Shadows of the Damned Review

Shadows of the Damned is a weird game. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it will get you thinking, and this is ultimately where the game succeeds the most. There is something distinctively inviting about the many combat situations you’ll come across in the game, and while the gameplay can be a little stiff at times, the experience is saved by clever mechanics and a great arsenal of inventive weapons that distance the game from similar experiences like Alone in the Dark and Alan Wake.

Got Right

Darkness Mechanics Implemented Well

The use of light and dark is implemented superbly in Shadows of the Damned, with a number of inventive ways to counter the affect darkness has on Garcia throughout the game.

Stepping into the light will see Garcia’s healthy slowly deteriorate, and thanks to a number of well-designed puzzles and boss battles, the way in which you interact with the darkness adds a level of tension that really helps drive the experience.

You’ll often have to lead Garcia into the darkness in order to reach an objective, and sometimes you might even be forced into using the darkness as a weapon against enemies that fear it just as much as Garcia does.

The way in which darkness is implemented into the experience is actually the driving force behind finishing the game. Shadows of the Damned isn’t perfect by any means, but it offers a number of creative and thought-provoking experiences that persuade you to push through.

Probably the best thing about this experience is that it continuously changes and evolves the way in which you interact with enemies and the darkness. Even if you’ve made your way through a majority of the campaign, you should expect to see a number of new mechanics and techniques required to progress.

Great Boss Battles

The boss battles in Shadows of the Damned are, simply put, absolutely insane. These incredible beasts of destruction that Garcia will come up against will pound down on you relentlessly, all in their own unique way.

Beating them is no walk in the park either. Your collection of weapons won’t be enough to progress past these evil monsters, and so you’ll need to figure out ways to use the environments and darkness in order to take them down.

Shadows of the Damned does a fantastic job of evolving the experience during the big battles, encouraging you to use mechanics different to the ones you use during the preceding areas.

Fantastic Arsenal

Any animation shortcomings (detailed below) are countered by a fantastic array of weaponry, which help blanket any issues the core gameplay mechanics may have throughout the experience.

Each weapon has a unique name but also an affiliation to a real-life weapon: the “skullblaster”, for example, is Garcia’s answer to the shotgun.

Each weapon can be upgraded to improve damage, reload speed, capacity and all that jazz, but it’s the special moments throughout the story that allow you to unlock exclusive abilities that add an entire new level of engagement to the combat.

Each weapon gains enhanced power and versatility during these moments, making for some thoroughly enjoyable gunplay. Blowing limbs off of demons in Shadows of the Damned is as fun as it’s ever going to get.

Mildly Funny

Although sometimes a little too vulgar and forced, the humour in Shadows of the Damned is executed genuinely, thanks to a weird rapport between main character Garcia and his floating skull pal, Johnson.

The banter between the two is often obnoxious although not completely out of touch with what most gamers would probably find funny these days.

For the most part, Shadows of the Damned is an entertaining and funny story, but its overall narrative lacks the punch to stick with you.

Brilliant Soundtrack

Shadows of the Damned’s soundtrack is superbly effective in intensifying the experience. It’s a masterpiece of a score, complimenting the experience perfectly.

The sound effects bounce off walls and ring out through the speakers, creating a sense of tension that helps drive the experience in some parts more than the gameplay does. That’s saying something.

Weirdly enough, the soundtrack does a better job of telling the story than the actual characters do, which isn’t actually a bad thing: this is an outstanding soundtrack that heightens the tension and creates a level of fear that is at home in the game.

Got Wrong

Shallow Plot

Shadows of the Damned follows Garcia Hotspur, a demon slayer high on the Most Wanted list down in hell. On a mission to save his girlfriend Paula from the mitts of the lord of darkness, he works alongside a floating skull called Johnson.

The story plays an integral part in the progression of the experience, and although executed well for what it is, it’s rather crass and shallow, perhaps a little too much to drive affection towards the characters. That said, Garcia and Johnson share a very weird and fascinating bond.

To say navigation can be clunky is an understatement. Garcia moves around like he’s been batted in the kneecaps with a steel rod.

The camera placement doesn’t help the situation either – the animations can often lead you into a vulnerable position you didn’t intend on being in, which leads to camera issues that can compromise your ability to effectively attack approaching enemies.

The bright side is that many of the other mechanics aside from simple movement work well when needed, such as dodging enemy attacks and a quick-turn that is always an important mechanic in Japanese-developed third-person shooters.

These positives help balance out the experience, although the at-times clunky animations do hinder the experience. There is an inconsistency that is always present.

The Final Verdict

The things that will keep you coming back to Shadows of the Damned – the soundtrack, boss battles, weapons and at-times well-executed humour – are all implemented rather unconventionally. This may have contributed to certain mechanics not functioning as well as they could, as well as animations that can frustrate at challenging moments. It’s weird, action-packed and enjoyable, all enough reason to play through Shadows of the Damned in its entirety.

Swarm Review

Swarm’s engaging and memorable gameplay is driven by a unique agenda; instead of trying to protect the game’s protagonist, you’re tasked with destroying few to save many. Swarm rewards you for being inventive and aggressive, and whilst the game treads into frustrating territory because of at-times mind-numbing difficulty, it’s saved by rewarding and satisfying gameplay.

What Swarm Got Right

Rewarding Gameplay – Whilst the main objective is to collect DNA using “swarmites” to feed “Mama”, a giant blue alien organism that crashes into another alien world, the in-game score multiplayer dictates peculiar gameplay techniques in order to unlock future levels and rewards. In order to complete a level you need to return to Mama with at least one swarmite, however, as score propels your progression, collecting DNA simply isn’t enough, and so it’s important that you come up with unique and inventive ways to kill off the replenishable swarmites whilst ensuring you have enough left-over to collect DNA and make it back to Mama. This double-edged sword makes Swarm quite the challenging little gem, as you must focus on two main objectives to progress, both of which reward success with score, an integral part of progression.

Addictive Gameplay – Maintaining the balance between effective collection of DNA and efficient score-inducing killing of swarmites makes for a highly-addictive experience, part of which helps drive the fast-paced nature of the Swarm adventure. The swarmites are actually quite intelligent, often working together to ensure their own survival whilst focusing on the main objective at hand. This propels the depth and engaging nature of the experience, as you’re working with intelligent AI that blends in well with the game’s core gameplay agenda. Furthermore, the inclusion of online leaderboards and collectibles add worth to the title rather significantly, especially considering the game only takes a few hours to complete.

What Swarm Got Wrong

Quite Short – It’s such a shame that a game that looks so great and plays so well is so short. Online leaderboards and other features increase the worth alongside the main adventure, but you can’t help but feel like the experience is over well before it even begins. However, this length of adventure comes part and parcel with a small and low-priced game like this, although the superb flow of the experience would have justified a few extra hours.

Can Get Quite Difficult – Difficult is actually an understatement. As at times Swarm dictates quite a bit of attention, multitasking can be quite difficult, especially in the latter levels when you’re trying to keep an eye on the swarmites as well as obstacles in the environments. This is hardly a deal-breaker though, as Swarm is as addictive as it is frustratingly difficult, and it’s hard to pull away from its fast-paced action.

The Final Verdict

The core mechanics in Swarm are simple and engaging, and the score multiplayer and objectives make for a very frantic and at-times highly challenging experience. This puzzle/action game dictates every little bit of your attention, and it will punish you if you don’t provide it.

NBA Jam Review

This year, EA Canada and EA Sports have collaborated to provide audiences with NBA Jam. The game, fit for PS3, Wii and Xbox 360, is an extremely nostalgic game that reflects Midway’s graphics and gameplay of old. EA, this year, have produced an excessively loud, interactive game that comes off a long list of already existing NBA Jam gaming titles dating back to 1993. This year’s release of NBA Jam is absolute entertainment. It has amused audiences for nearly two decades in a variety of formats fit for different consoles. To put it simply: NBA Jam has not (and cannot) fail!

The game’s graphics are definitely worthy of mention. 3D bodies are married with 2D heads, which gives players an impressive look. Whether it’s players on-court, or figures riding the sidelines, facial expressions are incredibly defined. Players leap and jump all over the place at varying heights too; the eye is never bored. It might seem like an unfair comparison, but the 2010 installment absolutely destroys the graphics and gameplay of past NBA installments. Acclaim Entertainment’s 2001 and 2002 NBA releases, for example, both of which were fit for Game Boy Color and Advance respectively are completely inferior to EA’s most recent contribution to the series. NBA Jam is too big for the small screen!

Gameplay, overall, is brilliant. Turbo meters keep gamers engaged and informed of how players are running onscreen. A variety of players also feature insides from both Eastern and Western conferences. There are also secret players that can be accessed too. Whether it’s one of the guys from Beastie Boys, G-Wiz from Washington Wizards, Barack Obama or even Sarah Palin, there are plenty of familiar faces that feature and entertain audiences. It’s a seriously tongue-in-cheek game, but its playfulness makes it such great value for hours on end. It’s a significant increase on the series’ previous 2003 installment, which only featured basketball players from the 1950s all the way through to the year of the game’s own release.

The game’s value is second to none; its variety of special features and easter eggs means plenty of exploration and hours of game time. Whilst audio gets a little repetitive in parts, the game is defined by fast-paced, cutthroat competition. Please, don’t fear: competition onscreen is always punctuated by hysterical commentary (the best feature of the game’s sound) and crazy on-court action. Whether you’re smashing the backboard or watching bosses tiff with one another, there’s never a dull moment. The classic campaign and remix tour game modes also mean that gamers can play the traditional 2-on-2, or they can alternate the format. In this sense, I’m a traditionalist: stick to the classic. Whatever game mode you choose though, there’s no time to be bored.

The Final Verdict

The 2010 release of NBA Jam has truly taken me back to my childhood. Whether it’s back to memories of playing NBA Jam on SNES, or battling NBA Jam Extreme out on Sega Saturn, EA’s most recent basketball release evokes nostalgia. It’s schizoid and tongue-in-cheek, but it’s completely and utterly awesome!

Killzone 3 Review

The frenzied FPS that is Killzone 3 is not your average conflict-based shooter; it thrives on epic set-pieces and incorporates a rather unique control scheme, but what sets this shooter apart from others is its character, fueled by stunning visuals, a satisfying campaign and a superb multiplayer component. It’s not often that both the single-player and multiplayer components are just as captivating as one another, but developer Guerrilla Games seems to have nailed it. Killzone 3 is sinister, challenging and unforgiving, and while its incoherent narrative may be one of its biggest issues, the gameplay does a brilliant job of quenching any need you may have for a deep FPS.

What Killzone 3 Got Right

Satisfying Gameplay and Variety – Any lack of coherent story telling is made up with great gameplay mechanics in Killzone 3. The experience is satisfying and smooth, and while the controls may take a little longer than usual to grasp in comparison to other FPS, mastering Killzone 3’s control layout feels undoubtedly rewarding. The amount of great weaponry at your disposal, including the great M82, as well as a few other Killzone 2 staples, all help portray a sense of authenticity, further conveyed by the convincing sounds of bullets piercing armour and skin. Furthermore, while the game starts off relatively slowly, it’s not long before the battles move to larger and more epic set pieces. A number of new mechanics add depth to the experience, namely Move implementation, which functions well and offers a smooth and impressive motion-controlling experience.

Explosive Campaign – While the campaign initially might seem to trek down a familiar path, Killzone 3 quickly distances itself from more generic experiences in the genre; you’ll most certainly be running and gunning a lot of the time, but it’s the enemy placement and the ways in which you progress through an area that give Killzone 3 a unique tone. Level design is superb for the most part, and while the story does a terrible job of detailing characters and important plot points, the explosive nature of the gameplay more than makes up for it. It might be a little hard to care about why you’re doing what you’re doing, but Killzone 3 doesn’t care, because it’ll throw challenge after challenge at you, whether you know what’s going on or not.

Fantastic Enemy AI – The Helghast hate you. They are relentless, intelligent and aggressive, and they will do anything to avoid your advances and compromise your hope for progression. Watch as enemies dive in all directions to avoid a live grenade, or see them quickly jump in and out of cover as you move towards them. The friendly AI is competent but not quite as effective as enemy AI, which definitely makes things harder for you. However, the enemy AI poses an immense challenge throughout the experience, making for a tough campaign.

Stunning Visuals – Just as in its predecessor, Killzone 3’s visuals are quite astonishing. Moving up over war-ravaged terrain as the sun streams in through the clouds is quite the spectacle, further channeled by the alluring brownish glow from rusted pipes, decaying buildings and piles of rubble that are scattered throughout the world. The level of detail can be quite overwhelming, especially later in the game when the set-piece battles reach colossal proportions.

Great Multiplayer and Maps – Killzone 3’s multiplayer shines through its fantastic map design; modes like Warzone (a mixture of a number of different modes) use each map to accompany a specific mode, which does a great job of mixing up the pace and changing perspective for the competitors. The great map design from Killzone 2 has been carried over to this sequel; you can never stay in one spot for too long because the map design just doesn’t allow it. This allows for a free-flowing, continuously moving and explosive multiplayer experience, which showcases how important good map design is alongside great control mechanics.

What Killzone 3 Got Wrong

Incoherent Story and Bad Pacing – Bad story telling plagues the Killzone franchise. That doesn’t change with Killzone 3, although we get a little more insight into the hatred that drives the Helghast. That said it’s still difficult to understand or even care about the motives behind some of the characters’ actions. Furthermore, the war room antics of the Helghast generals play more like a scene from 12 Angry Man than from a game about an exoplanet conflict. The story also has a significant affect on pacing, as cutscenes begin at the most inappropriate times, sometimes during large battles just as you’re getting into a hang of things. And the not-so-subtle Nazi Germany imagery is overkill to say the least.

Multiplayer Not As Rewarding – The class and unlock system in Killzone 3 has been changed, meaning you choose your class just before you enter a match. While you can enter into a match with game veterans and access the same weapons and tools as them, the leveling up system just doesn’t feel quite as rewarding, because your match skill level is no longer dictated by your own progression in the component.

The Final Verdict

For the most part, Killzone 3 is an improvement on the solid experience that was its most recent predecessor. A number of new gameplay features, including Move implementation, more stealth aspects, larger set-piece battles and a deep weapon list, make for a satisfying and engaging campaign experience. Multiplayer is a blast, too, offering a number of great modes across some superbly designed maps. Visually, few games can match Killzone 3’s level of detail, with fantastic lighting and textures rounding out a gorgeous presentation.

Gameplay

9.2

Very satisfying. Killzone 3 gets a lot right by offering a rather complex control system that might take a little long to master but is very rewarding.

Graphics

9.5

Gorgeous set pieces and superb lighting drive the war torn world that is Helghan.

Sound

8.5

The soundtrack is nothing special, but the sound effects and battle banter is top-notch.

Value

9.5

You’ll probably only play single-player once, but multiplayer will keep you coming back time and time again.

Overall

9.2

Relentless and satisfying