“Operation Flashpoint: Red River” thinks it’s so sly. There’s a Red River in Asia, but it’s nowhere near the game’s turf. This river’s red because it’s full of the blood of stereotypical Arabs, along with some soldiers from the Chinese army, that you and your buddies kill in a widening cyclone of geopolitical implausibility.

The developers who make first-person shooters long have raced to concoct the most generic war between America and interchangeable racial stereotypes, lifting stories directly from bad 1980s action movies and mindlessly celebrating violence as the proudest possible display of patriotism. Ten minutes into “Operation Flashpoint: Red River,” there’s a cut-scene that makes the last 30 years of American history look like the most vulgar episode of “G.I. Joe.” This might be the most cynical shooter ever made.

Turn the volume all the way down when you play “Red River.” Nothing anybody says in this game is meaningful or important, and all of it falls somewhere between laughable and offensive. In reminding us that war is hell while reveling in foul-mouthed macho bluster, “Red River” tries to have its cake while hitting it with a tactical airstrike, too.

The game’s narrative might be astoundingly idiotic, but the game itself is a sharp tactical shooter that requires a bit of brainpower. It’s a slower, more realistic shooter than the arcade-style murder sprees found in “Call of Duty”-style games. You can’t just spray bullets in every direction. You have to aim accurately at your enemies, whose dark clothing is often hard to spot against the game’s dusty backdrops.

In “Red River,” you control one member of a four-man Marine fire team. That means playing with up to three friends or three computer- controlled partners. Every member has to pick one of four classes, with differences in weapons and abilities. One member is the team leader, who can give commands via a scroll-wheel. Choosing the best command for each situation is vital, as is communication if you’re playing co-op with friends, which is the game’s only multiplayer mode.

“Red River” is probably no more realistic than “Call of Duty,” but its slower pace and emphasis on strategy feels more believable. Too bad you have to endure ridiculous cut-scenes, which try too hard to be mature, to hit the meat of the game.




The last time I ran with the “Red Faction,” I single-handedly destroyed every building on Mars with a giant hammer. There was a story to 2009’s “Red Faction: Guerrilla,” but the real point of the game was to knock over everything standing on the Martian surface. Man colonized Mars just so I could tear it all down.

There’s still destruction to enjoy in the new “Red Faction: Armageddon,” but sadly the magic is gone. Instead of liberating the people from an oppressive military on the dusty face of Mars while busting stuff with a hammer, in “Armageddon” I’m killing space bugs in Martian sewers. It’s like going to Space Camp to learn about plumbing.

“Guerrilla” was a leisurely open-world ramble through a Mars in the middle of a future Industrial Revolution. “Armageddon” drops most of what made “Guerrilla” stand out and winds up a standard third-person action game that’s claustrophobic. The game’s cramped tunnels and caves restrain the action in a tight envelope of rocky anonymity, echoing the solitude of “Dead Space,” but with spelunking in place of a spaceship. The missions are uniformly linear, with the hero Darius Mason traveling from point A to point B and shooting every bug along the way.

Vestigial traces of “Guerrilla” make up the best parts of “Armageddon.” The joy of quickly reducing a building into rubble remains potent, especially with the new magnet gun, which uses magnets to make two objects collide with catastrophic results. The magnet gun also is my preferred mode of bug-killing. Attaching magnets to two bugs and watching them squash each other is as fun the 100th time as it is the first.

The story doesn’t call for much demolition work, but those moments when I have to level an infected building while fighting off an onslaught of insects make me forget about how tedious “Armageddon” otherwise can be. Although the magnet gun and maul are the best tools for destruction, the various other guns and lasers are all enjoyably adept at tearing through insect and concrete alike.

“Guerrilla” was no Dostoevsky, but it wasn’t as weighed down with cliches and bad dialogue as “Armageddon.” Beyond the story, “Armageddon” offers up an ersatz co-op Horde mode and a timed, high-score rush mode. Neither are groundbreaking, but both are competent additions.


How long did it take people to realize that car races are more fun when stuff blows up? Did our great-grandparents go to races a hundred years ago hoping to see an Underslung burst into flames?

I ask because that’s basically all “Motorstorm: Apocalypse” is — a series of increasingly grandiose explosions. Sure, racing is what you’ll be doing, with a myriad of vehicles at your disposal, from muscle cars to monster trucks to four-wheelers. The focus is on all the crazy destruction happening around you, though. You’re not speeding your motorcycle or supercar down a track, but through the ruins of a massive city that is literally crumbling around you as you race. It’d be Michael Bay’s dream video game if it had more ethnic stereotypes.

Oh wait, it does have those, in the miserable collection of barely animated cut scenes passed off as a story. Thankfully you can skip past every single one of these moments. You might want to watch them for the unintentional comedy, though. These scenes are hilariously shameless in their attempt to appeal to the nebulous “extreme” lifestyle that exists primarily in commercials. With their minimal animation and embarrassing X-Games attitude, these vignettes are what “Clutch Cargo” would look like if Poochie from “The Simpsons” was the main character.

That’s the worst thing about “Apocalypse”, but not the only problem. The exploding environment recalls last year’s racer “Split/Second”, but with a crucial difference. In “Split/Second” racers could blow up buildings or collapse bridges at the push of a button after building up a meter during the race. Bringing a city down upon your opponents was as vital a piece of strategy as tossing a turtle shell in “Mario Kart”. You never have any control over the destruction in “Apocalypse”. It’s merely something you react to, and often without enough time to avoid hazards. You will crash repeatedly on a track until you memorize it, and often for reasons that aren’t immediately apparent. The destruction in “Split/Second” is tactical; in “Apocalypse” it’s just frustrating.

I waited until the PlayStation Network was back up to review “Apocalypse” because online multiplayer is a big part of any competitive head-to-head game these days. Unfortunately I couldn’t actually get in a game even though PSN is up again. Multiple attempts never left the lobby as sixteen players couldn’t be found. Maybe explosions aren’t as big a draw for race fans as I thought.


Let’s Wrestle are another pack of young British guitar owners, and although they haven’t crafted much of an identity outside of being amiable wiseasses, that’s all you need if your songs are catchy enough. This kind of noisy, overdriven, guitar-heavy pop music is hardly confined to any era, but if Nursing Home came out in ’92 or ’93 — during that brief window when major labels let their guards down and signed legitimately good bands in a desperate search for the next Nirvana — they would’ve gotten at least as much radio play as Eugenius or Teenage Fanclub. Lyrically, Nursing Home combines the intelligent snark of Art Brut and the teenage fixation of “Blue Album”–era Weezer with songs about playing computer games in the suburbs and hanging out with friends. The production from Steve Albini ensures that it’s not too slick or processed. These short, humble pop songs amble along like the Wedding Present if David Gedge had a wrist injury that cut his inhuman strumming speed in half.

Read more: http://thephoenix.com/boston/music/122647-lets-wrestle-nursing-home/#ixzz1QJLBZxzV

“LA Noire” has the best faces in video games. They’re lifelike, expressive, and only occasionally creepy. Facial animation is the most striking thing about this film noir homage from Team Bondi and Rockstar Games. You’ll recognize many of the actors from movies and TV shows like “Mad Men”, “Southland”, and “Fringe”, and will probably rush to the Internet Movie Database once or twice to see just why a certain character looks familiar. It can be a distraction, but the acting and animation are some of the best you’ll ever see in a game.

In “LA Noire” you’ll exercise your detective skills as Cole Phelps, an enterprising young policeman in 1940s Los Angeles. You scour crime scenes for clues, which mostly means listening to music cues to make sure you’re headed in the right direction and picking up every stray object in your immediate vicinity.

There are twenty-one different cases, each split up like episodes of a TV show. They all feature interrogation scenes where you scan suspects’ faces and deduct if they’re telling the truth or not. Guess correctly and you’ll get experience points, more clues, or a little bit of extra backstory. Guess incorrectly and you might lose out on valuable information. The punishment’s never harsh, though. Screwing up an interrogation or missing out on a clue might complicate your investigation, but it’ll never bring up a game over screen.

It’s an unusual hook for a game, but like much of “LA Noire” it’s not quite as subtle as it should be. Some of the tells that a person is lying are groaningly obvious, like beady eyes that flit back and forth and mouths that contort into worried grimaces. Phelps’ tone doesn’t always fit the situation, especially when you doubt somebody. He can flip from straight-faced “just the facts” to bellicose “I want the truth!” at the press of a button.

Phelps is the biggest problem with “LA Noire”. He’s a bit of a jerk. He’s a sanctimonious gasbag with no sense of humor. Many of the other cops and suspects are one-note cartoons, but that’s a step up from the boring and self-righteous void at the game’s center.

Still, “LA Noire” is a visual marvel, vividly recreating mid-century Los Angeles. It even lets you fulfill your lifelong dream of killing a dozen guys on the set of DW Griffith’s “Intolerance”. Most importantly, the simple puzzle-solving satisfaction of completing an investigation remains potent throughout, elevating “LA Noire” past its various problems.

The Wii-exclusive “The Conduit 2” is like Sbarro. It’s not the pizza you want, but it’s the only pizza you can get at the food court. “The Conduit 2” is one of the few online shooters available for the Wii. It gets the job done better than most other Wii shooters, but if you have access to any other modern gaming system you’ll probably get your online dude-shooting fix somewhere else.

Like the first “Conduit”, its greatest strength remains the controls. If you’re new to shooters the point-and-shoot ease of the Wii remote and nunchuk combo will probably feel more natural than a standard controller or a mouse and keyboard. You can fine-tune the controls until you’re perfectly happy with the speed of the crosshairs or how drastically you have to move the remote to make the game’s camera swing around.

“The Conduit 2” also supports the Wii Motion Plus, supposedly for enhanced accuracy. I didn’t notice that much of a difference, though, and stuck with the standard Wii remote. You can also plug in a Classic Controller, which is basically a traditional video game controller with joysticks and buttons. That’s like going to a seafood restaurant and ordering a hamburger.

Online is the reason “The Conduit 2” exists. It works overtime to offer a fully formed multiplayer experience, which is exceedingly rare on the Wii. It runs around Wii’s hated “friend codes” with an in-game ally system where you can befriend players on the fly. There are over a dozen team and solo online modes, from objective-heavy squad-based bouts to free-for-all deathmatches. You earn points for kills and assists, unlocking new perks and weapons as you level up. Maps aren’t as expansive as those found in most big-name shooters for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, or PC, but they’re generally well-designed.

“The Conduit 2” presents an admirable attempt at a “Call of Duty”-style online component. It runs smoothly and packs in enough super soldier fun when you can find other people to play with. That isn’t too difficult with the team modes, but free-for-alls are too often one-on-one duels.

There’s also a solo campaign. The fact that I haven’t mentioned it until now tells you everything you need to know about it. It’s a dull trudge through well-worn conspiracy territory, with bad voice-acting, mediocre enemy AI, and bland graphic design that somehow makes Atlantis look boring. Play this one with friends.