PLAY FOR TODAY: VIDEO GAMES / AARON BURGESS

Column #8: Singularity, Crackdown 2, The
Cages: Pro-Style Batting Practice, APB: All Points Bulletin, Sniper: Ghost
Warrior

 

By Aaron Burgess

 

 Singularity

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3,
PC

Developer: Raven Software / Publisher: Activision

ESRB Rating: M

                                                                                                                       

The
Cold War may be resigned to history, but in Singularity,
developer Raven Software imagines a world where fallout from that era leads to
grave consequences today. Set on the quarantined island of Katorga-12-a place
where Soviet scientists inadvertently unleashed hell with the discovery of a
new element, E99-the game throws time travel, zombie warfare and tongue-in-cheek
dystopian drama into a blender and asks you to tear your way out of it.

 

Though
the plot doesn’t get much deeper than those few weird points, the action
does-quite literally, as you (playing as modern-day soldier Nate Renko) descend
into a BioShock-esque environment that
covers time, space and other areas where mortals typically tread lightly. Armed
with a gizmo, the TMD (Time Manipulation Device), retrieved from the Katorga-12
experiments, you can revert inanimate objects to previous states, solve puzzles
strewn throughout the game, and generally jack up the course of history in your
favor.

 

 

Weaponized,
the TMD proves even handier: You can change enemies’ physical properties to
make them less of a threat, freeze or cause foes to move at a crawl, and catch
and throw back objects à la the gravity
gun
in Half-Life 2. Along the way, you gain
powers and weapons that prove even more effective in combat-and, as you near the
game’s conclusion (complete with three separate endings), you need all the
heavy ammo you can get. Alternately, in Singularity‘s
simple-but-fun multiplayer mode, characters from the game (the monster-sized
tick being a personal favorite) also become weapons, so if the whole
playing-on-the-side-of-good thing becomes too much, you can jump into the claws
of a creature for some face-ripping fun.

 

Rating: 8/10

 

 

 

 

 

Crackdown
2

Platform: Xbox 360

Developer: Ruffian Games / Publisher: Microsoft
Game Studios

ESRB Rating: M

 

Second
verse, same as the first: At least that’s the feeling fans of the 2007 smash Crackdown may have after spending a few
hours in the zombie-ravaged, over-the-top world of Crackdown 2. The difference this time is that up to four of you can
have the same reaction at once, as Crackdown
2
adds four-player co-op support to what’s essentially the same experience of
its predecessor. Beyond that, the game’s updates-a few new weapons here, some different-colored
Agent uniforms there-feel like nothing a little DLC couldn’t have provided.

 

 

Despite
a 10-year stretch (in game time, at least) since the original, Crackdown 2 takes place in a very
familiar Pacific City where you, working as a heavily armored Agent of, well,
the Agency, spend your time cleaning house: human enemies by day, vicious mutants
by night. While combat is simplistic and level-ups again find you chasing orbs
like Mario in a mech suit, the open-world game provides a fun, gritty sandbox,
full of absurdly powerful weapons and dark corners to explore. Just make like
the game’s mutants and shut off your brain: With little in the way of story or
enhancements to snare your imagination, it’s your best chance for making it
through this city.

 

Rating: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

The Cages:
Pro-Style Batting Practice

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Developer: Alpha Unit / Publisher: Konami

ESRB Rating: E

 

Score
one for truth in advertising: Though it’s not much to look at, The Cages: Pro-Style Batting Practice delivers exactly the pro-style training experience you’d expect from its name.
Using the Wii Remote either with or without the Wii Motion Plus accessory, you
step into a virtual batting cage and face off against a pitching machine that
makes its real-world counterparts seem positively Stone Age.

 

You
start with the basics, taking swings at fastballs and targeting selected areas
of the field to build accuracy. From there, though, you get over 40 challenges’
worth of slugger training designed to sharpen everything from your distance to
your technique. (Thanks to a multiplayer mode, you can even invite friends over
for a game of home run derby.) Switch on the Wii Motion Plus accessory, and
things get even more realistic as the game transforms from a simple hitting
exercise into a challenge where nuance, stance and timing truly matter. Batter
up!

 

Rating: 8/10

 

 

 

 

 

APB: All Points Bulletin

Platforms: PC

Developer: Realtime Worlds / Publisher: Electronic
Arts

ESRB Rating: M

 

Good
guys, bad guys-you’ve seen this formula before. But in the open-world- MMO
third-person-shooter APB, the theme’s
meaning changes depending on which side you choose. Set in the fictional world
of San Paro, APB pits two sides of
the city-Criminals and Enforcers-against each other, with up to 80 players per
side having a seat at the table.

 

After
tricking out your player through an insanely deep customization menu (you can
even edit your own vehicles and incidental music), you choose a side and brace
yourself as the objectives start to flow. Admittedly, APB gets you off to a rocky start, with lopsided player matching
sometimes dumping you into clashes where you can barely get your head around
the action, let alone compete against your more seasoned competitors. But as you
fine-tune your character through challenges and upgrades, APB‘s dynamic matching system makes for a much more balanced, and
tight, game.

 

While
San Paro itself isn’t much to look at, there’s a lot of room for action in the
city’s relatively lean maps-provided, of course, both sides of the law are
packing equal muscle. Objectives can end quickly even across the best-prepared
teams, so adrenaline junkies will find more replay value than will those
looking to get lost in the city. It seems like a minor detail, but when you
consider that APB comes with just 50
hours of play (with more available for purchase), you’ll want to note it before
you plunk down for a copy. Then again, depending on how far APB can expand, it might be worth it
just to buy in, hang out and wait.

 

Rating: 7/10

 

 

 

 

 

Sniper: Ghost
Warrior

Platforms: Xbox 360, PC

Publisher: City Interactive

ESRB Rating: M

 

Playing
as a sniper in first-person shooters can significantly up the tension and drama
of your game (not to mention its ability to strengthen your trigger finger), so
the idea of playing Sniper: Ghost Warrior exclusively in the sniper role sounds appealing. In practice, however, the game
is a different experience, even though most of the headaches aren’t on your end
of the sight. Erratic AI, frustrating levels plagued by invisible walls, and a
plot (something about cleaning up a banana republic) with more holes than your
last kill are all problems-and unfortunately, your sniper rifle won’t take care
of any of them.

 

Difficulty
varies based on your challenge and settings-sometimes you’ll be tasked with
taking out multiple enemies in way-too-rapid succession; other times you’ll be
focused on a single kill, literally trying to hold your breath to keep from
going off-target. This ballistics realism, however, can be dialed back to match
your skill level-and if you’re up for the challenge, it makes the game’s “Bullet
Cam” money shots that much rewarding. Unfortunately, even a stellar
killing experience can’t make up for the AI that makes your enemies as erratic
as your allies are useless. Best just to turn to the game’s more forgiving (and
fun) multiplayer mode, where you can at least share the frustration with real
people.

 

Rating: 6/10

 

 

***

 

Our game guru, Aaron
Burgess, lives digitally but dreams in analog down in Round Rock, Texas. Contact him at first2letters@gmail.com  / AIM: First2Letters

 

 

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