Archive for the ‘Xbox 360’ Category
Platform: Xbox 360, PC (Windows only)
Released: 2010 (360), 2012 (PC)
Developer: Remedy Entertainment
Digital Release? Yes, this game is available on all released platforms digitally
Price: $8.55 (disc only), $10.00 (complete) per Price Charting
The wind howled violently outside, coupling with the darkness to generate an atmosphere of dread. Had it been raining the scene would be complete. On the other side of the window, a reviewer sat down and began to play a new video game in the dark. While the gentle glow of the television provided just enough light to see around him, it was as if he were transferred to the fictional location of Bright Falls along with the game’s protagonist Alan Wake. What unfolded over the next dozen or so hours was impressive. This game was not unlike others he had experienced in terms of what to do or how it looked and felt, however thanks to thoughtful plot progression and deep character development the reviewer was able to let other faults go. He was repeating the same steps over and over again, the algorithmic nature of the confrontations were drowned out by the need to proceed forward and see where the story went. He wasn’t even sure what was going on anymore because, in truth, the plot was convoluted. It didn’t matter, the experience was begging him to move forward. He hoped it would not end. This was Alan Wake.
If you have a flair for the over dramatic then you will feel right at home with Remedy’s action thriller that was recently featured in our vaporware podcast. So little was known about what to expect from Alan Wake that when everyone finally got their hands on it there was this mixed sense of familiarity with the type of game it was, coupled with intrigue to the way it handled being a video game. At its core Alan Wake is nothing more than a third person shooter with a so-so dodge mechanic where you use a combination of light and gunfire to absolve a haunted world of enemies. If that were all the game had to offer, you wouldn’t be reading this review. No, the soul of Alan Wake is the unique storytelling style that merges metaphysical realities with an unreliable protagonist and keeps you guessing over the course of the game. While Deadly Premonition ticked all the boxes to look and act like Twin Peaks, Alan Wake uses a more subtle approach to feel like Twin Peaks. It’s much closer to being a Max Payne game than the studio would care to admit – I wouldn’t be surprised if it started life as that – but much like those original titles its barrage of enemy encounters are just varied enough that the gameplay never gets tiresome. Barring that, there’s a larger layer of tone and aesthetic that work together to transform the world of Alan Wake from being more than just a simple video game, it’s an entertainment production.
Your first episode in the game is Alan and his wife arriving in Bright Falls, simple as that. It’s daytime, everyone is nice, everything is peaceful, and with the bright lights and vivid scenery there’s little pause as to what danger may be lurking. If you were fortunate enough to know nothing more about the plot, you might not even know this game is slated as a thriller or horror game above everything else, so when it takes a drastic turn you’re caught off guard. I referred to the game as an “entertainment production”, which trust me is not an attempt to oversell it. What I mean by that is this game is trying to blend media at an aggregate rate: the storytelling is that of a book, character development of the cast has an arc like a movie, the level progression is separated by “episodes” that even feature a “previously on” like television, each episode ends with credits and an official song that together make up a soundtrack well worth the extra money I paid for, and your traditional linear action gameplay well represents a video game. If you’re keeping track that means Alan Wake has hints of a book, movie, television show, audio album, and video game; something I felt could only be described as an entertainment production. It works, too, which is what I never expected.
Keep in mind this is still a video game through and through, so no matter how good the graphics are, how well the storytelling subtly foreshadows or develops, and how great the soundtrack is, you still spend a majority of your time playing a video game. That video game, while doing nothing really new, had the right mix of level design and encounter variety to keep me wanting to come back. If you look at a barebones list of what happens in the game or view a handful of random clips taken from it, I can see how you would deduce that everything is the same as everything else, which is probably true. Even the collectible pages come together to give more depth to events happening, it’s all part of the plan; well, except for those Twin Peak-esque thermoses that have no value to the game whatsoever, those should go. It’s perhaps that fact as to why the game delves so deeply into other media and styles for its soul that it took so long to come out and tweak just right. Whatever the reason, it’s a solid mix that fascinated me back then and continues to amuse me now. Without giving away any spoilers I can just say that Alan Wake is a full experience that will have you on edge from the creepy beginning to the frantic ending.
At the time of its release, Alan Wake didn’t quite feel finished once you beat the game. Some of the game’s stronger plot points get reconciled, but there’s no question that the most key concept was missing in action. This all eventually wrapped up in two supplemental episodes: The Signal and The Writer. While these episodes take a lot of time to wrap up a relatively basic concept, the gameplay of each drastically switches up the nature of how you had played the rest of the game. This is why I feel that the story was already complete in an earlier version of the game, but they had no good way to integrate DLC with more of a story unless they just stripped the end of the story out of the main game and used it for the plot points of the extra episodes. I only say this because the gameplay either gets harder or has you using styles or concepts absent from the main game that while the plot feels like it was stripped from the core product, the gameplay feels anything but. If you grab this game on PC, both extra episodes are integrated into the game and you enter into them after beating the main story, but if you grab this on Xbox 360 (disc or digital) you will want to plunk down the extra money for this DLC because the game and plot won’t feel complete without them. Kind of a cheap tactic if you ask me, but it’s a worthwhile amount of content for the price that I’m willing to let it go.
This download-only title released in 2012 around the time of the PC port for both PC and Xbox 360 that serves as a spin-off tale of the original. You can ditch everything you know about the plot, the characters, and to a certain extent even the gameplay rules of the original because despite being a shorter experience, American Nightmare is its own game. Remedy replaces the isolated New England town of Bright Falls with the isolated and desolate environment of a roadside town in the Nevada desert. If Alan Wake was Twin Peaks, American Nightmare is most definitely Stephen King. All of the different things I loved about the experience of Alan Wake‘s multimedia experience make a return, but that’s about the only thing that carries over. Whereas the original game was about a somewhat familiar setting that involved characters you didn’t know, American Nightmare takes a character and circumstance you are intimately familiar with and gives you a setting you don’t know. This one isn’t just shadow people, it contains larger than life creatures, foreboding abandoned warehouses, and even monsters from other worlds. They flip the unreliable protagonist nature of Alan Wake once again, but in a new way. I also have to commend the use of the model for Alan Wake in now real full motion video for a lot of the cutscenes, which makes it all feel more “real” while the events continue to be more “surreal”. It ends a bit too quickly, but I get the feeling Remedy was ready to put Alan Wake to rest for a while by the end.
If you decide to delve down the delightful rabbit hole that is Alan Wake, provided that you get intrigued by all of the unique things it does, you are in for a treat. By the time I was half way through the first game I wanted (and purchased) the book, the soundtrack, and watched the Bright Falls mini-series that should still be available on the Zune Marketplace video store for free. I wanted to become immersed in Alan Wake. Returning to the game after a few years had passed and now for this third time I am pleased to say that it’s all familiar but still delightful. It’s still a video game and you will find yourself having moments that come with any sort of challenge or annoyance that accompanies all video games, but it’s also unique enough that you will be glad you came. Did I mention that the fantastic soundtrack that includes the likes of Poe and Roy Orbison blew my mind when I heard them return for this game? When we look back at the wonderful games that defined the first HD generation of consoles, Alan Wake is going to be one of those fine examples that sadly seems to be locked in time and doomed to never return.
Final Score: 5 out of 5 (Review policy)
Platform: 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 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.
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.
In 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.
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
In 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)
This week Fred and Jam are discussing the misadventures of Master Chief, at least in terms of the Bungie developed ones. What started out as a Real Time Strategy (RTS) title for the Mac ended up ironically being the launch title for the Microsoft Xbox that has withstood the test of time and is to this day one of the strongest properties in gaming.
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.
And just for fun, have a video of me cussing out the original for two hours:
First 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.
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.
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.
When 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)
Bioshock 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.
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.
If 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.
Character 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)
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.
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.
Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review. It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games. Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now. Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.
Editor’s Note: Although I love classic games as much as the next guy, few games get to be restored as often as Resident Evil 4. Therefore, the recently released Ultimate HD Edition has the most cleaned up, 1080p native graphics to date and thanks to screenshot technology being what it is we were able to grab those assets directly from the game without any quality loss. We at GH101 have decided to feature screens from this version in the interest of clarity, despite the fact that they do not faithfully represent the graphical fidelity of the many previous versions. Hopefully purists will forgive us. - Fred Rojas
The Story of the Scrapped Versions
Whenever a game sits in development hell for too long, it has an adverse affect on everyone’s feelings for the game. The examples are too many to count but a couple quick mentions are the likes of Diakatana, Too Human, and of course Duke Nukem Forever. With a few exceptions, games that take too long to make can’t help but not live up to the hype and therefore disappoint an all-too-eager audience. One of these exceptions is Resident Evil 4. Originally announced in 1999, the concept was a Playstation 2 game with a brutally strong protagonist that was more action focused per the ongoing desires of Shinji Mikami (series creator that has been trying to go more action oriented since Resident Evil 2). This new iteration was appropriately tasked to Hideki Kamiya, notable for his director work on Resident Evil 2, and in connection with Noboru Sugimura, writer of Resident Evil 2. After a European trip that netted a Gothic art style and given the goals of the game it was decided that the camera would have to be dynamic and movable (much like Capcom had started in Dino Crisis) and thus ditch the traditional pre-rendered background in exchange for a fully rendered world. Much of the development style, tone, and even Kamiya’s direction involved a what was described as a “cool” world and eventually it got so far removed from the roots of both the survival horror genre and Resident Evil series and instead integrated demons and a new protagonist, Dante. A small fraction of the Capcom Production Studio 4, named Little Devils, converted this new concept with the juggling bug this team had seen in Onimusha: Warlords and eventually renamed the project to Devil May Cry in November 2000. While it spun off to a good game and an ongoing franchise that still lives today, Devil May Cry left Resident Evil 4 in a rut without a dev team (and some hardcore RE fans still refer to the game as Resident Evil 3.5 since the core concepts remained intact).
It wasn’t until nearly a year later, late 2001, that the large scale Capcom Production Studio 4 team regrouped to begin development on Resident Evil 4. Sugimura was still involved at this time and his scenario company Flagship and the original concept was Leon Kennedy breaking into Umbrella’s European headquarters to save a girl (who’s identity has never been revealed) while fighting various types of zombies and other creatures a la the original game. At this time the third person view was already the gameplay style although Leon was overcome by the Progenitor Virus, thus giving his left hand special abilities, and included first person action sequences like we saw hints of in previous games.
As time went on the concept developed into the demo that was shown at E3 2003 known as Maboroshi no Biohazard 4 (Hallucination Biohazard 4 in English), but it has been come to be nicknamed Resident Evil 4: Hook Man Version by those that talk about it in the RE circles (FYI: Resident Evil is Biohazard in Japan but not here due to the metal band’s trademark). Development of this version began when Flagship’s original scenario was dropped and Mikami brought in Yasuhisa Kawamura, scenario writer for Resident Evil 3, to make a scarier game. At first the movie Lost Souls was the template and it featured an unnamed female protagonist that found herself in an abandoned building with a killer on the loose. An in-between version re-introduced Leon as the lead, had him working with a mutated dog as a sidekick, and eventually making his way through Umbrella creator Spencer’s Castle to rescue a girl and fight his way out (with Hook Man as the killer and a newer version of the Nemesis character). Eventually this was adapted into a final version that would become the demo. In this version Leon was traversing a haunted castle, infected with a virus, and it was causing a mix of various jarring camera effects and hallucinations. To help with the goal of a scary atmosphere and merge the perspective of the player with Leon, an over-the-shoulder camera, laser sight, and quick time events (QTEs) were integrated, some of the more notable attributes of the final game. Enemies in the demo ranged from suits of armor that came to life and eventually a the Hook Man, a ghostlike zombie with a torn hook for a left hand, as a final enemy for the demo. You can find a 5 minute video of this build on YouTube (pardon if the link isn’t valid over time) that was found in the Biohazard 4 Secret DVD that came as a pre-order bonus for Resident Evil 4 on GameCube in 2005. Cost of development and technical obstacles forced Mikami to step in and assist in scenario writing and development, something Kawamura has gone on record saying he’s ashamed of, and completely scrapped the game. It was 2004 and Resident Evil 4 was back to square one. Fortunately you can find most parts of this version (aside from the demo video) in other Capcom games: many of these assets ended up in the PS2 game Haunting Ground, the Progenitor Virus concept was the base for Resident Evil 5, and of course the Spencer Estate concept was revitalized in the RE5 DLC Lost in Nightmares.
The Deal With Nintendo
In November 2002, Capcom announced a 5 game deal with Nintendo that would see five of the titles coming to the GameCube, known as the Capcom Five, and among those (despite some miscommunication) only Resident Evil 4 was to remain console exclusive. After rumors suggested that users and investors were adding pressure to move the game to the much more successful Playstation 2, Mikami even came out and claimed he would “cut his head off” if RE4 ever made its way to another console. In late 2003 Shinji Mikami took over directional duties and had a large part in scenario and writing duties to completely re-invent the series. He spread a massive campaign in interviews and told the Capcom Production 4 Team that the focus was to be on action and not horror. To assist with this he dropped the Umbrella involvement completely, created the Ganados concept, and clearly borrowed from many earlier versions of the game, including the new Dante-like look and personality for Leon. By E3 2004 Capcom locked down a January 2005 release for Gamecube and then to everyone’s shock an awe a Halloween 2004 announcement for 3 new Resident Evil PS2 titles revealed that a port of Resident Evil 4 with expanded content would be hitting the PS2 later in 2005. This made Gamecube fans livid, some of which admitted to purchasing the nearly dead console purely for the now three year prospect of finding the game only on Nintendo’s console. For the record, Mikami did not cut off his own head and the PS2 version did come out. I have never been able to find out if there was any action from Nintendo for breaking the exclusivity, although in those days it wasn’t always a paid or contractual deal so perhaps Nintendo had no leg to stand on.
After all that hype and pressure, it’s a miracle that Resident Evil 4 is as wonderful as it turned out to be. If you’ve never played it, the genius of Resident Evil 4 is that it sticks to the basics of game design while also offering a look and feel that is fresh. Easily one of the most gorgeous games from that generation, I still contest that the Gamecube version is the best looking from that time period, so if you have a choice that game really was developed for that console. Additionally the game was long, like 15-20 hours long, and didn’t feel as such. Each of the five chapters feel like complete games in and of themselves and while enemy types and bosses do reappear from time to time, the environments and scenarios are unique for the most part. Even more striking is the way that game develops alongside the player as a whole.
In the first act you are traversing the woods of Spain as Leon, completely unaware of what’s to come but you know it’s not going to be good. Eventually you get introduced the Ganados, who at this point are townsfolk that have established farming villages along the countryside, but of course they are violent toward you. After killing off a pair of cops that accompany you, the Ganados turn full attention on you and with the different ways they attack based on where you shoot them and how close you are too them, it’s clear that these are no zombies. Ganados will throw weapons at you (that yes, you can shoot out of the air), duck under your laser sight, run around you, and overall give you that sinking feeling of being entirely alone against the world. Not only that, but the world is quite jarring for the time, with the over-the-shoulder camera and focus with the laser sight on where to shoot everyone, it’s a steep learning curve. That’s why the first main area, a central town, is so pivotal and one hell of a demo. You enter into this town that is fully populated by Ganados that all give chase upon your arrival. You can go in and out of houses, down different paths, jump out of windows, and navigate a small space where you have almost no idea where to go next. Since your perspective only allows for what’s directly in front of you, a somewhat accurate interpretation of what being in that situation in real life is like, it’s dangerous to take a corner without knowing what’s going on and you always take a risk of being jumped when you dare look behind you. Sure it’s seen as somewhat tanklike controls today, but back then it was about as good as you were going to get out of Capcom. Then the chainsaw guy arrives, a larger sized villager with a potato sack on his head and eye holes cut out, and he begins to chase you at a much faster pace than the others. This doesn’t meant that the horde of Ganados back off either, you’re now thrown in the mix with all of them. No matter how many times you shoot Chainsaw Guy he won’t die for good and you have limited ammo at this point and most people will probably get caught by him at least once, which triggers and instant death where Leon’s torso is sawed diagonally across the sternum. It’s freaky and it demonstrates the biggest change in Resident Evil 4: you won’t be scared, you’ll just feel immense tension, which triggers a different kind of fear. When those church bells ring after a certain period of time and clear the town of danger, I had to literally take a break and step away from the game. My thoughts at the time were, “damn, that was close.” It was a great rush.
From there the game digresses into a somewhat interesting storyline that contains a mass of interesting and tactical scenarios. Whether it’s fighting the sea creature in the lake, tackling El Gigante for the first time, eventually meeting and dealing with Salazar, knife-fighting Krauser, and eventually unraveling the mystery of Las Plagas, Resident Evil 4 is a thrill ride. Each new area of the game will challenge the skills you had previously learned and try to force you to use them in new ways to the point that your cumulative skills make the initial Ganados fight seem like a walk in the park. When I completed the game for the first time after getting the game for my birthday in 2005 (I had a Gamecube for the few other Resident Evil games on the platform) and again that Christmas on PS2, it was fantastic and I couldn’t offer it up to enough people to experience. Capcom and Mikami had gambled big – the series was to be discontinued if a failure – and they had succeeded admirably. For better or worse, Resident Evil would never be the same.
It sold well. 1.6 million units on Gamecube and more than 2 million on PS2, not to mention eventual ports to the PC (terrible initial attempt) and Wii before receiving HD remakes on 360/PS3 recently and eventually the Ultimate HD Version on PC this year. I think the reason it keeps being remade is that Resident Evil 4 still looks amazing today, now with updated assets and filters, and the gameplay, while seemingly dated, is still that perfect mix of locked in time and tolerable to a modern audience. If you have yet to experience this game and are even somewhat of a fan of Resident Evil, you should pick this game up and give it a go. It was a steal at $50 back in 2005 and today it’s a reminder that not all re-invented games in development hell end up being underwhelming, dated messes.
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.
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