From ‘GRAW 2′ to ‘Def Jam: Icon’ … ugh

I filed the review for ‘GRAW 2′ earlier today, so it should be up and running by the end of the week. Focused a little bit on the social aspect of the game, since it arrives at a time when stuff like the Minutemen, border tensions, and immigration issues are still regulars on the mainstream media. Hell, the game even ticked off the mayor of Juarez, the Mexican border city (and the main battlefield of GRAW 2).

I won’t rehash the review here … I liked the storytelling and the pace of the action more in this game than the last one, and I had a blast playing multiplayer, despite some lag issues and the lack of a bonafide cover system that was available in single player.

What I will expound on a little is the whole Tom Clancy-vs.-brown people trend that we mentioned on Friday’s All Games Interactive. Essentially, aside from Splinter Cell, you’re asked to shoot a lot of Mexicans in GRAW, Rainbow Six: Vegas, and now GRAW 2. I’m not saying this is a problem — just something I noticed.

What intrigues me about some of the complaining concerning the Clancy games is that it centers around image. Rainbow Six got slammed because there was fear the game projected a negative image of the city. Same with the Mayor of Juarez.

Let’s start with Vegas. It’s fine with being called Sin City, it has legalized prostitution, and an ad campaign that actually pokes fun at its own reputation for debauchery. There are TV shows dedicated to the shenanigans that happens in the casinos and some of its crime — and did I mention the legalized prostitution?

But once a scenario gets cooked up when terrorists use the city as a staging ground for its operations, then there’s a problem? Everything I just mentioned was true — yet there’s an uproar about a piece of fiction that focuses on fighting terrorism.

Now comes Juarez, which has been known as a haven for violent drug cartels for years. I happen to work with one of the better immigration reporters around (if you’re interested, she’s Sara A. Carter) and I’ve heard stuff about her trips to border towns that are bone-chilling. She went to Nuevo Laredo, which isn’t exactly known for being a picnic area, either. You hear stories of gunfights and people being killed, then chopped into pieces and buried in the backyard, That’s the word I hear on Juarez … and this was long before some game came along and used it as a backdrop.

Unfortunately, I think this is going to start (or increase) a trend of nations getting ticked at game developers for having the gall to use their soil in a body of fiction. China might get angry that Sam Fisher was in Hong Kong for a mission. Russian legislators could get angry because some fictional tanks got blown up near Moscow. I’m not saying it’s GOING to happen … but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Continue reading

Hooray sports! Boo, Bullet Witch.

OK, perhaps I don’t stink at baseball as much as I thought.

Like practically a third of my Live friends list, I’ve been spending a lot of time playing MLB 2k7, the new baseball game from 2K Sports. I got that and MLB ’07: The Show in the mail at roughly the same time, but you’re not going to see anything in LANG print until opening day. So I’ve got some time. I’ve also been wading through a lot of NBA Street Homecourt for my post All-Star hoops fix. Then came Bullet Witch — I’ll get to that later.

For the sake of clarity, I’m breaking down my early thoughts on the games in digestible chunks (except MLB 07, which I haven’t played yet, and probably won’t, since GRAW 2 and Def Jam Icon are out this week).

MLB 2K7: Light years ahead of last year’s game in the looks department. I had some catching up to do with the control scheme, which is more of the same. Pitching is a LOT easier to pick up than hitting, as I managed to rack up a few K’s against online opponents. Like real baseball, you can either listen and follow where your catcher sets up, or you can shake him off and pitch anywhere you want. It takes a little getting used to hearing Jon Miller (play-by-play) announce to the world (and your online opponent) where your catcher is setting up, but there are definitely ways around that. In terms of hitting, to steal an AGI joke — hitting is hard. At least at first. You have to pull back and release/push the swing stick as if you were really up at the plate, so you have to master all the keen nuances of a pitcher’s release point and pitch velocity before you can start thinking about hitting the ball with some regularity. You almost have no choice but to suppress that gamer urge to swing away and actually TAKE some pitches. Otherwise, it’s K’s all day. I’m not even a baseball fan, but this could quickly become a bonafide leisure-time favorite long after I’m done reviewing it.

NBA Street Homecourt: After the debacle that was NBA Live ’07, I think it’s safe to say this is EA’s best hoops game. Even through all the crazy dunks, moves and cinematic effects with the gamebreakers, this brand of hoops felt more organic than any other hoops game I’ve played since NBA Street Vol. 2 for the PS2. It’s just a group of ballers playing at the park. The sound quality is outstanding … close your eyes and listen to the game, and it’s almost like you were right there, waiting for your chance to get on the court. Great stuff … it’ll make you think of summertime runs. The courts look pretty outstanding as well — Rupert Bell Rec Center, Cloverdale, the Brand Jordan Gym (my favorite). I would have liked more unlockable content aside from shoes and outfits, and I also would have liked the ability to build my own hometown court, as opposed to just “getting” a nondescript court that I’m supposed to call my own. As I’ll say in the print review, it’s the most fun I’ve had playing fake hoops in a long, long, time.

Bullet Witch: At the start of last week, I was thinking about how I haven’t played a truly bad game in a while. I was on a happy streak with Crackdown, NBA Street Homecourt … I even found stuff to like in Ghost Rider. Then along came Bullet Witch, another title that I thought may have been misunderstood by other people who panned it. It’s a hot chick carrying a big gun and using spells, I thought. How bad could it be? As it turns out, pretty damn bad. To wax poetic about how miserable a time I had playing this would be a waste of your time and mine, so I can link you to my print review when it comes out. All I want to say is … I thought we’d be past this kind of gamemaking by now, at this stage of the game.

That’s all I’ve got for now. When you hear from me again, hopefully it’ll be about GRAW and Def Jam Icon.