Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Resident Evil 5

The Good

  • Beautifully detailed graphics and character animations
  • Having a partner enhances the fun and excitement while adding tension
  • Real-time menu system keeps you immersed
  • Plenty to do once you've beaten it.

The Bad

  • Frustrating hurdles to leap when joining an online game
  • Slow, deliberate movement and gunplay may not appeal to everyone
  • Can't swap weapons with a human teammate online.

Thirteen years ago, Capcom helped revolutionize the action-adventure world with Resident Evil, a game that would define an entirely new genre dubbed "survival horror." In the years that followed, the series continued to build upon the standards set by the first game, until 2005, when Resident Evil 4 radically departed from its predecessors and broke new ground as a more action-oriented game. Resident Evil 5, the latest offering in the long-running series, expands on the action-heavy formula of its forerunner and is built from the ground up to support cooperative gameplay. Though it can no longer be considered a survival horror game, Resident Evil 5 manages to retain and effectively translate the most important aspect of that genre--tension--into its new mechanics, crafting a fun, collaborative experience that will keep you on your toes the entire time.

Ten years after the destruction of Raccoon City, former S.T.A.R.S. Alpha team member Chris Redfield is an agent of the B.S.A.A. This paramilitary anti-bio-organic weapon organization travels the globe to seek out and destroy Umbrella's creations, which have fallen into the hands of terrorists following the collapse of the multinational pharmaceutical company. When Chris gets a tip that a known weapons dealer will be making a big deal in the remote African nation of Kijuju, he heads there to put a stop to it and learn what he can about the mysterious doomsday project known only as Uroboros. Chris is joined by Sheva Alomar, a local B.S.A.A. agent, and together they battle wave after wave of infected villagers, horribly mutated monsters, and even series archnemesis Albert Wesker.

The core combat mechanics haven't fundamentally changed since Resident Evil 4--the action still unfolds from an over-the-shoulder perspective, certain battles or cutscenes are accompanied by brief quick time events, and you still have to stop moving to fire your weapon (though you gain a bit more mobility thanks to your newfound ability to walk sideways). Resident Evil 5's slow movement and gunplay take some time to get used to, and folks expecting a run-and-gun game may find the action too sluggish for their tastes. Fortunately, this slowness isn't really an issue within the game, because enemies are deliberate with their attacks and are better handled with a cool head and steady aim.

Regardless of how similar the combat in Resident Evil 5 is to its predecessor, the addition of a second character makes encounters feel quite different. Teamwork is necessary to take down more-powerful enemies and bosses, and having someone there to watch your back goes a long way toward keeping you alive. Furthermore, there have been radical changes to the inventory management system. The immersion-breaking briefcase from the previous game is gone, and enemies no longer politely wait for you to rummage through your things because bringing up your armory doesn't pause the action. At any given time, you can store up to nine items per character, four of which are bound to the directions of the D pad for easy access. This new system works extremely well and successfully conveys a sense of urgency whenever you go through your gear. It's often necessary to trade items with your partner, and keeping track of who has what at all times is crucial, because rummaging through your things while a boss beats on you is painful.

Sheva's artificial intelligence makes her a competent companion, though her degree of skill seems to rely more on her armaments than anything else--she is extremely good at using burst fire with a machine gun, for example, but tends to waste ammo when equipped with a handgun. That said, at no point does she feel like extra baggage that needs babysitting (unlike some of the series' previous companions), and she can hold her own in a fight. Sheva really shines when there's someone else controlling her. Resident Evil 5 supports both split-screen and online co-op play through Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, and exploring Kijuju with a friend greatly enhances both the experience and the fun factor. Every game has the potential to go multiplayer, since split-screen is as simple to initiate as hitting Start on a second controller, and other online players can join in on a free-for-all or invite-only basis if your game session is set up to allow this from the get-go.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Star Ocean: The Last Hope Review

An addictive, strategic combat system makes Star Ocean: The Last Hope worth playing despite its cliche storyline and annoying characters.

The Good

  • Incredibly fun and strategic combat system
  • A variety of huge, beautiful environments to explore
  • Simple, powerful crafting system
  • Plenty to do and collect once you've finished the game.

The Bad

  • Cliched story and characters
  • Awful camera system
  • Emotionless, doll-like characters are just plain creepy.

Since its advent nearly 13 years ago, the Star Ocean series has challenged the role-playing game norm with its real-time battles and sci-fi trappings. Despite what appeared to be the series' conclusion with the unconventional revelations seen in Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, it has returned in prequel form on the Xbox 360 with a newly overhauled and better-than-ever combat system. Though it features a weak, cliche story and characters you may want to launch out of the airlock, its fantastic and engaging battles, simple yet fun crafting system, and bevy of bonuses make Star Ocean: The Last Hope worth your time.

In the latter half of the 21st century, humankind all but nukes itself into nonexistence, forcing the survivers on Earth to look to the stars for a new home. As Edge Maverick, a first-generation member of the Space Reconnaissance Force, you start off on your mission to explore the galaxy for a suitable new home and are drawn into a battle for the fate of the galaxy when you encounter a mysterious and destructive force that threatens all life. Of course, that's nothing that a can-do attitude, the support of your friends, hidden inner powers, and the occasional all-too-convenient plot twist can't handle as you race off to save the day. Sound familiar? Star Ocean: The Last Hope doesn't have a very original story, and its frequently ridiculous plot points and consistently dreadful dialogue don't help to make it any more memorable, especially when it forces half-hour-plus cutscenes on you with alarming frequency. Luckily, you can skip these epic events at any time (though oddly enough, they can't be paused) and read through condensed text synopses to make sure that you didn't miss anything too terribly important.

The formulaic nature of the story is further compounded by the cast of characters, themselves an off-the-shelf mixture of walking, talking space opera and anime cliches. You've got the hopelessly idealistic leading man, who is full of an infinite (and often misplaced) trust in others; the self-deprecating childhood-friend-slash-possible-love-interest; the emotionally repressed, scientifically minded space elf; the busty, scantily clad staff-wielding sorceress; the overly affectionate underaged cat girl; and more. Though the members of your misfit crew do undergo some fairly heavy changes as the game progresses--both as part of the standard narrative and in optional cutscenes and events--it's always in extremely predictable ways that ultimately fail to break them out of their original molds.

Despite these shortcomings, The Last Hope is a fun and engaging game thanks in great part to its deeply engrossing and highly addictive combat system; if the story is the heart of a Japanese RPG, then the battles are its soul, and Star Ocean's shines brightly. Monsters appear on the field, and once engaged, they're fought completely in real time with a party of up to four characters. You actively control one of your crew members and navigate him or her around a wide-open battlefield, dishing out damage at your own pace, while the others act according to basic AI routines that you've given them. At any time, you can switch over to manually control anyone who you have deployed, and you can even swap out active characters with reserve ones at your discretion. Every single character plays vastly differently, and it's fun and engaging to experiment with each character in order to find the play style and party combination that works best for you.

Though the battles can get frantic, they don’t all come down to button mashing, especially when you're taking on bosses. These major battles in The Last Hope often play out like simplified versions of encounters in an massively multiplayer game such as World of Warcraft. Each boss has a specific strategy that can be followed to take it out--though it's not necessary to follow these tactics if your party is powerful enough--and figuring them out during the fight will make your life a whole lot easier and dramatically reduce battle times. Another concept taken from online games is monster aggro, or aggression. Though enemies will wander around the battlefield, you can draw aggro from them with attacks or by using specialized skills for doing so, which is useful for pulling a monster off of your physically weaker magic-slingers to give them a chance to cast their powerful spells. Once you have aggro and the monster gears up for an attack, if you dodge out of the way with the right timing, you can break its line of sight on you, leaving it temporarily confused and open to special counterattacks called blindsides. Another powerful tool at your disposal is Rush mode, which can be activated once you've taken or dealt enough damage to grant you an array of bonuses and the ability to chain attacks together with other party members.

Perhaps the most interesting part of battle is the bonus board. By performing specific tasks in combat, such as defeating enemies using only skills or killing two monsters with one blow, you add a tile to this onscreen grid that grants you an extra reward at the end of battle based on your achievement. You can have up to 14 such bonus tiles active at any one time, and these carry over from fight to fight; by carefully manipulating the types of bonus tiles you have, you can customize extra rewards that are given after every single encounter. With this, you have the flexibility to power level your characters, grind for cash or skill points, minimize the number of restorative items that you need to use, or all of the above in any combination. It's possible to lose your bonus tiles, but if you exercise good judgment in combat, they shouldn't be too difficult to keep for as long as you like.

When not in battle, you're exploring a series of open, outdoor locations that range from beaches to deserts to snow-capped mountains and beyond, as well as the occasional puzzle-filled dungeon. These beautiful-but-dangerous environments often contain resource nodes that provide valuable plant life or raw materials if you've got a crew member who can harvest them. These supplies and others earned through battle (or bought from stores) are then used to fuel your research in the simple-but-powerful item creation system. By finding item formulas in your journey or forming research teams and thinking long and hard enough, you can invent recipes for new weapons, armor, items, and even decorations for your ship. Once you gain the right ally, you can further customize your equipment by synthesizing the properties of other items in your inventory to generate some truly powerful gear.

The Last Hope features some top-notch visuals in its huge, open, and highly detailed environments, its abundant cutscenes, and its anime-inspired character models, but it also has a few notable issues. Sadly, the game has only a handful of unique monster designs, and it palette-swaps and reuses them ad infinitum. It's also exceedingly difficult to play on an SDTV thanks to incredibly hard-to-read text and muddied graphics. Sometimes just looking around you is an exercise in frustration thanks to the awful camera system; it zooms in ridiculously close at times and doesn't seem to know what to do whenever you're in a narrow hallway or traveling down stairs or a steep decline. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about The Last Hope is that all of the game's characters have a doll-like, glossy-eyed dead look to them, further accentuated by their complete lack of human emotion or expression. Besides being creepy, this makes supposedly emotional scenes unintentionally hilarious or just plain awkward to watch.

The game’s frequently awful voice acting makes it even harder to connect with the characters. At its very best, The Last Hope's cast will make you groan. At its worse, they're absolutely unbearable. Anyone hoping to escape the lackluster dub will be disappointed to hear that the original Japanese audio is not preserved here, though you do have the option to turn off battle quips from individual characters. Celebrated composer Motoi Sakuraba returns to lend his talents to the Star Ocean series once again, and though the voice acting doesn't work, his soundtrack is perfectly suited to the various locales visited, situations faced, and battles fought.

When it's all said and done and you've finished the game, there's still plenty more to do. Besides offering two unlockable difficulty settings, there are tons of side quests to complete, items to create, recipes to discover, bonus dungeons to explore, and bunnies to race. The Last Hope also has Star Ocean: Till the End of Time’s coliseum system, which lets you sign up for solo or group fights to battle your way up the ladders for prizes. You can collect dozens of battle trophies for each character by performing specific tasks with them in combat. And if you actually are interested in the story, there are multiple endings to see based on the relationships that you form as Edge Maverick throughout the game.

If all you're looking for is a strong, narrative-driven role-playing adventure, Star Ocean: The Last Hope isn't going to do much to satisfy you. But despite its deficiencies in this area, its huge number of extras and its addictive, deeply strategic and tactical combat system make it a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin Review

This somewhat scary sequel is a solid shooter, but it can't keep pace with its lauded predecessor.

The Video Review

Alma's brings back the F.E.A.R in this video review for Project Origin.

The Good

  • Slow-motion shootouts are good, gory fun
  • Mech sequences provide welcome variety
  • Some cool, spooky imagery.

The Bad

  • Story offers little mystery or suspense
  • Cliched random scares and level design
  • Multiplayer is drab and disappointing.

The image of a pasty-skinned, greasy-haired young girl has become an iconic image in horror films like The Ring, and the original F.E.A.R. introduced a similar figure with great success. Of course, that game gave its ghostly visions a chilling context, drawing you into the unnerving story of a paranormal prodigy named Alma and the horrific suffering to which she was subjected. F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin returns to this fertile universe, but rather than scrutinize even darker reaches of the soul, it merely skims the surface, offering up a series of eerie visions without delivering a good mystery to bind them together. The good news for shooter fans is that the bullet-blasting core of the experience is sound, propelling you forward with enough intensity to keep the single-player campaign engaging. Most of what's here has been done better before, but the unspectacular elements have been stitched into an enjoyably moody first-person shooter that relies on rock-solid mechanics rather than true inspiration.

After a short exposition, F.E.A.R. 2 picks up where the original left off--with a bang. The city is in tatters, and as Michael Becket of Delta Force, it is up to you and your squadmates to capture the elusive Genevieve Aristide, president of the nefarious Armacham Technology Corporation. Too much description would risk spoiling the game's few surprises, which are better experienced than narrated, though as it happens, there are few enigmas to unravel. F.E.A.R. 2's story paints itself into a corner, offering very little new to players already familiar with the Project Origin referred to in the title, and nothing compelling enough to wrap newcomers into its fold. With Alma now a known quantity, paranormal secrecy has been replaced by a series of near-cliche bump-in-the-night scares and murky visions that do the unthinkable where a horror-themed game is concerned: They become predictable.

Because the pacing and story layout of the game can be a bit predictable at times, F.E.A.R. 2’s real scares come from its atmosphere--and this actually works, sometimes. Expect to jump out of your seat on occasion, when your flashlight flickers and ghostly visages surround you, or when staccato orchestral chords signal the emergence of abominations as they break free from their confining cells. Other attempts at scares just seem stale, given that the game's pacing and level design foreshadow these encounters, therefore emasculating the necessary sense of surprise. However, the excellent sound design is never to blame. A variety of creaks and groans gives ebb and flow to the sense of tension, and musical swells and increasingly hectic clatters and clangs will get your pulse pounding when needed. Unfortunately, the visuals don't paint a picture dour enough to match. Some areas are shrouded with moody environmental shadows, in which light and dark contrast to excellent effect. In other levels, the lack of ambient lighting and accompanying silhouettes are noticeable, and the surrounding frights just feel flaccid. F.E.A.R. 2 simply doesn't match its FPS peers from a technical perspective, so though it looks good, the simple textures, inconsistent shadows, and occasional clipping and other glitches detract from the atmosphere.

The level design also falls victim to a fair bit of predictability, though to F.E.A.R. 2's credit, you'll break away from the endless office corridors of the original and journey through a greater variety of environments. These areas are usually just as claustrophobic, but they won't often deliver that spine-tingling fear of the specters lurking beyond the reach of your flashlight. Trekking through the rubble of decaying city streets is a good change of pace, but the ultraconvenient manner in which the debris holds you to your narrow path is a familiar design ploy. Similarly, there's no more excitement to be found in F.E.A.R. 2's same-old subway than that of any other game. It's at its best when it leaves these stale tropes behind and builds on its roots as a corridor shooter, such as in a nail-biting sojourn through the halls of an elementary school that hides unspeakable horrors. Entering a dusky music classroom to find a hideous mutant pounding on the keys of a piano with abandon is a singular moment, and the ensuing battles are ripe and exhilarating reminders of the series' explosive origins.

Those same inhuman atrocities will spawn clones while emitting ear-splitting, disorienting roars, and others scurry about at super speeds--though as it happens, you've got a helpful skill at your disposal that helps manage nimble and sluggish foes alike. Like the protagonist of F.E.A.R., you can activate reflex time, which slows the action to a crawl and lets you battle your enemies in a bullet-time ballet. You've seen a similar mechanic a lot by now, but it's skillfully done here. Grenade explosions create impressive visual distortions, bullets leave an airstream in their wake, and spoken dialogue and sound effects grind to a muffled crawl. Landing headshots in reflex time is particularly enjoyable and gives F.E.A.R. 2's gruesome levels of violence a temporary starring role. Foes erupt in red gushers, staining the walls with blood and flailing around in their final moments, an effect made even more effective by robust (and occasionally oversensitive) rag-doll animations.

Your instruments of destruction aren't spectacular, but they're varied enough to make shooting a pleasure, even when the flow of time takes its normal path. The two shotguns are particular delights; they feel weighty and dispatch most enemies with a single bloody blast to the noggin. The hammerhead is another delight, filling your foes with neon barbs and potentially affixing them to the wall behind. However, shooter fans should consider playing at higher difficulty levels, given that F.E.A.R. 2 feels noticeably easier than its predecessor.

The AI can offer occasional challenges, particularly in levels featuring intersecting corridors in which human enemies will flank you, use cover effectively, and tumble to the side should they find themselves gazing down the barrel of your automatic shotgun. They will also tip over furniture or other objects and use them as cover (a trick you can use, though will likely never need). However, enemy behavior is inconsistent; a table-tipping guard may not follow through, running away from his improvised cover rather than ducking behind it. Some enemies will blindly fire from behind low obstacles but may also do so when in plain view. The best adversaries are those not governed by rules of human behavior, such as ethereal foes that take shape as you enter reflex time. And in some cases, your enemies are so visually elusive that you're better off finding a way out of the dark environs that spawn them.

The cool melee attacks of the first F.E.A.R. are gone, but other varied gameplay mechanics are here to fill the gaps. The most notable additions are a couple of armored-suit sequences in which you climb into a giant metal mech and riddle your attackers with machine-gun spray and rockets. These sequences aren't tough--you're a powerful death machine plowing down your weakling foes--but the mech controls nicely and you'll be treated to some impressive displays of environmental destruction and general chaos. You can move through these areas on foot if you like, so these levels do offer a bit of replay value, though you should take great pains to wreak fun robotic havoc when given the possibility. You'll also take control of the turret atop the squad's armored vehicle, but this weapon isn't all that enjoyable to use, and these bits feel like filler.

F.E.A.R. 2's multiplayer component also feels like filler, and though we've come to expect online play from most of our shooters, there's nothing special about this suite of lackluster options. For fans of the original, the most notable omission is that of the slow-motion modes, which brought reflex time into an online arena and made for some clever and enjoyable showdowns. Without these modes, F.E.A.R. 2 feels a bit hollow online, serving up helpings of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, a couple of Conquest variants, Capture the Flag, and a mode called Failsafe that owes a large debt to Counter-Strike. The best of these is Armored Front, in which a player on each team can hop into one of those robotic exoskeletons while his or her teammates capture control points. Otherwise, the shooting mechanics don't translate as well to a multiplayer environment, and the by-the-numbers levels are unimpressive. You have the ability to customize your loadout and level up in ranked matches, but this just isn't enough to breathe life into the musty online play.

You'll get the occasional heebie-jeebies from F.E.A.R. 2, but the magic of the first game hasn't been re-created here. It’s true that some of the changes in the new game seem like they were intended to address criticism of the first F.E.A.R.: tedious and claustrophobic environments, lack of enemy variety, and so on. Sadly, though these changes were made, the resulting sequel, while fun and well-crafted, seems to have lost sight of the strengths that made its predecessor so unique. Nevertheless, playing F.E.A.R. 2 is a worthwhile way to pass the time while we wait for the inevitable next installment.

Friday, February 6, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Hands-On

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Hands-On

We slice, dice, pounce, and heal in Activision and Raven's upcoming Wolverine action game.


Get a glimpse at the design behind X-Men Origins: Wolverine in this interview.

We've been anxious to get our hands on Raven Software's upcoming X-Men Origins: Wolverine game since getting the rundown on the promising game from our Australian compadres. As longtime comic-book fans, we've pretty much resigned ourselves to the fact that Wolverine would likely always be neutered in some fashion as far as games were concerned. A slightly mental Canadian killing machine with a short temper, an indestructible metal skeleton with matching claws, and the ability to heal just about any wound doesn't fit into your standard game archetype. That said, Raven seems to be finding its way with its upcoming take on the mighty mutant. We had the chance to get our hands on a few levels of the Xbox 360 version of the game and were very happy with where Raven's going with the game.

We had the chance to try out four levels--Jungle, Alkali, Spillway, and Agent Zero--that let us get a proper feel for the upcoming M-rated action game. As we noted in our last look, Raven isn't shying away from Wolvie's penchant for slicing, dicing, and general goring. The jungle level was, wait for it, set in a jungle filled with mercenary types eager to perforate everyone's favorite Canadian mutant. The level is essentially the start of the adventure and featured the expected tutorial messages to walk you through Wolverine's move list. Although the game features an experience and leveling system that will amp up your various attacks and abilities, we're pleased to report that Logan doesn't feel neutered at the start of the game. You'll be able to kick butt with a respectable amount of bad assery using normal and heavy attacks, grabs, and, what is easily our favorite move, the pounce attack. The level kicks off with a cinematic that shows our boy heading off to a mission in a helicopter that is eventually shot down. At that point you take control of Wolverine as he falls to the ground in a pseudo-skydiving sequence, sans parachute. Thankfully, if you're able to aim your fall properly, your landing will be cushioned by an unfortunate merc who definitely should have stayed in bed that day. Once you're on the ground, you'll guide the clawed Canuck through the jungle, slicing and dicing your way through the enemy forces like a hot knife through butter. The action varies from down-and-dirty combat--which finds you facing mobs of foes that you deal with by using attacks, grabs, throws, and the environment (such as throwable or exploding objects as well as unique kill spots)--to stealthier bits in which you sneak up behind unsuspecting saps and gut them up close and personal.

The level also let us try out the incredibly satisfying finishing moves that reward timed button presses with shudder-inducing cinematics of gory death. Aside from the basics, the game features dodge and counter systems to let you avoid or reverse attacks. As if that wasn't enough, Wolverine's healing factor and enhanced senses are used very smartly. The healing factor does what you'd expect and heals a fair amount of the damage that you receive, letting you go toe to toe with some heavily armed enemies. That said, there are some limits to how much it can save you, and an onscreen bar will let you know if you've taken too much damage and have to hide for a bit to heal up. Once your healing-factor bar is whittled down, your proper health starts to go rather quickly when you're attacked, which can lead to death if you're not careful. Wolverine's enhanced senses, triggered by hitting up on the D pad, show you the world through a blue filter and let you see useful areas to climb, direct you where to go next, and even let you spot hidden or cloaked enemies. Honestly, we can't go on enough about how well all of the systems capture Wolverine's abilities. Unlike other games that have taken a stab, pun intended, at capturing the mutant, this one doesn't feel like it has compromised much for the sake of a game formula.

As you take out enemies in the various creative ways that the game affords you, you'll earn experience that will enhance different attacks, abilities, and attributes for the surly antihero. In the work-in-progress version of the game that we played, this also meant that Wolvie would spontaneously sprout a spanking-clean tank top every time he leveled, which was a funny sight to see. Given how much punishment he takes, Wolverine's clothes take a pretty hefty beating. As much of a badass as Wolvie is, gaining levels is essential because the enemies that you face become smarter and much more powerful, and some even have superpowers, which forces you to fight smartly as the game progresses.

The Alkali level found our boy punching his way out of a military installation (which is something he seems to do awfully frequently) and facing off against assorted soldiers determined to keep him in. The level is a bit further into the game and showed off the enhanced combo attacks that Wolvie can do. We have to say that we were really pleased by the flexibility of the combat system and the different death-dealing options available to the creative player. Timed deflection of bullets and unique pounce combos are very cool things that we discovered while playing.

The deflection mechanic is key for the Spillway level, which follows Wolverine as he tries to beat an oncoming rush of water by leaping onto moving jeeps that are also trying to get out of the rush of liquid. Pouncing your way from car to car is essential, but after a few cars your foes take to shooting rockets at you. Although the incoming projectiles are almost impossible to dodge, especially if you're in midpounce, you can clear your way through without much fuss if you wait until you're shot at and then simply deflect them back at your enemies. The timing on the deflection takes some getting used to, but it's a breeze once you master it.

The Agent Zero level plays a bit with the skydiving section that we saw at the start of the game and has you leaping in the air between moving helicopters. Though the concept is somewhat similar in spirit to the Spillway level, the gameplay is very different and fun. Once you make it onto a helicopter, you'll have to dodge gunfire from the pilots, who can pretty much guess what's coming once you land on their copter, and do enough damage to fell the vehicle. As the helicopter you're currently on goes down, you'll have to leap and control your fall to the next one. Pro tip for prospective players: avoid the rotors while landing, trust us. The last helicopter that you land on, with Agent Zero on it, changes up the mechanic some and has you shoving Wolvie's claws into the moving rotors to jack them up. The sequence is tricky but very satisfying when over.

As far as the story goes, the game has some ties to the movie but does its own thing in a number of places. The action is a mix of flashback and present-day events that follow chunks of Wolverine's unique life. Although we weren't able to get a full grip on what was going on because we jumped around a bit in the game for the various levels, suffice it to say that our boy has led a rough life. The dedicated CG cinematic sequences as well as the interactive cinematics in which you take control of Logan are looking quite good and should please comic and movie fans.

In terms of the game's look, the visuals are coming together greatly, with Wolvie looking very much like Hugh Jackman. This is especially true in the sweet cinematics done by Blur, the same group responsible for the movies in the original Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The environments and effects are all looking very sharp. We like the effects used for his enhanced-senses vision, and we can't go on enough about the inventive displays of gore, especially the finishers. The lovefest also extends to the way that the game shows off Logan's healing factor. Raven is using a procedural effect for how it displays on his body; you'll see him get progressively perforated, even to the point where there's some decent-sized holes in his skin that you can see through, exposing the adamantium skeleton. Once he starts to heal, the various wounds and holes will slowly close, shifting to gashes, then bruises, and then returning to normal. Not only does it look cool, but it also nails the way that his abilities have been shown in the comics. Key to our enjoyment of all of this has been the game's frame rate, which is fast and smooth. There's nothing worse than getting your killing groove on only to be brought to an awkward stutter by a choppy frame rate. That said, there are definitely some issues with the game's camera, which, if you go on a pouncing and killing frenzy, can make it tough to follow the action.

The audio is coming along well and serves as a good complement to the action. You'll hear plenty of satisfying snikts and claw effects as you go about your business. The same is true for weapon fire and ambient effects, such as grown men dying and some shouting of orders tossed in. The game's score definitely has a sweeping feel to it in spots, which is perfect for setting tone and harkens to the film. Hugh Jackman is on hand to voice Wolverine, which helps give the game that extra layer of cred.

Based on what we played, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the closest that we've ever seen a game come to delivering the Wolverine experience that we've wanted. The combat is brutal and fast, and his powers are represented authentically. Although we're hoping that the problematic camera can be tightened up, the sheer fun of gutting fools is there. Movie and comic-book fans will most definitely want to check out Wolverine when it ships this May for the Nintendo DS, PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PSP, and Wii in time with the movie. Look for more on the game in the coming months.