We got your princess right here.

Friday, December 17, 2004

News: San Andreas headed to the Xbox
Posted by Ryan :: 9:45 PM

Thanks to IGN & Doug Perry:

Rockstar Games let the good news fly today, announcing that its mega-hit Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas will arrive on Xbox and PC on June 7 in North America. Euro-gamers will receive the fifth game in the series June 10, 2005.

Following Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in this generation of console systems, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas takes place in the fictitious city of San Andreas and enables players to explore cities much like LA, Las Vegas and San Francisco, all of which take place in real estate that's approximately five times bigger than the landscape found in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

The game follows the African-American Carl Johnson, who escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas five years ago. Returning to his hometown upon his mother's death in the early 1990s, his family has been torn apart. The game introduces a slew of new features including eating food to survive, the freedom to completely customize your character with tattoos, clothing, and haircuts, a brand new vehicle physics engine, and the ability to swim.

If Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is anything like the GTA bundle pack before it, then Xbox and PC gamers should expect no content changes to the gameplay, but they should look forward to higher resolution graphics, and better overall graphic presentation.

You knew it was only a matter of time before Rockstar would release the fifth Grand Theft Auto game for the Xbox. Those like myself who are PS2-less can stop holding their breath and mark their calendars.

Now if only Konami would announce Metal Gear Solid 3 for the Xbox...


Review: Spider-Man 2: The Movie (XBox)
Posted by Ariel :: 11:00 AM

Most video games based on comic book characters have sucked for the most part. In fact almost all the games I have ever played have failed to capture what it is like to be the costumed star of the game. There have been exceptions to this, but most games fall short of delivering on the promise of their premise. Fortunately, along with the string of excellent Marvel movies has also come a string of good video games, which brings us to a video game based off of a movie based off of a comic book. Just one of those transitions usually boded disaster for the franchise in question. In this case we get the sequel to the aforementioned, which is also a boding for disaster. Fortunately Spider-Man 2 squashes these curses like a bug.

Spider-Man: The Movie was a very well done game but, at times, was still your standard superhero smash 'em up, with a couple of other genres blended in for good measure (I particularly enjoyed some of its ceiling crawling stealth segments). Spider-Man 2 is a whole new game, however. Stealing GTA's free-form mission-based exploration formula, this game presents a compressed rendition of Manhattan, which is eerily accurate in a lot of respects, and drops you completely into Spider-Man's tights. After the first opening cinematic through the first training sequence to the first of a series of chapters, the game allows you to become a superhero more thouroughly than any other game I've ever played. As accurately as the movie captured the use of Spider-Man's abilities, the game lets you use them as accurately as they were captured on film. Webslinging alone will consume hours of your time, all the while you are doing nothing more than traveling from place to place.

The webslinging in this game is absolutely perfect. No longer are you swinging from some imaginary point in the sky as in the first movie game, You are now required to have a point to swing from. Usually a step this dramatic into the realm of realism ends up killing the fun in the game, but having a realistic New York to swing from makes this swing mechanic far superior to any seen in any previous spiderman game. You will swing realistically and have more fun doing it due to the greater control now possible. Previous games had you swinging forward and moving slowly from side to side, or jumping off and swinging forward in a new direction. You can still do this in this game, but you can now web shoot the corner of a building and swing around it, executing a turn at over a hundred miles an hour, do loop de loops around a post, or the very corner at the top of a building, or even just swing around a pole. Anything you think you should be able to do if you tied a rope to something you can do in this game. This combined with two more websling moves you can unlock (the webzip shoots out a webline and Spider-Man pulls on it hard, changing his momentum entirely, and the web sling, where you shoot out two webs and you can use them to slingshot yourself through the air in a similiar manner as when Spider-Man slingshotted himself from a building to the bridge in the first movie) as well as your ability to run along walls allow you to move through the game just like you saw Spider-Man do in the movie. It was so accurate that while I was playing someone walked into the living room and thought that I was watching the movie. In fact it wasn't until I dropped down to the street to talk to a citizen in distress that she realized I was playing a video game. It is also that much fun to do.

Speaking of citizens in distress, the game presents challenges to you at every opportunity. Some of them are timed events that wait until you have advanced to a certain point before activating some quick missions that advance the story, but, in order to become a better Spider-Man, you must earn hero points, usually by stopping crime in a manner of ways. A lot of the time you will see someone on the street with a question mark over their hand, and they'll wave up to you and yell for help. Once you initiate conversation with them they'll inform you of some crime in process and it is up to you to stop it. There will also be random crimes that you can stop. Unfortunately there is not a lot of variety in the things you can do. They boil down to, stop a car, beat up some thugs, rescue someone from a building/boat, and get someone to the hospital. This part will get repetitive for some, but once you've unlocked some of the myriad of Spider-Man's combat moves you can do alot of these missions in several different ways. Unfortunately a lot of people will get mired down in having to do the same mission over and over again.

Another thing that gets used over and over again is the sprites for the random citizens in the city. It wouldn't be such a big deal, considering the amount of time you spend swinging at 150 mph 200 ft in the air, but you have to talk with them over and over again in order to progress through the game.

Fortunately the game offers several side distractions to break up your duties as Spider-Man. You can take photos for the Daily Bugle, race to meet Mary Jane for a date, or deliver Pizzas (with hilarious pizza delivering music). There are also 150 challange markers with a variety of tests for your Spider-Abilities and 2 levels for each challange, giving you a total of 300 optional challenges to fulfill. Not to mention there are skyscraper tokens, bouy tokens, hideout tokens, and secret tokens to find.

Coming back to the sprites for a second, some of the jobs done on the actors is terrible. Mary Jane in particular looks like she got hit with a frying pan. The voice acting is not inspired either. Doctor Octupus' lines are well done and Black Cat's are excellent (as is her character model) but everyone else is pretty bad, and even Tobey Maguire sounds bored at times. JJ is hilarious though. The one true brilliant spot in the voices comes from Bruce Campbell, who once again guides you through the training mode, but also joins you in the form of help icons scattered through out the game. You can read what he is supposed to be saying from the pop-up that comes up although he ad-libs all over the place to hilarious results.

The game keeps statistics for just about everything you do (one of my proudest achievemest is a streak of 51 enemies beaten without taking a hit) even the amount of distance you've traveled, how much web fluid you've used, and what your maximum speed was.

At least rent Spiderman 2 and dedicate some time to it, or use a cheat code to unlock all of Spidey's abilities and give it a whirl. If you liked it as much as I did go out and buy it. The game is very good and all the potential is there for an absolutely spectacular sequel. Now you too can do whatever a spider can.


News: Links! Top Spin! Amped! Dead.
Posted by JayGo :: 10:04 AM

It's like a sports news special today, isn't it?
The Salt Lake City based development studio behind titles including Top Spin, Amped and Links has been sold to Take Two Interactive, in a move which finalises Microsoft Game Studios' move out of the sports market. The sale was confirmed last night by Take Two president Paul Eibeler, but no details have yet been announced regarding which of Take Two's labels will run the studio, or what games are in development at the company.

It's believed that Indie Built are currently focusing their efforts on next-generation development, and following the Take Two acquisition, the studio will undoubtedly be looking to develop across multiple platforms rather than just on Xbox consoles.
( Eurogamer.net )
Anyone think this was one of the conditions of the Microsoft/EA deal from back at E3? Even if it wasn't, it still sucks. Mainly because (while I never played Amped that much) Top Spin and Links were both fine, fine games - with a far better implementation of Xbox Live than any of the EA Sports titles so far. Though to be fair, that's not that hard. Still, hopefully Indie Built will keep up the good work..

Whatever happened to XSN Sports, anyway?


News: Blitz - Playmakers
Posted by JayGo :: 4:53 AM

So, what happens to all those developers who were making NFL games, and saw EA sweep the license right out from under their feet? Well, here's one idea..
Midway Games Inc. announced today the development of Blitz:Playmakers, a new, unlicensed videogame exposing the harsh realism and troubling, behind-the-scenes stories of a fictional professional football league. Blitz:Playmakers has been in development at Midway's Chicago studio for the past year in collaboration with a writer from ESPN's controversial "Playmakers" TV series. Blitz: Playmakers goes behind the glitz and glamour of the game through a revolutionary campaign mode that explores the on-field violence, off-field fallout and front-office politics of professional football. Blitz: Playmakers is scheduled for release in the fourth quarter of 2005 on multiple videogame console platforms.

"Midway's Chicago studio has laid the foundation over the past year for what is the ultimate alternative to watered down NFL sanctioned football games," said Steve Allison, chief marketing officer of Midway. "No longer bound to the NFL license, there will be no league restrictions on content and gamers will finally experience what makes playing a football videogame really fun: off-field controversies, dirty hits, excessive celebrations and much more. Blitz: Playmakers buyers will be assured of one thing – our game will include all the gameplay and fun the NFL won't allow."
The first ever anti-sports game, folks. Thing is, sports games normally work because they allow you to live out your fantasies with the teams that you support. Any game that now has to go to a completely fictional set of leagues, players and teams is going to have to make sure everything is balanced and well-written.. because they sure as hell aren't going to have the 'we made this team dominant to be realistic' card to fall back on...


A New Addition
Posted by Shocker :: 1:49 AM

We've recently added a new writer to Another Castle, Ryan. Ryan is an ornery SOB, even more mean than me, and I eagerly anticipate his special kind of charm as he runs certain games through, and gives you the word as he sees it. You can check out his first AC review here for Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (GC).

As for new content, below, Ariel and I've finally posted our Splinter Cell review, I've been caught up between two excellent RPGs that are stealing all of my non-Christmas time away (KOTOR 2 and Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines, since you asked!), but we'll have the reviews promised and more up in fairly short order.


Review: Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (XBox/PS2/GameCube)
Posted by Ariel :: 1:07 AM

Single Player Review:

For some reason or other I was extremely hyped for the first Splinter Cell. I can't remember why exactly, but hearing about an exclusive XBox title that was going to completely revolutionize the stealth action genre had me rushing out and buying it the day the game was released. It was a purchase that I am extremely happy I made. The game use of the X-Box graphics capacity to generate real time shadows and the nice uses of filters made for an innovative experience that was addicting as it was challenging. I remember that Dan was engaged in Skies of Arcadia at the time and we would each play our respective games for hours on end, talking breaks to eat, drink, and tell each other of the awesome game exeperiences that we just had. Which is why I bought Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow day one as well.

In case you didn't know, Splinter Cell is one of the most artistically well designed games on any system. It doesn't have the prettiest or best graphics (certainly not on par with DOA or Ninja Gaiden) but it has the best use of real time rendering I've ever seen. The world of SC is one of stark contrasts, where Shadows fade into oblivion and harsh lights expose the rest of the world and while everyone else fears the dark, you revel in it. No other game has given me so many options in order to remain a ghost, nor forced me to use them as well as I had to in order to succeed.

Most stealth action games are heavier on the action than the stealth, catering to the button mash mentality that is believed to be prevalent in our ADD generation. This game is a stealth game with action in it. You get spotted when you aren't supposed to and it's game over. Unlike other games with stealth aspects (*cough*MGS*cough*HITMAN*cough*) you can't just eliminate everyone who gets in your way. Without permission to utilize the fifth freedom (The right to do whatever is necessary to protect the other freedoms) you have to rely on stealth and cunning in order to achieve your objectives, not brute force. If you are not ot be spotted in a mission, then DO NOT BE SPOTTED. Patience is a virtue and darkness is your best friend. I was dumbfounded the first time I shot out a light and bathed a room in darkness because it seemed like such an obvious idea that I wondered why no one else had done it.

The other games in which I have played the role of a one-man inflitration unit usually have you gather your weapons while doing the mission, ostensibly keeping the earlier parts of the mission from being too easy. Here, they send you in with all the gadgets you're ever going to need. The only thing you pick up are usually frag grenades and maybe some flares, but you have all the amunition and tools you need to confront every situation. There is also no lecturing here. If someone needs to communicate to you they'll let you hear it over the communication patch implanted into the back of your ear, while you are still playing the game. Imagine that, not breaking up the action for exposition.

Sam Fisher is a veteran of his trade and it shows in the way he moves and the manner in which he executes his mission. He doesn't wonder at the morality of his actions, nor asks dumb questions. Plus he can be an intimidating SOB when you need him to be. His abilities are really only limited by your own and his skill at accomplishing his tasks is only limited by your ability to carry out the action.

The first game had only industrial and urban landscapes, but this game takes you to the outdoors, in day time no less, to perform your missions as a splinter cell. The first stealth game to have woodland environments did it excellently, giving Sam a new camo set to blend in with his surroundings and allowing you to duck and hide among the foliage.

The game is pretty linear, however, and so ends up being a trial and error in several cases, although there are a couple of ways to do certain sections of a mission, there is usually only one right way to do it. It's not as exactingly linear as the first game and hopefully SC: Chaos Theory will expand on it even further.

The story, however, is excellent. It probes deeper into who Sam is, and reading the messages you find off of soldiers bodies, or the dossiers you receive on your targets and potential threats add depth to the world. I even guessed what the storyline for the next game might be based on subtle clues placed into the cutscenes of the game, which play out as a news report for the most part. All other story information is deseminated by communications between Sam and his handlers, while you play the game, or conversations you have with others in the game, including one with a hostage you hold. The story is excellently told to you while you play, so that the amount of time control is taken out of your hands is cut down to a bare minimum.

The story is standard Tom Clancy fare, realistic military intrigue. You actually care about the people involved and confront some moral issues yourself over what you are doing (I know I did a couple of times) before you follow Sam's lead and follow your orders, trusting that you are serving your country to the best of your abilities. Splinter Cell is one of the few games that made me react to the violence I was inflicting in a thought provoking manner, because every person in the world seems like a real one. They write letters, send e-mails, have conversations, so that putting a bullet in their head is not as easy as pulling the trigger. Most people said they had a hard time keeping track of the story in the first game, although I had no trouble (though I do read a lot of Tom Clancy) with it and actually enjoyed it.

And all of that just covers the single-player experience. The multiplayer one is a completely different story. Presented as a quick, 1 minute cutscence, Operation Shadownet is the where the multiplayer takes place. Two Shadownet spies square off against a pair of Argus Corporation mercenaries. The game is always 2 on 2 teams with a wide variety of different objectives to accomplish. Sam shows his age here as these newer spies can run up walls, leap over railings and move more lithely than he can. Fortunately these skills are challanged by the mercenaries, who are stuck in first person mode, but are tougher and more heavily armed.

Both sides have their own sets of equipment to use against the other, along with different skills (the spies can put you in a choke hold, choke you out or snap your neck, but the mercs can flip you over themselves and have a shoulder tackle attack). They are extremely well balanced for the most part and SC utilizes the communicator feature more fully than any other game I've played. Both players can talk to their enemies, if they are close enough, which leads to the some excellent opportunities for taunting and gloating, especially when you have a merc in a chokehold or you've just stunned a spy, but the teamwork necessary to succesfully accomplish your mission, from either side, fosters constant communication between you and your partner. So much so that the ability to tap your enemies' communications becomes extremely useful, just as in real combat scenarios.

Not since the advent of teams in deathmatches has such a multiplayer concept altered the way people think about online play. Who could've imagined that stealth multiplayer would end up being so much fun, intense, and filled with action. If you haven't played online, go out and do it know. Right this very instant. You will not regret it.

Overall a great game is made even better and revolutionizes yet another genre of gaming as we know it today. Some will knock the single player but it's multiplayer is just mind-boggling.

Multiplayer Review:

When Ariel and I bought Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow, I was actually short on cash, and unsure whether I should open my copy. That uncertainty lasted for over a week. It manifested itself over that time into genuine apprehension: I thought the first Splinter Cell was the best Tom Clancy game I'd ever played, but still not really my cup of tea. The stealth play was excellent, but implementation issues in the controls (toggling instead of instant action), snail-paced crawls through dark passages, and realistic, but check-my-watch waiting for the exact right time killed my buzz for the game. I suppose, to an extent, I was looking for more action than stealth.

And thus my apprehension. However, after reading and reading about the multiplayer, I decided to break the seal, thus rendering it impervious to return. But folks, seriously, the multiplayer in Pandora Tomorrow is worth the price of admission alone.

As Ariel said, you pit two Shadownet Spies against two ARGUS Mercenaries, with varying abilities granted to each. Spies are granted the ability to move fast, hug shadows and take hidden paths through levels. They lose the ability, for the most part, to engage in combat - they can sneak up behind Mercenaries and knock them out or snap their necks, if they get into the right position, but most of their equipment is non-lethal ordinance: a long-range tazer-gun, spy cameras that can shoot gas to knock out Mercenaries, to a variety of grenades (smoke, flash, chaff). Mercenaries are the complete opposite. While anyone familiar with guiding Sam Fisher through his adventures can pick up and play (initially) a spy, Mercenaries have an unfamiliar-to-Splinter Cell first person vantage point. Mercs are extremely well armed, posessing a combination assault-sniper rifle and lethal grenades, tazers and mines, amongst other gadgets.

Each side is granted special cameras, each of varying usefulness. The Spies get a thermal camera and a night-vision camera (these are cameras Sam Fisher has at his disposal). These are probably equally useful: night-vision goggles can shed light on some of the darker spots you'll find yourself in, while using the thermal goggles can help you find the mercs if you lose them. Mercs work a bit differently. Their equipment seems to be run by internal computers which displays information through their visors, and gives them two special modes: the first, a motion-detecting camera, the second, an electromagnetic camera. The motion-detector turns most of the screen a bright orange, allowing you to see only faint shapes. But should a spy move too much anywhere within your visible range, it will pop up on your visor for as long as you can still trace him. The electromagnetic visor works a bit differently. If the spy uses any sort of technology, such as their own cameras, they light up brightly. However, the sacrifice here is that everything in the world either turns black, or black with a blue outline (such as with boxes). In both mercenary modes, you sacrifice the ability to see the world as it is for the hope that you'll catch your opponent slipping up.

However, smart Spies are watching, and Mercenaries can be painfully obvious with what they are using. Careful, and experienced Spies will watch the color of the Merc's visors to see exactly what camera they're using. More obvious is when the Merc utilizes his torchlight, which casts bright light for the Merc, but gives away both where he is and where he's looking. Because he is limited to the first person perspective, Spies know they can't see anything beyond what they're immediately staring at. It works phenominally. Trading off with the torchlight is the laser, which can be extremely useful or extremely useless. If you happen to catch a spy in its beam, he will light up for targetting. However, given its very narrow beam, it's best used for quick sweeps of rooms upon immediate entrance.

Spies get a lot of gadgets, but their real talent is exploiting the environments of the extremely smartly designed maps that come standard with SC: PT. Any grate can be crawled up, and box climbed on, and any railing scaled. Moreover, Spies are given a lot more freedom with movement. They are faster and more limber than Mercenaries, who are totally stiff by comparison. But experienced Spies will find multiple paths into and out of most every room, including climbing up walls, upon rafters, and through airducts to get to targets and behind Mercenaries to disable or kill. Spies use their fists up close, either attempting to knock out or snap the necks of their opponents.

The immersion here is outstanding. Spies are unaffected by their various devious implements, their flash, smoke and chaff grenades, for example. So while they are attempting to get out of sticky situations by throwing off everything they have, Mercs are literally trying to sift through the fog without losing consciousness. Every flash grenade disables Mercenary sight, while smoke grenades slow and can eventually knock out a Merc. Chaff grenades, though rare, can disable any use of technology for a period of time, rendering a Mercenary vulnerable to attacks he can't defend against.

I actually disagree with Ariel about the graphics. I think the graphics (on the XBox) are some of the best you'll see in a game. Realistic, well-textured and superlatively lit. The sound effects, especially for the Merc, are superb. 5.1 sound is supported, and hearing Spies skitter about as you trudge along is enough to send a chill up your spine.

One of the things I liked most here is that cooperation is an absolute must. While I can play Halo 2 without ever talking to teammates, and do most times, you absolutely must communicate with your partner, giving locations of Mercenaries, or progress on targets for instance. A Mercenary who is knocked out from an attack by a Spy can be awakened by his team mate, but the Mercs still must coordinate to pull something like that off. Both Spies and Mercenaries have the ability to tap into these conversations amongst partners, lending a bit more espionage to an already stealthy title. I've even heard other people talking in code, should their opponents (me) be listening in on their conversations. It's extremely compelling, and the sort of thing that lends itself to playing with experienced friends. And of course, everyone wants to think of smart-assed things to say to Mercenaries when they've got them by the neck (you can actually whisper, or scream, something in their ear before you off 'em).

There are, by default, 3 multiplayer modes: Neutralization, Extraction and Sabotage. All three center around cryogenic containers called NDI33s, which contain something presumably dangerous that will be launched should the spies fail their mission. Each of these modes has the Spies as the attackers, infiltrating, neutralizing their targets and getting the hell out before mercenaries show up to spoil the party. Mercenaries are then, on defense for the entire game, running to and fro to make sure that each sector is in order. Neutralization requires that spies get to an NDI33 and neutralize it, like disarming a bomb. This usually takes some time, during which the spy is vulnerable to attacks. Extraction works more like capture the flag, with only one team on offense, and sabotage is a derivative of neutralization. Instead of standing prone at an NDI33, a spy needs only get close to the target and place a modem, allowing a spy to be free to defend the modem as it does its work.. Neutralizing in this mode takes a lot longer than in the standard Neutralization mode, letting Mercenaries have more time to shut down the modem and kill any lingering Spies. Each of the modes also has a life-limit for the Spies, should they incur too many deaths.

The most beautiful thing here is the incredible balance. Just when you start to get the hang of the Spies and start thinking that Mercs are worthless, you get completely wasted by a pair of Mercenaries who work together in concert and eliminate you without a second thought. Just when you think you're getting the hang of the Merc's, you meet - or should I say "fail to meet" - a pair of Spies who neutralize you and their targets faster than you can figure out what's going on.

Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorow has a very steep learning curve, and its gameplay may not appeal to absolutely everyone. It takes a long, long time and many matches to finally learn the ins and outs of each level, each mode and each character class. But for anyone interested in a deep, intelligent and incredibly well designed online experience, one needs to look no further than Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow (on the XBox and PS2, this mode is not availible on the Gamecube). There is no better online experience out there this year.

- Dan

Monday, December 13, 2004

EA Gains Exclusive 5 Year Contract on all things NFL
Posted by DrHogie :: 3:12 PM

From Gamestop.com (thanks to Ryan for the heads-up)

Electronic Arts has signed the biggest sports free-agent on the market. In a devastating blow to competitors, the software giant has signed an exclusive deal with the National Football League and the NFL Players Inc., a subsidiary of the NFL Players Association. The deal is an exclusive five-year licensing deal granting EA the sole rights to the NFL's teams, stadiums, and players.

The arrangement encompasses action simulation, arcade style, and manager games made for PCs, consoles, and handhelds, giving EA a firm hold on the football gaming market. The deal does not include titles for mobile phones or internet-based games, but does include online features of consoles. With next-generation consoles scheduled for release next holiday season, EA looks to handily dominate the professional football market for the duration of the license. teams, stadiums, and players.

Well, I guess this settles how much of a hurting the $20 price point put on EA, huh? And as Ryan also pointed out, how much longer before EA succeeds in getting the same type of deal for the NBA, the NHL, and MLB.

UPDATE: Ryan also noted this article from IGN that adds a couple of more tidbits:

Brown [Director of Corporate Communications for Electronic Arts] continued: "Look at what else EA has done, look at FIFA, PGA Golf Tour and NASCAR, we have exclusivity rights for all those licenses as well."

On a scarier note for these same publishers, rumors are already circulating that EA is attempting to negotiate similar deals with the NBA and Major League Baseball. When IGN contacted Trudy Muller, spokesperson for Electronic Arts about these rumors, she told us: "We cannot speculate at this time about any further plans these other leagues may have."

That's right. What we joked about earlier could very well be true: The only sports titles that would ever be released from now on would be all from EA. And we think the EA Sports series are stagnant now . . .

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Review: Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes (GC)
Posted by Ryan :: 6:08 PM

What does one do when they are caught up in the hype that is Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, but only own a Gamecube? They do the next best thing, or in some people’s opinions the best thing, and pick up Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes. Konami, along with Silicon Knights, have given one of the greatest games of its time, 1998’s Metal Gear Solid for the Playstation, a well deserved facelift. However, this remake is not along the lines as Capcom’s complete overhaul of the original Resident Evil, also for the Gamecube. There are a few additions to the original, a few changes and a much better looking game here, but level structures, item placement & over all strategies are nearly identical to that of the game released six years ago.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the storyline of Metal Gear Solid, so I’ll try to keep it short and sweet. Our hero, Solid Snake, is brought out of retirement to investigate a nuclear warhead storage facility that has been taken over by a group of terrorists, who have also taken two very important men hostage. Your objective is to find out what the hell is going on and save the two hostages. Sounds simple enough, right? Not so fast, this is a Metal Gear game after all, so prepare yourself for plenty of plot twists. From beginning to end, you’ll be guessing who’s on Snake’s side and who’s not. With every cut scene or codec conversation comes another twist in the story. There are more subplots than I could keep track of and more plot holes than a block of swiss cheese. By the end of the game, a majority of the story lines come together, albeit, a bit sloppy. There are also a few loose ends, but most of those carry over to Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. All that aside, the story moves at a reasonable pace and will keep you playing only to find out what hoops Snake has to jump through next. Who is the female soldier who appears to be on Snake’s side? Why is there a ninja in stealth camouflage running lose? What are Vulcan Raven and Liquid Snake thinking by going shirtless in Alaska?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way, this game looks great. The cinematics have been completely redone, top to bottom. Under the direction of famed Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus), the action sequences have been re-choreographed to include Matrix-esque bullet time sequences and enough acrobatic foot work you’d think Snake was a member of the Cirque du Solei. In fact, it’s a bit too much. The coolness of said special effect has worn off, but you wouldn’t know it from watching the cut scenes. To say that the bullet time concept was beaten like a dead horse in regards to this game is an understatement. One thing I did find odd, for all the work that went into the cut scenes and the game itself, faces in codec conversations have not been updated. They remain identical to those in the original. In regards to in-game graphics, it looks just as good as its two sequels. Also of note, I don’t remember there being so much blood in the previous game’s cut scenes, but if you have small children, make sure they are pre-occupied with a stuffed animal or an electric socket before watching any cut scene involving the ninja.

For reasons unknown, the voice work has been redone, even though the dialogue remains almost identical to the original. And not everyone made it back, leaving us with accent-less versions of Mei Leing & Natasha Romanenko. The voice acting is a mixed bag. While some of the actors seem “into” their characters, others appear to have grown tired of doing the same voice over the course of four games (I’ll give you a guess as to whom I’m speaking of). The soundtrack score for the game is intact, with the exception of the Metal Gear Solid theme, which has been remixed for The Twin Snakes. Unlike the PS2 and the Xbox, the Gamecube is incapable of 5.1 surround sound, but what we get is the next best thing, Dolby Pro-Logic II. While the game still sounds a bit front loaded, it’s still a great audio experience, plenty of deep bass explosions to work your subwoofer and gun battles are treat when you’re surrounded, particularly the Vulcan Raven boss fight.

Not only have the audio and video aspects of the game been revamped, but some new additions have been added to the game play as well. Moves that were introduced in Metal Gear Solid 2, but didn’t exist in Metal Gear Solid 1, have been implemented here. Some come in handy, while others do not. The addition of first person mode makes the shooting of gun turrets, cameras and soldiers easier. Somersaults, ledge hanging & hiding victims in lockers have also been included here, but I rarely used them, if at all. A handful of new weapons make appearances in the game as well, but serve no special purpose considering the original ones work just fine. The AI of the genome soldiers seems to be bumped up some, yet they can’t seem you from across the room because you’re not in their field of vision, according to the radar. One particular scenario sticks out in my mind when you enter Nuke Building #1. No mater how many times you come and go from this building, the same soldier is reliving himself. You’d think after knocking him out, along with the other soldier who shows up in the bathroom, that they might send reinforcements, maybe bring in another squad, but no. You do back-track through this building a few times and every time you do, it’s the same soldier, taking the same leak again and again.

I’ve never been big on Metal Gear’s control scheme and when you add that to the layout of the Gamecube controller, you can only wonder as to how I feel about this game’s handling. My biggest complaint is the combining of the equip weapon/item buttons with the ability to peek around corners. I can’t remember how many times I would try to peek around a corner, only to have the menu to equip a weapon pop up, cycle through several times, land on a weapon I didn’t want, then Snake would spin out of control into a hallway full of guards. What is more irritating is the fact that the PS2 controller has more buttons and they still married these two actions to the same button. Zooming with either sniper rifle involves the B and X button, which happen to be the farthest from one another. In order to bring up the codec, you have to press the A button in conjunction with the Start button, which I found to be a little odd. My only other complaint is the fact Snake has two speeds, running & sneaking, nothing in between. Granted, this game is more of a facelift than an out-and-out remake of the original, however, it’s been six years since the original Metal Gear Solid was released and not one change or innovation has been made to the control scheme. I will say that assigning first person mode to the Z button was a good choice, felt comfortable and worked well with the A/fire button. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by Splinter Cell and its control scheme, but I certainly prefer it over the Metal Gear Solid one.

I’m sure others will agree with me when I say that one of the best things about the Metal Gear games are the boss battles. Every battle is unique, each boss has their own ability and each one requires a different strategy. No two boss battles are the same, although you do run into a couple of them more than once, and even then they’re not usually the same as before. They’re tense, full of action and a lot of fun. Cut scenes and codec conversations aside, the game moves at a pretty brisk pace, which in turn is one of its downfalls. An experienced gamer, especially one who has played the original, could finish the game in an afternoon. To make matters worse, you probably spend more time watching cut scenes and in codec conversations than you do actual game play. If someone had enough time on their hands, which I might with Winter coming up, I’d like to see how much time is spent in each area. I like the cut scenes as much as anyone else, but there are just too many of them. When I got close enough to the end of the game and had put most of the plot together I started to skip them and fast forwarded through all the codec conversations. Just get me to the action damn it!

With most games, there are the little things that can get irritating at times. How many times does one need to receive a codec call at the worst possible time? Why have hand-to-hand combat with bosses and regulate Snake to one move, a punch punch kick combo? Characters are introduced, say their lines and then disappear never to be heard again? Why even bother?. And don’t get me started on the dialogue in the game. Why does Snake answer everything with a question? Like Dan mentioned in his review, for example:

Colonel: You need you to enter the secret base and defuse the bomb.
Snake: Secret base?
Colonel: Yes, the secret base located in the Alaska.
Snake: In Alaska?

All these aggravating things aside, The Twin Snakes is still a fun gaming experience, especially if you weren’t around for the original release six years ago. It’s too bad that MGS 2 left a bad taste in many gamers’ mouths because The Twin Snakes is what Sons of Liberty should have been. A storyline that people could half-ass follow, plenty of action to keep you on your toes and a game where you could play as Snake from beginning to end. Granted the controls could use some work and there’s enough plot here for three more games, but this was THE game six years ago and even though it’s starting to show it’s age, it’s still a lot of fun. There is some replay value here, alternate endings and a few fun bonuses, however, unless you plan on keeping this game for your private collection, rent it for the week. Chances are you’ll have it finished before it’s due back.

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