Bioshock Infinite Review (PS3/360): “To Infinity and Beyond”

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Bioshock Infinite is a first-person shooter that was developed by Irrational Games and published by 2K Games for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. Easily one of this year’s most anticipated games, BioShock Infinite seeks to take us from the horror and action of the murky depths in Rapture, and whisk you up into the floating city of Columbia. Despite its vibrant facade, underneath the surface holds dark secrets and menacing plans just as its underwater contemporary did. Bioshock Infinite suffered several delays since being announced in August of 2010. Luckily, that hasn’t stopped Irrational Games from crafting another enormous story-driven journey. However, does Bioshock Infinite live up to all the latest hype and string of perfect scores? Lets dive…no, lets fly into this review and see!

Story: 5/5

Bioshock Infinite has to feature one of the most elaborate stories to grace a console in this generation. The story not only makes you care for the main characters involved, but really challenges your mind through science and philosophy. Rest assured, this isn’t an undergrad philosophy class but the game does brush onto metaphysics more than once. The gamer’s choices and parallel universes in this game are set in the year 1912. The main character in Bioshock Infinite is Booker DeWitt, a man who has been hired to bring back a girl named Elizabeth, who has special abilities. He is bringing her to New York in order to pay back a debt. The hook is that Elizabeth is currently on the floating city of Columbia and when Mr. DeWitt arrives on this magical city, he soon discovers that it’s not quite what it seems.

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Unlike the dark corridors and evil in the city of Rapture from Bioshock 1&2, Columbia is the complete opposite in appearance. As the game progresses further into this mystery, DeWitt discovers that Columbia is a city torn apart by groups and a controlling dictator called the Prophet. The story touches on regret, guilt, oppression and religion. The Prophet’s Columbia is a city founded on the literal adoration of America’s Founding Fathers. Except the Prophet’s vision contains a twisted place, where racist, nationalistic attitudes are legitimized by its leader’s religion and a brutal, industrialized inside keeps the exterior surface serene looking. There is a plethora of mature oriented content that pops up in Infinite. Religious zealots, racism, class warfare, and the American city of Columbia in 1912 are all under the microscope. Some may argue that a lot has changed; while other things have still remained the same in our modern times, and that is what I believe Irrational games was trying to get across to the gamers.

Eventually, Booker is reunited with Elizabeth, and the story of Bioshock Infinite kicks into high gear. The action ramps up but so does the emotional aspect as well. The relationship between Elizabeth and Booker feels real and although she despises him at first due to the men that he killed, this relationship soon changes into something more comforting. It’s this interaction between Elizabeth and Booker which really makes this game so great. The elaborate story takes no shortcuts while exploring societal issues such as religious zealotry, class warfare, fanatical patriotism and awful racial intolerance that make the game even more intriguing to watch.

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Gameplay: 5/5

Bioshock Infinite starts you out with the basics. Explaining who you are, why you’re here, what Columbia is, and how they got to where they are, all within the first ten minutes. The intro is soaked in symbolism and Victorian art styles. The rescue of Elizabeth comes early on, and after that, you’ll soon find out that she’s far from a helpless little girl. Elizabeth has been trapped in Columbia for a very long time, and once outside, all these new interactions can sometimes evoke confusion, astonishment, or just plain horror, but she often finds inner strength and eventually becomes tougher.

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Elizabeth’s abilities are a great asset to your adventure as she can do a great many things. It’s clear that Irrational games spent a lot of time and energy working the game to make sure that as a companion, Elizabeth is positioned as prominently as possible. She provides a full range of emotions and assortment of powers that make her a delight to have around, not annoying or burdensome like in certain other games that will remain nameless. Elizabeth can open a space time rift and bring in helpful robots to aid you in battle. She can also change the battlefield in mid-fight, while tossing you supplies such as ammo or health. She will not fight enemies but on the plus side, she also cannot die either during battles. It’s amazing that the entire campaign was created with a buddy AI that was completely not burdensome or poisonous to the momentum of the script. The entire gameplay could have easily gone downhill by mistakes or errors made by the AI of Elizabeth, but instead she was created flawlessly.

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The in-game combat is played out just like in previous installments. Gamers will have a wide range of hard hitting weapons. This time around, you’ll be finding and equipping upgradeable “Vigors”. These Vigors are exactly like Plasmids from the original BioShock, a magic liquid spell that grants the body special abilities. Most Vigors are unique mostly because they all have a secondary function as well. Most are useful and enjoyable, but occasionally it’ll take some trial and error to figure out which Vigors do the most destruction to the game’s enemies and bosses. Through all of this, you’ll be rummaging enemy bodies and the environment for ammo, weapons, money, health vials, and Salt (which is used like the original Bioshock’s “Mana” to power your Vigors). Figurine decorated vending machines have been placed throughout the city and function as the place to buy health, ammo and upgrades.

My favorite part of Infinite has to be the sky-rail system. The sky-rails play a big part in both BioShock Infinite’s exploration and combat. There’s an easy interface for using your hook attachment to zoom around on these rails and attack from above when dismounting, but what’s more fascinating is how you can completely change the nature of a firefight with these aerial rail systems. Pop around, behind, and up close to pay a couple of enemy snipers a little personal visit. Or you could fire rockets down on enemies while sliding from the rail itself, and pounce on a powerful enemy that’s near a ledge to dump them off of it in one hit. Not all firefights involve hooking onto rails, but many of the game’s best firefights feature it.

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Using the sky-rails, I couldn’t help but feel that I was on some high-speed ride at Disney World zooming past all of the little toy towns and people below, which is exhilarating and nostalgic in its own right. You’ll also find some gruesome and gory deaths with the use of both the Vigors, as well as up close melee attacks and more destructive guns, and you’ll see these especially with some of the little perks that are added with your Gear (simple pieces of clothing that change your combat capabilities). There are four distinctive slots for “Gear”, and these items will give you extra critical damage, stuns, Health steals, and other aids that aren’t locked to a particular gun. However, there are some specific Vigors that can be modified by adding Gear items.

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There is one underlying theme here, and it’s something smaller at first but gradually becomes more prevalent as you venture deeper into the game. The friendship that begins to bloom between Booker and Elizabeth is something from yesteryear that you just don’t see that often and I’ll explain. If you’re an old-school gamer and a veteran of first person shooters (pre-Call of Duty days), then you’ll remember how limitless the old games of the pre-2000’s era felt. You are a lone secret agent or super hero who happens to be a typical badass. You’re allowed to run riot on a level full of brutes without any dependents or commanding generals shouting in your ear. Most developers are usually unsuccessful in creating and implementing authentic character interactions, feelings, and dialogue into a hardcore action shooter. Seldom do FPS designers achieve this task, and to quite Andrew Ryan, Irrational Games has “chosen the impossible”. Most of the adventure and action is wild, enormous and open during its inspiring action sequences. Then suddenly, in a masterful stroke, it becomes soft, small, and passionate, all while preserving the view point of your protagonist DeWitt Booker.

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Graphics: 5/5

The very first thing that you should notice about Bioshock Infinite when booting up your PS3 or 360 is how gorgeous it looks. The attention to detail is stunning and seeing this early 20th century city floating high above the clouds is just beautiful. At times, it feels like Ken Levine and his team actually built this real city brick by brick and wood by wood due to the attention to detail. Whether it’s the puffy white clouds floating around the skyscrapers or softly dipping down as you see buildings slowly moving up and down in the sky, it’s almost angelic like. The game was built on Unreal Engine 3 running on hardware from seven years ago, but is a rather astonishing to see how Irrational packed so much detail into each and every space.

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Most environments in the game are nearly spotless, and without contrasting the slight visual differences between the consoles and PC version, almost everybody should be more than enthralled. Unfortunately, some of the game does suffer with some textures of the game being a tad muddy and unpolished up close. Facial animations of enemies and certain objects in the areas become downgraded as you approach them, sometimes. However these are infrequent issues, but it does remind you that the PC version is slightly superior then our rapidly aging home consoles. The frame rate in Bioshock Infinite is reasonably steady. Once or twice during the most intense of battles does the visual engine skirmish to keep up.

Bioshock Infinite truly shines in its art style. The early 1900’s “Americana” representation is present everywhere you gaze. Videos displayed in the Kinetoscope are short silent films similar to old Charlie Chaplin movies. These clips present a variety of news footage on Columbia and its famous citizens. This all contributes to the richness of the experience, and how its history feels authentic. It is amazing how flawlessly the team at Irrational has captured the iconic appearance and sense of the early 20th century. Another praise must be given to the animation department. Elizabeth moves in a natural way, conveying facial reactions I’ve only really seen in titles like the Uncharted. Just the actions of her walking into a shop, leaning on a counter, inquisitively touching random items in the shop, or making intelligent comments on the current environment all make the experience that much more stunning and impactful. Ken Levine wanted to make Elizabeth feel like a real person, and here they succeeded again.

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Sound: 5/5

The music is another highpoint for the game. The eerie versions of classic and modern songs can sometimes make you feel like you’re in the “Overlook Hotel” in the movie “The Shinning”. I’ve come to expect nothing less in the voice acting department for a Bioshock game, and here it remains the same, if not better. The voice acting is expertly done. The main protagonist is probably my favorite in the entire franchise. Booker DeWitt is charming, passionate, intelligent, and can also be deadly and aggressive. Voice actor Troy Baker (The Last Of Us, Saints Row 3, Ninja Gaiden 3) conveys all of these emotions so effortlessly that it is a treat to hear him bring Booker to life.

Elizabeth’s voice actor is equally as good, going through dialogue with a certain passion and authenticity not seen too often nowadays. The game is best played on loud and surround sound would be nice, if not some Turtle Beaches, to totally experience the great ambience of this title. Lastly, I must say that I always enjoyed how Irrational Games made the anti-hero rewrite the history of America and as they say, “the victors write the history”, but in this case, the dictator does. Another thing I always loved is how amazing the Bioshock soundtracks are. Not being a fan of today’s popular music, I have fallen in love with older songs because of Bioshock. I am indebted to developers like Irrational, and games like BioShock for showing me to records I wouldn’t have otherwise ever remotely heard of from eras 50+ years past.

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Overall Score: 20/20 = 10 out of 10

The original Bioshock released at the beginning of this generation of consoles, and it showed us an FPS with a groundbreaking story and phenomenal setting. The city of Rapture was unlike anything any of us had ever seen before. It became an instant success, grossing millions, two sequels and a rumored movie as well. Every gamer I know who dives into Rapture feels its lasting effect. Bioshock has become part of our culture, including our video game language and music. Fast forward five years and we are now nearing the end of this console generation, yet Bioshock Infinite looks as if it is repeating history. Flying to the sky and providing not just another revolutionary story, but a game that enterprises the entire franchise to new heights.

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It goes without saying that Bioshock Infinite is a title that will likely change how game designers make games just as the original Bioshock did years ago. It’s a game that defines why we play and love games and it defines our generation. It’s a title that taunts to dig into alternate realities, and tackle modern patriotism and the dark morality of an uprising. It shows us prejudice in a way I’ve never seen before in a video game. With the quality of Infinite’s art, music, script writing and voice talent all being polished, you’ll understand why you’ve had to wait years for this game. One cannot can’t just throw money and manpower at a title of this magnitude, and still have it turn out like this, it also takes tremendous talent and extensive time.

PROs:

+ Phenomenal writing from opening to close

+ Visually beautiful

+ Fantastic voice work throughout

+ Captures early Americana perfectly

+ Skyhook combat is an excellent new mechanic, feels like an exciting Disney ride

+ This game screams immersion

CONs:

– Certain Visual aspects take a hit occasionally

– Why did it have to End

Copy purchased by reviewer for review purposes. Played through on the Xbox 360 console.

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Need for Speed: Most Wanted U Review (Wii U): “Criterion Fires On All Cylinders”

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“Need for Speed: Most Wanted U” is an open-world racing game, developed by British games developer Criterion Games and published by Electronic Arts. Need for Speed: Most Wanted U caught a lot of attention when it was first announced; Particularly when Criterion stated they would be putting a tremendous effort into it and not just throw a game on the system to get some extra sales figures. Criterion has made it their duty to show other developers just what the Wii U is easily capable of. However, is this racer the true definitive version of the game? Let’s find out!

Gameplay: 5/5

Need for Speed: Most Wanted U takes place in the open-world city of Fairhaven. The city has a healthy variety of locations, with Manhattan-style bridges and parks, and skyscraper sections that mirror downtown Los Angeles. It also has beautiful picturesque wooded areas that take equal inspiration from the northwest country side of the Washington state forest. Inside this extensive union of American urban landscapes are three types of races. Sprint Races are novice point A to point B trials, a single straightaway dash against your opponents where you try to be the first across the finish line. Circuit Races are more customary multi-lap activities, where you memorize the pattern of a course, learn shortcuts and try to achieve a high enough finishing score. Logically, knowing the design of Fairhaven will help you take advantage of faster routes. By getting first or second place in these events, you’ll unlock upgrades that can be instantly applied to the car you are currently using. Upgrades can consist of nitrous boost increase to chassis body kits and off-road tires. Whatever the appetite for customization, NFSMWU has you covered. Lastly, you’ll have Speed Runs, where you try to run a course while maintaining the most intense high speed average possible. While doing this, you must keep from wiping out or smashing into barriers and obstacles at rapid speeds.

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If that doesn’t grab your attention, then you have Ambush and Most Wanted races. Ambush jolts you off, fleeing from a pack of the game’s exasperatingly, tenacious Fairhaven police force. In a mechanic very similar to Rockstar’s GTA4, you must escape a flashing circular area and try to lose the police as soon as possible. As your “heat” level rises (due to hitting into police cruisers), it does become significantly tougher to escape the cops. However, when the cops do finally pin you into a corner or sandwich you between their cruisers, you are busted! Understandably, the objective of Ambush is to get away as rapidly and stylishly as imaginable, with extra points granted for those who disable some police cruisers or those who quickly lose a high heat level. There are only ten Most Wanted races in the entire game and with good reason too. The “Most Wanted” list is a roster of rival speed maniacs. If you manage to beat one of these rivals in a one-on-one race and a horde of police in hot pursuit at both of you, then you’ll unlock this rival’s car. And from experience, I can say all these rides are quite sweet! You’ll really need to bring your skills, and your fastest car, to defeat these speed demons. Personal advice from me, I wouldn’t even attempt to try these races within the first three hours of gameplay. Learn your roster of cars first and see how they handle, then upgrade them. Thankfully, all of your unlocked cars, races, upgrades, customization, multiplayer and other options are available from the in-game “Easy Drive” pop-up menu (which fans of Burnout Paradise will notice immediately). Hit Right on the D-pad and Easy drive comes up, making menu navigation in NFSMWU extremely convenient with just a few presses. From here, you can restore your car, alter its color and manage unlocked upgrades for each vehicle. You will also have access to your complete car list. This is constantly updated with any new cars you unlock. Players can also check new races, their difficulty and rewards, and set each one as a specific objective on your map, all with the D-pad. There is also the refined Autolog 2.0 system that compares your every move against your friends, which usually creates heavy competition.

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Doing all of this from a simple pop-up menu and a click of one button clearly simplifies life, and makes the game a much more enjoyable experience. It lowers the frustration and lets you see the pros and cons of each vehicle, minute to minute. If you lost a race and seriously couldn’t keep up, then maybe the solution is a different car you haven’t tried yet. The game’s car list can certainly keep you occupied comparing and contrasting. Players can drive everything from a Ford to the Lambo, and even an Aston Martin Vantage. Cruising through Fairhaven, and getting a feel for all the various cars is a true treat. Considering that you can crash into things without any real consequence and repair your car instantaneously, either from the Easy Drive or at one of the many body shops is awesome. The one problem I had is that a good number of the single player progress such as mods, paint jobs, and various performance boosting upgrades, do not transfer over to multiplayer portion. This is a shame because the online is where the true tournament lies. Competing against your friends online is supposed to be the highlight. The semi-solution instead is that players will have to unlock most of the upgrades again in online ranked matches. In multiplayer, you can drop into a random game pretty quickly, which puts you on a playlist of five eight-player events. These are similar to the solo races, sprints, circuits races, but also include stunt/trick competitions, and brief races as you drive from one event to the next.

Most Wanted U is perhaps the most accomplished version of bunch, with the GamePad functionality being fully utilized in this title. The gyroscope feature (which is used to drive with motion controls) really doesn’t help in high speed chases, but is rather something used for a fun free-roaming ride. With the GamePad, players will have more control of the environment and objects within it. Having a God-like ability to remove traffic or police off the streets of Fairhaven with the press of a button is truly incredible. It has created greater possibilities and convenience. Whether you are using a GamePad, Pro controller, or Wii remote for Co-Driver mode, the gameplay remains a thrill ride. It’s the same great game we saw last year, shifted to Wii U. All of the control options work well, but personally preferred the Wii U Pro Controller over the GamePad. Overall, these new additions have created a deeper experience for Most Wanted on the Wii U.

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Graphics: 4/5

Graphically, NFSMWU is one of the sweetest looking titles on the Wii U, hands down. Taking the PC version’s textures (due to the Wii U’s superior RAM to the PS3/360), everything looks ultra-sharp with enhanced lighting effects optimized for the console. The city of Fairhaven absolutely glistens with sparkling sunshine and reflections. The world itself is immaculately modeled and drawn out. The main highlight are the cars though. Each vehicle, from the BMW M3, to the Audi S8, has been rendered in devoted detail with some truly gorgeous images and terrific mapping.

The whole experience was refreshing and much welcomed on the Wii U platform. Considering the Wii U has been inundated with some underwhelming ports thus far, I have to ponder what secret development skills Criterion is using to make such a boldly stunning game run so effortlessly on the Wii U. On second thought, this should be a wake-up call for other developers not exploiting the power of this console. If there was one complaint that detracted the visuals for me, it certainly was the frame rate. Throughout my 10+ hour single player campaign, every now and then I would notice dips in the frame rate, but very few. However, once I would jump online with friends of mine, the ugliness would rear its head. Frame rate drops were every couple of minutes or in some cases, seconds, depending on the amount of crashes going on at once. I could not overlook the frequent visual drops when playing online, being that the large draw of this game is to be competing online with friends.

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Sound: 4/5

The good news here is that audio design is just as good as the graphics. First off, I must state the soundtrack does an overall decent job of aiding in the excitement. However, it certainly is not the highlight of the game. There are a couple of licensed hits that give you a charge while playing the game but they are few and far between. For those really struggling to find a good track, you can shuffle through the songs with a tap of the R button. Unfortunately, there’s no way to customize the playlist of songs in-game. The sound effects are where the audio thoroughly blossoms, and as you’d imagine, Criterion has authentically captured each car’s signature sounds perfectly. From the silent purr of the Maserati to the powerful roar of the Aston Martin, it’s all here. Lastly, it’s worth mentioning the addition of hearing the police scanner via your GamePad, which really lends to the thrill of the game. Blasting through the city, I had a level 4 wanted level, and all throughout my GamePad is firing off crystal clear police chatter. It was very reminiscent of playing ZombiU (read our review here) and hearing the “Prepper” speak through the pad with the booming, yet clear audio.

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Replay Value: 5/5

Most Wanted U’s campaign will keep you busy for well over 15+ hours, on top of tackling the Milestone objectives, free-roaming Fairhaven, and competing with friends over Autolog. NFSMWU’s online multiplayer flourishes in the most imperative side of any modern day multiplayer title. The game replicates the old school atmosphere of playing online with buddies. Creating bitter challenges and on the opposite spectrum, creating teamwork to take down a challenge. One minute you will be neck and neck during a tight race, and simultaneously trying to form some wild rooftop jump the next. It’s great to have this kind of online experience on the Nintendo’s Wii U, and I am truly excited to see the Miiverse community for NFSMWU continue to grow.

If that wasn’t enough, the off-TV play on the GamePad is truly a fantastic way to play the game as well. Couple it with Co-driver mode and I feel the hours can be endless into this game. Letting that second player jump in and affect your gameplay, while the first player drives using a Wii remote or Wii U Pro Controller, is addicting and dubious. You can aid your first player friend or try and destroy them. No matter what, the attractiveness is there.

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Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

In the final analysis, Criterion has brought NFSMW to Wii U in a seemingly painless way. Behind the scenes, I know there was a great deal of work put into this version and they deserve a giant kudos for that. The game looks and feels better than the prior home console versions, standing side-by-side with the PC version in terms of graphics, if not better at some points. Coupled with the added Wii U features and it just sweetens the overall package. Need for Speed: Most Wanted U screeches into your home like a muscle car drag race. Criterion has once again set a standard, and I hope other developers learn how to mimic this success and bring their talents to the Wii U as well. Bottom line is, Need for Speed: Most Wanted U is a true delight full of motoring anarchy, an exciting landscape and the sexiest garage for any arcade racer out there. It’s one of the superior Wii U titles, and a class act on how to bring a multiplatform title over to Wii U with both quality and horsepower.

PROs:

+ Fun and varied multiplayer racing modes

+ Challenging racing system that values skill over luck

+ Great Autolog stats and rivalry

+ A visual powerhouse delight

CONs:

– Soundtrack is underwhelming

– Frame rate takes a hit when playing online

Enjoy the review? Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter: @GamersXTREME for all the latest in gaming news and reviews!

More Layoffs in the Gaming Industry Shows Signs of the Times

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SuperBot Entertainment, the studio known for the Sony-themed fighting game PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, was just the latest in a continuing trend of layoffs this past fiscal year of 2012-13. In 2012, Sony Computer Entertainment had to lay off a whopping 10,000 employees in a single month in order to financially secure their stock and earnings. Earlier this week, Atari of America closed their doors and filed for bankruptcy after 25 years in the business. THQ, a company well known for their wrestling games and highly-popular franchises, Saints Row and Darksiders, also filed for chapter 11 this past week. The list goes on and on for gaming developers who have shut their doors for good. Here is a list of just some of the names to leave the industry:

  • BigBig (Sony)
  • Sony Liverpool
  • Monumental Games
  • Zipper Interactive
  • Rockstar Vancouver
  • EA Bright Light
  • Multiverse
  • Visceral Australia (EA)
  • Hudson Entertainment
  • Propaganda Games (Disney)
  • 7 Studios (Activision)

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It is unfortunate to hear about another gaming company losing employees on such a large scale. The nature of the industry is certainly changing everyday, and we can only hope that business will grow again, and companies and consumers will prosper accordingly. Pictured above is a chart displaying a clear indication of just how tough the market has become for all gaming companies.

On a positive note, despite the layoffs at SuperBot entrainment, they will still be releasing the first character pack DLC for Playstation All-Stars Battle Royal on February 12th. The DLC will include Kat from Gravity Rush and Emmett Graves from Starhawk.

For more news on this or anyother topic be sure to keep it locked onto Gamers Xtreme, and as always, “Game On!”

Radio XTREME – Episode 27

It’s been a long time but R17 and myself (Glacier928) have returned with a new podcast in Radio Xtreme. We discuss all the latest games coming out between now and April of 2013. Additionally, we discuss our take on Michael Pachter’s response toward Nintendo being “years” behind the other companies and respectfully disagree with his perspective explaining why he couldn’t be more wrong. So grab a chair, some popcorn (or any other food for that matter), sit back and tune into our latest episode of Radio XTREME!

Over 15 New Apps Coming to Xbox LIVE This Week

Well its a great time to own an Xbox 360! This week, Xbox Live will receive quite a plethora of apps. Below is a brief description of some of the apps coming to North America this week.

1. All3M

This app displays your Live account and shows you your worldwide standing in the online community based on your gamer score, while making fun interactive menus.

2. Ameba TV

This app lets you post blogs and share them, as well as viewing your friends’ blogs. Upload your photos and make your blogs more vibrant using pictographs.

3. CrunchyRoll

This app lets you watch over 600 shows featuring Anime & Drama’s, all are available just one hour after TV broadcast

4. Deezer

This app lets you take music to a new dimension. Deezer is a fresh way to discover, love, share and listen to all the music you want, ­­anywhere and anytime.

5. Flixster

The #1 app for movie reviews, trailers, and showtimes for across the country

6. GameTrailers

This essential app helps you covers the latest content from Gametrailers.com including game previews, trailers, reviews, as well as episodes from the hottest game-based web series.

7. IndieFlix

IndieFlix is a an online movie service that curates and brings independent films to the mainstream, allows movie lovers to Tag Now Watch Later beginning with this year’s top film festivals and ultimately including all major destination film festivals around the world.

8. Machinima

Machinima is the well known premier online network providing entertainment for the gaming culture, showing game trailers, gameplay videos and tips, video game reviews, first looks, and original series created in video games.

9. Maxim

Maxim+ magazine has all the great content of the print issue with MORE photos, MORE video and MORE interactivity! Content available through the app includes behind-the-scenes looks into the magazine’s “sexiest photoshoots,” original comedy, and sports-related vide

10. MTV

Browse and view tons of video clips, photos, blog posts and play trivia contests from your favorite MTV shows.

11. Popcornflix

Watch hundreds of free streaming movies.

12. The CW Network

Check out the newest way get free full length episodes and instantly go social by connecting to your favorite CW shows. Stream your favorite CW Network shows all becoming available the day after it was broadcasted.

13. CNET

The CNET app allows you to check the site’s product reviews, technology shows, and event coverage.

14. Karaoke

The karaoke app features a library of more than 8,000 songs spanning numerous genres, including pop, rock, country, hip-hop, and others. Songs will be available by streaming, with no download required. Though the app is free to download, players will need to redeem Microsoft points for full access to the song library. Microsoft has not announced pricing plans as of yet.

15. SkyDrive

SkyDrive lets users view their saved content like photos and video through the Xbox 360.

[Source – Major Nelson]

Call of Duty: Black Ops II Review (PS3/360/Wii U): “Death, Deceit and War Returns”

Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a first-person shooter developed by Treyarch and published by Activision. The majority of this game was played on the Xbox 360, with a portion also played on the Wii U. Sure, it’s another Call of Duty, but this time, it is quintessentially different from prior COD titles of the past. Activision and Treyarch have tried to create a game with more character and depth than any of the previous entries in the series. However, does it succeed?

Story: 4/5

The story of Black Ops II spans over three decades, with half the game taking place in the late 1980s, while the other half takes place in 2025. Alex Mason, the protagonist from the original Black Ops, returns in the 80’s Cold War missions, and his son, David Mason, is the main character for the 2025 missions. For the first time in COD history, the developers have created a well fleshed out villain. Raul Menendez will become the central figure-head of the story, the most vile of villains. Without giving away anything, I can say that this storyline fares better than most of the Call of Duty’s and is a true credit to what the writers have crafted. Call of Duty campaigns are usually very straightforward, and the campaign here shares a lot of the fundamentals that the majority of the games in the franchise have had. Huge explosions and exciting set pieces are once again a part of your world, making you feel like the action hero in a blockbuster movie.

If you’re a fan of COD storylines, then you will be quite happy with the tightly scripted story for the most part. Looking to make some changes to a traditional formula, Treyarch has added some crucial choices in the game that will affect your story’s outcome. Some of these choices are things that may seem minor on the surface, but are actually quite monumental to the ending of the game. There are more than five endings to the game, which is certainly another change to the traditional Call of Duty’s. By the time I had completed my single player playthrough, I was amazed at how thrilling the storyline was. The final mission’s tension was simply outstanding.

Overall, I was more than surprised that Treyarch was able to make some vital changes in the traditional story elements, which enhanced the plot a great a deal. Bringing in David Goyer, the script writer from Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, was hands down the smartest move Treyarch did. For the first time ever, this was a story with deep characterization and feeling. I did have some minor gripes with the plot itself. While it was stronger than most Call of Duty’s due to the characterization I mentioned, the sequence of events just never felt as consequential for the characters in the beginning. The fact that the writing was exceptional for the character, made the central plot kind of fall into the background significantly. Playing through the first three or four levels was a slow and boring start for me due to the intro of the story. It finally kicks into gear towards the middle of the game, but I felt it should have had a motivating plot from start to finish, not just halfway through.

Gameplay: 4/5

The single-player campaign takes you through a variety of missions that are more varied in design than the first Black Ops. You can complete the story in about 7-8 hours on normal difficulty. Regarding changes, I must state a serious con that stuck out to me. Treyarch decided they wanted to add a real-time strategy (RTS) element into the game called “Strike Force” missions. The very first Strike Force mission occurs early in the campaign and inadvertently slows down the action and story. These missions are objective-based. The game makes you see an eagle-eye view of the battlefield from above and allows you to command your squads below. The problem is that it simply does not work, with troops often ignoring your commands. Therefore, you’re only other option is to take control of the squad manually and play as one of them. Essentially, you are now just returning back to the normal COD single-player gameplay, thus rendering the “aerial God view” broken. More of these missions will pop up as you progress. Thankfully, unlike the first mission which was mandatory, the rest are optional. I found it very difficult to even want to play a second RTS mission because the AI was completely broken and incompetent the first time around. Aside from this, the rest of the campaign is where the single-player mode excels. As I stated earlier, the choices you make will affect your ending in the game, whether good or bad, it is entirely up to you. There is a rewind feature that lets you go back and make different choices, which is a nice feature.

The fundamentals of Call of Duty haven’t changed, but it does make some strides to keep it stimulating. The level design has more of an open-world feel than ever before, giving you a grander sense of size. There are also vehicles and even a horseback action sequence that works astonishingly well. Incorporating more of an online feel to the campaign, Treyarch has added challenges for each mission, as well as customizable loadouts. This device lets you choose different weapons, as well as perks, for starting your next mission. If you feel overwhelmed however, you can always choose the default loadout which is aptly titled “Recommended”. Bouncing back between the 80’s weapons and warfare to the 2025 era definitely keeps things interesting.

Of course it would not be a Treyarch Call of Duty without a Zombie mode and this time it is no exception. Zombie mode has certainly become a phenomena on its own. In this third iteration of Zombie Mode, you are given a somewhat ambiguous beginning. You will need to explore your surroundings in order to open up the world around you. You will use a school bus to move between areas. You can still earn money to unlock newer weapons, ammo and of course, new areas. Happily, I can report that it is still a thrill to play and just as enjoyable as when we first played World at War’s Zombies back in 2008. There is a new competitive mode that lets you form two teams. After creating the two teams, the object is to see who can last the longest. However, the twist here is that you can lob raw meat at your adversaries or stun them while they try to heal themselves. Obviously chucking raw steaks at your opponents will grab the attention of zombie hordes looking to feast. Zombies are packaged nicely in its own campaign, almost feeling as it could be a standalone $20-30 game.

If Zombies isn’t your strong suit, than I suggest giving the “holy” multiplayer a try. Treyarch has made some much-needed tweaks, making this certainly the finest online COD game in recent years. First off, they have changed the loadout system, now calling it “Pick 10”. This valiant direction essentially lets players design their loadouts as to how they see fit. If you want an extra perk, add in an extra perk. If you want to carry more frag grenades, then you can. The stipulation is that you will need points. At the beginning, you will receive ten pre-selected points. After that, everything you choose gets a point or points assigned to it. With this system, you can essentially design any loadout you want, no matter the combination. If you want to carry three main weapons, plus a side weapon, that’s fine. On the flip side, you might have to lose some perks in order to splurge on weapons. This makes the multiplayer fresh and exciting once again. Perks will also be character focused now as opposed to weapon based. This means perks for a holding a gun steady or taking more bullets are character based. Gone are perks solely focused on gun specifications. In replace however are a ton of new weapon attachments that will leave you concocting all sorts of deadly creations.

Killstreaks have also been taken out and now replaced with “score streaks”. This was put into place in order to inspire players to focus on objectives, rather than just killing by the droves. Whether longtime fans will enjoy this more than killstreaks is too early to tell at the moment. However, I really enjoyed this change. Besides the standard modes making a return, there are some new ones to keep it fresh and evolving. “Hard Point” zeros in on seizing random areas on the map. You now can have several teams combating at once, which makes the standard modes feel more exciting. Incredibly, Treyarch has added in the ability to stream certain matches via YouTube, with certain restrictions of course. Generally, the online segment of the game is as highly addictive as it has ever been. Treyarch has tweaked just the right amount to keep it fresh, getting players moving on from the original Black Ops and even Modern Warfare 3.

Graphics: 4/5

The Call of Duty franchise has always had a cinematic approach to visuals. In Black Ops II, they sought to continue this tradition with large-scale set pieces and explosive destruction. The designers choreographed the action to make it a thrilling rollercoaster ride. I can say it succeeds in the category of blockbuster action, with the visuals to match. The landscapes of lush jungles, giant naval ships and Downtown Los Angeles looks pretty and pleasing to the eyes. Leaping off of a mountaintop cliff and flying down using a wingsuit is thrilling, mostly because you’re speeding through environments in 60 fps, while still being fully detailed. Black Ops II is full of these moments that stand out.

I must state however, while playing certain sequences on the Wii U and doing split-screen with a friend, the framerate did drop. Playing on the Xbox 360, the framerate stood steady at a solid 60 fps and for the most part, the Wii U did too when playing single player. Occasionally though, it would dip when you would enable the split-screen play between the GamePad and Pro Controller. Overall, I feel the visuals are great, but not stunning. I think it is more than time that we see an end in the reusing of the same modified engines Treyarch and Activision have been utilizing since 2007.

Sound: 5/5

What do you get when you combine an all-star cast with the composer of Mass Effect….give up? You get a stunning sound design from start to finish. Black Ops II, and Treyarch more specifically, has done something very clever. They have decided that the music in their games has to be just as important as the script itself. They brought in David Goyer writer from The Dark Knight Rises, and now they have brought in Jack Wall, composer of Mass Effect 1&2 to score BO2’s soundtrack, while also nabbing Trent Reznor for the game’s theme. These were bold moves for them to take and it clearly paid off. Getting more to the point, the soundtrack is refreshing and crisp. The tracks play like a sci-fi space-esqe, dark undertone that somehow fits perfectly in this covert world of espionage and deceit. The tracks in both the 80’s and 2025 missions work exceptionally well. If this wasn’t a sell on the audio already, the voice acting is top-notch just like in the original Black Ops. Alex Mason, Frank Woods, Raul Menendez all sound fantastic and full of life. They terrifically transcend the voice acting level from games to cinema quality so naturally.

Overall Score: 17/20 = 8.5 out of 10

There is a lot of content being offered to you within Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It is well worth a $60 purchase because you’re getting three different games in one. Whether single-player, zombie, or multiplayer is your thing, there is something here for everyone. Credit must be given to Treyarch for trying to bring innovation to a series that has been very worn-out, and they succeeded in a lot of ways. While the multiplayer is fast and fun in Black Ops II, you can’t help but feel it’s all getting a bit old now. However, the multiple endings for the campaign, significant choices in single-player, and an improved Zombie mode, Call of Duty: Black Ops II is a solid and entertaining game.

PROs:

+ Fun and solid gameplay

+ Strong Story and Character development

+ Multiple Story choices encourage replay

+ Refreshing and original soundtrack

CONs:

– Strike Force Missions are broken and do not fit into campaign

– Slow start for story

– Framerate does drop occasionally on the Wii U version

The Wii U Experience:
By: Glacier928

When it comes to Black Ops II, it intrigued me that Activision and Treyarch decided to aim and shoot for the Wii U’s launch. While I won’t get into too many details about the game since R17 covered that in this review, I felt I should just add a bit about how the GamePad integration worked with BO2. First off, the GamePad services mainly as a screen that just showcases the current objective at hand, as well as the ones completed. However, with a simple tap of the Display button on the touch screen, the game will now stream 1:1 on the GamePad. While playing through the campaign, the game ran very smoothly on both the GamePad and TV.

However, playing through the multiplayer I noticed a few inconsistencies. First off, as R17 mentioned, playing online with a buddy split-screen will knock the framerate down a bit. While it’s nothing terrible by any means, it’s certainly noticeable. Regardless, it definitely provides for a fresh and exciting take on split-screen multiplayer. The other thing was the audio mixing on the Wii U version. For some reason, even with all the in-game audio settings at the maximum level, this version sounded very low. I found myself cranking up the volume of my TV to almost the halfway level before the audio sounded solid. To give you a better idea, my TV only needs to be at volume level 5 for the audio to sound great. In COD: BO2, I had the volume at 35 to just equal the sound of volume level 5 in any of my other games. While that may not bother too many people, I found this to be an inconsistency. Other than that though, playing through the online via Nintendo Network was lag-free and a ton of fun. People who were using their headsets were coming in loud and clear as well.

Overall, based on some of the time I spent on the Wii U version, I can say that Treyarch definitely put some time into this to provide an experience that matches the one available on the PS3/360.

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Hitman: Absolution Review (PS3/360): “The Original Assassin is Back”

Hitman: Absolution was developed by IO Interactive and published by Square Enix. It is the fifth entry in the Hitman game series, and is available for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Twelve years ago, IO Interactive created something unique. Hitman: Codename 47 was released and the birth of a franchise was formed. There’s always been this vision in popular entertainment of the well-dressed, urbane contract killer. Agent 47 is just that. He embodies a well-dressed, sophisticated persona all while routinely acting as an assassin. Now, more than a decade later, IO Interactive has returned to the universe that launched the studio with Hitman: Absolution. The environment is much bigger and more extravagant now, but the rules remain the same. Assassinate your target and never get caught.

Story 4/5

Hitman: Absolution dives deep into the series that is already well established. The game starts off with a rolling thunder approach of diving into the intensity of 47’s professional career. Agent 47’s former International Contract Agency (ICA) handler, Diana Burnwood, has gone rogue. Hired by the new director at the ICA, Agent 47 is sent to murder Diana due to her treason against the agency. This contract is one that 47 take no pleasure in. Ironically, the mission does not exactly go as planned and chaos ensues. Agent 47 suddenly becomes a target himself, while searching for the truth. The plot has numerous twists and turns, and that’s what makes Hitman: Absolution terrific. The game is exciting, with each level offering a mini-sandbox in which you have multiple selections to carry out the hit. The story revolves around a much grittier criminal element than previous Hitman’s have focused on. The criminals in Absolution are much colder and horrific, both in their appearances and crimes. IO Interactive created a criminal world similar to how director Christopher Nolan created a grittier Gotham City. As Agent 47 pursues leads and exacts vengeance on targets throughout Absolution’s world, it becomes transparently obvious that the story becomes crueller and darker, in a good way.

You quickly learn in the game’s intro that there’s more to Diana’s turning on her former employer than a crisis of conscience over what the ICA symbolizes. Diana was trying to protect a young girl named Victoria. It’s not clear why the girl is important to her or the USB drive she is holding. Eventually, you will discover that this secret holds significant answers to 47’s own past. The story is not without flaws and of course, could have been a tad tighter and more intricate. The execution of the plot was not the most polished storyline in the Hitman franchise but fares better than contracts. The entire plot revolving around the hunted girl was good but needed a stronger reasoning as to why she was so highly valuable to two different organizations. I feel the developers were trying to avoid making a drawn out, convoluted storyline and opted for a simple plot. Unfortunately, they went a bit too simple as opposed to Blood Money’s government conspiracy plot which I enjoyed back in 2006. I must state that unlike numerous games I have played this past year, every location and level you play in Hitman makes sense as to why you are there. When 47 is arriving at certain locations across America, the narrative is clear as to why I am supposed to be there. This is a testament to writing and storytelling. Most importantly of all, Absolution is a story about redemption. 47 has lived a life of sheer brutality, murdering hundreds at the behest of his masters. This time however, he made a promise to a woman who had saved his life in the past, and now he is returning that debt. He will not give up on trying to rescue and protect this girl from the evils of his agency.

Gameplay: 4/5

For years, Agent 47 has been the man you call when you want a delicate situation taken care of. The situation will always be murder, and there will always be just one number to dial, 47. Over the years on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 platforms, and even GameCube once, he had established himself as a “killer’s killer”. With his custom dual Silverballer pistols at his side and a pocket full of garrote wire, the man was unstoppable. Sadly, the last time we saw him was shockingly six years ago. Thankfully, he’s back in action, and this time around, IO Interactive has pulled off an extraordinary feat with Hitman: Absolution. They could have simply kept the series exactly the same as it had been six years ago or they could have tweaked and enhanced certain aspects. I can safely say they have knocked the ball way out of the park with a plethora of innovative ideas and creations. If you are not familiar with the gameplay by now with Hitman, I will explain briefly. The premise in its simplest terms is cat and mouse, hunter and the hunted. Hitman is the ultimate predator, he is the great white shark of killers and sometimes, the people he is going after are every bit as vicious as him. Once back in the action, you’ll be working your way slowly and precisely through an area, identifying your targets, figuring out how you can go about assassinating them, and approaching any given situation with the skills that have made 47 who he is today. You might try, and you might fail, but you’ll always try again. Eventually, you will take out your targets and flee; you might even impress yourself on how well it went. The game will teach you how to disguise yourself, use your weaponry, and dispose of dead bodies quickly, silently, and of course, professionally.

In Hitman: Absolution, the world is grittier, darker, and just plain deadlier, and all of this reflects in the gameplay. For the first time ever, Agent 47 will need as much help as he can get and therefore, “Instinct” mode was born. Those familiar with Batman: Arkham Asylum/City’s “Detective” mode will understand instinct mode quickly. Using your Instinct, you are able to see outlines of enemies and innocent civilians alike in your immediate vicinity, even if they’re on the other side of a wall. The range won’t cover most of Absolution’s large maps, but it’s certainly large enough to work with when planning your stealthy advance. Instinct also highlights the movements of enemy patrols, allowing you to see who’s coming and where they’re headed. Additionally, Instinct mode sports a point-and-shoot option, which is exactly what “Splinter Cell: Conviction” had. Basically, while in instinct mode, you can mark several targets for death. After marking them, you simply press a specific button and watch the target(s) get taken out. I feel this was created to give a more cinematic flare, but not really something I’m comfortable using in a Hitman game. There are still a number of mainstays that IO has kept including the same tools that 47 always has: a garrote, two Silverballer pistols, and a variety of disguises.

Throughout the game, many levels will have multiple targets that you are required to take out in any order. How you accomplish the mission affects the small sandbox worlds they dwell in, creating multiple paths with each elimination. Do you use explosives to blow up a car and kill a dozen or more bystanders? Or, do you meticulously plan out every step to make sure one bullet is used between the eyes of your contract? You can also just murder everyone in sight. Regardless, Absolution will grade and reward you with points based on your method of assassination. Earning points will unlock upgrades for 47 and his abilities. Obviously, the better you perform, the more skills/upgrades you will receive. Once you have upgraded a good number of features, the improvements to the basic fabric of Hitman will pay off significantly. This will enhance the gameplay in almost every way. Being able to feign off brawlers, fake surrender, crawl through vents, and take cover behind nearly every object adds more tools to Hitman’s collection. Thankfully, there is a cover system, for the first time in Hitman history. Should you end up in a gun battle, you can hide behind objects and walls. You can also avoid many encounters by simply mixing into crowds to avoid exposure. This is put to the ultimate test in the final Chicago level where you are on a busy train station platform. Every cop in the city is looking for you, and you’re forced to hide out, in uniform, to avoid a SWAT team chasing after you. The scene is intense and shows off the fantastic gameplay mechanics that IO has created for Absolution.

Hitman: Absolution is a game that stresses you to replay its missions as much as humanly possible. Post-mission screens accurately portrayal your stats and serve as a ‘here’s what you could have done this’ list. This was a fantastic idea by the team. In the past, you always knew there were multiple ways to approach a hit. In Absolution, there are a plethora of ways. This list lays out those ways, positively encouraging you to replay for a higher score and obviously, more pleasure performing a new sexier kill. IO knows what they created by doing inputting devices such as this. In essence, they created a checklist that will make core gamers go back and replay a game dozens of times, again and again to achieve a new varied outcome. The difficulty settings are important to the game, and not just from an achievement/trophy perspective. Choosing to play in normal or easy mode means you have more on-screen help, instinct mode is more readily available and enemies are less aggressive. If you choose the harder difficulties, as I have, then multiple factors change. Firstly, you will lose mostly all your in-game prompts, maps, indicators and a variety of other crucial aids. Using instinct mode is near impossible because the gauge for it drains extremely fast. Enemy AI will become highly intelligent and move in a variety of patterns. Adding to that statement, I must say playing on Professional mode for my first playthrough, this is the most intelligent AI I have ever seen in any game…period. Playing on professional mode from start to finish, I can honestly say that you do become a much more effective killer as opposed to playing on easy the entire story.

Initially, there was a fear that Absolution was going to be created for the more novice players in mind, leaving out the hardcore Hitman fans. I can definitely say that IO has successfully served two masters and created a hardcore fun experience, as well as an easy-going, pleasurable experience, all with the flick of the difficulty setting. It’s a refined experience that, in 2012, is more than acceptable and welcome. The game still lets you make up the hit as you go, so you can plan and achieve a perfect plan of action. Of course, you will still be punished for making mistakes and you will feel the exhilaration that comes with not making a mistake. If you allow it to, depending on the difficulty setting, Absolution treats its players like adults. It treats them like gamers who actually know how to play core games, and aren’t demanding they have their hands held through the entire campaign.

If the mammoth campaign wasn’t enough (took me 12 hours on Professional), then you can feast your appetite with “Contracts Mode”, which is everything Hitman fanatics could hope for. Contracts may be the most creative idea I’ve seen in multiplayer gaming in quite some time. The game will be reusing the levels and core gameplay from the single-player to create flexible, player-designed leaderboard challenges that tap into the current trend for asynchronous competition with friends. You can create challenges just by playing the game, without opening a single menu, and is based purely on a thorough understanding of the levels from the story mode. In a nut shell, contracts mode is very much straightforward yet amazing. After you complete a mission in the single player campaign, you have the option of either moving on, or creating or playing a contract. To create a contract, you’ll be placed back into the mission you just finished; only this time, every single AI character is now a possible target. Simply select which of them you want to kill. Ironically, you are able to choose over 30 different people, if you’re in the mood to see a massacre that is. You simply place the kill symbol reticule on the NPC, and they’re added to the assassination list. The next step is to kill them of course. The tactics you will use, time spent on the hit, method of execution, variety of disguises, use of cover, and so on will be added as possible parameters. Your outcome depends on killing the target and escaping alive, however you can get extra points and in-game money by killing the target exactly as the creator of the contract did. Players will have full access to whatever assets are already contained in the single player level. Accessible hiding places, costumes, full range of NPCs and so on will be available for exploitation, ensuring that you won’t feel like you’re getting a bargain basement version of the main game. If you can do it in the main game, you can do it in Contracts Mode. And yes, this includes subduing NPCs and stealing their clothes for ad hoc disguises. One cool feature revealed in the demo that will carry into the single-player campaign is the idea that your disguises won’t work on everyone. Police would logically know the officers on the scene, so if you’re disguised as a cop, they’ll realize you’re a fake rather quickly. On the other hand, random passersby’s won’t think of individual cops as anything other than anonymous law enforcement. This means you’ll have to sneak past the police even when dressed as one of them; the same holds true for merchants and other profession-based NPCs as well.

I did have a serious gripe with two aspects of the gameplay. I must reiterate that I was playing on professional, so therefore the AI was extremely unforgiving. When I would subdue an enemy, then take their disguises and act accordingly, I was still getting spotted out. Basically the entire system of placing disguises on while playing professional seemed broken. I have been playing Hitman since 2002, and I have beaten every single game obtaining a silent assassin ranking. In Absolution. this seems impossible to achieve because the AI is non-sensical in their difficulty at spotting you out. My other disappointment with the gameplay was the choice of letting cinema scenes carry out major executions at certain climatic points of the game. Rather than letting the gamer choose how he wants to kill a major enemy in the game, the cinema scene shows 47 killing him in a pre-scripted format. This only happens a few times, but does detract from the true Hitman experience we have all been accustomed to.

Graphics: 5/5

Visually, Hitman: Absolution looks remarkable. All the environmental effects you would expect from a modern console or PC are present. Astonishing lighting, superb rendering of crowds and easily the best physics I’ve seen to date. Your suit gets wet and soggy in the rain, which looks fantastic by the way. Fires produce blinding smoke and crumbling structures. Shadows replicate realistically against walls or stretch out way down an alley in the right conditions, providing early warnings that someone is coming. The city skyscrapers and neon lights sparkle, while fireworks light up the night sky. NPCs interact with each other in a realistic fashion, conducting full conversations that progress well after you have walked past them.

If you thought the “Marti Gras” level from Blood Money was impressive, then you really haven’t seen anything yet. That scene pales severely in comparison to more than half of the set pieces and environments in Absolution. If there is one con, I must say that the cinema scene graphics are great but not of the same caliber as the gameplay graphics. The physics delivered by the Glacier 2 engine elevate this game to a next-generation status. Remarkably, this engine allows up to 500 characters to be on the screen at the same time, each interacting and reacting like individuals in a given situation, whether they are trying to catch a train home or enjoying a concert. Every one of the game’s 50+ distinct environments are bursting with life and personality.

Sound: 5/5

The stellar voice cast in Hitman is what makes this game so fresh and exciting to play. Thankfully, David Bateson has returned as Agent 47 (despite some controversy and confusion earlier this year), Marsha Thomason as Diana, and everyone from Powers Boothe to Vivica A. Fox, Traci Lords and Isabelle Fuhrman take on roles. Enter any of these actors into Google and you will see their body of work is equally as impressive as the audio in this game. Furthermore, what is even more extraordinary is that all of the NPCs seem astonishingly just as important as the main characters. Their dialogue isn’t forced and meaningless but rather, a slice of life. You have an overworked IT guy trying to explain how to wipe out a hard drive over the phone to a client. A man receiving his cancer diagnosis immediately rejoices when he hears he is healthy and cancer free. A hotel manager is fighting with a vendor over the phone and the call/dialogue lasted over 5 minutes, which in the middle of gameplay is lengthy. A man is talking on the phone with his wife about their divorce. A frightened girl is trying to find her little sister in a huge crowd of a city square. All of these dynamic and realistic situations are from everyday life, and are used simply as a backdrop for the game while 47 is hunting and stalking his prey. He might be some bystander in the crowd at the end of a level, but you can choose to ignore them or listen in to their world. Either way, they make the game seem like real life. Despite Jesper Kyd’s absence from this entry, composer Thomas Bärtschi provides a phenomenal and enticing score that rivals Kyd’s previous compositions in the series. Couple that with cool atmospheric effects and you have quite an audio experience.

Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10

I can honestly say that in not seeing Agent 47 in six years, I thoroughly missed him. I missed the universe for which he lived in and had the privilege to play in. Hitman: Absolution is greater in many ways and more fluid than anything that came before it in the series. It has a few issues that hold it from sheer perfection but for the most part, it comes damn close. The excitement and thrill you get from executing an entire mission perfectly cannot be described in words. Couple that with the new numerical rewards, as well as upgrades, and you have a sure recipe for success. Absolution is like previous Hitman games in the fact that there are good and bad aspects. However, they’re more easily seen due to the high quality of this title. Personally, Hitman: Absolution will be going down as one of my favorite games this generation. Lastly, in terms of it being a solid game or worthy purchase for newcomers to the series, I would say this: It gives you freedom and creativity in a very mature sense like no other franchise does while rewarding you with endless replay and fun. More importantly, it sets the bar visually, acoustically, and narrative-wise like no other. Hitman: Absolution scores above and beyond for this generation, and is a praise to the efforts put into it by the development team.

PROs:

+ Elaborate environments overflow with murderous possibilities

+ Huge amount of content

+ One of the best-looking games of this generation

+ “Contracts” forces you to approach the same locales from different perspectives

+ Agent 47 is the coolest, smoothest killer around

+ Multiple ways to complete a mission

CONs:

– Disguises in Professional mode are almost useless compared to previous Hitman titles

– Cinema scene graphics do not match the quality of the gameplay’s visuals

– Story could have been woven better

ZombiU Review (Wii U): “Demon’s Souls Meets Zombies”

ZombiU is a survival horror video game developed by Ubisoft Montpellier exclusively for the Nintendo Wii U gaming console. It is also one of the biggest third party games for the launch lineup. Will this blood thirsty title grab your arm, or will you choose to run away from the fear of a mediocre title?

Story 3/5

The story is simple yet effective and to the point. London has been completely overrun by hordes of the undead, or rather, zombies. At the beginning, it is unclear why or if the rest of the world is encountering the same reality. You begin wandering the streets aimlessly until a mysterious voice comes through. He identifies himself as “The Prepper” and offers shelter in his personal safe house. The Prepper does not elaborate on who exactly he is, but he does promise you a way to defend yourself and a place to call home. This seems to be the only real chance at survival and the main character(s) have little choice but to try and listen to the Prepper in the hopes of safety. There are a few crucial setbacks that detract story though. Mainly, ZombiU fails to reach a deep connection with the gamer due to the multiple unknown protagonists you must play as. Aside from this shortcoming, the story is never enthralling, but rather relies on the intensity of the gameplay to help you forget that the plot is somewhat lackluster and unimaginative.

Gameplay: 4/5

The protagonist is purposely a vague character in the game, because you play as a random survivor. If you die, you will become another random survivor when you come back from death. Personally, this was somewhat of a downer because you never develop any sense of connection with the character. Depending on the amount of times you die will depend on how many different individuals you’ll play as. ZombiU does create a name and profession to each survivor. However, it seems forced and meaningless, mostly because there is no back story for any of these characters.

Dying has its own consequences in ZombiU. Firstly, you will respawn as a new survivor in The Prepper’s safe house. However, you will lose all of your equipment, as well as any skill progression earned from firing guns. The game does offer you just one opportunity to return to where you were killed though. There are a few stat upgrades that do in-fact carry from survivor to survivor. Weapon upgrades are permanent and you can modify them at workbenches found in the safe house and around the London. Early on, I piled all my upgrades into the base level pistol, since every new survivor is granted one and handgun ammo is one of the more common items. Now though, you’re previous self has become a zombie and you must kill it. Once you have killed your previous self, you can loot their equipment which contained your previous items. If you die a second time, that body, along with any equipment earned, vanishes forever (similar to “Demon’s Souls”). Emptying a room of zombies with nothing more than a wooden paddle (or cricket bat) and a pistol scarce on bullets can take almost an hour sometimes, and it’s extremely easy to be careless and die.

You will return to Prepper’s safe house often to accept new missions. More importantly, you will return there to drop off spare equipment, upgraded weapons, save your progress, and generally take a breather after the intense battles you have encountered. Interestingly enough, Prepper’s safe house is not zombie proof. This truly makes the gameplay tense one hundred percent of the time, giving the gamer a sense of “true” survival horror around every corner. Saving and upgrading can take place in other safe houses as well, and you will unlock manholes that serve as fast travel points around London.

An exciting feature that I found intuitive and unique in ZombiU is that players on your friends list and random people connected to the internet will populate your world after dying in their game. You’re not actually playing with these people at the same time, but if they die in their Buckingham Palace, their infected body is now part of your Buckingham Palace. And of course, the same is true for them if you die. Usually, random zombies do not carry much on them. However, survivors are likely to have much more of what you need. They mostly will have ammo, med packs, and firearms. The game keeps a record of these deaths on the GamePad itself. Terrifically, if you find yourself low on equipment, it’s easy enough to identify where a friend recently died and go searching for their corpse using the GamePad. Gamers can also leave messages for others throughout the world.

ZombiU is not a fast paced game by any means, and playing it this way is a sure recipe for your death. It also doesn’t have the tightest shooting mechanics but felt appropriately consistent with the novice nature of the survivors themselves. Once you learn how the system works, the mechanics will become second nature. There are two items in the game that you will always have, and that is your flashlight and cricket bat. Bullets and med packs will be used, and flares will die out, but your flashlight and cricket bat will always stay. The flashlight drains the more it’s used, but simply switching it off will bring the battery back quickly. Some will complain at the lack of variety in melee weapons, but like many development decisions in ZombiU, it’s done for a purpose. You can’t just swing the cricket bat crazily until a zombie approaches. Each swing must be deliberate and perfectly timed. Sometimes, enemies will have shields or helmets that make them stronger until you knock it off them. To that end, only having access to the cricket bat ensures you’ll become intimately familiar with the timing of an individual swing. You’ll also learn how long it takes before you can pull off another one, and work to establish a rhythm of swinging, then moving, then swinging to employ proper crowd control. Over the dozen or so hours you spend with ZombiU, its reliability becomes a comfort. Conserving equipment is vital to long term survival in ZombiU, and that means ample use of the cricket bat whenever possible.

The interaction between the GamePad and TV is a terrific match throughout the game. In fact, ZombiU’s use of the Nintendo’s GamePad is so well implemented, that it is essentially crucial and fundamental to the gameplay. The GamePad is mostly used for inventory management, and at the start of the game, you have precious few slots to manage until you find larger backpacks. There are a total of six quick-use items, and the rest are stored in your backpack. Every aspect of the gameplay screams “survival horror” and opening your backpack keeps that idea in-line. Opening the backpack does not pause the game, leaving you extremely vulnerable in real-time and unable to attack enemies. Dead Space and Demon’s Souls veterans will know these feelings of vulnerability all too well. If you’re procrastinating in your backpack for too long, it could mean death. It’s absolutely essential to play with the volume on both the GamePad and TV at a fairly high volume. Trust me, in order to ensure your chances at survival, you’ll need to pay strong attention to your surroundings, both visually and audio wise.

When not moving items around, the center of the gamepad screen is a display for a crucial radar system that’s upgraded throughout the game. When a button is pressed on the screen, it scans the area and blinks red if zombies are moving nearby. This radar can be an enemy too and I’ll explain. Pressing the sonar button will not only light up for zombies but crows and rats too, making a room appear to have ten zombies, when there could possibly be only one. When your sparse on supplies, this could make the difference of completely avoiding the path altogether. Pressing another button however, prompts the survivor to hold up the device in the world and it becomes a scanner on the GamePad’s screen. Those of you who have played Resident Evil Revelations will be familiar with how this next device is implemented. The scanner can identify if zombies are carrying items, differentiate between a crow and a zombie, and save you the headache of scavenging through every part of the world for equipment. It’d easy to imagine how the radar could have just become a mini-map in the corner of the TV screen, but there is something to the idea of actually diverting your eyes from the TV to gain additional information from the radar. Trying to do this in the middle of a fight with several zombies is terrifying but important, especially if you’re trying to survive with only the cricket bat. The radar becomes an addiction to look at, and how often you look at it will determine what type of survival horror expert you become.

There is a multiplayer in ZombiU as well, but it’s more interesting than it is enjoyable. The main mode finds the GamePad user becoming a zombie coordinator, sending zombies into the world to finish off the survivors. The survivors are controlled by the other players who are using either the Pro controller or Wiimote-Nunchuk combo. In single-player, the hit or miss shooting controls and clunky melee combat work just fine, but just doesn’t carry over too well in multiplayer. It’s also one-on-one and local, with no online mode to be found here. This is all about getting back to basics and playing with a friend alongside you. Additionally, there is a third mode in the game which is called “Survivor” mode. This mode is essentially the same exact system as the regular single-player campaign, except for one crucial stipulation…you will have only one life. There will be no restarts or continues. The gamer will try and advance as far as they can without dying once. Even if they progress to an hour or two (or possibly more) into the game and suddenly become overtaken by zombies, that’s it. Those three hours of gameplay have been completely erased. Having played this mode for 90 minutes straight, I can attest that this is a true survival horror in every sense of the word. Gamers from my generation and older will recognize this as something of true intensity and determination that only a handful will try and possibly accomplish. 

Graphics: 3/5

Let me start by saying the obvious and that is ZombiU is not a visual masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. I am highly confident that judging from the Wii U’s specs, Ubisoft tapped maybe twenty-five percent of what this system can actually do visually. As I progressed through the game, I noticed textures that were very bland for a 2012 console, and there were certain environments that were uninspiring to look at. Aside from that, the majority of the game’s atmosphere is unsettling and fantastic. There is impressive detail in most of the environments, whether you’re exploring the city streets of London or navigating your way through a dank sewer. The enemies, though not varied, are detailed down to every drop of blood on their faces.

Locales are expertly designed and rendered, featuring famous locals like Buckingham Palace, and more common ones like subway tunnels or flats. Everything is highly detailed in these areas, with tears in wallpaper, junk scattered around and all kinds of stains on the floors and walls. It’s a very dark game, literally, with nothing but a flashlight to guide you through many of the areas. As there’s nobody else around and zombies pop out of nowhere, going through torn up environments proves very unnerving. The environments themselves creates a very unique sense of dread that hasn’t been felt in a game for many years.

Sound: 5/5

Where Zombi U may be hit or miss visually at points, it consistently remains an audio powerhouse production that is worthy of nods from games such as Bioshock and Dead Space. The voice acting of The Prepper, as well as other characters you will meet along the way, are spot on. Each performance is of cinematic quality and contributes significantly to the narrative. Music only kicks in during more intense scenes that further add to the game’s already deep immersion. Most importantly is the crisp audio that booms through the GamePad.

Ubisoft utilized every bit of the GamePad, and acoustically, they knocked it out of the park. There are times where the Prepper is speaking through the GamePad and it sounds as if he is literally beside you. Moments like this take me back to 2007, when I stepped into the shoes of another protagonist in a game called Bioshock (you may have heard of it). Hearing the character of Atlas speaking to you throughout the entire campaign, I couldn’t help thinking that having a GamePad would only enhance that adventure further. Basically, that same sense of mystery and hope comes into play in ZombiU.

Overall Score: 15/20 = 7.5 out of 10

ZombiU is not going to be for everyone. It is difficult at times, and dark…and it’s exactly the kind of title that a new console needs at launch. It is also the kind of game that makes new console launches exciting and fresh. ZombiU isnt a cheap hollywood game, but rather a testament to core gamers. This shows that third parties can make great, unique experinces on Nintendo’s new machine. It is a perfect example of what is possible with Nintendo’s GamePad controller. While the somewhat weak story and mixed visuals take a bit away, the overall gameplay and audio experience is simply unique, superb and a must-play.

PROs:

+ Genuinely frightening without cheap jump scares

+ Brilliant use of the GamePad

+ Interesting asymmetrical multiplayer

CONs:

– Needing to backtrack after losing a survivor

– Long load times, sometimes mid-level

– Lackluster story

– Multiple protagonists eliminates any connection with the player

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Unboxing The Wii U Deluxe Set And Pro Controller

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Greetings everybody! I am happy to report that I have survived it through the waves of Wii U fans, and was able to purchase my very own Deluxe Console and Pro Controller at midnight. Check out the video below of me unboxing not only the deluxe system, but pro controller as well.

GTA V’s “Trailer #2” 13+ Minute Analysis Video

Yesterday, Rockstar Games released the highly anticipated second trailer to their latest title, Grand Theft Auto V. In the video attached below is my in-depth analysis at various sequences showcased during the trailer and what you can expect to see in the latest title. Check it out!


In case you missed the trailer, here it is:


For more news on this or any other topic stay tuned to Gamers Xtreme, and as always, “Game On!”