Sunday, June 29, 2008

Being alone isn't that scary.

When the end of the year comes and the best and worst of lists are written Alone in the Dark will not doubt top many "Biggest letdown" lists. It's sad to because Alone in the Dark shows alot of promise. It's easy to see the developers had the best of intentions and where trying to make something revolutionary how ever most of if not all of the aspects implemented into the game aren't realized to there fullest and bring the experience down.

Lets start with the story. You play Edward Carnby who awakens with no memory of who he is, where he is or how he got there. He is then thrust into a situation that is very much beyond his control but it seems it is up to him to get to the bottom of it. The game at first glance seems to have a great plot but it's hard to care much when the voice acting is so bad that you will find yourself wanting to skip the cut scenes. It also doesn't help much that what is supposed to be scary in the game is either not scary because of the voice acting or because of the rigid animation the game has going on. Which leads to the next problem.

Control. The game is so clumsy and slow in everything it does it gets very very frustrating. Some may say the controls are supposed to be like that it helps induce scary situations. To that I say that is no longer acceptable after Resident Evil 4. The game is so hard to control it's a wonder you can even defeat enemies in combat. Which again leads to the next problem.

The combat. Now if you were following the game like I was and watched the tech demo released on the web and on Xbox Live then you were no doubt impressed by the fire in the game. The fire indeed looks great and acts and works just like a real blaze would which is an integral part of the game. Why you ask? Well the monsters and enemies you come across can only be killed with fire. A great thing to add for story sake we all remember John Carpenters The Thing in which the only way to complete kill the alien was to burn it. That added alot of tension and terror to the film and I would imagine that they were going for the same thing in Alone in the Dark. However in practice it's very annoying and slows down the game quite a bit. Let me explain. The game utilizes a coat inventory system in which Edward will open his coat Ala the merchant in Resident Evil 4 and display everything he has acquired. A nifty way to show the inventory indeed. The catch is that the game isn't paused while viewing this screen so the monsters can still attack you. Why is this a problem you ask? Well at many points in the game there is no fire to utilize and you will have to make your own be it Flaming bullets or a bottle of flammable spray with a lighter to make a mini flame thrower. The problem here is that nifty little inventory screen isn't the best thing to sift through while being attacked and makes getting armed enough to fend off the beasts attacking you a chore. Were you able to simply attack the monsters with a nearby object and finish them off without flame that alone would make the game far more enjoyable.

In addition to all that Alone in the Dark is host to one of the most horrid driving sequences ever put into a game. There are more bugs and glitches in this little section then there are in the entirety of other games. It is so bad in fact that I would argue that if a player is unaware of the chapter skip function(that I wouldn't be surprised was added because of this horrid driving section) that this section of the game would cause them to give up and return the game.

Alone in the Dark is a bit of a mystery to me. Some of the problems with the game could have been fixed had it stayed in development for a while longer. We are talking about bad collision detection, jerky animation, bad camera, along with a few bad design choices some of which could be removed entirely for the benefit of the game. The game was delayed many times so I don't think it was being rushed that caused this to happen. It's sad really because you can see by what there is that the people behind Alone in the Dark really wanted to make something great and through out the game there are hints of that greatness but there are so many things both large and small that bring it down it's just so hard to recommend.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Snake's Final Mission.

Before I even start with this review I'm going to state this clearly. Metal Gear Solid 4 is easily one of if not the best game of all time. Metal Gear Solid 4 is everything Kojima-san promised it would be and proves to be a fantastic ending to one of the most memorable saga's in gaming history.

There is no hiding that Metal Gear Solid 4 is the best looking game of all time. The graphics really must be seen to be believed. There are many times throughout the game in both game play and in cut scenes where the game looks photo realistic. In fact there are many occasions in which the HUD pops up as a cut scene is coming to an end and looks out of place because it looks like you are watching a CGI movie.

MGS4's game play while similar to older MGS games has evolved and allows for alot more freedom in how you do things. In the past you would really need to sneak around or face certain death. However Snakes new arsenal of CQC moves, Octocamo, a new Weapon customization system and far more freedom of movement makes fighting a far more viable option. Another option for FPS fans allows the game to be played almost entirely like a FPS although I found this is not as fun or engaging as playing the game normally.

No longer are you limited to cramped hallways when sneaking as this mission takes place in a many war zones across the world. While previously you may take on 4-5 enemies at once you will now find yourself up against much more enemies and fighting in full scale wars between PMC groups and the Rebels that are trying to stop them. These battles aren't merely superficial either. Helping one of the factions will align you with that faction and they will not attack you and may help in your mission by attacking the enemy and distracting them so you can get where you need to go.

Also no longer will you be limited to finding your weapons on the battle field as early into the game you meet up with Drebin a gun launderer that allows you to purchase guns, ammo and custom parts for your weapons. When finding a gun on the battlefield you won't be able to use it right away in most cases as they are ID locked. Drebin can unlock these ID's for a price and allow you to use them. You get "Drebin Points" by selling weapons that you already have found. For example when you pick up a AK-102 it will go into your inventory but every one you pick up from then on will be sold to Drebin for points allowing you to purchase things to help you on your mission. While this is a great addition to the game and the weapon customization is very fun I found that being able to purchase ammo whenever you need it makes the game a bit to easy. But that is a minor complaint.

Throughout the game there are also many event's that are played very differently then the rest. Such as riding on the back of a motorcycle while being attack in a city at war or trying to escape a ton of gecko with the help of a armored carrier. All of these control very well and are extremely fun and a spectacle to behold visually. There are more game play variations later in the game but I won't spoil them as they are very fun to see as they take place and one of them is kind of a spoiler.

Now I'm not gonna get to deep into the story as I don't want to spoil anything for anyone. Many faces from the past appear in the game such as Naomi, Meryl and Mei Ling among others. There is also alot of fan service in many forms such as jokes and whatnot from the MGS series that only fans of the MGS games will see and find funny. Such as Otacon calling you via Codec and telling you it's time to switch to Disc 2 before realizing that MGS4 is on Blu-ray. You will also see flashbacks as well. Many times during cut scenes there will be a prompt to press the X button doing so will trigger flash back like imagines showing many things from the past, the significance of the events going on or showing something you may not find a link to just by watch what is going on. It's a very cool way to get refreshed on certain events from the MGS universe. I will also say that the cut scenes are 90 minutes long rumor is not true. While some of the cut scenes are quite long especially the mission briefings between acts none are 90 minutes long. The ending however may be close to the 90 minute mark but I didn't care to time it as I was to enthralled with the ending to one of the greatest saga's in all of gaming history to care about something so trivial.

On the bad side there really isn't much to say. There are a few animations in the game that look a bit odd or out of place but that's a very minor complaint as for the most part the motion capture is excellent. Some will say the installs between acts is a negative however they are very short only taking about 2-3 minutes to complete and they only occur every few hours of game play so you can use them as an excuse to get up and have a break or make a snack or something. The main install isn't anything to complain about either it takes about 8 minutes to install which is about the same that other games requiring a install take.

All said Metal Gear Solid 4 is easily the best game on the PS3 if not the best game of this generation or all time. If you own a PS3 you owe it to yourself to own Metal Gear Solid 4. It would be a shame to miss the ending to one of the best Saga's in all of gaming history.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ryu Returns!

Ninja Gaiden II has finally arrived and with all the recent controversy about Tomonobu Itagaki leaving and suing TECMO some have wondered if that may have had a effect on the game. Well the answer is no but that's not to say that Ninja Gaiden II is perfect because there are a few flaws.

Alot of people thought that Ninja Gaiden II didn't look much better then Sigma which is untrue. The game is gorgeous and needs to be seen in motion to be appreciated. The animation is top notch and some of the best you will see anywhere. The environments look great and some of them further in the game look straight up stunning. The enemies look great and they pack quite a few onto the screen at once which is impressive. The much talked about gore effects are incredible, blood and body parts never disappear remaining to show the carnage you have caused in your path. It's a small touch but its really nice.

The game play is great. Although there are almost no puzzles and little platforming. Ninja Gaiden II focus's on only the combat and that's where the game shines. The combat is by far the best in any action game to date. This is not a button masher. Button mashers look elsewhere as you will quickly get your ass handed to you if you don't know what you are doing. Defense is immensely important you will not beat the game without learning how to block, counter attack and evade. Each weapon in the game has a impressive move set and they get new moves as you level them. All of them are very fun to mess around with and decently balanced although there are a few weapons that seem to work far better then others like the Dragon Sword and the Scythe. The variety in combat is impressive if you get bored of using the Dragon Sword you can use something else and it really changes the experience.

Little tweaks make the game alot more different then Ninja Gaiden 1. Such as the new health system. When you fight you health will go done and a portion will become red. However after the fight is over the health with recover up to that red line. This makes Health alot more manageable but it doesn't make the game any easier. The new quick menu system allows you to change your weapon, ranged weapon, use health items and change Ninpo(which is no longer useless). Also Defense has been changed a bit sense Ninja Gaiden 1. In the original you can basically stand by blocking and wait for a opportunity to counter and this would work for the most part. However in Ninja Gaiden II the enemies will grapple you very quickly if you stay still for to long. Counters as well are a little different in that the timing required is a bit more precise then in the original game. While these are minor changes to be sure but they make a game feel very different from the first.

Now on the downside there are a few things to note. First and foremost is the camera. It's the same as the first and that means you are bound to have trouble with it from time to time. Although you can control it finding time to do so during combat is asking a little much. However pulling the R trigger centers the camera behind you so if you make a habit of doing this the camera is not so bad. Also the bosses seem to be a little cheap in the game. The bosses in Ninja Gaiden 1 were hard because they were either huge(Bone Dragon) or extremely fast and smart(Alma) however almost all the bosses in Ninja Gaiden II have cheap shots that you have to avoid and if you do this they aren't very hard. It's like figuring out the pattern to win. While that does add difficultly to the game it just doesn't feel the same as Ninja Gaiden 1 did. Now I know alot of you out there don't care about the story in the Ninja Gaiden games but I as a Dead or Alive fan who loves the universe and the characters in it found Ninja Gaiden II's story to be a bit weak. No where near as good as the first for many reasons that I will not go into so not to spoil it for those who have yet to play it. The soundtrack as well is not up to par of the first game. At best its serviceable. These may sound like stupid things to some but to fans of Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive they are very valid complaints.

All in all Ninja Gaiden II isn't as good as the first one but that's not to say its not good. The game is still incredible and maintains the punishing difficulty the series is known for. One thing I don't seem to understand is why the Gaiden games connect some plot points but not others. For instance Momiji a great new character introduced in Dragon Sword is no where to be found in this game. Nor is Rachael the fiend hunter. You would think that once the world becomes infested with fiends that being a fiend hunter she would be trying just as hard as Ryu to solve the problem. But I digress this is another topic for another day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The World Ends With You!

It's not very often you see a entirely new IP from Square-Enix and one look at The World Ends With You will make alot of people wonder why. The World Ends With You separates it self from the norm in quite a few ways making it one of the best DS games out there.

The one big thing that The World Ends With You does different is that it takes place in the real world. You follow Neku a boy who wakes up in Shibuya with no memory and a timer oh his hand. You soon find yourself being attacked by Noise and the story begins to unfold. Now some may say big deal who cares it takes place in real world Shibuya. Well taking place in Shibuya influenced the game alot. As some may know Shibuya is often referred to as the fashion mecha of the world where all the big trends start. The World Ends With You heavily deals with this in the game as armor takes the form of different clothing brands and styles and the more popular that brand the more effective it becomes.

The combat puts the DS's 2 screens to very good use. During combat Neku will appear on the bottom screen and his partner appears on the top. You control the bottom screen with the stylus and the top screen with the D-pad and other various buttons. Yes you control both screens at the same time and while it may seem very daunting at first once you get used to it it's not to bad. If you fail to get the hang of it you can set the game to quickly take control of the top screen.

Over the course of the game you will gather pins that each have a particular power during battle each is activated by a different move of the stylus and for the most part the stylus is pretty responsive although there are a few pins that are somewhat difficult to use consistently. The pins only allow for a certain amount of uses before they need a cool down period in which you need to wait until they are usable again similar to most MMO's. You will collect various pins and use them to build a deck for combat. There is a large amount of pins and they all can be leveled up and some even evolve into better pins so there is alot of variety in combat. Although on your first play through you may just find yourself sticking with the pins that are easy and quick to use.

The World Ends With You takes alot of chances and most of them pay off. The characters are great and well developed, the story while somewhat short is still very good, the combat and new and fresh. The positives are almost endless. So with that said are there any negatives? A few. The game very rarely forces you to fight so some may try to just rush through without leveling and that will be a big problem further into the game. The combat while great is very hard to get used to and if someone cant get used to it the CPU controlling the stop screen isn't always very good and you will often find the top screen character getting killed during boss fights. However if you don't have a problem with the combat then it's not a problem at all.

The World Ends With You holds alot of promise of becoming a franchise for Square-Enix. The game has performed well and it's refreshing to see SE do something so different from the norm. If you have a DS you should get The World Ends With You a shot you may like it and then we may get a chance to see more of Neku and company in the future.