Holy crap. I have a column, don’t I? Wow.
Well, after my daring escape from the Gaming Interment Camp for the Insane (aka Holiday Gaming Retail) I’m finally back. Since that escapade took up MUCH more time than I anticipated, I have a whole slew of capsule-ized reviews, just so we can look back real quick on what came out at the end of the year, before we head into the New Year (a month late) with new fun stuff.
2007 saw many promises unfulfilled here in Game On! The Gaming News…never came but a few times. The podcasts were infrequent due to my work schedule (there still remains one that was shot but never finished…damn holidays) and the reviews grew fewer and fewer. This year…well, no promises, but I will say that I’m going to try my damnedest to stay on track. Last year was my first year in my new position at my day job, and my column suffered because of it. I apologize to you all, my loyal readers, and hope I can win you all (and some new ones) back this year.
Enough fluff, let’s get it going. So what happened at the end of last year?
SUPER MARIO GALAXY – WII
We saw Mario’s first foray into platforming gaming in a LONG time with GALAXY’s release in November. Everything that has been hyped about this title is true: it’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it’s amazing in every way. The Wii’s controls are intuitive and easy, and you’ll have Mario flying through the universe, shooting star gems and rescuing the Princess like an old pro once again. The level design and quest for stars is addictive as ever, and the integration of the new suits (Bee suit, Boo suit, Ice) are just as fantastic as the fire flower was in it’s day. While some of the motion control is still lacking (I hate those damn manta ray levels) it still doesn’t get any better than a full form Mario adventure.
ASSASSIN’S CREED – XBOX 360, PS3
Take equal elements of HITMAN and SPLINTER CELL’s stealth, the acrobatics of the PRINCE OF PERSIA series, and combine it with GRAND THEFT AUTO’s free roaming open world sandbox, set it in the Third Crusade, and you’d be pretty close to what to expect from ASSASSIN’S CREED. Shunned assassin Altair must redeem himself in the guild by upholding the creed of not killing innocents and bringing down the Templars and all associated with their plans. Gaining information for each missions main kill is fun, but does often get repetitive (but honestly, so did GTAIII the first time you played it too) as you eavesdrop, pickpocket, take out spies and…collect flags(?) on your way towards the truth. The stuff in between the missions may confuse some, but in the bigger picture of the game (which I won’t spoil here) it all makes sense in the end…and brings up good sequel excuses. And besides, nothing beats taking out a guard with a throwing knife, taking a running dive off a castle precipice, and landing safely in a bale of hay 60 feet below. And nothing looks better than doing it, either.
SOULCALIBUR LEGENDS – WII
What should have been a cool adventure bridging the gap between SOUL EDGE and the first SOUL CALIBUR game, SOULCALIBUR LEGENDS (not sure why that’s all one word now) just ends up being a decent mini game. Much like THE DEMON WITHIN games on the TEKKEN discs, this is just repetitive sword swinging. Walk into a room, fail wildly with the Wii-mote, finish off the foes, continue, and repeat. The bland cut-scenes and sub-par voice work don’t lend much to a better score, either, but at least Floyd from TALES OF SYMPHONIA has a cameo as a selectable character. The Wii’s controls are good and precise, but not precise enough to make this sword adventure work as well as you’d want.
RESIDENT EVIL: UMBRELLA CHRONICLES and GHOST SQUAD – WII
A few folks aren’t as thrilled about the Wii Zapper peripheral as I am. I love the thing, but that may be because I love light gun games. Thankfully, the developers of the titles that utilize the Wii-mote and Nunchuck cradle had the foresight to integrate a Zapper setting in the control set up, otherwise, these wouldn’t get as high a grade as they do.
The Zapper’s Tommy gun like shape is perfect for slaying zombies, and the condensed versions of RE 0, 1 and 3 fit perfectly into the “on rails” arcade motif. The extra UMBRELLA missions add some much-needed story to fill in plot holes and satiate fan service before the next big title in the series is released.
GHOST SQUAD is a much shorter adventure, easily beaten in about an hour and a half. It’s simply a port of the arcade game, and while it may not seem like much, multiple play throughs reveal multiple paths to the end mission, which also unlock costumes, multiplayer modes, and weapons. Sure, SEGA could have added more missions (which would have been preferable) but at $30 it’s not too much for a quick evening with friends.
BLACKSITE: AREA 51 and CLIVE BARKER’S JERICHO – XBOX 360, PS3
Now here are two titles that could have been exciting, but their end products truly left lacking. In BLACKSITE’s case, it was a bland story and some average shooter action that brought it down. For a game with AREA 51 it would have been cool if there were actual ALIENS in the game, not just genetically enhanced science experiments. The multiplayer had some fun moments, but for the most part, it’s an rental at best, and beaten in about 6 hours. It’s pretty bad for your game when one of the game’s DVELEOPERS badmouths it right after release.
JERICHO on the other hand, starts with a great concept, but it’s end execution just falters and never quite gets back up. As a crack team of paranormal whos-its, each with their own unique powers, it had the whole “bad ass squad tactic” kind of feel for it. Sadly, when you’re spending more time healing your AI teammates than shooting the visceral goonies and ghoulies that are ripping you to shreds, well…that’s just badly done. It looks cool and creepy enough, but I was more scared of the control and my team dying than I was of the guy actually out for our faces.
THE ORANGE BOX – XBOX 360, PS3, PC
Okay, we all know that HALF-LIFE 2 was one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) story driven FPS’ out there. If you missed it before, or even if you didn’t, you owe it to yourself to pick up this collection. Featuring HALF-LIFE 2, as well as the follow up EPISODE ONE and TWO, there’s enough story to satiate any shooter fan of sci-fi and awesomeness. But the goodies don’t end there. There’s also the brain bending puzzles of PORTAL, reason enough to spend the $60. Despite it’s brevity (you can beat the main PORTAL game in about 2 and a half hours) its brilliance from start to finish is palpable. The game is one of the creepiest yet funniest adventures alone in a while, and the puzzles are among the best ever created. For anything. Top it all off with the online TEAM FORTRESS 2 and you have five games for the price of one that is heavy on the value side of the menu. From its Pixar-like graphics to its team play and 9 diverse character classes, this is enough to keep any shooter fan happy five times over. Buy it now. Why haven’t you yet?
ROCK BAND (PS3, XBOX 360, PS2) and GUITAR HERO III (XBOX 360, PS2, PS3, WII)
Well, I had a podcast all ready to showcase the awesomeness of these two games, but…well, I won’t say you’ll NEVER see it, but it’s been delayed a bit. In the meantime, however, capsule reviews.
ROCK BAND is, simply, the greatest party game ever invented. From the GUITAR HERO inspired guitar and bass, to the KARAOKE REVOLUTION style vocals, to the new and difficult drums, everything works so well for this rhythm game. We’re used to guitars, sure, but throwing in other instruments to the mix gets everyone involved. Miss a solo, fuck up a riff, and you’ll be screaming at each other like a real band…and loving it. The setlist may not seem too large at first, but with weekly downloads since launch, there’s more than enough songs to get you going. Don’t know the lyrics to a song, can’t play the rhythm, on Rush’s “TOM SAWYER”? Switch it out…its Band World Tour mode will have everyone taking up new instruments while trying to win fans and world domination. The drums are the best part, though some gamers will still have trouble using both their hands AND Feet at the same time. But that’s all part of life on the road, baby.
Since the developers of GUITAR HERO went on to make ROCK BAND, the third iteration of the series fell to TONY HAWK developer Neversoft, and they’ve handled it like old pros. The setlist is insanely huge, the co-op story mode opens up even more tracks, and the “boss battles” with Slash and Tom Morello are fun and a neat addition to the dynamic. While I wish there more “legends” to battle, the same fun that we always have with the title is here, and the battle mode (where you try to make your opponent mess up by hitting them with lefty flip, breaking a string, or many other attacks) is just the icing on the cake. I’m still a fan.
Whew. Well, I think that about covers the big ones…that I played anyway. I’ll be back soon (I swear!) with some more recent releases, including BURNOUT PARADISE and NO MORE HEROES. Till next time…
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