Monday, February 23, 2009

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned

I want to get this out of the way first because I'm sure many people won't even go near a game that has nudity in it, no matter how good it is. This is also the most controversial bit in the entire game. It is officially the first game to show full male nudity without any censors whatsoever. It is not; however, random or poorly thought out. During the entire scene, the writing is very well done and the voice acting is spot on. The nudity is used purposefully and while it is essentially fluff and could be taken out fairly easily, it does help to reinforce a point. Now, if briefly seeing male privates makes you uneasy, do not play this game. Also, this game should not, absolutely not, be played by anyone under the age of 13.

Now that that's out of the way, I can get to the actual review. I called this DLC a game in the first sentence for a reason. While it may not be as long as GTA IV (30 hours or so), its campaign will last a good 8-10 hours and it is highly replayable. The game has a fairly run of the mill story, but the way it's told is far above par. The voice acting, animations, writing, and action scenes are all top notch. The story does have quite a few questionably violent scenes, but such things are to be expected from a Grand Theft Auto game.

As for gameplay, it's exactly the same as GTA IV, but there have been a few new weapons added. The most notable being the sawed off shotgun which can be fired from a vehicle, the semi-automatic 9mm which is fantastic for close to medium range, and the combat shotgun which is without a doubt the best close-range weapon in the entire game. Another addition is improved bike physics. No longer will you go flying off the bike if you so much as drive over a pencil or a piece of cardboard too fast. You are glued to the seat. It makes riding bikes far more enjoyable than cars. In fact, it makes cars almost completely obsolete except when you need to clear out a ton of enemies since you can drive over there, get out of the car, and use it as cover while you take care of everyone.

Another addition is the new multiplayer modes which are pretty fantastic. You've got "Race" which is like the races in GTA IV, except the players are limited to bikes and everyone has baseball bats that they can use to smack each other in the face. There's the classic "Deathmatch" and "Team Deathmatch." There's "Lone Wolf Biker" which pits everyone against one randomly selected player. Whoever kills the lone wolf becomes the next lone wolf and is granted invincibility for a short amount of time so he or she can get away safely (or not...). There's "Chopper vs. Chopper" which pits one player in an attack helicopter against one player on a bike. The player on the bike has to make it through a number of checkpoints. If he succeeds and stays alive or if the guy in the helicopter kills him, they switch places and the madness starts all over again. There's "Own the City" which is like the territories mode in most games, except your territory is guarded by AI-Controlled bots that can be given better weapons by driving a weapons van around the territories that they protect. The AI is quite stupid, but it does give you time to high tail it over there and fight off the attackers. There's "Club Business" which is a lot like Mafia Works, but it incorporates gang mechanics from the single player game like riding in formation to replenish your health, give you body armor, and repair your bike. 

And finally, there's "Witness Protection" which is probably my favorite. There are two teams -- the cops and a biker gang. One player on the cop's side has to drive a bus with 3 witnesses all over the city and drop a witness off at each of three pre-determined police stations. The rest of the cops are tasked with protecting the bus at all costs. The bus itself is heavily armored and is virtually impervious to bullets, but RPG's are a one hit kill, as it should be. The best tactic for the bikers to use is to tail the bus or go ahead of it and wait at the police station if they know Liberty City and its roads well enough. Then, when the bus stops and the witness gets out, shoot the witness in the head. One shot, one kill. 

All in all, Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost and Damned is definitely worth your $20. Just don't let it be played by anyone under 13 or anyone that is made uneasy by violence or male nudity.

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Let me start out by saying that Mercenaries 2 is not a AAA game and that it was never meant to be. Mercenaries 2 is all about explosions and destruction. Pandemic set out to make a virtual playground and in that respect, they succeeded. 

First things first, the story. Mercenaries 2's story is horrible. Sometimes it's cheesy bad, it's funny how intentionally bad it is, but at other times, it's just plain horrible. Mercenaries 2 is one of the first times I've ever seen a developer utterly fail at creating a cheesy bad story. Although, paying attention to Mercs 2's story is not required to play the game and have fun. 

As for graphics, Mercs 2 can look absolutely stunning at times, but at other can be just plain bad. The plant life and water all look great and the explosions look utterly beautiful (as I'm sure you've seen from the gameplay footage). But unfortunately, there is some texture pop-in, graphical glitches, and bad textures, although they are a lot more infrequent after the most recent update Luckily, they're not quite enough to detract from the overall experience. 

On to what really matters, the gameplay. The over-the-shoulder shooting mechanics in Mercenaries are fairly good. Although they aren't the best, it's still a ton of fun to run around shooting people with whatever weapon you have. And believe me, there are a lot of weapons. From your standard pistols to an assortment of assault rifles, LMG's, shotguns, sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. My favorite weapons would have to be the sniper rifles and rocket launchers. For sniper rifles, there's silenced rifles, .50 cals, anti-tank rifles, anti-material rifles, and many more. For rocket launchers, there's your standard RPG, there's an anti-tank RPG, and my favorite, the fuel-air RPG. A few fuel air rockets and you can bring down buildings. They do have a delayed explosion though, so you can't bring down air craft unless they're near a static object and you have to lead your target if it's moving. 

One of the best aspects, if not the best, is the destructibility of the environment. Everything is destructible (except for rocks, of course) and it's all beautifully so. It's especially fun once you've completed the game and have access to as many tactical nukes as you can afford. Each nuke takes out an entire square block of buildings. But nukes aren't the only way to destroy buildings. I think out of all the air strikes and weapons, C4 would have to be the most fun to use. Nothing quite matches the feeling of sticking C4 on the support beams of every building in an entire square block, then detonating them and watching everything just collapse around you in smoke. That's another interesting thing. If you shoot at or stick explosives to the support beams of a structure, it will do far more damage than if you did it to any other part of the building. 

Another great thing about Mercs 2 is the vast selection of vehicles. There's all kinds of attack helicopters, transport helicopters, faster scout helicopters, light tanks, heavy tanks, jeeps, boats, missile boats, patrol boats, civilian cars and trucks, etc... It is a ton of fun to just drive around in the monster truck with the jets that can lift it into the air briefly, almost like a jump. There's even a sports car with homing anti-tank missiles, although the car itself is paper thin and will explode if you so much as drive over a bump too fast, which is a shame because it's so expensive and such fun to drive. That should be fixed in an update because it's just unrealistic how weak this car is. 

As for the campaign, it's a blast from beginning to end. There are a ton of really fun and crazy missions, but there are also a bunch of horrible checkpoint races and there's even a few escort missions, although they don't make the game unplayable or frustrating. They are; however, bumps in a fairly smooth (albeit a bit windy and with no speed limit) road that absolutely need to be taken out. Some other things that can be pros or cons, depending on how you manage them: throughout the game (and after you've finished the game), if you kill a soldier and his buddies see you do it, they'll try to call their HQ and report you. If you fail to kill them before they can, you will lose standing with that faction. Lose enough standing and they become hostile towards you. Killing their enemies boosts your standing with them. You can also bribe them to become neutral to you, for a certain amount of money. How much money you have to cough up depends on how much you pissed them off. Once you are neutral with them, you can run missions for them (if you have any left to do) to boost your standing further. If you don't have any more missions, the game will turn into an unpleasant grindfest as you try to please all the different factions. 

Another thing that might be a pro or a con for people is fuel. In order to call in airstrikes, supply drops, weapon and ammo drops, or to get air-lifted somewhere, you need fuel. Fuel can be collected by marking fuel containers for your helicopter pilot to pick up. These fuel containers are scattered all over the map, but they do respawn eventually or after you enter or exit a building (shops or your HQ). However, the cons I just mentioned become a non-issue if you use cheats. There are cheats to give you invincibility, ammunition, all supplies, all vehicles, refill your fuel, and all air strikes (including nukes). The best part about the cheats is that they can be used in co-op mode! The one downside to using cheats is that as soon as you do, you won't be able to get any more achievements whatsoever if you save the game so all you achievement whores out there, I suggest you get all the achievements before using the cheats because the game will auto-save periodically. 

All in all, Mercenaries 2 is fun, plain and simple. It is not complicated or deep, it's just a virtual playground of destruction (which, coincidentally, was the name of the first Mercenaries game). If you can look past the occasional graphical bugs, glitches, and the bad story, you will find a lot of fun to be had in Mercs 2.