Archive for Game Impressions

MGM: Forza Motorsport 3 First Impressions

forza-motorsport-3-boxart

Microsoft haven’t offered up much in the way of racing simulators, let alone racing games.  However, between the success of Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox and its sequel on the Xbox 360, the series has become one that many feel holds up its own against Gran Turismo and has even already surpassed it.  Forza Motorsport 3, the latest entry in the series, will be released next week on Tuesday, October 27.  To give a taste of what the full game should offer, developer Turn 10 released a demo on Xbox Live a few weeks ago.  Now, Matt, Greg and Michael are here to weigh in what they think the demo indicates for the full game.

Matt’s Thoughts

As I mentioned in our article on Need for Speed shift, racing simulators really aren’t my forte, especially games like Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport (how convenient).  But between the touting of how the game can appeal to even casual racing fans and being encouraged by others, I gave the demo a shot with Greg and Michael.  With that in-mind, I will say I enjoyed the Forza Motorsport 3 demo more than the other games, but ultimately it isn’t saying much.  What made it more fun was that more options for the handling have been incorporated, with the two standouts being Rewind and Autobraking (both work as you’d expect).  Since the Rewind use is unlimited and, with Autobraking turned on I could focus on the driving and turning rather than precise braking, I was able to legitimately enjoy the demo.  However, this is still fundamentally the same racing simulator I’ve tried twice before, albeit with very luscious visuals.  And the aforementioned features, while nice, still didn’t make this a very interesting and exciting racing game, which is what I want whenever playing one.

Greg’s Thoughts

This is has been quite the year for racing games.  Need for Speed Shift, Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, Dirt 2, Fuel (alright, maybe that one wasn’t so great) and we’re getting Forza Motosport 3 next week.  I liked the first two Forza games, but felt that the second one should’ve had better visuals and the sense of speed, while above Gran Turismo, is still underwhelming overall.  Fortunately, if the demo is any indication, then this sequel should be a fine improvement and step forward for the series.  Perhaps the most impressive part of the demo were the visuals, which are simply jaw-dropping (other than Uncharted and possibly Metal Gear Solid 4, this is probably the best-looking console game I’ve played).  Car models are incredibly sharp and the available course in the game looks like a spellbinding painting that has come alive.  The sense of speed also appears to have been bumped up a bit too, which I definitely like.  And the driving model is still solid which, with a cockpit view (finally) added to the series, should translate to an excellent final product.

Michael’s Thoughts

As you could probably tell from what Matt and Greg have mentioned, the Forza Motosport 3 demo indicates some very welcoming improvements have been made to the final product.  For me, this translates to even larger amounts of bliss per gaming session.  Forza Motorsport 2 is a game I’ve returned to time and time again yet still never managed to complete (if only I could say the same for other games).  About all that I could really have asked for is better visuals, more tracks and smoother customization.  After playing the demo, it’s safe to say at least two of these demands have been met.  The visuals for the single course in the game are mouth-watering and quite distracting since the location is rendered in such detail, color and beauty.  Racing action is a little faster and more intense, though it seems the game is suffering from Shift syndrome since the AI are far more aggressive and inconsiderate than before.  I would’ve liked to see some form of customization incorporated into the demo to give us an idea of what it will be like (since, after Midnight Club Los Angeles, Forza 2’s customization system felt too stiff), but I had a tough time complaining with what we were given.

Brutal Legend Soundtrack Thoughts

BrutalLegendCover

When it comes to music-centered games, the soundtrack is almost always the ultimate deciding point as to whether I’ll buy the game or even give it a shot.  For instance, the soundtrack to Guitar Hero: Metallica was a key reason I decided to give the game a shot (that and the surprisingly fun demo).  However, looking at the soundtrack for Guitar Hero 5, I already figured the best I’d give the game was a rental, and unless they were to release some better tracks as downloadable content, that’s not changing.  Then there’s a game like Brutal Legend which puts emphasis on music while being an action/adventure game.  Though I had certainly heard about it before, my interest in the game was quite low, that is until I heard about the soundtrack.

For those who are curious, the game will feature over 100 songs, here’s the list:

  • 3 Inches of Blood – Deadly Sinners
  • 3 Inches of Blood – Destroy The Orcs
  • Accept – Fast As A Shark
  • Angel Witch – Angel Witch
  • Anthrax – Metal Thrashing Mad
  • Anvil – March of the Crabs
  • Anvil – Tag Team
  • Apostasy – Sulphur Injection
  • Bishop of Hexen – A Serpentine Grave
  • Bishop of Hexen – The Somber Grounds of Truth
  • Black Sabbath – Children of the Grave
  • Black Sabbath – Symptom of the Universe
  • Black Sabbath – Never Say Die
  • Brocas Helm – Cry of the Banshee
  • Brocas Helm – Drink the Blood of the Priest
  • Budgie – Breadfan
  • Budgie – Zoom Club
  • Candlemass – Witches
  • Carcass – No Love Lost
  • Cloven Hoof Nightstalker
  • Children of Bodom – Angels Don’t Kill
  • Coroner – Skeleton on your Shoulder
  • Cradle of Filth – Her Ghost in the Fog
  • Crimson Glory – Queen of the Masquerade
  • Dark Fortress – Insomnia
  • Dark Tranquility – Cathode Ray Sunshine
  • Deathstars – Blitzkrieg
  • Def Leppard – Rock of Ages
  • Dethklok – Mermaider
  • Diamond Head – Am I Evil?
  • Dimmu Borgir – Progenies of the Great Apocalypse
  • Dokken – Mr. Scary
  • Dragonforce – Through the Fire and Flames
  • Emperor – Thus Spake The Nightspirit
  • Enslaved – Frost
  • Enslaved – Loke
  • Firehouse – Overnight Sensation
  • Girlschool – Bomber
  • Iced Earth – When the Night Falls
  • Iced Earth – Pure Evil
  • In Flames – Goliaths Disarm Their Davids
  • Judas Priest – Battle Hymn
  • Judas Priest – The Hellion/Electric Eye
  • Judas Priest – Leather Rebel
  • Judas Priest – One Shot At Glory
  • Judas Priest – Painkiller
  • Kabbage Boy – Girlfriend
  • KMFDM – Free Your Hate
  • KMFDM – Rip The System
  • King Diamond – Cremation
  • King Diamond – Welcome Home
  • Kiss – God of Thunder
  • Lita Ford – Betrayal
  • Marilyn Manson – Beautiful People
  • Manowar – Die For Metal
  • Manowar – The Dawn Of Battle
  • Mastodon – Crack the Skye
  • Mastodon – Oblivion Instrumental
  • Megadeth – High Speed Dirt
  • Megadeth – Tornado of Souls
  • Metal Church – Metal Church
  • Michael Schenker – Group Assault Attack
  • Ministry – Stigmata
  • Ministry – Thieves
  • Mirrorthrone – So Frail
  • Motley Crue – Dr. Feelgood
  • Motley Crue – Kickstart My Heart
  • Motley Crue – Live Wire
  • Motorhead – Back at the Funny Farm
  • Motorhead – In the Black
  • Motorhead – Marching Off to War
  • Motorhead – We Are the Road Crew
  • Nitro – Machine Gun Eddie
  • Omen – The Axeman
  • Ostrogoth – Queen of Desire
  • Overkill – World of Hurt
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Believer
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Mr. Crowley
  • Ozzy Osbourne – Diary of a Madman
  • Prong – Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck
  • Quiet Riot – The Wild and the Young
  • Racer X – Technical Difficulties
  • Racer X – Y.R.O.
  • Ratt – Lay It Down
  • Riot – Road Racin
  • Riot – Narita
  • Riot – Swords and Tequila
  • Rob Zombie – Superbeast
  • Rotting Christ – Ad Notics
  • Running Wild – Riding the Storm
  • Sanctuary – Battle Angels
  • Savatage – Hall of the Mountain King
  • Saxon – Wheels of Steel
  • Scorpions – Blackout
  • Scorpions – Holiday
  • Skeletonwitch – Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery
  • Skid Row – Youth Gone Wild
  • Slayer – Metal Storm/Face The Slayer
  • Slough Feg – Warriors Dawn
  • Static-X – Love Dump
  • Tenacious D – Master Exploder
  • Tenacious D – The Metal
  • Testament – For The Glory Of
  • Testament – More Than Meets The Eye
  • Tvangeste – Birth of the Hero
  • UFO – Rock Bottom
  • Whitesnake – Still of the Night
  • Wrath of Killenstein – Ignisis Dance

I have to say that after seeing this list my interest in the game practically skyrocketed.  I went from essentially ignoring to becoming interested and potentially purchasing this title.  Admittedly I’ll be keeping an eye out for early reviews so I can find out if it’s actually any good and fun, but this is likely my favorite licensed soundtrack to have been put in a videogame (Rock Band 2 had something for everyone, but as a metalhead, I think you can tell my eyes popped a few times here).

Some bands and songs did take me by surprise; both in regards to inclusions and exclusions.  What I’ll get out of the way first is that I’m ecstatic to see Judas Priest has some tracks on here, being my favorite band and all (with a chunk of the tracks being from Painkiller).  Black Sabbath is a great, necessary inclusion as well, with Diamond Head, King Diamond, Slayer, Tenacious D, Scorpions, Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Megadeth and Motorhead being other awesome, unsurprising additions.

King Diamond

King Diamond is bringing himself and grandma along, might as well invite Jay and Silent Bob.

But then there’s the song selection for some of these bands and a few bands I’m surprised made the cut.  Most of the songs by the more well-known artists aren’t particularly well-known by less enthusiastic metalheads (heck, even I don’t know some of the tracks-namely because I haven’t looked into them).  Some of the bands/songs that were pleasant surprises for me were Emperor (great song off an amazing album), Anvil (they’re famous enough, but not really talked about), Metal Church, In Flames (only because of the song choice, just glad it’s not a newer track), Enslaved and Dimmu Borgir (easily one of the most hated bands, but I like them).

Of course, the game does have some song/band choices that I think we could’ve done without or seen better song choices by.  For instance, “Angels Don’t Kill” isn’t one of Children of Bodom’s better tracks if you ask me.  DragonForce shouldn’t have even half the recognition they do (besides being painfully cliché, they can’t even do a decent job performing live-they’re all studio fluff), KISS, Marilyn Manson and Ministry really aren’t “metal” acts and the Testament choices aren’t the first I would’ve picked.

And finally, there are some bands/songs that I (and many others) are surprised to see excluded from the game.  Even if I’m not the biggest fan of all of them, where are Iron Maiden, Metallica, Heaven and Hell, At The Gates (since we have In Flames and Dark Tranquility), Death, Napalm Death, Pantera, Queensryche and Sepultura?  Oh well, no list can have everything.

metallica

Wait, we’re the most popular metal band and we aren’t even in this game that centers around…well, metal?

Even with some personal gripes, I’m still very pleased by this soundtrack and will definitely be keeping my eyes open for any new information about this game (more songs put in via downloadable content?).

Dirt 2 First Impressions

Dirt 2 Cover

Although off-road racing has become the center theme for a fair share of games, not too many have stood out from the crowd save for Motorstorm and the Colin McRae-sponsored releases.  Fortunately, these games have usually offered plenty of solid racing action to keep players entertained for any number of hours.  The latest entry in this line of racing games, Dirt 2, comes sliding across several terrains with moderate expectations after its solid predecessor.  Just how well does the game seem to have improved based on the first few hours?

As with the first Dirt game, Dirt 2 manages to really get your interest with a striking interface.  However, this has changed from a seemingly endless branch of brackets and tables to placing you in the eyes of a racer traveling the world in his trailer.  The menus are all seamlessly integrated by having your character look and walk around in short distances.  Though it can get tiresome having to walk through the same areas again and again, it still does a great job trying to sell the atmosphere of the game.

The events you take part in are broken up according to countries, with the game taking you to Europe, Asia, Japan and plenty other locales.  Having multiple country locations to race in helps keep the races variable though there are still issues with repeating environments even during your first few races.  Race types range from Baja circuits, to Rally races, to “Gatecrasher” events (drive through small boxes to keep the timer going) and the other usual suspects such as time trials.  You’ll also be given the chance to take part in X Games competitions which are essentially tournament-style events and can also race against actual Rally racers one-on-one.  Completing races will upgrade your rank which will give you money (to buy vehicles), new liveries (pre-set paint and vinyls), horn styles and accessories for your cars.  The ability to upgrade your car’s performance is available too but is only done through packs so those hoping to get in-depth with the customization will be disappointed.

When it comes to the racing and gameplay, Dirt 2 is really quite simple.  Select a vehicle to race with, work your way through whatever type of ground is present (dirt, tar, mud, water; the usual suspects) while staying in the lead and try not to bang your car up too much.  Though, if you do happen to total your car or didn’t take a turn so well, you can Flashback to a recent point and proceed with the race from there.  Of course, you’re limited to how many times you can use this feature so don’t expect to constantly hop around the field like you’re Nightcrawler.  Racing is generally fun with the thrills coming more from pushing and sliding through loose landscapes rather than the speed itself.

However, the game has a distinct lack of depth; at least, when compared to other games such as Forza Motorsport and Midnight Club as of recent.  Sadly, this only contributes to how shallow the game is.  Since the tracks are almost entirely closed off it makes the races themselves quite linear.  The only exceptions to this are the Baja races which sometimes an alternative path for a small section of the course and are also noticeably larger than the other areas.  Since this is an arcade racer, however, most people who buy the game likely won’t be bothered by this.

Visually, Dirt 2 manages to look even better than its predecessor with more lively colors, generally sharper texture detail, a far more consistent framerate and relatively brief load times.  Both the car models and locations have been given a great amount of detail; both look equally impressive with pop-ins being virtually nonexistent.  If you take a real close look you might find some blurry, less detailed spots and some off hit detection but this is a fantastic-looking game regardless.

The audio front isn’t nearly as impressive as the visuals, but still has some strong points.  Character chatter comes up very frequently, with Rally racers giving suggestions to guide you through the ever-growing event map.  You’ll also hear racers make remarks every now and again during races which thankfully don’t occur too frequently but help make the events a little more personal.  The same can’t be said for your assistant when setting time trials, especially if you’re not familiar with the terms tossed out like a robot on quick speak speed.  Sound effects, on the other hand, are quite pleasant to hear, with engines revving and stuttering while splashing, sliding and at times crashing all sound great together.  As for the soundtrack, Dirt 2 is mainly composed of alternative bands such as Queens of the Stone Age, Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and The Stone Roses.

Dirth 2 seems to have most of the fundamentals down for a good, enjoyable racing game.  The interface combined with excellent visuals, solid audio work and generally fun gameplay all come off very well.  But the game simply isn’t very engaging and, as a result, is hard for me to imagine justifying a full purchase for.  If you got the chance to try the demo the full game isn’t too far off from what you were offered there.  This is to say if you don’t mind very basic races and are fine with pre-set vehicles performance-wise making up your selections then the game might be for you.  Otherwise, if you’re like me and are longing for more options, than Forza Motorsport 3 and possible Need for Speed Shift will be the best options available.

First Impression Score: 82

Guitar Hero 5 First Impressions

Normally I do full-fledged reviews, but since I rented this game and had my time cut short due to visiting my grandparents in New York, I’m providing a first impression article instead.  Anyways, the blog:

GH5

Activision are a publisher that seem to value quantity over subtlety, with the recent release of their third Guitar Hero game this year alone being as much an indicator as anything.  In addition, with the success and acclaim Rock Band has achieved with only two (three this Wednesday) game releases, one might get the impression the Call of Duty publisher isn’t so concerned with integrity.  But fans keep on buying and, for the most part, the games themselves haven’t been too shabby.  Arguably the first full-fledged Guitar Hero game since World Tour, the series fifth main installment has hit shelves; have the first few hours of playing left me wanting to purchase it?

The game’s Career mode has gone through a few alterations this time around.  Taking a slight cue from Rock Band, songs are organized into sets at various locations and allow you to play any two songs at the end of each set.  What’s nice about this is that there are several venues to play at, most of which look fairly impressive.  Unfortunately, even though the set-up might be different the progression is ultimately the same: play some songs, unlock some new ones, play those and repeat.  Though the way to join in as a band is handled smoother and, like Guitar Hero: Metallica, unlocking songs isn’t too demanding, this is still the same trod-along through songs you’ve seen before.  On the other hand, all of the songs are available to play from the get-go in Quick Play, meaning those strictly playing for the party aspect won’t have to worry about this tedium.

Other design choices in the game, however, are welcome and help benefit the overall package as well as potential band experience.  The first to note is Party Play, which can be tested at the opening menu whenever a song plays.  In this, players can drop in or out of any song during any point (so if a friend comes over while in the middle of “Sympathy for the Devil,” they can join in wherever you are; no restart required).  Another pleasing addition is how gamers can now play any instrument they want even if someone else is playing that same instrument (got four drum sets and want to play the same songs cooperatively?  Go right ahead).  Changes have also been made to the song creator to make it at least a little more accessible, which dedicated players will definitely appreciate.  Though I didn’t have the time to mess around with the other changes (namely online and competitive multiplayer), what I did manage to try out was very pleasing.

But of course the main concern with Guitar Hero or any other game is how fun it is, and this series has admittedly had its highs and lows (Metallica and Rocks the 80’s, respectively).  In regards to what I played for this entry (which was about one third to half of the total set list), the entertainment was rather mixed.  One key reason behind this comes in the form of the game’s demographic which, outside of the soundtrack, is how it appeals to either newcomers, series veterans or both.  The note charts are overall some of the easier ones found in the series, especially for those developed by Neversoft.  In fact, there are barely any challenging songs at all, with none of on-disc inclusions hitting the highest difficulty on guitar.  This might turn off experts looking for practice-worthy tracks, but in the long run it helps make the game more manageable for when in a full band playthrough.

Then there’s the game’s soundtrack which, like any other collection of songs, will appeal to some and repel others.  On a positive note, there are some great, long-awaited songs included such as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the Queen and David Bowie collaboration “Under Pressure,” “Kryptonite” by 3 Doors Down and my personal favorite, “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits.  However, other inclusions and selections for certain bands are rather questionable.  For instance, including a band like Attack! Attack! is rather silly and the continued addition of the Beastie Boys in a still guitar-oriented game feels out of place.  As for the track selection for certain bands, just look at Megadeth and Children of Bodom with “Sweating Bullets” and “Done With Everything, Die For Nothing” being the song selections, respectively.  I think I can speak for many other fans that the song choices for both are rather disappointing.  But for what it’s worth, the soundtrack is a decent mix, but it does have a distinct lack of strong, memorable song.

My time with Guitar Hero 5 was simultaneously surprising and disappointing.  Even though just about all of the design choices are very pleasant; the soundtrack, overall gameplay and thus entertainment did leave me feeling unfulfilled.  Even though I’d normally say spending more time could yield more fun, all of the previous iterations (save for the lackluster Rocks the 80’s) at least provided satisfaction from start to finish.  As of now I’d have a tough time trying to justify shelling out $60 for this game; let alone over $100 for a bundle.  If the price goes down anytime soon and more, better songs are made available via download, it might be worth a purchase but as it is, the game is only worth a lengthy rental.

First Impression Score: 77