Movie Project #12: Incendies [2010]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

Incendies [2010]

Incendies [1989]
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Denis Villeneuve, Wajdi Mouawad, Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne
Country: Canada, France
Genre: Drama/Mystery/War
Starring: Lubna Azabal, Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Rémy Girard
Running Time: 139 minutes

The very first shot of Incendies, the Oscar-nominated French-Canadian drama from director Denis Velleneuve (Prisoners, Enemy), shows a serene Middle Eastern landscape. As we watch the leaves of a palm tree sway in the wind, Radiohead’s mesmeric “You and Whose Army?” begins to play. The camera slowly pans indoors, taking us into a grimy room full of young boys waiting in line to get their heads shaved. The children stand there, mostly emotionless, as a group of young men, likely teenagers, stand guard with assault rifles. Eventually, the camera settles on the young boy who is currently having his head shaved. As the song reaches its crescendo, the shot zooms in on the young boy’s bone-chilling expression with eyes that will pierce your soul. It’s an unforgettable and flawless introduction to a film that has the potential to shake you down to your bones.

Incendies then moves to present day in Montreal, as twin siblings Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Guadette) are brought together to hear the will of their recently deceased mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal). They learn that their mother had two final requests for them, both of which would require a trip to the Middle East. Jeanne is to deliver a letter to their father, who they never knew and weren’t even aware was still alive. Simon is to bring a letter to a brother that they had no idea existed. This sounds like the setup for what could be a solid mystery film, but Incendies sets itself apart by opting for a unique dual narrative structure.

Incendies [2010]

As we watch Jeanne and Simon explore the unnamed Middle Eastern country of which their mother was from, we are given glimpses of the rough and tumultuous life Nawal lived before they were born. Back then, their mother’s home country was in the midst of a civil war driven by religious extremists. She was immediately caught in the crossfire simply because she was a Christian who was dating a Muslim. A series of tragedies surrounds young Nawal, sending her on a cross-country journey of self-discovery, one in which violence and brutality appears to be around every corner.

Remnants of the past remain everywhere in this country in its present day, and Jeanne even discovers that there are those who will immediately shun her for simply mentioning her mother’s name. Clearly, Nawal left a lasting impression in her homeland. This is all a bit of a shock to Jeanne and Simon, as their mother had purposefully hid this part of her life from her children. In the midst of war and turmoil, anyone is capable of unthinkable actions, their mother included.

Incendies [2010]

At the core of Incendies is a deep, gut-wrenching secret, one that is not immediately apparent even when it is alluded to on screen. At first, I found this revelation to be off-putting. It relied on a few too many convenient coincidences for my liking. Yet as I sat and thought about the film, I fell more and more in love with it. This isn’t a shock ending for the sake of it; it’s a reflection on humanity, war and the type of love that can only be provided and shared by a family.

Incendies is an extraordinary film that immediately leaves an impact, one that will linger for weeks, months or even years. It’s deeply personal and sometimes hard to watch, but, astonishingly, it somehow brings a glimmer of hope in the midst of rape, murder and other atrocities.

9/10

Video Game Review: BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

BioShock 2
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC and Mac)
Genre: First Person Shooter
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: 2K Marin
Release Date: February 9, 2010

I purchased an Xbox 360 late in 2008, and one of the very first games I played was BioShock. I was smitten right away. Crashing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and discovering the idealistic world of Rapture hidden underwater was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Critics and gamers alike had similar reactions, and its success meant a sequel was inevitable. Despite BioShock 2 (BS2) being released in 2010, I never got the chance to play it until recently (largely thanks to Microsoft putting this on sale for $10 last week).

As soon as I began my BS2 campaign, a flood of memories came rushing back. I didn’t realize how much I missed Rapture and its bizarre 1960s setting. Even though it had been years since I last entered this underwater dystopia, it felt like I never left. Everything was so familiar.

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

Set eight years after the end of BioShock, this time around you get to play as a Big Daddy, the large (and dangerous) protectors of Little Sisters. I was initially apprehensive about being able to play as one of the most-feared enemies from the first game, but my worries were quickly put to rest. The Big Daddy isn’t overpowered at all, and he has access to the same weaponry and plasmids as the previous protagonist.

Basically, everything you know and love from the first game is back again. The haunting atmosphere, the ability to harvest/rescue Little Sisters, the frenzied enemy “splicers”, the copious plasmids (including access to the Big Daddy’s drill) and gene tonic power-ups. Looting corpses and safes for ammo, cash and ADAM (the game’s version of XP) is still commonplace. It’s all there.

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

Being more of the same is a double-edged sword with BioShock 2. Part of what made the original so alluring was the sense of discovery — Rapture was a new and exciting place with so much to see. Now that we are familiar with the locale, it has lost a bit of its “wow” factor. More could have been done to expand upon the first game. At the same time, it’s great to return to such a unique world and play through the perspective of a different character.

Undoubtedly the biggest difference between the two games doesn’t come from the single player campaign, but rather the addition of a new multiplayer mode. Much like playing the role of a Big Daddy, I was skeptical of this inclusion. BioShock was a tremendous single player experience — was multiplayer really necessary?

BioShock 2 [Xbox 360]

The answer is still no, but the multiplayer is surprisingly well-executed. This mode is tied in wonderfully with the game’s universe, and it offers a fun diversion from the main content. It’s pretty basic stuff — the XP system gives access to new plasmids, weapons, etc. as you progress — but the addition of random Big Daddy suits during matches adds an interesting element to the gameplay. The online feature isn’t a particularly deep mode but it does complement the campaign quite nicely.

Between the two modes, I put in a good 15 hours into BioShock 2, and I quite enjoyed my time with the game overall. Sure, it’s more of the same, but there really isn’t anything like the world of Rapture. I will be happy to come back once again for next year’s BioShock Infinite.

8/10

Video Game Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Platform/Stealth
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Release Date: November 9, 2010 (original PS2 release: September 23, 2002)

Despite owning a Playstation 2 for most of the system’s lifespan, I missed out on a lot of its more popular titles. For one, I pretty much neglected the entire 3D platforming genre. Thankfully, Sony has been especially helpful in my quest to go back in time by releasing HD collections of all sorts of modern favorites. The first one to revisit: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus.

I was initially ambivalent to check out the Sly Cooper series simply because of its cartoonish nature — I had written it off as a kid’s game, more or less. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the Thievius Raccoonus can be enjoyed by all ages, there is a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay that will keep everyone coming back for more.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

In his quest to uncover his family’s “Thievius Raccoonus” book about stealing, the eponymous raccoon travels through five different areas, ranging from mountains in China to Haitian swamplands. He is aided by two trustworthy companions, the intelligent Bentley the Turtle (voiced with a poor man’s Harry Caray impression) and the dim-witted Murray the Hippo. There is also a love interest of sorts in the form of Carmelita Fox, a government agent who is actually trying to capture Sly.

Gameplay consists of a hybrid of platforming and stealth elements. Sly can be wiped out with just one hit from an enemy, so sneaking around can be crucial to level progression. Getting caught by a security camera will set off an alarm, causing any enemies nearby to swarm the area. There are ways around most security systems (helpfully shown by a dotted blue line), but it can be tricky to get by in some instances. For the most part, Sly Cooper is fairly easy, but there are occasionally frustrating moments that require expert jumping and dodging of obstacles to get anywhere. For me, there was just the right amount of challenge, but platforming pros may breeze through the campaign with minimal difficulty.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Each locale is comprised of several levels, all of which have several clue bottles and coins scattered throughout. The coins act just as they do in Mario games — collect 100 for an extra life — but getting all of the bottles will provide Sly with bonus power-ups and features. These become especially handy in later levels, as some aid in jumping and combat. Each game world also has a handful of mini-games to spice things up, including go-kart racing and third-person shooting.

On the whole, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus offers a well-balanced campaign with fluid gameplay. I never ran into any trouble with the in-game camera — a problem I often have with the genre — and the mix of stealth/platforming is perfect. If anything, the game’s only real problem is that it is relatively short. The single player campaign can be finished in less than eight hours, though getting 100% can extend its shelf life a bit.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

What makes Sly Cooper stand out from other like-minded platformers are its gorgeous cel-shaded graphics. The PS3’s upscaled HD rendition makes the colors even more vibrant, and the animations wouldn’t be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Adding to the attractive aesthetics are brilliant film noir-esque interludes that are perfectly in line with the game’s criminal roots.

As the first title in this highly-regarded series, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus has laid down some impressive groundwork. This bit of platforming fun was exactly what I needed to play recently, and for those looking for a diversion from today’s popular shoot ’em ups, you can’t go wrong with this. I can’t wait to play through the rest of the Sly Collection.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Marvel Pinball [PS3, 2010]

Marvel Pinball [PS3, 2010]

Marvel Pinball
System: Playstation 3 (Xbox 360, iOS, Android, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, PC)
Genre: Pinball
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: December 14, 2010

Last month’s free game for Playstation Plus users was Marvel Pinball, an attempt to capture the Marvel comic book world into video game pinball form. The main package comes with four unique tables, and includes the option to purchase more if desired.

The tables are based on four of the most popular Marvel characters: Wolverine, Spiderman, Iron Man and Blade. Each character’s table has its own quirks and features, as well as its own theme to separate it from the rest. Every hero appears in their table, and enemies pop up to wreak havoc as well. Between the villains talking trash and changing the table’s dynamics to the pinball flying wildly to well-concealed areas of the board, there is a lot going on at any given time.

In fact, this can be too much of a burden on occasion. As the characters wander about and tweak the elements, it can sometimes be difficult to see where the ball is actually going. The tables look cool as hell, and I like the fact that they are so well-designed, but a greater emphasis should have been placed on making sure everything was clear.

Marvel Pinball [PS3, 2010]

That’s not to say that the game plays out poorly. The table physics are outstanding, and it feels like a real pinball game would. Hell, there is even an option where you can tilt the PS3 controller to shake the table in the game! The amount of detail that Zen Studios put into this game is remarkable.

Even though it can be hard to keep track of the ball from time to time, Marvel Pinball can get pretty addicting. I wasn’t expecting much from this title, but there were times where I found myself playing for hours just to see if I could beat the scores of my friends. The leaderboards are great in this regard, and there are options to play head-to-head and online if you would rather go that route.

Naturally, fans of the Marvel universe and/or pinball games will get the most out of this, but it won’t be hard for casual gamers to get hooked as well. Marvel Pinball is a solid little timewaster, and a good appetizer in between major games.

7.5/10

Video Game Review: Costume Quest [PS3, 2010]

Costume Quest [PS3, 2010]

Costume Quest
System: Playstation 3 (also on Xbox 360 and Steam)
Genre: RPG, Adventure
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: October 19, 2010

So, it’s fall, folks. The leaves have changed color and are falling off the trees, the smell of pumpkin pie is in the air (if you’re lucky), and everyone is trying to figure out what they want to be for Halloween. Considering the season, Sony couldn’t have picked a better time to offer Costume Quest for free to Playstation Plus users.

This Halloween-themed RPG adventure places you in the role of either Reynold or Wren, a young brother/sister tandem who are sent out by their parents to trick-or-treat and make new friends in their suburban neighborhood. Unfortunately for them, as soon as they leave their house, one of the siblings is kidnapped by a monster. It is your goal to go forth and retrieve your sibling from the evildoers, as your parents wouldn’t exactly be keen on just one child returning home.

It’s a simple plot, but perfectly appropriate for what is ultimately a nostalgia-tinged “lite” RPG. Double Fine have taken a basic adventure and stripped it down to its core elements. In place of character classes, you collect costumes that can be worn for different abilities. Some, such as the knight and robot, are simply for attacking, while others like the Statue of Liberty can be used for healing purposes. The turn-based combat is about as bare-bones as you can get: when you choose to attack (either standard or special, the latter of which must be built up over turns) you are then given a button to press at an exact moment, which will yield an added boost if timed correctly. After your characters finish their attacks, the enemies do the same, and it’s lather-rinse-repeat. Outside of choosing different costumes pre-battle, little strategy is required.

Costume Quest [PS3, 2010]

There isn’t a whole lot of depth to the game, which some may find disappointing. However, even though the game is a brief 5-6 hours in length, it is highly enjoyable throughout. Double Fine’s trademark sense of humor — rife with amusing pop culture references — is always present, and the dialogue (all text-based) is often clever. It helps that the game uses a charming, easy-to-love cartoonish visual style, as well.

Costume Quest succeeds in creating a lite RPG that can appeal to all ages, kid to adult. Kids will love the game’s Halloween setting and easy-to-understand combat mechanics, whereas adults will be more into the nostalgia side of things and the sly writing style. There are some issues with combat getting a tad too repetitive near the end, and of course the game’s short length is a bit disconcerting for the $15 price tag, but overall Costume Quest is still a fun adventure that is perfect for the month of October. If you’re looking for a bite-sized adventure to play in between some of this season’s big guns, you can’t do much better than this.

7.5/10

Movie Review: I Saw the Devil [2010]

I Saw the Devil [2010]

I Saw the Devil [2010]
Director: Kim Ji-woon
Genre: Crime/Drama/Horror
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

Brutal, disgusting and unbelievably violent.

In other words, another badass Korean revenge thriller.

I Saw the Devil personifies evil. First there is the villain, a batshit insane psychopath named Kyung-chul (Min-sik Choi, aka Oldboy) who delights in murdering and raping young women. Actually, he doesn’t just murder them, he decapitates and dismembers them without showing even the slightest bit of remorse. He is one horrifying dude.

I Saw the Devil [2010]

One snowy evening, Kyung-chul finds a woman stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. He offers to help, but the woman politely tells him that a tow truck is on the way. He sees this as an opportunity, however, and brutally attacks her, eventually killing her as well.

This leads us to evil personified, part two. It turns out that this woman’s fiancee is secret agent Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun), another crazy motherfucker who vows to track the serial killer down and deliver the same amount of pain that he brought his victims. With the help of modern technology, Soo-hyun plants a tracking system on the murderer and begins to play a cruel game of cat-and-mouse with him, gradually maiming him along the way.

Yeah, it’s pretty fucked up.

The sheer amount of gore and violence in this film is something to behold, and it takes a strong stomach to make it through. The good news is that it doesn’t reach the levels of the popular American torture porn flicks; instead, it offers a meaningful storyline that feels like it could actually happen. Beyond messed up, but still believable (though I have to wonder if some of the characters could actually stay alive after the sickening head bashing they endure).

I Saw the Devil [2010]

If you can tolerate the violence, there is a lot to like here. The movie is beautifully shot, with some truly stunning camerawork, and it has incredible acting. Min-sik Choi is completely insane as Kyung-chul, and he delivers an absolutely haunting performance that will stay with you for a long time. I was also quite impressed with Lee Byung-hun, who was tremendous as Soo-hyun. He shows a great deal of sadness after his fiancee’s death, but gradually changes into a tough-nosed motherfucker as he begins to slip into the mind of a monster. Powerful stuff.

I did have a couple of qualms with the movie. One, it runs a little too long, clocking in at a hefty 141 minutes. A good 20 minutes or so could have been taken out to make for better pacing. Also, what was up with the police in the film? They were acting as idiots most of the time, having no clue as to what was going on or how to handle things. The opening sequence shares evidence of this right away, as the police allow the media to go crazy and start taking pictures of a decapitated head in the ditch. What the fuck?

Still, minor issues aside, I Saw the Devil is a compelling movie, certainly one I will not soon be forgetting. This isn’t meant for everyone, obviously, but if you can deal with the excess brutality it is definitely worth looking into. As far as revenge flicks go, this is a great one. Now I need to dig into Jee-wong Kim’s back catalog.

8/10

Video Game Review: FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

FIFA 11
System: Playstation 3 (also available on Xbox 360, PC, Wii, DS, PS2, PSP, and iOS)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Canada
Release Date: September 28, 2010

I am a casual FIFA player. I have played a handful of editions over the years, dating all the way back to the Sega Genesis era. While this year’s game, FIFA 12, is set to be released at the end of next month, I decided to take a look at last year’s FIFA 11.

Right away I was impressed with the amount of options available. There’s no doubt about it — FIFA 11 is stacked. Besides the standard exhibition mode (which allows you to play as an individual player or goalkeeper as well), other offline options include Tournaments, Live Season, Lounge, Ultimate Team, and a modified Career mode. The latter two modes are most noteworthy.

Ultimate Team is a unique strategy game in which you can buy/sell/trade player cards in an attempt to build the best possible team. Career mode has merged the staple features “Be a Pro” and “Manager Mode” together, and this time you can select whether to be a player, manager or player-manager. This is where I have spent most of my time with the game, and it is ridiculously in-depth.

FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

Online play is as bountiful as ever, and still has a great deal of players even to this day. Be warned, however, if you plan on buying this game used you will also need to purchase a separate pass if you wish to play online.

The actual on-the-field gameplay is fluid and easy to get the hang of. One thing I noticed right away was how much more physical the style of play is than what I remember. There are a wide variety of tackling animations, and some of the interactions can get downright nasty. Passing is usually pretty solid, although I did have occasional problems with the computer sending the ball to an unintended target. One issue that bothered me was a lack of urgency from my AI teammates. Every now and then, the opponent would lose the ball and I would have a teammate who would be standing nearby completely miss the opportunity to go after the ball and attack. Little quirks like these are not major issues, but they can certainly be annoying when noticeable.

FIFA 11 [Playstation 3, 2010]

FIFA 11’s presentation is also worth mentioning. The graphics are slick, the animations smooth, and most players match their likenesses visually. Martin Tyler and Andy Grey are reliable on commentary, as always. I was also impressed with the indie-centric soundtrack, which includes the likes of Caribou, Ladytron and The Black Keys. This is more up my alley than the AC/DC and Ozzy Osbourne-heavy Madden 11.

For sheer amount of depth and options, FIFA 11 cannot be beat. On top of the game modes/features previously mentioned, the game includes 31 licensed leagues from 24 countries, as well as 39 national teams. With so many teams, players and game modes, it’s difficult to grow tired and/or bored with the game. If some of the on-the-field quibbles were cleaned up, FIFA 11 would be an absolute knockout. As it stands, however, it is pretty damn good but not quite up to the level it can be.

8/10

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow [Xbox 360, 2010]

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Mercury Steam/Kojima Productions
Release Date: October 5, 2010

It’s no secret that I love the Castlevania series. I got hooked thanks to the PSOne classic, Symphony of the Night, and had a blast digging into the older titles (not to mention the later SOTN-like handheld sequels). I even enjoyed their first 3D offering, Castlevania 64. So naturally, I was excited to play Castlevania: Lords of Shadow (LOS), last year’s title that Konami went all out on — sparing no expense in terms of presentation. While LOS certainly looks good, the problem is that this is a generic adventure game masquerading as a Castlevania title.

You play as Gabriel Belmont, a member of the Brotherhood of Light, a group of holy knights who protect citizens from supernatural creatures. After his wife is murdered by one of them, Gabriel embarks on a journey to bring back his wife while subsequently saving the world from evil. This storyline is a complete reboot of the franchise, but it still doesn’t feel like anything new. I never played the Castlevania games for their stories, but Lords of Shadow just feels like a generic fantasy plot that is anything but interesting. This wouldn’t be a huge deal if the game didn’t feel the need to shove cutscene after cutscene down your throat, almost begging you to acknowledge it as a respectable story. I couldn’t get into it, but this wouldn’t bother me if the gameplay were solid. Unfortunately, it’s not.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

The game plays out like a poor man’s hybrid of God of War and Uncharted. Combat is typical hack ‘n slash fare (using a chain whip), with buttons for both “light” and “heavy” attacks. As you kill more enemies, you can unlock new, more powerful combinations, and you are given a helpful handbook to remember all of them. The game also uses the same type of magic/health systems found in God of War, even going so far as to require collecting six cogs to upgrade your meters. If you have played God of War or any other hack ‘n slasher from this generation, you will feel right at home here. There’s nothing new to see.

The Uncharted influence comes in the way of its handling of platforming elements. Gabriel often has to jump from ledge to ledge while hanging around on the side of a building, occasionally using his chain to rappel him to distant areas. Rappelling is actually a bit of a problem — there were several instances where I was rappelling down the side of a building then immediately died after reaching some sort of imaginary boundary line. Apparently the rappel can only work at various distances depending on whatever the game feels like at that particular moment. This leads to obnoxiously cheap deaths. Thankfully, checkpoints are generous, but this is still an annoyance that could have been easily fixed.

A tried and true staple of the hack ‘n slash genre are epic boss battles. Lords of Shadow tries its hand at this in the form of Titan battles. By all means, fighting these Titans should be badass. They are HUGE, not dissimilar from some of the gods in God of War. LOS’s problem is that these boss fights are painfully boring. It doesn’t take long to figure out the pattern to take them down one limb at a time, and winning ultimately amounts to climbing up them, hitting some relics and dodging their attacks. This wouldn’t be so bad if the entire sequence wasn’t horrendously slow. These fights go on far too long since the Titans take their sweet time doing anything, and every time something happens the game feels the need to show a pointless cutscene. Thankfully, there are only a handful of these segments in the game, but I can’t help but feel there was a lot of potential wasted with them.

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow

That’s really the story of Lords of Shadow: wasted potential. It all starts with the new envisioning of Belmont — this kid is devoid of any personality, has poor voice acting and looks like Generic Video Game Hero #3999573. The game’s environments, while absolutely beautiful, feel hollow and uninviting. The game attempts to create the feel of a wide open world, but it actually comes across as boxed in. Only narrow sections of the massive environments are open for use, which makes the gameplay feel like it is stuck a generation behind. LOS also uses a fixed camera, and it is absolutely horrible. The camera angles have a habit of changing at the most inopportune times, causing more cheap deaths and hiding crucial game elements.

Simple tweaks here and there would have led to an infinitely more rewarding experience. It’s not that Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is necessarily a bad game, it’s just that it doesn’t do anything particularly well. Everything here has been done before, and the total sum of all parts is merely average. It’s a shame that Konami felt the need to add the Castlevania name to this title because Lords of Shadow simply represents another failed effort to “upgrade” the series.

5/10 – average

Video Game Review: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa [PSP, 2010]

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa [PSP, 2010]

2010 FIFA World Cup
System: PSP
Developer: HB Studios
Publisher: EA Sports
Release Date: April 27, 2010

Last year’s World Cup tournament is what finally made me a full-fledged soccer fan. Team USA’s improbable draw with England, England’s subsequent collapse, Landon Donovan’s unbelievable goal… I got sucked into World Cup hysteria. Capitalizing on the event, EA Sports released a special FIFA edition specifically for the tournament. Craving some portable soccer action, I picked up the game for the PSP.

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa provides 199 of the 204 national teams that entered qualification, and it offers several different modes of play. Beyond the standard “pick a team and play a single game” option, there are modes to play through the full World Cup tournament (including the various qualifiers), a “Captain Your Country” feature, and a “Story of Qualifying” option.

2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa [PSP, 2010]

Captain Your Country is intriguing, as it is basically a spin off of the “Be a Pro” modes that are all the rage in sports games these days. In this, you create a low-level player who is promptly placed on their national team. Your goal is to build up this player to greatness while leading his country to victory.

My personal favorite is Story of Qualifying, which allows you to relive a lot of great moments inspired by the road to the World Cup. There are some truly memorable scenarios presented here, such as the Luxembourg/Switzerland encounter where Luxembourg shocked the world by winning 2-1. In this particular example, you play as Luxembourg in the 76th minute with the match tied 1-1. You get points for winning the match, conceding no more goals and/or by winning by two goals. There are dozens of scenarios like these from all over the world, and it’s a lot of fun trying to get maximum points in each one.

2010 FIFA World Cup [PSP, 2010]

The core gameplay is easy to pick up and play, as the controls are standard for the FIFA series. Players move around effortlessly, and each team has their own unique style which comes across surprisingly well on the pitch. I did have some occasional problems with manually switching the players, and sometimes the AI determined I wanted to pass to a different player than I intended, but for the most part the on-the-field experience is more than satisfactory.

EA also succeeded in bringing the South African experience into video game form. The infamous vuvuzelas are ever-present (though they can be removed via the in-game options), and the soundtrack is a pretty diverse collection of music from all over the world. Clyde Tyldesley and Andy Townsend are competent on commentary, although they do tend to repeat themselves during the actual tournament. The country’s stadiums are brought to life, and a helpful map shows all of their locations. The graphics are typical PSP fare. It can be hard to see some of the players on the top half of the screen, but for the most part the game looks good enough.

As far as portable soccer games go, I can’t really compare this to anything else. However, I have greatly enjoyed 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa since it does an admirable job of maintaining the crazy atmosphere while also providing a surprising amount of depth in terms of gameplay. While there are occasional quibbles with the control, these are not major disturbances and they do not disrupt what is an otherwise fun experience. For those looking to relive last year’s memorable Cup, this is a great gaming option.

8/10

Video Game Review: Vanquish [Xbox 360, 2010]

Vanquish [Xbox 360, 2010]

Vanquish
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: October 19, 2010

Imagine Gears of War on crystal meth.

Vanquish is intense. Really intense. This game just oozes testosterone. There are muscleheaded freaks, massive explosions, big guns and huge robots. Hell, there’s a button to smoke a cigarette. Best of all, there is never a dull moment.

You play as one of the aforementioned ‘roid abusers named Sam Gideon, a highly-skilled soldier with cutting-edge armor. After Russia — go figure — bombs the hell out of San Francisco, Gideon and several special forces are sent to fight the Commie bastards and save the good ol’ U S of A. Obviously, this is pretty basic stuff and it’s been done a million times before, but Vanquish is a type of game that is not played for its story. Come for the firefights, stay for the explosions.

Vanquish [Xbox 360, 2010]

As a third person shooter, Vanquish throws you right into combat and doesn’t let up until your mission is complete. The combat mechanics are what you would expect – cover, shoot, lob a grenade, repeat. However, as a unique DARPA soldier, Gideon has access to some pretty cool features. For one, he can slide ridiculously fast. This is perfect for maneuvering around large open areas, particularly during the frequent, massive boss fights. Sam is also able to slow down time for brief periods, which allows him to dodge bullets and get in some rapid fire shots on enemies. This feature is automatically triggered when Sam is low on health, and this is an excellent way to buy some time while he gets back to full strength. Gideon also has access to an impressive array of weapons, all of which can be upgraded along the way. It doesn’t get much better than throwing an EMP grenade to disable the enemy and then zooming in with a rocket launcher to blow them away.

It’s difficult not to get swept up in the frenetic pace that Vanquish thrives in. There is one problem with this, however: the good times end far too soon. I completed the game on Normal (which was still a good challenge) in about 5 1/2 hours. After completing the campaign, there isn’t much else to do. Sure, you could go through it again on a higher difficulty, but it’s all single player or bust. There is no co-op option, and online play is nowhere to be found. It’s really a shame that these features were excluded. Vanquish would be perfect for co-op, as it would be a blast to share this high-octane experience with a buddy. It’s almost inexcusable that there are no multiplayer options at all.

In essence, Vanquish is a quick shot of adrenaline that serves its purpose for the campaign’s 5-6 hour length. It is a gorgeous game with lots of pyro eye candy, and its fast pacing pulls no punches. A little more depth could have went a long way in this game, but it’s still a lot of fun for what it is. However, unless you are dedicated to multiple playthroughs to obtain maximum value, Vanquish may be best suited for a weekend rental.

7/10