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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 spydersvenom

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 spydersvenom

September 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Would You Kindly

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This week Fred and Jam tackle the Bioshock game club.  Irrational Games (as 2K Boston) follow up the System Shock series with a new underwater utopia gone wrong and plagued by warring factions.  With inspirations from popular culture and depression era architecture, Bioshock proves that the devil really is in the details.


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Written by spydersvenom

September 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

Podcast: Final Fantasy X, X-2, and…XII?

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ff_coll_postThis week we are an ensemble cast with Andy from 42 Level One and Agents of Shieldcast as well as Eli from Knuckleballer Radio joining to discuss the main PS2 iterations of the Final Fantasy Series: X, X-2, and XII.  As with all our FF eps, it’s a broad overview, but the discussion will help you understand what to expect from each iteration and what development changes were made.  With the recent HD remakes of the X titles, you may just be tempted to give these titles a second glance.


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Written by spydersvenom

August 13, 2014 at 11:00 am

Quick Look: Bioshock

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This month’s game club is none other than the 2K Boston (Irrational Games) 2007 release Bioshock.  Unlike many of the games in our game club, it’s not the first time we’ve touched this game so instead of the usual banter we focus on gameplay elements, historical development context, and of course the slew of minutia that makes this nearly 7 year old game seem timeless.  Click on the icon above to view the video (embedding bypassed to improve home page load times). Due to a microphone balancing issue, my commentary is sometimes drowned out by the game’s audio

Written by spydersvenom

August 10, 2014 at 11:23 am

Metal Gear Solid 4 Limited Edition Unboxing Video

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In a move that is sure to make collectors scream out, I found a sealed copy of Metal Gear Solid 4 Limited Edition dirt cheap and instead of keeping it on a shelf I actually opened it!  Click on the game below to view the video.

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Written by spydersvenom

May 3, 2014 at 5:47 pm

Review: Velocity (Ultra)

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velocity_boxVelocity is one of those games that I remember first trying on my PSP on long commutes between London to Cambridge and had I not played this game I probably would have gone insane with boredom.  It released for the Playstation Network as a mini back in 2012 and then later given the HD make over and released for the PS Vita as Velocity Ultra.

Velocity is a space ship game that impressively mixes shooting, puzzles and speed all into one.  Set in the year 2212 (which is rather clever as this game was released in 2012) the star Vilio has exploded causing a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) field, cutting the power in nearby colonies. You pilot the Quarp Jet, a teleporting spacecraft, and your job is to rescue survivors while also shooting down the invading aliens. The story is presented in nice little graphic novel style panels which are short and to the point.  Velocity has fifty missions which are all pretty short – around five minutes, sometimes less – making this a perfect game for short bursts, but with its incredibly addictive nature it is very likely you will play much longer.

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Velocity is fairly colorful with simple 2D sprites; it won’t blow you away but everything looks clear and recognizable. The game really shines on the Vita with the updated HD graphics and use of the lovely OLED screen.  What starts as a simple vertical scrolling space shooter with the main hook being you can teleport your ship anywhere on the map. Not too long into the game you can also lay a warp point on the map what allows your ship to instantly recall to that point no matter how far you have progressed. You have three lives to complete each level should you need them and once you have finished a level you are awarded a medal and experience. You gain more experience by saving survivors, finishing the level quickly and getting a high score. The best part is you don’t have to do all three at once to get the highest amount of experience per level; you can take your time and save all the survivors for one playthrough, then replay the level and concentrate on finishing the level as quick as possible. It sounds like re-playing the levels again would get boring but it doesn’t because the levels are so short and fun you will no doubt welcome the challenge to do better on a second playthrough. Experience unlocks new levels and if you have the PS Vita version you can post your scores on the online leader boards.

vel_2The levels are mixed into three gameplay types.  Some levels are focused on puzzle elements that require you to break colored locks in a numbered sequence to release the same colored force fields. Hitting the locks in the wrong order will cause the process to reset and you have to try again from the first lock. There is usually more than one colored force field in each level so you need to keep track of what locks you have broken. Should you get stuck a handy mini map shows you your progress in the entire level so far. Other levels focus more on the shooting, where you take down alien space ships while they fire a barrage of bullets at you. You’ll find the shooting and puzzle elements tend to mix together quite a bit. Finally you have levels that require you to boost as fast as possible through them with a limited amount of time to complete the level.  All levels also focus on you rescuing survivors and you have to save a certain amount to complete each level. This mix of gameplay keeps things interesting without getting too repetitive or tedious.

vel_3Velocity is not a long game overall. I played it in short game bursts on the train and lunch breaks and it took around a week in total to see everything the game had to offer. Even after finishing the game I still found myself re playing levels to improve my score and get the highest rating possible on each level. This is an incredible space puzzle shooter that you will want revisit again and again. It leaves a memorable  impression and stands out when compared to other space shooters. Though it can be played on the PS3, I found it to be the perfect addition to any handheld (PSP or Vita) and a great game to play in short bursts. Hardcore bullet hell fans may find this game a lot slower paced, but that’s clearly not the genre developer FuturLab was aiming for.

Note: The PS Vita version of this game (Velocity Ultra) doesn’t add much in terms of gameplay save for allowing you to use the touch pad. The graphics have been reworked and look incredible on the PS Vita.

Final Score: 5 out of 5   (You can see our review policy and scoring details here.)

Written by jamalais

April 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Posted in PS3, PSP, Reviews, Vita

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Podcast: Shmup Game Club

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This week we are joined by listener Jason (@albirhiza) to discuss our Shmup Game Club: Giga Wing 2, Velocity (Ultra), Radiant Silvergun, Power-Up, and Sine Mora.  Campaigns, tactics, high scores, and more are covered as we dissect some of the more contemporary additions to the genre.


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