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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.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Bethesda gives gamers double dip of fun with Dishonored, Doom 3: BFG Edition

Bethesda has become an industry darling and fan favourite in recent years, thanks in large part to its open world role-playing games, such as Fallout 3 and the Oblivion and Skyrim Elder Scrolls titles.
And gamers can enjoy a double-dip of Bethesda fun at the moment, as the publisher has released a pair of titles: Dishonored and Doom 3: BFG Edition.
Dishonored is a fantastic steampunk romp through a dystopian world in which you play as Corvo, a former bodyguard of the Empress of Dunwall. You stand falsely accused of her murder and the kidnapping of her sole daughter and the legitimate heir to the throne.
On the eve before your date with the state executioner, you are given means to escape prison and meet up with a group of loyalists. These men and women, a diverse group that includes former military and political heavyweights and a somewhat demented scientist, offer you a chance to restore your name by turning assassin. You are tasked with eliminating military and political targets in an effort to find the young heir to the throne.
The streets of Dunwall are filled with death. A plague spread by rats is killing the citizens and the military has instituted martial law. Under these grim circumstances, you must find a way to sneak into heavily guarded areas, deal with a ruthless street gang and dispatch the traitors who were responsible for the assassination of the Empress.
The story is first rate, with twists and turns worthy of a novel treatment. And thankfully the action matches it. At first glance, Dishonored looked to be an Assassin’s Creed clone. But it’s more than that. There’s a supernatural element at play, as well as a type of internal scoring system that judges you based on how little or how much blood and chaos you create. The story and its epilogue change to reflect your actions and overall approach, giving gamers a reason to dive back into this engaging world.
Doom 3: BFG Edition (which stands for Big – shut your mouth – Gun) is a retooled, overhauled version of its predecessor, timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the release of the original Doom on PC. It also contains the first and second Doom games.
Id, the creators of Doom, have upgraded the visuals for Doom 3, tweaked some of the controls to make them more console friendly and added in a ‘lost mission’ that adds eight new single-player levels to the overall experience, giving franchise fans a reason to dive into an eight-year-old title.
Is it a wise investment? Well, the gameplay is largely unchanged. While the visuals are indeed enhanced, the game’s overall creepiness factor, a combination of lighting and chilling sound design, remains the same. Shooters have changed dramatically since Doom 3 launched in 2004. And there’s none of those major advancements on display here. So, the teenaged Call of Duty, Battleground and Halo fans may find the survival horror hook an interesting concept for a while, but there’s little reason to keep them engaged beyond the campaign’s final curtain.
That’s a missed opportunity to build on the brand and position it to compete in the shooter genre going forward.
The score: Dishonored earns 4 stars, Doom 3: BFG Edition gets 3.
Both titles are rated M.

Halo 4 plays it safe, but still innovates with story, weapons

The Master Chief not only lives, but lays to rest any doubts about his future in Halo 4, which released this week exclusively on Xbox 360.
But is the iconic character thriving in the latest first-person shooter extravaganza? Well, to a degree … which will ensure gamers keep a close eye on the franchise as Halo’s story continues through another two future installments.
Some background: This is the first original Halo game developed by 343 Industries – Microsoft’s in-house studio. It’s their second game (they oversaw the updating of last year’s Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary edition, which was a glorified polishing job), but the first time they’ve taken over the storytelling and overall production of the franchise made famous by Bungie. And in that regard, it’s clear that 343, knowing so many critics’ eyes were upon them, didn’t stray far from what made Halo such a successful entertainment tentpole.
The Master Chief takes over the starring role once again (it’s surprising to say he hasn’t been the hero of a Halo release since Halo 3 came out in late 2007). When last we left him, the green-armoured marine with the gold face shield was drifting through space with his computer AI gal pal Cortana. Thanks to his efforts, humanity had defeated the alien Covenant forces and the parasitic Flood. But humanity thought it had lost its last super soldier.
Fast forward four years and Cortana has put the chief into hibernation. She awakens him when a new threat appears ... the Covenant and a new enemy, the Forerunners – an ancient, technologically advanced race long thought dead.
It’s up to the Master Chief to discover what the Covenant wants with the Forerunners and to deal with this new race.
Halo 4 is the first of a planned trilogy of games (Halos 5 and 6 are rumoured to be destined for the next Xbox console). And for true die-hard Halo geeks, if you want to know more about the Forerunners, be sure to read Greg Bear’s two Forerunner novels, which lay out the history of the race (with a third novel still to come).
Regardless, Halo 4 does tell a rich story in between the action sequences gamers have come to expect in this universe. The campaign’s story does a decent job of informing you about the basics of the Forerunners and their ancient battle against the Flood.
As for the campaign, 343 has clearly played it safe. The game doesn’t deviate far from what Halo fans are used to. The game has pick-up-and-play familiarity to it, although the visuals are stunning, the environments vast, colourful and engaging. And the Forerunner weapons and tech are a nice addition to the Halo arsenal of guns and grenades, many of which will prove popular in the multiplayer environment.
Multiplayer features the standard modes, all of which are delivered in crisp detail, sure to please legions of fans. The addition of a co-op and solo special ops section that allows you to further the story and build experience for your personal Spartan warrior is a nice bonus, although it’s clearly following in the footsteps of the Call of Duty games in this regard.
Overall, there’s nothing overly surprising about Halo 4. But there’s nothing overly disappointing either. 343 Industries has proven itself capable of delivering an original Halo game. Now, can they up their game with Halo 5? That’s the next big question for Microsoft’s premier franchise.
The score: 4 stars.
Rated M.