Monday, February 22, 2010

Resident Evil 5: Lost in Nightmares

A couple chapters into Resident Evil 5, main character Chris Redfield's BSAA partner Sheva asks him what happened to his last partner, Jill Valentine. Chris answers with a flashback. The two were investigating Ozwell E. Spencer's mansion together on Rockfort Island, hoping to find some leads on where to find a man named Albert Wesker. They run not into Spencer, but Wesker himself. After one of the most intense fight scenes in the game, Chris finds himself held up by the neck by Wesker as lightning flashes outside. Before Wesker can finish him off though, Jill tackles him, sending them both crashing straight out of a window and into the abyss. Chris still laments that night even to this day. Now, with the new Lost in Nightmares DLC, you get to play through the mission that led to that fateful scene. Players follow Chris and Jill as they explore Spencer's mansion in search of clues.

Now let me go ahead and get this on the table. Lost in Nightmares is radically different from the rest of RE5. It's probably more co-op oriented than the rest of the game combined, for one thing. It's also focused much less on action, and more on the survival horror elements the series became loved for. In fact, it's generally smart to flee from what few enemies you encounter, rather than fight them, since ammo is scarce and your foes are tough. Basically, this is old-school Resident Evil gameplay, with beefed up graphics and co-op play. If that sounds good to you, I don't think you need this post to decide whether or not it's worth the $5.

In truth, the game is composed of only 3 major parts. The mansion, and two different underground parts, then a brief battle with Wesker. The mansion is littered with throwbacks to older RE games, from the way you open doors, to the minor scares and eery atmosphere. You can even try out the old school camera angle by trying to leave through the front door.

As you delve deeper, you encounter several sub-bosses. While it's no doubt possible to take them down, the mazelike nature of the pathways that you need to navigate to outmaneuver them to hit them from behind (where their weakspot is) makes attempting it a bit foolhardy. So you'll almost never fire a weapon in the game, except to hit score pieces (which replace the BSAA emblems). But whether you choose to make a stand or flee, tight coordination is necessary to survive this DLC. Even the Wesker battle is tougher, with there being no place to hide, and many of his more crippling moves being avoidable only with a partner to help you out.

If you loved the more action oriented nature of RE5, this DLC may not be for you. Instead, stay tuned for the next piece of content, Desperate Escape (which judging by its name and trophies, will be much more of an adrenaline fest) due out in a few weeks. But if you were disappointed with how different the game was from the rest of the series, you're in luck, because this DLC was made just for you. While I loved RE5 for what it was, having not played any previous Resident Evil games, I was thoroughly impressed by this new style of gameplay. And at $5, it's really not a bad value. Here's hoping RE6 is more like this. 8.5/10.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


IGPX is a 26-episode anime centered around a sport known as the Immortal Grand Prix, abbreviated IGPX.  The sport is split into three professional leagues: from easiest to toughest, there's the IG-3, IG-2, and the famed IG-1.  To progress from one league to another, you have to emerge as champion of the league you are leaving behind.  So to get from the IG-2 to the IG-1, you have to get first place in the IG-2.  Then you are eligible to compete in the IG-1.

Races consist of two teams of three mechs racing three laps around a winding 60 mile track at speeds reaching 350mph.  And by winding, I mean loop de loops, jumps, and multiple turns.  The first lap is a set-up lap.  Fighting is not allowed, and each team generally uses the time to set up their route, discuss battle plans, and fine tune their machines.  It's after the competitors enter the second lap that things heat up.  The second lap is known as the battle round, since that's when most of the fighting occurs.  Consequently, each team is also allowed to call one short time out, and summon a pit machine for repairs (they can only do this once in the race).  When time out is called, a speed limit is placed and fighting is no longer allowed.

Upon entering the 3rd lap, pilots are allowed to set their mechs into speed mode, sacrificing functionality for pure acceleration (turning the event into a drag race).  Naturally, at such intense speeds, aerodynamics becomes a gigantic player in the sport.  Mechs must be perfectly balanced to achieve minimal air resistance, and pilots learn early to draft and take advantage of leading racers' slipstreams.  First place earns 15 points (second and third earn 7 and 5, respectively, and so on), so you're almost assured a win if one of your teammates finishes first. 

Each 3 man team consists of a midfielder, defender, and forward.  The forward leads the pack, and is expected to finish first.  Midfielders and defenders hold the fort down, and keep the forward out of trouble.  Though many races boil down to one on one duels.

The main characters of the show are the members of Team Satomi, a rookie team that has just beat the IG-2, and is now entering the IG-1.  The pilot team consists of forward Takeshi Jin, midfielder Amy Stapleton and defender Liz Ricarro.

At the beginning of the series, Takeshi is a bit of an airhead, and laidback almost to the point of arrogance, much to Liz's continual outrage.  He is a naturally talented pilot, and it was due in part to this that the team managed to blunder through the lower leagues.  But a few smashing defeats by rival IG-1 pilots (most notably Velshtein, the defending champions) eventually force him to realize that true success is achieved through hard work and teamwork, not individual skill.  In his free time Takeshi practices kendo (Japanese swordfighting) and plays videogames to calm his nerves.  As forward, he has a tendency to run off ahead of the pack, but he is able to hold his own well enough for it to not be a big problem in the long run.

Constantly on Takeshi's back about his relaxed attitude is Liz Ricarro, an orphan who practices martial arts and reads philosophy during downtimes.  Liz has an extremely short fuse, but she can claim the most credit for helping Takeshi realize that IGPX is a team sport.  She can be too serious at times, though, but Takeshi's mellow and fun-loving outlook usually helps her see the brighter side of things.  Liz is a capable and determined combatant, but (perhaps reflecting her own beliefs), performs best when working in tandem with someone else.

Whenever Takeshi and Liz argue (which is excessively often), it's usually their kind midfielder Amy Stapleton who ends up defusing the situation.  Before joining Satomi, Amy led a fairly lonely life.  Though touted as a child genius, her parents were always gone, and thus she had only her cat Luca to call a companion (who also accompanies her in the pilot's seat).  Even now, Amy still doesn't always feel like she fits in, but Liz and Takeshi help her understand that she's just as valued as anyone else on the team.  While not aggressive in any sense of the word, Amy shows surprising combat ability during races, and her and Liz frequently team up for devastating combo attacks.

As the show progresses, Satomi is introduced to (and races against) various other competitors, some nicer than others.  The defending champions are Team Velshtein, led by Cunningham Yun, their forward.  Though they hand Satomi their most crushing defeat early on, Velshtein quickly becomes their most intense rival, and races involving the two are always a spectacle.  Like Takeshi, Cunningham is a skilled swordsman (though he practices fencing instead).  Cunningham is one of the first people to recognize Takeshi's natural talent, and realizes early on that Satomi may probably be their biggest threat.

What's so exciting about IGPX is the amount of spirit and drive often portrayed by the characters.  The concept of teamwork is a primary theme at play throughout the entire series, and when teams actually work together, the action really heats up.  The show also has some pretty great character development.  Seeing the first episode, you'd hardly believe that by the end of the series, Satomi is able to take on any team the IG-1 throws at them with determination and fervor.  Heck, at the beginning they have a tough time just holding a decent formation.  Seeing Takeshi, Liz and Amy take on "Operation Snowman" (not telling what that is) in the final race as a coordinated unit makes you realize that, despite all their bumps and hurdles, with hard work contributed from the whole team throughout the season, they've still managed to get ridiculously far.  Simply put, this kind of character development is heartwarming.