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Stuff to keep your thumbs from getting bored

Mafia II
2k Games
Xbox 360 (Review Copy) PS3, PC

What an interesting conundrum we have here. Open world games are usually a meandering affair, where the primary storyline can be put on hold so you can just explore your virtual world. Not in this case, because despite the open world setting, Mafia II offers a tight narrative and you'd best not diverge from it.

Beginning circa 1940s — eventually spanning into the '50s — in Empire Bay (an amalgamation of New York and San Francisco), you'll oversee Vito Scaletta's maturation from petty criminal to made man. As far as Mafia lore goes, Vito's story may not be new, but it's a tight and engrossing yarn with a wide variety of believable characters. Throughout your adventure, Vito's friends become your friends, and you rise and fall with every success and setback.

With Empire Bay as your background, you can partake in the usual open world driving and shooting. The driving's good but gunplay is great. (Shootouts turn Vito's open world into a third-person cover shooter, with amazing handles.)

The biggest issue here is Empire Bay itself. Mafia II attempts to offer a sense of city realism, meaning lots of red lights and speed limits. That doesn't sound exciting, and is even less so in practice. Oddly, once the shit goes down, and the cops get involved, escaping seems a little too easy. On top of all that, Empire Bay just feels empty. For a fully realized and beautiful city, there isn't much going on.

Mafia II sports a slick storyline, and fantastic gameplay, but it almost feels as if the open world aspect could have been omitted with no real game degradation. It's a well-paced story with only the weight of the entire city to slow it down.


Spider-Man:Shattered Dimensions
Activision
PS3 (Review Copy), Xbox 360, Wii, PC

Ok, you know which Spider-Man villain sucked the most? Mysterio. You know, the guy with the fishbowl helmet who deals in illusions and special effects. He's basically Criss Angel with a fishbowl head. In fact, the best thing he ever did in comics was get berated by Daredevil for being lame, and shooting himself in the head thereafter. Well, guess what? He's your lead villain in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Great. At least he brought cool friends.

Feeling like an old issue of Marvel Team-Up (down to the Stan Lee narration!), Shattered Dimensions opens with our friendly neighborhood web slinger attempting to thwart Mysterio's theft of the Tablet of Order and Chaos. Things quickly go awry, and the tablet is shattered into four pieces. In order to restore balance to the multiverse, Spidey must retrieve the pieces. Meaning along with the amazing Spider-Man, we also get to play the Noir, 2099, and Ultimate versions to boot!

Each Spider-Man focuses on different aspects: The Amazing universe is the vanilla baseline, while Noir Spidey slinks in the shadows, focusing on stealth. Speed is 2099's game, where you'll slow down time, in addition to making fantastic freefalls in a New York that's half Tron, half rave. Then there's the Ultimate's Symbiote Spidey. He's the teenage Spider-Man with the combo skyrocketing "rage mode." On top of playing as the different iterations, we get different versions of Spider-Man's rogue's gallery; Ultimate Deadpool, Dr. Octopus 2099, and Noir Osborne are particular highlights. Still, Mysterio whimpers to the finish line. And while three universes play similarly (Noir being the exception), one aspect plagues all four: subpar controls while wall crawling and web swinging.

Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has big ideas, but the execution doesn't match up. More polish on the controls would have improved things. More importantly, by trying to give each Spidey equal billing, the overall experience leaves you wanting. Don't get it wrong; there are plenty of things Shattered gets right. Unfortunately, there's a lot it gets wrong, starting with Mysterio.


Valkyria Chronicles 2
Sega, Sony PSP

Ignoring the hokey anime-ish high school/military school drama that forms the backdrop of the storyline, Valkyria Chronicles 2 offers up an entertaining take on the strategy RPG genre. Picking the soldiers you'll bring into battle and formulating plans to best accomplish your agenda is surprisingly addicting. For the 15 people who own a PSP, this one's a good addition to your library.

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