Tech Games: Overdue Reviews
posted by April 3 at 17:11 PMon
How’s a guy supposed to review all of 2008’s big games when Super Smash Bros. Brawl is out? Nearly one month in, I’m still impressed with its party-fighting, four-people-at-once appeal, as I’ve found that newcomers I’ve forced the game upon have split 50/50 between wanting to learn and master the game, and absolutely hating the overcharged randomness of its fights. That’s actually better than I’d expected—the title is openly insular, paying service to fans who’ve learned the decade-old franchise’s quirks, though again, it was built from the ground up to be easier to get into than the old guard of Street Fighter II and the like. To its credit, SSBB has passed the girlfriend litmus test, if only because she likes to electrocute critters with Pikachu. I’ll take what I can get.
Even with my Brawl addiction, I’ve cobbled together two other game reviews after the break, both for Xbox 360: the run-and-gun Army of Two, and the “this is almost exactly like Final Fantasy, but that’s not so bad” quest of Lost Odyssey.
Lost Odyssey (360): Final Fantasy VII was my last big Japanese RPG, probably because the genre is best suited for kids in school on summer break who make time for things like 50-hour quests, non-stop random battles and, sheezus, experience points. By the time I gave the genre a chance again, the later FF games (along with Dragon Quest and other play-a-likes) made things more complicated, seemingly to placate fans who wanted change. I got bored figuring out these games’ new upgrade systems; couple those with endless experience point quests and cutesy/cheesy plots, and you’ve got an annoyance, not a game.
When I started Lost Odyssey a month or so ago, I expected it to be another annoying, over-complicated time-drain, but what I found was JRPG comfort food. A few of the folks who made old FF games are on the staff, so it’s not shocking that this feels like FF7 or FF8. But LO feels fresh because the presentation is great in all dimensions, complete with spot-on voice acting, inspired steampunk art direction, top-of-the-line cinema scenes, and a nostalgia-inducing soundtrack (courtesy of an old FF music composer, no less). That means there’s little barrier to entry in getting caught up in the story. Even if it’s clichéd (sullen warrior with amnesia takes on a questionable journey, meets some kooky characters, twists, turns, bad guys), it’s still smart and adult-oriented, and the optional short stories scattered throughout are a surprising bonus—assuming you don’t mind (gasp) reading. I’ll admit, it’s been hard to stick to this game, since I’ve had a few big titles to play this winter, but it’s been the most bang-for-the-buck I’ve encountered since January.
Recommendation: If you gave up on RPGs long ago yet still have a grade-school crush on them, Lost Odyssey is a substantial chunk of nostalgia fulfilled, with enough of a grown-up angle to keep the bile down. If you’re more into quests like Oblivion or Mass Effect, this might not be your bag. And if you loathe experience points or loading times, steer clear.
Army of Two (360/PS3): The supposed draw in this shooter is the “two” in the title—team up with a fellow modern mercenary, shoot up Iraqis, Somalis, and Chinese, and try not to notice the utterly offensive content. You know, like the first level, absolutely peppered with Afghani suicide bombers who run up to you and kill themselves to, geez, knock down a fraction of your health bar. This stuff gets a free pass, and Grand Theft Auto can’t walk down the street without getting harangued for hookers? I swear…
Even if you mute the game’s inane, “fuck”-filled banter and (somehow) ignore the racism, you still won’t have much co-op content to enjoy. Yeah, you run with a buddy and shoot fur’ners (in an effort to be PC, you get to kill Americans later), and one player can stir up a lot of “hey look at me!” distractions to free up the other player, but that’s about as interesting as the co-op element gets. It doesn’t save the game’s repetitive, non-thrilling formula: duck behind a box, shoot aimlessly at dumb enemies for a few minutes (with slippy controls), follow an automatic arrow on the ground to the next ugly-looking corridor, repeat. This one’s linear, slow, and boring, with neither deep, strategic mega-battles or quick, thrilling bursts of fun.
Jonah S-L will disagree with most of this review—or even if he affirms it, he’ll respond that he has fun playing Ao2 anyway. But our recent co-op playtest wasn’t all that exciting; we didn’t shout at each other in excitement over our Xbox headsets at any point, that’s for sure. Except to make fun of the fact that our dudes looked like ICP rejects, anyway.
Recommendation: If you’re a Gears of War fan who’s really itching for a run-and-gun quest to share with a buddy (or Jonah), then you could do worse than rent this. But “worse” would involve something like buying real guns and spraying fire all through Cap Hill, which we don’t condone around here.