Well this is our final Level Up before the holidays so let me take the opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Not much happening in terms of news and new releases at this time of years as things won’t start picking up again until late January but we do have two new reviews to check out.
Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two (Disney) Rated E PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U
Despite some technical issues, most notably a problematic camera, I loved Disney Epic Mickey on the Wii a few years back. As a fan of classic Disney animation, who could not love traipsing through an entire videogame world filled with Disneyania. Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two features everything you liked about the first game and this time tosses in pre-Mickey creation Oswald the Lucky Rabbit to join forces with Mickey. As Oswald and the other characters work to rebuild the Wasteland, the world of discarded and retired Disney characters and themes once again comes under attack. Oswald joins forces with Mickey to once again try to save the Wasteland.
Oswald can be played co-op style by another player or computer controlled if playing solo. While Mickey is once again armed with his magic paint brush to alter his environment, Oswald comes with a detachable, remote control arm that can do the same as well as having other abilities such as using his floppy ears to fly.
Part RPG and part platformer, you guide Mickey and Oswald on a quest to repair the damage to the Wasteland through a series of missions and side quests and a horde of collectibles to locate. This exploration is one of the greatest strengths of DEM2. You’ll run into remnants of Disney classics past and present from the world of Peter Pan to that of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Snow White, and Pete’s Dragon. Disney lore pops up at every turn and the game plays like a scavenger hunt as well as a Disney Tribute. The game virtually soars from a graphic presentation standpoint, putting you into a cartoon world come to life. Look everywhere because there is always something interesting to see and the cut-scenes are absolutely stunning!
Besides the fact that you are joined on the quest by Oswald another big change is that Mickey and Oswald (and the other characters) now have voices and talk which gives them more personality than in the first game which tended to be oddly disconnected. While you can let the computer control Oswald for the most fun you really want to play with a friend. The A.I. isn’t horrible but Oswald can tend to wander and get himself in a bind.
Unfortunately the dazzling scenery is torpedoed by sub-par gameplay mechanics. Despite the fact that DEM2 wants to look like a graphic adventure it is still at heart a platforming action game and a sluggish one at that. The problematic camera of the first game returns but this time presents new issues to the player. Obstructed view issues give way to difficulties in performing your platform jumps as the camera angles make it hard to tell where to jump to, often sending you screaming to your death.
Combat is even be more problematic as again camera angles can make attacks difficult and the battles tedious. Furthermore Mickey can seemingly get hurt by just coming close to an enemy let along being actually hit by them. The game as a whole is repetitive to a fault as you hope that there is something more interesting to do than just revive inactive machinery. The Boss Battles are another exercise in frustration and you feel like you’ve gone back to the 8 bit days of having to do the same actions over and over to win a battle.
The music, the visuals, and the sense of wonder while travelling through this world full of Disney classics from the past and present is unfortunately offset by poorly designed game mechanics resulting in a good half of a game. Grade C+
Hitman: Absolution (Square Enix) Rated M Ps3, Xbox 360, PC
I’ll be honest right up front and tell you I am not the biggest fan of stealth shooters. I think it boils down to my lack of patience but I’d rather wade into a game guns blazing. That said, after a six year hiatus it’s nice to have the Hitman franchise back. That’s ages in videogame years and like it or not, it puts a heavy onus on developer IO Interactive and publisher Square Enix to deliver an exceptional game.
You once again play as Agent 47…shoes and head buffed to a perfect shine. You learn that your handler Diana Burnwood has apparently gone rogue and 47 is contracted to kill her and to return a teenaged girl named Victoria to the Agency. This scenario plays out in heart-wrenching, dramatic fashion which highlights the game’s emotional strength. As you finish off Burnwood she pleads with you to protect Victoria FROM the Agency. Stashing her for protection at an orphanage, 47 uses his stealth abilities to get intel from a big time criminal scumbag named Blake Dexter. He learns that Dexter plans to sell Victoria to the highest bidder. Determined to protect Victoria Agent 47 put himself in the crosshairs of Dexter, a group of assassins known as The Saints, and even The Agency.
The level based adventure has you taking on various missions in the overall campaign, generally involving knocking off some villain or such. You have to plan your hits, using your stealth abilities to sneak about, knocking off henchman quietly with your garrote or breaking their necks and then hiding their bodies so they are not found by other guards who can sound the alert. Stealth games require a patience that other types of shooters do not. While not being a huge fan I will say that Hitman: Absolution handles these elements exceedingly well.
47 can don a scientist’s lab coat to go about unnoticed. There’s plenty of object to find that can be used to toss and create a diversion to sneak past the guards. When the time for subtlety has passed you can fire at gas cans to truly liven up the party.
The cover system is well designed and is actually quite a blast to use when gunplay is unavoidable. Bodies, alive or unconscious also make great shields for Agent 47. Generally, you really have to be making a total mess of things to start alerting guards to the point that you find yourself in a pitched firefight. In these cases, a new system called Point Shooting helps out a great deal. This Hitman’s version of Max Payne’s bullet-time capability. You can slow time down to mark your targets and squeeze off several shots. The camera closes in on the target and you get a front row seat as your bullet tears through them.
Another shooting tweak is called Precision Shot. This is particularly useful when you have a sniper rifle. This is a slow, gradual press of the fire trigger that steadies your aim so you can fire off shots with deadly accuracy. All good stuff although some of the quick-time event, melee battles, while not difficult to win, can be a bit of a pain to time and these noisy battles often bring more guards scurrying to your location.
Hitman: Absolution world is dingy, dark, and filled with some of the most foul and repellant villains ever seen in a videogame making it all the more fun to take them down. It definitely earns its Mature rating, no question about it. There’s a lot going on in the background, all of which can help you in your campaign to gain valuable information so it’s not a game that is all shooting and killing.
Hitman: Absolution features an exception voice cast of well-known character actors including Ketih Carradine, Powers Boothe, Traci Lords, Steven Bauer, and Vivica Fox. The game has five difficulty levels to suit every level of player and should take about 10 hours or so to complete. The A.I. isn’t the smartest around and there are some story plot holes but it’s generally a fairly engrossing adventure. Grade B+
Tim Janson is a columnist and reviewer for Mania Entertainment. He writes Level Up, the weekly look at videogames and the horror dedicated column, Tuesday Terrors. Tim has written for Fangoria, Newsarama, City Slab Magazine, Twitch Film, and Cinefantastique. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter.