Monday, October 4, 2010

Graphic Horror: Game Reviews

By Brian M. Sammons

Finally we have some horror games to talk about. Sure, they’re all about zombies, the monster of the moment that’s threatening to become as played out as vampires, but it’s better than nothing. The good news is that they’re all pretty damn good. Add to that a few nonzombierific titles and it’s a pretty good time to be a gamer.

DEAD RISING: CASE ZERO, Capcom, Rated M, Xbox 360

I was not a huge fan of the first DEAD RISING game. The combat was a bit wonky and a good portion of the game revolved around escorting people to safety during a huge zombie outbreak in a shopping mall and those game controlled characters were absolute idiots that seemed to delight in becoming zombie chow. So with the sequel looming on the horizon I was looking forward to it with mixed emotions. Sure, it was a game loaded with literally thousands of zombies, but if the controls and computer AI still got in the way of having a good time, what would the point be of investing $60 in it?

Luckily Capcom came up with a very clever idea. Essentially they took the concept of a game demo and ran with it to make CASE ZERO, a short prequel to the full game. In it you meet the hero, Chuck Green, and his very sick daughter. While on your way to Las Vegas you stop in the tiny town of Still Creek where your truck, and more importantly the medicine your daughter needs to keep from turning into a zombie, gets stolen. Worse yet, in twelve hours the army is coming to town and if they find Chuck’s infected daughter, well let’s just say they won’t be gentle. So you must find new medicine, rescue other survivors from the undead hoard, rebuild a wrecked motorcycle so you can make your escape, and battle tons of zombies all along the way.

Now the great thing about this title was that it totally restored my faith in the upcoming full game. The combat is much better and satisfyingly visceral and the NPCs you must rescue actually have half a brain and will not walk willingly into a mob of flesh eaters while you are trying to take them to safety. Then there are the cool combo weapons you can make to rip zombies apart with style. From the simple baseball bat with nails in it to twin chainsaws mounted on a canoe paddle, and so many more weird, wacky, and wicked weapons. Moreover, you can raise Chuck’s level to 5 and any experience you get in the prequel you can take with you when you start the full game later. Oh and the fact that you get all this for just five bucks, yeah that was pretty great too.

For both value and fun I can easily give DEAD RISING: CASE ZERO 5 zombies meeting the business end of a spiked baseball bat out of 5.

DEAD RISING 2, Capcom, Rated M, PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Ok, read the review of DEAD RISING 2: CASE ZERO before going any further because a lot of what goes for that is a big fat ditto here. In short, both the combat and the NPC characters you have to guide to safety are much, much, oh boy howdy are they much improved over the first game. What remains are the tons and tons of zombies that you can kill in a variety of over the top, bloody, and often silly ways. Seriously, you can just spend hours trying out new weapons, many of which you create in a workshop for much improved mayhem, on the undead hoard to see what happens and often bust out laughing at. That is, if you are the kind of person who would laugh at a bucket full of power drills placed over a zombie’s head. Well I am, and I loved it.

As for the story it takes place after CASE ZERO. You are still Chuck Green and you still have your sick daughter that you constantly have to shoot up with the drug, Zombrex, less she turn into a zombie. The good news is that it’s some time after the zombie outbreak that destroyed Las Vegas. Sin City has been rebuilt and renamed Fortune City (why, I don’t know) and even though there’s still some zombies left, the global threat has been contained. In fact, when we first see Chuck in this game he’s earning some cash as a contestant in a reality show called “Terror Is Reality” where zombies are used as chainsaw fodder for testosterone junkies in a gory X-Games like production. But of coarse, things soon go all to hell and the zombies once again take over Las…I mean Fortune City. Now chuck must run through the expansive city comprised of several casinos and shopping malls, mashing zombies, tangling with still living psychos, getting medicine for his daughter, and saving innocents from gnashing teeth. Moreover, you get the blame for unleashing the zombies by the news and you must find out who framed you before the army arrives and either toss you in jail or just shoot you on sight.

Ok, so I mentioned how the combat and NPC’s AI has been much improved in this sequel, but is that all? Heck no. First off, another thing about the original game that bugged me a lot was the unstoppable clock that seemed to give you no time for crazy zombie fun as you were always running from one story mission to the next. Well that ticking clock is still here, but it seems far more forgiving, giving you much more time in between the mandatory story missions so you can make your own fun. Want more? Ok, there’s co-op play so you and a friend can smash zombies together and total carnage is always made better when you share it with a friend. Speaking of friends, there competitive multiplayer where you and a bunch of your friends can play online the crazy challenges of “Terror is Reality”.

Now there are a few things about this game that did bug me and while they were minor, one that kept occurring time and time again was the number of loading screens you must sit through while playing this game. It honestly felt that after every five minuets of crazy zombie bashing fun you had to stop everything for the next area to load, while such loading screens were relatively short, about 30 seconds give or take, they really killed the flow of the game and served to bring the action to a screeching halt. However, if that’s the biggest beef I have with this game, and it is, then that’s saying something about how happy I was with it. While this game doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything it does make for a hell of a ride.

I give DEAD RISING 2 4 zombies getting run over by lawnmowers out of 5.

PLANTS VS. ZOMBIES, PopCap Games, Rated E, Mac, PC, PS3, Xbox 360

If you play games on the PC then chances are you’re played, or at least heard about this game. To say it was a huge hit would be putting things mildly. Well now it’s out as a downloadable game for the Xbox 360 with a few new tricks and add-ons. So is it worth getting if you’ve never played it before? How about if you’ve already played it on PC? Well grab your fertilizer, your hoe, and hope your thumb is sufficiently green because here comes the zombies.

PvZ is a tower defense game. What’s that, you may ask? Well a tower defense game is when you have to protect a certain area from a nonstop flood of enemies. To do so you build various defenses, and yes sometimes they are towers, to kill the bad guys as they advance. In essence, that’s what this game is, only here the bad guys are a variety of shuffling undead all hungry for your brains and instead of towers you have plants as your only defense. Yes, plants. Luckily for you, you’re one hell of a gardener because these are no ordinary daises and tulips. No, you’ve got plants that shoot deadly peas, others that launch watermelon bombs, walnuts that act as shields, mushrooms for night levels, Lilly pads for water boards, and much more.

This game is simple in scope but offers a surprisingly complex strategy experience, and is as addictive as few things are. While that is all good, and by that I mean really good, what really sets this game apart is it undeniable charm. It is cute, silly, funny, and ten different flavors of fun. Even if you’ve played lots of tower defense games, you’ve never played one this well put together or entertaining. So remember those two questions I asked earlier? Well here’s the answers to both; hell yes.

I give PLANTS VS.ZOMBIES 5 flaming peashooters out of 5.

HYDROPHOBIA, Dark Energy Digital, Rated M, PC, PS3, Xbox 360

This interesting little downloadable game came as shock to me, as in I never heard of it until I got it to play. While such things could make for truly a pleasant surprise, more often than not games that fly under the radar do so because they are not worth anything more than a passing glance. So with that in mind I downloaded this game, grabbed the controller, and waited to see what fate had in store for me.

The great thing about knowing a thing about what you’re about to play is surprise, but that can be for both good and bad. Starting with the bad, the graphics in HYDROPHOBIA look pretty dated. Not really ugly, but certainly last generation. However as far as bad goes, that’s all I really have to say about it, so actually I guess that’s pretty good.

That out of the way, let’s hit the good next. The story was pretty well done with a few truly unique moments. You play as Kate Wilson a tough, resourceful, and pretty (in a last generation sort of way) female security engineer onboard the Queen of the World, a humongous ship/city housing untold number of people looking to escape the trials and tribulations of a vastly overcrowded world. Then, before you know it, explosions start rocking the ship, spray painted messages such as, “save the world, kill yourselves” start popping up, and bad dudes are roaming the decks, killing those that haven’t followed the advice of the aforementioned graffiti. Naturally it falls to you to save the day and you do so by running, jumping, climbing and yes, with a game called HYDROPHOBIA, you do lots of swimming. There’s also a little bit of shooting, but even that has been spruced up a bit as your best bet in killing the gun-toting crazies is to use the environment to take them out. You shoot barrels to cause explosions (because everyone knows all barrels in videogames explode very easily), shoot fuses boxes and wires to electrocute wet foes, or you can keep shooting a bad guy with stun rounds to keep him underwater till he drowns.

At its soggy heart, HYDROPHOBIA is an adventure game with some combat elements, some item collecting, and a decent enough story. It really doesn’t do anything that we haven’t seen before, but it does things pretty well. If you’re looking for an action adventure game that will come as a complete surprise (provided you just skipped over the three previous paragraphs) then this will do that for you handily.

I give HYDROPHOBIA 3 wet, genocidal terrorists out of 5.


COMIC JUMPER, Twisted Pixel Games, Rated M, Xbox 360

This is the latest game from Twisted Pixel studios, a company that so far has made two great, and best of all highly funny, downloadable games with THE MAW and ‘SPLOSION MAN. So does this, their third outing, continue the tradition of excellence or is this the game that drops the ball? Well grab your back issues of THE FANTASTIC FOUR and let’s find out.

You play as Captain Smiley, a comic book hero who’s so bad that his comic book gets cancelled. In an attempt to get your own book back, you must guest star in a number of other comic books to make the cash you need. That is one of the two things that make this game really fun; each comic you jump into has a very unique style in both art and story, both rendered with exceptional care and skill. There’s the brawny savagery of Conan (or in this case Nanoc) comics, the innocent discrimination and racism, not to mention imposed morality standards of the 50s and 60s “silver age” of comics, and for truly weird there’s the Manga craze from Japan. These ever changing looks and themes keep the game fresh. Combined with great, hilarious writing and well developed characters and this game was a joy to experience.

But did you notice how I didn’t just say “play”? Well that’s because the one draw back to the game was the game mechanics. Not that they are bad, just that they never really change and become somewhat stale rather quickly. In short, you move from left to right, except for the Manga where you move right to left because that’s how the Japanese roll, shooting bad guys and jumping on platforms and that’s it. Again, that’s not bad, I just wish that there was more to it then that. Also, another peeve of mine was the fact that you can upgrade your guns, you’re main form of attack, up to four times to supposedly do more damage, and yet that doesn’t translate to the actual game experience. It always seemed that the minions you fight at the end of the game take the exact same number of bullets to kill as they did at the start. Yeah, that’s a minor thing, but I’ve got to ask, why have the upgrade mechanic at all then?

However, while the game play is perfectly serviceable, if not too inspired, the real reason to get COMIC JUMPER is for the aforementioned story and characters. Rarely have I smiled, chuckled, and downright laughed out loud as much when playing a game as I did with this one. The heaping helpings of crazy, weird, fun make recommending this game easy for me. That is, as long as you like fun. You do, don’t you?

I give COMIC JUMPER 4 foulmouthed star sidekicks on your chest (yeah, forgot to mention him, he’s awesome) out of 5.


I’ve always liked Spider-man. Not enough to collect the comic books but enough to watch the movies, even the crappy third one, and play the video games. So while I’m not an authority on the web-head I can say with certainty that this is the best Spidey game that I’ve ever played. Quite a statement, I know, but I can give you the reason I say that with one word; variety.

SHATTERED DIMENSIONS is all about variety. While it begins with your familiar friendly neighborhood Spider-man stopping a baddie from stealing a mystical tablet, that tablet breaks and in doing so the pieces are scattered over four alternate realities and its up to four different Spider-men to save the day and that’s where this game really shines. After the first board you can play as any of the four wall crawlers at any time and each not only offers different characters, stories, and loads of unique visual style, but each also plays differently as well. That means you have to try awfully hard to get board with this game.

The Amazing Spider-man is your typical Spider-man. Red and blue outfit, swinging, quipping, making weapons out of webs. If you’ve ever played a Spider-man game then this will feel very familiar with this guy and how he plays, but that doesn’t make it bad as everything in the “Amazing universe” is fun, exciting, funny, and with Neil Patrick Harris doing the voice of the wall crawler, it’s surprisingly well voice acted too. Also you get to tangle with some of staple villains from the comic books like Kraven the Hunter, The Juggernaut, and Sandman.

Ultimate Spider-man would be the most similar is style. For the most part he’s like his Amazing counterpart, except he’s clad in the evil black suite of Venom fame. This Spider-man is more combat focused, facing tons of foes at once and tangling with Electro, Carnage, and one of my favorites from the game, the hilarious crazy Deadpool. To help you with this you get a rage power that boosts your damage significantly for short durations.

Spider-man 2099 is from the far off future, has someone other than Peter Parker as the web-slinger, and has futuristic updates of classic Spidey baddies like a cyborg Hobgoblin, a mutant Scorpion, and a female Doc Ock. This hero also gets flying/gliding parts in the mega-high cities and has the ability to slow down time MATRIX style to aid in both gliding and fighting.

The final Spider-man is my favorite for style and story, but not necessarily for game play. This is Spider-man Noir and like the name implies it is set the in the tough, black and white world of the 1930s. As such, the graphics are also black and white and the threats are far more deadly. Because of that you have to be more careful then the other heroes so that means playing a stealth take-down game like SPLINTER CELL and BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM. I liked that bit of variety in the otherwise high-swinging, fast action game, but in all honestly this game doesn’t really pull off the stealth thing so well. It’s not broken, but just not as polished as it is in other stealth games. But that said, I loved the look, theme, feel and story of these noir levels. I especially loved the dark, disturbing, and very horrific reimagining of the classic Spider-man villains, with the best of the whole bunch being a carnival freak, cannibal version of The Vulture that looks more NOSFERATU than the usual old guy in a silly bird suit he usually is.

Now this isn’t a total lovefest for the game as it does have a few flaws keeping it from true greatness. More than three times I hit a graphic glitch that sent my guy falling through the world into oblivion, thus requiring me to restart the game from a previous checkpoint. Also, some of the wall crawling was pretty bad and could be downright broken at times. However, those few bad thing are far outweighed by the loads of good on the Good Game, Bad Game scale.

Aptly enough, I can easily give SPIDER-MAN: SHATTERED DIMENSIONS 4 distinct and varied Spider-men out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons