Catch-up time now folks, with thoughts on some of the higher profile Xbox releases spat out these past few weeks. Get 'em in quick, mind...things are only getting crazier next month. All these games are available for the PS3 too, incidentally (gotta love that cross-platform standardisation).
Army of Two
Army of Poo is pretty much Gears of War
's basic concept, mixed with a little Chaos Theory
co-op. The former's cover-based third person blasting and homo-erotic subtext comes through crystal clear, as does the latter's emphasis on tag-team moves and two-player tomfoolery. As I've been whining about on the boards lately though, it's never quite as good as either. But that's an under-statement if ever there were one; Army of Poo is the worst game I've played in ages.
|EA's long-awaited two-player shooter's finally here. It looks alright - I guess - but seriously? What the hell happened?|
First the good. Co-op remains fun, as always, and Army thankfully includes it on and offline for the entirety of its single player campaign. I love the new additions this game throws into the co-operative mix in particular, such as dragging wounded team-mates off the battlefield to heal them, and high-fiving one another after a particularly tough shoot-out. Boosting buddies over walls, and going back-to-back to mow down bad guys in a 360 degree radius is super sweet stuff in fact; multiplayer antics that, to its credit, you can't really find in any other game right now.
I dig the the unlocking reward system too, that allowing you to buy and upgrade weapons to your own specification, adding attachments, stocks and even pimping 'em out to create your own unique brand of lead-spewers in the process. Not that I noticed a huge difference between 'em all, to be honest, but hey, it at least offers the illusion
of beefing up your arsenal as you progress through the game, and that's mildly cool.
More than anything, it's just a fab concept really; a game built pretty much solely around the concept of co-op from the ground up. Playing a merc for hire, carrying out missions behind-enemy-lines, a buddy in tow the entire time, simply revs my engine, I'll admit it. For the first few hours, this alone was enough to keep me smiling.
|Early promo'd features for Poo were scrapped over its long, troubled development, including wall rappelling, tampon-stuffing and even entire levels|
Sadly it fails in the more simplistic stuff though. Ya know, things like fun combat and useable controls. You see, the gun handling in Poo is next-to-broken, and devoid of any finesse whatsoever. In particular, I refer to the stick sensitivity, which no matter how much you tinker around in the options screen, remains a pain to wield pretty much from beginning to end.
As a result? All the cool ideas and great two player antics find themselves negated, as you're never able to truly enjoy
them. To simply sit back and smile like you could in a Gears, or a GRAW
. It's always that little bit too fiddly, that little bit too annoying, and seldom feels satisfying to merely drop a bad guy. Sadly it's even more laggy and unresponsive when played online, which is a big part of this game's draw. I simply cannot downplay how detrimental this is to the proceedings.
It's repetitive as hell, too. The co-op stunts are fun at times, but feel like mere prizes for wading through the monotonous and never-ending fire-fights. The enemies do that same darn thing they forever did in Uncharted, where they'll continually hide behind pillars and crates with zero body parts exposed, waiting there for a year at a time before popping their heads out for barely half a second. The result? A ton
of sitting and waiting, with bad guys taking an age to down, while you continually gaze upon the clock and watch life pass you by. Clearly, the game wants you to flank and use "tactics" - which is fair enough for a two-player experience - but one solitary, repeatable tactic ain't enough to breath life into these battles. Particularly as so much of the level design is corridor-based, and thus doesn't particularly lend itself to splitting up.
Every time a big firefight kicked off as a result - heralding that same repetitive "rat a tat a tat" gunfire - a part of me died inside. The combat's a fuckin' mess.
|NOT IN THE GAME|
I must admit, I do somewhat enjoy the online Versus mode in spite of all this. Sure, it fixes none of the control issues and sluggishness of the main game, but as a competitive online experience, it's surprisingly inventive. The co-op slant remains very much present and correct - with you and one mere buddy tasked with carrying out a list of objectives in a battlefield versus AI troops - the twist being, an enemy team of two players is simultaneously carrying out those exact same objectives. So while you battle brainless bots and work on said missions with a pal, you're constantly bumping into rival merc players and having to contend with them too. It's actually sorta fun.
Unfortunately there are only 4 meagre maps, and even worse? The bloody online modes are all region locked on the 360 too. What is this, the freakin' PS3?!
No, even this can't save Army from a fate worse than eBay. When a game hailing itself as a premier co-op shooter can't get The Dig sex peeing himself in excitement, it's clearly missed the mark something fierce. I haven't even touched upon the sheer rubbish-ness of the plot, the laughable end level, the crappy AI, the teeeerrible voice-acting and the petty shortness of it all.
So I won't. Instead I'll simply advise you to play Gears of Wars again. A title that five times completed, is still way more fun than anything found here.
And that's a little sad.
Condemned 2 - Bloodshot
Unfortunately for me, my copy of Condemned 2 appears to be ever so slightly fucked. Whether this is my system prepping itself for a second bout of Red Ringed Death Syndrome, or simply a wonky copy, remains unclear, but when playing, in-game geometry will regularly disappear for example, while textures'll flash and corrupt all over the place. It puts even Mass Effect
to shame for such shenanigans, and makes it damn hard to play for extended periods of time. A simple reboot tends to fix it for about 10 minutes before I then have to do it all over again. Yikes.
|Condemned's back, fuckos! And this time with fire!|
I think it speaks volumes then, that I was glued to Condemned 2 from beginning to end. Multi-hour long marathons would entail about 50 reboots to get through, yet I was having a blast the entire time, and couldn't tear myself away.
The first Condemned was fabulous stuff, may I remind you, and right up there among the 360's finest come launch day. You can read some of my ramblings on that back amidst an old round-up here
, but I don't think it gets across quite how much I went on to love that sucker as time went on. I recently replayed it, and it still stands up shockingly well to this day.
If you never had the pleasure, Condemned had you playing FBI agent Ethan Thomas. Framed for murder in the game's awesomely slick opening level, you went rogue to clear your name, rummaging through crack-dens, abandoned railway stations and terrifyingly dark slums for evidence. The game looked like an FPS on the face of it, but was far more survival horror than that, with barely a handful o' bullets available on any one level, and a subsequent jolt of helplessness and fear to go with 'em. Instead, melee became the order of the day, and with it, an experience unlike any other.
|In terms o' pure scares, C2 ain't quite the shat-inducing horror fest the first game was. Its all a little more bearable now|
But who am I kidding? It's the scariest game I've ever played, and turned me into quite the puss. That's why I praise her so highly.
Condemned 2 picks up where C1 ended. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is down to you I guess, as - beware of slight spoilers for the first game - you might remember that that ended somewhat bizarrely. The investigative "FBI agent gone rogue" plot turned all supernatural and surreal on game's completion, and while the scares remained, the weirdness was arguably a little too much for some. That same weirdness is very much prevalent in C2 right from the get-go as a result. Expect numerous bizarre visions, weird shit you can't explain and massive bouts of paranormal activity that...the series doesn't really need, quite frankly. Merely poking around derelict buildings at 2am with a flashlight was enough for me; I don't need monsters and vagina faced mutants thrown in to get the scares going.
In fact, on the whole I'd say C2 is far less scary than its predecessor for this exact reason. The story's too crazy, too far-fetched and loses its grip on reality one time too often to really inspire much in the way of true terror. Now to be fair, some of this non-sensical insanity was at least hinted at in the last game - hence I don't think it's all quite so "plucked outta thin air" as it may at first seem here - but I certainly miss the more simplistic hunting down of "The Matchmaker" found in the first game next to...whatever the hell this is about. The convoluted, and downright whack antics propelling this plot forward prove the prime area in which its dropped the ball as a result, and something of a mild disappointment really.
I guess unfortunately for him, one other such area choc-full o' ball dropping would be the character of Ethan. Long gone is the innocent young copper trying to clear his name, replaced by an alcoholic crack-head enjoying serious rage issues. Now he's all badaaassssss and coooool, which needless to say, backfires hugely. Clearly based off someone seen in the last Bum Fights video, the game's done a bit of a "Warrior Within
" in that regard.
|The crime solving sequences are far more fleshed-out this time. You'll have to examine and report on everything from size and location of entry wounds, to methods of murder, to say, blood trails leading to a corpse that indicate whether it was dragged into its current position, or crawled there, bleeding. Grisly. But fun|
Get over this drastic change in character - and the shitty story/cut-scenes that go with it however - and Condemned 2 plays just as well as ever. Even better, in fact. The combat's seen a pleasing bout of added depth, adding a ton of brilliant combo attacks, far more fleshed-out gunplay, and more interactive execution moves on top. It makes each and every fist-fight far more thrilling as a result, and waaay less repetitive.
Unsurprisingly, the investigative/CSI sections have seen an even bigger improvement. Now there are multiple solutions to the crime solving sections, with some fantastically inventive evidence scrounging going on that I simply couldn't get enough of. You'll have to examine crime scenes, look for clues, and describe specific sights with alarming detail this time out. Each time you carry out said forensic examining, you're graded on how well you did too, and although I saw no real difference to the game's ultimate outcome other than some slight dialogue changes and the odd achievement point, it's simply fantastic stuff, and most definitely the best crime solving antics I've personally seen in a videogame.
I guess at the end of the day, Condemned 2 improves noticeably in the gameplay department over its predecessor then, yet takes a step back on the storytelling/atmospheric side. While the level design impresses and is surprisingly varied, there's nothing here to quite match, for example, the brilliance of the original's department store level, or the solitary house found towards the end of the game. Settings like a haunted doll factory and a spooky cabin in the woods are nicely put together, but never truly crap the old pants like you sorta want them too. Although the latter certainly comes close.
|Tacked on multiplayer's largely a waste of time, but the bonus "Fight Club" mode's dead cool, I must say|
It's also worth noting that C2 has been subjected to a serious injection of fire-fights not present in the last game either. One or two missions bare more of a resemblance to its sibling FEAR in fact, than the traditional melee bashing you'd expect from the series. Hell, there's even an unlock-able "FPS" mode awarded on final game completion, which I think says a lot. Although handling well and boasting admittedly some of the sweetest darn headshots ever - plus some cool little nuances like drunkard Ethan needing regular booze to settle his aim - I dunno if firefights are what I really want outta Condemned to be honest. Gimme a baseball bat and a tramp any day of the week.
Regardless, the game's a bit of a riot, guns or not, and right up there with DMC4
as one the better seen so far this year. Monolith continue to cement their reputation as one of the most creative and under-rated developers going right now; from Blood, to No One Lives Forever, to Aliens Vs. Predator 2, there are almost too many classics amidst their back catalogue to mention. In fact, when the likes of the afforementioned FEAR could be considered perhaps their worst game yet, you know a company's got a pretty darn spotless track record I'd say.
C2 slots in amongst that catalogue somewhere towards the middle for me. It's a crazy experience, full of demented sights and cool ideas, even if it is a slight step back from its fresher and more terrifying daddy in some key areas. I'd like to see more of these games in the future for sure though; the gameplay and upgrades found here, perhaps in the more minimal and mature style of the first installment.
Rainbow Six: Vegas 2
|Ya can't do this shit in Call of Duty, my friend|
Vegas 2 is a standard Ubi-soft annual cash-in. A total mission pack, rebranded as a sequel in order to justify a 50 quid price tag. Luckily for us, the original Vegas was quite the tight package though (never reviewed, but given high praise in an end of year round-up here
), hence more of the same ain't such a bad deal. Those strategic, counter-terrorism FPS antics continue to prove just as fun as ever...even if there's a slight whiff of the rushed about this latest update.
Graphically for instance, it's all over the place. Some levels - like the opener in the French Pyrenees - are lovely, while your soon-to-follow return to Vegas comes across drab and even downright ugly by comparison. Flying in during daytime over low-rise slums and shit-stained alleyways doesn't have quite the same jaw-dropping quality that the original did by any stretch of the imagination. I miss the luminous night time city views as a result. Skyscrapers blowing up in the distance. Abseiling onto rooftops, miles up in the sky. That shit was stunning, epic stuff, and it's distinctly missing here for the most part. Instead we're left with what often looks like an Xbox 1 game.
Many'll whine that Vegas' slower and more methodical firefights don't really stack up to the sleeker and prettier shooters released in the past year either, namely your CoD4
s and your Halo 3
s. Personally I'd say they're pretty much incomparable however; Rainbow is a far slower and more strategic game than the aforementioned spray 'n' prayers. It's a cover game first and foremost, and I for one am growing to dig this sub-genre of the shooter just as much as its more chaotic siblings. Vegas still has the goods to stack up against the greats if you ask me, and has really cemented a unique and distinct niche for itself amidst such a crowded, over-saturated genre.
|Character customization is a huge part of Vegas 2, even more so than last time. Face scanning returns thankfully, and looks a little cleaner and sharper to my eyes|
A big reason for its success is the continued inclusion of co-op, and much like Gears, it's a far more successful take on that basic concept than the previously mangled Army of Poo. This installment in particular seems very much designed around the concept, with constant use of multiple entry points and tag-team tactics, opening up a wealth of possible strategies for you and your buddies to implement. While it's seen some other upgrades since the last game on this front - namely drop-in, drop-out functionality and the inclusion of cut-scenes and AI squaddies - it's unfortunately been reduced to just two meager players this time around however. It's not a particularly fair trade-off if you ask me, and thus feels mildly gimped next to the original's splendid 4-player fun.
Despite a brand new sprint ability, not to mention a Call of Duty "inspired" ranking system, there's not much else new here worth mentioning either. Lack of huge upgrades isn't Vegas' biggest prob though; its general roughness and lack of polish is what holds it back from true greatness. Despite the graphical downgrade, it's noticeably framey at times for example, there are glitches galore, and the squad-mate AI seems conspicuously shittier than last time too. In fact, when playing co-op, we soon realised it was best to simply leave the dumb bastards at the start of the level and head out by ourselves.
|Vegas 2 looks oddly worse than the last game at times, looking more in-line with that game's dog-ugly MP mode. Graphical strumpets, avoid|
I guess the retarded death wishers can prove invaluable when handled correctly. It provides quite the rush to setup textbook assault maneuvers using wall rappels and flash-bang entries, then giving 'em the go-ahead, and clearing out an entire convention center without losing a single guy. When left more to their own devices though, it all kinda falls apart I'm afraid. I guess the AI is ultimately just as good as you tell it to be, which is a definite - and truly odd - downgrade since the last game.
Despite my whining, I dig Vegas 2 - honestly - I just question its worth as a full price game in light of such nitpicks. It's strictly mission pack territory like I say, and could have done with a few more months in the oven, and although far more content than you'd find in, say, a download pack, it most definitely doesn't feel worth full whack prices either.
Unless, that is, you're a Rainbow die-hard. Which I am. Hence I'm happy with my purchase. I just dunno if you'll be...