By spilledmilkfactory 2 Comments
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?
A bit of a late entry this week, as I've had a whole lot on my plate aside from gaming, but here at last is this week's recap. Aside from the much-anticipated Arkham City, this week saw few big releases. Dig a little deeper though, and a few quality releases surface that should make any gamer happy, even those jaded Batman-hating few who aren't totally enthralled by Rocksteady's latest.
Without a doubt, Rocksteady's Batman Arkham City is this week's (if not this month's) most anticipated release, and for good reason. The prequel, Arkham Asylum, was an easy Game of the Year contender, and its sequel only ups the ante. Although technically an open world game in that Batman can wander freely around Arkham City, this game is still largely a linear experience, much in the vein of RAGE or Mafia II. Little side missions, such as hostage rescues or collectible grabs, can be taken on in the world, but they rarely last more than 30 seconds and then you'll be back in the action. This focus is a good thing, though, as the game's story features several incredible setpiece moments, complemented by some surprising twists and turns. If there was much more to the open world, chances are most players would ignore it anyway, as the story is just too compelling to walk away from.
Gameplay is largely the same as it was last time, with most of the few additions serving to complement the game's expanded world. Gliding and grappling have been expanded and empowered, allowing for longer, faster glides. The entire city can be crossed without touching the ground, a feat which is sure to satisfy when performed successfully. Inside of the actual levels, this is basically Arkham Asylum. That's not to undersell the game's magnificent flow, though. Combat is still superbly smooth, traversal is still easy and fun, and the gadgets are even more numerous, allowing for dozens of options for confronting enemies. The most satisfying part of the game by far remains the stealth gameplay and its accompanying fear mechanics, though. Gliding around a room picking off thugs one by one, listening to the panicked screams of your remaining prey, feels really empowering. Arkham City is not a perfect game, but you'd be hard-pressed to find any significant flaws with this stunning package. This is a game that can be played for dozens of hours if you really want to see it all, and each bit of content is so compelling I can't see myself stopping until I have.
Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken
This week had a number of wild card releases. Arkham City was essentially guaranteed to be awesome, but the rest of the games on this list... well, they really could've gone either way. Luckily for PS3 owners, the PSN-exclusive Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken went the way of fucking amazing. I guess a game about a brainwashed chicken taking down an evil penguin regime was pretty much destined to please me on a certain level, but Rocketbirds goes above and beyond what I'd expect from a game of this caliber. Originally a Flash-based browser game, Rocketbirds was given a high definition makeover for its PSN release, and man does it look great. Like a Saturday morning cartoon, but soaked in buckets of blood and filtered through a wryly humorous lens, this game moves and looks incredibly well.
Unfortunately, despite the wonderful concept, great artwork, and slick humor, Rocketbirds doesn't totally live up to its potential. The gameplay is a bit too easy, except in a few spots where the difficulty randomly spikes seemingly for no reason other than to make up for the lack of difficulty in other sections, and the fact that you can only shoot straight in front of you, and can't shoot while jumping, serves to make the game feel overly stiff and clunky. There's a great idea behind Rocketbird, and a lot of humor and stunning 2D animation go a long way towards realizing the potential of that absurd idea, but the gameplay could be just a little bit more flexible. Regardless of minor gameplay qualms, Rocketbirds still feels like a steal at twelve bucks. Fans of 2D action and silly, B-movie styled plotlines could do a lot worse than this bizarre download.
When I saw that Dungeon Defenders had been released on XBLA for fifteen bucks, I was skeptical to say the least. Wasn't this game just released on iOS and Android for like, 5 dollars a few months back? Having never played the handheld version, and having found the Quick Look from last week quite boring, I went into Dungeon Defenders expecting a wholly unsatisfying experience. And that's exactly what I got. Gameplay is generally too slowly paced to be fun, with attacks coming out slow and movement overly sluggish. Placing turrets to destroy oncoming waves of enemies while holding off the stragglers yourself is fun enough, but the gameplay is too slow to really offer any enjoyment, and the recently released Orcs Must Die does a much better job of balancing action and strategy with satisfying core mechanics.
Luckily, I found jumping into multiplayer to be redeeming, if only because it's far more fun to strategize with a friend than it is to try to cover the whole arena by yourself. It's still not exactly what I'd call great fun, and people looking to play with friends would do better with the next game on the list, but adding more people still drags the game up from boring slog to mildly amusing controlled chaos. Fans of the fairly new tower defense/action hybrid genre could do a lot better for the asking price, but for those bored with the rest of this week's releases and flush with like minded friends, Dungeon Defenders is kind of okay.
Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One is our last game of the week, and also the hardest to judge. Made with four player co-operative play in mind, All 4 One can also be tackled with one intrepid player accompanied by an AI partner. Ideally, this would allow the game to be fun for anywhere from one lonesome player to a whole couch-full of friends. In reality, it makes for a game that's kind of broken no matter how many players you bring in.
By yourself, this is a brainless, thrill-less slog through repetitive levels with a brain dead AI partner. With the full four players, it's complete chaos. The HUD is a mess, and the screen is obscured by near-constant explosions. It's almost impossible to tell what's going on in just about any given battle. Two players seems to be the sweet spot, a comfortable mixture of chaos and control, but even then the gameplay remains the least satisfying of any Ratchet games, including even the spinoff games for the PSP. Instead of the highly polished shooting and platforming that we've come to expect, Insomniac has delivered only the most rudimentary of each mechanic, simplifying both to the point of stagnation. The only thing that hasn't been simplified is the weapon wheel, which no longer freezes the action when it pops up, and which only appears in a tiny window above the head of the player who opened it. With multiple people, each with their weapon wheel open, simply choosing a gun to fire is disorienting, and obscures the view of the action. The game attempts to encourage some form of strategic thinking by granting bonuses when all players are using the same gun, but this inevitably leads to everyone using the same gun all the time. It gets boring fast. And that's not even taking into consideration how dull the weapons are this time around, with the grenade launcher being the clear choice for strongest gun.
With two players, All 4 One has its moments of quality. The writing is still funny, and the graphics are pretty great. But Ratchet was never meant to be a co-operative multiplayer game, and Insomniac's attempts at replicating Nintendo's successes with the New Super Mario Bros. franchise prove that beyond a shadow of a doubt.
EDIT: I forgot about Okabu for PSN! So, without further ado, here's
Okabu has been a long time coming, but it finally releases this week. This environmentally friendly game casts players as crazy sky whale cloud... creatures, and encourages conservation through objectives such as recycling and cleaning. Sounds boring, right? Well, as games such as Mario Sunshine and Chibi Robo have proven, lending a helping hand to the virtual environment doesn't have to be boring. In this case, gorgeous graphics and slippery-yet-smooth controls contribute to an overall fun and relaxing vibe. Unfortunately, the game never rises above a relaxing diversion from this week's other chaotic releases, and playing by yourself quickly grows dull. Luckily, there is an option for two players to tackle the objectives together, and zooming around with a fellow sky whale cloud creature is, as usual, more entertaining than going it alone. The game does little to compensate for the addition of a second player, though, as objective typically only require one player to complete. Plus, only one player at a time can get a power up, meaning that one player is relegated to leader while the other naturally falls into the category of follower. This makes the game annoying to play with other gamers, but well-suited to play with less experienced players who may be intrigued by the pretty graphics and environmentally friendly messages. I, for example, had a great time breezing through the game with my girlfriend over a few lazy days. If you're looking for a relaxing experience to share with a less gaming-inclined friend or relative, Okabu fits the bill nicely.