Game Review Roundup: XCOM, Marvel HeroClix TabApp, More

Welcome to a fresh edition of Game Review Roundup! Seth and I have been digging deep for all our game playing prowess and getting caught up with some of the latest releases - just in time for a whole slew of more. Some of the last few weeks (and upcoming) of releases have a very real reason why reviews are delayed: Hurricane Sandy delayed shipping, and we literally couldn't get into the office to receive them anyway. So check out reviews of games from the start of the fall, and buckle-up because there's much more to come in the near future!

 

XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Review By Seth Robison

Rama Rating 9 out of 10

Playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown is like finding a twenty dollar bill in the pocket of that winter coat you just got out of storage, it’s something great you’ve always had but it still feels like a gift. The winter was the eighteen years since the release of the original X-COM game and those twenty bucks are XCOM: Enemy Unknown (out now for PC, PS3 the XBOX 360 from Firaxis and 2K Games), a nigh-faithful remake that unearths the turn-based tactical genre from its exile to the fringes of the gaming universe.

In the near future it’s discovered that aliens have begun a covert invasion of Earth. To combat this threat a council of nations and their shadowy agents have initiated XCOM: an international military and scientific taskforce to investigate, interdict and eliminate the threat and have placed you in charge. To fulfill your duty to your superiors and to your species you must counter the invasion via tactical and strategic means.

While the strict resource management aspect of the game plays a large part as to how a play-though develops, the core of the title is in putting those resources into action. A typical XCOM: Enemy Unknown mission places your squad of between four and six troopers into an urban or wild environment dotted with objects like cars or fallen trees that can provide you or your foes cover. You are given the barest hint of where on the war-fogged map the invaders are and you must carefully maneuver your forces around while obeying the strict rules of movement. Take a risk and leave a trooper exposed or susceptible to flanking and he or she might pay the price with their lives.

What’s new to the genre that gamers will quickly learn (and experts will even more quickly remember) is that these soldiers are not the random Gomers that fill out the battlefields of games like Halo or Call of Duty. Each member of XCOM represents a significant outlay of time and resources for not only the organization, but for you as well as you guide them up through the ranks and make decisions on their load-outs and skill trees based on their class (Assault, Heavy, Sniper, Support). So losing one can have lasting consequences. Unless you’ve disabled Ironman mode and load up a saved game.

While XCOM: Enemy Unknown received a major visual facelift and a script that nicely blends 50s era paranoia sci-fi with 80s/90s gung-ho bug hunts (think Day the Earth Stood Still meets Aliens), the most significant and telling change from the original is the ‘smoothing’ of the game’s structure (for example there is now just one central upgradeable base to manage and develop instead of many, reducing redundancy) and interface. In what should be a reference point for any developer looking to bring a classic title or franchise back but worries about how it would be received by “today’s” gamers, this is the way to do it and keep the essence of what made the original great intact.

Again recalling the original game, the sci-fi military action is flavored by a deliberate effort to portray the alien threat as unfathomable. The structure of the title’s which allows you all the time you need to think out your moves when it’s your turn seems like an advantage, but the aforementioned atmospheric tension and the looming threat of death makes XCOM: Enemy Unknown a surprisingly nerve wracking and at times downright scary game. Especially when any of the larger, more dangerous foes comes into view from an unexpected direction to exploit a weakness in your position and you find yourself helpless to do anything about it.

A superfluous online multiplayer mode swells the experience. Point-balanced teams of human controlled XCOM troopers and/or aliens wage war on each other.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s surprisingly old school challenge, even on the default difficulty level, will keep you on your toes and might even lead to some controller-throwing, but invariably its structure of thirty minute or so missions on a healthy supply of maps will have you coming back to kick E.T. off your planet again and again.

 

HeroClix TabApp

Reviewed on: iPad

Review by: Lucas Siegel

'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

HeroClix are already familiar to many comic book fans. With highly-detailed miniaturized figurines, fans of Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and even other brands like Halo and Star Wars can battle it out in the tabletop RPG that combines classic role playing elements, collectibles, and card gaming into one.

But what about when you're solo? Well, the new HeroClix TabApp hopes to bridge that gap slightly, while offering a completely different gameplay style. It all starts with a pack of new customized HeroClix figures featuring Marvel superheroes. The Avengers pack comes with Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America, while the X-Men pack contains Wolverine, Cyclops, and Ice Man. The app itself is a free download from the Apple App Store.

When you place one of these six figures on the designated area of the screen and press down, it unlocks that set of missions. Each mission plays out pretty similarly, with your character progressing down the screen in a fixed manner as you tap and swipe enemies to deploy your attacks, including defensive and special moves. Make no mistake, this is simply a tap until your finger falls off game that happens to come with custom figures, and that's nearly all that can be said of the game itself. the special moves, customized to each hero, are fun and a little more flashy, but for the most part you'll find yourself repeating the same basic motion and strategy forever, no matter which character's missions you're playing.

The figures themselves are modeled more closely off of Marvel Super Hero Squad than traditional HeroClix. With that cartoonish, super-deformed look, the figures are great looking, sturdy, and a fun collectible. They also have clix wheels on the bottom, and with their ability card, will work in a standard HeroClix match as well as activating your iPad game. They're not incredibly durable, however - a all of about 4 feet took Iceman's head off, unfortunately.

With the first two expansions - two DC Hero sets featuring Dark Knight Rises Batman, Catwoman, and Bane, and DC Comics Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - on the way in November, fans of the game won't have to wait long for more levels; hopefully the experience will continue to evolve to more drastically differentiate each character's experience.

 

Resident Evil 6

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Review By Seth Robison

Rama Rating 6 out of 10

Resident Evil 6, out now for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, is the type of game that is going to frustrate a few, delight the same amount and leave all with different ideas of what could have been done to make it better.

Seven years after the release of Resident Evil 4 it’s clear now that Capcom might have been better off using that title to launch a wholly new franchise, as the sixth numbered entry tries ably to split the hair between the classic Resident Evil gameplay that still looms large in the memories of a generation of gamers and the more action-oriented direction that game has taken since number four’s breakout success. To do so, Resident Evil 6 splits its story of a worldwide bio-terrorism conspiracy into three parts, each that run simultaneously chronologically, but feature slightly different gameplay. Two of the campaigns feature returning hero Leon S. Kennedy and new character Jake Muller and attempt, to varying degrees of success, to ape the atmospheric style of the original games. While the third features franchise charter member Chris Redfield is more akin to his adventures in Resident Evil 5, it is more of a run and gun style while sharing the same basic mechanics.

Co-op play returns for Resident Evil 6, with each of the three ‘stars’ partnered up with a new character,  most notably a grown Sherry Birkin who is teamed up with Jake, and can be controlled via a second player or a reassuringly able AI that unlike human players never seems to run out of ammo. A modest new wrinkle to this style of play is the fact that since the three stories intertwine, there is a possibly that a completely random pair of human controlled players will team up with you for brief four-player segments.

The strong partner AI makes up for a lot of other technical issues that drag down the overall experience, including a new cover system that teeters on a dismal line between useless and just plain broken, enemy AI that feels like a step back for the series, patience testing QTEs and an achingly slow upgrade system that chokes the meager amount of character development that is allowed.

Atmospherically, Resident Evil 6 hits a high point early in Leon’s initial chapter with its eerie, blacked out New England college setting that aptly recreates that spookiness that empty buildings have at night, but it and the game quickly descend into typical genre fare of impossible architecture and bland urban environments.

While it does drag in moments, one thing that can’t be criticized is the game’s length, a meaty almost thirty hour endeavor highlighted by impressive boss fights and, save for the cheesy dialog, well directed cut scenes. The arcade style The Mercenaries mini-game returns, though sadly with nothing new added to the format. On the other hand the new Agent Hunt mode lets you try and mess up an online player’s game by placing you in the role of an enemy.

Fans of biological hazards looking for some bloody horror and canon updates to the stories of their favorite characters might enjoy catching this bug, but other gamers might want to get inoculated against picking up Resident Evil 6.

 

Dishonored

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Reviewed by: Lucas Siegel

Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

In a world full of choices, the video game world has been adding choice, deep conversations and other user-customized gameplay at an ever-increasing rate. Dishonored realistically has only one major choice - to kill or not to kill, and that's fine. The story doesn't need a lot of big sweeping choices; honestly, the story barely needs to be there at all, because the actual core gameplay is just so darn fun.

The first time you unlock your limited teleport power it's cool, but not exactly life-changing. Once you get the hang of it and start blinking around, infiltrating guard stations and 'porting directly behind a potential target before taking them out, it is something magical.

Other abilities are unlocked throughout, from useful utility powers like seeing through walls to massively powerful time-stopping that lets you kill with ease. That is, of course, if you decide to be a killer. And that brings us back to that one big decision you have to make: do you go the way of the shadow, or the way of blood?

The shadow path means you're in, you're out, you get the job done with minimal casualties (none, if you can manage), and your stealth is your own calling card. The blood path means you're using your abilities, from your handiness with a blade to your superhuman powers, to carve a deadly swathe of victims on your way to vengeance. The two paths really do offer up a very different game, and makes it easy to recommend for virtually any type of gamer. Those who enjoy both Stealth and big-action shooters basically get two games in one (with considerably different endings, to boot).

The story is serviceable. It's not one that you'll remember big moments or be debating the merits for the years to come, but one decent twist and just enough heart to make you care for the big payoff are really all this one needed. It's interesting, with the major focus on story in many of my favorite games how much I didn't care that this didn't have much of one. Of course, if you're a deep collector you can get more information about the world through Skyrim-esque books strewn throughout it, but most people will probably be focused much more on how they're going to get into that next building without being seen - or how they can best chain a series of kills on the way. 

The steampunk aesthetic keeps the game visually interesting when the story lacks. Sprawling technological marvels marching over Victorian landscapes and gun-toting guards in classical attire serves a fun contrast that keeps you wanting to just stop and look around. Of course, that actually works out well as strategy, with stepping back and assessing an area before moving forward, is essential no matter which path you're taking.

Dishonored will likely be overlooked by some this holiday season with your big-name existing franchises already stealing shelf space, but it shouldn't be. Try something new, and you'll be rewarded with a gameplay experience that actually tries something new, too.

 

007 Legends

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Review By: Seth Robison

Rama Rating 3 out of 10

It might be time to revoke Activision’s license to franchise. Their latest release, 007 Legends, out now for PS3 and Xbox 360 from veteran movie-game developer Eurocom, is an ambitious-on-paper attempt to string five of James Bond’s cinematic adventures together and bring them forward into the Daniel Craig era. Sadly, 007 Legends does not live up to any of it pedigrees, either silver screen or HD monitor, with an experience that’s Call of Duty-lite at its best and a shareware copy of FPS Maker 1.0 effort at its worst.

Framed loosely by the upcoming events of the upcoming movie Skyfall (evidenced by a cutscene that mimics the events seen in the film’s trailer) the climatic moments of Goldfinger, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Moonraker, License to Kill and Die Another Day are experienced in sequence but not tied together in any way plot-wise to as to give the game any momentum other than allowing the player to experience Cliff Notes versions of famous movie scenes voiced primarily by stand-ins (including Craig himself, though it seems Judi Dench is up for anything).

The action, which is hampered by poor AI, a ludicrous attempt at a cover system and some clipping issues, is broken up by thankfully brief and mostly optional segments of stealth-based action. While the portion of the game where stealth is a regiment last just a bare few minutes of the overall ten hour experience, most of it (and its attendant hassles given the incompatibility of even the better FPS titles with stealth gameplay that their engines weren’t designed for) can be safely ignored in exchange for an extended gunfight and some damage to your post-level mission rating. Each mission also features a segment of simplistic vehicle action and/or a segment where you explore the evil mastermind’s personal office for clues the in closest thing this game has to actual espionage.

The Bond staple of gadgets play a big part in these segments, though they consist mostly of using different apps for your smartphone’s camera, a low-utility sonar watch with an EMP laser and a refreshingly useful knockout/shock/distraction pen gun. To round out the interactive experience is the most forgiving system of quick-time events ever implanted in a video game including a hilariously simplistic hand-to-hand combat simulation (the ability to punch Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the face is at least worth the effort to get that far) where everyone from Korean ex-wrestlers to giants with metal teeth to Columbian drug lords all fight with the same style, blocking only three-quarters of their body at any one time, and fighting at the same speed. Even in some of the interactive cutsence the button presses are so few and tolerant of speed and mistakes it’s like they were designed by someone who hates QTEs.

As if to cement its position as Call of Duty’s little brother, 007 Legends is padded out with a series of spec-ops style, customizable single player missions and a multiplayer mode that includes Legends Mode which arms and skins your avatar with equipment that fits the Bond hero or villain you select. Covering all of this, including single player, is an extensive list of challenges to earn XP for upgrades and unlocks in the Activision style.

Rounding out the overall experience, voice over fill-ins do a good job, the actor who is covering for Bond at least helped himself to an easy payday thanks to Craig’s terse and taciturn interpretation of the character. Bond fans, the only ones who should play this game anyway, will enjoy playing a first-person part in the franchise’s most iconic scenes and will recognize the familiar beats of each film’s theme songs throughout that episode.

As far as the Bond films have shifted away from ‘real’ spy films over the decades, so have the franchise’s video games, lost in the shadow of the Nintendo 64 version of Goldeneye. The Bond movies have changed over the years from Cold War intrigue, to borderline slapstick finally to age of stateless combat; why haven’t the games changed as well?

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