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Archive for February 2014

Retro Review: Dead Space

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Dead_Space_Box_ArtWhen you first read or hear about Dead Space, it may not seem to peak your interest as much as it should. In truth, Dead Space is an experience from start to finish. This game is going to suck you into a world that will literally take over your living room if you let it. Aside from that, the universe is big as well. You can currently pick up the graphic novel, telling the early story, and as of yesterday the animated movie also released, which tells of the events leading directly into the game. Couple that with the announcement that Dead Space 2 is officially in development and there’s no reason to skip this game.

In order to appreciate Dead Space, you want to play it at night, with surround sound (as sound seems like a bigger factor than visuals), and pair these factors with being alone. A high-def screen helps, but is in no way as necessary as surround sound for this game. From the very beginning to the tense ending, you will treat this game much like being the leader in a haunted house: at the edge of your seat.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 28, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Retro Review: DeathSpank

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deathspankDeathspank has been described as being like a myriad of popular games such as Diablo and Monkey Island, but while it does share similarities to these titles, Deathspank is its own game.  What’s most impressive about it is the multitude of things to do in a download title.  DeathSpank not only has a brilliant and hilarious script but the gameplay aspects offer enough variance that most gamers will be pleasantly pleased.

DeathSpank’s mission is simple: recover an ancient artifact that is appropriately named “The Artifact”.  Along his quest DeathSpank will meet with plenty of other adventurers, townsfolk, and enemies.  Like most action RPGs, the main quest is only a small part of the game that opens up the large world map, but there are plenty of side quests (115 quests in total) to explore.  While they vary from the mundane – you’ll create the ultimate psychedelic lair for a talking tree in a series of fetch quests – to the unique – beating the crap (literally) out of demons – the one constant is that the game always remains funny.  Designer Ron Gilbert is best known for his work with the Secret of Monkey Island and the recent Penny Arcade Adventures games and it definitely shows.

ds_01DeathSpank plays like a basic hack-and-slash title, the closest comparison I found was last generation’s Balder’s Gate series, complete with dungeon crawling (or rather cave crawling) and loot drops.  This is where I feel the Diablo comparisons are inappropriate given the fact that DeathSpank lacks the variance and multitude of loot that made Diablo so addictive.  While there’s plenty of goodies to be had, many of them are upgraded versions of weapons you found early on the game and by the end you can basically purchase an epic armor set from a street vendor.  Still, it is great when you come across a cool new weapon or piece of armor that is much stronger than what you’re wearing and as expected, many make your character look ridiculous.  I also like the fact that aside from questing or locked treasure chests, many of these items will be acquired from simply killing a random foe – don’t expect heavy loot drops from big enemies or bosses because you usually get nothing at all.  The basic leveling system serves only to limit what weapons and armor you can wear at the time and I had to do some grinding on top of all the quests to reach the max level 20.  You don’t need to be that high to beat any of the bosses, however, as none of them posed much of a challenge.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in PS3, Reviews, Xbox 360

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Retro Review: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

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cod_boxCall of Duty is going someplace that no other World War II shooter franchise has gone before: modern day in a fictional Middle East country. The follow up to last year’s lackluster Call of Duty 3 (created by sibling developer Treyarch), Infinity Ward is back with its iteration to the franchise and suffice to say this game is impressive. Modern Warfare comes with a slew of tactical contemporary guns, a gripping new plotline, and easily the most gorgeous graphics I’ve ever seen. Look out Halo, you very well may have competition.

From the first mission where you are literally dropped into, boarding and clearing a large freight liner in the middle of the ocean during a rainstorm, this game is faster and more covert. Previous titles in the series focused around being the hero in a clutter of large scale battles, whereas much of Modern Warfare deals with a covert black ops feel. The change comes with additional tools like night vision, a melee knife attack and a short-burst run that are all, quite frankly, badass. In addition the campaign feels more like a team effort, with each member chipping in to do their part. Mind you, the AI won’t beat the game for you, but I had several instances where a random enemy that jumped in front of me was popped off by a teammate.

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Modern Warfare also integrates interactive scripted moments that make you feel even more like a black ops team behind enemy lines. Along with the impressive new graphics comes events that not only outline the horrors of war but really immerse you into a realistic experience. Without spoiling anything, lets just say you’ll never guess what happens half way through the campaign. The difficulty has also been tweaked a bit, dividing each difficulty with a much larger gap; you will immediately notice that normal difficulty doesn’t feel as tough as it did in COD 2 or 3, but the jump to veteran (hardest) seems wider. Regardless of what difficulty you play it on, it does seem that this game is on par with previous titles in terms of difficulty.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 27, 2014 at 3:16 pm

Know This Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

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As I was looking into doing a history on this fantastic studio I came upon an excellent reference that was so good there’s no point in me doing one.  While it’s easy to rag on big media conglomerates, IGN’s Mitch Dyer did a fantastic story of the origins of Ubisoft Montreal that includes stories of Splinter Cell‘s origin, the reinvention of Prince of Persia, and the visual treat that is Far Cry.  It’s a fascinating story that documents the major franchises you can thank that studio for and a must read for gaming history buffs like ourselves.  Head on over and check out House of Dreams: The Ubisoft Montreal Story when you can.

 

Written by Fred Rojas

February 27, 2014 at 8:44 am

Retro Review: Afro Samurai

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afro_boxAfro Samurai has identity issues. It’s not that the character does, anyone who has watched the cartoon series knows that Afro is quite aware of his personality to a fault. While the game works very closely with the cartoon series, despite the game’s claim in various moments to convince you it’s deterring from the original plot (a few major points are changed, but you have to know the series to catch them), the game itself doesn’t know what it wants to be. On the positive side, it does manage to sprinkle these various types of games in a relatively strong light.

Any fan of the series will feel right at home as Namco Bandai have captured the aesthetic feel perfectly. The original gritty feel of the anime allowed for a cell shaded game that literally brings the series to life, complete with the player controlling a living, breathing (and smoking) Afro Samurai. Couple this with a great mix of sound design and everyone’s favorite Samuel L. Jackson (voicing Afro’s loudmouth sidekick) making a mockery of both Afro and the player at the same time and the immersion is complete. That is, until you begin getting later in the game.

For starters, Afro Samurai is a short game; it took me probably five and a half hours to complete and there is no initial choice in difficulty. It starts off with a few levels of good old fashioned hack-and-slash gameplay, teaching you some moves here and there, and occassionally having you fighting a boss. I have to admit that while many people may find this repetitive, I felt right at home with the button mashing bloody mess that begins the game.

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Shortly after that, in the quarry level to be specific, the game begins to deter from its original pattern and takes on several new qualities. Timing becomes very important as you enemies begin to learn how to consistently block, parry, and even throw you. Additionally you are forced to do things like split bullets in mid air and cut thick ropes that require a timed slash, which took me a while to figure out was connected to the controller vibrating. That is the one thing you’ll slowly learn about Afro Samurai, it consistently assumes you know things you’ve never been taught. More than a few times I’d confront a situation or a boss battle and wonder how the hell I was supposed to do it, and while it took everything in me not to consult a walkthrough, I found no sense of accomplishment when finally figuring things out. It usually ended with me loudly exclaiming, “Really? Really!” and then moving on.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Edge Online Covers the Original Thief in a Great Retrospective

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I am one of those gamers that just didn’t do PC gaming when 3D cards hit the market (Voodoo, 3DFX, etc) and as a result missed out on some of the most interesting games over the decade that spanned the late 90s/early 2000s.  Much like today, it was a hardware hurdle of having the right motherboard, installing the card, and trying not to blow up the family computer in the process.  Now that I’m just getting started on the new Thief game I wanted to read up on the original title Thief: The Dark Project.  I found a rock solid article just written a few days ago on Edge Online and I recommend that all who either played or wanted to play the alternative view on the validity of the first person perspective check it out.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 26, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Posted in News, PC/Mac

Tagged with ,

Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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buffy_boxInto every generation a review is born, one review in all the world, a chosen one…that will play Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the original Xbox. If you haven’t already guessed I’m a huge fan of the original nineties TV show, so, was already quite excited to start playing this.  TV to game conversions, similar to film to game conversions, are a rather common trend, especially if there is already a fan base behind the source material. However, again similar to film conversions, the outcomes of these games often have rather mixed results.

As you would expect you play as Buffy Summers, the chosen one, destined to take down all of the nasties that go bump in the night. One of the main highlights for me, was that the game brings in the main characters from the show. This includes main bad guy The Master who, of course, is up to no good and its up to Buffy and the Scooby gang to sort it out. Overall the story feels like a several part episode of the show and for those who are interested, the story sits within season three of the Buffy anthology. Despite being released in 2002 (season three aired in 1998) the plot of this game still ties in really well. The writers did a great job to make this appeal to fans, with characters regularly bringing up stories or incidents that happened in the TV show. If you are totally new to Buffy, on the other hand, it’s possible some of the dialogue and plot will throw you a bit as it doesn’t come across as particularly friendly for newbies. That said, the basic story is pretty straight forward and self contained: there’s a bad guy that needs taking down and you’re the good guy to save the day.

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The game scores big right off the bat as the opening theme from the TV show is also in the game. Other than that the music wasn’t particularly engaging or memorable but it fit in well enough for the cutscenes and level design. The voice acting is just fantastic, pretty much every actor from the TV show lends voice talent to the game except for Sarah Michelle Gellar (reasons unknown), which is odd. Instead Geselle Loren provides the voice work for Buffy and does a fantastic job. The only problem with the voice work – and this was an issue for a lot of games from this era – is Buffy and other enemies will spurt out with the same one-liners constantly. Though its fun to hear Buffy say “Come on, kick my ass,” after hearing it several times in the same level it gets old really quick.

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Written by jamalais

February 25, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Xbox

Tagged with , , ,

Review: Strider (2014)

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strider_boxYet another in a long line of modern re-hashes on cult favorites, I went into Strider with a bit more optimism than than other titles to date.  Aside from spruced up graphics the game appeared to be faithful to the arcade original, which my retrospective and the podcast last week contested is the best iteration of the series.  Couple that with the development being handled by Double Helix – a very popular developer with success not only in Killer Instinct 3, but also was purchased by Amazon for an unannounced project – and the open map MetroidVania game design, things were shaping up to success.  Having completed the game, I must admit that just like the anomaly of the original, Strider is a melting pot of prior series staples that gets it right from start to finish.

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The scale of the overall world is massive and can be stunning.

If you sit still too long in the original arcade game, you will die.  Best laid plans are to push forward (ie: to the right) and just attack anything in your path while trying not to fall off a ledge.  In the new game that theme is aggressively applied with herds of enemies so thick they will literally be a blocking point for you at times in the game.  As a member of the Strider clan, Hiryu is able to cut down most adversaries with the greatest of ease and the balance between enemy hit points and his acrobatic abilities result in a fast paced romp.  I never had down time in Strider and felt like a masterful ninja with frantic but controlled moves as I navigated the game’s massive map.  While I can concede to the basic MetroidVania label, I would say the game more closely resembles Rondo of Blood rather than the hybrid genre.  Even when you have a full moves list at your disposal these hiding places are more off the beaten path rather than the wide open areas you uncover in other titles of the genre.  What results is a game that is more linear than anything else, and despite it being a huge map the development team broke it up into different areas complete with a boss battle and new weapon at the core, so basically it’s just like having levels that you can return to.  Strider is no stranger to this method of map design, the original NES title was quite similar and a small following prefer it to the traditional “run to the right” design of the arcade title.  In the end I grew tired of looking too hard for too much because I was having such a blast following the marker to the next step of the main mission that I played it exactly like a linear game.

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Two bosses on opposing sides are no problem for Hiryu.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 24, 2014 at 11:00 am

ZeldaVR bring the original NES title to Oculus

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In what continues to be an impressive space for new experiences, it appears a group known as Ubiquitron has ported the original Legend of Zelda to the Oculus Rift in a title named ZeldaVR.  So far only the first dungeon is available in the free demo (for those that have an Oculus, of course) but the group plans to have the full release by March.  Feel free to download the demo here or check out the original Joystiq post for some videos of the game running.

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Our take: I think this would be a great new experience and perhaps it could even give way to a whole new scene of ports.  The down side is that all this hard work definitely cannot be charged due to copyright laws and there’s still nothing stopping Nintendo from shutting it down, but it’s still cool.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 22, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Posted in NES, News

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Perspective: The Guy Game

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guygame_boxThere are times when a game comes around that is seemingly so transparent that the public can shun it on general principle.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I can be more honest about my morbid curiosities or maybe it’s just the fact that I am into stupid things that the rest of the world can dismiss, but I still want to know if a game that has such a reputation is abysmal.  One such title is The Guy Game.  Developed by Top Heavy Studios – of which it shocks no one that this was the company’s only title – but what you may not know is that the man behind the studio is Jeff Spangenberg, most notable for Iguana Entertainment and Retro Studios.  Take-Two Interactive released this title in 2004 and it was accompanied by the likes of Serious Sam and Manhunt, so the company wasn’t unfitting.  Needless to say the game tanked, but not before strumming up a slew of controversy and had me interested in just what the hell it was.  Now that I’ve gotten my hands on a copy I can sadly report that there is no meaningful purpose for this game to exist…well, except boobs.

As if Top Heavy looked at the worst stereotypes of gamers and “spring breakers” all at once and weaved them into a shallow shell of a game, this title offers little value even to those that accept its very nature.  You and up to three other people get to compete in a sort of mini-game/quiz show hybrid where the stakes are topless young ladies.  Outside of the actual program proper each player is given a series of mildly homophobic rules about how to behave while playing the game and it is expected that all other players in the room assist to police each person, the penalty being to drink.  Even your player avatar reeks of desperation as you select one of eight models to represent you and if you play well enough, you guessed it, she too will get naked for you.  There are a total of 20 episodes, each one containing three rounds, and of course the mini-game that makes up round two in some derivative of beer pong is entirely optional (there’s a “skip” button at round start).  The other two rounds consist of watching young bikini-clad girls answering trivia questions that range from flat basic to college level academia.  Your task is simple: answer the question and then guess in round one whether the girl gets it right or wrong and in round three what wrong answer she gave for each question.  If you personally get the question right you get arbitrary points that hold no meaning to main game and by its own admission aren’t even considered.  On the other hand if you guess what the girl is going to do correctly the reward is that you get closer to seeing her topless without the game’s signature censor bars or mosaic.  So basically you’re playing a Magic 8 ball to hopefully see a set of breasts for one or two questions (it takes 8 perfect guesses out of 12 total questions to remove censorship).  I guess the long term reward is that you permanently unlock censorship for that episode, but if you don’t you have to play every other episode before getting the opportunity to play again.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 20, 2014 at 9:05 pm