This review was originally published 07/30/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

NCAA Football 11

NCAA Football 11 cover (PS3)

The game has nice ideas and looks great, but new gameplay mechanics only seem to create more bugs and problems.

EA really needs some competition in the football gaming market. I can’t imagine any football gaming fan NOT wanting the NCAA to discontinue EA’s NCAA football-exclusivity license when it expires either this year or next. [Update: EA has agreed to not sign another exclusivity agreement!] Comptetition is always good for the consumer, and right now, EA really isn’t giving us games that are up to par with our expectations. For the past two or three years, EA has given us NCAA football games that have contained some great new features and gameplay additions, but every year, they manage to fill the game with new flaws or take steps backwards in terms of gameplay.

Two years ago, excessive turnovers made the game almost unplayable. Last year, the oppressively fast game speed made the game look and feel so chaotic, that it almost completely overshadowed the improvements such as the “"Dead Duck" passes and the "Setup Play" feature. Like in past years, the new game gives us a lot of welcome improvements, but also introduces new problems and takes several steps backwards in certain areas.

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This review was originally published 05/15/2011 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

Portal 2

Portal 2 cover art

Yes GladOS, we brought you back to life because we really do love to test!

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this game. I love the first Portal, as it was about as close to "perfect" as any game has ever come, but I couldn’t help but fear that Valve might turn this into a franchise, and in doing so, some of the allure of the game would be lost. But the game was released, and it is a triumph. Mostly.

Apparently, a very long time has passed since the first game. The Enrichment Center is very different. Under the care of the watchful AI, Wheatley, the entire facility has been slowly falling apart. The degrading, decrepit test chambers make for much more interesting visuals than the sterile, white and gray chambers of the first game. They are now overgrown with weeds and vines, panels are falling off the walls, broken glass litters the floors, and fallen and bent metal beams and girders obstruct some of your paths. It’s just too bad that with all the debris and vegetation littering the environment, that none of it is interactive. It slightly breaks the immersion when you walk through dangling leaves and they don’t react to your passing at all.

There is a lot of visual variety in this game. You travel through the dilapidated chambers of the early game until the facility begins to rebuild itself. You watch it piece itself back together. Then you get to travel through the deepest guts of Aperture Science. And finally, you come back to see the test chambers tear themselves apart again

Portal 2 - co-op characters

The co-op puzzles are fun, but not terribly replayable.
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This review was originally published 03/13/2011 on Game Observer (now defunct). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions cover art

Beenox combines several different styles of gameplay and visuals into a fairly enjoyable but very short, disjointed, and sometimes unstable Spider-Man adventure.

I’m so glad that the last few Spider-Man games have not been constrained to follow a movie’s plot. Even though the Spider-Man 2 movie game was arguably the best Spider-Man game since the first one on the PS1, I really want to see developers try something a little more creative with the Spidey character. I’m one of the people who thoroughly enjoyed Web of Shadows and was really hoping to see further development with that game’s fantastically tight controls and combat mechanics. But Beenox had different ideas for a Spidey game – much more ambitious and creative ideas. They scrapped the free-roaming open New York and web-swinging mechanics that have become a staple of Spider-Man games since the second movie game in favor of a dimension-hopping beat-em-up. It’s actually a nice change of pace.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions - Sandman tornado
This battle against the Sandman early in the game is one of several exceptional action set-pieces.
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This review was originally published 09/14/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 5/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

The Saboteur

The Saboteur cover art

An artistically inspired, very fun, but rough-around-the-edges game.

The Saboteur is a very novel game. For one thing, it is a fresh and appealing take on the stagnant genre of World War II-themed games. Essentially GTA in Nazi-occupied France, this game is pretty to look at and a lot of fun to play, even though its features aren’t as fleshed-out as one would like. The game is also surprisingly risqué by EA standards, offering actual nudity, plenty of F-bombs, and loads of gratuitous violence. While I don’t mind seeing more adult content in a game, it is disappointing that Pandemic didn’t find interesting gameplay functions for it. Instead, it’s all just for show.

The Producers - Franz Liebkind
Franz Liebkind disapproves!

The big draw for this game is going to be its unique art style. Areas of Paris that are under the control of the Nazis are rendered in black and white, with yellow, red, and occasionally blue highlights and complete with rain clouds and thunder and lightning. Areas that are under the control of the Resistance are rendered in full pastel color, in full sunlight and with birds singing. It’s a cool effect, and adds a bit of variety to the game’s otherwise uninteresting visuals. However, the colored areas of the city don’t look nearly as interesting as the black-and-white areas, and it’s almost a shame you have to free the city from the Nazis. On the other side of the spectrum, the black-and-white areas are just too dark at the recommended brightness level, and make it hard to see where you are going. But it’s nothing some tweaks to the game’s or TV’s settings can’t fix.

The Saboteur - strip club hideout
Your base of operations is in a secret room in the back of a strip club, complete with peep-hole.
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This review was originally published 06/21/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished (and updated) here for archival purposes.

Backbreaker

Backbreaker cover art

Less like a game of pro football, and more like a pick-up game with 100 people who don’t know what they’re doing.

I’ve been waiting for Backbreaker for years, following every dev diary, watching every trailer, drooling over every new tidbit of information, all the while, fully expecting that it is going to unseat Madden by revolutionizing the football video game world and force EA to relinquish its NFL-exclusivity deal. And while Backbreaker delivers in terms of its revolutionary new game engine, it fumbles the game of football.

Back-broken gameplay

The Euphoria Engine is the driving force being this game, calculating and rendering every action and every collision on the field using its simulation of physics and human motion. Momentum is well-respected, and the game is full of "you’ll never see that again!" moments that will make your jaw drop. The action is in your face and intense, and when things get exciting, you might find yourself bouncing up and down at the edge of your seat like you did last year when Drew Brees was engineering the Saints’ come-from-behind victory in the Super Bowl. You may even jump up and cheer after breaking a long touchdown run or blindsiding a QB for an 8 yard sack. And you’ll be loving the game.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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