Monday, July 9, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (Guest Submission By Matt Petras)

Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy is fantastic - especially the stellar second film - but when I saw the trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man, I started to question why I even enjoyed Raimi's films. The trailers for the new film, from director Marc Webb, promised a sweet new suit, a potentially enthralling subplot about Peter's parents, a Spidey who's more spry and cheesy than Toby McGuire ever was, a villain who felt missing from Raimi's universe, and the beautiful Emma Stone as the love interest.

I had very high hopes going into The Amazing Spider-Man, and I wasn't disappointed. The latest obligatory superhero flick is tons of fun and serves as a better start for inevitable sequels than Spider-Man did back in 2002.

Spidey's new suit looks sweet.
The Amazing Spider-Man takes basic Spider-Man plot threads and makes them much more contemporary, delivering a relatable Spidey for the current generation of kids and an interesting take for those already familiar with one version of Spider-Man or another. The lives of his parents before they passed away, the rise of this film's villain, and how Peter gets the powers of a spider all cleverly intertwine, forming a strong basis for this new universe. The brilliantly written and impressively acted characters takes that basis and runs with it.

Peter Parker - played by Andrew Garfield - is still a science wiz and a photographer but he's really more of a hipster than a nerd, considering his skateboard, arrestive glasses, tight jeans, stupid haircut and youthful good looks. He's a great character but he simply oozes with charm during the romantic scenes with his love interest Gwen Stacy, played by the aforementioned Emma Stone. The progression from awkward spurts of conversation to holding each other in their arms is gold.

The romance is very strong in this film.
Peter's lovable Uncle Ben sets the thematic framework of the film. The classic "With great power comes great responsibility" line is further explained in this movie, when Ben says that Peter's father lived by the notion that anyone with the potential to do great for the world has a moral obligation to do so. It's no wonder that just about every take on Spider-Man uses this motto: It's an excellent angle for a superhero movie to take.

This motto is of course what compels Peter to make use of his new-found superpowers when he eventually is bit by the spider and becomes a masked vigilante. We see Peter defend what he has become with his Spider-Man persona through arguments with Gwen's dad, who also happens to be the Chief of Police. This leads to a compelling relationship between a man who believes in order versus Peter who merely values good. Garfield under the cowl as this film's Spider-Man is more-or-less flawless: He's sarcastic, funny, heroic and looks great in his yellow-eyed, spandex costume. There's a hilarious scene in which he mocks a crook he finds on the street and completely dominates him, showing off how fun he is, and a touching scene in which he removes his mask for a scared little boy in danger before saving him, which shows off the more nuanced emotional angle of the character.

This is all great, and I think they nailed Spider-Man as a character, but my biggest issue with this movie can be seen through two scenes pertaining to his origin. These two scenes show Peter using his new found abilities in public, unmasked, turning what could have been clever ways to introduce his powers into frustrating scenes that had me scratching my head wandering how these didn't lead to him being discovered. One of these was so bad that I was practically praying in the theater for it to be a dream.

The villain in The Amazing Spider-Man is Dr. Curt Connors, played by Rhys Ifans. He begins as a scientist who follows more-or-less the same motto as Peter, attempting to use cross-species genetics to the medical benefit of the world. Connors crosses himself with the genetics of a Lizard, seeking regenerative powers to fix his crippled arm. The side effects are too strong and he soon becomes corrupted by his new reptilian influence and attempts to evolve the city past humanity into the monster that he has become. It's a typical mad scientist character, but it still manages to be absolutely entertaining due to Ifan's endearing performance as the human that turns into the hulking, creepy monster.

Curt Conner before his transformation into Lizard.
The action is never as thrilling as the final act of The Avengers or the train sequence in Spider-Man 2, but it's still very impressive. Spider-Man flinging himself about, fwipping webs at his foes, as well as Lizard throwing himself around, smashing walls like they're made of paper never disappoints. The set pieces displaying Spider-Man and Lizard duking it out are all entertaining, but none particularly blew me away mostly due to their lack of creativity. What did blow me away, however, was the very striking stereoscopic 3D, which looks especially good when Spider-Man is swinging around the city.

The Amazing Spider-Man nails pacing. I don't remember a single part of the movie that isn't important, and never did I feel like they dragged anything out. The movie masterfully balances drama, comedy, and action, make me choke up, laugh, and smile respectively. 

The movie ends with a series of well-done dramatic scenes followed up with a clever last-line that introduces a dilemma that will no doubt be tackled in future films. I would prefer a more positive spin than what was provided, as this was, throughout, more of an exciting film than a serious one, but it does a great job of opening up for a new film on a very dramatic note. 

The Amazing Spider-Man succeeds as a fun superhero flick that's more than dramatic enough to keep viewers invested in what's going on. Spider-Man's secret identity isn't protected as much as it should be, and the ending is a little harsh for what is mostly a vivacious ride, but the movie remains successful. The characters are excellent, the action is entertaining, the drama is moving and the romance is lovable. What's almost certainly going to be a series of films is off to a solid start.


This is a guest submission from Matt Petras. You can find him at the following venues:

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Yes, This Blog is Still Alive!

I've actually started getting questions on why this blog has not been updated since February 2012. People who follow me on Twitter and here on Blogger will recall a time when I used to post weekly, but the well has long since run dry. There is really only one reason for this, and that's simply that my writing focus has been diverted, though I feel you deserve a more detailed explanation.

In March, I was brought on as a writer for a video game website called RipTen. Having done various blogs over the years and always remained independent, this was my first opportunity to write for an established site. RipTen is an independently owned and operated gaming site dedicated to publishing news stories, game reviews, special features and interviews with industry personalities. This opportunity came out of the woodwork because I have known the managing editor on Twitter for some time, and he caught wind of the fact that I'm into game writing. I was brought on, eased in gently and I have been a regular contributor ever since.

This is a move that I have not regretted. The larger audience for my writing, access to review copies of games and the possibility of attending industry events part of the media are fantastic perks. Even better, I am part of a team of very dedicated, very talented writers who believe in the site and work long, hard hours to keep the content flowing. However, being part of this also requires a few sacrifices. The time commitment you make when working for a gaming website is a more than you might think, and personal endeavours like blogging will inevitably fall by the wayside.

This leads to the next point I wanted to make, which is the future and direction of this blog. Despite my lack of recent efforts, this blog is still something I am still passionate about, and my heart's wish is to get it up and running again. My outside endeavours prevent me from committing to a minimum amount of content, but even having semi-regular posts is a step back in the right direction. I have also had a few people approach me about writing articles and reviews for this blog, and the first of those is a movie review that will be posted tomorrow (July 8).

The long-term changes I plan on making are to the name and design of this blog. "The Consuminator" is a catchy name, however it no longer reflects my goals as a writer, nor does it reflect the core focus of the blog. The design also needs a fresh coat of paint, since the "paint-by-numbers" layout that I have adhered has long since gone stale. However, my focus now is getting my blog running again and keeping the content consistent. Re-branding and re-designing the site are back burner priorities, but still very much a part of my goal.

In the meantime, if you want to follow my writing on RipTen, click HERE for my author page. To everyone reading this, a million thanks for your continued patience and support. My output may have slowed down, however I have not completely fallen off the map and this blog will come back, hopefully bigger and better than before.

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends!


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: Alan Wake's American Nightmare (Xbox Live Arcade)

The original Alan Wake was released in 2010 and was met with a mixture of positive critical reviews and a somewhat lukewarm reception from gamers. As a third person shooter with horror elements that were equal parts Stephen King and Twin Peaks, it provided a fun story-driven experience with a haunting atmosphere that kept you on your toes the entire time. Nearly two years later, we have been given Alan Wake's American Nightmare, a downloadable title that is not so much a sequel but rather an episodic mini-game that connects loosely to the original. While it lacks the immersive story of the original and seems to end just as it gets interesting, there is still enough substance here to appease the Alan Wake fans who have been hoping for more of the same.

Two years on from the events in the first Alan Wake, we find ourselves playing as Alan in an episode of the Night Springs TV show, a Twilight Zone-esque supernatural drama that was prominently featured in the first game. The premise is that Alan must fight the darkness to stop his evil doppelganger, known as only Mr. Scratch, from continuing his killing spree. Throughout the game, Alan meets various people around the Arizona town where he has landed and works to bring light to the down and drive away the darkness. All the while, Mr. Scratch taunts Alan by showing up in various TV programs, often in the process of killing his victims, and occasionally in person. The premise is fairly simple and each scene is book-ended by a narrative by Alan, sometimes highly descriptive and other times frustratingly cryptic. The story never soars above this premise and it feels weak compared to the original, however the smartly-written dialogue makes up for this somewhat. For those who have not played the original Alan Wake, there is a dearth of expository dialogue and absolutely no recap of what happened previously. As such, newcomers will be less likely to get the full enjoyment out of this game and it seems to be largely aimed at fans of the original. 

Alan Wake's American Nightmare adopts the same fluid third-person shooter mechanics of the first game, with little deviation outside of a few new weapons. Your main enemy in the Alan Wake universe is the darkneess, which takes the form of poltergeists that assault you with environmental objects, as well the murderous "Taken", townspeople possessed by the darkness that assault you throughout the game. The light is their weakness, so your most vital tool is the flashlight that will break through their defenses. Once the darkness has been broken, your selection of pistols, shotguns, automatic weapons and the like are there to finish the job. One new addition to Alan Wake's American Nightmare is how the collection of manuscript pages affect the game. In the original, they were collectables that fleshed out the story, however they are now a requirement for unlocking new, more powerful weapons. This is more of an annoyance than anything, since nothing is more frustrating than finding a weapon drop and discovering that you lack the required pages. In some games, this is a fun way to encourage exploration but it is used to poor effect here.

The combat has a rhythm that feels familiar to fans of the original Alan Wake, but still maintains the same sense of tension and dread. Since the enemies are very strong and brutally accurate, effective use of your flashlight and weapons is essential to survival. As a protagonist, Alan may be a lot of things, but a quick and nimble superhero he is not. He is rather sluggish and easily-winded when running away from enemies, and getting him to move at a reasonable speed during the more intense moments is a bit of a struggle. This led to increased difficulty spikes in the original Alan Wake, however the difficulty in this game has been toned down considerably. Also detracting from the tension is the predictable placement of enemies, since your missions in this game boil down to fetch quests and guessing when the enemies will pop up is fairly easy. Higher-powered weapons and frequent re-spawning ammo drops ensure that death is a rare occurrence. Still, you can end up on the business end of an enemy's blade if you're not careful.

The story mode in Alan Wake's American Nightmare is fairly short, as one would expect from a budget-priced downloadable game. To add some replay value, we are also given a fun "Arcade Mode" that is akin to the Mercenaries mode in Resident Evil and the Horde mode found in the Gears of War series. It doesn't play as well as the aforementioned titles, however Arcade Mode is one experience in the game that is not to be missed. The goal is simple; survive waves of enemies for as long as you can hold out and rack up a high score in the process. You build up a score multiplier by effectively killing and dodging enemies, so this provides more opportunities for strategic combat than you might think. Since combat is one of the key strengths in the game, this is a fantastic addition and one that you will likely get the most enjoyment and replay value out of.

The original Alan Wake was a visually appealing game that used dark and light effects to build an effectively chilling atmosphere, however this feels dumded down in Alan Wake's American Nightmare. The new Arizona setting lacks the creepiness and sense of foreboding that Bright Falls had, and it ultimately feels bland and tired by genre standards. However, this is not to say that this is a bad game by any means. The graphics are still good and the character animation and cut scenes still convey the effectively creepy Twin Peaks vibe, however they lack the impact of the original game. The voice acting and soundtrack are also top notch, so the shortcomings mentioned above can easily be overlooked by some. 

Overall, Alan Wake's American Nightmare succeeds in a few areas and stumbles in others. As a downloadable game with a $15 price tag, it is easy to forgive the shortcomings and take it for what it is; a fun, albeit brief action/suspense adventure. The story mode itself will take around five hours to complete, while the arcade mode will definitely add some replay value. The story may be relatively weak and the difficulty and tension that made the first game so memorable has been toned down, however Alan Wake fans should be well serviced here. Now we can only hope for a proper sequel.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Friday, February 17, 2012

New Podcast: The Radical Rascals

This is just a quick entry to plug a new podcast endeavor that myself and a good friend of mine, Andy, have undertaken. Andy and I are both avid video game fans as well as connoisseurs of nerd culture in general, so it seems fitting that we should be doing a podcast together. The podcast is called "The Radical Rascals" and the title is reference to our rather strong and and somewhat mischievous personalities. The main focus of the podcast is video games and the gaming industry, however we break out of that mold and discuss other topics such as books, movies, TV shows and basically whatever else we are into. Done in loose but structured style, we aim to keep the podcast focused and relevant, however we allow plenty of room for side-tangents and deviations. In short, it's basically two cheeky chappies sitting down and having a chat...via Skype and about 5 hours apart since I am in Canada and Andy is in the UK. You get the idea.

If you just want to delve right into the good stuff, here is the first podcast that we posted on YouTube:


The direct link to our YouTube page can be found HERE. You can also find the podcast on iTunes by clicking HERE, or if you prefer the podcast in MP3 format, mosey on over to HERE and download it directly. Future episodes will also be uploaded in these places, so pick your poison and subscribe to be kept up to date on our content. If you are on Twitter, follow us on by clicking HERE. That's the last of the links, we promise.
It should be noted that this is an uncensored podcast and our tendency to use naughty language and sexual innuendos is out in full force here. If you are easily offended or object to politically incorrect and often crass humor, it goes without saying that this is not the podcast for you. It is also worth noting that this is, at least as of this blog posting, our first episode and there is obviously room for improvement. Some areas we are aware of and are hoping to tweak in future episodes, others we glean from feedback provided by the communities.

For the time being, that is all. As noted above, we depend on listeners to tell us what they think, so we welcome any and all feedback whether it be positive or negative. We will also be posting regular questions for discussion topics, so do follow us on Twitter to take part in that, and we will be looking at bringing on guest once we get settled in.

Until next time, The Radical Rascals signing out!

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Most Anticipated Games of 2012.

Along with the typical year-end "Best Of" lists that pepper the internet, the new year brings about a sense of anticipation in all gamers as to what goodies are in store for the year ahead. At the risk of sounding cliched, I will say that 2012 is shaping up to be every bit the banner year that 2011 was, with a plethora of new games to complement some returning favorites. Note: As my focus these days is mainly on console games, this list does not cover any release for the Playstation Vita or the Nintendo 3DS. I don't currently own either system and I have no immediate plans to purchase them.

Without further ado, here is the list of the games I am most looking forward to in 2012. As time passes and other games get announced, this list could grow substantially.

Bioshock: Infinite

The original Bioshock is one of the benchmark games of this console generation and the 2010 sequel definitely did it justice, however it's time for a change and the newest installment in the Bioshock series takes us somewhere completely different - a city in the clouds. The core gameplay elements from the first two games are intact, however the new setting opens up a world of possibilities. 

Released: 2012 (Exact date TBD)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

Xenoblade Chronicles

Gamers in Europe and Japan received Xenoblade Chronicles in mid-2011 and North American RPG fans have been chomping at the bit for it ever since. Well, we are finally getting a release of what is considered to one of the best action RPGs to come about in the last few years, and certainly the best that the Wii has to offer. With the impending release of the Wii U, this may very well be the last game that Wii owners deem worthy of a purchase and I am stoked to finally have a chance to play it.

Released: April 2, 2012 (North America)
Platform(s): Nintendo Wii

Borderlands 2

Like many gamers, I have poured an obscene amount of hours in the the original Borderlands, and I personally consider it one of the best games of this console generation. The follow-up promises all-new characters, new abilities and new weapons, however the RPG elements, insane amount of guns to loot and strong emphasis on co-op will still be intact. Anyone who has played the first game will know why this is one of the absolute "must have" releases of 2012.
Released: September 1, 2012 (Tentative)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Mass Effect 3

With the sequel Mass Effect 2 pushing the series to the top tier of the RPG genre, expectations for Mass Effect 3 are suitably high. The next installment promises that your decisions and actions will have a greater impact on how the story plays out than they did in the previous games, thus making your decisions even harder. The core gameplay will also be more combat-intensive and further refinements have been made to the combat system. Overall, this is shaping up to be an intense and emotional ride and I am excited to see how it all plays out.

Released: March 6, 2012 (North America); March 9, 2012 (Europe)
Platforms: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC.

Assassin's Creed III

Outside of the game being confirmed by Ubisoft, nothing is known about which direction the third "proper" sequel will take. The plot lines introduced in Assassin's Creed II and further explored in Brotherhood and Revelations had gamers enraptured, so the prospect of a new assassin, new setting and new time period has drawn a mixture of excitement and unease among fans. More will be known as we get further into the year, but it goes without saying that this will be one of the games I will be keeping a keen eye on.

Released: November 2012 (Speculated)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, PC (Speculated)

Tomb Raider

If you've ever played a video game in your life, the chances are good that a Tomb Raider game has crossed your path once or twice. Once the benchmark of platform action gaming, the series has stagnated in recent years and the 2012 reboot aims to bring Laura Croft back into the limelight. Presenting us with a more raw, more visceral Croft and a gorgeously developed world, Tomb Raider is sure to be one of the benchmark releases of 2012.

Released: Mid-2012
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Mac

Silent Hill: Downpour

Making it's return to the consoles, the Silent Hill series is reported to be the creepiest and most intense game in the series thus far. While the seven previous installments have progressively diluted the impact somewhat, it's hard to deny that Downpour looks like a fantastic game with plenty of tense and bone-chilling moments. WIll it live up to this hype? Time will tell, but in a year with another Resident Evil game also seeing the light of day, it's a good time to be a survival horror fan.

Released: March 13, 2012 (North America)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3

The Last Guardian

When it comes to testing the patience of their fans, Team Ico has it down to a science. With an
absurdly long development period, constant delays in the release date and information coming out at a trickel, fans of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have been itching to get their hands on this game for some time. The third-person action and puzzle solving makes the game stand out as a successor to Ico, so the fanfare is definitely understandable. Whether or not it delivers on what fans expect is another matter entirely. In the meantime, the recently-released Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection will have to tide us over.

Released: 2012 (TBD)
Platform(s): Playstation 3

Darksiders II

Little is known about the sequel to 2010's Darksiders, a game that I still maintain is highly underrated and criminally overlooked. Combining the hack-n-slash combat elements of games like God of War and Devil May Cry with the dungeon exploration of the Zelda games, the original game gave us the best of both genres without seeming like a tired retread. Hopefully the sequel embodies these same qualities and kicks it up a notch.

Released: June 2012 (projected)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, PC

Max Payne 3

The original two Max Payne games are still among my favorite games from the Playstation 2 era and the sequel on a current generation console is long overdue. With the weight that Rockstar Games carries, it's assured that the production value will be high and everything will be cranked up to 11. A game long in gestation tends to breed unrealistic expectations, but I feel safe in assuming that I'll enjoy this game immensely.

Released: May 15, 2012 (North America); May 18 (Everywhere Else)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U

Twisted Metal

I have never been a die-hard fan of vehicular combat games, but I have very fond memories playing the Twisted Metal games on the Playstation and Playstation 2 back in the day. The 2012 release, simple titled Twisted Metal, boasts gorgeous graphics, an impressive roster of vehicles and a strong multiplayer focus, this is going to be one of the games that will give Playstation 3 owners bragging rights. Like Tomb Raider, it's good to see an old classic come back with a new coat of paint.

Released: February 14, 2012 (North America), February 17, 2012 (Europe)
Platform(s): Playstation 3

Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time

The Sly Cooper series was left dormant after it's heyday on the Playstation 2, but the 2010 release of The Sly Collection, a compilation of all three games in the series, reignited interest and reminded gamers of how good this series was. Included in the collection was a teaser for Sly 4 and we will finally see it released in 2012. As the title suggests, the element of time travel will be included and the old favorites from the original series will return as well. For fans such as myself, this is going to be a must-buy, and it's going to be another quality exclusive in the Playstation 3's cannon.

Released: 2012 (TBD)
Platform(s): Playstation 3

Resident Evil 6

The release of the trailer for Resident Evil 6 was big news, even for those who, like myself, have lost interest in the series and moved on. My chief complaint was the combat controls, however it has come to light that Capcom has listened to fans and revamped the controls to minimize frustrations. This includes actually being able to move and shoot at the same time. The game carries on the tradition of creepiness that fans have come to love, and with the controls being less of a headache, I am definitely willing to give the series another chance.

Released: November 20, 2012
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings

Up until this point, the excellent story-driven action game The Witcher (and the sequel respectively) was only playable by those with a PC powerful enough to handle it, but now the sequel is seeing a console release. Fans of the PC game will likely scoff at this and list the ways that the port is inferior to the PC version, and they'll probably be right, but I don't really care. I've wanted to play this game since it was released in May 2011 and I'm glad to finally have a chance to do so.

Released: April 17, 2012 (Xbox 360 version - PC version already out)
Platform(s): Xbox 360

Prototype 2

The original Prototype was hardly a favorite game of mine, but I certainly enjoyed it despite it's shortcomings. The ability to free-roam New York City and cause damage was fun for a while, but the story is what ultimately held my interest. The sequel looks to address many of the design quirks that people disliked in the first game and, from what I have seen, this game looks downright epic. Three years is a good amount of time to hone and refine a sequel, so hopefully part 2 lives up to these expectations.

Released: April 24, 2012 (North America), April 27, 2012 (Europe)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

                                The Darkness II

The original "Darkness" is a brilliantly intense, story-driven shooter that has some of the most unique elements and plot twists ever seen in the genre. After nearly five years, we finally get a sequel which, if the gameplay videos are anything to go by, will bring the series in line with the best of it's class. This is an early 2012 release that is not to be missed by any shooter fan.

Released: February 7, 2012 (North America); February 10, 2012 (Europe)
Platform(s): Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC

The Last Of Us

I fell in love with this game from the moment I read about it. Naughty Dog has made a big name for itself in recent years with the Uncharted series, and they are giving us a unique take on survival horror. The game seems as enigmatic as the plot and I can't wait to see what this game delivers. I haven't heard many people talking about this game, but I am anticipating that it will be one of the sleeper hits of the year.

Released: Late 2012
Platform(s): Playstation 3

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The New Xbox To Restrict Used Games? It Could Happen

An interesting article on the Wired magazine website came to my attention today, and it presents an interesting topic of discussion among gamers. For a while now, it's been known that the gaming industry, namely the developers and the publishers, absolutely despises the used game market. The hate it with a passion and have taken steps to limit content to first-time buyers or people willing to pay extra for a DLC code if they purchase the game second-hand. Opinion is divided  on whether or not this is a good move, however there is speculation now that the next generation of the Xbox console will restrict, if not totally lock-out, used games from the console. Rather than discuss the article in detail (you can read it here), I will simply weight in with my thoughts on the matter.

If the rumors turn out to be true, the new Xbox (or "Xbox 720" as some are calling it) will either require games to have one-time use DLC codes to access the full game, or they may circumvent the physical media by releasing full games as digital downloads that are only usable on one console. The Wired article points out that the new Playstation Vita has already adopted this practice and is offering all games in both physical cards and lower-priced digital downloads. The Xbox Live service currently offers a selection of games exclusively online though the Xbox Live Arcade, with full retail games coming up later on it's "Games On Demand" service. Given the prevailing desire on the part of consumers to go all digital, as they have with music and movies, it is not a far leap of the imagination that the same will apply to video games. While it is unlikely that physical game media will die out altogether, the shift of focus to downloading may prove to be a win-win for the game developers and Microsoft. Lower overhead, faster access for gamers and money that would have otherwise gone to used game retailers lining their coffers. For gamers, this is a dubious proposition.

As a gamer myself, the ability to purchase video games used means that I can purchase more games and save some money. Like many people, spending $60 on every new release is not something that I can afford to do, so the used game retailers fill this void nicely. There are also games that go out of print or become rare, so buying them used is often the only option available. By having the games move to digital format, we would be limited to what is available online and shopping around would not be an option. We have had no choice but to accept that content will be held back via online passes and DLC codes, however restricting an entire game pretty much puts us at the mercy of Microsoft and the game publishers.

Once I read the article, I did an informal survey of my Twitter followers (follow me here) and found opinions to be mixed. One one hand, some people are adamantly against it and view it as Microsoft "shooting themselves in the foot" and "screwing over gamers". Others concede that the used game market brings in millions and developers should be entitled to some of it, and some are indifferent because they don't purchase used games. From my perspective, I get it as a capitalist, but I bemoan it as a gamer. Every used game was purchased at full retail at some point, therefore the publisher and developer received the money they are entitled to for the sale of that game, as well as any subsequent DLC that is purchased. The used game market represents potential income that they are only just starting to tap into. Musicians don't get royalties from used music, authors don't get royalties from used books, and car companies don't get royalties from used car sales. You could argue that used game sales are a different matter because of the money they bring it, but I think the same principles still apply. 

On the side of being a capitalist, I understand why they are doing it. This is a case where the game developers found a way to hold back content for those who either buy new or are willing to pay extra. If Stephen King held back the last few chapters of his new book and limited it to only those who purchased it from the Kindle shop, I imagine people would be far less tolerant. The game companies will have you believe that used game sales "cheat" their bottom line and they are suffering big losses, however the losses come from money they could be making instead of projected revenue they have lost. As the Wired article also pointed out, used games are often sold or traded-in to fund the purchase of new games, so the used game market does have an oblique benefit in the grand scheme of things. Having said all that, game companies exist to make money and this is their way of making more. As a business model, this is hardly unique and I can't completely fault them for it.

So the big question is whether or not these rumors about the next Xbox console are true. It's way too early to tell and Microsoft has a policy against commenting on rumors and speculation. Based on the steps already taken by the gaming industry to curb used game sales, it is definitely possible, however the risk of jilting gamers in the process is strong. Adding to the potential risk of such a movie is whether or not the competition follows suit. If Microsoft adopts this policy on the new Xbox but Sony does not with the next Playstation, the scales of consumer confidence can radically tip in one direction. Also of interest will be the response from retailers like Gamestop who will no doubt be affected. Love them or hate them, Gamestop is a main distribution stream for both used and new video games, so drawing their ire is a risky proposition. Either way, these are all "what if" scenarios at this point. More information that confirms or denies this news will only come with time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: Rayman Origins (Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, Playstation Vita)

When I was writing out my Top Games of 2011 entry, it occurred to me that I had missed out on many of the fan favorite games that were released over the past year. Given the shockingly high number of "must have" releases and my own financial limitations, some games had to slip through the cracks and Rayman Origins was one of them. Having never played a Rayman game in the past, I didn't feel any urgency in picking this up and I started to regret this after many gaming friends started raving about it. Having taken the plunge in making this my first game purchase of the new year, I can easily say that my hesitation in getting it was ill-advised. Had I played Rayman Origins at launch, it would have easily been near the top of my list for the best games of 2011.

For the uniitiated, Rayman Origins is a 2D platform action game that harkens back to the glory days of the 8-bit and 16-bit era, with the focus being less on fully-rendered 3D environments and more on challenging side-scrolling action that becomes increasingly more difficult as you progress through the levels. As is the custom for games like this, the story is cutesy, cartoonish and about as dense as helium, but the characters and overly stylized settings will have you smiling all the way. In a nutshell, the story involves the efforts of Rayman and his colorful friends to rid the Glad of Dreams from an evil army of nasties unleashed by an evil Magician and the nightmares of the Bubble Dreamer. These said nasties are called the Darktoons and they have captured the Electoons, and you are tasked with freeing traversing the dangerous levels in order to free them. Play through the levels, kill enemies, free captured friendlies and repeat. That's Rayman Origins in a nutshell. Other nuances exist in the story to keep the player engaged, however the platforming action is clearly the star of the show. You won't feel bogged down with lengthy cinematics or overly complex storylines woven throughout the game, and it's all the better for it.

Each level is divided into separate stages, each one offering a mix of environments and level designs to offset the tedium that some gamers might find with the "point A to point B" objective. The standard level-based platforming stages are complemented by areas where you must swim underwater, or take control of a giant mosquito that can both fire projectiles and suck up enemies like a vacuum. Similar to other platformers like Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong Country, the locales are also nicely varied, with lush jungles, levels in the clouds, wintry stages covered in ice and scorching deserts, just to name a few. Each level is beautifully hand-drawn and rendered, and Rayman Origins stands s a testament to how effective and striking a 2D platformer can be. The animation of the characters, the enemies and the backgrounds in the environments is also top notch, as is the wonderfully cartoony sountrack. Simply put, Rayman Origins is a colorful and beautiful feast for the senses, and proof that a game that pays homage to an older gaming style can still dazzle a new audience.

The gameplay in Rayman Origins emphasizes a mix of precise platforming and fast forward momentum. Some levels allow you to take your time and source out ever single collectible, while others feature dynamic environments that require you to keep moving without stopping. This is not to say that you are ill-equipped for the challenges you face. Rayman and his friends have a variety of melee attacks such as sucker punches and body slams, while releasing captured electoons affords you special abilities such as swimming, running up walls and hovering, all of which have must be used to get through certain stages. The object of each level, outside of simply passing it, is to collect colorful "Lums", which function as the games currency of sorts. You need to collect Lums to earn medals at the end of each level, and a certain number are required to unlock new areas. This leads to one of the games few weaknesses; the need to backtrack. Players who take the fast track through earlier levels will find themselves at a shortage of needed Lums, which will require you to replay levels that have already been completed. The upside to this is that each level is packed with secret areas, hidden skull coins, and hidden cages where pink Lums (more valuable) are held in large numbers. Replaying areas can seem like a chore, but there are enough rewards for repeatedly playing a level to make it worthwhile and feel like less of a grind.

While Rayman Origins looks approachable and simple in concept, it must be said that it can get very challenging at times. Many of the levels have dynamic environments that crumble around you, and some that continuously move forward, requiring you to think and use your abilities quickly. You also don't have a lot of health, so running into enemies or attacking certain ones head-on can lead to numerous deaths, as can misjudging a jump or moving too slow as you level makes a beeline for the right. As challenging as it can be, the frequent checkpoints and unlimited lives ensure that there is no harsh penalty for dying, however certain achievements and level bonuses do require you to make it through without dying or taking damage. To get the most out of your experience with Rayman Origins, replaying multiple levels is required as many secrets and rewards are easily missed on your first run-through. With the sheer volume of things to discover, there is plenty here to satisfy the completionist within. Rayman Origins also supports up to 4 player local co-op which, similar to New Super Mario Brothers Wii, can get incredibly chaotic and ridiculously fun or frustrating depending on how everyone plays. 

For those who remember playing 2D platformers on older consoles, as well as those new to the experience, Rayman Origins is a game you need to have on your radar. The strikingly beautiful graphics, the intuitive and occasionally punishing level design and an incredible sense of reward and discovery all combine to make this one of the most satisfying and addictive games in recent memory. If you overlooked this game when it was first released or have been on the fence about getting it, believe me when I say that you owe it to yourself to pick it up. Rayman Origins combines some of the best elements that we love in video games and gives it you in an experience that is not to be missed.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Note: The Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS versions are both scheduled for release in March 2012. No PC version has been confirmed.