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Level Up! The Next Call of Duty Game

Reviews of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and Final Fantasy XIII-2

By Tim Janson     February 23, 2012

 

IN THE NEWS…
 
New Call of Duty coming in 2012?
 
It sure looks that way. With Infinity Ward and Treyarch continuing to alternate releases, it’s Treyarch's turn to bring out a game and it looks like it will be this year…No real specifics yet, but it's looking increasingly likely that it will be a direct sequel to Black Ops. What is known is that Activision has been acquiring Black Ops-related domain names from BlackOps2.com up through BlackOps6.com so connect the dots.
 
Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen is now available for the Vita
 
From Namco Bandai comes Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen. Players will step into the role of Zen, a master ninja, through a thrilling dynamic storyline of betrayal and intrigue as he scales sheer walls, leaps across rooftops, and sneaks silently towards prey to expertly dispatch foes with his razor-sharp blade.
 
Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen finds the region of Utakata in the grip of a vicious civil war. Zen soon finds himself betrayed by his companions and left for dead after his beloved’s murder. Saved by the Asuka Ninja clan, Zen chooses to live the life of a ninja and sets out to find those who wronged him, where each mission brings him closer to resolution while delicately swaying the balance of power in the war. Using the touchscreen and rear touch pad, players will be able to mimic ninja actions such as throwing ninja shuriken and targeting grapple points. 
 
Borderlands 2 coming September 18!
 
2K Games and Gearbox Software announced that Borderlands 2, the sequel to the multi-million unit selling breakout hit, Borderlands, will be available on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC in North America on September 18, 2012. Currently in development by Gearbox Software, Borderlands 2 is the sequel to the critically acclaimed four-player cooperative shooter-looter that combined intense first-person mayhem with role-playing gameplay. In addition, fans who pre-order the title from participating retailers will receive access to the Borderlands 2 Premiere Club, including rewarding in-game items and bonuses.
 
Living up to the mantra “bigger, better and more badass,” Borderlands 2 features all-new characters; skills; imaginative, diverse new environments with unique missions and enemies; and more exciting and fun weapons, equipment and loot than ever before. All of these features come together in a story that takes players to the world of Pandora to take down the notorious Handsome Jack and his corrupt Hyperion Corporation as a solo campaign or with up to four cooperative players.
 
Borderlands 2 will allow friends to play together locally via split-screen, as well as online with drop-in-drop-out capabilities. With seamless cooperative gameplay and action, Borderlands 2 is extremely accessible for gamers and their friends to play alone or together in a variety of configurations.
 
 
Gamers who pre-order Borderlands 2 from participating retailers will gain access to the Borderlands 2 Premiere Club, allowing them to download the Gearbox Gun Pack, a Golden Key and the Vault Hunter’s Relic. The Gearbox Gun Pack is a collection of unique guns to help players begin their journey on Pandora. The Golden Key is an in-game item used to unlock a rare item in the mysterious Golden Sanctuary Loot Chest found in Borderlands 2. The Vault Hunter’s Relic is an in-game item that boosts players’ gear-hunting fortune while playing solo or teaming up with friends. To pre-order Borderlands 2 please visit www.borderlands2.com/preorder.
 
3DS Surpasses Five Million units sold in Japan
 
Hard to believe, especially considering the rocky start that it got off to, but the Nintendo 3DS has actually surpassed five million units sold in Japan . Not only that but it accomplished the feat faster than the original DS and the Game Boy Advance. This has to be encouraging news for Nintendo considering it wasn’t long ago people thought the 3DS might be doomed.
 
Is the PS Vita Losing Support among Japanese developers?
 
At the opposite end of the handheld gaming spectrum comes troubling news for the Vita from Japan . A source for the publication Nekkei states, "Major Japanese companies are canceling all projects intended for the Vita and are changing development to the 3DS." 
 
The PlayStation Vita has failed to catch fire in the Japanese marketplace since its December launch -- being routinely beaten in weekly sales by its predecessor, the PSP, which is still popular there, as well as Nintendo's 3DS.
 
Scott Rohde, Sony's senior vice president of Worldwide Studios denies this claim. "I did not see that quote, but you see extremist quotes like that all the time… I mean, obviously, there is no way anyone could stand in front of a camera and say that all developers are changing focus from one platform to another, no matter what it is."
 
Gangstas In Space DLC Now Available For Saints Row: The Third
 
In the second downloadable mission pack for Saints Row: The Third, Hollywood comes to Steelport. Hotshot director Andy Zhen has cast you as the star of his blockbuster opus, Gangstas in Space, a noble gangsta that must defend the planet against scantily-clad aliens equipped with laser beams, spaceships, and spaceships with laser beams. Along the way, you’ll mentor up-and-coming actress Jenny Jaros who plays alien Princess Kwilanna, and help her navigate the perilous waters of Hollywood stardom. Because their aint no career guidance like a gangsta’s career guidance.
 
Gangstas In Space also includes the alien spacecraft, the Aegian, new alien gang customization options, and new homies Kwilanna and Space Brutina. Strap it on… in space! Gangstas in Space is available to download today for the Xbox 360, Steam, and the PlayStation 3. Gangstas in Space is free for purchasers of the Saints Row season pass, and is available for the suggested price of 560 Microsoft Points on Xbox Live, and $6.99 on PlayStation Network and Steam.
 
New Trailer for Hitman: Absolution
 
This is the first video in “The International Contract Agency Files” series, which introduces the main cast in HITMAN: ABSOLUTION. Featuring exclusive art from comic artist Ben Oliver, the ICA Files provide an in-depth background check on the leading characters in HITMAN: ABSOLUTION. The first file focuses on Diana Burnwood, long-time handler of lead protagonist, Agent 47.
 
 

 
 
 
DUE OUT NEXT WEEK
 
SSX (Electronic Arts) Rated E PS3, Xbox 360
 
SSX is a snowboarding game for Next-Gen game consoles that continues the over-the-top Arcade style fun that the long-running SSX franchise is famous for. The game features racing and trick gameplay both in single player and multiplayer options, with runs set across the mountains of the world using real-world NASA topographical data. Additional features include: new and returning franchise favorite characters, global events and the ability to race against ghost images representing a friend's time on a run, real-world conditions like avalanches, rockslides and freezing temperatures, and more.
 
A modern-day reinvention of one of the most critically acclaimed franchises of the last generation, SSX returns packing adrenaline and reality-defying gameplay into every moment. In this over-the-top snowboarding extravaganza players jump into the boots of your favorite SSX character -- including those featured in previous releases in the franchise -- and race, trick, and survive the world's most iconic mountain ranges. Based on real-world NASA topographical data, each mountain range delivers an experience true to the franchise's rich history, allowing you to defy reality and own the planet.
 
Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 (Atlus) Rated T Nintendo DS
 
With an all-new story and cast, an expanded roster of demons to manage, vastly expanded party interaction, an all-new soundtrack from composer Kenji Ito, plus a host of refinements and improvements over its predecessor, Devil Survivor 2 delivers everything fans loved about the first game: an intense narrative with multiple endings based on player actions, the beautiful visuals and sounds the SMT series is renowned for, the addicting challenge of collecting, customizing, auctioning and fusing every last demon in the game, and much more.
 
When a new website that shows the manner of people's deaths in advance makes the rounds amongst Japanese high schoolers, a trio of students is shocked to witness their own deaths in a terrible subway accident just minutes away. They narrowly escape the carnage, only to find themselves in a worse situation--facing otherworldly demons. Desperate to survive, they fend off the demons and flee, but the destruction at the station is only the beginning...
 
Phantom Breaker - Special Edition (7 sixty) Rated T Xbox 360
 
A mysterious man named Phantom grants a select few the ability to use special powers in his own tournament of duelists. Duels take place in the shadows of Tokyo as combatants fight for a chance to have their wish granted, but does Phantom really have the power to grant a wish to the tournament's winner? Does the promise of a wish only serve to mask his true motives? Fight your way through the tournament and uncover Phantom's secrets along the way.
 
Phantom Breaker features a cast of 14 characters, each armed with their own unique weapons and abilities. Uncover the secrets behind Phantom and his duels through 11 unique story modes told through the eyes of 11 different duelists. Hone your skills in training mode, challenge your friends with local multiplayer or take the fight online and duel players from around the world on Xbox LIVE.
 
Hyperdimension Neptunia Mk2 (NIS America) PS3
 
Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2 is the sequel to the popular RPG Hyperdimension Neptunia, in which you control personifications (humanoids) of videogame consoles with the objective of protecting the world of Gamindustri. In Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, the four heroines are the younger sisters of the CPUs (Console Patron Units) from Hyperdimension Neptunia. Once again, fans can indulge in the mysteries and adventures found within Gamindustri!
 
Binary Domain (Sega) Rated M PS3, Xbox 360
 
Binary Domain is an original squad-based shooter by Toshihiro Nagoshi, the creator behind some of Sega's most well-known video game franchises, including the critically acclaimed Yakuza series. Campaign play in Binary Domain features a trust based system in which the maintenance of relationships developed with AI squadmates are crucial if they are to follow orders. The game also features full destructible robot enemies, a wide range of weapons and a robust range of online multiplayer options.
 
Binary Domain puts players in the middle of a fast paced and intense battle for humanity against androids called the "Hallow Children" in 2080 Tokyo. Fighting through the derelict lower levels of the city, players control an international peacekeeping squad that soon starts to question their surroundings and the choices they make, especially as they realize that the androids appear to think that they are human and they witness the dramatic divisions within society. In the face of this struggle the question becomes, are these these robots becoming more human, or are humans becoming more like machines?
 
Gameplay in the campaign of Binary Domain is single player and mission-based, but uniquely interactive. Players assume the role of Dan Marshall, the leader of a multinational squad of commandos known as the "Rust Crew." The different characters of the squad each have different skills and personalities which must be exploited. Players are always Dan, but also command all other squad members, communicating with them either through a headset or via their controller. As players progress through the game they build dynamic relationships with AI squadmates based on the overarching cause and effect component of the game known as the Consequence system. Within the Consequence system, the player's competence in command, as well as their demonstrated understanding of their squadmate's skills, and even the way they talk to squadmates determines the amount of trust each has in Dan. Maintaining a high level of trust ensures that commands are followed, whereas a low level of trust can result in the opposite. Players can only take a certain number of AI squadmates into missions, and with some skills being exclusive to certain characters, maintaining relationships is crucial in the fight against the Hallow Children and the player's survival in the field. The Consequence system also affects the way that the campaign of the story plays out, with the use of different characters in different situations influencing events and outcomes.
 
REVIEWS
 
Kingdoms of Reckoning: Amalur (Electronic Arts) Rated M PS3
 
It’s not fair I tell you! I have not even finished Skyrim yet and along comes Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning to even more fully drain what precious little time I have! KOA:R is an action-oriented RPG with the emphasis on action. While it might lack the sheer sense of awe and scope of Skyrim, what it lacks in those areas it makes up for in exciting gameplay that combines numerous elements in styles for a riveting stew of RPG fun. Amalur also has some big names behind its development…Best-selling fantasy author R.A. Salvatore created the universe and back story to the game; legendary comic artist and publisher Todd McFarlane created the art and look; and noted videogame composer Grant Kirkhope contributed the score.
 
The story begins with you (your character) revived via the Well of Souls (Huh? An Indiana Jones reference) and left with no memory of who or what you were. This is where you begin developing your character who is just a bland, blank slate waiting for you hand to flesh him out and add some color. There are four playable races: the Almain (Humans), the Dokkalfar (Dark Elves), the Ljosalfar (Light Elves), and the Varani (nomadic Humans). Not exactly a grand buffet of selections. The player chooses a class among the three available in the game, which are called Might, Finesse, and Sorcery; they correspond to the basic fighter, rogue, and mage classes respectively. Each comes with their own skill tree of 22 different abilities which allows you to customize your character so that two fighters or rogues won’t generally be exactly alike. Thus with your character created you can now go about exploring the expansive world of Amalur which is broken down into five regions.
 
While KOA:R isn’t as non-linear as Skyrim, there’s still a lot to do win the way of side quests and adventures although they are not nearly as colorful and developed as Skyrim’s which can take you completely off in a new direction. Basically these are time-wasters that help you gain experience and find loot but are not core to completing the game. While most of these side-quests are nondescript some of them stand out from the crowd and show a sense of genuine creativity. The facelessness of the quests is one of the central issues with Amalur. You will be inundated with more conversations than a night of speed dating. Bits of lore are spouted throughout the game and you will end up being as bored as your character looks. Sure you interact with a lot of NPCs but you sure wish they had something more interesting to say.
 
The environments are gorgeous but sometimes inconsistent. Lush forests, sun-drenched deserts, and misty swamplands present a wide diversity of terrains in which to travel and these are rendered magnificently. However, some very plain looking monsters and colorless characters that you’ll encounter balance this positive out. Sound both in terms of the music and voice acting is one of the highlights. Kirkhope’s score hits the right notes at the right times, balancing drama with a sense of light-hearted adventure. Great care is taking with the voice acting to make sure it is personable and not generic. It’s a nice touch that helps Amalur rise above the ordinary. 
 
The heart of KOA:R is its tremendous combat system. Combat is FUN in this game! The combat has an arcade action feel to it without sacrificing its RPG roots. There’s an awesome arsenal of weapons at your disposal and for once the weapons actually do seem different. They feel and perform differently from each other. Using a dagger feels very differently than using a long sword. With your weapons and skills you can combine for a full loadout of attacks, blocks, parries, and yes even string together monster-busting combos. The combat also features God of War style quick-time events that will result in awesome and vicious final kills. Those who are RPG purists might find the combat system too unrealistic but it is by far the highlight of the game. Adding magic to the mix for any class makes each one that much more unique and satisfying to play. You can also partake in a little alchemy to create useful potions and blacksmithing to customize weapons. 
 
While not as buggy as Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur does have its share of technical issues. Loadtimes can be excessive and there are the odd graphical glitches that pop up throughout the game but nothing that greatly detracts from the solid play. Without doing the side quests you could complete the game in perhaps 25 hours or so but the game can easily stretch to 100 hours or more if you want to do all the side quests and guild adventures. Amalur can be inconsistent at times but for sheer RPG action gameplay there’s nothing better. Grade B+
 

 
 
Final Fantasy XIII-2 (Square Enix) Rated T PS3
 
Final Fantasy XIII-2 begins 3 years after Final Fantasy XIII. After the last game was a decent but uninspired linear trek, there was great hope among Final Fantasy fans that Square Enix would rebound with a better effort. But here’s what I believe happened…Square Enix seemed to listen too much too the complaints about the last game because they certainly did their level best to address them all. The linear gameplay has been fixed to allow for a much more expansive setting to explore not only in regions but in alternate times and realities. Hey look, we gamers fully appreciate it when developers listen to us but in this case it seems to much emphasis was placed on fixing the previous games problems as opposed to developing an interesting and coherent storyline for the sequel.
 
The absurd and indecipherable storyline almost defies a synopsis. First off, the decision to focus on different characters is a big mistake. Rather than focusing on strong characters like Lightning, the story instead put the spotlight on weaker characters Serah and Hope and a new and very annoying character named Noel. Meanwhile, Lightning and Fang are relegated to background and cameo roles. Lightning disappears into Valhalla, a realm of chaos unbound by time. She meets a stranger who claims to be from a future age named Noel. She charges Noel with the task of traveling through time to find her sister and bring her to Valhalla, as Lightning cannot leave the realm unguarded. A year later, New Bodhum is overrun by monsters. Serah is saved from the creatures by Noel, who tells her about his meeting LIghtning. Serah accepts his offer and sets off through time and space to find out what has happened to Lightning, while learning more about Noel and the mysterious enemy, Caius. This sets the stage for what is largely a mess of a plot with changing times and realities that can get confusing. Worst of all the game ends with no real resolution. Yes I’m fine with Final Fantasy XIII-3 but at least give me and ending that makes me feel like I accomplished something.
 
It becomes a quest that rather through a particular region is played out across the timeline and allows you to stop and explore area’s along the way making it non-linear or least non-linear compared to FF XIII. These include a wide variety of rooms and dungeons that, if nothing else, are never boring. The dungeons in particular are well designed. One interesting aspect is that you can unlock the ability to close the time gates and re-start an area, correcting mistakes or trying new tactics.
 
While Serah and Noel become your two playable characters, an appealing new tactic is that you have a third slot in your party to acquire a monster as an ally. When you defeat a creature in battle you now have the option to try and tame it and join your ranks. This gives FF XIII-2 a quasi “Pokemon” feel to it as you can now have your own monster that can level up right along with you, to join you in battle. This also helps customize your party as you can tame the right creature for the right job whether its using one that is strong in battle or another that has strong healing abilities. It’s fun to play around with the different combinations. The combat system also features what’s called a "Feral Link". As the player attacks an enemy wikth a tamed monster in their party, the Feral Link bar fills up and when it is full the player can make their current tamed monster implement a special attack on the enemy via a quick time event.
 
The battle system, still utilizing the Paradigm Shift system, the act of changing roles/difficulty mid-fight, is back and more flexible. Auto-Battle also returns and can help make the necessary choices for you in battle. The use of the Auto-Battle feature goes a long way to speeding up the battles although it does have the feeling of the battle being taken out of your hands, making them feel less intimate and more sterile. Another example of Square Enix listening to the fans is that the level progression system is much more streamlined and player-driven. Gone (thankfully) is the annoyance of the game ending if the party leader is killed. The game’s graphics and sounds have always been fantastic and FF XIII-2 is no exception. Exquisite backgrounds and terrains and fluid character models were created with great care and one never gets tired of looking at the game.
 
Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an improvement over FF XIII but in cleaning up a lot of the previous games problems, not enough care was shown in creating an engrossing story. Grade B-
 

 
 
 

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

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jedibanner 2/23/2012 9:55:14 AM

Say what you will but, I still prefer Black-Ops to Modern Warfare 1-3 so, looking forward to more Black-Ops.

Bryzarro 2/23/2012 12:59:28 PM

 I enjoyed Black Ops.  But i've also enjoyed the other COD's as well.  I enjoy more when they are developed more outside the box.  COD:4 and Black Ops being my favorite of the bunch.  

I hope IW can step up a new game changer next year.

jedibanner 2/23/2012 5:55:52 PM

Don't get me wrong, I like all of them, for me it's more the online playing where Black Ops for me is the simpler, faster, better maps and guns then MW.

Johnnyathm1 2/24/2012 8:05:25 AM

BF3 folks...awesome.

FrozenFear 2/24/2012 8:56:31 AM

Saw the article title and the featured photo and thought, "Man, they are going in a different direction with the new game."

Loved Black Ops, mostly because I'm running a Wii and it's one of the few next-gen, multi-platform games that a third-party developer actually gave an F about for the Wii version. It plays great with the Wii controls (well, once you're used to them) and I still personally believe it's how FPS games should be played.

With the Wii U rolling out, they probably won't give the same tender-loving care to the new game, but I can always dream :)

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