Latest Game and Movie Reviews (Live Update)

* Game Ratings (/10), Movie Ratings (/5)

DS Tokyo Beat Down 7.1
Xbox 360 Fracture 8.0
MOVIE The Unborn 0
PC Left 4 Dead 8.7
Xbox 360 Mirror's Edge 8.5
MOVIE Dead Space Downfall 3.5
MOVIE The Day the Earth Stood Still 0.5
PSP Super Stardust Portable 9.7  CHOICE PICK
PSP Need for Speed Undercover 2.8
Browse more game reviews | Browse more movie reviews | Subscribe to articles


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Movie Review: Dead Space Downfall

Put on your spacesuit and depart into space.


RATING: 3.5/5


As part of EA’s new multi media release approach, Dead Space Downfall is a rather fresh – and unique concept. In Downfall we see a thoughtful and impressive attempt at providing a prologue to EA’s recently released survival horror game Dead Space instead of yet another videogame to movie transition which fails to fill the boots of its source material all too often.

Downfall explores the last few hours of the lives of planet mining vessel USG Ishimura’s crew members as the freaking-fearsome-aliens-with-claws Necromorphs invade and attack the ship prior to the arrival of the videogame’s playable protagonist, Issac Clarke. If you have played the game, and are interested in discovering a little more about its plot, then you should definitely grab the DVD. If you have not played the game, but are interested to play it later, then it should be of no question that you grab the DVD as well so as to enlighten yourself before embarking through the game. If you have neither played the game nor intended to experience it later, then Downfall would be an entertaining watch too – if you don’t mind the plot loopholes and cliffhanger ending, that is. Although Downfall was crafted as a somewhat propitiatory fan service, the fact that the film appeals to both gamers and non-gamers is remarkable.

Gamers who haven’t played the game before and non-gamers shouldn’t be too lost in Downfall as the film does a great job at providing a reasonable amount of information from the get-go. The crew members of USG Ishimura uncover a strange huge pointed artifact while on its routine planet mining. Apparently, the artifact is mysterious enough to justify the Captain’s decision to bring the artifact abroad the ship and transport it back to Earth for research. Curiousity proves fatal as the crew members are unknowingly and gradually affected by the untold powers of the artifact – so much so that they start hallucinating and murdering others around them. In the process of mining the particular planet, one of the Necromorphs has also sneaked on board the ship, and began infecting others and turning them into one of its own. Both events spawn a series of disasters on the ship – a situation further exacerbated by the surviving crew members’ panic and rashness. The survivors are split among themselves and the truly good ones must now prevent the ship from becoming a space graveyard – which we all know, is impossible because there wouldn’t be Dead Space the game if things went right.

Like any respectable thriller-horror movie should, Downfall doesn’t give everything away from the start so that there’s a consistent pall of suspense and mystery throughout the duration of the film. Even after the film has ended, there remain some loopholes. And that’s one disadvantage of this film – though one couldn’t really put a finger on Downfall as it’s merely meant to a prologue. For example, it was never explained how the Necromorph species was born. And why the Necromorphs were afraid of the artifact. In this regard, it is unfortunate that non-gamers may never find out about unfilled gaps.

For today's Biology class: How to dissect a human

But the action here more than compensates for the loopholes. Downfall constantly dishes out spectacular gunfights and visually pleasing gore. Everything is executed with such sadistically satisfying precision: Crew members slice through Necromorphs with laser saws like skilled butchers and tear their limps off with buckets of bullets, while the aliens extricate the innards of the crew members and make jigsaw puzzles out of them. Additionally, bodies are given vertical dissections and jaws are stripped from their owners. The perfect pacing here lends itself to mass killings occurring seconds apart from each other – it’s a showcase of good and bloody entertainment – literally. How I wish this film could be animated in 3D (ala Resident Evil Degeneration) or shot in live action, but as it turns out, it’s nothing more than a 2D animated feature, but the action here is still captured just how it should be – unpredictable, intense and fun.

The incredulity of Downfall’s first scene hurts, though. For example, when a crew member discovers that his girlfriend is about to silt her throat, he does nothing more than to remain emotionless – content to stay riveted to the ground. And after his girlfriend has indeed silted her throat, he runs to her side and cries more like a wimpy child who has broken someone else’s window while playing baseball. It’s every bit unrealistic and removes quite an amount of believability from the film. Fortunately, this does not appear again in the remaining duration of Downfall.

The only other gripe I have with Downfall is its unnecessary religious subplot that draws a connection between the artifact and a certain Church of Unitology. The fact is injected – but yet, this subplot sees no further expatiation beyond the scene it is introduced in. This leaves me wondering why there was an effort to even bring the topic of religion into the film in the first place. While the fact that the writers seem to want to pave the way for more depth in Downfall is appreciated, the religious subplot ends up as nothing more than an incoherent piece of mess – something that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and certainly something that shouldn’t even be roped into the film.

Final Comments
Dead Space Downfall is created for audiences who have played the game and audiences who have not played the game, but plan on playing it later – but it is surprisingly accessible to non-gamers as well – and that’s the selling point of this film. While the few loopholes in the plot here and cliffhanger ending might be disadvantageous to non-gamers, the constant suspense and mystery and the unpredictable, intense and fun action are more than ample in making this a really enjoyable watch for all. After watching Downfall, I felt a certain urge to play Dead Space. Put on your spacesuit and depart into space with this DVD.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Movie Review: The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day That Should Never Have Come.


RATING: 0.5/5


As you may have learned from movie reviews elsewhere, commercial entertainment journalists might start to attempt to impress you with their all-too-facile knowledge of the entire film industry at this point of an article. As a result of this, I discovered that The Day the Earth Stood Still is actually a remake of a 1951 film of the same name. Unless you are a really fervent observer of the film industry or the lucky person who caught sight of the original on a VHS Tape at a garage sales, you probably wouldn’t have heard of the 1951 movie before. That being said, the trailers and posters are likely to be your only hope (sans spoilers) in your quest to conjecture what to expect in the film. Like you, I was misled into believing that this film’s all about balls-out massive alien invasion sci-fi action (ala 2005’s War of the Worlds), but it’s merely The Day I Sat Still at the cinema and realized that I should probably rush to the ticket counter and secure a refund after the movie ended.

Jennifer Connelly plays Dr. Helen Benson, an astrobiologist who is abruptly interrupted by government officials while preparing dinner for her stepson (Jaden Smith). Content to only divulge the fact that the US government requires her services, they proceed to transport her to a near-by military base. Upon arriving, she discovers that other scientists have been recruited as well. All too brusquely, it is revealed that an asteroid or otherwise would hit Manhattan in a little more than an hour’s time with unimaginably disastrous consequences.

Despite this, Helen and the posse of scientists are sent into the area where the impact would occur – so much for intelligence. The asteroid turns out to be a glowing green sphere of sorts and fortunately for them, it performes a rather smooth landing right in the center of Central Park. Soon after, an extraterrestrial being emerges from the sphere and is accidentally shot by a jumpy soldier. Wounded and taken into the custody of the US government, the extraterrestrial being soon adopts a human form, referring to himself as Klaatu (Keanu Reeves).

Helen sees a benevolent side in Klaatu and decides to aid him in his escape. It isn’t long before Klaatu makes his intentions clear: He has come to Earth not to destroy it – but to save it – from humans. Helen must now rush against time to change Klaatu’s mind before the aliens start to wipe humans off the surface of the Earth.

Unlike the 1951 original which focused on the Cold War paranoia, this remake shifts its emphasis to a more pressing problem of today: Destruction of the environment. The aliens are here to obliterate humanity so that the environmental destruction would cease, and the Earth, preserved. But for all its talk about environmental destruction, rarely has the film shown any connection between the aforementioned and the several scenes it consists of. Helen’s constant yells of “We can change. We can change. Just give us a chance” to Klaatu in an attempt to reverse the aliens’ decision to eliminate humanity do remind us of the film’s underlying political message from time to time, but it isn’t long before the lines get annoying.

It’s unbelievable, but true: Those lines are the only vestige of what this film is trying to tell us. On that count, it fails miserably, especially after having taken into consideration how another recently released political message-carrying film, Eagle Eye, managed to weave its ideas with its scenes with great panache such that the whole movie is a message by itself – its ideas not merely relegated to the responsibility of a particular dialogue.

Like a 70 year-old man assaying to lift a 50’ LCD TV set by himself, the film desperately struggles to draw attention away from the ideas it’s supposed to convey to how Helen can dissuade Klaatu and his fellow aliens from exterminating humanity. To accomplish this goal, the scriptwriters have been specifically instructed to allow Klaatu to follow Helen throughout the course of the movie. This is so that Klaatu can have more time to explore the relationship between Helen and her stepson, hence providing him with a reason to make his fellow aliens change their minds about destroying humanity. The problem is: The aliens came to Earth to take out all the humans and save the planet from environmental destruction, not negative human behaviour. In having scene after scene portray the relationship between Helen and her stepson, their courage and their confidence, the film has totally gone off the boil. And even that feels really rushed, with the film giving little or no explanation to why the characters experience a particular set of emotions in a certain scene.

By the hour mark, this film’s already in a mess: It has a political message to convey, but it doesn’t exactly understand how it can be put across to the audiences. The result is the haphazard use of the same irritating line over and over again to remind us that environmental protection is important – that if we don’t protect the environment, aliens will wipe us all out (wow!). It attempts to show how the humans’ deep emotions can alter the decisions of the aliens, but constantly fails to explain why the characters feel in a particular way. The result is a movie that consists of scenes that feel all too rushed and disconnected. And I thought that the action promised here could revive it from the ashes. I was wrong.

The aliens gave us the 8th Wonder of the World. Hooray!

It’s pathetic that the most interesting action involves a swarm of silver flies chewing up buildings by the hectares. Oh, that’s it? That’s how an alien invasion is like? Chances are that if you have seen the trailers before, you have seen all the action in this film. The glowing green sphere barely manages to qualify itself as something that would be associated with action – but rather, is something that would only intrigue children. By the time the silver flies start making their debut, the movie has already completely ignored the ideas it’s supposed to convey.

I walked out of the cinema feeling that the elements of the film were really disconnected and that the whole movie was just utterly meaningless. Instead of screening The Day the Earth Stood Still, cinema operators should have just displayed the words “Protect the Environment” on a nondescript black background – the portrayal of human emotions and alien technology and powers are just superfluous. That pretty much sums up the quality of this film.

Final Comments
Scroll up to the last fourth paragraph. That says it all. There’s a recession going on, people. Save your money. The film’s abrupt ending just tells us that the director wants to wrap up this embarrassing movie as soon as possible.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Game Review: Super Stardust Portable

You're playing a PSP Game of the Year candidate.



The Good:
Stunning amount of depth in an otherwise static arcade shooter genre * Multiple ways to build up high scores, increasing replayability * Amount of content offered is just right * Glitzy visual effects and matching tunes

The Bad:
Slowdowns in some areas * Unbalanced difficulty level

Super Stardust HD blasted its way onto the PlayStation Network in June 2007 to positive reception. Best described as a cross between Asteroids and Geometry Wars, PS3 owners suddenly had an incredibly intense and addictive arcade shooter to pump up the adrenaline whenever needed. Just a little more than a year later after the success that was Super Stardust HD, the PSN welcomed its 2nd Super Stardust game – and this time, it’s for the PSP owners.

Super Stardust Portable is basically the same game as the PS3 hit so what you’re getting is essentially Super Stardust HD in the palms of your hands. Save for the swop between HD’s local co-op mode and Portable’s all-new Impact mode (more on that later), there’s almost nothing new here. That being said, I’d recommend that you give Portable a skip if you have played HD on the PS3 before, but for others who haven’t got the chance to experience Super Stardust in full 1080p glory, Portable is a great catch at only US$9.99 on the PSN.

As with the case with any arcade shooter, there is neither a convoluted story nor elaborate controls here. What remains is a simple concept of blasting an increasing number of asteroids, alien ships and parasitic organisms homing in from all directions by the second while piloting a lone spaceship. Due to the shallow objectives and often limited game mechanics, games in this genre often suffer from a lack of depth, quickly relegating themselves to a button-mashing fest of sorts within the first hour – if they are even able to keep players engaged till the hour mark.

Portable proves otherwise. Its ostensible pick-me-up-and-play simplicity is a certain draw factor, but once you start toying around with your spaceship, you will realize the impressive amount of depth this game possesses. For a start, Portable isn’t just about shooting your way through mindlessly – it’s about knowing when and where to use the right weapon. There are 3 weapons offered here, namely the wide radius fire green plasma gun “Rock Crusher”, focused rapid fire blue plasma gun “Ice Splitter” and auto-targeting flamethrower “Gold Melter”. Some weapons deal with specific enemies more effectively than the others, so knowing what weapon to use against what type of enemy is crucial. For instance, the Ice Splitter is best suited for floating icebergs, while the Gold Melter is more appropriate for the nefarious saw discs. What this translates into is that there is a surprising amount of strategy here, requiring you to constantly evaluate the situation and switch weapons on the fly – and this makes for a very intensifying gameplay.

Power-ups for each specific weapon can be gathered by blasting asteroids apart and digging into their glowing green cores, and again, Portable is going to astonish you with its depth here. Power-ups dished out by the Asteroids’ cores are random and they change every few seconds. For instance, you may see a power-up for the Rock Crusher one second, yet a power-up for the Gold Melter the next. What this means is that not only do you have to focus on dodging the obstacles, but also keep a look-out for the suitable power-up. In fact, the game constantly forces you to make decisions on which weapons to upgrade. If you have already maxed out a particular weapon to 100%, but yet collect another power-up for that maxed-out weapon, the power-up will provide a temporary boost for that weapon – meaning that weapon will become crazily powerful during that period of about 10 seconds.

Power-ups aren’t limited to those for the weapons, though. Some power-ups give you additional points, while others provide you with extra bombs and shields. That’s where the other capabilities of your spaceship come in. Not only do you have the 3 default weapons, but also the boost function and bomb attack. Your ship will become invincible when you boost, destroying any obstacles in your way, while the bomb will obliterate anything within its immediate vicinity, both of which help you to get out of tricky situations alive. All in all, there’s quite an amount of abilities for your little spaceship and it all boils down to knowing how to take advantage of each capability at the right time and at the right place. Personally, I dig the shield power-up. Say, you already have a shield on, but yet, you collect another shield-power-up. Upon collecting that additional shield power-up, your ship activates a bomb that has a slightly greater blast radius than the default bomb. Now, that’s a nice touch.

The frantic blasting and constant tactical decision making make for a really intense, fun and addictive gameplay, but I am at amazed at how Portable is able to draw me back into the game again and again even after I have completed all the levels. Part of this could be attributed to my desire to clock a higher score. But part of it could also be attributed to how the game rewards skills – and that means if you want to get a higher score, you’re going to have to invest some time into practising. I also like the way how there are several ways to bump up your scores: Getting a high score isn’t just about pulverizing as many obstacles as possible – it’s also about how rapidly you destroy them, building up score multipliers, and how fast you can clear a level. All these inject a great deal of replayability into the game.

As far as content goes, there are 5 worlds to blast through, with each world being further separated into 5 phases, bringing the total amount of levels to 25 here. At the end of each world, there would be a boss battle. Arcade mode allows you to go through all the worlds in a row, while Planet mode allows you to choose any unlocked world to play through. As mentioned, local co-op mode has been removed from Portable, but in its place is the all-new Impact mode. Impact mode disallows you to use any weapon, but instead, rely only on boosting and bombs to crush obstacles. It’s Super Stardust in a new flavor and it’s rather challenging and enjoyable, but there’s still no denying that there’s not a whole lot of content in this game. Considering that this is a US$9.99 downloadable title, this is a fact not questionable. In fact, for US$9.99, the amount of content offered here is just right.

Presentation-wise, this game is a showpiece. While it’s not comparable to experiencing Super Stardust in full 1080p glory on your big screen using the PS3, Portable still has quite an amount of stunning stuffs going for it. The visuals effects are generally very glitzy and with all the mayhem going on in your periphery, you can’t help but wish that there’s a feature that allows you to take a screenshot at that very moment. We just love explosions (that’s human nature!) and Portable certainly has lots of variety of them to keep us satisfied. My only gripe is that the game slowdowns when the action gets too thick – but that happens on a very seldom basis. Every world also has its own piece of tune as an accompaniment, and it’s all appropriate and great fare.

The only complain I have with this game is that it has a rather unbalanced difficulty level. The first world is extremely challenging, but you will find yourself steamrolling past the second and third world before the fourth world stops you dead with the requirement of god-like observation skills and precision dodging. The fifth and final world ramps up in difficulty, but is let down by an easy boss with some of the most predictable attack patterns. Regardless, all the worlds are still REALLY fun.

Final comments
Super Stardust Portable is a game that the PSP has been screaming for – a must-get title. You would get a console just to have a chance to play some games that are exclusive to that particular platform. Get the DS for Mario Kart DS, or get the Xbox 360 for Halo 3 and Gears of War, or get the PS3 for Metal Gear, and well, now I can say this: Get the PSP for God of War: Chains of Olympus and yeah, get the PSP for Super Stardust Portable too. Super Stardust Portable is simply THAT good.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Feature: State of Digital Media Distribution on DS and PSP

Neither Xbox 360 nor PS3 owners should be strangers to digital media distribution on their respective consoles. Xbox Live offers game demos, full Xbox games, add-ons for released games, trailers, movies and smaller-scaled games like the successful Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Hexic HD for download, while PS3 owners have the PlayStation Network to occupy themselves with. Nintendo has also recently jumped onto the digital media distribution bandwagon with the Wii, offering classic games for download.

There is no denying that digital media distribution has been more or less established on home consoles and it is going strong, with developers taking advantage of it and new content being released weekly. Home console owners are certainly getting the fun, but for handheld gamers, it’s a different story. Suffice to say, digital media distribution for handhelds is still relatively new. We are here today to look at the current state of the aforementioned on the DS and PSP and attempt to predict what the future holds for digital media distribution for the 2 portables.


DS owners didn’t have a platform for a digital media delivery service until March 2006. This could be attributed to some obstacles, including the lack of on-board memory and support for feasible content storage options on the DS. However, things changed when Nintendo of America’s President, Reggie Fils-Aimé, announced at DICE in February 2006 that Nintendo will start to offer all DS owners free downloadable game demos and other downloadable content at thousands of participating retail locations around the US.

For the DS Download Service to be possible, in-store kiosks beamed wireless demo versions of games and other downloadable content onto a player’s DS. All users needed to do was to stop by the store with their DS, select the option “DS Download Play” on their handheld and choose one of a variety of games they wanted to sample. The game will download automatically and users can play all they wanted until they turned their DS off. Among the debutants on the DS download service were the demos of Tetris DS, Brain Age, Mario Kart DS and a Metroid Prime: Hunters video clip.

However, the DS Download Service was far from perfect. Media ‘downloaded’ to the DS was only temporary; users didn’t really have the ability to run the demos and videos after they turned off the DS. In a way, it wasn’t a true platform for digital media download. Furthermore, players had to be at the store for the DS to be able to receive the media and this could be hassle. This leads me to the next issue with the DS download service: It’s not accomplished via the Internet, and hence, not many people around the world were able to enjoy the ‘downloadable’ content.

DS Download Service is accessible from the Nintendo Channel on Wii.

With the launch of the Wii, the situation became better. In April 2008, Nintendo launched the Nintendo Channel for the console alongside WiiWare. The Nintendo Channel wasn’t solely meant for the Wii, though, as DS owners got factored into the equation as well, as demonstrated with the offerings of game demos on the now more-convenient DS download service, accessible via the Nintendo Channel. Suddenly, DS owners didn’t have to travel to the stores anymore to get their fix of demos.

But Nintendo was and is still missing one demographic of gamers: Those who own the DS, but not the Wii. In other words, only those who have the Wii have access to the DS download service, and users who have only the DS (like me) are left stranded. To be fair, it isn’t entirely Nintendo’s fault. Again, this could be due to the DS’s technical limitations as both the original DS and DS Lite don’t have ample on-board memory nor content storage options. What this translates into is that even if Nintendo did have the DS download service accessible from the PC, DS owners wouldn’t be able to enjoy the demos.

Currently, digital media distribution on the DS is only possible for gamers who own both the Wii and DS. Content also consists mainly of game demos. As of the time of this writing, Nintendo hasn’t announced any further plans with regards to digital media distribution on DS.

Users can access the DS Download Service directly from their DSi in Japan.

However, hope has arrived in the form of the newly-launched DSi. Already in Japan, the DS Download Service can be accessed directly from a user’s DSi. This is possible not only because of the built-in web browser on the DSi, but also because of the ability to use the SD card as a storage option on the DSi. If the upgraded DS download service in Japan is of any indication, DS owners worldwide could be enjoying the same benefit come 2009 when the DSi launches in other countries.

Additionally, Nintendo could launch a PC edition of the DS Download Service and allow players to save content onto a SD card. This also allows media files that are greater in size to be played on the DSi. There’s the problem of piracy, though, as media files downloaded via the DS Download Service could be passed from individual to individual if there isn’t a proper security system in place. For instance, WiiWare games saved on SD cards can only be played on a particular Wii console now. A similar security system could be implemented for DSi. Indeed, an expanded DS Download Service looks very possible in the future.


For some time now, Sony has been offering PSP owners downloads of game demos, smaller-scaled games and movies via the PlayStation Network. These downloadable content for the PSP are accessible from the PS3, PC or even the PSP itself. By virtue of these facts, digital media distribution on the PSP is stronger than that on the DS – and more convenient as well. All you need is a PlayStation Network account and you’re good to go.

However, a recent check on PlayStation Network revealed that the amount of downloadable content for the PSP clearly pales in comparison to the amount offered for the PS3. What is offered for the PSP is acceptable at best and neglected at worst. There are still the usual game demos and films, but where smaller-scaled games are concerned, the situation is less than desired. The PSP isn’t exactly loaded with retail game releases nowadays, but downloadable games could ease the pain. But where are the downloadable games?

“We’re not interested in filling up our store with games that nobody wants to play, just so we can say we have the most games,” SCEA President and CEO Jack Tretton said recently when asked about the state of PSN games.

What Jack Tretton said is true as the number of games offered on PSN is far overwhelmed by that offered on Xbox Live Arcade. Bad news: There are few games on the PSN, but quality more than compensates for the lack of quantity. This is especially true for the PS3, with games like Calling All Cars! and Super Stardust HD receiving positive reviews from commercial videogame journalists, but does Jack Tretton’s statement hold true for the PSP?

Super Stardust Portable is one of the best games on PSN.

Given that there are already so few games on the PSN when put in comparison with the Xbox Live Arcade, and that most of them are for the PS3, we can already say that there are extremely few downloadable games for the PSP. There’s Enchorome, Everyday Shooter, Brain Challenge and Super Stardust Portable for download, and by that, I mean games that are exclusive to the PSN. Super Stardust Portable is an incredibly fun and addictive arcade shooter, but to expect a title of such quality every few months for the PSP is already deemed demanding.

A game like Super Stardust Portable is a great step in the right direction, but I would really like to see more of such titles being released more frequently for the PSP on PSN. Unlike the DS Download Service, the infrastructure is already in place, and all the PSN for PSP needs is an injection of creativity and content.

The social component of Little Big Planet brings hope for downloadable content on PSN for the PSP.

The future looks really bright, though. The recent of announcement of Little Big Planet for the PSP brings about a glimmer of hope. Little Big Planet on the PS3 is all about user-created levels and sharing the fun, and while I expect some of the elements from the game to be toned down when it gets ported to the PSP come 2009, the crux of Little Big Planet is still the social component and this fact alone makes certain that there would be more downloadable content on the PSN for the PSP come next year. However, Sony could also very well host an independent server for Little Big Planet for PSP and the PSN for PSP could remain in a similar state as today.

Regardless, there is no doubt that the PSN for PSP needs more content, especially smaller-scaled games. Additionally, there could be official applications made for the PSP, something which the increasingly popular iPhone is enjoying. Suggestions include a calculator, a weather forecast tab and a unit conversion tab – or even a specifically-built for PSP eBay site among others. The only hurdle is whether games and application developers are willing to invest their time and money – considering that the PSP isn’t as widespread as the DS and the iPhone. Sony could take the initiative, though.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Game Review: Need for Speed Undercover

Made for the trash can.



The Good:
Huge variety of race modes * Great selection of cars * Tight and responsive handling * Relatively deep tweaking options * Ad-hoc and online multiplayer extend replayability

The Bad:
Lack of open-world racing element although it can be accomplished * Story lacks any any form of cohesion * Lack of sense of speed * Cheating, yet dumb A.I. * City is too small that it barely qualifies this game as a street racer (smaller than DS version) * No hidden routes and shortcuts * Horrid framerate

The recent Midnight Club: L.A. Remix worked its magic on the system with great panache, circumventing the technical limitations of the PSP and playing to the strengths of it to bring us an incredibly competent and tremendously fun street racer. L.A. Remix is a consummate example of how to accomplish an enjoyable street racing game for the PSP so much so that it has set the benchmark for future street racers. Not to be outdone by L.A. Remix, EA has given Need for Speed Undercover a run on the PSP, but it does nothing right even from the beginning, eventually stumbling, limping and crumbling to the ground in the most spectacular fashion imaginable.

Unlike the console editions, Undercover for PSP does away with the open-world racing element – as with any other iteration of Need for Speed for the portable. What remains is a basic event-based gameplay – complete a certain number of events and more events get unlocked. However, for certain race types like Cost to State, Escape, Hot Car and Be the Cop, there are no barriers and you are allowed to drive around the city freely. There’s nothing really wrong with the lack of an open-world racing element, but the inability to implement the aforementioned is questionable – especially after putting into consideration what L.A. Remix has accomplished.

Fortunately, the full motion cut-scenes from the console editions get ported over, but the story is void of any form of cohesion. You would be partaking in more than a dozen checkpoint-based events, circuit races and sprint races in between cut-scenes, but more often than not, the reason why you are required to participate in these events goes unmentioned. These periodically long stretches of events in between each cut-scene relegates Undercover to nothing more than a bland racing experience with a lack of story focus that Undercover is supposedly infused with. In fact, I don’t think the cut-scenes, or rather, the plot, has ever been necessary here.

Speaking of being necessary, there’s really nothing that warrants Undercover for PSP to be necessary. Being a street racer, the gameplay here is of utmost significance, but apparently, Piranha Games (the same guys who did Medal of Honor Heroes 2 for the PSP) doesn’t understand that – for the gameplay is easily one of the most flawed components of the game. Any notion of realism or even believability is hurled out of the window the moment you start the game.

Right off the bat, you will notice that the cars here lack any real sense of speed – it isn’t until I get into higher-end cars that I start to realize that this is a racer. The entire process of driving a lower-end car like the Mazda 3 MPS and Nissan 240SX (S13) or even slightly higher-end cars like the Ford Mustang GT and Chrysler Hemi 300C SRT8 through the streets of Undercover feels like I am playing a slideshow. To be sure, I booted up a copy of the brilliant L.A. Remix and compared the sense of speed in both games. The conclusion: Driving at full speed in a Mazda 3 MPS in Undercover gives me about the same sense of speed as activating slow-mo for a Mitsubishi Eclipse in L.A. Remix. That’s embarrassing.

Like the DS version of Undercover, a cheating A.I. is part of the package. During a few instances, I discovered that a rival can actually overtake me in a similar-powered car even when I am pumping the nitrous to pull away from it. The fact that my rival is not even using nitrous merely confirms the fact that the gameplay doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s also unjustified that cops will only come after you and not your rivals in a circuit race or sprint race. As if to compensate for this shortcoming, Piranha Games has made the A.I. as dumb as it is cheap. The cops here are pathetic, constantly driving like blind fools and knocking into barriers or getting themselves stuck in one particular location. Civilian vehicles like to pull over, park themselves horizontally on the roads and block your way in a race or when you are attempting to escape from the cops, but aren’t intelligent enough to know that the developers have programmed them to be brushed away like cardboard cut-outs whenever you ram into them. In fact, knocking into civilian vehicles doesn’t even slow you down. All the said do nothing but to detract an overwhelming amount of fun out from the game such that you would be compelled to extricate the crap that is the Undercover UMD residing in your PSP and dump it into the trash can: It feels so much better and more polite to end its misery than to put it through its motions and let it suffer.

Undercover is an embarrassing attempt to get the latest Need for Speed game out on time for the PSP, but it’s humiliating that the city featured here is SMALLER than that present in the DS version. The city consists of 3 mini-towns linked by bridges and each town has a different theme to it, but each town is so small it barely qualifies the whole game to be called a street racer. Unlike the DS edition, there’re no hidden routes nor are there shortcuts, which makes the city one boring nonsense. What this translates into is that race types which feature the open-world racing element are less enjoyable because you cannot sneak away from the cops nor explore other strategic means to evade the authorities. Given that the PSP has more power under its hood than the DS, and yet not accomplish what the DS version has, this shortcoming is all the more unforgivable.

Undercover’s killer blow comes in the form of the horrid framerate – one which consistently shudders and sputters like blood spurting out from a Locust when Marcus Fenix chainsaws it in Gears of War. When you are driving a lower-end car at the start of the game, the game gives a great performance in the technical department. But when you get into a higher-end car, the framerate starts to dip. The flaw is made more drastic when there are more rivals and the cops start chasing you – all the on-screen action just halts the game to a crawl – so much so I thought I was playing Need for Speed Undercover Slideshow Edition. The poor framerate is so evident throughout almost the entire game that it destroys the street racing experience thoroughly.

There’s very little that can redeem Undercover for PSP. There’s a huge variety of race modes and a great selection of cars. But one minor gripe: Why can’t I sell my cars? Handling is tight and responsive, and unique to each car. Tweaking options are on the side of more and there’s ad-hoc and online multiplayer to extend the replayability of the game. But these are just minor triumphs – the ones which should be expected in any PSP street racer today. However, I do dig the EA Media Center option, which allows me to listen to individual tracks present in the game. You’re allowed to add in your own tracks in EA Media Center, but the inability for the game to play your tracks during gameplay defeats the purpose the feature.

Final Comments
It’s hard to recommend Undercover for PSP to anyone. It’s white-washed with so many overwhelming flaws that it’s virtually unplayable. It is a result of an unpolished game that can’t even get the basics right. If you are looking to play a good street racer on the portable, I’d suggest getting Midnight Club: L.A. Remix instead. Undercover is a game that’s made for the trash can, period.

Powerplay Megabytes | Achievement Unlocked! | SUPER Rant | Game Reviews | Time Capsule | Movie Reviews | Previews | Hardware Guides | Features and News