Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (Review)

I’m very late to the party having just played and finished Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune while most people have completed Uncharted 2 and are anxiously awaiting Uncharted 3. Even though I’m a bit behind with Uncharted, I’m still going to review Drake’s Fortune because there may be others out there who, like me, never bothered to play the Uncharted games for whatever reason and would like to know what the games are all about. Well, to my fellow PS3 owners who are late to the Uncharted party, I can safely say that it is indeed a party very much worth attending!

In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, you play as an adventurer and treasure hunter named Nathan (Nate) Drake who claims to be the descendant of famous English explorer and navigator Sir Francis Drake. The story involves Nate tracking the foot steps of his famed ancestor in an attempt to find the legendary treasure of El Dorado. Joining Nate on his adventure is long time friend and fellow adventurer Victor “Sully” Sullivan who is never short of cigars and wise cracks, and the spunky television reporter Elena Fisher who is looking for the story of a lifetime. Unfortunately for Nate and his motley crew, rivals of both Nate and Sully find out about the plan to locate the treasure of El Dorado and decide to beat the heroes to it. If 1980s action flicks have taught us anything, it is that treasure seeking bad guys are always pricks and have an unrealistically vast amount of gun tootin’ henchmen working for them. Drake’s Fortune does not stray from this as primary antagonist Gabriel Roman employs a huge army of pirates to deter Nate and company from reaching the treasure of El Dorado.

Platforming sequences will often lead Nate up and over walls.

Undoubtedly the best part of Drake’s Fortune is the fact that the game feels like an interactive movie. The cutscenes are truly among the very best out there thanks in part to the incredible script and voice acting in this game. Nate is voiced by the never-out-of-work voicing superstar Nolan North and he certainly gets the job done here very well. Emily Rose also brings the character of Elena to life, making her easily one of the most believable and realistic video game girls out there. Sully is voiced by the awesome Richard McGonagle, who has one of the best voices in the industry by far. The three main characters are so well written and so believable that, during cutscenes, it’s not unusual to view them as actual people rather than as video game characters. This is especially the case with Emily Rose, who happens to look pretty much exactly like the character she voices. Hollywood, you’d better cast her as Elena in the Uncharted movie if you have any sense!

The supporting cast is also fantastic. While there are three protagonists, there are also three antagonists. Eddy Raja is an apparent ex-friend turned rival of Nate, Gabriel Roman is a treasure loving crimelord who loaned Sully a great deal of money (which was never paid back, hence the hostilities), and Atoq Navarro is a smug archaeologist hired by Gabriel Roman to assist him who really comes into his own later in the game. Each of the antagonists are well voiced, with many fans still loving the cocky and energetic Eddy Raja to this day. “Don’t mess with Eddy Raja!” Indeed, Eddy. Beyond the three antagonists, the only other voices players will really hear are of the pirates who under the command of Eddy and Gabriel. Most of Nate’s encounters in Drake’s Fortune will be with these pirates and, for the most part, they are well voiced. I could not help but notice that they sound a lot like the terrorist NPCs in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same guy did the voice work for both Uncharted’s pirates and Vegas 2’s terrorists.

The supporting cast are not only memorable, but they're also handy as AI partners.

It is 2011 now and Drake’s Fortune is probably still one of the very best looking games on the Playstation 3. While the game does show a bit of age in some areas, it is still very pretty to look at and is certainly more pleasing to the eye than even many games released this year. This is a pretty wild accomplishment for a game that is four years old! The weakest point of Uncharted’s presentation is probably in the character models themselves. Facial animations look a little unnatural at times, and there are very obvious clipping issues with hair. Elena’s blonde hairdo in particular is prone to clipping quite a bit, and it’s painfully obvious whenever you see the back of her head in a cutscene. I’m also a little displeased at exploding objects in Drake’s Fortune. At one point in the game players must navigate a jet ski up a raging river that is, for some unknown reason, littered with exploding barrels. Ignoring how odd it is that there is a neverending stream of these barrels floating down the river, when you shoot one of these barrels to make them explode, the barrel will simply vanish and be replaced by an explosion. Even for a 2007 game, this is a really tacky looking effect which I thought we started to phase out during the last generation of consoles. Aside from these minor issues, the graphics are still very good for the most part. Jungle areas in particular are incredibly detailed and beautiful to look at. A few textures here and there look a little blurry or dated, but they are incredibly easy to miss unless you play this game with the intention of nitpicking and looking for graphical flaws.

In terms of gameplay, I can pretty much say that if you’ve ever played a Tomb Raider game then you will know exactly what to expect with Drake’s Fortune. Simply replace Lara Croft with Nathan Drake and bang, you’ve got Uncharted! For better or for worse, the gameplay in Uncharted really doesn’t do anything new that we haven’t seen before. However, for everything gameplay related that Uncharted does, it does well. The gameplay can be divided up into three categories: gun fights, platforming, and puzzle solving. Since this is a third person game, the gun fights are a little tougher to get used to than they are in first person shooters and the aiming can be horrifically difficult to get used to. Making Nate point and aim his gun can be a slow process. This isn’t Resident Evil 4 or 5 where the character can whip out their gun and point it anywhere in a fraction of a second, no. Aiming Nate’s gun is a pretty slow process as he moves his arms around at a snail’s pace, if you are the kind of player who blindly charges into battle, you’re going to die because of this. Due to the aiming being fairly slow, pretty much all of your firing will be done behind cover. Pressing the circle button will make Nate leap behind any piece of cover nearby, protecting him from the endless onslaught of ammo being flung his way by Eddy’s pirate goons. The key is to find cover, wait for the pirates to stop firing, and then pop your head out and get off a few good shots. I would advise most players to go into the options and put the aiming sensitivity slider around the middle of the bar. I found that if you have the aiming sensitivity too low then aiming is pretty much as slow as molasses which doesn’t help when you have to pop out of cover to take down a sniper before he gets a headshot on you. In contrast, putting the sensitivity all the way up makes it too hard to aim well. Lining up a headshot is extremely difficult with maximum sensitivity, as even just the slightest tap of the analog stick will cause your crosshair to whip around further than you want it to.

Four years later and this game is still gorgeous. A remarkable feat by Naughty Dog.

The only other issue I have with the fire fights is that it is not uncommon to kill all enemies in the room only for half a dozen more to spill in from another entranceway. It isn’t so bad in games where reinforcements come once every five or six fights, but in Drake’s Fortune you had better expect a constant stream of reinforcements in any room that is larger than the typical school or work cafeteria. When almost every large opening or room becomes a five to ten minute long shoot out, things can become a bit tiring. Unfortunately for Drake’s Fortune, there are a lot of these rooms. Around the middle of the game when Nate is working through a series of ruins with Elena, there are several very long fire fights that really just drag on for too long. Gamers who decide to check out Drake’s Fortune primarily for the platforming and puzzle solving aspects will probably be a bit turned off with the repetitive gun fights. Thankfully, for most of the game Nate will have either Elena or Sully alongside him providing support in shoot outs. On less stressful difficulty settings, players who aren’t too exceptional at shooting games will surely love their AI partners who don’t just stand around or behave erratically like in most games of this game. Elena and Sully take appropriate cover and are pretty decent at taking down enemies on their own. It is entirely possible for the AI partners to clear out areas for less skilled players, though this would probably take a bit of time and I wouldn’t advise doing this at all unless you are a player who REALLY despises shooting games. Unfortunately for players of this kind, towards the end of the game everything is turned upside down as enemy encounters change drastically (I won’t go into details for the sake of spoilers) and you’ll be without a partner for the last few chapters. The change of pace in terms of how encounters work is actually very well done and will force pretty much everyone who plays the game to change their strategies. Everything the game teaches you essentially becomes irrelevant as the fights become completely different and it is a lot of fun adapting to the changes.

There is also melee combat which involves running up to an enemy and mashing the square and triangle buttons to perform what the game refers to as brutal combos. These are pretty unfulfilling overall and just feel really out of place for some reason that I can’t really pinpoint. I would advise avoiding melee combat if your gun skills are more than up to snuff. I’m not even close to being a good shot, but I only ran out of ammo a few times later in the game and had to backtrack for more, so the melee combat isn’t an essential aspect of the game and it can be beaten very easily without going all Rocky Balboa on every pirate you meet.

The platforming sequences are pretty much ripped straight out of Tomb Raider. Nate will scale tons of cliffs, fortress walls, and vines throughout his travels. Most of the platforming moments just involve climbing up walls, shimmying around a little bit, and jumping to adjacent walls and such to find a way past obstacles. These sequences rarely last long and are, in my opinion, very under-utilized. Drake’s Fortune could have potentially a very incredible platformer but instead we’re only treated to Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider-esque climbing moments once every twenty or thirty minutes and they rarely last longer than a minute or two. This is a shame because they’re often quite fun and I enjoyed having to stop and look around for things to climb and jump to.

Melee combat is woefully unfulfilling and most players will probably opt to use firearms.

The puzzles of Drake’s Fortune are pretty straight forward and usually just involve flicking switches. The most advanced puzzle is one around the middle of the game when you have to point four statues in different directions to open a hidden passageway. Another puzzle indicates that you have to make two large church bells ring simultaneously to proceed. Well, that would be pretty hard in any other game, but in Drake’s Fortune Nate has guns. Yeah I just ruined the bell puzzle, but even a five year old would be able to figure that one out in approximately five seconds. Drake’s Fortune has very basic puzzles that will rarely, if ever, make you stop and wonder how you are supposed to even proceed. This isn’t all that bad since it keeps up with the steady pace of the rest of the game. It goes hand in hand with the quick platforming sequences, though the overly long gun fights usually bring the steady pace to a screeching halt for a few minutes.

Overall, there is no shortage of awesome things to say about Drake’s Fortune. It isn’t without problems, but the issues this game has are extremely minor and can be overcome, if not completely forgotten, by devoted players. The game only takes about eight hours to play through, but there are dozens of hidden goodies that will be missed on the first play through the game. By finding hidden treasures littered throughout the world and performing various tasks that award trophies, players will amass medals ingame which will unlock various bonus features such as playing with fun screen effects filters, using any gun in the game whenever you want, to even playing as Elena, Sully, or any of the game’s antagonists. There’s quite a bit to do in this game besides enjoy the fantastic story. The gameplay is blast, the characters are extremely likeable and memorable, and there’s tons of hidden goodies. Fans of adventure games will find lots to love in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Pros:
+ An unforgettable cast of characters who you’ll fall in love with.
+ Script and voice work are both among the best ever in a video game.
+ The game is still beautiful four years after release.

Cons:
– Aiming controls can be fairly sluggish.
– Melee combat feels out of place and depressingly bare-bones.
– Some shooting sequences can drag on for too long.

Final Score

9.5/10

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Terraria (Review)

Terraria is a creative new action/adventure sandbox game by Re-Logic that encourages players to explore and be creative. While Terraria is often compared to Minecraft by many people, I won’t be making many comparisons between the two games because I feel that they are vastly different from one another. So, let’s dive on in and talk about Terraria.

First off, there is no story. After you make your character (picking a hairstyle, adjusting colour sliders, and slapping a name onto the sprite), you are just dumped into a randomly generated world with no indication as to what you need to do. Terraria does not hold your hand, so it is likely that anyone who didn’t properly research the game before buying it will immediately feel lost. Thankfully there is a “guide” NPC who will at least give players a few semi useful tips when he is right clicked.

The object of Terraria, right from the get go, is to harvest lumber and gather resources from subterrane locales so that you can outfit yourself with forged materials while also constructing a proper house or shelter for your character as well as the guide NPC. This must be done relatively quickly at the beginning of the game because, when night comes, flying eyeballs and zombies prowl the randomly generated landscape and they will not hesitate to tear you a new one due to the fact that players are grossly unprepared to take on either of these creatures upon first starting out.

The underground is where you'll spend most of your time.

To protect yourself for the nights, the game implies that you should use your hatchet to cut down trees and build a house. This is pretty easy to do. The hatchet, along with many other tools such as the hammer and pick, can be used by selecting them in your inventory and just holding the left mouse button down over whatever it is you wish to chop or cut. When you fell a tree, it will turn into about a dozen pieces of wood that you can pick up. Each piece of wood is a single block that can be used for building. If you want to make a square home, you’d need about forty pieces of wood (approximately five pieces for each side).

The wood you harvest can also be used to make objects such as chairs, work benches, and doors. Making the right objects and placing them in your constructed abodes can attract NPCs to live in your settlement. All NPCs have their own special requirments that must be met before they show up (as an example, a merchant will not come to settle unless your currency is equal to or greater than 50 silver coins) but beyond that, all they need is a room with a door, chair, table and sufficient lighting. Make a room with these elements and chances are you’ll eventually have an NPC living there.

There are several NPCs which all serve different purposes. The merchant will buy your goods and sell you various pieces of gear and miscellaneous items while the nurse NPC will heal your wounds. There are approximately six or seven different NPCs who can come to your settlement, and it feels really wonderful to have them show up and settle in your constructed buildings.

Beyond building houses and attracting NPCs, you can use the resources you gather to upgrade your equipment. Your tools (axe, hammer, pick) can all be upgraded, and you will also be able to forge armor and weapons as well. What you can forge depends on what kind of ores you have mined. Low tier ores such as copper or iron will give you pretty average armor and weapons that should enable you to stand up to creatures a little better, while higher tier ores such as gold or hellstone will definitely enable you to stand up and overpower most monsters with ease.

Want to build up into the sky? Not a problem. How about underground? Go right on ahead!

While Terraria’s surface world gameplay is mostly about building structures and staying safe, the underground gameplay is vastly different. With your trusty pick and torches, you will dive deep into caves and catacombs in search of ores and treasures. Terraria is fairly generous when you are close to the surface, giving you an ample amount of copper and stone while throwing relatively few enemies at you, but as you dig down deeper you will begin to encounter many new monster types that will force you to change your combat tactics often.

The underground areas of Terraria are actually far more interesting than the overworld. There are many different “regions” underground such as mushroom forests, underground jungles, dungeons, and rivers of molten magma. The environments that you come across depend upon how far down you are (except for underground jungles which are placed in any random underground location).

Now for a bit of technical aspects. How are the building/movement controls and the combat? They may feel a little peculiar at first since the game handles very much like a retro Super Nintendo game, but it is not hard to adjust. Placing blocks and building is extremely easy as it is just all point and click, while combat pretty much comprises of just pointing your character in a direction and clicking repeatedly until whatever you are fighting dies. It’s not a revolutionary combat system and it’s not at all deep, but it’s good enough and is fun at times. However, sometimes it feels as if monster respawn times are far too fast and you may be bombarded by upwards of half a dozen enemies at once. When this happens, combat may become frustrating or tedious.

Ingame menus can also be a little frustrating to navigate. While the overall presentation is pretty simplistic, the inventory screen is pretty cluttered and gets messy in a hurry. The crafting menu is nothing more than a column that you click through with your mouse. Clicking on an item will craft the item, but if you click even slightly off of the item’s icon, you’ll move the column to highlight another item, which can be a little annoying at times. The health bar is also confusing, as your life is depicted by a series of hearts like in Zelda… However, hovering over your hearts will present you with a numerical value for your life. Since whenever damage is inflicted in combat it is visually displayed in numerical format, wouldn’t it make more sense to just use plain text to display life rather than hearts? It is not always easy to judge how much health you are at. It’s an odd system, but it doesn’t put too much of a damper on the gameplay.

Bosses are large and incredibly epic. Bring lots of health potions!

The graphics are pretty admirable as a whole. Terraria looks a lot like a Super Nintendo game, which may partially be due to the fact that the creator of the game previously worked on the freeware Super Mario Bros. X game. The creator seems to have a deep love for retro gaming, and it really shines through Terraria’s graphics. Enemies are simplistic but nice looking, and environments all look like standard 16-bit platforming fare. Anyone who appreciates 2D graphics should feel right at home in Terraria. 3D enthusiasts, however, are less likely to enjoy Terraria’s worlds.

The sound effects are mostly generic noises that won’t sound too new to anyone. Most of the sound effects in Terraria are bumps, clunks, and thuds. The music is a whole different story. It seems to be widely agreed upon that the music in Terraria is exceedingly pleasant to listen to. Like the graphics, Terraria’s music seems to have come straight out of the 16-bit gaming era. The day time music sounds cute and cheerful while the night theme is spooky and really evokes a feeling that you need to get to safety before the flying eyeballs make quick work of burying you six feet under.

So how much of a sandbox game is Terraria? Well, even though there is the goal of building a settlement and expanding it while keeping it safe, there is no time limit to it and you’re basically free to do whatever you want at any time you desire. For example, rather than working at upgrading gear and attracting NPCs, a friend and I have instead been focusing on turning a floating island into a stronghold that we can live in and store our resources and supplies in, and it’s taking several hours to do this!

Terraria is $10 on Steam and is a real steal at such a price. Free updates over time have been confirmed, promising that this already entertaining and open game will become even better with time. If you like dungeon crawlers or sandbox games, then Terraria is definitely worth checking out.

PROS:
+ Building is simplistic but very satisfying.
+ Insane amount of craftable items.
+ Multiplayer is loads of fun.

CONS:
– Too much time is spent underground.
– Crafting menu and inventory are not user friendly.
– Combat could’ve been fleshed out more.

Final Score

8.8/10

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (Review)

Before I even begin to get into my review for Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2, I feel the need to say that I don’t read comics, nor do I follow anything that happens in the Marvel universe. A lot of the hijinks that the superheroes get themselves into are unknown to me, so please forgive me for not going into much depth with the characters in this review. With that out of the way, let’s get on with the review!

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (MUA2) is the latest superhero action RPG churned out by Activision and various developer studios (different studios made different ports). In MUA2, players assume control over several Marvel heroes and anti-heroes in their quest to combat an issue that forces all mutant superheroes to register with the government.

Click to enlarge.

About 60-90 minutes into MUA2, a sequence of events occurs that brings about this whole registration act that forces all mutant heroes to register with the government or be deemed criminals. Two iconic characters are at odds with one another over the issue, however. Captain America is against the mutant registration act, refusing to adhere to it due to several reasons that he deems immoral. Taking the side of the government is Tony Stark, also known as Iron Man. Up until the point in the game where these two are at odds, everything is just dandy in hero land. However, after it becomes evident that these two iconic heroes do not see eye to eye on the issue, the player has to pick which side they want to be one, Anti-Registration or Pro-Registration. Which side you choose determines what your headquarters are, what missions you will temporarily be assigned to, and what characters will be available to you.

In terms of characters, it is worth noting that there is a lot of variety in MUA2. While certain characters will only join you if you’re for or against the registration act, you will still always have tons of heroes to choose from. Captain America, Deadpool, Gambit, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Venom, Wolverine, and a dozen other characters will be able to travel with you. Since you must always have a team of four heroes, there are a lot of cool possibilities and I imagine that comic fans will be able to make some great dream teams.

For those who aren’t familiar with the gameplay, even though I’m reviewing this game several months after it’s release, I’ll go over how MUA2 works. As I mentioned above, you have a squad of four heroes at all times. The game is divided into several mission arcs in which you guide your heroes through fairly linear levels obliterating foes, defeating bosses, and performing tasks that progress the story.

Click to enlarge.

The gameplay is deemed action RPG. I get the action part pretty well, but this game is too linear to be considered an RPG, with the whole RPG element being nothing more than dialogue options in conversations and where you want to allocate skill points that your heroes earn when they level up. I will admit that yes, it’s fair to label the game an RPG, but the action part of the game takes center stage.

Attacks are mapped to the X and circle buttons, while square serves as a pick-up/throw button. Trademark superhero moves can be performed by holding a shoulder button (I played on the PS3, so it was R2) and then pressing either X, circle, square, or triangle. The player can switch to any character in their squad whenever they want by pressing any button on the d-pad.

Missions are insanely action packed, and I found gameplay to be kind of like Diablo only with four Marvel superheroes instead of one fantasy inspired character class. There are many waves of enemies in each mission, and they’ll often come at you in very large waves that initially look a little overwhelming. Fortunately, special attacks easily dispatch most foes, and fusion attacks (which is when two characters join their powers together for an attack) will prove to be absolutely devastating to almost any enemy that will challenge the player aside from boss characters. Some fusion attacks are very cool, like when you pair Ms. Marvel and Wolverine together. The pair will use their respective powers to unleash a devastating AoE attack that will decimate any enemy within range. Some characters do not really “match” with others however, and you will just get a sort of generic fusion attack when pairing incompatible heroes together. The gameplay is fast and hectic, so if that’s your cup of tea then this is definitely a game you’ll enjoy.

Click to enlarge.

The graphics are surprisingly nice for a console action RPG title. While environments are fairly detailed and nice to look at, it’s the character models that really seal the deal for me. Each and every hero is packed full of detail, which is really impressive since the camera is usually zoomed out fairly far from them. Deadpool, Iron Man and Spider-Man in particular look really outstanding. Unfortunately a lot of NPCs aren’t crafted quite as well, with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Maria Hill being a prime example of this.

In terms of sound, MUA2 does a fairly good job. Most of the music tracks are very fitting of the locales you will visit, and it’s worth noting that while some tracks aren’t very exceptional, there really isn’t any bad music in this game at all. Sound effects are pretty good as well, though it can be a little difficult to distinguish one sound from another in the heat of battle, due to the insane amount of sound effects being generated by your four man team as well as from the enemy forces that can number over one dozen most of the time. Voices are very good in this game, with heroes such as Captain America or Wolverine really stealing the show. A few characters could have probably done with better voices though, because I felt a little underwhelmed by Deadpool and Ms. Marvel. Deadpool’s humour seemed too forced and Ms. Marvel’s voice actress just didn’t have enough “oomph” for such a powerful and prominent female figure in the Marvel universe.

Click to enlarge.

With all the good out of the way, I’ll comment on the few bad points I have with this game. First is the camera. Despite being able to control it and rotate it around, it can still find itself in odd locations and won’t always provide you with the best view of the action. Second nitpick is the ingame menu that allows you to swap heroes and distribute skill points. It’s a pretty clunky menu, and I find that it’s slow to navigate and just overall feels fairly sluggish. MUA2’s menu is one of the very rare ones that feels like a console menu that was meant for the PC.

As a whole, MUA2 is remarkably solid. The story is interesting and the gameplay is a blast. Considering that you can play cooperatively with a friend or online, it adds even more to MUA2’s already outstanding gameplay. The entire package is well above average and, while not great, really is a lot of fun to play. Anyone who enjoys action RPGs or even just Marvel comic books will most likely find a lot to enjoy in MUA2.

Final Score

8.2/10

Champions Online (Review)

“The ideal game to play if you’ve ever wanted to be a superhero.”

In 2009, I played Champions Online when it first launched as a way to distance myself from World of Warcraft, which I was shamefully addicted to at the time but was having troubles getting away from. Back when the game was first launched, Champions Online felt slightly lacking and the gameplay wasn’t as gripping as I had hoped at the time. The character creation system was beyond awesome, but it was not enough to make me want to stick with the game, so I decided to step away from Champions Online for a short while. Now, a year and a half later, I have returned to Champions Online as it enters the brave new world of being free to play.

As someone who has played a few major MMORPGs in the past few years but felt most attached to World of Warcraft, most comparisons I make will be to that behemoth of a game since I believe most people who read this review will have played WoW at some point in their lives.

Millennium City, the setting of the game, is very detailed, immersive, and LARGE!

Champions Online begins in the character creator, which is extremely in-depth and robust. Pretty much anything you can think of can be made or recreated faithfully. I’ve made a slew of neat looking original characters, but I’ve also made pretty decent looking renditions of Captain Commando, Jin Saotome, Ms. Marvel, and Samus Aran. Despite the fact that the character creator does not have anything really impressive such as the custom paint and sticker features in APB, Champions Online has so many parts and pieces for you to mix and match when making your hero that I can say with great confidence that you will probably never see the same character design more than once. Every character is incredibly unique, and with a little imagination you can come up with something very cool looking.

What I like about Champions Online is that your character really feels like something you’ve made, as if it truly is your own creation. Aside from having complete control over their initial appearance, you can select what powers they have, how their stat points increase through leveling, and what the colours are of their powers and weapons. There are a lot of cookie cutter frameworks (builds) that the player can use, so casual players or just anyone who isn’t very creative or inventive can just click on the button for having a fire based character or a gunslinger-esque cowboy hero and have immediate results. Selecting the custom framework is much more satisfying however, as it lets you make your character do anything you want. If you want a dark magic wielding archer who can tear up the ground Hulk-style and toss it around, you can do that. You can also make a swordsman who shoots ice projectiles at the enemies while also healing himself. The custom framework selection is very cool, and it lets you be incredibly creative with how you want your character to play. If you are unable to choose custom framework, since it is only available to paying customers, you have to go with the default frameworks which all contain predetermined abilities and powers and don’t allow nearly as much freedom. It’s not very fun to use the game’s default frameworks if you’re a paying customer, but anyone who is playing the game for the first time as a non-paying customer will probably not be bothered at all.

Even trademarked characters can be recreated semi-faithfully in Champions Online.

Champions Online, for the most part, seems to be about questing. There still isn’t much else to do in the game besides going out and completing quests unless you are interested in the various PvP-centric Hero Games or want to RP your character. This game is overflowing with quests, and it’s really staggering. Since most characters will be equipped with travel powers that enable them to fly, getting quests done is fortunately a breeze. The quests in Champions Online aren’t very different from what you’d find in a game such as World of Warcraft and, in fact, may even be easier. They are extremely straight forward and don’t force you to do things you don’t really want to do. Thankfully the questing is fairly enjoyable since many of them can be plowed through thanks to travel powers which make getting around very fast. Imagine having a 310% flying mount in World of Warcraft at level 1. That’s what travel powers are like in Champions Online are like, and it’s fantastic. They make questing much more enjoyable, despite the fact that a lot of quests are very straight forward and lacking in variety.

Often times you’ll be sent into dungeons as well. These are not like group instances in other MMORPGs, as the dungeons in Champions Online can often be tackled alone until you’re well over level 20 (the cap is 40). More often than not, they will also contain a supervillain at the end. Fighting these super powerful enemies is a lot of fun and, thanks to the action oriented gameplay, you never feel like you’re just doing “routine motions” like you do when fighting bosses in other MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft.

While I’m on the subject of supervillains, it is certainly worth mentioning that when players reach level 25, they are able to create their nemesis. Face it, Batman has the Joker and Spider-Man has the Green Goblin, so why shouldn’t your hero? When you visit the Millennium City police station at level 25, you receive a quest to design your nemesis in the exact same way you created your character. You also get to choose what their henchmen look like as well as what kind of villainous personality they have. Though getting to the required level to go through this process may take a bit of time for casual players, it is very rewarding and makes the game feel incredibly immersive after you complete the nemesis creation quest.

The PvP seems pretty competent and is, thankfully, true PvP. Large-scale free for fall deathmatches, anybody? That’s what Champions Online has to offer, and it’s a breath of fresh air from the watered down “capture the flag” PvP found in other MMORPGS. My only complaint is that, in PvP matches, players all seem to stack on each other. Since PvP is deathmatch-centric in Champions Online, it makes the actual PvP combat itself feel very unorganized with so many players clumped together within a few feet of each other. There is certainly lots of room to move around, but most characters rely on being in close to damage their targets, which just results in a huge cluster of players duking it out. It’s overwhelming, and I never knew who to go after because there were just so many players on screen and located all around my character. It was like being in a mosh pit, only with a lot more crazy superpowered projectiles flying around.

Being overwhelmed like this isn't a problem at all. Remember, you're a superhero!

I’ll openly admit that I’m a huge nerd and RP communities in games appeal to me, so I’ll briefly touch upon Champions Online’s RP community as well. The community here is one of the best I’ve experienced. Despite the fact that there are no RP servers or anything of the sort, the players have taken some real initiative and have several ingame channels devoted to RP, and a few locations in Millennium City are used as RP hubs, with Club Caprice being the most well known of them.

The graphics in Champions Online are starting to look slightly dated, but they are still very sufficient for an MMORPG and don’t bother me in the least. Character models are still a lot of fun to look at, especially since there are so many creative looking characters running around. Environments can suffer from a bit of deja vu at times, and the starter zones of Canada and the Desert don’t really have a whole lot of eye candy to look at in comparison to the gigantic Millennium City map. The UI is also worth mentioning, I feel. The interface quite predictably copies World of Warcraft in several ways, which guarantees that it is very accessible right off the bat. Unfortunately, the default size of the UI is very small, and it can be difficult to click certain abilities in your action bar if you’re used to larger interfaces.

In terms of sound, Champions Online does pretty well. The soundtrack is pretty acceptable for an MMORPG, with the login menu theme stealing the show by a landslide. Most of the game’s music tracks kick in when you’re entering various areas of the game’s zones and are just sort of light background noise, but they certainly do help increase the atmosphere. The sound effects aren’t too spectacular and are pretty much average across the board. Nothing I’ve heard while playing has been very grating, nor have I heard any sound effects that made me think, “Hey, that sounded pretty cool.” Voice acting is pretty minimal most of the time, but is done in a way that sort of mimics the corny voice acting style of comic book cartoons such as the old X-Men cartoon from the 1990s. The voices aren’t at all bad, but you honestly will not take any of them seriously.

The controls are fantastic and really shine in basic melee combat. Everything is very responsive and there’s usually zero lag, but targetting certain enemies can be a chore at times, because you have to click directly on the enemy. This is one of the few things that irks me about Champions Online because, when you’re coming under heavy fire from a few enemies at once, you’ll likely want to target the weakest and take them out to reduce the amount of damage you’ll take from the fight, but this is not too easy to do since your click to select your target has to be 100 precise. If you’re off by even a little, you won’t click them at all. This can be annoying at times, but it is far from being a game breaker. I would go as far as to say that the voice acting in Champions Online seems to pay homage to comic-based cartoons, which isn’t really a bad thing at all. The voices are cheesy, yes, but they’re definitely acceptable.

By even allowing you to give your character a biography, Champions Online encourages a very RP-friendly environment.

In conclusion, I’ll just note that Champions Online has everything that other MMORPGs have from auction houses to trade skills and to working mail systems. All the essentials are here, and are rolled up in a nice and meaty gameplay experience that is much more enjoyable than most other robotic-feeling MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. The character creation is also perhaps the best there is, and has only ever been challenged by the in depth character editors found in the currently dead MMO shooter APB.

If you’ve always wanted to be a superhero, like MMORPGs, or love games with lots of customization, then Champions Online is worth checking out. Sign up for a free account and give this great game a test run and, if you like it, upgrade your account to gold and enjoy an even better experience!

Click here to visit the official Champions Online website.

Final Score

9.1/10

Venetica – Further Impressions

Due to the holidays, and now bad work hours, my time with Venetica has been a little limited. Still, I’ve made more progress with the game and have become better at playing while discovering new features as well. I originally intended to show off about 60 minutes of me playing, but I lacked time to upload all of that to YouTube, only managing to upload 30 more minutes instead. However, it’s a good amount of gameplay and you can definitely get an idea of how the game plays from these videos.

Here are two videos that are to be played back to back. It is me playing through one of the game’s dungeons.

The video ends kind of abruptly with that boss battle, but in the following videos there will be a conclusion to the fight. Overall, it was a pretty epic fight and is the first real “cool” encounter in the game.

I don’t really want to say too much about the game, because I want to save my comments for the inevitable review that should come this week sometime provided my schedule cooperates with me. I will say that I’m liking the game more and more as I get further into it. Initially, I would have given it about a 7 when I wrote my first impressions a few days ago, but I now suspect that I’d be more inclined to give it about an 8.5 or so. It’s a quality game and if you can look past the slightly cartoonish presentation, then there’s a very enjoyable action RPG waiting for you!

I will say one thing, though. Venetica plays a lot like a cross between The Witcher and, surprisingly, Diablo. The game has a hack n’ slash element to it that Diablo possesses, but the gameplay (how you control Scarlett and how the camera works) is more like The Witcher, especially with the combo attacks.

Truthfully? It’s a great game. I can’t wait to play more, and I’m really looking forward to writing a review about this game. I’m even interested in doing a sort of “Let’s Try” series of videos, if only I can get my darn headset to work. It may be time to invest in a new one.

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Venetica First Impressions

Venetica. It’s a bit of an unusual name, and before reading up on the game I didn’t expect that it would be a Fable-esque RPG starring a girl named Scarlett. I’ve spent a bit of time with this game, enough for me to decide to write up some initial impressions.

In Venetica, you play as a girl named Scarlett who is out to avenge the death of her beloved boyfriend Benedict while also getting wrapped up in a story containing some pretty supernatural elements that I’m still learning about. The story telling, so far, isn’t too bad. The dialogue sequences are pretty straight forward, but individual characters have enough personality to make most interactions fairly interesting.

The controls are pretty solid. Moving around, attacking, and interacting with your surroundings is all a breeze. However, I do find that making Scarlett roll is a little cumbersome. To roll, you have to hold down a key and press a directional key to make Scarlett roll. You literally have to stop what you are doing to make her roll, or at least it seems this way. I’ll need to experiment with rolling some more, but it does feel a little clunky. Aside from that issue, the controls are pretty good.

The graphics are a bag of mixed nuts. Characters look good and are portrayed in a cartoony fashion, sort of like the first Fable. Some people clearly have heads that are too large, or bodies that are too out of proportion, but it’s the artistic style of the game and I’m cool with it. Menus are all pretty slick once you get used to them, and environments don’t look too bad. There are some pretty bland textures at times, but the game has a lot of ambiance. A few European reviewers noted that the environments and landscapes are this game’s strong points and I agree. They don’t look up to par anymore, but they are very artistic and immersive.

The combat works pretty well, though it takes two or three fights until you start to get used to dodging and parrying. It’s mostly up to the player to invent ways to dodge and parry, which is cool. There is Scarlett’s roll and such that is designed to help you in combat, but I found just moving around a lot to be more effective. The combat itself plays out a lot like The Witcher. It seems that attacks combo into each other, and if your timing is off at all then you’ll botch your attack. If you’re fighting a humanoid when this happens, it gives them a great opportunity to block and then perform a counter attack, unless you can jump away fast enough.

So far, it’s a pretty decent game. It isn’t outstanding, but I’d definitely give it a higher score than the Metacritic score of 61, which I feel is far too low for this game. Somewhere between 70 and 85 would be better. Venetica is a fun game that is fairly well made, and more people would enjoy the game rather than dislike it.

Venetica is due out on January 11, 2011 in North America on the PC, Playstation 3, and XBox 360.

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