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Sore Thumbs

10/17/2012

‘XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN’ (M)

****

2K Games

Xbox 360

Earth is under attack, and it’s up to you to defend it, one turn at a time. Technically, “XCOM” is a turn-based RPG, but that doesn’t mean you’ll spend all your time swapping laser blasts with extra-terrestrials on the battlefield. You are Earth’s last, second-to-last and third-to-last line of defense, so you’ll be shooting down UFOs in orbit and researching alien technology in underground bunkers in addition to those aforementioned close encounters on the battlefield. “XCOM” creates a good sense of global panic as the invaders spread their influence across terra firma, and the survival of the human race depends as much on knowing when to advance and when to retreat as knowing where to focus the efforts of your R and D department and how to spend the hard-won money from the international community. Here’s a hint: invest in psionic training.

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The big picture can be very frustrating in that by the time you know what assets can assure victory, that knowledge is only helpful in a second play-through. However, the individual battles in the streets are always riveting, and when a failure occurs, it’s a failure of player tactics, not design. Enemies behave in intelligent, but not clairvoyant ways, destructible environments offer a variety of strategic choices, and upgradeable abilities ensure that you’ll never be more than one or two steps behind the awe-inspiring technology of your grey-skinned opponents. And as with all the best turn-based RPGs (e.g. “Fire Emblem”), you’ll come to care for your soldiers and will even replay portions of the game that you’ve already conquered, just to see if you can do it without losing the beloved sniper you lost during your first try.

 

‘FABLE: THE JOURNEY’ (T)

**

Microsoft Game Studios

Xbox 360

Few journeys are as arduous as the titular one taken in “Fable: The Journey.” But even the smallest step is a little tougher with Kinect. This on-rails, first-person spin-off from the popular fantasy series is controlled exclusively with Kinect’s gesture commands, and whether you’re tugging on your horse’s reins or casting spells at angry hobbes, the controls are wildly erratic. The longer you play, the more you’ll feel the need to recalibrate the interface, requiring a reboot of the level. If the morality system from previous “Fable” games is accurate, the designers of this flawed offshoot must be sprouting horns from their demonic heads.

 

‘SONIC ADVENTURE 2’ (E10+)

**

Sega

Xbox Live Arcade

The second “Sonic” Dreamcast adventure gets an HD makeover, but graphics weren’t the problem during the blue hedgehog’s final outing on Sega’s doomed console over a decade ago. The problem was that too much time was spent with secondary characters—an error repeated here with annoying Tails and Dr. Eggman levels. Even when we do slip back into the sneakers of Sega’s mascot, camera issues obstruct the fun. It took a long time for Sonic to get his 3D formula right. Why we would revisit an era before that is somewhat baffling. CV

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