Archive for February, 2011

Links And Co

Posted: February 28, 2011 in Musings
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Just a quick one to drop these off.

How powerful is the Nintendo 3DS?
8 million 3DS sales next financial year, says analyst
Professor Layton Is Biggest-Selling 3DS Launch Game

Dead Space 2 Review
Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review

Captain America News Round-Up
It’s BAFTA O’Clock!
Gnomeo & Juliet Review (C)

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective Review

It starts with a murder. Yours, to be precise. You wake up dead one night in the role of Sissel, a snappy dresser with wonderful hair, who has just been murdered but has no memory of his former life. Quickly Sissel learns that his life is not the only one in danger and he only has until dawn the next day to figure who killed him and why. Fortunately, Sissel has the ability to manipulate the objects around him, but will this be enough to crack the case?

It’s been a long time since master storyteller Shu Takami burst onto the scene with the Game Boy Advance classic Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, but now he’s back, with an all-new tale to tell. The difference this time around is that it’s not set in the courtroom.

As with its spiritual brothers in the Ace Attorney series, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is a very wordy game. For a DS title, it’s got possibly one of the longest scripts going, as each chapter provides its own mystery that needs solving, as well as adding an enormous chunk to the overall mystery of the game. Luckily, as with anything written by Shu Takami, the dialogue is a total joy to behold. Cast members come alive through the subtle differences in their speech patterns and the always-brilliant character design to a spellbinding degree. A particular favourite is comic foil Lynne provides an excellent backbone to Sissel’s metaphysical discussions, bringing the comedy double-act so dearly loved in the Ace Attorney franchise in a new direction.

Backing up the marvellous writing is some of the best character animation ever seen on the DS. Every single character has their own unique way of walking and interacting with other people, from the flamboyant poses of Inspector Cabanela to the panic-stricken dancing of the Prison Guard. Even the singular appearance of the police chief is livened up by an amusing animation, and it all combines to form a world of humorous and bizarre immersion.

Happily, there’s also a heck of a lot more gameplay in this tale, thanks to Sissel’s excellent titular Ghost Tricks. Because Sissel can only possess objects within a certain range, you often need to get smart about how exactly you move around. One early chapter sees you quickly learning the ropes by unfolding a bed, rolling a tire down a ramp and using a gust of breeze from a fan to your advantage. Items are displayed on the top screen, along with the specific way that they can be manipulated. The tough part is figuring out how to use that to your own advantage.

The real meat of the game is the task of preventing the unnecessary deaths of Sissel’s companions. Any time Sissel enters a new area, there’s a good chance that he’s just missed a murder or an accident or possibly both. This presents Sissel with the opportunity to go back in time to four minutes before the death and try to figure out how to stop it from happening. The earlier chapters ask very little of you – move item A so that item B never connects, and so on – but later chapters revel in forcing you to race against the clock, often squeezing your efforts into those final few seconds in order to make a last minute adjustment. It’s an intense experience that will sucker you in completely and make you think about a huge number of things simultaneously.

While the game is a cracking successor to Ace Attorney and a worthy title in its own right, there are a number of minor complaints. The game has a habit of holding your hand far too much when it doesn’t need to, before dropping you in the deep end and forcing an irritating amount of trial-and-error into the harder sections. It’s also a bit of a shame that the plot – so carefully constructed, so brilliant and so damn mysterious – goes completely bonkers for the final third of the game. It’s not as distracting as, say, the final case of Trials and Tribulations, nor is it as annoyingly drawn-out as the finale of Ace Attorney Investigations, but it does derail the reality of the story up until that point.

In summary, Ghost Trick will be loved by anyone who enjoyed the Ace Attorney games. It’s also a lot more accessible, thanks to the increased presence of actual gameplay instead of hours of dialogue. In short, it’s a fun, satisfying game with a compelling mystery and some fantastic characters. Recommended.

85%

Army of Two Review

Posted: February 18, 2011 in Review
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Army of Two Review

War! What is it good for? Well, if you’re a mercenary, it’s good for getting paid. Which is where this insipid game comes in.

You take on the role of either Salem or Rios, two hateful men who get paid to crash around in other countries and murder everyone who get between them and their end goal, which appears to be money. Along the way, the Twin Towers fall and these two knuckle heads high five each other because it means that they’ll be in business a damn sight longer than usual.

That’s the entire plot. Sure, there’s some sort of story which involves the most painfully obvious double-cross since John Travolta was cast in Broken Arrow. The characters are totally unsympathetic throughout, preferring to bitch and moan amongst each other about petty things like music while people die by their hands. Worst of the two is Salem, a man so incompetent that he would probably smooth wooden furniture with his face without realising. Despite the obvious plot ‘twist’ being obvious from the moment the disc is inserted, Salem refuses to believe in any kind of conspiracy, always preferring to blame coincidence for the two’s misfortunes. He’s the digital equivalent of Fox News.

Even worse than the characters is the gameplay, which only makes a few attempts at anything new. Firstly, the stuff that doesn’t work. There’s no set button for a melee attack – instead, you have to get close enough to an enemy and pull the trigger, resulting in a frustrating hit-and-miss affair where you might shoot someone who’s too close to you, or swing wildly at an enemy on the other side of the room.

Secondly, the button to get into cover is the same one as simply crouching, and the two can’t be done simultaneously. You have to press the button while you’re a few feet away from cover. If you do it while you’re next to cover (y’know, the moment you would want to do such a thing) then you’ll simply crouch and the cover will become an obstacle.

On top of this, you have bland, boring, ugly levels that don’t even try to disguise how unoriginal they are, enemies with the same intelligence as a child and even a character who communicates only in text, forcing you to look at the subtitle while being shot at in order to keep up with the story.

It’s not al complete rubbish. Some parts of the game are done rather well. For instance, the co-op parachute sections work quite well, as one player steers and the other takes out the enemies below. The Agro system is also quite well implemented, seeing enemies focus more on the player who attacks them more, leaving the other practically invisible. This is useful for sneaking around groups of enemies, or for simply filling the Agro bar to max and going into a bullet-shitting frenzy of destruction while your partner dashes past all the obstacles, unseen.

There’s also a multiplayer but, bizarrely, gamers from different regions cannot play together, which sees the Versus mode kneecapped from birth as all games require at least four players. It’s a nice thought, but good luck finding anyone to play with.

Army of Two isn’t a good game. It’s not even a decent example of the co-op genre. It’s the most offensive game of all time, starring two frat boys who air guitar and five high their way through people who run at them wearing bombs on their chests while discussing how great it was that 9/11 happened. There are other games out there. Better games. Ignore this one.

40%

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days Review

The first Kane & Lynch was a victim of advertising. Billed (wrongly) as a triple-A title that would instantly see itself turned into a movie, the game ended up falling foul of its own lofty expectations. It wasn’t fair and it certainly made many view a half-decent game in an incredibly harsh light. Happily, this sequel gives players the chance to enjoy an improved version of that first game, this time without all the hype and noise surrounding it. To be fair, this time around it’s not too shabby.

Kane and Lynch, the titular anti-heroes of the first game, return to team up for a routine weapons deal in Shanghai. Before they can get there, Lynch asks Kane to help him have a ‘chat’ with a problematic man. Unfortunately, during this civilised discussion, a young woman is killed – a young woman who just happens to be the daughter of the biggest crime lord in all of Shanghai. Now the two intrepid killers find themselves the targets for every single gang in the whole of Asia and the only way to escape the wrath of the mobsters is by carving a path straight through them.

As with many of the games of this generation, Dog Days is a generic third person cover-based co-op shooter. You’ll spend much of your time sprinting from low wall to low wall, firing blindly at the multitudes of enemies and being revived by your partner. It’s as standard as they come, but what marks Dog Days out from the rest is its sense of style. Designed to feel like the low-budget Hollywood film the first game thought it was, the game is firmly grounded in reality. There are no tacked-on vehicle sections, no absurd plot twists and no screen-filling explosions to engulf the protagonists. Instead the game presents a bleak view of revenge, throwing hundreds of generic grunts at you in a variety of missions across a well-presented Shanghai.

While all the objectives simply consist of getting to point B, it’s a welcome change that all the maps are at least different. There’s a fish market, a few apartment blocks, a train depot and an airport. Hardly a huge leap forward in terms of design, but it all works well given the incredibly grey vision of the world that developers IO Interactive have created. Even the camera is designed to feel like a handheld device operated by someone who constantly chases after the two villains. It terms of gritty realism, this game hits the nail on the head.

The multiplayer is also quite excellent, despite the limited number of maps to play on. The modes are all the same variant on the ‘Cops and Robbers’ theme, seeing a group of strangers team up to steal a huge amount of money and evading the cops to the escape vehicle. The cop team has to stop the robbers escaping, but the robbers can just as easily turn on each other and attempt to make off with more money. The more a player gets away with, the more they can spend on newer, better weapons between missions. A variant on this simple gameplay idea is the ‘Undercover Cop’ mode, where one randomly assigned robber is given the task of stopping the robbers’ escape. There’s even a single player version of the ‘Cops and Robbers’ mode called Arcade, which proves to be more enjoyable than much of the single player experience.

Sadly, that’s about the limit of the positives for Dog Days. The rest that remains to be said is that the game is seriously generic, offering nothing new save the interesting realism. There is nothing here that you haven’t seen before and done better in other games. It’s a shame, really, because the single player campaign is incredibly short and the Arcade mode has a limited number of maps. The most exciting the story gets is to put Kane and Lynch on a helicopter and arm them with enormous guns. Everything aside from that is really samey and more than a little dull. Even the game’s final level feels like padding, as you wade through swarms of the same guys and simply run away from everyone.

There’s also nothing done to balance the character’s appalling morality. Playing as characters immersed in the seedy world of gangs should be a strange and intoxicating experience no matter how old the idea is, but here it just seems so plain. There’s no morally grey areas here – Kane and Lynch murder an unarmed woman and spend the rest of the game attempting to get away with their crime. There’s not even a penalty for killing civilians in the campaign, although the Arcade mode at least docks you money for doing so.

So that’s Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days. It’s trying harder than its predecessor, but it still feels handicapped by what it wants to be. Is it an intense, gritty low-budget film? Is it an enjoyable game that strives to do more than any other third person shooter? The end result is that it’s neither and that makes it hard to justify, especially at full price.

65%

Silent Hill Homecoming Review

‘The point’ is such a strange thing – it’s so hard to make and so easy to miss. Case in point is the Silent Hill franchise, which peaked with the utterly peerless second game and very nearly changed survival horror forever. Since then, the series has become ever sillier and has never managed to even come close to the greatness it once tasted.

Enter Double Helix, an American studio charged with the unenviable task of recreating those glory days for a new generation of consoles. Yes, you read that right: a Japanese horror title made by Americans. ‘The point’ is about to be missed by such a distance that alien life will be found by the end.

Silent Hill Homecoming follows the hatefully moody Alex Shepard, a war veteran who returns to his hometown of Shepard’s Glen to discover that his younger brother and father have vanished and his mother has gone barmy. Mustering the willpower to care about his pathetic life, players will then discover all the usual Silent Hill bullshit, such as evil cults, missing people and the town itself, which, as always, is dealing with a heavy fog problem.

From the off, you just know that this is going to be a total disaster. There’s literally nothing here that hasn’t been done before in the other games. Weirdly sexy nurses, dingy hospitals, nightmare industrial sections, bizarre monsters and even Pyramid Head all return from past titles, and there’s no reason for them here.

The reason the game misses the point so hugely is because of the simple fact that the town of Silent Hill exists to challenge tortured souls and help them overcome their troubles. Silent Hill 2 saw James Sunderland running from his guilt (represented by Pyramid Head), while attempting to confront his own sexual frustration (represented by many of the sexualised enemies) and dealing with his own inadequacies. It was a total masterpiece and to see its best parts dragged through the mud here is a little like watching a dear friend get trampled by flaming horses.

The game lurches from one franchise cliché to another without making any attempt to do anything new with them. Old, stale locations are explored repeatedly, bland weapons are used again and again and all the life is slowly sucked out of the player. The story wanders listlessly onward, forcing the player to solve a myriad of boring, senseless puzzles to continue and the other characters are a genuine pain to interact with.

The worst parts of this game are the hideous number of bugs that are present in the final copy. It’s all too easy to break the game and be forced to start all over again just because you did something slightly wrong, or even to not be standing in the EXACT SQUARE that is required for the interact symbol to appear on screen. You’ll probably lose hours running around and around before you finally give up and check out how to do it online.

The point (there’s that word again) is that Homecoming is nothing short of a total mess. A horrible attempt to Americanise a beloved Japanese psychological horror franchise, the result is a child so ugly not even its parents could love it. There’s nothing to recommend here, except abortion.

20%

Gulliver’s Travels Review

Bumbling oaf Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) works in the mailroom of a major newspaper, with delusions that he’s somehow greater than his surroundings. When an attempt to ask out his crush Darcy (Amanda Peet) backfires, Gulliver ends up taking a boat out to the Bermuda Triangle, where he falls into a whirlpool and wakes up in Liliput, where everyone else is tiny.

The best thing anybody could say about this film is that it’s better than expected. It’s hardly terrible, but you’ll rarely find anything that makes you glad you bothered with it. Jack Black doesn’t act any different than any character he’s ever player, while the rest of the cast appear to be doing it for the money. Nobody really jumps out from the cast – a real shame, considering that the talents of Billy Connolly and Emily Blunt are on offer here. When the villain gets a bigger reaction from the audience than the hero, that’s usually a bad sign.

The CGI is impressive throughout and rarely looks silly – considering how stupid it could have looked, the results are pleasing. A real shame, then, that the 3D has been lazily thrown on the film in a style similar to Clash of the Titans. Not worth the extra couple of quid to have Jack Black lunging at your face.

It’s a strange film, this one, especially when you try and figure out who it’s actually for. What is the target audience for this film? Kids probably won’t get it because they’ve never heard of the book, while adults won’t want to watch Jack Black dance all over their fond memories. A tough one to recommend to anybody.

2 stars

That time again…

Posted: February 4, 2011 in Musings
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This week my own projects have gotten in the way. That and my good friend Alex coming to visit. Lovely to see you again, mate.

This will be the last time I post links up from Alltern8. As much as I’ve enjoyed writing for that site, I simply don’t the time to maintain a consistent quality for them, and so I’ve stepped down.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1
TRON: Legacy
Call of Duty: Black Ops

I’ve also discovered a few reviews on my hard drive that I forgot to post for one reason or another. They’ll be up soon.