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I honestly didn’t know much about Tribes before I got into Ascend. I’ve heard passing mentions about the series, but it was always dwarfed by the much more popular Quake and Unreal. Since then, however, the excessively fast FPS genre has more or less died out in favor of tactical shooters (read: camping to death). That alone should make Tribes: Ascend worth checking out.

PROS

  • Strong competitive scene
  • Free to play, limited pay to win
  • Diverse, versatile classes
  • Fast, heavily skill based gameplay

CONS

  • Extremely grindy progression
  • CTF gameplay is one dimensional and lackluster
  • Monotonous, unappealing map design
  • Monster PC requirements due to horrible optimization
  • Glitchy

VISUAL: 7/10

The in-game graphics option (yes, option, not options) is useless, so the first thing you’ll need to do is google a tweak guide. I’d also suggest you start from the lowest setting, since many of the effects are of outdated technology and yet put unreasonable strain on your system and do nothing but kill your framerate and obscure your vision. The bloom, for example, is horribly over-saturated and becomes almost like a fog, and pretty much completely blinds you when coupled with lens flare.

Besides that, it’s unlikely you’d miss the higher quality anyways. Every map consists 95% of random hills, sporting only a handful of buildings or other distinguishable landmarks. Most of the time, you have no idea where you are, and will eventually stop caring. No amount of static decals or building shadows is gonna make a bunch of hills that all look alike interesting. The detail on the player models is the game’s finest aesthetic touch, but most of the game is spent either going too fast or being too far to notice those details anyways. That said, the actual graphical quality of the game isn’t so terrible that it doesn’t look modern, but considering that it’s 2012 and how much system resources the game gluttons at max settings, it should really look like Crysis. And yet, it doesn’t even have anti aliasing.

How not to design a map

Where it falters in aesthetics, it generally succeeds in utility. HUD visibility is clear and it’s easy to tell which direction you’re being hit from, and there are options to improve visibility further, such as drawing smaller weapon models or turning off visor cracking. FOV is also adjustable in-game up to 120. Not knowing where you are won’t much matter thanks to the large objective icons.

AUDIO: 9/10

Low music in the background helps keep the adrenaline flowing, and weapon sounds are distinct and clear enough to identify both the weapon and direction it was fired from. Audio in a FPS really doesn’t need to do any more than that. The lack of built in voice chat may inconvenience a few, though I find it a blessing. This game has, by far, the largest selection of prerecorded voice messages of any FPS I’ve ever played in my life, and are probably sufficient for any tactical situation you’d encounter.

GAMEPLAY: 9/10

Although advertisements emphasize speed, it’s more a high flying shooter than a fast one. You can build up a lot of speed with skiing, which works by removing all friction once you press the ski button. Basically, falling onto down slopes accelerates you, while trying to ski uphill slows you down. You can pick up speed by using the jetpack to boost yourself up past up slopes and repeatedly dropping yourself on down slopes, and eventually you do end up going quite fast. However, most of the actual shooting each other isn’t fought at high ski speeds, but rather at walking and jetpacking speeds. Perhaps that’s still faster than something like Call of Duty, but it’s really only slightly faster than Team Fortress 2, and a far cry from Quake. That isn’t to say it isn’t much more difficult to hit people than TF2, however. The wide open terrain and jetpacks gives full movement across all 3 axises, allowing every class to have more defensive movement than TF2’s scout can even dream of.

The other thing that raises the skill requirement and makes defensive movement so much more effective is the lack of hitscan weapons (weapons that hit instantly after firing). Rather, most bullet weapons shoot a small fast traveling projectile, forcing you to lead your shots rather than just pointing the crosshair straight at the target. To make things more complicated, any projectiles you fire inherit a portion of your own velocity. Say you’re traveling N and fire to the E, your projectiles will actually travel a bit towards NE, rather than straight E. This makes landing significant damage highly challenging. In fact, the game awards accolades for killing an airborne opponent with the series’ trademark low rate-of-fire explode-on-impact weapons, such as the spinfusor. Don’t mistake them for being easy mode noobtubes, as their splash radius is very small for the size of the game’s maps, and most players spend a lot of their time being high up in the air, where the splash means nothing. This boils down the game’s basic strategy to chipping away with bullet weapons while they’re airborne, and trying to catch them with explosives when they inevitably land.

CLASSES

There are 9 unique classes, and all of them are balanced in the sense that they can all duel competently. The only exception is the sniper class, who although is given the only long range hitscan weapon, does terrible dps and has the lowest health. Rather, his main purpose is to be to pick off weakened flag carriers in CTF, which is the worst balanced and most shallow of all the game modes anyways.

THE GRIND AND PAY2WIN

You only start with 3 of the 9 classes, with only basic gear for each. All other classes and gears need to be unlocked with real money or experience, which is earned at a snail’s pace. You only get around 35-50 exp per minute depending on your scoreboard rank and whether or not your team wins, but usually you’ll end up at around 40. A single weapon can cost 88k exp, which is more than a 36 hour grind. Considering each class has to pick 2 weapons, a belt item, a pack item, and 2 perks, you might find that the loadout you want could take over 100 hours of playtime to achieve. Even the cheapest classes will take around 50 to deck out.

Real money is drastically more reasonable, with 88k exp items costing only 500 gold without sales, which is roughly $5. While it’s certainly better than games that offer game breaking real money exclusive gear, the free option is so unreasonably ridiculous to achieve, that paying still gives a sizable advantage, especially if they used the money to deck out more than 1 class for the versatility.

Whether you pay or not, once you have the new weapon, you still need to grind for that weapon’s mastery to unlock sometimes crucial abilities, which could be be up to another 26k exp, or another 11 hours. Why Hi-Rez decided the game should have almost as much grinding as an MMORPG is beyond me, but it’s a severe nuisance that heavily discourages learning multiple classes.

GAME MODES

Technically, there are 5 different game modes. However, some are so similar to others that it only feels like 3, and 2 of them are pretty standard fare. TDM has a small twist of there being 1 flag which will spawn on the first kill of the match, and the team who holds it takes off 2 points per kill, and is easily the most balanced of all game modes. For a flagless experience, there’s Arena…which is basically the same as TDM, but limited to 5v5 and is played on smaller maps. Unfortunately, the maps are also much flatter, leaving the ski mechanic generally unused, transforming the game from the fastest shooter to merely the highest flying.

CTF Blitz is like CTF, except the flag moves with every cap. However, since the flag only moves about 3 feet, they end up playing out exactly the same. Many people have told me CTF is the main game mode of Tribes, but I find it easily the most shallow and worst balanced. Flag placements are almost always out in the wide open, which boils down capping to picking pathfinder, and just skiing really fast into it, which will bypass most, if not all the base defenses and defenders. The only real counter to it so far is having a doombringer sit on the flag and try to block the pathfinder with his fatness while cutting him down with his chaingun, or having a sentinel snipe the runner. The capper will then have to either navigate around the fat guy, or try to push him away by chucking grenades and shooting his spinfusor (if you’ve never played Tribes, they work exactly like a rocket launcher) at the flag before reaching it. Sentinels with the accuracy to hit a high speed capper the 2-3 times it takes to kill them at full health are extremely rare, causing the game mode to be renamed by many to Pathfinder vs Doombringer. This also causes the most severe team stacking of all modes, as anyone looking to play any other class in CTF is essentially being unimportant details, and the pinnacle of their contributions would be to inconvenience the enemy, hopefully enough that their defenders become so irritated that they leave the flag unguarded to kill them.

There are other mechanics, just as the team generator which powers all base assets such as turrets, forcefields, refill stations, and vehicle station, but most of those generally don’t affect a decent capper at all. Taking out refill stations might sound useful, but the respawn time in this game is so short (only 3 seconds), most players will just suicide to reload or get back into position anyways. Vehicles in this game are generally useless, but I’ll get more into that later.

The last mode is Capture and Hold, which is sadly often forgotten and underplayed. It recycles maps from CTF and TDM, and spawns cap points at several locations on the map. You capture them simply by touching them, and hold them by not letting the enemy touch them. Some come with their own turrets and refill stations to help the defenders. Periodically, captured points will give your team….well, points. It’s a more balanced attack and defend gameplay than CTF, yet most rounds often turn up rather slow and uneventful, as most players will simply focus their defenses on a few points and end up standing around waiting most of the time, or they’ll be checking each cap point to see which is left mostly unguarded. Eventually the game will reach an equilibrium, where more or less everyone turtles to death because every cap point has exactly enough defenders to not be taken. However, I imagine with an organized team that works together rather than pugs, the experience would be much different.

VEHICLES

Quite simply, they’re useless. The bike is supposed to be used for getting around quickly, but it isn’t remotely difficult to ski much faster than it. The tank is just a huge, slow target that people are only even gonna bother acknowledging the existence of to pick on for free credits. The cannon has a terrible rate of fire, and the person manning the much more useful chaingun can’t also be driving, making it not terribly effective for combat either. The jet is fairly mobile, but still not as quick as a good skier, making it’s primary use of ramming itself into flag carriers exceedingly difficult, even assuming the pilot is careful enough to not kill himself by crashing into a hill. Like all vehicles, the gun on it has a terrible rate of fire and only does modest damage. In the end, the jet is often merely a decoration, being fairly difficult to destroy, but also serving little to no purpose.

COMMUNITY: 9/10

Though healthy enough that you won’t have any difficulty finding a game, thanks to the atrocious matchmaking spreading everyone out, it’s a rarity to find a full 16v16 game (arena doesn’t have this issue, being limited to 5v5). You basically choose a game mode, and the game will automatically throw you into a match.

Cheaters are a rarity, having personally only run into 1 aimbotter in over 100 hours of play. The only gripe I have is the team stacking, though this is usually done by weaker players. Most of the best players will join teams randomly, so as long as there’s enough of them in a single game to spread out, teams end up pretty balanced anyways. CTF is the exception, but that’s more the game mode being terribly designed than anything. Player maturity also drops somewhat in CTF, with most players being bored and spamming voice messages nonstop, presumably because they’re neither a pathfinder nor doombringer, and is therefore incapable of contributing meaningfully anyways.

Visual: 7
Audio: 9
Gameplay: 9
Community: 9

OVERALL: 9 (not an average)

Regardless of its many flaws, the fact of the matter is that this is the only new fast FPS available. It certainly can’t stand up to impossible standard of finesse and depth of Quake and UT, but it does well enough that it’s still easily the funnest multiplayer FPS I’ve played since. Tribes: Ascend is a shot of adrenaline, digitally distributed.

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(also on PS3 and Xbox 360)

From small indie developer Frozenbyte, Trine 2 is a fairy tale themed side scrolling action platformer which focuses mainly on physics based puzzles. It’s been out and well praised for quite some time, but I’ve finally had a chance to play it when a friend unexpectedly gifted it to me on Steam. As it turns out, Trine 2 is one of the most fantastic puzzle platforming experiences I’ve ever had.

PROS

  • Rich, beautifully detailed environments
  • Many hidden/optional side areas/puzzles to explore/solve
  • Distinctive, diverse levels
  • Light hearted soundtrack emphasizes the fairy tale theme
  • Solid voice acting that brings out the personality of the characters
  • Many different viable solutions for each puzzle
  • Classic mode multiplayer’s character lock shuts out solutions that require quick character switching, but opens up new ones that require teamwork
  • PC version is well optimized and easy to run
  • PC controls are simple and intuitive

CONS

  • Combat is very simplistic and suffers a lack of enemy variety
  • Extremely easy until the last 3 levels
  • Character progression is limited and imbalanced
  • In multiplayer, character progression is dictated entirely by the host
  • Predictable plot

Trine 2 is most definitely not a hardcore gamer’s game. It’s not about difficulty, or challenge, or mastering the mechanics. Rather, it’s more a casual leisurely stroll through wondrous environments while overcoming mostly low danger obstacles, an experience fitting of its fairy tale motif.

The look on the octopus’s face says it all.

VISUAL: 9.5/10

While not sporting the most advanced graphics technology by a longshot, Trine 2 is easily in the upper echelon when it comes to artistic beauty. The vibrant colors and extensive detail all around go a long way in bringing its fairy tale world to life. More impressive still is that even with so many different colors and shapes on screen at all times, it never seems to clutter up the player’s vision. It’s also why I went pretty screenshot crazy for this review.

One of the prettiest games you’ll ever see.

The areas explored also enjoy a good bit of diversity, though forests and caves tend to take up a bit more screen time than other areas, causing them to lose a bit of distinctiveness. The other areas, however, are unmistakable from one another. From beautiful beaches to icy goblin settlements, from cobwebbed libraries to lava filled forges, you can be assured you’ll never grow tired of the scenery.

Or the Cthulhu shrines.

Granted, however, there are times when that indie level technology shows itself. Liquid particles are massive, which still looks great in motion, but bunch up in a mess if left stationary on a flat surface, such as when you’re trying to carry some on a plank. A few character animations are also rather stiff, such as Zoya’s grapple swing. Ultimately, they aren’t severe or prominent enough for the game to be considered anything less than gorgeous.

All the other details make up for a few visual tech limitations.

AUDIO: 9/10

Although not particularly catchy or memorable, the music is still quite pleasant. More importantly, it reinforces and furthers the adventurous fairy tale atmosphere, much like what the Shadows of the Colossus soundtrack does for the drama and massive scale of that game. The calm, plodding pace dashed with a bit of awe and foreboding dread coincides with the gameplay and visual elements perfectly, making every track sound just right as you’re playing.

Amadeus, the whipped cowardly wizard sounds rightfully mousy.

Likewise, the voice acting isn’t quite triple A quality. But the cartoony voices reflect, and thus help bring out, the cartoony personalities of the characters they belong to. And as all fairy tales should, the narrator sounds properly like a generic grandpa telling bed time stories to children.

GAMEPLAY: 8.5/10

In single player, you freely switch between 3 characters and use their unique traits to advance in the game. Amadeus generally takes all the puzzles with his ability to conjure boxes and planks and move objects around the screen via telekinesis. Zoya is able to shoot far objects with her bow and reach high places with her grapple. Pontius excels in combat and smashes things.

Zoya, the practical greedy “entrepreneur”, and nigh omnipotent by end game.

Their uniqueness wanes as the game progresses, however. Zoya becomes highly competent in combat in addition to being able to smash things once she picks up the explosive arrows skill. Amadeus also becomes a decent fighter once he increases the amounts of boxes he can conjure, which kills anything short of a boss in a single hit. He also has no problems reaching high places once he maxes out his conjuration count.

Pontius, the oogabooga. He draws the short straw on character progression and team contribution.

Pontius, however, never gets any abilities that improve his mobility besides a running charge that can go into a long jump, which unfortunately never goes quite long enough. Rather, he gets abilities to slightly improve his combat effectiveness instead. Considering how little combat there actually is, that’s disheartening already. To make things worse, once all characters are maxed out, he isn’t even significantly better in combat than his colleagues. With Amadeus being able to rain down one hit kill boxes and Zoya getting the choice of long range high aoe damage explosive arrows or long charge time one hit kill freeze arrows, Pontius is left with no other combat advantages besides his ability to block his shield, a tool that’ll be often underused, since Amadeus and Zoya will either kill them long before they get to attack or keep them in hitstun with explosions. Thus, he ends up underplayed and often forgotten.

He saved the pumpkins at least.

He does see a bit more use in multiplayer though, where he can shield other players from hazards like falling acid or spike balls. It’s still hard not to feel like you’re dragging the team down, since he still has no way of getting through most puzzle platforming rooms and basically has to just wait for Amadeus to build a path for him.

Exploring to admire the pretty sights may be rewarding enough for a few, but finding hidden exp vials is also the main way of leveling up.

The actual game revolves heavily around platforming and exploration. Most of it is extremely forgiving, emphasizing more on smart conjuration placement or finding grapple points. Likewise, environmental hazards can often be avoided entirely in the same manner. You will want to explore every branching path and optional puzzles though, as they generally contain exp vials which are used to buy new abilities, many of which will be required in later levels of the game. There are a few extreme difficulty spikes near the end of the game that require strict timing and some luck, which could get frustrating if you’re going for the hardcore mode achievements.

Although some endgame platforming sections are technically possible without making use of upgraded abilities, it’d be unreasonably difficult to pull off.

The puzzles generally offer a great deal of freedom, with a variety of mostly physics based mechanics, such as jamming cogs, redirecting air/liquid flow, or redirecting objects with portals. Oftentimes, they could either be solved elaborately, creating an ACME style contraption with whatever’s lying around to form a makeshift pipe system, or in an incredibly primitive fashion such as just splashing the liquid towards the target by jumping into it with Pontius’s shield. This is both good and bad. While it may be fun to figure out all the possibilities, you’ll find that often times, the least clever solution is the most effective, so they generally won’t give as much satisfaction for completing as something like Portal 2’s puzzles. It does, however, eliminate any risk of frustration.

Many puzzle rooms can be entirely skipped by doing something as simple as creating a grapple point and just swinging past it.

Finally, there’s the combat, which is highly disappointing. The abundance of health restoring checkpoints and zero consequence for death makes enemies more of a nuisance than anything. Furthermore, there’s only a few enemies types in the game, all of which is dealt with more or less the same way, and only a handful are even a threat at all even on hardcore mode. There are your regular fodders, be they lizards or archers or shield carriers, all fall quickly to any basic attack. Later in the game, you start fighting flaming goblin minibosses, which become the only regular encounter that requires any kind of thinking…and only until you realize they still fall victim to Amadeus’s OHKO falling boxes. Outside of 2 major boss battles, every other boss behaves exactly the same, and are dealt with in the same way with only minor differences in the combat terrain. Although not a major focus of the game, there are still many combat sections, and that its depth has been so overlooked does hurt the overall experience quite a bit.

The giant goblin bosses become so generic by the end of the game, I can’t even remember how many of them there were.

CONTENT: 7.5/10

The game sports 11 fairly large and diverse levels, excluding the tutorial and final boss levels. Finding every exp pick up and secret in this game takes around 10 hours, but considering there’s not much of a reason to upgrade Pontius and the secrets don’t actually do anything, a regular run of the game could take a bit less than that. The secret chests in the game don’t have much practical value either, providing only some concept art and poems that shed slightly more light into the rather simplistic and predictable plot. Still, considering the game is only $15 without any Steam sale going on, that’s decent value.

The actual loot you get from secret chests is a lot less exciting than it looks.

If you’re an achievement hunter, you could get maybe another 10 hours trying to beat the game on hard difficulty hardcore mode, where you die in 1-2 hits, restore points can only be used once, and you cannot save or respawn at checkpoints during the level. However, with the level design being mostly long and easy, this becomes more frustrating than accomplishing, since nearly all your gameovers will come from a dumb mistake costing you a crucial character in an upcoming section, forcing you the restart all the way from the beginning of the level.

This room being the worst perpetrator of all, coming late into the level, and is the most difficult platforming section in the game. It’s followed immediately by a goblin ambush on both sides, ensuring many hardcore mode gameovers.

MULTIPLAYER: 6.5/10

Honestly, I don’t even know what’s considered a good community in today’s standard anymore. I get instantly kicked from over half the games I try to join because they either wanted to duo with a friend or because they don’t wanna get character locked. But since this is clearly a user error, I’m gonna be pessimistic and just say the Trine 2 community isn’t the most intelligent, seeing as they neither know how to set up a private game nor turn off character lock in the game options, even though they’re both on the first screen you see after selecting “host a multiplayer game”. Then when you finally do join a game? There’s a decent chance they’re cheating to death with player levitation and is just flying Zoya around the entire map at a rate of 1 screen per hour to pick up all the exp vials.

Once you do finally manage to find a proper game with 2 other intelligent life forms however, the experience is amazing. Many of the puzzle solutions change, as you no longer have the abilities of all 3 characters acting on 1 body. While it may be simple in single player to simply grapple up a high ledge with Zoya, then switch to Pontius to smash something, in multiplayer, you would have to take advantage of having multiple bodies and having Amadeus hold a box in midair for Pontius to jump up the ledge. This makes some puzzles much more difficult thanks to Pontius’s lack of mobility, but others much simpler, such as simply having Pontius shield the group through a waterfall of lava instead of building pipeworks to redirect the lava. It’s an incredibly well thought out feature that’s unfortunately very difficult to experience in public games. I can only imagine that if I actually had friends that enjoyed coop puzzle games, it would’ve been a blast.

Forever alone =(

Visual: 9.5
Audio: 9
Gameplay: 8.5
Content: 7.5
Multiplayer: 6.5

OVERALL: 9 (not an average)

While not without imperfections, Trine 2 is a game in which it’s individual elements sync up so well with each other that it truly ends up being more than the sum of its parts. Its greatest shortcoming of all is probably the relatively niche appeal of its subject matter. If you’re not completely allergic to fairy tales and can stave off your need for a game to inflate your ego though, this game is definitely an experience I’d recommend. It may not be the most exciting or challenging, but it’s easily the most delightful platformer I’ve played since LittleBigPlanet.

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Combat Arms is a free to play online modern FPS by Korean developer, Nexon (best known for the atrocious MMO-platformer Maple Story and MMORPG Mabinogi). It caught my eye when I saw an ad on the internet that claimed the game had over 200 guns. In my mind, I thought it was going to be old western lever action Winchester Model 74s up against modern semi-auto Dragunov SVDs, bolt action Springfield rifles up against M1 Garands, drum magazine Thompsons up against HK MP5s, or epic duels between Colt Pythons and Mauser C96s. A game by lead heads, for lead heads. I was tremendously disappointed. The truth is, there’s closer to around 30 guns. They’re all modern, and half of them are hideous, soulless Korean craps that are about as desirable to look at as their cars.

PROS

  • Free to play
  • Frantic, fast paced spray and pray combat
  • Simple maps that are very easy to learn, yet deep enough for tactics to come into play
  • A variety of different game modes. Fireteam on Cabin Fever is particularly exceptional
  • Somewhat customizable characters
  • Excellent draw distance
  • The guns are highly detailed and accurate to real life counterparts, and look absolutely beautiful

CONS

  • A tedious, grind heavy, annoying level up system
  • Annoying weapon/gear rental system, where you can only rent weapons for a certain amount of time by spending in-game currency (GP)
  • Made by Koreans, who’ve consistently proven themselves to be the worst programmers in the world. A huge myriad of glitches and lag issues ensue.
  • Unrealistic weapon performance. They only look like their real life counterparts.
  • Unbalanced weapons
  • The free default gears are so useless, they may as well not include them
  • Game breaking unbalanced weapons and gear are available for purchase with real money
  • The worst, most immature online FPS community I’ve ever seen
  • Hordes upon hordes of hackers
  • Ugly sound effects
  • No footstep noise
  • A mix of very soft competition, hackers, and people decked out in real money gear
  • Poor developer choices such as giving female player models smaller hit-boxes than males, causing even more imbalance

Combat Arms is easily the worst online FPS I’ve ever played, and that includes pre-Quakeworld Quake 1, and at least that has the excuse of being one of the first ever made. Fortunately, this a genre where the gameplay differences between best and worst aren’t very large. Still, it would be my recommendation that you stay away from this game and play the exceptional Enemy Territory by genre leaders, id Software, instead, unless you detest steampunk WW2 premises and really want a free modern semi-realistic shooter with completely unrealistic gun performance along the lines of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

AUDIO: 2/10

Let’s start off easy. There’s no music outside the lobby really, so it’s just the sound effects. They’re very loud, and very disgusting. Shooting someone with a shotgun sounds like violently plunging a dry toilet. Most guns sound like someone banging on a thin metal fence. Others just sound plastic. So these guns, which do look fairly accurate to their real life counterparts, end up sounding nothing like their real life counterparts, nor do they sound remotely pleasing. It’s a lose lose situation.

Then there’s the complete lack of audible footstep sounds, which makes it ridiculously easy to sneak around and follow enemies for extended periods of time without them noticing, or have the same happen to you. Hence, there’s absolutely no reason not to play with the volume turned down. You only need to hear enough to be able to identify which direction the gunfire is coming from. Any more than that actually becomes detrimental to enjoyment.

At 1080p and 2x AA, this game doesn’t look half bad. The guns are highly detailed and look absolutely beautiful.

VISUAL: 4/10

Technically, the graphics aren’t bad at all. They aren’t impressive, except the guns, which sport a high amount of details and accuracy to their real life counterparts. As you can see above, you can even see the manufacturer’s engravings on each individual shell. If you like to look at modern guns (I generally don’t, which is why you’ll mostly see me using that sawed-off coach gun above), you’ll be in for a treat.

Sadly, they’re the only aesthetically pleasing thing to look at. As you can see from this screenshot, there are a few graphical anomalies, such as that blur under the wire. The polygons and textures are also fairly simplistic, along with the character models. The draw distance is excellent, but being an FPS, that’s essentially a minimum requirement.

The only major technical flaw of this game is the lack of a vsync option. In an age completely dominated by LCD monitors, this is completely unacceptable from a modern game. It puts unnecessary strain on your video card, which may cause distracting framerate fluctuations, and can also cause tearing on some monitors depending on the framerate.

Being a Korean made game, they somewhat lie about the system requirements, as usual. Although they recommend 2.4ghz cpu, 512mb ram, and the 256mb GeForce FX 5600, my overclocked system running at 3.8ghz cpu, 2gb of 1800mhz CL9 ram, and Radeon HD 5850 1gb at 765mhz would see framerates drop to as low as 120, and normally runs at around 160fps. Considering I run Dead Space, a badly ported Xbox360 game that also lacks a functional vsync, at 180-260fps on max settings, and that game is infinitely more technically impressive than this, having this game’s framerate drop to 120 with my specs under any circumstances is just completely ridiculous and indicative of a very inefficiently programmed graphics engine. Thus, if you don’t have at least an upper mid end gaming PC (which, this being a free to play game, of course, you most likely wouldn’t), be prepared to either take a severe hit in graphical aesthetics or suffer choppy framerates (probably both). To be fair, framerates won’t make much of a difference in this game, and I’ll explain that later in the gameplay section.

This isn’t the end of its graphical woes, however. The major detriments aren’t in the tech specs, but poor choices by the developers that severely impact gameplay. The most notable one is that because characters are customizable, teams look almost completely indistinguishable from each other. The only way to tell is that your teammates have their name in blue over their heads, whereas enemies don’t have names above their heads at all until you have your crosshair over them, in which case it’ll show up in red. Not only is this not intuitive, your teammates’ blue names will show up through every wall across the entire map. Thus, if there’s an enemy between you and your teammate, it becomes nearly impossible to distinguish which is which. Many players will abuse this and jump right into the middle of your spawn room, and will probably kill off 3 or 4 of you before enough of you stop shooting each other and start shooting at the enemy. This is arguably a gameplay feature, but more often than not, it just becomes frustrating that you see someone and don’t shoot because there happened to be a teammate across the map behind him, and you thought he was your teammate, only for them to shoot you in the face while you stupidly stand there staring, and wondering how the fuck you were supposed to tell. Because of this, many of the more chaotic firefights turn into a bad game of russian roulette, where you start shooting your teammates one by one until you figure out which one is the enemy, which becomes an even bigger problem in matches where friendly fire is on (such as clan matches).

There are also other odd choices that cause problems, such as some explosions causing your entire screen to shake, making you unable to aim accurately, even if you were nowhere remotely near the explosion, or that when you pick up a Hi-Sec case (which contain a random rare item, but costs some GP to open), a very uninteresting and not very transparent picture of the case appears SMACK DAB RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR SCREEN, effectively making you unable to see, amongst many other annoyances.

GAMEPLAY: 2.5/10

The basic gameplay follows more or less the same gameplay rules set by the Quake 2 Action mod (which also inspired the genre-redefining Half Life mod, Counter-Strike). If you crouch and stay still, you become more accurate. Jumping around and moving in general causes your gun to have a much larger random bullet spread. More if you run, less if you walk. Recoil also increases bullet spread, and may also kick your crosshair up and around a bit, which you can correct by moving your mouse down.

The major unique gameplay features are the nutshots and the MMORPG style leveling up system. No one really cares about the former as it’s ridiculously hard to shoot there on purpose, and the latter is just tedious, annoying, and makes it less of a contest of who’s got more skills and more of who’s got less of a life. Higher ranked players will have access to gear that makes them faster and tougher, guns that are more accurate, lighter, have less recoil, and do more damage, along with a myriad of other gadgets to severely tip the odds in their favor such as auto-turrets, health hypos, med kits, grenade launchers, etc. What it amounts to is that you may find yourself in a situation where you’re facing an enemy that takes 3 headshots for you to kill with a gun that isn’t even that accurate, but they can kill you in just 3 body shots and can hit you from much farther away, and can fire in longer bursts. That doesn’t even account for the fact that they can heal themselves with a health hypo or that they may have set up auto-turrets somewhere, further increasing their DPS.

***WARNING! Some lead head geekdom is imminent***

If you couldn’t tell by my last paragraph, there’s severe imbalances amongst weapons. Unless you’re not high ranked enough to buy it, there is no reason to use any other shotgun besides the Benelli M3 other than if you just really have a thing for sawed-off coaches (like me), the Franchi SPAS-12, or Remington 870 (for some reason, they decided to not have the iconic wood-clad 870 and have the lame modernized all metal version instead). The M3 hits harder and shoots faster than almost all the rest with no drawbacks (the sawed-off coach, known as Double Barrel in-game, can hit harder by shooting both shells at once, but is less accurate, has a shorter effective range, and must reload pretty much in between every shot, the SPAS-12 shoots slightly faster but does pathetic damage, etc). Likewise, the FN P90 (and upgraded variants) dominate the submachine gun class with its large clip capacity, superior rate of fire, accuracy, medium-high damage, and low recoil (with the only drawback being that it only gets 2 clips of 50 instead of the standard 4 clips of 30, resulting in 20 less bullets before you have to ditch it), and there’s no reason not to use the AWP (as Counter-Strike players know it, but it’s listed as the L96A1 in this game) in the sniper rifle class, being the only one capable of a non-headshot 1 hit kill. It does so much more damage than the rest that in fact, it 1 hit kills off a leg shot. Also, for some reason, many sniper rifles in this game aren’t perfectly accurate, which makes getting 100% headshots literally impossible. At the range you’ll probably use them at, you’ll have a hard enough time hitting them period with some of them, such as the Dragunov SVD, which for some reason is loud as fuck, cannot attach a silencer, have bullets that don’t quite go where you point, and can’t even 1 hit kill off a chest shot on an unarmored opponent. I shit you not, I have had my sights on that gun perfectly centered on a completely unobstructed target standing perfectly still, and have 2 of 3 shots completely miss. Machineguns just suck ass, so you’ll hardly ever see them period outside of Fireteam Cabin Fever. The only time you’ll really see a good variety of different guns in the class is in assault rifles (which have several good choices), and pistols because no one really uses them seriously since they suck ass compared to the primary weapons (though the real money only HK USP Tactical edition absolutely trumps the entire class).

***Ending geekdom***

You also have 3 modification choices you can make on your gun (not available on all guns), which are adding a silencer, a custom scope, or an extended magazine. You’ll generally want the silencer, though it lowers your damage slightly. Scopes are generally a waste of GP, as they don’t make the gun any more accurate, make you pretty much immobile, and drops your aiming sensitivity down like a rock. My pro advice to you is to learn to crouch and burst and see far away objects better. Extended magazine is exactly what it sounds like, though it lowers reload speed. Note that it won’t increase the total amount of ammo you have, only how much you can hold per clip.

As if there weren’t enough balance issues, the programmers also decided to make completely nonsensical gameplay choices such as giving female characters smaller hit boxes than males, especially the expensive real money ninja girl specialist character.

The FN P90 (stock model). Expect to see a lot of this overpowered gun and its upgraded variants if you decide to play this game.

There’s also the manner of which you get the guns. You can’t just buy a gun for use, no. You rent it for a certain amount of real world time for a fairly large sum of GP. What it basically amounts to is that if you play less than 4 full games a day, you won’t make enough GP upkeep to rent a gun that doesn’t suck ass every day (the default free gun does pathetic damage, has fairly large recoil, and is only moderately accurate, making it pretty unfeasible to win with). And that’s only for one gun. You’ll almost definitely want to buy armor, headgear, and a second gun if you’re a decent player. Prices go up even more if you decide you wanna buy auto-turrets or better grenades (the default one does low damage and has a small blast radius). From Nexon’s perspective, this is good for them as it forces you to play more in order to make expenses manageable, and probably buy some of your gear with real money, which is the real reason Nexon made this game, of course. From a player’s perspective, it’s just tedious and annoying.

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Personally, I think one would have to be a pretty big tool to pay the extravagant prices they charge for the real money gear ($7  per day to use a grenade launcher? Really?), but apparently quite a lot of people actually are willing to do that. You might be thinking, who I am to judge, but honestly, it’s not exactly a questionable judgment when you consider they’d rather play a fifth-rate FPS and pay $20-30 a day for overpowered gear so they can dominate 10 year olds than to just shell out $20-$40 once for genre flagships like Team Fortress 2, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, or Crysis and play them forever any time they want without being punished for being a casual player.

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But I digress. Anyways, the next major feature are the gameplay modes. You have your standard free for all, the tremendously popular team deathmatch (also has a 1 life per round variant), the classic capture the flag, a Counter-Strike style bomb/defuse mode, and a rapture/super-melees-vs-guns variant called Quarantine. Basically, every round a few people turn into zombies with super speed and tons of hp and defense, and they must infect all remaining humans, while the humans can either kill off all the zombies or survive until time runs out. Sadly, bad programming causes many navigation anomalies that makes it very hard to jump on objects. You’ll often make a jump, then lagaport backwards to find yourself back on the floor and turn around to zombie claws in the face. There are also some very imbalanced maps that heavily favor humans where they can turtle on a single ledge and just keep shooting down zombies that can only come at them from one narrow direction (zombies suffer from tremendous knockback). The only good game of Quarantine you’ll ever get is on Overdose, and playing the same game mode on the same map gets old very quickly.

CTF is almost entirely dominated by bullshit real money speed gear, who on some maps, will be able to run from flag to flag in just 3 or 4 seconds, taking much of the fun out of my most absolutely favorite FPS game mode since I refuse to pay real money to play a FREE TO PLAY game. Especially such a poorly made one as this.

As I said in the visual section, TDM suffers from the unreasonable difficulty of differentiating your teammates from your enemies. That annoyance aside, it’s still a fairly fun gameplay mode. You spawn with 3 seconds of invincibility, during which you can shoot, so you don’t have to worry about spawn campers. People with speedy real money gear can abuse this on smaller maps such as Death Room, but it generally won’t be a big problem.

The only truly unique mode is a cooperative mode called Fireteam. It has a party cap of 8 players and only 2 missions are currently available, and one of them is garbage. Let’s start with Desert Thunder. It’s basically TDM on a large map against a huge number of bots. It’s very boring and very bullshit. There’s bad guys that shoot you, and you shoot them back until they all die, you move on to the next area, and repeat. Taking cover and strafing around is completely meaningless because they’re bots. Unless you have someone who can lay med kits in the party, eventually, you’ll all have been shot to death by the overwhelming numbers of enemies, making it ridiculously difficult to complete even on the easiest difficulty setting.

The other mission is my favorite game mode, called Cabin Fever. You and your buddies are stuck in a cabin surrounded by poison swamp and cannot leave. Meanwhile, zombies come out of the swamp and basically you have to kill them all. After every wave of zombies, your ammo gets refilled, dead players are revived, and you recover some health. It has a very arcadey style, and you can choose to either compete for points or work together and win. Some zombies run, some explode, some lumber about but take a lot of damage. It’s target practice, basically. You can choose to go for body shots, which will result in more points total per zombie, or headshots which will bring them down quickly, but offer less total points. A simple game, yet surprisingly intricate and reliant on actual teamwork. Sadly, you’ll rarely ever beat it as the concept of teamwork is lost on most of the community, which is mostly filled with people who’ll insist that they cover one door by themselves, only to die in the 3rd round and have the cabin flooded with zombies and then everyone dies. It also suffers from lag issues in later rounds on the highest difficulty (I mean rounds 18 and up, out of 20), where so many zombies spawn that the server can no longer handle all the workload, and you’ll just suddenly get a major lag spike, then see your entire party dead. It’s almost impossible to beat extreme mode without hackers or 8 skilled players working together and communicating. Unless you know 7 other hardcore FPS friends, the latter isn’t happening.

“Feelin’ lucky, punk?” Colt Anaconda, my second favorite gun in this game. It sucks ass.

So far, the game doesn’t sound that bad. So Bos, why the low score? Ahh, but you see, you forgot what I told you that this game was made by Koreans, who’ve consistently proven themselves to be the worst programmers in the world. Well, they prove it again in Combat Arms. This is the glitchiest and laggiest FPS to ever come into existence.

Let’s start with your own movement. Like I said before, for some strange reason, your position and inputs are almost never synced well with the server, and many times you try to jump over or on top of objects, either it’ll look like you missed the jump, then you suddenly lagaport and find that you made the jump, or more commonly, the other way around where you time your jump perfectly and make it on your screen, only to lagaport backwards to find yourself in front of whatever object you were trying to clear.

That’s not the end of your personal navigation problems, however, as it seems that every tiny little protrusion in this game is apparently made of fresh superglue, and basically if you touch any sort of object or bump, your character will actually get stuck on it and be completely unable to move. You can sometimes wiggle free after mashing every direction and your jump button for a few seconds, but more commonly, you’d just be shot dead by bad guys before you do.

The same terrible prediction engine also applies to your enemies, and you’ll often see them randomly lagaport up and down objects, or look like they got stuck but then lagaport to the other side of the map because the truth is they did make their jump, and generally just move around very choppy, nonsensically, and unsmoothly. FPS gamers (like me) spend obscene amounts of money on their PCs to ensure 60+fps so that we can see our targets move smoothly, making their movements easier to predict and thus, easier to shoot, and this game’s completely retarded prediction engine entirely defeats the point of having a high end PC. Seriously, if anyone was around during the Quake 1 days, you’ll know that at least it’s just a consistent delay, and but it always runs smooth and you can always predict where they’re going. Combat Arms’s prediction engine is actually even worse than not having one at all, thanks to all the nonsensical lagaportation, which takes even more skill out of the game and replaces it with just plain luck that your client didn’t screw up the prediction too bad and they don’t suddenly lagaport 15 feet away and you find out you’ve been shooting at air the whole time, which is going to happen A LOT. I’ve even seen glitches where they rapidly lagaport up and down a ledge because my client can’t decide whether or not they fell off. If the unbalanced gear didn’t do it for you, this alone will. It is absolutely impossible to take this game on a serious competitive level.

And those are just the consistent bad programming glitches that happen every game. That still doesn’t account for actual programming error glitches that causes games to randomly quit or clients to randomly crash. There are even glitches where players can sometimes just randomly die for no reason while running around, though this last one is relatively rare. I’ve been playing extensively for about 2 weeks, and have only seen this happen twice. I think that tips you off to just how often this game will just plain crash on you and force you to shut it down from the task manager.

Then there’s still the server itself, which clearly can’t handle the load it’s currently receiving, resulting in many lag spikes, even when navigating the lobby. Considering Maple Story suffered from the same problems, this doesn’t surprise me. However, like I said, smooth operation is imperative for an FPS to be taken seriously, and additional lag from the server is just beating on a dead horse.

COMMUNITY: 0/10

This game has, quite easily, the worst community I’ve ever seen, and I’ve played the PSP Syphon Filters and Resistance Retribution online. I had always thought PC gamers would be more mature for the sheer fact that most kids can’t afford high end PCs to run them, but apparently this game appeals mostly to immature 10 year olds. I’ll get to that later, but first thing you’ll notice is that the game is swamped up to your eyeballs in hackers. You can get around this by only playing in rooms with elite moderators, which is a status you pay real money for and allows you to kick anyone in a room you’re hosting. Sometimes, they’ll be the one hacking and there’s nothing you can do but leave and find another room, but usually, they’ll kick hackers. They’ll also usually kick anyone decent on the opposing team, so if you’re a decent player, make sure to be on the same team as the mod. In games without elite mods, there’s a vote kick option, but you can only start a vote to kick people on your own team. Sadly, more than half of the time, the team with the hacker will consist entirely of immature 10 year olds and refuse to start the vote. That should say a lot about the community, considering you only need one reasonable person who wants a hack free game to start a vote.

In fact, hackers are actually the least of your worries in this community. Kickable offenses in this community include using any shotgun (including the sawed off coach, even though it’s pretty much the worst weapon in the game, including the knife), having good aim, being able to track targets well, sneaking around and shooting the other team in the back, “teaming” (attacking together with your TEAMmates against a single enemy), having basic abilities of observation to know there’s someone around a corner (such as having seen them run there) and shooting preemptively, camping, using heavy armor, crouching and bursting for accuracy (as opposed to jumping around and spraying), killing someone with a pistol, killing someone with a crappy gun (like the default), getting a high kill streak, and being a good player in general. Basically, the only “acceptable” way to win according the community is to either use overpowered gear (where they’ll just call you a spec/NX noob, but no kick), or running and jumping around in the wide open and spraying and praying. Anything resembling skill or tactics will get you kicked roughly 1/3 of the time or more.

If you’re the type of player capable of doing this, expect to be kicked from games on a regular basis. Fortunately for this game, I had mostly noobs on my team that didn’t know where the vote kick button is.

And of course, being extremely immature, the chat is going to be completely cluttered with name-calling and whining in general, making any kind of organized tactical collaboration impossible. I’ve also heard that everyone sounds retarded over the mic chat, which wouldn’t surprise me as that’s how the PSP Syphon Filter and Resistance was, but I’ve always (wisely) had it turned off.

Audio: 2
Visual: 4
Gameplay: 2.5
Community: 0

VERDICT: 2 (not an average)
VERDICT: 5.5 (not an average)

I won’t lie. At some level, I do enjoy this game, but I’m also quite insane. I enjoy the extra challenge of having unpredictable enemy movements and of facing opponents that deal more damage and take more shots to kill than myself. I also annihilate them anyways, which helps (keep in mind, I once won dominated a regional Quake 4 tournament and have been playing FPSs for over 10 years, ever since the Quake 2 days). It feeds my ego when people accuse me of hacking then kick me from their games. I’m also a bit of a lead head and am as hardcore a FPS fan as they come. So I guess this is a case of do as I say, not as I do, and my recommendation is to stay far away from this game. It loses most of the lead head appeal due to weak gun selection, terrible sound effects, and their unrealistic performances. Thanks to the terrible programming and balance issues, you must be completely out of your mind to take this game on a serious competitive level, so it loses any hardcore appeal. The immature community will drive just about anyone up the wall.

The only thing it really has going for it for the normal person is that the competition is incredibly soft (10 year old kids don’t have good aim nor do they understand the concept of tactics) and because it’s free, and the latter is a bit of a moot point, because the exceptional Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory is free, and made by the genre leaders, id Software. I’ve also heard many great things about the free FEAR multiplayer game, though haven’t tried it myself…yet. Quake 3 also became free to play via Quake Live, though it’s regarded by most fans as the worst of the series, including me. However, it’s still miles above this cesspit of coding gone wrong.

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Lastly, I would like to apologize to my regular readers (all the 2 of you) for the long hiatus. A lot has happened the past month, and I’ve spent most of it either being sick, demoralized, having my job hunting attempts foiled repeatedly, fixing other people’s PCs, or enjoying my new very high end gaming PC.

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Assassin’s Creed has become one of the highest acclaimed series of its kind, especially after the second console game came out. As such, the announcement of this game coming to the PSP was met with high expectations and anticipation. I must apologize again for taking other people’s screenshots, but this time, you wouldn’t be fooled to think bad of this game from the fact that I no longer have it.

PROS

  • Altair is very well rendered and smoothly animated
  • There’s a wide assortment of freerunning moves

CONS

  • Everything else in the game is fugly and bland
  • You only use 2 freerunning moves for 99.9% of the game: climb and jump
  • Forgettable soundtrack
  • Pointless plot
  • Possibly the single worst combat engine ever made
  • Maria (the heroine) is fugly in ways which they have not yet had need to invent words to describe
  • Severe lack of content
  • Retarded AI
  • Very short draw distance
  • A very high random spawn rate
  • Boring boss battles
  • Not very intuitive control scheme

As you can probably already tell, this isn’t a very good game. If you’re deciding whether or not this game is even worth the time to play for free, let me tell you first that the answer is no. Just no.

PLOT: 1/10

Nothing gets resolved by the end of the game. Nothing. Other than seeing how Altair meets Maria, which happens on the first level, absolutely nothing of importance happens. The dialogue consists mostly of telling you who to kill next for reasons you won’t care all that much about and have no relevancy to the main plot anyways. Small wonder why that didn’t get resolved.

AUDIO: 5/10

Some say the voice acting for this is an improvement over the console ones as Altair now has an accent instead of that generic tough guy voice. They also argue that since no one knows how people spoke back then, it’s more historically accurate than talking like a rugged american action hero. Well, I may be going out on a whim here, but I’m quite willing to bet my arm and leg that ARAB ASSASSINS BACK THEN DID NOT SPEAK WITH A RUSSIAN NERD ACCENT. And it still wouldn’t change the fact that he delivers all his lines completely flat, along with everyone else in the game. Though, that may just be the pointless dialogue at work.

The ambience and musical score is forgettable. At the very least, the sound effects are crisp, for those of you who love the artificial sounds of metal cleaving through flesh and meeting the bone. It’s probably the second best feature of this game.

The satisfying sound of metal on bone isn’t very well represented in this screenshot. The ugly non-Altair models, however, are.

VISUAL: 0/10

Yes, Altair looks awesome and you can even see his beard. Yes, his cloak flows in the wind. You might think that alone would earn it one point in this category, but it’s sadly counteracted by Maria’s model. It is so ugly that in fact, there isn’t a single screenshot of her available on the entire internet. A pretty big letdown considering it would’ve really drove home the point, but perhaps its absence is informative enough. You can find 2girls1cup and the lotus boob on the internet, but you cannot find a screenshot of Maria in AC:B. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, trust me, don’t look them up. I promise you that you’ll be sorry you did.

Seriously, if women in real life looked like that thing, the well off would pay to be castrated and straight would be a derogatory word.

The creators obviously disagree with me, since cutscenes use ingame graphics where they liberally zoom in on people’s faces when they talk so you can really enjoy in full detail the marvels of 16-bit textures upon a cube with slightly rounded edges.

Ok, so maybe it’s set in the Cthulhu realm and everyone is fugly. But what of the world itself? Surely if they didn’t spend time on the character models, they were spending it on creating a lush vibrant environment to freerun around in, right? I’ll tell you what they did, and what they did was find about 3 textures with quality that has been unseen since Wolfenstein 3D and modeled about 5 structures after cardboard boxes and proceeded to copy and paste them on top of each other, a la RPG Maker. The game spans 2 cities and several castles, and they all look exactly the same. It’s a level of blandness that could easily compete with that in Superman 64.

Welcome to the world of AC:Blandness.

Surprisingly, that isn’t the end of the graphical problems. Apparently a majority of the GPU’s power is used to render Altair’s cloak. Distant structures are hidden by a heavy fog, as you can see above. But that’s really a minor detail when compared to the fact that Altair can only see about 15 feet around him. Towns feel pretty empty, and that’s also a minor detail, as the draw distance causes major gameplay problems.

GAMEPLAY: 3/10

I’ll have to be honest here, I did enjoy AC:B for the first 5-10 minutes. There’s freerunning and you get to kill people. How can you possibly go wrong with that?

Griptonite obviously saw that statement as a challenge, because they’ve managed to do everything wrong. There’s nothing terribly wrong about stealth killing, other than the fact that the ai is retarded and will watch you slaughter their fellow guard, and then keep walking past as if nothing happened. Unfortunately, that’s about the best aspect about the gameplay.

The combat engine is like a detuned version of Blood Omen 2’s. That game came out in early 2002. They have actually managed to make a combat engine that’s more limited than something that was made over 7 years ago. You have 4 different weapons, but 1 of them doesn’t work in combat, another has more recovery than hitstun and they hit you right back for more damage afterwards. That leaves the sword and throwing knives. The throwing knives are your cheap limited 1 hit kill projectile attack, so you’re going to be using the sword almost exclusively. You have a tackle, but the ai counters it 100% of the time, INCLUDING WHEN THEY HAVEN’T SPOTTED YOU YET. Right, so that’s useless.

You’re left with the option of attacking, dodging, or countering. There’s really no point in dodging (except against the final boss), so it’s just attack or counter for 99.9% of the game. Except bad guys attack once every 30 seconds, so you mash on attack for about 98% of the time you’re in combat. Fortunately, there’s a gameplay feature (or glitch) where you actually deal full damage with your attacks even if they block it with a giant shield. On the plus side, this makes things go a lot quicker. Unfortunately, it degrades combat to mashing attack a lot, and sometimes pressing counter until everything dies.

There are different mobs, but they all behave and are dispatched of in the same way, including every boss until the last. Bosses attack slightly more often and don’t suffer from hitstun. That’s about the only difference. The last boss has a lot of uncounterable attacks, so that’s the only time you’ll touch the dodge button. The only exciting thing to know about boss battles is that they won’t randomly respawn. Sadly, that doesn’t apply to regular battles. The way the game deals with the poor draw distance is to have entities randomly spawn anywhere within a 15 feet radius of Altair, including right in front of his face. This happens every 5 seconds or so. So basically, by the time you managed to kill one guy, another 1-3 have already spawned and are up your ass.

That won’t bother you though, because fortunately, you can use the draw distance to your advantage to “stealth” past all normal guards. You do this simply by running in a straight line at full speed. That’s it. They will have been deleted from existance by the game’s draw distance limit long before they can realize you’re an assassin and shout out to the rest of his guard buddies. Funny how they’d think you’re an assassin just because you’re running, but don’t suspect a thing when you pounce someone they were talking to in the back and stick a knife in it.

Farewell, fugly world. Me and my cloak are too beautiful to exist within the likes of thee.

Of course, combat and stealth are only 2/3 of what AC is about. This series was also highly acclaimed for the freerunning. Sadly, they managed to screw that up too. Altair has a huge variety of ways to get around, including wall jumps, swinging, backflips, etc. Sadly, the level designer has about as much imagination as a gnat, and you’ll only use his ability to climb and jump for pretty much the whole game. There’s one optional Limassol coin that requires you to backflip off a climbhold, about 2 instances where you can swing from a bar, and not a single spot in the entire game where wall jumping gets you anywhere. Every zone in the game is designed this way. You can’t even freerun for the fun of it because any route that goes anywhere is only accessable by either climbing or jumping.

Content, Replayability, Extras: 0/10

Play the first 5 minutes. Repeat until the last boss. That’s the entire game in a nutshell. Mercifully, including all sidequests (besides the hidden Limassol coins), the game is only about 4 hours long. I’ve heard one report of a playthrough lasting 16 hours. Clearly, he didn’t notice that blocked attacks still deal full damage and countered everyone to death. That’s 11 hours of staring at the screen waiting for something to happen. You really literally are better off watching paint dry. At least paint won’t cost you $40 a pop.

Hunting for coins might sound like good fun for those treasure hunting fans out there, me included. Sadly, they also suffer from the draw distance limit, and you can only see a coin if it’s within 15 feet of you. As you might be able to tell from the screenshots, the areas are quite large. Scouring the city of blandness 30 feet at a time is tedious and boring. It also means an faq can’t help you because every part of the city looks exactly the same as every other part.

There’s also an upgrade system but none of it does anything significant besides increasing your max hp and maximum number of throwing knives.

There’s also some achievements you can do. I think they might unlock some stuff in the PS3 AC2 but I’m not sure. In any case, you get nothing from this game for completing them, and most of them are simply get all coins in X area. There’s also one for getting 100 counter kills. You’ll have plenty of fun with that one.

Plot: 1
Audio: 5
Visual: 0
Gameplay: 3
Content: 0

Verdict: 3/10 (not an average)
Verdict: 6 (not an average)

You’d probably have expected a lower score according to my grading scale, but most of the problems in this game can be bypassed, so it isn’t quite agonizing to play through. The real problem is that you’d have bypassed pretty much the whole game and not a single moment of it would’ve felt entertaining. You’d be better off not playing the game at all, unless you have a serious fetish for watching Altair and his flowing cloak on the go. You’d probably enjoy reading this review more than you would playing the actual game. It’s like a Steven Seagal movie really. Quite a lot of fun to make fun of, not terribly fun to actually watch.

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First of all, I’ll have to apologize about the screencaps. I’m stealing them from the kind folks over at GameFAQs and Gamespot since I don’t have the game anymore at the time of writing. But don’t let that fool you. This game may not be a keeper, but it is a very good action game and you’d be missing out if you don’t at least rent it.

PROS

  • It’s a second-rate God of War clone
  • Good combat mechanics
  • Large moveset
  • A lot more boss battles than GoW
  • A good mix of brutal combat and engaging platforming/exploring

CONS

  • It’s a second-rate God of War clone
  • Badly made. Quite a few graphical glitches (including a fatal one) and abrupt cutscene transitions
  • Camera is too zoomed in. You’ll often not be able to see where the bad guys are
  • Beast riding sections are unvaried and get dull and pointless quickly
  • Sound effects are lackluster
  • The very hard difficulty is barely any harder than normal
  • Most of said large moveset is completely useless
  • Bad hit detection
  • Quick time events (QTE) aren’t very varied or interesting. Mostly you mash your O button until it falls off.

At first glance, you can see that this game has quite a few imperfections. You’d find more as you look deeper, but for a game like this, none of it will really matter. It’s a brutal beat ’em up, and the only thing you’ll care about 99% of the time is the combat, and it doesn’t disappoint.

GAMEPLAY: 8/10

Dante is given 2 weapons at his disposal fairly early in the game. Death’s scythe allows for quick melee attacks or devastating aoes and ranged combos. Although scythe combos are very flashy, you’ll find that most of the game is more effectively played by spamming Beatrice’s cross. It’s slower, but shoots out many projectiles, giving it great range and damage potential. Dante can also learn to charge up his cross attacks for massive aoe damage, and even an aoe stun attack to set enemies up for any combo you desire. Fortunately, most of the game is easy enough that you really can just kill them in any way you feel like.

The game has an upgrade system where you can level up either your scythe or cross by choosing to punish or absolve hell’s residents, increasing their damage. You also gain souls from kills, fountains, and Judas coins that you can spend to buy new moves or abilities, given that your scythe/cross proficiency is sufficient to learn them. The system isn’t terribly deep, and you’ll find yourself going through most of the game killing everything with the R button, which allows you to punish or absolve your weakened foe. This isn’t terribly exciting, but at the very least, there is an absolute overabundance of exp you can gain in this game that you’d max out both weapons long before you near the end. The same doesn’t apply to souls however, so choose your upgrades wisely.

An extendo scythe. I wonder where they got that idea from?

While there are a large number of mobs for you to eviscerate, they generally fall into 3 categories. You have your 1 hit kill fodders (undead, babies, fliers), big slow guys that you can run away and spam cross at (goats, gluttons), and 3 enemies that require a somewhat unique tactic to kill effectively. While not terribly interesting on their own, they often come in large groups and a variety of combinations, which keeps the normal combat interesting. The boss battles are much more engaging, I’m glad to say. You won’t beat them just running around and spamming your cross.

On certain enemies, after you’ve sufficiently weakened them, you’re given the choice to initiate a finisher QTE. This is nothing new, but I must warn you about a glitch where you’ll sometimes get pushed off the stage after the QTE and then fall to your death. It doesn’t happen that often, but can be frustrating when it does, especially if you were on the last wave of enemies in the final circle of Fraud, on infernal difficulty, which has happened to me. Twice in fact.

You’re also able to hijack and ride a giant beast. While it looks very cool the first few times, and the one beast puzzle is pretty neat, most of it is going to be pretty dull due to the fact that your beast is completely invincible and yet, not very damaging. You’ll find yourself repeatedly pummeling wave after wave of minions with one of 3 moves which do more or less the same thing and wonder why it isn’t time to move on yet.

That leaves the puzzles and platforming. The puzzles are generally obvious as day, with one or two exceptions, and likewise, the platforming is generally pretty easy, except for 2 optional souls. There’ve been complaints that they took out many of the puzzles and platforming sections that were in the console versions, but trust me, they’d just ruin the pacing.

PLOT: 3/10

It’s retarded. Don’t pay attention to it. Their idea of an endgame plot twist is telling you that you’re already dead. Well gee, you’ve only met with death and have spent the last 8 hours wandering around hell. I thought I was still in Kansas. Another example of their brilliant plot twists: revealing that Beatrice is Dante’s wife and not his sister. I mean, wow, you’ve only pronounced your love to each other like 5 times and had sex. It was totally my first instinct to assume that you were in hell for incest.

Visual: 7/10

Hell is very nicely rendered, and some areas do look unique enough to be memorable. A large majority of it is going to be a lot of rock with brown, red, and orange hues. Character models look good enough that they all look just “right” at all times. They might be very well detailed, but if they are then I can’t tell on the small psp screen or with the camera zoom level. Fortunately, the combat effects are spectacular. You’ll enjoy watching Dante hack up the armies of hell into a mess of blood, guts, and brightly colored orbs.

Another room standing on a rock, surrounded by a whole lot of other rocks with a not so faint red ambience. Lovely.

Cutscene and area transitions are pretty much non-existant, and I don’t mean in a good way. You’ll often times be walking around somewhere, then the screen just blacks out for a second and a cutscene of a place that looks nothing like where you were just walking will start up. After the cutscene ends, you’ll probably find yourself somewhere else that has nothing to do with either where you were before the cutscene or during. It’s good for a quick laugh, but those looking for an immersive experience are going to be seriously put off by it.

There’ll also be quite a few glitches due to the camera going through walls and the like. Some parts of the level will disappear, but that’s really details compared to having the enemies disappear behind the camera. Especially in the last circles of Fraud, you’ll often wish the camera was done better so you can stop getting mauled by enemies charging in from offscreen.

Do keep in mind of course that this is an M-rated game. There will be quite a bit of nudity and people being eaten and buzzsawed and giant vaginas. Some of which have items inside to help Dante on his journey. Some say this sort of presentation is a bit over the top, but keep in mind that this is a GoW clone. GoW has minigames where you have sex with prostitutes, for crying out loud. With that in perspective, the mature content in this game is absolutely appropriate.

Audio: 6/10

This is a hard one for this game. The voice work is very well done, especially given how incredibly bad the plot related dialogue is. Dante sounds like the bad-ass he is, Virgil sounds omniscient, etc. The ambience is pretty good too. It’s subtle and fits with the scenary to generate the right kind of mood. The big problem is with the combat sound effects. All your moves look very devastating, but they sound incredibly understated, which really takes away from the feeling. Anyone who’s watched Ong Bak before knows what I’m talking about. Although everything looks devastating, it doesn’t sound devastating, and thus, it doesn’t feel very devastating, and is thus, less satisfying. Considering how much of the game is spent hacking enemies to pieces, that’s a lot of potential satisfaction lost in an otherwise great experience.

Content, Replayability, Extras: 7/10

A casual run through the game will take the average gamer 6-8 hours. The pacing is generally quick enough that you’d still enjoy this game a second time around (with the exception of Fraud, which is just one long gauntlet of battles). You can unlock the infernal difficulty by beating it once, but you’d be disappointed if you were expecting a hardcore experience like GoW’s god mode. Infernal mode in this game adds a few more enemies, makes you sap less hp/mp from foes, and makes spells use up a bit more juice. But really, you go through the game pretty much the same as you would on normal.

The game offers some extras in the form of souls and Judas coins. Souls are residents of hell that you can choose to punish or absolve for large quantities of exp and, well, souls. Some are in plain sight, but many are hidden, out of the way, or hard to reach. Judas coins are hidden in very out of place red fountains. For those of you who love exploring every nook and cranny looking for goodies, this is the extra for you. There are 30 coins in total, and while you’ll be able to find around 20 of them with just basic searching, a good chunk of them require very keen attention to details to find. Or an faq. I helped with the coins section for the GameFAQs one, btw.

2 runs through the game (one on normal, one on very hard) and finding all souls and coins took me 14 hours. For the average gamer, it’d last around 16-20 hours if they decide to do an infernal mode run. Take out about an hour for Fraud, which isn’t quite very enjoyable, and you’re paying for around 17 hours of hellspawn eviscerating goodness.

Gameplay: 8
Plot: 3
Visual: 7
Audio: 6
Content: 7

Verdict: 7.5 (not an average)
Verdict: 8.5 (not an average)

Although the game suffers from many flaws, the important bits are well done enough to make it highly enjoyable. It’s not original, and it’ll feel like a bootleg GoW, but that isn’t a flaw, regardless of what IGN and Gamespot say. You’ll be sorry if you’re a fan of action games on the go and don’t make an effort to rent or trade-in for this second-rate GoW clone, especially since no new GoW for psp has been announced yet, and you’re probably craving some with the advent of GoW3.

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