Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dog Armor!

Got a couple bits of news for you here today, friends, hot off the presses from every other gaming site in the world.

Bethesda, creators of the successful Elder Scrolls series, has announced that Fallout 3 will be getting some downloadable content in January in addition to some mod tools for the PC version. The mod tools, called G.E.C.K. (Garden of Eden Creation Kit, an item from Fallout that can make inhospitable lands fertile), will open the Fallout 3 world to Bethesda's army of fervent modders. PC users should expect some fan made bug fixes to be put out to the community before Bethesda manages to do it.

While the PC gets both the G.E.C.K. and the DLC, X-Box 360 owners will just have to settle for the DLC alone, and wait for the patch coming from Bethesda to fix some of the game's bigger issues. The forthcoming content breaks down like this:

First on the docket is Operation: Anchorage, coming in January. In this content pack, you enter a historical simulation and fight one of the most important battles in the Fallout universe: the liberation of Anchorage, Alaska from the Red Chinese invaders. Definitely an interesting premise, but it remains to be seen how in-depth the battle is going to be. Will there be multiple side-quests, like ambushing a Chinese convoy or blowing a bridge, or will it just be a straight up battle through the ruined streets of Alaska's capitol?

The Pitt, our second bit of DLC, is coming in February. The Pitt takes place in a town of the same name, built out of the ruins of industrial Pittsburgh. It's a raider town, and the content's tag-line is "choose your side". Looks like you heartless Vault-Dwellers will get to side with raiders for your own personal gain instead of just slaughtering them. Morality and karma are big themes in Fallout, so expect some game-altering decisions to be made here.

The third content pack is called Broken Steel, and in it, you ally with the Brotherhood of Steel in a massive assault to push the remaining Enclave soldiers out of D.C. Broken Steel takes place after the main quest-line, so those of you disappointed with Fallout 3’s very finite ending may have a chance to carry your Vault-Dweller out of the Jefferson Memorial and back onto the streets (providing that you don’t end up controlling a new character, at any rate). Hopefully one or all of these additions to Fallout 3 will increase the level cap past 20 and add some new perks to choose from.

Bethesda also announced that, after their massive success with the much-touted horse armor in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, they are proud to unveil: Dog Armor! Yes, now all you Lone Wanderers out there can equip the ever loveable Dogmeat with his very own set of power armor. No more will Dogmeat’s suicidal bloodlust result in his untimely demise after he decides to play fetch with a Super Mutant’s ankle.


In other news, Sonic: Unleashed was, ahem, “unleashed” on the X-Box 360 and PlayStation 3 home entertainment systems this week. After a slow but steady downfall into mediocrity, does this new entry into the Sonic the Hedgehog mythos have the oomph it needs to revitalize this flagging franchise?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Sonic Team hates you. It hates you because you stuck with the speedy blue bomber all the way from Sonic Adventure 2 up to Shadow the Hedgehog, the game that introduced completely and utterly ridiculous cars-and-guns gameplay. It hates you because you just want a “classic” Sonic game; you don’t want to control a plethora of hackneyed and clich├ęd side-kicks in a variety of patience testing play styles.

To its credit, Unleashed does have some redeeming qualities. When Sonic Team deigns to let you control Sonic, and only Sonic, the game really shines. The Hedgehog Engine, built from the ground up to power Unleashed, can produce some beautiful visuals. Hurtling through the country side into a small town with Greece-inspired architecture complete with white-washed buildings and onto a series of rails spanning a huge ocean looks stunning, and performs with nary a slow-down.

However, when the game shoehorns you into playing the God of War-like Werehog segments, the fun comes to a screeching halt. Werehog levels basically consist of using Sonic’s absurd plastic-man arms to beat any nearby enemy senseless until you unlock the next room, at which point another group of enemies ambushes you. It’s a lot like the Venom segments from Ultimate Spider-Man, but a hell of a lot less fun. The combat is repetitive and the camera is fairly wonky; something that has continually plagued Sonic games since the transition to 3-D. The segments in which you take control of Tails’ plane are bad in and of themselves; letting you control the plane is eschewed in favor of button-mashing mini-games.

It’s really unfortunate that Sonic Team can’t leave the Sonic franchise well enough alone. Constant addition of Sonic’s friends aside, the story lines continue to be strictly Saturday-morning fare. Not bad if you’re a child (this game was obviously made without a concession to Sonic’s older fans), but the dopey high-pitched voices of almost every character in the game will get on your nerves within the first five minutes. For a game with as many cut scenes as Sonic: Unleashed, having characters that are nigh-unbearable doesn’t bode well for continued playability. Being unable to skip cut scenes right away also adds to the frustration. (Although the opening cut scene did seem like a homage to Star Wars; its opening shot of Eggman’s battle fleet and the chase through his exploding flagship did call to mind the excellent space battle of Return of the Jedi.)

Sonic Team really needs to think hard about its fledging mascot. To get a bit personal here, I doubt that Sonic can survive another mediocre game. Sonic’s appearance in Super Smash Bros: Brawl and BioWare’s Nintendo DS effort have done some good in bolstering Sonic’s flailing image, but he needs a stand alone, “triple A” title to come back on top. Sonic used to be a serious competitor in his heyday; now his games rarely seem to reach above the mildly-amusing mark.

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