Games 2/17/09: F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin, MLB Front Office Manager, Lumines Supernova

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin
For: Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and Windows PC
From: Monolith/WB Interactive
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, partial nudity, strong language)

First (and most important) thing first: Everything that made “F.E.A.R.” so good in spite of itself returns in “F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin.” Judged solely on its mechanics, this is one of the better pure shooters you can play. The controls are dead-on perfect, the guns feel rightly powerful, and your enemies display intelligence typically reserved for human multiplayer opponents. They flank, double-team and alter their attack plan when you’ve got a read on them, providing some of the best fundamental firefights to be found in a first-person shooter today.

“F.E.A.R.’s” main knocks had to do more with its story, which was creepy but excessively vague, and the environments in which you fought, which were generic and repetitive (office buildings and warehouses galore).

“Origin” quite emphatically addresses both issues. The story picks up in a new character’s shoes and shortly before the events of the first game’s visually awesome ending. This allows you to relive that moment from a different perspective, but it also lets you approach the “F.E.A.R.” mystery from a completely different angle, which in turn allows Monolith to completely unfurl the explicit details behind the first game’s vague happenings. The upshot is win-win: “Origin’s” story is sufficiently engaging for those who never played the first game and an extremely satisfying piece of plot resolution for those who have.

Without revealing too much, that story also provides Monolith all the excuses it needs to send you through a significantly better variety of environments. Close-quarters shootouts still rule the day — and rightly so, given the engine’s assets — but “Origin” is significantly better equipped to provide some wide open battlefields as well. A few segments also find you manning a turret or commandeering a mech in what very arguably is the best mech-based video game action ever.

Though both are debatable in terms of validity, “Origin” does have two knocks against it. The game’s noticeably easier default difficulty will inevitably irk some, though simply starting on a harder setting should rectify that issue for most.

Of greater concern is the multiplayer, which feels a bit generic when you strip away all the storytelling and gameplay trimmings that make the single-player component what it is. “Origin” doesn’t break any ground with its mode offerings, and the character designs aren’t so special when removed from the context of the story.

But there’s something to be said for those wonderful control mechanics, which absolutely do carry over. And while the inclusion of mechs turns the Armored Front mode into something of an unbalanced mess, it’s a diabolical treat for the player lucky enough to commandeer the catbird seat.

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MLB Front Office Manager
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Also available for: Windows PC
From: Blue Castle Games/2K
ESRB Rating: Everyone

Let us begin this review by stating the obvious: This game isn’t for everyone.

In fact, baseball fans, unless you’ve memorized cold the science of everything from Rule Five drafts to the difference between someone who’s designated for assignment and out of options, the first version of “MLB Front Office Manager” probably isn’t for you, either.

It’s not for lack of trying. On the surface, “Manager” appears to have everything a good general manager simulator needs. You immediately can inherit any MLB team you want, and with that comes full management of that team’s entire farm system. A full complement of statistics stands at the ready. You can conduct trades, call-ups and signings as you like. And if you prefer to see your work in action, you can elect to watch and even manage whichever games you wish. A fantasy draft mode lets you completely rearrange the complexion of both leagues, and the truly insane can take on up to 29 friends in a custom-designed online fantasy league.

But all these wonderful choices come with almost no instruction whatsoever, and if you don’t even know what some of this stuff means, you’ll have to crack open a book or Web browser and figure it out yourself. “Manager’s” interface is a menu-driven mess, and between the clutter, redundancy (particularly where roster management is concerned) and the unsatisfactory level of documentation, even baseball gurus will have trouble figuring out how to execute certain maneuvers. Everyone else can simply forget it.

Unfortunately, the very people equipped to wade through “Manager’s” menu maze are the same ones who will grumble over the game’s shortcomings. You can’t, for instance, conduct three-way trades, nor is there any way to negotiate a trade involving players with even partial no-trade clauses. The ability to “level up” your created GM’s stats initially seems novel, but it merely adds an artificial (and intrusive) level of statistical imbalance to a game that should settle everything on the field. Naturally, because those stats are low at first, you’re contending with bouts of bad luck while simultaneously trying to figure all those menus out.

Blue Castle is onto something with “Manager,” and knowledgeable, patient baseball nuts can rest assured that the game does enough right to suffice until a more polished version comes along. If that isn’t you, though, keep waiting. More traditional baseball games — which also let you play actual baseball — have their own GM modes, and until “Manager” can produce something that’s heads and shoulders better, no reason exists for casual fans not to opt for one of those games instead.

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Downloadable Game

Lumines Supernova
For: Playstation 3 via Playstation Network
From: Q Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Price: $15

Q Entertainment appears to have learned its lesson from the disastrous piecemeal pricing scheme that fatally undermined its flagship puzzle game on the Xbox 360. “Lumines Supernova” costs the same as the 360’s “Lumines Live” did, but this time, you get a complete game — a full complement of single player modes, two-player local multiplayer, tons of levels, skins and missions to unlock and complete — instead of a crippled starter pack you have to pay extra to complete. The only major blight — no online multiplayer — is a big one, but as anyone who played the original “Lumines” games on the Playstation Portable can attest, there’s more than enough content for puzzle fans to enjoy on their own. As should be no surprise, “Supernova” looks and sounds spectacular — an important point given the series’ emphasis on audiovisual dressing. Q hasn’t complete resisted downloadable add-ons for “Supernova,” but the $5 Classic Pack simply provides players with skins from those PSP games rather than new game modes they otherwise couldn’t play. Additionally, while a free limited-edition holiday skins pack no longer is available for download, its brief existance signals the possibility of similar acts of generosity down the line.