No, wait. It isn’t. However, it is just as exciting due to a strong lead character.
“Darksiders II” is a wonderful (but a bit buggy) action-adventure, role-playing game putting you in the starring role of Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Death is upset with how his brother, War, is being treated at the hands of the Creators for War’s role in the demise of humanity (as seen in “Darksiders”). So Death comes up with a plan to resurrect humans on Earth and prove his brother was tricked.
To do this, Death must travel to various realms, engage in quests for creatures that should be able to do these things for themselves, and struggle against physical and psychological attacks by those who want revenge.
Death looks like a mix between a heavy metal guitarist and a modernized version of Skeletor from the Masters of the Universe cartoon, but Michael Wincott is superb as his voice. He gives the Grim Reaper the right amount of attitude and gravitas while still portraying humor when needed. This blend gives Death a splendid personality that players should be able to identify with easily and enjoy throughout the game.
Combat is straightforward hack and slash with twin scythes acting as his main weapons. A single button activates the scythes while secondary weapons (axes, maces, specialty weapons) use to a second button. Fighting is a button mashing frenzy of combos and whirling weapons.
Non-player characters will offer training in the form of special attacks. Some of the attacks are simple enough to use with repeated button pushing. Others are more complicated, requiring a shoulder button push while moving the directional joystick in a certain direction and pressing another button. The effects in combat can be devastating and visceral.
Death can also unleash different types of damage depending on his weapon choices. Different damage (cold, for example) can have a greater impact on particular types of enemies (fire enemies). There are also possessed weapons that grow stronger when other gear is “sacrificed” to increase its power.
He also gains Reaper energy during combat, allowing him to transform into true form of the Grim Reaper, complete with hooded cape and huge scythe. During this mode, his damage is increased, but the transformation only lasts a few moments before he reverts to his normal self.
Because it is also a role-playing game, Death can level up by earning experience points for completing quests and slaying foes. Spending skill points for leveling up in one of two talent trees offers protection from harm or the ability to call forth allies to harm your opponents. Summoning ghouls and sending them at my foes turned out to be a very nice buy with my skill points, especially when I added fire damage, which caused them to explode when killed.
Wrath energy fuels those talents, much like mana in other RPGs for magic. This resource can be gathered from fallen foes or discovered inside bottles stored in chests. Some weapon abilities can also increase the rate of Wrath gathered from dead enemies, so pay particular attention to those bonuses if you plan to utilize your skills during combat.
Death also has two companions available during his travels, a death horse and a crow. Despair, his horse, allows him to truly become one of the Four Horsemen and cover vast distances with ease. Despair does have a “charge” ability, dealing damage to anyone in his path. Dust, his crow, helps players stay on their quest paths. By showing Death the way, Dust flies to the quest points, perches on nearby areas of interest or leads the Grim Reaper to easier ways around obstacles. The bird has no combat abilities and stays high above any fighting.
To prove his brother’s innocence, Death must traverse through different realms between heaven and hell. The different worlds offer many quests and opportunities to increase levels and loot. Despair will help you get around the landscape, but Fast Travel allows you to leave a marker in a dungeon so you can easily return when you want. Be warned: only one Fast Travel marker can be used at a time, which means traveling from dungeon to dungeon and back again is not easy.
Each realm is beautifully rendered and unique to a specific theme for that world. Character movements are fluid and natural while some facial animations can be a bit jumpy at times. The personalities of the inhabitants come through on occasion, but it is hard to empathize with them as you jump from quest to quest. Although, one character in particular earned my distain very nicely and I was glad to see Death vocalize that emotion as well.
The dungeons are concentrated battles broken up by puzzle scenarios to progress to the end boss fight. There is a lot of wall walking, rail shimmying and growth climbing to get over obstacles. Some areas require some back tracking to accomplish your mission, so find a dungeon map in one of the many chests to help you out.
However, while there are no loading screens per se, the scene will freeze while the next scene loads, causing a weird pause in the normally flowing action. This doesn’t happen for long, but it does happen more often than I’d like in an RPG game.
There is also an arena called The Crucible, which offers wave after wave of enemies. It plays out like a game show. Beat levels of foes and win a prize. You can keep it or risk it to battle more foes for potentially a bigger prize. Risk versus reward. How confident are you in your fighting skills?
For all its button-mashy fun, the game was surprisingly buggy during play. Boss battles with enemies as large as mountains would sometimes result in Death being inside the enemy before “teleporting” out, leaving me confused about which direction I was facing and what I needed to hit. Audio glitches would wipe out entire scenes of dialog. There was more than one instance when my controls ceased working and access to my skills went away. The game also completely seized up three different times on the Xbox 360 version.
“Darksiders II” tells a great story with a strong lead character and visually appealing combat. The game is expansive with some side missions and collectables to drive you beyond the main story. Puzzles will challenge your brain as much as the plethora of foes will task your button dexterity.
While your thoughts may wander to that other character with the chained swords at times, Death plays a strong role in driving the action and engaging the player to find new ways to slaughter enemies. He never tries to be a sympathetic anti-hero, but he is worth diving into – despite his resemblance to that other guy.
“Darksiders II” is available now in North America and on August 21 in Europe. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, suggestive themes, and violence. It is available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC. This review was done using a provided final copy for the Xbox 360.
“Saints Row: The Third” is an over-the-top, sexually charged romp that reveals some of the most outrageous, funny dialog around.
Everything about this new title, from THQ, in the franchise is not to be taken seriously. The environment, the combat and the characters are all designed to take players on a wild ride of fun and action.
The story picks up with the Saints having conquered all the other gangs in Stilwater and branching out as a media empire. They have their own energy drinks, bobble heads, comic books and more. This just makes them a target for the next crime group who wants what they have.
Players get dumped into a new town, Steelport, with new gangs to assimilate and a new government agency determined to get rid of crime. While the game evokes memories of “Grand Theft Auto” in some pieces, the missions are ultra-violent, outlandish, and filled with enough OMG (oh, my God) moments that the resemblance can be forgiven.
A cell phone acts as the start for all your activities. It shows a map, list of potential missions, upgrades, music choices and more. Get to know your phone because it will guide you throughout the game.
Feel like driving around a high speed with a tiger in your car? You can do that. Rescue hookers from a violent gang? You can do that. Dive out of a plane without a helicopter and hit the ground in a tank? Yep, that too.
There are more than 160 missions to be completed, but the basic story line doesn’t require nearly that many to complete. Many of the missions are repetitive, meaning once you complete it and get credit, you can do the same thing somewhere else to gain more money and raise your level.
Most of the missions involve killing someone, or lots of someones, so the combat is important. It is a shooter game with many weapons choices from dual wielding pistols to calling in targeted air strikes. The combat is solid, but not anything revolutionary. Your character can take quite a beating so don’t flee at the first sign of bullets flying.
The more mayhem you cause, the more respect you gain. Respect is how your character levels up and unlocks bonuses, vehicles and weapon upgrades. And your mayhem isn’t just based on getting around in a car. You’ll also have access to helicopter, jets and tanks to destroy your opponents.
Some missions will end with choices for you. Choose one over another will unlock certain benefits or gameplay while closing off other avenues to you. Some of these choices have far reaching consequences so think for the long term when faced with these dilemmas.
There is a lot of sexuality infused in this game. Prostitution and fetishes abound and are evident in everything from the surrounding to some of the weapons. Many buildings are also dedicated to using sex as a selling tool and players can gain money from buying up those businesses and shops.
Excessive load screens do slow down the pacing of the game. There are too many instances of “complete mission – load screen – cut scene – load screen – go to new mission – load screen – arrive at new mission – load screen.” You get the idea. While the load times for the most part aren’t long, they are annoying in their frequency. Some of the cut scenes or mission exposition moments are only a few seconds long before heading off to another load screen.
The dialog, however, is what really makes this game fun. The interaction between characters is outlandish and hilarious. There are many “she said what?” moments and places where you wish you could rewind for a few seconds just to enjoy what was being said again. It is never too serious and goes well with the entire feel of an action comedy movie.
There is also some star power in this game. Actor Burt Reynolds makes a significant appearance as himself in the game and the lead character does act like a total fanboy around him. Quite funny. Also, Hulk Hogan voices a wrestling character (not much of a stretch) who doesn’t look like the Hulkster, but does have some of his trademark moves.
Oh, and did I mention there are zombies? And a game show that uses the slogan, “Murder Time, Fun Time!”?
Co-op action is drop-in, drop-out so a friend can join in some of the activities. There are also specific co-op missions that are not part of the campaign, offering some variety. And there is a Whored Mode, which is a what you think it is – horde mode involving 30 waves of increasingly difficult prostitutes and it is your job to kill them with some very unusual weapons.
“Saints Row: The Third” doesn’t try to be serious, but plays on excesses in violence, media and government control. It isn’t even close to being realistic and doesn’t pretend to be.
What it does offer is some laughable dialog, high-paced combat, magnificent moments to make you go “wow” and does it all with tongue planted firmly in cheek. It is a great change of pace from the more realistic games out there and will keep players busy for a long time.
“Saints Row: The Third” is now in North America, Europe and Australia. It will be available in Japan on November 18. It is rated M for Mature due to blood and gore, drug references, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual content and strong language. This review was done using a preview copy for the Xbox 360.
“Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine” (Relic Entertainment, THQ) deftly takes its popular tabletop miniatures game and puts it into a video game with gun-blazing, sword-swinging action and a story that flows very well.
Players control Titus, a captain of the Ultramarines, as you and your comrades attempt to battle orks, demons and the forces of Chaos. There are plenty of weapons to satisfy your melee or missile tendencies in battle.
All the action takes place in the third-person point of view, so the field of battle is easily kept in sight at all times. Minor enemies attack en masse and in waves, while tougher enemies usually follow up and rarely have accompaniment.
Boss battles are demanding and chaining together attacks is almost required to conquer the last foe. Players often are accompanied by two other space marines who do contribute to the wholesale slaughter of lesser opponents, but seem to have little effect on boss battles.
Melee weapons can be knives, swords, axes and hammers while ranged weapons start with pistols and go all the way to cannons. Ammunition and grenades can be found strewn around the battlefield to supply whatever weapons you have in your possession.
Combat is interchangeable and offers plenty of advantages to wipe out enemies. Trigger buttons control the ranged weapons while controller buttons activate melee abilities like stun and execution. Performing an execution on a stunned enemy also rewards the player with health.
The hack-and-slash blend makes for an enjoyable fight and really enhances the game. But it is more than just blood and gore (which, incidentally, gets splashed all over your character during the battles then magically disappears after it is all done) that makes “Space Marine” worthy.
The characters sound like they are ripped right from the British Navy, with “left-tenant” instead of lieutenant and the accent of someone hailing from London. Each character has their own feel and motivations, giving personality to even the lowliest speaking characters.
The three main space marines all have their own quirks and idiosyncrasies that makes each distinctly different. They are outfitted in colorful armor that probably would feel right at home in a “World of Warcraft” setting, but with nods to symbols and icons of ancient civilizations.
I found myself listening a little more intently than normal as characters spoke about their trials and tribulations. Small bits of soldier’s lives were revealed and help make the entire experience more immersive.
The story, one of honor, courage and sacrifice, could have readily been ignored or glossed over in an effort to focus more on the combat. However, developers were able to knit together a tale that also includes loss, betrayal and the feeling of omnipotence that make it unique for shooters.
But the single player campaign game felt short and the maps, while beautiful, were very linear and didn’t allow for exploration. The panoramic views and immense weaponry teased at a wide world to be explored and liberated, only to be stifled by rubble and downed machinery at every turn.
The ending, a cliffhanger of sorts, really was a jaw dropper for me. That is a testament to the writers for crafting an interesting (but short) story as well as the developers for making me feel so invested in my characters.
I have never played “Warhammer 40,000” on the tabletop (mainly because I didn’t have the funds to lay out for miniatures), but “Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine” on the console is well worth the investment.
“Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine” is available now for the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. It is rated M for mature due to blood and gore, and intense violence. This review was done playing the single player campaign on the Xbox 360.
The fourth in the series, the game (Volition, THQ, Syfy Games) returns to Mars as different groups vie for control of the red planet. Some want to live on it in an Earth-like atmosphere, while others want to return it to its natural state.
You play as Darius Moore, an engineer/demolitions expert whose family has been battling for the future of people on Mars for years (and many games). Darius’s constant companion is S.A.M., a computer sidekick that helps him navigate his way through terrain both above and below the surface.
S.A.M. also acts as radar to pinpoint enemy locations and help find environmental help during battles. It will tell you the best way to defeat some overwhelming foes using items in the surrounding area.
The game plays as a third-person shooter with a wide array of weapons to choose from. More powerful weapons are discovered as the game progresses, which is good because the enemies get significantly harder along the way.
The typical array of pistols, assault rifles, grenade/rocket launchers, and shotguns can be found, but the most exciting weapon is the singularity cannon. This weapon, which fires a black hole that sucks opponents in before detonating, is visually exciting and extremely powerful to handle hordes of enemies.
Darius can carry four weapons at a time that can be accessed quickly using the D pad buttons. Plenty of ammo crates are found throughout the game and there are locations that allow players to change the four weapons out for others in the weapons locker.
There are also some mechanized weapons – an exo-skeleton with shoulder-mounted missiles, an armored walker and a flying combat unit – that really help clearing out areas in a hurry or handle major infestations of foes.
Weapons can be upgraded at stations as you collect salvage icons found throughout the game. Salvage is the currency used, and more powerful upgrades are unlocked as the action progresses.
And you will need all you can get. In addition to the human forces you’ll be fighting, the main foes are bug-like creatures native to Mars. They range from small, quick, lightly armored bugs to huge, powerful behemoths that will require heavy weapons and good strategy.
The Plague, as they are collectively called, comes in wave after wave throughout the underground tunnels in Mars. It appears they only have one mission – eliminate the humans.
Battles are intense and you’ll need to keep an eye on your backside. The artificial intelligence for the bugs is smart and will use paths to try to outflank or blindside you. You are on your own.
The combat felt extremely balanced and required judicious use of my weapons and ammo, and the surrounding environment to get to the next area. I never really felt like I was overpowering or that the bugs were too strong to get through. But they were challenging and required more than just run-and-gun techniques.
The interplay between Darius and S.A.M. was technical when it needed to be, but also light-hearted and funny during stressful moments. The deadpan delivery of S.A.M. contrasted humorously against the sometime frantic speech of Darius.
Unfortunately, that was really the only connection I felt the characters make during the game. There were other non-player characters, but I never could really care about them.
Sure, they were helpful in getting a mission started or providing tips, but there was really no empathy. Even after one major NPC character dies, I just shrugged it off as if they were just another background soldier.
The graphics are very well done and convey the proper sense of the surrounding areas whether on the planet surface or in the underground tunnels. Characters moved naturally and buildings were destroyed or damaged appropriately from the nearby combat.
Here is where one of the cool features of the game made itself known often. Darius carries a Nano Forge, which allows him to project a force field shell or a force blast, but also repairs damage to stairs and buildings.
This allowed me to use grenades and rocket launchers on bugs that were standing on stairs or catwalks, obliterating everything. Then I could rebuild them to get to the next area. It was also helpful during some fights as I could reconstruct walls to use as cover.
The one drawback depends on how you play your shooters. If you like single player action, you are set. But if you play shooters to dive into multiplayer action, “Red Faction Armageddon” will likely leave you wanting.
There are only two modes of multiplayer action available. Infestation mode allows up to 4 players to cooperate and battle the alien forces. Each player has access to only one Nano Forge ability, so players can combine effects for devastating effects.
Infestation is all about teamwork, but you can try to take on the hoard all by yourself. There are defending missions and survival missions available in this mode.
Ruin mode is dedicated to pure destruction. The object is to destroy as much of the environment as you can in the shortest amount of time.
This is a good way to find out how much damage your weapons can create. There is a challenge mode where players race against the clock and a free play mode that lets you just go crazy explosive on everything you can see.
There are no modes that pit player against player directly or let you control the bugs in a battle against the humans. It is a departure from the normal shooter multiplayer actions.
Despite the multiplayer letdown, “Red Faction Armageddon” is still an outstanding game that is very well represented and balanced. The story flows easily and the plot moves along quickly, but without feeling hurried.
Graphics are believable and flow naturally. The idea of destroying and rebuilding surroundings, while not new, is utilized well in the context of battles.
Combat is fantastic with the proper sense of urgency without feeling overwhelmed. It was also very hard to put down because I wanted to know what was coming up next and how I could beat those bugs.
As one of the most anticipated games of the year, it did not disappoint.
“Red Faction Armageddon” will be available June 7 in North America, and June 10 in Europe, Australia and the UK. It is rated M for Mature 17+ due to blood and gore, strong language, and violence. It can be played on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. This review was done using a retail version of the game for the Xbox 360.