I was pretty hard on Halo 3, which was Bungie’s swan song developing the series, Halo 4 would see a new in-house developer, 343 Industries, take over. They would have big shoes to fill, as the Halo series was and is super popular.
I must say, they hit one out of the park.
Halo 4 found a way to innovate while continuing what seemed like a dead-end story with the Master Chief. Many of my original complaints with the third edition are totally redeemed by the new studio’s additions, as the game retains a lot of familiar ground while exploring new territory.
Covenant enemies, weapons and vehicles are back alongside the UNSC fare, but Halo 4 also adds a new group of villains called Prometheans, who are cybernetic creatures that truly feel futuristic.
With their introduction comes a new slate of gizmos for the chief to wield, but the UNSC has some tricks up its sleeve too. 343 took the time to remodel all of the existing weaponry and vehicles with Halo 4, balancing the game to where driving a tank felt like you could mow over everything. Turret weapons can be dismounted and carried, new shield abilities are introduced, and vehicles such as the Avatar-like Mantis fit in perfectly with the kick-ass blockbuster style of game this is.
Some areas of the game feel incredibly massive in scope, something Halo has always done well with from iteration to iteration. However, this game’s Mammoth area, which is a giant UNSC convoy vehicle, still features a crazy bug that’s impossible to pass – even to this date with the Master Chief Collection! (How this wasn’t fixed is beyond me and was a huge area of disappointment back when this game was released in 2012.)
In fact, the release date is important to note, as the five years between Halo 3 and Halo 4 makes it hard to believe both games are on the same console: Halo 4 is that vastly superior in every area, including graphics, audio, and gameplay.
Of course, there’s far more to this game than I can contain here, along with not giving away any spoilers. My recommendation is that the entire Halo series is not only worth visiting, but highly replayable – and the continuation with 343 Industries proves that the title was left in great hands going forward.
Gears of War 2
It’s really hard to not see how the Halo and Gears of War games cross paths at times, and while there are similarities here with Gears of War 2, the one that stands out the most is that Gears 2 is an incredible follow-up to the original, just as Halo 2 was to Halo.
Built on the Unreal engine, Gears 2 retains everything that made the first game fun, as you duck in-and-out of cover in new, clever ways while also engaging with melee attacks, such as the Lancer’s chainsaw instant-kill. (Which can now result in a “chainsaw battle” with enemies also wielding the same weapon.)
Among the new weapons added are a chainsaw, flamethrower and mortar cannon. Grenades can be used like proximity mines as well. Using downed enemies as a body shield is also fun, while new vehicles were added to the mix too.
Several of areas of the game feature more “on rails” campaigns, such as riding on larger vehicle or boat.
While all of my descriptions don’t lend to sounding like an upgrade or more fun, you have to trust me when I tell you it is. The storyline and plot for this game is among the best I’ve had the pleasure of playing – and it would likely play out as well on a big screen Hollywood movie as it did interactively.
Somehow the game crosses boundaries that are parts Halo (but in third-person), part Aliens, and even a hint of The Predator. All of the gore, violence and over-the-top language continues, though it can be turned off if you have small ears nearby.
As you continue playing, you may be compelled to think you’ve seen the best this game has to offer, but somehow it keeps one-upping itself until the very end.
I’ve left some key details out as to not spoil for anyone playing through a backlog. If Gears 2 is one of those games you have yet to complete, I compel you to do so soon!
It’s one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever played and certainly one of the best gaming sequels of all-time (in my humble opinion, of course!)
I complain about a lot of games on my blog, and there are others I rave about. Whereas Halo and Halo 2 felt like progressions in the series, my opinion of Halo 3 is that the story was a bit harder to follow. Despite the natural upgrades moving to the newer generation Xbox 360, some of the gameplay feels monotonous and otherwise not much of an evolution over Halo 2.
I think I feel this way because in the jump from Halo to Halo 2, we learn there’s multiple halo installations while being able to play as the Arbiter, wield dual weapons, and of course, the energy sword. The plot still revolves around the Covenant and the Flood, and for me, Halo 3 still does a lot of the same things good but I’m not sure the leap was great.
Part of that blame likely goes to Halo 2 for being such a leap from the original in so many ways. The other part of that blame is the Xbox Live mode that originally threw me off of this game years ago. Included as a beta with Crackdown, we all got a taste of how great Halo 3 could be online.
When we finally got Halo 3 in our hands, however, the little preteen voices in my headset still haunt me to this day.
Sure, I can get “gud”, but no, you really can’t when you’re up against players who stayed up for release and played without sleep for 72 hours, while you’re just removing the shrink wrap from your copy days later! In fact, this game pretty much killed my wanting of ever going online to play video games.
There’s a certain appeal to sitting in a room with friends playing split-screen Goldeneye 007 that cannot be replicated over the internet with total strangers.
Sorry not sorry… now back to the singe player campaign.
Technically, there’s nothing wrong with Halo 3. I’m even giving it a thumbs up, because compared to everything else, it’s a really solid title still. The plot, as mentioned, seems to jump around a lot. Sometimes you want to just get right to the action only to have interruptions.
For that reason, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Gravemind and the final levels where he’s rebuilding himself on a halo installation. It was different, but at the same time felt out of place.
And of course, Halo can’t possibly end without a driving gimmick as the final final part of the game. (At least this time there wasn’t as many mindless timed jumps or maneuvers necessary, and even if you do miss a section, the checkpoints are more plentiful.)
There appeared to be a lot more focus on vehicles too, but the combat was more evenly balanced. Bigger vehicles can take out smaller ones with better balance, and collisions seem to be on point too. Yet, it still seems like an extension of Halo 2 to me in many ways. Even the epic scarab battles feel a little recycled, though the first appearance of one in Halo 3 will still make you pop when it comes onscreen.
While it seems as if I’m dumping on this game, I still enjoyed it. I believe it lives on so highly rated due to other features, mainly multiplayer, which is what I soured on while others liked it.
The campaign and plot portions, however, were a mixed bag according to some reviews sourced on Wikipedia.
Reception of the single-player aspect varied. Yin-Poole wrote that while the cliffhanger ending of Halo 2 was disappointing, the campaign of Halo 3 was much more satisfying. Gerstmann, GameSpy’s Gabe Graziani, and Goldstein maintained that the campaign was too short, especially on easier difficulty levels or with three additional players in co-op. Goldstein was highly critical of the eighth level, stating “the penultimate chapter is so bad, just thinking about it puts a rotten taste in my mouth.” The New York Times’ Charles Herold said the game had a “throwaway” plot and Total Video Games judged the single-player aspect ultimately disappointing. Goldstein and Steve West of Cinema Blend thought a part of the game’s story was lost by not having the Arbiter featuring as prominently as the character was in Halo 2.
This made me feel better about my initial thought of revisiting Halo 3. I really can’t say it’s bad, but it still doesn’t feel groundbreaking – now or then.
While I leave it in the present day with a better appreciation for the total package, I feel it could be the weakest single-player campaign in the entire series.
Perfect Dark HD
The original Perfect Dark was a pseudo-successor to the massively popular Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Created by the same Rare Studios team, Perfect Dark took everything that made Goldeneye great and blew it up tenfold.
The result was another cult classic cartridge which pushed the limits of the N64.
With the 007 license tied to the source material, and Rare having been purchased by Microsoft, the dream of seeing any sort or re-release seemed unlikely. Rare had in fact made a sequel with some lineage, Perfect Dark Zero, but it wasn’t the same game – feeling more like the first-person shooters of that era (such as Halo) than the original 64-bit formula that made Goldeneye and Perfect Dark popular.
As an Xbox 360 launch title, Zero was quickly overshadowed as superior titles started flooding the new generation console – the game was solid, but wasn’t remembered as highly as the N64 predecessors.
Then, five years later, out of nowhere (or so it seemed) Perfect Dark HD dropped as a digital-only title on Xbox Live Arcade.
I remember this game sort of flying under the radar despite some moderate success – it wasn’t terribly expensive (I believe $10 USD) at launch too. Yet, I have friends who were never aware this version of the game existed.
According to the game’s Wikipedia entry, the original source code was ported to the 360 but the game engine was completely rewritten. New graphic elements were remastered, and while the “blocky” N64 feel was retained, the game is cleaner is many aspects.
For starters, the graphics are sharp and clear. The game initially ran at 60fps at 1080p, a huge leap from the 480i N64 version. The move to a new engine didn’t sacrifice anything in terms of authenticity – and if anything, the game is just a new layer of shiny paint with an addition on the house.
That addition is the inclusion of Xbox Live multiplayer – something we could’ve only dreamed of in the split-screen world of the N64 and such a noteworthy addition that it changes the game to where I just had to make this its own entry, as it’s simply not a rehash at all.
In fact, the graphics were once again enhanced for 4K native resolution on the Xbox One!
However, there’s still more.
If you remember the N64 only had a single analog stick. While it got us to where we are today with FPS games, the 360 control is damn near perfect for these types of games. Transitioning to Microsoft’s console feels natural and a no-brainer.
I’ve actually come around to this being my preferred way of enjoying the original Perfect Dark in all of its glory. The N64 game was the reason I had bought that console, as its one of my favorite games of all-time.
Therefore, the great improvements to this game a whole two generations later have made it so it can be enjoyed to this day, preserving the legacy of one of the biggest cult classics ever.
If you liked Perfect Dark on the N64, I encourage you to pick up this copy – which is also available on Xbox Game Pass too. (I don’t shill buying games often, but this is one I make an exception for and especially if you’ve never played it!)
I’m not Microsoft ever intended for Crackdown to become a franchise.
Basically, the Xbox 360’s answer for a Grand Theft Auto open-world style game, Crackdown was originally pushed with an add-on disc for one of the most anticipated games ever – a beta version of Halo 3, the Master Chief’s first foray on the 360.
It was a clever marketing tactic: buy Crackdown, get a first look at the upcoming Halo 3. Yet, Crackdown stood on its own and over time became one of the best-selling games on the console.
The premise is a bit of the opposite as GTA. Instead of playing as a criminal, Crackdown puts you in the shoes of a genetically enhanced “agent”, sent by an organization called “The Agency”, in order to clean up Pacific City. Like others in the genre, your character grows over time, leveling up in one of five areas: strength, agility, explosives, firearms, and driving ability.
In order to level up in each, you must perform those abilities through your standard gameplay – with the exception of “agility orbs” and “hidden orbs” – the former increases your ability to jump, while the latter increases all of your statistics by some random distribution method. (Maybe?)
The agility orbs are the heart of the game and what makes it feel as if you’re playing as Superman at times. Buildings in different areas range from small one-story shops to apartment complexes and skyscrapers. The creative ways in which the developers bring you along vertically scaling throughout the game gives you a big sense of achievement as your character turns into a bad ass who can blow things up a la a Michael Bay movie or jump from rooftop to rooftop.
With over 500 agility orbs and 250 hidden orbs, collection-crazed gamers who must complete every minute task in a game stay challenged as well. (There are also various races, such as rooftop races on foot or stunt races with the vehicles to complete too.)
This game is also one of the first I can recall having changing real-time ads on the in-game billboards throughout the city. Playing through for my third time on the Xbox One seems to have updated the previous ads from many years ago (which I believe were for a Dodge truck and maybe Mountain Dew.)
I haven’t even discussed the wide array of weapons and vehicles at your disposal – yes, you can toss civilians out of their cars just like GTA and take the “acquired” vehicle for a spin.
Your agent then uses all of the above to remove three areas of Pacific City from three rival gangs – you can go straight to the end from the very start, but you’ll get smoked almost instantly… which is the appeal of leveling up and progressing through the game at a certain pace.
Ignore that advice and you’ll just keep dying trying to defeat some of the bosses: with each gang having a main “godfather” of sorts and a number of underlings that must individually be disposed of to help cripple their various operations.
Graphically the game used a cell-shaded cartoon style which still looked semi-realistic on screen. For the 360, it was one of the more visually impressive games upon its release. The audio is pleasant, the explosions are blockbuster-esque and the controls are mostly on point, which the exception of some tedious jumps that may not go as planned (especially when scaling the larger buildings later on).
There were some gripes about framerate stutter when there’s too many enemies on screen firing at once, but to be honest, its such a minimum and almost expected when so much has been packed into the game.
Crackdown may have been thought of as the ticket to previewing Halo 3 at first, but it has a cult following and a legacy as one of the best 360 games created – and perhaps the best of the three titles in the series.
With its arcade-driven gameplay straying from some of the more story-driven elements of GTA games, those gamers who don’t like GTA will perhaps enjoy Crackdown even more.
In fact, it will remain one of my favorite games ever played.
Batman: Arkham Asylum
Batman is a character many of us grew up on, for better or worse. For those old enough, we remember the cheesy Adam West TV show (either through first runs or re-runs).
80’s kids, such as myself, recall Michael Keaton as a darker, all-black clad Batman who ripped through the box office and spawned a toy line that was second-to-none.
But video games had failed to capture a certain essence of media for years. That could be true of any property, but Batman was especially guilty until Arkham Asylum.
A grim, darker narrative with a violent, insane Joker headlines this game which has plenty of Easter Eggs for fans of the series. Taking a Metroidvania style approach, you guide the Caped Crusader throughout Arkham Island to stop the madman.
Along the way you’ll encounter classic Batman villains such as Bane and Poison Ivy. The Riddler leaves riddles throughout your quest and other artifacts hint at characters such as The Penguin, even if they don’t appear in full in the game.
And that’s the beauty of Arkham Asylum. It’s an accessible game which offers something for everyone: we all know the Joker and the Riddler, but hardcore fans are also serviced with appearances such as Victor Zsasz.
Harley Quinn, getting more of the silver screen these days than when the game was originally released back in 2009, MC’s throughout and adds a level of disturbance and humor to the game.
Playing through isn’t all, as there’s a good replayablility factor to Arkham Asylum for completionists looking to find every hidden detail within the game. But for those who just want to plow through to the end, you’ll be pleased with the amount of action as well as stealth, which amounts to some very cool firsts for a Batman game.
For example, Batman doesn’t “kill” any enemies throughout – he can stun them with a Batarang and punch them out, crawl up from behind and put them in a sleeper chokehold, or hang from various points on ceilings and rappel down, only to leave his “victim” hanging.
A black and white menu screen, amazing soundtrack, and even slow motion “Matrix” style punches and kicks puts the polishing touches on this former Game of the Year.
For anyone who hasn’t given this game a whirl yet, I encourage you to check it out!
Note: this review covers the remastered Xbox One edition of this game.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Remastered)
What do you get when Dan Akroyd and Harold Ramis write treatments for a third installment of the Ghostbusters movies but never get it produced?
You get Ghostbusters: The Video Game.
Before I get started, a disclaimer: I am reviewing the remastered edition on the Xbox One which came out several years after the original 2009 version it’s based on. The 2009 versions for PS3 and Xbox 360 are the same game, however, the Wii version was a similar but separately developed title.
The reason I mention this is, being a retro game site and all, it may seem like an odd choice to play a remastered title, but honestly, it’s just easier to capture screenshots.
Oh, and not to mention that the PS3 version I bought is seriously bugged (update or not) and you cannot continue your game from a save! It was all or nothing, and after three longer sessions of starting over, enough was enough.
Xbox One version, here we come…
So, if you end up playing this game remastered, just know that the graphics (especially some of the tiles) do come off as blocky and over ten years old. The rest of the game, while fairly mundane to play through, is rather enjoyable.
The entire cast of the series, from Akroyd to Ramis, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, and even Annie Potts, all reprise their roles from the movies, lending their voices (and likenesses) to what’s considered to be “Ghostbusters 3” for hardcore fans.
Some easter eggs withheld as to not spoil the fun, I too feel as if this is loosely a proper movie sequel, with some reused bits from the original two movies mixed in.
Your character is a cadet, a new hire, or often referred to as “the rookie”, who does a lot of the dirty work. Some new toys are in store, but the game begins with familiar situations and a trusty proton pack, which sees upgrades throughout the game’s levels.
The levels are awkward and sometimes it’s not incredibly obvious what it is you’re supposed to do. Even the autosave feature appears to be broken at times, so be careful if you do not finish a level, because you really don’t know where you’ll restart (especially if you’re on the bugged PS3 version).
The rest of the game includes plenty of comic relief, but the challenge is really up to you. If you set it low, you’re kind of playing through a movie where you can’t die. If you set it elsewhere, it’s a mixed bag of cheap deaths and impossible tasks.
My recommendation? If you can snag this on the cheap, do so. It’s a fitting tribute for any Ghostbusters fan.
Perfect Dark Zero
Here’s a game I had much higher expectations for and wish I had a different rating system to give it a different score.
A thumbs-in-the-middle still seems fair, but a lot of my criticisms with Perfect Dark Zero stem from the large shoes it had to fill from the Nintendo 64 original that this sequel is largely based on.
That N64 title is largely considered one of the greatest games of all time. It was a follow-up to another cult classic, Goldeneye 007, which was also on the N64 and developed by Rare. Without the 007 license, Rare created its own characters, storyline, etc. and dropped it into the same game engine while adding improvements – that game became known as Perfect Dark, headlined by a female secret agent in the future called Joanna Dark.
While that game dealt with Area 51, government and corporate conspiracies, this one lifts a similar concept into a much more powerful set of hardware in the Xbox 360. The result is expected to be more of the same goodness that was on the N64, but the game almost feels like too much of a departure in ways from the original and that’s what left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Don’t get me wrong, the futuristic sci-fi secret agent storyline is still there, as are some of the favorite weapons such as the P9P, Falcon, Magnum, or CMP150. However, unlike the original, you can only carry so many weapons – this is a big downer on the game and actually affects your ability to play through some levels if you choose the wrong gun to walk around with.
Furthermore, dual-wielding guns, a pretty big deal from the Goldeneye era of first-person shooters, requires you to use both triggers on the 360 controller – each gun runs out of ammo independently and zoom/scope functions are neutered in this mode entirely.
I’m sure that was a high concept on “realism” but in a non-realistic setting, it falls flat.
The same can also be said of the bigger guns in the game, such as the sniper rifle “Jackal” or fan favorite RCP-90. Picking one of these weapons up requires dropping the smaller handguns. This also occurs if you want to carry land mines or grenades as well; if you’re like me, you just go on without and totally lose the experience of using those goodies.
That’s a real shame too, because some of the additions may have been worthy, but who knows if they were necessary. In my experience, they were not. Ditto for the secondary fire feature on almost the entire arsenal available to you too. (The laptop sentry gun seems much less effective than in the first Perfect Dark, for example.)
There’s also flash bangs and riot shields, nice for eye candy, but pretty useless over making sure you holster the P9P for its scope function when also wielding a close combat weapon, such as a shotgun. About the only piece that feels right with the weapons is reloading times and how fast Joanna moves on screen. The shotgun will take awhile to load shells, while the M60’s weight slows you to a crawl.
The plasma gun is a nice addition, but if not for the walkthroughs and internet guides, I would’ve had zero clue about several other weapons that are available, notably never coming across the rocket launcher.
And that’s about how this game unfolds too. Often I found myself traveling in the wrong direction or going through a level entirely backwards due to a lack of knowing where to go and what to do next. A lot of the levels are recycled ideas from the first game too, such as ancient ruins, underground bases, and a jungle board.
The most unique level is the second one, the first “true” level (since the first is a simulation). You arrive at a night club and are asked to use stealth to locate your first objective. Good luck with that, as the AI sees you and starts a gun fight no matter what: the shots fired alert other enemies and you’re involved in a button smasher from the get go. But that’s okay: just run to a corner and allow the exhaustive supply of AI opponents to come right to your death trap.
Then you can simply run around the board until suggestive arrows finally send you the in the right direction to complete your mission, should you not fail it first by being spotted.
Spotty AI, confusing level layout and gimmicks, such as strange boss battles or using a special gadget to complete a task, hinder the overall experience. Often, the gadgets won’t work, or a certain area will see an NPC not move into the proper spot, an obvious bug which leaves you stuck and restarting. (Thank God there’s checkpoints.)
In all, I enjoyed the game more as I played through, but realized it was far from the source material of the N64 classic. Those with nostalgic feelings over that game would be best served to approach this with caution while also being thankful you can find it relatively cheap these days.
Otherwise, a full-priced Perfect Dark Zero is simply not worth the price of admission.
Gears of War
One of the driving reasons I started this website was to archive the games I played; in doing so, it keeps me driven toward playing titles which I sometimes missed (due to lack of time) or simply fell out of touch with.
None could be truer of the Gears of War series, which is a set of games I certainly purchased over the years but had been collecting dust in the drawer. I’m not sure why either, because this entry into the series freaking rocks!
You’ll likely notice that my screen captures are not from the Xbox 360 edition of Gears, but instead the Xbox One update Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. Part of my decision to include this as a “retro” game (despite being released in 2015) is the backwards compatibility – I was pretty much forced to play this one, but as with some games I missed out on, I don’t mind playing the “remastered” edition over the original, as is the case with Ultimate Edition.
What Ultimate Edition adds or changes isn’t too significant. Obviously, the visuals and audio were remastered to run faster and look better. Those are good things.
The biggest change? Adding in five chapters that were only available in the PC version of Gears 1, and were subsequently nixed from the 360 version. As such, those missing chapters from the first game on the 360 complete the title and were a necessary reason for playing the remaster. (Note: Since this game is based on the original release, I also made the executive decision to include facts for the original and not the remaster as part of this review.)
The final of those cut chapters is a heart pounding battle with the Brumak: If you’re a Gears fan and missed out on this, you must go back and play this chapter, because it’s one of the most satisfying levels I’ve ever played in a game.
The rest of the game plods along with the apocalyptic alien takeover plot you may already know. Some critics say this game hasn’t aged well, but it spawned many sequels and is definitely a classic. For someone who traditionally sucks at video games like myself, I took to the military brute force style just as well as the duck and cover strategy.
The game can be unforgiving in spots if you aren’t sure exactly what to do, but so long as you listen and pay attention, there are more than enough clues throughout so you’re not stuck.
The gruesome way enemies are blown to bits, chopped up with a chainsaw add-on to your souped-up machine gun, or how the characters vulgarly interact with one another, could’ve been cheesy.
However, in the Gears world it simply works, and adds an aesthetic that’s fun, but also shows that some games can be made for adults only.
In all, this game got me excited to go through and Hammer of Dawn my way through the sequels. It was a great visit down memory lane and a remastered title worth revisiting.