Game Review: “Madden NFL 25″

Available for
Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3
Publisher
Electronic Arts

Even the most adamant of “Madden” fans don’t expect each new installment to be mind-blowingly original or reinvent the game of virtual football each time out, but with the series celebrating a landmark quarter century anniversary, you’d be forgiven if just this once you let those expectations be lifted in the hopes that “Madden 25” presents that significant leap forward that has eluded the franchise like cover boy Barry Sanders used to elude defenders.

If you are one of those that hoped the series would present an installment worthy of its biggest anniversary yet, then I’m sorry to tell you the short answer is, it doesn’t.

“Madden 25” continues where “Madden 13” left off, in that its main aim is to make the on-the-field part of the game more dynamic. Whereas “Madden 13” did that with a new physics engine, “Madden 25” adds precision modifiers, which allow you to pull off some enhanced moves in the run/after the catch play. Accomplished by using the left trigger or shoulder button at the optimal time, it’s a system that actually does benefit the running game tremendously and, for those willing to explore it, can create some pretty incredible highlight reel maneuvers, such as the ability to juke right after a spin and blow past multiple defenders. It’s reminiscent of the incredible “charge” ability in “NFL 2K5,” but with a flair all its own.

Off the field, the biggest addition (though it’s somewhat of a returning feature) is the Owner mode, which sees you take the role of owner and manage everything from soda costs to staff decisions. Like the precision modifiers, it’s a feature that benefits from some commitment and yields most of its entertainment from playing like a maniacal control freak a la Al Davis, making dangerously bold media comments that throw your staff under the bus or just saying screw it and moving the team to Portland, Oregon (FYI, my Oregon Hipsters are 2013 NFC champions). Considering you can still play your season in between the shenanigans, it’s actually my preferred franchise mode for the added options.

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Game Review: “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified”

Available for
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC
Publisher
2K Games

The year is 1962, and in the midst of the Cold War, a new enemy has emerged in the form of alien invaders called the Zujari. With a covert military organization already in place to defend against an attack from the Russians, CIA special agent William Carter is recruited by the Bureau of Strategic Emergency Command and tasked with neutralizing the extraterrestrial threat without creating mass panic across the country. But while aliens and the 1960s seemingly go hand in hand, whether or not it makes for a great gaming experience is another question. Though “The Bureau: XCOM Declassified” looks pretty good for a title that’s been in development since 2006, it lacks the polish and quality that you’d expect from a studio like 2K Games.

Most of your time in the game is spent doing one of two things: going on field missions and running errands around Bureau HQ, the latter of which is mostly comprised of boring dialogue sequences that might not feel so laborious if any of it actually mattered. But despite a deceptively intricate storyline, most of the information you receive over the course of the campaign is supplemental at best, but generally just a big waste of time. Thankfully, the missions themselves are fun, although not incredibly difficult once you get a hang of things. Though there’s a bit of a learning curve at first (especially in regards to keeping your fellow agents alive), as your squad mates level up and receive increased health and new abilities, they become even more powerful than your enemies. Case in point: One of the big boss fights was practically over before I even had the chance to pull the trigger on my sweet alien grenade launcher.

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Game Review: “Charlie Murder”

Available for
Xbox 360
Publisher
Ska Studios

Even though I’ve known for a while that it’s only rock and roll, I’ve still always liked it. I’ve shared a similar feeling with the simple 2D brawler genre, as some fond gaming memories date back to raiding the arcade with friends to play “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “X-Men,” or just kicking around at home with “Double Dragon” on the NES.

Appropriately, the new Xbox Live Arcade game “Charlie Murder” combines both of those aspects into one title that sees you choose between members of a punk rock band that’s forced to defeat a rival group who are aided by zombies, witches, demons and other forces of darkness through a variety of levels all designed to fit the style of the apocalyptic rocker protagonists.

The comic style graphics are certainly the first thing that catches your eye about “Charlie Murder,” but once you start playing, it’s clear that the most noteworthy aspect is the game’s surprising amount of depth. While a part of that is due to the multiple stage types, which include flying and driving stages, as well as timed rhythm based segments (think “Rock Band”), the real selling point of “Charlie Murder” is its RPG aspects.

While “Charlie Murder” is a great “Double Dragon”-style 2D brawler, it’s an even better “Diablo”-style RPG, which sees you level up your character’s skills and attacks, upgrade their equipment with creative loot, and make use of various store types to acquire beneficial items like food and skill-assigning tattoos.

The combination reminded me of the NES classic “River City Ransom,” and while it’s uniquely entertaining and surprisingly deep on its own, unfortunately, the execution of combining these elements doesn’t always work when it comes to the actual gameplay. It becomes incredibly frustrating to be enjoying yourself one minute — smashing your way through hordes of enemies using a variety of weapons, including their own limbs — to have to then stop and bring up the game’s cumbersome cell phone menu to add skill points or cycle through your inventory. When playing with multiple people, it perfectly recreates the experience of hanging out with your friends and waiting for one of them to stop using their cell phone and get back to the fun.

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“The Last of Us” is a near masterpiece

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Naughty Dog’s “The Last of Us” has been available for just over two weeks now, and in that time, it’s been reviewed ad nauseam by every major games blog and even some publications that don’t normally cover that sort of thing. But it’s for good reason, because “The Last of Us” doesn’t just represent a fresh take on the survival horror genre, but it delivers one of the most memorable gaming experiences in quite some time. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive my copy until this past weekend, and as such, doing a typical review seemed pointless. So instead, I’ve put together a list of the Top 5 reasons why you should rush out and buy/rent “The Last of Us” if you haven’t already.

1) Story: There’s a lot to love about “The Last of Us,” but none more so than its rich, cinematic storytelling, which develops characters that you actually care about as they evolve throughout the game’s year-long timeline. Similar to “The Walking Dead” in many respects, the game may feature its share of zombie-like creatures to battle, but it’s the human drama that drives the story, and Naughty Dog has done something pretty fantastic in blurring the line between what’s morally right versus what’s necessary to survive. Nature can be a bitch, but in this Cormac McCarthy-inspired post-apocalyptic setting, humanity poses an even bigger threat.

2) Production value: At this stage in the current gen cycle, it’s amazing that most games still don’t take full advantage of the power behind the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, because “The Last of Us” is an absolutely gorgeous visual treat. The attention to detail is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and combined with the excellent voice work (especially Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson in the lead roles), it makes the characters and environments feel remarkably realistic. The voice cast isn’t just recording lines of dialogue in a sound booth, but completely inhabiting their roles to the point that it’s like watching real actors at times, and that really lends to the cinematic quality of the story.

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Game Review: “Fuse”

Available for
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
Publisher
Electronic Arts

The shooter genre has typically been defined by its ability to deliver things like innovation and addictive gameplay, which is what makes a title like “Fuse” seem so unremarkable. It’s not that the game, developed by the “Ratchet and Clank” team at Insomniac, is necessarily bad – it just feels rather mundane compared to some of the other shooters on the market. Heavily influenced by a number of likeminded titles (particularly Epic’s “Gears of War” series), “Fuse” offers a fun but somewhat shallow experience, namely due to the fact that it never fully develops its own identity amidst the hodgepodge of game mechanics borrowed from much better titles.

The story is generic and not terribly engaging, and part of that problem is a result of the almost nonchalant handling of the way information is distributed to players over the course of the game. It gets to the point where unless you’re tracking down and reading every single piece of supplemental intel hidden throughout each map, you probably won’t have a very good sense of what’s going on. So with that in mind, here’s the official synopsis provided by Insomniac:

What happens when a violent civilization unearths advanced alien technology? In the not-so-distant-future, a new kind of arms race is about to begin. When rogue paramilitary company Raven discovers an alien energy source called Fuse deep within a classified government facility, they stage a daring mission to steal it. Soon, they use Fuse to advance their arsenal beyond anything the military has ever prepared for. Desperate to keep their discovery secret, the CIA calls in a small independent contact team called Overstrike 9 to neutralize the threat. But as Overstrike closes in on one enemy, another even more sinister reveals itself behind the curtain. And what was once an alien arms race becomes something much more deadly.

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