Saturday, February 19, 2011

Graphic Horror: Game Reviews

By Brian M. Sammons

Not much to talk about this month. The first of the year is always a slow time for games. Now there is a big elephant in the room here as there was one horror game released in January, but I have a rule; if a publisher, PR company, production house or what have you can’t be bothered to send me something to review, then I can’t be bothered to review it. That said, if you know the game of which I speak I will say this about it; it’s not as good as the first one. The story is kind of weak, and sadly, it’s not scary in the least. Consider it a good third person shooter, an ok action game, but not really a horror game. It’s a rental, at best.

Ok, now that the freebee review is out of the way, I do have two little things for you. Sadly, they’re not scary, but one does have lots of monsters in it and the other offers tons of style.

LORD OF ARCANA, by Square Enix, Rated M, PSP

For Sony’s hand held PSP comes this derivative take on the insanely popular (in Japan, at least) MONSTER HUNTER series of games. If you’ve never played those games, well you hunt monsters (duh) in a fantasy setting complete with swords, armor, magic and all the tropes that go along with that setting. What makes the MONSTER HUNTER games so successful is the huge open world that does a good job of pulling of the whole “living world” thing and the large number of challenging and memorable monster fights. Sadly LORD OF ARCANA does a pretty poor job when trying to do the exact same thing.

The world of LoA is poorly realized. When you want to get a quest you do so by speaking to one of the people in the Slayers Guild. You are them magically whisked away to were the critters you must kill are located. So if you were looking for exploration of any sort, you’re going have to keep looking. But that is not to say that the “joy” of having to sit through lots and lots of loading screens has been denied you. Oh no, each area is comprised out of a lot of smaller zones and every time you cross over into them you have to wait for them to load.

Once you arrive on the scene of your hunt you have a time limit to beat so you’ve got to be on the quick side. Into this area are a number of wandering, low level, random monsters and battling them quickly become a tedious choir as they always behave the same way. For example the skeletons are always, and I mean ALWAYS, blocking so that means you always got to get behind them to do any real damage. Literally that is the one and only way to beat these minions. I thought one dimensional fights like that were a thing of the past. Sucks that this game proved me wrong.

The boss battles fare little better. They all have a predictable pattern they are forced to repeat and once you figure it out all challenge from the encounter vanishes. Worst yet are the bosses that rely on cheap and frustrating tricks to change things up. A prime example of this are the bosses that turn you tiny, making your attacks do virtually no damage. In order to regain your original size you must run over and hit a floating “keystone” but because you’re small you move much slower than usual. If you think that makes the battle more challenging, you’d be wrong. It does however make it an exercise in tedium. Oh joy. Lastly all boss hunts end with a quick time event. If you’re a fan of quick button mashing, they you’ll love this. If not, then not so much.

The one bright spot in the otherwise dull combat are the bloody and over the top finished moves called coups de graces. These are fun and they never really get boring, but they alone can’t save all the tedious combat which unfortunately does get old right quick.

To help share the pain, you can play with a few friends via local multiplayer. It doesn’t make the quests any more fun or the battles any more engaging, but at least you won’t be alone. However there is no online multiplayer and only the host can save any quest progress so you, and anyone else with this game, will quickly learn that teaming up with someone in their game offers you very little in way of rewards.

Lastly, the game just doesn’t look all that good. Handheld games never have the best of graphics, but as far as portable games go, those on Sony’s little machine usually look a lot better than they do here. The monsters, you know, the main selling point to this game, look rather bland and outside of a few bosses are completely forgettable. The world you quest through are likewise blah.

So unremarkable graphics, combat mechanics, monsters and setting…are you psyched for this game or what? Yeah, me neither.

I give LORD OF ARCANA a less than middle of the road 2 blatant knockoffs out of 5.

DEAD ISLAND, by Techland, for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3,

review by Steven M. Duarte

My excitement for this game jumped up tenfold when I viewed this trailer earlier this week. We normally don’t do previews for games on the Black Glove but this trailer was just too awesome to not share with everyone. The game is Dead Island. You will play as someone who just arrived at a private resort for a relaxing vacation. The only problem is you arrived in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The game is said to focus on melee combat which would be a huge departure from current zombie games that rely on firearms and projectiles. The game will have an open world RPG like feel to it according to the game developers. I have never watched a trailer over and over so many times. The music, the scenes of action, the emotions, it’s just too much. The game is said to be released sometime this year with no official release date.

--Steven M. Duarte


STACKING, by THQ & Double Fine Productions, Rated E10 +, PS3, Xbox 360

Double Fine, the company headed up by video game funny man, and genuinely creative dude, Tim Schafer, has decided to focus its efforts away from big budget titles to smaller, quicker to produce, and cheaper to buy downloadable games. The first effort for this new biasness model was the very cool COSTUME QUEST. This is their second and it could not be more different than CQ, but does that make it bad?

No, not in the least.

Set in the final days of the industrial revolution, this game does have a deceptively simple premise, but a unique one. You play as Charlie, the world’s smallest Russian nesting doll. Because you are so tiny, everyone pretty much dismisses you and thinks you can’t do anything. Boy, are they wrong. Due to your petite size, you can jump into (or stack) any other nesting doll, thereby gaining control of them. Each doll you hijack has special abilities that you will use to solve a variety of quest related puzzles. For example, let’s say that you have to clear all the people out of a restaurant. Well you could jump into a cop doll and maybe order everyone out of the place. You might stack into the chef and have him mess up the food so that everyone gets unhappy and leaves. Then you could always jump into a gassy doll and have him enter the room and clear everyone out with your powerful flatulence.

That brings up the two main features to STACKING. First is the multiple solutions to the same puzzle and the second is Double Fine’s patented off kilter, sometimes wonderfully juvenile sense of humor. While the humor is great, it always tickles my inner thirteen-year-old, the multiple replaying of puzzles is both good and bad. It’s good because it adds variety to the game. It’s bad because the variety at times seems a bit forced, like an artificial way to extend the play life of a very short game. How short? Well if you’re not interested in doing each puzzle five times over, you can blow through the game in about three or four hours.

Therein lies the biggest problem with STACKING, the old question of cost vs. game length. This game costs $15. Now it is fun, unique, has a great art style and does offer a few laughs, but no matter how you slice it, it’s $15 for three or four hours. You will have to decide if that’s a bargain for you, or should you wait and see if the game goes on sale.

I give STACKING 3 little dolls all stacked together out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons