Game Room: October Roundup
Forza Motorsport 4
Forza 4 is a polished racing simulator that delivers countless hours of thrilling driving, amazing graphics and immersive sound design. The heart of Forza 4 is a slick career mode that takes place over increasingly longer and more challenging racing series. Each series is broken into several races. Within each race the game allows to select between car types and car classes based, in part, on which cars you’ve unlocked or purchased. The ability to pick allows you to race your favorite cars more often. Getting behind the wheel is when the real fun starts, and Forza 4 allows you to race from inside or outside each vehicle. The inside cockpit views are especially engaging. Forza 4 caters to drivers of all skills with the ability to activate an array of driver assists. More advanced drivers won’t want them, but novice drivers will appreciate them a lot. The artificial intelligence in Forza 4 is improved, which leads to more competitive races and less rubber-banding where last-place cars shoot to the front of the pack. Forza 4 features 26 tracks and over 500 cars from 80 manufacturers. You can race in Forza 4 with the standard Xbox controller, the Kinect peripheral and with various racing wheels. The online options and settings are robust, so creating or joining a race that suits your interests is pretty simple. The only knock on Forza 4 is the omission of night racing and inclement weather, but it’s a small gripe against an amazing overall package. Score: 10 out of 10
Xbox 360 Wireless <br> Speed Wheel
To coincide with the release of Forza 4, Microsoft has launched the Xbox 360 Wireless Speed Wheel controller. The wheel is targeted at racing enthusiasts looking for something between a standard controller and an expensive wheel peripheral. Setting up and using the wheel is very easy: just synch with your console and it’s good to go. The wheel control is sensitive and responsive, though it takes some getting used to holding it out in front of you. Unfortunately, the wheel only runs on batteries and can’t recharge the same way Xbox controllers can via the USB cable connection. Score: 7 out of 10
UFC on Xbox
Microsoft is ramping up its’ video services on Xbox Live to include the UFC. Starting December 1, users will be able to order UFC pay-per-view events, as well access other on-demand content spanning pre- and post-fight coverage. The UFC content will stream in HD at 720p. This is a nice addition for Xbox in the growing competition with the PlayStation Network, which added MLB last year and NFL Sunday Ticket this season.
Kinect Sports 2
Microsoft’s answer to Wii Sports returns for a second round with another selection of six body-controlled sports games including football, baseball, tennis, golf, skiing and darts. The similarities to the Wii counterparts can’t be ignored, but the Kinect experience adds in many ways and detracts from a few others. Golf suffers most notably, with putting feeling more like an exercise in blind faith than an exercise of any skill. Skiing, too, isn’t quite as precise as its Wii Fit counterpart. Football and darts were standouts, with the former giving an offense-only taste of what could be a whole new way of playing video game football. Crouching, hiking and passing to an open receiver, then running into the end zone, is as much fun as it sounds. The entirety of Kinect Sports, including calling plays in football, can be navigated via effective voice commands. The gameplay here is thin, but it’s fun for the casual and younger crowds. Score: 7 out of 10
Releasing a sports franchise year after year in video games can get tedious if you take your fans for granted (*cough* Madden *cough*). With that in mind, 2K Sports has outdone themselves two years in a row. Last year you got the chance to play as Michael Jordan, in his greatest moments. This year, instead of resting on their laurels, 2K added 14 new legends to unlock. Russell, Chamberlain, Dr. J, Bird, Magic, MJ -- they're all yours to control, just unlock them in classic rivalry games. Oh, and you also get the rival teams, which means slightly less starry players are also unlockable, like Pistol Pete Maravich, Penny Hardaway and Larry Johnson (from the early '90s Hornets). Once you get these guys, you can pit them against any current team and get definitive answers on cross-generational arguments amongst NBA junkies. The presentation is key in these old-school games, too. If you're playing in the '60s, the picture is grainy and black and white. Meanwhile, the announcers stay in modern times, offering up a nice hoops history lesson while you're playing. Across the board, 2K12's presentation steps it up a notch. Player animations are more natural, including dives into the stands and leaps over scoring tables. My Player and The Association receive minor tweaks to hold their own against the Greatest mode and all of its legends. It all adds up to the best 2K basketball title ever and the best sports title of the year so far. Score: 10 out of 10 Game Room Video Review: NBA 2K12
Hands On: FIFA Street
EA is resurrecting the Street series once again with FIFA Street. The game is focused on ball control and skill moves used to dribble past, over and through defenders. EA plans to incorporate professional soccer players and real-life street players into the game. EA says the game will feature 35 different venues and a host of game types with different rules and variable pitch sizes. Multiplayer is a big focal point of FIFA Street giving users the ability to team up online and play in tournaments against other human controlled teams. Fans hungry for a different spin on soccer will want to keep an eye on this title. FIFA Street is scheduled for a March 2012 release.
Hands On: FIFA Vita
FIFA makes a seamless jump to PlayStation’s new handheld, porting over sharp graphics and a lot of the gameplay modes you’re used to from the console version. The biggest advantage to playing this portable version of FIFA is the Vita’s touch screen, which revolutionize how you pass and shoot. You can still use the standard controller set-up, but with the Vita you can also just tap your finger on either the front or back touchscreens to a spot on the field and the ball will sail to that area. It’s a great way to lob passes to streaking teammates. You can also aim shots with your fingers by tapping to specific areas of the goal when the game switches to shooting view. The first few times you get the ball, you may accidentally graze the back of the unit and send a ball careening out of bounds, but once you get used to the new set-up, you won’t want to go back. The new controls put FIFA at the forefront of getting the most out of the Vita as we near its February launch.
Hands On: <br> Grand Slam Tennis 2
EA is serving up a sequel of sorts to 2009’s Grand Slam Tennis. That game was a Wii exclusive, but the follow-up is specifically targeting the Xbox 360 and PS3 with HD graphics and new features. The game features Total Racquet Control, which utilizes the right stick to swing the racquet, replacing the traditional button mechanic. It takes a little getting used to, but players will have the option to use buttons if it’s not to their liking. Expect to see a lineup similar to the Wii game, which featured Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, the Williams sisters, Maria Sharapova, Martina Navratilova and several others. Wimbeldon remains an exclusive license to the game, so tennis purists will certainly appreciate the ability to play for a real slam. Grand Slam Tennis 2 is expected to release in 2012.
Hands On: SSX
Over a decade after it first 360’d onto the scene, this snowboarding adventure game gets a reimagining. The emphasis is still on performing mind-boggling aerial tricks down rollercoaster-like terrain, but the graphics have been souped up and the gameplay expanded. You can choose from nine different seemingly endless mountain ranges and from three different types of races: Race, Trick or Survive. They’re all pretty self-explanatory and offer the type of variety that should build on this game’s original replay value. The tricks are still the draw here, as you can launch off of or grind on top of just about anything. It brings to mind a simpler time in trick-heavy games. While we didn’t get to see the online feature set in action just yet, SSX is looking to make online competition another headlining feature in time for an early 2012 launch.
Ace Combat Assault Horizon
Ace Combat puts you in the air for some fast-paced aerial combat in the latest incarnation of the franchise. The plot of Assault Horizon takes you around the globe to real world locations where you’ll be tasked with straight-forward missions to either shoot enemies out of the sky or protect ground personnel with support aircraft. In the game you’ll get to pilot various jets, helicopters and bombers, all of which are beautifully rendered. You can choose to fly either in a first-person view where you see target sights and displays, or you can go third-person and see your craft on screen. The later is a little harder but more visceral. Multiplayer options are solid, featuring co-op and other standard modes. All of them extend the dog-fighting glory of Assault Horizon and let you find out if you’re the ace you think you are. Score: 8 out of 10
War is hell, and so is the competition for the top first-person military shooting game. EA’s latest entrant in the fray is Battlefield 3. Unfortunately, the campaign mode is a mixed bag. It certainly does a great job of showing off the game’s amazing graphics and sound, and is filled with several strong cinematic moments, but it’s also fairly short and very linear. It also exposes some questionable AI that often leaves you as the only viable target even when you’re surrounded by AI teammates. Multiplayer on the other hand is the reason to buy the game. The console version features 24-player matches with a good amount of maps, destructible environments and vehicles. Multiplayer features character classes, and keeps you coming back for more by rewarding you with weapon and kit upgrades based on your performance. Of course, that means you’ll have to log some serious battle time before you unlock the better guns. Score: 8 out of 10
Uncharted 3: <br> Drake's Deception
Nathan Drake returns for the third installment of Sony’s premiere exclusive title. A well-written story drives you from one exotic location to the next as Nathan tries to track down a long-lost hidden treasure. As you play through Uncharted 3’s third-person adventure, the game delivers the perfect blend of cut scenes, well-designed set pieces, platforming, puzzle solving, and run and gun action. The graphics, voice acting and sound design are all top notch as well. The campaign is decent sized, but it’s sure to leave you wanting more. Thankfully, more is on the way in the form of Uncharted: Golden Abyss coming to the PlayStation Vita in February. In the meantime, Uncharted 3 also features a host of great multiplayer modes that will keep the game spinning in your PS3 for a long time to come. Score: 10 out of 10
Batman Arkham City
Two years ago Warner Bros. released one of the best superhero videogames in Batman: Arkham Asylum. Now the sequel is here to please Batman and action game fans alike. This time Batman is pitted against Hugo Strange, traversing the dangerous Arkham City while trying to unravel several sinister plots. Along the way you’ll encounter an army of Batman’s enemies and allies including Joker, Riddler, Calendar Man, Penguin, Catwoman, Two Face, Mr. Freeze, Robin and many others. The combat in the game is smooth and visceral, and exploring the environments on foot or gliding through the air really brings Batman to life. The graphics, voice acting and sound design are all top notch. Arkham City is a deep game when you fold in the campaign, side missions, and hundreds of Riddler Challenges hidden throughout the game. Score: 9 out of 10
The story in Rage is your standard post-apocalyptic fare, but the real star of the game is a solid first-person shooter, impressive graphics and addictive gameplay. The world of Rage is a vast wasteland littered with human and mutant settlements, which you traverse by vehicle. As you drive from point A to point B there’s plenty of vehicular combat to keep you on your toes. When you’re on foot in various locations you’ll appreciate the balanced combat and the detailed and interesting level design. Rage features an intelligent upgrade system and way of feeding you increasingly cool weapons to protect yourself and accomplish missions. There are some very cool gadgets like gun sentries and robots that spice up the combat as well. The campaign is meaty, and plenty of side missions will keep you busy for a long time. Rage features standalone co-op missions and multiplayer car combat to add further value. Score: 9 out of 10
With Guitar and DJ Hero both on hiatus and Rock Band undergoing some drastic reimagining, the music game industry has definitely seen better days. The novelty of Rocksmith is that the game is designed not to work with a plastic guitar peripheral, but with a real guitar. The game comes packaged with a cable that connects any guitar to an Xbox 360 or PS3. The strength of the game comes in its dynamic difficulty, where notes are added as you play better and dropped as you make mistakes. The soundtrack is an admirable selection of classic and modern rock and the game offers numerous tutorials and minigames to help novice and intermediate guitarists hone their skills, and the sense of gradual improvement is highly addictive. Downsides include a boring presentation and a frustrating audio processing delay when using HDMI connections (the game recommends using analog cables for audio, which few gamers are likely to have laying round). If you’re looking to play guitar, though, it’s worth the work. Score: 8 out of 10
Dance Central 2
The sequel to last year’s premier Kinect launch title, Dance Central 2 brings a new song list and new polish to the original’s additive challenges. The major new features focus on multiplayer, including two-player dancing and dance battles where players take turns trying to out-dance each other. The major strength of Dance Central is the exemplary feedback you get as you perform -- errant body parts are outlined on your avatar in red, while you get a highly satisfying neon trail effect when your moves are all in sync. It’s highly challenging -- and a good workout -- and much more technically demanding than the looser choreography of Just Dance 3. The song list is more club-heavy than the pop-focused Just Dance series, but there should be something here for anyone who likes to boogie. Downloaded content from the first game imports automatically, and tracks from the first game can be imported for a reasonable $5 fee. The only thing missing is a party shuffle feature, but otherwise Dance Central 2 is a pitch-perfect evolution of an awesome party game. Score: 9 out of 10
Just Dance 3
The latest iteration in the insanely popular dance series is the first on Kinect, and comes with a bevy of new songs, as well as new features enabled by the full-body camera experience. The song list is focused squarely on a variety of family-edited, well-known pop and dance tunes and the dance moves generally aim to emulate the songs’ music video moves where possible. The game remains a killer for parties, as the focus this time around is on two-to-four person dance routines synchronized with the expressive, onscreen video mannequins. The Kinect integration works exceedingly well, although the game focuses less on technique (a la Dance Central 2), focusing instead on showing players a good time. Thanks to the camera, players can even choreograph their own dance routines and record them for later. It’s unabashedly ridiculous and embarrassing, but no slumber party should be without an Xbox and Just Dance 3. Score: 8 out of 10
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One
Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One takes the series highly-polished action platforming and turns it into a four-player cooperative (and not just a little competitive) experience. Players can control Ratchet, Clank, Captain Qwark and the lovably evil Dr. Nefarious through an adventure against a new threat, with online and couch-based multiplayer gameplay. The action is as tight as ever alternating between big set pieces and galaxy-spanning platform shenanigans with better-than-average voice acting and writing. The game isn’t nearly as compelling alone as it is with friends, though the AI Clank character does a serviceable job of pretending to be a second player. Like Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and New Super Mario Bros., the real fun comes with competing and collaborating with friends, and the bright graphics, silly characters, bloodless action and forgiving gameplay make big fun for families. Given the multiplayer focus, though, hardcore fans of the series may find the single-player experience a little thin. Score: 8 out of 10
Kirby's Return To Dream Land
Nintendo’s loveable floating pink ball of cuteness is back on the Wii for this kid-friendly adventure. Return to Dream Land is a classic side-scrolling platform game that allows up to four players to play on the screen at the same time (players can jump in and out of the game at any time). Experienced gamers will find it mostly easy, but it’s still a very entertaining game to play alone or with others. The plot of the game is basically Kirby fighting through levels to return missing parts of an alien’s spaceship. Each level also has hidden gears to retrieve (like stars in Mario games), and as you acquire the gears you’ll unlock some cool minigames. Throughout each level are opportunities to power up Kirby, which helps diversify the action Score: 8 out of 10