Weekend Bender, November 13-18

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?

This is probably the biggest week in terms of quality releases that we've seen in the season. Scratch that; with Rayman Origins, Saints Row The Third, Assassins Creed Revelations, and Halo Anniversary, not to mention some, er, lesser quality releases, this is probably the most packed release week all year. If somehow last week's releases of Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3 just weren't enough, you'll surely find something this week to warm your icy black hole of a heart.

Assassins Creed Revelations

The hookblade is the most significant addition

Assassins Creed Revelations is probably the most widely anticipated release of the last week, but also the most predictable. If you've played Brotherhood, picture that, but with bombs and a shitty tower defense game tacked on for no apparent reason. Okay, so maybe that's a little harsh. Revelations does add the Hookblade as well; this nifty addition to Ezio's wrist blades opens up an entirely new set of moves for navigating the environment. Jumps can be extended a little farther, enemies can be vaulted over, and ziplines can be crossed with the help of the Hookblade. Its introduction early in the game helps Ezio maintain momentum in just about any situation, and makes the movement feel just a tiny bit better than in any game past.

And that's what Revelations is all about: incremental improvement. Nothing here is in any way significantly better than it was in the past, but better it is, if only by a little. The graphics, for example, are more gorgeous than ever, with the environments maintaining their gorgeous style and the faces no longer resembling grotesque meat puppets. The presentation of the story is also better than before, with the numerous characters and worlds all melding seamlessly together and paced in just the right way. That said, this is still the same Assassins Creed we've been playing since 2, and it's starting to get a bit stale. All of the workings of the world are just as expected; they're good, but starting to feel a bit well-worn. It doesn't help that the game forces you into the aforementioned tower defense minigame if you want to keep your hard-earned territory. Ezio sits and watches passively as groups of enemies that he'd be entirely capable of fighting waltz into his base and start wrecking shop, choosing to command troops from afar instead of jump into the fray himself. Maybe his old bones just can't take combat like they used to, but it seems out of character.

Rayman Origins

This game oozes manic charm from every pore

Ubisoft's other release this week fares a lot better. It's fair to say that Rayman Origins wasn't on my radar until it started earning nigh-perfect reviews left and right. I went out Friday morning and picked a copy up for myself, and I've been enraptured ever since.

A love letter to classic 2D platforming, Rayman Origins eschews many of the superfluous features the industry has tacked onto its games lately. There's no social integration, there are no leaderboards for the game's numerous levels, and no setpiece moments that drop jaws while simultaneously taking all control away from the player. This is straight up classic gaming wearing a stunningly gorgeous high definition disguise.

Although there are really only a few functions that Rayman can perform (running, jumping, hovering, etc) the game makes such clever use of them that the moveset never feels restrictive. Level design is intelligent, quaint, funny, and at times damn challenging. Rayman's movement is pixel perfect; almost every time I died, I knew that it was my fault as opposed to the fault of the controls. And best yet, it can be played with friends cooperatively, adding a whole new sense of chaos to the proceedings. When four people are running around a gorgeously designed level slapping each other silly, it can be hard to want much more.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Whoa, a slightly prettier version of a campaign we all played ten years ago! Let's run out and buy it again!

I'm not the biggest fan of this game's existence. If I want Halo, I'll go play it on my Xbox or my PC. I will not, however, go to the store and pony up forty bucks to get yet another version of the classic game. Some people will, though, and they'll end up with what amounts to a pretty damn solid game. The graphics in this updated port are by no means gorgeous, or even good. They're not even close to Halo 3 or Halo Reach, but still a vast improvement over the original set of textures. It's easy to forget how much graphics have changed in the decade since Halo's release, and if nothing else the Anniversary Edition will remind you of this vast leap. Online play is also included, which was understandably absent in the original Xbox version. If you're really dying to play these maps online, however, you can simply download a map pack for Halo Reach that contains them all. That fact makes this package seem like even more of a ripoff than it already did, since you're essentially paying forty dollars for the single player portion of a game that was released ten years ago. Again, that game is still a pretty good one, though. It goes to show how much games have been streamlined, because level design can occasionally get pretty darn confusing, but otherwise Halo holds up pretty well. I'd just rather play it in its original form than pay for a merely competent looking update.

Saints Row The Third

They had me at "giant wobbly dildo." Which is perhaps a bit telling.

Each Saints Row game has been exponentially nuttier than its predecessor, and The Third continues this tradition with aplomb. Whether you're piloting a hover jet, smacking dudes up with a giant dildo, or having a firefight while freefalling 35,000 feet, this game is absolutely, positively batshit crazy. And it's all the more amazing for it. Whether you're playing a side mission, working through the story missions, or just wandering around in the large city of Steelport, chances are shit is popping off all around you. This game was seemingly designed to perpetuate mayhem at every turn, whether it's in the floaty car physics, the exaggerated ragdoll, or the fact that you can get in a giant fighter jet that shoots lasers at any one of your numerous bases. The possibilities for fun are only limited by your imagination. Read more about why I loved Saints Row The Third in my review.

Need For Speed The Run

Linear or not, this is still kinda cool

I actually enjoyed the demo of this game that EA released on Xbox Live a few weeks back, so I was a little surprised when the final product didn't quite live up to my newly inflated expectations. I didn't dislike it quite as much as Jeff seemed to, but I can still appreciate where he's coming from. This game is linear, even in comparison to other racing games, which is pretty impressive given that the entire genre revolves around driving down a preset line. Diverting from that path in The Run in search of shortcuts can lead to disastrous results, as your car will most likely be picked up and set back on course a few seconds behind its initial position. Only the shortcuts that are clearly marked by the developers are allowed to be taken. And don't even get me started on the collisions. Some objects your car can plow right through, while others stop it dead in its tracks, and it can be really difficult to tell which obstacles fall into which category. Some objects, like telephone poles, fall in the middle of that venn diagram, with some yielding to the force of your car with others crumpling it. Still, despite these issues, I had fun with The Run's short campaign. There were a few intense moments, such as the avalanche that has been featured heavily in the trailers, and the cars generally controlled well enough to deliver a constant feeling of adrenaline. It may be linear, but The Run knows how to execute a satisfying setpiece, and that counts for something.

Jurassic Park

Dr. Harding longs to one day be a real boy

As a child, I was enraptured by Jurassic Park's lifelike dinosaurs and the breathless sense of fear and adventure that permeated every second of their screen time. Perhaps it was this nostalgia that informed my unfortunate decision to purchase this dreadful game on Steam when it released. Telltale may be taking flak for the now-infamous Jeep incident, but the stilted animations, lousy controls, and cheesy dialogue of this game deserve no less attention. I had hoped that the Heavy Rain influenced mechanics would pay off in a heavier investment in the characters and world. In that game, the control scheme worked because of its consistency and because of the impactful nature of those button presses; one screw-up, and your character could be dead for the rest of the game. Jurassic Park lacks this gravitas, and replaces it with cheese so rancid you could smell it miles away. I appreciate the company trying to get outside its comfort zone with something a little more serious, but it's obvious that they have little experience writing serious dialogue, as the entire script is filled with groan-inducing lines. These lines are recited by characters who couldn't look more wooden if they were made of the stuff, dead-eyed automatons that lack any of the convincing nuance of Heavy Rain's cast. Thanks to issues like these I wouldn't have cared if any of them were offed anyway, but the game imparts no such consequence to slow players. Instead, failed button presses simply send players back to a checkpoint. A final nail in the game's coffin, those controls have no consistency to them and feel completely unnecessary to the type of game Telltale was trying to make. It's like they played Heavy Rain, wished they had come up with it themselves, and made some half-assed ripoff with dinosaurs to hurt their bruised egos. Quantic Dream's game was a stunning example of how to do a modern adventure game with a real sense of consequence; Telltale seems to have imparted all the wrong lessons from that game, resulting in a product that feels cheap, derivative, and above all, boring.

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Posted by spilledmilkfactory

Hello, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Weekend Bender! This is my new weekly blog, where I'll cover every game released over the last week in short, digestible blurbs. Don't like short? Don't like digesting? I'll include links to full reviews of each of the games I deem worthy under their description. So won't you join me, dear reader, as I watch my precious sanity trickle through my fingers like so much sand in an hourglass, furiously attempting to bash my head through every game, on every platform, every week?

This is probably the biggest week in terms of quality releases that we've seen in the season. Scratch that; with Rayman Origins, Saints Row The Third, Assassins Creed Revelations, and Halo Anniversary, not to mention some, er, lesser quality releases, this is probably the most packed release week all year. If somehow last week's releases of Skyrim and Modern Warfare 3 just weren't enough, you'll surely find something this week to warm your icy black hole of a heart.

Assassins Creed Revelations

The hookblade is the most significant addition

Assassins Creed Revelations is probably the most widely anticipated release of the last week, but also the most predictable. If you've played Brotherhood, picture that, but with bombs and a shitty tower defense game tacked on for no apparent reason. Okay, so maybe that's a little harsh. Revelations does add the Hookblade as well; this nifty addition to Ezio's wrist blades opens up an entirely new set of moves for navigating the environment. Jumps can be extended a little farther, enemies can be vaulted over, and ziplines can be crossed with the help of the Hookblade. Its introduction early in the game helps Ezio maintain momentum in just about any situation, and makes the movement feel just a tiny bit better than in any game past.

And that's what Revelations is all about: incremental improvement. Nothing here is in any way significantly better than it was in the past, but better it is, if only by a little. The graphics, for example, are more gorgeous than ever, with the environments maintaining their gorgeous style and the faces no longer resembling grotesque meat puppets. The presentation of the story is also better than before, with the numerous characters and worlds all melding seamlessly together and paced in just the right way. That said, this is still the same Assassins Creed we've been playing since 2, and it's starting to get a bit stale. All of the workings of the world are just as expected; they're good, but starting to feel a bit well-worn. It doesn't help that the game forces you into the aforementioned tower defense minigame if you want to keep your hard-earned territory. Ezio sits and watches passively as groups of enemies that he'd be entirely capable of fighting waltz into his base and start wrecking shop, choosing to command troops from afar instead of jump into the fray himself. Maybe his old bones just can't take combat like they used to, but it seems out of character.

Rayman Origins

This game oozes manic charm from every pore

Ubisoft's other release this week fares a lot better. It's fair to say that Rayman Origins wasn't on my radar until it started earning nigh-perfect reviews left and right. I went out Friday morning and picked a copy up for myself, and I've been enraptured ever since.

A love letter to classic 2D platforming, Rayman Origins eschews many of the superfluous features the industry has tacked onto its games lately. There's no social integration, there are no leaderboards for the game's numerous levels, and no setpiece moments that drop jaws while simultaneously taking all control away from the player. This is straight up classic gaming wearing a stunningly gorgeous high definition disguise.

Although there are really only a few functions that Rayman can perform (running, jumping, hovering, etc) the game makes such clever use of them that the moveset never feels restrictive. Level design is intelligent, quaint, funny, and at times damn challenging. Rayman's movement is pixel perfect; almost every time I died, I knew that it was my fault as opposed to the fault of the controls. And best yet, it can be played with friends cooperatively, adding a whole new sense of chaos to the proceedings. When four people are running around a gorgeously designed level slapping each other silly, it can be hard to want much more.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary

Whoa, a slightly prettier version of a campaign we all played ten years ago! Let's run out and buy it again!

I'm not the biggest fan of this game's existence. If I want Halo, I'll go play it on my Xbox or my PC. I will not, however, go to the store and pony up forty bucks to get yet another version of the classic game. Some people will, though, and they'll end up with what amounts to a pretty damn solid game. The graphics in this updated port are by no means gorgeous, or even good. They're not even close to Halo 3 or Halo Reach, but still a vast improvement over the original set of textures. It's easy to forget how much graphics have changed in the decade since Halo's release, and if nothing else the Anniversary Edition will remind you of this vast leap. Online play is also included, which was understandably absent in the original Xbox version. If you're really dying to play these maps online, however, you can simply download a map pack for Halo Reach that contains them all. That fact makes this package seem like even more of a ripoff than it already did, since you're essentially paying forty dollars for the single player portion of a game that was released ten years ago. Again, that game is still a pretty good one, though. It goes to show how much games have been streamlined, because level design can occasionally get pretty darn confusing, but otherwise Halo holds up pretty well. I'd just rather play it in its original form than pay for a merely competent looking update.

Saints Row The Third

They had me at "giant wobbly dildo." Which is perhaps a bit telling.

Each Saints Row game has been exponentially nuttier than its predecessor, and The Third continues this tradition with aplomb. Whether you're piloting a hover jet, smacking dudes up with a giant dildo, or having a firefight while freefalling 35,000 feet, this game is absolutely, positively batshit crazy. And it's all the more amazing for it. Whether you're playing a side mission, working through the story missions, or just wandering around in the large city of Steelport, chances are shit is popping off all around you. This game was seemingly designed to perpetuate mayhem at every turn, whether it's in the floaty car physics, the exaggerated ragdoll, or the fact that you can get in a giant fighter jet that shoots lasers at any one of your numerous bases. The possibilities for fun are only limited by your imagination. Read more about why I loved Saints Row The Third in my review.

Need For Speed The Run

Linear or not, this is still kinda cool

I actually enjoyed the demo of this game that EA released on Xbox Live a few weeks back, so I was a little surprised when the final product didn't quite live up to my newly inflated expectations. I didn't dislike it quite as much as Jeff seemed to, but I can still appreciate where he's coming from. This game is linear, even in comparison to other racing games, which is pretty impressive given that the entire genre revolves around driving down a preset line. Diverting from that path in The Run in search of shortcuts can lead to disastrous results, as your car will most likely be picked up and set back on course a few seconds behind its initial position. Only the shortcuts that are clearly marked by the developers are allowed to be taken. And don't even get me started on the collisions. Some objects your car can plow right through, while others stop it dead in its tracks, and it can be really difficult to tell which obstacles fall into which category. Some objects, like telephone poles, fall in the middle of that venn diagram, with some yielding to the force of your car with others crumpling it. Still, despite these issues, I had fun with The Run's short campaign. There were a few intense moments, such as the avalanche that has been featured heavily in the trailers, and the cars generally controlled well enough to deliver a constant feeling of adrenaline. It may be linear, but The Run knows how to execute a satisfying setpiece, and that counts for something.

Jurassic Park

Dr. Harding longs to one day be a real boy

As a child, I was enraptured by Jurassic Park's lifelike dinosaurs and the breathless sense of fear and adventure that permeated every second of their screen time. Perhaps it was this nostalgia that informed my unfortunate decision to purchase this dreadful game on Steam when it released. Telltale may be taking flak for the now-infamous Jeep incident, but the stilted animations, lousy controls, and cheesy dialogue of this game deserve no less attention. I had hoped that the Heavy Rain influenced mechanics would pay off in a heavier investment in the characters and world. In that game, the control scheme worked because of its consistency and because of the impactful nature of those button presses; one screw-up, and your character could be dead for the rest of the game. Jurassic Park lacks this gravitas, and replaces it with cheese so rancid you could smell it miles away. I appreciate the company trying to get outside its comfort zone with something a little more serious, but it's obvious that they have little experience writing serious dialogue, as the entire script is filled with groan-inducing lines. These lines are recited by characters who couldn't look more wooden if they were made of the stuff, dead-eyed automatons that lack any of the convincing nuance of Heavy Rain's cast. Thanks to issues like these I wouldn't have cared if any of them were offed anyway, but the game imparts no such consequence to slow players. Instead, failed button presses simply send players back to a checkpoint. A final nail in the game's coffin, those controls have no consistency to them and feel completely unnecessary to the type of game Telltale was trying to make. It's like they played Heavy Rain, wished they had come up with it themselves, and made some half-assed ripoff with dinosaurs to hurt their bruised egos. Quantic Dream's game was a stunning example of how to do a modern adventure game with a real sense of consequence; Telltale seems to have imparted all the wrong lessons from that game, resulting in a product that feels cheap, derivative, and above all, boring.