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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

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

Podcast: Ready, Aim, Fire!

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This week Fred and Jam tackle the wonderful world of light gun shooters.  What started as a mere carnival game evolved into one of the more interactive – and for some of us fun – genres that has not withstood the test of time.  With the advent of newer screens, the technology that made light guns possible is now ruined by delays of no more than a fraction of a second.  In this episode we discuss the history, technology behind, and our fondest memories of the games that utilized the light gun peripheral.


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Written by Fred Rojas

December 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

Resident Evil HD Remaster First Look

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Sorry this is going up on Sunday night.  Normally Retro Game Night is recorded on Friday and goes up Saturday morning, but we had to delay recording a day and these HD videos take a lot longer to render and post to YouTube.  Either way, the video speaks for itself, but Fred got a retail copy of Resident Evil HD Remaster on PS3 that will be coming to the US in “early” 2015 (according to Capcom).  Well since there was another option, we grabbed it early.  Enjoy!

Written by Fred Rojas

November 30, 2014 at 6:52 pm

Review: Bayonetta

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bayonetta_360_boxPlatform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U
Released: 2010 (360/PS3), 2014 (Wii U)
Developer: Plantinum Games (360), Nex Entertainment (PS3 port), Bee Tribe (Wii U port)
Publisher: Sega (360/PS3), Nintendo (Wii U)
Digital Release? Yes, this game is available on all released platforms digitally
Price: $7.59 (disc only), $11.24 (complete), $14.99 (sealed) per Price Charting

Bayonetta is an anomaly.  It succeeds where many before it have failed.  Merging a Japanese style video game in every sense of the word, whimsical plot, a female sexually independent dominatrix lead, and incredible gameplay that attracts both Eastern and Western fans alike.  It is a true testament to the fact that if you bring a bunch of ideas together, no matter how outlandish, and they all remain consistent with an overall theme then more can definitely be better.  The first major release from Platinum Games knocks it out of the park, provided you don’t play the PS3 version.

Bayonetta_1Bayonetta opens in the fictional town of Vigrid where an endless battle is being fought between light and dark wages on.  Representing the light are the Lumen Sages and representing the dark are the Umbra Witches, and right off the bat this game turns the tables on you by revealing that your lead character, Bayonetta, is an Umbra Witch.  Not that the light is portrayed in a particularly positive way – all of these “angelic” creatures don halos as well as aggressive weapons, massive sizes, horrific appearances, and an affinity for causing death.  As Bayonetta you will trek across areas that vary from natural modern cities to metaphysical interpretations of heaven, purgatory, and hell, all with help from the game’s handful of unique characters that add some spark to Bayonetta’s lone wolf demeanor.  That’s not to say you’ll be swapping who you play as or that there’s a multiplayer component – because you won’t and there isn’t – nope, all of these cast members merely break up the monotony of the typical “hero on a quest” formula.  It’s all a good fit for an entertaining story, but that’s only the half of it because from both a plot and gameplay perspective Bayonetta herself has plenty of depth.

 

Get Ready!

Get Ready!

Developed by former Clover studio members(they made Viewtiful Joe and Okami for Capcom, among others), Bayonetta is one hell of an action beat-em-up title that feels like an alternative reality sequel to the original Devil May Cry (which creative director Hideki Kamiya is also responsible for).  Bayonetta  is a tall, slender character that has plenty of finesse and flexibility, which will be flaunted both for the benefit of battle and to flirt with the player.  The push and pull of combat is juggled by Bayonetta’s combos and a dodge mechanic that, when timed correctly, can give you an opportunity to dole out some massive hits on groups frozen in time.  This game is not about memorizing combos, despite the presence of a countless number of them, but rather responding with twitch reflexes to the actions of your opponents.  By the time you reach some of the later battles you will be required to anticipate the counter to an enemy’s action, thus making the final stages feel more like a dance or game of chess than a beat-em-up.  This might have been a setback were it not for how elegantly Bayonetta blends it all together and slowly builds to the point of some of those late encounters.  It also doesn’t mind making the most of Sega’s library as it taunts and emulates some of my favorite classics from the late 80s arcade era, complete with a surprising level that kept a smile on my face the whole time.

bayonetta_2In lieu of all the craziness, complex battles, and seemingly noble battle between two forever warring sides, Bayonetta is hardly a game to be appreciated by all gamers for a number of reasons.  First and foremost the game is definitely not for kids with consistent swearing, graphic violence, and lets not forget a cascade of sexual innuendos, suggestive poses (complete with camera flash), and the fact that Bayonetta’s finishing move involves her getting completely naked.  Yup, you read that right, she gets completely naked.  Before you worry too much about what type of game this is, for the most part the animation of these finishers is kept somewhat classy by covering up the lead lady’s naughty bits and never really having any true nudity, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t spend a significant amount of time in the buff.  It’s explained dutifully by the fact that all Umbra Witches have long hair that houses their powers and thus everything attached to Bayonetta, including her unique wardrobe, is actually her hair wrapped firmly around her body; when this power must be unleashed, all of her hair exits and generates various intriguing avatars for which to dispel the largest of her enemies.  So basically in order to kill a big monster she’s gotta have hear hair leave and that renders her naked for the moment.  I could also see how the consistent spread legs, bent over, and licking lollipop shots could be construed as distracting when you consider most of these shots occur at the end of a battle, but frankly it feels more like just an extension of the character.  Bayonetta is in control and she doesn’t care if you know it or not so when she teases you.  She poses in such a way as to get your attention and remind you that if anyone is being exploited here, it’s you the player.  I thought it was a great play on roles and a surprising way to break the fourth wall, but historically Bayonetta is viewed more as an oversexed male perspective of a character rather than the strong female lead she represents.  Perhaps this will have no bearing on your interest in the title, but it is a consistent and necessary theme.

While it’s a blast from start to finish, I have to admit that Bayonetta is not without flaws, and that’s assuming you dismiss the fact that the necessary 60 frames per second (fps) of the 360 and Wii U versions are throttled by poor porting on the PS3 and can be responsible for a drop to the lower 40s on Sony’s console.  This is critical in that the entire game depends on the flow of combat and literally five frames of animation can mark the difference between a perfectly executed dodge and a clunky late jam on the button that leaves you open for large combo damage.  This game is also difficult to play in long strides due to the 12-15 hour campaign being chock full of high tension and twitch reflex gameplay that make it far from a “sit back and unwind game”.  Fortunately each new encounter feels more like a new puzzle rather than a batch of throw away enemies and once the gameplay gets its hooks into you Bayonetta is addicting.  I could see many starting the game but eventually coming to a point where it’s too exhausting to continue to the end, not to mention some of the less than ideal checkpoints during boss battles.  If you stick with it, the accolade of completion and seeing the conclusion to the story are a fitting reward for your efforts.

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Bayonetta is a game that skates the lines of many games I had enjoyed in the past but was one of the first to nail that overall hybrid.  With a playful Japanese style, larger than life opposition, and almost rhythmic combat style there’s a lot to love with this title.  It may have a few flaws and for those that never quite get down the timing, can seem like it starts to wear out its welcome, but I was always anticipating my next session from the first chapter to the large scale ending.  It takes a bit of time to sink in and you get bombarded by some jarring minutia at the onset, but in the end Bayonetta is a must play title for anyone who owns a 360 or Wii U.

Wii U Extras

bayonetta_wiiu_costumesIn truth the more recent port of this title that accompanies its sequel in the states is almost indistinguishable from the 360 version, especially when the 360 upscale to 1080p is up for comparison.  Nintendo’s true stamp on the original comes in the form of various costumes of popular Nintendo franchises that make guest appearances in the Wii U version.  From the beginning you have the Peach, Daisy, Link, and Samus costumes at your disposal, which not only change Bayonetta’s aesthetics but also provide her with appropriate special abilities.  At first I was eager to try on each of these costumes and enjoy the gameplay benefits they bring, but after a short time I regretted their presence.  That’s not to say I don’t think they should be included, more optional content is better than no content in every case, but rather that I just didn’t find any value in them.  I can’t get over how goofy Bayonetta looks in all of the costumes and the fact that the game doesn’t acknowledge them – which I knew it wasn’t going to do because those cutscenes were created long before Nintendo costumes were considered – but in a title that thrives on ridiculous over-the-top circumstance it felt just a bit too far even for Bayonetta.  I also thought that complicating the gameplay with these seemingly super moves actually hindered my ability to effectively chain combos and thus acted as more of a handicap rather than a special benefit.  In the end, it’s up to you, but I played the game as if the costumes didn’t exist.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (Review Policy)

Written by Fred Rojas

November 13, 2014 at 3:33 pm

Posted in PS3, Reviews, Wii U, Xbox 360

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Review: Project Zero (Fatal Frame) 2: Crimson Butterfly

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pz2_boxff2_boxConsole: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii
Released: 2003
Developer: Tecmo
Publisher: Tecmo
Digital Release? Yes, PSN version compatible with PS3 for $9.99
Price: $24.77 (disc only), $26.88 (complete), $56.88 (sealed) per Price Charting

Jam’s Take:

Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly is a sequel to the original horror PS2 hit that brings more of everything. More ghosts, more places to wander around and more pictures than a bachelors degree in photography. But is this game a picture worth hanging on your wall or maybe more suitable as a Christmas greeting card?

After surviving the mansion incident from the first game you find yourself now playing as a totally different character in a different setting. This time you play as a young girl called Mio Amakura and occasionally your messed up twin sister Mayu. After becoming lost in Minakami forest you stumble across a village. What could possibly go wrong here? Well it doesn’t take long for you to figure out that the place is haunted with the tortured souls of its dead inhabitants as well as that something weird is affecting your twin sister Mayo.  The plot is completely separate from the original Project Zero title. The only main link being that you find the Camera Obscura, which is the same device in the first game, as a weapon.  You use it to snap the things that go bump in the night – this time its an entire village as opposed to just a mansion.  The plot of this game is rather complicated and felt quite hard to follow. Like the first game, there are several documents littered around the place providing you with some background information on what happened to the village and its inhabitants.

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Project Zero 2 does make a couple of changes to the series as well. First off, the game now has a novice mode for those gamers who are just utterly terrified of the “brave” normal mode. Saying that, even normal mode comes across as significantly easier than the first game in the series.  The most significant gameplay adjustment is taking pictures of the ghosts. Like the first game you wander around in third person and when you want to take a picture you switch to a first person perspective. A small yellow bar will be highlighted indicating that your picture will damage the ghost. Items of interest can be photographed and highlighted in blue in the view finder, taking the picture will usually help unlock a door or solve a puzzle. In this game you are practically encouraged to get up close and personal to the ghouls to take damage from them, the closer you get the more the yellow bar fills. If your used to the charging mechanic of the first game, that mechanic may confuse you at first as it is not made entirely clear when taking a picture will damage the ghost. Similar to the first game there is an opportunity to take a picture at just the right point to do maximum damage, called a “Zero shot,” and your HUD bar will highlight totally red when you have this opportunity. Unlike the previous games ghost encounters may have more than one ghost, they may even last longer, which is saying a lot as ghosts encounters in the first game were not a short experience. Not only that, encounters can be random anywhere in the game, it is not advised to hang around in a room doing nothing for too long.

You can upgrade the camera, which has been made a lot easier from the first. You accumulate points to upgrade by snapping pictures of the ghoulies and you also find spirit stones for upgrade slots hidden around the game. To upgrade the camera you need to use a spirit stone first to activate the slot and then have enough points to solidify the upgrade. This unique way of upgrading seems to be a way of preventing the player upgrading the camera too quickly.  Just like the first game you can also load your camera with different types of film that will do different amounts of damage and specific effects. These are in limited supply and scattered across the village.

You will regularly encounter puzzles throughout the game and many of them involve you using the camera at a specific spot to unlock a door. The game will also give you logic puzzles to solve like rotating dials to match the colours.  A lot of the game feels like a giant Easter egg hunt where you wander around an area looking for key items to solve a bigger puzzle.  You can save your game as many times as you want at designated lamp points; however, if there is a ghost in the area the lamp will go out preventing you from saving. Taking a snap shot and vanquishing the spook will enable you to once again use the save point. This mechanic was in the original game as well and is a great way of making you feel that nowhere is safe.

ff2_3Graphically the game does an excellent job of recreating a spooky village. You really feel like you’re alone as you wander around this creepy place with the sense that something is watching you, and it usually is. Ghosts appear to look surprisingly solid, which I’m not entirely sure is a good thing. Ghosts take on the forms of members of the villagers who once lived there and there are a huge number of ghosts in comparison to the first game. You’ll encounter blind ghosts, priest ghosts, children ghosts, and my favourite the crazy suicide ghost who attack you by constantly falling from a high up altitude. Of course this ghost was not meant to be funny but it did make me laugh more than tremble with fear. There are of course a lot of ghosts which just seem to hang around in the village. They won’t attack you, they act as the collectables in the game. Taking images of ghosts in the game and saving them to a separate photo album file will unlock additional costumes for Mio and Mayu.

The question I just could not help asking in Project Zero 2 was: so when does this game get scary? To be fair this game has several eerie moments but I never particularly felt scared or in danger when playing this game. Once again I am comparing this to the original game which seemed to contain scenes I found very unsettling. Saying that the developers apparently toned the horror down for this game to encourage players to actually finish the experience.

Project Zero 2 is certainly easier than the first game and a lot more accessible to people new to the series. Ammo and health items are very easy to come by even on standard difficulty. Some may find the pace of the game a little slow and frustrating as you wander around the village looking where to go next, the game does have a handy map if you get completely stuck. Once you get over the first few hours of the game you should be able to finish between eight to ten hours the first time through. The game does have multiple endings to experience and you are encouraged to play through the game multiple times to unlock extra difficulties, costumes and collect a picture of every damn ghost in the game if your a hardcore collector.

Overall, Project Zero 2 is a solid game but as you could tell from this review I could not help constantly comparing it to the original. The game changes the gameplay mechanics for the camera in a way I don’t think is as enjoyable by timing the right shot as opposed to charging it up. The story didn’t really draw me into the world or care as much for the main characters. When the game was finished I was quite surprised as it just seemed to abruptly end. Saying that, the game is a lot easier and more appealing to people new to the series. Unfortunately the game will still only appeal to a niche audience. If you want to try a horror game that tries things different from the typical survival horror experience I recommend giving this a try. If you liked the original I’m pretty sure you’ll find this game enjoyable. For everyone else this is a tough game to recommend. Though I had fun with the game I favour the original more, but felt compelled enough to look at the sequel.

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Fred’s Take:

Unlike Jam, I have not played the first and thus do not have to worry about comparing the two.  What I have a harder time with is wrapping my head around why this game is so popular in US horror gaming circles.  I get what appeals in other Japan-centric games like Silent Hill or even potentially Resident Evil - disturbing images and big squishy monsters – but I never understood that supernatural appeal vibrant in Japanese ghost stories.  These stories in visual media always break the universal rules of good horror: they are complicated tales instead of a simple plot, you see the danger in full view instead of off screen or lingering in the shadows, and they don’t clearly end.  Fatal Frame II is all of these things and I just don’t understand the appeal.

ff2_4Despite this fact, it is a decent game that encompasses solid mechanics and a great world to explore.  Whereas many found it to be an unsettling attack to the senses, I found to it to be a great exploratory simulation of events and locations I’d never have to the guts to tread in real life.  I always talk about games being haunted house simulations, which is more of an American view in that I’m expecting big gory beasts and graphic violence, whereas Fatal Frame II is literally a series of haunted houses you have to reconcile.  The village is flooded with souls that are both at peace and tortured, but you may never know who these people are or why they fit in either camp (except for whether or not you can damage them with the camera) thanks to the brunt of the plot being in collectible books.  Reading those books isn’t the issue, its knowing whether or not you have found all of them and the game’s complete lack of care whether you did or not, that I start having issues with.  When unraveled the tale is quite simple, but far be it for the developers to present it that way and instead you end up circling the same concepts and stories a few dozen times before you can comprehend what even happened by the time the credits roll.  Fatal Frame II does effectively capture the strongest sense from Japanese ghost stories, which is to screw with your perspective and corrupt something you love.  It’s very good at that.  It messes with you.

Combat is consistent, although figuring out the inner workings of how that all comes to pass takes time.  Just when you think you’ve figured out a mechanic, the game allows other ghosts you encounter to change or break the rules you just figured out.  Perhaps you could always snap a shot of a ghost coming out of invisibility the last time but this time the ghost’s ability is to disappear when it’s fully visible and you have to hit it at a different time or distance.  Maybe the ghost is in plain view but because the camera doesn’t turn yellow/red you can’t snap a photo for damage.  Maybe a girl is literally falling out of the sky to her death and although she’s invisible has the ability to hurt you when she lands even though other ghosts walk right through you.  It’s a bit irritating at first until you realize you have plenty of health and healing items for trial and error, but when faced with a ghost that can’t be exorcised or one that kills you in a single touch (or both) the annoyance of the battle system can get the best of you.  I just had a hard time being threatened by enemies that I can walk through, in many points of animation can’t harm me, and consistently go invisible.  Then again, I was scared to death and on the edge of my seat as I navigated a room plagued by a one-hit death ghost.

With all the focus on exploration – whether it’s fighting a new enemy, looking for something specific, or trying to find out where your half-goofballs sister is gallivanting to next – I was hoping I’d be looking for more interesting items.  The random unnecessary books that document the past, present, and potential future of The Lost Village and your place in it are fascinating little tidbits of lore, but those are completely optional as are the content spirits lingering about.  What is necessary is annoying fetch quests that have you finding stupid little stones in the ground with fragments of a key, assembling a doll from six or seven different parts strewn about, or traversing an entire house only to find the item you need was in the first room you entered and having to re-trace your steps twice while you fetch and return with that item.  It makes the relatively short game a bit long in the tooth.

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In the end I guess I just wasn’t in the mood for a traditional, non-violent, complicated ghost story about fetching things while your sister goes crazy.  I did, however, have a good time getting through the game’s 6-8 hour initial campaign and appreciating the moments, stories, and enemies that did make me smile and nod.  Fatal Frame II is different from other games and it’s well executed in what that specific game is, which is perhaps why it stands as such a pivotal title in the genre.  Everything you experience, down to the final moments and multiple endings, assure you that if you’re a fan of the likes of Ringu (The Ring) or Ju-On (The Grudge) that you’ll be right at home with the eerie atmosphere Fatal Frame II has to offer.  For me, this was nothing more than a unique style to a niche genre that, while well executed, just wasn’t that much up my ally.  Still, if you feel at home with a good old fashioned Japanese ghost story, complete with cryptic outcome, this may just be the game you’ve always been looking for.

Final Scores   Jam: 2 out of 5  –  Fred: 3 out of 5    (Review Policy)

Written by jamalais

October 30, 2014 at 2:01 pm

Podcast: Ghouls, Ghosts, ‘N Goblins

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This week Fred and Jam are discussing the Capcom series Ghosts’N Goblins (or Makaimura if you prefer).  Easily one of the most punishing franchises ever created, the boys tackle the trials and tribulations of Sir Arthur on a never ending quest to save his girlfriend.  Along the path he will traverse to various worlds, see terrible beings, and of course battle the many derivatives of the Devil.


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And just for fun, have a video of me cussing out the original for two hours:

Review: F.E.A.R.

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fear_boxFirst Action Assault Recon (F.E.A.R. from now on) tries to be multiple things at once – a first person shooter (FPS) with a gimmick, a horror title, and a technology showpiece – and does a competent job, which is probably why some have claimed it’s the best FPS of all time.  F.E.A.R. is far from the greatest FPS of all time, but it is a blast to play (especially in the dark) and combines that helplessness of being outnumbered and the rush of taking on those odds without so much as a scratch to show for it.  The horror elements are more of a thematic tone for the minutiae, but the proper use of shadows, lighting, and occasional jump scares do help to justify it all.  That and the two main antagonists, Paxton Fettel and Alma, do  a fantastic job of creeping you out and making you dread the eventual encounter with either or both of them.  Visually, especially on the PC, this title can go up against a decent number of today’s shooters and impress, so naturally it was a showpiece when it premiered in 2005.  Put it all together and you get a game that shouldn’t be ignored.
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The F.E.A.R. team is a fictional spec ops group that works in tandem with Delta Force – a real military group – to handle special situations like the ones faced in the game.  You play as Point Man (who’s name is withheld), the leader of F.E.A.R., which is most likely not a long lasting career because you are tasked with leading the assault along with cohorts Spen and Jin.  A terrorist named Paxton Fettel has broken into a tech company named Armacham Technology Corporation (ATC in the game) and taken control of the genetically engineered super soldiers they were developing.  As you progress through the game there are several encounters with Fettel that include his psychic abilities, apparent links with you, and his cannibalistic nature that also happens to consume the victim’s memories.  Not only that, but a little girl named Alma appears to be roaming about the facility and her powers can cause…quite a mess.  While there is a creepy supernatural story that unfolds as you progress through F.E.A.R., the brunt of the game’s overstretched 10-12 hour campaign will be corridor shooting and kill box ambushes against unfair odds to progress through what is quite possibly the largest building I’ve ever seen.  To its credit the writing is good and distributes just enough information in an easily digestible and upfront fashion that when the twist hits at the end and the subsequent roller coaster of the epilogue, you know exactly what’s going on and why it’s significant.  Also stay tuned after the credits for a bit more back story.

In 2005 there were more than enough FPS titles to choose from and most of them were military shooters like F.E.A.R., so naturally the game needed a gimmick.  Fortunately for developer Monolith, the gimmick of slowing down time to essentially allow your character to make judgment calls and aim accuracy that is seemingly impossible, was quite an effective one.  When you play even a short demo of the game, few encounters can be effectively handled without slowing down time, especially when you consider this is a health/armor system without regenerative health so every bullet you are hit with counts.  Slowing down time to have pinpoint accuracy or the ability to blow away a pack of enemies while running in circles around them is not only a great way to take on groups, but it makes you feel overpowered.  Given that this ability is finite, although it does slowly recharge, can provide a balance to the one-sided nature of battle; however, the game’s hide happy AI will give you plenty of opportunity to fall back and wait for a full recharge.  That’s not to say F.E.A.R. is unbalanced in favor of the player, because there are plenty of encounters throughout the game – especially as you near the conclusion – that are downright unfair and take a mix of ability and luck to overcome regardless of special abilities.

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Probably the easiest way to get your hands on this game is on Steam (PC) where it is consistently going on sale (although not at this moment), is compatible with modern day systems while also having low enough requirements that most contemporary machines can run it at the highest settings, and includes the expansion packs Extraction Point and Perseus Mandate.  If PC is not an option, you can also pick this title up on 360 or PS3, but keep in mind the expansion packs are a separate title on 360 (F.E.A.R. Files) and not available on PS3 – although full disclosure I have not yet played either of these packs and probably won’t for some time, so it’s not exactly a deal breaker.  Regardless of where you play it, F.E.A.R. looks good, however I find it to look exceptional on the PC.  Details like dynamic lighting and shadows play with the player’s perception and contribute to the eerie atmosphere of the ATC office building.  Additionally the graphic depictions of what has happened to the unfortunate workers and soldiers that came in contact with Fettel, Alma, or ATC super soldiers is presented with so much detail it felt uncomfortable to look at for more than a few seconds.  I was surprised how the game kept track of fallen bodies, bullet holes, shattered glass, and arterial blood spray as I went on.  I’m not sure if each of your victims in the console version painted the walls like they do in the PC port, but I’m betting they do and it’s an impressive touch.

fear_3When you put it all together F.E.A.R. is a title that has easily withstood the test of time in the 9 years since its release.  Fans of the FPS genre should give this first title a go if only to see if you find the slowdown mechanic worthwhile and fun, because that is easily the biggest draw to playing the single player component of the second and third title.  Sadly the multiplayer component has been brought offline by both WB and eventually Gamespy, but for those who want experience the multiplayer that has equally defied the obstacles in its way, fear-community.org provides a free version of the MP along with a master server and support to start your own server.  It’s an interesting mix of fresh blood and nine year veterans from the look of things, but since competitive shooters have never been a strong spot for me and I found this game more difficult than most FPS campaigns, I decided to steer clear of what is a blatant hardcore community.  Despite the repetitive nature and elongated campaign that outstays its welcome for about 25 percent of the content, F.E.A.R. was an excellent weekend play in the dark to kick off my month of horror games.

Final Score: 4 out of 5  (Review Policy and scoring system)

Written by Fred Rojas

October 6, 2014 at 11:00 am

Review: Bioshock

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BioShock_boxBioshock was released all the way back in 2007  (which seems like quite a while in terms of game releases), near enough the same time as the launch of the Xbox 360.  Before I re-played this game for the Game Club, my last save on the 360 was dated August 2009. So would you kindly take a seat and read on, as we see if Rapture is still a city worth re visiting or if it should stay at the bottom of the ocean.

In Bioshock you play as Jack, a character who doesn’t really say much. After surviving a plane crash and swimming to a lighthouse, you find underwater transportation to the city of Rapture, a so-called underwater utopia created by a man named Andrew Ryan. You quickly learn that Rapture is not the magical gum drop land it was probably intended to be because most of the residents have totally lost their minds and want to murder you. People seem to be hooked on something called ADAM which changes your genetic code, giving the recipient special powers. The game does a great job of explaining the story through use of audio diaries, which give audio-based background to the game while you are still playing. The story is filled with regular twists and turns that will keep you interested right up to the end. Since there is so much depth to the plot, I found I understood more when going through the game multiple times (not to mention these are hidden items that you can drudge for when not on an initial playthrough).

Bioshock plays as a first person shooter with role playing elements. The game gives very clear goals and even a quest marker for where to go. Don’t worry completionists, you have plenty of opportunity to explore the world and discover secrets and additional information of Rapture. You also find plasmids which unlock super powers for your character such as shooting electricity or even bees out your hands if you choose it. Alternatively you can use plasmids for more passive results such as improving your melee damage, healing abilities, and several other traits.

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You can also hack devices like vending machines to receive discounts or hack automated cameras and turrets, which will attack enemies instead of you. When you hack you enter a mini game, which is Pipe Mania basically, connecting the pipe parts together so the fluid flows to the right target. Unfortunately if you fail to do this in the limited time you will receive damage and possibly trip an alarm. Hacking is fun to begin with but gets quite tedious quickly, so fortunately like with most things in this game you also have the option to pay for a hack or use a auto hack tool to bypass the mini game entirely. Of course there is always the option to not be so nerdy and just not hack at all.

bioshock_3If you haven’t figured it out already, Bioshock allows you to play the game as you want. You can stealth or go guns blazing (the latter is more tricky on harder difficulties). You have a lot of choice into how to advance in the game, and even better, you can switch out your abilities should you want to change your gameplay style. The only potential issue is Bioshock can come across as quite easy on any difficulty. Even on hard mode, if you die you just get resurrected instantly in a close by vitality chamber. There is practically no penalty for this and you just continue on in the game.  A hardcore mode was added in the first update for 360 and PC, so any of those that have online access and update – not to mention the port onto PS3 and iOS – will also have a Hardcore mode that will give you a game over with any death, but this is almost canceled by the game’s ability to let you save and load anywhere.

The graphics in this title are absolutely phenomenal.  Rapture is unlike anything else you will probably see in other video games and a lot of thought clearly went into the art direction, which is consistently  demonstrated when you pay attention to the consistent writing on the wall as well as items and bodies positioned in specific places. This can show you how far Rapture has probably fallen from grace. Bioshock is set in 1960 and the art style is inspired by Art Deco, but of course since Rapture isn’t like your typical city above the ocean things have been changed for this specific utopia. The water physics are also very impressive, water will flow down stairs and pour from the ceilings very much convincing you that you are in a underwater city. The game also makes excellent use of shadows; you will regularly encounter silhouettes of enemies projected on the wall making you kind of dread what could be round the next bend.

bioshock_2Character models and enemies are also very impressive.  The most common enemies are splicers, which are disfigured people, and their reaction to you and the world very much mirrors a society gone wrong. Much like yourself, some of the splicers also have powers, like teleportation.  The other most notable foe is the Big Daddy, giant creatures in a diving suit that protects a character called a little sister (but I’ll get to them shortly). These incredibly threatening creatures actually won’t harm you until you either attack the Big Daddy itself or get too close to the little sister. When that happens the brute goes feral and will attack you with full force. Consequently even to this day the Big Daddy is one of my most memorable characters in gaming.  Returning then to the little sisters, these are little girls which have a parasitic sea slug in their stomach, allowing them to collect ADAM. Once you have taken down the Big Daddy protector you’re faced with the moral choice of harvesting the girl for maximum ADAM – this kills the girl in the process (you don’t see any child mutilation, but you can clearly tell what’s about to happen) – alternatively you can rescue the girl and receive a small amount of ADAM. Surprisingly choosing either path only leads to a different ending and has little effect on your progress in the game, which will call this further into question due to how the story progresses.

Bioshock still holds up to this day. The game has aged well, the graphics still look great on whatever system you choose to play the game on, and the gameplay doesn’t feel too dated. Bioshock is also very much a game you need to take your time with and just enjoy exploring the world of Rapture.  Rushing through it will do little for your enjoyment and potentially hinder the experience. Each time you pick up the game you will probably play it differently and with the amount of  player choice and gameplay style, it is unlikely two playthroughs will be the same (although the plot does remain consistent save for which of the two endings you receive).  Bioshock was great in 2007, it is great today, and will likely stand the test of time for years to come. If you still have not visited the world of Rapture would you kindly do yourself a favour and play it.

Final Score: 5 out of 5  (review policy)

Want more Bioshock?  We featured the first 90 minutes in a quick look as well as did an entire game club podcast if you wish to check them out.

Bioshock was reviewed by a personal copy of the reviewer, no codes of any kind were provided.  This review is based on the Xbox 360 version but it is also available on PC, PS3, and iOS devices with little content difference.  

Written by jamalais

September 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Version: Doom

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I was gonna write a retrospective on this, but honestly in podcast form we’ve covered Doom not once, but twice!  From those episodes came a project that has taken six months and over six hours to put together in one near 15 minute video.  I compare the PC, 32x, Jaguar, SNES, PS1, 3DO, Saturn, and GBA versions of Doom so you don’t have to, complete with bad language and snarky remarks (sorry parents).  Check out this version of Versions for Doom, but fair warning: there is some adult language.

Written by Fred Rojas

September 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

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