October 2008 Archives

Economic Downwhat?

Video gamers are about to be flooded by a tsunami of highly-anticipated AAA titles: Dead Space, Fable II, Fallout 3, Gears of War 2, Mirror's Edge, and Prince of Persia all drop this holiday season, not to mention Scene It? 2, Lips, Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero World Tour, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, You're in the Movies... and that's just on the 360. So many games, so little time.

I recently had a lot of fun playing through Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, a game that puts you in the role of Darth Vader's secret apprentice between the events of Episodes 3 and 4, at the formation of the Rebel Alliance. The game accomplishes twp things remarkably well: making you feel like a Force-wielding bad-ass, and delivering a compelling story with engaging characters.

The game starts you off with a taste of what's to come, letting you play one level as Darth Vader himself. On Kashyyyk! For those of you without a George Lucas Fanboy Decoder Ring, that's the Wookiee homeworld. You know, Chewbacca? Big furball, bandolier he never uses, growls a lot? Of course Vader is (almost) fully-loaded with Force abilities, and you can't make him run-- he just strides toward his goal, flinging attacking Wookiees off elevated walkways like rag dolls. Utterly made of awesome. Once you become the Apprentice you begin with simple abilities like Force Push and Force Grab, then upgrade those and gain combo attacks as you play. By the end of the game you can zap people with lightning, fling your lightsaber like a boomerang, perform aerial combat maneuvers, and generally strut around the galaxy like you own the place. The environments are designed to maximize your feeling of power-- there's plenty of stuff lying around to deform, fling, shatter, and otherwise mess with. Shatter a window on a space station and everything nearby gets sucked out into the vacuum until a blast door slams shut over it. Nice! And of course, the sound design oozes Star Wars from the moment your lightsaber powers up. For people of a certain age, something within us stirs when we hear the fssssssshhht of a lighsaber activating, the telltale zap of Imperial blaster fire, the bloops and bleeps of a droid, or the unmistakable strains of John Williams' score. The sounds of Star Wars have a magical, transportive power, and this game utilizes them well.

What really surprised me about the game was the effectiveness of the storytelling. This is the only game I can remember actually looking forward to cutscenes, eager to see how the story developed. There are some great touches, such as the Apprentice's 3PO-like droid being programmed to try to kill him and being politely apologetic to him about repeatedly failing to do so. I thought they handled the Apprentice's conflict between the Light and Dark sides of the Force well, and especially appreciated getting a piece of this universe's history-- the origin of the Rebel Alliance-- filled in. It all felt... right. It felt like Star Wars.

I have quibbles. The targeting controls are a bit touchy. The "quicktime events"-- climactic fight sequences in which you're prompted to push the right buttons at the right time-- weren't satisfying to me as a player, and I blame God of War for popularlizing that particular trope. But on the whole, The Force Unleased delivered what it promised: getting Empiric on people's asses with the Force.

Survivor: Gabon

Well I think it says a lot about this season of Survivor that we're multiple weeks in and this is my first post about the series-- and even this is only because of a plaintive voicemail from a loyal reader jonesing for his Survivor blog fix.

After the brilliance of last season's Fans Vs. Favorites, this go-round has been almost entirely unremarkable. It's the curse of the landlocked Survivor. I'm not sure why, but when there's no beach, there's less fun. And no, it has nothing to do with bikinis.

No idea why nobody trusts Ace. He hasn't done anything sneaky yet and he hasn't betrayed anyone. Is it the accent? Sugar has surprised me. I expected to dislike and dismiss the "retro pinup model" as a shallow bubblehead, but she's surprisingly endearing and seems to have more wit behind that face than expected. Then again, she left the idol in her bag and told Kenny she gave it to Ace, so perhaps she's not the brightest bulb. Could have been a brilliant move to put the target on Ace's back instead of hers if the tribe wanted to flush out the idol-- "I don't have it, I gave it to Ace!" but that's clearly not what she intended since she took it back from him almost immediately.

Meanwhile, Crystal is the biggest disappointment in the history of the game. The woman's a former Olympic runner, but she's completely tanked in every single challenge-- including the one in which the only thing she had to do was run! Everyone sees her as an asset because she's big, but in reality she's contributing nothing. When she gets voted out, as I think she will soon after the merge, she's going to be one of those bitter jury members who thinks she deserved it more than the people who lasted longer.

My money right now is on Marcus and Corinne. Everyone seems to be in love with Marcus, and Corinne seems sharp and shrewd. It'll be interesting to see if the physically weaker players like Kenny sail to the end under the radar.

Comment (1) | last by Scott Blomquist, Oct 30, 8:35 PM