Sunday, February 27, 2011

Halo: Combat Evolved Completed for the 8th Time

Now that I've made such great progress on my backlog (and I need a break from BioShock 2), I've decided to do something I've never done before: Play through the entire Halo franchise. The last time I did anything similar was in early 2008 when I played through the Halo Trilogy for the first and only time in succession, and now there's double the number of games to satisfy my Halo-fix.

As I always do with any kind of marathon, I'm playing the games in release order so this saw me starting off with Halo: Combat Evolved. Instead of playing it on my original Xbox, which is still working great, I decided to play it via my Xbox 360 for the increased resolution and to use my nifty Xbox 360 Halo: Reach Wireless Controller. I haven't touched the game in three years, and I'm happy to say for a title that's nearly ten years old, it's held up very well.

Launched with the original Xbox console back in November 2001, Halo: Combat Evolved really did change the way we approach first person shooters. It innovated on many fronts providing gameplay elements that are basic by today's standards but were completely new and revolutionary back then. Things like:

- Seemless transitions from large outdoor to indoor areas
- Off-hand Grenades
- Melee with any weapon
- Vehicle combat standardized in regular gameplay and not just as special bonus moments
- Limit to carrying only two weapons at a time

Those are all some pretty fundamental changes, and in addition the game looked solid and had excellent friend and foe AI.

Playing on Heroic Difficulty, the game wasn't so bad for the first four Chapters, but the difficulty really started to ramp up on Chapter 5 and I came to realize that I've been spoiled by a lot of modern gameplay conventions. I'm going to be completely honest here, Halo: Combat Evolved on Heroic is harder than Halo: Reach on Legendary, and games in general are getting easier.

Things I missed while playing Halo: Combat Evolved:

- Sprint (why this took 9 years to make it into the franchise is beyond me)
- Vehicle Boarding
- Ghost Speed Boosts and Banshee Rolls
- Heat Seeking Rockets (I died many times trying to take out Banshees with the Rocket Launcher. Ultimately the Shotgun or Assault Rifle proved far more effective)
- The Battle Rifle or Designated Marksman Rifle
- A Flashlight that doesn't run on a battery
- The ability to zoom in without firing when using a non-scoped weapon

Things I'm glad didn't carry over into more recent releases:

- Flood Combat Forms with Rocket Launchers
- Walking into a key combat zone or choke point with no cover
- Hunters easily killed with a single bullet to the back
- The crazy chain explosions caused by a Flood Carrier form detonating around a few Grenades
- The wacky design of the Pillar of Autumn's spine. Seriously, who designs a ship like that?

Overall though, aside from a few frustrating moments, I had a great time. The lower quality textures in 4x3 still look solid, the audio is top notch with some great voice acting, and the story still flows well for a 2001 video game narrative. But it's the gameplay where Halo: Combat Evolved really shines.

Up until Chapter 3, I was actually able to keep more Marines alive than normal which made for some interesting encounters, but after that I found most of my Marine allies fairing more poorly than I remember. Bungie really did go vehicle crazy in this game, as there are Ghosts and Banshees everywhere, especially Banshees in the later Chapters and always in the worst possible places. Without Boarding or heat seeking rockets, they really were a strong threat and if you were caught out in the open you'd likely be reloading your last Checkpoint soon enough.

Elites also posed a serious threat. Overcharged Plasma Pistol shots don't home in as well as they do in current releases, and I found I couldn't rely on it to take them out. They could also fire their Plasma Rifles and Needlers really quickly which murdered your shields and then your poor, non-regenerating health. And woe be it to you if you got into close quarters with a Zealot wielding an Energy Sword, as they're faster than you and you have no defence.

But that's the great thing about the Halo franchise; you die and reload your Checkpoint, there's no guarantee the battle you died in will play out the same. The enemies will react differently to you almost every time, which really adds some great variety, challenge, and replayability. Heck, the Campaign was loads of fun even on this, my 8th playthrough. The weapons you choose, the vehicles you use and encounter, what allies you keep alive, it all changes the battles for what's supposed to be a linear title.

And so, now that I've destroyed Installation 04 and the Fleet of Particular Justice through a great ten hour experience, it's time to go partake in the first battle of Earth and to quell some heresy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Ubisoft's We Dare

I'm not really sure what to say except "WTF?"

Published by Ubisoft, apparently We Dare is set to release on the Wii and PlayStation 3, but will not be released in the United States (which likely means all of North America) according to IGN.

Honestly, I'm not sure what to think about this, so I'll let you comment.

Originally spotted at ActionTrip.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Official Trailer and Web Site Relaunch

The official site for The Elder Scrolls has been relaunched with additional details, screenshots, and concept art for the upcoming entry into the franchise, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.

The best update though is the official trailer, which you can watch below.

Very cool, and I love the influences from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind in the music; very true to the franchise.

Gears of War 3 Release Date

Along with the beta details released this week, Gears of War 3 has received its official launch date. The game will hit the shelves on September 20th, 2011.

So, about seven months away, which isn't too long in the grand scheme of things.

Official details along with some other announcements on Major Nelson's site here.

Update: The official Gears of War site now has the announcement here. They also mention some of the key features of the game, including 5 New Maps.

Wait, what? Are you telling me the retail game will only ship with 5 Multiplayer Maps? And of course they should be new, do they expect us to port maps from the previous two games? This is a whole new retail game!

That statement doesn't fit well with me, and the inevitable map pack milkage it foreshadows.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles Completed for the 2nd Time

After a great 22 hour and 30 minute experience, I've completed my second and likely final playthrough of The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles (Xbox 360). After I completed my first playthrough in early 2008 and the "Knights of the Nine" DLC that came with my retail copy that summer, I had spent between 250 to 300 hours in Cyrodiil and was completely worn out of Bethesda's masterpiece.

In the Spring of 2009 I played through The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion's main Quest for the third (and final time), intending to take that character to the Shivering Isles. My original playthrough of the expansion was with a brand new character who was evil-oriented and a custom class, and I wanted to give it a go with a higher leveled good champion. But alas, in November 2009 I accidentally deleted all of my Xbox 360 save games and thus lost this character, and The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles went back into my backlog. Until last weekend.

I am now so close to completing my backlog outright, that it finally came time to knock the expansion from my list. I started up a Male Nord, a Barbarian with the Sign of the Lady and once again went straight to the Isles. Regrettably I was forced to experience the expansion set as a low level character once more and only made it to Level 10 by game's completion, but I made the most of the experience and completed a full 26 Quests.

On this playthrough I allied with Mania and earned the final Achievement for the game at about 8 hours in, and I saved many of the side Quests for after the completion of the Main Quest so I could experience them as the Mad God. I'm also pleased to say I didn't need to adjust the difficulty at all, kept the slider right on the middle, and after a few tries I got through my shadowy double towards the end of the Main Quest (which was the hardest part for me the first time around).

I didn't bother buying any additional Spells and simply used what was given, same with Armour and Weapons, and really focused on bashing my way through fights. Unlike the core game, I found the expansion's main story line very invigorating and creative, filled with twisted humour and Quest variety. The Shivering Isles themselves are a colourful yet dark place, and the Prince of Madness, Sheogorath, has some wicked one-liners.

I did encounter some interesting bugs this playthrough, specifically after the Main Quest was complete. Shortly thereafter, I went into Bliss and the Golden Saint Guards were attacking three specific townsfolk. I have no idea what happened to cause this, but they killed the three "offenders," something I've never seen happen before. My own Golden Saint Escort disappeared at one point, no amount of waiting or sleeping brought her back, but at least I had my Dark Seducer Escort to help in combat.

It took me a few hours to get into once again, but I ultimately greatly enjoyed my return to the Shivering isles. It was time well spent, a world of wonder explored, and provided enough of a variation from my last playthrough to keep things fresh.

Thanks Bethesda for crafting such a wonderful land to loose myself in.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Halo: Cryptum Review

The Halo universe is vast and detailed, filled with both legend and conflict. The series of Xbox games that spawned the franchise has primarily focused on the exploits of the Spartan-II super soldier John-117 and the closing months of the Human-Covenant War in the year 2552, yet in the background of this conflict a far older legacy lingers.

100,000 years ago the Forerunners ruled the galaxy with peace and benevolence, and then in the blink of an eye, they were gone. Pushed to the brink in their war with the extra-galactic parasite, the Flood, the Forerunners activated their ultimate weapon, the Halo array for which the franchise is named, and vanished.

Much of their history has been hinted at throughout the games and even more concrete details were given through various novels and last year's anime compilation, Halo: Legends, but truly, the Forerunners are steeped in mystery. With the release of Halo: Cryptum, however, the story of the Forerunners is finally being told.

Written by Hugo and Nebula Award winning author Greg Bear, Halo: Cryptum is the first book in his trilogy, "The Forerunner Saga." Weighing in at 342 pages, I can honestly say that Bear has crafted the least Halo feeling novel of all, and I certainly don't mean that in a negative way as his story is unlike anything that has come from the Halo universe before.

Told from the perspective of a young Forerunner, Bornstellar Makes Eternal Lasting, or Born for short, the Forerunners are not the high moral guardians that Cortana inferred them to be. While they have certainly taken on the stewardship of the galaxy, the Mantle as they call it, and watch over the lesser races as was previously revealed, they deal with any opposition to their rule quickly and harshly.

As the Halo universe grows in scope and popularity, like many other large franchises, retroactive continuity is inevitable and there's a fair share of it to be found in Halo: Cryptum. For example, it was previously implied that the Forerunners discovered humanity on a backwater world towards the end of their loosing conflict against the Flood, and deeming us special, they granted us the right to one day claim all that they'd leave behind. Well, apparently things aren't so cut and dry.

The Forerunners tried to exterminate us. In one of the more shocking changes to the now previously established Halo canon, humanity, along with several other races, are far older than we thought. In fact, about 10,000 years prior to the novel, Humanity had a far reaching and very powerful intergalactic empire! However, for reasons that are revealed in the novel, we rejected Forerunner authority and thus the Human-Forerunner war broke out. While this war lasted for many years, humanity was ultimately crushed by the Didact (of Halo 3 Terminal fame) and his Warrior-Servants, and were it not for the counsel of the Librarian, our species would have been eradicated completely. Instead, a small number of survivors were de-evolved and exiled to our world of origin, Erde-Tyrene. Earth.

And it is on Earth that Bear's tale of galactic sorrow begins.

Born, being both young and impressionable, has no interest in the vast Forerunner politics that span the galaxy, or indeed any desire to take his place as part of the Builder cast, the most influential and privileged class of Forerunner society. Instead, Born has buried himself in the past and is looking for treasure. Mentioned only once before in the Halo 3 Limited and Legendary Edition's "Bestiarum," the Precursors are a long vanished race who predated even the Forerunners, leaving many relics and technology behind. The Forerunners used this technology to advance themselves to the standing they now enjoy, but much of the Precursors are a mystery, and it is their treasures that Born seeks.

What he discovers on Erde-Tyrene is far from Precursor legend, however, and he sets loose a chain of events that drags him and his two human guides, Chakas and Riser, into a galactic conflict and the beginnings of a civil war. The repercussions of this war are so drastic, the results so cataclysmic, that Born will be forced to embrace his people's culture and responsibility, to truly begin shouldering the weight of the Mantle, least he be unprepared for the greater threat to come. A threat he'll be forced to face head-on.

For those looking to read about epic battles between the Forerunners and the Flood, you'll have to wait a while longer. While I certainly expect such battles are coming, the Flood are more of a political agenda in Halo: Cryptum, a tale of bogeymen used to further other aims, but a threat that is no doubt real and present. In fact, a great deal is revealed about the Flood that we could never have guessed at before, and it's both shocking and surprising of what we learn about first contact with the greatest enemy the galaxy has ever known.

The focus of Halo: Cryptum is truly the Forerunners themselves; their culture, their politics, and their technology. In many respects, the novel is so politics-heavy that it loosely reminds me of the Star Wars prequels, but I truly mean loosely. It is fascinating how advanced the technology of the Forerunners truly is, far beyond what we've even witnessed firsthand in the games, yet their society is just as petty and greedy as our own. Humanity might not be Forerunners themselves as I first thought many years ago, but we do share a lot of personality traits, so much so that even Born wonders if, long ago, both species might have been shaped by the legendary Precursors.

Regardless, Halo: Cryptum is a fascinating read, and it's to Bear's credit that he's written such a wonderfully engaging novel that anyone can simply pick it up and enjoy it; no previous knowledge of the franchise is required. Set 100,000 years earlier than the core material, the concepts and themes we know simply haven't occurred yet, and Bear takes the time to establish everything the reader needs to know.

In fact, the novel is so compelling and such a page turner that I broke tradition and read a few chapters last weekend. Traditionally I read only during my lengthy subway commute to and from the office, but I couldn't help myself and had to read more, to find out more, and to learn more about these great characters and circumstances.

Even more pleasing to me was the fact that even though Halo: Cryptum is a hardcover novel, it was actually small enough to comfortably fit in my satchel bag, something most hardcovers can not do and one of my primary reasons for waiting for paperbacks.

As a Halo fan who delights most in the universe and its story, the characters, the conflict, and the history, Halo: Cryptum is a fascinating and enlightening read, and I'm anxiously awaiting the second book in the Saga. If you're new to the Halo universe or have no past experience with it, don't be daunted as Bear will ease you into this wonderful time of legends past. Just be prepared for some rather surprising retcon, as this is Halo like you've never experienced before.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dead Island Announcement Trailer

In all honesty, this is one of the single greatest trailers I've ever seen, period.

Dead Island will release later this year for Xbox 360, PC, and PlayStation 3, and it will see players trapped on an island resort infested with zombies. Featuring 4-Player Co-op, an open world environment, and focus on melee combat with customizable weapons, there's certainly a lot of potential.

I'll be keeping my eye on this one.

Halo: Reach "Defiant Map Pack" Announced

This past Valentine's Day, Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios announced the next DLC for Halo: Reach. The "Defiant Map Pack" will release this March via the Xbox LIVE Marketplace for 800 Microsoft Points ($11.60).

The "Defiant Map Pack" will feature three additional maps, one of which is a Firefight map, and additional Achievements for an total of 150 Gamerscore will also be included.

You can check out Bungie's official announcement here, and view the trailer in said announcement or below.

I confess, the maps look visually stunning. I really like the backdrop of "Condemned," with Reach being glassed in the background. "Highlands," with its Covenant Cruisers overhead, is also impressive and a nice treat for fans of the expanded universe. Still though, I can't justify paying for Multiplayer Map Packs, so this'll be a pass for me.

Another interesting point is the maps are being developed by Certain Affinity and not Bungie themselves.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

BioShock 2: Minerva's Den (Xbox 360) Review

As many of you know, I've taken a very hard line against DLC over the last few years, specifically in the terms of game add-ons. My original criticisms stemmed from publishers charging extra for simple content the likes of which used to be free or would become free after several months, however the customer is always right and with the general support of such add-ons, things have now advanced so much so that it's becoming common place to find simple multiplayer map packs sold for 1200 Microsoft Points ($17.40).

1200 Microsoft Points for a few multiplayer maps! It is very sad to see consumers so blind, and truly premium DLC is the worst thing to happen during this generation of gaming. With that in mind, any DLC I do choose to partake in I wait for a sale (and at least sales are becoming more common place on the Xbox LIVE Marketplace), and even then I approach it with a grain of salt.

A few weeks back, the second Single Player DLC for BioShock 2, entitled "Minerva's Den," was discounted by 50% and after having heard good things about it, I decided to give it a go. Now that I've completed it, I'm left wishing that all DLC was of this caliber.

Taking place around the beginning of the events of the core game, BioShock 2: Minerva's Den sees players taking on the role of Subject Sigma, another Alpha Series who's on his way to Rapture's Central Computing where the city's unique and impressive system, the Thinker, resides. As Rapture continues to fall into ruins, Sigma has been recruited by both Tenenbaum and the Thinker's creator, C.M. Porter, to help remove the valuable machine and return it to the surface. The catch is Porter's former business partner, Reed Whal, is obsessed with the Thinker and insane from too much splicing. He rather objects to Sigma's presence in coming to remove the device, an objection clearly noted by his destruction of the tunnel Sigma is walking through.

BioShock 2: Minerva's Den features three new areas for players to explore, along with a new weapon, a new Plasmid, a new enemy, and if you've played through BioShock 2: Protector Trials, two new Tonics (one if you haven't).

The three areas you get to explore are quite large and take some time to properly experience, which is a big plus. The real highlight though is that the DLC really focuses on survival gameplay, truly requiring the player to make creative and strategic choices while restricting what items are available.

You begin armed only with Telekinesis and your Drill, and as you advance through the DLC's first area, which share's the DLC's name of Minerva's Den, you will be oh so slowly granted additional weapons, upgrades, and Plasmids. In fact, the franchise staples of Electro Bolt and Incinerate are not only unavailable early on, but you really need to work to acquire them and upon successful acquisition, you really feel a sense of both triumph and growing strength (Incinerate comes at its Level 2 variant, for example, a first for the franchise and a demonstration of how late in the DLC it comes).

In BioShock 2: Minerva's Den, ammo is scarce and Adam becomes more precious than ever before. If you completed BioShock 2: Protector Trials you'll be able to buy for free the Master Protector Tonic, which increases a Little Sisters Gathering time but yields additional Adam; very helpful assuming you can hold off the Splicers long enough. Even if you had a strong reserve of Adam, you simply can't buy a lot of Plasmid or Gene Tonic Slots right away as each Gatherer's Garden has a max limit, which means you might only have several Gene Tonic Slots for much of the DLC forcing you to choose what to use on the fly.

To recap, unlike the core game which features one Gatherer's Garden per area, BioShock 2: Minerva's Den features multiple Gatherer's Gardens per level, with the ones encountered later on having additional items that will not appear in the earlier machines. Keep this in mind when you're deciding what to spend your hard earned Adam on, and yes, it really will be hard earned this time around and critically spent, and you'll be making regular trips to Gene Banks for the first time in franchise history.

The whole survival element of BioShock 2: Minerva's Den is so well done it greatly contributes to the tension of the atmosphere and the immersion of the well written story. The DLC includes a new Big Daddy, the Lancer, who used the new Ion Laser which you'll also be able to get your hands on. He's very much like a Rosie Big Daddy, save that his Ion Laser produces a constant stream of damage and he can also use a Flare to temporarily blind you. While you can't use the Flare, you can get Thermal Cells (fire damage) and Burst Cells (piercing damage and can be charged up) for your Ion Laser. Frag Grenades and Proximity Mines are also out (and specialty ammo for all weapons comes later on and in shorter supply), but Heat Seeking Rockets are in and your only ammo for the Grenade Launcher.

While the Lancer is the only new enemy in the DLC, many old enemies have been modified. In addition to the new cosmetic look for Thuggish and Leadhead Splicers, many Leadhead Splicers now have friendly Bots in tow. The Security Bots themselves come in three new varieties: Ion Laser, Grenade Launcher, and Lightning Rod. Suffice it to say, Security Command is your friend, and should you purchase Security Command 2, it'll summon Ion Laser Bots for you.

Brute Splicers have now come in the Fiery Brute Splicer variety and are immune to fire damage and inflict it themselves, while Wintry Houdini Splicers are immune to cold damage and inflict it themselves, often disabling any of your own friendly Bots to my great annoyance. Turrets and Security Cameras are also much more cleverly placed, which will have you using your Hack Tool far more strategically than ever before.

There's also no research in the DLC, which frees up that weapon slot for the Ion Laser, and Power to the People Stations are absent as well. Instead, you'll find upgraded versions of your weapons as you progress which adds the upgrade for you, and not all the upgrades from the core game are present. One unique change though is Drill Dash. Such a handy ability in the core game, you can not Drill Dash to begin with in "Minerva's Den" and it's actually a Tonic you acquire, making it the second of the DLC's new Tonics. While certainly not a new ability, it will take up one of your Gene Tonic Slots; noteworthy as it's again up to the player whether to use it or not.

The new Plasmid is Gravity Well, essentially Singularity from Mass Effect. You toss the polyp into a group of enemies and it sucks them into place, holding them and inflicting damage for a while. Gravity Well 2 can be charged up and planted like a mine, and Gravity Well 3 (which I didn't purchase) also splashes enemies with acid causing further damage.

Not only is Gravity Well a handy new Plasmid and a welcome addition (which takes the place of Summon Eleanor, absent for obvious reasons), it's also essential to bypass new security locks that can only be opened by having Gravity Well suck out the transistors powering them.

The story though, the story of BioShock 2: Minerva's Den is so well written and ultimately so touching that it once again demonstrates a uniqueness to the franchise to weave simple yet powerful family themes, a rarity for a shooter. And the twist! Not only does this DLC's twist rival that of BioShock itself, but I honestly haven't been this surprised since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. As you progress and piece things together via Audio Logs and Whal's ramblings, you think you figure it all out and that it's so obvious, but the DLC's plot twist will leave you gaping. Well done 2K Marin, very, very well done.

Advertised at about 4 hours of additional gameplay, I really reveled in the survival elements and thoroughly explored the DLC's environments, so my play time clocked in at a whopping 10 hours. The DLC also features 8 new Achievements to earn, one of which I missed that involves a whole new mini-game I didn't even realize was there! I wish they wouldn't have labeled it a Secret Achievement, but I'll get it on my second playthrough.

I did notice that BioShock 2: Minerva's Den seemed to feature more texture pop-in than the core game, so much so that it's reminiscent of the Xbox 360 version of Mass Effect. Audio Bugs are also present as is consistent with the core game, where some sounds randomly vanish and won't occur again. For example, after a while charging up Security Command 2 or 3 to summon a friendly Bot no longer produced the sound effect, but the Vending Machine and Ammo Bandito voices missing from the core game are present both here and in BioShock 2: Protector Trials.

There's also one more Little Sister than the DLC is supposed to have. In the first area, Minerva's Den, it shows that there are only three Little Sisters but there's actually four. Once you Resolve the fourth her icon will appear on the Start screen. This is actually a very beneficial bug as it allows you to gather additional Adam, which you desperately need, and for those who love Achievements you'll unlock Adam Addict a little sooner.

Simply put, I'm shocked at the quality of BioShock 2: Minerva's Den. Admittedly I'm so used to quick publisher cash-ins that customers blindly gobble up, the fact that there's so much content here is refreshing and even humbling. With a wonderful story, excellent level design, and a refocus on survival gameplay that's still unmistakably BioShock, this DLC is very easy to recommend, even at the standard cost of 800 Microsoft Points ($11.60).

With a new weapon, Plasmid, enemy, and Tonics, as well as variants of old foes and three sizable areas to explore, the amount of content present in "Minerva's Den" is just short of a real, honest to God expansion set of old, and there's no greater compliment that I can give to a DLC add-on than this. As BioShock 2: Minerva's Den is the final content to be released for the game, 2K Marin saw it go with the highest DLC standards I have ever experienced, and I can only hope other developers and publishers will take note.

BioShock 2: Protector Trials (Xbox 360) Review

Released in August 2010, BioShock 2: Protector Trials was the first Single Player DLC released for the game. Not canon to the story, BioShock 2: Protector Trials once again sees players take on the role of an Alpha Series answering the call from Tenenbaum to protect Little Sisters as they Gather Adam, thereby depleting the stores available to Lamb and the Family.

There are 18 regular trials and 6 bonus, all of which are set in heavily re-structured areas from the core game's Single Player campaign. As you progress through the trials, you earn Stars which unlock bonus content such as concept art, animatics, or trailers for viewing.

Once you download the DLC from the Xbox LIVE Marketplace, you can access it via the game's Main Menu by going to Downloadable Content and then selecting "Protector Trials." At first, only the first trial in Adonis Baths is available to you, and when you fire it up, you'll start in the area with the drained pool from the beginning of the level. Tenenbaum will tell you to protect the "Little One" and you'll hear a Little Sister crying just ahead.

Sadly, Bi0Shock 2: Protector Trials has no exploration to speak of, one of the core game's greatest strengths. Each map is a self contained area, and there will be one or more Health Stations, a Vending Machine and an Ammo Bandito Vending machine available to buy items from.

In the very first trial, you are only provided the Rivet Gun, Shotgun, and Machine Gun with a limited amount of Ammo and Ammo types, as well as Electro Bolt, Incinerate, and Insect Swarm. You start with 3 Medkits, 3 Eve Hypos, and $0.00, and the trial will not officially begin until you set the Little Sister down to Gather Adam. As she Gathers, the longer she goes undisturbed the higher her multiplier rises increasing the amount of Adam gathered. If a Splicer reaches her and begins harassing her, the multiplier will begin to fall. By trial's end, you'll be awarded a score based on how much Adam was gathered, so it's in your best interest to not only protect your Little Sister, but to keep any Splicer from touching her for too long.

It's always in your best interest to first run around and get used to the map's layout as well as to Hack any Vending Machines you find or even any disabled Turret (if the trial features one). Once you set your Little Sister down though, the Splicers will begin coming in force. Unlike the Single Player campaign, you can not search the bodies of fallen enemies, and instead you earn Dollars for every enemy killed. That's why it's so prudent to Hack Vending Machines and have a clear path to their locations at all times as you'll need to resupply mid-battle constantly, and you will need to use both types of machines.

The DLC seems locked on Medium Difficulty, which was fine by me, and I must admit that for the first half dozen trials or so I was really enjoying myself. It was challenging to be limited to a pre-set amount of weapons, ammo, Plasmids, and Tonics and to be forced to try new combinations to succeed. After the first several trials, however, the gameplay just became far too repetitive and honestly boring, and BioShock 2: Protector Trials became a trial to get through.

It became obvious that even though you were given different Weapons and Ammo each time, you were often given the same key Plasmids and with a little variation, you could use the same tactics repeatedly to achieve victory. In fact, of all the regular trials only one was really noteworthy for being innovative and different.

One of the last trials does not give you any weapon at all (no Melee either), and you do not earn money from killing Splicers. You have a ridiculous amount of Eve to start, but you only have 3 Medkits and 3 Eve Hypos, fully upgraded Plasmids and several Tonics (including Fountain of Youth) to complete this trial, and it was challenging. This trial completely forced you to rethink your limitations and it's just a shame that no other trial had this level of originality.

Complete all 18 trials and you unlock 6 bonus trials, one for each location, in which you get full weapons, ammo, Plasmids, and Tonics. A Gene Bank is now included in these Bonus Trials so you can swap in what you want, and basically with Summon Eleanor at your disposal, well, the bonus trials are far too simple.

The unlockables were quite disappointing as well. While the concept art was nice to look at (and was from the then upcoming "Minerva's Den" DLC), the BioShock 2 launch trailer has muffled sound and the colour seemed washed out, and the animatics of cut sequences and ideas went so fast you couldn't read any of the notes and had no way of stopping or pausing them. Coupled with the lack of any new weapons or enemies in this DLC, I must admit it left me feeling very underwhelmed.

There are 7 new Achievements to earn, most of which are quite simple and will be unlocked as you progress, and successful completion of all the trials will unlock a free bonus Tonic in the then upcoming DLC, BioShock 2: Minerva's Den. Master Protector will be available to the player and will increase the amount of time a Little Sister takes in Gathering Adam, but will increase the amount she Gathers.

While fun at first, BioShock 2: Protector Trials quickly becomes far too repetitive and uninspiring. Offering little that can't be experienced in the core game, this DLC sadly focuses on a cool concept that isn't the game's real strength and as such doesn't have the longevity and fun factor needed to sustain itself through 24 different trials.

With this DLC set to be released for free on the PC sometime later this year, I decided to pick it up on sale for 200 Microsoft Points so that I could answer the inevitable questions my father will have when he plays it. However even at this 50% discount (regular 400 Microsoft Points), I feel quite dissatisifed as I spent about 10 minutes per trial grinding through for what amounted to 7 Achievements, a bonus Tonic in future DLC, and several hours of my life that I'll never get back.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

BioShock 2 Completed for the Third Time

Late last night, I completed BioShock 2 for the third time, my second on Hard, and once again traversing the ruins of Rapture was a very enjoyable experience.

The game isn't as strong as the original, but it's still a great and fun game. For weapons, I focused primarily on the Rivet Gun and got the Headhunter Tonic as soon as possible. Precision head shots ended many conflicts quickly, and when things got close in, I'd use the Shotgun or, on tougher enemies, the Drill. During Adam gatherings, I'd often used the Machine Gun for crowd control after laying down some Trap Rivets.

Plasmid-wise, I primarily used Security Command to keep bots by my side, and Hypnotize to have a friendly Alpha Series or Brute Splicer as well. Electro Bolt rounded out my main Plasmid use.

I maxed all research subjects faster than ever before, and equipped every Tonic Slot. My Wallet was almost always full, and I found and used every Power to the People upgrade station.

I rescued every Little Sister, spared Grace and Stanley, and "euthanized" Gilbert, so I got the good ending and Lamb lived, which is all fine with me. I honestly did find the bond between Subject Delta and Elanor to be very touching, and it's not often in a shooter that your primary objective is to get to your foster daughter, so the family element was certainly unique.

My major gripes with the game:

- I wish friendly AI would move out of the way a bit more. If I had a nickle for every time my Security Bots or Hypnotized allies were in my way and just wouldn't move... Still, their value outweighed this inconvenience.

- Hard Difficulty isn't, thanks to Vita-Chambers. There is no excuse at all not to be able to complete the game on Hard simply because you can not "die." Loose all your Health, and presto, out you come from a Vita-Chamber with half Health and some Eve, and the enemies that killed you are still as hurt as when you left them. This makes the game far to easy, and the only reason to keep healing yourself is to prevent the few seconds wasted from traveling back to the battle from the Vita Chamber. This was a problem in the first game as well, and I don't know why they didn't impose a Dollar penalty at Vita-Chambers; say $500.00 for resurrection. Yes, I know you can disable them, but it's not the same thing as Vita-Chambers are a cool feature.

- Still not a fan of Hacking, and I really miss my Pipe Mini-Game.

Overall though, a great job by 2K Marin. I picked up the Single Player DLC during the 2K sale on Xbox LIVE about a week ago, so I've started on "The Protector Trials" which I know won't take me long at all.