We have another huge round-up of games from the last month and change for you here, as we attempt to disprove the myth that March and April don’t bring any fun games out. We’re only a little more than a week into April, and so far, it looks like there won’t be a gaming drought this year at all. Whether it’s sandbox shooting, zombies, or beat ‘em ups, there’s seemingly something for everyone this Spring. Onto the reviews!
Platform Reviewed: PS3
Review By: Lucas SiegelHaving never played the first game, my expectations for this were nil. They may have been less than nil, as my last sandbox game, GTAIV, fell so far below my expectations, I owned it for less than a week. Nonetheless, I was ready to give this a go and see if my faith in the go-anywhere do-anything gangster shooter could be renewed. Turns out, this game was up to the challenge and then some. I was genuinely shocked by how much I wound up digging this game. My wife was the first to really point it out; something to do with being about 8 hours into the game on my second day of play and how I must really be enjoying it. The basic core of the game follows the formula established by Grand Theft Auto 3, that is, you can run around, shoot rivals, innocents, and police, steal cars, all in service of your greater standing in the mob. However, any similarity to that franchise ends there, as EA then turns it on its head and has so much added, this game almost stands out as the beginning of something new. First, there is the “Crew.” As your family within the mafia grows, you can add members of your family to your Crew. You can have three at a time, and these guys are extremely useful. They have some of the smartest assistant AI I’ve ever seen, actually holding their own in battle. They also come with specialties like Medic, Safe Cracker, and Demolitions, allowing you to access places you otherwise couldn’t, and giving you a free pass if you get a little too zealous and are gunned down. The family, like your own character, can all be upgraded, eventually giving you a super-strong posse to take down all other families in your path and claim the title Godfather for yourself. When you’ve gathered your crew, you then start the takedown of other families. Raiding businesses, intimidating their owners into allowing you to “protect” them, and even leading full on assaults on rival compounds are all part of the game, and it’s incredibly fun. The satisfaction of taking your first monopoly (controlling all businesses under a specific crime ring, affording you a power up like bulletproof vests) is equal to the satisfaction of controlling your final one; the game never slows down in pace, and never gets any less fun, even in the 20-25 hour mark, if you’re obsessive like me and do all the side missions. The game encourages a tremendous amount of freedom while still having specific goals. The side missions, used to grab some extra cash or kill conditions on rival mad men, do get a tad repetitive, but they’re still fun. A huge number of unique assassinations are included, with standing and kneeling ones for every weapon, plus environmental kills to keep you busy. The sound and graphics are very high quality, and take you back to this era of glory for the mafia nicely. The decision to have all of the cinematics be done via the in-game engine was a great one. Your created character looks in the brief story-exposing movies exactly as he looks in the game, and solid voice acting leads the somewhat predictable story along nicely. There is an online mode, pitting unfortunately only individual members of your crew against others in a frenetic shootout. This wasn’t nearly as fun as the single-player mission, but is useful as a way to further upgrade your crew, gaining new weapon licenses for stronger and faster guns. It’s really an “extra” more than a selling point, but with such a strong campaign, that is ok. Overall, this game should appeal to a large crowd. Those who love the genre in general will love this game; it feels familiar while adding a lot. Those additions will also make it appealing to those who may’ve felt burned by recent entries in the genre. The game offers a large, diverse playing experience that takes five times longer than many campaigns out there today. Godfather II was a pleasant surprise for me, fun from start to finish, and I hope will be for many others out there. Afro Samurai
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Reviewed By: Seth RobisonSynergy meets slice and dice as the Afro Samurai neo-franchise hits consoles from Namco Bandai. The anime series/movie/magna/soundtrack adventures of man, known only as Afro Samurai, on a quest for both revenge and a little piece of mind (both his and of anyone he meets) in a "futuristic, yet feudal Japan" filled with cyborgs, ninjas and cyborg ninjas. Hack and slash is the name of the game as you travel back and forth to different times in Afro’s life removing the various body parts of your enemies with your sword and a ‘bullet-time’ focus technique that lets you make a mess out of a large group of people in no time. While Afro is more then proficient with his chosen weapon, it’s also his only one and it makes the game’s overall depth painfully shallow. That being said, the ability to split a bullet in mid-flight and send the pieces into other foes never gets old. A RPG-like skill development system for combos is weakened by level-ups that seemingly happen at random. Moreover, a clunky camera, and an atmosphere that in several places screams for gamma correction hamper not only the swordplay but a tacked-on, pace breaking platforming element. However, credit must be given to a game that not only earns an M rating, but revels in the opportunities it affords. Topless ninja girls, blood spilled measured in gallons on the stat screen, topless ninja girls, and so much foul language that the narrator (who like Afro is voiced by Samuel L Jackson) even curses you out just for entering the options screen. Afro Samurai’s cel-shaded 3-D look is a close match for the original anime and the hip-hop soundtrack sets a fast, energetic pace to the action, especially opposed the more atmospheric orchestral themes of other games of genre. A great game for fans of the series looking for more background info, or gamers in need of catharsis and itch to get their hands dirty (or sticky.) Watchmen: The End is Nigh
Platform Reviewed: PSN
Reviewed By: Lucas SiegelThe movie version of the seminal comics work of the 80s was polarizing. People seemed to love it or hate it, and it wound up underperforming in the box office, possibly due to its length or excessive use of blue… Regardless, there was also a video game tie-in for the movie, unique because it was released only on the download services, rather than as a boxed game in stores. Also, the game was a prequel, featuring characters from their crime-fighting heyday, and only featured two playable characters in Night Owl and Rorschach. Also, it wound up actually being fun. The game is standard beat ‘em up fare, with punches, kicks, combos, and the occasional super move used to take down endless swarms of similar-looking baddies. Every gamer reading this knows right now if they like this style of game or not; if you like the genre, you’ll have fun playing through this a few times, if you don’t dig the genre, this game will do absolutely nothing to change your mind. This was the closest thing to a 3D Streets of Rage I’ve played, though, and that gave me quite a bit of fun. Rorschach and Night Owl do play somewhat differently, with the former being much more vicious and the latter being able to reach unique areas by using his grappling hook. While the in-game graphics were perhaps excessively shiny, the cutscenes between missions were done in a motion comics style that aped Dave Gibbons’ art exceptionally well. It was a really cool effect that, coupled with the voices from the movie, made for entertaining interludes. The story itself was a simple mystery with a fun twist at the end that fit the characters involved nicely. This is not an epic game. This is not a genre bender. Heck, this is barely on the periphery of being Watchmen how most comic fans want it to be. However, it’s a fun game, with easy to pick up controls and a cathartic old-school feel to it. If this was a $60 boxed game, it’d be tough to recommend, but as a cheap download off PSN or LIVE, it’s a serviceable use of a few hours of your life. Resident Evil 5
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Reviewed By: Seth RobisonThe labyrinthine meta-plot of the Resident Evil universe comes to a head in this, the fifth numbered entry in the venerable zombie-flavored series. The original game’s star Chris Redfield is back now as the top agent of a multi-national anti-bioterrorism task force founded to clean up the messes left by the collapse of the Umbrella Corporation. His mission takes him to the fictional African nation of Kijuju where he’s partnered with Sheva Alomar, an agent of his organization’s local branch. Once on the ground the duo are quickly overwhelmed by both residents infected with a variant of RE4’s Las Plagas parasite and an evil from Chris’ past. Resident Evil 5 tries to outdo the game changing fourth entry of the series by upping its third-person action and reducing the scares and puzzle solving, but most of all it breaks the mold by being designed with co-op play in mind. Both over your console’s network or in meatspace, two players have to watch each other’s back, and almost as importantly, their narrow active inventory space as they take on increasingly intelligent and better equipped un-undead zombies and ‘bio-organic weapons’ (aka monsters with varying amounts of tentacles and pulsating weak spots). In single player, the AI controlled co-op partner is surprisingly capable, despite being very liberal with the healing items and conservative with weapon selection. However, worries that the single player game will be a fifteen hours escort mission will go away the first time he or she holds off a chainsaw wielding manic while you’re hurriedly stuffing shells into your empty shotgun. Visually Resident Evil 5 is very impressive. The player characters, their weapons, the enemies and the varied environments from shantytowns to swamps are rendered in great detail. Cut scenes are both brief and entertaining with QTEs dispersed thinly throughout. The music is in the standard ‘scary things are about to lunge at you’ style, but the sound of people shouting at you in an unknown tongue does much more ratchet up the tension. Issues with the controls, like not being able to shoot and move, are almost charming at this point, a legacy of the series’ roots that no new game could get away with having. Resident Evil 5 could be an adequate coda to classic series, but the door is left open for it to rise from the dead. Guitar Hero: Metallica
Platform Reviewed: PS3
Reviewed By: Lucas SiegelHave you played a Guitar Hero game? Of course you have. Well, this is in fact, another Guitar Hero game, and you should know at this point what to expect. As someone who liked the requisite late-80s and early-90s Metallica songs, but was otherwise never their biggest fan, I was shocked by how damn much fun it is to PLAY their songs. The Metallica tracks in the game cover every era, and will likely have everyone’s favorites on there. It’s remarkable how much fun and how difficult most of their songs are on Guitar, Bass, and especially Drums. Fancy yourself an expert on the GH drums? This game allows you to use a second drum pedal on the new “Expert +” setting, or as I like to call it, the “OMIGOSHI’MGOINGTOEXPLODE” setting. A new sense of respect and even enjoyment for the music comes from getting to be in their virtual shoes. There are also a wild variety of “Guest Acts” that the band picked for some extra. Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, Slayer, Social D, and System of a Down are amongst those represented here. It’s an interesting look at what they like, and they honestly picked songs that are great for the virtual band experience. Again, as an only casual-at-best fan of Metallica prior to playing the game, I wouldn’t have expected enjoying it nearly this much. Turns out, this is more than just a song-expansion pack, and may even make more fans of the band. If you’re starved for more guitar-focused songs in your band games, or for harder drums and great ensemble pieces, this game will satisfy and maybe even shock you. Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard
Platfrom Reviewed: Xbox 360
Reviewed By: Seth RobisonEat Lead tries to do two nigh-impossible things at once, break though the crowded third-person shooter market and be funny, and almost succeeds. Purporting to be the big comeback of an 8 and 16-bit video game hero who’s coming off a string of flopped games, the titular Matt Hazard instead finds himself hunted by his focus-tested and ‘edgier’ replacement throughout a video game world that runs parallel to the real one. While the action stays in a stock standard third person cover and shoot mode, the foes are plucked from different points in Matt’s fictional game history. From Russian soldiers to zombies, cowboys, space marines to a brilliantly inspired version of the Nazis from a long passed era of limited graphics that has to be seen to be believed, each are armed with theme appropriate and useable weapons. However, after a delightfully satirical first third, filled with pointed barbs at established game conventions and stages that shift themes as you move through them, Eat Lead seems to forget all about that and settles down to hours of both stop and pop and tired console mascot parodies. Although a late clash of genres against a boss from a Japanese RPG ranks among the funniest and coolest battles in years. Design and sound wise, there is not much to write home about, and the voice talent of Will Arnett as Matt and Neil Patrick “Dr. Horrible” Harris as his foe goes to waste on a story that’s incomprehensible even for a game that not trying to take itself too seriously. Monster Vs. Aliens
Platforms Reviewed: PS3 and Xbox 360
Reviewed By: Lucas SiegelThis will likely be one of the shortest reviews I’ve ever written. After all, as Thumper says, “If you don’t have anything nice to say…” I have no problem with games made primarily for kids. It’s a good thing, in fact, to have options that you don’t mind your kids or nephews and nieces playing. Unfortunately, this game is not one. After the stellar Activision-led releases of Kung Fu Panda and Madagascar 2, it was surprising to play what felt like such a rush job. The game follows a similar formula to their other kid-movie-tie-ins, putting the player in the shoes of each of the movie’s main characters for missions tailor-made for their particular talents. The problem is, the gameplay for each is so basic, I don’t see how it could hold the attention of any gamer regardless of age. The humor and excitement of the movie does not translate well to the game at all, and after, well, about 10 seconds of playing as Ginormica on Military Jeeps Turned Rollerskates, I challenge any gamer alive to not throw the controller down in disgust. If you’re looking for a kid-friendly movie game, go back to the aforementioned Madagascar 2, a game kids and adults alike will have fun playing and laughing at. This one will just make you want to cry.