Games 7/16/08: Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, Unreal Tournament III (X360), Schizoid

Guitar Hero: Aerosmith
For: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii
From: Neversoft/RedOctane/Activision
ESRB Rating: Teen (lyrics, mild suggestive themes)

The irony of a “Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” review? If you’re interested enough in the game to read it, it probably is of little value to you. That’s because “Aerosmith” isn’t so much a new game as an old cake with different icing, its value as a purchase entirely dependent on whether those new frills hold any of your interest.

Obviously, the chief selling point of “Aerosmith” (sold separately or bundled with a band-branded guitar peripheral) is Aerosmith. The band appears as characters in the game, and the career mode — though structured the same as before — now takes you through venues and time periods crucial to their career. Perhaps most importantly, “Aerosmith” includes 25 master tracks of selected songs from the Aerosmith catalog, along with 16 tracks from Joe Perry and artists (New York Dolls, The Cult, Joan Jett and Stone Temple Pilot, among others) chosen by the band for one reason or another.

That ratio, along with the relatively small size of the set list (“Guitar Hero III,” by contrast, included 73 songs for the same price), is what likely will rattle gamers the most.

The inclusion of other artists makes sense, because Activision would prefer to sell “Aerosmith” to more than just Aerosmith fans, but it also runs counter to the game’s chief selling point. Casual Aerosmith fans may feel the track list suits them just fine, but a full-priced game that owes its entire reason for being to an Aerosmith-themed facelift shouldn’t be for casual fans. Inevitably, the hardcore will wonder why an Aerosmith-branded game made room for a bunch of peripheral songs instead of, say, “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Eat the Rich” or any number of the band’s hit ballads.

“Aerosmith’s” inability to stay true to its mission trickles down to the career mode. Playing as the band and working up to the stadium and Super Bowl Halftime Show (sans ‘N Sync, thankfully) will be a treat for fans, but some of the authenticity is lost when songs from different eras are mixed in with each other with no respect to chronology.

Beyond that, the game plays as one would expect, though the stiff difficulty found in “GH3” has leveled noticeably. Downloadable tracks from the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of “GH3” won’t work on “Aerosmith,” so if you’ve purchased a bunch of those and want to keep using them, that’s no small consideration if you’re on the fence about this one.

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Unreal Tournament III
For: Xbox 360
From: Epic/Midway
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, strong language)

Here’s a funny question: Is the Xbox 360 version of “Unreal Tournament III” a better single-player game than a multiplayer one?

The answer, believe it or not, is maybe.

No discussion of “UT3’s” tardy debut on the 360 is complete without mentioning what it, by no fault of its own, lacks. Xbox Live’s closed architecture forbids the sharing of user-created characters and levels, which was one of the chief selling points behind the PC the Playstation 3 versions. The 360 also doesn’t allow the use of a mouse and keyboard for gameplay, which (again) both other versions allow.

There’s also no telling whether gamers are interested in flocking to “UT3” seven months after it debuted on other hardware, which in turn makes it questionable whether the game can accrue a community of dedicated players. “UT3’s” best modes online center around objective-driven and teamwork-oriented gameplay, and the smaller the pool of players, the harder it will be to find a group that plays selflessly and as a team.

As such, and regardless of Epic’s intentions, you might find a better game offline against a bunch of bots than you will online against humans. (In all fairness, “UT3” plays perfectly over Live, with no noticeable bouts of lag or framerate dropping.)

Don’t misinterpret as a knock against the game. To the contrary, it’s a statement about how polished the thing really is in spite of its challenging circumstances.

“UT3? doesn’t reinvent so much as tweak the “Unreal Tournament” formula, which consists almost exclusively of high-speed, arena-style, first-person shooter matches with a heavy emphasis on reflexes over tactics. The guns are nice and unique (if prone to imbalance), the vehicles and hoverboards a joy to control, the maps satisfactorily diverse in terms of size and geometry.

Most importantly, the mechanics are suited perfectly to the platform. Epic slowed the action down just a touch to accommodate the reflex disadvantage that comes with using a control pad instead of a mouse and keyboard, and it strikes a perfect balance that keeps “UT3” faster than other shooters while also keeping it manageable with a little adjustment.

This level of polish trickles all the way down to the game’s artificial intelligence, which is shockingly good and perfectly tuned to the game’s respectively difficulty settings. “UT3’s” campaign mode is no great shakes in terms of storytelling, but it’s pretty meaty in terms of content, and the enemies you face are surprisingly human in how they advance and react. Though A.I. matches can’t match the excitement level of a free-for-all against friends, it does make a surprisingly good substitute if no such option is available.

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Downloadable Game of the Week

Schizoid
For: Xbox 360 Live Arcade
From: Torpex Games/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild fantasy violence)
Price: $10

“Schizoid” is, by it’s own definition, “the most co-op game ever.” While the superlative is arguable, the game has a point: You don’t want to play this one alone. In “Schizoid,” you control either a blue or orange ship, and the goal is to fly around the screen and crash into enemies of the same color while avoiding enemies of the opposite color. As you might have guessed, your opposite-colored ally has to do the opposite, and clearing the screen is how you advance through the game’s 120 levels. “Schizoid” does some cool tricks with polarity to inject strategy into what otherwise might have been just another mindless arcade romp, and the game is quite fun if you team up with a friend over Xbox Live (or, even better, on the same couch). Just don’t expect the same level of fun if you’re playing alone: “Schizoid’s” co-op A.I. is respectable but prone to failure, and the Uberschizoid mode, which lets you control both ships at once, is far too maddeningly difficult for all but the most inhumanly gifted players.