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3:10 PM on 05.28.2010

If a remake appears on the shelves, does it make a sound?

(a.k.a. "I rented Dead to Rights: Retribution when nothing else was available and now I'm reviewing it.")

Alright, you can have my hand, just don't bite my nutsack!

The first Dead to Rights was a guilty pleasure for me when I played a version of it on the Gamecube. The second Dead to Rights I did not play, because I did not have a PS2 at the time. In both cases, you pretty much knew what you were getting from the start: a stupid action game that nonetheless had several different ways to kill various mooks, using everything from special kung-fu disarming moves to easily-abused bullet ti--err..."Adrenaline Mode." Dead to Rights was a fun but ultimately forgettable title.

For those who are curious about the first one, there's a "Let's Play!" runthrough here. Now the sequel/remake/re-imagining/whatever has appeared on store shelves with almost no fanfare save for a few trailers released on the Internet and some official reviews (including one on the D-toid main page, I think). And me? I decided to rent the thing.

Just like the first game, you pretty much know what you are getting into once you load it up. You play as Jack Slate, a rough, tough, take-no-prisoners cop who doesn't play by the rules, who's a loose cannon ready to go off at the slightest provocation, and [insert your own cop movie cliche here]. Actually, in the prologue, you start off as his super-smart wolf-hound Shadow, in all his neck-biting, scrotum-ripping (for an achievement, even!) glory. Okay, that one threw me for a loop.

"Why, Shadow? Whyyyyy?"

Sadly, the next level puts you in charge of beating up a bunch of easily-beaten thugs, and then you get into the gunplay with weaponry that looks like it wasn't fully modeled before it was released into the game and characters whose faces are mostly covered with masks, tattoos or paint to hide the lack of variety among them. And the kung-fu moves look cool, but the enemy doesn't really provide enough challenge. Just mash the Y and B buttons, and soon enough you will defeat them.

One interesting feature you get off the bat is the ability to perform "executions": by smacking an enemy around enough in melee, if you tap A (on the 360 controller) you get transported into another dimension where bullets aren't flying over your head for 10 seconds, allowing Jack to brutally snap the enemy's neck, execute him gangland-style, or on occasion stick a grenade in his back and kick him into the air. These moves are pretty cool at first, but then you realize that there really isn't that much variety to them nor is there an option to speed them up, especially compared to the large amount of brutal disarm moves from the first Dead to Rights.

Even more hilarious are the cutscenes where Jack and his father Frank talk about doing "real" police work. For example, after a SWAT team commander guns down a couple thugs without provocation, Frank shouts at the guy "This isn't police work! We arrest them, we take them in, and we question them!" This despite the fact that Jack has been running around brutally murdering people without so much as a warning before and during the time they've spent together. Let me put it this way, there are some characters in the game whose sole job is running at you with no weapons (for CQB purposes), but if you shoot them (which is probably breaking the rules in "real" police work) you get no penalty for it.

On top of this, remember how you could run around biting off scroti with Shadow? Well, whenever you do get to use him, you are forced into stealth missions only. Though Shadow also has the magical regenerating health of his master, he does not have the skin to take more than a few shots from a rifle. On the bright side, the AI is pretty stupid, so they can be easily baited into getting slaughtered by a super-intelligent wolf-hound thing. As Jack, you can occasionally order Shadow to bite someone else and take them off your hands, but Shadow has a habit of wandering into automatic weapons fire a bit too often, leaving it up to you to rescue him. Strangely enough, bullet wounds can be healed by simply petting him. Take that, veterinary science!

"Why is my throat being ripped out in a stealth mission? Whakkkkhhhh!"

In the end, all that will really be said about this game is that it existed. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, and if this game were released 5-6 years ago, I would praise it a lot more. But this game isn't really trying to be any better than a plain old action title, and the Shadow gimmick only goes so far. Rent it if you feel like wasting a few days, but with no multiplayer and about 10-15 hours worth of story mode, this game will be over quickly, and then forgotten.

The gameplay starts out all right but gets old quick. The graphics are passable, but the color scheme seems to balance between "drab gray" and "pearly white" while the weapons sound like someone modified a super-soaker to fire bullets. And there's only so much gratuitous cursing and one-liners you can take from Jack before he starts sounding less like a white Samuel L. Jackson and more like an Internet Tough Guy with Tourette's Syndrome.   read

8:43 AM on 09.01.2009

I got Wet [the demo]

Raise your hands, how many people have heard of the game Wet? Originally licensed by the now-defunct Sierra, picked up by Vivendi, bought up and then dropped by Activision, and now in the hands of Bethesda Softworks. Wet was supposed to join the vaporware community alongside Starcraft: Ghost and Duke Nukem Forever, but apparently the developers managed to put together something of a finished product with a release date. As for me, I stumbled upon it while skimming the newest demos section on XBOX Live, so I decided to give it a shot.

It starts with a deal gone bad and a chase through some 70's Chinatown. As Rubi (above, voiced by Eliza Dushku!) there's several different ways you can shoot the hired goons that you come across: Diving through the air, leaping off a ledge, swinging around a pole, skidding across the floor, running on a wall, or even sliding down a ladder. Granted, it is a bit difficult for the camera and the aiming reticule to keep up with all of this, there's so much you can do that you're just as likely to slide into an unmoving table as you are to shoot a guy while doing it. Even so, I had quite a bit of fun.

One thing that irked me was the unexplained enemy spawners that could only be destroyed by whacking them with your sword (yes, you have a sword as a melee weapon). It kind of ruined the atmosphere of the level, as I don't remember many exploitation flicks suddenly throwing up enemy spawners in the hero's path while the bad guy waited patiently for them to be destroyed (unless the game later includes zombies, then we'll talk). Even so, it did give me some time to work out more of Rubi's skill set on the hired goons until the evil black vans drove away and this section of the demo was complete.

The second part of the demo involved Rubi shooting a guy in the face and getting some blood splattered on her own. For some reason, this triggered a strange trip where everything around Rubi was painted in three colors. What's black, and white, and red all over? This real twitchy level where random guys in muscle shirts with swords and other guys in suits with pistols all become slaughtered by a high-speed mix of sword-swinging, wall-running, twin-uzi-blasting action. There were a couple of parts where it became difficult to see where I was supposed to wall run to advance, but I figured it out pretty quickly and the killing resumed until I reached the ending door where a scary-looking Rubi kicked it open.

The third part of the demo was both the most exciting and the most frustrating, as you're car-surfing down a highway trying to chase the lead car. Most of the movement is controlled by quick-time events, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view, but the animations look pretty cool in this section. There's one time where Rubi is running alongside a stalled tanker truck as a flaming car spins in the air right behind her, then she leaps off the truck and cuts some gunman's hand off in one swift motion.

However, most of this level, you'll be spending your time shooting at guys, and they'll be shooting back. Unlike the first two parts, unless a QTE pops up, Rubi's feet will be glued to the car and you won't have the slo-mo advantage you had before, which made this part kind of frustrating. It was difficult to hit the gunmen as the cars kept swerving, yet they had little problem shooting back.

Granted, this game could have been "just another shooter," but the thing that sold me was the atmosphere. The Tarantino-esque action (including Dushku growling, "Fuck you, door!" if you take too long to open it), the soundtrack in the background as you cut down those who stand in your way...hell, even the game's interesting twist on health stations where Rubi drinks a bottle of whiskey, tosses it in the air, and shoots it in half in the span of about three seconds. Not to mention the sheer amount of ways that Rubi can kill someone in the game.

Having said all that, I'm still not sure how the final cut will turn out. It could turn out to be another Oni, or another Jet Li: Rise to Honor. But based on my impressions from the demo, it looks like a solid rental if nothing else. Give it a shot and see if it makes you Wet as well.   read

12:10 AM on 08.07.2009

I suck at games: Where's My Driver's License?

Lemme tell you a little story: once upon a time at some Microsoft-sponsored event, I was given a choice between a free copy of Mass Effect and a free copy of Project Gotham Racing 4 for my XBOX 360. Considering I already had a copy of Mass Effect at the time, I decided to give PGR4 a spin. I mean, I was okay at Burnout: Revenge, so this wouldn't be too hard, right?

Oh, I was so wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Compared to Burnout, every car felt like I was steering a shopping cart down a steep hill into a wall made of aluminum siding. Every biker I controlled cringed in pain at the horrible pain and suffering I kept causing them as their helmets met the cold hard pavement. TV On The Radio's "Wolf Like Me" was playing over the car's stereo, the one solace I found in this game where all my efforts to get anything better than third place were in vain. Don't even get me started on the few times I ventured online to play actual people.

It wasn't like this was a bad game. Oh, far from it. The graphics were amazing and the physics acted much like I'd expect a real car or bike to handle, to the point where you could feel the wind whipping past your face and various small flying bugs smacking into your helmet's visor. Oh the thrill of the chase, the adrenaline rush you could get from the speed as you zipped through the track...and despite all this, I could not make it past the first few stages of the single-player mode. My pride wouldn't let me go any lower than normal (silver medal) difficulty, and I still couldn't make it.

The one thing I hate about most racing games (including Burnout) is that whether you lead by a meter or a mile, all it takes is one mistake for the AI to zoom past you with a lead you will find almost impossible to get back. And if you happen to be in second or third when you smack into a wall? You might as well restart the race altogether, or Rage Quit against the uncaring AI and do something more productive with your time.

I can't tell you how many races I bumped into a wall and lost any hope of victory, or when I drifted to avoid the wall and ended up losing too much speed. Then again, do consider that even the lamest cars in this game are a hundred times better than anything I can drive with my current income in real life. I knew one guy who was nigh-obsessed with cars, to the point where the only games he would play on his (son's) PS2 were the Gran Turismo games. The few times I tried playing him 1-on-1 I'd be lucky to finish within 15 seconds of him.

I've been getting better at RTS titles when I put enough time into them, I can hold my own in most FPS's (except Quake Live 1v1...the less said the better), I can slit throats in stealth-action titles and grind it out with the best of them in RPGs from the East and the West, but I just cannot do well in driving/racing games with even partially-realistic physics.

You think NASCAR is boring because you have a bunch of cars going in a circle for several hours? Well...okay, it is. But how many of those racers would quit if you forced them to go through tracks that contained several tight turns in a row, sometimes even at near-right angles? Hell, maybe they should put in some tracks like the more advanced ones in PGR4. After all, the most exciting part of a NASCAR race is the crashing, and there would be a lot more of them. Or maybe they'd just adapt to it while I struggled with manual gear-shifting and lost more of my credibility as a Real Man.

So give me Mario Kart. Give me the Burnout series. Give me a car where crashing won't put you out of the race like in real life, and give me a car where I can smack anyone who passes me with some kind of colored shell. But for the love of God, don't let me play another "realistic" driving game again! In fact, take away my driver's license before I kill another innocent driver or cause an auto insurance agent to commit seppuku!

Now if you'll excuse me, the light's turned green, and this guy honking in the Hummer behind me is being very rude. Doesn't he realize I'm trying to write a post and drive at the same time? Sheesh.   read

12:55 AM on 07.20.2009

[can't-sleep-post] Fightan Styles!

Awright, it's past midnight, I'm not drunk, but I can't fucking go to sleep and my brain is drawing a blank on how to continue this short story (not Dry Serial. That shit's something else) I told myself I'd finish this weekend but failed. So I might as well talk about something else that comes to mind: fighting games. In this particular one, I'm going to ask a question and hopefully get more than one comment in response from someone who's had a bad day and decides to take it out on me. *ahem*

Do you prefer realistic or not realistic fighting styles in your fightan gaems? On one hand, you look at fighters like Virtua Fighter 5, which based some of its fighters' fighting styles off of real-live martial arts from Aikido (Aoi) and Bājqun (Akira) to Muay Thai (Brad) and Jeet Kune Do (Jacky). You've also got your UFC games which involve a lot of Brazilian Jiu-Jutsu a.k.a. "two guys grab-assing until one of them gets his opponent in a nasty arm-lock or choke hold."

(Full disclosure: this author has taken part in some BJJ lessons, and ended them in a lot of pain. Mostly his own.)

Perhaps the realistic fighting styles are cool because you can somewhat emulate them in real life. Sure, I can't exactly leap 10 feet into the air and backflip onto someone's face, but you do get a sense of where the power in a strike comes from, how the energy within your body needs to be twisted around. And it's cool, because it's a sense of art somewhat imitating life. Or something.

But on the other hand, there's plenty of fun to be had in fighting games with fake fighting styles, like the various Street Fighter titles including all the characters that shoot fireballs from their hands. Also, on a semi-related note, I've been having fun playing with BlazBlue, even though nothing in that game could quite be described as realistic let alone the fighting styles. I guess the argument could be made that if we limited our fighting games to having the characters imitate styles that could only be found in real life, it wouldn't be fun anymore. We wouldn't have teenage girls able to stand up against giant hulking cyborgs, or old men fighting fake green-skinned war gods. After all, ain't that what games are supposed to be about, having fun?

In defense of the first side, though, you could argue that such things are kinda childish escapism, whereas putting characters with realistic fighting styles actually could convince people young and old to look up and attend such classes about various martial arts in real life. We may not be able to fling fireballs from our hands, but with enough training and motivation we can disarm a charging bum with a knife and immobilize him in a matter of seconds.

What say you, collective Destructoid hive mind? Is it better to have cool fighting styles in videogames that are possible to emulate? Is it better to have wacky characters and magical projectiles? Or is the true answer somewhere in between? Feel free to leave your answer, I'm going to try getting some sleep again.   read

9:27 AM on 07.05.2009

[shortblog] In which I gave into temptation...

Y'know, I was going to make another humorous-post about the internet creaming its collective undergarments about BlazBlue. But I guess I can't do that now, because I went onto Amazon and bought the damn game today, in its (not quite) Limited Edition Glory for $56.99 (A full 5% discount! Whoopee!). It'll probably arrive in my mailbox sometime this upcoming week.

In lack of much more information that, I guess I could also post other times I've given into temptation and paid full price for a game: Like when I paid full price for Left 4 Dead only to see it go on sale for 50% MSRP on Steam a couple weeks later. Or when I bought C&C3: Kane's Wrath but realized that not only do I suck at it, but the few of my friends who play RTS either stuck with Starcraft or moved on to something else like Red Alert 3. Yep, I'm ahead of the curve and my wallet cries out in agony as a result.

Still need more stuff to put...well, I guess while I wait for the game to arrive I can listen to the MOST EPIC FIGHT SONG EVAR!

DocHaus apologizes for the lack of funny in this post. He will do his best to rectify the situation in the future.   read

11:55 AM on 06.09.2009

Damn this game to Hell! (or, my thoughts on "Damnation")

Let me start off with this blurb about the game I found at GameRankings:

"Evolving the shooter genre with its unique and exhilarating combination of fluid action and combat, Damnation will feature huge, open environments, frenetic combat, daredevil acrobatics, and high-octane vehicle-based stunts. Presenting players with an intense test of reflexes, quick thinking, and rapid-fire conflict, Damnation will feature vast, breathtaking landscapes, each covering miles of distance and thousands of vertical feet."

Strip away the BS, and what this blurb tells you is the following:

--Our levels are huge!
--We have guns that you can shoot people with!
--The character has a "dodge" command!
--There's a few driving sections!
--Don't forget those awesome jumping puzzles!
--Oh, and did we mention our levels are huge?

I guess my first warning playing this piece of crap was when I went to rent it at a local Blockbuster store, and the teenager behind the counter snickered as he read the title. Maybe he thought the title was funny, or maybe he heard the game was a piece of crap. Surely, it couldn't be that bad, right? After getting home, I popped the game in my 360 and decided to jump into a single-player game.

I was greeted with textures that could've come out of a PS2 game, an oppressive army marching down a street, and some unexplained evil ninja. Then a bunch of awesome heroes slid under a falling pillar with their bikes and destroyed the evil Serum-infused soldiers with only a few shots. This is probably the coolest part of the game. If the gameplay itself was any better, I could have forgiven the last-gen graphics.

From what I've gleaned in the story, Damnation takes place in an alternate version of America where steampunk technology reigns supreme. The main producer of this tech, Prescott Standard Industries (PSI) has decided to use it to conquer its own swath of territory in the "Sovereignty" and turn it into "New America" (yeah, real original name there). You play the deep and mysterious Rourke, who apparently lost his girlfriend at some point during the Civil War and seeks to get her back along with stopping the evil PSI. The story premise actually sounded interesting in a kitschy way.

Then you actually start to play the game, and it goes downhill. Oh, where do I begin? First of all, you're only allowed to carry three weapons, including a pistol and two larger guns. You have your standard weapon loadout, though it has steampunk touches: a full-auto rifle that takes an entire drum just to kill one guy, a sniper rifle that can gib anyone's head but otherwise has no effect, a shotgun that is useless when the target is more than five feet away, and a revolver with all the stopping power of a particularly pissed off gnat. The only decent gun in the game I found was a "railroad spike" gun, but it only appeared once in the first level when I found it and it had such limited ammo I didn't keep it for long.

Of course, none of this matters when you can't actually hit the motherfuckers. No, this is not an "I suck but I'm blaming the game," thing. I mean that the aiming control is too damn twitchy, which makes it difficult to hit someone from far away with any efficiency, and there's no slider to change the sensitivity either. To top it all off, the game doesn't even give you a cover mechanic which kind of became standard in most third-person games ever since Gears of War (or perhaps Kill.Switch, if anyone remembers that game). I actually found myself wishing that they would rip off Gears of War a little more than they did. Sure, you can dive through surprisingly weak windowpanes (not really "dive" so much as "walk through") but that doesn't help when people are shooting at you.

But don't worry, they made sure the AI is pretty freaking stupid. Sure, they can shoot straight most of the time (as long as you're the target anyway), but they will stand out in the open shooting, not even bothering to take cover if it's not in their script to do so. On occasion, when you snipe their friend standing a mere centimeter away, they won't even notice. The friendly AI also has similar brain-farts of this type, but unlike the enemies they can't really die, just sit on the ground gasping for air until you revive them or all enemies in the area are gone. This may sound pretty easy, until you realize that almost all of the weapons have been gimped in order to give the retarded AI a fair fight.

As for the "high-octane vehicle based stunts," they have steampunk-ish motorbikes scattered throughout each level, lending itself to a driving section. These things basically handle like speedy shopping carts, the only innovation being that you can drive on some walls where you see conveniently-placed tire marks. It sounds cool until your bike gets stuck in some piece of the level geometry for the umpteenth time and falls off a cliff, then you just want it to be over.

Speaking of innovation, I hope you like jumping puzzles, because you'll need to complete a lot of them just to get to the next checkpoint. Rourke will be forced to shimmy along aluminum siding, climb up ladders, wall jump off of various objects and make leaps of faith in order to get to the next part of the level, and it's often difficult to find the way you're supposed to go in order to accomplish this. You can also shoot enemies with your pistol while hanging on a rope/pipe/chain/whatever, but I've only found one part of the game so far where this was absolutely necessary. Not to mention that Rourke's hand has a habit of disappearing into a wall when he's shimmying along it.

Note to the developers: making big levels does not make your game good on their own. It makes them boring and even frustrating at times. And when the game starts to feel frustrating, that's when I start looking at the game as a damn chore and start losing my will to continue playing it. Fallout 3 and Oblivion had huge freakin' levels, but they were able to compensate for this by throwing up occasional random encounters and useful items in this big world. In Fallout 3's case, they even had some radio stations. No one's going to pay $60 for a game full of jumping puzzles punctuated by lame gunfights.

For those of you who were chomping at the bit to do all of this awesome puzzle-jumping, pea-shooting action in online multiplayer? Good luck. No matter how many times I searched, no one was playing online. No one. Granted, it's only been two weeks since launch, but even the first Gears of War had some people chainsawing each other online by that date. If there is anyone who's played Damnation online that doesn't include the development team, please let me know.

The last straw for me was during Act 3 of the story when Rourke and his Spanish sidekick Zagato were sent to destroy some giant artillery pieces. You think that one of them would have considered maybe bringing some explosives, but no. After spending a while clearing out all of the enemies, I finally figured out that I had to use one of the artillery pieces themselves to launch a shell at this large stone tower which would conveniently fall down and smash all of them. Each time I fired at it, Zagato yelled at me in a three-second cutscene to clear the area before it fell. And even though I jumped clear of the artillery piece, the game still decided to kill me off anyway. I did this two more times and got the same result.

As the exasperated zookeeper said to the last male panda in the world while pointing at the species' only remaining female, "Fuck That."   read

7:27 PM on 05.21.2009

Lunch with Sensei

Hello Ryu Hayabusa, please have a seat. Perhaps you'd like to take a bite from the bento in front of you? Don't worry, I swear we didn't poison it to test your skills, at least not like last time. Anyways, you might be wondering why I called you here, right? You've certainly done your share of killing everything from sand mummies to giant mechs, and I will acknowledge that you've saved the world many times from the forces of evil.

But here's the don't seem to understand the exact job description of what it is a ninja does. You see, a ninja is supposed to be stealthy. They are supposed to manipulate events from the shadows, or in some cases hide in plain sight. Their targets are never supposed to know the ninja is coming until it is too late for them to do a thing about it. That's the reason that you never hear of any famous ninja in real life, because the enemy can never know for certain when a ninja is about to end his life.

Ryu, your fighting skills are really impressive enough to get you out of nearly any situation, not to mention that weird ability you have to never actually die. Hell, I even heard of one recent achievement where you came back from the dead over 100 times just to defeat a Greater Fiend. But if you actually bothered to listen to any of my lessons, you wouldn't put yourself in these situations in the first place! Here, let me show you a visual aid:

There you are, daring the giant spider demon to come attack you on open ground. Did it not once occur to you that you could have leapt up onto the columns behind him and stabbed him in the neck where he could not see you? Did you not think to lure him into a trap where you could deal with him easier? Seriously, have you truly learned nothing? Yes, your whole clan was virtually destroyed several times over and maybe this training was the last thing on your mind, but you are supposed to be our star ninja. It's because of you that our new students think being a ninja means that they will emerge unscathed when running straight into enemies firing rocket launchers at them. I'm running out of students as a result!

And this brings me to another point: a ninja is supposed to select the right tools for whatever task he may require during a mission. So what purpose does a scythe have? Where do you even keep such a weapon? Did you plan to thresh some coffee beans or coca leaves on your way home? It is a big weapon, difficult to use, and it is not optimal at all when you are trying to assassinate someone from the shadows. But of course you didn't think of such a thing, did you? You were too busy standing right outside my dojo, daring the enemy to come attack you in the open!

Don't give me your excuses, I've heard them all. Yes, you were facing demons, monsters, mistakes of nature and forces of evil beyond your wildest dreams. Yes, the odds were stacked against you, as they are against all ninja. But you didn't think for a second that these enemies might have weaknesses that don't simply involve using the "Flying Swallow" technique over and over? What would I have done in your place, you ask? Look at this picture below:

See these ninjas right there? These ninjas are using something called "stealth." They are watching the enemy for any sign of weakness, they are studying his patterns and his movements, and they are planning to strike when he is most vulnerable. Not only did they kill their target, but they managed to avoid getting clawed, stabbed, or even seen in the process! Amazing isn't it, a ninja who actually uses stealth to complete his mission! Oh, don't listen to me, I'm just a ninja master who fought his way to the top when all of the other masters died or disappeared under "mysterious circumstances." ate that whole bento box? Ugh, you didn't even bother to test it for poison, did you? You don't deserve to call yourself a ninja. Yes, I lied to you at the start. That was the whole point. You were supposed to suspect my words in case I was forced to feed you that poisoned food, or if someone slipped it into your lunch without my attention!

When you come back from your next Game Over screen, maybe you should consider another profession like Samurai, or Mass Murderer. It's obvious that you have no clue how to be an actual ninja.   read

11:18 AM on 05.18.2009

Proud Beta Tester of The Last Remnant

Warning: This one turned out to be a lot longer than I expected. Grab yourself a soda and imagine some famous British-voiced personality reading it to you. Maybe that will help.

Dear Square Enix, QA Department:

First of all, let me say that I am glad you have chosen me to beta test your latest RPG The Last Remnant on my XBOX 360, before you plan on releasing it onto the PC and possibly even the PS3. I'm glad that you gave me a 50% discount before telling me I had to pay for the privilege. I even appreciate that as a pre-order bonus you threw in three battle formations that I've rarely used in the first disc and probably won't use at all now that I'm partially through the second.

But as a proud de facto beta tester of your game on the 360, I'm wondering if you couldn't perhaps send some sort of patch our way to upgrade us to the version you plan to release with the PC game? And while we're at it, perhaps I could enlighten you to some other areas that still need attention? Keep in mind, this following is just my opinion, but I think you should take a look at some of these areas:

1) The story feels generic at best and downright annoying at worst. A teenage boy with bluish hair somehow becomes an instant expert in all forms of weaponry, potion making and magic despite being paired with older generals with much more battlefield experience. Maybe it's the script, or maybe it's Johnny Yong Bosch, but every time Rush Sykes opens his mouth I want to reach through the screen and punch him in the face. How does this kid become the hero of the story? Well, once he runs into the Marquis David of Athlum, the conversation goes something like this:

Rush: "Hey Dave, can you help me find my sis?"
David: "Sure, and I'll lend you my generals while we're at it."

I know you want to get to the meat of the story quickly so the player can start fighting, so how about this: cut the kid out of the story, or at least make him a sidequest character. Why not center the story around David's attempts to battle the evil that threatens his people instead? Granted, the voice acting could use some work, but he's young and faces a heavy burden without sounding like a whiny spoiled brat. People can actually kind of empathize with this guy. I realize this request might be a little difficult to fulfill at this stage, but it's something to keep in mind for the next game you make.

2) I don't really understand your combat system. I get the part that as people use more magical attacks or physical attacks with certain weapons, they will slowly specialize in and learn special attacks with them. However, in most RPGs, you actually get to pick and choose what you perceive to be the right action. In this game, we are only allowed to choose lists of attacks or actions, and the things planted on those lists seem to be pretty arbitrary? Why is it that in some cases when I need one unit to heal, that one person uses a healing action and the rest of the unit just stands still even if they have enough AP to launch a normal attack? Why not allow them to split off and combine with other units in order to speed up the process, or even guard the healer?

This brings me to another point I mentioned before, that the formation stuff seems pretty useless as well. Yes, things like Mystic Wall and Catapult formation sound good, but considering that the enemy can attack any single individual it likes within the unit what's the point of forming a wall of strong physical guys in front and placing a healer behind them? If the enemy has some sort of counter to the formation, then this should be explained instead of hidden somewhere in the code.

And before I move on, I have mixed feelings about the fighting itself. After all the actions are chosen, the player can just sit back and watch. Sure, there's an occasional quick-time event to keep the player on their toes, but eventually it's mere cake to get a perfect button press almost every time.

3) The inventory system. It starts out decently enough, convincing you to try upgrading and forging new materials instead of blowing cash on brand new weaponry. The item creation starts out nicely. However, I picked up this blade about 3/4 of the way through the first disc, the "Olibanum", and since then I haven't had to worry about using another sword again. Okay, there's a secondary sword, but that's been occupied by a high-class scimitar and I haven't had to switch that out since equipping it earlier.

Normally, I'd be handing down all these weapons that are useless to me and give them to my army so that they could use them. Simple, no? Instead, I find that I only have control over Rush's inventory, and have to wait until the AI decides the other characters want something I'm holding or sell it for a miniscule amount. Maybe you could give the players who want more customization the option of equipping the rest of their army? It would help give the game more of a FF Tactics feel, and that's a good thing.

4) Why did you decide to handcuff our armies early on? The Marquis of Athlum has hundreds, maybe thousands of troops at his command, not to mention a giant freaking laser cannon that can be deployed virtually anywhere (even in underground areas!). So why is it that by the time you reach the second disc you can barely field more than 15 people at a time? And why is it that only 4 of those 15 can be unique "Leader" units? Some kind of magically-enforced Affirmative Action policy, or is David just that cheap? You could put more people than that in battle in the original Ogre Battle games, fer crissake!

I hear you took a step in the right direction by removing the restrictions on "Leader" unit numbers and slightly upped the difficulty to compensate in the PC version. I assume you'll do the right thing and give us the option of doing the same in the 360 version, right? Considering I paid for the privilege of being your loyal beta tester for this game, it would be a nice gesture.

Of course, I do realize that putting even more combatants on the field would really put a strain on the hardware, which leads to my next point...

5) Did you really need to use the Unreal 3 engine for this game? Really? I know, it's cutting-edge technology, it makes all the grass and the gold fringe on David's clothes look pretty and it helps you put ragdoll physics in the game, and all that good stuff...but do you really need it? It would make sense if the game gave you direct control over the PCs, like in Oblivion or Mass Effect, but in this game each attack repeats its own animation against each enemy. The ragdoll effect makes no sense when each enemy seems to die the exact same way from the exact same attack, and the only difference is how they crumple over in pain.

Okay, I'll grant that if you didn't use the U3 engine someone who gets paid to review this game might've chided you for having bland textures and uninspired graphics. But if you could take that time and effort from the graphics and use it to make the game mechanics work better and the framerate run above "old, constipated power-walker" 50% of the time, it would be a net gain.

Look, I'm not going to get into the other little nitpicks: The rare sidequest monsters where you have to enter the same dungeon many, many times just to fight one of them. The unique stat everyone has that appears to have no bearing on their actions (how does the "Crybaby" stat help? What does it even affect?) The stupid plot twist where one character with an interesting personality is killed and replaced by a doppleganger with less personality...

Still, looking at these things, it's obvious that you need to go back and tweak your game a little before you release any new versions of it. Cut the kid out of the story, give the player more control over his own characters (or at least the option to do so), and work on that framerate issue. You know where to find me.   read

2:54 PM on 05.03.2009

Wanted, or "My First Shooter"

[Note: This is reposted from a similar review I wrote elsewhere under another pseudonym. I just didn't want this to be a lame "O hai! I'm new!" post. Enjoy.]

So maybe this game wasn't aimed at folks like myself. But after spending a combined 4-5 hours with a rented copy of Wanted: Weapons of Fate, I must conclude that it is a surprisingly easy shoot-fest. A "My First Shooter," if you will.

Let's start with a little background. This game is a pseudo-sequel to the events of the movie. It provides a little journey into not only the history of the Fraternity, Wesley, and his father Cross as well (who happens to be voiced by the same actor who played him in the movie). You switch between Wesley and Cross' intertwining stories as you play the game, eventually culminating in a battle with one of daddy's rivals: The Immortal. However, the story also borrows a few elements from the comic book as well, like Wesley's ability to knife practically anyone in the gut as well as the appearance of The Killer suit in a few levels. Wesley shows off his "wicked asshole" side from the comic throughout his parts of the story, and he even acknowledges this during one cutscene, saying "I'm just an asshole with a gun and a cool suit" (or something like that).

The game did introduce one cool new element that hasn't really appeared in shooters before: the ability to curve bullets. So if some faceless mook is hiding behind cover and you can't reach him, just hold the right bumper, aim, and curve a round right through his neck. When holding a pair of customized machine pistols, you also gain the "Shrapnel Storm" ability where a cluster of curved bullets explode on impact. Also, the ability to stab enemies from nearby cover is kinda cool, if a bit finicky.

Unfortunately, that's kinda where my praise ends. You know why I call this "My First Shooter?" Because it really feels like a basic, basic third-person shooting game. I ran through the whole story mode once by the end of the same day I rented it. I feel sorry for the shmuck who looked at this and decided "Yes, this is worth $60." The enemies pop up and down like ducks in a shooting gallery. Sure, they can shoot relatively straight, but that's about it. Once you've mastered the basics of curving bullets and flanking, it's usually just a matter of time before you mow down the legions of faceless bad guys who all have masks or hoodies or both, probably to hide the fact that the character designer didn't care about making them look unique.

Occasionally, you'll run into some annoying melee guys who let out a frightening war cry, but if they do manage to touch you, all you have to do is mash the B button until Wesley performs the kill animation on these guys. And it's always the same animation. Considering the amount of times these guys pop up in later levels, you think they could at least program a couple more for variety's sake. The only heightened challenge comes later in the game when they throw in some unexplained gun-monks who have the odd capability of dodging your shots and a sniper here or there, but they're really more annoying than actual challenge.

Another complaint are the bosses you run into. There's The Russian, who can be one-hit killed if you simply sneak around and perform a melee attack on him. There's Brummel, the thug voiced by the singer Common, where the strategy is simply "curve bullets into face, then shoot when he stumbles out of cover." And as for Arana and later the final showdown with The Immortal, just wait until they pop out of cover, then use "bullet/adrenaline/slow/whatever time" to empty clip after clip into them until they fall. Yes, there is a cost for curving bullets and slowing down time briefly, but luckily a couple of easily-dispatched mooks always show up in between the boss attacks. Just kill them to fill your adrenaline meter so you can do your bullet-curving or bullet-timing all over again.

As for the weaponry, they give you a pistol and that's it. Later in the game you can unlock the ability to switch between the pistol and your dad's dual machine pistols, but really, these guys will go down with either one. Sometimes they'll throw in a rail-shooting level (where the mooks somehow get a lot more accurate) a sniping level (one-shit kills, no matter where you hit), or a cool adrenaline-pumping reflex battle (shoot the bullet and the guy who fired it in three seconds or you die). But for the most part you find a piece of cover, shoot the guy who decides to stick his head out (or even those who don't), then repeat until everyone is dead.

Sure, there are unlockables and tidbits (comic covers, dev team photos, character skins, concept art, etc.) hidden around the levels, but I have a feeling that in 2-3 playthroughs, you could unlock all of the 360 achievements for this game. No wonder that the easy mode of this game calls you a "Pussy" if you play it first (for the record, I beat it on both "Assassin" and "The Killer" difficulties). There's no multiplayer, and no extra DLC that I can find.

In sum, this isn't a bad licensed game, just a disappointing one, and definitely not worth the full retail price. Go for a rental or find a secondhand game store, beat it, and then scratch the disc and return it for a full refund on the same or the next day. Maybe if you act surprised they won't try to make you take another copy of the same game.   read

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