Archive for March, 2011

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World: The Game Review

Having made the greatest comic series ever and one of the best films of all time, there’s only one medium left for Scott Pilgrim to conquer: gaming. And if this XBLA title is anything to go by, there’s a new gold standard for movie tie-in games.

Despite being made to promote the film, Scott Pilgrim The Game actually runs closer to the plot of the comic, thanks no doubt to the involvement of both creator Bryan Lee O’Malley and film director Edgar Wright, as well as the creative efforts of a team that clearly cares about the source material. You can play as Scott, Kim, Stephen Stills or Ramona across seven worlds that divide into two or three distinct sections in an attempt to defeat each of the seven evil exes and a mountain of unfortunate goons. You can play it solo or team up with up to three friends for some organised chaos.

Essentially it’s a classic side-scrolling beat-‘em-up in the vein of Streets of Rage, but what makes this so much better than it sounds is the masses of depth that have been added to the game. Each character can level up sixteen times, earning new moves and gaining increases to their health bars every time. There’s also the addition of a ‘Gut Points’ metre, which serves the duel purpose of summoning your special Striker (Knives Chau, as well as some unlockable characters) and resurrecting you when your health slips to zero, giving you around three chances with each life.

As well as this, each character has their own stats for strength, defence and speed, which can only be upgraded by purchasing items from the many shops located in each level. Once you successfully manage to upgrade a character fully, they become damn near unstoppable, allowing you to eek out the game’s many secrets in relative peace.

The game’s simplistic visuals and music add an enormous amount to the experience. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that the characters had wandered straight off the comic pages and somehow come to life. The attention to detail is simply stunning, as tiny references to the comics litter each and every level and there are even a few cameo appearances from some of the characters who didn’t make it into the film, like Mobile, Joseph, Sandra and Monique.

In short, Scott Pilgrim The Game is perhaps the best film tie-in since GoldenEye itself, with masses of depth, replayability and a hell of a lot of fun. For the low price of five pounds, you could do a heck of a lot worse than taking another step into the wonderful world of Scott Pilgrim.

95%

Dead Space 2: Severed

Posted: March 18, 2011 in Review
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Dead Space 2: Severed Review

Just one month on from Visceral Games’s excellent survival horror sequel and players are already being treated to something that the first game never got: downloadable content.

‘Severed’ is a fairly short expansion on the premise of the main game, in that the story unfolds during the downfall of The Sprawl. You take on the role of Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Weller, a soldier who is one of only three survivors of a fierce battle in the mine shafts. Abandoning his mission, Gabe attempts to cut a path back into the rapidly falling city and rescue his wife.

It’s largely the same as the main story in that you’re simply running from A to B and getting swarmed from all directions. It’s far more action-oriented than its counterpart, seeing Gabe carve a blooded path through hundreds of Necromorphs with nothing more than a Pulse Rifle and a Flamethrower. It’s an intense, if surprisingly short, add-on that combines the frantic tension of being swarmed from all direction with the satisfaction of Dead Space’s fantastic combat engine.

As good as this mini-chapter is at inducing tension, it’s incredibly short. There are just two chapters here and you’ll rattle through them both in around an hour on your first sitting. In fact, you’ll finish the entire game and get every achievement in just two runs, so for a fairly steep asking price – 560 MS points – you’re not really getting that much for your money.

Most of the locations you pass through are ones from the game, with a few minor exceptions in the first chapter. Even more disappointing is that you’re not doing any new things in the areas, Gabe is simply running through the level in the opposite direction to Isaac.

Having said that, there are a few very good set pieces and boss encounters on offer. The excellent hanging-upside-down-blasting-everything sequence from the main game is here redone to perfection, while an excellent first boss and a genuinely powerful final stand might just be enough to keep players coming back for more.

‘Severed’ seems a bit of a missed opportunity. You don’t get to see much of The Sprawl’s downfall and it doesn’t feel quite as epic as the main game. It also doesn’t bring anything new to the table, which is quite disappointing considering the splendid variety offered by Dead Space 2. If you can’t get enough Necromorph-dismembering action, then ‘Severed’ is a real treat, although one that’s a little too expensive for what it offers.

70%

The Darkness Review

Posted: March 11, 2011 in Review
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The Darkness Review

Based on the comic series of the same name, The Darkness follows the escapades of mobster hitman Jackie Estacado, who, on his twenty-first birthday, is possessed by the titular Darkness. Fortunately, this happens on the same day that Jackie is set up to be killed by the Don, his Uncle Paulie, pitching Jackie in a race against time to bring down the boss and stop the Darkness from conquering his soul.

Essentially, The Darkness is an FPS with horror flavourings, although it actually works rather well here (as opposed to F.E.A.R.) because the entire game is coated in a thick layer of gloom. You get a pleasant variety of weapons, ranging from pistols to assault rifles, although they will often take a backseat to the more satisfying Darkness weapons.

Using the Darkness creates some entertaining ways to play the game. Creeping Dark will send out a snake to make some quick stealth kills, while the Ripper can destroy lights and impale enemies. More amusing are the overpowered Darkness Guns and the Black Hole, which do exactly as they suggest. You’re also encouraged to take out the lights in areas you pass through in order to refill your Darkness energy, although there is no on-screen display to let you know how full it is.

The game is disappointingly short, too. If you ignore all the side missions and don’t get lost too many times, it can be blitzed through in about three or four hours. Add on another couple of hours for higher difficulties and completion of all the side missions and you’re still looking at a game that can be rattled through in a couple of sittings.

There are a number of problems with the game, however. Aside from being far too easy even on the hardest difficulty, there are no markers to help you figure out where you’re supposed to go next. The map is also next to useless as it’s far too small and difficult to read, so it can take the first half of your playthrough to figure out where everything is.

There are a number of bugs in the AI as well. The Darklings that you can summon veer wildly between being somewhat useful and totally rubbish. One section requires you to summon an explosive Darkling to sneak into a building and destroy the door for you. However, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that it won’t manage to do that at all and the only way to get around the problem is to turn off the console and try again, something that hampers the rest of the game’s blackly comic charm.

The Darkness might not be to everyone’s tastes as it’s too linear to be an RPG and too focussed on side quests to be that much of an FPS. However it does have a lot of charm and the writing is often exceptional. If you can look past its many issues, there’s a highly enjoyable, well crafted and immersive game underneath.

70%

I’ve been playing a lot of Dead Space 2 lately. Mostly because it’s a very good game, but the other side of it is that Dead Space 2 has what might be considered among the finest gaming challenges: Hardcore mode.

Unlocked after completing the game for the first time, Hardcore is a totally different kettle of fish. Enemies are tough, every bit as dangerous as they are on the previous hardest difficulty, and ammo is just as scarce. In fact, ammo is one third as plentiful as it is on the easiest difficulty, meaning that the standard Plasma Cutter gets just three extra rounds for every drop, as opposed to nine rounds. This forces cunning use of the ability to grab and throw dangerous items at enemies, as well as intelligent use of the game’s stronger weapons (which are now a hell of a lot less useful.)

On top of this is the fact that you can’t use any of your previous save files to help you out. If you start a Hardcore run, you do it from scratch – bad weapons, basic health bars, the works. The only advantage you might have is that your downloaded weapons and suits will be waiting for you in the store, but you have to survive around half an hour in order to get to them.

Is that not hard enough? Nope, there’s more. There are no checkpoints and you can only save three times. Yep. It’s quite brilliant, really. The game is between four and eight hours long (depending on how much running away you do) and you can only save three times. Just imagine how ridiculously intense the game becomes, knowing that the slightest foul-up will undo hours of your hardest work.

Naturally, I’ve been giving it a try. I’ve had to rely on a few online guides here and there, just to have some idea of where to save. The most common advice is around chapter three or four (out of fifteen).

If only I could get that far! The Necromorphs have become some kind of super intelligent hive mind that somehow read my thoughts and manage to position themselves in the worst possible places. It probably doesn’t help that I’m in a state of panic, due to the knowledge that I’ll lose everything if I get killed. It doesn’t help that the game opens with an unskippable ten minute cutscene that you have to watch every single time you restart.

So that’s me, getting torn apart in deepest space, simply for the satisfaction of doing it. If that doesn’t convince you that it’s worth my time, check this out:

It’s a foam hand that owns everything it’s pointed at! C’mon!! I never thought I’d see a weapon greater than the Hand Cannon from Resi 4… it’s gotta be worth it.

Other than that, I’ve been getting stuck into the online multiplayer on Dead Space 2. It’s phenomenal. Quite simplistic and limited, but it’s so much fun. Four humans try to complete a series of objective, while four Necromorphs try and force them to run out of time. Chaotic, intense, hilarious and bloody good fun, it’s become a brand new addiction. Yes… another one.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions Review

It must be challenging to design a superhero game. After all, the hero is always overpowered and nothing can stop him/ her/ it, yet there has to be a credible opponent for the protagonist to overcome. This is where new Spider-Man developers Beenox enter the scene, taking fourteen of the arachnid’s most memorable foes and pitting four different versions of the wall-crawler against them.

To give credit to Beenox, they’ve managed to pull out all the stops in rummaging through the Marvel comics archives. All four versions (Amazing, Ultimate, Noir and 2099) of Spider-Man are all fully fleshed-out, with their different personalities and issues present and correct. Not only that, but each dimension has its own unique visual style, from the gritty black tones of Noir to the hyper-colourful future vision of 2099. It’s a shame that everything feels exactly the same to play.

It starts out as a fun and campy adventure, with Spider-Man and regular running joke villain Mysterio accidentally destroying the sacred Tablet of Order and Chaos that holds all the worlds together. The pieces then fragments throughout the dimensions, only to be picked up by – and supercharge – the various villains within those worlds. The Spider-Men, guided by the mystical Madam Web, must confront their deadliest enemies in order to save not just their world, but all worlds.

Perhaps the best part about the game is that Beenox have worked hard to avoid repeating boss encounters from previous titles. A classic villain who has already appeared in a Spider-Man game is either ignored or presented in an alternative universe. This means that players get to enjoy fighting the more interesting Noir Goblin, or 2099 Doctor Octopus. Even usual gaming staple Venom is sidelined for the much more interesting Ultimate Carnage.

However, that’s about all the fun you’re likely to have with Shattered Dimensions. The game has one enormous, unavoidable and depressing game-ruining flaw: it’s very boring. Despite the visual differences and the way each dimension plays, they are nothing more than coats of paint over the same product. Every level sees you pushing forward past groups of goons and thugs who are all the same – small, medium, armoured and large – and doing battle with the boss.

What’s most surprising is that the boss encounters are all extremely similar. Every level sees you going toe-to-toe with the villain twice, once without the fragment powers, once with, and they’re all identical. You wait for them to attack, dodge and then wail on them. Only the Noir levels get you think differently, forcing you to use light and shadow to your advantage.

Of the dimensions, Noir is probably the best as it at least employs a different mechanic. Instead of simply punching people, you have use stealth takedowns and stay hidden. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the other three, where you walk forward and mash the X button. The Ultimate dimension allows you to use the power of the black suit without any consequences and in 2099 you can slow down time to dodge missiles. This means that Amazing, the standard dimension, is actually the most boring and lifeless of the lot.

You have plenty of opportunities to upgrade the Spider-Men, with health, bonus costumes and extra combat moves. However, nearly every enemy in the game can be defeated by simply spamming X, so the ability to do any other attacks is made redundant.

Shattered Dimensions is a bit of a missed opportunity. Despite the obvious love for the lore of Spider-Man and the craft that’s gone into each of the dimensions, the game remains dull, stale and repetitive. Fans of the comics will get a kick out of it, but you’d have to really love Spider-Man to get much out of this.

55%