Devil May Cry 4
Some game titles are revered so highly, geeks barely dare to whisper their names for fear of shattering the holy silence that surrounds their sacred auras. The Devil May Cry games, despite the flaccid second installment in the series, has managed to maintain this supernatural reputation thanks to die-hard fans and some memorable characters in their epic battle against the forces of evil. Where Devil May Cry has shined has been in ingenious gameplay and clever twists on the usual fighting techniques to make playing not only fun, but bloody satisfying as well.
This game introduces pretty boy Nero, who offers up some flashy new moves for those gamers weary of the series' previous star, Dante. But don't get your paddles too sweaty with angst, Dante does make an appearance and brings along his classic moves as well, making Devil May Cry 4 a nice balance of past and present. The graphics are great throughout the game, and I will venture so far as to say that some of the settings rank among the most beautiful seen in a video game to date. Bosses are big and scary, but with Nero's secret weapon, some kind of possessed super hand (the Devil Bringer), most enemies are cast away without much problem. The style meter in the game rewards creativity during those special times of slaying, which is nice since you could easily cruise through game just pushing the Devil Bringer button ad nauseam. But with so many cool combinations available, the real fun is mixing up your smack down.
Although there's no real online option in Devil May Cry 4, that's not what this game is about. Cool level layouts and some fun puzzles mix with signature action for the best game of 2008 to date. Sure, some of the grisly ghouls look more like peg-legged clowns than demons from hell, but they all provide good pummeling practice. Don't let the lengthy cut scenes get you down—there's enough action and exploration available in Devil May Cry 4 to keep you slashing for a good long time.
4.75 out of 5 green orbs of goo.
Undertow is a new side-scrolling, 2-D action game from alternative developer Chair Entertainment that is currently free to download if you're an Xbox Live Gold member. The reason it's free is because the Xbox Live game network took a nosedive during the holidays a few months back, and this is Microsoft's little red rose of apology to all of us gamers. Taking place entirely underwater, Undertow works around a basic capture the flag (CTF) premise where your team is responsible for controlling a majority of the map for a certain amount of time. In case you don't know, by holding a certain pre-determined area of the map for a few seconds without dying, you have captured that section of the map. Now the opposing team must do the same to regain control of that flag. The difficult part of all of this is keeping two or three of these flags under control, even though you can only see one at a time and must swim a few screens to get to flags under attack. There are a few different diving-suit options available each time you re-spawn, each with different weapons and mobility characteristics. Each level has perks you can pick up on the fly, including everything from extra ammo and health to improved swimming ability. The graphics look really cool, the water and sea rocks look respectably dark and mysterious, but unfortunately the levels seem to run together with only a few memorable exceptions.
Teamwork is a must here, and luckily Chair Entertainment has included a rarity for small games these days: a full-blown online multiplayer system via Xbox Live. Finding a game is easy enough, but once you're in the small scope of the screen lends to a chaotic type of game where you're never really sure where the rest of your team is or what they're doing. Most of the games I was able to find follow the original CTF layout. Although there were lobbies supporting other game types, they were just empty. Overall, Undertow is a fun ride while it lasts, but lacks the depth to make it a voyage worth repeating.
3 out of 5 divers get the bends.
XIII represents what could have been a very cool genre offshoot that never made the final evolutionary jump into the food chain. This game combines the graphic novel, the classic video game cliché plotline, comic book looks and typical FPS action to make a very unique gaming experience that I'm surprised has never seen a sequel. XIII's problem may be in the lack of unique action, especially when you consider the potential given the game's comic book backdrop. Encounters are very typical and enemies are usually easily dispatched since they generally exhibit poor AI and fairly lazy shooting skills. However, when you face off against several at a time, things can get a little tricky.
The cartoon visuals seem odd at first, but quickly look normal as you make your way through the linear levels. Some of the chapters encourage the use of alternative weapons, which can be anything from a good, old-fashioned melon crushing chair bash to a Frisbee-thrown shard of glass. This is done to keep other enemies, who despite their bad aim, have wonderful hearing, unsuspicious as you eliminate their cohorts. It's almost as if the developers knew their computer-generated bad guys were a little lame, so they make you take them out with a shovel or an ashtray to make the game more interesting.
In a day when games are costing over $50, you can pick up XIII for less than $10, and although your gaming friends won't be blown away with your taste for the obscure, they will have to respect your retro coolness. Plus, for a shooter game, XIII definitely delivers some unique vibe with the live action comic book infusion mixed with classic FPS staples like the crossbow and the revolver. We all know that games from five years back are going to look a bit dated, but XIII will give you your money's worth in good, old-fashioned vitamin B, and I'm talking B for bullets. Take a trip down an obscure wing of the hall of video game fame and expand your gaming palette with a one-of-a-kind treat in XIII.
3.5 out of 5 cartoon bullets still hurt.
Devil May Cry 4