Every Kratos Kill Ever: Chains of Olympus

Narratively, Chains of Olympus actually comes before God of War in the timeline of Kratos universe.  In terms of real world game releases, it comes third in our God of War series, and also makes the series debut on the PSP.  Though one of the earliest PSP games to hit the market, Chains of Olympus would be one of the top rated and most successful games on the platform, only surpassed in quality by its successor (Ghost of Sparta) and a few other choice picks.   The crux of Chains of Olympus is that Kratos is a tool of the gods, particularly Ares himself, and when the Pantheon themselves are threatened, it is up to this mostly mortal man to fix their problems.  He does so with his twin Blades of Chaos, and while his killing isnt nearly as rampant and bloody as in any other game in the series, this is technically his heroic debut, so we can forgive him a shorter death list.


In-game chronology would have the Basilisk as Kratos first truly legendary kill.  This is the first real boss fight in Chains of Olympus, and also the biggest enemy he fights in the entire game.  In Kratos world, the Basilisk is a large, dinosaur-like beast that breathes fire and has no stoning properties.  Its as tall and as wide as a building, has a Spinosaurus-like protrusion along its back, and bears the mottled skin of one of the great lizards.  It also has large, webbed arms, though it never shows any indication that it can fly.  This image is in stark contrast to most of those in Greek mythology, but things are usually bigger and badder in the Kratos-verse, so this is hardly any surprise.  In legends, the basilisk ranges from a diminutive snake-like creature to something relatively cow-sized, and has even been represented multiple times as very chicken-like in appearance.  However, its rarely, if ever, a behemoth, and in no accounts that I could find did it ever breathe fire.  It has had the ability to spit venom, but its singular characteristic has always been its ability to turn victims to stone with a mere gaze.  Perhaps Ready at Dawn didnt wish to re-utilize this mechanic after the gorgon fights of God of War I and II.

Regardless of its mythical variance, the basilisk fight, in a style reminiscent of every God of War game, starts Chains of Olympus off with a roar, and somehow Kratos manages to break the great reptiles neck.


As with just about every single God of War title, at some point Kratos is either thrown or forced into the Underworld where he invariably sloshes around slaying things that are supposed to be already dead.  As the mythology would tell it, Charon is the ferryman who trucks souls across the River Styx and into Hades proper.  Charon is generally depicted as an old, hooded figure, and not necessarily a warrior or magician capable of fighting.  However, he must have some power because he is able to deny just about any but the most persistent of mythological figures access to the Underworld.  This is what happens to Kratos when he first comes upon his boat, toying with the Ghost of Sparta as though he were a child.  Kratos eventually returns and not only beats Charon to death, but rips his mask off revealing the hideous geezer beneath.

There is no mention in later games the effect that not having an underworld ferryman had on the process of souls crossing Styx.  Presumably, theres a very long line just waiting to get in.


Persephone might be the most peculiar kill for Kratos, for a few reasons.  Its not strange because shes a fairly major god, but because he kills her so early into his god-slaying career.  By all rights, this lone mortal should not have stood a chance, walking into the lair of a deity and slaying her with impudence.  Nevermind the fact that Hades probably would have been nearby and exacted a swift revenge, a fight that Kratos could not have withstood in his pre-ascension days (though stranger kills have happened).

In traditional mythology, Persephone is the child of Demeter and Zeus (incest!), but is abducted in the famous Rape of Persephone myth by Hades, and made to live in the Underworld for eternity with only occasional visits to Olympus and the world above.  At these times, nature flourishes and thus the reason for Spring.

The entire Chains of Olympus story revolves around Persephones revenge, and how she kidnapped Helios, the Sun God, and with her ally Atlas, the Titan holding up the earth, tried to destroy the pillar supporting Olympus and thus doom all the gods.  Kratos, as a tool of the gods at this point, kills her for her brash actions.  How this affects the coming of Spring and nature in general is never made mention of in any subsequent narratives.  As if Kratos cares about some namby-pamby Spring anyway.

Community Voice #22: Console Based Exclusive Content: Good or Bad?

As this gen of gaming continues, the trend of console exclusivity seems to be slowly fading in to the past. Key characters like Master Chief, Mario, and Nathan Drake will remain loyal to their respective consoles, but youre seeing less and less console-exclusive games. Dont forget the “exclusive” franchises that eventually break rank and end up multiplatform. Take Halo creators Bungie Studios for example. Since Halo 2, theyd been an Xbox 360 exclusive company, and yet now their recently inked partnership with Activision has them poised to appear on other consoles.

What were seeing more and more of is publishers and developers striking deals with one of the “big three” to release exclusive extra content, meanwhile leaving fans of the game who dont own said “exclusive” console out in the cold. So instead of Xbox 360 fanboys arguing with their PS3 nemeses about things like graphics, youve got one rubbing their console exclusive content in the others face.  Moreso, it takes choice away, in a sense, from the consumer, rendering some versions of the game less complete than others, since access to exclusive DLC will be forever (or at least for an extended period of time) barred from those users access.

Which is why I propose a solution that may enhance the highly profitable “console wars” we gamers are in the midst of. How about instead of offering only one console-exclusive content, companies start offering separate, but comparable, content for each console. Structure it the way game retailers do when it comes to pre-order bonuses, and offer each system its own unique bonus content. It not only offers hardcore fanboys perks for purchasing a game on their console of choice, it gives those who hold no allegiance choice, and gives item hoarders a chance to pick up each copy and nab all the exclusive content.  As a result, everyone can win: console manufacturers, developers, and gamers.

What do you think? How do you feel when only one console gets exclusive content? Is the above solution a viable option? Do you have a different idea on how to remedy the sometimes unbalanced exclusivity issue? Sound off and let your voices be heard!

What is Community Voice? Community Voice is your weekly chance to make yourself heard on Spawn Kill. Yes, you can leave comments on any post that we have, but The Community Voice is a feature that is notorious for encouraging discussion and fostering a sense of, yes, community. We want to hear from readers of the site, so let us know your opinions on the topics every week and let’s get something lively going!

Review: God of War: Ghost of Sparta

I think, in a way, the collective gaming community is just waiting for the developers of the God of War series to slip up.  When the first PSP rendition was released a few years ago, it came from a new studio, and many thought, Well this is probably it, take the reigns away from Santa Monica Studios and youll definitely have a flop.  Fortunately for fans, Ready at Dawn was already an established development studio with former members of both Blizzard and Naughty Dog, and not only did they churn out a stellar God of War game, but they crafted the highest rated PSP game of all time.  At least, until now.  Ghost of Sparta capitalizes on everything that made Chains of Olympus great, but tells a more epic story, looks even better than its predecessor, and adds nearly triple the amount of gameplay and collectibles.  If these are the final days of the PSP, then God of War: Ghost of Sparta is the swansong to send this little system to the fields of Elysium where it can languor in decadence for all eternity.


How do you follow up the supposed death of Kratos from God of War III?  You develop a prequel, set it in the time between the first two God of War games, and use it to dispel any rumors about a God of War IVGhost of Sparta picks up after the death of Ares, before Kratos has been given the mantle of God of War.  The vehicle for this latest journey comes when Kratos finds his mother, supposedly long-lost, who tells him that he must find and rescue his brother Deimos from the realm of death, a place in between the realm of the living and the Underworld (think Purgatory).  Deimos is a figure not often mentioned in the series, as he was torn from Kratos life at a young age.  In fact, only those who really delved into the first game and watched some of the unlockable video sequences would even know of his existence.  Ghost of Sparta tells his tale in a series of vivid flashbacks depicting Kratos and his brother as children, training and growing in the warrior-city of Sparta itself.  These flashbacks also relate the moment of Deimos abduction by some familiar gods, and begin the tale of the downfall of Olympus.  The use of Thanatos, the god of death, as an antagonist is an odd choice given his relatively minor importance to Greek mythology, but it works in the story, and Kratos journey into his realm is described as a walk through a place feared even by the gods.

The exposition is great for fans of the story itself, and the entire journey culminates in some of the most exciting end-game content Ive seen in any God of War game.  This series in general has a knack for ending each game with a mind-shattering bang, and Ghost of Sparta is no exception.  The last fight and subsequent movies, both pre- and post-credit, had me jonesing for more God of War, more story, and more Kratos.

The addition of some new locales also adds to the exploration of Ancient Greece.  Atlantis is visited several times, and while we never really see the city proper, there is some fantastic imagery depicted in the sequences involving the Lost City.  Kratos also makes his way home, venturing to Sparta itself where he is hailed as the God of War and lavished with women and weapons.  Yes, there is a sex minigame.  Its very reminiscent of the one from God of War III, but withahemmore participants.


Theres relatively little that is new gameplay-wise in Ghost of Sparta.  Players still roam expertly-designed levels that often twist back on themselves in unexpected ways, and that require you to backtrack without actually traversing the same ground.  Kratos opens chests and doors the same way, flings himself across gaps, sinks his blades into rock faces to traverse cliffs, etc.  There are a few additions to some of the underwater navigation in the game, but nothing that will feel wildly different.  This late in the Kratos saga, to change anything gameplay-wise would be an invitation to disaster.

One thing that Ghost of Sparta does add that its PSP predecessor lacked are extras.  Chains of Olympus took a deviation from its console brethren by not integrating new costumes or artifacts for use in subsequent playthroughs of the game.  This isnt something that I would look down on a developer for not including (lets face it, most people dont even play through games a second or third time anyway), but its addition into Ghost of Sparta feels like fan-service of the best kind.  Ghost of Sparta not only offers a range of new costumes to play with, but also adds artifacts for use in follow-up playthroughs on the same difficulty (or lower).  And unlike God of War III, which screwed players over by not allowing them access to all the upgrades and weapons when starting a new game at the same difficulty, Ghost of Sparta does things right by opening up the entire kit right at the start of a new game.


Combat remains quite familiar as well.  Kratos begins the game with the Blades of Athena given to him at the end of God of War, and as usual those will be the bread and butter that he uses to carve his way through the realms of mythology.  One new addition, however, is one that I found myself using an extraordinary amount.  A combination of block and circle sends Kratos charging headfirst into any enemy man-sized or smaller, tackling them with a ferocity that would make any linebacker cringe, and taking them to the ground where he slams them.  The force of the attack creates a shockwave that knocks down any nearby foes, giving Kratos the opportunity to either throw them, or slam them in the face repeatedly until they die.  While charging, and while performing this takedown, Kratos becomes basically invincible to attacks from elsewhere, and I found myself using this move repeatedly while surrounded by anything smaller than a minotaur.

As with any new God of War game, much of what is new in the combat comes from what new weapons and magic attacks Kratos will gain access to.  Obviously, the Blades of Athena remain in use for nearly all of the game, and in fact many fights straight up require them due to the addition of the item bar to Ghost of Sparta.  The item bar was something introduced in God of War III, and in Ghost of Sparta only has one particular ability associated with it.  This ability causes Kratos blades to become encased in flame, a necessity when fighting certain armored foes.  The new magic attacks are fairly standard.  There is a lightning attack, a wind attack that sometimes freezes enemies, and a traveling orb of green death that will stun and do some hefty damage in a small area.  The real prize of this games collectible weapons are the Arms of Sparta.  The Arms of Sparta are acquired fairly late in the game in the city of Sparta itself.  As it may seem apparent from the name, the Arms of Sparta are the spear and shield of the battle-city itself.  While equipped, Kratos literally looks like someone out of the movie 300, and his combat prowess is just as ferocious.  The Arms allow him both a ranged attack when chucks the spear, and a blocking attack when he uses the shield.  It also allows him to move while blocking, and combined with the ability to lash out from behind the shield, this new set of weapons really adds a new dynamic to the combat.  My only complaint was that the Arms were not available earlier in the game.  Some people might take issue with them as well simply because they are not Kratos trademarked weapons of death; however, every God of War game brings some new weapon to the table, and with maybe the exception of the Cestus from God of War III, I think the Arms are possibly the best.

A God of War game would also not be complete without some thrilling boss fights, and Ghost of Sparta delivers, though much as with Chains of Olympus, the portable game doesnt offer quite as many as the console versions do.  Kratos is forced to fight bosses across levels and sometimes even in different areas entirely.  The last battle, in particular, is one of the finest moments in the series history, offering up an ally that makes the fight not only emotionally charged, but engaging in a way that I havent seen in many games, console or handheld, period.


Ill be very surprised if another game comes out for the PSP that looks as good as Ghost of Sparta.  It borders on PS3-like visuals, albeit on a smaller screen, streams along at an incredibly smooth framerate, and has some of the lushest environments youll see in the series.  Even the combat has an artistry to it that Ive not seen in many games, particularly when using the flaming blades which look almost like a painting in motion.  We also come to expect a certain amount of polish from any cut scenes, and the game delivers there as well, offering up probably the prettiest looking movie sequences on the system.

As I mentioned previously, Ghost of Sparta takes everything that made Chains of Olympus great and heaps on more of everything good.  The story is better, the combat is more interesting, and where Chains of Olympus could be completed in a few hours, Ghost of Sparta clocks in at around ten hours or more, but never drags or feels too long.  Its quite frankly a better game in every conceivable way, and the fact that Chains of Olympus was itself so very good only emphasizes just how brilliant Ghost of Sparta is.  If I had any complaints at all, it would be that the nub of the PSP should never be used for rotation-based quicktime events.  I also think I would have preferred playing through this story in high definition on the PS3.  Whatever.  Everything else about the game is completely Kratos-worthy, and fans should be happy to see their beloved icon on such an adventure.

Review: Red Dead Redemption

I could sum up my thoughts in a single sentence about this game:  Red Dead Redemption is my Game of the Year right now, and I honestly cant see anything surpassing it.  The attempts to bring a Western to the gaming world have been relatively rare.  Rockstar tried it once with Red Dead Revolver, but that title wasnt even really their game as they had bought the rights from Capcom to publish it.  Gun was a marginal success and even saw PSP and Xbox 360 re-releases, and the Call of Juarez games did all right too.  But the Western genre has never seen its the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  There have been quality attempts, but nothing blockbuster.  Red Dead Redemption changes that, and sets a nigh unreachable bar for any future attempts at gunslinging.

Central to the game is ex-bandit John Marston.  His intentions in the beginning arent entirely clear.  Players learn that hes hunting a man named Bill Williamson, and thats really about it.  In fact, the story always remains a slowly unraveling yarn, and it works wonderfully that way.  In typical Rockstar fashion, once players gain control, its a game that allows almost total freedom from the get-go.  As soon as I fell into the Old West I remembered just who pioneered this open-world genre of games, and why theyre so much better at it than anyone else.  I can admit that I enjoyed wheeling around the various cities featured in the Grand Theft Auto games.  They were well-constructed mazes that felt like real places.  Unfortunately, real cities are not very hard to come by.  Half the worlds population probably live in one.  The Old West is a different story.  Much of what we see in Red Dead Redemption is land now cultivated or populated or veined with roads.  Its a land lost to time, and Rockstars attempt to bring it back into playable form is almost perfect.  Walking around in this world feels exactly like what I would envision walking around inside a Western movie would feel like.  The tumbleweeds are right around each corner, scrub and cacti dominate the landscape, and everything is wild.  Even the towns feel like feeble encroachments into this harsh land where death waits at the end of a barrel or on the claw of an angry cougar.

Like other Rockstar games, Red Dead Redemption is based around an open-world mission structure.  Story missions are marked on the map with letters denoting the person who Marston will be interacting with.  But no mission is forced until the time comes to move on from one land to another.  There are three lands total, and each offers a different Western experience.  New Austin is what could be considered a typical Western setting, obviously derived from Texan history. One town is dirt-lined, small, and has the perfect main thoroughfare for a duel at high noon.  Its the town youd see in movies like Unforgiven, and in fact much of the first area reminds me of that classic film.  The second area is dubbed Nuevo Paradiso, though why they label it that instead of just Mexico is beyond me (particularly as all the characters in that area call it Mexico).  Its the typical mesa-lined desert on one side, and scrub-filled plateau on the other.  The third area is called West Elizabeth and represents a slightly more cultured area mainly because of a town on its eastern side called Blackwater.  Aside from Blackwater, the area is a mix of plains (replete with buffalo roaming) and snowy mountains full of angry grizzlies.  Each of these lands offer a distinct setting, and to return to the movie theme, deftly span the range of Western films.

Visually, the game is nothing if not impressive.  To date, Rockstar has never been particularly well-known for their graphical prowess.  Red Dead Redemption, while not the single greatest looking game made, holds up to just about anything out right now.  The landscapes in particular are possibly on the top of the list.  The characters all look real enough and their mannerisms are fully believable.  They even motion-captured horses for this game, just to give an idea of the level of dedication they climbed to.  On the audio front, the game is even more impressive, with every spur rustle and horse whinney sounding just as it should.  The music is at times so enthralling that I wanted to stop playing and just listen.  There are a couple key moments in the game where the lyrical music, a rarity in the game, almost brought me to tears simply because it was so well-placed.  One of my worst moments in the game actually was when one such moment started and I made the mistake of getting off my horse to pluck a flower, which apparently cues the music to stop and I missed out on the full song.

Gameplay is similar to other Rockstar games, but more refined.  Combat, in particular, is leaps ahead of anything weve seen from the developer in the past.  Marstons ability to take cover and slow-motion bullseye his foes is as good as anything third-person out there.  Central to his gunslinging repertoire is an ability called Dead Eye, which is basically cowboy slang for bullet time.  Marston has a meter near his minimap that fills up over time, and fills up faster while hes killing people outside of Dead Eye mode.  When he has enough juice in the meter, players can press down on the R3 button while aiming and enter a yellow-tinged molasses view that slows every enemy to a crawl and allows Marston to mark them up for swift death.  Its similar to Splinter Cells recent mark and execute feature, only better because it is meter-based and isnt limited to five shots.  Marston can literally mark up however many targets his gun has bullets for.  Much like with the mark and execute that Sam Fisher had access to, some players might find Dead Eye makes the game too easy.  I didnt feel that it did simply because third-person shooting isnt perfect, the reticule is literally just a dot on screen, and the only way I could even think to make players feel like a true steel-slinger would be to add something like this to the game.  Its immensely satisfying, moreso than any bullet-time effect Ive ever used, and towards the end of the game when I could basically refill my Dead Eye meter at will, I felt as powerful as a legend of the West should feel.

The story of Red Dead Redemption, while not as captivating in some areas (Im looking at you, Mexico), is completely engrossing for probably 80% of its telling.  Marston might be one of the best characters Ive had the pleasure of playing as.  He has a bandits warped code of ethics that he never strays from, and he is believable as a man because he has obvious flaws, but also sticks to his guns, so to speak.  Just as an example, Marston is married.  Because of this fact, he, unlike every Grand Theft Auto protagonist, refuses to visit a brothel for that expected good time.  It seems a simple thing, but really sets a tone for what kind of man he is.  Players can either increase or decrease his honor level through various means, but John Marston remains the same.  In fact, it is the honor/dishonor scale that most exemplifies his personality.  I could have been dishonorable.  Many times shooting someone dead is a far easier path to take, but the character is so strong, as is his place in the world, that I never wanted to.  Where many games give you the option to be honorable or dishonorable, or good or evil, this one gives you the freedom to keep the storys integrity intact.  Even aside from who he is, many of his dialogue lines are dead-on perfect, and the voice acting behind them delivers, again, better than any Ive heard in one of Rockstars games.

And it certainly would not be an open-world game without something to divert a players attention from the main task, and Red Dead Redemption delivers here as well.  Ive always had issue with the side mission type things in Grand Theft Auto games.   I dont want to have to scour a city for hundreds of hidden packages that have no story relevance or are even interesting.  Red Dead Redemption does away with such trivialities and offers more immersive side quests.  The herb picking can feel boring and annoying, but even it pays off big time if seen to completion.  There are also hunting quests, which I found completely enjoyable and often very challenging (killing a grizzly bear with a knife is a fantastic moment in my gaming history).  The stranger missions Marston will find around the world are also often a blast, and despite their status as completely optional, I found myself searching them out with a grin on my face as to what slightly insane person Id meet next.

I could literally write thousands more words on this game, but I wont.  There are too many things to discover on ones own for me to run through it all.  Ill simply say a few more things about Red Dead Redemption that I hope will give you some insight into whether or not youll enjoy it.  Red Dead Redemption is a Western.  If youve ever watched the movies Unforgiven, Tombstone or 3:10 to Yuma and thought to yourself, Im in the wrong period of history, then you must play this game, without question.  If you like the other Rockstar efforts, like the open-world format and stories of a darker or seedier nature, chances are good youll want to pick this up.  And really, if you just want to play one of the finest games of our, or any, generation, this is your chance.  As I mentioned before, this is my Game of the Year right now, and I reckon itll stand as such despite this years later releases.  Its flawed, charmingly glitched in spots, and certainly has room for improvement, but this is a game I will return to probably every year until something better comes out in the genre, and its hard to imagine that even happening right now as I bask in the afterglow of my journey through the Old West.

MotoGP Demo to Hit PSN and XBL on March 4

MotoGP has a long history of creating a very exciting motorcycle racing experience though in the recent generation the franchise has struggled. The previous title lacked any sort of depth and gamers were left with wanting much more. With MotoGP 09/10 developers Milestone look to change that. The upcoming racing title will feature a very robust career mode unlike any seen in the MotoGP franchise. Players will take control of everything on and off the track. With the game only a few weeks away, Capcom has announced that gamers will be able to test drive MotoGP 09/10 this Thursday March 4 when the demo goes live on the PSN and XBLA. You’ll be able to check out three modes- Championship mode, Time Trial and the all new Arcade mode.

Here are some features you can expect to see in MotoGP 09/10:

  • Brand new exciting gameplay modes that deliver the ultimate GP racing experience
  • 17 official circuits and all the bikes and riders from the 2009 GP season plus the ability to update the game with content from the 2010 championship as the season unfolds
  • Gain Rider Reputation points through your achievements on the track and use these to progress your career with new offers of contracts, manufacturers, staff and sponsorship deals
  • Dynamic racing objectives challenge riders during racing sessions
  • Compete against riders across the globe in online multiplayer mode in races with up to 20 players
  • Two player split screen allows you to compete against your friends locally
  • Select from 125cc, 250cc and 800cc championships with each class delivering its own exciting and unique bike handling set up.
  • Realistic AI which emulates a true racing pack with different rider styles and pace.
  • Accessible handling for players of all levels to create an enjoyable racing experience

MotoGP 09/10 will be available at retailers across North America starting March 16. Fans will be able to compete in the most up-to-date racing experience earlier than ever before with the 2010 season content available to download free of charge shortly after launch. While you wait for the demo check out the new gameplay screens.

Review Crime Scene

If youve played Unsolved Crimes for DS, then Crime Scene will instantly feel familiar. So familiar, in fact, that at first I thought they were developed by the same team. Basically, you play as a rookie investigator and must use your evidence collecting and analytical skills to help solve various cases from murders to terrorist attacks.

The gameplay is a point-and-click at heart, but the spin here is a huge focus on evidence-based mini games, for lack of a better term. In other words, you must dust for fingerprints, swab for blood and compare ballistics information to identify what gun shot which bullet, and so on. Although some of these games can be a little silly (you use a laser to destroy unwanted cells in your microscope, for example), overall the entire process is engaging and fun. That is, when the controls work.

And as Hamlet says, Aye, theres the rub, The first major problem Crime Scene has is the fact that there really isnt a tutorial level to get you used to the controls. For example, the menu system isnt completely intuitive, and you may find yourself fumbling a bit. But that could be forgiven. The real issue is that you arent given any chance to practice with the various evidence collection mini games before youre thrust into the real world, so to speak. Youre shoved into the deep end and you have to figure things out as you go along. This would be fine, except for the fact that you are penalized very severely every time you get something wrong. This is made worse by the fact that the only instructions youre given for the various steps of say, taking a blood swab, are given during the timed interval when youre supposed to be doing those steps. Meaning 1) you cant possibly read all the instructions in the given time and 2) you will fail because youre spending time trying to see what you have to do in order to succeed. Add to the fact that the controls arent as responsive as they could be and you may find yourself with a Game Over before youve even begun (I know I did). Certainly, this is not the most encouraging way to introduce the player to the game.

Once youve managed to figure out what you need to do, you would think that things would move more smoothly. Sadly, this isnt true. Try as you may, the game wont always read your stylus gestures correctly, so you will often find yourself failing the swab test, for example, because you arent swabbing in the right area even when youve been rubbing your stylus right over the blood spot. Each time you make a mistake, you lose credibility (a blue thermometer-like meter). When it drops all the way, your game is over, and you have to start over from your last save. Thankfully, the game does auto save at key points, but you still want to make sure you save often, otherwise youll have to re-do a lot of (what then becomes) tedious data collection and analysis, not to mention tons of dialogue to weed through (theres no skip option).

By far the most vicious offender is the tweezers, which command you to follow a certain path with your stylus a certain number of times in order successfully pick up the item. The problem is, these gestures are only recognized about 10% of the time, and if the game thinks youve picked up your stylus, you drop the tweezers and have to start again. Add to the fact that you might have to repeat the same pattern 9 or 10 times before the meter expires, and youll often find yourself ready to throw your DS across the room and give up. No, Ive decided the scalpel is actually worse since whenever you try to use it to cut something, following the prompt, it either tells you the area cant be cut or for some reason takes the scalpel away from you and you have to start over in a never ending cycle.

Magnifying the problem is the control design: rather than sticking to a primarily stylus-only control system, you have to use the L and/or R buttons while using your stylus to perform various maneuvers. In principle, this seems fine, but in practice, its awful. Its very uncomfortable to hold the DS that way, especially for long-stretches and for extended periods. I know my hands were really hurting after only the first case.

When everything is working smoothly, however, the game is enjoyable. Its an interesting take on the genre, especially since the mini-games dont feel tacked on the way they did in Unsolved Crimes, and its exciting to see the pieces of the puzzle reveal themselves. You really do feel like youre the one solving the case, instead of being lead through it step by step the way you are in many other games of this nature. I also like that you will occasionally find dead ends such as clues that you cant identify in the database, or clues that end up being a false lead, which force you to rethink the situation. Youll also often have to revisit the scenes to look at things in a new light and discover new clues that may help crack the case. I also liked that you must build your case in order to apply for a warrant by selecting the best evidence to include in your file. This was just another way the game made you feel like you were really the one solving this case rather than just hanging along for the ride.

Crime Scene does have other flaws, but these seem minor in comparison to the huge control issue. For example, the translation isnt always the best (I believe this was a Spanish-language game originally), and sometimes you might struggle to figure out how the game wants you to respond. Also, you arent able to fully explore the scenes the way you can in other games of this genre, and you can only zoom in to look at something more closely when the game allows you to. Still, these are negligible and dont harm the gameplay in the same way that the unforgiving controls do.

The pattern of the gameplay is basically as such: youll be briefed on a case, comb the scenes, collect evidence, analyze the evidence, and then build your case. Youll often have to revisit the scene and may get new suspects to interview, but that is generally the way the game goes. Your evidence collection tools are basically a swab for blood and other fluids, a duster and tape for fingerprints and footprints, a scalpel, as well as a reagent spray and UV light to discover hidden blood and fluids, plus tweezers to collect small evidence or bullets. Back at the station, you analyze this info using a scanner, camera, microscope and computer database. So you may scan in the fingerprint you collected at the scene and then compare it to the various fingerprints in the system to try and find a match. Many of the tests do mimic real life evidence analysis and this is where the game is truly in its element, especially since the analysis tools work much better than the collection ones do, control-wise.

The sad thing about Crime Scene is it may have earned as high as a 7/10 if the controls werent so brutally unforgiving. I honestly dont know how the game got past testing, as broken as the controls can be most times. And the reality is the fix could have been as simple as removing the fail state from the data collection process and making it so you only lose credibility for misinterpreting the evidence. As it is, however, I cant recommend this game, because the controls really do break it. You will undoubtedly find sections that you cannot get past because the game will not read your tweezers movements, or unfairly think youre rubbing the swab in the wrong area. Save yourself the aggravation and look elsewhere for your CSI needs.

Review: Ragnarok DS

Ragnarok DS is what you could consider the portable version of the MMO Ragnarok Online, of which, I can confess I am not very familiar with.  However, I think that may be one of the reasons this baby brother was released for the DS: to introduce potential new players into the Ragnarok universe.

The game is basically a dungeon-crawling action RPG, and follows the story of Ales, a young man whose dream is to be an adventurer and eventually start his own guild.  He immediately finds an amnesiac young girl named Sierra, who he agrees to bring along with him on his adventures.  Naturally, as the story progresses, more people join his party in the constant search for adventure: pretty typical RPG-faire here.

Although some buttons are mapped (i.e. You can use the D-pad to move your character and the face buttons to pull up menus), youll find yourself using the stylus almost exclusively, since the button integration isnt complete.  For example, you cant press a button to continue in dialogue or go back in a menu, which can be a bit annoying.  So expect a very Zelda DS experience here, control-wise.

Dragging your stylus will move your character around, and tapping on a monster will initiate his attack.  Unless you change the settings, your character will keep attacking that enemy until its defeated.  You also have access to a shortcut bar at the top of the touch screen, where you can set frequently used skills and items for easy access.  To use a skill, you must click on it and then perform the action indicated on the top screen, like drawing a swift line through an enemy or a circle through a group of them.  You also have limited control of your party members.  You can set their tactics, such as telling them to act freely, or commanding them to heal, and you can click on their picture in the taskbar to direct them to attack a particular enemy.  However, you cant directly tell them what skills or spells to use, which is a little frustrating at times.

Exploration is interesting.  Towns remind me a bit of Suikoden Tierkreis in which you are presented with a menu (shops, save, etc.), but when you pick an option (i.e. Tavern), you can walk around and interact with people in that location.  Towns are the only place you can make a permanent save (with two save slots available), although you can make a temporary save any time.  The biggest gripe I had with this system is with no quick travel (more on that later), you may find your quests dragging out for long periods of time, and if you choose to do a temporary save (so you dont risk losing all your progress), the game will automatically return you to the title screen instead of asking if you want to continue.  Its not a big deal, but it is irksome.

The game does have an interesting dual-leveling system.  You have your base level, or what you would be most familiar with in every RPG, and then you have your job level.  Each time your base level goes up, youre given points you can use to improve your characters attributes, such as dexterity, luck, intelligence, etc.  The higher that attribute is the more points it will take to increase it, giving a bit of strategy in how you distribute your points.  When your job level goes up, youre given skill points to spend on learning and improving skills based on what job you are.

Everyone starts the game as a novice job class with two basic skills, but once your job level reaches 10, you can go to the job guild and apply for a more advanced job, such as a swordsman.  Each job has its own equipment and skills, and whenever you change jobs you must start over: all your equipment is removed (but not lost), and your job level goes back to zero.  You also must start from scratch with your new skills.  As you level up, you can also try for an even higher level job (such as a knight), which has its own requirements and skills, but which will enable you to use equipment you otherwise could not.  In some ways, this is the most interesting aspect of the game, as there are even higher secret jobs you can acquire if your character becomes powerful enough.

Although there is a story and plenty of (very. slow. moving.) dialogue, the heart of the game is fetch quest dungeon crawling.  Generally, you are told to find some random object, you go on your trek, fight your way through to the very end of a dungeon, kill the boss monster, collect the item, and then trudge all the way back.  Thats right. Theres no quick travel, even after you complete a dungeon.  Its a little ironic, considering you use warp gates (instead of doors) for everything, yet you cant just warp to places (i.e. from a town) that youve already visited.  It also means you will have to go through the dungeon to the exit every time, plus passing through all the forest or whatnot you had to travel through to get there in the first place.  Even though dungeons arent very big (no more than a few floors or sections), this gets old pretty fast, as it is completely unnecessary. This is made worse by the fact that there is usually only one laborious path from point A to point B, which would be fine one or two times, but certainly not more than that. Add to the fact that you must find the map for the area whenever you enter a new locale (think the original Zelda dungeons), and it all can get old pretty fast. Later in the game, youre able to purchase some items that give you limited quick travel abilities, but the fact that this is done so late and doesnt solve all the repetition is still disappointing.

Dont get me wrong, Ragnarok can be fun at times, but overall, I found the frustration usually outweighed any levity.  For example, you can only take on one tavern quest at a time, and I found it could take many hours of battling the same monsters before you ever got them to drop what you needed for your quest.  Also, quests are only partially recorded in your menu.  Let me explain Only the main quests and tavern quests will be listed, but often details wont be, and some sub-quests of the main quests will not be included at all.  This often means you have to trek back to whomever it was that gave you the quest to find out the details (i.e., what items did they want you to collect for them again?), which is completely poor design.

Muliplayer. For a game thats based off of an MMO, you would expect the multiplayer experience to be a high priority to be developed well, but this doesnt seem to be the case.  For instance, you cant jump into multiplayer directly from the main menu the way you can in most DS RPGs that offer it.  Instead, you have to travel the long distance through the game world until you get to the Mirage Tower, a tower filled with various floors and enemies that you can tackle as either a single player or with others in multiplayer.  The game never tells you this at any point.  It isnt mentioned in the otherwise very thorough manual, either.  So its very possible someone could play through the game and never even realize that multiplayer exists, or at least never figure out how to access it.  This is the first flaw.  The second is that you can only play with others in this tower.  Thats it.  You would expect that you could have friends join you once you finish the main story to help you fulfill the thousands of side quests available (which make up most of the gameplay), but youd be wrong.  Although I dabbled in the multiplayer for the sake of this review, I think in general you would find the tower more fulfilling as a single player experience.

Basically, once you arrive at the tower you have the option to make a save and customize your characters look along with a few messages you can trigger with the face buttons.  Then you can enter the tower as either a single player, or choose multiplayer.  The game will then ask if you want to do this locally or over WiFi, and if you choose WiFi, then you have the option of entering (or choosing, if you already registered them) your friends.  Otherwise, it will randomly search for Allys (yes, thats how its spelled in the game) to join you.  You have no customization in this at all, which is a little disappointing, as you could very easily end up with a rather unbalanced party.

The first few times I tried to get matched up, my allies decided to jump right into the very top of the tower, as they were obviously more experienced than me.  Luckily for me (or my character, perhaps), my connection got broken almost immediately as we arrived in the tower, and I was sent back to the matchmaking screen.  When I finally was able to enter the tower (on floor 1), I had only one other ally with me.  This was fine for these early floors, but I could see this system being problematic for higher levels.

Basically the tower is just a series of rooms per floor that (thankfully) are pre-mapped.  You must defeat a certain number of monsters per floor to either A) make the warp appear that will take you to the next level or B) make the special monster appear that you must defeat to make that warp appear.  Just do this over and over and there you have the tower.  After you pass a certain number of floors (i.e., five), you will fight a boss monster.  Then you will go to a screen that lets you and your allies bid on various items, such as weapons, potions, and cards.  You can pass or bid, although I found the system a bit confusing.  After the time limit passes, you win whatever items you had the highest bid on.  Then you have the option to continue in the tower or end your session.

I would imagine that playing locally with friends might have some potential for fun, but as it stands, I feel like the multiplayer was a tacked-on experience and doesnt really add much to the game as a whole.

I was hopeful that the game simply got off to a slow/poor start, but even once you successfully open your own guild, the gameplay remains basically the same: flawed, repetitive, and with a low challenge level. However, if you like dungeon-crawling action-RPGs, you may want to give this one a try anyway. It can have a very Diabolo-esque feel to it at times (you will be picking up a lot of loot, which you much decide to keep or sell to maintain your limited inventory).  The card system (which I havent mentioned) allows you to customize certain weapons and gear to improve their stats (think of them as the runes or gems you might have experienced in other RPGs), which does add a bit of strategy.  Once you finish the story, which is pretty short by RPG standards, about 20 hours, with only about 10 of that being actual content and the rest filler, you have hours and hours of gameplay if you choose to complete all the side quests available or take on the tower (either alone or in multiplayer). Still, there are better DS RPGs on the market, so you may be better off spending your money elsewhere.  Or, if youre really interested, you may want to try the more robust MMO experience that Raganarok Online offers on the PC.

Everything You Need to Know About MLB 10: The Show

With only one more day to go, the follow up to last year’s best baseball title, MLB 10 The Show looks to once again provide gamers with the most realistic baseball game in the market. For those who haven’t been closely following the upcoming title or if you just missed something, we created a one stop shop for everything you need to know about The Show. What you’ll find in this preview are some highlights of key features and additions to MLB 10 The Show and all the videos released, and yes that includes the “Dear Playstation” commercial that we all love.

If you haven’t seen it already or even if you have, the commercial for MLB 10 The Show is hilarious. Check it out.

The realism that Kevin Butler is talking about in The Show comes from all the little subtleties in the game.  Last year I was blown away by how accurately they were able to capture certain player’s rituals or mannerisms at the plate or on the mound.  This year’s version will include all of that and will also bring a more realistic environment. MLB 10 will have real-time players in the dugouts and bullpens, fireworks, rally towels/tundersticks, working clocks and home run counters like the one seen in San Francisco. Of course you can’t bring a game to life without fans and this year crowd detail has also been improved. They will be much more active this year, reaching over the wall for foul balls, scrambling for home run balls and making more noise in pressure situations. This might seem like very small additions but brought together it helps bring the real game to into the virtual one.  Here’s the trailer showing off some of these features.

Road to The Show (RTTS) is one of the best modes of the MLB The Show franchise. It has been the leading sports title in creating a realistic and engaging “create a player” mode. This year in RTTS you’ll have much more control over what your player looks like and his accessories. Once you create your player you’ll be sent right to the Double-A season. While last year’s version had you start in spring training, starting in Double-A will give you a more realistic approach to working your way to the majors as most players don’t receive an invite to spring training until after their first year. Before you get into a game you now have the option to participate in pre-game batting practice or when you get called from the bullpen you’ll get some time to throw practice pitches. Just like batting practice and your time warming up on the mound, it doesn’t help you gain experience, but it will help you get ready for the game or at-bat. Once you are in a game you have full control of what you want to experience. You can play out every pitch/play in the game, only the last pitch in the at-bat, or just plays that involve you. Whether you are on the field or in the batters box there is a bigger emphasize on fundamental baseball. Throwing to the wrong bag, stealing when you shouldn’t be or failing to cover a base will put you in a bad spot with the manager. Lastly a huge emphasis went into gaining skill points and the flow of the game. New training modes have been added for both hitters and pitchers, and goals throughout the game will be shown in way as to not break from the pace of the game. You can also hit the D-pad to show the goals of the game in case you missed it, which is really nice.

To go along with RTTS you now have the full control as the catcher in the new Catcher Calling the Game mode. You’ll be calling for pitches and locations which includes 9 zones inside the strike zone or 8 zones outside. Just like in real life it is your responsibility to know the batters and your pitchers strengths and weaknesses. The pitcher might shake you off so you can pick another pitch but sometimes the catcher knows best and he’ll throw that pitch if you keep asking for it. You’ll have to also watch out for wild pitches and base runners, which adds to the difficulty of being a catcher. It’s a really cool mode and I’m excited to get a chance to call a game but then again, playing every game as a catcher might take it’s toll.

Making it’s return to the series is the Home Run Derby. Fans have been asking for this to be added to the game for some time now and we finally have it. You won’t only get the Home Run Derby, you’ll be getting the entire All-Star experience. During your franchise or RTTS season you’ll get a chance to play in the All-Star Futures Game along with the Derby and the regular All-Star game. Check out this trailer that showcases the new All-Star experience.

MLB 09 The Show suffered from very poor online play, mainly due to lag. Sony has been saying they have worked very hard on fixing that issue for MLB 10 and if they can then I think fans will enjoy the improvements to the Online Leagues. In addition to added customization when creating the league, people can now drop in and out of leagues during the season. If someone can’t handle the season and needs to back out, the commissioner can find a replacement to take over that team. Fatigue is also another factor managers will have to deal with as you will no longer be able to use your ace for every game. Here are some of the key features of the new online leagues:

·    Additional Commissioner Slot (6 total leagues now)
·    NEW Auto-resolve feature. Set to On/Off when creating a league and helps keep leagues progressing
·    Ability to Drop and Replace players within an In-progress league
·    Apply a Custom Slider to a league
·    League Invitation system upgrade
·    New My Complete Leagues list, showing a summary of all completed leagues, the winner and playoff participants
·    New League Round-up and League History tabs in Gamer Card
·    More emails and communication on league changes
·    Players Needing Leagues upgrade. Commissioner can now send invites directly from that screen
·    Additional information about users for a commissioner resolving a game
·    Quit a league at any time (commissioner or league member). No more being held hostage

Finally Real Time Presentation Mode is one of the brand new features to this year’s game. The new presentation mode should give gamers a further sense of realism by attempting to capture the camera angles and shots seen while watching a game on TV. Instead of going in-depth on how this new system works here is a short video displaying the Real Time Presentation.

There is a lot of detail put into every offering of The Show and I don’t expect MLB 10 to be any different. If you want to learn more about the game you can read the full preview here. I am extremely excited about the upcoming title and I hope that all of these new features can come together to bring us the realism that we have come to know and love from this franchise.

MLB 2K10 Developer Interview: 2K10 Is Not 2K9!

Spawn Kill and several other gaming outlets were recently invited to join in on a MLB 2K10 Developer Q&A session. Ben Bishop, Producer of 2K Sports, Jonathan Rivera, Gameplay Designer and Sean Bailey, also a Gameplay Designer for 2K Sports were all there to answer our many questions about the upcoming baseball sim. While there were a lot of questions about the additions to MLB 2K10, everyone seemed to just want to know one thing: Is it going to be like MLB 2K9?

Throughout the call no one from the dev team was shy about saying how disappointed they were with last year’s title and mentioned that MLB 2K10 is much improved. Though we didn’t get to have an open Q&A session at the end of the call the developers were able to give us some insight on what they did to make sure they don’t repeat the issues from 2K9.

Here are some of the highlights from the call and if you are interested in listening to the entire call we got that for you as well below the questions. Enjoy!

How much of 2K9 was used in 2K10 and was the game rebuilt from the ground up for the new release?

Sean: We completely rewrote everything from fielding, hitting, pitching, the physics, AI, camera views, swapped up all the animations. We had a lot of work ahead of us because I don’t think any of us were happy with last year nor should we have been. So rather than just trying to touch up last year’s game we just made sure the new game included all the fixes that frustrated people as well as a new, rewritten game.

What new additions were made to the franchise mode and how wide of a range of options are available to the player now?

Jonathan: The biggest new addition is the 40 man roster in franchise for September call up. The draft happens in the middle of the year. Another new addition is the trade finder. You can essentially add any player out on the trade block so other AI teams can make you offers for that player. In addition to that we have compensatory picks for free agents. So in the off season when you’re trying to sign a player you might risk losing a first or second round draft pick and if you lose a high rated player you will also get a compensatory pick.

Since gamers and industry critics have noted that early iterations of MLB series have struggled with technical issues surrounding pitching, hitting and gameplay, was this a primary focus of improvement for 2K10?

Sean: It’s almost an understatement to call it a primary focus of improvement. We didn’t just want to improve, we wanted to nail it. We knew that the core gameplay experience needed improvements across the board but when it came to pitching and hitting we really went beyond focusing on improving. We created an entirely new experience starting with the cameras, different strikes zones, different swing types, different analyzers, different replays and the physics were all rewritten. It was a huge primary focus of improvements.

Has there been improvement to the hitting component aside from the defensive swings? Its either been too easy or too hard to make solid contact as the big hitters would almost always turn a fastball into a sure homerun and an average player could barely get it out of the infield.

Sean: It has been out of balance in the past. Aside from defensive swing we have made it all about the timing. The days are gone when you can simply hold the influence stick and just paint where you want the ball to go on every swing. It’s all about timing, which is very satisfying. The balls that are hit with more velocity in real life are the ones that are pulled or the ones that a right handed batter sends down the first base line weaker are late swings to the opposite field. The timing was done in a very realistic way that takes care of a lot of complaints of the past.

What determines whether or not the Batter’s Eye feature appears? Is it purely based on their real world skills or are there other factors involved such as the pitchers skills? How often can they see the Batter’s Eye appear in a game?

Sean: When this originally came up the problem we were trying to solve is we were trying to make certain players better in the video game that are good in real life at reaching base and getting walks but didn’t have that skill set in the video game. So what we did was come up with eye rating versus lefties and righties and the batters eye rating drives the frequency of the Batter’s Eye. So the guys that take a lot of walks they have a very high eye rating so theyre going to see it more often. It also helps if they have good timing.

Why did you add the My Player feature in this year’s game?

Ben: It really seems like across the board in all sports titles that are out there right now career modes in general are becoming the popular thing and something that people are expecting to see. It was a big focus for us to be able to add the mode this year. A lot of our early build up and planning went into making My Player in this year’s version. At the same time we had NBA 2K10 come out with My Player and so that was a basis for what we did too. We really felt like it was a hole that we needed to fill with 2K10.

In My Player can you give an estimate on how long it will take to get into the Majors?

Ben: That can really vary there is so much flexibility you can do. You have a lot of flexibility in terms of how you want to play the game. When you actually do play a game you are just playing the moment that your player is directly involved in. You can play though a game in 5 or 10 minutes depending on the situations you end up with. You can also simulate games entirely, you won’t get as many skill points through simulation but if you can do that. Simulating the game might take you a bit longer to get the call to the majors. Playing all the games can get you to the majors in as soon as 10-15 games.

Framerate and online lag was a big issue for last year’s title. What was done to fix the issue s for the upcoming game?

Ben: This was something that was important for us. We felt that there was room for improvement from 2K9. We definitely made sure that we got the framerate up to an acceptable level. That’s a huge part of making the experience good and you are in full control. If you get a little lag or framerate drops, it can take away some of that control from you. It was certainly important for us to make sure we were as optimized in those departments as we could be.

Is there a PC version and how did last year’s response to the PC version go?

Ben: We definitely have a PC version this year too. You will get all the same features you will get in the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions. I think a lot of the responses were similar across the board, just a lot of room for improvement and we definitely took a lot of the criticism to heart. The PC version just like the other versions is very much improved. The series in general is going much more in the right direction.

Spawn Kill Favorites: Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos

In 1994, Blizzard Entertainments Warcraft: Orcs and Humans revolutionized the real-time strategy genre, bringing a pleasing amount of depth and a subtle simplicity to a relatively-hardcore genre. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness released in 1995, and not only introduced an all-new level of shine and polish, but also introduced many gamers to the world of online competition. The bar was set high for Warcraft III, and with Reign of Chaos, Blizzard proved that they are truly the kings amongst fantasy RTS fans.

Utilizing the core premise of the previous two entries to the series, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos once again put players in charge of a very basic set of troops. Initially, the player is tasked with creating a town focused around a central stronghold. Once the base of the town has been established, basic units are allocated to gather various resources. The resources are then used to build further structures, create new solider-type units, purchase upgrades, and so on.

Warcraft III differed from its brethren by the scope and premise of performing such tasks. Its true that most of the missions followed this guideline, but there were others that did not. In many of the campaign-based missions, players didnt have to create a base of operations – their main goal was to survive or to ensure the survival of others. Sometimes a player would have to defend a city or character for a set amount of time.

Also new to Warcraft III were the heroes. Though stronger characters of specific classes were available in Warcraft II, WCIII gave these entities names and particular powers. Heroes could gain levels by slaying enemies and the newly-added creeps, creatures that attack any players they encounter. The addition of heroes allowed Warcraft III to have a more character-driven focus, both by giving the player a central role to occupy most of their time and efforts with as well as giving the plot a logical narrative point-of-view.

The plot is essentially the one area where Warcraft III got a significant overhaul. The previous two entries had a plot, no doubt, but their presentation was limited to a few still-shot scenes with scrolling text and a handful of prerendered cutscenes. Warcraft III finally inserted cutscenes directly into the gameplay, with the plot elements often playing out in real-time before, between, and after player action.

Warcraft III is also the first game in the series to break the mold of having only Humans and Orcs as playable units. Though both Humans and Orcs have their distinct campaigns, Undead and Night Elves became available also with their own storylines. During the course of the game, allegiances between Heroes from various factions switch allegiances, conquer foes, and rise through their respective ranks.

The world and story created for Reign of Chaos proved to be a huge success for Blizzard Entertainment. Gaining a 92 on Metacritic and several Game of the Year awards, the game became a commercial and financial success. An expansion pack was later revealed, titled The Frozen Throne (with which many variants to the standard online play were created, most notably Defense of the Ancients), and not too long later, the Warcraft III Battle Chest was released, including Reign of Chaos, The Frozen Throne, a bonus DVD, soundtrack, art book, and more. The Warcraft III Battle Chest is still available at many game retailers today, giving the game a nearly eight-year shelf life (so far).

Of course, one of the biggest draws to Warcraft III today is its tie to World of Warcraft, the enormously popular MMORPG. The world of Warcraft III literally became the World of Warcraft, both through the general design of both games, the characters and classes available, as well as obvious plot elements.

The success of this series as a whole cannot be denied. Each game to be released under the Warcraft umbrella has been wholly worthwhile. Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos has proved to be one of the most popular real-time strategy games of all time, and it is most certainly not undeserving.