Review: Gears of War Judgment
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
System: Xbox 360
Gears of War Judgment is a prequel to Microsoft’s popular third-person shooter trilogy. Judgment tells the story of Kilo squad as they face a military tribunal for disobeying orders. The specifics are adeptly revealed via in-game chatter and sparse but informative cut scenes. The campaign missions are short and linear and focus on clearing out entrenched opposition or defending a position against incoming waves.
After each mission you're awarded up to three stars based on the difficulty settings, and whether or not you choose to accept additional contextual challenges named “Declassify.” The extra challenges are varied; sometimes you’re limited to specific weapons or reduced ammo, or you're racing the clock, or there's extra bag guys or visibility is greatly reduced. The challenges add an unexpected element of surprise to each mission and are a notable innovation.
Veterans of the GOW franchise will appreciate the faster pace of combat. You still need to use cover effectively, but mad dashes into swarms of opponents often pay off.
The color palette of Judgment is also a marked improvement. Once you acquire enough stars in the campaign mode, additional levels that take place in the GOW3 timeline are unlocked. Unfortunately, those feel like downloadable content leftovers, and compared to Judgment's gameplay improvements it's unsatisfying to return to a slower pace with no star and challenge systems.
The final boss battle in Judgment is somewhat disappointing but getting there is well worth your time. Solid multiplayer options round out an overall quality game.
Score: 9 out of 10
Review: God of War Ascension
God of War Ascension is a prequel to Sony's successful series. You play as the titular Kratos, fighting against a trio of demon ladies called The Furies. Ultimately, the story isn't as grand or compelling as past games, but then again fighting the Gods of Olympus isn't easily topped.
The combat in the game is very satisfying thanks to a host of secondary weapons and magical abilities. There are a lot of ways to mash and mangle the opposition: expect plenty of gore and blood. That's not a bad thing, but it's nothing new either for a God of War game.
A smattering of puzzles are littered throughout the campaign, though there's not much to them. Ascension delivers the first-ever multiplayer functionality to the franchise. It's decent, though you'll probably get your fill after a handful of sessions. Overall, Ascension is a decent game but it leaves you wondering whether the next God of War on the PS4 will break new ground or not.
Score: 7.5 out of 10
Review: Lego City Undercover
System: Wii U, 3DS
Since 2005, Traveller’s Tales has been cranking out franchised Lego games that, while enjoyable, have become increasingly predictable. Their newest title, Lego City Undercover, is noteworthy not only for being one of the first big-budget Wii U exclusives, but also for being a new and innovative take on the break-build-unlock formula that has sold tens of millions of copies in recent years.
LCU is staged as a kid-friendly version of a Grand Theft Auto title, with an open world city and scads of vehicles, outfits and characters to appropriate and unlock. The game features high quality voice acting throughout and a story that toes the line between adult-friendly hardboiled cop show parodies and traditional Lego slapstick.
The game’s visuals are acceptable, but don’t really make a great case for the Wii U hardware, with occasional framerate drops and building pop-in. Fortunately, the gamepad is used very cleverly with a pseudo augmented-reality view of the game world’s surroundings when the player holds it up and a mini-map at other times.
Loading times are annoyingly lengthy and frequent, but the ideas on display, and the craft and humor with which they’re presented, bode well for Lego games of the future.
Score: 8 out of 10
Review: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon
Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is the sequel to the early GameCube title that put Mario’s brother in a haunted house with a flashlight and a ghost-sucking vacuum. He’s back again, this time on the 3DS, along with deranged Professor E. Gadd, but this time Luigi has to collect pieces of the shattered Dark Moon, which keeps the local ghosts from misbehaving.
The plot is typical Nintendo nonsense, but the execution is spectacular. The game features some of the most effective use of 3D yet seen on the 3DS platform, and the depth adds a real sense of physicality to the environments.
The gameplay alternates between vacuum-based ghostbusting, collectable hunting and some clever puzzle solving in the game’s mansions, all with the sense of wackiness one expects from a title in the Mario family. There’s even a simple multiplayer mode that lets teams collaborate to hunt ghosts.
The only thing really missing at this point is voice acting, which would make the game more accessible for younger kids, but Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a real winner for the 3DS.
Score: 9 out of 10
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