PLAY FOR TODAY: VIDEO GAMES / AARON BURGESS

 

Column #5: Skate 3, Lost Planet 2, Alan
Wake

 

By Aaron Burgess

 

Game
of the Minute:
Skate 3

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Developer: Black Box / Publisher: Electronic Arts

ESRB
Rating:
T

 

 

 

Skate
and destroy.
Having long ago trounced Tony Hawk’s franchise,
EA/Black Box’s Skate now occupies a
proud, if lonely, spot at the top of the skateboarding-videogame heap. And
while the upcoming Shaun White Skateboarding looks
as though it may be a formidable challenger, Skate remains untouchable-and well worth getting your hands on-in
its third installment.

 

As we saw with Skate 2, Skate 3 doesn’t so much redefine its
predecessor as it masterfully dials up the game’s core elements-although this
time out, the changes carry more weight. (Skate
2
, for all its high points, felt more like an expansion pack.) Gameplay and
game physics offer unparalleled fluidity and realism; the new fictional setting
of Port Carverton offers thousands of new spots and hidden areas to rule; and
the online element offers a brain-bending number of challenges, contests and
spot battles to pursue with friends. Even the process of getting your head
around the game has received more attention this time-whether in the addition
of actor Jason Lee (himself an old pro skater) as the comical
new character “Coach Frank,” or in the new difficulty settings, which help to ease
the learning curve for new players as much as they let veterans exploit Skate‘s penchant for realism.

 

Instead of tossing your skater into a typical career
mode, Skate 3 puts you in charge of an
entire skateboard company-which, in keeping with the game’s focus on
customization, you can tweak to be as realistic or off-the-wall as you like. (Having
always taken more of a fantasy-football nerd approach to Skate, I based my team on the 1988-1989 Powell Peralta rosters.
Don’t ask…) Along the way, you’ll have the chance to boost your company’s brand-and
board sales-by winning contests, nailing challenges and recruiting the best shredders
(AI and otherwise) to rip alongside you. You can even poach skaters from your
own Skate friends list and sign them
to your team-provided your friend
already has a skater customized, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to customizing your player and
teammates, you can also build, save and share your own skateparks throughout Skate 3. The sheer number of tools and
objects available in the new park creator can be intimidating, especially to
those of us with fleeting attention spans, but as with real-life skateboarding,
sometimes you only find the perfect line after you’ve remade your surroundings
to match your imagination. What’s more, you can share your park with the Skate online community and rack up
royalties based on how many other players download your content. (The same
applies to the videos and images you capture during the game, too.)

 

While it’s true that skateboarding is a solitary
activity, Skate 3 approaches co-op
play with enough anarchistic spirit to keep it from falling into “team sport”
territory. Nearly every single-player challenge in the game is available to
tackle with teams, but if you’ve ever skated with friends in real life, you may
soon find yourself bypassing the game’s stock challenges to create your own.
Move objects to help each other find the perfect line. Share trick tips in real
time as your buddy aims to conquer that killer gap or ledge. Or, simply follow
your friends around Skate 3‘s
seemingly endless environment. With no security to stop you (another welcome
change from previous games), Skate 3 is yours to conquer.

 

Rating: 9

 

 

 

Lost Planet 2

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Developer
/ Publisher:
Capcom

ESRB
Rating:
T

 

 

 

We can’t fight alone against the monster. There’s a story somewhere within the alternately fiery and icy worlds of Lost Planet 2, but it’s likely the first
thing you’ll disregard once you dive into the game. The sequel to 2007’s
well-received Lost Planet: Extreme Condition,
Lost Planet 2 turns elements like
storytelling and characters (here a nameless, faceless crew of mech-suited
monster hunters) into mere vehicles for its pulse-quickening action and breathtaking
visuals. All of which is to say, it doesn’t fix what the first game already got
praised for breaking over its knee.

 

Set 10 years in the future from its predecessor, Lost Planet 2 finds you on the same
“lost planet” of E.D.N. III where the original game unleashed hell-only this
time, much of the snowy environment has melted away to reveal jungles,
underwater bases and a host of other locales (including, yes, some snowy
climes). Oh, and let’s not forget the Akrid: In Lost Planet 2, the monstrous insect species that terrorized the
first game has grown to positively epic proportions in the new, warmer climate-and
that’s not even taking into account the boss levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it’s possible to move through Lost Planet 2 in solo mode, the
borderline brain-dead AI that comprises your team provides a sound argument for
recruiting real teammates to help you fight. With up to three real friends by your
side, you can better coordinate attacks against the Akrid-although, thanks to a
somewhat counter-intuitive control system, you may all have a learning curve to
overcome before you can start clobbering objectives. Some battles will find you
and teammates needing to operate multiple weapons or pieces of gear in sequence
to take down a monster; in others, you’ll need the intuitive diversions only a
sentient player can provide if you’re going to buy enough time to rejuvenate
yourself after an attack. No matter what, you’re not going to get the support
you need from a bot.

 

In addition to bringing back the man-hunting
Fugitive Mode from the first Lost Planet,
the competitive multiplayer modes in Lost
Planet 2
do a solid job of covering the bases: You get a pair of
elimination modes, as well as some monster-ridden variations on conquest and
capture the flag, the majority of which incorporate a robust variety of maps
and host-customization capabilities. And, thanks to some fun reward features,
including a rich ranking system in which your weapons grow in direct proportion
to your monster-hunting mojo, the multiplayer challenges offer plenty of
bragging rights. Just be sure you’ve got some pals to play with-because no
matter how you decide to enter it, Lost
Planet 2
is only as rewarding as the number of friends you have to get, er,
lost with.

 

Rating: 7

 

 

 

Alan Wake

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Remedy Entertainment / Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

ESRB
Rating:
T

 

 

 

Welcome
to my nightmare.
Alan Wake, the titular hero of Alan Wake, isn’t a hero at all-unless
you’re the type of player who sees Stephen King on par with Master Chief. A
popular crime novelist by trade, Wake is an unwitting protagonist who, jarred
from his vacation by a series of unfortunate events, finds himself at the
center of a story that’s equal parts Twin Peaks and Max Payne. (Incidentally,
Max Payne series developer Remedy Entertainment
is the creepy, creative brain behind Alan
Wake
.)

 

Plagued by writer’s block, Alan Wake journeys
with his wife, Alice, to the Twin Peaks-reminiscent
Pacific Northwest town of Bright
Falls, where Wake hopes he’ll be able to recapture some of his creative energy.
After one night in the town, however, Wake’s world turns on its ear, with his
wife, his cabin and his entire sense of reality becoming captives of the town’s
shadowy atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

Gameplay and story are intertwined in Alan Wake, and even though the game’s
control scheme incorporates elements (onscreen prompts that correspond to
specific character actions) that fans of Heavy
Rain
will find familiar, this is anything but a me-too version of that
nail-biter. Classic gaming tropes-from object collection to boss battles-pop up
throughout Alan Wake, providing just
enough of a respite from the weirdness to keep you grounded. Meanwhile, though
the game technically plays like a third-person shooter (at least in its more
action-oriented sequences), much of the focus is on the “fourth person” of
Wake’s flashlight beam, which simultaneously provides you with a lifeline while
intensifying the game’s terror and ambiguity. What you can’t see, after all, is
always scarier than what’s right there in front of you.

 

Without giving too much away, let’s just say that
light-whether your flashlight or the random sources of illumination available
in your environment-is key to surviving the darkness that is Alan Wake. And while it sometimes relies
a bit too much on gaming conventions, the story goes far enough off the rails
that by the time you complete it, you’ll find yourself not just wondering how
things ended up this way, but also how long it’ll be until the Alan Wake sequel arrives.

 

Rating: 8

 

 

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