Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Like Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet is a game that only recently caught my attention. After a bit of research into it, I quickly became excited; the game really looked great. Apparently, I wasn't alone, as, despite Sony's marketing campaign, LittleBigPlanet took many people by surprise with its cute and fun charm, coupled with its polished gameplay and incredible replay value.

Three words: Play, Create, and Share. Those are the words that form the game's marketing slogan, and also the words that best sum up the game as a whole, and the game's developer, Media Molecule, has stressed the idea that no one of the three is more important the other two.

For the "Play" component, you and up to three other players, online or offline (or any combination of the two) control highly customizable (and undeniably cute) "Sack boys/girls" as you work together to complete a level. LittleBigPlanet is a 2.5D (3D graphics, 2D gameplay) platformer that plays similarly to the old Sonic and Mario games, with a lot of twists thrown in with the typical run and jump formula. In addition to jumping, your Sackperson can also grab and push things (and other Sack people). Throughout your travels, you'll come across all manner of contraptions, such as cars, air ships, and trains. The folks at Media Molecule have created a set number of stages that ship with the game, and are organized into a story campaign. The story isn't a masterpiece, but that's fine since, more importantly, it gets you well used to what the game is all about, and how best to play it.

You'll also come across numerous bubble objects that often contain items, like stickers, decorations, materials, or things to further customize your Sack person with. Though they are predominantly just cosmetic, you'll sometimes encounter blank cardboard shapes which, when given the right sticker, activate special areas or more prize bubbles. Bubbles further your score and, when found in quick succession, can quickly multiply. Online leaderboards inform you how well you did compared to other players at the end of each level.
You'll start the game in your pod, which is a small space ship overlooking three planets: LittleBigPlanet, where the story takes place, the InfoMoon, where you can access a wealth of information and view your friends and profile, and MyMoon, home to all of your custom levels. Other players, online or off, can join you at any time, whether you're in a level, in your pod, or creating a level. Your pod can also be decorated with stickers and decorations.

The "Create" aspect covers level building. At any time after you've completed the initial tutorial levels, you can use the materials you've acquired so far to craft your own level from the ground up. Using various tools, you can add music, living creatures that can be programmed to speak to you, elements like electric floors and elevators, just about anything you can dream up can be made with relative ease here. Unfortunately, the game does force you to go through a lot of tutorials before you can really get to work, but they are mostly brief, and they're all actual levels that you play through, not just videos you sit and watch. Fortunately, loading times between your level and a tutorial level are fairly brief, so being forced to go through them is forgivable. Friends can also join you while you build, with all of you working as a team to build the perfect level.

Most of the "Share" aspect is online. This encompasses publishing your level online for others to play, trying out other people's levels, and commenting on them. Though the system is organized a little a sloppily, its not a big thing to complain about, and doesn't take away much from the overall experience.

Like I mentioned before, your Sackperson is fully customizable. The game ships with dozens of clothing and facial options for your little guy on the disc, and even more are readily available from the Playstation Store, some for free, some for a couple bucks. Examples of downloadable costumes include Ryu from Street Fighter, Old Snake from Metal Gear Solid 4 (complete with the Solid Eye and The Boss's bandanna), Santa Claus, and a Chimera from Resistance 2. All of these come in pieces, not sets, so you can mix and match elements of different costumes, like using Ryu's hairstyle, bandanna, and red gloves with Santa's coat and trousers. Add a large mustache and goatee and you've got a Sack boy to call your own.

LittleBigPlanet is a great game. Even if you're not connected to the internet, the fairly long campaign stuffed full of hidden items, not to mention the full featured level builder, adds an unprecedented amount of replay value to the game. Add in 4 player cooperative multiplayer that is very humorous at times, and you've got a golden package. LittleBigPlanet isn't perfect, it has its stutters occasionally, but overall its a game full of fun adventures. A 9.5/10, in my opinion.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

PixelJunk Eden

So, I bought this game kind of on a whim, and because it was on sale. All I can say is, its a really unique game.

In PixelJunk Eden, you play as an organism that is bent on collecting Spectra to bring life to its own Eden. It goes about this task by visiting different worlds to fetch them. Its only tool is its ability to use a thread of silk to swing from soft surfaces. Once you start of PixelJunk, you'll notice that the game is quite simplistic. Once you get past the first menu, most things are accessed during gameplay. Your little guy can latch onto nearly every structure in the game, most of which he can also swing from with his thread of silk.

Your primary goal is simply to find the given amount of Spectra in a level. From this goal branches two sub-goals: Find pollen to sprout seeds, and collect crystals to extend the amount of time you can stay there. On the bottom left portion of the screen sits a bar, that gradually depletes as you play. Once the bar reaches zero, you fail the world and have to try again. To replenish the bar's energy, you have to collect crystals.

Spectra are generally very high up, or in places impossible to reach when you first enter a level. To "unlock" more of the level, you have to build your own path up by collecting pollen, which is dropped by Prowlers (floating enemies that come in a variety of shapes and sizes), and giving it to the dozens of seeds sitting around the level. Once a seed has collected enough pollen, you can touch it to sprout it, giving rapid birth to a new plant that you can climb up, allowing you to reach new heights, and consequently bringing you that much closer to grabbing the Spectra.

The graphics style of PixelJunk Eden is very colorful and interesting. Each world has a different palette and style, and though the game takes a while to grow on you, It will. Eventually I found myself looking forward to each new world to try, and couldn't help smiling whenever I found innovative new ways to reach each Spectra. With each one you collect, a new piece of scenery will sprout forth in your Eden, allowing you to reach new worlds.

Overall, the game is very simple, yet fun at its core, and just a good way to pass the time. I think it was worth $5, but I wouldn't have paid much more for it.

The game also has three player co-op multiplayer and trophies, but they are ridiculously difficult to obtain, with little payback. Grabbing every single spectra is one of the simpler tasks at hand. And since the game not only lacks a platinum trophy, but only has mostly bronze, with a couple silvers tossed in (no golds), I just don't see much reward in it beyond bragging rights. A 7.5/10.

Heavenly Sword

When the Ps3 was released, its launch lineup wasn't overly exciting. Like the PsP, only recently (within the past half year or so) has the system's game library really begun to climb in popularity, with the release of titles like Resistance 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Uncharted, and the wildly popular LittleBigPlanet.

Heavenly Sword also contributed to this rise. A lot of hype surrounded its beautiful graphics and interesting gameplay style.

Heavenly Sword tells the story of Nariko, a young woman who is born into a tribe that fears and shuns her, regarding her as a curse. This is because, according to a long held prophecy, Nariko's mother was to give birth to a male, who would wield the clan's heirloom, the Heavenly Sword, and lead them to greatness. When Nariko, instead a female, was born, everyone thought the clan had been cursed. Since then, Nariko has grown up with only Kai, her friend and adoptive sister to call a companion. Her mother died giving birth and her father is formal with her, being her tutor first and her father second.

Her clan is made up of skillful warriors, and though they enjoyed a long time of peace, this was shattered by the appearance of King Bohan and his army, who have been constantly tracking Nariko and her tribe in order to take the Heavenly Sword, an incredible weapon that is said to have descended from heaven. However, wielding the sword leads to inevitable death, as the sword feeds on the life force of its user. However, when the rest of her tribe is captured, Nariko is forced to wield it anyway, sacrificing her life to fight for her people.

Starting a new game, you are immediately given control of Nariko as she fights hundreds of thousands of troops in the last few minutes of her life. Enemies will come at you in huge swarms, but she'll fight on, eventually prompting a cutscene that shows her finally collapsing in battle, the sword having taken all of her life force.
The game then shows her waking up in an after life of sorts. She begs the sword to give her just a little more time, prompting it to raise a huge monolith from the ground behind her. The game proceeds in this way, with each monolith representing a chapter in the last few days of her life before she died.

Heavenly Sword is primarily a hack n slash game, similar to the likes of God of War and Ninja Gaiden. Though I haven't played much of either series, I like the game's control scheme. The Heavenly Sword has three forms, or "stances". Speed stance is the default, where Nariko wields two short blades and specializes in quick blows and counters in quick succession. Holding R1 switches to the Power stance, where the sword combines into one big sword. This form is really powerful, but of course is slower. You can dispatch most enemies (if you catch them off guard) in just a couple hits in Power stance. Holding L1 switches to Range stance, where the sword becomes a chain blade similar to what Kratos from God of War wields. The Ranged stance does very little damage, and is basically only useful for crowd control (that is, if enemies get a little too close for comfort), but it also inexplicable creates whirlwinds around Nariko when used, and its always amusing to see an enemy try his best to block the onslaught of chain blades, only to get swept off his feet by a sudden gust of wind.

Combat is executed in some form or another with all four of the symbol buttons. The square and triangle buttons are the primary attack buttons. Tapping triangle at the right time will execute a counter that will immediately kill the enemy. Some of these are pretty brutal. Examples include Nariko acrobatically grabbing an enemy and flicking him away, or knocking him down before placing her feet on each side of his neck, then twisting her legs, snapping it. The circle button is used to activate Super styles, which are impressive special attacks that defeat mostly everyone around Nariko in a wide radius. One such attack has Nariko grabbing a target and jumping into the air before flipping him over, standing in between his legs (ouch!), and slamming down to the ground, which sends out a tremendous shockwave that sends anyone close enough flying. Super styles are also used during some boss fights as interactive cut scenes of sorts. The X button is used to pick up and throw objects, such as fallen enemies and weapons. Holding X instead just tapping it lets you influence the object's path with the SIXAXIS motion sensing via a cool feature called Aftertouch.

As the controls would indicate, this game is really all about its combat. There's no jump button or crouch button or any typical action you'd find in a platformer or action adventure. However, the game is presented well, and combat holds up well for the most part. There will be times here and there where it will get repetitive, but there's enough variety thrown into the mix to keep it from becoming frustrating.

Speaking of variety, you won't actually play through the whole game as Nariko. You'll also spend a fair amount of time controlling Kai, who wields a huge crossbow. Though its a strange change of pace, Kai's segments are just as fun and amusing as Nariko. In stark contrast to Nariko's fierce, no nonsense personality, Kai is very playful and likes to play jokes on her enemies. There were a few parts where I couldn't help but chuckle (the poor guard being trapped in a building with fireworks going off inside comes to mind). Kai doesn't fair well in close quarters combat, so you'll have more fun picking enemies off from a distance. Or rather, you'll have lots of fun. Using the Aftertouch feature, picking enemies off with Kai's crossbow can be riot. Though it's generally a one hit kill wherever you hit them, enemies respond differently depending on where the arrow lands. A headshot will stop them in their tracks as they arc backwards suddenly with the force of the arrow slamming into their skull nearly tipping them over. They'll groan and stutter for some time before falling backward. I don't know why, maybe I'm overly sadistic, but I found experimenting with them to be hilarous. All the while, Kai will occasionally make comments on particularly painful looking hits, like "Ouch, that's gotta hurt".

The whole game is fun to playthrough, and though there are a few times where puzzles seemed out of place or overly frustrating, the overall feeling is that Heavenly Sword was a well polished game. My largest complaint is shared with most others who have played the game, which is that its incredibly short. I was able to play through about 85% of the story and get most of the unlockables along the way in an evening. Its hard to justify paying more than $50 for it.

However, the game is most certainly worth a rent. With its easy controls, good story, and awesome graphics, this is a great game for anyone who likes hack and slash games to have. An 8/10.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Actually, I can't even remember why I got this game, now that I sit down and think about it. I sure hadn't been paying it much attention, and had only heard a little about it due to it being released in the 160gb ps3 bundle.

But, I did, and I'm glad, because this is one great game.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune follows explorer Nathan Drake (who is supposedly descended from explorer Francis Drake) as he searches for clues left behind by his ancestor to El Dorado. He is accompanied by Victor Sullivan (aka Sully) and Elena Fisher, a reporter documenting his journey.

Drake is a smart talking guy with a sense of humor and a generally laid back personality. This becomes immediately apparent at the beginning of the game, when him and Elena's boat is ambushed by pirates. Drake, unfazed simply tosses a gun to Elena and starts shooting.

Elena is a bit more serious, but settles into the other two's stride quickly. She has surprising proficiency with firearms, and has quite a left hook, as Drake later finds out. Throughout the game, she carries a portable camera to film Drake as he delves deeper into the mystery of El Dorado. Though she is initially a very no nonsense person around him, she warms up to him as they spend more time together.

Sully is a middle aged man who has been friends with Drake for a long time, apparently. He's hoping whatever treasure they find will help get him out of the mountain of debt he's in. Like Drake, Sully has a sense of humor and is quite laid back, but knows when its time to be serious.

The game is an action adventure comparable to the Tomb Raider series. You'll play through the whole game as Drake, who, though very human, has a fair amount of physical prowess. As you go through the game, you'll jump, climb, and fight your way through tropical jungles dense with trees and moisture, caves and ruins with plenty of puzzles and ancient artifacts, and forests, heavy with fog and abandoned structures.

As you traverse these environments, you'll primarily spend your time 1)behind cover, as enemies will ambush you very, very often (fighting/shooting is a probably a larger part of the game than the adventuring) 2)climbing walls, navigating gaps, and hiking 3)gazing around for a way to proceed to either #1 or #2 as you observe the amazing graphics of the game and perhaps a glint of treasure 4)solving puzzles.

As briefly mentioned a few seconds ago, this game has really, really great graphics. Its easy to see that Naughty Dog is putting the Ps3's processing power to work. Forests and jungles seem alive, as light bounces off of leaves that bristle in the wind. The background music blends well with the environments, and everything just feels well done.

The effects also work well too. If something explodes too close to you, a sharp ringing will blot out other noises (including the BGM) and gradually fade, just as a sudden loud noise would cause ringing in your ears in real life. Following a recent trend going on shooting games as of late, Uncharted has a minimal HUD. There's no health bars, and your ammo indicator, though easy to read, only shows up when it's needed. That is, when you switch weapons, or start shooting. Instead of a health bar, as Nate takes damage, the screen will lose color. Its a subtle effect at first, but still quite noticeable. You'll know you're just about finished when the screen is devoid of color and you'll hear Nate's heartbeat (each beat is matched by a gentle pulse from your controller, if you're using a Dualshock 3, to make it more immersive). Avoid taking damage for a few seconds and the environment will regain its lush color and detail, and you'll be back in business. Many actions in the game are coupled with a steady commentary from Nate or his partners. For example, early on in the game, as him and Sully explore a jungle, you'll have full control over Nate as the two converse, give each other suggestions, and voice their observations. In another part of the game, as Nate climbs across the outer wall of a fortress, he'll often re-assure himself (or call himself insane for doing such a thing). Nate supplies a steady commentary of certain actions and events, such as frequently expressing annoyance at yet another pirate or mercenary ambush, or observing something the player might have missed (the game's way of giving hints).

The AI is also fairly well done. Enemies, occasionally stutter, and seem to prefer quantity over quality, but aren't incredibly stupid, and aren't going to continue simply trying to shoot you if you run up to them and hit them in the face. They don't really use tactics, but generally make good use of cover. The one complaint I have is that there's really no way to stealth kill enemies. This seems to be one of those games where once you pass some invisible line, all the enemies in the area automatically know that you're there, regardless of where you are, and whether, realistically speaking, they can actually see you. But this isn't a big deal, as the game doesn't really provide for much sneaky killing anyways.

Your allies are much more reliable, intelligence wise. Elena and Sully will make use of cover, and know when to duck and hide, when to flee (grenade!), and when to take a peek and maybe fire a potshot. Even if they weren't invincible, I feel like I wouldn't have to constantly worry about them over my shoulder.

As I said earlier, combat is a constantly recurring affair. You'll be ambushed by about 10 or so pirates, defeat them all, then take maybe 5 steps from the given area and be ambushed all over again. Though its fun and well executed, it does get repetitive, being constantly, constantly ambushed over and over again. When things do die down long enough for the game to give you some time to solve a puzzle or two or get back to just adventuring, though, I found it hard not to forgive the game all over again.

The control scheme is easily remembered, and well done. The D-pad lets you reload, switch weapons (Nate can only carry one pistol type weapon, one assualt rifle or two handed weapon, and a couple grenades), and use grenades. The circle button is an action button of sorts. While running you can do a combat roll, or stick to most walls and structures to use them as cover. While behind cover, you can press R1 (the fire button) to blind fire (same can be done when running around), or peak out with L1 to aim and fire more accurately. If you have a grenade ready, you can further refine its arc and distance beyond the analog controls with the SIXAXIS motion sensing. The X button makes Nate jump (and subsequently latch onto any ledges), and square is for hand to hand combat.

Getting up close and personal, as risky as it tends to be (what with a bunch of other guys with guns trained on you, running out from cover is foolhardy), is a fun and amusing thing to do (and rewarding, as there're a lot of Trophies revolving around hand to hand combat). Mashing square executes a quick combo, but Nate also has an array of "Brutal combos" in his arsenal that come with tapping a combination of square and triangle. Brutal Combos are pretty mean, and are indicated by one hit that occurs in slow motion.

Like Gears of War, cover is an essential thing through the first 3/4 of the game. I say 3/4 because very late in the story, the enemies change dramatically (I won't give much away, but I will say that cover becomes obsolete). Nate won't last very long out in the open (especially since they eventually start using snipers and grenade launchers, which can easily down you in two hits or less), so its important that, during fights, you spend most of your time behind some structure, showing yourself only long enough to squeeze out a shot or two. Your enemies will do the same (except for snipers, who will always be visible, and enemies toting grenade launchers, who will run around the area like idiots).

Overall, the game was a really fun playthrough, with an immersive story that blended well into the gameplay, likable and dependable characters, and some of the best graphics I've ever seen. Though its completely single player, and has no other modes, there's plenty of Trophies and unlockable rewards to keep you playing at least a few more times. A 9/10.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Resistance: Fall of Man

As one of the more anticipated games out of PS3's relatively small launch lineup, Resistance had a fair amount of hype to live up to.

And I think it did an good job of overcoming it. In Resistance: Fall of Man, history is rewritten. WWII never occurs, because man is too busy dealing with a new threat: The Chimera. Noone knows exactly how they came about, but the Chimera emerged in Russia, sweeping through the area and eventually arriving in Europe. Though the Europeans put up as much a fight as they could muster, the war was won by the fearsome species in a matter of months. The people's last hope was the Americans, to whom they had sent a request for assistance. Unfortunately, the convoy sent to meet with and brief the first wave of American troops was ambushed, and so the Americans were to arrive on the shores of Europe with no idea what they were up against.

Enter Nathan Hale, an American soldier, and the sole survivor of his squad, who was ambushed, captured, and infected with the Chimeran virus, which turns humans into Chimera. The narrator of the story comments that, strangely, he returns from the conversion center relatively unharmed, and showing few effects of infection. She does note, however, a strange glow in his eyes, characteristic of Chimera, and the natural quickness and healing abilities of their enemy. You'll play as Hale as you join fellow troops in the humanity's greatest fight for survival.

The Chimera are fearsome creatures, and the situation is bleak. Because Chimera are essentially humans infected with the Chimera virus and converted, they have the advantage in numbers. To quote Insomniac, the makers of the game (Same people who made Ratchet and Clank, btw) "Our casualties increase their numbers." They're technology is uncannily advanced, and they strike brutally and efficiently. If they can't defeat the humans head on, they retreat and order a Spire air strike. Spires are huge, thin capsules that, after crashing into the targeted area, release thousands of Swarmers (little Chimeran bugs that swarm the enemy and, after overcoming them, crawl into their mouths and infect them). Dozens of carriers then float into the area and carry the bodies to conversion centers, where they are converted into Chimeran soldiers.

Of course, this is Insomniac we're dealing with, so its easy to believe that the weapons in the game are creative and interesting. Weapons are split into two categories; that is, human and Chimeran. As your allies fall, you can pick up their weapons and ammo (or you might come across some on your travels). The same goes for Chimeran foes.

On the Chimeran side, weapons include the BullsEye, Auger, and Hedgehog. The BullsEye is the basic assault rifle of the Chimeran army. It has a high rate of fire, and so is naturally not the most accurate of weapons. The alt fire helps remedy this. By pressing L1 you can fire a tag that all your shots will home in on. This means that you can fire the tag at normally hard to hit enemies, for example, then just shoot without worrying about aiming, and your shots will find their way to the tag. This also means that if your under heavy fire, you have the option of peeking out to fire a tag at an enemy, then sitting comfortably behind a structure while firing sideways. Your shots will bank around the structure and home in on the tag. The Auger is a rather notorious weapon, because it is ridiculously frustrating when used against you. Augur shots burrow through EVERYTHING. There is no such thing as "cover" when you're dealing with a squad of Augur carrying menaces. Not only that, but Auger rounds become more powerful which each obstruction they have to burrow through. As such, the only effective strategy is a full on assault. Fortunately, though the Auger has a decent rate of fire and its quite accurate, there is an intentional delay when it's burrowing through in object, and you'll know when an Auger round is about to emerge by way of a very noticable yellow portal. The Auger's alt-fire pops up a shield that blocks every type of attack in the game except for other Auger shots, which just burrow through it, as usual. This means you are vulnerable to Auger fire, but also means you can fire up a shield, then fire shots from behind it. The Hedgehog is one of the most fearsome grenades in the game. If you set off a Hedgehog trap and can't find cover, you'll be brutally injured. Basically, the Hedgehog is a little spiny ball, that, once thrown, expands itself to reveal lots and lots of spikes, which are then launched in all directions, fatally impaling any who are unfortunate enough to be to close to it without cover.

On the other side is human weaponry. Really, the humans do have some really cool weapons. These include the FarEye, Carbine, Air-Fuel Grenade, and LAARK. The Carbine is the human counterpart of the BullsEye in that its the basic assault rifle of the humans. Though it has a slightly lower rate of fire than the BullsEye, its far more accurate than the Chimeran weapon. By pressing L1, you can use its alt-fire grenade launcher, which is useful if you dont have any grenades or LAARK rounds handy. The FarEye is a no-frills sniper-rifle. By pressing L1, however, you'll activate concentration, which slows down time (or appears to slow it down), allowing you to make those crucial headshots. Air-Fuel Grenades cause serious devastation to Chimera, who fear heat. Basically, an Air-Fuel Grenade is a little tablet that, after landing, ignites in a huge pillar of flame that turns any nearby targets into crispy critters. Its the equivalent of a molotov cocktail or white phosphorus grenade, basically, but makes a bigger explosion. The LAARK is a miracle of technology, I'd say. Its a man-portable rocket launcher that fires user-guided missiles. No this doesn't mean you'll fly the rocket yourself via an onboard computer and camera. You fire it, and the rocket makes a beeline for whatever you happen to be aiming at. The rocket's true potential comes out when you hold down L1 though, which activates the rocket's air-brake, suspending it in midair. Once its been fired, you can also repeatedly press R1 again to have the rocket release its own submunitions. That is, tiny little rockets that home in on the nearest enemies. While the rockets air brake is activated, you can re-orientate it, or, by masterful use of the brake, guide it whereve you want to, and have a remote turret help you out. Once it runs out of submunitions, aim at the most troublesome enemy and let off of L1, and the rocket will zip straight at him. Also of notable mention is Hailstorm, my favorite weapon in the game. The Hailstorm is named so because of its ridiculously high rate of fire. Even though it can pump out hundreds of rounds per second, the Hailstorm is also incredibly accurate. Just using this thing as an assault rifle alone, its easy to forget the alt-fire, which lets you gather the rest of your clip and fire it out as a ball reminiscent of a Hedgehog mine. It'll float in midair and automatically fire at whatever enemies it detects, until the clip is exhausted. All of the Hailstorm's shots also bounce off of walls, so it's absolutely devastating in enclosed areas.

Chimeran soldiers, weapons, and vehicles come in large varieties. Hybrids, the bread and butter of the military, are Chimerans who are the closest to humans (besides Menials, perhaps). They have vaguely humanoid forms, and are basically footsoldiers. They mainly carry BullsEyes, but some larger varieties come packing Augers.

Menials are the laborers. They're unarmed, and don't generally appear on the battlefield. They're no threat by themselves though, so they typically attack in swarms. When this happens, for god sakes, don't let your guard down. Menials are slow and stupid, but they are quite silent, since they dont use any guns to generate noise. You really have to listen for the charactistic growl of a Menial, and their slow footsteps. Their only form of attack is to lunge at you, latching on and continuously gnawing on you. This is devastating to your health, not to mention very startling, so its a good idea to not fight these guys in open areas, where they can sneak up on you.

Stalkers are a common vehicle the Chimera will employ against you and your allies. Despite their fairly large size (they an insta-kill you by stepping you), they're surprisingly agile. Stalkers come equipped with potent anti-air machine guns and rockets, and so are a lethal threat to aircraft. They're nothing matched up against human tanks though, and can even be taken out by footsoldiers who utilize the weak spot on their behind.

Titans are huge bullies that like play with your buddies as if their dolls, grabbing them and tossing them around. Titans aren't much brighter than Menials, but theyre far more dangerous. They can absorb quite a bit of ammo without flinching (or even noticing, apparently), and their big guns fire large fireballs that home in on you. You'll want to avoid getting hit by a Titan, as they really know how to make you hurt.

Gray Jacks are kind of like Menials in concept, except they are larger, faster, and much more aggressive. Apparently, their life's goal is simply to pummel you to death, as that's the only thing they'll be concentrating on once they see you.

Widowmakers and Slipskulls rank as the two most annoying enemies on my list. Widowmakers are big spider-like things with nothing for a body but an ugly head and legs sprouting from it. They're pretty big (you can look them in the eyes from the second floor of a building), and, like Stalkers, can insta-kill you if they step on you with their thin legs. They're heads are apparently full to bursting with Sapper mines, because all they do is spit out acid and Sapper mines. When you finally manage to take it down, it shudders a bit, then dozens and dozens of Sapper mines spill from its head. Its a disgusting sight. Slipskulls are the Chimeran equivalent of ninjas, to put it simply. They look like little midgets, and use their small size and agility to make themselves hard to hit as they stick to and leap from wall to wall. They'll stop moving only to get a bead on you, after which they'll fire off a salvo of shots. These guys are really, really hard to hit, so its best to either use explosives for splash damage, or the BullsEye tag.

Though the game doesnt have Trophies, and Insomniac doesnt have plans to include them, it has its own little system by way of skill points. Similar to the Ratchet and Clank series, as a matter of fact. By saving of skill points, you can unlock a bunch of goodies.
Insomniac also catered well to multiplayer. Though I'm not sure if the game has offline versus multiplayer, you can play through the entire campaign in two player co-op. In addition to this, the online multiplayer allows up to 40 players to duke it out on the same map in a variety of modes.

Overall, the game is very fun. The graphics are also above average, with rather good smoothing effects. The story is fairly interesting, and the game is presented well. If there's one thing I can say about Resistance, its that you've really got to keep on your toes to stay alive. Foolishly rush forward and you'll find yourself surrounded by enemies. There's just enough ammo where you'll never feel like you're constantly running low, but you know that you still need to make your shots count. Cover is a very important aspect, but the slow pace of such a strategy is balanced out by enemies toting Augers, forcing you to switch to full frontal assault. The game has an abundance of checkpoints, so its not too common to die and feel frustrated at getting sent too far back. My only complaint is mainly in just how many enemies there. I mean sheesh, there were times when I'd defeat a squad of enemies, just to take a steps forward and get ambushed all over again. Its almost repetitive at times, and tiring. I'd give the game an 8/10.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Burnout Paradise

As soon as I got my Ps3 a few weeks ago, the first thing I did (besides run updates) was download PAIN and Burnout Paradise.

PAIN weared off on me quickly, despite the enticement of trophies. The thing that kind of disappointed me was that though PAIN is listed as a full game, there are so many expansions for it that it feels more like a demo. You get multiplayer, a couple modes, and one character, out of many. The other characters all have to be bought, ranging from $1-2. In its basic form, PAIN is only about 1/3 of what it could be, when you look at all the expansions. Its a clever tactic, but the game concept, while funny at first, got repetitive and boring quickly.

I've never been much a fan of racing games. Really, the only one I consider myself good at is Mario Kart. While I do enjoy Midnight Club 3, I don't usually play it by myself much. Nonetheless, its always a good idea to have a good racing game or two for each system. Which brings me to Burnout.

As mentioned before, I downloaded Burnout Paradise off the PS Store, instead of opting to go for a disc game. Why? Well, no reason, actually. *shrug*. But I'm glad I made the purchase, because this is one really fun game.

A lot of things about Burnout Paradise feel streamlined and easy to use. Right when you first start the game up, you're greeted by DJ Atomika (same dude from the SSX series, namely SSX 3) who guides you through the raw basics, providing you with your first car, and getting you your Learner's Permit. After teaching you the controls, you're basically set lose. You'll be given a fair share of tips along the way, but there's a lot of stuff you'll have to figure out yourself. Fortunately, there's not too much to understand once things get going.

Paradise is a sandbox-style game. Once you boot it up, you're taken to the junkyard, where your stash of cars that you've unlocked thus far can be found. Once you've chosen your ride, you can go wherever you want. On the outskirts of Paradise City, there are several locales (about seven, I think), where events like Races and Marked Man will always finish. There are no random finish lines. You'll always be racing to one of these areas. Events are started at intersections. At every traffic light in the game, you'll have the option to stop and hold L2 and R2 to start that event. You start right from there, racing to the given locale. In this way, events are never far away. Should you get bored of touring the city, all you've gotta do is sniff out the nearest traffic light and peel out, and the event will begin.

Burnout has many events and things to do. Events include standard street racing, Marked Man, Road Rage, and Mano Mano. In Marked Man, you're challenged to get from the area you started the event to the given locale in one piece. That's it. Along the way, you'll be constantly hounded by bullish computer controlled cars that have every intent of destroying you. Road Rage is my favorite. All you have to do is get a set number of take downs. There's no destination or anything, you just drive through the city with the other racers and try to take them out as many times as you can until you yourself get too damaged to go on. As you complete events, you'll eventually rise up in license ranks. You start with a Learner's Permit, going from C to B to A, and finally a Burnout License.

When you're not tearing through the city, there are things to be done just cruising around. Though not always TOTALLY obvious, Paradise City is filled to the brim with jumps. Ramps, chasms, ledges, all sorts of stuff. Some ramps make you do barrel rolls through the air, which will either make or break you, but is satisfying to see either way. Alternatively, you could build up a whole lot of speed, then ram the E-brake going off a jump to spin through the air like a propellor. In addition to jumps, Paradise City is also sprawling with shortcuts and alternate routes, especially in the countryside. Some of these detours lead to super jumps, which are jumps known to give you much bigger air (a couple even have trophies dedicated to them), and are indicated by flashing yellow caution signs visible from quite a distance. Others lead to special areas not shown on the map that have their own opportunities for insane tricks (trophies are dedicated to a couple of these too.). Moreover, there are dozens of "Burnout Signs" scattered throughout the game that you're challenged to smash through. Most of them can be hit going off the numerous jumps and super jumps.

With the addition of the v1.5 update, the game also features bikes. Although the bikes aren't available for use in events with cars, they have their own events, and even a separate lisence to fill up.

Exploring the city can also be hugely rewarding. Besides the aforementioned special areas, the game features dozens of service stations around the map. Junkyards, when entered, let you choose a different car from your collection. When you drive through a repair shop's drive-thru, your car is instantly repaired to pristine condition. Gas stations pump you full of boost, to help you sprint that last quarter-mile. At first, only a few service stations will be known to you. But if you take the time to explore the city and find the rest, they'll appear on your map as you find them. The thing is, you can drive through these stations' (except for junkyards) drive-thrus during events, with no slow-down. Having a bunch of repair stations already mapped out, for example, is a very useful thing during road rages, as you'll know the nearest one to head to to get your car back into shape, and prolong the battle. And its nice to not have to drive all the way to the other side of the map after a race in the countryside to swap out your car because you only mapped out one junkyard.

Gameplay is fun and addictive. The controls are simple and easy to understand, and though I thought it initially strange that the HUD lacked a speedometer, it eventually became irrevelent anyway. Though the game doesn't exactly "reward" you for crashing, it does treat you to incredibly cinematic, slowed down replay of your crash. You can watch in awe as your car slowly grinds itself up, the frame shrinking, the glass shattering, and the wheels falling off. Though its generally very entertaining, it can of course be frustrating, as you watch all your rivals streak by.
Takedowns are also very entertaining, and though most of them are well earned ones, I sometimes wonder if the computer is purposely wrecking themselves. Often, even what I judge to be a tap will send the target careening across the road and smashing into the side wall. Nevertheless, the crashes are always satisfying, and the game encourages you to really destroy the opposition by rewarding you with hefty boost bonuses for successful takedowns (in fact, besides jumps, takedowns are the fastest way to build up boost), informing you of chains (10 takedowns in a row! gotta..keep..going..), and treating you to a cinematic slo-mo replay of your victim's demise. The takedowns are even classified. Ramming a car's side nets you an instant T-bone Takedown, while hitting a jump and somehow landing right on top of another racer will flatten him, earning you a Vertical Takedown. Its all very entertaining.

Online is also done impressively well. There's no need to pause the game, or even go through a loading screen, to jump into an online game. The D-pad opens and navigates the "Easy Drive", which lets you choose from a variety of options. All you've gotta do is select "Play online", and you instantly jump into a multiplayer game, with other players appearing on the screen with seemingly no loading time. From there you can all either just cruise around and mess around with each other, or set up events or challenges to do.

All in all, Burnout Paradise is an incredibly fun and addictive game. It also features trophies, by the way. An 8.5/10.

Some gripes:
-As to be expected in a street racing game with a city environment, casual players may find themselves pressured to master the delicate art of checking your minimap, mapping out your what road to take next, and racing at the same time. Because Burnout challenges you to go fast, you really shouldnt be taking your eyes off the road at all. Some will find solace in the compass function, but I don't trust it over the minimap.
-I do wish bikes could mingle with cars in events, perhaps instead of having a whole other side of the game dedicated to them.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gundam 00

Alright, my first anime entry.  I chose Gundam 00 because its second season just began last Sunday (my time, I think).  But I'll only be talking about the first one.

To start, Gundam 00 throws a lot of common design elements of previous Gundam series out the window.  The mechs are thinner and more streamlined, and perhaps also a bit more fleetfooted as a result.  It may be worth mentioning that 00 is the first Gundam series to be shown in High Definition.  And with those sharp designs, it looks absolutely beautiful.

Typical of a Gundam series, the plot revolves largely around philosophy, international problems with the government, intertwined with lots of mecha smashing action.  The universe of 00 is a little bit more small scale however, as the characters are still anchored to Earth.  Living in space is still a really new thing, and relatively few people actually stay up there for long periods of time.  00 is also the first Gundam series to take place in an actual timeline: Anno Domini (A.D.) 2307.  So just under 300 years from now, we could be flying around in 50 foot tall mechs and be able to live in space.

Taking a leaf from GundamW's book, Gundam 00 revolves largely around four main characters, who are introduced as Gundam Meisters.  They each pilot a unique Gundam.  In this instance, the Gundams are a technological marvel, at least a decade ahead of the current mechs in use.  The Gundams and their pilots are employed by a mysterious organization known as Celestial Being, whose stated purpose is to stop and prevent war.  To this end, they deploy the Gundams wherever large scale battle is taking place.  In a nutshell, the Gundam's decimate both sides, forcing them to band together to defeat this sudden and new threat.  It is Celestial Being's theory that by gathering all the hatred of the world onto themselves, they can create peace.

Technologically, the most impressive aspect of the Gundams is their power source, known as a "solar furnace".  These things supposedly take at least a decade to create, but the results are quite rewarding.  Gundams are operated by an engine called the GN Drive, which, with the power of the solar furnace, glow a green ambient light and produce particles known simply as GN particles.  These particles serve a number of uses.  They can be used for propulsion (eliminating the need for thrusters), shield the Gundams from the intense heat of atmospheric reentry, form around them to create near impenetrable GN fields or cloak them, or even be coated onto solid blades to increase their durability and cutting power.  In addition, the particles disrupt most form of airborne communications, so all radio and satellite communications around whatever area the Gundams are present in tend to short out immediately.  The GN Drive recharges itself constantly, so the Gundams can basically run indefinitely, without running out of power.

The first of the Gundams to introduced is GN-001 Exia, which is the topmost mech in the above picture.  Exia is a close combat mech if I ever saw one.  Exia's arsenal consists mostly of knives and blades.  In fact, it carries seven of them.  The largest one is a huge solid blade cleaver mounted on the left arm.  Despite its size, its fairly flexible, being capable of swiveling backwards to reveal Exia's only proper ranged weapon, a portable beam rifle.  The whole ensemble is held together by a small shield.  The blade can be detached and handled as a broadsword.  Next up, Exia has two more solid blades, known as GN Swords.  The blades are razor sharp, are coated with GN Particles, and possess sonic functionality (so they can act as vibro blades).  One is very short, like a dagger, and the other is very long (Longer than the cleaver blade, though much thinner).  They are mounted on Exia's hips.  Inserted onto Exia's back are four beam sabers;  Two beam daggers that are probably better off thrown, and two regular sized beam sabers.  Exia's shield may also be worth mentioning.  Mounted on the arm opposite of the cleaver blade, this large shield is capable of fending off most forms of attacks with ease.  Its bottom is also extremely sharp, making an effective last resort stabbing weapon.  Exia is piloted by Setsuna F. Seiei, a very quiet, taciturn young man (the youngest on the team, actually).  He is from the Middle East, and had a troubled childhood.  Setsuna was inspired to join Celestial Being when he saw Exia's predecessor, Gundam O intervene in a battle taking place in his homeland as a child.

Next up is Dynames, piloted by a cheerful Irish guy codenamed Lockon Stratos.  A fitting name, as Lockon's aim with a rifle is top notch.  Typically, his Gundam's primary weapon is a large sniper rifle capable of firing from extremely long distances.  Lockon's aim almost never wavers;  By hooking his rifle up to a power booster so the shot wouldnt short out before it met his target, Lockon was even able to attack and pick off enemies fighting in space...from the ground on Earth!
In Lockon's hands, Dynames is a force to be reckoned with.  From a distance, Lockon can pick off even the most agile of targets with his rifle.  If they get too close, he has two beam sabers, two mid range beam pistols and revolving blast shields to protect him from harm.  In addition to this, lots of missiles .  Most of the time, Lockon doesn't actually pilot Dynames.  He uses a Haro ball, which pilots for him and operates the shields while Lockon himself handles the weapons.  Dynames is the mech on the lower left side of the above picture.

Piloting the most versatile of the four Gundams is Allelujah Haptism, a fairly calm, gentle guy who pilots Kyrios, the orange mech in the bottom center of the above picture.  Kyrios is a transformable Gundam, capable of switching between a mobile armor (Gundam lingo for jet fighter) and a mobile suit (Gundam lingo for mech).  In fighter mode, Kyrios is quite fast, making a very effective unit for getting places faster than the other three, perhaps to intercept incoming enemies.  It can also be equipped with a large container of Air-to-ground missiles for bombing raids.  Kinda like Exia, Kyrios's shield is also an effective weapon, capable of splitting apart up the middle to reveal an incredibly sharp stabbing weapon.  Though Allelujah is gentle, before he was part of Celestial Being, he was a test subject of genetic testing.  This caused him to have a split personality.  His other side, Hallelujah, is extremely violent, and often takes over whenever Allelujah is having trouble doing something that is a little too mean for him.

Last, and often considered least (Kidding, mostly), is Tieria Erde, piloting the large Gundam on the lower left of the picture.  Almost everything about Tieria is somewhat of a mystery, but we do know that he's a real straight laced guy.  He's not above reprimanding and threatening to discpline his own teammates (and his superiors) if he sees fault in their actions.   Tieria pilots Virtue, which is a heavily armored mech packing some serious weaponry.  Though its extremely slow compared to the other three, Virtue is equpped with shoulder mounted heavy beam cannons and a huge GN Bazooka.  In Full Burst Mode, this thing could cripple a colony.  In addition, Virtue is equipped with two beam sabers, though I doubt its fast enough to wield them with much efficiency.  Virtue also has another very special ability, but that comes later in the series.

Really, this show is pretty darn great, I'd say.  The premise is simple enough:  Celestial Being is a mysterious military organization whose only aim is to stop war.  Ironically, it does this by deploying its Gundams to wage war wherever war is fought.  So how does this work out?  Watch the series and find out.

The World Ends With You

My first few blog posts are actually on Myspace.  I might post those later.  For now, here's a game I've been playing for awhile now.

This game is just overflowing with the word "unique".  It just does so many things differently or perhaps unusually that many might just be at a loss for words at how to describe it.  I know I was, for a time.  To start, the name itself is rather interesting, don't you think?  "The World Ends With You."  It's got a dramatic feel to it.  The title itself was a minor hook for me, because I wanted to know what kind of plot would inspire such a name.  Though those of you with sharper, more informed eyes should notice this without my mentioning it, the game's character design was handled by Tetsuya Nomura, the same guy who designed the characters for Kingdom Hearts and quite a few Final Fantasy games, including FF7.

The first thing I should immediately warn newcomers about is that this game has an EXTREMELY high learning curve, which is atypical of a DS game.  From what I've seen, its a common thing for developers to strive for their games to be as simplistic as possible gameplay wise, so as to follow the trend of making the DS more accessible to a wide variety of people.  With this game, you'll STILL be learning new things and probably getting used to the battle and clothing system even 1/3 of the way into the plot.  This is because there's a lot to understand in The World Ends With You.

I'll start with the battle system.  Just about anyone will probably be overwhelmed by it at first glance, and it takes a lot of getting used to.  Battles in TWEWY are started by the player.  Besides plot specific battles, there are never any "random encounters".  Instead, a small "pin" will be present in the lower right corner of the bottom screen, which, when tapped, allows Neku (one the main characters, who is foremost in the above picture) to tap into the pin's psyche and scan the area around him.  Besides reading the thoughts of others, you'll be able to tap onto monster icons floating around the screen to initiate a battle.  Later, you'll unlock the ability to chain battles by tapping multiple icons before Neku and his partner warp to the dimension where it will take place.  Each consecutive battle will get harder, but the chance of rarer drops will skyrocket.

Once you're in battle, you'll be fighting on both screens simultaneously.  Yes, at the same time.
Of course you're not expected to be able to do this from the get go.  In fact, you won't really need to pay much attention to the top screen at all until maybe 1/3 of the way into the game, after which the enemies start to become a bit of a handful for your partner's AI to handle.  Though the game has a learning curve long enough to put many console RPGs to shame, Square-Enix obviously realized that stuffing all of this into a tutorial would not have been too player friendly.  The only downside of this is that, as mentioned earlier, you'll still be learning new things pretty far into the game.

So, battle on two screens.  On the bottom screen is Neku, whom you will likely devote the most attention to.  On the top screen is your partner.  Initially, your partner will be a cute girl named Shiki.  Though she's poor at psyches, she has the ability to manipulate her stuffed animal, which will fight for her.  And quite ferociously, I might add.  On the top screen, you'll control Shiki using the D-pad.  "Fighting" as Shiki consists of navigating your way across a map of cards as you play a classic game of "memorize the cards."  Each step forward equates to one slash from Shiki.  So, you could just ignore the card game and just keep mashing the forward and backward buttons to hack and slash at your foes.  However, it may be in your best interest to try to match all three cards.  The game doesn't make this too hard for you.  If you get the wrong card, the game will actually tell where the card actually does go, so it just takes a few seconds of trial and error.  Matching all three cards will unlock the Fusion attack, where Neku and Shiki attack in unison for an ultimate assault that heavily damages all onscreen enemies, and heals both of them a little to boot.  Shiki's AI will take over immediately after you stop controlling her to check on Neku, so you can leave her and not look back.

Back to Neku, who resides on the bottom screen.  Neku fights entirely with an assortment of "pins" that have special powers.  Each pin does something different.  For example, pins of the "Force Rounds" classification will allow to fire multiple shots of energy by simply tapping the screen.  Some pins let you swipe a line across an enemy to slash them.  You can combo by continually swiping them with the stylus.  Battle on the bottom screen is entirely touch operated.  Holding down on Neku then dragging somewhere will move him, while the Fusion attack is also activated by touch.  The system is very fluid and responsive, showing lots of polish.  Pins with similar attack commands (like slashing an enemy or slashing upwards to raise an icicle) are activated by priority.  The pin farthest to the left will generally activate instead of any others right of it, so keep this in mind when setting up your pins.

The plot of The World Ends With You is quite shady at first.  The main playable character, Neku, wakes up in the middle of a crosswalk in the bustling district of Shibuya only to quickly find that noone can see him.  Despite how incredibly crowded the area is, there doesn't seem to be a single person who can see him.  He also realizes that he can't remember anything of his life prior to when he woke up in the street.  He is attacked by strange creatures known as the Noise.  Though he barely manages to defeat them, it isn't long before he's attacked again.  As he's wondering what's going on, a girl rushes up to him and pleads that he make a pact with her.  Neku reluctantly accepts, and the girl reveals her name to Shiki, a cheerful, but slightly clumsy girl.  She tells him that they are Players in the Reaper's Game, a mysterious event that challenges a group of people to survive one week without being erased, either by the Noise or by failing the daily the mission.  The entry fee is the person's most valuable posession.  If they win, their entry fee is returned to them, and they also get "a second chance".  What this chance is isn't initially revealed.  The game follows the duo as they interact with other Players and participate (and learn more about) in The Game.

The game also features an extensive inventory system, which ties directly into battle.  In Shibuya, trends are everywhere.  As quoted later on, people will flock to a restaurant merely because its trendy and popular, perhaps regardless of the actual food quality.  The trends you'll be paying most attention to are the ones concerning clothes.  In TWEWY, what clothes your wearing are an essential factor to your battle performance.  Clothes and Pins whose brands are soaring on the popularity boards in a given area will be granted a 50% performance increase.  Unpopular brands have their products' performance halved.  So you certainly don't want to walk into a boss battle wearing duds that aren't all the rage.

I'm not actually finished with the game, but so far its pretty good, and I can see what the hype surrounding it was about.


I'm known to most online acquaintances as solowing or speed masta flex.  Those that know me offline simply call me Nick.  Read this blog, or don't.  I'm just making it vent my thoughts on various things, mainly videogames, probably.

That's the intro off the top of my head.

Oh, and I'm a huge Sonic and Lego fan.