Review | 11/23/2011 at 9:17 AM

Beyond Co-Op Reviews - November 2011

Skyrim vs Batman in the battle for Fall gaming supremacy.

Beyond Co-Op Reviews is a critical look at games that don't necessarily have a co-op mode.

This month we're reviewing some of the biggest titles of the season.  Skyrim, Batman: Arkham City, Sonic Generations and several others! The fall gaming season is still in full swing with plenty of titles to choose from, let us help you find the best non co-op games in our Beyond Co-Op Reviews!

Sonic Generations.................................................................................................. Page 2
Kinectimals...Now with Bears...................... ........................................................Page 3
Spider-Man: Edge of Time......................................................................................Page 4
X-Men: Destiny.........................................................................................................Page 5
Batman: Arkham City.............................................................................................Page 6
Skyrim........................................................................................................................Page 7
 


 Explanation of Scores:

 - Golden Billy - This is a must buy title. Truly excellent in almost everyway.

  - Silver Billy - A solid title with a few flaws.

 - Bronze Billy - This one is probably a rental if it interests you.

Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Sonic Team
MSRP: $49.99
by: Paul "EastX" Acevedo

This console generation hasn’t been easy for Sonic fans. The legendary awfulness of Sonic ’06 (a game that was basically released incomplete) left such a bad taste in my mouth; I’m only just now getting over it. Sonic Unleashed could have turned things around, but instead whizzed all over Sonic by turning him into a goofy ‘werehog.’ I feel dirty even typing that word out. But Sonic 4, despite mixed reception from fans, was certainly a step in the right direction. Now, five years after Sonic 06 broke the hearts of gamers everywhere, Sega has finally put things right with Sonic Generations, the best Sonic game since the Dreamcast days.

Sonic Generations brings the cute, silent Sega Genesis version of Sonic together with his edgier, more talkative modern self as they battle the mysterious Time Eater. They’ll revisit famous levels and bosses from the Sonic games of shore and rescue their many friends along the way. The story is told via sparse but interesting and clever cut scenes that will put a smile on the face of anyone who knows a thing or two about Sonic.

Sonic Generations' 8 levels are taken from past Sonic titles, starting with Sonic 1’s Green Hill Zone and ending with Planet Wisp from Sonic Colors. Each level has both a 2D act for Classic Sonic and a 3D version for Modern Sonic. You can’t avoid the 3D acts or vice versa, but they can be tackled in any order. Since every stage originally played in only one of the two gameplay styles, the addition of a new style (with its own beautiful remixed music) makes the old stages feel fresh again.

Adding further excitement to each zone is a multitude of new paths to follow. Sonic’s stages have always included high and low routes, the higher one requiring greater skills to reach and offering greater rewards than its lower counterpart. Sega has really outdone itself this time, littering each stage with an astounding number of nooks and crannies. Every act contains five hidden Red Star Rings. Hunting down and collecting them all teaches you the best paths and ins and outs of every stage. Plus collecting all of the Red Star Rings unlocks new skills for Sonic (and Achievements/Trophies), so the exploration is worth the trouble.

Speaking of skills, a wide variety of them can be purchased with points earned from completing levels. The higher your letter grade, the more points you get. Skills can make Sonic run faster, breathe underwater, enable the elemental shields from Sonic 3, and even give classic Sonic a homing attack. I like tweaking my skill set for different situations, but you can set it up, forget about it and still do just fine.

While you can run through the main stages of Sonic Generations in a day (just like the 16-bit games), it packs an ample amount of extra content to keep players busy. Every zone has ten challenge levels (5 for each version of Sonic) that mix up the gameplay in various ways: giant enemies, races against a doppleganger, and lots more. While these look like existing levels, they often vary so much as to feel completely different. Other unlockable bonus content includes character profiles, concept art, and my favorite: you can replace any stage’s music with dozens of tunes from previous Sonic games (even Sonic R!).

Sonic Generations isn’t perfect. The methods for damaging the last couple of bosses are extremely unintuitive, and the 3D stages sometimes punish players for doing something other than what the designers expected. The first part of Crisis City is a great example: if you boost your speed immediately upon starting the level, an action usually encouraged elsewhere, you’re guaranteed to fall in a pit and die. The rougher parts are mostly confined to the final third of the game - typical of a rushed schedule. But hey, problems like that are much easier to forgive when they’re wrapped within such an otherwise energetic and delightful package. You can’t please the crazier Sonic fans, but most enthusiasts of the blue blur will love stepping back into his speedy shoes.

 Score:  

Buy at Amazon!

Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Microsoft
MSRP: $49.99
by: Paul "EastX" Acevedo

When Kinectimals arrived on the scene as a Kinect launch title, it featured only one type of animal: kitties. Naturally that prompted some to wonder, why not put cats in the name instead of animals? Thanks to the recent ‘Bear Island’ downloadable expansion, you can no longer ask that question without looking silly. Kinectimals: Now with Bears! bundles the original game and the $15 ‘Bear Island’ expansion onto a single disc (no download tokens here), basically making it the Game of the Year edition.

The premise of Kinectimals is that you’ve landed on the mysterious island Lemuria, home to surprisingly friendly carnivorous animals. The island’s previous inhabitant, pirate captain Fiddler, has gone missing and it’s up to you and your non-aggressive kitties to look for him.

To explore new regions of Lemuria, you’ll first need to complete a variety of minigames and tasks. Kinectimals is a small part pet sim, with actions like petting, cleaning, feeding and watering the kittens, and teaching them tricks. The Kinect really enhances the feeling of interacting with your pet. Play activities and competitions are more exciting. You’ll toss flying discs, play volleyball, navigate through obstacle courses, and drive RC cars (even a Warthog!), all in the name of keeping your pet entertained and earning enough experience to move on to the next area.

‘Bear Island’ functions as a sequel to Kinectimals’ story, though you can jump between the new island, Mira, and Lemuria at any time. Mira is inhabited by non-man-eating bear cubs, and was once the home of the Fiddler’s best friend, Captain Blackwood. Both sailors went missing at the same time, and now you’re off to find out what happened to them.

The new bears are extremely cuddly and well-rendered, just like the cats. They are equally as interchangeable, for better or worse. The animals in Kinectimals don’t have their own personalities or abilities, so the choice of what cub to use and when is purely aesthetic. Kids and cat lovers probably won’t mind, but I’d like to see a more developed system should a true sequel ever roll around. Voice commands are another new feature, though they only control a few functions instead of everything – a missed opportunity.

Bear Island’s new activities include juggling, fishing, and tree climbing. Juggling objects back and forth with your bear is pretty fun once you get the hang of swiping your arms in the right direction and cadence. I like fishing even better; casting with one arm and reeling in with another feels incredibly natural. Too bad the bears throw the fish back after you catch them… I didn’t realize eating fish wasn’t a kid-friendly activity. Unlike its brethren, tree climbing stumbles and catches splinters. Stepping left and right to climb around obstacles and crouching to go back down the tree functioned erratically at best.

Therein lays one of my only real problems with Kinectimals: the inconsistent motion tracking. While many games (especially RC cars) play great, a few like throwing objects simply fail. The throwing minigames all involve hitting specific targets, which can be very frustrating when your ball flies off in random directions instead of the way you swing your arm. Throwing and climbing definitely could have used more playtesting before releasing them into the wild.

The other pockmark on an otherwise endearing game comes from the two narrators. They look like big-headed flying rats – not cute at all. And when they open their mouths… Actor Richard Steven Horvitz does a terrible job as Lemuria’s narrator, Bumble, and should be shamed into retirement. The female narrator in Mira sounds far less grating, though her unending false enthusiasm soon caused all my teeth to rot out. The dangers of reviewing games! Thankfully, you can switch off their voices in favor of subtitles.

Kinectimals: Now with Bears represents a great value for its price tag. I love the sense of adventure and variety of things to do, to say nothing of the lush environments and detailed animals. While the game is targeted towards the younger set, anyone who digs animals and minigames will enjoy this island adventure. Now that Frontier Software has honed their Kinect development skills with this and Kinect Disneyland Adventures, I hope they will revisit Kinectimals with a full-ledged sequel someday.

 Score:  

Buy at Amazon!

Publisher: Activision
Developer:
MSRP: $59.99
by: Sam "Samoza" Tyler

“Spiderman, Spiderman, he does whatever a Batman can”. Or Activision wished he did in their latest annual Spiderman game; ‘Spiderman: Edge of Time’. Last year’s ‘Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions” was the best game in the series since ‘Spiderman 2’, so what went wrong with ‘Edge of Time’?

Spiderman: Edge of Time’ opens with more than a hint at trying to be the Dark Knight. You crawl inside a giant skyscraper as the credits roll around you. Not before long it appears as if Spiderman is about to die, but then a wormhole in time opens and Amazing Spiderman becomes connected to Spiderman 2099 via some telepathic Spidey Sense thingy. Can Spiderman 2099 save his antiquated ally? The two of them must aid one another through time and space, against a foe who wishes to rewrite history.

Whilst ‘Shattered Dimensions’ took place over four separate Spidey worlds, ‘Edge of Time’ has reduced this to two. The most obvious missing element is the stealth sections of Spiderman Noir which broke up the previous titles slightly repetitive gameplay. ‘Edge of Time’ does not do this and soon becomes a series of very similar levels set in two different time zones. To try and shake up the format Beenox have introduced the concept of time anomalies; present day Spiderman can alter the building he is in to affect the future, therefore aiding Spiderman 2099. Sounds interesting in a ‘Day of the Tentacle’ kind of way, but it is sorely underused as the time anomalies are nothing more than full motion video.

With the entire game being set in one massive skyscraper, over two time periods, ‘Edge of Time’ is not the most diverse of game. There are a lot of grey rooms to visit and similar looking enemies to kill. However, it does have one saving grace that lifts it from one to avoid, to a game that Spiderman fans will actually get something from; the script. Written by comic book and novel writer Peter David, the adlibs and asides are of a high standard. What could have been renamed ‘Spiderman’s Boring Adventures in Dull Towers’ is suddenly uplifted by the playful script. David’s writing is the one element of the game that actually makes ‘Edge of Time’ stand out.

With ‘Batman: Arkham City’ ready and waiting on the shelves, there is not a huge reason to rush out and buy ‘Spiderman: Edge of Time’. Last year’s ‘Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions’ should be in plenty of bargain bins by now for anyone looking for their arachnid fix. The one glimmer of hope that makes ‘Edge of Time’ a Silver Billy and not bronze, is the fun script that will please Spiderman fans. Apart from that, this is one of the weaker games in the Spiderman Web.

Score:

Buy at Amazon!

Publisher: Activision
Developer: Silicon Knights
MSRP: $59.99
by: Marc "DjinniMan" Allie

If there was a person predestined to enjoy X-Men: Destiny, it would be me. I learned to read by pouring over my aunt’s comic collection, including the classic X-Men comics of the late 1970s. I am a fan of most of the X-Men movies and TV shows, too. Generally speaking, the X-Men video games have been among my favorites, and I thought developer Silicon Knights’ previous title, Too Human, was vastly underrated. Thus, you would think that I would like X-Men Destiny.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. In almost every area, X-Men Destiny is greatly flawed, from the ugly graphics to the boring, repetitive gameplay, and the dull, totally non-compelling narrative.

The story, such as it is, has a promising beginning. The game begins at a peace rally set in the divided city of San Francisco. Professor X has died, and tensions between mutants and the anti-mutant Purifiers are at the tipping point. Three heroes are available to select, including a Japanese mutant refugee, a clueless college football hopeful, and the son of a fallen Purifier (is it still irony when it’s obvious?) who has been trained to fight mutants. At the rally, fighting breaks out and the player’s mutant abilities trigger. You meet the noble X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in short order, and interact with both sides throughout the adventure.

The key conceit to X-Men Destiny is that you have many choices to make, and each one has a large impact on how events in the story play out. In theory, this choose your own adventure style narrative sounds great, but in practice, your choices seem to make very little difference. Very few elements change at all, other than a few bits and pieces of dialogue here and there. Even your choice of character means next to nothing.

Another issue with choices is the tremendous lack of variety in mutant powers. Each of the three protagonists have the same options available to them: tank-friendly density control, ranged combat energy projection, or agile, melee based “shadow matter” powers. These three tracks are all you can choose from, and I found this very frustrating. If you can’t play as your favorite X-Men, you should at least be able to totally customize your character. Having only three sets of powers is a horrific oversight for a game that is supposed to be all about choices.

The combat system is overly simplistic; simple button mashing will serve you quite well. Enemies are generic and repetitive, and you will fight the same Purifier bad guys over and over again. Even the environments are monotonous. You will tire of seeing the burning ruins of San Francisco ad nauseum. Graphically, the game is horrendous, one of the worst looking games I’ve seen this generation. Character models in cut scenes are particularly bad, almost disturbing to look at.

X-Men Destiny is a terrible game. After playing for only a few hours, I couldn’t bring myself to continue. It’s easy to see why the game snuck onto the release schedule without much fanfare. It’s as if Activision and Silicon Knights knew they had a lemon on their hands. If you want a good X-Men experience, get a copy of both X-Men Legends games instead and avoid this absolute stinker.

Score: :(

Buy at Amazon!

Publisher: WB Games
Developer: Rocksteady
MSRP: $59.99
by: Jason "OrigamiPanther" Love

Two years ago, Rocksteady broke out into the gaming scene with Batman: Arkham Asylum – a game that successfully integrated stealth mechanics, hand-to-hand gameplay, and a superhero license into an overall package that had folks asking for more. Happy to oblige, everyone’s favorite Dark Knight returns to further clean up the streets in Batman: Arkham City.

Whereas Arkham Asylum confined the Caped Crusade to the island of the city’s most famed institution for the criminally insane, Arkham City has opened up the landscape. Dr. Hugo Strange has cordoned off a portion of Gotham to be the new home for the criminals and supervillains that continue to plague the World’s Greatest Detective, and all is not as it seems in this little “experiment.” After his less than grand entrance into the den of sin, and some refreshers on how to take down an attacking felon, Batman’s ready to glide through the streets of the city and put an end to Strange’s plan.

The largest appeal to this sequel is the step taken from a confined space crime-solving adventure into a more open-world format, though it’s a moniker that is mostly “in name only.” While Batman is able to go about the city from rooftop to rooftop as he moves from objective to objective, once he arrives at one of those objectives, he’ll be tossed right back in to a confined space that feels a little more confined after all that fresh air. What’s more, outside of the various side missions, there’s little detective work involved with discovering where to go next. Batman finds himself being told precisely where he ought to be, either by the latest villain he’s facing or by the constant voice in the ear, Alfred. The same “just keep moving forward” line of thinking tends to apply to the indoor scenes, too, as most areas present fewer of the stealth/scare tactics employed in the first game.

Fortunately, those two aspects are truly the game’s biggest (relatively, speaking) flaws. The “freeflow” combat introduced in Arkham City has become even more refined this time around, better integrating Batman’s ingenious gadgets and combat moves into a system that should be used in any game with a melee fighting aspect. Taking down unsuspecting foes and scaring those who remain is just as satisfying, and Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill turn in stellar performances as Batman and the Joker, respectively, even if Batman does come off as a bit surlier than usual. Perhaps the greatest improvement has been to the boss fights. After Arkham Asylum’s tedious repetition and slight variation on an early encounter, Arkham City’s criminal elite provide a different experience each time they square off against the Dark Knight; one fight in particular forces the player to make full use of the arsenal of gadgets and stealthy takedown moves.

Upon completion of the first game, I felt like Batman – pitting my intellect, strength, and mastery of stealth against an insane clown to retake a mad house gone mad. Upon completion of Arkham City, I felt like some of that intellect and powers of deduction had been taken away in favor of brute force plodding, yet that didn’t make the journey any less satisfying.

Score:

Buy at Amazon!

Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: Bethesda
MSRP: $59.99
by: Nicholas "BAPenguin" Puleo

The world of Tamriel is a large and beautiful place, only a small section of which gets revealed every 5 years in an Elder Scrolls title. The latest game in the series is called Skyrim and the land you visit in it has the same name. It’s a cold place, inspired by the likes of Northern Europe with a dash of Middle Earth. While the formula for the games haven’t changed much since Morrowind, the vision that Bethesda has set out with each game has become closer and closer to reality. Skryim is by far the closest thing to a living, breathing world that feels like an MMO without having to deal with those pesky gold farmers.

Skyrim is a single player only game. That said, the NPCs you will meet really feel like they fit in the world. Simply walking around town you’ll overheard conversations, see people doing jobs, and follow a routine of their daily life. It’s something that was promised in Oblivion, but it’s pulled off here in a much more believable fashion. Right - so what does all this have to do with an RPG you actually play?

Elder Scrolls games have always been about freedom and it’s never more evident than it is in Skyrim. Go anywhere, do anything you want - and whatever you do - you’ll level up for it. If you feel like collecting herbs to make potions in Alchemy, you can do that. Want to practice your fireball spell on Wooley Mammoths? You can do that. Feel like finding random dungeons and clearing them while dual wielding two axes? You can do that. Each and every action increases its related skill and brings you closer to leveling up. Even the act of buying and selling goods increasing your speech skill allowing you to haggle for better prices, convince characters in conversations, or intimidate someone into doing something for you.

There is a main quest in Skyrim and it involves you being a Dragonborn - a man or woman who possesses the speech of a Dragon thanks to its blood running through your veins. With this power you can shout to produce different effects - think of it as a form of spell casting. Whether its a super fast sprint or simply a damage dealing scream, shouts are essential to helping you bring down dragons in battle. Did I forget to mention that? You’ll be fighting huge dragons scattered throughout the world that simply fly around and terrorize citizen for no other reason other than they are a dragon. It’s your job to figure out why the dragons are back and how to stop them.

Of course if dragons aren’t your thing you can simply join one of the many factions in the game like the mages guild, thieves guild, the blades, or even the assassins. Each has their own quest line that has its own benefits and rewards offering even more content. There is no end to a game like Skyrim, in fact, there literally is infinite quests in the game thanks to a random system in place. Even after completing the game you can continue to explore the world and complete quests.

The Elder Scrolls games always seem to ship with bugs in the box and Skyrim is no exception. Odd things happen in the game world, characters get caught in stuff, the game might hang, or you might not be able to trigger an event to finish a quest. These usually get patched up over time but as of now, there are some hiccups along the way. The game looks great though on the consoles and pretty snazzy on the PC to boot.

The bottom line with Skyrim is this: if you like RPGs that give you complete and total freedom or are a fan of the Elder Scrolls series in anyway, Skyrim is SO DAMN GOOD.

Score: 

Buy At Amazon!