Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty Substance Review

leave a comment »

mgs2_logo

Editor’s Note:  Jam originally wrote this review back in August of 2015 and somehow I missed it for almost six months.  This won’t happen again but I figured we should still show love to a great game and a great review.  Sorry Jam.

Metal Gear Solid 2 was possibly one of my most anticipated video games back in my youth. I eagerly awaited its release in 2002 (a little later than the rest of the world in Europe because game companies hate us). Kojima had been very smart in teasing the hotly anticipated sequel to the PS2 classic with various trailers and that infamous pack in demo with the full retail game Zone of The Enders, which no one played. We just couldn’t wait to play as Snake. On release I’m happy to admit my fan boy goggles were literally set to “Fan-tastic” as I played this game and loved the ever loving hell out of it and not buying in to some of the games criticisms post release. Well I’m older and detestably more mature so its time to return to the title and see how it fairs today. To research for this review I played through the game on the the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection on Xbox 360 and PSVita. The game had multiple releases on a lot of consoles but this review pretty much speaks to every version of the game.

mgs2_snakeMetal Gear Solid 2 puts you back into the shoes of the legendary Solid Snake, who has now gone rouge with his new pal Otacon from the first Solid game. They have formed the ultimate bro-mance to travel the world and take down metal gears (those are bipedal tanks if you’re not up to date with the series). Snake ends up on a ship passing through the Hudson River in a scene which is frankly fantastic if you’re a fan of cinema. Snake casually smokes a cig in his rain coat and gradually picks up his pace to then bungee jump off a bridge onto a ship. Re-watching this cinematic is still wonderful and possibly my favourite opening in the series. So you’re all happy playing as your hero Solid Snake. You fight a Russian girl, you take pictures of a metal gear along with sleeping soldiers, and then the game ends. Well, at least your control of Snake ends.  It has become known as the biggest historic bitch slap to the face of gaming history. After playing literally a couple of hours of the game, you are then put into the shoes of the far less interesting character: Raiden. Yeah, Raiden is no Solid Snake.  He has blonde hair, is pretty skinny, and lacks that testosterone appeal that we are used to from the much preferred Solid Snake. So you play as Raiden thinking “no big deal we’ll get back to Snake soon.” Wrong! You continue as Raiden for the rest of the game. So it’s kinda of disappointing but doesn’t completely ruin the gaming, its just not the Metal Gear story we were expecting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jamalais

February 8, 2016 at 11:00 am

Retrospective: Saint’s Row

leave a comment »

saints_row_title

When Grand Theft Auto III hit the Playstation 2 in 2001 it was unlike anything we had seen before.  Sure, the sandbox concept had been dabbled with from time to time and by the name alone it’s clear that Grand Theft Auto had been an established franchise, car stealing and hooker beating included.  It was GTA III that put everything together and re-established the concept of 3D world building and open variety of player choice.  Despite all the freedom of GTA III – not to mention the fact that most of my friends have explored Liberty City and put tens of hours into the game but never played more than the first handful of missions – it’s a very linear game.  Not only that, but as missions progress the game gets quite difficult and the open alive city is a drawback to completing missions.  That’s where Volition and Saint’s Row step in to attempt the next step: an open world where everything you do from running around to side missions affect the main story.

Saint’s Row began life in 2003 as a PS2 game called Bling Bling.  Senior producer Greg Donovan discussed the genesis of the title at GDC 2014 and the difficulty of pitching the game to THQ, which up to this point had not published anything like it.  Donovan and his team envisioned a game about a free world and all the minutia that make up that open world to recreate the gangster lifestyle.  The actual phrasing from the pitch video was, “Bling Bling is a third person action game about style, music, gangs, and guns.  It is the video game equivalent to a rap music video.”  Donovan and developer interviews since haven’t been too forthcoming with how the game eventually became a sandbox open world game, but given that both GTA III and Vice City were already out when Bling Bling began development it almost makes sense that it would take on the same style.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

February 5, 2016 at 11:00 am

Unreleased Game: Saint’s Row Undercover

leave a comment »

saints_row_undercover_psp_shot

Last week developer Volition, best known for the Saint’s Row franchise, discussed its canceled game on PSP Saint’s Row Undercover.  It started out as a PSP port of the second game in the series, but expanded into something more.  In addition, the company sat down with magazine Game Informer and turned a standard interview into a 4-part nearly hour long documentary on the company.  In addition, Volition released a 122 page PDF that is basically a design doc and walkthrough of the title.  With all of this amazing transparency, and the release of the prototype itself online, we just had to take a look.

I would love to give you a crazy video that details all of the wacky things you can do, but honestly the game lacks any true definition.  Now to be fair, it shouldn’t have any definition, it was a game the developer was prototyping for potential release and then was canned.  I take this moment and brief write-up to mention it only because people have asked me in the past why I haven’t covered Resident Evil 1.5 (ie: Resident Evil 2′s original version) and other unreleased demos/alphas/prototypes that have been set free on the Internet and it’s basically because not much is there.  The story, design docs, interviews, and concepts of what Resident Evil 4 or Saint’s Row Undercover could have been are fantastic and interesting, but what remains that can be played are shells of a game.  Anyway the links are there, have fun with it, personally I find it to be derivative of the Grand Theft Auto “Stories” games that came out on PSP, but then early on that’s all Saint’s Row was until it defined itself.  It also gives me an opportunity to cover Volition and Saint’s Row all week, so stay tuned for some wacky articles.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 1, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Altered Beast Review

leave a comment »

altered_beast_attract

Altered Beast was a game that lived in screenshots.  Like it or not, the arcade System 16 classic was less known for the roller skating rinks, bars, and bowling alleys that it was intended to get popular on and instead became the poster child for early Genesis advertising.  I say this as someone who was under 10 years old at the time it premiered, though, so perhaps it was burning up the arcades, but all I seem to remember was it coming home.  I did get a chance to play the title in coin-op form at my local bowling alley, but after a handful of attempts that never got me further than the second level I gave up on replaying the game.  When it came home, however, I needed it on my Genesis and I replayed it constantly.  In fact, for a game that is not only easy but also quick to complete (probably about 30 minutes), I find myself replaying it more than most other games from my past.  This even more odd given that, sadly, Altered Beast is not a very good game.

altered_beast_arcade_beast_modeThe premise is that of a centurion of Greece brought back by Zeus to save Athena, his daughter, who has been kidnapped.  Upon your resurrection, you now gain the ability to take the form of different animals in a sort of “were-” hybrid (werewolf, weredragon, werebear, etc) that can be accomplished by collecting power-ups in the level.  Beyond that Altered Beast is nothing more than a walk to the right and beat up everything in your path game, often known today as a brawler, but given that it pre-dates most of the Konami licensed brawlers and Capcom’s Final Fight, it was significant for the time.  Levels can vary in length, but if you know the game in the least – and what needs to be done – you’ll clear each one in 5 minutes or less.  Given that there’s only 5 levels, that’s a short time span.  When I refer to knowing what needs to be done, that’s the need to destroy the albino wolves in each level, which contain the power-ups needed to make your character’s strength grow and eventually trigger “beast mode.”  Each level rotation has 3 albino wolves and it takes 3 power-ups to go into beast mode, so you have to do it right the first time through or go through another rotation of the level that is usually harder than the first.  Beast mode refers to your character transforming into the aforementioned were-beasts from earlier and has even crept its way into pop culture as a meme.  While there are new enemies in each level, they all take basically the same amount of hits to defeat and aside form some basic change in behavior, don’t differentiate very much.  That’s still not to say this game didn’t have talent behind it because designer Makoto Uchida would earn some notoriety for his future work on Golden Axe and a personal favorite Dynamite Deka (Die Hard Arcade series).  Co-designer Hirokazu Yasuhara is even more notable with his planning and design on the early Sonic the Hedgehog titles before moving on and being involved in the design of Jak & Daxter titles with Naughty Dog and eventually the first Uncharted.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

February 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

Undertale Review

with 3 comments

undertale_logo

Undertale is a game that is hard to ignore if you are a retro gamer.  It strikes me as a bit of the hipster’s version of an SNES title because it seems to check all the boxes that get several communities pumped up as well as intrinsically embracing what is great about contemporary retro.  Couple that with the fact that it was almost completely created by one person, Toby Fox (who had art help from Temmie Chang), and there’s no doubt Undertale is an achievement.  None of this really matters for a review, though, which forces the critic to look a work right in the face and give his or her opinion.  Is Undertale a one-man-band achievement that results in one of the most impressive indie titles that hearken back to the days of 16-bit?  Sure, but that’s all left to award ceremonies and Fox’s peers to decide.  Is it the “must play” retro game that garners all the glittering prizes and game of the year nominations from my peers?  Perhaps not.  While I can admit to being entertained by the title – especially the very notable fourth wall breaking aspects that you almost never see coming – Undertale is weakened by the zeitgeist and harmed by the fact that no one on the Internet can just let you play a game anymore.  That game, while great, leaves more to be desired.

undertale_introUndertale began to make waves with the Earthbound crowd and while it’s not quite as heady and definitely not even a fraction of the length of those titles, Undertale does grow from those roots.  Personally I was never all that fond of the series (although I have not yet played Mother 3), but the humor was undeniably charming and Undertale embraces and builds upon that humor in spades.  You play as a character named “the child” who is given a name of your choice and skates that line of androgyny just enough that your avatar can identify as whatever they want.  An introduction explains that there are two worlds, the humans and the monsters, that have become separated from one another and whenever a human enters the world of the monsters they become corrupted and never escape.  As your quest begins, you start to learn that the irony of this is that monsters aren’t all that bad and much like humans just have a wide spectrum of personalities and behaviors.  The theme is hammered home when you discover that interactions with monsters are just that, interactions, and just because video games have taught you that fighting is the only way to go that you have a slew of other options.  From this point on you journey into the world to behave as you wish and reap the consequences of quite literally all of your actions along the way.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

January 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

Jade Empire Review

leave a comment »

jade_empire_logo

The original Xbox was a system with some incredibly gems on it that really didn’t receive much appreciation until near the end of the consoles life cycle. The game developer Bioware were all about the Xbox with their main hit on the system being Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic then later down the road in 2005 they brought out one of the most overlooked titles from the company Jade Empire.  Jade Empire really never found its audience, even to this day. Just mentioning this title to people today brings question marks in peoples minds. I remember seeing the game in an Official Xbox Magazine and being incredibly excited by the screen shots. Then the game came out and people just sort of forgot it was there. Today the game is passed off as one of the weakest titles in Biowares back catalogue.

Jade Empire is a Western developed action role-playing game (RPG) you play as a martial arts hero that you choose at the start of the game. You can choose between 5 set character models (6 if you have the limited edition or special edition), you can choose to go with pre-selected stats or you can customize the heroes stats yourself. You unfortunately can’t customize your characters appearance which is a shame considering Bioware’s previous Star Wars title allowed you to alter your characters appearance.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jamalais

January 7, 2016 at 11:00 am

Posted in PC/Mac, Reviews, Xbox

Tagged with , ,

Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours Review

leave a comment »

darius_burst_cs_logo

When you think of space shooters, the Darius series is probably not the first one you would think of, so it came as a wonderful surprise to to see this title come from out of nowhere and single handedly brought about what could be the renaissance of the space shooter series.  Dariusburst Chronicles Saviours (DBCS) is a love letter to the Darius series as well as anyone who has nostalgia for the shoot-em-up (shmup) genre. This series first started all the way back in 1986 and was infamously known for its merginging of space and the ocean. By this I mean that enemy ships all look like mechanical fish. It has an incredible design to it that you’ve just never seen anywhere else. Although the Darius series has not seen recent titles in the West, it has been living on with a lot of popularity in Japan on the portable and arcade scene.

The DBCS concept is pretty simple: you’re in a small space ship flying through various environments and your goal is to unload bullet hell onto any fishy looking space ship that happens to disturb your casual flight. The main hook of this game is the “burst” feature, which is a super charged cannon and unloads a devastating beam of death once you have acquired enough charge. It’s an essential feature to use against the gorgeous looking boss battles which range from giant mechanical crabs, lion-fish, and swordfish. It felt like quite the trip to the mechanical aquarium for me as I used to be quite the enthusiast of fish in my younger days and seeing some of creatures recreated in this game brought a smile to my face. What I love about the boss battles in this game is how you’re presented with a giant “WARNING” sign before each foe appears, you have this feeling something sinister is around the corner. Despite seeing this screen hundreds of times it never got old for me. If you’re skilled with the cannon, you can time it just right for when the boss decides to give you a stream of its own beam of death, which you can counter and land an even bigger beam of destruction back at the baddie. This moment when I was clever (or lucky) enough to pull it off was one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve had in gaming for quite some time. Its not all burst beams though, ships come in different fins and shells and you can pick up power-ups to upgrade your ship along your level.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jamalais

December 31, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Retrospective: Rebel Strike (Rogue Squadron III)

leave a comment »

rebel_strike_banner

In order to understand why Rebel Strike even exists and why reviewers were so harsh on certain aspects of it, it’s important to understand where the series roots begin in the Star Wars video game universe as well as the significance of developer Factor 5.  As most gamers are aware, the mid-late 90s was a rough time for video games as games went from sprite-based 2D experiences to polygonal 3D experiences with extremely varying degrees of success and failure.  During this time Star Wars was ramping up for some new content beginning with the 1995 announcement of the Special Edition Trilogy that would remaster the original films and bring them back to theaters.  At the time this was all good news.  My friends and I were mocking the transparent snowspeeders in Empire, laughing at some of the effects in A New Hope, and reveling over the cool new things that were teased in the trailer (like the ronto in Mos Eisley).  These days there are clearly sour grapes with the Special Edition Trilogy and far more edits have been made for the Blu-Ray releases of these films than what hit theaters in 1997, but again before those films had even come out it was time to ramp up on Star Wars console games.  Couple that with the announcement of the upcoming Prequel Trilogy set to release in 1999 and Star Wars fever hit.  It should be noted that Star Wars games would consistently release during most of console gaming’s life, but most of the variety was found only on PC and the more traditional action games were found on console.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Fred Rojas

December 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

Tomb Raider Anniversary Review

leave a comment »

tomb_raider_anniversary_banner

The original Tomb Raider was more than just a 32 bit title that launched a strong Playstation franchise, it was a cultural phenomenon.  For those that have ever played it, especially if you’ve recently gone back, it’s rather difficult to appreciate that game without the amazing strength of nostalgia.  Fortunately when Crystal Dynamics took over for the franchise with Legend the company’s second project was to remake the original.  As the following reviews will attest, it was a good faith effort to not only switch up the mechanics and polish the weaker points of the first game, but ultimately the need to keep many of the levels and designs intact tarnish the experience.  Crystal Dynamics played it safe with how little it tweaked of the original formula and what resulted was a game that feels so updated and tight at some points and so sluggish and archaic at others.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jamalais

December 15, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Tomb Raider Review

leave a comment »

tomb_raider_banner

The original Tomb Raider exploded in popularity on its release in 1996. People were blown away by the 3D graphics and the title helped promote the Sony Playstation despite being released in mind for the Sega Saturn. The game was praised to high heaven by gaming critics and it launched Lara Croft into icon status by being the first digital character to feature on the cover of Face magazine in the UK. Lara would then quickly go on to be more of a sell out than Krusty the Clown. Her image was used to sell various products like the Lucozade energy drink and Land Rover vehicles. After all why not, she was huge in the UK. This game was the talk of many playground conversations when I was younger not just because of the mythical “Nude Raider” code but gamers would discuss how to get through difficult sections of the game. Guides were not common place back then and the small ones printed in magazines lacked the impressive detail we see in fan made guides online today. It was considered a badge of honour if you were able to finish this game without using cheat codes. Its almost twenty years now since this game came out so I made this months Game Club my personal mission to finish this game without a guide. After lots of blood sweat and gamer tears here are my thoughts.

Time has not been kind to Tomb Raider along with the rest of the back catalogue of early 3D 32 bit games. Before I get started on the game itself I really wanted to hit home that I am very nostalgic for games of this era. Resident Evil on Playstation one still remains one of my favourite games of all time, my enjoyment of titles from this generation seems to have actually grown as I got older. This is the beauty of nostalgia, unfortunately for the someone who doesn’t share this connection you’ll probably go into a lot of these old 3D games and have issues with the controls and be generally turned off by the graphics. I acknowledge all these negative points yet I still enjoy these games. I feel these points are worth bringing up before you hear what I have to say about Tomb Raider now.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jamalais

December 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 312 other followers