PS3

September 14, 2013

The new hd Collection Standard – Kingdom Hearts hd 1.5 Remix Review

 

 

When looking over my notes for this game, I came to the decision to review this title as a package, not a new standalone game. The original Kingdom Hearts was released over 10 years ago, a little late to review a game based on its merits as a new title, despite my first play through of the title, though I am no stranger to the franchise. I do want to, however, go over the changes made in this HD collection and will judge the title based on what it is, an HD collection. Over 40+ hours with the title, I had ups, downs, and a new bar at which to set HD collections at.

Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix is comprised of three titles, Kingdom Hearts: Final Remix (was a Japan exclusive), Kingdom Hearts Re: Chain of Memories, and 358/2 Days (pronounced 358 over 2 Days). The first two titles are in their entirety, but 358/2 Days is just re-mastered cut scenes with no gameplay to speak of, which was cut due to having to take the time to rebuild the game( it was a DS exclusive), but there is still plenty of value here for your money. I completed Kingdom Hearts Final Mix, without obtaining every item and did not finish every side quest in about 33 hours. The rest of the time was put into Chain of Memories and watching about an hour’s worth of the videos from 358/2 Days. Let’s break the title down.

 

Kingdom Hearts was originally released back in 2002 for the PlayStation 2. It was a critical and commercial success, though it did have some problems. The version that is included in this collection is the Japanese exclusive “Final Mix”. The title follows Sora, Donald, and Goofy on their adventures though original and Disney inspired worlds to stop Ansem and defeat the Heartless. According to the games director, Tetsuya Nomura, most of the original game assets were lost over time, so most of this title has been rebuilt. The biggest changes have been to the camera and to the visuals. Despite some weird mouth textures here and there, this has set the bar for visuals in an HD collection. The games art directions pops off the screen in great 1080p resolution and could easily surpass some titles that were made more recently. Best of all, unlike some other HD collections the full motion videos have also received the HD treatment, making them a visual treat. The camera system has been reworked from the shoulder buttons in the original game to the right thumb stick to mimic the camera from Kingdom Hearts 2. While this is a great update, the camera can still be erratic and made some jarring movements during combat and other segments. Platforming with the new camera made it more tolerable, but the weird floating physics still kept it a chore. All of the music has been redone with live compositions, instead of the synthetic based tones found in the original. I wish I had a set of headphones for my PlayStation 3, this game would have benefited from a better output than my T.V.’s speakers; the music is fantastic. The original voice work is still there, with performances by Haley Joel Osment, Billy Zane, David Boreanaz, and James Woods. The voice overs are hit or miss in their acting ability, but serve their purpose well. This is the meat and potatoes of the collection and as an HD re-master it is hard to fault. The game is beautiful, sounds great, and plays great. There are some design issues I have with the game, such as the lock-on being iffy at times, and the hunt for what to do next in some levels; but this is things that are a decade old, and are moot at this point. Seeing and hearing how great this title is now in the HD era, was a real treat, gripes aside.

 

Re: Chain of Memories is a PS2 remake of the Game Boy Advanced title. The game plays differently than other titles in the series, with battles using cards, instead of the typical action command system. Chain of Memories takes place immediately after the first Kingdom Hearts and has Sora and company exploring the Castle of Oblivion. The Castle bases its rooms off of Sora’s memories so expect a lot of recycled environments from the previous title. The card battle system takes some time getting used to, and I still feel I don’t have a well enough grip on its intricacies. The game is much shorter than Kingdom Hearts but is expected to be played through twice, so after two plays, you should clock in around the originals run time. The game is much narrower in its scope and feel, and linear by nature. It is a fun distraction if you are looking for more to do with the 1.5 Remix after you have finished Kingdom Hearts, I would not by the collection just for this title.

 

358/2 Days has zero gameplay. It is a collection of videos, playing out the story for the DS exclusive title. The collection of videos spans almost 3 hours and while some are better than others, it can feel a bit drawn out and dull at times. It seems like a weird omission to not include new gameplay; this does complete the story line up until Kingdom Hearts 2. As far as the chronological order is concerned, these three titles line up one after another. In the grand scheme of things, if there is to be a Kingdom Hearts 2 HD compilation, any new comers to the series would be caught up to speed with the overall story arch, outside of the PSP prequel, Birth by Sleep. While I am sure the gameplay was cut for the sake of time and money, it is kind of a disappointment that it wasn’t included. The videos were made from the in-game engine and do include the beautiful updated visuals as well as voice over work. There are trophies to unlock with the videos, which was a weird choice, though some maybe grueling for trophy hunters, be prepared to watch a lot of videos.

 

If you are a fan of Square Enix or the Kingdom Heart series, then you already have the collection. For those looking to get into the series, or something a little lighthearted and different, this is the collection to buy. For $40, you could have received less content, but Square Enix was very generous in this collection. Kingdom Hearts, like I stated above, is the main course of this collection and should be purchased as such. Chain of Memories and 358/2 Days should be treated like DVD extra features, they are good additions, but if you skip them, you are not missing out on much. As a HD collection, it is fantastic. I thought I had seen the pinnacle of these collections with the likes of the ICO, Metal Gear Solid, and Sly Cooper collections, but Square Enix has surpassed these. While the others have included more stable frame rates and higher resolutions, most of Kingdom Hearts Final Mix was rebuilt with this collection in mind. It may be lacking in the amount of games offered versus other collections; the outstanding reworked visuals and audio place this at the top of my HD collection list. The packaging is one other positive going for this collection. I post an article about the art book packaging on Tuesday, and if you are thinking of picking up the title go for the art book case if you can. I love the idea of packaging being an art book, hinting at the ever possibility of games as art. In closing, come for the beautiful Kingdom Hearts Final Mix; though be aware some gameplay elements have not aged particularly well. Chain of Memories and the 358/2 Days theater are after dinner mints that can be taken as you please, or you can ignore altogether. As an HD collection, it sets a new bar for audio and visual re-mastering. I hope Square Enix put this much love into the upcoming Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Collection.

 

+ A plethora of content for $40

+ Beautiful visuals

+ Reworked audio is a treat

+ FMV’s have HD resolution

+ A great package for new comers to the franchise

+ Artbook packaging is fantastic

+ Despite camera issues and some cheap deaths, the game is still a blast to play

+ PS3 dynamic themes as unlocks

– The reworked camera is a nice addition, but is still awful

– 358/2 Days was delivered as a 3 hour movie

– Trophy hunters have to sit through the three hour movie

-Chain of Memories can be a little repetitive and the combat takes some getting use to

Final Score – 8.5/10

Kingdom Hearts HD Review

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July 17, 2013

Miami hotline review

I’ve been around the gaming industry for a long time and one of the pre-conceived notions I’ve had as it’s grown and changed over the years is that new games should have amazing graphics and they should get better with each installment. With that said when I first saw Hotline Miami on Steam I simply ignored it.  I didn’t even consider it until CABXYZ told me that I should give the game a shot.  At his suggestion and my insatiable need to get my Summer Getaway 2013 badge on steam I decided to pick it up.

Firstly I want to say that at $2.99 it felt like highway robbery… of the developers.   Even at the $9.99 price tag I feel the developers are under charging for this title.  I would of gladly paid $20, $25 maybe even $30 dollars  for it and that’s saying a lot consider that it’s an 8bit over the top shooter.

Graphics – this doesn’t really apply here but that doesn’t mean the presentation can’t be cool and entertaining.  If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s not to judge a book by its cover and that’s what I did sadly with Miami hotline.  Half the battle is making a solid presentation with everything from the smooth menu, solid gameplay, and interesting animations.  Everything from the blood spatters to the interesting cut-scenes make the whole presentation complete

Sound – This is one of the top highlights of the game.  We at TGB absolutely loved the sound track.  I loved it so much I actually went and purchased the soundtrack.  It was that good and it’s one of my favorite in a game in recent history.  Obviously this isn’t a 5.1 surround game but the soundtrack is definitely the winner.

Gameplay – since this isn’t a high-powered game it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be… ultra smooth.  The game plays smoothly and it has a vast array of weapons to use ranging from your fists to guns and throwing knives.  I played the game with Mouse and Keyboard but you can also play it with a controller on the PC version or you can get it on the PS3, Vita and Xbox360.

Story – if there was a weak spot there it’s probably the story.  It’s not bad by any means but it was slightly confusing and mildly absurd but then how many games aren’t.

Value – I played through the game in about 8.5 hours.  So for the measly $2.99 I paid for it I got a hell of a deal.  This game has a ton of replay value as well as some of the achievements will require you to play several missions over and over again and to boot they are a blast to play.

Challenge – This is something I generally don’t cover because I feel that most games are designed to appeal to the masses and not to the ‘hardcore elite’ of games and thus they are designed to be simple, easy and sometimes mindless.   I’m thankful to say that Miami Hotline does not fall into this trap and it’s very refreshing.  There were more than a few times that I actually wanted to throw the keyboard out the window.  Miami Hotline saves are really what drive the challenge.  They aren’t annoying but they are similar to older games.  If you die at ANY point during one of the stages you start all over again.  Most of the missions have 2 – 4 stages to further that everything is one hit kill so if you get hit or shot even once… you start over.  You will die and die often… there is even an achievement for it.

In short Miami Hotline is a must buy and is one of my favorite indie games to come out since Mount & Blade.  If you are a fan of the Super Nintendo or consider yourself a gamer period this is a MUST have game for your library.

Rating: 9/10

 

May 3, 2013

Losing a Generation and an Industry in Transition

 

I must first and for most thank my mother. She helped fuel my passion for gaming and took an interest in my life from when I was young and still goes strong today. She came across an article on MSN that talked about where gamers have disappeared to and that this current college bound generation has greater interest in engaging in the outside world rather than being in another world. The argument has its good points and its list of misfires. The term “gamer” is a misconstrued title in a day’s where everyone has a smart phone or tablet that is a capable gaming machine. When people think of “gamers” the first thing that comes to mind is a 30 something- year-old, living in their parents basement, and drinks gallons of Mountain Dew. Yes, there are those that fit this persona, but not the vast majority. Take myself as an example, I am currently job searching after being with a company for more than 6 years, while I search I am working full time on bringing news, and other fun gaming related quid throughout the week. My girlfriend and I have lived with each other for just over three years, I have completely abandoned soda, I am not overweight, and despite having a huge game collection, enjoy culture, music, movies, comics, and other things outside gaming. Yet, I am one of those people that if I am on the bus or subway, you will see me with a portable gaming device not caring what you think of me. My friends and gamer circles all have full time jobs, most of them in relationships, and enjoy other things outside of gaming as well. Yet we are all passionate enough to make a site about gaming work within the constructs of our daily lives. The article went into detail about the coming console generation and the underperforming Wii U, as well as the downfall of Zynga, Facebook, and Apple products as gaming outlets. There is one thing in the article I must correct; Nintendo is not having an E3 press event because of the success of the Nintendo Directs. They feel they can reach more people through the live webcast that can be replayed via their website and on the Wii U and 3DS. Nintendo has already taken responsibility for the Wii U sales with lack of software and bad marketing; the 3DS on the other hand is having an already stellar year and is looking to finish strong for the remainder. There are several ways to get kids, adults, and current gamers excited about gaming and the prospects of storytelling, problem solving, teamwork, and social aspects that come along with gaming. The article gave a grave reminder that, with this generation of college bound students that doesn’t care much for gaming, they will be making the games of tomorrow; and that scares me.

 

Gaming, just like any type of media, social gathering, or sports can have huge benefits. They can lead to making someone feel socially excepted, help with problem solving, can lead to quicker reflexes; they can even help with vocabulary and reading comprehension. But just like everything in life, it must come with moderation. Technology is a wonderful thing and despite the author claiming this younger generation being fueled by the outside world instead of the digital one, they have always had it. I see 9 year-olds on an iPhone and they are connected to Facebook. How many of these people that are interacting with the outside world have their trendy phone on them ready to use that god awful vintage filter to take pictures and upload them to Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram? They have traded one game for another. Facebook likes, re-tweets, and the like have become the new points system. See how many of these college bound teenagers could live without their smart phone and social media for a week. Social media fuels our business, but if I didn’t have to be connected to it, I could do without it. Despite Facebook’s slumping stock, Facebook has a game built into it without anyone putting the word “ville” beside it. This is where some of the gamers of tomorrow have gone, and just like gaming needs moderation, less “vintage” looking photos shot on a bad phone camera the better. Does the integration of Twitter, Facebook, and other social media into gaming consoles solve the problem of the disappearing gamer? Not really and how do we get these social media moguls into gaming? By changing the game and driving excitement.

 

The current console generation has reached its peak, about a year ago. Despite gamers being content with the PS3 and 360, they need to go. They have terribly old tech, poor infrastructures, and there is no room to grow for game development; they are stuck. One thing that Nintendo did right, despite lack of horsepower in Wii and now Wii U, was they have brought new ways to play the game. Just like the media darling’s Google Glass and Oculus Rift, they are new ways to immerse ourselves in this media. Sony, with the Dualshock 4 is trying. They know the Move didn’t sell like it should have and it was time to move on from the motion gaming and try what is working with tech outside gaming with a touch pad. Now the DS4 still has all the normal controller bells and whistles, but the integration of a small touch pad to do simple things such as simple actions or using it to select things like a smart phone could be a key in the fight of keeping people interested. Nintendo did the same thing with the Wii U gamepad, and added much more function to the device. Most of this generation, gamers have known one controller and did not grow up in the times when each new console devised a new controller with new ways to interact. I am fortunate to grow up first holding an Atari 2600 joystick that had one button. Then with each successor, the controller evolved to add more buttons, analog sticks for better range of control and motion, to having force feedback, and to having pressure sensitive triggers for more ample control. This console cycle was an odd one. We started with the Wii Remote, Sixaxis, and 360 gamepad; and then mid way through got bored and added more in the way of Kinect, PS Move, Wii Motionplus, and the Balance Board, and lost what made gaming special. With all these accessories and new ways we had to have to play the excitement turned into groaning at the retail counter and then the console collecting dust. I was working gaming retail when Wii Sports Resort came out and people were upset over having to buy an additional Wii Motion Plus dongle for something they already spent money on. I know there has always been an accessory throughout the home console cycles, things such as the Super Scope, Sega Activator, the NES Power Pad, and Game Boy/ advanced players, but not something that renders a controller moot to play something that has the Wii Sports brand on it. I’ve never seen the general public clamber at a console the way they did at the Wii. Doing something as simple as having a two button remote so people could play Mario the way they did back in the 80’s was genius. Sadly because of this Super Mario Bros. Wii out sold both the better Mario Galaxy titles, but there was that excitement for parents to show their kids what opening a NES and playing Super Mario for the first time felt like, and that’s just it. There needs to be excitement once again. Yea anyone’s phone can run Angry Birds or Temple Run, but can your iPad or phone be capable of bringing you Mario, Halo, or Ratchet and Clank? I know a lot of parents that were PS3 owners that were excited for Ni No Kuni, the game by Namco, Level 5 and Studio Ghibli. It gave the parents the deep, rich RPG gameplay, but brought the great character design, and art of a Studio Ghibli film. It was something you could spend playing with your child that wasn’t tagged with anything from Nintendo. We need excitement in the industry, we need to celebrate the different, the family oriented, the indie, the PC, the Free to Play, the console exclusive, and the blockbuster AAA titles but without the hostility, without the fan boy schlock, and without stereotypes (including xeno and homophobia). If we share the excitement with our friends, colleges, passerby’s, consumers, and the people leaving gaming behind; we may be able to show them what it is about the hobby that keeps us enthralled with it.

 

There may be other ways to keep people and children interested with gaming by incorporating it in different ways. There are art exhibits, concerts, books, comics, soundtracks, and other media that the stories games convey have bled into. Want to still get in your morning run but what to be excited about the next Halo, listen to the soundtrack on your workout. Love Mass Effect and want the stories to continue outside of the game, visit your local comic or book store. Comics and books can be read in parks, the beach, on the train, in a plane, on your phone, on your tablet, or at home. I know reading game related material or listing to soundtracks as I write or during my walks brings me to the console space with excitement. Listening to soundtracks of games I have played years ago, triggers memories making my brain more active, while I am actively doing something else. When my friends and I were younger, going outside to play Laser Tag, play in the snow, play wiffle ball or even climbing a tree became something different because we include gaming into those activities. During snow days my back yard and drive way became the Battle of Hoth, Laser Tag was a mixture of Resident Evil and Jurassic Park, and playing sports games gave us better understandings of those sports and we would mimic batting stances, or moves we saw in the games. It wasn’t about the violence or gun play or any of that, it was about creating new, fun, and exciting experiences from what we had played. We incorporated games and story lines into our childhood play, something I see absolutely none of today. There is just no imagination in today’s youth. Maybe gaming is being passed up, because it is a creative industry that sometimes requires a creative input from the player, and that creativity is just lost. I mean look at the styles of clothes now, none of it is creative, it is all regurgitated from the 70-80’s and I hate it. Maybe this generation has become creatively sterile and the only way they can express it is through the new game of social media.

 

There are several things I have gone over to try and resolve this issue that is apparent. There is one way I haven’t yet addressed. In a recent interview with Peter Molyneux (formerly of Lionhead Studios and now at 22 Cans), how the Xbox can be successful, trim the media fat, and make it about games. With this generation we have seen the simple starts as being a DVD/Blu- Ray player to an entire media hub where it forgets about being a game console. The Xbox 360 dashboard is so bogged down with media apps, advertisements and other schlock that it makes finding games and game related material a chore. I don’t care that I can tweet, add Facebook friends, order a pizza, or have military propaganda flooding the advert space; I want it to play games, connect me to people to play games with, and to let me lose myself in story and HD visuals. Anyone can buy an iPad, Roku Box, or surf the web on their phone. Console makers need to make the consoles focus and regain what we buy them for in the first place, to play games. I can buy a PC and do everything at once. But people by consoles because of the different gameplay experiences, ease of use, there is no updating hardware and they can spend the money and be happy for years with what is in the box. I buy Nintendo consoles for the interesting ways to play and their core franchises. I buy Sony products to play original titles like ICO, Shadow of the Colossus, and titles that feel at home on their products like Final Fantasy and Metal Gear. I buy Microsoft products for universal connectivity across all products (from my W7 phone, to my Zune, to my Xbox, and my email), for the comfortable controller, their exclusives, and I am a bit of an achievement junkie. Out of all three have I mentioned that I can watch Netflix, or get on Twitter, or because I like advertisement shoved into my eyeballs at every turn? No, and that is the way it should be. Each has their strengths and they need to feed off of those and focus on games.

 

With all of these thoughts I hope this lost generation can take note, game companies do a better job of showing that their consoles are about games, and that games can make more of a social impact. The gaming industry is making more money than ever, but with so many techs out there, they are starting to not seem viable any more, but that can change and could bring new audiences with that change. The industry isn’t just loosing gamers, but creativity and desire. The “lost” generation has had so much technology available from the start that they have become creatively numb, and socially inept, to where the only way to get them into gaming is to maybe making it simple again. This generation is not only ignoring gaming but other outlets such as comics, and books as well. I had teen tell me that one Iron Man figure was wrong because he didn’t look like he did in the movie. If he had picked up a comic first instead of inserting his foot, he would have realized he was wrong. The gaming industry has to change and we have taken fact to that issue, but maybe it’s also about time this generation put down the iPhone, crappy vintage camera filter, jackets with shoulder pads, and social media to find out there is more out there. Maybe there is a middle ground we are missing here, there has to be a compromise. If I can get my mom to sit down and play Carcassonne on the 360 with me, help her download Star Wars Pinball on her Kindle Fire HD, or have my future sister-in-law be amazed that Gears of War 3 looked more like a movie than a game; then there is hope. If I ever have kids, I would want them to be gamers, readers, and media enthusiasts as well as active in the real world. I want creativity to flow in every aspect. I have talked about moderation, the gamer’s social convention, the industry it’s self, and a generation that is need of creative guidance. I want the games of the future to be a proud, creative expression. I want them to push boundaries both in social, graphical, and gameplay relevance. I have always hated the term “Video game” because it always implied something that should be used by a child, or that had no artistic relevance, and was mostly looked down upon by the main stream. This interactive media is suited for a better title. So, “lost generation”, let’s work together to bring that audience back, make consoles about games, bring excitement in the field, and find a term more suited for this new creative empire.

April 14, 2013

Penguin United Xbox 360 Keyboard Mouse Converter

Old habits die hard and one hardest ones for me to attempt to ditch in an attempt to play with some of my XBL brethren was the Keyboard and Mouse setup that I’ve become accustomed to on the PC over the past 17 years.

Some of you may be asking “Why would you lower yourself to playing games like Battlefield 3 on a console when you can play it on a PC at five times the visuals and speed?” the answer to that question is… I have friends who refuse to convert.  So in attempt to keep those friendships intact I’ve purchased games that I normally wouldn’t purchase on systems I normally wouldn’t play.  Primarily Battlefield 3(which I love) and Call of Duty: Black Ops II (which I can’t stand).

Obviously my biggest complaint with consoles is the lack of KB/M support and forcing me to play with, what I consider to be, an inferior control interface.  I gave it a good attempt on Battlefield 3 and the best scores, on rush, that I could come up with where 5/18 or around that on a fairly consistent basis and I would place last if not close to last every other game.  I gave this a go for about a month before I finally got fed up and started to look for a solution that would allow my old school gaming habits to function on ‘modern’ gaming consoles.

The solution came in the form of Penguin United’s Eagle-Eye Keyboard and Mouse Converter.  I decided to pick this up after I looked around the net for a solution and honestly when one of my friends *Xbox fantatic* told me to buy it.

So is it any good?  In short… yes but it does have some drawbacks.  Let’s start with the negatives:

The Bad:

This was confusing to configure even for an experienced System Architect like myself.  I eventually figured it out but it did take me about 6 hours from the moment I bought it to the point where I was playing.  There were several things about it that were hard to figure out but once I got it was smooth sailing from then one.  The biggest complaints I had were this:

You have to have a wired Xbox *official* controller otherwise you won’t be able to get the EagleEye to sync with your Xbox.  Yes you have to plug in the wired controller into your converter every time you start your xbox and connect it.  Connecting it, from what I can deduce, allows it to steal the licensing from the controller and emulate it on the controller.  Once it’s connected you’ll be fine until the next time you turn off your Xbox 360.

Sensitivity can be annoying.  I’m used to high sensitivity on the PC and on the console I was forced to pump the sensitivity all the way up to get it to the point where I could be competitive in games.  It’s still not what I would like but it’s far better than the alternative.

This complaint is specific to Battlefield 3 so I cannot speak to other games as the only two games I’ve played with this are Call of Duty: Black Ops II and Battlefield 3.  It’s hard to use any vehicles outside of the tank and even then it can be a challenge as it is VERY slow to turn turrets.  It’s hard to explain until you’ve used it but once you have you’ll understand.  Don’t even try flying a jet or a helicopter.

Finally the last complaint I had is having the right hardware.  This device only functions with specific hardware.  Do yourself a favor and do your research before you purchase this and purchase it with the proper Keyboard and Mouse combo.  I’ll do an article later on showing what I did to make it work.

The Good:

While there are… what some would consider a lot of negatives, there are a good number of positives as well, especially once you get everything configured the way you like it.

The biggest question is will this making playing an FPS on a console better?  Yes it will and by a good margin.  Yes graphics will still suck like they always do on consoles but at least from a controls perspective things will be much better.  I went from being 5/18 and near last on the team playing rush to going 35/5 on a fairly consistent basis and getting MVP 1 -3.  You can tell right off the bat that you have a pretty big advantage from other players by just the nature of controls.  Having said all that BF3 and COD: BO II don’t play the same on Xbox as they do on PC, they are much slower.

EagleEye comes with some pretty slick controller software.  It allows you to fully customize your keys on your controller to their keyboard and mouse equivalents.  Yes there are some that can’t translate over quite the way I’d like but it’s still much better than using a controller.  The biggest part is just memorizing what those are as you’ll still have to memorize what keys you’ve mapped to what controller buttons.  You’ll need to know these for navigating menus and such.  Once you’ve memorized those it’s smooth as butter.

Conclusion:

Would I recommend this?  Yes… once you get past some of the quirks with go along with this product it’s a pretty slick product.  When you finally get it functioning it works really well aside from having to initialize it every time I start my Xbox.  Having said that it’s a price I’ll gladly pay to not have to deal with clumsy controls.  While this product does need some improvements in the form of ease of use it still gets TGB’s stamp of approval.  Anyone else had experience with this product?  What did you think?

You can check out Penguin Uniteds site here.  If you’d like to purchase it you can buy it at Amazon.com here. You can also purchase a PS3 version.

 

January 17, 2013

DmC: Devil May Cry Review

Almost 5 years after the launch of Devil May Cry 4, Capcom gives its beloved franchise to a western developer in hopes of bringing the series to a new generation. With a new visual style, refined combat, and Dante sporting a new look; would Ninja Theory’s experiment work or would it make the devil cry?

 

The game starts as showing Dante being an angry, young adult enjoying his sinful ways in a club, taking home a few “angles” to his trailer. Yes, Dante lives in a trailer, on the pier, in Limbo City. Limbo City is run by demons. Demons control everything from keeping a close eye on the populous, to economic control, to keeping humans sedated to everything going on around them. Mundus heads all of this, the original protagonist from the first Devil May Cry. Dante meets Kat, who is in “The Order”. Ninja Theory has always had either a strong female lead or strong supporting female characters in their current gen efforts and DmC is no different. Kat becomes very important later on. After he meets her the world around him transforms into Limbo it’s self and is hunted by Mundus. Dante meets the head of “The Order” and learns of his past that had been kept from him, so that his parents, Sparda and Eva, could keep him from being hunted. The story becomes more intriguing but never becomes so farfetched or so incoherent that you lose track. It plays out as an origin story to set up a sequel, but it lets us know these characters in the new light Ninja Theory has created. There is plenty of room at the end for a sequel and despite this being a reboot/reimagining there are plenty of hints here and there at the previous four games. In the beginning when Dante is ripped from his trailer and does a good job of getting dressed midflight, lands with a mop top on his head depicting him from the previous games. After he gets a good look at himself, he jokes “never in a thousand years” and heads off. Dante is a bit crass at the beginning of the game but that cocky facade slowly fades over the course of the game leaving a semi-respectable antihero.

 

Gameplay and the combat system is something that has made Devil May Cry since the early PS2 days, emphasis on combo, lightning fast combat hasn’t changed. The frames per second have been downsized to 30FPS instead of the 60FPS the last two titles have enjoyed. Despite the frames being cut in half the combat still feels just as fast and furious. Besides having the staple weapons, ebony and ivory and Rebellion, Dante gets a feast of new weapons and abilities. Mapped to each of the trigger buttons are devil/angel versions of Rebellion. The Devil versions include an ax (Arbiter) and powered fists (Eryx); these weapons are slow but very powerful and offer different combo techniques per weapon. The angelic weapons, a scythe (Osiris) and a pair of blades (Aquila), are very quick but also light on the power. The game does a good job of making you use the specific weapons outside of combos with enemies representing fire and ice. There are also two whips for each side to traverse the ever changing terrain. The red/devil one can pull out new platforms when directed and the angel/blue one acts more of a grapple hook more mobility when directed. The platforming is solid, but I felt underwhelmed by the lack of a shadow for Dante. While it made the platforming more challenging it was also harder to judge some jumps and could become frustrating. The camera is great but sometimes can get in the way of combat; I lost Dante a few times in a corner but it wasn’t anything detrimental to the game. The game is built on the engine I love so very much; Unreal 3, which if you didn’t get the sarcasm, can be a polished turd. There was one instance that I had revert back to a check point due to a flying enemy getting stuck on some geometry and couldn’t get around it. One of the boss fights failed to continue until I jumped off a platform and rest the sequence. Now this could be a big deal but I have seen it in other Unreal powered games (Mirror’s Edge, Mass Effect, Rainbow Six: Vegas, etc) and have purposely tried to break them to see if I could, with varying degrees of success, so DmC isn’t alone in that category. I would feel like I wasn’t doing my job if I docked it points because of something Epic had never addressed in their engine. I am here to critique the game not the engine, but I thought I would warn you there is a possibility of these things.

With a new game we get new voice actors and new music. Reuben Langdon does not reprise his role of Dante; Tim Phillips (an Australian born actor) takes over the role. Phillips does a great job of being a crass anti-hero and never falls out of his American accent unlike Sam Worthington in Black Ops. All of the voice acting is excellent but some of the dialog is a bit cringe worthy. There is a particular boss that Dante has an F-you contest with that seems like it was written by an angry 12 year-old. The soundtrack was done by Noisia, a Dutch electronic trio. Noisia has done music for other games such as some of the more recent Wipeout entries, DJ Hero, and SSX. Norwegian aggrotech band, Combichrist, also added some tracks to the soundtrack. The electronic scream rock feels right at home with the setting, fast combat, and Mohawk sporting Dante. Noisia has put their compilation of over three hours of music out on an official soundtrack and is nothing short of epic.

So referring to my question above, has Ninja Theory’s experiment worked? Yes, yes it has. Despite Dante looking like he fell out of a Hot Topic sponsored rave, the game is very much Devil May Cry with all the little nuances of previous Ninja Theory titles. If there is one thing Ninja Theory has proven over the years is that they can take a good design concept, God of War (Heavenly Sword) and Prince of Persia (Enslaved), and make it their own. DmC doesn’t fall away from the formula that made the series popular in the beginning; it has a new coat of paint, some epic new beats, and a nice new perspective on Dante’s origins. I played through the game on the hardest difficulty unlocked from the get go (Nephilim) and clocked in around 9 to 10 hours. I only found a few of the hidden doors that lead to challenge rooms (which are also accessible from the main menu) and there are plenty of unlockable difficulties remixing enemy waves and making the game much more difficult. There are leader boards that your scores are uploaded to after each level and there is always room for improvement. For all the hoopla that went around when the new Dante was showed off this is a great game that proves that the series is in great hands. If you’re a fan of the series or of action games or eyeliner, give the game a shot it deserves the attention.

 

Pros.

+ Uber Stylish

+Limbo is beautiful

+ Combat is better than ever

+ The soundtrack is fantastic

+ Ninja Theory nuances, like a strong female character

+ Despite the hate, I like the new Dante

 

Cons.

– It can be a bit brass and crude at times

– Enemy variety is a bit lacking

– Platforming can be iffy

– Camera can be a pain in a few spots

 

Score 9/10

 

DmC: Devil May Cry Review

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September 1, 2012

Darksiders 2 Review

 

In 2010 an unknown developer, Vigil Games, released a game that a jack of all trades and master of none. The original Darksiders was a mix mash of popular game mechanics inside a Zelda like shell, with an awesome take on the apocalypse. The mechanics it did use fit well together, even if it was a bit obvious where they came from, and was met with positive reviews. In Darksiders, you took on the roll of War, one of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse. As War, you were trying to clear your name for starting the war between Heaven and Hell before the 7th seal was broken. Now in Darksiders 2, you control Death, War’s fellow brethren of the apocalypse, on a quest to help clear his brother’s name and restore humanity. Darksiders 2 feels familiar but is a beast of its own; bigger, deeper mechanics and a vast improvement over its predecessor.

*WARNING MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD*

*YOUHAVE BEEN WARNED*

This has been the journey so far

 

Death’s journey starts right after the opening tutorial in the first Darksiders. War has been imprisoned for 100 by the Charred Counsel for starting the apocalypse a bit prematurely and so Death takes it upon himself to help his brother and restore humanity. Death’s journey is great if not a little convoluted. Death starts by seeking out the keep of secrets also known as the Crowfather. During the first encounter with Crowfather we learn of the Horsemen’s past and that they are of a special race known as the Nephilim, a cross between angels and demons. The Four Horsemen slaughtered the rest of their kind in exchanged for powers, imbued by the Charred Counsel to keep the balance in the Universe. Death’s amulet holds the souls of his fellow kinsmen and in the battle with Crowfather it is broken and embedded into Death’s chest as a mark of shame, a reminder if you will. After the thrilling start, Death learns he must find the tree of life and on this journey he visits the Forge Lands. The Forge Lands are where the Makers call home. The Makers are responsible for creation and have a wee bit of a Scottish accent. The Forge Lands serve as one of the hub maps with dungeons strewed through it. The Forge Lands alone are about the size of the entire map from the first game. During the time in Forge Lands you learn that this realm has been over taken by corruption. Corruption takes the form as the main protagonist in Deaths story. The corruption takes the form of Absalom, a Nephilim that was betrayed and slaughtered by Death. At this point the story takes a turn for the personal and has Death not only trying to save humanity but him as well. The story and progression does a get a little repetitive with the dreaded 3 point quest throughout the game. You later visit the Land of the Dead, which is just as large as the Forge Lands, but in order to progress you must fight their champion which requires 3 larges stones to collect. Then you must face and collected the 3 hands of the Lord of Bones and you can kind of see where this is going. The fetch quest normally run in threes, while it elongates the game it can see tedious as well; though it must be noted that each dungeon of the three are all unique in their own right. There are two more maps that are not nearly as large as the others but serve their purpose well. There is one particular dungeon or quest I had a problem with that felt out of place and broke the flow of the game. After the Land of the Dead you will travel to Lostlight in search of a key, while you are there you will be transported to Earth for one of the fetch quest. This mission and dungeon just felt like they didn’t belong and really did nothing for the story and hampered the gameplay department as well. I will elaborate on the gameplay problem later in the review. I did enjoy the story however, there were points that really didn’t fit or felt like they could have been skipped. The corruption, as different as a villain it was, it stemmed from nowhere. There were characters that just seemed like filler. I must note that Death is a fantastic anti-hero, voiced wonderfully by Michael Wincott. He borders the line between compassionate and crass, while he has no patients for anyone on his quest, he does feel for the salvation of his brother and is tormented by his past sins. The Makers are other lot that I cared for and wanted to see a good outcome for them. Elder Eideard is voiced by James Cosmo (Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch in the superb Game of Thrones) and Pup, a young maker with faults was the most memorable. The story does wrap up nicely but ends up right were the first one ended which has me intrigued to how they are going to play off the inventible third installment (you know there will be third as long as THQ survives).

 

Loot, Loot, Glorious Loot

 

One of my biggest complaints with the first title was the combat got repetitive, you had one sword and a few different sub-weapons at your disposal but it never really got off the ground. This time around the game plays more like Diablo or Baulders Gate, damage numbers pop out of enemies and there are loot drops, wonderful loot drops. Death wields his signature scythes but has a variety of sub-weapons and armors that can be found or purchased at vendors. There are new scythes to be had each one with its own stats and esthetics and the sub-weapons range from gauntlets and claws to hammers and swords again with individual stats and appearances. Death’s armor is interchangeable with gauntlets, boots, armor, cowls, and shoulder pieces that make him look less like a walking trashcan ala War. There are two different types of armor as well, ones that will boost defense and strength and ones that will boost wrath and affect the things you cast. This leads to the new leveling system. For every baddie you kill you are awarded experience and wrath, wrath held over from the last game used to cast, and you will level gaining skill points as you go. The stat trees are broken into two groups one that build toward melee and one that builds towards casting. You have the option to head down either path or cross trees and do a little of both.  The armor you choose will effect what tree you go down, but only to a varying degree. I went down the casting path and used the heavier armor that boosted my health and strength. I was raising explosives pawns that drew enemies away while using larger sub-weapons while tanking in the middle of the chaos. Death has a chaos form as well; War had one in the first. The meter fills with every successful hit and when activated last for a limited time. This form can be leveled as well though there are no choices along with this form. Once you hit the max level an energy blast follows its deactivation. The combat never tired as I was always trying out new powers and weapons and trying to find the right balance of armor to compensate my attack tactics. Death is faster and less bulky than War and it shows in his movement and platforming. The platforming feels right out of the Prince of Persia Remake of 2008. Death can run on walls, run up walls, grapple on the ledges, and vault over small stubs that continue his climb. As with the first game using many popular game mechanics with varying results, the platforming is fantastic. The only complaint I have with it is using the left trigger to leap backwards; I wish it would have faster respond time as with some of the platforming has time restraints in some areas i.e. get to a door before it closes. Death does not go alone on his quest. This time around Despair, Death’s horse, is available from the get go. This change is a much needed welcome, the first game had a lot of back tracking and the horse was available a little over halfway through the game which made trekking a chore. Dust, Death’s raven is there as well glowing green and showing the way to objectives. Fast traveling has also been greatly improved. You can now fast travel from waypoint to waypoint on the world map without talking to Vulgrim. It becomes increasingly useful during dungeons when you’re loaded up with loot or need other health potion before you face a boss. The grapple hook makes a return in a new form as well as the Voidwalker (the portal gun from Portal) though it no longer shoots blue and orange portals, they are just blue now. There is one mechanic that I thought was a really great touch, the Voidwalker gets an upgrade that creates a portal through time. It only works in one dungeon but the dungeon is very well designed as are the puzzles wrapped around this mechanic.

 

Death is never the end

 

With all this great stuff going for it Darksiders 2 does has its faults. The engine is beginning to show its age, some of the textures are downright ugly while some look fantastic despite the amazing art style. There are sprawling area’s and the set pieces and bosses can be huge and it all runs well with no frame rate issues that I encountered though there was one time the game crashed on me and I had to reboot my console and start from my last autosave. The third chapter is a little lacking compared to the first two, despite it being two maps there isn’t anything to explore other than the dungeons and as before the one dungeon felt out of place and gameplay breaking. When you hit that dungeon you will know what I am talking about. While the ending is satisfying there is no indication that you have reached the final boss and he is a little underwhelming. Once I got to where the final boss was going to take place I thought the game was going to continue the credits were a real surprise. Though despite these little gripes the game is fantastic, they fixed a lot that was wrong with the first and despite still using popular game mechanics from other games; this one feels more of its own. The maps are worth exploring and the Land of the Dead is a visual splendor. Voice acting for the most part is top notch and would welcome Michael Wincott back as Death in a sequel. Now the question is who we will see in the sequel, we have been War and we have been Death, will Strife or Fury take center stage? We will have to wait but on a closing note I would like to see a sequel with the same art style on more powerful next gen hardware.

 

+ The game is HUGE, plenty of side quest to keep you busy.

+More RPG elements introduced and work well

+Combat has more variety and does not tire

+Loot, Loot, and more Loot!

+Fantastic soundtrack and voice acting (most of the time)

+Great platforming!

+/- Good Story even if some of it doesn’t make sense.

+/- Most of the game is gorgeous there are some muddy textures here and there.

-The game feels like there is still more build up to come and just ends

-One dungeon in the third act felt out of place and unnerved me

– Game crashed and locked up console

Final Score 9/10

 

Darksiders 2

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June 10, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review

Over a decade ago, developer Remedy revolutionized action games by casting a man with gastrointestinal problems as the lead character in Max Payne. Among his other super abilities was control over the flow of time and diving around while maintaining incredible accuracy. Like nothing else at the time, the game was a comparison to The Matrix in more ways than its Bullet Time mechanics. Ever since its release games have attempted to shoehorn super slow motion Bullet Time gameplay into their formula, often with mixed success, and never as well as the original Max Payne. Nothing would closely mirror the success of the first’s execution until Remedy released Max Payne 2 in 2003. Elevating and refining the original’s gameplay, it became the new benchmark, as well as a memorable game with lasting appeal. I still install it roughly every year and run through it again. This is all without mention of user mods, which both games supported, launching with editing tools in the box. This encouraged hundreds of mods for the games, several of which were of legitimate quality, and a few of which had incredible production values for mods. Now, a decade down the line, the keys have been passed down to Rockstar, and it’s a question of whether or not the power-developer was able to make a worthy successor, trading mod tools for multiplayer.

 

 

Among the most immediate and apparent changes are the aesthetic and thematic divergences from the first two. Gone are the visual styling, the over-the-top caricatures, and the gritty noir dime novel story and pulp dialogue. All these classic Max Payne elements are exchanged for Rockstar’s trademark realism and imperfect characters. Affecting more than just the story, even the gameplay is changed by the character and narrative differences. Obviously these changes don’t affect the gameplay as much as Rockstar’s tried-and-true mechanics, but nonetheless they’re very tangible, even if they are overshadowed by other things Rockstar introduced, such as their cover system.

 

To many players who enjoyed the previous games in the series, mention of a cover system is met with belligerent scoffs and disgusted groans. Max has never before been able to press up against and hide behind walls. The first two games were about running forward and diving through doorways, shooting everyone in the room as fast as possible before diving through the next door. Gameplay was very rarely about stalling or staying in one place for long, but the introduction of a cover system completely reverses that. Redefining Max Payne to be stop’n’shoot rather than run’n’gun lends some credibility to those hesitant reactions, but the quality of the execution refutes nearly all of them. This is all the more true due to the fact that the game also allows you to dive around the level and just walk around in Bullet Time shooting bad guys. The flip side is that, while not ineffective, these techniques are much less practical, partly because the cover system is so pivotal to the game’s design. Anyone familiar with the cover mechanics in Rockstar’s other titles (Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire) will know immediately what to expect in Max Payne 3. The only major difference seems to be that cover is less of a magic shield granting immunity to bullets, though whether by design or by the nature of bullets being actual projectiles isn’t clear. Another minor difference is the incredibly curious absence of the ability to go around corners or across gaps while remaining in cover, something so prominently featured and underutilized in L.A. Noire.

 

 

For those stringently adhering to old-school play mechanics, never using the cover system is an option, albeit a deadlier one. Max has never been able to take a lot of bullets at once, and that’s seemingly more pronounced here, especially on the higher difficulties. Luckily enemies play by the same rules and die after a few shots. Some key differences made to Bullet Time and shootdodging also increase the difficulty of this method. Bullet Time doesn’t last nearly as long as it seemed to, and it also doesn’t seem to replenish as much per kill. It seems much more suited to quick bursts of slow motion. Provided he has one last painkiller, when Max is shot down he starts falling to the ground in Bullet Time, offering the player one last chance to shoot the guy responsible for killing Max. If he’s able to shoot him, Max gets another chance at life and recovers, hitting the floor ready to try again. Shootdodging is one of the primary recipients of those aforementioned narrative changes. Max is an old, fat, white guy. With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that when he launches himself through the air and slams into the floor he’s rather slow to get up, waiting until the player tells him to, and even then taking his sweet time. Deciding to let Max stay on the floor allows him to slightly roll around and shoot attackers from a different position, as well as rest his feet. Anything played relying on Max by himself mirrors his character, behaving slower, more plodding, and chunky. All of the movement has weight to it. However, that’s not to say he’s incapable of quick bursts of aggression and pinpoint finesse, and that’s mostly due in part to the phenomenal gunplay.

 

 

One of the series’ hallmarks has been unparalleled shooting, thanks mostly to the fact that every bullet is modeled and simulated, having to actually travel on its trajectory. Guns are deadly accurate, with enough spread to require skillful wielding aided by clever use of Bullet Time. This goes for enemies too, their fire often far more accurate than you would care to receive. On the reverse side from the player, where Bullet Time makes Max more accurate, it seems to lessen enemy accuracy overall, and causes them to start shooting nowhere near Max, sweeping their fire towards him, even if they were in the middle of automatic fire when Bullet Time was activated. It’s a little disheartening that the game pulls certain punches like this, but otherwise Bullet Time would be significantly reduced in its usefulness. Still, the gunplay feels incredibly tight, and exchanging fire with the bad guys is always exciting and dangerous. The gunplay also has the same kinetic feel as the past two games, with things exploding into pieces and shattering when hit, as well as people staggering under the force of being shot. Everything destroys extremely nicely in this game. There were a few striking moments after firefights where I would turn around and wonder how I ever survived the encounter. An odd divergence from the first two is that Max no longer has any grenades or molotovs, made more odd when enemies occasionally do, and they’re present in multiplayer.

 


 

The game is a challenge on the normal setting and downright hard on the higher ones, something surprisingly refreshing among other games in which their hardest difficulty is still relatively easy. Again, Max cannot take much damage, and the amount lessens on higher difficulties. It’s not clear whether enemies get a whole lot more accurate as the scale goes up, since they start out as fairly good shots on the normal level. The game actually only throws a handful of ridiculously unfair situations at you, one of which is an infuriating timed end to a level, only to be met with an armored enemy where you have little cover and the checkpoint is a few minutes away.

 

Hands down the biggest change from the other titles are the thematic elements and the story and characters. Characters are no longer larger-than-life cardboard cutouts spouting dramatic lines but are surprisingly well fleshed-out. Any and all elements of film noir are gone, replaced with modern “digital glitch” styling. The comics are no more, replaced with long-winded, droning cutscenes. Occasionally they do a side-by-side panel in a cutscene, but mostly it’s just a standard cinematic. The one concession are the stylistic flashes of color and blurring of the screen to reflect Max’s feeling. When he’s drunk the screen gets fuzzy, and violence or yelling sees flashes of red overlaid on the action. The effect isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t feel like they were attempting to be, but instead of presenting a visual inner monologue it simply provides annoying flashes over relatively pointless and boring cutscenes. The other effect of removing the noir elements is that Max’s once iconic inner dialogues no longer have any poetry. Instead he sounds like a tired old drunk, spot-on for the character, but incredibly annoying to listen to. For the most part, Max is the only one affect by the narrative shift negatively, with everyone and everything else conceived around this new realistic style. Max’s past is barely brought up, and the few flashbacks are still later than the events of Max Payne 2. All of the new characters at least start grounded enough in this gritty reality to be believable, even if they quickly do things to break that. The story is penned by Rockstar’s head writer Dan Houser, who also wrote GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, which makes the almost complete lack of “I’m a good guy who’s done bad things” as a constant theme both weird and refreshing. Sadly, Max instead comes across as a whiny “oh woe is me” character, earning more contempt than sympathy. The story also takes some pretty poor turns and is overall lackluster, but it’s a more than competent vehicle to get from one shootout to another. It’s unfortunate that half the cutscenes are pre-rendered, but the real-time cutscenes transition to gameplay extremely well, going from one final camera pan to following Max through a door and suddenly popping a HUD up on your screen as it relinquishes control.

 

 

In tandem with the writing and the gameplay, Rockstar’s forte in soundtrack choice comes shining through in Max Payne 3. The Max Payne theme returns, though it’s a much more subdued part of the soundtrack on this outing. Where Remedy went the route of creating actual background music for their titles, Rockstar has brought in their usual echoing sparse notes to create the soundtrack here. It gives the game an atmosphere of being disheveled and uneasy, something that reflects well upon Max’s character. True to Rockstar form, they also know when to kick the door in and play a licensed track. All such instances in the game flow real well, the songs fitting in naturally and adding a much more cinematic feel. It also didn’t hurt in the least that the songs were generally something you could bob your head in time with. But even for all the Hispanic/Latino gangster rap they threw at the game, the most striking moment of the soundtrack for me was in the final level. Max had cleared his mind of everything except getting the man he was after and simply picked up his gun and started walking. In one area of the level the player is tasked with fighting down an extremely long and large corridor against several dozen enemies. The song so perfectly captured both Max’s mindset, and how I as a player felt about the moment, as well as it just gave me the magical ability to keep Max walking forward while scoring headshots on the onslaught of enemies rushing to try and kill me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was never hit in this sequence, or perhaps it was the fact that I was getting one-shot headshots on all the enemies, but the general bad-assedry overlaid with music made this the most memorable moment in the entire game. For those four minutes I felt completely untouchable. The Angel of Death with a personal vendetta.

 

Worthy of special mention are the animations and the Euphoria engine powering them. The animations are already top notch, and now, with Euphoria, multiple animations can be seamlessly combined on the fly to create all new ones for the situation. It’s also a system of reaction, with bad guys tumbling and trying to keep their balance when shot, staggering their last few steps and grabbing for support when killed, and thrown back against objects far better than any traditional ragdoll. The system also works on Max, making him smash into objects from a dive beautifully, putting his arm up to shield his face in slow motion while he crumples up and slams painfully to the floor. Since he can now only carry two sidearms and one large weapon, they’re all always visible, so Max has to juggle the larger gun when using a smaller one, and always does so with absolute fluidity.

 

 

Something else worth singling out, though this time in a completely negative light, are the “load times.” The “load times” in this game are utterly horrible, but they aren’t actual loads. Instead, they just lock you into a cutscene with the inability to skip or quit to the menu, meaning you have to sit through them no matter how many times you’ve already done so. Each button press is met with “still loading,” which might make sense during the pre-rendered cutscenes, but not during the real-time ones, especially mid-level. The reason I claim they’re not loading is because it says it is for an entire five minute cutscene, while I can quit to the menu and load any other checkpoint that goes directly into gameplay in less than half a minute. Any cutscenes that allow you to skip are already on the last few shots before the camera pans into gameplay by the time it allows you to, negating the use of skipping it. In the same vein as cutscenes, there are a few on-rails segments in the game where Max is firing from a vehicle, and these are a particular weakness of the game. They allow you to shoot plenty of bad guys, but they remove all of what’s fun about the gunplay sticking it into what is essentially an interactive cinematic.

 

The visuals in the game are fairly spectacular, and even on aging rigs the game runs extremely well. The game takes advantage of new DirectX 11 features, and while they aren’t the most pronounced thing in the game, they’re certainly noticeable. It’s pleasant to look at Max’s bald head and not see any sharp corners sticking out. The texture work is also pretty good, although these high resolution assets come at the cost of a staggering 35GB of hard drive space. Even worse is that it seems some of the textures have broken and look like they were taken straight out of Duke Nukem 3D.

 

 

 

Finally, the multiplayer seems like an afterthought. That may seem very weird, considering that GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption both had significantly sizable multiplayer experiences that even received post-release updates, but the multiplayer presented in Max Payne 3 is a very poor showing, despite some obvious planning for it. Rockstar has implemented traditional game modes and a leveling and load-out system, as well as an account-side clan system called “crews.” But for all the thought into the underlying metagame for the multiplayer, the game itself plays very poorly. Both GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption had multiplayer where taking your time and using cover was rewarded, and the inherited mechanics from those two make Max Payne 3 seem like you should be using cover. But the mechanics inherited from the Max Payne series make it seem like you should be running around carelessly shooting anyone who isn’t you, which is what the game leans towards more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up its mind and leaves the gameplay stranded in the middle, feeling much more spastic and chaotic than it should. The gameplay is no longer tight but instead is an uncontrolled mess. This is slightly reduced in the more advanced, team-based objective  game modes, but it’s never fully rectified. This is made worse yet by the fact that such modes must be unlocked by playing enough rounds of the truly terrible deathmatch or team deathmatch.

 

 

But ignoring the multiplayer and concentrating on the singleplayer, Max Payne 3 is a very enjoyable experience. The gunplay is incredibly fun, and it has some sizable replayability, partly due to collectables scattered throughout the game and challenges to get X number of Y, but mostly due to the fact that the gunplay is so tight and entertaining, as well as being different each time you load the game up. Some deeply buried flaws infect the game throughout, but hopefully they can be patched out, and even if not, it doesn’t break the game, it just slows it down to a crawl for several minutes at a time. Remedy may have moved on, but Max Payne has far from withered and died without them.

June 10, 2012

Max Payne 3 Review

Over a decade ago, developer Remedy revolutionized action games by casting a man with gastrointestinal problems as the lead character in Max Payne. Among his other super abilities was control over the flow of time and diving around while maintaining incredible accuracy. Like nothing else at the time, the game was a comparison to The Matrix in more ways than its Bullet Time mechanics. Ever since its release games have attempted to shoehorn super slow motion Bullet Time gameplay into their formula, often with mixed success, and never as well as the original Max Payne. Nothing would closely mirror the success of the first’s execution until Remedy released Max Payne 2 in 2003. Elevating and refining the original’s gameplay, it became the new benchmark, as well as a memorable game with lasting appeal. I still install it roughly every year and run through it again. This is all without mention of user mods, which both games supported, launching with editing tools in the box. This encouraged hundreds of mods for the games, several of which were of legitimate quality, and a few of which had incredible production values for mods. Now, a decade down the line, the keys have been passed down to Rockstar, and it’s a question of whether or not the power-developer was able to make a worthy successor, trading mod tools for multiplayer.

 

 

Among the most immediate and apparent changes are the aesthetic and thematic divergences from the first two. Gone are the visual styling, the over-the-top caricatures, and the gritty noir dime novel story and pulp dialogue. All these classic Max Payne elements are exchanged for Rockstar’s trademark realism and imperfect characters. Affecting more than just the story, even the gameplay is changed by the character and narrative differences. Obviously these changes don’t affect the gameplay as much as Rockstar’s tried-and-true mechanics, but nonetheless they’re very tangible, even if they are overshadowed by other things Rockstar introduced, such as their cover system.

 

To many players who enjoyed the previous games in the series, mention of a cover system is met with belligerent scoffs and disgusted groans. Max has never before been able to press up against and hide behind walls. The first two games were about running forward and diving through doorways, shooting everyone in the room as fast as possible before diving through the next door. Gameplay was very rarely about stalling or staying in one place for long, but the introduction of a cover system completely reverses that. Redefining Max Payne to be stop’n’shoot rather than run’n’gun lends some credibility to those hesitant reactions, but the quality of the execution refutes nearly all of them. This is all the more true due to the fact that the game also allows you to dive around the level and just walk around in Bullet Time shooting bad guys. The flip side is that, while not ineffective, these techniques are much less practical, partly because the cover system is so pivotal to the game’s design. Anyone familiar with the cover mechanics in Rockstar’s other titles (Grand Theft Auto IV, Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire) will know immediately what to expect in Max Payne 3. The only major difference seems to be that cover is less of a magic shield granting immunity to bullets, though whether by design or by the nature of bullets being actual projectiles isn’t clear. Another minor difference is the incredibly curious absence of the ability to go around corners or across gaps while remaining in cover, something so prominently featured and underutilized in L.A. Noire.

 

 

For those stringently adhering to old-school play mechanics, never using the cover system is an option, albeit a deadlier one. Max has never been able to take a lot of bullets at once, and that’s seemingly more pronounced here, especially on the higher difficulties. Luckily enemies play by the same rules and die after a few shots. Some key differences made to Bullet Time and shootdodging also increase the difficulty of this method. Bullet Time doesn’t last nearly as long as it seemed to, and it also doesn’t seem to replenish as much per kill. It seems much more suited to quick bursts of slow motion. Provided he has one last painkiller, when Max is shot down he starts falling to the ground in Bullet Time, offering the player one last chance to shoot the guy responsible for killing Max. If he’s able to shoot him, Max gets another chance at life and recovers, hitting the floor ready to try again. Shootdodging is one of the primary recipients of those aforementioned narrative changes. Max is an old, fat, white guy. With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that when he launches himself through the air and slams into the floor he’s rather slow to get up, waiting until the player tells him to, and even then taking his sweet time. Deciding to let Max stay on the floor allows him to slightly roll around and shoot attackers from a different position, as well as rest his feet. Anything played relying on Max by himself mirrors his character, behaving slower, more plodding, and chunky. All of the movement has weight to it. However, that’s not to say he’s incapable of quick bursts of aggression and pinpoint finesse, and that’s mostly due in part to the phenomenal gunplay.

 

 

One of the series’ hallmarks has been unparalleled shooting, thanks mostly to the fact that every bullet is modeled and simulated, having to actually travel on its trajectory. Guns are deadly accurate, with enough spread to require skillful wielding aided by clever use of Bullet Time. This goes for enemies too, their fire often far more accurate than you would care to receive. On the reverse side from the player, where Bullet Time makes Max more accurate, it seems to lessen enemy accuracy overall, and causes them to start shooting nowhere near Max, sweeping their fire towards him, even if they were in the middle of automatic fire when Bullet Time was activated. It’s a little disheartening that the game pulls certain punches like this, but otherwise Bullet Time would be significantly reduced in its usefulness. Still, the gunplay feels incredibly tight, and exchanging fire with the bad guys is always exciting and dangerous. The gunplay also has the same kinetic feel as the past two games, with things exploding into pieces and shattering when hit, as well as people staggering under the force of being shot. Everything destroys extremely nicely in this game. There were a few striking moments after firefights where I would turn around and wonder how I ever survived the encounter. An odd divergence from the first two is that Max no longer has any grenades or molotovs, made more odd when enemies occasionally do, and they’re present in multiplayer.

 


 

The game is a challenge on the normal setting and downright hard on the higher ones, something surprisingly refreshing among other games in which their hardest difficulty is still relatively easy. Again, Max cannot take much damage, and the amount lessens on higher difficulties. It’s not clear whether enemies get a whole lot more accurate as the scale goes up, since they start out as fairly good shots on the normal level. The game actually only throws a handful of ridiculously unfair situations at you, one of which is an infuriating timed end to a level, only to be met with an armored enemy where you have little cover and the checkpoint is a few minutes away.

 

Hands down the biggest change from the other titles are the thematic elements and the story and characters. Characters are no longer larger-than-life cardboard cutouts spouting dramatic lines but are surprisingly well fleshed-out. Any and all elements of film noir are gone, replaced with modern “digital glitch” styling. The comics are no more, replaced with long-winded, droning cutscenes. Occasionally they do a side-by-side panel in a cutscene, but mostly it’s just a standard cinematic. The one concession are the stylistic flashes of color and blurring of the screen to reflect Max’s feeling. When he’s drunk the screen gets fuzzy, and violence or yelling sees flashes of red overlaid on the action. The effect isn’t subtle, and it doesn’t feel like they were attempting to be, but instead of presenting a visual inner monologue it simply provides annoying flashes over relatively pointless and boring cutscenes. The other effect of removing the noir elements is that Max’s once iconic inner dialogues no longer have any poetry. Instead he sounds like a tired old drunk, spot-on for the character, but incredibly annoying to listen to. For the most part, Max is the only one affect by the narrative shift negatively, with everyone and everything else conceived around this new realistic style. Max’s past is barely brought up, and the few flashbacks are still later than the events of Max Payne 2. All of the new characters at least start grounded enough in this gritty reality to be believable, even if they quickly do things to break that. The story is penned by Rockstar’s head writer Dan Houser, who also wrote GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, which makes the almost complete lack of “I’m a good guy who’s done bad things” as a constant theme both weird and refreshing. Sadly, Max instead comes across as a whiny “oh woe is me” character, earning more contempt than sympathy. The story also takes some pretty poor turns and is overall lackluster, but it’s a more than competent vehicle to get from one shootout to another. It’s unfortunate that half the cutscenes are pre-rendered, but the real-time cutscenes transition to gameplay extremely well, going from one final camera pan to following Max through a door and suddenly popping a HUD up on your screen as it relinquishes control.

 

 

In tandem with the writing and the gameplay, Rockstar’s forte in soundtrack choice comes shining through in Max Payne 3. The Max Payne theme returns, though it’s a much more subdued part of the soundtrack on this outing. Where Remedy went the route of creating actual background music for their titles, Rockstar has brought in their usual echoing sparse notes to create the soundtrack here. It gives the game an atmosphere of being disheveled and uneasy, something that reflects well upon Max’s character. True to Rockstar form, they also know when to kick the door in and play a licensed track. All such instances in the game flow real well, the songs fitting in naturally and adding a much more cinematic feel. It also didn’t hurt in the least that the songs were generally something you could bob your head in time with. But even for all the Hispanic/Latino gangster rap they threw at the game, the most striking moment of the soundtrack for me was in the final level. Max had cleared his mind of everything except getting the man he was after and simply picked up his gun and started walking. In one area of the level the player is tasked with fighting down an extremely long and large corridor against several dozen enemies. The song so perfectly captured both Max’s mindset, and how I as a player felt about the moment, as well as it just gave me the magical ability to keep Max walking forward while scoring headshots on the onslaught of enemies rushing to try and kill me. Perhaps it was the fact that I was never hit in this sequence, or perhaps it was the fact that I was getting one-shot headshots on all the enemies, but the general bad-assedry overlaid with music made this the most memorable moment in the entire game. For those four minutes I felt completely untouchable. The Angel of Death with a personal vendetta.

 

Worthy of special mention are the animations and the Euphoria engine powering them. The animations are already top notch, and now, with Euphoria, multiple animations can be seamlessly combined on the fly to create all new ones for the situation. It’s also a system of reaction, with bad guys tumbling and trying to keep their balance when shot, staggering their last few steps and grabbing for support when killed, and thrown back against objects far better than any traditional ragdoll. The system also works on Max, making him smash into objects from a dive beautifully, putting his arm up to shield his face in slow motion while he crumples up and slams painfully to the floor. Since he can now only carry two sidearms and one large weapon, they’re all always visible, so Max has to juggle the larger gun when using a smaller one, and always does so with absolute fluidity.

 

 

Something else worth singling out, though this time in a completely negative light, are the “load times.” The “load times” in this game are utterly horrible, but they aren’t actual loads. Instead, they just lock you into a cutscene with the inability to skip or quit to the menu, meaning you have to sit through them no matter how many times you’ve already done so. Each button press is met with “still loading,” which might make sense during the pre-rendered cutscenes, but not during the real-time ones, especially mid-level. The reason I claim they’re not loading is because it says it is for an entire five minute cutscene, while I can quit to the menu and load any other checkpoint that goes directly into gameplay in less than half a minute. Any cutscenes that allow you to skip are already on the last few shots before the camera pans into gameplay by the time it allows you to, negating the use of skipping it. In the same vein as cutscenes, there are a few on-rails segments in the game where Max is firing from a vehicle, and these are a particular weakness of the game. They allow you to shoot plenty of bad guys, but they remove all of what’s fun about the gunplay sticking it into what is essentially an interactive cinematic.

 

The visuals in the game are fairly spectacular, and even on aging rigs the game runs extremely well. The game takes advantage of new DirectX 11 features, and while they aren’t the most pronounced thing in the game, they’re certainly noticeable. It’s pleasant to look at Max’s bald head and not see any sharp corners sticking out. The texture work is also pretty good, although these high resolution assets come at the cost of a staggering 35GB of hard drive space. Even worse is that it seems some of the textures have broken and look like they were taken straight out of Duke Nukem 3D.

 

 

 

Finally, the multiplayer seems like an afterthought. That may seem very weird, considering that GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption both had significantly sizable multiplayer experiences that even received post-release updates, but the multiplayer presented in Max Payne 3 is a very poor showing, despite some obvious planning for it. Rockstar has implemented traditional game modes and a leveling and load-out system, as well as an account-side clan system called “crews.” But for all the thought into the underlying metagame for the multiplayer, the game itself plays very poorly. Both GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption had multiplayer where taking your time and using cover was rewarded, and the inherited mechanics from those two make Max Payne 3 seem like you should be using cover. But the mechanics inherited from the Max Payne series make it seem like you should be running around carelessly shooting anyone who isn’t you, which is what the game leans towards more. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up its mind and leaves the gameplay stranded in the middle, feeling much more spastic and chaotic than it should. The gameplay is no longer tight but instead is an uncontrolled mess. This is slightly reduced in the more advanced, team-based objective  game modes, but it’s never fully rectified. This is made worse yet by the fact that such modes must be unlocked by playing enough rounds of the truly terrible deathmatch or team deathmatch.

 

 

But ignoring the multiplayer and concentrating on the singleplayer, Max Payne 3 is a very enjoyable experience. The gunplay is incredibly fun, and it has some sizable replayability, partly due to collectables scattered throughout the game and challenges to get X number of Y, but mostly due to the fact that the gunplay is so tight and entertaining, as well as being different each time you load the game up. Some deeply buried flaws infect the game throughout, but hopefully they can be patched out, and even if not, it doesn’t break the game, it just slows it down to a crawl for several minutes at a time. Remedy may have moved on, but Max Payne has far from withered and died without them.

December 4, 2011

Uncharted 3: The Review

 

As many of you already know I’m an avid PC gamer and there are very few games outside of the PC system that I enjoy.  Uncharted is one of those franchises, one that I thoroughly enjoy and when I heard that Uncharted 3 was coming to the PS3 I was very excited.  As with all sequels today I’m always wary of a sellout, underdeveloped or otherwise incomplete release.  I’m happy to say that the Uncharted franchise hasn’t and still does not suffer from any of these calamities. 

Out of all three I’d have to say this one is my favorite.  Generally games don’t hold my interest for more then a few hours before I set them down and pick up something but Uncharted 3 as with it’s predecessors held my interest from start to finish and I even found myself wanting to go through another play through.

Graphically Uncharted 3 is the best looking game on the PS3 if not the best looking game on both the PS3 and Xbox 360.  I know I will get flack from many Crysis 2 diehards but there simply isn’t a prettier game on either console system.  It’s also rivals many modern PC titles which is saying a lot coming from me, someone who generally doesn’t think consoles games hold a light to modern PC titles.  Uncharted 3 takes you across the globe to many varied environments all of which have an incredible amount of detail put into them.  The only other game I can think of in recent history that paid this much attention to details is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  One thing that I really noticed that really stood out to me is the character animations.  Drake has some incredibly life like reactions not only in the way he moves but in the way he reacts to whats going on around him.  For example if you run by something and you are very close he will react with his hands and body like he is avoiding the impact.  Or if things are exploding around him he duck and cover his head and slightly stumble as he is running away.  Drake also has some swagger in his walk instead of the generic walk and run.  It’s little details like this that help add to an amazing overall experience.

The story, like it’s predacessors, is fantastic,  it’s gripping, exciting and captivating.  If you are a sucker for a good story like me Uncharted 3 will not disappoint.   It picks up shortly after the events of the second but it also covers and explains alot about Drakes childhood and what made him what he was.  The chapters that cover Drakes childhood are suprisignly interesting.  I didn’t think I would like them at first but I actually enjoyed them.  I won’t spoil anything for you but it’s my favorite of the series thus far and it had my favorite ending. 

In addition to being one of if not the best looking game out on any console system it also sounds amazing.  I have an Onkyo 7.1 1000 watt surround system and there are plenty of bass booms, explosions, chattering of machine gun fire to anger even the most tolerant of neighbors.  The voice acting is also top notch and that is actually one of the things I most appreciate about the Uncharted franchise.  They don’t and haven’t skimped on getting quality actors to do their voice overs.  There are plenty of cheesy and witty lines throughout and good vocal responses to whatever is going on around you. 

Uncharted 3 does have some minor annoyances but nothing major.  There are some times here drake will get stuck in the ground, on a wall or in a rock… I had it happen a couple of times and I had to reload to a previous check point.  I also had times when I could not change weapons, reload or fire the weapon (no I wasn’t in a cutscene) and I would quickly get killed.   The other complaint I had, and this could be because I suck with controllers, is that the difficultly seemed to vary a lot.  It would go from crazy easy to oh my god what does it take to kill this guy. 

One other thing that I really enjoyed about Uncharted 3 is it’s fist fights.  I’ve not seen a game with good hand to hand combat since the Matrix and I don’t think any game in recent history has done fist fights well.   They took me down nostalgia game to the old Clint Eastwood and John Wayne movies.  I’d have to say they were one of my favorite aspecst of Uncharted 3.

Is Uncharted 3 a perfect game?  Almost, it had a couple of issues that kept me from giving a other perfect game a perfect score.  Uncharted is a MUST have title for PS3 owners and for any gamer for that matter.  Uncharted 3 is my favorite game on the PS3 and one of my top 5 to ever come out on the PS3 and the Xbox 360.   The more experienced console, who doesn’t suck with the controls like I do should get around 8 – 10 hours  on the first play through.  I took about 12 hours on my first playthrough but I attribute that to my terrible handling.   Overall Uncharted 3 is the premiere experience on the PS3.  Do yourself, your friends and family a favor and get this game for yourself and for them. 

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHHcM6aHPnE

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVkL2l21faQ&feature=relmfu

October 22, 2011

Homefront


Homefront is a THQ brainchild that utilizes the Unreal Engine and shows what beautiful art and performance on lower end machines can do. I fell in love with this game being my first play-through I took my time and listened to everything I could, read every article I could find and all. The campaign for Homefront is by far one of the truly epic. Although excruciatingly short it is absolutely mind blowing. The video in this article is the opening cut scene for the game, watch it to get an idea of where you are starting your mission.

This game is brutal. If you get sick easily, don’t play this as some of it is a bit grotesque for patriots or vets. Though the story makes for a good game it is a bit hard to not imagine it as possible. The game also displays ad space purchasing from TigerDirect.com in a long chapter where you are running through their main facility all you see is the name all over the place.

Graphics – 9

The Unreal Engine has granted THQ the ability to run super high end textures and graphics without the need for huge caches of video memory and thus has let me play at max settings on my system at minimum 20FPS (System specs at the bottom). I, being an Unreal Editor user and map creator myself know from experience how wonderfully you can texture to make the appearance of three dimensional object without the need for fully three dimensional polygons, and this is what help with the ample beauty even on low end machines. THQ could not have done better combining the Unreal Engine with Havoks’ physics engine has given them the ability to out perform and enhance others with a smaller budget in place for the titles.

Playability – 9/4

I gave two ratings for this for one reason, the difference in campaign to multiplayer. The campaign if you couldn’t tell by now has had me enamored. The multiplayer, however, is lacking anything different from the past few CoD releases. To call the multiplayer a MW2 clone would not be a far pull. It is run almost to the T exactly the same with the amount of guns/items even less then half that of CoD. I cannot accept a new release that is a carbon copy on a more popular game without some sort of compensation. The fact that even had a multiplayer at all seemed to be more or less an afterthought. It is so weak in comparison to what was expected after playing through the campaign that I could not even get past level 5. This in turn is why I believe the community has fled. They would have done much better to copy a better platform for multiplayer, say…. Battlefield for example. Either way, the playability in the campaign is awesome. Even on the normal difficulty I died about 50 times before finishing it. The game is not hard to the point that you want to quit but it is also that which makes it a bit odd. I would die only to see the AI to follow the exact same pathing and I could play a scene 10 times and finally find where to hide, how to shoot without ever getting shot. Trial and Error.

Audio – 7

The game is all voice acted and done well with the mouth working in unison with words. It is about as good as expected, though some of the gun sounds are a bit filtered or saturated. They seem to vary gun to gun and have an off queue sound to firing if only by the smallest fraction of a second though that may be my lack of a proper sound card.

All in all the game is a great success and for the price that you would pay at our friends, IntKeys, you can’t pass up this title.  Get a bonus 5% off their already low prices by using the TGB discount code: 224c76cae8

I would recommend it to any FPS fan for nothing more than the storyline. Otherwise, wait for MW3 as the multiplayer is a match to it with a ruined community.

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