Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Dragon’s Lair Video Review

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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

with one comment

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

Partial Longplay: Policenauts (English Translation on PS1)

leave a comment »

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

leave a comment »

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.  

theorder_logo

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.

theorder_graphics3

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.

theorder_qte

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

Tagged with , ,

The Evil Within Review

with 2 comments

evilwithin_1

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.

 

theevilwithin_6

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.

theevilwithin_3

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.

theevilwithin_4

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.

theevilwithin_5

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.

theevilwithin_2

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

Snatcher Longplay Videos (Sega CD)

leave a comment »

The February game club is only a week away and there are two Hideo Kojima adventure games on the list: Snatcher and Policenauts.  Haven’t gotten a chance to play Snatcher?  Want someone to do all the work for you pre-game club?  Well look no further, here’s the entire game from start to finish in seven hour-ish videos.  I’ve put the first video in this post for embedded watching here if you prefer.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 17, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Life is Strange Review

leave a comment »

life_is_strange_logo

Episode 1: Chrysalis

Adventure games have always been a bit of a split for me.  I was never good at them, never completed many of them, and thus I wanted to write them off as worthless but what they did for storytelling is undeniable.  TellTale somewhat switched up the definition of what goes into an adventure game, but try as they may I was hindered by either losing investment in the story or just not valuing these games any more than my current frustration with trying to beat Grim Fandango Remastered because I had never played before.  I guess the biggest problem for me was the balance is never quite there.  In a point-and-click adventure game there’s too much emphasis on puzzle solving and figuring out the developer whereas the TellTale games traditionally have too little and stand as nothing more than slightly interactive movies (that always seem to end in the same place regardless of those decisions).  Life is Strange stands out because developer Dontnod (known previously for the great action title Remember Me) acknowledges the reality that you are a player interacting with an environment, but also allows you to relate to the person on screen so distinctly that you get the best of both worlds.

The life of the high school teen...

The life of the high school teen…

I think the least said about the plot the better for a game like this, but the basic premise revolves around a just turned 18-year-old girl named Maxine (Max) Caulfield who is currently enrolled in an art academy in Oregon.  Both the academy and the town (Arcadia Bay) are significant because Max grew up in that town and when her family relocated to Seattle five years ago she apparently abandoned that life for reasons unknown at the start of the game.  Her main interest is in photography – the main draw as to why she would return to Arcadia Bay and attend a school she doesn’t seem too fond of save for her photography class – and while she does come off as a bit of a loner, I was glad to see that she is aware of most of her limited number of classmates.  Early into the game Max discovers that she has the ability to reverse time and uses it to protect someone, which later gives way to a slew of problems.  The story develops with the player being able to interact as much or as little as they please with the environment and the people in it as the story naturally progresses.  The game proves that it’s not just putting the episodic format to waste by creating branching storylines that don’t evolve much in this first iteration, foreshadowing the future, and creating an overall conflict that will no doubt take the entire five episodes to reconcile.

Interact with anything of interest, you never know what you might find

Interact with anything of interest, you never know what you might find

Life is Strange initially captures you for how effortlessly it captures the world it creates.  Those late teenage years are awkward for everyone and the way important issues are brushed off and pointless interests becomes the focus of the universe for these students reminds me of the days when I was in that same position.  There’s no beating you over the head with any specific character and the range of individuals you can get to know, or completely ignore, is placed with skill like a series of figures on a bookshelf that can be appreciated if the onlooker so chooses.  One of my biggest gripes for all adventure games is that I am being forced into difficult decisions without knowing the immediate outcome and then I have to live with them.  This may be the way real life works, but in video games it takes control away from the player and may force you down a path you never intended to take and thus don’t invest in.  Life is Strange allows you to see the immediate effects of any of the game’s handful of major binary decisions and then make your choice, but it’s clear that the consequences of these actions are tucked away to be thrown in your face later.  Now I know there are some that would sneer at this transparency, which is justified, but the the game doesn’t stop you from committing to a decision without considering the consequences and save for a few puzzles you are never forced to rewind time and consider a decision.  In short, it’s the true Choose Your Own Adventure video game, complete with the freedom read the first page of each decision.

Chloe, Max's former best friend, is an part of episode 1

Chloe, Max’s former best friend, is an integral part of episode 1

With only one episode in and a release date of March 2015 for the second, Life is Strange looks like it will take the greater part of this year to fully progress, but from this initial outing I’m invested in full.  Much like its previous title, Dontnod has taken aspects that we all appreciate from a handful of games and combined them together into a stronger cohesive whole.  Here’s hoping that the adventures of Max stay as strong through each of the five episodes as it did for the first.  My confidence is further heightened by the fact that this first episode was riddled with a lot more drama than action, meaning that there’s no need to outdo itself in the future.  As for now, it’s one hell of a pilot.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 (review policy)  – This first episode was played through twice by the reviewer.  The first time was thorough and took around 3 hours to complete, the second took under 2 hours but was streamlined.

Given that this game is episodic, this review will continue to build upon itself per episode.  Posts of each episode will go on the main page individually but this link will stand as the comprehensive review for all episodes.  Each episode will be given its own score initially, but the comprehensive review will have an overall score that will update with each episode (and may not necessarily reflect an average of the scores as this is not the method to scoring).  This game was purchased by the reviewer and played on PC, however it is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (including Steam), Xbox One, and Playstation 4 at a price of $4.99 for Episode One and $19.99 for the entire five episode run.  It is assumed that episodes will be available individually for $4.99 each.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 13, 2015 at 2:19 pm

Remember Me Review

leave a comment »

remember_me_boxRemember Me is not a sum of its parts.  That’s an important factor to keep in mind as you progress through this game, and frankly, is quite counter to a majority of experiences out there.  This title is trying to tell a complex story in the world of interactive fiction, which has been tried before with varying results, and manages to keep its focus on the big picture instead of being bogged down by the limitations of a video game.  As I played through it was fascinating to me how I wanted to keep note of the little gripes and problems I was seeing instead of paying attention to what was going on.  This is the one large hurdle, or caveat if you choose to view it as such, that separates whether you will enjoy Remember Me or pitch it to the wayside as a product of the end of this cycle.  Keep in mind it is by no means perfect, or even groundbreaking, but it offers a story and world that are unique and manages to maintain suitable gameplay that makes progressing the plot intriguing.

Remember Me is the pinnacle of a cyberpunk story – it takes place in 2084, memories are shared experiences in a social network, the city of Paris has been renamed to Neo-Paris – so everything will feel a bit familiar for fans of the genre.  A corporation named Memorise has established technology and networks that allow you to extract, share, and sell memories, which has gotten so popular it controls a majority of the population.  As with any cyberpunk story, whenever there’s a large controlling corporation there is always an underground group set on bringing it down, in Remember Me they are called “Errorists”.  You control female protagonist Nilin, who in the prequel chapter awakens in a Memorise facility for memory erasure.  This is not circumstantial, Nilin was a clear target given her alliance with the Errorists and the fact that she can steal and alter other people’s memories.  With the help of Errorist leader Edge, Nilin works her way through the roughest and nicest neighborhoods of Neo-Paris in an attempt to take down Memorise.  It’s good to see a story that revolves around the tangible world, which is often ignored or background in cyberpunk.  While the setup may be relatively standard, I found the overall plot and especially the final hours, to be a unique twist that rarely happens, particularly in video games.

remember_me_2Gameplay varies, switching between different styles and formats, but essentially it’s a brawler and platformer with mini-games sprinkled in from time to time.  It will be tempting to compare gameplay to several games – Remember Me is acutely aware of what was popular this generation – but contextually it shares nothing more with the titles you could reference so I don’t feel there’s a point.  Brawling is a timing-based system of combos and dodging – the unique aspect in this game being the ability to add a perk to each hit of a combo allowing you to modify battle to your play style.  In addition you receive special attacks that assist in taking down specific types or certain combinations of enemies, which is the brunt of the diversity in combat.  After an episode or two the battles flow in such a way that they are not only manageable but also satisfying displays of your abilities.  Platforming is hindered a bit by the disconnect between Nilin’s pathetic static jump and her impressive leaps when aiming for a specific ledge or platform.  Throughout the campaign you will leap gaps, shimmy across platforms, scale large exteriors, and climb about with relative ease.  Instead of the popular glowing ledge Remember Me provides contextual arrows to guide where you can go next but it’s unnecessary because Nilin will most often not allow you to jump to somewhere she can’t grab on to.  I’ve heard claims of stealth in the game, but save for a few “dodge the robot’s line of sight” instances, there’s none to speak of.  At times you will be able to remix someone’s memory, which is mostly watching a cutscene with the ability to control speed and direction of playback while searching for little areas that you can change to impact the memory.  As a result a simple fight between lovers can result in a murder or a basic medical procedure can end horribly, but only in that character’s mind because you aren’t actually changing history.  There’s only one result the game wants you to get, but I was amused that making changes to the wrong outcome still allows you to see what could potentially happen despite the game forcing you to go back and choose the correct path.  Most episodes end with a boss battle that harkens back to the days of puzzle bosses that require you to try various tactics and pattern recognition.  I personally enjoyed the boss battles and found them to be an appropriate change in scope and battle, but the final matches do end up being quite derivative.

remember_me_1

Developer Dontnod is an independent studio from France that includes art director Aleksi Briclot, best known for his art in Magic: The Gathering, and science fiction writer Alain Damasio (although all of his books are in French) as predominant members of the studio.  It shows.  The world created in Remember Me is vibrant with that bright neon exterior hiding a cold and heartless mechanical nucleus.  Neo-Paris has depth, a layout, neighborhoods, and a is an established world from the start.  Not only that but the graphics looked great, even on the 360, with a consistent framerate no matter what was happening.  Unlike many other 3rd person action platformers, this game is as linear as it comes with few opportunities to explore or even wonder off the beaten path.  I know this may seem like a discredit to the created city, and perhaps it is, but the direct progression of the episodes allows the story to stay on point and the player to remain focused, albeit at the expense of the hard work put in behind the scenes.  I also felt the world was a bit scant in terms of population.  You will encounter an occasional citizen or street vendor, but they don’t directly interact with you and all of the homes and apartments you find yourself in will be void of human life whether it’s the middle of the day or the middle of the night.  Sure, Dontnod threw in a bunch of random housekeeping or maintenance cyborgs as placeholders within the environment, but I found those to be as remarkable as the random furniture in the room.  The back third of the game also involves many areas that look identical and granted the plot justifies the setting but I was hoping to see more of the dazzling atmosphere that is introduced in the first half of the game.

remember_me_3Remember Me not only has a series of technical missteps but also some conscious decisions that break immersion so distinctly I’m surprised they were left in.  For starters the load times, even installed on my Xbox 360, were extremely long.  Given that most of the times I had to reload were sudden action scenes that required you to know what was coming next to react or cheap deaths because Nilin didn’t register you were leaping to a ledge instead of her simple hop, it was aggravating.  I still don’t understand why games today have those intense action scenes completely focused around twitch reactions and then force you into specific routes or curveball counterintuitive inputs, it’s annoying and reminds me I’m playing a video game.  Thankfully these sequences are few and far between here.  Since Remember Me is so linear and scripted, there were a few times in the campaign where contextual events like a door opening or ledge dropping simply didn’t happen and I was forced to reload a checkpoint.  I’m not sure how widespread this was (I played a retail copy pre-release and there were no online updates during this time), but with the long load times and general confusion it was a rare but unpleasant occurrence.  Furthermore the dialogue is somewhat lacking, with most conversations being monologues or banter between Nilin and Edge, but hidden within this dialogue are often major plot points.  If you’re not paying attention, which can be somewhat difficult while you’re running around and trying to figure out where to go next, you may miss large reveals in the story.  They continue to be reinforced, but no one likes to piece the story together contextually.

Remember Me is trying to tell a complex interactive story without sacrificing the gameplay that so often falls to the wayside in games of this type.  I can already tell that several factors are working against it: it’s a title that comes late in the generation, it’s only single player, the campaign is around 12 hours long, it’s riddled with “take it or leave it” mechanics, and it doesn’t do anything all that new.  Still, I feel that this project was handled with enough care to justify the packaging it comes in – not all single player games should be $60 but the production value appears to justify the cost.  I can see where this is going to be popular among the crowd that latches to cyberpunk or deep single player experiences, something definitely lacking in today’s gamespace, but I fear that the typical turn-and-burn gamer will find nothing compelling about it.  Still, if you want to play a game that centralizes around the story and unfolds with decent gameplay and a few eyebrow raising mechanics, Remember Me is sure to satisfy.

Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)

This review was originally written on The B-Team Podcast web site but the writer retained all rights to re-publish this review.  Keep in mind that all comments are based on the first week of release.  A review copy was provided by Capcom for the Xbox 360.  Later in time the writer replayed this title on PS3 and noticed no inherit differences.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in PC/Mac, PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360

Tagged with , ,

#IDARB (It Draws A Red Box) Review

leave a comment »

idarb_logo

#IDARB, much like the name suggests, is intended to initially have you make a weird face and a question mark appears above your head.  Developed by Other Ocean, makers of one of my favorite retro throwbacks Dark Void Zero, the title began as a single drawing of a red box and took input from friends and Twitter to evolve into a game.  That game, while simple in nature, is a very meta representation of what could be the next big party game.  Since its release earlier this month on Xbox One (and free for anyone who currently has XBL Gold) #IDARB has definitely become the zeitgeist of the moment.  With retro-style graphics, social media integration that changes the game, and a whole glut of coverage, what’s not to love?  Well, that all depends on the type of gamer you are.

idarb_liveI don’t much care for sports games these days.  In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a sports game review on this site (hit us up if you do, there’ll be a prize in it for the first link to a sports game sent to the site).  This is because I feel sports games had a very small window of mass appeal, mostly stemming from the 16-bit era, and thus it’s a very take it or leave it genre.  #IDARB understands this and has created a game where 1-8 players, in any combination of teams (ie: 1v7, 4v4, etc) attempt to score goals against each other in a basic arena within a short time frame.  That plus the option to block, steal, and pass multipliers that significantly increase the value of a goal, which will exponentially raise the challenge of one player versus seven, and you have your basic game.  From that starting point #IDARB adds a whole bunch of online and offline interactive features to make the game much more interesting.  The amount of people watching, playing, and interacting with your game is both #IDARB‘s biggest strength and biggest weakness.

idarb_charSimple touches can spruce a game up and with the addition of a character creator to make your own sprite-based players is great.  This gets much better an easier when you visit the game’s official site where you can view and use AR codes with the Kinect to integrate any community created characters into your own game (this can also be shared via messages, texts, and basically anything to give your designs to specific friends and whatnot).  This may not seem significant but when you take on an entire team of Heisenbergs the effect is clear.  You can then take your specialized character through a brief campaign to learn some basic and advanced maneuvers, even practice against bots if you wish, and then it’s time to take it to multiple players locally or online.  When two people play the game’s short time span can make for an intense one-on-one scenario, which is predictably stronger if you have an audience in the room or online (Twitch streaming is encouraged) to help cheer everyone on.  It gets more intense and frantic when up to 8 players get involved, but as this is predominantly a party game in my eyes the current restriction is every player needing a controller and the cost of XB1 controllers does hinder #IDARB‘s strength on the couch.

If you do have enough online friends, and the perfect storm of having everyone’s schedule synced up and everyone wants to play, it makes for some insane and addicting team play.  Then there’s the final piece, which adds the most interesting layer into the mix: the Internet’s ability to mess with your game.  More than 40 commands exist that you can put into any #IDARB Twitch stream chat or Tweet to @idarbwire with #<game code> #<change code> and affects the game.  This is currently the best way to integrate more than two people into a game and the commands do everything from blocking the goals to killing the lights to a beer party.  Unfortunately you won’t know any of this if you just boot it up and jump into a game nor will you get any hint of this on the game’s site – at least as far as I could tell – but perhaps the meta nature of its concept means that you were supposed to have seen it in action on a recent games press site where the game has a glut of coverage.

idarb_rickroll

Yep, you can get Rickrolled

 

When you wrap it all up I see where the pitch on a concept like this is huge, especially for those that have large online and offline gaming circles like college dorms, high school players, and even those frequently having drinking parties.  For the rest of us who tend to play solo, don’t have a ton of online or offline gaming friends, and can’t command thousands on a Twitch stream, #IDARB is nothing more than a passing fad.  I congratulate the team at Other Ocean for trying something new and from the looks of it succeeding in stride, but frankly this looks like a game playing too close to the chest in the games development and games press inner circles to be of much value to the gaming whole.  Sure, when Giant Bomb or Kinda Funny want to get their hundreds of thousands of followers to jump onto a Twitch event and put eight gamers who can find a few hours in the middle of a Tuesday while the rest of us are at work together the results are, without a doubt, magical.  I just don’t see how this experience is going to be common, especially when you consider this game has been out, for free, for over a week now and no one on my friends list is playing it outside of a handful of games press.  It all stacks up to a bunch of potential but it’s just another case of the collective few media outlets pushing hard for a game that has familiar favorites like Mike Mika and shout outs to Dave Leng – which are both inside baseball to the games press and development world – for a game everyone likes to watch but few play.  I hope that’s not the case, but from my point of view that’s right about what it’s shaping up to be.  Still, you probably can tell by this point if this is the game for you and your friends or not.  As for me, I see the draw and can’t seem to find the value proposition here, which I’m judging by time commitment and not money.  I don’t even see the value in giving this game a score because its draw or lack thereof is so varied it’s probably not appropriate, but what the hell, all games deserve a score, right?

Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)

#IDARB is currently available exclusively on Xbox One at the price of $9.99 and is free for Gold members during the month of February.  This game was not provided as a review copy and was played by the reviewer using this promotion.  It was played for approximately three hours with varying numbers of players in both single player, multiplayer, and browsing the game’s features (yes, I know about the recipe sharing).  Please note that this review could be updated in the future as this is one of those unique games on consoles that seems to have plans to update and change based on various factors.  Review updates will be added at the bottom of the review with a date of the update, but the original review will remain unchanged moving forward.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 10, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 555 other followers