is that spike spiegel?

Batman: Arkham City [Video]

First Hour Review

Batman Arkham City CoverEverybody wants to be Batman. He was born with more money than most third world countries. His car sips gasoline and pisses fire. He could win the World's Strongest Man competition and the Jeopardy Tournament of Champions simultaneously. He knocks boots with Catwoman at night and brags to Superman in the morning. Whatever you aspire to be, Batman is it.

So it's surprising that no developer ever attempted the complete Batman experience until 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum. Okay, maybe Batman isn't quite "complete" without Batmobile or Bruce Wayne, but the game offered a taste of the hunter/fighter/thinker dynamic that makes Batman so Batmanly. Two years later, Rocksteady Games is back on the prowl with Batman: Arkham City, because when was the last time a hit video game didn't get a sequel? The new game promises an increase in scope parallel with its subtitle: the play area has expanded from the asylum to a full borough within greater Gotham City where evildoers and thugs (and maybe also the mentally ill that legitimately need help?) have been corralled and quarantined.

But enough prep, it's time to bust faces. Watch some snippets of footage from early in the story and pretend you're Batman. It's okay, we all still do it from time to time.

Rage [Video]

First Hour Review

Rage CoverI've never played a game developed by id Software. Not Doom, not Quake, not Wolfenstein, not nothing. I didn't play PC games much back when id was more prolific, and I had a prejudice against overly gory shooters. To me, they prioritized shock value over sound game mechanics, kind of like Mortal Kombat. Considering their lasting appeal, that was probably not my most sound judgment.

In my defense, id Software hasn't given me much to work with lately. The developer has only just this week released Rage, its first major game since 2004's Doom 3. Rage had been building up a lot of good press since its announcement back in 2007, earning plenty of "most anticipated" awards from major media outlets (yes, there are awards for such things). All the praise was a bit perplexing to me, though: by all appearances, Rage seems like yet another competent first person shooter with some car combat on the side.

But hey, now I can say I've played an id Software game (or at least an hour of it). Check out an early mission video below to see a short sample of Rage's early goings.

Captain America: Super Soldier and Captain America: Super Soldier

Full Review

Captain America Super Soldier artAww yeah, it's a SHOVELWARE SHOWDOWN!

In the last two weeks, I started Captain America: Super Soldier for both the PS3 and Wii. At hour's end, I decided to keep playing each game, but with the expectation that I wouldn't actually finish either. As it turns out, I stuck with both through the credits. And I didn't do it solely for masochism's sake: movie license hex be damned, neither version of Captain America is mere shovelware. They won't be gunning for any Game of the Year awards, but they are games worth playing for the right price.

Okay, so they're not bad. But which version of Captain America: Super Soldier is the not baddest? The choice isn't as simple as HD versus SD, like in many Wii port afterthoughts: the parallels are there, but these are two very different games. In classic head-to-head style, check out how each of the versions stacks up against each other in their major elements.

Captain America Wii - Video

First Hour Review

Captain America wii CoverLast week, I checked out Captain America: Super Soldier for the PS3, a decision based equally on hope and whatever horrible curiosity entices people to play movie-licensed games. It was like approaching a derailed train full of puppies: you can't look away from what's sure to be a disaster, but also there's a chance everything turned out okay, and wouldn't that just be wonderful?

Well, here we are again. Another game called Captain America: Super Soldier has been released for Wii. It has the same name and is capitalizing on the same blockbuster movie, but it's a very different game by a very different studio. The PS3 and 360 versions were handled by Next Level Games, a developer that quietly created some of my favorite gems of the generation (in addition to a few duds, apparently). In contrast, the Wii version was in the hands of High Voltage Software, a studio that hyped its first big project to high heaven before the final product would be condemned to gaming purgatory. Since then, the company has released an immediately forgotten sequel and made some noise about what will surely be vaporware in due time.

That said, I can't help but admire the ambition and genuine enthusiasm High Voltage Software brought to trade shows, even if it didn't translate into a worthwhile package in The Conduit. HVS also seems to be one of the few developers that actually took Wii development seriously at some point, so I suppose it's qualified to bring Captain America to Nintendo's neglected little box. My expectations are about as low as you can get, but I'm curious enough to give the game a try anyway.

And hey, video! Watch a superdeformed Captain America throw his mighty shield, solve some mighty puzzles, and even throw a mighty Shoryuken.

Captain America: Super Soldier - Video

First Hour Review

Captain America Super Soldier CoverI think I like Captain America because he's sort of the underdog. In a universe of telekinetic superbeings and indestructible immortals, Cap's basically just a buff dude with a shield with a penchant for punching Hitler. I like to think he's Marvel's Batman, the mere man who needs only his natural resourcefulness (and a liberal dose of super-steroids) to be a star player in the superhuman leagues.

Apparently, Next Level Games sees a similar link between Bruce Wayne and Steve Rogers. Charged with developing the game that would tie into Captain America: The First Avenger, the developer appears to have taken some inspiration from Batman: Arkham Asylum. Among other details, Captain America's context sensitive combat style especially reminds me of the dark knight's award-winning game.

Despite favorable previews and some excellent games in the developer's back library, I haven't forgotten that Captain America: Super Soldier is a game with a movie license. Stunted development time, split effort across all systems, and NLG's inexperience with HD consoles kept my expectations low going into the first hour.

The following is a video sample of some early goings in the CA:SS story mode. See Cap fight, decode, and get his gymnastics on.

Mass Effect 2 (PS3)

Full Review

Mass Effect 2 ps3 CoverSome games are just so damn popular and beloved that you can't ignore them, no matter how hard you try.

When Mass Effect invaded my world in 2007, I couldn't have cared less. Sure, it was from the same BioWare that produced the excellent Knights of the Old Republic, and seducing blue women sounded like a pretty good time, but it definitely wasn't enough to put a 360 in my life. I'd grown weary of shooters of all kinds since burning out on Halo 2, and with RPG elements mashed in, it only seemed less enticing. I even gave the game a try last year on a friend's machine and didn't make it off the Citadel before losing interest.

The hype hasn't fallen on deaf ears, though. The rave reviews, rave first hour reviews, GOTY awards, and FOX News scare tactic hilarity all kept me up at night, wondering if I was missing out. EA was intent on making me give the series another shot, as they recently completed a PS3 port of Mass Effect 2. Because one of the series' bullet points is importing player-dictated narrative choices from the first game into the second, Dark Horse Comics was called in to help create a short interactive comic that fills in PS3 owners on some of the events that they missed out on from Commander Shepard's first adventure, even allowing the player to make some of the more important decisions to impact their experience with the full sequel.

As it turns out, that comic is DLC, unlockable either by a code included in the game's box or for $15. I rented the game and didn't plan on shelling out fifteen bucks for a fifteen minute comic, so I ended up going into the sequel without much knowledge from the first game. From that starting point aboard the exploding Normandy to the final trip through the Omega 4 relay, I've experienced just about everything included on the PS3 disc of Mass Effect 2 -- as much as you can in one playthrough, anyway -- as Elmer Shepard, a Vanguard of equal parts paragon and renegade, lover and fighter, savior and failure. And sometimes he forgets to feed his fish, and they die.

Greg has already written about the Mass Effect series extensively, having played both games and plenty of extra content on the 360. With that in mind, I'll try (but likely fail) to keep this brief. If you need a primer or refresher for the series, check out one of his excellent writeups. An avid fan of the series, he does a much better job of explaining the core elements of Mass Effect than I could.

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