Red Dead Redemption
developer: Rockstar San Diego
system: Xbox 360 (also available on PlayStation 3)
RDR is basically Grand Theft Auto in the Old West and that’s a good thing. Most GTA games are strictly city-based but GTA: San Andreas featured a wide-open wilderness in-between cities, peppered with small towns and highways. To some degree, that’s what RDR is all about. That does NOT make the game boring or empty, though. It seems there’s always something going on in the deserts and countrysides. You can be minding your own business riding your horse and come across a stagecoach robbery that you can choose to foil or ignore. Strangers will approach you, sometimes for help, sometimes to rob you. There are animals to hunt and plants to collect but this is strictly optional. Everything I’m describing takes place in the world at large, outside of missions and the main game. The characters are well done but you might end up hating some of them for the wrong reasons. Unlike GTA games, RDR allows you to follow the straight and narrow. It’s up to you, really. Most of the missions involve killing, but the victims are lowlife scum. Outside of missions, you take a real risk by murdering regular folks, as the law does not forget. Even if you evade the authorities, a bounty will be placed on yer ass, making life difficult until you pay it off.
It’s a good game!
Batman: Arkham Asylum
system: Xbox 360 (also available for PlayStation 3)
This game got great reviews and I can see why. BAA feels like 1/3 Metroid (due to exploration, gradual item acquisition, and Metroid Prime-type scanning modes), 1/3 Metal Gear (due to sneaking around and crawling through ducts) and 1/3 good, old-fashioned brawler. I do NOT mean to imply that the game is derivative. It took these strong aspects and synthesized them into something new and fun.
Voice work is present almost all the time and much of it provided by ye ol’ Batman: The Animated Series cast, Mark Hammill, Kevin Controy, etc. Several big-name villains are present, namely Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Szasz, Bane, Scarecrow and Killer Croc. I think this is one of those lame occasions when you can say the setting is something of a character, as well. Arkham really has a presence and provides so much of the identity of the game. This isn’t necessarily always a great thing, though. From certain vantage points on Arkham Island, the player can spy downtown Gotham and it seems like a letdown not to be able to explore that wild city. I think Rocksteady should definitely create a sandbox Batman game.
The brawling setup is really simple, there’s basically a counter button and an attack button but the action is addictive and on-screen representation of your input is INSANE. Basically, Batman has what seems to be dozens of moves at his disposal and he will use them almost randomly. If you walk up to one dude and push attack three times you might see a totally different move set from the last time you pushed attack three times on some guy. This little touch makes a big difference and offers a visual treat.