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Want some more cartoon mayhem in your life? Overlord II is coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC to give gamers their fix. Codemasters is also flanking Overlord II with a pair of additional titles, Overlord: Dark Legend for the Wii and Overlord: Minions for the DS. Each of the games, however, feature unique gameplay elements and take place in different areas of the Overlord timeline. I played an early build of Overlord II on Xbox 360 with Dan Robinson, brand manager at Codemasters, at New York Comic Con. As someone who never played the original Overlord title, I have to say that I was impressed with what I saw.

Overlord II picks up where the downloadable expansion Overlord: Raising Hell left off. The original Overlord got trapped in the Abyss, but he left behind a lass impregnated with his evil little seed. Gamers take the reins of this mini-Overlord as he grows into a young man among the people of Nordberg. (While one of the main design directives behind Overlord is to have tongue firmly planted in cheek, let the record show that Robinson had no idea that the devs gave their fictional land the same name as OJ Simpson’s character in The Naked Gun.)

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Codemasters’ surprise 2007 hit, Overlord, has spawned a smattering of upcoming sequels. This year, the UK-based publisher will roll out three new flavors: the Wii exclusive Overlord: Dark Legend; Overlord II for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360; and Overlord: Minions for DS. While all three games revolve around the Overlord mythology, they offer different stories and styles of gameplay. Dan Robinson, brand manager of all three games, piloted my demo for Dark Legend.

Dark Legend serves as a prequel for the previous Overlord title and sets up the origin story of the titular character from the first game. Codemasters charged the Climax development team to bring out the personality of the game’s signature minions. “People just identified with the minions the most,” said Robinson, “so we wanted to give gamers what they wanted.” By bringing out the personality, Codemasters meant throwing sombreros and feathered caps on the imps that carry out the Overlord’s bidding and even giving players the ability to turn individual minions into a kamikaze bombers. How’s that for personality?

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Remember that old labyrinth game that let you steer a marble through a maze punched with holes while using knobs to manipulate the X and Y-axes? Well, it sucked. You don’t need to look any further than Hudson’s new title Marble Saga: Kororinpa for proof. 

Kororinpa, which is onomatopoeia for the sound of a ball rolling, is the sequel to the limited release port of Kororinpa: Marble Mania, which you can only find on eBay these days for around $70. The updated feature that are set in Marble Saga more than triples the number of levels over its predecessor (Marble Mania had 40 levels) to 150 levels that you can play at three different difficulty settings.

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There’s a new gunslinger in town for the Wii. The Conduit, a new FPS developed by High Voltage, is set on filling the gaping void in Nintendo’s catalog that’s begging for the Xbox equivalent of Halo. The only problem I see is that it's not going to have the same kind of affect on sales as its more famous run-and-gun predecessors.

It’s not because the game isn’t good. The Conduit simply struck me as a decent title that is going to come out against a lot of strong competition --especially now that third-party developers seem to be hitting their stride for Wii exclusives. The Conduit arrives on shelves this summer as part of a trio of upcoming Nintendo titles published by Sega that includes MadWorld and House of the Dead: Overkill. As far as I could tell from the build on the floor at Comic Con, The Conduit is going to need some work to stand up to the other Wii puppies in Sega’s litter. 

The Conduit Exclusive Preview

Exclusive Preview: The Conduit »


High Voltage Software’s chief creative officer Eric Nofsinger took the time to take me through a demo. The Conduit puts you in control of Michael Ford, a former Secret Service agent working to fight off and alien race invading the earth called the Drudge. You’re working for what seems like a semi-shady group of characters known as the Trust who Nofsinger qualified as, “a kind of Illuminati-style group.” An NPC known as Prometheus (voiced by Kevin Sorbo) provides some in-game chatter, as well as information about the unfolding conflict. Of course, not all is at it seems. As usual gamers, you are just a man trying to make a living with alien bugs on one side and megalomaniacal groups with hidden agendas and murky ideologies.

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If you’re ready to deal some cocaine, please raise your DS stylus. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars hits the DS on March 17. With it, comes a whole new rap sheet for Nintendo’s handheld. Rockstar Leeds has spent nearly two years putting Chinatown together and built a fully rendered Liberty City in the process.

Gamers play as Huang Lee, a spoiled scion of a fallen Hong Kong Triad boss, who heads to Liberty City to supposedly avenge his father’s death. But more than anything, he tries to ingratiate himself to his uncle - a key member in the Liberty City branch of the Triad. Up to this point, Huang has just been a partyboy living off of family money. Once you get control of Huang, it’s more about making your bones as a true soldier which includes everything from killing off rival gang members to earning mountains of cash moving illegal drugs.

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Sony hosted an off-site preview for its slate of upcoming games including inFamous -- Sucker Punch Productions’ open-world, action-adventure superhero-title. Nate Fox was on hand to give me a demo, introducing himself as, “Nate Fox, like the small animal that eats chickens. I’m the game director at infamous, so I’m responsible for this mess.” After playing through the demo, I can guarantee you that he’s joking.

Gamers take the reins of Cole McGrath, a former bike messenger, two weeks after he wakes up as the only survivor at the epicenter of an explosion that wipes out six blocks and thousands of denizens of Empire City. On the upside, Cole discovers that he now has superpowers from controlling electricity. On the downside, Empire City has gone to hell. A plague sets in following the explosion and leads to a federal quarantine on Empire City. Some good old-fashioned rioting kills off most of the local cops. Fox described Empire City's conditions saying, “In the power vacuum that follows, some of the gangs decide ‘We’re going to take what we want’ and form up militias. Looting is an important aspect to any video game these days, it’s very next-gen. It’s in what is effectively a social powder keg where people are effectively losing hope where people have yet to abandon their stores and jobs and homes where Cole can express himself.”

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Sega had its latest build of MadWorld at the NYC Comic Con show floor. It's looking (and playing) tight. Gamers play as Jack, just your every day mechanic with a chainsaw built into his right arm. He's trapped in a psycho game show called Death Watch, where the goal is basically to avoid becoming that guy that gets impaled, split in half or otherwise killed. The Wii is about to get a hell of a lot bloodier when MadWorld hits shelves on March 10.

According to Platinum Game’s lead developer Shigenori Nishikawa, the team has spent its final few weeks of the game’s release tweaking the enemy AI --  the positional layout of items and fine tuning the controls. “The biggest challenge we faced developing for the Wii was achieving the best graphics possible in standard definition,” said Nishikawa-san. When I asked him what made using a chainsaw with the Wii controller so satisfying, he replied, “Since it’s linked directly to the Wiimote, it just works really well.”

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It has been a long road getting Prototype to market. Originally scheduled to launch in 2008, the game was to be published by Sierra, but got put on hold while Activision and Blizzard formed a gestalt death robot and decided which games in development would make the cut. OK, so traditionally you need five robots to form a gestalt deathbot, but come on, it’s a nice visual.

According to Kelly Zmak, president of Prototype developer Radical Entertainment, things got a little tense even though the team stayed the course while Prototype’s fate was in limbo. “Yeah, I was nervous,” Zmak said during a pre-New York Comic Con event, “We went quiet with the development but we were always full steam ahead. We never stopped working after we sold the IP and validated it along the way.” After getting my hands on the game, I can safely say that Radical's hard work and perseverance were worth the wait.

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Spore: Galactic Adventures, an expansion pack to Spore, hits shelves this spring on PC (EA still hasn’t announced whether it will support a simultaneous launch on the Mac). And with it comes the chance for players to build whole worlds and missions with the same psychotic drive and reckless abandon that led to 75-million species in the Sporepedia. That’s 20 times the number of real critters running around Earth, even if you don’t count all the Spore critters that look like a walking phallus.

The expansion pack is a direct answer to a gripe of the Spore community -- lack of interaction or activities in the space stage of the game. Galactic Adventures comes loaded with a few prefab missions accessible through the quickplay module, but the real gameplay mileage comes in with the mission creation and editing tools. According to Caryl Shaw, the Maxis producer behind Galactic Adventures who took me through a short demo, the terra-forming tools in the game are fundamentally the same tools developers used in Spore. You can create worlds and play with a vast number of variables, from terrain shading and moisture content to land masses and bodies of water.

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Raven, id and Activision showed off Wolfenstein at a pre-New York Comic Con event. While I wasn't allowed to get my hands on the game, Peter Sokal, community manager for id, was on the sticks to provide the guided tour. Unsurprisingly, Sokal was mum on the game's release, “It’ll ship when it’s done. I know, we should probably trademark that line and have other developers pay us five bucks every time they use it.”

The game once again pits you as American Army ranger BJ Blazkowicz against a whole passel of Nazis for some first-person shooter mayhem. This time around, major plot elements of sci-fi and occult black magic keep this game from reminding you of Call of Duty: World at War. “When you take into account the science fiction and the mysticism, calling Wolfenstein a good WWII game is like calling the original Indiana Jones a great WWII movie.”

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The first of two long awaited Xbox 360 exclusive Grand Theft Auto IV episode packs, GTA IV: The Lost and Damned comes down the digital pipe on February 17th. I got my hands on the upcoming expansion at Rockstar’s downtown New York office and delved into the world of Johnny Klebitz.

GTA IV devotees will remember Klebitz as a biker -- the second-in-command of The Lost motorcycle gang from the "Blow Your Cover" mission. I never got that far, so Klebitz was new to me. Rockstar did its best to make playing the episode a completely new experience for gamers. It re-skinned the user interface to look a little grittier, threw a new filter on the camera to make everything a little darker, and created roughly 20 hours of exclusive new gameplay including new cut scenes, voice work and even new banter on Liberty City’s radio stations. And yes, there are exclusive guns. Rockstar threw in five new weapons reminiscent of the arsenal found in the Terminator flicks (pipe bomb, sawed off shotgun, combat shotgun, machine pistol and grenade launcher).

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Yesterday Activision held a playable demo session for X-Men Origins: Wolverine hosted by Dan Vondrak, the project lead for the dev team at Raven Software. After my hands on time, I have to borrow a phrase form Jigsaw, “Oh yes, there will be blood.”

If you’re a fan of Marvel Comics’ Wolverine (like me) you probably got a little bothered by all the previous video-game and film incarnations of the character. Old-schoolers might remember Adamantium Rage for the Sega Genesis from Acclaim or the more recent attempt X-2: Wolverine’s Revenge from Activision for the last generation of consoles. I’ll tell you now; I didn’t play either of those games. The one that stuck in my craw the most was Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of the Super Heroes. It just didn’t make sense. You’ve got a guy with six machetes coming out of his fists yet Chun-Li and Zangief and the rest of those meatsticks can just pull off a parry attack? It goes against the grain of the whole "Wolverine’s adamantium claws can cut through anything" myth.

Vondrak and the rest of the team at Raven threw the shiny-happy Wolvies of old that “punched” with his claws out the window. “We wanted to blow this game out, and make the best and most realistic Wolverine game to date. We wanted to put the Wolverine character in the real world, make it true and gritty. The blood, violence and brutality came with it.” Basically gamers will finally see what would happen if an army of men and the occasional mutant boss-character got in front of Wolverine’s claws. (They get cut into hamburger.) Given the movie tie-in to X-Men Origins: Wolverine from Fox and the nature of licensed characters (look no further than the namby-pamby finishing moves in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe) you would expect someone to pull the plug on the over-the-top dismemberment. According to Vondrak, “Some people were a little squeamish, but Marvel was into it. And we weren’t going to compromise on our vision.”

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