Video Game Reviews – September 2008

Guitar Hero Mobile
Activision/Hands-on Mobile

We love rhythm games, don't we? Whether it's Rock Band or Guitar Hero, we've got it on every system it comes on, every sequel, and every available song downloadable online. Life is good. But wouldn't it be better if you could take it with you? All the glory of Guitar Hero available at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere, on your cell phone? Sounds too good to be true? Well, you'd be right.

The game boasts that it has fifteen tracks, all taken from the game, and will continue to add three songs to your phone each month! It boasts that this newest port has stayed true to the source material and brings you the best mobile experience yet. So I finish the download, settle into my chair and get ready to rock out on my phone. That's where everything goes south. I pick my character, but unlike Guitar Hero, this version of Judy Nails is a single animation that just repeats itself over and over. That's okay; I can overlook this. I decide to play through on easy, get the feel for the game on my blackberry. I select a track by Santana, and get ready for the song to start. Then the music starts to play.

Then it dawns on me: I'm listening to a poorly contrived midi version of "Black Magic Woman," and playing notes that barely go along with the rhythm of the annoying beeping coming out of my phone. Whatever. Medium difficulty will at least be fun. Wrong. Even on the billion-keyed phones of the day, the game is tied down to a three-key set that a monkey could master within two minutes. But even with all these flaws, you won't be able to put it down. If you can stomach all the short-comings here, you'll probably end up liking this game. Even if you don't like it, you'll still play it. I mean, it is Guitar Hero. —Kat Kellermeyer

2 poorly-placed "Star Power" buttons out of 5

Lost: Via Domus
Ubisoft Montreal
PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Anyone addicted to the television equivalent of meth known as Lost is going through some serious off-season withdrawals. Fortunately for you, the producers decided to develop the video game Lost: Via Domus. You know, rather than of getting a head start on a script for season five? Finally, you can fill that void in your life. Well, sort of. For all its good intentions, Via Domus goes the way of most movie/TV game translations, and any gamer knows this never ends well. You play as an 815 crash survivor who's lost his memory, and what's worse? He's being harassed by some guy who wants him dead. All your favorite characters from the show are here but as pretty as they look, you might as well be talking to a cardboard cutout. The gameplay and controls are clearly designed to be accessible to non-gamers, which is what makes this so damn frustrating: it's not accessible. Most of the time you'll want to hit something with your controller. And the gameplay is static and repetitive to boot.

On the plus side, Losties can visit all their favorite places from the show, from the Black Rock, to the Hatch. You'll even get to face off with the smoke monster, and a ghost girl from our nameless hero's past, both of which deliver more than their fair share of, "oh, shit," moments. Additionally, the storyline is everything you'd expect from the series. While it won't tell you where they moved the island, you'll get some interesting information. If you're really paying attention, you might even end up with some answers. And of course it wouldn't be Lost without an ending that make you feel like someone just raped your brain. Definitely worth a play if you're a Lost fan with a lot of patience, but non-Losties won't be missing much. –Kat Kellermeyer
2 out of 5 time-traveling bunnies

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl
GSC Game World
My interest in S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was sparked by my love of the "post apocalyptic" scenario and because the game takes place in the urban explorer's wet dream, Chernobyl. Here, you have the opportunity to explore 30 square kilometers of the famed northern Ukrainian zone where the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant famously exploded back in April of 1986. The city of Prypiat remains dilapidated and abandoned, The Red Forest is still thriving with radiation, resulting in dangerous mutants who lurk about, and it is up to you to explore the area, discover your identity, and survive. The game has several types of enemies to be wary of, the aforementioned mutants and zombies, as well as the Ukrainian military, and several factions of treasure hunters, bandits, and mercenaries. You can befriend and work with some factions, while others will be your sworn enemy until the end.

The combat is fairly standard for FPS, and though it starts off rather slow, eventually you'll find a semi-automatic weapon and be just as deadly as your foes. Eventually you can also fight along which ever faction you befriend, and go toe-to-toe against the opposition, which makes for good pay as well as a high potential to find fantastic weaponry and armor. Though this game is a "sandbox" First Person Shooter, it has many RPG elements as well. As mentioned earlier, you can explore a large area of the Chernobyl area, and with exploration comes item gathering, weapon upgrading, and artifact finding. Artifacts and items can be traded for money or other items. This game doesn't come without some minor bugs, and is a bit of a diamond in the rough until you install the patch updates. If you're a fan of FPS games with RPG elements such as Deus Ex, System Shock or even Bioshock, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. may just be up your alley as well. Since the developing group is from Ukraine themselves, you'll be hard pressed to find another Chernobyl experience that is at all comparable. The follow up, S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky comes out this fall and promises to be just as fantastic as the original. –Conor Dow
4.5 radiated mutants out of 5