Weekend Bender, September 1-16 Part Two

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. And trust me, when I say every game, I mean EVERY game. 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?

Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad

This dude is totally about to get shot. Duck man, duck!
This dude is totally about to get shot. Duck man, duck!

Man, this game is brutal. There's no targeting reticule and almost no HUD to speak of, meaning you have to freeball a lot of this. You'll have to manually keep track of your ammo count, and one or two shots will end your life easily. There's even some area specific damage when it comes to where your character gets shot, with leg wounds slowing your movement. Make no mistake, this is about as hardcore as competitive PC FPS get. Jumping into the game for the first time presents numerous hurdles to clear, and the online competition won't be particularly forgiving of any lack of experience you might have. A single player "campaign" exists to help newbies get their bearings, but this is largely an online-centric game, and the single player missions barely add up to anything more than bot matches with some context-giving cutscenes interspersed around them. If you're new to the game like I was, though, it's still incredibly helpful to go through some of these tutorial-styled missions before jumping online.

No matter how prepared you feel after the single player, chances are it's not enough. Death comes quickly and brutally online, and oftentimes you won't even be able to see who killed you other than in a brief post-death killcam. It was jarring to jump into Red Orchestra 2 after cutting my teeth on shooters like Call of Duty, Halo, and Battlefield (out of all of these, the PC Battlefield games are most comparable to the Red Orchestra 2 experience) and I quickly found myself frustrated. Taking a step back, it's clear that the mechanics of the game weren't to blame for my frustration, but rather my lack of experience and patience. Sprinting is included, but not recommended, as running around the maps willy-nilly is a surefire way to get killed. Instead, a methodical pace will reward you with a prolonged life and perhaps even some kills, which are intensely satisfying in such brutal context. Red Orchestra 2 may not be the most inviting shooter on the block, but after only a few hours in its harsh world I'm already certain that it will be one of the most rewarding. It's immersive and intense to an extent that most shooters can't touch.

The Gunstringer

Man, this has been a good month for the Kinect. First Rise of Nightmares, (which some people understandably hate, but I kind of adored) now this. The Gunstringer is arguable the best game on the Kinect, as well as one of the gameist... games. If that makes any sense.

You'll manipulate The Gunstringer with your left hand, like a marionette
You'll manipulate The Gunstringer with your left hand, like a marionette

What I mean to say is that this is no shovelware minigame collection or weight loss tool. This is a flat out, gamey-ass game. It's still pretty casual feeling in that it doesn't require a ton of skill to paint the targets with your hand, but the delicate balance of shooting with your right hand and platforming with your left, along with the occasional quick time event that will require you to punch at the screen, was enough to keep me engaged throughout its short runtime. It honestly never uses the Kinect in as interesting a way as Rise of Nightmares so frequently did, but also it's a hell of a lot more playable than that game, and the simple mechanics remain fun. The real entertainment inherent in The Gunstringer, as is so often the case with Twisted Pixel games, lies in the humor and the colorful cast of characters. There's a real DIY feel to the level designs that I found intensely charming, from the toilet paper tube trees to the popsicle stick bridges. It's a funny, charming, and totally bizarre game in a way that only Twisted Pixel can pull off, and although the mechanics are simple, it shouldn't be written off like so many other Kinect games because of this. If you're going to pick up a Kinect anytime soon, this one is the surefire best choice for your first game on the platform.

Oh, and the Wavy Tubeman Chronicles DLC is effing sick!

White Knight Chronicles II

The game might suck, but the art direction is still top notch
The game might suck, but the art direction is still top notch

White Knight Chronicles II is basically more of the same, and if you look at my review of the first game, you can probably guess that's not a very good thing. The story is just as insipid as it was last time, the gameplay only slightly less lethargic (the cooldowns for the different attacks have been reduced and character weight now plays a larger role in combat, but it still lacks the thrills of Tales of Vesperia/tales-of-vesperia/61-20836/ or the strategy of Final Fantasy/final-fantasy/62-194/) and the player avatar still just sits around awkwardly during the campaign, never serving a real purpose until you venture online. It's not necessarily a bad game, but it's dreadfully dull. Online is still the place to be if you intend to play WKCII, and the player count has been upped from 4 to 6, making the adventures feel more epic than they ever have before. Little touches like these will please fans of the original game, but everyone else should stay away. It's a real shame, because this series had so much potential, and with just a bit more tweaking to the gameplay, and a large overhaul to campaign structure, it could be fantastic. Here's to hoping that a third installment gets everything right.

Renegade Ops

This level of chaos is pretty much typical in the online mode
This level of chaos is pretty much typical in the online mode

I blasted my way through most of this fun little shooter in one sitting today, and I'm already excited to go back for some more. Avalanche, the same guys responsible for last year's gleefully insane Just Cause 2, have brought their A-game to their first XBLA/PSN title. You'll choose from several characters, each with their own special powers, and blast your way through thousands of terrorists on a tropical island paradise. The excrement really hits the proverbial fan when you bring in more players; with four people playing together online, the action happening onscreen is nearly indiscernible. And you know what? That's alright with me. Sometimes you just need to kick back, turn off your brain for a while and blow shit up with your friends.

A tiny bit of mental stimulation is provided by the game's skill trees, which are unlocked as you kill more enemies and complete more objectives. As you level up (which happens with enough frequency to keep you feeling good, yet scarcely enough to still feel rewarding when it happens) you'll unlock new slots to activate your powers, and more powers to put into said slots. Couple this with a damage multiplier, which builds as you damage enemies and multiplies itself every time you kill an enemy, and you've got a fun and addictive little download on your hands. It's not the most cerebral game, but somehow it's still intensely rewarding and a ton of fun, especially with some friends. This one comes highly recommended to those who like their action big and dumb.

Full review

Radiant Silvergun

This classic was perhaps a little before my time, and honestly the whole "bullet hell" sub-genre has never been my cup of tea, but I can't quite see why it's been the recipient of so much reverence over the years. It's basically just a top down shooter in which you have a ton of different weapons available to you, all mapped to the different buttons of the 360 controller. Sure, it's developed by Treasure, so if that means anything to you then, hey... that's a thing. Still, it's a nice looking conversion, and the upscaled graphics look nice without sacrificing the style of the original polygons. If bullet hell is your kind of thing, this certainly beats paying 200 bucks for a cart on eBay.

Red Bull X-Fighters

This is one of those games that tells you pretty much everything you need to know right in the title. Namely, this is a fucking Red Bull video game, don't fucking touch it. It's ugly and controls poorly, and it feels like the developers were just trying to capitalize on any love that might still be lingering out there for Trials HD.

Serious Sam Double D

I can't remember whether or not this game came out in September, so I'm gonna go ahead and assume that it did. I do however remember the delirious fun that I had blasting my way through Sam's first 2D adventure (hence the "Double D" in the title.) The big gimmick here is "gun stacking" a feature that, as the name implies, literally allows you to stack multiple guns on top of each other and fire them all at the same time. You can have, for example, a tommy gun, shotgun, grenade launcher, and chainsaw all stacked up on top of each other and all blasting away at the same time with the press of a button. It gets crazier than that, too. You'll find multiples of the same weapon, and you'll quickly unlock the ability to stack even more guns on top of each other, so it's perfectly feasible to have, say, six chainsaws all stacked on top of each other.

I dare you to makes sense of this. I DARE YOU
I dare you to makes sense of this. I DARE YOU

The absurdity doesn't end there, though. Not even close. Enemies are perhaps even stranger than ever, as you'll face off against Serious Sam staples like the kamikaze units, alongside stacks of sentient pancakes with numerous vuvuzuelas sticking out of their syrupy folds and other absurdist creatures. The enemy design alone had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Then there's the story, or what mascarades as a story, as Sam infiltrates essentially random areas in search of... you know what, I still don't know what he was doing or why. There are cutscenes, but they serve more as a vehicle for jokes than as a method of advancing the story, which clearly wasn't a concern for the developers. That's okay, though, because attempting to shoehorn a plot into a game so thick with nonsense would only be to the detriment of the absurdist stylings of the level and enemy design. The biggest flaw with Double D is easily rectified by plugging in a controller; this is, at the moment anyway, a PC-only release, but controlling it with a mouse and keyboard can feel a bit awkward. Using a 360 controller is far preferable. I said it above in the Renegade Ops blurb, and I'll say it again: if you like big, dumb action, you've come to the right place.

Alright, well I think that's it for this week. If I missed anything, let me know in the comments and I'll try to get an opinion out there as soon as possible. Look for full reviews of most of the games that I covered in this and the last post coming soon.