Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Save the Burger World!

Like it's predecessor, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is not a very long ride, but I'd gladly stand in line again for another go. With this franchise, it's all about the total package; the multi-player, the co-op, special ops, etc. But at the end of the day, it's the story mode that has to sell the game. Soap and McTavish are back to provide some continuity with the previous installment and the look and feel are largely the same (though noticeably improved.) The missions are uber-tense and deliberately distracting to keep one from rummaging around too much for those elusive collectibles. Having said that, there is still a little something missing. . .
In Battlefield Bad Company, we were accompanied throughout the game by Redfern, Sweetwater, and Haggard and got to know them; Redfern looked forward to retirement and marlin fishing, Sweetwater planned to attend college and Haggard had his dream of owning a monster truck ("Truck-O-Saurus") We were often amused by their banter and worried for their safety during the parts of the game when separated. In CODMW2, I didn't feel any of that relationship with the cohorts. It's perhaps a minor quibble, but a matter of substance.
Still, there's plenty to love in this installment to be sure. I love a good sniper rifle and the piece you get to use in this game with the IR scope is pretty sweet. The requisite vehicle forays are typically fast and frenetic but thankfully SixAxis-Free. I don't know what it is, but except for Flower, developers just don't seem to have a good idea of how to use the Sony SixAxis as a steering device.
I look forward to the next Call of Duty venture, but next time I'd be interested in it having a little more heart.

The Groove-A-Tron: Best. Weapon. EVER!

Ratchet and Clank Future: A Crack in Time

Even though I haven’t played all the games in their franchise, I still consider Ratchet and Clank to be old friends. Up Your Arsenal was my first exposure to their story and it completely won me over. I picked up Deadlocked next at about the time I got my PS3 but didn’t finish it because the software-based backward compatibility of the PS3 didn’t work so well with this game for some reason (I intend at some time to fire-up the PS2 and finish this game at some point.) Then came Tools of Destruction for the PS3 which was simply an astonishing sensory feast. Quest for Booty I have to say was a little rough, but still enjoyable. Now with A Crack in Time, we’re back on track and the sense of wonder has returned!

It’s All About the Funny

Now of course there’s no way to write a review of an R&C installment without lavishing praise on the weapons, and I’ll get to that. For me, however, the thing that keeps me coming back is the writing, or specifically, the humor. By now, we have a very-well developed cast of characters just like some of the better television sitcoms have sported over the years. Like WKRP in Cincinnati or The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Captain Quark is back with all his blustering buffoonery intact and as was revealed at the end of Quest for Booty, Doctor Nefarious returns in full megalomanical splendor with valet Lawrence in tow. Not only the characters, but I’ve come to look forward to all the animated expository links as they been the source of some of the best whimsy in the entire franchise. An added bonus are the radio commercials playing on Ratchet’s spaceship during space missions; Rusty Pete and Captain Slag from the previous two games provide some of the snappiest dialogue.

Then there's the Groove-A-Tron. Not a new weapon, we had this in our arsenal in Tools of Destruction, but God! does it deliver! I think from a developer's standpoint, this had to be one of the more delightful challenges; how should the major and NPC characters rock-out when caught in the thrall of the killer disco ball? This is what I find do doggone hilarious. Just when the game gets as close as it can to drama, seeing a heretofore dignified character bust-a-move is just too sublime for words.

Like the James Bond brand in motion pictures, R&C is similarly a quality stamp of approval in console gaming.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Punked by Doritos (again!)

I do not like Doritos. I am pretty sure I did at one time as I’ve consumed enough of them over the years. But my tastes, in this and other things, have evolved over time and these enduring corn tortilla chips are the latest item heaped on the pile of things that I no longer crave.
Nevertheless, the lure of this particular brand of munchies remains powerful, and I seem to be easily seduced by the latest “New Flavor!” on the grocery shelves. The pattern is disturbingly identical every time;
I see the new flavor on the supermarket shelves.
I say to myself, “Don’t do it. You won’t like ‘em.”
The other voice in my head responds, “Maybe this is the taste sensation that’ll have you falling in love with them again.”
I buy them, take them home, consume a few, and don’t touch the bag again (until I pitch them in the trash due to staleness.)
The latest taste I fell for? Doritos Collisions Zesty Taco/Chipotle Ranch. Sigh. Sure, the first handful was a pleasant enough salty/savory/flavory experience. After that? It’s just a mouthful of corn-based substance that I don’t even care to swallow once the seasoning is gone. Sort of like a piece of bubblegum once the flavor is gone.
So that’s it. We’re through Doritos. It’s been a nice 40 years, but it’s time to move on and . . . Oooh! Zesty Blackened Cajun Spice Doritos!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Grand Theft Mars

There’s a lot of driving in Red Faction: Guerrilla (RFG.) Sometimes you’re schlepping a team of Martian revolutionaries to a mission. Others you are tasked with delivering a specific vehicle (safely) to a designated location within a time limit. Usually, you’re just getting from point A to point B on the map and the nearest SUV is the most efficient means of transport available. And there’s rarely a time in the game when you find yourself wanting for a vehicle; they’re everywhere – SUVs, pickups, dune buggies, garbage trucks, sort-of Euro-style lories, troop transport vehicles, tanks, and even the skiffs that the indigenous Marauders drive around as they harass miners and military alike.

All of this commuting might have become tedious had it not meaningfully contributed to the story and gameplay. But if you could use the vehicles to creatively add to the destructive element of the game, then you’d have something. Did I mention that you can use the vehicles to creatively add to the destructive element of the game? No? Well you can, and it’s great fun.

I’m not familiar with previous games in the Red Faction series, but that certainly did not diminish my enjoyment of the game. Evidently, Martian colonists needed the help of the Earth Defense Force (EDF) to repel some sort of invasion and having accomplished this, the EDF has sort of set up shop as the government and are running the place with an iron fist. You know this because as you start interacting with the Martians you hear comments from passers-by on how much life sucks on Mars under the EDF. So you soon join up with the Red Faction, the insurgency whose goal it is to return Mars to the Martians. And so begins some rompin’ stompin’ good times.

You see, RFG is all about the destruction. With your primary weapon, the trusty sledge hammer, you can smash up, say, that transport container over there. In doing so, it gives up a few pieces of salvage, the currency of this game. Salvage is what buys you upgrades for your weapons (you mean I can get an even better sledge than this?) and armor. But it doesn’t stop there. Bringing down bigger structures, say that EDF office complex over there, also builds support for you from the Martians and reduces the control of the EDF over a particular area. This means that when you get into a scrap with the EDF forces, you are more likely to be assisted by some passing-by guerrillas and weapons chests left around the map are better stocked. It reinforced my belief in the general goodness of humanity the first time an SUV came screeching up and a couple of guerrillas hopped out and jumped into the fray – “Here I come to save the day!”

As the game progresses, you can elect to participate in a variety of side missions to help build up you trove of the precious salvage. Some of these have you participating in guerrilla raids, others have you destroying specified targets. Still others are tutorials in how to better blow things up. That’s right, in addition to hammer, you get to tote around a supply of various exploding thingies. Just toss ‘em at the desired target stand well-clear and hit the detonator. For bigger targets, throw multiple charges before setting them off and before you know it you become quite adept at controlled demolitions. Gotta love destruction raised to an art form.

That’s what kept me compelled by the game; it encouraged you to be resourceful to the point of being creative. Need to bring down that bunker but are short on ammo? No problem; just jump into that garbage truck someone carelessly left out and keep crashing it into the structure until you achieve the desired level of damage. Got an enemy troop transport bearing down on you? Just throw one of you explosive charges at it and hit the detonator. Problem solved!

Finally, I must mention the physics of the game as they are exquisite. Gravity (even Mars’ slightly less potent gravity) is your friend, and the game engine enforces the might of your ally. As you hammer and bomb your way around a building you can hear tortured metal creak and shreek, and the ground rumbles and shakes as the structure begins to fail. I’m not exaggerating when I say that wrecking stuff is addictive in this game, “I’ve really got to be someplace else, but, gosh I sure would like to take down that garage over there.”

Add the fact that RFG is quite a large game (I truly enjoyed exploring the varied terrain of Mars we were given) and this is a really compelling package for me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get a hold of Orbitz to find out when the next flight for Mars is leaving.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Set your course for Adventure!

I’m happy to see Adventure Comics back on the scene. It’s nostalgic while at the same time progressive.

Seeing that great old logo takes me back to the summer of 1975 when I picked up my first issue of Adventure; #441 which marked Aquaman’s return to a solo feature of his own. He stayed for a couple of years until he was graduated into a re-launched magazine under his own title to be replaced by Superboy. Such was the nature of the title back then; the book had customarily never had a de-facto star like Superman in Action Comics or Batman in Detective. The book had the flexibility of changing it’s star to suit sales, fan interest, or both (probably sales mostly.) I’ll go out on a limb by stating that the greatest success story to come out of Adventure was the introduction, with issue #247 of course, of the Legion of Super-Heroes. The LSH because pretty much a permanent feature of the book by the time issue #300 rolled out and remained so until #380 until flagging sales had them changing places with Supergirl in the back of Action Comics.

It’s this mutability of Adventure which makes it so suited to the comic book market of today. With the current trend of limited run series (some of them very good, by the way; the two different Freedom Fighters series over the last couple of years spring to mind) Adventure fits right in because the book is one big limited run series. That being said, I’m tickled that Superboy and the LSH were tabbed as the first features of the book and I hope they can enjoy a good long run. However, there are plenty of other characters that I wouldn’t mind having an extended stay in the pages of Adventure. The Creeper for one.

I’ve found the first two issues of Adventure to be very entertaining and refreshing. I never really followed Connor Kent before but I like what I’ve seen so far and could really grow to like the character. There’s something reassuring about having the LSH back in a regular series and I hope it will help erase memories of Jim Shooter’s unfortunate departure from the previous one. All in all, it feels great to have Adventure back again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

What to say, what to say? There were so many playable heroes to choose from and the game environment so expansive that I played the previous Marvel Ultimate Alliance multiple times (would that qualify as a multi-verse?) There was so much to do and so much to see, I might even venture back in for another session if my time wasn’t already consumed enough with the new material coming out for the PS3. Which brings us back the new MUA2. Like Batman: Arkham Asylum which was covered in the previous post, this game too was the recipient of several lavish previews claiming that, from what the reviewers saw in the demos, the new version would be superior in every way to its predecessor. High praise indeed, but how was the gaming experience in reality? Allow me to voice a few thoughts.


I’ll start right off with what a number of reviewers felt would be the clear advancement over the previous MUA; fusions. Or specifically, one hero combining one of their special powers with a special power from another hero in the group. For example, if you happen to be playing Iceman you can link up his cold beam with Human Torch’s flamethrower creating a withering death-blast between the two characters that nukes anything between them, including Bosses. Sound fun? It is in a way, having all that power. But still, I found the fusions a little confusing to activate, especially in the midst of a wild fray. And some of them are a little too, well, powerful. I think that it might have gone a long way to link the use of the fusions with some mini-games in dealing with the bosses, so you have to experiment to determine which ones are “the right tool for the right job.” As the game was released, the fusion attacks are sort of a Miracle Machine (hat tip to the LSH.)

Civil War

Building on the Civil War story line in the Marvel universe from the last several years, this game too experiences a schism at one point and you must choose your side; Captain America or Iron Man. One the one hand I thought “Great! That’s drama!” On the other hand, for a good chunk of the game a sizable number of playable characters on your roster become grayed-out and unavailable. Makes sense because it eliminated the quirk of the previous game where an unlocked character could meet up and play alongside themselves at certain points in the game. For my own experience in the game, this resulted in settling on a favorite foursome (Deadpool, Human Torch, Ice Man, and Storm) and even when the other characters became available again, I stuck with the dream team because I knew how to use them and came up with a fusion attack the was effective and that I could summon quickly.

Is that all?

As I mentioned earlier, I remember the first MUA as being a tremendous value because the game was so damned huge. We had Shield’s Heli-Carrier, Stark Tower, Atlantis, the Sanctum Sanctorum, Murder World, Mephisto’s Realm, Asgaard, Doom’s Castle; and bosses including Fin Fang Foom, Arcade and of course, Doctor Doom. Those lists, by the way, are not all-inclusive. MUA2, while certainly fulfilling, still had me thinking “Done already?” So I thought back over the game asking myself "Did I miss something?" Nope. This game definitely clocks in a lot leaner than its predecessor. I think one more Act would have really hit the spot.

Rant or Rave?

Worth the time and enjoyable even if you're not a fan of the comics. Since the game comfortably seats four players at a time, I suspect that the fun factor would probably multiple with friends joining the fracas. Fusion me!

1 to 10 Scale: 8

Monday, September 14, 2009

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Sometimes a new game comes out that sounds interesting but unfamiliar to me. I go into it unsure of what to expect but if the mechanics are right and the story engaging and the general concept compelling, I can fall in love in a big hurry. InFAMOUS falls into this category.

Then there are the games that come out that I go into wanting to love. Most games based on comic book heroes fall into this category. In the case of Batman: Arkham Asylum, here is game that I desperately wanted to like. On the scorecard, it had everything - rogues, atmosphere, supporting cast, and the Big Guy himself, of course. So that being said, how did the experience measure up? Did I rave, or did I feel robbed?

I'm going to throw up a spoiler alert at this point in case you haven't yet experienced Arkham. Although I don't plan on revealing key plot points or twists, I may want to slip in a few comments on gameplay in particular chapters that some gamers may want to wait to discover for themselves.


As a comic-based super hero game, this was definitely a winner for me. In fact, playing the game had an oddly reassuring feeling for me. The opening cinematics were engaging and appropriate, and effectively set the stage for everything that came afterwards. What followed was example after example of how to use comic-based material the right way. When the Riddler first chimes-in on Batman's headset to chide him into finding the riddles he's lovingly left behind (and to generally annoy the Dark Knight) I smiled and thought "This could be really good." Then when Harley Quinn interrupts Batman on Arkham's surveyliance video to deliver a message it was clear to me that the game designers really cared about the material and the fans.


Batman moves. He struts deliberately and menacingly when you impel him along at a normal gate. When he runs, his cape is a ballet of wind-swept fabric. What really knocks your socks off is Batman in the air. When he jumps around from gargoyle to gargoyle (in rooms so designed) it evokes thoughts of a different red and blue clad web-headed super hero. And when Batman glides down from on high to deliver a vicious kick to his victim you feel like a falcon going after it's favorite rodent snack.

I'll start out with one quibble I have with Bats' various moves and that's the melee attacks. Although he looks great on screen while doing them, there's really nothing more to this than furious button mashing. Apart from the occasional counter, the player is not really challenged to master combos. Just counter when prompted and keep mashing and only the very biggest onslaughts will overwhelm Batman.

Now Batman's other moves are something else. I'll start right out by saying the the Inverted Takedown is hands down my favorite. From the gargoyle of your choice, have Batman first hang upside down, then when your intended victim walks below, initiate the snatch and before he knows it, the baddie is himself left dangling below the gargoyle pleading for someone to cut him down. Hours of endless fun!

Then, there are the wonderful toys. In addition to the fast grapple mentioned above, Batman totes the reliable and easy-to-use Baterangs. Very intuitive; aim with L1, throw with R1. This benefits from numerous upgrades obtained throughout the game. Batman also utilizes a dispenser of explosive foam as well as a line gun that allows him traverse various chasms and divides that the Fast Grapple won't. The explosive foam dispenser was another generator of grins especially after it is upgraded with proximity detonation; 1. Spray on section of floor 2. Hide in nearby grate 3. Wait for baddie to walk near enough to detonate 4. Smile (rinse, repeat. . .)


Predictably, most of the boss challenges are brought to you courtesy of the Rogues and they are a little bit of a mixed bag though none were horrible in my opinion. One, which I won't name hear, blew me away. There were others that were standard fare done extremely well. Then there was a series of battles that were repeats of previous battles and became a little tedious.

Game Economics

The previously mentioned upgrades to Batman's abilities and gadgets are purchased through experience points obtained through fighting, completing missions, and finding the Riddles and knick knacks that Edward Nigma has strewn about Arkham. Finding and solving the riddles was a nice addition to the game although to solve all of them (and collect all the trinkets) takes some backtracking during the course of play as some previously inaccessible places on the map open up with the addition of later toys and upgrades. Poison Ivy lends a hand in keeping re-exploration of Arkham from being complete deja vu.

Final Word

I liked playing it and I'm glad I did. The story was compelling and the characters done very nicely. I hope a sequel is in the works because there's so much more to Batman that can be told, plus so many more great villains!

1 to 10 Scale: 9