Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Review: The White Chamber

Holy shit, it's the point and click version of Dead Space!

No, that's seriously what I was thinking as I was playing through this game – it takes place exclusively inside a spaceship, it has a horror theme, and there are monsters terrorizing a ship. Sounds a lot like Dead Space, except, as I've stated, it plays out like a point and click game (not unlike Tales Of Monkey Island or Broken Sword), and there's a lot more emphasis on horror. The White Chamber tends to fuck with your mind while Dead Space just makes you jump with sudden monster encounters. Maybe not like Silent Hill, but it can still instill fear into your mind.

Anyway, a nameless woman wakes up inside a coffin, forgetting what had happened beforehand. What you have to do is explore the spaceship, figuring out what you were doing there. But there are many dangers – or are there? Like I said, it has a bit of a tendency to fuck with your mind a bit, but you keep playing anyway, because you want to know how this will play out, and vicariously, how it will screw with you. Like I said, this has nothing on the likes of Silent Hill or The Suffering, especially since those games are much longer, but with sudden appearances of monsters and dark visuals, it becomes apparent that you may want to figure out what's going on, plus it does have quite an atmosphere that'll draw you in to do so.

You collect video discs that vaguely detail what happened to somebody on this ship prior to when the game begins, and with the vague details, you press on, hoping to piece it altogether, and... well, I won't spoil it for you, but let's just say that the ending will unload a can of worms on you... BLOODWORMS – nah, just worms, but it still comes out of nowhere. The payoff is damn fine, to put it simply. I won't spoil anything, but suffice it to say, it's certainly worth playing through to experience.

The idea is to point and click to find, collect and use objects in order to proceed. It's always a good idea to “scan the room”, so to speak. Thankfully, it's not a pixel hunter (seriously, pixel hunting in 2005? hahahahaha); in fact, the items are fairly big. It's pretty convenient how your character knows what most of these things are, especially since they tend to help you solve the puzzles in this game – most of which consist of placing the right item(s) in the right place. Commonplace for point and click games, for sure, but a lot of them are based on common sense, and as such, they're pretty easy. You never really have to bust your balls to figure out how to solve a puzzle – except on a couple here and there. Even then, that's practically the bulk of the game right there.

Throughout the game, you can earn karma points by performing certain actions. As the name would imply, you earn them by being a good person. Some questions will test this, and there are some actions that you should do because you're a good person like that... right? RIGHT!? But yeah, whenever there's an opportunity to be a good person, do it. That's... really all. There's like one moment where you can be a dick and lose a karma point, but that's it. It just feels like it was put in there because why not? The issue is that it becomes a chore to play it again... maybe that's why it's so short – so that you won't feel like you've wasted a lot of time playing the exact same game except you do some things differently, and if I'm being honest, these were more of a noodlescratcher than most of the actual puzzles. I don't know whether to say that it's sad or good, so I'll just say “meh” and proceed...

That's not to say that it's bad or even mediocre – just easy. They're still fairly well crafted puzzles with logic in mind – just basic logic. Don't expect any that'll rattle your brain like in the old Lucas Art-made games. At least it'll stop you from being frustrated, unless you require your puzzles to be hard as fuck.

I suppose you could say that a lot of the budget went towards creating the mood. There's a lot of dark and gritty stuff in this game. Lots of blood, lots of dull dark colors to emphasize the feeling of isolation – really, it's designed to give you the feeling that you're alone on this shit, and yet, you're not actually alone, given that there's some blood in a few rooms and it may be fresh... the designs also look nice. You and the monsters are presented in an anime style, although the animation is as fluid as your typical American animation (put it this way – Japanese animation moves more slowly than their American counterparts)... at least for the models, anyway. The few anime cutscenes you get seem to be at the usual 20/30fps, with a bit of choppiness here and there, and it's pretty fuzzy looking... at least on my monitor (my resolution is 1920x1080 and there's no setting to optimize for that size, though given that everything else looks crispy, I guess it does so automatically and these just weren't meant for a monitor of my size).

As for the sound design, it certainly works well enough to really draw you in and tense you up. There isn't much in the way of music – just a droning sound and your footsteps do wonders to lull you into a false sense of security, only for the music to intensify for a potentially intense situation. Damn, this is fucking sick! I mean, it's not overly impressive on its own merits, but in these kinds of games, it's better to go for atmosphere than for a top 40 hit. But honestly, I don't feel that the voice acting is that good. In these kinds of games, it should be really convincing, getting you into it... yet here, I can tell that there are people behind a microphone providing the voices. Maybe it's because the emotions feel exaggerated? Seems like it. Plus I've noticed that some clips have inconsistent volumes, like one clip will be quiet and the next will be at a medium volume... eh.

The White Chamber is a serviceable point and click game with a pretty good story and atmosphere. The puzzles might be pretty simple, but they're still fairly well integrated into the game. The morality system isn't a bad idea, but there isn't much of it... in fact, there isn't much of The White Chamber, period. Add onto the fact that nothing is ever as tense or scary the second time around as it was the first time (save for maybe Silent Hill and The Suffering), and there's almost no point in replaying it. A nice distraction with a tense atmosphere, but that's it.

6.5/10 (Above Average)

Strive for longevity

A lot of games nowadays live and die by the multiplayer - something that was once exclusive to the PC, now every second console game is doing it. For some reason though, the few developers that don't wish to include multiplayer are the same ones that aren't sure about how to make them last, and the ones that sure love their multiplayers sure as shit won't be doing any favors in this regard.

I've recently played through a freeware game called The White Chamber, which was a point and click game. It was good, if a bit on the easy side, but the ambiance it provided was more than enough for me to get over it. Sadly, just as I was really getting into it, the game ended. I checked my watch both before playing the game and after finishing the game - a mere hour and a half, and that's counting when I got up to get a can of Coke. As a university project that was turned into a freeware game, I can't say I expected a lot, but if this was a game that I was expected to pay for, I'd be pissed. I understand that games shouldn't last forever (after all, they have to make sequels!), but I also know that stories shouldn't feel like they have to end abruptly because the developers want to make a bite sized game for today's busy person.

Remember when reviewers complained about 10-15 hour long games being short? So how come we have games that are 5 hours long? Since when did developers come to the conclusion that 5 hours was acceptable? Again, there was a time when 10 hours was considered short - go back to that period of time, and all these bite sized shooters would be laughed at and nobody would purchase it... also at that time, internet connections weren't quite as strong - unless you lived in South Korea, but you were probably too busy playing Starcraft to care for the latest first person shooter.

But seriously, why is it that, unless I'm playing an RPG, I'm guaranteed to get a bite sized game? I don't mind playing a 15 hour long game with some filler, because I'll still feel like I'm getting my money's worth unless the game sucks. People made the Black Sabbath track Paranoid about as famous as you can get, and that was filler! Besides, if you're really good, you'll find subtle ways to develop the story in between major moments, like character development or relationship development. Hell, give us a few awesome gameplay segments! Just don't be afraid to put more content in, because in the end, you'll find that a lot of people will enjoy the "filler" - like the aforementioned Paranoid.

Very, very few games deserve the right to be bite sized - Limbo and Vanquish. Everything else? No.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Get Into: XIII

XIII isn't exactly a perfect first person shooter, but damn, when it shines, it really shines.

But let's get the negatives out of the way - first off, if you're buying this boxed (for the PC), you'll be treated to 4 CDs... yeah, this one should be downloaded (don't worry, you can find it on gog.com or getgamesgo.com - no need to be a pirate, yarr?). Secondly, it's far from the most original playing shooter, with some linear bits and big arena bits on top of what could be considered some fragg em up fests - that, or be sneaky. Thirdly, dual inventories... ehh, sometimes, they can be the death of you when you want to use the grappling hook, especially when some could be confined to an action button. Believe it or not, less buttons being pressed can mean the difference between using the hook and getting shot to death. Finally, Intermediate Y U NO GIVE US SEQUEL!?

Now onto the positives. First off, it has a very neat art style. It's cel shaded, but unlike Wind Waker, it's not to be bright and colorful - it's to go along with the comic book stylings of the cutscenes, and that's not to mention the fact that by the way it's done, it manages to look cool while you kick ass. Secondly, the story may feel like your usual amnesia story, but after a little bit of time, it's about conspiracies and other potentially interesting things, and each time a scene pops up, it develops the story further and keeps your interest as you learn more about yourself and about the people you're fighting against, especially with some excellent voice acting (for the most part - some are a bit "eh") backing them up. Thirdly, the soundtrack consists of jazz, which is different from what you usually get (from midis to upbeat techno and now epic symphonies) and sounds very, very cool... in fact, everything about this game is cool: the art style, the story and especially the music. And finally, the AI is actually pretty good. In an age of scripted AI and just generally mediocre/derpy AI (and it's still like that today, I'm afraid - actually, I think it's worse because they should know better at this point), it's amazing that you can actually get challenged by the enemies, especially on the hardest difficulty setting. It's like they know what they're doing and can respond adequately to what you're doing. It's great!

So yeah, it's not the best shooter ever, but it's certainly the coolest. :3

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: Shank

I'm going to put this as bluntly as possible – Shank is a game that rides on the same note, from the second you start it up until the second before the end credits roll. It does one thing right and one thing only (two if ambiance counts – I'll explain later), and any attempt at anything else falls flat on its face. But here's the thing – if you can do the big thing right, you'll have yourself a great game, regardless of the little flaws! Some games have the drive to kick ass, but end up flopping in certain medium sized areas. For instance, Shadows Of The Damned could've been fantastic if the bosses were a test of skill instead of patience. Shank gets the main thing right, which puts it a cut above the rest, but it's the little things that drags it down

Shank's story is a bit of a tricky one to tell, because you only get one part if you play the co-op mode, and the other part through single player mode. While it gives them room to make a different campaign for the co-op mode, it's a bit perplexing – wouldn't it make more sense to have different stories? If you've only played the single player, all you'd get is that Shank is left for dead while his girlfriend gets nabbed and killed by some guys from a crew he was a part of, but if you've played the co-op mode, you'll learn that Shank worked for the mob. Not that it matters too much, because the story sucks. It tries to be an epic mobster story and then an epic revenge story, but both of them don't really have any prescence to the player. It just feels like it's... there because hey, every game needs a story. To its credit, it has some nice action scenes, especially at the end, but they're brief and... that's about it.

Apparently, every game needs at least two gameplay elements as well, because at times, you'll be required to do some platforming. Usually, it involves swinging from hanging skulls to climbing up and down poles and across walls. It never really leads itself to too many exciting situations, and most of the “excitement” comes from timing some jumps right when you slide down some slants. It's usually there in little bursts, which is what softens the blow, but still, it screams variety for the sake of variety.

Thankfully, it's overshadowed by the beat em up gameplay. This is what they put all of their effort into and it really shows. Like a beat em up, the idea is to go through and fight off tons of enemies before proceeding to the next bit, but Shank goes many steps beyond the likes of Double Dragon and even Scott Pilgrim (which was released at roughly the same time as this). You fight with a set of knives, a heavy weapon (for instance, a chainsaw) and some firearms (for instance, dual pistols). The idea is to combine them to make some combos that flow very well while managing to fuck shit up.

Here's the thing – Shank may seem like a mindless button masher, but as you progress, you'll find that you'll need to utilize the different weapons properly, the two grab attacks right, the grenade attacks right and the guard command... period. The variety of enemies will range from fodder, to people who will dodge and use quick attacks, and then people who will give you a hard time in general. Don't forget the big guys, who will have more health and hit harder. You may think “meh it's just a beat em up”, but here's the thing – as you play through it, it'll start to click and it becomes very easy to get absorbed into it.

It pisses me off that it's only 3 hours long because as you really, really start to get into it, bam, it's over. While it would mean that the shitty story would have to go on longer, this is one of those games that can afford to do so because the gameplay is just so fucking good! It's worse when you play with somebody else because it affects two people – especially since it, too, is only 3 hours long. Fuck, it's frustrating when a game made in recent times, arcade or boxed, is as short as a sneeze, especially since mainstream critics back in the sixth generation considered 10 hours too short... nyeh.

I suppose to increase replay value, the hard difficulty mode has zero checkpoints. Die at all in a level, and you start from square one. While this might sound like a great idea, this is when the cheap moments can hurt. Now, it didn't really hurt in the normal mode because there are fairly well spread out checkpoints, but in hard mode, every niggling little hit that fucks a few jumps over, every slight miscalculation – yeah, it'll fuck you over and may piss you off, but it's quick to make you perservere – it'll force you to develop better strategies and combos, and if there's any cosolation, levels tend to take between 10 and 15 minutes, plus bosses have their own levels, so if you die against a boss, well, no big deal, because you'll just start back at the beginning of the fight.

The boss fights are quite well designed. The idea is to observe their patterns and then exploit the holes – for instance, the three giant bosses will charge into you, and if you dodge them, they'll hit the wall and will be stunned, meaning you'll need to use the jumping grab attack to deal some damage... by stabbing them in the back... with a chainsaw. Yeah, that's fucken badass. But usually, you just combine your knives and heavier weapons to kick their asses when they briefly stop attacking without getting yours kicked. Like with the enemies, the idea IS to know how to combo proficiently – no good just mashing buttons like a monkey.

Shank looks like something you'd expect to see on Adult Swim. It has a cartoony look with some crispy gritty colors, grittier background designs and some fluid animation, especially in the attacks. Unfortunately, it's to a fault in the heat of combat, because you have to let the whole animation finish before moving onto the next. It might not seem like much, but when you need to deal with crowds of enemies (especially with two or more big guys), it can be a bitch. It's a shame that the fluid animation can lead to such a flaw, because it's commendable that there are folks who do care about the quality of animation – as opposed to some half assed sped up 20 frames per second that is anime (I like the occasional anime but you have to admit, American animation does tend to have better animation). Plus the action scenes do look pretty cool and manage to overshadow the shitty story.

Above all else, it has excellent ambiance. Not just in the crispy, gritty colors and violent animations, but also in the music. It sounds like something that'd fit well in a western movie, like the final shootout between the bad guy and the good guy. It may not go with the constant violence at first, but after a while, you'll find it much more suitable than some peppy upbeat music, plus given the context of the story, yeah, it makes a lot more sense too.

But I got a couple of issues with the sound design. One, the voice acting sucks. Ideally, Shank should be a badass, but he sounds even sillier than Christian Bale's Batman voice, which clashes with everything he does and (surprisingly) all without the humor of, well, Christian Bale's Batman, and the rest, well, they're fine on a fundamental level, but that's it. Two, the equalizing is terrible. If, on a fixed screen, Shank is on one side, you'll only hear everything out of that speaker. After a while, it starts to screw with my hearing a bit and I can imagine how annoying it can get. It doesn't happen very often, but it is annoying to say the least.

It's almost criminal that this game gets overlooked by people, because even though it gets only a couple of things right, those couple of things are fucking important to the game. The only thing that really lets it down is the story – it could've been a thousand times better, but I guess it's the price to pay. Beating enemies up with knives, chainsaws, machettes and uzis is just so much fun and very satisfying to pass up.

8/10 (Great)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: Resident Evil 5 (360)

If I were to compare Resident Evil games to metal albums, I'd say that Resident Evil 4 is Sons Of Northern Darkness, and that Resident Evil 5 is All Shall Fall (both albums by Immortal). What do I mean? Well, Sons Of Northern Darkness is Immortal's most accessible album, just like how Resident Evil 4 is the most accessible Resident Evil game, but yet it never feels wrong to enjoy it. However, All Shall Fall is a shameless disgrace to the Immortal name, despite following in Sons Of Northen Darkness's footsteps, and the same could be said about Resident Evil 5. Resident Evil 4 was fun, but I don't want Capcom to go down this road again, especially if they're going to further ditch everything that gave Resident Evil its identity in the first place, not even bother to work on the controls, and insert co-op because shit, co-op is the only way a game can work nowadays.


It's been a long time since the events of the first Resident Evil game - so long in fact, that Chris Redfield took up weightlifting in his spare time and he's now fucking huge! He could give Marcus Fenix a run for his money! But seriously, he's assigned a mission in Africa, alongside some chick named Sheva, to chase down some guy named Irving, who has a biological weapon that he's planning on selling to the black market, and it turns people into zombies. Somewhere along the line, Chris finds pictures of Jill Valentine, his partner from the first game who he assumed had died, but nevertheless, he hopes to find her. Unlike Resident Evil 4, the story isn't deceptively simple; it's just simple, and pretty boring to boot. It does an adequate enough job to keep the game moving, but unlike Resident Evil 4, nothing really grabs you, and it just changes its mind every so often - one minute, you're chasing Irving down; the next, you're looking for Jill Valentine. Like it matters - there isn't much in the way of development and the only cutscenes worth shit are the ones you'd find in an action movie. When there is plot and character development, it's minimal enough to give you something to work with, but that's all - otherwise, meh.

For some reason, Resident Evil 5 plays very similarly to Resident Evil 4, and yet, it just feels like you're playing with dog turds. The basics of Resident Evil 4 are in tact and feel about the same, except even more action-y. In this game, you go through ultra-linear levels, encountering groups of enemies, and shoot them in the head - rinse, lather and repeat, with a few exceptions here and there. Sometimes, you'll be subject to an on-rails section, where you have to shoot down groups of enemies before they destroy your ride or whatever. Sometimes, you'll have to fight off some enemies until something happens, but there tends to be some ammo lying around to make it easier, plus enemies drop ammo, so conservation in these areas is a bit on the easy side. Course, you'll have quick time events to deal with, and they're a bit more forgiving and can lead to some exciting events, so no issues there. Really, the basic gameplay formula, itself, isn't bad. It's everything else that doesn't work.

The survival in this game is a fucking joke - instead of the awesome briefcase, you're given the boxes of old that can only carry one item each, regardless of the item's size. The worst part is that you hardly ever feel like you have to conserve anything. Ammo is always lying about somewhere, and the closest to conservation... is that you should never go overboard, and always aim for the head. But that should be, like, common fucking sense! Not to mention, using items, equipping different guns and trading with your parner is done in real time. This would be okay if the rest of the game was fast paced, but this is Resident Evil, and even the action games are slow paced. But then again, it goes with the co-op that's constantly shoved down our throats... I suppose Capcom got cornered here, so they just went with this, and while it does alright with the online co-op, it doesn't mesh with the slow paced combat, especially when there are lots of enemies about to rape you.

If you found Ashley annoying, then prepare to not lose your shit, because Sheva is ten thousand times worse. Theoretically, she shouldn't be - she's got guns and her own inventory - surely, she's not going to be useless, right? WRONG! Her AI is dreadful. She will be very, very quick to waste bullets, waste good healing supplies on some boo boos, and worst of all, because she's armed, she's quick to get in your way! Did I mention that neither of you are allowed to die? Well, neither of you are allowed to die. Once again, survival isn't in conservation; it's in protecting an ally, except this time, you're protecting somebody with the capacity to protect themselves, except they don't because their AI is god awful. Enter what is essentially forced co-op - yes folks, you can play with another person, either online or offline. Sadly, this is the only way to make this game sort of bearable.

It's one thing to keep old-ish controls in a game with a different playstyle within the same series because I'll admit, old habits do die hard; it's another when you make the exact same mistake years later, and yet change the playstyle to something even further away from what used to be! There's no excuse not to let us move and shoot; there's no excuse not to actually use the right stick to turn instead of the left stick (which is also used for movement); there's no fucking excuse for a fucking run button - you have two analogue sticks... but they're not good enough for Capcom, it seems! Sure Capcom, keep deluding yourselves into thinking you're evolving the survival horror genre, while I keep being honest in saying that this is straight up action with crap controls.

The Gold Edition has more post-game content than the original version, so if you actually want to buy this piece of shit, buy that. The original version still has some post-game content - just not quite as much. I mean, you get Mercenaries mode, where you have to kill as many enemies in an arena-like battlefield within a set amount of time, and you can at least play this online unlike Resident Evil 4 (mainly because online wasn't nearly as important back then as it is now). Other than that.. umm... you can play through it again to get the achievements you missed? Meh.

As far as the graphics go... seriously, I can't help but laugh at Chris's design. The dude has obviously spent the 9 years since Resident Evil 1 bench pressing until the cows came home - how else could he be that bulky? His head is small, too! The other designs range from okay to reasonably good, and they do look quite realistic. The textures on the enemies would give you the impression that they're zombie-like (or unwelcoming of outsiders) in behavior, while the work on Sheva would make her look close to photorealistic. The same could be said about the environments - danky caves, cold facilities, villages that may or may not have gone through a civil war before being zombified, they all work out well with some excellent textures and colors... maybe too excellent, because I've noticed a bit of lag here and there, especially in the cutscenes. Chris's hulking biceps are far from realistic, but they make him stand out, not to mention that they're hilarious at the same time.

The sound design is similar to Resident Evil 4's - music has a tendency to play as you're about to encounter enemies, getting rid of whatever tension there may have been. Otherwise, there isn't a whole heap of music, except during some intense action scenes, which are made better with the music. The voice acting is actually pretty good, and I couldn't really detect any characatures, so to say it's pretty damn good and does its best to draw you into the story is an understatement.

There are many things wrong with Resident Evil 5 - from plotholes, to inconsistencies, to horrible controls - but above all else, it's not a survival horror game; just a shitty action game. If it wasn't for the bad controls, I wouldn't really have an issue with this game, but Capcom just deluded themselves into thinking crap controls makes for a good survival horror, despite a lack of actual survival horror elements. God, this game sucks. I never got into Resident Evil and even I feel like an old school survival horror fanboy, that's how much this game blows.

3/10 (Lame)

One by one, file sharing websites shut down

First Megaupload and now Filesonic. I wonder who's next...

To be quite honest, none of us here at A Sign Far Beyond support piracy; we just pirate to give some music CDs a listen without buying them because maybe - just maybe - it's not worth our money, but don't worry yourselves, because we do buy albums. Hell, CD quality tends to be a thousand times better than downloaded quality anyway, so it'd be silly of us if we did nothing but download. Besides, if piracy went away, we wouldn't upset (well, maybe Lukas will be).

Regardless, we do not support SOPA, PIPA or any such bills because of how poorly written they are and how eay it'll be for third parties to troll by shutting down websites, just like how some trolls get Youtubers suspended via false flagging...

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Review: Resident Evil 4 (PS2)

Hold on a minute, THIS is the game that changed Resident Evil? Many would say for the worst, but I say it's for the better, and that the PS1 Resident Evil games were mediocre. I'm sorry fanboys, but I will never see the early games your way because I found them generally irritating to play, despite excellent survival mechanics. Resident Evil 4 is both a natural evolution for the series and a bit of watering down of the old formula. How so? Well, while it's easier to play and no longer plagued by atrocious camera angles (were they on purpose or did they just fuck up), the survival element (which was the only thing I liked about the older games, funny enough) felt less prevalent, like newer gamers couldn't handle it or something, although it was at least given a facelift to go with it.

One thing I found impressive with its story is that it's deceptively simple. At first, it's about Leon, the guy from Resident Evil 2, having to rescue Ashley Graham (the president's daughter) from a cult located in a small Spanish village, but then you start to learn more about their motives, and it just "clicks" after a while. Memos that are scattered across the village and the various cutscenes that are given careful attention manage to captivate you for the duration of the game, especially as it gets more into the cult and into the "zombies", as you'll be wondering what's going on (in a good way) and what's about to happen. It's a bit tricky to explain without spoiling the story, so I'll stop praising it here and give it the one bit of criticism I have for it - it has moments which border on cheesy. Not quite on par with the older games (oh god, not even close), but one of the characters' accents and some of his writing feels like there's an actor behind it, which detracts from the story when everybody else's voices and writing actually feels convincing enough to breathe life into these characters. Ah well.

Although it's a Resident Evil game, priorities have been changed. Instead of running around a maze-like area solving puzzles, you're running through linear levels, shooting zombies' heads off. That's quite a change of pace, because in the earlier games, combat played second fiddle to the puzzle solving and exploration. Now? Get out your weapons and fuck shit up! Surprisingly, the combat scenarios are actually fairly well done. The enemies here aren't brainless zombies; they're villagers that just aren't welcoming of strangers and will do anything to appease their god, meaning that they will try to put up a fight. They're quick to rush towards you, impale you, throw shit at you when they think they have a good shot at your head, and can try to dodge your attacks. Shit, some of them have chainsaws that'll cut your head off and kill you instantly. I'm not saying that they're perfect, but the important thing is that they're trying. The bosses aren't bad, and when the fight is going more for a cinematic approach, they're actually quite well done as it feels like an intense fight, especially one towards the end, but the not so cinematic ones... they function on a basic level, but are otherwise mediocre.

Speaking of cinematics, this game utilizes quick time events, something that was far from commonplace back when this was made. In fact, it was only seen in the Dragon's Lair arcade games, those shitty FMV games on the Sega CD and 3DO, and the extremely ambitious and fucking expensive Shenmue (still kicking yourselves for that one, Sega?). In fact, speaking of Shenmue, this game takes many cues from it by using quick time events to add some excitement to cutscenes (and certain boss fights). If you don't know what I mean, during some cutscenes, you'll be required to press or mash the right button(s) in order to perform an event, and if you don't do it, you'll die. Resident Evil 4 popularised it, but fuck, it can be unforgiving at times - often giving you little time to react, leading you to a cheap death.

It's changed around so much, that the puzzle solving feels like a distraction instead of the centerpiece. Occasionally, you'll be required to find some items and deliver them somewhere, or... something. The puzzles in this game feel so underdeveloped and mediocre, that it's like he forgot what made Resident Evil... Resident Evil in the first place.

For some bizarre reason though, the controls mirror the earlier games, in that you move like a tank and cannot move while shooting. For an action game, it may seem very, very inconvenient, like they were stuck between making a survival horror and an action game. Well, at least they figured out how to use the analogue stick right, because movement feels a bit more fluid, like you can move in 360 directions instead of a mere 8, although only half of them feel right. When moving forwards, it's fine; moving backwards feels a bit sluggish, although you can hold down and press O to do a quick 180 degree turn. Aiming is also made to take advantage of this (as well as the new over the shoulder camera angle), in that you can move the laser pointer around to get a more precise aim, which is important because... well, you want to kill the zombies, right? Course you do! I also find it perplexing that you still have a run button - you have analogue support so what's the point of this? There weren't any stealth missions, last time I checked. I just wished they put more work into the survival aspect - after all, survival horror should be about survival, not about how shit you can make the controls.

Oh, but don't get me started on survival... okay, you got me started. Survival feels watered down. Although you still only get limited resources in comparison to every other action game (like ammo and various healing items), it feels like there are a lot more than in the earlier games. Sure, at the beginning, it feels like you're limited to a pistol and a knife with a bit of ammo, but eventually, you'll score a shotgun, and then you'll find a merchant who sells guns... but not ammo, strangely enough.

It does, however, get a facelift that I fucking love, and will continue to wonder why Resident Evil 5 didn't keep going with this. Basically, it's a briefcase that's set up like a grid, and you have to fit the items inside. Each item can take up a different amount of space, like herbs and first aid sprays take up a 1x2 section of your briefcase, while a shotgun can take up a fair amount of space, and that's not to mention the ammo. It makes so much more sense than a box that can carry anything regardless of size, because it forces you to think about positioning in ways that allow you to carry everything. I guess you could say it makes up for the lack of puzzle solving.

Survival isn't limited to Leon's; you also have Ashley to consider. Unfortunately, once you rescue her and for most of the time afterwards, you'll be required to protect her. This is where the game goes from fun to occasionally annoying, because you will have to keep an eye on her. She can't defend herself, she tends to take more damage from attacks than you can, and... did I mention that if she dies, you lose? Yeah, well, that's an escort mission for you, and unfortunately, it does tend to damper on an otherwise good time, but at least you can find some ways to keep her out of your way... just depends on the scenario. Sometimes, it's easy to dump her in a dumpster, and sometimes, she's on your six, ready for a chainsaw wielding maniac to cut her head off... her AI is decent enough to get away, but like any scared little girl (well, maybe not little, but you get the picture), she won't want to stay too far away from her saviour... eh.

After beating the game, you can play through a short campaign as Ada Wong, a woman who followed Leon around during his campaign. Her campaign involves finding some rather juicy items that'll add to the story. Plus there's an addition that wasn't in the Gamecube version, which is basically the same as Leon's campaign, just from Ada's point of view, and yet again, it adds to the story, so it's important to go through this. The other mode you can play through, which is in all versions, is Mercenaries mode, which basically has you killing as many enemies as you can in an arena type setting within a time limit... which can be extended by finding hourglasses. This mode can be rather addicting, as you could imagine... yeah, there's a lot to do after finishing the main game.

If you're coming from the Gamecube original to the PS2 port, you'll notice a dip in graphical quality due to the Gamecube being more powerful than the PS2, but don't get discouraged, because it still looks great. It's grainier, which helps give it a more rustic look, which goes well with the dull color scheme, which vicariously goes well with the dreary atmosphere. But it doesn't excuse some mediocre textures here and there, nor does it excuse some clipping issues, like how your arm can go through solid objects (what is this - Nintendo 64?). However, the character models are designed very well, displaying some sweet texturework on the clothes, and the enemies do look a bit zombie-like. Plus the cinematic sequences offer some slick animation, which looks lifelike... despite some over the top animations here and there, but you can't have a good action scene without that, eh?

As I've stated, the voice acting is pretty good. Each actor puts a good amount of effort to give each character life and make it sound convincing - all except for one. Seriously, his Mexican accent sounds like there's an actor behind the microphone, and given that this is much more serious than the older games, it feels out of place. As for the music, it barely exists, which would be fine for a horror game, but unfortunately, it has this odd habit of basically alerting you of nearby enemies. Same with the sound effects - there's barely any surprise when an enemy jumps out due to the audio cues. It's a shame, because it does function on a fundamental level... just that it could be so much better.

Resident Evil 4 is far from the masterpiece or disasterpiece people would make it out to be. For what it's worth, it's a good game that manages to create some fine action scenes and scenarios, and goes about survival in a creative way. I just wish that there was more to survival than just item management and keeping Ashley alive. I also wish that we didn't have to deal with mediocre puzzles and keeping Ashley alive. But despite its flaws, this is a game that can be very enjoyable at the best of times.

7/10 (Good)

Friday, January 20, 2012

Survival horror died for a reason

I'll be blunt - the only good Resident Evil game is 4. It took what I considered to be a mostly crap genre and made it actually playable. However, that isn't to say that I hate the idea of survival horror - I just hate the execution, more often than not.

The idea of survival horror is that you're surviving while being scared out of your wits. That usually means you're either running away from your killer (Clock Tower) or you're conserving your supplies (Resident Evil), and to accompany it is an ambient soundtrack and dark visuals, to give you the feeling that one false move will get you killed by a maniac with hedge trimmers or zombies. This is what I wish every survival horror would have, at least, because those are the first things I think of when I think of survival horror.

The execution, more often than not, just leaves me wondering why people want these kinds of games back. It tends to involve tank-like movement controls (which you can get used to) and bizarre camera angles. In games like Resident Evil, you are given the option to shoot, but you're not given the option to move and aim. Now, let's head back in time to when this was released - the PS1 controller didn't have analogue sticks; just a d-pad, and a d-pad is terrible for movement ala Super Mario 64 or Banjo-Kazooie (ask Crash Bandicoot). Okay, fair enough. But a year later, Sony designed a controller with dual analogue sticks, probably to combat Nintendo's controller that had one (very fucking flimsy) stick. One year after that, Resident Evil 2 was released, and... it still has those pre-analogue stick controls. Well, in their defense, the dual analogue controllers probably weren't selling that well or maybe not everyone had them, and maybe they had to rush Resident Evil 2 out. Okay, I could go with that. Nearly two years later, Resident Evil 3 is released, and... what, we play it like the first game!? Fuck off!

And that's pretty much my problem with survival horror games. To anybody who says "survival horror is dead", I say "thank fuck". Survival horror is shit and I'm glad it's dead. Survival horror was less about surviving and more about how shit you can make your controls and camera angles. That said, Silent Hill 2 is a fan-fucking-tastic game and if you haven't got it, then there's an HD collection coming out, so wait until March 6th - until then, play some other game(s)! Maybe the ones we('ll) recommend?


fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes fuck yes

Err, so terribly sorry guys. Just that the first game was a damn fine beat em up. Yeah, it had a shit story that took itself too seriously, but everything else, from the flow of combat to how deceptively tough it really is that just keeps you interested, manages to come together to form a pretty damn good beat em up.

At the very least, it was better than that Scott Pilgrim game. Shank isn't something for the irony crowd unlike Scott Pilgrim.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Resident Evil 6 is coming out and we're meant to care


So yeah, Resident Evil 6 has been announced as if there are any fans left. I'll be honest - Resident Evil was a good series, and despite killing survival horror, Resident Evil 4 was still a good game. Resident Evil 5 was a terrible action game with no survival horror elements. Seriously, Resident Evil had some great ideas, and it got better with each game. I guess Resident Evil 3 was the best that they could do with this style so they decided to try and make an action game with zombies for Resident Evils 4 and 5. Well, both of them didn't exactly work in the context of an action game because you're still limited to standing in one place while aiming, but Resident Evil 4 was still worth going through because IT WAS ENTERTAINING! The briefcase idea was pretty cool and the story itself hasn't half bad, plus while it was an action game, it still felt like a Resident Evil game, if watered down on the survival elements (though the beginning on the hard difficulty setting would make you think "hmm maybe it's a little watered down"). Resident Evil 5 can choke on dicks because it was BORING and played out way too much like a dumb action movie. At times, I thought Michael Bay directed it - that's how bad it got.

I am in no way an old school fan, mostly because I didn't play much PS1 back in the 90s and.. really, up until I got a PS3 in 2009. I like the old school games, though. Don't get confused.

Anyway, Resident Evil 6... let's see what it may or may not have... For this post, I'll copy bits and pieces of the article out and respond to them, if you haven't figured it out already.

The game takes place in China and the US ten years after Resident Evil 2, with Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy teaming up as the game’s main protagonists. The US president has decided to go public with the Raccoon City incident, but a bioterrorism attack leaves Leon, standing by his leader’s side, with a difficult choice.
In China, Chris Redfield is dealing with a similar attack. Even with support from new characters in the series for the duo, the latest wave of bioterrorism attacks sees the world under its biggest threat ever.

>>So basically, emo boy and tuff dude team up.

I'm actually kind of interested to see where they go with this - like this "difficult choice" and why the bioterrorism is happening in the first place. I mean yeah, it could be really obvious and I wouldn't have much need to buy this game, or it could be kind of interesting. Eh, who knows really?

Co-op makes a return following a debut in Resident Evil 5, as well as its standard single-payer.

>>Ugh, please don't. That'll give you guys an excuse to give us shitty ally AI, I know it. Resident Evil 5 was annoying to play alone because Sheva keeps taking and wasting my shit. The only thing she ever got right was healing me... even though it's pretty overkill to use the good shit when I only have a boo boo. Either way, co-op play should be strictly optional to have more fun, not required in order to simply tolerate a game.

Capcom’s R&D and marketing head Katsuhiko Ichi said: Resident Evil 6 represents a giant stride forward in the evolution of the series. The development team, led by Hiroyuki Kobayashi, is working tirelessly to deliver the most impressive Resident Evil title ever both in terms of scope and production values. We are all genuinely excited by the title and cannot wait to share it with the world."

>>In other words, it'll be bigger, with more emphasis on cinematics, and bigger explosions

Kobayashi added: “From the outset the team’s intention was to create an experience that delivers a gripping storyline, tense single-player and co-op action all set against a constant theme of horror. We are calling this fusion dramatic horror and are confident it will resonate with both existing fans of the series as well as newcomers.”

>>While it is good that they're thinking about the horror, ehh... looking around the market for current day "horror" games will yield shock scares and mediocre psychological horror that'd make Silent Hill or Penumbra want to slap them silly (except Amnesia, which has its moments).

I must say that I am curious as to how this "fusion dramatic horror" will work.

But nothing on survival? Fuck, didn't Resident Evil, umm, POPULARISE survival horrors in the 90s? Action games are fine, but if it's in a series that used to be a survival horror one, I can't help but be a bit biased against it when it doesn't have much if any survival.

At least Dead Space is honest. Shadows Of The Damned, too.

Get Into: Dustforce

Ahh, two indie games in a row... in one night. I'm amazed that it's not by the same person (screw you, Gryzor =P).

Anyway, Dustforce is a platformer where you must clean up a level - whether it's enemies or leaves on the ground, you bet you're cleaning it! The idea is to keep your movement flowing like a river, knowing exactly where to jump to, where to jump from, and when to strike down your enemies... while in mid-air. Yes folks, you get to basically move in the air through the use of double jumps and aerial dashes, which can only be used once, but will be recharged after you defeat an enemy. I mean, ground movement is fine, but as you progress, you'll want more, and you'll realize that moving like a ninja is the best way to achieve success and maximum fun efficiency.

Add the fantastic graphics and excellent soundtrack, and you've got yourself quite a game on your hands. Certainly the best way to start 2012 (certainly better than fucking Amy!). I'm sorry this post isn't very in-depth, but it only came out yesterday and I didn't get much else out of it than that. Theoretically speaking, "Get Into" posts cover older games we may have forgotten, but here we are, recommending two indie games, with one from last year combining rhythm with statistics (that one being Sequence), and the other from yesterday being a platformer all about aerial flow and timing (this one). We'll cut down on the newer games that we most certainly recommend, though. =)

Get Into: Sequence

While everybody was busy putting over 9000 hours into Skyrim, I was putting some time into an indie RPG/rhythm game by the name of Sequence. There isn't a whole lot to it - you navigate a couple of menus and choose which one of three monsters (per floor) you fight. But there is more than meets the eye.

The thing with Sequence is that for a game that seems really simple, it's also fairly hard... on the hardest difficulty setting, it's pretty fucking tricky to get the timing down, especially with the later levels. You have to keep an eye on three screens - defence, mana and attack. Defence is what you'll want to focus on, since if you miss any inputs, you'll take damage. The attack screen is when you cast a spell, and you must hit all of them. Miss one, and you will not cast the spell and have wasted your mana, plus you'll need to wait for that spell to recharge. Thankfully, you can carry multiple spells with you, and there's a good amount of variety - from basic attack spells, to healing, defence and even poisoning. The mana screen... well, you hit each input and you'll gain some mana, and if you miss any, oh well. Being able to quickly switch between screens is a fantastic thing, especially later on when the songs get faster and the enemies hit harder.

Oh yes, this is a RHYTHM/RPG, meaning you'll need some rhythm. Not just in hitting the right notes at the right time, but also to the right beats. You're not just playing by eye; you're playing by ear, too, and you better if you're thinking of beating this game.

Be aware that it can and will get a bit annoying - as in, you will be required to fight the same monsters, thereby listening to the same song, a fair amount of times in order to extract items from them, with which you can create better items out of. The only items required to beat each floor are their respective inhibitors (as each floor has their own trick to fuck you over - though the boss will still pull their's off regardless of whether you have it or not, but it makes grinding easier) and boss keys. Unfortunately, you'll be subjected to a... weird synthesis system in which you have a chance to not synthesize it. That's actually fucking bullshit, because it costs EXP to do it and I don't think I should sacrifice anything just for it to fuck up. That is the only real flaw, but it can really piss you off if you're unlucky. Achievement hounds would have a worse time with this because you'll need to fight them over and over again and experience a "failed" synthesis because it's unfair, moreso than those who are just willing to beat the game and see the end of our tale.

Speaking of which, it has a guy named Ky kidnapped and trapped inside a tower. Guided by Naia, he has to climb to the top floor so that he can escape. It's got some clever writing within its sassy, snarky attitude, but it always feels like it could be more... wittier, that is. It's hard to explain without actually playing it, but just compare something like Ben 10 to seasons 3-7 of The Simpsons, and you'll see what I mean. To its credit, it is at least interesting enough to keep you playing because it does tell you a bit more about your situation and even has some twists that can get you more into it.

In many, many ways, I see this game as the polar opposite of Skyrim.

In Skyrim, you're able to explore a gigantic world, full of magic and dragons; in Sequence, you just select which monster you want to fight.
Skyrim can take somewhere between 100 and 300 hours before you can exhaust everything; Sequence can take maybe 10-15 hours to get 100%.
In Skyrim, you simply click on the mouse in order to fight your enemies; in Sequence, you have to use the arrow or WASD keys and hit the right key to the right time in order to defend, attack and recharge mana.
Skyrim's story is supposed to feel epic; Sequence's story seems more like a cartoon.
Skyrim's writing and acting is wooden and boring; Sequence's writing and acting feels like a Saturday morning cartoon done by Warner Brothers, except they let a few curse words slip by censorship.

Suppose that's it for now. Right now, Sequence is a game that isn't exactly everybody's favorite, and at first, I didn't particularly care for it, but as I played through it, I found it more engaging, more difficult and less like a grind even though I've fought the higher level monsters more than the lower level ones. It's actually a good game despite it's couple of flaws (quite frankly), though you may be turned off by the Saturday morning cartoon vibe the story will give you, and will probably get frustrated by the synthesis system... seriously Iridium... why?

Review coming soon.

For the record, I have played Skyrim, and have put about 50 hours into it (give or take a few). I stopped because I got other games to play through.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Lacuna Coil are releasing an album people are expected to care about

I listened to this song for a minute... and contemplated suicide. Fuck this song was terrible.

While this is primarily a gaming blog, we will cover other subjects from time to time because fuck yeah variety am I right guys? But seriously, why do Lacuna Coil even bother? They went from a reasonable gothic rock band to a shitty Evanescence clone, and Evanescence ripped off Lacuna Coil first. I guess Lacuna Coil just wanted more money and that's why people willingly subject themselves to shitty music - to satisfy their gods.

Zero substance, generic, shitty, boring - yeah don't buy this shit, guys.

Tony Hawk's Underground and variety for the sake of variety

I'll be the first to say that I fucking loved Tony Hawk's Underground when it first came out, and even now, I still think it's a pretty good game, but it introduced (or popularised or gave us the worst example of it - we don't exactly know everything there is to know) a thing in gaming that I've grown to despise, and that is variety for the sake of variety.

If you don't know what it means, basically, it's when a developer introduces an element of play just for the hell of it. See, people think that doing the same thing over and over again is a bad thing. It can be if the element is mediocre, but if it's good, then fucken hell, I want more! Don't tamper too much with a winning formula, or if you are going to tamper with it, make sure that you mean it! Don't just shove some platforms and call it a day, thinking that we're doing something different when it feels like it wasn't even there once we finish that segment and get back to killing shit with swords/guns or performing various tricks on skateboards.

To make THUG relevant to this post, I'll say this - platforming in a hack and slash game is alright if they do it right; platforming in a skateboarding game is so out of place that no matter how good they do it, it just won't feel right. I wouldn't know what the latter scenario would be like, because the platforming sucks ass in this game! Loose, slippery and fidgety controls plague it. It always feels like you're moving too fast to actually stay on track when walking along small (not just thin) platforms unless you move with the d-pad (but who wants to do that - this isn't the first Crash Bandicoot game where you HAD TO because there were no analogue sticks back then). Not to mention that the driving - again, nothing to do with skateboarding, just thrown in there because VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE AM I RIGHT GUYS - suffers from loose controls and equally loose physics that just wouldn't make any sense. There are arcade physics and there are just crap physics, and this is the latter.

Maybe one too many reviewers called certain games repetitive because they're looking for things to criticize, maybe developers actually do want to add more to a game instead of just making it a generic hack and slash - I get it. Because the market is saturated with games that are almost interchangable, the only logical step developers would've thought of is to just add outside elements. Sadly, "just add outside elements" is usually as far as they go, because more often than not, while the main element is usually up to snuff, the additional elements tend to feel tacked on or plain poorly implemented, and they're shrugging in disbelief because they don't know what we want. Well, I can't speak for gamers everywhere, so I'll just say that I want a game that's fucking fun to play through and has a kickass story and kickass ensemble of characters - in my eyes, a story and cast of characters can help make a game stand out more than some tacky attempt(s) at variety. Presenting a memorable tale with a memorable cast of characters is how your game will stand out and be remembered for years to come. THAT is better than any lame half assed attempt at innovation.

That doesn't mean that developers should stop trying to innovate; just that they should think of other ways to innovate than just adding tacky shit that nobody winds up really liking.... and please don't get me started with LA Noire, which is basically Phoenix Wright in a film noire setting (oh man so fucking innovate!!! - actually, the facial technology is, but Heavenly Sword's is better so... yeah).

Oh, and THUG is a skateboarding game. Shove the platforming and driving up your ass - oh wait you already did that. Good. Now make some good games again, instead of this gimmicky trash you're doing now with the aborted fetus that is the skateboard controller... I really hope they beat me to that suggestion.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Demo Coverage: Asura's Wrath

"What's an Asura's Wrath", you may be asking - well, Asura's Wrath is one of those games that comes out of nowhere, but it's got the Capcom seal of approval (note: be prepared to buy several expansion packs that cost an additional $40-60 each), so maybe it has a chance of being good, right? Well, Capcom's track record as of late hasn't exactly been too consistent. I liked Street Fighter 4 and Marvel VS Capcom 3, but wasn't very appreciative of them milking them to death. I wasn't too big on Resident Evil 5 because it didn't even feel like Resident Evil at that point - oh, and if you're going to make an action game, please let the player move AND shoot, and save the stationary shooting for your actual survival horror games? Thank you in advance, Capcom. They cancelled Mega Man Universe and Mega Man Legends 3 since Keiji Inafune (the man behind Mega Man) left Capcom. Well, let's see if Asura's Wrath can bring a smile to my face whenever I think of Capcom...

What has potential to work:
The QTEs could actually work very well in its favor, as it delivers a cinematic edge that Ninja Blade delivered. It could make for an engaging experience to watch and play.
The gameplay seems simple enough to draw you in, and I am hoping that it expands on this as Asura transforms into several different forms. Hopefully.

What may not work:
It doesn't seem to have much in the way of gameplay. Seriously, if I want a movie, I'll buy a movie, not a video game. Bloody crooks.
When it does have gameplay... I just get the feeling that it'll be a little too simple to keep you engaged.

Will I buy it?
I don't know. Between Soul Calibur 5 and Max Payne 3... well, it depends on how much time I'll be spending with the former, and that's if I don't buy Final Fantasy XIII-2 (which will be covered shortly in this blog). This seems like one of those "spur of the moment" types... if I have a lot of money on me, I'll spare a few dollars on it.


No, we do not care about your AAA multiplat rehash of something from over four years ago. No, we do not care about your mediocre series that got lucky once or twice. No, we do not care about companies that support a controversial bill that'll destroy the internet - we're too busy not supporting them because they're shit anyway. No, we do not care too much that Mega Man Legends 3 got cancelled so that Capcom can work on Super Hyper Street Fighter 4 Turbo 2 Alpha Dub Edition Remix Orange Box.

Just kidding. We do. But only to make fun of it, or if it surprises us, like Assassin's Creed 2.

But seriously, we're just gamers that see what designers are doing with this modern technology but aren't seeing favorable results all that often. We seek to find what made gaming tick for us in amongst all this cinematic, overly self indulgent bullshit that has slowly plagued gaming since its resurgence back in 1985 - though fuck, that virus took a while to really infect gaming.

You know what brought us to gaming in the first place? Fun. Not pretty graphics or self indulgent tripe.

Posts will either be daily or semi-daily. I hope you enjoy these posts as much as we do writing them.