PLAY FOR TODAY: VIDEO GAMES / AARON BURGESS

 

Column #13: Saw II: Flesh & Blood,
Castlevania – Lords of Shadow, Power Gig: Rise of the Six String, Rock Band
3.  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

 

 

Halloween Deathmatch!

 

Saw II: Flesh & Blood

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Developer: Zombie
Studios
/ Publisher: Konami

ESRB Rating: M

 

Fun factor: There may be a “II” in
its name, but this sequel to the 2009 survival-horror game actually takes place
between the first and second Saw movies (themselves  already up to number VII-er, 3D). Not that this changes the way
things flow in Saw II: Flesh & Blood.
Now as ever, Jigsaw wants to play a game, and you-as newspaper reporter Michael
Tapp (son of the films’ Detective Tapp)-are his pawn. You race to solve puzzles
while wriggling your way through traps that are designed to kill you and other
characters from the films-a feat that’s less challenging than it could be
thanks to repetitious level design and generally tedious puzzle logic.

 

 

 

Fear factor: Can you remember the last time a Saw movie actually made you jump? Good,
because you’ll have the same sense of ennui not long into Saw II: Flesh & Blood. The storyline is just as flimsy, the
gore is just as gratuitous (albeit creatively so), and the characters aren’t
just disposable; they’re repellent enough to make you regret saving them. While
not genuinely scary, the game is incredibly stressful, thanks to quick-time-event combat schemes and puzzles that find you dodging,
flailing and scramble to complete sequences or lure opponents into hazards.
Then again, considering the sadomasochism that drives the Saw film series, maybe all of this is the point.

 

Rating: 6/10

 

 

 

Castlevania -Lords of Shadow

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Developer: Mercury Steam / Publisher: Konami

ESRB Rating: M

 

Fun factor: Though technically a reboot of the
25-year-old Castlevania series, Lords of Shadow often feels like God of War III (a good thing) with
vampires, goblins, werewolves and other traditional monsters taking the place
of Greek underworld inhabitants. You play as the supernatural-slaying knight
Gabriel Belmont (voiced, in one of many star casting decisions, by Trainspotting‘s Robert Carlyle), who, armed with the familiar Castlevania chain-whip, a light/dark magic system and an arsenal of
epic combos, faces the evil Lords of Shadow in an attempt to restore harmony
and revive the beloved wife these fiends took from you. (Got all that?) Yes, it
sounds clunky, but the game’s masterful design and graceful internal logic tie
together these and other disparate elements into an experience that’s larger-than-life-if
barely the Castlevania we remember.

 

 

 

Fear factor: None, really-but suspense and
thrills abound. The game’s dark, sweeping and fantastically rendered
environments go beyond the castle to build atmosphere that, figuratively
speaking, takes you to hell and back. Combat is the focus here-and from God of War-style combos to Shadow of the Colossus-level boss
fights, you’ll have plenty. But the game also builds a rhythm through
slower-paced exploration sections and gorgeous cutscenes (narrated by Patrick Stewart as Gabriel’s compatriot Zobek) that keep the story moving
while making you forget you’re sitting through load times. Although you can’t
control the camera, this minor setback is as deeply as Lords of Shadow ties you to Castlevania‘s
formerly 2D world. From its atmosphere to its playing time (easily 15 hours) to
its surprising nooks and crannies, the game feels like an open-world
adventure-one that only has upward to go from here.

 

Rating: 9/10

 

 

 

Battle of the Fake Bands!

 

 Power Gig: Rise of the Six String

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3

Developer/Publisher: Seven45
Studios

ESRB Rating: T

 

Purported rockitude: When members of Rush can’t play their own songs on videogame peripherals, you know there’s a reality
gap between playing music games and
actually playing music. This, promisingly, is a gap that Power Gig: Rise of the Six String looked ready to close, what with
its inclusion of a real (if plastic) working six-string guitar in place of the
traditional colored-button-mashing device. And, indeed, when you open the box
on this package, that’s just what you get: a pint-sized axe that works
wirelessly with your console in addition to rocking through your amp when you
depress its beefy plastic pickup button.

 

 

 

 

Actual rock power: Power Gig: Rise of the Six String‘s diverse track listing covers guitar heroes both old
school (Eric Clapton) and new (Mastodon). Unfortunately for those who just wanna
rock, the game wedges these songs into a corny, over-the-top storyline that’s
equal parts Footloose and Aerosmith’s Revolution X. Things aren’t helped by the game’s visuals, which look
surprisingly low budget for such a high-profile title; and though it’s nice
that you also get compatibility with drum and microphone controllers, developer
Seven45 might’ve made a tighter experience had it kept its focus on maxing out
the guitar controller. As for whether you’ll actually learn to play real music
on the thing, the game itself doesn’t let you try anything tougher than a power
chord (otherwise it’s the basic hit-colors-in-time). And while kids might enjoy
having a “real” guitar to toy around with outside of the console,
anyone who’s picked up a real six-string will realize that plastic components
plus high action equals an out-of-tune-disaster.

 

Rating: 5/10

 

 

 

Rock Band 3

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, DS

Developer: Harmonix / Publisher: MTV
Games
/Electronic
Arts

ESRB Rating: T

 

Purported rockitude: Outside of adding vocal harmonies
and scoring some amazing licensing coups (see: LEGO, Green Day, The Beatles), Rock Band hasn’t changed too drastically
over the past three years. With Rock Band
3
, however, developer Harmonix gives us a new peripheral (keyboard) to go
along with our fake guitars, microphones and drum kits, and a significant
gameplay refresh that will no doubt find competitors racing to update their own
titles accordingly. Some of the updates-the new Pro modes, for instance-come at
a literal cost, as they require you to buy not only the new keyboard, but also
cymbals and an enhanced version of the standard Rock Band guitar. But you don’t need this hardware to enjoy Rock Band 3-and that, frankly, rocks.

 

 

 

 

Actual rock power: Want to experience being in a real
rock band? Join a real rock band. Even with 100 buttons (the new Mustang PRO guitar), fake cymbals and a small,
if impressively competent, set of keys among its options, the core Rock Band experience is still about
hitting colored plastic in time to music. That being said, the game is as fun
as ever to play with friends, and if you’re more of a lone wolf, the Pro
Modes-for which you’ll need those extra controllers-provide dozens of hours’
worth of advanced solo play. The game’s 83-song set list also hits on all the
right notes, with tracks that run the gamut from Dio to the Flaming Lips. And,
thanks to a new career mode-and a mammoth supply of downloadable content-your challenges can adapt as the set list and available genres on your
hard drive expand. Yeah, even this means that you’ll need to spring for a
little something extra if you want to get the most out of Rock Band 3-but this is one game where even the least available
options feel huge.

 

Rating: 9/10

 

 

 ***

 

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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