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Review: Killzone (PS2) Posted by Shocker :: 8:15 PM
Gary's question the other day couldn't be more relevant, as earlier that day I'd actually gone out to rent Killzone for the PS2, which, published by Sony, had a decent buzz about it and was touted as a "Halo Killer". Now, you guys know my attitude on the whole "Killer" thing. I think great games come out for all platforms, and I love gaming enough to be in pursuit of all the consoles.
However, after I thought about it, I can understand a bit more how the suffix gets attached. Basically, a lot of people simply don't play games enough to justify running out and buying games regularly, or playing on every console. Daryl and I had been harassing Josh for about 2 years before he finally broke down and got an XBox. I think the killer thing comes from that, because Daryl and I'd been telling Hogie what he'd been missing out on for so long, he finally had to succumb. So with Halo 2 coming out, and half the gaming world completely freaked out about it, it's understandable that PS2 loyalists would want to find a game that could counter some of that momentum, or at least give them comparable gameplay experiences.
Well, unfortunately, Killzone doesn't achieve either of those things. While it's a solid game, it's got plenty of flaws that keep it from reaching that upper echelon.
Killzone's Helghast, Nazi-inspired supersoldiers, versus the-forces-of-good storyline is actually very well pulled off; in fact, the game is full of immersive aspects that put it heads and shoulders above many, if not most first person shooters. Your character bobs up and down as he runs, looks down when he hops over objects, shifts around when climbing up ladders... In comparison to Halo, its realism makes the floaty Master Chief feel a bit unnatural. Though it's a little unsettling at first, it becomes a bit natural, especially considering how well it's pulled off. Its closest comparison would be Breakdown, a game in which hand-to-hand combat was eventually primarily pulled off in first person.
Graphically, Killzone likely sets a standard as well. The game looks absolutely amazing. Vast, noisy battlefields and dug-in trenches litter the opening level. The sky is ominously brown, and a dusty fog blocks your vision. Cities are broken down and half-destroyed; buildings lie in ruin. Through all this, the game's textures are incredibly sharp, the character models very detailed. However, all that glitters isn't gold. Killzone taxes the PS2 a bit beyond its limits. Slowdown is not uncommon, but more common is a stunted framerate that slows the immersive aspects of the game. As well, a lot of objects morph through walls or into and out from floors.
Killzone is almost completely linear. Having a linear storyline is not uncommon for a First Person Shooter (or many other games), but having a single path through most areas is. It's even evidence of poor design. Many things play out in a series of triggered attacks from you entering a certain area, killing all the enemies and then moving into the next place you're supposed to go. It's not that this is awful in-and-of itself (again), but the vast battlefields I described earlier are fenced in by invisible walls and linear paths through which there's no variation in the way you run through. The game could practically be on rails (think Pokemon Snap (N64) as the most obvious example). At times it feels more like a puzzle-shooter like Capcom's P.N.03 (GameCube). These aren't bad comparisons, but it doesn't make for a great game, especially one that borrows so many FPS conventions, or wants to belong in the upper echelon of FPS games.
In another recent FPS development, Killzone has a weapon-carry limit. Unlike Halo and Brute Force, though, you can carry 3 weapons here. Unfortunately (I sure am using that word a lot tonight, aren't I?), it doesn't work very well either. Having 2 weapons allows you to quickly switch back from one type of weapon to your other weapon. The entire point of having a 2 weapon limit, aside from increased realism, is that you can carry two weapons for different sorts of situations: a shotgun for when enemies close in, or an assault rifle for medium range engagements. Switching between 3 becomes cumbersome and impossible to immediately get where you need to. Making it even more impossible are ridiculous weapon-switching animations you are forced to endure absolutely every time you switch weapons (usually him cocking the weapon, although he could be reloading and then cocking). Versus Halo, or Brute Force, you're unable to switch quickly from a weapon that's empty to a weapon that's ready to go in the heat of battle. This was a poor design decision, and factors into both single and multiplayer.
Weapons here run the usual gamut. Rifles, guns, rocket launchers, etc. Helghast weapons generally being less accurate and having more ammo, ISA weapons being the opposite. Considering how awful the reloading sequences are, I preferred going with Helghast weapons. However, when I say "less accurate", I friggin mean it. I've stood at 10 paces and have missed with 30 rounds of submachine gun fire on a stationary enemy as I stood directly in front of him. I've blasted people with shotgun fire multiple times just to get them to die at point blank because they were slightly outside the reticule. The game has on- and off-line multiplayer, but predictable frustrations happen considering the reload animations and framerate problems.
Though the campaign mode is interesting, and the cutscenes and voiceacting are well done, I don't know if they're strong enough to carry the game. Idiotic AI, countless iterations of the same enemies (Am I playing Killzone or Time Crisis?), and frustrating level design which intimates more interesting experiences but punishes you for straying off the beaten path. Many times, some random character will shout "Captain, meet us over here, we'll escort you" without you knowing who they are or where they are. Of course, nothing can happen until you do this, and even if you try to look at other soldiers who might, you know, be guarding you and directing you toward your goal point, they are often off looking into space or aiming at (and into) walls. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
I usually don't go into games with expectations, because I'm easily disappointed. But I did expect this game to be better than average, especially because I knew with Sony publishing this, it could turn into a marquee title. But Killzone seems like it was rushed out for the holiday season. Another 3 or 4 months in development would have turned what is ultimately a substandard experience into an extremely memorable one. Going into the review, I was thinking of saying the game is average and leaving it at that. But the more I think about its flaws and potential, I have to go lower than that. While I love the storyline and want to see a sequel, this game probably doesn't warrant more than a very brief rental.
CAPCOM AND NUBYTECH REVEAL HORRIFYING RESIDENT EVIL 4 CHAINSAW CONTROLLER FOR NINTENDO GAMECUBE™
LOS ANGELES, Calif., November 17, 2004 – Capcom and Nubytech® unveiled today the Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller for the Nintendo GameCube™. While Resident Evil 4 is certainly the most anticipated third party title on the Nintendo GameCube, the Chainsaw Controller will quickly become the most popular peripheral in hardcore gamers’ and series loyalists’ hearts. A growing topic in the gaming community ever since the initial sketches were released to the press, this truly unique accessory is coming to reality January 11, 2005 when it is available alongside the game.
Designed with an actual chainsaw lying in the middle of the R&D lab during brainstorming sessions, this sculpted controller comes with a built-in sound chip, imitating the roar of the powerful weapon. The attention to detail goes as far as having gory blood marks on the blade. When not being wielded to destroy the on screen enemies, the Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller can rest on its display stand, on top on your TV or trophy case.
“NubyTech’s development team worked very closely with Capcom to develop this unique, one of a kind controller,” stated Paul Chen, president and chief operating officer, NubyTech. “We plan to shock the world with this revolutionary and die hard collectible product.”
“The Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller is very impressive. It is an incredible enhancement to the game experience,” said Todd Thorson, director of marketing, Capcom Entertainment. “The Resident Evil 4 Chainsaw Controller is the ultimate ‘wow’ peripheral for Resident Evil fans and brings horror game action to a whole new level.”
No, just... no. Bongos = yes. Chainsaws = no no no. How is this supposed to work with THE GUNS in the game? What if you never use the chainsaw? Are we supposed to buy this hefty piece of platic for a few seconds of "realistic" gameplay. To you I say "fuck off and let me murder dead-ish people the old fashioned way." (Link to this entry) :: 2 comments
News: Master Chief - Action Hero? Posted by Chris :: 10:41 AM
November 19, 2004 - As if there needed to be any more Halo hype, the Internet is abuzz today with rumors of a potential Halo movie in the works. If the rumors are to be believed, Director Ridley Scott, known for his excellent science fiction films Blade Runner and Alien, is looking at potentially directing said film, with Ed Harris potentially playing the role of Captain Keyes and Samuel L. Jackson playing Captain Johnson.
Microsoft came up with its own special comment on the subject: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation." Which naturally shocked us.
It's not the first time the notion of a Halo movie has been bandied around, but two generally reliable sites, halo.scifinews.de, and aint-it-cool-news.com have come up with leaks on it.
Halo.scifinews.de claims to have early storyboard drafts on the movie, with early pencil sketches of Ed Harris looking a whole lot like Captain Keyes. The draft images are not in any previous Halo art books. Ain'-it-cool-news.com received a letter from an insider at Warner Brothers, where Ronald Shusett and Daniel Alter are apparently in touch with Scott about a potential Halo movie, no doubt as part of some smart movers and shakers working behind the scenes at E3 and the game's unearthly sales records.
Here's an excerpt from the aint-it-cool-news.com letter:
"Now the tricky part is, apparently Ridley Scott has seen the materials before. And subsequently passed on doing it. But, with HALO 2 sales having been astronomical, Shusett and Alter's camp has been in-touch with Scott Free about it. What's more, upon reviewing the game, Shusett commented that it reminded him of STARSHIP TROOPERS, which apparently Ridley and him had considered collaborating on 20 plus years ago after ALIEN came out. Funny, considering Shusett's TOTAL RECALL director Paul Verhoeven went on to bastardize Heinlein's classic.
"Don't know if Ridley's budged. Or how serious Bungie is about licensing the movie rights. But a HALO movie from the creative team behind ALIEN, and who also toyed with STARSHIP TROOPERS, would seem to be a great fit. What I wonder is if these parties can't come to an accord, why wouldn't Bungie be open to somebody like James Cameron?"
Bungie, of course, has been offered the chance to make a movie before, and being the smart, thrifty developer it is, its team has said no to everybody. However, Studio Manager Pete Parsons recently said that if there was to be a movie made, it would have to be the right people, story, and timing. Bungie has also been quoted as saying that they're big fans of Ridley Scott and they would love having him behind such a film.
There is no word on whether Scott has yet to accept any deal. But according to our very own FilmForce.com, the legendary director has been hesitant to take up the project because he hasn't seen a world for the story.
Once again, we're all up speculation creek without a paddle. All we know is, where there is money to be made in the videogame world, Hollywood comes running.
Also, we're quite clear on another subject, which should make everyone pause for concern: while there might have been some excellent movies based on comic books, if the best videogame movie to date is Resident Evil, a potential Halo movie could be awful. If Ridley Scott and some very smart, very well-read Halo writers are put on the project, there is at least some hope.
Hmm, interesting. Thing is, though, do we REALLY need a Halo movie? Cause we all know Hollywood. Just make a full length Red vs Blue movie and we'll all be happy. The AICN article also goes on to say "I think the best thing about this bit of information is Bungie's reluctance to give the film rights to anybody but a master. The last thing I want to see is Uwe Boll's HALO(C: Uwe Boll was the director of House of the Dead and the up coming Bloodrayne and several other asstastic video game movies.)which would undoubtedly take place modern day, without any mention of either the Flood or the Covenant and starring Ben Affleck as Master Chief and Tara Reid as Cortana."
So true. When will people realize that video game movies just don't work? And if it does get made it'll probably end up starring The Rock anyway. (Link to this entry) :: 0 comments
Friday, November 19, 2004
Email Response Posted by Shocker :: 8:00 AM
Loyal Another Castle reader Gary "Topps" Sheldon sent us the following questions via email (which is now a nifty link over at the side, feel free to click it and email us with any questions you guys have). Since I am leading by example, I'll take the first crack at 'em, though it's open to all readers and writers here.
First question : With all the talk of Halo 2 being like butter from the gods..and other games being called (and apparently failing to be) "a Halo killer" - How do you feel about genre busters? Certain games that after - why do you even bother to make anything even vaguely comparable? Do you feel that some genres should be left alone for a time after something just blows it out of the water? (I know I yawned for a long time at fightersafter I played MKII)
Well, regardless of what gamers think, the gaming biz is a lot like California in 1849: As soon as one guy finds gold, everyone and their mama runs to the coast and tries to make a name for themselves. That's why you see a hundred iterations of "The Next GTA Killer". Sadly, a lot of really great games don't get a "Killer", when if companies would just try, it would greatly advance the genre (the first game that comes to mind is Super Monkey Ball, for instance).
It's a double-edged sword. Success with Street Figher 2 lead to Mortal Kombat, which eventually lead to Virtua Fighter, which led to SoulCalibur (and frankly, you can pretty much close the door right there). But success with Grand Theft Auto 3 spawned such riveting hits at True Crime: Streets of LA and The Getaway.
Ultimately, I think the whole "X-killer" is absurd. There's never going to be a game that just makes people throw down their controllers in disgust at having played some other game they previously thought was great. It's not religion... You don't wander in the desert one day and suddenly realize that your life has been a lie, and Sonic is The Way And The Light. Hell, I'll still take Mario 3 over just about any platformer out there, before or after. Maybe I should start waiting for the next "Mario 3 Killer"?
Second question: I find Tennis for the Atari 2600 EXTREMELY entertaining. Its got a ball, a net, two guys that run around and hit the ball. It keeps proper tennis score . What more does it need? barring anything not related directly to the game play (ie season/career modes etc)why would I need anything more then Tennis?
I guess you technically wouldn't. And that's kind of why a lot of tennis games failed in the interim between a game like Tennis (or even more simply, Pong) and the excellent, excellent Virtua Tennis (Dreamcast). Hell, it's even why Virtua Tennis 2k2 (DC as well) failed. Tennis, the game, is exciting when it's fast paced, back and forth action. The whole thing with Pong was that it was "fast paced", back and forth action. You can distill the game down to that, I suppose. What you may want to have in order to improve the basic back and forth is increased control over your shots, maybe a little extra give as far as you getting to the ball (shamefully, I have not played Tennis on the Atari, so I cannot speak to its gameplay), all in the name of fun. Newer games combine some of those aspects, as well as try to make a more rounded simulation, and fancy presentation options that probably aren't really necessary.
To answer the more general implication of your question, the whole thing with new games vs. old games... This is why I tend to emphasize the gameplay in my reviews, unless the game's spectacularly beautiful. Until I was 7, although the NES had already come out, the only console my family had was an Intellivision, which had been dead as a doornail since 1984 or so. But my parents had tons of games, and I grew up playing stuff like Burger Time, Astrosmash and Tron's Deadly Discs. Frankly, there isn't much more anyone needs to a game than what was there in games like those. While the new generations of consoles have introduced great gameplay and even wonderful innovations, the basic, core gameplay hasn't changed a whole lot. Most games are about winning, or defeating an opponent, or exercising a skill, or cooperating with friends. Games are about fun. If you're still finding Tennis on Atari fun, or Zelda on the NES fun, or Crash Bandicoot on the PSX fun, or Fire Pro D on the Dreamcast fun, don't let anyone tell you any friggin' different.
Third question: Your system...whatever you want it to be...has a game stuck in it. The game just won't come out and you'll probably be playing the game in it FOREVER... but your not upset at this turn of events...what gameis stuck in there?
Let's make the system the Dreamcast, and we'll say SoulCalibur, because as far as I'm concerned (Ariel can attest), my Dreamcast and SC are pretty much married at this point.
Review: Quick & Dirty Reviews 11/18/04 Posted by Shocker :: 9:52 AM
In order to catch up with some of the games that have come out this year, especially during a month like this, in anticipation of our End-Of-The-Year-Awards stuff, and because I feel like it, I am going to review some games in a slightly shorter format. Since I feel like I'd be cheating you if I just quickly review one game, I'm going to try and jam more than a couple games in each time I do this. Think of them as gaming haikus.
About a year ago, I rented Otogi: Myth of Demons because I was jealous of Devil May Cry, was slightly more of an XBox fanboy than I am now, and even though I had a PS2 at the time, I wanted to see the XBox kick the PS2's ass... and since everyone and their mama said that Otogi was "The XBox's answer to DMC" I was all ready for some hack-and-shooting action. Well. No. I never felt like Otogi: MOD ever played like Devil May Cry (which I eventually did end up playing). Otogi was a far, far trippier experience.
Otogi and Otogi 2 were both developed by From Software and published by Sega, and in a sense, they are very similar to Panzer Dragoon - games that are technically and visually brilliant, but just don't seem to get the respect they should probably command. In fact, given the tepid reaction to Otogi, I was surprised to see a sequel sitting innocently on the shelves of my local Blockbuster. Of course, having played the first, I grabbed it immediately.
Otogi is a weird, weird, weird game. It's like a psychotropic trip through Japanese mythology: subdued Japanese music, ethereal voiceovers, soft, beautiful lighting effects and eclectic demons. The main character of both Otogi 1 and 2 is Raikoh, a demonslayer who is reminiscent of Ryo of Wildfire from the Ronin Warriors. Raikoh is ressurected in a ceremony where 5 noble warriors sacrificed themselves to bring him back from the dead. After this, they become playable characters who each have varying abilities. Each stage (this game is non-linear) presents a challenge: Defeat these demons or protect this artifact, for instance, and gives suggested aptitude for each character for each mission. The missions are completed by defeating the enemies in a very straightforward manner, and you are graded on completeness, speed and damage done to buildings. Paradoxically, though you are supposed to be helping the people of Japan, you earn more points by completely destroying their villages. While Otogi 1 had the option to upgrade Raikoh, this game takes it a lot further, offering you many more weapons and armor features to upgrade the group.
So where does it fail? Well, for all the upgrades, the game feels exactly like Otogi 1, and the reason why Otogi 1 didn't do so well, despite being perhaps the best looking game on the XBox was that it was even more mindless than DMC. Hack, hack, hack, target new enemy, dash towards them, hack, hack, hack. Racking up combos is nice, but it's a little hollow when it's the bulk of tha game and it isn't very varied. Although you have 6 combattants to choose from, they basically play the same because they are all tied to the core engine. Don't get me wrong, I like the game... Playing Otogi 2 reminded me of all of the weirdass experiences I had playing Otogi: Myth of Demons that I really couldn't remember where they came from (Playing an entire boss level while dodging on Japanese-rooftops, avoiding demons and the boss's energy beams as his laughter echoed through the entire, cavernous valley). But ultimately, I can't see it being much more than a rental, or a purchase if/when it finds its way into the bargain bin.
Read about this in EGM. It got pretty good reviews, so I decided to pick it up. This one will be pretty brief:
Kingdom Under Fire is a European-ized version of Dynasty Warriors, with a couple of twists. Firstly, instead of just being in battle, like in DW, you lead an army (and armies), arranged like a phalanx down the field until you encounter another army. There is a slight amount of strategy in this, as, for instance, arranging this phalanx in a tight formation slows them down, but renders them much less vulnerable to ranged attacks. Likewise, arranging them in a loose formation allows them to move faster, but subjects them to ranged fire. However, once your army encounters another army, the game turns into a hack-and-slasher akin to Dynasty Warriors. As your main character fights, you gain points that can be spent like mana to call in assistance from one of your partners (kind of like legendary warriors from Warcraft 3) or to use a special move yourself.
The problem here is that the gameplay is, aside from the army-control actions, completely derivative of Dynasty Warriors. However, it has the design flaw that by killing the leader of the opposing army, you automatically "discourage" the remaining troops and win the battle. So, if you can search out the leader in the mayhem, which at times is not particularly easy, you can run him or her through and move onto the next battle.
Now don't get me wrong, the gameplay is pretty well integrated into the missions. As you encounter armies and are playing with several armies at once, you will be rushing across battlefields to give aid or backup to other armies or to protect certain areas. These are nice aspects, and something that you can't exactly do in Dynasty Warriors, but the gameplay once you manage to catch up with the enemy is still more of the same hack-and-slash as the last battle you were in.
The story follows from a little known 2001 PC game, Kingdom Under Fire: A War of Heroes, which set in motion a story about evil orcs who are taking over a holy land and the Crusaders are going to over take it and yadda yadda yadda. The story's a complete yawn, is not something you've never heard before and shares striking and perhaps alarming similarities between the actual Crusades (erm, if you replace the evil orcs with Muslims) and the current Israeli/Palestinian situation (erm, if you replace the evil orcs with Muslims).
Special mention must go to the graphics and sound departments: The graphics look great, and are very well detailed. At times, there are a lot of characters on the screen in the heat of battle, and there is no slowdown or draw-in that I noticed. The sound, however, is another matter. Poor voiceacting and a very cheesy metal soundtrack stand out here for all the wrong reasons.
I give props to KUF: TC for having an XBL mode, where you can download missions, maps and such, and potentially play against others. But given that Halo 2 is out now, and a lot of games better suited to XBL play, I don't think there'll be a huge following for it. As it is, the gameplay aspects of the game are only slighty better than average. Everything else balances out in the wash. Give it a rental.
After I played Paper Mario, I decided I wanted to track down the so-called rightful successor to Super Mario RPG, which game out on the Gameboy Advance last year. Superstar Saga is definitely a great game in that same mold.
Just like Paper Mario (N64, NGC) and Super Mario RPG (SNES), Superstar Saga utilizes interaction during turn based combat to keep the player interested, and avoids the rote button jamming that even the best in the RPG genre can slip into. I did cover these aspects in the Paper Mario review I did, so I won't rehash them here... What I will say is that the platforming elements in Superstar Saga are reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and that is a link that many people would consider favorable indeed. The story is also somewhat similar to every other Mario game: Save the Princess. The great thing about Mario RPG games is that they'll make fun of themselves constantly. The game follows Mario, Luigi and Bowser's quest to recover Princess Peach's voice from the dastardly witch Cackletta from the Beanbean kingdom.
The gameplay innovation used here is that Mario and Luigi are controlled independently in all actions in the game... Oh, okay, they walk together like Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear toward a bad Farrelly Bros. script, but all actions you'll do in the game regarding Luigi are done with the A button, and all actions regarding Mario are done with B. So, when you're hopping around the game world, you're pressing A and B to get them both around the map. In battle, the same rules as in Paper Mario apply, except instead of special moves, Mario and Luigi have "Bros Moves", which are combination attacks that do damage depending on how precise your button presses are. In fact, much of the game plays out in an interplay between pressing the A or B button at the proper time. In order for Mario or Luigi to counter or dodge attacks, he must jump, with his corresponding jump button, at the right time. In fact, since I'm not particularly good at this, it led to Mario jumping in vain as enemies smashed the crud out of poor Luigi. This also leads to some interesting minigames where your skills are tested, such as when two guards at the Beanbean kingdom demand that you pass their sacred test... a game of jumprope...
Oh yeah, the game's totally silly, even funnier than Paper Mario. The game, of course, makes no attempt to hide this, and in fact, revels in it. Luigi is brought along against his will, characters will taunt you in broken Engrish, and RPG and even Mario conventions will be challenged and made fun of. The only place where it falls off is in the level design. In the beginning, you'll get a couple of powers that you'll have to use over and over and over again. Additionally, some of the layouts are a bit oblique. Not that they have to be obvious, but it'd be nice not to circle the same areas a hundred times before you finally figure out where you were supposed to go.
All in all, this is a great time, a definite buy, and will cause lots of people to stare at you as you laugh your ass off on the bus.
Matt was surprised to find out I play Tony Hawk... DAN PLAYS EVERYTHING. (Even Tony Hawk?) DAN PLAYS EVERYTHING! I'm an old school Tony Hawk vet, since THPS1 on the Dreamcast. But here's the thing, I'm starting to think that the first iteration had it right.
Sure, I can go into THUG2 immediately bust off a 20 trick combo and grind and trick all over the damn place. I'm not so much complaining about that... But I haven't played a Tony Hawk game since THUG about a year ago... My point being everything I was pulling off was straight from memory, and is stuff I've been doing for 5 years now with this franchise. What's new here? When you get special, you can enter a bullet-time mode called "Focus Mode", which, actually, is rather cool. When you fall off your board, you can throw a tantrum... Um, you can slap stickers on the wall, as opposed to wallplanting... Um, you can graffiti... Um....
So yeah. Returning modes include the Story, Create-A-Park, Create-A-Goal, Create-A-Skater, PS2 Online and "Put Your Ugly Mug Into The Game On The PS2 With An EyeToy" modes. New modes include Create-A-Graphic (which is for the graffiti), and the return of Classic Mode. Classic Mode is a welcome return to the THPS series, where you are limited to 2 minutes in a game world to run around and skate to collect items, complete objectives and rack up points. New to the Classic mode is the C-O-M-B-O objective, where you collect those letters in a single, strung together combo to complete the objective. Very nice.
Story mode is very fun here, as well. It plays out as Tony Hawk's team vs. Bam Margera's team as they travel around the world, skating in an underground competition to rack up points against one another. The loser pays for the trip. It's hilarious the way it plays out, and is voiced very well. As your character skates around, he or she gains experience points in the moves you use the most. The game actually tells you what you need to accomplish in order to level up a particular skill if you're dead-set on doing so. Objectives in the story mode vary from things like "Get launched out of a cannon" to "grind over this" to "deliver this kid to see Tony Hawk". Some of them play out like really weird minigames that control a lot like the driving missions in Tony Hawk Underground (read: not very well). The graphics get an over (or under?)haul here too. Rather than the more realistic-looking THUG, these models look slightly more cartoonish and fun. Each level also has some weird celebrity involvement, like Steve-O from Jackass riding a mechanical bull (you control him and skate around with him on this mechanical bull). It's very, very quirky.
My problem was that I just couldn't get around the gameplay. I like it, it's interesting and fun, and for a newbie to the series, you're gonna be impressed once you get about half-way through the game with how much better you are than when you started. But for me, the fact that jumping right in it felt like more of the same was an immediate turnoff. I respect the accomplishment, and applaud the hilarious story mode, but I'd rather see the series take a turn for the more simplistic next time out (remove the Revert, make the grinding a bit more difficult to balance... something). It's just not really all that fun anymore for this grizzled vet. New players to the series will definitely want to pick this up, so I'll rate it for them.
Star Wars: Battlefront is a giant battle sim similar to games like Battlefield 1942 and even Dynasty Warriors in a roundabout way. It stars YOU as Random McSchlub in a giant battle between 399 of your closest friends and enemies, fighting on the most historic battlefields of Star Wars history: Fighting the Gungans on in the Battle of Naboo, or fighting against the Empire on Hoth.
Every army has 5 player types (think: Team Fortress Classic, and every other derivative game), a Warrior, Sniper, Special Unit, Pilot and Heavy Artillery. Each army has their own special player type. The Empire gets a jetpacked fighter with a heavy gun, and the Droid Army has those Droidekas introduced in the Phantom Menace. There are tons of vehicles here, as well. X-Wings, Speeders, Y-Wings, Snow Speeders, and TIE fighters. Any class and player can utilize them, but pilots fare best.
As I said up above, though, the heart of the game is this 200 on 200 battle that you'll go through in each mission. While the various modes are nice, such as a singleplayer campaign that has you win 2 out of 3 matches on various worlds to capture them, they all boil down to this fight between two matched armies. As you are just a random soldier, you'll die plenty, and as you are ressurected, you dwindle your numbers. As you fight, you attempt to claim certain key points on each map. As you win these locales, you can respawn from them and advance your numbers. Most of the maps are actually tremendous. The urban warfare of the Naboo map sticks out in my mind best, as I prefer bright, open levels, but it is typical of the beautiful layouts and graphics in the game. Sure, the character models aren't the best looking, and the frame rate suffers a bit, but it still gets the point across: giant, chaotic battlefields.
Although most reviews I read didn't find the single player all that engrossing (the AI is dumb), I actually did like it. The Galactic Conquest mode, which I mentioned briefly above, was interesting and huge in the amount of scenarios you could play out. But the bulk of the game plays out in multiplayer online, where the game's ambitions are pretty obvious. Huge battles, lots of people, how can you go wrong?
Aside from some immersion issues (I never really felt like I was drawn into the game very well... I know, I know, I'm a picky ass bastard), I liked this game just fine. Very good, worthy of a rental or a buy, if you're into Star Wars.
News: Halo 2 Followup Posted by Shocker :: 11:46 PM
Since I posted my review, Bungie has issued an autoupdate for XBL that dramatically increases (speaking from my own experience) the time it takes to arrange a match. On the negative side, I have played a couple more games that had an additional amount of lag. To quote from their release:
The Halo 2 Autoupdate is a small piece of software which will improve the functionality of Halo 2, most notably in the following areas:
Matchmaking: Some players have experienced irritating delays while waiting for a game to be found while in Quickmatch and Optimatch. This is caused by a combination of factors, including connection speed and other detailed nuances of matchmaking. We have isolated the cause and applied a solution to the autoupdate which should normalize that wait time.
I have a feeling "we have isolated the cause" means "We've stopped being so picky about connection speed". However, I'll take an extra laggy game in 10 or 20 to get more games in.
In addition, this update unlocks a secret multiplayer level previously unlocked when you beat the game and complete a certain action (which, since it's out for grabs is no longer a spoiler, right?) It's interesting to see Bungie's response to the, um, constructive criticism, on their boards. You can view the full release at Bungie.net.
Review: Halo 2 (XBox) Posted by Shocker :: 9:40 AM
Okay, so here's the scene. I am the Master Chief (Yes I am), and I've got a battle rifle - a burst action assault rifle that shoots in 3-round bursts and has a short range scope on it. I'm facing Jackal snipers on the tops of 10 and 20 story buildings, grenade-lobbing Grunts and several classes of Elites all trying to make a name for themselves on the ground. Around me lays an Earth-city in ruins, wrecked from savage urban warfare. Chunks of cars, Pelican transport vehicles and Covenant supply boxes litter the streets. Not to mention all the dead Marines.
This is the scenario that Halo 2 puts the Master Chief into routinely. And while a casual analysis of the game would lead one to write it off as just-another-First-Person-Shooter, one must still weigh that Halo defined the standard for the console FPS in this gen, and that Halo 2 improves upon is predecessor in almost every way. Since Ariel already covered the features in Halo 1 last week, I won't repeat them. Rather I'd like to take the main points of his analysis and cover the all new features introduced in this version.
One of the most significant gameplay changes is the removal of the lifebar. In Halo, your armor provided a shield that could absorb damage until it was gone. This shield would regenerate if you took cover without being hit for a few seconds. However, should the Chief continue to take damage, his lifebar would begin to go down to zero. This damage he took could only be recovered by a health pack, which were somewhat sparsely scattered throughout Halo's vast world. In the sequel, however, there is no lifebar. Rather, you are limited to a shield only, and the Master Chief can take small amounts of damage beyond the shield, but loss of a shield is the immediate point at which one should run for cover. The amount of damage the Chief can take depends upon the difficulty.
Another thing Halo vets will immediately recognize is the revamped weapons. Nearly every weapon in the game has been altered or replaced in pursuit of better balance. The Assault Rifle of Halo 1 is replaced by a Submachine Gun (60 rounds) and a Battle Rifle mentioned above. Aside from the pull of the SMG (which was not a factor in Halo 1), it's standard and familiar fare. The Battle Rifle is one of those weapons whose use changes depending on the difficulty one is playing on: in Normal and even Heroic, its somewhat slow rate of fire and close-range weakness doesn't really allow the player to take full advantage of it when they're able to charge at the enemies. On Legendary, when standoffs are the standard, the 2x scope and burst fire modes will become your closest companion. The handgun has been somewhat downgraded from its godly Halo 1 status: it does a little less damage and lacks a scope, so pulling off those precision headshots will take more practice. The shotgun and sniper rifle don't see any real changes here, but the Missile launcher, in addition to reloading faster and doing more melee damage, can also track against vehicles (think Half-Life).
As far as Covenant weaponry, there is a plethora of new weapons. Because they were limited to essentially plasma rifles and plasma guns in the previous game, it's nice to see an expansion of their arsenal. Perhaps the most prolific addition is the plasma sword, bane of the Master Chief. In this game, you'll get several opportunities to hack and slash at enemies - and it's beautifully integrated into the multiplayer experience. Returning from the PC version of Halo is the Fuel Rod Cannon, very similar to the projectiles the Hunters throw. The Covenant get their very own sniper rifle here, as well as a Carbine, a fast-firing rifle-like weapon (similar to the radiation gun in Half-Life). The plasma gun and rifle return here as well. The plasma gun can now overheat on regular, rapid fire, but it trades this for the ability to knock down any kind of shielding when fully charged. The Needler is back, and supposedly better-than-ever (I never had a problem with it in Halo, personally). The plasma gun is relatively untouched, but a red version, a Brute plasma rifle, trades faster fire and slightly higher accuracy over long range for faster overheating. The Covenant gain yet another weapon in the form of a Brute Shot, which delivers bouncing grenades that do splash damage, and is very effective against light vehicles. Finally, while not a Covenant or Human weapon, the Master Chief will occasionally run across Sentinel Beams, which are basically the exact same thing Sentinels attacked the Chief with in Halo 1.
One can't talk about the weapons without mentioning the dual wielding aspects introduced in this game. While the game sticks to the formula of holding only two weapons, you can mix in a third weapon which can be dual-wielded with some of the primary weapons. This leads to some interesting and necessary combinations: dual wielded plasma guns, plasma gun/SMG, plasma rifle/SMG, dual SMGs, etc. Dual wielding a weapon doesn't impart any penalty to aim or accuracy not found on the weapon itself, but it does render the Master Chief unable to throw grenades. For some reason, when dual wielding, you can't even see the status of your grenades (how many of each you have), which would be useful to know, as sometimes you might want to drop your secondary weapon to start lobbing grenades if you're sure you have them. Depending on what you encounter, and what difficulty you're on, some of the combinations of weapons become a must, and while the plasma rifle is a good weapon, a single one pales in comparison to a pair of them. Unfortunately, I found that the interface for collecting and utilizing the dual weapons was a bit cumbersome. After 20+ hours of playtime, I am still not totally accustomed to it, and mostly because I just decided to forget about trying to figure it out about halfway through. While the weapon system in Halo 1 was perfectly balanced, fast and responsive, all but the most experienced will be second-guessing themselves as to whether they hit the button they intended to hit. I also felt this feature should have become integrated later into the game, as the difficulty and storyline ramped up. Because you can dual wield immediately in the single-player mode, the game loses a bit of balance early on as you're introduced into the Halo world, and changes it from being purely a feature into more of a gimmick.
The essential question here is are the new weapons more balanced? I don't know. I didn't really feel the weapons in Halo 1 were particularly unbalanced until I felt the terrible sting of the Pistol. I always felt the Plasma Gun matched up against the Rifle if you pressed the trigger fast enough (considering it didn't overheat, it would beat the rifle in a head-to-head, eventually). To be honest, a lot of the Covenant additions are stinkers. The carbine doesn't do enough damage to put down any serious threats and the Plasma Gun is only good for knocking down shields (this is very big in multiplayer and in Legendary, but most players won't use this). The Needler doesn't really seem that different, though the ability to dual wield it makes it extremely useful. While the Beam Rifle is a very powerful sniper rifle, it gives away the location of the sniper even more than the sniper rifle does. The plasma sword is a bit more balanced in the campaign mode than in multiplayer, as it has a battery limit imposed on it. I suppose on some level, the give and take inherent in most weapons is a good indicator of balance. The variety of options you have in combat- being able to mix up a plasma gun with a SMG to cover up the weaknesses of both are very good additions. Additionally, dual wielding adds in a skill aspect... using a Needler and a pistol at the same time requires that you remember to hold the trigger for the needler and pump the trigger for the pistol while keeping aim, etc. Some of the more powerful combinations need to be used in this way, so that there is a learning curve for using them in tandem.
The thing I look forward to most often when playing Halo is the opportunity to match up against the AI in the co-op mode. It was pretty much my introduction to the series and it suits the game very well. On the Normal difficulty, progressing through the game is almost simple. There are some challenges, but for a Halo vet, you won't be hung up on too many parts. The real challenge here is on Legendary. In the Easy, Normal and Heroic modes, when one partner dies, the other can get to a safe location to respawn his fallen comrade... not in Legendary. Now your survival depends on not only your own skill, but the skill of your partner. It's an interesting dynamic that can't be appreciated unless your partner is as good as you are. In fact, it is a testament to the friendship between Ariel and I that we didn't kill each other for our various goof-ups and deaths resulting in our having to start over.
But even in the non-cooperative campaign mode, skirmishes between you and the Covenant (especially the Covenant Elites) are extremely protracted and difficult. Each scenario forces you to figure out the best way to approach and neutralize the target with the limited resources you have. This is exactly the reason why weapons like the Needler and Plasma Gun are in the game: on Legendary, human weapons don't have the ability to knock down covenant shields in a reasonable amount of time. The various dual weapon mixes in the game force you to attempt to adapt your weaponry to the situation, or vice versa. If you have a needler and a SMG, you might try to take out an elite behind cover, because of the Needler's tracking ability. If you have a plasma gun and an SMG, you might try to charge the gun and rush a single elite, which may require creating some sort of diversion to separate him.
The downside, though, is similar to Halo 1. The levels where the game feels like a tactical battle sim are somewhat distanced. While the campaign mode here feels similar to Halo 1, it offers more pure gameplay experiences: levels where you're the ultrabadass in a Scorpion tank, or racing down freeways in a Ghost or dogfighting with Banshees. These are the kinds of levels that Halo 1 veterans practically begged for, because the potential to make a great level was always there. But there are other levels that drag on, and those are primarily the ones where you're not in open spaces or (spoiler) fighting the flood, who kind of bust up the game's steeze again. Additionally, Marines, who were promised to be able to flip over tables and hold thier own with Covenant battle parties don't. In fact, their biggest use stems from the fact that they will hold onto weapons you can trade with them. While I am glad they haven't gone the route of some games, with cumbersome and inadequate troop handling schemes, I am not happy with the way the Marines don't last here either.
What I will say about the story is that it is very well told. It doesn't get oppressively integrated into the game, nor does it bury you in cutscenes because it feels that it's earned enough credit with gamers to inundate them in the world (*coughMGS2cough*). The way the story plays out allows the player to learn about the world surrounding Halo without being mired in endless cutscenes or feeling distanced from the story. That ending, though... Find me someone who didn't go "Wait, what?" at the end of all that.
Music and graphics are greatly improved. The Master Chief's new armor model is extremely impressive, and the cutscenes, which use ingame graphics (at least, I believe this because there is some texture draw-in when playing in co-op) will make you wish there was a third person mode. The music, which I was a bit worried about (Steve Vai is not my favorite guitarist by a long shot) was actually really well done. As soon as it fired up, hearing that awesome riff in addition to the Bungie logo told me there would be an awesome gameplay experience; and though I hate to compare the two games, the way Halo 2 has you immediately jump into the game versus GTA: San Andreas's protracted silent loading screens are a way to get Dan into the game experience faster. The music indeed makes Halo 2 a nonstop experience, alternately punctuated by trippy space music, reflective, deep and almost sorrowful melodies and all-out-badass rock. The non-celebrity voice acting is superb. The Master Chief and Cortana continue to provide witty dialogue with one another, and despite being cannon fodder again, the Marines' chatter is interesting and fun. Some of the celebrities sound sedated, or a bit bored, but it doesn't take away too much (I think Michelle Rodriguez, who has prior voice acting experience, is the only voice actor who sticks around for mostly all of the game).
Finally, the multiplayer is fan-friggin-tastic. I've played 24 games by now, and I think that I'm enjoying this experience as much as any games of Quake 3: Arena that I've played, which was previously my favorite multiplayer deathmatch game. In fact, the awesomeness of the multiplayer kept me from finishing this review on Monday! The interface is a great cross between Quake 3: Arena and Unreal Tournament. Double-Kills, Killing Sprees and Headshots are called by the announcer, for instance. Weapons and vehicles litter several of the battlefields, allowing you to team up with people and run through the levels in your own way. The destructability of the vehicles keeps it from being unbalanced. Options here are 8-man deathmatches, 4 on 4 and 8 on 8 team deathmatches, Clan battles and one-on-one battles. This game sets a standard in allowing clans, creating logos and having you fight with friends. I would eventually like to see added options for 16 player deathmatch and additional maps, however.
Unlike most XBox Live games, though, the interface is a bit confusing at first. The goal of multiplayer is basically to reach the mythical level 50. You gain experience points for wins, and lose experience points for losses. As you get better and better, and higher in level, you are paired up with people in a similar level class to you. Necessarily, it can't be possible for you to join just any random level game. This leads to the Optimatch option trying to find the best game for you which can sometimes take a while. Unlike most online games, you don't have the option of immediately restarting the match after its over, or if you do, I haven't figured out how to make it work. I think this was possibly an oversight, but you do get used to immediately jumping out of the game and into the matchmaking process. Games are relatively lag free (this is another consideration in matchmaking). I didn't really experience any lag aside from 2 episodes I can vividly recall in my 24 games, and I'm comparing this to DOA Ultimate, which did lag out of the exact same connection.
So how does it rate? Well, is Halo 2 better than Halo 1? I think it is, ultimately. The stages, music, and multiplayer are all enhanced and a lot more fun than Halo 1. The multiplayer isn't hampered by ridiculous imbalance like with the Pistol, and the goal of trying to get to level 50, while likely a pipe dream to most players, is still something a lot of people will try. It's immediately more accessible than Splinter Cell, though I might have climbed the learning curve when I cut my teeth on PC first person shooters for the past few years. Because of the increased depth in Legendary, what was an easy 8-hour jaunt in Normal/Heroic will turn into a far, far longer adventure (Spent an hour and a half to get halfway through the first level alone on Legendary - and I'm good at the game, dammit). I'll break it down this way: If you don't have any friends, rent Halo 2. It'll be similar to Metal Gear Solid 1, a very great story and gameplay experience that ultimately isn't really very long, but doens't necessarily need to be. If you have some friends, buy it for the co-op experience and eventually work your way together through Legendary. If you've got some friends and XBox live, definitely get it and enjoy one of the most fun online multiplayer experiences out there. Halo 2 seems definitely worth the wait in any of those contexts, and I think in this case, a solid 9.5 rounds up to a
The Rundown: 15th to 21st November Posted by JayGo :: 1:01 PM
Welcome to The Rundown. Each week, we'll be 'running down' (see what I did there?) the games that are set to be released into shops in both the UK and the US over the next seven days, and attempting to steer you in the right direction for any purchases you may make. And boy, did we pick one hell of a week in which to start this feature up..
Let's start by looking at the USA, where undoubtably the biggest release this week is Dora The Explorer (GBA). You get to take Dora through seven action-packed levels and using over twenty activities and abilities in your quest to.. what? You mean you're NOT looking forward to this one? Eh, suit yourself.
There's a lot of big games out this week, in fact. Tomorrow will see millions of gamers finally able to get their hands on Half Life 2 (PC), with the boxed version appearing in stores and downloads via Steam being activated. Reviews that have appeared so far have praised the revolutionary use of physics, strong characters and varied gameplay.. and it does seem that the third of the Big 3 games of the season (after GTA:SA and Halo 2) has comfortably lived up to the hype. You can expect more thoughts on this one to be posted on Another Castle in the weeks to come. Interestingly, also out this week is the first game other than HL2 to make use of the Source engine, Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines (PC). Well, that didn't take long.
The latest installment of the Metal Gear series is also out this week, in the form of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (PS2). Who knows, maybe this time the plot might actually be understandable? The setting has changed, with the action now taking place in a jungle in the 1960s, and this adds features such as traps and camouflage to the otherwise familiar gameplay. Impressions thus far seem more positive than those which met MGS2.. again, expect AC to be bringing you more on this one.
Now, I don't know how things are in the US, but over here in Britain the anticipation around Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GC) has barely stretched above levels of 'meh'. Seems strange that a game released to such widespread praise last year can't get much interest going in the sequel, but still. Maybe it's a victim of all the other big names around at this time of year. MP2 appears at first glance to be more of the same, but reviews talk of improved play mechanics, a deeper, more involved plot, and a half-decent multiplayer mode. So if you're one of those who really liked the first game, you could do a hell of a lot worse..
Fancy a game you probably won't complete until 2010? Sadists who enjoyed continually dying in the first one will be rushing to the stores this week to buy Viewtiful Joe 2 (GC, PS2). As much as I liked the first game, I haven't seen anything sufficiently different about the second one to persuade me it needs to be bought.. but that's just me. There's more abilities, more levels, and a second selectable character in the form of Joe's girlfriend. For some of you, that might be enough.
EA release another of their all-format blockbusters this week, with Need For Speed Underground 2 (PS2, XBox, GC, GBA, PC). It attempts to happily marry the street racing and car-customisation of the first game with a free-roaming environment similar to Grand Theft Auto.. not the worst of ideas by any means. However, playing the demo for a while shows that the combination of the two ends up feeling a bit off, with neither of the parts meeting the required standard. You want exciting racing action, get Burnout 3. You want freeroaming with your driving, buy one of the GTAs. You want more of both? THEN consider this.
You may have spotted that most of the games this week are highly antipated sequels.. but not all! Some are not-at-all anticipated sequels too! As badly received as the first game was, I'm quite a fan of Blinx 2: Masters of Time & Space (XBox). Really, the demo I've played was quite good.. and it doesn't hurt that it'll be cut-price in the UK, either. Most of the faults from the first game are now absent, and a new set of characters introduces stealth-based gameplay into the mix too. Anyone looking for a platformer on the XBox should at least give it a rental.
What with Halo 2, Killzone, Metroid, Half Life 2, Medal of Honor and numerous others around, you'd think there was no more room for any FPS games right now. Wrong. Call of Duty: Finest Hour (PS2, XBox, GC) ventures out into the great unknown this week, bringing more war-based first person shooting action to the gamesplaying public. Quite how it will perform against such opposition remains to be seen, though. Oh, and speaking of war, Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 (XBox) also sees a release this week. Never got on with the first one, but you might.
Also out this week:
None of the above appealing to you? Really desperate to spend some money anyway? Fine, here's a list of all the other titles emerging in the US this week...
Playstation 2: Alien Hominid, Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes The Neighborhood, Castle Shikigami 2, Choro Q, Crash 'N' Burn, Dragon Ball Z: Budokai 3, ESPN College Hoops 2K5, Fight Club, King Arthur, NCAA March Madness 2005, World Championship Poker
XBox: Atari Anthology, Backyard Wrestling 2: There Goes The Neighborhood, Cabela's Big Game Hunter 2005 Adventures, Crash 'N' Burn, Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 2, ESPN College Hoops 2K5, Fight Club, Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone, Godzilla: Save the Earth, Greg Hasting's Tournament Paintball, King Arthur, NCAA March Madness 2005, Pinball Hall of Fame, World Championship Poker
Gamecube: Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean, King Arthur, Room Zoom, Scaler, World Championship Pool 2004
PC:Bicycle 21 Casino: Texas Hold 'Em, BreakQuest, CSI: Miami, Dragon's Lair 3, EVE Online: Exodus, Galactic Civilizations: Deluxe Edition, Hot Wheels Stunt Track Challenge, Joint Operations: Escalation, Konung 2, MTX Mototrax, Sonic Heroes
Gameboy Advance: Beyblade G-Revolution, Dead to Rights, Donkey Kong Country 2, Dora the Explorer: Super Star Adventures, F-18 Super Hornet, Fear Factor: Unleashed, Golden Nugget Casino, Pac Man World, Yu Yu Hakusho: Tournament Tactics
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom:
So, to the UK, home of delayed launches and much, much waiting. You know those Americans are playing Dead Or Alive Ultimate.. guess when we get to play it? Yeah, that's right - April. *sigh* Anyway, let's look at the big titles that WILL be turning up this week. First up, receiving parallel launches with the USA are Half Life 2, Need for Speed Underground 2 and Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. More on these can be found up there.
Three quite big games finally make their way across the pond, having been launched in America a fair while back. Mario vs Donkey Kong (GBA) has already been reviewed on this very site by the fair hand of Dan, so check that out if you haven't already. Meanwhile, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault (PC) is a first-person shooter sequel, being released in Britain in the same week as Half Life 2. So, good luck with that. Oh, and there's another foriegn RPG in the form of Tales of Symphonia (GC).. good, if you like that kinda thing.
So, that leaves us with the games making their debut. First, we have Singstar Party (PS2). Yes, it's a karaoke game. Yes, that is a guily pleasure of mine. This stand-alone expansion on the popular Singstar contains thirty new songs, and a new duets mode enabling you to sing along with a friend. Whether or not you'll still be friends by the end of the song remains questionable. Still, I'll enjoy singing away to Kylie Minogue and Franz Ferdinand, even if most of you readers won't. Don't worry, I'll spare you from hearing the results..
Also making a debut over in the UK this week, Worms: Forts Under Seige (PS2, XBox, PC) is the latest in the popular series of Worms strategy games. It's more of a straight sequel to Worms 3D than anything else, with the additions of fort building and destructible environments adding to the traditional carnage. If you've already played Worms 3D you should know whether this will appeal or not, as the basic play mechanic hasn't changed that much. If you're looking for an introduction to the series, though, this is probably the best place to start.
So, that's about all for this week. Feel free to comment using the handy link below, and I'll be back in seven days with yet more releases to talk about. Who knows, maybe some of them WON'T be sequels for once. Still, apparently, there's some new Nintendo console out or something. Should be interesting. See ya next time!
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