Review Roundup: DANTE, BIOSHOCK2, AVP

Dante’s Inferno: Divine Edition

From: Electronic Arts/Visceral Games

Reviewed on PS3 (Also Available on Xbox 360, PC)

Reviewed by: Tim Janson

<i>“Midway upon the journey of our life

I found myself within a forest dark,

For the Straightfoward pathway had been lost.”</i>

Those are the opening lines to Dante Alighieri’s epic poem, written seven hundred years ago, describing Dante’s journey through Hell.  It is also the setting for this new action/RPG from Electronic Arts, strongly inspired by God of War. You play Dante, a Templar Knight, returning home from the Crusades only to find his beloved Beatrice murdered and her soul dragged down to Hell by Lucifer.  Dante will have to fight his way through the nine circles of the Underworld to try and rescue Beatrice.

Your first challenge will be to fight Death itself and claim his powerful scythe for yourself, which becomes your primary weapon.  As Dante battles Hell’s many minions, he collects their souls.  Collected souls are used to purchase attack or defense upgrades and are implemented with various button combinations.  These upgrades come in two forms: Holy and Unholy and gain increasing power as you advance in level.  As you meet more powerful souls, such as historical figure Pontius Pilate, you have the opportunity to absolve them of their sins, releasing their souls to Heaven, or punish them by destroying them utterly.  Absolving souls raises your holy level while punishment raises the unholy level.  An even mix of both is needed to utilize the magic spells and relics you’ll find as you journey through the nine circles.

The enemies that Dante encounters are as vile and repugnant and one would expect to find in Hell.  Demonic infants with swords for arms, lustful souls of prostitutes with scorpion stingers, bloated worms that can swallow Dante whole…and that’s in just the first few levels.  Dante’s Inferno earns its mature rating with extreme amounts of gore, nudity, and disturbing imagery.  Souls are scattered about, impaled on spikes, or spewed forth into rivers of fire.  As you scale walls made of sinews, souls are trapped behind, pleading for release from their torment.

Each of level of Hell has its own design, which corresponds to its name such as Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Anger, and Heresy.  You’ll not only need to rely on your fighting skills but also your puzzle-solving skills to navigate each level to completion.  The Bosses are gigantic, dwarfing poor Dante.  King Minos, the blind ruler of Limbo slams at you with fists and tentacles with spring forth from the ground; Cleopatra pulls monstrosities from her bulging breasts; and Cerebus, the three-headed guardian of Gluttony, vomits globs of bile.

While the advanced attack combos are nice, you’ll seldom need to use them on most enemies, as your standard attacks are more than enough to dispatch them with ease.  Even most bosses can be defeated with basic attacks once you learn their patterns and what to avoid.  Likewise most of the magic spells and relics are unnecessary except for those that can restore your health and magic meters.  One hint:  purchase those upgrades which enhance health, magic, and standard attacks first before buying the more complex combo attacks.

At times the game can become too enamored with puzzle sequences.  Some can become frustratingly annoying and you get the idea they were tossed in to merely extend the gameplay artificially.  Some puzzles such as the portal/floating platforms of Gluttony are so serene that they seem completely out of place in this horrific realm.

The controls are not as tight as one would hope for such a button-mashing game.  Dante moves slightly forward when he attacks, even when using magic.  If you are too close to the edge of a platform you’ll find yourself tumbling over the edge to your death.  There is no way to adjust camera angles in the game leading to several instances of blind spots and jumps that are tough to negotiate.  

Dante’s Inferno doesn’t break any new ground, but it does present a gaming environment that is often visually stunning not to mention often creepy and uncomfortable.  The controls are a bit too loose to truly make the game a masterpiece but this is certainly the start to a strong series.  The Divine Edition, exclusive to the PS3 includes a digital version of the poem, soundtrack, and some behind the scenes videos. There's also a coupon code for downloadable content, including a new costume, relic and prequel level, which will be available in March.

BioShock 2

From: 2K Games

Reviewed on Xbox 360 (Also on PS3, PC)

Reviewed By Seth Robison

For brevity, if you haven’t played the original , you might want just skip to the section on the multiplayer.  If you have, you might want to skip down as well because you’ve already played this game.

2K Games’s , out now for Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows, takes place eight years after the events of the first game, returning the player to the underwater dystopian city of Rapture.  This time you play as Subject Delta, one of the first generation of the game’s iconic Big Daddy characters. A new leader has emerged to size control of the city and its largely insane population of deformed freaks known as splicers. It’s up to you to deal with them, a new wave of brainwashed Little Sisters and their heavily armed and armored protectors as well as the new threat posed by the agile Big Sisters.

Yes, Big Sisters, as in more then one, as despite the early information that there would be a singular, powerful threat that would stalk you throughout the game, killing one a couple of hours or so into the game leaves you in a bit of shock and confusion.  Until another (and another, and another) appear to threaten you at semi-regular intervals, deflating the tension built up by their initial appearances.  This, unfortunately, is just the first is several storytelling and gameplay missteps that dilute the impact and legacy of the original game.

The new antagonist, social psychologist Sophia Lamb, seeks to create a ‘utopia of the self’ in the ruins of Rapture, but beyond her psychobabble and cult following her ambition is rather plain and straight forward, not atypical of gaming foes, and certainly not equal to the caliber of the now legendary meta mind-screw that was the Andrew Ryan encounter.  Like the end of a M. Night Shyamalan movie, you know there is a twist coming and so the intended impact just isn't there.  The many jarring retcons of Sophia Lamb into the events of the first game, only build nostalgia for that experience, instead of intrigue into this one.

The FPS gameplay is largely unchanged from the first game, if it wasn’t for the Big Daddy drill being the default melee weapon, it would be hard to tell the two games protagonist’s perspective apart.  The rivet gun replaces the pistol, and a .50 caliber machine gun replaces the Tommy Gun, but the spear gun, shotgun and grenade launcher all return, and all can use different types of ammo for different situations (like anti-personnel, anti-armor, proximity detonation).  On your left hand the franchise’s signature plasmid attacks return, almost exactly as they were last seen.  You obtain the electric attack and flame attack similarly in order, and the bulk of the powers, freeze, decoy, the bee hand, the cyclone traps and a security system override can be purchased from in-game vending machines.  The hacking returns, with the “Flooz” minigame replaced with a timed button press sequence.  Researching foes to gain insight into their weaknesses returns as well, this time as a film camera, rather than the previous game’s stills.  In fact, only two instances make the most of a Big Daddy player character.  The first is the ability to survive underwater and walk along the ocean floor, though this is limited to linear jaunts from airlock to airlock with no combat.  The second is the most significant gameplay change, the ability to temporarily adopt Little Sisters and have them help you gather the game’s crucial charter development currency, the DNA scrambling ADAM.  When a sister begins to gather ADAM, she will attract waves of splicers that you can lay a multitude of traps for, adding a touch of strategy as you consider choke points and lines of defense.

The game is broken up into about nine levels, depending on how you look at it, and while some end with a moral choice on the part of the player the biggest difference is that you can no longer backtrack.  The controls are tight, allowing you to use a conventional weapon and your plasmid powers simultaneously, although ‘iron sight’ aiming will disable your powered hand temporarily.

Graphically the game is again similar to its predecessor, which in itself was amazing, but layers it with more detail and a lot of blurring effects.  The past ten years have not being kind to the leaky underwater city, as plant life encroachment threatens to make the art deco facades look like the inside of a Red Lobster.  This decay has also lead to an increase of flickering lights and shrieking metal, distracting from the view and drowning out the passable orchestra and period music soundtrack. Deliberately or not, it’s disorientating and slightly nauseating.

The multiplayer game, which largely feels like the true impetus to develop , seeks to blend the Bioshock gameplay format (plasmid power and conventional weapons) with the popular ranking system seen in games like the recent .  A clever addition is the incorporation of the multiplayer action into the larger story by placing the action in the time before the first game, just as the city’s civilization starts to break down.  Your multiplayer avatar is one of a half dozen (more if you bought the collector’s edition) true objectivistic iconoclasts who apparently seek to prove their own greatness by enrolling in a program that rewards them with new weapons and powers for blowing away their fellow man.  

As you play though the arenas, each themed after a different part of the first game, you earn experience points that will unlock better weapons, powers and clothing items.  The modes are severely limited to seven thematic variants on the stock multiplayer experience, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (a Little Sister in this case), Domination and King of the Hill.  In most modes, a Big Daddy suit will spawn randomly and allow one player to use its arms and armor until killed.  In a clever variation of the practice of ‘teabagging,’ players can also ‘research’ their foes for experience and a damage boost by standing over their body, filming them for a few seconds, rewarding the risk taken by those who choose to linger in view of their opponents’ deathcam.  Some of the mechanics from the single player game have changed as well, as the multiplayer uses a ‘walk it off’ health system, rather than a collection of med-packs, and there is a limit to the number of weapons you can carry.

had a lot to live up to be a great sequel to an all time great game, but the weight of its legacy let it down.  Great sequels find a happy medium between what worked in the first game and where a franchise can go in the future. wanted to be a lost second act, but instead was a regression.  

Aliens Vs. Predator

From: Sega, Rebellion Games

Reviewed on: Xbox 360 (Also on PS3, PC)

Reviewed by: Lucas Siegel

Rebellion decided to go for an ambitious venture here, with three distinct campaigns based on three distinct races. While the Marines, Predator Elites, and Xenomorphs all have similar melee and ranged attacks, they do each have just different enough controls and features to make each campaign unique. What did we learn? Well, you can successfully make a 3-campaign, 3-race FPS, and you could also make a Predator game that is nearly impossible to stop playing.

This game genuinely could've been called "Predator Stalks Pitiful Humans, Ripping Them In Half" and I would've been happy. After all, that's what I wound up spending the grand majority of my playtime doing. With a unique "throwing your voice" distraction method that allows you to isolate individual humans, plus the signature near-invisibility of the Predators and their gigantic bladed arms, and you have some vicious devastation. There's something so satisfying about the stealth kills that makes you feel like you are in fact this incredible hunter.

The Marine and Alien campaigns are OK, if not altogether average. There's nothing too revolutionary about either of these, though the atmosphere and sense of constant danger overlaid on the Marine campaign is done quite well. There is a consistent sense of foreboding and just waiting for the next Predator or Alien to jump out and attack you from the shadows when you're roaming around with your various guns, which sometimes feel almost entirely useless against enemies that can close distance in a heartbeat.

The multiplayer options have the now-standard assortment that include various deathmatch, team, and survival options. Again, in many MP modes you can play as the other races, which is the hallmark of this game. Overall, the MP isn't going to take over your system from any of the "majors" out there already; you'll find yourself back in the loving arms of or soon.

This game is worth the price of admission just to play the Predator campaign. The rest of the game is a bonus you get when you think you're done. Fans of the series will have fun with the accurate representation of these warring groups, and FPS fans looking for some variety will definitely find it here. The story may be a bit generic, and there may be more melee combat than most are used to in their FPSes, but does the important things right.

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