Month: February 2012

Syndicate (PS3) Review 1

Syndicate (PS3) Review

The cyberpunk genre is ripe with opportunities to tell stories of a dystopian future overrun by technological innovation; Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner explored what separates a machine from humankind, the Deus Ex series touched on the moral issues of augmenting human abilities. Now, Starbreeze’s reboot to the Syndicate series, besides being the first FPS of the year, tries to follow suit only and finds itself with a mixed but enjoyable final result in the process.

During the course of Syndicate’s campaign, the developers behind The Darkness and Riddick’s more successful interactive adventures take players to the year 2069. There are hover-cars, building-sized billboards, dilapidated tenements to fight through, and a sprawling urban future that is one giant, corporate mess.  This is a future run by corporations specializing in cybernetics and electronic warfare. It’s because of the DART chip, an invention that allows these corporations to start connecting people to their electronic devices, causing a war between three household names – Aspari, Cayman Global, and Eurocorp.

Eurocorp’s new chip, DART 6, grants their operatives enhanced combat abilities during a rush of adrenaline, and is implanted in hero/guinea-pig, agent Miles Kilo. Agent Kilo, and the rest of Eurocorp, are at the centre of an explosive corporate takeover with a few clever turns before the last shell casing has a chance to bounce off of blood-soaked marble floor.

Without question, Syndicate has enough futuristic sights and sounds to keep players entertained through its 20-mission long campaign. Though there were many times when I felt that the pieces, and potential, were there for a game that could have been much bigger. The actual gameplay is a lot of fun and does a fine job of rescuing Syndicate from what could have been a very average first-person-shooter.  From the tutorial level that opens with a sucker punch to the face—literarily—to the final showdown at corporate headquarters, I found my head spinning over the attention to detail Starbreeze pumped into a reboot of a top-down real-time-strategy game from the early 1990s.

Shooting controls are fairly standard affair with a couple of clever mechanics to spice things up. Taking cover behind an object of medium height allows you to automatically peek over your vantage point without exposing yourself completely (though this does not work if you try to lean out from side to side), and pressing the cover button while sprinting makes you slide along the ground just long enough to avoid getting shot at. The core of an adrenaline-filled shooter is there, but the real fun doesn’t start until you take into account the DART overlay and the ability to breach objects and other agents in the world. Being an agent implanted with cybernetic chips it’s no surprise that your heads-up display keeps constant track of your abilities and situation. The DART assesses and informs you of your surrounding environment – whether it’s a wall you can bust through or a collectable item you’ve been searching for.  One press of a shoulder trigger is all it takes to activate the DART. When active, the world slows down around you, devolving into a wireframe model where enemy locations remain highlighted regardless of walls or other cover. The other trigger activates your currently selected breach power, which is equal parts lifesaver and unfair advantage when it comes to dealing with squads of enemies. Certain weapons complement these high tech augmentations, like a gauss rifle that shoots around corners, and a rocket launcher that deploys mini rockets in mid-flight.

There are also special “breach” abilities, like Persuade, forces an enemy to fight alongside you before turning the gun on himself. Then there’s Backfire, a non-lethal breach that jams weapons long enough for you to get up close to your prey and perform a satisfyingly brutal melee finisher. These can be upgraded through the course of the campaign to increase duration and effectiveness. And there’s the usual upgradability to your armour, health, and overall effectiveness against multiple enemies. Other breaches are more context-sensitive are used to traverse through environmental puzzles, as well as short-circuit enemy shields – which you’ll be thankful for especially in later levels. Add bullet-time, dubstep, and fantastic voice work from the likes of Rosario Dawson, Brian Cox, and Michael Wincott and you should have yourself a game with plenty of buzz about it, right?

Well the truth is that the narrative aspect of things is where Syndicate loses a lot of the momentum it sets up in its opening stages. The world appears to have a lot to see and do but the freedom is an illusion. It ultimately boils down to fighting your way from point A to B while occasionally taking a break to watch an expository cut scene or participate in a non-violent intelligence gathering operation. There are some minor visual nit-picks as well, with the pre-rendered opening cut scenes filled with noticeable grain—the same kind of grain you usually see when dealing with bad video compression. In certain cases, in-game collectable documents can be hard to read as there is a lot of grey text over a black background.

What I would have liked to see is more—of everything. There are in-game emails to read and tongue-in-cheek corporate humor to enjoy, but the world itself comes off as feeling very small and full of wasted potential. The other corporate agendas and locations are never fully explored while both Wincott and Cox’s characters sounds like any other movie villains they’ve played during their acting careers. Overall, it’s a ton of awesome to play through and if the potential for a bigger game exists in there somewhere then I expect the sequel to do just that.

Soulcalibur V (PS3) Review 1

Soulcalibur V (PS3) Review

The battle between good and evil rages through the ages and now a new generation of hero is needed to continue the fight against the darkness. Soulcalibur V is Project Soul’s sixth entry into the Soul series and brings with it some changes to the core gameplay and a new generation of heroes. “Critical Finishes” and the “Soul Gauge”, long time staples of the series, have been replaced by the “Critical Gauge” and a few other mechanics have been changed to bring the series more in line with some of the other fighting games on the market. We’re also introduced to Patroklos and Pyrrha, descendants of longtime series heroine Sophitia. Will these new heroes be able to meet their destiny and finally wipe evil from the earth? In Soulcalibur V we travel to 17

th

century Europe to find out.

I know it’s silly to expect depth from the story found in a fighting game, but after the game’s first cut scene I had really high hopes. This first cut scene was beautiful and epic, after watching I was really excited to take on the evil forces wielding the Soul Edge. Unfortunately after that initial cut scene the game resorted to using motionless charcoal sketches with voice-overs to tell the rest of the story. At first I was disappointed, but as I continued to play these motionless sketches started to grow on me and I figured it was more of a budget or time issue than an omission by the developers at Project Soul. After a few chapters I did get a few more of those awesome cut scenes but they were few and far between to keep me really engaged. The story itself is also pretty ridiculous. The protagonist Patroklos begins the game as a servant of evil doing an evil lord’s bidding although unbeknownst to him. Later once his master’s intentions are revealed, he was actually surprised, while I was thinking “Well duh!” I found Patroklos to be wimpy, whiny, and a little thick. His sister Pyrrha, on the other hand, was genuinely interesting. She was being manipulated by the “Malfested”, a race of corrupted warriors who seek only to destroy the forces of good, into killing innocent people under a twisted veil of self-defense. I found her to be conflicted and miles deeper than her dumb as a brick brother who wouldn’t know evil if it breathed in his face.

Soulcalibur has always seemed more accessible to me than other fighting games, with the exclusion of the Mortal Kombat series. I typically find fighting games to be on the fairly complex side which can lead them to be exclusionary. I didn’t feel this way while playing Soulcalibur V. There was a learning curve but it didn’t seem as steep as some of the other fighting games I’ve played. Right off the bat I was able to pull of some decently powerful moves and combos without much effort but I could definitely see that with some practice I could be deadly. The characters and fighting arenas are really detailed and look pretty good but I found a few of them to be on the small side. I did notice some graphical clipping when it came to some of the custom costumes but that’s to be expected when you allow players to edit their character’s appearance. I really enjoyed the high-mid-low variations on each attack and how you need to constantly watch your opponent’s animations in order to anticipate the height of their attacks so that you can guard or counter effectively. It was also refreshing to play a fighting game that doesn’t have a myriad or projectile attacks being thrown at you. Soulcalibur V is all about reach, since there’s no jumping, at least not in the traditional sense, you really need to be aware of your positioning when trying to land your most powerful blows. I mentioned that the game is more accessible than other fighters but don’t mistake accessibility for a lack of depth. With around 24 playable characters, each with their own unique weapons and fighting style, I found that even after my playtime I had barely scratched the surface of this decently deep fighting game.

Character creation and customization is one of the more buzz worthy features to be found in Soulcalibur V. Even the basic editor, without unlocking anything, provides a fun way to customize how people are going to view you online. You can base your custom creation on any of the game’s characters and then edit their appearance to look like almost anything. I found that a lot of people would make Soulcalibur versions of their favorite heroes. During my online travels I managed to get my face beaten by Superman and Spider-man, or at least one player’s interpretation of them. The character creator is fun to mess around with, intuitive, and provides a seemingly endless number of combinations for your character’s appearance and weapons. So whether dominating online matches with Wolverine, or my custom fighter, Deer of Doom, the character creator is nice touch and certainly worth mentioning.

Other than the character creator, the online modes are the real meat and potatoes of Soulcalibur V. You can play ranked or unranked matches or join other players in the “Global Colosseo”. The Colosseo is like a big lobby where players can meet up, chat, engage in tournaments or simply pick a fight. It provides a little sense of community that is often lacking in the online space of most games. I was also impressed by the matchmaking. I had no trouble finding opponents who were around my skill level. There were no connection or lag issues that I noticed, and that can be a massive problem especially when it comes to fighting games.

Overall, I found Soulcalibur V to be an excellent addition to the franchise. Its ability to innovate and improve the core experience may keep this series relevant to fans of the genre for at least another few years. That said, there’s isn’t much here for people who aren’t into fighting games but compared to the other fighting games I’ve played I did enjoy Soulcalibur V. It’s a deep yet accessible fighting game with a robust online component and a great character creator. However, I can’t give the same praise to the game’s throwaway story. It didn’t grab me but that’s okay because the rest of the package is a solid experience.

Twisted Metal (PS3) Review 1

Twisted Metal (PS3) Review

A Return to Extreme Nostalgia

For many people the 90s represents a time in gaming when graphical resolution and processing power finally let gore and violence be properly conveyed on a screen. It was a time of guilty pleasures—or not—such as Mortal Kombat, Doom, and Night Trap. Twisted Metal, debuting on the original Playstation waaaaay back in 1995, was another example of developers, specifically David Jaffe, realizing, “Hey, look at the crazy stuff we can do in games now!” His gift to the world was this vehicular combat series that embodied everything that was over the top, juvenile and excessive about 90s gaming violence. Well, now he’s come back to the franchise, and the results are mostly in keeping with the spirit of what you remember. And that’s a good thing.

Adolescent Darkness in HD

Twisted Metal has always been about conveying a certain kind of “forbidden” adult sensibility. In the same way that TM’s obvious “literary” influence, Heavy Metal magazine, was for adults only because it bared breasts and showed extreme violence, Twisted Metal follows that same path of engaging in the kind of excess that a rational adult would find juvenile, but adolescents drink like ambrosia from Olympus itself. The story, in true Twisted Metal tradition, is about a contest run by the mysterious Calypso with one simple goal; eliminate all competition and the victor will have his or her wish granted. This is capped off with—in another nod to the 90s—some fairly glossy live action cutscenes (or FMV, if we’re sticking to the 90s ethos) that still retain the kind of gleeful, cheesy material that makes an older gamer chuckle, while younger players will feel like they’ve discovered a whole new world of “dark.” As usual, Calypso, in true Mephistolic fashion, is never straightforward about granting people’s wishes ringing up that old cliché of being careful about this sort of thing.

Moving over to the presentation, it’s obvious from the outset that Twisted Metal favors performance over gloss. The scale of the environments shows that this is a next generation game, but Eat Sleep Play haven’t gone out of their way to use high polygon models, fancy lighting and particle effect gratuitously, or other high “production value” techniques to make this game look as shiny and visually complex as its peers on the market. On the other hand, the frame rate is absolutely rock solid. No matter how many buildings are blowing up, how many missiles are currently in flight, how many vehicles are in the process of flaming into a huge explosion, the frame rate never, ever falters. This is even the case when playing in local, split-screen co-op mode. The performance of this game in fast moving, hectic, action-based situations is phenomenal, and in that respect, the decision to forgo visual frills has obvious gains. This doesn’t look like a game made in the later years of a console’s lifecycle, but it sure performs like one.

Looking at the art direction, we’ve got an interesting hybrid of styles. The environments themselves all retain a certain bleak, brown and grey look consistent with the dark feel of the game, although sparks of color are here and there thanks to neon signs, the occasional amusement park mascot in need of running down and, of course, lava pits. Cities are the primary environmental playgrounds with the Los Angeles downtown rooftops, a New York stand-in, and an expansive suburb all providing the expected urban mayhem while desert towns, massive coliseums and even a Disney style amusement park add a little more environmental variety. The vehicles themselves have received the expected upgrade in visuals, looking more detailed and beat up. There are also options for customizing the paint jobs of cars in multiplayer, which is a nice, contemporary touch.

The audio is completely in keeping with the rest of the game’s adolescent, power fantasy vibe, assuming that, by adolescent you grew up in the 90s. Rob Zombie’s Dragula sits beside the surprising inclusion of NWA’s Straight Outta’ Compton, but more recent bands like Wolfmother are also part of the licensed line up. There’s nothing really eclectic about this soundtrack, the songs have been carefully selected to reinforce a sense of “bad ass driving,” amongst differing tastes, and they succeed. The audio effects, as expected, get a big boost from the HD world, with an effective use of multi-speaker set ups and the almost mandatory abuse of the sub-woofer for gratuitous, bass-laden explosions. The only real flaw worth mentioning is the occasional sudden cut-out of audio, heralded by a loud pop from the speakers and the sound muting out for several seconds. This is, unfortunately an issue occurring for other TM users, so there might be a patch in the future to settle this bug.

Death Race 2012

Twisted Metal was, is and always will be about just one thing; tearing around in a car at high speeds, armed to teeth with ridiculous weapons, an even more ridiculous physics system, blowing up anything on wheels that isn’t you. When this latest 2012 iteration of the series sticks to this ideal, it is exactly the game that Twisted Metal fans want. Unfortunately, at least in single player, this isn’t always the case, and it makes for a weaker overall package as a result.

The lame leg in an otherwise strong package is the single-player component. In the past, the single-player aspect of Twisted Metal was little more than death-match with bots, including an option for co-op gameplay. That might have been fine in 1995, but in 2012, for a retail title on a blu-ray disc at $60, someone must have been nervous that this simpler campaign philosophy wouldn’t sit well with modern gamers. As a result, the single player campaign starts off with traditional Twisted Metal matches, gradually ramping up to matches with specific conditions, then races, and finally boss fights that call for everything from platforming to aerial combat. It’s here that Twisted Metal really loses its way, with the player feeling like the fight is half with the given level’s objectives, and half with a game engine that’s trying to do something it’s not very good at. The final race, for example, is in an open, ruined city that requires the player to cross checkpoints. A new checkpoint appears as the current one is raced over, but because of the multi-level character of the area, the new checkpoint might be on the building rooftop directly beside the player, and the player has no way of knowing this aside from losing the race by doing some exploring. A simple “bread crumb” system could have alleviated this problem, but as it is the second last event in the campaign, progress grinds to a halt as the player deliberately loses the race over and over again, slowly uncovering the location of new checkpoints, and committing them to memory. The boss fights are also poorly designed, attempting to lengthen the duration of the game with multi-stage bosses that drag on for too long and require non-vehicular combat skills, such as platforming a la Crash Bandicoot, and other obstacle course style activities. What starts out as a promising single player campaign in the true spirit of the franchise, closes on a frustrating, genuinely unfun note as the game strays further and further away from its core strength; high speed car combat.

Fortunately for Twisted Metal, the game has never really been about sitting by yourself and playing a game against AI. It’s always been about playing with others, whether in cooperation or direct conflict, and this is where Twisted Metal easily proves that still has what it takes. Eat Sleep Play was considerate enough to include both local and LAN options for people that prefer to play with others in the same room or building, and both modes manage to hold up very well. The campaign mode can be played using these local co-op options, though this doesn`t actually improve the playability in later stages of the mode. It`s easy to see, however, that these local modes have gotten a lot of technical love and attention and work very, very well. And while it’s not a criticism, the combat, while fast and furious, is also complex. Whether you’re using the classic controls or one of the newer configurations, expect to use every button on your DualShock controller, with some oblique control combos thrown in for good measure. This is not the easiest game to get into, but for those willing to put in the time, the combat, once understood, is fast and rewarding.

The real heart of this latest Twisted Metal is the online multiplayer, and it`s the one thing that has been on the crumpled, burning, screaming Christmas wish list of anyone that`s played the game in the past. Jaffe and company did not screw this up. After all these years, TM fans are finally able to play online, and it works just as well as you might have imagined. There are expected modes like Death Match and Team Death Match, but there are also more involved, objective based rounds such as “Nuke” that require teams to switch roles during “innings” and either attack or defend faction leaders that must be kidnapped and “sacrificed” to a nuclear missile launching platform in order to send a missile at the enemy statue. The frenzied, unrealistic physics of Twisted Metal work to great effect here, and Jaffe’s own personal sensibility about doing away with Modern Warfare style “instant slaughter” combat is well served here. Newbies don’t need to fear exploding into death the moment they appear on the battlefield. All players have a substantial health bar to ensure that there’s always a fighting chance at survival, and the possibility of a fast paced car chase around the streets with guns, missiles and other weapons blazing.

The game has been made from the ground up with online multiplayer in mind, and it shows. The expected filters are there, the ability to create clans, the option to chat both with voice or with keyboards in lobbies, and of course, the now standard Modern Warfare RPG-lite mechanic of gaining XP, which translates into gaining levels, which eventually allows for the unlocking of new vehicles and other perks. The only downside to the multiplayer at this point is how unstable it is. It doesn’t affect everyone, but the netcode for online play seems problematic, with many players including myself, experiencing network errors that prevent connecting properly to games, or even getting booted out midway through a game. My own current success rate with online play has been about 3 out of 10 connections actually working, but Eat Sleep Play is aware of the problem and, at the time of this writing, working feverishly to fix it.

In the end, Twisted Metal is, in some ways, a very easy game to recommend to a very specific audience, and that is TM fans. This game has all the performance you’d expect from a current generation game—if not the gloss—though its weak single player campaign merely emphasizes how strong its multiplayer is. If you’re looking for a well-rounded package, this is not it. Twisted Metal is made for multiplayer, and will take some time to master, but if Eat Sleep Play can resolve the network connection difficulties, this game, like Warhawk, is another fine addition to the library of games with a multiplayer focus.

Resident Evil: Revelations (3DS) Review 1

Resident Evil: Revelations (3DS) Review

In the summer, Capcom released Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D during the 3DS’ sadly soft launch. It was a nice showcase for the new hardware, but always felt more like a beta testing ground than an actual game. Resident Evil Revelations is the eye-popping follow through on that soft-toss practice round. The game is so huge that it actually features a bonus mode that plays like a bigger, better, and bad ass version of Mercenaries 3D, while the single player campaign mode represents the best Resident Evil title to come along in years. Nintendo’s impressive holiday releases may have proven their new handheld baby was a system to watch, but Resident Evil Revelations proves that the little sucker can provide a console-worthy gaming experience.

On a technical level, this thing is better than any of the zombie shoot em’ ups to come out during the Wii’s lifespan. As a new entry in a beloved franchise, the game plays like Resident Evil’s greatest hits, providing everything fans love from sweaty-palmed survival horror to action-focused machine gun mayhem (and of course, comically cheesy storytelling. Wouldn’t be Resident Evil without it, right?). Sure, it’s not as groundbreaking as masterpieces like Resident Evil 4 or even the original PS1 titles, but if you enjoy the series, it’s a must own. Developers take notice, this is what the little 3DS can do.

The first thing you’ll notice when you boot up Revelations is just how pretty it is. Brooding dynamic lighting is in full effect, character models are pleasing, and the monster-filled cruise ship where most of the action takes place is quite massive and impressively laid out (and the soundtrack is full of all the evocative creeks and screeches necessary to give you the willies). The 3DS might not match the pixel count of the Vita, but considering the size of the screen, I can’t imagine that improved detail would make much of a difference. The game breezes along at a smooth frame rate with minimal loading times. It takes a few seconds to load up a saved game and the loading screen is masked by an amusing “Previously On Resident Evil Revelations” montage that sums up your story progress through a highlight reel of cut scenes. When you transition from one major portion of the ship to another there’s a brief load time that the developers cleverly conceal through staging those moments on elevators. If you move around too much on the elevator there will be some irritating lag, but overall it never really disrupts gameplay.

The controls are quite simple. The touch screen operates as an in-game menu, which makes switching between items and weapons in the middle of a fight quick and easy. Aiming is done through the classic RE “stop-to-shoot.” Some loath this, but I’ve always enjoyed it in the survival horror genre. It makes every shot count and feels incredibly tense as some giant throbbing nightmare lumbers towards you while you struggle to reload or line up a kill shot. I never found the controlled third person camera angle to be a problem while playing, but the circle pad pro can be used with this game if you need that extra camera control (we’ll get into the details on the effectiveness of circle pad pro in a separate hardware review as it’s the only compatible game for the new add on currently available in North America).

Fans of the franchise will be pleased to hear that this sucker goes back to the survival horror roots…for the most part. The bulk of the game is spent with a few agents (lead by Jill Valentine) trapped on a mysterious ship filled with mutant monsters. You start out with a handgun and limited ammo, finding more weapons and items as you go along, but never quite enough. It feels like an old school Resident Evil experience where every shot counts and every new corridor could introduce an enemy with a bowel-loosening jump scare. The backstory for the game is explained through side missions with different characters that allow for the more action-heavy gameplay that’s been a franchise staple since part 4. Eventually the stories come together along with the competing gameplay styles and it feels like a nice balance of everything that’s come before in RE. There are never hoards of monsters (RE: Mercenaries 3D proved the 3DS can only handle so many characters onscreen at once, so they’re doled out in more controlled numbers here), but the game never feels small. In fact, it’s a handheld epic with massive and impressive set pieces like a chapter in which the ship starts sinking and you have to swim through cavernous levels filled with monsters virtually defenseless.

If there’s a major problem with the game, it comes down to the story. It’s a bit of a mess with too many characters, too much convoluted backstory and a constant barrage of laughably cheesy dialogue (Ex: “I hate snow.” “Well, snow hates you.” or “Me and my sweet ass are on the way”). The cut scenes are beautifully animated and look stunning in 3D (in fact the whole game does. the 3D really adds another dimension to the impressive dark visuals without every feeling gimmicky…please excuse the terrible pun), but it’s hard to ever care about the idiotic narrative involving terrorists, conspiracies, and unnecessary task force crushes. The story is so silly and hard to follow that it does bring the game down slightly from potential masterpiece status, but that’s not too much of a problem. After all, from the beginning all Resident Evil games boasted dumb narratives, cardboard characters, and laughable dialogue. It’s part of the franchise’s charm at this point and at least adds a few unintentional chuckles to the experience. It’s also a bit of a bummer that the series has ditched zombies in favor of bizarre Lovecraft-inspired mutants. But as long as I get to shoot something ugly that jumps out at me in the dark in a RE game, I’m a happy man.

All told, you’ll sink about ten hours or so into the main campaign, which is damn impressive for a handheld title. Then if that’s not enough, you’ll gradually unlock Raid Mode which allows you to replay certain levels and puzzles with tougher enemies, more ammo, and a score counter. This can be done solo or co-op either locally or online. Raid Mode is so deep and features so many unlockables that it’s practically an improved sequel to RE: Mercenaries 3D that Capcom just tossed in as a bonus. Without exaggeration, Resident Evil Revelations is not just the best third party title to launch on Nintendo’s shiney new handheld so far, but also the first game to truly crack the full potential of the 3DS. This is honestly the best Resident Evil game since RE 4 and I say that without making any concessions for this being a handheld game. It’s a full and robust Resident Evil experience that easily tops the Wii’s RE arcade shooters and RE 5. Even as a fan of the 3DS, I wasn’t sure the system could handle a game of this scale, but I’m thrilled to have been proven wrong. Hopefully the 3DS isn’t relegated exclusively to casual gaming like the Wii or DS, because RE: Revelations was such a satisfying hardcore gaming experience that I desperately want more and a Metal Gear Solid remake just ain’t going to be enough to scratch that itch. If you have access to a 3DS, you have to pick up this game or your system is going to waste. It’s really that simple.

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Beyond The FPS

While to some it may be unthinkable, to anyone that’s been a gamer for more than 10 years, it’s pretty much an accepted, inevitability that at some point, the first person shooter will not be the dominant genre any more. Younger gamers will find this impossible to process, since the FPS has had a stranglehold on the industry for nearly a decade now.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance (2011) Review

The Crank movies are by far the best and most insane action movies to emerge out of the 2000s. Co-writers/directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor managed to heighten action movie clichés and excesses to an extent that their franchise felt like the action equivalent of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series, winking parodies that still delivered everything required from the genre, just in a package that turned them into cartoon comedies.

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Studio Loyalty

How do you decide to buy a product? When a band you love puts out a new album you’re likely to go out and pick it up. When an author you love writes a new book you may head to the store the day it’s released for a copy.

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Scarlet Spider #2 Review

Scarlet Spider #2 Review

It’s been seventeen years since the last comic called Scarlet Spider was published by Marvel Comics, and oh what a different seventeen years makes.  Published during the height of the infamous Clone Saga, the title featured Ben Reilly, Peter Parker’s clone, struggling to take over protecting New York City, and ultimately deciding to retire the Scarlet Spider identity and take over the Spider-Man identity.

Now, seventeen years later, the wearer of the Scarlet Spider suit is still a clone of Peter Parker, but a dramatically different one.  Kaine, who was originally an antagonist during the Clone Saga, has recently made a variety of appearances in Amazing Spider-Man, and after the events of Spider-Island, Kaine has found himself a changed man.  Gone are his spider-sense (although it has not yet been explained how this happened), his scars and his cellular degeneration, and he’s left with a sense of confusion as to who he is and what he should do next, now that he isn’t living with a death sentence.  Under Yost’s pen Kaine is suffering an identity crisis, as he now has the chance and opportunity to be anything he wants, a choice he was never before given.

What makes this book so entertaining is that although Kaine might be the star of the book, Yost hasn’t lost sight of the fact that throughout his existence Kaine has been a very bad guy, and has done very bad things.  This series presents him with the tools to change that, to atone for his sins, yet allows the character to experience these changes in a very organic and well-paced way.  If you had told me a few years ago that Kaine would be headlining a Scarlet Spider ongoing series, I would have told you you were crazy, and yet this title, after just two issues, is already at the top of my reading list.  There’s an honesty in how Yost is approaching the character, and it makes the character much more nuanced as a result.  If you know the character and his history, this book is still faithful to the character he has been in the past, and if you’re a new reader, you’re brought up to date quite succinctly on who Kaine is, and you get a sense of the identity crisis that he’s currently experiencing.

Yost explores some new ground here as well by not having the story set in New York City.  Not only are there already a LOT of books centered there, but it wouldn’t make sense for a character like Kaine, and it wouldn’t afford the character room to grow.  Yost takes Kaine far away from New York City and Spider-Man, and instead places the character in Houston.  As such, there’s a different flavour to this book, and I really think it was a smart idea.  Kaine does end up facing off against a supervillain of sorts in this issue, but Yost elevates what could have been a standard fight-focused issue into something far more layered and textured, as Kaine works through some of his issues during his fight with The Salamander.  His reaction to being called a superhero is interesting as well, and plays into the whole concept of identity that Yost is playing with, and how Kaine sees himself, and will allow himself to be seen as.  Kaine’s interactions with bystanders, a doctor and a police officer show that Houston is a very different place from New York, which will affect how Kaine operates and evolves in future issues.

Stegman’s artwork in this issue is exquisite, as he manages to really bring the issue to life and make it pop.  The artwork is vibrant and quite fluid, as he captures the action and intensity of the issue perfectly.  He also proves himself capable of much more than that, when he depicts the quieter scenes in this issue.  The portrayal of Kaine himself is quite different from how it had been done in the past, which has all been explained via the story, what with Kaine’s scars having healed, his hair being cut quite short, and his beard shaved off completely.  It does distinguish him visually from Peter Parker, and thankfully his new look doesn’t rip off the old Ben Reilly design from when he was Spider-Man, as he had cut his hair short (relative to his long ‘90s grunge hair) and dyed it blonde.  The costume design is absolutely fantastic, although I wonder why the stealth suit has changed somewhat from when Kaine first left New York City after Spider-Island.  It’s a great design, very dynamic, and yet separate and distinct from Spider-Man himself.  It’s missing the blue hoodie, of course, but I’m happy that it hasn’t been shoehorned into this costume, as it just wouldn’t fit.  The only thing actually missing from this book is the name Scarlet Spider, as Kaine hasn’t yet gone by that moniker, nor had it foisted upon him by the news media (which is what happened to Ben Reilly when he first donned the costume).

This truly is a great time to be a Spider-Man fan, as Amazing Spider-Man is a consistent and enjoyable read each and every month, as well as the sister title Avenging Spider-Man, with ancillary titles Venom and Scarlet Spider proving to be quite enjoyable reads as well. Recommended



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