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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Two for the Road

I've been meaning to talk about Future Perfect and Lego Star Wars for a bit, but it's actually been busy in the world of gaming, what being in the middle of controversy and all. I love how I devote an entire week to the impact of a law on gaming but one tasking of a "writer" gets ten times the attention. I guess it's true - if it bleeds it leads. Next time I talk body politic, I'll throw in a good sex scandal.

Any rate, let's not touch that tangent. TimeSplitters came via GameFly before the Girl's sister came into town and my brother got me Lego Star Wars for surviving another year in this world. Both merit attention.

TimeSplitters: Future Perfect
This game is more evolution than anything else. It comes from the same blokes who did the other Splitters games as well as some of the guys responsible for that N64 classic GoldenEye. In fact, I've found the TimeSplitters series to be the most spritual descendant of that great game than virtually any other, including the fairly decent The World Is Not Enough. It's not that other people who have followed the "GoldenEye Killer" path before have really done things wrong, it's just that there's an intangible style that these guys keep a grip on ... even when their focus goes from hardcore spy shooter to the more tounge-in-cheek scifi of TimeSplitters.

The short review: if you've like any other TimeSplitters, you'll love this one ... and if you like console shooters in general you should definately give it a try. The single player isn't really Halo, mostly because the AI doesn't feel as tight, and in some ways it's not even GoldenEye because I don't feel the singleplayer has the same level of replayability. But you still get a very tightly delivered package with tons and tons of options. While the SP mode itself might not have as many hours as GoldenEye (though it's still decent for this day and age, probably in the 15 hour range ... but more on that later) - the challenge modes alone can occupy you for some time. I spent one afternoon going through these, including the excellent "kill zombies by throwing a box" challenge, where you have to fling objects with the Uplink's new grabber ability (think gravgun) since you have no weapons to fight with.

Because of this, there's enough to do in Future Perfect that it merits a purchase instead of a rental ... which is great in the age of short, cinematic games. For comparison: Half-Life 2 was better designed and developed, but I'll have put more hours into Future Perfect in the long run. Me and the Girl's sister spent all day and most of a night and managed to complete the cooperative game on easy in probably about twelve hours ... and I would imagine higher difficulties would increase that time. Throw in a map editor and online play and this is one dense package.

It's not without flaws. The AI is underwhelming. The coop mode is plagued by these odd moments where your partner is teleported against their will, presumably to keep players in places for cinematics and transitions. A few of the puzzles are more confusing than entertaining and sometimes descend into the old "OK, what room did I miss" problem. Also, fans of the series may feel that the weapon and character design is feeling a little too familiar.

However for anyone who enjoys a shooter using the PS2 controller, this one belongs in your library.

Lego Star Wars
It's funny to find someone's geek limit. The Girl, god bless her soul, allows her inner geek to enjoy the PlayStation on any random evening and has plowed through virtually every rendition of the Dark Alliance engine ever produced. This is a girl that fell asleep, controller in hand, while making through a late night session of Return to Arms.

However, Lego Star Wars was too much at first. It really is a geek's marvel. It's oozing with geekdom. It's overwhelming with it's mighty geek whallop. Usually a single license is too much for one game to bear gracefully, but this title manages to juggle both with ease. By now I'm sure most readers will have heard about being able assemble things with the Force and some of the beautiful Lego cinematics (I found Episode III much more enjoyable this way).

What is truly impressive about Lego Star Wars isn't just the great dedication to the licenses, but the underlying design as well. This is a playground for nostalgic adults who grew up with these things. Yeah, it's very kid friendly right down to the accessible controls and lack of sexy gore ... but this gives the mature gamer an excuse to play with toys they've neglected in the closet for too long.

There's a lot of replayability here, done a la platformer rules not unlike Mario 64. You'll find yourself going back to old levels, which are generally quite well designed, to find hidden items to earn "studs", which is apparently the new currency of this joint world. These studs can be swapped for unlockable cheats, characters and eventually opens a mysteriously locked door. You bounce from level to level in one of the best hub worlds ever created, Dexter's Diner ... which is fairly fun on it's own. Using the Force to pop open salt shakers, turn over stools and just cause general mayhem is both entertaining and proves my theory that sometimes Jedis are just jerks. Honestly, you wonder why Dexter puts up with that kind of crap.

The two player action is handled quite well (eventually, The Girl was coaxed). There's a decent party system which allows people to either tag or swap characters at will, depending on if it's story mode or just free play. In free play you can take evil characters to play ... and there's nothing quite like watching three Darth Mauls go at it for a fun afternoon.

In summary, if you like Legos, or Star Wars, or just a solid action platformer with great two player options - you won't go wrong here.

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