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Sam reviews: Portal 2

by on May.02, 2011, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarWhile everyone else was rolling painted eggs down hills, chasing after Easter bunnies and stuffing themselves full of chocolate, my main concern about the penultimate weekend in April (other than the trip down to Lincolnshire for my mother-in-law’s birthday) was the release of Portal 2.

Portal 2 cover
In a gaming world where most of the action titles seem to be taking the “increased difficulty = more monsters and more shooting”, finding a title that is engrossing, has a good narrative and doesn’t rely on ultra-violence is quite difficult. I haven’t bought a new adult action game since Bioshock 2 — I’ve been buying things like Little Big Planet 2 and Rabbids titles instead. Compare Resistance: Fall of Man with its sequel, FEAR likewise — I haven’t gone near Dead Space 2 because the original took that to a frustrating extreme. There is only so much I can cope with button mashing through a fight only to run straight into another one with barely enough of a break to regain a couple of health bars.

Portal 2 is a breath of fresh air in a room stale with the scent of testosterone, cordite and spent shell casings.

It’s a puzzler, much like the first one. The first one, however, had us join Theseus after entering the Labyrinth then bug out as soon as the Minotaur was dead. In Portal 2 we get to see a bit more of Crete and the Kingdom of Minos.

Gameplay is similar to the first offering, although there is less reliance on laying portals in exactly the right place with impeccable timing and more on figuring out the correct sequence and making use of the portals to achieve the seemingly impossible. While I had a considerably frustrating time with the original, lacking the precise hand-eye co-ordination required to make accurate portals at high speed while flying through the air, I found Portal 2 to be just frustrating enough. I liked the logical progression of problem solving. Rather like doing a crossword, it’s necessary to gain an eye for it, to learn the rules and the patterns. There is a sense of accomplishment in gaining the mindset required to solve the puzzles. The achievement here isn’t being able to slaughter more and bigger and stronger rabid creatures: it’s being able to solve ever more complex puzzles that on first glance seem impossible until a solitary patch of white turns into the end of a thread that will lead you through to the exit.

There are nods to the original in the use of some of the same test chambers, run through the decay mill. If you are expecting the game to be as short as the original you are in for a shock at the point you think you have escaped into the outside world. The use of the derelict original facility to bring in a whole new set of puzzle types and give some background to the Aperture Science facility was enjoyable, seasoning the very dark storyline with welcome humour.

Another point for which Valve has my undying love is that our protagonist is a woman. But she just happens to be a woman. There is a point halfway through the game where GLaDOS says “She did all the work!” If you have been concentrating on the gameplay rather than laying out portals to get a look at your character, and know nothing of the game, this is the first time the sex of the character is clear. This isn’t Silent Hill, where being female inevitably leads to a plotline involving maternal instinct; or a reason for pneumatic busts à la Lara Croft; nor the ridiculous posturing of Bayonetta. Portal 2 passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, even when one of the women involved is a potato. (Spoilers!)

“Oh, it’s you. It’s been a long time. How have you been? I’ve been really busy being dead. You know… after you murdered me? Okay look, we both said a lot of things that you are going to regret. But I think we should put our differences behind us. For science. You monster.”

Chell

"And then you showed up. You dangerous, mute lunatic."

I couldn’t have been happier had a Big Daddy removed his helmet to reveal he was actually a Big Mummy.

We haven’t started on the co-operative level, and there are several achievements that I missed on my first run through, so there’s plenty of gameplay in it yet. If you fancy something a bit more cerebral than your standard first-person shooter, where difficulty isn’t measured in how many times you die in a sequence before you learn the spawn patterns and get your timing just right, I can thoroughly recommend this engaging and satisfying number from Valve.

I won’t spoil the ending, but yes, there is a song.

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What about LBP2, RB?

by on Feb.03, 2011, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarIs Little Big Planet 2 everything you expected? Have you been disappointed since getting your sticky, eager little paws on it? You have been terribly quiet about it and we thought maybe you were so heartbroken that you had consigned it to the oblivion of a mental oubliette, along with Highlander 2, Wolverine: Origins, X-Men 3: X-Men United and X-Men: the official game.

Can’t stop

Triple play

to talk.

Tongue wagging

Too busy

Little Big Planet

playing

I can has fuzzy pod

with

Little Big Planet

SACKPEOPLES!

The sackbots love me.

And sackbots! And grabinators! And robobuns! And caterpillars! And grappleguns!

It’s as awesome as an awesome thing
That has as a hobby
Being Made of Win
And Rocking like a Ninja
Who is also God and King!

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The Lapins Crétins

by on Aug.07, 2010, under games, Reviews

avatar I’m a Playstation girl. I’ve never been one for the cutesy Nintendo games and so have not been tempted by one of their consoles. My gaming platforms have evolved from Pong (ohgods, that shows my age) to the Atari 2600 (Pitfall and Enduro Champion badges in 1984, thankyouverymuch) to the ZX Spectrum and thence, with a gap of some years, to the PSOne and its descendants.

I succumbed to a DS in March, after buying one for my mum, because I enjoyed the Brain Training on hers and had a hankering for some Syberia type action. Then, when I was over in Galway visiting Splinister‘s household in July, they introduced me to their Wii. More precisely, they introduced me to Rabbids Go Home.

You see, Splinister knows me very well, probably better than anyone else on the face of this planet (barring Frood, of course), and considers me to be a serious gamer: a serious gamer with a bizarre fondness for really odd, quirky, stupid games like Katamari, and an intense liking for crazy, mischievous critters like Stitch and sackpeople. Splinister also knew I have an injured foot that I’m supposed to be staying off as much as possible, and I suspect she calculated that a game that pushed all my buttons might induce me to keep my arse on the sofa instead of running around chasing the dog.

Bwaaaah!

Rabbids Go Home is a game in which you have a trio of mutant rabbits, one of which is in a shopping trolley, one of which is pushing the trolley and the last of which is inside your wii remote. The aim of the game is to drive around a world ruled by the legions of Greyface, shouting at people to make their clothes fall off and nicking all their stuff to build a pile big enough to reach the moon because the moon is big enough for all the rabbids to sleep on at the same time. It’s like Katamari done by French Canadians. It is, quite simply, TEH AWSUM.

There are plenty of reviews out there that claim it is too easy. The same could be said of the various katamaris and that doesn’t mean the game is awful, far from it. It’s certainly straightforward, and the learning curve is shallow — you’re only driving a shopping trolley around, after all. On the other hand, the single player game requires that you drive your trolley through each item of stuff you want to collect, and that gets pretty damn tough in the later stages, when you’re pushing a cow with a ticking bomb on it around herds of spiky cactus or bouncing a highly infectious patient in an isolation bubble around high-rise construction machinery and homing grenades.

What makes this game, however, is the humour. It’s the sheer glee that has gone into it. Everything — the way the rabbid you have selected for abuse inside your remote stares at the live electrical socket with nervous, desperate, impatient anticipation while you dangle it in front of his eyes, or the way he giggles delightedly when you beat the crap out of him with a giant glove; and the crazy Moldovan Gypsy music — is bubbling with effervescent joy. The attention to detail in the rabbid behaviour is worth the price of entry: one of my favourite touches is the way he sucks in his breath and stands very still for you when you wield the tattoo stamp, and there is possibly nothing quite so funny as a pair of rabbids with a pneumatic drill.

Occasionally a game comes along that casts a console (or an accessory) in a new light. Little Big Planet did it for the PS3. (Antigrav did it for the EyeToy, and I will never understand why development on that ceased.) Rabbids Go Home, for me, did it for the Wii. On the pathetic justification that I will be off training for a few more months at least, I went and bought a console just so I could play this game and the sequel, due for release later this year.

That’s about the highest recommendation I can make.

Got a sense of humour? Get Rabbids.

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Weapon of Choice

by on Jun.05, 2010, under games, gaming, Geekery, Reviews

avatarThere are a couple of games that have stayed with me as I have progressed through the various ranks of consoles I have owned and enjoyed throughout my time as a gamer (and I’d betray my age if I told you my first console was Pong). Nothing from the old Atari 2600 has survived the various upgrades, although I first played R-Type on a ZX Spectrum, when a dodgy joystick meant the only way to progress was for us to play in pairs, with one gunner and one pilot. By gum Frood and I rocked that game.

As far as I know they are not planning on releasing a version for the PS3, which is very sad. But I’ve kept my PS2 so I can still play R-Type Final.

The other reason I kept the PS2 was so I could continue to play the other game that I’ve bought every time I’ve upgraded my console: WipEout. WipEout Fusion is, in my opinion, the best of the various WipEouts. Sadly it’s one of the few games that doesn’t port properly over to the PS3 — after a certain number of tracks are opened up the game starts crashing.

Of course I have WipEout HD, and there are some features that are great improvements. The screenshot facility is great, and I have gone into geeky paroxysms of obsession trying to get the perfect picture (and so far failing, but enjoying the process). The ability to import your own soundtrack is also fantastic, as previously we had a complicated setup involving a Sony stereo system with a games function that allowed us to connect the audio output of the PS2 to the stereo, where it would be mixed with whatever CD happened to be playing. Turn down the in-game music, turn up the sound effects, stick some Crystal Method on the multichanger and you’ve got yourself a thumping race soundtrack.

Sadly, however, the tracks don’t live up to expectations and I do miss the pitstops. I’ve spent most of my life living in shared households with friends and we had our own language and terminology, some of which was game based. “Jeopardy” was taking a three-lap race with only one pit stop. “Double jeopardy” was taking a three-lap race with no pit stops at all. In the current WipEout you regain ship energy by consuming weapons, and it takes some of the risk out of it: skipping a pit-stop commits you to flying your socks off to cross the line before you crash and burn. They’ve also got rid of the shortcuts, which is really sad. I’ve spent many a happy afternoon sending my ship down strange side-roads in an effort to find the shortest (and therefore fastest) route round a course.

Then again, the head to head mode in the current version is much better, and I like that you can select which tracks you want for a multi-race challenge against a friend. I haven’t tried the online version, so I can’t comment on that.

Still. I miss Mandrashee.

Perfection, of course, would be importing the tracks from WipEout Fusion into WipEout HD. Then we could get a picture of Munky falling off the moon.

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Sam reviews – Afro Samurai (PS3)

by on May.10, 2010, under games, Reviews

avatarI shouldn’t really be reviewing this. Not really. Frood is playing this one and I’m just along for the ride.

The thing is, though, that while I’ll play some games that are okay, great even, and won’t bother reviewing them because everyone else has already played them or there are so many reviews out there another one won’t tell anyone anything (e.g. Bioshock), every so often we find a game that needs to be brought to the attention of the masses, whether because it’s several levels of awesome drenched in awesome jus, or because gamers should flee in horror rather than wasting any money on it.

Afro Samurai happily falls into the former category.

Afro Samurai poster

Hey! Afro!

Based on the manga series written and illustrated by Takashi Okazaki, this third-person brawler follows the exploits of the titular protagonist as he goes in search of the number one headband. I think. I’m a bit hazy on which headband he has.

It doesn’t matter though. The game is sumptuous, apparently based on the Prince Of Persia engine, with the same semi-realistic scenery overlaid with characters that are more drawn in look, reminding me of Samurai Jack. The fighting is graceful and stylised, although Frood reports that Afro can be a bit unruly: it suffers a little from the standard gaming issue of the camera motion interfering with the movement of the character. In operation it is button-mash with a little finesse, offering hit, heavy hit, kick, and several slowtime focused attacks. Every so often there’s the option to play bodypart poker.

The soundtrack is excellent, reminding me very much of Ghost Dog, but what makes it is the character of Ninja Ninja, who appears to be an invisible friend in the manner of Drop Dead Fred, only funnier. And more helpful. Ninja Ninja is played by Samuel L Jackson, and his dialogue has had us creased up in fits of laughter.

“You spent so long chasing justice, you forgot how to chase pussy!”

“Someone’s been praying to the god of ass, and he’s just answered!”

Yes, the characterisation is taken straight from the 70s, with shades of both Shaft and Huggy Bear, but Jackson plays it somewhere between Jules and Zeus and it really works.

Right now this game is on offer for less than a tenner at Amazon. If you are one of those gamers who likes to leave things alone for a couple of minutes to find out what the bored behaviour is (best yet: The Flash in Justice League Heroes, closely followed by Deadpool from MAU), don’t mind seriously bad language and can forgive linear gameplay, then don’t wait. Get one.

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Dear Activision

by on Oct.18, 2009, under games, Reviews

Very well, I forgive you. I forgive you because of the sheer joy of sticking one of the annoying Assassin girlies in a cement mixer.

I wanna do that again.

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Sam reviews… Wolverine Origins

by on Oct.18, 2009, under games, Miscellany, Reviews

Wolverine: Origins, Uncaged Edition

It’s not usual for me to review a game before I’ve finished it, but I’ll make an exception today because Frood is busy with Quantum of Solace (which is just Mace Griffin with an English accent).

First of all, let’s just do the wibbly-wobbly flashback thing. Imagine everything going a bit blurry like the teleporter effect from Blake’s Seven. You still with me?


Back in 2003 Marvel and Activision released Wolverine’s Revenge to coincide with the release of the second X-Men film — a blatant bit of Wolverine publicity if ever there was one, which made Magneto’s comment to Logan (“Once again, you think it’s all about you.”) even more lulz-worthy.

As it happened, this was a great game. It really was. The stealth kills and smell-o-vision were very well done, and made sense in terms of characterisation. I really enjoyed this game until it got a bit too frenetic for fun right up at the end. As I’ve said before and probably will do again, Activision do have previous for decent games based on the Marvel universe.

The new Origins game is an 18, so immediately you can tell that there is going to be gore. And there is. Lots of it. Which is kind of groovy. I don’t know about you but I get really ticked off with slicing and dicing and people falling over like rag dolls. If I’m kicking the living shit out of something I want see evidence. This game has it in spades.

Wolverine Origins PS3 version

It is also of the button mashy school, where chaining comboes means hitting the square button three zillion times before punctuating with triangle. This is, to be fair, reasonably similar to the previous Wolverine game, so I can’t complain about that too much. I just find it difficult to keep track of how many times I’ve pressed the square button when I’m being assaulted by three mutant wendigoes the size of Methodist churches, 10 killer robots and about 50 machine gunners.

You see, this game has decided that “increased difficulty” means “send more goons in to shoot him”. I’m not a huge fan of this. Indeed, it pisses me off to the point where, several times, I have been swearing at the screen, my controller slippery with sweat and my hand cramping as I try to dodge, block, roll, counter and pull off a berserker fury all at the same time while being shot to shit by an entire army of mooks who are all yelling “He’s hurt, he’s hurt, keep up the pressure!” It’s just not fun. It’s merely frustrating.

There are some really weird gaming decisions, too, like the scene in which you have to dodge the bullets from a sniper and fight off the inevitable goons while you are looking at yourself through the sniper’s sights. WTF? It’s hard enough dealing with a squad of machine guns at the best of times, but when you can’t see half of them because there are trees between the sniper who’s trying to kill you and both you and them, it’s impossible.

Which leads me to the dodgy camera angles. The camera appears to have a mind of its own and a sense of humour akin to that of GLaDOS. Why yes, thank you, I do so enjoy trying to fight off one of the stronger bad guys while my view is entirely obstructed by the freakin’ CEILING. Or the FLOOR. When fighting the camera follows Logan around like a slavish puppy, despite the supposed right stick control, so most of the time you’re staring at his arse while some giant robot pounds on him with RPGs you can’t see until they hit you because they’re coming from off-camera. This is unfortunate, because you’re supposed to counter projectiles by hitting them back at the source.

Ah yes. Countering. Hit L2 at just the right time to enable a bullet-time segment where you can hit square and perform a special attack. But “the right time” has to be precise to the millisecond, as far as I can tell. Too soon and he merely blocks, and that’s about as exciting and helpful as a dairy cow in the dressage ring.

The power-up bar in this game is rage, and Logan can accumulate rage by killing things or destroying certain items in the landscape. Once enough rage has been accumulated he has access to his superpowers of claw drill, claw cyclone, claw spin or, my personal favourite, berserker mode. He can tell which ones will give him rage because in this game smell-o-vision is a false-colour heat haze affair in which important things have certain colours. Red things are dangerous, yellow things can be destroyed for rage orbs and green things are useful in some way. Rather than the scent trails of the previous game, which made sense, and allowed you to sneak up on unseen enemies and spit them like a pig, this one has funny colours and sort of a blue breeze that indicates where you should go next. Not that you need to be told where to go next because it’s so linear you can’t even go exploring in the scenery a couple of feet from the path. No wandering about for you!

Yes, once more Activision have given us a game in which the scenery really is only scenery. This means it’s not much of a challenge to pick up the bonus items like the figurines that open up the costumes, which is presumably why you then have to complete a near-impossible bonus challenge in order to unlock said costume. Much as I’d like to unlock said costumes, I’m not sure I have the patience or the thumb stamina to fight a version of the character who has unlimited rage and all the combat reflexes of a highly trained cyborg ninja while mine has enough angry to shout at a used teabag and the reflexes of an asthmatic slug.

The gameplay is, thankfully, more varied than Ultimate Alliance 2, in that there are traps to avoid and jumping tests and the occasional puzzle. You can see where they’ve taken some hints and tips from Prince of Persia. The underlying God of War engine is also fairly obvious in the methods of dispatch for the larger, tougher enemies, especially the mutant wendigoes. These are not bad things. I like a bit of variety in my gameplay, which is why I find it so utterly bizarre and frustrating that they should have given us that and yet their combat difficulty is just throwing more and more and more things at Wolverine so he is forced to spend more time dodging and running around looking for a space to allow his healing factor to kick in before his guts spill out.

Generally the difficulty curve goes like this: start a section with a few standard grunts. Meet a whole bunch of grunts with a few of the special elite grunts who are harder to kill. Find yourself in a room with even more of them, plus some of the bastards that need a special move to kill. Fight until your hand aches. Move into a big, empty room where suddenly some new extra-difficult bad guy turns up and says “HAI!” Kill him and three more turn up and all attack at once. Swear a lot. Finally make it through that only to discover that now you’re fair game for all previous bad guys plus the new extra tough bad guys to throw down on you in vast numbers all at the same time. Rinse and repeat.

Frankly this game makes me go “GRRRRRR!” at the telly almost as much as Logan does on it. This is an adult’s game with childishly repetitive combat.

That said, you know, it’s not all bad. The feral senses could have — and should have — been done a lot better but, if you were a bad guy and had the crazy Canucklehead coming after you, would you send just one or two grunts? No. At the end of the day, if you’ve got Wolverine on your territory you send every man you have, armed to the teeth, and tell them not to stop firing until they run out of bullets or are dead.

And they will, trust me, end up dead. For while there are times when I have been reduced to screaming “FOR FUCK’S SAKE JUST DIE, WILL YOU?!” there is something deeply satisfying about going from a room full of mooks to a room full of dismembered mooks. Especially when, as occasionally happens, Logan moves in the blink of any eye from ripping some guy to shreds to answering his phone as if his mum has just called to ask if he’s coming round for dinner.

Ideally this would have had the stealth and the sneaking of the first Wolverine game combined with the potential for wholesale death and destruction on offer here. I should have been able to choose between sneaking up a scent trail for a silent claw through the gut or the incredibly useful lunge (the lunge is, at least while I’m playing, Wolverine’s primary mode of travel). As it is we have a gore-fest blender of a game with occasional challenges based mostly on being fast enough and pressing the right button at the right time. This isn’t a game you can get through without dying, frequently, unlike MUA2: it’s giving me RSI and blisters and is occasionally chuck-the-controller-at-the-telly frustrating. For all its flaws, however, it hasn’t given me the same sense of shocked betrayal that the film did.

It hasn’t, at least not yet, made me cry. Still, I suppose there’s plenty of time.

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Sam reviews… Katamari Forever

by on Oct.04, 2009, under games, Reviews

I promised you two game reviews yesterday and only delivered one. That was rather naughty of me. Still, you can’t say I short-changed you in the last review. At least I got to it before Ben Croshaw (whose feelings about Web of Shadows match mine exactly).

The other game I wanted to review was Katamari Forever. All together now…

NAAAAAAAA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA, KATAMARI DAMACY!!!!!!

Following on from We Katamari, there has been a terrible accident in which the King Of All The Cosmos suffered a head injury and lost his memory. Total amnesia. The Prince and all the cousins then build RoboKing to help out but RoboKing is a bit of a klutz and before you know it we’ve lost all the stars. Again. It’s down to you to get rolling and create lots of stars to sort things out before the King does something awful to RoboKing (minus lube, apparently), and to bring back the King’s memories while you’re at it.

Thus there are two main arenas in this version of Katamari. In the RoboKing’s realm are the new games, while in the King’s realm are old levels from the last game, tastefully decked out in black and white to represent forgotten memory until you bring them back to life and colour by rolling them up into your katamari.

What can I say? It’s Katamari. Fundamentally, all Katamari consists of starting small and getting big. As big as possible. No, bigger than that. Call that a katamari? It’s a bit of a thin katamari. We’re disappointed. But there it is. You do know the whole point of katamari is to roll big, don’t you? We did explain that, I’m sure we did.

No updated graphics here, oh no. It’s still the quirky, pastel-shaded realm where everything looks sort of baby-ish and sweet until you realise that all the people trapped in your katamari are screaming in pain and fear and you ask yourself how come the bloodless, apparently painless scrapping of MUA2 gets a PG but this blatant horror is considered suitable for three year-olds. It’s not like they welcome your advance with open arms. People and animals alike flee in terror more convincingly than they flee from Godzilla, FFS. I mean, wouldn’t you? If a 10m wide ball of accumulated stuff that once made up the scenery in your neighbourhood came barrelling towards you down the street, wouldn’t you run screaming? You are, fundamentally, rolling up property and living organisms, which are then turned by your mentally unstable, despotic leader into giant fiery balls of nuclear processing using some sort of matter-transforming superpower. It’s not like the people can expect anything but a terrible, suffocating, agonising death.

And they think this is suitable for three year-olds. Right.

The two new things are the Prince Jump, in which you can cause the katamari to leap in the air by using the Six Axis controller’s motion sensor (or pressing R2, which is much easier); and the heart points, which cause your katamari to suck in everything it is capable of picking up. Thus the games can be quite tactical, in that you have to decide whether to go for the heart early, or wait until you’re a lot bigger and can suck in more things. There is also an option to take photos from the Look screens, although I keep forgetting I have the option of an aerial view to look for more things to roll up so I haven’t taken any photos yet.

New levels open up upon completion of previous ones, and you have to complete levels in both realms to open up all of them. You can’t work your way through the RoboKing levels without opening up the King levels and vice versa. Yes, the Cow Bear level is one of those that you have to complete. Grrr. Gnash. Gah. And the campfire one.

Initially somewhat disappointing, the game gets a lot more fun upon completion, when you gain access to the mini games and can then go through the levels again opening up the other modes of play: Eternal (no time limit), Drive (double speed katamari); and Classic (exactly what it sounds like). The music isn’t as good as the previous games, despite consisting largely of remixes of the old favourites.

Overall it is worth a punt, especially if you are already a fan. If you are not already a Katamari fan I’d suggest getting a copy of the previous game instead, because the dialogue is a lot more quirky and you’ll miss out on all the in-jokes in this one, if it were not for the case that it’s become collectible and costs almost as much as this one. The game is definitely worth the current price tag if you already know you can lose yourself to the joys of rolling up screaming people and rabbits, cats, dogs, mice, juggling monkeys, giant octopus, fairies, sumo wrestlers, buildings, trees, flying whales, pizzas, sushi, cars, vans, helicopters, parascenders, Easter Island heads, UFOs, clouds, tropical storms, continental plates and god.

Otherwise, wait until the price drops a bit or find a friend who already has a copy. Just don’t expect to be allowed to borrow it.

Naaaaaa na na na na na na na, katamari damacy…

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Sam reviews… MUA2

by on Oct.03, 2009, under games, Miscellany, Reviews

I’ve got a couple of game reviews for you today. To start with, let’s take a look at Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2.

Do I need to repeat the whole Marvel Fan Girl thing? Yes? No? Tell you what, take a look at my Marvel games collection:

There are a few, yes.

Yes. There are two versions of the original Ultimate Alliance. One for PS2 and one for PS3. Guess what. I liked it. A lot.

I mean, there are some real turkeys there. The Official X-Men game at the bottom left is a pile of shite. I can’t put that any more kindly. It is dreadful. Rise of the Imperfects isn’t really any better, but it’s made by EA so I was rather dubious before I bought it.

Y’see, my experience is that Activision are the guys who know how to make good Marvel games. One of my favourite games ever is X-Men: Wolverine’s Revenge, in which the smelly, short, hairy, bad-tempered Canucklehead takes a trip up to Alkali Lake and stealth kills his way most righteously through thousands of mooks and some super villains. Apart from the end level it’s a corker of a game. The end just gets a bit button-mashy frenetic for my tastes.

The series of co-op games that started with X-Men Legends has always been top of our list for acquisition because Frood and I enjoyed the first one so much. It was our first proper co-op game in which we got to beat the crap out of things together. We’ve bought each one since then and, with every iteration, Activision has seen fit to simplify the game and introduce more characters and yet make them more similar.

X-Men Legends had very customisable characters and your choice of spending your XP was very flexible. If you decided you liked one power over another you could preferentially load that one up and ignore the one you didn’t like. You could buy points for a power. You could assign those powers to different buttons. More to the point, the unlockable extreme powers were for each character. There were different items of kit that each character could wear, affecting their abilities and their resistances. It was possible (at least for Frood) to spend almost as much time playing with character levelling as it was fighting bad guys.

Rise of Apocalypse simplified the character levelling, but not so much that we were complaining. It made it less fun but it didn’t stop that aspect of the game being worth spending time on.

The first Ultimate Alliance simplified by a whole order of magnitude. If I were being unkind I might suggest that this was a direct reflection of Jemas’s rather hubris-filled statement that the Ultimates was there to bring success where all the regular Marvel story arcs were falling into a pit of failure constructed out of what-ifs and untold stories (see the statement at the end of The Tomorrow People). Personally, having read nearly all of the Ultimate X-Men, I can’t help but note that the fifteen-year olds who started out in that grew up pretty damn fast, and feel this is unsurprising because, unless you are going to deal realistically with what happens psychologically to child-soldiers, you can’t have child killers at all. Hormonal teenagers running around snogging one minute and slaughtering baddies the next with nary a blink is entirely implausible.

What I’m trying to say is that, for me, the amount of death and destruction in the Marvel Universe, the darkness of characters like Wolverine (epitomised in the Barry Windsor Smith one-shot) and Emma Frost (femme fatale indeed) is too adult on many levels for the sort of “X-Men as teenagers reboot” that the Ultimates tried to provide to be plausible.

Which is only slightly out of context, because it seems to me that the simplification of the Ultimate Alliance games is a direct result of a rather similar attempt to appeal to a more mass or younger audience whereas the early ones were aimed at fans. This despite the fact that the younger players would probably be happier dealing with complex gameplay than a lot of us more — ahem — mature players.

Other than the irritating simplification of character levelling, the gameplay itself has become incredibly linear. Incredibly linear. Do not show me an open door if I can’t enter that room because there’s an invisible barrier of code in the way. I want scenery, not set-dressing. Given the obviously upgraded graphics — the reflections on Iron Man’s suit are glorious — why can’t we have game arenas confined by the walls rather than inevitable plot? We had that in the previous games. Why not this one? If there’s a rooftop I can see and I have a flier, I should be able to go there. While I’m at it, as we have such gorgeous reflections on Iron Man’s suit, why in the hell do the others all look like they’re made out of plasticine?

Where previous games had levels that required certain characters (Ice Man for putting out fires, or fliers for retrieving objects), we merrily hacked, slashed and slaughtered our way through this one without any real thought for character choice. It makes no difference. Gone are the individual extreme powers in favour of this ridiculous “fusion” notion. They claim more than 200 different powers, but really there are only about five, as we discovered by taking every team combination we could through the basic training simulator before we got bored seeing the same thing over and over again. Playing Wolverine and Deadpool to Frood’s Spiderman and Jean Grey (he’s missing Toad and Blade, bless him), we could either suck everyone into a pile and whale on them; get Wolverine to run around in a very homoerotic fashion holding hands with someone else; or have someone pick Wolvie up and chuck him at the bad guy. If you’ve got someone who has beamy powers, including Storm’s lightning, you can add to this a sort of laser-death ray sort of affair.

For true entertainment, though, Susan Storm putting a hamster ball force field around the Thing is worth a shot.

Gone, too, are the individual boosts provided by cunning outfits of gloves and hats and things. Instead we have three slots for team boosts, each of which provides a power like an extra 15% stamina or resistance to fire. These apply to the whole team, not individual members. Rubbish. Just rubbish. You might as well pick three you like and forget about it.

Each level takes an absolute age to load, this being because all the cut scenes are pre-loaded. This is not for your convenience, oh no. This is so, when you inadvertently reach the boundary condition at the end of a segment, the cut scene can whisk you away before you’ve finished smashing all the crates and looking for secrets. Frood and I both swore at the screen a lot over this. We haven’t got all the collectibles. Some of them we haven’t found. Some of them we couldn’t pick up because the cut scene interrupted. On one notable occasion we went from a sewer in Latveria to a boat in New York two weeks later in the space of a second. I mean. What the hell, Activision?

Seriously. WHAT THE HELL, ACTIVISION? What gaming company lets the cut scene stop the players from destroying crates?

Plus points. Let’s find some. Doesn’t take long to play through the first time? Hardly a plus point. The graphics are great. Really they are. The dialogue in-game is pretty good, and the conversations in the headquarter sections between maps are written to be pretty well in character. Spiderman and Deadpool get some great lines. The Civil/Secret War storyline is nice, in that it reflects material that has been going on in continuity, although it’s material that I mostly haven’t read because I don’t have the six-figure income needed to keep up with everything these days (mind you, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Iron Man Nick Fury sent to Latveria, at least not in the Bendis/Del’Otto version). Captain America is voiced by a guy who is apparently trying to sound like Steve Austin, and he looks quite a lot like Steve Austin, so a point for consistency there. (I’m stretching, aren’t I?)

Dammit. I really wanted to like this game. It’s number 4 in a series of games I still dig out and play sometimes. It’s an Activision Marvel game. It should have been freakin’ awesome.

But it wasn’t. The powers are meh, the fusion powers not spectacular or varied enough, the gameplay is frighteningly — I mean, frighteningly — linear. There is no going back after each segment, and if you thought you could hold off the end and make your way back there’s a cut scene waiting to abduct you. You can save and swap characters wherever you like (in the previous games you could only do this at special check points) but there’s no point because the game only saves to the start of a level and there isn’t any need to swap out characters. You don’t have the option of portalling to a previous section of map from the central hubs so you can go back solo to kick some butt and find missing collectibles while your gameplay partner is busy making dinner.

In short, MUA2 is a disappointing outing for Activision that has got me wanting to go back and play X-Men Legends again. Which is a shame, because we liked it so much and have played it through so often that our characters are now too powerful: the game can’t cope and falls over when we try to play it.

Bah.

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What he said

by on Apr.10, 2009, under games, gaming

I bought the game thinking it was going to be a 2-player co-op. Frood would get Spidey and I’d get Wolverine.

Fat chance.

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