Press Start: January 2009 -- The Year of Awesomeness

Jeff Okun tells VFXWorld how a modern technological approach informed the retelling of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

This, ladies and gentlemen, marks the two-year birthday of AWN's "Press Start" review article. This year we decided to kick off the New Year with a variety of games that reek of sheer awesomeness. Games that just scream "epic," or at least they have a long-running fan base that screams "epic." Right now is actually the calm after the storm; game developers that actually have a brain and that wanted to make a profit have already released their big babies and have made themselves a nice hefty wad from the holiday rush. The American economy might be worth less than road kill right now but the game industry (despite layoffs and the outstanding troubles that Midway has been facing, for instance) is still doing better than any other form of business.

Back to the main idea of this article, when you think of an epic game what names come to mind? It can't just be one good game because you just can't build up a fan base with one game; it has to be a sequel of a long running series... a good, long-running series not like the moronic Leisure Suit Larry games! And there is where we find our Catch-22: we're looking at games with a long running series behind them but, at the same time, this last holiday season we have seen more completely new, independent properties come out of game studios than ever before. Now it does seem pretty hard to find a good series installment with all these new series' running around, but it isn't impossible and we have damn good variety in this month's edition of "Press Start"!

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is the newest addition to the ridiculously long running Street Fighter series. Technically, this is a remake of Super Turbo but with all the new changes and additions, it qualifies as a stand-alone

Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix for Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network; Publisher: Capcom; Developer: Backbone Entertainment; Release Date: November 25, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: fighting; Players: 1-2; Support: N/A; Online: 2 player matches

Sho-Ryu-Ken! There has never, ever been a fighting game franchise as popular or as spectacular as the Street Fighter series! Now that might seem like a pretty ballsy statement but think about it for a minute, how many different fighting game franchises can you think of? Of those different franchises, how many iterations were made, including sequels and spin-offs? More than 20 different versions of Street Fighter titles have been released in the U.S. alone and that doesn't even include remakes and re-releases like Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition and Super Street Fighter II: Turbo Revival. The only fighting game franchise that even comes close is the Mortal Kombat series with about 12 different Mortal Kombat releases in the U.S.

Real Men Use Dhalsim

The newest addition to the ridiculously long running Street Fighter series is -- now this is a mouthful -- Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix. Technically, HD Remix is a remake of Super Turbo but with all the new changes and additions to this version it qualifies as a stand-alone Street Fighter title. HD Remix contains the original 17 fighters found in Super Turbo and all of the environments, but the first thing you notice is are the new visuals: every character and environment has been dramatically re-imagined. "Who created all these new visuals for HD Remix?" you might ask; UDON Ent., the same guys that first released the extremely beautiful Street Fighter comic series a few years back. All of the characters and environments now have a hand-drawn style along with a seriously improved framerate. The reason that the letters HD are in the title is because everything is a much higher resolution than before, the character models alone have been re-drawn into a resolution that is more than nine times higher than the original Super Turbo resolution. Illustrator Long Vo was the lead designer of all of HD Remix's new visual content. Every character now looks more prominent and some look even more muscular -- as if Zangief couldn't get anymore "swole" than he already is! The visuals are kind of like a hybrid of American comic art and Japanese anime.

Many of the moves in HD Remix have been slightly tweaked to make the fighting experience more enjoyable. One addition is that the damage system has finally been balanced when fighting against a computer opponent. © Capcom.

All of the background music has been replaced with remixed versions of the original themes. Right off the bat that might offend some seriously hardcore Street Fighter fans but take a step back and a deep breath... the music was actually made by the fans! Almost all of the music in HD Remix has been pulled from the developer-friendly site OverClocked ReMix. Musically talented fans have been uploading their remixed versions of classic game theme songs onto OCRemix.org for years and not just Street Fighter themes. The classic sound effects are the only things that have not been changed. You'll still feel that nostalgic shiver shoot up your spine when you hear Ryu let out a Ha-Do-Ken!

The Final Atomic Buster -- Now With More Destruction

Now on to the gameplay: This is what makes HD Remix a stand-alone title. Many of the moves in HD Remix have been slightly tweaked to make the fighting experience more enjoyable. For example; Blanka's hop can now be done by pressing a punch and kick button of the same strength instead of hitting all three kick buttons. Vega's wall bounce can be canceled in mid-air which can be used to bait an opponent into an opening. Guile's flash kick now travels farther forward which gives him a better advantage against airborne opponents but balances out by leaving him a lot more open if he misses. That's just the beginning; there are so many more adjustments that make the game just all around more fun and less frustrating than before. One of the greatest things about HD Remix is that the damage system has finally been balanced when fighting against a computer opponent! Unlike Super Turbo -- or as I like to call it, "The Quarter Gobbler" -- it now doesn't take 30 hits anymore to beat the computer when the computer could knock you out in three hits. Taking and giving damage against the computer is now as balanced as fighting an actual human opponent.

Right about now is the time when I tell you how bad or how good the game is and if you should get it or not, but chances are you've already downloaded it! In less than a month, the damn thing has sold more than 250,000 copies and has destroyed both day-one and week-one records across Xbox LIVE and PSN. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is one of the few games that have reached absolute fighting perfection. It's great that so many people now have it so it'll never be a problem finding an opponent but unfortunately you will also find some cheap dirt-bags online as well. Either way, HD Remix still kicks butt.

Fallout 3 proves that being a PC gamer has its perks.

Fallout 3 for the Sony PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC; Publisher: Bethesda Softworks; Developer: Bethesda Softworks; Release Date: October 28, 2008; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: action / RPG; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

It's Christmas at Ground Zero

Being a PC gamer has its perks. A PC gamer gets to enjoy the release of many mainstream titles at a much cheaper price than the console versions and often gets to enjoy those titles with much better graphics than their console clones. Not only that but PC gamers also enjoy the added accuracy and speed of using a mouse and keyboard when playing a first-person shooter. What really sparks a PC gamer's fire though are those epic, few-and-far-between games that bring innovation and outstanding gameplay to the PC gaming community; games like Diablo, Starcraft and Spore. That's why many PC gamers haven't strayed too far from the PC herd. Another long and respected franchise among PC gamers is the Fallout series -- well... all except the Brotherhood of Steel games on consoles.

Help Me Find Your Other Eye

Fallout 3 was released to a very welcoming PC community along with an Xbox 360 and PS3 version as well for the hardcore console gamers. The same story goes as the others; there's been widespread nuclear destruction and the only way to get away from the radiation and live safely is to live in an underground vault. You play as custom, male or female character that you create and name. Your mother dies giving birth to you and your father raises you alone. You play as a baby all the way up to a full grown adult and your whole life you are told that you are special, you are told to listen to the Overseer and you are also told that morbid yet famous motto among vault dwellers: "We're born in the vault and we'll die in the vault." Well, one day dear old dad decides to take a stroll right out the front door and into the nuclear wastelands. The Overseer blows his freakn' stack; he up and kills your father's assistant and now he sends out a few goons to take care of you. Your only option is to escape the vault like your dad. Once you are out of the vault you have many options: you can look for clues to find your dad and find out why he left the vault without saying anything to you or you can forget that dear old dad ever even existed and live life your way.

Combat in Fallout 3 is just awesome. The view can be switched from first or third person and it plays just like any shooter but with the added advantage of using the targeting device Pip-Boy 3000. © Betheseda Softworks.

Graphically, everything looks real good; the all around style is more of a realistic design with great looking character models, environments and outstanding lip-sync animations. Nothing too innovative about the style but it starts getting interesting once you meet up with mutants. The gameplay is very different from the first two Fallout games, which were turn-based strategy RPGs. Fallout 3 is like a very sophisticated Fable with first-person shooter controls. You can go anywhere, do anything, be good, be bad and kill almost anyone. The character level-up system is your typical "gain experience, level up and build attributes" fare with the inclusion of a list of perks that can be accessed as your character upgrades to higher levels. The perks allow you to acquire many obscure advantages like expertise with big or small guns, doing extra damage to the opposite sex or turning your opponent into a flying glob of flesh pudding when you shoot them. As you talk to many different characters throughout the game, you'll find that they need help in many areas and helping them will often make them so grateful that they reward you but you also have to be on your toes because some characters will also try to take advantage of you.

Combat in Fallout 3 is just awesome. The view can be switched from first or third person and it plays just like any shooter but with the added advantage of using a targeting device called the Pip-Boy 3000. Using the Pip-Boy freezes time and allows you to target multiple parts of an enemy and multiple enemies for a series of attacks. It also tells you how successful you will be when you try to attack each part. Using the Pip-Boy depletes Action Points and once they're gone you have to wait a while until they replenish. As you venture through the wastes you will also be able to find and build more powerful armor and weapons which you are definitely going to need especially when you come across huge enemies like the Behemoth. The combat difficulty is balanced pretty fairly and builds gradually as you progress.

Mutant Turtles...? I Wish!

You will spend a lot of your time talking to people and doing them favors to get money and equipment all while leveling up your character through combat. The only thing about Fallout 3 that feels a little anti-climactic is that your character finishes leveling-up at level 20. The Action Points also feel a little arbitrary; for example, in Fallout 3 players can use an unlimited amount of Stim Packs and other items during combat to restore health without using any Action Points where in previous Fallout titles the use of Stim Packs was limited. This makes for less frustrating combat but it also leaves much to be desired for the more strategic gamer. Fallout 3 shines in many areas and caters to the kind of gamer that wants a long and deep adventure. It's definitely not for the run-and-gun gamer so you need to casually take your time to enjoy the ride but don't ever call Fallout 3 a casual game other wise you might get chewed out by one of the Fallout faithful.

Gamers

Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff for the Nintendo DS; Publisher: Tecmo; Developer: Tecmo; Release Date: November 18, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: football; Players: 1-2; Support: N/A; Online: 2 player online games

Get Off Me Son!

I can't even count how many times I have chosen to play a game of Tecmo Bowl rather than play a game of Madden. It's even harder to count the amount of trash talking that has gone on during and after each game of Tecmo Bowl. That's because when you think of Tecmo Bowl you think of all the hours playing it on the original NES against friends in your living room while hammering down mountains of pizza and chips. Gamers "like" a good football game but they "love" Tecmo Bowl.

Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is the answer to the prayers of many gamers who are tired of the typical and boring football games that are constantly being shoved down their throats every year. Right off the bat, you can tell that the creators of Kickoff wanted to make this a new and improved installment of Tecmo Bowl while still trying to keep it as similar to the original as possible in order to make it really feel like a Tecmo Bowl game. During a game, the graphics are pretty small due to the small DS screens, but it's very easy to understand what is going on; it's kind of like the graphics in Tecmo Super Bowl for the Super NES. Every once in a while the game will view a close-up and show a short 2D animated scene of what is going on. For example: if a quarterback passes to a receiver and there is an opponent near the quarterback, the game will zoom-in and show the quarterback throwing the ball and the opponent jumping with his arms up trying to block the pass.

This is the Only Way You Can Play Football with a Stick

Choosing from the eight plays between each down can be done the same way it has always been done: by pressing either up, down, left or right on the d-pad and pressing the A button for runs or the B button for passes. But what DS game would be complete without some touch screen controls? Plays can also be selected by touching them with the stylus. All of the in-game action such as running, passing and punting can also be controlled with the stylus. A nice touch to the Tecmo Bowl series are the new special moves, which can be added to players in the Team Editor mode and then can be performed on the field. The special moves include being able to throw a very fast, fiery pass, the ability to drag opponents a few yards before being tackled, the ability to dodge oncoming tackles and many more based on what position each player plays. The special moves look pretty and come in real handy during gameplay.

The Team Editor mode in Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is probably the best feature of the whole game because it allows gamers to edit virtually anything in the entire game. © Tecmo.

Speaking of the Team Editor mode, this is probably the best feature of the whole game. Tecmo does not have the rights to use any of the NFL team names or player names anymore so what we get right from the start are some ridiculous team names like the Phoenix Horntoads and the Los Angeles Supercocks -- of all the most preposterous names imaginable, why the heck does L.A. have to be the "Supercocks"?! That's really no matter because the Team Editor mode allows gamers to edit virtually anything in the entire game such as the team name, team city, team logos, uniform colors, playbooks, player stats, player names, player positions, player skin tone, you name it! Tecmo, of course, would never encourage gamers to recreate the NFL teams and players in Kickoff, but how can you help but recreate awesome NFL teams like the '85 Bears and the '72 Dolphins?

Three Frames of Animation is All You Need for a Victory Dance

Kickoff offers many modes of play, including a season mode, preseason games and quick play games all of which can be played with weather conditions such as rain, shine and snow. Being able to play online is another outstanding feature of Kickoff but it is almost impossible to find a game online unless you and a friend call each other and try to set up a game right then and there. Right now, there is no better football experience in the entire DS library than Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff; the graphics are totally retro -- which is good or bad depending on how you look at it - and the gameplay is as solid as it was 20 years ago. The only downside to Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is that it doesn't support single-card multiplayer. You would think that considering Kickoff is not too heavy on graphics that you could easily send the game to a friend through DS Download Play. It sucks for each gamer to have to own a copy of the game especially if one player has unlocked everything. Regardless, Tecmo Bowl: Kickoff is still a great football title like every other Tecmo Bowl before it.

Unfortunately, a lot of Sonic games are hit or miss and SEGA promised that Sonic Unleashed would emphasize speed, action and the needs of the retro gamer. Did it achieve its goal?

Sonic Unleashed for the Sony PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 2; Publisher: SEGA; Developer: Sonic Team; Release Date: November 20, 2008; ESRB Rating: E10+; Genre: action / adventure; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

Sonic Boom

Gamers look fondly on the blindingly fast, blue and prickly rodent that filled their childhoods with super fast action and scrupulous ring collecting. That's because Sonic the Hedgehog is awesome! Unfortunately, a lot of Sonic games are hit or miss and so many of them haven't really given the Sonic name the awesomeness that it deserves. He's been treated very well on the Sega Genesis, Sega Dreamcast, the GameBoy Advance and the Nintendo DS, but not so well on the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360. SEGA promised to release a new Sonic game with more emphasis on speed, action and the needs of the retro gamer in mind, so Sonic Unleashed is what we got.

Where Does Sonic Get His Shoes?

Unleashed carries the same classic story of any Sonic game: Dr. Robotnik has built a gigantic robot army to take over the world and Sonic tears through them to stop Robotnik. This time Ol' Eggman has caused a problem so catastrophic that it is tearing the planet apart and has turned Sonic into a werehog. Sonic then befriends a flying, little, mouse, poodle type creature that has lost his memory so Sonic gives him the name Chip. Later in the game familiar faces like Sonics old fox buddy Tails show up to help Sonic through his adventure as well as some new faces, animals and humans alike. So basically, it's up to Sonic to put the world back together.

SEGA is really close to making that one epic Sonic game that we have all been waiting for and Sonic Unleashed gives you just enough to whet your appetite. © SEGA.

The gameplay in Sonic Unleashed starts you off with some awesome speed. New maneuvers have been added like quick strafing; quick strafing is done with the left and right shoulder buttons and makes dodging hazardous obstacles at high speeds much more intuitive. Attacking enemies with the air dash technique has made a return and is not only used for attacking enemies but also for reaching hidden areas and crossing large chasms. Sonic now also has the ability to wall jump to get through tight areas; the wall jump kind of slows things down but it feels like a really solid trick. In addition to burning through speed filled levels while Sonic is in his normal form, Sonic can also play through action filled levels while in his were-hog form. While in this much darker form Sonic can now punch, kick, claw and slam his way through enemies. The only thing that doesn't make sense is why can Sonic's arms stretch when he is a werehog? I don't remember seeing any werewolves with stretchy arms so it kind of throws you off. Sonic's arsenal of attacks and combos while in his beast form is actually pretty impressive and kind of resembles the amount of combos that can be done in God of War except much tamer.

I Bet They Think That Talking Humans are Weird

Sonic can't very well run across the world while it's all broken so he needs Tails to fly him from place to place. While flying on Tails' plane Sonic mans a turret and can shoot down any enemy planes you encounter. This part feels kind of like a mini-game and can sometimes be a little frustrating; each enemy plane appears with an icon that looks like a button on your controller so you have to hit the right button to shoot them down. The only problem is that some icons have to be pressed in the order that they appear and some don't but you can hardly tell which ones do or don't so you'll often make mistakes in this area. That's probably the only gripe that you will find in Unleashed. As far as playing as Werehog Sonic goes... it's not that it isn't fun -- because it is -- it's just not what you would expect. Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering a steak but instead they bring you a barbequed chicken. It's a really good chicken; it's juicy and it tastes great but what you really wanted was a steak. You see, the fighting is nice but what would really be nice is more of the speed.

Every version of Sonic Unleashed controls the same way except for the Wii version. Using the Wii remote and Nunchuk can sometimes be a pain so you might want to use a Wii classic controller instead. Nyko has actually developed a wireless classic controller for the Wii called the Nyko Wing; it is an absolute godsend and makes playing Unleashed so much more pleasant. Sonic Unleashed isn't exactly a great game but it is very good; SEGA is really close to making that one epic Sonic game that we have all been waiting for and Sonic Unleashed gives you just enough to whet your appetite. Here's hoping for some serious awesomeness when Sonic and the Black Knight is released a few months from now.

Peter Rizkalla is a life long enthusiast of videogames and the videogame industry. He has worked in various videogame companies such as THQ, Namco and 2K Games and avidly attends many game conferences and events. Rizkalla can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.

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