Two futuristic games for passive, aggressive
Waking Mars (Tiger Style, reviewed on ipad 2, rated 9+, $4.99) — Apple’s magical tablet takes a junior researcher to the caverns of the Red Planet on a mysterious mission of discovery.
Set in 2097, this side-scrolling science-fiction adventure ties puzzle and platforming elements to controlling Global Space Agency’s astronaut Liang Qi as he explores Mars’ subterranean ecosystem.
After a quake causes a cave-in, a player must help Liang escape from below with some assistance from a computer (that’s having language problems) and base-camp team member, Amani, while relying on problem-solving skills and logical interactions with indigenous species.
What’s odd is how this group of supposed scientists demonstrates such disregard for maintaining the purity of the environment and dives right into messing with its creatures. (It certainly doesn’t imitate the “Star Trek” prime directive, which prohibited interfering with the internal development of alien civilizations.)
Although not quite the lesson I want to teach my tween, it’s riveting for the player as he gets to uncover some dazzling plant life called Zoa and use a variety of its seeds to build life-sustaining environments.
First, to maneuver in the beautiful Lethe Cavern of mazes, simply touch the screen while tiny Liang follows your finger.
Our space-suited researcher also wears a jetpack and will rise and fall, depending whether the player moves a finger up or down or sweeps around to look at some glorious, often amber-tinted, structures, including magma rivers, acid pools, water pockets, eroded rock formations and crumbling stalactites. ere’s a review of a pair of futuristic video games — one for the pacifist in the family, one for the
Navigating through the caverns ultimately will require collecting the correct type of seeds and replanting them to increase biomass in an area (denoted as a number), causing biological reactions.
For example, when a tubelike structure called a Cerebrane blocks a path, a player needs to find patches of fertile terrain to reproduce Zoa such as Halids and Hydrons to generate higher levels of nutrients in the air. The Cerebrane digest the nutrients and will retract in later stages of its growth cycle, clearing the path.
Planting feels like using a slingshot as, with Liang holding a seed, the player pulls an arrow toward an area and launches the seed.
Tiger Style has done a great job of creating a complex assortment of bizarre, bulbous and tentacled life forms that look as if they were plucked from a H.R. Giger sketchbook.
Data is slowly acquired on each life form as the player experiments on their reactions to stimuli, including food or touch. An encyclopedic Rolodex is built with an informative abstract breaking down topics, including vulnerabilities, healing properties and water response.
The player even can automatically tweet reports on any of his findings to pals back on Earth.
Heck, if it were a real ecosystem, it would be quite educational.
Although often-passive alien encounters are found, species such as the Larian (with a glowing tendril) will trap and drain the astronaut’s health bar while others (such as a hydrated Halid Zoa) can heal human tissue.
The story of survival comes to life through a combination of popup illustrations and text that conjures up the days of hanging out in biology class circa-1970 and watching a slide-projector presentation on the potential of Mars. Liang also reminded me of 1960s action-figure star Maj. Matt Mason. All that old-school design is not bad, just retro cool.
I’ll admit life below is fun and fantastical for about the first five hours of the eight-hour experience, and then the action felt a bit more laborious than entertaining.
It made me pine for the possibilities of Amani dropping in a rocket launcher or a mini-turretgun to help Liang skewer some of these pests, or to blow out a dazzling rock formation impeding my path.
However, the imaginative and affordable Waking Mars won’t disappoint space junkies looking for a fresh take on the action platform and puzzle genre.
Syndicate (Electronic Arts and Starbreeze Studios, rated M for mature, reviewed for Xbox 360, $59.99) — A squad-based strategy game from 1993 has been rebooted to a first-person shooter with its cyberpunk roots intact and ready to give gamers control of a one-man killing machine.
It’s 2069 and corporations, not governments, control the planet (Or is it 2012?). Humans are divided between embracing or fighting against the now-common practice of using neural brain implants that can access digital landscapes and eliminate the use of electronic devices.
As Miles Kilo, an agent for Eurocorp protecting his boss’s interests around the world, a player embarks on 20 missions mixing up some outrageous firefights and extreme levels of brutality.
With “Matrix”-style black leather garb and the authority of a “Blade Runner” operative, Kilo is cool as a cucumber as he challenges rival agents, fights off villains wearing liquid armor, monitors citizens by tapping into their surveillance systems, and infiltrates a massive floating city to rescue a scientist.
It’s a slick, sci-fi-twinged experience loaded with violent possibilities and, specifically, three game mechanics that provide a solid basis for appreciating the high-tech killing sprees.
First, Kilo’s state-of-the-art DART 6 implant, when activated, turns players’ screens monochromatic and highlights (even through walls) enemies and items or areas of interest in color. It also slows the action and speeds up the agent’s reflexes to create a ballet of bloody assaults. The effect only lasts a certain amount of time and then must be recharged.
Second, our hero can access a trio of breach applications (fueled and recharged with adrenaline — aka killing enemies) to take control of the brain chips of other characters, usually the bad guys.
This is the coolest part of the action. With a simple click on the controller, a targeted enemy will commit suicide and take another mate with him (as a smart bomb), become an ally to Kilo and fight alongside him, or have a weapon malfunction and blow up in his face.
Lastly, the player will find a potent selection of firepower, including close combat, melee attacks and the ability to hack into roving laser turrets.
Although Kilo carries only two weapons and grenades, he can pick up any firearms lying around. That assortment includes a Mjolnir H.O.G. automatic shotgun, EMWS56 Gauss Gun (it can even fire around corners to hit targets) and a Kusanagi HSR-6 Sniper Rifle.
Over his journeys, our hero dishes out an incredible amount of pain and suffering, and not just to bad guys — many innocent citizens get caught in the crossfire.
His attacks include, but are not limited to, lighting an enemy on fire and watching him wriggle on the ground screaming, head shots, breaking necks, stomping an opponent to death, cutting a foe in half at the torso with a bullet stream from a minigun, and, grisliest of all, extracting a brain chip through the eye of an unlucky human.
By the way, plucking those executive chips from key characters’ heads (a “chip rip”) can unlock upgrade powers such as regeneration, emergency resuscitation and protective electromagnetic shields.
A player also will appreciate that this story of revenge stars the likeness and voice of actor Brian Cox (Stryker from “X2: X-men United”) along with the frantic vocal stylings of Rosario Dawson as Dr. Lilian Drawl. A cyber orchestral score that reminded me of the first “Terminator” movie rounds out the ambiance.
Those needing a break from the solo campaign will find an even more enjoyable four-player cooperative mode.
This frenetic homage to the original squad-based game has online players band together as a group of agents from the Wulf Western syndicate to enter a constant barrage of firefights against computer-controlled enemy forces.
The action is split among nine missions spread over locations ranging from Mozambique to Colorado while tackling objectives such as stealing technology, assassinating a traitor and securing areas. Better yet, a dozen breach apps eventually are offered to agents along with weapons research and powers upgrades.
When all the chip ripping is done, Syndicate is a bloody, reimagined celebration of a classic game and a stress-relieving adventure for mature gamers.