About Me

My photo
My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Left 4 Dead 2 gets another DLC drop

The Left 4 Dead 2 "Cold Stream" DLC for the Xbox 360 is now out. It's the third DLC for L4D2 and became available on August 3 for 560 MSP.
Cold Stream itself is a community-made campaign from the same creator of the 2 Evil Eyes community campaign. It features four chapters, Alpine Creek, South Pine Stream, Memorial Bridge, and Cut-throat Creek, which all end with a guantlet even leading in to the safe room. The DLC will also come with ports of the Death Toll, Dead Air, Blood Harvest, and Crash Course campaigns.

Lego Batman 2 a fun superhero ride through Gotham

Growth and innovation is something that gamers expect when a franchise puts out a sequel.
Tt Games has carved out a niche thanks to its Lego license. And they have continued to grow and show promise with each new title. And they`ve had rich material to work with over the years: The complete Star Wars saga, The Clone Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Batman and the upcoming Lord of the Rings game.
Each game has added small new wrinkles, but the core components were a tongue-in-cheek storyline filled with bits of humour, large destructible worlds built with Lego pieces that could be smashed apart and reassembled, as well as replayability thanks to the use of multiple characters once the main story quest had been completed.
With Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, from WB Games for the 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, 3DS, DS and PlayStation Vita, Tt Games has upped the ante further and this bodes well, especially if what they`ve established here carries over to the upcoming Lord of the Rings game.
And that major change is dialogue. Yes, no more mime motions and simple comic gestures to get points across. These characters can all talk and that makes the game play out like a Lego movie. It`s not as minor a move as you might think. In fact, it`s a monumental improvement as it adds more story and depth to a game that both kids and adults alike can dig into.
Lego Batman 2 centres on an initial battle between the Dark Knight and his nemesis The Joker. When the Joker crashes a Gotham City award show that is a man of the year celebration, between Bruce Wayne and Lex Luther, he unleashes havoc as usual. Bruce slips into his Batman cowl and cape and begins to do battle with some of the usual rogue`s gallery, including Harley Quinn and The Riddler.
But Lex sees an ally in The Joker and the duo soon team up. So, that necessitates the introduction of the Justice League into the fray. Suddenly, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern and others are fighting alongside Batman and Robin and that, my friends, is simply awesome.
Unconstrained by a movie tie-in, Tt Games treats us to an original storyline that, for a Lego game, is epic. Large levels that feature save points are a big improvement. The ability to use a wide variety of vehicles is a blast. Soaring above Gotham as Superman or flying around in the BatWing is a geek dream come true, no matter how old a gamer you are.
Having said all that, the battles are pretty typical of the previous Lego efforts, as is the usual collection of studs as you destroy and rebuild environments. But as tedious as that may sound, fans of this franchise know it`s a lot of fun in the beginning and the use of other characters to access various parts of the levels that you can`t get to during the story quest make it worth the grind.
The game certainly has replayability because of this and allows you to pit any number of superheroes against a great lineup of DC Comics villains, including the Penguin, Catwoman, Bane, Poison Ivy and others.
I hope this is a good sign going forward. I want to hear Aragorn, Frodo and Gandalf speak in the upcoming Lord of the Rings game. And I want to see original works featuring the likes of Indy, the Star Wars crew and, dare I say, some kind of deal with Marvel so we can see a Lego Spider-man, X-Men, Fantastic Four and Avengers game.
Oh, the possibilities.
And on one final note, the game does fall back to use Danny Elfman`s Batman scores from the 1990s. I played mine with Hans Zimmer`s excellent Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rises scores playing on my iPod. It adds a much darker tone to the game, which I highly recommend trying for older fans of the Caped Crusader.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5. Rated E10+

Xenoblade: Chronicles a wild Wii game

Sometimes it takes a while for me to write a review if you compare my column’s publish date to the game’s actual release date.
Sometimes that’s because I have a lot of games on the go. Other times it’s because I’m trying to time my column with an event or the release of a similar title. And sometimes it’s because a game requires more attention than others.
In the case of Xenoblade Chronicles, from Nintendo for the Wii, it’s that last one.
Xenoblade hit stores way back in April. This Japanese role-playing game has captivated and confounded me at times. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I’d get into it for a bit and then get frustrated and put it down. But invariably I’d go back for more. That’s the sign of a compelling, but flawed game. And that’s exactly what Nintendo has offered up here.
The story centres on a sword that offers its owner the ability to see into the future. This is a useful tool in that it helps you change events and remake the world in a more just fashion.
Japanese RPGs have taken a hard rap, especially from North American fans in recent years. And I’ll admit, I’m not always the biggest fan of them. I tend to prefer North American RPGs, like Mass Effect, or Elder Scrolls. The North American games tend to offer gamers huge worlds to explore, extra side quests to explore if you wish, and a story that unfolds as you venture wherever you choose to go.
JRPGs, by comparison, have become extremely linear, often feeling like you’re playing the role-playing equivalent of a shooter on rails.
But not this one. Xenoblade Chronicles is downright North American in its number of options. It offers an impressive world to explore at your own pace. You won’t be guided through the story by the hand. You truly can go where you want whenever you want to. And there are optional side quests to tackle. Plus loads of customization when it comes to the characters.
And that’s commendable. Japanese developers have been fighting for relevance in recent years, as western gamers and their tastes have become the driving force of the industry.
This title proves that, in this case at least, the land of the rising sun still has something to offer the larger world of video gamers.
That said, there are still issues that will frustrate (and occasionally infuriate) gamers. The gameplay choices give you at least 80 hours of story to explore – more if you want to truly try to tackle everything that’s offered up. But some are unbearably tedious. I’m not a big fan of having to collect or kill a certain number of objects or beasts in order to get essential help from a non-player controlled character (NPC). And when these types of ‘missions’ keep cropping up deep into the main plot, the lack of pacing gets more than a little frustrating. The main quest certainly could have used a little more streamlining.
The AI is also questionable at times. Your NPC teammates behave erratically at times during a fight. And this can get really, really annoying.
Thankfully, you have the option of saving at any point, which is a plus for RPGs, especially one with the scope of Xenoblade: Chronicles.
Overall, this is an impressive effort. It represents a good step forward for the Japanese development system and a solid mesh of eastern and western philosophies. But there are some bumps to smooth out.
Rating: 3.5 stars. Rated T.

Movie tie-in games back for summer season

The summer season is upon us, which means gamers once again have a choice of titles based on big screen flicks showing at the local multiplex.
As most seasoned gamers know, movie-based video games have a tendency to fall well short of expectations, typically because they’re under tight time restrictions in order to come out at or around the same time as the film’s release date.
One notable exception this year is an Avengers game. The film has done astounding business at the box office, but developer Ubisoft is planning to release a game – Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth – either later this year or in 2013. Ubisoft has said it is not based on the movie, but rather the comic series ‘Secret Invasion’ and will feature more than a dozen Marvel characters.
That said, there are titles currently available based on flicks you can see either at the first- or second-run theatres in your city. Here are a few that I’ve taken for a spin:
* The Amazing Spider-Man (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, 3DS, DS; Activision): I played the 360 version and two things immediately jumped out at me. First, this game is surprisingly fun. Second, it’s clearly been influenced by the Batman Arkham games.
The game is set after the events of the film, allowing you to battle more of Spidey’s rogue’s gallery of villains. You also are free to swing through Manhattan and tackle main missions and side quests at your pleasure. The elements of stealth attacks, bullet time action and increased, specialized attacks are familiar and executed well. Cynics may decry the influence of other popular titles, but the fact is they work and they make this game entertaining.
And in the end, that’s what you’re looking for when you plunk down your money.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5. Rated T.
* Brave (360, PS3, Wii, DS; Disney): I played the 360 version of this game, which is based on but also expands on the Pixar movie. You play as Merida, the red-headed heroine of the film, as well as other characters, doing battle with swords and bow and arrows (Kinect support for Xbox lets you shoot and slash with arm movements).
The game offers a decent mix of solving puzzles and battling various creatures. It lacks the heart of the movie and as a game, it suffers from the usual tie-in issues of being rather thin. This is a game that won’t take long to finish and has limited replayability.
But youngsters who adore the movie will enjoy it before tiring of it.
Rating: 3 stars. Rated E10+
* Madagascar 3 (360, PS3, Wii, 3DS, DS; D3 Publisher): I went all Nintendo for this review, playing the Wii, 3DS and DS versions and basically my reaction to them was all the same … indifference.
I have enjoyed the films, but as most film franchises peter out by the third movie, this game suffers from a real lack of inspiration. Basically, you undertake a series of missions and play a bunch of repetitive mini-games as you try to help the characters get back home.
Kids may enjoy the mini-games, but I think the repetition and the occasional control issues will turn them off rather quickly.
Rating: 2 stars. Rated E.
*Men In Black: Alien Crisis (360, PS3, Wii; Activision): Back to the 360 on this one, which is not based on the rather lackluster Men In Black III film. You play as a trainee, assigned to help protect the Earth from all manner of alien threats.
The game offers some occasionally interesting gunplay thanks to some unique weapons, as well as multiplayer split-screen action. But overall, it lacks inspiration. Given the fact you play as a guy named Delacoeur, it’s disappointing to find the only heart in this game is in the character’s name.
Rating: 2 stars. Rated T.
*Coming soon in future columns, watch for reviews of Dragon’s Dogma, Xenoblade Chronicles, Dirt Showdown, London 2012, NCAA Football 13, Lego Batman 2 and more.

DLC worth taking a look at

Downloadable content has certainly become prevalent in the gaming world in the past couple years and we’re seeing more and more use of it by publishers every day.
While some may look at DLC as a means of companies taking money from gamers for content that should already be included in the game you purchased, writing off all of it would be wrong. There are some excellent add-ons out there, including the much ballyhooed Mass Effect 3 extended cut ending for all those who complained about not liking how Canadian studio BioWare wrapped up the trilogy earlier this year.
But there are also some good games out there in DLC land to download. Here are some you may want to invest in:
* Fable Heroes (Xbox Live Arcade): This colourful, more animated take on the Fable role-playing game universe is aimed at attracting a younger audience. It’s a good primer for kids who might be wanting to dip their toes into the RPG waters, although the combat is a little wanting no matter how old you are.
* Euro 2012 ( XBLA, PlayStation Network): A downloadable only addition to Electronic Arts FIFA 12 game, this DLC features all the stadiums and teams from the recently wrapped up European soccer championship. So take heart, Italian fans, maybe you can capture the title on this virtual pitch.
* Batman: Arkham City: Harley Quinn’s Revenge (XBLA, PSN): If you love the Dark Knight’s two Arkham adventures, this is a must-play for fans.
The sexy and deadly Harley Quinn, also known as the Joker’s evil sidekick, has gathered a gang of baddies and put Batman firmly in her sights as she seeks to avenge the events of the main game.
Hey, any extra time spent in the awesome Arkham City universe is well worth the time, effort and expense.
* Jeremy McGrath’s Offroad (XBLA, PSN): A decent arcade-inspired racing game with loads of different modes to play with. The graphics aren’t anything to write home about, but that’s beside the point when you and a pal are tearing across various landscapes in all manner of offroad racing machines, or if you opt to do battle with online opponents. Thankfully, it’s pretty fairly priced for what you get, so the lack of ‘realism’ compared to some other racing titles where you can see every pristine reflection on the surface of your ride shouldn’t really deter you.
* Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut (XBLA, PSN): Personally, I don’t think BioWare had anything to apologize for when it came to how they opted to wrap up the game the way they did earlier this year (and I got the worst possible ending of all of them). But you have to give the Edmonton doctors, Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, credit for not only responding to the criticisms of ticked off gamers, but offering it online for free.
Not going to ruin how it now ends, but there’s another option available to you and it should satisfy the crybabies out there.
* The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: Dawnguard (XBLA): The first official DLC for the outstanding role-playing game adds an interesting dimension to Bethesda’s signature title. The plot sees the Vampire Lord Harkon trying to destroy the sun in order to usher in an age where vampires can roam the world free from the ravages of those nasty ultra-violet rays. Standing in the way is the Dawnguard. Will you defend the sun and humanity or join the vampires and attempt to take over the world? The choice is up to you.
Other recently titles that popped up online include Dragon’s Lair, the second chapter of The Walking Dead game and, of course, the crazy popular Minecraft game, which my children are completely addicted to. I’ve now become one of those parents who looks at a popular game (with horrible graphics) and says, what the heck do you like about this so much? All you do is build stuff, dig holes and kill pigs and sheep? Apparently I’m not as cool as I used to be.
Maybe someone will let me download something to up my cool quotient again.

London 2012 video game earns a silver

As I sit here writing this review today, Canada has two silver medals and five bronzes at the actual London 2012 Olympic Games.
Virtually, I gotta admit our country is kicking a little more butt thanks to my skills at playing London 2012, from Sega for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
Playing the 360 version (and without the Kinect hooked up … I’m fine being a virtual athlete with my butt planted firmly on the couch, thank you very much), I’ve come away quite impressed with what Sega has managed to produce here.
Usually, tie-in games tend to be on the sucky side. Tight margins for turnaround often mean games aren’t fully polished and bug-free when they hit the market timed to coincide or capitalize on particular event.
But London 2012 is far more enjoyable than anticipated.
Growing up, way back in the 1980s when you had these things called arcades, there was a game that Konami put out called Track and Field (you can pick it up as an arcade offering these days for the consoles). I sucked at that game. It involved pounding buttons with your hands in a drumming motion and then slapping another button to jump or launch a javelin or shot put (making sure you held on long enough to get the right angle so your aerial missile would go as far as possible).
God, just thinking of that game, my wrists and palms hurt.
Not that there aren’t elements of those mechanics in play in London 2012. But it’s not to the same degree at all. Stick pushes now launch you over a hurdle, or fire your javelin or shot put.
Mostly, it’s about tapping buttons in rhythm to get your athlete to perform. Sure, you have to slap that button rapidly at times (at least with the old arcade game you could use your whole hand, in a kind of palm-drumming motion) so expect some sore digits, but there are times to rest and regain stamina before having a big go at it again.
There’s a decent number of events to play, including: 100m and 200m sprints, 100m hurdles, 400m races (the women finally get to run at 400m, they’ve been held out of the other events for some stupid reason), discus, high jump, long jump, triple jump, swimming, diving, shooting, archery, trampoline and vault, cycling, canoeing, kayaking, rowing, table tennis, weightlifting and beach volleyball (this, of course, is the women so we can amp up the spandex sex appeal).
Unfortunately, some events are missing. I’m sure the lack of basketball and soccer is due to other companies holding the rights to the pro players taking part in London.
But overall, this game does provide some nationalistic entertainment and enjoyment. It’s a nice accompaniment to the actual games.
Overall, the controls for all the sports aren’t exactly spot on, so expect some occasional frustration (as well as digit pain). But it certainly gets enough right to earn a spot on the podium.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5. Rated E.