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Video Game Reviews

Mortal Kombat / L.A. Noire / Brink

Andrew Jerman June 8th, 2011

Mortal Kombat
WB Games
Xbox 360, Playstation 3

“Mortal Kombat” is a throwback to the early/mid- ’90s when people flooded into arcades to fight as their favorite characters. All of the established characters appear in this new version, and the player controls them similarly to their classic versions.

As a fighting game, “Kombat” is easy to learn, thanks to a simple combo system and the ability to string together whatever moves you want. With its hyper-violence and comically gory fatalities, this game feels like classic “Kombat” through and through.

The amount of content included is truly impressive.

The classic, arcade-style ladder is back, with a unique ending for each character, while the official story mode lets you play as several combatants over the course of about eight hours. Also included is the “challenge tower,” comprised of 300 truly difficult objectives.

Fighting games are really about player versus player, however, and “Kombat” doesn’t skimp. New to the series are tag-team fighting and the capability to have different people controlling each of the team’s four characters.

The online option is smooth and fun, and offers enough modes to keep you fighting to, well, the death.

L.A. Noire
Rockstar Games
Xbox 360, Playstation 3

“L.A. Noire” follows detective Cole Phelps as he rises through the ranks of the LAPD in 1947 Los Angeles. The city and time period are beautifully realized; the re-creation of post-war L.A. seems to be nearly streetlevel accurate. Adding to the atmosphere is era-appropriate music, clothing, cars and a pulpy, film-noir mood.

Be warned: This is not “Grand Theft Auto: 1947.” “L.A. Noire” is much more of an adventure game. Most of your time is spent inspecting crime scenes in order to locate and examine clues or evidence.

Once satisfied with what you’ve found, you move on to question suspects and witnesses. This is the game’s greatest strength, as using evidence to prove and disprove statements is involving and sometimes tense. It features a superb facial animation system that makes observing suspects’ faces for hints of lies or false statements feel natural.

The mystery-solving aspect is the biggest draw of “L.A. Noire,” but you can also take time off to explore 1947 Los Angeles and to search for landmarks. This may not be the game you expect, but it will be the most unique, engaging one you’ve played in a while.

Bethesda Softworks
(Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3)

“Brink” covers the struggle of two factions — resistance and security — that are trying to take control of a large floating city called The Ark. That’s all the story you’ll find, because “Brink” follows the old-school, first-person-shooter design popularized by games like “Quake III” and “Battlefield.”

As such, “Brink” is purely  a multiplayer game. There is a campaign mode, but it just puts you on a multiplayer map to fight against AI instead of players.

The game’s greatest assets are its colorful art style and level of customization. Your character and weapons can be outfitted with numerous accessories and parts. Sadly, the actual gameplay is not so great. There are scores of guns, but none of them feels that different from another. The team-based gameplay is decent, but no better than that in more established titles like “Team Fortress 2.” And the game ships with only about eight maps, so the amount of content is minimal.

For a $60 product, “Brink” is lacking. It would have been an impressive less-expensive (perhaps downloadable) title, but it doesn’t stand up to the better games that have come before it.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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06.16.2011 at 02:53 Reply

For those who loved the GTA series, L.A. Noire has got to be a taste of something familiar. But that's not always a good thing. The characters and cars handle about as good as a drunk guy pushing an overloaded wheelbarrow over a grease covered hockey rink. Now that I've got the biggest negative out of the way, we can move onto more positive territory. 

The story is pretty solid. You play Cole Phelps, a war "hero" who returns home to work his way through the ranks of the LAPD, and maybe find some absolution for things he took part in overseas. Phelps seems like a really decent human being, but as time progresses, you begin to realize he's as flawed as anyone. Actually, as I neared the end of the game I'd completely lost respect for him. His personal choices, the ones the player cannot control, are what upset me. I'd developed some level of affection for his straight-shooter type of character, but over time quickly realized that he's almost as pathetic as his crooked partner Roy. 

Interrogation is a tricky aspect of this game, and I'm not sure I ever really understood how it was supposed to work. In my experience, people are either lying or telling the truth, the game adds the "doubt" option, which is really a curve ball that screws the whole thing up. Honest people will look you in the eye, and those lying or holding back won't. If you choose "Lie" instead of "Doubt" or vice versa (when they aren't looking you in the eye), you have a 50% chance of getting it right, but it's really frustrating when you choose wrong. Ideally you'd like to be able to save prior to an interrogation, so you can restart if the questioning goes wrong. Unfortunately L.A. Noire picks it's own save locations, and that never works in your favor. 

The game rewards good choices with "intuition" points which can help you with interrogations or clue finding. But earning those points in sufficient quantity means engaging in side missions which you'll hear over the car radio (only when you're driving). I realize this was an attempt to make the game longer and more engaging, but it's more frustrating than anything. The side missions often entail driving or running, which as I previously mentioned, is very difficult to execute flawlessly. Moreover, the cover mechanic is dangerous. You might assume cover around a corner, and while trying to disengage cover and move to different cover, I often found my character confused about his direction. He'd often step out of cover, into fire, run in a circle and end up where he started, slightly more injured than when he started. I found that frustrating, but remotely tolerable because my desire to see the games conclusion encouraged me to press on. 

For people like me who hate how the cars handle you can almost always avoid driving by making your partner drive for you. However if the mission involves a car chase, you will be forced to drive. Thankfully, if it seems like you don't have any idea what you're supposed to do in those chases, you're partner will almost certainly give you a clue by suggesting you run someone off the road, or get along side them so they can shoot out the tires. 

As you scour crime scenes you will discover clues by walking around almost aimlessly. This becomes very discouraging for the player. The only way you know you've found a clue is that the controller will vibrate and you'll hear a piano key when you step over a clue. And as if it wasn't frustrating enough, the developers threw in items which will trigger the vibration which aren't clues at all. A classic example is beer bottles. I can't tell you how many random beer bottles I picked up which turned out to be nothing. I wish the developers would have just made clues obvious by having them glow like items in Bioshock, but I suppose doing so would have voided half the reason for collecting "intuition" points. The frustration aspect of this was ignorable until I got to Rancho Escondido. By that point in the game you're working in Arson, and someone torched an entire development called Rancho Escondido. I literally spent 20 minutes walking around this whole development and never found the clue I was looking for. As it turns out, there is only 1 clue in this whole place, which is almost a needle in a haystack unless you know what you're looking for. Hint, observing where your partner goes will help you find the only clue. 

I'm not sure it's a flaw in the story, but it seems more often than not that people who are most likely innocent end up running from the police for almost no reason. It happens so often it's almost comical. It's like an average person engaging in a high speed pursuit because they had 1 unpaid parking ticket. Ultimately this causes you to suspect them of the greater crime, and that is not always a good thing. By the way, I love how my partner always tells me to go after them suspect, while doing nothing to aide me in the apprehension. 

L.A. Noire is a great name for this game. As the name would imply, it's very dark, and doesn't hold any despicable aspect back. You will find several dead, totally naked, women in the pursuit of the Black Dalia, something which could very well be a first in mainstream gaming. You also encounter a couple seedy characters that are pedophiles and seem rather unashamed of that. I realize as a real life detective these things might seem common place, but as a civilian more or less thrown into this world, I found it unsettling, and sick. I'm somewhat torn about whether I approve of these real world issues because it's not a stretch from reality, or that I want to crawl back into my comfortable suburban life and not think about the sick underbelly of society. Because whether it's 1947 or 2011, these things do happen. 

The character faces in L.A. Noire is where is where the game really shines. It's a technological achievement that should not go unnoticed. But by the same token, I feel moderately duped. Having seen how they scanned the faces, in a production trailer, I was a little disappointed at how degraded the end product looked compared to the performance. It's one of those subtle things that only those who have a keen eye will notice. But over time, it seemed as though the characters had this moving 2D image simply painted on a 3D face, maybe I just became too critical as the game progressed. And to be totally fair, they clearly didn't try to compress that data too much since the game takes up a whopping 3 DVD's (Xbox version). 

By the time you reach the end of the game, you begin to realize that many of the crimes you've investigated may have resulted in you going after the wrong guy. Now whether or not the "wrong guy" was convicted is not always known, it still weighs on your conscious as if you'd personally sent an innocent man to prison. And as you come to the conclusion of each case and realize how many questions you asked incorrectly, you really begin to doubt the success of the outcome. So despite its flaws I will be revisiting L.A. Noire with a walkthrough so I can see how much I messed up when I was trusting my gut. 

Is L.A. Noire a good game? Yes. Is it award worthy? Yes. Is it flawed? Yes. But all told, this has been an interesting and emotional experience. The story pulls you in, and you quickly develop feelings for certain characters, and as with real relationships, those feelings mutate over time as you get to know them better. Perhaps it's a testament to the story teller's craft that the characters are not cookie cutter. They are flawed, and despite their artificial nature, they are made human by those flaws. 

Last words, buy it, but don't play it with your children. This one's not for the kiddies.