Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Graphic Horror: Game Reviews

By Brian M. Sammons

Here it is, the spookiest month of the year. Sadly I don’t have any overtly horrific games to cover, but I’ve got two, both with lots of nasty murderous monsters in them, so that’s got to count for something? And they’re both pretty good, so there’s that too. So without further ado, let’s get too it.

RAGE, by id Software and Bethesda Softworks, Rated M, PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Starting off like a riff on Bethesda’s other post-apocalyptic series, FALLOUT, you play as someone who sat out the end of the world in an underground bunker, only to emerge many years later to find a world in ruin, populated by survivors, raiders, and horrible mutants. But it’s the details that set RAGE apart. First the story, in this game the world wasn’t blown apart by nuclear annihilation, but by a massive comment. You play as one of the lucky few chosen to sleep through the end of the world in frozen life-supported status. Unfortunately when you wake up a hundred-odd-years later you’re the only one left alive from you “arc”. So almost literally you are a babe alone in the woods, or in this case the blasted, desert wasteland.

Soon you’ve got a gun, a car, and plenty of baddies to fight, and while this game may have the look of both a RPG and an open world game, it really is neither. It is 100% a first person shooter (FPS) that id Software made so famous with DOOM. You essentially go from inside location blasting mutants and gun-toting maniacs to inside location to do more of the same. I don’t mean to belittle this, as RAGE handles the FPS action very well with a nice range of enemies and memorable locations. Furthermore the enemy AI is also top notch. They take cover when fired upon, use tactics to advance and retreat, and die really well. Yeah I know that last bit sounds silly, but each bad guy goes down with gurgling, twitching style as opposed to just ragdolling when the last bullet rips into them like many other games do. If you like high quality FPS gameplay, RAGE will do that for you in spades.

As for that wide open, blasted wasteland, that’s where the second element of RAGE comes into play, the cars. Taking a page from MAD MAX, vehicles play a major part in RAGE. You race them for certificates you later use to upgrade your ride. You can make timed package deliveries for extra cash, not to mention stunt jumps just for fun. You battle bandits and raiders in their own souped-up wasteland roadsters as you go from point A to point B. But moreover, these driving bits break up things a little from constant shooting. They are handled well and lean more to the side of fun than tedious, which is a very good thing. Also the cars thankfully handle better than a lot of vehicles in a lot of other, more car-centric games. Yes I’m looking at you, GTA 4 and your tires made out of butter.

Perhaps the strongest thing this game has going for it is just how amazing everything looks. The graphics are, in a word, breathtaking. But more than just a technological achievement, what you actually see makes such a great impression. At one point your character has to go into the forebodingly named “Dead City” and even though it’s pretty much just a linear “dungeon” set dressed to look like a ruined city, it looks amazing. It is far more awe-inspiring than anything in that other, better known post-apocalyptic also put out by Bethesda. This was easily my favorite spot in the game, but nothing is really lacking. Even the usually boring sewer levels look grate and are thankfully short. So without hyping this up too much, RAGE just looks incredible.

Rounding out the checks in the win column, there are a nice collection of mini games to occupy your time, including a pretty good MAGIC: THE GATHERING like card battle game that I actually enjoyed playing, when most of the time these card games inside video game worlds are just a chore. The characters you interact with look good and gesture and react realistically when you talk to them. There is a nice selection of weapons to blast baddies with, with most having a variety of ammo types to play around with, each putting a new spin on how they dole out the carnage. Like all games these days there’s a multiplayer component, however here it’s rather slight, but it does add something new to the story as you can find out the reasons for some of the things you encounter in the single player experience. Each episode is a prequel of sorts and they’re nice, quick cooperative adventures. Oh and let’s not forget the repeatable run and gun TV game show that has you shooting mutants in the face for fun and profit.

However, not everything is golden within this game...

There are some side quests that you can pick up from bulletin boards, but sadly they just take you back to the closed off locations you’ve already completed in an attempt to get twice the use out of every instance. While that’s a slight misstep, the one big gripe I had with RAGE was just how awful the ending of this game was. I won’t give anything away, but it comes up all of the sudden and then shoves you through it in a haphazard and slip shot rush as if the game just couldn’t end itself fast enough. I don’t know if the developers ran out of money, or time, or what, but I can’t remember the last time I was so disappointed by the ending of an otherwise good game. So does a crap ending all but ruin the rest of the game? No, of course not, but it is a downer. Thankfully the rest of RAGE is good enough to still warrant a play through. Here’s hoping that for RAGE 2, and you know there will be a sequel, gets the time and money needed to end things right.

RAGE is a very fun and good game, but it is a few steps shy of perfect. That said, it easily gets 4 raging road warriors out of 5.

ORCS MUST DIE!, by Robot Entertainment and Microsoft Studios, Rated Teen, PC, Xbox 360

ORCS is a tower defense game. Ok wait, orcs are the murderous, often dimwitted baddies of choice for fantasy stories, movies, and video games ever since J. R. R. Tolkien. What I meant was ORCS MUST DIE! is a tower defense game. What’s that, you ask? It’s where you set up a series of different defenses, barriers, traps and such in order to hold off endless waves of marauding enemies. In the case of this game that naturally means orcs, but also other famous fantasy fodder such as kobolds, gnolls, ogres, baby dragons and more.

Now what makes ORCS MUST DIE! different from the other tower defense games, other than the fact that it’s got a great title and there are no actual towers in it, is that it brings the action down to earth and up close and personal. You play as the last remaining War Mage who has to defend a number of portals inside castle keeps from the dastardly orcs. You do this by laying a nice variety of wicked and more than slightly wacky traps on the paths from the doors the orcs are battering down to the portal they want to jump into for some never really explained reason. But in addition to the static traps, your War Mage character can enter the fray himself with a fast-firing crossbow, a big old sword-staff thing, and a number of useful and deadly spells.

ORCS is a fast paced, action hack n’ slash with puzzle/strategy elements as you must utilize your finite number of traps for maximum effect. As the game progresses the castles you must defend become more complex with multiple paths to multiple portals from multiple breach points. The enemy types get also more varied as you go, so you will have to defend yourself from fast, scampering kobolds to hulking, damage soaking ogres, to even flying menaces like the baby dragons. In addition to nicely evolving gameplay, ORCS has a cool cartoonish art style and somewhat funny quips and one-liners your character will spout out like any good action hero. It’s not a terribly long game, but that means it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and you can get it for a good price from Xbox Live. For a fun bit hacking and slashing mixed with the joy of setting traps to maim and kill cartoony critters in a nice variety of bloody and overblown ways, give ORCS MUST DIE! a try.

I give ORCS MUST DIE! 4 impaled, roasted, beheaded, minced, and mashed orcs out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons