Tag Archives: Xbox 360

Mecha Zombies!

As soon as I heard about Iron Brigade (called “Trenched” at the time) I absolutely knew I had to play it. Not only was I already a fan of the humor and fun stylized aesthetics that Double Fine tends to inject into their games but I’ve been a fan of the whole hybrid tower defense / action hybrid genre for quite a while now (as I’m sure I’ve thoroughly documented here with games like Toy Soldiers and Orcs Must Die!.) The fact that the action component looked a bit like the MechAssault franchise and that whole thing was wrapped in a wacky alternate history World War I setting to boot? Sign me the fuck up!

Shooting some Tubes on the beach.
“Shooting some Tubes on the beach.”

So, there it sat, doomed to my backlog forever. I guess the waiting has finally paid off though as when I signed up to Xbox Game Pass there it was, waiting for me to play for sorta-free. Waiting 8 years to save 15 bucks? Seems like a reasonable strategy to me! 😉 Well, at least I didn’t buy it and then let it languish in my backlog like I do with most of the games I’m interested in. Anyway, the time was right to blow through a quick game so I rolled up my sleeves, hopped in my “mobile trench” and set off to blow some Tubes into smithereens.

As billed, the relatively simple action feels a lot like that of MechAssault; somewhere between the huge, slow mechs of MechWarrior and the relatively frantic action of something like, say, Armored Core. You move and look with the analog sticks while each trigger handles the weapons and equipment installed on each side of your mech. Your equipment can vary, as your mech can be customized with a huge array of different specialized parts, weapons, and paint jobs, all of which is slowly acquired in a sort of light version of the loot systems popularized by action RPGs and MMOs. While the customization itself pales in comparison to something like Chromehounds, I still found experimenting with different builds and loadouts to be quite a fun element of the game. Loading up a heavy chassis with a 6 heavy machine guns, or dual huge, heavy cannons is fantastic, and some of the steampunk inspired tech is ridiculously cool.

Customizing our mech... err, I mean Mobile Trench.
“Customizing our mech… err, I mean Mobile Trench.”

The rest of (and the bulk of) the gameplay is total, classic tower assault. Using the same third person perspective, you can place emplacements (turrets/towers) anywhere on the map limited only to the amount scrap you collect from enemies you kill. While there is a respectable variety of emplacements, the game only allows you to carry a certain number of certain categories of each one depending on the chassis of your mech, adding a touch more variety to the whole customization aspect beyond just what weapons you have installed. Of course there are a variety of enemies that demand variation in weapon and turret strategy, changing with each new map, and how efficient you need to be to get the rating you’re after

About the only negative I can attribute to Iron Brigade would be the story and the enemy design, which both feel kind of quick and throwaway. I mean, the Tubes are certainly unique, but I don’t find them to be all that cool. Eh, this is a relatively minor complaint though, as these elements certainly work well enough in service to the gameplay and the overall conceit.

Emplacements absolutely everywhere, as it should be!
“Emplacements absolutely everywhere, as it should be!”

I feel like there’s a lot more I could say about the game, so I’ll just wrap this up with a couple of things. First, for an early entry into Double Fine’s efforts to shift to smaller, lower budget titles, the team developing Iron Brigade put quite a lot into it and you can tell they had to practically restrain themselves for adding even more. The second thing is that funnily, this being a quick playthrough didn’t really go according to plan. You see, I LOVED Iron Brigade so damn much that I decided to keep playing until I achieved a gold rating on every single mission, taking quite a bit more dedication than a quick run through would have. I even ended up buying the game’s single expansion pack “Rise of the Martian Bear” which I’ll give a quick review of in a future update.

Oh, and if all of that wasn’t enough on its own, I also totally forgot to mention that the game also features something of an Horde-like Survival gameplay mode, and both it and the campaign support co-op with up to 3 other players so that you can actually show off your customizations. I never got around to trying either, but I can only imagine how fun this game must be to play cooperatively. Awesome.

You can download Iron Brigade for Xbox 360 (which runs flawlessly on Xbox One) as well as on PC. If you’re into tower defense and big, stompy robots, definitely check this one out.

Back on the road!
“Back on the road!”

I also returned to Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. I ended my last article about Telltale with the semi-optimistic news that all three of the games I discussed had planned sequels in the works for 2018 and 2019, with the first one of those on the list being the finale to The Walking Dead series. Well…

*deep breath*

A hell of a lot has happened since then, hasn’t it? The first episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season was released in August 2018 to favorable reviews, with the second episode slated for release in late September. Just days before it was to be released Telltale announced they were closing down, immediately laying off most of their staff and killing their in-development and upcoming releases. While they did end up releasing that second episode, with two more episodes to go, it seemed like the series wouldn’t actually receive its finale after all.

Rumors swirled about other companies offering ex-employees jobs, or potentially attempting to pick up The Walking Dead or some of Telltale’s other titles, but it was actually Robert Kirkman’s own Skybound Games that stepped in and negotiated finishing the remaining two episodes, hiring a number Telltale’s former staff on a contract basis to see the season to completion. I’ve got mixed feelings about whether or not it was right to prioritize finishing the game over taking care of the employees who lost their jobs in more substantial ways, or if I should continue to support Telltale with my money, but nevertheless I’m selfishly thankful, as once the fourth and final episode was released and the reviews looked decent, I bought the entire season and my girlfriend and I cautiously jumped in.

Keeping AJ in line is damn stressful work.
“Keeping AJ in line is damn stressful work.”

Almost immediately we were totally engrossed. Taking place several years after the events of A New Frontier, you’re finally back in (a now teenage) Clementine’s shoes, wandering the desolate South with a much older AJ. The change in the character dynamic alone is massive, with Clementine coming across as more and more mature and AJ now a fully fleshed-out character. AJ is by far the more interesting of the two, being raised post zombie-apocalypse, he has his share of childhood trauma induced behavioral issues (to put it in a super generalized, spoiler free way.)

While the gameplay doesn’t stray from the typical post-TWD Telltale formula, The Final Season starts out very strong with a great sense of being able to drastically affect the story with your choices. Telltale fans know by now that this is absolutely essential to keeping the player from feeling somehow “cheated” by choices that ultimately have little real consequence. In fact, I found struggling with making decisions in this season to be particularly intense, especially when it came to those choices that directly related to influencing the young, impressionable AJ. We always felt like we were somehow making the wrong decision and oftentimes we were despite our best attempts to do the right thing. Very effective.

Many new characters join the cast for the finale.
“Many new characters join the cast for the finale.”

As with A New Frontier, the new engine and updated art style are running smooth and looking great. There were some great set pieces this time around, and as usual the voice acting was mostly stellar. Playing the Xbox One version (on a normal Xbox One S) the only real complaint I can leverage is that load times between scenes were much longer than I remembered from any previous Telltale games. I’m really not sure what is up with that, as from a quick glance around the ‘Net it doesn’t seem to be a common complaint. The final two episodes, the ones finished by Skybound, fair slightly worse overall though – it seems like they didn’t quite get as much polish, with noticeably more performance hiccups and glitches. Given how they were developed this is completely understandable.

I had some similar issues with the game’s action scenes which were more palatable in the early episodes and felt more sloppily implemented in the later ones. Even the checkpoints were placed less generously in the last two episodes, and that only served to make those action sections that much more frustrating. Again, this is almost certainly because of the accelerated and probably relatively chaotic development under Skybound resulting in less playtesting and refinement. These issues didn’t ruin the experience for me by any means though they are worth noting given the unusual circumstance.

The Whisperers also make an appearance.
“The Whisperers also make an appearance.”

I’d certainly rank The Final Season above A New Frontier, and I enjoyed that one more than most people so that’s not meant to be faint praise. More importantly, I’m happy that the series didn’t get unceremoniously axed half way through its finale which could have easily happened. Instead, it felt like the series got an appropriate sendoff and given how many people have loved the series, whether they bailed after the first season or made it all the way through the finale, and how influential this new style of adventure game has been, I’d say that’s a pretty big deal. It’s not entirely surprising that Skybound was able to help wrap up the season as one of the more spectacular things about the series is how strong it’s been start to finish despite many of the key players changing over the years. I mean, I was skeptical about Season 2 after finding out that Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin had left and it turned out to be my favorite season.

In summary, if you’re a fan of the series than it’s an absolute no-brainer: play this! If you had your fill after a couple seasons, or the Telltale formula wore out its welcome on you, then it’s probably not worth coming back for this one last hurrah as it’s unlikely to change your opinion.

As usual, what should Xbox 360 and Xbox One screenshots are PC screenshots borrowed liberally from various places on the Internet.

Ruffian

Over 10 years after my interest was first piqued by it, I finally loaded up Bully: Scholarship Edition for Xbox 360. While yet another GTA 3 style open world game, I thought the unique tone of Bully would offer me a nice change from what I’d been playing lately. After researching it a little, I decided to play it using Xbox One’s backwards compatibility which I’m happy to report worked great, suffering no performance issues and only a single freeze up (which was likely unrelated to backwards compatibility, though who really knows.) Anyway, on to Bullworth Academy!

Our hero, Jimmy Hopkins. (Yeah, don't ask!)
“Our hero, Jimmy Hopkins. (Yeah, don’t ask!)”

As a fan of the Grand Theft Auto franchise, Bully is an interesting title. Coming out between GTA: San Andreas and GTA IV, it runs on the same RenderWare based engine as the GTA 3 series and definitely shares a lot of its design aesthetics as well, from the wacky character designs to the loading screen artwork and even the UI. In fact, having been a while since I’ve played any of the three games in the GTA 3 series, I was taken aback by the familiarity of being back in that engine again. Even keeping in mind that the Scholarship Edition is a remastered version of the original Bully from the end of the previous generation, it was a bit like stepping into a time machine, despite being a totally different game.

Gameplay-wise, it’s obviously a different coat of paint on the same old GTA 3 formula. While there’s a valiant attempt to change its scope a bit by focusing more on smaller areas and more on-foot interaction, the structure of the storytelling, the missions, etc. are all pure GTA 3. I recall more than one person referring to Bully as “Grand Theft Auto: Schoolyard” or something similar back in the day, and that doesn’t feel too off the mark, honestly. Sure, you might be running around on foot, or riding a BMX or a skateboard around the relatively small town of Bullworth instead of stealing sports cars and gunning it through the streets of Vice City, and of course you’re giving wedgies instead of mowing down your enemies in a hail of sub-machine gun fire, but it is GTA 3.

Welcome to Bullworth Academy! It only gets worse from here...
“Welcome to Bullworth Academy! It only gets worse from here…”

Therein lies the charm of Bully, though – by taking the parody heavy humor and oddly jaded worldview of Grand Theft Auto and moving it into the much smaller world of private school drama, the game manages to capture a lot of the real (and much more so, totally fictional) nostalgia of growing up, all with a wink and a nod that feels very, very Rockstar. This really is Bully’s main strength and what sets it apart from GTA, and likely why many people rank it above any of the GTA games. Maybe if I had played it back when it was released I’d feel the same way. I did enjoy the game, overall, but I can’t say I absolutely loved it or anything. My issues?

Well, first of all, as mentioned, the gameplay and mission design is absolute GTA, but this is pre-GTA IV GTA, meaning many of the mechanical improvements that occurred throughout the development of the franchise are either absent or in a very early form here. Most notably, the inability to quickly retry a failed mission drove me just a little crazy the handful of times I failed a mission. What can I say, I suppose I’ve been spoiled by more modern, friendly game design…

The load screens also get the GTA 3 treatment.
“The load screens also get the GTA 3 treatment.”

Then we have the whole “school day” structure. At first I found this to be an interesting and even appealing mechanical twist, but after hours having to keep an eye on the clock to make it to classes, having to take note of the nightly curfew, having to devote half of my day to attempting to pass classes, and of course, having to sleep, it felt more restrictive than anything else, and it did nothing to help the feeling of repetition already present in the GTA mission formula. I guess feeling limited by school hours and a curfew, and the repetitiveness of school life, are quite accurate to the experience of being a high school kid, but it’s not exactly fun (again, like being a high school kid.) I also found the mini-games that represent each class largely more interesting of a concept than in reality, sadly.

Another difference from the proper Grand Theft Auto games that I found to be a negative was the soundtrack. I had noticed at some point during my playthrough that the lack of GTA 3’s awesome radio stations was noticeably detracting from the experience but when I went online to see if others had similar complaints I discovered that Bully’s soundtrack seems to be almost universally lauded. Some of the tracks are kind of neat, sure, and it’s definitely unique, but largely I found most of the songs on the original soundtrack to be a little simple, overly repetitive, and often didn’t quite fit the tone of the game. I guess I’m alone on this point?

Well of course there's racing!
“Well of course there’s racing!”

I also had some issues with the story. I appreciate how concise it is, that was one of the selling points to me in fact, but it felt like there might have been some missions and cutscenes left on the cutting room floor. In the fifth and final chapter Jimmy’s attempts to win over (and thereby take over) the school have progressed very nicely resulting in Jimmy ending up on top. There’s a major tonal shift, as all of the sudden everyone loves him and everything is going according to plan. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, everyone hates him. Like, really hates him. I almost got whiplash from that alone, but some of it can be explained away easily enough by pinning it on Gary manipulating everyone and general resentment from your peers, but then who the hell are the townies and why are they going through such extreme efforts to screw with Jimmy? Surely the original version of the script had several more missions, or maybe even another entire chapter or so to flesh this transition out. Maybe I’m blowing this particular issue out of proportion as I found only a few people discussing this issue online, but it really stuck out to me regardless.

Gym class!
“Gym class!”

Admittedly this is all a bit nitpicky. Overall, I’d say if the idea of a nostalgic journey back to the mid 2000s era of GTA appeals to you (or if you can stomach, at least) and you like the idea of playing a mostly likable teenage troublemaker raising hell in a stuffy private school, it’s likely you’ll enjoy the experience. I certainly did even if it did fall a bit short of my expectations.

All screenshots stolen from users on the Steam Community, which means they’re obviously from the PC version rather than the Xbox 360 version. Close enough!

Sabotage!

Taking a quick look at this site the other day I realized how I somehow completely skipped posting about the last Xbox 360 game I completed. No surprise, as I was busy job searching, resigning from my previous one, and preparing to move across the country. Hectic times. The weird thing is that I definitely have vague memories of at least writing a draft for it, and I’m sure I would have had a lot to say about it. In any case, it’s been so long now that I really can’t go into as much detail as I’m sure I would have wanted me, so I apologize for glossing over the details a bit.

Sabotaging the shit out of a Nazi blimp!
“Sabotaging the shit out of a Nazi blimp!”

Anyway, the game is The Saboteur. Pandemic’s World War II open world game. This is also Pandemic’s very last game before being shuttered. I personally really liked Pandemic – I enjoyed both of the Full Spectrum Warrior games and both of the Mercenaries games quite a bit, and I know hordes of people absolutely adored the Star Wars: Battlefront series as well. So, is this a glorious last hurrah, or simply the last nail in the coffin? To me, despite some rough edges, it’s definitely closer to a good send off than the total mess it could have been. The ex-Pandemic guys also have to be happy about the game becoming a bit of a cult hit in recent years, as it frequently gets mentioned as a “hidden gem” from the last generation.

Yep, another GTA clone...
“Yep, another GTA clone…”

The Saboteur is, much like the Mercenaries series before it, a twist on the classic Grand Theft Auto 3 style of open world shooter/driver. The twist this time is that you’re a resistance fighter helping to liberate occupied Paris during the war, employing both ridiculous war machines like Mercenaries, and also stealth and subterfuge, including a parkour system obviously inspired by Assassin’s Creed. The more contemporary urban setting gives it a feel much closer to GTA than Mercenaries, which is a distinct difference and also a bit of a disappointment as I can’t help but daydream about what an open world game set in and around World War battlegrounds, including all kinds of heavy weapons and over the top combat, could have been like. That idea is likely a part of the original concept of The Saboteur, but only shows up here and there – there are tanks, artillery, machine guns, and big explosions, sure, but you’ll be spending most of your time driving (cars, not tanks!) around in the city and avoiding guard checkpoints and patrols.

Causing some chaos in the streets of Paris.
“Causing some chaos in the streets of Paris.”

The combat in The Saboteur shined the most for me when I went full crazy, purposely waging a personal war against every Nazi I could find, quickly escalating the alarm rating, stealing tanks, shooting down blimps and planes, and embracing the total chaos. This is only likely to happen a couple of times in the main story, but chasing achievements and in-game unlocks really presented some opportunities for wackiness. The other moments for me that I really enjoyed was the free-form takedown/takeover of Nazi fortifications and checkpoints. Clearing those out could be a lot of fun and sometimes require quite a lot of strategy, and also gain you some helpful currency for abusing the game’s supply stores. Unfortunately, this became a little too repetitive due to the seemingly inexhaustible supply of the checkpoints all over the game map. Those awesome moments started to be overshadowed by the feeling the I wasn’t making much of a dent when I zoomed out the map. Pity.

Just look at all of those fucking blips. Ugggghhhh!
“Just look at all of those fucking blips. Ugggghhhh!”

While the game can feel a little on the clunky side, particularly the driving, which you do quite a lot of of course, it’s all quite serviceable, and certainly not as rough around the edges as Mercenaries 2 was upon release. The bigger problems with the game are probably less technical, such as it’s bizarre insistence on taking place in an alternate past version of World War II, where the timeline is different, things have different names and designs, etc. Plenty of World War II games have embraced fictionalized versions of reality, but The Saboteur never goes too far into approaching the occult, zombies, and super technology of Wolfenstein, for example. Instead, everything just feels a little bit “off” for no real reason, other than a license to be lazy with the facts. Combined with the humor and overall irreverence for the subject matter, the game almost feels like something along the lines of Inglourious Basterds, without quite sticking the landing.

Our dashing hero, Sean Devlin.
“Our dashing hero, Sean Devlin.”

I should also give a shout out to the protagonist, Sean Devlin, who is sort of the personification of that whole thing. Luckily I was prepared for how ridiculously over the top this Irish (yes, despite helping the French resistance in Paris, you’re actually an Irish dude) knucklehead stereotype is. Some of his one liners were actually pretty funny, and I actually think he could have been developed into a pretty cool character with a bit more effort, and maybe he would have been if this game had gotten a sequel. Regardless, I’m definitely not as bothered by him as some people seem to have been.

Enjoying a rare Mercenaries moment...
“Enjoying a rare Mercenaries moment…”

One of the The Saboteur’s most unique features is that the occupied portions of the city are bathed in this ultra-stylish black and white, with only flourishes of color highlighting certain things such as the red on the Nazi uniforms and banners, the blue of the resistance fighters, the orange of fiery wreckage, or the soft yellow glow shining from windows at night. While a little jarring at first, this is a really, really cool look once you get used to it. When you liberate an area of the city, the palette of the area shifts into full color. The color looks fine, good even, but it feels a little odd to reward the player by making an area’s visuals less cool. Humph! It was a good idea that only almost works. Another landing that they didn’t quite stick…

We in the killin' Nazi business!
We in the killin’ Nazi business!”

That would probably be a nice way to sum up the entire game. It all sounds amazing on paper, and it is executed mostly competently, but somehow it just doesn’t gel together to reach the heights of excellence it could have. Still, if all of the elements of The Saboteur sound appealing to you, as they did to me, you’ll probably enjoy it. It’s just a shame that Pandemic isn’t around to release a sequel that really captures all of the potential that this game has with a The Saboteur 2 (and while we’re at it, a Mercenaries 3!)

(Screenshots from mostly the PC version swiped from various sources.)