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Press Start: November 2008 -- Must... Keep... Playing!

With the holidays tsunami approaching, Peter "The Rizk" Rizkalla unwraps Fable II, Dead Space, Wario Land: Shake It! and TNA iMPACT!

Aww here we go! This is the time that all of the guys on the business end of the game industry rejoice and all of the guys on the development side of the game industry get some well deserved time off (or at least they should). It's nearly that festive time again, and like I always say, it's a great time to be a gamer, especially around the holiday season and here's why: every game development studio has been putting out ridiculous amounts of work to release all of their big name games just in time for the holidays. During any holiday season we can expect to see some rushed, half-hearted, piece of garbage games and we can also expect to see some truly outstanding works of art. But remember, this is AWN and we don't waste time on the crap! Well... sometimes.

There really isn't a theme for this month's "Press Start," it's just a good collection of some really great titles. There's a pretty good mix of 3D, 2D, adventures, shooters and there's actually a sports game in there somewhere! I love this industry and I hope you do also but if you don't, I am about to give you some good reasons why you should. It's the first wave of the holiday tsunami in this month's edition of "Press Start."

The Fable series has finally gone

Fable II for the Xbox 360; Publisher: Microsoft; Developer: Lionhead Studios; Release Date: October 21, 2008; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: action / RPG; Players: 1-2; Support: N/A; Online: 2 player co-op

And So Our Story Begins... Again

The Legend of Zelda series has been a genre of its own for many years. Every game out there fits into a category: you got your sports, shooters, racers, action games, RPGs and then you got Zelda. Around the time of the original Xbox system Microsoft and Lionhead Studios released a new kind of action/RPG title called Fable, which did very well and was the only real game to give Zelda a run for its money at the time. A few things held Fable back like the fact that it could be completed in about four hours if you just blew right through the main missions. Also neither the story nor the main character felt very deep and also it was pretty low on content. The content issue was answered when Microsoft later released Fable: The Lost Chapters, which is where they added new weapons, new will powers and new side quests. The Fable series has finally gone "current gen" with the release of Fable II on Xbox 360.

I Thought a Fable Involved Talking Animals

Like in the first Fable, you follow the path of an unnamed character through their adventures in the land of Albion. All of your actions determine how you will be perceived by non-playable characters in the game. Your actions can either be good or evil and will make your character end up looking either noble or like a horrifying demon. Also, what you eat and how strong you are plays a part in what you look like because eating pies will make you fat and using close combat will build up your physique. However, something that was not in the first Fable was the ability to play as a female instead of a male, which is a well-needed addition considering the online interactions. The graphics are a huge improvement from the first one which is to be expected. Almost all of the NPCs have a distinct look to them rather than being the same carbon-copy character over and over again and the worlds are a gigantic improvement over the first Fable!

Gameplay is more enjoyable in this Fable sequel. Also, it's unbelievably easy to become filthy rich in Fable II. © Microsoft/Lionhead.

Gameplay is even more enjoyable than in the first Fable. Players are given more to do and more areas to venture through. Another new aspect of Fable II's gameplay is the inclusion of a dog, which will follow you around helping you find treasure and fight along side you as enemies attack. Your character can still advance in three areas of combat such as strength for wielding a melee weapon, skill for wielding a ranged weapon and will, which are basically magical powers. As you progress through the game and earn experience to level you, your character's strength, skill and will, you will also gain gold for buying items, weapons, armor and even real estate that you can live in or rent out. Speaking of gold, it is so unbelievably easy to get filthy, stinking rich in Fable II! Everyone playing the online is rich; so rich in fact that some of them are actually willing to give you 500,000 in gold if you just ask them. They've got money to spare so sacrificing huge amounts of gold is not a big deal!

Online play is not just limited to enormous handouts, though; you can invite players to join your world and play through the game cooperatively or just send and receive gifts. You can also play locally on the same Xbox 360 but the person who joins you will appear as a henchman and cannot save the progress of their character at the end of the game. Sure the henchman character can build up strength, skill and will, but there's really no point because he just gets erased once the game is over.

You Are the Greatest Hero of All Time Sir or Madam

Fable II has some other little things that just throw you off like how dramatically your character will change from small instances. In the first Fable, you had to eat what seemed like a never ending pile of pies to gain a few pounds; now if you eat two or three pies you turn into a total lard butt. Getting buff is the same thing; try leveling up your physique and you'll find that you go from 'Weird Al' Yankovic to Lou Ferrigno in about a couple seconds! The story is a little better than the first Fable but the nameless main character still feels two-dimensional. All in all, Fable II is an enjoyable romp with some pretty fun online features. The interface is much clearer than the first Fable and there is so much to do; there is a little flavor for every kind of gamers taste in Fable II and it is worth checking out.

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EA isn't just making the same games over and over again like they did in past years. The studio is now taking risks to make new IP games like Dead Space

Dead Space for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC; Publisher: Electronic Arts; Developer: Electronic Arts; Release Date: October 13, 2008; ESRB Rating: M for mature; Genre: horror survival; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

Oh My Goodness!

Scary games are great. You know you feel embarrassed when you're playing a scary game and you nearly jump out of your boxers as something pops up on screen. But it's the good kind of embarrassing; it's the kind of humiliation that you and friends can laugh about together because they get just as scared as you. You know what else is great? The fact that EA isn't just making the same games over and over again like they used to in past years. They've actually learned their lesson and they are now taking risks to make new IP games like Boom Blox and Army of Two. The risks have paid off heavily for EA because not only are Boom Blox and Army of Two both great games but Dead Space is also a great game.

Play It with the Lights On and a Strong Bladder

Dead Space is a completely new franchise and has actually built up a good amount of hype for itself. The story is set in the future and the main character, Isaac Clark, is a scientist that travels with other scientists to one of their space stations to see why communications with that station have ceased. They nearly get killed while traveling to the space station and when they get there it's dark and it's a mess. Soon they are attacked by horrible looking aliens but later they find out that these aren't aliens; they are actually humans that have mutated into horrible creatures.

Dead Space plays like a third-person shooter combined with an action adventure game. It feels very similar to Resident Evil 4. However, there is a twist to Dead Space; in any typical shooter or horror game the best way to take out an enemy is to shoot them in the head. Well, in Dead Space, shooting an enemy in the head or the body just pisses them off; the only way to kill them is to shoot off their arms and legs. At first, you think, "well that's no fun at all," because nailing a guy in the noggin is just so damn satisfying, but to be honest, it adds a whole new sense of satisfaction that almost no one takes advantage of in shooters. These things flail all over the place so trying to cut their arms and legs off is not an easy task.

Let's talk about the control because a great thing about Dead Space is that you're not helpless. Say an enemy sneaks up behind you or pops up from someplace you didn't see; in a typical horror game that means you're screwed because your character can't run for jack but in Dead Space you can either try to beat them down up close with melee attacks or you can run like hell and here's the kicker, you actually run fast! The controls make it so that the game is scary by its presentation not by your limited movements. Speaking of presentation, another interesting thing to note is the fact that there are no menus in the game. When you activate the map screen, Isaac brings up this holographic projection of the map in front of him. The same thing happens with the inventory screen; Isaac will also focus on whatever item you have selected and move his head as you move through the items. All of the meters like the energy gauge and oxygen gauge are a part of his suit which you can see at all times. Dead Space has such excellent presentation when it comes to incorporating the menus into gameplay; in fact, the only menu screen in the entire game is the pause menu.

Dick Cheney Doing the Macarena: Now That Would Be Scary

This leads me to the flaws of Dead Space. Although the map is pretty when you bring it up, it is absolutely incoherent especially when things get flipped around in areas with zero gravity. Thankfully there is a guide trail that can be activated at anytime. The guide trail creates a path in the level that tells you exactly where to go. Entering areas with Zero G allows you to leap Superman style from where you are and attach, feet first, to floors, walls and ceilings allowing you to walk on them. It's great how everything gets turned around but it would have been awesome to be able to float around and shoot enemies in mid space. To be honest, these are all minor flaws and Dead Space is an outstanding game that begs for sequels.

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Wario Land: Shake It! is the debut Wario adventure game for the Wii. Nintendo has forgone the 3D look of Wario World on the GameCube and has opted to reinvent this adventure into a 2D platformer. 

Wario Land: Shake It! for the Nintendo Wii; Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Nintendo; Release Date: September 22, 2008; ESRB Rating: E for everyone; Genre: 2D platformer; Players: 1; Support: N/A; Online: N/A

Lets-a Go! (in a Deep Raspy Voice)

The jagged mustache, the pink nose, the garlicky breath; we all know who this guy is. Wario Land: Shake It! is the debut Wario adventure game for the Nintendo Wii. Not only that but Nintendo has forgone the 3D look of Wario World that once gave Nintendo fans a delightful, yet short, gaming experience on the GameCube and has opted to reinvent this Wario adventure into a 2D platformer. Before the rabid fanboys start hating on Nintendo for not taking the time to make a 3D title we all need to understand a few things. First, making a 2D platformer can be pretty difficult for game developers and sometimes even more difficult than making a 3D title if the game is hand drawn. Secondly, Wario Land: Shake It! is exactly that: hand-drawn animation. 2D is where videogames were born and hand-drawn animation plucks a particular heart string of everyone of us over here at AWN.

Garlic and Gold. Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

First of all, this is a Wario game so don't expect him to be as noble as his doppelganger Mario. Wario doesn't save princesses; he does it for the money. Wario hears of a money bag that doesn't run out of gold coins and so the greedy dirtbag is off to get it and make it his own. All of the art and animation has an "anime" feel to it and it all moves at a pretty good framerate. There is no lip synching at all anytime during the game so the cinematics just have the characters interact with grunts, laughs, sighs and other non-verbal expressions while subtitles are displayed to take the place of spoken dialog. This was obviously done so that Nintendo would not dedicate Shake It! to any single language and instead allowed the user to just change the subtitles to any desired language. It's kind of a short cut but it works fine.

The gameplay is fun with varying difficulty. Things start off pretty easy but they get extremely hard extremely fast. None of the enemies are a real threat but what makes things hard is solving puzzles, finding the hidden treasures and completing the achievements. Every level has pretty much the same format; you play through to the end of the level, find the trapped non-playable character, release it and follow it back to the beginning of the level before time runs out. The tricky thing is that going back the way you came is neither the fastest nor most rewarding way to get back. Shake It! sets up special escape routes for each level, which require quick reaction, good timing and rewards you with extra gold if you do it right. Sometimes it is damn near impossible to accomplish the achievements without going through the escape routes in every level.

Now on to the major topic of any Wii game... the control. Controlling Shake It! is pretty simple and has a very short learning curve; players hold the Wii remote sideways à la NES with the one button being attack and the two button being jump. Every so often Wario is able to pick up either an enemy or a bag of treasure; at this point players have to shake the Wii remote to receive whatever goodies that the enemy or bag has in store. Aside from just shaking the remote players will have to tilt the Wii remote to get through certain levels. For example, in some levels Wario will come across mine carts with one wheel, once he's inside a cart tilting the remote left and right makes Wario move the mine cart left and right along the track.

Wario is Either Italian or He's From the Same Country as Borat?

I wouldn't say that Wario Land: Shake It! is a game that caters to the hardcore gamer but I also wouldn't say that it caters to the mainstream public either. It's a great 2D platformer and the Wii remote controls are a nice touch without feeling just "slapped on." The animation is dramatic, interesting and downright humorous and the gameplay is a satisfying challenge. Nintendo even threw a big party at Six Flags Magic Mountain to celebrate the release of Shake It! being that the game is a huge deal, what with the hand-drawn animation and all. Wario Land: Shake It! is a "must play" game especially if you are a fan of the original 2D platforming games.

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It's about freakin' time that a TNA game was released. Wrestling games suck right now, and TNA iMPACT! comes at the right time. 

TNA iMPACT! for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Wii; Publisher: Midway; Developer: Midway; Release Date: September 9, 2008; ESRB Rating: T for teen; Genre: wrestling; Players: 1-4; Support: N/A; Online: 2 player matches

From the Top Rope

Let's face it. Wrestling games suck right now! There are only a few options available to the masses; the first are the WWE games that are all crap and haven't been good since the N64 days. The second is the Fire Pro Wrestling games which are definitely great games but are way too hardcore unless you've been playing with the Fire Pro series for years. Being a wrestling fan myself, this pisses me off to no end. However, TNA [Total Nonstop Action] Wrestling has been around for a few years now and in that time they have launched a number of really talented wrestlers into stardom such as Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Petey Williams and Christopher Daniels as well as feature some well-known athletes like Kurt Angle, Booker T, Christian Cage and Sting. So I say that it's about freakin' time that they released a TNA game.

Steel Chairs Are Also for Sitting In

Let's talk about the graphics first. Graphically, TNA is awesome; all of the TNA wrestlers were head scanned into the game so that their actual heads and faces are perfectly resembled. Even the hexagonal ring in the game has been modeled after the actual ring that is used during events with the blood stains and all. The animation is actually motion captured which always tends to leave something to be desired but in this case has produced some very dramatic and very interesting animations for the wrestlers' moves. The reason why the animations look so much more satisfying in TNA iMPACT! than in any other MoCap wrestling game is because Midway has gotten together with the physics guys over at Havoc and have incorporated the Unreal physics engine into the gameplay. Performing moves and counter moves just feels satisfying.

There are plenty of gameplay options like single matches, tag matches, handicap matches, Ultimate X matches, a story mode and "falls count anywhere." Up to four players can play together locally but players can only play one-on-one over Xbox LIVE. TNA also features what every good wrestling game should feature... a create-a-wrestler option. The create a wrestler is a good first time out for the franchise but is no where near as deep as the create-a-character options found in games like Soulcalibur IV.

The controls are a little hard to get used to. It seems like so many specific commands are spread apart across the controller and could have been simplified a little bit more. It takes a little time to get used to the controls but once you do putting the hurt on someone is not a problem. The pinning system is kind of a drag; when pinned you have to rapidly move both of the analog sticks left and right to fill up a meter to kick out of a pin. It's not bad it just seems kind of old, like button mashing.

The Only Move I Can't Do is the Powder to the Eyes

This, of course, is the first installment of Midway's in-house creation so you have to consider that not everything is going to be perfect. However like I always say, "The single characteristic of a great game is that it makes you keep coming back to it" and that is exactly what TNA iMPACT! does. The sophisticated and balanced control method and countering system executes smoothly throughout the game and does not frustrate the player with cheap tactics. You can constantly advance in skill which shows how much of a great and competitive playing field TNA provides. TNA iMPACT! has the best wrestling gameplay you will find in recent years. Sure it has its flaws and could use some polish here and there but it's still way better than any of the half-assed WWE games that THQ has been spawning.

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 such as E3 and E for All. Peter can be reached at PRizkalla@gmail.com.

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