24 December 2012

That was the year that was 2012

Innovation wanes off year by year and we are left with more and more of Call of Duties and other sequels of the same ilk, mass-marketed towards ignorant people who don't even want anything more than quick kill-fests. That makes easier to pick up the cream of the crop because there are not many great games to choose from.

Game of the year: Dragon's Dogma (PS3, Xbox 360)

Capcom's sleeper hit is the closest you can get to playing the classic Dungeons & Dragons pen & paper role-playing game as a modern video game. While it can't hold the candle to Bioware's storytelling and character interaction, it excels in gameplay mechanics. Rendered beautifully with Capcom's own engine, every exquisite detail is blended into one comprehensive package.
The sun sets up for Arisen and her party

There's no separate battle mode, the game IS a battle mode. When you run into a monster while strolling on the road, you don't get hurled into some limited area surrounded by invisible walls and playing with different rules. It all happens as is and when you dangle a cyclops you set to light with a fire arrow, slashing it away with daggers while your support pawns puncture it with arrows and spells, you know there's no return to Dragon Ages, no matter how seminal they were. Dragon's Dogma is the new yardstick to the fantasy role-playing games by a dragon-sized margin.

Game of the Year: Mass Effect (PS3)

What? Another game of the year? Yes, can't help it. It seems there can't be a game of the year without a Bioware title because after five years of its original release, the first Mass Effect is finally available for PS3 as a part of Mass Effect trilogy or as a digital download. In all this time the game hasn't aged at all. While some gameplay mechanics may feel stiff compared to the sequels, story presentation and character interaction (both the areas Dragon's Dogma lacks in, incidentally) are as good as ever.

 Lisbeth Shepard aboard Citadel, in the good old days!

For me Mass Effect games have alway been about Shepard. My very own Shepard. Like a friend put it, it's as if there are thousands of alternative realities with their own Shepards. I believe many gamers played their Mass Effects with default John Shepard though, shame on them. They missed the idea of the series, to create and play a character the way you like. My Shepard, like everyone's Shepard should be, is unique, there's no other like her, and with Mass Effect fresh on PS3, I can go through the whole trilogy with the same Shepard, something I couldn't do earlier because of my Xbox's demise. It's this personal input which makes Mass Effect trilogy so epic. Bioware's grand opus twinkles brighly in the thick stardust of science fiction, equal to the best movies and books of the genre.

Best beat'em up: Dead or Alive 5 (PS3, Xbox 360)

Recently I played DoA2 on PS2 and DoA: Ultimate and DoA3 on Xbox and was amazed how fast, frantic, dynamic and good-looking they still were. In comparison Dead or Alive 4 for Xbox 360 was a piece of crap. So let's just say I wasn't exactly looking forward to Dead or Alive 5... until I saw a picture of newly designed Lei Fang and despite of her cutey doll-looks there was uncanny realism to her features, especially those Chinese lower lids. I fell in love and the next time I visited Gamestop I switched my Tekken Tag Tournament 2 pre-order to DoA5 pre-order and not only that, to the collector's edition, something I wouldn't normally do.

I sold the game with my cute looks!

After the farce with Tobonobu Itagaki leaving Team Ninja or getting booted out of Team Ninja (depends on the source), many were concerned where it would take Dear or Alive series. I say it was the best thing that could happen to Team Ninja as they were free to concentrate on making DoA a fast, frantic, dynamic and good-looking beat'em-up again. This time the girls (yes yes, there are some guys too but DoA has always been about these steaming-hot fighting babes ;) look different to each other with their own features. Team Ninja doesn't also do "Project Souls" and axe the roster mindlessly, instead they add a couple of quality characters to the ranks. The new story mode is bit of a hit and miss affair but it's a good start towards greater things in the sequel(s).

Spunky Mila is the new gal to the roster

Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is also a great fighter, but it's not as good as a Tekken game as DoA5 is as a DoA game. If that made any sense.

Best adventure game: The Testament of Sherlock Holmes (PS3, Xbox 360)

Who would have believed these days there could actually be a great adventure game which isn't a re-make of some golden oldie? But here we have The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, a brilliant piece of original Sherlock Holmes fiction and the first in Frogwares's long-running series designed with consoles as a lead-platform. The game has everything you could hope from a Sherlock Holmes mystery; it's witty, dry - in a good sense - and clever.

The great detective himself and doctor Watson solve both traditional adventure gaming puzzles and Myst-like riddles. Both work well in the context. The story spins a real suspense and holds tight right to the end with no slacking in between. The character model of Sherlock Holmes has this uncanny expressionless expressiveness which complements the whole atmosphere of the game.

London in 1890's is rendered authentically for Holmes and Watson in search for clues

Those were the main categories, couldn't come up with any other genres with good enough games to be the best of the year. There could be those for sure but then again, we haven't played every game out there. And we couldn't leave Mass Effect 3 without awards so here we go:

Best voice actress (lead): Jennifer Hale as Commander Shepard in Mass Effect 3
Best supporting voice actor or actress: All squad members and important NPC characters in ME3
Best biceps: James Vega in ME3
The most complicated way to describe a straw: Drunk Tali in ME3
The most satisfying renegade interrupt in ME3: Finishing Kai Leng off
Biggest missed opportinity: Not to have Kasumi Goto as a squad member in ME3. She had a cameo though, but I want to play with Kasumi! (Oops, that didn't sound quite right I guess...)

Mass Effect 3 concluded the trilogy with a bang!

And some more awards:

Best comeback: DoA5 after abysmal crap that was DoA4
Sexiest half-dragon, half-blonde bombshell: Ayumi during the last level in Blades of Time (Xbox 360, PS3, PC)

 Murdered by critics, Blades of Time is actually pretty good action adventure!

Sexiest ass: my Arisen in Dragon's Dogma
Springing up a hill

Sexiest belly: My Arisen in Dragon's Dogma
Dragon's Dogma has great character models. And no, my Arisen doesn't normally wear just strings, here she's undressed for this shot

Best souped up re-release: Virtua Fighter 5 - Final Showdown (Xbox 360, PS3)

VF5 is a no-nonsense fighter but dress-up is actually better than in recent Tekkens!

11 December 2012

Alpha flight

Finally Bioware's Mass Effect is a trilogy on a PS3 too. The game that started one of the greatest trips in science fiction in any media is now available either in Mass Effect Trilogy on the shelves or as a standalone digital download in PSN store for a price of measly fifteen bucks. A bargain of a lifetime!

I'm enjoying it all, the epic story, beautiful views, great Blade Runneresque soundtrack and my new Shepard who I'm going to take through the whole trilogy. Mind you, I would have replayed the first game eons ago if it wasn't for a heap of junk that my once lively Xbox is reduced to. So far PS3 conversion, handled by the capable hands of Edge of Reality, is perfect. Dare I say, it even feels better than the original.

Lisbeth Shepard goes straight to the point.
Reapers... who knew what a threat they possessed?
"I have baby blue eyes no matter how renegade I will turn out!"

18 October 2012

Countdown to 100 - 99-100th: Winning Eleven 5 & 6 (JP)

Okay, I cut corner to get 100 PS2 games by acquiring Winning Eleven 5 & 6 from an online auction. Known as Pro Evolution Soccer 1 & 2 in the western world, both games were familiar to me. I enjoyed PES1 years ago and was actually disappointed with the sequel as it didn't play as good as the original. When I later got hands on Pro Evolution Soccer 5, the ultimate in the soccer simulations even to this day, I traded my previous Pro Evos. Now I have them back and completed the real-life challenge of owning 100 PS2 games! Hurrah! But it didn't stop there. The PS2 game count is at 102 at the moment...

Winning Eleven games are official J-League products in Japan.

23 September 2012

Countdown to 100 - 98th: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events

Based on a movie based on a book, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events is actually pretty fun and pretty well done for a license game. Aimed at the younger audiences, the adventures of Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire in count Olaf's gloomy mansion offer enough variety for more mature too. This 3D action adventure is based on puzzles. To overcome them you usually need Violet's ingeniousness to come up with a suitable gadget, gathering parts for it, and after building it using it with either Violet or her brother Klaus. The little Sunny has her moments too as she squeezes through tight spots for some 2D-platforming. Oh, the movie is memorable for presenting Emily Browning to the world who since has matured into a fine young woman and in this game her likeness is accurate enough. I picked up the game from a second-hand bookstore. The game counts as 98th PS2 game in the collection, leaving only two games to complete the achievement. Next, those last two...

 Ew, sewers... Luckily Violet lends helping... legs.
-Why you're looking at me like that?
- I'm... just kinda imagining how you'd mature up... you know?

21 September 2012

Countdown to 100 - 97th: Frank Herbert's Dune

I knew this game would be crap (I remember playing a demo on a magazine cover disc years ago) but there are three reasons why I picked this up from a second-hand book store: 1) it was very cheap so it 2) was an easy way to progress towards 100 PS2 games but still I wouldn't have gotten it if it wasn't 3) a Dune game. There are so much wrong in the game and nothing done right so better to sum it up it frankly; Frank Herbert's Dune the game is utter crap. It's hard to believe this 3rd person action adventure with stealth elements was released just a little prior to a game like Metal Gear Solid 2. It's sad to see once great French developer Cryo succumbed to this kind of poo. Indeed, soon after the release of Frank Herbert's Dune Cryo was closed down. Cryo was responsible for many great games, among them their first take on Dune in 1992 for PC and Amiga. I like to think this game holds at least some novelty value as I believe it's pretty hard to find it anymore. So, lucky me, eh?

Escape from the sand worm is the highlight of the game. Yes, it's sad as it's among the first sequences of the game!

18 September 2012

Countdown to 100 - 96th: Max Payne 2

A while ago I had a chance to play Max Payne 3. I loved both previous Max Paynes on PC in early 2000's. I wasn't expecting much of Max Payne 3 though because it wasn't made by Remedy anymore but by the publisher Rockstar themselves. Even my low expectations weren't met. The game was horrible in every possible count. It was aged, dull, ugly, cliched, horrible to play and lacked any atmosphere whatsoever. And it's exactly the unique atmosphere that lifted the first two Max Payne games head and shoulders above in its genre. After a week or so enduring this so-called Max's misadventure in Brazil, I had enough of it and returned it to the library.

A few days later I happened to find a used copy of Max Payne 2 for PS2 from a games store. I have a PC version but as I like to play with consoles more, I picked it up. Sure, PS2 version may have low resolution, drab textures and sometimes choppy framerate but it's still Max Payne 2, every bit as good as it was when it was released in 2003. And now that I had a fresh Max Payne 2 experience, Max Payne 3 felt even worse in comparison. It shouldn't even be called Max Payne. It should be called something like your-typical-Rockstar-hooray-for-violence-in-seen-it-all-played-it-before-Rockstar-world-of-empty-meanings-and-characterizations.

Max has seen better days... and those were the best days when the game counts!

Next the 97th game towards total 100 PS2 games in a collection... Remember, this isn't any "best games" list but merely a tale of what last ten games made that 100 complete!

4 September 2012

Countdown to 100 - 95th: Way of the Samurai 2

With the recent release of Way of the Samurai 4, the simulated life of a ronin continues again. The series originated back on PS2. I have never played the first game but I picked up the second in the series from an online auction for a fiver after reading some positive things about it. Sure enough, the game is a compelling one, taking you to a little town in medieval Japan where you are presented with moral questions in a form of different encounters. To draw your sword is often the last desired option but when it comes to it, Way of the Samurai 2 becomes a plausible fighting game as well. There are multiple ways to play the game through depending on how your acted upon encounters you met. Sounds good, doesn't it? No, it doesn't sound good as English voice acting is plain and simply terrible and there's no option to use the original Japanese voices. Spoken streeeeeetched in a   t o n e l e s s   language teaching manner for simpletons, the voice acting destroys almost all of the atmosphere the game has to offer.

You know, that sword tickles my nose...
I didn't want to do this... Yes, I did! Who am I kidding, eh?

24 August 2012

Countdown to 100 - 94th: Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

After a stylish and exciting Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Ubisoft changed the pace and tone for the sequel because Sands of Time didn't sell enough in their books even though it scored stellar reviews. Sure, there are acrobatics in Warrior Within but as the title suggests, the emphasis is more on the fighting action. It does play well enough in that respect but much of the magic of Prince of Persia is gone nonetheless. Believe or not, PS2 version looks better than the recent-ish HD version released for PS3 and Xbox 360. It's because what they call HD is actually a joke; Ubisoft chose the cheapest way and ported the PC version with higher resolution, that's "HD" for you. It really looks crap with awkward polygon models and sparse textures. PS2 version has console specific enchancements making it - even if in lower resolution - more smooth, round and vivid. This one from an online auction for a fiver.

It doesn't hurt the game the villain is quite a babe...
...but it does hurt the prince!

11 July 2012

"It's the end of the world as we know it"

...and I feel fine, fine.

Now I too have finally brought commander Shepard's mission which started way back in 2007 in the first Mass Effect to a conclusion. It took few months before Mass Effect 3 hit the bargain bins. I was afraid to buy it full-price because of all the nerd rage the game received upon its release. Silly me, you shouldn't believe everything you read, especially in message boards...

I would be lying if I said I enjoyed every moment in ME3. To me, Mass Effect 2 is a perfect video game, arguably the best in the trilogy. I won't go into detail as to why as you can easily read all about it by clicking the tag "Mass Effect 2". In pure comparison though, why is the new, supposedly more advanced graphics engine actually worse? Where is the beautiful dynamic lightning which lit up the scenes so effectively in ME2? Now lighting is flat, making most of the scenes visually undramatic. Cut scenes aren't of a movie quality anymore in terms of direction, "camera work" and editing either. Sometimes they are too video-gamey for their own good, meaning stiff compositions and awkward movement. And the PS3 version I played is horribly choppy and glitchy in places, just like some bad PC game. And the sloppy analogue sticks of a PS3 controller doesn't help in some of the shittiest fights!

Those were the main technical issues. And then the missions. In ME2 they were intriguing and diverse, offering a wide variety of approaches and situations. In ME3 most of the missions play out like glorified shooting galleries, even the most important ones. The worst of the bunch were N7 missions played in drab multiplayer maps. Characterization was better in ME1 and ME2, new faces introduced here aren't as deeply written or that ambiguous either. Yes, they are interesting but something is missing, especially when part of the conversations aren't presented as a cut scene dialogue but as flat lines in the environment. And why didn't they keep any of the ME2 cast as squad members here? Sure, they all have bigger or smaller cameos or even important triggers here but I would have preferred some of them having a squad member status. For me it wasn't the same in the field without Kasumi and Jack. I'm happy though that Kasumi, despite of her DLC status, makes a fun cameo. But we have Garrus, you can't find more loyal friend and brother in arms than him.

 Though not playable, Mordin has one of the bigger roles of ME2 cast here.

Oh, along the line there was one encounter which marked the first time in Mass Effect series that I have laughed at it. Not that kind of laugh "oh, how funny scene" (there are those, some of the lines between characters you can't help but laugh heartily at) but more like how unintentionally laughable it was. But a good asset to the war effort nevertheless!

The start of the game is really dire. It almost makes you not wanting to continue. But it's Mass Effect so you have to play it and it does pick up the proverbial pace the farther you advance. The scenery gets more beautiful and grand, and the events start to make even the player nervous, not forgetting poor Shepard herself (I have always played fem-Shep and always will) who has unbelievable odds against her and an immeasurable burden on her shoulders. The romance aspect is tender and touching (at least with the person I chose), played out in various scenes thus having more importance here than ever before. Previously you practically just got laid and that was it and you were free to end the relationship and start hitting someone else. In ME3 the romance is to last.

 Even Shepard needs some comforting words.

And then the beginning of the end starts. Most of the mission Priority: Earth is a drag; endless battles repeating themselves one after another. It almost wears you out, but in a sense that literally puts you under Shepard's skin. Doesn't it never end? But when you start making the final stretch for that infamous beam of light, it all plays out perfectly from there on. A stellar way to end nigh perfect series.

The huge flak Bioware received from the endings themselves was plain unnecessary. It really blew out of proportions. The way I see it Bioware's solution was gravely misunderstood by the gaming public. From what I have read the main reason why players rebelled so loudly was that they claimed the choices you make during ME3 don't play a role in the endings. Wrong! So very wrong! In fact, everything you do either increases or decreases Effective Military Strength. The more EMS you have scored, the more satisfactory the ending of your preference will turn out. I'm not going to argue about different endings as to which of them is the best or which the worst because there are none such things. It's all up to you. Each ending has their own justifications, their own rights and wrongs. Don't forget, we have a choice! A choice to choose an ending we want (more or less). That's the only way Bioware could do it and it's way better than some predetermined conclusion which arguably would lead part of the players unsatisfied. And I can't stress enough how big an impact the choices you made in ME2 have in ME3. For all newcomers to the series it's more than recommended to play the previous games first (well, if you have PS3, you can only start from ME2). There are so many variables between the games it's bewildering!

You wouldn't believe it by my red eyes and crackling skin but I'm a good gal here...

The most important factor in recent "Extended Cut" DLC is that it lowers some of EMS requirements for certain consequences which is good for those who don't want to play multiplayer to rack up the EMS score. Storywise it doesn't add anything so important you couldn't live without. Oh, the new refusal ending! It's so completely pointless I think anyone who chose it must curse it afterwards.

Mass Effect 3 concludes one of the greatest trips in science fiction in a bravado that will have you thinking and reeling long afterwards, even though all the details don't make sense no matter how you twist your brain around them. But hey, it's science fiction! And it doesn't come much better than the Mass Effect trilogy.

Nerd gamer: Hey dude, why didn't you mention anything about Kai Leng, you know, the kick-ass cyborg ninja villain who's like so cool, huh-huh?
Me: Because he's the biggest coward in the whole galaxy as we knew it and who I wouldn't have even mentioned hadn't you asked it. Even though I enjoyed the every second of finishing him off with a renegade interrupt!

26 June 2012

Review: Street Fighter x Tekken (PS3)

For years fighting game fans have savoured one particular "what if..." scenario. What if... Street Fighter characters met Tekken characters in the same game? After a lakeful of emitted saliva their dream have come true. Alas, a dream it should have remained. Street Fighter x Tekken has got everything so wrong it's hard to decide where to start from.

Well, let's start with Tekken characters. As this is Capcom's idea of a versus scenario, the game runs on the latest Street Fighter fighting engine so all Tekken characters have been capcomized and fitted to Street Fighter's six-button configuration. It goes without saying none of their signature combos or fighting mechanics remain. But to add to the insult, all these capcomized Tekken characters feel like bad Capcom characters; lousy, unresponsive, weak and crap. And no. I'm not a biased Namco-fanboy as I find both Street Fighters and Tekkens very good fighting games in their different ways. Of course, Capcom's own characters beat the living daylights out of Jin, Heihachi, Xiaoyu and the rest of the Tekken cast.

But as they say, that's not all, folks. Yes, even Capcom's own characters feels like cheap copies of their previous incarnations in the new Street Fighter IV series. They don't play like they used to. Somehow, all the magic is gone. You know, for example your very own signature combo you came up with yourself and used to pull out (mine for Juri was j.mk, c.mk xx HK pinwheel xx FA2)? I'm pretty sure it doesn't work anymore. One of the reasons for this is the new graphics engine. Gameplay suffers badly from skipped animation frames. And why do animation frames skip? Maybe because of the new plastic graphics. Why on earth they didn't stick with the SFIV graphics engine? Why do they have these horrible new graphics with smutty textures sewed hastily onto characters and who shine from head to toes like they were polished with turtle wax? It's like once attractive celeb who has had too many facelifts and botox-shots for her/his own good. And Tekken fans, steer away from this game. All your favourite characters look like they were drawn onto a puddle of vomit. Backgrounds are equally gaudy with terrible looped animated objects. Street Fighter x Tekken doesn't either feel or look right, not Capcomwise nor Namcowise.

Looks like a yesterday's meal. On a shirt. You can' see bad animation and horrible texture work from this still though. Lucky you!

And the rant goes on. Beat'em-up characters aren't usually known for their deep psychology and characterisation but so-called Arcade mode with a different story for each tag-team is an insult. Everyone is out of character in their crap dialogue scenes and have been turned into one-dimensional idiots. Your Juri isn't Juri, she's just annoying mindless psychopat. You can all argue Juri was nothing but a psychopat to begin with but she sure wasn't mindless but had her own wicked sense. Nor is Asuka your temperamental Asuka. She's just an apathetic brute playing a second fiddle to annoying Lily. Yes, Lily is even more annoying here than she was in Tekken 6. In short, whoever is your favourite character, he or she isn't the same here.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, shall we dig into the most important matter? Almost all characters have one move (or a short combo) with which to beat all the odds presented to them? It applies for both the offline and what's worse, for the online play too. For network matches all you need is to learn one powerful move with a good advantage and keep repeating it ad nauseam. No matter how good you might actually be with your character, that one repeated move will take you down. As it is, the game doesn't encourage you to fully learn your chosen characters because it's completely pointless. Just do the same as everyone else and you'll be fine. This is the game-breaking fault, everything else I have written before this has just been (ugly) window dressing.

To put it bluntly, Steet Fighter x Tekken is an insult to the fighting game genre. It's just a cheap cash-in in a hope of sucking cash from both Street Fighter and Tekkens fans' pockets. Don't get fooled. Get Virtua Figher 5: Final Showdown instead. You won't regret it.

4/10 (yes, really!)

And here... aw crap, come on!

8 June 2012

Countdown to 100 - 93rd: NBA 2K12

2K sports killed EA's NBA Live series with the release of NBA 2K12. At least for a year as EA pulled back their effort for it being inferior to 2K's title. Having not played the game on PS3 or Xbox 360, I can't say how this PS2 version compares to them. Obviously it doesn't look that good (it doesn't look that good on PS2 standards either) but it plays good. There's no slowdown, framerate is steady and fast and the controlling is fluid. And there are more options to tweak than you can shake a stick at! (Couldn't resist writing that, a very British proverb, "shaking a stick at something".) This one from a bargain bin of a supermarket as well. A nice buy, worth of playing a two-player game of baskets now and then.

The game features also classic teams, like Michael Jordan-era Bulls.

5 June 2012

Countdown to 100 - 92nd: SSX3

Now here's a rarity. Actually a fantastic EA in-house game from 2000's! SSX3 is a thrill; it looks good, plays great (better than Xbox and Gamecube versions because of PS2 controller's four shoulder buttons) and it has a fascination of speed (and heights!) lacking severely from the recent SSX on PS3 and Xbox 360. It's a great game in a every way that counts and still as great as upon its release, maybe even better because of lack of good snowboarding games in recent times. Oh, and Allegra is such a babe! Picked this up from a bargain bin of a supermarket and asking myself why didn't I buy it back in 2003.... (I had this for Xbox but didn't play much. I read about PS2 controls and cursed that damn Xbox controller!)

Let's hope she's a downloadable character for the recent SSX. It would be pity if the new generation of players didn't meet Allegra, the SSX lassie!

3 June 2012

Countdown to 100 - 91st: 7 Blades

Released early on PS2 time line by Konami, a 3rd-person action adventure 7 Blades has stood the test of time remarkably well. Based on a Japanese movie from early 90's, the game still looks good with a characteristic cast and plays well enough even though there's no free camera which nowadays is a must. There's a choice between two playable characters, a sword-wielding young man or a gun-toting girl who are on and off lovers in the game's story, told through numerous cut scenes which are often humorous (in that weird Japanese way). Voice overs are in Japanese only which adds its own quirky charm to the game and there are some truly psychedelic moments to witness. The game cost only a couple of bucks from a used-games shelf and was worth it.

The hero and the heroine
Teppo Yuri lets it rip

1 June 2012

Countdown to 100

I regard Playstation 2 as the best modern times game console. Not for its technical specs but for the sheer diversity of its enormous game library. No other console can ever reach that. Sometime ago we decided to earn a real-life achievement of acquiring 100 PS2 games. Yes, we would have easily broken the barrier already if we hadn't traded games in the past years before we decided to hang on to every title for the sake of collecting. When we made this "100 games for PS2" goal, we had one rule; we wouldn't grow that number artificially by getting just some crap for cheap, like EA sports titles which are easily up for grabs for a penny. No, each game should be considered something we could still play for real. But of course there are exceptions which brings us to the 90th PS2 title in our collection...

Mighty Mulan

When Disney made the Chinese legend of Mulan into an excellent animated feature in the late 90's (the last good cartoon movie Disney has released...) there were bound to be cheap copies dabbled together straight to video. Mighty Mulan is based on one of them. It's a game only superficially as it's just a collection of sliding puzzles, coloring books and other crap. More than that though, Mighty Mulan features a 50-minutes long animated "movie". It can't be watched as a separate DVD, only through the game menu and lacks every feature a movie on a disc should have, like a chapter select, subtitles or even pause! The movie is a laugh really, with no real effort put into it but this Mulan beats the villain with a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick and that alone is a plausible reason why Mighty Mulan belongs to our game library. And no one sings in it! Thanks to our friend for getting this from a farmer's market jumble sale knowing our 100 PS2 games hunt.

Isn't the cover art convincing? Yeah, thought that much too...

More entries on the subject of getting 100 PS2 games on following days...

26 February 2012

Sasha Shepard

Since I'm not getting ME3 at launch, just to show my proverbial finger to EA for their stupid DLC policy, I have plenty of time playing the demo and tinkering my Shepard-to-be. This one is called Sasha Shepard, modeled after, er, a model called Sasha. Figures, eh? I think she looks quite right. Shame the demo doesn't give so much photo opportunities in form of different angles or lightning. What you see here are digi snaps from dialogue pauses and few caps of a video shot with a mobile.

18 February 2012

Re-taking Demo Watch: Mass Effect 3

Okay okay, maybe I was a bit too harsh with my initial judgement of the game, or what impressions the demo gave about the game. Hear me out for a second while I try to explain it.

I had a perfect fem-Shep on my Xbox 360, a half-Asian tomboy with a shaved head (as you have seen in several entries about ME2). Of course, I had her character code written down. Well, my Xbox busted so I bought ME2 for PS3 because an investment in a new Xbox would have been a bit too much at the moment (and unfortunately still is). I created my Stam Shepard with the code for the PS3 version but she didn't look right. It's because PS3 has some limitations when it comes to Unreal engine. As a result, some lighting, shadows and polygons were cut out from the game. I had to create a new Shepard for PS3 from the scratch. It took several attempts. Failed attempts. I got sick of re-starting the game, enduring the horrible Genesis comic and playing to the point when I saw the character for good in-game environment instead of a sterile character creation lightning.

Finally I got her right. Rinko Shepard was born. I modeled her after one Japanese actress and named her after another. In some angles and lighting she looks uncannily like her model. When ME3 demo became available, I used a code for Rinko Shepard and adjusted only the hair and the eyebrow color (which was strangely turned from black to grey).  But oh dear oh dear. In-game she didn't look anything like Rinko Shepard in PS3 ME2. Still with me? Bear with for a second still. Everything about her was so wrong, so I guess - and now comes the important part - the game felt more wrong than it in reality perhaps is. Also, the new much-touted official default fem-Shep looks ugly with droopy nose, implant lips and washed-out eyes.

Profile in the character creation. Not too bad...
Today I made a new fem-Shep for a PS3 demo. This time I didn't fashion her after anyone, just after some idea in my head. She looked quite nice in the character creation screen and oh yes, in-game too! Woohoo! ME3 rocks after all! With the right face! You see, it's all about the character and that's where the beauty of ME series is. I know there are a bunch of people who make their characters look like jokes in games or just goes with the default choices but me, I always spend a good amount of time tinkering my characters' appearances. Depending on the complexity of character creator, it tooks about 1+ hour.

...and in-game. Not too bad at all!

Also, I now can see there are some crude cuts where I guess should me more conversations and dialogue options, making the story telling part of the demo abrupt. Still I don't like how Anderson's VA keeps shouting all his lines and pushes Shepard around like she were some wet behind the ears rookie!

Waiting for ME3... still with some reservations but not with anything so severe I wrote earlier. And yes, I still have that Sixth Sense, er, sense about it... I hope it's a false alert!

[edit] Still not supporting EA's cash-in DLC policy so I will be voting with my wallet and opt not to buy ME3 on the launch day. I can wait a bit longer...

A couple of caps from a video I shot with my mobile. Looks so young and innocent, even though she's a veteran of... very severe happenings.

16 February 2012

Demo watch: Mass Disappointment 1

Those who have read this blog may think I'm biased to Bioware. No I'm not. Because if I were, I would have loved Mass Effect 3 demo without reservations and failed to see its enormous flaws. Or maybe because I'm Bioware fan those flaws were even worse to me. As a result, I had a nightmare where out of shape Schwarzenegger played Shepard in a clumsy action flick and it ended when wounded Shepard in his fevered dreams became a new Illusive Man...

Hello, I'm quite snappy looking new official female Shepard in promo art but wait when you see me in the game...

It doesn't look like Mass Effect

If ME3 were a movie, it gives a feel they changed the director of photography and shot to digi instead of film. There's no depth to the graphics, everything's flat, plastic and too crisp, lit in an unimaginative bulk lightning. The game looks like any Hollywood summer blockbuster and that isn't a compliment. Character models were a whole lot better in ME2. Shepard moves without weight to her actions and the only expression they granted her (or him if you go for male Shep) is awkwardly wrinkly angriness. Framerate at least in PS3 version is horrible.

It doesn't feel like Mass Effect

You can choose the overall experience of the game between action, RPG and story. Action concentrates on shooting enemies and the conversations play as cut scenes with no input. RPG is what should be your typical ME experience while choosing the story cuts down action. Of course I chose RPG. Oh dear... The fact there even is a choice for action only tells a lot. This "RPG experience" advances as a shooting gallery. Shepard's combat roll from cover to cover is straight out of Army of Two. Heck, the whole game plays like Army of Two or some other run-of-the-mill EA shooter. Oh, there are gaps to jump over and ladders to climb! And because there are them, there are lots of them. What a great addition to interaction! All the enemies are copies of those seen in any mediocre sci-fi shooter to the point of being childish.

It doesn't read like Mass Effect

And this is the most important factor where ME3 fails. There's no intelligent depth to dialogue or conversation choices anymore, like dubious moralities you have to live with. Everything's simplified and clichéd, as if the script was pummeled with a dummy bat. Again, just like from any Hollywood summer blockbuster. All characters just annoy. They brought back at least three characters from ME1 I could have done without. I didn't like Wrex much in the first place and he's even worse here while Kaiden is wooden as ever (or, depending on your choices, Ashley, who's just as obnoxious as ever and this time looks like a man in drag). Anderson's VA shouts all his lines without emotion or character's seen it all weariness. Oh dear. And Shepard... She isn't Shepard we knew and loved. She's just angry suckah who everyone keeps pushing and commanding around. Do this, go there, shoot that, come here, follow me, take cover... No no no!

... Yes, I'm butt-ugly in-game! Better to go with your own design.

Ah, and why do I get this Sixth Sense feeling? In very early to the demo Shepard flies through a room after an explosion and the world slows down as the camera pans over her knocked out figure. And then Anderson orders her up. And soon she sees an annoying frightened kid who disappers when she had her attention elsewhere for a second. And later she sees the child again. "I see dead pople". Because I'm afraid the whole game happens when Shepard is dead. It's some afterlife dream or whatever. Oh great. Plot twist of the century... Or, the boy is autistic and the whole Mass Effect trilogy happens in his head. Oh great99! I hope I'm so wrong on both counts.

ME3 gives an impression that some mediocre EA inhouse team tried to copy Mass Effect. There's no Bioware's trademark polish, sense of style, wit or suspense. The game suffers from the old trilogy syndrome. The first is good, the second part removes all the bad parts, betters the good points and adds more of them while the third part is Return of the Jedi... So, yeah, we got Han Solo back but even he's a bambling idiot there. Same goes for ME3 and its Shepard.

Instead of what could have been the game of the year we have the disappointment of the year at hand here. Unless demo showed only the bad parts and the good parts are in the final version... But why whould have they chosen the bad parts to the demo as demos' point is to sell the game?

But hey, I probably will get the game anyway, just waiting for a discount. And if I'm wrong, and yes, I would really like to be wrong, I'll let you know.

30 January 2012

Living the next rabbit hole to Alice

Alice Liddell, a tormented young woman, punishing herself for the demise of her family, is under a psychiatrist's care. He in his infinite wisdom has encouraged Alice just to forget. "Forget is good." The Victorian London Alice lives in is a dank, dark, ugly place. And just so happens, following a stray cat, Alice escapes the smog and misery and descends into her fevered imagination, the wonderland. Instead of lush meadows and eternal sunshine though, this wonderland is a messed up, twisted place where rules of mundane life don't apply, with the infernal train corrupting the wonderland the further it steams away, waking up sickening creatures in its wake. It's up to Alice to stop the train, that is, to save herself from descending so deep into madness there can be no return. Someone would be very happy for that to happen...

This girl comes up to me, her dress red like a rose on a thorn bush, like all the colors of a royal flush... Alice gets to wear different garments for every domain in the game while in London between the levels she's gray little mousy.

Alice: Madness Returns takes place about a decade after American McGee's Alice, published for PC equally some decade ago. Mr. McGee and his Shanghai-based studio Spicy Horse, "built around artists", have taken some bold decisions, both in visuals and gameplay. Instead of some flashy, easy to digest genres which are such a riot today, the game takes place in a form of a 3D platformer with weapon-based action thrown in. And there comes the challenge, visually presented in such a bravado and dark beauty the art team must have themselves visited the wonderland they have created!

Oh, it's a straight flush! Soon a dead straight flush!

If you fumble and meet thy doom, it's always your own fault, not the controls or the game being unfair. Yes, it's hard at times, very, very hard, and the good ol' trial & error method is sometimes the rule of overcoming tougher parts. But never is Alice unfair. I understand some reviewers have mixed up challenge and unfair... Oh well, I blame it on how easy most of the modern games are. In this time and age where games practically play themselves through, a game which roots itself so much in the old school of 3D platformers comes as fresh as a nice cup of darjeeling tea served from a steaming teapot cannon.

Leaps over vast emptiness of, er, nothingness. Yes, everyday in the wonderland Alice Liddell has conjured up. 

The story which unfolds bit by bit and is written in a manner that is as funny as it's creepy and doesn't shy away from touchy subjects either, keeps you playing the vast and huge levels and overcome their deviously laid out platforms and traps. Alice, a laconic, very slightly mad girl, is voiced over perfectly, giving her pretty - in a vorpal blade wielding, psychotic kind of way - 3D image a soul.

Come closer, I promise, I won't hurt you... Oh, this knife? Well, it's for... chopping you into pieces!

I wish I had played Alice: Madness Return in the last year as I would have chosen the game as the runner-up for the game of the year as well as the best platformer, action game and best visuals. And of course the award for the best very slightly mad girl heroine. Yes. I liked the game so much. I can't recommend this to everyone though, it's almost a case of taking an artist to appreciate this art of a game. If you really want to see and feel something very different though, be free to descend into the mouth of madness of Alice: Madness Returns.