Random Game Reviews, Part 2

It's time for round 2 of my random game reviews! I've played a number of games in the last several months, and I hope my impressions are useful to somebody. This round is all Xbox 360, including reviews of Gears of War, Eternal Sonata, Soul Calibur IV, and Braid. The format will match that of the first batch.

  1. Gears of War (Xbox 360 version)

    • Genre: FPS
    • Release Date: November 2006
    • Platform: Xbox 360 and PC
    • Gears of War Official Site
    • Score: 85%
    • Summary: The story is decent and the storyline campaign is phenomenal. Playing through the main campaign coop with a friend is one of the best coop action experiences around. The battle sequences and camera tricks really make you feel like you're in an alien war. On the other hand, the multiplayer is lacking in a number of areas, most notably fun. The graphics are amazing in 1080p, although for some reason most of the game is rendered in shades of beige and gray. The drab colors do seem to fit the wartime/military feel, so it's possible that the blandness is intentional. However, it frequently ends up feeling dry when surrounded by colorlessness. If you enjoy shooters and have a 360, playing through this one is a must.
  2. Eternal Sonata

    • Genre: RPG
    • Release Date: September 2007
    • Platform: Xbox 360 and PS3
    • Eternal Sonata Official Site
    • Score: 75%
    • Summary: This is a hard review to write. This game had so much potential, and I wanted to like it so badly. The art, scenery, and music are beautiful, and the battle system is both creative and fun, getting more complex as the game progresses to keep you mentally involved. The problem is the storyline and characters (which are more than slightly important components of an RPG). First of all, the main premise is flat-out psychotic. All of the characters, monsters, places, etc. are figments of the imagination of Frederic Chopin, who is having an epic dream on his Tuberculosis-induced deathbed. None of the characters stay likable, and the actual plot is poorly played-out. It becomes clear that the story aims to present a clever social sattire about some dangerous tendencies of humanity, but it's hard to feel moved when you wouldn't really mind if all of your characters just died. Repeatedly. With their horrific English voice-acting. If you have 60 hours or so to spare and have a soft spot for CRPGs, it's probably worth playing.
  3. Soul Calibur IV

    • Genre: Fighter
    • Release Date: July 2008
    • Platform: Xbox 360 and PS3
    • Soul Calibur IV Official Site
    • Score: 85%
    • Summary: I have to say this first: Soul Calibur IV is freakishly hard. It takes all of the best elements of a complex fighting game and weaves them together extremely well. So if you were hoping to mash random buttons and beat your friends like the old Street Fighter II days, this is not the game for you. If you are looking for a deep fighting game with many dimensions to combat that you can spend months mastering, this is definitely the best game for that purpose. There are dozens of characters with wildly different styles, weapons, and speeds, and you will need to learn to at least recognize nearly every single move of every character to know when to block, parry, throw, sidestep, counterattack horizontally or vertically... you get the point. On the bright side, if you like a challenge, and a deep fighting game appeals to you, it will be extremely rewarding as the fun factor scales with the challenge.
  4. Braid

    • Genre: Puzzle Platformer
    • Release Date: August 2008
    • Platform: Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade)
    • Braid Official Site
    • Score: 90%
    • Summary: If Portal is my favorite 8 hour game, Braid is easily my favorite 6 hour game. Of all the mentally challenging games I have played, this is the only one where I did not get frustrated or annoyed. Every time you solve a puzzle, you have to grin and acknowledge how clever the level designer must be. The puzzles gradually add complexity in a different dimension (time or space or a combination of the two), and you just might feel smarter after sticking it out and solving them all. In my opinion, the game has 2 drawbacks: storyline and length. The story is intriguing, possibly even inspiring, but the ending (POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING) does not satisfactorily explain what the heck is going on. Also, it is just too short. Depending on how many mensa-style "lateral thinking puzzles" you have tackled in your life, it should take you from 4 to 20 hours to beat the game. However, at $15, if you only get 5 hours out of it, you may be disappointed. The only real replay value after that is attempting the speedruns, but only the most hardcore gamers have the fortitude and patience to speedrun an entire game like that. I think it's worth the money for one of the most innovative games I can remember playing, which delivers the most rewarding puzzles to expand your mind.

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