Really wanted a 3DS for christmas but if you've got parents like mine who just totally hate games then there's no chance in hell I'd get a 3DS let alone any games. However lucky for me I've got the best girlfriend ever and she more than made up for it. A Swan Crystal and 3 games that I have yet to identify. I love you Sarah! Also got a great christmas jumper! Happy Christmas everyone.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Well you learn something new everyday. The game Oiche Mhaith was brought to my attention the other day, oiche mhaith translates to goodnight in Irish. It's kind of strange to find an irish themed game so I was intrigued, being from Ireland as well. Then I found out it was made by Terry Kavanagh who is also the guy that developed VVVVVV, another personal favourite. It's great to know that there's such good games being developed in Ireland.
Anyway here's the link to Oiche Mhaith:
Try it out, it only takes about 15 minutes to beat. However be warned, it's got some adult themes but is surprisingly moving.
Anyway here's the link to Oiche Mhaith:
Try it out, it only takes about 15 minutes to beat. However be warned, it's got some adult themes but is surprisingly moving.
Monday, December 19, 2011
Caught hacking into the TriOptimum corporate network, you are apprehended and taken to Citadel Station, a science and research space station orbiting Saturn. However luck is on your side and one of TriOptimums executives, Edward Diego, offers you your freedom in exchange for hacking SHODAN, the AI that controls Citadel Station. He even throws in a military grade neural interface if you carry out the task. It’s a bit of a no brainer and after removing SHODAN’s ethical constraints and handing over control to Diego, true to his word you are fitted with the neural interface which requires a six month healing coma. However upon waking up six months nothing is as it seems. You are attacked by the station’s robots, the crew has been replaced by hideous mutants and cyborgs and it seems SHODAN, now given a voice and personality, is very much in charge.
The excellent System Shock intro explains it much better than I ever could
System Shock is based on a modified Ultima Underworld engine. While it can’t match the large open spaces or the sheer number of enemies thrown at you by Doom, in many ways it’s a far more sophisticated engine. Movement of the player and objects are governed by a physics engine. It’s not as robust as today’s physics engines but back in 1994 this was groundbreaking stuff. This allows the player far more interaction with the environment than most FPS games, where the only interaction is usually with the end of a gun. Items and grenades can be thrown and the player can jump and even scale the sides of obstructions; maybe not impressive now but a very big deal back then. You can also lean around corners and duck under obstructions, again not impressive now but very novel ideas at the time. The engine supports sloped surfaces, unlike Doom, and also supports polygonal models in the environment. The result is some very detailed environments with a sense of place and purpose to each room in Citadel Station. The engine also allows for some very impressive effects like faking room over rooms, transparent force bridges and security monitors that update in real time. Impressive shadow and lighting effects add atmosphere and even affect gameplay, finding a light source is critical to survival in the early stages of the game.
|An example of the extra detail System Shocks engine allows|
System Shock is not your normal first person shooter and contains many RPG elements. The HUD takes up most of the screen and is necessary for manipulating all the items and weapons you collect on the way. Weapons must be chosen wisely since there is limited inventory space. Most weapons have multiple ammo types that are effective against different enemies. For example, EMP grenades and armour piercing weapons are useful against robots while the magnum’s hollow point ammo makes a mess of cyborgs and mutants. System Shock is also quite possibly the first game required you to manually reload weapons and has recoil governed by physics.
|Executive area is none too shabby, apart from the dead bodies|
At the time the only objective in FPS games, and even now in most cases, is to find the exit to the next level. Systems Shock instead presents you with complex and far more interesting objectives requiring complex steps to complete. These can range from destroying antennae to stop SHODAN from downloading herself to earth’s networks to ejecting a garden grove where SHODAN is performing sick experiments on what is left of the crew. Citadel Station is set up as a vast non-linear series of floors interconnected by elevators. Completing objectives may mean going back to previously visited floors. Clues as to how to complete objects are found in audio logs and subtle environmental details. As a hacker, hacking also plays an important role. Hacking is presented as a mini-game, where panels need to be rewired or power redirected to bypass security. You can also enter cyberspace which is presented as a ‘Tron-like’ fully 3D wireframe environment to explore, although watch out because SHODAN has set up elaborate defences and will kick you out of cyberspace if you take too long.
|Cyberspace can be a bit disorientating!|
System Shock has an interesting method for dealing with death. SHODAN has converted revival chambers in each floor into cyborg conversion units. Get incapacitated and you will be turned into a cyborg that will serve SHODAN and its game over. However you can switch these chambers back to their original function and if you die you will be restored at these chambers. It’s a bit like the Vita Chambers from Bioshock but instead of the constant safety net, you only gain it once you find a way to convert the chambers back to their original function. However not all floors have a revival chamber.
Systems Shock's cyberpunk story of corporate greed and technophobia is one of the highlights of the game. For a game from 1994 it is remarkable that System Shock not only has an elaborate story but also a really good one. The story is pieced together by the player through a series of audio logs you find scattered throughout the station and on scraps of paper you find. It’s the same method used by many modern games such as Bioshock. These audio logs are surprisingly well acted; you really do feel like you are listening to the last few desperate moments of these people’s lives. System Shock absolutely nails the atmosphere. The tight claustrophobic corridors of Citadel Station and eerily empty living quarters are punctuated by the inhuman sounds of the cyborgs, mutants and robots around the next corner. Sound design is excellent as is the soundtrack, which changes dynamically depending on the location. It’s one of the best midi soundtracks ever composed and well worth listening to. System Shock has its fair share of scares and creepy moments, in particular the entirety of the maintenance floor which is badly lit and full of semi transparent and thus hard to see mutants.
An example of the excellent music in the game
And of course there’s SHODAN. She will constantly interrupt communication with Rebecca, your only contact with earth. She will constantly mock you; referring to you as an insect and making you feel insignificant. Even when you can’t hear her, her visage will appear briefly in security monitors just so you know she is always watching you. Fantastic voice work by Terri Brosius and a raft of sound distortion effects really bring the character to life. It’s no surprise that she constantly appears topping lists of videogame villains.
|She's always watching you|
System Shock is a game that I really recommend you should experience, particularly people that are interested in the evolution of the first person shooter and the genesis of masterpieces like System Shock 2 and Deus Ex. I still fell System Shock is just as relevant today as it has ever been despite being superseded by its amazing sequel. It’s become one of my favourite games ever. However the game isn’t without problems and the main one is the control scheme. There’s a lot more verticality to System Shock than games like Doom so it really needs a mouse-look type control system. However since it was created before Quake popularised the mouse-look WASD scheme for FPS games, System Shock uses a strange hybrid system. Calling this system awkward is putting it kindly. After years of playing FPS games it was like trying to learn how to ride a bike but using my hands to push the pedals. These controls are also stupidly not configurable. This is the third time I’ve tried to finish the game and thankfully this time I was successful thanks to System Shock Portable.
SSP is a version of System Shock with Dosbox included that will run on Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. It also has the ability to toggle between mouse-look and a free mouse for manipulation of the HUD. Best of all it also has configurable controls. You’ll need to open a config file with wordpad to change them but it’s better than nothing and to be honest the default controls that are included are excellent. One tip I have to give is to always save before entering the full map screen because the game often crashes when exiting the map. If you play with invert mouse like me make sure to change the y-axis mouse sensitivity to a negative value in the cfg file. Unfortunately there’s no way to invert the mouse in cyberspace so you’ll just have to deal with it. System Shock Portable is available here:
There are also instructions on how to install a soundfont which will really improve the music and really make the excellent soundtrack standout.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Who doesn't love a good sale? Well the guys at GOG have one on now and I'm afraid I went a bit crazy and bought 29 of them. I doubt I'll get through them all in my lifetime!
Well at least there's nothing else to spend money on, I've got all my Christmas shopping done.... until the steam sale.
Well at least there's nothing else to spend money on, I've got all my Christmas shopping done.... until the steam sale.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
The Legend of Dragoon is the best game ever. If you are one of the people that think this you are a very bad person. Either that or the rose tinted mists of time are clouding your recollection of a game you played when you were young, foolish and knew no better. The Legend of Dragoon (LoD from now on before my fingers melt with hatred from typing it) technically isn’t the worst game of all time. It is however the most hateful.
So why is it the most hateful game ever? It’s a cynical corporate cash-in with no soul. I’ve played many bad games before but mostly their heart is usually in the right place; a lack of development time, money or a developer with high ambitions and without the talent to realise them are the usual reasons for failure. LoD however stinks of a designed by committee mentality. At the time due to the unexpected success of the Final Fantasy series the biggest genre around was the Japanese RPG. Sony decided it wanted a bite out of the pie and set about developing its own RPG franchise. After 3 years of development and satanic rituals LoD was unleashed on the world.
This game wants so desperately to be Final Fantasy VII. The main protagonist with a stupid name, Dart, with his spiky blond hair, a big sword and a mysterious past that he can’t clearly remember is a blatant Cloud clone. His BFF Shana is the meek girl of the party with healing spells who might just have a mysterious power in case you haven’t already guessed. The rest of the party are utterly forgettable other than Rose who is a bit like a female Squall except with menstruation based attacks (I shit you not: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7Wk-qvGucQ ). I actually kind of liked Rose, she acted less like a gormless bellend than the rest of the cast, but it wasn’t enough to save the rest of the game. The bad guy has silver hair and is trying to destroy the world. They couldn’t even change his hair colour to try to disguise the fact that they were trying to emulate Sephiroth.
|Some of the prerendered backgrounds can be pretty if a bit generic|
The storyline is generic textbook JRPG. A globe-trotting quest to find mystical trinkets that in the wrong hands could destroy the world. An ancient, thought to be extinct civilisation called the Winglies (because they have wings and evidently zero imagination, fuck you localisation team!) is tied into it these events, just like Grandia or Breath of Fire. The whole story reads like the JRPG entry on TV Tropes. It throws around mystical mcguffins as an excuse to keep the plot moving. In an attempt to emulate the emotion of Aeris’s death in FFVII, LoD has its own death scene. Unfortunately this involves an annoyingly goody two shoes character whose death I’d been wishing for long before it was granted. If you did feel any emotional attachment to this character, any sense of loss is quashed when he is quickly replaced by another character with the same abilities. Actually, if you lose any character permanently they’ll be replaced in a similar manner, completely missing the point of why Aeris being missing from the party in FFVII was so successful in eliciting emotion from the player. Destroying what little enjoyment you could have gleamed from the awful plot is one of the worst localisations ever, bereft of any soul or emotion, countless grammatical errors and horrendous voice-acting.
I’ve played and enjoyed a lot of RPGs with hackneyed stories but LoD has worse issues than its story. What makes the game unbearable is the gameplay. The random encounter rate isn’t too high but the battle system is so slow that it kills any pace the game has. The battle system is based on ‘additions’. In a tragic attempt to add some real time involvement to the battle system every time you attack you can extend your attack by timing button presses to an on screen indicator. This might seem like a good idea but as the game progresses, additions get longer and battles drag on even more. As you progress in the game your characters gain the ability to transform into a Dragoon, accompanied by long transformation sequences. You gain an attack bonus but the timing on the additions is so strict you end up doing less damage the majority of the time. Also Dragoon transformations are the only way to cast magic other than using items. All magic spells result in long animations similar to the summons in Final Fantasy prolonging battles further. Another well meaning but ultimately ridiculous addition to the battle system is that healing characters requires you to defend which gives you 10% of your maximum health. During particularly tough battles this defend mechanic can really drag out battles. You can use items to recover health but they are usually in short supply since the amount of items you can carry is extremely limited and mostly taken up by elemental spell items since if you run into a boss and your characters are the wrong element then it can really screw you over. One of the party members has a dragoon spell that can heal but it takes forever to charge up and use her dragoon transformation and she’s fairly useless so you can’t rely on it. Long drawn out battles can really ruin an RPG. There’s nothing worse than getting into a battle in a dungeon that is so long that when it’s over you have forgotten where it was that you were headed to. Due to the length of dragoon transformations and the fact that you basically only have a single attack, the battle system is completely devoid of any sort of strategy and the battle cries like ‘Rod Typhoon!’ will drive you insane.
Technically the game is a mess as well. For a game released at the end of 1999 it only looks slightly better than FFVII. Most of the character models are barely texture mapped and using the same gouraud shaded polygons as seen in FFVII. Compare that to FFVIII released earlier that year or Metal Gear Solid the year before with their detailed and fully textured models and environments and LoD looks very dated. The battle engine also runs at around 10 frames per second. This is a major problem for a game which relies on timing since it introduces lag into the controls and makes the timing of the addition attacks a lot more difficult than they should be. The timing of button presses for additions is before when the game indicates you should press the button. Some of the pre-rendered backgrounds do look nice and whenever water effects are present they look remarkably good. The CGI cutscenes are of a high quality but there’s very few of them. The game comes on 4 CD’s but with the lack of CGI cutscenes I honestly don’t see what was taking up all that memory. The soundtrack has its fans but I’m not one of them. There are a few good tunes but the rest of it ranged from unremarkable to downright awful. The battle theme in particular is obnoxious and it’s the tune you’ll be hearing the most of.
|Meru manages to be the most annoying character in the game, a feat in and of itself|
LoD really isn’t the worst games ever, there’s some really frustrating games or games that are unplayable messes due to bugs and bad programming. However it’s just such a corporate exercise that I can’t help but hate it. There’s not an original idea in the game and it’s all put together with such a corporate mentality, ticking all the right boxes to appeal to the masses. What is hard to understand is the rabid fanbase the game has built up. I’m guessing most of these people played the game when they were much younger, impressionable and didn’t have much experience with JRPGs to compare it to. The attack on the review at the Gaming Intelligence agency, a perfectly fair and reasonable review, really doesn’t paint them in the best light:
I’m sorry if I hurt some feelings with this review but it’s a game that really gets under my skin and makes me hyperbolic. If you do think that the game holds up, try it again with some newfound maturity and experience because it really is a shallow and boring game. Just don’t pay the ridiculous Ebay prices for it. It really isn’t worth it.
Disengaging rant mode!
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Corpse Party came out this week on the PSP and I snapped it up since I'm always happy to support great companies like XSeed who will take a chance on games like this. I hadn't any plans to play it any time soon but after seeing this I really want to now!
Ys is a series I’ve never been into, or more accurately, haven’t had a chance to get into. The only European release I’ve been aware of was Ark of Napishtim which got a limited release by Konami and possibly a Master System release. For the longest time I never even knew the series existed. The weird play mechanics were you ‘bump’ into enemies rather than press an attack button kind of put me off playing the games as well. Xseed recently released three Ys games on PSP, Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles, Ys Oath in Felghana and Ys Seven, which are available as a UMD release in America and on the Playstation store in the US and EU. After hearing so much good word of mouth about the series I thought it was about time to try it out. So what better place to start than where the series began?
The first two Ys games have appeared on nearly every system imaginable, from Japanese home computers like the NEC PC-88, to the NES, PC, PC Engine CD and even a recent DS release. The PSP release is supposedly the definitive release according to fans. There’s been a lot love and attention paid to this collection and it shows. While some people have complained about the art I think high res 2D looks great especially on the PSP screen. Boss fights are visually stunning as are the use of effects like water reflections and some really snazzy light and shadow effects. You also have a choice of 3 soundtracks for each game, the original PC-88 soundtrack, the recent Ys 1 & 2 Complete soundtrack from the PC version and a new re-mastered soundtrack for the Chronicles collection. The Ys series is famed for its amazing soundtracks, the first two games are composed by the legendary Yuzo Koshiro, and this collection doesn’t disappoint. I’m particularly fond of the chiptune PC-88 tunes, although the guitar rock of the chronicles soundtrack has its cheesy charms. All three soundtracks are available at any time from the menu.
The ‘bumping’ mechanic wasn’t as weird as I initially thought it would be and it’s actually quite intuitive. You have to run into an enemy slightly off centre to damage them, running into them head on will damage you. Grinding for levels is easy and lots of fun. Initially killing enemies is slow going since they require multiple attacks to take them down, but Ys is a series were even one level or a better weapon makes all the difference. Levelling up is fast and in no time you should be ploughing through enemies as they explode in a hilariously over the top shower of body parts and blood until you reach a new area presenting a tougher challenge. The game plays at a blistering pace; the main challenge is handling the speed of the main character Adol and hitting enemies accurately. Ys has been compared to Zelda but its really far more action orientated. There are also light RPG elements; nothing more complicated than levelling up and equipping new armour and weapons.
|Ys has a large male fanbase?|
Out of the two games Ys 2 is definitely the better. Ys 1 is fun and well worth your time but it has some archaic design flaws, chief of which is how obtuse some of the puzzles are, which can leave the player unable to progress the story. Xseed recognised this and have thankfully included a walkthrough of the first game in the manual to help players out. There’s really no shame in using it since the meat of the game is having to skill to pass the rock hard boss fights, not solving obscure puzzles. Ys 2 is a much longer and more satisfying game, although it’s not without the odd obtuse puzzle; again there’s no harm in checking an FAQ if you are stuck. The RPG mechanics have been enhanced, Adol can learn new magic spells and there’s some weird items to experiment with, my favourite being one that disguises you as a monster so you can walk around and chat to all the enemies in the game.
Ys 1 & 2 Chronicles is a loving homage to the original games and makes a great introduction to the series for new players. The fast pace and simple RPG mechanics combine to make a game that’s quick to pick up and play but remains compelling to the end. It’s also recommended for anyone looking for a stiff old school challenge. Xseed’s localisation is excellent as always. I’d like to thank them for bringing this series to my attention and I can’t wait to try some more of Nihon Falcoms games.
By the way, it’s pronounced like ease not why’s :-)
Monday, November 21, 2011
Most people that know me know that I don't regard the Halo series as highly as most. Maybe it was because I had access to gaming PCs since 1997 so didn't see the big deal about Halo. Some people saw some huge leap in the FPS genre. I just was a really well made FPS game that had some flaws (reuse of assets and the Flood being so lame). I can be a bit critical of the games but I do enjoy them, just some people think I hate them and attack me for it. Well, maybe the single player portion of Halo 2 was rubbish but other than that I do think they are good games.
Halo 3: ODST however I really don't like. After reading about how much it changed the basic Halo formula and the good reviews I picked up a copy cheap and played while I was taking a much needed break from Dark Souls. I wasn't expecting to be blown away but I also wasn't expecting it to be so bland. The open world sections of the game are a good change of pace but I don't think the game really pulls them off that well. It's not very often that you meet a covenant patrol and they are so small that they don't put up much of a fight. It's a bit of a wasted oppurtunity. The game goes back to traditional Halo during many of the flashback sequences and while these are fun, it's really more of the same Halo gameplay. The game finally takes a nose dive in quality during the final stretch when the plot gets so ridiculous and stupid that I can't believe nobody at Bungie complained before ending on a whimper. The dialogue throughout the game is also badly written and laughabl in some places. The only part of the game that didn't disappoint was the surprisingly good soundtrack.
I also got Halo Reach at the time and wwas prepared to be disappointed again but so far it actually seems like a really solid game. So far it all takes place it large open environments were the series excels and forgoes the linear tight corridors made of repeated art assets. It seems to be the Halo game that the series has been trying to be for the last 10 years.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Rule of Rose has become for me one of the hardest games to track down for a reasonable price. The game was the unfortunate victim of ridiculous and sensationalist controversy started by politicians looking for an easy target to raise their profile and wasn’t helped by some of the worst members of the press, such as the absolute arse rag of a paper the Daily Mail, exasperating it. False allegations of sadomasochistic sequences involving minors and scenes of a sexual nature between children were entirely fabricated and despite ELSPA, the videogames rating board in Europe, giving the game a 16+ rating and releasing a statement that these allegations were false, publisher 505 GameStreet decided against releasing the game in the UK, which subsequently meant no release in Ireland. The game was released in the US by Atlus but has since become very rare. It’s a real shame that the game didn’t find a wider audience since it’s one of most interesting games on the PS2. I had to resort to ‘less scrupulous methods’ to play the game and am still on the lookout for a copy.
|The Red Crayon Aristocrats|
|The cute Brown sniffing out clues|
|There's some very uncomfortable moments in the game and while not explicit it's easy to put two and two together.|
|Combat is usually a total clusterfuck|
Unfortunately I can’t say many good things for how the game plays. The puzzle solving is unambiguous and the use of brown to find clues is inspired. However combat is absolutely atrocious. Thankfully the best method for dealing with the enemies is to run past them but there are points where you have to face large groups of unavoidable enemies that can lead to frustration. There’s also a handful of ill-advised boss that don’t work and drag on for far too long. The creative directors of survival horror games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil have explain that the poor combat was a design choice to increase tension but in the case of Rule of Rose it’s just really bad and serves no purpose. I know it’s realistic to make Jennifer attack like the delicate flower she is but it shouldn’t be at the expense of making the game playable. Thankfully the poor combat isn’t a deal-breaker due to just how compelling the story is.
Rule of Rose has some big problems but I feel that, just like with Deadly Premonition, it’s worth sticking out the rough patches to experience what the rest of the game has to offer. It’s one of those games were combat is needlessly added and I feel the game would have been better off as a straight up adventure game and forgo combat entirely. However the imagination and creativity in the storytelling complimented by the excellent visuals and sound design make Rule of Rose a game that is well worth experiencing.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Monday, October 31, 2011
Bit of a horrorthon fail this year, I managed to clear only 2 games before the month’s end. At least on a more positive note I’ve finally gotten around to starting the Project Zero series despite having owned all the games for years.
Project Zero is a very Japanese take on horror; it has more in common with classic Japanese horror films like The Ring or The Grudge than with the American B-movie style of the likes of Resident Evil. Mafuyu has travelled to a mansion to look for a writer and his entourage that mysteriously vanished and ends up disappearing himself. His sister Miku in a classic horror movie cliché enters this mysterious mansion, which any sane person would stay the hell out of, to search for her missing brother and along the way uncovers the horrific past of the mansion.
Miku soon discovers that the mansion is infested with some pretty malicious ghosts that don’t take kindly to her presence. Thankfully Miku is armed with her family heirloom, a strange camera that has the power to exorcise ghosts. To exorcise the ghosts Miku must look through the view finder which enters a first person mode and focus on her attackers. The longer she stays focused on a ghost the more damage will be dealt when she takes a picture. However the ghosts won’t make it easy on Miku and will teleport or evaporate out of sight. A special ‘zero shot’ can also be performed but doing so is risky. When the power meter turns red you have a split second to take a picture that will do huge damage to the ghost and interrupt its attack. However opportunities to perform these ‘zero shots’ only occur right before an enemy ghost is about to attack. The camera mechanics have a great risk/reward dynamic that makes for some very intense and often times genuinely scary encounters with ghosts. The first person view also limits what the player sees and can be quite claustrophobic. It’s quite a challenging game, health items are sparse and I found myself dying a few times. It was tough but always a fair challenge.
|Zero shot lined up, now would be a good time to take that picture!|
The camera isn’t just used for combat either and can be used to solve puzzles. Taking a picture of a locked door may reveal a visual clue to the whereabouts of the key to unlock it and many hidden ghosts can be found scattered throughout the mansion that reward you with experience points to level up your camera and give more insight into the events that happened in the mansions past. When the puzzles aren’t utilising the camera they can be a little disappointing, often times following the Resident Evil template but unfortunately many of the same puzzles are repeated. Thankfully the excellent camera combat makes up for these short comings.
For such an early game in the PS2’s life Project Zero still looks excellent. The mansion is genuinely creepy and complimented by some excellent light and shadow effects. The ghosts look equally amazing, utilising some impressive transparency effects and distorting the background. The story of the mansion that is gradually revealed over the course of the game is disturbing yet moving and quite well written. It’s a bit of a surprise considering this game came from developer Tecmo, best known for their pioneering work in breast physics in the Dead or Alive series! It’s strange and welcoming seeing such restraint from them. Only some slightly dodgy voice acting lets the side down but thankfully isn’t as hilariously bad as some other survival horror games. Project Zero is an excellent and unique videogame horror series and my only regret is that it took me close to ten years to finally play it.