re not intending to partake of the multiplayer modes.

The single player campaign follows the adventures of Alex Mason, a CIA Black Ops guy from the 1960s, and begins in no place other than Soviet-allied Cuba during the Bay of Pigs invasion. From there, you’ll battle through the typical assortment of urban and exotic environments while battling with a variety of (mostly) similar opponents. The game does throw a few curve balls in terms of the enemy selection, which is nice, but I doubt that you’ll be blown away by the foes you’re battling.

The story hook is, to my mind, significantly better than for some of the previous installments of Call of Duty, and it does use at least one significant character from World at War whom fans will remember. I have already heard rumblings that the game plays more like a rail shooter than a truly interactive experience. If you’re looking for an open-ended style of gameplay, then games like Far Cry 2 or Mass Effect (or even Battlefield: Bad Company) may suit you better. Call of Duty is a basically linear game where you’ll spend most of your time on foot or in vehicles following the lead of other characters, shooting a number of baddies before moving up to the next checkpoint. The major differences come in the fine details of these sequences, including the weapons at your disposal.

Graphics 8.0

The graphics are smooth and fluid, and the loading times extremely bearable. In a game that is perennially most anticipated for its multi-player mode, there’s not much else to ask. I compliment the level design in both the single and multi-player modes. Still, fans of the series (and, particularly,  Modern Wafare 2) are unlikely to be blown away by the graphics. They show the expected improvement on the same platform (in this case, the tangible differences are few), and not much in the way of unexpected innovation.

Sound 5.0

The score is as forgettable as the previous title in the series. But that’s not why the sound receives such an underwhelming score. The voice acting leaves much to be desired. Predictably, the lines are well-acted, and the accents are convincing, but whether by design or no, the game features far too few lines to comment on game-play. This is most notable in multi-player modes, where the game’s announcer fails to reveal critical information about game objectives anytime that it is even slightly inconvenient to do so. I can assure the developers at Treyarch that every single player in multiplayer modes would prefer to hear repetitive lines every few seconds if it meant an auditory acknowledgment that game objectives were in jeopardy. Considering that the voice actors obviously have lines recorded for any game-play situation, it seems like a debilitating oversight to simply [i]fail[/i] to play acknowledgments in key situations.

Multiplayer 9.0

Well, the game is built to be a multi-player juggernaut. From this vantage point, there’s not much to complain about. Did the match-making initially suffer serious problems? Yes. Could the game use a few more maps; particularly those geared toward one objective type or another? Absolutely. But we’re a few patches in by now, and most of the technical bugs in the match-making system seem to have been resolved. Still, since multi-player is one of the biggest points of contention on this title, let’s break things down, shall we?

Pros?

– The level design is tight and features few discernible bugs or exploits. Although we always hunger for more maps, the ones the game ships with provide a reasonable variety of terrain and encounter types.

– A new multiplayer feature, Contracts, provide yet another way to show your skills without interfering with level, prestige, or challenges. Completing contracts affords the player more in-game cash to spend on the latest equipment as well as aesthetics like emblems.

– Treyarch seems relatively responsive to potentially destructive multi-player issues so far.

– The kill-streaks, although noticeably less game-changing than in Modern Warfare 2, still manage to feel powerful and useful to the player.

– The performance of most kill-streak rewards shows some improvements. The attack helicopter is noticeably more lethal than before, the napalm strike provides an interesting and mostly-reliable option for map control, and the SR-71 (the natural evolution of the Spy Plane / UAV) is one of the most powerful kill-streak rewards we’ve seen yet, even if it lacks flash.

– Although the kill-streaks are powerful – and period specific – they lack the raw potency of the Modern Warfare 2 equivalents. There is no equivalent to the Tactical Nuke in Black Ops. In the main, I feel this is a positive step for the franchise. I always felt that the overwhelming power of the Modern Warfare 2 kill-streaks encouraged boosting and camping to a degree that diminished my enjoyment of the game. If you loved those aspects of Modern Warfare 2, then you will likely be unhappy with the high-end killstreaks available in Black Ops.

– The customisable emblems provide an endless opportunity to express yourself. This can sometimes be a con as well. 🙂

Cons?

Long-range combat is, for the most part, a thing of the past. The weapons, perks, styles, and maps all lend themselves toward a closer range of combat as compared to the Modern Warfare games.

Although the kill-streaks remain powerful, they definitely lack the allure and “badass quotient” of the kill-streak rewards available in Modern Warfare 2.

– While some players will relish the closer and more intimate combat, the game lacks quick-scoping and long-range weapons that define the modern firearm age.

– Despite some improvements, the multiplayer spawn system is still unacceptably flawed. Some of the spawn locations (particularly in objective-based games) are poorly chosen, and the spawn timing will sometimes have enemies spawning right behind you with no rhyme or reason.

– As mentioned before, the in-game announcer is mailing it in this time around. You should pay careful attention to the situation, because you can’t always rely on the audio to warn you about game developments.

Devil’s Third Exclusive Debut Trailer


That trailer is the debut of what looks to be another — as the trailer captions even flashed across the screen — “epic masterpiece” from video gaming’s rare “rock star” developer, Tagaki Tomonobu.

Devil’s Third will be the first game from Itagaki’s newly formed development studios Valhalla Game Studio. Itagaki was formerly of Tecmo’s Team Ninja studio where he had been instrumental in developing the very successful Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive franchises. Both franchises were fan-favorites (also polarizing just like it’s developer Itagaki.) and sold in the millions with each release. With the falling out between Itagaki and his publisher’s bosses at Tecmo, the mercurial and mad-genius developer left Team Ninja and went on a year sabbatical before finally starting up his own studio in Valhalla. Other top designers and developers from Team Ninja would soon leave Tecmo and join Itagaki at Valhalla. With Valhalla Game Studio now established and publishing agreement made with THQ, it looks like Itagaki is back to doing what he’s best known for: making over-the-top games for the console systems.

Devil’s Third will be Itagaki’s first foray into the shooter-genre. His previous franchises were either in the fighting game (Dead or Alive) and/or the action (Ninja Gaiden) genres. This upcoming title for THQ and Valhalla looks to take the shooter genre into the very same over-the-top aesthetics as Itagaki’s previous titles. From the trailer it looks to be as violent and bloody as his previous titles, but now with guns in addition to the usual melee and bladed action.

Even though the game is still at least two years away from a release date the trailer looks to show Itagaki’s plans at adding some fresh new lifeblood at a genre which has become staid and bereft of anything new and innovative. Devil’s Third looks to be Itagaki’s chance to show that his success while at Team Ninja wasn’t just a fluke and that he could branch out to other genres even one as crowded with very good games as the shooter genre.

Despite the game being still two years away from being completed and released I have a feeling this trailer, once it makes it appearance at this year’s E3, will become one of the most anticipated games for both the Xbox 360 and the PS3.