Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Game Zone (VII)

video game reviews

Batman: Arkham Asylum
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
There are times when video game developers try to ride the success of a hit movie, putting in minimal effort in development and relying heavily on the film’s fame. Fortunately, Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum isn’t one of those games. The action/stealth game is based on the Batman comics instead of the movies, and sees the superhero trying to figure out his arch nemesis The Joker’s master plan while attempting to gain back control of Arkham Asylum where The Joker has instigated the other incarcerated villains to take over the prison. The player takes on the persona of Batman and has many cool gizmos at their disposal, including the batarang boomerang, explosive gel, and the grappling gun that can be used to shoot out rope and pull in enemies and objects from a distance. Gameplay-wise, Batman: Arkham Asylum is quite linear, and the fighting is pretty simple. Along with the action, there is also some puzzle solving; you can solve The Riddler’s riddles to earn extra points and win trophies. The game has great graphics and an almost realistic dark and creepy atmosphere. The controls, however, can feel a bit different and restrictive compared to other games; for instance, you can’t control the grappling gun as freely as you would want. But overall, Rocksteady Studios has managed to develop a decent game that is both fun to play and also manages to capture the Batman feel and ambience.

Grand Theft Auto IV
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
One of the most popular video game series of all time, Grand Theft Auto has helped Rockstar Games become just that – the rock stars of game development. Initially gaining fame for its extreme violence and raw humour, the series sees the player take on the role of a gangster on the streets of different towns, performing various missions to gain money and rank, while killing, looting, and plundering along the way. The latest release in the series, Grand Theft Auto IV focuses more on the storyline and slightly less on violence (by GTA standards) than its predecessors. In GTA IV, you play as a Serbian war veteran Niko Bellic, who, on his brother’s incentive, comes to Liberty City (a fictional town based on New York) in pursuit of the American dream. Upon arrival, Niko discovers that instead of living the perfect life, his brother is running a small cab company and having trouble with the mob, and finds himself getting involved in the violent gangster world while helping his brother get out of trouble. The action-adventure game follows an interesting storyline, with the story taking different turns depending on your choices, and makes use of engaging missions (the Irish gangsters bank robbery mission is one of the best missions ever), and great movie-like graphics. The game also offers fun multiplayer options (you can play 15 multiplayer modes online). On the downside, the environment feels a bit samey, and while you can move around freely in Liberty City, the game is a bit restrictive as you can’t explore the outskirts of the town like you could in GTA: San Andreas. Overall, the game lets you experience a great gangster drama. Plus there are two episodic expansion packs available for GTA IV The Lost and Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony – so you even have the option to continue playing beyond the game’s original storyline and see Liberty City through the eyes of other gangsters. (But be warned: GTA IV is rated M/R/18+ for extreme violence, drug/alcohol use, and adult content.)

Heavy Rain
Platforms: PlayStation 3
Remember those interactive games from the 90’s that played like a sequence of movie scenes with your choices determining which clip ran next? More like interactive movies than games, the idea didn’t fare too well and had fallen out of fashion by the late 90’s. Quantic Dream’s unique new offering Heavy Rain reminds one of those games. Heavy Rain follows an incredibly unique and dynamic story and comes up with a new take on the video game concept and experience. With its dark theme and story reminiscent of movies like Memento, Se7en, and Saw, the game merges the crime, drama, and thriller genres, and sees tragic events unfold during a period of heavy rain. The plot revolves around the kidnapping of a child by the infamous Origami Killer. You, the player, can take on the identity of one of four different characters – a private detective, a cop, the missing child’s father, and a journalist – as you hunt for the kidnapper; each character that dies is taken out of the game, and the outcome of your quest will depend on if and how you manage to solve different situations. The game feels a bit more like an interactive movie than a game, and is not recommended if you crave action or want to feel like you have full control of your characters. It, however, employs an engaging storyline and delivers a creepy ambience, and its uniqueness also makes it stand out in the gaming arena as something new and fresh.

Race Driver: Grid
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows
The latest release in the TOCA Touring Car series, Race Driver: Grid is a racing game developed by Codemasters. The player starts as an amateur driver, renting their driving services till they make enough money to buy their own car. The ensuing races advance in difficulty with each level, subsequently using faster, better cars and offering higher prize money. You can choose between races involving American muscle races, European touring, and Japanese tuners, and the race types include almost everything from track racing to drift races and destruction derby. You have to watch out for other drivers who drive quite aggressively (which can sometimes make it feel like things are a little too much out of your control) and can damage your vehicle that will then affect your car's drivability. You can gain sponsorships for successfully completing races, eventually have your own racing team, and even compete against other players online. The game also has a unique flashback feature that can come in handy in case of a crash. The graphics are amazing – some say they’re even more stunning than Gran Turismo 5 – and the cars and their environment look extremely realistic. In short, Race Driver: Grid has everything it takes to satisfy your racing needs, and unless you are looking for that perfect simulator and are more of an arcade racing fan, this is a great substitute for the newly released (and much more expensive!) Gran Turismo.

Red Dead Redemption
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
A much-needed addition to the western games genre, Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption is like a less twisted, western-themed version of the Grand Theft Auto games. In RDR, the player takes the form of former outlaw John Marston who is forced to hunt his former gang members after his wife and son are kidnapped by the FBI. The game also offers various other activities besides the main storyline; you can hunt animals, catch and ride wild horses, play various games like poker and black jack, and much more. You can play as a law-abiding citizen or an outlaw, and as with many games these days, your actions have consequences. Throughout, the scenery and graphics are incredible, attention to details impeccable, and the main story is solid, and the game can easily keep you occupied for more than forty hours. On the downside though, some of the missions are a little short and simple, and seem to lack the imagination that can be found on other Rockstar Games. Its strengths, however, more than make up for its flaws, and fans of GTA and/or Clint Eastwood spaghetti western movies are very likely to enjoy this one.

- By Daniel & Sam

 Ink Magazine - Jan-Mar 2010

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