Sunday, 25 April 2010

Haunt (A Super-Ghost Story)

In 2006 Spawn creator Todd McFarlane and Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman agreed to collaborate on a new title during a question and answer session at the San Diego Comic-Con. The result, albeit a few years later, was Haunt, a super-hero ghost story in based around two brothers, Kurt and Daniel Kilgore who are far from the best of friends. The brothers are very different characters; Kurt is an accomplished and capable Special-Ops agent working for a shadowy government agency, Daniel a less than perfect Priest who is first seen arranging his next appointment with a naked prostitute.

Daniel’s self-loathing and questionable lifestyle are in stark contrast with his brother, who seems to enjoy his work and have a perfect life outside of the shadowy world of espionage; however, fate conspires to drag Daniel into his brother’s life when Kurt is killed whilst being tortured for information. Assuming he is seeing things, Daniel initially dismisses Kurt’s ghost, who appears to be haunting him, as a figment of his imagination only to discover that the apparition is real and that Kurt is trying to stop the people who killed him from attacking his wife.

We begin to discover that the reason Daniel hates Kurt so much is because of Kurt’s wife, who Daniel was once in love with, so he acquiesces to Kurt’s request to stay with her for protection. It is here, when under attack that Kurt’s ghost tries to push his brother out of harms way only to find that he instead fuses with Daniel to become a symbiotic being of great power, Haunt.

The story mechanism is very clever, only when the two brothers are fused as one can they use the power that has been be bestowed upon them, and their uncomfortable personal relationship makes it difficult for them to use the powers to their utmost effect as they don’t always work together well. However, as the story progresses, the brothers will need to find a way to come to an understanding in order to combat the organisation behind both Kurt’s death and the dangers his living loved ones are now in.

The comic is very-much adult themed and deals with issues such as betrayal, dependence, love and loss in an intelligent way. The character of Haunt will make some comic fans raise an eyebrow, as the black and white “suit” looks very similar to Marvel’s Venom (one of Spider-Man’s regular foes), who is also a symbiotic being. The powers Haunt appears to wield, the ability to extend his body into writhing slicing tentacles and as a method of quick manoeuvre, both look very similar to Venom’s powers too and Haunt also has the standard “super” strength. But that aside, readers will forgive the similarity of the character because of the strong storyline and the fact that throughout the fusion into Haunt, both Daniel and Kurt’s characters are clearly independent and talk and argue with each other, even during battle.

The artwork is very good with a classic comic style subtly mixed with a more serious and adult overtone. Pencilled by the excellent Ryan Ottley and inked by McFarlane himself, the entire franchise has an aura of professionalism to it that can only be achieved when such giants of the comic world as McFarlane, Kirkman and Ottley collaborate so seamlessly. There is surely a lot more to come from this exciting twist on the superhero genre. Haunt is published by Image comics and is an ongoing title.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Wicky wicky Wild Wild West

Have you ever wished you could go back to the days of the Wild West? To travel on horseback across the open plains and mountains of the new frontier, live off the land, trade in the towns and hunt down the bandits of so many childhood stories? Well, very soon you can. Rockstar San Diego are developing a new sandbox style game, Red Dead Redemption, on a scale comparable to that of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. And like the GTA series, Red Dead Redemption is set to bring a whole new meaning to in game freedom of action.

Set in at the turn of the 20th century, during the death rattle of the old west, players will control the character of John Marston, a former outlaw who is given an ultimatum by government agents to hunt down his old gang leader or his family will be in danger. Marston must travel the vast gameplay area, encounter literally hundreds of unique, individual characters, visit countless towns and trading outposts over three distinct territories to find his man. Each unique area is distinct from the other, and one is based in Mexico with a revolutionary sub-plot. The vastness of the game is to be kept interesting by the random generation of encounters as the player explores, including ambushes, hangings, calls for help and attacks. There will be a plethora of mini-quests or side-stories and players will be able to hunt animals for their skins when in the wilderness.

The game will encourage exploration and an honour system will keep track of the character’s progress and moral compass. Good deeds result in increased honour; nasty acts will result in depleted honour. In the bounty hunting side quests players can choose to kill or take their target criminals in alive, with effects to honour of your choices.

The videos of the game that have been released show that, like Rockstar’s other big title, GTA4, Red Dead Redemption uses the R.A.G.E. engine and the layout is familiar to GTA fans. Several multiplayer game modes have been announced, including free-roam, deathmatch, team deathmatch and gold rush. Like GTA4, free-roam will allow the players free reign of the entire game map, but adds the ability to interact with other human players to form posses and take on other gangs. Multiplayer will allow character progression over 50 experience levels and an unprecedented level of freedom of action, with players able to act as vigilantes, outlaws and lawmen to name but a few.

Red Dead Redemption focuses mainly on gunplay in combat, with an array of era-accurate weaponry and the ability to slide-to-cover, use your environment tactically, target a specific person, free-aim or blind-fire your way through any engagement. A deadeye targeting system will allow the player to target specific body parts in slow-time when the deadeye bar is sufficiently full, allowing the quick dispatch of multiple enemies.

Rockstar have managed to recapture the excitement surrounding the release of their flagship GTA titles in the build up to Red Dead Redemption’s May release date, with a clever promotional campaign and informative teaser trailers and videos at their website; gamers wait in eager anticipation to see if the game lives up to the hype, or dies a slow agonising death like it’s predecessor, Red Dead Revolver.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Just Cause 2 (Toppling a Tyrant, all in a day’s work)

Jumping from a fast jet, freefalling 1000 metres before tugging the cord and parachuting into the path of an incoming attack helicopter, grappling said helicopter, cutting the cord to your parachute and reeling yourself in, shoving the pilot out at 2000 feet and taking the controls before turning the mini-gun onto the military convoy below? Must be Just Cause 2.

Edios, Square Enix and Avalanche Studios have come together to create the much-anticipated sequel to the 2006 hit Just Cause. Like the first game, Just Cause 2 is a sandbox based spy/stunt thriller that sees the return of the series protagonist, Rico Rodriguez, an “Agency” operative. This time the action is centred on the fictional Southeast Asian nation of Panau, where a dictator, Pandak “Baby” Panay (who in no-way resembles a certain Korean despot!) has seized power after assassinating the former president, his father. Rico must find his old boss, Sheldon, who has gone rogue, and bring down the regime.

The game is very familiar to players of the first instalment; a third-person open exploration game with playable missions for the main storyline as well as faction missions which all help toward causing enough chaos to bring down the corrupt dictator. There are over 100 individual vehicles usable on land, air or sea, a plethora of weapons and, importantly, Rico is outfit with a signature grappling hook and re-usable parachute. The hook can be used to launch Rico to hard to reach places, to pull enemies toward you or to attach objects to other objects; for instance a car to a truck, a soldier to a passing airplane or, very amusingly, a perusing vehicle to the ground beneath it with hilarious consequences. The most useful utility of the grappling hook is to “slingshot” Rico by grappling a distant solid object and, while being reeled in, deploying his parachute to create a very handy and quick mode of transport. “Slingshotting” can be used continuously to keep Rico airborne for an age, except over water.

The terrain is varied from tropical beach to barren desert and snow-capped mountaintops over more than 400 square miles of playable area; the scope of the game is truly enormous. In a way, the vastness of the game may be slightly to its detriment, as players can find themselves wasting hours exploring and having fun causing carnage and performing mindless stunts, flying fast jests and racing fast cars. It all sounds like a lot of fun but it keeps you from progressing the game. Because it is so big you can loose yourself in it and forget to carry on with the missions, which are the only way to advance the story.

The gameplay and combat have been improved markedly from the first game, rather than shooting mindlessly at enemies knowing that the computer will do most of the aiming, players now have a crosshair they can use to shoot more accurately, aiming at specific body parts in order to dispatch you enemy more quickly or to disable them as required by the situation. The graphics are ok, but are not mind-blowing. With the exception of the weather, sunrises etc, it comes across a little cartoonish. It is fast paced and adrenaline fuelled so lovers of a more considered, tactical or stealth combat style may find Just Cause 2 frustrating. The enemy AI is improved from the first game too; they wont just stand there allowing you to shoot them, but seek cover and try and flank you. They even run away if out numbered or on the losing side of an angry exchange of gunfire.

Overall Just Cause 2 is an edge-of-your-seat, fun and exciting ride that James Bond fans will love; it’s like all the best bits of a 007 movie, just without the plot, charm or wit, good for a few hours of entertaining gameplay, but a bit stagnant after that.