I'd like to open with some great news: I am back on Xbox Live. With this came a flood of games I hadn't touched in months, in particular Call of Duty 4 and Team Fortress 2. I'd forgotten how ridiculously well balanced, polished and fun they were. So if anyone needs a squad mate or a drummer, hit me up on XBL (SLiFE).
This week brings with it perhaps the worst retail boxed product I've played in years. I speak, of course, of EA's third-person co-op shooter, Army of Two
. Plenty has been said
of the 2 main characters, and while I am inclined to agree, the basis of my criticism is far simpler than a disdain for their crude personalities (or latent homosexual undertones): the game sucks.
Now don't get me wrong, not everything about this game was produced in a dog's digestive tract. It's a very pretty game (at least in screen shots). I have nothing but praise for the modelers and texture artists who worked on Army of Two, not to mention the great lighting. The problem comes in once everything starts moving. In this day and age of procedural animations, the canned stuff just doesn't cut it.
The game takes a turn for even worse once you start shooting. Aiming feels weird. It's difficult to explain, but where my character's gun is pointing and where the targeting reticule is are often not the same. The enemies themselves are bullet sponges. They soak up damage without flinching until their invisible health bars are depleted (cue canned death animation).
I can't say too much about the co-op (seeing as I would never subject someone I considered a friend to a game this bad), but I didn't much care for my AI teammate. The commands are simple enough (follow, stay, advance, each with a passive and aggressive variant), but too often I felt I had to baby sit him. The co-op maneuvers aren't much better. While the 360-degree back-to-back is fun, it's only triggered at specific, scripted parts of the stages. Whenever my partner would boost me to a platform, I knew there would be a group of enemies waiting. Otherwise, there would be no need for the raise and lower commands. The one trick these two had up their sleeves that impressed me came when my character was incapacitated. My partner came to my aid, dragging me to safety while I fired on our pursuers. Anyone who has seen Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead knows how awesome this little move is.
In addition to the technical highlights, there are a few other compelling aspects of the game. I did like the weapon upgrade system. Though I should mention that while I enjoyed spending money on new barrels, stocks and larger ammo clips, I never felt it made a huge difference during missions. I won't even subject you to the idiocy of the “pimped” versions of the arsenal (primarily because I can't locate any images), but trust me; they're an insult to your intelligence.
The enemy AI also impressed me. More than once, I found myself surrounded after the enemy had aggressively flanked my position. I'm not saying the AI is super smrt, but it certainly makes for some challenging gameplay.
It's a shame Army of Two wasted so much of its potential. This could have been the
shooter of early 2008. Instead, it will languish as the butt of an industry wide joke.
Surprise, surprise. GTA IV
remains my most heavily invested game this week. I was actually shocked by this more than anyone, as I set out to complete the game over the weekend. My bad on that one.
I can't overemphasize how long
this game is. The story just keeps going and going. New contacts keep appearing. More side missions reveal themselves. Also, taking Brucie out to the scrip club is always hilarious.
Hopefully I'll be telling you all about the genius direction of the ending this time next week.
I had a revelation regarding Mario Kart Wii
. I set out to finally enjoy the game, and I did once I played it with a Wiimote and nunchuk. I immediately felt comfortable with the controls and started whomping the AI controlled karts.
Unfortunately, this is where one of my previous gripes reared its hideous mug: the item balance. I was getting hit by 2, 3, sometimes even 4 blue shells every race. It's very frustrating, particularly when a sudden, last second barrage of items costs you a race.
With my return to Xbox Live came access to a glut of demos. Fortunately, I'd played most on my PS3. Two of the 360-exclusive trials that interested me were Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit
and Kung-Fu Panda
Dragon Ball Z: Burst Limit was not my first exposure to fighting games based on the series. Years ago, I was introduced to the PS1 “classic” Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22 by a “friend” of mine. It's pretty amazing that in the subsequent 13 years since its original Japanese release, little has been improved upon. Sure, it features what could be considered the best cel-shaded visuals in the industry (this from someone who considers Wind Waker a franchise highlight), but underneath the shiny veneer lays a very basic, mash-happy brawler. I do like that the scenarios are taken directly from the show's plot, but it's ultimately not enough to sell me on even a rental.
I was pleasantly surprised with Kung-Fu Panda. While nothing about it will turn heads, it's a competent 3D beat-em-up. It carries a level of quality that belies its summer-movie-tie-in roots. It features some great (albeit non-interactive) environments, some solid character design and legitimately funny dialog. The combat falls on the easy side, but given the overall kid-friendly nature, it's to be expected. If you need to keep the kids entertained for the weekend, or if your old lady has a panda fetish, definitely give it a try.
I know I'm late to the party on this one, but I need to throw in my 2 cents on the recent Guitar Hero 4
announcement. WTF is Activision thinking? I can get behind drums and vocals in GH4. Anything less would feel like an incomplete experience in 2008. It's just that I already own a set of over sized plastic peripherals. There is no way I'm buying another set of drums to play your game, especially when I feel Neversoft has no chance of matching the set list offered to me by Harmonix.
It's true that Guitar Hero 3 outsold Rock Band this past holiday season, but lets take a look at some of the facts: Guitar Hero is an established brand. It was released nearly a full month before Rock Band. It cost roughly half of what Rock band did.
Going into Christmas '09 though? Most of those advantages will be lost. Rock Band has been picking up steam for 6 months now, and Guitar Hero will cost at least as much as Rock Band once it includes comparable accessories.
The only solution would be to develop Guitar Hero 4 to include support for the Rock Band drums. Of course, we know this will never happen
, but I can't help but feel they're shooting themselves in the foot.
And then we've got Konami and Rock Revolution
. I don't know what
these guys are thinking. I know they pretty much invented the genre and all, but from early previews this game looks as though it will lack the polish to go toe to toe with the big boys. At times I feel bad for them, but they're committing the same fault as Activision by releasing proprietary drums. In any case, I'll be sticking with Rock Band.
I need to start reading a more diverse selection of web comics. Nothing has tickled my fancy these past few weeks like Fanboys
If you can suggest anything, please do. I'd hate to discontinue this section simply due to a lack of competition.
Can I Keep It?
Part 1 here
Part 3 here
Thanks for reading. See you all in a week.