Apple's former-CEO and more recreated in Namco Bandai's latest fighter.
February 10, 2012
One of the fun features included in Soulcalibur V
is the ability to create your own characters. While many of you may
have been spending time re-creating fighters in your image, Japanese
blog Esuteru took it upon itself to place a number of recognizable characters and people into Namco Bandai's latest fighter.
Steve Jobs, the late co-founder and former CEO of Apple, was among the
most notable creations, sporting his signature black turtle neck, jeans
and gray sneakers. The character's designer was even able to make Jobs'
signature weapon an apple.
The comic book style violence of The Darkness II
doesn't merely shock, but delivers a sense of empowerment. Series
protagonist Jackie Estacado rampages through his enemies, ripping them
limb from limb in a bloody dance. The way he bounds through
environments, tossing parking meters, car doors and more this way and
that, utilizing it to flaunt his destructive abilities is almost artful.
The combat in The Darkness II is vastly superior to that of its
predecessor, but the story takes time to warm up. As an origin story,
the original game was immediately interesting, as we got to know Jackie
as he was introduced to the titular Darkness. In the new game, though,
Jackie controls the Darkness, much as he controls his mob family. He's
managed to keep his powers in check for some time following the events
of the first game, but an attack on his organization by unknown forces
brings out the monster inside. Now Jackie must confront not only the
creature he's become, but also the painful memories of losing Jenny, the
love of his life.
The story feels a bit lazy at times, especially since it copies plot
devices straight from the original game, but comes into its own by the
end. Jackie's struggle to deal with Jenny's death is touching, reminding
us that even "evil" people like him feel love and loss. He was
irrevocably harmed by Jenny's death, and the scenes between them in the
second game are touching, making The Darkness II feel like a more
personal story, especially compared to most other shooters. The story of
Jackie's battle with evil forces remains important, but it always comes
back to Jenny and his inner conflict, something that's easy to identify
and empathize with.
Slower, more story-focused scenes help The Darkness II's pacing, giving
it some comparatively less intense moments before ramping it back up
with the next epic fight. With Jackie's demon powers he has four arms
at his disposal: two human two demonic. His extra limbs allow him to
dual wield guns with his human limbs, while simultaneously using his
beastly extremities to maim opponents with slashes and toss around
pieces of the environment. Because of Jackie's extra limbs and the
options they afford every encounter becomes more exciting, a time when
you aren't necessarily worried about how you're going to survive, but
more about how you're going to have the most fun dismembering all who
stand against you.
Finding new ways to kill people is entertaining enough, but you're also
enticed into experimenting thanks to The Darkness II's experience
system. Kill a guy with bullets and you'll gain 10 experience, but if
you manage to wing him and then rip him into pieces with your demon arms
you'll get three times as much. Experience matters, too, as it grants
Jackie access to more powers, which help reinvigorate combat as the
enemies get more challenging. You'll always have staple moves that you
come back to time and again throughout the campaign, but the array of
powers Jackie has make fighting feel as fun and inspiring as being a kid
digging through a toy box..
Despite its strengths, polish issues mar the campaign. On top of
potential game ending bugs, broken animations, enemies falling through
the floor and other minor issues occur frequently. More noticeably,
enemies are often clones of one another, which breaks the experience a
bit and makes some would-be nerve-racking moments feel silly. Also a bit
frustrating are the occasional frame-rate issues in multiplayer during
the more intense firefights. None of the issues made it feel unplayable,
but did make The Darkness II feel unfinished.
The Darkness II's multiplayer extends the
narrative and the life of the game well after the relatively short
campaign. The multiplayer isn't like the original's -- a forced-in and
boring competitive multiplayer -- but instead ties directly into the
story. You play as one of four Darkness-powered assassins in Jackie's
employ, taking on missions that his normal henchmen can't accomplish.
The missions generally tie into parts of the story, like kidnapping a
guy that Jackie asks for during the campaign, giving them a narrative
component that makes them more significant. Even the missions that don't
link to the campaign's story are worthwhile, as they give you and your
buddies more fights to test your skills on. Most importantly, though,
they're fun. They may not be the types of things that grow into an
addiction, but the multiplayer modes provide hours of extra gameplay,
and give you a good reason to play with friends.
some problems with polish and a story that takes time to develop into
something great, The Darkness II ends up as an early treat in the new
year. The narrative elements help the pacing considerably, breaking up
Jackie’s engaging and brutal murderfests. It may not end up being the
best shooter of 2012, but it could very well be the one that makes you
feel the most powerful.
Who said that epic and expansive fantasy RPGs had to have subpar
gameplay? For as much as I absolutely adore games like Fallout 3, Mass
Effect 2 and Skyrim, gameplay in those titles simply didn't live up to
the amazing standards set by their superb settings, narratives and quest
structures. In Fallout 3, VATS was simply an excuse for its inherently
clumsy combat, and for as much awe as Skyrim instilled in me, in-game
fighting is sloppy. Good news, then, that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has come along.
Reckoning proves once and for all that great role-playing experiences
don't have to sacrifice what matters most in any game -- gameplay --
while still remaining true to all of the minutiae that makes the best
RPGs great. And while Reckoning certainly has its own flaws, I still
found myself utterly satisfied with my experience and anxious to parlay
the good news to fellow fans of the western RPG. Reckoning certainly
isn't a game you should sleep on. Quite the contrary: Amalur demands
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning's story, crafted by prolific New York
Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore, rests at the heart of the
experience. At the beginning of the game, your character -- who you
fully craft and customize throughout your adventure -- finds himself (or
herself) revived from the grips of death via an arcane contraption
known as the Well of Souls. This Lazarus-like event has messed with the
threads of fate weaving in and out of Amalur's events and inhabitants,
leaving you, the player, without a predestined course. Naturally, this
lack of an almost Calvinist-like spiritual course gives you incredible
power and potential, something that those around you seek to take
advantage of and, at times, exploit for their own gain.
Such a plot has incredible depth, and while all of the fictional names,
locations and dense lore can be a bit daunting to keep up with, fantasy
fans will find plenty to love. Better yet, exploring the story leads you
in turn to exploring the expansive world of Amalur. Split into
continents and territories, Amalur's world doesn't present itself quite
as non-linearly as the likes of Fallout 3 or Skyrim, but you won't be
tethered to isolated locations a la Mass Effect, either. Amalur is very
much non-linear in its own right, and you can explore as much as you'd
like (so long as you can survive). But everything is presented in a much
more contained, coherent and orderly manner.
Lending to the feeling of exploration, Reckoning's high quality (yet
inconsistent) art style will give you a true feeling of discovering the
unique and unknown. Environments are beautiful, and locations feel truly
different from one another. You'll work your way from ancient forests
to wide open plains, from sandy deserts to murky swamps. Amalur exudes
topographical and geological diversity. Unfortunately, characters and
monsters alike don't puite live up to the lofty heights set by your
surroundings, though everything still mixes together nicely.
Reckoning's sparse musical accompaniment gets the job done, but the
game's real sonic feat is the high quality of the voice acting.
Characters, from major NPCs to people who give you miscellaneous side
quests, portray their parts with a consistent level of polish. Unlike
some other titles in the genre, I didn't constantly find myself noting
"Wow, that guy sounds a whole lot like the guy I talked to in that other
town 10 minutes ago." Dialogue is lengthy, detailed and fleshed-out. It
delivers a whole lot of punch on behalf of the story.
One fear many gamers have about lengthy, non-linear RPGs like Reckoning
is how the game will run. Many times, developers use the excuse of a
game's size and scope to forghve technical shortcomings, which I
actually find acceptable because QA testing an open-world sandbox is no
easy feat. And while Kingdoms of Amalur
has its own technical shortcomings -- occasional pop-in, framerate dips
during heated action and a somewhat unimpressive draw distance -- the
game never once froze on me the entire time I played it. Whether on my
test system or retail PS3s, after nearly 50 hours with the game, Amalur
never locked-up on me a single time. I never got stuck in the
environment, I never got sealed into or out of an area, and I never had
to save my game over and over again out of fear of those kinds of things
But enough about all of that. Reckoning's strongest point is its
gameplay, but what does that mean, exactly? It means, quite simply, that
I've never played an action-oriented RPG that plays better. Amalur's
arcade-like, action-heavy slant to combat made me feel like I wasn't
playing a rigid RPG at all, a refreshing and most unexpected experience
for me. With a plethora of weapons and armor at your disposal, you can
create any number of amalgams to best suit your play style. Battles
happen in realtime, and with a combination of attacking with primary and
secondary weapons, parrying and rolling out of the way, raising your
shield to protect yourself and flinging spells at your foes, the utterly
satisfying combat of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning simply can't be
The heart and soul of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning's combat persists
throughout the entire game, and since you're able to fully customize
your character's strengths and loadout on the fly (due to your fate, or
lack thereof), you're never tied down to decisions you make. Amalur's
emphasis on fate and destiny meant that while my character throughout my
adventure was a sword-wielding warrior with a roguish slant, I could
pay characters known as Fateweavers to wipe my slate clean and try
again. Awarded points earned after leveling-up can be put into three
categories -- Might, Finesse and Sorcery -- giving you perks, added
abilities and pimped-out stats associated with the skills of a warrior,
thief or mage, respectively.
Mix it all up, and you can be a mage who loves wielding a hammer or a
pick-pocketing thief inclined to the dark arts of magic. And it all
translates beautifully in battle. Combine this combat with Amalur's
incredibly thorough questing system -- which involves a main story you
could wrap up in 25 hours or so -- and you'll find one meaty adventure.
And don't let that 25 hour number fool you. There are five guild arcs
that could take five or 10 hours each, and side quests and ancillary
exploration that could easily eat up at least another 100 hours of your
In other words, if you're looking for bang
for your buck, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has it in droves. Then
again, if you're looking for an immersive adventure backed by combat
that doesn't only put other RPGs to shame, but in fact many action
games, too, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning has that as well.
Closing Comments :
come right out and say it: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning will be
discussed when Game of the Year 2012 rolls around. It has brought the
conversation about what combat can be in the role-playing genre to the
forefront and sets the bar exceptionally high for its future
contemporaries in the genre. But don't let its competition-shaming
gameplay lull you into think that that's all this game has to offer,
because that's just gloss on an overall package that's bound to impress
the RPG faithful.
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning isn't the perfect game. Its random
technical hiccups and inconsistent art style certainly holds it back
from even higher levels of greatness. But no matter what you're looking
for, whether it be amazing gameplay, immersive storytelling or perhaps a
riveting new world to explore as you fully customize and re-customize
your character at will, Reckoning has it all. And after I jump back into
my own game to clean up all of the optional stuff I didn't do, I sense
I'll want even more. And yes, so will you.
Twisted Metal includes an online multiplayer mode
designed to facilitate an e-sport experience in which skilled players
can compete in a balanced arena. Even though matches burst at the seams
with flaming metal hulls and outlandish weapons, the development team
has worked to ensure that this Twisted Metal packs the best multiplayer
the series has ever had. But you still have plenty of options if you
want to wreck shop solo and face off against massive boss characters.
Unlike past Twisted Metal games, the latest Twisted Metal divides its
story between just a small selection of characters, including Sweet
Tooth, Dollface, and Mr. Grimm. During Sweet Tooth's campaign,
everyone's favorite demonic clown runs into the Brothers Grimm -- the
first major boss. An intimidating encounter, considering the "boss" is
actually two house-stomping monster trucks equipped with a small
nation's worth of weapons.
This battle will heighten blood pressures within moments. Both trucks
unleash devastating ordnance onto the stage causing buildings to erupt
and cars to swerve in response. The trucks also release a shockwave
attack that requires a well-timed jump to avoid.
Just like the many video game bosses of the past, defeating one of the
trucks will send the other into a fervor, making it a much more
difficult opponent to finish off. Whittle it down to low enough health
and the truck deploys additional armor that protect it from your
weapons. Guess what that means? You need to drive Sweet Tooth's ride
directly under the truck and give your gunner enough time to leap onto
the undercarriage and plant a bomb to blow off the armor. Precarious,
and equally fun.
If the battle against the Brothers Grimm is any indication of the
quality of the Twisted Metal boss fights, color me intrigued. And for
those of you eager for a real car combat challenge, crank up the
difficulty on this one and punish yourself with a truly maniacal fight.