Brütal Legend

If you are a fan of heavy metal music, Jack Black, or Tim Schafer, then Brütal Legend may be a good choice for you. If you consider yourself none of the above, then this probably isn’t the game for you, as it is the charm of the people behind the game that make this one worth playing.

From the mind of Tim Schafer (the man responsible for the oft-overlooked but highly regarded Psychonauts) and featuring the talents of such celebrities as Jack Black, Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford, Lemmy Kilmister, and Rob Halford, Brütal Legend presents the player a GTA-like gaming experience in a heavy-metal-themed world.

I only played Psychonauts briefly when I had my GameTap membership, so I cannot make many comparisons between the two games. What I remember of Psychnauts are its highly stylized visuals and character design. This carries over to Brütal Legend, but in a more subtle manner. Instead of going for a realistic look, everyone in the game is a characature, sporting exaggerated features. This fits the game well, as a lot of the humor would be lost without the stylized look.

The cast chosen for this game really enhances it . . . as long as you are familiar with music icons like Ozzy and Lemmy. Jack Black does a good job voicing the protagonist, and he even stars in a video clip in the beginning in which he leads the player into a record shop to show him (or her) the Brütal Legend album (available for a low $6.66). Many of the musicians who appear in the game play characters modeled after themselves, at least visually. You’ll recognize Ozzy as the Guardian of Metal before he ever utters a word and Lemmy as the Kill Master. If you’re not a fan of the musicians, then this probably won’t be a draw, but for those of us who grew up with some of this music, it adds to the overall experience.

The gameplay in Brütal Legend is similar to other sandbox games. You are free to roam the world, either on foot or in your hot rod (the Deuce), and you are free to start side missions or story missions whenever you choose. There are also many hidden items to find, so if you are the type of person who likes scouring a world for these (turns out that I am not), you will have plenty to keep you occupied. Side missions involve racing a demon, hunting animals, helping a bombadier, and ambushing enemies. The side missions are a way to earn money (called fire tributes) that you can spend at Motor Forges for enhanced weapons, attacks, and Deuce upgrades. You can also earn fire tributes from main missions, special jumps in your car, and helping wandering allies defeat their enemies. While the missions are fun, for the most part, controlling troops during large-scale battles seemed awkward a lot of the time. Also, it felt at times as if the designers had too much to include and tried to cram it all in. For example, I believe one of my most powerful allies, the Rock Crusher was only available during the last battle or two, which really didn’t give me much of an opportunity to play with it and strategize on how to best deploy it in battle.

In addition to the sometimes disappointing battles, I felt that the story in the game started to falter as it progressed. At first, the game seems light-hearted and fun, but it seems to take itself too seriously later on and becomes concerned with themes of betrayal, etc. Also, it explains how Eddie was transported to the game world and how his history is entwined in the struggle between the humans and the demons. Frankly, I didn’t care how Eddie was transported to the game world. This is a game that is about humor and absurdity, and attempting to explain everything and tie it together seemed to slow the game down for me. It’s like telling me that there are microorganisms that give some people power over the Force. It kills the magic a bit.

My criticisms aside, I did enjoy Brütal Legend, and definitely got my money’s worth from it (I picked it up used from GameFly for $9.99). If you are a fan of heavy metal music, Jack Black, or Tim Schafer, then Brütal Legend may be a good choice for you. If you consider yourself none of the above, then this probably isn’t the game for you, as it is the charm of the people behind the game that make this one worth playing.

Recommended

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Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories

It may not quite live up to the standards set by GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas, but Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is still an enjoyable game worth at least a playthrough for those enjoying the GTA games or sandbox games in general.

When it comes to gaming, I tend to be a late-comer, only discovering games long after their release. Part of this is due to the fact that I already have so many games sitting on my shelves waiting to be played that I have difficulty justifying paying $60 for a new release, especially when I consider how many old games that money will buy. Part of the reason is also that I prefer to wait and see if a game lives up to its hype, which tends not to die down for a while, as those eagerly awaiting a game tend to speak highly of it following its release, even if it doesn’t quite meet expectations (I’ve been guilty of this myself, as I subconsciously forgave a game of flaws because it was so highly anticipated). So, when I first heard about Grand Theft Auto III way back in 2001 (strangely enough, from a girl I was seeing at the time), I noted it, but I didn’t immediately check it out.

When Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was released, and I kept reading how highly regarded that game was, I finally gave in and made it my first Grand Theft Auto experience. I found that the hype was warranted, and I had a blast playing the game, listening to the ’80s tunes and noting all the references to my youth. After beating Vice City, I soon picked up Grand Theft Auto III, and though it did not reach the level of its sequel, I still had a lot of fun with it and was officially one of the many Grand Theft Auto fans. You can imagine my disappointment when I heard of a brand new Grand Theft Auto game that was being released only on the PSP, a system I had no intention of buying.

Fortunately, a little more than a year-and-a-half after the PSP release, Rockstar released Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories for the Playstation 2. No longer did I have to debate whether or not a PSP was worth purchasing, as I could play the game on my beloved PS2. Though I did not immediately buy it, I eventually added it to my collection among GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas.

And finally, I played the game.

I am not sure what I had been expecting. I knew that this game had been initially made for the PSP, a system that couldn’t really match the type of graphics, etc., of the PS2, but my inital reaction to the game was more or less, “meh.” It played like the other GTA games, but the textures seemed so plain compared to the others. Also, the game just seemed more limited after playing the games made for the PS2. And then there was the writing and voice acting, which was certainly not on par with the PS2 releases. After playing through several missions, I set the game aside and moved on to other titles.

Recently, I decided to revisit GTA: LCS, and I’m glad that I did. I found my earlier criticisms were still valid, but that didn’t mean that the game couldn’t be fun. The more I got into the game, the more I enjoyed it. I ignored the fact that the graphics weren’t as detailed. I accepted that I wouldn’t be flying around in planes or helicopters. I tolerated the bad voice acting and writing (which actually seemed to get better later in the game). Without constantly comparing this game to its PS2 predecessors, I found it to be another fun title in the series, and I was disappointed once I realized I had played through the final story mission, since the game had grown on me.

It may not quite live up to the standards set by GTA III, Vice City, and San Andreas, but Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is still an enjoyable game worth at least a playthrough for those enjoying the GTA games or sandbox games in general. It would have been nice had a little more polish been added when the port was made from the PSP, but the overall experience is still fun and worthwhile.

Recommended

God of War

God of War is not only one of the best titles you will find for the Playstation 2, but it is one of the best action games ever . . . It’s one of those very rare games that you may find yourself popping in now and then five or ten years down the road just for the thrill of unleashing a little Spartan mayhem.

You may be asking yourself at this moment, do we really need yet another God of War review? That’s a valid question. This game arrived in 2005 with numerous reviews exclaiming what an outstanding game it is. As gamers got their hands on it, they realized that it wasn’t all hype and that Sony had produced an outstanding game that provided a rich experience with its visuals, sound, control, story, and cinematics. If you own a PS2, it’s quite likely you’ve played this game before. It’s quite possible it has become a beloved entry in your PS2 collection. So, why am I reviewing this game now, years after its release when the game has already been covered so extensively?

Two reasons—1) I played it for the first time this weekend (yes, I’m very behind the times) and 2) I want to share my experience, as it differs a little from what you may have read before.

Let’s start with what you already know—God of War is a good game. Actually, it’s a pretty fantastic game. In fact, it passed my lip test for video games. When I am really into a game and caught up in the action, I have a habit of sucking the inside of my bottom lip between my teeth. It’s something I do without thinking, and I don’t realize I’ve done it until after I’m done playing and I notice that my bottom lip is sore. After spending a day playing through this game, my bottom lip was aching quite a bit and even sported a few teeth marks from when the action got intense.

You’ve heard what is great about this game if you’ve read other reviews, but I’ll recap here. First off, you wield twin blades with ferocity and slice through enemies with combos of 30+ hits with tight, fluid controls. You can launch enemies in the air and continue to slice them as they descend to earth, or if you’re feeling especially merciless, you can grab them and rip them apart with your bare hands. There are also times when you’ll be prompted to press certain buttons by onscreen prompts that hover above an enemy’s head. Only by following these prompts will you be able to dispatch the larger boss enemies, such as the hydra and the armored minotaur. They will also appear on your normal foes, and by pressing the buttons or rotating the left analog stick as prompted, you will release more or better orbs for Kratos to absorb. These orbs will replenish health and magic or they can be used to upgrade your weapons and magic (a system that is almost identical to Onimusha).

I think what draws me to this game even more than the gameplay is the presentation. I cannot think of another game offhand that matches the overall presentation of God of War. The visuals are outstanding for the PS2 (especially if you have component cables and are outputting in progressive mode), and the way the scenes are put together is really breathtaking at times. The composition of certain scenes makes the game feel more like a big-budget movie than a video game. Add to that a good story, excellent voice acting, and interesting characters, and you have one of the few games that really deserves to be described as epic.

Even considering all that is outstanding about this game, God of War is not a perfect, though some reviewers may lead to you believe otherwise. One of the flaws I found with the game is some of the platforming action. In all likelihood, you will find yourself dying more from missed jumps than from enemy attacks. I don’t mind this to an extent, but there were a couple of areas in which I got a little frustrated. Perhaps the platforming parts were added to change up gameplay and prevent the battles from becoming boring, but I felt they really slowed down the game. Plus, this game feels epic on so many levels that having your character die from missing a moving platform or falling from a wooden beam just doesn’t seem to fit. This isn’t a gymnastics game and Kratos looks nothing like Kerri Strug. There was no need to put in parts to test his balance. Another frustrating part was climbing rotating towers in Hades. From a visual standpoint, the towers with their jutting blades worked and reminded me a little of the rotating pillars in the Hellraiser movies. What was truly hellish about the towers was the frustration they caused. Even grazing a blade sends Kratos plummeting from the tower to the ground below, and when climbing, there is no way to move faster other than to jump up, which may send you directly into one of the blades. To me, it was one of the least enjoyable parts of the game and had me wanting to launch my controller across the room more than once.

Even noting these frustrations, this game really does live up to most of the hype. God of War is not only one of the best titles you will find for the Playstation 2, but it is one of the best action games ever. If you are one of the uninitiated, as I was until this past weekend, then you should definitely add God of War to your must play list. It’s one of those very rare games that you may find yourself popping in now and then five or ten years down the road just for the thrill of unleashing a little Spartan mayhem.

Highly recommended

Note: the video below consists of the final two movies sequences of the game and may contain spoilers.

Silent Hill 0rigins

It ranks among the least of the Silent Hill games and is not a particularly remarkable entry into the survival horror genre, but Silent Hill fans will still be able to enjoy this game and what it has to offer. Those who are not will probably find their time and money spent better elsewhere.

If it weren’t for the movie Jacob’s Ladder, my interest in gaming may have never been rekindled. I had been gaming off and on since the days of the Atari 2600, the 16-bit era being my most active. I continued to purchase systems beyond the reign of the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, but I added very few games to my libraries. After I spent over $400 for a Sony Playstation 2, a memory card, an extra controller, and a game, only to find that I played the system infrequently, I began to wonder if I had, in fact, outgrown gaming.

How does Jacob’s Ladder fit into all this? Well, when I saw the movie in the 1990s, it had a huge effect on me. Not only was it genuinely terrifying (I still find myself turning my head for Elizabeth Peña’s “Anybody home?” scene), but it was the first movie I remember seeing that had a twist ending, and it caught me entirely off guard. Also, the look of the movie was much different than anything I had witnessed, with the twitching heads and the fleshy, disturbing creatures. So, when I discovered that the Silent Hill series was influenced greatly by Jacob’s Ladder, I decided to give gaming another chance.

Like Jacob’s Ladder, Silent Hill provided me with a new experience. I began with the first game, and I can honestly say that there are few times in my life I’ve been as terrified as I was playing that game. I loved it. In short time, I had added Silent Hill 2 and 3 to my collection and eagerly awaited the release of Silent Hill 4. In the interim, I began checking out more and more titles, and my game library began to grow once again.

Obviously, I hold the Silent Hill series in high regard, so I cannot help but have a bias when it comes to these games. Sometimes, that bias may cause me to overlook flaws. That bias can also cause me to judge a Silent Hill game to harshly because of the expectations I bring.

Enter Silent Hill 0rigins.

When this title was announced, I found myself somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, a new Silent Hill game was being released—one that would further unfold the mystery of Alessa and the town. On the other hand, the game was only being released on the PSP (which I had no intention of buying), plus I had not forgotten my disappointment with Silent Hill 4. The screens that were being released did not look very promising, either. It seemed that this would not be a game that would match the quality of the first three.

When it was announced that the game would be ported to the PS2, I knew that I would buy it, regardless of my reservations. My hopes weren’t high, but it was still Silent Hill. Perhaps due to my reservations, though, I could not get myself interested in the game after bringing it home. While it was similar to the first three games, there were differences. For one, I had issues with the developers deciding to make melee weapons break. It’s not that this was a horrible idea, but whatever realism this might have introduced was overshadowed when a sturdy weapon like a sledgehammer would be rendered useless after fighting one or two enemies. Plus, since weapons broke, I relied less on them, and soon my inventory was overflowing with melee weapons, making finding a particular one when I did need to use it a very big chore.

Another issue I had with the game was the character models. This game used many of the characters we met in Silent Hill 1 . . . except they looked entirely different. The worst is Lisa, who also acts much, much differently than she did in Silent Hill 1. Gone is the scared, pretty nurse who comes to a tragic end. Instead we get . . . well, a character who does not really garner much sympathy from the player. With her flirtatious and unbalanced nature, she seems more like Maria from Silent Hill 2 than the frightened nurse Harry runs across in Silent Hill 1. Given that Lisa is a fan favorite, it will be disappointing to many that her presentation is so off in this game.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a difficult time getting into this game, up until I forced myself to play through it so I could write this review. What I discovered as I spent more time with the game is that it actually isn’t as bad as what I was making it out to be. Certainly, it doesn’t match the first three games in the series, but it does do a good job of capturing much of the look of those games and expanding on the story of Alessa, the cult, and the town. Also, I began to realize that part of the reason I wasn’t having fun was because I was being too stingy with my resources. I think the fact that the melee weapons broke made me want to avoid using any at all, which made the game more cumbersome to play (though it did win me the brawler achievement for taking out so many enemies with my bare hands). When I finally finished the game, I still had tons of health supplies, ammo, and melee weapons. I could have made the experience more enjoyable if I hadn’t held back so much.

So, what can I ultimately say about this game? Well, it’s Silent Hill. Sure, there may be certain departures, but it is still a Silent Hill game and actually feels more like a part of the series than Silent Hill 4. It ranks among the least of the Silent Hill games and is not a particularly remarkable entry into the survival horror genre, but Silent Hill fans will still be able to enjoy this game and what it has to offer. Those who are not will probably find their time and money spent better elsewhere.

Recommended, but only for Silent Hill fans

Note: the video below is of the battle with the Butcher. Not really much here in terms of spoilers, but you may not want to watch if you’ve yet to fight this battle.

Super Bust-a-Move

If you have a PS2, a good friend, and you like puzzle games, you might want to give Super Bust-a-Move a chance. Otherwise, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of PS2 games out there more deserving of your time.

During my undergraduate studies, I had a roommate who had taught in Korea, and while there, he had bought numerous pirated games that he could play on his modded Playstation. He had silver disc after silver disc of copied games such as Final Fantasy 7, Intelligent Qube, Tekken 3, and a little puzzle game called Puzzle Bobble. Though I had played Tetris for hours on my original Game Boy, I had never really been a fan of puzzle games, so I really wasn’t going to give this little bubble-bursting game much of a chance. After trying it out, though, I became hooked, and I soon found myself challenging my roommates and even their parents to go head-to-head against me.

Not long after purchasing my Playstation 2, I came across a game in a Best Buy that looked very much like the Puzzle Bobble game I had liked so much. What was strange is that this game was called Super Bust-a-Move. To me, Bust a Move was another one of my roommate’s copied games in which you faced off against the computer or another player in a dance competition—it had nothing to do with bubbles. I soon learned, though, that this was indeed a next-gen version of Puzzle Bobble, which for some reason had picked up the title Bust-a-Move when brought to the U.S. (by the way, Bust a Move changed its name to Bust a Groove due to Puzzle Bobble claiming that name in America).

Remembering the fun I had with Puzzle Bobble, I purchased the game, making it the second addition to my PS2 library (the first being DOA: Hardcore). Though I thought it would be fun to play on my own, my primary reason for buying it was because I believed it would appeal to a girl I was seeing at the time and would be a game we could play together. Strangely, it seems like we never did manage to do so. Oh well, at least I could enjoy a little solo play. This was Super Bust-a-Move. As much as I enjoyed the version I played on the original Playstation, this one had to be better, right?

Sadly, it was not. Something seemed to be lacking. The problem is, I found it hard to tell what that something was.

Perhaps nostalgia intervened and made the first game seem more fun. I’m not sure. The problem is, I found this game rather boring, and it remained in my library collecting dust until I decided to give it another chance recently. Unfortunately, my impression of the game didn’t change.

The game features more characters, different play modes, and enhanced graphics over Puzzle Bobble. The new characters are visually interesting and affect battles against the CPU or another player, but I didn’t really find their addition to contribute much to the overall game. In fact, there were times—such as when Pukadon farts after destroying a group of bubbles—that made me wish I were only playing with Bub and Bob (the two dinosaurs of Bubble Bobble fame). There are three play modes: 1P Puzzle, CPU Battle, and 2P Battle. The 1P Puzzle game has different areas, each marked with a letter. After one area is defeated, you have the choice of choosing between two paths that lead to different areas. To me, this game seemed to drag on and really did not have enough variety to keep me interested. The CPU Battle mode was better, but the matches seemed to pass too quickly to really be intense. The 2P Battles are likely to be where this game will be the most fun, and that mode made justify replaying this game where I feel that the others really don’t. The graphics in this game really vary. The characters are all simple-yet-appealing cartoons, while the backgrounds can range from simple designs to forks and the Statue of Liberty rising out of the ocean (what?).

I really find it hard to recommend this game, even though I believe that there is fun to be had with the 2P Battle mode. If you have a PS2, a good friend, and you like puzzle games, you might want to give Super Bust-a-Move a chance. Otherwise, there are dozens (if not hundreds) of PS2 games out there more deserving of your time.

Not recommended

Spider-Man

Spider-Man can be a very fun experience, and the game really does make you feel more like the hero more than any game that preceded it. If you have a Playstation (or a Nintendo 64 or Sega Dreamcast), this is a game worth trying out, and if you’re a Spidey fan, then you likely won’t be disappointed with a purchase.

When this game was released in 2000, it must have made a lot of web-heads very, very happy. Spider-Man had been a video game veteran, having appeared on home consoles since the day of the Atari 2600, but he had always been confined to side-scrolling, two-dimensional platform hopping. With the transition to 3-D came a greater freedom of movement, and the possibility that developers could finally create an experience that captured what it was to be Spider-Man. With this game, that possibility almost became a reality.

Why “almost” you ask? What it comes down to is the control in this game. While the control isn’t horrible, there are issues that will lead to frustration. Precise movements in this game can be very difficult, primarily due to the touchy camera. It is difficult to rotate slightly to the left or right, which you will often find yourself doing to prepare to swing or to launch a web at an enemy. Whenever you do attempt to rotate, your camera will swing around much more than you want. Also, there is no button to center your camera behind you. While it will automatically do this if you take a step forward, there are times when you just want to quickly recenter it without having to move. You may find yourself annoyed with crawling on walls and ceilings as well, since your controls will not reorient to which direction you are facing until you stop moving. As you progress through the game, though, you will become accustomed to this and may not find it a problem at all after playing the game for a while.

Control issues aside, there is much to like about Spider-Man. Many recognizable faces from the comics can be found here, such as Doctor Octopus, Carnage, Venom, and Rhino. Also, some of your fellow superheroes will show up as well, like Black Cat, the Human Torch, and Captain America. All of the characters are rendered faithfully, and for the most part, the voice acting is good as well. Venom’s voice really seemed appropriate to me, which was a big plus, given that he is a favorite character from the comic book (and I know I am in no way alone in this).

Spider-Man’s abilities in the game also seem fitting. Not surprisingly, he can tangle enemies in webbing and can do his signature web swinging, but he can also create a web shield, can create gloves out of webbing that cause more damage, and can shoot balls of webbing that inflict damage. The developers did a good job of animating Spider-Man as well, which definitely helps the player lose himself in the character—something that was harder to do with the stiffer movements of Spidey’s two-dimensional incarnations.

The game has unlockable content, such as comic book covers, character profiles and—probably the most interesting—new character costumes. While some of the changes these costumes bring are purely cosmetic, some will actually have an impact on the game, such as Spidey’s symbiote costume. Though I found the game maddening at times after missing jump after jump, the prospect of playing through again in the black Spidey suit makes me want to go ahead and fire up the Playstation now for another run-through.

While playing this game, I kept waffling on whether to recommend it or not. Now that I’ve completed it, I believe it worthy of a recommendation, regardless of what reservations I may have had. Spider-Man can be a very fun experience, and the game really does make you feel more like the hero more than any game that preceded it. If you have a Playstation (or a Nintendo 64 or Sega Dreamcast), this is a game worth trying out, and if you’re a Spidey fan, then you likely won’t be disappointed with a purchase.

Recommended