Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Hottest Games of Summer 2009 - Part 2

I continue to present you The Hottest Games of Summer 2009. This is Part 2 so let`s see...

'The Sims 3' -- Expected June 2

The Scoop: "The Sims 3"; Genre: Social simulation; By: EA Redwood Shores; From: Electronic Arts; For: iPhone OS, OS X, Windows; Rating: Teen

Info: "The Sims" gets one version older, with more Sim types, expanded ability to customize objects, and streamlined Sim behaviors.

Matt: I love the way Wikipedia calls "The Sims 3" a "strategic life simulation." You know, as opposed to the nonstrategic kind. So far "The Sims 3" looks mostly like "more" meets "of the same," shellacked with prettier visuals and iterative customizability. You're familiar with Microsoft's avatars and Nintendo's Miis, right? It's like that, times more hairstyles and eye colors and pot bellies and flabby biceps. It would be public suicide to bet against the most popular PC franchise ever, so I won't, but with game designer Will Wright off board, I'm a little leery about another sequel whose highlights include "ringing doorbells" to enter neighboring houses, creeping through graveyards and going on dates at the bistro. Favorite feature in "The Sims 3" to date? No SecuROM or online activation. Bravo for listening to all those Amazon "Spore" DRM grumblers, EA.

Darren: Honestly, Matt, I never really got "The Sims." The original game had me cleaning up after dopey digital dolls all day. Go to the bathroom. Wash your hands. Cook. Eat. Sleep. This is fun? It was wrangling hyperactive hamsters. The second game added more personality and better graphics, but there I felt like I was directing a really needy, whiny kid. That said, I saw "The Sims 3" in action early on, and this is probably the first game in the series I'd seriously consider playing. Why? This sequel introduces crazy ideas: quest-like objectives, an open world that grows older with your characters, and actual story progression -- a real plotted course for you to follow if you want. Crazy, I know. As a gamer, I miss that kind of stuff the most.

'Red Faction: Guerrilla' -- Expected June 2

The Scoop: "Red Faction: Guerrilla"; Genre: Third-person shooter; By: Volition; From: THQ; For: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Mature

Info: You're an insurgent fighter battling the heavy-handed Earth Defense Force across a massive, fully destructible, open-world version of Mars.

Matt: This game is either the Che Guevara video game biopic that ships with a free beret, or another late-21st-century jaunt to Mars with militaristic anarcho-syndicalist tendencies. I fiddled with the European Xbox 360 demo last month, and I can't say it really grabbed me. Muscling sledgehammers and Godzilla-size robot suits around a bunch of off-world industrial parks isn't as catchy as it sounds. When you can rampage through anything, you will, and trundling as the crow flies (or the Hulk smashes) kind of defeats the point of tactical thinking. Pulling apart multistory structures sounds vaguely cathartic, and it sure is pretty, but if it's gonna have legs, "Red Faction: Guerrilla" needs to be more than just another elevated-wrecking-ball sim. "Grand Theft Mars"? Maybe, but you wouldn't know it from the mediocre demo.

Darren: Not saying that I disagree with you, Matt, but you're forgetting what the "Red Faction" franchise is all about: blowing things to hell. Where it fell apart back in the day, the "Geo Mod" tech gimmick was broken. Sure, you could drill through concrete, but heaven forbid you would try tossing a grenade at the wrong fence -- nothing happened. It was conventional levels disguised with blocks to bust down, and places the designers didn't want you to go. The walls might as well have been made of papier-mache with someone occasionally saying, "There's nothing to see here, move along!" If this game removes all barriers, it could work, so long as a solid level design and (fingers crossed) a good game are hiding in there. Somewhere.

'Prototype' -- Expected June 9

The Scoop: "Prototype"; Genre: Third-person sandbox; By: Radical Entertainment; From: Activision; For: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Mature

Info: Roam the virus-swept streets of Manhattan as an enemy-eating, shape-shifting amnesiac, searching for answers about your origin and abilities.

Darren: If you put "Prototype" and "inFamous" side by side, you'd spot a lot in common -- two ordinary guys zapped with superhuman powers running amok in a massive city-sprawl. The difference in "Prototype" is, instead of all that moral-dilemma nonsense, you're getting straight down to the business of kicking butt. (OK, and there's also the fact that this game is available on more systems than just the PS3.) Morph your hands into gooey mutato-mallets, and you can wallop anything in a frenetic rampage as you switch up your powers. And in this open-world, "Grand Theft Mutant," you can go through a story or just trounce the town. The more damage you do, the more the game throws at you. No surprise considering that the developer, Radical Entertainment, created "Hulk: Ultimate Destruction." Of course, if you're itching to hijack vehicles, you can do that as well. Hey, I did say that it felt like a "Grand Theft…" game, right?

Matt: Notice how we're both "Grand Theft-ing" everything in these slides? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right? Maybe, but it's also being derivative, which can sometimes be the sincerest way to irritate gamers craving novelty. That said, I'm not sure I agree that the moral dilemma is off the table. After all, the protagonist in "Prototype" is a guy whose superpowers derive from devouring his enemies. Slurp down Joe Crook, and you'll gain his memories, special abilities, even the option to look like him. Superhero nom de guerre, Cannibal-Man? Nah. But the official site's spooky vibe and the game's Mature rating make me wonder if a "dark night of the soul" theme is a-brewin'. In any case, think sandbox parkour meets shape-shifting superdude, and you're not far off the mark.

'Overlord 2' -- Expected June 23

The Scoop: "Overlord 2"; Genre: Third-person action-strategy; By: Triumph Studios; From: Codemasters; For: PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360; Rating: Pending

Info: "Lord of the Rings" meets Mad Magazine in an action-strategy romp that lets you pillage bigger, badder, goofier kingdoms with hordes of evil minions.

Darren: Even though "Overlord" is all about being evil, this stuff is really hard to hate. First, for those who don't know the deal, you control the titular evil Overlord in this twisted take on every fantasy game you've ever played (Exhibit A: killing rabid unicorns). However, the real stars here are your minions. Think the dopey, chaotic Gremlins from those '80s movies, and multiply by 10. Get the picture? The "Overlord" sequel picks up right after the expansion to the original game, promising "smarter, deadlier (and funnier)" minions who will organize better in combat and find mounts in battle. The only thing that worries me is the potential dilution. Not only is the sequel hitting this June, but we're also getting a separate game for the Wii, "Overlord Dark Legend," as well as for the Nintendo DS, "Overlord Minions." Don't get me wrong, though -- I'm going to try all three and hope that they play well together. I'm a huge fan of what Climax Studios (the developer) has done so far.

Matt: Like I said of the original, evil is as evil does in this clever, goofy action-strategy series with tongue (and teeth, and waggling tonsils) firmly in cheek. Remember Bullfrog's "Dungeon Keeper"? In that real-time strategy tunneler, you excavated a palatial underground lair and pitted gibbering gofers against doughty parties of gleaming do-rights. Ditch the dungeon management, make the protagonist mobile and post the action mostly outdoors, and you have the "Overlord" series, where doing good is heinous and dispensing evil is divine. "Overlord 2" doesn't break with that formula so much as grow it. Think more of everything. More enemy types (thieving gnomes, environmental-activist elves), more ability lists (your minions can ride mounts, commandeer war machines and pilot warships), and more system versions. That's right: Even though they'll be separately plotted games, the series is finally reaching out with Wii and Nintendo DS iterations.

to be continued....

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