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Are you ready for.... THE longest post on THIS FORUM?!??!

Post by Mozzy on 12/23/2010, 9:45 am

Ready for an obscenely long post? :D
This is a multi-review for games.
Do not read this unless:

1) You are insane. (like me)
2) You have too much free time of your hands (Like me)
3) You are REALLY bored. (Like me)
4) Or you like muffins. (Do I need to say it?)


BioShock is a first-person shooter set in the fantastically unsettling city of Rapture, a metropolis built under the sea by the megalomaniacal Andrew Ryan. Throughout your lengthy stay, you'll find options for combat as intricate and enjoyable as the story and characters are to interpretation, something that only a handful of games can ever claim to offer.

But to call this game simply a first-person shooter, a game that successfully fuses gameplay and narrative, is really doing it a disservice. This game is a beacon. It's one of those monumental experiences you'll never forget, and the benchmark against which games for years to come will, and indeed must, be measured. This isn't merely an evolution of System Shock 2, but a wake-up call to the industry at large. Play this, and you'll see why you should demand something more from publishers and developers, more than all those derivative sequels forced down our throats year after year with only minor tweaks in their formulas. It's a shining example of how it's possible to bring together all elements of game design and succeed to the wildest degree.

Things kick off with your plane smacking into the ocean and your character having to take refuge in Rapture to survive. Irrational plays on the conventions of the first-person perspective by thrusting you through experiences that toy with and vastly strengthen that fragile, intangible bond between in-game protagonist and yourself. At times, it forces upon you moments of reflection, which is so important and rare in games, where you contemplate the nature of blindly accepted game conventions, which we can't get into for fear of spoiling things. It lays a relatively straight narrative path for you, but it never feels linear, a result of the gameplay as much as the narrative.

The target in BioShock, Andrew Ryan, is anything but a prototypical villain. He's a man of bottomless ambition who built a city under the sea, obsessed with the idea of what makes a man, what differentiates a man from a slave. He's the Randian hero, a man who holds his own creative vision above all else, and he's Rodion Raskolnikov's exceptional person, someone who can be excused for committing crimes to achieve a goal--and he knows it. His vision, Rapture, is clearly a colossal failure. The driving force behind the game is your quest to discover why this man's alluring vision of an artistic utopia failed so completely and why you've stumbled upon it. Even though Ryan spits out what seems to resemble totalitarian propaganda, you can't help but sympathize with him. He has alluring ideas, speaks them with conviction, and comes off as a sympathetic visionary despite his severe eccentricities.

As you continue through Rapture, you'll discover it speaks to the nature of what a single-player game is--why do we choose to play a game that isn't online, where you can't interact with others? Like reading a novel, it's to form your own impressions, to see the same events, hear the same words, and come away with a unique viewpoint. The thematic blending and twining of BioShock's personalities is so powerful, it acts like any good book or movie, assaulting you with its ideas, popping into your thoughts when you least expect it, and broadening your understanding of what a game can achieve. Instead of painting Good and Evil across the foreheads of Rapture's denizens with a neon brush, Irrational gave everyone murky motives, much like the shadowed, soaking environments you're constantly plodding through, or the blurred vision you get after walking under one of Rapture's ubiquitous waterfalls.

It's the little ideas that pop up from time to time that make this world so believable: the piano plinks that resonate as you browse menu options; the guitars you can actually play randomly scattered around Rapture; the way every room is realistically constructed reflects both the heights to which Rapture managed to climb as well as the decadence and sense of voracious, selfish entitlement that brought it smashing down. You'll hear some of the voice-overs muse, "Why do they wear the masks? Maybe there's a part of them that remembers how they used to be, how they used to look, and they're ashamed." Little bits like that get tossed at you, and you don't necessarily have to absorb them--they're not essential to plot or anything, but they're instrumental in making BioShock as immersive as it is.

The game is broken up into large sections, each separated by load times. Don't worry; these aren't load times like in Half-Life 2 where the game pauses unexpectedly. Instead, the load times are logically placed and never jarringly interrupt the experience or mar the immersion. Each section comes with its own cast of NPCs who aren't mere stage bosses--oftentimes you don't even engage them in combat. Instead, you are battling their ideals and their insecurities, grappling with their motivations as much as the splicer minions who so frequently assail you.

Just because the various versions of the splicers, genetically altered humans, are the standard enemies in the game, they still manage to exhibit as much personality as the rest. They're not zombies; they're totally aware. They're regretful of their condition, yet realize that there's no outlet for them, no opportunity to express themselves or be creative, like an intelligence crippled by hopeless drug addiction. That's true in a metaphorical sense as much as it is in the literal; they're trapped in an underwater city, after all, much like you. It's almost as if BioShock's enemies want you to kill them, to put them out of their misery. Sometimes they seem overly xenophobic and at others whimsical, gallivanting about with an ironic sense of humor.

They're such eerily spirited foes you may even come to pity them. The Big Daddies, for instance, Rapture's lumbering guardians, will wander around stages banging on outlets from where their wards, the Little Sisters, would normally emerge. If you've killed or freed the little girls, as you frequently must, the Big Daddy will invariably knock again and seem genuinely confused over why nobody's coming out as they stomp and groan their way to the next outlet. It's another example of the wonderful details that make Rapture seem so alive.

Then there's the actual combat, which presents a huge array of options. Each weapon in the game has three types of ammunition, all with varying effects. Then you've got a range of plasmids, genetic enhancements to your character that allow for magical attacks, as well as myriad types of tonics you can equip to augment plasmids' effectiveness or buffer your character in other ways. This isn't a game where you're simply limited to an SMG or grenade launcher to attack, though you can use those if you so choose. Tell a Big Daddy to protect you with a powerful plasmid and he swats away any attackers. Set up shock traps with your crossbow darts and rearrange them with telekinesis. If that doesn't work, throw bees at your enemies. Use the enrage plasmid and enemies will beat each other to death as you hide in the corner. Then, as they're fighting, set one of them on fire and toss a chair at the other. While some plasmids are more useful than others--electrobolt and incinerate in particular--the number of ways to dispatch enemies is really limited to your own inventiveness. Had this game been rife with AI problems, the combat system wouldn't have been nearly as good. But as it stands, enemies execute interesting attack patterns, and the plasmids that alter enemy behavior actually work, though we did notice one or two occasions when the AI appeared to glitch out, making the splicer stand still as we hit it.

If you wanted to it's entirely possible to plow through BioShock using only the most powerful plasmids, but where's the fun in that? You can set up sonic traps for enemies that fling them into the ceiling with deadly force, attach sticky grenades to environmental objects and hurl them at enemies with your telekinesis plasmid, hack security bots to fight for you, or use the decoy plasmid to keep your enemies constantly guessing your real position as they absorb bullets from your commandeered machines. So while there certainly are methods of attack that can be deemed the most effective, you're really missing out on what makes this game so thrilling if you fail to experiment.

And experimentation is something you'll almost be forced into against Big Daddies, who appear in every stage of the game. You'll find the game is designed to force you to fight these things, and the damage they deal and punishment they can absorb requires quick reflexes and inventive, on-the-spot problem solving. This goes especially for those playing on the hardest difficulty setting, but even on medium Big Daddies put up quite a fight. Should you die, which as long as you're not playing in easy mode you certainly will, you get revived at checkpoints called Vita-Chambers. Though you get back some health and Eve, a bar that governs plasmid use, enemies don't. For instance, if you've been hammering away at a Big Daddy for five minutes and gotten him down to around a quarter of his health, that's exactly how much he'll have after you die and return to battle. It ensures enemies can eventually be killed with enough persistence, which might be a nagging feature for some.

Hacking comes into play quite a bit, since through the associated mini-game you're able to control flying bots, turrets, reduce prices at vending machines, and open otherwise inaccessible doors and safes. The mini-game itself requires you to match up sequences of tubes to allow a liquid to flow uninterrupted from one specific point on the screen to another. Various tonics in the game can modify the challenge, and you'll find the system possesses quite a bit of depth. Should you eventually get tired of hacking everything, you can always make auto-hacks through the item invention system or, if you're facing security bots, load up some shotgun shells and blast them to bits. With the PC version, hacking is a more streamlined process since you don't have to move a cursor around with thumbsticks - you just hover over with your cursor.

Besides hacking and modifying plasmids, there are a few other interesting ways to divert your attention. Embedded later on in the game, you'll find a camera that opens up a whole new system of character ability modifications. Scattered around Rapture are one-time use weapon stations that let you further augment various aspects of each armament. These aren't always out in the open, and often you'll need to consult your map to see which rooms in a stage you've missed to find them all. A nice feature of BioShock is you can revisit previous stages at certain points. Enemies will have respawned, so you can pull more money, Eve and health hypos, and various other items from their bodies while backtracking to uncover whatever rooms you may have passed by.

If you're debating which version to get, the PC version handles better. In part it's because of the greater precision with the mouse and keyboard, but also with how the plasmids and weapons are selected. With the default settings RMB switches between the two, LMB fires, and we preferred the mouse wheel to an the Xbox 360 version's bumper clicks for quickly cycling through. By hitting Shift you can bring up a plasmid and weapon selection screen if you so desire, but the mouse wheel scrolled through fast enough to stay useful. Note that you can't set LMB to fire a weapon and RMB to fire a plasmid; there's only one fire function. We also noticed the option to bind the functions "switch and fire weapon" and "switch and fire plasmid," but when we tested it out these only switched from weapon to plasmid and back again, much like the RMB default function. All weapons and plasmids are also bound to the number and function keys, making it even easier to ensure you always have the ideal attack at the ready.

One thing we were delighted to see is how effective the wrench, the game's only melee weapon, remains throughout the whole experience. Through various tonic power-ups it can even become more powerful than a majority of your firearms. Since you swap plasmid powers and tonics in at out at any of the specific vending machines, it allows you to alter your play style on the fly and utilize the full range of what's available.

Really the best aspect of BioShock is how well all the disparate elements blend together. Story plays out mostly through voice-overs, allowing you to stay immersed in the action as plot and character is fleshed out. The sound design is simply amazing here, from the laments of splicers and the groans and thumps of Big Daddies to the sickening smacks and cries of combat to the startlingly realistic ambient noises and humorous calls of the vending machines. Even the near-death alert, which pipes up when your character is low on health, is expertly woven into the game's overall soundscape, unlike other games that test your levels of aural tolerance with sharp and distracting beeps. Every character's voice is well acted. Andrew Ryan in particular is a joy to listen to, with enough vocal gravitas to give Stephen Colbert a run for his money.

To really appreciate the sound in this game, and not necessarily the frenzy of combat, but merely the ambience of Rapture, just stop moving your character when he's alone. Now crank the speakers, or headphones. You start to hear the metallic clanks, the otherworldly whispers, piping up at various distances away, impressing upon you the notion that this world doesn't stop at the walls around you. No matter where you are, there's always the water, a trickling undercurrent of audio, reminding you of your precarious position within this crumbling city being crushed on all sides by an indifferent ocean.


Take a moment to consider how bizarre this game world really is. It's set in an underwater sprawl of surface-style skyscrapers, a city called Rapture. Filling the pressurized space is a society founded by an industrialist named Andrew Ryan with the notion that there'd be no limits on what the individual could accomplish. It was all a spectacular failure as the civilization that developed on the ocean floor turned to genetic modification. Gradually their sanity was devoured by their unrestricted experimentation as they ripped each other to shreds and withdrew into private pockets of insanity. It was a city so rotten and morally oblivious it spawned Little Sisters, girls who roamed Rapture's leaky halls performing the repulsive task of plunging needles into the dead and extracting and ingesting genetic material. Between all the twists of plot was woven an entertaining style of gameplay in the first BioShock, making for a mix of powerful play mechanics, mood, and joy of exploration rarely seen, and one that wound up resonating with the public, making the game a critical and commercial success.

To those who've been playing games for years now, it wasn't exactly surprising that Irrational Games made a great title. The studio had been doing just that since System Shock 2. The bigger unknown was how the folks at 2K Marin, founded with members who worked on the original, would handle the sequel. As it turns out, they did a damn fine job. It's a rare thing for games built with this kind of big budget to take seriously a thematic cohesion between setting, story, and gameplay, yet that's exactly what we get here.

BioShock 2, unlike its predecessor, is split into single-player story and multiplayer competitive modes, so in that sense it's a bigger title. The gameplay, at its core, is largely the same. You use a combination of weapons and special powers called plasmids to battle your way through freakish enemies on a quest that leads you deep within Rapture's recesses, uncovering all manner of ghoulish secrets on the way. The progression structure remains intact as well, so you'll move through a number of discrete stages where you'll be assigned tasks unique to that area before getting back on the path to the story climax. While it'll feel initially very familiar, it won't be long before you start to run into some of the changes 2K Marin has made, all of which are welcome and help refine the gameplay formula to make for a better play experience.

The story picks up 10 years after the events of BioShock. Jack, the unfortunate soul from the first game, is out. This time you play as a totally different character, a Big Daddy that's searching for a specific Little Sister. It's a tale that lacks some of the bite-your-tongue chaos and panic of the first and, because Rapture is a familiar place now, some of the mystery. But it makes up for that by being more tightly wound and digestible. While Rapture's still packed with lunatics, a lot of what you encounter, from the audio logs stuffed under soaked refuse to the hastily scrawled messages on the walls, for the most part directly refer back to the main events of the game. For the sequel, where there are fewer questions about what a splicer is and why the city failed and more about who you are and what you're doing, it turns out this kind of approach works well, driving the action with a more coherent momentum.

That's not to imply Rapture's lost its endearing madness in transition -- far from it. Dedicated players who are willing to wander and pick up all the audio tapes will find plenty of details to absorb, which I won't spoil. Throughout the experience you'll find a more clear-eyed approach to bringing the player to moral crossroads in several ways, one of the more obvious examples of which has to do with the Little Sisters. Big Daddies, in case you aren't familiar with BioShock's fiction, were created to protect the girls. Since you actually play as one of these giant armored monsters in BioShock 2, the connection is strengthened. You're no longer an outsider looking in at an inexplicably strange relationship dynamic; you're the overprotective parent of the pair. In that sense, it makes harvesting the sisters for their Adam (killing them so you can upgrade yourself), even more reprehensible, again reinforcing a sturdier system of moral choice.

If you don't want to harvest, you can choose to adopt one of the Little Sisters instead. This leads into defense sequences where you'll perform the role of other wandering Big Daddies seen in Rapture, standing guard while the girl pulls Adam out of the dead and blasting away all the splicers that invariably try to interrupt the process. With a nice array of defensive options in your arsenal, from hacked security bots to trap bolts and rivets and mini-turrets, in addition to all your regular offensive options, these sequences can be a lot of fun. Alongside the Big Daddy battles and more challenging Big Sister encounters, they serve as yet another opportunity to dig into your deep arsenal of plasmid powers and multiple ammunition types. If the thought of a defense sequence makes you slightly nauseous, it should be reassuring to hear you can skip them entirely, the cost being that you just missed out on a bunch of Adam.

The more you dig into BioShock 2, the more you'll find to like. While BioShock was a statement game and served as evidence that creativity doesn't come at the cost of commercial success, BioShock 2 follows along a familiar path for sequels. It doesn't take extreme liberties with elements that worked before; it improves them in simple but effective ways. No longer do you have to switch between active plasmids and weapons; they're just both up at once so you can shoot and shock without an irritating swap. No longer does the research camera require you to dance around avoiding enemy fire while snapping pictures. Instead, it works like a video recorder, and lets you fight as you normally would while it records your actions. Gone is the pipe hacking mini-game, replaced by a real-time variation that keeps the action going as you take over flying robots, turrets, and security cameras. All these changes contribute to a less fragmented flow and, along with the smoother narrative, a more unified experience.

The way weapons and plasmids are upgraded has also been given some attention, as you now upgrade things like your double-barreled shotgun and launcher in more significant ways. The first two upgrade tiers make the weapon more effective in combat, and the next unlocks a special function, such as fire damage from your rivet gun and cluster explosives with your launcher. It's not a huge change, but it adds an extra carrot to chase after on your way through the entertaining story.

Plasmids have been given an overhaul, as they now alter in function as you purchase additional tiers. For instance, your Insect Swarm plasmid will initially daze and injure enemies. Upgrade it all the way and anyone killed by the bugs will turn into a kind of living bomb, spewing out more stingers at any enemies that pass by the corpse. These added wrinkles to the upgrade system, in addition to the wide array of tonics you can find and equip for passive bonuses, give you a better sense of progression and achievement as you move forward. They may even be enough to get you to play through again while following different upgrade tracks.

Like many sequels, what you get with BioShock 2 is a number of tweaks and improvements to gameplay. When it comes to story, unfortunately, none of the characters introduced in BioShock 2 are quite as fascinating as Andrew Ryan, though you will still hear from him quite a bit through audio tapes. A new lord has taken over Rapture named Sofia Lamb. She's obsessed with bringing into existence a utopian society in which compassion is the keystone, where the sense of self is entirely snuffed out and where everyone instinctually strives to act in accordance to what's beneficial to the whole. In practice this meant the development of a cult following in Rapture diametrically opposed to Andrew Ryan's belief in progress through the ambition and determination of the individual. It's a simple but effective foil for the game, and if you're picking up the audio recordings you'll hear more detail of how Ryan worked to silence Lamb and the ways in which your story is wrapped up in the power struggle and your origins.

While the new personalities in the game aren't as captivating and the setting doesn't possess the kind of mystique that was established so powerfully in the original, the way in which your actions affect the world is handled more effectively. Lamb tracks your progress through Rapture, and due to her influence she's managed to whip up the splicers into a religious froth. No longer do they seem as broken and pathetic as they once did. Instead they're linked by a purpose loosely associated with a warped take on traditional family values, which again ties into your role as you relate to the Little Sisters. There are more moments in BioShock 2 where you'll be forced to ask yourself a question not too often considered when playing a AAA first-person shooter. Are you a single-minded killer, or are you capable of empathy? Do pause to consider how your actions might affect those around you, or do you obliterate everything in sight?

You'll see a lot of familiar enemies here as splicers surge at you with guns and melee weapons while shrieking and giggling, but you'll also find a few new opponents. Bulky brute splicers take far more damage to bring down and you'll see new types of Big Daddies as your struggle with Lamb progresses towards its climax. Then there are the Big Sisters. These skinny diving suits fight with ferocity unmatched in Rapture, and in addition to charging directly at you, they'll also resort to plasmid use to try to put you out of commission. Overall this means you'll be squaring off against a wide variety of foes with a nice mix of offensive behaviors, something those who played the first game with its more limited range of enemy types are sure to appreciate. Should the combat prove too challenging, death in BioShock 2 works similarly to BioShock, as there are Vita-Chambers that serve as respawn points throughout the game. If those bother you, however, there is the option to turn them off at any time and rely more on reloading your save files. I'd also recommend veteran gamers bump the difficulty up to hard, which can be done at any time during play.

Rapture's halls aren't quite the visual spectacle they were when we saw them back in 2007, but the subaquatic city is still a terrifically detailed and engrossing setting. Water ripples down walls and pours from ceilings, blurring your vision, a reinforcement of your precarious position and foggy understanding of events within a city that, from the looks of things, should have imploded long ago. It's a reminder of the fragility of the human condition and how philosophical ideals, no matter how well-intentioned, will crack and seep into nothingness when put up against the eternal advance of the forces of nature.

The sound meshes well with the rest, as the creaking and groaning of the city mixed with muted shrieks makes for a backdrop that establishes the idea that there's much more going on in Rapture than what you can see. Your existence as a Big Daddy is also effectively conveyed by the heaviness of your footsteps and the clangs of bullets as they plink into your armor. Strong voice acting lends believability to characters you interact with mostly through audio logs, an excellent score underscores the mood, and a diverse range of distinct audio effects like the alarm triggers and high pitched whistle of security bots all feel right at home in this decaying dystopia.

And let's not forget about the multiplayer, which is actually set before the events of the first BioShock while a civil war was raging in Rapture. There are story bits built into this as well, and people familiar with the fiction will be pleased to see how the Modern Warfare-style leveling and unlock structure is bookended by cinematics. As you dive into battle against others, you'll be able to rank up and unlock a variety of weapons, plasmids and tonics to customize your character loadout during a match. Depending on whether you're doing free –for-all deathmatch or playing defense in a team-based mode, the styles of loadouts you bring with you can be swapped around to play most effectively. A number of new weapons and plasmids have been added here as well, and the simple interplay between shocking, igniting, and shooting is actually a lot of fun, even if it isn't the primary draw of the product. Whether or not it'll have much staying power remains to be seen, but if you buy the game for the single-player, Digital Extremes' well designed online suite should easily provide hours of entertainment beyond the core single-player story.

Halo 3:

There is no cliffhanger ending that will have you screaming at your television, no doubting that this is Chief's tale and everyone else is along for the ride, and no question that it is a worthy conclusion to the most successful trilogy in videogame history. But just like that girl you dated in college, Halo 3 has some issues. Don't' worry; the good far outweighs the bad. This is Halo 3, and it is indeed the game you've been waiting for the past three years.

When last we left Master Chief, he was headed towards Earth, determined to stop the Prophet of Truth and his cadre of Brutes from destroying the universe in a blaze of zealotry. Cortana had been captured by the Gravemind, a disgusting creature intimately tied to the Flood. The Arbiter and his Elites, once bitter enemies of humankind had made an uneasy truce in order to conquer a greater evil. Frankly, things didn't look so hot for Earth and its inhabitants. For three years fans have been waiting to find out what comes next. Most won't be disappointed, as the story eschews some of the ambiguity of Halo 2 and tells a more straightforward narrative. Events play out like a sci-fi action blockbuster.

Lost, though, is the intriguing side-story of the Arbiter and his Elites. The focus is clearly (and perhaps deservedly) on Master Chief. That means in the single-player campaign you will be Chief and Chief only. The Arbiter is just a dude with a weird mandible and a cool sword. While keeping players locked in as Master Chief is a wise decision on Bungie's part, it's a shame that the Arbiter's story fades so far into the background. That's not to say I want to spend half the adventure following the Arbiter and leaving Chief to twiddle his thumbs, but it would have been nice to see such a prominent storyline from Halo 2 have more weight in the cinematic telling of Halo 3.

Clearly Bungie was listening to the criticisms of Halo 2. Not only is Chief in the driver's seat once more, but the environments are varied enough that each level feels distinct. Though you will still need to backtrack in a few areas, it's not as tedious as in previous iterations. The levels in Halo 3 lend to spectacular pacing that weaves from close-quarters, intense battles with Chief and a few soldiers, to more epic arenas. It does feel as if the marine presence is lighter than it should be, but there's enough chaos in the field to at least make it appear as if Master Chief is part of something grander.

Most of the nine levels are hunky-dory, but the penultimate chapter is so bad, just thinking about it puts a rotten taste in my mouth. It's the kind of level where, if playing through Halo 3 again, I might just stop once I reached it and not bother finishing the skirmish, much less the fight.

It should be noted that the difficulty level is a bit out of whack, though done purposefully. Bungie has to service an enormous casual crowd who (let's face it) suck at games. There are millions who will play Halo 3 and only Halo 3 this year. All they want is to finish the fight and take a nap on the couch. But at the same time, there are an equal number of hardcore gamers who have become immensely skilled at Halo over the past six years. For these folks, the single-player version of Heroic and Legendary difficulties has been ratcheted up just a tad. Many will immediately jump into Normal difficulty, and never see the more aggressive AI that calls in reinforcements and makes better use of its weapons and equipment. Frankly, Normal on Halo 3 is too easy for the average gamer and that lack of challenge may actually bore some.

Do yourself a favor and test your mettle on the harder difficulties right off the bat. Once again, the Halo franchise utilizes some excellent AI that shouldn't be missed. The Brutes, now the primary focus for your aggression, have a distinct hierarchy and their actions are generally dictated by rank. The Brutes also make liberal use of the new equipment system. By pressing X you can deploy one of several different pieces of equipment that offer a momentary offensive or defensive advantage. You'll often enter a fracas and see a Brute deploy a Bubble Shield (a transparent dome invulnerable to gunfire) or a Regenerator that creates a green cloud which continually heals those within its radius. By their nature, the Brutes are aggressors and can be coaxed from the safety these beneficial pieces of equipment provide. While I wouldn't go so far as to say no two battles are alike, you will certainly illicit some different responses depending on the actions you take.

The enemy AI is generally solid, but the same can't be said for your teammates. It's been said that the world would be doomed without Master Chief. After seeing the other marines in action, that makes a lot of sense. The AI drivers are less like marines and more like Mr. Magoo; support troops are just fodder for the Brutes; and the Arbiter makes me question why the Elites were ever feared in the original Halo. Let's get the Arbiter clear. He's the bad ass "Chief" of the Elites. He should be able to handle his own. In the campaign, the Arbiter and Master Chief are BFF. If you play alone, the AI takes control of the Arbiter and allows him to tag along. Enjoy watching your supposed equal getting shot in the face repeatedly and generally making himself utterly useless. What is the point of sticking you with an AI compatriot if all he's good at is respawning?

While Heroic and Legendary single-player offer a good challenge, the same can't be said for co-op. A decent Halo player can get through the campaign alone on Heroic in 10-13 hours. Four decent Halo players can burn through Legendary in 4-5 hours easily. Unlike Halo 2, you aren't penalized for having a teammate die. As long as you aren't amidst a swarm of enemies, your dead buddy will respawn, whereas in Halo 2 if either player died, you were forced to restart from the last checkpoint. But don't worry, Bungie has set up an interesting system to add a bit of challenge and replayability to co-op for those who don't want to be able to obliterate the enemy with ease.

A few truly adventurous souls discovered that there were skulls hidden in the levels of Halo 2. Those skulls were not only hard to find, but often hard to reach. And they could only be acquired in Legendary. The skulls make a return for Halo 3, but have been re-imagined so as to be more accessible to gamers and to make replaying Halo 3 more interesting. The skulls (most of which can be found at Normal, Heroic, and Legendary difficulty), can be activated before a level to increase the intrigue. Most of the skulls make things a lot tougher. One removes your HUD and reticule, another empowers enemies with incredible grenade skills. Some, however, are just for fun. The Grunt Party skull, for example, offers confetti celebrations for head shots. Throwing a fiesta for popping Grunts is an excellent way to assuage a hangover. Well done, Bungie.

The skulls play a role in the new optional scoring system. In co-op you can turn on scoring to earn points for kills and other key actions, allowing you to compete for the best score against your teammates. Ultimately, your Metascore doesn't mean a whole lot, except to your ego. Still, both Halo and Halo 2 are games that people continue to play to this day. And it's the little extras, like the Metascore, that add longevity. Even when you've finished the fight, you'll want to start it all over again. Especially if it means jockeying with your buddy (either online or offline) for a chance at bragging rights.

The meat of Halo 3 is its multiplayer. Let's be honest with one another: There's nothing Bungie could do to make everyone happy. And since it's tough enough for me to be ensure my own happiness, I can't really address the individual concerns of the millions who will hop online from September 25, 2007 and play through September 25, 2010. So let's talk about what makes me happy. Halo 3 strikes a nice middleground between the the multiplayer of Halo 1 and Halo 2. For the most part you get the best of both worlds.

The battle rifle has become the default kick-ass weapon of the Halo universe, the M16 of the 26th century. But there are few weapons that, in the right hands, can't put someone to death. There are a few casualties to the tweaks made to weapons. The submachine guns are pretty much obsolete next to the more powerful (and cool) Brute Spikers. And all guns still fall short of the power of a well-placed punch to the back of someone's skull.

One of the more surprising improvements falls to the Energy Sword. Less prevalent in the campaign, the Energy Sword has a new twist in multiplayer. If two opponents swing swords at the same time, the two will clash, momentarily stunning one another, but leaving both alive. It then becomes a furious battle to see who can get in the killer strike as the two clang swords in a clumsy form of swashbuckling. A quick-jab strike with the melee button can often result in a win in such contests. While it's not Soul Calibur, it adds enough of a wrinkle to make Energy Swords seem fresh again.

Several swank new weapons have also been added to the arsenal. There's the powerful Spartan Laser, which can practically cut Warthogs in two; the Ruthian Gravity Hammer, which allows you to swat vehicles to the other side of the map; and the aforementioned Spikers, that, when dual-wielded, can bring a quick death to enemies at close range. While all of the new weapons are fun, one stands out. There really is nothing quite like seeing a Spartan walk through a door toting the hefty flamethrower. If you're online and hear a dulcet-toned IGN editor ask, "How you like your ribs," prepare to be barbecued.

The Gravity Hammer and Spikers can feel overpowering at times, but there are limitations to all of the weapons in Halo 3. If you're sick of being knocked 30 feet in the air by a Gravity Hammer, keep your distance from the guy who talks softly and carries a big stick. Besides, balancing weapons doesn't mean they are all equal. It means there is a cost for power -- usually in aim, or recoil, or range.

Really, the multiplayer boils down to one question: Is it fun? Yes. It's a lot of fun. And that's all Bungie needed to do. Create a multiplayer that's fun and addictive and that will satisfy the majority, even if it doesn't necessarily please the vocal minority.

Also added to the mix are some new vehicles. Bungie didn't go overboard by inundating Halo 3 with too many new rides, but there are a few sweet ones. The best of the bunch is the Brute Chopper. If the Fonz followed the Prophet of Truth, this is the bike he would ride. It's fast, maneuverable, and very deadly. It is perhaps more powerful than it should be, but when a vehicle is this cool, you almost need it to be king of the battlefield. The bad guys don't get all the fun toys. The UNSC Marines are given access to the Hornet, a futuristic VTOL aircraft that's likely to see limited use in multiplayer, but is still fun to toy around with. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my personal favorite: The Mongoose. This two-person dirt bike has no offensive capabilities, but it can drive your opponents nuts, thanks to its speed. There's nothing quite like driving circles around the enemy while mocking them.

Halo 3 ships with eleven multiplayer maps, though more are expected through downloadable content over the next few years. This is the series' strongest collection of maps to date. There's an excellent variance not only in range, but in layout. The majority of the maps service both long-ranged and close-ranged combat. While larger, more open maps -- such as the desert-themed Sandtrap -- offer the chance for snipers to get in their licks, those who prefer to get their kills up close will find it's possible to stay out of the open and clean up with the shotty. Snowbound and Isolation are both examples of maps that have open upper levels, but more confined subterranean areas.

If you don't dig the layout of a particular map, you can make some adjustments with the Forge. This new addition to the Halo series will keep these eleven maps fresh for years. While you can't alter the geometry of the level, you can make any other adjustments you wish in the Forge. On your own, you can hop into any map using The Forge and rearrange the placement of objects, weapons, power-ups, spawn points, and objectives. You can also access a Counter Strike-style menu and spend money to drop new vehicles, equipment, objects, and more anywhere you like in the map. Then you can save the new map you've created and upload it to for others to check out.

But the Forge offers much more than just some map-editing tools. You can also play games in the Forge while the map is being edited. When you decide to edit, your player transforms into a monitor (a la Guilty Spark). Change to the monitor and zip away from a firefight. Or buy yourself a rocket launcher and drop back in the middle of a fight ready to blow away the competition. Depending on the settings you choose for The Forge, you could potentially have a dozen players manipulating the surroundings. Perhaps you'll form teams of two, where one person plays the monitor, dropping supplies for the other player. Or you could have the host act as a sort of Dungeon Master, changing the location of items as a Slayer match roles on. There are near limitless possibilities. You don't even have to fight to enjoy the Forge.

As a prime example, four editors from competing websites met to test out the Forge recently. At first, we spent some time fragging one another and learning nifty ways to manipulate the system to gain the upper hand on our opponents. But within an hour, we were joining forces to create the biggest pyrotechnics show ever witnessed in Halo. We stacked every possible explosive, then discovered a way to cause one canister to respawn in the air, falling into the pile every 30 seconds to create a spectacular explosive display. The result was a repeating series of massive explosions, which created a unique new environmental danger during firefights.

If you take the rich gametype customization (as previously seen in Halo and Halo 2) and then add the Forge into the mix, you can see how Halo 3's multiplayer has a near limitless number of permutations. While the casual fan may not find much interest in building their own versions of maps and gametypes, this will keep some of the more serious gamers playing Halo 3 for years without getting bored. And, again, all of this can be quickly uploaded so that others can check it out. The online elements of Halo 3 are above and beyond anything we've seen previously in a console game.

By now you're frothing at the mouth thinking of the thrilling battles in the campaign, of blasting people online with all the cool new weapons, and mucking around with the Forge. Now imagine if you could keep a visual record of everything you ever do in Halo 3. It's not only possible, it happens automatically. Every time you play Halo 3 -- be it a campaign level, Forge, or multiplayer -- the 3D game data from your match is saved to your hard drive or memory card. The file is only a few megabytes, but you'd never guess it from the replays you witness.

Let's say you pull off the particularly amazing feat of launching your mongoose off a man cannon (a propulsion device in some multiplayer maps) and as you pirouette in the sky, you manage to snipe an enemy who's rocket has just whizzed past your head. You're no wordsmith. And, more importantly, you're friends know you could never pull off this insane headshot you're trying to describe. Now you have footage to prove there's no fiction behind your greatest deeds. You can go back to that match, pause just as you snipe, detach the camera from your character, and pan around the scene. You'll see the smoke trail of the rocket, and can follow the path of your bullet right through your victim's skull. This can be recorded and uploaded to the one you sniped or anyone else that has a copy of Halo 3.

You can watch your complete tour of the campaign. Want to see a Scarab explode in slow motion? Easily done. Want to see what the AI is doing while Master Chief is running other folks over with a Warthog? Yeah, you can do that too. The replay system is truly amazing, groundbreaking, and undeniably cool. It really is the very best thing about Halo 3. I've watched plenty of replays at this point, but it still has me in awe every time.

The replays also create a greater appreciation for the beauty of Halo 3. This is a gorgeous game that has such a quick pace, it's easy to miss out on some of the things it does well. Pause during any explosion and fly the camera by to view a marvelous shot. The particle effects are truly top notch. It never fails to impress. There's the smoke and dust from the back of the Brute Chopper, the blinding red bolt of the Spartan Laser in action, the subtle shine of Master Chief's armor. Considering that Bungie had to have every nook and cranny of the environment detailed and rendered constantly (because you can detach the camera for replays), Halo 3 really is a marvelous technological achievement. It may not be the prettiest game on Xbox 360, but it's also doing far more than any other game. For that, I can forgive the occasional moments when the framerate jitters or there's some minor texture pop in. I get texture pop in just trying to butter a bagel.

They say to save the best for last, which is why I've neglected to mention the sound until now. Were it not for the excellent sound effects and the top notch score, Halo would not be nearly as good of a game. When Master Chief is about to enter a major battle and the music sweeps in, it's impossible not to feel a sudden surge of adrenaline. Halo's combat theme is the perfect futuristic military anthem. How could you not bring your A game after hearing that evocative orchestral powerhouse? I can't stress enough how vital the sound is to this franchise. The score is powerful, cinematic, and at times moving. It's the music that humanizes a hero who wears a helmet 24/7. For my money, Halo 3 has the best soundtrack of any videogame.

Halo 2:

The single-player campaign in Halo 2 isn't particularly lengthy, and it should take the average player 10 hours or less to crawl through on its default difficulty setting. The story starts you out as the Master Chief, the intrepid space marine that blew apart the Halo ring, a devastating galaxy-destroying weapon, in the first game, much to the dismay of the Covenant, a group of alien races who regard the ring as a religious artifact that will send them on "the great journey." The plot of the second game deals with the Covenant attempting to go on this great journey using another Halo ring, called Delta Halo. But there's plenty of political upheaval going on in the Covenant ranks, making it tricky all around. Add in a Covenant invasion of Earth, and you've got all the pieces required to throw these factions together again for another round of fighting--though since some of the Covenant races will be fighting each other, too, it's often easier to just run past all of the action. Even though the hour count for completing the campaign is already low, at times the game feels like it's dragging on, repeating the same corridors and same enemies a little too frequently. Toss in a couple of extremely underwhelming boss fights, and you've got a pretty solid campaign, with some good vehicle sequences to break up the first-person action, but it's also one that feels like it could have been a lot better.

The multiplayer side of Halo 2 is the part that still gets attention to this day, and it translates to the PC fairly directly. The game has support for 16 players. Halo's multiplayer moves relatively slow when compared to other popular shooters, giving it a more methodical, tactical feel. You really need to know the capabilities of all your weapons to succeed with any regularity, as at any moment you'll be able to toss grenades, fire one of your two weapons, or close in for a melee attack, which satisfyingly kills instantly if you hit someone from behind. Death comes quickly if you're left exposed for long, as your shield drains quickly and takes some time to recharge. This, too, forces you to play somewhat carefully.

There are plenty of game types built into Halo 2, and these games work on any of the 23 included maps. Aside from standard deathmatch, called slayer here, most of the modes are team games, like capture the flag, team slayer, and so on. There are also a ton of built-in variants for the modes, such as team shottysnipers, which arms every player with a shotgun and a sniper rifle and removes all the other weapons on the map, or rockets, which is a game of slayer with only rocket launchers. All this variety is nice, but it can also get supremely confusing, because you can make your own variants, too. What, exactly, is RumbleSWAT X? The game doesn't offer any immediate clues, so in some cases you'll just have to jump in and find out for yourself.

As a Games for Windows-branded game, Halo 2 has full support for the Xbox 360 controller. While the game plays just fine with a mouse and keyboard, playing with a controller is a bit closer to the original console experience, right down to force-feedback support. This creates some really weird and potentially unbalanced trade-offs in multiplayer. By default, a player with a mouse will be able to turn more quickly and, if that player is skilled, more accurately than a gamepad user. Gamepad players can increase the right-stick sensitivity to turn faster, but they also get another benefit that feels downright dirty. Like the console version, the PC game employs a certain amount of auto-aim when you're using a gamepad. This makes sticking to other players for up-close shotgun blasts or melee attacks significantly easier with the gamepad, and there doesn't appear to be any way to disable it or even detect that another player is using a pad. After pumping up the gamepad's sensitivity, we found ourselves doing more damage when armed with a gamepad, which makes the two control schemes feel unbalanced, is sort of crazy when you consider how tournament-focused the current Halo 2 Xbox scene is these days.

On the Xbox, Halo 2 introduced an innovative server finder, known as matchmaking. With matchmaking, you'd create a party, select a game type, and hit go. It would then match you and anyone else in your party up with similarly skilled players. The PC version of the game maintains a few of these concepts, but it also offers a standard server browser, which works better and faster when it comes to quickly selecting a server and getting into a game. Additionally, the game doesn't appear to keep track of any player rankings.

Halo 2 is the first game out there with support for the PC version of Xbox Live, the console's pay-to-play online service. There are two levels: a free silver level and a paid gold tier. The game comes with a free month of gold access, or if you already have an Xbox Live account, you can log in using your e-mail address and password. The split between silver and gold on the console makes some form of sense--if you pay for gold, you can play online games; if you're silver, you can't. Of course, that sort of tactic wouldn't work on the PC, where the standards for free online multiplayer are firmly entrenched, so Microsoft has made some seemingly arbitrary limits for silver members on the PC. Headset-based voice chat is available to all users, which is nice. Silver members are limited to using the server browser to find games, while gold members can hit a "quick match" button to get into a game quickly. This button has a habit of throwing you on empty gold tier servers, and the server browser works better anyway, so this is hardly a reason to sign up. It's also worth noting that one of the gold tier abilities will be to play against Xbox 360 players in select games, but Halo 2 does not have this sort of cross-platform support. Lastly, the game will only let you get multiplayer achievements if you have a gold account.

Achievements were an unexpectedly popular feature on the Xbox 360 that give you a "gamerscore," and each retail game supporting the service has up to 1,000 points to earn. Halo 2 one of the first PC games to offer achievement points, and they'll go right onto your Xbox 360 Live account if you already have one. In Halo 2, you'll earn points for completing each level in single-player, but most of the better achievements are on the multiplayer side, where you'll get points for ending someone's energy-sword killing spree, killing four people quickly, running someone over, jacking a vehicle, and so on.

The Halo 2 multiplayer offers a lot of options, but it's apparently missing the one option that matters: disabling auto-aim for gamepad users.
The visuals in Halo 2 aren't going to win any awards. Yes, it certainly looks better than its Xbox counterpart, but that's mostly due to antialiasing and support for resolutions up to 1680x1050. On a fairly modern machine that bypasses the minimum requirements, things like fog in the single-player will have a pretty heavy impact on the frame rate. The multiplayer is also much more demanding than the single-player, which can also reduce your frame rate. But beyond the technical limitations involved in trying to make an old game look, well, less old, the game does have a sharp art style that still works. The early battles on Earth look nice, and your time spent on alien ships and worlds reveals a great attention to detail, making each environment look like a cohesive part of a sci-fi universe and not just a thrown-together clump of vaguely futuristic textures. The sound effects also do a good job of driving this point home, with plenty of good ambient sounds and quality weapon noises. The single-player campaign uses music in specific situations, usually around plot points, and the music is dramatic and appropriate in all the ways you'd want a sci-fi movie's score to be.

While the game has maintained a great deal of popularity on the Xbox, Halo 2 feels like something of a relic when you put it out as a 2007 PC game. The single-player campaign is interesting, and the cliff-hanger doesn't feel so horrific when you consider that Halo 3 is going to be hitting consoles to finish the story in just a few months. The multiplayer side is fun, too, but all of it feels overshadowed. The PC has more than its fair share of amazing shooters that blow Halo 2 away in every possible way, making this one best suited for Halo fans that want an easy way to play custom maps. However, even those fans are just as likely to be put off by the imbalance between the game's two controller options, making it a bit of a no-win situation, despite its high production quality.

Halo: Combat Evolved:

Halo consists of an intense, story-driven single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode. The campaign is a good 12 hours long at the normal difficulty setting, and the dynamic nature of the battles, along with the multiple, well-balanced difficulty settings, gives it good replay value. The multiplayer component only supports up to 16 players and includes a bare-bones integrated server finder. The game tends to play smoothly online if you can find a server with a low enough ping, and it features an assortment of different modes, which are variations on the standard modes of play found in your typical multiplayer shooter: They include slayer (meaning, deathmatch), team slayer, capture the flag, king of the hill, and some others, though slayer and CTF are by far the most popular choices judging from the servers that are up and running.

Halo is famous for integrating powerful, fun-to-drive vehicles with the on-foot action, and this is what distinguishes its multiplayer component from that of other shooters, though some other PC shooters have also integrated vehicles more or less successfully since the original release of Halo. The PC version exclusively features a couple of multiplayer-only weapons not found in the Xbox version--the flamethrower and the fuel rod gun, sort of a plasma grenade launcher--though they're not as interesting as the game's core weapons. There are also six new multiplayer maps that were made for the PC version of the game. All in all, Halo's multiplayer component can make for some good, chaotic fun and seems to have a lot of potential for when the fan community gets hold of the editing tools that Gearbox has promised.

For the time being, it's Halo's single-player component that's the main attraction. If you've played it on the Xbox, then you already know why--and you may still wish to pick up the PC version of the game just to go through this outstanding campaign with higher-resolution graphics, virtually non-existent loading times, and more-responsive controls than what can be found on the Xbox. The standard first-person shooter controls work flawlessly with this game, so you'll be able to pick it up and start playing in no time if you've played any other shooter lately.

Longtime fans of Bungie's games know that one of the company's greatest talents is to tell a great story in its games. Halo is no exception, and it easily features one of the best stories to date in a first-person shooter, though that's not necessarily saying much. In any case, this is some great science fiction. The game picks up as the Pillar of Autumn, a human warship, is under heavy attack by the alien race called the Covenant. As a last resort, the ship's captain issues the order to awaken an experimental soldier from his cryogenic sleep. Referred to only by rank, the Master Chief is a skilled solider equipped with a very durable environment suit. He's tasked with protecting the ship's AI, Cortana, and escapes with some human marines toward a mysterious ring-shaped planetoid called Halo. Halo has its own atmosphere and ecosystem, but clearly it's no natural construction. There, the Master Chief (along with the surviving human marines) will continue the brutal fight against the Covenant and, with Cortana's help, will uncover the secrets of Halo and hopefully find a means to escape.

As the Master Chief, you're highly skilled with all types of ranged weapons, which you can even use as deadly bludgeons when up close and personal with the enemy. You're also able to commandeer human and alien vehicles and hurl grenades accurately at a great distance. You have a motion tracker that detects any enemies in the vicinity, as well as recharging energy shields that allow you to survive against direct impact from energy or ballistic weapons. And your armor prevents you from being killed outright by such attacks should your shields be depleted.

Thank you! I will now accept my reward! I would liek sum hugzs yew n00bz. <3
Tree Puncher
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Re: Are you ready for.... THE longest post on THIS FORUM?!??!

Post by Fishmeister on 12/23/2010, 9:52 am

:/ You just spammed five video game reviews in a single post.
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Re: Are you ready for.... THE longest post on THIS FORUM?!??!

Post by Mozzy on 12/23/2010, 9:54 am

Not just SPAMMED, but stolen spam from The Axis II!

...I miss The Axis II. One of the mods there gave me this MC account. *Cry*
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Re: Are you ready for.... THE longest post on THIS FORUM?!??!

Post by Williamrose on 12/23/2010, 11:21 am

No im not. i will be back latter when i am.
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Re: Are you ready for.... THE longest post on THIS FORUM?!??!

Post by Oxysoft on 12/23/2010, 12:43 pm

Now i think its a bit appropriated to say

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