Feature: Summertime at the Movies – Recapping 2009’s Class of Movie Games, So Far…

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Summer is the season of Hollywood blockbuster movies, so we thought it’d be fun to take some time out to examine this year’s current crop of movie games. Surprisingly, the overall quality of 2009’s movie game offerings has been pretty high, most of the titles a cut above the licensed shovelware garbage we usually see flooding retailers synced up with the latest theatrical blockbusters. Sure, there are some stinkers, but there are also quite a few diamonds in the rough, and possibly even a couple end-of-year awards contenders depending on who you ask. Let’s take a closer look.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena (PC, PS3, Xbox 360):

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I’m not into the whole “save the best for last” thing, so let’s kick things off with not only the best movie game of the year so far, but arguably the best movie game ever made – The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena. This gem of a stealth FPS combines a hi-res port of the Escape From Butcher Bay campaign first released on Xbox and PC in 2004 and a brand new full-length Dark Athena expansion campaign picking up where Butcher Bay left off. Intense shooting, nail-biting stealth and brutal melee combat collide in this cinematic sci-fi adventure, and the dark, lonely atmosphere ratchets up the tension as you patiently stalk your enemies. You owe it to yourself to play this game, plain and simple.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (DS, PS2, PS3, PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360):

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I haven’t seen it – and have no desire to see it – but by most accounts the X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie sucked. X-Men Origins: Wolverine the game, however, does not suck, surprisingly enough – Hugh Jackman has even been quoted as saying the game script was more in-depth than the movie. X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a vicious God of War-style action/adventure game with a visceral combat system and gore aplenty (if you get the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360 Uncaged Editions). This is a game that truly makes you feel like Wolverine as you shred through enemies with his adamantium claws and cause fountains of blood and dismembered body parts to spew into the air. At times the game tries to copy Tomb Raider and Uncharted too much and suffers from sloppy platforming and dull block and switch puzzles, and there are also quite a few bugs and glitches to put up with throughout, but all things considered X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a fun game and one hell of a guilty pleasure.

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (DS, Mac, PS2, PS3, PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360):

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I have played all of the Harry Potter movie-based games on one platform or the other, and in general they have been solid if unspectacular. Starting from the first, there has been a fun mix of plot-oriented missions and random fun busy-work, all of which combines to make for a fun and light-hearted experience for the whole family. As the books and movies have progressed they have become more plot-dense, mature in content, and darker in theme. Yet the fan-base continues to include younger kids, so there is a need to keep the game moving along in a cheery and light fashion that doesn’t always reflect the tone of the film. The result in this game is a series of cut-scenes and locations from the movie, but interspersed with entirely too many menial tasks that have little to do with anything. And it isn’t just the quest for crests, either – everything you do has a feeling of being a trivially bothersome chore. The controls work acceptably, but gone is the fun feeling of spellcasting from earlier games. This one is not terrible but is definitely for fans only – and especially avoid the even more limited PSP & DS versions!

Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings (DS, PS2, PSP, Wii):

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This isn’t actually based on any movie, but is a new story based on the Indiana Jones character and his penchant for searching for historical artifacts of power. In this case, it is the staff that Moses used to part the Red Sea. The story takes place in 1939, with the Nazis center stage again. There is a reasonable premise, but the developers seemed to lack imagination for plotting and fumbled terribly with the controls, camera and graphics. It is frustrating to accomplish anything, and perhaps the best thing I can say is that by completing the game you can unlock a classic adventure title – Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Perhaps the developers should have spent more time figuring out what made that game so great!

G-Force (DS, PS2, PS3, PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360):

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3D has reemerged as the new fad in movies as of late, and now the technology is slowly starting to work its way into gaming. G-Force is the latest game to jump on the 3D bandwagon, the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions shipping with two pairs of 3D glasses. The 3D effect actually works fairly well, but the whole deal is still just a gimmick. Underneath the 3D gimmicky, however, G-Force is actually a solid action platform game blatantly inspired by Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank franchise. As Darwin, the leader of a ragtag team of guinea pig secret agents, you set out to save the world from everyday household appliances turned deadly robots. In doing so you’ll use a variety of neat, high-tech gadgets and gizmos to defeat all sorts of deranged appliances (microwaves, paper shredders, toasters, irons, computer mice, headphones, etc.) and solve numerous thoughtfully crafted puzzles. As far as I could tell none of the star actors from the film reprised their roles, and when you combine that with the somewhat sterile art direction the game definitely lacks personality. But whether you’re a fan of the movie or a gamer with an affinity for platformers, G-Force is a game you’ll certainly have a good time with.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (DS, PS2, PS3, PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360):

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The first Transformers movie game wasn’t very good — the Wii version in particular was a complete disaster. But Revenge of the Fallen, based on Michael Bay’s largely-panned movie sequel of the same name, fares a bit better than its predecessor. The flow of the game actually reminds me of the Armored Core series, although the gameplay is definitely geared in a more accessible, arcadey direction. Playing through individual campaigns as the Autobots and Decepticons, you smash and crash through short missions typically lasting no more than 5-10 minutes. Missions are confined to small, arena-sized environments too, so the action comes in focused, bite-size chunks. Bonus objectives, completion time medals and leaderboard tie-ins add a surprising punch of replay value, and Activision even went so far as to include a respectable 8-player multiplayer mode for online Transformers warfare. If you can put up with some lingering control issues (the vehicle handling is just horrible) and the dull, lifeless plot, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen can be a fun, loud and satisfying robotic smash-‘em-up.

Disney Pixar’s Up (DS, PS2, PS3, PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360):

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Disney Pixar’s latest work of animated genius, Up, has received rave reviews from critics and moviegoers alike, but sadly the game doesn’t live up to the high standards of the film. THQ’s video game adaptation of Pixar’s delightful tale about a young boy scout and a lonely old man flying a house to Paradise Falls using thousands of helium balloons hits all the right notes in terms of capturing the charm and visual appeal of the movie, but the barebones, collect-a-thon platforming gameplay just falls flat. For some reason THQ seems to love forcing co-op down players’ throats in its licensed family games, and that trend continues with Up. Parents and their children may find some lighthearted entertainment playing together, but try to play this game solo and you’ll find yourself frustrated by the broken camera system and how often your AI partner slows you down. Standard issue movie game shovelware, that’s Up in a nutshell.

Monsters vs. Aliens (DS, PS2, PS3, PC, Wii, Xbox 360):

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Of all of this year’s computer-animated movies, Monsters vs. Aliens is the only one I have absolutely no interest in seeing, and the game has done nothing to change my mind. That’s not to say the game isn’t any good, it’s just the story and characters lack personality and likeability. This is a generic alien invasion tale with a kid-friendly twist — a generically dimwitted alien leader attempts to take over Earth and the US government calls upon a ragtag team of generic, stereotypical monsters to defeat him. Throughout the game’s many stages you get to play as the giant she-thing named Ginormica, B.O.B. the blob of goo, and a fish-ape hybrid named The Missing Link (a second player can also jump in at any time as an off-screen Dr. Cockroach and shoot at things like a light-gun game), and each character’s levels offer a unique play style — B.O.B.’s missions are of the puzzle/platforming variety, The Missing Link’s stages of the beat-‘em-up persuasion, and Ginormica’s levels play out like on-rails rollerblading races. Each play style has its winning qualities, but by the middle of the game you’ll have repeated so many of the same cookie-cutter objectives that you’ll slowly begin to lose motivation to see the experience through to the end. Monsters vs. Aliens isn’t a poor game, just an uninspired one.

Wanted: Weapons of Fate (PC, PS3, Xbox 360):

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Someone at Warner Bros. must’ve lost track of time with scheduling out the development of Wanted: Weapons of Fate. The bullet-curving action flick starring Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman hit theaters last summer, but the game only just came out a few months ago. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter because the game isn’t based directly on the movie, it’s a sequel storyline that picks up a few hours after the events of its theatrical counterpart. Honestly, the story isn’t that interesting and the protagonist is a total prick, but the cover-based third-person shooting gameplay is polished and surprisingly fun. Wanted borrows liberally from other cover-based shooters, especially Gears of War, but also spices up the genre with a slick “bullet curve” one-shot-kill mechanic and actually tops other like-genre games with its quicker, smoother cover movement. Only thing is, the game is pretty darn easy, only takes a few hours to finish and really doesn’t offer any worthwhile replay value. Therefore, Wanted: Weapons of Fate is a great summertime rental for action junkies, but that’s about it.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (DS, PS2, PS3, PC, Wii, Xbox 360):

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Based on Blue Sky Studios’ recently released third Ice Age adventure of the same name, Dawn of the Dinosaurs is your typical family-oriented movie tie-in platform game. You won’t find a unique or original bone in its body of borrowed play mechanics, but the game throws so many different activities at you that unless you’re a crotchety ol’ hardcore gamer you’ll find it hard to play through this prehistoric romp without a T-Rex-sized grin on your face. At one time or another you get to play as all your favorite Ice Age characters, including Manny, Sid, Diego, Scrat and Buck, and with the dawn of each new stage you are treated to some form of new gameplay style, be it Mario-style 2D platforming, pterodactyl-mounted side-scrolling shooting, dinosaur shooting galleries, or egg rolling ala Billy Hatcher. Add to that a hefty collection of 4-player mini-games and you have a game the whole family can enjoy together.

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (DS, Wii, Xbox 360):

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Greatly benefiting from the voice and likeness of Ben Stiller himself, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian has you exploring famous museums and historical landmarks, such as the National Air and Space Museume, Lincoln Memorial, and the Smithsonian of course, as Larry Daley, a security guard and friend to all the museum exhibits that come to life when night falls. Battle of the Smithsonian isn’t a particularly memorable action/adventure, but there are some neat features to the game that distinguish it from typical movie game shovelware. Larry’s trusty flashlight and keychain are cleverly used to reveal hidden secrets, repair broken exhibits, bring statues and paintings to life, reach high ledges and solve various other puzzles. What’s also cool is the subtle way the developers snuck in educational content. As you’re exploring each museum, you can walk up to different exhibits and listen to the audio tours revealing details about historical events and figures like Amelia Earhart, Napoleon, Al Capone, and Ivan the Terrible. Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is a beige experience overall, but it deserves props for thinking outside the box and at least trying new things rather than shamelessly ripping off other AAA franchises.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game (DS, PS2, PS3, PC, PSP, Wii, Xbox 360):

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Starring Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, and Ernie Hudson (and partially written by Aykroyd and Ramis), Terminal Reality’s Ghostbusters game has become dubbed the unofficial Ghostbusters 3, a spiritual sequel to the film franchise if you will. And it deserves that recognition. The acting is excellent, the writing is witty, the production values are authentic and instantly recognizable, and, most importantly, the ghost-wrangling gameplay is more fun than I ever imagined it could be – it’s like Gears of War meets Luigi’s Mansion!

Terminator Salvation (PC, PS3, Xbox 360):

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Just when movie games appeared to be reaching at least some level of respectability, Terminator Salvation comes along and reminds us why video games based on movies or other licensed properties have been shunned and ridiculed for so long. There are so many problems with Terminator Salvation that I don’t even know where to begin. Hmmm, let me see here… I guess I should go ahead and start with the obvious: this game is about the most blatant Gears of War knock-off to date. Cover-based third-person shooting? Yep! Emphasis on AI teamwork and co-op? Yes again! Enemies that spawn from holes in the ground? Yessiree! How about the “look” button that lets you focus the camera on a scripted background event and those in-gameplay dialogue sequences where you have control of your character and can slowly walk around while they discuss the next objective? Yep, it’s got those as well! So yes, Terminator Salvation is the prototypical half-assed movie tie-in video game rushed out without any care for quality or value with the sole purpose of suckering eager movie fans into a purchase. Even if you enjoyed the film, this is a game you’ll want to steer well clear of.

‘Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince’ and ‘Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings’ write-ups contributed by Michael Anderson.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!