Archive for June, 2009

Week 11

I ran to the nearest police station but the sergeant wouldn’t listen to me. Officer Jenny kept saying that the humans of Sinnoh are in absolutely no danger from wild Pokémon of any kind and that no attacks on humans have ever been recorded in the history of the region.

The woman at the Pokémon Centre was no help either. She stressed that my injuries were similar to falling from a height and suggested that I could perhaps have concussion.

I asked her where the nearest hospital was.

She could not tell me.

There is no hospital. There are only places to treat Pokémon. What happens to injured humans? Nobody can tell me.

Nobody will believe me. The Pokémon are up to something! Why am I the only one who can see this? Why am I the only one they try to get to?

I tried to listen to a radio, but there doesn’t appear to be a signal. None of the computers I’ve tried seem to have access to the Internet.

As I ran through the undergrowth between the various scattered cities, I could hear the hisses, whispers and growls of all the beasts around me.

A Lickitung tried to get in my way while I made my way through the long grass. I dodged its wildly flailing tongue and managed to land a heavy punch square in the side of its head. Its body shook like jelly, wobbling and convulsing before a thick black goo leaked from its eyes.

It gave chase. I ran.

As we neared the limits of Canalave City, the Lickitung fell back, tongue flopping and dripping and dragging along the ground, paralysing liquid leaking, scorching the blades of grass at it dripped, blackened eyes still running with goo. It disappeared into the tall grass.

I went immediately to the Pokémon Centre and withdrew every single Pokémon I have captured. I placed every single Poké Ball in the Coin Case I was given by a deranged clown many months ago.

I boarded the ferry at the Canalave Port, heading to Iron Island. As the ferry reached halfway along the journey, I threw the case overboard.

I hope they all drown, or kill each other or starve or whatever it is that Pokémon die from.

I am going to climb up Mt Coronet and try to warn the people of Snowpoint City. We are all in terrible danger, I am sure of it.

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With so many zombie horror games about these days, I thought it would be a good idea to take two of the biggest – both exclusives to the 360 – and pit them against each other in a vicious fight to the death. Zombie death. Brains!

Dead Rising

Going to the mall can be hell. A zombie apocalypse can be hell. Combine the two and you have… fantastically fun survival-horror comedy gold.

The objective of the game is simple: you are photojournalist Frank West – he’s covered wars, you know – with three days (six real-time hours) to kill in the mall before your helicopter comes and picks you up. What this leads to is a furiously over-the-top race against time as you rush across the huge arena trying to get all the missions, side quests and fun things done before the game ends.

It’s an incredibly intricate game that rewards multiple playthroughs. Adding to the replayability is the excellent RPG-type stat boosting that allows you to go back into the mall with a much tougher Frank. At the beginning, Frank will be lucky to run from one end of a plaza to another without suffering nigh-mortal wounds. By the time he’s completely maxed out, zombies are little more than an annoyance – heads are kicked off, guts torn out, faces stomped, bodies thrown and zombies generally wiped out before they can groan at you. The major problem with this is that by the time you’re good enough to earn huge amounts of EXP (or ‘PP’ as it’s known here), you don’t need it. Maybe a few more levels above fifty would have been a good idea?

The game’s excellent running time makes it perfect for both casual bursts and long stints, with the game falling neatly into both categories, while only really allowing the truly dedicated to uncover the mystery and escape the mall with all the survivors. The genius of this is that the game can be played in any number of ways – missions, survivors or both – it’s totally your choice.

Throughout the three days, Frank is kept on a pretty tight leash thanks to a fairly irritating character who constantly rings him up to inform him of other survivors that have been spotted across the mall. From that moment on, it’s another race against the clock to find them and bring them back to safety before the zombies eat them. It’s a great idea that works in theory, but is fatally flawed in execution because of one simple fact: the AI in this game is atrocious.

All the NPC survivors (you can escort up to eight at once) have a unique personality, from running on ahead to trying to murder everything to – annoyingly – crawling on hands and knees, but they all share the same problems. The pathfinding in Dead Rising is among the worst in videogame history. Any item of any height – be it an ankle-high plant pot or a wall – becomes a serious obstacle for the NPCs and instead of trying to find another route, they will instead keep blindly running straight into it, unable to figure out what is stopping them from getting to where they need to go.

Another problem is that the final hours of the game (one hour in real-time) is incredibly boring. Whether or not you’ve completed the main missions, there is absolutely nothing to do – it’s even worse if you have because all the obstacles in the game are literally removed for the last fifteen minutes, leading to a really pointless spot of clock-watching. A further point of contention is the terrible handling of all the game’s vehicles. All six of them have the feel of being completely bolted on in the final hours of development, with little thought being done to implement them in a clever way.

However, when Dead Rising is good, it’s very good. One minute you’re dodging zombies and carrying a limping woman across a huge park whilst armed convicts drive past and try to kill you, the next you’re shooting at a deranged chainsaw-juggling clown for the right to switch off a children’s ride.

All in all, this is a truly excellent game with an incredible amount of thought gone into the development, and it shows. With perhaps a few more tweaks, this could have beaten the mighty Resident Evil to the King of the Zombies crown. Worthy of carrying a franchise on its own, this is one shopping trip from hell not to be missed.

90%

GUMO #109 - Fry-Gate

The offending item has not been used. It’s been three weeks.

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Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Forget the usual image of attorneys – doddering middle aged men in powered wigs or young upstarts too busy chasing ambulances to be of any actual help: Phoenix Wright is here to prove that the law can be fun.

It’s an addictively simple idea – you search a crime scene for clues, meet with your defendant and witnesses, gather evidence to support your case and take it to trial. The catch is that your client is quite clearly guilty and there’s a whole wealth of evidence against them.

Or is there? Like the five cases on display in this GBA port of a Japan-only game, delving underneath the surface reveals a huge depth to what is initially a simple text-based puzzle game. Each one of the characters you interact with not only has their own, brilliantly written, dialogue, but the cases are so expertly constructed that it’s possible to go into the trial for the final time still with a bare idea of who the murderer might be.

Sadly though, there are quiet a few flaws in the game. The game still bears the scars of the Game Boy Advance’s limitations – for instance, in one case it becomes obvious that the underneath of a receipt is the key clue, but the game doesn’t have an option to turn the damn thing over and find out until the story catches up with you. Likewise, it’s possible to run into a brick wall repeatedly during the investigation sections because you haven’t presented the right evidence to the right person.

The best part, however, is the bonus DS-exclusive final case, which allows you to use all the features of the touch screen to examine evidence, check for blood and even watch videos. It’s a cracking achievement, if only because of the wealth of interesting new touch screen ideas on offer.

However, for all its flaws, what remains is a brave and bold game with genuinely memorable characters and top-notch writing. It’s not a perfect by any means, but an outstanding example of a good idea turned into a gripping game. More, please, Capcom. Take that!

84%

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Justice for All

Four new cases? Take that! More of the same brilliant courtroom-based drama? Hold it! Nothing to really add to gameplay for the sequel? Objection!

Yes, Phoenix Wright is back with all the twists and turns that made his franchise such a hit in the first place. The major disappointment is that all the old flaws are still present in this new game.

Seemingly knowing that courtroom shenanigans are the bread and butter of Attorneys, Capcom have added a neat little feature into Justice for All to try and liven up the investigation sections. The idea is that you can now tell if someone is lying and you can try and ‘break’ them outside the courtroom. The upside of this is that, yes, it does make investigating slightly more enjoyable. The downside is that it means you can often be stuck on sections for hours until you’ve found a fresh piece of evidence that will be the key thing you need.

Another downside is that this is just a straight port of the GBA original. Compared to the excellent bonus case attached to the last game, this comes across as pure laziness.

However, this is still a very good, enjoyable game, with writing and twists that easily match, if not beat, its predecessor. It’s not going to win any new fans, but Justice for All will definitely appeal to anybody who enjoyed the spiky-haired defence attorney’s previous adventures. Fun but flawed, requiring just a little bit more patience than last time.

70%

Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations

Twice now Phoenix Wright has stood in the courtroom and each time he has managed to escape with his dignity intact. Will he be so lucky for his third and final outing?

In a word, yes. Everything that wasn’t quite up to scratch in Justice for All is here fixed, tweaked and polished to utter perfection. The Magatama – the method for ‘breaking’ people outside the courtroom – here returns in excellent form, easily demonstrating what it was clearly meant to do the first time around. Witnesses and suspects can be broken down and brought to tell the truth long before the court hears the case, only this time it complicates the story, as opposed to bolting on extra information.

The cases are a joyful breath of fresh air as the plot twists back and forth along a spiralling storyline that unravels the more cases you beat, while the game travels through time to slowly reveal a sinister plot that encompasses Phoenix Wright’s past present and future.

Each cases works incredibly hard to bring something new to the worn old table – one case sees you defending a man accused of theft, only to wind up putting him in the frame for murder instead (whoops!) while another travels back in time to tell the story of Wright’s mentor Mia Fey in her first days in the courtroom.

It’s a truly thrilling ride and even the fact that this is another fairly lazy GBA port goes unnoticed above the ingenious storytelling and wonderfully well-drawn characters.

Downsides are the same they’ve been for the whole trilogy: it is still possible to get hopelessly lost, although it is far less frequent this time around, and it still won’t appeal to those who don’t enjoy text-based slightly too hand-holdy puzzle games.

However, this is a startling achievement and a landmark series that will surely stand up alongside some of the great puzzle games of the ages and with any luck, the next trilogy will be even better. Utterly essential for fans of the series and a terrific send-off for one of modern gaming’s most wonderfully fascinating heroes.

89%

Ace Attorney: Apollo Justice

Ever since Capcom demonstrated the wealth of ideas at the disposal of the touch screen in the first Phoenix Wright game, the fans have been wondering what a full-blown DS version would be like.

As it turns out, the result is slightly disappointing. Everything that was present in the first game’s introduction is all here, with very few new ideas. Dusting for prints, spraying for blood, making footprints, spinning evidence – it’s all here, but it doesn’t make a difference to how the game plays out.

The main problem with Apollo Justice is that it comes right off the back of Trials and Tribulations, a masterpiece of storytelling prowess, unforgettable characters and mechanics that made a real impact on the way the game played out. Every gimmick introduced in the previous two games was given such polish that it didn’t matter that it was more of a book than a game – there was just enough interactivity for it to blend.

That’s why it’s so disappointing to note that Apollo Justice feels like such a backwards step. In spite of the character sprites looking much sharper and each case opening with a gorgeous animated introduction, the lack of actual ‘game’ is highly noticeable. New tricks, like ‘perceiving’ nervous habits, could have been an imaginative way to add pressure in the courtroom; however, repeatedly searching through a testimony for a two-frame swallowing animation is tedious and rather unfair.

In spite of all that, the game still supplies an unprecedented level of storytelling and humour, with the many unexpected twists and turns still having an incredible power to stun – even if it doesn’t quite make sense at the end.

It won’t win any new fans, but recurring Wright gamers will lap it up. A flawed first outing – like Apollo himself, suffering from performance anxiety.

79%

GUMO #108 - His Day In Paradise

Poor Jack. His boss is a maniac.

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Pokémon Platinum Diary: Week 9

Dear Sirs,

Leave me in peace, paperclip!

I apologise for the length of time it has taken me to send more details of my adventures. I have become severely disturbed by what may or may not be happening on this island.

I stopped to rest along route 218 on my way to Canalave City, in order to take a drink of water from my canteen and take stock of my thoughts. I discovered I was rather more tired than I had anticipated and soon fell into a deep, yet troubling, sleep.

I had a horrendous dream that afternoon. I was looking down from above at my prone body, sleeping under the shade of a honey tree. I could see several Pokémon slowly, tentatively, approaching me. A Krickitune emerged from the long grass and poked my bare arm with a sharp prong. My body did not move.

More and more Pokémon began to emerge from the long grass and approach my prone figure, splayed out beneath the honey tree.

A Buizel tore at my trousers with its sharp teeth and ripped a hole in them. As I stirred, a Shinx and a Bidoof held my hands together while a Ralts tied them together with twine.

As I watched, unable to help my sleeping figure, I willed myself to open an eye. As I did, I could see myself looking up at a Meditite that sat on my chest. It gazed at me with raw hatred and punched me in the face.

I woke up with a start and examined myself. Gentlemen, it horrifies me to say that this events was not a dreamed. I do appear to have been mauled by wild Pokémon. I am terrified for my life and I am going to investigate whether or not this has happened before. Perhaps Pokémon are more aggressive in the eastern parts of the Sinnoh Region.

I hope I can tell you more at a later date.

Terminator Salvation Review

The first Terminator is a sci-fi horror classic. The second, Judgement Day, is a sci-fi action masterpiece. Rise of the Machines is little more than a worthless sci-fi spoof of the first two films, saved only by its delightfully dark ending. So, can McG and Christian Bale put their heads together and craft a new chapter of the franchise that both continues the story in a respectful way, while leaving the foundations movies untouched?

In many ways, they can. On the whole, Terminator Salvation more than makes up for 2003’s horrendous drunken mistake and simultaneously manages to lay new foundation for the planned trilogy.

Things get off to a fairly uneasy beginning as, in the months before Judgement Day, Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), an inmate on death row, gives his body to Cyberdyne in the guise of Helena Bonham Carter. A quick flash forward to the year 2018 and Marcus suddenly wakes up in a nuclear apocalypse ruled by robots where pockets of humanity are making their desperate stands.

It’s a decent enough set-up, with the character of Marcus playing the role of the confused audience in the future hellscape – even though the glimpses we’ve been shown previously are enough to tell us what to expect. Christian Bale’s John Connor is fairly one-note and a little dull, but he is mercifully not the standard action hero – no quips, no jokes, not even a casual smirk – this dude is hardcore. The rest of the cast are drones with dialogue, unmemorable and unremarkable.

The action is solid and the CGI is very good throughout, with the best being saved for the outstanding digital mapping of Arnie’s head towards the climax, which is so convincing it could well be the movie legend in the flesh. The various robots are quite nicely animated, with the expensive-looking battles genuinely pleasing on the eye and not all at confusing unlike, say, Transformers.

Real surprise of the show is director McG. For a man so venomously hated by the fans, he has pulled out all the stops to create a technically stunning array of well-shot, well-edited and well-paced action scenes that don’t rely on the same tricks being pulled time and time again. Given that he previously directed Charlie’s Angels: full Throttle, this is an accomplishment on par with curing cancer.

But while the action is brisk and fun, the plot is something of a let-down and all spoilt by the various plot holes woven through the script. The magic of the original (two) Terminator films lay in the knowledge that John Connor was so great at being a leader of the people that his death would mean the end of mankind, but also at not really knowing what his role was. Thus, the reveal that Connor has yet to become the symbol of the resistance is utterly disappointing and the fact that the last bastions of humanity listen to and trust him above the actual leaders is very confusing.

The movie’s biggest plot hole goes like this:

John Connor learns that the machines are hunting his father, Kyle Reese, to kill him and thus stop Connor from ever existing. However, Connor is merely a soldier at this point, and not at all a threat to the machines, meaning that Kyle Reese is still an insignificant survivor meaning that the machines would have no reason to be hunting either of them and given that the machines do not yet appear to have technology as advanced as time travel, they wouldn’t even know this. Not only this, but the machines go on to capture Kyle Reese… and not kill him. While a human survivor places her entire race in jeopardy… by trusting a machine.

Couple this to a plot that was mostly spoiled in the trailers with the most obvious twist in cinema this year and you have a humdinger of a bad story.

Biggest offenders are all the references to the previous films. Serving no purpose but to remind the audience just how cool the T-1000 was and how lame the movie’s main enemies (T-600’s and Hunter Killers) are, they stick out as though they were forced in just for the sake of it.

Another point of contention is that John Connor survives a nuclear explosion at the start of the movie. While filmed with a very creative way to show the damage – from inside the helicopter itself – it has nasty connotations with a similar scene in Indiana Jones and the Nuking of the Fridge.

All in all, a healthy reboot for a franchise. For those expecting more Terminator glory – leave your wishes at the door. Enjoy it for what it is – a bold beginning for what could be a very good sci-fi war series. And hats off to McG for pulling it out of the bag.

3/5