Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Force Unleashed - Review

It somehow always feels like a long time since we've had a good Star Wars game, though looking back always seems to tell me otherwise. I have fond memories of plenty of titles, from Shadows of the Empire to Rogue Squadron to Dark Forces, and way back to Empire Strikes Back on the Atari. The Star Wars series has never slacked off, yet each entry seems to hold the promise of being "the" definitive great Star Wars game. And most are, for their time.

This game is the story of Darth Vader's secret apprentice. You complete missions for the Dark Lord, and take part in the history of the rebellion against the empire. The story is pure Star Wars, from characters to locations it has the feel of the classic trilogy, standing out against much of the nonsense that passes as Star Wars of late. As a Star Wars fan there is much to love.

The Force is a powerful ally to any up and coming Dark Lord and is brought to the forefront in this game, though the real star of this show is the environment itself. Many objects react realistically, metal bends and twists to your characters dark will, TIE's are plucked out of the air mid flight and destroyed, characters desperately grab at railings and each other before getting sucked into vacuum as you blast the contents of a room through a window. Though it may bind us all together, here The Force can wondrously tear everything apart.

What holds this title back is when the developers forget about the interesting systems they've put into place to make this game so special. The thrilling opening levels make way for a fairly run of the mill selection later on. One disappointing boss fight takes place in a pit with giant, sharp looking bones and debris lying all around. You can't manipulate any of these items and many of your moves don't hurt the boss at all. The whole fight plays out counter-intuitively to what you may have come to expect, and later environments in general feel lacking in the interactive elements that sell this game so well at the outset.

Basic enemies continually gain new armor and weapons that counter your specific powers, effectively negating your progress against them. The more skills you learn, the less you can use against any given foe. Combat reduces to button mashing a series of vaguely similar combos, avoiding relentless enemy fire that can get you stuck in the occasional fall-down loop, resulting in awkward player deaths. These gameplay inconsistencies and recurring bugs and control issues are glaring against the detailed production value and technology behind the rest of the game.

I don't recall Luke Skywalker ever having to fight force-resistant-armor wearing laser sniper stormtroopers, and it shows a lack of imagination in the later encounters by simply stacking the deck against the player in every way possible. It often closes you out where you should feel the game opening up.

Through its problems The Force Unleashed does occasionally deliver on its premise and should still be worth a look for series fans and less discerning action gamers, it's proud early moments of conceptual originality and overall artistic polish manage to keep this game from being a complete missed opportunity.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bioshock - Review

The music and sound is really the first thing that hit me while starting up Bioshock. Old record players scratch out vintage tunes, and every creak and groan of the underwater city of Rapture is heard, be they from the leaky pipes or unstable inhabitants. You could enjoy this game blindfolded, the whole game unravelling like a radio drama. The banter between the violent Splicers, the found dialog recordings, and the voices of Andrew Ryan and your guide, Atlas, leading you through this underwater aural paradise.

Exploring Rapture is like a sick dream come to life, and is thankfully kept from becominga nightmare to play.

The handy map and pointer system assures you that no matter how far you go off your path, it's always easy to get back on, so you're free to explore every nook and cranny to your hearts content. You'll never get frustrated in that regard, and you're usually rewarded for unearthing each little pocket of secrets, from audio diaries to disturbing scenes, bodies frozen in a meat locker. It's hard not to take a bit of interest, the way it all unfolds little by little. If someone were to ask you "what is this game about" early on, all you could say would be "I have no idea...but it looks like we missed one hell of a party". That feeling of action just past is ever prevalent throughout the game, you're exploring a world that up until very recently still had a thriving population. You still encounter a few of the lost souls deep within it all, but there is a certain sadness to it all, Andrew Ryans fantasy become reality become hell on earth, below the waves. And you buy into every second of it, so long as you awknowledge the games limits and play to it's stengths.

The basic shooter gameplay feels slightly repetitive at times, due to a lack of variation in enemy types. The various ammo types and plasmids help make up for this lack of variety by giving you plenty of options for enemy disposal. Using the Rapture security systems to your advantage is another option which I excercised often, and found gratifying. Having a horde of splicers chased down by sentry bots acting on your side can turn the tables for the better, while also just being alot of fun to see play out. The Big Daddy fights which make up a major portion of the plot and moral center of the game with their Litte Sister dynamic are tougher, but even then you have plenty of options. You can even turn these lumbering behemoths against your enemies as well, given the right power up options and depending on how you want to play the game. The interactions that happen as a room full of adversary all turn in your favor, or are all destroyed with your elemental wrath as you make your way to the narratively satisfying endgame make for an altogether interesting trip through Rapture.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Army of Two - Review

When characters aren't insulting each other in Army of Two, the game is insulting the player with it’s dialog. The plot is predictable, from the tired twists to the entirely obvious final level encounters. The game takes few narrative chances though seems to consider itself “edgy” for dealing in real world scenarios. In this game world 9/11 actually happened, and in between insults and non sequitur the game tables topics of foreign relations and military privatization, though fails to come off as relevant or insightful.

Unless you're seriously into the idea of gun porn and "pimping" out weapons with gold and diamonds and fratboy humour you’ll gloss right over the presentation and focus on the gameplay. Taking many cues from Gears of War, Army of Two includes a mostly excellent and automated cover system. The headlining “Aggro” feature of this two man experience is somewhat engaging as long as both players pay attention to and utilize it. When fully Aggro’d you can go into a momentary damage dealing slow moving enemy attention grabbing rage while your partner enters a total stealth state. Shades of these two extremes present themselves while “Aggro” and attention hovers between characters. Having one player go guns blazing while the other sneaks around with a silenced pistol allows this system to present itself to its fullest.

Utilization of Aggro is forced on the players by a few unfortunate gameplay elements. Enemies can target you from behind total cover. Without your partner drawing Aggro away you’re always a target. Camera issues become a problem in close combat. There is a melee attack option which allows for some close quarters kills, though this is somewhat broken since it uses your primary fire button. If you aren’t precisely close enough or facing the wrong way you’ll end up firing past the head of your enemy while they enact their own melee attack and likely incapacitate you.

The other co-op features aside from the Aggro system include dragging downed teammates to cover to perform medic duties, parachuting into missions strapped together, boosting each other up walls, a 360 degree “back to back” shooting gallery mode which occurs automatically at sometimes awkward locations each mission, and a useless system of high fives and head smacks for character building. The healing/dragging mechanic being is a highlight which incentivizes cooperation and forces players to consider each other while making decisions, lest you both die and restart from a checkpoint.

I can recommend this game to shooter fans, with a few reservations. The weapon and powerup system has a bit of depth and should provide some nice options and replay. It’s best to pay little attention to the story while you enjoy some of the better action set pieces, though the campaign is short. While this game works best with a friend, the partner AI is competent and the game can be enjoyed alone. There is also an online versus mode which requires an EA account, and was therefore completely ignored.

Still Not Perfect*

I'm retooling P* (again) starting today. The plan is as such: game and likely movie reviews and impressions, 500 words or so each. Trying to keep it short to avoid rants, overly technical discussion, history etcetera if I can help it (not likely). Just how it is and whyI dis/like it.

It'll probably take a few posts for me to get into things and fiddle with the look of this site/work out hosting issues. Good luck with all this.

I just noticed the "Edit Post" window for the blog tool is a fixed size. Maybe instead of looking for 500 words I'll just try and keep each post from filling up the text entry box. Easier than writing and editing in an outside program and copypasting anyways.