Being a God of Nature: From Dust Review

From Dust, an Ubisoft game designed by Eric Chahi (creator of the visually stunning adventure platform game Another World) and released on Xbox 360 as the second part of Summer of Arcade 2011, is in simplest terms a god game. Players control the Breath of a tribe which is trying to follow the path of the ancients from environment to environment. As the Breath players manipulate matter and nature to create safe paths for the tribesman as they found villages, spread foliage around the terrain, and finally reach the portal to the next level.

The game controls simply, movement of the Breath, which is essentially a cursor, is controlled with the joystick, and the left and right triggers suck up various types of matter into a floating ball and dump the matter back onto the terrain. The right joystick and a couple other buttons change camera angles and zoom, and the D-pad provides access to powers provided by certain villages. As the levels progress the Breath can pick up earth, water, lava and special trees. Earth can be removed or placed to shape terrain controlling the movement of tribesman, and water or lava flows. Water can be used to put out fires, or removed from the paths of tribesman. Lava is used to create solid rock that cannot be easily washed away by water but also cannot be easily removed by the breath. The special trees that can be moved by the breath interact with the terrain in various ways creating water, fire, or exploding depending on the type of tree. These mechanics work together in a physics based sandbox allowing the player to manipulate the terrain to their liking to combat the challenges placed before the tribes.

From Dust is one of those wonderful games where even when there is time pressure (in this games case usually from an impending tsunami or volcanic eruption) the game is still relaxing to play. The pacing is such that good planning and terrain placement is more effective than panicked shoveling and quick movement. The tribesman can only move so fast so relying on quick temporary solutions is risky and well-laid plans are the key to victory. At the same time From Dust is really not very difficult which aids in how relaxing the game is to play, but at the same time may hinder its satisfaction to gamers like me who like trickier challenges. I never had to restart an attempt at a level until the second to last level in the game, and rarely even came close to failing any other levels. While I’m not arguing that games should be easy to fail, I did feel like the game could have been more interesting if the levels were less forgiving of stupid mistakes. Luckily the 30 challenge levels unlocked while playing through the story fill in this gap by providing extra challenges with very specific solutions.

From Dust is pretty, and has simple peaceful music, and is overall pleasant to play, however the one thing that made me want to grab the developers and give them a good shake was the camera. Camera complaints are common in game reviews, but usually are an issue for 3rd person action or platformer games where a bad camera hinders character control. From Dust’s camera drove me crazy because for a game with graphics that look great when you zoom into the level of the tribesman or zoom out to a world view the camera is ridiculously limited. The player can rotate the camera freely around the Breath to view from any side, however there are only four angles above the ground the camera can take. The default is a fairly close angled view as shown in the screen shot above, and the second is a view from the same proximity to the ground but from straight above. There is also a zoomed out view that is at a similar angle to the first view, only three or four times further from the ground, and then a final view that forces the camera to follow a specific tribesman. The final tribesman view is just for viewing and the game cannot be played while viewing a tribesman. The zoomed out view is how I played most of the game, but not because I really wanted too. The issue I had was that the first two views did not provide the angle I really wanted. The default camera angle is too close the the ground making hills and trees too much of a visual obstruction, and while the top down view is good for precision work it limits the view of the map too much to be commonly useful. Playing most of the game in the zoomed out view worked great, but I felt that I was missing out on the nicely detailed graphics From Dust provides. I see no reason that this game couldn’t have had not only multiple levels of zoom but a full dynamic camera that would allow the player to choose and change their viewpoint on the fly.

Aside from my issues with the camera I would certainly recommend From Dust to gamers who enjoy a good god game. Being able to control a physics based natural world is something that I would like to experience more in video games, and From Dust’s unique powers such as turning water into gelatin or creating a heat wave to evaporate water are brilliant. The tribal approach to the story was interesting, but not truly gripping, leaving me to hope that From Dust gets a re-imagined sequel that brings the amazing nature bending powers into a deeper story with larger levels, and more complex goals. I’m really glad to see a modern entry into the god game genre and hope it starts a new trend because while From Dust isn’t quite there yet the genre has the potential to be amazing.

Bastion Review Part 2: Final Words

Upon finishing Bastion my worries that the narration would grow stale were unfounded. The game changes things up enough both in gameplay and it’s topic of narration that the gravely voice telling the story is always providing more insight into the world. My other worry after playing only a few hours was that the story wouldn’t live up to it’s potential. Now that I’ve finished I would say that it could have had a more complex deeper story and benefitted from it, but it didn’t need it. The story is simple in execution, easy to follow, but deep enough to stay interesting and make the player feel invested. In the end Bastion did not let me down in any way.

One game mechanic I had not yet encountered when I wrote my first impressions is something I’d like to highlight now. At a certain point in the game The Kid can build a Shrine in the bastion. Once built the Shrine allows players to invoke the powers of various gods if they choose. The powers of the gods are all designed to make the game harder, but for each god invoked the player receives bonus experience and shards (money) as they play. This mechanic is something that I wish many more games would use because it allows players to set a custom difficulty for the game, and be rewarded for it. It has become standard in video games for difficulty selections to be made at the beginning of the game and often higher difficulties provide no reward except for the satisfaction of the challenge. Through the Shrine Bastion provides difficulty that can be modified on the fly, it rewards players for choosing to make the game harder, and also changes the game in creative ways. I hope that game designers everywhere take this as inspiration for how to customize difficulty.

My final comments about Bastion will be spoiler ridden, so if you have yet to play through Bastion and don’t want to know about the ending, consider this a positive review and stop reading now. Within the last bit of the game Bastion provides the player with two binary choices, whether or not to save someone who betrayed The Kid, and whether to end the game by resetting time and preventing The Calamity that started it all or to continue living in the ruined world. The latter choice is interesting to anyone who gets invested in the story, and I’m assuming changes the visuals and narration of the ending. I have only finished the game once so far, and I chose to continue living in the ruined world, holding on to the friendships made by The Kid on his adventure and avoiding the possibility that the Calamity would just happen again. The former of the two choices, whether to let the betraying character live or die was extremely well done. I chose to save the man, and The Kid had to put down his weapon to carry him. As The Kid marched slowly forward holding the unconscious body enemies lined their walls and shot at The Kid. As the player I was forced to use my healing items one after another and just when I ran out, and the game had me convinced that making this choice was going to kill me, the enemies seemed to realize that The Kid had chosen not to fight anymore and that he was trying to leave peacefully with the unconscious man. The enemies stopped firing. One enemy failed to hold his fire and started shooting again but was quickly knocked out by another enemy behind him. It is rare for a game to give me as strong of an emotional reaction as this did, and in this moment Bastion guaranteed it’s spot in my personal top games of 2011 list.

I recommend Bastion to anyone who can enjoy an action RPG. The graphics, music, story, and narration come together to create an experience that stands above many. I can’t wait to see what Supergiant games comes up with next.

Bastion Review Part 1: First Impressions

Bastion, a new Action RPG by Supergiant Games, was released on XBLA yesterday, July the 20th. The trailer for Bastion had caught my eye at E3 and I downloaded the game yesterday afternoon and got a chance to play it in the evening. After just an hour or two of time in the world of Bastion, I can’t wait for more; honestly I’d rather be continuing my adventure in Bastion than writing this article. I will do my best to discuss my first impressions with Bastion without spoiling anything important, but beware minor spoilers if you like to dive into a game without knowing anything about it.

In Bastion players take control of The Kid, a young(?) man who wakes up after the events of what the game calls the Calamity. The Calamity seems to have torn the colorful world into pieces, leaving only a few floating paths and platforms left. Setting out for the safety of the Bastion, as The Kid pushes onward what little is left of the world pieces together as paths allowing him to progress. After reaching the hub-like Bastion, The Kid must search for the world’s Cores which have the power to rebuild the world around the Bastion. Though this premise is simple, and not a new idea for a video game plot, it is The Stranger that makes the game truly special. The Stranger is the narrator of the game, and from the first moment that the game begins this easy-on-the-ears drawl tells The Kid’s story. The narration is very well written, and dynamically responds to the player. For example, within the first 30 seconds of gaining control of The Kid, I accidentally walked off of the edge of the precarious world and without missing a beat The Stranger said something along the lines of “And then the kid fell to his death…just kidding” as I was dropped back onto the platform sustaining a small portion of damage. Within the first couple hours of the game The Stranger’s narration is varied and consistent. He does not repeat himself when The Kid does something repeatedly, but instead narrates the players story as often is as interesting and entertaining.

Backing up the excellent narration is a soundtrack that so far I am loving. The music so far is not extremely catchy – I didn’t wake up this morning remembering a theme song – but I remember that it was beautiful and fitting for the world. If the music continues to provide variety, I will not hesitate to purchase the soundtrack if it becomes available. The graphics of Bastion are special in their own right, an interesting style that reminds me simultaneously of cartoons and water colors drawn into a world formed of floating chunks high above the distant ground. The sound design and graphics create a world that I want to play in, so of course I must discuss just how the playing goes.

As an Action RPG Bastion’s gameplay is somewhere in between the hack and slashing of the Diablo series, and the combat mixture of Devil May Cry. While Bastion does not have a complex combo system and long move list like DMC, The Kid carries two weapons, usually a short range weapon and a long range weapon, can easily use a shield, and has a dodge roll ability. The rapid transitions between beating on enemies with a giant hammer, firing off arrows, dodging enemies and blocking attacks remind me of the combat decisions in DMC but are paired down to a 2D plane and Diablo like viewpoint. The Kid does level up, as the RPG part of it’s genre claim would suggest, but instead of a complex stat upgrade system, leveling opens up new slots for special distilled beverages. Each drink provides a unique status boost such as increased health, loot magnetism, or extra damage, and players can swap which beverages they fill their level slots with anytime they have access to a Distillery (which is often – you can build one in the Bastion hub-world). Combine the many beverage choices when you level, with a rapidly expanding list of special abilities, multiple long range and close range weapons each with their own choices of unlockable upgrades, toss in a variety of aggressive enemies and I think Bastions fighting system will be entertaining until the games end.

I plan on finishing the game before coming back to do write my final opinions on the game, but so far Bastion seems to be a fun and artistic game with no obvious flaws wrapped up in excellent narration. My only worry at this point is that the narration and story won’t continue to be as unique and special as the game continues, and that the truly great fantasy story I am hoping for won’t be there. 

Sonic 3 & Knuckles Retro Review

When Sonic the Hedgehog 3 released in early 1994 it was really just the first half of the game originally planned by Sonic Team. The third game in the Sega Genesis flagship series was not on schedule for completion by Sega’s planned date, leading Sonic Team to split the game into two parts, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles which released later the same year. The Sonic & Knuckles cartridge for the Genesis launched with the rather unique ability to “lock-on” to other cartridges. (The top of the cartridge could flip back allowing for another cartridge to be plugged in on top.) Depending on what cartridge was locked on players could use Knuckles in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (attaching Sonic 2), access extra special stages (attaching Sonic 1), and most importantly to combine Sonic 3 with Sonic & Knuckles to create Sonic 3 & Knuckles, the game Sonic 3 was meant to be.

My opinion of Sonic 3 & Knuckles is positively biased by nostalgia, because I absolutely loved it growing up and played through it many times. However, I will do my best to write a fair review based on replaying it recently with a friend. We blasted through the whole game in two sessions, playing Sonic and Tails together. It was a game he had never finished as a kid, so I felt he should see the entirety of the classic at least once.

Playing Sonic and Tails brings up an immediate complaint about cooperative play. For the sake of preventing frustrating, having Tails be unable to detract from the players life count or lose rings is a great design choice that lets a less experienced player be included without frustration. The fact that Tails cannot ever die permanently also makes the Tails player perfect for recklessly assaulting bosses, though this can take away the challenge and therefore possibly the fun of a boss fight. The big problem with Sonic and Tails cooperative play though, is how hard it is too keep tails in play with Sonic. Tails is able to leave the screen and get left behind, and this happens every few seconds in the hectic speedy parts of the game. After getting far enough off the screen Tails resets, and will come slowly flying back on screen with his two tails. This return is far to slow to keep a Tails player in play for much of the game however, and I think the cooperative aspect of the game could have been greatly improved if Tails had simply quickly jumped or run onto the screen and was immediately back in control.

The speed that leaves Tails behind so often is of course iconic for Sonic the Hedgehog. With loops, bumpers, jumps and a variety of power-ups players will rush through Sonic 3 & Knuckles at great speed. However the speed is tuned well enough that an attentive player can respond to a trap or enemy that comes into the screen before Sonic reaches it preventing frustration that often comes with fast games. Also, there is much of the game the game that cannot be played at full speed, such as dangerous platforming segments, and rooms that have some form of switch or control to be found before the exit opens. The parts that force the player to slow down provide a welcome change of pace and keep the parts that are fast from going stale. The level design can be complemented not only for it’s pacing, but for its multiple paths and lack of cheap death pits. Sonic 3 & Knuckles provides large platforming environments that often have two or three branching paths through them, and some paths are only accessible with Tails ability to fly, or Knuckles ability to climb and break through rock on contact. These various routes are laid out in such a way that the lowest route rarely has any gaps that would allow the player to fall out of the level and die. This means that in most circumstances if Sonic or another character misses a jump and falls, they land in a lower area of the level instead of dying. The exceptions to this are usually found in levels that are meant to be high in the sky, and the death pits are use to symbolize falling off of the level entirely. In the end rushing through levels is very satisfying but there are plenty of secrets and obstacles to discover and avoid at a slower more exploratory pace.

The game controls as all of the original Sonic games do, very simply and responsively. There is only one button, jump, which is also used to get a speed boost with a “spin-dash” if tapped while stationary and pressing down. If jump is pressed when Sonic is airborne a brief flash of lightning surrounds sonic protecting him from damage and slightly expanding his effective diameter which is very useful in attacking enemies. Tails can fly temporarily with his two tails if jump is pressed rapidly while he’s airborne, and Knuckles is sent into a gentle glide which allows knuckles to latch onto walls and climb. All three characters control with an excellent balance of momentum and control, allowing players to be agile without feeling like they are weightless.

The environments are colorful easy to look at, and while some textures are repetitive for a game made in the mid 90s there is as much detail as I would expect in any platformer. The character animations for Sonic, Tails, and Knuckles are fluid and vary greatly depending on the situation. Some rotating platforms will spin the characters displaying sprites from all angles, and the way the characters are animated through different running speeds and poses is quite smooth. The enemies are more simply animated, but are well done sprites nonetheless. Playing through recently I did encounter some sprite layering glitches where Tails was behind the background instead of in front which creates some pretty poor visibility issues, but this seemed to be a fairly uncommon glitch that only occurred in specific circumstances.

The portrait on the back wall is a prophetic hint at the optional final boss.

To people who grew up playing Sonic the Hedgehog games, the music is often considered memorable and high quality. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is no exception, and the music for most levels is catchy, fitting for the environment, and loops quite well. Fans of old video game music will probably appreciate the soundtrack. The sound effects of the game are simple and effective, also well matched to their causal action. Sadly, one of my biggest complaints about Sonic 3 & Knuckles relates to music and sound. The loop of music that plays when a character becomes invincible is too short for the games good. If Sonic opens an invincibility power-up, the excited musical loop plays for a bit, but the power-up does not last long enough for the repetition to become an issue. However, if a player is good enough to collect all of the chaos emeralds hidden in special bonus stages throughout the game, Sonic can turn into the golden colored extremely fast Super Sonic, which also triggers the invincibility music. When this happens, Sonic is invincible to most forms of damage but his rings (the common collectible in Sonic games that are dropped when Sonic takes damage) count down. When they reach zero Super Sonic reverts to normal blue Sonic. However, a good player can collect rings as they rush through a level, and stay in Super form for quite a long time. The music punishes these good players by forcing them to listen to the short loop of invincibility music the entire time, overriding the much more varied and tolerable music from the zone Sonic is in. This seems like a major oversight in sound design to me. [Anyone who already knows they like Sonic music, or people who are interested in it and like video game music, should check out Project Chaos which is an entire album of remixed music from Sonic 3 and Knuckles.]

Sonic 3 & Knuckles as a game is a solid piece of work. Environments are pretty, exciting,  and dotted with mini-game special stages to gain power-ups and rings, as well as special stages where Sonic, Tails, or Knuckles is controlled from behind while running on a giant sphere to collect blue orbs and unlock a chaos emerald. When players progress from the levels within the Sonic 3 cartridge to the Sonic & Knuckles cartridge new super emeralds unlock leading players to even greater power. The story is told through brief character interactions and level transitions. While still a simple story like most platform games of the 90s, the bits that are there help provide a sense of connection between the different levels, and display the plans of the evil Dr. Robotnik in a quick understandable way. Collecting rings and finding power-ups feels important for the sake of survival, but being without isn’t frustratingly deadly. The boss fights against Dr. Robotnik’s robots are extremely varied, but fair in difficulty. No one boss should stump a decent player for too long once they recognize the pattern. A final touch to make this game stand out, especially considering the time it was made, was that the game saves automatically, allowing players to start on the level they left off, it has multiple save files to provide for the variety of character choice and multiple players, and when a game is completed in a save file, players can then use that save file as a level selector to replay the game from any point with whatever chaos emeralds and extra lives they had collected.

The game begins with a brief cut scene in which Sonic loses all the chaos emeralds he collected in Sonic 2.

Replaying Sonic 3 & Knuckles let me realize just how well designed it was even by todays standards. Sure, games today are often much longer, and obviously the quality of graphics and sound has greatly increased over the years, but for it’s time Sonic 3 & Knuckles demonstrated the strength of good game design, and is one of the best examples of the platformer genre in the 90s.


Duke Nukem Forever Review – Good Fun with a Mediocre Game

Anyone who follows gaming news will know that the first person shooter Duke Nukem Forever has been in development since 1996, the year Duke Nukem 3D was released, and that the 15 years of delays have become quite the joke. Finally released on June 2nd of this year, Duke Nukem Forever was released by developer Gearbox Software, and has been met with generally mediocre reviews. My own experience with DNF was quite positive, but I wouldn’t say that it is a great game. The game feels like a strange combination of outdated design and graphics, modern gaming mechanics, misogynistic humor, and spoofs of modern games all rolled up into a ball of inconsistent difficulty.

I should provide perspective on how I played DNF; I sat down with a friend and played the Xbox 360 game on the “Come Get Some” difficulty (the third hardest of four, and the one I would call “hard”) passing the controller back and forth whenever we finished a level or died. I greatly recommend this approach to playing DNF because much like movies that are “so bad they are good” DNF is far more fun when you have a friend laughing with you at the games humor and flaws. With this method we plowed through the game over the course of four evenings in a row.

Low resolution textures become obvious up close.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t had fun completing Duke Nukem Forever, but I would also be lying if I said it was a great game. The Xbox version of the game had poor graphics, especially evident in the low resolution of textures when viewed up close. Halo 2 for the original Xbox could compete with DNF in terms of texture quality, and it would completely crush it if you compared character animation. Early in the game you can “admire” yourself in the mirror at the press of a button, causing Duke to say a cheesy line and increasing your max Ego which acts as your health bar. Looking in the mirror it is immediately evident how cheap Duke’s animations are. His torso doesn’t move as he runs and when you are switching or reloading weapons his arms move so simply it looks like a he’s a minimally jointed action figure. The game does present a greater variety of lighting than some shooters, some levels contain areas that are pitch black providing a use for Duke’s sunglasses’ night vision power. Sadly this night vision lights everything up in a painfully bright light blue and white color scheme, and emits an annoying high pitched note when it’s used.

"Duke Vision" comes with an annoying sound effect and too-bright whites.

DNF’s sound effects are pretty standard overall, the one major flaw I noticed being the silly grunt Duke emits every time he jumps. The witty/cheesy/terrible lines from Duke during gameplay like “Hail to the king, baby” and “Squeal, piggy” were surprisingly varied. By the end of the game I certainly started to notice a lot of repeats, the frequency of his statements and the number of them was balanced well enough that they never became too repetitive which is a rare plus for a talkative protagonist. The soundscape did have one gigantic flaw however, music. The music wasn’t bad, actually some of it was actually pretty good for a FPS, but there simply wasn’t much of it. Many levels in the game had no music at all, and as the game wasn’t otherwise endowed with ambient noises DNF isn’t so much hard on the ears as it is incredibly boring for them.

The gameplay heart of the game was unbalanced to say the least. As a practiced FPS player, I found enemies predictable and easy to kill. Most of the mid-level deaths my friend and I encountered were caused by enemies we didn’t see because of the surprisingly narrow field of view, or because we took the wrong approach to a fight on our first try. Generally, cautious play made most fights easy. In contrast, a few of the boss fights and one turret sequence are so hard on the difficulty my friend and I played that we had double-digit attempt counts between the two of us. It didn’t help that the controls on the Xbox 360 are poorly calibrated. The reticle movement on the analogue stick barely has any speed between slow and fast, and that combined with poor aim assist made high speed accuracy difficult. To make matters worse picking up ammo from ammo crates requires that the gun reticle is pointed straight at them while you hit a button, which forces players to look away from the enemies to grab for ammo.

Many elements of the game feel modern. Duke has a recharging “Ego” bar that works exactly like shields in Halo, absorbing damage until it is depleted at which point you can only take a couple shots before dying. Only two guns can be carried at once along side a a handful of grenades and other single use items like the ego reinforcing beer. The design on the other hand feels outdated, with lots of relics from old gaming clichés like move-the-barrel physics puzzles and jump pads. Levels mostly consist of narrow hallways connecting slightly bigger rooms with sporadic fights and platforming sections spread throughout both. There are some fun driving sections of the game, but because running enemies over instantly kills them and the aliens aren’t smart enough to get out of the way these driving sections are incredibly easy and don’t make for any interesting battles.

Driving Levels could have been great but are far too straightforward and easy.

All in all however, Duke Nukem Forever can be good fun in a simple minded laugh-at-how-bad-it-is sort of way. The way it strangely crosses old and new game design provided me with a strong feeling of nostalgia for older shooters like Goldeneye and Serious Sam while taking a small step into the modern space. It would be great if the game was better balanced, controlled better, looked better, and generally felt more polished, but after 15 years of development I’m glad Gearbox Software was able to finally release the game. Hopefully having Duke Nukem Forever off the table will allow a new iteration of Duke to be recreated in modern terms, with modern humor mixed with old references. The acceptance of games like Bulletstorm makes me think that Duke Nukem still has a place in the gaming world, it just needs to have a fresh slate to find that place, and for the first time since 1996, that slate is clean.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene Review

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Space Invaders Infinity Gene

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In 1978 Japanese company Taito released the original Space Invaders game, which became immensely popular and is still an extremely well known, if less often played, classic game. Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario and Zelda, mentioned Space Invaders as the one game that revolutionized the game industry. Not only did Space Invaders drive the popularity of video games forward, but I would brave the statement that it also spawned the continued popularity of shooters, whether they are top-down, side-scrolling, or even 3D shooters like the Star Fox games, as it was the first popular game to pit the player against an onslaught of approaching enemies.

Space Invaders Infinity Gene was released for iOS (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch) in July of 2009, and then later in September 2010 it was released for the Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network. The version I’ve been playing is the XBLA version, which is supposed to be identical to the PSN version, but has more features than the original iOS version such as HD graphics and extra ship-variations.

The “Normal” mode of Infinity Gene begins with Charles Darwin’s quote above, setting the stage for evolution themed gameplay. The first level begins with a tribute to the original Space Invaders, and then quickly transforms into a fast paced modern shooter with classic Space Invaders graphics. At the beginning of the game the ship can only fly left and right, as in the original, however as players earn points and complete levels they fill up an evolution bar which advances gameplay. Over time the abilities to move anywhere on screen, upgrade weapons, or use ships with all new weapons, become available as the game evolves. Evolution also provides the ability to do “Nagoya Attacks”, an interesting ability which allowed my ship to fly through enemy shots in the first few frames of their existence on screen. To keep up with the players increasing abilities and firepower, the game not only presents more enemies and new bigger bosses, but also increases the complexity and quality of the music and graphics. By the end of the game the graphics have become polygon based 3D graphics, and the music various thumping techno tracks.

Later levels introduce an angled perspective.

While unlocking vertical screen movement and new weapons does change gameplay, the game never gets much more complex. I eventually completed the game just by holding down the right trigger and flying carefully; dodging the swarms of enemies and bullets is the primary challenge. For the most part the more “evolved” ships are more powerful when they are unlocked, making the early ships fairly useless for the later levels. While a more balanced array of ships to fit different play styles might have been nice, it is exciting to “evolve”, receive a new ship, and have it be something new and powerful that helped me get past the increasingly hectic levels. While I found evolution theme applied to what is essentially an upgrade bar a cool idea, it got less exciting when I realized that the same bar was used to unlock all the sound test tracks and bonus levels as well. Only a scattered few evolutions actually improve your gameplay abilities, and then when you’ve finally unlocked the last ship, the evolution bar goes away and there are no more unlocks. It seems that the music unlocks were used to increase the time it takes to unlock ships and artificially extend the process, and while the extension is appreciated, more exciting unlockables would have been appreciated.

Infinity Gene’s sound and graphics hold up through the whole game as an effectively modernized nostalgia trip. While the backgrounds gain some simple colors, the player’s ship and enemies are always just white, even when the graphics step up to simple 3D polygons, making the visual experience never too far from the recognizable classic Space Invaders. The increasingly complex techno music that backs the game is effective and exciting though certainly nothing revolutionary as far as game scores go. The sound effects of ships firing and exploding are all inspired by the original arcade sound effects. UFOs still make that wonderful oscillating “wa-wa-wa-wa-wa” noise when they get shot down, and enemies explode with a similar note, keeping everything familiar. Progressing into the later levels I was struck by one annoying flaw in the sound of the game; it seems that when too many sound effects occur at once something goes wrong with the games interaction with Dolby surround sound and the sound will pop and go out for an instant. This doesn’t effect gameplay but makes listening to the game with the volume up fairly annoying on hectic levels.

In all, Space Invaders Infinity Gene is an excellent modern tribute to one of the games that helped start it all. Sound and graphics effectively create nostalgia, while the bullet-hell gameplay lives up to other modern descendants of the shooter genre. The overall simplicity of the game is a disappointment considering the games long normal mode, extra Bonus and Challenge modes, and even a music mode allowing levels to be created based on music players have on their Xbox. Played in short bursts however, Infinity Gene is a great way to remember gaming days of old while simultaneously experiencing just how games have (and haven’t) changed in the last 30 years.

Giant UFOs provide epic boss fights.

Xbox 360 FPS Triple Review: Part 3 – Gameplay

Triple Multiplayer Review – Part 3

See part 1 here and part 2 here.

Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Battlefield: Bad Company 2



Most gamers have played an FPS before. We expect a viewpoint behind a gun, running around a three dimensional environment shooting at some sort of opposing force. In recent multiplayer shooters specifically we can usually expect a variety of weapons with different uses, the ability to run, jump and climb around a complex level, and usually there is access to vehicles, power ups, and/or abilities to influence the battle. Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 all have these things, but implementation is different across the board creating very different experiences. Instead of talking about the gameplay of each game overall, I’d like to make this more manageable by discussing smaller elements of the gameplay in detail.



Sprinting, that extra burst of speed over your normal running speed, only allowed while moving forward. All three games have it, though not equally. In Black Ops you can click down the left stick while running to sprint forward for a short period of time. After a while your character “gets tired” and reverts to normal run speed. You can sprint again after just a few steps, but the sooner you do, the shorter your next sprint will be. Bad Company 2 has unlimited sprint; clicking down the left stick while running will let you sprint across the map as far as you like, or until you get shot. Halo: Reach’s sprint is actually optional most of the time. Unlike Bad Company 2 and Black Ops where sprint is an ability shared by every player in the game, sprint is one of Reach’s “armor abilities” which I will discuss more in the Powers section. Assuming you have selected the sprint ability Reach’s sprint is much like Black Ops’. Unlike Black Ops however, you can see your sprint meter in the corner of the screen so you know just how long you can use it. If you use it all up, you have to wait a bit longer than in Black Ops, but when it recharges it recharges back to full almost instantly. All three games do not let you shoot or otherwise use weaponry while sprinting. Bad Company 2 is the only game of the three that allows you to reload while sprinting, though you have to have started your reload before you start sprinting. This makes sprinting in each game useful for escape, repositioning, or closing the distance to strike a melee attack, but not for run-and-gun tactics.

Crouching in all three games can have benefits for accuracy, help you hide behind cover, and help you sneak up on opponents. In both Black Ops and Bad Company 2, where your sprinting or running footsteps will be heard by nearby enemies, crouching and sneaking decreases your footstep volume putting stealth on your side. Halo: Reach does provide a slightly less audible footstep for sneaking, but far more important is that sneaking will prevent you from showing up on nearby enemy motion trackers, which every player has on default gameplay settings. Black Ops is the only game of the three that lets the player not only crouch, but by holding down the crouch button, you can go prone. When prone, character movement is literally a crawl, and I’ve encountered a lot of frustration with the limitations of turning your character. If you try to aim left or right and your player model’s legs hit an obstruction it completely prevents you from rotating. However, going prone presents a very small target to your opponents and increases your accuracy even more than crouching making it worthwhile in many situations. Going prone while sprinting in Black Ops sends you into a jumping action hero dive which can create quite a dramatic entrance or escape from combat, and can even be used to dive through windows. It’s a fun feature but isn’t a game changer.

If you prefer a safer way in and out of windows you can always stick with jumping. Black Ops soldiers are the worst jumpers across the three games; the jump provides enough distance to jump over small gaps and up small ledges, but the game compensates for the weak jump by providing the player with a vaulting/climbing animation if your jump can get you halfway up. This little touch adds to the immersive experience of the game, but I find can cause more frustration than not. Not only does the moment of climbing take away your ability to fire your weapon, but sometimes it doesn’t work when expected leaving you open to enemy fire. Jumping in both Bad Company 2 and Halo: Reach is simpler and therefore more reliable. Players have a given jump height, and if you can get your feet on a horizontal-enough surface then you’ve made the jump. Reach’s jump height is by far the highest, soldiers able to leap almost their own height. Bad Company 2’s jump is high, but still feels realistic, and as an added bonus soldiers have a magic parachute that can be used for even the shortest fall distances to prevent fall damage. As unrealistic as that is, it’s quite fun to be able to jump off the shortest building, or out of a helicopter, and know that you can survive the fall. Unless you get shot out of the air that is. Comparatively, Halo: Reach lets you fall a good distance before taking any damage at all (only great heights will kill you), and Black ops only allows you to barely survive a one-story fall, but almost anything higher is deadly.

A final note on mobility should be made about ladders. Seemingly a simple thing, vertical movement in FPS games is often poorly implemented. The first Halo game on the original Xbox, Halo: CE, had ladders in many levels and many people had trouble using them quickly and accurately. Thankfully later Halo games removed most of their ladders, and Halo: Reach’s multiplayer completely does without. Ramps and “gravity lifts” are used instead. Black Ops has ladders in quite a few levels, and they suffer from the problems Halo: Combat Evolved had. If you don’t press just the right direction while going up a ladder you may slip off the side and fall back down. In a combat situation that often gets you killed. Bad Company 2 does ladders right, risking a slight break in immersion to quickly align you with any ladder you try to climb, allowing you to go straight up and down or jump off as desired.



No one would argue that combat isn’t the central element of any multiplayer FPS, but these games present three different and excellent approaches. In the Halo series, from Halo: CE in 2001 to Halo: Reach in 2010, combat revolves around map and weapon control. Because players will generally spawn into the game with similar weaponry finding and using the “power weapons” such as sniper rifles or rocket launchers is often the deciding factor in a match. A team that can consistently grab these power weapons, and bring them to an easy to hold area of the map can easily dominate the scoreboard. However, every weapon is useful and effective if used correctly and if you do lose control of a map you can get it back with careful use of teamwork, stealth, and strategy. In larger maps vehicles play a similar role as weapons, important to control, but still not overpowered as many weapons are quite effective at destroying them, and players can board and hijack slow moving vehicles if they can get close. In the end learning the maps, and learning how and when to use each available weapon and vehicle is the key to winning fights in Halo: Reach. The actual shooting mechanics in Reach are fairly simple; most weapons don’t have any kick, and their potential accuracy is represented by the reticle which increases in size if a weapons accuracy is effected by firing rate. Hitting a target relies on control skills and reflexes more than anything else. Because players have significant health and shields, one on one gunfights last long enough that continual steady aim is important, as is knowing when to turn and run in the middle of a fight.

Black Ops takes a different approach, allowing players to start with whatever weapon they want as long as they have unlocked it. Weapons do have different traits in terms of rate of fire, accuracy, and bullet power, but often the differences are minor making weapon choice more about personal taste than weapon power. The ability to fight effectively with any weapon is aided by the low health of all the players. In my experience, one to five shots from any weapon is a kill, bringing many of the fights down to who shoots first. Unlike in Halo where an individual fight between two players can take a little while, Black Ops fights are usually over quickly making individual deaths less consequential and the overall battle the focus. Players who can kill multiple enemies in a row without dying are rewarded with access to kill streak bonuses like explosive RC cars, spy planes, or helicopters. Unlike vehicles in Halo which must be player controlled, some of the kill streak bonuses in Black Ops have limited or no control by the player. While if a player calls in a “Chopper Gunner” they get to control the minigun on the helicopter, calling in a normal “Attack Chopper” lets the game handle the helicopter. While this is less powerful, it does allow the player to continue to fight while the chopper is in the air. Also unlike Halo, weapons tend to have kick and are usually really inaccurate under sustained fire. Pacing your shots, outflanking enemies, and a little bit of luck goes a long way to victory in Call of Duty Black Ops.

Somewhere in between the other two games, Bad Company 2 has similar weapon traits as Black Ops, forcing you to pace your shots or your accuracy goes downhill rapidly regardless of if your sights are on an enemy or not. Also like Black Ops players choose the weapons they use before spawn from the weapons they have unlocked. However vehicles, which can change the tide of battle, are spawned on the map. While they are often spawned at opposing bases, some are spawned mid-level, and even those spawning in the bases can be stolen. A team that coordinates strong vehicle control with good infantry team work can be incredibly dangerous. The Battlefield series is known for its huge objective oriented maps, and Bad Company 2 is no exception. The large team sizes combined with the map objectives make Battlefield into the most team oriented game. In both Halo: Reach and Black Ops I have seen many instances where a single skilled and lucky player takes out an entire opposing team. In Bad Company 2 the varied skills and expansive maps seem to make this kind of control much rarer and every time I’m in a game where one team gets truly decimated it takes at least three or four people working together to do it.



On top of weapons and vehicles, soldiers in all three games have access to some unique abilities to change the way they fight and assist their team. In Halo: Reach before each spawn you can choose your loadout, which includes your weapons and an armor ability. Armor Abilities, a new addition to the Halo franchise, include Sprint, Jet Pack, Armor Lock, Active Camo, Drop Shield, and Evade. Sprint, Jet Pack, and Evade all enhance player mobility. Sprint I discussed in the Mobility section as it is comparable with the universal sprinting in Black Ops and Bad Company 2. Jet Pack is exactly what it sounds like, but unlike jet packs in some games that let a character rocket around a level, the heavily armored soldiers in Halo: Reach are effected more slowly. Though not useful for evasion, the jet pack still lets you gain significant altitude, fly great horizontal distances, or save yourself from a high fall before it runs out and needs to recharge. Evade is the most useful mobility-oriented armor ability for mid combat, letting you dive up to two times in a row in any direction. This makes you a hard to hit mobile target, as well as breaking any homing weapon’s abilities to track you. Armor Lock provides complete invincibility at the price of mobility. You can lock down for a short stint during which nothing will cause you damage, and even vehicles deal with you like they deal with a rock. When you come out of armor lock your shields release a miniature EMP burst stunning nearby vehicles and destroying the shields of nearby enemies. However, this all comes at the price of becoming a glowing stationary target; enemies will often prepare grenades and concentrated fire for the moment you lose your invulnerability. If you prefer stealth to invincibility Active Camo is an effective option. Especially effective when working with a team, camouflaged soldiers are transparent, visible only by light refracting through your silhouette, and they emit an array of fake motion tracker dots. Opponents nearby will know there is a cloaked player because their motion trackers will have a swarm of confused signals, but this will allow teammates to move around the area without being known. Staying stealthy is difficult as when you fire a shot your camouflage breaks down. Also be warned that when camouflaged all sounds are muted making it hard to hear what is going on around you. Regardless of the risks, Active Camo can be invaluable for a sniper, or for sneaking a team into enemy lines. The final ability, Drop Shield, is based on Halo 3’s deployable bubble shield equipment, allowing players to place a spherical shield that blocks all projectiles and thrown grenades. It can be destroyed if it takes enough damage, but can shield an entire team from fire temporarily. The Drop Shield also heals teammates making Drop Shield users the closest to a medic Halo: Reach has. Every Armor ability has great potential, and the variety allows for very different play styles, but every ability can be countered with smart and skilled play, making armor abilities an excellent addition to Halo gameplay.

Instead of a single powerful ability, Call of Duty: Black Ops lets players equip their characters with three “perks” at a time. Each perk adds something minor to a players abilities, but the combination can greatly change potential play styles. With five potential perks for each of the three slots, 125 different possible combinations leads to a lot of variety player variety. A complete list of the perks and what they do can be seen here. You could equip yourself with Lightweight to make yourself faster, Steady Aim to improve your hip-fire accuracy, and Marathon to extend the time you can sprint, creating an effective run-and-gun class. Or you could select Ghost so you don’t appear to spy planes, Scout to hold your breath longer while using a sniper scope, and Ninja to silence your footsteps, and you would have an effective stealthy sniper character. The flexibility this choice of power presents is an excellent way for a game to let every player find their favorite style. The only failing I have found with this system is that certain of the perks are only valuable in very specific circumstances causing them to be rarely used. Often most players end up using the same few perks that turn out to be the most often useful. For example, now that the game has been out for months, the combination of using the Ghost perk with a suppressor attached to their weapon making them invisible on the map at all times has become very popular because it is so powerful. This means the other four perks in the first slot are often neglected by entire teams of players. In general however, the perks are well balanced and you can never predict what an opponent may be using.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 does not allow players to pick their own powers, but instead goes the route selectable classes. The powers, weapons, and equipment you can use are all defined by the class you choose. The powers, more teamwork based abilities, allow you to play a special role to help your team in combat. If you choose to play the Assault class, you get the ability to drop ammo for yourself and teammates, ad specialize in assault rifles and under-barrel attachments for them. The Engineer class specializes in aiding and destroying vehicles. Not only are they the only class that can use rocket launchers and anti-tank mines, but as an Engineer you get a drill-like repair tool which is used to restore damaged friendly vehicles, or dismantle enemy vehicles. The Medic class has access to a med pack to restore teammates health at a rapid rate, and defibrillators to resurrect any recently killed teammates from where they fell to prevent them from having to respawn. The fourth and final class, Recon, is the sniper class in the game and provides the least direct aid to teammates as they can’t provide anything directly to them. However, as a Recon player you provide important covering fire, can throw out motion mines to detect enemies for you team, and call down mortar strikes on enemy positions. Together the four classes can work together to great effect, using vehicles, sniping, healing, and ammo resources to put pressure on opponents and control the map.

Each game clearly approaches character powers and abilities differently but to great effect, providing with the ability to customize their role and their play style, or react to different situations they are put in by the level or the opponents.



I’ll make this brief as likely anyone reading this extensive analysis and review should already have some experience with video games, and therefore know about common multiplayer modes and objectives. In multiplayer, each game has a variety of game modes with different goals. In both Halo: Reach and Black Ops the most popular is the classic “deathmatch” game type where teams race to a certain kill count with no other objectives. Bad Company 2 has a team based mode like that as well but the game is built and balanced around it’s Conquest, and Rush modes, in which players fight over territory to capture flags, or take turns on offense and defense trying to destroy communication equipment. Black Ops also has some popular objective modes similar to Bad Company 2’s. Domination plays like Bad Company 2’s Conquest on a smaller scale, two teams fighting over flag based territories to score time points. Black Ops also has a Counter Strike inspired Search and Destroy Mode, a bomb planting Demolition mode, classic Capture the Flag, and other creative modes like Gun Game, where players race to get a kill with each of a set of weapons and every kill they get moves them on to the next weapon. Halo: Reach has it’s own take on classic and new game types other than “deathmatch” as well. The staples of Capture the Flag and a bomb planting Assault game type are present, as well as Oddball where players fight to carry a skull for longer times, and a Territories map control mode. On the more creative side stand Headhunter, in which players fight to collect skulls that fall from dead enemies and deposit them into goal areas, Race and Rally, two vehicle based racing modes, and Invasion, a human versus aliens mode that combines three different objective modes at once.

Without time to review each game type for each game in detail, I will just say that there are enough in each game to let players choose how they want to play and have a great time.


In the end, each game has great variety and can be approached in many different ways, but also has a general feel and style that provides a unique experience the other games can’t. Halo: Reach players will get used to having more health, armor abilities, and the need to control power weapons on the maps while pushing for whatever their present objective is, while Black Ops players get hectic quick-death battles full of automatic weapons, vehicular rewards, all with custom classes, and Bad Company 2 provides large scale battles full of vehicles, explosives, collapsing buildings, and a character class set that lets each player take a role on the battlefield.

Any FPS lover should give all three games a try and find the ones they like best.

To give you a taste of each game in motion, here are some videos I think represent them well. Keep in mind these videos do not necessarily show the best or worst moments of the games, but rather common gameplay. Thanks to the youtubers who posted them.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Gameplay

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 Gameplay

Halo: Reach Gameplay

Xbox 360 FPS Triple Review: Part 2 – Sound

Triple Multiplayer Review – Part 2

See part 1 here.

Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Battlefield: Bad Company 2


The sound experience of multiplayer games changes a lot depending on what you use. Headphones, stereo or built in TV-speakers, and surround sound setups all provide sound differently, and the quality of the speakers in any setup also has an effect. I used to stick to the built in speakers on my TV but a few years ago my parents got me a set of Pioneer 5.1 surround sound speakers for christmas (thanks guys!) and now it feels strange playing games without surround sound. I find that Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 all benefit greatly from surround sound.  I’m sure a good pair of headphones would do the trick too if you prefer the can’t-hear-the-phone-ring experience. Long story short, readers beware, I write only from the perspective of surround sound.

Halo: Reach has a set of sounds that both sound good, and provide a lot of information about what is going on around you in combat. Every weapon, vehicle, and armor ability (abilities chosen by the player like sprint, jet pack, etc.) has a unique sound. With a little practice you can tell what vehicle is coming around the next bend or what weapons your teammates are using even before you can see anything. When an explosion goes off close to the player all sounds are dulled for a short period as if the character is temporarily deafened, which is a nice touch for the sake of player immersion. The soundscape also does a good job of providing information about distance. Gunfire and vehicle engines change volume and pitch as their source changes proximity to the player. To make things sound futuristic human engine and gun noises are similar to what we hear in present day war movies and games, but often sound just a bit off, like it’s not quite the same technology. Not surprisingly, alien vehicles and guns have completely different sets of sounds, but none feel out of place. Like in most FPS games, player footsteps are audible, but considering the heavily armored characters their volume is quite low. It’s nice not having to hear your own character thump around the battlefield like an elephant, but with enemies similarly quiet it is uncommon to pinpoint enemy positions just by listening for their footsteps. The only true failing I find in the Halo: Reach soundscape is quite small. When firing a gun in a large level the player can hear the echo of the shot in the distance, and when the player is in a small area like a cave, this echo can’t be heard. This is quite a nice touch! Sadly, this change in sound doesn’t apply in every situation that it should. Sometimes in small structures the echo is still heard. I assume that the reason for this inconsistency is that many of the structures in the game are removable in the the games level editor, Forge, and therefore only the permanent enclosed areas support the sound modification. Perhaps future games will be able to dynamically detect player location and modify the sound effects on the go.

Call of Duty: Black Ops has the least interesting soundscape of the three. It’s well done, but very generic. It does a good job with directional sound, and seems to change the volume of noises depending on if there is an obstruction between the player and the source. The guns sound like guns, plain and simple, and with so many similar guns in the game it would be hard to tell them apart by the sound.  You can tell the difference between a sniper rifle shot ringing out, the blast of a shotgun, and the rat-tat-tat of an automatic weapon, and luckily that’s all you really need to know to decide how to approach a situation. Unlike Halo the player’s characters shout things out on the radio during combat, but call outs are mostly shouts of “grenade out” or “kill confirmed”. There is also always a voice on the radio with updates on the bonuses you earn through killing without dying. These voices fit in with the game, but I can’t say that I would miss them if they were all gone. The sound of footsteps and character movement is more audible and therefore more important than it is in Halo, and the volume levels are very well balanced so that the faster an enemy is moving the more likely you are to know exactly where they are. As you sneak, run, or sprint around the battlefield you can hear your own footsteps to get an idea of how much more noise you are making, and is a good reminder to not sprint around all the time. I have noticed an oddity in the sprinting sound effect however; often when I am sprinting my own footsteps go mute for short periods of time. I don’t know the reason for this but I will say that when you get used to hearing your own footsteps and they go silent when they shouldn’t it is a bit distracting.

When I started this “triple review” as I’m calling it, I said I wouldn’t bash on any of the games, I would just compare them. As far as sound is concerned, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 makes following that rule difficult. Bad Company 2’s soundscape is so immersive it makes me hope developers of future Halo and Call of Duty games are taking notes. To be fair however, the teamwork oriented gameplay design in Battlefield is the reason that they can make the soundscape so effective. Battlefield games are class based, allowing players to choose from assault, engineer, medic, and recon. I will discuss these classes in more detail in the gameplay section, but for now I can give the example that when playing the assault class, the player can drop ammo boxes, and as the medic, he can drop med packs. Each of these actions triggers a vocal callout to teammates so they know they can grab ammo or heal up. On top of this, the game uses an enemy spotting mechanic which allows players to highlight enemies for their entire team to see. This triggers specific callouts depending on what type of soldier or vehicle was spotted. Combine these vocalizations with well done firefight sound effects, vehicles roaring around blowing up buildings, explosions causing the player to go temporarily deaf, and echo effects applied to gunfire and footsteps when inside buildings and it is just as good as watching a blockbuster war movie. I should note that Bad Company 2 has various audio settings that may effect the experience of the soundscape. When I started playing, the setting was on “HiFi”, and I noticed right away how good all the sound cues were, so I wouldn’t say that changing the setting is the only reason I find the soundscape so impressive. At my friend’s suggestion I changed the “HiFi” setting to “War Tapes” recently and I don’t plan on switching it back. The “War Tapes” setting seems to add more echo, and increases the volume on things such as ambient noises, vehicles, and footsteps. It may make the verbal callouts of characters harder to hear, but it really gives a war documentary feel to the game. It’s also fun when the louder bass makes my floor shake. (You can find comparisons between the audio settings on youtube if you’re interested.)

Xbox 360 FPS Triple Review: Part 1 – Graphics

When I sign into Xbox Live and check what games my friends are playing, more often than not, the answer is one of many first person shooters. The FPS genre has morphed from its popular beginnings as primarily single-player adventures such as Wolfenstein 3D (1992) and Doom (1993) into the genre of choice for an evening of multiplayer online gaming. As the genre has grown in popularity, certain franchises have climbed to the top, and everyone has their favorites. Most of my friends are Xbox 360 owners, and so the biggest rivalry I have witnessed is between the Halo games, and the Call of Duty games. Regardless of personal preference, I want to play games with my friends when I can, so I have spent plenty of time with games from both series. Then, within the last year, a third FPS called Battlefield: Bad Company 2 started popping up on my friends list.

As I was already playing Call of Duty and Halo, and I had played a Battlefield game before, I didn’t rush to get Bad Company 2 when it was released in 2010. It wasn’t until early this year that my closest gaming buddy picked up two copies for us. So now I’ve played all three, and I’m surprised to find I continue to do so. Though I have my own game preferences, the purpose of this article is not to bash on one game or another. I’d like to discuss the pros and cons of each series, perhaps creating a triple review of sorts, using the most recent entries, Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2. And for the sake of comparison I’m only going to consider the multiplayer components of these games.

Triple Multiplayer Review

Halo: Reach, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Battlefield: Bad Company 2


Graphically, all three games impress. That isn’t to say the graphics couldn’t be better if the games were developed for a high-end gaming PC, and perhaps Call of Duty and Battlefield look better on the Playstation 3, but on the Xbox 360 the games look good enough that they don’t distract to gameplay. However, each game has a very different graphical style.

Call of Duty: Black Ops seems to go for the “realistic” video game look the most of the trio. Sadly, this means a lot of brown and grey. There are other colors when the levels include bright signs or plants, but they always look like they are covered in dust. Screenshots of the game show off the detailed textures that look great, especially on the character models. However, once the game is in motion most of the details blur together. As many of the firefights happen at range the graphics go to waste as players are busy shooting at every enemy they can see. The style does come in handy though, as the lack of bright colors makes sitting still the best camouflage for snipers. And regardless of how you play, the well designed gun models look great in your characters hands.


Battlefield: Bad Company 2 has a lot in common with Black Ops visually simply because they share the modern military setting, but Battlefield developer DICE’s Frostbite engine provides a bit of a different look. When I first jumped into a game of Bad Company 2, I did a double take because for a split second I thought the game was somewhat cell shaded. I quickly realized I was wrong, but the lighting in the game has a brightness, and the shading a sharpness, that isn’t shared by Call of Duty. This makes the game world look perhaps a little less realistic, but I find it brings more life to the action of the game. Like Black Ops a lot of the color palette is brown and grey, but the trees, bushes, and even the blue skies are more vibrantly colored bringing shocks of color to the environment. The texturing seems plenty detailed for the size of the levels, though I did notice that because of the level size there are more graphical repetitions. For example, often a lot of the buildings within a level will be identical, as if the level designers copy and pasted one structure all over the place to save time. This is no surprise in levels that take minutes to run across but the structural uniqueness of Call of Duty is preferable.

Halo: Reach is the most different visually of the three, and I have heard of plenty of people who find it too “candy-colored” for their taste. Halo’s visuals represent the most science-fictional game worlds of the trio of games in question, and the colorful environments seem to enhance that. The visuals for the futuristic and alien technology are flashy, colorful, and fun without straying too far from what we are used to in a shooter. Player armor coloration is usually bright making stealth more a matter of staying out of sight completely than using the graphical cover to hide. The background environments in the multiplayer levels are often beautiful works of science fiction art, with space battles, mountains, or interesting weather effects in the distance. Players who don’t feel that their games need to look as realistic and dirty as usual will appreciate the style more than others. The texturing is quite detailed which is nice most of the time, but to compensate the game does suffer from some noticeable “texture pop”. This means that when using the scope on many of the ranged weapons it sometimes takes a split second for the textures to exchange for their higher resolution variants to compensate for the players closer view. This is especially noticeable in split screen play when the game has to work harder to keep up with the amount on screen.