I’d go off on some rant about how Fable I left me feeling remotely dissatisfied and fell ridiculously short of my expectations, but since you probably felt the same way, I’ll just ask you to remember that lukewarm feeling, and we’ll take it from there. Peter Molyneux has grand expectations. Not unreasonably grand, but once you’ve already built an RPG game with near-ultimate freedom, you’d best have a slew of new bits or you’re just putting up fresh wallpaper and selling us the same game we bought three years ago. Fable II has more going for it than just looks, but it has its ups and downs. Fable II takes place 600 years after the first Fable, and leaves your ass orphaned before you can blink. Fortunately, you have your dog. The dog is a great addition, a constant companion to find treasure and warn you about annoying baddies coming up along the way. He’s good (maybe too good) at his job, but you’ll definitely get attached to him. This critter will love you regardless if you’re good or evil. Can’t say the same about your spouse, however.
This time around, you can play as a man or a woman, and you can marry/sleep with whoever you damn well please, but you’d best be bringing along a condom. Don’t, and you/your wife will end up knocked up and you’ll have another mouth to feed, literally. You can reproduce in this game, so if you don’t “plan parenthood,” you’ll be knee deep in children demanding love and presents before you can afford a house. Don’t worry about knocking up the hookers; however, you should play it safe. (One word: STDs. Seriously.) Also, your dog is likely to be more loyal than your spouse, so you’d best keep your family fed and happy if you don’t want a divorce or at least to keep them from banging the farmer next door.
Combat-wise, you have your melee, magic, and ranged combat selections, with a slight twist. Melee and magic are remotely unchanged, but instead of a bow, though still available, real adventurers carry guns. I was dubious, imagining tearing through the countryside, knocking people off Halo-style, but this is not the case. It’s closer to the Fable I-ranged gameplay, and it’s nice picking off balvarines from across a lake with your boomstick. Unfortunately, vigilantism doesn’t pay like it used to, and eventually, your heroic ass will need a job. “A job?” you say? “I want to kill shit, not work.” It’s not the highlight of the game, but it’s not bad. Each job is a little minigame, and the better you are and the more flawlessly you can do your job, the more money you’ll make.
There’s an online gameplay mode where you can gamble with friends or join in their realm as a lackey and run around killing things with them. Henchman mode is not co-op mode, and while you do not complete the quests in your game, you do get to bring back any gold and experience you get. It’s still the same Fable you fell in lukewarm love with, just with a slight upgrade. Despite the minor shortcomings, it’s worth the $60 price tag.
4.5 gonorrhea-infested hookers out of 5
Gears of War 2
It’s a been great season for sequels, and Gears of War 2 doesn’t disappoint on any front. Remember the last Gears of War? There were two types of people who played GoW: the people who finished the campaign mode, still wondering what the fuck just happened, and people who didn’t care—they just wanted to blow shit up. Unfortunately for me, I fell into the first category. I expected a twisting story like that of Halo 1, where Earth is defending itself and then royally screws up. Rather, it was something to the effect of “they tried to stop them, it didn’t work, now they’re at his dad’s house, the end.” But I had a hell of a lot of fun. GoW2 hasn’t sacrificed anything on the gaming front, but fortunately, it lets story-loving gamers like me have their cake and eat it, too.
The developers said that GoW2 was going to have the same kind of heart Bioshock did. Now, while nothing will every really top that moment in gaming history (would you kindly?), if another FPS has come close, it’s GoW2. Whereas most sequels seem to forget they’re supposed to have a plot (ie: Halo 2), GoW2 has some serious heart-wrenching moments. Everything you did in the last game has been explained, and it builds from there. Really though, it’s best if I say nothing and let you find out on your own.
Of course, everyone is concerned about the gameplay. Nothing really has changed here. There’s a bunch of new weapons for you to fuck your friends up with, but it’s still the duck-and-shoot FPS it’s always been, and it’s all the better for it. The nice thing is, there’s a slew of new modes in multiplayer. Now, rather than just running around and shooting up your pals, you can play in games that have specific goals. For example, the Wingman mode.
Cliffy B does it again, ladies and gentlemen, and this time, he’s done it with heart.
5 realizations how much you missed the sound of a chainsaw out of 5
Left 4 Dead
PC/Xbox 360–Co-op Survival Shooter
The zombie apocalypse is easily my favorite fantasy. I have zombie survival dreams as often as I have Albain- a-KY-fight dreams. We’re talking a nightly basis sort of thing here, and I know for a fact that I’m not alone. For all of us zombie lovers out there, Valve Software, the renaissance team behind the Half Life franchise, has delivered Left 4 Dead. And let me be the first to tell ya: it’s a doozie.
Left 4 Dead forces even the most seasoned xbox LIVE players to take off their “pwnge” trucker hats and work together for once, and this is the game’s largest feat. Without going into too much detail, the level design, enemy types, and various incapacitation attacks require each of the four players to protect their teammates constantly. Assuming you find a good lobby to join, or you have a few real-life friends on LIVE with whom you can play (the best option), Left 4 Dead can become the most visceral multiplayer shooter experience that, for my money, has ever graced console gaming.
A single-player mode is available, but so much of the game’s enjoyment is based on camaraderie and cooperation, that playing alone feels empty and is ultimately pretty boring. This drastically reduces the game’s audience, but the LIVE play is well worth the sacrifice. Also, these days, Valve’s Source engine is showing its age, but the game runs smoothly enough with a decent internet connection, and Source can still throw 50 tumbling, screaming zombies into your flashlight beam without a hitch.
Playing Left 4 Dead with 12-year-olds and chattering douche-bags can be an issue on LIVE. But once you get the right group together, this game’s immersive excitement is peerless among console co-ops. My gamer tag’s Leangrean, so come find me n’ we’ll kick some zombie ass!! –Jesse Hawlish
4.6 nerds at home wearing ear-pieces out of 5
Prince of Persia
Xbox 360–Action Platformer
Right now this game is a hot topic for nerd debate. Is the gameplay relaxing, or childishly easy? Are those graphics stylishly spare, or just subpar? Everyone who plays Ubisoft’s reinvisioning of the classic Prince of Persia franchise is going to have a vehement opinion; it’s that kind of game. So far is it from the standards set by its predecessors that plenty of gamers are going to have a hard time adjusting. But if you can shake off that muscle-memory, PoP’s new platforming/combat scheme offers plenty of fun to be had. The Prince’s wince-worthy dialog is offset by his new chica, the deftly voice-acted Princess Elika. Elika is your constant companion, and the interaction between her and the prince, both in combat and during the platforming, is one of the game’s strongest assets. It’s easy to become quite attached to Elika. Her back story, and the narration she provides for the gameworld, give PoP a level of characterization not often seen in a platformer. Prince of Persia takes the idea of a secondary companion (i.e., SCEA’s Ico) and extends it seamlessly into every aspect of gameplay with great success.
Nevertheless, this game is an experiment in a new style, and it’s not going to be a successful one for everybody. While onscreen action is fast paced and high energy, the button presses required to create the action are very slow and deceptively simple. Other than directional movement, you aren’t exactly controlling the Prince’s actions directly. The combat (and to some degree, the platforming) exists somewhere between cutscene and gameplay, requiring you to press the right buttons to continue the flashy, cinematic actions of the Prince. If you’re feeding into it, this can be a blast to watch, but if you’re not, it might seem frustrating, awkward, or simply too easy.
Plenty of people are going to hate this game. The enjoyment in Prince of Persia is something like that in Ico and Shadow of the Colossus—where companionship, unconventional gameplay, and atmosphere sustain the experience. If that sounds lame, then it probably will be, and you should fire up GTA 4 instead. For the rest of us, Prince of Persia has the potential to be a unique and lasting game experience. –Jesse Hawlish
4 witty game-related items out of 5