Saturday, May 12, 2018

Spider-Man 2: The Game (PS2) Review

Summer is upon us and with it comes what is generally referred to as blockbuster season.  It's a time in which studios put out the big releases, films guaranteed to make the big bucks at the box office; back them when this time of the year was upon us, game publishers took advantage of the situation and produced video games based off the upcoming flicks.  Ninety-percent of the time, though, these titles were of average or poor quality, but every once in a while, you got a game that was better than expected, like Spider-Man 2.  Based off the movie of the same name, Spider-Man 2 changed many of the pre-established concepts associated with thee web slinger.  Instead of being a linear, action-adventure experience, players had the opportunity to explore New York and get a real taste of what it's like fighting crime as everyone's favorite neighborhood friendly superhero.

Since he defeated the Green Goblin at the end of the last film, Peter Parker has struggled to balance his life as an average citizen and protecting New York City from the crooks and criminals that roam the streets.  He's struggling to stay in college, can't maintain a steady job, nor can he maintain his relationships with family, friends, or the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson.  One day, Peter receives an invitation from Harry Osborn to meet with Otto Octavius, a renowned scientist currently working on an experiment to create an infinite source of renewable energy using a rare substance called Tridium.

When Otto holds a public demonstration, things go awry.  The energy source goes out of control, sending out electrical surges that kill his wife and cause his robotic tentacles used to control the energy to malfunction.  After Spider-Man saves the day, Otto is taken to the hospital, where he wakes up, kills the staff, and escapes.  Under the influence of the tentacles, Octavius vows to rebuild what he started and get revenge of Spider-Man, who he blames for the loss of his wife.

Spider-Man and Black Cat team up to stop
Pajama Man and his fearsome Power Gloves!

Spider-Man 2: The Game
 does a good job at adapting the film's screenplay into video game form, but it does add in a couple of new sub-plots and tweaks certain plot points from the movie to introduce new characters not seen in the picture.  For example, early on, Spider-Man receives a challenge from Quentin Beck, a stuntman convinced that the web-slinger is a fraud, so he sets up a series of challenges to try and expose him, but Spider-Man succeeds.  This drives Beck mad, so he adopts the persona of Mysterio, and stages a large-scale alien invasion hoax to frighten the people of New York.  Other villains from the comics, like Rhino and Shocker (no, not that Shocker) make cameo appearances, but the inclusion of Black Cat in the game is interesting.

In the movie, Peter Parker loses his powers after assuming he'll never be able to keep doing what he does best.  Since nobody wants to spend a fourth of the campaign as powerless Peter, the game tweaks this narrative thread by introducing Black Cat.  She convinces him that it's better to just abandon his normal life and stick with being a hero because that's more rewarding and satisfactory than anything else.  Eventually, Parker realizes he needs a normal life to keep things in balance, so he abandons what Black Cat offers in favor of pursuing a proper balance between heroics and being an everyman.  It's a change that works quite well to the advantage of the game, the issue is that the introduction of these new characters and plot-lines does throw the pacing off, especially towards the end of the game where it just rushes through the remainder of the film's plot just to reach the end.

Instead of confining the player and Spider-Man's abilities to a linear-progressing game, Spider-Man 2 drops the web-head into an open-world environment capable of letting gamers unleash the true potential of playing as Spider-Man.  Controls are great; in previous and even later Spider-Man games, web-swinging felt like an afterthought than anything else, it only acted as a means for Spider-Man to get over pits than anything else.  Here, getting around the city means being capable of getting good at shooting webs.  Before, whenever Spider-Man shot his webs, they just magically stuck to anything, even the sky; now, when pressing the web-swinging button, the wall-crawler will shoot his webs to the nearest building, light post, etc.  If there's nothing within his vicinity to swing on to, well, get ready to do some free-falling.

Tight controls means it's easy to get a grasp of the mechanics, and after some trial-and-error, you'll become quite adept at swinging through New York to reach your next objective.  A multitude of techniques available for purchase allows the player to experiment even further with Spider-Man's web swinging.  Combat is just as versatile.  There are two attack buttons; one for punching and kicking, and the other for webbing up goons.  Defeating enemies and swinging with style builds up Spider-sense.  When activated, time slows down, and Spider-Man is able to attack and counter his foes much quicker than in normal time.  Like the web-swinging, there a multitude of attacks available to purchase and use.  My personal favorites are the piledriver, in which grapple an enemy, jump, and then press circle to drive the goon into the ground, and webbing up a thug and spinning him round and round and round.

Be a daredevil and climb up to the Empire State Building
to take the mother of all leaps of faith!

Meanwhile, bad guys tend to wield melee weapons or firearms; late in the game, some will be geared up in hulking mech suits that require the player to use Spider-sense to get around them and attack from behind.  If an enemy is about to strike, you can press the counter button to dodge and follow up with a secondary attack.  Unfortunately, the collision detection on this move is off.  It works fine when up against one person, but when you counter and someone else follows up, you're never able to properly react to the strike, even as you rapidly press counter.

Spider-Man 2's open-world layout will be familiar to anyone who's played games of this nature.  The story is split into eighteen chapters; each one involves beating the latest story missions, as well as amassing a certain number of points or buying a specific move or upgrade from the store.  There are many ways to earn points.  The most common method is to beat up thugs and stop crimes.  Whenever a green question make appears above a civilian, then a crime is available to stop.  Said crimes can either be robberies, a stolen vehicle, or someone that needs to be taken to the hospital before time runs out.  Though optional, these tasks get repetitive, fast, since there are only a handful of objectives that get tiresome to beat after the 50th time.

Fortunately, there are other tasks available, like taking up odd jobs such as snapping photos for the Daily Bugle or delivering pizzas.  Scattered around New York are challenges that test the player's web-swinging skills.  Then, there are the collectibles.  You can find hidden tokens on top of skyscrapers, on buoys, in gang hideouts, or in hidden areas.  There are also hint markers strewn about New York; when activated, these trigger a message narrated by one of the greatest actors of our time, Bruce Campbell, and they relate information regarding the gameplay, story, or Spider-Man's history, all delivered with the snarky, wise-ass attitude Bruce Campbell is known for.

Though rough around the edges, to say the least, one area of Spider-Man 2's graphics that still holds up is its sense of scale.  New York City is huge, and the visual and audio effects used whilst swinging through the city really enhance the feeling that this place is like one giant, urban jungle, and Spider-Man is Tarzan, swinging around the city with ease.  Yet, the quality of the visuals leaves a lot to be desired.  Pop-in is a plenty, as are the five civilian character models endlessly copied over and over; at least the models for the principle characters look passable. 

Sling that web like nobody's business!

Sound is just as uneven.  Tobey Maguire gives the world's most enthusiastically monotone performance playing Spider-Man.  Whether he's shouting quips or trying to show emotion during a pivotal scene, Maguire gives as much of an effort as someone clearly looking for a paycheck.  Other performances, like the pedestrians or the poor-man's J.K. Simmons, are just as bad, but the likes of Kirsten Dunst, Alfred Molina, Bruce Campbell, and the actors for Mysterio, Black Cat, and Harry Osborn fare better, especially the King of the Chins, Bruce Campbell.

Spider-Man 2: The Game does a lot right.  The game takes the film's plot and works it into a manageable adaptation, making some changes and adding new material that's for the better, even if it does throw the pacing off of the game towards the end.  As for the gameplay, it eschews linearity in favor of an open-world set-up that allows the developers to open up what it means to be Spider-Man through excellent web-swinging and fun combat.  Though the game can get repetitive and is quite short for being an open-world game, lasting anywhere from four to five hours, Spider-Man 2 is a blast to play and is one of the better movie tie-in games to have come out.

Final Score: 8/10

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Summer Time, Fun Time: A GamerGuy's Reviews Update

Hello, people of the internet, it is yours truly, William Lowery, a.k.a. GamerGuy, here with the annual update.  Ever since I got back into the swing of writing and publishing reviews at the beginning of this year, I've been very pleased with the content I've been putting out, and though the articles haven't been as numerous, they are at least well-written; in other words, quality over quantity. 

Truth be told, the spring semester of my junior year of college was quite busy since I was constantly inundated with paper, projects, and other assignments.  Fortunately, whenever I had the chance to write I took it, rather than waste it on something else.  With that said, I'm out of school and summer is upon us, so what's in store?  Will too much work keep me from writing anything and result in a severe case of writer's block?  Pardon my French here, but HELL NO!

There's a lot to look forward to this summer.  In keeping with the tradition, I'll be taking a break from game reviews so I can focus on playing any and all titles being covered in August, September, October, and so forth.  Yet, there will be a plethora of movie and anime reviews to tide things over.  Having taken another look at the schedule I set up, I made a few modifications; that is, swapping some films out in favor of others, and the results are pretty satisfying.

Expect reviews covering films such as the Robocop trilogy, Highlander, Repo Man, and Stephen King's magnum opus, Maximum Overdrive.  As for anime, I'll be jumping back into the Burn-Up franchise by covering the original Burn-Up and its pseudo-sequel, Burn-Up W.  Will they be as trauma-inducing as Burn Up Scramble?  You'll have to wait till June to find out.  Things will return back to normal in August, with a pair of reviews focusing on the first two Borderlands games, plus their respective DLCs, as well as two reviews covering Escape from New York and They Live.

So, what about my freelance writing for Cubed3 and VHS Revival, what's in store?  This weekend, I'll write up and submit my review in for Xenon Valkyrie+ to Cubed3.  Later this month, you can also expect a review on VHS Revival covering the 1980's classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  There will be additional contributions to Cubed3 and VHS Revival peppered throughout the summer, so stay tuned for those.

Lastly, what about this year's Drive-In of Terror?  After two years of misfires with the previous attempts, do I plan to carry on through with the mini-marathon, or has it been abandoned?  No, it has not been scrapped.  In fact, I have come up with an easy solution to avoid any scheduling issues: write the reviews before October, then I can just post them up here with ease.  That's the plan for this year, but as for what will be covered, the only thing I can say is that movie-wise, the theme for this year is that all films were made by legendary director John Carpenter, so I'll let your mind do the rest of the thinking.  As it gets closer to October, more details will be revealed.

One other thing I want to address is the matter of interviews.  This is something I promised would become commonplace starting in 2016, but I have failed to live up to that promise.  Fortunately, after some thinking, I do plan on to carry with conducting interviews with various Youtube personalities and the like.  I can't say yet who I plan on talking with, but you can expect said interviews to go up during the fall and winter.

After the calamity that was 2017, I'm glad to be back on track; although the publishing of reviews has been sporadic, the overall quality is better than before, and I think what I have planned for this summer will let me be able to go wild and have some fun.  I'm thankful for the support and for those that read my work.  I strongly encourage you follow me on Twitter @gamerguyrules20.  It's the best way to meet me and share my work with others.

Oh, and before I close this update.  For those that live in Mississippi, I plan on going to the Mississippi Comic Con this year, and unlike last time, it will be for both days.  I'm very excited for this year's event, especially since Michael Biehn, star of Aliens, The Terminator, and his cinematic apex, The Lords of Discipline, will be a guest there, so I'm looking forward to that.  If you happen to be at the convention and run into me, feel free to say hi.

That about wraps things up.  Till then, I'm William Lowery, and more importantly....


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Double Feature: Medal of Honor: Frontline (PS2)/Medal of Honor: Rising Sun (PS2)

As I've discussed in prior reviews, there was a time when shooters set in World War II were considered the norm for the genre.  Before Call of Duty sets its sights on modern and futuristic firefights, the series started off focusing on the war where the enemy was German, and health didn't recover by hiding behind a rock for a few seconds.  Today, Call of Duty's major competitor is Battlefield, but at the beginning of the 2000's, its rival was a franchise conceived by acclaimed director Steven Spielberg, and that game was Medal of Honor.  Although considered a forgotten franchise since a 2010 reboot and its sequel put the kibosh on the series; for a time, people enjoyed the games.  Of all the games out there, two that are frequently discussed are Medal of Honor: Frontline and Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, but are they still good, or is it just blind nostalgia?

Frontline follows Lieutenant James "Jimmy" Patterson, a U.S. soldier who is part of the OSS organization.  After partaking in the infamous D-Day landing, Patterson is sent out by the OSS to find out information regarding the Nazi's development of a high-speed jet bomber that might give the Germans the upper hand.  His assignment takes him through Operation Market Garden, the occupied city of Arnhem, and a research facility run by the fearsome General Sturmgeist, who is also in charge of the jet fighter operation.

Rising Sun tells the tale of Joseph Griffin.  While relaxing in Hawaii, the base he is stationed at, Pearl Harbor, is hit with a surprise attack from the Japanese.  Griffin narrowly escapes the sinking boat he is on; later, he meets up with his brother Donnie while on tour in the Philippines.  Joseph, Donnie, and the squad manage to recover a demolitions truck stolen by the Japanese, which they use to blow up a bridge; unfortunately, Donnie is captured while they are fleeing from the enemy.  Later, Joseph becomes a member of the OSS, and is sent out to infiltrate a meeting being held at a hotel in Singapore.  There, he discovers the Japanese are running gold smelting operations in Burma, so with the help of the Allies and the OSS, Joseph sets out to sabotage their work there.

Some stages, like this one,
 take advantage of the excellent score and heighten
up the atmosphere of the given level.

Frontline's plot is nothing special, but what is nice about the story, and this holds true with the other game, is its attention to detail.  Many of the missions take place during battles and locations prominent during World War II.  Once a mission is completed, the player is treated to narration summarizing the aftermath of the events that took place, complete with historical footage.  It gives the minimal narrative a sense of importance knowing what took place as Patterson carried out his objectives actually happened.  On the other hand, Rising Sun attempts to have a fleshed-out story, but it doesn't go anywhere.  Worse, after Joseph's brother Donnie is captured, we're never treated to a mission or cutscene showing what happened to him.  Instead, this dangling thread is saved for a sequel that never happened.

When it comes to the gameplay, the two are practically identical, save for a handful of mechanics.  Frontline features six missions split into two or three smaller acts, while Rising Sun has nine missions, none of which are broken into chunks, which I'll explain later.  Many of the missions found in both games will see Jimmy Patterson or Joseph Griffin accomplishing objectives like destroying gun emplacements, sabotaging equipment, retrieving important documents, or rescuing somebody captive.  Along the way, you'll shoot up dozens of enemy soldiers, but a few stages incorporate light stealth into the mix to shake things up a bit.

Controls are mildly clunky.  The default set-up used in Frontline mimics the controls found in the earlier PS1 games, but a more contemporary option is available.  Even then, there are some quirks.  Aiming your guns feels rough, regardless of whether or not you're zoomed in; speaking of which, the game doesn't rely on iron sights; instead, the camera zooms in so you can pull off more precise shots, yet the drawback is that you can't move, so you to be a little more considerate of what's going on around you.  Then there's the reloading, which is bad, particularly in Frontline.  Though the animations are detailed, Patterson takes too long to reload a weapon, and if you switch guns or melee an enemy, he'll start over.  As a result, it's best to reload before moving on, or else you'll be doing a lot of strafing just to reload.  Luckily, Griffin doesn't take as long to put a new clip into his gun.

Singapore Sling is one of the few stages that stands out
in Rising Sun.  Largely because of this silenced, one-hit kill
pistol Griffin's given to use.

When it comes to guns, the selection of firearms is standard for a game set during this era.  There are Thompsons, M1 Garand rifles, the Springfield, the MP40, and the Type-22 rifle, which is in Rising Sun.  What's unusual about both games is that you can't pick up guns dropped by fallen bad guys; unless the weapon is in a pre-determined spot, you can't use it, which is odd.  Fortunately, the Germans and Japanese put up a considerable fight, although they do show signs of stupidity every once in a while.  However, towards the end of Frontline, there's a sharp difficulty spike and the Nazis become ruthless killing machines, capable of whittling Patterson's health down within seconds.

Even more frustrating is that they become capable of soaking up more damage, which is ridiculous.  You can unload an entire clip of BAR ammo into these guys, and they'll still keep fighting.  Keep in mind, when Patterson dies, you to start the entire mission over, and let's just say that re-doing twenty minutes worth of gameplay is not a fun experience.  Rising Sun is considerably less challenging, as health and ammo are plentiful even on Normal; plus, since levels aren't broken up into smaller acts, there are now save spots that allow you to save your progress, which is nice.

Of the two games, Frontline is the better one because of its variety and sense of adventure offered by many of the missions.  Sure, the game can get frustratingly cheap towards the finale, but it has a lot of moments that stand out like the D-Day invasion or infiltrating a dinner party to save a hostage.  Rising Sun attempts to re-capture what made the previous game enjoyable, but it loses much of its impact.  The prologue set during Pearl Harbor is cool and it's nice to see a game that focuses on the Pacific theater since that's a side of the conflict not seen much in World War II shooters.

The D-Day invasion, as portrayed in Frontline, is fun, even
more-so than Call of Duty: WWII's take on it. 

Yet, after the excitement of the opening, the rest of the game fails to live up to that moment since you spend a lot of campaign shooting the Japanese in similar-looking jungles with low-res textures that make you feel like you're in the middle of Turok on the Nintendo 64, rather than a shooter on the PlayStation 2.  What issue these two do have in common is their short length.  Beating the campaigns in both games can take anywhere from three to four hours.  The PlayStation 2 version of Frontline has no multiplayer, while the GameCube and Xbox versions do; luckily, Rising Sun has split-screen multiplayer and a co-operative campaign option across all platforms, giving this game some extra legs over its predecessor.

At the time, the two games looked fine and do now, even if the overall quality is rough around the edges.  Aesthetically, Medal of Honor: Frontline is a drab game; many of the stages are awash with brown and grey, and some of the stages sport poor lighting, which can make figuring out where Nazis are hiding a chore to do, plus the frame-rate can get choppy when there's too much happening.  I also encountered a strange bug where the mouths of enemies would keep moving even after they were killed, which was just plain creepy.  Medal of Honor: Rising Sun is a more colorful game, but as alluded to prior, the graphics look a bit jankier, which is noticeable in the jungle levels.

What follows next after this exciting opening is a lot of boring
shooting, with occasional moments of entertainment.

Sound design is pretty good in both games.  Weapons sound great and the music is solid, especially Frontline's score, which was done by acclaimed composer Michael Giacchino.  The same can't be said for the voice acting, which isn't bad, and it's nice that Germans speak German and the Japanese, well, Japanese, but none of the performances stand out, aside from Patterson's commanding officer, who is voiced by the same guy that voiced John Adams in the first Conduit.

Medal of Honor: Frontline is a fun, albeit brief, shooter that offers some good thrills, even when the game artificially spikes the challenge towards the end of the game.  Medal of Honor: Rising Sun tries to one-up its predecessor by offering a legitimate storyline, but the end result feels less like a true sequel and more akin to an expansion pack.  The opening Pearl Harbor stage hints at something promising, but the rest of the campaign fails to do anything interesting with the material, and instead opts to take an interesting side of the conflict and turn it into a middle-of-the-road shooting gallery.

Final Score: 6/10 (Frontline), 5/10 (Rising Sun)