Bullet Witch Art 

Three hours. This game is three hours long. Without the aid of a strategy guide, cheat codes, or any other manner of gaming aid, I managed to get all the way through Bullet Witch in just three hours. This puts me in a bit of a bind because, while it's a very fun game to play, Bullet Witch is just inexcusably short. Hell, I rented the game and I didn't feel like I got my money's worth, so how can I possibly recommend that anyone purchase it?

A third-person shooter, Bullet Witch plays a lot like Devil May Cry without all the fruity jumping around. Or depth. Or content. The premise is simple enough—it's the year 2013, and the human population of earth has been whittled down to just a few hundred thousand. It seems that in an attempt to raise his daughter from the dead, a man accidentally unleashed demons into the world, and after five years of plagues, war, and natural disasters, the armies of hell have gotten bored and started just walking around and shooting the remaining humans. Into this context strides the witch named Alicia who carries around four broom-themed guns that she uses to blast apart every monster she comes across. In addition to these she has access to a variety of magical powers at her disposal. Firing these guns and using these spells is all the content the game has to offer, so, in a way, it's actually good that the game is just three hours long.

Modest in scope, Bullet Witch feels like only half or perhaps a third of a game. Across its six levels, each of which can be completed in under half an hour, there are only two bosses, and a fairly small variety of enemies. Although few in number, the enemies are exceptionally well-designed, ranging from the standard hell soldier (a rotting corpse dressed in an army uniform) through the big brains (giant telekinetic brains with atrophied corpses hanging off them), all the way down to the screamers (bloated tumorous creatures that transform human survivors into jabbering, bloody monstrosities). All of the monsters are truly disturbing in concept and execution. They're such horrific abominations that killing them feels as much like a public service as anything else.

Bullet Witch Screenshot

The manner of killing these enemies manages to remain fairly fresh across the length of the game, as well. While the guns may be a little on the limited side, they're always fun to shoot, and watching demons jitter and dance as bullets slam into them is always good for a few laughs. The real fun comes from the spells, though. The designers have managed to whip up powers that are both visually arresting and entirely useful. The greatest of these is a form of telekinesis, which is the Star Wars "Force Push" used better than it's ever been in another game. Each level of the game is littered with cars, rocks, and fallen trees, and with the simple push of a button, they're all sent flying straight ahead, crushing anything in their path. It's amazingly fun to do, and just as useful as it is entertaining. Frankly, it was so satisfying and visually interesting that I'd often find myself going out of my way to smash a column of stone into someone that I could have just as easily shot.

Another nice touch is the presence of both survivors and helpful soldiers in every level. They're not too good at protecting themselves or helping in a gunfight, but they're not really meant to be, either. No, the other humans are just there to be saved, which is a refreshing change for such a fast-paced action game. In each new area Alicia will find a group of people being menaced by demons, and it's up to her to rescue them by killing all the monsters as quickly as possible. If the survivors are injured they don't die immediately, and Alicia can heal them through the oddly disturbing process of slitting her wrist and showering her opponent in her own blood. In addition to being a fun and satisfying element that just doesn't show up enough in games, the survivors actually reveal another mechanic that seems to have been removed at some point during development. After being rescued, most survivors will thank Alicia and offer her a piece of food. I can only imagine that at some point in the development process this food would have restored Alicia's health, before being discarded for the new industry standard of constantly regenerating health.

While genuinely fun and entertaining the first time through, Bullet Witch doesn't really hold up on repeated playthroughs. Changing the difficulty level only increases enemy health and damage; each level always has the same number of enemies in the same place, and their behavior remains unchanged. The game's real problem is that although there's no reason to play it a second time, the game is structured so that players will be forced to. Apparently fearing that their game was too short, the developers instituted a mechanic that would force players to repeat the game over and over. Improved powers are purchased between levels using points given based on performance in the level, and when the game is completed, players can restart the game using their partially powered-up character. Amazingly, it takes three entire plays through the game to acquire the really fun powers, so by the time players get to a point where they're able to really enjoy themselves, hurling buses at opponents and impaling them on rings of silver spears, they'll already be so familiar with the layout of the levels that any entertainment will be troublesome to mine from the wall of overwhelming boredom.

Bullet Witch Screenshot

Worse still, the game doesn't have any extras available to stretch out length. No extra costumes, art galleries, time attack modes, nothing at all. Atari has announced its desire to release downloadable content at some point in the indeterminate future, but in this day and age, shouldn't extra costumes at least be included in a game out of the box? Actually, I did a little research on the internet, and it turns out they are. That's right—there are additional missions and costumes already on the disc, just unavailable to the people who purchased the game. No, even though players have already (theoretically) paid fifty dollars for three hours' worth of game, they're going to be expected to pay more in the future just to bring it up to standard game length? That's just inexcusable behavior.

It's a little strange to say, but Bullet Witch is so short that it never managed to become repetitive or wear out its welcome. As I trekked Alicia through the lengthy but entirely linear levels, it occurred to me that Bullet Witch really could represent a new model for game design. It gets in, makes its point, and gets out. At fifteen or twenty dollars this would be the ideal impulse-buy game that I could recommend to everyone without reservation—and if I had to pay a few more dollars for additional levels somewhere down the line, so be it. At fifty dollars, and with significant locked away on the disc from the people who paid for it, it's the biggest rip-off since Crackdown, and shouldn't be purchased by anyone for any reason. Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

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yeah – you didn’t mention anything about the very poor audio quality, voice acting and storyline…! It felt like the game was ported to English with no regard for any quality assesment. EVERY scene was cut so badly that the visual would continue for 2 minutes after the Audio ended, the english voice over acting was so incredibly bad, that it was often hard to follow the story [not that there was one worth following]. The guns were clunky and I found it more difficult than it should be to aim. The levels were too sparcely populated and more thought… Read more »

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Joe T

I almost never comment on a game. However, after reading your review I decide to. I was most impressed with you views on the game. In fact, I believe that yours is the only unbiased review that I have ever read on this game. Not only is what you say true, but it gets to the meat, in “bullet witch”. I don’t even think that most reviewers even got past the first two levels before saying that it sucks. One even commented that the brain things sucked, and he died a lot because of them. If he went on playing,… Read more »

Superman Returns Screenshot 

I can't imagine it's an especially easy task, making a Superman-themed game. When making a video game, designers can draw from a legacy of great titles, all with play mechanics just waiting to be poached. Gears of War, for example, is just kill.switch with monsters and some really awkward driving. Every FPS since 1995 has been a rehash of Terminator: Future Shock. There's never been a great Superman game, though, so without any ideas to appropriate, each and every time a new Superman game is crafted the developers are starting from scratch. Just how does one make an entertaining game about a man who can fly faster than any missile, knock down a mountain range with a single punch, or ignite a sun with his vision, but never, ever, under any circumstances, kills anyone? Apparently, if Superman Returns is any example, one doesn't.

A third person action game, Superman Returns struggles right from the outset. Well, that's not really accurate. It's the player who does the lion's share of the struggling against the controls. Superman has two movement modes, walking and flying. When walking, the game operates like a standard 3D action title, with the left stick controlling movement and the right controlling the camera. Sadly, the movement is amazingly awkward, and Superman has no apparent weight, so he just seems to float around the streets far too quickly. This weightlessness makes it almost impossible to get close enough to opponents to hit them. Even worse, since Superman can't jump (let alone leap tall buildings in a single bound) there's no way for him to navigate small obstacles. In order to get over a three foot tall divider during a fight I was forced to switch from walking to flying mode, hover up and over the divider, then set myself back down on the other side, a feat that took slightly longer to perform in the game than it did to type a sentence describing it.

Superman Returns Screenshot

The flying, a key element of the whole 'Superman thing' works well enough, and it's mildly entertaining to watch Superman zoom around the city as skyscrapers whip by in a blur, but therein lies the problem: he moves much too quickly to be controllable during gameplay. So instead of being able to fly through the city, whenever Superman has to get somewhere quickly, he has to fly high over the city, which kind of makes having a detailed city in the first place a little pointless. This isn't a new problem though, it's something that other Superman games have struggled with, which makes the developers' inability to come up with a solution all the more inexcusable. I mean, I'm not being paid to design a game or anything, but wouldn't it make sense to have everything but Superman slow down whenever the Superspeed button was pressed? That still gets the 'fast' point across while retaining controllability, doesn't it?

Superpowers are another area where game developers run into trouble. After all, this is a game about Superman, who's been setting things on fire and lifting trucks ever since he was Superbaby, so players expect to be able to do pretty much everything right out of the gate. In an attempt to keep the game from being too easy, though, the odd decision was made to tone down the powers to the point where they're nearly useless in most situations. Obviously even a game about Superman should be challenging, but when I've gone to the trouble of charging up my super-breath and blowing a horde of robots hundreds of feet into the air, when they come crashing back into the ground it should have a more impressive effect than costing each of them half a bar of life energy.

Superman Returns also suffers terribly from its forced association with the film of the same name. While a visually stunning experience, there wasn't much to the film that could easily be transformed into an interactive medium; after all, looming custody battles and lifting continents do not for compelling gameplay make. In fact, all the film really accomplishes is preventing the game from having a story of its own. While the Superman of the game concerns himself mostly with blowing up robots and blowing out building fires, every now and then a wholly unrelated clip from the film plays. This creates a problem rampant in the 'based on a film' game genre. The clips don't have enough content to tell a coherent story to someone who hasn't seen the film, so the only purpose they serve is to remind players of a movie they watched one time. Is there anyone who finds this satisfying? Would those same people really feel cheated if, after purchasing a Superman Returns game it had featured a storyline that bore at least some relation to the game's content? Since Superman is fist-fighting Mongul and battling a giant Metallo, shouldn't that kind of thing show up in the cut-scenes?

Superman Returns Screenshot

Which brings me to the game's weakest aspect, the fighting engine. Isn't it time that designers of action games started leaving the fighting to the people designing the fighting games? The worst sin the game's fighting system commits is not just being frustrating, but entirely superfluous. Why struggle with an awkward combo timing system when it's faster and more fun to simply throw cars at opponents—somehow they do more damage than a punch and the villains never learn how to block them. Perhaps things would have been better had all of the supervillain battles been handled through Shenmue-style Quick Time Events. They might not have made for the most satisfying gameplay (although they did fairly well by Resident Evil 4), but at least they would have been visually interesting. The fights in Superman Returns are neither.

Yes, it's hard to make a game about a character who can do basically anything, but Superman Returns is just an unforgivable mess. Whether this is due to a lack of ideas or a rushed timeline to coincide with the film's release date is debatable, but the end result is the same. It is a game that utterly fails to capture any of the elements that make its source material so enduring and beloved. There were a few moments when I could feel the game trying, as I flew over the surface of a lake, watching the water foam underneath, I knew this was a game made by people who wanted to make a good Superman game, but just couldn't pull it off. There's one upside, though—Superman isn't going anywhere, so there's always going to be a demand for a game starring him. The law of averages suggests that, eventually, one of them will have to be good. Just not this one. Rating: 2.5 out of 10

Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

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Red Steel Art

It's not often I chide a game for not being violent enough, but Red Steel has placed me in the odd position of having to do just that. It's not that games need to be gory to hold their audience's attention, it's simply that when a game centres itself around extremely violent action, removing the consequences of that action only serves to make it feel hollow and pointless. Slashing swords that don't draw blood, finishing strokes that don't decapitate an opponent, headshots that make a disturbing SPLAT sound effect with no visual accompaniment…The game Red Steel features no actual red steel, and the only blood appears on the box art. Decieving an audience is never a great place to start.

A hybrid first-person shooter/slasher, Red Steel tells the story of a personality-free bodyguard who travels through the seamy underbelly of the world of Japanese organized crime to save his girlfriend from the clutches of the nefarious Yakuza. He accomplishes this by alternately shooting and stabbing the hundreds of people who stand between him and the woman who appears briefly at the beginning of the game. The player is given no say in whether they'll be shooting or slashing. In the first of the game's odd touches, it's a gunfighting game almost all of the time, except for every once and a while when an enemy pulls out a blade and it goes into swordfighting mode. Just why the main character is obliged to take part in this fight, rather than just gunning down his opponent Indiana Jones-style, is the least of the game's bizarre problems.

Beyond the advantages afforded by the game's control scheme, which I'll address momentarily, Red Steel doesn't excel in any particular areas. The graphics are nothing special, the level design is entirely linear, almost completely non-interactive, and the villains, while fairly good at ducking behind cover and popping out to shoot, have a bad habit of doing little else. No, beyond a number of frustrating bugs that caused me to restart a few levels, there isn't much in the game that reaches the front or back end of the bell curve—even its attempts at innovation land with something of a middling thud. Chief among those is, of course, the swordfighting.

Red Steel Screenshot

As I've noted time and again, swordfighting is something of a holy grail in videogame design. It seems like the most exciting thing imaginable, and countless games have been devoted to it, but it's such a complex, physical action that no game has ever really managed to capture that thrill. Red Steel tries its level best, and it halfway succeeds, but that halfway just isn't enough. Whenever a swordfight begins, the player is asked to hold their two hands apart to represent two blades. The Wiimote acts as a longsword, and the nunchuk a smaller secondary blade for parrying. The player swings the Wiimote to slash the blade in four directions, shakes the nunchuk to block strikes, or presses a button and moves the thumbstick to dodge more powerful attacks.

It's not a bad setup in theory, and I'd be lying if I said that swinging my arms around and interacting with the television wasn't far more immersive than any other swordfighting game I've ever played, but there just isn't enough depth to the fighting to be entertaining over the length of the game. There's no creativity or improvisation allowed in the fighting—the only way to attack with more than one (fairly slow) strike at a time is to use one of four pre-programmed combo moves that consists of a series of slashes. This gives the dozens of swordfights over the course of the game a very repetitive feeling, one that isn't helped by the awful enemy AI. Each swordfighting opponent attacks in a set pattern with very little variety, making it simple for even the most inexperienced player to follow the pattern and beat even the bosses on their first attempt.

I'm not exactly sure why the swordfighting was advertised as the game's focus and main selling point, when it's the shooting that really stands out. Having literally struggled for years against analog sticks, wrestling for headshot, relying on auto-aim to slog my way through shooters, the Wiimote is something of a revelation. Aiming the controller at the screen makes a small white dot appear, and moving the controller slightly makes the dot move around. The only drawback is that it's too easy to use.

 Red Steel Screenshot

Shooting is so precise I was able to breeze my way through the game with ridiculous accuracy levels—in fact, it would have been all headshots if the game didn't allow me to do the one thing I like more than shooting people in the face: shooting guns out of their hands and asking them politely to surrender. The only thing that didn't work well is the 'move the Wiimote towards the screen to zoom' mechanic. Leaning forward while playing is needlessly awkward, and the lightest twitch of the hand can make the zoom level change, which gets disorienting very fast. Luckily, there's maybe three times in the game where the player is required to snipe anyone, and the rest of the time the fantastic accuracy allowed me to just muddle through with pistols.

Although it acts as a wonderful selling point for anyone considering developing an FPS for the Wii, Red Steel is too much of an unsatisfying tease to succeed as much else. It's entirely possible that the game was changed because someone at UbiSoft felt the game might sell more copies with a T rating rather than an M, or perhaps Nintendo is to blame, and they've secretly gone back to the bizarre puritanical practices that rendered the SNES version of Mortal Kombat such a lamentable mess. Whatever the cause, I hope that, if nothing else, Red Steel shows people that simply removing a little blood and gore from a game doesn't make it any more acceptable to the people out there who rail against violent video games. This is a game about killing people. Is it less objectionable because the people don't bleed or scream or explode into little chunks? No. Just less honest. Rating: 5 out of 10

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

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Mike Boynton
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Mike Boynton

why did he give it a Rating: 5 out of 10?

fishgills
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fishgills

From my personal experience, this is probably the best description of the game so far. I don’t understand how some reviewers found the aiming to be imprecise and unresponsive – it’s one of the most intuitive engines I’ve ever played. It’s just too bad that the game itself is so aggressively mediocre. I still don’t think enough reviewers point out how the themes of this game are essentially “Imperialism Lite.” A Westerner invades Japans, confronts and kills Japanese people who are solely represented by gross stereotypes, then appropriates Japanese culture by earning the old Samurai’s “honor” and making off with… Read more »

Gene Park
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Gene Park

I’ve always found Dan’s reviews to be, at the very least, interesting, but this was a fantastic read! I felt like I was playing the game again, and reliving all my frustration with it. Good job!

There's something special about turn-based games: something fascinating about taking part in in large scale battles without losing any control over the various participants. Of course, the amount of time it takes to position each individual character or unit means that turn-based games require quite a bit of paitience and dedication to play.

In the high points of the genre, such as XCOM or Jagged Alliance, it's not unusual for a single firefight to last anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours, and since a game can consist of up to a hundred firefights, they tend not to be titles that attract the casual player. Developers have spent years on failed attempts at modernizing and speeding up this process, mixing the pace of modern real-time strategy (RTS) games with the borderline OCD-level micromanagement that the hardcore strategy gamer craves. Until Brigade E5, all of those attempts have been failures.

Fairly traditional in its structure, Brigade tells the story of a mercenary sent to a small central American country where three opposed factions are in constant, open war with one another. It's the mercenary's job to pick a side—organized crime, the facist government, or the socialist rebels—and ensure that they win the war. This is accomplished by recruiting other mercenaries and then going on missions that generally involve killing an awful lot of people.

Brigade E5: New Jagged Union Screenshot

The combat engine makes up the meat of the game, and it works stunningly well. Fights take place in completely 3D arenas, and the player can move the camera freely to get the best possible look at the situation. Once they've got a handle on things, players plot out movement paths and fire weapons at the enemy, but instead of using some sort of nebulous 'action point' system, they're told how long it will take the mercenaries to perform said action in seconds. Once the moves have been decided on, it's a simple matter to unpause the game and let all of the mercenaries (and their computer-controlled foes) go about their actions. Making everyone move at once already speeds the proceedings up by fifty percent, but the improvements don't stop there. The pause/unpause system also allows players to react to enemy tactics in real time. Turn-based games always attempted to simulate this with things like overwatch fire and turn interruptions, but it never worked as well there as it does here.

In addition to the overall pause/unpasue system working so well, the game also gets all of the minutiae of combat right. There are a wealth of movement types and concealment options, players have to manually clear the jams on over-used weapons, even tape spare clips together to speed up reloading times. The game features a huge variety of weapons as well, and in a nice touch, each one is completely modeled in-game, along with all of its accessories, so the weapons fetishist can zoom as close as they want and get a look at the action. Sure, the graphics that represent the weapons might be three or four years past impressive, but still, it's a nice feature to offer.

Sadly, though, the combat is every bit as successful as the rest isn't. There literally isn't a single other part of the game that doesn't have major problems. It's as buggy as anything in recent memory, the dialogue interface is a mess, the translated-from-Russian writing is passable at its best and unreadable at its worst, and the difficulty level is so badly managed that it deserves two paragraphs all to itself.

Brigade E5: New Jagged Union Screenshot

In an attempt to create a constant level of challenge for the player, many role-playing and strategy games institute a system of matching advancement. The idea is that as the player levels up, the enemies level up as well, so their relative difficulty stays exactly in tune with the player's skill. This is an admirable idea in theory, but in practice it can go very wrong very quickly, a problem that Brigade E5 could serve as a textbook example of.

The problem wouldn't be so bad if the gunfights were fair to start with, but from the beginning of the game the player is always up against superior numbers with better weapons, a condition that scales up as the game continues, so no matter how experienced the player's characters get, they'll never have an advantage in a battle, or even have a fight that isn't a ridiculous chore to win. The problem is so bad that when I went online to look for solutions to the problem, the only advice I could find was to generate the worst character possible, so that the game could be beaten without ever leaving the early difficulty levels. As counterintutive as that seemed, I had to admit that there was a lot more fun to be had in pistol duels with gangs of banditos than in full on war with dozens of heavily armored stormtroopers.

Even if the game falls apart fairly quickly, and has bugs and interface quirks that make the main story borderline unplayable, it still deserves a measure of attention and admiration. In finally discovering a way to speed up strategy games and make them more accessible without sacrificing a single strategic element or bit of micromanagment, the developers deserve more than a little applause. Now if only that discovery were used to make a halfway decent game, they'd really have something. Rating: 4 out of 10

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

Latest posts by Daniel Weissenberger (see all)

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Rampage: Total Destruction Screenshot 

Rampage may be unique among videogame franchises in that, across six titles and twenty years, not a single one of them has ever actually been a good game. No, Rampage has squeaked by on the strength of its premise alone. Of course, it's pretty darn good premise. Moderately large monsters (more King Kong sized than Godzilla sized) wander around a city, destroying every building they pass for no particular reason. It sounds like it ought to be a lot of fun. But it's not. Nor, I'd argue, has it ever been.

The game is structured simply enough, with players being placed in the role of one of thirty possible giant monsters, and offered the chance to roam around one of eight cities, destroying each one before moving on. Unfortunately, the novelty of wrecking those cities wears off around twenty minutes into the game, leaving the player with another six hours of tedium stretched out in front of them if they're at all interested in completing the game.

This problem is rooted in the excessively simplistic and repetitive nature of the gameplay. As players enter each city they're asked to do little more than wreck a few buildings, which wouldn't be so terrible, if they weren't so limited in the ways they were allowed to do it. Twenty years later, and still all the monsters know how to do is climb on buildings and punch out windows. And no, I'm not particularly impressed by the fact that monsters can now climb on the front of the buildings as well as the sides—all that accomplishes is to make it take that much longer to knock the buildings down and move on to the next city block.

This repetitiveness even stretches to the game's thirty different monsters. Although they differ in speed, health, and ability to fight bosses, each of them attack buildings in the exact same way, and take the same amount of time to destroy them. There are four 'special abilities' that can be unlocked, but again, they don't change the way the game is played, and since every monster shares the same four abilities, the novelty of screaming to shatter windows wears off extremely quickly. Also, the method for unlocking these abilities is one of the most ridiculously convoluted I've ever come across. The player has to punch out a certain window on a certain building while playing as a certain monster. Of course, there's no way to know which monster or which building is correct, which forces players to replay a game that was tedious the first time around.

Adding a third dimension should have been a step in the right direction, but it's so poorly implemented that it might as well not have been added at all. The camera is always looking at the 'front' side of the block, and the monsters can't circle the buildings, leaving the ability to move up and down onscreen limited to allowing players to walk out into the middle of traffic—the only concrete effect the change has on gameplay is to make it nearly impossible to swat helicopters out of the sky. In order to hit a helicopter the monster has to be standing directly below it—unfortunately, because the helicopters don't cast shadows, it's almost impossible to determine just where the 'directly under' is.

As someone with a history of skepticism towards "Next Generation" gaming and the endless push towards graphical improvement, I find myself blaming the game's failure equally on creative and technological limitations. It hurts the game that there aren't any notable buildings or landmarks to destroy—I went to Chicago and wasn't allowed to destroy the Sears Tower, then I went to New York and couldn't destroy the Empire state building. Heck, I was in Las Vegas and I couldn't even destroy that ridiculous fake Space Needle thing that has the rollercoaster on top of it. As frustrtaing as not being able to destroy landmarks was, what really killed the game was the inability to destroy any buildings in an interesting fashion.

There's hope on the horizon, though. Seeing what the modern consoles are capable of, it's impossible not to imagine a future where physics engines allow buildings to collapse dynamically based on the damage they've received, rather than sinking straight into the ground, and a giant squid throwing three tons worth of garbage truck into the side of a building does more than break a few windows. It seems to me like this generation, or maybe the next one at the latest, we're finally due for a good Rampage game. It's just not fun yet. Sure, playing against people is a mild diversion, and it has a small amount of nostalgic appeal, but if they want to come up with something that's sold entirely on the basis of the fun of destruction, destruction has to be more fun than this. Rating: 3 out of 1.0

Disclaimer: This review is based on the PS2 version of the game.

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

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Yakuza Art

In this age of cynical disillusionment, the Yakuza is perhaps the only international crime organization that North Americans can still look on with any kind of nostalgia. The once mysterious tongs are now thought of as little more than drug running slave traffickers. The Mafia’s suave counterculture image replaced by balding men with fourth-grade educations clad in track suits, partially because they're too fat to wear anything else but mostly because they just don't care about their personal appearance. Heck, John Gotti was known as the "dapper don" because he wore a suit every day, not just to court. Yet somehow, and perhaps this is just here in North America, the Yakuza have retained their sense of mystery and wonder. Whether it’s an accurate depiction or not, to the outside observer, they still all dress up in nice suits and go to elaborate ceremonies where music is played by slowly plucking one string at a time on some kind of Japanese mandolin thing. Then there’s the fact that they cut off their own fingers when they’ve made a mistake. Somehow tubby guys ogling strippers and then getting shot to death in a parking lot just can’t compete. So, even if it didn’t have anything else going for it, at least Yakuza has one heck of a setting.

Yakuza Screenshot

Yakuza has been frequently compared to Shenmue, and it’s no accident—but that shouldn’t scare off the vast majority gamers who didn’t enjoy Yu Suzuki’s methodically paced martial-arts epic. Their similarities aren’t in gameplay, but in concept. Shenmue was, at its core, an attempt to come up with a realistic story on which to hang a fighting game—a believable reason for a man to wander the world, fighting the strongest foes. In the same way, Yakuza is all about providing a framework under which a Zombie Revenge-style 3D brawler would make sense. If it just succeeded at melding the adventure and brawler genres, Yakuza would be a good game, but it goes much farther, reaching into great game territory by featuring one of the best stories I’ve ever seen in a videogame.

The reason that the 3D brawler all but died out in the late 90s is that it’s very difficult to keep people entertained for over an hour when there’s no content to be found beyond punching various gang members in the face. Yakuza artfully dodges this problem by treating the fights like the battles in an RPG—in addition to plot-themed battles every ten minutes or so, the player can get into random battles just wandering around the city, as gangsters, street thugs, and ordinary citizens decide that they really don’t like the main character’s face. This means that every five minutes or so the player can look forward to beating up a team of around six thugs. It’s the perfect balance of fights to all other content. Every time I started itching to smash in the face of a Japanese mobster, there was always one happy to oblige.

Now, in a game where an average 20-hour first play-through will require viciously beating up over seven hundred foes, it’s important that the fighting not get stale. Yakuza offers the standard experience-point based character enhancement and move unlocking to help with this a little, but the real secret of keeping the fighting fresh is the way the game offers interactive environments to fight in. Whenever a random battle starts, it takes place in the same area that the player was walking around in when it started—usually the streets of Tokyo. The normally-crowded streets are suddenly clear, but the people haven’t gone anywhere, no, the citizens of Tokyo actually provide the boundaries for the arena as they stand nearby, watching the fight. Every arena is littered with improvised weaponry that can be picked up and used, as well as numerous surfaces that enemies can be smashed into or thrown over. It’s a real credit to the design that the fights keep feeling unique and dynamic for the entire length of the game.

Yakuza Screenshot

All the fighting would be perfect if it wasn’t for a few glaring flaws. The first problem is in the camera, which gets way too close to the action whenever there’s a fight in a small, enclosed area. The much bigger problem is that the engine is so perfectly suited to 6-on-1 brawls that no real care was put into making it work for 1-on-1 boss fights, which makes them not just much harder, but startlingly difficult when compared to everything else in the game. The strangest thing is that it’s all because of one tiny design oversight involving the lock-on feature—the player can’t automatically turn to face his opponents, but boss characters can. To be fair, though, the game seems to acknowledge just how difficult it is, and if a fight goes badly more than twice, it offers players the opportunity to drop the difficulty down to easy for the rest of the game.

As good as the fighting is, Yakuza’s story is that much better. It’s so good, in fact, that I’m not going to divulge any of the plot’s details, because they’re worth experiencing unspoilt. I will, however, divulge the secret of just what makes the game’s story so good: a complete lack of irony. At one point a transvestite stripper pulls out a shotgun during his act and starts firing into the crowd, and it doesn’t feel exploitative and awkwardly tacked-on, just amazingly cool. Even if there’s nothing particularly new or innovative about the story—an unbelievably tough former Yakuza gets out of jail and becomes embroiled in a struggle between rival mob families as he tries to protect a little orphan girl—it’s all played with such a straight face that it invites players to take it seriously, and enjoy it for what it is, then rewards them for doing so.

Yakuza is the best example I’ve seen in a long time of just how much a great story can elevate a good game. It’s all well and good to give people hundreds of bad guys to beat down in an interesting way, but making those same players care about the people punching and getting punched moves the experience to an entirely different level. Whether its nostalgic, gauze-filtered look at the Japanese Mafia has any basis in reality or not, Yakuza gives players access to a world where gangs still settle their differences with bats and knives instead of guns and bombs, and being the toughest man in the city is an extremely marketable job skill. Then it uses it to tell a story that could only be told in a videogame. And for once, that’s being used as a compliment, rather than a criticism. Rating: 8 out of 10.

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

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I suspect that there is no genre more rigidly formulaic than Real Time Strategy (RTS) games. Now, this can be said of almost any genre, but the interesting thing about RTS games is how similar the specific actions that the game is made up of are. Start a level with no troops. Build a base. Gather resources. Build a bigger base. Build an army. Crush your enemy with an overwhelming attack. Repeat for the next fifteen years. As I played Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, I began to have flashbacks to my first time playing Dune 2. Of course, the graphics are exponentially better, and there is one more race, but the experience of playing the game was almost exactly the same. I'm sure anyone who's ever played a Warcraft or Command and Conquer game will know exactly what I'm talking about. So, if all RTS games are essentially the same, the only question becomes, how's the setting?

In this case, it's actually quite good. It's based on the extremely popular Warhammer 40K roleplaying and wargaming universe. For those unfamiliar with the game, it revolves around the fairly inspired question, "What would a fantasy world full of Orks and Elves and Dragons get up to in the distant future?" Well, apparently forty millennia of progress has changed their weapons from longswords and crossbows to assault cannons and orbital defense lasers. Other than that, basically it's the status quo.

The game's plot concerns the attempts of the Imperium (basically the Spanish Inquisition in space) to hold back the onslaught of the Orks (green monsters that talk like caricatures of '80s British Punks), while the forces of Chaos scheme behind the scenes. Also, the Eldar are on hand. The Eldar are basically Space Elves, and their motives and methods are just as nebulous and unclear as one would expect from Space Elves.

Actually, Dawn of War represents one of the best uses of a license I've ever encountered. The history of Warhammer 40K is so rich, detailed, and videogame-ready that I'm sure the developers loved the wealth of resources available; it'salmost as if the majority of the game's preproduction work had just been handed to them. Each of the game's four races has a full complement of beautifully animated troops and vehicles, and miraculously, they all look and sound exactly like they should. Even better, they have enough differing strengths and weaknesses that playing multiplayer skirmishes as or against the various races requires entirely different strategies.

Following the rules of RTS design as slavishly as the game does, the multiplayer is just as fantastic here as it is in every other Real Time Strategy game. Sadly, the single player game isn't as well-represented. Only the humans have a campaign, and it's only 11 missions long. Worse still, none of the missions are particularly cleverly designed. There aren't any limited resource or troop missions, or hold-the-line missions, or search-and-rescue missions, or any of the other objective-based variations that developers generally throw in to break up the drudgery of resource gathering. Once the lengthy story sections end, all of the game's missions quickly boil down to building the largest army possible as fast as possible so the enemy can be obliterated with a minimum of fuss.

Luckily, the game's controls are tight and manageable enough that building and commanding that army never gets too daunting, even during the epic battles that tend to break out towards the end of every mission. The game features all of the bells and whistles that RTS gamers have come to expect in this day and age, including hero units and semi-automated construction that takes much of the repetitious drudgery out of the base-building process. This attention to quality and detail isn't surprising though, given the game's pedigree. In addition to their own experience with the genre boundary-pushing Homeworld and Impossible Creatures, the developer, Relic Entertainment, has clearly taken cues from the most successful games in the genre. In fact, the lack of a robust single-player experience coupled with the similar subject matter conspire to make Dawn of War feel, at times, like little more than the best Warcraft III add-on ever devised.

Everything that Dawn of War does it does exceptionally well. The only real problem is that everything it does has already been done a hundred times before. Each time I watched a team of Terminators tear apart a Chaos base I got the exact same feeling of accomplishment I'd experienced watching a team of Siege tanks decimate a Zerg hatchery, or a group of missile launchers destroy a Harkonnen stronghold. The fact that I keep playing the exact same game—the exact same level—over and over again is a testament to the power of the gameplay dynamics that Westwood popularized so many years ago. For all of its incredibly high production values, Dawn of War never trancends the genre, but, knowing that going in, I wasn't disappointed by what I found, and I doubt that any fan of the genre or franchise will be, either. The game's rating is 7.5 out of 10.

Daniel Weissenberger

Daniel Weissenberger

What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?

Nothing relevant to this conversation, that's for sure! Because we're here to talk about (sorry, write and read about, respectively) GC_Danny, who's updating this profile for the first time in thirteen years!

So let's take a gander back at that time and see what's happened! In addition to writing hundreds of video game reviews, Dan produced a book that can be legally purchased by almost anyone! He also wrote two short films, two episodes of television, and two movies! Although, sadly, and through much fault of his own, the movies have yet to be released.

In addition to general game reviewing, he's also dabbled in more long-form work, writing some of the longest and most comprehensive game reviews of all time. Then there's his non-GameCritics blogging, where he's famous as the world's foremost expert on the TV show Criminal Minds, as well as the co-host of a weekly podcast - he's even working on a new videogame/critical experiment, which you can find out more about here!

If all that wasn't enough, just a few months ago he rebranded himself as 'The Hidden Object Guru', hoping to stake another claim of ultimate expertise, this time over a genre of casual games! Will he be successful? Only time will tell, but you're free to join the thrilling ride at his YouTube channel!
Daniel Weissenberger

Latest posts by Daniel Weissenberger (see all)

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