tiistai 19. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Uncaged Edition | Xbox 360 | 2009

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: May 1, 2009
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Raven Software
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

After the original X-Men film trilogy came to an end with X-Men: The Last Stand, the same producers started working out a reboot. They decided to start with a film dedicated to the origins of the most popular X-Men character, Wolverine, and explore the rivalry between him and Sabretooth, as it was never properly done in the original trilogy. Though Liev Schreiber was cast to replace Tyler Mane as Victor Creed, Hugh Jackman was recast as Logan without second thought. The film cleverly introduced many Marvel stalwarts to the Marvel cinematic universe, including Silverfox (Lynn Collins), Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) and most notably, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds), and it was a hit in the box office, but critics hated it and Hugh Jackman himself (who also worked as one of the producers) was disappointed in the film. The film premiered in Australia and the United Kingdom first, and in the United States on May 1st, 2009. That very same day, a game entitled X-Men Origins: Wolverine came out on the PlayStation 2, Wii, PSP and the Nintendo DS. PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 owners got the "Uncaged Edition" of the game. The latter got mighty fine reviews to its credit, especially in comparison to the movie - some critics even said that the expanded plotline of the game was written much better than the movie in its entirety. Quite impressed by the demo back in the day myself, I decided to give X-Men Origins: Wolverine a chance. Turns out the game deserved it. It's not a top-quality hack 'n' slash game by any means, but it was clearly made with some heart for Marvel fans and gamers alike, and it's one of the best X-Men games there is.

"Can I help you?" "Are you a beer?"

STARRING
Hugh Jackman : Logan, a.k.a. Wolverine
Liev Schreiber : Victor Creed
Dave Florek : Col. William Stryker
April Stewart : Kayla Silverfox
will.i.am : John Wraith
Steven Blum : Wade Wilson
Robert Wu : David Nord, a.k.a. Agent Zero
Anna Graves : Raven Darkholme
Gregg Berger : Fred J. Dukes, a.k.a. The Blob
Chris Edgerly : Remy LeBeau, a.k.a. Gambit

OK boys, let's put some metal on metal. I'm
guessing mine wins.
Note: I usually review the game, not a specific edition, but X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Uncaged Edition is widely considered a wholly different game than the last-gen title, so I made an exception here.

While being hunted by an anti-mutant army some time in the future, Logan reminisces on his fragmented past as a soldier in Colonel William Stryker's strike force, the events which led to a violent grudge against his half-brother and former associate Victor Creed, and finally, his involvement with Stryker's Weapon X program.

Let's get one thing straight right away, completely regardless of how this review's going to end. When you make a good movie, the game's probably going to suck. When you make a bad movie, the game's definitely going to suck. Since critical reception to X-Men Origins: Wolverine was so mixed, you could say this game breaks both rules. In its usually poor company, Wolverine could easily be called a great game. Then, on to the usual stuff: I sincerely liked the film, I don't understand why people were so hard on it and went so easy on a crapfest like the last film in the trilogy. Jackman pulled his best Wolverine since the first film - still the best film in the whole franchise if you ask me - Lynn Collins looked smoking hot and made her 15 minutes on screen the best parts of the film with that feat alone, and though I admit the script could've used a bit more depth and more of that same spirit that made for the best parts of the trilogy, and though it's clear as day the CGI effects sucked horse balls, I think it was all in all, an entertaining action film. They could've done worse.

Here, we have the game, which is surprisingly faithful to the movie. No actual changes to the plotline here - almost every major event and plot twist in the movie takes place in the game in occasionally alternate fashion - but it's greatly expanded to meet the standards of a full-length, third-person action game, as well as an X-Men game. The two main characters and a few random ones are voiced by the same actors that worked on the movie, which gives off good vibrations from the start. It's definitely a CGI model of Hugh Jackman we're in control of, who's actually voiced by Hugh Jackman, and not just another comic book caricature who's faintly modelled after Hugh Jackman and voiced by Mark Hamill.

I feel like I've been doing this for an hour.
That being said, the game looks quite good, and the Uncaged Edition (the "next-gen" edition we're seeing so much on the PS4 these days... just sayin'!) delivers with gratuitous amounts of gore, it's also naturally a lot faster and smoother in every sense than the "original" version (which however was released on the same day). The level design, however, is the game's most lethal downfall, and I even know just the game to compare it to; Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. The game looks big on paper, but the fact of the matter is, that most part of it is a back-and-forth run between almost identical levels, if not the exact same levels. In a nutshell, as fun as it can be to do "that stuff" using a character who often proclaims to be the best at doing "that stuff", it just can't, but will, get boring towards the end. But well, at least the beginning promises great things, most licensed games are dead on arrival - especially most X-Men games.

The game features appearances - were they just cameos or main cast appearances - by a few Marvel Comics stalwarts, who are somewhat designed after their appearances on film, including the original X-Men trilogy if they happened to be in those films. I think it's fantastic, it does wonders to the continuity. The distracting downside is that whoever does not reprise their role from the film, have also had their characters designed after their earlier film or comic book depictions. The voiceover work definitely hits the mark; the gaps are filled with some of the most talented artists in the field. No subtitles, though, and you know how silently Jackman speaks; it's very hard to make out his lines from time to time. The sound effects are top notch, and the music is of the standard yet functional variety.

As far as general gameplay is concerned, X-Men Origins: Wolverine non-surprisingly follows the most basic guidelines of Devil May Cry and God of War. You hack and slash your way through countless enemy waves (more countless than usual), solve a few mild puzzles along the way, upgrade your abilities with EXP dropped by enemies, and test your might in a few more or less strategic boss fights ("strategic" isn't a seal of quality), QTE's and all. The storytelling style itself brings a little colour to the bland level design; you constantly switch between two periods in Logan's life, the first being Team X's final mission in the jungles of Africa which leads to their disbandment, and the other being Logan's pursuit of his half-brother and teammate Victor Creed in Canada, after the latter kills his girlfriend Silverfox and thus, provokes Logan into taking part in his former superior Stryker's Weapon X program which both blesses and curses him with an unbreakable adamantium skeleton.

I just had to put this here. Joyride, part 1.
It simply doesn't work that well, though, while it does seem like a fantastic game in the beginning - the half an hour which was included in the playable demo. You are introduced to new basic abilities at a rapid pace, and man, are they cool before you realize how many enemies you are to kill in this game. You have a quick attack and an area attack as per usual, and you can either launch enemies up in the air or to the other side of the Earth just as easily. You can grab any standard, weak enemy - they're not around for long - and slash 'em up with a well-timed instakill manouver which works on stronger enemies once you've roughed 'em up a bit, as well. There are several different finishing manouvers found the easiest by simply experimenting. Finally, my favourite, but which you'll also get a little too familiar with, the lunge, which enables you to attack any enemy at a distance, even on the other side of a pit. The first ten minutes of the game feature Logan lunging at a helicopter and taking out its pilot in mid-air. Which is simply ultra-awesome. But in another 20 minutes, the lunging ability in particular turns into an overused run-of-the-mill.

The boss fights in this game are boring as hell at their worst, especially on Hard. The lunge is a very important ability as the enemies tend to be large and their weak spots just happen to be at their upper backs or their heads. You have to lunge in, claw at the weak spot as fast as you can, jump away before they hit you, then rinse and repeat for a million times. They just don't seem to go down and you'll start to feel like you're doing something wrong, or that there must be a better way. No, there is not. And the bosses' strategies never change, there are no particular changes to their behavioral patterns that whole time. You have to prove yourself to the game, time and again - "Look asshole, I've GOT this!"

Joyride, part 2. Best sequel ever.
Logan's natural healing factor comes into play in an interesting way. The "health meter" could be described as his "flesh meter". Whenever he eats enough bullets, the meter goes to zero and his vitals are exposed. If the second meter goes down to zero, the game is over, so what you need to do then is to run around without taking damage until both of the meters are back up. You can also take advantage of Logan's excellent feral senses in a mode surprisingly called "Feral Sense". It's quite like Detective Mode in Batman; it helps you navigate by following scents, spot important items, and even fight certain enemies invisible to the naked eye.

Some abilities you really learn on the go, some are there from the beginning, executable if you experiment enough. You level up automatically by killing enemies and gain a maximum health boost; starting with level 5, you start to earn skill points which you can assign to whatever you want. There are plenty of upgrades to be had for your health, endurance, strength, and each one of your special Rage abilities. Unlike in any other X-Men game where Rage just means you'll go berserk and gain a temporary boost to your strength and speed, here it's just one of the four Rage abilities. The others are fast and brutal manouvers that can often save your hide in a tough spot or a crowd. There's a Rage meter for these abilities, which goes up when you gather these orange orbs, dropped by enemies and found inside breakable background items. About time the orbs turned up.

Calling for silly bonus attires.
You can pep Logan's attributes up by going on a hunt for two prominent varieties of collectibles; dog tags and mutagens. Dog tags picked from the necks of dead soldiers give you a fair bunch of EXP each, and mutagens work the same as accessories in any RPG; the mutagens are particularly cool, probably the freshest idea in the whole game. Wolverine's not the first hack 'n' slash to have special accessories to perk you up, but it is one of the only ones where these accessories aren't considered cheating - like in God of War II, which, I probably don't need to remind you, is one of my favourite games in the world - instead, they're fair rewards for hard work, and can speed up some of the game's slowest slumps quite a bit.

The game is a cakewalk for a true hack 'n' slash veteran; there's no question that as decent as the game is, the biggest challenge is to bear it - the level design, the simple amount of claw fodder and the boring boss fights will get on your nerves sooner or later. The Achievements for this game really aren't from the hardest end either, so if you're a die-hard X-Men fan, I'm guessing this is one game you'd want to go all in for.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is far from a perfect genre game among its distinguished peers, but it is truly a remarkable game in the field of movie licenses, and to think it was received so much better than the film! I don't remember something like this ever happening; I'm even willing to overlook some minor stuff 'cause the game's such a step up. It's a joy to bring the X-Men branch of the Marvel marathon to an end on such a positive note, after having to endure such pain including what I perceive the worst game in history. Very recommendable for hack 'n' slash and Wolverine fanatics, however you should not expect a game you could just go at again and again - but a good, cheap novelty item to keep you busy during the hard rains.

UPS
+ The best playable Wolverine ever
+ A nice and simple character development system
+ Immediately useful collectibles
+ Yummy cameos and a good story altogether, expanded greatly from the film
+ Fast and brutal combat mechanics...

DOWNS
- ...Combat itself gets brutally repetitive even faster
- Back-and-forth, lengthy and repetitive levels, compensated for a little with the steady alternation between a few scenarios
- Crappy boss fights, not nearly up to any standard of the genre
- As much as I like Jackman, he could speak up; no subtitles

< 7.8 >

perjantai 15. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men - The Official Game | DS | 2006

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: May 16, 2006
AVAILABLE ON: DS
DEVELOPER(S): Amaze Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

Activision had five different developers working on versions of X-Men - The Official Game for seven different systems. While duties for the Game Boy Advance version fell onto the ostensibly experienced WayForward Technologies - who fell a little short of the expectations of the target group - the DS version was handled by Amaze Entertainment, who had extensive experience working on licensed games for kids and young adults alike. Not that they were ever that praised, but at least they had a hunch of what they were doing. Or so we thought - they got a little carried away here.

Touch too much

Lady Deathstrike turns up alive and well, and Wolverine follows her trail to Japan, with Professor X, Iceman and an "old friend" trying to bring him back to the mansion where he's needed. Meanwhile, the Professor contacts Nightcrawler and asks for his help in dealing with an anti-mutant organization which is somehow linked to Wolverine's vendetta.

I smell something else.
X-Men - The Official Game, round 2, does not start with with warm thoughts. Though fragments remain the same, the plot's all different from what I just got accustomed with. It's not such a bad deal otherwise, but I'm getting a little confused as to what's really the gap-filler here. Of course it's the console version, but why drag these handheld games even further down in value by intentionally making them so poetically insignificant? More importantly, I still have some personal issues with the DS, even after witnessing good gameplay and even a couple of truly good if not great games in at least five out of the ten-something experiences I've had thus far (most of which I've not reviewed, how ironic). MOST importantly, the Game Boy Advance game sucked - and mostest importantliest (heh), this game got even worse reviews than the other Nintendo handheld iteration of the game. No, this time the problem isn't the usual one. This is definitely a DS game, made with the DS' capabilities in mind; not a Game Boy Advance game disguised with a second screen. The biggest problem is of the exact opposite kind.

The game looks pretty good - occasionally very rough, but generally decent enough to pass the test. The cutscenes are done in a comic book style, but this time they actually feature drawn versions of the film characters; the splash screens have HD portraits of the actual characters as they appear on film. So in this case the game takes the comfortable middle road. Still no stills from the movies, which in this case is a bigger relief than usual since the game isn't directly based on any of them. The music is also quite good, it mostly lives on the magic of stereo sound though. There you are at the title screen, humming along to the theme song - then you touch the screen as the game tells you to, and it just simply goes to hell.

Long story short, this iteration of the title is a top-down action-"adventure" game. The 40 levels of the game switch between fetchquests, boss fights and just plain ol' action levels in which you need to survive a few scripted waves and then just make your way to the exit, at a very uneven balance and pace. They averagely last from one to five minutes each. Getting through any kind of level with a top score - in other words, collecting these score thingies scattered across the levels, defeating as many enemies as possible, and finally getting through the level within the time limit shown on the upper screen, as well as the rest of your HUD, earns you a rank from one to five, or as the game puts it, "Upgrade Score". Don't believe that shit, you can't upgrade anything in this game. Least of all your very own motivation.

Like in the Game Boy Advance game, you start off as Wolverine and him alone, but the next couple of levels introduce the rest of the playable cast: Iceman, Nightcrawler, and finally, out of the nearly purest blue, Magneto. Having the X-Men's deadly nemesis along for the ride for the first time in a traditional action game is probably the most notable upside to this whole slug... on paper. Nightcrawler's teleportation ability has never worked in a video game and it doesn't start to have any more use here. Magneto works just weird, and it will probably take you a long time to get used to his ability (if you've played "Obi-Wan" in Angry Birds: Star Wars, you know what I mean). I've always thought Iceman was a wuss. That leaves Wolverine, again. Well, he's not a darling to control either. You see, I've often criticized these games for bad controls but this game just takes the cake. They went too far.

Oh shit, the tail gave me away.
Every X-Men has a specialty, of course - just having Wolverine kick all kinds of ass is not possible. You have to switch between the available characters all the time, occasionally at a very rapid pace, by using L. Get this: L is the only button that actually has some use in this game. You use the digital pad to move - yeah, duh, but get THIS: you ALSO use X, Y, B and A to MOVE! It's like a second digital pad, probably designed for the left-handed, 'cause every action - that's your basic attack and very little else - is touch-based. You can just imagine how comfortable it is to control your character with one of the sides of the DS, and constantly poke the small screen with that damn stick - not to forget that you're supposed to pay constant attention where you poke so that your punches will actually do something. It's horrible, I tell you. When I switched to the DS emulator to get screenshots, it didn't get any more comfortable having a controller in the other hand and the mouse in another, and my will to live shattered when I got to the first Nightcrawler level.

I didn't beat the retail game either, 'cause I grew so tired of the awful gameplay around the 17th or 18th level. The generic Game Boy Advance platformer was a dream compared to this.boring, but even more specifically painful wannabe action-adventure. In good news, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel, and the X-Men franchise has now reached it. After seven months of vigorous testing of my patience and endurance, I'm FINALLY heading to the final game of the X-Men branch of the Marvel marathon, and I can you tell you right now that it will end on a slightly more positive note than any of you might've expected.

UPS
+ Looks and sounds like a DS game instead of a superficially enhanced Game Boy Advance game

DOWNS
- Simply awful gameplay... and that's all that it takes

< 4.1 >

torstai 14. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men - The Official Game | GBA | 2006

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: May 16, 2006
AVAILABLE ON: GBA
DEVELOPER(S): WayForward Technologies
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

X-Men - The OFFICIAL Game? Well, how about that? What's the definition of "official" here? Were the other gazillion X-Men games somewhat unauthorized? Is this game supposed to be the cream of the crop, worthy enough to be endowed with the word "official"? Let's cut the crap; X-Men - The Official Game was released as a tie-in video game to X-Men: The Last Stand, the final film in the original X-Men trilogy which has since been expanded to a prequel trilogy and a stand-alone Wolverine flick, both of 'em quality stuff if you ask me. (The Last Stand itself sucked horse balls. Just putting it out there.) What might explain the "official" part in the subtitle is that the game was the first X-Men game that actually had more to do with the films than the comic books... sorta. Instead of a direct adaptation of the film - which was yet to premiere - the game was a stand-alone story in the film series' continuity, written to bridge the gap between X2 and The Last Stand. What started as a quite interesting and lucrative idea turned into a poor excuse of a beat 'em up-oriented action game. Two completely different conversions of the same plot were released for both of Nintendo's handhelds. Let's start with the Game Boy Advance version - if we must.

Colossal headache

Wolverine, Colossus, Iceman and Nightcrawler return to Alkali Lake after the tragic events that took Jean Grey's life and put Cyclops out of commission, to retrieve spare parts for Professor X's sabotaged Cerebro. They're greeted by a few old acquaintances as well as a couple of new adversaries.

Falling down towards the end of this
marathon of crap! Whee!
After finishing the review for X-Men: Wolverine's Rage, I said there were four reviews left, but make that five. I was completely certain Activision would've taken the easy way out with the handheld games and release two practically identical games for the Advance and the DS. Hell, I was fully prepared for the DS version to have some sort of splash image on the second screen (as if to say "hey, aren't we technologically adept?"), but play out and look exactly the same as the Game Boy Advance version. Well, it turns out they're "completely" different games, with "completely" different features. We'll see when we get to the next review, but if this Game Boy Advance title is any indication of what's coming, the future is not looking good. Three years after a quite decent showing in X2: Wolverine's Revenge, the X-Men franchise takes several steps back with a typical, sticky action-platformer that simply is not fun to play. How ironic that the game was developed by a company calling themselves "WayForward" when the game's the exact opposite - and you know what the company had on their backlog those days, way before they hit it big by getting associated with Silent Hill and DuckTales? Barbie games, games based on the animated version of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and one of my everlasting 16-bit "favourites", Mickey's Ultimate Challenge, plus several other crappy licensed games for kids, expiration date slated for whenever they learned to talk. Neato. And here we have an X-Men game. Feeling confident yet?

The game doesn't look that bad; it's just quick, generic work in general. It's hard to tell the playable characters apart. The cutscenes look quite all right, and personally I'm fine with the comic book caricatures of the film characters rather than badly digitized mug shots you see in so many licensed games of the era, not to mention those revolting movie stills. I last played the game five minutes ago, and I can honestly say I can't remember the music at all, it's of that variety of stock.

Wolverine's the cover boy and stars as the lead character, as well as the character you inevitably start the game with - as well as the only truly useful character in the bunch due to his range and speed. How surprising... the other playable characters are Iceman and Nightcrawler, and exclusively in this version of the game, Colossus. Characters that haven't been featured in these games for a long time, that's cool. It's funny that the exclusive character is the second most valuable character, but only due to his ability to smash certain obstacles and objects that stand in the way of actual progress. He's strong as hell, of course, but he has pathetic range. You practically have to stand an inch away from an enemy to deal damage as Colossus, and that way you'll take damage yourself, all the time. Like in that Madness in Murderworld game ages past, you can switch characters at any time the storyline allows you to, but once a character's K.O.'d, he remains that way. This time, though, there are unlimited continues, generous checkpoints, and whenever you need Colossus, it's usually in a point where it's virtually impossible to lose.

Everybody: "It's a Juggernaut!"
The game is an extremely typical, easy platformer in which making progress reminds me of that X-Men: Wolverine's Rage game on the Game Boy Color, in the sense that your only goal is to make it through the levels. It doesn't matter how much ass you kick, nothing matters except getting to the exit. You can just run through the levels if you feel like it, 'cause there are no power-ups, no collectibles, nothing to even the odds. The control scheme is, should I say, unbelievably generic considering the day and age - you have five different standard attacks, triggered by a direction on the digital pad (or none), a (shitty) special attack which is triggered with A + B, plus a Rage meter, filling which automatically puts you into an exceptionally ugly and generic Rage-mo, which doesn't even allow you to do that much more damage than per usual.

As the cherry on top, the game brings back the two age-old problems of the vintage Marvel Comics action game; hasty level design with two developmental stages, those being copy and paste, and horrible controls. Sure, the guys do what you tell them to do; it's just that they do it fractions of seconds later. It took me half an hour to get past Juggernaut - the second boss - due to the bad controls and those only. There are no right reasons for this game's occasional difficulty.

On to the DS version of the game. I already snuck a peek of the aggregates up at GameRankings, and it turns out the DS version was beaten up even worse than the Game Boy Advance version. Well, ain't that promising. Luckily I have to go to work a long-ass, aggravating shift now.

UPS
+ Good looking cutscenes
+ Good story and cast of playable characters...

DOWNS
- ...Only one of practical use, though
- Generic gameplay
- Generic level design
- Delayed controls

< 5.0 >

keskiviikko 13. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X2: Wolverine's Revenge | GBA | 2003

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: April 15, 2003
AVAILABLE ON: GBA
DEVELOPER(S): Vicarious Visions
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

A few weeks before the world premiere of X2, an accompanying video game was released on the three major consoles of the era, as well as the PC and Mac, entitled X2: Wolverine's Revenge. Once again, while this game seemed like official film merchandise with the X2 brand on it, and even Hugh Jackman on the cover, it was yet another comic book license that storywise had more to do with X-Men Origins: Wolverine - which was still six years away! - than the X2 film. The characters were modelled after their comic book counterparts, and Hugh Jackman didn't even lend his voice to his signature character, instead it was Mark Hamill who starred in the game. So, it's just another X-Men game, leeching the film makers' bankrolls. It was received fairly good, though. Oh, but to be completely precise, that's not the game on the plate here... what we have here is the Game Boy Advance game of the same name, released a day after the big boy. Which, against all expectations, got the best reviews. Shocked as I am to find it true, X2: Wolverine's Revenge is quite entertaining.

*Snikt!*

Outta the way, bub!
In 1968, a mutant calling himself Logan was used as a guinea pig for a secret government experiment conducted at an isolated location in Canada, codenamed Weapon X. He manages to escape the Weapon X facility, but won't leave before confronting the scientist in charge, who tells Logan that all Weapon X subjects are injected with a deadly virus that works as a failsafe, and kills a human subject within a year - its effects on a mutant are yet unknown. Over 30 years later, Logan has joined the X-Men and goes by the name of Wolverine. Beast examines his blood and tells him that the virus has bypassed his healing factor and will kill Logan within two days. Wolverine travels back to Edmonton to infiltrate the Weapon X facility, look for the one and only cure for his condition as well as clues to his vague past.

The X-Men game I'm most familiar with through time is, without question, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, released in 2009 on the tail of the movie (but which once again is only loosely based on it). Minutes into X2: Wolverine's Revenge on the Game Boy Advance, I could almost swear this was a portable conversion of THAT game. The plot is so similar, the level design is so similar - although progress is made in a mashed up order - and in this unrefined "version" of the game, you can't really tell whether they used the comic book version of Wolverine or Hugh Jackman's film version as reference for character design. Except for the splash screens and cutscenes which show the truth. Maybe being so familiar for the most part put off a good vibe right from the start, I don't know, but the truth is all the same; basically the worst thing about this game is its name. Despite some really frustrating moments from the very beginning, X2 is good, reasonably advanced handheld entertainment. Finally!

That's not Hugh Jackman.
The game looks good - no, let me rephrase that: it looks VERY good. Long before the introduction of the Nintendo DS, the camera zooms in and out smoothly depending on the situation, perhaps roughing up the pixels a bit, but fucking nothing explicitly up for the player. Character animation works, it's only the enemy design which could've used some more work, as well as the unintentional slowdown occurring whenever the camera zooms in the same time as Wolverine's in Rage mode. The music is quite good, obvious stock for any GBA action game from Shin'en Multimedia, but it works nonetheless.

Basically, the game plays out like any Wolverine game you might imagine, but good solutions to age-old problems reveal themselves right off the bat. Let's see now: I always had a beef with Wolverine's claws being confined to limited use. Well, in this game the use of the claws is basically unlimited, but if you go on a crazy Edward Scissorhands killing spree, Wolverine very quickly goes into his unstoppable Rage mode, and after he's done acting like a maniac, he cools off for a couple of seconds which leaves him completely prone to enemy attacks. Climbing walls is impossible while in Rage, and for the duration of the cool-off period, and as the entirety of the third level so irritatingly proves, climbing walls is very essential in this game, one of its most frustrating elements in fact. I'll return to it in a bit. Sheathing the claws enables Wolverine to sneak up on stationary enemies and knock 'em out with a single blow to the neck (Canadian death grip?) in a bit o' poor man's stealth action, and it also activates his healing factor - which brings into question, how closely are the plotlines between this game and the game on the big boys related? Not very. This here's a much simpler plot, which is even closer to the Origins game.

Wolverine vs. The Joker in Taco's Revenge!
The level design is fun for a change, (cue "although") ALTHOUGH the levels could be just a tiny bit shorter and we would still have a game of reasonable length at our hands. Permanent power-ups, such as dash and slide, are hidden across the levels; of course, you need these power-ups to be able to proceed, I don't really get why most of them are hidden like rare collectibles, behind frustratingly hard stretches of wankery usually related to the wall climb. Time to reveal the evils.

I said that the game had flaws from the beginning, so let's start from the beginning. There are these bridges in the first level that collapse immediately when you step on them, which means you need to dash over 'em. Now there's no problem in getting the dash power-up, it's right there in plain sight and Professor X even guides you to it if you're still having problems seeing it (which means you're blind, so sorry man, I guess your gaming days are over), but a huge problem occurs whenever you're beating down an enemy soldier in the vicinity. He might dive straight through the bridge and leave a permanent gap on it, which makes it impossible for you to cross it without risking a life. A similar splinter pops out in the next level where you're chasing Sabretooth. He makes gaps on the bridges as part of the scripted challenge, but you're in a huge hurry throughout this luckily short level. Just one second of hesitation is enough to lose track of that hairy bastard and cost you a life.

Now it's starting to look like the most recent
Wolverine flick.
Well, then the wall climb comes along and all sorts of trouble will hit you like a ton of bricks. Drones come from above without warning, hitting you on the head while you're on a wall - there's nothing you can do about 'em, and there's also nothing you can do about Wolverine letting go of the wall and falling straight down, in the worst case on a mat of spikes and dropping dead. Climbing up a straight wall is not difficult, but jumping to an adjacent one is much harder. Double that if there's an enemy on the top of that adjacent wall. One bullet is once again all it takes to send you all the way down to the start of that already frustrating vertical chute; it's like the game was designed not to have "checkpoints" along the way of those, or "checkblocks" which you could fall onto, not having to start the whole thing over. What's most annoying about the wall climb is, non-surprisingly, the fact that you cannot climb without your claws. One of the boss fights at a surprisingly early stage practically requires you to punch the hell out of your opponent with your claws - which means you'll go into Rage, and once Rage ends, there's the cool-off period - and climb both sides of the field, in rapid succession. ...Well, at least there's some strategy involved. Not what I thought after the first couple of boss fights.

Overall, even with that annoying wall-climbing madness convincing me otherwise, plus a few miscellaneous, accursed flaws, X2: Wolverine's Revenge is honestly one of the most entertaining and even innovative games I've played during the whole Marvel marathon thus far, and will very likely turn out the best X-Men game out of 'em all, as surprising as it is.

UPS
+ Wolverine's exceptionally fun to play as for a change
+ Good story, though simplified from the one of the console version
+ Good graphics
+ Notably better level design than in most licensed handhelds (and Marvel games in general)

DOWNS
- The wall-climbing ability - and its importance
- Level-specific frustrations throughout the game
- The title; it's just an X-Men game, pure and simple

< 8.1 >

tiistai 12. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - Darksiders II | PS3 | 2012

GENRE(S): Action / RPG
RELEASED: August 14, 2012
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Vigil Games
PUBLISHER(S): THQ

A sequel to the moderately successful Darksiders was officially revealed in early 2012. Darksiders II was to star another Horseman of the Apocalypse in a series of events taking place the same time as those of the first game. The game turned out not only a very different game from its predecessor, but a huge step forward by Vigil Games from every aspect; whereas the first game was a standard hack 'n' slash with clever puzzles to make it stand out, Darksiders II was a carefully crafted mixture of a similar puzzle-laden hack 'n' slash and an action-RPG much in the style of the recently released Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Cult actor Michael Wincott was brought in to voice the main character. The game laid down great foundations for a third and maybe fourth game... but sales weren't very good, and during discussions for a third Darksiders game, THQ filed for bankruptcy. Well, if Darksiders II turns out the last game in the franchise, at least that which started with a flicking spark goes down with a moderate bang; the game isn't perfect, but damn if it isn't entertaining.

Shadow of Death

STARRING
Michael Wincott : Death
James Cosmo : Maker Elder Eidard / Nephilim Wisper
Keith Szarabajka : The Crowfather / The Scribe / Wicked K / Nephilim Wisper
Andre Sogliuzzo : Karn / The Mad Smith
J.B. Blanc : Thane / Valus / Hellguard / Disembodied Voice / Human Soul
Claudia Christian : Muria
Jessica Straus : Lilith
Vernon Wells : Samael
Simon Templeman : Absalom / Avatar of Chaos
Troy Baker : Draven / The Sleeping Warden / The Phariseer / The Abyssal Forge / The Lost Warden / Legion

Horseman of the day.
While War faces the Charred Council for the destruction of the Kingdom of Man, his brother Death takes fast action and sets out on a journey to the Tree of Life for proof of his brother's innocence and to resurrect humanity.

Even when I was scavenging for a glint of light through the worst slumps of Darksiders, I had high hopes for Darksiders II. I had just read that it's more of an RPG than your everyday hack 'n' slash, it had Michael Wincott voicing the lead character - Top Dollar in The Crow is one of my favourite villains in movie history and this guy has such a distinctive voice these sorts of characters are meant to have! - and finally in that same regard, this game stars none other than DEATH. Death's been a villain or important side character in several games, just starting with the Castlevania series where he's nearly always been the penultimate boss, and of course one can't forget his importance to the classic Discworld series. In this game, we control Death (whoa, that sounded cool) and his name alone immediately gives off a better vibe than playing as something as ambiguous as War. Fury might also make for a good antihero just by his name. Strife... well... Cloud Strife? Nope, I've got nothing. DEATH. I am become DEATH, the destroyer of worlds. Sounds awesome. And plays out great, too. Darksiders II is a giant leap forward from its predecessor. NOT what Assassin's Creed II was to Assassin's Creed, but a very notable leap forward and a highly enjoyable game for hack 'n' slash and RPG fans alike, I think - at the very least just what I expected when I first got familiar with a franchise called Darksiders (cue booming movie trailer voice).

Death's not destroying the world, though - on the utter contrary, he's restoring it. If only it were that simple; beneath the simple and well-acted surface, Darksiders II once again hits us with a highly confusing story that makes us feel like the whole franchise is missing something, like a comic book or novel which would elaborate on these events. The good news is that although War's trial in the first game is the red herring to the beginning of Death's journey, the story of the first game doesn't really matter. You don't practically need to know more what happens in the very beginning of Darksiders, 20 minutes into it, everything else hardly matters. Hell, you could play through the tutorial sequence of Darksiders and then skip straight ahead to Darksiders II, 'cause that's where Darksiders II's story begins as well. War's situation is hardly mentioned once you're halfway through the game, it's all about the restoration and preservation of humanity - I guess? - and Death's journey is across a whole different land than War's, so you don't need to worry about repeated level designs either. This is more medieval-looking, not the post-apocalyptic landscape of the first game. To be frank, it kinda looks like World of Warcraft in the beginning - the comic book characters don't help.

I might not be a fan of the game's style, but
that's one hell of a landscape.
Darksiders II looks technically better and smoother than its predecessor, but the character design is exactly the same and I still don't like it. And, one thing I noticed right off the bat is how much I'm annoyed by the fact that whenever Death's without body armor, with just that cloth covering his criticals - if he has any? - he looks exactly like Kratos from God of War, just with a head full of hair, all the way from his pale skin to his stance, to the way he holds his weapons, to a tattoo on the shoulder, which in this case looks more like a scar though. And when he does have body armor (just another piece of cloth covering his shoulders), he looks like Raziel in Legacy of Kain. Thus I consider Death's look a bit unimaginative. Can't say I would've done him any different, but I didn't, so I'm entitled to judge. The voice acting is top notch, even better than in the first game. Michael Wincott rules, and he brings in that trademark, charming and intelligently sarcastic tone to his performance, which results in a much more intriguing lead character than Death already is. A few actors from the first game - such as Troy Baker, Phil LaMarr and Keith Szarabajka - either reprise their roles or voice completely different characters, and almost all of them lend their voices to several demons as well for cost-efficiency. Simon Templeman turns up as yet another obvious villain, and finally, James Cosmo of Game of Thrones fame replaces Mark Hamill as the mentor character of the game, who's a much nicer guy than Hamill's Watcher, though. The voiceover work is altogether awesome, although one can't help thinking that the voice actors did not have any more of an idea what the hell's going on in the story from time to time than us confused players do. Well, at least the gameplay shines enough for us to not really care what's happening, as long as it keeps doing so.

Darksiders II has plenty in common with its predecessor and is easily recognizable as a sequel, but it's still so different right from the start. The control scheme itself has been tweaked closer to a role-playing interface; there's a radial menu straight out of any BioWare console game, in which you can assign different special attacks and other abilities to a face button "speed dial"; you are also able to converse with several NPC's (some of whom give you "sidequests", although most of the sidequests in this game are best completed just by going along with the storyline), and a version of the dialogue wheel which originated in Mass Effect comes in. The overworld is completely open from the start, besides locations which cannot be unlocked without a special upgrade or conquering a specific plot point. It's Death himself who reminds you that although the game might look the part, Darksiders II is not an RPG. There are no decisions to be made, no customization at all beyond the skill tree which allows you to develop Death into two different directions; Harbinger, who's more into direct offense, and Necromancer, who's more into all things arcane. However, even that tree's designed so that you are pretty much forced to balance him out with skills from both branches. So Darksiders II is still a hack 'n' slash with notable RPG elements, and good the way it is. Much better than the first one, at least.

Death awakens an utterly docile rock giant
just to reduce him to a pile of rubble. Reasonable.
The one problem with Darksiders II is repetition. It's just one problem, that presents itself in several different ways. Exploring the huge overworld - of which there are actually two - is all for nothing. Sure, you'll find collectibles there, but if you're risking life and limb and spending hours on figuring out how to get that one mysterious treasure chest on the map checked off, don't bother. Just go with the game's flow. Talk to people, get those sidequests, and carry on. Again, you're more likely to finish them by making progress than going on a solo expedition. And the way you make progress in the game, well, just drift from dungeon to dungeon. And that's where the repetition hits. Sure, the puzzles in the game are clever, but every time you finally conquer a new type of puzzle, it starts repeating with tiny variations, sometimes even throughout a whole dungeon, until the puzzle becomes routine and a run-of-the-mill scenario for the game - the same problem the first game had, basically. In addition, the mission objectives repeat; kind of like to compensate for the confusing plot, it's laid out perfectly clear that you need to find three *something*, each time. In most dungeons, there are three different puzzle-laden paths, with an important quest item at the end of each. Get that and the next path opens. Why are you doing this, again? No idea, you fell off the wagon hours ago - someone pops up every two hours to mention War by name on the side of something else, so you would still remember how it all began. I guess it's the most important part. The one salvation of Darksiders II is Death. Just one salvation, that presents itself in several different ways.

Though Death's pale complexion, hunched stance and empty eyes make him look like the walking dead, he moves like a cat. Think a very updated Prince from Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, or Ryu from Ninja Gaiden. Like the Prince, Death can run along straight horizontal walls, and jump between two close ones like Ryu. He can also climb or run a wall, no matter how tall or wide, if there are these posts stuck along which give him a speed boost. In another "oh, come on" type of turn, he can't grab ledges that are inches above his head if the game says so, he can only grab certain types that are clearly highlighted. In combat, especially with the right equipment, Death is unstoppable against your everyday wave. You can equip Death from head to toe with different equipment and accessories that have a zillion different categories for perks; health regeneration from every successful hit, notably heightened offense and defense, elemental attributes, you name it. The amount of loot in the game is almost on the Fallout level; there's no inventory limit for the equipment, you can either put your excessive loot to good use by upgrading your "Possessed" equipment with spare parts from standard items, or sell it at any merchant. The equipment with the most perks sells for good money, no matter how useless it is to you at that particular point of the game. So, even if you get pennies in the beginning of the game, you'll start making hundreds of thousands of gold in no time, and you'll also max out your abilities in no time.

There's one combo trainer in each of the game's worlds, and these are the guys whose wisdom you should spend your money on first, 'cause you'll get perfectly good equipment from the field, at least stuff you'll manage with until you've upgraded Death's abilities to the max. Then it's the equipment's turn. There are a couple of weapon and armor merchants, one certain NPC who sells the best accessories in the game, and finally Vulgrim, the merchant demon from the first game who sells special items, such as a respecification item that lets you reassign your skill points, and mystery boxes with random elite equipment. A thing that eases the game up a little is the ability to fast travel, from dungeons straight to a merchant and back again, back to the last checkpoint of the dungeon. Basically, if you're heading into a boss fight with your health potions at zero, you can go back to a merchant to fill your stock and then go back in just a small jiffy. Easy, yet comfortable - just take a look at the map and think if you'd had to backtrack all that way.

I've got an open mind when it comes to women,
but I don't necessarily want to know what's
under that skirt.
Wrath abilities, the Chaos mode, and the secondary weapons in this game are far from useless. You'll most definitely need to test out the Wrath abilities and find your favourites quick, 'cause the bedlams get so merciless so quick that just being able to mash the attack and dodge buttons like a pro is not enough. Just one mistake might kill ya. Chaos is kind of like a last resort, since in his Grim Reaper form, Death deals ultimate amounts of damage that'll do you the most good against big enemies - including some bosses - and doesn't take any damage himself. The downside to it is that it's over very quickly, and the Chaos meter replenishes very slowly. Most of the gear - as fun as it is to try it out in combat - is useless for direct, standard offense, but they're invaluable key items for both free exploration and making progress. The secondary weapons, on the other hand, they're the shit. From the beginning, you equip Death with two sets of weapons. His primary weapon, of course, is his trademark scythe, two of them to be exact (which makes him look all the more like Kratos). You use the scythes with the square button, while the triangle button is dedicated to the secondary weapons - gauntlets, maces, axes, hammers etc. - which deal a LOT of damage, especially if used at the correct moment. The higher your combo, the more your momentum grows and the more likely you are to deal critical damage, especially with variation. Combat is perhaps the game's overall top quality - unlike in Darksiders, there's just the right amount of it, at just the right pace, and it's much smoother. Even that initially dumb targeting system is a little easier on the nerves.

The hardest parts of the game are the puzzles, but like I said, once you've solved one, you've solved every puzzle in the game for the next two to three hours, so occasionally you might find bearing the game the toughest challenge of them all. It picks up, though, on an equal amount of occasions, keeping you glued to the seat to the confusing end of the confusing story. It's far from a non-stop thrill ride, but I recommend the game with a much warmer heart than the last one to any hack 'n' slash fanatic. Since it's not a direct sequel to Darksiders and to be honest, it hasn't got much to do with the first game at all - I guess? - casual players can just skip the first game with good conscience and go for the main course. I'm not all that thrilled for the chance for a Darksiders III, and I'm not sure if I'd buy it, but the evolution on show on here is enough to convince me to at least welcome the game to the world.

UPS
+ Death - voiced by Michael Wincott, no less
+ Great voiceover work in general
+ Entertaining combat
+ Fun little RPG elements

DOWNS
- Shallow, confusing story
- Clever, but highly repetitive puzzles...
- ...As are the mission objectives
- Lots of empty space

< 7.9 >

maanantai 11. elokuuta 2014

REVIEW - X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse | GBA | 2001

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: September 26, 2001
AVAILABLE ON: GBA
DEVELOPER(S): Digital Eclipse Software
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

Just four months after the release of the last X-Men game for the Game Boy Color, Digital Eclipse Software tried their X-hand once more with a Game Boy Advance release by the name of X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse. Here we have something that sounds exactly like a vintage side-scrolling beat 'em up sure to get Marvel fans on the move, as well as people who were ever into such games as Final Fight, TMNT and Batman Returns - not to forget earlier X-Men games of the type. Turns out it plays much like that as well... just not as good. Stiff controls and lack of kind warnings ruin the day - almost.

Dimensional rift

Get out of my house.
Returning from a trip in the Mojoverse, Wolverine, Rogue, Cyclops and Storm find themselves in an alternate dimension ruled by Apocalypse. They must make their way through the shattered remains of this world, including the ruins of their very home, to make it back to their real home.

So, X-Men shift to the 32-bit era of handheld consoles, and not much changes. In fact, the gameplay goes back to the most successful era of the X-Men branch, a side-scrolling beat 'em up (and nothing else) in vein of X-Men: Mutant Apocalypse - kind of hard NOT to imagine the game as some sort of a spiritual sequel to that moderate success story by Capcom, with Apocalypse for the head honcho and the very concept of the Game Boy Advance, to bring 16-bit classics to a handheld's screen. However, Reign of Apocalypse is even more of a traditional side-scrolling beat 'em up than Mutant Apocalypse, with most of the genre's vintage gameplay standards intact, with the exception of a few things that mattered back in the day.

X-Men: Reign of Apocalypse looks good, and even if the game was not made by Capcom, you'd expect some good music to go with all the beatdowns just for the sake of competitive effort, but the soundtrack is decent at most. That's the first spike to the gut.

Marvel Comics presents: David Lee Roth.
I chose Cyclops for the exemplary character this time around; I've used Wolverine as the primary character in every game thus far and we're nearing the end of the marathon, so I think it's only fair, and changing the character brings some diversity to the plot at hand. I started off with an open mind like I always do when I switch to another system, but sadly, the one major issue which has bothered me in nearly every game thus far along the marathon - the whole Marvel marathon - emerges the second you start this game: bad controls. Cyclops moves like a freakin' Sentinel, and generally speaking, I think it was a bad idea to assign jumping to R, while they could've moved that to the directional buttons and used R for something more productive and standard such as blocking. Another huge problem emerges with the enemy A.I.. The enemies have a tendency to stay outside of the screen just as long as you make your move towards them, towards the end of the screen, where they have the perfect window for a cheap shot. It turns out a huge problem once the enemies get tougher, and that doesn't take longer than two levels.

Once again, a short review. Make your own quick judgement, and if the outline sounds bearable enough, go ahead and try the game; this is one of those X-Men games that might even be worth it, thanks to its simple and vintage idea, the small details of which pay even more homage to vintage beat 'em up than Mutant Apocalypse ever did. One of the better X-Men games around, though that's not saying much.

UPS
+ Good story
+ Good graphics, just what was expected
+ Like I said in defense of Mutant Apocalypse, sometimes the simplest ideas work best

DOWNS
- Controls. Again. And the control design.
- You're prone to cheap shots all the time

< 7.0 >

REVIEW - X-Men: Wolverine's Rage | GBC | 2001

GENRE(S): Action / Platformer
RELEASED: May 15, 2001
AVAILABLE ON: GBC
DEVELOPER(S): Digital Eclipse Software
PUBLISHER(S): Activision

Out of all X-Men games released in the wake of the film series, the Game Boy Color exclusive X-Men: Wolverine's Rage is probably the one that least promoted the films... instead it was a blatant ad for the X-Men: Evolution animated series, which premiered in late 2000 and in turn did ride on the coattails of the first movie's success. What we have here is the last X-Men game for the Game Boy Color, starring Wolverine on another personal round trip to literally save his insides. What to do to keep mine from spewing out of my mouth...? In all honesty, X-Men: Wolverine's Rage is not from the worst end of the X-Men branch of the marathon, but far from the most interesting one.

RAGE

Lady Deathstrike has acquired plans for a weapon powerful enough to melt Wolverine's adamantium skeleton, and allied herself with two more of Logan's most persistent adversaries, Sabretooth and Cyber. Wolverine must naturally stop the construction of the weapon at all cost, not just for the sake of himself but for the X-Men.

What I expected from this game was some sort of a new take on the 16-bit game Wolverine: Adamantium Rage. The little I had seen looked pretty much the same, and Wolverine was once again in rage - adamantium-related rage, I might add. So, I headed to the game with a hint of dread, I didn't like Adamantium Rage all that much, at least not the SNES game - the Genesis "version" is supposed to be completely different. Well, X-Men: Wolverine's Rage is a much simpler and more straightforward game, which is ironic 'cause I consider it a puzzle game above all. Too simple, and too straightforward, though. We have come to the point where there are not many X-Men games left, not many Marvel games for that matter. How hard was it to make a good, balanced game out of perhaps the most interesting superhero of that era? We were far away from Batman: Arkham Asylum, but we already had a few quite decent Batman games to choose from, and in this context, good Spider-Man games - the latter of which were published by the same people. At this point I'd like to state that against my expectations, this marathon might not have been all that awesome, but I've learned a lot from it. Truths which were better left unknown. But for now, I digress.

Last I looked, there was an
enemy there. The graphics
glitch "a bit".
X-Men: Wolverine's Rage doesn't look all that good. Calling it repetitive is a compliment, and the cutscenes look like someone vomited all over your Game Boy's screen; Wolverine looks like a pile of unrefined mass in yellow spandex. I'm somehow reminded of the "cutscenes" in the Batman: Return of the Joker remake on the Sega Genesis back in the day. The music is repetitive as well, not much to say about the starting quality either.

The game is a very simple - and highly repetitive - platformer in which all you actually need to do is finish the levels, as in find the exit, which is usually behind a small horde of enemies and strategically placed platforms. You need to find the correct order to the platforms to hop your way to the goal. That's it, plus the few mandatory boss fights, and this goes on for 20 levels, which have five stages each. Phew. The controls feel decent at first, but mashing the attack button too rapidly results in a special attack that lasts for years and during which you cannot control Logan at all. This happens a bit too much, and it doesn't seem all that bad until you realize you're losing health each passing second that attack's on. You can regenerate health by simply standing still, but since every stage has a time limit of just a couple of minutes, it's not very recommendable.

That's it. It's not the unplayable kind of bad, if you can get over Wolverine's rage, which ironically is perhaps the game's most stinging flaw besides the general boredom which has become somewhat of a standard for these games as long as I've played them and will most likely remain one right up 'til the end. At first it seemed like I was off-topic, but I really think that at this point, it was high time to ask the question, "what's so hard about making a decent game out of the X-Men?" For now, there are four X-Men reviews left...

UPS
+ Different story
+ Simple idea, good for light portable entertainment...

DOWNS
- ...Highly repetitive once you put your mind into it; boring level design
- The special Rage attack is almost completely out of your control and drains your health
- Audiovisually insufficient

< 5.3 >