Posts Tagged ‘ Genre: Shooter ’

Micro Reviews: 2010 Wrap Up

There have been many games I’ve been meaning to review around the end of 2010, and just haven’t been able to sink the time into doing more complete write-ups for them. So I just need to clear the plate and get these out of the way before too much time passes after I had completed them.

Left 4 Dead 2

As was the case with Resident Evil 5, Left 4 Dead 2 is begging for you to play it with friends. Though Left 4 Dead 2 is far more playable by one’s self than RE5 was. In either case, the game excels at keeping  players on their toes. Moving quickly from set piece to set piece, the action is intense to play through, and dramatic to witness. Between the enemy AI and ally AI, the player is given the sense that they are engaged in a chaotic, expansive scenario, rather than just a level in a game. In some levels, the difficulty can tend to spike in a way that really frustrates the pacing. Dialing back the difficulty settings is usually enough to keep the player moving on their way though. Left 4 Dead 2 offers a brand of survival horror that has progressed light years from the tank-like controls and sleep walking zombies of the original Resident Evil.

Rating: 3/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Vanquish

Vanquish aims to leave its own unique mark on this generation’s action shooters, which have quickly become some of the most popular console games. Vanquish takes established genre devices (dramatic cut sequences) and game play mechanics (cover based gun play) and injects elements of arcade style twitch action. The player is given a super-suit that enables them to zip around large maps to engage enemies, large and small. However, this twist on the genre feels half-hearted. The super suit relies on an energy meter that steadily depletes whenever you use its rockets, melee attacks, or when bullet-time is enabled. The meter makes it very difficult to use these different abilities in combination, and in fact, the entire meter is depleted after a melee attack is executed. Thus, levels rarely force you to take advantage of these abilities and the game ends up being a sub-par third person action shooter. It has its moments, but neither the game play or presentation are particularly memorable.

Rating: 2/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

Donkey Kong Country Returns

I did not play a whole lot of SNES games back in the 90s. But one that I did play was Donkey Kong Country. Donkey Kong Country Returns brings the series to the Wii, and sets its sights directly on audiences that played the original games. It attempts to simultaneously evoke a sense of nostalgia while offering a greater challenge to gamers that have been playing platformers for years. DKCR fails on both counts. Part of its original charm lay in just how cool it looked at the time, with pre-rendered 3D graphics. That wow-factor is something that just can’t be recreated at this point. However, the graphical presentation was wrapped around a playground of levels for the audience to explore and enjoy. While the level themes are mostly faithful to their predecessors, the playfulness is frustrated by the game’s elevated challenge. They require a significant amount of memorization and leave little room for error. Small slip-ups early on can dramatically reduce your chances of completing a level, and can take too much time to replay to be truly enjoyable. This would make the game unplayable if it were not for the “Super-Kong” feature which puts the game in auto-pilot. It’s an excuse to make levels mindlessly challenging instead of utilizing thoughtful level design. All DKCR has to offer is a weak sense of nostalgia, which would be served better by just playing the original game instead.

Rating: 0/4

See also: Trailer, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon.com, Rent it from Gamefly

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Micro Review: Bioshock 2 [2/4]

Bioshock 2 was a more polished, yet vestigial experience. Gone were the terrible voices of the vending machines, wasted first aid kits caused by mistaken button presses, tedious hacking puzzles, and other rough edges found in the previous game. But the overbearing narrative structure and shallow level design haven’t changed either. What was a novel for Bioshock becomes typical in the second iteration with a big daddy playing as the protagonist. There’s not a great deal for Bioshock 2 to contribute to Rapture at this point, but it serves as a good excuse to venture back into the plasmid playground one more time.

In substance, Bioshock 2 is almost identical to the original. You’ll be listening to many tape recordings, a delusional leader (though this time of a collectivist bent), and have plenty of errands to run for strangers. You’ll need to decide once again whether or not to harvest little sisters for their adam, though there is still little incentive to take it from them. There are now big sisters which will oddly intervene only when you save little sisters, as opposed to when you kill them to harvest their adam.

The character designs were less cartoonish this time around and easier to take as seriously as the game would like you to. There were also some memorable scenes where you venture outside Rapture or shift perspective to other characters.  In those instances the game successfully plays off of, and with your expectations.  It varied the pace of the game in a way that the first should have done, but more would have been welcome in the sequel as well.

The silent protagonist is a common device in first person shooters like this, but when there’s so many conversations silence begins to stick out more and more. Given how little you actually customize the protagonist I don’t understand why he is not given any lines. It would have helped a great deal in engaging the player and smoothing out the game’s story.  There’s not a whole lot more to add. It’s a shameless excuse to extend the shelf life of Bioshock’s game play. Nothing lost, nothing gained. The changes made from the first game are more similar to annual Madden game changes than a full fledged sequel.

Rating: 2/4

See Also: TrailerMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon

Rent it at Gamefly

Review: Bioshock [2/4]

Since its release, Bioshock has been something of a big deal. Heaped with praise for its storytelling, imaginative game play, and an environment that’s immersive like no other.  Having missed out on the games over the last few years, these were my impressions of the game. The bar was set too high in my mind, and my experience with Bioshock didn’t square with the hype. There are many good qualities in the rough that have resonated through the gaming community, but I found that it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be either.

The concept of Rapture is wildly imaginative and intriguing. Deep under the ocean are the ruins of a fantastic city led by a man whose vision of free markets ate itself alive. It’s unlike most other worlds captured in video games. Equally impressive were the “plasmids” which give people super-human abilities. They can be combined to create spectacular battle strategies that give Half Life 2’s game play a run for its money. So what exactly went wrong?

My chief complaint lies in the fact that Bioshock reminded me me that games do not always need a story. Stories provide a template for events to occur. Events are a necessary part of a game in signalling progression and providing feedback to the player. Stories aren’t required to provide events, and when stories are used, events should form the dominant part of the equation between the two. Games don’t always tell coherent stories, and that’s acceptable when they are the means to the end of a good game. Final Fantasy IV serves as a good example of this. Bioshock flips the balance of that equation and neglects to utilize its strengths to the fullest.

Instead of letting the world of Rapture speak for itself Bioshock assaults you will dialog and tape recordings from every man woman and child who ever lived there. It was a suffocating.  I know I could have ignored the tapes, but there is still a subset of them that genuinely contributed to the experience. I know this is supposed to be about how Rapture catastrophically failed, but it would have been preferable to have a few survivors left to talk to instead of wading through so many tapes of what they had for lunch last month. That aside, you will still have plenty of people chit-chatting you into oblivion via radio.

Similarly, the level design made little use of the plasmids. You could take advantage of your environment to dispatch enemies more efficiently, but this is never a requirement as you can just as well expend some extra ammo and clear a room all the same. You’re free to come up with creative strategies, but you will only enjoy them for their own sake, and not as part of feedback for completing a challenge. It would have been cool if the game gave you some hints on exploiting these strategies, but Inevitably the level design revolves around a story which mostly involved doing favors for other people. The entire experience ends up blurring together with few milestones that signal real progress. Most confrontations devolve into noisy, chaotic messes instead of well designed challenges.

Bioshock as a game met a similar fate as Rapture the city: a grand vision that caved in on itself after so long. Burdened with the task of trying to articulate why Randian ethics would fail in practice, Bioshock is constantly distracted from delivering on its potential. Even in it’s attempts to dismantle Randian ethics, Bioshock still managed to miss its target. The game can be completed without having to rely heavily on plasmids (or other adam related attributes.) The reward for harvesting adam from little sisters is negligible.  It’s hardly worth it unless you’re just looking to play around with plasmids as quickly as possible.  In which case, the game’s statement on ethics are probably not all that important to you.

It’s a game that should have directed itself more closely to the style of Castlevania: a game that consists of many interconnected dungeons, with a narrative that mostly leaves the player to put the pieces together for themselves.  Clocking in around 20 hours to complete, Bioshock’s flaws became exhausting.  If it were half as long, with more carefully designed levels, I would enjoy going back and trying different strategies.  As it stands though the ratio of busy work to fun scenarios is frustrating.  My perspective on the game may have been unfairly colored by the expectations I had since the game’s original release, but it’s difficult to ignore the aspects of the game which ended up being self-defeating.

Rating: 2/4

See Also: TrailerMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

Buy it at Amazon

Rent it at Gamefly

Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [3/4]

Two years ago I started hearing about Call of Duty 4 and how awesome it was.  The game barely made it on my radar at the time though because I wasn’t spending a lot of money buying or renting games.  I also didn’t have high hopes for a military themed FPS.  Then last year I started to hear more about what exactly was good about it: characters, scenes, game play, etc.  I played a bit of the multi-player mode at a friend’s place and got hooked on that.  But it was only after all the hype for Modern Warfare 2 that I decided to rent Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for myself.

I was impressed, it definitely exceeded my previous expectations and I began to understand why Modern Warfare was hyped so much.  One of the best things to me was that it felt more like Metal Gear Solid (1998) than recent Metal Gear games.  Metal Gear Solid was a game about intense military predicaments in a modern setting.  You really felt like something was on the line if you screwed up, and the near-futuristic tools made a for a fascinating, yet still realistic, experience.  From Metal Gear Solid 2 on, Metal Gear became more about itself as a phenomenon and was less concerned with what it originally accomplished.  In other words, it became recursive and bizarre.  Sure, Metal Gear was still “about” war, but in an abstract way filtered through the lens of Hideo Kojima.  That’s not a bad thing, but I never felt the same way about the sequels the way I did about the original game.  I’ve always been a little bit sad about that.

Modern Warfare took me back there though, albeit without supernatural boss fights and a lot less sneaking about.  I really enjoyed the characters and the generally cinematic feel of the games.  It really is like being in the middle of a movie, and simultaneously on a battlefield.  Unfortunately, the ending (to the first game) while awesome, was also far too abrupt.  And the battlefield was an easy place to get lost in at times.  It became obvious at times that nothing was going to happen until I rushed out and became the bullet magnet.  That was especially annoying when I didn’t know exactly where I should rush to.  I felt like a red shirt from Star Trek.

These issues seemed to be minimized in Modern Warfare 2.  Infinity Ward appeared to have fully capitalized on the linear nature of the game.  Battles were more clearly directed, and the cinematic quality has bumped up a notch or two.  These “movie-moments” made the game for me.  Sometimes you’ll find yourself shooting enemies in slow motion, other times reacting quickly to an unexpected event, or just observing your surroundings as a significant event unfolds.  They punctuate the storyline and provide a concrete sense of climax to different scenarios throughout the game.  And having these moments set against some incredible locations with a great soundtrack really makes the game a first rate experience.

Modern Warfare’s plot is convoluted.  Since I’m a fan of 24 though, that was less of an issue for me, but others will definitely find themselves confused.  That said, the overarching plot definitely benefits from the sequel’s contribution.  It leaves plenty of room for another sequel, but there was a stronger resolution when compared to the first game.  I was also impressed by the impartiality demonstrated in regards to war.  I was expecting things to be two-dimensional as is generally the case with WWII FPS games.  There are definitely villains, but they aren’t villains by virtue of being a citizen of one country or the other.  It’s not perfect, but on the whole, it’s otherwise more thoughtful than I had anticipated.

Rating: 3/4

Buy it from Amazon, Rent it from Gamefly

See also: Trailer, Review for Erie Entertainment

Micro Review: Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles [2/4]

After I got my new Wii, but before I subscribed to Gamefly, I rented Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles.  I’m a sucker for rails shooters.  They are my favorite types of game when there were still arcades I could visit.  I’m also a “part-time” fan of Resident Evil.  I reviewed it for Erie Entertainment a little over a week ago, so you can find most of the breakdown of the game over there.  I reviewed it under the tag-line “a game you won’t want to play alone.”  That’s because I did play it alone, without the wii zapper and I found the experience to be pretty underwhelming.  I felt that I should have known better though and supplied a wiimote to my partners in gaming crime.  It would have made the whole experience much more fun.  It still wouldn’t have made it a great time though for the reasons I outline back at Erie Entertainment.

Rating: 2/4

Rent it at Gamefly, Buy it at Amazon

See also: Trailer

Review: Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus [0/4]

Dirge of Cerberus is a botched attempt at making a super-hero game starring Final Fantasy VII’s Vincent Valentine.  I played through it (being a fan of Final Fantasy VII) and I can’t recall anything positive about of this game.

The game play sure isn’t fun.  It’s what you do to get to the next cut-scene.  (That’s how it was for me anyway.)  It is a third person shooter where you fight the same thing over and over.  Then, you make changes to your weapon that don’t seem to do anything.  Just keep pointing and shooting while trying to make the numbers really big.  The bosses weren’t any more interesting.  I’ve forgotten all of them.

The story does not build on what occurred in FFVII. It awkwardly inserts new background characters, events, and mysteries that were never necessary until Vincent needed to become a super-hero.  Characters that do return really don’t have any reason to be there.  In one instance DoC actually revisits the original game to show that one of the characters actually uploaded himself to the internet before dying so that he can be revived in DoC.

You've got to be kidding me.

I guess this game is seen as fan-service but I don’t think the point of fan service is to make the fan recoil in disgust.  There is also never, ever, ever, any reason to include Gackt‘s music (which plays as you fly through the final boss’s colon,) or Gackt himself as a character in any game.

Note: You might say some of these links are spoilers, but if you are calling something a spoiler then you are implying that a good thing will be ruined.  This is certainly not the case in DoC.  There are no good things about it.  I want to pretend that this never happened.  It molests and abuses whatever good memories I have of Final Fantasy VII.

It’s a high-profile demonstration of the fact that those who created this much-loved universe have lost their understanding of what originally made it so engaging. Edge Magazine Apr 2006, p.91

Final Fantasy is on its way to becoming the Star Wars of video games.

See also: Trailer, Disgust, Don’t take my word on it, Gackt’s “Redemption” (Don’t be fooled, there is no redemption for this game.)

Rating: 0/4

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