perjantai 27. heinäkuuta 2012

We're close to a full Year 2

It's been one hell of a ride. I've experienced many setbacks in several areas, including my life and no-life - collectively speaking - and had to back down on many promises. Yeah, that pretty much sums up Year 2 of the VGMania blog. Here's to hoping Year 3 will be a little more fruitful. The most important thing is that it's coming, I guess.

I've been building up a small list of games I'd like to take on in the days surrounding b-day, but at the moment, my priority is to get VGArchive up and running properly. I've been updating it pretty steadily for the past week, but there are still no archived reviews or game pages up. I'm still a ways from completing work on them.

If there are any reviews coming before August 7th, they will still probably concern newer games and DLC, but those into retro gaming will be pleased to know that on b-day, I'll take a turn back to where it all started with a considerable amount of gems and rocks from the 80's and 90's. Maybe I'll return to some previously spotlighted franchise like I did last year with Mario and DK. Who knows? Well, I do. ;)

torstai 26. heinäkuuta 2012

L.A. Noire DLC Guide

There's no more of this "sweetness", but a few
interesting riddles, anyway.
L.A. Noire was one of the most critically acclaimed and best-selling games of 2011. Being the picky bastard I sometimes am, I personally stamped the game with a mere 8.3 rating; the great story didn't  hold together throughout the line, the interrogation sequences were innovative - not to mention graphically stunning - but extremely linear, sometimes repetitive and often illogical, the general replay value of the game was quite low, and all in all, as good and fresh as the game was, it wasn't what a fan of Rockstar Games would've expected from a game that had their logo all over the covers. Of course, L.A. Noire was developed by Team Bondi instead of Rockstar themselves, and it remains a cult title as the inexperienced Australian development studio dissolved soon after the original console release of the game, due to a political fallout with Rockstar. Considering that L.A. Noire was their first and last game, it is an interesting title to look into, and it's interesting to judge what sort of places the studio could've went by the looks of it.

The PC version of L.A. Noire was developed by Rockstar Leeds in Team Bondi's stead, and by default, it included every bit of downloadable content released for the console versions, as well as every bit of previously platform-exclusive junk. The PC version was dubbed L.A. Noire - The Complete Edition, and it didn't come as no surprise at all, that just a week after its release, the bundle was released on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 as well. However I might've viewed the game back when I borrowed it from my friend to experience and review it, I always thought it would be a nice to own, and getting a fancy box set with all the DLC for a budget price wasn't a bad deal at all - especially considering that most retailers sell a used copy of the original retail version just a few euros shy of the price of a brand new Complete Edition. So, for the last couple of weeks, I've enjoyed (and cursed) another round trip in a 40's Los Angeles, and conquered a few brand new cases, which made the second round of this strictly one-round game that much more interesting. Or did they?

The tray of DLC has everything from the good to the bad to the ugly - but what can be said about each DLC pack in general, is that apart from a couple of disturbing details (like the operator's voice changing in the middle of a call to that of a completely different person's), they mesh with the story quite well. They're all integrated into the main story, which means that if you start a new game with them installed, you'll have to play them, you can't turn 'em off or anything like that. If you download them after you've completed the game, you can choose them from the Cases menu and play them separately - so thank heavens, no, you don't have to restart the game to access the DLC. There are no street crimes taking place during the DLC cases, so you can beat 'em pretty quick by just letting your partner drive from scene to scene. You do not have to five-star these cases to get "The Up and Up" Achievement, BUT your actions are accounted for just about any other retail Achievement. So, if you're missing something, these are fine tools to fill in some gaps with, and each one of them - with the exception of The Consul's Car - comes with five high-level Achievements. A couple of these cases are pretty lengthy, and each pack sells for less than four. Bad, ugly, it doesn't matter. If you own L.A. Noire and dig the shit out of it, you probably own each one of these babies already. I'm still doing the guide.

As always, I consider only the expansive add-ons to be viable for a review. In addition to these five downloadable cases, the Complete Edition also includes two extra suits, a Badge Pursuit Challenge conquering which also grants you access to a new suit (but strangely, no Trophy or Achievement), and two new weapons.


RELEASED: May 2011
PRICE: €3.99 (PlayStation Network EU), 320 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

The Argentinian Consul General's car is reported stolen, then found abandoned and stripped of parts at someone's backyard - literally.

The Consul's Car is the black sheep in the L.A. Noire DLC family, as it is a story case, originally exclusive to the North American PlayStation 3 version. It was made available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 worldwide as DLC last out of all the packs in July 2011. So, it wasn't planted in a later version of the game - instead, it was exclusive to one, and removed from the others, which resulted in dialogue referring to a case that didn't exist, as well as meeting characters later on in the game, that were introduced during the case, namely crime scene investigator Ray Pinker and the security guard Oswald Jacobs. The circle of bad storyboard design comes to a close.

The fact that the case was originally part of the storyline makes things interesting, it immediately raises the bar - to heights the case can't reach. It's also the only "DLC" case that doesn't have any Trophies or Achievements to go with it.

The Traffic desk has a couple of really interesting cases, but the moment you get promoted to Homicide is one of the highlights in L.A. Noire. The Consul's Car doesn't do a lot more besides merely being in the way of that promotion; not as bad as the next A Slip of the Tongue case, though.

The Consul's Car is a very simple, basic case - it's placed as the second Traffic case, which makes it the second REAL case in the whole game - and a quite innocent and harmless one, really not from the grittiest side of L.A. Noire. It's good practice for beginners, but veterans of the game might find it a bit dull. It brings illegal street racing to the Traffic mix, which is the most interesting bit.

RATING : 6.8


RELEASED: May 2011 
PRICE: €3.99 (PlayStation Network EU), $3.99 (PlayStation Network US), 320 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

A stolen car legitimately bought by a young man leads Phelps and Bukowsky to the trail of the biggest auto theft and fraud ring investigated in the history of Traffic.

I've never owned a car and I know practically nothing about all the paperwork that comes with it. Even less of buying a car as a middle-class U.S. citizen in the 40's. A Slip of the Tongue is filled with pink slip mumbojumbo that is difficult for me to follow, not to mention uninteresting. I screwed up the case pretty bad simply 'cause I didn't understand it. It has some good parts, but it's indeed tough to follow, and moreover, the final solution to the whole thing left me hanging ice cold. Looks like Team Bondi had a lapse of total unimagination here.

A Slip of the Tongue is the all-around weakest case in L.A. Noire. In its defense, I can say that all that talk about insurance frauds and stocks in the worse parts of the retail game's later half almost equal to all this gibberish. It's not even that fun to play just once; if it wasn't for the Achievements AND if I had had some choice in the issue, I would've let it pass if I knew what it was like.

RATING : 5.0


RELEASED: May 2011
PRICE: €3.99 (PlayStation Network EU), $3.99 (PlayStation Network US), 320 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

An incredibly beautiful fashion model by the name of Julia Randall is found dead in her bathtub. Homicide detectives Bukowsky and Galloway are ready to close the case as yet another "society suicide", but the coroner isn't convinced, and summons Phelps and Earle from Vice to the crime scene. They manage to uncover a net of suspicious relationships, the victim's involvement in a series of burglaries, as well as more details on the stolen morphine they're primarily investigating.

Now this is more like it! The Black Dahlia Homicide case series in L.A. Noire was seamless. It was (almost) perfectly written, and strictly limited to six victims, including Betty Short, the original Black Dahlia who's never seen in the game. I still think Homicide could've been expanded with one more murder that would've obviously been done by a B.D. copycat, but on the other hand, I guess that would've watered the whole desk down a bit. The most important part is that they gave us a murder case to chew on - there's a giant mystery behind this so-called "innocent girl's" murder that goes way beyond a simple drug overdose. Drawing inspiration from a movie of the same title, The Naked City is the best Vice case there is - actually, it's placed so that it puts every case that follows to shame - and when I say "giant mystery", I mean it. The Naked City is one of the lengthiest, if not THE lengthiest, single case in L.A. Noire.

It has everything you'd expect from a balanced L.A. Noire case: tough interrogations (almost everyone is full of shit that's difficult to spot), car chases, shootouts, tailing, a lot of dark humour, and as the cherry on top, a couple of really random Achievements. The Naked City is fun, and I couldn't quite imagine L.A. Noire without it anymore. It's the only DLC pack that really affects me that way. It's not as good as the Dahlia series, but pretty close to what L.A. Noire is at its best.

RATING : 8.9


RELEASED: June 2011
PRICE: €3.99 (PlayStation Network EU), $3.99 (PlayStation Network US), 320 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

A devastating explosion at an industrial plant in the heart of downtown Los Angeles has the downtrodden pairing of Phelps and Biggs attempting to cash in on the case of the year.

Nicholson Electroplating was the first of two real downloadable content packs for L.A. Noire; it wasn't a pre-order bonus or a platform-exclusive like the previous ones, although there was a pre-release code for it that came with the copies sold at Best Buy's midnight openings. That narrows down the list of people who owned it from the start, and expands the list of potential buyers. Is it worth the buy? For sure.

Nicholson Electroplating adds in a lot of contextual elements from the era that were all but missing from the retail game: fear of "the bomb", fear of World War III, industrial espionage, and the shady businesses of actual rich and famous people in the introduction of Howard Hughes (from Team Bondi's perspective).

It's a very interesting case, a very balanced one, it has some of the best action sequences in the whole game, and it gives the Arson desk a huge boost after all that boring dealing with insurance policies. However, it falls a little flat, since the espionage part ultimately fails to come full circle, and it comes with probably the most difficult (and random) Achievement of the whole game, only unlockable during the last couple of minutes.

RATING : 8.6


RELEASED: July 2011
PRICE: €3.99 (PlayStation Network EU), $3.99 (PlayStation Network US), 320 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

Vice receives a tip of a marijuana smuggling ring from a known junkie informant named Freddie. Phelps and Earle question the reliability of Freddie's information, as he claims that the ring is able to smuggle extremely large shipments of pot in plain sight.

Jesus. Pot is illegal (in most places), and has been for decades, but I never knew it to be this nasty of a business in any part of the world. There are some epic gunfights to get involved with during this case. They kind of distract me, as I never thought pot to be worth getting killed over. I always thought of getting caught for possession or distribution as more of a "shieeeeeeeeet" kind of situation than an all-out gunfight of life and death. Well, I trust the case to be based on an actual sign of the times. Oh, and while this might seem like acceptance and defense, I don't smoke pot, and I don't encourage others to do it. Don't play with drugs, kids. Play video games instead.

Aside from blowing a bit out of proportion in my view, Reefer Madness is a quite interesting case that carries on the "crooked cop" theme very prominent in Vice, and adds more depth to it. There's really not much more to say about it.

RATING : 8.0

sunnuntai 22. heinäkuuta 2012

MOVIE REVIEW - The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christian Bale : Bruce Wayne / Batman
Gary Oldman : James Gordon
Tom Hardy : Bane

Joseph Gordon-Levitt : John Blake
Anne Hathaway : Selina Kyle
Marion Cotillard : Miranda Tate
Morgan Freeman : Lucius Fox
Michael Caine : Alfred Pennyworth
Matthew Modine : Peter Foley
Ben Mendelsohn : John Daggett

Written by Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Directed by Christopher Nolan


It's "Harvey Dent Day", on which Gotham City celebrates its greatest hero. The truth is that Gotham City's district attorney and "white knight" Harvey Dent went insane. Batman, who was merely trying to save Commissioner Gordon's son from Harvey's wrath, inadvertently killed Gotham's so-called savior. Since Harvey was a symbol of hope for the people of Gotham, and the truth about him would've plunged the city right back into the dark abyss it was in before his notable efforts to clean the city, Batman chose to take the fall for everything Harvey had done, as well as exile.

"I'm retired, but I'm aching to go on just one
tiny little stroll in the suit. Will be home before
9 P.M."
Batman hasn't been seen in eight years, but the police still seem to be ready for him - for many police officers in Gotham City, capturing Batman is the top priority, even if there's an immediate threat for them to attend to. Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, has not been seen by anyone but his butler in a few years. Wayne Enterprises isn't doing too well without Bruce personally calling the shots, and to the board, he has become even more of a burden than he ever was, as he still has sole ownership of the company. Bruce has severe physical injuries, which he has suffered since he first donned the cape and cowl - but they're not his problem when it comes to his self-imposed isolation from the world. The mental scars Rachel Dawes' and Harvey Dent's deaths left on him, are. Unknowing of Rachel's decision to be with Harvey - thanks to Alfred - Bruce is convinced that he and Rachel would've had a life together, a life without Batman. Simply put: since Rachel is dead, and he can no longer be Batman, Bruce has lost his sense of purpose when it comes to his life. He's not living, he's merely alive. Alfred tries to talk some sense into Bruce, into noting how thoroughly stunning Wayne Enterprises board member Miranda Tate is, and letting go of Batman's dark legacy forever.

An unexpected, but seemingly irrelevant confrontation with an extremely skilled and devious, but kind-hearted thief named Selina Kyle unlocks a chain of events that is about to change Bruce's life. When Gotham is targeted by an extremely dangerous, violent and cunning mercenary-turned-warlord calling himself Bane, to whom Kyle is working for to an initially undefined degree, Bruce knows he has to overcome his physical state, as well as his grief and regret, and rise against Bane, whose underground army is systematically destroying his city, by such means as effectively incapacitating the police and isolating Gotham from the rest of the world. As the proverbial "cherry on top", Bane has a Wayne Enterprises prototype in his hands: a fusion energy core that can be modified into a devastating neutron bomb.

After eight years on exile, the Dark Knight rises. Oh, how I love to say that.


I don't usually do movie reviews, as you well know, but there are a few reasons I wanted to do a number on The Dark Knight Rises. First of all, it's a huge movie. Secondly, it's the final Batman movie in a (award-winning) trilogy. Thirdly, IT'S A BATMAN MOVIE, which makes it stand above every superhero movie, or any action movie, out there on my account. The fourth reason is a particular key scene near the end - while I was in the theater, awestruck by the first two and a half hours into this amazing flick and merely _considering_ doing a review, one particular key point ripping off a page from the script of the video game Batman: Arkham City sealed the deal: I had to write a review of The Dark Knight Rises.

Let's put things in hindsight, first. Out in 2005, Batman Begins was a great movie, but it was criticized for some reasons. Let's see what the negative fuss was about. The main antagonist of the movie was Ra's al Ghul - a great comic book character, but that only. People who never really intensively cared for the comic books, had no idea who the hell Ra's al Ghul was; I even heard a friend of mine being under the impression that he was Christopher Nolan's own creation. To me, Ra's al Ghul is like a legend; I haven't read Batman comic books in years and none with Ra's al Ghul, but I still know everything there is to know about him, and consider him one of the most important characters in the history of DC Comics. To not twist this up too much, I kinda understand why people were so disappointed; they wanted a whole new Batman movie franchise to start off with a known villain, someone whose appearances weren't limited to the comic books, and someone extremely distinguished, like the Joker. They got what they asked for in the end of the movie, and then in the sequel as somewhat of a "reward", what they asked for and then some. About that later.

The second biggest point of critique - what I've gathered - was Christian Bale's portrayal of Bruce Wayne and Batman, opting to create a huge gap between the characters by having that infamous, much-spoofed whiskey-and-tobacco voice whenever he was suited up, and making even totally different facial expressions as Batman than he did as Bruce Wayne. At first, critics loved it, and found (hidden?) meaning in Bale's portrayal - they loved how Bale applied Batman's much-speculated insanity and schizophrenic tendencies into the mix. During the three years leading to the sequel, they started second-guessing themselves and suddenly claimed Bale's unique portrayal to be lame, cheesy and thoroughly inconsistent. It's funny how a critical outbreak by just a handful of fans, and people whose job is to make fun of pop culture trends - such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who applied "the voice" to the Coon and Mysterion in South Park - affects already made decisions like that.

"Uh-oh. Looks like I'm enjoying this a bit too
OK, I was never a big fan of the voice either, but it didn't prevent me from enjoying Batman Begins. Nothing could've, it was such a great movie, and did what it came to this world to do: to blow those ridiculous, last two movies in the Batman quadrilogy back to the hell they came from. It made Batman popular again, worldwide and most definitely on my personal account. It wasn't about chasing criminals, it wasn't about non-stop explosive action. It was about the hardships of Bruce Wayne - some could say Batman Begins was more of a drama than an action flick. If so, it's the best damn drama ever made. Its dialogue and individual lines set the tone for the whole trilogy. "[I can't kill you,] ...but I don't have to save you." "[You never had a chance to thank me,] ...and you never have to." "It's not who I am underneath, it's what I do that defines me." The Dark Knight Rises, of course, gives whole new meaning to "Why do we fall, Bruce? ...So we can learn to pick ourselves up", in a lot more ways than one can imagine while still walking into the theater.

I think that The Dark Knight (2008) is a dangerously acclaimed movie as far as common skepticism for The Dark Knight Rises is concerned. Let's face it: Heath Ledger stole the show as the Joker, as Jack Nicholson did in Tim Burton's original adaptation of Batman back in 1989. Ledger did something Nicholson didn't: he died during filming. He received a posthumous Academy Award for his already amazing portrayal of the Joker - this sealed The Dark Knight's forever firm place in movie history. It's easy to get consumed by the thought of the Nolans never being able to write a script this deliciously complex and still functional, AND deliver quite the similar ensemble cast of characters and actors. The Dark Knight is commonly perceived as a movie that had absolutely no flaws; that is simply not true. The cast was awesome, the plot twists were even better, and Ledger's performance was the kind you simply couldn't get enough of ("watch me make this pen disappear"), but the movie went on for a little too long for its own good, it had slow spots, it was a little inconsistent (even dumb at times), and there wasn't really anything besides Rachel's death which made Bruce Wayne (not Batman) tick in that movie - one of the main reasons I love these movies so much is seeing Bruce Wayne's character develop. This one was more of an action movie; the Joker wasn't really a physical force, not like Ra's al Ghul and his League of Shadows, but he was extremely resourceful when it came to mind games, and usually he played those games by blowing shit up. He loved to watch the world burn, and he did everything in his power to make it happen.

This is where we finally get to The Dark Knight Rises. The first thing I would like to point out is that it is NOT a stand-alone movie; to understand, and maybe even like, more than a half of it, you NEED to see both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight before it. Yeah, sure, it's a big movie, lots of action, it's got Batman in it, might be good to go see with your friends on some Saturday evening if there's nothing better to do. It's not how it works. The Dark Knight Rises is a conclusion, an end to a legend. About 120 of these 165 minutes are dedicated to linking this movie to the previous ones - mostly Batman Begins. It's made clear that the Joker was never intended to be the "real villain" in The Dark Knight - he was more of an engine to get things running the opposite way, and ultimately set the stage for the grand finale which is this third movie. He killed Rachel Dawes, albeit indirectly, and at the same time, he was responsible for Harvey Dent's transformation into the hideous Two-Face, and then encouraged the former hand of justice to become the hand of vengeance, and to take his mishaps out on the Joker's rivals, including Batman and Jim Gordon. For the Joker, the movie ended a bit abruptly - I'm not sure how big of a stake Ledger's death had in this. The first 30 seconds of The Dark Knight Rises clean the slate perfectly clear: Harvey Dent was the villain in The Dark Knight, not the Joker. He started out as the hero of the movie, then turned into the main antagonist - just like Batman did in the eye of the Gotham populace. In the very end of The Dark Knight, Batman lured the police on his trail, taking the fall for every single crime Harvey Dent committed - with the sole intention of not killing Gotham's hope for a better future, countering which was the Joker's ultimate agenda. The Bat-Signal was smashed to pieces, and a manhunt for the Dark Knight began.

Hardy's put on more than a little muscle.
Fast forward eight years. Harvey Dent's still remembered as the hero who saved Gotham City from ruin, while Batman is remembered as an urban legend, a cold-hearted murderer, who will be shot on sight if he ever steps out of the shadows again. Jim Gordon's damn near a breaking point. His family has left him, the truth about Harvey Dent is tearing at him and after eight years, he's still anxiously waiting for Batman to show up on his doorstep for a Bat-coffee and catch up for old times' sake. A young police officer, a "hothead" named John Blake is, like Gordon, sure that peace won't last in a place like Gotham City, and sooner or later, the city would need Batman to keep things together - especially after it becomes known that an extremely resourceful and dangerous mercenary by the name of Bane has targeted Gotham City. Like Batman, Bane was trained by Ra's al Ghul - only his methods were supposedly so extreme that he got kicked out of the band. Kicked out for "being to extreme" by people whose purpose in life is to purge the world? Words can't possibly describe the epic potential of these two guys confronting each other.

However, for the longest time, it seems that a confrontation isn't going to happen. It takes time for Bruce to just step out of the Wayne Manor's front door - the guy hasn't seen daylight in years, he's like Beast in Beauty and the Beast. Actually when I think about it, the key scene that eventually prompts Bruce to finally show his face to the world, mirrors Beauty and the Beast by quite a lot. In Selina Kyle, Bruce finds a thoroughly interesting person (in many, many, many ways), who's ultimately responsible for Bruce starting to take his choice of exile into review. Despite his doctor's warnings of engaging in any "strenous activity" and Alfred begging him to just "move on", Bruce decides that Jim Gordon, John Blake and Lucius Fox's opinions matter more to him, Selina Kyle would make a fabulous extra resource although she needs to be seriously negotiated with, and Bane needs to be stopped. The Dark Knight must rise again.

I've explained the same plot basics twice, I know that. I'm trying so hard not to spoil everything else that's going on. The Dark Knight Rises is filled with heart-stopping plot twists that you need to experience for yourselves; sometimes those plot twists are admittedly seen coming from afar, double that if you know your Detective Comics, but on the other hand, that's part of the beauty of it all. The Dark Knight Rises makes good use of a huge amount of resources, combining them into one neat package that one might see as a perfect superhero movie. Video games, comic books including individual comic book storylines, most notably The Dark Knight Returns and Knightfall, even the Burton flicks. Most importantly, original creations and interpretations of existing characters. John Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (all grown up from his 3rd Rock from the Sun days) starts out as a very enigmatic, completely new character, who we grow to love and respect during the course of the movie, and the way the movie ends on his account is just one of the twists that makes you want to jump up from your seat and give the loudest applauds you possibly can. Perhaps it's one of those scenes or sequences that leave little room for surprise, but not the most obvious one, and it's still awesome. Veteran police officer Peter Foley, played by Matthew Modine, is one of those characters you simply love to hate. Despite everything going on, including Bane blowing half of Gotham City to hell, this guy only cares about one thing: having his name in the Hall of Fame on the grounds of catching the murderer of Harvey Dent. He's really motivated about it too, he doesn't really care if he gets killed in the process, but after finding the last eight years to have been a lie, the guy escapes Bane's trail of destruction to the confines of his home with his tail between his legs. "OMG, that Bane guy iz evil!" No shit.

The always lovely Marion Cotillard
plays "the new Rachel", Miranda, but
there might be more to her than just
being the mandatory damsel in distress.
On to our existing heroes. Bruce Wayne's a human wreck, both mentally and physically, and not only does he need new technology by Fox to even consider returning to the streets, he needs a new suit with reinforced joints and armor, he's so badly banged up. When you see Bruce for the first time in the movie, you cannot help but think that he's done for if he goes against Bane. Christian Bale is a lot less irritating in his double role than he ever was, and all the more of a better actor. He's learned to tone down on "the voice", and he's learned to really work on the viewer with his facial expressions alone. He's just an absolute wonder to watch in this flick, it's like he returns to remind the viewer that he's the star of the show, after that thing (or those things) with Heath Ledger. Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon is just as great and consistent as he always was, there's really not that much to say. Even Gary Oldman cannot outdo Gary Oldman - double that if you ever saw Leon the Professional. I have to go with most critics on Michael Caine's performance as Alfred; he's amazing. For the duration of two movies, especially the first one, we saw this guy's heart torn to shreds as he was forced to watch someone he's practically raised all by himself turn into a vigilante whose every move had the potential of being his final one, and getting consumed by his alter ego in more ways than one. In this movie, after seeing that there's no turning back for his beloved "son", Alfred finally crosses his breaking point and delivers one or two of the most sincerely touching and tear-jerking speeches I've heard in any movie in a long time.

I was thinking of ending the review somewhere around here, but after realizing I haven't said much about the villains, it's clear that I'm a long way from the end. First off, every Batman movie ever made has had a cameo by someone who's appeared in the comics, but is not close to being the main protagonist or antagonist of the movie. Cillian Murphy's Jonathan Crane does make a small cameo in this movie, once again, but I'm not talking about him; die-hard fans of Batman might remember Wayne Enterprises board member John Daggett from the 90's animated series, only in that one he was called Roland Daggett and although he was an evil businessman, he had nothing to do with Wayne Enterprises. Just a little trivia, I won't shed light on Daggett's role in the flick any more than that - just know that he's a central figure in how shit goes down during the first half. Selina Kyle - just like every incarnation of Catwoman ever designed, you simply don't know what to make of her. I have to give praise to Christopher Nolan for one detail you might've missed - she is NEVER called Catwoman in this movie, only Selina Kyle. It might seem like a small thing, but if they had given her that name in the movie, I would've lost at least a tiny bit of attachment to the character. This just isn't the place. Anyway, what's most important to know about Selina Kyle is that she is the most unpredictable character in the whole movie. It's clear that she has a noble agenda, it's just that she does absolutely anything and everything to get to that agenda. She is one tough character to trust, much tougher than Anne Hathaway is to watch in that black latex suit, which fortunately is not overused either - in terms of plausibility. I wouldn't mind if she stopped by my house wearing that.

That suit looks awesome on her, but it
doesn't come without that stupid mask.
She doesn't need it, and it makes her
eyes bulge.
Tom Hardy's Bane. I remember when the first Dark Knight Rises trailer came out; people were laughing their asses off, and killing the movie with fire well beforehand. First of all, you couldn't understand a word Bane said in the trailer - his muffled speech was a choice by Christopher Nolan, and he still kinda defends it, but he and Hardy went on to re-record Bane's lines anyway, and in the final product, he speaks VERY clearly. Got to admit, a little too clearly. His mechanical voice booms over everyone else's (it's LOUD), his speech has a very strange rhythm to it, and during the first Bane scene, I've got to say I was forced to try to take him seriously. Even after reading positive reviews of Hardy's supposedly magnificent portrayal of Bane, I was afraid that the voice alone would destroy the movie and make it the flashy, yet cheesy crapfest people were afraid of after seeing the first trailer. Before long, Bane hit the bullseye. He has physical structure well above any of the villains seen in the trilogy. He has combat skills and endurance that are, once again, too much for the League of Shadows to handle, let alone one man. He's intelligent and resourceful - perhaps not as sharp as the Joker was at his prime, but definitely a mental force to be reckoned with. I left the theater having absolutely no beef with Bane - just the way the movie ends for him, perhaps even worse than The Dark Knight ended for the Joker, but just as defeating the Joker was not The Dark Knight's point, defeating Bane is not the point of The Dark Knight Rises. The point is to save Gotham City, and clear Batman's name in the process.

If you ask me about how I feel with Bane being completely different from his comic book counterpart, I have to say I prefer Nolan's depiction of Bane over any previous one. The most important of Bane's traits - physical power, brilliant mind, remorseless nature and a tendency for ultra-violence - they're all there. To my regret, I must say that I still remember the last time Bane's been on the big screen - I would need a full lobotomy to get that image out of my head - and if you're saying Bane was destroyed by Christopher Nolan by just altering his backstory, taking away the physical enhancements granted to him by the Venom, and removing his trademark teddy bear, I actually am damn near compelled to ADVISE you to see Batman & Robin, and how Bane was truly destroyed in that movie. This is redemption, and then some. OK, perhaps Hardy is no Ledger, but you've got to give praise to how he followed Nolan's new script to the tee, but still managed to be the Bane comic book fans always wanted to see on the big screen, and how he works with his eyes, having that mask cover up just about everything else. It's phenomenal, and you'll see it once you get over the voice.

If there's something I disliked about this movie besides that final conclusion to "Batman vs. Bane" I mentioned (I won't tell you what it is, but I'll tell you that it's lame to spare you a disappointment), there are two things which almost threw me off the ball - one being Selina's mask. Again, I choose not to spoil any further details, but we return to Bruce's need for a mask as Batman. He says that he didn't use a mask to protect his identity, but the identities of those close to him - something he explained in Batman Begins, using slightly different words. Selina has no similar use to a mask, it does very little to conceal her identity and it looks cheesy. The other thing is one of the same basic subject, secret identity - it seems that Batman's true identity is known by a lot of people without them having any concrete proof, it kind of left me thinking why Wayne Manor hasn't been stormed in the last eight years by at least SOMEONE, and Bruce Wayne dragged off the toilet with his pants down and shot in his own yard. Well, then I started to think how many people actually knew his true identity in the comics, including villains, and digressed.


I was one of the skeptics. I loved the later trailers, but nothing could erase the common critique for the previews. Nothing could erase the thought that having two movies that were so great, both in their own separate ways, could not be followed by an equal - they must've run out of awesome ideas, and have perhaps only a few good ones left; that wouldn't be nearly enough to build a three-hour movie on. Christopher Nolan proved us all wrong. For the first five minutes of the movie, I was afraid we'd be right. It was confusing, loud - thanks to the first impression of Bane - and I guess the memory of Heath Ledger's Joker was still haunting some people 'cause I actually heard yawning, even over the loudness of the surround sound. The LAST five minutes of the movie - perfect silence in the theater, and a lot of happy, perhaps saddened, but definitely satisfied faces illuminated by the screen. The moment the credits started to roll, people actually stood up and applauded - I've never seen that happen in this part of the world! I was way too awestruck to join the applauders - it felt like a bulldozer had run me over. Not only was this a movie way greater than I could've ever expected, it was the perfect mix of the drama of Batman Begins and the action of The Dark Knight, a constant thrill ride that let no minute go to waste, regardless of the nature of events on the screen, a masterpiece in filmography, the best movie out of the trilogy, and to put it frankly, one of the best movies I've ever seen. It doesn't matter if you're a Batman fan. That's just a bonus. The Dark Knight Rises is a movie you simply MUST SEE.

< 9.5 >

perjantai 20. heinäkuuta 2012

Introducing VGArchive

The third update in 24 hours, how about that? The basic layout of what's known, or about to be known, as VGArchive is now online at this location. Details of what the site's going to be about are already known, but recapped all the same, on the main page. A link to the "hive" will be added to the right.

There's much work to be done with the site, and I think it'll take a while before the Review Archive is up, as my main concern is the collection.

torstai 19. heinäkuuta 2012

Hold it!

Damn, they worked fast! I sent my application for webspace less than two hours ago and they already delivered! So, from now on my collection will be on display here. The address will probably change as soon as I come up with a separate index file, and for now, it's just a generic bunch of cover art without links or anything of the sort, but I'm working on updates constantly and enthusiastically. Finally, a good tracking system. Halle-fuckin'-lujah.

Another series of more or less important updates

An important message from me and King B..
Due to some very conflicted schedules, I have to push RPG Time! a little further. It's only a few weeks 'til b-day, and I simply won't have time to finish up with the three to five RPG reviews I had planned to publish during this month, especially since I've seen only one of these games through prior to this project. The drafts will remain in reserve, and they will see daylight as soon as possible. Instead of hammering in an RPG Time!, I'm pushing on with a few more DLC reviews and guides, and then probably going on a retro run well before, during and after b-day. So, the next week or so will mostly be about revisiting some familiar settings - some better, some worse ones. I'm in the habit of buying every piece of actual DLC for every game I own, regardless if they're my favourite games or not.

The second update is about something I mentioned last time: archiving my reviews. A while back, I moved my collection from here to Listal, and it hasn't worked out for me at all. Neither does a simple list, which I had up here, work for me. Trying to maintain a collection at MobyGames (a site which I generally love) was probably the bitchiest project out of the three. So, for the first time in a couple of years, I spent the morning designing a generic website of my own to store my game collection in a visually impressive, well-organized and informative fashion, and most importantly, on a site where I have exclusive control over all the information. That's something every existing listing site I know of lacks.

I'm getting to it, relax. My girlfriend appointed me to an online organization that has made a business out of selling UNIX accounts to Finnish users at a low price. They have many services available, but the thing I took special note of was that I could get 50GB of webspace at the price of €35 per year. I don't need that much, but I need something - as it seems my old FTP account has been locked down without my consent, although all of the stuff I ever uploaded is still there. It was quite disheartening to find out about this right after finishing the draft for the collection site. Anyway, I sent 'em an application and I should get approval within two weeks. As soon as I get it, my collection will be on display at a web address which will be announced later.

I'm still getting to it. I thought: "50GB..." That's a lot of space - more particularly, a lot of space to create some sort of daughter-site with archived reviews and stuff. I'm still not sure about this, and I know what it sounds like - it sounds like I'm planning to kill the blog and resurrect it as a website, but as I said long ago, I don't know if I have the energy to maintain one. Hell, not so long ago, I had no energy to maintain a largely automated blog. I'm just thinking of some alternatives. The only thing that's certain right now is that the site will house my collection, and I'm going all the way with it, aiming for a thorough database of my games. Kind of like a mini-MobyGames, only better organized and once again, a site that's wholly under my control and administration.

I didn't necessarily HAVE to tell you this, but you know me, I like to share things. Back to the next bundle of DLC reviews I go, have a nice weekend and be sure to go and see The Dark Knight Rises, which opens tomorrow. We already have our tickets and we're pissing ourselves to see how the legend ends.

torstai 12. heinäkuuta 2012

Slowly, but surely

I've made a lot of updates during the last month, and just to confirm speculations: YES, I consider myself active again. I'm once again in a situation of having way too much time on my hands, just like in the humble beginnings of the blog; everything's just fine in the camp, I've just suddenly rediscovered the spare time I missed for so many months, and which I need to maintain the blog. As well as, and perhaps more importantly, the flame; while playing some recent games, there are thoughts, feelings and insight swirling around that would go to waste if I didn't type them down. So once again, yes, I'm tired of taking time off. The pace will never be the same again, that much is certain, but another thing that's certain is that before this year ends, this blog will otherwise look like I never left. Lots of reviews, lots of freeform news, lots of nostalgia. Let me indulge you with all that I've been thinking for the past couple of days.

I'm hearing a lot of complaints about this blog's practical qualities. People say it looks great, I think so too, but the thing is that the bigger it gets, the more difficult it is to navigate, and the search widget doesn't work - that much I noticed long ago, I was hoping for a fix but it doesn't seem like anyone's doing anything about it. Just so it's out in the absolute clear, I'm not responsible for its functionality - it's powered by Google, not me. I've been seriously thinking of archiving my old reviews and coming up with an external way to improve site navigation for any future reviews, but we'll have to see if this becomes more than a mere thought - I still have no idea what Blogger's final limits are. Just wanted to state that your complaints have been noted. On to games...

He's back - kinda - and I can honestly say I'm
much more excited by Trophies for MGS4 than
I am by Metal Gear Solid Rising: Revengeance.
As you PS3 owners "might've" heard by now, one of the greatest video game classics exclusive to the platform (and for many such as I, the reason to get a PlayStation 3 in the first place), Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots is finally seeing a re-release, which comes complete with 34 PSN Trophies. Old versions of the game will be updated to V1.01, which patches in Trophy support. When this happens, you can expect a lot of Metal Gear-themed rant on the blog. I don't think it'll be quite as big as the Mass Effect-themed rant was when Mass Effect 3 came out - after all, I've already reviewed Metal Gear and Snake's Revenge on the NES, and the original Solid series from Metal Gear Solid to Guns of the Patriots... but there's still a lot up my sleeve, from reviews to fan-made articles, for which the Metal Gear series is the perfect subject in its awesome diversity.

Right now, I'm having an "RPG Time!", which means reviews will turn in slow, but in turn, you're getting long, quality (?) reviews. There are a lot of RPG's I've wanted to play and review for the longest time (and in some cases, I know you've wanted me to), but I've always been concerned about maintaining a certain pace here on the blog, and additionally, it has seemed I have never had the time to play them anyway. Well, a good RPG MAKES time, as you role-players surely know. So, I'm taking advantage of my recent RPG rush, and delivering a fair deal of RPG reviews in the next few months.

For two years, you've harrassed me about it.
The thing is you've got to be careful what you
wish for, it might come true...
Back to the complaints. I've been hearing critique of reviewing too much "new" games nowadays. It's bugged me too, but there's a valid reason for that; although I'd love to go all retro for a spell, new games are what I play, and when I play them, all these thoughts fill my head and I have to write them down. This is a part of the reason I love to do marathons, to get a good _excuse_, if you will, to dig up some old games. Remember, I'll run out of new games eventually, and what's also eventual is a retro spike. I haven't forgotten about classic gaming, not by a long shot. Besides, I've been thinking of re-purchasing an NES in the very near future - as well as all my old NES games since I know where they are and who has them - I believe that's the key to restore balance and the blog's original idea. In addition to retro and classic gaming in general, there is a certain franchise that has seemed to be to be on every other person's mind when it comes to what I should dive into, ever since I started this. Further comments on the left.

Speaking of retro and original ideas, VGMania is turning two in less than a month. I've been thinking of a few special retro reviews to be published around that time, but the only thing I can promise to publish right now is a Year 2 summary, complete with a few choice - not to mention NEW - frequently asked questions. It's hard to believe I've been doing this for so long... on to the last subject.

"When you're doing Castlevania or Monster Mash, it seems like you're in a whole different mindset - it's awesome." This comes from a friend, and I have to agree with him. I AM in a whole different mindset when I'm writing horror-related stuff; that's why I have made Monster Mash such a big deal and established it as a recurring marathon of its own. There hasn't been a Monster Mash this year, but there will be; it's probably needless to promote a very important milestone of the Monster Mash which is up for release in October, and which I pre-ordered a couple of months ago. Since the release is scheduled for October, I think it's safe to assume that the next Monster Mash will take place around Halloween. I'm aiming for the biggest one yet, and the most diverse one when it comes to different generations of gaming. I guess I'm jumping too far ahead, but I'd like to make less of these kinds of updates towards the end of the year, and write more reviews instead, so I might as well get this all out in the open now.

VGMania is slowly, but surely, returning to form, and I hope you'll enjoy what I've got in store for the remainder of 2012.

keskiviikko 11. heinäkuuta 2012

DLC REVIEW - Mass Effect 3 - Extended Cut | Xbox 360 | 2012

RELEASED: June 2012
PRICE: FREE [-> April 2014]

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Mass Effect 3 - Extended Cut is the supposed solution to the biggest debate of the video game scene of 2012. Mass Effect 3 came out in March, and in just a few days after its release, just about every forum for game discussion was filled with angry messages written by long-time Mass Effect fans, who found the ending of the game to be confusing, hollow and just slapped onto the final product. On top of all, there were actually three endings, all of which looked almost exactly the same once chosen. Many of these fans also thought that the linear, action-oriented gameplay and limited interaction with NPC's cleaned the table of everything that used to make Mass Effect so great - amidst the rave reviews on the net, there were also reader reviews that scored the game from 1 to 5 on a 1 to 10 scale. "I'm never playing Mass Effect 3 again." "I'm never touching the Mass Effect trilogy again." "The whole of BioWare can go fuck themselves." Mass Effect 3 might go down as one of the most acclaimed games of 2012, but also one of the most hated ones. They couldn't just start from scratch and make a new game for all those fans who were disappointed with the gameplay, but BioWare did spend a fuckton of valuable DLC resources to fix the ending. Was it worth it? I guess we'll never know, but the Extended Cut is sure to please - especially since it's completely free of charge.

Rewind, elaborate

If you recall, I never had a huge beef with the ending. I just knew from the beginning that the player would have to truly struggle to keep Shepard alive. Alas, I'm guessing that Shepard's death was overshadowed in the dung department by everything else that's going on according to most enraged fans. Here's how it goes down: Shepard beams up to the "heart of the Citadel", where a holographic image of "the kid" tells him/her that he is actually the Catalyst, and that he actually controls the Reapers. The Reapers - synthetics, mind you - were created to purge the world of all civilization (except for one chosen race that would run the next cycle), before synthetics could destroy it from the within. Logical, ain't it. He also states that even though he controls the Reapers, he is the only weapon capable of destroying them. He's designed for it, something we've known - or thought we've known - from the beginning. At this point, we're not quite sure what to make of him. After a very confusing conversation straight out of any recent Assassin's Creed ending, the kid gives Shepard three choices. He can either destroy the Reapers and end their trail of destruction in this particular cycle, assume master control of the Reapers, or synthesize organics and synthetics to make the galaxy reach the final phase of evolution. Every choice leads to the same visual outcome. Shepard dies, an energy blast sweeps over space, uh... _something_ happens to the Reapers, the Normandy crashes in a jungle, and the credits roll.

This is it, Jeff. One last push.
Like I said, I had no huge beef with the ending as I was so intrigued and fascinated by the story leading up to it, a story that in my case spanned three games, that perhaps I was a little blind. After hearing that some fan had actually started gathering people's signatures to force BioWare to write a new ending to the game, I started to reflect on it a bit more. By the time I understood why people hated the ending so much, the Extended Cut was announced. At first, I was really skeptical, as were my friends. Without provoking each other at all to think such, we were sure that BioWare would only make things worse by submitting to the nerd rage. If only a new ending would've been our only concern; we also acknowledged that applying a new ending to such an expensive game would take up a lot of resources and energy from BioWare. Will we ever see downloadable content for the single-player campaign besides From Ashes? What will happen to Dragon Age III? How long will it take until BioWare can afford to undertake any new major project? It's funny and ironic that even though Extended Cut was made to answer questions, it raises some wholly different kinds of questions.

'Til now, I've talked about a "new" ending; the correct term is "extended", just like the title says. This means that the whole synthetics-saving-the-world-from-synthetics thing still makes no sense, but at least it's explained a bit more thoroughly and plausibly by ways of extremely expanded dialogue with the Catalyst. Also, new, well-placed, seamless cutscenes work towards more dramatic value to fill the hollow gaps in the final rush to the beam, and the aftermath of the Reaper attack that almost relieves Shepard of the pain of life. I especially approve of Shepard's brief, but effective goodbye to whoever he/she romanced, if the love interest happens to be a member of the final squad.

The original Catalyst conclusions to the game remain as near-identical as they were before, but each "different" decision is followed by a different sequence, triggered after the Normandy's crash - which was the final image of the original game - narrated by a different major character. What's going on with crew members and major NPC's is shown via a hand-drawn slideshow, which was a bad call in my books. The slideshow does indeed stick out like a sore thumb, but it's over quick enough. Finally, your final choice, as well as your final EMS rating dictate what happens in the very final cutscene of the Extended Cut. This is where I draw the spoiling line, but let's just say you'll get at least some of the closure you asked for. Especially if your EMS rating is high enough.

On the other side of that beam lies BioWare's
solution. I suggest we have a smoke.
If your EMS rating was high enough in the original game and you chose a certain path, you've already witnessed some of this closure - but, the thing is that the required EMS rating was originally WAY too high. 4000 points could only be achieved with near-perfect prior knowledge of just about every single consequence of every single action, and pretty much a strict Paragon alignment, aside from a few mandatory Renegade decisions. Now the limit is only 3100, which allows you to play Mass Effect 3 just the way you want to play it, and still achieve the perfect ending if you've got your mind set on it.

Finally, the Extended Cut includes a fourth ending, which is one of the most depressing endings to any game, ever. I guess this ending was designed for people who complained about the lack of choices, or thought a Renegade Shepard was a pussy in Mass Effect 3 - this is the part where I yell "YO!", but I still didn't choose this ending. It's a bit too hardcore, and makes sense even less than anything that ever happens in Mass Effect 3 - it's an easter egg, nothing more. However, as depressing as this ending might be, there's a new Stargazer cutscene after the credits written for this ending, which restores some optimism.

Overall, I'm happy with the way Mass Effect 3 - Extended Cut turned out, but I'm still wondering was rewriting the ending really worth sacrificing future DLC and delaying projects unrelated to the Mass Effect trilogy? After all, there are people who will still hate this game - stubborn, ungrateful bastards who will do everything in their power to fail to note BioWare's effort to make the game better. A successful effort, I might add. And a free one.

< 8.8 >

DLC REVIEW - Mass Effect 3: From Ashes | Xbox 360 | 2012

RELEASED: March 2012
PRICE: 800 BioWare Points (PC), $9.99 (PlayStation Network), 800 Microsoft Points (Xbox LIVE)

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

No BioWare game comes without day-one DLC nowadays - neither did Mass Effect 3. Actually, this add-on was so well integrated into the main story, that people started questioning BioWare's integrity; there are many who still believe From Ashes is included on each Mass Effect 3 release, and that the purchase of the add-on is only needed to unlock it. I have no take on this debate, since the download code to From Ashes came free of charge with my purchase of the N7 Collector's Edition - which means I just don't care. I already touched From Ashes with the tip of my virtual index finger back when I wrote the review of the game, but on my second playthrough, it became obvious that I wouldn't rest well before reviewing the whole thing separately. From Ashes is Mass Effect 3's very own Stone Prisoner or Exiled Prince, and better than either one of them. If you have Mass Effect 3, you must have From Ashes as well. It's that damn good.

That's his happy face

The recent discovery of a Prothean artifact lures Shepard and Liara back to where it all began, Eden Prime. There, they find something way bigger than a simple artifact: an actual Prothean, preserved in cryosleep. Although they start off on the wrong foot, Shepard and the Prothean - who introduces himself as Javik - have a common interest in finding a way to rid the galaxy of the Reapers forever.

Everything about this DLC yells out "take me, take me now!". It's a solid, important part of the full Mass Effect 3 experience in every way, just like Lair of the Shadow Broker was before it - the main difference being that From Ashes is day-one, whereas Lair of the Shadow Broker was released months after Mass Effect 2.

How they kicked Reaper ass in the old days.
First of all, Javik represents pretty much the only race in the Mass Effect universe that has never actually been seen, although spoken about - a lot - since the very first bits of dialogue in the first Mass Effect game, and as far as the Mass Effect storyline goes, they've always been on the frontline of importance. (Actually, it's interesting to note that the concept art depicting Protheans made back in 2007 was quite different than what Javik and his comrades - seen in flashbacks - look like.) Like Liara has lived and breathed Prothean study for half a century, we who've been following the storyline like dogs ever since the beginning have been very eager to see a Prothean in action. Of course, since they died tens of thousands of years before the events of Mass Effect, it has felt impossible to accomplish. But, BioWare already gave us a friendly geth to fight alongside with, and EDI as a squad member, so the next logical step to shock the shit out of us, is a Prothean. A very brooding, unfriendly and arrogant one, but still, a living, breathing Prothean. Besides, his crappy attitude towards modern civilization is what makes him so awesome.

Since Shepard's squad has only one pure biotic by default, it's a good thing Javik was made one, especially on my second playthrough in which my Shepard was a soldier. Javik's abilities differ from those of Liara and Kaidan's, and can mesh with 'em for the sake of some very effective combos. Gameplay-wise, this Prothean bastard packs a nasty punch. Having him and his Dark Channel and Lift Grenade abilities along can turn the tables in some otherwise challenging fights.

Javik isn't like Zaeed or Kasumi in Mass Effect 2 - you can have deep conversations with him just like you'd have with any of your squad or crew members at any key point of the game. It's ideal to get him to join your crew as early as possible, as his character develops with the most volume during the course of the game, turning from a cold-hearted, sharp-tongued, arrogant son of a bitch into a respectful, trustworthy and inspiring squadmate.

If there's anything to this DLC I find somewhat "weak" is the mission on Eden Prime itself, along with the optional side mission which garners in an extra Achievement. In the end it's just another linear gunfight against Cerberus and the very same enemy avatars you're fighting over 50% of the game's duration. Beating the From Ashes mission and the sidequest takes you no longer than 30 minutes, but luckily Javik will be there for the rest of the game for you to enjoy.

From Ashes is of the exact DLC quality you'd expect from the people who gave us tons of good, even amazing downloadable content for Mass Effect 2. Even if you do have to pay for it, your money is certainly not going to waste on this Prothean artifact.

< 9.3 >

sunnuntai 8. heinäkuuta 2012

REVIEW - Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II | Xbox 360 | 2010

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 2010
AVAILABLE ON: DS, PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii
DEVELOPER(S): LucasArts, Aspyr Media (PC), Red Fly Studio (Wii)
DESIGNER(S): Steven Chen

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed wasn’t a critical hit by any means, but it was one of the best-selling video games released in 2008, as well as the fastest-selling video game in the history of the Star Wars media franchise, over such successful titles as Dark Forces and Knights of the Old Republic. Whenever you’ve got a game that sells over seven million copies despite harsh reception from critics and fans, and carries the Star Wars brand name to boot, you’ve got all the grounds in the world to make a sequel. A better one – you listen to complaints, and work on them. That’s how it goes, it’s a very simple and logical process. Think how much better Episode III was than Episodes I and II; George Lucas took the feedback seriously, and managed to make a film almost on par with the most basic standards set by the three classics, regaining Star Wars fans’ trust. LucasArts had to seek permission from Mr. Lucas himself to go ahead with the development of the game, and his eventual approval was expected to mean something big. The first game was a very cinematic experience that truly felt like a genuine piece of the Star Wars mythos, but the initially promising gameplay scheme turned out subpar, and the level design was frustrating, among many other flaws. All it’s got going for it, you’d think the second game would be the total package. The second game is the best… example of a useless sequel I’ve seen in a LONG time. It seems all the complaints went on deaf ears, as absolutely squat was done to harvest the deadliest mistakes of its predecessor. I guess the most stubborn fans of mayhemic third-person action and Star Wars are in for a minor treat, but all in all…

…This little one’s not worth the effort

Sam Witwer : Starkiller / Aberrant Clones
Cully Fredricksen : General Rahm Kota
Matt Sloan : Darth Vader
Nathalie Cox : Captain Juno Eclipse
David W. Collins : PROXY / Neimoidian Aide
Dee Bradley Baker : Baron Tarko / Boba Fett / Rebel Soldier
Tom Kane : Yoda / Rebel Pilot
Catherine Taber : Princess Leia Organa
Adrienne Wilkinson : Maris Brood
Roger Jackson : Stormtrooper #2

Darth Vader’s not close to giving up on the idea of having a puppet to dethrone Palpatine and become the ruler of the Galactic Empire, so he decides to clone Starkiller over and over again until there’s one who has absolutely no thoughts of turning against him. One clone is promising enough to be tested in combat, but Starkiller’s memories re-emerge, prompting the clone to escape during the test. The clone takes a trip around the galaxy to find his true identity, and seek out Starkiller’s lost love.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was a decent game, but it was also one of the biggest disappointments I’ve ever had. I mean, it was Star Wars – and not just Star Wars, but STAR WARS with capital letters. It looked magnificent, it had a great plot which was only semi-attached to the original movie storyline, so it was a great expansion of the Star Wars universe without feeling it was written with half a brain like Shadows of the Empire, and the hero was probably the most capable Sith apprentice ever, torn between the Light and Dark Sides of the Force. In turn, The Force Unleashed had tacky controls, tedious gameplay, boring level design (and only a few levels to begin with), countless minor problems that grew to ridiculous proportions as the game went on, and in the end, all you could feel was hate and a semblance of relief for simply getting through the ordeal. The game was easy enough, bearing it was the hard part.

The Force Dance...?
Well, the Force is very weak with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. It’s less powerful than you could possibly imagine. LucasArts went over to the Dark Side when they made this game. Enough with the Star Wars-themed anecdotes, this game is a piece of crap. There’s no actual harm in playing it if you were even half interested in the first game, but if you thought this game would set the Force Unleashed series’ record straight or be just slightly more of an interesting and more comfortable experience from any possible angle, you’re in for a HUGE disappointment. It’s short, boring, meaningless, and very possibly the most anti-climactic piece of Star Wars media of this commercial size I’ve ever seen. Even worse than The Phantom Menace.

Even the storyline sucks. There’s absolutely no point to it, and it makes absolutely no sense at all. It feels like the main hook of Starkiller wondering whether he’s the real deal or the perfect clone is just a red herring to get him up on his feet again after his obvious death in the canonical “Light” ending of the previous game. Halfway through this crapfest, you just don’t care anymore, and neither does Starkiller seem to care anymore, before the final confrontation that comes way too quick, and which sucks so much balls that I can’t even begin to describe it. Having such an epic failure for the final boss fight of the game was the only unpredictable twist in the plot; you see, the developers were in such a hurry to make this stinker that they copied most of the scenes from somewhere else. Just as they recycled stuff from the previous game, they made this one repeat itself a little more than necessary, and filled in the remaining gaps with blunt plagiarism from other action-adventure games – gameplay subtleties they couldn’t even properly use. The level design’s the best part; not only does this son of a bitch represent some of the most uninspired, illogical and all-around boring level design to my personal recollection, there are only FOUR levels in the whole game! Just like in the first game, two of them are visited twice. One’s pretty much a cinematic pit stop at an old friend’s place. How long does it take to beat these four levels, you ask? Well, I started playing this morning, at 9 A.M.. I took a couple of coffee breaks, went to buy some groceries, made lunch, and I still managed to finish the game at 5 P.M., well less than 12 hours after slapping the disc in for the very first time. Sure, once again there are two endings and all kinds of shitty hooks for replay value, but I am simply not interested in playing this game for one more minute.

Before I go on, I’ve got to share a few questions that inevitably popped into my mind while playing the game and somewhat trying to keep up with its weak plot. Exactly why does Darth Vader need Starkiller? Why is he so hell bent on creating him anew? He never gives us a valid reason, only valid reasons to destroy him, which is kinda ironic. How in the hell does he have the resources to keep creating clones without the rest of the Empire catching on to his current little scheme? What is his current little scheme, actually?! Emperor Palpatine isn’t even actually mentioned in the whole game, so it seems like simple mischief for the fun of it on Vader’s part – not really his style. Lastly, and most importantly, what the fuck was Boba Fett doing in this game? I guess we’ll never know, because if everything works out the way it should, there will never be a Force Unleashed III, even though the game ends in a series of would-be cliffhangers.

Tinkering with the Force is fun, but pointless.
Time to slice this rotten apple to shreds. Let’s start with the few nice things I have to say about it; too bad the subjects of these few nice things are not essential as far as a good gameplay experience is concerned. The Force Unleashed II looks and sounds great. Not downright amazing, but great. It retains the true Star Wars feel the first game had, and both the motion capture and facial animations are superb. The voice actors do good jobs in reprising their previous roles, although Sam Witwer can get quite annoying with his constant yelling, and Matt Sloan’s Darth Vader still does not sound anything like James Earl Jones’ real deal.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” This was actually the first thought in my mind, no slightest pun intended, after seeing the first 30 seconds of the game. First, there’s a non-sensical dialogue between “the clone” and Darth Vader, which is followed by a short combat tutorial, and then the first part of the first level – oh yeah, as few as these levels are in numbers, they still go on forever, ensuring your disappointment. Well, this first part is a freefall scene extremely reminiscent of the flight scenes in God of War III; you simply need to destroy and dodge obstacles on your quick way down. It’s not nearly as hard as the scenes in God of War III; you’re allowed to make plenty of mistakes. There are a few of these scenes scattered throughout the short span of the game. They’re all supposed to be different and have wholly different goals, but they’re practically pretty much the same, all of them.

Most of there on out, the game is exactly the same as The Force Unleashed. Meaning, it suffers from the very same problems, and pays us back with absolutely NOTHING. Minor and major glitches, awkward camera trouble, weird pauses after combos, horrible targeting system, and unfair checkpoints in which the unfair part is mostly related to the fact that Starkiller – or whatever the fuck this guy’s name or number is – has a jump disability from hell. This disability – or a whole number of them – becomes very evident in the final boss fight, which, again, is one of the worst boss fights I’ve ever had. The problems Starkiller has with following direct orders from the controller and its holder are just the few rotten cherries on the top of the shitcake.

LucasArts claimed they had improved the combat system, especially when it comes to utilizing Force Powers – I call horseshit! There are absolutely no changes. The controls are as awkward as ever, not to mention the Force Grip targeting system, which LucasArts promoted as one of their main focus points. It still reeks, and it’s a handful of hell to handle in tight combat situations in which one of the keys to survive would be to shower your enemies with debris. Even when you’re given the chance to grip items in total peace, to stack crates to grab a Holocron from high up in the air, for example, the Force Grip once again shows its true colors. One tiny wrong push of the analog stick, and the crate you’re trying to gently place on the ground, suddenly flies through the air with bullet speed, right down a chasm. I had this specific problem in the first game, and I was hoping LucasArts would have the sense to harvest this kind of idiotism completely. Instead, I have the exact same specific problem.

"Dear fans. Although it might not seem that way,
we love you. <3 -LucasArts"
Well, there are a few new moves up the protagonist’s sleeve. Let it be known at this point, though, that you need two or three Force Powers to get through the majority of the game, those being Force Push which can dissolve groups of enemies and break doors down, Force Lightning which works well on just about every enemy, and Force Grip, which you need to use to solve “puzzles” and get rid of certain types of enemies. Besides those, you really don’t need to rely on anything else except your trusty ol’ lightsaber. Actually, you wield two lightsabers this time. Wait a minute, Force Unleashed II… two lightsabers… I totally see what you did there! You can equip these lightsabers with crystals that give you different kinds of perks, but you don’t even need any of them to beat the game. As for the new tricks, the most dominant one is the Jedi Mind Trick. Don’t jizz yourself, it’s not as fancy or legendary as it sounds. It’s pretty much as any possessive ability in any role-playing game, and it’s quite useless in the long run, except in the final boss fight, in which it’s very essential to have in your arsenal; it makes the tedious fight end a lot quicker. Starkiller can also perform melee combos against enemies who are resistant to the powers of the Force, and fancy Quick Time kills on large, weakened foes, for what else than extra EXP and health points. Of course, as LucasArts might’ve seen it, a game like this just isn’t anything without a blatant copy of Rage of the Gods or the Devil Trigger, that’s why Starkiller now has Force Fury, which is activated just like the godmodes that came before it. Kill, kill, kill – and that’s what you’re going to be doing a lot. Sounds like fun, but it isn’t. The game just isn’t fresh enough to be fun. Besides, I can’t remember one instance in the game in which I would’ve actually needed Force Fury, for anything else than an Achievement I didn’t even get. It’s kinda “Force Fed” to you a couple of times, otherwise it’s easy to forget its existence.

To be completely honest, after the first couple of levels I was prepared to forgive The Force Unleashed II for a lot more than it could possibly deserve. After the obvious breakpoint, which is the first point where you realize you’ve played that level before, the game just starts a downhill ride I never thought to experience in a game of such commercial proportions, and the initial potential to be so much better than its predecessor. The lazy build-up to the final battle, not to mention the battle itself, call for the most epic facepalm ever. You’ll be thinking to yourself: “no, this can’t be the end – it’s not possible!” You don’t need to search your feelings to know it to be true, it’s right there in black and white: the bad writing of the game rears its head again, apparently completely regardless of which ending you choose, and then the credits roll. And then you’ll just feel really empty. Torn. And bad. For yourself, and for LucasArts’ reputation.

Vader senses a great disturbance, and there's no
toilet in sight.
The game has some artificial replay value in the form of collectable Holocrons, familiar to anyone who spent any time with the previous game, Achievements/Trophies, as well as trials, which are the same as any challenge rooms in any well-equipped genre game, except they’re a lot worse. Instead of being based on actually killing enemies, they’re mostly based on performing specific button combos, which have such bad response that the challenges turn from addictive to highly tedious in record time. I’m perfectly fine with just having completed the storyline once – and again, it didn’t take me more than a few hours on Medium difficulty. It’s not a hard game. Just a bit tricky to bear. Just like The Force Unleashed, but a lot worse.

There have been a lot of big, disappointing games, but Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is not just a disappointment – it is a bad game. Not exactly what I’d call plain horrible, but I would’ve expected at least a small effort from LucasArts to at least try and make it better than the first one. Instead, they lost interest five minutes into development and ended up with something much worse. Hell, I’m still thinking of buying the first game, despite its huge flaws, it’s such a Star Wars fanboy’s treat. I’m never touching The Force Unleashed II again – not only is it the culmination of the meme “epic fail”, it’s good for absolutely nothing. It has no place. It’s useless. And I don’t like it.

+ The graphics and sound are great; the music, in particular, creates a thick Star Wars atmosphere
+ The game is about half as good as the first game was at its best; I’m not really sure whether this is a good or a bad thing

- The production values might be good, but the story makes no sense or impression at all
- 60-70 bucks for five to six hours doesn’t sound like much of a bargain to begin with; no wonder the game’s price went down by such a sum in record time
- The level design is uninspired to say the least, and the final boss battle seals the deal; LucasArts was in a world of hurry with this one
- Bad controls and camera issues are always worse on the second time around
- The few new skills are useless
- The Challenge Mode is uninteresting

< 4.8 >