Persona 4: Arena
PS3 (review copy) Xbox 360
Series spinoff, Persona 4: Arena accomplishes the difficult task of marrying what can be considered two completely opposite gaming genres: the RPG and the fighting game. The combination of Atlus' popular Persona series, offering the backdrop, characters and developer Arc System Works (Blazblue, Guilty Gear) makes handling the fighting far better than anyone could expect or even hope for.
Boasting the fantastic art style and musical styling of Persona 4, our cast (including characters from Persona 3) is investigating the return of the midnight channel and a fighting tournament in the TV world. Oh, you didn't play Persona 4 and have no idea what that means? No problem. P4U's story does a good job of getting you up to speed, introducing each character and their motivations, and also explaining just what the hell a persona is. Returning fans are treated to another tale of the characters they know and love, with the door open for further adventures. The only knock on the story mode is it can be overly verbose. Casual players, or those unfamiliar with the Persona mythos, may lack the patience to go through everyone's individual storyline in favor of the more concise arcade mode.
With the storyline and narrative on point, it's up to Ark System Works to deliver on the fighting end – to which they mostly succeed. At first glance, the fighting system seems simple (to the point that fighting game veterans may cry foul at the 1-button combo every character has). Yet looking past that, the P4U fighting system has many features offering a deep fighting experience, which goes beyond simple button mashing (should you invest the time to learn it).
Boasting an easily accessible yet ultimately robust fighting system and solid storyline, Persona 4 Arena is definitely a worthy follow-up to its RPG forebearers, along with a solid and intriguing first entry to the fighting game genre. | RDW
PS3 (Review Copy) Xbox 360, PC
The original Darksiders was a bit of a surprise hit. Rising above pre-release doubts that it was nothing more than a God of War clone, many of its kudos instead lauded its similarities to the Zelda franchise. Okay... so Darksiders may not have earned too many originality points, and Darksiders 2 doesn't take many steps to do things outside the box either – but it does vastly improve on the shortcomings of the original.
Not so much a sequel in a chronological sense, Darksiders 2 takes place roughly at the same time as the first game. This time around, instead of the horseman War, you play as his brother Death as he traverses different planets and dimensions in order to earn War's freedom. Many of the places you venture to have some sort of tie to, or at least a cursory mention in the original, which along with the overall narrative forms a tight cohesive storyline – almost like the next chapter in an epic. Death, despite his name, is surprisingly solidly fleshed-out, even displaying a sense of humor and personality absent in his "Hulk smash"-like brother.
Gameplay is also improved by switching the main character. Unlike the lumbering bruiser War, Death is much more nimble, making combat more fluid while still frantic. Death's journey has many parallels with War's, containing many of the same aspects. This journey includes interesting side missions, fun and varied dungeons and the GIANT boss battles. With the exception of the well-handled equipment system, gameplay is not so much changed from the original as it is greatly improved upon.
It may be harsh to have called the original Darksiders derivative, but it's not harsh to say it was a solidly good game with excellent execution. Darksiders 2 may not be trailblazing new territory, but took the experience from the first go round and improved on the formula. | RDW
Transformers: Fall of Cybertron
PS3 (Review Copy) Xbox 360
When it comes to the Transformers, game developer High Moon Studios is pretty much the anti-Michael Bay. When it comes to respect to the source material, Bay's version of the transformers universe involves Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, various vehicles that turn into robots – and that's about it. In stark contrast to the Bayverse is Transformers: Fall of Cybertron, which – like its prequel War for Cybertron – keeps its fanboy catering so high that fans of the Transformers may die of joygasm – and that alone is worth the price of admission.
Taking place a short time after War for Cybertron, this go-round opens en medias res during the battle on the Autobot Arc, which fans will know is where the cartoon series began. After that first mission, you'll play through the events that led to that fateful flight from Cybertron – once again from the viewpoint of both Autobot and Decepticon. Instead of two separate campaigns like in WFC, this time you have one singular narrative that jumps back and forth, leading to the final mission, which plays out in a way that may cause true Transformers fans to practically explode in glee.
The core gameplay, which in both campaign and online modes remain largely unchanged, stills feel solid (though the choice to eliminate co-op campaign limits your choices as to which Transformer you use during each mission). As a whole, this can be viewed as an improvement, giving your mission character top-billing – though screen time for your favorite Transformer may feel limited. Also gone are the large, tedious boss battles – replaced with... almost no boss battles. So in all, that's a bit of a wash.
As far as gameplay goes, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is just a small step ahead of its predecessor, but ultimately this game is about the fan service – and to that end, it delivers in spades. Fans of the cartoon series will not be disappointed. | RDW