Category Archives: PC

Sacred Citadel Review – PC

I love a great beat-em up and always have since the days of the arcade generation and my early Nintendo days. That’s why when I heard that Sacred, an action RPG franchise that I’m fond of, was getting a side-scrolling adventure in the form of Sacred Citadel for PC, I had to check it out. I will admit that I had a little trepidation about this game going in, as I’ve found that most deviations from a series’ bread and butter formula usually don’t go over that well.

I can happily say that I wasn’t disappointed about Citadel’s overall package through after going though both the single player and multiplayer modes. Sacred Citadel’s story follows four adventurers as they seek to chase after the enemies that attack a village in search of a powerful artifact that when combined with a second one will grant the wielder immense power. As you progress though each of Citadel’s four main acts you’ll encounter a variety of new enemies, mini-bosses and the inevitable act boss at the end of each chapter.

One of the odd things that I noticed starting out is that despite there being four characters to choose from, Sacred Citadel only allows three people to play co-op at any given time. Personally I think it was more of a matter of character balance and less of the issue that things would be a lot more chaotic on the screen. Each of the four characters: Warrior, Mage, Shaman and Ranger start out as dual sword-wielding combatants, with their own secondary weapon unique to their own role like a bow for the ranger, staff for the mage, etc. While each of the characters may seem like shallowly designed stereotypes with no background beyond a brief description in the manual, there are actually differences in combat tactics between all of them.

For example the “dodge roll” is different for each character and fits their role. The Seraphim mage can pirouette around the battlefield while the Ranger does a tumble roll which I used to great effect dodging enemy attacks. I did experiment with each of the classes but choose the Ranger for both my single and multiplayer playthroughs due to his ability to keep most enemies at bay especially at higher levels. Teaming up with a friend or random player over Steam is enjoyable and offers some excellent combat moments. When I teamed up with a fellow friend and reviewer, we often decimated enemies with a mage/ranger duo once we got a rhythm down, tweaking it slightly as needed as we encountered new enemies or variants. Every once in a while, the developer mixes things up by throwing in a mount to use such as tank or giant enemy creature that can cause localized destruction on enemies in your vicinity, which is a lot of fun and allows for your finger to take a brief break from the button combos.

I would also mention that each character and player slot has their own “game saves” as it were. Player one can get their Ranger up in level but if they want to use a different class you start over from the beginning of the game, which is good because a low level character wouldn’t stand a chance in the later acts even with another high-level character. The same goes for each player in both the on and offline modes.

Sacred Citadel, while deviating from the franchise’s traditional gameplay, still features some RPG elements. For starters, as you defeat enemies you gain XP and level up unlocking new abilities like the Bomb Shot at higher levels. Each character also gains a super attack by filling a gauge that can be triggered with a press of a button. The Ranger’s ultimate attack is so devastatingly awesome that you have to wait until around level 20 to use it and for good reason. Most mini-bosses can be defeated by just using it let alone clearing a screen full of enemies. And nothing puts a smile on your face like having your Mage turn several enemies into clucking chickens.

Another awesome RPG element is all the various weapons, armor and items you can purchase or earn from loot drops. Most of the weapons in Citadel have varying elemental effects such as causing fire or ice damage or weakening defenses, but they also have natural attributes as well like sword being faster to swing for fast melee or maces having the ability to potentially stun enemies. As you level up you spend points into one of the four skill attributes: Attack, Defense, Dexterity and Power to make your character stronger but there is another way to temporarily boost your stats with Crystals. These crystals only last for 10 minutes at a time and only three can be equipped once. It should also be noted that it is a really bad idea to spend all your points into one attribute track as the game does force your change up tactics, especially on solo runs later on in the game.

Sacred Citadel has a unique visual style with overall bright coloring and a cool, almost hand-drawn look and cell shading style when it comes to graphics. While the other games in the series take a more serious tone in the art department, Citadel goes for the cartoonish approach but still maintains a serious edge to it with nicely designed levels. The level designs are varied enough throughout the four acts that it kept the game constantly fresh. There is also the fact that you can move your characters not only left and right but up and down in a 2.5D space with enemies often attacking on multiple planes at the same time that make combat somewhat challenging and fast paced.

The only real issue I have with the game’s graphics is that the resolution maxes out at 1600X900 even in full-screen which is really off putting as 1920×1080 is the norm these days, especially if you are playing on your HDTV in Steam Big Picture mode. After several consecutive hours of playing though, even when on a 60” HDTV, I started to not really care about it as much as I thought I would given the nature of the art style. The lower resolution only affects the text which gets a bit blurry when you start stretching pixels to fit your native screen resolution. Regardless it’s still unusual that a company wouldn’t go for a 1080 output and worth mentioning. Hopefully a future patches fixes the issue.

Sacred Citadel is one of those brawlers that you could easily burn through in about six or so hours depending on if you play alone or not, but it adds just enough depth and character variation to make someone like me want to replay it as the other characters or try to complete the gambling challenges like beating a level under a time limit or not taking damage. That alone can add some replay value to it if you’re so inclined. There is also a Jungle Hunt DLC that adds an extra act to the game that you can tackle alone or with friends. Despite the developer’s weird resolution choice, Sacred Citadel was a rather enjoyable experience that will definitely hold off my anticipation of Sacred 3 for at least a little while. So if you want a pretty decent side-scrolling brawler to play alone or with a few of your friends then get Sacred Citadel on the Steam Store today.

Defiance Review – PC

MMOs have always been a passion of mine over the years and I’ve seen many a franchise come and go including several that I’ve invested a lot of time in. Months ago, I heard about this MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online) project that almost sounded unreal and too good to be true. The project is called Defiance and it is both a free-to-play MMO beyond the initial purchase and a TV show that was that just premiered recently on the SyFy network. That’s right a game and a show that are designed to compliment, affect and coexist simultaneously.

Now an undertaking like Defiance is a big deal and one that the SyFy network and game developer Trion Worlds (Rift) are taking seriously. As most starting MMOs go, Defiance hasn’t been without its fair shake of problems but in the last month Trion has released several updated to fix and tweak the game to give players the experience that the developers sought out to deliver. During my time with Defiance so far I’ve seen broken co-op missions, loading issues and glitches when trying to select key items in a few mission areas but a lot of those have been fixed with the patches.

Defiance is a unique MMO both in its gameplay and story. This isn’t your traditional bow and arrow, sword swinging adventure and it isn’t set on some distant planet or fictional world. No Defiance takes place right here on Earth or rather a terraformed version of it after aliens come to earth seeking a new home. The game starts after the events of what is known as the Pale War where both humans and Votan (the alien races) must co-exist on Earth to survive and start anew. As most MMOs go you get to choose to either Human or the feisty alien race known as the Irathient not unlike the two main stars of the show Nolan and Irisa before you get started. You even get to meet these two characters in the game’s San Franciscan locale before they head off to the former St. Louis area in the show.

As an avid MMO player, I have to say that Defiance will strike a chord with other MMO vets as well as those that have never played one in their life. This statement comes from the fact that while I was playing Defiance, despite my every knowledge to the contrary, I felt like I was playing a traditional futuristic third person shooter with RPG elements. I love a good fantasy MMO, but Defiance is easily a breath of hot lead that the industry needed. Defiance is all about experiencing its story while fighting mutants, raiders, hellbugs and other enemy factions with powerful modern and alien weapons including shotguns, pistols, rocket launchers, grenades and my personal favorite the sniper rifle.

While the means of combat defines the energetic nature of Defiance, it is still very much an MMO. That means that that there is plenty of questing to do both in the main story and the available side missions as they appear. Players also get to choose a starting archetype such as veteran and survivalist though in the end it only affects your starting duds and weaponry such as the survivalist’s sniper rifle and pistol as well as the quickness of some of Defiance’s built in pursuits (challenges). It’s important to note however that you can use every weapon in the game regardless of your chosen archetype.

What are a bit more limited are the powers that the players have at their disposal based upon their chosen EGO path. The EGO system revolves around having an advanced alien AI implanted into your body that gives your prompt situational updates as well as unlocked potential that exceeds both human and Votan potential. Think of it like having your own little Cortana in your head which I can only imagine cost a shtako-ton of script, in-game currency, to acquire. This unlocked potential comes in the form of the four main EGO (Environmental Guardian Online) Powers, Blur, Overcharge, Decoy and Cloak. As I chose Survivalist as my archetype play style, I went with Cloak as my EGO skill grid option which is great for getting a drop on enemies before they even see you or vanish quickly to hide if shtako hits the fan. Did I mention I like that word?

You’re base EGO Powers aren’t the only ones you have access to either as you rise up in the Ark Hunter ranks. In true MMO fashion you gain experience for defeating enemies, completing mission quests and fulfilling any of Defiance’s vast listing of Pursuits. Every time you level up you gain an EGO point to spend to advance your main ability or purchase and/or upgrade any of the unlocked abilities. These powers are not extra attacks like most MMOs but are used as an extension of your normal and main EGO abilities. For instance, as I’m a player that likes sniping/ranged attacks I chose to purchase a perk that allows me to do more damage to enemies that are positioned lower than my character. Purchasing perks alone doesn’t make them immediately active though. You have to equip it in one of the unlocked perk slots for it to take effect. It’s up to you to find the best combination of perks that works for you.

Though your EGO Powers and perks will help you in the long run it boils down to your own skill as a player to get through Defiance’s world. I actually really like this growing trend in MMOs. It’s not a simple matter of clicking an enemy and cycling through your attacks here. Defiance requires you to actually aim at your enemy like a traditional shooter. Most humanoid targets take critical damage if you shoot them in the head or their weak points. Some enemy require tactic to take down like enemies with shields and bosses.

Defiance does have a nice loadouts feature allowing players to have a wide variety of weaponry to switch out to with the press of a few keystrokes or button presses for the Ark Hunter that wishes to remain versatile on the battlefield. For example my primary loadout features a sniper rifle and pistol/SMG combo with another loadout containing an Assault Rifle/Shotgun combo should I require some heavier mid to close range stopping power. One of Trion’s better touches with Defiance is the ability to modify your weapons at anytime assuming you have the desired modification parts and salvage/script to pay for it. These mods can be anything from sights that improve critical damage to bigger magazine sizes that could reduce the reload time on weapons. The options are limitless and completely at the players own choice on how they want to better their gear.

On the controls front, Defiance offers both the traditional keyboard and mouse and controller support as a means to play. Now I’m traditionally old school when it comes to MMOs but Defiance has kind of changed that for me at least in this game. Playing with a controller does have two drawbacks that I saw when playing though. One you can’t text chat with a controller and second aiming isn’t as refined as it is with a mouse. On the other hand moving your character with an analog stick is a smoother experience and adds to that whole fast paced third-person shooter experience. Defiance also has a built in voice chat system so grab a headset regardless of your preferred control option.

One of Defiance’s major appeals to me is its world design and characters. Unlike most MMO worlds, Defiance blends fantastic alien flora and creatures with familiar earth elements like architecture, roads, weaponry and vehicles. Trion Worlds did an amazing creating this world featuring gorgeous landscapes filled with destroyed earth structures, pristine alien houses, pieced together structures from salvage and even a mechanic’s towering home complete with a sweet driveway. One of the things I really like is the day/ night cycle that gave me the sense that I was interacting and exploring a real world. Players can see some futuristic vehicles including a few by Dodge. Players get the option to tweak how their character will look with a decent character creation setup. On the subject of characters, Defiance is full of some interesting designed friendly and not so friendly characters. As I’ve mentioned Grant Bowler and Stephanie Leonidas’ characters Nolan and Irisa make an appearance and their likeness to the real actors is awesome.

They also lend their voice to their respected characters in the show further solidifying the convergence of these two media fronts. The voice acting from the rest of the game’s cast is actually quiet good and there are even hidden logs hidden throughout the game’s world that are completely voiced that reveal plenty of back-story. Every bit of weapons fire and sounds effects sounded amazing coming from my 5.1 setup. One of the best things about Defiance is actually its score which is composed entirely by Bear McCreary who did BSG’s music. The score features wonderfully charged pieces reinforcing Defiance’s combat charged environments. There’s one piece during the first co-op instance that is this whole fast paced dubstep-ish Perfect Dark vibe that is off the charts as you and three other players are going through a dark bunker facility guns blazing as you mow down every mutant on the way down.

Co-op instances like I just mentioned are only one of the many things you can experience in Defiance. It has a little something from both the MMO genre and the third-person shooter to give everyone a different but familiar experience for all. You can compete head to head in 6vs6 and 8vs8 Deathmatch multiplayer combat via specially created maps or you can kick things up a notch in the random spawned Shadow Wars that are large scale territory skirmishes not unlike those seen in the like of Battlefield. Of course I can’t forget to mention the dynamic Arkfall events that rain down on the San Francisco Bay area not unlike the rifts in Trion’s first MMO. It’s really fun to ride into an Arkfall event seeing other real players doing the same in unison to battle a greater threat than mere bandits. There is also the slew of racing events and skill challenges littered throughout the game world to keep you busy and help boost your EGO ranking upon a successful completion.

Defiance is definitely a unique experience and really the first of its kind that is trying something new and probably only dreamt of by others. Sure there are MMOs based on popular franchises like Lord of the Rings and everything with the word “Star” in front of it. But for a company like Trion and SyFy to create a world both digitally and in the real world for a TV audience simultaneously with each sharing lore and characters is something else entirely. Through the ups and downs that I’ve experienced so far, I wish the folks at Trion and SyFy the best of luck as their story unfolds. I know I’ll be along for the ride every step of the way. If you want to try something that dares to defy the norm look no farther than Defiance for PC.

Dead Island: Riptide Review – PC

If you’ve played Dead Island, you basically know what to expect out of Dead Island: Riptide. If you haven’t, imagine Diablo in 3D or Borderlands with more melee, and zombies, and weapons that break every three minutes as you wade through massive, respawning hordes of the undead.

While there are new additions to Riptide that make it stand out from the original, such as a new character focused on unarmed attacks and fist weapons, and tasks to defend your tropical stronghold from zombies that break inside, there’s also a fair share of additions that just don’t work. The boat steering is some of the worst I’ve experienced in a game, and there’s more than the game’s fair share of quests that can be easily accomplished but which have no apparent way to turn them in.

Combat still pretty much comes down to hitting zombies as you walk backwards, unless you have a gun, or they are an exploder, in which case, well, it pretty much comes down to getting them in the head from afar. It can be interesting to disable a larger zombie’s limbs, and it’s hilarious to turn them into cutlery pincushions, but there’s not much else to them. Human opponents are a bit more cunning, but not enough to really excite.

Complaints about gameplay aside, Dead Island: Riptide is beautiful, and gross in the ways it should be. Traveling verdant tropical island would be amazing, were it not for the floods of zombies that you need to bonk and backpedal, and the zombies come apart well, with flopping broken arms and heads that cave in under repeated strikes.

However, the sound is disturbing, and hopefully not in the way the developers intended. While male zombies in pain sound appropriately monstrous, beating a female zombie to death results in the sounds of blunt impacts and very human-sounding screams, which were jarring enough to make me need to take breaks every so often. I’m not very squeamish, but hearing the sound of a woman in pain as I hacked apart zombies was over-the-line for me.

Ultimately, Dead Island: Riptide doesn’t add much to spice up the basics of the game. If you’re still a fan of the game’s basics, then feel free to add a couple stars onto the rating. There’s a whole new map to explore, and an infinite number of things to kill there, and new weapons to break. If you’re new to the game though, the original is a lot cheaper and you won’t miss much without the new features. And for the people who are already burned out, give it a miss. There’s not much in Dead Island: Riptide for our kind.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 Review – PC

It’s just shy of a year since I reviewed my last dedicated sniper game, Sniper Elite V2, and while other FPS games usually offer sniping in some limited capacity I always enjoy playing a game that revolves around my chosen military specialty. As a veteran Army sniper and former instructor at the U.S. Army Sniper School I try not to be overly critical of these games. There is a careful balance of fun factor versus reality, and the simple fact is that the reality of real world sniping usually doesn’t make for a good game.

Being an Army sniper takes a patient person, a disciplined person, a person who is willing to work alone for extended periods of time, often in hostile situations. In addition to marksmanship skills, you also have to be an expert on detecting and stalking a target, concealment and camouflage, and estimating the range of a target while factoring in values for wind and bullet drop. You have to have a keen observational awareness of your surroundings, not only in picking the ideal sniping spot, but also in anticipating enemy response and planning one or more escape routes.

Unlike last year’s WWII vision of military snipers, Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 gives us a look at present day snipers along with the various tactics and tools of the trade including an impressive collection of sniper rifles and some vision enhancements like thermal and night vision. You also get some binoculars that allow you to spot and “mark” targets even after you put them away and switch to your scope view. It’s the same principle as the Nanosuit helmet view in Crysis 3 that allows you to pre-mark your enemies – not exactly realistic but this is just a game.

Honestly, my favorite moments were the few realistic encounters where I was working with my spotter who was calling out my targets; their location and distance. You also have a wind indicator, stance, and heartbeat variables to factor before making your shot. I found the heartbeat to be an interesting and realistic component that other games overlook. Most games allow you to slow your breathing but seldom do they factor in your racing pulse after you just sprinted a half mile through the jungle to reach your sniping perch. If you don’t wait for that heartbeat to slow down your aiming will be much harder to control. Additionally, crouching or going prone will also increase your accuracy.

Along with all of these variables you also have to factor in distance to target and any crosswinds that may adversely affect your shot. Having a spotter calling out your range makes things easier as does the wind speed and direction indicator, but only if you know how to read and correct using the tick marks on your scope. The game eases you into this by providing a red dot that will show your offset correction, but I found it very counterintuitive to continually aim my shots to some invisible offset and wait for the red dot to confirm my educated guess. In the real world you would use your scope adjustments to realign your crosshair center to that red dot so you could instinctively put your target in the actual crosshair. I would love to see one of these so-called “sniper simulations” actually allow you to adjust your scope, perhaps with the D-pad, to compensate for wind and distance.

For those with patience and a smooth trigger finger your accuracy will be often rewarded with a slow-motion bullet-cam that follows your round from the tip of the rifle to enemy impact. It’s a pretty slick presentation and not overdone to the point where it gets annoying, and it’s not nearly as violent as the X-ray camera from Sniper Elite that showed shattered bones and exploding organs.

One new mechanic added to the mix is the Motion Sense Trigger System. While I almost always recommend playing PC shooters with a mouse and keyboard Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 actually uses the analog motion of the trigger to replicate the squeeze of a real trigger. A slow steady squeeze gets you a clean shot while a hasty jerk of the trigger will send your shot wide and usually alert the god-like AI to your precise position. While I did appreciate the confrontational enemy AI that always kept me on my toes and checking my corners I was a bit annoyed that the enemy could somehow always pinpoint my exact location after a 1,000 yard shot, especially in a war torn district in Bosnia where echoes would make that impossible.

The game spans three chapters that take you through three distinct locations including a very dense and realistic series of jungle levels, a tour through some of the most densely detailed bombed out urban levels in Sarajevo, and finally to an almost Indiana Jones style series of missions high in the mountains of Tibet, complete with temples and giant statues. The new Cry-Engine is pumping out some serious graphics, and even though the cutscenes are a bit flat and faded, anything and everything in the actual game looks outstanding, and in some instances even better than some of the levels in Crysis 3. From the detailed modeling of the guns, to the lens flares, raindrops, and even pooled water dripping over your screen after emerging from the water; Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is one gorgeous game.

The audio is impressive enough with some respectable voice acting (despite poor lip synching), a reasonably well-crafted story, if not a bit clichéd with the whole traitorous comrade second act twist and some outstanding weapon effects and immersive environmental sounds that really put you in the levels. There is also some good music to enhance the action and the storytelling, and the soundtrack is available as part of the Collector’s Edition.

Expect a 6-8 hour game on Normal difficulty and perhaps another two hours if you kick that up to Expert, as the AI gets brutal and you’ll find yourself replaying sections over and over despite generous checkpoints. I did appreciate the return of medkits to heal your injuries rather than the hide-until-healed system that has become the norm in these games. And there is even a nice multiplayer component with some exclusive playable characters for those who want to test their sniping skills against human opposition.

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 2 is a competent shooter that gives gamers a somewhat realistic glimpse into the life of a modern day sniper. The game engine creates some deceptively open and immersive worlds considering the linear path you are forced to take through the levels, which can often make the game feel like an on-the-rails shooting gallery at times, but there is still enough variety and challenging gameplay to recommend it, especially given the $30 budget price for the basic game or $40 for the Collector’s Edition.

Fuel Overdose Review – PlayStation 3

While playing Fuel Overdose there was one question in my mind, why would anyone make a top down arcade style racing game that barely differentiates itself from other similar games that have been coming out for what seems like the beginning of time? Every time I play a game similar to Fuel Overdose I think of Super Off-Road for the original Gameboy that I used to play when I was a kid. Then I wonder what the special hook must be to make this game not only worth playing, but also worth making in the first place. As it turns out, the parts of Fuel Overdose that make it unique aren’t necessarily positive, and many times they only get in the way of what would still only be a mediocre game.

Fuel Overdose is a car combat racing game played from the isometric perspective where the camera is just as antagonistic as the opposing racers. The first problem with the camera is just how close it feels to the action. This means preparing for upcoming turns and jumps is almost impossible without having the tracks memorized, especially when parts of tracks lack guardrails that prevent one from driving into water or falling off cliffs. As I said, memorization is pretty much the only way to get around this problem, which causes the first few races on a track to be fairly annoying, and although this may not be optimal, it pales in comparison to the most important issue with the camera, the forced perspective changes.

Forced perspective changes aren’t inherently a bad thing, just look at Track Mania, but the arbitrary ways in which the camera swings itself around during turns is disorienting to the point of sheer frustration. There really is no logical explanation for why the camera suddenly turns 180 degrees in the middle of a hairpin turn. The only reason I can think one would choose to include this annoying feature is to make the game more difficult due to the extremely unintelligent A.I. while also somehow trying to disguise the extremely noticeable rubber banding.

This leads me to the next issue with Fuel Overdose, the A.I. While I can definitely say the A.I. does little to earn the intelligence suggested in its name, I’m not actually sure whether or not it makes the game better or worse. On one hand, the opposing racers can be extremely annoying and just downright stupid when it comes to using weapons. It seems like they will always try to shoot or damage the player, even when doing so may not actually be in their best interest. It seems as though the game was deemed way too easy somewhere along the lines in development, so the developers decided to simply stack everything including the A.I., the camera, and the rubber banding against the player.

That’s not to say the game is necessarily all that hard, but it doesn’t feel balanced or fair when things just happen to take a turn for the worst. On the other hand, the terrible A.I. actually makes for some fairly entertaining collisions and pile ups in a game that desperately needs something to drag it out of the boringly bad category and into the entertainingly bad category. That’s not to say Fuel Overdose doesn’t try to differentiate itself in some ways, but I’ll get to that in just a moment. Overall, I think the laughably bad A.I. breaks even in terms of my enjoyment of the game. However, laughably stupid A.I. isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it doesn’t negatively affect the player to such a degree.

Now, onto what Fuel Overdose adds to the arcade style, isometric, car combat racer…anime boobs. Honestly, I can’t believe everyone isn’t doing this. Instead of actually trying to make a unique and interesting game, why not just throw in an awful anime storyline, slap on some giant fake boobs on all the female characters, make sure all the shirtless male characters have twelve-pack abs, and call it a day? The story of Fuel Overdose feels thrown together, disjointed, contextualized, and almost offensive due to its sole purpose seemingly being an excuse to throw in some supposedly titillating characters.

I’m all for crazy sexualized art, as long as it’s earned and contextualized within a world or story. It’s when it’s simply thrown into a game for the sole purpose of being slightly creepy and pornographic in nature that I get disgusted. Normally I would applaud a developer for trying to include a story where one isn’t needed, but this is one case where I would consider the game to be better had it done away with its narrative elements.

Fuel Overdose is by no means a broken game. I would even say it’s competent and mildly entertaining in spots. But the inexplicably bad camera, the slightly annoying A.I., and the offensively bad narrative and characters make Fuel Overdose a game I would recommend to almost no one.

Thankfully, for the meager price of $15 Fuel Overdose isn’t exactly a risky purchase, but I would still only recommend it for those who know exactly what they’re getting into.

Reviewed by Dean Engle

Reef Shot Review – PC

Reef Shot is a curious title from Nano Games. In this first person undersea adventure game, you step into the flippers of photographer Steve Burton as he descends into the depths of the sea to snap photos of its inhabitants and uncover mysteries. It’s a bit of an unusual premise, but it’s worth giving a chance.

Reef Shot is a relaxing game, something of a rarity when every other game is ramping up action and tension. Your goal is simple: Swim around and take pictures of the local wildlife. As you make your way through the game’s missions, you’ll start to discover ancient underwater ruins that may lead you to the legendary El Dorado, the City of Gold.

As the story ramps up, though, the core gameplay remains true to itself and continues to present a calm and relaxing atmosphere. There are no enemies trying to kill you, no one you have to defeat, no real antagonists. It’s just you swimming around beneath the sea, seeing beautiful and fascinating things and making records of them.

You aren’t alone, though, and that’s a great welcome. When I heard about the game’s premise, I was concerned that being alone beneath the sea would lead to feeling isolated, but you have a partner, Renee. She provides one-sided conversation, giving some context to what you see. When you photograph animals, she’ll tell you a bit about them, and it can be a bit of an unexpectedly educational experience.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, it’s pretty simple. You swim around and use your camera to shoot pictures of aquatic life. You start off with an intuitive point and click camera, but as you progress, you’re introduced to more complex cameras that can take better photos. It’s not enough to just take pictures of things; you also need to take high-quality photos that will earn you stars. The stars that you earn can be spent during the mission you earned them in to buy much-needed items. For example, if you’re having a hard time finding a particular species of fish, you can spend a few stars and that fish will be marked as a waypoint. If you’re running low on camera storage, you can buy more camera storage. If you’re running low on oxygen, just buy a new oxygen container. It’s not exactly realistic, but it provides an incentive to do your best and evaluate your growing skills.

Stepping back a bit, you have three types of cameras. The camera you begin with is a simple point and click affair, but you won’t be able to get as much performance out of that as compared to the other cameras. The auto focus camera needs you to focus on a subject for a few seconds before the picture is taken, but you get better results. The last camera is the manual focus. You have to adjust the focus yourself, and it demands the most skill from you, but it offers the best potential results.

Now, I mentioned a couple times that the atmosphere was relaxing, but I don’t think I really drove the point home. Sure, there are no enemies trying to kill you, and you’re just here to relax, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. While you play, soothing music flows out of your speakers. In dark places, bioluminescent plants provide soft but brilliant patches of light to help guide you. The game’s lighting and shading system is fantastic, and there are a number of genuinely awe-inspiring moments you’ll experience as you swim about the ocean.

Reef Shot drips atmosphere from every pore, and the gameplay is practically a unique entity in today’s game market. For $10, it’s a good value. I recommend picking it up when you’re in the mood for something new, but if you’re looking for a challenge, you’d best look elsewhere. This is a game that’s something you experience, not something you overcome. If you approach it with an open mind, you’ll find a soothing journey that’s well worth your time.

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm Review – PC

Attention minions…err loyal StarCraft II players, the expansion Heart of the Swarm is finally out and this player has never been happier. I’ve played StarCraft from the beginning and I’ve always loved the story of Sarah Kerrigan. For those who don’t know, Kerrigan, the psychically gifted Terran assassin was left for dead, by her commanding general and was infected by Zerg DNA. In Wings of Liberty, she changes mostly back to human form and is brought back to safety by Raynor, the hero in the first part of what is to become the first part in StarCraft II’s trilogy setup.

Much to my satisfaction, Kerrigan is the hero unit and center of the aptly named title of this new expansion. Right from the get-go in this 20 mission long adventure, you are treated to a basic lesson on how to build up a base of operations and create Zerg troops to do your bidding. It was in this moment where I was commanding Zerglings to wreck an entire research floor freeing more of them as I went just to prove a point that I knew that this expansion was going to be fun. Kerrigan actually takes a more direct role in this title as she’s almost always on the battlefield along with her eager insect followers. After the first few missions our favorite bad girl goes off on a revenge filled warpath as she will do anything to destroy Arcturus Mengsk, the man who left her to die.

The folks at Blizzard definitely decided to mix things up make the game more accessible to newcomers while still retaining the much of the same as Wings of Liberty. For starters, most levels already have your base already available where you only have to set up a steady resource to create troops to command. Though it’s not like the levels don’t give you access to an assortment of willing creatures like the Banelings, Roaches and the ever terrifying Zerglings. I have to say that that despite Zerglings being one of the more terrifying little blighters (actually the size of wolves) in the gaming world; it’s absolutely amazing to see a massive horde of them tearing apart Terran structures and troops.

One of my favorite things about Heart of the Swarm is the RPG elements in place. As you progress, Kerrigan gains vast powers beyond her starting Psychic Blast. As she learns abilities you can switch them out as you need to depending on the situation. Some of Kerrigan’s powers like her ability to call drop pods in at a moment’s notice to spawn an army on the spot. Kerrigan can also change the abilities of her horde via the Evolution Pit like altering the Zerglings damage resilience or their attack speed. There are even some non-optional evolution missions to complete that don’t count towards the 20 story ones so you’ll be busy.

Now I know that while an extensive single player campaign is fun, StarCraft II’s biggest appeal is its online multiplayer. Now I’m not even remotely going to try and discuss tactics when any seasoned pro could speak me under the table any day of the week. What I will cover are the newly added units that have changed the way the fast paced multiplayer functions. Fear not as none of the current units have been removed just altered a bit like the Terran Medivac who has gained a speed boost. Now each race gets a new unit or two this time around. The Protoss get the Tempest and Oracle units. The Oracle is a floating orb that can attack units with lasers. There’s also the Mothership Core’s ability to recall entire armies if they’re on the verge of destruction which is a useful and a time saver. Terrans get the flame-spewing Hellbats, but as this is a Zerg oriented expansion I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their additions, both the Viper and Swarm Host units. The Viper is an awesome winged terror that can pull enemies right into a swarm of charging Zerglings. The Swarm Host on the underhand is a four legged that takes the fight to the frontlines allowing you to release Locusts on your enemies.

No matter if you enjoy the faster paced multiplayer or the lengthy single player campaign, the one thing that they both share is the graphical excellence that Blizzard fans are accustomed to. Players are first treated to the sharp and clinical appearances of the research facility. After that it’s off to see plenty of disgustingly pretty insects and slime to be viewed. My favorite part of the graphics revolves around Kerrigan and her head followers. Each of Kerrigan’s lackeys is more gruesome than the last but Kerrigan’s transformation herself is the pure jewel of this expansion. The cut scenes are beautiful as ever and everything I expected in a Blizzard title.

Heart of the Swarm also has a good voice cast full of B-movie lines but it’s still entertaining while adding depth to the characters. This is definitely true for Kerrigan as she progresses down her path of revenge. The fact that she shows restraint against the innocent one moment only to carve a bloody batch through the Dominion the next is unnerving. It also shows through the cut scenes that she doesn’t really want to be descending into her former role. StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm also features an awesome score that you may not notice amidst all the action as you plug away at the campaign. There are some really good tracks and if you’re one of the lucky or loyal fans you can hear them outside of the game if you picked up the Collector’s Edition.

I’ve been waiting for the Heart of the Swarm expansion for StarCraft II for almost as long as the main game and it was definitely been worth it. Kerrigan is easily the coolest character in this franchise and it’s awesome to see her in a main role. The campaign is long and will aid newcomers to the StarCraft universe in learning the ropes well before diving into the hugely competitive sport of the online community. Blizzard has once again done a great job at keeping things fresh and interesting and I’m sure that the newbie and pro alike will love the StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm expansion.

Brütal Legend Review – PC

Tim Schafer is responsible for some of my favorite games in my 30 years of gaming including Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and the 1995 Full Throttle biker adventure – a game not all that dissimilar from the heavy metal masterpiece, Brutal Legend that released more than three years ago on console and has finally made its way to the PC. With a fresh coat of paint (enhanced graphics) and some cool new bonus content (free multiplayer maps) it’s time to check out this awesome hybrid game once again and see if it can stand the test of time…or at least three years.

While Brutal Legends slips into the Steam store with an almost stealth-like approach, back in 2009 the Internets were all atwitter with nonstop media hype for the game thanks to the participation of Jack Black and a handful of legendary rockers. The end result was something that could only be described as “the adventure game of the year”. And when you combine these vocal talents with a soundtrack that simply “kicks ass” you have a game that is as much fun to listen to as it is to play. Since then we have seen games like Borderlands that have borrowed on the large scale maps, open world design and mission structure, and stylized comic book graphics, but nothing can beat the signature charm and humor of Tim Schafer…especially when he’s writing for Jack Black.

While it’s not required that you have a fondness for heavy metal music or Jack Black, it’s certainly going to help if you do. After all, the title character, Eddie Riggs, looks, talks, and acts like Jack, and the two decades of metal is enough to melt PC’s sound system. The story starts off quite simple. Eddie is a roadie working for a lame band that is trying to blend tween tunes and metal without much success. Eddie dreams of a better time…the early 70’s, but fate has other plans in mind.
After a freak accident Eddie finds himself transported into a mystical heavy metal world – an afterlife fit for a roadie. Armed with only a giant axe and his guitar, he must fight the forces of evil and save this land from an ancient and dark power. Along the way he will make some friends, form a rebel alliance, build a hotrod roadster with machine guns and rocket launchers, and unlock the secrets of this ancient land born of metal.

Brutal Legend works on multiple levels and includes several genres of gameplay. You have a hack-n-slash combat game not unlike God of War or Devil May Cry. You can run around attacking with your axe using various combos or you can play your guitar to shock or burn your enemies from afar – this attack requires frequent cool downs but combos nicely with the axe.

Then you have a driving experience where you get to drive around shooting enemies with various mounted guns on the front, flame shooters on the side and a rear-mounted mine dropper. You’ll spend a lot of time in the car exploring this massive world comprised of three large maps. Exploration is key because there is a lot of stuff to find including 120 serpents statues, 32 Vista Landmarks, 11 Motor Forges, 13 Legend statues that reveal the important backstory, 107 songs, 24 lightning plug jumps, 12 solos that can be added to your guitar library, 47 upgrades, and 83 pieces of concept art.

The Motor Forges are important, as they serve as your drive-thru base of operations where you can purchase upgrades for your Deuce’s primary and secondary weapons, new paint jobs, or purchase new abilities for your axe or new strings for your guitar that bestow more powerful elemental attacks. You can even purchase special attacks and rock carvings so you can change the face of Mt. Rockmore. No matter which Motor Forge you enter, you always end up at the center of the molten world hosted by none other than Ozzy Osbourne himself.

So the game works a clever mix of driving, running, fighting, and even some side missions like turret defense, hunting, ambushes, and even some one-on-one racing with a toad-like demon. What might surprise some is that Brutal Legend also contains a bit of RTS thrown in – not much, only a few battles that make up only about 10% of the entire game experience. I’m not a huge fan of RTS games but Brutal Legend really makes these six or so levels really work.

First off, these RTS stages are all infused with a heavy dose of music culture. Fans are your resource, and you mine them by building merch booths over green geysers to direct the flow of fans into the stage. You then use these fans to build various combat units like head bangers, chicks with razor rifles, bass-playing bikers, and in later levels some seriously kick ass units. None of these levels are impossible, and they actually get quite fun trying to figure out some basic strategy balancing the number and type of units you can have on the field at any given time and maintaining a hold on your merch booths. In all but the first of these levels Eddie will sprout demon wings, allowing him to fly around out of the range of attack, where he can summon units and direct them with point and click commands.

If you enjoy this aspect of the game then you will likely be entertained with the multiplayer modes that allow for up to eight players to engage in heavy metal warfare on several unique maps using three nicely balanced factions, each with their own units. While I enjoyed the RTS gameplay within the confines of the game’s story, I really wasn’t compelled to play it standalone. It works and is amusing, but there are better RTS games out there if that is your thing. It’s still fun to mess around with but I seriously can’t see anyone spending more than 3-4 hours with this.

Perhaps my favorite element of the game are the visuals. While not technically mind-blowing, the artistic style rocked my world. I’m a big fan of the Heavy Metal movie and this was like seeing that world come to life in a video game where massive stone and metal monuments dot the landscape, towering temples serve as gateways to new lands, and sickly green swamps seamlessly morph into eerie blue bone yards or lush green forests. I’ve never seen so many creative ways to integrate skulls into the landscape, as rocks, parts of trees, or even the full moon.

A day and night cycle keeps the sky in constant flux with sunsets, raging storms with fiery comets or clear starry nights with streaking shooting stars. There is rain and snow and all sorts of terrain, and it blends together so seamlessly you almost don’t notice you have entered a new land. Also integrated into the landscapes are the hidden pick-ups like the dragon statues, legend statues, and dozens of buried metal that you can raise to unlock new songs for the soundtrack. And I loved the giant wall of speakers that sent out routine shockwaves of sound.

There are some amazing characters with excellent designs and textures and the assortment of monsters and creatures is by far some of the most metal-inspired creations of our time. You’ll get to encounter all of these creatures up close and personal if you choose to participate in the numerous hunting challenges. Gore is extreme with dismemberment and plenty of spraying blood, or you can turn off the gore if it gets too extreme.

The only thing better than the graphics is the audio, both in content and quality. I have to give awesome kudos to the stereo in the Druid Plow. It sounds great while you’re driving but when you hop out of the car you can still hear it just like you would hear a car stereo playing. You can even use this sound as a directional finder to locate your car as the sound pans around the 3D environment. It’s a great effect.

The voice acting is superb; especially considering most of these people are rockers first and actors second…or last. Jack Black is right in his element with this character and delivers his lines with deft perfection. Ozzy had me rolling on the floor with each and every line, and while there is a bit of profanity, you can choose to bleep it from the very first instance, which is often funnier than hearing the naughty words.

But we all know we came here to play Brutal Legend and rock out to the greatest game soundtrack in the history of games. The soundtrack plays out when you are in the Deuce, and you have full selection of available tracks. We’re talking over 100 songs from 75 legendary artists like Def Leppard, Judas Priest, Anthrax, Black Sabbath, Megadeth, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Dokken, Motorhead, Ozzy Osbourne, Kiss, Scorpions, Slayer, and Whitesnake just to name a few. You can even go in and modify the playlist to disable songs you don’t like. As you uncover more metal throughout the game the track list grows and you use the D-pad to move forward and back through the library while you drive. RTS battle sequences will have their own music and should you choose to explore the land on foot, there is a mystical and quite compelling orchestral score that accompanies your adventure.

Brutal Legend is about a 10-12 hour game that will take you another 3-4 hours to fully finish if you are a completionist. I finished the story and the credits rolled around 80% leaving me with just a few dragon statues and some buried metal. While it is quite possible to rush this game and finish it in 5-7 hours you would have to bypass the side missions and that is not recommended since they provide Fire Tributes (currency) used for upgrades, as well as power-ups for your guitar and axe.
There is a nice selection of humorously named Achievements that reward you for finishing the various chapters as well as the entire game and for locating all the music, dragons, legends, and other collectibles and purchasing all the upgrades. I typically don’t like hours of fetch questing but the soundtrack in Brutal Legend makes it quite enjoyable, like a road trip with kick ass tunes. There are also a handful of multiplayer achievements for winning online matches.

I can’t think of too many negative things to say about Brutal Legend. Sometimes I got annoyed that Eddie couldn’t jump but if I needed to go somewhere the landscape would slope so I could get there. I got stuck a few times in the landscape but summoning the Deuce popped me out of the hillside and into my car. I found it was often too easy to drive blindly over a cliff but if you hit Y fast enough you jump back to land and only your car falls into the ocean.

Brutal Legend was an amazing game in 2009 and it was just a fun and refreshing to play again in 2013. If you love heavy metal, Jack Black, Tim Schafer or any combination of these elements then this is a must-own adventure game infused with a thoughtful balance of action, combat, and real-time strategy. The story is epic, the landscapes are magical, and the humor is consistently present throughout the entire game from start to finish. This is heavy metal heaven! Buy it today and rock on…

Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Model 1512 Review

Last year we reviewed a few video capture devices including the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition and the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro. Both devices had their pros and cons and ultimately delivered on their core promise – to capture gameplay in 1080p HD – but there is always room for improvement, which leads us to today’s review for the new Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Model 1512. At first glance there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of difference between this new PVR and the Gaming Edition we tested last year aside from some new packaging and a light blue recording stripe instead of the “Xbox green” glow from before. I would have to look deeper to find the true differences.

While the new Model 1512 supports and records video from all your favorite gaming devices, it now adds features targeted for home media users who want to use this device (and a connected PC) as a DVR to record broadcast TV. Obviously, for those with built-in DVR capabilities in their current cable or satellite boxes, this is a superfluous feature, so if game capture is all you care about then the Gaming Edition is still your best choice. The HD PVR 2 includes an IR blaster to connect the device to your set-top box and also includes WinTV 7.2, which is fully compatible with Windows 7 and 8 Media Center.

In our reviews last year the Roxio had one thing going for it that Hauppauge couldn’t match, but that has been resolved with the inclusion of StreamEez; new software that allows you to easily live stream your video game play directly to Twitch or Ustream. Provided you have the upstream bandwidth to support it, you can now share your best gaming sessions live with a worldwide audience. This, combined with the TV support is more than worth the $10 increase in price.

Unboxing the HD PVR 2 reveals a plethora of cables, the small black-box recorder, and the installation disc along with some fold-out instructions. Before installing the software you first need to connect the PVR 2 to your PC as well as insert it into the video feed between your source device and your TV. With the exception of the PlayStation 3, this is an easy and fast process that involves unplugging the HDMI cable from the back of your PC, Xbox, or Wii U and plugging it into the Video Out on the PVR 2. Use one of the included HDMI cables that came in the box to connect the source device to the Video In, plug in the power supply, and you are ready to rock and roll. Those who wish to record from the PS3 will need to use the provided component cables, which may require some additional tweaking in your PS3 configuration if you were already using HDMI. You’ll need to go into your video settings inside the PS3 menu bar and switch to component video output. It’s an annoying extra step, but it’s also the only way around Sony’s HDCP protection so you cannot record Blu-ray movies.

Software installation is just as easy. Insert the disc and run the setup program to install the drivers and the various apps. Once completed. You can also save yourself some time by skipping the CD installation step and going straight to the Hauppauge website where you will almost certainly find newer drivers and updated programs in an updated download pack. With the latest software installed and the device hooked into your system you are ready to record.

The first thing I tried was the WinTV software even though I have yet to use more than 20% of my DirecTV’s 2tb storage space. I admit, I didn’t mess with the IR blaster cable but rather just inserted the PVR 2 into the HDMI path between my box and my TV. Once connected, I was able to easily record anything on my TV using the intuitive software or the even more accessible record button on the top corner of the PVR 2. You can control the format and bitrate of the recordings to balance quality versus size – obviously 1080p will take a lot more space than 720p. You can also pick the encoding type; anything from MP4 and TS formats to H.264, the same format used for Blu-ray discs. This is especially useful if you have a Blu-ray burner since the ArcSoft ShowBiz app easily lets you compile and burn your recordings to DVD or Blu-ray.

Now it was time to game. I removed the PVR 2 from my DirecTV video path and connected it into my Xbox 360 then fired up ShowBiz and went into capture mode. As I noticed in the Gaming Edition, there was a slight delay in what I was seeing and hearing on the PC versus the actual console, so you’ll want to mute the PC sound to avoid a delay feedback while gaming. Again, you’ll want to find the perfect balance of quality versus size while trying to avoid any ghosting effects at lower settings. You’ll find some useful tips in the forums on the Hauppauge website. Another nice touch is the Personal Logo Insert that allows you to brand your videos and live streams. This is especially nice if you are starting you own regular content channel and want to stamp your ID directly onto your work.

System requirements for using the PVR 2 are surprisingly modest, and my $600 Asus laptop was perfect for the job. You only need a 3.0 GHz single-core or a 2.0 GHz multi-core processor running Windows 8, 7, Vista, or XP (SP3) with 512MB RAM. Honestly, you’ll want at least twice that much RAM and a nice fast hard drive or even better, an SSD drive, if you want to do any serious editing or post-production work on your videos. Mac users can also use the HD PVR 2 but they will have to download third-party apps like HDPVRCapture or Capture4ME.

I captured video for four recently released games using the new HD PVR 2, which you can view here.

The ShowBiz software is easy to use, allowing you to trim segments, combine multiple clips, and insert various effects, before rendering out your final video. My biggest complaint (which was also an issue on the Gaming Edition) is that ShowBiz limits your YouTube uploads to 15 minutes even if you have an account that supports longer videos. This annoying inconvenience can be easily overcome by simply uploading your videos directly to YouTube outside the software. Videos, especially 1080p videos, can get quite large and take considerable time to upload and process. The four videos I captured for this review took over 1100 minutes combined to get them posted to YouTube.

The Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Model 1512 builds upon the core functionality of the Gaming Edition PVR while adding some potentially useful TV capture features for those with small (or no) DVR’s, and even allows you to create your own DVD or Blu-ray library from those recordings. For those looking to become the next great gaming celebrity, you can now live stream your gameplay sessions and seek fame and fortune on Twitch or Ustream. Personally, I found the HD recording process, functionality of the included software, and resulting video quality unrivaled by any other similar product out of the box, and I look forward to featuring much more HD video content here at Game Chronicles, both as part of our reviews and in our Live Gameplay Video channel.

Stay tuned…