Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Graphic Horror: Game Reviews

By Brian M. Sammons

Ah the post holidays game glut, where you can take a break, catch your breath, and really enjoy some good games without feeling overwhelmed by titles. Anyway, this time around we’ve got 3 DLC (DownLoadble Content) packs to cover. Ok, one of them is a full-fledged game, but it sure feels like a DLC. The point is that 2010 was the year of downloadable everything, from expansion packs to make the games you love bigger and better, to top shelf complete games only available as downloads over the internet. I can see a game world fast approaching where discs and any sort of physical media is a thing of the past. However that is still not today, so enough of my prophesizing, let’s get to the games.

DEAD RISING 2: CASE WEST, by Capcom, Rated M, Xbox 360

While this may look like a downloadable add on for DEAD RISING 2, it is actually a standalone game, like the previous CASE ZERO. That means you don’t need to have the full $60 game to play this. But whereas CASE ZERO was an incredible steal of a deal at $5, this one costs twice as much. So the question is does it deliver twice the amount of fun?

In a word no, In fact it almost feels like a step back in some ways. In ZERO you got a small town to explore, here you get a single factory. Sure it’s a big factory, and it might be physically bigger than the other game’s town, but with everything crammed together under one roof it sure feels a lot smaller.

As far as game length, it is about the same. Both WEST and ZERO can be completed in a single play through, or roughly three hours or so. There are a few things that might take you a couple of replays to do if you want to get 100% completion and all of the 200 achievement points. So it is as large as CASE ZERO but costs twice as much? Hmm…

Perhaps the best thing about this game is no more NPC survivor babysitting. When you find a survivor this time around they simply run off once you save them. That means you don’t have to escort them back to the safe house over and over again. Since DEAD RISING 2 was overloaded with loading screen after loading screen, anything they can do to limit the number of loading screens is more than fine with me.

Another improvement is a more stable co-op play mode than what we got in DR 2 that not only doesn’t boot the second player out of the game every time the first player tries to save their game, but allows you to play as someone other than a creepy clone of the story’s protagonist. That second character is none other than ace action reporter Frank West from the first DEAD RISING game and yes, that’s why this game has the title it does.

As for the story, Frank and Chuck Green from DEAD RISING 2 infiltrate an evil corporation’s zombie factory in order to get a great story and to prove that Chuck didn’t cause the latest zombie outbreak in Fortune City. And well, that’s pretty much it. Yeah the story is kind of thin, but there are some new combo weapons to create, new non-zombie baddies to fight, and as a throwback to the first game, a camera and lots of pictures to take. But most importantly the fun co-op I hinted at before. Really if you get this game, it’s best to play through it with a buddy.

DEAD RISING 2: CASE WEST gets 3 non-too-thrilling but not-too-shabby zombies out of 5.

COSTUME QUEST: GRUBBINS ON ICE, by Double Fine, Rated E10+, Xbox 360

A few months back I reviewed the very fine COSTUME QUEST Halloween-themed RPG from Double Fine. Go give it a look, because everything I said about it then applies here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. As the old timers say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But does this expansion offer enough new to warrant the price?

In a word, yes, but then the price is pretty low. What you get here is the exact same game play, where you go from house to house in custom, looking for candy. Sometimes you get the treats; other times you get monsters who want to eat you. When that happens you go into a turn based battle system and the customs you have on grant you special abilities and attacks. It’s all pretty RPG basic, but it is fun, and big on both style and charm.

With GRUBBINS you get three new customs, three new wintery areas to explore, and about three more hours of COSTUME QUEST. Hmm, I sense a pattern here. Oh and while there is some on the ground in the grubbins world, don’t mistake this for a Christmas themed game like the first one was a Halloween themed one because it really isn’t. This DLC is kind of on the slight side, but it’s priced right and if you liked CQ then you’ll like this. Sure this expansion doesn’t really do anything new, but neither does it mess things up.

COSTUME QUEST: GRUBBINS ON ICE gets 3 tasty treats out of 5.

FALLOUT NEW VEGAS: DEAD MONEY: by Bethesda Softworks & Obsidian Entertainment, Rated M, Xbox 360.

This is the first downloadable expansion for NEW VEGAS and it’s got some pretty big shoes to fill. The previous FALLOUT game had some amazing expansion packs. Well, not all of them were winners, but the nasty majority of them were top notch. So do the guys at Obsidian get a homerun their first time batting for expansions or do they strike out?

Well it’s a hit, but not without a few strikes. Chief among them is the map that points an arrow for you to follow for the next step in any given quest, but three times it pointed in the wrong direction. That means it was far more of a hindrance than a help. On one of those map mess-ups the arrow kept pointing to a dead end courtyard and I spent well over an hour going round and round until I found the right way to go on the complete opposite side of the map from where the arrow was. That’s neither fun nor challenging, just aggravating as all hell.

That said, DEAD MONEY does do a lot of things right. First and foremost it raised the level cap to 35 and that’s both nice and surprising as most modern RPGs take three or four expansions before they get around to that. If gaining five levels isn’t enough, there are new weapons, enemies, and even a few perks.

As for the story, it has you taking part in a grand heist of the Sierra Madre casino but OCEAN’S 11 this is not and you’re not exactly doing the job voluntarily. A crazy old coot gives you an explosive necklace and tells you if you don’t do what he says…BOOM! You get three new allies to aid you in your heist and it is with them that DEAD MONEY really shines. All of them are well written and acted, even the mute, and especially Dog/God. You’ll know him when you see him. You also get a sprawling ghost town filled with traps, poisonous gas, and deadly, nearly un-killable “ghost people” to explore.

If you steamroll through the story quests you can make it through this expansion in probably four hours or so. If you take the time to explore every nook and cranny of the ghost town and casino then it can stretch out quite a bit longer, but that might not be a great thing. Around the halfway point things start feeling a bit repetitive and the confusing, maze-like casino with wave upon wave of baddies for you to slog through doesn’t help things. DEAD MONEY isn’t the worst of the FALLOUT expansions but it is a fair distance from being great. But for 800 Microsoft points, or $10 in real money, it’s well worth the price if you’re a fan of NEW VEGAS.

I give FALLOUT NEW VEGAS: DEAD MONEY 4 Sierra Madre casino chips out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons