Handheld Heroes

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Not sure how you found this page but thank you for coming. My name is Andy Breeding and I have been writing about games since 2008. From the beginning of 2015, I am now creating video content on my YouTube channel as well as streaming on Twitch. If you would like to see the work I have done for myself in the past when I ran my own site:

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If you want to see things I have written for other sites:

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You can also visit my YouTube channel or Twitch channel to see all the new things I am doing today.

If you would like to contact me, I can be reached at andyb0ybusiness at gmail dot com or on Twitter.

Review: Starcraft 2

Like some of you, I didn't play Starcraft back in 1998. I don't have a long history with the series so I wasn't expecting to get caught up in the immense hype that is Starcraft II. I mean besides the hardcore competitive online play that would take too much dedication for me to get to a decent level of play, what does this series have to offer anyone on the outside of Real Time Strategy games? Simple, as I discovered: one hell of a great story. Let it be known that Real Time Strategy (RTS) games are not my forte. I love to play them, but man do I suck at 'em too! I usually play for the campaign mode and dabble in the multiplayer for a few rounds before resigning to the fact that I will barely win. I'm sure there are a lot of you out there that just shy away from RTS games entirely since the learning curve for competitive play is fierce. On the flip side, if you can look past the multiplayer aspect of RTS games and focus on the story, you will find the genre quite entertaining, as is definitely the case with Starcraft II.

Now not knowing the story going in, I expected to be totally lost and not be able to immerse myself into the Starcraft universe. I have to hand it to Blizzard, they really made sure that anyone playing the game would have a clue as to what happened previously in the Starcraft universe. While you install the game, it gives you a brief rundown of the story leading up to Starcraft II. Still images accompanied by a narrator help you get caught up as you wait for the progress bar to hit 100% completion. Even if you don't pay attention, it is pretty easy to figure out what is going on in the story.

I played Starcraft II on casual mode since I am not very good at these games and I found it did challenge me at certain points but I wish I had played it on normal since it would have forced me to learn to play more properly. Casual mode is a perfect entry for people new to the RTS scene with decent balance between fun and challenging events to make you feel like it is not holding your hand through the game. Even so, I still had a wonderful experience all the way to the end. If you want to learn how to play RTS games in general, Blizzard, very smartly, included a tutorial mode to teach you the basics up through to the advanced tactics needed to be an efficient player. There is even a challenge mode to accompany the tutorial mode that presents certain challenges that teach you how to fully understand and learn the ways of RTS games. Some challenges have you pick the right units to counter the enemy presented to you and when you get to the more advanced challenges, the game has you use nothing but hot keys to perform actions by disabling the mouse. This all may seem a little daunting to some but it felt like Starcraft II was approachable enough for anyone to sit down and give this game a try. Not only can you apply what you have learned in the two modes mentioned to Starcraft II, but for the most part, it can be applied to all RTS games.

Besides the wonderful story, Starcraft II has amazingly well done cut scenes that blew me away. Most of the dialogue was entertaining though some moments were a little rough (Jim Raynor has a little trouble saying Protoss). After every mission, you are presented with a hub world where you can interact within it. With the point and click interface like adventure games have, you can talk to your friends, look at pictures, change the music on the jukebox, watch the news (look for the hilarious commercials) and a little further in the game, you can upgrade your units with the points you have earned in each mission. Starcraft II builds up to what you may think is an epic ending. I felt that the build up was met with an abrupt end. The last missions that you embark on seem to go too fast and left me feeling like the ending was not fleshed out enough. The ride that Starcraft takes you on is still great, just don't take it too hard when the ending is not as grand as the story leads you to believe.

You have a choice until the end of the game to go to any mission presented to you. Each mission has a certain unit you can unlock to use in the next mission. There are some units that you will see in the single player campaign that will not be present in online play due to balancing issues. The missions themselves are varied enough so that you don't feel like you are doing the same thing over and over again. One that everyone will remember is the mission where lava rises on the low ground where the minerals are located and you have to micro manage your drones or they will die when the counter reaches zero and the lava rises to incinerate your work force. Adding achievements is also a good way to get people that love that system to replay missions to get the max achievements for each. If that wasn't enough for you, Starcraft II throws you a curve by having you make a choice a couple of times during the story that effects the outcome of the mission before it even starts.

You might be saying to yourself "This game sounds amazing but my PC is old and I doubt this game will run". I have a 2 year old PC that runs this game fine at medium settings and the game still looks good and plays smooth. If you have a decent video card as well as at least a core 2 duo CPU, this game will run fine. I have heard people with MacBooks are having issues with poor frame rates as well as overheating. If you have access to a Windows OS and have the space, I would suggest using Boot Camp and turning things down to low to get a decent performance out of your Macbook.

At $60 ($100 if you were like me and bought the Collector's Edition), this game is worth it for the campaign alone. I never felt like I was cheated out of a full game at all. It even made me want to play the original Starcraft to experience the full story. It's packaged with the Collector's Edition but it's only $19.99 for the Battle Chest if you are intrigued like I was after playing Starcraft II. If you have little to no interest in online play, this game will still feel like a complete game and I am sure you will enjoy every second of it. Who knows? You might even get hooked and become a great RTS player... like I will one day, right?

Review: Naughty Bear

Here is a novel idea. Let's make a game called Naughty Bear about a psychopathic stuffed Teddy Bear that is socially inept and pissed off cause he did not get invited to the birthday party (among other events throughout the story) thus with the help of a poorly British accent narrator, kills everyone. Another idea that was great on paper but the implementation fell way short. Like everyone else, I was hyped about Naughty Bear since it seemed like it was a light hearted version of the perverse, yet disturbingly fun for most, Manhunt game. Instead of the gore, you get cartoon violence which is fine by me. Since I like to install all my games to the Xbox 360 hard drive, I was shocked at how much space this game took up. Most games take up four to eight gigabytes of space. Naughty Bear takes 756MB....WHAT?! For a game that ships on a disc when this could have easily been a downloadable title is insane.

I thought to myself, "maybe the game will still be fun and I shouldn't dwell on the size of the game." I was terribly wrong. Besides the voice actor for the narrator, who I think is forcing that accent, you will notice how nausea-inducing the camera is. There was plenty of times I had to step away from Naughty Bear due to how nauseated I was becoming. Past the dizzy spells from the camera, the game doesn't look that bad. The cartoonish colors as well as the art style really pops out and I was really satisfied with how the characters looked. You will notice that some animations suffer from frame skipping. For example, every time Naughty Bear went through the door to his home area, it would show him opening the door then in an instant he is already on the other side closing it behind him.

In Naughty Bear, each level is you just completing objectives. These objectives can be a point cap, destroying items, killing everyone or variations to that effect. Yeah, not much variety which makes the game repetitive real fast. Killing in this game can be done by either using weapons, traps, or scaring the crap out of the other bears to the point of suicide. Sounds fun right? Try doing those same things over hours of gameplay and tell me if it's fun then. Another aspect of the gameplay is in order to unlock more levels in the seven worlds the game presents to you, you must gain enough points in the current level to gain a trophy. Depending on what score you reach, it can be a bronze, silver or gold trophy. In the later levels (if you make it that far) that becomes a sticking point for repetitive play. Doing a level over 4 times to get a gold trophy to unlock more levels that I would like to try is just wrong.

There is multiplayer in Naughty Bear but good luck connecting to a game to play. I got into one game in an hour of trying to connect to only have the host quit and drop me back to the menu. Any game that comes out in this day and age should absolutely include host migration. Without it, the multiplayer experience is soiled due to someone rage quitting. Certain games just don't need multiplayer. When will developers understand that?

If 505 Games released Naughty Bear as a XBLA game, most people would forgive how clunky the game is all around. Selling the game at a retail price is something that will send this game to an early grave, or the bargain bin. Seems as though the developers were the naughty ones, not the bear, after all.

Review: Crackdown 2

Agent! We have a new threat to Pacific City: Mutated humans, or "Freaks" as we at the Agency like to call them, have taken over. Our efforts to contain the Freaks are being thwarted by Cell, a terrorist group bent on destroying the city. So Agent, it is your job to rid the city of trash and bring peace to the citizens once again. Are you up to the job at hand?

Crackdown 2 is just what you would expect to get in a sequel. Everything you liked about the first Crackdown is essentially back for seconds. Between the big explosions, orb chasing, and crazy antics that you can pull off, it's like you never left Pacific City. The premise this time around is that there are now two threats instead of one. Not that the premise in Crackdown was all that deep but even with the additional threat the sequel seems a little too empty. Activating beacons just seems less satisfying than taking out strongholds and the Gang Bosses from the previous game. Instead of strongholds, Crackdown 2 has Tactical locations that when you take them over, you can request new weapons and vehicles from the Agency. With these minor cosmetic changes, it still feels the same to me and that can be either good or bad depending on how you liked the first game.

For a game that took 3 years to arrive, it still looks like an Xbox 360 launch title. Besides the face lift on the city and a day/night cycle, everything looks a bit outdated. There is no detail in anything to make it look like some work actually went into the art design. Things should not look like a 4 year old did finger painting for the graphics. Crackdown 2 also carries over the issues gamers had from the first game when it comes to climbing. It is still inconsistent on what you can and cannot grab a hold of in order to climb up a building. I even had times where I could grab the ledge, jump up, miss the ledge above me and as I come down to the ledge I was just on, totally fall right past it like it wasn't there. These things should have been corrected before Crackdown 2 went gold. That's what these companies pay testers for, isn't it?

And while combat is still fun, some of the things that I wish Ruffian Games would have changed is the lock-on mechanics. It makes for frustrating times when you are surrounded by enemies and you try to lock-on to an attacker only to engage a deadly explosive barrel (because we all know that an inanimate object is a more immediate threat than a rocket launcher touting maniac). It would be simple to add a cycling mechanic so you can switch targets using the lock-on system and it baffles me why Ruffian Games did not include that in the finished game. That being said, I do enjoy the weapon selection in Crackdown 2. Aside from the normal death dealing weaponry, the Agency provides some advance equipment to deal with the Freaks. Since UV light is dangerous to the mutated Freaks, UV shotguns and UV grenades are so satisfying to use against massive oncoming waves.

The leveling up system is still in place from the original Crackdown. Guns, Explosives, Driving, Agility and Strength are all there for you to pump up to the next level. Crackdown 2 does make it to where you have to get your Agility level to at least 4 in order to progress further in the game. This kind of feels like a way to extend the game longer since getting your skills to the higher levels takes a lot of time and patience to get there.

Additionally, If the firepower that the Agency so graciously lets you use is not enough to take on the venom that is poisoning the city, Crackdown 2 has added 4 player co-op as opposed to just the 2 player co-op from the first game. Friendly fire aside, playing co-op is the best thing in Crackdown 2 for me. Four super enhanced agents jumping around on rooftops decimating everything that stands up to you and your friends... what's not to love about that?

The announcer character is also back and seems more vocal this time around. Besides the usual verbal abuse he spews forth, he now has some funny quips when you unlock some achievements. I don't think I could ever get tired of the announcer talking about some of the latest achievements I acquired. There is some repeat dialogue that you will notice from time to time which makes me wish there were more lines given but he's still a welcome return to the franchise.

One thing that I am sure that Crackdown 2 did not need in any way is Multiplayer. Playing the same tired Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All style matches don't add to the enjoyment of this series. Rocket tag is a nice variation in game modes these days but that still doesn't change the fact that Multiplayer is only engaging enough for a quick romp through the city streets before one gets bored.

Loved the first Crackdown? Then this game will satisfy that need to play in that world again. Did you buy the first Crackdown just for the Halo 3 beta? Then this might not be the game to purchase this time around since there is no Halo beta bundled with the game. Ultimately for everyone else, go out and buy the first Crackdown for cheap. It is a better experience to be had than shelling out $60 for nothing more than a cut and paste job with a few tweaks.

Review: Alpha Protocol

My name is Michael Thorton. I used to be a Spy. Until... (phone rings) “We got a burn notice on you. You're blacklisted.” Alpha Protocol tries to tell a interweaving story about the world of espionage and the choices you make. Does it succeed in its mission or is it a double-o-dud?

The main thing Obsidian wanted the player to get out of this game is that the player's choices have consequences, no matter how small the choice. I was skeptical of this assumption by Obsidian until I played for a couple of hours and was then blown away at how the story changes based on anything you do whether it be in conversations or actions you take do during missions. Kudos to Obsidian for making it really seem like everything I did had a consequence on the (overall good) story.

The dialogue choices in Alpha Protocol are great because instead giving you stinted, robotic dialogue to pick from, you get to pick the emotion or “stance” you want to take in any given conversation. It also puts a timer on the choices so you have to pick fast or the game will auto pick a choice for you, almost an "instinct" choice. Not sure how some people will react to this implementation of conversation choice, but I found that makes you think on your feet and adds some realism. I mean, how often do you get to toggle between sentences before saying something to someone (IRL)?

Voice acting was surprisingly good and caught me off guard. There are times where Mike Thorton sounds a little mundane, of course, but those times are few and far between. Nothing sounded like it was cut and pasted together poorly like most games. Between the story and the voice acting I was hooked on Alpha Protocol. It was a delight... if only that held true through the rest of the game.

First thing you will notice is how unpolished and unrefined the game's overall look is. Even Obsidian said this game shouldn't have been released. Three years of development behind the sloppy look of this game equals VERY bad PR for Obsidian. There are tons of graphical glitches, unfinished character models, bad texture pop-in mixed in with broken A.I., and that's just the beginning. Somewhere, there's a designer hanging next to his favorite coats. There were times where the enemies were shooting each other instead of me or rushing me down, dodging my shots to punch me once in the face... before they would come back up to shoot me? Isn't it shoot first then melee for the kill? Oh, wait this isn't Halo... but still!

The gameplay is where most people will get turned off right away. Alpha Protocol is an RPG first and a 3rdperson shooter WAY second. Everything you can do is based off of your skill tree. Things from stealth, tech, explosives, weapons, and health are all based on a skill tree. By earning experience doing missions and completing objectives, you can spend your EXP on certain skills. Somehow, this doesn't apply to pistols. I tried leveling up my pistol skill all the way up and still couldn't hit anything at all. Perhaps that's more of this realism they're trying to inject into the game, but definitely realism that fails as far as the actual gaming experience goes.

Yes, this game has dice roll shooting mechanics. If you don't level up stats in certain weapon classes (think Mass Effect), you will miss most of the times even while dead center on a headshot. If you can focus a weapon long enough, while you are in a certain range, you can do a critical shot and one shot kill most enemies.

I was torn between the biggest issues I had with the gameplay. It was kind of a tie between the dice roll shooting and the cracked out movements by some of the bosses which made it nearly impossible to hit anything. You can always resort to melee attacks if you level that skill up enough, as you can actually pull off some pretty amazing martial arts. Unfortunately there's no block button, so while you are doing your best Karate Kid impressions on the enemies' faces, they can block anything you've got coming and turn around to whoop you like a punching bag (or shoot you). Also, it feels like none of the skills you can level up are worth doing except Stealth, Health and Martial Arts. Going that route will give you invisibility abilities so you can stab people in the neck while others watch in horror wondering how it happened. Some will say it breaks the game entirely but I would like to think of it as adding some comedic value to the game... which was appreciated after how frustrating the shooting was.

You can often forgive a video game it if it has a bad story, just as long as it's actually fun to play. How many of you are willing to flip the script and play for the story and not the gameplay?

Review: 3D Dot Game Heroes

Games today seem too easy by the standards of the 8-bit era of gaming. Yes there are difficulty levels but they provide more frustration than actual challenges. Failing because of inadequate design in the games difficulty instead of the gamer not quite figuring out a certain way to get past a section is frustrating to the ego. Finally, Atlus and From Software comes through with a near perfect ode to 8-bit gaming with 3D Dot Game Heroes. The story is pretty simple. Dotnia is in trouble and it is up to you, the descendent of the hero that defeated The Dark King to do it all over again. 3D Dot Game Heroes is so close to a Legend of Zelda clone it's scary. From the music, dungeons, right down to the enemies. Turning on the game for the first time, they warmed my childhood heart with the 8-bit style loading screen. Everything about this game screams 8-bit. Don't let that fool you into think it looks terrible, the art is wonderfully rendered with everything designed from gorgeous 3-D blocks. Objects as well as enemies explode in a way that would make all the Lego games proud.

3D Dot Game Heroes has a very robust character creator so you can make your own personalized hero. Of course if you don't want to spend 8 hours making the perfect Link, you can use the many pre-made designs the game has to offer. You can also download creations from people all over the world by going to the Hall of Heroes online and choose from hundreds of entries. You can even submit your own creations to share with the world. It might be a pain for some to download a new character to a USB thumb drive and transfer it to the PS3 but I see it as not troublesome at all.

Combat is simplistic enough. You have your sword and your shield....what more do you need? Oh, I forgot that this is a Zelda clone. Ok, you also get a boomerang, bow and arrows, bombs, and a hook shot to round out your equipment. Spells can also be acquired by recovering the each of the 6 Orbs of Light in the game. After recovering the Orb from beating the guardian protecting it, returning it to the Sage responsible for the Orb will grant you powers from it. Reflect, Freeze and Fire are some of the spells you will receive by retrieving the Orbs. Swords can be upgraded by going to a Blacksmith and paying for such upgrades as strength, width, length, spin, pierce and the ability to shoot a projectile. Different swords can have different upgrade paths as well as Max Potential, or how far you can upgrade the sword before no further upgrades can be done. It prevents the player from maxing all categories for one sword thus rendering the whole upgrade system broken.

You may be wondering why some of the upgrades are length and width. Well, we all know bigger and longer is always better, right ladies? In 3D Dot Game Heroes, when at Max Health, your sword is at its full potential and fills ¼th of the screen. The more you upgrade, the further it covers the screen. You could actually sit in the middle of the screen and spin around as you attack to kill everything fully upgraded. Unfortunately, when not at full health, you are stuck with an average sized sword. This makes staying at Max Health a good way to challenge yourself since having a sword that covers the whole screen makes boss fights easier

Speaking of easy, 3D Dot Game Heroes will fool you into thinking the game is easy. The first 3 Temples are a cakewalk. Everything past that is when the challenges start. The Temples get more complicated with more floors to explore as well as challenging puzzles to solve. Trying to shoot an arrow at a switch while getting shot at by 4 pillars is a test in dexterity. Besides the Temples, there are plenty of side quests to do in the game as well as finding all the treasure chests, secret caves, and filling your Bestiary. The Bestiary is a book you can acquire that you can enter enemies into to as you come across them. Entering the enemies is actually a pain to do. You need to equip the Bestiary and continuously smack the enemy you want in the book. Not my idea of fun but for some it might be.

From Software delivered on a near perfect 8-bit experience for all the old gamers out there but for the newcomers to this style of gameplay might have a hard time getting into 3D Dot Game Heroes. A great game for a decent price makes this game something to have in your collection right next to your NES games.

Review: Lost Planet 2

With all the nagging issues people had with the original Lost Planet, it was still an enjoyable game for most. Think Capcom listened to the cries of gamers worldwide and fixed the issues that they had with Lost Planet in Lost Planet 2? Not even close... Lost Planet 2 takes place 10 years after the events in Lost Planet. Could have fooled me. Nothing about this game feels like it should be a sequel to Lost Planet. Nothing is really mentioned or remotely tied in to the 1st game except it's on the same Planet and there are Snow Pirates. Even the story is so disjointed that you have no idea what the hell you are doing from chapter to chapter.

Capcom seemed to take a page out of Unreal Tournament's book in making the campaign mode a multiplayer style map with players running around locking down points and completing some objective. Even worse, this game is NOT to be played single player at all. It's evident that Capcom wanted you to experience Lost Planet 2 with all of your friends since you have to make a lobby in order to even experience the campaign. You do, however, have the luxury ability of setting up to 3 A.I. players to help you along your single player experience. The A.I. also gets fake Gamertags above their heads to fool you into thinking you are playing with friends. That's kind of depressing.

Unfortunately the A.I. are complete morons. They are worse than the 12 year old's spouting racial slurs in Modern Warfare 2 on Xbox Live. Not once did the A.I. do anything at all to help me get through the levels. Most of the time, they were way behind me in the level and I was stuck fending off hordes of baddies while they had tea and crumpets. I was better off going at this campaign by my lonesome.

To make matters worse, none of the issues gamers cried out about were addressed in this so called sequel. Knock back and knock down recovery times are still atrocious. Try throwing a grenade at an enemy while he is shooting you and you end up stuck in an endless animation loop of trying to throw the grenade but never quite getting it. Also, the movement speed is slow enough to make it near impossible to avoid anything in the game. Oh, wait... I have a grappling hook? Maybe I can use that to move around faster and to avoid death. Nope. The thing is completely useless. Just Cause 2 got the whole grapple hook mechanic down, so why couldn't Capcom just copy that?

Multiplayer suffers from the same issues that plagued the single player campaign. It is fun to play for about 5 minutes, before the frustrations start to settle in. Not even using powered robotic suits makes playing through this online sludge fun.

The one redeeming quality of this game is how gorgeous things look. The MT Framework 2.0 works wonders on the game's environment and details of the game's massive bosses. If you and 3 other buddies are looking for a game to run around and engage in enormous boss battles, this game might be fun... just not at full price. For anyone else, Lost Planet 2 should stay lost on the store shelves forever.

Review: Dead to Rights: Retribution

A cop that kills first, asks questions later teamed with a dog that loves to snack on grown men's testicles. Hmm... Sounds a bit like a Steven Seagal movie. But instead it's actually the latest from Namco Bandai. Dead to Rights: Retribution is a reboot of the series in which Jack Slate (somehow I think of Last Action Hero when I hear that name) is a tough as nails cop in the worst city around, Grant City, where Jack thinks he can clean it up and make the streets safe again for the citizens. Jack's father, Frank, is the police chief in Grant City and has a trusty dog by the name Shadow that is loyal only to Frank. Investigating a lead in a major crime ring, things go wrong and everything is left up to Jack, with the help of Shadow, to find out the conspiracy that is going on in the police force Jack faithfully serves.

As you can see, the story is still very empty of any one thing to make it really hard to care too much about it. The game's presentation looks a little rough and feels like it should be a late PS2 title more than a current gen release. The character models look a little too big in certain features as well as the textures looking a little flat and generic. A perfect example of character models is your dog Shadow. The dog appears on screen to look like a freaking bear more than a Husky. There is also a weird glow around Shadow that makes it seem like the dog was photo-shopped into the game last minute or happens to be The Last Dragon.

Luckily, the controls are simple when it comes to interacting with the game. It's a simple 3rd person view with your standard shooting mechanic that accompanies such styles. You can also mix it up with melee attacks by using light attacks, heavy attacks, blocks and combos depending on the right order of button presses. I found that the camera was very annoying since it was zoomed a little too much on Jack to the point that it made it hard to see anything sneaking up on you. It is demoralizing to pound on 2 guys in front of you only to be taken out by a guy out of your point of view. Also, the gun play is TERRIBLE. Very limited ammo mixed in with poor aiming controls leads to me just rushing guys and disarming them with a button press followed by one-hit kills with their own weapon to the head. Yes, headshots are instant death for the baddies and the game does slo-mo to let you know you just scored one.

There are also takedown actions you can perform when going fist-to-cuffs against the enemies. These involve beating the enemy to the point where a prompt pops up on the screen prompting you to hit a certain button ('A' on the Xbox 360). Once pressed, the game will take over and go through one of the few animated scenes it has for these moves. Although not many, the scenes are down right brutal. Nothing feels better then punting the dirtbag's head like you are trying to hit the game winning field goal at the Super Bowl.

One of the best parts of the game, sadly, is your dog Shadow. When controlling Jack, you can send Shadow to attack enemies, scout ahead or pick up weapons while you can hide like a coward from the enemies. Dead to Rights: Retribution also had to include missions where you play as Shadow. That's right. You actually get to play as a freaking dog (Wii fans got this chance years ago with Twilight Princess and PS2 owners with Okami but still...). Most of these missions are meant to be stealth missions since 3 hits will kill the poor canine. Still, you have the ability to see people through walls so you can sneak up on enemies and do a stealth kill. I had so much fun playing as Shadow that I didn't want the levels to end. Chasing down a guy running away from Shadow while shooting is the BEST thing visually in this game. They need to make a DSi game all about Shadow chasing down enemies and chomping on their nards. Not even the Wolfman would be safe.

Ultimately, asking full price for an incomplete feeling of a game is hard to swallow. I am not sure that rebooting the Dead to Right series was a wise choice for Namco Bandai or anything that anyone was really asking for. A little more time with the game and it could have been a solid game to rent and have a fun weekend with. Instead you should probably spend that money on a game for your Mac now that Steam is released.

Review: Angry Birds

Who knew that such a simple concept for a game could be so damn good!?! Angry Birds is, simply put, a physics based 2D game (think Worms) in which the objective is to take out as many of the Pigs that have stolen your eggs as possible by launching the titular Angry Birds into them kamikaze-style using a giant slingshot. Yeah. It sounds crazy but it is also SOOOOO addicting. It might sound like a pretty thin game... and I don't really care. There is at least the premise that these damn pigs stole the bird's eggs (possibly to make omelets) so you at least get some motivation for the birds to be so... ANGRY! But don't be deceived. There is some depth to Angry Birds. You first start of with the red cardinal-like birds which are your basic soldiers. As you get further in the game, you acquire new birds with various abilities such as the yellow bird that can speed up and spin after launch, a knot of blue birds that split into 3, black birds that explode violently and white birds that drop serious egg bombs (they're white... get it? Like the crap they leave on your car). Like in other puzzlers such as Bejeweled or Tetris, you don't get to choose the order in which the birds can be launched which is good since if you could, it would make the puzzles way too easy at times.

All the silly nonsense aside (and it does get pretty silly), Angry Birds is instantly addicting and will have you trying to get the top score on every level. Leaderboards help with that because you can redo levels over and over in order to improve your score. I can't tell you how many times I replayed a level just to try and beat it while using the least amount of birds. iPhone users be warned. I have killed my iPhone battery many of times with Angry Birds. And for only $.99 cents, this game is a MUST for anyone that owns an iPhone or iPod Touch.

Review: Splinter Cell: Conviction

It's no secret that I never liked the Splinter Cell series mostly due to the way they handle stealth. That being said, I got caught up in the hype for Splinter Cell Conviction and to my surprise, actually liked it. The story this time around for Sam Fisher is that he finds himself looking for his daughter's killer in hopes to exact revenge from the bastard. He get's a lead from an old friend that tells Sam that someone has info on the killer's whereabouts and Sam should go "meet" him. After finding the man and Sam convincing him to talk by smashing his head into various objects (cause we all know a swift blow to the head makes you remember REAL fast), Sam gets tricked back into his old life by people that will not give him info about his daughter until he does a little work for them. Simplistic in nature, yes, but it works for how well the game is paced. I know some people that are use to the old Splinter Cell games and how it was slower paced, I think the direction Ubisoft went this time around is better for the people, like me, that always wanted to play as Sam Fisher, but in a more action based role versus sneaking in the shadows the whole game. You can still do the stealth approach if that's what you are into as such is the beauty of this game. Whether you like to bust out that AK-47 and mow baddies down or sneak around like Batman and snap a couple necks, this game lets you do both. I feel this game is enjoyable for long time fans of the series as well as newcomers that have always wanted to play a Splinter Cell game but was thrown off by the steep learning curve of the stealth mechanics.

The game mechanics are good enough to enjoy either stealth or fast paced action. As with every Splinter Cell game, Sam Fisher gets really cool toys to use to take down enemies. Things like EMP grenades, Remote Mines (my fav), and some old staples to the series Sticky Cams and Flashbangs help you in your way through the game. 2 new features in Splinter Cell: Conviction are Mark & Execute and Last Known Position. Mark & Execute is your insta-kill move in which by taking down an enemy using a hand-to-hand takedown move you receive the option to mark up to 4 enemies (depending on what weapon you have equipped). Once marked, you can at any time, as long as the enemies are all in range, hit the execute button and Sam will go into a really cool quick kill animation dropping all the marked enemies with a shot to the head. I understand that this seems like a "Win" button but you can only store 1 use of this move. After that, you have to earn the right to use it again by doing a hand-to-hand takedown. I never really used this more than 5 times during the game. I had more fun dropping from the ceiling with my knee in the enemies face than Mark & Execute.

The other new feature is Last Know Position. Really basic in what it is, it can help you circle around enemies by fooling them into going to the last place they saw you. This kinda makes the A.I. in the game stupid but I guess they have to in order for this feature to work. I again never saw a use for it since I was so good at the game (yeah who believes I am any good at games?). Other things that Ubisoft was showing off in early previews was how they project your objective onto the environment which also doubles as a waypoint since it is projected in the direction you need to go. This made the game feel more cinematic and was a cool way to show you where the next place to Jason Bourne some bastards.

Overall feel of the controls are adequate enough to get the most out of the game although I have to question why Ubisoft thought to make the controls non-changeable as well as having the reload button be pushing the left analog stick in. It takes some getting use to but I still found the location of the reload button awkward. I also had an issue with the movement in Splinter Cell: Conviction. Not sure if it's just me but the movement in this game felt a little "loose" in the sense that it was precise enough. I would tap over to the right and it would seem Sam would move more than I told him to do. It wasn't a game breaker but it did make me climb up from a railing a couple of times right into the path of a security camera.

You do get upgrades in this game that carries over to Co-op/Multiplayer. In Splinter Cell: Conviction, you get an assortment of weapons at your disposal and some that unlock as you get further in the game. I found that although I had machine pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, sub-machine guns, I never needed anything but my trusty pistol with a silencer. I did upgrade all my weapons just to do it. The usual upgrades like silencers, laser scopes, bigger clips, stronger ammo, etc are there for you to upgrade your arsenal with. Even when you are in a firefight, all you really need is your gadgets and pistol since Splinter Cell Conviction has the cover system from the Rainbow Six series. Still, it's nice to have options.

Getting points to spend on upgrades is where the fun was at for me. You have to complete in-game challenges called P.E.C. (Persistent Elite Creation). Challenges range from kill 5 enemies without being detected to make it through a whole level without being detected or firing shot. There are varying levels to each challenge so you can do the same one over and over until you mastered it and cannot gain any more points from it. This is once of the things that has kept me playing this game over and over. I love doing these challenges and I assume that's what Ubisoft wanted to accomplish with these said challenges. Well done sirs.

The other thing in this game that makes Splinter Cell: Conviction a must buy is Co-op/Multiplayer. I played with a buddy, which is crucial to enjoy co-op to it's fullest, and had a blast. There are 3 modes (4 if you sign up for U-Play) to co-op that you can enjoy. Campaign, Hunter, Last Stand are your options in what mode you want to play. The Campaign mode has a story that is a prelude to the main story of the game so if you paid attention during the main story, you will like this prelude since it sets up the main story well enough. This mode also has a wonderful ending that will surprise a few of you. Hunter mode is where you go through checkpoints on a map and kill the required amount of enemies at each checkpoint. Alerting the enemies increases the amount you have to eliminate so there is a challenge to be had here. Last Stand is what could be the equivalent of Horde mode in Gears of War 2 which most people are copying now into their games. I feel that most of you will have a lot of fun playing co-op and that it will keep this game in your rotation for games to play with your buddies on a Friday night for weeks to come.

If you have always been a fan of the Splinter Cell series, Conviction might be a step back for you but there is still enjoyment to be had. If you are a new to the series and would like an easy stealth mechanic mixed in with some great action set pieces, this is well worth your time to play.

Review: Heavy Rain

How far are you willing to go to save your son? No this is not Ransom and you are not Mel Gibson. Instead, you are Ethan Mars. A serial killer going by the name 'The Origami Killer' kidnapped your son and will kill him if you do not figure out the clues left behind from the killer in time. I know this is a vague description of the story but even the beginning tutorial level is so good it's not to be spoiled for people who haven't played yet. Heavy Rain is a great adventure style game likened to the old Sierra or Lucas Arts adventure games back in the day. Instead of playing as one main character, you are put in the shoes of multiple characters that each has their own story and, depending on what decisions you make, cross paths as well. That is the beauty of Heavy Rain. Each choice you make can drastically change how the story plays out.

Speaking of choices, the way QTE's (Quick Time Events) are handled are amazing. Not only do they place the icon of what button or motion of the analog stick in an easy to see spot on the screen, it also does so in a way that coincides with the actions going on. There are times where your character is panicking so the buttons or directional movement is wildly moving on the screen. It actually makes you feel what the character on screen is feeling. Not once did I feel that a missed button press or motion was the games fault but rather my fault...and I loved it.

The way they have you walk in this game is a little clunky and can be frustrating to navigate the environment but nothing too extraneous that will take you out of the game.

The graphics are really well done and shines the most when you notice the environment and how the weather reacts to it. Rain drops hitting the brim of the hat or dripping off your coat. Even the life in the background is well done. I caught myself often looking in the background as people walked by and cars drove past windows. Played a big part in making you feel like you are in the game.

The character models are well designed although there are some glaring issues with some of the movement of characters as the are engaging in dialogue. I often noticed weird facial ticks and head movement that didn't seem natural to the situation. Also, some of the collision detection was a little off in certain scenes between characters. This however is easily overlooked and doesn't take you out of the game.

This all sounds like a cheesy crime thriller but it is the most engaging experience I have ever had playing a game, ever. Now I know there are some of you that will turn away from this 'Quick Time Event' style of play which is a shame. I encourage you to at least rent this game and give it a shot. This game delivers on what it sets out to do and will be an experience you don't want to miss out on.

Review: Mass Effect 2

The first Mass Effect had a wonderful story, the kind that Bioware has been known to deliver with all their games. Sadly, that was the only thing really holding it together. A lot of bugs and design mistakes made it hard for people to make it to the end (the Mako was the bane of everyone's existence). Thankfully, Bioware listened to people's gripes with Mass Effect and delivered what has to be the best game experience since Uncharted 2 and may be one of my favorite games of all time in Mass Effect 2. Mass Effect 2 has an epic, albeit clichéd, story that pulls you in from the get go. The story is so well laid out that it seems like a big budget sci-fi space adventure. Nowhere did the story take a turn to a point of me wanting to skip parts. The dialogue choices as well as the voices were excellent. I felt the first Mass Effect had too many choices and lead to me being a little bored with all the dialogue trees I had to dig through. Character development was very engaging and was tied in so well with the story. It made you care about every single person on your ship.

The recruiting of teammates is handle well enough. You go to your galaxy map like you did in Mass Effect and select what solar system you want to travel to. Helpful info is highlighted on certain solar systems so you know if there are critical missions or teammates to acquire. What was added in Mass Effect 2 is that you can now complete “Loyalty” missions after recruiting someone. Completing a loyalty mission will reward you with unlocking that persons skill that was previously locked. Speaking of skills, the skills have been drastically reduced leaving people upset that the RPG-ness of the game has been reduced and playing second fiddle to the shooting aspect of the game. Although I miss the various skill trees you could level up in Mass Effect, I felt satisfied with the slimmed down version. They made the limited skills you have more effective and relevant to what class you are playing as.

Combat has changed for the better in most respects. Though I love the tighter controls and the feel of the new combat design, I miss the unlimited ammo in the first game. Replacing the overheating weapons with ammo clips kinda took me out of being in the future. Ammo was hardly a concern for the most part in the game as enemies drop ammo for you as well as containers housing ammo for your heavy weapons as well. The quick select menu for choosing what skills you want to use for anyone has been cleaned up as well and is easier to navigate. I never felt pulled out of the fight while selecting skills to use for each of my squad members. The HUD also looks better with a clear description of what the enemies health is as well as if they have any barriers or shields up. All of this made for fast paced, very intense fights.

Gone from Mass Effect 2 is the inventory system. In its place is an upgrade system. During your missions, you will find some upgrades for you and your teammates weapons or you can purchase them from vendors on certain planets. After finding the upgrades, you must research them back on your ship by using minerals that you mined from planets in the surrounding solar systems. No longer do you have to drive the horrible Mako to explore planets. Bioware has replaced that with mining using probes shot from your ship. Mining does get mind numbing to a point but is a welcomed change from driving the Mako.

From beginning to end, Mass Effect 2 is a perfect blend of combat, story, and character development to keep you on the edge of your seat until the credits roll. Everything you do is crucial in the game that it gives you sense of pride and ownership of the decisions you make throughout the course of the game. This is a must play game this year.

Review: The Saboteur

Alright! We're gonna be doin' one thang and one thang only....and that's killin' Nazis. The Saboteur is mainly a 'go here and do this mission next' game in the vain of all the other GTA clones. This is one of the better ones out there but could have been better if it had more polish done to it. The story is simplistic enough. Race car driver gets robbed of his victory, driver and friend go to exact revenge by stealing cheaters car, both get caught up in a Nazi scheme, friend dies, you go on a tirade to kill your friends murderer. A little too paint by numbers in terms of revenge stories but not too much you can do different with that style. The flow of the story felt good enough to keep me at least semi interested in it to find out what happened next. Of course there are some plot twists with one not done well enough so when it happens you are shocked not because its good, but because it made no sense.

The music was amazing and fit the ambiance of the era the game was set in perfect. I love the way the music in the car goes from sounding like a crappy am radio when standing near the car to sounding like a live performance with you in the front row. I could almost smell the stale cigarette smoke in the air as some lovely dame sang a nice jazzy number next to a piano. Although some songs seem to repeat more than others, it wasn't a bother to me. The voice acting was moderately passable. At times, it seemed the voice actors lost the accent they were going for in one sentence then in another, magically have it back in full force. Also, the stereotypes were played up heavily in this game. For me it was annoying at first but it grew on me as the game progressed and actually made some parts funny.

The direction they took with the art style was beautiful. For places that were under Nazi occupation, everything was colored in a Sin City style of all black and white with splashes of color in certain areas (eyes of the characters or a piece of clothing, etc). When you would free certain areas of Nazi control, the color would come back to that area to signal that you freed the area. I didn't like the color all too much when compared to the black and white style. I think it took away how the black and white coloring made you feel while gunning down Nazi's. It helped with the gritty setting the game was going for right from the beginning of the game. Speaking of the beginning of the game, the opening sequence is pretty good (not because of the ladies) and feels like a movie intro more than a video game intro. If you buy the game new, there is a free DLC called "The Midnight Show" that unlocks brothels that you can hide in as well as the pasties that the ladies wear are removed. Honestly, I saw no relevance in having this DLC other than to get the teenage boys worked up late night in their room.

Unfortunately, the game mechanics was the main thing needing a good polish in The Saboteur. Tons of pop in textures (cars appearing out of thin air and bouncing as they hit the ground driving towards me), glitches (getting stuck in walls or enemies thrown off buildings float in mid air) were frustrating but not a deal breaker. What really killed the mood of stomping a mudhole in some Nazi arse was the 'stealth' mechanic in the game. How can wearing a enemy disguise be worse than walking around as yourself? Well when you have it so that there is a circle around you on your mini-map and when you do anything but walk the circle gets bigger, thus alerting the guards from 20 feet away that you are the enemy. Not so when you are out of disguise. I can run around to my hearts content and no one says anything (although climbing, sneaking, or holding your weapon out in plain view alerts them). What's the point of using a disguise if you can sneak around better without one? The only time I see it benefiting you to use a disguise is when you need to get into a restricted area. Even then you still have to take out the guards without alerting them which is almost impossible.

What also took me out of the game was how it glitched after I completed a mission and was unable to do the next main one since it wasn't unlocked on the map. Going through the forums for The Saboteur, you can see that other people had issues like this as well. The solution was a simple one...just restart the last mission and it should fix it. Problem for people who only use the Auto Save feature and it gets copied over after you beat the mission that you need to go back to. I was 2 missions away from the end of the game. I will never know what happens now since I refuse to start the game over cause of that glitch.

The controls work the same way Mercenaries 2 does and actually works for this game. With all the weapons you can choose from, I never had the need to use anything but a rifle and a machine gun. I am sure other people used most of the weapons but using that combo worked 95% of the time for any mission you went on. The game has a cover system that actually works in the way I expect it to work for most games. Anything higher up than you shooting will hit you behind cover so you have to be smart about were  you take cover.

I had some fun playing this game despite the glitches. It's not a bad game, just unfinished. If Pandemic had more time to polish up some rough spots, it would be a fantastic game. The Saboteur is worth a play through if just to have fun blowing crap up in the black and white visual style.

Adding More Functionality To Consoles A Good Thing?

With the recent news of the Wii getting Netflix streaming now alongside the PS3 and Xbox 360, it got me thinking about if all this extra functionality in our current gen consoles is a good thing. Up until this generation of gaming consoles, it was more focused on gaming versus renting the latest blockbuster movie release or watching Shakira shake her behind in her latest video. Though I am grateful for this generations innovations for us gamers, I feel like gaming on these consoles is starting to become an afterthought. Before people would be sold on a console for the games it has to offer. Now, I hear things such as "it has Netflix streaming" or "you can use it as a Media Center device" to try and sell the console to consumers. The more functionality you add to these devices, the more wear and tear happens thus leading to early demise to your console. I am actually leery of playing anything in my Xbox 360 or PS3 but games. I understand that people want more for less these days and it does help out with keeping the electronic clutter to a minimum but am I crazy to think if these consoles had less functionality and we left the "bonus features" to all the dedicated devices already on the market, would consoles last longer?

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

We all loved and adored Call of Duty 4 when it came out 2 years ago. I know I took vacation from work just to play the new maps when they were released. That's how good it was. Solid story and excellent multiplayer helped this game stay in the top of the XBL charts for all those years.

With Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Infinity Ward tries to top themselves with a sequel to their behemoth of 2 years ago.

The game continues off from Call of Duty 4 in that you are still in search of Vladimir Makarov 5 years later. Makarov was Call of Duty 4's main protagonist Imran Zakhaev's lieutenants that is now causing trouble in Europe with terrorist attacks.

You play as multiple people in the game and see the story from multiple sides much like the first Modern Warfare. As I tend to do when writing reviews, I do not want to spoil the story of the game so I will not go in depth about the story.

I will say that Infinity Ward went more over the top with all the action sequences you play it's almost too much. In fact, I think that is what made me forget about the plot (besides the gaping holes in it) and just scream every 5 minutes “OMG! WTF!” with my jaw dropped to the floor.

The game will take you about 7 hours to complete so it's right on par with the first Modern Warfare game. This time around for the masochist's Hardened and Veteran difficulties have more of the inane enemies sniping you with shotguns with only a pixel of your character sticking out. Not sure why Infinity Ward thinks this is a good game design to have the enemies consistently own you with a short range weapon from a mile out. How about making it difficult in other ways instead of super accurate insurgents shooting a piece of my hair that in turn kills me?

New to the series is Special Ops, a co-op mode that incorporates levels from the main story into bite size maps that you have to complete certain objectives on. There are 23 missions total, though you have to unlock levels by earning stars in each scenario. The higher you set the difficulty, the more stars you earn if completed. 3 stars are the max that you can earn in each scenario with a total of 69 for everything completed on the highest difficulty. Most missions you can do solo but there are some that require a teammate to complete.

I found the co-op almost as good as Uncharted 2's. Yes, MW2 has more to do in objectives but given that Uncharted 2 main story immersed you into that story so well, it actually carries over to the co-op side of the game. The co-op mission I absolutely adored the most was the snow level where you have to make it to the end of the map without being seen. It is a blast counting down to 1 before you and a friend snipe the 2 guards in front of you. I would have liked to see more missions like that. I could, however, do without the “racing” missions. Those felt like Infinity Ward ran out of ideas and decided to throw those in.

Multiplayer is by far the main reason most, if not all, bought this game. There are still people out there that have not played the story mode! Crazy I know but that is how much people love the MP. There are some gripes with MP though. To me, the game seems too busy with everything popping up on the screen whenever you do anything at all. It kind of takes away from fun a little. Also, the phantom lag is still there. In Modern Warfare, the phantom lag was bad but bearable enough to not rage quit. In MW2 however, it seems to be worse. If you are on the wrong side of the lag, you can unload a whole clip into an enemy and they stop, turn around and shot you once and kill you. Watching the kill cam, you see that you got 1 shot off as he laid into you with his gun. Tie that in with the very poor matchmaking and it makes for really dissatisfying play time. Hopefully this time Infinity Ward will fix this since last time they did nothing of the sort.

Despite some of the flaws in MW2, this is still a must have game for any gamer that is a fan of FPS or high octane, Bad Boys like story/gameplay. Now if you excuse me, MW2 is calling me. OUR UAV IS ONLINE!

Gamer Burnout - Easy to remedy or do you ride it out?

More often then not, we as gamers suffer from Gamer Burnout. You know when you have it when you have the latest and greatest games in front of you and you cannot bring yourself to pick it up and play. I found that stepping away from anything game related and picking up a book or watching some of my favorite TV shows help. After about a week, I am ready to jump back in and immerse myself in all that is gaming. If you have had this happen to you, what did you do to help you get through it? Maybe you have some great ideas or tips for people who haven't found a cure for the Gamer Burnout?

Metacritic - Hurting Your Decision On Buying Games?

I can remember back in the days when you would rush to your latest supermarket to pick up a copy of your favorite game magazine (I use to buy GamePro every month) to read up on the latest games. I would always skip to the reviews first to see what games deserved my money and which ones were better off at the bargain bin or rental. Back then, people had trust in the reviewers working for game magazines such as GamePro and EGM. Not sure what made people stop trusting reviewers but now there is one almighty source for you to see if the latest game is worth your time....Metacritic. Ever since Metacritic appeared in 1999, they have been building up a mecca of which all game reviews gathered from the top game journalists to a small indie review site and are put into a unknown mathematical formula to come up with a score from 0 to 100. Now you might say that this is perfect. No more buying magazines or visiting your favorite site to see what they have to say about a game. You can just head on over to Metacritic and in seconds you have your answer if the game is worth your money.

I, for one, still consider reviews, previews, etc as personal opinions of the author who wrote it and nothing more. Just cause he or she hated or liked a game, doesn't mean I will too. I tend to not care if they hate it or not but I look for the reason why they did and if it will affect my fun in playing that game. Having a quick place to look to see how the gaming journalists at large are liking or disliking a game is great. I will still go to the sites that I tend to trust for a deeper look at the game in question.

So I have to ask the inevitable question....does Metacritic influence your decision making in buying games? Or do you still rely on your favorite site/author to tell you like it is?

Review: Tales of Monkey Island: Lair of the Leviathan

A new month, a new Tales of Monkey Island episode. In the third episode for this 5 part series, the story continues with Guybrush Threepwood and crew stuck inside a Manatee and must come up with a way out to continue your search for La Esponja Grande. With the third installment of the series, I was kinda pulled out of the Tales of Monkey Island series. It felt out of place with the rest of the episodes so far. Not sure if it was the area you are in or the way the story unfolded. It does, however, have the best dialogue to date. I could not stop laughing at all the jokes and how funny some of the voices were.

The puzzles leave something to desire I am afraid. They seemed way too easy for the most part requiring little critical thinking to solve. There is one puzzle that requires you to pick 3 choices for 3 rounds that actually made me think about it for a good 5 minutes before I resorted to using pen and paper to solve it. That one puzzle that some people seem to hate but I beg to differ. It actually reminded me of the puzzles from the older adventure games that you would have to use pen and paper to flesh out your thoughts just to get past.

Although it seems Telltale Games ramped up the comedy and dialogue to the best of the series to date, the story and environment took me out of the story as a whole for the series. If you have made it this far in the Tales of Monkey Island series, I say continue. This episode could be construed as a break in the story so to speak and just plain old fun. Hopefully the next 2 episodes keep up the comedy and dialogue that was in this episode.