ps3

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: 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.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part One

Half-Hour Handheld

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part one CoverSome months back, while browsing the shelves at our local GameStop, my wife picked out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One for the Nintendo DS; I had earlier warned her of the bad reviews for the Kinect-heavy atrocity of the same name that dropped on the Xbox 360, and we both assumed that the DS version would almost have to be better than that. However, she did not play for very long, returning to her staples of Animal Crossing: Wild World and The New Super Mario Bros. She either lost interest or got stuck; at one point, I had to help her through an unclear potion-making minigame.

With the final installment of the final movie creeping closer, I thought this would be a perfect time to see how solid of a Harry Potter game it actually is. Plus, I had some time to kill while on vacation.

Aparecium!

Infamous and The Beast

Blog Post

Infamous 2 Cover(WARNING: This post discusses significant plot points of Infamous and Infamous 2 in detail. You are now at the gates of Spoiler City. Turn back if you intend to play the game with a blank slate someday.)

One of the cornerstones of horror is mystery. People fear the unknown, enough so that they will fill in the blanks with their own personal hellspawn when presented with a few creepy clues. Things that go bump in the night don't need to bare glistening fangs or a bloody hook to terrify us: they just have to bump.

This connection is easily exploited to make a good scare even better. It sounds crazy that so many left theaters spooked after the Blair Witch Project, considering the titular monster was never shown, yet that's exactly why the movie was a hit. Cloverfield saw that success and adapted it to trailers and TV spots, depicting a Godzilla-level monster attack from the view of those unable to see the monster directly. Video games are catching on as well, with many praising Amnesia: The Dark Descent for providing scares when nothing's there.

Infamous 2 isn't a horror game, but it makes excellent use of this deprivation technique to ramp up the suspense. The story's core is Cole MacGrath's quest to prepare for the destined arrival of The Beast, a being of such power and wrath that only at his fullest potential could the hero hope to stop it. Throughout the game, chilling reminders of this impending cataclysm are ever present, casting a shadow of despair that even overcasts Cole's considerable predicaments in the here and now. And when the Beast finally arrives, revealing itself at last to the wearied but hardened superman, the suspense is replaced with a dread so thick that it suffocates the player in a way no game ever has before.

Dragon Age II

First Hour Review

Dragon age 2 CoverI enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins quite a bit, but it was a rocky ride to get going. Origins has a lot of stats, a lot of skill trees, and what I found to be a somewhat confusing array of attributes to put points into. When I heard that Dragon Age II was being developed to address many of those aspects of the game, plus a complete overhaul of the dialog system to make it similar to Mass Effect, I was pretty excited.

When Dragon Age II was released, it was met with a Spore-like backlash that railed against everything even semi-related to the game. Gamers lamented the Mass Effectification of their beloved hardcore RPG (which I seemed to deem a compliment reading from afar), and while the professional reviews of the game were lower than Origins but still highly respectable, a seemingly large group of gamers tossed goose eggs at it.

I’ve always been in the play-it-myself group of gamers. I can understand some of the spite, but forming an opinion before you even play the game usually makes one look foolish (and heck, I often look foolish after just an hour!).

Here’s my first hour review of Dragon Age II, released by BioWare in March, 2011.

Uncharted 3 Beta Impressions and Video

Blog Post

Uncharted 3 BetalogoI held out on the HD console era for almost four years. Through late 2009, I was happy owning only a Wii, with its quirky library and dependable first-party franchises. Sure, modern online features and the robust third-party support made the HD twins appealing, but I abstained admirably. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was the game that finally forced my hand.

I don't know why, but I had to have it. Whether it was the tone, the hype, or merely the timing, something about Uncharted 2 commanded me to buy a PS3. Weeks before the game launched, Naughty Dog held a public multiplayer beta; I bought the newly slimmed PS3 and jumped in. I had a great time in the trial, bought the full game, loved the singleplayer, and the rest is history.

Two years is the standard wait for a sequel anymore, and in 2011, we have Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception to look forward to. Once again, the developer has opened a multiplayer beta to the public, this time nearly six months before launch. Naughty Dog has said their goal is to make Uncharted 3 THE multiplayer game for PS3. Based on my time with the beta thus far, its candidacy can't be denied.

As I did for the Killzone 3 beta, I will outline the Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta's game mechanics and feature set. I've also included clips from a few matches I played on the beta's second day (day one was a mess of empty matches and game crashes, later fixed through a title update).

Musings on L.A. Noire, and gray areas in game design

Full Review

la Noire CoverOne of the fun attributes of film noir is that, while often filmed in a stark black and white style, the characters and situations aren't so easily sorted. Good guys can keep bad habits, damsels in distress can turn femme fatale, and the line between cop and crook gets muddy. Black and white is the look, but gray is the tone.

L.A. Noire, Rockstar's latest critical smash, pays tribute to film noir's unclear nature not only in style but also in its design. A vast open world is the stage for a linear story. Modern gunfights and street races play nice with adventure game relics and intuition simulation that should prove to be the game's lasting legacy. And, given the task, I'd place L.A. Noire somewhere in the spectrum between pretty good and almost great.

But to be honest, that's not really what this piece turned out to be. It's not quite a review, but not really just a critique, either. Want a review? Here: "L.A. Noire isn't a bad game by any standard, but it's more an interesting experiment than it is a great experience." I'll even throw a number at you. "7." Bam, reviewed.

With that addressed, the following is a look at a few of the ways L.A. Noire straddles many seemingly opposite design elements. Sometimes this leads to nagging issues, others to surprise delights. But more often than not, it's hard to say either way.

Infamous 2 - Video

First Hour Review

Infamous 2 CoverI vividly recall some trials and frustrations in my time with the original inFAMOUS (not the least of which was that horrible spelling which will henceforth be abandoned), but overall I really enjoyed the game. As much as the sticky platforming, messy mission design, and transparent morality system bothered me, I ultimately had a great time surfing on power lines, tossing electric grenades, and guiding a concentrated lightning storm down alleys of soon-to-be-corpses. It was inevitable that the game would get a sequel due to its ending (and the sad, predictable nature of this industry), and I really hoped that Sucker Punch would iron out a few of the teeth-grating problems I had with the original.

Lo and behold, it's one month and two years later, and there's another Infamous game. Boasting a locale with more colors than gray, melee combat that's not completely worthless, and the promise of acquiring more elemental powers, Infamous 2 certainly seems like the kind of sequel that boasts incremental improvements over the original and hasn't yet worn out the franchise's welcome. Pretty typical of a "2," really.

I find it amusing that the game arrived in my mailbox last Monday, the same day that Sony featured a trailer from the game in its E3 conference. Shortly after their presentation, I had my first taste of Infamous 2. I grabbed three clips from my first hour: arrival at the new sandbox city of New Marais, the first new power tutorial, and an early choice between good and evil sidequests.

Portal 2

Full Review

Portal 2 CoverAs the sequel to my 2007 Game of the Year, I had high expectations of Portal 2, and so did the developers Valve, and everyone else mildly interested in video games. This was a milestone release, and Valve has been rewarded with many accolades and undoubtedly excellent sales numbers. I was able to sit down with Portal 2 for Windows and beat it in three extended gaming sessions over a few weeks.

That last sentence might be rather revealing, yes, the game took me weeks to beat. I took on the original Portal in one sitting. Of course, Portal 2 is longer than the original, and I have two kids now instead of none, but I’ll say right off the bat I felt like some kind of spark was missing.

So let’s just dive right into my review of Portal 2. This review will probably be shorter than usual simply because of my personal pact to spend less time writing full reviews this year, so hopefully I can more succinctly say what needs to be said.

L.A. Noire - Video

First Hour Review

la Noire CoverI like to think I'm open-minded, but it's undeniable that I'm leery of open-world games. The genre's tendency to prioritize quantity over quality often produces sandboxes full of activities and environments that are rough around the edges (if not outright broken). That's not to say that the entire package can't overcome the inadequacy of its individual elements, but the apparent lack of focus often leads me to suspect that developers sometimes take the kitchen-sink route to distract players from a game's inability to evolve, improve, or even replicate proven game mechanics.

It's this perceived deficiency, whether imagined or real, that has distanced me from THE sandbox developer's games. I had a decent time ramming criminals off the road in Grand Theft Auto III's vigilante missions, and Red Dead Redemption's gorgeous frontier can be fun to gallop through, but I've mostly ignored Rockstar's standard-setting sandboxes. While Web of Shadows and InFamous at least throw some fancy superpowers into the mix, there's not a whole lot more to Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption than driving and shooting, one or both of which are available (and often superior) in a thousand other games.

So it certainly was a surprise for me when I caught my first trailer for L.A. Noire -- a project that Rockstar has been cooking up for many years now -- and saw a concept that appears not only focused, but novel and ambitious as well. The game's use of facial capture animation produces some of the most realistic character visuals the medium has ever seen, and the trailers would have you believe that it's not just for show: players will have to intuit characters' body language and act on hunches in order to get to the bottom of each case. The feeling I'm getting is less Grand Theft Maltese Falcon and more Phoenix Wright: Cynical Detective. I'm skeptical that it will quite live up to what I have in mind, but I'm more than willing to let it try.

The following video is a taste of L.A. Noire's third case, which should give you an idea of a detective's duty and how to do it with all the bumbling inadequacy of Inspector Jacques Clouseau.

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