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Halo 4 - Xbox 360 (Standard Game)
Halo 4 - Xbox 360 (Standard Game)
Offered by Doremi Music USA
Price: $16.98
673 used & new from $0.99

13 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many corridors and stale content, lackluster story, and too much parity in multiplayer, November 15, 2012
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Campaign: First of all, I feel like hallways and corridor-ish areas are overused. There are too many times where the path is narrow and and there's little opportunity to flank your enemies, so all you can do is barrel forward, group by group of enemies. For the swamp stage in particular, the environment looks very nice, but functionally speaking there are a lot of narrow paths. Open-ended areas do exist, but somehow they feel few and far between, and on top of that the game has a bad habit of making you do the same thing twice whenever you encounter them. In the third mission there's an open-ended area that takes time and planning to get through, and then you realize you have to go through another area with the same exact architecture and go through the same process. There's similar one-two repetition later in the game as well, which is strange considering it only has 8 missions compared to the usual 10. A shorter (?) campaign and yet it feels like there's more padding...? Odd. Overall, there just doesn't seem to be enough tactical depth to the level/area design.

The campaign also has too many obligatory vehicle sections; for anyone who's played multiple games in the series, these may very well feel like old news. Something that really irritates me, though, is that some of the vehicle sections aren't even designed for co-op play. During a Ghost escape sequence, walls and terrain are timed to shift according to the player in front, so everyone else will just keep on getting crushed or tossed into the abyss. The first time you get to ride an assault mech (the Mantis), there's only one of them, and it's not like the other players can be of any help because that entire section (almost, anyway) is just a narrow corridor designed to be blasted apart by the mech, not people on foot. In another section where you fly a pelican, the other players take turrets on the sides, but it's not as if the driver is going to charge head-first into groups of enemy ships, so those players won't have much to do.

The Forerunner weapons seem nice at first glance but ultimately fit into the same comfortable categories of pistol, automatic, rifle, shotgun, sniper, and rocket launcher. As for enemies, Knights (the Forerunner equivalent of elites) are perhaps the most annoying enemies in the series. In addition to their shields absorbing as much damage as those of Elite leaders, they often spawn airborne enemies (Watchers) that can smoke you out of cover, revive dead enemies, and provide impervious shielding to the enemies you're shooting. Mind you, Watchers themselves are extremely annoying to kill because they tuck in their wings and fly away as soon as you shoot them. It's perhaps the only time playing a Halo campaign feels like playing an exhausting multiplayer match, and that's not a compliment. The Covenant enemies behave more or less the same they always have, exacerbating the staleness you feel during vehicle sections.

The story seems to consider itself deep by virtue of not explaining anything properly, which I personally find frustrating. I want to be able to follow what's going on without having to consult something separate from the game itself. Most every major character you meet loves to speak in grandoise, vague sentences that tease at some sort of coherent backstory but never really deliver. Through it all, Master Chief's terse reticence is so overdone that he may as well be a silent protagonist at this point. You might take the stance that this makes you feel more engrossed in the story, as if you yourself are the character, but for me personally, it's boring and a missed opportunity to make the narrative engaging. There are parts where I feel Chief should say something, anything, but doesn't. I realize his transformation into a Spartan allegedly makes him less keen on social interaction, but to this degree...I think it's too extreme, especially considering pretty much every other Spartan you meet (in this game and others) doesn't share the same lack of personality. Cortana's performance (and the voice acting in general) is actually quite good, if a bit over-dramatic in spots, but it feels wasted on such a brick wall of a protagonist, and apart from Cortana's occasional dry remarks there's hardly any humor (e.g. Sgt. Johnson, rank and file soldiers) to balance out the range of emotions in the story.

One moment in the plot that really annoyed me was when the antagonist could have easily killed Master Chief but chose instead to monologue and let him live, tossing him aside. Of course this doesn't end well for him later. What is this, a Bond movie? In addition, the tension between Chief and the captain of the Infinity feels arbitrary and shoehorned to me. At one point Chief pointedly asks him for recon intelligence- when does he ever do that, mind you?- and gets a snide reply, and the whole scenario just feels out of place for me. Your mileage may vary, of course. Add to this such groan-inducing dialogue as "I thought you'd be taller" and "I understand what you think you saw" and I'm just not sold on the campaign in this game at all.


Multiplayer: Just like in the campaign, many of the multiplayer maps- Adrift and Haven are the worst offenders- rely too much on corridors, which really aren't tactically interesting. Either you stand your ground or rush around the corner- that's it. Even Solace, with its high dividing walls in the middle, feels like a bunch of parallel corridors at times. In addition, I might be in the minority here, but I feel like the high level of detail and contouring in the terrain, walls, etc. sometimes distracts from the functional aspect of the maps. It's easy to get stuck on a bit of architecture as you're trying to sidestep or backpedal; grenades might bounce off of objects at an angle you don't expect, or even seemingly off of thin air if you throw too close to a wall's hitbox.

Maps tend to be fairly large and are mostly symmetrical. If you're looking for a small-scale, close quarters map like Midship or Prisoner, or maps with iconic asymmetrical layouts like Lockout, Ascension, Zanzibar, etc., you're pretty much not going to find that here. I suppose new maps added later on might introduce variety, but judging by this first set, I'm not really giving my hopes up.

There's also this sense of parity in multiplayer that makes me feel as though there's no way to gain an advantage through effective use of strategy. Want to sneak around and flank your opponents from behind? Well, they might have an armor ability that sees through walls now, so you could very well be out of luck. Want to rush the remaining opponents after killing half of them? Well, thanks to instant respawning in some playlists and the fact that everyone has the sprint ability, that might not be a viable option anymore. Want to interrupt the enemy sniper's flow by taking him out of zoom? Well, getting shot doesn't take you out of zoom anymore, so that's no longer feasible either.

The assault rifle is more or less on par with the battle rifle and DMR at close to mid range, even though automatic weapons require less precision aiming to score kills. You would think the battle rifle would be stronger than the DMR at close to mid range since the latter has a stronger zoom, but the battle rifle now takes five shots to land a kill instead of four, so...why use it? You'll never know what weapons people are carrying (depending on the playlist) thanks to custom loadouts that you can swap during the match and personal ordnance drops that reward you with power weapons after a certain number of points (?).

I suppose it's good that you have to adapt to the different situations these factors produce, but still, thanks to this sense of parity it never really feels like I'm improving. Rather, it feels like no matter how much I play I'll never be able to maintain an advantage against the opposing team, that it will always be something like a war of attrition or trench warfare unless there's a wide difference in how precisely players can aim (unlikely in the long run). This isn't something I've personally felt in any of the earlier games, and it's pretty disconcerting to me.

Odds are you'll join a match already in progress almost as often as you begin a new one, and sometimes it's not a big deal because the match has only just begun, but seeing as many people seem to ragequit when they're losing decisively, I've often been thrust into the losing side of a match I have little hope of winning, to clean up someone else's mess. One time I even joined a match that then ended within ten seconds. Never mind the fact that I often have to sit through loading screens as the match handles the shuffling of players and the assignment of a new host. In addition, once you finish a match there isn't any postgame lobby- you're promptly carted off to the next round of map voting before you can even see what you unlocked by leveling up or review your performance. Now, once you lock in your vote, you can't drop out of the match, so what ends up happening sometimes is that people get stuck with something like a 4-person match (until others join) because the others left after they voted. Oh, and the choice is still not randomized in the case of a tie vote. Another minor point, but you can't back out of the results screens with a single press of the back button like you could in Halo: Reach, so...overall, I'm left scratching my head at some of the interface decisions.

I can use Forerunner weapons a couple of hours into the campaign; why do I have to level up twenty times (amounting to much more than a couple of hours) to use them in multiplayer? It feels as though I'm unlocking things for the sake of unlocking things. Not to mention this will arguably create a barrier to entry for players who start a month from now and have to face opponents who can have any kind of loadout they want (unless the matchmaking system accounts for this?). The armor unlocks aren't much better- for many of them you have to complete commendations, which can take weeks or longer to accomplish. Even most icons have to be unlocked by leveling up. Call me cynical, but it seems to me like a contrived way to squeeze more commitment out of players.

Other unsorted points: To me, the addition of killcams in some playlists feels unnecessary and out of place because it takes away any effort required to infer your opponents' locations based on the nature of your deaths and the layouts of the maps. There are no lighthearted variety playlists like Multi Team or Action Sack, though these could potentially be added later on. I've personally experienced some lag/stuttering in multiplayer when going split-screen, and I don't think it's network latency.


Other: Spartan Ops is basically a challenge mode of sorts where you do relatively short (maybe 10 - 20 minutes depending on team size) "rout the enemy" skirmishes on slightly modified versions of areas from the campaign. Part of me feels it's superficial, but part of me also appreciates that you can use your custom loadouts and that dying doesn't reset your progress to the last checkpoint. I do think it can be a nice alternative when you're playing with friends and not in the mood for competitive multiplayer, though whenever I've tried to use matchmaking to find a Spartan Ops game, the latency has been unbearable, to the same degree that Firefight matchmaking games were in Halo: Reach. The vignettes for each episode are a nice touch but feel more like they're merely providing context for the skirmishes rather than developing a story.

I haven't spent a lot of time in Forge mode in the series, so I forget if these are new features, but it's easy to connect pieces in straightforward ways because you can have them lock together at certain "magnet" points at the edges and corners. You can also duplicate pieces with a single button, which can save time. On the other hand, unless I'm missing something, there's no simple way to make and manipulate group selections, so if you decide later to redo or move large sections of your custom map, it may involve a lot of work. There also doesn't seem to be any kind of Forge World or empty map as of this writing, which feels a bit limiting. Definitely take my opinion here with a grain of salt, though.


I wouldn't go as far as to say that Halo 4 is a bad game, but at the same time I don't think it was quite the kind of game I was hoping for, and the reasons I've gone through above leave me ambivalent as to whether I'll play much of it in the days to come. For better or worse, it certainly feels different than previous games, so I'd suggest making sure you're ok with the new overall feel of things before committing to this one.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2012 8:21 PM PST

Mastering Manga with Mark Crilley: 30 drawing lessons from the creator of Akiko
Mastering Manga with Mark Crilley: 30 drawing lessons from the creator of Akiko
by Mark Crilley
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.76
150 used & new from $3.61

46 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great references across a variety of topics, but lacks in-depth instruction, July 15, 2012
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If there's one area where I think this book is lacking, it's in drawing the head and body. While the included step-by-step tutorials are easy to follow, the instruction basically boils down to "put these lines here, then put these lines here," and while that simplifies matters, it doesn't really give you the sense that you're drawing a three-dimensional form, which is important if you plan on drawing more complex angles and poses. There's no underlying theory as to why things are placed the way they are, or how elements move/change as you vary the angle/viewpoint. If you try to move beyond generic front and side view drawings, you might be stymied somewhat by this book, as beyond analyzing the reference drawings, there's not much here that you can apply.

In addition, while it's nice to see different facial/body types- I'm not a big fan of hypersexualized teenage females, either- the differences between them aren't always enough to justify their inclusion. For instance, in drawing a fuller-figured head, apparently the only major changes are the curve of the chin/jaw and the width of the neck. Is it really worth spending four additional pages just on those two differences, especially considering this book is leaner with regard to page count than most manga drawing books out there? Couldn't they have been merged with the other front and oblique view tutorials? I could say the same about drawing children's faces. Why not organize the tutorials by viewpoint/angle and put the different facial/body types side by side so you can immediately compare them? It would have been nice to see at least one step-by-step on high and low-angle viewpoints. Sometimes it feels as though the author is pushing his political views on how manga should (shouldn't?) be drawn, and in doing so misses the opportunity to go more in-depth. It's also worth mentioning that it's during these tutorials when the style seems the least authentic to actual manga (to me, anyway), but that might not bother you.

Another thing that irritates me is that the body section seems to focus more on drawing the outline of the clothed figure than on actual anatomy. This might appease people who are offended by nudity by default, but I can't say it'll really teach you how to draw the human form. These tutorials in particular also somehow seem the least authentic in terms of style- again, just my opinion. Overall, it's a shame that the sections on drawing the head and body seem the weakest, both because they're what budding artists will likely struggle with first and because these two topics take up half of the book.

Where the book excels is as a visual reference. There are numerous 2 and 4-page spreads with collections of hairstyles, eyes, hands, feet, emotions, poses, clothing folds/wrinkles, and so on. It's a lot of fun looking at the sheer variety and picking out something you'd like to incorporate into your own drawings, and you can certainly learn something from analyzing how the drawings are done. That said, I feel like one or two from each of these spreads should be pulled out and expanded into a tutorial or in-depth explanation. Also, it kind of irks me that even in these spreads, the mouth, ears, and nose are almost always drawn in the same exact way, which is disappointing after reading in the beginning of the book that there are many different ways to draw manga (which is true). Indeed, most of the drawings in this book seem very similar in style, which makes me wary of falling into the trap of copying that style rather than developing my own. That might just be me, though, and you can certainly supplement this book with others if you think it might be a problem.

The last section covers perspective and various manga construction topics like inking and paneling techniques. While your mileage may vary with these collections of tips (spanning only a fifth of the book), which seem about as perfunctory as many of the other tutorials, they do round out the package with valuable information and make it seem more complete.

In short, I can easily recommend this as a supplementary visual reference, but don't expect it to really teach you how to draw, or perhaps more importantly, develop your own style. That said, keep in mind the author also uploads various how-to-draw-manga videos to his Youtube channel which you may want to peruse and follow.

On a side note, don't be misled by other reviewers' comments saying this book is superior to most of what you can find nowadays. There are plenty of series out there with various strengths and weaknesses, and relying on this book alone (or any one book alone, for that matter) would be a grave mistake in my opinion. Here are some suggestions for further research and consideration, in no particular order:

-How to Draw Anime & Game Characters series (Tadashi Ozawa)
-More How to Draw Manga series (Go Office)
-How to Draw Manga: Ultimate Manga Lessons series (Graphic-Sha)
-Style School series (Various)
-How to Draw Manga (Girls Version) -- Manga no Kihon Design
-How to Draw Girls ~ Manga Class (Onnanoko no Kakikata - Manga no Kyoshitsu)
-Art of Otaku - How to Draw Anime (Download Edition)

4/14/2014 Update: I've added to my public profile a list of imported manga drawing books I've accumulated, which I'll try to update occasionally. Although they're in Japanese, I think you can learn a lot just from following along with the drawings, of which there are loads. I provide this list not to dissuade you from buying Mark Crilley's book, but to encourage supplementing it with additional references.
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 27, 2015 8:13 AM PDT

Monster Tale - Nintendo DS
Monster Tale - Nintendo DS
Offered by itembazaar
Price: $48.05
33 used & new from $5.00

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Arbitrary backtracking/padding and a slightly annoying interface mar an otherwise solid "Metroidvania Lite" game, April 9, 2012
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Let me start out by saying that I finished this game in eight hours despite taking my time, and when you consider all the back-and-forth traveling you have to do, I'd estimate the game has no more than five hours' worth of unique content. The short length isn't what bothers me, though; in fact, I much rather would have played a three hour game if it meant I didn't have to deal with all of the padding (see also: Cave Story, which handles this much better in my opinion). There are plenty of cases where you have to go to the far, far corner of a world you've already completed to get a new ability, then travel all the way back to continue from where you left off, and unlike other games in this genre, you can't teleport between save points. Personally, I don't buy the idea that this was done to give you time to level up Chomp, since the developers could have just scaled up the experience you gain from items and defeating enemies. To me, it just feels like an excuse to artificially extend total playtime, something I find rather distasteful. You also have to revisit every world at the end of the game before facing the last boss, which for me is just pouring salt on the wound.

It's also worth mentioning that the path you take through the game is extremely linear. The game tells you where to go, and you go there. If you deviate from that path, many times you'll immediately come across a dead-end. Mind you, I'm fully familiar with the concept of needing new abilities to progress, but this game is just too lean in that regard. There's really little room (or incentive) for the spontaneous exploration you might find in other Metroidvania titles, which is why I label Monster Tale a "Metroidvania Lite" game. By the same token, though, this could serve as a good introduction to the genre for new players, since the goal is always clear.

One of the benign side effects of all this traveling about is that you do get plenty of time to sink your teeth into Chomp's skill trees. All of Chomp's different forms learn new abilities very early on (level 3, I believe), making it fun to mix and match skills to fit the enemy types and different situations you come across. In addition, once you master these abilities (Level 10, if I recall), all of the forms can use them. I do wish I could assign more than two abilities at a time, but overall the system has a fair amount of depth, even if there isn't really enough time to fully explore it.

Indeed, one time-consuming part of the process I don't like is evolving Chomp into new forms. You need specific types of items for each new form, and they only apply if the directly preceding form uses those items. What this means is that if you want to optimize the process, you have to spend a lot of time diving into menus to change the currently active form, which feels awfully tedious to me. You can buy the items you need at the shops, yes, but since it takes time for Chomp to "process" each item, that can add up to a lot of waiting. There are other minor irritations, too, like the fact that the game pauses for a few seconds every time Chomp levels up, interrupting the flow. In the latter half of the game, items and enemies yield more experience, which means it will start happening a lot, especially if you go back and level up forms you hadn't used before.

If none of the above issues bother you, this game might just be one you'd enjoy. I will say it gets high marks for presentation: Ellie and Chomp make a loveable pair, the environments/tilesets are varied and creative, and the music is redolent of Castlevania and sometimes Mega Man titles, which is appropriate. I think Monster Tale will appeal more to people who haven't played many Metroidvania-styled games before, and as I've said, it does make for a good introduction to the genre. Either way, though, I would recommend looking at Cave Story, An Untitled Story, Castlevania games starting from Symphony of the Night onward, and Metroid games for comparison. The first two on that list are even free to play, making it easy to size up this game against other "heavyweights" in the genre.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Offered by DarkwingLLC
Price: $11.49
509 used & new from $2.75

70 of 86 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less meaningful quest content and a poor interface, but more unique-looking dungeons and overworld, January 25, 2012
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I'd say the fundamental trade-off going from Oblivion to Skyrim is that the world looks and feels better, but there's less overt reason for you to be there. Skyrim is packed with "miscellaneous objectives" (read: fetch quests) to the point that almost every NPC needs you to go over to yon dungeon and get ye flask, and it gets old fairly quickly. Dungeons look more varied, but what you do in them is largely the same and often devoid of meaningful context- just barrel through rooms of enemies until you get ye flask, then return to town. The major questlines don't fare much better, as they're exceedingly short-lived and so have little sense of buildup or progression. A few quests into the Companions' (Fighter's Guild) questline and I'm already part of their inner circle- apparently they have no qualms entrusting leadership of the guild to strangers. Now, if the way you play Elder Scrolls games is to wander around on your own and not worry overmuch about quests, this probably won't bother you. For me, though, I like the context-heavy sidequests and gradual guild progression in Oblivion, and I was disappointed to see these things placed on a back burner for Skyrim. To be fair, when I just explored on my own, the game was a great deal more fun, and I feel like whether you enjoy this game will depend on how you play it and on your expectations coming from previous games in the series.

My other major, major bone to pick with Skyrim is the interface- especially inventory management- which is not very customizable and drags out total playtime much more than it needs to. For one thing, there is no "shift" button to assign shortcuts. Want to set Right Bumper + Face Button as a certain spell? Too bad- you're forced to dive into menus as a magic user. Sure, there's a favorites system, but instead of having one list on each direction on the d-pad- for example, a weapons list, a magic list, a potions list- everything's in the same list. How is that supposed to help me make quick decisions, exactly? Now, again, if you appreciate the time this gives you to catch your breath, this likely won't bother you. However, if you're like me and want to spend as little time in the menus as possible, you're probably going to feel awfully limited as to how you play the game, which runs contrary to the flagship buzzword of the Elder Scrolls series: player choice.

If you buy a house, you can't organize the items in chests and drawers AT ALL- the items don't even auto-sort. Moreover, if you have more than one house, the containers are not shared, so why would you want to store your loot in more than one location? It would just mean more loading screens as you travel back and forth.

By the way, the loading screens are LONG, even with a disc-install- I've waited upwards of a full minute for traveling long distances, and even going in and out of shops can take more than ten seconds. What makes this even worse is the encumbrance system- if you carry too much, you pretty much can't move, so after every dungeon looting session you'll have to immediately go back to town to sell the stuff. It got to the point where I exclusively focused on increasing how much I could carry, but even then you have to sit on the stuff for a bit, since merchants have limited gold.

If you loot a dragon the bones tend to weigh in at 75 (!), which means after every dragon battle you'll probably go straight back to town to sell or store them, which means more loading screens. Sometimes dragons rudely interrupt as soon as you fast-travel, so instead of doing what you were going to do, you may feel compelled to play along. Honestly, I didn't find dragon fights to be very exciting, as they played out the same way almost every time (except when they glitched up), and I never felt the shouts you gain by defeating them were all that useful for a stealth character, which is the path I chose.

Speaking of choosing paths, as soon as you start selecting perks, there's no turning back. What if you decide the perks you've chosen are not as useful as you thought they'd be, or maybe you'd like to try a different playstyle for a while? Too bad- perks are permanent. Is that supposed to be player choice?

There are also plenty of balancing issues. For instance, you can become a master of smithing in no time by just forging iron daggers (pretty much the easiest item to forge), but if you want merchants to carry more gold, be prepared to buy and sell A LOT of stuff.

Overall, I think all of these design issues can really mar the experience.

Basically, if you're looking for a quest-oriented game like Oblivion, you're probably not going to find that here; Skyrim is more of a DIY exploration-oriented game, and while in that respect it performs respectably, even admirably, there are a host of design issues that simply shouldn't be there, and the rampant loading times artificially extend total playtime. As this is the sort of game you can spend hundreds of hours on, I caution you, the reader, to look beyond the unconditional praise this game is unsurprisingly getting to decide whether it's something into which it's worth investing your time.

Edit: I should mention I haven't played the entire game, but I've completed two guild questlines and over 150 miscellaneous objectives, and have done a lot of traveling on my own, so I feel I've seen enough to write a review.
Comment Comments (15) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 4, 2013 3:25 AM PST

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