Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate Overview






The fifth installment of the long running Dead or Alive franchise is here and it definitely lives up to the hopes of- …wait a minute! I already reviewed this game! Yeah, Dead or Alive 5 came out this time last year. It was a good game but like so many fighting games, they had to release another version of it. Not a sequel, just another edition of the same game. I’ll get to that can of worms later but for now, let’s take a look at what Dead or Alive 5 Ultimate offers. Please refer to my old DOA5 review for coverage of the game itself; I am only going to be covering what’s new to the game in this article and if it’s really worthy of having the word ULTIMATE slapped on it. 

First off, the game is priced new at only $40 so they’re not trying to sell it at the typical new game price of $60 which is good. The biggest add-on is the addition of five new fighters.

Momiji: A female ninja from the most recent Ninja Gaiden games.
Jacky Bryant: The sister of Sarah Bryant and the fourth Virtua Fighter character to be featured in DOA. His voice reminds me of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Leon: A long time DOA character that was missing from the DOA5 roster is brought back though he is still mostly a clone of Bayman’s fighting style.
Ein: Hayate’s alter-ego and like Leon, he returns from previous DOA games.
Rachel: The sexy fiend hunter from Ninja Gaiden to add to the game’s already large amount of fan service.

                              

These five, in addition to the completely unlocked previous roster, brings the total of playable characters to 30 making it the largest roster in the franchise to date. New levels are added in including some returning levels from DOA3 and 4 giving it the largest roster of stages as well. The story mode remains the same and does not include any of the 5 new characters. The only difference is the removal of the tutorials which makes some of the earlier fights slightly more difficult than they previously were. In my review of this game last year, I did give the story quite a bit of praise but after playing through it again… Yeah… I was less impressed. I give them an A for effort and I know fighting games aren’t well known for their stories but Injustice did show that a fighting game can have a really good story. I feel Dead or Alive Dimensions for the 3DS had the best for story for the franchise so far, in terms of pacing anyway.  

Training mode is now separated into five different extensive modes. If you really want to become a master at this game, it gives you all the tools to make it happen. In addition to regular fighting, arcade, time attack, and survival modes, is the 7 on 7 mode in which you pick a seven person team and go up against another 7 person team controlled by the CPU or another player. Great for parties! Aside from 7v7 mode, tag matches have been added to all fighting modes giving double to cover if you are looking to complete all the modes with each character as well the several levels difficulty for each. If you’re looking to complete this game 100%, you got your work cut out for you. 

                             

The game comes with many more costumes than the original version and the costumes released via DLC BUT the DLC costumes are locked on the disk, which is something I can’t stand, and you will have to download them if you don’t already have them. They can only be unlocked if have internet connection. If you have already downloaded costumes, they do transfer into Ultimate so no worries there. I did notice that it is easier to unlock costumes in this version of the game. Beating any fighting game mode with a character for the first time will ensure a new costume is unlocked. This is nice for those who want variety in the appearance of your fighters and/or for those who want to see the female characters in sexy outfits. It is a bit disappointing that all of the costumes that had been released for DLC were not also included in Ultimate for unlock and not needing to be unlocked from the disc. Lame. Exhibition mode was been added to the basic versus fight mode. Turning this on will temporarily unlock all costumes and levels. I guess this is for when you are playing at your friend’s house and they want to see everything in the game without actually unlocking everything. You also now have access to the game’s music and are free to remix the wide selection of music as you see fit. Oh and there is a ‘Breast movement’ setting in the opinion menu. I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this. Stay classy, Japan.

Only a couple very minor things about the gameplay are changed. Characters now have more than one opening and victory speeches which makes things less repetitive at the start and endings of matches. Taunting is now easier to do and most characters having different taunts that can be performed with L trigger and D-Pad. I should note that the Virtua Fighter characters do not have taunts they can perform. I did notice that the AI will still sometimes spam moves with certain characters. This is a problem I hoped would have been worked out from the original. Spamming moves is something a newbie to fighting games does, not the game AI. I would’ve also liked to have seen a way to transfer the pictures you take in spectator mode to your computer or internet somehow. I think there is a way to do it but I have no idea how. If anyone knows, please let me know. 

                             

So is DOA5 Ultimate worth getting over the original? If you don’t own the original, yes, this is the version you’d want since it has much more content but that’s about it. Speaking of which, have you ever noticed that there are so many different versions to fighting games out there? You go to buy a fighting game and there are like 2 or 3, sometimes more, different variants of the same game. Some have more characters or are more designed for tournaments but they’re the same game. Many can point the start of this to the early 90’s with Capcom’s mega hit Street Fighter 2. A great game but it ended up having four different versions of the game between 1991 and 1994. Then there was the Alpha series and EX series till FINALLY getting to Street Fighter 3 in 1997 which in turn had its own series of spin-offs. So when someone asks you ‘have you played Street Fighter 3?’ you pretty much have to ask, ‘which one?’ They’re still doing it even with Street Fighter 4. When buying it, I had to figure out which was the best version and the consensus seemed to be on Super Street Fighter 4. What’s the difference from the other versions? It’s SUPER, I guess. And there is another version of SF4 on the way as we speak too.      

Many other franchises and companies do this for the sake of hardcore tournament players and, of course, money. What grinds my gears is how, unless money isn’t an issue for you, it makes the original game obsolete over time, so you might as well wait for the super ultimate game of the year complete edition or whatever. To pick on Capcom again, the long anticipated Marvel Vs Capcom 3 came out in 2011. It was a fun game but was extremely lacking on the content. Then just nine months later – NINE MONTHS – They release Ultimate Marvel Vs Capcom 3 (yeah, throwing the word ULTIMATE around again) with more characters and levels. You couldn’t even wait a year? Like the first MVC3 was just a demo of this Ultimate version? And it was still missing the four DLC characters that were released after the original game. You still had to download and pay for them. DLC has made it a guarantee that there will be some kind of second edition release of a game and not just for fighting games. So many games go crazy with add-on content with new characters, levels, and missions that you might as well wait till the Game of the Year edition to get everything in one neat bundle. But you’re not are you? You want that damn game when it comes out and play it with the rest of the world, right? It’s like when a big blockbuster movie comes out. You can’t wait to see it; you need to see it ASAP so you can talk about it with your friends! Or that’s how I feel anyway…

If you lack internet, you’re really screwed. You have to wait for those completed or ultimate versions of games to come around. Injustice is an awesome game but since its release there has been a ton of DLC with new characters for it. I’m sure by sometime next year there will be an ultimate version of Injustice. It would be nice if you could swap the original out for the updated releases at retailers for free but we all know that isn’t how the game is played. I got $5 for the trade-in of the original DOA5 for DOA5U. Not a great deal going towards an upgrade and it really isn’t all that much of an upgrade.  There is a free version of DOA5U called DOA Core Fighters available on PSN and Xbox Live. It’s basically a free demo of the game that you can pay into and download more fighters or the entire game. I’d rather just go buy the physical copy but that’s just me. This ‘free but pay in to get more’ strategy is actually what Microsoft is doing with the Killer Instinct reboot for the Xbox One. Will this become the new way to get fighting games? Time will tell.

As for DOA5 Ultimate, is it worth buying? If you do not already own the original, yes. That is a much harder call if you already own the original DOA5, especially if you’ve gotten all the post-release DLCs since last year. While Ultimate does offer more modes, characters, and other little extras, nothing about this version really adds to the overall gameplay. It’s still the fun, fast-paced, martial arts fighting that I loved about DOA5 but that’s about it. The 5 new fighters really don’t add much other than two more sexy girls for fanboys to gawk at. If I were to rate this, I’d give it an 8/10 which is the same as what I gave DOA5 last year so basically nothing has changed in the overall game quality. Ultimately, it’s your call if any of these new features make it worth upgrading your old DOA5 for this year’s model. Thanks for reading! Keep a look out for my upcoming retrospective on Dance Dance Revolution, some spooky Halloween related stuff in October, and the highly anticipated Batman: Arkham Origins.         


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Saints Row 4 Game Review




I originally had no plans to review this game but a friend of mine got me a gift card for my birthday and instructed me to use said gift card to get Saints Row 4 and review it.  So I guess I have to do it now. I should first start by saying that I have only played the first Saints Row game and even then it was for only 20 minutes. The other two games never really grabbed my attention since I’m not exactly a big fan of GTA style gangster games. Unless it’s something like Sleeping Dogs with a duel identify system and set in a different culture. That said, Saints Row 4 definitely grabbed my attention with the fact that you play as the President of the United States, who has super powers, and fights aliens. That might just be the best idea for a video game ever. For those who don’t know, Saints Row can be considered the rival franchise to the highly successful open world, crime series Grand Theft Auto. While it started out as an above average GTA clone, it gained its own identity with its crazy characters, over the top missions and story.  For their fourth outing, the 3rd Street Saints take on their hardest task yet: Running the White House and saving world. But is this presidential drive-by worth being elected to your gaming console of choice?

                           
STORY:  The Third Street Saints have gone from low-level gang bangers, to crime bosses, to music icons, to super spies, and have finally landed in the White House with your character becoming the President of the United States. Now that’s what I call living the American dream. As your character walks around with your cabinet members, consisting of old gang members and Keith David, you head to a press meeting when suddenly the White House is attacked by aliens! Zinyak, the leader of the Zin Empire, has decided to abduct the brightest of the human race and kill the rest. One by one, members of your cabinet are snatched up by the aliens and after a failed attempt to beat up Zinyak, so is your character. You then find yourself in a simulated version of your old stomping grounds, Steelport, USA. You must save members of your crew and humanity for the ultimate test as the President and, more importantly, the leader of the Saints.
As you can tell, this story is crazy, over the top, and doesn’t take itself too seriously most of the time. This is a good thing because it makes story fun and hilarious to experience as this ridiculous tale unfolds. The game parodies many other video games and movies like Mass Effect, The Matrix, Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell, Armageddon, and countless others. You will catch witty references and funny parodies left and right throughout the game. The well written script is backed up by a great cast of characters. While I’m not familiar with them, most of the characters are given proper introductions. You also have missions and side missions to develop characters more as well as audio logs to find that are hidden around the game for even more incite. Even with no experience with the past games, I got a good sense of who these people were and enjoyed them. Zinyak, the leader of the aliens, makes for an excellent and amusing villain being cultured and seems to know more about human culture and art than the President. The Zin would be worthy of being on my list of Top10 Alien Invaders in Video Games.

Length wise, this game sits at a healthy 30+ hours but that depends if you do all the side missions and explore the simulated city. It’s probably shorter if you just blast through all the main missions but if you’re doing that, you’re missing one of the main aspects of the game. However, what really sets Saints Row 4 apart from its previous titles is in the gameplay.


GAMEPLAY: What stands out most about Saints Row 4 and what is a big game changer is the ability to get super powers. Within the first hour of the game you will get super jumping and super speed. You gain more and more throughout the game and they are extremely fun to use. It will make you feel like the entire Justice League combined. While these powers are very fun and become the core of the gameplay, they also make the game a little too easy. You become way too over powered way too quickly. You will almost always be able to get out of tight situations with no problem thanks to your powers. Also the powers make certain parts of the game obsolete. Vehicles and driving is a major part of these GTA style games but in Saints Row 4, there is almost no reason to use a car again after you get your powers. You run faster than any vehicle in the game so what’s the point? There is a lot of variation in vehicles and you can take them to shops to get completely customized but then again, what’s the point? Now I should bring up that you only have your powers inside the Matrix like simulation. In the real world, aka the space ship that you are on, you will not have these powers and there are some missions where your powers will be switched off in the simulation.

The ship acts as the home and work place for your team. You can talk to them and ‘romance’ them as a parody of Mass Effect’s relationship system. One thing that can get annoying is that characters will want you to come out of the simulation to come to talk to them each time you complete some kind of quest for them. There are points where if feels like you’re doing this several times in a row and it just feels time consuming and unnecessary when the reward can only be used inside the sim city. Why not just transfer it to me while I’m in the simulation? Like previous Saints games, if features a high degree of customization. The extensive character creator lets you make your character look like anything you want. It’s a lot of fun and I spent the first 30 minutes of my time with the game making my character. You can go to stores and buy clothes that have custom colors you can choose from. Your guns are all fully upgradeable and customizable. You can even make them look like weapons from sci-fi movies like Star Wars, Aliens, Firefly, and Star Trek. Speaking of which, the guns in the game are a lot of fun to use. My favorite being the proudly featured Dubstep Gun in which you can lay a path of destruction and death with dub dubs and wub wubs. The gunplay itself, however, is very shallow. There is no cover system and not much of a dodge mechanic but you won’t really need it when you can just speed or jump out of the way like Superman.  

There are lots of side missions and activities scattered throughout the game, most of which are fun. There is super racing, superhero fight club, mayhem destruction missions, Dr. Ginki’s telekinesis challenge, and many more. I’m sure everyone will find one to be their favorite. My least favorite was the hacking which you have to do if you want to unlock all the stores in the city. Speaking of the city, Saint’s fans might be a little disappointed in the fact that they are basically just revisiting Steelport from the previous game again instead of getting a new place to explore and I can see how that can be disappointing. On the upside, the super powers make the way you explore and move about the city differently. Sadly, Saints Row 4 is filled with many glitches. While a lot of them are harmless to the overall gameplay, there are some game breaking glitches that you may encounter. The most serious glitch I encountered causes an infinite loading screen halfway through a mission. I replayed the mission multiple times only to run into the same problem over and over. I even went back to the store and got the disc swapped out to see if it would make a difference. Nothing. Then I found out on a forum that you cannot use explosive weapons at all at the start of the mission or else it will cause that loading screen. This isn’t exclusive to one version of the game, it’s across all consoles. Not cool. Another glitch caused this object I was supposed to be guarding and moving to fall through the ground and disappear, leading me to have to restart the mission. I noticed these types of glitches picked up near the end of the game and I’ve heard about the game freezing on the last couple missions though the PC version is supposed to have fewer glitches and are more likely to see a patch sooner.


GRAPHICS & SOUND: If the best graphics are important to you, you’ll definitely want to go with the PC version of the game. I have the 360 version and it’s downright ugly at times. Even after installing it, it still have pop-in textures from time to time and other texture glitches like rippling walls, which I’ve never seen before. TO BE FAIR, some of these texture glitches could be on purpose since the majority of the game takes place inside a computer simulation and do increase as the game progresses. In that case, some of the graphics glitches work in the game’s favor as a kind of 4th wall joke. The character models look good though and I was impressed with the level of emotion shown on their faces, especially my character since she was a custom design.

The voice acting for SR4 is top notch and really brings the characters to life. The President has 7 different voices to choose from including Nolan North. Keith David plays the role he was born to play as Keith David. Natalie Lander does a great job as the Saint’s computer nerd Kinzie. Danielle Nicolet does a good job as both young and older Shaundi. And there are many more great voice actors on board with this game including Troy Baker who’s just in every game this year it seems. The music is filled with licensed music from multiple genres such as rock, hip-hop, dubstep, 80’s pop, 90’s grunge, classical, and many more. All of which can be listened to from the in game radio that has a playlist that can be edited to your liking. The game also has the best use of Stan Bush’s You Got the Touch since the 1986 Transformers movie.  

Overall, Saints Row 4 is a crazy game that lives up to the over the top nature that everyone has come to expect from the franchise. They have painted themselves into a corner with this game however. I mean, how do you top being a super hero and fighting aliens? The developers have said that this will be the last iteration of Saints Row as we know it so whatever Saints Row 5 will be called, it will most likely be a reboot of some kind. The game does have its share of problems and some might not like its complete deviation from crime/gangster gameplay but personally, that deviation is what made me interested in this title in the first place. If you want a serious open-world crime game, go with GTA5 which comes out in a couple weeks. Like I mentioned, you’ll probably want to go with the PC version of the game if you want the best graphics and performance, so feel free to give this review an 8/10 instead of a 7 if you’re going with the PC version.  Thanks for reading! I will not be covering Grand Theft Auto 5; however, my friend Grant will so be on the lookout his review of that highly anticipated game. Also look out for my overview of Dead Or Alive 5 Ultimate coming very soon.



OVERALL: 7/10

PROS:
-Super powers are a lot of fun to use
-Crazy and fun story with great characters
-Good length with lots to explore and do

CONS:
-Many glitches including some game breaking infinite loading screens
-Super powers do make some aspects of the game obsolete
-Shallow gun play

                             


Monday, August 12, 2013

Megaman Unlimited Game Review



Megaman is one of my favorite video game franchises of all time and is one of the games that got me into video games in general when I was a kid. Over the past couple decades, there have been several spinoffs to the franchise but few of them hold a candle to the original games. The original series came back into the spot light a couple years ago when Capcom released Megaman 9 for download on the three major consoles. It was a hit as it went back to the old 8-bit style of gaming and brought lots of fresh new level designs to the series along with lots of new features. Megaman 10 continued this but sadly wasn’t nearly as good as MM9. Capcom has since canned ideas for future Megaman games such as a Megaman MMO and Megaman Legends 3 much to the disappointment of fans. But Megaman still makes cameos in games such as ProjectX Zone and the upcoming Super Smash Bros 4. Many die-hard fans have taken things into their own hands by making ROM hacks and original Megaman games of their own. The internet is filled with fan-made Megaman games. One that got a lot of attention was Street Fighter X Megaman which was actually licensed by Capcom for download in honor of the Megaman and Street Fighter 25th anniversary. I even did a review for it but I have found a fan-made title that far surpasses SSXMM. Enter Megaman Unlimited: a completely original title from the team at megaphilx.com. This game is what Megaman 10 should have been, is one of the best Megaman games I’ve played since Megaman 3, and is a title that deserved to get noticed.


STORY & GAMEPLAY: After a couple years of peace, some robots made by Dr. Wily suddenly attack the city. Dr. Wily is confronted by Dr. Light and Megaman but he claims that this is not his doing and asks to aid Light in finding out what is causing them to run amuck, because nothing can go wrong with trusting your oldest enemy. While trying to figure out what is going on, Dr. Wily is suddenly kidnapped. Can Megaman to save Dr. Wily from a mysterious enemy?

Yeah… Megaman games have never really been known for excelling at story. If you’ve ever played a Megaman game before, you pretty much know what’s coming and won’t really be surprised by the plot. The only real surprise might be the last boss but I’ll get to that later. The story is average as far as Megaman games but on par with MM9 and 10. However, if you’re playing classic style Megaman games for the story, you’re doing it wrong. The gameplay is and has always been the heart of these games and what makes them great. This is where Unlimited rocks.

First it should be noted that the all the levels, enemies, and music is original. There a couple returning enemies from the original games in this but they all have nice new twists. The game is in the classic 8-bit style and plays much like NES titles did. The game controls like Megaman 3 as in there is no charge shot but you can slide. Also I highly recommend playing this game with an actual controller. Playing with the keyboard is an option but games like this require precise and quick reflexes that a keyboard just can’t give you. The controls are tight and easy to master. Any MM veteran will feel right at home. The one controller issue I have is how sliding his handled. Traditionally, you press down and the jump button to slide, however, on occasion I found myself jumping inside of sliding when I pressed this combination. This can lead to some sticky situations. There is the option to dedicate a button solely to sliding but I prefer the old fashioned way.
The level designs and robot masters are awesome. The levels are well designed, challenging, and a lot of fun to play through. They all have their own gimmicks and themes that make each stage feel unique such as the glue floors on Glue Man’s stage or the space station setting of Comet Woman’s stage. Some of the levels are longer than seen in previous NES titles as this game is not bound by a cartridge.  This did cause some problems with stage check points being stretched too far, making dying late in the stage very punishing considering how far back you’d have to restart but with the newest version of the game, that has been fixed for the most part. There are four letters that are hidden in four of the robot master’s stages that spell out YOKU. When you collect all four, you unlock the ninth robot master: Yoku Man! If you’re a fan of the disappearing block gimmick present in most Megaman titles then you’ll just LOVE this stage (obvious sarcasm). The very last boss might be disappointing to some as it’s not a true boss fight. I won’t spoil who it is but I’ll just say that you can’t win.

The game features a save system instead of passwords making it easy to pick up where you left off and you will be needing to save often. However, the only way to save during the fortress stages is to run out of lives. It would be nice to be able to save after completing a level rather than having to die. Megaman Unlimited is a very challenging game and is definitely made with Megaman veterans in mind. If you’re a causal gamer or have never played a Megaman game before, you’re in for some frustration. The game does have an easy mode for those who find the original game too difficult. It helps a lot to those who might be new to old school platformers. It does make some parts maybe a little too easy but still retains a good amount of challenge over all. For those who are true masochists, there is the insta-death mode where one hit will kill you! Yeah, no thanks. While this can be a very difficult game, it is also learnable. The old school way of try and try again method is present in this game and I’m glad.


GRAPHICS & SOUND: Unlimited is presented with classic 8-bit graphics like the NES titles and it looks great. The levels are all beautifully colored and have fully animated backgrounds. I really like the neon lights of the runway and city of Jet Man’s stage and the flashing colors of Rainbow Man’s stage. The robot master’s themselves look awesome as well, with the exception of Glue Man who is kind of plan looking. Most of the enemies are of original design and are nicely detailed and creative.

The music is just amazing. Megaman games have been well known for having amazing soundtracks, even back in the 8-bit days, and Unlimited is no exception. The MegaPhilX team did a great job in making catchy and remember-able tunes for this game. I really liked Trinitro Man and Jet Man’s themes. I think I will be downloading the soundtrack actually. I’d love to hear some covers and remixes of these songs in the near future.

Overall, Megaman Unlimited is probably the best fan made Megaman game I have ever played. It stands tall with the original Capcom games. I would love to see Capcom look into this title and maybe look into making it downloadable for consoles. Doubt it would happen but a neat idea. Oh by the way, the game is completely free. Its degree of difficulty makes it hard to recommend for gamers who are inexperienced at old school games but this is a must play for hardcore Megaman fans. Thanks for reading and feel free to check out MegaPhilX.com to download the game. Feel free to donate a little money their way for the hard work they put into this title. They deserve it.

OVERALL: 9/10

PROS:
-Great original level design, bosses, and enemies
-Excellent gameplay, graphics, and music
-FREE

CONS:
-Being able to save after completing Wily levels would be nice
-Sliding messes up from time to time
-Difficulty doesn’t make this for everyone




Sunday, July 21, 2013

Catherine Game Review


Every summer during down times between first quarter releases and holiday releases, I tend to find myself catching up on older games and I also tend to have a theme for the summer. One year it was zombie games, another year it was survival horror games, last year it was PS1 games. This year the theme seems to be very Japanesey games. I guess it sort of started with Project X Zone and now I find myself catching up on a game that caught my eye in 2011 but I just never got around to playing until now. That game would be Catherine. I can honestly say that I have never played a game quite like this before. The closest things I can think of that it reminds me of are Cubert, Nightmare on Elm Street, and an episode of the Twilight Zone. That’s a crazy combination right there. Having played this, I’m kind of regretting not getting to it sooner as it has a surprisingly damn good and relatable story. So let’s jump into the nightmarish world of Catherine.


STORY:  You play as Vincent Brooks, a 32-year old, neurotic computer programmer. He has started to have strange nightmares in which he is forced to climb a tower with herds of sheep. The nightmare leaves him very drained during the day in which he finds himself having some issues with his long time girlfriend Katherine, staying out late drinking with his friends, and hears bizarre rumors about young men being found dead in their sleep. After another night of heavy drinking and more nightmares, Vincent wakes up to discover another girl in bed with him. It would appear he is cheating on his girlfriend with a young and sexy woman named Catherine. But many things do not add up as he has no memory of going home with her or anything else. Racked with guilt, Vincent learns that all the men that have been dying had similar nightmares before their deaths and were all cheating. As Vincent’s nightmares continue, this mysterious girl won’t leave him alone and continues to tempt him. But there is more something going on here than men being unable to stay loyal to their partners, something supernatural.

Catherine has a surprisingly good story going for it and one I’ve never seen done in a video game. It has a surprising mix of comedy, drama, horror, and suspense along with several plot twists along the way. The story was a lot more than I expected it to be. It is also surprisingly relatable to anyone who has ever found themselves in a troubled relationship and also has quite a bit of commentary on relationships and life in general; making many aspects of the game feel very smart. The cast of characters is what makes it work. Vincent, despite appearing to be a cheating asshole, is actually a very sympathetic character as his world comes spiraling out of control and struggles to come to terms with his inner demons. Katherine and Catherine are both well portrayed as representing a stable life or a more carefree and exciting life. Vincent’s friends and acquaintances are interesting and feel like people you might know in real life, making them slightly stereotypical but enjoyable none the less.  Catherine is around 14 hours for the main story mode, making it a bit longer than I expected. However, it does have 8 different endings depending on the choices you make during the game giving it a lot of replay value if you enjoyed the story.   


GAMEPLAY:  This is where things get dicey for Catherine while, at the same time, being the most unique part of the game. The meat of the gameplay happens during the nightmare sections where Vincent must climb walls of blocks to make it to the top of each section before the blocks fall away and he falls to his death. These are logic puzzles in which you must figure out the best way to arrange the blocks in the quickest and most efficient way possible before time runs out. This game has become notorious for its level of difficulty. Even Japanese gamers were complaining about how hard this game is and this led Atlus release a patch that added a Very Easy mode. Right off the bat, the game throws you off the deep end with the first level, not really telling you any techniques or methods for climbing the blocks. I think I died about 5 times during the first level alone. It can be extremely unforgiving considering that it is very possible find yourself in situations that leave you stuck with no way to complete the stage and be forced to kill yourself. It is even possible to cause the goal of the level to fall into the void, leaving you screwed. The easiest setting has an undo button for your previous move but even then, sometimes the best thing to do is just die and start over. But keep in mind, there are limited continues.  There are items to pick up during levels that are helpful but they are rare so used them only when you absolutely need to.

While the tower levels are very difficult, they are also very learnable. After 2 or 3 levels, you should be able to get the hang of many basic aspects to the game. Most levels can be completely in one or two ways and once you master those, you can beat it without a problem each time. But as the game gets more difficult, you will find some puzzles that you will find yourself dying over and over again on and must also contend with various trap blocks.  Breaking up the stages are platform areas where after each climb you can save your game and talk to others who are going through these nightmares as well. You can help them out some by giving them confidence to keep climbing and/or share climbing techniques with others. Before moving onto the next level, Vincent must answer a question in a confessional from a mysterious man. The questions are about relationships and how one leads their life. These questions, along with other decisions, will impact the game’s story. At the end of each of the night’s nightmares is a boss level. This is where I expect controllers to be thrown. Vincent will be faced with some horrific nightmare beast in which he must climb the tower of blocks while dodging attacks from these monsters. You will need to be able to think fast and solve these puzzles as quickly as possible as some of the attacks the monsters launch are instant death. I found the 5th level boss to the absolute hardest boss in the game.

It’s during these boss levels where I found some issues with the controls. They can be really finicky if you’re trying to move too quickly. I found Vincent making some moves I didn’t mean for him to or hanging off something I didn’t want him to or falling off something unexpectedly. On most of the normal levels, you have time to think carefully about your next move and execute it calmly but during the boss battles, your brain has to work faster and the controls can’t always keep up. Also the camera becomes an issue at times. It’s possible for Vincent to hang and shimmy around blocks and go behind the wall of blocks, however, you cannot fully turn the camera around the wall to see Vincent, and so if you manage to get behind the wall, you will be blind. This is also one of those games where the direction controls reverse depending on where the camera is (which I hate) and when Vincent is hanging off the back of a block. This can lead to some frustration especially during boss battles. Despite the extreme difficulties of these levels, it is impossible to deny to triumphant feel you get when you complete these levels.

Outside of the nightmare levels, the only other place of gameplay is the bar that Vincent and his friends visit nightly. Things are much more relaxed here. You can walk around, talk with people, drink, listen to music, and even play an arcade game where you can improve your skills and it might even hold some other secrets. Vincent can also use his cell phone to receive and send texts and save the game. Catherine might even send him some naughtypictures he can view in the bathroom…….. heeeeeeeh… Anyway, it is important to drink and talk to the people at the bar as they will help shed clues as to what is going on as well as have some impact on the outcome of the story. These segments are surprisingly good at creating a sense of dread and suspense knowing that when you leave, you’ll be faced with a new and more challenging nightmare. The game does also have a co-op mode outside of the main game though I haven’t had a chance to play it but it seems like it would be a lot of fun. This mode is only unlocked after beating the game though.


GRAPHICS AND SOUND: Visually this game is dripping style with the sort of falling dream serving as a motif. The 2D animated cut scenes are done by Studio 4°C  who is known for animated movies and TV shows such as Steamboy, First Squad, The Animatrix, Batman: Gotham Knight, and the ThunderCats reboot to name a few. They are very well done and could have made for an anime spin off or short if they wanted. The rest of the cut scenes are in game rendered and have a cell shaded look to them. It fits perfectly along with the 2D cut scenes. The character models are a little bit hit and miss. Vincent is very well animated both in 3D and 2D and looks like a scruffy Spike Spiegel. His facial expressions are hilarious. A lot of work went into Catherine as well but other characters end up looking like dolls while others you never exactly get a good look at. The nightmare monsters look terrifyingly awesome though.

Catherine has an interesting soundtrack. Outside of the nightmare world, it’s very smooth and relaxing light jazz type music and some tracks from another Atlus game (Persona 4) snuck in. You can switch the songs at the jukebox in the bar. During the nightmare levels, we are treated to some remixed classical music such as Symphony No. 5 in C Minor by Beethoven, William Tell Overture Part 2 ‘The Storm’ by Gioachino Rossini, Revoulutionary Etude by Frederic Chopin, and many more. It makes for an interesting contrast between the real world and the action on the screen.  The game has very good voice acting and has some of the best voice actors in the business. Troy Baker, who just keeps appearing in games I’ve been playing recently (Bioshock Infinite, The Last of Us, Samurai Heroes), plays Vincent perfectly.  Catherine is played by Laura Bailey, making her sound cute, seductive, and even creepy at times. Michelle Ruff plays the other Katherine and does a good job of making her be a mature and intelligent woman, the stable life that Vincent should be going for. Several other notable voice actors make up the cast and I’m sure if you watch a lot of anime, you’ll probably recognize some voices. One problem I did have with the dialogue was the audio level. The voices just seemed too quiet at times and there was no way to adjust the voice volume in the options. Maybe it’s just my copy of the game or sound system? I’m not sure. Also, the lip synch wasn’t always the best during the 3D rendered cut scenes but dubbing computer animated lip flaps is harder than traditionally animated lip flaps so I give it pass.

Overall, Catherine is a very unique game with a very good story and lots of replay value that is something I will honestly recommend to most people. It can be very difficult though so if you’re not a fan of games that are frustratingly hard, then you might want to stay away to keep your blood pressure down. If you enjoy a good challenge and have not played this, then this is your new summit to climb. Since it’s been out for a couple years now, you can easily find it for $11-15 or maybe even less online. Thanks for reading! Look for my next write up where I take a look at two classic licensed games based on the Ghost in the Shell franchise. Also if you have any suggestions for any Japanese games I should look into this summer, let me know.

OVERALL: 8/10


PROS:
-Great story with lots of replay
-Unique puzzle solving gameplay
-Very stylistic and excellent voice work

CONS:
-Very challenging gameplay
-Controls can be finicky
-Adjustable audio would have been nice  


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Project X Zone (3DS) Game Review


Project X Zone is a notable title because it is possibly one of the biggest game crossovers ever. It was a collaboration between Bandai Namco, Capcom, and Sega. I only just found about this game last week while looking around on the 3DS virtual store. I saw Megaman X on the cover and immediately checked it out and downloaded the demo. When I asked people about it, they had either never heard of it or thought it was a fighting game since they are the most common crossover titles. Once I started playing the demo I quickly learned this was not a fighting game but rather a tactical strategy RPG. While RPGs have been big in the US for over the past decade, Japanese strategy RPGs have not really been that big. Which is why it is rather surprising that this game saw an international release at all. After the playing the demo, I was hooked and went out to Gamestop and picked up a copy and was able to get the limited edition, which came with an art book, mini-poster, and soundtrack. Playing through the actual game has been full of ups and downs for me and sadly, it ends with a down. This has been an odd experience as many things that I usually find to be positives in games these days are negatives in this game. But it’s not all bad. Let’s take a closer look.


STORY: Mii Koryuji, a fiery young girl of the Koryuji clan in Japan, has hired the help of the suave detective Kogoro Tenzai to help investigate the disappearance of a mysterious rock known as the Portal Stone that has been guarded by her family for ages. They are unable to find anything till some strange creatures appear in their garden. They battle them off only to have a portal from in the garden’s fountain and send them into another time and place. Similar portals start opening up in other worlds, dimensions, and time periods sucking some of our favorite game characters head long into meeting each other. As they gradually team up and try to discover why this is happening, they learn many of their arch villains have a hand in this escalating mystery.

From there, the story is like trying to explain quantum physics in 30 seconds… in fact; some of it is quantum physics. As in any crossover story, it has a crazy plot in order to get all of these characters together but that is the main attraction to this game. It is a who’s who from the Namco, Capcom, Sega universes. You’ll play as and see characters from Street Fighter, Tekken, Darkstalkers, Dead Rising, God Eater, Endless Frontier, Sakura Wars, Resonance of Fate, .Hack, Devil May Cry, Xenosaga, Megaman X, Virtua Fighter, Resident Evil, Valkyria Chronicles, Tales of Vesperia, and many more plus cameos and references to other characters and franchises.  Sadly, it’s only humanoid characters that make the cut. No Sonic the Hedgehog or Pac-Man, though it is disappointing to not see Bayonetta in the lineup since she’s technically under the Sega label.

The majority of the story is given through conversations between the characters as they go from world to world trying to figure out what is going on. What’s great about the story is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously all the time. In fact, many of the characters point out just how ridiculous this plot is. There are a lot of tongue-in-cheek in jokes that fans of these game series will probably grab and find hilarious. One example is Chris Redfield making a joke out of the infamous ‘Jill Sandwich’ line from the Resident Evil remake, to which Jill replies with ‘Oh, cram it!’ There is another line that makes reference to Rainbow Road from Mario Kart. In another line, Ken from Street Fighter sarcastically points out that Seth from S.I.N. is trust worthy and ‘not RIDICULOUSLY OBVIOUSLY EVIL or anything.’ The dialogue is surprisingly witty and well translated. By the way, I hope you enjoy reading because you’ll be doing a lot of it in this game. Don’t think that the game’s self-referential humor is the only good thing about the story. There are some surprisingly epic parts and powerful moments in the game.

That said, we come to one of the game’s biggest faults: this is a very long game, a little TOO long. This is odd since I usually complain about games these days being too short. Project X Zone has over 40 chapters and from start to finish it rubs between 55 to over 60 hours. Maybe I’m just too conditioned to the average 6 to 10 hour length you see in most games these days? But this game’s length does lead to two big problems: First problem is that many of these chapters really just feel like filler and takes forever for anything of true significance to happen. They seriously could have cut some of these chapters out of the game and it wouldn’t have affected the story at all. More than once I thought I was nearing the end of the game when it turned out I was far from it and it just kept going. Each chapter lasts from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending how the battles play out. By the way, if you’re expecting to see X and Zero, you’ll have to wait till about 20 hours into the game before seeing them. The other big problem with the game’s length I will cover in gameplay.


GAMEPLAY: The gameplay of Project X Zone starts out stupid easy but as the difficulty ramps up it becomes very strategic and addicting. The actually gameplay can be broken up into two sections: board movement and combat. You move your teams around the board like a grid. Each team has different walking ranges and attack ranges. To engage enemies you simply walk up to them and attack, however, it is smart to try and position yourself with another nearby team so they can help in the fight. Some boards have items and breakable objects around that you can collect but that’s the extent of exploration in this game. Remember, this is a tactical RPG, not an adventure RPG. On the board overview you can pull up items which will be your life blood in this game, view enemy stats and your own, whoever’s team you have selected set of skills, and quick save. Be aware that this game does not have autosave. You can save between chapters and quick save whenever it is your turn. If you’re the cautious type of player, you’ll probably be saving each turn you get. But if you’re careless this can lead to a sudden game over and there are no continues. Whatever your last save point was, that is where you’ll pick back up. You have set requirements for winning and failing during each chapter. This usually requires defeating all the enemies or a boss but sometimes requires you to complete a certain task before a certain number turn is reached. The requirements for failure are something you should pay attention to as sometimes it will require you to keep a certain team alive. If they die, it’s game over so keep that in mind.

Combat can be both really simple and very strategic. When you enter the fight screen you have a limited amount of times you can strike your enemy. This is represented by a red segmented bar under the blue XP power gauge. It starts at 2 but eventually becomes 6 segments as you level up. The attacks are listed on the bottom screen and preformed with simple combinations of the A button and D pad plus Y being your ultimate attack move which is a necessity for taking out bosses. You use your XP gauge for ultimate attacks, special skills on the overview screen, and how to handle attacking enemies on the over screen. You can fill it up from fighting or by using special items. Each team gets a solo member who can be called in with the L button and if you’re positioned near another team, you can call them in as support with the R button. The key is to maximize the amount of damage to an enemy by the end of a turn. This does require timing as enemies will bounce and fly around as you beat the crap out of them and this can lead to misses if you’re not timing your attacks well. And that’s about it for the gameplay. Like I said, it starts out very easy and repetitive but as the difficulty increases; it becomes much more strategic, addicting, and fun. Pulling off these coordinated attacks becomes extremely satisfying.  

However, this is where the game’s length becomes a boon to the gameplay. There just isn’t enough variation in the gameplay to warrant such a long game length. If there was actual exploring to be done in this game, it would be a different story but there isn’t. You also find yourself fighting the same bosses and enemies over and over and over again. The boss fights are not easy either. They will require you to attack with multiple teams, multiple times using their ultimate attack powers. It gets annoying having the face the same bad guy repeatedly even after you ‘officially’ killed them. The challenge is balanced well throughout the game up until the last boss when things become insanely and almost unfairly hard as he can take out multiple teams with one hit and throws every boss in the game at you at the same time. Have mercy, Japan! It feels like a grind making it to the end and like I said, it really didn’t need to be this long or have all these chapters. The cartridge space could have been better used for unlockables and/or a multiplayer type mode which is something I never thought I’d say. There is zero content outside of the main game and it is sorely missing extra content and hurt by a gameplay time that over stays it’s welcome.


GRAPHICS AND SOUND: For those who grew up during the 16-bit age, you will probably find the sprites used in the game to be awesome. They are animated very well, especially when attacking which leads to a flurry of action on the screen with lots of flashes of light and explosions in an anime style like assault on your enemies. The ultimate attack animations are a lot of fun to watch as your characters unleash punishing and well animated attacks on your foes. The enemies are also nicely designed though are less animated. Many of them come from various games from the franchises featured in this game. The opening cut scene appears to have been animated by Gainax and has a very Gurren Lagann feel to it.  The cell drawn stills of characters that appear during dialogue scenes are very well drawn and give the characters lots of personality with different stills for different emotions. However, I will point out that this is a lot fan service in this game with many of the female characters showing off cleavage or their butts in some way in these stills. Granted, many of them were already full of fan service with the way they dress in the games they come from but the artists went out of the way to get boob and ass shots for some of these girls. Stay classy, Japan.

The music in the game is just awesome. It has a lot of covers of themes from various games featured as well as some great original music that makes this game feel like an RPG classic from the SNES days and gives it a lot of charm. The Devil May Cry, Street Fighter, and Megaman X tunes always get me pumped for battle but the song Stairs of Time from .Hack takes the cake for best song on the soundtrack. It is absolutely gorgeous. All of the voicing in the game is in Japanese which leads me to think that releasing this game to an international market was an 11th hour decision and there was no time to find English voice actors which is fine. The Japanese voice actors do a good job and I only assume they have their respective talents reprising their roles.

Overall, Project X Zone is an interesting game with some big flaws that some might be easier for some to over look while others might get easily get bored with in within a few hours. For me, the game does a have a lot of charm to it and some might find the charm as well, especially if they are big fans of the franchises featured in this game and are fans of old school J-RPGs. If it wasn’t for the game’s extremely long length and lack of any real game variation, it would be getting a much higher score from me. If you’re curious about this game, I highly recommend playing the demos on the 3DS shop and if you still like it, go for it. I don’t recommend paying full price for this though. I got it for $17 but that was after a few trade ins. Thanks for reading! Look out for my upcoming summer review of Catherine. Also, unless I find it for a super low price or someone donates it to me; I will not be reviewing Deadpool. You’ll have to look elsewhere for a Deadpool review.   


OVERALL: 5.5/10

PROS:
-Strategic and addictive gameplay
-Beautiful art and soundtrack
-Really cool seeing all these characters together

CONS:
-Lacks gameplay variation to support the game’s length
-Sorely missing a multiplayer or extra content
-Last boss is almost unfairly hard 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Last of Us Game Review



The Last of Us has been a highly anticipated game since last year’s E3 and is made by the studio Naughty Dog which is best known for the Uncharted series, Jak and Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot. Prior to release of The Last of Us, it received over 30 perfect 10/10 scores from various reviewers. Now I’m one not to buy into the hype until I get my hands on the actual game or movie and I hope that is part of the reason why you read my reviews. Also the zombie apocalypse setting also hurt my interest in the game prior to playing it. I’m rather tired of the zombie genre and I have a feeling World War Z will be the nail in the coffin for the undead genre, for awhile at least.  However, after actually playing The Last of Us, I learned it was about far more than just fighting zombies. This is one of the most emotionally strong and well acted games I have ever played as well as one of the best survival horror games I have played in a long time. Many do not consider it a survival horror but I do as survival is a big part of the game and it does a good job of building suspense and it got a few good scares out of me. Let’s take a closer look at this odyssey of a zombie game.


STORY: It’s been 20 years since a pandemic spread by spores of a cordyceps-like infection that alters humans into cannibalistic zombie like creatures spread across the world (based on Ophiocordyceps unilateralis. It’s a real thing. Look it up. I give them points for something a little more original than some zombie making virus).  Humanity has been ravaged by the infection and most survivors reside in Quarantine Zones controlled by what has become a very oppressive US government. You play as Joel, a man who has had a really hard life since the outbreak began. He and his partner Tess routinely run smuggling operations out of the quarantine zone for various reasons. They end up taking a job from a resistance group known as the Fireflies. Their job to take a 14 year-old girl named Ellie to a group of Fireflies in center of Boston. As they set out, they learn things will be nowhere near as easy as they had first thought and end up on a long trail across the country dealing with infected and humans alike in the hopes of finding reason and hope for the last of humanity.

 The first ten minutes of this game may go down as one of the most powerful and emotional openings to a game ever. It has brought many people to tears. The downside is that it slows down significantly after that and goes into the usual tutorial mode that you see integrated into the start of most games. This does not affect the flow of the story however. The game is very well paced and is rather long at around 15+ hours, I think. I didn’t keep track but it was a lot longer than I expected. At the heart of the story is the forming bond between Joel and Ellie and this game is an emotional roller coaster. The interaction between Joel and Ellie is interesting and watching develop is done in a very realistic and believable way. This game is a benchmark in acting and character development in video games. The most interesting conversations mainly deal with the generational gap between the two characters; Joel remembering life before the pandemic and Ellie has never lived outside a quarantine zone. Joel, Ellie, and pretty much every other character in the game truly feels like a real person. Sadly, it never really tops the emotional punch in the face that the first 10 minutes of the game is. Especially, the ending which I felt was rather anti-climatic and didn’t really care for the note it left on BUT that isn’t to say the ending is bad. It’s no let down of an ending like Mass Effect 3 but it doesn’t come close to touching those first 10 minutes. That’s all up to opinion though. The emotional drama is not just felt in the cut scenes but also in the game play as well.


GAMEPLAY:  The core of The Last of Us generally acts like a third person shooter with stealth playing a big role. The game expects you to use stealth as much as possible because you will not be able to Rambo your way out of most situations like in most survival games these days. This is not an easy game and you will most likely find yourself dying in certain parts over and over again so be warned. The game gives you very limited ammo for all of your weapons. You must approach a situation and figure out the best way to get through or around it and it all depends on who or what you are dealing with. The tension that can get built from sneaking around a group of infected can be bought and sold whole sale. It leads to some very intense situations especially when dealing with the Clicker type zombies who can kill you as soon as they get a hold of you. When I say this game is scary, I don’t mean in the jump scares that you sadly see relied on in most horror movies and games these days. It builds it up to the point where you are afraid to make the wrong move. The infected are not the only enemies you’ll be dealing with. Humans are just a big a threat as zombies. The heart lands of America are filled with ruthless nomads who will do anything to survive and it’s them or you. You will often find yourself in fire fights with them but since you have very limited ammo, you better make each shot count. This game really makes it sting when you miss a shot. Dealing with humans can be just as scary as dealing with zombies.

You also have melee weapons and homemade explosives at your disposal as well as beer bottles or bricks laying around that you can use to cause a distraction or beat someone with at close range. Melee weapons range from 2x4s and lead pipes to axes and machetes. You can only use them a limited amount of times before they break but you can also upgrade them using scissors and tape you find laying around to salvage. That goes for med kits, shivs, and other stuff in your arsenal. Always be on the lookout for things you can use. You will find all kinds of ways to defend yourself other than just with guns. And sometimes it’s better to just run.    

However, the biggest problem in the game comes from the friendly AI. During this game’s development, it was mentioned that this game would have unparallel AI design. In the gameplay footage shown at E3, it looked like Ellie was being controlled by another person instead of by the computer but it was indeed the game’s AI. Well, it would seem something must have happened because the AI can be just plain dumb during some stealth segments. Many times they would just wonder out where enemies could see them or the enemy AI would literally walk right up on them and would act like nothing is there. Till they saw me, that is. My guess is that their hopes to have very intelligent AI wasn’t working and they were running out of time so they just made the friendly AI immune to getting spotted by the enemy. The enemy is designed to only react to when spotting the human player. This is how most AI works in most games but here it becomes extremely obvious, especially with how the rest of the game is made to be painstakingly realistic. It takes you out of the game when you see these hick ups with the AI happen. Also occasionally Ellie would get in my way on a narrow path and block my way. She’d move but not enough so I’d have to fight to get around her. However, this only happened a couple times. The enemy AI when you’re fighting them, on the other hand, is very smart and will find ways to flank and ambush you. This is when you need to make go use of the listening mode.  

There are a couple minor graphical glitches like textures or parts of the world disappearing for a second but these were very minor and rare. One big glitch I did find was if you climbed into the window that is partly open from inside the restaurant during Winter, it will cause you to fall through the world and die. So, don’t do that. The game also has fairly long load times when you are first starting up and loading a game. However, the lack of load times in game makes up for it, I guess


GRAPHICS AND SOUND:  The Last of Us is easily one of the most photorealistic games I have ever played and takes full advantage of the PS3’s hardware. The environments are just spectacular to look at and a lot of effort was put in to the locations that the game takes place in. The strangely beautiful ruins of American cities and towns and the wilderness, The Last of Us is just pure eye candy in showing what life would be like after humanity falls. The motion capture is also some of the best I’ve ever seen and a big part of the emotional drive for this game especially when it comes to facial expressions. It looks like you’re watching real people on screen, not video game characters. This is not just in cut scenes, but in game as well. The characters move and act like real people as you play as them. This feels like a next gen-game in terms of graphics.

Troy Baker might possibly be one of the best voice actors currently out there and he does an amazing performance as Joel. Troy also recently played Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite but here we actually see him acting, not just voice acting. His Texas accent is just perfect. Of course, Troy is originally from Texas so it makes sense. Ashley Johnson plays Ellie does a superb job playing a teen age girl coping with the situation she is in. She’s funny sometimes and a very tragic character at times as well. As I mentioned before, the characters are what brings this game’s story to life and the acting in it is academy award worthy.

Overall, The Last of Us is a must have game if you like anything related to zombies, The Walking Dead, or anything else that is post-apocalyptic. Sadly, this is a PS3 exclusive which I did not realize till after getting picking it up. It’s been a long time since I’ve played an exclusive title for the PS3. This game is a reason to get a PS3 or at least barrow one from a friend. It is a very challenging game but don’t let that scare you. This is a very strong contender for my game of the year list. It would get a 10/10 from me if it weren’t for the less than impressive AI (Elizabeth from Bioshock is still the best AI I’ve seen) and the rather ‘meh’ ending. Never the less, this is a must play game for this year and I urge anyone to check out. Thanks for reading! My next game review may be the Deadpool game but I’m not sure when I’ll get around to actually covering it. Also be on the lookout for some SNES and other classic game over views I’ll be working on this summer.

OVERALL: 9.5/10

PROS:
-Strong, emotional story, especially the opening
-Great stealth and survival gameplay
-Beautiful visuals and motion capturing

CONS:
-Dumb AI during stealth
-Long load times at start up
-Ending is might be a letdown for some  

               

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Xbox One Rant UPDATE


Massive update: Microsoft has reversed almost all features and policies on the Xbox One. The two big points that I talked about in my previous Xbox One Rant, required internet connect and used games policies, have been done away with. The following changes have been made (info via Kotaku):

-No more always online requirement
-The console no longer has to check in every 24 hours
-All game discs will work on Xbox One as they do on Xbox 360
-Authentication is no longer necessary
-An Internet connection is only required when initially setting up the console
-All downloaded games will function the same when online or offline
-No additional restrictions on trading games or loaning discs
-Region locks have been dropped


This is of course following over a month of backlash and criticism from gamers and others in the game industry. It’s unclear what will happen to digital sharing and family sharing plan that was originally set up for the Xbox One. What I do know is that these changes make me much more likely to check out this system in the future. Am I running out to buy one the day of release? No. But I’m not running out to get a PS4 either.  I’d like to see this as a victory for gamers and that the voice of the gamer can matter even to big money hungry companies. Too early to say what truly influenced Microsoft’s decisions but it’s a step in the right direction.  However, now we can’t make internet memes making fun of Xbox One for obvious things anymore. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Remember Me Game Review


Remember Me is a game that flew in under the radar earlier this month. I only knew of it from ads on Facebook via friends over the past few months. It looked interesting with a futuristic setting and a kickass female lead character. It was developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Capcom as a sci-fi beat’em up, platformer. Sadly, this game was berated by critics on upon its release saying that while it is a very pretty game, its combat system is it’s down fall. As usual, I wanted to have my own experience with it in hoping that I could disprove its critics and find that the short comings critics hammered on could be looked over by gamers. Sadly, this is not the case. Let’s take a closer to see if Remember Me is worth remembering.


STORY: Set in 2084 in Neo-Paris, the world is a very different place. An invention by the Memorize Corporation has swept through the world. The Sensation Engine or Sensen lets 99% of the population upload shared memories to a massive virtual space and remove bad memories. The world has become addicted to this amazing invention but has become a controlled one that is always being watched by Memorize. A rebellion has formed known as ‘Erroists’ who are looking to end the control of Memorize and the world’s dependence on Sensen. You play as Nilian, a woman who was imprisoned in Neo-Paris’s feared Bastille prison. She has had most of her memory erased and his about to be executed when a mysterious man named ‘Edge’ contacts her and helps her escape the prison. She learns that she used to be a memory hunter and was the best at it. Edge reunites her with friends she has forgotten about and explains to her the importance of her role in taking down Memorize. However, as she heads out on this quest, she learns many things are not as they seem, the ugly truth behind Sensen, and she herself still can’t remember everything about her past.

Right off the bat, this game reminds me a lot of Ghost in the Shell, Total Recall, and a little bit of Mirror’s Edge. The story is one of the game’s strong points. From a philosophical standpoint, it does have a deep story that asks questions such as if a society can’t remember the bad things from its past, can it ever truly progress as a society. And what memories truly define you? It’s all there but this is where I feel Remember Me might have actually worked better as a movie rather than a video game. If you’re only interested in the story, you’re probably going to find that the gameplay gets in the way and that is not the mark of a good game. The game does have some very good plot twists. It’s not the twists themselves that are all that shocking but the way they are presented and followed through with that makes them really work. I also like that Nilian questions the things she’s done in the past, yet can’t remember, and why she follows Edge. Nilian makes for a great character and a strong female character that need to be seen more in video games. I also like that she is not over sexualized like many female game characters often become.

The ending is pretty good and could lead to a sequel but is by no means sequel bait like many game endings are these days. The game is fairly average in length at a little over 8 hours with 8 episodes that last a little over an hour each.  There is some replay value as there are things to collect in game but I honestly could care that much about them. The gameplay is where things go downhill.


GAMEPLAY: First let’s start with the good. Platforming is something that was complained about a lot with this game. I won’t lie, there were a couple spots where I fell to my death and it felt unjustified but other times I could tell it was my fault. Only one part of the game presented me consistent trouble with the platforms and that was in the flooded upper class area of Paris which was a challenging place. The platforming itself was very similar to the newest Tomb Raider. There is a lot of climbing up sides of buildings and there are some creative puzzles in how to traverse obstacles thrown in there as well. Bottom line, I didn’t think the platforming was as bad as the critics made it out to be.  The levels don’t have much to explore and are pretty linier even though there are items to collect. In every level there are screens that appear that show the location of a health upgrade or a power gauge upgrade. You must remember the location in the picture and try and locate the item based on memory. I guess that works with the memory theme of this game. But most of the time I couldn’t really be bothered to find these upgrades. However, I did get better at it by the end of the game but by them I managed to only get one new chunk of health and power.

Nilian gets new equipment upgrades as the game progresses such as a cybernetic arm cannon type thing and a digital lock pick. While the cannon is self explanatory, I wish the lock pick was explained better as it took me about 10 minutes of being stuck before realizing just how it worked. The arm cannon is not as responsive as I’d like it to be, especially in combat where locking on to the target you want can be jerky if there is more than one enemy. The Memory Remix segments are some of the coolest parts of this game once you get the hang of them. When this happens you are trying to alter someone’s memory to remember something else in hopes of changing their mind about something. You watch the memory of someone and after viewing it, you rewind, fast forward, and pause looking for glitches in the memory to alter the memory. It’s a puzzle to figure out the right combination of glitches to get the memory to properly alter and complete the memory remix. It’s also fun to make different but incorrect out comes occur which you should try out anyway if you like unlocking achievements.

Now to the combat… This is where I suspect many controllers will be thrown in anger and frustration. The combat uses the Pressen system where you unlock and program button combinations for combos similar to fighting games. Some of the combos grant you health, cool down time, and heavier damage if you perform them right. But pulling off these combos became the biggest challenge if you’re up against many enemies and especially late in the game when you’ll find that some enemies can only be taken down in certain ways. This might just be me, but part of my problem was that this combat is TOO similar to the fighting system in the Batman Arkham games but in Batman it is much easier to master and much less restricted. I’ve played Arkham City so many damn times my brain just keeps thinking that is how to fight in this game but free flow combat doesn’t work in Remember Me. A huge problem is that fights feel like that last way too long despite how bad you are beating up the enemies. If you’re not able to pull off full combos, you’re doing hardly any damage and it makes you feel weak.

You do have some ultimate moves that you can use and the game expects you to use them often but there is the penalty of a cool down time. This can last from 40 seconds to 190 seconds before you can use the move again. There are some enemies that can only be defeated with these moves and require you to use that move more than once leaving you mostly defenseless during the cool down time. There were quite a few times I had to just run around avoiding attacks while waiting for the clock to run down. Also certain super moves only work against certain enemies so in some fights and it’s a complete waste to try and use other moves against them. These super moves are also limited by a gauge so you have to make sure it is filled before using.  Another problem is that the combat system lacks a counter or block move. The only thing you can do when you’re about to get hit is dodge out of the way. While it’s usually effective, it can disrupt the combo you had going and might not protect you if there was another enemy trying to hit you at the same time. This all leads to some extremely frustrating and long fights later on in the game. I did not enjoy many of the fights I encountered and did not look forward to having to using this combat system but maybe you can get a better grasp of the combat system than I did and enjoy it more. But for me, the combat system gives Remember Me a big black eye.


GRAPHICS AND SOUND:  This is what I feel attracted most people to this game in the first place. The scenery and visuals in the game are just flat out beautiful. You can tell a lot of work went into the artwork and setting of this game. The futuristic Paris has so much to look at that it’s a shame this game isn’t open world. I really like the digital text that appears around businesses or working drones that also acts as the game’s interphase system. You know how you’re playing a game and you come up to a door and the button you need to push appears but it feels out of place being appearing there? Remember Me does a great job of making that typical convention of gaming blend in perfectly to the world this game takes place in. Nilian looks awesome in her character design and the same with many other characters found in this game.

Right from the title screen, you can tell this game is going to have an amazing soundtrack. Beautifully orchestral music mixed with electronic music makes for the perfect tone for this futuristic world. The voice acting is generally well done though Kezia Burrows (the voice of Nilian) definitely stands over all the others in this game for her performance. One thing that bugged me was the lip sync. In game, it’s really off with most characters and even a little off in the cut scenes. Also why is almost everyone speaking English with American accents in Paris? Nilian is the only character who sounds remotely French. Speaking of which, there is no French to be seen in Neo-Paris either. Did the United States invade France at some point before this? It is implied that there was third world war. Maybe that’s why…

Overall, Remember Me is a game filled with interesting ideas, beautiful scenery, and a great female lead that sadly is nearly ruined by a frustrating and unforgiving combat system. Some might be able to get the hang of the fighting beter than others but I’m going to have to go with the critics on this one. When it came to the fighting, I was just not having fun. I got this game full price online and I’m rather regretting that now. If you see it at a much lower price, it’s worth checking out. If you’re only interested in the story and do not want to mess with the gameplay, then I would suggest watching a let’s play on youtube or something as the combat will only dampen your spirits for this game’s story. Thank you for reading and look out for my new game review of the highly acclaimed The Last of Us coming soon.


OVERALL: 6/10

PROS:
-Beautiful graphics and scenery
-Interesting story and ideas
-Excellent soundtrack

CONS:
-Frustrating combat system
-Linier levels
-Some game mechanics could be explained better