Review: Raven Squad

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Simply advancing to the next generation of hardware doesn’t necessarily mean that everything else will improve alongside it. Terrible movies made with megabucks still get out to theaters, anyone without two notes to rub together can still market themselves on MySpace in the hopes of landing a contract, and awful games occasionally land on shelves before the eyes of an unsuspecting audience.

Raven Squad’s ideas sound good on the back of its box in blending both FPS and RTS elements together to create what could be a solid take on mercenary-led firepower in a hot zone. After all, that’s one of the things that made Rainbow Six such fun on the PC for many would-be commanders. Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter would also get into the act with its Cross Com tactical overview and squad command system which made anyone feel like an operator sitting somewhere deep within Langley before switching into the head of one of their own in the field.

With that kind of history already out there, Raven Squad seemed like it would be built atop the shoulders of giants. The bad news is that Raven Squad would manage to break that formula on every level.
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Ha! And you thought I had no repair skillz.

At Tech Out, gadgets and goodies are often part of what we like to write about. But what happens when the need to build something new and unexpected takes hold? What happens when someone has to MacGyver a solution to a problem?

It looks like “There, I Fixed It” has the answer with extreme results. Check out a few samples below for a little inspiration if you’re thinking of your own homegrown project…or reminder that not every idea is a good one.

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Review: WET

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WETshould be enjoyed with cold beer and leftover pizza at 3 a.m, in between the infomercials and badly dubbed kung-fu movies. It’s that kind of game.

Bethesda’s latest action shooter isn’t the first to use a gun-toting or blade-wielding blood vixen, but it might be the first to realize how much silly fun it could be. While gamers are busy ogling the outrageous magical flash and exaggerated sexiness of an upcoming game like Bayonetta, the people at Artificial Mind and Movement hearken back to a simpler time, when bullets, blood and bad guys being killed in vicious fashion were more than enough. That was the “grindhouse” style of doing things, usually with an extreme hero leading the way.
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Stop it with the horrible voice acting. Please.

Bad voice acting isn’t a new problem, but the depths at which it can sink can always surprise even jaded players like myself that thought they had heard everything. Sitting down with a game shouldn’t also require torture to the ears, but with the Xbox 360 game, Raven Squad, I have no choice if I want to finish it. Even if you had Tarantino onboard to write up some snappy dialogue, having someone with the pulse of an ice cube delivering the lines is just as bad as pulling the text off of a cereal box instead.

Seriously developers, if you can’t afford decent voice acting and feel that you have to do something like draft your local office personnel or familial relations “that think it would be easy and cool”, chances are, it will be a bad idea. Honestly, I’m not sure if that is what happened with Raven Squad, but I heard that it was what happened with another game, Chaos Wars.

If you have no choice but to go that route anyway, I would suggest spending some of your budget on acting lessons to ensure that your actors can properly pronounce words like “evac”, “tango”, and “beach”. There’s also something called “emotion”, too, that I heard makes a big difference between simply reading the script and getting into character. I heard actors sometimes do that.

But if you did hire actual actors and they turn out to be terrible, sending them back to acting school might not be a bad idea anyway.

Review: Muramasa – The Demon Blade

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Muramasa: The Demon Blade is an art lesson disguised as an action game. If most of my schooling was this enjoyable and simple, I’d probably be more cultured.

The Nintendo Wii has become something of the local art house for video games, as designers compensate for the system’s lack of obnoxious graphic horsepower by putting out titles with a unique visual spin. Before Muramasa came MadWorld and No More Heroes, a pair of games that stood out as much for their creative look as much as the gameplay. Okami also earned a lot of praise for its artsy vibe.

Muramasa bobs and floats along the same artistic river, making the player feel as if they are performing within the confines of Japanese paintings rather than the standard levels one would see in most action games. Adding to the mystique is the fact that Muramasa functions as a classic side-scroller, which makes it instantly accessible to practically anyone who plays it. This approach also enables the player to immerse himself or herself in other elements, such as story.

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Review: The Beatles – Rock Band

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When evaluating art that really matters, The Beatles are among the real miracles and artistic touchstones for western music and pop culture.

Their musical legacy is arguably without equal, with a talent, genius, influence and popularity that will be appreciated long after most forget about 90 percent of the artistic and commercial product produced in this century and the last. They are among the likes of Mozart, Shakespeare, or Dylan, in the virtuosity of their lyricism and musicianship.

With that said, it was an honor for me to see one-fourth of the legendary band perform at Coachella this year — losing my voice in the process after singing along with Beatles bassist/songwriter Paul McCartney to his hits “Hey Jude” and “Paperback Writer” — among my favorite songs of all time. I didn’t think my Beatles experience could be equalled this year after seeing Paul live, singing “Can’t Buy Me Love” while he jammed on his original Hofner Bass guitar.

I was wrong.

With the release of The Beatles Rock Band last week, in addition to their remastered album recordings, I was again lost in the heavenly bliss of the Fab Four’s three-part harmony, in ways I hadn’t experienced before.

With recreated Hofner bass in hand, and microphone on mouth, I re-lived the Fab Four’s deliriously fast rise to the top from the working class docks of Liverpool to playing sold-out American arenas filled with screaming girls, and back home to the hallowed halls of their Abbey Road recording studio in London — all through a quality product that should not only please to no end existing Beatles fans but also introduce their music to a new generation. I shared this experience with friends and strangers, all happilly united in the goal of recreating truly amazing music.

As a guitar player, I was at first skeptical of a video game that cheats one of the real experience of creating real music, or actively listening to an actual record. Playing a real musical instrument, I still believe, is far superior than pushing colored buttons on something that looks like a Fisher-Price toy guitar for toddlers, in the safety and security of one’s living room.

There’s something about rock music that shouldn’t be living-room friendly. There’s something weak about rocking out with a light plastic guitar with plastic buttons instead of the delicate picking of steel strings, executing knuckle busting chords, and pulling off sonically seductive riffs after years of practice and experience.

But the new Beatles Rock Band game still proves a revelation in the way one can experience, appreciate and truly understand The Beatles’ art. There’s quality in the production here and fans and non-fans alike really get an opportunity to appreciate and have fun with some the truly remarkable songs. The new medium of video games are truly evolving into important works of art that not only captivate but allow the one to be able to participate.

Among the best bits:

- Art: The production art for the box, cut-scenes and the gameplay are all gorgeous rendered. From the beautifully riveting opening animation sequence to the psychedelic vibrancy of later song levels, the experience is a candy for the eyes and ears. Its nice to see band rock out the Cavern Club and Ed Sullivan’s Theatre set in full Technicolor. The middle period of the game features famous Beatles venues such as Shea Stadium and Budokan in Japan. The Beatles last period is set in Abbey Road studios and the band’s legendary final live performance on a London rooftop.

- Drums: The game actually serves as a real musical learning tool. The music educational value of the game through the software and hardware is top-notch. The game comes with an intuitive electronic drum set that authentically replicates the crash, hi-hat, toms, snare and bass of an actual drum kit. The player can use the hardware with the game’s easy to learn tutorials on Ringo’s actual drum lines that you can slow down and learn beat by beat.

- Vocals: Here players can either choose to sing lead or harmony and the microphone sensitivity to pitch and beat is spot on. The game should prove hit at parties, and might even serve to teach the tone deaf to sing on key.

-Online play: Hook up your internet cable to the console, test your skills and tour the world, literally. The game easilly finds you bandmates to sing or play along with from around the globe.

Criticism:

- My only beef is that the game needs more songs. We’re missing several greats numbers like “Money,” “I Should Have Known Better,” and “Let it Be,” among many other classics. The game should have been released with the Beatles entire catalogue, though I understand they will be available for download.

neil.nisperos@inlandnewspapers.com
(909) 483-9356

Photo by Neil Nisperos: Paul McCartney plays on his Hofner Bass, just like the one that comes with The Beatles Rock Band video game, at the 2009 Coachella Valley Festival of Music and Art

Review: Section 8

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Section 8, perhaps inevitably, is going to draw in comparisons to the venerable 1998 PC title, Starsiege: Tribes and its sequels for having much of the same gameplay. Tribes had set the multiplayer world on its ear with its blend of fast paced FPS action, a large selection of impressively vast maps, a wide variety of gametypes, weapon and armor loadouts, a commander option, and jet packs.

That, in itself, is a good thing considering the strong fanbase that the game and its legacy continue to enjoy in the PC world. Unfortunately, the odds that the audience on the console will even know what it is are pretty slim considering the dominance of COD and Halo within its multiplayer space in the years since, but it brings with it a number of interesting options to distinguish it from the competition.
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