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AudioSoldier Blog

My 5th Favorite Game Of All Time

Grand Theft Auto IV (Xbox 360, 2008 )

Niko Bellic's exploits are as varied as they are fun, and the cohesive plot is wonderfully woven.

Having recently completed Rockstar's latest entry in the seminal GTA series, Niko Bellic's exploits -- the sociopath, deadpan-delivering protagonist of the game -- are fresh in my mind. And what exploits they are. From high speed boat chases to bank robberies to the enactment of revenge and streaky motorbike missions, the tasks are as varied as they are fun, and, with ninety-four story missions in total, you're not going to be completing this saga any time soon.

Not that you'll want to. Niko's story is such an immensely engaging one that you'll be disappointed when it's all over, but disappointed in the way that you wish there was more, not an unfulfilled disappointment. I never expected to return to the game after finishing the story but, lo and behold, I slipped right back into Niko's fitting form only some hours after the closing credits appeared. And yes, I was only 60% through the game as a whole.

There are still pigeons to shoot, side missions to complete and new vehicles to filch. But, for the time being, it's only fitting I reflect on the immensely satisfying ride I've been on for the last week. Without a doubt GTA IV provides one of the most exhilarating, absorbing and addictive campaigns I've ever experienced. It proves that sandbox games, when done well, really work. There's so much cohesion at work and the story is wonderfully woven with Orwellian precision. It's astounding Rockstar can get it right so continuously.

There are so many details in GTA IV that are worth sampling. You've probably read reviews by now, detailing the individual aspects of the game - no, hearing about them doesn't spoil the experience. GTA IV is a visceral beast; it has to be experienced first hand.

I'm not going to waste your time explaining in laborious detail why this is worthy of the hype. Take it from me, take it from the numerous print reviews and take it from the millions of fans that have snapped up this gem: it really is one unbelievable journey. And it's 5th on my list.

My 6th Favorite Game Of All Time

Dead Rising (Xbox 360, 2006)

Dead Rising can be immensely unforgiving, but it's that much more compelling as a result.

Some love it, some hate it, but there's no denying that Dead Rising makes an impression. Initially, you feel you're being confronted by a straightforward zombie slash-fest, but the game's clever RPG-st*le level up system soon becomes apparent. It's really the only game I ever wanted to replay, and it achieves this by not forcing you to restart from scratch, but starting again with the level you ended on your previous play-through. Since the game involves you finishing the story segments in the correct amount of time, it feels like an exercise in impossible trial and error first, but having accumulated a level in excess of thirty, you'll soon be breezing through many of the levels. Essentially, it's a game you almost have to play twice (maybe thrice) to achieve the proper ending. Some may disagree with this completely, but I found it oddly compelling.

It's helped by the fact that Dead Rising is imbued with oodles of charm. It's genuinely funny at times and dressing your character in ridiculous attire is just the first avenue of laughs. The shambling zombies are ridiculous at times -- and impressively animated -- but they're merely a hindrance. They don't need to be killed, but you'll find yourself needing to clear a path to reach your next destination, and this usually involves mowing down the fiends with an assortment of inventive weaponry.

Tension levels are ramped to unassailable heights when you're racing against the clock. Although you'll curse the unforgiving gameplay system, you'll also applaud it, since it makes Dead Rising that much more unforgettable. There are many people who simply don't agree with the trial-and-error manner of it, but it creates something that's quite unlike any other contemporary.

Ultimately the raw invention and inspiration behind Dead Rising are real winners. It's one of the finest 3rd-person action/RPG/comedy/zombie/ games I've ever sampled. Wait, it is the finest one, and its fifth on my list for this reason.

Finished GTA IV

I've just finished the story mode of GTA IV. The last mission is pretty difficult, but not considerably harder than anything else I encountered.

It took me 35 hours to finish the 94 mission story-mode campaign. I'm still only at 60% game completion. And you know what the best thing is? I'm keen to get back and continue playing. I assumed that once I had finished all the story missions, I'd have exhausted my love for the game; but no, I'm itching to slip back into Niko's shoes.

This is one unmissable game.

My 7th Favorite Game Of All Time

Indigo Prophecy (2005, PC)

Superb characters help to sell Indigo Prophecy as one of the most absorbing stories ever presented in gaming form.

I had always held high hopes for Indigo Prophecy. Even before its release I identified that Quantic Dream's ambitions would likely elevate the traditional "adventure" genre to new heights and pave the way for a new breed of game. While multiple endings sounded standard fare, I was interested in sampling their envisioning of a new "kind" of game.

And what a game it proves to be. While Simon Says s*tyle action sequences sound childish, they work well. The illusion that your actions really impact on the path of the game are more evident initially, but, to the developer's credit, the illusion doesn't completely diminish at any point.

Towards the end the narrative descends into convoluted madness, but this barely tars the brilliance presented beforehand. The story works better when its kept simple, but the characters remain convincing throughout, and its adult themes (love, sex, murder) are presented maturely and with a great degree of panache.

It might not be a traditional adventure game, but ironically, it works as one of the best I've ever played. The experimental gameplay and action themes meld surprisingly well, and you find yourself identifying with main character, Lucas, despite the seemingly un-identifiable situation he finds himself in.

Solid production values help to make the story that much more convincing, since the visuals are more of a backdrop than the main draw. But the fact that it still looks good today, and the fact that the voice-work and music is of a Hollywood standard hardly hurts matters, either.

Ultimately, Indigo Prophecy was an immensely satisfying ride when I first completed it, and, having gone back to it today, I find it no less absorbing.

Absolutely stellar, this is a worthy number 7.

My 8th Favorite Game Of All Time

Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault (2002, PC)

The beach assault is a defining moment in FPS gaming.

Frightened faces, a heaving boat and innumerable foes. Medal Of Honor's Omaha beach landing may not have been the game's opening mission, but it was certainly the most memorable.

A resounding World War 2 opera, Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault fully immersed me within the world of First-Person Shooters. Was it the kinetic gunfights? Was it the intelligent AI? Or was it the visual spectacle on offer? A bit of everything, I suspect. Either way, I eagerly devoured every one of the game's hellish scenarios that were recreated with diligence and precision: The beach landing a particularly good example of this. It the game's defining moment, ripped straight from Saving Private Ryan, yet no less impacting. Without it, the game would have been an entirely solid FPS -- yet, the beach assault solidified Medal Of Honor's place in the annals of FPS excellence. It really defined how far games had come since the early days; their ability to recreate a celluloid moment with unnerving creativity.

The shores of Normandy were by no means the only standout moment, of course. Trudging through the rubble of a ruined French town with a sniper rifle or infiltrating a mustard gas factory donning a gas mask were other stellar moments, but with the Omaha Beach Landing in place, Medal of Honor could do no wrong. Admittedly, the rest of the game rather pales in comparison, but this is hardly surprising.

Prior to its release, Return To Castle Wolfenstein was touted as the next "big thing", but Medal Of Honor snatched away this mantle -- and with good reason. It stands as the best in its protracted series (evidently down to the team disbanding shortly afterwards and forming the creative force behind Call Of Duty, a spiritual successor of sorts). It was will always stand in a light of its own, the first FPS I truly enjoyed, and 8th on my list.

My 9th Favorite Game Of All Time

MDK 2 (2000, PC)

Three characters for the price of one, MDK 2 offers up as much variety as it does laughs.

A gun-toting Dog, a brilliant scientist and a reluctant janitor. The origins behind the mysterious acronym are mere speculation, but a tentative guess would suggest that the three main characters form the titular name, Max, Doc and Kurt. Three playable characters, and all incredibly different in their own right -- this forms the basis of MDK 2's brilliance, a cacophony of variation as you employ each character's attributes to intuitive effect: Max's (the dog) frenetic firepower, Doctor Fluke Hawkins' harebrained weapon creation and janitor Kurt Hectic's coil-suit.

What an underrated gem it is. Right from the get go the theme song (a catchy tune, I assure you) let's you know that this is futuristic world like no other with humorous fiends and zany weapons. The humor is certainly a standout quality. Kurt's reluctance to "save the world again" belies the traditional hero, and Max's dogged (pun intended) gun-wielding antics provide a suitable change of pace, while Hawkins' ability to combine "traditional" objects adds an adventure element to the game.

There are some dodgy platform jumping sequences and MDK 2 is a bit short by traditional standards, though, that's exactly what it defies: traditionalism. The eccentric nature of the game (and one of the reason's it has likely been ignored by great swathes of the gaming public) is exactly why I love it: It really has no direct rivals.

MDK 2 is a third-person shooter through and through, but the ingenious use of its three characters, intelligent puzzle elements and fun gunplay makes this a standout game in my eyes -- and worthy 9th on my list of favorites.

My 10th Favorite Game Of All Time

Boiling Point: Road To Hell (2005, PC)

Buggy and frustrating, Boiling Point really shouldn't be as addictive as it is.

I was struggling to find a game to place 10th on my list. I had the first five pinpointed within a second, but as the list lengthened, my options dwindled. It was then that I remembered Boiling Point: Road To Hell, a product of European ambition and suitably buggy.

It's a sandbox game in the vein of GTA, but played from a first-person perspective. A little like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. then, though I've never played GSC's addition to the genre. And if I had played S.T.A.L.K.E.R., I'd have probably found it a whole lot more polished. All the same, I don't feel bad for putting Boiling Point on a list of my favorites because, once you get into it, it's impossible to put down.

It follows the sandbox "rules". A huge map, diverse factions and vehicles to traverse the game-world. It could have been crippled by the bugs that vary from comical to game-stopping, but it isn't, and it's a testament to my insatiable appetite for the game that I persevered despite the hindrances.

Graphically its no marvel but there is no denying that the tropical island of Realia is vast and worth exploring. There are snakes that slither through the grass and other appropriate animal life. Providing your PC is powerful enough, you can fully appreciate the dense foliage and with the bloom effect turned on, you find the game surreptitiously enhanced. When I originally reviewed the game I didn't give it enough credit. There isn't much else out there like it, and while many will likely plumb for S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Boiling Point is certainly worth a look.

There are many better games out there from a traditional standpoint (more polished, better looking and less frustrating), but very few as ambitious -- the fact that Boiling Point halfway succeeds with this ambition is reason enough to give it a go. I'm playing GTA 4 at the moment and, in comparative terms, Rockstar's magnum opus is far better. It's more detailed, better designed and a whole lot more varied. All the same, Boiling Point is the only game that has frustrated me to such a degree, yet kept me playing. If that's not reason enough for it to make this list, what is?

Gears of War Review - Thoughts?

Gears of War could be more ambitious in its design, but its cover-centric gunfights more than make up for this.

Gears of War was the first Xbox 360 game I played - what an introduction to console gaming it proved to be. Oozing visual opulence, it belies the Xbox's mere 512 megabytes of RAM. It's more than a technical showpiece however, since the sheer weight of its combat and the intelligent cover system combine to make this the best shooter of 2006. It redefines the genre's parameters and its over-the-shoulder view (during combat) essentially incorporates the best aspects of 3rd and 1st person gaming.

Some critics might slam Gears of War for merely dazzling with its visuals - true, the graphics are its main attraction, but this isn't surprising. It's drenched in a bloom effect that creates an impeccable visual sheen. The character models animate superbly and the chainsaw effect is worth the price of admission alone. But above and beyond the graphics, the cover system is what really sells Gears of War's combat. The Xbox controller effortlessly handles a multitude of actions - lesser games would have bogged players down with unnecessary combos - whereas Epic has created something you can get to grips with in the first half-an-hour. Not that it'll be easy. It isn't the controls you find yourself struggling with, rather the tenacious enemy AI. Their flanking techniques cause real strife and, despite being fitted in a hefty amour-laden outfit, Marcus is no stronghold against gunfire. Thankfully, Gears of War runs the difficulty gamut without ever feeling unfair.

Co-Operative play is good fun and makes the combat a whole lot easier, though you do have to contend with a split screen, and it does seem a shame to deny Gear's graphics in their full, unrestricted glory. Never has a game presented a world in such a myriad of different grays, though, truth be told, you'll ultimately find the lack of variety in its visual output slightly quibble-some.

There aren't many weapons and enemies either, though this complements Epic's obvious intention of creating something scripted and tightly focused. It ignores over-indulgence and considering that each and every weapon has its place, you won't rely on one solely throughout the five-mission campaign. The scripted nature of proceedings means you'll never wander around aimlessly either and the obvious linearity is expertly masked by expansive looking locales.

The term "Next-Gen" is bandied about far too much for my liking. But given what the term supposedly means, it's easy to see that Gears won't have any visual disapprovers. Its gameplay design, on the other hand, can be viewed with a more critical eye. Extinguishing all bestial foes in a particular section does magically open doors - ala Serious Sam - but the absorbing, intelligent cover-centric gunfights are so very excellent that it successfully overrides this. Gears of War could certainly be more ambitious in its design, but would it benefit from it? I think not.

Ultimately Gears of War offers up a thrilling eight campaign and solid multiplayer. It may be somewhat marred by a lack of variety and staid design mechanics, but only slightly. This is still wholly worth sampling.


Reviewer's Badges

I used to have a Top 100 Reviewer's badge a year or so ago, then GameSpot removed them all together. Why was that? When did they re-instate them? At any rate, I ended up deleting my reviews since I was writing for another website. But I'm idly writing (or re-writing in some cases) again and positng them here.

Any answers?

EDIT: Do the Top 100 Reviewer's badges still exist, or is it merely Top 500 and onward now?

The Orange Box Review - Thoughts?

White Forest is home to a proliferation of Hunters and Striders in Episode Two.

It's night-on impossible to mark The Orange Box down. Boasting Valve's magnum opus and its episodic follow-ups, you already have a harmony of supreme first-person shooters. And that's before you factor in the gravity-defying Portal and cartoon-embodied Team Fortress 2, both worthy purchases in their own right.

The Xbox version groups the games together in one easily-navigable menu. Given chronological proceedings, Half-Life 2 is the place to begin. And what a lot changes in three years. The first thing you'll notice as the synonymous City 17 events unfurl is just how bad it looks. True, the water effects still dazzle, the facial animations are impressive and the weapons look nice, but the game's textures look muddy at best. A few objects looked positively woeful too, imbued with a sickly green tinge as if the game's lighting was completely off-kilter, or the engine was struggling to cope. It looks better on PC, but only because a 37 inch television doesn't do it any favors.

Still, you'll awaken from your post Crysis stupor -- where you might be accustomed to lovingly rendered jungle vistas running at atrocious framerates -- when you realize just how well Half-Life 2 has translated to Microsoft's brain-child. Its seamless firefights and seamless story underline why this is still a definitive shooter.

I was eager to press on to newer ground nonetheless.

Episode One is newer, though not altogether new, having been released prior to The Orange Box. Forever a disappointment in my eyes, its stymied gameplay contrasts markedly with its more imaginative forebear. While it continues Half-Life 2's formula, it does so in a more diluted and constricted manner. Given that you can play all three in succession however, Episode Two included, its feels less like filler and more like a bridge between two bigger stories.

Episode Two then is a far more interesting affair, adhering less to the conventions of corridor crawling and placing a greater emphasis on outdoor roaming. Alyx doesn't repeat her performance of holding your hand throughout the entirety of the adventure, though the game stills feels nicely scripted. You don't wander about aimlessly at a loss of what to do, as in Halo 3, for instance.

The game is also a far meatier affair. Gordon traverses a diverse gamut of locales, and his ability to commandeer vehicles adds a new dimension to the ensuing gameplay -- this was one aspect of Episode One that was sorely lacking. Sadly, the driving is belittled by awkward Xbox controls that see the car being accelerated and steered with the same stick. Unsurprisingly, Freeman's new adventure is far longer than his previous expedition, taking six or so hours, a heinously Strider mission notwithstanding.

It also looks the best of the three, largely thanks to its wonderful art direction True, the textures do seem less muddy than before, though you'll be more struck by the scenic vistas, a welcome addition to the Half-Life routine.

The game as a whole is wholly more expansive in its execution and while the opening chapters signal a far more claustrophobic affair, Episode Two ultimately branches out into a game that shadows its predecessor for its sheer quality. And, unlike Episode One, it benefits from its truncated length as it has seemingly convinced Valve of the possibilities inherent in a game without the need for padding.

Not that Episode Two is faultless. It still doesn't look that technologically impressive given recent visual feats and White Forest also isn't that wowing. It's pretty, but you don't get that sense of awe that you do with something like Crysis. Crysis is a far more powerfully-driven game, true, but there's the pervasive sentiment that, with Episode Two, you're in a tight little box and Valve is trying their damnedest to cover up the limitations of the gameworld with clever ploys and subtle tricks.

Its storytelling occasionally feels at odds with recent squad-based shooters that employ mission briefings, though its seamless tale is a trademark of the series that many have become accustomed to love. Gordon's insistence not to speak is a Half-Life staple too, though it does seem odd at times. Perhaps he'll blurt out a cameo line professing a love for cheese in the last episode, akin to Saint's Row's nameless hero during the boss missions.

As it stands however, Episode Two is exactly the sort of game that rectifies the blemish that was its predecessor.

Portal is ingenuity personified, a game seemingly born to ridicule Prey's lackluster attempt at the portal idea. Its ability to make you laugh is a bonus and you'll find yourself re-playing it when Gordon's inhabitance is not to your tastes.

Team Fortress 2 is strangely appealing from a visual standpoint, though some may abhor its cartoon visage. Nonetheless, it has a smooth anti-aliased sheen to it that is not as noticeable in the Half-Life games. While lacking in quantity of maps, its differing c*la*ss*es and immensely enjoyable online play will keep you coming back all the same.

Taken as a whole, The Orange Box is an unrivaled bargain even if you've already sampled Half-Life 2 and its first episode. Gordon's new White Forest adventure is such an addictive, compelling ride that it makes The Orange Box worth purchasing alone. But you'll find that Portal and Team Fortress 2 only solidify your reasons for buying this wonderful package. I can only dream of the deal that will arise when Episode Three emerges.