Sunday, November 23, 2008

Mirror's Edge Review (PS3 and Xbox 360)

It has happened to everyone; a game you love but at the same time, can't believe how frustrated you've gotten playing it. On the whole, it is still a great experience, but there are instances when the game just has too many moments that make you wonder if continuing is really worth it. Well, after playing Mirror's Edge, I have yet again felt that way.

The plot behind Mirror's Edge is simple. You play as Faith, a runner in a dystopian future where everything is monitored. She is part of group of 'messengers' who transport information from one side of the city to other using roof-tops and other non-orthodox ways of getting around. While your character is a parkour who relays messages, the game doesn't actually have you doing that.
When you begin playing, you control Faith after an unknown accident has put you out of commission for a while. The game starts you off with a tutorial to give you an idea of the controls. The game is played in First-person, but rather than this being a shooter, you're playing a first-person action game where your movements and actions are done with both your hands and feet.

Controlling Faith is done with the use of the shoulder buttons. The majority of the game has you running and jumping from roof-top to roof top. You will have to wall-run, leap over or slide under beams and figure out creative ways to get from one location to another. The controls when moving are relatively simple, with plenty of variety of moves available to you. The tutorial you go through in the beginning of the game gives you a good idea on how to use them, but it will take you a while before you really master her move-set.

As stated before, Faith is a Messenger, but in the game she never actually is doing any jobs other than the first level in the game. You are brought back into the fray on a simple mission but when police officers just randomly appear, you begin to ask questions. Shortly thereafter you encounter your sister, a cop, but discover that she has been framed for murder and then the real story begins.

Now you will need to help your sister by gathering information to prove her innocence. Mirror's Edge story goes for 9 chapters but there is little variety in them. They all start off the same. You begin a point A, must reach point B but along the way you'll have to run, jump, climb, jump, fight, run some more, avoid being shot and jump all before you get to the end of the level. While the jumping and running mechanics work well, the fighting is where the game suffers a lot. Most of the time, when you encounter a battle, the odds are really stacked against you. The scenarios are always the same, you arrive at a location and a handful of enemies with weapons will be trying to shoot you dead. In the beginning, the cops carry only pistols which are easy to disarm, but as you progress, their weapons become more powerful and it turn out to be increasingly difficult to disarm them.

Your options are simple, you can try to disarm your first enemy and then use his weapon to get by the area, or try to avoid conflict all together and either disarm or incapacitate your enemies. Disarming is difficult, so you'll want to try to defeat them with your melee abilities, but unfortunately they aren't always effective. Attacking becomes a button masher as you just begin to hit the attack button over and over again until the enemy falls over. You can attempt to do a jumping or crouching/sliding attack, but often you will miss the target, land with them facing you from behind and getting a good hit or two. They typically only need to hit you twice in succession before you keel over, so don't be surprised if you happen to die over and over again. The game wants you to avoid using weapons, but at times you'll feel that it is the only way to get by. There will be a few areas where you can run by without ever attacking, but those are few and far between.

The biggest downside to the game is the trial and error that fills the game. There are markers located throughout the levels, signified by objects appearing in red, but it doesn't always mean the best way of getting by. Because of this, you will die a lot. A situation might require you to do a wall-run and leap to grab a ledge to your left or right, but the timing required to do so is so finite that you will often miss the jump and fall to your death. While the falling animation is incredible, it does get boring after you've seen it 30 times.

The game's graphics are pretty incredible with a lot of great looking environments. There is plenty of variety in the locations you encounter, but too much of the game is spent running around indoors, rather than spending it outdoors, doing actually roof jumping. I would have rather preferred more variety in the outdoor environments, but what hurts is that there are rarely bystanders in your way. It would have been cool in some levels, especially those that actually have you running in what should be busy areas of the city, if you had people in your way. It might have been too similar to Assassin's Creed, but it is something you could see them doing in the future.

The game's cut-scenes leave much to be desired. It is disappointing that even the few in-game moments the characters seem too stiff and do not give off any realism. The chapter cut-scenes are done in a weird animation style that again, throws off the experience. They aren't that well done and the characters end up looking really different than how they do in-game.

Outside of the game's story, there are time-trails for those who want to see just how quickly the can complete a section of the game. The times seem to be quite unrealistic to achieve, but that is because, there are actually faster ways to complete each level that are not given away by the game's red hints markers. If you spent time in this mode, you will probably play levels over and over again as you try to shave or a few seconds to perfect your time.

For the most part, if the game was more about exploration with the running and jumping and less of the fighting, it would have been an incredible experience. It's still a good game, but there could have been a bit more polish done. The way the game ends, is another disappointing aspect. The last battle is weak and the ending itself doesn't really offer any closure. The experience isn't long, but considering the amount of dying you will encounter, you should deduct about an hour or so from how long it actually took you to complete it. There is definitely more to come from this series, and hopefully for the next game, they go the more open-world sandbox route with more variety since this game really craves it.

I still suggest you give this game a try since there isn't anything quite like this around. As stated in the beginning, this is a frustrating game that will anger you at times. Because of the amount of dying that will happen, if you are short-tempered, you might want to stay way. The graphics and running mechanics save this game, but the dying and horrible fighting system restrict this from being an excellent experience.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness Review (XBLA and PC)

If you are an 'Internet Geek' you either fall into one of two categories: those who like Penny Arcade and those who don't. Yes, that's pretty general, but the long-running internet comic series has a very black and white status to it. If you enjoy their humour, you're a fan of the series and read the comics every week. If you find their views and the art to be pretty non-interesting, then you probably have no intentions on playing Penny Arcade Adventures.

As a fan of the series and attending PAX for the first time in September, I felt compelled to play their first game in the series: 'On The Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness'. In PAA: OTRSPD (which from now on I will just call Episode 1), you play as a user-created character whose house is destroyed by a giant robot. As the robot that destroyed your home is stalking through the area, you notice two guys chasing after it and you begin to follow them. Those two characters are Gabe and Tycho, the two main protagonists of the Penny Arcade Comic series. You join the two in the hopes of finding and stopping the robot. That is only the starting layer of the game and the series of episodic games.

The Penny Arcade Adventure is a planned series. Episode 1 was released earlier this year with Episode 2 planned to be released before Christmas. The game is your standard RPG adventure. You start the game with the ability to create a pretty decent looking character. The options are not endless, but there is still enough there to make a distinctive character to your liking.
You have your quests, looting, plenty of fighting and character levelling. There is not a lot of character customization in game which will disappoint RPG fans. Other than some necessary plot progression which requires upgrading, the weapons you have in the game stay the same. You can't upgrade armour, so you will need to use items to improve your characters stats. It is unfortunate that the customization is limited, but since this is the first game, there is potential for improvements with later Episodes.

During battles, the game uses a turn based fighting system. Each character has three options that fill up the longer you wait. The first option is the ability to use items in combat. These are your standard fare status affects which can be used on either you or your enemies. There are also healing items, explosives and even distraction items which can be used on certain enemies.
If you continue to wait, you fill up the next option which is your standard attack. Each of the three characters (you, Gabe and Tycho), have a weapon at your disposal that is distinctively different from the others. Certain enemies are weak or strong against each of your three weapons, so strategizing your attacks will be necessary.
If you wait to fill up the third bar, you have the ability for a special attack. These special attacks all require you to do a mini-game to increase your attack but do massive damage if done correctly. If all three have this bar filled up at the same time, you can do a team-up attack which can be devastating.
Lastly in combat, you will unlock three independent special attacks that can also be very helpful later on in the game.

The game's story takes about 5-7 hours to complete which is perfect for a game of this stature. There are only four areas in the game but thankfully only one of them isn't that large. The areas have plenty to explore and there are many quests that you will have to complete to finish the game. While this is an RPG, the quests are fairly linear. You will need to complete one quest to open up the next and once you've completed the game, there is no real reason to return to play again except for finding missing loot to unlock some bonus content.

The game's sound is strictly musical. Outside of the intro, the basic tutorial in the beginning and the closing lines, there is no dialog. The music is good and the sounds of the enemies are pretty nice and distinctive. All of the four areas have music that fits the area extremely well.

While there is no speech, the story progresses really well thanks in part to the Penny Arcade writing. Fans of the series will enjoy the humour and dialog and there are plenty of funny moments. There are plenty of possible responses, but due to the game's linear plot, there are no 'wrong' answers and you will eventually have to answer a specific way to progress in the game. The writing works well even for non-playable characters and you will be impressed by the interaction between the three heroes and everyone else in the city.

The art-style is exactly the same as the Penny Arcade comics. If you seen how the more recent comics look, you'll be right at home here. Animations are good but there aren't as many as you'd probably like. When interacting with people, scenes take place in a comic-book style screen with caption boxes. While in game, the characters movements are fairly generic. There is though plenty of variety in the enemies you encounter, with each one regardless of what they are having a distinctive look. The game only has a few cut-scenes but each one of them is really impressive. It's really nice to see Penny Arcade 'come to life' in the cut scenes.

Fans of the series will enjoy this game but that is not to say it is a game strictly for them. RPG fans looking for a quick arcade fix will also find plenty to enjoy. You might not understand some of the in-side jokes in the game (especially with the Fruit F**ker Robots) or Penny Arcade's humour, but you can look past those issues fairly quickly. Yes, the game is short, but for this type of game, the length works well. Any longer might have ruined the pacing of the game and would have gotten complaints from gamers. With the second episode just around the corner, now is a perfect time to pick up Episode 1 and experience the series. If you're not familiar with Penny Arcade, try the game out anyway. If you enjoy what you see in the beginning, then I am confident you will have fun with the game and you may end up becoming a fan of the series.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Too Human Review (Xbox 360)

Do not buy Too Human. Let me get that out of the way as quickly as I can, because you deserve to know well in advance that this is not a good game. What on paper and in theory should be an incredible adventure ends up being a game that is so frustrating and complicated that any of the time you put into it will feel like a complete waste of time. The worst part is that you can see the potential right there in front of you; the developers of the game just did not focus on the right aspects and in the end everyone suffers.

In order to get any understanding of Too Human you have to have some knowledge of Norse Mythology. If you lack that you will have no idea on the history of the characters of the game and the future titles to this planned trilogy. While there is an introduction to the game prior to the option menu, it still does not give you enough background on the main character in the game, Baldur, your main foe Loki or anything in between (eg. Ragnarok). The game takes place in a futuristic world where these Norse gods use technology to their advantage as they act as the protectors of humans against the rise of the machines. While they try to protect humans there are problems within the Gods and this will eventually lead to the battle of Ragnarok. Outside of little bit of information here and there, you get nothing from the off-set and only bits and pieces are revealed in the first game.

Too Human is a 3D Action-RPG. Take the non-stop action of Diablo and Baldur's Gate and you get what Too Human is trying to achieve. You have your wave upon wave of enemies; your containers of items; plenty of customization with weapons and armour and five different character classes to choose from. Each character class is different enough that it does create some variety to the game, and is especially good for the multiplayer aspect of the game.

The problems of Too Human start right from the moment you being with its horrible control scheme. In 3D action games, your right-analog stick is always the camera control, but Too Human goes against that. Rather, they decided to map your melee attacks to it. While it's nice in principal, it has been successful with other games (PS2's Rise to Honor). To control the camera, you need to hold the Left Bumper button then use the right analog stick, but often the controller doesn't recognize this and you continue to swing your weapon instead. Also, the game relies too heavily on the cinematic camera perspective, in which the game wants you to admire the game's large areas. Again, nice in principal, but often can be really annoying and can cause your character to get stuck in some areas. The camera's problems continue by making it harder to target and manoeuvre during fight scenes. The game's auto-targeting system is never accurate and will often still track dead characters when you should be attacking the enemy right next to you.

There are four main quests in the game's story, each taking about 2-4 hours to play. To be honest, the actual length is short, but thanks to the issues that plague the game mentioned before and continuing on will force you to complete the game in about 10-15 hours depending on your character class.

The problem with the length is that every level is the same. While they look different, they have the same formula. You walk for a bit, fight a wave of enemies. Defeat them, walk a bit more to fight more enemies. This time you also will fight a sub-boss, which is followed up with more walking and treasure hunting. This pattern repeats itself over and over again until you finally reach the stage's boss battle which each will take you approximately 30-45 minutes to beat with two of them requiring you to chase your foe to different parts of the level.

What adds to the problem of the length is that dying is a certainty. You may be a God, you are still extremely weak against your basic enemies. With death comes a Valkyrie and you will see a lot of this in the game. When you die, a Valkyrie descends from the heavens to lift you up to Valhalla (which is according to Norse Mythology, Eden and where Odin gathers fallen soldiers for the battle of Ragnarok). But of course, you don't actually die, but are re-spawned only to fight some more. There are two cases when you re-spawn. One, you will be spawned far away and must run back to the action or two, you will be spawned in the worst possible spot only to get attacked as soon as you start.
While you do fight with a group, your group is there for show as the enemies know to attack and love to 'gang-bang' you. Since you have to fight so many enemies at once, you will continue to die.
Attacking the enemies can be done with your melee attack or with a ranged attack. Both are good but neither stands out as you are almost suggested to use both to fight. Use your melee to lift the enemy then finish them off in the sky with your ranged weapon. As a bonus, if you attack for a long period of time without, your bonus attack bar fills up and allows you to use either your Ruiner or Battle Cry attacks. These you unlock as you progress and level up your character. These are extremely effective, but hard to get when you really need them. If you die, you lose them and must rebuild that bonus bar. One of the problems I faced with the enemies is that once you hit them they are immune. So if the enemy touches the ground, the1-2 seconds it takes for them to get back up, they are invulnerable and any strikes you make on them are useless.

Since this is your 3D-crawler, you do have a lot of items that you pick up. Weapons, Health, Rune and other pick-ups should help you along the way, but rarely do they make a difference. Enemies level up with you, so as you get stronger as do they. I completed the game with a Level 27 Bio-Engineer, but apparently, you can reach well past the 40th character level, but it won't matter as your enemies will get that strong as well. You really don't feel that gaining weapons means anything since you are collecting so many different weapons and each one is better than the last. You can add Runes to certain weapons which make them stronger, but it doesn't really show. The only interesting part to the weapons is that their strength and value deteriorate over time. It's nice since it does remind you that you need to upgrade your weapons after a certain amount of time.

The game's graphics are good but not great. Baldur doesn't look anything special but most of the other characters do look fairly nice. The environments are nice in the beginning, but once you see the same area time and time again, it does start to get boring. The Valkyries are stunning and their scenes are nice, but again, once you've seen them 50 times, you're impression of them starts to wane. Aesir is really nice but you spend very little amount of time there. Enemies are ok, but suffer from the previous repetition problems.

The sound is also a mixed bag but definitely better than I give the rest of the game credit for. The score is fantastic and really helps the game, but there were often times where the music goes wonky. This occurs often during boss battles. Since they take so long, the music needs to repeat, but it wasn't looped properly so it sounds really out of place.
In one battle it is really distinctive and becomes really annoying that you may want to play the game without sound.
The voice work of the characters is top-notch, and probably the best aspect of the game. The only problem I encountered with the voice-work was in non cut-scenes where too many people are trying to talk at the same time. There will be times when Baldur is speaking only to be talked-over by various Humans who are trying to comment on the situation you are in. If anything of importance is mentioned there, you won't have the slightest idea what is going on.

Too Human could have been a really incredible game. Ignoring the whole 'this game was in development for ten years' aspect that is greatly misquoted, you can see that Silicon Knights wanted to do something different but just did not properly manage the game to its full potential. The developers tried too hard to try to make the game a cinematic experience as well as a unique one but failed to work out the quirks. Another problem the game suffers is that they wanted to make this a multiplayer game. Originally, Too Human was intended to be played by four players cooperatively, but that was then dropped to two. The difficulty shows that it was still built for four players. It is hard enough to get two people to play so getting four would have been next to impossible. If you want to go through this adventure on your own, you should be prepared for a challenge. The multiplayer does make the game easier, but games like this should be made first to work properly for one person, then tweaked for Co-Op play.

I cannot recommend this game to anyone regardless if you are a fan of the Dungeon-crawler RPG games that were once so successful on the PC. It really disappoints me to say that because I really wanted to enjoy this game. It had a lot of promise and it even starts off on the right path game-play wise. Once the difficulty kicks into full gear, the enjoyment factor drops and the frustration goes through the roof. The game ends on a cliff-hanger but we already knew well in advance that this is a planned series.

I do believe there will still be a sequel even with the problems of the first. I really feel that there is a true gem under all this dirt and with a little bit more work, Too Human 2 can be really incredible and make up for the mistakes of the first. Right now is what matters and Too Human is just not a game that will get people interested in the series or genre.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Last Guy Review (PSN)

You have to give Sony credit with their PlayStation Network games. From The PixelJunk Series to Echochrome and everything in between, we have had some very interesting titles available for us to play. The latest original title is The Last Guy, a game that looks absolutely simple but is extremely creative. While the game doesn't take too long to complete, it shows a lot of potential and possible future releases.

The premise of the game is fairly straight-forward. You play as The Last guy and the world is being over-run with monsters and zombies and you are responsible to help rescue the remaining citizens of various real-world locations. This is where The Last Guy becomes so unique. Each level is actually a real location in the world and the game uses Satellite Imagery to show off these locations. Some at first thought believed they were images taken from Google Maps. That is not the case, but they are still the real thing. Locations vary from Newcastle, Sydney, Los Angeles, Santa Fe and Tokyo among a few others. You're not trying to rescue people from the entire city, but rather small chunks. As a nice touch, when your character is in a certain location, the game tells you exactly where you are. If you're walking near a museum, you get to find out exactly which one it is.

In order to save people you need to walk by the building they are hiding in. Once you approach an area, those in need of rescuing will begin to flee and once you walk by them, they join your chain. In a similar situation like the classic game snake, the longer your group gets and the more challenging it becomes. There are various methods to get your characters to the Escape zone, from trying to keep the group closer together or running and/or using some of the power-ups located in the maps. When you attempt to run or gather groups, you use up your stamina bar. The larger your group, the more stamina you have, but since you will need more power to get the chain to rescue, you'll still end up depleting your stamina bars. Each level contains various enemies that are also trying to stop you from rescuing people. If an enemy attacks your chain, then the people who were broken from it run to the nearest building and you must help them evacuate again. If a monster touches you, then you die and must restart the level.

Each level has a different time limit and required number of people to rescue. The early levels are fairly simple, but as you progress further, you will need to develop a strategy to rescue everyone. Also, in a level where you are in Stockholm, you need to have a long enough chain to completely surround a building. Since people are trapped within the walls of the building, only by completely covering the building with other victims can you free those stuck within the walls. The strategy does help the game's longevity and the added bonus of VIPs also allows for multiple play through in order to unlock four bonus levels.

The graphics are not anything special to mention. You're playing as a small sprite which other than his red cape and blue suit doesn't look anything spectacular. The people you are rescuing also do not look like anything other than sprites. The enemies on the other hand are much better considering their size in comparison to everything else. There are over half a dozen different enemies and each one looks distinctively different from the rest. Their actions are also very different and that factors into your strategy.

The music in the game is also very unique. It's weird electronic style works for the game, but it might not appeal to the masses. The in-game sounds of monster and people is also really different. It would have been a nice touch if the victims/rescued sounded more authentic to the areas there were coming from, but that a minor complaint.

While the game is fun, it is really short and this will be a turn off for some. With just over 15 levels and each one taking anywhere from 5-15 minutes, you can potentially complete the game over the weekend. Yes, the later stages are a bit more difficult, but once you figure the best course of action and properly execute, you can complete the basic requirements with ease. Thankfully, the inclusion of VIPs and online rankings do give you a reason to replay levels, but again, it would have been nice to have more randomization with the placement of the rescued or the escape zone(s). The only randomization do get is the place of power-ups.
There is potential for additional levels, but that will only occur if the game is successful. Also, user-generated content would have been nice addition to the game. Had this been a PC title, you could have seen that happen.

The Last Guy is a fun game and one I truly enjoyed playing. At 10 dollars, it is a fun distraction, but once you complete the game, you may not see any reason to continue playing unless your friends are also playing. I was a bit disappointed that the game lacks Trophy Support as there is no real excuse for the omission. If you are looking for something different and like to try games that are very different than the rest, you cannot go wrong being The Last Guy.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lost: Via Domus Review (Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3)

It is usually extremely difficult for most movies or television programs to translate well onto a videogame. For one, it's almost a challenge to get the support of the full cast and crew of the movie/series to agree to spend the extra time in making the game. The other problem they face is that they are often rushed either to make a quick buck or ride the popularity wave of said franchise.

In my history of games, the last good TV show to translate into a solid videogame that I played was Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Xbox back when the system was still new; that was more than 6 years ago. Lost: Via Domus, is not a bad game, it's definitely not a good game either.

The game, based on the popular ABC (CTV in Canada) series recently completed its abbreviated fourth season. Lost: Via Domus was released earlier in 2008 to help tide over fans of the series between seasons. While the game does not bridge the gap between seasons, it does take part at various points in seasons one and two of the show.

In Via Domus, rather than playing as one of the regular cast members, you play as Elliot Maslow, a person on the plane who is suffering from amnesia. The main plot of the game is trying to help Elliot remember his past and at the same time trying to get off the Island. Since you don't remember who you are, you need to piece things back together. Since Elliot is a photo-journalist (something he re-discovers very early in the game), he knows that information about his past is available both on his computer and his camera. So the game starts you off by finding those two items. Once you do, that opens a whole new plot point which you must also uncover.

There are two main gameplay mechanics in the game. The first is your simple adventure game, where you must lead Elliot through different areas, collecting and talking to people for clues and solving puzzles to progress further in the game. The other, uses his photo-journalism past to uncover his history. These flashback moments are interesting as the do have some connection to some of the other characters and plots from the show. There isn't anything that is really important but like the show, everything is connected.

The controls in the game are alright, but nothing special. Majority of the game will have you collecting items and talking to people, but often, you only need to trigger one character speech or one specific item to progress.
You will spend most of your time walking or running by pressing the Right Trigger button. There are only a few times when there are 'action' moments, but even those are easy to do.

The game's story is fair, but nothing that rocks or changes the plot of the show. If you are a fan of the show, you won't miss anything. At the same time, if you're not a fan of the show, you might not understand some of what is going on or the people on the island as there is little to no history of events occurring during that point in the show (for example why the first time you talk to Sun, she speaks to you in Korean, but the next time, she's fluent in English).

An interesting aspect of the game is that it is split into 7 mini episodes. Each episode begins with a 'Previously on Lost…'; has the intro and even the 'Lost' closing for each episode. This is good if you play the game in short bursts and want it to feel like a show, but realistically, you can finish most episodes in about 30-40 minutes, so seeing these over and over again does become a strain.

The characters from the show are almost there just for show. While you'll talk to most of the cast, they seem little more than just there to fit disk space. You never really interact with them unless you need to trade for items or to get clues. I also had a problem with the interaction with characters as they will either give you horrible answers (which sometimes don't make sense) or don't progress the story further.

The characters are all represented in the game fairly well, but the voice-acting is extremely poor. Outside of a few of the characters and all of your favorites with the exception of Ben are voiced by someone other than the actor themselves. Locke sounds like an old farmer and Sawyer sounds like he's constipated. There are even times when while the characters are in the game, they serve no real purpose (Michael, Desmond and Sawyer in particular)
At the same time, while the characters do look like themselves, their animations are down-right awful. At one point, near the end of the game, when you interact with a character, she looks like a ghost, when she should be expressing herself much more dramatically. Elliot and the other 'made for the game' characters do look a bit better, but it just seems weird.

Voice acting might be poor, but at least the game does use the solid Lost score very well. The game sounds great when the tension is rising and helps keep you interested. It does save the game, but not greatly.

While the game is short and relatively easy, there are times when frustration will occur. The controls of your character are decent but do pose a problem sometimes, especially when you are trying to search for items. The game also does not offer a skip feature during cut-scenes, so if you fail a portion or happen to die, you'll have to go through some long cut-scene that you wish you could skip. Overall, you should be able to finish the game in about 5 hours; shorter or longer depending on if you want to find all the game's achievements and actually bother to ask every possible question available to you.

Outside of the interesting flashback moments and some little treats here and there, you really don't have any reason to play this game. As I stated before, they didn't add anything that would benefit the fan of the show, so there is no incentive to play. Also, once you beat the game, you have no reason to play again as there are no bonus features to unlock, which would have made the value of this title so much better and more appealing the fans.
If you haven't played this game but are a fan of the show, I recommend at least renting this. Considering the show won't return until January of 2009, this could help you remember some of the environments and moments from the show, but it doesn't substitute the solid show. If you aren't a fan, I strongly suggest you avoid this because it won't turn you into one.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bionic Commando Rearmed Review (PSN and XBLA)

There comes a time when you really need to think about the game you're playing; you invest your time and money reading, watching then eventually playing a game. Sometimes you luck out and your decision was the right one, other times you're not so lucky and feel that you could have used that time more effectively elsewhere.

One fundamental aspect about downloadable games that while great for the money cautious person still poses a problem: the true try before you buy option. Demos only give you a small flavour, but sometimes you need to play more than just a modified portion of the game. Demos are never 'true' to form and in order to get the proper experience you need to play the game for a good amount of time before you can say to your self 'I like' or 'I don't like' a certain game.

This is where I begin with Bionic Commando Rearmed, the 'new' game from Capcom developed by Grin Studios. Bionic Commando Rearmed is the remake of the original NES game from the 80s. With Bionic Commando having an upcoming 3D-HD version just around the corner, what better way to help market that game then by releasing the original to the millions of gamers who did not have the chance to experience the game then.

I had never played a Bionic Commando game, be it the Nintendo, Arcade or even the Game Boy versions. I was not a fan of the series and knew very little about it. That quickly changed once I read about the remake and I was smitten with the games cool graphics, sound and campy but fun storyline. Now after playing it, I still believe that the game is incredibly cool to look at and with a solid soundtrack, but the games controls are so difficult to use that it turns the game into a disappointment of sorts.

The story behind Bionic Commando is simple. You play a Commando Solider sent to rescue a fellow solider and take down the opposing army, it's your typical 80s Cold-War movie. You have to take out the enemy and fight bosses in your search for your friend and the evil General leading the opposition.

Unlike other platform games of the past, rather than using the jump mechanic to get from point A to point B, Bionic Commando has your character, Nathan 'Rad' Spencer, use his Bionic Arm's grapple to swing from ledges. While the mechanic and the method is fantastic, the game's controls are so inconsistent that often you will get frustrated at the game for that reason alone. Most of the game requires you to swing from ledges and move around the stages with your grapple, but if you don't time your swings properly and fail to point your character's arm in the right angle; you'll miss your next section. This can sometimes be a minor set-back depending on where you are, but in other cases it will result in death.

The original game from what I've read was incredibly difficult and that doesn't change here. I am not sure if the difficult stemmed from the game's original controls but that is the case here. You can get pretty far in the game on shear luck. The boss battles at the end of each stage can be really easy if you move fast and determine their weak-spot. What I found difficult was actually getting to the bosses, thanks to the twitchy controls.
The missions of the game are based on a map with each level given a number. You have your enemy levels and your ally levels. In your ally levels, this is where you get extra material necessary to further yourself in the game and to unlock extras. When on the map screen, if you encounter an enemy convoy, you will play a Top-down level where you need to lead Spencer to the end to take out the main convoy to proceed. These are nice distractions, but sometimes when you're trying to just get to the next level may anger you. They are easy enough that you should only take a few minutes to complete.

The game also includes a series of Challenge Rooms with high-scores being uploaded to the Bionic Commando web-site. While great, these challenges are incredibly difficult and you will get frustrated even more so at the game. It might not be such a bad idea to play the challenge rooms to get better at the game, but be prepared to scream and yell at your screen when your 'AI' dies/fails.

Bionic Commando Rearmed is a great looking game. For a downloadable title, it is a really nice site to look at. While it's 2D, the characters all have 3D sprites and the environments also look stunning. This game makes you wish/hope that more classic 2D games from back in the day get re-made to look this good. The sound is also really enjoyable with a stunning electronic based soundtrack. The music is remixed from the original and really cool. If you enjoy the soundtrack, you can purchase the album off of iTunes.

My recommendation of this game is based entirely on your preference of the genre. If you enjoy the classics or were a fan of the original game, then you'll no doubt enjoy this game. But if you have never played this game before I must suggest you not only play the demo but try to find a friend who has it and play the game in more depth. You can't judge this game fairly before spending enough time with it. If you can get past the twitchy controls, then you will have a great time with it, but if you can't then this game is not for you.

I still have every intention on continue playing this game. It's not unplayable and while the controls are bad in my opinion, it is not to the point where you would say the game is unplayable. As long as you keep practicing and realize the game is intentionally difficult, you should feel good about yourself once you finally manage to complete it. If you can't take the stress, then I strongly suggest you play something else.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (Late) Review (PS3)

When Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was first revealed, I did not care too much for it. It looked like a male led 'Tomb Raider' type game. It didn't help that the first trailer that I saw made the game look some-what cheesy. With that, I had no intention on playing the game until I started to see and hear more of it. I tried the demo, liked what I saw and I decided to pick it up. Nathan Drake's adventure might a short one, but it was certainly a thrill ride from start to finish.

In Uncharted, you play as Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter of sorts who is hired by Elena Fisher to help her film a television documentary on Sir Francis Drake's tomb, which was rumoured to be somewhere in the waters. Upon finding the tomb, which Nathan already believed, discovers clues to the whereabouts of El Dorado, the fabled City of Gold and the true location of Sir Francis Drake's body. They along with Nate's friend Sullivan set off to find this and along the way many different things happen to them.

Uncharted plays a lot like both Prince of Persia and Tomb Raider. It is similar to Prince of Persia thanks to the large amounts of climbing and jumping you will have to do throughout the game; while the action and adventure is similar to that of Tomb Raider and even Gears of War. When you're not climbing walls, trees or buildings you will be solving puzzles and shoot wave upon wave of bad guys. The pacing is done right, but throughout the game you might be surprised at how difficult it is for you to get to a certain location, only to find that the enemy is already there waiting for you. It might seem weird, but taking its cue from Hollywood Movies, you just go with the flow.

The game is extremely cinematic. You'll encounter many cut-scenes throughout the game which help lead the story on. For the most part, while this is strictly fiction, there are only a few points late in the game that the realistic nature of the game loses its credibility. Again, this is trying to be an Indiana Jones type game (as were the Tomb Raider games), so the discovery late the game was expected.

The graphics in this game are absolutely incredible. Considering this game came out in late 2007, Naughty Dog Studios has made what I would say is still one of the best looking games to date. Metal Gear Solid might want to fight for that title, but the games graphics, water, character models and every possible environment both outdoor and indoor are extremely detailed and a sight to see. You will often just want to peer around with L2 just to look at and absorb the scenery.

The sound is also well done. All the voice actors work well and I didn't have a problem with any of them, including the stereotypical British Villain. It's sometimes often that a game that looks great will suffer from characters that sound like they don't belong, but that is not the case here. The outdoor environments sound great. Considering you are in the jungle, the sound of birds, animals and the rustling of trees and leaves help set the environment. The in-game music is also another positive aspect helping to add tension to hectic battles and incredible discoveries.

There is very little that hurts Uncharted. Outside of the length of the game, which should only take you about 8-12 hours to complete, there isn't much to complain about the game. Yes, there are some frustrating moments here and there, but that is expected with this type of game. You will encounter some points where Nathan fails to make an easy jump, either by under-jumping or going over; you will die from head-shots, but thankfully there are plenty of check-points that your frustration will only occur at a few key points. The last battle is a bit difficult but well done and the ending of the game is satisfying.

Thankfully, with the recent inclusion of trophies and unlockables already included in the game, there is some incentive to play through the game on multiple occasions. The bonus content is your standard fare of character art and in-game additions, so you may want to play the game a second or third time just for that content.

I loved Uncharted. For me the length was great with at no point feeling like the game was leading me on. If you were on the fence in the beginning, I strongly suggest you try it out and I am certain you will enjoy yourself. I was too, but once I started playing, I couldn't stop playing and you won't realize how quickly time flies. This is definitely the beginning of a great franchise with Nathan Drake; hopefully Sony will not over-do it, but I am eager to see what is next for him.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Braid Review (XBLA)

I tried to think of various ways to begin my critique of the Xbox Live Arcade game Braid. I thought about describing how it is so rare and refreshing to have a game that feels so simple but is so very deep. I even thought about describing the nature in which the downloadable game genre has opened the door to developers to take risks and engage the gamer, but to pick one over the other was unfair.
To be honest, outside of the fact that this game got a lot of slack for being a more-expensive than most downloadable titles, very little information was known about this simple sounding game. In reality, there is so much more to Braid that actually not knowing too much about it ends up being the reason why it is such a fantastic title.

Braid is a platform game, but unlike the 2D platform games that so many of us grew up with, it takes things a little differently. You begin the game as Tim, a guy who 'made a mistake' and is now searching for a Princess. Yes, it sounds a lot like Super Mario, and it doesn't hide the homage, including ending every world with a dinosaur telling you in some form that 'the Princess is in another castle'. Unlike in Mario where your goal was to go from Point A to Point B to reach the main boss, Braid actually has you rushing through points trying to pick up pieces to a puzzle for each world that will help you solve the reason for the princess' sudden disappearance. By completing each puzzle, you unlock steps to the top of a house that opens up the final stage of the game.

Throughout each world, there are puzzle pieces lying around and you must collect them to progress to unlock the true ending of the game. Each world is different and you must use different tactics to gather these pieces. when you start the game, the puzzle pieces are easy to get to, but as you progress through Braid, the difficulty increases.
In the past, most platform games would penalize you with death if you made a mistake (fell in the pit) or touched an enemy, but in Braid, if you make a mistake, all you have to do is hit the X button and rewind the game to fix that mistake. You will use the X button a lot to complete the game. At points where you need to make use of an enemy for a jump boost, if you miss it, simply rewind and try again.

As mentioned already, the 5 main worlds in the game are all extremely different and unbelievably fun to play. In one world you will need to use your shadow to help you reach the puzzle pieces and another world plays like its own rewind feature. If you move right, all the characters and objects move one way; move left and they 'rewind' back to their original spot. This is another reason why the game is so incredible, since there is so much originality in the level designs that it doesn't feel like a silly gimmick.

The graphics use a very fair-tale color and look to it. Tim is dressed in with a tie and sports coat, and while he is not extremely detailed, he and the enemies in the game look good for this type of game. You won't show off the game's graphics, but it is won't hurt your eyes looking at it for a prolonged period of time.
This is a game that needs to be played with the sound on and should not be played at a low setting. The sound is something I really enjoyed as the score works on every level. Often you may be tempted to just let the music play for prolonged periods of times. The music also is affected when you use your rewind and it works well at all times.

You can theoretically run through Worlds 2 through 6 in less than an hour and collect some easy 50 achievement points, but you're not learning anything about Tim and the reason he's searching for this princess. In order to get the complete story and of course to see the ending you will need to collect all 60 puzzle pieces. That should take you about 3-5 hours, but be prepared for some frustrating moments that may cause you to want to pull out your hair. Understand that this is not frustration because of bad controls, as the controls are fairly tight and responsive, but because you'll be angry at yourself for not being able to figure out the simple manoeuvres to get some of the puzzle pieces. While it may seem like some are impossible, the answer is always right there and can be solved if you take your time and analyze your environments carefully.

This is an absolutely incredible game and has continued the trend of fantastic and original titles of 2008. Going into too much detail about the game's underlying plot or explaining the puzzles will give away too much. The less you know and the more you discover on your own, the better the game will feel to you.
Yes there are two 'faults' to the game but in reality only one is a true deterrent to the game. The cost of the game is a bit high, but once you've actually gone through it, you will feel that your money was well spent. At 15-17 dollars (depending on where you buy this game (I live in Canada and the cost of Live Points is still not 1:1 with the US) it is still cheaper than most portable titles, and you're getting a lot more content for the cost.
The only real problem is that once you've completed the game and have seen the game's epilogue, there is no real reason to play it a second time. The only reason would be to try to get the last achievement (where you need to collect all the puzzle pieces in less than an hour).

If you can only buy one XBLA game this year, than I can easily say that Braid should be your choice right now. It is hands down one of the most original and engrossing games around, a true pleasure to play. Developers should take note of this game and realize that it is still very much possible to take a simple game in nature and create something magnificent. I cannot wait to see what the Developer of Braid does next.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

PixelJunk Monsters Review (PSN)

Both Sony and Microsoft in the attempt to attract every possible gamer have done a great job in offering plenty of niche titles that you might not normally have played. For the most part, the biggest surprises have been those that were made available either on Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade service or Sony's PlayStation Network. Since both systems launches, we have been honoured at playing some titles such as Geometry Wars, Rez N+, Echochrome and Super Stardust HD Extreme just to name a few. In Sony's PSN, the PixelJunk series has also been one of the main players in the PSN.

PixelJunk Monsters is the second release by Q Games. The first game was PixelJunk Racers and recently, they released PixelJunk Eden. All three are very extremely different but all three are incredibly addictive with their game play and frustration. In PixelJunk Monsters, you play a 'hero' of sorts who is responsible to protect a village/home from waves upon waves of enemy monsters. The game is a strategy game, but rather than building units, your goal is to build towers of a number of different set-ups to stop the on-coming groups of monsters.

The game follows the same structure of PC based strategy games; you are placed on a map, must research and create your towers and hope for the best. At the beginning of each level, you are given a small amount of money which you can build your initial towers. From there, for every enemy you kill, you either will get money and in some situations, you will receive gems which will allow you to research better structures. Certain towers work well against specific enemies; some are strictly for air units, some for ground and then you have a couple that attack both. At the same time, while you might have a strong ground tower, it will be useless against fast moving enemies, so you really need to determine the best towers to build and where to place them on the map.

Since each level is different, it really does take strategy to figure out the best course of action. For the most part, the wave patterns are the same from level to level, but the layouts will force you to carefully place your towers and upgrade them properly. Like with other strategy games, your towers upgrade either by taking out enemies or if your character stands where the tower is and does his war-dance (the character does dance).

The level designs do get progressively more difficult as you progress through the game as do the strength of the waves of enemies. The first few waves will be easy to take care of, but once you get to the harder levels and stages, you will often end up losing because the strength in numbers of the enemies is just too great for your units to handle.

This is where the frustration sets in. Since the levels are relatively small, the path between where some enemies start to where your village is might only take a few seconds to reach. If you haven't upgraded your units or do not have a proper dispersion of towers, you will not last long. One saving grace is that once a specific enemy unit stops attacking (near the end of each stage), you can sell the units you have for them to create more powerful towers to stop the stages last wave, which is always a slow but extremely powerful monster.
Frustration will cause plenty of trail and error. Since each of the latter stages can take at least 30 minutes to complete, you will be really angry if your village dies when you've reached the last few waves.

The graphics and sound are typical PlayStation Network fare. The animation and art for the levels and characters are nice, but will not impress the average gamer. It is a unique style that works well for this type of game. The towers each are distinctively different, same with the enemies, so there won't be times when you cannot distinguish what you are looking at. As for the sound, it is the low-point of the game. It is extremely repetitive and annoying to the point that you will want to play this game either on mute, or wished there was a Custom Soundtrack option.

It is clear that PixelJunk Monsters is not for everyone but it is a game that should be at least tried. Thankfully at only 10 dollars, you are getting plenty of value in a PSN game. With 21 stages lasting anywhere from 10-40 minutes, you can accumulate a lot of playtime. There is also an expansion pack available that increases the amount of playable stages. You might be frustrated at times, but I strongly believe that you if you give it time and play it strategically, you will be satisfied with your purchase.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Soulcalibur IV Review (PS3 and Xbox360)

When it comes to fighting games, there seems to be three types of categories. The first is your over-the-top fighters like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat which rely on special attacks with out-of-this world characters. The second category is the complete opposite with realistic actions and move-sets that use real fighting techiques, like Virtua Fighter. The third category is your fighting with weapons, and the game that best fits that group has been for many years the Soul series of games.

Soulcalibur for years has been among the best known and probably easiest to pick up fighting games around. You have your selection of characters, each with a weapon, and you duke it out. Your basic moves are the horizontal or vertical slash, kick or grab. Unlike other fighting games where you press back to block, here you press one of the face buttons. To do grabs or other special moves, you’ll have to combine face buttons, but for the most part, it’s very easy to learn, but will take time to master.

The Soulcalibur games in the past have contained your basic arcade mode and a story based mode. Soulcalibur IV continues this, but the story mode this time around is extremely short, with only 5 stages. In previous versions you would have spent a lot of time in this mode, but this time, it takes the back seat to the other modes and can be completed in about 10 minutes. The two modes which you’ll spend the most time with are the Tower of Lost Souls and the Character Creator.

In Tower of Lost Souls, you take a number of characters (depending on the level) and travel either up or down a ‘Tower’ of enemies. The motr levels you go up, the extra in-game money you receive and bonus stuff you’ll unlock. This is a great and extremely challenging mode since as you progress further up or down (depending on the mode you select) the characters get much stronger and challenging. You will get frustrated, but it is a strong addition to the game. As you get further in the game, you will unlock points/money to use in the other solid mode, Character Creator.

Soulcalibur IV gives you the ability to essentially create a character from scratch. You’ll take a template and then you can adjust just about anything from armour, weapons and abilities which will affect your character that can be used in various modes, including online. There are already a plethora of interesting characters created by people that include famous fighters from other games and even a few super-heroes (check out YouTube for examples). At the same time, you can adjust characters already available and unlock characters that are not available from the start.

Just because there is a Character Creator option, does not mean that the selection of available characters is weak. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. All the characters, both returning and new, work really well. The only down-side to the characters is the bonus characters: Yoda, Vader and The Apprentice. Yoda just seems out of place, Vader is ok, but nothing rspecial while The Apprentice seems a bit too powerful for his own good. All three look great, but it’s better to stick to the regular cast when playing either against the computer or with your friends.

The graphics in the game are great but nothing absolutely incredible. The character models work well and so do the environments, as you would expect with a Namco title. A nice addition to the game is that character armour deteriorates as you fight. If your character attacks a certain part of the body (head, torso or legs) repeatedly, your opponent will lose that part of armour. This is a great little addition since you can essentially turn your opponent completely ‘nude’ and dish out massive damage.

The game’s sound is also great but I preferred to play the game with the Japanese voiceovers rather than the English ones. This is ok, except for the fact that if you play with either of the two bonus characters (Vader/Yoda and the Apprentice), they don’t speak in their normal language. The game’s famous Voice-over is still there and continues to narrate the game as you play. The in-game music is also still quite memorable and fits with the levels (meaning the Star Wars levels have famous Star Wars songs when playing in them).

Soulcalibur moves into the world of online fighting and thanks to the Character Creator, you can really have some interesting fights. Because of that fact, you might not actually fight against one of the main characters. The lag is hit-or-miss but for the most part, you’ll be able to play some decent matches, unless you have a ‘drop’ with the person you are playing against.

It is a bit of a disappointment that the Story mode was reduced, but thanks to the Tower of Lost Souls, Character Creator and Online play, there is enough use in this game that you will be spending a lot of time with it. You’ll want to play the other options because of what it will unlock with the Character Creators.

Thanks to the to the easy to learn controls, new players in the series will not take too long to get used to the controls and at the same time, veterans will have a lot options to master the game, giving it that great balance for all. I can easily recommend this Fantastic game and suggest if you have even the slightest interest in fighting games that you pick this up. With small selection of fighting games available right now, you will be playing this until the next Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter IV hits the streets and that won’t be for at least another few months.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Assassin's Creed Late Review (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360)

What if historians could use our DNA to uncover the secrets of the past? Well that’s the premise of one of 2007’s most talked about games, Assassin’s Creed. While the game was released a while ago, I only recently managed to play the game and wanted to experience what the hype was all about.

Technically you are Desmond Mason, a bartender who is apparently the descendant of a famous Assassin, Altair. it seems that, the events carried out by our ancestors are embedded in our DNA and are passed from generation to generation. An interesting concept, but definitely restrictive, since the moment of conception, that data is stuck, so anything they do afterwards cannot be transferred. Since Altair is essentially a relative of Desmond, he carries some vital information that certain people need. Desmond is ‘kidnapped’ and agrees to let a doctor (Dr. Vidic) and his assistant (Lucy) to take a ‘look’ at this information to try to uncover some secrets from the past.

While you are Desmond, you become Altair when you take control of him during these memory blocks. Your goal as Altair, is to complete tasks given to your by your Assassin’s Guild. You begin your memories with an unsuccessful mission where you are punished and you must regain your skills. You proceed to take-out important figures and solve the mystery of your environments. As you complete these Assassinations, you regain your skills (similar to every Metroid game).

The game takes place during the Crusades and all the missions begin with you traveling to one of three Middle Eastern City: Acre, Damascus or Jerusalem. Upon arrival in the city, you must travel to your Assassin Bureau to get your assignment. Once that is given, you’ll need to find certain people through the city to get more information. In some cases, you might need to pick-pocket a person. In others, you will need to over-hear a conversation. Once you have enough information, you return to the Bureau, are given permission to take out your target and you execute your man. It is an interesting method, but pretty mundane and you’re essentially doing the same routine over and over again. Of the various investigations you need to do, the easiest ones (Pick-Pocketing and Eavesdropping) are the ones you’ll do first and since you only need to do three to have permission to assassinate your target, it can make things a bit easy.

While the game ‘can’ be easy, it’s actually quite not, thanks in part to the horrible controls and auto targeting that hamper a large chunk of the game. If you encounter a problem in the game, it will be because of the extremely sensitive controls. Since you need to do a lot of climbing and jumping, the touchy controls can cause you to miss an easy jump, jump to the wrong ledge or have a problem trying to grab a ledge. The controls also pose a problem when attacking, in particular when you have a lot of characters on the screen. You will often encounter groups of 3, 5 or even more guards and it can be problematic trying to target them thanks to the far from perfect auto targeting. If and when you do ‘die’ (you technically do not die, but you need to restart the memory: it’s the past, so the events have already occurred) it will be because of the controls.

The controls do make the game a pain, but thankfully the game looks great in terms of the environments. All the cities look stunning and sometimes you might just want to admire the architecture. The character graphics are good, but at times seem extremely stiff, especially with Lucy and Dr. Vidic. The cut-scenes are done well and look good, but it’s a bit of a disappointment that the movements of NPCs are not fluid and realistic.

The sound department is nice and fits the time-frame of the game. While the voice-acting is not bad, it’s not that good either. You’ll get annoyed after hearing the beggar-woman or the random character repeat the same thing over and over again.

This is a Good game, but because of those pesky controls, be prepared for some challenges along the way, and may turn off most from this title. The premise of the story original and the sandbox options (climbing ledges to synchronize, saving pedestrians, etc…) does give the game a lot of longevity. It will take you a good 15-20 hours to complete the game and if you’re playing on the 360, you’ll want to spend the time to find the flags and completing all the tasks to unlock the achievements. I would also recommend playing this game on the 360 over the PS3 for that reason alone. It looks good on both platforms but the collecting and extra tasks are better suited for those looking to improve their GamerScore on the 360.

It’s almost a certainty that there will be a sequel some-time down the road, and if they can fix the extremely sensitive controls and stiff character animations, the series will be absolutely incredible. Until then, try this one out, have some fun, but keep your voice when you want Altair to climb a wall instead of using it to jump off it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Grand Theft Auto IV Review (PS3 and Xbox 360 Review)

Videogames are the new form of story-telling. When done correctly, they can engage the viewer into a world that is usually better than their own. Even with all the controversy surrounding the series, Grand Theft Auto has always done a great job in connecting the player with the characters, storylines and environments. The open play gives players essentially the controls to do things at their own pace. Yes, you will have to do some mandatory tasks to open up the entire ‘world’. Once you’ve done that, nothing holds you back from non-stop enjoyment.

Grand Theft Auto IV doesn’t build on the III canon and offer the gamer an entire country to play with, but rather takes us back to the city that started all the hype: Liberty City. The people behind the game decided to give us a city with so much to offer and so much detail that you will forget about the fact that San Andreas gave us an entire state to play with. The Burroughs that makes up Liberty City are all extremely well developed with plenty of places to see and things to do. Feel like getting something to eat, you’re not too far from a variety of eateries including hot dog vendors at various street corners. Want to play pool, darts or even bowling? You’ve got options. Heck, just want to sit back, relax and have a laugh, drop by the comedy club where Katt Williams is performing live. You might not be able to buy property, but you have so many other things at your disposal make up for that.

The GTA III canon of games all had great and engaging storylines. You had your basic story, based on getting back at those who ‘screwed’ you over and along the way, you meet up with people who you at first trusted but later had to ‘take care of’ later on, or those who you thought were ‘slime balls’ but were there when you needed them the most. GTA IV is no different. This time, instead of playing as an American, we get the opportunity to play as immigrant Niko Bellic, a former soldier who fought during the Bosnian Civil War during the mid-90s. Niko has had some problems back home in the Balkans and made the decision to come to America after reading the great stories he heard from his cousin, Roman. While we’re led to believe that his reasons to come to America were to ‘Live the American Dream’ we slowly realize that Niko is there for revenge.

Not wanting to go into too much detail, during Niko’s service in Bosnia, something went wrong and people he cared for died. He feels that the person who back-stabbed his unit is hiding in Liberty City and he wants to find them. The goal in the game is to find this person, but it won’t be easy for an Illegal immigrant with no money and a cousin who told grand stories of success, but actually owes more than he has. This is why Niko needs to be-friend various people and essentially become a goon-for-hire in order to get those with power to help him find the person he is looking for.

Niko is not your stereotypical main character. He’s not American and doesn’t connect to the average American. You need to understand the fact that he is different to understand his actions. If you accept him as a foreigner and his manners, or the fact that he tends to be very accepting of people, you will turn to love him for what he is. There are some great moments where we see just how difficult it can be for someone who doesn’t speak American English to understand the slang of the area.

While all the characters you interact with in the game are all extremely unique and well-done, the storyline does tend to drag on a bit. This may understandable since anyone would have to do a lot of hard work to get to that ultimate goal. The ‘main’ objective for Niko slowly becomes the sub-plot and his ultimate finale deals with an entirely different issue and character. This is common with the GTA III canon, but this could have been a great opportunity for RockStar to do things a bit differently and surprise us. While the levels are great, there are some that just don’t make sense as to why Niko would agree to do them. One particular mission, which is also probably the best mission ever made (an homage to the film Heat), really wasn’t necessary for Niko to take part of but was an pleasure to play. The game also puts us into situations where decisions must be made and those choices will affect the game later down the road. These are nice because it forces the gamer to make a tough decision. What is impressive is that other characters react differently depending on the choices you make.

With GTA IV entering the HD era, the graphics and sound in the game are absolutely incredible. Everything from the cars, buildings and people are all extremely well detailed. The pedestrians might not look super crisp, they still look good enough that you may at times just want to stand at a busy corner and admire the scenery. The graphics are great, but it’s the dynamic lighting that most people will talk about. The natural lighting changes as time goes by. Play at noon in game, and it’s extremely bright; play at 2 am, and it will be awfully difficult to do anything in any dark environments. This can be frustrating at times, especially with some levels where you need to see where you’re going, but it is extremely realistic. It actually ended up hurting my enjoyment of the finale as I finished it late in the evening (in game time).

The sound is also really good. While being of Serbian Decent and fluent in the language, I was disappointed with the accents of the actors who spoke in Serbo-Croatian, both their Slavic speeches and even the attempt at the English accents of a foreigner. It wasn’t bad enough that it dampened the story but sometimes I wish foreign actors were used instead of American based ones. Other than that, the characters deliver their lines well and you really feel like you’re watching a Gangster Movie. The sounds of the cars, the street noise and everything else that adds to the ambiance of the game are extremely top-notch and make all the environments extremely believable. The music in the game continues the great tradition of the previous series with dozens of great tunes and something for everyone; Jazz, Russian, Rock, Hip-Hop and Reggae just to mention a few. Also, the great talk-radio stations are there as well.

GTA IV is absolutely Stunning and I loved it. Yes, it is frustrating at times, but games are supposed to be challenging, it is why we play them. The main storyline should take the average gamer 30-40 hours to complete, but the amount of extra content available at your finger tips doubles the playtime. Because of what the game has to offer, no one can fault you at wanting to take some time away from the story to watch some TV (in game), clean up the streets (helping the police to rid the city of its other criminals), dating a potential future wife (or ex-wife) or playing the absolutely enjoyable multiplayer mode, there is something for everyone.

We might not have gotten double the size of San Andreas, but we did get a Grand Theft Auto game that does satisfy the fan of the series. There are problems in the lighting and some glitches will appear here and there, but it is never to the point that you give up. If you’re not a fan of the series, I really feel that this could change that since Niko and the supporting staff is really well-done with not a bad or out of place character in the bunch. The game does take some time before you hit the really juicy parts, but once you start to have fun, you won’t want to stop. Like GTA III before it, this will force other game companies to copy its success and will change the face of gaming in the future.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Super Smash Brothers Brawl Review (Wii)

Has there ever been something that you wanted to like, but the more time you invested in it, the more you realized that you just did not enjoy it? Be it a book, a movie or even a person, chances are we’ve all had this occur to us. In terms of gaming, the first game I invested so much time into a flawed product was Sony’s The Getaway. On paper, the previews gave this game a lot of promise, but once I finally started playing it, I just could not enjoy it the way I was hoping to. I completed the game and invested the hours necessary to see it through, but it was a very difficult process with many frustrating moments.

Since then, I’ve been extremely cautious when investing my time and money on a specific title. Thanks to our freedom of choice, if there was anything I was hesitant about, I made sure to get enough information before I made my choice. Now in 2008, I have encountered the next game that I thought I would enjoy, but after spending a solid amount of time with, I realized that it’s just not for me.

As a Wii Owner, the selection of great, high-class titles is few and far between. In fact, it’s actually the lesser known titles that have ended up being the true gems to the system (at least in my opinion). Before Super Smash Brothers Brawl was released, I had never played a game in the series. I never owned a Nintendo64 and I didn’t bother to buy Melee when I twice owned a GameCube. With Brawl being my first experience, I thought that this would be a fresh change of pace since this is clearly labelled as a fighter unlike anything else.

Super Smash Brothers is fairly simplistic. Unlike regular fighting games, where your objective is to deplete your opponent’s health to zero, here you actually want to hit your opponent enough times so that they are thrown off screen and cannot return to the stage. It’s nice that you can take 200% or more damage and still be in a fight, but it isn’t a system without its flaws. Kicking your opponent off the screen is nothing new as Soul Calibur and the Virtua Fighter series both have that goal, but here, that is the only way to win.

The controls in the game, while easy to learn are not always responsive. To jump you have two options, either press up on the control pad (simple enough) or press ‘c’ on the nunchuk. While that sounds simple, it’s not always responsive. There were many times in the game where my character on relatively low hit percentage (less than 75%) would end up dying because I could not jump to reach the ledge. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the facts that it happened often and the computer’s character, which had a higher hit percentage, would still be able to recover and keep on fighting. To be fair, it does vary from character to character, but the system doesn’t work right.

The controls in the game are as stated before, fairly simple and thankfully there are many options. You can play it with only the Wii Remote, the Wii Remote with the nunchuk, the classic controller, or if you have a GameCube controller, you can use that. It’s nice to have options, but I really from my experience, the best controller option is the GameCube. It’s really disappointing that in order to enjoy a Wii game, you need to use the controller of the last generation. If you don’t have access to that controller, then playing this game will not be that fun.

The game itself only essentially uses two buttons. Looking at the Wiimote and nunchuck control scheme, your ‘A’ Button is your primary attack while the ‘B’ button is for your secondary or special attack. Depending on the way you press those buttons and in which direction, your attacks will vary. For example, press ‘B’ and down with Samus and she will drop a bomb; press ‘B’ and up and she will do a lightening summersault (I believe that is what it’s called). It doesn’t take long to learn your character’s moves set, so the learning curve is next to none.

There are good things about the game. There are a lot of characters to choose from, once you’ve unlocked them all. If you’re a Nintendo fan of any stature, you will enjoy the selection and the possibilities of being able to duke it out with Samus, Link, Mario, Captain Falcon, or my new favourite Pitt (from Kid Icarus, a game I really do hope is announced at E3 2008). While there are a lot of characters, most of them, including Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog, are locked and must be unlocked by playing the game over an extended period of time. This is expected and a common thing for most fighting games, so there is no complaint there, except that for both Snake and Sonic, being locked is the same if Soul Calibur IV decides to lock Darth Vader. If you’re new to this game or have friends over and they want to play with Snake, unless you’ve unlocked him, you’ll have to play for a while to get him as a character.

The graphics and sounds are top-notch and I cannot hate on them. The character models and the environments look great and the sound, for a game that has no voice-work, is also up there. If this was in High Definition, it would make any person salivate, but even in SD, this looks really nice.

Brawl does offer a lot in terms of unlockables and gameplay modes. You have your regular arcade mode, events, training but the meat of the game is The Subspace Emissary. It’s an interesting way to give you a single-player adventure in a fighting game, but it might not appeal to those who just want to fight. Also, in order to unlock characters in the game, you really do need to play this mode, so if you are not enjoying it, getting all the characters will be an extremely longer process.

Even with all that is good with the game (graphics and options), I just could not enjoy this game enough to recommend it. In my honest opinion, I think this a disappointing game unless you’ve played previous games in the past, own multiple game-cube controllers or have enough friends willing to help you unlock the characters. This is strictly a fan-service type of game that is catered to the teenagers who played the original back in 1999 or enjoy playing something extremely simple. I gave this game an honest chance, spending plenty of time with all its options and I just continued to get frustrated with not knowing what I was doing right or wrong and still ending up the same way: dying a few times before beating a Hand and seeing a small CG clip of the character I used.

If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll pick this up, enjoy it and continue with your normal life. If you’re new to it, like I was, your best bet is to first rent this and see if you’re willing to invest your time and energy, then go out and spend the 40-50 dollars on it.

I really wanted to like this game but sometimes it’s better to be honest with yourself rather than pretending you’re having a good time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Review (PS3)

When I bought a PlayStation back in 1999, the first title I purchased was Metal Gear Solid. It was the only reason why I decided for a PlayStation instead of buying a Nintendo64. I remember sitting down that weekend and showing off to my younger sister and friends just how incredible the game was. Every moment was memorable: the opening, Mantis, the wolves in the caves, the torture chamber that the climax. Still to this day, I remember the first time I beat the game, followed by the three additional times I played through it to see every cut-scene and to find every single item.
Since then, I have played every single Metal Gear title released in North America, that includes the incredible Game Boy Color edition and the Acid series on the PSP. I haven’t had a problem with the series and when I finally completed Metal Gear Solid 4, I felt like I’ve really accomplished something and now I am sad to see it go. Thankfully, there is so much depth in MGS4, I still have chances to experience the game over and over again.

Metal Gear Solid 4 is Kojima’s way of thanking everyone for 20 years of loyalty to the series. From start to finish the game is exactly what you’d expect with his previous games and once you’ve completed the seen the credits roll, you’ll feel like you’ve grown with the characters in the game. I have no intention to spoil anything in regards to the storyline. There is just so much that occurs in the game that knowing anything would be unfair to those willing to take the 15-18 hours to complete the game.

MGS4 is incredible. It is everything you could wish for in a 21st century title. Incredible graphics and jaw-dropping sounds with an effective score and immerse effects. Every character looks stunning from the PMCs, the Beauty and the Beast Bosses and everything in between. Also, everything is running with the in-game engine so there is no CG used in the game, which really shows off the strength of the PlayStation 3. The voice-acting is what you’d expect and doesn’t fail in any regard except for the fact that it would have been nice in certain levels to have Non-playable characters to sound like the region they are from (eg. Characters in S. America and the Middle-East with US accents).

The game follows the same mechanics of previous Solid games. The game relies heavily on stealth but thanks to the new scenario of PMCs (Private Military Corporations) and you’re interaction with Rebel fighters, you can at times enter areas and be spotted without repercussion. If the Rebels see you and if you aid them, then they will talk to you, and at times help you sneak past certain areas. Also, like previous titles, you can if you’d like, go at full force and shoot your way through. Thanks to the a new ‘point’ system, every time you take out an opposing force, either by lethal or non-lethal ways, when you collect their weapon(s), you get points. You can take these points and use them to ‘buy’ weapons, accessories, bullets and other stuff to help you through the game. While this does make the game a bit easier since you can essentially buy the most expensive and effect weapons early on, the game’s AI can counter this by swarming you with enemies that will still eventually get you.
Enemies are much more intelligent than in past versions. Make too much sound, they’ll hear you or if you fail to properly use your OctoCamo (camouflage that adapts to the environment), they’ll see you. Even with the classic Cardboard Box and Tin Drum, if you place it on awkward spots, they will question it and reveal your ‘poor’ hiding decisions. (In one situation on a street location, I tried to hide in a Tin Drum, the solider questioned allowed ‘Tin Drum?’ and he knew something wasn’t right).

The game also implemented a great psyche meter for Snake. If you run too much or are being attacked/shoot at, Snake’s psyche will drop making him less accurate. Also, if you use certain weapons for an extended period of time (like a machine gun), he’ll enter a Combat High. His attacks are greater, but once you stop, he hits a low and doesn’t attack very well. It’s very realistic and at times; they even poke fun of it in certain cut-scenes.
Continuing with the gameplay, it still follows the previous titles. There will be times when you’ll have to use your smarts to complete a task (boss battles). You will be required to strategize your attacks and at times, just like in the past, sometimes you’ll need to do something else, instead of a direct attack, to defeat your enemy.

The game isn’t without it’s flaws. While it’s a picture-perfect conclusion to the series, unless you’ve played the previous three titles you may be a bit confused at times. I strongly suggest that if you haven’t played the previous Solid games, you should go out and spend the 30 dollars to buy the MGS Essential Collection or download the Metal Gear Solid Database available free on the PSN. If you don’t have the background of the characters, you may wonder at times just what they are talking about. Kojima did offer flashbacks, but they are single shots and do not really divulge too much information of the previous games.
While not a complaint per-se, there are times in the game where you will get absolutely frustrated. These occur near the end of the game, but it is expected that the difficulty will ramp up near the end.
Some people have shown some dislike towards the ‘point’ system mentioned earlier. I did not since the game still allows you to play the game the way you want to. You are not forced to kill enemies so you can still enjoy the game as a stealth title. There will be times where you have no choice but to run and gun, but for the most part, you can go through most environments without taking a single life.
A problem with previous titles was the long-winded Codec conversations that forced you to listen to the characters talk to one another for a long period of time. While not removed, they occur much less and look a lot better than before. Also, between the game’s acts, there are some really impressive Mission Briefings that cut the game into three screens. During these cut-scenes, you have the option of controlling the MK-II (portable unit that aids you in the game). If you choose this as your focus, you can essential create your own video, deciding which angle to look at the characters. If the conversation is boring, just take the Mk-II and drive it around the area and you may find some bonus items.

If you haven’t figured it out, this game is absolutely Incredible. I loved it from start to finish and it’s a game I plan on playing again and again. While there are flaws, they are so minor that you can looks past them. 2008 has already been a great year for games on the PS3 with solid titles such as Burnout Paradise, Grand Theft Auto IV but it will be Metal Gear Solid that takes the cake (so far). This will sell systems and at this moment, there is no game that comes close to the experience you will get playing this. Enjoy every moment of this game.

Please note, there is an Online portion to the game. While I did participate in the Online Beta of the game, I have not had a chance to play it too much in depth. Once I’ve gone through the online mode enough, I will write a separate mode for it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Spore Creature Creator Mini-Review (PC)

Here we go again! Yet another 'demo' released for cost and yet again, the debate about 'should we be paying for a tech demo.' Yes, Spore Creature Creator is definitely just a snippet of the upcoming Spore title, but unlike the full edition, Spore Creature Creator is a game that can be enjoyed as a stand-alone and is geared solely for one demographic, the non-gamer, but that's not to say it can be enjoyed by everyone with any sense of creativity.

Spore is the upcoming game by Will Wright, the man who brought the world SimCity and the most popular PC game in the World The Sims. Spore, like his other games, is a 'God' Simulator. This time around you will get to establish a single-cell organism and see it 'evolve' into a full fledged creature. The game won't end there, but we will just have to wait until September to see how things turn out.

The Spore Creature Creator takes the 'second' phase of the game and gives gamers the ability to create a creature from scratch using a variety of 'items' (body parts). Thanks to the various different items available, you have the tools to create a plethora of different possible 'animals'. The possibilities are endless and you can spend hours, upon hours, creating a variety of different and unique life-forms. Unless you stick with the same core pieces, it is highly doubtful you will create the same thing twice.

There are two reasons that Spore Creature Creator was released. The first, and the key reason, was to have people get a head-start in creating creatures for the various planets that will inhabit the full version. In The Creature Creator, once you create something, you are suggested and encouraged to upload your work so that:

  1. others can see it and
  2. if impressive enough, will be featured in the final retail version.

This is a great way for those who put enough effort to get themselves into a feature game. Since the release of the Creature Creator, there have been more than 350,000 creatures uploaded and thanks to the options, the possibilities of creating just about anything is there (edit: There are now more than 1 million uploaded creatures; you can see them here). You name your creature, give it a description or history and tag it and others can search for it. If you do manage to have a popular creature, it will be in the retail version. You won't get paid for your work, but getting credited in the game is something really special. There are a lot of wacky creations already online including an Xbox 360 Controller and famous Video game characters.

The other reason for this release is for the fact that it gives people, who probably don't know anything about this game, a chance to get a better understanding of the title. Yes, a free demo could would have been better, but if you really look at what Spore has to offer, a demo would not be enough. Maxis and EA want to take all the Millions they've made from The Sims and translate it here, but unfortunately, this isn't exactly like creating people and controlling them. Here you're taking a single-cell and creating life, something that is much more complex and may not be such an easy sell. More than likely, you can take this game and it would be enough for most people to enjoy for an extended period of time.

This game is Perfect if have kids between the ages of 8-14 since you can put them in front of a Computer screen and let them play this for hours (please note: it's summer, and kids should be outside). For everyone else, this is a Great title that does exactly what it is intended to do, allow you to experience what will probably be the PC game of the year. The options for creating a creature then filming them (and uploading them onto Youtube, like my clip above) is worth the price of admission. I played the demo first and loved it so much, I felt the 10 dollars was worth getting to try the full creator options. The demo is of course free and offers 25% of the full Creator, so if you enjoy playing it, the retail version will give you 4 times more options. If you're not into God-Sims, then this probably will not change your mind, but again, try the free demo and your perspective may change.

I really cannot find anything wrong with this game. Yes, it does cost money, but 10 dollars is cheaper than a movie, and you'll spend more time with this. I've only managed to create 4 creatures that I really was proud of, not to mention the dozen or so I did just for fun, but I know the more I spend with this, the more I will be eager to start from a cell and see my creatures evolve into something special.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Space Invaders Extreme Review (DS)

As a 'younger' or '16-bit Generation' gamer, I never originally played any of the old classic games in their original form. For me, the closest I ever got to playing Space Invaders was an electronic version that had used lights under a stencil of the aliens. It was fun, but extremely simplistic in nature.

To celebrate the 30 year anniversary of the game, Taito has released Space Invaders Extreme on the DS and PSP giving those who played the original a way to 'relive' their young days, and those of us who missed out the original to play a popular arcade game.

The objective of Space Invaders is simple, you control a Space-Fighter who is trying to prevent the on-coming onslaught of Alien Invaders. If they reach the bottom then you die. In Extreme, they take this concept but throw some variations. In the original, the enemies simply moved from left to right and slowly downwards with varying speeds. Some levels gave you shield to hide behind but as you progressed the enemies move much more quickly. In this edition, the enemies have varying speeds, paths and attacks giving you plenty of variety in gameplay. Also, with Extreme, now you can get power-ups and bonuses to help you along the way.
These vary from standard pick-ups (Shields, Bombs, etc...) or if you manage to hit a flashing enemy ship, you enter Extreme Mode.

In Extreme Mode, you are given a time-limit to complete an objective. If you fail, you don't get a bonus, but if you succeed, you enter Fever mode and your attacks last a long time with maximium damage.

This is all part of the game's main mode, called Arcade Mode. Where you go through 5 stages to finish the game. There are varying paths; the first being easy, then branching out until you have the possibility of 5 final stages. The next mode is Ranking, where you play the same stages again, but trying to get the best possible score/ranking. Stage Mode allows you to re-play any of the stages you've already completed.

The game also offers a pretty good multiplayer option with wireless play or online via Nintendo's Wi-Fi option. There is also the ability to upload your high-scores for others to see.

Overall the game is Fun and for twenty dollars, it's a great deal. The sound for the game is decent for a DS title, but nothing really spectacular. The explosions and shooting work well, but you won't be expecting anything to surprise you. The graphics though are a bit of a let-down on the DS version. If you happen to see a comparison between it and the PSP version, you'll notice that the colors of the enemies and the backgrounds are much more vibrant. It doesn't ruin the game, but it would have been nicer to get something more on the DS. Thankfully, the better Multiplayer options for the DS do make it the better choice between the two, and the fact that it is also 5 dollars cheaper than the PSP edition. Also, with the DS version, while played on two screens, you generally are only using the bottom screen. Not a big deal, but instead of using the top screen generally for your score, they could have done a lot more with it.
While trying to build on the 30th aniversary of the game, they also could have thrown in an emulated version of the original as a bonus. (edit: This might actually be included, but unlocked later on.)

Other than the minor gripe on the graphics, this is still a Good game to play. It's yet another reasonable priced game for the DS that will give you your money's worth. Regardless if you grew up or experienced the original version, there is a lot to offer here, and you'll want to play and challenge your friends to see who can get the highest score.