PLAY FOR TODAY: VIDEO GAMES / AARON BURGESS

Column #9: Mafia II, Kane & Lynch 2:
Dog Days, And Yet It Moves, Grease The Video Game, Ivy The Kiwi?, Madden NFL
11. Incidentally, don’t miss the debut of “Play For Today – The Print Version”
in the Fall 2010 issue of BLURT, due on newsstands in mid September.

 

By Aaron Burgess

 

Mafia II

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Developer: 2K Czech / Publisher: 2K
Games

ESRB Rating: M

 

Becoming
a wiseguy ain’t all it’s cracked up to be: For every step you take toward
made-manhood, there’s a bigger chance you’ll be betrayed, ripped off or whacked
by the up-and-coming gangsters beneath you. So when you step into the shoes of Mafia II‘s complex, conflicted lead
character, Vito Scaletta, you do so with the accompanying
psychological weight of being in “the family.”

 

The
sequel-in-name-only to 2002’s 1930s-era hit Mafia, Mafia II starts in the
winter of 1945, when Vito, home on leave from the service, is an immigrant son
looking to get his family a piece of the American dream. And, with help from a
few friends with ties to La Famiglia,
that’s just what he does over the ensuing years during which the game takes
place, in just the crooked ways any Goodfellas fan would expect. (Unlike Henry Hill, however, Vito is a surprisingly
sympathetic character.)

 

The
game’s fictional city, Empire Bay,
comes to life with period detail that extends from the snippets of anti-Hitler
propaganda heard on the radio to the gaudy ’50s-era decor that gives Vito’s pad
a touch of, er, class. Though the basic story is typical Mafia fare – young
gangster moves up in the business, evades whacking along the way-the realism
with which it’s conveyed pulls you into Vito’s story. Add top-notch animation
and voice acting, and you feel like you’re in the sandbox with Scorsese. Until
you get to the gameplay, at least.

 

 

Though
it has all the trappings of a sandbox game, Mafia
II
is organized around missions, which means you can free-roam your way
through Empire Bay only insofar as it gets you to the next job-or, depending on
how good you are at evading the law, the next police stop. This causes
frustration when you’re itching to interact with your environment and end up
hitting an invisible wall instead.

 

Divided
by some incredible cutscenes, the action in Mafia
II
is standard third-person shooter fare, which means you’ll spend your
time shooting, punching, hiding and crouching (not to mention driving-a whole
lot of driving) to complete missions. You’ll do a lot of mundane stuff just to
make it through the day, of course-and it’s the inherent potential of these
routine activities that, explored to its fullest, could help the next Mafia become more than just a great
shooter.

 

Rating: 8

 

 

 

 

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Developer: IO Interactive / Publisher: Square Enix

ESRB Rating: M

 

The
uneven (and, in some cases, controversial) critical response to 2007’s Kane
& Lynch: Dead Men
made it seem as though the nascent franchise might ironically realize its title
right out of the gate. So consider it surprising that Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days is arriving so soon after its
predecessor-particularly since the game doesn’t fix the wonky fundamentals that
hampered Dead Men‘s potential.

 

Aesthetically,
Dog Days hits all the right buttons,
amplifying the grimy world of Adam “Kane” Marcus and James Seth Lynch
through intentionally amateurish camera work that makes it feel as though you’ve
stumbled into a bootleg documentary on the two criminals. (Depending on the
scenario, you may also feel like you’re watching a torture video.) Set in Shanghai’s underbelly, Dog Days magnifies the city’s seedier
aspects to a nauseating degree, and adds enough profanity, gore and wanton
violence to make even a sociopath feel dirty behind the controls. Unpleasant
stuff, to be sure-but it really works in making the game get under your skin.

 

 

You
play the basic campaign as Lynch, re-teaming with estranged partner-in-crime
Kane for the proverbial “one last job” that, of course, takes you
both 180 degrees from what’s expected. Despite an attempted emotional subplot,
neither character has gotten any more likable since the Dead Men days-and the basic strategy of “shoot, kill, don’t
look back” doesn’t instill much depth in either. Compounding things, your
enemies pack frustratingly smart AI and a cover system that rivals your own,
and with a few exceptions (hint: go for the shotgun), your weapons don’t live
up to their promise. You wind up on a playing field that feels unnecessarily
level, especially since there’s nowhere else to go beyond it.

 

Luckily,
Dog Days‘ single-player repetition
gets broken up with a handful of co-op, multiplayer and Arcade modes, the best
of which (the returning Arcade mode “Fragile Alliance“) finds you playing the subtleties
of a tenuous multiplayer relationship that could turn traitorous at any moment.
It’s a fun way to get mileage out of the single-player campaign, so here’s
hoping the game’s developers decide to add more of this type of substance to
their style the next time around.

Rating: 6

 

 

And
Yet It Moves

Platform: Wii
(WiiWare)

Developer: Broken Rules

ESRB Rating: E

 

Already available on PC, And Yet It Moves delivers a new
experience-whose tactile feel arguably comes closer to the game’s intent-in its
newly released WiiWare form. The award-winning indie game, whose title lifts
from the Galileo quote “Eppur si muove,” plants you in a fantastical world
that literally looks like remnants cobbled together from an artist’s studio:
Pencil-drawn figures, ripped-paper backgrounds, cardboard scraps and crumpled
textures abound.

 

Physics, meanwhile, is the science that
makes And Yet It Moves‘ art truly,
well, moving. As you run and jump in standard left-right formation throughout
the platformer, you can rotate your entire world up to 180 degrees to reach
seemingly unattainable goals. What sounds easy in theory turns into quote the
challenge in execution: Your momentum stays constant no matter which way your
world turns (no easy braking system here, pal) and you can easily do yourself
in by miscalculating the degree to which your world turns.

 

Rating: 8

 

 

Ivy
the Kiwi?

Platforms: Wii, Nintendo DS

Developer: Prope / Publisher: XSEED
Games

ESRB Rating: E

 

Do one thing very well: That’s the concept
Ivy the Kiwi? developer Pope seems to
have taken with this unique little platformer, and it pays off in the game’s
Zen-like simplicity. You don’t play so much “as” the game’s titular
character as with her-Ivy is a cute kiwi hatchling in search of her mum, and it’s
your job to guide her from point A though points B, C and beyond by “drawing”
vines on the screen. (In the DS, you do this with your stylus, while the Wii
version lets you use your Wii Remote to point and click.)

 

Hazards abound, of course, so Ivy’s
journey is beset with creatures and pitfalls of all shapes and sizes-but beyond
merely drawing paths around these dangers, you can create obstacles and simple
machines that send Ivy over and around them. The basic game is simple enough
that even novices can pick it up and start playing, but you can add up to three
friends in multiplayer mode to enjoy deeper challenges and team up for even
more inventive obstacle-dodging fun.

 

 

Visually, the game is just as delightful,
thanks to an artistic vision that grafts the warm, hand-spun feel of an A.A. Milne storybook onto the kooky platforming style of Kirby:
Canvas Curse
.
However, despite any similarities to worlds we’ve seen before, Ivy the Kiwi? offers a new experience,
complete with new challenges whose complexity (the later levels in particular
will test your dexterity’s limits) is couched in simple pleasure.

 

Rating: 8

 

 

Madden NFL 11

Platforms: Xbox 360, Wii, PlayStation 3, PS2, PSP,
PC, Nintendo DS, iOS

Developer: EA Tiburon / Publisher: EA Sports

ESRB Rating: E

 

The
annual release of a new Madden title
is as much an event as the Super Bowl that defines the game’s money shot-more
so, if you consider that Madden NFL 11 will keep you busy long after Feb. 6 has come and gone.

 

As in
years past, developer EA Tiburon has packed enough obsessive detail and
(artificial) intelligence into this year’s Madden to rival the experience of running your own NFL franchise. Of all the nuances,
play calling gets the most attention in Madden
NFL 11
, via the new “GameFlow” option that draws its logic from actual NFL game plans as well as
from the real-life tendencies of each team. Though it’s less a cheat sheet than
a new layer of realism, GameFlow significantly cuts your time in the huddle,
which means games that previously took an hour-plus can be wrapped in half an
hour.

 

 

The
ultra-realism also extends to the most basic player controls, thanks to tweaks
that fine-tune everything from your sprinting speed to the capability of your blockers.
This, of course, is just the view from your end of the controller-with a new Online Team Play experience (just one of Madden NFL 11‘s online features), up to
three players can share responsibility for winning the game-or getting
smack-talked out of it.

 

Rating: 9

 

Grease: The Official Video Game

Platforms: Wii, Nintendo DS

Developer: Zoë
Mode
/Big
Head Games
/ Publisher: 505
Games

ESRB Rating: E10+

 

If a
video-game version of Grease never existed, would we need to invent
one? Probably not, but when you get past its oddball premise, Grease: The Official Video Game works
well enough as a simple party game to be, er, the one that you want.

 

Combining
karaoke-style play with simple mini-games and calorie-burning events, Grease casts an ambitious net across
generations and playing styles. Sure, you’ll appreciate the game more if you
already have a social context for the world of Pink Ladies and T-Birds (Mom and
Dad, we’re looking at you), but the variety of challenges ensures that even Grease newbies can find an outlet at
Rydell High.

 

Feel
like channeling your inner John Travolta or Olivia Newton-John? Pick up your
Wii-compatible USB mic and start belting. Got an urge to do the hand jive? The
dance competition awaits you. Ready for a race? Hit Thunder Road and go, go, Greased
Lightnin’. Replay value may not be stellar, but for those who tend to break out
their consoles primarily for special occasions, Grease is the word.

 

Rating: 7

 

 

***

 

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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