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Know This Developer: WayForward

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wayforward_logo

Yesterday I saw a tweet from WayForward, a games developer that specializes in a retro feel and hand drawn animation, that it was celebrating 25 years.  That’s impressive, especially when you consider that 1990 predates the Super NES and also because the 16-bit style has been around now for two and half decades.  If you fancy yourself a fan of that era, long for the days of gorgeous hand drawn animation with large sprite-based characters on screen, and a 2D plane then WayForward is just the developer for you.  Oh yeah, and its strongest titles are typically tough as nails so just like back in the 90s you’re going to have to die a lot and restart before you ever think about beating one.  It should also be noted that WayForward is of the few studios that can really get a licensed game right and with the amount of care and detail afforded to this company’s many licensed outings it is akin to the Capcom Disney games.  All of these reasons and the fantastic original series Shantae make WayForward a developer that retro enthusiasts should definitely know.

voldi_way_picVoldi Way, founder and current self-proclaimed Tyrannical Overlord, started the company in 1990 as an independent developer out of Valencia, California.  He had an interesting childhood that included acting – his most notable film being The Changeling in 1980 – and founded a software company for sheet metal fabrication at the age of only 14.  At 20, he broke off from his partners to form WayForward for gaming software design and development, at that time his original company was netting more than $5 million annually.  Way named his company WayForward Technologies as a reference to the Douglas Adams book Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency in which character Gordon Way founds a company named WayForward Techonologies.  Logically, the focus at the time were the current 8-bit and 16-bit consoles/handhelds: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, Super NES, Master System, Gameboy, and Game Gear.

mickeyultchalThe company’s first release was Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge, a 1994 puzzle platformer published by Disney Interactive for the the aforementioned systems (the Master System port didn’t release until 1998 for some reason and was the final released title for that console), that focused heavily on art and animation while featuring basic puzzles for younger players.  From the beginning WayForward always had a tendency to make games look great with large sprites and fluid animation rather than focus heavily on gameplay mechanics, a tactic that lends itself quite well to games targeted at younger audiences.  Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge is exactly that, a mix of basic activities like a memory matching game or jumping on books with letters in alphabetical order, all while enjoying seeing Disney friends Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, and others in a medieval setting and costumes.  Games press at the time included mostly magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) that didn’t have the audience to reflect either younger gamers or their parents so they provided lower-to-mid level review scores (like 5s and 6s out of 10) with comments relating to it being a weak title for puzzle fans but that younger audiences should love it.  Nintendo Power was a little nicer in its review, coming right out and stating that the SNES game was for younger audiences and they will find the game fun.  Not the greatest start for an opening work but the quality of art and animation cannot be denied and it gave way to the next big project for WayForward, edutainment.

In 1994, the same year of the release of Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge, WayForward entered into a partnership deal with American Education Publishing to generate a series of educational entertainment (edutainment) titles.  This deal was a success and allowed the company to get stronger with its animation and sprite-based work as well as garner some funds and attention with awards for innovation at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 1995.  In 1997 the company switched gears with the help of CEO John Beck and focused on small teams and licensed products in a work-for-hire model that includes the entire team into the budget for the game.  According to creative director Matt Bozon, it created a surprisingly stable structure when compared to more traditional game-oriented development and allowed that team to stay together for so long.  Beck elaborated in an article with Gamasutra how they handled a limited team, “We utilize external teams for specific modular content work. For example if we need character modeling done, it’s a very well-defined, modular task that can be easily shopped out to an external company, and we’ll take advantage of that. For the most part, we don’t. We prefer to use internal team members to do work. But we will staff up with freelance help as project needs dictate.”  In addition, this smaller team size and focused project scope meant that a majority of games released early on for WayForward’s new model were portable licensed titles, not unlike a portion of the structure today, but there was usually a decent twist to the actual gameplay that kept the games interesting.  The result are games that most of us probably avoided unless we were fortunate enough to be of portable licensed game playing age in the early 2000s.

WWF_Betrayal_CoverartWrestling Gameboy Color title WWF Betrayal is one of those titles that transcends whatever the media said about it – I didn’t even bother to look it up – because the WayForward take on the WWF/WWE license created an addictive game that players’ anecdotal remarks are all positive about.  The game only fetches about $10 or less on eBay and might be worth picking up if you have interest.  I’ve also heard that Godzilla: Domination for the Gameboy Advance, a WayForward port to portable of the very well received Pipeworks Software title Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee!, was worth a look but in closer analysis with overall review scores, GameRankings, and personal experience most of these positive reports must be remembering the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube original because much was lost in translation.  One positive note is that all reviewers agreed that the visuals were particularly compelling for the Gameboy Advance, but the gameplay itself couldn’t make the jump to handheld, which was common for the time.  For good or for bad, WayForward continued to create visually compelling works that garnered enough attention to keep work coming as it led up to the first original intellectual property (IP) that still remains one of the best games for the Gameboy Color: Shantae.

shantae

Of all the personalities at WayForward, the individual you are most likely familiar with is Matt Bozon, who is now creative director at WayForward and creator of the infamous Gameboy Color platformer Shantae.  Fun fact: he’s also brother to former IGN journalist Mark Bozon, which is why the last name may ring a bell if you followed IGN from 2005-2010.  Oddly enough, Mark worked on the Nintendo team and frequently heard about his brother’s work on the Nintendo Voice Chat podcast or among the other IGN reviewers, but to my knowledge has never reviewed his brother’s games (and never should have).  Back to Shantae, it was the first original title from WayForward and was a puzzle platformer featuring a young half-genie (genie mom and human dad) that is protecting a small fishing village when pirate Risky Boots and his band of thieves steals a steam engine.  The character Shantae is actually the brainchild of animator Erin Bell, who worked with Matt Bozon at the California Institute of Arts (CalArts as it’s often referred) and worked as a freelance animator with WayForward from time to time.  Spoiler alert: Erin married Matt and is now known as Erin Bell Bozon and the two came up with the defining characteristics of the character while together.  Erin based Shantae on one of her campers back in her camp counselor days and pictured her dancing and summoning animals as special powers, but it was Matt who came up with the signature hair whip move based on Erin’s long hair constantly whipping into Matt’s face when she would quickly turn around near him.  Matt Bozon went to work on the project as an internal labor of love to flesh out the character’s origins and create a game within the team’s spare time.  Development began in 1996 and was originally intended to be a PC or Playstation/Saturn game until owner Way scaled back the project and internally it was moved to the Gameboy Color.  Using the engine created by Jimmy Huey for Xtreme Sports earlier, Huey made an art capture tool that allowed for quick and easy transition from canvas to game engine.  While not talked about much, Huey’s programming skills at transitioning art are quite impressive and his work at WayForward for more than a decade reflected that.  After about 4 months and with a few changes to the mechanics and aesthetics (Shantae was originally a brunette and she had dancing as specific moves instead of animal transformation), the game was wrapped up and ready to start looking for a publisher in 2001.  It should be noted that this long development cycle is due to the fact that the game had potentially many iterations, changed platforms, and was clearly something to do on the side when current projects weren’t in the way, so it is logical that this would stifle the completion.  Finding a publisher had proved to also be a challenge because aside from the relatively low publishing budgets of original IP on portables, the Gameboy Advance was releasing and shadowing Shantae’s home platform on the Gameboy Color, and the game required a special cartridge to produce its impressive visuals that made it more expensive to manufacture and thus reduced profit margins.  Eventually Capcom did agree to publish the game, but held it into 2002 to allow the Gameboy Advance launch craze to taper off, and unfortunately the game did not perform as hoped.  As a silver lining, Shantae received high critical praise, many above 9/10 or 90/100 on review scales and is still considered one of the best Gameboy Color games to ever release.  For a long time players wanted to get their hands on and play the title but its low sales made it a rare and expensive find online until its recent re-release on the 3DS Virtual Console (worldwide) in 2013.  Now anyone who wants to check it out can on a 3DS for the worthwhile price of $6.

aliensinfestationWayForward continued on despite the lack of success with Shantae and continued to garner work with licensed properties on portable consoles and eventually transitioned to the Nintendo Wii.  Of these projects some of the more notable is the fantastic Contra 4 on the DS that perfectly captures the feel of old school 2D Contra and picks up right after the events of Contra III: The Alien Wars on the SNES, abandoning all that had released since.  Despite critical praise, it didn’t sell well, and lately there seems to be some backlash against the game for being “too hard”, which will remain consistent with a majority of WayForward’s games.  Thankfully there are still enough copies around that it only fetches about $15-$20 online.  Another great revival from the past is 2009’s A Boy and His Blob for the Nintendo Wii that features some of the best visuals that console has to offer, a much improved mechanic and campaign than the original, and is just about the cutest title core gamers would be interested in playing.  I’ve never gotten around to playing the game, but it is on the shelf, and it will probably have to become a game club title sometime this year to finally push me into giving it a try.  What makes this title so intriguing to me is that I loved the concept originally introduced in A Boy and his Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia by David Crane (Pitfall) on the NES, but it has too many fail states that even if you know exactly what to do there’s a high chance you will not complete the game.  This title was also praised critically, especially for WayForward’s incredible ability to update a game “the right way” and keep it faithful to the original while tweaking what didn’t work.  At the same time that old complaint of the game being too easy for adult core gamers that might remember the original and twitchy controls prevented a many gamers from picking it up, although this could also be due to the Wii just not being a popular platform for that crowd.  Another decent DS title that won’t cost you much is the licensed game Aliens Infestation that might be one of the best, if not the best, Aliens licensed games to ever come out.  It’s a MetroidVania set on the USS Sulaco (the ship from Aliens) after it is intercepted in open space following the events at the beginning of Alien 3.  You play as one of four marines in a team sent to investigate the abandoned ship and series planet LV-426 to uncover the activities of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation and the bio weapon project involving the aliens.  When you die the adventure continues with one of the other four marines unless you lose all of them and then it’s game over.  I’ve not gotten a chance to try this gem, but like most of WayForward’s library, I picked it up with the intention of playing it and haven’t gotten to it yet.  Everything I’ve heard from those that played it were unanimously positive.  Also if you are a fan of the original, WayForward did manage to get a sequel to ShantaeRisky’s Revenge, out on the DSiWare store and it can now be downloaded on either a DSi or 3DS as well as recent releases on the PC and iOS store (although I have no idea how a puzzle platformer takes to touch controls).

bloodraynebetrayal

It was at this time, around 2011, that WayForward made the next jump into HD consoles Xbox 360, PS3, and PC with several re-hashes of previous properties.  I was reviewing games at this time so I had a chance to try most of these outings such as Double Dragon NeonBloodrayne Betrayal, and DuckTales: Remastered.  Most of these games are consistent with previous re-hashes in that the graphics are gorgeous (and unique for an era where the hand-drawn sprite was almost completely replaced by the 3D rendered model) and that they are too difficult.  It was at this point that I realized too many individuals had an idea in their head of what these retro games were, but few of the people playing them – including reviewers – had actually gone back recently to see these beloved franchises for their flaws.  Double Dragon is the easiest game to poke at given that in hindsight there leaves a lot to be desired from both the arcade game and the NES version that is longer, clunkier, and more positively regarded.  I bring this up because Double Dragon Neon is a stronger and oddly enough more fair game than the originals it stems from and the biggest gripes or gameplay mechanics that modern reviewers poked at were series staples from the originals that WayForward transplanted in.  It just goes to show that most of the audience of remakes are living in nostalgia world and don’t really want games that are the same as the way they used to be.  This is double for Bloodrayne: Betrayal, which I found to be a fantastic new 2D platformer/brawler take on the 3D original that offered every bit as much care, content, and challenge as any old school 16-bit title but most reviewers completely dismissed for being too hard and even bragged that they refused to complete before writing a review.  Well I played it, I did complete it, and I reviewed it positively.  While I will admit that no reviewer’s opinion is wrong, especially if properly backed up, I do take large issue with anyone who reviews a game and does not either complete it or see it completed by someone else in person.  Finally there is DuckTales: Remastered, WayForward’s tweaking of the original NES title DuckTales, that I just didn’t agree with.  Many liked it and even more of the audience had a much easier time with it than me, but it all boils down to the simple fact that I did not care for the inevitable tweaks of this remake.  Regardless of how you felt about these games, there’s no doubt that they can be polarizing, which isn’t good from a sales perspective.  All are available digitally on the 360/PS3/PC and a couple have been given out through the Playstation Plus program, so check if you have added them in the past.

shantae_HD

Recently WayForward has continued on doing what they do best: licensed games on portables that look amazing an add something new to a genre that is almost universally made up of terrible games.  Perhaps there are more re-hashes for the future and possibly even some new properties, but regardless WayForward should be commended for twenty five years of fantastic titles, tech, and never forgetting its roots.  Someday I hope to try out that new TMNT title Danger of the Ooze, see what all the fuss is about regarding these Adventure Time games, and finally getting to Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse, the recently released third Shantae installment, before the release of the successfully Kickstarted Shantae 1/2 Genie Hero later this year.

References:
Wayforward to the Handheld Future – Gamasutra
Godzilla Domination Review - IGN
Shantae Wiki - Wikia
Wayforward Jumps on the Wii Bandwagon – IGN

Written by Fred Rojas

March 2, 2015 at 1:13 pm

Special Announcement

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We have a launched a new campaign that will get the community more involved, push more content, and give away more games.  Please give our 1 minute audio a quick listen or click the link under the “Help Keep Gaming History 101 Going” section on the right sidebar.  Thanks again from Fred and Jam.


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Written by Fred Rojas

March 1, 2015 at 11:03 am

Posted in Blog

Dragon’s Lair Video Review

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Dragons_lairPlatform: Sega CD (originally in arcades and released on almost every console ever, seriously)
Released: 1983 (arcade), 1993 (Sega CD version)
Developer: Advanced Microcomputer Systems
Publisher: Cinematronics
Digital Release? Yes, far too many to count
Price (Sega CD Version): $7.10 (disc only), $14.95 (complete), $19.95 (sealed)

Written by Fred Rojas

February 28, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Policenauts Review

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policenauts_boxPlatform: PC-9821, 3DO, Playstation, Saturn (Japan Only)
Released: 1994-1996 (depending on platform, Japan Only)
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Digital Release? No
Price: Unavailable, game never sold in US or UK

Fred’s Take

Building off of what Kojima had started in Snatcher, I feel that Policenauts is an attempt to revise the mistakes and setbacks of that original attempt and create a spiritual successor that flows more like a game.  Technically, I guess that’s what Policenauts is, unfortunately the solution appears to be making it a point-and-click adventure and adding in more (and more frustrating) shooting sequences.  While I have to commend the efforts by having a more genuine story – although the similarities to the first two Lethal Weapon films is undeniable – that flows naturally and keeps you intrigued, this game has so many walls to break through to get to that story that it’s best read in a walkthrough or watched on YouTube.  For this reason, and the countless other reasons that prevent most of us outside of a Japanese speaking region, I can’t recommend Policenauts as a coveted loss treasure we never got.

policenauts_1This title is as 90s action as it comes with a trash-talking young detective, a near-retirement aging partner, and a whole lot of explosions and shooting.  Initially you are introduced to Jonathan Ingram, a former police astronaut (policenaut) of the first space colony Beyond Coast, that was lost in space for 25 years and has now returned to Los Angeles two and a half decades younger than everyone he left behind.  This includes is wife, who as the story begins has long abandoned him, remarried, and now has a daughter Ingram’s age, and his former partner Ed Brown who sits behind a desk as a forgotten head of the Beyond Coast PD vice squad.  The entire game is based around finding the husband of Ingram’s ex-wife Lorraine, who works as a salesmen and scientist for the Tokugawa Pharmaceutical company.  Jonathan reluctantly takes the case, heads to Beyond Coast, and attempts to solve the mystery with the help of Ed, which almost immediately transforms into Lethal Weapon.  There’s a lot more to the story, but frankly story is all this game has going for it.

policenauts_2Unlike Snatcher the shooting sequences are free form, intended for the use of a mouse as it was originally developed for the NEC PC-9821, an early Intel 386 microcomputer in Japan.  Most ports are on consoles, and although it supports mice on those consoles, mouse accessories are extremely rare and expensive these days and no light gun support except for the definitive Saturn version.  As a result, the shooting portions become your biggest roadblock to seeing this game to the end.  If you are playing in English, which most of us US/UK gamers need to, there is only one fan translation available and it’s for the Playstation.  This means that if you play on real hardware, which I attempted to, it’s going to be near impossible to find a mouse and it’ll be riddled with bugs and glitches that will randomly freeze the game on a regular basis.  Unless a Saturn translation, which does support light guns, ever sees the light of day there is no reason not play this game on an emulator with your mouse returning as the ideal input device.  Even then, you will find the shooting sequences to be frustrating tests of skill that seem counter to the type of person who will play a point-and-click adventure and resulting in frustration over lost time.  Please make use of save states like Jam and I did, there’s no reason to feel like less than a gamer at the expense of getting stuck 10 hours into a 12 hour game.  I should also take this time to point out that Kojima still doesn’t know how to split up a game because out of 7 acts, a prologue, and an epilogue, the split is 6-7 hours for Acts 1 and 2 and about 5-6 hours for the rest of the game.  These are all the obstacles you have to accept and overcome, but in doing so results in a zany tale mixed with just enough science fiction and humor to keep me hooked.

policenauts_3Much like Snatcher before it, your enjoyment of this game is directly related to your interest in the story.  If you were a fan of 90s action films or hybrid science fiction to the likes of Terminator or even Demolition Man, it’s not hard to hold your attention with this guided buddy cop drama.  While it may seem it at first, this game does not take itself seriously and thus Kojima and his team were able to have some fun with the events that unfold.  Sometimes it works, like when Jonathan eats Beyond Coast food for the first time or the discovery of what’s really going on with Tokugawa Corporation, and other times it really falls flat for me like the numerous times you’ll be grabbing boob and slapping butt.  Oh well, I guess I can chalk it up to the quirky perversions of a writer and developer that definitely thinks outside the box.  It may not be as easy to ingest as Snatcher, but there’s value hidden under Policenauts’ initial barrier to entry.

Final Score: 3 out of 5    (review policy)

Jam’s Take

Yes, that’s right, Hideo Kojima did actually make another game that wasn’t part of the ever growing Metal Gear Solid series. I originally didn’t even know Policenauts was a game, I just thought it was some anime production Kojima had a hand in. Unlike Snatcher, this game failed to capture a cult following in the west.

policenauts_4In Policenauts you play as the blue haired mullet private detective known as Jonathan who is struggling to find a case to get stuck into. Fortunately for Jonathan his ex-wife comes knocking and now Jonathan is on a mission to look for her missing husband Hanzo Kojo. What follows is story full of various twists and turns along with another set of colourful characters complete with excessive back stories. Initially I had some interest in the story there appeared to be this intriguing mystery behind what was going on. To my disappointment the story (which is the biggest draw to this game) failed to maintain my interest. Some of the twists and turns in the plot were just far too predictable especially if you have played other Kojima games. I also didn’t find the character of Jonathan particularly likeable, his drive to continue his investigation seemed questionable, at times he was far more interested in ogling random womens’ boobies than actually pushing forward. I spent most of the game thinking it would’ve been a lot more interesting to following the plot from the prospective of Jonathan’s old partner Ed, who appears to have the most interesting back story of all the characters in this game. I couldn’t help but think there was a missed opportunity for Ed to make an “I’m too old for this shit,” line but I guess we can’t have everything.

policenauts_5At this stage of the review you may be questioning why am I critiquing this game like a film. Well friend, it’s because that’s practically what Policenauts is, a nice but long twelve hour story experience. Of course there is a little more than just sitting and watching the game. For the majority of the gameplay you will be pointing and clicking on options, look at this, investigate that, show something to a character, etc. The game is a very linear experience, you will enter one area carry out an investigation and move on. If you’ve not gained the correct information from the scene you are investigating your character will inform you. This proved quite useful as it prevents the usual travelling around clicking on everything in an attempt to advance the story only to have you give up and use a walkthrough. It still doesn’t change the fact though that you will be spending a lot of time constantly clicking on various options until the story finally advances. A lot of the time you will know the solution but because your not playing the game the way it wants you to play it, it can become a rather dull experience. The game will throw the occasional puzzle at you but they are far too easy, one of which is a simple spot the difference.

Then there are the shooting segments. Basically these are point-and-shoot sections but they are incredibly loose and frustrating (unless that was the fault of the emulator I was using). Like Snatcher these segments were few and far between.  In fact, after the prologue you don’t really do any shooting until half way through the game.

If you love anime you will probably love Policenauts as the game features several fully animated cutscenes. The style reminds me of the anime series Dominion: Tank Police, which is set in the not too distant future but technology has of course advanced to the point of police flying around in space man type mechs. One thing to note on this style though is how I still can’t get over why some people in anime-inspired universes have blue hair. Do they dye it? Marge Simpson does apparently. Oh sorry, back to the game.

policenauts_6

The game comes complete with full Japanese voice acting. No English version currently exists so you’re gonna just have to put up with a lot of subtitles. Obviously remember this is a Kojima game so you’ll be sitting watching the game more than actually playing it, so the waffly diaolgue where a character talks about their oh so tragic back story can kind of drag at times. Also if you ever wanted to now how to say some of the most offensive words in the urban dictionary this game provides that opportunity, so consider it a learning tool I guess.  The music was actually surprisingly enjoyable, some more Snatcher inspired smooth jazz, but unlike Snatcher it really suited the setting of the world and made for a great addition to the movie like feel.

policenauts_7To conclude, Policenauts intrigued me from the start but failed to maintain my attention throughout the experience. The story felt predictable with no real surprises and the shooting segments, though very infrequent, were incredibly awkward to control. Policenauts to me is better remembered as a cameo appearance in the form of a poster on Otacon’s wall in Metal Gear Solid than a game that you need to experience. The game has its moments that will make you chuckle but I just didn’t get sucked into the story or the world. For a game where the story is the main focus that is essential in determining whether you enjoy it or not. If you like anime and like buddy cop-esque storylines, then you may enjoy this title. For some reason this game just really made me want to go back and watch Lethal Weapon instead.

Final Score: 2 out of 5

Did you know that we talked about the entire game as part of our Snatcher/Policenauts game club?  Check it out here.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2015 at 3:50 pm

Snatcher Review

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snatcher_megacdsnatcher_boxPlatform: Sega/Mega CD (only this platform for US/Europe); PC-8801, MSX2, PC-Engine CD, Mega CD, Playstation, and Saturn releases in Japan
Released: 1988-1996 depending on platform (Japan), 1994 (US/Europe)
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Digital Release? No
Price: $256 (disc only), $300 (complete), $1500 (sealed) according to Price Charting (US only prices)

Fred’s Take

snatcher_shootingI’m an avid fan of cyberpunk as am I an avid fan of the only series I’ve ever played by Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear (both Solid and the MSX titles), so you would think naturally I would love this game.  Granted, being an adventure game that is slower in pace was somewhat of a setback for a player like me that doesn’t care for the genre, but the “annoying” light gun sequences helped sweeten the deal.  I will confess to having my light gun not hold up to the shooting sequences and since playing through this title I’m fairly certain my Justifier light gun no longer works, but I can safely proclaim that it wasn’t Snatcher that broke it.  Anyway, put it altogether in a Blade Runner type game and I’m sold from start to finish, even if the pacing of this title is its biggest weakness.

snatcher_1You play as Gillian Seed who is starting his first day at Junker Headquarters, which is an acronym for the policing body that searches for Snatchers, the bioroids (cyborgs) that kill and replace a human body as they attempt to blend into society.  Seed has amnesia and has been trying to cope with this discovery and the fact that his estranged wife, Jamie, and he are at ends because they can’t be forced into love they don’t feel.  Gillian, for the record, is much more interested in seeing it work than his wife but his character also seems to hit on anything with two eyes and a set of…legs.  Your story mostly involves the solving a simple crime that gives way to uncovering a large hive of Snatchers in the Neo Kobe.  The game is separated into three acts, of which the first and second are of equal long lengths and the final act is a short and sweet action wrap-up followed by a decade of cutscenes a la Metal Gear Solid 4.  I am appreciative that the list of notable characters is left to single digits (eight specifically) with a sprinkling of recurring side characters, so there’s little chance you’ll get characters confused or not know who is being discussed in major plot points.

Snatcher is violent. You may also notice a Metal Gear Mk. II sidekick at the bottom.

For the most part this is a story-based game where you traverse many levels of dialogue options in order to progress the story and uncover large portions of the mystery.  You can’t really die save for the handful of action sequences, and even then the game just returns you directly to that sequence unless you give up and take the game over.  From that perspective I can see where this is more of a visual novel than an adventure game – although that’s really splitting hairs – but it’s reassuring that if you make a stupid statement, screw up a line of questioning, or just plain continuously hit on someone’s teenage daughter that it doesn’t affect your progress in the game.  I am particularly fond of the anime style, of which this game borrows heavily, and I like the way the story unfolds along with the very Japanese touches present in the game from bright colored hair to the “accidental” catching someone in the shower scene.  If you’re a big fan of Kojima, you will also notice a bunch of staples from his other works including your robotic partner, a Metal Gear Mk. II, and although it doesn’t do anything (as we’ve continued to debate while playing this title) the presence of the Konami code in the Junker HQ computer system.  At the end of the 6-8 hour campaign you will get an interesting and fun science fiction story that marks a much simpler plot than most of Kojima’s Metal Gear work.

snatcher_3

Anyone look familiar?

That said it’s far from a perfect game and the lack of action can actually make this title difficult to play for extended periods of time.  You can watch our entire longplay video and clearly see long stretches where I’m doing nothing more than selecting every option in the book and not really caring what response I get because it’s not plot important.  This doesn’t take away from the game’s appeal but it does make for a more broken out experience as I found it better to play in short bursts due to a lack of action.  It should also be noted that if the plot isn’t interesting to you this game has nothing really to offer because the random shooting sequences leave much to be desired from a gameplay perspective and aside from the 20-30 minutes you will spend beating all of them the rest of the game’s campaign is plot and more plot.  It’s a niche title and you should know that going in – adventure fans will scoff at the lack of puzzle solving and horrendous action sequences whereas traditional gamers will scoff at the lack of much gaming activity and the slow pacing.  Then again, this was a Sega CD release and if you compare it with the brunt of games of that era it stands out as one of the few complete and quality experiences that platform has to offer, but few are trying to find a Sega CD and a handful of games to make it worthwhile.

Perhaps this review is a little disjointed as is my true feelings on the game club we did.  I can understand that because for the first time in a long time I feel like I really didn’t do much and thus can’t really speak to the experience of playing it outside the fact that it seems to merge reading a book, watching a movie, and playing a game albeit in uneven ratios.  I liked the game a lot, I get why it’s popular, and I plan to replay it again sometime.  Much like cyberpunk it’s a bit clunky, the technology is based on good intentions but not quite there, and it can be a somewhat cold experience, but I hadn’t really played anything like it before and I’m pretty sure I won’t be again either.

Final Score: 4 out of 5   (review policy)

Jam’s Take
Snatcher is a game with an incredible cult following. Widely considered as one of Hideo Kojima’s lost gaming gems, which however few gamers have even played on the Mega CD (Sega CD in the US).  Now as I pull on my cyberpunk t-shirt, lets see if it’s as shiny on the inside as it is on the out.

snatcher_5Blade Runner, I mean Snatcher, is set in a cyberpunk city called Neo Kobe and if your a fan of this genre then it may just bring a smile to your face when the games opening credits dedicates it to “all the cyberpunk fans out there.” Now I’m just going to come out out and say it: your enjoyment of Snatcher will be dependent on how much you like the story. If you love films like Blade Runner or Terminator it’s likely you’ll enjoy this; or you may just complain about how much the game kind of rips off these famous franchises. Snatcher puts you in the shoes of Gillian, a guy with a long trenchcoat recovering from amnesia (seriously in Japanese stroylines this condition is more of an epidemic than the common cold). You’ve joined an organisation called J.U.N.K.E.R who basically hunt down Terminators to save John Conner, sorry I mean Snatchers, who are robots posing as identity thieving humans. For an organisation that is supposed to be defending the city from such a deadly threat it was surprising to see how small the team was. Expect to meet many colourful characters throughout the gameplay experience. Also expect to hear their entire back story, probably far more than is needed, but this is pretty typical for a Kojima title.

snatcher_neokobeVoice acting, smooth jazz in a cyberpunk age, and graphics are the key focus. So the voice acting was not the highlight of the this title unless you like your Saturday morning cartoons. It was probably much better in the original Japanese but the English dubbing was rather void of emotion and came across as wooden. It did lead me to wonder if they’d been taken over by Snatchers themselves. The music in the game is a bit different mainly a lot of smooth jazz which under the setting of the story is a bit strange but like Arnie and the 80’s it seems to just work. Finally the graphics, they’re your standard colourful animie style which look excellent on the Sega CD and do wonders to make a dystopian Los Angeles come to life.

snatcher_4If your coming into Snatcher looking for a deep and methodical gameplay experience then your probably going to be deeply disappointed. When you play Snatcher you will only be interacting with the game in one of two ways: either you’ll be scrolling through various options to desperately advance the story or you will very occasionally be shooting robots using either a controller or a compatible light gun (which would make chasing those Replicants far easier). Since I was playing this game on an emulator I had to use the keyboard which proved rather challenging especially during the action-packed finale. Speaking of which, the general plot of the title was pretty good until I reached the finale, during which time I mainly watched as new characters were suddenly introduced complete with their own back story and I began to forget why my character was even there. Almost like I was watching some kind of Spanish soap, but then I realised my girlfriend had just changed the channel – although finding out who killed Julio was far more entertaining than the end of this game.

Overall, I did enjoy my time with Robocop, I mean Snatcher. It was interesting to see where the origins of Metal Gear Solid‘s over the top long cutscenes originated from as well as the typical Kojima twist in the story. Just like the Metal Gear Solid series in general this is very much a take it or leave it experience. If you’re looking for a heavy story based experience with a tiny amount of actual gameplay, then you will certainly enjoy Robocop vs Terminator. Though I personally had mixed feelings on where the plot ultimately ended in the game, I couldn’t help but be sucked into the cyperpunk setting. It was a fun ride while it lasted but not an experience I will probably be rushing back into again. This really feels like a game you will only ever play once.

Final Score: 3 out of 5

Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2015 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Snatcher and Policenauts Game Club

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Hideo Kojima, best known for the quirky stealth series Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid has also delved into the world of visual novels and point-and-click adventure games.  If you aren’t aware of them, it’s probably because Snatcher released on the Sega CD only and didn’t clear 10,000 units sold in the US and Policenauts has never released outside of Japan.  Thanks to Fred’s lucky ownership of a super rare game and emulation/fan translations for all other instances, the GH101 crew delves deeply into a nearly 3 hour podcast on Kojima’s futuristic adventures with some of the worst shooting sequences in all of gaming.


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Written by Fred Rojas

February 25, 2015 at 11:00 am

Partial Longplay: Policenauts (English Translation on PS1)

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No one likes to release something that is half finished.  It’s even more embarrassing when you know there’s no way to complete something you started.  This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn with the world of hacked consoles, fan translations, and promising things before you’ve completed them here on Gaming History 101.  With a perfectly working copy of Policenauts, the English fan translation that released for PS1, I set out to do a longplay for tonight’s game club just as I had with Snatcher.  Unfortunately the game seems to break in several parts of disc 2’s translation despite disc 1 working perfectly (more than half the game as well) and the same disc 2 that broke on my PS1 and PS2 doesn’t have problems playing on my PC through the ePSXe emulator.  While I have no idea why this is happening – I can’t seem to find anyone who played on console and the other YouTube videos are clearly from emulation – it rendered my longplay unable to be finished.  Rest assured I beat Policenauts on Sunday night and am ready to discuss it in full for tonight’s game club, but I only have the first 2 acts captured on video before the game began to break in Act 3.  I used various save data to load parts of Acts 4 and 5, which loaded fine and played fine until certain moments of scripted events that occur within 15-30 minutes of loading a save (same place, has nothing to do with the save point, load point, or amount of time played).  Fortunately out of the 12 hours of length that is Policenauts, 7 or so of those hours is Acts 1 & 2, leaving the other 5 hours for Acts 3-7 and the epilogue, oh Kojima.  With all that said, I was debating on whether or not to release the videos, but I haven’t released much video content in the last two weeks and I’ve been cranking out videos so I figured you should see where half of this hard work went.  Here is the official playlist of the first six videos of my longplay in full upscaled 720p HD with commentary.  You won’t get to see me complete the game, but you can get a great feel for what the game as a whole was like.  Additionally this playlist is available openly on YouTube, but I’ve put it as “unlisted”, which means it will only be accessed by direct link or searches, not on the main channel page proper.  Be sure to listen to our game club for complete coverage on this never released in the US title.  We also will have reviews going live on Thursday.  Below is the first video of the series, enjoy!

Written by Fred Rojas

February 24, 2015 at 3:29 pm

The Order 1886 Review

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Wait, what?  A modern review?!? Yes, it’s true, we will from time to time be reviewing new games.  It’s not because we got review copies, because we didn’t in this case, and it’s not because we’re changing focus from retro gaming either.  We just wanted an outlet to write reviews on the modern games that we play and frankly, some of the games that were releasing when GH101 started might now be considered retro.  Keep in mind that the site, articles, podcast, and videos will remain focused largely on retro gaming.  

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The Order 1886 is that vapid leggy blonde at the bar.  It’s gorgeous to look at and consistently takes your mind off of any other gripes you may have, but as time goes on you find yourself less and less tolerant of its flaws – keep in mind I’m referring to the game and not the blonde as “it”.  Not only that, but I’m not particularly fond of the game that The Order 1886 is, which is a cover-based shooter, and it seemed to me that Sony went aggressively out of its way to not describe the game as any more than a cinematic experience.  After its brief campaign that seems like a half-finished story you’re left not really wanting more, just hoping that the game evolves in its planned sequel, if we ever get one.  That’s not to say there aren’t aspects to like about the game, but at its core The Order 1886 can’t remain consistent in gameplay type or quality.

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This screenshot alone impresses with it’s photo-realistic nature.

Before release the big gripe was this cinematic style, including the usual nagging of the black bars that The Evil Within suffered from and didn’t ultimately matter, and the fear that it is nothing more than a series of quick-time events (QTEs).  I find none of that to be true.  This title is a technical feat that dazzled me from the onset with how great the graphics and atmosphere looked, especially since I tend to do most of my top end gaming on a stronger PC.  When you break down all the finer tech points, which I bow out to Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry who appears to be unrivaled in technical analysis and can be found here, the change from full 1080p resolution to the 1920×800 comes the shift from regular anti-aliasing (AA) to 4x multi-sampling anti-aliasing (MSAA) among other tweaks and the results are stunning.  In fact, from what I can tell some of the tricks that developer Ready At Dawn’s new engine creates can be just as taxing on the graphics processor (GPU), if not moreso, but also gives Sony a hell of a kickstart in truly impressive first-party titles.  Couple this with the aggressive attention to detail in recreating the Victorian Era of England and both the tech and aesthetics blend to what is undoubtedly one of the best looking games I have ever played.  Now if only someone in the producer’s chair had spent even a fraction of that time on the gameplay we would have a complete package.

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A common QTE in action

Other gripes I heard that to me seemed almost unnoticeable were the focus on a cinematic experience, QTEs, and the game’s length.  You are reading a review from someone who adores full motion video games (FMV) and I honestly cannot tell where that horrendous genre and this game are supposed to meet in commonality.  This game doesn’t feel like it’s particularly cinematic in the least, save for visual presentation, and unlike other titles that could easily be watched like a movie such as any Quantic Dream title or even Asura’s Wrath, this game would at times be pretty boring to watch.  Unless you prefer to watch other people play games – something I in full disclosure both watch and cater to on this site – a non-gamer mainstream watcher would never sit through it.  While there are plenty of context-sensitive button presses that I guess could quality as QTEs, they aren’t as widespread as I had imagined and definitely don’t override any attempts at gameplay in scenarios.  Sure, they come up and they are quite horrid in implementation, but the gameplay elements suffer an identical fate so there’s no need to isolate them as unique quips.  I will say that the button presses being arbitrary, never changing as you repeat sequences, and having random locations on the screen seems like a step backward from the fantastic four corner methodology used in Ready At Dawn’s previous two God of War games and are even oddly enough faithfully recreated in the final battle of this game.  Finally onto the biggest topic the web could discuss prior to the game’s release: how long it is.  I’ve heard five hours, I’ve heard six hours, and my final clock time was just over the six hour mark without any intentional rushes to the end, so it would appear that this is a game that features a single player only component with little replay value that you can beat in one or two sittings.  Whether or not that’s of value to you remains solely in the hands of the purchaser – although I feel safe in assuming most will not find the $60 price tag worthwhile – but rest assured this game gains nothing in being even one chapter longer.  That said I am also sorry to say that I see little replay value in this game, even to rope in the handful of collectibles I missed the first time through.  I heard that initially the game was broken down into 24 chapters, of which only 16 made it into the final cut and a fourth of those feature no gameplay whatsoever, but if it was going to be more blathering about with clumsy controls on an unfair battlefield then Sony and Ready At Dawn can keep them because I have no desire to play more of that.  We also had better not see them become part of the DLC unless some serious gamplay tweaks accompany these new chapters.

This is predominantly what you'll be doing.

This is predominantly what you’ll be doing.

Beyond those consistent gripes I’m shocked more people aren’t complaining about the clear and inherent flaws The Order 1886 suffers in being the game it wants to be.  Surely members of Ready At Dawn are gamers and surely they’ve played a cover-based shooter or two, like perhaps Gears At War, but you wouldn’t know it from playing the game.  When you feature cover in a cover-based shooter it implies a safe area, at least from direct oncoming gunfire, which gives way to the “stop and pop” nickname for the genre and is completely broken in this title.  You can be blasted by shotgun fire through the walls and of course the stronger and harder enemies have weapons that bypass your cover altogether.  There are destructible cover points, which are underutilized compared to the amount of time and effort spent trying to make the cover in the game useless.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  If you didn’t want a cover-based shooter then why make one?  If you did want a cover-based shooter then at least give us the tools to combat each new enemy type that nulls that cover, otherwise you’re just breaking your own rules in a futile attempt to make things seem harder as the game progresses.  Don’t even get me started on how annoying this all becomes when the game starts spawning enemies from all sides of the map and literally makes the cover useless.  These are all rules that developers like Epic identified and properly implemented over the course of an entire trilogy years ago so it’s not like Ready At Dawn didn’t have a simple road map to follow.

The brawling sequences, while rare, are some of the best implemented for this title.

The brawling sequences, while rare, are some of the best implemented for this title.

While some may consider the story to be throwaway I found it quite entertaining.  Sure, there are some interesting points, technology, and medicine used in the game that are quite simply not explained but I’m in a video game world and have decided I won’t nitpick this particular title just for the sake of doing so.  As a result the game will switch from cover-based shooter to other types of gameplay like stealth, brawling, or just plain watching a cutscene.  Cutscenes aside, this is yet another place where you would think perhaps the team had played one of the many great stealth titles available to the Playstation platform including a particularly expensive demo that released last year.  Nope, it’s all thrown away and instead of giving you a virtual sandbox to navigate in order to perform your stealthy duties, you discover after several failed attempts that the game has a blocking in mind for you to follow and if you diverge from that for even a handful of seconds it will mean your discovery and immediate death.  Just like so many other parts of this game, the developers had an idea of where you should go and how you should proceed and if you do not follow that formula you are definitely not journeying the path of least resistance.  There are also sequences where you will fight with the already revealed werewolves (half-breeds for this title) that are just terrible.  Whenever a sequence with these pesky critters ensues, and it is rare, you will be forced to journey a room while they descend upon you from all corners of the map.  What I chose to do, and what I suspect most will as well, is back myself into a corner and try to watch the 2-3 points that they could be coming from.  That’s not always how it works out and the window of opportunity to both shoot and dodge these beasts is scant at best with not the most reactionary controls and just makes for a miserable experience.  You’ll be smacked around from the sidelines on characters you don’t even see, attacked mid-animation while taking out another creature (oh yeah, those are in the brunt of the game as well in abundance), and get generally smacked around in an emulation of how unfair this fight would be if it happened to an actual human.  That may be good for capturing the essence of reality, but it’s just another example of how Ready At Dawn likes to consistently break its own rules, make you feel pathetic, and then expecting you to thank them for it.

Another amazing screenshot to show off the visuals.

Another amazing screenshot to show off the visuals.

I wish I had better things to say about The Order 1886 because the moment I saw its announce trailer at E3 2013 I could not wait to get my hands on it.  Couple that with the pedigree I had already seen from Ready At Dawn and I was sure this game would deliver a fantastic experience.  What I can say is that it is a testament to strong game engines, aesthetics, and a clear step forward for this console generation, but somewhere in there Ready At Dawn and Sony forgot they should release a game that is as fun to play as it is to look at.  It’s not the cinematic decisions, the QTEs, or even the game’s short length that makes it a disappointment, it’s the utter lack of decent gameplay.  You become desensitized to it by the end of the game and I hadn’t even noticed until my wife walked into the room and said something.  She saw me running up an empty stairwell and suddenly two guys hidden behind walls popped out as I reached the top and shot me instantly dead.  She asked me, “did you know those guys were there?”  I responded that I didn’t.  She said it didn’t seem fair.  I shrugged and said that stuff like this happens a lot in this game.  She said the way I casually discarded it proved that – this is very counter to my normal response to such a cheap death – and then asked me how that was any fun.  Good question.

Final Score: 2 out of 5   (review policy)

This game was not provided as a review copy.  A retail copy was rented and the game was completed in approximately 6 1/2 hours with an additional 90 minutes given to replay events and explore the additional content after the game concludes, which is almost nothing.  This game is a Playstation 4 exclusive available at retail and digitally on the PSN store for an MSRP of $59.99.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 23, 2015 at 12:47 pm

Posted in PS4, Reviews

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The Evil Within Review

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The Evil Within is the stuff nightmares are made of.  I’m not being dramatic, almost everything in this game will cater to the popular nightmares that plague humanity – in my case that happens to be clowns – and throws them right in your face.  That’s not to say it is a scary game, because unlike other contemporaries the goal of The Evil Within is to disturb you and create tension rather than grab you with a quick jump scare (although it can’t resist the urge to do that as well at times).  Bundled altogether it creates the closest representation of a haunted house without forgetting that it’s also a video game and therefore can make death a reality for all parties involved.  This would be a fantastic reality for the definitive horror experience if it weren’t for the abundance of setbacks that range from visuals, to AI, and even creep into gameplay that no matter how big a fan you are just cannot be ignored.

 

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The first thing you will notice is that the screen resolution is narrowed.  Specifically the game has an odd resolution with full 1920 length and reduced height, which has black letterbox bars that extend to the entire screen of 1920×1080 (1080p).  This is a significant amount of real estate that surpasses traditional letterboxing and can be off-putting at first.  Whether the resolution is truly an artistic choice like Bethesda has claimed or if the game just couldn’t run at full 1080p (this is the case with all versions, including PC), I have to admit it becomes irrelevant fast because it wasn’t really noticeable once I had been playing for a few minutes.  Not only is the screen smaller, but the framerate is sub-par even by a console game’s standards, which tries to maintain 30 frames per second (fps) but dips down into the mid and even lower 20s depending on the situation.  With already flawed controls – more on that later – the inconsistency in fps might have come off as just another obstacle to success but in truth I had little problem with it.  Ironic as it seems, I never saw significant dips when a horde of enemies or sudden aggressive circumstance arrived so it really had little effect on my enjoyment.  All in all, whether it be aesthetics or lack of optimization, the biggest gripes I’ve heard about this game from screenshots were forgotten concerns a mere fifteen minutes in.

Normally I don’t talk about other games in reviews because I think that each game is a work unto its own and every work borrows from another, but the roots of The Evil Within and the couple of experiences it borrows from are too ingrained in its DNA to not draw such connections.  It is the creation of Shinji Mikami, who is best known for the creation of the Resident Evil series and is directly responsible for the decisions that led to the released versions of 1, 2, and 4, which juggle around as the fan favorites for the series.  Since the release of Resident Evil 4 Mikami has danced between a few titles and developers, but he always ends up back at his roots in horror games.  While Resident Evil decided to go more action based in its sequels, Mikami has kept the vision of the action/horror hybrid he demonstrated in alive through 2011’s Shadows of the Damned where he teamed up with Suda 51 to create what was then boasted as the potential Resident Evil 4 sequel that never was.  Both the critical and sales reception of that title proved that the quirky nature of Suda’s vision seemed to clash with the tension horror of Mikami and it was anything but the Resident Evil 4 follow up fans wanted.  That all changed when Mikami’s studio, Tango Gameworks, announced The Evil Within to be the true spiritual successor to his work and at its core you would be hard pressed to argue that this game is not a true Resident Evil 4 follow up.

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Knowing that’s where the roots to The Evil Within lie brings with it not only the great parts of the 2005 revamp, but also the dated and flawed gameplay that it represents today.  Right out of the gate this title’s flaws get revealed and never hesitate to remind you they exist.  Detective Castellanos, our lead, moves clumsily about in the rain at the game’s opening moments, which had me worried right off the bat at my ability to run, aim, and shoot with such floaty inaccurate controls.  It takes a few chapters, but when the gunplay begins to ramp up and with scarce ammo as a major liability, you can’t help but want to blame the controls for the pathetic misses at point blank range.  In fact, late in the game when you are forced into an arena atmosphere with many enemies and little ammo, it feels like a puzzle figuring out how to distribute your resources to effectively take everyone out.  It was pretty laughable as my wife watched me run around in circles like an idiot for fifteen minutes while a herd chased me, not in any danger of dying but also having no resources to handle my pursuers.  Mikami’s previous titles always had a melee option to get you out of these tough situations, especially because any enemy can drop coveted rounds, but in The Evil Within your melee deals a negligible amount of damage.  Even if you upgrade it, going to fists against any enemy leaves you doling out pointless damage while also allowing the enemy to get in a couple blows themselves with surprising strength.  In fact, most of the upgrade system in this game makes little difference in the overall experience save for the few items based on running and healing, both defensive maneuvers.  In short, ration your ammo, this is a survival horror game after all.

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Before you ever dawn a true weapon The Evil Within will introduce you to the game’s stealth mechanic.  For a majority of the game avoiding detection or methodically eliminating everyone in the room is as much an option as charging in guns blazing.  Your first encounter with this game’s twisted reality and subsequent enemies is more of an obstacle course where you can get acquainted with how to sneak up to or past foes.  It’s nothing complicated and for the most part the illusion of when enemies can and cannot see you remains consistent.  This is where The Evil Within attempts to pull off its best The Last of Us impression and it doesn’t do a good job.  Castellanos moves painfully slow in stealth mode to the point that sneaking up on an enemy, even if you mimic its moves from the moment it turns its back to you, can be a stressful encounter.  Once you get close enough the game will display an icon allowing you to perform a stealth kill, but if for some reason that prompt doesn’t show – and at times it won’t – or that enemy turns around suddenly you could be in for a world of trouble.  Thankfully it’s not instant death but the enemies have a knack for being able to pinpoint your exact location for quite some time after one of them initially sees you.  There are bottles in the environment that I figured would be helpful like they were in The Last of Us, but the mechanic almost seems broken at the onset.  Later in the game your bottle diversion is much more effective and this is most likely due to the openness of the environments early on compared to the closed tight conditions of the endgame.  Sneaking around also allows you to avoid traps and even disarm them for ammo, but again the minigame where you have to stop a needle in a small space has an odd delay that often ends with you blown to bits.  I also thought it was a huge wasted opportunity that the enemies can’t trigger the traps themselves, although you can definitely trigger them with bullets to make for environmental landmines if you see fit.  Clearly Tango checked all the boxes when trying to emulate The Last of Us but like most aspects of this game they didn’t sweat the details enough to give it that polished feel.

Despite many of this game’s weaker points, it is one hell of a ride.  Whether it’s sneaking past psychotic chainsaw-wielding butchers, disarming a booby trap connected to a meat grinder, or taking on an unnamable creature in a parking garage, this game wears its horror badge proudly.  Everything about the art direction, enemy design, and of course enough viscera to fill an ocean is meant to unease and intimidate.  While they may all initially look the same, your enemies do progress and have the same variety that Resident Evil 4 did before it, where each new section of the game had its own distinct enemy.  These standard foes will be a bit of an annoyance, but they are nothing compared the few, but impressive bosses you will encounter.  Each monstrosity that comes from The Evil Within will play upon horror tropes that are varied and create the game’s largest moments of tension.  As much as I’d like to gush about some of my favorites, I feel it’s inappropriate to give them away.  One well documented boss is The Keeper, but he’s better described under his nickname, Boxhead, due to the massive safe he wears on his head as protection.  While discovering how to take out each distinct boss may be a bit annoying, the fact that I was grinding my teeth on edge while I figured out the somewhat basic method of dispelling them to be of the best in my horror gaming.  This game is disturbing, disgusting, anxiety-filled, and I loved traversing through it.

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That said, it does wear out its welcome.  In a trend I’ve seen far too often these days,The Evil Within does feel like it was padded.  You will find inconsistencies in the levels with one action-packed chapter followed by a dull repeat of mechanics without even a boss battle to wrap things up.  That would be fine if the gameplay was diverse, but it’s during these seemingly padded chapters that The Evil Within loves to demonstrate its ability to be repetitive and boring or utterly cheap with quick “Gotcha!” deaths.  Sure, it’s cute once in a while, but after the 10th time on a part that requires memorization to best or that would have been a breeze if what to do was clear, you feel cheated, and did I mention the lengthy load times?  I’m also torn on the constant throwbacks to Mikami’s Resident Evil roots that make this game almost feel like a re-imagined hodgepodge of those initial games.  Any large fan of the series will see right through these nods but after a while it seemed to strip the unique nature expected of a new intellectual property (IP).  I mean come on, it even has an unlockable machine gun, RPG, and statues of the characters unlock upon completion.

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When you put it all together, the duality of good and bad that has remained consistent throughout this review makes it a difficult game to give a final verdict to.  The Evil Within nails the high end goal that Mikami started way back in 1987 with Sweet Home and finally made a true haunted house simulation that looks and feels every bit as twisted as it should be.  With this extreme attention to detail and tone, it’s surprising that the core of the game and the mechanics that surround it weren’t given equal effort.  It’s programmed sloppy, it plays sloppy, and it unfolds sloppy.  For fans of Mikami’s past work or anyone who’s looking for that new horror experience, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to play at least the first handful of hours with this game.  Hang on to that love and fandom, though, because you are going to need to grind through to the eventual conclusion that seems just as determined at making you quit out of frustration as it does encourage you to reach the end.  After having overcome the game’s final challenge, realizing what holes in the plot remained, and reflected on the last 15-20 hours of gameplay, I came to the conclusion that The Evil Within was a blast of a ride first time through, but unlike most of Mikami’s previous work it’s many flaws prevent me from wanting to delve back into it again.

Final Score: 3 out of 5   (review policy)

This review originally appeared on All Games but was permitted to be re-posted on other sites owned by the writer.  A review copy from the publisher was not provided, it was purchased by the reviewer.  It was played for a total of approximately 20 hours and the campaign was completed in full.  The Evil Within is available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC for $59.99 with identical content, display resolution (as opposed to native resolution), and performance (ie: framerate) on all platforms; however native resolution, visuals, and textures can differ between them.  

Written by Fred Rojas

February 22, 2015 at 11:00 am

Length Does Matter?

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gametime

Video games are much longer than they used to be.  It makes sense, the technology was originally geared toward coin-op experiences that wanted you to get as addicted as possible to pay as much as possible to keep playing.  Arguably that still holds true today with “free to play” or “freemuim” gaming, mostly on mobile devices, but for most home console or PC games there has been a growth in how long you’re playing the game.  I think the consensus is that with a longer game you are getting more for your money, which certainly seems to be the sentiment of everyone more concerned with The Order 1886‘s length rather than content.  On the other hand I get much more enjoyment out of a five minute game of Donkey Kong or even a fifteen minute run in Rogue Legacy than I can speak for with all 22 hours I’ve spent with the Dragon Age trilogy.  Personal taste aside, that last example speaks to the fact that this new dollar:hour ratio is shy of calculating actual value out of a game and thus suggests that longer is not always better.

portalWhen I ask people what their favorite games of all time are there are some consistent answers.  Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog 2, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Ico, Bioshock, God of War: Chains of Olympus, Portal, the list goes on.  One thing all of these games have in common is that they are relatively short titles in comparison to all other games on their platform.  Super Mario Bros. can be beaten in an hour even if you suck at the game, I’ve proven that.  Metal Gear Solid spans two discs and barely six hours and without speed running I can get to the helipad in Resident Evil (PS1) in just around four and half hours.  Ico is still considered one of the best PS2 games of all time and one of our most popular game clubs, it’s five hours long.  Portal can be beaten faster than it takes to watch Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, and it’s much more fun too.  My point is that a good game is a good game, it transcends the concept of how long you play it for by making up for that in memories or the urge to replay it, even if it wasn’t designed to be replayed.  No one is going to be able to convince me that just because Silent Hill 2 is much shorter than most other PS2 games that it’s less of a game for it.  How many games have an inexcusable amount of padding that begins to wear on you to the point of exhaustion.  Ever played Half Life?  In hindsight the game is far too long, has way too much padding, and whether it’s length or platforming, the whole Xen area can pretty much be avoided.  That’s a concern when a game’s content doesn’t make up for its length.

skyrimI’m sure plenty of readers out there saw my list and wondered what happened to SkyrimFinal Fantasy IV and VIPokemonShenmue, Doom, Resident Evil 4, The Witcher 2, Knights of the Old RepublicMass Effect, and a whole slew of other games that are extremely long and more than make up for their length with solid content.  Yes, I was trying to prove a point, and yes they were intentionally off that previous list.  That’s because they are perfect examples of games that not only offer a massive bang for your buck in terms of length, the content is so rich that you’re enjoying every one of the 30-100+ hours you spend with these games.  Each and every one of the games listed above – and the hundreds that aren’t – go to show you, above everything else, that a long game is far from a bad game.

What both paragraphs clearly demonstrate is that length is a poor, if not unimportant, factor in the value of a game.  Granted, on this very site we mention how long games take to beat but that’s only so you are prepared for the investment you are making because no game is fun under a crunch or time commitment.  With all the hustle and bustle in life, a parent of three who only gets 20 minutes to an hour of gaming in a few days a week is probably better off not jumping into Grand Theft Auto IV on a whim because he’s going to find a lot of wasted time just driving around and going on dates that the meat of the game may never be revealed.  Then again, when I was fifteen there was a hell of a lot more value out of Phantasy Star II than Altered Beast.  It’s all relative.  Given that fact, it’s good to know how long you’re in a game for so as not to allow the length of a game to cloud your judgement of it.  I’ve started playing The Witcher 2 and given that I only get in about 5-10 hours of non-GH101 related gaming per week, I realistically plan on spending a few months with that game, but imagine if I had no idea how long it was and spent every night just pushing as hard as I could to see the end.  This would harm my love for it.  So while I concede that the length of a game does affect what I play, when I play it, and how much I’m willing to spend on it, I don’t think it’s a good judge to the value of the a game.

theorder1886

A good game is a good game and almost never do you discuss the amount of time you have to put into it, or limited amount of time you’re playing it, to convince people of it’s worth.  I think this is an important fact to remember when trying to decide, especially prior to release, whether a game is good or not.  So the next time someone tells you that a game is “only six hours” or “over 40 hours”, be sure to ask them the more important question, “well is it any good?”

Written by Fred Rojas

February 19, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Posted in Blog

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