Tag Archives: microsoft studios

Gears of War 3 – Review

Brothers to the end.

Gears of War 3. The final game in the trilogy has been out for a few weeks now and it’s fantastic. It was developed by Epic Games and published by Microsoft Studios on September 20, 2011. The final game in the trilogy brings closure, has an astounding amount of content, and retains the solid gameplay that the series is known for.

Being the third game in a trilogy, Gears of War 3 was scheduled to close the series, and there is closure! I played the co-op campaign with my friend over a few days. We tried to stick to completing one act a day, but after completing the fourth act we decided to go ahead and complete the fifth and final act. They varied in length, but they were all about two hours, which was excellent for the way we played the game.

Set a year or two after Gears of War 2, the campaign revolved around Marcus Fenix finding his father who was previously thought dead. His father probably has a way to destroy the locust and lambent that are plaguing Sera, hopefully saving humanity. But, Marcus and crew have to figure out where he is and how to get there. Their path takes Marcus and his allies through a lot of locales, but as has been the case with the previous games, most are destroyed cities. There were a few memorable environments that broke with tradition however, and for the first time in the series, I felt like there was a broader color palette in the game; rather than a muddle of grays.

Mentioning memorable environments reminds me of a memorable moment in the game. About halfway through the campaign, there was a very serious moment that affects the rest of the game. It was especially serious having played through the entire trilogy and developing a sort of affection for the series. This moment was tonally very different from the usual bro-like mentality of the series and it was handled phenomenally.

The active reload, such a cool feature.

So Marcus and crew go through memorable (and sometimes different) environments and there is a special moment about halfway through the game, but what about the ending?  Well I found it satisfying. I’ve heard people complain about unanswered questions and I honestly wonder what they’re referring to. That doesn’t mean I can’t gin up some questions because I can, but if I wanted to know the answers to my questions, perhaps they could be answered in the Gears of War books, I don’t know. I do know that the Gears of War trilogy revolved around Marcus Fenix attempting to save humanity, and in that regard, Gears of War 3 brings definitive closure.

After completing the campaign, my friend and I have focused our attention to horde mode. Originating in Gears of War 2, I didn’t play much of it back then, but I do know things have changed. The basic premise is the same: enemies attack in waves and the players try to survive as long as possible and rack up points for kills. We could also install traps that would damage enemies, decoys to distract them, and many other helpful tools.

Besides just racking up points, money is now an issue in horde mode. Those traps, decoys, and other miscellaneous helpful tools cost money, which is received for fulfilling special tasks, by killing enemies, and at the end of each wave. As my friend and I played we each had our own favorite tools to purchase. I liked spike strips and traps that would damage and slow down our enemies while he loved installing turrets. All of these tools were divided into categories that would level up and allow us access to better tools, cheaper tools, whatever.

Besides the inclusion of money and the tools that brought along, horde mode now features a boss wave every tenth wave. The bosses were randomly picked and they were much tougher than the standard enemies. We saw many different boss waves as we continually died on wave 30. We preferred fighting against the Brumak because he was so large and slow, but we rarely saw him. We went up against a small Corpser often, as well as a few lambent Berserkers, our least favorite. It wasn’t just the bosses we’d have to fight on these waves though; there’d be plenty of small and medium tier enemies too that could prove troublesome if we didn’t manage them.

Mowing down enemies in horde mode on one of my favorite maps.

There is a new mode similar to horde mode called beast mode. We haven’t played this yet, but from the descriptions I’ve heard it sounds like a cross between horde mode and the multiplayer from Left 4 Dead. Instead of playing as the humans, in beast mode players play as the locust and the lambent. There are only 12 waves in beast mode (compared with the 50 in horde mode) so I don’t imagine it’s structured in the exact same way. I assume we get to pick who we play as because there are many types of different enemies.

Now onto the versus mode. While I personally like the series for the campaign (co-op specifically) a lot of people pick the game up just for the multiplayer and this time around it’s sucked me in more than it has in the past. There is a good selection of modes and maps in the multiplayer as well as the ability to play locally with a friend or bots. A lot of the modes are common to third-person and first-person action games; team deathmatch, king of the hill as well as other familiar modes are present so it’s easy to jump in, with practice at least. I feel like there’s a relatively high learning curve in the multiplayer, but playing locally is good practice.

That’s basically versus in a nutshell. I’m really not all that into versus multiplayer myself, but I’ve had a bunch of fun with the game. It’s definitely way better with people you know. My friend and I have played a bunch of the local multiplayer. We stick to team deathmatch and load it full of bots on the highest difficulty, although they’re still really dumb, sometimes allowing the opposite team to heal themselves. But we have found it to be very competitive between the two of us; keeping track of matches, and games, and the overall sets; it’s very entertaining.

Griffin is an interesting character; Ice-T doing his voice helps.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, Gears of War 3 is simply more Gears of War. There are minor differences and refinements but it’s more of the same and that’s just want I wanted. The shooting was solid and the weapons feel much more unique than they ever have. The campaign was lengthy and satisfying, and I didn’t even mention competing for scores and playing with mutators in arcade mode or the four-player co-op! The multiplayer modes are plentiful with a variety or competitive and co-operative options, and the number of unlockables and achievements will keep people busy for a very long time. Gears of War 3 is a fantastic action game.



Gears of War 3
Epic Games
Microsoft Studios

Forza Motorsport 4 – Demo Impressions

It's got a Ferrari on the cover but OutRun this is not.

Simulation racing games are not my favorite genre but I’ve dabbled with them in the past. I was very big into Gran Turismo 4 and spent a fair amount of time with Forza Motorsport 2; I still get the urges to get back into it, but that’s pretty much it for sim racing games. But perhaps it’s time for me to pick another one up. Forza Motorsport 4 was released today but I have only played its demo.

The demo consisted of one track, a beautiful one set in the Alps, and a few cars. The cars, and the game for that matter, were absolutely gorgeous. The track was scenic and idealistic, as were the cars; you’ll never find one with paint as glossy as it is here.

I said these cars were shiny and I meant it.

As has become standard for the series, the user interface is very easy to interpret and navigate. Matched with a minimalistic soundtrack and it’s a very modern game. Also standard for the series are the helpful driving assists. Driving and braking lines are available to help find the best path as well as more technical assists, upping the difficulty, and the rewards when turned off.

Racing around the Alps was fun, but I found the AI a little easy. I quickly gained the lead and kept it. To be fair, I probably didn’t have the difficulty adjusted too hard. The feature I got the most enjoyment out of the demo however was the rival races.

In these races, I tried to beat the time trial set by someone on my friends list. They could challenge me and I would drive the car they picked and try to post a faster time. When I raced I saw their ghost and once I beat their time, I could send them a message challenging them to beat my time. It was nice to be able to immediately notify them to make sure they knew to attempt it.

The Top Gear test track is in the game so now you can compete against the stars in cars.

Forza Motorsport 4 is a killer racing game and continues to represent simulation racing games well. The game looked really nice and it wasn’t too hard to get sucked into the thrill of racing against my friends. I wish the demo had a glimpse of the Autovista feature where Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame talks about a car, but I don’t need a demo to let me know that’ll be fantastic. To the right person, Forza Motorsport 4 will be a metaphoric supercar, the pinnacle of racing games and an opportunity to spend hundreds of hours competing against like-minded people. For me, it’s a chance to sucked into a sim racing game again. Forza Motorsport 4 was developed by Turn 10 Studios and published by Microsoft Studios today for the Xbox 360.


Forza Motorsport 4
Turn 10 Studios
Microsoft Studios

Orcs Must Die! – Demo Impressions

The title says it all.

Ensemble Studios was an influential video game developer throughout the 1990s and 2000s. They worked almost entirely on real-time strategy games and on the PC to boot, so I haven’t had any exposure to them. They were shuttered by Microsoft a few years ago and as is the case with many shuttered developers, a few smaller studios form afterwards. Robot Entertainment is one of those studios and they have a new game called Orcs Must Die!

If it’s not clear from the title, a lot of orcs die in the game, and the character I played as (the war mage) did let’s say ninety percent of the killing. The impression I got from the intro cutscene was the war mage was inept, but I found that to be far from the case. He had many tools at his disposal even in the demo and placing familiar booby traps and watching orcs run through them was entertaining.

I played the demo version of Orcs Must Die and found the setup funny. A powerful mage has been killing orcs for a long time, preventing them from entering rifts and causing much chaos. One day this mage slipped on blood and cracked his head open, leaving this very important task to his naïve apprentice. Naturally I play as his apprentice, who happens to be a war mage, one who can use magic, swords, and crossbows.

Unsuspecting orcs, running across spike traps.

Once the intro cutscene ended I was given control and I filled up a hot bar for quick access to my weapons and traps. I had two weapons throughout the demo that allowed me to deal with the orcs directly, a crossbow and a sword. They were both easy to use and effective, but it’d be mighty hard to hold back the orcs with these weapons alone.

The most interesting aspect of the game was my ability to set traps. The stages I played on were very linear; all three were hallways in fact, so the orcs didn’t have much of a varying path. In fact, I could see the path the orcs would take via lines making it even easier to set traps. I believe a new trap is unlocked with the completion of each stage and I had access to a few in the demo.

The first two I had access to could be placed on the ground. One was a spike strip and the other a tar pit that would slow orcs down. Another I could place on walls and it shot arrows at orcs whenever they passed. The last one I unlocked was an exploding barrel that would explode when I shot it with my crossbow. I developed a strategy early on by placing tar pits and arrow walls in the same path thereby slowing enemies down to make sure they get shot full of arrows. These traps weren’t free however, but my income was easy to come by. Each orc killed would give me some money and I could place traps on the fly.

The war mage, taking aim at orcs before they cross the tar pits.

The intial setup for Orcs Must Die! was amusing, but I don’t think there’s going to be any depth to the plot, and that’s fine because the gameplay was fun. I found it monotonous at first, but after I developed my tar pit/arrow wall strategy, a light clicked and I began thinking of other combinations. There weren’t many traps in the demo though so my experimentation went unfulfilled. But, the full game promises many more traps and weapons to utilize on the game’s 24 stages. I don’t believe the game has co-op which seems shocking to me, but I found the gameplay to be a nice blend of mindless hack ‘n’ slash gameplay and strategy. Orcs Must Die! was released last week on Xbox Live Arcade and is being released this week on the PC. It was developed by Robot Entertainment and published by Microsoft Studios on XBLA.


Orcs Must Die!
Robot Entertainment
Microsoft Studios

Toy Soldiers: Cold War – Demo Impressions

Is that Rambo?

Developed by Signal Studios and published by Microsoft Studios, Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a charming real-time strategy game for Xbox Live Arcade.

As the title suggests, I oversaw an army of toy soldiers fighting it out against the Soviets. I was tasked with protecting my army’s toy box from the enemy army. To do so I set a variety of weapon emplacements in predefined locations. As the oncoming army would march towards my toy box, my emplacements would take them out. If you’ve played a tower defense game before, you know what’s in store. I had to plan and often times think on my feet when picking out a weapon. Did I want a machine gun effective against infantry, or an anti-tank emplacement, etc?

I could also jump into one of these emplacements and control them directly, gaining bonuses as I got kills. At one point I was able to control a Rambo-inspired soldier who wielded a machine gun and a rocket launcher simultaneously as he spouted off one-liners. I was enamored with the management aspects of the battle however and didn’t take direct control often.

I liked the scenery around the battlefield.

I had a blast picking out emplacements and watching the enemy army advance on my position, only to fall to my army; this was rewarding. Being able to fight as individual units, such as the helicopter, was fun as well, but it didn’t compare to watching a plan come together as I hovered above the battlefield. Besides the gameplay, I just liked the concept of the game. Fighting on top of a table and seeing the room around me created a realistic sense of scale.

I really liked Toy Soldiers: Cold War. That said, some might find the game to be too simple, but I think it’s a great entry for someone who hasn’t played many strategy games. It was also easy, but the demo was set to the easiest difficulty. Besides those gripes, I really liked Toy Soldiers: Cold War and highly recommend it.