The Sims 3 University Life Limited Edition Review – PC

The Sims 3 may be almost four years old, but the expansion packs are still coming strong. Given that The Sims 2: University is such a fan favorite, I’m a little surprised EA waited until the ninth expansion to release The Sims 3 University Life, but better late than never, right? Anyway, I’ll cut right to the chase, since if you’re reading this review, there’s a good chance you already know all about the base game.

Just as TS2: University did for The Sims 2, University Life introduces college life to the current incarnation of the franchise. I’ll be blunt: you can probably predict your satisfaction with University Life based on how you felt about the first Sims 3 expansion, World Adventures, as sending a Sim to college is similar in many ways to sending them away on a foreign vacation. The college is its own separate locale, and while you’re playing in the college town, only those Sims in college will be playable, and the rest of the household won’t be accessible until the school term is over.

If that’s not something that bothers you, you may find that University Life has many of the charming traits that made TS2: University so much fun. Rather than limiting the college experience to young adults, though, this expansion is more true to life in that it allows Sims of any age young adult or older to pursue higher education. All your Sim needs is a phone or a computer to enroll, and a school mascot will drop by with some university-related freebies and an aptitude test that might score your Sims a scholarship, depending on their skill levels, traits, and career experience.

The University Life college experience is uncannily reminiscent of actual college. Just as in real life, your Sim can choose what kind of college life to pursue: will she take it easy and party it up, split her time between classes and a job, or hit the books hard and graduate early? Enrollment options include one of six majors (Business, Technology, Science & Medicine, Communications, Fine Arts, or Physical Education), how many units your Sim wants to take, and how long a term runs (one or two weeks).

Once at college, Sims can choose to move into a dorm, fraternity or sorority, or apartment. The random roommates, non-player characters that move in simultaneously with your Sim(s), add a fun factor of unpredictability to the game. Fortunately, if your Sims really can’t get along with their roommates, you can kick them out at will, and doors and beds can be locked or assigned, respectively, to help keep the living situation under control.

Balancing a Sim’s needs at college is a challenge, just as in real life, especially if you choose to load up on credits. Sleep can be hard to come by, and parties (keg stand, juice pong, or bonfire, anyone?) and other diversions—like the new coffee shop, bowling alley, or arcade/comic book store lots—may interfere with studying properly for a final exam.

Then, there are the new Social Groups to think about. By associating with Sims of the Rebel, Nerd, or Jock groups, or engaging in activities those groups identify with, your Sim gradually builds influence with the group. It’s not necessarily as easy as it sounds, though, as influence also decays rapidly if your Sim doesn’t continue actively building their influence levels. Still, keeping up with networking can be worthwhile for its perks, such as new interactions, extra trait slots, and even new Super Careers: Art Appraiser, Video Game Developer, and Sports Agent.

Luckily, University Life finally upgrades the Sims’ phones to smart phones that can be used to text, study, browse the web, share videos and photos, blog, or find other Sims. This was one of my favorite improvements from the expansion for its sheer convenience, and it significantly modernizes the feel of the game.

Another favorite feature is the interactive lecture class. Mixed in with “rabbit hole” classes during which Sims disappear into a building (albeit with one of several selectable player-set attitudes, like “suck up to professor” or “socialize”) is a new type of class that allows you to see inside of a classroom and influence whether your Sim takes notes, asks questions, or sleeps through class. The interactions are somewhat limited, but being able to see your Sim in class and choose some of their actions is definitely a step in the right direction. If you leave your Sim alone, he’ll also do his own thing for the duration of class, which is a relief if you have another college student to look after in the meantime. I hope we see more of that interactivity in upcoming The Sims games.

Finishing a degree can take several terms, depending on how many credits your Sims take, but students can return home for breathers in between terms and resume school at any time. Plus, completed degrees may boost career performance later on, based on the Sims’ grades. High grades in school result in faster promotions and higher pay in related jobs, and Sims can return to school for additional degrees once they’ve finished one.

The new Sim variety in this newest expansion, by the way, is the Plant Sim we first met in The Sims 2: Seasons. Plant Sims can’t be created in Create-A-Sim, but there’s a chance your Sim will be turned into one if he volunteers as a test subject at the science building while in college. Rumor has it there are other ways Sims can transform into Plant Sims, which do not need to eat or “bladder” but require water from bathing, swimming, or turning into a plant and photosynthesizing during the day.

As for how University Life fits in with the base game and other expansions, it’s a mixed bag. The expansion adds roommate services to the game outside of the college town so that your Sims can now accept rent-paying computer-controlled roommates at home, and as I mentioned earlier, a college education can noticeably improve work performance. Other than that, most of the university experience is more of a separate module: placing university-related building in your hometown just adds additional rabbit holes and doesn’t seem to allow the full college experience back home—a mild disappointment.

It is, however, fully compatible with Seasons, and the university town experiences weather effects and Spring Break, though holidays aren’t celebrated. Overall, it seems to play well with other expansions, though they’re integrated somewhat unevenly: you’ll see supernatural Sims at college, but no pets—and despite life-stage-oriented expansions like Generations, your parental Sims won’t be able to bring their families with them to college, unless they’re also enrolled as students.

The game also has some glitches as of the time of this writing, which isn’t unexpected, considering how complicated The Sims 3 has grown at this point. I ran into a bug similar to one from World Adventures and could not successfully send my Sim to school; I was only able to fix this problem by evicting my family and moving them back into town to reset the game. Another possible bug seems to be that roommates in the regular town are consistently unemployed and rarely leave the home lot. Familiar path-finding problems also remain, and one of my Sims kept exiting a building’s front door and circling around to the back when trying to reach an indoor staircase.

Also, while this isn’t an official bug, I found it a tad unnatural that my student Sims could not call home or visit their families while at school, and their families couldn’t be invited to visit, either, except at graduation. It’s also strange to me that Plant Sims can’t fulfill their water needs by drinking beverages. Even so, University Life is now one of my favorite expansions for The Sims 3. Besides bringing the college experience to the game with classic Sims humor, it adds many interactions and objects appealing to a modern young adult and creative demographic, including urban art, portable sketch books, Internet cat videos, the “Gangnam Style” dance, and online social networking. Naturally, the expansion also throws in updated outfits, hairstyles, traits, WooHoo locations, and death types, but I’ll let you discover those for yourself.

The Sims 3 University Life retails for $39.99 (though I’ve seen it for at least ten dollars less at some places) and is a solid add-on for fans of the game, especially those who enjoyed—or at least didn’t mind—the traveling involved in World Adventures. The Limited Edition version of the game appears to go for the same price and comes with a Partaeus Maximus statue, togas, laurel wreaths, masquerade masks, and the ability to throw toga- and masquerade-themed parties.

I should mention in passing that EA says Island Paradise, the next expansion, is already in the works and slated for release this June. I’m sure I’ll be back this summer with a full report. Until then, University Life offers many hours of fresh content, and I think most TS3 fans will be happy with this one.


Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk Review – PlayStation 3

The RPG genre is as about as vast as the oceans are wide when it comes to variety. I’ve been playing RPGs for years now and have tackled everything from light hearted fare to some of the most mind-blowing and complex mechanics that I’ve ever seen in gaming. One series that bridges both those gaps is the Atelier franchise. Besides being a series with over 20 titles to its name, the Atelier franchise has had a very in-depth item creation system under the guise of Alchemy for years now. This item-combination system has been the bread and butter of developer Gust’s long running series and that includes the recent release of Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk for the PlayStation 3.

I’ve actually had some experience with the Atelier series back during my RPG days on the PS2 with the Mana arc so I’m no stranger to the mechanic complexities and light hearted story pieces. The series has been previously released by NIS America up until Ayesha where Tecmo Koei has taken the reigns which would probably explain some of the changes in the overall mechanics from previous releases.

The story follows Ayesha Altugle, a young girl who has been living in a workshop making ends meet by making and selling medicines in a secluded location. To make matters worse, her little sister Nio has been missing for a few years after having mysteriously vanished while collecting ingredients one day. It’s not until Ayesha’s own fateful day when she finds out that Nio is alive somewhere in the world. An alchemist from a distant land shows up and steers the rather clumsy herbalist into getting into alchemy to save her sister. The story is light and meaningful with Ayesha being probably the most trusting girl ever in an RPG. She’s a cool character though unlike the rest of her cookie cutter RPG compatriots. You’ll find all the basic RPG character tropes though I never really felt attached to the characters in this game like in the previous installments.

Now the real fun in this title comes in the title itself. Atelier means “workshop” and this game features a deep though slightly simplified (from previous titles) alchemy system. For newcomers, the Atelier franchise requires the player to combine various ingredients to make everything from basic potions to more involved things like enhancing armor and weapons. The formula has remained the same over the years for the most part becoming more advanced as time goes by. Ayesha however changes things a bit for better or worse by simplifying the synthesis process. This allows for the player to get by with basic crafted items on quests or go for more involved creations. The quality of the item is based upon the actual synthesis process and not the individual properties of the ingredients.

There are two main parts of gameplay in Atelier Ayesha, the meat and potatoes synthesis part that the series is known for and the exploration/combat parts. Each part compliments one another in a perfect circle. You must explore and defeat foe to find rare and unique ingredients and earn memory points from an ever expanding list of locations on the map. Those items and points in turn can be used to raise Ayesha’s ability to craft better items. The memory points are used to create entries into Ayesha’s journal which can give her some added bonuses. I have to say that outside of the Atelier franchise I’ve never been a big fan of synthesis and crafting. This series however takes crafting into a more serious light and I love it.


Everything you do in Atelier Ayesha from walking to a certain destination to synthesizing an item takes time to complete. The only thing that doesn’t really have a time limit is all the little side quests you can do to aid the people that need help in the world. The downside is that you can do these completely whenever you want. Why would that complete freedom be that bad? Well it mainly boils down to the fact that you have exactly 3 years to save your sister or fail miserably. There are actually different endings depending on how well you do. The problem is that there’s no real way to see how far on or off track you are in the grand scope of things.

As this is a RPG, there has to be some combat involved. Atelier Ayesha features your classic turn-based combat system like those in the series before it, but with a notable addition. While in combat, you can now move your characters around the battlefield to gain a temporary advantage and deliver more damaging attacks. Each character in the game that joins Ayesha has their strengths like the magic wielding Wilbell, the heavy-hitting swordswoman Linca and of course Ayesha who acts as the party’s healer and item user. While the world and its monsters have vibrant designs, you’ll be surprised on how difficult fighting just a few enemies can really be. Dying in battle also adds time to the calendar which ticks away at your 3 year deadline.

While dying is bad, the one thing that isn’t bad is the character designs created by illustrator and designer Hidari. Her work on the characters for Atelier Ayesha is absolutely stunning and brimming with detail. Ayesha features a mix of still images and CG cut scenes accompanied by spoken English to tell the story as well as add some depth to the characters. Hidari’s work on the character designs are only hindered by the locations that they visit. The world isn’t exactly bad it just doesn’t compare to the beauty of the characters. There is also the absolutely beautiful opening video featuring a classic anime and CG infused theme that captures the essence of the game.

That same video contains one of the games more memorable audio tracks “Flower Sign”. The audio department on Atelier Ayesha is pretty good featuring some melancholy tunes which fit the world of Dusk. There are some light hearted pieces as well as some decent battle themes that change depending on where you are in the game. The voice acting is decent though Ayesha’s voice makes her come off as sort of a ditz. That aside I will also mention that Atelier Ayesha only comes with one language option, English. So outside of the theme song there is no option for a Japanese track, which I find kind of weird for a series that has had a large number of its titles released only in Japan.

Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk has plenty to keep players busy with its in-depth crafting system and exploring to be done. You could easily dump 60+ hours into this one though only the most avid of fans would probably go to that length. You can easily complete the game in about 20 hours of so if you don’t mind getting a less than stellar ending. I’m not one of those people so I’ve buried countless hours into the synthesizing system and exploring as much as I could, while trying to keep things on track with the Zelda-like time constraint. If you’re a diehard fan of the Atelier franchise, then you may or may not like the changes to the formula. For me Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dusk is still very much an Atelier title filled with enough alchemy goodness to keep me busy for a while or at least until the next title. If you love the series then I would recommend checking this one today.


Crysis 3: Hunter Edition Review – PC

The Crysis franchise has become the de facto standard by which PC gamers not only gauge the performance of their beloved gaming rigs, but also start spec’ing out their future upgrades and new system purchases every time a new sequel is announced. My last three system purchases have all been more than slightly influenced by the proposed recommended specs for Crytek’s CPU and GPU crushing series, so by the time Crysis 3: Hunted Edition rolled around I knew what to expect and I, or more accurately, my PC, was up to the task at hand.

Crytek and Crysis have now become synonymous for groundbreaking and gorgeous first-person shooters but somewhere along the way Crytek seems to have lost focus on what actually makes these games fun to play. Sure, there are more orgasmic oohs and aahs than I’d care to count, but once the visual splendor of seeing this game running on maximum settings wears thin (about 3-4 hours in) the illusion is stripped away and you realize that Crysis 3 is really no better or more advanced in terms of gameplay than any other shooter out there – in fact; it may have taken a few steps back.

Once again you are Prophet, a super-soldier in a high-tech Nanosuit that enables the player to toggle ammo-dampening armor, activate an invisibility cloak, paint and lock targets using a visor HUD overlay, remote hack electronic devices, and even power-kick cars like a soccer ball. Yet with so much going for it, by the end of the game you’ll realize that you probably never needed or ever used much more than the cloak because Crysis 3 has now become primarily a stealth-infiltration game.

It’s not that the combat isn’t challenging or the variety of weapons and customizations aren’t plentiful, but more that the AI is super-aware of your presence. If your cloak goes off and you are anywhere near an enemy (regardless of their line of sight) you are busted, and once one guy knows where you are, they ALL know where you are, leaving you to scramble around waiting for your energy to regenerate so you can activate your cloak again. Those who revel in confrontation can opt to toggle their shield rather than their cloak and Rambo the levels, but be warned that the AI is devastatingly accurate and only gets tougher in the final third of the game.

The game opens with Prophet being rescued from a stasis pod on his way to Cell HQ to get “skinned”, but an old friend has other plans. In no time you’ll be firmly entrenched in a rebellion movement to thwart some evil conspiracy and a new Ceph threat. Overall, the story is a loose continuation of the narrative that began in Crysis 2 and doesn’t matter all that much. Ultimately, it all boils down to “there are the bad guys…kill them”.

Crysis players don’t come to the party for the story. They want mind-blowing visuals and ear-shattering sounds and music. Crysis 3 is an experience and as such this sequel hits most of the sweet spots. The game opens up in New York City, only a couple of decades have passed since your last stroll through the Big Apple. The gardeners have all left the city, which is now overrun with creeping vines, grass tall enough to hide raptor-like aliens, and sections that look like a bomb went off; all protected by a giant dome and skyscraper towers with deadly-accurate cannons ready to shoot trespassers. These levels exhibit a rare apocalyptic mix of lush vegetation and rapid urban decay that give the illusion that nature is trying to reclaim the city, perhaps more aggressively than the Ceph.

The visuals are further enhanced by some seriously epic music that drives the narrative and the action as well as flawless voice acting and all the expected sound effects; many of which you’ll recognize from past games. Visually and audibly, Crysis 3 is unmatched in technical splendor – a feast for ears and eyes that will set the bar for future games that dare to license this new game engine.

Where Crysis 3 fails is in the gameplay. Aside from the addition of a new bow (because every game now has to have a bow – thank you Hunger Games) there isn’t much new added to the mix, which just makes this feel more like an extension (or $60 DLC) for Crysis 2. Levels are flat and the path through them is usually quite linear. There are few levels that offer much in the way of verticality or multiple paths, which takes a bit of the strategy from the game. Many enemies can easily be circumvented by cloaking and swinging wide, or even better, hack a turret or minefield and turn their defenses into your allies.

And how about that bow? In previous games the use of any weapon other than a stealth kill would break your cloak. Now you are free to dispatch your enemies with electrical or explosive tip arrows with relatively no risk. You can often kill multiple enemies with a single electrical arrow if they are all standing in water. Even with limited arrows (which can be reclaimed from corpses), the bow completely wrecks the balance of the game; at least for the first half where human opponents are usually a one-shot kill. The bow is far less deadly (but still effective) going up against the larger mechs and aliens in the third act.

Crysis 3 introduces a new upgrade system for your Nanosuit where you find upgrade kits (points) and purchase various bits of upgrade tech that can be assigned in groups of four in a slot machine-style interface. You can even preset your three favorite mixtures. Upgrades are like Call of Duty perks in that you can increase their proficiency by grinding away at various challenges like performing 100 stealth kills. While your choices of perks are interesting and somewhat varied, the game practically dictates that you funnel all your purchases into stealth extensions and energy conservation.

Crysis 3 tosses in a multiplayer mode because they have to, and the results clearly indicate this was more to appease the narrow-minded suits who think every game has to have multiplayer more than the fans who would be perfectly accepting of a game without it. Give me a great solo experience versus an average campaign and a poor online one. Most of the multiplayer modes just give off that Call of Duty copycat vibe; even when you do have a dozen guys dancing around in Nanosuits. The only mode that really stood out for me was Hunter, a mode that puts two Hunters (in Nanosuits) up against the rest of the playing field who are all normal soldiers but wielding more powerful weapons. It’s a great test of firepower versus Nanosuit mastery, and after the 8-10 hour experience of being a super-soldier in the campaign; it was a refreshing change to feel a bit “naked” and somewhat defenseless while playing as one of the hunted.

I can’t help but think that most of the development for Crysis 3 went into the technology rather than story and game design. Crytek has a breathtaking engine on their hands, and I look forward to seeing what they or anyone who licenses it can do in the future, but for now Crysis 3, while spectacular to behold, is a rather short and shallow game I had to push myself to complete.


Crysis 3: Hunter Edition Review – Xbox 360

The Crysis franchise has become the de facto standard by which PC gamers not only gauge the performance of their beloved gaming rigs, but also start spec’ing out their future upgrades and new system purchases every time a new sequel is announced. My last three PC purchases have all been more than slightly influenced by the proposed recommended specs for Crytek’s CPU and GPU crushing series, but the beauty of playing Crysis 3: Hunted Edition on the Xbox 360 is that you don’t need to worry about any of that. What you do need to worry about is just how good can a game be that was designed for PC hardware seven weeks old when played on a console that is seven years old.

Crytek and Crysis have now become synonymous for groundbreaking and gorgeous first-person shooters but somewhere along the way Crytek seems to have lost focus on what actually makes these games fun to play. Sure, the 360 version looks impressive (by console standards) but once the visual spectacle of the initial establishing shots for early scenes are stripped away, you’ll realize that Crysis 3 is really no better or more advanced in terms of gameplay than any other shooter out there – in fact; it may have taken a few steps back.

Once again you are Prophet, a super-soldier in a high-tech Nanosuit that enables the player to toggle ammo-dampening armor, activate an invisibility cloak, paint and lock targets using a visor HUD overlay, remote hack electronic devices, and even power-kick cars like a soccer ball. Yet with so much going for it, by the end of the game you’ll realize that you probably never needed or ever used much more than the cloak because Crysis 3 has now become primarily a stealth-infiltration game.

It’s not that the combat isn’t challenging or the variety of weapons and customizations aren’t plentiful, but more that the AI is super-aware of your presence. If your cloak goes off and you are anywhere near an enemy (regardless of their line of sight) you are busted, and once one guy knows where you are, they ALL know where you are, leaving you to scramble around waiting for your energy to regenerate so you can activate your cloak again. Those who revel in confrontation can opt to toggle their shield rather than their cloak and Rambo the levels, but be warned that the AI is devastatingly accurate and only gets tougher in the final third of the game.

The game opens with Prophet being rescued from a stasis pod on his way to Cell HQ to get “skinned”, but an old friend has other plans. In no time you’ll be firmly entrenched in a rebellion movement to thwart some evil conspiracy and a new Ceph threat. Overall, the story is a loose continuation of the narrative that began in Crysis 2 and doesn’t matter all that much. Ultimately, it all boils down to “there are the bad guys…kill them”.

Crysis players don’t come to the party for the story. They want mind-blowing visuals and ear-shattering sounds and music. Crysis 3 is an experience and as such this sequel hits most of the sweet spots proving the Xbox 360 isn’t dead just yet. In side-by-side comparisons with the PC all of the visual content remains intact on the 360, but everything seems to be blurred, almost like viewing the game through a fogged window. Trees are green and slightly textured but you can’t count the leaves. Grass sways in the breeze but you can count the blades. Distant enemies lose their polygon count in favor of consistent frame rates and turn into indistinguishable blobs. So yes, Crysis 3 is pretty enough to take to the dance, even if she looks like you drank a few too many beers before picking her up.

The game opens up in New York City, only a couple of decades have passed since your last stroll through the Big Apple. The gardeners have all left the city, which is now overrun with creeping vines, grass tall enough to hide raptor-like aliens, and sections that look like a bomb went off; all protected by a giant dome and skyscraper towers with deadly-accurate cannons ready to shoot trespassers. These levels exhibit a rare apocalyptic mix of lush vegetation and rapid urban decay that give the illusion that nature is trying to reclaim the city, perhaps more aggressively than the Ceph.

The visuals are further enhanced by some seriously epic music that drives the narrative and the action as well as flawless voice acting and all the expected sound effects; many of which you’ll recognize from past games. At least for me, the Xbox 360 offered the superlative sound experience since I was playing through a THX home theater versus a 2.1 PC sound setup. Visually and audibly, Crysis 3 is an impressive achievement for a console, especially one in its twlight years, but for those looking to have their minds and their hardware completely blown, you’ll need to play on a super-PC to experience the game as the developers intended.

Where Crysis 3 ultimately fails is in the gameplay. Aside from the addition of a new bow (because every game now has to have a bow – thank you Hunger Games) there isn’t much new added to the mix, which just makes this feel more like an extension (or $60 DLC) for Crysis 2. Levels are flat and the path through them is usually quite linear. There are few levels that offer much in the way of verticality or multiple paths, which takes a bit of the strategy from the game. Many enemies can easily be circumvented by cloaking and swinging wide, or even better, hack a turret or minefield and turn their defenses into your allies.

And how about that bow? In previous games the use of any weapon other than a stealth kill would break your cloak. Now you are free to dispatch your enemies with electrical or explosive tip arrows with relatively no risk. You can often kill multiple enemies with a single electrical arrow if they are all standing in water. Even with limited arrows (which can be reclaimed from corpses), the bow completely wrecks the balance of the game; at least for the first half where human opponents are usually a one-shot kill. The bow is far less deadly (but still effective) going up against the larger mechs and aliens in the third act.

Crysis 3 introduces a new upgrade system for your Nanosuit where you find upgrade kits (points) and purchase various bits of upgrade tech that can be assigned in groups of four in a slot machine-style interface. You can even preset your three favorite mixtures. Upgrades are like Call of Duty perks in that you can increase their proficiency by grinding away at various challenges like performing 100 stealth kills. While your choices of perks are interesting and somewhat varied, the game practically dictates that you funnel all your purchases into stealth extensions and energy conservation.

Crysis 3 tosses in a multiplayer mode because they have to, and the results clearly indicate this was more to appease the narrow-minded suits who think every game has to have multiplayer more than the fans who would be perfectly accepting of a game without it. Give me a great solo experience versus an average campaign and a poor online one. Most of the multiplayer modes just give off that Call of Duty copycat vibe; even when you do have a dozen guys dancing around in Nanosuits. The only mode that really stood out for me was Hunter, a mode that puts two Hunters (in Nanosuits) up against the rest of the playing field who are all normal soldiers but wielding more powerful weapons. It’s a great test of firepower versus Nanosuit mastery, and after the 8-10 hour experience of being a super-soldier in the campaign; it was a refreshing change to feel a bit “naked” and somewhat defenseless while playing as one of the hunted.

I can’t help but think that most of the development for Crysis 3 went into the technology rather than story and game design. Crytek has a breathtaking engine on their hands, and I look forward to seeing what they or anyone who licenses it can do in the future, but for now Crysis 3, while spectacular to behold, is a rather short and shallow game I had to push myself to complete.


Drip Drip Review – PC

There’s a storm a brewing, and every living being is faced with a singular terrible threat: A leaky roof. Drip Drip from Imminent Games puts you in the shoes of an elite drip collector of the Disaster Response Team. In this game, you journey across the USA to protect homes, casinos, and other buildings from catastrophic water damage. Your tools are pans, kettles, and other time-honored tools for fighting the leaky roof threat, and you are the only thing that stands between these buildings and total collapse.

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into with Drip Drip, but it’s a fun, fast-paced experience you can pick up and put down whenever you want. The game takes place across 24 different levels, each containing a building you need to make sure survives the storm. Each level has a clock that ticks up, and you just need to survive until the end. The building starts off with a few leaks in the roof from which water drips. Once there’s a heavy puddle on one floor, it’ll start seeping through it and spilling down through to the floor below. Water will keep pouring down until it ends up in the basement. If the basement completely floods, the building comes down and you lose. Oh, and if a heavy puddle is left alone for too long as water keeps pouring onto it, the floor will weaken and might collapse entirely, creating a hole that water can just pour directly through. If too much of the building collapses, the whole thing comes tumbling down and you lose.

Thankfully, you’ve got a good variety of tools to tackle this. You start each level off with some cash and an object bar at the bottom of the screen. When you begin, you just have a pan, a hammer, and a broom. To use an object, just click on the icon on the bar, then click on a spot in the house you want it to go to. The object’s cost will be taken out of your cash, and a living cartoon version of that object will enter the house through a door and make its way over there. Pans collect drips of water, hammers fix disasters like broken floors and pipes, and brooms sweep away debris when the floor above collapses. Once placed, these little guys can be repositioned, so you don’t have to keep repurchasing them, but they take some time to travel around. On top of that, pans (and other drip collectors) can’t travel across a broken floor or past debris. Only brooms and hammers can do that, so you need to deal with those as soon as they pop up.

Drip collectors also have a limit to how much water they can hold. Once they start to get full, you need to empty them out, or they’ll start to overflow. To do that, just click on them, then click on a window. They’ll hop over to the window and dump that water out, then go back to collecting drips from the spot they were at before. When they dump the water out, you get cash, but there’s an extra bit of strategy here. The closer they are to being full, the more cash you get. You need to strike a balance between maximum profit and being able to split your attention across all the objects in the building to catch them before they overflow.

As you advance through the levels, more objects are made available to you in addition to these basic types. You get drip collectors that can hold much more water, such as barrels or trash cans, but there are other cool objects. Sponges, for example, can soak up water that’s already on the floor in addition to functioning as a drip collector. The wizard hat learns a variety of spells that will cost you money to cast, but can perform effects like automatically emptying out every drip collector near it, or enhancing the amount of cash you get for emptying out water. The sump pump is the only object that can interact with the basement, sucking water out of it after it’s already passed all of your other defenses (although it can only remove so much water before it has to be replaced). The sponge happens to be my personal favorite of these. When you send a drip collector to dump water out a window, water’s still dripping, and some will still get on the floor. It might not start off being large enough to start going down to the next floor, but it adds up. Sponges can keep things nice and dry.

As you use an object of a particular type more, they level up and become better. Drip collectors can carry more water or get more cash for dumping water out the windows, the sump pump can pump more water out of the basement before it has to be replaced, etc. Objects in general get faster as they level up. It’s a cool system that encourages you to use objects that you might not normally use. The only issue I have with this is with the drip collectors. You typically get new drip collectors before you can fully level the previous one, so there’s no reason to use the old one once you get access to the new ones. Sure, a trash can costs more than a pan, but you aren’t hurting for money at the start of a level if you only buy drip collectors and sponges, and those things turn a profit quickly. It doesn’t significantly negatively impact play, but I quickly found myself completely ignoring the early game drip collectors.

The rain isn’t the only hazard facing you. Ghosts and UFOs will sometimes swing by a building and try to take away an object. To rescue the object, just move it away, and the ghosts and UFOs will give up. Lightning will strike places in the buildings sometimes and destroy whatever objects they hit. When you see a spark indicating where lightning will strike, just move your objects away and wait for the lightning to hit. Sometimes a witch doctor mask will show up and start doing a rain dance. If it completes it, the rain will get much worse. To drive it away, you need to move a broom to sweep it on its way. I’m not really a fan of these. They break up the game a bit, but they’re really out of theme, and they add little to the game aside from the need to briefly move a piece out of the way. Sometimes, pipes will break, and this event, I do like. You send a hammer to fix the pipe, and you need a drip collector to deal with the sudden stream of water. It flows naturally from how the rest of the game plays and feels like a natural extension of the game.

The graphics are clean and the colors are bright. It’s nothing special, but I do wish the objects had a little more style to them instead of just having googly eyes stuck onto standard household objects. The sound design, on the other hand, is phenomenal. The graphics look cartoony, but the sound feels like an actual rainstorm, which is one of my favorite sounds. While playing the game at night, I sometimes had to mute it for a couple seconds just to make sure it wasn’t actually raining. The sound is that good, and it pulls you into the game like nothing else.

In spite of a few issues noted with the events, the gameplay is solid. While the special events are out of theme and don’t add anything to the game, they don’t obstruct your play a whole lot either. Even if an object gets taken away or exploded by lightning, you might not notice with everything else you need to keep your eye on, and you just send a new object on its merry way to perform the old one’s job. It’s a minor annoyance at worst. The moment to moment play is absorbing, and at $10, it’s a bargain. There’s really no other game quite like it, and Drip Drip is well worth picking up.


Lay the Favorite Blu-ray Review

With big names like Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Vince Vaughn gracing the Blu-ray cover of Lay the Favorite, I went into this film with high and possibly unrealistic hopes, but 90 minutes later I felt like I had just watched a smarter and less sexier version of Showgirls. We meet Beth (Rebecca Hall) on her final day working as a “private dancer”. After her last client pulls a gun she decides it’s time for a career change, so with the encouragement of her father (Corbin Bernsen) she moves from Florida to Las Vegas in a surprisingly empty pick-up truck to seek her fortune as a cocktail waitress.

Upon arrival she learns it’s harder to break into waitressing than she thought, so with the recommendation of her new friend, Holly (Laura Prepon) she finds a job working with Dink (Bruce Willis) at Dink, Inc., a fast-paced gambling operation. Her charming smile and quirky, innocent nature make her an instant hit with Dink and his two male assistants, but it’s Beth’s proficiency with numbers (and letters) that make her a valuable asset to the operation, at least until Dink’s wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones) returns from her cruise and jealousy rears its ugly head. Things get a bit predictable as Beth starts to fall for Dink, even to the point of asking him to leave his wife, forcing Dink to fire her.

Without his good luck charm Dink starts losing big, meanwhile Beth finds a new romance with Jeremy (Joshua Jackson), a vacationing New York City journalist, and ends up moving to the Big Apple where she hooks up with one of Dink’s associates, Rosie (Vince Vaughn) who is running his own illegal gambling operation. When Beth questions the danger of illegal bookmaking in NYC, Rosie takes his operation to the Caribbean Islands where things really take off and Beth starts making more money than she ever dreamed. But when one of her clients (John Carroll Lynch), back in NYC defaults on a $75,000 loss and gets mixed up with the FBI, Beth must return to the city along with Dink and Tulip to shakedown the deadbeat gambler.

Lay the Favorite looks impressive enough on this 1080p AVC-encoded transfer of a film that was originally shot on digital. The colors are warm and natural with great skin tones, deep blacks, sharp contrast, and plenty of detail in both close-ups and the larger establishing shots. There’s not much content here to exploit the benefits of Blu-ray and I’m guessing this will look just as good on streaming HD. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is sorely underutilized in what is mostly a dramatic movie laden with conversations. Dink’s office and the few scenes in the casino offer up some rear channel opportunities. There was no memorable music with the exception of the closing credit dance sequence.

There isn’t much in the way of extras. There are 11 Deleted Scenes totaling just shy of 8 minutes, which in my opinion should have just been left in the film. Their removal doesn’t take anything away from the story, but their inclusion would have added some useful and interesting insight into a few of the characters. There are also a few trailers that run prior to the top menu, but they can be skipped and oddly enough, cannot be accessed from within the menus.

Lay the Favorite is a fun movie with interesting characters and a unique, albeit limited look into organized sports gambling. Rebecca Hall was a delight to watch as she blossomed from naïve Florida stripper to an almost thug-like NYC bookie, but always maintaining that giddy charm throughout the entire transition. Bruce is…well…Bruce, Vaughn is predictable, and Jones is unrecognizable. It’s nice to see Jackson working after Fringe and I look forward to seeing more of Hall in Iron Man 3, but for anyone who isn’t a…ahem…diehard fan of Bruce Willis or a gambling junkie, laying down $15-20 for this movie on Blu-ray is a risky bet. It will be streaming soon enough and will be just as enjoyable.


The Marine 3: Homefront Blu-ray Review

I enjoyed both of the previous WWE films, The Marine with John Cena, and The Marine 2 with Ted DiBiase Jr., so logically I should have no reason to question the fun I should be having when I sit down to watch The Marine 3: Homefront; this time with Mike “The Miz” Mizanin. But when this film had ended I was speechless with what had just passed before my eyes. From the opening pretentious narration and setup to the preposterous and unrewarding ending, this is 91 minutes of pure torture that even hardcore WWE and Miz fans will struggle to enjoy.

Jack Carter (Mizanin) escaped his fated future of working at the lumber mill by joining the Marines and has now returned home for a few weeks of R&R. We learn everything we need to know about Jack and his two sisters, Amanda (Camille Sullivan) and Lilly (Ashley Bell) from the narration and an awkward cookout sequence rife with poorly written dialogue and delivered with equally poor acting – even by WWE Films standard. Meanwhile, off in the “city” Jonas Pope (Neal McDonough) is pulling off a bank robbery, more out of demonstration than for greed. This, and a brief verbal backstory of how he shot a healthcare worker in the face after his mother died from cancer are the only setup we get for this poorly written villain who has somehow acquired enough explosives to level a building and enough weapons and ammo to start a small war.

Fates intertwine when Jonas and his crew execute a treacherous member of their organization in the local junkyard – the same junkyard where Lilly and her boyfriend are scavenging for spare parts for their jeep. Naturally, Lilly screams and the bad guys capture them and take them back to their “lair”, a run-a-ground derelict ship and perhaps the only authentic thing in this movie. Now it’s up to Jack to save his sister (and the boyfriend) while inflicting maximum death and carnage in the process. Naturally, the FBI gets involved which provides some amusing moments of more poorly written dialogue and some surprisingly unrealistic SWAT tactics with disastrous results.

The entire movie is just preposterous. Pope is perhaps the most unconvincing villain in the history of villains. Harkin (Jared Keeso), the local sheriff, looks like he stepped off the poster of a GNC steroid poster, Sullivan and Bell play their sisterly rolls to excess, leaving us to hear Lilly screaming profanities and cries for help that go unheard for most of the second act. Even the action sequences are underwhelming and surprisingly impotent – especially the final explosion of a bomb that was supposed to bring down an entire building but looked like nothing more than a gas tank explosion – at least until all the secondary charges started going off around the set. They filmmakers boast about how they set a new record for firing 10,000 rounds of ammo in a single day, but this was in a scene where only a dozen SWAT guys were killed. If it takes that much ammo to kill 12 guys you might want to find a new line of work. And despite enough weapons and ammo to start a small war, there is always plenty of opportunities for The Miz to mix it up with some hand-to-hand lest we forget his wrestling roots.

The Marine 3 looks good enough with a solid 1080p AVC transfer that showcases plenty of detail and realistic colors and textures despite the image having a washed-out look to it. They used some cool handheld shots although several were recycled. I’m pretty sure I saw the same camera plop sideways to the ground at least three times when a guy got killed. There were no artifacts or other distractions in this direct-to-video release, but I can’t imagine it looking any worse on a digital streaming service. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track gets the job done by prioritizing the dialogue to the center and immersing you in overwhelming amounts of gunfire, explosions, and other violent sound effects from all channels. When there is no action the rear channels pick-up on Robert Revell’s score, arguably the best part of the sound experience.

Special features are few and for those who were hoping for a Miz commentary you are out of luck. “Shipwrecked: Breaking Down the Boat” is an 8-minute feature on the real star of this movie – the broken down ferry used as the enemy hideout and primary location for most of the action. “The Miz Rocks the Boat” is another 8-minutes of the Miz taking you on a guide tour of the boat. “The Miz Declassified” is a 10-minute biography on the Miz from his humble beginnings to his current transition to action star. “Casting Call” is an 8-minute look at how Mason Norman went from being a WWE fan to a credited walk-on extra in the film thanks to a promotion that ran during a WrestleMania 28 Axxess fan event. And finally, we have the “Miz Journal”; basically a 7-minute diary of Mike documenting his experience on the film.

Personally, I found the The Marine 3: Homefront preposterous, unrewarding and a complete waste of time, and this is from someone who loved the first two films. Nobody in the film could act – even those with real acting experience, the story was paper-thin, the characters where shallow, and even the action was poorly executed. Technically, the Blu-ray production is adequate but I wouldn’t recommend this as a purchase unless you are a hardcore fan of the Miz or just want to laugh at a bad movie – and you can do that when this thing hits Netflix.


Red Dawn Blu-ray Review

Red Dawn is one of my favorite movies…the 1984 version that is. The 2012 remake of Red Dawn, while definitely upgraded for the times, both in story and tech, leaves a bit to be desired when it comes to actual characters and the way we, the audience, feel about them. Ironically, the day I sat down to review this movie was the same day the headlines were all ablaze with the news that North Korea was threatening nuclear war. Imagine my surprise when the opening credit montage was mirroring my MSN homepage. In the original movie it was Cuba conspiring with Russia to take over the USA, but now North Korea is the new (and only politically safe) enemy to pick on, although they are once again conspiring with Russia and seem to have some new EMP device that has knocked out most of our defenses. The premise is sound; perhaps more so today than in 1984, as much of our military forces are off fighting or at least patrolling overseas, leaving our county with minimal protection.

Jed Eckert (Chris Hemsworth) plays a Marine who has returned home on leave from Iraq. We get brief introductions of him, his younger brother Matt (Josh Peck), and his father (Brett Cullen) that barely sets the tone for a relationship that must endure all sorts of hardships the following day when America is invaded by the Koreans. The brothers are awakened by house-shaking rumbles and when they run outside the sky is dotted with hundreds of soldiers parachuting into Spokane Washington. Only when a jet screams past firing rockets and shooting down one of the enemy planes that spirals into the house next door do the boys panic and hop in their truck to escape the invasion. They are forced to leave behind Matt’s girlfriend, Erica (Isabel Lucas) but gather up a few other friends and are instructed by their father to seek refuge in the family cabin up in the woods.

These events loosely mirror those of the original film as do the ones that follow. They cabin is discovered and they are forced to relocate and take up arms as they form their own terrorist group known as the Wolverines (named after their school mascot). Jed is the only one with formal military training, but he gets everyone whipped into battle readiness in a quick montage so they become quite the thorn in Captain Cho’s (Will Yun Lee) side; enough that he has to summon in Russian Special Forces to help track down the Wolverines. Meanwhile, other Marines make it into Spokane and locate the boys and join forces for a daring op to steal a decoder device so they can monitor enemy transmissions.

The original Red Dawn was more drawn out, giving us time to feel the pain and struggle of our survivors. We watched them huddle their way through a frosty winter, scavenge for food, and execute carefully thought out attacks. Everything in this remake seems rushed, with montage after montage and one action sequence after another. Instead of raiding a truck for food like the original, in this version they raid a Subway for sandwich ingredients. Have movie audiences really lost all their patience that we have to have everything served in 90-minute chunks? There are a few pivotal points, some quite emotional, and others painfully obvious and even cliché but it all seems rushed. The film works and is enjoyable, but it’s a far cry from the original, lacking substance and an ongoing emotional connection.

Red Dawn looks incredible on Blu-ray with a stunning 1080p AVC transfer that is loaded with detail, gorgeous colors, realistic skins tones and textures, and seamless CG integration. Much of the film takes place in the woods and I was amazed with the level of detail and texture on the foliage and trees. Contrast is sharp and black levels are solid on the nighttime sequences, and there wasn’t a single glitch, pop, or blemish in the entire movie. The audio is equally as impressive, boasting a DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless mix with a focus on firepower yet never losing the balance of prioritized dialogue from the front-center. LFE is abundant on the opening attack and my room was shaking along with the boys’ house. Later when the explosions start happening my subwoofer definitely saw some action. Sound effects are spread nicely around the 3D space, and the music is perfectly blended into the mix to inspire the desired emotional response the script sometimes fails to deliver on.

Red Dawn may be packed with action but it’s certainly not packed with extras…unless you count a digital copy of the film. At least it’s an iTunes copy and it does look fantastic on my iPad but seriously…not one single extra? This is a major Hollywood movie. I’ve seen a lot more extras on a lot lesser films, and in this day and age where I can watch this movie on DirecTV the same day the Blu-ray is in stores or stream it somewhere else in a few weeks, there has to be some incentive to actually purchase and add a physical movie to your library. Red Dawn doesn’t offer a thing.

Red Dawn is a fun and rental-worthy action romp with an interesting political twist tweaked for our times and stripped from today’s headlines. I still favor the original with Patrick Swayze and recommend that as a must-own movie, but this one can probably wait for a Netflix night, a Red Box rental, or at least a $10 sale price. A 90-minute movie with no extras is not worth a full-price purchase no matter how good it looks and sounds.


DESIGN BY HUMANS – Fashion Art for the Masses

Have you been looking for a fresh new way to express yourself?  Then you might want to head over to http://www.designbyhumans.com and check out some of the coolest t-Shirts on the planet.    Founded in 2007, Design By Humans is much more than your typical t-shirt outlet or online store.   It is a community of both artists and lovers of art where thoughts and ideas can be visually expressed, only instead of having your art on canvas and hung in some trendy gallery, your vision can now be placed on a quality t-shirt and the world becomes your gallery.

You can choose from thousands of designs by respected artists from around the world who are all part of the DBH Collective, and in most cases these artists will have their own store, so when you find a particular designer you like it’s easy to keep up on their future projects.   And if for some impossible reason you can’t find anything you like on the DBH store you can always design your own t-shirt, and if it becomes popular enough you may be invited to join the DBH Collective yourself.

I’ve been a member of the gaming press for over 14 years now and have accumulated hundreds of t-shirts in that time, but those are usually just game logos or character art, etc.  When I was asked to pick and choose a few shirts from the DBH catalog for this article I was blown away by the sheer vastness of the offerings available.  I immediately searched for “game” related shirts and found that there weren’t that many, which just forced me to think outside the box when making my selections shown below.

My first choice was the Limited Edition – Gateway, which gave off a distinct Twilight Zone vibe as well as the only t-shirt that was remotely gaming related, both as a Portal reference and a Half-Life visual nod to the mysterious Man in Black.  Serenity Browncoats is probably my favorite of the bunch, as I am a huge Firefly fan, and if I ever do go to a convention I can represent in style with this awesome t-shirt of the captain riding his ship like a bucking bronco; a great mix of Wild West and eastern culture combined.  Eastern Sunset was the only impulse selection of the four.  I love sailboats and I love sunsets and this has both.  Ironically, when I’m wearing it, I don’t get to enjoy the imagery but everyone else does, and so far this shirt has received the most comments.   Cthulhu Rises popped off the webpage with its bold black and gold depiction of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s darkest creations that just so happens to be a pop-culture favorite of one of my senior staff writers.

I was impressed with both the quality of the t-shirts (100% cotton) as well as the prices, which range from $9-24, not to mention the ease of finding exactly what you want thanks to the brilliantly design website that lets you sort and filter by popular categories, price, color, size, and styles.  Whether you are looking to create your own t-shirts or express yourself through any of the visionary artists currently contributing to the DBH Collective, you really need to check out Design By Humans, join their community, and stay on top of the coolest tends in fashion art.   DBH is much more than an online store.  It is an art gallery that will unlock your imagination and blow your mind.