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There are not enough games that are powered by music. I don’t mean the games where you play or dance to a list of pre-selected songs, but games where you play against the music tracks you load in. Beat Hazard and Audiosurf are great examples of this, as each session is generated by the tempo and overall complexity of the song you chose. Drive Any Track (DAT) from FOAM Entertainment and Firebrand Games is an excellent addition to the scarce genre of music powered games. DAT features very fast paced, frantic at times, gameplay with amazingly tight controls and visuals that will captivate anyone playing or watching. Fueled by the MEGA (Music Environment Gaming Algorithm) Engine, this Early Access game has everything it needs to become among the greatest music based indie games.

Upon launching DAT, you are presented with a menu that is very easy to navigate and makes it quick to get into the action. You choose your song, pick a vehicle to race with and, voila, you’re racing your music.

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A straight to the point menu. Clicking on “New Track” brings up a window to navigate to your music.

I have to admit, when I loaded up my first song into the game I was not immediately sold on it. Unlike most racing games where you start the race idling, you are launched immediately at top speed into a three-beat countdown in time with the song. I chose a ridiculously fast Happy Hardcore song so this caught me way off guard. I could not read the on-screen instructions as I was distracted with my runaway vehicle and very pretty flashing colors everywhere. On top of this I was failing to grasp the controls because I think I was trying to play it like Mario Kart which I quickly learned, you cannot do. I was hitting every barrier and launching off the track with every jump and it was not until about half way through my first song where I figured out what you had to do. Also, dropping use of the keyboard and plugging in an Xbox controller to play made me finally understand how the game handles.

There are a series of electrified lines that are traveling the track with you, which represent the “Sync” of the song. If you slow down by hitting barriers or walls you will fall behind the first Sync area, which is between the first two Sync lines. This means you are a bar behind the song and will earn less points. When you either fall too far out of sync, wipe out or fly off the track, the game will re-sync you just behind the first two sync lines which is a very welcome feature since trying to catch up to the sync lines would otherwise be near impossible. Along the tracks there are small boxes that, when hit, fill a meter displayed on your vehicle which represents your boost ability. When the meter is filled you can propel yourself forward with a button press to catch up with the sync lines or launch ahead into the “Super Sync” area, which gains you more points. The stay-in-sync gameplay is very well implemented and is incredibly fun.

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Falling out of sync after hitting a barrier. You can see the first sync line further down the track.

Without realizing it I ended up playing DAT for four straight hours after my first song and I was hooked. DAT  is very easy to get lost in. The track pulses along with the beat, and most genres of songs have their own beautiful visual aesthetic. The actual handling of the driving feels really responsive and the drifting works very well and is similar to drifting in the Gran Turismo games.

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Blue and purple elongated hexagon style for Dance and Classical songs.

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Yellow and orange block style for Rap, Hip Hop and Jazz songs.

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Black and red angled style for Rock and Metal songs

The track, as far as I can tell, is loosely generated on the song provided. However, there were many times where there was a barrier, loop, spiral or jump section that I couldn’t really place in the song as a drop or an upbeat section. I think it works better for some songs over others. Either way, because you are driving so fast on these tracks, the fact that they sometimes don’t match to the song isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You need to stay very alert when playing as there are many times where twitch reaction is required to save yourself, for better or for worse. Due to the snaking of the track and the camera placement, it is sometime impossible to see or react in time to avoid barriers or jumps in front of you. Infrequently there will also be jumps that, based on your trajectory, force you to land on barriers, fall through a jump gap or launch you into the abyss as the track turns sharply either direction immediately after the jump. There were a couple of times that I also landed so hard after descending from a jump that the shock flipped my car upside down causing me to wipe out. These are more of a common occurrence in higher than three star difficulty tracks and can be pretty frustrating, especially when you are doing very well on a song and something unfair messes up your run.

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Is there a barrier ahead? Who knows!

Along with the Boost Boxes, there are coins that litter the track. You are awarded the coins you snag during the race plus additional coins at completion of the track.

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My cash out of coins after a race. I’m rich!

Coins are used to purchase additional vehicles or style packs for each vehicle in the garage. I like the inclusion of multiple vehicles and the ability to change their appearance although I could not figure out if the differing vehicles had unique attributes. They all felt the same when handling them and the speeds felt identical as well. Either way, there is a plethora of immaculately designed vehicles ranging from a sports car, to an SUV, to a pick-up truck.

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Using my coins to buy a new car! Exciting!

At the end of a race you are awarded experience which goes towards your in-game level. It was unapparent to me what the point of the leveling system was. There is a possibility that it will be used for ranking in the highscore leaderboard feature that is already implemented. I love the inclusion of the leaderboard as it immediately makes the game competitive. Every song that has a track generated for the first time will also have the name of the user who created it. This is the same track that everyone who plays the song will race on. Each track has a worldwide top five ranking. If you achieve the highest score on the track, the game will generate a ghost of your race and put in online for everyone to see or race against. One thing to note about the ghost is it is completely opaque. I ran into a couple instances where a ghost obstructed my view from a jump or barrier making me hit it or wipe out. Lowering the opacity of the ghost would help this tremendously.

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Opaque ghost threatens your eyesight.

Another really neat feature is the first person mode while racing. Tapping the Y button on the Xbox controller enables this mode which allows for an entirely new playing style. The first person mode feels faster than the regular play because you are closer to the ground but is just as gorgeous.

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First person mode in its finest.

There is one major drawback to the first person play. The camera spins and angles itself with the car making some jumps and spirals to be very confusing and incredibly tough to land as the track goes out of sight. If the developers fix it so that the camera will always point towards the ground when you are airborne, you would easily be able to recover and land safely on the track.

Drive Any Track is an incredibly fun thrill ride. FOAM Entertainment and Firebrand Games have created a welcome addition to the music powered genre of games. It has already offered me hours upon hours of fun gameplay, and I will probably continue replaying it for a very long time; especially because the full version is targeted for release later this year with even more features. I look forward to the future of this game after a few of the aforementioned things have been fixed and the community becomes involved with the feedback process. The foundation has been set and is as strong as it possibly can be. If you like music based gameplay, you need to pick this gem up.

Review Score: 8/10

Pros:

  • Very fast and fun racing gameplay
  • Tight driving and drifting controls
  • Sync gameplay feature implemented very well
  • Beautiful graphics that differ between other games
  • Online leaderboard, ranking system and race against ghosts
  • Infinitely replayable as long as you have music to play with

Cons:

  • Camera placement makes for some unfair disadvantages
  • Some jumps lead to unavoidable wipe outs
  • First person camera is broken
  • Ghosts can obstruct your vision of the track
  • Leveling up has no point?

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7 Wonders 3 (DS)7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven
Available for Nintendo DS
Game Developer and Publisher: MumboJumbo
Release date: December 3, 2011


Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Review summary:
7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven sends players across the globe with traditional match-3 brick breaking fun, but wait – there’s a refreshing new twist! Guiding a Keystone through portals with a new revolving board gameplay mechanic adds a new layer of challenge. By making matches across varying boards and keeping in mind that you can twist the board to make combos, players will need be creative in this latest match-3 wonder. The boards and rune pieces feel a bit small on the DS screen, power-ups are few, and gameplay modes are fairly limited. Still, if you enjoy match-3 games and want a new layer of challenge, give 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven a spin to feed your match-making hunger.

7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven review:

MumboJumbo’s signature match-3 puzzle game returns for a new chapter for the Nintendo DS in 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven. The basic rule of play is to match three or more like-colored rune pieces to clear a tile beneath them. The player must completely break away the tiles to clear the level. But in 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven, players will have a new task to complete as the challenge evolves to a new level.

7 Wonders 3 (DS)7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven sends players and their background builders to complete nine distinct wonders of the world. The top DS screen shows the activity of builders, score and remaining time to complete the level. On the normal setting, the time and amount of matches possible are pretty forgiving, so the player won’t feel the pressure in that sense. On the bottom is where the rune-swipe matching action happens, and the new arrow controls are placed to turn the revolving board.

Each level has a differently shaped grid layout board, which must be cleared completely by matching like-colored runes. The rune pieces are easy to match by their distinct color, but they feel pretty small on the DS screen. Clearing runes in more than three matches or combos will release horizontal clearing Ice Ball power-ups (4 matches), Fire Ball power-ups (5 matches) or a Dice Bonus (when 4 power-ups are used). The variety of power-ups are limited in this game, but you will find them essential to clear out some hard to reach tiles. Once all tiles are cleared, players will experience the new puzzle element to 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven.

Now here comes the fun, original part of 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven. Upon clearing all tiles via match-making, a 7 Wonders Keystone will appear, along with a dotted path. The goal is to get the Keystone into a designated Key Hole. Players will need to clear the runes beneath the Keystone, as well as turn the board using the L/R buttons or arrows on the right side of the screen. I definitely preferred the L/R buttons rather than using the on-screen arrows. Guiding the Keystone to the Key Hole adds a clever new puzzle element to the game. Paths become more complex, which are further impeded by portals and locked Key Holes that must be cleared by matching a designated rune color. Getting to the Keystone & Key Hole challenge part becomes the highlight of 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven. There is another compass matching element that comes into play after getting three runes, which advances the player to the next region on the map. It’s a really simple element which doesn’t add too much to the game.

7 Wonders 3 (DS)Puzzle gamers will find 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven worth diving into for its new Keystone challenges. There are only Story and Free Play (replaying completed levels) game modes, so replay value is somewhat limited. Three player slots allow you to share save spots with other friends or family, which is great because you can pretty much bet once others see you playing the game, they will want to get in on the action too. 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven is a universally welcoming game, for experienced or casual players. For anyone who thinks the match-3 game cannot be amped-up, 7 Wonders: Treasures of Seven breaks new ground with a fun and unique twist.

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Thanks to MumboJumbo Games for making this review possible!

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Real Steel (XBLA, PSN) from Yuke's

Real Steel
Available for Xbox 360 (XBLA) and PS3 (PSN)
Game Developer: Yuke’s
Release Date: October 12, 2011 on XBLA, October 18, 2011 on PSN
Official website: realsteelgame.com

Review summary:
Real Steel is the videogame adaptation of the recent Hugh Jackman movie of the same name. The movie seems to have been well received but unfortunately (as happens all too often) the game is mainly a bucket of bolts. The graphics are sub-par, even for a downloadable game, and the DLC options scream “gimme your money.”

Game rating:

2 out of 5 stars

Read the full review here.

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Dead Island

Dead IslandDead Island
Available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Game Developer: Techland
Publisher: Deep Silver
Release date: September 6, 2011
Official website: www.deadislandgame.com


Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Dead Island review summary:
Dead Island‘s disaster-like tone and daylight setting are unique in the world of zombie video games. The scarcity of firearms and primarily melee based gameplay forces players to get up close and personal with some of the most powerful zombies ever created in a game. A weapon crafting system and RPG leveling system makes players more effective fighters over the course of the 30+ hour campaign, but players never become super powerful. The first-person perspective is limiting in some situations, especially when driving a vehicle, but small details make the overall experience more immersive than other games on the market. A frustrating respawn system does make areas of the game more difficult than they should be but a group of players working together through the main campaign will find one of the most rewarding cooperative experiences available on consoles this year.

Read the full review here.

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Deus Ex Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Game Developer: Eidos-Montreal
Game Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Official website: www.deusex.com

Review summary:
Deus Ex: Human Revolution continues the sci-fi RPG experience with heavy doses of stealth action and first-person shooter mechanics. Customization mechanics compliment Adam Jensen’s augmentations and alter gameplay decisions and experiences. The excellent soundtrack and visual presentation within the game make Deus Ex: Human Revolution enjoyable but the experience can be clouded by shoddy voice acting and inconsistent AI at times. Read the full review to learn why this game is still worth your hard earned penny, and see why Deus Ex: Human Revolution kicks off this year’s AAA game releases.

Game rating:

4.5 out of 5 stars

Read the full review here.

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