Developer: IO Interactive
Rating: M for mature
Released: August 17th, 2010
Type: Third Person Shooter
Platforms: PS3, PC, Xbox 360
Version Reviewed: PC
I may be one of the few people out there who saw some potential, even some recognized potential in the first Kane & Lynch; it wasn’t markedly good, but it wasn’t as bad as some make it out to be. My initial hope for Dog Days was that IO would learn from their mistakes with the first game. I set myself up for disappointment because Kane & Lynch 2 took giant leaps backwards in almost every conceivable way.
Players starting out on the shamefully short campaign will be immediately tossed into a few very brief and confusing cut scenes of the titular duo being tortured, followed by the actual beginning of the game leading up to that point. The story itself is actually far less interesting than the beginning scenes would have you believe. Kane and Lynch embark on a trip to Shanghai in order to complete an arms deal, but everything goes wrong for the pair, and the player, when the daughter of the main antagonist is murdered. Kane & Lynch set out to escape, and they eventually become the aggressors, and that’s all the substance there is to the story.
A short drop and a sudden stop describes the single-player campaign perfectly; it takes 3-5 hours to beat, ends very abruptly – oh, and it should hang itself too.
There was no shortage of criticism directed towards the first Kane & Lynch, but one thing that players and critics agreed upon almost universally was that the characters themselves made the game interesting. Kane is an even more selfish and transparent character, making demands of a grief stricken Lynch halfway through the game that he continues on with their arms deal ‘for Kane’s daughter.’
Lynch on the other hand, shows no personality whatsoever now that his numerous instabilities have been wrangled in.
Their relationship is non-existent. While playing through the game it seems as though they just happen to always be at the same place at the same time, rather than being partners in crime. The one exception to this is a mission where a naked and scarred Lynch comes to in an alley, realizing that Kane is still locked in a sterile room being tortured by a madman.
Gameplay-wise, the game is the exact same gunfight over and over again. The only unique and genuinely fun mission is an epic on-rails style helicopter assault which is as unfortunately short as the rest of the entire misbegotten campaign.
There is a pretty decent amount of variety in the enemies you’ll be facing. And by that I mean, there are a couple of different models, but they all feel exactly the same and require no change in tactics from one to another. It’s tremendously repetitive and not all that fun even the first time, let alone the 50th.
In Kane & Lynch 1, guns were so pinpoint accurate and enemies were so squishy that even the hardest difficulty became trivial. Kane & Lynch 2 addresses this problem with all the grace of Helen Keller swerving through traffic. Unless you are playing on easy, enemies sponge bullets up like lead-absorbent tampons. As for gun accuracy, it doesn’t exist, at least not early on.
Surprisingly, shotguns are by far the most accurate gun at any range until you gain access to assault rifles. Trying to fight with an SMG at any range other than point-blank is horribly frustrating, and it will seem like the A.I. has the other-worldly ability to bend bullets around them like characters from “The Matrix.”
Additionally, the camera is very hit or miss. It sometimes works properly, and is as responsive as it needs to be. Unfortunately, it is also quite prone to bugs which cause it to not move properly over the shoulder, and rather it will slowly pan and stop at an angle of use to no one. If you can make it through the campaign without it bugging out on you, you are a luckier person than I, otherwise you may be tempted to put your monitor/TV through a wall.
As for the newly revised cover system and down-but-not-dead mechanic, neither works as well as they should. Hitting a specific button to snap to cover is actually slightly more wonky than just sliding into it, and sets you up for a number of scenarios where you have to angle yourself perfectly unless you want to just repeatedly slide into an adjacent piece of cover. It really doesn’t matter though, since most enemies seem to possess the ability to bypass a large amount of your cover anyway. Down-but-not-dead is not particularly helpful either, and it will usually just leave in an awkward and vulnerable heap on the floor. The animation for getting up is long and slow, and odds are if you got downed from behind cover it won’t do you much good immediately going back to it.
For an otherwise forgettable, bland, third person shooter, the extreme difficulty is actually a decent challenge, although I couldn’t discern whether or not that had anything to do with the numerous frustrating, misery-inducing camera bugs and tedious repetition. I played all but three missions on extreme to test the auto-aim and concluded that the in-game setting to turn it on or off does absolutely nothing. On easy and medium it appears to be on regardless of whether or not you turn it off, and it can’t be toggled on at all on hard or extreme making the option to toggle it completely pointless.
This game is a collection of design abortions heinously sewn together in some Frankenstein-esque fashion, proudly flaunting the fact that all sense and reason were thrown to the wind.
What little credit IO deserves for Kane & Lynch 2 is due to the voice acting being spot-on. Additionally, the presentation and art style are both highly unique and interesting ideas. The shakiness and gritty filters mimic an eye-witness with a camcorder trailing the murderous duo and documenting their activities in Shanghai. The only problem here is that it isn’t conducive to the gameplay, and may even become nauseating. This isn’t nearly enough to salvage this colossal wreck of a campaign though.
Fragile Alliance is as interesting as it was in the previous game, and is now available as a single player experience to boot in arcade mode. The players you get matched with will determine how enjoyable this mode is. Cops and robbers and undercover cop are essentially the same game mode, with cops attempting to stop the robbers from getting away with a heist, except one player on the robber’s team will be handpicked to work against the robbers in undercover cop. There’s nothing particularly new in those two modes, but they work well enough.
Efforts made to make the game’s multiplayer interesting are largely thwarted by the game’s broken core mechanics and lack of host migration. Even though the game modes themselves aren't inherently broken, that won't stop the rest of the game’s foundation from making the multiplayer experience just as miserable as the single player.
Some neat, but mostly generic and derivative, ideas are fatally crippled by frankly bewildering design choices. Mechanically, Kane & Lynch 2 is not a terribly clever or inventive game; it is as generic a third person shooter as they come, a genre which has been around for far too long for the basics to be this poorly executed. Dog Days possesses both insubstantial quality and quantity. Do yourself a favor and avoid this like the plague.
As with all of my reviews, this review was posted here on a delay, and first posted, by me, on www.Pwnage.tv.
Yeah, this (re)posting was a bit later than intended, but anywho...
Publisher: Activision Developer: High Moon Studios Rating: T for teens Released: June 22nd, 2010 Type: Third Person Shooter Version Reviewed: PC Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Bah weep graaagnah weep ni ni bong! Last year, 2009, the unthinkable was done: a superb Batman game was released. This year, High Moon Studios have set their sights on accomplishing a similar feat with the Transformers license, and while it may not be as spectacular a success as Arkham Asylum was for the Batman license, it is certainly a well done game, and a triumph overall. Read on to find out why!
War for Cybertron takes place during the events, namely the civil war which left Cybertron a ravaged husk of a planet, leading up to the original 1st generation Transformers cartoon. Players will be given the choice between starting out with the Decepticon campaign, or the Autobot campaign - though, chronologically, the events of the Decepticon campaign occur first. The Decepticon campaign deals primarily with Megatron's acquisition of a new power source, dark energon, as well as his siege on the Autobot capital of Iacon. On the other hand, the Autobot campaign picks up after Iacon has fallen, and details the Autobot resistance, Optimus' rise to power, and the eventual mass exodus from Cybertron. Without spoiling anything, High Moon takes a few creative liberties with the source material for the better. They build upon the rich foundation of available Transformers lore, and put their own appropriate spin on certain plot details without ever missing a beat.
As an aside, one of those creative liberties is taken with the game's art direction. War for Cybertron features a dark and gritty art style, where even the brights feel a little dark and washed out. This isn't a bad thing, the game looks great with this grungy style, and it's a great metaphor for the state that Cybertron is in during the game's events.
In each chapter you can choose between one of three different Autobots or Decepticons, with 1 chapter per faction being reserved specifically for the flying Cybertronians. You will be assisted by the other two characters controlled either by the A.I. or by other players if you choose to play the cooperative campaign. Each character has his own starting weapons, energon abilities (such as Drain which drains health from enemies), and cooldown abilities (like Hover, which places you in the air while also augmenting your damage output), with an additional secondary slot for weapons picked up throughout the course of the chapter.
Additionally, each character can transform into one of four types of vehicles: tanks, cars, jets (chapters 2 and 9 only), and trucks. In previous Transformers games, vehicle modes were cumbersome after-thoughts at best, but they are important and occasionally pivotal in War for Cybertron. Thankfully, the transformation controls are nothing like the disaster that was the "Revenge of the Fallen" game tie-in. In fact, the controls in general are nearly flawless. Transformations are fluid and the only major flaw while using the vehicle modes was the tendency to transform out of vehicle mode when going to toss a grenade due to a slightly odd hotkey layout. Furthermore, the default key binding layout cannot be edited at all without a workaround. This is especially annoying for the (very) few of us who use QWES to move and not WASD. Despite this, the controls are fine on a controller, but I would still much prefer to use my mouse and keyboard when buying a game for the PC.
At the beginning of the Decepticon campaign, one might get the impression that the level design is pretty stale. Things quickly open up however, and players will find themselves enthralled by some rather epic usage of set pieces, and even frequent yet brief movement puzzles such as the rotating laser battery puzzle in the middle of the Decepticon campaign. The deeper you go into the campaign, the more you will realize that War for Cybertron is full of fun and memorable moments. Some truly magnificent boss fights, all of which present a unique experience punctuate this fact. My only bone to pick was the lack of any type of clash between the major faction leaders, but this is forgivable given that every other boss is nothing short of fantastic.
War for Cybertron features an array of voice actors punctuated by Peter Cullen who returns to voice Optimus Prime. Each of the other characters feature voices new to the series, but whom fit the bill pristinely. Anime fans will recognize the vocal talents of Johnny Yong Bosch as Bumblebee, while other industry familiars include Nolan North as Brawl and Liam O'Brien as Air Raid. Furthermore, the transformation effects won't fail to throw you into the 80s for just moments at a time, and the in-game flavor dialogue between characters provides some comic relief as well as a ton of throwbacks to the original Transformers series ("First we crack the shell, then we crack the nuts inside!).
Multiplayer is handled with equal diversity consisting of numerous competitive multiplayer modes, and several cooperative modes. On the co-op side, you can choose to player either competitive (scored) co-op or regular co-op through the game's campaign, or you can play High Moon Studio's take on Horde mode, Escalation. Escalation is a super challenging defense oriented game mode which will provide ample thrills for hardcore co-op fans. To sum it up, you will be attacked by waves of enemies, growing in number and enemy variety with each subsequent wave, and you are rewarded for kills with points used to unlock rooms for your team to entrench themselves in. These rooms also provide ammo, health, and more powerful weapons.
On the other hand, the game's competitive mode is handled in a style akin to Call of Duty (seems to be a trend with Activision games lately). Build a load out, gain XP through playing the game and completing challenges, rank up to unlock kill streaks, perks, and weapons. You can use one of four classes, all of which provide their own unique playstyle such as the scientist which is the only class capable of turning into a jet, and the scout class which can cloak. Furthermore, you can customize the aesthetics of each class, choosing from multiple chassis and color schemes. It's a fun distraction, but customization is ultimately limited. Once you reach max level with each class, which doesn't take a terribly long grind to accomplish, you can activate Prime (read: prestige) mode, resetting your classes and giving you a special icon.
Each competitive mode is at least fun while it lasts in spite of some problems, which I'll touch on in a moment. This is due, in part, to the fact that each game mode is a renamed take on traditional game modes such as death match, Code of Power which is an attack/defense mode, and Power Struggle which is essentially King of the Hill. Unfortunately, a few issues hold the PvP side of the multiplayer back from being anything significant in the long run. For one, there is no host migration nor are there dedicated servers for the game; if the host decides to quit for any reason, be it rage or a power outage, have fun finding a new lobby. Secondly, there is no form of in-game communication whatsoever - no text chat, no voice chat. Thirdly, the balance is noticeably off. Certain weapon / perk / class combinations are blatantly more effective than others, such as the cloaking scout using the scatter blaster along with the Surprise Attack perk which boosts his damage output when exiting cloak. The synergy, the variety, and the fun are there, but the balance is not.
War for Cybertron isn't perfect by any stretch, but it is a blockbuster filled with nostalgia and fantastic execution unlike any previously licensed Transformers game. Whereas previous developers fell flat on their faces when presented with the task of doing justice to the Transformers, High Moon studios only stumbles infrequently, and have risen to the task of creating not only something authentic and true to the classic 80s cartoon, but something that is fun no matter which way you choose to play it.
As with all of my reviews, this review was posted here on a delay, and first posted, by me, on www.Pwnage.tv.
Bizarre Creation’s Blur has painted a target on the head of Mario Kart, making claims to be a grown-up’s version of the game, but does it take the crown or does it come up short? Is it all sheen and no show, or is it a truly special and worthy experience? The game has plenty of style, but does it have substance? Read on to find out.
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Rating: Everyone 10+
Released: May 25th, 2010
Version Reviewed: PC
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Blur wears its style on its sleeve. The power up effects make for some good eye candy, and the presentation is top notch. The rest of the game’s visuals are nothing particularly special; semi-realistic styled graphics with a shiny veneer. In this case though, the presentation really does make all the difference in the world, turning an average looking game, though a very thoroughly polished one, into a very stylish and visually appealing game.
The game’s sounds follow a similar pattern. There’s a certain indefinable synesthesic quality about the power-up sound effects that meshes with the visual effects during use and impact but the soundtrack is nothing even remotely memorable.
Blur is not a terribly complicated game to learn. However, when you first enter a new single player event you will be greeted with an unskippable introduction cinematic which displays of the nuances of that event, whether it be a race, destruction mode, or a time trial styled checkpoint race. This presents several problems, because while the goal was probably for these cinematics to help acclimate players to the game, they fail at every turn. There are no subtitles or voiceovers to properly explain what it is that you’re seeing on-screen, the pace is too quick to glean much, and they convolute a simple enough game. If you really need a primer, try each racer’s tutorial, because the cinematics are at best only marginally useful.
Surprisingly, the difficulty for each setting, easy, medium, and hard, is more fitting than I’ve ever seen before in a racing game. On easy, you will have to drive with your toes in order to avoid overlapping the AI drivers, on medium you won’t sweat too much, but you won’t cruise through it either, and hard is, well, hard; the enemy AI becomes super aggressive and the rubber banding becomes more than a little noticeable.
The campaign tasks you with earning lights in each event in order to unlock more stages, or rival racers’ events in this case. There are 7 lights to be earned from each event; one for scoring a certain number of fans, or points, one for drifting through a series of gates, and 3-5 for completing the game mode’s objective, whether that is to finish 1st, destroy a certain number of cars, or finish a race in a certain amount of time.
Each rival racer will task you with a list of demands to complete during his or her event, such as wrecking 100 enemy cars or completing a race without repairing, and completing these will result in a one-on-one boss race, the spoils of which are usually the best part of the single player, a modded (read: special ability) car, such as a Mustang with Titanium Shield, enabling you to use the shield power-up to play through other cars like an 18-wheeler channeling the Incredible Hulk. The progression of events is as linear as they come, and the game modes available don’t add a ton of flavor to the campaign, although destruction is quite is fun, but these special races and the criteria to unlock them make for an enjoyable, if not grindy, playthrough.
Drifting is handled adequately, but it’s a potentially fun mechanic that is slightly dampened by the fact that no matter which car you use, with a few exceptions, the handling still manages to feel stiff. Instead of feeling satisfied at how well I took a corner, I couldn’t shake the sensation that I was trying to corner while my tires were a foot deep in mud. Handling falls in a no-man’s land between arcade and sim.
The beauty of the gameplay, however, lies in the game’s arsenal of power-ups, 8 in total. Each one manages to fill a roll effectively, none of them seem like duplicates, and not a single one of them goes without its uses. Some can be used defensively, others offensively, while others are more versatile and can be used for both. Bolt, for example, fires three purple shards in quick succession and can be used to snipe forward cars, or fired backwards to keep the pressure off of you, but it can also be used defensively to fend off incoming shunts, the game’s big red homing orbs. Even better, the presence of these power-ups supplement the gameplay perfectly. They do not interrupt the focus of the game as a racing title, nor do they break the game’s balance. The creative applications for each power-up are slightly limited, but they are no less incredibly rewarding to use skillfully.
The multiplayer seems to be modeled on the Modern Warfare franchise, with a few admittedly neat extras such as Twitter and Facebook integration, and the ability to tweet challenges to your friends. The experience revolves around an addictive grind of unlocking cars and mods, perks basically, and new game modes by completing races, achievements, and by performing actions mid-race, earning you experience points in the form of fans. With the final rank requiring 890,000 fans, it could take a while to unlock everything given that you will average 1,000-1,500 fans per race.
Unfortunately, a debug game mode was left in the game when it was released, allowing for the acquisition of 100x more fans than normal. While this mode has been removed, ranks earned by any players who participated in debug races have not been retroactively removed, resulting in a few players already being maxed rank with access to the best perks and cars.
There are also a few other bugs that stand out, one of which can infrequently reduce your framerate to sub-slideshow levels, and a rare one which keeps the lobby countdown in an infinite loop.
Like the power-ups, perks do not completely break the game balance (although the unlockable cars have the potential to), and are a satisfying addition to the gameplay, but they can tip the scales. For example, some perks allow for extra fans to be gained, one adds laser sights to assist in aiming the bolt power-up, and another gives you a power-up when you use a shield to absorb an attack. Kudos to Bizzare for allowing some fun customization choices, beyond which car to choose, that don’t make or break the game.
The game modes available consist of racing, motor mash, and team variants on these, along with a “pure” mode, free of power-ups. As an aside, these are all available in online, LAN, and 4-player split screen.
Racing against actual players, especially in large races, can become hectic quickly, it is often times a symphony of flashy translucent effects until a few players pull ahead of the pack, which can leave you feeling defenseless at the start of the race, and hopeless from then on. Smaller races feel just right though. In spite of being flawed, racing, no matter how many players are participating, definitely has its appeal.
Motor mash is a veritable demolition derby, pitting you on an open lot of terrain populated with rival cars and power-ups. You are given a countdown timer, and the freedom to cause as much destruction as you can. It is mindless fun, but it is good fun. There are no laps, no real structure, just you and your ability to utilize mines, shunts, shields, etc. It feels a bit empty, as though Bizarre could have done more with the concept, but it satisfies the urge to destroy by using Blur’s staple gameplay mechanic effectively.
While the online mode is addictive and highly enjoyable, even if it is a little flawed, there are not many people playing it on the PC. So far, there have only been between 60 and 110 people online at a given time, and some game modes are void of players all together. Racing is the most densely populated, averaging about 40-50 people playing that mode at a given time, while motor mash ranges from 5-20 players at a time. Bizarre can’t really be blamed for this, but it certainly does hamper the fun when you have to struggle to find a populated game.
So while Blur may be flawed in several ways, it is no less a memorable and fun experience. It is unfortunate that the online is currently under-populated, but that can be changed. What it does poorly can often be overlooked, or at least tolerated, in lieu of the fact that all of what it does right, it does magnificently. If you have been parched for a good kart racer since Mario Kart came out, Blur will slake your thirst.
“Play, Create, Share” was Sony’s motto when LittleBigPlanet was released, and they echo this sentiment with Modnation Racers. It’s not every day you get to fiddle with a powerful editor for a console title, but is that all Modnation Racers does well, or is there a bigger picture to paint?
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: United Front Games
Rating: E for Everyone
Released: May 25th, 2010
Modnation Racers, like Blur (also released on the 25th), is cut from the same cloth as Mario Kart, or other classic kart racers, and United Front embraces its inspirations fully. This can be seen at every turn. The look of the game is vivid, expressive, and cartoony – a style which may not be for everyone – and does its best never to depart from that light-heartedness. The graphics can look a bit choppy and awkward when it comes to numbers on cars or mouths moving, and there are a few occasions where frame rates dip, but never nosedive.
Single player hosts, Biff and Gary, comprise most of the game’s humor, and they really bring out not just the comedy, but personify the light-hearted fun of the game. It’s a rare treat to be able to laugh on a consistent basis at a game, with the exception of games that are so terrible that it becomes comical. When Biff and Gary aren’t involved, the cut scenes are mostly hit or miss.
When you start up the game, you are immediately brought into an online lobby called the ModSpot which is a bridge to every other section of the game, or you can just sit around and chat it up with other folks, and other players do tend to be much more chatty in Modnation than most PS3 titles. The community emphasis of this game is as heavily emphasized as the customization itself. From the ModSpot, top player created racers, randomized mods, and randomized tracks are constantly being displayed for everyone to see.
I was skeptical about the extent to which the editor could go with a limited number of art assets, until I found that you can essentially create your own assets to an extent. This opens up an infinite avenue of possibilities, and I’ve already seen dozens of custom and replicated creations. From racers perfectly resembling Bender, Mr. T, and Iron Man, to kart remakes of the General Lee and the Mystery Machine, and tracks that replicate DE_Dust2, recreating virtually anything is possible, and of course the potential for fresh content is just as limitless. If United Front has set out to prove that every single detail is completely malleable, they have succeeded ten times over.
A great deal of the beauty of the game’s editor lies in the ease of use. It is far more powerful than LittleBigPlanet’s, and more intuitive to boot. The depths of the editor may still require a lot of learning to fully grasp, but from the very get-go players will find themselves capable of creating some very cool things.
It seems a little odd to say, but one of my early complaints was that I had to tear myself from the editor to play the campaign – not because I was ready to at that time, but because I needed to do so in order to unlock significant number of items for the editor. The campaign is short and sweet along with being varied and fun, but be warned that the difficulty spikes up dramatically very early on and cannot be adjusted, making for a potentially frustratingly challenging experience. I didn’t feel as though the campaign was awful, but it felt more as though playing it was a necessity rather than a choice. Of course, a few items are available for microtransactions (1-2 bucks) in the shop. Alternatively, you can use tokens, also from the campaign, to gamble on new items.
Before I start on the gameplay, I’ll blunt, the loading times are neither normal nor acceptable for a game in this day and age. That said, they are more of an irritant than a detriment, but you should be aware that loading new tracks can take 30-45 seconds, up to a minute or more in rare cases.
Embrace the arcade. This is, through and through, how United Fronts approaches the driving. Controls are very loose, and can be tweaked slightly from the ModSpot, and there is a dedicated drift button for racking up points and taking sharp turns. Points can be used to shield against offensive power-ups, or for a nitro like boost. Additionally, you gain points by doing aerial spins and drafting behind other racers. Shielding takes pitch-perfect timing using audio and visual cues which vary based upon which power-up you have to block, and it doesn’t leave you feeling helpless since you never have to rely on outside elements in order to build up your meter.
On the surface, there aren’t many power-ups; only four. However, each one can be stacked up to level 3. Each additional level causes a power-up to do essentially the same thing as before, but bigger and better. Levels 1 and 2 of the Boost pick up, for example, both give you a burst of speed when used, whereas level 3 can actually warp you ahead on the track. On top of power-ups, and building your boost/shield meter, there are a number of subtleties that make the gameplay even deeper and more compelling, such as side swiping, devastators, etc. The difference between karts is purely aesthetic, so you won’t be forced to choose a car you like less than another just because one accelerates 2% faster.
The multiplayer supports both online play and local split-screen, and is where the spectacular variation allowed by the game’s editor shines through, as you’ll likely spend an incredible amount of time racing on custom tracks, whether they’re made by you, your friends, or strangers.
After completing the campaign, and spending a lot of time in custom tracks, the editor, and multiplayer, I gained about 30% of the game’s trophies. Even if you’re not an achievement junkie, that should signify that there is a lot to do to keep the breath of life in the game. With the customization and community element, the sheer breadth of potential new content, the replay value of Modnation approaches infinity. Alright, maybe not infinity, but you get my point.
Charming and delightful is how Modnation Racers is best described. It is light hearted fun, but with enough technical depth to be both challenging and satisfying to master. While the game may have some noticeable load time issues, a patch is in the works. That may not make it acceptable, but the load times aren’t game breaking, and if that is the worst of the game’s problems, then it is in incredibly good shape. A flaw like this, and a few other minor ones, may hold Modnation back from perfection, but shouldn’t stop it from being considered one of the greats.
At its heart, Split/Second is a tribute to destruction wearing the mask of a racing game, and it is truly something else. With enough explosions to make Terry Crews' abdominals smile, and the shedding of many of the genre's traditional trappings, Split/Second is free to emphasize its adrenaline fueled power play moments. It is nothing short of a spectacular marriage of Just Cause 2's reckless disregard for realism in lieu of just being plain fun, and "The Fast and the Furious" franchise...if there had ever been a good game made around said franchise.
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Developer: Black Rock Studios
Rating: Everyone 10+
Released: May 18th, 2010
Platform Reviewed: PC
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Windows PC
The basic premise of the game pits you in the middle of the world's most over-the-top reality show. Immediately, this appears to be a fresh story, but is ultimately forgettable. While it has the potential to be interesting, it is guilty of being paper thin and underutilized. You'll only be exposed to this plotline at the very beginning of, and the very end of, each 'episode,' the game's stages, when a brief introduction to that episode is given, or when a preview of the next episode is given. This is a forgivable flaw though, unless you're in the habit of picking up racing titles for their stunning narrative focus. Admittedly though, the intros and previews are done with all the production quality and believability of an actual reality show.
What really sells the premise, at least what you get out of the intros and previews, is the music during these sequences; it is pitch perfect, and shows that the folks over at Black Rock have done their homework. The rest of the game's music is the typical fast paced mash-up you expect from a racing title - not that this is a bad thing, but none of it really stands out from the crowd. On the other hand, the sound effects, particularly for the dozens upon dozens of unique power plays, are presented in incredible, crisp detail. From the shattering of glass, to the terrifying mechanical roar of construction equipment collapsing, to those crowning epic moments where a few square blocks are reduced to rubble, and all other sound except the collapsing of buildings are deafened to emphasize the moment, the sound effects in this game are among the best of the best.
Crafted with equal care are the game's looks. The menus are sleek and easily navigable, and the user interface is like nothing else I've seen in a racing game. There is no mini-map due to the fact that the track can change in an instant, there are no superfluous meters, just the essentials; what lap you are on, what position you're in, how much power you have for power plays, and when applicable, what your score is; all of these details hang on the back of your car. The indicators are clear, and the centralization of all the essential details is an excellent feature. It is simple, clean, effective, and perfect for minimalists.
Unfortunately, there are few graphical settings on the PC version; there are four presets and the option to turn v-sync on or off, along with changing your resolution. One small detail which balances out the lack of options is that when you go to adjust the detail preset, you'll see how each will make the game look exactly in the preview window. Running the game on very high, at 1680x1050 resolution and with V-sync on, with a 9800 GTX and a Phenom 9850 x4 @ 2.7 ghz, my system was taxed hard, and the frame rates were mostly unplayable. However, on high the difference in detail was minimal and the game only dipped below 60 FPS when several intense power plays were triggered all at once.
Even without v-sync on, the screen tearing was almost never noticeable. The game's vistas are impressive, as are the rest of the game's looks when you find time to tear your eyes from your car and the cacophony of chaos engulfing the track. On top of this, Split/Second offers beautiful variation in its color palettes between all cars and tracks. There are roughly 6 completely distinct environments, and several tracks for each environment.
The game's primary mechanic is the triggering of power plays. Power plays are player controlled events, allowing the player to literally wipe out his competition. You gain power to deploy power plays by drifting around corners, drafting behind your opponents, making jumps, and dodging power plays deployed by your opponents. They come in two levels; the weaker and smaller scale "level 1” power plays, which might result in a helicopter dropping an explosive barrel in front of an opponent or a car detonating in the middle of a narrow alley, and the much more destructive “level 2” power play. As fun as they are, level 2 power plays are scarce compared to level 1s, and it's hard to justifying saving up all that power, which somewhat defeats the purpose of the game. Of course, balance is a part of the reason for this scarcity. On the bright side, level 2 power plays result in some of the most breathtaking seconds of gameplay found in Split/Second. For example, a level 2 power play can result in the collapse of an enormous control tower, wiping out anything in its path as it plummets to the ground, creating a makeshift concrete ramp which can launch you onto a series of rooftop-to-rooftop jumps. Each track is packed with moments, some smaller scale and others quite large, like this. These moments can completely alter a track, making for an enormously dynamic experience.
In the game's campaign, there are a total of 72 events occurring over the course of 12 'episodes,' consisting of 4 events plus an unlockable bonus event and a qualifying race for the next episode. There are no difficulty levels, and instead you're left to deal with an absurdly easy beginning, and a merciless finale with a sharp transition. Most of the difficulty comes from a staple, and bane, of racing games everywhere; terrible 'rubber-band' AI which will routinely accelerate to impossible speeds to catch up and pass you. Because there is such a heavy emphasis on power plays, however, you can overcome this design flaw with proper use of power plays.
While the rubber band AI maybe cheap, the power plays feel surprisingly fair across the board, while remaining incredibly rewarding to use successfully. You can keep your car in control through shockwaves if you're a good enough driver, and you can react and adapt to falling objects and changing terrain.
Early in the game, the cars handle like tanks, but this gradually improves, and within a couple of hours, everything is as smooth as butter. I only wish there was a display for handling at the car select menu, like there is for acceleration or speed. On top of this, the controls are not nearly as punishing as they are in traditional racing games, and only crashing head on into a wall results in a wreck. If you religiously play with manual shifting, you will be disappointed in this way.
The breadth of gameplay modes is quite refreshing. While staples such as race and elimination appear, power plays make this traditional modes feel fresh, while unique additions such as airstrike, detonator, air revenge, and especially survival, all feel welcome and are some of the most enjoyable parts of the game.
When and if you choose to take your races online, be warned that you will be at a huge disadvantage if you have not finished the campaign, as all the cars available in multiplayer have to be unlocked in the campaign. Players can choose from race, elimination, or the fresh and arcade-y survival mode, where you will be tasked with dodging exploding barrels jettisoned from the back of a moving big-rig, while having to overtake the trucks to gain points and multipliers. As far as the lobby goes, there is only one really remarkable feature, and that is the progress bar which indicates how far along a race in progress is. Aside from all this, the game's multiplayer is available in local split-screen, LAN, or online.
Despite a few flaws holding Split/Second back from perfection, this game still manages to achieve something that is rare for a racing title these days: its own completely distinct identity and gameplay. At its core, it's a racing title, but it is also so much more than that, and is certainly worth its price tag, and then some.
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Avalanche Studios
Rating: M for Mature
Released: March 23rd, 2010
Type: Third Person Shooter / Action
Version Reviewed: PC
Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Just Cause 2 is a romp through the fictional Southeast Asian island of Panau and achieves something very special, and very rare: it is, in some sense of the word, pure. It is untainted by typical current generation video game conventions – mostly. The game features a slapdash story, and an array of familiar gameplay mechanics, true. However, the purity in Just Cause 2 lies with the fact that when one casts aside the trappings of the game’s single player storyline and just experiences the playground, the 1,000 square kilometer sandbox that is Panau, that experience is bliss. In many ways, Just Cause 2’s greatest weakness is in its structured side, but the game offers up so much more that it’s a flaw worth overlooking. As Kane says in the game’s opening sequence, “kick back and enjoy the ride.”
Oddly enough, it is this single player only title’s storyline and plot progression, its very structure, that seems tacked on. At its core, this is purely a chaotic sandbox game. Players can choose to trudge through a paper thin plot, begrudgingly advancing through missions, or you could do whatever the hell you please. The point here is that the story missions aren’t a pre-requisite to getting to the fun part of the game.
The story follows Rico as he works undercover on the island of Panau, uncovering a series of twists which become exceedingly more absurd, each threatening to trump the last in sheer absurdity, not unlike a bad action movie, or a good one depending on your point of view. Causing chaos is the key to unlocking faction missions, and eventually the main agency missions, and there is a lot of chaos to cause. Going from the beginning of the story to the end is a bit of a repetitive grind in this sense. Do faction missions, cause chaos, unlock agency mission, repeat until the endgame.
There are two bright sides here. As weak as the story is, it provides context for your actions, making each act of mayhem just a little more interesting, and it exposes some of the inner workings of the island. The main faction and agency missions are also littered with potentially fun experiences, but if you’re goal is to just “beat the game” then it may very well tarnish that fun.
The music of Just Cause 2 is essentially ear candy. While no tracks stand out as particularly memorable, the music as a whole is very reminiscent of that found in a good spy flick combined with the music of old arcade games. It’s fresh and original.
Similar praise cannot really be given to the rest of the game’s sounds. The sound effects are not particularly remarkable, which is neither a good nor a bad thing. The voice acting can range from outright terrible, to campy in its cheesiness. You really have to be a fan of the style to appreciate it; otherwise it will just come off as mediocre over-acting across the board. You’re going to hear the words ‘comrade,’ ‘serdadu,’ and ‘lah,’ so much that it becomes nauseating. Also, the audio has a tendency to become wildly out of sync with what is being displayed on screen, which can be irritating and comical at the same time.
Contrarily, it’s very difficult to find any flaws with the game’s aesthetics. Panau may not be as bizarre and fantastic of a setting as Bioshock’s ‘Rapture’ or Dante’s Inferno’s rendition of ‘Hell,’ but Panau can hold its own against such titans. With its lush, gorgeous, tropical jungles, barren, snowy, mountainous regions, and boasting 1,000 square kilometers of playable terrain ripe for mayhem, Panau is a colossally enjoyable setting brimming with potential.
Along with its many broad environments, Panau is also host to more specific locals, such as the Mile High Club, a glorified strip club in the sky, hoisted in the air by a blimp.
Beyond just the island itself, Just Cause 2 offers players a broad range of graphical bells and whistles, fantastic weather effects, a fluid night and day system (the sun rises provide a beautiful backdrop for havoc), a gorgeous ocean, some of the best looking explosions out there, and a view distance that is seriously breath taking. Just Cause 2’s style isn’t rooted in complete photorealism, but it is still an incredibly polished visual experience.
If, however, the visual style of the game doesn’t appeal to you, then the size of Panau can really work against it. The island is massive, and you may just have to get used to the scenery, because traveling can take time. Even in some of the quicker planes, getting from point A to point B can take a while, even more so if you’re traveling by way of car or bike. There is an extraction system in place for fast travel, but this feature requires you to know the general area of where you wish to go, and it requires an already discovered port in order to travel there. Additionally, extraction can only be used when you don’t have any heat on you, in other words, you can’t alert the government soldiers to your presence prior to an extraction.
Flying a plane can be tough at first, particularly on a keyboard, but it is a markedly fun experience in its own right. If you have a controller, you may want to leave it by your side when you have to fly a plane.
The controls work well for the most part. Aside from flying, the controls are pretty intuitive and don’t require too steep of a learning curve. Once you get the hang of everything, the sky’s the limit for what you can do. As with any good sandbox game, experimenting is half the fun. Discovering what you can do provides some of the most unique and interesting forms of fun out there. On that note, using the grappling hook and parachute to climb will never get old. Using the parachute after grappling and then letting the ‘chute go and re-grappling, rinse and repeat, gives Rico a great deal of mobility, and it’s always fun to chase down a fleeing scientist by skipping three flights of stairs in this way.
Unfortunately, some of the keys cannot be rebound, and cause a bit of distress, especially if you’re like me – one of the rare few who uses QWES instead of WASD to move about. The horn (Q) and picking up weapons (E) are two instances of keys which cannot be rebound, which can become very annoying.
Again on the refreshing side of things, Just Cause 2 is through and through a sandbox game done in arcade style. There are very few sequences which are purely scripted, and the chaos you cause is purely in the hands of you and your imagination. If you want to ride two motorcycles at once by stunt jumping rapidly between them, you can do it. If you want to tether a bike to another car using your grappling hook and slingshot it off the side of a cliff, you can do it. A lot of this game’s fun lies with the variety and openness, and with the fact that it does not impede your ability to do as you please.
Avalanche boasted, prior to Just Cause 2’s release, that the game could provide 150 hours of gameplay. I completed the main storyline missions, and 29% of the game overall, in the span of 21 hours, and gained 44% of the Steam achievements in that time. I might be able to ‘complete’ the game in less than 150 hours, but I can totally see 150 hours of gameplay just on the merits of this game’s fun as being plausible, ignoring completion.
As a whole, Just Cause 2 is chaotic and refreshing. It is largely the type of game that allows you to just sit back and do as you please, enjoying every moment of it. It is literally and figuratively a blast. However, there is a very apparent Achilles’ Heel that needs to be made clear. As fun as Just Cause 2 can be, there is a right way to play it if you’re looking to maximize your enjoyment, which is by sticking with the sandbox elements and not the structured storyline missions.