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Retro Game Challenge: Shinobi (PS2), Part 2

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More than a year ago, Fred  featured the Playstation 2 game Shinobi on Retro Game Night.  I was told that this is a brutally hard title that will test my skills.  He put it to the back burner, but after recent feedback we’re returning to these games to take up the challenge.  In his own words, here’s Fred’s reflection:

I remember playing it at first and didn’t understand what the big deal was.  Shinobi’s battle mechanics are pretty basic, not even coming close to the skills required of games like Ninja Gaiden on the original Xbox.  While the two games may be compared based on premise, time of release, and challenge, they couldn’t be more different.  Shinobi is not hard at the beginning, it’s barely a challenge, while I know plenty who haven’t completed the first level (and specifically boss) of Ninja Gaiden.  All of that changed with part 2 of this Retro Game Challenge.  Shinobi ramps up fast and despite beating the level at the end, it made my blood boil and wasn’t worth the effort I put in.  My conquest felt cheap, possibly even cheating.  I’m not done with this title, but my skepticism on it’s fairness and ability to provide a proper challenge that I enjoy in gaming, is raised.  I guess we’ll see.  In the meantime, enjoy a video that starts very positive and ends with a nearly embarrassing response from me.  As you may have already guessed beware of crass adult language near the end.

Written by Fred Rojas

January 27, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in PS2, Retro Game Challenge, Videos

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Mini Podcast: The Pages of Myst

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For this special episode Fred flies solo to discuss Myst, it’s concept, and it’s rightful place as one of the “killer apps” for the CD-ROM format.  Logic puzzles not included.


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Written by Fred Rojas

January 23, 2015 at 11:37 pm

Posted in PC/Mac, podcast

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Just Because: Die Hard Arcade (Dynamite Deka) PS2 Complete Playthrough

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Recently Fred played Die Hard Arcade on the Sega Saturn to show off one of the oddest directions licensed franchises have gone in games.  Well the game was known as Dynamite Deka (Dynamite Cop) in Japan, but retained all the Die Hard similarities, and was re-made in arcade perfect form on the PS2 (only in Japan as part of the Sega Ages 2500 series).  When Fred noticed it on the Japanese PSN for the PS3 – and at only ¥400 on sale, ¥823 normally – he had to pick it up and play through it.  Feel free to grab it for yourself if interested, but without further ado we present the complete playthrough of Dynamite Deka.

Written by Fred Rojas

January 20, 2015 at 11:34 am

Talking Ports: Half Life on the PS2

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I’ve always wanted to dedicate an article to Half Life on the Playstation 2 (PS2). However, Half Life is one of those games I genuinely get a bit worried about when reviewing, since so much as mentioning anything negative about this series will cause the entire Valve fan base to storm on you with torches and pitchforks. No where is safe, you are screwed. But since so few people have even played Half Life on the PS2 hopefully, its safe to come out of my Half Life hermit cave and talk about it.

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Now here is where I make my first shocking statement: Half Life on PS2 is the first time I ever played Half Life. One redeeming factor maybe that it did lead me to playing the game on the PC later when I was able to. Anyway, I was in day one for Half Life on console. I’d been anticipating the game since the hyped up Dreamcast port which never official surfaced outside of the homebrew scene (despite being advertised in leaflets that game with games at the time). It seems like a lot of the assets used to make the game on the Dreamcast surfaced on the PS2. Whether your a massive fan of the Dreamcast or not, its hard not to argue this game was much more suited to the PS2 due its its dual analogue sticks. This was the time where First Person Shooters (FPS) were finally getting easier to control on consoles, with thanks to Halo, gamers where just no longer stomaching the single analogue nub system famous on the N64 and Dreamcast.

hl_ps2_1Half Life on PS2 is technically an HD remaster (but just up-scaled, not actual HD graphics). The graphics received a massive overhaul and for the time looked fantastic. Enemies and human character models looked much more polished and some of the guns such as the assault rifle were completely remodelled. The recharge points had little probes for example, the health station had a syringe that would come out and stick your character. Though its very much a cosmetic change it does look pretty cool. The entire campaign was playable and you were able to save anywhere just like the PC version, which was quite uncommon for console games. Everything in the PC version is present on the PS2 even the humorous gore.

I actually played Red Faction on PS2 before Half Life and it was clear to see that a lot of the inspiration for that game came from the Half Life design. I also remember a article in PS2 Official Magazine confirming this from the developers.

hl_scro_gonNow the developers decided to include an interesting idea to make the game a bit more simple on the console. That feature is the dreaded auto lock-on system. I absolutely hated this and still don’t care for its inclusion to this day. This was probably a feature that was originally designed for the Dreamcast and probably made sense with its controller restrictions. Basically, what you do is when an enemy is in the area a simple press of the button will literally force Gordan Freeman to lock onto the enemy with his gun cursor pointing in more or less the correct area. It felt very similar to the lock-on feature [this is known by many as “Z-targeting” – Ed.] in Legend of Zelda Orcarina of Time (you know, just without the fairy shouting at you). Now you would think this feature would make the game a lot easier, but for a lot of the enemies, especially the boss characters like the scrotum monster on Xen (you know the one I’m talking about) the feature doesn’t lock-on properly and causes practically no damage. Its inclusion feels pointless especially when the dual analogue controls seem to work absolutely fine. Of course many would argue the controls can’t possibly compete with mouse and keyboard, but for a console port this was a fine effort.

hl_alienThe original Dreamcast version was going to feature the additional campaign, which later became Blue Shift, and was eventually released separately for PC. On the PS2 the developers included a co-op campaign that can be played in split screen, even if your playing alone. It’s a fantastic inclusion to the package. When you do play the game alone it’s a bit awkward because you have to control both of the female characters separately. A press of the button will switch back and forth between the characters if you are in the area alone your partner will defend themselves but will not move, they will just stand there like a loon till you move them yourself. This makes playing it solo feel very slow as you are literally travelling through the level twice. Unlike the main Gordon Freeman campaign, which is a continuous campaign with no level breaks, the co-op campaign is split up into individual levels you select from a menu. There is more backstory to the Half Life universe that even ties into the story of Blue Shift. So if you are a die hard Half Life fan and want to experience every campaign possible you will need to dust off your PS2 and get this game to experience the co-op campaign as it was exclusive on PS2. Not sure whether its worth all that effort though, since the co-op is very short. You do receive a fantastic bonus co-op mission where you get to play the aliens in the game; it’s brutally hard but its a nice touch.

hl_decaySo is Half Life on PS2 worth picking up? Well these days probably not so much especially since Half Life got another HD remaster in the form of Black Mesa on PC [as of this writing, Xen, the least popular portion – but also the ending – of Half Life is not included in Black Mesa although the development team reassured in early 2014 that it is coming and will be improved from the original – ed]. Die hard PC gamers will most likely laugh at this games existence despite the improvements the developers made to the graphics. The reason you may want to consider the title is if you already own a PS2 because this game is crazy cheap. Back in the day I paid full price for the game and I didn’t feel cheated. I later sold my entire PS2 collection but when I started collecting again I found Half Life on PS2 for a single British pound, and that’s still the going rate for this game. To this day I have an interest in PC ports to console even if they are most likely worse. It’s fascinating to see what developers do to a game to make it work on restricted hardware. Another fascinating example like this is Half Life 2 on the original Xbox and I may cover that in a later article.

Written by jamalais

January 19, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in Blog, PS2

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Resident Evil HD Remaster Review

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Fred’s Take

After long last it appears that Resident Evil, specifically the Gamecube remake from 2002, is making a widespread appearance on modern consoles complete with increased resolution, performance, and controls.  This is significant because the number of people who owned a Gamecube was relatively small and the Wii port had such a limited print run it was a bit difficult to find.  Not only that, but at 12 years old, the game itself has plenty of dated setbacks that most gamers I talk to refuse to put up with.  Thankfully this new version is digital only (no need to hunt down copies), adapted for today, and relatively inexpensive ($19.99 on all platforms).  With all the tweaks made to this game it is so close to being worth the money I can’t see any fan of horror games or the original series not wanting to pick up this new version.  Besides, it’s January, what else is coming out?

If you played the original to death – and pretty much anyone who owned the game back in 1996 did as we waited two whole years for the sequel – it’s a pretty rudimentary journey at this point.  You know where everything is, you probably know most of the tricks, you don’t need to save often, and your completion time will be somewhere in the 3-6 hour mark.  On the other hand, the limited release of this game and the cumbersome systems it can be found on means that you probably aren’t that familiar with it.  This is no graphical coat of paint over the original design, it’s a brand new experience.  The mansion’s layout has been changed, most of the puzzles are different, there are new enemies, and everything is scattered in completely different places.  That doesn’t mean that experts of the original can’t jump in and easily conquer this title from start to finish, but it’s going to take you some time.  Even more impressive is the fact that despite me completing the original at least once a year since it released, this version was able to get some tense and great jump scare moments out of me along the way.  It’s a new Resident Evil and it’s worth replaying.

Suppose you already picked up and played the Gamecube original (or the more rare Wii version), then there may be a bit less that this version has to offer.  Instead of 480p/widescreen (widescreen was only in the Wii version), you do have the benefit of 720p/1080p depending on the version you pick up.  Like many of Capcom’s Resident Evil HD versions before it, this version varies in the benefits of the new resolution from looking incredibly crisp and on par with today’s games and looking like a blurry stretched mess of an upscale.  Lighting is probably the most obvious and appreciated upgrade, Resident Evil is a better game with dynamic lighting and shadows.  Capcom was picky in what it remade and didn’t for this version and the inconsistency shows no matter how well versed you are at visuals.  That said, it’s still as gorgeous a game as it ever was and I didn’t see much of an issue – it looks much better than any other version I’ve ever played.  When you start to break down the differences between the 720p and 1080p versions, however, that’s where the lines begin to blur much more.  In short, just get the version that helps you sleep at night.  Having touched the fully upgraded PC version and compared it to the 720p PS3 version, I see little or no reason to own both, they are essentially the same game, even visually.  There is also a control option that plays a bit more like today’s shooters, but as I attempted a play with them I found myself hiding back into the hole of the classic tank controls.  This may not be the case for you, but to me it appears that Resident Evil is truly only Resident Evil with those tank style controls.  It makes sense, once we had a first person perspective mode Metal Gear Solid just didn’t seem right in The Twin Snakes, am I right?

This game is hard.  Not impossible and I’m not going to compare it in any way to a certain set of games by From Software, but if you are careless about your surroundings and enemies it will cost you.  This often comes in the form of dying after you had gone on a 30-60 minute run and had to re-start a portion all over.  Not only that, but with the new items and locations throughout this game it can be harder to figure out what you’re looking for or what to do next to progress without consulting a guide – which I admit I had to do twice during the campaign and it made me roll my eyes both times I saw the solution.  Pixel hunting and finding that item on the shelf isn’t so bad with the original because I know exactly where everything is and what to do, but that’s not the case with this one and you may be searching for like an hour to find a power cell that’s tucked away in a corner somewhere.  All of these items result in a much longer play of the game.  It appears Jam beat it in 7 hours whereas I was more around the 11 hour mark – although to be fair I only died 2 or 3 times because I was constantly backtracking and saving like a scaredy-cat.  So play however works best for you.  I also noticed that with the difficulty ramp of the Jill campaign, which is the easier of the two and my personal recommendation for you to start with, I am very eager to jump right back in and tackle the Chris campaign.  That’s not normal for me with Resident Evil on the PS1.

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In the end this is a way to bring those exclusive Nintendo titles over to mainstream consoles and share them with the masses.  I’m not sure how popular this version will be, but Capcom has made it as cheap and easy to find as it can within reason – those Wii U complainers will probably be reminded that the Wii version works on their console.  If you’ve never played this version or wish to revisit it after all these years, the price and availability makes one of my favorite games of all time come back to life.  Thank you Capcom.

Final Score: 5 out of 5 (review policy and guidelines)

If you wish to see this game in action, feel free to check out our quick look.

Jam’s Take

Once again you have stepped into the world of survival horror, good luck.

remake_jamAs you may be aware I have been a Resident Evil fan from day one. Originally I rented the Playstation original from Blockbuster, I genuinely found the experience to be quite scary and difficult. Yes, the graphics on that version haven’t exactly aged well but the game itself still holds up as a solid but difficult survival horror game. I think I warmed more to Resident Evil 2 in the earlier days because it was a lot easier. Over time though I began to appreciate Resident Evil a lot more.

Resident Evil then received a very impressive remake on the Gamecube. This for some of us was the reason we purchased a GameCube. I remember playing this game late into the night and actually falling off my chair at some of the jump scares. Since Nintendo had a deal with Capcom at the time this version of Resident Evil would remain an exclusive title to Nintendo consoles. But of course time passes and Capcom needs money especially with increased financial pressure on the company. It was no surprise that we would eventually see Resident Evil finally get a release on other consoles including the PC.

remake_4Last year a new remastered version has been released and being the Resident Evil fanboy that I am, I was’nt whiling to wait a month for the digital only release in my own territory. So I imported  a physical copy for PS3 all the way from Hong Kong. Though this version is Biohazard, (the original Japanese title of the game). This review very much represents the digital releases.

Even though I have played the Resident Evil Remake multiple times on the Gamecube and even the Wii version it still felt utterly fantastic booting this game up again and playing through. The opening cutscene remains untouched in terms of graphical quality, but, once you head into that familiar Spencer mansion I was surprised how good the graphics looked compared to the Gamecube version.  The game runs at 30fps on the last gen consoles and looks fantastic. Character models look great and the pre rendered backgrounds look even more detailed than before, it feels like there is less of a fog on the screen. Then again I am now playing the game on a flat screen TV whereas before I was still using a CRT. I found myself just wandering around appreciating the environments as a Zombie was lowly slumping toward me.

remake_1The entire Resident Evil remake campaign remains unchanged. The developers have now offered a easy mode which is available right from the beginning of the game (before I think it was only available when you died multiple times on standard difficulty). The biggest inclusion to the package is the altered controls. Don’t panic if you want to play the game in its original vanilla form with the tank controls you can still do that. To appeal to a new audience the developers have offered an alternative control scheme. Unlike before where you would have to hold down a button to run  pushing on the left analogue stick will make Jill or Chris run in whatever direction you want. These controls really simplify the experience but it kinda takes the tension away. I personally avoided this because I am so used to the original controls, it just felt right that way.

Since the Gamecube lacked online support the HD Remaster has included online leader boards so you can see how ridiculously fast other people have finished the game. You can also compare your scores to your friends. Of course with this being on next gen systems the game also has trophy/achievements included.

remake_5Resident Evil is a survival horror game. Health items and ammo are limited and it’s greatly discouraged to kill every enemy. You have limited inventory space to carry items, so you have to choose your equipment wisely. You get to chose one of two characters Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield. You are members of S.T.A.R.S (Special Tactics And Rescue Squad) hired to investigate some suspicious murders in the mountains. Of course you end up finding a mansion where hell breaks loose and your only goal to to escape. If you want an easier game you’ll pick Jill, but it is encouraged to play both campaigns as the stories play out completely different. As you explore the mansion you will come across Zombies as well as other nasty creatures. In between surviving those experiences there are also puzzles to solve some of which by failing could lead to your death. If that wasn’t enough the game throws a fair few boss battles at you. Should you enter a specific room under prepared this may also lead to a cheap death. Dying is a common place in this game the first time through, it’ll probably take you around 7 hours. Once you have memorized the correct pattern and route you will soon find yourself speeding through once you know what to expect. Nothing beats that first time experience though. You can save but it is limited to the amount of ink ribbons you have in your inventory. I came across a problem here with my copy the game took a very long time to save the game. Whether this is a problem with the import copy or my own PS3 console I’m not sure but looking at footage online it didn’t appear others were having this issue.

Unlike the original game on Playstation the remake does make a lot of changes to the game. For starters unless you get lucky and blow the head clean off a zombie the bodies don’t disappear. In fact if you don’t dispose of them properly they return again from the dead as the more threatening Crimson Heads which can kill in just a few hits. As well as that it is not uncommon for Zombies to bust down doors and follow you into other rooms practically forcing you to fight them.

My favourite part about the remake by far is how it surprises those that have even played the Playstation game to death. Certain memorable scenes will not play out the way you remember them. The puzzles in the game have also been re-worked so even though you may remember what you need to do, the solution now plays out completely different.

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All the audio has been rerecorded for the game in Japanese and English depending on your preference. Since this is the remake there are no infamous ‘Jill Sandwich,’ lines which I kinda miss from the game. The voice acting and script is actually fine in the game. The use of sound in this game is excellent. Your footsteps will change as you run from carpet to marble floor. Lightening will occasionally fire off as you run past windows and on many occasions you’ll feel like you heard something in the dark distance but will just dread investigating further.

Resident Evil HD Remaster is a great horror title. Fans of the series will find reason to buy this again despite it being the same experience on the Gamecube (and Wii). The game still looks incredible and was a joy to playthrough again even though I am very familiar with the experience. Despite the inclusion of a simple control scheme and easier mode this probably still won’t appeal to the mass gamers. If the original Resident Evil games were not your cup of tea this new update will hardly convince you to have another go. If your new to the series and love horror games this however is a must buy.

Final Score: 5 out of 5

Now lets have a moments silence for the S.T.A.R.S members we lost during this game.

Resident Evil HD Remaster will be available tomorrow, January 20, on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC for $19.99.  This release is digital only.  The 360/PS3 version runs at native 720p 30 frames per second (720p30fps) and the Playstation 4/XB1/PC version runs at native 1080p 60 frames per second (1080p60fps).  Content is identical in both versions.  The reviewers purchased advanced box copies from Asia, where the game released back in November, for this review.  If you’re interested in this version, visit play-asia.com.  This site and review have no ties to the Play-Asia web site.

Written by Fred Rojas

January 19, 2015 at 10:43 am

Mini Podcast: The Story of Tetris

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tetris_atari

Tetris has probably one of the most sordid tales about rights management.  This so-called “first game from behind the iron curtain” was one of the most popular and addicting games of the late 1980s.  Even more interesting is the story about how Nintendo snuck in behind a handful of eager parties who got in at the ground floor and secured sole console rights to one of the most money-producing games of all time.


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Written by Fred Rojas

January 18, 2015 at 8:15 pm

Now & Then: God of War 1 and 2

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God of War feels like a series that just exploded in popularity but has now been lost in the gaming community abyss. Last year the God of War Collection (featuring the first two games in the series) was released to the Playstation Vita to such a poor reception that a lot of friends were generally surprised it was actually released. Then again the same group of friends were gob smacked that Borderlands 2 also came out on the Vita. Now, it could be argued that this lack of enthusiasm may be due to the lack of interest in the Playstation Vita. But forgotten or not, I’ve played through both God of War games so it’s time to see how they hold up today.

gowhydraI was originally a massive fan of the very first God of War game on PS2. When I was first introduced to the game by a friend I got so into it we played through the entire game together in one single sitting, something that I rarely do with a video game. We spent a lot of the experience just gob smacked by how the PS2 was able to include great graphics and set pieces. Of course a lot of the great visuals are attributed to a fixed camera control and the set pieces being controlled entirely by quick time events (a feature I’m glad has started to disappear in the gaming industry). The game felt like a breath of fresh air. Although the game did not introduce a completely original experience it seemed to take elements that worked with other games like an anti hero storyline, hack and slash gameplay and upgrading your character with orbs. The game was not perfect, even for the time people criticised some of the challenging sections in the game most notably the infamous Hades area where you had to get pass various traps and obstacles. If you were hit just once you died instantly, leading to some massive gamer rage grinding your enjoyable experience to a complete halt. What made God of War stand out at the time was the epic adventure, where you travel into areas no man can supposedly enter (and the game clearly displays this by having dead bodies littered everywhere). You really felt like you were on this impossible quest. Every time you beat a gigantic boss or got pass a deadly trap you really felt a sense of achievement. The bosses were also enormous like the infamous hydra, a fantastic way to open the game and a design feature that seemed to carry over to all future games in the series as well. The game was well received by critics and gamers so it pretty much guaranteed a sequel. The developers seemed confident of this as well as the message “Kratos will return,” appears once the credits have finished at the end of the experience.

gow2It was no surprise that I was anticipating God of War 2 on PS2 even though it was released very late in the life cycle. The game was very much the same experience as the first just with a new story and new weapons (although I never used these I always stuck with the blades). You were once again tasked with another impossible quest. For some reason I found this experience quite bland. Although there were small changes to the gameplay, with new magic spells and new outrageous set pieces. For example, flying on a griffin then jumping onto an enemy one, cutting its wings off and leaping back onto your own. However, it really just felt like more of the same. I think what really disappointed me was the ending, which for the time did what we called a “Halo 2” where it ends on a crappy cliffhanger. I don’t know why but for the time this sort of ending really pissed me off and lead me to avoid God of War 3 on PS3 for quite some time, just because I was acting childish about it. This didn’t stop God of War 2 receiving massive critical praise and selling very well despite its late release.


gow2_vsRevisiting the first game on the Vita was quite a pleasant experience. The in game graphics having been polished up look fantastic on the OLED screen. The game visually looks surprisingly similar to the HD version on the PS3. A notable problem is the cutscenes in the game have not been given the same graphical upgrade. In the original game the cutscenes merged very well with the in game graphics so it almost looked the same. In the HD versions the cutscenes look blurry and worse than the in game graphics. Consequently taking you out of the immersion of the game. This same problem is present in the second game as well. Of course since the poor Vita lacks the extra buttons on a PS2 controller it does mean buttons have been mapped to the touch screen. But you may be pleased to hear they really don’t effect the experience. The back touch pad is only used to open chests, save and interact with objects of interest. The front screen maps two additional abilities which work very well. After playing the God of War games on PSP its refreshing to have the game use two analogue sticks again, something very few PSVita games require with it’s limited library. I was quite surprised that I still got stuck occasionally. God of War likes to throw the odd puzzle section at you and some of them are head scratchers. The rage quit moments are still just as awful to play through if not worse on a portable. One area in particular (the trials of Hades to be specific) has a section where you have to navigate across balance beams and it requires pin point precision, getting touched by a moving blade or falling leads to an instant death. I spent ages here, almost to the extent that I almost quit the game for good. It’s these dreadful sections why most people get put off the series.

gow2_bridgeUpon playing God of War 2 I actually enjoyed it a lot more the second time. Unlike the first game, I haven’t replayed the second game since the PS2. So I was able to enjoy the game for what it was. Though the game still has those moments where you just want to throw the portable across the room (the worst here being the section where the bridge is collapsing and you have to swing to escape). I guess I got more into the story this time through. The first game plays out like a greek tragedy, the second game is basically Kratos being an ass and wanting things his own way (this solidified his anti hero status with the series moving forward). God of War 2 unlike the first has a new game plus feature and just like the last time I played the game on the PS2, I started playing the game again with all my abilities unlocked and just lost interest really quick. The game just lacks any form of challenge in new game plus and is only worth playing if you want to unlock everything. A surprising omission from God of War 2 on the Vita is the game lacks any trophy support, though I understand trophies serve no purpose but for bragging points, it was weird that I unlocked trophies in the first game but not the second. Also trophy support is so common in games nowadays its hard to ignore when it isn’t present.

gow_sagaI really would only recommend God of War on the Vita if you feel you must absolutely have the game on the go. Since the majority of my gaming is done on the go I tend to warm to games like this, but I’m very aware I’m in the minority. If you want the most God of War in HD for your buck the best buy by far is the five game collection called God of War Saga, which is only available in America (it includes all three core games and the two PSP games) – however, if you have a PS3 you can play any region game regardless of where you live, the game is still available very cheap to this day.  Overall, God of War is one of those series to me that I still think out did itself on the first game and ever since then just hasn’t really evolved It hasn’t stopped me buying each iteration but let’s just say my expectations of the new game in development are not high.

Written by jamalais

January 16, 2015 at 11:00 am

Retro Game Night: Crypt Killer and Mad Dog McCree

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This week for Retro Game Night we go all light gun shooters (yes, they can be captured and streamed).

First up is arcade 3D shooter Crypt Killer, which was horror themed and moved from arcades to Saturn and the PS1 (Saturn version shown).  Sorry about the sound on the game being much louder than my voice, it was live and no one told me.

Next up is the 1990 “classic” Mad Dog McCree, one of the first laserdisc arcade games that was almost perfectly ported to the Nintendo Wii.  Here it is in all its glory (and in 720p!)

If you want to check out Retro Game Night, we do it every Friday night at 11:30 pm est on our Twitch channel (twitch.tv/gh101).  You can also follow us for random live broadcasts and check that page for our ongoing replay of Resident Evil HD Remaster on the PS3, which comes to the US on January 20.

Written by Fred Rojas

January 10, 2015 at 12:12 pm

Podcast: Tabletops and D20s

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Oh yeah and it's Fred's birthday and listener SieOne was kind enough to send a card.

Oh yeah and it’s Fred’s birthday and listener SieOne was kind enough to send a card.

This week we ring in the new year with guest Gary Butterfield from duckfeed.tv and the Watch Out For Fireballs podcast to discuss video games based on tabletop games.  Of course the big one, Dungeons & Dragons, takes up a chunk of the conversation but there are others that make their way in.  We also track the history and progression of taking earlier stat-based games and being able to integrate them properly onto the screen.


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Written by Fred Rojas

January 7, 2015 at 11:00 am

Syphon Filter – PSone Review

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syphon_filter_boxPlatform: Playstation
Released: 1999 (worldwide)
Developer: Eidetic
Publisher: 989 Studios
Digital Release? Yes, this is available as a PSOne classic on PSN for $5.99
Price: $2.89 (disc only), $4.95 (complete), and $9.99 (new/sealed) per Price Charting

In the late nineties stealth was becoming a big deal in the game industry, a lot of this was thanks to games like Metal Gear Solid on PSone and Thief on PC. Along comes 989 studios with a little game called Syphon Filter. I knew very little about this game before it was released. In the UK this game received very little coverage in the magazines even though it ended up reviewing quite well. My first experience of the game was actually playing the demo which came free with Official Playstation Magazine. The demo was just of the first level but I found it enjoyable enough to sought the game out on release and I kinda enjoyed the game. It seemed like I was the only one of my circle of friends that knew about this game but that didn’t stop the game receiving two additional sequels on the PSone as well as additional games on the PS2 and PSP. For now lets revisit the original and see how it fairs now.

syphon_filter_runIn Syphon Filter You play as Americas hero Gabriel Logan who appropriately shortens his name to Gabe, I guess to sound more manly. Gabe works for “The Agency”, a company who keeps things simple when it comes to naming its organisation. When Gabe is not standing around meeting rooms he is out taking down the bad guys. In this game there is a terrorist called Rhoemer who is up to no good in his army uniform wanting to take over the world with a deadly weapon called Syphon Filter which is a bio weapon that has the ability to kill several people in a short space of time. So its up to Gabe to save the day shooting many people in the process. The plot comes across as a 90s Arnie film, just with less one liners and the game really wants you to take the plot seriously. There are twists and turns in the plot but nothing comes as a big surprise. Before you start each level you will get to watch a cutscene and while the level loads you will be given a entire page of text to read explaining the plot and your objectives. Its always nice to see games that make the loading screen something that isn’t the words ‘loading.’

Syphon filter is a third person action game. The gameplay varies throughout the levels. The majority of the game is a pretty fun shooter with objectives which you have to complete, failing any of the missions will force you back to the nearest checkpoint. Objectives are quite varied and you can complete them in any order you choose. This was quite fun especially when replaying the game, the levels still come across as quite linear but its still nice to choose how to carry out each objective. You have many weapons at your disposal to shoot terrorists in the face including the good old silenced pistol to assault rifles and sniper rifles. All serve there purpose and allow you to mix up your shooting play style.

Some of the games levels turn into massive stealth sections which are very dull and boring. The reason being is if you are spotted once you have to restart the level. Not only that you usually had to take out a couple of enemies(but shooting them in the face) without being spotted while following some bad guy. It slows everything down and doesn’t feel as exciting as the general shooting syphon_filter_adgameplay. There are levels in the game where stealth is advised but being spotted doesn’t end the game. The problem here I found was the game flat out bombarded you with constant enemy respawns practically encouraging you to manually restart the level because the level was now just too hard.

The games shooting mechanics were quite interesting for the time. In this game you could manually aim in first person, though you could not move Gabe while doing this. If you aimed your crosshair over a enemies head a subtitle would appear saying ‘head shot,’ indicating your shot would take the target out in one hit. This became the most reliant method of taking down enemies especially later in the game because it would kill all enemies including some bosses in one hit even if they wore a flak jacket. Enemies that wear these require several hits to take down. There was also a auto aim feature which had a crosshair automatically target the nearest enemy, this was useful as you could move around while targeting. The problem was the shots would only hit the enemies chest and only felt useful early on in the game.

The game has a pretty unique hud. In the top left for the screen you have a health bar and a danger bar. The health bar shows your remaining health and amour, you armour can be replenished by picking up flak jackets if you start to loose health this could not be recovered. It felt very tense if you only had a little bit of health left as you desperately searched for a flak jacket.. The danger bar is interesting, when a enemy targeted you the bar would fill up. If it reached the maximum level and started flashing it meant every shot from the enemy would hit you, though it was possible shots could occasionally hit you while the bar was increasing. Moving into cover, or rolling around, or just moving away from the enemy reduced the bar and hence the probability the enemy would hit you. This was particularly useful as if helped you decide how at risk you were from enemy fire so you could judge whether to go in all guns blazing or take a more tactical approach.

syphon_filter_shotI remember playing this game back in the late nineties and thinking wow this game was pretty over the top. Originally slapped with a 18+ rating by the ELSPA (now replaced by the PEGI rating in Europe), this game had some pretty graphic content [editor’s note: this game was ironically only a “T” in the US – Fred]. For starters whenever you shot somebody it would leave a incredibly large blood patch on their character model. You would also see a nice shower of pixelated blood coming from the character. The most gruesome weapon by far and the one weapon you will remember most from this game is the taser. This is possibly the most over powered taser in video game history. Essentially you shoot a terrorist with it while holding the fire button down. After a short period the enemy will begin to scream and smoke will come out of them indicating its time to let them fall to the floor in a heap. But if your feeling evil, and you will, your most likely going to keep that fire button held. The smoke soon turns to fire and the enemy is literally being barbequed by your taser while still screaming, until you finally get bored and let go. Did I mention you start with this weapon in the game and it has unlimited shots, so yeah you’ll probably be having fun with this.

Syphon Filter will certainly keep you busy for a while. If your able to get passed the difficult stealth levels this game certainly warrants more than a single playthrough just because it’s fun to play. Even better once you have finished the game once you can select any of the previous levels you played, so you can skip the ones you hated.

Graphics are pretty blocky. The game being on PSone hasn’t aged well. Environments are pretty dull and boring, but that was the case even when this game was released. You’ll travel through city streets, city parks, army bases, caves and a cathedral and it all just looks dull. Probably the most interesting looking level is the Museum which looks pretty cool, unfortunately this is the boring stealth level which I didn’t care for. The most memorable level was later in the game where two armies are literally fighting each other and you have to somehow progress through a level while a small war is going on.

The soundtrack to this game was pretty solid with some genuinely memorable level music. The intro music when you get to the title screen is a nice warm welcome to the game. The voice acting however is quite bipolar. The bad guys sound a lot more into the game than the good characters. Gabe just sounds so bored all the time with his monotone voice. Even when dramatic scenes occur in the game where you would expect a display of human emotion Gabe stills comes out with the same dull tone voice putting very little into his performance. You really can’t help but chuckle at this.

syphon_filter_suit

Syphon Filter is quite a long game. The game will probably keep you busy for around twelve hours the first time through. The game does increase in difficulty quite dramatically about a third of the way through which may lead to leave this game to the side. There is not much replay value though you can input good old fashioned cheats in the menu if you want to play around or just find the game too difficult on its standard difficulty.

Overall, Syphon Filter was a brave first step into a new series. The game hasn’t aged very well in looks. The gameplay mechanics feel a little but there are more fun levels than frustrating ones. I remember when this game was released if was compared a lot to Metal Gear Solid, personally I see no resemblance here. The game looks pretty boring and the voice acting especially from Gabe is pretty terrible but the gameplay does a good job to make you forget these lingering issues and some levels will leave a lasting impression. Syphon Filter may look like a pretty standard shooter but it you will be surprised by what this little gem has to offer

Final Score: 4 out of 5  (review policy and guidelines)

Written by jamalais

January 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in Playstation, Reviews

Tagged with ,

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