Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Graphic Horror: Game Reviews

By Brian M. Sammons

It’s the height of summer, and sadly that traditionally means the dregs of videogames. And as far as new games to disc go, that’s pretty much true. But thank god for this modern, digital age we live in, for there is still some good games to be found, if you know where to look. Here are 2 full games, albeit smallish ones, that are part of Xbox’s wonderful Summer of Arcade special and 2 add-on pacts that give old games new things to do.

BASTION, by Supergiant Games & Warner Brothers Interactive, Rated 10+, PC, Xbox 360.

If you’ve heard anything about this game at all then it’s probably been about its active narration. What is that? Well they got a guy with a rich, deep voice to comment on pretty much everything you do. For example, you start the game in bed, and when you get up, Mr. Narrator says, “The kid pulled himself out of bed.” When you find your first weapon, a big hammer, he chimes in with “He found an old friend.” Now in those instances the narration might have been scripted, but there are times where the omnipresent voice will comment on something you just did. Go crazy and start smashing things and he’ll say, “The kid raged for a while.” Equip two different weapons and he’ll comment on your pairing. Now while all that is nice, where the narration really shines is when it’s telling you the background and story of the game while you play through it. No lengthy cut scenes, no pages and pages of dull text, this is a great, dynamic way for the story to unfold and this alone justifies all the hoo-ha the narration has been getting.

So great idea about the narration, but ah…is the game any good? Or is it just a swell audiobook that you occasional mash buttons for?

You play as “the kid” in a weird world struck by a calamity that all but destroys it. You flee to a floating safe area, called The Bastion, only to find it also in shambles and completely empty of other people. So it is your duty to return to hot spots in the ravaged, monster infested world to collect the items you need to repair the Bastion. Naturally those monsters won’t leave you alone, so you’ll get a nice variety of weapons to use to do them in, including hammers, guns, flamethrowers, machetes, and more. These tools of the trade can be upgraded RPG style and eventually become a bit too powerful, making an already not too difficult game downright simple. While that may be good for kids, more seasoned gamers may find this a bit too easy and therefore boarding on boring.

Luckily there are a few things to help fend off the tedium. You meet up with a few colorful characters, there are challenge rooms for each of the weapons you find, and the world is fun to explore with a neat trick of having the ground come whooshing up to meet you as you run around, although that means you sometimes fall off the edge of the world. There are even some yes or no decisions at the end of the game that may justify repeat play. In essence BASTION is a neat 3rd person beat ‘em up with a charming art style, solid gameplay and light RPG elements. It honestly does nothing really new, other than the one trick of the narration, but it is a neat trick. Combined with the length of game you get for the reasonable price of this downloadable and everyone should spend some time with Bastion.

For doing something new, and doing something old but doing it well, and doing it all for a good price, I give BASTION a 4 out of 5.

DRAGON AGE 2: LEGACY, by BioWare & EA Games, Rated M, PC, Xbox 360.

If you are a faithful reader of Graphic Horrors, then you’ll know that I’m a big fan of BioWare games. That said, their last game, DRAGON AGE 2 was quite the letdown from their previous titles. While it wasn’t horrible or anything, it just failed to meet the usual level of excellence people have come to expect from BioWare. It was with a heavy heart that I have it a mediocre score of 3 out of 5. So now there comes this, the first downloadable expansion for the game. Will we once again be disappointed, or has BioWare listened to all the critics and returned to form?

Thankfully the answer this time is the second one. LEGACY is a fun, old school fantasy dungeon romp. If you are a big old nerd like me, and used to roll funny shaped dice back in the day while slaying orcs and doing the nasty with elven princesses, then it will remind you of an old time module for DUNGEONS & DRAGONS. It is well written, self-contained and concise. It is relatively short, as you can run through it in one to three hours, but it is reasonable priced at just ten bucks. But how exactly does this DLC get things right when the core game of DRAGON AGE 2 got things so wrong?

Well first, it gives you plenty of new, something that was sadly in short supply in DA 2, which reused the same dull locations again and again and then one more time for good measure. LEGACY has new and interesting locations, new monsters to battle with, new puzzles, a new powerful weapon, and a new twist on the tale that’s at the heart of the DRAGON AGE world. As for the story, it seems like some dirty dwarves are desperate to get your blood, whether you want to donate it or not. After a few assassination/abduction attempts, you go looking for answers and your journey will take you from a woodland fort, to a mountainside, to what deep, dark secrets lay underneath that mountain, and beyond. And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s even some Hawke (that’s you) family history to be discovered.

LEGACY is a great addition to DRAGON AGE 2 and if you already own that game then you owe it to yourself to get this, if only to see how the entire game should have been done. Therefore I can give this expansion pack an easy and well-deserved score of 5 out of 5.

FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS: OLD WORLD BLUES, By Bethesda, Rated M, PC, PSP 3, Xbox 360.

The NEW VEGAS chapter of FALLOUT is fast coming to an end with this, the second to last DLC expansion for the post-apocalyptic RPG game. With this sequel, and its previous downloadable content, there has been ups and downs, some parts that were great, and others that were not so hot, so which one was this? Well let’s find out.

This time around a strange radio signal (yes, it’s always a radio signal in these things) leads you to a downed satellite and eventually to the “Big Empty” or more correctly the Big MT, where the “mt” stands for mountain. There you meet several great minds of science, but only that; their minds, as their brains are now locked in floating robotic bodies. And here is where you first sees how this add-on really shines; the writing of the dialog. Each of these identical looking brain-bots are nonetheless some of the most memorable characters in NEW VEGAS, based solely on the writing of the crazy crew, and the talented voice actors portraying them. And knowing their strengths, the makers of this DLC has filled it to the brim with characters like these and they pop up in the most unlikely places, and in the most unusual forms. I mean here you can have a conversation with your kitchen sink, talk politics with your toaster, even flirt with your bedroom light switch, and I honestly recommend chatting with all of them, as they all have interesting things to say, and quite often will leave you laughing.

That’s the good news. The not-really-bad-but-not-too-great news is that other than the great characters, this excursion really doesn’t offer anything new. With the exception of some robo-scorpions, there are no new baddies to blast. While Big Mountain is technically a new location, it pretty much looks like every other place you’ve already encountered in this game. You do get a few new weapons to play around with, my favorite being a gun called the K-9000, which is powered by a dog’s brain. Science! Oh and you can gain another five levels by playing through this expansion, although this time around I noticed no new perks added to the already impressively long list.

Oh, and I almost forgot, there’s a nice bit about a mad scientist stealing your brain and you having to get it back. Yeah, in this game you literally are brainless. So as you can imagine, that was kind of fun.

OLD WORLD BLUES is a good, but not great, addition to FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS. It has memorable character interactions, but not a whole hell of a lot more. Still, if you’re a FALLOUT addict, then this will satisfy your jones nicely. I give these OLD WORLD BLUES a 3 out of 5.


TOY SOLIDERS: COLD WAR, by Signal Studios & Microsoft Game Studios, Rated Teen, Xbox 360.

Do you know what a tower defense game is? Well just in case you don’t, that’s where you build various stationary defenses to safeguard your base from wave after wave of enemies. Bad games like this can be tedious, but good ones are a lot of fun. Thankfully the TOY SOLIDERS series (as it can now officially be called as this is its second title). Also, it adds a new spin to things by letting you take direct control over any of your defenses, and also units you can drive around the map with, shooting at the bad guys, like tanks, attack choppers, and jet fighters. So in most ways it’s like the previous TS game, so what’s different this time?

Well, first and foremost, it’s the setting. This time the action is firmly set in the glorious 1980s and your little toy soldiers must defend the world from a full-blown invasion by the Soviets. This is easily the best thing about this title, its setting and style. This game could not get more 80s if it was wearing leg warmers, a Flock of Seagulls t-shirt, drinking a New Coke and playing with a Rubik’s Cube. And that’s fine with me. As before, your battleground is actually a small diorama set in a kid’s bedroom, and if you take the time to explore these backdrops you’re sure to spy something that gets you grinning. In addition to the backdrop, the game as a whole revels in nostalgia. From the GI JOE inspired title font, to the soundtrack that plays as a tune as close as you can get to the TOP GUN theme without getting sued, to the commando you sometimes play as that looks and sounds like Rambo. Oh, and speaking of the commando, he is just one of the random power-ups you can get as you play to help you overcome overwhelming odds. These range from artillery strikes and bombing runs, to flying gunships and even the ability to drop a nuke or two.

COLD WAR has kept the fast, fun, and addictive gameplay from the first game, gave it a beautiful 80’s paintjob, complete with huge hair and glam metal, and added new elements. If that wasn’t enough, they have also packed it with a robust multiplayer, co-operative play, survival mode, and about a half dozen mini-games and challenges, and more. So as far as bang for your buck, you get quite a lot of bang here.

TOY SOLIDERS: COLD WAR gets 4 lousy red commies in the sights of my machinegun, out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons