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.