Thursday, June 16, 2011
Green Lantern: Rise Of The Manhunters (Video Game Review)
Since this is a big week for Green Lantern (I'm seeing the movie tomorrow morning!) I thought I'd squeeze out an extra post and give a "First Five" review of "Green Lantern: Rise Of The Manhunters" as it plays on the Xbox 360.
I reserve my "First Five" reviews for video games. They involve me giving my first five impressions of the first five hours of a game. So they are not complete and thorough reviews, but hopefully they're both timely and helpful.
This time around, I actually ended up getting through the entire game, although only on the lowest difficulty and without trying multiplayer.
Up front I should say that I almost never play action games because I suck at them. Anything requiring the precise movement or timing of joysticks or buttons is going to kick my butt and leave me frustrated. Especially if death or failure means playing the same section of a game over and over and over again. (Burn in hell, Super Mario Brothers!) I much prefer RPGs or action RPGs, which allow me to go and level up somewhere for awhile if a foe keeps killing me.
I only bought Green Lantern: Rise Of The Manhunters because it was a Green Lantern video game (which I've waited for almost as long as for a movie) and because I'd been hearing surprisingly good things in multiple previews. Surprising because it is both a comic book property and a movie tie-in. Usually a one-two knock out punch against any hope a game will be good.
But this game IS good! Not fantastic, and certainly made mostly for fans, but still good! So here are my first five impressions:
The visual design is a high point of the game. Based on the movie previews, it looks like they've used the concept art from the movie to create the world of the game. You spend much of the game on the Green Lantern planet headquarters, Oa, but also visit two other planets, one of which (Zamaron) has similarities to Oa, and the other (Biot) which looks very different (made entirely of metal).
There's enough variety to keep things from looking old. The environments are all cool to be in. But the variety won't captivate you, either.
The ring constructs look great and when the action goes into slow motion it's really cool to see them form. There are some really epic looking shots of Green Lantern that remind you of his power.
In between levels are some brief animations as Hal flies or jumps from one section to another, that are extremely cool at first. But as they are used over and over again for the entire game, they get downgraded to "neat" looking.
On the Xbox, I noticed some "stuttering" in the image of the cut-scenes, and a number of times there are "jaggies" visible that I would normally only expect from a PS2 game. Bummer.
The music, (which may be lifted from the movie, I'm not sure) sounds really good, if understated much of the time. It has the orchestral/electronic blend of many modern scores and fits the material almost perfectly. But it has a reputation for sometimes cutting out during cut-scenes, which I think I only experienced once.
Sound effects are all fine, though not very creative. Though I do like the ring energy related sounds better here than on the Justice League animated series.
What works especially well for this type of game is the voice acting. Ryan Reynolds plays Hal here as well, and his approach was a nice departure from the normally over the top performances that voice actors give to these games. The other actors also do a great job and are very well suited to their roles.
The story takes places sometime after the events of the movie, and no spoilers are present. (Although the presence of Sinestro does eliminate one possible ending for the movie.) The action is all in space. Nothing on earth. The game opens at the funeral of Hal's predecessor, and then an attack by The Manhunters throws everything into chaos. From that point on, there is a bit of a mystery to be solved as to who is ultimately behind the attacks, but most of this game is about blazing through bad guys with the most powerful weapon in the universe.
The dialogue is fine, although I hope the writing in the film will be much better. Nothing stands out from any conversation in this game.
Have you ever played God Of War 1 or 2? Strip that game to its skeleton and paint Green Lantern all over it. That's what this gameplay is.
You've got constructs that you earn by collecting experience orbs from enemies. Though unlike God Of War you don't have to keep learning button combos and can instead map your construct abilities to the button of your choice. (Much easier to remember and use.)
Your normal attack options (which use various ring constructs but are not technically called "constructs" by the game) are upgradeable (which freshens them up visually as well!) and don't use energy from your ring.
"Constructs" use ring energy with every use, but you always have a small amount of reserve ring energy that regenerates quickly. But if you want to have enough energy to use a bunch of construct powers quickly in a row, you'll need to recharge your ring by smashing "pots" with ring energy in them. (I know. Lame.) Now and then you'll also find a Lantern Battery that fully restores both your ring energy and health, and often enables you for "Ring Surge".
Ring Surge is the same as "Rage Of The Gods" in God Of War. You power it up by giving and taking damage and when activated, it increases your damage and defense for a short time, during which you also have constantly full ring energy.
As I mentioned before, there is drop in/drop out co-op play, where player two takes on the role of Sinestro. But I have no experience with this function and so can't comment on it. (I haven't pinned my wife onto that second controller yet, but soon...)
For someone like me, who sucks at games requiring any level of hand-eye coordination, this game was challenging even on the lowest difficulty. I died two or three times over the course of the roughly 8-10 hour game. (I've heard a number of others finish in closer to 7 hours.) But never in the same place, which kept me from being frustrated. Often I just realized I hadn't upgraded in a little while and that, along with lessons learned the hard way, gave me the boost I needed to succeed on the next try.
But in addition to dying, there are also some puzzle elements that, while not too hard on the noggin', were sometimes tough to complete because they require quick, precise timing. One or two of these I had to try 3 or 4 times in a row before finally getting it. A little frustrating, but on a second play through now I think I'd do better.
In addition to the normal "God Of War" levels, there are flying/shooting levels where you travel on a pre-determined course, blowing every enemy out of the sky that you see. Once I realized that holding down the rapid fire blaster doesn't drain ring energy on these levels, I found them easier, but they were still very challenging and were one of the first places I died.
My sweet spot for difficulty would have been just a little easier. This game had me stressed out more than I would like. (Especially since I'm a GL fan and wanted to be able to play through the entire GL game I just paid 60 bucks for!) But I was rewarded by a largely fun experience and the ability to replay levels after beating the game with my acquired experience and upgrades. (This option appears before beating the game, but I do not recommend using it, as glitches have been reported that make the game impossible to finish if you use Mission Select before beating the entire game.) This is great because now I can play through the game more casually (like I wanted to the first time) and when someone joins me for co-op, they have the same experience level I do, so they can enjoy the more casual Green Lantern experience as well.
A few minor glitches have been reported for this game in addition to the ones I've mentioned. The manual is virtually no help in understanding your options either. FYI, your game is ONLY saved through the autosave function. And you can only have ONE game save at a time. Starting a "New Game" will erase any previous save, along with the experience and upgrades earned. And if "Mission Select" is used before beating the game, it will make uncompleted levels impossible to play. (Meaning you have to start all over again.)
I've heard reports of in-game bugs, but only once did I ever have to restart my game because of one, and the autosave feature kicks in fairly often, so I didn't have to backtrack much. I'm still hoping that a patch will fix all of these bugs in the future, as it would improve the game a bit.
So how faithful is this game to the Green Lantern concept? There are some great nuggets from the recent Geoff Johns run in the comics that make it into the game.
The emotional spectrum is referenced (although on a side note I don't agree with Johns that "will" is an emotion). And some great characters from the Green Lantern supporting cast appear, like Amon Sur, Queen Aga'Po, Kilowog and the Manhunter Grandmaster.
There are also references to the book of Oa and the Central Power battery is the focus of an early mission. So lots of cool lore make it into the game that GL fans will dig.
Even though it's a little lame that you get health and ring energy from breaking containers and meteors, they match the function of each restorative energy to an appropriate "emotional spectrum" energy. Green Will energy refills your ring, of course. Blue Hope energy refills your health. (I know *I* was more hopeful when I found those!) And White Life energy gives you added experience. So those little touches were neat. And as a nerd, I have the power to make the cannisters and meteors work in my head. "Well, the Manhunters have been collecting energy on Biot. And Zamaron and Oa are probably somehow especially suited to collecting energy from the emotional spectrum. And they just kinda put it in cannisters until they decide what to do with it. Yeah... yeah that works."
As I briefly mentioned earlier, I don't agree with Geoff Johns that will is an emotion. Rather, it is our capacity to overcome the control of our emotions. At times, Johns (and therefore modern Green Lantern stories) contain hints of both relativism and a belief in absolute morality. An odd mix that is philosophically inconsistent. But in most cases, this game included, Johns philosophy sits far enough in the background that it doesn't intrude on the story directly. This is especially true in this game, so I find it unlikely that any meaningful conversation will spring up while hammering on your controller with a buddy.
Gamers who dig the new movie and want to ride that excitement into a video game experience will find a fun but flawed game here that they'll probably enjoy but that won't stand the test of time. This is no "Batman: Arkham Asylum", but it's far better than we have a right to expect from a movie/comic tie-in. And for Green Lantern fans, this is probably a buy, or at the very least a "must-play".