Twisted Metal – A Review

Twisted Metal
Review By: Preston Orrick

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This is where it all began; Calypso’s demolition derby, the creepiness of Sweet Tooth, the pulse pounding soundtrack amidst vehicles of destruction racing across the screen. Before the madness of Twisted Metal 2 and Twisted Metal: Black, there was the original car combat mayhem game, Twisted Metal for the original Playstation.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the first car combat game, but it was the first that really got me engaged in the genre. Sure, the graphics are outdated, but the game play, in short, kicks ass. With twelve characters to choose from and six levels to cause chaos, Twisted Metal is short but packs a punch.

After choosing from a number of strange and deranged characters, you start off in the Arena, a circular dome of doom. There is no escape from this hellish environment. The only way out is to kill a randomly selected enemy. Power ups are scattered throughout the level, from ice missiles to homing missiles.

Ramps are available throughout the arena to jump over or onto your enemy. The round will end once your opponent is destroyed. A health bar at the top of the screen displays your enemy’s health. If you run out of lives along the way, there are level codes available for a second chance.

Following the arena are five more levels, each becoming increasingly harder as the number of contestants increase. These levels range from a small town with ice skaters and Christmas trees to a final battle to the death atop a rooftop. There is one unlockable level; an arena with five contestants instead of just one in story mode.

The twelve playable characters in the game consist of a varied sort, all looking to win the competition and have one wish granted by the twisted tournament owner, Calypso. Each character comes equipped with their own special weapon, ranging from three powerful homing missiles to the most powerful special in the game, a flaming, explosive head. Every car handles about the same, some moving a little bit slower than the others.

The game itself is very fun and never lets up on the action. The heavy metal soundtrack is perfectly suited for the game and fuels the action. Health power ups are evenly spaced about and every level boasts a fresh design.

Playing through once is probably enough for anyone, but the replay factor comes from the multi-player. Levels are sized down to fit when playing multi player, but that does not hinder the fun.

If you haven’t played through this Twisted Metal, I recommend giving it a shot, especially since it many of its sequels ended up on the ‘Greatest Hits’ list.

Hidden: Source (for Half-Life 2) – A Review

Hidden: Source
Review By: Preston Orrick

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I’ve played many modifications for Half-Life 2, both single and multi-player. And yet, I struggle to find a single player modification worth mentioning. But when it comes to multi-player modifications, Hidden: Source does the job and does it well.

The game play is engaging as it forces you to play cooperatively and work as a team. The graphics utilize the Source engine, developed by Valve for Half-Life 2.  Just don’t expect anything new or spectacular graphic-wise.

The game consists of two teams, the “I.R.I.S.” and the “Hidden”. Your job as a member of the “I.R.I.S.” is to hunt down and kill the “Hidden”, otherwise known as “Subject 617”. But there’s a catch. “Subject 617” is almost invisible to the naked eye. It adorns a camouflage reminiscent of the stealth camouflage from “Metal Gear Solid” or from the movie, “Predator.” To make matters worse, there are vents putting out steam throughout some of the levels that resemble “Subject 617”.

As the “I.R.I.S.”, you can pick from a number of weapons, from a modified Remington to an SMG. Four automatic weapons are available along with two handguns. These are your only weapons against the “Hidden”.

“Subject 617”, on the other hand, has an advantage over the I.R.I.S. as long as he doesn’t make himself too easily visible.

“Subject 617” has up to three pipe bombs that momentarily blind the “I.R.I.S.” “Subject 617” also has a knife with a secondary fire, called a pig stick, that kills the “I.R.I.S.” in one hit and sends bloody chunks in all directions.

At the time of this review, I have found many servers to still be occupied, but many servers have taken away the “Hidden’s” ability to kill in one hit, and limited or removed the amount of available grenades. Instead, the one-hit kill has been replaced with a push move. Changing the developer’s original intention is quite lame, in my opinion.

Not only that, “Subject 617” is equipped with Aura Vision and the ability to jump around, or ‘pounce’, at an alarmingly fast rate. Aura Vision allows the “Hidden” to see through walls, easily pinpointing the location of an “I.R.I.S.” member.

“Subject 617” can also cling to any wall, and may also pin up dead bodies to instill fear in your enemies. “Subject 617” can also throw objects pretty hard at enemies, causing damage.

Hidden: Source is surprisingly balanced. The “Hidden” may have more abilities than the “I.R.I.S.”, but it can be quickly dispatched if spotted. If you play as the “Hidden”, moving around too much will reveal your position. Playing cooperatively as the “I.R.I.S.” is much smarter than going it alone. The person chosen to become the “Hidden” is random, alternating between players each round.

If you are killed in front of one your teammates, your teammate has a chance to spot the “Hidden” and take him out. A downside to sticking together, however, is the “Hidden” can toss a pipe bomb your way and take out the entire team.

Not only is playing Hidden: Source fun, it is also very tense. You will find yourself frequently looking over your shoulder, thinking that you heard or saw something, when nothing is actually there.

One of the coolest moments I had while playing was hiding on a small ledge far out of the “I.R.I..S.’s” reach. I waited and watched the entire team run below me, oblivious to my presence. As the last of the “I.R.I.S.” ran by, I silently jumped to the ground and immediately killed the last player to run by.

The rest of the team heard their teammates cry and immediately turned around, shooting in all directions. By then I was gone, having pounced out of there, already planning my next move.

It is also very entertaining to use “Subject 617’s” many voice commands, such as “I’m Here” or “Fresh Meat” to instill fear in the “I.R.I.S.” To strengthen the “I.R.I.S.’s” sense of a team, several voice commands are available, such as ‘Reporting In’ or ‘Hidden Spotted’.

Overall, Hidden: Source is an excellent modification with a real ability to scare the living crap out of you. With many maps to choose from and a decent fan base behind it, Hidden: Source can easily find a home amongst your games list.

Final Fantasy 7 – A Review

Final Fantasy 7
Review By: Preston Orrick

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This is one of those games that you must play at least once in your lifetime. And be sure to play it all the way through, for it seems that every visual and cinematic must not be missed. If you haven’t already heard of this game, I suggest running and grabbing a copy as soon as you can. You will be glad to have this monster of a game in your collection.

To begin, the story starts out very simple, but transforms into an epic journey across three discs. An evil corporation named Shinra is using generators to suck energy out of the planet. A band of rogues named AVALANCHE has formed to try and put an end to Shinra.

As before, the beginning of the game sets the main character out on a simple path. But when a certain troubled antagonist named Sephiroth enters the scene, the story rapidly changes.

Along the way, you will meet a diverse range of characters. These vary from a man with a gun for an arm to a cat sitting atop a giant toy puppet. There are even two optional characters in the game, requiring side quests to add them to your party. This game will take you well over forty hours to complete. Filled with dozens of side quests and places to explore, Final Fantasy 7 has huge replay value.

This is the first Final Fantasy to utilize a real time battle system. Before, the opposing sides could take as long as they wanted with their turns. Here, your enemies don’t wait for you to attack. But like the games before it, the battles are fought the same. Your team is on one side while the other team faces opposite you.

When any of your characters takes a certain amount of damage, a limit is allowed to be used. These limits allow your characters to dish out a huge amount of damage in one turn. The cinematics are a treat as well. Utilizing pre-rendered graphics, each cinematic looks dated but impressive for the time.

Magic elements, or “Materia”, can be used in many combinations to provide devastating effects. Experiment using the slots in the battle system and you can truly deliver tremendous blows as you battle. The magic system is well balanced and fun to use.

Trademark summons are present in full force, and are one of the game’s best attacks. Not only are they powerful, but the sequences that play after they are summoned have some of the best visuals in the game. Numerous camera angles are shown while the summoned monsters attack the opposing force.

Notable side quests include raising a Gold “Chocobo” to retrieve one of the coolest summons I have ever seen, “Knights Of The Round”. Another option is to search underwater in a small submarine for one of the toughest enemies in the game, “Emerald Weapon”.

Expect no voice acting in this game; all of the speech is done in text bubbles. Yet, you still feel the expressions and emotions of the characters. The English version of this game is partially plagued by translation errors, but not enough to distract from the game itself.

Other side quests such as racing yellow “Chocobo’s” and exploring one of the unlockable character’s city is present. The scenery and environment’s are simply wonderful, filled with interesting NPC’s.

This game is hugely propelled onward by its magnificent score, composed by the series master composer, Nobuo Uematsu. The emotions and feelings his songs evoke really draw you into the game.

If you are ready to take on one of the longest and greatest adventure role playing games I’ve ever played through, I highly recommend playing Final Fantasy 7 as soon as you can.

As an extra note, Final Fantasy 7 is now available on the computer. Make sure you find a copy with the original score; I have seen some paid versions that have MIDI tracks instead of the awesome original soundtrack.

Crash Team Racing – A Review

Crash Team Racing
Review By: Preston Orrick

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Racing games such as Gran Turismo strive for extreme attention to detail, with lush environments and gorgeous graphics. The developers try to make the cars as accurate as possible.

But other games, like Crash Team Racing, try to put a different spin on the racing game genre. Instead of the realistic appeal of Gran Turismo, here you will find stylized graphics and more attention on pure fun.

Crash Team Racing stays true to the series previous installments, delivering similar graphics and using clever power-ups for the game. This game pulls you back into the Crash universe, never disappointing with a very balanced game. All of the sounds provide a playful soundtrack and really add to the enjoyable experienced delivered here.

One of the most notable sounds in the game is “Aku Aku”, the voodoo mask that aided Crash in previous games. Alongside “Aku” is “Uka Uka”, “Aku’s” evil twin brother, who aids Crash’s enemies in the game. The rest of the power-ups range from bombs to missiles. Each power-up is randomly selected after crashing through a power-up box.

A nice feature of this game is after acquiring ten apples, your power-ups become more powerful. One power-up that changes is the force-field. Instead of being green and lasting a short time, having ten apples will turn the force-field blue and will last forever. That is, until you decide to blast it off and possibly cause damage to another car.

The environments are well thought out and perfectly balanced. After playing the maps for a while, you will find there is more than one way to complete the map. By taking risks, you can get a box full of apples or take a quicker path to the finish line. Many obstacles such as huge rolling pins and snowballs that slide from left to right can easily hinder your spot in first place.

Each environment feels unique and very enjoyable to run through for three laps. Speed strips are located throughout each level, giving you speed in whatever direction the arrow is pointed. One speed strip is so long that you literally fly through space for several seconds.

If you fall off the course, “Aku” or Uka”, depending on which character you chose, will drop you back into the track. There are up to fifteen characters to choose from, with only eight available to choose when you first start playing. Up to four players can race at a time.

As before, the soundtrack is well done, adding to the fun feel of the game. Each song that plays along on each level blends right in with the game-play, never becoming repetitive or annoying. The dozens and dozens of small sounds such as crashing into a box or catching some air fit nicely. The characters make sounds of their own, and these fit in perfectly as well.

Racing and battle modes are available. You can challenge up to four people to a series of four Cups, which involve four maps. Single mode is available as well if you only feel like playing one map. Battle mode involves four maps, with each character trying to gain a maximum number of points by damaging their teammates with power-ups.

The player is free to choose how he wants to play in battle mode. You can choose to include missiles or not, set a time limit, or limit the amount of points required before the round ends. The only gripe I have is not being allowed to switch maps inside the start menu; the player must go back to the map screen, pick their characters and set their preferences. But this quickly becomes a habit, and less of a hassle.

Adventure mode is available as well. The story is played out through several cinematics as you play through the entire mode. An evil creature in space, named Nitros Oxide, has decided to make a tournament to see who the fastest racer is. If the racer defeats him, he will leave Earth alone. If the racer loses to him, he will enslave everyone on Earth.

This mode is fairly addictive, offering many races to choose from and extra modes to play, such as racing to collect as many crystals as possible. Playing through the entire adventure mode will take you probably no more than six hours.

The replay value for this game is high, if you find you love the game-play and become addicted to it like I have. Several secret characters are available through extra modes and with special cheat codes.

Even after all these years, my brother and I still love to play this game. It is an incredibly balanced game, highly addicting and hugely fun in every way. The graphics are dated but the game-play more than makes up for it. If you love racing games and are tired of the norm, I suggest you give Crash Team Racing a shot. I promise you won’t regret it.