PLAY FOR TODAY: VIDEO GAMES / AARON BURGESS

 

 

 

Column #11: Halo: Reach, Lord of the
Rings: Aragorn’s Quest, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions.  Incidentally, don’t miss the debut of “Play
For Today – The Print Version” in the Fall 2010 issue of BLURT, on newsstands now.

 

By Aaron Burgess

 


Halo: Reach

Developer: Bungie / Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios

Platform: Xbox 360

ESRB Rating: M

 

Since its 2001 debut, the Halo franchise has looked grimly ahead
to a future where the remnants of humanity fight for survival against the
horrific alien alliance Covenant. With Halo: Reach, the objective stays the
same, but for the first time outside of licensed spinoffs, we experience Halo’s
origins direct from the series’ acclaimed developer, Bungie.
(Incidentally, Halo: Reach marks the
end of Bungie’s involvement with the series.)

 

The gritty, dread-soaked prequel starts at
the dawn of the Halo legend – the
year 2552, to be exact – so there’s no sign of the series’ iconic character Master Chief. Instead, the
primary campaign slips you into the armor of a nameless Spartan warrior fighting in the nascent Noble Team brigade on
planet Reach – which, despite its annihilation in later Halo installments, provides plenty of chances for solo, co-op and
multiplayer triumph here.

 

Halo:
Reach
also offers a wealth of opportunities to move beyond typical ground
campaigns, with outer-space combat and advanced armor (from jet packs to medic kits)
giving your Spartan remarkable flexibility and capability in battle. Though a
fog of portent hangs over the game – you do, after all, enter it aware of your
world’s eventual  extinction – the
story-driven campaign and expansive maps, combined with the game’s stunning
visuals, make Reach feel like a whole
new world.

 

 

Where gameplay is concerned, Reach deftly balances familiar elements
(Halo‘s intuitive control scheme,
after all, defined the modern first-person shooter) with new content and
features. The campaign challenges increase with each new player (you can add up
to four in co-op mode), thanks to vicious enemy AI that will have you racing
friends across the battlefield to score health packs. The new credit-based
ranking system, which bridges the campaign and multiplayer worlds, lets you
earn and spend your way to a fully customized Spartan – even in the game’s cut
scenes. And the Forge features turn over the keys not only to Reach‘s competitive maps, but also to
multiplayer and Firefight games themselves-meaning you have a sandbox that
extends all the way into the Reach rulebook.

 

Ironically, in (ahem) reaching back to
Halo’s salad days for its storyline, Halo:
Reach
never asks the same of players – and this, more so than the
butt-kicking new features, may be the game’s strongest selling point. It may be
the trickiest Halo game to master
(woe to you who start in Legendary mode), but Reach is also the easiest of the series’ games to enter – and from
its customizable DNA to its virtually endless multiplayer possibilities, it’s
the hardest Halo game to leave.

 

Rating: 9/10

 

 

The Lord Of The Rings: Aragorn’s Quest

Developer: Headstrong
Games
/ Publisher: Warner
Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Platforms: Wii, Nintendo DS,
PlayStation 3, PS2, PSP

ESRB
Rating:
T

 

It’s hard to deliver just one review of The Lord Of The Rings: Aragorn’s Quest,
given that the experience of the game varies wildly as you move from console
(where the game shines) to handheld (where it’s largely a basic button-masher).
Assuming, then, that you’re up for the best of all experiences, here’s a taste
of what to expect from the game’s superior Wii and PS3 versions. (Full
disclosure: The Wii version was played exclusively for this review.)

 

The third-person adventure starts after the
close of the J.R.R. Tolkien-via-Peter Jackson
trilogy, focusing (as you might’ve guessed from the title) on the continued
adventures of Aragorn Strider. (In keeping more
with the film version of the tale, our hero appears in his Viggo Mortensen visage.) The
actual gameplay is a bit more meta, though: You enter Aragorn’s Quest as a hobbit child, listening to tales of Aragorn’s
adventures from your pop, Samwise Gamgee, and then
experiencing the quests through your imagination, as Aragorn. If that concept
has your head spinning, don’t sweat it: Essentially, Aragon’s Quest is a kid-friendly experience that, thanks to its
faithfulness to the Tolkien-Jackson epic, older players won’t find to be too
“kiddie.”

 

 

In fact, Aragorn’s Quest is actually a series of quests – some of which find you guarding companions; others in which you’re
seeking objects – covering an eight-level journey through a beautifully
rendered version of Middle-Earth. Expectedly, each quest is disrupted by a
healthy assortment of enemies, which you take on using your Wii Remote to
control Aragorn’s sword. The kid-friendly difficulty ensures that seasoned
gamers will have no trouble cutting down orcs, trolls and other beasts, and,
thanks to a reward system that boosts your capabilities as you progress through
the game, the combat develops enough to keep you engaged even when the
swordplay feels dull.

 

Fighting, of course, isn’t the only
adventure in Aragorn’s Quest – neither,
for that matter, is the linear adventure. The game offers enough side quests
and hidden items to keep you wandering happily for hours, so detours generally
prove worth the effort. And if you’re not the type to enter a journey alone,
the two-player co-op mode allows a friend (or parent) to step in as Gandalf – who,
just as in the trilogy, has enough tricks up his sleeve to get Aragorn out of
the biggest pickle. Wait-do they have pickles in Middle-Earth?

 

Rating: 7/10

 

 

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions

Developer: Beenox / Publisher: Activision

Platforms: Xbox 360,
PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS, PC

ESRB
Rating:
T

 

Good things come in pairs; awesome things
come in quadruplets-at least that’s how Spider-Man:
Shattered Dimensions
seems to view the world. The game takes you on a
thrill ride through a quartet of the web-slinger’s incarnations – Amazing,
Noir, Ultimate and 2099 – each of which inhabits its own universe with its own
idiosyncratic enemy abilities, attack style and visual design. And that’s before
you get to the hidden gems beneath the surface. (Side note: The DS version,
which isn’t covered in this review, omits the Ultimate Spidey.)

 

Racing against Mysterio to reclaim a mystical “Tablet Of Order And Chaos” (long story…), the notorious Madame Web summons all four versions of Spider-Man to align
the universes and restore order. This jumping-off point is about as deep as
you’ll actually get into the story, though and that’s fine: Simple though it
may be, Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions‘ plot neatly ties together developer Beenox’s conceptual vision and allows for hours of frenzied action across the four
universes’ dozens of levels and boss battles.

 

 

Yes, “boss” implies linear flow, and unlike its open-world
counterparts, Spider-Man: Shattered
Dimensions
zips from A to Z across a range of indoor and outdoor
environments – as well as between first- and third-person perspectives.
Detours, however, abound: Each level also contains challenges that, along with
Spidey’s enemy defeats, help you rack up spendable “spider essence”
that can be used to expand your capabilities, costumes, combos and more. The
reward system quickly proves addictive–so much so that you may come back after
completing the game just to see how much more Spider-mojo you can collect.

Rating: 8/10

 

 

***

 

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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