Two fu­tur­is­tic games for pas­sive, ag­gres­sive

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY JOE SZADKOWSKI


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.

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