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Press Start: August 2008 -- Oh, My Aching Thumbs!

In this month's column, Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla visits the world of digital downloads with 1942: Joint Strike, Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 and Rocketmen: Axis of Evil.

The past few months I've been focusing on specific games for specific platforms. Well, this time we're focusing on one of the fastest-growing types of game there is, digital download games. If you don't know what that is, then what the hell is wrong with you allow me to explain. Using any of the current gen systems, a gamer can connect their console to the Internet and digitally purchase entire games from the services that each console offers for a small fee. They're normally small games, but that doesn't mean they are bad by any means.

I took a look at a few shooter games that have all been, coincidently, developed by Capcom. Capcom seems to be the current expert on digital download games. The widespread love for this game genre by the masses of fanboys across the world gives us a solid excuse to goof around and play some games! We got some pretty interesting titles in this month's episode of Press Start!

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1942: Joint Strike is a top-down shooter made completely in 3D art, with a brand new game engine at its core. All images © Capcom.

1942: Joint Strike for the Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN; Publisher: Capcom; Developer: Backbone Entertainment; Release Date: July 23, 2008; ESRB Rating: E10+ for everyone; Genre: shooter; Players: 1-3; Support: N/A; Online: 1-3 players

I want to say that this is "an oldie but a goodie," but technically it's not. The 1942 series has been around since the early '80s; the top-down shooter series, like all of Capcom's other games, first debuted in the arcades, where it devoured millions of my quarters. Later additions to the series came along, such as 1943 and 1943: Kai. Even later came 1941: Counter Attack which, of course, was a prequel that had better features than any of the other games in the series, but made you think, "If they had these things in 1941, why the hell didn't they have them in 1942?" Needless to say, the arcade versions were nearly impossible unless you had about $200 worth of quarters in your pocket; the only ones that were even approachable were the NES versions.

Nowadays, for about 40 quarters, one can download the newest addition to the series, 1942: Joint Strike. Like its predecessors, Joint Strike is a top-down shooter made completely in 3D art, with a brand new game engine at its core. Joint Strike takes all of the best features of the previous 194X games and filters out most of the worst features. For one thing, Joint Strike has three different weapons to pick up during gameplay: a laser, a machine gun and a spread shot. Each weapon can be powered up by picking up the same weapon twice. The charge shot from 1941 has returned, but instead of being a swarm of missiles, the charge shot is a huge fiery blast straight forward. The missiles are also a part of your arsenal, just in a different way; missiles can now be shot with a single button press, but now there is a limit to have many can be shot.

Of course, what 1942 game would be complete without the single attack that kills everything on the screen? The M-Crash is back, but now it's just called a bomb. The only thing that hasn't returned is the loop maneuver to dodge bullets and planes; oh sure, your fighter plane loops before using a bomb, but that's just for show. Fighting off wave after wave of enemies only to have to fight a gigantic boss at the end of the level is definitely what you can expect from Joint Strike, but it's not as frustratingly impossible as before; Joint Strike feels more like a game of real skill, rather than a game where you're praying that you don't get hit by the rain of bullets that fills 96 percent of the screen!

The true nature of this game shows forth when you play it with a friend; hop onto Xbox LIVE or PSN and you will find that you can pull off a maneuver called a "Joint Strike." All that means is that, instead of having a limited number of missiles, you now have a limited number of cooperative attacks, such as connecting a bolt of lightning between the two planes that destroys anything it touches, or dropping a huge bomb onto any enemies between the planes. The whole game feels great; it's hard, but nothing feels too out of reach (except for the final boss; he's a real MFer!).

The first ever Capcom game, Vulgus, was also a top-down shooter and, back in the '80s, no other studio made them better. It seems that Capcom hasn't lost its touch; the best thing about Joint Strike is that it is seriously addictive and that is what I always say makes an awesome game.

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There are three main weapons to use in Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3: primary fire, the outstandingly powerful grenade, and the very limited, but very powerful, M-CRASH attack. 

Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 for the Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN; Publisher: Capcom; Developer: Backbone Entertainment; Release Date: June 11, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: shooter; Players: 1-3; Support: N/A; Online: 1-3 players

Capcom is just cranking them out on Xbox LIVE and PSN! I mean, heck, almost all of their games at this year's E3 were "digital download" games made for Xbox LIVE, PSN and WiiWare. I took some time to take a good, hard look at Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. First of all, this is a continuation of a classic Capcom game called Commando, which is one of the first games released by Capcom back in the '80s. Now if you do a little bit of history, you might be pissed to find out that Capcom did indeed release a Commando 1 and 3, but you won't find anything about a Commando 2. That's because Commando was called Senjo no Okami in Japan; Senjo no Okami 2 was indeed released, but only in Japan, until it was finally released in American arcades under the new American name Mercs.

Like Commando and Mercs, Commando 3 is a top-down shooter. Unlike Commando and Mercs, Commando 3 allows the user to move in one direction and shoot in another direction using the respective analog sticks. This is now a very common control scheme among "digital download" games such as the Geometry Wars series. Commando 3 is fully 3D during gameplay and uses still images and text to tell the story of the new soldiers, who are known as Jackals. Commando 3 revolves around multiplayer gaming, allowing up to three players to jump into a match, either on the same Xbox 360 or over Xbox LIVE.

There are three main weapons to use in Commando 3: the primary fire, which is controlled aimed and fired with the right analog stick; the outstandingly powerful grenade, whose distance can be controlled by how long the right trigger is pulled; and the very limited, but very powerful, M-CRASH attack. M-CRASH attacks become more powerful when playing with a friend. There are many different items to pick up along the way, such as the POW box that upgrades the power of your current weapon, ammunition crates that change your weapon type, and other items like health, extra grenades and additional M-CRASHes.

Players can also take control of many different vehicles in the game, including turrets, jeeps and tanks. Vehicles are where it gets really fun because the game gives achievement points for running over enemies and taking full control of a tank with three players. The only problem with Commando 3 is that if your character comes too close to a destroyed vehicle, he will not be able to fire for some reason. Also, in some levels there will be small particles floating around in the foreground that are hard to distinguish from enemy fire; as a result, you will take damage and not even know it.

This game actually reminds me of the old Ikari Warriors games more than it reminds me of the Commando games. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 more than warrants its purchase price; it's a fantastic multiplayer game that has that play-it-anytime feel. Blasting things is extremely satisfying and it has just a dash of oldschool flavor. Wolf of the Battlefield may not be a deep adventure, but it sure is a lot of fun.

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Rocketmen: Axis of Evil is an adventure that takes place in outer space and all participants play through a customized character. 

Rocketmen: Axis of Evil for the Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN; Publisher: Capcom; Developer: A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games ; Release Date: March 5, 2008; ESRB Rating: E10+ for everyone; Genre: shooter; Players: 1-4; Support: N/A; Online: 1-4 players

Here we have yet another top-down shooter by Capcom. So far they have been pretty enticing on all fronts; but every once in a while, after so many "hits," you're bound to get a "miss." Rocketmen: Axis of Evil for Xbox LIVE Arcade and PSN is an adventure that takes place in outer space with you playing through the adventures of a customized character. Right when you start up the game, you will be required to create a unique character that can be male or female. The create-a-character option is pretty limited; players choose their character's race, type, skin color, hair color and the color of part of their uniform... and that's it.

Once the game gets cracking, players are provided with witty dialogue to go along with the action. The dialogue actually isn't that bad; it's funny a lot of the time, but you'll probably soon find yourself pressing the A button to bypass it. Players move with the left analog stick and shoot with the right analog stick. The game starts you off with a tiny little piece-of-crap pistol and has you pick up more weapons along the way. The only problem with that is that, if you pick up a more powerful weapon, a time limit begins to drain it and, once it is finished, you lose the weapon. Now, if losing the weapon meant depleting the ammo, then that would be understandable; but the weapon just disappears after a certain amount of time, whether you choose to shoot the weapon or not. That's just ridiculous.

Another problem with Rocketmen is the fact that there is no real way to pass a level without taking some kind of damage. You can't avoid it! The enemies not only shoot at where you are when you are standing still, but, when you're moving, they shoot at where you are going to be. Now that's actually pretty good AI and that kind of enemy fire can be avoided with some tricky maneuvering if it's just one or two enemies, but the problem is that you will rarely ever come across just one or two guys; sometimes the screen is flooded with enemies and, when all of them are shooting at where you are going to be, then it makes it impossible to avoid the bullets! Oh, and the character moves slowly too (angry yet?).

Along the way, you pick up many different shiny atoms that can then be redeemed for a very limited variety of gear. The highest-priced gear is so damn expensive that, after fighting through a level that takes half an hour to beat and then only getting 100 points toward the purchase of a 1200-point suit of armor, you just don't care anymore. You'll probably beat the damn game before you get enough points to buy the stupid suit.

But the biggest problem in Rocketmen is that you will constantly be fighting with the camera throughout the game. The camera just keeps on moving, so you're completely at its mercy, oftentimes being pushd into enemy fire and away from valuable power-ups. The game has a button that attracts items to you, but it's absolutely worthless; the items move towards you at the slowest speed possible for a grand total of two seconds.

I'm not saying Rocketmen is a complete waste; it actually does have potential to be really good. But for now it has to be seen as no more than a valiant effort by Capcom and A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games.

Peter Rizkalla is a lifelong enthusiast of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in videogame companies such as THQ, Namco and 2K Games and has won several awards for his animated short films. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.

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