1 October 2010

Shadow Broker rules OK!

The game of the year got better - again. We already got Kasumi Goto, an invaluable asset to commander Shepard's galaxy saving team, and now we have a whole new mission, 'Lair of the Shadow Broker', where we enter a shadowy flight into the dangerous world with the darling of the first Mass Effect, Liara T'Soni.

Where do I start? Do I tell about the visuals, which amass to no less than amazing, in movie terms, with astounding set-design and beautiful lightning, paying more than respect to visuals of such sci-fi classics as Blade Runner? Or do I mention fantastically directed and dynamic action scenes, where 'hand-held' camera is used to a great effect? Perhaps I tell about the action-packed and exciting mission itself, with a sublime script and surprising, yet all the more plausible ending?

You know what? I won't tell any of above things in greater detail. Just download the damn thing and enjoy it yourselves!

Have you ever seen visuals like these in a video game?
I don't know about you, but I reckon this is one of the greatest shots ever in a video game.
Indeed, babe.

18 September 2010

Halo: Reach, it's a bitch!

I loved the first Halo, had mixed feelings about the sequel (read: loved and hated it), didn't like Halo 3, skipped Halo: ODST and fiddled a bit with Halo Wars before getting bored with it. With this history, I really didn't have great expectations about Halo: Reach.

I got a chance to play Halo: Reach when a friend bought it and took it with him when visiting over. Well, let's give it a shot then.

Familiar guns, familiar enemies, familiar settings, familiar everything, yet... it manages to feel so fresh! And the playability! You just pick up your controller and Noble Six is ready to go (and before you ask, yes, I chose a female soldier). I wish every FPS had as intuitive and smooth controls which get embedded into your spine, making them your second nature.

Picture this; with great effort, I had taken out an energy sword wielding elite in a dimly lit platform, by strafing backwards and shooting at the white of his eyes. But it wasn't over. There was another one waiting nearby and I had almost no ammo left. There was no point in shooting him from the long range as his shields would have keep regenerating and I would run out of ammo. I picked up the energy blade from the first elite, equipped it, and started running towards the other one. I think I shouted it aloud; "It's you or me, baby!". And then one-shotted him with my energy blade.

It's the moments like these which sell the game. 'Nuff said.

You have bought Halo: Reach already, haven't you?
You don't have Xbox 360?! Then buy one to play Halo: Reach with!

9 August 2010

Monkey Island 2 Big Whoop

It's been 18 years since the last time I played Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. It was on Commodore Amiga 500, and not on PC with then flashy 256-colors VGA graphics. I didn't have a hard drive for Amiga yet, but I had an extra disk drive, so swapping whopping 11 disks was a bit less of a pain (but pain it still was!). All these years later I found myself again giggling, chuckling and downright laughing at the exploits of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood, thanks to the brilliant special edition available for Xbox 360 and PS3 as downloadable game for a pretty neat price too.

 ...and so begins the longest tale Elaine Marley has ever heard!

The special edition for the first Monkey Island has been available for a while now, but it didn't impress me. Newly designed HD graphics looked artificial and lifeless compared to the charming, pixel-by-pixel drawn original. The game was still there, as funny and clever as ever. This time though, they got the best of both worlds.

Some spit and polish... nah, more spit and hey, presto! It's in glorious HD!

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge looks stylish and ravishing with full of character in its glorious, new re-drawn HD graphics. All the backgrounds are obviously based on the original pencil sketches and has been digitally painted over them, so the game looks both familiar and greater than ever. By the time the original game was released, LucasArts had moved to scanned images of hand-painted backdrops. Yea, the original art by Peter Chan looked great on paper (as is evident in 'bonus materials' section of the special edition) but blocky, low resolution and limited color palette of VGA pretty much destroyed it and made it look like someone had puked on the screen. Especially now when you switch between original and new graphics, you really begin wondering how on earth this could have looked good back in the days... Also, the music is re-arranged and sometimes you just keep up the PS3 game menu for Monkey Island 2 open just to listen to the brilliant title song!

Watch out! The skull eats you up... and leads you to a very cozy place!

Of course, what matters most is the game. The puzzles are wacky but logical in their own way, and the whole thing is crafted so well together. You can't get stuck later in the game because you had previously missed some object, unlike in so many adventure games in their heyday. In the special edition, there's an integrated hint system for the graphic adventure challenged. Don't use it. I didn't, even though I didn't remember half of what I played in July 1992. Especially the memories of the end game were hazy but I blame Amiga version's crazy disk buzzing for it! And the game is funny. No, that would be the understatement of two decades. It's hilarious, clever, full of popular culture references, with some of the funniest, wittiest dialogue ever written for a game, all delivered with a top-notch voice acting.

All re-designed characters look great and fit the mood perfectly, better than the original blockies - both seen here.
So this is the second best game of the year (after obvious Mass Effect 2, haha, did you think I can write an entry without mentioning it!) and in reality it's 19 years old game (PC original was published in 1991, Amiga version in summer 1992). New graphics aside, it tells a lot about lack of imagination and quality writing in today's games.

Watch out for the infamous movie references coming about... if you don't crack up, there's something wrong with you. Seriously.

7 August 2010

Demo peek: Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

I can imagine the game design meeting at Io Interactive headquarters (translated from Danish):

Guy #1: It's no use. The graphic engine is ugly and choppy and the playability is sloppy.
Guy #2: (Chuckles) Sounds like a bad Youtube video to me!
The Lead Designer: - Wait a minute... That's just it! A bad Youtube video!
Guy #1: - You mean...
Guy #2: - We mask it as a bad Youtube video? And get away with a stunt like that?
The Lead Designer: - Don't use so negative words such as 'mask'. It's called style!

The Lead Designer (walking away from the meeting room): - Where do I get these grand ideas? Man, I'm so good!

I think it sums Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days best up my friend played the demo for five seconds and that was enough for him. Poor me endured the whole demo through... Five seconds is all this game deserves.

Aaaaarf! Urgggh!

24 July 2010

An open letter to Square Enix

Dear Square Enix,

You don't know a rat's ass about role-playing games. In a computer RPG, you, the player, create a character and play his/her role by choosing his/her actions and conversation choices in different situations you meet during the course of a game. Take BioWare's epoch Mass Effects; perfect computer role-playing games, where you create a character and play his/her role by choosing his/her actions and conversation choices in different situations during the course of a game. Simple, eh?

You, Square Enix, have never allowed any of this in your so-called role-playing games. In your Final Fantasy series, the player is given a role of a main character and just run through the game without affecting the outcome in the slightest. But in Final Fantasy XIII, you don't allow even this! The least you could is to let the player play the character he/she wants. But no! In your infinite wisdom, you have divided the game into parts in which one must play characters one absolutely doesn't want to play!

I don't want to be Sazh, I don't want to be Snow, I don't want to be Hope, I don't want to be Vanille! All I want is to be Lightning from beginning to end! But I friggin' can't do that! Damn you! So dear Square Enix, how... how on earth do you suppose I have the stamina and endurance to bear your atrocity of a game till the end?

Yours truly,
- Pissed-off Shunichiro

You know, if I could, I'd turn around and chop the heads off of everyone behind me!

13 July 2010

Final Fantasy XIII - the beginning

A while ago I picked up Final Fantasy XIII for PS3 from a summer sale. I must admit, I was both anxious and hesitant, but the handsome price won.

Straight to the matter. It really seems the game is full of contradictions. Take Lightning, the lead, or at least I hope she will be the lead. First, her looks. If I were to name an actress to play her in a live-action movie, I couldn't name anyone. Just... no one. She doesn't look distinguishable, yet, she's totally distinguishable. I also love her attitude, a no-nonsense loner who'd rather just fuck off everyone than be with with them. On the other hand, we have the co-stars, a less and even more less characterless folk. I was told beforehand Vanille is the most annoying of them all but I find her more amusing than annoying. A regular prep whose chirpy attitude is actually refreshening among other co-stars. Don't even start me telling about Snow...

The music. Towards the end of chapter three, there's some amazing music playing; a deep bass-driven song with a young female voice singing, or rather, whispering in the background. I wouldn't mind having that on a soundtrack to back me up while drawing. When the cut-scene kicks in, with Shaz flying an aircraft (in a scene so reminiscent of the new Star Wars trilogy it's not a coincidende but a puke-inducing event), the music shifts into 'funny' and 'funky'. In fact, whenever Shaz is shown, the music is 'funny' and 'funky'. Nyaaaargh! So, Shaz is your regular comic-relief. Racist, anyone?

I can't deny the game has some amazing graphics. I can't deny it has some high-cost production values put into it. I can't deny it has certain epic depth to it. Yet... it's no Mass Effect. Then again, what game could ever be - until Mass Effect 3, of course ;)

But I keep on playing, the progress I will try to tell you about in forthcoming entries. I want to believe in this game, I want to believe in Lightning, I want to believe in Japanese video games - that they still have life to them. I don't want to believe the west has won and where it got us. Save Mass Effects, most western games just glorify ulta-violence and nothing else. Just take games presented at E3. Depressing...

 "Waaaaah! It's all a blur!" "Shut your trap, Shaz!"

30 May 2010

Velvet Heart

There are alternative movies, alternative music and then there are alternative games. But unlike music and movies, alternative games never get the attention, recognition or appreciaton of the games public and media they would deserve. Little-known German game Velvet Assassin, published last summer for Xbox 360 and PC, is such a game.

I bought the game upon its release, played it vigorously but didn't complete it until last weekend. I had savoured the last parts, like a good wine waiting to be uncorked. All because it's such a classy game and after finally playing it through, I can heartily say it was a great experience, thought-provoking and intense. Velvet Assassin is unlike any other stealth action game. Highly stylized and perfectly functional within given environment, the escapades of British spy Violette Summer in the heart of World War II behind the enemy lines create an emotional impact.

There's not a single joke, no humor, no laughter, no half-witty one-liners. As Violette voices out during the last mission, barefoot amidst havoc of a burning French village, "This is not war... this is madness" (and no, it's not a sad remark towards Spartans...), Velvet Assassin stands up to make a point, and that becomes even more important than gameplay mechanics or aesthetic values, both the areas the game admittedly shines at. Poignant as Violette's knife, Velvet Assassin is the strongest game made out of World War II, exposing the terror of an insane war. From now on, I despise even more those games (like one well-known and way too popular franchise) which turn the war shamelessly into a thoughtless entertainment. 
Beautiful but lethal
Dressing up to kill
In the garden of evil

3 May 2010

Renegade Shep

Long time since the last update but what's better than post yet again pictures of my lovely renegade Shep from a second playthrough! She may be tough but she surely has a softer and sadder side to her as I more roleplayed her than tried to maximize the renegade bar. Hopefully the next time I manage to write something about Super Street Fighter IV (and especially about Juri, phwoar!) but I need more experience online with it to dig deeper.

14 April 2010

Stone-cold ashes

Big, big news at Xbox 360 front has been the announcement of Gears of War 3 and its teaser trailer. Gosh! The game originally aimed at the next generation of consoles must look liek teh awesomest thing evah!1tm

The trailer starts with vaguely Silent Hill-ish song playing over sombre images of people burned to ashes in their standstill. But the whole scene breaks apart when the first orc whatever hits the picture and growls at the camera. And then the gears with their hulking Wildstorm comic book physiques and faces step out of the shadows. And gosh my ass, it doesn't look any better than Gears of War 2. The game is scheduled for April 2011. Why does it look so old then? And probably plays the same. Theoretically plays okay but defines the terms seen it all, played it all, bored of it all...

 The scene killing orc makes an entrance.

25 March 2010

Splinter Cell: 24

I remember reading a while ago a preview of Splinter Cell: Conviction, the latest in the long running line of stealth action games from Ubisoft. The lead game designer (or was it producer?) gloated how Jack Bauer in TV-series 24 makes perfect headshots one after another. He wanted something similar to his game so that you, the player, don't need to re-target all the time. Guess what? It  has happened exactly as he wanted. And that's not a good thing.

Okay. Sam Fisher is a really bad rogue agent now and everyone wants his head while he's on his personal vendetta. You still control this once cool character from behind his back. He hops and rolls from cover to cover, ever helpfully indicated by the on-screen arrows. You really don't need to think about too much of your surroundings as everything's been more or less highlighted for you, like where it's safe to take cover, where the enemies are etc. While peeking from behind the cover, you see a set piece of three baddies. Lo and behold, one is close to you with his back exposed. Sneak towards him and finish him with a melee takedown. This grants you the possibility for the game designer's brainchild, the Jack Bauer headshot spree. You mark the remaining two enemies, hit 'y' and Fisher executes them with perfect headshots. Without you, the player, needing to do any aiming. Just like Jack Bauer, you see.

What if you don't get a melee kill and thus can't automatically execute? Fear not, non-stealth action is easy as a pie as the game has no challenge to present at all. Heck, it even throws in a ghost image of Sam Fisher to show where the enemies last spotted you so you can easily be perfectly safe all the time and pop out to snipe down the baddies. I tip-toed, executed and shot my way through the demo with no difficulties at all.

Splinter Cell: Conviction is not my kind of game. Splinter Cell series has not been that for a long time. The first game was a great stealth action thriller but by each passing sequel it has gotten worse and worse and more towards action. This time you can't even talk about action as everything's so easy. I have been talking about how lacklustre PS3 exclusive games have been but now Xbox 360 gets its very own underwhelming exclusive. I can't help but feel like Don Quijote fighting against windmills as Splinter Cell: Conviction will probably score big on media and sells bucketloads but despite of danger of repeating myself, at least I get a warm and fuzzy feeling about the fact the game won't find its way to my shelf.

Super violent self-help just like in 24, the game's big role model.

10 March 2010

Once more with a feeling!

Re-played the last mission of ME2, just couldn't let that one guy bite the dust. Now he didn't because I replaced him. Tali ftw! "No One Left Behind" now clocked. What a game! No game on current generation comes even close, no matter the stakes or hype.

 Doesn't she look like young Max from 'Dark Angel'?
End of the world and someone else coming up...
Fancy visor, forgot to pick it up from Omega market earlier.
...and it hides some of my scars too!
Who wouldn't want to tell off the boss, eh?
"How are you, lover?"

5 March 2010

God of Lol

Poor PS3 still gathering dust...

Ooh, another PS3 exclusive super-mega-killer-app in sight, God of War III!!!1!!shift+1 Must download the demo right away! 2,7 gigabytes! It must be like so awesome, the biggest demo so far, bigger than the one for Uncharted 2. Can't wait!

(donwloading...)

(demo installing...)

(playing the demo)

(rolling eyes in disbelief)

What the hell is all the hype about? At its best, God of War III is a completely mediocre hack 'n slah and even that is stretching it. Audiovisually underwhelming and playing like a very poor copy of Heavenly Sword, the game is lacking drama in every turn and action. Not to mention the level of self-intentional violence that is completely off-putting and disgusting. Few games make me physically sick and this is one of them.

I didn't like God of War and God of War II on PS2. Technically they were impressive but the games were prisoners of their own genre, never breaking out of the mold to actually entertain. Also, I hate the main character Kratos, his laughably adolescent 'tough ass' attitude and ugly looks. Things haven't gotten any better on PS3 reincarnation. Quite the contrary. It doesn't look and feel like a PS3 game, it doesn't even look and feel like God of Wars on PS2. 'nuff said.

And the game has already scored big round 10's in every review I have read. Oh dear... I guess modern reviewers really don't have any perspective as to what is a good game and what is not. And God of War III certainly isn't a good game. Okay, okay, demo might be misleading but as demos go, they should push you to the shop. This didn't and that's all of God of War III I'll ever need.

"I don't like your head! I rip it off!" And indeed Kratos does. Disgusting.

26 February 2010

Mission accomplished!

Phew! Finally completed Mass Effect 2, the game clock counting at 54 hours 17 minutes. What can I say? I don't think I would go that far by saying it's the Best. Game. Ever. But it sure is the best game of the current generation of consoles. Heck, it's the best game of 21st century, topping my previous favourite Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, also by Bioware. The premise, the execution, the playability and most importantly, understanding what is a computer role-playing game. It's not about rolling dices behind the curtain, putting points into endless statistics or fiddling with gazillion things in an inventory but the choices you are allowed to make, making you really be the character.

The ending, the last mission and the conclusion of it, were quite a blast, both metaphorically and literally. I lost only one crew member in the process, which is pretty good considering the hellhole waiting for Shepard and her crew. I have read more losses are possible so I think I chose... wisely during the course of the event.

The game left questions unanswered, giving fodder for debate and discussion, which is only a good thing. The game that chews everything for you isn't rewarding.

Oh, and Jennifer Hale's performance as commander Shepard. Delivered sometimes wry, sometimes laconic, but always up to the situation, no matter how screwed up or desperate it is. I would hand her an academy award, no mistaking it. (I can't say a thing in favor or against male Shepard's voice because my girl Shepard is the only Shepard for me.)

 A friend or foe? Or both?
About time, indeed. Upstuck military persons...
I wonder what happened to my skin and eye condition from the previous entry? They were just gone after a visit to the Reaper vessel. Hmm...

25 February 2010

Embrace the Dark Side

Our Shepard's journey to the dark side has taken a toll on her looks... Still she refuses to install a medical bay module to repair her face.
 You heard the lady.
Feeling is mutual!
Serene Thane doesn't seem to mind Shepard's eyes...
Indeed, the lightning and shadows it lays is exceptional.
 I love you too, honey.

Getting closer to the end of the journey in Mass Effect 2. What a ride it has been so far! I hope it ends with a bang and not with a whimper.

21 February 2010

Mass Effect 2 again

I'm absolutely not biased to Mass Effect 2. I give it only the recognition it deserves since The Game of the Year is already here. It would need one hell of a game to steal that honor from ME2 and quite frankly I don't see it happening. Improved over its predecessor in all aspects and then some, the game just keeps getting better and better the further Shepard dwells into the dire situation needing to be resolved. None of the facets the game excels in are underlined or emphasized, like 'see how great graphics we have' or 'see how good playability we have' or 'see how the role-playing is woven into the context'. Bioware hasn't had to point finger at anything in particular as everything just works seamlessly together for a greater goal. Stylish, smooth and sexy, Mass Effect 2 is pure gaming excellence.
 Lightning is great. Not that Lightning. Who cares about FFXIII anymore anyway.
You know, I'm Xbox exclusive (PC doesn't count).
Friend, would you believe it by my eyes?
They offered plastic surgery to get rid of these scars but I declined. They give that extra edge!
Oh, Jacob...

Mass Effect 2 crew cuts

Somewhere it was said Mass Effect 2 is Dirty Dozen in space. And quite a motley crew Shepard gathers around her/him during the adventure. Here are a couple of faces of the merry crew. Still depending on a cheap digital camera, missed so many good close-ups...
 Jack out of the box
Miranda being surprisingly emotional but are they just crocodile tears...?

14 February 2010

Heavy Rain, a game it's not

Jolly folks at Sony had released a demo for much-hyped and anticipated Heavy Rain, the 'PS3 killer app'. A chance for us players to see what it's all about!

What the fuck it's supposed to be! It's not a game! From now on, I refer to Heavy Rain as 'a thing' because I refuse to call it a game. You don't control the character(s) as you'd normally do, left stick to walk, face buttons doing their things, you get the drift. Not here, no sire. You walk by pressing R2 and nudging the left stick to turn the nose but more importantly, press buttons and wiggle the right stick when the screen tells you to. In a nutshell Heavy Rain is a picture book which advances when you have pressed and wiggled the right commands as prompted. Do notice I didn't say an interactive picture book because leafing through a traditional picture book is more interactive than this thing. Heavy Rain is a result when game developers try to re-invent the wheel.

It's really hard to put all this into civilized words because I would like to use a heavy dose of obscenity when describing this thing which is as far removed from a game as... I don't even know what can be far enough from each other. The main factor is playability, or rather, the complete lack of it. Had it been a normal game with normal controls, it would have been perhaps an average detective story. As it stands, Heavy Rain would score 1 out of ten in my books, just because you need to give at least some score. This month's Pelaaja, a Finnish games magazine, gave this thing 9 points and chose it as their 'game of the month' over Mass Effect 2 which also scored 9 (in a completely indifferent and lackrustre review). I won't go about Heavy Rain's supposed 'adult content' as the demo doesn't give too much of a story away. But by the looks of things, I reckon it's self-intentionally over-the-top serious and broody. Oh wait, there's a hooker! That's 'adult' for you, folks.

How about graphics and sounds? The long development time can clearly be seen in mediocre character models and flat backgrounds. So many games have surpassed Heavy Rain's looks which was supposed to be its main selling point... about three years ago. However realistic the character faces try to be, they are lifeless and stiff, especially when portraying emotions. It won't help the voice acting is something out of a dawn of CD-ROM games in mid-90's. Absolutely no soul and and interest, just flat reading from a flat script.

All in all, the demo told me everything I needed to know about the ga... oops, sorry, thing. I won't be pouring my hard-earned cash on such a sorry excuse for an interactive entertainment. Heck, I wouldn't even pick it up for a fiver from a bargain bin. It's just not worth a penny. And all this time I know it will score big on magazines and other media for its 'revolutionary ideas' and 'adult themes' and probably sells gazillion copies. I'm happy knowing it won't rest on my games shelf. I want a game which is a game! You know, when I purchased PS3, I thought my Xbox 360 would be left cold. I was happy with PS3 games like fantastic Heavenly Sword and somber Metal Gear Solid 4. But this new batch of exclusive PS3 games have left me cold and now it's PS3 gathering dust when Mass Effect 2 is keeping Xbox warm.

 Woo, a serious scene with FBI agent whatshisname wearing his wacky gadgets. You probably need to nudge the right stick funnily and press multiple face buttons to escape the situation.
Our hero tries to climb up a slippery slope in the screen and this is how your hands on the controller look like when pressing so many buttons after each other which all need to be keep pressed...

9 February 2010

Shepard again

More of my Shepard just for fun. As I don't have systems wired up to record game footage, I have had to use only a simple digital camera. It's not very good for capturing just the right frame. There are so many gorgeous cutscenes in Mass Effect 2 I would have liked to store... Maybe I rig up my Xbox through an old VCR! Ha!

[edit] I actually rigged my Xbox through VCR/DVD hybrid recoder, putting Xbox as an external video source so in theory I could record game footage! Wohoo! Well, in practice... the recorded footage was all wobbly and jumpy. Must figure a way to correct it as it would be awesome to record Mass Effect 2 playing diary to DVD!

I may look cute but actually I'm shaping up to be a renegade...
Please, don't take pictures from my bad side!
Yes, these are the biggest, most stuck out ears available.
Ah... Omega, what a beautiful shithole!