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Fast Draw Showdown Review

This pricey one-trick pony provides an amusing trot down memory lane, but you’ll be saddle sore before you know it.

The Good

  • Campy full-motion video acting.

The Bad

  • There’s only one thing to do in the game
  • That thing takes less than five seconds to do
  • Some opponents are brutally quick.

It was a different time. Unfulfilled by the opportunities available to them at home, young men and women struck out into the world to seek their fortunes. Often with nothing but a handful of quarters to their name, these intrepid souls migrated in hopes of manifesting their destinies with three letters and a high score. It was the time of the arcade. And in this time, the allure of full-motion video still burned bright, and games like Fast Draw Showdown offered players the chance to duel their way through a Wild West outpost full of cheesy, costumed actors. More than 15 years after its arcade debut, Fast Draw Showdown offers the same opportunity, albeit with the PlayStation Move controller instead of a plastic light gun. Unfortunately, this old-timer is out of its league on the PlayStation Network. There is definitely some nostalgic fun to be had with this blast from the past, but $9.99 is too much to ask for a game this shallow and repetitive.

Enemies that abruptly change position when shot are one of the joys of full motion video.

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The name of the game pretty much says it all. With Move in hand, you select your difficulty and embark on an eight-round tour through a dusty Western town full of people with death wishes. Each round is made up of six gunfights that all play out in the same way. You see your opponent in front of you. He or she delivers a cheesy line that may involve a threat, a pun, a movie reference, or any combination of the three. The townsfolk scatter, and at the insistence of a big red prompt, you tilt your Move controller down to holster your weapon. The tension builds. Suddenly, the prompt proclaims “Draw,” and you whip your controller up to aim and fire as your opponent draws and attempts to gun you down. If you lose, you see a cracked screen with bullet holes and are possibly taunted by the victor. If you win, your enemy crumbles to the ground, possibly uttering some silly parting words. The score screen comes up and gives you points for speed, accuracy, and bonus (awarded for headshots). This score is added to your running tally, and it’s on to the next fight.

That process repeats until the round is over. If you’ve won every duel, you progress to the next round. Otherwise, you go back and replay the fights you lost at the cost of one life. Run out of lives, and it’s game over, unless you’ve selected infinite lives, in which case you just continue repeating the round until you beat it. Every character does the same thing every time, so once you’ve lost to an opponent, it’s much easier to win the second time through. Things are a little different when you duel more than one character, because you have to shoot the one who draws first. The aggressor changes randomly, but you can usually spot a telltale difference that reveals which of the few options is going to play out (for example, a windblown jacket or a quick hand movement).

Yet even when you know who is going to shoot you, it isn’t always easy to plug that opponent first. You must keep your controller tilted below a certain angle, or else you get chided by Wes Flowers, an actual quick-draw specialist and the host of Fast Draw Showdown. If Wes has to speak to you a second time, it’s a foul, and you forfeit the duel. Drawing reasonably quickly and aiming true will likely get you through the first round or two, but some of your opponents make things tougher. One fellow stands at the end of a long alley, making for a very small target, while others won’t go down with one shot. And as you progress, Fast Draw Showdown regularly demands reaction times of under one second. The visual “Draw” cue can help, though only on the easiest difficulty level, so your best bet is to watch the actor closely and listen for the audio cue of the gun leaving the holster. Even when you’re tuned in, however, some opponents are just too fast, forcing you to resort to repetition and anticipation rather than a sharp eye and a quick arm.

This fellow has 'no reservations about killing you.' Or about making a terrible pun, apparently.

This fellow has ‘no reservations about killing you.’ Or about making a terrible pun, apparently.

Fast Draw Showdown doesn’t get repetitive only when you’re trying to beat one tricky opponent, however. Even when you’re progressing quickly from one opponent to the next, there’s just one thing to do in this game: duel. Online leaderboards might entice high-score hounds, and the two-player mode lets you share the limited fun by taking turns or competing simultaneously to see who is faster, but you’re still just dueling. The campy acting and nostalgic appeal of full-motion video definitely provide some amusement, but the enjoyment subsides as you realize that in this decade, Fast Draw Showdown is little more than a minigame. It’s possible to spend hours beating the toughest opponents in the game, but the paltry amount of content and entertainment simply doesn’t justify the purchase price. Even if the hokey antics of a bygone era trigger a nostalgic yearning, be warned: Fast Draw Showdown is an overpriced and underwhelming tourist attraction.

By Chris Watters

Papo & Yo Review

The gameplay of Papo & Yo won’t grab you, but its imaginative portrayal of a young boy’s struggles makes it a worthwhile and special experience.

The Good

  • Handles difficult subject matter wonderfully
  • Filled with magical, empowering moments.

The Bad

  • Puzzles are too easy to be rewarding
  • Some technical issues.

A child’s imagination is a powerful thing. It can imbue the world with wonders, taking the mundane and making it magical. It can also help a child cope with real-world fears that are much too big and scary to confront otherwise. For Quico, the young hero of Papo & Yo, his imagination serves both purposes. The game is wise and knowing about the ways in which a child’s imagination can empower, and the ways in which it can obstruct, when push comes to shove and reality needs to be faced. As a puzzle-filled adventure, Papo & Yo is too easy to offer the stimulation and satisfaction that come from working out the solution to a perplexing conundrum. But as a journey into the world a child creates as an escape from the pain of reality, Papo & Yo is a beautiful experience that addresses serious issues with a deft, graceful touch.

The way to Monster’s heart is through his stomach.

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As Quico, you follow your sometimes helpful, sometimes playfully cruel sister through a Latin American village that’s made up of realistic pieces; the structures look as if they might be ordinary homes that ordinary families live in. But this is no ordinary place. From chalk outlines drawn by your sister on walls, doors spring into existence. By turning gears, you can make stairs slide out of walls. By pulling levers, you can peel back layers of the world. The gears, levers, keys, and other objects you can interact with give Quico some measure of power and control in this place–an important thing for a boy who, as an opening scene suggests, has little power and control in his unstable home life.

Quico’s abilities are also empowering to you as a player. In an early puzzle, you come upon a vast divide separating you from where you need to go, and somehow, you must use the small boxes in front of you to bridge the gap. The instant you lift one is a magical moment, as it immediately becomes apparent what the boxes do. By moving the boxes, you are also moving large buildings around, restructuring the world to fit your needs and creating platforms that you can leap across to reach your destination.

This sensation of wonder is repeated again and again throughout the game in ways large and small. It is almost never challenging to figure out what you need to do to advance. Turning the available keys, pulling the available levers, and trying out anything else in the area that you can interact with generally makes the solution to your current predicament clear. But there’s a tranquil pleasure in going through the motions and observing the magic that takes place, in seeing a stack of buildings grow taller and taller until you can twist it like a snake and run up it like a giant staircase. Unfortunately, technical issues might occasionally make you feel powerless rather than empowered. We fell through the ground in a few spots, leaving us no recourse but to quit and start from an earlier checkpoint. A day-one patch may alleviate these issues, but it’s not yet clear how effective this fix is.

Murals give some areas of Quico's world a striking burst of color.

Murals give some areas of Quico’s world a striking burst of color.

Quico is not alone on this journey. He has his toy robot and trusty friend Lula, who can zip to faraway switches, help Quico jump farther, and offer words of encouragement. And then there’s the monster named Monster, who is not just a companion in this story; he is at its thematic and emotional core. He’s an imposing presence with his hefty frame and his sharp horn, but he’s usually a docile creature, prone to dozing and easily led about with tantalizing lemons. Quico sometimes needs to bounce off of Monster’s big belly to reach high places, or get him to stand on a specific spot to trigger a switch. Through these situations, the game creates a meaningful relationship between Quico and Monster, which is necessary for this story to have any power.

You see, Monster has a dark side. Frogs hop around in certain areas, and Monster can’t resist eating the little critters. But whenever he does, he becomes a frightening, fiery creature who chases Quico and flings the poor boy through the air. There’s no penalty for being caught by Monster–Quico can’t die–but it’s still painful to see him being savaged by the normally friendly beast. Only by finding rotten fruits can you purge Monster of the madness that overtakes him. Like all the other puzzles in Papo & Yo, those involving Monster’s frog-induced rages aren’t particularly challenging, but they have real emotional impact.

The changes Quico brings to his surroundings may inspire awe and wonder.

The changes Quico brings to his surroundings may inspire awe and wonder.

Quico’s quest eventually requires him to seek a cure for Monster, and to say too much about how that progresses would risk spoiling the story. But suffice it to say that Papo & Yo doesn’t disrespect its audience or trivialize its subject matter by offering easy, falsely comforting answers. Like all good fables and fairy tales, this story about a boy using his imagination as an instrument of perseverance in a painful world confronts painful truths in order to offer a realistic foundation for hope. It’s that rare game that’s good for children, not just as a distraction or a piece of entertainment, but as a nourishing tale that helps to make sense of a world that sometimes makes none at all. But you don’t have to be a child to be enchanted by Papo & Yo. Even adults need to see the world through a child’s eyes once in a while.

By Carolyn Petit

The Walking Dead: Episode 3 – Long Road Ahead Review

Moral dilemmas hit close to home in Long Road Ahead, the latest and grimmest episode in the Walking Dead adventure series.

The Good

  • Plot moves away from comic-book-inspired storylines of first two episodes
  • Very unsettling moral choices
  • More adventure-game elements than in previous episodes.

The Bad

  • Some minor pacing problems.

Anyone who played the first two outstanding episodes in Telltale Games’ five-part The Walking Dead series can’t help but feel their stomachs flutter going into Long Road Ahead. All of the excruciating decisions about who lives and who dies, dealing with folks who want to plop you on a plate next to their hash browns, and staying one step ahead of dead folks who see you as a Happy Meal have laid the groundwork for even more unsettling moments here. This time, the moral dilemmas hit closer to home than ever before, causing strife that may just break apart the group of survivors that came together in the first two episodes.

 Lee's bond with Clementine grows stronger in Long Road Ahead, even as strain within the larger group hits the breaking point.

Lee’s bond with Clementine grows stronger in Long Road Ahead, even as strain within the larger group hits the breaking point.

Lead character Lee Everett and his zombie-world extended family are still holed up in the Travelier Motel in rural Georgia as Long Road Ahead opens. As in the last game, dwindling food and supplies are taking their toll on the group. Worries are mounting about the growth of the local zombie population. Lilly may be losing her grip on reality in the wake of what happened in Episode 2. A gang of marauders might be working with someone on the inside to steal medicine and other vital provisions. Kenny continues to insist that the whole gang bug out for Savannah on the coast. All of this quickly explodes into open conflict, and the group takes off in Kenny’s RV with the destination presumably being a houseboat on the Atlantic. Everyone better cross their fingers that zombies can’t dog paddle.

The story breaks away from the earlier links to the Walking Dead graphic novels for the first time. Where the first game had a guest appearance from comic hero Glenn and the second featured a plot that mimicked one from an early comic story arc, here the group moves off on its own. This attempt to reach the coast and find safety at sea is new, as is the mad scramble to get there on board a train. For the first time, fans of the comics can enjoy a sense of freedom and escape comparisons between the game and what creator Robert Kirkman continues to relay to us each month in harsh black and white. It’s rewarding to see the game standing on its own as a new saga in the Walking Dead universe with few if any remaining ties to Rick Grimes and pals.

Grim reality remains a constant, though. Long Road Ahead goes all-in when it comes to disquieting plot points. The zombie plague hits closer to home than ever before, resulting in horrific sequences that just might make you feel sorry for whiny, selfish Kenny (well, for a couple of minutes). Just like in the comic, you’re kept on notice that anything can happen to anyone. At one point late in the game, you make a decision to save one character while leaving another to a brain-chomping death…only to see something happen that you don’t expect at all. At the very least, everything that occurs here makes you well aware that nobody will ever be safe, from the guy at the top of the credits to the newcomers who just arrived.

 Surrounded! Hopefully she saved the last bullet for herself.

Surrounded! Hopefully she saved the last bullet for herself.

Long Road Ahead also changes up the gameplay seen in the first two episodes. This is more of a straightforward adventure. While you still take on zombies with button-pushing challenges and engage in a fair bit of timed shooting and melee scraps, there is a newfound emphasis on solving puzzles by exploring the landscape and collecting items. There isn’t anything brain-busting here, though. Most of the puzzles involve little more than wandering around small areas looking for the one piece of equipment needed to bypass an obstacle, like the blowtorch you have to use to cut loose a tanker truck hanging off a highway overpass.

The added puzzles and dialogue choices make Episode 3 feel more like a traditional adventure game than an interactive graphic novel. The downside to this shift in focus is that the game lags in a few areas, most notably when you have to futz around for 10 to 15 minutes to get that train rolling to Savannah.

With Long Road Ahead, The Walking Dead has passed the midway point of its series of five episodes with every indication that the game will keep getting better right through to its inevitably depressing and unsettling conclusion. The emotional weight of your choices–made even heavier now that we are three episodes into the game and have established relationships with the characters–makes it a tough game to play in many ways, but also an extremely rewarding one that, like the comics, uses the undead to define what it means to be alive.

By Brett Todd

The Expendables 2 Review

The Expendables 2 feels like a natural extension of its source material, but it’s likely to please only a certain breed of old-school game fan.

The Good

  • Faithful to the license
  • Bombastic explosions
  • Comfortable difficulty level.

The Bad

  • Awkward targeting setup
  • Rough around the edges
  • Drags a bit.

Most people who go missing shouldn’t expect an army of heroes to spring into action and scour the globe to find them, but money changes everything. When a billionaire is abducted, four brave and cash-starved mercenaries join together to save the unfortunate man from whatever fate his captors have in mind. Along the way, the foursome punch, slash, shoot, and blast their way to victory as the resulting body count goes through the roof.

The mercenaries will have a helicopter of a time surviving this train ride!

The mercenaries will have a helicopter of a time surviving this train ride!

The Expendables 2 video game (just barely) tells a story that unfolds shortly before the events depicted in the upcoming movie of the same name. That means you won’t have to worry about spoilers as you work through the game’s 20 stages. Aside from a few brief scenes that are surprisingly light on exposition, there’s not really a narrative. The lackluster plot is as much a benefit as it is an issue, though, because there’s nothing to distract you from focusing on the real action.

With the exception of some relatively brief and infrequent on-rails sequences that take place in vehicles, The Expendables 2 is a shooter in the vein of Neo Contra, or 2009′s G.I. Joe movie tie-in. The action is viewed from an isometric angle that lets you see a substantial portion of whatever environment you might be navigating, but in this case there are four heroes working together to deal pain to the seemingly endless waves of enemy goons instead of the usual two. Those four heroes can be controlled either by real friends or by the computer, depending on your preferences and circumstances.

The available mercenaries each have two primary weapons they can switch between, as well as melee attacks and signature killing moves. Visually the character models resemble the characters in the film franchise, particularly Stallone’s character, but the main reason to pick one mercenary over another is the primary weapon selection. Yin Yang carries a simple machine gun and some deadly throwing knives, while the bulkier Gunner Jensen can choose between a shotgun and a sniper rifle with a laser sight. Barney Ross is a middle-of-the-road character, meanwhile, and Hale Caesar packs more explosive equipment than the other guys.

It’s raining mercenaries! Hallelujah!

It’s raining mercenaries! Hallelujah!

They all start out quite strong (these guys didn’t get where they are due to misfiled paperwork), but you make them even stronger by purchasing skill and weapon upgrades with the experience points you earn while playing through the campaign. Health, movement speed, and weapon effectiveness can all be enhanced slightly, just enough to make later stages less intimidating but not enough to make them too easy. The differences between a fresh character and one that has been powered may not be substantial, but upgrades still serve as a nice reward for your efforts.

If you’ve played games of this sort in the past, you shouldn’t have much trouble with The Expendables 2 on the default Casual difficulty setting. There are a few places throughout the campaign where the action gets crazy enough that you might get unlucky and fail a mission, but generous checkpoint placement typically prevents you from losing much ground, and there usually are enough points of cover that four heroes are quite capable of cutting a swath through any enemy forces. There’s also the option of the Hardcore setting, if you think you’re up to it.

The Expendables 2 feels like a natural extension of its source material, but it’s likely to please only a certain breed of old-school game fan.

The Good

  • Faithful to the license
  • Bombastic explosions
  • Comfortable difficulty level.

The Bad

  • Awkward targeting setup
  • Rough around the edges
  • Drags a bit.

Whether you’re playing with computer allies or with local or online friends, you can at least count on helpful support. Since the characters can’t wander far from one another, assistance is usually not far away, and any human players will be happy to revive you, if only so they can keep advancing through a zone. Your computer friends never stray significantly from your side, so typically you have to wait only a few seconds if your character meets an untimely end. Then someone will kneel over him, and with any luck, he’ll be revived a few seconds later. You can also switch to any available computer-controlled player at the press of a button (necessary in cases where you’re playing alone and need to take control of Caesar to blast a gate with explosives), so there’s not a lot of downtime.

Two tanks, one wall. That’s just bad.

Two tanks, one wall. That’s just bad.

The Expendables 2 can be simple fun, but some points could have benefited from more attention. Perhaps the game’s biggest flaw is that you often have little indication where you’re aiming your shots (or throwing knives, in the case of the very capable Yang). You face quite a few waves of opponents, some of them aggressive, and too many missed shots can lead to some real frustration. When your character is an inch away from several onscreen foes, and a spray of bullets has no apparent effect, it gets irritating. Fortunately, melee attacks work well in close quarters.

Then there are those unfortunate moments when enemies and your team members don’t acknowledge one another. You might clear an area and see soldiers standing in plain sight on the trail not far ahead, but neither they nor your mercenaries engage until you position yourself just right. That might not seem so bad, but it breaks immersion and it can even temporarily break the game. In rare cases, you may find yourself stuck partway through a stage while you wander around and try to trigger a conflict so that the stage can continue. Such instances aren’t common, but they can happen. There’s also no option to return to the last checkpoint, so you can be set back quite a ways if you are forced to replay a level.

Despite such occasional stumbles, though, The Expendables 2 is a generally competent shooter. Environments are detailed throughout the campaign, and the action can get delightfully frantic at times. The aiming difficulties may mean that standard gunplay doesn’t have quite the impact that it should (for both the mercenaries and their enemies), but explosions at least look substantial. For the most part the game feels like a true extension of the movies that inspired it. The few quips you hear in each stage strike an excellent balance that lends the experience plenty of personality without growing tiresome. Stallone doesn’t actually voice his character, but his impersonator does a good job. Jet Li’s stand-in is less convincing, but he also delivers fewer lines.

 In case you wondered, those boats are here for a parade.

In case you wondered, those boats are here for a parade.

If you enjoy old-school shooters of this sort, The Expendables 2 is a reasonable diversion, even if you’ve never paid any attention to the films. The game does a reasonable job of delivering simplistic enjoyment, making it a functional time-waster but little else.

By Jason Venter

The Unfinished Swan Review

The Unfinished Swan’s childlike sense of wonder doesn’t fully mask its simplistic gameplay.

The Good

  • Innovative painting mechanic
  • Fairy-tale storyline keeps you moving forward.

The Bad

  • Shallow and repetitive gameplay
  • Easy puzzles fail to engage you in the world.

A completely blank screen, save a tiny reticle, is what greets you when you first start The Unfinished Swan. You might stare at the screen equally blankly for a few seconds, anticipating the conclusion of a load that isn’t happening. Instead, with no tutorial or instructions of any kind (unless you’ve looked at the controller options), you must grab your Sixaxis or PlayStation Move controller and experiment. You soon find you can shoot little balls of black paint with the press of the trigger, and the paint–if you spread it liberally enough–eventually reveals the contours of the first level, which you navigate from a first-person perspective.

Behind every green vine is a child urging it to grow.

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As you make your way through the game’s levels, the story is revealed to you in the form of an elaborate fairy tale about a king who craves control. You play as Monroe, a small boy who was placed in an orphanage after his mother’s death. Allowed to keep one of his mother’s many paintings as a keepsake, Monroe chooses her unfinished painting of a swan, and it’s possible that the gameworld takes place inside this magical painting–or perhaps in a dream. The swan itself acts as your guide throughout the game, its footsteps leading you along the right path, and its occasional trumpets drawing your attention to important events.

It’s not all black paint and feeling your way through the maps, however. As you get further in, The Unfinished Swan expands into a more traditional first-person puzzle game. On one level, you use aqua paint blotches to “water” a never-ending vine plant to make it grow over walls so you can climb them, for example. On another, the dark-on-light motif is reversed as you try to feel your way through a nighttime forest. While these changes are great atmospherically, they also emphasize the extreme simplicity of The Unfinished Swan’s gameplay. You just walk around, point, and shoot. That’s it. Sometimes the paint does more than reveal the level’s structure, but it never does more than one thing (such as make vines grow).

Better throw some paint on it.

Better throw some paint on it.

Thus, the puzzles in The Unfinished Swan feel more like a shallow afterthought than a way of enhancing your emotional connection to the proceedings–you just keep pressing the “shoot paint” button until something happens. Additionally, the game gives you plenty of clues in the form of assistance from the titular swan or from other paintings and maps you come across, which further inhibits your intellectual engagement. Outside the core activities, you fire paint pellets at balloons to collect them. Collecting these allows you to unlock new abilities to use in the game, which might make it simpler and quicker to throw paint around, lead you more easily to the hidden balloons, or allow you to access chapters directly from the main menu. But none of these new abilities meaningfully deepen or expand the core mechanics, nor do they add layers to the gameworld.

That gameworld is extremely sparse and minimalist. It’s a striking aesthetic, and it grows somewhat more colorful as you proceed, but it tends to add to the monochrome nature of the game–in every sense of the word. There’s a fine line between simple and simplistic, and The Unfinished Swan ends up on the wrong side of it all too often. Your interaction with the game rarely evolves, and ultimately is secondary to its value as a work of art and entertainment. The storyline and sense of wonder, then, must bolster the primary offering–and they do, to a certain extent. But to experience this world to its fullest, you must discover (and shoot) semi-hidden story panels throughout the game world, which is a frustrating limitation given how the game relies primarily on elements other than gameplay to draw you in.

Strange sights await.

Strange sights await.

Nevertheless, there’s much to admire about The Unfinished Swan, even if it feels, well, unfinished. The basic idea behind its paint-blotching mechanic is innovative, and you can imagine a fuller realization of it in a game yet to come. And though the storyline is childlike, it isn’t puerile, and the denouement offers more emotional heft than you might be prepared for. More than anything, The Unfinished Swan feels promising, but promising gets you only so far in a work of art, and the truth is, this one just isn’t ready for the museum.

By Eric Neigher on October 16, 2012 4:02PM PDT The Unfinished Swan’s childlike sense of wonder doesn’t fully mask its simplistic gameplay. The Good Innovative painting mechanic Fairy-tale storyline keeps you moving forward. The Bad Shallow and repetitive gameplay Easy puzzles fail to engage you in the world. A completely blank screen, save a tiny reticle, is what greets you when you first start The Unfinished Swan. You might stare at the screen equally blankly for a few seconds, anticipating the conclusion of a load that isn’t happening. Instead, with no tutorial or instructions of any kind (unless you’ve looked at the controller options), you must grab your Sixaxis or PlayStation Move controller and experiment. You soon find you can shoot little balls of black paint with the press of the trigger, and the paint–if you spread it liberally enough–eventually reveals the contours of the first level, which you navigate from a first-person perspective.Behind every green vine is a child urging it to grow. Comment on this video

Rugby World Cup 2011 Review

Limited licences, stripped features, and disappointing presentation make Rugby World Cup 2011 disappointing to even the most ardent fans of the sport.

The Good

  • Captures the pace of the sport.

The Bad

  • Broken AI
  • Disappointing visuals
  • Lack of key official licences
  • Bad value.

AU REVIEW–Every now and then, Rugby fans crawl onto the rooftops and howl into the darkness, lamenting the lack of video games to suit their sporting preference. Darts fans have PDC World Championship Darts, football (soccer) fans have the annual choice of FIFA or the Pro Evolution series, but Rugby fans are left scuffing their boots and playing the releases of yesteryear. Rugby ’08 for the PlayStation 2 marked the sport’s last major outing, and while RWC ’11 is the sport’s debut on current-generation consoles, it’s a poor game whose hopeful swan dive towards the goal line lands well short–face first in the grass.

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This is the gaming equivalent of Swiss cheese. While bearing the official Rugby World Cup 2011 logo on the box and emblazoned across menus, in tandem with the iconic “World in Union” tune, in reality only around half of the international teams taking part in the quadrennial tournament are officially represented in the game. Australia and New Zealand, the world’s top two sides, the latter of which is also this year’s host nation, are present–but not in any authorised capacity. There are no Tri-Nations, Six Nations, or Sevens World Series tournaments to be found, and where developer HB Studios’ Rugby ’08 allowed you to relive more than two dozen classic World Cup scenarios, in its place is now a forgettable goal-kicking mode.

Regardless of which of the handful of game modes you decide to take on, you’ll fall victim to the inconsistent artificial intelligence. At the easiest settings, you can run straight through gaping holes left in the opposition’s defensive line, run parallel to the other team without them taking the initiative to tackle, and watch as they forget what they were doing and give up chases early. The AI scales in difficulty as the tournament progresses, and teams do summon some enthusiasm on the way to the grand final, but expect a mostly unimpeded run for the silverware. At the easy and medium difficulty settings, rivals don’t put up much of a fight, but cranking it up to hard provides significantly more challenge. At this highest setting, opposition players rush and lunge at you from a distance like over-caffeinated super cats as you attempt to clear from the ruck, and smother you before you can offload the ball after winning a line-out. Even when grossly outnumbered, the AI never attempts to hold you up in goal as you crash over the line. Fullbacks can be danced around with a late change in direction, and, once you’ve broken through, the opposition team follows you around like a pack of stray dogs chasing cars made out of steak.

Concentrate... concentrate.

Concentrate… concentrate.

Controls are overly complex and poorly handled, with shoulder buttons responsible for left and right passes, and differing functions depending on whether you’re attacking or defending. Regardless of whether you’re running the ball or protecting your turf, once a player has been tackled, you need to quickly tap either the A or the X button to fill a power meter, with the fastest fingers to do so gaining possession. The offensive team receives an advantage retaining the ball, but the mashing mini-game can take a moment to begin, and is mapped to the same face buttons used for offloading passes, kicking, and intensifying tackles in defence. The result is spilt possession, accidental kicks at inopportune moments, and the risk of drawing penalties for overzealous rough play.

With the exception of loading screen reminders and a multi-page button diagram in the options menu, controls are poorly explained, and there’s no tutorial here to get new players up to speed with what to press and when. If you’re considering picking up Rugby World Cup 2011, you probably have at least a passing interest in the sport. Non-sport followers will have a tougher time, since there’s no explanation of some of the more esoteric rules, and video replays of penalties are seldom available. When to hook in scrums is never demystified, field goals become an exercise in trial and error, and line-outs are a guessing game as you roll the dice on intercepting either a short-, mid-, or long-range throw. Basic tutorials would have made the experience much simpler to get to grips with–but are alas, missing.

Don't worry, they'll never hold you up inside the goal area.

Don’t worry, they’ll never hold you up inside the goal area.

Last year’s 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa proved that offering a game built around a single event doesn’t need to come at the sacrifice of innovation. Like FIFA’s World Cup edition, Rugby World Cup 2011 forgoes domestic club teams to focus on international squads. This could be forgiven if its narrow appeal had managed to represent the bulk of the national sides faithfully alongside compelling gameplay in a range of modes, but this is not the case. Many of the 20 teams included are comprised of fictitious players, and once you’ve exhausted the short Full Tournament mode and taken your chosen team to victory, triumphantly raising the cup for a few poorly animated moments, there’s only one-off and a series of friendly matches to take on. The International Tournament and Warm-Up Tour modes allow you to pick a side and take part in one-off matches, or two-, four-, or six-game competitions sewn together.

Limited licences, stripped features, and disappointing presentation make Rugby World Cup 2011 disappointing to even the most ardent fans of the sport.

The Good

  • Captures the pace of the sport.

The Bad

  • Broken AI
  • Disappointing visuals
  • Lack of key official licences
  • Bad value.

The International Tournament mode allows you to simulate matches, but fans hoping for some form of team management game will be sorely disappointed. Player details like height and preferred position can be altered sparingly, and characters can be manually renamed for those with the time and inclination to correct the details that have been omitted due to licensing. There’s no option to adjust player appearance or attribute points. Character models show some realistic-looking muscle definition, but faces appear rubbery. Fortunately, camera angles frequently focus on the back of players’ heads rather than on their bizarre mugs, even when the game reels off commentary lines such as “look at the disappointment on his face!” Character animations are reasonable, and small flourishes, like individual warm-up routines as players take to the field, stretching before matches, and smooth follow-through on conversion kicks and crunching spear tackles help add to the realism. A small amount of audio commentary is available from real sports commentators, but it isn’t always in sync with happenings on the field, and begins to feel recycled after only a few games. Crowd support hovers at a polite but disinterested sound bite, but jumps to its feet anytime you break through the line, only to return to a murmuring lull when you’re brought down in a tackle.

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Rugby is a game of ground gain as much as possession, and Rugby World Cup 2011 does a good job of emulating the ebb and flow of the pace of the sport; slowing down the feed to regroup, kicking for touch, or selecting a play using the right stick. However, the tactical elements at your disposal are limited. Four set plays can be mapped to the up, down, left, and right directions on the right analog stick, from a total of eight, and include the Cross Kick, Dummy Switch, Loop, Miss, Pivot, and Pocket, but even veterans will struggle with which one to use, and the correct situation to do so, since the only explanation is a series of complicated animated diagrams buried deep inside the menus.

While single-player is an exercise in frustration at the hands of inept or jacked-up AI, multiplayer is the most enjoyable way to play. The game supports four players locally, and two players on the same console online. Online play is as functional and lacklustre as the single-player component of the game. It’s still early days for the game’s community, but it was a struggle to find matches online. Games, when found, ran well with minimal lag. The barebones theme carries over to internet play, with Quick Match pairing you with an anonymous online player. There’s no voice chat, text communication, or settings selection beyond choosing your team. Rematch options aren’t present once the game ends, forcing you back to the search screen. Custom matches are supported, and allow you to invite and play against a buddy on your friends list.

Use the right analog stick to call plays like the Dummy Switch.

Use the right analog stick to call plays like the Dummy Switch.

Rugby World Cup 2011 feels like a game rushed out the door to cash in on the popularity of its real-world namesake event. Broken AI and a limited number of single-player modes make this an irritating and short-lived affair with little replay value. While some fun can be had in local and online multiplayer, there are concerns about its long-term community support and the potential for finding competition. This is poor game that is hard to justify to even the most ardent of football fans who are willing to overlook its numerous flaws.

By Dan Chiappini

Wheels of Destruction: World Tour Review

Varied track design isn’t enough to save Wheels of Destruction from a trip to the junkyard.

The Good

  • Well-designed maps.

The Bad

  • Dearth of single-player content
  • Online suffers from lots of lag.

Contrary to popular belief, a car’s sole purpose is not just to shuttle its passengers around town. That mundane task makes up only a small portion of a car’s potential. Outfit a four-wheeled vehicle with a bevy of ready-to-kill firearms and a sturdy protective shell, and you’ve got yourself a source of destructive entertainment that would make Henry Ford faint with delight. Sadly, the explosive promise of the automobile doesn’t come close to being tapped in the downloadable Wheels of Destruction: World Tour. Through an assortment of problems ranging from minor dents to head-on collisions, Wheels of Destruction makes the joy of blowing up other cars as fun as a drive to the corner market.

Explosions are plentiful when cars mingle.

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Six cars, five maps, four weapons–diversity is not one of Wheels’ strong suits. Upon startup, online competition beckons, but if you’d like to get your motor revved offline, you’re stuck spinning your tires. Offline competition is sparse and uninviting. There’s no tutorial to teach you the ins and outs of vehicular combat, no story to flesh out the motivating force. There’s not even a tournament to give battles a proper structure. You play one-off matches against computer-controlled opponents, check out your kill-to-death ratio afterward, and then play another one-off bout until you grow tired of the banality of it all.

If you think going online could solve these problems, there’s a grand disappointment waiting for you in that realm as well. There’s little difference between online and offline competition save for the incredible lag you suffer when you attempt to challenge other players around the world. Having to put up with severe technical problems when you play Wheels of Destruction online eliminates almost any potential it might have had for being a worthwhile trip down vehicular homicide lane.

There are only two modes of play (Capture the Flag and Deathmatch), unless you consider Team Deathmatch a wholly separate offering. Vehicles are equipped with a boost and can perform a modest jump, but maneuverability is hindered by the slow-to-respond steering mechanics. Tilting the left stick from side to side moves the turret on the back of your car and adjusts the camera. The car eventually responds by positioning itself so its rear is facing the screen, but there’s a noticeable delay while this alignment goes into effect. In practice, this makes precise driving tricky, especially in the heat of combat. Once you figure out how to properly drift around turns, the cars become more responsive and enjoyable to control, but driving never captures the uninhibited joy the best vehicular games encompass.

Survive a battle and you could find yourself with one less wheel.

Survive a battle and you could find yourself with one less wheel.

Stages are spread out across the world and are intricately designed to encourage exploration. Secret roads in Tokyo give you various ways to go from your base to your opponent’s in Capture the Flag, while Rome rewards anyone skilled enough to manage the plentiful ramps that populate the streets. Level design is one of Wheels’ strengths. Through jump-enabled booster pads and tucked-away teleporters, you can escape a pursuer in a pinch or surprise a flag thief with an assault from above. It is easy to get lost in the elaborate worlds because there aren’t enough distinct visual cues to clearly separate one area from the next, but over time, you learn how to get from one place to another as quick as a cat, and you feel all the more devious for thwarting your enemy through hard-earned knowledge of the layout.

So once you learn how to manage the steering and commit the maps to memory, it is fun to tool around locales at top speed, performing summersaults off ramps and generally making a nuisance of yourself. However, the core of the game–combat–rarely enters an enjoyable groove. Two basic problems surface in just about every fight you find yourself in. First, the physics are out of whack. When a missile slams into you, your vehicle is hurtled high into the air. Once afloat, you stay there for precious seconds while your opponent peppers you with enough lead to make you cry tears of oil and death. You can use your boost to get out of harm’s way, but more likely than not, you’ll be dead before you hit the ground. Second, death comes extremely fast. If you aren’t catapulted in the air, you’re likely to be blown apart with a single hit. These issues discourage you from mixing things up in vehicular fisticuffs, which is downright strange in a game built around unabashed car carnage.

When cars engage in war, property values plummet.

When cars engage in war, property values plummet.

Most of the weapons aren’t particularly interesting, either. There’s a standard array of guns available that lack the imagination and viciousness to make you take notice. The rocket launcher locks on to would-be victims, so much of the dirty work of carefully lining up shots is eliminated. This works well because fiddling with aiming would be less than ideal while trying to corner hairpin turns, but the hit-and-run nature removes the in-your-face destruction that could have given your kills more immediacy. This issue continues with the railgun and Gatling gun. You simply don’t feel the weight of your actions, so you don’t become invested in these conquests. This is mitigated somewhat by the flamethrower. You have to be right on your targets to be most effective, and burning them until they’re useless metal bricks offers mild satisfaction.

The engine that runs Wheels is sturdy enough to offer some enjoyment. Once you get the hang of the steering, motoring around the expansive maps is entertaining, and it’s hard not to appreciate the clever designs of each location. But the other elements only serve to bring the rest of the package down. A scarcity of content is the biggest offender. The single-player battles are a mere training ground against computer-controlled cars, and the online battles are so full of lag that it’s not worth putting up with the aggravation. Wheels of Destruction: World Tour is so stripped that it’s hard to overlook its myriad problems to uncover the good buried within.

By Tom Mc Shea

Way of the Samurai 4 Review

Way of the Samurai 4 compensates for clunky mechanics with an enjoyable blend of soapy melodrama and irreverent humor.

The Good

  • Abundant silliness, both scripted and player-generated
  • Multiple storylines reward replay.

The Bad

  • Klutzy combat
  • Lots of menu navigation and loading screens
  • Some things are never explained properly.

The arrival of European sailors on Japanese shores ushered in a strange and turbulent period in Japanese history. The clash of cultures gave rise to radical xenophobes, scheming magistrates, and unscrupulous traders, all of whom you have the chance to ally yourself with in Way of the Samurai 4. You can also wear a tuxedo jacket and no pants, brandish a giant fish in combat, and be pursued through the forest by a dozen angry sumo wrestlers. Way of the Samurai 4 isn’t so much a wacky adventure through these tumultuous times as it is a wacky sandbox that encourages you to live the same few days over and over again, taking different paths, forging different alliances, and experiencing different kinds of sex torture. Though the combat is clunky, the mechanics are dull, and the visuals are dated, there is plenty of goofy fun to be had in Way of the Samurai 4.

And all you wanted was a peaceful evening at the gambling den.

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The key lies in the structure. The game spans just over four days, each divided into day, evening, and night. Each time period contains a few different events that allow you to further different story paths, like allying yourself with the shogunate to restore order, becoming an advocate for the foreigners, or joining a band of rebels. These events are mapped out in the menus, making it easy to follow the main storylines but also clueing you in to other significant events waiting to be discovered. Each story has enough goofy characters, overwrought dramatics, and strange occurrences to be entertaining most of the way through, and if you start to get bored, well, there are plenty of other things to do.

Talk to the folks in town and take random missions for cash. Dress outlandishly and make every cutscene a ridiculous farce. Beat up thugs and make them join your dojo. Eat some sushi, refuse to pay, and flee from the cops. Flirt with women, infiltrate their bedrooms, knock out all the competing suitors, and then whack your date until her clothes come off. Go fishing. Forge a new weapon at the smithy. Chat with Melinda Megamelons or the King of the Homeless. Jump-kick random passersby in the head. Play a card game. Try to reunite a craftsman with his estranged apprentice. Or just hang out by the horse-drawn-wagon tracks and watch people get run over.

There’s a lot of silliness and drama to discover in Way of the Samurai 4, and this helps stave off the dullness of sitting through frequent loading screens and running doggedly around the map. Much of your interaction with this irreverent world is through sparse dialogue trees and other menus. Perusing item descriptions and visiting different shops are the only ways to learn about all Way of the Samurai 4 has to offer, and even then, some elements are likely to elude you until repeated playthroughs.

A courteous host does not comment on his guest's lack of pants.

A courteous host does not comment on his guest’s lack of pants.

When you’re not scurrying all over town or navigating options, you’re in combat. There are multiple fighting styles for the few different weapon types, but combat only makes use of light and heavy attacks, blocks, dodges, and a few combo maneuvers. Hit detection is irregular, so slashing and kicking your way through enemies feels haphazard. This makes combat less like a thrilling contest and more like a chore, though there is still some satisfaction in pummeling your foes silly.

Your first playthrough of Way of the Samurai 4 is disorienting, because the game doesn’t do a great job of explaining all the systems at work. On subsequent adventures, however, you have a better idea of what you can do and can better focus on what you want to do. And even a few playthroughs in, there are still strange delights and new events to discover. Way of the Samurai 4 isn’t the prettiest package, but for those with a taste for weirdness and a measure of patience, it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

By Chris Watters

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

It doesn’t give a good first impression, but Harmony of Despair delivers new and exciting gameplay opportunities for an old series.

The Good

  • Cooperative gameplay is fun online
  • Grinding is addictive
  • Offers a good challenge.

The Bad

  • Instructions are terrible
  • Some areas are too focused on multiplayer.

Cooperative play probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when reflecting on the Castlevania series, which built an identity around solitary adventures through a single, massive castle. Some ardent fans may even consider the major integration of such a feature sacrilegious, as in something that breaks Castlevania’s fundamental appeal. But, like it or not, cooperative play (supporting up to six players online and four through local play) is the crux of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. There’s not much evidence to suggest that the formula should work or provide any semblance of entertainment beyond that of staring at a train wreck, but Harmony of Despair delivers a fun, new, and interesting approach to a franchise that has largely followed the same rubric for years.

It may not look like much, but Harmony of Despair has an addictive quality to it.

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That’s not to say that much of the game won’t feel immediately familiar to those who have played the last few Nintendo DS games or the PlayStation classic, Symphony of the Night. In fact, much of Harmony of Despair–from the characters to the maps–is a Frankenstein monster of sorts. It selects various visual and gameplay elements from those games and melds them into a cohesive experience. Accordingly, you have the option to select from seven characters from previous Castlevania outings: Soma Cruz, Alucard, Jonathan Morris, Shanoa, Charlotte Aulin, Julius Belmont, and Yoko Belnades. The last two characters were downloadable content in the Xbox Live version of the game but are included as a part of the package in the PlayStation Network version. These characters have skills and abilities unique to the games in which they appeared.

Alucard can still change forms and find spells to complement his strong melee attacks; Shanoa relies heavily on magic attacks that she can steal from enemies by absorbing their glyphs; Charlotte can learn new spells by blocking enemy projectiles with her special shield; and Jonathan Morris can learn new martial arts skills that are dropped by enemies upon defeat, which also applies to the traditional Castlevania subweapons he can use. What’s great about these characters is that they all have distinct strengths and weaknesses that balance out when you’re playing cooperatively. Alucard may have strong melee attacks, but his magic attacks are relatively weak, so he’s not that effective at a distance. But when he’s partnered up with characters that are more proficient with magic, the combination is devastating. Still, don’t expect to just waltz through Harmony of Despair’s seven levels, even when playing cooperatively. The game is hard, and it knows it’s hard.

Therefore, death is an intentionally common occurrence, but it’s not an entirely frustrating one, thanks to the surprisingly addictive way Harmony of Despair handles character growth. To put it simply, it’s all about grinding, but you’re not doing it in the traditional sense of defeating enemies and earning experience points to level up. Characters do have individual stats, but these can only be changed by purchasing weapons, items, or armor from the store or finding them in treasure chests scattered throughout a level (special items can also be found by simply defeating enemies). Because the money you earn in a level carries over even after death, you can grind for additional funds and then use them to procure stronger items that help you get through a level. You can do the same for items not found in the store, like new martial arts skills or subweapons for Jonathan, more magic spells for Charlotte and Shanoa, or more souls for Soma.

Some DLC that was in the XBLA version is playable from the get-go.

Some DLC that was in the XBLA version is playable from the get-go.

This might all seem like a supremely tedious experience, but there are a few things at work in Harmony of Despair that counterbalance the repetition. The first is that the grinding provides an immediate payoff, at least in terms of money. Purchasing new armor or weapons (for those who can equip weapons) is a quick way to beef up your character enough to take on the boss of a level. Magic users aren’t quite as fortunate because their spells are typically limited to the enemies they have access to, but even then, finding a new spell in a level can make all the difference in a fight. The second is the way the levels are structured. Because these aren’t the same huge castles from previous Castlevania games (they’re more like mini-castles), it’s a bit easier to entertain the idea of playing through an entire level again. Plus, it’s also worth mentioning that you can easily plot an initial course to the boss by viewing the entire map (performed by clicking the right analog stick), and once you’ve found an easy route, it takes very little time to get from the start to the end.

It doesn’t give a good first impression, but Harmony of Despair delivers new and exciting gameplay opportunities for an old series.

The Good

  • Cooperative gameplay is fun online
  • Grinding is addictive
  • Offers a good challenge.

The Bad

  • Instructions are terrible
  • Some areas are too focused on multiplayer.

Time is another important component of Harmony of Despair, as well as another affront to the Castlevania games of the past few years. You have 30 minutes to complete each level. If your teammates happen to die, they transform into skeletons, which allows them to move around and continue attacking. But if they die while in skeleton form, the countdown goes even faster. Teammates can revive fallen comrades by using the water of life, but sometimes that’s easier said than done when players are scattered across the map or if there is no water of life to be found in a level. Moreover, pausing the game doesn’t stop the clock or the equip screen that you can access through special books placed at various points in a level. At any rate, when the clock hits zero, the game ends. However, the bite-sized nature of the levels do not make it as frustrating as it sounds, and time hardly factors into the equation when you know the correct route.

Local co-op isn’t the best way to experience some Castlevania teamwork.

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There are some areas where Harmony of Despair falters. Some of the visual elements used in this game are well over 10 years old, and the attempt to shoehorn the visual style of numerous Castlevania games into one package enhances its Frankenstein-monster-like nature, particularly when it comes to the level of detail (or lack thereof) in the characters. The environments look fine, but absolutely nothing was built from the ground up for the PlayStation 3 version, so everything generally has a gritty, pixelated look that can make things difficult to see unless you’re sitting close to the TV. The four-player local cooperative mode also magnifies how bad that look gets. All players share the same screen real estate, forcing the game to zoom farther and farther out as players drift apart. Unless you already know the level very well, it can be incredibly difficult to fight enemies or search for treasures as they become miniscule specs. Online multiplayer is a better option, if not for the simple fact that it prevents some serious eye strain because players have their own screens. The music is passable guitar-heavy stuff–with some remixed Castlevania tunes included–but there’s nothing that really stands out. Controls feel a bit too loose at times with jumps, attacks, or spells not coming out when you want them to work. They feel friendlier as you progress through the game, but the controls aren’t as razor sharp as those found in the previous incarnations of the series.

Even with these complaints, Despair’s most egregious failure is the way it presents information on how to play the game properly and what different things mean in context of gameplay. There is an in-game manual that gives basic information, but neither it nor the character equip menus go into enough detail to explain how certain things work. Or, they’re simply not clear enough. How long does it take to capture spells? Can this character use different weapons? Is that spell really leveling up? These are questions you might often ask yourself. Of course, if you’ve played the past few Castlevania games, you should have no problem. But if you’ve been out of the loop since Symphony of the Night, you may find yourself tinkering with characters for quite some time in an attempt to learn on your own. The game’s Survival mode, which pits you against other players in a deathmatch arena of sorts, is a good place to see how your skills stack up and if you’re missing anything particularly noteworthy about your character. But overall, the game is in dire need of some proper documentation.

Racing against the clock provides some dramatic urgency.

Racing against the clock provides some dramatic urgency.

There are many smaller things that seem initially frustrating but make more sense the more you play the game. For example, not having access to your health items at all times; they can be accessed only before you start the level or by finding an equip point, and even then, you can equip only one type. But if you were able to use them at any time without equipping them, Harmony of Despair would be a much easier game. Along those same lines, other multiplayer grinding tropes–such as sharing items, weapons, and armor–would also make the game far easier because stronger players could simply give their best equipment to a teammate. Part of this game’s charm lies in building up your character and handily beating the boss, only to move to the next level to be thoroughly beaten down by a new boss.

Of course, there are some instances where Harmony of Despair caters more to the multiplayer cooperative experience than the single-player. For instance, most of the secret areas can be accessed only with other players, but in reality, that’s the best way to experience this new Castlevania. And it’s the optimal way to experience what may be a new and fun potential direction for the series to take.

By Giancarlo Varanini

Dead Space 2: Severed Review

A focus on intense combat makes this brief return to the Sprawl a satisfying one.

The Good

  • Maintains a gripping intensity for its brief duration
  • Return of twitcher necromorphs is welcome
  • Characteristically excellent visuals and sound.

The Bad

  • Unsatisfying story
  • Uses mostly recycled locations
  • A bit overpriced at $7.

Isaac Clarke wasn’t the only person fighting for survival on the Sprawl during the horrific necromorph outbreak depicted in Dead Space 2. Severed, the game’s first downloadable add-on, returns you to the moon of Titan and puts you in the suit of security officer Gabe Weller. Gabe should be familiar to anyone who played Dead Space: Extraction, but no experience with his previous necromorph encounters is needed to jump into this intense journey through mostly familiar locations. Severed serves up more of Dead Space’s signature combat but very little else. Thankfully, that combat is thrilling enough to sustain Severed during its brief running time.

The fast-moving twitcher necromorphs from the original Dead Space make their return in Severed.

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The title of this downloadable content refers not only to the nature of the series’ dismemberment-focused combat, but also to the current state of Gabe Weller’s marriage. Since surviving the carnage of Extraction, Gabe has made the unfortunate choice to move to the Sprawl with his new wife. He’s deep in the mines when the necromorph outbreak begins, which separates Gabe from his wife who works in the Sprawl’s medical center. Desperate to get back to her and keep her safe as all hell is breaking loose, he sets off in her direction. Weller’s desire to be reunited with his wife makes it easy to invest in his struggle, but the brief journey pauses only rarely to develop the story. The climactic moments raise some intriguing questions but provide no answers, making Severed’s story a compelling but unsatisfying setup.

The focus here is on combat–and lots of it. Gabe encounters no zero-G areas, no puzzles that require the use of kinesis, or any of the other diversions that provided Isaac Clarke with the occasional respite from fighting necromorphs. And this works in Severed’s favor. The near-constant, undiluted combat makes this DLC a particularly intense slice of Dead Space action, and it’s short enough to sustain this intensity without leaving you longing for a reprieve from the carnage. A few particularly dramatic moments, like a memorable elevator ride and an encounter with a gunship, punctuate the action and prevent fighting necromorphs from becoming monotonous.

As a security officer, Gabe begins the game armed with the versatile pulse rifle and the sniper-rifle-like seeker rifle. You also find a flamethrower very early on and start with 50,000 credits to spend in stores, so you can easily outfit yourself with any other weapons from the Dead Space 2 arsenal. Explosive canisters are liberally strewn about many of the environments you fight through, which is useful because Severed often throws more necromorphs at you at one time than Dead Space 2 tended to. This results in encounters that are, for the most part, a bit more challenging than those in the main game, which makes this a satisfying progression in challenge for those who completed Isaac’s adventure.

In addition to the pack, the stalkers, and the other gruesome and terrifying enemies Isaac faced in Dead Space 2, the deeply unsettling twitcher necromorphs from Dead Space make a return here. These necromorphs move at blinding speeds that allow them to evade your attacks more effectively than other enemies and close in to strike you in the blink of an eye. The variety of necromorphs you encounter from one step of the journey to the next keeps you on your toes and helps keep the combat fresh.

Explosive canisters are your friends.

Explosive canisters are your friends.

Unfortunately, the environments are not so fresh. Although there are a handful of new areas, it’s disappointing that the overwhelming majority of your time is spent in locations that are familiar from Dead Space 2 and that nothing has been done with these places to present them in a new light. Still, the visuals are consistently great, creating a tone of oppressive dread that makes the necromorphs that much more terrifying. Impressive smoke effects contribute to the industrial mood of the metal platforms and corridors of the mining operation, and flickering lights add a haunting ambiance to the Sprawl’s medical center. In addition, the chilling audio design that has always been a hallmark of the series is in full effect here. The mingling shrieks and wails of the necromorphs may continue to echo in your psyche long after you’ve stopped playing.

Severed delivers more Dead Space combat, pure and simple, and that is no bad thing. This return to the Sprawl offers up a quick fix of action that maintains a high level of intensity and doesn’t overstay its welcome. At $7, this desperate journey, which most players will complete in well under two hours, is a bit overpriced, and the story raises questions without offering any answers. But it’s not to Severed’s story that you should look for satisfaction; it’s to the gameplay, which is sure to satiate your appetite for necromorph-fighting, limb-severing carnage, for a little while.

By Carolyn Petit

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