Hopefully this is in the right section...
Seems we lost the two hundred-something page "Last Video Game You Played?" thread during the move over to the new forums. Given that the equivalent movie thread was rebooting itself every three hundred pages or so, I suppose this one was close to qualifying for a second edition anyway. I'll kick things off with the last post of the old thread (as with many of my longer posts, I happened to have it on my hard drive):
<b>Driver: Parallel Lines (2006/2007)</b>
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To say the <i>Driver</i> franchise has had its ups and downs would be an understatement. The original game was a smash hit on the PlayStation in 1999, providing a ridiculously challenging throwback to the 70’s car chase flicks. I played through a bit of that game again on my PC recently, and (PS1 graphics and dumb cop AI aside) I found it had aged pretty well. It all seemed to go downhill from there, though, with the somewhat disappointing <i>Driver 2</i> hitting Sony’s first console in 2000 and the hideous broken mess that was <i>DRIV3R</i> arriving in 2004. Developer Reflections Interactive almost seemed to be going out of their way to kill their golden goose, even as Rockstar was refining the genre with their 3D <i>Grand Theft Auto</i> games.
Released for the PS2 and Xbox in 2006 (and ported to the PC by Ubisoft one year later), <i>Driver: Parallel Lines</i> represents something of an apology for its disastrous predecessor. Undercover cop Tanner has taken a game off, as have the awful on-foot controls, rubber-banding cops and mystifyingly invincible lamp posts. Also gone are multiple cities (although <i>Parallel Lines</i>’s depiction of New York City is larger than all <i>DRIV3R</i>’s environments combined) and, unfortunately, the awesome Film Director feature. In other words, at least on the surface, <i>Parallel Lines</i> seems to draw more inspiration from the <i>GTA</i> games than its namesake.
<i>Parallel Lines</i>’s vision of New York in 1978 is very atmospheric, with great licensed music, heavy muscle cars and a warm orange glow combining to make for a pleasant environment. It would be difficult to overestimate how much the 70’s tunes add to the first half of the game — I often found myself just cruising around New York, listening to the music. Via some plot twists near the midpoint (all of which were spoiled by the trailers), the latter half of <i>Parallel Lines</i> takes place in 2006 (hence the title). Minus some details (like Ubisoft’s trademark in-game advertising and the WTC), the layout of the modern-day NYC is virtually identical to the 70’s one, but with cold blue lighting (reminiscent of a <i>CSI</i> episode) and less distinctive cars that make the newer era seem less inviting than before. The newer music is also something of a mixed bag — some of the techno and rock was catchy, but I often found myself furiously punching the “next track” key (even during the middle of an intense car chase) because some unbearable piece of rap had just come on. All that said, the 2006 era does pack a superior narrative, partially because you no longer feel the need to punch the protagonist (named The Kid, or TK) in the face for being such a dork, and partially because our hero finally stops serving as a passive component of the plot, actually taking matters into his own hands in his quest for revenge. Apart from some iffy compression, the pre-rendered cutscenes are very well constructed (which shouldn’t be all that surprising, given that the pre-rendered sequences in <i>DRIV3R</i> were probably the best things about that game).
While <i>Parallel Lines</i> packs its virtual city with a number of side-quests (including street races, legal circuit races and <i>Crazy Taxi</i> segments), the heart of the game is its thirty-two story missions. This isn’t like <i>GTA</i>, where it was easy to spend lots of time goofing off and ignoring the plot altogether — after the fifteen hours or so it takes to reach the credits, you likely won’t be putting in dozens of extra hours to 100% the game. It’s fortunate, then, that most of the story missions (which can be replayed individually, a feature that more open-world games should have) are classic <i>Driver</i> material in the best sense, with armies of cop cars, strict timers and, by the final levels, plenty of keyboard-pounding frustration (as it should be). A couple of <i>DRIV3R</i> hold-overs also show up (including two on-rails shooting galleries and several on-foot levels), and while these don’t live up to the driving missions, they’re tremendously improved compared to the last game. TK and whatever car he’s driving have separate heat meters, meaning that, as long as the police don’t see you get out, you can dump a wanted vehicle and walk away (or immediately steal a “clean” car) to avoid the cops. If TK builds up heat, he can obscure himself in a clean car, although the police will become suspicious (and eventually start chasing him) if he gives them an opportunity to look in his window. On the whole, I thought this heat system and the cop AI worked quite well, minus those rare occasions where I committed a blatantly illegal act in front of a policeman and nothing happened. Cars all handle smoothly — practically a necessity given NYC’s thick traffic. On foot, the controls are a little awkward (with an optional auto-aim that can be pretty clueless), but manageable, and shooting down helicopters with a chain gun is quite satisfying.
Visually, <i>Driver: Parallel Lines</i> looks unimpressive for a 2007 game on the PC. I had to keep reminding myself for the first few hours that this was a PS2 game at heart (and I got used to it later), but it’s still pretty amazing that this came out on the same platform in the same year as <i>Crysis</i>. Textures look OK, but people and environments are lacking in the polygon department, and pop-in is all too common. Apart from bloom-heavy sunsets and the tints that differentiate each era, the lighting looks rather flat and explosions are weak. Still, the cars themselves look pretty nice, ripping apart with a good amount of detail, and some of the junk that lined the back alleys broke up effectively.
<i>Driver: Parallel Lines</i> is a solid, if unspectacular, continuation of the <i>Driver</i> lineage. The game is far from flawless (and it’s certainly no <i>GTA</i>-killer), but it at least indicates that Reflections Interactive (now Ubisoft Reflections) can put out a competent <i>Driver</i> game outside of the fifth console generation. Hopefully, Ubisoft’s upcoming <i>Driver: San Francisco</i> will be able to get the series back up to the near-classic heights it once attained.
+ Despite all the <i>GTA</i> influence, this still plays like classic <i>Driver</i>
+ Great atmosphere and music in 1978
+ Multiple heat bars for vehicles and occupants
+ Better than <i>DRIV3R</i>
- On-foot control is iffy
- No Film Director mode
- Protagonist can be annoying early on
- Modern-era music is of mixed quality
- Graphics are badly dated for a 2007 title
<u><b><i>Driver</i> Series Ranking:</b></u>
1.) <i>Driver: You Are the Wheelman</i> (1999)
<b>2.) <i>Driver: Parallel Lines</i> (2006)</b>
3.) <i>Driver 2: The Wheelman is Back</i> (2000)
> Unimaginably huge gap
4.) <i>DRIV3R</i> (2004)
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I consider myself to be a fairly picky gamer. I generally don’t buy games without doing a good deal of research on them first, and I never walk into a store without knowing exactly what I intend to purchase. Once in a blue moon, though, I break down and commit the gravest of shopping sins: an impulse purchase. Sometimes a slick piece of packaging overpowers my better judgment, or the game is from a solid developer I’m familiar with. In the case of <i>Wheelman</i> (or, as the cover reads, <i>VIN DIESEL WHEELMAN</i>) , my only excuse is that the brand new sealed PC copy sitting in front of me was two dollars. Two dollars! Even as a man who has no love for Vin Diesel and thinks the <i>Fast and Furious</i> films are some of the worst things to happen to humanity, the offer of a full game for less than a gallon of fuel was impossible for me to refuse.
And you know what? For two dollars, I more than got my money’s worth. <i>Wheelman</i> is flawed as hell, but as dumb no-holds-barred explosion-fest, it can be deliriously entertaining. Just because something’s trash doesn’t mean it can’t be fun.
As it turns out, <i>Wheelman</i> was one of the last games to be developed by Midway before they went belly-up in 2010. By the time the game was released in 2009 (after multiple delays and a troubled development cycle that began in 2006), Midway had already filed for bankruptcy, and the publishing rights were snapped up by Ubisoft. In the best and worst ways, <i>Wheelman</i> feels very much like a Midway product, from the arcade sensibilities to the <i>Spy Hunter</i> and <i>Mortal Kombat</i> references to the noticeable lack of polish.
<i>Wheelman</i>’s plot achieves the remarkable feat of being both utterly confusing and completely predictable at the same time. Vin Diesel stars as Milo Burik, an American agent going undercover as a wheelman in Barcelona. Tasked with recovering a mysterious package, Milo sets out to infiltrate the city’s three major gangs and play them against each other. The gangs are made up of armies of stereotypical thugs, and you’ll practically need to make a flow chart to keep track of the ever-changing allegiances of the slimy henchmen. Plot holes and ridiculous leaps of logic abound to the point that I have to wonder if half the game’s script was left on the cutting room floor — if Midway was out emulate those moments when you tune into the middle of something on cable television and are trying to figure out what’s going on, then they wholly succeeded.
Although one look at the back of the case had me thinking this was some sort of <i>Grand Theft Auto</i> clone whose single standout feature was its deep-voiced star, the open-world depiction of Barcelona is little more than window dressing. The game is actually a rather unique car combat title, forgoing gadgets and missile launchers in favor of insane physics and lots of ramming. <i>Burnout Paradise</i> plus machine guns is about the closest comparison I make, and that still doesn’t really do it justice. On command, cars can violently slide in any direction (regardless of which way they’re currently going), allowing you to smash into nearby vehicles. Enemy cars also share this physically improbable ability, turning many chases into a sort of vehicular boxing match in which you try to score hits while dodging your opponent’s attacks. Car handling is <i>insanely</i> arcadey, allowing for ludicrously sharp turns and easy 180° spins. Whatever vehicle Milo is driving is also completely incapable of flipping over, but damaged villains will roll over easily (an effect that is highlighted by the game’s slow-motion action camera). The crazier Milo’s driving, the more “Focus Points” he earns, eventually giving him things like a temporary speed boost and an absolutely absurd stunt called Cyclone in which Milo spins 180° in slow-motion, shoots at weak points on pursuing vehicles that will cause them to immediately explode if hit and then spins back to continue forward as his enemies erupt in balls of flame. At any time, Milo can also mark an unarmed car close to him an instantly leap over to it (a move called “Airjacking”), allowing him to keep on chugging even as armies enemy vehicles are trying to ram him. It’s tricks like these that make <i>Wheelman</i>’s lengthy car chases such a blast, giving them a terrific sense of momentum that kept me playing even while I had little idea what the narrative motivation was for many of the action scenes.
And it’s a good thing the driving is so flat-out entertaining, because the brief on-foot sections are awfully amateurish. The developers at Midway’s Newcastle studio had never done a third-person shooter before, and it really shows. Aiming is extremely stiff (even on the PC), the AI is dirt stupid (prepare to see lots of running into walls) and the hit detection is more than a little suspect. The game also plays a little audio cue and temporarily blurs the screen to indicate when you’ve killed an enemy, which is annoying at best and potentially deadly at worst (why reward the player by obscuring their vision for a second?). These sequences aren’t difficult (providing you crouch behind boxes to regenerate your health with some regularity) or common, so they don’t get in the way of the car chases too much, but the game would have been a much more well-rounded package if they’d been left out altogether. And since this is a T-rated game, civilians and cops are invulnerable to bullets, so don’t expect to go on a <i>GTA</i>-style rampage.
When feel like taking a break from tanker truck chases, tailing a suspect by airjacking new cars every few blocks and smashing up a newspaper editor’s office <i>Blues Brothers</i>-style, <i>Wheelman</i> includes a number of side-missions, all of which are accessible from your PDA’s map. These include violent street races (where weapons are not only allowed, but encouraged), escaping from waves of relentless enemies, destroying as much of the environment as you can within a time limit and taxi missions, among other things. The taxi missions were easily my favorite, as the absurd physics and tongue-in-cheek atmosphere that pervades the game make these sequences feel almost exactly like the <i>Crazy Taxi</i> games that inspired them (far more so than in <i>Driver</i> or <i>GTA</i>). On the negative side, most of these side-missions are quite short and there are only fifteen of each type, so it won’t be long until you’ve completed as many as you care to. Although (as the poster that comes with the game demonstrates) many of Barcelona’s landmarks are represented in great detail, the rest of the metropolis lacks the life of many other open-world games — instead of a living, breathing city, I felt like I was driving around a massive Hollywood set. Again, <i>Wheelman</i> is not so much a <i>GTA</i> clone as it is a car combat title, and the sooner you accept that, the more fun you’ll have.
As with most Midway games, <i>Wheelman</i> has some rough edges. Apart from the previously-mentioned on-foot sections, civilian drivers can also be seen doing some pretty illogical things, occasionally turning into the path of oncoming vehicles for no reason. Several times, I saw massive pileups occur with no input on my part whatsoever — the civilian drivers just suck that much. I also encountered a few little audio and physics glitches, and there was a particular chase (through a confined subway tunnel) where the camera just couldn’t behave itself, leading to some frustrating crashes. In short, evidence of the game’s troubled development cycle is not difficult to spot, though it rarely breaks the experience.
Graphically, <i>Wheelman</i> is mixed. Barcelona looks sunny and warm (all the time, as there are no day/night cycles), but there’s a fair amount of texture and shadow pop-in. The most impressive part of the environment is the tremendous amount of destructible elements — your car doesn’t take any damage from blowing through lamp posts, fruit carts, small trees and the like, so you’re encouraged to obliterate the scenery as much as possible. People look passable, although they suffer from a pretty serious case of “Unreal 3 plastic people,” with the character models being too slick and shiny for their own good. A strange detail is the way Milo holds a weapon he’s not using: guns just literally stick to his back, as if he coated his shirt with super-strength double-sided tape. Cars look quite good, although they come apart in a manner that was perhaps too modular for my tastes. The best modeled vehicles are the only two licensed cars in the game: the Opel Astra and the Pontiac G8. The latter car features quite heavily in the game’s marketing, cover art and action scenes, which is rather ironically amusing when one considers that Pontiac would cease to be in the same year that Midway died. Sound-wise, the music is actually quite good, with lots of exciting chase themes and good selection of tunes on the radio (including plenty of classical music and Spanish tracks). In fact, only one of the game’s radio channels plays rap — how cool is that? Voice acting is all over the place, with Vin Diesel delivering the exact same performance you’ve seen in almost every one of his films, while the locals vary from solid to comically bad.
I’ve been sitting here for a long while wondering what to score <i>Wheelman</i>. The objective critic inside me (who freaked out when a distant civilian car glitched into the sidewalk and spent all of the on-foot sections screaming in pain) says I should give it around a 6.5, and he’s probably right. However, I just had too much fun over the thirteen hours or so it took me to reach the credits to assign a score like that. <i>Wheelman</i> is so dumb that I could practically feel my brain cells dying while Vin Diesel spoke yet another incredibly lame one-liner, but in a strange way, the game’s stupidity is one of its greatest strengths. With intense chases and a goofy tone, <i>Wheelman</i> is one hell of a ride, warts and all.
And it was only two dollars.
+ Ridiculously exaggerated car chases that feel ripped from a Hollywood movie
+ Arcade-like car handling is very fun
+ So brain-dead it’s positively brilliant
+ Good music and classy radio stations
+ Destructible environments are great
+ Terrific taxi side-missions
- Abysmal on-foot gameplay
- Not enough side-quests to keep you playing for long after the story ends
- Bugs and glitches are not uncommon
<b>The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (2009)</b>
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Two Vin Diesel video games in a row? I must be losing my sense of taste. I picked up <i>Dark Athena</i> because a friend of mine just couldn’t stop telling me how the 2004 action-adventure <i>The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay</i> (a remastered version of which comes free with <i>Dark Athena</i>) was one of the best licensed video games ever made. Though I thought <i>Pitch Black</i> was a passible B-movie, I had little time for <i>The Chronicles of Riddick</i> or the deep-voiced killer himself. After a quick look at GameRankings revealed that <i>Escape from Butcher Bay</i> actually did garner some critical acclaim, however, I went ahead and bought a PC copy from Amazon.
<i>Escape from Butcher Bay</i> tells the story of Richard B. Riddick’s attempts to break out of the titular prison and how he got those shiny eyes. Again, I have little emotional investment in this universe, but <i>Butcher Bay</i>’s story is undeniably well-presented, albeit with a serious lack of likeable characters (which isn’t surprising, because it takes place in a maximum security prison ward, but still…). <i>Assault on Dark Athena</i> picks up shortly after the first game, following Riddick’s battle with a group of mercenaries who are converting the populations of rural colonies into a mechanized army. The sequel’s plot packs some more interesting characters (and voice actors), but it’s <i>far</i> too manipulative in its efforts to add some emotional punch and many plot threads are left hanging after the rather rushed conclusion.
The first thing one notices about <i>Escape from Butcher Bay</i> is what it’s not: a straightforward FPS. The game has a heavy focus on hiding in the shadows and sneaking up behind enemies, with the screen turning blue to inform you if you’re hidden while crouched. As in the earlier <i>Splinter Cell</i>s, you can also drag bodies into the shadows to hide them from other soldiers. Unlike almost every other stealth game, though, there are no silenced weapons, so you’ll have to rely on Riddick’s fists and knives to stay stealthy.
It’s a good thing, then, that both adventures pack some of the most brutally satisfying melee combat ever found in a first-person game. Although they could hardly be called deep (using only the two mouse buttons for control), stealthy neck-snaps and all-out brawls are superbly animated and tremendously fun to play. The game further encourages you to use Riddick’s close-quarters abilities by making most of the guards’ guns DNA-locked, meaning you won’t be able to pick up fallen enemies’ firearms for a large part of the campaign.
Another great part of <i>Butcher Bay</i> is the inclusion of a good deal of RPG elements, including a currency system (make sure to search every locker!) and dialogue-driven side-quests. The bulk of <i>Butcher Bay</i> takes place in a large, interconnected mine complex which, much like in the original <i>Metal Gear Solid</i>, allows for a lot of back-tracking and side trips. Even if the reward for completing side-quests (concept art) was meager, the mix of talking to prisoners and miners, stealth and a few explosive action scenes felt very nicely balanced, giving the game a level of variety I really wasn’t expecting. On the other hand, it was a bit of a shame when the last section of the game resorted to more conventional gun battles, climaxing with Riddick destroying buildings with a bipedal tank. Another problem with <i>Butcher Bay</i> is that, while the level design is actually quite inventive one you figure things out, the game does a terrible job of telling you where to go next, leading to much aimless wandering. I spent way too much of the game glued to a walkthrough — a <i>Metroid Prime</i>-style hint system (or even just a map that actually makes sense) would have gone a long way here.
<i>Dark Athena</i>, on the other hand, is an entirely different ballgame. At first I thought this was going to be a safe, more-of-the-same sort of sequel (what with the identical controls and a similar dream sequence tutorial), but <i>Dark Athena</i> is far less interested in the gameplay components that made the first game different from just about any other FPS out there. Most of the stealth involves simplistically dodging searchlights, and the dialogue sequences are shorter and almost entirely confined to a single room. With new weapons (including what amounts to a grenade launcher with infinite ammo) and no DNA-encoding, most of the game is spent in linear FPS battles that draw as much from <i>Halo</i> and <i>Dead Space</i> as the original <i>Riddick</i> adventure. The last third of the game actually takes place in a sun-baked colony, completely nullifying the stealth aspects in favor of loads and loads of assault rifle fire. In other words, where <i>Butcher Bay</i> was trying to be innovative, <i>Dark Athena</i> settles for loud action. That said, some of the shoot-outs were quite striking (including a mech battle in space and fight near the ship’s gravity core that has everything falling sideways), and the more straightforward level design meant I didn’t need a guide to tell where to go next (unlike <i>Butcher Bay</i>). I would never argue that <i>Dark Athena</i> is a better game than <i>Butcher Bay</i>, but, in all honesty, I might have had a bit more fun playing it. Either way, the fact both games are included in every <i>Dark Athena</i> box means you’re likely to find something you like about the package.
Visually, both <i>Riddick</i> games look very good. Aside from some stiff character models in the remastered <i>Butcher Bay</i>, animation is generally excellent, and the lighting effects (especially in <i>Dark Athena</i>) look great. Riddick’s equivalent of night vision is also well depicted, illuminating some gritty and spectacular art design. The film grain that covers the game was occasionally a bit much, though. As for sound, voice acting is uniformly good in both games (with Lance Henricksen basically stealing the second game) and sound effects blend nicely with the gritty visuals. The music is adequate, if a bit samey, although some of the end credits themes in <i>Dark Athena</i> were amusing for their out-of-place nature.
Though it can be very frustrating at points, <i>The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena</i> is easily one the better licensed games to hit the market in quite some time. Even if you don’t have any interest in the main character (and I certainly don’t), this is a solid value for stealth and shooter fans, providing two roughly eight-hour campaigns. Although my time with <i>Dark Athena</i> hasn’t brought me to appreciate Riddick any more than I did on the big screen, I’m getting to the stage where I can tolerate him. And if a sequel from these developers ever comes, I’d likely be willing to tolerate him some more.
+ Very satisfying first-person melee
+ Stealth and RPG components of <i>Butcher Bay</i> are very well integrated
+ Strong voice acting
+ Nice graphics
+ Two games in one
- Often difficult to know where to go next in <i>Butcher Bay</i>
- <i>Dark Athena</i>’s action is more generic than its predecessor’s
- Multiplayer is barely worth mentioning
- Riddick is not a terribly likable or interesting character, in my opinion
I am currently playing Call of Duty Black Ops on Hardened mode, Im about half way through. Im also playing the online a lot more now, and Im currently at Level 30 with no prestiges.
Apart from that, Ive also got The Sly Collection, Red Dead Redemption Undead Nightmare and Fallout New Vegas to complete. I also plan on picking up Assassins Creed Brotherhood and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit when the both go sub £20.
Greatly. Owning a PS3 and not having played the original, I can't wait to see what it can do.
My current wish list is:
Red Dead Redemption
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood
Mass Effect 2
Dead Space 2
And many others not yet released! I've behind due to a YLOD setting me back six months.
-The Precursor's Legacy
Jak II is just an epic game and it turned me from a Naughty Dog fan into a Naughty Dog hardliner. Jak 1 had a lot of the building blocks and is an incredibly solid platformer considering it's age. Jak 3 jumps the shark a bit in terms of plot, but is still well constructed and plays like a dream.
Mass Effect 2 was the best game I played last year.
That's great to know Mr. Lucas!
Indeed, I've got lots to keep me busy over the usually quiet, Summer months.
@UndiscoveredCountry I'd also like to add that your reviews are constantly great, despite never commenting on them. I'm also pleased you seemed to have made the change and will hopefully stay with us at NuMi6.
Other games recently enjoyed: Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Blur
Upcoming games I'm pumped for: Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Diablo 3, L.A. Noire, Mass Effect 3, Portal 2
games i am anticipating : Saints Row 3, Batman : Arkham City, L.A. Noire - and whenever a new Midnight Club game will be out..
But the story,the characthers and the graphic was great!
Btw, the last game played was Assasins Creed Brotherhood, quite amazing game.
I've played most of Syberia II, because I could never find a copy of the original game. Now I have, i've chosen to start from the begining. While there's a beautiful story to these games, if I have one gripe, it's that due to the setup with the scenery, it's so hard to see where you're supposed to go next.
So far i've made it to the dam with Momo, he's just broken the lever for the gate, so I need to find a (makeshift?) replacement.
It’s virtually impossible for any third-person shooter to feature slow-motion dives and bullet time without drawing comparisons to the Max Payne games these days, and critics were quick to point out such similarities when Stranglehold, a sequel to John Woo’s 1992 Hong Kong action film Hard Boiled, was first released in 2007. Of course, Max Payne was heavily inspired by Asian action flicks like Hard Boiled, so perhaps it’s fitting that Midway and Woo returned the favor. And given that the most recent entry in Remedy’s noir franchise came out in 2003, Stranglehold ends up being a good deal less derivative on current-gen consoles than it initially appears. It’s not without its issues, but John Woo’s stylish action game is more fun than a decade-and-a-half late movie tie-in has any right to be.
For those of you who missed it, Hard Boiled told the story of Hong Kong Inspector "Tequila" Yuen (played by Chow Yun-fat, who reprises his role in Stranglehold) and his efforts to thwart a powerful gangster hiding a huge supply of illegal weapons. Midway’s sequel picks up fifteen years later, with Tequila becoming embroiled in a dangerous mix of Hong Kong gangs, Russian mobsters and past romances. Although the plot can occasionally get a little overblown (resembling Woo’s Hollywood output more than his Hong Kong work), by and large it’s appropriately melodramatic and packs a couple of decent twists.
Most of the seven levels in Stranglehold are extremely long, sometimes containing over three hundred enemies for you to gun down and lasting well over an hour (consequently, the ability to jump back in at any given checkpoint from the main menu is much appreciated). Given the overwhelming odds, the game encourages you to make good use of the ever-recharging bullet time (referred to here as “Tequila Time”). Pulling off head-shot after head-shot while diving around controlled beautifully with my mouse and keyboard, making many of the game’s set-piece battles a real blast. Players can also make Tequila interact with the environment in various ways, and while these can be a lot of fun (who wouldn’t want to slide down a banister while shooting bag guys in slow motion?), they can be tricky to trigger. Though the game highlights objects you can take advantage of, sometimes it will be too picky about whether you’re properly lined up, meaning you might find yourself diving into the object you were trying to interact with like an idiot or leaping onto another nearby item instead. On the flip side, the decision to tie both the context-sensitive melee attack and the fire command to the left mouse button works well, keeping close-range combat at a frantic pace where you never need to fumble for a melee key.
Like in Namco’s Dead to Rights games, you’ll never have to worry about reloading your weapons in the middle of a hectic firefight. The only times you’ll ever see a weapon reloaded is during the cutscene that precedes one of Tequila’s special attacks, and it’s merely there to look cool (and make no mistake, it does look cool). With the exception of the shotgun (which I found to be rather unsuited to the fast-paced gameplay), the game’s weapons pack a very satisfying punch, with dual MP5Ks, one-hit-kills golden guns, Tequila’s signature twin Berettas and a number of more powerful assault weapons at your disposal. At specific points in a level, Tequila will enter a standoff mini-game that has him dodging from side to side while blasting scripted enemies with his pistols. These moments can be somewhat fun on their own merits, but they tend to hurt the pacing of a level and I think the game would have been better off without them.
As he scores more kills (with extra points awarded for stylish eliminations), Tequila builds up his “Tequila Bomb” meter, which will allow him to pull off a combination of four special moves. If health packs are in short supply, he can give himself a small health boost. The “Precision Aim” attack allows him to use any weapon as a one-hit-kills sniper rifle, rewarding the player with a gory close-up of their super-bullet ripping into an enemy. By far the most useful special ability is the “Barrage Attack,” which grants you temporary invincibility, temporary infinite ammo and a temporary damage boost all in one neat package. This ability is especially useful during the game’s boss fights, all of which I conquered with relentless Barrage Attacks. Lastly, there’s the room-clearing “Spin Attack” that obliterates almost everything in your line of sight. This looks really neat (with tons of doves spontaneously flying around our hero as he shoots everything up), but also drains a huge amount of your Tequila Bomb meter and isn’t as tactically advantageous as the player-controlled Barrage Attack.
When I picked up the PC version of Stranglehold, I was a bit shocked when looked at the back of the case and found the system requirements to be higher than the original Crysis. I figured this must have been one heck of a sloppy console-to-PC port (the need for fifteen gigabytes of hard drive space certainly seemed to indicate that) and I felt my fears were confirmed when the first level loaded up, treating me to some distinctly average console visuals. The digitized Chow Yun-fat looked good, but most character models were blocky and the environments were dominated by blurry textures and mediocre polygon counts. Five minutes later, though, I had forgiven the game for all of that, because Stranglehold packs some of the most spectacular destructible environments ever seen in a video game (right up there with the Red Faction titles). Just about everything (from stone pillars to shanty-towns to furniture to terra cotta armies) can be completely shredded by gunfire, adding a chaotic touch to shootouts (especially when Tequila is in slow-motion). Unlike games like Gears of War and Blood Stone, most cover is far from safe in Stranglehold, meaning you’ll need to be constantly on the move during every action scene. If there’s one thing Midway’s game stands a chance of being remembered for, it’s this environmental destructibility.
In the audio department, Stranglehold is very solid. It’s a bit strange to hear all the Chinese characters speaking English, but the voice acting is generally strong (especially with Chow Yun-fat, even if he struggles with the pronunciation of some English words). Sound effects are fittingly hectic (with plenty of breaking noises to complement the destructible levels) and weapons are nice and loud. The music is particularly effective, mixing Asian and occasional Russian influences with some techno that complements the action very nicely.
If there’s one huge issue with Stranglehold, it’s the length. The story hardly ends on an abrupt note (in fact, given the somewhat repetitious nature of the gameplay, I think it ends at about the perfect time), but after the seven hours it takes you conquer the campaign (at which point you should have earned enough points for all the non-multiplayer unlocks), there’s not much to keep you playing. The multiplayer feels tacked-on and underwhelming, lacking almost all the stylish charm of the single-player (and you’ll have a hard time even finding a game in 2011). Were it still at full-price, Stranglehold would be the definition of a game that one should rent instead of buying. Now that prices are down, though, I’d say that picking up Stranglehold is a fine way to kill an afternoon, especially if you’re a fan of Hard Boiled.
+ Beautifully destructible environments
+ Great slow-motion shooting action
+ Very, very stylish
+ Colorful and varied locations
+ Good music
+ Solid story
- Can be repetitious if you don’t take advantage of Tequila’s cooler moves
- Standoffs are contrived and unnecessary
- Iffy character models
- Environmental interaction is inconsistent
- Weak multiplayer
- Not exactly packed with content
Reservoir Dogs (2006)
By coincidence, I picked up another virtual tie-in for a critically acclaimed movie from 1992. Unlike John Woo’s Hard Boiled, however, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs would seem to be a poor film for such treatment, being a dialogue-driven crime drama whose main characters spend most of their time arguing in a warehouse. Eidos and Volatile Games went ahead and tried anyway, though, and while the result has some interesting ideas, it’s mostly an example of how some films are simply not suited to an interactive medium.
The first black mark against Reservoir Dogs is its tutorial level. Anyone remember that part in the movie where the whole team played with paintball guns and dressed up as cops to train Mr. Orange right before the heist began? Doesn’t that sound like something these professional killers would have wasted their time doing? I’m usually not picky when it comes to video game adaptations like this, but I prefer it when the changes made at least make some sort of sense and are true to the spirit of the film. The second mission (featuring Mr. Blue’s actions during the robbery) could practically have replaced the tutorial if a few lines of text had flashed across the screen in certain parts; I think that would have made a much better first impression. Of course, if they deleted the tutorial, we wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity to play as Mr. Orange at all during the game, as the only chance for players who haven’t seen the movie to become invested in his character is during the silly tutorial.
Indeed, anyone who missed Tarantino’s film would probably be completely lost trying to follow the game’s plot, which merges extremely condensed pre-rendered versions of the movie’s more famous sequences with massive action scenes that seem to be from some crazy alternate universe where Reservoir Dogs was directed by Michael Bay. There’s rarely any chance to get to know the characters, resulting in a story that, to someone who missed the film, would be nearly tension-free. If I’d looked away from the screen for five seconds, I would have completely missed the climatic Mexican standoff, and the near-total lack of dialogue for Mr. Orange removes any emotion from one of the film’s major plots. The narrative seems carefully crafted to befuddle newcomers and annoy fans, making it resoundingly obvious that Tarantino had no involvement with this project whatsoever.
Still, I’ve seen games with much worse stories save themselves via good gameplay. Reservoir Dogs is made up of two types of missions, including ten third-person action levels and six high-speed car chases. As a standard cover-based shooter, the third-person levels are mediocre at best, with moronic enemy AI and uninspired level design. There’s a rudimentary recharging bullet time feature (called “Bullet Festival”) and a decent selection of weapons, but the core action isn’t all that satisfying and quickly becomes monotonous. The game does have one surprising ace up its sleeve, though: in every on-foot level, the player is given many opportunities to take cops and civilians hostage and drag them along. Officers won’t shoot at you while you’re holding a hostage, and you can actually get enemies to put their guns down, walk them around by moving the mouse (which is a little awkward, but manageable) and have them kneel against a wall, “neutralizing” them. Security guards will give up almost immediately, but police and SWAT will need a little extra encouragement in the form of hitting the hostage over the head. That reduces the hostage’s “tolerance meter,” though, as does walking around with the hostage, so you’ll need to carefully manage your actions to prevent the hostage from fainting and giving your enemies a clear shot. If you’re feeling really daring, you can expend your bullet time and commit a “Signature Move” on the hostage, which is a character-specific off-screen attack that will make all the cops in the vicinity surrender (no prizes for guessing what Mr. Blonde does). After a few minutes of experimentation, I was swapping hostages effortlessly and leaving armies of kneeling cops in my wake, essentially turning Reservoir Dogs into a glorified puzzle game. It’s rather amusing that this title was at all controversial before it launched (it was banned in Australia and New Zealand), because I made it through the entire game on my second play-through without shooting one person. Volatile actually seems intent on convincing players to do just that, rewarding them for being comparatively non-violent with an invincibility cheat and upbeat, non-cannon ending for Mr. Pink (more violent players may earn infinite timer and infinite ammo cheats upon completion, but Mr. Pink will suffer for it).
In comparison, the car chases are more derivative, but also more functional. Cars handling is decent (if a bit floaty), and there’s some Driver-like fun to be had escaping from the cops. Unfortunately, all six driving levels take place on the same linear track. It occasionally gives you the option to turn left or right, but you’ll always end up back on the same road in about a thousand feet regardless. The repetitiveness of the environment does make some sense (everyone’s trying to get away from the same place, after all), but it still feels rather lazy. The chases are also pretty bipolar, with the banter between the characters in their cars being the best part of the script (actually feeling very true to the film) even as police cars are flipping end over end before exploding and helicopters are firing machine guns at you (which obviously doesn’t feel true to the film).
Regardless of how you play Reservoir Dogs, you can be sure that the experience won’t last long. I reached the credits in slightly under four hours, and a second play-through using different tactics took no longer to complete. This brevity may be a blessing in disguise (as the game grows quite repetitive by the final level), but it’s yet another knock against this title’s already low value. Some of the cheats can encourage a few more minutes of play, but picking up blueprints to unlock concept art or replaying the whole campaign for a different fifteen-second ending video is probably not something you’re going to do.
Graphically, most of Reservoir Dogs looks like a mediocre PS2 game (which, unsurprisingly, is what it is). Minus some colorful lighting in Mr. Blonde’s mall rampage, the game’s visuals are exceedingly bland and blocky, with large amounts of texture flickering and a complete lack of anti-aliasing. Some of the civilian cars in the driving levels look seriously PS1-like, and taking a hostage up a flight of stairs reveals an obvious disconnect between the two character models involved. Apart from Michael Madsen, none of the characters are modeled after their original actors, and the contrast when seeing the cinematic Mr. Blonde interact with a generic Mr. White is quite distracting. The same can be said of the voice acting, where (despite generally good performances from everyone) only Madsen sounds like the original character. Fortunately, “K-Billy's Super Sounds of the Seventies” has carried over very nicely, playing in your car’s radio and in certain parts of the on-foot levels. The music is perhaps the only thing that Volatile got completely right about their Tarantino adaptation, and given how big a role music played in the film, that’s not a bad element to nail.
It’s difficult to tell who Reservoir Dogs is intended for. Fans of the film will probably dislike the pointless narrative changes and over-explosive car chases, while gamers who missed Tarantino’s cinematic debut will be treated to a short, incoherent campaign, boring gunplay and lousy visuals. Sure, the music is great and the contrived-but-inventive hostage-taking mechanic can be entertaining, but those elements can only take the game so far. It’s not quite bad enough to make you cut someone’s ear off, but if the Reservoir Dogs game were a waitress, you certainly wouldn’t tip it.
+ Hostage-taking can be entertaining
+ Excellent licensed music
+ Bursts of good dialogue
+ Decent voice acting, especially from Michael Madsen
- Absolutely butchers the film’s story and tone
- Tedious, rudimentary gunplay
- Lackluster graphics, especially for the PC
- Repetitive driving environments
- Incredibly short, with little reason to go back
Crysis 2 (2011)
Ah, Crysis, how you made my graphics card wheeze. Arriving four years after its GPU-melting forerunner, Crysis 2 shocked much of the series’ hardcore fanbase by releasing for both the Xbox 360 and PS3, in addition to the PC. Many fans saw this as a betrayal of the customers that had supported Crytek through Far Cry and the original Crysis, as well as being a sure sign that the sequel would be dumbed down to appeal to the Call of Duty crowd. Fortunately, although some fans still want to burn EA’s offices down, the resulting product is far better than many were expecting. Crysis 2 isn’t quite the breathtaking technical demo that its predecessor was, but it’s a considerably better game, which is really all that matters.
First off, Crysis 2’s narrative is the best in the series by a fairly wide margin. Of course, given that the first game had about as much plot as your average television commercial, that’s not saying much. The sequel’s story features a lot more dialogue and a wider cast of heroes and villains, giving you slightly more context than “North Koreans and aliens are evil and must die.” Most of the characters get the job done without being at all memorable, with only the one hundred and twenty seven-year old Crynet CEO Jacob Hargreave standing out from the pack. As Alcatraz is your standard silent protagonist (albeit with surprisingly good reason), the majority of the game’s speech comes from the Nanosuit itself. While Crysis’s Nanosuit merely announced what mode you were in, 2’s suit simply does not shut up, giving you mission objectives, tactical advice and even pep talks over the course of the game. For all intents and purposes, it’s the main character of the story — the “Be the Weapon” tagline on the back of the case isn’t just there to sound cool. The story also features a lot of alien invasion clichés (of course our heroes have to eradicate the aliens before the Pentagon nukes the city!) and many twists (most of which are predictable, though there were a couple in the last few hours which I didn’t see coming). My biggest issue with the plot is that there’s often a feeling that the game is dangling a carrot in front of the player before quickly pulling it away (especially in the first half), which isn’t that satisfying from a narrative perspective. On the other hand, the finale is much more fulfilling than the first game’s abrupt cliffhanger, all but guaranteeing a sequel without trivializing the player’s accomplishments like the original did.
The original game (at least before the aliens appeared) featured wide-open sandboxes, complete with multiple approaches to every battle, loads of drivable vehicles and little AI scripting. These levels were tremendously replayable for some (including myself), while other gamers found the more tactical pacing tedious. Either way, there was a lot of down time spent transporting yourself across the map, something Crytek chose to mostly eliminate with Crysis Warhead. That stand-alone expansion contained a much more linear and focused campaign, without removing the tactical choices that helped separate Crysis from your standard Call of Duty corridor shooters. Crysis 2 continues this progression, with more a claustrophobic setting and many more scripted events. The less-linear moments are now confined to “action bubbles” — large open spaces which the suit will point out to you shortly after you arrive in them. While the level design is certainly not as sandbox-heavy as before, it gives Crytek a great chance to showcase the destruction of many of New York’s famous structures. Occasionally, you’ll see a little prompt at the bottom of the screen that says “Hold F to look,” and doing so will direct you towards a collapsing skyscraper or a spectacular aerial battle, allowing interested players to take in the game’s cinematic sights while others can skip these interludes and keep on blasting things. If there’s one disappointment resulting from the more cramped level design, it’s the lack of vehicle action — two short driving sequences and a brief on-rails segment don’t exactly compensate for the extended hovercraft, train and APC chases found in Warhead (although they’re certainly better than the frustrating tank and VTOL levels in the first game). Another sign of the game’s console focus is the lack of a quick-save ability, leaving you constantly at the mercy of the game’s checkpoints. This actually didn’t bother me as much as I was expecting it to, although there were a couple points where the difficulty spiked and I found myself very relieved to see the little “Checkpoint Reached” message appear at the top of the screen.
As far as weapons go, the shooting mechanics are virtually identical to the last game’s, giving you the ability to modify weapons on the fly and steady your aim at long ranges by drawing on the Nanosuit’s strength feature. On the other hand, the suit itself (and by extension your character’s movement) has been rather drastically reworked, doing away with the little radial menu and leaving Maximum Strength on at all times (meaning you can now grab enemies by the neck and fling them around whenever you want). Maximum Speed is now a standard sprint function and a Power Jump can now be completed simply by holding the spacebar down for a second (which, combined with the useful new ability to grab ledges, makes jumping much more intuitive than before). Most importantly, the suit’s armor and cloaking abilities are much easier to access and blend with other powers. In the first game, I practically never bothered with cloaking unless the difficulty demanded it (like on the Delta setting), as it was something of a hassle to manage. Crysis 2’s stealth, however, feels natural and engaging, and I found myself constantly making use of it to get into better positions or to sneak up behind an enemy before twisting his neck 180 degrees. Most weapons will break your cloak if fired with the exception of silenced pistols, which allow you to pull of satisfying kills even in the middle of large groups of enemies. As the game progresses, you’ll pick up alien tissue samples that can be used to upgrade your suit, giving you things like better armor, longer cloak times and falling attack that will allow you to damage anything close to where you land.
The PMC soldiers and bipedal aliens that oppose Alcatraz during the campaign present a decent challenge, making effective use of flanking and rudimentary squad tactics in many of the game’s more open maps. I was especially impressed by how the aliens zipped around large spaces, much like a superior version of the Geth Hoppers from Mass Effect. Unfortunately, while the AI can be great when it works, it’s also prone to glitching, so sometimes I’d see an alien getting stuck in the scenery or a C.E.L.L. trooper running around in circles for no reason. There were also those rare occasions when I sniped an enemy out in front of several of his comrades and watched as the other soldiers failed to react to the bloody mess that lay in front of them. Moments like this certainly don’t break the experience, but they strongly contrast with the game’s hugely polished visuals and slick mechanics. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a bucket-load of patches coming sometime in the future (several large fixes have already been released).
Graphically, Crysis 2 is perhaps the best-looking multiplatform console game yet. On the PC, it’s not quite as technically earth-shattering as its predecessor was back in 2007, but it’s still one of the best looking games around. The CryEngine 3 allows for some absolutely spectacular lighting effects, from a beautiful coastal sunrise to the futuristic Times Square at night. Some of the textures can look a bit console-ish and the lack of DX11 support (at least before the promised patch arrives) is disappointing, but as soon as I stepped outside for the first time and saw the view, all those sacrifices made to get the game running on the nearly six-year old Xbox 360 seemed insignificant. The Big Apple has much more character than the somewhat repetitive jungles that dominated Crytek’s previous three products, with its colorful streets and distinctive architecture also visually separating the game from bleaker post-apocalyptic titles like Killzone or Gears of War. Explosions and fire also look terrific, as do the blood effects (I particularly liked the way aliens burst into a mass of pink jelly when struck in their weak points). Oddly, the pre-rendered cutscenes actually look worse than the in-game ones, with middling compression and cartoonish lighting. The console-oriented graphics also have a silver lining in the form of the frame-rate — on my computer, the game ran very fluidly on Extreme (the highest graphical setting) at 1080p, something I can’t say about the original Crysis. This superior frame-rate (combined with the lack of texture pop-in and fewer glitches) make the PC port the best version of Crysis 2 to own if you have an even mildly modern PC (and since the lowest and highest settings now look very similar, the recommended requirements aren’t astronomically higher than the minimum ones, unlike in the original game).
Sound-wise, the voice acting ranges from effective (e.g. Hargreave) to passable (macho marines) to mediocre (many of the civilians). Given the absurdity of the game’s plot, I didn’t find the sometimes cheesy voice acting did too much damage to immersion (either that, or Just Cause 2 has set the bar so low in that department that few games can actually bother me anymore). The music is handled by Borislav Slavov, Tilman Sillescu and Hans Zimmer, and they all do a fine job. One can argue that the score is a bit derivative of Zimmer’s prior compositions (at times it can seem as if the themes are being lifted directly from Inception), but I found it fit the spectacle-driven blockbuster tone of the game quite nicely.
Crysis 2 is an intense, meaty thrill-ride. The campaign is fairly long (lasting me about twelve hours on the default difficulty) and far more replayable than its Call of Duty competitors (with lots of hidden extras and room for a wide variety of play styles), making this one of those rare modern shooters where you won’t be finished with the single-player in a lone afternoon. The game’s impressive set-pieces make the original Crysis look downright tame by comparison, providing console and PC players with a much more accessible experience that sacrifices almost none of the original’s tactical nature. The script certainly has its issues and AI is far from perfect, but the gameplay is fun enough to easily overcome these problems. Crytek’s series may be famous for its graphics, and in that respect it certainly lives up to the hype, but the slick visuals are hardly the best thing about Crysis 2. This time, it’s all about the gameplay.
+ Streamlined Nanosuit gameplay gives you plenty of options
+ Engaging stealth features
+ Terrific set-piece battles and cinematic destruction
+ Lengthy and replayable campaign
+ Exceptional graphics with reasonable system requirements
+ Strong music
- Hit-or-miss AI
- Inconsistent voice acting
- Script is riddled with clichés
1.) Crysis 2 (2011)
2.) Crysis Warhead (2008)
3.) Crysis (2007)
With Portal 2 releasing next week, I decided to pick up The Orange Box to play through Valve’s bite-sized masterpiece again (the last time I played it was on the Xbox 360 in 2007). The game’s short length still bothers me, but the terrific puzzles and sharp script were just as good the second time around.
As noted above, the bad four-year old news is that Portal is extremely short. Without help from a walkthrough, I was able to complete the single-player campaign in a little over three hours on my first try. As this is a puzzle adventure, much of that time was spent stuck at particular points that I remembered the next time, making this subsequent play-through even shorter. There are extra challenges, developer commentaries and advanced map variations after the campaign is finished, and while these bonuses are certainly appreciated, they’re not enough to prevent portal from feeling like something less than a full game. As a component of the massive Orange Box or a $15 download from Steam, though, it’s understandable that Portal can’t match some $60 AAA titles in the longevity department. And at the very least, there’s virtually no filler in this game.
Portal’s gameplay is both simple and mind-bending. On paper, it seems easy enough — your portal guns open connecting orange and blue portals, allowing you to reach other parts of a level and transport cubes around to place on switches — but in practice, the game is actually quite challenging. That’s because Portal requires you to think about three dimensional space and momentum in ways that just about no other game does. Leaping off a virtual cliff to launch yourself high into the air on another part of the map feels counterintuitive at first, but after a couple of minutes of fumbling you’ll be pulling off insane stunts in a ridiculously satisfying fashion. The mind-boggling nature of the puzzles helps prevent the game from becoming too repetitious, always keeping the player on their toes. Valve ramps the difficulty up very smoothly, introducing almost-pitiable robot enemies and some very useful rocket turrets near the finale. I also liked the manner in which Aperture Science’s sterile white environments give way to grittier settings later in the game, revealing the slick Enrichment Center to be little more than a façade. Portal’s final level also provides one of the best conclusions in the entire gaming medium — for once, listing the end credits as my favorite moment in a game is not an insult.
Portal’s script is extremely clever, filled with darkly humorous monologues from the killer computer GLaDOS and a surprising number of literary references. I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice to say I was laughing just as hard at almost all of the jokes on my second time through. Visually, the game makes effective use of the Source engine without ever being technically spectacular, as the memorable portal effects are countered by a noticeable lack of polygons and some abuse of red fog. The voice acting and music are excellent, with Ellen McLain doing a great job as the voice of GLaDOS. And then there’s that end credits song…
Portal is clever, hilarious adventure that ends all too soon. Most of my issues with the game are a result of its short length, which Valve has cited as one of the primary areas of improvement in the upcoming sequel. If the developer can make good on that promise without losing any of the flair that made the original Portal so great, then I’ll certainly have no problems paying $50 for it.
+ Mind-bending portal gameplay
+ Witty and clever script
+ Excellent voice acting and music
+ Ends on a terrific high note
- Really, really short
Just started it and what a game so far.
@UndiscoveredCountry I'll read your review of Crysis 2 when I get around to playing it. I'm still on last year's games at the moment!
Great graphics and gameplay.
Great, tense atmosphere. Great characters, very scary jump moments, and just as good or even better than the original. Better controls.
It was a marriage between two game genres; open world (not sandbox though) and good ol' point-and-click adventure genres.
I got over the new tech pretty quick and beneath the full 3d motion scan, there lies a good game.
The game works better than McManara's last few games (The Getaway and Getaway : Black Monday) which, even though it had that authetic britcrime feel, lacked in gameplay. Which was, to be honest, very annoying and didn't quite work. Team Bondi's vision and new 3d full motion scan tech mixed with R* gameplay, meaning covering and movement system working pretty much the same it did in RDR.
But RDR are nothing alike, except for one thing which I won't reveal here. The other is open world sandbox game and other is a linear old style adventure game, with Mafia II kind of freedom incorporated. Open world. Just not an open playground.
The story, acting and characters were all well excecuted. The game felt very much like an authetic film noir thriller, or to better describe it, a miniseries with a hefty budget.
There isn't really all that much action for all those gta/rdr junkies. Not too much and not too little. Just the right amount for this type of game. Aside the plot, there are street games, fourty of them, and they'll insert some action in the game. Anyway, if you like to experience an authetic film noir experience, in the style of, say Chinatowm and like, you should give tis'un a try.