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While the Marvel Ultimate Alliance lets you play from a third person perspective in which you look down at the action, it still feels like you're moving within the pages of a comic book. The writing is full of that signature Marvel macho humor and the usual world-ending gloom and doom. There are explosions everywhere you go, fiery, fireworks-like balls of who-knows-what wreaking havoc as you try to proceed. You'll never die from getting hit by them or by the evil criminals like Loki and Mephisto who assault you. And sometimes, you'll get to fly and attack from mid-air. But you will get knocked out, and your team of four superheroes will have to proceed without that character until, say, Thor, has recovered from his injuries. For those who like pop culture history, the makers have even woven Marvel trivia into the game. Answer them correctly and you'll garner powers and experience for your character.

Plus, with each mission you complete, one of the heroes in your team of four will get some fantastic new superpower. You shouldn't use these magical attacks with much regularity, however, or your superhero will get winded. After a few levels of play, you'll get to customize your hero. And as you get deeper into the game, you'll encounter everyone from blazing, skeletal Ghost Rider to introspective, cosmic warrior, the Silver Surfer. You'll travel from universe to universe, too, from the majesty of Thor's heavenly Asgard to the creepiness of Mephisto's lair. I like Murder World the best, a creepy amusement park where evil lies around every corner. The game isn't perfect, though. Until you master it, you'll sometimes get lost. And you'll occasionally be plagued with camera angle issues.

Activision has been fairly quiet this year when it comes to major releases. But with Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, a game that will be released for the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii as well as for the current systems, they prove they've been a sleeping giant that's now awakened. Heck, this game even beats the classic X-Men Legends, released a couple of years ago. And that's saying something.

Welcome to suburbia.
image: Courtesy of THQ
Welcome to suburbia.

Details

The Sopranos: Road to Respect
Publisher: THQ
Developer: 7 Studios
Format: PS2
  • Check out reviews of all the latest and greatest games (updated every week), along with past faves in NYC Guide.

  • Bully
    Publisher: Take 2
    Developer: Rockstar

    Back in junior high and high school, I was a constantly sickly, little odious smartie who lived in mortal fear of getting less than an "A" on anything. Reading, writing, and learning were the only things I cared about—aside from dying from being chronically sick, which terrified me daily. As a kid on high doses of steroids, I never was sure if I was coming or going. So, I was a favorite mutt of the local bullies. But at some point, after being spat on from above constantly, I figured enough was enough. I put on some pointy boots one morning and when the biggest of the bullies spat down on my pale forehead from the stairwell above, I casually walked up the stairs, aimed directly under his kneecap and kicked as hard as I could. The bully limped so badly for days later that no one bothered me much after that. I realized they really couldn't hit me: there was no pride in that since I was knockin' on heaven's door.

    So it was with some trepidation that I cracked open Bully, the controversial new PlayStation 2 game from Rockstar, the makers of the even more controversial Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. I didn't want to relive my life as a bullied high school student. It was too darn traumatic, even if a lot of those former toughs are drunks or criminals now.

    When I watched the opening movie of Bully, the scenes tried hard to make me feel sorry for a runty delinquent who is being dropped off at a private school by his evil stepfather and uncaring mother. As the parents go on a lengthy cruise for their honeymoon, young Jimmy Hopkins is introduced to the torment-filled, oppressive ways of private school. It's an almost-cliché opening. Though it isn't badly written, it made me wonder why Bully had received all the hype it had from the game critic crowd.

    Once you play the game, you'll see why there's a grand fuss about it. While part of the game is about bullying others when they pester you, there's humor and social satire here that's about as good as any game gets. And you get to exercise your brain muscles, too. In English class, you'll be given a bunch of letters and you'll have to make about 10 words in your allotted time. That's not easy, even if you play the Will Shortz puzzle game on NPR every weekend.

    There are lots of missions to finish and many bullies and prefects to thwart you from completing them. Having said that, the world of Bullworth Academy is not as big as the universe within Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Yet, it's large enough, surprise-filled, and graphically rich. What I love most about Bully, however, are the weird and troubled students that you meet along the way. Sure, there are bullying giants with negative IQs. But there's the overwrought, overweight girl who has lost her chocolates and can't stop crying. There's the nice kid who's called a 'girl' simply because he's kind. It all makes you wonder how anyone, especially the weaker kids, survived those school years.

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