Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (PSP) Review

Developer: Raven Software | Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.5/10

(This review is more just a compilation of my notes on the game as I never got around to making a full review about 10 years ago when I was playing it.)

Marvel: Ultimate Alliance is a hack n slash, beat-em-up action RPG.  In the same vein as X-Men Legends II for PSP. Plays pretty much the same except its full of ridiculous cameos and super heroes I don’t really care about too much.

There are diverse levels with unique bosses.  It is a lot more interesting than X-Men Legends II, but the graphics aren’t spectacular, it is about on par with it, even though it was a launch title.  Loading is bearable and infinitely more improved, but still room to do better.  Since its basically a port of a console game, it isn’t exactly optimized for the PSP to begin with.

It’ll hold over any marvel fan’s interest for at least a while since its shameless fan service allows you to play with a wide ranging amount of heroes and beat the crap out of all of the different supervillains.  Only on PSP, there are 4 additional heroes and a couple of bonus gameplay modes.  The additional heres are Ronin, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, and Hawkeye.  There is online stats tracking while you are playing.  PSP-specific community web site with leaderboards and other statistics to look at about how you play.

Story lacks any real substance as it seemingly borrows heavily on pre-gained knowledge about characters.  If you don’t know shit about the heroes, you’re just going to get tired of seeing yet another new idiot in spandex.  Th storyline is sort of interesting, though, and keeps the gameplay going.

You can play co-op through the whole story or a specific mission with a friend online or over ad hoc.  The menu takes way too long to load to make it worth turning off auto-character management.  There is good voice acting, and most characters are voiced.  There is a “quiz machine” where you can test your comic book knowledge.  There is also a training simulator that allows you to complete extra “comic book missions” to build up character’s levels and acquire a costume.

Throughout most of the game, you are just going to be pressing X over and over.  There’s a weird sound bug that occurs when saving, and for some reason it needs to save two different files.  Why couldn’t they just store it all in one?  Rare bugs can make the game crash or act weird.  It even froze my PSP.

 

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 (PS2) Review

Developer: Neversoft / Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.5/10

For those who have not played any of the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater games don’t waste your time with any except Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. THPS 4 has all the improvements from its three predecessors, but this time there is no time limit involved in skating sessions. Basically, it’s free-skate all the time. The whole premise of THPS 4, is to complete particular challenges given to you by zany characters and other skaters you will come across in a particular level. THPS 4 features nine pre-made maps, two of which must be unlocked through excessive gameplay. You’re given the chance to skate at a college campus, San Francisco, Chicago, a shipyard, or even a zoo. On each of the maps you’ll find one or two mini-games. The extra challenges help you learn advanced tricks so that you can use them on your own free skate time.

With THPS 4, you can make your own skate park and create your own skater with even more items to customize. When you create a skater, you can make your skater short and fat, tall and fat, or just plain fat. A lot of the modifications are not that realistic, but its still fun to mess around with. Speaking of realism, if you’re planning on beating this game, you’re going to have to do tricks that are basically impossible to do in real life (like launching off a ramp, doing four varial heelflips, then doing a manual as soon as you hit the ground).

The gameplay will take a while to master if you are not a Tony Hawk veteran. The game is all about timing and getting used to the in-game physics, as well as getting used to your particular skater’s trick outfit. Tricks are basically split up into four different types: Grab tricks, Flip tricks, Grind/Lip tricks, and the newest addition, Flatland tricks. Grab tricks are tricks that are made while in the air. Flip tricks are also made while in the air, but can be executed a lot faster than a Grab trick. Grinds are made on rails or edges of a sidewalk. Lip tricks also make use of grind-able surfaces; they must be at the top of a half-pipe or on the edge of a bowl or similar surface. Flatland tricks are made while on the ground, and require nothing more than balance, exactly like a grind. Flatland tricks are new to the series with THPS 4, as they all stem out from the manual. Through the series, manuals have become more and more important, allowing you to string together tricks one after another. The developer has been able to take advantage of Flatland tricks and put together some fairly challenging situations throughout the game. It may take you a day or two just to complete one particular challenge, if you have the patience enough to actually do so.

You advance through the game by gaining Pro Points and Cash. The more Pro Points you have, the more levels you’ll have access to. The more Cash you have, the more extras you’ll be able to play around with, such as cheats, movies, skateboard decks and more things to customize your create-a-skater with. You have to spend your points carefully, as time goes on it’ll be harder to get more points.

The multiplayer aspect of this game was a HUGE part of the game. Before they took it down, it may have even be more important than the single player mode, because nothing was more fun than snubbing your five billion point score in other people’s faces when you’re declared the winner. While the network play option has become easy to configure with THPS 4, it really doesn’t matter anymore since the online portion of the game is no longer supported. Not until you play a Tony Hawk game online do you know how good you are compared to other people — you could have completed all the challenges in the single player mode, but still get wiped on the floor. It’s really a shock to see people reaching scores of 3 million, 5 million, or even 10 million plus. When online was active, all of the offline multiplayer games were available for online play. However, as with any online game, the better your internet connection, the better the game play. Also, having a keyboard helped when communicating with other players. Sadly, all this is for naught as THPS4’s online is down for good – you’ll have to play split screen multiplayer nowadays if you still stick with this version of the Tony Hawk series.

The graphics in THPS 4 are still pretty good. Compared to the previous games, everything in the game has been given the extra effort in being polished. There aren’t too many frame rates drops, unless you’re racking up points that are literally in the millions for just one string of tricks, because the calculating of the numbers can slow the game down. They’re good graphics, no more, no less. Each level is detailed very well and full of unique objects you’ll only see on that particular map. There are also unlockables in which you see the actual skaters doing tricks in compressed skateboard videos.

Like the other games in the series, THPS 4 also has an impressive soundtrack by a mix of rap/hip hop artists (NWA), punk bands (Offspring), and even a little bit of the classic rock (AC/DC, the Cult) and classic heavy metal (Iron Maiden). If you don’t like a particular song, you can easily stop it from playing ever again. There’s also voice acting for the people that give you challenges. It isn’t all too bad, but in the case of some characters like Ollie the Bum, you’ll either love it or hate it.

With a Greatest Hits price of $19.99 or even cheaper these days, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is well worth an investment when it comes to skateboarding games. The THPS series has always been the best games of their particular genre, compared to other “extreme sports” games. In my mind, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4 is the perfect skateboarding game that encompasses all of the best things from the series before they went in a new direction with the Underground series. There hasn’t been another “Pro Skater” title since. The value of the game has been diminished since the shutting down of the online servers, and it will be missed by the few who still held this game as the pinnacle of the series.

 

True Crime: New York City (PS2) Review

Developer: Luxoflux / Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.3/10

In my experience, it has been hard to appreciate any free-roaming style game as much as the Grand Theft Auto series. Since the inception of the formula into many recent games, in practice, games including free-roaming never really compared to Grand Theft Auto’s execution. It’s even more apparent when a game is in an urban setting, such as the True Crime series or other “GTA clones.” True Crime: New York City, the sequel to True Crime: Streets of LA, from Activision and developer Luxoflux, obviously are out to tap into the large fan-base GTA has acquired over the years.

True Crime: New York City has a few things going for it, the most important being the story. Just like what you’d expect from a movie or an episode of a popular crime-drama, you’ve got the set-up: the main character, Marcus, once a gangster, becomes a cop. A detective named Terry, who was a father figure to Marcus, is killed in a mysterious explosion on Terry’s first day of becoming a detective. Not knowing why Terry died, Marcus is motivated to find out why when he is confronted by the FBI asking him to bring in some people and solve some cases to figure out why it happened (and if there is a mole in the police department) on his own with basically no support. The story is delivered very well with a cast of voice actors including Christopher Walken, Laurence Fishburne, and Traci Lords. Being a Christopher Walken fan myself, it makes me happy to have his voice accompanying the story.

True Crime: New York City, quite obviously, takes the approach of you being a cop. As such, when you break the law it goes against you, rather than “for” you, like in a Grand Theft Auto game. Aside from the story, TC: NYC can basically be summed up as a fleshed out Vigilante mode to GTA fans. There is a satisfying aspect of being able to arrest or stop “perps” (as the game calls it) committing crimes. While you could question what good will come out of smacking two people in a domestic dispute (who are beating each other up) with a sledgehammer repeatedly and then arresting them both, the general idea is to beat up whoever is breaking the law. There are lots of different crimes to stop, from hostage situations, drug raids, investigating food poisoning — you get the picture. Most will just end up with you beating the crap out of people though. You can also frisk any person walking around and if you get lucky you’ll find something on them and put them away for whatever illegal item they had on them.

While you’re not cleaning up Manhattan of its lesser-important crimes, you’ll be taking on major cases. Other than finding out why Terry was blown up, there’s an illegal street racing circuit to take down, an illegal fighting syndicate, and several “informants” that will give you particular jobs to do. As a total, there are basically five things to do during the whole game, since exploring the city isn’t exactly as fun as you might think it should be. One thing True Crime: New York City has over the Grand Theft Auto games is in its combat system. TC: NYC’s combat is quite fun – more like beat-em-up-oriented with more than just one button to hit. The only unfortunate part about the combat is that it isn’t as responsive as it should have been; there’s a feeling of being “held back” as it were. Because the controls aren’t as fluid as they feel like they should be, the more and more you play the combat becomes dull.

There are many different types of guns and melee weapons to buy. When you buy a weapon, you basically have can use the gun forever, but can only carry a certain amount of ammunition for the gun. You reload by opening the trunk of one of your personal cars. Unfortunately, you can’t collect weapons you find – you have to buy anything before being able to freely use them, though you can use them until they’re out of ammo. There are also some skills to buy that will enhance your current skills. When it comes to cars, you have to buy the ones you’re able to use from the Police Station as well as at car dealers. Cars in True Crime: New York City hold more value as the police cars you buy will retain the damage that was dealt to them the last time you used the particular car, meaning you’ll have to repair them when they gets shot up or you crash too often into oncoming cars. There are also a number of car skills that you acquire as you progress.

An ethics scale in the game describes your behavior as you play the game. You can either be a bad or good cop. If you take bribes, extort money, or kill people you shouldn’t, you’ll earn Bad Cop Points. If you arrest perps or solve crimes, you’ll earn Good Cop Points. As you collect evidence from different crimes and from searching people, you’ll be able to either turn in your evidence for legitimate pay or sell it at a pawn shop for illicit cash. When you turn in your evidence and gain more career points, you’re paid through a salary that you collect while at the police station.

The graphics in TC: NYC are quite impressive. The game exhibits very nice lighting effects and damage shown on cars is always accurate-looking. Character models are nice; they’re generally what are expected. The graphics are easily the second most important aspect. Sound is quite exceptional as well. Other than the great cast of voice actors, the gun sounds, car sounds, and general atmosphere all comes off well. The things civilians say become redundant after a while, unfortunately. There are also a lot of cuss words tossed around during the whole game, as its M rating surely implies. The police siren (which you use quite a bit) is not nearly as annoying as the one used in a GTA, though, and I prefer it immensely because it doesn’t pierce your eardrums every time it squeals. The soundtrack has a nice selection of songs, and music can be bought at actual music stores through the city. The soundtrack is basically divided into about 60% rap and 40% other styles, the category of “metal/punk” taking the biggest chunk of it. There aren’t any radio stations, but there is a “music player,” which can allow you to listen to all the songs without just hanging onto one radio station playing one style of music.

What racks up against the game is the general interactivity of the city of Manhattan. While you’re able to go into practically any door in the game, most places look exactly the same as another depending on the type of store or establishment it is, meaning a hotel will look exactly like another hotel with barely any changes in what is in the interior. But it’s not like you can really do much when you go inside; it’s only important when you go to solve crimes. Many items in the game are breakable, and can be made into makeshift weapons if you just so happen to be able to break something.

Do I like True Crime: New York City? The answer would be an emphatic yes – but I would take any GTA over it. I truly didn’t expect it to be that great originally, but the game is a nice diversion in between releases of Rockstar’s flagship franchise, providing for a nice bit of fun to free-roaming game enthusiasts. While it may not be perfect right now, the True Crime series holds potential to become an absolute must-buy in a future incarnation. Its second outing, however, falls a bit short of that status.

 

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse (PSP) Review

Developer: Raven Studios / Publisher: Activision || Overall: 8.5/10

X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse for the PSP has made the transition from console to portable almost flawlessly. Though it is a port, it’s by far the best kind of port as it preserves the game’s original build in practically every way. Aside from a few annoyances, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is a great action RPG; one you can really get a lot of play-time out of.

The story of X-Men Legends II starts up in the middle of a mission where the X-Men and the Brotherhood have seemingly joined forces to rescue Professor Xavier, who is being held hostage. It isn’t until later do we learn the reason why – a mutant known as Apocalypse has arisen and plans to do things that aren’t exactly approved by the X-Men or the Brotherhood. Xavier and Magneto realized the only chance they had to defeat Apocalypse and his minions would be to join forces and set aside their differences, for the time being, to do so. Story progression is a strongpoint in the game, and really drives the motivation to play.

X-Men Legends is your more or less simple action RPG dungeon crawler. For those who have played Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, there will be recognizable similarities between the two. X-Men Legends II can be viewed as a superior version of Untold Legends, with almost all the aspects of gameplay executed in a better way. Just like in Untold Legends, you’ll be beating on a bunch of enemies, collecting equipment, and getting new quests to go on constantly. Unfortunately, they both share some similar problems, first of which would be the loading times. There’s quite a bit of loading involved in the game, and can last up to about fifteen to twenty seconds depending on what level is loading. The load times alone make the game unable to be played in short bursts; you’ll have to have a bit of free time to make any significant progress. Another similarity between the two games that is striking the large spiders you fight in the first part of the game. They look exactly like the spiders in Untold Legends, and it’ll almost feel like you’re playing Untold Legends with the X-Men.

The control scheme is fairly simple. You have two buttons that are your regular melee attacks, one button to pick stuff up, and one to jump. And just like in the console version, you hold down the R shoulder button and select one of four assigned special skills to use. Special skills are attained just by simply adding on levels to your characters, and if you let the game control what skills are assigned and what stats are upgraded after each level, it’s very easy. You can take things into your own hands, but it might be more trouble than it is really worth. There are practically no real camera issues, as the camera is automatic and will always be positioned in such a way that it will show you most of what you need to see at all times.

The graphics and sound in Legends II are very impressive. In general, the game is very comparable to the Playstation 2 version graphically. The CG cutscenes are also in widescreen to compliment the PSP’s screen, not to mention they’re at a very high quality; you won’t see any pixilation in the CG cutscenes. It isn’t cel-shaded like its console counterparts, but this stylistic change really doesn’t affect the look — you can’t really notice the difference. The soundtrack and sound effects are great, but where the sound falls is in the voice acting. There is a great cast of voice actors, and even Patrick Stewart lends his voice talent as Professor X. However, the fault isn’t exactly in the voices (though some voices could have been better), but the actual things they say. When you’re watching a mission briefing, you’ll often sit through at least a stupid exchange of witty quips by members of the X-Men and the Brotherhood. Sure, it gives more character to the overall game in some way, but the mission briefings end up being more corny than useful.

X-Men fans will definitely enjoy X-Men Legends II. If it comes down to the question of which version of the game (console or PSP) to get, something to take into consideration are the extras tossed into the PSP version — nine exclusive missions and four new playable heroes. Also, the inclusion of local (Ad-Hoc) and online (Infrastructure) WiFi multiplayer modes is nothing to look over either.

X-Men enthusiasts and action RPG fans will definitely find a game worth their time in X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse. Just for the sheer amount of time you could spend on playing the game, it is definitely worth a purchase. The portable version of the game allows you to take the game anywhere, which might compliment your needs more than a console version, with no loss in the integrity of the game. Its one thing to port a game, but it’s another to be a good port. X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is an excellent port of an excellent game.

 

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The (PS2) Demo Preview

At Comic-Con this year, I was extremely lucky to come by a demo disc from Activision for The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. This yet-to-be-released title is a somewhat new way to play with The Hulk, but from playing the demo it seems all you do is blow stuff up, throw things around and collect little coins in the same enraged manner one would normally expect from The Hulk. It’s really not that exciting otherwise.

The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is another one of the free-form, wide-open cities that you can run around in and destroy, similar to Activision’s own Spiderman 2, except here you have to collect things to increase your “Smash Points” in a limited amount of time. Since this is a demo, the time limit may not be a part of the final game, since demos in general are usually limited. Regardless, the game is very simple. You collect some stuff, you throw around some cars, you smash gas stations and buses, blowing stuff up with your mighty combos/special attacks, and climb up buildings while ruining the foundation and a couple of windows.

The game does have the potential of becoming fast-paced in your spree of destruction, as your “Threat” level increases more and more enemies come to subdue you. Forces that try to stop you include police, police cars, a trigger-happy helicopter that has no reservations about launching a few missiles in the middle of a city, and a large mechanized robot that seemingly comes out of nowhere. All of this is fun and delightful, but each enemy is relatively easy to defeat. I’m guessing that there are going to be some sort of bosses integrated into the full version for more complex, pulverizing fun by the looks of that randomly tossed-in mechanized robot.

The graphics presented in the Playstation 2 demo are quite stale. While they’re not necessarily PSOne quality, they do give that feeling, and the Playstation 2 could definitely do better (and I hope it looks even better on the other consoles). The sound seems okay, probably because there are explosions every other second, creating the “ultimate destruction” feeling, even if the frame-rate drops when a few happen at once. I basically didn’t notice any music since it was drowned out by so much “ultimate destruction.”

From what is presented in this demo, it seems like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction won’t be much better than a possible rental, and not really something that should be paid fifty, forty or even thirty dollars for. While the Teen rating attached suggests that it could be more entertaining for the younger crowd who just like to push buttons and play as a super hero, older gamers should probably look elsewhere.