Posts Tagged ‘ Rating: 3/3 ’

Review: Final Fantasy VII [3/3]+

   VII still deserves to be counted alongside the medium’s greatest games.

Final Fantasy VII is a rare game that demonstrates cohesion between its gameplay and plot that brings a world to life. And the quality with which it presents both to the player makes it excel. There are shortcomings to the genre of these particular games that have justifiably earned the scorn of the gaming community in the years following VII’s release, but VII is able to transcend those issues altogether and raised the bar for what gamer’s should expect from the medium.

Final Fantasy VII starts off with the player controlling Cloud Strife as he joins a terrorist raid on a reactor owned by the Shinra Electric Power Company. Shinra is ostensibly a private company that serves the citizens in Midgar, a city built in two layers and encircled by a number of mako reactors. In reality, Midgar is a massive company town, owned and operated by Shinra. Furthermore, it’s also the largest city in the game’s world and most of the other cities are dependent on Shinra’s mako reactors. Cloud is a mercenary hired by the terrorist group, AVALANCHE, whose mission is to destroy mako reactors, which they claim will eventually destroy the planet.

In addition to providing power, mako energy can be crystallized into gems referred to as materia. Materia grants individuals superhuman abilities to conjure a wide variety of magic when junctioned to equipment. The player utilizes materia extensively to outfit Cloud and other members of his party with the right abilities dispatch their foes. This system adds a layer of gameplay on top of the conventional turn-based combat seen in the series. Characters weren’t people with a predefined set of skills, or specific roles to play, they represented opportunities for the player to build their characters in ways they see best. Materia is also not simply the representation of one particular ability, but a series of skills and abilities that are unlocked with continued use. Junctioning two materia together can also yield entirely new results. Exploring the world, finding new materia and discovering new ways to use materia is an incredibly compelling mechanic and it provides a tangible connection to the game’s world and its chief conflict: how humans exploit their resources to better their lives and become more powerful.

The story of Final Fantasy VII shifts between three different angles throughout the game. The first being Cloud and his relationship with AVALANCHE, his childhood friend Tifa, and former colleague in the military, Sephiroth. The second is Shinra’s dominance over so much of the planet and their goal to discover a “promised land” of mako energy. And lastly, the game will also place a focus on an extinct race of humans called the ancients and an interstellar being named Jenova. While the elements of the story can become muddled together as details are lost in localization, these three narrative focal points keep the plot moving forward in interesting ways that “The Compilation of Final Fantasy VII” doesn’t do justice. It takes some surprising twists and turns and can, at times, fall into anime cliches. But VII’s narrative is capable of nuanced storytelling, and can keep you at the edge of your seat even 15 years after its original release.

The world of Final Fantasy VII seamlessly brings together an expansive world, compelling gameplay, an intriguing plot, and an unforgettable atmosphere driven by a great soundtrack and (even so many years later) charming graphics. It’s a linear experience that provides a sense of continuity between towns and dungeons while simultaneously iterating through its ideas in ways that culminate in a fashion that’s both satisfying and thought provoking. Final Fantasy VII catapulted jRPGs into the western gaming mainstream, and while it brought an intense focus on so many of the genre’s flaws, VII still deserves to be counted alongside the medium’s greatest games.

Rating: 3/3 +

See also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: Trials Evolution [3/3]

   With Trials, there’s no need to mess with success.

Trials Evolution, at its core, is still the same game as Trials HD: a game about jumping dirt bikes through increasingly challenging levels.  Set against a 2D plane, the player controls the bike’s throttle and forward rotation.  The basic controls are fundamentally no different than that of Excitebike.  What Trials adds to the formula though is a more advanced simulation of dirt bike physics.  Everything from traction, to the position of the rider, the shocks on the bike, and momentum become factors in how you proceed through each leg of each course.  RedLynx knows this, and later courses force the player to be aware of these factors and to master control of them.  It’s a surprisingly satisfying process learning to play the game.  In addition, Trials Evolution has improved it’s online components (though the core of the game is what’s evaluated in the score) and has included an extensive level editor as well.  It’s a great value as far as downloadable titles go and a great game as well.

Rating: 3/3

See also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: SSX [3/3]


   SSX: High flying action with staying power. 

Many times, when I play sports games, I find it difficult to evaluate the game apart from the sport it depicts.  I suppose in many instances these are simulations, a genre of games that I don’t have a lot of experience with.  But when it comes to the arcade sub-genre of sports games, I have no trouble.  And SSX falls squarely into that category.  As a game, SSX executes across several layers: runs, character management, and online competition.

At its core, SSX is a game about snowboarding; snowboarding quickly, stylishly, or dangerously.  Players traverse different mountain slopes as though they were snowboarding with jet packs attached to them.  Tricks can be executed while in the air, and completing them grants the player boost time that is stored until they are ready to use it.  Boosting will propel the player’s character even more quickly and can be used to get ahead in races or to hit ramps with an extra burst of speed and hang time.  If the player executes tricks well enough will also fill up a “Tricky” meter, which when full grants infinite boost and access to uber-tricks.  In addition, many of the slopes specific hazards that can only be negotiated with special equipment such as ice picks, oxygen masks, and wing suits.

Each slope differentiates itself from the others well enough that makes each one memorable and worthy of player mastery.  There are always multiple ways to tackle each one, and in virtually all instances the ride is smooth and entertaining.  When everything comes together, tricking your way through the course is satisfying as though you were playing an instrument as part of a band or orchestra that’s playing a great piece of music.  Everything that SSX’s trailers depict is what can be experienced in the game as the player learns how to play it.

Learning to play the game can be accomplished through the single-player campaign which serves as a series of staged goals for the player to follow.  They introduce the player to a series of more and more difficult slopes.  It won’t hold your hand through this process, but leaves you to discover the ways by which you can improve your run times, your scores, and your control as confront the game’s hazards.  In essence, you’re being forced to learn how to play the game well in order to progress.  Of course, the single-player campaign can be entirely dismissed in favor of exploring each one of the mountains freely.

Performing runs in the single-player campaign, as well as in the explore mode will net the player points with which they can unlock more slopes or improve their characters with.  Each character gains levels as they are used, and with new levels come new equipment.  This could have been a point of frustration if the game were balanced in a way that access to better equipment was arbitrary constraint to game play.  But equipment really seems to simply augment and tweak how the characters perform, rather than dictate how they perform.  Customizing each character’s equipment gives the player the chance to tune them in accordance with their preferences.

Where character management really makes a noticeable difference is in competition with other players online.  Your friends will appear as ghosts playing along side you in the level based on their best run.  In addition to modifying a character’s equipment, you can also purchase stat “mods” that can be used while attempting to get the fastest run time or highest score on one slope.  Once you move on to another slope though, the mod expires.  They can be used to increase your ability to quickly perform tricks, adjust your boost speed, or your base speed.  When competing with others online, you may find that you’ve mastered a run, but still fall behind your friends.  The strategic use of points to tweak your character will make or break your performance relative to them and represents a sort of game going on around the game.  How and where can points be invested to give you the best edge among your friends.  It’s a simple system, but it provides the potential for engagement with the game beyond just unlocking and personally mastering the levels.

SSX doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of the genre or medium, but it exhibits all of the qualities of being an excellent game that will keep you playing for quite a while.  When so many other games are striving to bring you a cinematic, complex experiences, SSX is here to remind you of all the simple joys of playing games.

Rating: 3/3

See also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: Dark Souls [3/3]

Dark Souls
   Dark Souls: bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase “love/hate relationship.”

It’s very difficult to judge Dark Souls.  I’ve thrown down the controller and cursed this game on more than one occasion but I also kept going back to it.  It’s built from the ground up to be the bane of casual gamers as well as core gamers that have gotten used to games that make every effort to keep the player from ever being inconvenienced.  I will readily admit that I fall into the latter category.  Dark Souls is infuriating to complete, but I did complete it out of curiosity, self loathing, and the support of my girlfriend who, God bless her, had taken it upon herself to master this game.

Like many other contemporary RPGs, the player designs a character who is set loose in a vast world to conquer.  Lordran will not be conquered so easily though.  Luckily for the player, your character is virtually immortal.  Any time he or she dies, they are instantly transported back to a bonfire, minus any experience points they have earned.

The player must be able to make their way between pairs of bonfires without dying in order to progress in the game.  The player is given a finite number of estus flasks to restore their health along the way.  These flasks can be replaced at bonfires, but doing so will revive all of the enemies that had previously been killed.  Restoring flasks before reaching the next bonfire essentially means starting that leg of the journey over, but it ensures that you hold onto your experience points if you don’t think you’ll survive to see the following bonfire.  If you do die then you will have one chance to return to the location where your character was killed in order to retrieve those points.  Die again and they are forfeited.

At the end of each realm, the final bonfire will be guarded by a boss monster.  So if it weren’t difficult enough to survive the journey there, the player is expected to demonstrate mastery by being able to defeat intimidating creatures worthy of myth and legend using however many flasks you have left.  Nothing short of mastery of the game’s systems will allow you to proceed.  Lordran is a treacherous world that prides itself on tricking and killing you for making small mistakes.  There are no two ways about it, Dark Souls is one of the most challenging and frustrating games of this generation.  So why should anyone bother with it when there are so many other quality games that aren’t as taxing to play?  Because it is an incredibly deep game.  While cheap deaths are frustrating, there are always other ways to approach situations.  This encourages player master of the game’s mechanics which are rewarding in their own right.  For instance, learning how to parry or backstab will grant you the ability to do two or three times as much damage in one attack.

Dark Souls also creates a sense of tension that is unrivaled.  The environment of risk, reward, and value is unique and compelling.  I would have been disgusted with the game if it weren’t plainly evident how much effort went into building the world of Lordran and the game’s mechanics.  Dark Souls also deserves credit for the subtlety it uses in telling its story.  The cast is endearing and the events surrounding the game and its plot are incredible but, aside from the narrated intro, all of this emerges naturally and spontaneously from the world.  It’s easy to get lost in this game.

It is also worth noting that the game’s multiplayer component is seemlessly integrated into the single player campaign.  During the time that the player has returned to a human state (through use of expendable items) they can summon other players into their game or invade other player’s games with the goal of killing those players and stealing their humanity.  This can happen to yourself at any point while your human as well.  You’re forced to learn to watch your back any time you try to take advantages of being human.  The only way to avoid this is to disconnect from the internet entirely.

Dark Souls is far from perfect and I still despise some of its tricks and traps, but it’s a great game by virtue of its positive qualities completely outweighing the negative ones.  It’s not for everyone but it deserves respect for what it accomplishes.

Rating: 3/3

See also: Trailer, Official Site, More thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: Modern Warfare 3 [3/3]

   Another small step forward for gaming as an entertainment medium.

Modern Warfare 3 picks up where the blockbuster Modern Warfare 2 leaves off. The series villain, Vladimir Makarov, has succeeded in instigating a war between the United States and Russia that acts as subterfuge for his own agenda. Soap and Captain Price return to stop him and to seek revenge for other events that unfolded in the series’ previous games. If you’re a fan of the previous games, then MW3 will not disappoint. Infinity Ward (with the help of Sledgehammer) have polished the series formula to a shine that culminates in a tremendous final showdown with Makarov that is both an excellent finish for the series as well as one of the highlights of the genre.

For those who are only now jumping into the series: the player is dropped from location to location around the world as one of several different soldiers in order to witness and participate in spectacular battles. The experience is often compared to a roller coaster ride based on the linear structure of the stages and the dramatic events that unfold as the player moves along them. The player’s job is to utilize the weapons and artillery to make their way with allies through enemy targets to the end of the stage. Each stage stands independent of others and the player’s performance and decisions on one will not have any impact on the others. The variety and weapons and vehicles, in combination with unexpected twists and turns will keep each stage entertaining and novel throughout the game.

The Modern Warfare series continues to break entertainment records. I’m sure that’s in large part due to it’s multiplayer component which refines and builds upon the combat mechanics of the single player campaign while introducing competitive goals rather than simply getting from point A to point B. It also introduces a survival mode that tests the player’s skill against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. Both of these modes introduce options for the player to make decisions about how to arm themselves and prepare their defenses which almost becomes a separate game in its own right. But whether you are playing Modern Warfare 3 for it’s single or multiplayer modes the game as a whole represents one of the best game packages of the year that takes the simple foundation of the FPS and builds a layered and multi-faceted experience that is pushing gaming into the mainstream’s consciousness.

Rating: 3/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Micro Review: Trials HD [3/3]

   A compelling game about jumping dirt bikes

Trials HD is a toy; a digital toy for the player to master.  It’s a virtual RC dirt bike toy that comes with a series of obstacle courses and assorted game modes to challenge the player to explore different aspects of the simulation.  And even if it is just a game about jumping dirt bikes, there is enough depth to negotiating the courses to occupy you for a good deal of time.  Trials HD caters to all skill levels and makes it addictively easy to push yourself to try a course just one more time in the hopes of finishing it just a little more quickly.  And if that’s not enough then maybe seeing how your times stack up against your friends will motivate you.  Unless the basic idea of Trials doesn’t do anything for you, this is a game that you can’t go wrong in playing.

Rating: 3/3

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution [3/3]+

   One of 2011’s best.  An impressive game all around.

I’ve never seriously considered playing a Deus Ex game until the day before Human Revolution was released. At the height of the game’s marketing push I finally decided to watch the game’s trailers and was impressed that they were confident enough in their world as to create trailers with zero in game content:

The game itself revolves around Sarif Industry’s chief of security, Adam Jensen, who is trying to uncover who is responsible for a devastating attack on the company’s headquarters.  It is equal parts action/shooting and planning/strategizing.  Jensen is outfitted with augmentations that greatly enhance his ability to fight, hack, and infiltrate.  The player determines what types of augmentations suit their play style and will offer the greatest advantages.  Human Revolution steadily ups the ante of each of the levels that Jensen must negotiate, but they are punctuated by boss battles that are equivalent to arm wrestling matches: the individual with the strongest offensive capability wins.  If you aren’t investing in your offensive abilities, then these could possibly derail your experience and interrupt what is otherwise a great player-drive system.

On the other end of the spectrum are portions of the game where Jensen must persuade or outwit others in conversation.  What makes these interesting is the ambiguity of response types that the player has to choose from.  The player doesn’t simply choose from options that can be categorized by how they appear at face value (e.g. nice, mean, cool, etc.)  They require that the player leverage theory of mind to anticipate how other characters will respond and guide the conversation to a desired outcome.  This may be at odds with what you as a player may feel, and the game sees fit to throw in significant bits of information in the middle of the process.  Some of the most memorable parts of the game for me unfolded during these sequences.  Human Revolution’s dramatic moments can occur as both emergent or scripted events which lend themselves to a consistently entertaining experience.

I’m further impressed not just by how the game itself is constructed but how the experience extends itself beyond the confines of the game.  Like Metal Gear Solid before it, Human Revolution builds a fictional world with enough of reality blended in to engage the player in ways that can color their views of the world.  If you think that’s a stretch then watch this Sarif Industries “advertisement” and then read this news story.  Each section of the game gives the player insight into how augmentations affect people, for better or worse, directly or indirectly.  You can see how real-world themes of scientific advances, corporate ethics, contractors, civil unrest, and technology, come into play.  The player will be challenged to weigh the consequences of arguments from all sides in these matters. As the scale of the overarching conflict broadens, the game puts more pressure on the player to figure out which side they come down on, at the cost of (virtual) human lives.  Even if fictional, players that find themselves engaged in the plot will pause to consider how their in game decisions might reflect on their own real world thought processes.

What separates Human Revolution from the likes of Bioshock or other games that challenge the player to face ethical quandaries is that Human Revolution does a remarkable job of restraining itself from judging the player on their decisions or painting scenarios as being black and white in nature.  There are no good endings or bad endings.  The only thing making them good or bad is how they square with the player’s ethical priorities.  This isn’t to say that the game blindly supports your every decision; on the contrary, it many times will actively challenge you no matter what you decide.  Human Revolution offers the player a world in which they can explore gameplay mechanics that are plainly seen as well as an ethical obstacle course that is quietly laid out through the game and then brought into full view in the game’s final moments.

It’s hard to see Deus Ex: Human Revolution being the game of the year competing with the likes of Modern Warfare, Skyrim, and The Legend of Zelda, but it’s definitely one of the most notable games of 2011 in as far as what it accomplishes as part of the medium of interactive entertainment.

Rating: 3/3 +

See also: TrailerOfficial SiteMore thoughts at Ruminatron5000

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