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.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

UEFA Euro 2008 Review (PS3)

When it comes to EA Sports and their soccer (football) titles, I know them quite well. I have played every edition of the game that has been released in North America since FIFA 98: Road to the World Cup. I've seen the highs (FIFA 99 on PC and FIFA 06 on PS2) and the lows (The US version of FIFA 2000 all versions and FIFA 2004 (off the ball was a bad idea)). When I knew that the Euro 2008 version of the game was coming out, it was a no-brainer that I would pick it up and after two weeks, leading my country and helping another one win the Championship, I feel that I've accomplished my goal, but I wish I didn't spend as much as I did.

Unlike the FIFA editions of the series that contain both domestic clubs and countries from around the world, Euro 2008 focuses solely on the 50+ nations that make up Europe. Most of Europe is represented here, with a few omissions. Countries like The Netherlands and my home-country Serbia lack official kits and official players, since EA couldn't obtain their federation licences, but other than a small batch, most of the nations are represented really well. The players look like their counter-parts and their kits (jerseys) are correct. What is also nice is that all the nations have a large selection of players, so while the main 22-23 players might not be correct as they are in the real world, you can simply move players to make it correct. Also, for those of us who don't have authentic players for our countries, you can edit all the players to make them more accurate.

Considering the small selection of nations (if you consider 50 nations as small) there are plenty of options to play with in this game.

The major mode in the game is your Captain Your Country mode. Almost like an RPG, where you can either create your own player or take an established player and lead them from being just a regular squad member on your B side to leading your country in the finals and lifting that trophy in the end. This is a really well done mode since it takes both the Be A Pro option and the Qualifying and lets you try to create a perfect story. To really enjoy this, you need to create your own character.
In this mode, you’re competing against 3 other players to get that spot. What’s really nice is that if you have 3 friends with you, they can take part of it as well. The better you play, the better your rating which gives you more experience points. Then you can take your experience points and develop your player to a true superstar. The ultimate goal is to have you lifting that title at the end of the tournament and it will take some time to accomplish this. I absolutely loved this mode and hope they can continue this with FIFA 09 and the club scene (which has so many more options and can last multiple seasons).

You also have what EA is calling Battle of the Nations. When you start the game for the first time, the game asks you to pick a country to represent. Of course, you’re picking a European nation, so if you’re not from Europe or have no country to support, this already will throw you off. When you select a country to represent, you’re now playing for bragging rights. Regardless of if you’re playing offline or online, the game tracks your play. The better you play, the more points you get for your country. If your country leads at the end of the day, the game rewards you with treats. While you can represent any country, they want you to play as a lesser nation so you can get more points. For example, if you play as England or France, you’re not going to get as many points in comparison if you play as Cyprus or Iceland, since the quality of players are so much better with the former rather than the later. Since I chose Serbia, I will probably never see what you get for winning but it’s an interesting way of earning bragging rights for your country…except for the fact that this ends on June 30th. The game was only released in North America two weeks ago, and this mode only allows us to participate for only 45 days, so those in Europe already have the leg up on the rest. Also, after June 30th, there is absolutely no reason to play the game for any extra incentive. It’s a nice mode in theory, but they’ll need to work on it if they ever use this again.

I’ve gone at length about what the game has to offer, but now what do I think of it as a game. To be honest, it’s a Good game but not for the price you’ll have to pay for it. At 50 dollars, it’s overpriced considering you’ll only be playing it from now until the end of June or maybe July. FIFA 09 will be out in October, so while you might dabble in this here and there, once October comes, you’re going to forget about this one. Also, the Battle of the Nations mode also hurts since it becomes useless after the end of June. Had this been 29.99 or even 39.99 then I wouldn’t complain, but it’s 10-15 dollars over priced. Other than that, the graphics are great. The stadiums, both the real ones for the tournament, the stadiums for some of the nations and even the made up ones are done really well. I’ve already commented on the detail on the players and jerseys, so you’re getting a really nice looking game. On the field, the player animations are well done and quite fluid; the coaches/managers look good and the addition of the ability to control your goal scorer after scoring a goal is a nice touch and should be around for a while.
The sound is again top-notch. Clive and Andy do an excellent job as their regular duties in the EA series, so you’re getting the feel of an authentic experience.

The only problem I have with the game play comes from the adaptive AI. EA touted that teams are more realistic. Strong teams will play tough while weaker sides will compensate by playing more defensive. While this is nice, it does ruin the fun for some gamers who are looking for an easy victory. This doesn’t bother me except for the clear fact that while weaker nations will typically play defensive, they are rated poorly for a reason. If they wanted to make it more realistic, smaller nations like San Marino, Estonia or even Cyprus, should still be no problem for a nation like Germany, France or Italy since those smaller nations are more prone to making mistakes. Those smaller countries shouldn’t be as fast as the bigger nations, should not have high passing percentages or control of possession. They should be easy to take the ball from and more realistic. This essentially forces you to try to play against teams of equal class since that is the best way to have a great or equal match.
My problem with the AI doesn’t end there. I noticed that teams also play quite differently in Kick Off mode depending on the selection you pick. If you play a friendly, you will easily win your match, regards of the difficulty. But if you decide to play a qualifier, group stage or any of the knockout rounds, the computer AI explodes. I took my Serbia and destroyed Italy 5:0 in a friendly (which is highly unrealistic), but when I played against lowly FYR Macedonia in a group-stage match, our game went to penalties, something that should not have happened. Hopefully EA will improve this. I like the fact that teams won’t be cookie-cut, but they should still play realistically (strong sides should ultimately win, unless the player controlling them sucks).

So in the end, if you’re looking for a soccer (football) title to play before the release of FIFA 09, you can’t go wrong with UEFA Euro 2008. You might want to wait until after June 30th and buy it at a lower price, since right now the cost just doesn’t seem fair. Had they released this game back in April as they did in Europe, then the cost would have made more sense, but at the end of May, it just seems like they released it because they knew footie fans like me would be dumb enough to buy the game. While I have a problem with the price and a bit with the AI, it still has a lot of great options, excellent graphics and the feel of a true football match, you can’t complain there. While I can’t see my country win the Euro, at least I can have them win in HD and there isn’t anything wrong with that.