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.