World of Apex

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Same old, same old

Good day, sports fans! That's right, for the 16th year running* EA has served up a dish of Madden NFL. After the inhumanity that was Madden '06 for the Xbox 360, has EA pulled their collective heads out of their collective asses to make a good football game? The short answer is, not really. The long answer is this review.

Madden '07 (Xbox 360)

Do you know those players in the NFL that have a distinctive style to them, that never changes? A running back with a non-stop smash-mouth approach, or maybe a quarterback that likes to run and gun? They're consistent, which is kind of like Madden has been the past few years. Unfortunately, a consistent player doesn't make a great player. After all, they could be consistently bad. I'm not saying Madden has been consistently bad. It's playable, it's decently realistic, the graphics are nice, but it's just not the real football simulation it's supposed to be. Madden is to football as Project Gotham Racing is to its respective genre: not too over the top and arcade styled, but nowhere realistic enough for the true fans.

Luckily, this time around EA did attempt to fix some of what they broke in Madden '06. They added create a player this time, as well as a score of other missing features from the last iteration. Some overhauled animations, slightly spiffed up graphics, and a tweaked interface round out the majority of the other fixes. However, one very big sore still remains untreated...there is no signature Madden/Summerall color commentary. How can you possibly name the game after someone who's not even in it? Alright, he IS in the "Ask Madden" play chooser thing, but that's not commentary now is it? Overall the differences between last year and this year are much more distinct than most years, if only because this time they released a full game instead of a demo.

Remember what I said about consistency? Here it is, Madden's gameplay. It's been the same for the past five or more years, with small additions here and there. It's still just as mediocre as it was last year. And the year before, and before. Computer AI is still thick up to the highest difficulty, players still clip through each other, stand around dumbly during a play and get stuck fairly often. This year's gimmick feature is the offensive version of the last gimmick the "Hit Stick." The "Highlight Stick" is a fancy way of saying you can use the right analog stick to throw out automatically chosen evasion moves on demand. That is, left on the stick will juke, spin, step or whatever is deemed cool enough at the time, to the left. The move is chosen by the computer based on context, eliminating any need for pressing those pesky buttons to pull of cool moves. Coupled with the new lead blocker controls, you should be teh juggarnaut, right? Well...the lead blocker thing isn't so great in practice. The problem is the same thick AI that controls your braindead opponents and stuck players, also takes immediate control of your ball carrier when you jump into the blocker's shoes. That means your perfectly planned burst through the hole you'll create gets turned into a double reverse for a 10 yard loss. As I said, it may be playable, but it's not the football simulation people seem to think it is.

There's just not that much to say here. Take my previous review of Madden '06, add in all of the features they cut to rush the release last year, then insert the new gimmick stick and lead blocker controls in the mix and you have this year's first and only NFL game. It's a better showing than last year, but that's not saying much.

Presentation: 5/10 - The menus are fine, but the lack of color commentary is disgraceful.

Gameplay: 7/10 - Another year, another gimmick.

Replayability: 7/10 - Well, at least it has Live.

Value: 7/10 - It's a complete game this year, amazing!

Overall/Summary: 7/10 - Same old, same old.

That done with I'll definitely be reviewing Dead Rising now that I've beaten it through the "True Ending" and unlocked Infinity Mode. Next week Saint's Row hits the streets, and I'll be sure to report whether or not the framerate issues of the demo are still there in my full review.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Why Xbox Live Rocks

For those of you in the Xbox 360 loop, right now is a time of rejoicing. The dry summer game drought is coming to a close, and demos galore are hitting the Marketplace screaming for your undivided attention. Some are brand new and long before release, and others will be launching right after you finish the demo. So how many purchases will you be making for your 360 this month? Let's break it down...

1. Saint's Row

Everyone knew a GTA style game would be hitting the next-gen before Rockstar got GTA4 out. While the pairing of THQ and Volition (who together made the Red Faction series) may seem an unlikely one for this type of game, the demo speaks for itself. The graphics aren't the only improvement Volition's made to the free-roaming urban shooter genre. A smooth combat system with equally smooth controls, a much more interactive and destructible environment powered by the famous Havok physics engine, and unrivaled character and vehicle customization are set to step up the competition for Rockstar on their home turf. Full ragdoll physics on every character in the game provides an extremely entertaining and satisfying effect to the game as a whole. The melee combat system is a great feature, adding new depth to brawling with the enemy and fighting in close combat with firearms (who doesn't love pistol whips?). Remember the parts in San Andreas where you could aim manually instead of just left or right? It's here, for every drive-by enabled weapon, on every vehicle. Speaking of drive-by enabled weapons, pistols are included in that as well, which is nice. The story is nothing you haven't heard, seen or played before, but is at least solid and cohearent. It'll be interesting to see how the full version comes out, scheduled tenatively for release the 29th of this month.

2. Dead Rising

A zombie survival horror game from Capcom, with co-op multiplayer, and you can use practically anything as a weapon? Are you kidding me? How can this NOT rock? The demo definitely doesn't dissapoint, despite being only single player. I for one would have liked to try out the multiplayer as well, but I can live with twenty minutes of high-def zombie splatterfest for another four days. To put it bluntly, this demo is superb aside from the unmarked game-ending boundaries and unmentioned time limit. The graphics may not seem truely "next gen" at first glance, but once you zoom out and see hundreds, yes hundreds of zombies in all shapes, sizes and states of decomposition on your screen you'll think otherwise. All of the characters are well detailed by themselves, but en masse it's simply amazing. The environments are moody, equally detailed and chock full of makeshift weapons to battle your undead adversaries with. The demo only allowed a look at the main area of the mall, but there are hints of a much larger play area between the locked doors, blocked off areas and bits from trailers. I'll give the full rundown on this one when I get my copy next week, but until then see how many zombies you can massacre in the demo, I've gotten nearly 300 in one run!

3. Live Arcade releases

After a long wait, Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting has finally seen the proverbial light of day. Fighter fans rejoice...right? Maybe not. The visuals have been excellently HD-ized™ and the expected selection of characters and stages is there. The thing that has rubbed most people the wrong way is the cranked up difficulty. Personally, I suck at fighting games anyway, so I couldn't tell you one way or the other how hard it is, but most people I've spoken with have said the same thing. Xbox Live multiplayer should keep the fighter fanatics occupied and their minds off of the single game though. Just ot be sure, check out the trial first.

Last month we saw a couple of arcade classics come back in their spiffed-up HD form. After the success of Frogger and its online co-op mode, more arcade revamps were to be expected. Galaga hit the Live Arcade recently, and is all the vertical space-shooter goodness you remember from the cabinet days. There's not much else to say than it's still a solid arcade title, and fans of the era or the game in particular should grab the demo and maybe the full game.

The final Arcade release is another strange indy game. First we had Wik, then Outpost Kaloki X, and now Cloning Clyde. The game has an endearing 3D comic look to it, filled with comedic charm and platforming action that will keep you entertained at the very least. Our protagonist Clyde has been let loose into a mysterious lab by way of a freak accident that has also put several other Clydes on the lamb, leaving helpful notes to you on their way. Straightforward platforming and puzzle solving blends neatly with belly-flopping, ninja-kicking action and genetic engineering to deliver what can only be described as a decidedly...unique...gaming experience. On the short, it's cool, quirky, and at least worth taking a look at.

That's about it I guess, at least for the moment. I'll crawl back into my hole now and wait impatiently for Dead Rising to get here next week so I can murder more zombies. Speaking week's it really murder when you kill zombies? Think on it!