Should I Buy? – LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

Over the last nine years, the LEGO crossover games have slowly been refining their mechanics and it’s pretty obvious with LEGO Batman 2 that they’re still working on it. As fun as LEGO Batman 2 is, it’s pretty rough around the edges. In some places, it’s just a few niggling bugs that shouldn’t have made it through, in others its design choices that are confusing or questionable.

The LEGO Harry Potter and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean  games experimented with a fairly limited sandbox as opposed to the traditional mission hubs that you can adventure through and explore to find secrets, and LEGO Batman 2 ups the ante by giving you all of Gotham when you’re not playing the story mode. There’s a wealth of content including villains to defeat, heroes to discover, citizens to save and more beside. It’s almost a shame that the weeks you could spend finding all this stuff can be muted to a couple of afternoons once you find the cheats that point out the locations of all these things.

Travelling around the map itself can be a bit of a headache. Of course running about is way too slow unless you’re The Flash, so you’ll want to rely on vehicles and the power of flight to get around. The actual unlockable vehicles like the Batmobile and Two-Face’s truck are really fast, to the point where trying to drive them in anything other than a straight line is a hassle. Flight itself works great for gross motor control, but when you try to make small movements to, say, land on a small roof, things get infuriatingly fiddly.

That said, flying is fun and fast and pretty widely available. Just in the course of playing through the story, you’ll unlock Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern as flying heroes so actual aircraft become rather pointless. Not quite as pointless as aquatic vehicles though, which have no use other than the Gold Brick containing driving courses. When you play one of the rare vehicle levels, you don’t even get the choice of your unlocked vehicles. It’s kind of a mystery why they bothered, and this is one of the areas where the game where things get questionable.

What about the story mode? Well, it’s the first fully voiced LEGO crossover game and the second to use an original story, so it’s a pretty big change from the standard format. The humour is much less slapstick this time around, but still has that same goofy, irreverent charm which is really helped by the healthy application of DCAU VAs reprising their roles and other experienced VAs  stepping into the empy slots. Christopher Corey Smith’s Joker is fine, but does lack the range and sheer insanity of Mark Hammil’s, Troy Baker makes for a good Batman, though I do miss Kevin Conroy. The real star of the show is Clancy Brown’s Lex Luthor, whose deep voice is equally adept at making Lex sinister and comedic.

The story itself is just as silly as you’d expect, with some pretty questionable logic on the villain’s part. Fifteen levels being pretty short as far as a LEGO crossover game goes and the story feels truncated and aguely unsatisfying for it. Any villain that isn’t the Joker or Luthor get the short end of the stick, basically being reduced to cameos. Still, the levels are fun and make good use of the character’s abilities.

Remember how in the original LEGO Batman the hero levels were the most boring because the limited number of abilities meant there were only so many ways you could be asked to solve a puzzle?  2 handles the situation a lot better, with the new Suits Batman and Robin wear each having two different abilities instead of just one and the design requiring a lot more cooperation than before. And when Superman comes on the scene, he’s just as powerful as you’d expect. He’s super strong, can fly, has heat vision, ice breath and is completely invulnerable to damage. However, he can’t demolish levels by himself and relies on Batman and Robin to fill in the gaps for him, meaning that the other two don’t turn into useless loads.

If nothing else, LEGO Batman 2 is a great representation of why Batman and Superman make such a good team. Unfortunately, there’s no villain levels this time around to counterbalance the hero ones which might leave you feeling short changed, given how the original game had twice the levels.

The much vaunted inclusion of characters from across the DCU doesn’t really make itself apparent until the end of the game. Apart from Cyborg, they’re not high on the versatility scale so you probably won’t be using them much unless you’re a real fan. Green Lantern and Flash do have unique abilities, but it’s pretty rare that you’ll need them. Actually, Aquaman is more useful than they are in the grand scheme of things. Aquaman! Among the Batman villains, there’s also a few from other heroes like General Zodd, Brainiac and Sinestro. Though this leads me to one of the design choices that annoys me most. Sinestro can’t build Green bricks like Green Lantern, but there are no Yellow bricks for him to use, and neither of them get a ranged attack, so Sinestro only gets to fly and Green Lantern’s one special trick is very situational.

But that’s a minor complaint. And those are all I can really muster. It looks great, it’s funny, the soundtrack mixes Superman and Batman music together well, there’s plenty of content for the explorers to find and hey, where else can you play as Huntress, Hawkgirl, Ra’s Al Ghul or Captain Boomerang? Also, whenever you take to the skies of Gotham as Superman, that music plays.


Should I Buy? – Mass Effect 3

Yeah. Review’s over, roll credits.

OK OK, here’s the real review.

So it’s about a year after Mass Effect 2 and Shepard’s effectively been put under house arrest by the Alliance and the old gang have once again parted ways. So when we rejoin Shep, it’s about five minutes before the Reapers attack Earth. Ah. That could be problematic.

Anyway, you escape Earth with Joker, new squadmate James Vega and whichever person survived on Virmire. For me, that was Kaidan Alenko (former runner up to Jacob Taylor for the prestigious most Bland Mass Effect Character Award). You leave Earth in order to try and unite the fleets of the galaxy to rescue Earth destroy the Reapers once and for all.

A strength of the Mass Effect games has always been in their atmosphere. Not so much in scene-to-scene but in the overall feeling of each game. 1 was a Space Opera with a very positive, Star Trek-esque outlook on things, 2 was the dirty underbelly of the galaxy and 3 does a good job of infusing the game with a sense of foreboding and a general sense that everything is going to hell.

It’s all in the little touches like how Batarians, Vorcha, Volus and even Aria are willingly to straight up help with no strings attached, or the little conversations between various NPCs that evolve over several visits and tell their own stories.

Things are, like they promised, faster, tougher and more shooter-y this time round. The addition of combat rolls, a better cover layout, easier ways of moving between them and decent melee attacks make it a lot easier to be more active in combat. And you’ll need to be because not only are the enemies smarter, but they specialise and work together. Vipers will rush you down in melee combat while a Nemesis tries to pick you off with his sniper rifle when you pop out of cover etc. etc. etc.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to move out of cover when you don’t mean to, and even though sprinting is now unlimited you can’t move the camera while you’re doing it which can be a real nightmare at times.  And your team mates aren’t as smart as the AI a lot of the time.

In terms of squadmates, fan favourites Tali and Garrus return, as well as Liara and the Virmire survivor, with Mr Vega and a surprise character. They seem to be trying to do the Mass Effect 1 thing where each of the six squad members represents a different player class, but having both Vega and Ashley Williams will mean you have two Soldiers and no Sentinel, and you have two Engineers but there’s no Vanguard type unless you get the From Ashes DLC and even then he’s a ranged fighter, rather than a destructive close range bruiser.

This is only really a problem if you have a particular tactic that doesn’t gel with the available squadmates, and they’re as well written as ever. Well, most of them. I’ve never seen the big deal about Liara and I can’t get a proper bead on her in this game. She  keeps that weird new voice from 2, but seems to oscillate between her differing personalities from the two games without ever settling down.

Garrus is probably the best written character after the DLC squadmate because he’s the Goddamn Space Batman. Although basically all he does this time around is bromance with people.

Vega is a character I thought I was going to hate, he looks like a meathead and was designed to be a soldier with little knowledge of galactic politics. And yeah, though he can be pretty ignorant of basic stuff at times, he’s not an uber-macho jock. In fact, he’s pretty serious and well adjusted. He’s clearly a highly competent soldier and if you don’t mind a bit of bluster, he’s a pretty cool character.

I’d also like to give special mention to Kelly Chamber’s replacement, Specialist Samantha Traynor. She’s a civilian who was on the Normandy when it fled Earth and she has her own little arc about adjusting to military life on ship and she ends up being one of the two lesbian options a FemShep can explore.

Oh yeah, only Kaidan can be romanced into a homosexual relationship out of the squadmates, lesbian Shepards have to make do with Samantha or the aggressively bland new reported Diana Allers. Kind of a cop out in my opinion, Dragon Age never had a problem with characters engaging in homosexual relationships. But at least it’s there.

And if you don’t romance either Garrus or Tali, they end up in a relationship together. BEST. PAIRING. EVER.

The bulk of the game is trying to secure the support of the major players in the galaxy through a series of missions. This gives the effect of the game having several self-contained arcs that you move between.

And while I can’t speak for all the romances you could carry over from the first two games, I can tell you that great as it was to see Jack again and see how she’s grown, her ‘romance’ wask rather underdeveloped. Although the fact that the culmination is something as simple as dancing in a club with her, rather than a sex scene is a nice thematic continuation of her character.

Ultimately, I’d say that with Mass Effect 3 having much more bromance than romance that the universe has effectively turned gay for MaleShep. At the very least, Kaidan has.  That’s canon.

All of the Mass Effect 2 squadmates that you’ve still got alive return in some fashion and play into the plot. Although this does bring up another problem I have. While I’m glad that you don’t lose access to content through not having characters alive, it does feel like a bit of a copout to have every single dead character be replaced in some way by an NPC. True, not having the original character alive often means things turn out worse but the Rachni show up regardless of what you did, there’ll be another NPC to fill the dead character’s role, the Council now includes a turian, salarian and asari regardless of your choice etc.

Although this, in turn, leads to a strength. You often can’t get the “best” outcome to a situation by not having the original character in that slot and a lot of the “failure” scenes turn out more dramatic and tragic than the good variations. This game can get surprisingly dark, and sometimes seemingly innocuous choices that you didn’t expect to have any effect can be the difference between  success and failure.

And in the true spirit of the game’s “death is everywhere” theme, sometimes a loss in inevitable. Even in a “perfect” playthrough, you WILL lose certain beloved characters and you WILL mourn them. This just makes the darker, more death-laden “imperfect” playthroughs that much tougher to play. I was playing a game with a brand new character and had the conversations set to full auto and found myself forced to use Renegade interrupts to kill two of my most personal favourites. Yeah. I had to pull the trigger on my own favourite characters.

Not just any two characters, my actual, honest to Shepard, one and two slots on my favourite character list. But let’s move on from all that now.

So, that horrible planet scanning from Mass Effect 2 is all but gone. Instead, you now press a shoulder button to activate a radial scan while moving through a system and any trinkets to collect are highlighted on your map. But too many scans, and the Reapers will find you and swarm the system, forcing you to flee. They leave once you finish a mission, so it can be pretty hilarious to deliberately provoke them into chasing you, only to hop planetside and leave half a dozen Reapers to scratch their heads and wander off.

This does help add a sense of danger and urgency to a typically boring part of the Mass Effect games, meaning that now it’s only the Normandy and the Citadel that get tedious. Though the odd lull between combat and fighting Reapers is nice, a lot of the cutscenes fill that role, so it’s a lot of walking around to see if your squadmates want to develop their character in front of you or talk to another person to update a sidequest.

Basically the Citadel is now the only place where you can wander around and buy stuff, and it like the Normandy has had a redesign. Half the sidequests are “overhear somebody needing something and scan a planet for it to give to them” and the other half are “talk to/use panels in the correct sequence, with the odd choice hear or there”.

Although it is nice when you come across two people arguing about something and you can side with one or another. Not only because one sentence from Shepard can seemingly defuse any situation, but because even these do have an effect, namely in usually making a change in your War Assets.

War Assets and their collection are basically the point of the sidequests, and serve as a tangible abstraction for the effect of your choices in the game. Getting a civilian militia set up on the Citadel may only contribute 5 points, but recruiting the krogan fleet will net you ridiculous amounts like 700 points. And getting to read all the little updates like “because you gave that schematic to a guy on the Citadel, these soldiers have better Medi-gel” is a nice touch.

Getting full War Assets is necessary to being able to get all the endings, and while it’s certainly possible to get enough without playing the multiplayer, it’s certainly a lot harder. See, each area of space has a “Galactic Readiness” rating that starts at 50% raises by completing missions in that area in multiplayer. This means all the points you collect only count for half if you don’t use the multiplayer, making doing all the sidequests that much more important.

I haven’t played the multiplayer because I never do, but apparently it’s pretty damn good. It uses the premise that you’re a Spec Ops member taking on high-risk missions for the war effort and you get to choose a race and class to play as in 4 player missions against NPC opponents. It’s actually pretty tempting for me to try, and that’s saying a huge deal for me.

Now, if you’ve been on the internet once since the game came out, you’ll know that people really didn’t like the ending. I won’t touch on the specifics hear, you can read my thoughts in this article (warning, MAJOR spoilers), but I will say that they don’t ruin the game.

Mass Effect 3 is the epic final trilogy of a serious that’s always had it’s troubles. But for me, this game was its zenith. Although it’s way out of the price range I usually write for, this is a game that deserves that full price investment. It’s fun, it’s emotional, it’s replayable and apparently the multiplayer is good so there’s plenty to be gotten out of it. But if you’re picking up this series for the first time you may not see what all the fuss is about. My, and  I have a feeling most people’s real connection to this story was because of the time and emotion we’d invested in the first two. And although I too have been moddy and criticised the ending, I really do want to say thank you Bioware. Thank you for Mass Effect.

Should I Buy? – Batman: Arkham City

Unless you’re some kind of DC hating Marvel fanboy that gets violent every time they hear the word “Kryptonite”, then yes. Arkham City is the sequel to Rocksteady’s surprise critical and commercial stunner Arkham Asylum from a few years back, and is a good example of a sequel done right. Instead of coasting by and making no real attempt to improve on things, City is bigger and better, with more stuff to do and more ways to do it.

Basically, Quincy Sharp, head of Arkham Asylum in the last game, took credit for your work stopping Joker and got himself elected Mayor of Gotham. Then he walled off an entire district of Gotham, dumped all criminals (insane or otherwise) inside, hired heavily armed mercenaries to police it and put relatively unknown psychiatrist  Hugo Strange in charge. A bit suspicious, no? Well, Batman thinks so. Unable to do anything as the Dark Knight, he tries to campaign against it as Bruce Wayne, which results in his incarceration as a political prisoner.

Inside the city, Joker, Two-Face and Penguin have carved out their own criminal empires and  there’s a host of other villains running about like Zsasz and Mister Freeze. And you’ll track them down through both the wide open cityscapes and the more familiar claustrophobic building interiors. The cityscape adds a whole new dimension to the game, and I must say is very well designed. See, in the last game you basically guided Bats from one challenge room to another. There were no alternate routes. Even when outside, the enemies were in scripted locations and the spaces too small for more than a handful of viable approaches.

But with the city full of randomly spawning enemies and with no set paths to traverse, the precision artifice of the encounters from the original isn’t present. Not that traversing the cities is a chore, the layout has obviously been carefully designed for both getting around and for you to do your Goddamn Bat-thing when push comes to punch. There’s also a host of new techniques Bats has for getting around in the big wide open, though on foot travel is pretty much irrelevant in the streets.

The interior sections aren’t as tight as the original, nor as long or prominent. With so many new additions to Batman’s arsenal, it’d be difficult to design encounters to compliment this. For example, much is made of the fact that enemies start laying mines. There’s even a short sidequest that gives you a gadget to counter them. But I can only recall one encounter where enemies will actually use them, and even then the explosions are so small and undamaging that *if* you do run over one the most it’ll do is alert the baddies and make you drop a smoke pellet.

Speaking of which! That’s a major change. Now when gun toting enemies see you, you can drop a smoke pellet to instantly become lost and untargetable. Then, you can safely grapple away or use that Bat-Grapple disarm move on all of them and be in a better position than you started in. Relying on it will make most encounters with gun thugs laughably easy.

Of course, you can choose whether or not to use these balance…unbalancers and  it’s handy to have them when things turn Bat-shaped. The only real problem with Bat’s expanded arsenal of tricks and little things that go buzz and hurt bad men is that there’s so many you’ll often forget you have them. When you’re up on that ledge, do you do an inverted takedown, Sonic Shock Batarang, sneak up on them, rig some explosive gel, attack through a crumbling wall, shock him by charging the surprisingly prevalent electromagnets, glide kick him, Batarang him, Remote Batarang him, Reverse Remote Batarang him,  use a cryo grenade, use a cluster cryo grenade, disable his gun, remote detonate his mine, remote electric shock him, use a Sonic Shockwave, Glide Boost or throw a smoke grenade at him? Your choice.  Yeah.

The main story is longer, and doesn’t get tired. It won’t (and indeed, hasn’t) win any awards but it’s solid fare for a Batman tale. It mostly takes leads from Knightfall and No Man’s Land, though isn’t afraid to mix up established continuity points when it wants to. The villains are integrated well, and the attention to detail with the Batman mythos is fantastic. The boss battles are particularly intense, especially given how lacklustre they were in the last game. Mister Freeze might qualify for both cleverest and most frustrating for years. In the best possible way.

Riddler’s challenges are back. There’s obviously a lot more of them, and now getting a lot of the trophies is a matter of solving a small puzzle. These also tie into a bigger sidequest that involves saving people from Saw-style rooms and tracking down Riddler’s goons to interrogate. It’d take ages to track it all down and complete. Even longer if for some weird reason you don’t Google the solutions.

Adding into ways to extend your playtime are New Game Plus, the additional Challenge Maps & campaigns, not to mention there’s DLC that makes Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing. I haven’t played any of it, so I can’t vouch for it.

But yes, this game is bigger and, in most ways, better than the original. Go buy it. Get hunting for those tantalising hints for a sequel.

Should I Buy? – LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga

Who doesn’t love LEGO or Star Wars? If you don’t, you might not be human. Not judging. Just saying. When I first heard the news about the first game being in development, I was really excited. The Complete Saga is actually two games stitched together into one, one based on the Prequel Trilogy and the second based on the Original Trilogy.

Thankfully, these interpretations of the Prequels are much more fun to sit through than the films. For those of you without a soul and ergo have not played the LEGO games yet, you (and a friend if you wish) control little LEGO versions of the characters as you play through the events of the films with all that plot and dialogue removed and replaced with funny cutscenes and puzzles.

And it’s really fun. It’s got a tangible affection for the source material and a light, breezy style. See, each character has a variety of skills which have simple applications in puzzle solving. Force users can build stuff, robots can use panels, guys with blasters can shoot targets etc. The levels don’t outstay their welcome but if you want something really deep and meaty you’re better off looking elsewhere.

There’s a few kinks, the partner AI is terrible and can’t kill any enemies, blaster characters from the Prequels can’t dodge at all (and Chewie, for some reason) and there’s vehicle sections which are…well, vehicle sections.

Where a lot of the replay value for this game comes in the option to replay levels with any available characters to find more secrets or to see Yoda kick Vader’s ass. There’s also a lot of fun to be had playing with friends, and the simple gameplay means that anyone from kids to adults can enjoy it together. Seriously, if you’re looking for something you can play with a young child like a daughter or a nephew or a little sibling for some ‘quality bonding time’, the LEGO games are great. And it means you don’t have to fall off Rainbow Road all the time.

So yeah, it’s fun, colourful, charming, family friendly and great for pick up and play sessions. Seriously consider investing in this. Just don’t get the one based on the Clone Wars TV series. That’s supposed to be terrible.

Price: (CEX) £15 – PS3
(CEX) £20 – XBOX 360
(CEX) £15 – Nintendo Wii
(Steam) £14.99 – PC

Should I Buy? – Poker Night at the Inventory

Do you like Texas Hold ‘Em but don’t get enough chances to play it in your everyday life? Do you like internet humour? Well then Poker Night at the Inventory is for you. This is literally Texas Hold ‘Em with a bunch of internet characters as the players.

You’ve got Tycho from Penny Arcade, Max from Sam and Max, Strongbad fromHomestar Runner and The Heavy from Team Fortress 2. How many of those guys you’re familiar with can be used as a litmus test for whether or not you spend too much time on the internet.

The main draw is being able to play Poker while listening to the interactions of the comically sociopathic players seated with you. The conversations are characterful and amusing, but there’s a fairly limited amount of them. After a dozen games or so, you’ll have heard every line the game has to offer twice at the very least.

It’s not too bad, but certainly noticeable. As for the rest of it, you get varying difficulty levels and every player has tells that you have to learn to read. The only problem is that Max and Strongbad aren’t exactly recognisably human, so it’s a lot harder to read them.

Occasionally you’ll get the opportunity to win an item from one of the other contestants that yo ucan then put to use in Team Fortress 2. It’s a clever incentive but I don’t really play Team Fortress 2 so I can’t tell you if they’re worth it.

I suppose I should also mention that there’s different table designs and decks to unlock as well, but that’s hardly important. I’m no expert of Poker sims, but this one is perfectly serviceable with some good humour added in but sadly lacking in multiplayer.

Price: (Steam) £3.25

Should I Buy? – Twilight Heroes

Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with *that* Twilight. Instead, it’s a free text-based superhero browser game. Ever played Kingdom of Loathing? It’s like that. No? Well. I suppose I should explain.

You live in the ridiculously crime-ridden Twilight City, and one day you’re pushed too far and decide to take matters into your own hand. And then get beaten up. But, you find a magical talisman that bestows special powers upon you. From there, you set out on your quest to combat crime by patrolling areas of the town and completing quests.

When you start you’ll be asked to give a superhero name and choose one of four classes. There’s the strength based Animalist, the speedy Gadgeteer, the cerebral Psion and the balanced Elementalist. Each gets its own different skills and its stats (Strength, Reflexes & Intellect) grow at different rates.

Unfortunately, you only get one hero per account, so you’ll have to use multiple email addresses to play as the different classes. For the record, I’m a Gadgeteer called Calico Jack. I get skills like stun grenades and electrified nets.

All the gameplay is handled through text screens. Don’t let that put you off though, after all if Echo Bazaar (which I bet none of you are playing, even though I reviewed it twice and mention it at every possible opportunity) can work on text alone, so can other games. For the most part it does, though it means combat is pretty lifeless.

The game tries to get by with humour, loving puns, spoonerisms and pop culture references. It makes stuff a bit hard to take seriously, but I’d already accepted this game wasn’t going to be dark and gritty when I was attacking angry old ladies with a water spray bottle because it was three times stronger than my slingshot.

The game is quite well paced, with new areas opening up as you complete quests and get better vehicles. However, it never tells you how strong enemies in any particular area will be so you might roll up with your beanbag cannon and find regular mooks steamrolling you.

This pacing does rely on you actually doing the quests, but therein lies a few more problems. The biggest is that sometimes you need to be using certain items or have certain skills that the game gives no, or very oblique hints to. There is a link to the game’s wiki on the side that you can use to check these things out, but that shouldn’t be necessary.

There’s a few more systems at play. Once you reach a certain point you can perform a ‘retcon’ to send you back to the beginning of the game to play through the content again with additional challenges for rewards. There’s also the ability to decrypt stuff with computers and combine different items to crate new ones. The decrypting and combining don’t give you any hints on what works though, and so unless you’re willing to trawl the wiki you’ll probably ignore them.

There is a system whereby you can donate money and get in-game rewards but I’ve not tried it so I can’t comment.

You only get a limited number of turns per day, though this can be extended by a certain amount with level ups and a daily limit of caffeine and sugar.

All in all I’ve been having a great time with this game for the past few weeks, and I recommend it to anybody out there with the free time to sink into it. Where else can you dress up in padded pyjamas and fairy wings to battle ravers with a dented hubcap?

Should I Buy? – KrissX

Despite the rather ludicrous spelling, this game is pronounced ‘criss-cross’. It’s another simple puzzle game Steam had up on sale recently and gosh darn if it isn’t an addictive one. Like Yosumin! there isn’t much to it, but its in the endless variability of its core mechanics that it becomes worth your time and money.

Basically, you have a crossword grid, like below. The catch is that each word is jumbled up. Hovering the mouse over each word gives you a hint as to what it is. For example, if you had CODIEL and the clue was ‘like peaceful’ or ‘unlike angry’. I’ll let you figure that one out though.

I'm not sure why the Owl is there either

Aside from word gird puzzles and occasionally being asked to put a jumble of letters in alphabetical or reverse alphabetical order, that’s all there is to it. As you complete more grids, the words get longer, the clues more tangential and the number of words gets upped. This means that you can pretty much keep playing until it gets too tough, then start a new profile and go again. Or just persevere with patience and a thesaurus.

There’s also a Time Attack Mode, special themed grids to unlock and a Create A Puzzle Mode to keep you occupied, but it’s all just spins on the same basic formula. How much, if any, enjoyment you get out of this is equal to how much you love wordplay. In my case, that’s a lot so the purchase is really justified to me.

There’s not much else to say, it’s well presented and calls you awesome if you do well which is always a plus. If you’re not sure just how much you’d get out of something as simple a KrissX, check out the demo.

Price: (Steam) £3.99

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