This week we’ve got a lot of new releases to cover: from an undead video game that returns to bite a chunk of your time to a shoot ’em up 1940’s crime drama. Let’s get right to it.
(360, XBLA, 1200 MSFT Points)
Quirky side-scrolling platformer maestros the Behemoth, known for Alien Hominid and Castle Crashers, go back to the well and emerge with yet another oddball, co-op friendly time-waster. You help a hat-wearing, sparsely animated hero as he jumps, runs and slaughters his way through a series of inventive levels. Sight gags and witty dialogue flow, and the level-ending progress rating provides a reason to double back and try to top your previous score.
Aside from the campaign, which is as silly and rewarding as the developer’s past efforts, there’s also a full-blooded competitive multiplayer setup here, complete with twists on capture the flag, team deathmatches, free-for-alls and even something resembling a basketball game. Tinkerers will be happy with a level editor, and masochists will dig the time attack. While BattleBlock Theater may lack the swords and sorcery pull of Castle Crashers, it should satisfy those who are bored with that game and are looking for something new along the same lines.
Dead Island: Riptide
(360, PS3, $50, Mature)
The follow-up to the intriguing yet rickety 2011 first-person zombie-slayer is everything a sequel to a so-so game should be. The developers ferretted out many of the game-breaking bugs and sloppy design issues that plagued the first entry, while emphasizing what made it worth playing despite the flaws.
The setting and story are largely the same, with a couple tweaks and expansions. Once again you’re stuck on a resort island overrun by the undead. This time, though, there’s more personality on the hero side. As in Left 4 Dead, you choose one of several archetypical heroes who scavenge for weapons and fend off near-certain doom. The open-ended mission structure makes you feel as though you’re relying on your own wits to survive chaos, rather than plugging through a pre-set story.
You can expect frequent deaths, especially if you don’t take care to search out dark corners for the best weapons and boosts, but the checkpoint system – in the manner of Bioshock – forgivingly leaves the damage you’ve dealt to enemies so you can plug on through. Thanks to its newfound smoothness, Riptide is far more dream than nightmare.
Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall
(360, PS3, $10, Mature)
Story-based expansions like this one tend to be a hell of a lot more rewarding than standard multiplayer map packs. The Knife of Dunwall adds another dimension to the intrigue of Dishonored by sticking you in the shoes of Daud, who screwed the main hero over at the beginning of the game by committing an assassination that sent him off on a quest for redemption.
An array of new weapons and attacks are fun to play around with, and it’s entertaining to see some familiar story turns play out from a different perspective. As in the base game, you get incredibly different experiences depending on your choice to play with stealth or assault tactics, but there’s a lot more fun to be had if you go with the latter.
Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen
(360, PS3, $40, Mature)
Dark Arisen, which plays something like the bastard child of the Monster Hunter and Diablo franchises, is more of an expansion than a sequel, rounding up the same stuff from the hit-and-miss role-playing role-playing monster hunt of the 2012 release and adding in new mechanics, characters and areas.
Save data and items from the previous game transfers over, letting you mess around with additional weapons to use on a couple dozen new hulking enemies. If the first game bored you, there’s not much reason to circle back, but if you were left thirsting for more after the first go-round, there is plenty here to keep you occupied.
Injustice: Gods Among Us
(360, PS3, Wii U, $60,)
The Mortal Kombat dudes round up the cast of D.C. heroes and villains to see who would win in a fight between Superman and Catwoman. Well, not exactly, since Superman would easily kill Catwoman with the flick of his little finger. Instead, they make things interesting by balancing stuff out and basically rendering all characters equal with an array of equally devastating and flashy attacks.
Just the same the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot, the game is absolutely packed with stuff to do. Joining the robust, laughably ridiculous and surprisingly dark story mode are a slew of zany, entertaining missions, loads of unlockables and deep, full-blooded online fixins.
Although the characters move and maintain the postures of Mortal Kombat fighters, this is far more than a re-skinning. The characters’ special attacks and environments stay true to the comic book roots, providing flourishes that scream authenticity. The game even somehow manages to make doofuses like Aquaman and Green Arrow entertaining, which is saying something.
Lego City Undercover: The Chase Begins
(3DS, $30, Everyone 10+)
You’d expect the handheld prequel to the Wii U’s Lego-styled and family-friendly Grand Theft Auto clone to feel haphazard and rushed, but you’d only be partially right. The subversive sense of humor is still there, and the world feels every bit as alive as it did in the Wii U game.
There are concessions, though, in voice acting. After brief intros, most of the dialogue is rendered in text and robbed of much of the nuance that could have made it more entertaining. Also, the mission difficulty is dumbed down to the point of absurdity, with ridiculously pandering hand-holding coaxing you to each objective so you can keep the story moving along.
Faults aside, I had enough fun speeding around town as a Lego cop to easily recommend the game to anyone looking for something fresh to pop into their 3DS. Its bite-sized missions are perfectly tuned to be knocked out during bathroom breaks. Uh, not that I timed it that way or anything.
($25 Blu-ray, $15 DVD)
Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin play L.A. cops who go rogue to take down thug Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) in an entertaining gangland romp. Fans of the game L.A. Noire will find a lot to like, with deep 1940s detail, stylized, tough-talking dialogue, impressive set pieces and throwback, tough-guy performances from all the leads. The Blu-ray/DVD/ digital copy combo includes director Ruben Fleisher’s commentary, a look at the real-life Cohen, deleted scenes and featurettes on the real-life story.
($23 Blu-ray, $15 DVD)
This may well be the best awards bait movie from 2012 that you never got around to seeing. Naomi Watts earned a best actress Oscar nomination with her performance, but you really just want to give her a hug after seeing all her character has to endure in the devastating disaster flick. Based on the 2004 Indian ocean tsunami, Watts and Ewan McGregor play a husband and wife whose family is torn apart by the tsunami and left scrambling to reconnect with one other and their children. Watts does an all too convincing job showing the pain and misery her character endured as she struggled to survive and endure. The Blu-ray/digital copy combo is filled out with deleted scenes, filmmaker commentary and featurettes on the film’s casting and filming.
Jurassic Park 3D
I don’t have a 3D TV, but if I did I would definitely feed it this beast at least once a week to keep it happy. Steven Spielbeg’s 1993 tale of an island plagued dinosaurs running amok holds up surprisingly well in the special effects category, and doesn’t even seem as dated in nearly any other aspect. If you don’t have a TV geared to make the raptors’ evil eyes pop out at you, you’re probably best off with one of the previous editions. The 2D Blu-ray, DVD and digital versions are all here, and there’s a featurette on Spielberg’s 3D restoration of the film.
($23 Blu-ray, $18 DVD)
Matt Damon and John Krasinski – known to everyone but his parents as Jim from The Office – play dueling rabble rousers in this drama about fracking. And no, that’s not a Battlestar Galactica reference – it has to do with the big gas company practice of extracting natural gas from deep within the earth. The film wears its bleeding environmentalist heart proudly on its sleeve, but the earnestness of the performances had me digging the story all the way up to the idiotic twist that tries hard to ruin everything that came before. The Blu-ray/DVD/digital copy combo trots out deleted scenes and a making-of featurette.
Screeners were provided by the publishers for review.