The Stupid Gamer

Video Games, Opinions, Thoughts, & Tomfoolery

The Stupid Gamer - Video Games, Opinions, Thoughts, & Tomfoolery

Portal 2 Review

For anyone who plays games, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finishing a highly anticipated game with pure satisfaction. Portal 2 is that kind of game. I’m lucky enough to have it be my first Gamer Theory review.

Portal 2 is the sequel to Valve’s critically acclaimed Portal, which was included in 2007’s The Orange Box. For the unfamiliar, Portal was a bold experiment which called for players to create “portals” on the sides of walls and objects. Taking control of the silent protagonist, Chell, these portals allow the player to go through one portal entrance and reappear through the exit in a series of mind-boggling puzzles that rely on things such as moving boxes, pressing buttons, and using momentum to fly through portals to get to out of reach places. It was a game like no other. It was a short game, but oh-so-sweet. It was bold in concept, simple in gameplay, and very innovative and ambitious. In 2011, Valve’s little gaming experiment grows up as a fully loaded game, and one of the best experiences of the year.

The game is divided into two campaigns: a traditional single player experience and a cooperative campaign. The single player game is set decades after the events of the first game. It starts off strong with an interesting, mysterious setting and a witty new character named Wheatley to complement the return of everyone’s favorite villainess, GLaDOS, the computerized mainframe that controls Aperture Science. The character development is simply superb, and the writing exquisite. You’re not going to want to part with these characters after the game is over. The single player levels will start off familiar to veterans of the first game, but as you progress, the masterminds at Valve continually throw curve balls as you’re introduced to new game-changing elements. From light-beam bridges you must send through portals to mysterious gels that make you bounce or glide very fast, they really pushed their creativity. This package is beautifully presented through superb art, charming characters, and an engaging story. The puzzles can be extremely difficult, but never overly frustrating (although I would be lying if I said I never once shut the game off for a breather from this mentally taxing title).

What I call "light-beam bridges"

The co-op mode puts you and one other friend in control of Atlas and P-body, two silly robots you’re probably going to take quite the liking-to. The co-op game is arguably more creative than the single player game. The developers continued to flex their cerebral cortexes with their seemingly bottomless pool of ideas to make one of the most unique cooperative experiences to be found anywhere. The devious puzzles will definitely have you and your partner scratching your heads, but that’s okay, because while you’re trying to wrap your head around a new test chamber, you can occupy yourselves with the gestures you gain as you progress through the co-op mode that help express yourself to your partner. This is helpful for those lacking a microphone. Additionally, you can buy more gestures and hats via DLC (a hit or miss with fans).

Atlas (right) and P-body (left)

One final thing I want to mention is Valve’s platform agnostic approach they created for this game. PlayStation 3 owners can link their Steam account to their PlayStation Network account and have full access to their Steam friends list right from the PS3. Additionally, this means PS3 owners can play co-op with PC and Mac gamers. Now here’s the best part: included with every PS3 copy of the game is free access to the PC/Mac version of the game and cross-platform synchronization. Good deal, no? Xbox 360 players, unfortunately, are segregated in this arrangement, and can only play online with other Xbox Live users, so it wasn’t the perfect blessing.

And there you have it. Portal 2. I’m a fan, and hope you will be, too. Make sure you put this at the top of your lists, newcomers and veterans alike (although newcomers really, really should go play the first one beforehand).

5 out of 5 stars

Review: Steel Diver

Steel Diver has been kicking around at Nintendo for quite some time. The first time I played this game, it was a tech demo for the original DS at E3 back in 2004. It didn’t look quite as nice, and it wasn’t as refined, obviously, but the game was there in a very limited form. After the better part of a decade, Nintendo decided to dust the project off and give it a development team and a slot in the Nintendo 3DS launch lineup.

Much like Yoshi Touch & Go for the DS, Steel Diver feels sort of like an introductory title for the 3DS. The game ignores depth in favor of accessibility and simplicity, while attempting to provide some quick thrills that revolves around gameplay that begs for mastery. The missions in the game are fairly simple: get from point A to point B as quickly as possibly and either avoid or take out as many enemies as possible as you go. You’re scored based on how quickly you can pass the mission, how little damage you can take, and how much damage you deal out along the way. Until you really know the levels well, you’ll often have to choose between speed and battle efficiency.

Mixed in with the missions, and also available as its own mode, you engage in periscope battles. This mode uses the  gyroscope in the 3DS and you hold the handheld out in front of you, and rotate around to locate ships on the horizon. The goal is obviously to take down the destroyers quickly and before they can sink you. It’s neat, it’s novel, but it does limit where you can play the game. Trying to take down ships with the periscope is near impossible on an airplane or bus.

The level design is pretty good. Steel Diver does a good job throwing tight passages, mines, enemy destroyers and subs, and obstacles at you while you’re trying to hurry through the stages. It takes lots of tweaking of the knobs and dials on the touch screen to keep your sub going in the direction you want and firing at the right angles during combat. Again, like Yoshi Touch & Go, the real challenge is replaying missions to improve upon scores.

A mode not often talked about is the Steel Commander mode, where you play a tactical game with destroyers and subs. Moving around on a grid, you need to position yourself to be able to destroy your enemy’s supply ships while protecting your own. You can attack and hide at different depths, making for a fun cat and mouse type of experience. With different maps to play on, this mode is seriously a great time sink if you have a friend with their own 3DS to play against.

The visuals and sounds found in Steel Diver are fairly basic, especially when compared to other 3DS games, but they look nice and sound clean overall. The 3D effect is layered well it provides one of the more comfortable launch games to play with the 3D effect cranked up to full. It would have been nice to see just a few more passes of graphical polish or some additional effects added in, especially given that there’s not really a ton going on at any given time on the screen.

Steel Diver is going to be a divisive title. If you don’t mind replaying the same missions for better scores, and if you have a friend that will play the Steel Commander mode with you, Steel Diver is an appealing title. For the types of people that generally pass a mission, move on, and don’t care to chase high scores, Steel Diver will provide a pretty short experience and will probably seem fairly shallow. I fall in with the former group, but unfortunately many might fall into the latter. I’d still recommend the game, but with some reservations due to its length and simplicity.

Overall Score: 3 out of 5


Review: Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition

When the 3DS was first picking up steam based on the strength of the first batch of games announced for it, Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition (SSFIV 3D) was one of those title that really got me most excited. As the release date for the 3DS neared, I kept my eye on SSFIV 3D and quietly hoped that it would be as good as it looked like it was shaping up to be. After many hours making my way through the various modes of the game, I can safely say that Super Street Fighter IV: 3d Edition is definitely living up to the hype.

While Capcom crammed enough modes into the game to make use of pretty much every feature the 3DS hardware offers (aside from the cameras), the real core of the game plays out in the Arcade and Versus modes. Playing through the Arcade mode has you fighting your way through the single player experience as you work up to a final match with the game’s final boss. The game’s story mode plays out differently for each character and certain unlocks are tied to completing Arcade mode with different characters, so there’s lots of good reasons to come back and play through the mode multiple times.

Super Street Fighter 4 3DS

With the Versus mode you can play either locally or online. Online play works quite well and it actually has provided a smoother experience than I’ve had with my Xbox 360. Pretty impressive for a handheld, especially for the game’s first online-enabled game. Getting into fights online is a quick enough process and after each match you can choose to rematch your opponent or head off to find someone else to spar with. SSFIV 3D doesn’t sport the most robust of feature sets for online play, but it’s simple and easy to use, which is perfect for the handheld experience. This mode will keep the game relevant for years to come.

Other modes in the game include Training and Mission modes where you can learn to become a better player and how to better master each character. There’s also support for the 3DS Street Pass functionality where your team of assembled fighters will do battle with the team of anybody you cross paths with while your 3DS is in sleep mode. Again, it’s a simple thing, but it encourages you to keep mindful of the game and it adds value to an already great package.

Coming from consoles to the handheld environment, the game wasn’t scaled back too much. Some background animations and details were pared down, as well as some of the overall polygon counts on the fighters, but it’s still a beautiful game. The controls are obviously a little more compact, but the 3DS is comfortable to use even for longer play sessions.

Super Street Fighter 4 3DS

As cliche as it sounds to say, fighting genre fans are really going to want to pick this one up along with their 3DS purchase. While it is a version of a game that’s been out for a while, the game really doesn’t lose much in the translation from console to handheld. Unless you own an arcade stick, the 3DS button layout really isn’t even much of a compromise in regards to controls.

When it comes down to it, there’s not much to nitpick about with SSFIV 3D. It’s easily the best handheld Street Fighter title out there, and quite possibly the best handheld fighting game I’ve ever seen. For me, Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition is not only the best game available in the 3DS launch lineup, it’s one of the better games released in 2011 so far. I recommend this game without reservation.

Overall Score: 5 out 5


Bulletstorm Video Review

Here’s our full review for Bulletstorm. Overall it is a great shooter with some intense action, an interesting combat system, and memorable moments throughout the campaign. The pacing is a little uneven, but the second half of the game more than compensates for the game’s slow start. Take a look at the review below.

Final Score: 4 out of 5


Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Note: This review will also appear on Gamer Theory when it launches later this year.

When intsalling a game like Sid Meier’s Civilization V (Civ V) to your PC, you better know what you’re getting yourself into. There are games that come by once in a while that will grab you, fascinate you, and then refuse to let you go. After days worth of game time logged, I can safely say that Civ V is definitely one of those games. Firaxis Games has enjoyed a loyal following and huge success with the Civilization series, but they’ve never been averse to allowing the series to evolve with each release. Civ V makes some rather significant leaps forward in regards to presentation, pacing, and unit management among others. The result is a game that’s more approachable yet more challenging and nuanced at the same time.

For newcomers to the series, Civ V is easily the best place to get started. While there is a massive amount od depth to the strategy in the game, Firaxis Games has done a very effective job at implementing a great tutorial and a very helpful tips system to keep players from feeling overwhelmed. Also, at the easier levels the AI aggressiveness is toned down to the point where novice mistakes aren’t punished too harshly. While earlier Civilization titles are available on the cheap these days, Civ V really is the best place for a newcomer to get into the series.

For the experts out there, Civ V introduces a few new features that will make the game feel familiar, yet fresh at the same time. One of the biggest changes made to the game include the transition from square to hex tiles for the world map. This change seems minor at first thought, but it really makes movement around the world a more fluid and natural undetraking for units. Cities also expand in a much more organic way as well with the hexes breaking up the tiles in a more complex pattern. You can see clearly how the hexes work below.

Another big change is that units are no longer able to stack up on tiles with the exception of a single military unit sharing space with a worker. In the past players could stack multiple military units on a single tile, which often lead to nasty bottlenecks where a player or AI had decided to stack units for defensive purposes. This change is a welcome one as it forces you to manage your military units more carefully and always be concious of where you’ve left each unit.

All the changes made make Civ V a more tactical experience in all aspects of the game. Winning via science, military, diplomatic, or culture will take a very deliberate approach that demands that the player adapts to ever changing conditions. Quite often I would start the game with the idea to win under one condition, only to have to aim for a different one due to the AI’s agenda not jiving well with my own. This makes the game very replayable, even if multiplayer isn’t something that interests you.

The game isn’t without its flaws, but Firaxis Games and 2K has been working to improve the game via updates and patches. As of now, however, the AI could use some additional tweaking and improvement. The AI is tuned to constantly exploit advantages, but often times it flies in the face of logical behavior. If you get too powerful or too large, at times the AI will just flat out refuse to cooperate with you, even if it would benefit their civilization greatly. At other times the AI will engage in trade agreements that are quite obviously skewed in your favor. These inconsistencies should be addressed over time, but as of the time I wrote tihs review it was an issue.

AI oddness aside, Civ V is a fantastic PC gaming experience that is engrossing, addictive, and different each time you approach it. Between this, StarCraft 2, and the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, it has been a strong year for PC releases.

5 Stars out of 5

Review: Deathsmiles

Just recently I did a feature on shoot ‘em up (shmup) games, and one of the main reasons I was feeling shmup fever was due to the release of Deathsmiles for the Xbox 360. Developed by Cave, and published by Aksys, Deathsmiles has actually been around for nearly three years in Japan, so when it was announced that it would be coming to North America, shmup fans like myself were quite happy and surprised.

The game is a horizontal scroller and falls into the bullet hell category. You control one of five different characters that has a tag along familiar through stages packed with macabre style enemies. The gameplay is quite intense and on the harder difficulties it’s extremely challenging, even for seasoned shmup players. The difficulty can be dialed back quite a bit, but honestly the real satisfaction in Deathsmiles comes from getting through the punishing levels with as few deaths as possible.

The gameplay isn’t all that unique, but it does have some nice touches. Rather than multiple lives, the player gets one life and a 3 hit life bar. Bullets decrease the life bar by one, but collisions with enemies only take away 1/2 of a hit. You can pick up items to refill the bar along the way. As you accumulate points, you can increase the 3 hit life bar to 4 or 5, but it takes big scoring to make it happen. For attacks the player can tap the button for a standard shot, hold it for a secondary shot, lock on to have their familiar fire, or fire off a bomb-style attack. As enemies are destroyed, they fire off some smaller bullets (similar to in Ikaruga when dying enemies fire off bullets) that will do you damage, but if they strike your familiar you actually gain points. Also, when enemies are destroyed they’ll typically leave behind an item pickup. As you pick up items, a counter tallies your total. Once you reach 1000 items, you can power up your attacks for a limited time. It’s a simple system, but it all works well.

The story in Deathsmiles is nothing special, but story has never been a focus in the genre. There are two different endings for each character, however, so multiple replays aren’t based slowly on gaining a higher score. I guess there’s enough story dressing on the game to keep it interesting, but there’s nothing truly compelling to make note of.

The style is something that might be a turnoff for some, as it’s pretty heavily anime influenced. Really though, after a few minutes that styling fades into the background as you are jamming your controller stick in all directions to avoid the incoming storm of bullets. While I’m not an anime fan, I do have to admit that it does add some charm to the overall package, but I wouldn’t disagree with anybody that would say that the inclusion of it is a little tough to swallow.

Overall the game is great, even if it is a little expensive. I still feel like this genre can do well, but they need to release these games more often, and they need to hit a better price point. I don’t mind paying $50-$60 for a good shmup, but for such a niche genre they really need to get these down to $20-$30. I would definitely recommend the game without any reservations for shump fans and would advise casual fans to see if they can find it at a lower price. I would caution those who choose to wait that it’s very possible that this game could become quite scarce once the initial shipment sells out.

Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10