Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Game Review: Penny Arcade Episode 2

I have a mild form of ADD, in that I don't actually have ADD but I will occasionally let my mind slip focus anyway. I know that I said the first thing I'd really write was an epic review of Fallout 3, but then I went ahead and beat Penny Arcade Episode 2 and decided that, since it was fresh in mind I should sit down and write my thoughts on that. So fresh are my thoughts on it that it is like plucking a ripe apple from the most fruitful tree, meaning that I just beat it and the credits are currently playing as I type this review.

However, I did read this morning that there will be Fallout 3 DLC, and that is incredibly exciting. 3 new quests, and only one taking place in the same continuity as the game. This is especially cool because, while I love the demolished DC ruins, I was thinking about how exciting it would be to see other cities in the new world Bethesda created for Fallout, and the other two will take place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Anchorage, Alaska respectively. While there is no word on how much it will cost, you can rest assured that I will pay no matter the price and, unlike with the DLC in Mass Effect, I promise that I will actually beat it!

So. On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness Episode 2. How did thee fare in the harsh reviewing system that is my nefarious and devious mind? I tend to charge games rather harshly, personally. While everyone was praising Gears of War and Far Cry, I was merely sitting on the sidelines and saying, "What's the big deal?" Grand Theft Auto IV remains unfinished because I quickly got tired of the game play style. I haven't even given Call Of Duty 4 a shot. However, a game like PAE2 earns my love and devotion while it seems to go unnoticed by most. I remember when the first installment came out and everyone seemed to love it. Unfortunately for the guys over at PA, they released their game at the worst possible time (against weeks filled with hot anticipated titles) and I fear that now this game has gone unnoticed. But not by I!

I played the original twice, once as a starkly mustachioed gentleman named Finnegan, and a second time to get all the achievements as an overweight and funny haired African American gentleman aptly named SirSwish. PAE2 allows you to import your previous character into the new game and it is with SirSwish that I decided to continue the tale. I feel this is the correct move because, as marvelous as Finnegan was, without a special attack called "Finnegan's Wake" I felt he was a wasted joke. SirSwish also had the max level and max Overkill bonuses allowed for in the previous game, so it was probably smart to start with him. PAE2 picks up almost exactly where the first left off, with SirSwish rebuilding his previously destroyed home. A cut scene shows what Gabe and Tycho have been up to, and they soon come for SirSwish, ruining his new home and recruiting him to once again help them solve a series of mysteries in order to stop a dark evil. Simple premise, complicated results. There is by far much more plot in this game, as well as resolution to most of the things brought up in PAE1. The two hands go in hand very well.

I'd like to start by talking about what I did not like. The first complaint I have is, "Wasn't this game supposed to be longer?" I beat the first game in a single sitting while my friend looked on. This game I took my time with, and I still beat it in less than 24 hours. This is upsetting to me. Granted, I will be playing it a second time (since, by beating it, I have unlocked Insane Mode, and playing through it normally makes it clear that the curious mind is going to have to play Insane Mode), but that doesn't excuse the amount of time it took me to beat it. I will take into the account that at the moment, I do not have a job, so I have all the time in the world to play the game, but that is also not an excuse for the game to be so short. The only excuse I will buy is that it is an XBOX Live Arcade game, but even then I would have liked a longer playing experience.

The next complaint I have is, "Why couldn't they fix the screen for those of us who don't have HDTVs?" This is a complaint I have for a lot of XBOX games (Dead Rising, anyone?), but I would really love to be able to read and see everything easily. There is a mild solution to this issue in the game with "Zoom Screen" option, in which I can pull the game's comic book panel towards me. This is not a proper fix it, though, because now portions of the game are cut off. Us poor and jobless folk would appreciate a more legitimate solution to this, please.

My third complaint is, "Why didn't they change the game play at all from the first game?" The only thing really different from the first game was the final boss (which I would also call fairly lack luster compared to the epic battle against Mimethulu at the end of the first game), but other than it's the same basic formula. You have basic attacks, special attacks, and items. The special attacks are new but not all that much better. The weapons are a little different, but still meh on the customization process. The items are new as well, but giving me a new type of grenade/bomb does not tide me over from wanting something more. With all of Tycho's talk about the dark arts, why can't we have some magic? I love shooting things and punching things, but can we have more than one weapon with the option for an upgrade for a character? One of the best things about RPGs is the ability to customize your player to suit your needs. We have the option of 3 new costumes in this game that give different perks, but that just doesn't cut it. I want Tycho to throw a fire ball at someone, and I want Gabe to have the option of using brass knuckles or perhaps the Right Hand of Doom (maybe even a cardboard tube?).

My final complaint is, "Why are the achievements so boring?" It really is not difficult to get 200 gamerscore on this game. Only one achievement actually takes time to get (which, of course, I did not get). The rest you can get by just playing the story or by looking at the achievement list. I liked how the first game had that horrific achievement "Silent, But Deadly" achievement, where you had to figure out an appropriate plan to beat the boss so you didn't use healing items. That mixed with "Immortal" (where you couldn't die) made for an interesting gaming experience. There is nothing like that in PAE2. I don't feel like I achieved much, even though I unlocked everything in the game possible. This is my smallest gripe with the game, of course, but still... come on, guys.

Now onto the things I like. I love the story: I mentioned this earlier, but it flows so well from the first game. There are also plenty of subplots to keep me intrigued and happy. There are 10 possible quests in the game, and having done them all, I can say that each one provides a great deal of pleasure to complete. This game thrives on it's ability to be story driven and it easily accomplishes that. I love the animation and graphics of the game: It's not too complicated and it's not to simple. It literally is perfect for the game. I love the character designs: I kind of want to shave my beard into mutton chops now because of Gabe, and that's not something I've wanted to do since I watched the X-Men movie and saw how awesome Hugh Jackman looked. I love the writing in the game: There are so many moments in the game where I burst out laughing. The Insane Asylum was definitely the highlight in exploring and reading every little thing (one crazy inmate believed himself to be the Prince of a town called Bel-Air) as well as finding little jokes that referenced lesser known subjects (did you know Eggplant Lincoln reached power level 10,000?). The dialogue between characters is hilarious, and this is where Tycho truly shines. He is a master wordsmith, I will give him that. He should get a writer's achievement or something to that extent.

So would I recommend PAE2? You're most definitely right I would. This is not the best game of the year nor is it a contender for that game, but if you played and liked the first one, then this is a worthy follow up. Even if you didn't play the first one, I'd say it's worth a play through (but why would you do that to yourself?). As I said earlier, I look forward to playing it a second time. Insane Mode looks promising, although it will be for another day. This is definitely not a game to forget about, though. The Penny Arcade series, when put all together, will make for quite a game. While I hope to see some more improvements in the next installment and more customization options, I understand I probably will not get it as that is not really the point of the game. I view my gripes as very minimal, although they appear to take up the bulk of the review. However, I really would stress that these do not deter from the game experience. Lame achievements? Big whoop. It is important to note a game's flaws in order to better appreciate what it excels at however, unless the game is perfect, which few games are.

On that note, it is time for me to kick back and watch another film on Netflix Instant Watch. Thank God for that.

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