Sharkoon X-tatic SP: Players only love you when you’re playing.



The slowride for headsets comes in many forms, colors and prices.  Strict music listening headphones of the 60s and 70s were the pinnacle of those who could not afford the high end hi-fi speaker sets of the vinyl era.  Couldn’t drop 5gs per speaker back when minimum wage was $1.25/hr; not a problem.  Save some cash for a nice pair of Koss Pro 4AA, sit in your dad’s recliner, and drift off into the pre-MTV age of listening to music.  Fast forward to the 80s and 90s, and a rebalance on price and access to what people accept as normal for speaker sets, even for your backwoods hillbillies to be able to afford speakers for their wizard picture machine and wax spinning echo maker, came into being.

Headphones have since fallen to the wayside except for mp3 players and headsets.  One needs mobility while “attempting” to sacrifice little on sound quality.  The other, known for its good looks and snazzy comebacks thanks to Judy one of the Time Life Operators, is used for its ability to not only receive but to send sound through magical tin cans strung together at speeds that shake the imagination when compared to your pappy’s day of the telegraph, van de graaff, and spiral graphs.  Used for Skyping, chat roulette, and other various conferencing business, headsets are a staple of the multiplayer game industry.  Whether it’s highly competitive FPSers, MMOs, Koreans battling each other on GOMtv, or casual PUGs full of trash talk that your mother hopefully never finds out about, headsets have become a great communication peripheral to complement multiplay of any sort.  

Recently while attempting the legendary difficulty in Halo: Reach with a friend, it became quite apparent that Xbox supplied headsets are of poor quality.  Even though we had trudged through and completed one of the hardest campaigns in a while, the experience wasn’t the best as far as teamwork communication was harder to decode than a Sherlock Holmes Dancing Men Cipher.  After some frolicking on the interwebs it became apparent that choices for the Xbox specifically were few and far between.  The main reason for the limited choices, even though the system has multiple usb ports used for many other peripherals, is that the headsets have to be plugged into the tiny 2.5 mm headphone jack on the wireless controllers.  A simple rule to follow without delving deep into hi-fi electronic theory, the larger the plug/port, the more data and consistent signal can be transmitted/received.  Being stuck with a crappy 2.5 mm port contributes to why few companies have attempted to mass produce a choice for a third party headset and makes sifting through the spare choices worse than finding good acting in a Bert I Gordon movie.  

If you’re using different devices to make up for quality issues, wanting to improve your multiplayer communication experience, sick of putting up with mediocrity, or have already thrown your headset into a Will it Blend video, the idea of purchasing a third party headset has probably popped into your head.          

turtle-beach-ear-force-x41Turtle Beach sets are among the most plentiful and vary quite a bit in reviews and prices for different models.  Some common problems arose after reading all the reviews and trending the data.  Early models are prone to physically breaking, hard to find due to discontinuations, or uncomfortable to wear for extended periods much like the women of America’s Top Model.  Most recent models have changed from the wired usb powered types to using an IR plugin into the Xbox directly in order to keep the leash on Ol’ Yeller.  Using this type of wireless signal can lead to issues with the latest TV and other similar entertainment technology since both use arrays of signals within the same frequencies.  Many of the recent models are prone to annoying feedback from other devices’ background noise.  Other companies such as Madcatz have no complaints but are on the rich and famous side of price soaring into the region of a standalone Xbox.

Eventually I landed on the company Sharkoon.  At the time what I had found was the chance to pre-order a new headset: the Sharkoon X-tatic SP.  A different model, the X-Static Digital, had been out for some time but fell into the “high in price” category.  All of the previous reviews of the X-Static Digital were good and sounded better than any of the Turtle Beach.  So I took a leap of faith and pre-ordered the Sharkoon X-tatic SP crossing my fingers to the point of blisters.

After 100 hours of use I was quite surprised as to how well the Sharkoon X-tatic SP held up to my expectations for the $60 price tag on Amazon.  Here’s a quick list of pros and cons for the headset:

Sharkoon-X-Tatic-SPPros -

Sound Quality -  The ear speakers are very solidly designed and output high and low ranges with excellence.  Whether it’s the vibratos of David Crosby’s Laughing or the precise quiet footsteps of an enemy running around the corner in Call of Duty: Black Ops, the SP delivers.  The foam around the ears is very good at external noise cancellation to the point that I could not hear a frustrated wife talking from three feet away while listening to music or gaming.  The microphone also outputs sound with distinct clarity on Xbox and PC due to a small amplifier.


-  With eight hour spans of wearing the headset I was surprised to find that my head didn’t have the feel of a giant’s hand crush when taking it off.  The foam material around the ear is a bit more durable, quiet when moving the headset around on your head, and side pressure against the head is light.  The only thing that is a bit of an issue with comfort is that if sitting at maximum range with the headset for extended periods, one’s neck with begin to be sore from a slight pull from the cord.  Nothing like having a sore neck of all things to remind the player to take a break from gaming. 

Usability -  One very nice feature for the SP is its ability to be used with Xbox, PS3, or PC with proper adapters and a slight flick of a switch.  This cross-console/PC option is a bonus but may be unnecessary for those specifically looking for an Xbox headset. 

Price Tag -  It’s a price some people would complain about, but after researching which headsets are worth their weight in gold, the Sharkoon X-tatic SP redeems itself beyond the going Cash for Gold rate.


Cons -  

Corded Anchor -  It is not wireless.  This saves the user from noise feedback since there is not a wireless signal but much like the dreaded nightmares of the Game Cube cord length, you may feel like you’re sitting in the front row at the movie theater with a 70” TV and a 10 foot length of the cord.  With the Xbox, an extra wire connected to the controller adds to a corded mess for those who enjoy moving around to duck, bob, and weave from digital effects as they play.

Mic -  Without having mannequin heads of all shapes and sizes, and even more depressing since Ted Danson’s head isn’t readily available for comparisons, the length of the microphone didn’t exactly end directly in front of my mouth.  This gives the headset a more Bluetooth feel and may pick up on ambient sound a little more than some prefer especially when mommy’s yelling to finish your homework.  Sensitivity threshold is slightly higher than I would like in order to stay quiet while gaming at night.  Also since the mic is detachable, this creates another piece to the large mess of parts on this headset. 

Availability – This is of course like most of the capitalistic world of today available online but brick and mortar attempts at tracking down this headset may be rough as Gamestop seems to be one of the few stores to carry the headset.  Save on gas and order online.

Overall the Sharkoon X-tatic SP is a great addition to any multiplayer gaming experience.  For a reasonable price, reliability, sound quality and comfort the SP will not be a disappointment until you hear what people are actually saying to you.  

Fleetwood Mac – Dreams


2010 year end video game reviews:

Restarting offtrack starcraft betting, expanding on previous success, delving into the three dimensional controllers, and revitalizing former glory hounds didn’t exactly begin 2010 but it did end that way.  2010 showed a new change in holiday season releases pushing back games like Gears of War 3 into 2011 to keep away from the mix of powerhouse holiday releases creating a more even set of releases.  This is probably a bit more coincidental with the 2012 end of days paranoia or prevalent consumer practices when consoles have reached their peak in their era.  If your Christmas stocking this year wasn’t filled with at least one blockbuster, coaly disappointment is all that’s left to be eaten for there was no lack of choices.  Without further ado, here are some quick reviews of games from 2010. 


Quantum of Solace – 5 hour completion.  Rough controls.  Alpha Protocolish looks at times and overall quite bland.  Odd non-matchup to movie.  Cover system buggy or annoying (if kneeling behind cover and you break cover you go straight to standing up instead of remaining kneeling).  Usual made from movie disappointment.  Skip at all costs.    RATING: {–3.0}

504x_armyArmy of Two: 40th Day – 10 hour completion.  Simple and easy controls.  Fun co-op with scaling difficulty.  No save system for partners progress/cash in splitscreen? (unless they are signed in but it doesn’t tell you to).  Storyline was basic yet choices allow for at least a second play through.  Character customization such as mask creation from online is a nice addition.  One of the better early releases of 2010 and one of the few games where co-op is needed rather than playing single player.  RATING: {4.0}

Spinter Cell: Conviction -  When a series changes its ideals and style to fit a wider audience, it tends to lose some of the magic in the progress.  Where the music industry has lost touch with music, Ubisoft has began to focus on storyline presentation and making the almighty dollar instead of making the extremely difficult, trophy under the belt, award winner.  Still a fun 3rd person shooter even if anonymity has been lost in translation, expect to play once and never to play again.  RATING: {5.0}  [Previous Review]  

Alpha Protocol -  When companies like Obsidian branch out to attempt something new they are taking a chance and with Alpha Protocol they failed much like typical UPN comedies of the 90s.  All the pieces are there but bugginess and odd voice acting overshadow the quality greats such as the reactive dialogue system, storyline, and black market character customization.  Too bad networks like CBS still seem to use laugh tracks because even UPN realized that doesn’t work and neither did Alpha Protocol.  RATING: {1.0}  [Previous Review]    

Dragon Age: Origins Awakening -  This standalone expansion was a reminder that things such as expansions aren’t necessary to play and do not always meet eye to eye with their former colleague.  Origins was this type of release and at the time was more about no other releases rather than quality.  Skip and wait for the second title coming next year unless the original was entrancing to the heart.  RATING: {3.5}  [Previous Review] 

bioshock_2Bioshock 2 – In rare occasions the way a game looks and plays match and are above levels that an average game can barely reach.  In the case of Bioshock 2 it is slightly less of a shock as the first but still well worth playing at least once especially in preparation for Bioshock Infinite.  Big Sisters and polished looks are improvements over the first but the storyline is a bit of a departure.  Multiplayer is not the high point again so stick with a need to rent if anything.  Jules Verne, Jacques Cousteau, Steve Zissou and Scuba Steve approved.  RATING: {8.0}  [Previous Review] 

Final Fantasy XIII -  A radical change in relation to previous Final Fantasy games, XIII has taken my personal relationship with Square-Enix to the point of a new low.  Where others may attempt to play it in a classic manner, the fact that the battles are real-time places the player at a disadvantage if not auto-attacking in a very boring manner.  An item creation system that in the end is unnecessarily unused leaves the game playing out more as a movie than a game made even worse due to the most linear exploration for a Final Fantasy game yet.  If only Square-Enix could get their act together a bit more in their MMOs, I may revaluate the RPG relationship again.  Dues Ex 2 coming out in 2011 gives them another chance to sway anyone in their non-RPG realm which has started to blossom lately in comparison to their classic series.   RATING: {3.0}  [Previous Review]

Mass-Effect-21Mass Effect 2 – With this release, Bioware has truly become a shining leader in RPG releases.  A storyline written by actual certified writers with similarities that rival the X-Files and a sequel that matches the original in such a quality manner that it begins to feel like an MMO expansion, Mass Effect 2 is quite the must play.  The only downside is a bit of overzealous DLC that tends to add up in the wallet region even if each has a chocolaty nougat center.  Throughout 2011 leading up to the third release, we’ve been promised addition DLC matching the story between the second and third so until then a second play through hopefully saving all the companions is not a bad idea.  (X-Play’s game of the year for 2010.) RATING: {9.5}  [Previous Review] 

Dead Rising 2 -  Weapon creation, connecting storyline, and easier to rescue survivors are some of the best improvements for DR2 while attempting to complete it within 10 – 15 hours.  The overall difficulty seems easier than the first but aiming and control ease might have something to do with this.  The multiple endings are available again for an extra play through or two and DLC is scheduled for release later in 2011.  Cutscene meshing is well done but occasional over the top voice acting is sprinkled in for cheesy zombie movie reminiscing.  If zombies or the original are your forte` then add DR2 to the playlist for a rental in 2011.  RATING: {6.5}

Medal_of_Honor_Tier1Medal of Honor -  As far as single player FPSers are concerned, Call of Duty is quite experienced for giving the player an emotional connection to the characters.  MoH is no exception and makes for the best single player reality FPS game of the year.  MoH still suffers from the feeling of constant spawning of enemies that use the same running patterns to reach the player, but this isn’t nearly as obtusely ignorant as the multiplayer is concerned.  If you are into nail scratching chalkboards then the MoH is for you as the hype, TV commercials, and promises pierce straight to a deep place of confusion since it is done so poorly.  Respawning can be a huge annoyance when outnumbered and the flow of battles feel jerky and unsmooth making multiplayer pale in comparison to MW.  Rent for just the single player.  RATING: {5.5}

Halo-Reach-ReviewHalo: Reach -  The other FPS single player game that is better but set in the realm of Sci-fi is Halo: Reach.  An overhaul of a game that is very similar to the first release with storyline, level design, and the feeling of a multi-world war is accomplished quite well in H:R.  Both single and mulitplay are beacons as everything has been revamped toward improvements.  Single player can be done in co-op modes and is by far the best co-op game of the year meshing beautiful cutscenes and just the right amount of difficulty to keep the challenge that the first Halo had.  Multiplayer has additional character unlocks and customization and new game modes to expand on keeping multiple games from getting repetitive.  As long as one can stand the Sci-fi environment that is less like Dune but more like Stargate, H:R is a very enjoyable game all-around.  RATING: {9.5}

Fable 3 – Lionhead Studios and their head Peter Molyneux have quite a knack for Monty Python references as well as creating a very unique RPG.  Taking a progressive character that develops physically to the choices the player makes, Lionhead has pushed this idea further making weapons and a whole kingdom that does the same.  The rest of the game is similar to the previous two which means that the end comes at an abrupt unwanted time when one wants more and the co-op suffers from camera and character distance trouble.  Anyone who enjoyed the first two for their British personality will again find solace in Fable 3.  RATING: {5.0} 

fall-14Fallout 3: New Vegas -  An intriguing release with a behind the scenes checkered company past doesn’t phase this game.  With many similarities to Fallout 3, this game is more appealing to those that played the turn-based originals with many turns and twists connecting the older games to this one.  At times the game is buggy and on the consoles will be subject to freezes, especially outside of New Vegas, but those problems become overlooked when the depth of large scale questlines and timing of when and what order those quests are completed are taken into consideration.  A large amount of replayability is very likely but the 50-100 hour completion time (coinciding with the amount of exploration you undertake) may be overwhelming for the meek and merry.  My favorite release of the year and a definite must play.  Additional DLC will be arriving in 2011.  Just be ready for your tongue to get used to the taste of a good ol’ sarsaparilla.  RATING: {8.0}   

Modern Warfare 2: Black Ops -  2008-2010 high school yearbooks were signed with begrudgingly sly comments of kill to death ratios all because of MW2.  But since then corporate changes occurred without surface flashiness when Treyarch played smoke and mirror games with commercials of Kobe Bryant and Jimmy Kimmel in order to hit record sales.  Minus the change in the creation guard, some obvious differences between this and MW2 are obvious once the game is played.  The multiplayer visually is a step backwards which seems awkward and quite a glaring oversight but the gameplay is one of the best as always.  Shots required to kill an enemy have been increased a bit changing overly annoying people that go for single shot kills at an alarming rate but also making killstreaks or sniping a lot more difficult for everyone.  New unlock customization orders and game modes in multiplayer are some big changes but welcoming after repetitive prestiging.  The single player is extremely short again but still well done in all of its sweatiness of jungle warfare.  Great for multiplayer but basic in single player, MW:BO is a trophy release of the year but yet seems like it won’t reach the glory that MW2 had.  And if you play and like this game, forum trolls with all their spiky hair will tell you can only like this game and can’t enjoy Halo: Reach at the same time for some reason.  RATING: {9.0} 


King’s Bounty: Armored Princess – There are two main types of turn based RPGs, the final fantasy non-grid type of battle system or the ogre tactics grid/board game type of battle system.  King’s Bounty is grid based but uses a very different idea in the fact that usable units are finite.  Types of units vary in attributes and therefore amounts of single unit army numbers, but these differences in how units and battles play out make for a difficult game.  Ease of progression is best done by finicky back and forth map movements picking off weaker enemies while avoiding the steroidal beefcakes but in doing so your movement paths look ridiculously overlapping.  Armored Princess is the third in the series and is slightly easier than previous games and is not for everyone even RPG fans.  This is a demo tryout game for sure before purchasing because so few people will enjoy this.  RATING: {1.0}   

sc2Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty – Even after Korean videogame “athletes” were found to be involved in betting schemes, a new round of superstars will emerge with SC2.  Yes, SC2 is the best multiplayer strategy game out there due to quality of game that Blizzard produces.  One sad change is the single player game has cutscenes that match WoW visually and voice acting that is downright headshaking in its terribleness.  The story if one can separate these problems, is ok but not as grasping as the original or expansion but the missions and level design are above average.  If you purchase SC2, multiplayer should be the only reason, and that part won’t disappoint.  The DOTA mod will soon be available too for all those that enjoy the hero units.  But Blizzard, why do SCV units say, “in the rear with the gear?”  RATING: {9.0}   

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl + Call of Pripyat – Ukrainians and Russians are not exactly alike but GSC Game World know exactly how to make a player feel like they are in the shoes of a Russian.  One of the sleeper hits of 2007 and a not as amazing but still good sequel in 2010, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a series to revisit from time to time.  A survival game that focuses heavily on realism, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an instant classic.  It may be a bit expensive to throw into the mix of all the late 2010 hits, but everyone should make it a point to play the first at some point in their lifetime.  Brush up on the pronunciations of the Russian alphabet before you do because P may confuse you for a pirate’s theme song.  RATING: {9.5 / 4.0} [Previous Review]

Metro 2033 -  Vampires and zombies may be all the rage lately but Metro 2033 can scare anyone more than a horde of raving Twilight fans.  A linear game compared to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series, Metro 2033 is good the first time through even if the story is as confusing as trying to quickly read Lost Paradise.  Shotgun shells almighty, this game will make the typical player feverishly throw random lead into every dark corner as light and sound play tricks and the environment gives anyone a case of claustrophobia.  Rent it and ram it.  RATING: {4.5}  [Previous Review]

1167354863-arma-2-operation-arrowhead-dlc-4ARMA 2: Operation Arrowhead – Where Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising showed that converting the series to the console is a bit more difficult than Codemasters would like to admit, the PC reality war series ARMA still holds the torch for one heck of a large scale warfare FPSer.  Operation Arrowhead is a bit shorter than the original OF game but a change in where the fake wars take place is a nice change.  The desert environment is not as flashy as MOH’s Middle East but instead OA will give the player the opportunity to place themselves at the helm of commanding troops and modern armaments such as the fast attack Bradley vehicle.  Large amounts of controls, modding, and replayability are all included with an ARMA game yet this expansion is much shorter than ARMA 2’s story.  Old command bugginess and clipping graphics are the worst of OA’s problems but no other game has been able to match this series’ broad scope military strategies.  Hold a candle for freedom and move your platoon twenty clicks in real-time you badass you.  RATING: {5.5}

Command and Conquer 4: Tiberium Twilight – Rest in peace C+C.  TT when compared to any other strategy game or its own series should give a person the remorsefulness that can only come when putting down an old pet.  You’ve enjoyed your time with that family rascal, from the days when it was spry and cheerful, to the later years of many lovely memories, and now at the end of its life you begin to remember how it used to be rather than what it is now.  It’s the worst part of getting old but yes all living things die, Command and Conquer reaching that time now.  We will miss you Kane.  We will miss you NOD attack bike that inspired hero units in today’s strategy games.  Oh what fun we had.  RATING: {1.0}  [Previous Review]

wow cataclysmWorld of Warcraft: Cataclysm – MMOs are unique in that they last much longer than the initial release date of usual games and even longer with expansions.  Most MMO players find that each expansion takes away from the original direction of the game and sometimes can be the breaking point for people to leave the game altogether.  Wrath of the Lich King was much like this for WoW in that dungeon raiding was brought down to a new low in boredom almost killing the series.  Now with the release of Cataclysm a new revitalization has occurred. Much of the major originality has been brought forth again.  Dungeons are quite difficult again and many improvements such as guild levels, visual and enthralling questlines, and graphically changed old worlds are among some of the multiple changes.  Blizzard has come full circle and reborn a MMO unlike many other MMOs could never do:  hit the seven year mark and still go strong.  RATING: {8.0}


S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl + Call of Pripyat, Metro 2033: I’d like to go home, I’ve mined the graveyard of unpublished poems

здравствуйте! As an American watching too many Hollywood films for one lifetime and being surrounded by events such as outsourcing, everyday judgments about foreign lands lean to the side of mostly harsh and are much easier to find than free chocolate for a hungry woman.  So when a company comes around from a land that would take a very long plane ride to reach, it’s easier to dismiss and distrust than even give the game and company half a chance.  Now compound that with a former foreign political party that forced the popular duck and cover movie that our parents or grandparents enjoyed thinking while trying to sleep produces even more happily earned motivation to buy anything coming from the CCCP.   

As an American with a specialized background, I’ve been forced to sit through training dealing with one of the worst industrial accidents in the last century: Chernobyl.  Within the stacks of paperwork there are plenty of videos such as this one and this one, etc, all bringing the events of the disaster to a very eerie realization.  The nearby town Pripyat for example, was created to give workers of Chernobyl a place to call home but has remained abandoned since it was evacuated a day after the accident.        

With all that smile friendly news enters the company GSC Game World from Kiev, Ukraine.  After running some searches of games developed in Ukraine the overall list seemed smaller than Mega Millions winners from the Midwest.  And it wasn’t too long ago that a Russian speaking company pushed my typical easy going nature to the edge of “bad touch” boundaries.  But the strength of persuasion can come from many avenues even those that are less expected.  Irrational Games’ podcast was the first place to drop not only GSC’s name but a very specific game that influenced Bioshock. 

stalker socThat game Irrational mentions on multiple occasions is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl for the PC.  At first glace, minus for those coming out of their Y2K bunkers in time to resupply for 2012, one can easily see that S:SC was released back in 2007.  But before brushing off what looks like a dated game compared to today’s standards there is hope.  An additional free download (considered a mod but is more like a total overhaul) is available from a large group of freelance developers here.  After updating this three year old game to visually mimic today’s games, S:SC begins to play a sly game of unravel the mystery.  But do not go into S:SC thinking it’s a typical “your a good guy, here’s some bad guys, go kill and we’ll fill you in on why later.”  S:SC in fact has lot of depth, girth, berth and whatever other awkward synonyms for wideness you can muster up when it comes to its central theme.

There are some core elements from a few different places that become interlaced within S:SC.  The first chunk comes from a 1979 (prior to Chernobyl) Russian movie called Stalker.  Skipping over the need to watch the entire movie, Stalker was about three characters intent on trying to reach a place called “the room” within a quarantined wilderness because of its rumored ability to grant any wish to those who enter it.  A very interesting side note (according to wikipedia) is after filming this movie, some of the cast and crew died from various types of respiratory disorders which they had believed to have come from a scene filmed near a discharge river used by a nearby chemical plant as it was said to have been snowing in summer.   

stalker soc 2The second piece of S:SC’s storyline comes already aforementioned accident of Chernobyl and that part may be a bit obvious just from reading the title of the game.  So yes, S:SC is set in the “area” of today’s Chernobyl where the military will stop any random civilians from gaining access to the highly irradiated and dangerous area.  With Chernobyl comes all the abandoned buildings and power plant itself to be explored along with the frequent need to watch the old Geiger counter

And the third puzzle piece of the central theme is the sc-fi book Roadside Picnic.  Going straight to the cliff notes, Roadside Picnic is about the concept of a messy family going on a picnic in the woods.  They arrive and animals scatter and hide to and fro while the family stays for a while, eats, and then blazes off leaving all sorts of trash behind.  The animals then slowly come out to inspect what was left behind, objects foreign to them, each having different dangers or benefits.  For example a half eaten sandwich is consumed like any other food, but a mostly empty can of motor oil when sniffed and licked makes the animal very sick.  Roadside Picnic is that same concept only with aliens and people.  A group of visitors come to Earth at various locations, stay just long enough to be noticed and then quickly take off.  People then begin to explore the areas to find strange artifacts left behind.  Some are very dangerous while others have very odd benefits.  Once this is realized, the areas become exclusion zones guarded by respective militaries.  A group of known as stalkers, once again, are the only ones who venture purposely into the zones in hopes to find artifacts to bring back to sell.

stalker soc completeThese three concepts make up the backdrop for S:SC.  The game takes place in Chernobyl, a true exclusion zone, and you play a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. who is found by a merchant on the edge of the zone.  Awaking with a bit of amnesia you find a message on your PDA saying to kill a fellow S.T.A.L.K.E.R.  The merchant gives you a slight introduction into the zone telling you to be on the lookout for artifacts that hold powers to be sold for high prices.  From there the game is a sandbox FPSer where quests are given with specific times by which they must be completed and it is the players choice to solve the mysteries of S:SC or run around randomly in the name of democracy to put a bullet in anything sounding Russian. 

And everything in this game does sound as Russian as this folk song.  Even when choosing to play this in English, many of the NPCs are not translated in the random small sayings as they wander by or some of the dialog text.  As you stand by allies within a camp, one will on occasion pull out a guitar to sing a song to make you feel like Kansas is oh so far away. 

stalker soc 4This makes for an interesting environment as it gives a foreign land feel but some smaller parts of the game stay lost in translation.  The initial learning curve of the game is high since much of what is going on starts and stays mysterious but at the same time adds to the ongoing element of horror with its little explanation.  One such problem with translations and storyline I encountered was that I was never able to find the main person to kill and yet was able to end the game a different way.  This disconnect was slightly frustrating but with the aid of our old pal The Internet, the second time through made more sense. 

The horror element is what Irrational Games pointed out as a key piece to what makes a this a memorable game.  True to their word S:SC is one of the scariest games I have ever played.  When it’s 3am with all lights shut off and a few too many cold ones the scary portions of any game will be enhanced because of the surrounding environment the game is played in.  S:SC does not need any enhancement.  Other games such as Resident Evil, FEAR or even Eternal Darkness use very standardized, flashy Hollywoodish, or unique out-of-game scare tactics.  S:SC uses an indirect method with heavy attention to the lack of sounds or focus towards a person’s ability to recognize the cause of a sound.  This is compounded by the fact that S:SC is a survivor oriented game constantly leaving the player with limited ammunition, hunger, bandages, weapon durability, overall health, and a small carry limit.  Additional mods can be applied to S:SC bringing the survivor portion to a more post-apocalyptical standard possibly forcing the player to kill a fellow ally for his food in order to suppress life threatening hunger.  The horror portion is also shadowed by the background of Chernobyl.  GSC Game World took a lot of extra time in researching and even visiting the exclusion zone to ensure the player is given a real and dangerous place that many know about but develops into an even scarier place they more intimately familiar they become with it. 

stalker soc 3The general aspects of S:SC (as long as the complete mod is installed) are run-of-the-mill for today’s standards.  The graphics with weather effects and time of day changes are visually stunning.  The sounds and music are very unique to S:SC due to its origin but are nonetheless high quality.  The controls are customizable and aiming is strong due to the mouse/keyboard combination of PC games.  The combat realism is quite astounding as bullet trajectories matched with proper caliber and gun choice as well as only having iron sights or limited scopes are again an effect of S:SC being a survivor based game.  The multiplayer is more muted due to its age but this is an unnecessary addition as the emotional ties are focused within the single player direction.  The AI is well done  being accurate and tactful.  Overall difficulty is quite high and only gets higher with additional mods but this added challenge is a welcomed one from the simple quick fix FPS games of today.  The storyline is also unique and is directly derived from the previously mentioned core elements but is not coupled with many cutscenes compared to most games of today.     

Rarely does a game three years old peak such a late interest now that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are well enough established with this generation’s consoles.  And sadly this summer was a busy one for me and therefore this review comes at a conflicting time with the upcoming heavy hitting holiday releases instead of during the summer when nothing outstanding was released.  But if anything, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl should stay in the back of your mind like an amazing commercial that sticks in the craw the next time there is a lull in your gaming life.  It is a one of a kind creation that deserves the title of classic and is worth not just one but a few plays through. (Available on Steam)    

Rating: 9.5 {on a scale of –10 to 10}

Three years later (skipping Clear Sky due to known bug issues) a direct sequel called S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat was released by GSC Game World.  Much of the gameplay, horror and survival aspects are the same as S:SC but of course some improvements have been made.  This time you are a military agent posing as a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. to investigate the disappearance of lost helicopters that were flying over the town of Pripyat.  The town and surrounding rural areas are again realistically imported as the play environment including one of the most famous Ferris Wheels in the world.  Not long ago Modern Warfare 1 included Pripyat as part of its story allowing you to make your way through some of the abandoned buildings but its graphical engine made the town gleam instead of the grimy reality that S:CP paints. 

stalker copThe graphics of S:CP are a step up over the original (unmodded) as well as the continuity of the story and translations with NPCs.  Gun and armor modification as well as an RPG interface with stats are good improvements but overall the game doesn’t connect on the same level as S:SC.  A majority of the game is spent outside of Pripyat and once the player arrives, exploration of all the visual landmarks comes mostly from player’s curiosity instead of being driven there by the main story. 

The disconnect may come from the simple fact that GSC made it rain in S:SC by letting you waltz all the way into Chernobyl and then expects you to be overjoyed by making it rain with scratch tickets in the abandoned neighboring town.  The mighty dollar rains and reigns better so if you decide to play S:CP, you’re rolling the dice on finding the same amount of pleasure that you can get out of S:SC. (Available on Steam)

Rating: 4.0 {on a scale of –10 to 10}

metro_2033_1The latest and vastly different game released by THQ and 4AGames (founded by former developers of GSC) after S:CP was called Metro 2033.  This release was more of an accessible horror/survival game in order to reach a broader audience than the previously mentioned games being released on consoles as well as PC.  The play environment is again Russian based taking place very near Moscow yet most of the player’s time is spent underground as its title hints at.  In Metro 2033 you play the child of a survivor after a terrible apocalypse ravaged the world’s surface. The survivors of Russia have hid themselves within the nearby metro tunnels of Moscow scraping by with their trusty thirsts being quenched by whatever little vodka they can find.

m2033aChanging from a sandbox game to a very linear one, Metro 2033 still focuses much of its gameplay within the horror genre.  A very dark game graphically forces the player into the same realm of Doom 3, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, etc, where most of the scares are caused by visual panic from enemies having the same working distance as a dance partner.  A unique feature in Metro 2033 is a flashlight with what seems like the shortest battery ever but can be recharged by hand.  This creates situations where in the midst of battle, time management of the player’s visual aid must be taken into account.  Another unique feature is managing a needed gas mask’s chemical cartridges in order to stay on the surface or within oxygen deprived tunnels.  The player’s breathing becomes the ambient noise when the mask is on and adds a new source of tension as changing situations shift the rate.

Metro-2033_3The story is a bit interesting but has a very odd ending not causing any type of beckoning to replay Metro 2033.  A single play through is all that’s really necessary and can be done in about 10-12 hours based on difficulty chosen.  Most of the game is very close combat forcing gun preference toward shotguns over assault rifles or long range sniper weapons purely for spread fire room clearing.  In all the FPS games over the years, Metro 2033 takes the cake as far as keeping the buckshot flying.  I used so many shells that for the next few games that I played I swore off the sound of an empty shell hitting the ground.  The controls are simplified and sometimes slightly awkward on the console as everything is jammed onto a controller.  The AI is good at flank techniques yet not impossibly difficult when they outnumber.  

The overall game is fun but an unnecessary one to play through unless one is a large fan of the genre.  Rent it if slightly interested, but skip it over S:SC if time and cash is limited.  What Metro 2033 does do indirectly is point out that GSC Game World and 4AGames should be around for years to come making quality games from across the back pond.  Even if they are bloody reds they do know how to make a good horror/survival game.  (Available on Steam)       

Rating: 4.5 {on a scale of –10 to 10}

Menomena – Dirty Cartoons

Album Version