Prior to StarCraft II’s release, there was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over Blizzard’s decision to split StarCraft II across three games. “Why pay full price for a third of a game?” was the not-unreasonable question. Fortunately, after playing a lot of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, we can tell you that this is emphatically not a third of a game. In fact, it’s the most polished, full-featured single- and multiplayer RTS we’ve ever played.
The action in the single-player game takes place across 29 missions, all but four of which see you leading space cowboy Jim Rayner’s band of mercenaries into combat. Though you’re limited largely to the Terran race, StarCraft II’s incredibly polished level design makes every mission feel like a completely different experience, from a zombie invasion to a mission where you must build up a force while on the move, always keeping one step ahead of a steadily advancing firestorm.
The world is full of mysteries. What killed the dinosaurs? What is stored in Area 51? Why—oh dear goodness, why—does anyone think Dane Cook is funny? And now, there’s a new head-scratcher for that list: Why didn’t Activision give Singularity, easily its best new IP in years, a promotional push to match? After all, it’s a fantastic game. It’s the Mega Man to modern shooters’ robot masters, absorbing the best bits of games like Half-Life, BioShock, and F.E.A.R., and mixing in just enough of its own unique ideas to keep things fresh.
So, what makes Singularity tick? Well, clocks, actually, when you get right down to it. See, Singularity’s all about time travel, and while that makes for an entertaining—though not exactly revolutionary—plot about an alternate timeline in which Russia takes over the world, for once it’s the game itself that benefits most from humanity’s ill-advised canonball into the time stream.
Let’s say someone’s just given you a jack-in-the-box. He then motions for you to crank the handle, so you give it a whirl. Round and round it goes until—boom—out comes a platter with the world’s most delicious cake on it. Awesome! Before long, you want more cake, so you crank the handle again—only this time, a fist rockets out and punches you right in your cakehole. You try again. Another fist. Again. Fist. But then, finally, cake.
That’s Alpha Protocol in a nutshell. More often than not, the game rewards your efforts with a frustrating menagerie of awful design choices and glitch-ridden combat. But every once in a while, everything comes together, and you get a tiny, shimmering glimpse of what it might feel like to actually be James Bond or Jason Bourne.
Somewhat ironically for a game titled Conviction, rendering a verdict on superspy Sam Fisher’s latest skulking, sneaking, neck-snapping adventure is actually pretty difficult. Here’s the problem: There are two ways to judge Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction—as a longtime series fan, or as someone who thinks a Splinter Cell is something that needs to be examined by a doctor before it becomes infected. The good/bad news, depending on which camp you fall into: Conviction is fast-paced, action-packed, and prone to bouts of random, violent explosion. Sorry, longtime fans.
A Guide to Maximum PC Verdicts Have you ever wondered what separates a “6” verdict from a “7;” or questioned why a product earned a “9,” but was denied our revered Kick Ass award? Here’s the reasoning behind our editorial verdicts.
Assassin’s Creed II, like its predecessor, is an ambitious third-person action adventure game with a clever conceit: You’re a modern-day bartender reliving your assassin ancestors’ adventures. But where the first game fell short—in repetitive, sometimes-monotonous gameplay—the sequel soars. It’s not revolutionary by any means, but it’s one hell of a fun ride.
This time around, you primarily play as goofy-charmer-turned-hooded-murder-machine Ezio Auditore. He’s got personality in spades, but that has its drawbacks—the first few hours of the game devoted to Ezio’s character development come at the expense of any truly exciting or pulse-pounding moments. Folks who want to leap straight into the face-stabbing will have to stow their bloodlust for a bit.
We liked Metro 2033. We really did. But we wanted to love it. Its dusty, downtrodden, nuked-to-oblivion vision of a post-apocalyptic future is a thing of perverse beauty. At once terrifying and unsettlingly believable, it threatened to suck us in like no game before it. “Half-Life 2, who?” we asked ourselves frequently during the game’s opening moments—that is, when we weren’t left completely breathless.
Then the game made the mistake of putting a gun in our hands.
At best, Metro’s shooting is serviceable. The weapons—while compulsively upgradeable—are crafted in such a way as to be realistic, which in this case means “boring.” That would be fine and dandy if the other two pillars of first-person-shooter fun—level design and enemy AI—did enough heavy lifting to make up for it. Sadly, they don’t.
We hold the Battlefield franchise close to our hearts—Battlefield 1942 revolutionized online warfare, and Battlefield 2 is one of the best multiplayer shooters of all time. But the series hasn’t fostered another winner in recent memory. That’s why we were a little apprehensive about playing the newest Battlefield game, Bad Company 2 (a sequel to a console-only spin-off title). But despite fears that this was just going to be a knockoff of Activision’s Modern Warfare 2, Bad Company 2 stands on its own as a refined Battlefield experience that’s worthy of its pedigree.
In fact, Bad Company 2 prides itself in being different from Modern Warfare 2, something it goes out of its way to point out in the 13-mission single-player campaign. That’s right—this is the first PC Battlefield game with a story. The Bad Company in the game’s name refers to you and your squad of four misfit soldiers, sent across snowy mountains and humid jungles in search of a stolen Japanese superweapon.
The first BioShock managed quite a feat: It was that rare game that both opened and closed the book on a strange, new environment. For the most part, it left very few questions unanswered, and despite its flaws, the general consensus was that gamers’ first go-round on the bathysphere should also have been their last. For all intents and purposes, the game was a complete experience that didn’t need a sequel. But it got one, anyway.
And yet, for all the talk of BioShock 2 being nothing more than a quick cash-grab, the game is actually quite good—great, even. But is it a worthy successor to a modern classic? Yes, surprisingly enough.
BioShock 2 stuffs you into the hulking diving suit of the first Big Daddy—roughly 40 percent of which is composed of a gigantic, face-perforating drill. Yeah, you’re not just some wimpy, fish-out-of-water human this time around. And the changes don’t end there. Rapture’s been overtaken by a veritable army of little-girl-kidnapping Big Sisters, and it’s up to you to put a stop to their maniacal plan. What follows, then, is a whirlwind adventure of drilling, Splicer shooting, Adam-harvesting, and more drilling.
Somehow, blowing things up never gets old—especially blowing up Nazis. Sixty-five years after the fall of the Third Reich, it’s still a gaming favorite.
As the titular Saboteur, Irish mechanic turned French freedom-fighter Sean Devlin, you throw a wrench into the gears of the Nazi occupation in 1940... except this wrench is actually a wad of TNT that detonates in a spectacular fireball. The game equips you with an ample pile of explosives and turns you loose in a target-rich open-world version of Nazi-occupied Paris (complete with Eiffel Tower and Louvre) and its surrounding rural areas. Much of the joy of playing comes from planting bombs on poorly guarded Nazi equipment and casually strolling out of the blast radius before it blows, then watching it crumble down, jackbooted thugs and all.
Sure, the story, which follows Sean’s quest for revenge against a sadistic S.S. officer/race car driver is a little hammy and more than a little absurd, but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it works well with the roguish Indiana Jones–style attitude of the character. The voice actors play along, delivering entertaining performances with caricature Irish, French, and German accents.