GAME REVIEW: Sine Mora

One of the great things about Xbox Live Arcade is that it really encourages developers to create games that appeal to the nostalgic gamer in all of us, and you don’t get much more classic than the side-scrolling shoot ‘em up. What separates “Sine Mora” from genre favorites like “Gradius” and “R-Type,” however, is the importance that time plays in the game. Not only can you control time by slowing it down in order to evade fire, but time also acts as your health. You lose a few seconds with each hit you take, gain some back with every enemy you kill, and if your timer runs out, you’re dead. There are also several power-ups you can collect throughout the game that add time to your clock, upgrade your primary weapon or provide a temporary shield.

The game’s distinctive features are only upstaged by its amazing art design, although you won’t have much time to appreciate the gorgeous backdrops because you’ll be too busy trying to dodge the overwhelming amount of enemy fire that fills the screen at any given time. But while “Sine Mora” is a visually stunning twist on the popular shoot ‘em up genre, the fact that Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture is behind the game means that it’s also a bit bizarre. Starring a cast of “Star Fox”-like anthropomorphic pilots that speak Hungarian and discuss adult topics like murder and rape, the story jumps back and forth between locations, time periods and characters so often that it’s virtually incomprehensible.

“Sine Mora” would have been better off just axing the story altogether, because although the game can be a bit frustrating at times, it’s still a lot of fun to play; the multi-tiered boss battles are a particular highlight. Sadly, it all goes by too fast, with a campaign mode that barely lasts two hours on normal difficulty. Those looking for a bigger challenge will find one in the included Arcade mode – which lets you play each mission piecemeal without the story and introduces other abilities like rewinding time and a bullet-deflecting shield – but unless you’re a hardcore shoot ‘em up fan, it’s probably not worth spending $15 on such a niche game.

GAME REVIEW: FIFA Street

It’s been four years since EA Sports has released a “FIFA Street” game, and with a little luck, it’ll take four more years before we see another one. That may sound a bit harsh, because “FIFA Street” is by no means a bad game, but it’s so completely lacking in depth compared to EA’s flagship FIFA title that it feels like an insult to be charged the same price. There’s just not that much to do in “FIFA Street” apart from playing individual matches or competing in World Tour, which is where most people will likely spend a majority of their time. In this mode, players build a team and compete in a series of challenges and tournaments around the world, earning points along the way that are used to upgrade attributes and learn new moves, as well as unlock venues and gear based on the difficulty level of each match.

The gameplay itself doesn’t have a very steep learning curve, making it more accessible for casual gamers, but despite the heavy emphasis on beating your opponents using trick moves, they’re not really necessary to winning matches, with the exception of one game type. In fact, “FIFA Street” would get old pretty quick if it weren’t for the variety of ways to play, including classic 5v5; Futsal (indoor soccer without walls); Panna (score by kicking the ball through your opponents legs); Freestyle (score points for performing tricks); and Last Man Standing (lose a player for each goal you score and be the first team out). Unfortunately, “FIFA Street” simply doesn’t have enough replay value to validate its $60 price tag. The game is fun to play in short bursts, but I can’t help but think that it would have worked better as DLC for the far superior “FIFA 12.”

Goldeneye 007 Facility Challenge with a steering wheel

One gamer attempted a chunk of James Bond action using a steering wheel.

The iPad’s effect on the gaming industry

The iPad is having a huge impact on the gaming industry, and the bog industry players are paying attention.

After Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook noted that iPad sales now surpass PC unit sales for HP, Lenovo, Dell, and Acer; Mike Capps, president of game developer Epic boasted that Apple’s new tablet computer has “more memory and higher screen resolution than an XBox 360 or Playstation 3.”

Hardcore gaming snobs may scoff, but Apple’s competitors are taking notice. In late October 2010, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime said Apple was a more dangerous competitor than Microsoft.

76% of Apple’s revenues now come from ‘post PC devices’ — iPads, iPhones, and iPods, Cook said Wednesday. And gaming is one of the most popular applications for these devices. Of the top 25 paid iPhone apps, at least 22 are games; among the top 25 paid iPad apps, at least 12 are games.

To be sure, most of the casual games that are so popular on the iPad and iPhone aren’t as sophisticated — or expensive — as the best games on home consoles or dedicated handheld gaming devices. But Apple’s massive volume — Apple has now sold more than 55 million iPads — means its products are getting plenty of attention from developers.

It probably isn’t affecting serious gamers, but for casual games the iPad and smartphones have revolutionized the business as more people get hooked on Angry Birds or play simple games like chess or casino games. Now as the iPad gets more powerful with better screens, we might see it have an impact on serious gaming as well.

GAME REVIEW: Syndicate

Over the last few years, the FPS genre has become so oversaturated that you really have to deliver something special to stand out these days. And though Starbreeze Studios’ sci-fi shooter “Syndicate” boasts some pretty great ideas on the surface, the game’s sum is never quite equal to its parts. For starters, the story is a complete mess. Set in 2069, it imagines a world run by three mega corporations that are at war with each other for market dominance. You play as Miles Kilo, a bio-engineered enforcer for leading syndicate Eurocorp, which has tasked you with uncovering a mole working within the company. There’s not much else to the story beyond that, aside from a few incredibly predictable plot twists (hint: you’re not working for the good guys and you know it) that make the single-player campaign even more laborious to slog through.

The game’s combat system offers some innovative ways to take down enemies – by hacking into the bio-chips implanted in their heads, you can persuade them to commit suicide and switch allegiances, or even cause their weapons to misfire – but it eventually grows old, especially when you’re forced to rely on the same three tricks over and over again. Although that doesn’t make for a particularly memorable single-player experience (despite the involvement of actors like Brian Cox and Rosario Dawson), the online co-op mode fares better by turning each mission into a team-based effort for up to four players. There are nine missions in all, some of which have been re-imagined from the SNES cult classic, that tell a separate story revolving around a new syndicate on the rise.

Along the way, you’ll earn chip upgrades and weapons to use in future missions, providing a level of customizability that pales in comparison to the single-player campaign. But while online co-op may be the highlight of the game, it’s still just a sideshow to the main attraction. Players will certainly appreciate the added value that co-op delivers, but if you don’t enjoy the nuts and bolts of “Syndicate,” it won’t make much difference.

My fond farewell

Press Start.

I spent entirely too much time looking for an image that would suit this post, but I settled here and I’m happy with it. The time has come for me to cast off from this site. I have really enjoyed writing here, but I’ve enjoyed our discussions even more. I’m going to keep this short. I want all of the regular readers here to know that your engagement has shaped me as a writer and critic and will continue to shape my writing into the future.

To that end, I’m not totally done. I’ll be doing some writing in the near future, though it will likely be just for me, will likely be a bit less consistent than this site, and will likely span a number of topics. If you’d like to stay in touch (and I hope you do), I have an about.me page that I will update when I’ve landed somewhere.

Until we meet in the virtual reality sim that is almost definitely our future, keep calm and game on.

Want to design video games?

USC is still your best choice if you’re looking at this as a possible career.

In another sign that video games are growing as an entertainment medium, the number of colleges offering degrees in video game design is on the rise.

But the school most recommended for its video game design curriculum remains the same: The University of Southern California in Los Angeles. USC has held the top spots in The Princeton Review’s annual “Top Schools to Study Video Game Design” list each of its first three years now.

“USC comes out on top because of our focus on the artistry of game design,” says Tracy Fullerton, chair of the Interactive Media Division at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. “Our faculty and students see beyond the trappings of technology and we are constantly driving the form forward.”

With the explosion of videos games and platforms it’s not surprising that universities are finally paying attention.

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