Review: Deadlight

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Deadlight Review

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Zombie Prince of Persia

People like to complain that zombie games have been over done at this point but I’ve yet to feel zombie game fatigue myself. Despite using many of the tropes and themes associated with the zombie apocalypse setting, most major zombie games actually play quite differently. The original Resident Evil games helped create the survival horror genre, creating suspense and tension with its claustrophobic rooms and lumbering tank controls. The Dead Rising series focused on scavenging and escort missions with a healthy dose of wacky Japanese humor. The Walking Dead was an adventure game that was about the human drama that emerges among survivors. Even the three big zombie first person shooters play differently enough to feel like unique experiences. Left 4 Dead focused on a mad run and gun rush to the safe house, the Call of Duty zombie mode was more about holding down an area and keeping barricades up, and Dead Island was basically Borderlands with zombies. The different gameplay in each of these titles kept the zombie apocalypse fresh because it allowed the player to explore this fascinating setting from new perspectives and experience different aspects of it. This notion is essential to our ability to appreciate any art form. Every theme has already been explored by the arts, but originality still thrives in our perspectives of those themes. Each new artist that creates a work provides a new lens through which to explore the most essential aspects of our nature. We do not derive the value of a piece of art from its subject matter but from the angle by which it explores its subject. Repetition in the arts only becomes derisive when an artist tries to imitate another’s voice instead of using his own unique one. Deadlight whispers to us in an old forgotten voice. It isn’t the zany variety show of Dead Rising or the heavy metal splatter films of the first person shooters. Deadlight is poetry. It’s the sad, beautiful story of the end of mankind.

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Review: Dead Pixels

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Dead Pixels Review

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An 8-bit Ammo Hording Sim

There is an inherent and basic drama to needing more than you have. This is the element that appeals to me the most about zombie fiction. I enjoy reading about people scavenging in old department stores and pharmacies, siphoning gas from abandoned cars, and looking at ordinary mundane places and imagining how it could be refitted as a safe haven against a hostile world. It’s not the end of the world, but the rebuilding of it that thrills me. Zombie games usually focus on the more visceral elements of the zombie genre. Left 4 Dead has you blasting holes in heads and running for your life. The Walking Dead focuses on the social drama of the scenario, having you navigate heated arguments and making tough decisions involving the lives of people that have become an adopted family to the player and dealing with their inevitable loss.  But Dead Pixels is about making the most out of what you have. It’s solving the problem of having to cross a street filled with 30 zombies when you only have 10 bullets and then figuring out how to cross the next one with what you have left over. Continue reading “Review: Dead Pixels”

Review: Crackdown

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Crackdown Review

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Super Cop Playground

Crackdown is an open-world game.  That’s it.  It’s not a living world.  It’s not a breathing world.  It’s not a world that feels larger than the player nor is it a small world.  But, Crackdown has a world, an open world, and you do play in it.  Playing Crackdown is a lot like visiting a large building that is still under construction in the middle of the night.  It’s eerily quiet and the air is still.  You can still see the scaffolding wrapping around its exterior and the intestinal piping and wiring line the hallways, exposed through gaps in its unfinished walls.  You could really do just about anything here because you feel alone, truly alone.  Isolated and away from the prying eyes of judgmental observers, you could run screaming down the bare, empty corridors.  You could curse up a storm, throw things against the walls, get on the roof and enjoy the view, or do something else completely inane like opening all the windows and closing all of the doors.

Crackdown feels incomplete.  Like our barren and isolated building, the world of Crackdown feels like the frame of a world under construction.  The structures and layout are there and dime-a-dozen carbon copy cars and “people” wander the streets aimlessly.  Interchangeable “bad guys” sit at street corners and seem more like yellow-shirted place holders than violent gang-bangers out causing havoc.  And then there is you, the only dynamic character, the only thing that breaths in this barren cityscape.  The world of Crackdown is quiet and without music, and the fact that most of the noise in the game will be generated by your character’s leaps and grunts, gunshots and detonations, and squealing tires and revving engines emphasizes the fact that you are the only living entity in Crackdown’s cardboard cut-out world.  As a result, Crackdown winds up feeling very much like a game. Continue reading “Review: Crackdown”

Review: Assassin’s Creed

Assassin's Creed Climbing

Assassin’s Creed Review

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Crusading in the Cause of Bad Assery!

Let me be blunt, Assassin’s Creed is not a stealth game.  Assassin’s Creed is a bad ass simulator.  And by bad ass simulator, I don’t mean that it’s a simulator that is sweet as hell (although it clearly is simply due to the nature of that which it seeks to simulate); I mean that it simulates the experience of being a total bad ass.

You play the role of Altair, a too cool for school first-class assassin extraordinaire.  Unfortunately, his rebellious shenanigans quickly get the best of him, and after horribly botching a mission by giving the creed a heavy-handed bitch slap, Altair finds himself demoted to the level of a new recruit.  Altair then spends the rest of the game trying to return to his former position as a high-ranking member of the assassin’s brotherhood by assassinating 9 key individuals.

The game also has a second, very distinctive setting and lead character.  Although the idea of having a play with in a play seems to be rather common, I believe this is the first time a game has told a story within a story before.  You also play as Desmond, a current day bartender who has been kidnapped by a mysterious corporation.  The corporation uses Desmond’s “genetic memory” (an old crackpot scientific theory that attempts to explain how birds know where to fly every summer for migration and other similar instincts) to relive important events in the life of Desmond’s ancestor, Altair, in order to find the location of a certain item.  The modern day portion of the game seems awkward at first and plays like a simple adventure game with wonky controls, but as the game progresses, Desmond’s discussions with corporate entities and the subversive feeling that comes from sneaking out and hacking into computer terminals really give the game’s story a sense of scope and help accentuate the importance of Altair’s actions in the past. Continue reading “Review: Assassin’s Creed”

Review: Marvel Ultimate Alliance

Marvel Ultimate Alliance Review

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“(Insert Team Name) ASSEMBLE!!!”

As a casual comic fan I was really looking forward to Marvel Ultimate Alliance.  The idea of making my own dream team consisting of my favorite marvel heroes just seemed like an awesome idea for a game.  Unfortunately, the game play could not quite match the appeal of the premise.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance is an Action Rpg in the fashion of the X-men Legends series.  In the game, you create a team of 4 heroes from around 30 or so of Marvel’s most popular heroes.  The game play consists of wailing on countless enemies as you make your way through to the end of the level.  A button punches and B button does a harder punch (which oddly doesn’t do any more damage than the light punches despite taking longer to pull off.)  Each hero can map up to 4 powers to the X, Y, A, and B buttons which can be accessed by holding down the R trigger.

As you kill enemies and accomplish quests your characters level up and you can customize them to a degree by spending skill points on various powers, choosing to focus on certain powers making them more powerful or spreading them out over a wide variety of powers.  Also, a nice addition to the traditional X-men legends formula is that your team, (consisting of the 4 characters you use the most) levels up as well.  As you do various quests, your team gains reputation which operates as experience points for your team.  When your team levels up you can put points into increasing the damage of all members of the team, increase their energy, health, allow other heroes to be benched members of your team (so that you can switch them out with your current heroes and still get the team bonuses) or various other things.

I found the character advancement aspect of the game to clearly be the most enjoyable part.  It really drives the game forward, providing motivation to relentlessly mash the A button and occasionally throw a few powers around.  Unfortunately, maxing out powers can be a bit anti-climatic.  You spend the whole game pouring skill points into a certain move and the final point it takes to max it out doesn’t really give you any big bonus or pay off.  It’s just 10 more points of damage added to the attack and you’re left sitting there saying, “meh” and wondering what else you are going do with your skill points.

The use of money has also changed dramatically.  The uses of money have really been streamlined compared to the previous X-men Legends games.  One key example of this is that the store has been taken out completely.  You can sell your items directly from the menu screen without having to return back to the hub world.  You can also no longer buy items either.  Money now is spent on two things:  buying skill points, and upgrading your costume.  The addition of costume upgrades has also been an interesting addition.   Each character has various costumes (typically 4) they unlock throughout the game and each costume offers different bonuses that can be upgraded with money.  I always found myself unsure of whether or not I should place an investment in my current costume though incase the next one I unlock might have a more appealing set of bonuses, which would render my investments wasted.  Often times I found myself sticking with one of the first costumes after unlocking all of them simply because I had already invested so much money in maxing out their bonuses.

The combat itself was hit or miss.  Sometimes I found myself having a blast and at other times it simply seemed monotonous.  The powers were great fun when they are effective but the game simply felt repetitive if I found myself fighting non-boss enemies who took more than a couple hits to take down.  The beginning also suffers from the lack of powers available.  With only one power available and limited energy in the beginning, the game transforms into a rather pretty version of mash the A button.  There are some combos you can throw in there that did various things such as pop enemies into the air or stun them but they seemed to be of dubious effectiveness and I never really felt inclined to bother with them.  Later on certain enemies can only be hurt by specific combos and when you get your extreme powers you need to pull off combos to charge them up but other than that they just seemed rather pointless.  On harder difficulties they do become a bit more important, but they still seemed rather dull regardless.

Unfortunately, Marvel Ultimate Alliance’s biggest issue derives from a lack of polish.  Some of the skins just seemed ugly up close and it is a bit disappointing that when you complete one of the game’s acts, no one acknowledges it and the characters just keep asking when you are going to get around to doing the thing you already did.  Also, many of the boss fights have quick-time events which at times made the fights a bit more interesting but ultimately felt repetitive as you were simply doing the same canned animation over and over until the boss fight is done.  Another thing about the quick time events is that the sound was often off during them.  You’re characters will be flying about, flipping off things, and jamming sharp objects into places where they shouldn’t be with the soft foot steps of a ninja, barely making a single sound despite the fact that you just toppled a building over.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance however, excels thematically.  The game starts with an exciting full on invasion by a coalition of super-villains on the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier, a giant flying fortress, and quickly escalates exponentially to the point where you are battling gods to save the universe from utter annihilation.  The game is at it’s best when the powers being used really feel like the character.  However, this is hit or miss depending on what character you are using.  Spider-man starts off with the ability to shoot web balls at people like a machine gun, which is a good enough power game wise, but it didn’t really feel like Spider-man.  When I picked up Thor later however,  I was having a blast conjuring up cyclones with my hammer and flying into the sky to make thunder rain down on my enemies.

Strangely enough, I found the title to be a more enjoyable single player experience than a co-operative one.  Pausing and sitting through each player deciding how to spend their skill points and money got to be rather annoying, especially in the beginning of the game when the players are unfamiliar with the different options available to their characters.  You can choose to let the game level up your characters for you but seeing how advancing your characters is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the game, the game wouldn’t be nearly as fun with auto-leveling.

Ultimately, (HAH!) the game was a rather enjoyable experience over-all despite its short comings.  I simply do not get to travel across the universe to battle world-eating cosmic entities enough, and this game fills the niche well. At 10$ this is good gaming on the cheap and well worth picking up.

Is this game worth 10$?  YES!        Rating: B-