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Tertiary administrator, video game blogger.

Location:Gold Coast, Australia

stories by Tristan Damen

Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet Review (X360) – Inviting. Tedious. Short. Pricey.

In the lead-up to its release, many had likened the elaborately-named Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet (ITSP) to classic platformers such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Metroid Fusion. In terms of concept, I believe the comparison to be accurate enough; as the game gradually introduces new weapons and equipment that allow for players to explore parts of the play area that were previously inaccessible. In terms of execution however, there is very little left to go back to, and the expanded arsenal doesn't necessarily need to be implemented in combat. Striking visuals aside, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet doesn't have the depth to be mentioned in the same breath as a quality "Metroidvania" title.

From Dust Review (X360) – The gods control the elements, but can’t reign in the people

I'll state this for the record: I have never enjoyed playing a god game, let alone any strategy game on a console. I've never played an instalment of the Populous franchise, and I didn't enjoy my time with Black & White. That makes the purchase of From Dust somewhat uncharacteristic for me, but I took the plunge on account of the striking art direction and – in all honesty – the fact that it's part of the Summer of Arcade promotion. In some ways the gambit has paid off, but shelve any illusions that From Dust is the first strategy game to work properly with a control pad. 

Neon Wasteland: How to Break an Honest Heart

First of all, an apology to the Bitmob staff – particularly Dan "Shoe" Hsu who awarded me with the download that is the subject of this post – for ignoring a lesson from my childhood: when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. Last month, I disclosed that I had assumed that I had to finish the Fallout: New Vegas' main quest line in order to have a chance of surviving the downloadable expansion, Honest Hearts. Upon deciding the fate of New Vegas however, I learned that there's no going back. It probably would have made sense to consult a resource like the Fallout Wiki, however I piggishly insisted on slogging it out alone. 

Bastion Review (X360) – Tell me how the world ends

When I first heard that former Gamespot editor, Greg Kasavin was abandoning journalism in order to pursue a career in game design I felt conflicted. One one hand, one of the few critics that I trusted (read: agreed with often) would no longer be offering their opinion for public consumption. On the other, someone who had spent over ten years assessing videogames would now be in the business of making them; seeing the flaws in a decade's worth of titles could potentially give him the insight to make a "perfect" game. Bastion may not be perfect, but it is one of the finest games available on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Developer Supergiant Games' first effort catalogues the adventures of a hero referred to only as "The Kid," who investigates the catastrophic event known as "The Calamity." 

Bastion: Innovation in Narration

Bastion – the first offering from the Xbox Live Arcade’s “Summer of Arcade” promotion -oozes charm. Its visuals and isometric perspective hark back to classic RPGs like The Adventures of Alundra and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The combat system and other gameplay mechanics also appear to be reminiscent of Action RPGs released in the nineties. Innovation lies in the game’s sound design though. Not necessarily in the sound effects or the contemporary soundtrack, but in the use of a narrator.

Collector’s Editions: Lots of dollars, not much sense

There's only one collectors edition (CE) that I've purchased that has actually provided value for money. Back when the concept was still in its infancy – in Australia, at least; few made it to our shores early on – the limited edition package for Bioshock had it all: a figurine, soundtrack, the game and a steel bookcase. Even better, it was no more expensive than the standard game. As a matter of fact, I purchased it for about twenty dollars less than the retail price of the game alone. 

F.E.A.R 3 Review (PS3) – Nothing to fear, but plenty to play for

Until just recently, I'd never finished a single installment of the F.E.A.R trilogy. I'd played each of them: bloody corridors, shotguns of some renown, and scary little girls, but the first two parts couldn't sustain my interest. Then came F.3.A.R or Fthreear as it's known in some cultures; it may not be the best looking shooter on the market, but it does enough things differently to be worth a try. Read on for my thoughts on the conclusion to a saga that I've never really been invested in. 

Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony Review (PC): Bullet hell heaven for the shmup-impaired

If there's one genre that's never really endeared itself to me, it's the Shoot 'em-up. Whether you referred to these games as shmups or bullet hell, they all appeared and played the same to me. Even industry darlings like Ikaruga failed to engage me, so why bother sampling anything else that the genre has to offer ever again? I'm not sure if it was the pixel art, the testimonial from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, or some beautiful screenshots, either way Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony ended up as a purchase during the Steam Summer Camp Sale. There is a plot woven amongst the progressively-hellish levels, but it's hard to care for it when you've just spent the last three to five minutes dodging and shooting for your life.

The High Horse Audit 2011, Part 1: The Best 5 Games of 2011 (so far)

It's that time of the year again. Another financial year has come to an end, and gamers are left to ponder what has been a heavily-populated release calendar. For my part, I'm happy to advise you of what I believe to be the best five games I've played so far this year. As with last year's strenuous auditing, it's important that you're aware of the following limitations:

Battle of the Bargain Bulge: My wallet’s retreat from Steam’s Summer Camp Sale

There are two times in a calendar year that I've come to fear. Times when reason is discarded on the promise of unbeatable prices, on all but the most recent of releases. I'm talking of course about Steam's two major sales: one in summer, one for the Holiday season, both causing unspeakable damage to the budgets and resolves of all but the most frugal of gamers. Now these sales are particularly painful for me because I am undisciplined and anything but frugal. People talk about their "pile of shame," but most can rest easy in the knowledge that their towers will be eclipsed by my quarry of unplayed videogames. I wish I could say that it was just digital acquisitions, but my desire to consume has led to a tangible and intangible mass of gaming gluttony. A mass that is only set to grow in size after some of the unbelievable offers that I’ve seen in the first few days of the Summer Camp bonanza.

Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars (3DS) Review – Recycled Brick House

The original Lego Star Wars was somewhat of a revelation. Combining beat 'em up gameplay with simplistic puzzles and a unique brand of speechless humour, it managed to rise above the assertions usually made against licensed games. In that respect, it was amazing because it had to emerge from the shadows of two prominent licenses; Star Wars games had a reasonable strike rate, but Lego games would drift towards awful more often than not. Like any popular premise however, its spread was of pandemic proportion: Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, even Batman got the Lego treatment. That and sequels on multiple platforms all but ensured that the Lego "Insert popular intellectual property here," formula would begin to grate on me and by extension (I assume; ha!), most gamers. Lego Star Wars III: The Clone Wars marks the first time that I've engaged with the brick building phenomenon since the listless Lego Indiana Jones. It also marks the first time that I've played an instalment of the series on a portable. With all that in mind, read on to see whether the Lego games have evolved or continued their slow, defiantly-successful demise. 

The Demo Downlow: Sonic Generations and El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

Supervising my dog's convalescence made for a pretty rough weekend, but when he did finally sleep, I managed to fit in quite a bit of game time. I could dedicate yet another post to inFamous, as I have nearly completed an evil playthrough on Hard difficulty, but it's time my writing escaped from the sandbox. In between bouts of my powerfully-frustrating endeavour to experience Cole McGrath's adventure in its entirety, I fit in some portable retro goodness and multiple trials of two somewhat-disappointing demos. It's not like I expected anything much from Sonic Generations but El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron is one of those games that the (gaming) media will be talking about for years to come. Expect to hear the words "cult hit," "sleeper hit," and "under-rated," thrown around with gay abandon when this Old Testament-inspired title is discussed in lists that typically appear on IGN and Gameinformer.  

Ageing Gracefully: The 3DS Virtual Console and Nostalgia’s Warm Embrace

E3 2006 was rough for Sony fanboys, even more so for those from Australia. A $599 US dollar price tag for the Playstation 3 meant that it would cost about $1000 for Aussies to see Sony's vision for next generation console gaming. There wasn't any hint of a worthwhile launch line-up either, with Genji and a stripped-down Gran Turismo placed in front of the gaming media's harsh spotlight. For me this meant one of two things:

inFamous 2 Review (PS3) – Fight and Flight in the Big Easy

The original inFamous was an interesting beast. It started off strong: with an original aesthetic, solid third-person shooting and exploratory platforming but lost it's way into the second act. The painfully-frustrating side quests, inconsistent difficulty and almost complete lack of pacing caused me to lose interest (although I did return one year on to finally complete it). Cole McGrath was an interesting protagonist, he wasn't muscle-bound, foul-mouthed or overly arrogant: he seemed human. The supporting cast was nowhere near as strong however, with Zeke Dunbar ranking as one of the most irritating and disingenuous characters I've come across. Moya and Trish also failed to be overly endearing and their fates didn't mean a great deal to me while playing as a hero or villain. Funnily enough though, upon announcing the sequel, developers Sucker Punch opted to make changes to the protagonist's look in order for him to appeal to a broader audience. Thankfully, the fans (and trolls) protested, and Cole was again returned to a gritty, almost ugly state. After some time with the beta, I had feared that inFamous 2 would be a clumsy mess: the camera hugged the player too tightly, and New Marais was nowhere near as cold and desolate as Empire City. Thankfully, those fears were unqualified and the game proved to be a great sequel, and a brilliant sandbox superhero game in its own right. inFamous 2 continues to chronicle Cole's battle against "The Beast," which is tearing a destructive path down the East Coast of the United States. Read on for more thoughts on superpowers, inconsistent plot and pacing, deadly firearms and an expansive new environment.

Dead or Alive: Dimensions (3DS) Review – The Ninja Report

For someone who has always loved fighting games, it took a long time for me to appreciate the Dead or Alive series for anything more than its reality-defying breast physics. As far as fighters went, it never seemed to have a cohesive narrative, there was a limited roster, and the fighting seemed simplistic. The only thing that truly kept me coming back was the lovingly-rendered, idealized female character models and – from the second installment – spectacular, multi-stage environments which allowed players to create some cringe-worthy falls and spills. It wasn't until Dead or Alive 4 that I began to see the inner-beauty of this beautiful fighting beast though; a counter-heavy, ferociously-quick style of combat that generated as much heat and intensity as the curvaceous women that the series was renowned for. Unfortunately, we haven't seen any Dead or Alive game that has focused on anything other than the ladies since the launch of the Xbox 360. After a small delay, Tecmo Koei have thankfully bucked this trend with Dead or Alive: Dimensions that acts as an anthology for this deceptively-deep fighting franchise.

Barely Legal: Australia, Games and Moral Panic

The Australian Office of Film and Literature Classification has failed consumers yet again…depending on how far you buy into the controversy surrounding Dead of Alive: Dimensions. The office rated the game, which allows players to earn figurines of female characters who are under 18 years of age and take voyeuristic photos of them, PG for mild violence and sexualized gameplay.

Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition (3DS) Review – Fighting Fatigue

Despite what I've read in recent times, I don't believe the 3DS is a failure. I don't even think that the system launch was a failure. Sure the software lineup was fairly underwhelming, but when you sell a few million units in just over a month, you'd find it hard to argue that Nintendo has failed by any stretch of the imagination. Under-performed? Undoubtedly, but there have been many a console with a sub-par list of launch titles. Super Street Fighter IV: 3D Edition however, is one the undeniable successes of the Nintendo 3DS launch, being the most comprehensive iteration in the fighting franchise's recent history.

For the King to Earn His Crown

For those who purchased Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition (twice in my case; I know I have a problem, but at least it was for two different platforms!), the demo version of Duke Nukem Forever was made available for download on Friday. I wasn't able to get my hands on it until today, but I have no doubt that the impression made would not have been much different had I played it any time earlier.

Neon Wasteland: Against the Odds

Despite the fact that Fallout: New Vegas is somewhat broken, there is still some fun to be had; sometimes on account of sheer luck, or, as in another particular instance, some questionable physics come into play. Either way, let me regail you with two tales of defying certain demise thanks to a little good fortune (or some busted game design, whatever you want to attribute it to).

Neon Wasteland: Returning to New Vegas

Thanks to the lovely people at Bitmob, I was afforded the latest expansion to Fallout: New Vegas on the condition that I write about my experience with the downloadable prize. While I can never pass up a free game (or an expansion as it were), I was somewhat hesitant to re-engage with Obsidian's buggy follow-up to what is one of the better role-playing games available on this generation of console hardware in Fallout 3.

Crysis 2 Review (PS3) – Bubblegum action man trying to play the scientist

I only first played the original Crysis a few months ago. Released in 2007 with system specifications that still challenge modern hardware configurations, I desperately wanted to try it, but knew that it could potentially kill my previous, humble laptop. Even with a new machine – with what I thought were solid components – I couldn't run the game at anywhere near its highest settings.  Developers Crytek have put themselves in the business of creating technically-stunning first person shooters that set the benchmark for performance on current PC hardware. They even reduced my previous desktop unit to a stuttering, steaming pile of metallic excrement with their first effort, Far Cry the better part of a decade ago. With the announcement that Crysis 2 would be released on consoles and PC, I was finally confident that I could experience a Crytek game without any fear of a system collapsing. Needless to say, I've been waiting since 2004 to experience a game of this pedigree.

Creator Complex

I'm in the midst of grappling with some disease of alien design and in times of ill health I often turn to the gaming equivalent of comfort food. For me, that usually includes sandbox action games and in this case, I've turned to inFamous to prime myself for the upcoming sequel. If you had to ask why I opt for the – at times – paralyzing freedom of games from this genre, I'd day say that it has a lot to do with being able to wander amongst the living; something that can't be done in the throes of fever.

The Skin-Deep Doctrine

Saint's Row was an essential title for those trying to avoid the post-launch blues with the Xbox 360. Filling the sandbox action void on Microsoft's new console would ensure some haphazard consumers would purchase the game regardless of acclaim; however it managed to be a good enough game in its own right to earn a place in many gamers' collections and as well as make a sequel inevitable. There were even some elements in this Grand Theft Auto Too that Rockstar had not thought – or not been able – to implement previously. These were in the form of the relatively minor free-aim shooting while driving, to the time-consuming and surprisingly-addictive multiplayer component that offered both co-op and competitive play.

Shining Example

Currently I'm investing any spare time playing the Capture the Leader match type in the Gears of War 3 beta. After witnessing more than a few matches thrown away by players thrust at random into the leader role, I reflected on a lesson learned during a youth spent in front of a Sega Mega Drive.