Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: Darksiders 2

I fucking loved the first Darksiders game, so when I caught wind of there being a sequel, my dick was so hard, it could cut diamonds. I mean holy shit, how are we going to follow up the first game's fantastic ending?? Ooh, I know – by setting it after the tutorial level of the first game and having you play as Death, and embark you on clearing your brother's (War) name for supposedly prematurely starting the apocalypse... umm, excuse me Vigil Games, but what kind of blotter acid binge did you partake in that made you guys think this is how you follow up such a great fucken game? This sounds like a fucking direct to video sequel! But I can't get too mad over this, because this is still a good game. Not fantastic like the first one, but a good one nonetheless.

The first Darksiders had excellent dialogue back up the intiguing set up – you know, the whole premature apocalypse thing. Sadly, this doesn't have quite the same luxuries. Its set up, as I've pointed out, is something that seems like a scene pulled out of a hat, but as you progress through the game, you'll learn that there's more to it than meets the eye. From what you learn, Corruption has spread through the realm of Veil and Death has to do something about it, but when the Nephilim get brought up, it's not just a means of describing what kind of beings the Horsemen of the Apocalypse – as it turns out, Death had slain all but said Horsemen and has bound their souls into an amulet he wears. By the endgame, you can put two and two together and...

...find yourself witnessing one of the shittiest endings since Mass Effect 3. To sum it up, something happens, we skip to a later time period, turns out something else happened but we don't know diddly dick. That actually sums up a lot of this game's story, too. For what it's worth, the concept is a working one, but the storytelling is complete ass. Oftentimes, it feels like you're bumbling along, collecting things for people. Not a whole lot is ever explained and, good dialogue and great voice acting be damned, not a whole heap ever happens. We never even wonder if we really saved War or if the Charred Council just went “fuck it” and let him figure out who started the apocalypse. That's how ripped off I felt at the end, but then again, the story progresses at such a crawl that it's like watching snails moving in a chronic state of bullet time. What a waste! This could've actually worked out and equalled or even surpassed the original, but nope, let's just fetch stuff and be done with it already!

The first Darksiders was like that dark, gritty Zelda game that Twilight Princess wanted to be (as opposed to fillerific self-plagiarism). The second Darksiders feels like an open world RPG (all the rage these days!!!) with the platforming ripped right out of Prince Of Persia 08 (as in you scale across walls, vault off of indents and hang on lined holes on the walls). But if there's one thing their gameplay shares in common, it's the pacing of its quality. Darksiders 1 didn't have the best beginning in the world but the further along you got, the better it got, the more open your options in combat got, the tougher enemies got and the more creative dungeons started to become. Darksiders 2 has this sort of thing going on but it's a LOT worse. As in, the first six hours are more than capable of boring the fuck out of you. While the Forge Lands is the most open world, it also has the most boring dungeons. A lot of its puzzles revolve around putting balls into holes and using bombs to activate switches. That's cool for a while but to have whole dungeons revolve around those, particularly ones that are actually pretty damn long (ie. The last one in the Forge Lands before setting off for the next world), it's sleep inducing and potentially off putting. Add easy enemies and it just feels like you're slogging through a mediocre game, gearing up to trade it in as soon as you begrudgingly finish it.

But then something happens. You wind up in the Land Of The Dead, and suddenly, the dungeons have more puzzles to offer as you collect more items, the enemies are becoming more challenging (and sometimes cheap, but shit happens) and all of a sudden, it actually becomes very easy to get immersed into it! What happened? Oh, a little something called inspiration, more variety to the puzzles than pushing some fucking balls along and knowing that death could be looming around the corner if you didn't adapt to enemy movements and patterns (or at least bring potions with you). Mind you, people will tell you that it's still easy unless you play it on the unlockable nightmare difficulty mode (in which death = you start from the beginning of the ENTIRE GAME ALL OVER AGAIN!!!), and as much as I feel like making an analogy about Dark Souls and having learned boss patterns and shit, enemies do have simple patterns and tells (or wind up for attack in other words) so obvious it makes the boxers from Mike Tyson's Punch Out subtle in their tells. But while learning and while in group encounters, it takes one mistake to totally fuck yourself up, especially on the apocalyptic difficulty setting where you take more damage and they take less.

Combat has taken a significant overhaul. Death is more agile in combat than his brother War (though that's because Death's body isn't 700 times the size of his head and he's not lugging around a sword seven times the size of his dick), able to land quicker combos and use his spectral form to land a finishing blow of sorts. As you learn more combos from trainers – at a nominal fee, of course – you can time the presses of the square button to perform different combos, which can mean the difference between hitting things around you and finishing off what's in front of you, risking death by the Christian side hug and anal raping. But not to worry – subweapons to the rescue!! Whether they be slow hard hitters or fast scratchers, the most important thing is that you can mix them up with your scythes when given certain situations. You can only equip one subweapon so you'll have to choose speed vs damage here kids.

Then there are special attacks... basically, you level up through getting enough XP via killing enemies and completing quests, and at certain levels, you can learn new attacks and add enhancements to them. You can learn six attacks, three on each sort of class (basically, one dealing with physical attacks and another dealing with minion spawning attacks), with enhancements taking up the rest of the skill tree. Said enhancements include absorption (whether it be health or wrath), fire or ice damage (fire burning bits of their health away for a bit, ice slowing them down a bit) and some sort of after effects. Overall, there are more options in the heat of battle – whether you prefer to distract enemies with a couple of firey explosive ghouls or enforce crowd control with a wide attack – and with the bump in speed, combat really feels good, especially once you're given those options. It does seem fairly “me too”-ish in the sense that it has the whole RPG thing going on as levelling is fairly easy (plenty of forced fights and quests that give you XP upon completion) and it just feels like you're paying trainers money to learn new attacks, but eh, it could've been worse...

If there's a minor problem I could point out (that actually tended to bug the crap out of me as I played), it's the loot system. Besides the fact that it just seems silly (this isn't Diablo, it's fucking Zelda with bloody combat), you tend to get a whole bunch of useless shit, like people are motivated to keep going by little rewards or something as opposed to the greater goal. Reason being is that while the game claims that there are five types of weapons (regular, enchanted, rare, elite and possessed), I say that there are three types – shit, sacrificial lambs and possessed. See, possessed weapons are able to level up by feeding on your other equipment and taking their properties (like regeneration, absorption, elemental damage and what have you), and if you play your cards right (not all that hard actually), you, too, can have overpowered weapons. That, and it's just not that interesting... oh joy, a scythe that's a tad stronger than the generic scythe I've already got equipped. It's rare to find something worth caring about, and even then... eh, the possessed weapon is so much more appetizing. Would make more sense if you have an option to blacksmith your equipment...

Darksiders 2 actually looks worse than Darksiders 1. While it'd be easy to chalk it up to “well the style is going for a more cartoony look”, I just think it doesn't look that good. A lot of the colors are washed out and a lot of the textures look like somebody opened up a blurry image on Photoshop and applied the sharpen filter, like putting makeup on a pig. Not a whole lot of things here look exciting, either. Death looks like Casey Jones from the TMNT franchise... and that's about as interesting as it gets. Everything just looks... generic, like they pulled some typical monster designs out of a hat or something. The animations are quite smooth, managing to capture the agility of Death's movements, particularly during a cinematic takedown scene after beating a boss. Sadly, that does get ruined sometimes when the framerate takes a few dips into molasses, especially during a bigger dungeon or anywhere with plenty of rendered objects.

Thankfully, this game has a fucken good soundtrack. A lot of the songs are larger than life in scale, with sweeping epic orchestrations to make moments feel big. This is definitely at its best during fights because there is a certain rush that makes fights feel big, though that's not to sell the more beautiful and subtle pieces short. The voice acting is also really good, managing to do its best to pull you into the story. The Forge World inhabitants have a Scottish accent, the monsters are a bit over the top in their acts and Death just has that cool, calm, collected sort of voice that I'd almost go gay for. But most importantly, it works for the sorts of characters that they are – no, I'm not saying it's bland, I'm speaking in terms of what the designs wanted to be. But yeah, great voice acting complimented by an excellent soundtrack. Just wish it was helping a great story instead of a shit one.

Darksiders 2 starts off as a mediocre open world RPG, but then you move on a bit and realize that it's actually a pretty good game. If you can get past the first act, you'll find yourself a game that can kick ass and take names. There are a lot of instances where it seems like it just takes elements from other games rather than integrating them into its own thing, but there are also lots of instances where it feels just right. The combat, the puzzles and how they're integrated into the dungeons – it just winds up really fucking working in its favor, and in the end, what you get is a satisfying experience... marred by a shitty ending, but hey, it's the journey that matters.

7.5/10 (Good)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: The Amazing Spiderman

Your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman is certainly no stranger to licensed games and as of 2000, it's no stranger to a sandbox style of play either - in fact, he's not above expanding on it. I mean, he's experimented with platforming and then with the beat em up style of the 16-bit era, then his adventures become 3 dimensional and a bit more open ended, and with the release of the adaptation of Spiderman 2 (directed by Sam Raimi), his style of play was truly defined. Web slinging through the city of New York, doing whatever the fuck he pleases (and pleases where he goes) - it's all fun and games, granted that the game you're playing is not Ultimate Spiderman on the PS2 (eh, I don't really care for it, it's mediocre at best). But that was then and this is now. The Amazing Spiderman does everything in its power to kick ass by putting stealth missions and flowing, robust combat into a sandbox game... but instead, it just feels like a Spiderman mod for Arkham City. A decent enough mod mind you, but a mod nonetheless.

Taking place after the movie, Lizard (aka Curt Connors) is taken to a mental hospital, and Peter Parker and romantic interest Gwen Stacey walk through the Oscorp science labs to try and stop the cross species experiments. However, the experiments attack Peter and eventually, all hell breaks loose as most of New York wind up getting infected by the virus, so it's up to Peter to don the Spiderman suit and save everyone. Unlike Prototype (which is what the concept reminds me an awful lot of), Spiderman isn't some angsty anti-hero who I'd be more than willing to punch right across the face; he's a snarky motherfucker with a bunch of smartass comments, and the story isn't as confusing or poorly developed as all get up; it's actually about as simple as New York being infected and needing Spiderman to save them. It's by no means a fantastic story, but it's serviceable enough to work.

As I said, it's a sandbox game, meaning that you'll be web slinging around the city to find stuff to do. Ranging from saving citizens and stopping getaway cars to basically following Spiderman around with a camera... at least there won't be much of a shortage of things to do. There are even 700 collectibles (in this case, comic books) to gather up all around New York, so even if you find yourself completing every mission, you'll still need to get some of them collectibles because odds are, you'd have missed a fair fewhundred. As expected for side missions, they're not all that complicated, basically amounting to small activities to do out of boredom and to get some neat little goodies like experience points to upgrade his fighting prowess and health. If nothing else, it has a decent amount of replay value, especially after you beat the story mode. To make it easier to get some of those comic book pages is the webrush. It slows down time while you aim to a point where you wish to swing and then Spiderman does some cool little flips and shit towards that place. Overall, I'd say that this sets up a rather good foundation for a great open world sandbox game.

It's a crying shame, however, that a good amount of the story missions take place in boring ass sewers and slightly less boring buildings that don't have an iota of inspiration in their designs. You'll often find yourself needing to go to one room to flick switches, destroy things, rescue the odd captive and/or take down a group of enemies and repeating the process until you get to the end and either fight a boss, a bigger gang of enemies, or something that must be acquired. If I have any real issue with this, it's the fact that the big city isn't as well utilized as it should've been. I mean, we got this big open city that's only really used for side missions while story missions mostly force you into these boring fucking linear hallways. Given that good sandbox games like Sleeping Dogs and Prototype integrate their cities into their story missions...

...yeah, this is a game that really wants to be Arkham City, except that game had better designs going for it. Whoops. Better yet, Arkham City was a much more polished experience than The Amazing Spiderman will ever be. Simply put, Spiderman, known as an agile webslinger, fights and moves like a quarterback. While the animations can make it look flexible, the actual fighting is stiff. The idea is to land combos using a single attack button while waiting for the opportunity to counterattack. While it is fun, you would expect Spiderman to fight with more grace than some big motherfucker with more muscles than friends. Mind you, there is some grace involved when he can use his webslinging to throw objects at enemies or to execute a silent takedown, but at the end of the day, it's just a bit stiff... not to mention it's too easy. There isn't a whole heap of strategy necessary to beat up enemies and even bosses with all those button prompts and webrushing (see: not actually doing much), besides maybe staying out of their lines of sight if you're in a stealthy situation, but beyond that, even on the hardest difficulty mode, it's too fucking easy and ultimately, I find myself getting bored after a while. Then again, games that practically play themselves for me when that's not even remotely their intention tend to do that.

Taking more pages out of the Arkham City book, Spiderman is able to take to the shadows and take down enemies without them being none the wiser. At least the execution here makes a lot of sense, taking advantage of his webslinging capabilities and his agility. What it amounts to is that you cling onto a wall, hopefully not in an enemy's line of sight, and when the time comes, you press a button and Spiderman will sling towards the enemy and take it down. Course, given that these sections have a group of enemies, you have to make sure not to get spotted by them... thankfully, there's a web retreat button where you can escape and cling onto another surface. Sometimes, it'll cling you onto an enemy who will kill you quickly – Spiderman can't take much punishment from guns – or onto surfaces that enemies will spot immediately and will shoot at you there and then. Beyond that cheap bullshit, the stealth is at least reasonably well executed and I wouldn't mind seeing this in future Spiderman games, though I'd probably say that past Spiderman games had a better handle on combat.

While the gameplay leaves some things to be desired, the graphics are... in the same camp, actually. Spiderman himself looks great with some very impressive texturework on his suit and his fluid animations that are just a treat to look at. Everything else ranges from good to passable if not bland. The good stuff includes Manhattan at a bird's eye view – it's definitely big and it looks fine even from a distance before everything pops in, which is a fairly sizeable distance away. The bland stuff includes Manhattan on the ground, which has some really bland and oftentimes glossy, glass eyed NPC models and color schemes... as do the sewers... and buildings... Also, it feels like the camera is too far zoomed in near you, like you can't see heaps around you, particularly on your left.

The sound design is fairly bland. The music is nothing more than the typical orchestral fare with a tinge of heroism because, you know, it's a superhero game. Too bad it doesn't really do much to enhance the experience as you don't really feel much more heroic or sneaky than if there was no music. The voice acting, while not done by the actors from the movie, is actually good... and you know what, I'm glad it's not done by the movie's actors because these people, particularly Sam Riegel's more lighthearted take on Spiderman, draw you more into the experience. Same with the sound effects, which hits the mark, especially when Spiderman hits something. Bit of a shame the music is as generic as it is... would've really made things so much better.

So really, what you get out of this game is one part well done open word, one part good if simple stealth, and one part “yeah we're big fans of Arkham City so let's just copy it”. It's not necessarily a bad game – in fact, I think it's a cut or two above average, but there were too many things working against it to make it a good game. My biggest complaint, really, is how underutilized Manhattan really is, as it's only really used for side missions while you explore bland levels during the story missions. Add in combat that's basically Arkham City without any of the challenge, satisfaction or anything resembling what Spiderman would do, and you have yourself a game that could've used more time to cook... if only it didn't base itself off of a mediocre (not to mention useless) movie.

6.5/10 (Above Average)