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I honestly didn’t know much about Tribes before I got into Ascend. I’ve heard passing mentions about the series, but it was always dwarfed by the much more popular Quake and Unreal. Since then, however, the excessively fast FPS genre has more or less died out in favor of tactical shooters (read: camping to death). That alone should make Tribes: Ascend worth checking out.

PROS

  • Strong competitive scene
  • Free to play, limited pay to win
  • Diverse, versatile classes
  • Fast, heavily skill based gameplay

CONS

  • Extremely grindy progression
  • CTF gameplay is one dimensional and lackluster
  • Monotonous, unappealing map design
  • Monster PC requirements due to horrible optimization
  • Glitchy

VISUAL: 7/10

The in-game graphics option (yes, option, not options) is useless, so the first thing you’ll need to do is google a tweak guide. I’d also suggest you start from the lowest setting, since many of the effects are of outdated technology and yet put unreasonable strain on your system and do nothing but kill your framerate and obscure your vision. The bloom, for example, is horribly over-saturated and becomes almost like a fog, and pretty much completely blinds you when coupled with lens flare.

Besides that, it’s unlikely you’d miss the higher quality anyways. Every map consists 95% of random hills, sporting only a handful of buildings or other distinguishable landmarks. Most of the time, you have no idea where you are, and will eventually stop caring. No amount of static decals or building shadows is gonna make a bunch of hills that all look alike interesting. The detail on the player models is the game’s finest aesthetic touch, but most of the game is spent either going too fast or being too far to notice those details anyways. That said, the actual graphical quality of the game isn’t so terrible that it doesn’t look modern, but considering that it’s 2012 and how much system resources the game gluttons at max settings, it should really look like Crysis. And yet, it doesn’t even have anti aliasing.

How not to design a map

Where it falters in aesthetics, it generally succeeds in utility. HUD visibility is clear and it’s easy to tell which direction you’re being hit from, and there are options to improve visibility further, such as drawing smaller weapon models or turning off visor cracking. FOV is also adjustable in-game up to 120. Not knowing where you are won’t much matter thanks to the large objective icons.

AUDIO: 9/10

Low music in the background helps keep the adrenaline flowing, and weapon sounds are distinct and clear enough to identify both the weapon and direction it was fired from. Audio in a FPS really doesn’t need to do any more than that. The lack of built in voice chat may inconvenience a few, though I find it a blessing. This game has, by far, the largest selection of prerecorded voice messages of any FPS I’ve ever played in my life, and are probably sufficient for any tactical situation you’d encounter.

GAMEPLAY: 9/10

Although advertisements emphasize speed, it’s more a high flying shooter than a fast one. You can build up a lot of speed with skiing, which works by removing all friction once you press the ski button. Basically, falling onto down slopes accelerates you, while trying to ski uphill slows you down. You can pick up speed by using the jetpack to boost yourself up past up slopes and repeatedly dropping yourself on down slopes, and eventually you do end up going quite fast. However, most of the actual shooting each other isn’t fought at high ski speeds, but rather at walking and jetpacking speeds. Perhaps that’s still faster than something like Call of Duty, but it’s really only slightly faster than Team Fortress 2, and a far cry from Quake. That isn’t to say it isn’t much more difficult to hit people than TF2, however. The wide open terrain and jetpacks gives full movement across all 3 axises, allowing every class to have more defensive movement than TF2’s scout can even dream of.

The other thing that raises the skill requirement and makes defensive movement so much more effective is the lack of hitscan weapons (weapons that hit instantly after firing). Rather, most bullet weapons shoot a small fast traveling projectile, forcing you to lead your shots rather than just pointing the crosshair straight at the target. To make things more complicated, any projectiles you fire inherit a portion of your own velocity. Say you’re traveling N and fire to the E, your projectiles will actually travel a bit towards NE, rather than straight E. This makes landing significant damage highly challenging. In fact, the game awards accolades for killing an airborne opponent with the series’ trademark low rate-of-fire explode-on-impact weapons, such as the spinfusor. Don’t mistake them for being easy mode noobtubes, as their splash radius is very small for the size of the game’s maps, and most players spend a lot of their time being high up in the air, where the splash means nothing. This boils down the game’s basic strategy to chipping away with bullet weapons while they’re airborne, and trying to catch them with explosives when they inevitably land.

CLASSES

There are 9 unique classes, and all of them are balanced in the sense that they can all duel competently. The only exception is the sniper class, who although is given the only long range hitscan weapon, does terrible dps and has the lowest health. Rather, his main purpose is to be to pick off weakened flag carriers in CTF, which is the worst balanced and most shallow of all the game modes anyways.

THE GRIND AND PAY2WIN

You only start with 3 of the 9 classes, with only basic gear for each. All other classes and gears need to be unlocked with real money or experience, which is earned at a snail’s pace. You only get around 35-50 exp per minute depending on your scoreboard rank and whether or not your team wins, but usually you’ll end up at around 40. A single weapon can cost 88k exp, which is more than a 36 hour grind. Considering each class has to pick 2 weapons, a belt item, a pack item, and 2 perks, you might find that the loadout you want could take over 100 hours of playtime to achieve. Even the cheapest classes will take around 50 to deck out.

Real money is drastically more reasonable, with 88k exp items costing only 500 gold without sales, which is roughly $5. While it’s certainly better than games that offer game breaking real money exclusive gear, the free option is so unreasonably ridiculous to achieve, that paying still gives a sizable advantage, especially if they used the money to deck out more than 1 class for the versatility.

Whether you pay or not, once you have the new weapon, you still need to grind for that weapon’s mastery to unlock sometimes crucial abilities, which could be be up to another 26k exp, or another 11 hours. Why Hi-Rez decided the game should have almost as much grinding as an MMORPG is beyond me, but it’s a severe nuisance that heavily discourages learning multiple classes.

GAME MODES

Technically, there are 5 different game modes. However, some are so similar to others that it only feels like 3, and 2 of them are pretty standard fare. TDM has a small twist of there being 1 flag which will spawn on the first kill of the match, and the team who holds it takes off 2 points per kill, and is easily the most balanced of all game modes. For a flagless experience, there’s Arena…which is basically the same as TDM, but limited to 5v5 and is played on smaller maps. Unfortunately, the maps are also much flatter, leaving the ski mechanic generally unused, transforming the game from the fastest shooter to merely the highest flying.

CTF Blitz is like CTF, except the flag moves with every cap. However, since the flag only moves about 3 feet, they end up playing out exactly the same. Many people have told me CTF is the main game mode of Tribes, but I find it easily the most shallow and worst balanced. Flag placements are almost always out in the wide open, which boils down capping to picking pathfinder, and just skiing really fast into it, which will bypass most, if not all the base defenses and defenders. The only real counter to it so far is having a doombringer sit on the flag and try to block the pathfinder with his fatness while cutting him down with his chaingun, or having a sentinel snipe the runner. The capper will then have to either navigate around the fat guy, or try to push him away by chucking grenades and shooting his spinfusor (if you’ve never played Tribes, they work exactly like a rocket launcher) at the flag before reaching it. Sentinels with the accuracy to hit a high speed capper the 2-3 times it takes to kill them at full health are extremely rare, causing the game mode to be renamed by many to Pathfinder vs Doombringer. This also causes the most severe team stacking of all modes, as anyone looking to play any other class in CTF is essentially being unimportant details, and the pinnacle of their contributions would be to inconvenience the enemy, hopefully enough that their defenders become so irritated that they leave the flag unguarded to kill them.

There are other mechanics, just as the team generator which powers all base assets such as turrets, forcefields, refill stations, and vehicle station, but most of those generally don’t affect a decent capper at all. Taking out refill stations might sound useful, but the respawn time in this game is so short (only 3 seconds), most players will just suicide to reload or get back into position anyways. Vehicles in this game are generally useless, but I’ll get more into that later.

The last mode is Capture and Hold, which is sadly often forgotten and underplayed. It recycles maps from CTF and TDM, and spawns cap points at several locations on the map. You capture them simply by touching them, and hold them by not letting the enemy touch them. Some come with their own turrets and refill stations to help the defenders. Periodically, captured points will give your team….well, points. It’s a more balanced attack and defend gameplay than CTF, yet most rounds often turn up rather slow and uneventful, as most players will simply focus their defenses on a few points and end up standing around waiting most of the time, or they’ll be checking each cap point to see which is left mostly unguarded. Eventually the game will reach an equilibrium, where more or less everyone turtles to death because every cap point has exactly enough defenders to not be taken. However, I imagine with an organized team that works together rather than pugs, the experience would be much different.

VEHICLES

Quite simply, they’re useless. The bike is supposed to be used for getting around quickly, but it isn’t remotely difficult to ski much faster than it. The tank is just a huge, slow target that people are only even gonna bother acknowledging the existence of to pick on for free credits. The cannon has a terrible rate of fire, and the person manning the much more useful chaingun can’t also be driving, making it not terribly effective for combat either. The jet is fairly mobile, but still not as quick as a good skier, making it’s primary use of ramming itself into flag carriers exceedingly difficult, even assuming the pilot is careful enough to not kill himself by crashing into a hill. Like all vehicles, the gun on it has a terrible rate of fire and only does modest damage. In the end, the jet is often merely a decoration, being fairly difficult to destroy, but also serving little to no purpose.

COMMUNITY: 9/10

Though healthy enough that you won’t have any difficulty finding a game, thanks to the atrocious matchmaking spreading everyone out, it’s a rarity to find a full 16v16 game (arena doesn’t have this issue, being limited to 5v5). You basically choose a game mode, and the game will automatically throw you into a match.

Cheaters are a rarity, having personally only run into 1 aimbotter in over 100 hours of play. The only gripe I have is the team stacking, though this is usually done by weaker players. Most of the best players will join teams randomly, so as long as there’s enough of them in a single game to spread out, teams end up pretty balanced anyways. CTF is the exception, but that’s more the game mode being terribly designed than anything. Player maturity also drops somewhat in CTF, with most players being bored and spamming voice messages nonstop, presumably because they’re neither a pathfinder nor doombringer, and is therefore incapable of contributing meaningfully anyways.

Visual: 7
Audio: 9
Gameplay: 9
Community: 9

OVERALL: 9 (not an average)

Regardless of its many flaws, the fact of the matter is that this is the only new fast FPS available. It certainly can’t stand up to impossible standard of finesse and depth of Quake and UT, but it does well enough that it’s still easily the funnest multiplayer FPS I’ve played since. Tribes: Ascend is a shot of adrenaline, digitally distributed.

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(also on PS3 and Xbox 360)

From small indie developer Frozenbyte, Trine 2 is a fairy tale themed side scrolling action platformer which focuses mainly on physics based puzzles. It’s been out and well praised for quite some time, but I’ve finally had a chance to play it when a friend unexpectedly gifted it to me on Steam. As it turns out, Trine 2 is one of the most fantastic puzzle platforming experiences I’ve ever had.

PROS

  • Rich, beautifully detailed environments
  • Many hidden/optional side areas/puzzles to explore/solve
  • Distinctive, diverse levels
  • Light hearted soundtrack emphasizes the fairy tale theme
  • Solid voice acting that brings out the personality of the characters
  • Many different viable solutions for each puzzle
  • Classic mode multiplayer’s character lock shuts out solutions that require quick character switching, but opens up new ones that require teamwork
  • PC version is well optimized and easy to run
  • PC controls are simple and intuitive

CONS

  • Combat is very simplistic and suffers a lack of enemy variety
  • Extremely easy until the last 3 levels
  • Character progression is limited and imbalanced
  • In multiplayer, character progression is dictated entirely by the host
  • Predictable plot

Trine 2 is most definitely not a hardcore gamer’s game. It’s not about difficulty, or challenge, or mastering the mechanics. Rather, it’s more a casual leisurely stroll through wondrous environments while overcoming mostly low danger obstacles, an experience fitting of its fairy tale motif.

The look on the octopus’s face says it all.

VISUAL: 9.5/10

While not sporting the most advanced graphics technology by a longshot, Trine 2 is easily in the upper echelon when it comes to artistic beauty. The vibrant colors and extensive detail all around go a long way in bringing its fairy tale world to life. More impressive still is that even with so many different colors and shapes on screen at all times, it never seems to clutter up the player’s vision. It’s also why I went pretty screenshot crazy for this review.

One of the prettiest games you’ll ever see.

The areas explored also enjoy a good bit of diversity, though forests and caves tend to take up a bit more screen time than other areas, causing them to lose a bit of distinctiveness. The other areas, however, are unmistakable from one another. From beautiful beaches to icy goblin settlements, from cobwebbed libraries to lava filled forges, you can be assured you’ll never grow tired of the scenery.

Or the Cthulhu shrines.

Granted, however, there are times when that indie level technology shows itself. Liquid particles are massive, which still looks great in motion, but bunch up in a mess if left stationary on a flat surface, such as when you’re trying to carry some on a plank. A few character animations are also rather stiff, such as Zoya’s grapple swing. Ultimately, they aren’t severe or prominent enough for the game to be considered anything less than gorgeous.

All the other details make up for a few visual tech limitations.

AUDIO: 9/10

Although not particularly catchy or memorable, the music is still quite pleasant. More importantly, it reinforces and furthers the adventurous fairy tale atmosphere, much like what the Shadows of the Colossus soundtrack does for the drama and massive scale of that game. The calm, plodding pace dashed with a bit of awe and foreboding dread coincides with the gameplay and visual elements perfectly, making every track sound just right as you’re playing.

Amadeus, the whipped cowardly wizard sounds rightfully mousy.

Likewise, the voice acting isn’t quite triple A quality. But the cartoony voices reflect, and thus help bring out, the cartoony personalities of the characters they belong to. And as all fairy tales should, the narrator sounds properly like a generic grandpa telling bed time stories to children.

GAMEPLAY: 8.5/10

In single player, you freely switch between 3 characters and use their unique traits to advance in the game. Amadeus generally takes all the puzzles with his ability to conjure boxes and planks and move objects around the screen via telekinesis. Zoya is able to shoot far objects with her bow and reach high places with her grapple. Pontius excels in combat and smashes things.

Zoya, the practical greedy “entrepreneur”, and nigh omnipotent by end game.

Their uniqueness wanes as the game progresses, however. Zoya becomes highly competent in combat in addition to being able to smash things once she picks up the explosive arrows skill. Amadeus also becomes a decent fighter once he increases the amounts of boxes he can conjure, which kills anything short of a boss in a single hit. He also has no problems reaching high places once he maxes out his conjuration count.

Pontius, the oogabooga. He draws the short straw on character progression and team contribution.

Pontius, however, never gets any abilities that improve his mobility besides a running charge that can go into a long jump, which unfortunately never goes quite long enough. Rather, he gets abilities to slightly improve his combat effectiveness instead. Considering how little combat there actually is, that’s disheartening already. To make things worse, once all characters are maxed out, he isn’t even significantly better in combat than his colleagues. With Amadeus being able to rain down one hit kill boxes and Zoya getting the choice of long range high aoe damage explosive arrows or long charge time one hit kill freeze arrows, Pontius is left with no other combat advantages besides his ability to block his shield, a tool that’ll be often underused, since Amadeus and Zoya will either kill them long before they get to attack or keep them in hitstun with explosions. Thus, he ends up underplayed and often forgotten.

He saved the pumpkins at least.

He does see a bit more use in multiplayer though, where he can shield other players from hazards like falling acid or spike balls. It’s still hard not to feel like you’re dragging the team down, since he still has no way of getting through most puzzle platforming rooms and basically has to just wait for Amadeus to build a path for him.

Exploring to admire the pretty sights may be rewarding enough for a few, but finding hidden exp vials is also the main way of leveling up.

The actual game revolves heavily around platforming and exploration. Most of it is extremely forgiving, emphasizing more on smart conjuration placement or finding grapple points. Likewise, environmental hazards can often be avoided entirely in the same manner. You will want to explore every branching path and optional puzzles though, as they generally contain exp vials which are used to buy new abilities, many of which will be required in later levels of the game. There are a few extreme difficulty spikes near the end of the game that require strict timing and some luck, which could get frustrating if you’re going for the hardcore mode achievements.

Although some endgame platforming sections are technically possible without making use of upgraded abilities, it’d be unreasonably difficult to pull off.

The puzzles generally offer a great deal of freedom, with a variety of mostly physics based mechanics, such as jamming cogs, redirecting air/liquid flow, or redirecting objects with portals. Oftentimes, they could either be solved elaborately, creating an ACME style contraption with whatever’s lying around to form a makeshift pipe system, or in an incredibly primitive fashion such as just splashing the liquid towards the target by jumping into it with Pontius’s shield. This is both good and bad. While it may be fun to figure out all the possibilities, you’ll find that often times, the least clever solution is the most effective, so they generally won’t give as much satisfaction for completing as something like Portal 2’s puzzles. It does, however, eliminate any risk of frustration.

Many puzzle rooms can be entirely skipped by doing something as simple as creating a grapple point and just swinging past it.

Finally, there’s the combat, which is highly disappointing. The abundance of health restoring checkpoints and zero consequence for death makes enemies more of a nuisance than anything. Furthermore, there’s only a few enemies types in the game, all of which is dealt with more or less the same way, and only a handful are even a threat at all even on hardcore mode. There are your regular fodders, be they lizards or archers or shield carriers, all fall quickly to any basic attack. Later in the game, you start fighting flaming goblin minibosses, which become the only regular encounter that requires any kind of thinking…and only until you realize they still fall victim to Amadeus’s OHKO falling boxes. Outside of 2 major boss battles, every other boss behaves exactly the same, and are dealt with in the same way with only minor differences in the combat terrain. Although not a major focus of the game, there are still many combat sections, and that its depth has been so overlooked does hurt the overall experience quite a bit.

The giant goblin bosses become so generic by the end of the game, I can’t even remember how many of them there were.

CONTENT: 7.5/10

The game sports 11 fairly large and diverse levels, excluding the tutorial and final boss levels. Finding every exp pick up and secret in this game takes around 10 hours, but considering there’s not much of a reason to upgrade Pontius and the secrets don’t actually do anything, a regular run of the game could take a bit less than that. The secret chests in the game don’t have much practical value either, providing only some concept art and poems that shed slightly more light into the rather simplistic and predictable plot. Still, considering the game is only $15 without any Steam sale going on, that’s decent value.

The actual loot you get from secret chests is a lot less exciting than it looks.

If you’re an achievement hunter, you could get maybe another 10 hours trying to beat the game on hard difficulty hardcore mode, where you die in 1-2 hits, restore points can only be used once, and you cannot save or respawn at checkpoints during the level. However, with the level design being mostly long and easy, this becomes more frustrating than accomplishing, since nearly all your gameovers will come from a dumb mistake costing you a crucial character in an upcoming section, forcing you the restart all the way from the beginning of the level.

This room being the worst perpetrator of all, coming late into the level, and is the most difficult platforming section in the game. It’s followed immediately by a goblin ambush on both sides, ensuring many hardcore mode gameovers.

MULTIPLAYER: 6.5/10

Honestly, I don’t even know what’s considered a good community in today’s standard anymore. I get instantly kicked from over half the games I try to join because they either wanted to duo with a friend or because they don’t wanna get character locked. But since this is clearly a user error, I’m gonna be pessimistic and just say the Trine 2 community isn’t the most intelligent, seeing as they neither know how to set up a private game nor turn off character lock in the game options, even though they’re both on the first screen you see after selecting “host a multiplayer game”. Then when you finally do join a game? There’s a decent chance they’re cheating to death with player levitation and is just flying Zoya around the entire map at a rate of 1 screen per hour to pick up all the exp vials.

Once you do finally manage to find a proper game with 2 other intelligent life forms however, the experience is amazing. Many of the puzzle solutions change, as you no longer have the abilities of all 3 characters acting on 1 body. While it may be simple in single player to simply grapple up a high ledge with Zoya, then switch to Pontius to smash something, in multiplayer, you would have to take advantage of having multiple bodies and having Amadeus hold a box in midair for Pontius to jump up the ledge. This makes some puzzles much more difficult thanks to Pontius’s lack of mobility, but others much simpler, such as simply having Pontius shield the group through a waterfall of lava instead of building pipeworks to redirect the lava. It’s an incredibly well thought out feature that’s unfortunately very difficult to experience in public games. I can only imagine that if I actually had friends that enjoyed coop puzzle games, it would’ve been a blast.

Forever alone =(

Visual: 9.5
Audio: 9
Gameplay: 8.5
Content: 7.5
Multiplayer: 6.5

OVERALL: 9 (not an average)

While not without imperfections, Trine 2 is a game in which it’s individual elements sync up so well with each other that it truly ends up being more than the sum of its parts. Its greatest shortcoming of all is probably the relatively niche appeal of its subject matter. If you’re not completely allergic to fairy tales and can stave off your need for a game to inflate your ego though, this game is definitely an experience I’d recommend. It may not be the most exciting or challenging, but it’s easily the most delightful platformer I’ve played since LittleBigPlanet.

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Ys Seven (PSP)

Ys (pronounced “ease”) is a little known and often overlooked cult favorite action RPG series that spent most of its time being brushed off as a simple Zelda knockoff. With this latest installment, those days are over. It’s taken a chunk out of the Secret of Mana series as well, and cranked the action up to 11. Don’t let the dated graphics fool you. Ys Seven indeed retains the nostalgic old school gaming spirit, but it’s also modernized away the woes from days long past.

PROS

  • Old school gameplay style
  • Modernized mechanics and gameplay
  • No more grinding thanks to a scaled EXP system
  • Exciting, challenging boss battles
  • Addition of party members to series greatly alleviates repetition problems of other entries in the series (max party of 3)
  • 13 skills of varying effects, unique super attacks, and passive party buff for each of the 7 playable characters adds more variety and combo possibilities
  • Soundtrack generally lives up to Falcom’s reputation for excellency in the area
  • Nearly nonexistent load times

CONS

  • Graphics are about on par with Parasite Eve on PS1, which came out over 12 years ago
  • Pretty bad aliasing issues
  • Simple polygons
  • Missing model animations
  • Many characters have one dimensional personalities. Some have nonsensical sudden personality changes
  • Quite a few key characters are underdeveloped
  • Agonizingly boring, unimaginative, and repetitive dialogue
  • Incredibly cliche plot
  • No extra content at all
  • No reason to play through more than once
  • Dungeons later in the game really start to drag

Regardless of its glaringly obvious and quite severe shortcomings, this has been one of the funnest action RPGs I’ve ever played. It’s not pretty to look at, and in fact, the ugliness actually does cause issues in a few very chaotic boss fights, where you may lose yourself amidst all the aliased effects, but that’s really the biggest issue. The writing is horrible, but it seems they knew this when making this game and have added a built in fast forward feature for cutscenes and dialogue, so that’s not really a problem. Overall, it’s still a very fun ride while it lasts, but there’s absolutely no reason to keep it around once you’re done with it.

VISUAL: 3.5/10

One of the game’s greatest faults. Quite frankly, if it was any uglier, it could pass as a DS game. The polygons are ridiculously simple, as are many textures. Their idea of a shadow effect is a texture with the edges darkened. Many textures are essentially a solid uniform color. And then there’s the model animations. For some bizarre reason, many transitional animations are just outright missing. For example, instead of showing a character crouching, what they’ll do instead is fade out the old character model, then fade in a new one of the character already crouching. Fortunately, this happens primarily in cutscenes, which many of you are most likely going to skip anyways. Battle animations seem to all be intact.

Octagonal moons sure are mystical.

This game also has some of the worst aliasing problems I’ve ever seen on the platform. The jagged edges are so bad, it almost looks as if the 3D render doesn’t even run in the system’s native 480×272 resolution, and is actually upscaled from a lower res. This causes problems in some of the chaotic boss fights (of which there are many) where the screen is littered with so many aliased transparent effects, that everything kinda just blends together in this mess of pixels and you can’t actually see what’s going on anymore.

That said, it isn’t all bad. There are occasionally some pretty advanced blur and lighting effects that look almost out of place. Sadly, they’re far and few in between, and rather hard to appreciate when it’s set onto a backdrop of jagged edges and simplistic polygons. At the very least, the battle special effects are generally much higher quality than the world and character models with much less aliasing, and they will often fill your screen. The artwork also looks quite nice.

Probably the prettiest area of the game, showing off some lush (though non-dynamic) lighting effects on the flowers and a trailing blur effect when the screen moves. It looks pretty out of place in the midst of those octagonal “circles” and low quality models though.

AUDIO: 8.5/10

Although there a few pretty terrible tracks (*cough*Raud’s theme), the music you hear most often are among the best. Many of the town and cutscene tracks are fitting, but forgetable and generally unmoving, though there are a few great ones among them too (I’m particularly fond of Kylos’s music). This is a very action heavy game, and most of your time will be spent in the overworld, dungeons, or a boss battle, and most of these tracks are excellent. They’re bassy, hard rocking, and exciting, greatly adding to the fun of chopping up enemies. You would be doing this game a great disservice to play it without decent headphones, as almost all the bass is lost with the PSP’s pathetic little speakers. This is definitely a game you’d want to have the soundtrack for, if you’re into that.

There’s no voice acting outside of battle grunts, which is actually rather refreshing after the Prinny English VAs made my ears bleed and Lunar ones made me grate a full cm off my teeth in about 5 minutes. Otherwise, the sound effects are rather unremarkable, other than they manage to sound old school but without the low quality of old days.

PLOT/WRITING: 3.2/10

Although 2 or 3 major plot points will drop your jaw, most of it is cliche and boring. You’re a goody two shoes adventurer, Adol, and you randomly stumble upon a quest to save the world. In order to do so, you must visit 5 dragon shrines and gain their power. Along the way, you meet a bunch of people who happen to have problems, so you help out. And that’s about it…for the first half of the game. I won’t spoil the second half for you, since the plot really gets going after a major plot twist halfway through, but I can tell you it does get better. Sadly, due to character underdevelopment issues, it still wasn’t commendable nor memorable, outside of one major twist near the end.

The plot isn’t the worst part though. Probably the single worst thing in this game is the dialogue, especially from NPCs, and it ruins the already unimpressive plot to a point where it actually hurts to keep reading. I kid you not, there are literally dialogues that go:
“We’re looking for the Eldress of Shannoa, Fatima.”
“Is that so…”
“Are you Fatima, the Eldress of Shannoa?”
“Yes, I am Fatima, the Eldress of Shannoa. What can I do for you?”
“We need your help, Fatima.”
“Oh, and what can the Eldress of Shannoa do for you?”
“There are some problems Altago is facing that we hope you could shed some light on, being the Eldress of Shannoa.”
“Oh, what sort of problems? I, Fatima, will see what I can do.”
And that was from a plot cutscene. Talking to NPCs is even worse. Most of them won’t say anything you won’t hear about 5 million times from the main story anyways, and when they don’t, it’s about some mundane, completely irrelevant subject like government politics or fashion. It’s so bad, that the best piece of dialogue in the game is a blatant reference to Aeris from FF7 and the controversy over the spelling of her name (Aeris/Aerith). When the only way they can make dialogue interesting is to refer to a character from another game they had no part in making, that says a lot about the general quality of their writing.

Thanks for the newsflash, captain obvious. Thanks for the great shadow “effects” too, Falcom. At least the art looks good.

I’m normally pretty adamant about talking to everyone in RPGs, but I honestly couldn’t bear to speak with another NPC again after the first town and simply used an FAQ to find quest NPCs. I strongly advise you all to do the same.

GAMEPLAY: 8/10

Finally, there’s the meat of the game. Gone are the stale repetitive mechanics of old Ys, as there are now 7 unique characters to choose from to form a party of 3 of your choice, each with a unique passive party buff (such as increasing damage dealt or EXP gained), and 13 unique skills of various effects. They can do anything from sucking in a mob of enemies, launching them, knocking them down, inflicting status ailments, pushing them away, pulling them towards you, firing projectiles, jumping into the air for safety, and many other properties. You can equip up to 4 skills at a time and use them by holding R and pressing the corresponding face button. Skills in action RPGs are nothing new of course, but what is impressive about Ys Seven’s is the variety and possibilities with them. They’re not just things you spam for damage. There are skills meant for direct damage of course, but generally you use them for special properties. Against normal enemies, it’s much better to launch or knock them down with a low SP skill then wail on them with regular attacks than to waste a high SP damage attack on them, for example. You’ll also find yourself in some situations against bosses where you have to create distance to dodge an attack, then close the distance with a fast traveling skill first before laying down the hurt. It’s not ground breaking, but for what it is, it is exceptionally well done and adds a lot of combo and tactical possibilities so it never feels like you’re just doing the same thing over and over.

The AI is also excellent. While they are excellent at staying alive and only take half damage, they also only deal half damage and will only attack when you do. What it essentially boils down to is that the AI pretty much holds onto 2 characters for you while providing minor support, but the one you’re controlling is always the star of the show. If you want to reap the full benefits of another character, you’re gonna have to control them yourself.

The super meter from Ys 6 is back, now known as the Extra Gauge. It slowly recharges by itself, and also from using skills (more depending on number of hits) and flash guarding (more on that later). Unlike skills, extras aren’t that different from one another that it makes a difference, and quite frankly, there’s no reason not to use the strongest extra every time, seeing as your whole party shares the same meter. Only 2 party members have non-direct damage extras, and one of them is completely useless, since all it does is increase that character’s normal attack damage.

Also new to the series is flashing guarding. Basically, you hold R and press L right before you get hit. You’ll take no damage, gain a large chunk of SP and extra, a short moment of invincibility afterwards, and about 2 seconds where all your attacks automatically crit. However, if you mistime the guard, you in turn, will be critted. A double edged sword (no pun intended) that adds more depth to battles. Although severely overpowered when mastered, it’s wholly unnecessary for completing the game, even on nightmare difficulty. But it does give you more ways of beating a boss than just dodging and hitting back, further alleviating repetition issues of old games. However, attempting to overuse flash guard may lead to occasional frustration, since many bosses momentarily freeze when hit, and your AI party members may still be pummeling the boss while you’re anticipating an attack, causing you to mistime your guard and taking massive damage for it.

PROTIP: To get the most mileage out of your hard earned Extra attack, only use it after a successful flash guard.

Speaking of difficulties, there are 4 in this game: easy, normal, hard, nightmare. The differences between them are minor, most important one being that bosses use their full repertoire of moves on hard or nightmare. Due to the nonexistent replay value of this game, I strongly advise you to play on at least hard if you want to experience everything the game has to offer in one go. Nightmare simply isn’t more difficult enough beyond normal to warrant another playthrough, especially since the normal mobs don’t change, other than possibly being more tedious as it takes another hit to take them down. At least it doesn’t just turn battles into a lame grindfest like Crisis Core’s hard mode though. Your kill times across difficulties should be similar (besides easy, where you do so much damage, there’s no point in playing it at all).

Probably the most welcome addition of all is the introduction of a scaled experience system. Basically, you get a huge bonus to exp gain when you’re a lower level than the mob. What this means is that you can basically skip every normal encounter in the game if you want, and just get a few kills right before an obvious boss battle. Although it’s also entirely possible to just not grind at all (with dodging and flash guarding at your disposal, it’s not that difficult to never get hit once you get really good), this isn’t recommended. Level difference is the primary determinant of damage dealt and taken, which I feel is also a good thing. You can pretty much never spend a dime on armor thanks to this, and you can skimp on weapons for your backup characters too and they’ll still be able to do significant damage. To give you an idea of just how great this system is, lemme give you my example. I hate grinding, so I’m always underleveled. After the last boss utterly destroyed my level 51-55 party (the last boss is level 57-59), I grinded the first mob outside the last checkpoint for 5 minutes, and now all 7 of my party members are 58-59. Without bothering to grind for ultimate gear, I went back in and kicked the last boss’s ass.

As with other Ys games, boss battles are challenging and exciting. Unlike most RPGs where you pretty much just duke it out until they die, the high damage/hp nature of Ys bosses forces you to learn their patterns and formulate strategies accordingly. This is enhanced further with the introduction of party members and 3 damage types (of which each character may only use 1 of, besides Adol). A popular strategy is to use the archer to farm for SP, Adol to spam DPS skills, and the hammerer to use the extra gauge. This is just one of the many ways to take down a boss.

That all said, the gameplay isn’t perfect. While the early dungeon designs are decent enough, they quickly descend into tedium due to linearity, length, and forced backtracking to artificially extend the game. Although the below screenshot looks open ended and complex, there’s actually only one path. You just have to go in circles a lot. As you can see, the terrain isn’t exactly interesting to navigate either. Many dungeons fall into this pattern of thin halls followed by a big room with baddies, followed by another thin hall. Although tolerable early on when dungeons are only a few zones long anyways, it won’t be long before you find yourself lamenting every time you zone and find out the dungeon isn’t over yet.

Regardless of how it looks, there is actually only 1 perfectly linear path through this zone. Also, you can see that the aliasing problem is so severe, even this simple map has aliasing.

CONTENT: 5/10

I’ve only played through it once on nightmare mode, which took 33 hours without grinding (though I spent quite a bit of time testing damage multipliers). Most report around 25 hours per playthrough. A healthy manageable length, and just about right for what this game has to offer. In the end, you feel just satisfied, perhaps a little relieved. In my experience, I did feel the game begins to drag by the last 2 dungeons, but I’ve always been allergic to monotony.

There are absolutely no extras at all. No boss rush, no uber optional bosses, no bonus dungeon, not even any sort of gallery or music player option. Because of this, there is absolutely no reason to keep this game once you’re done with it. It’s unlikely you’d want to see more dungeons and more normal mobs after the tedious final dungeons, and the only motivation to keep playing would be for the soundtrack and maybe to see some of the artwork again. You can google the latter, and you’re really just better off buying the soundtrack with the money you get back for this game.

Visual: 3.5
Audio: 8.5
Writing: 3.2
Gameplay: 8
Content: 5

VERDICT: 7.8 (not an average)
VERDICT: 8.5 (not an average)

 

Although moderately lengthy and generally great fun while it lasts, the absolute lack of extras gives you no reason to keep playing and tedious dungeon design deters you from playing it again. It’s a great leap forward for the series, enough to put it out of Zelda’s shadow and warrants a purchase from action RPG fans, but this is by no means a keeper. The abysmal writing will disappoint people who play RPGs for plot, and the graphics are quite an eyesore. None of that matters though, and I still love this game. It’s a gamer’s game that’s all about the playing, like the games of old. I originally grabbed it because Kingdom Hearts wasn’t out yet and I needed something to hold me off until Patapon 3 and the new God of War hits, but what I got was so much more. Flawed it may be, but trust me when I say this, this is a Ys game that you do not want to overlook.

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Before I get the inevitable OMFG ONLY 7.8!??! DIS GAME NOT BELOW AVERAGE DESERVE 9 OR BETTER! comment, please keep in mind I use a 0-10 grading scale, not the industry standard 6-10.

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The 80’s action genre is a simple one. Paper thin plot, charismatic one liners, and a lot of over the top macho action. And of course, who would know this better than 80’s action movie legend, Sylvester Stallone, right? Well, apparently not. This is one of the most disappointing films I’ve ever seen, and that includes that crappy movie with Jet Li and Jackie Chan in it and a stupid name I can’t ever remember. This movie is supposedly a homage to that 80’s action genre, and yet it lacks all 3 of its essential ingredients. It’s an absolute affront to the genre and everyone to have ever been involved in it.

Let’s start easy. The Expendables are a group of mercenaries composed of Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and those other people in that poster, except Steve Austin and Bruce Willis. Willis gives them a job to kill some people (including Austin) on some island, and after a bunch of drama, they go and do it. And that’s the problem. Why is there drama? What, is Stallone getting senile and forgot that he and everyone else in this movie can’t act to save their life? (besides Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke, of course, but their roles in the movie are so minor that they’re insignificant) The first 80 minutes of the movie is almost entirely drama and dialogue, where people change motives and facial expressions nonsensically, and ultimately, pointlessly.

But dialogue isn’t always a bad thing. Dialogue was what made Commando an instant classic. And yet, that charisma just isn’t there. The one liners are few and far in between, and they’re delivered with no charisma at all. Everyone sounds old, tired, bored, and boring besides Li. Sadly, he had about 10 lines for the whole movie. Even Mickey Rourke, who was lively enough for Iron Man 2, seems to have lost his energy for this movie, sounding much closer to his character in The Wrestler. That wouldn’t be bad if this was actually a drama, and if he wasn’t only in the movie for about 10 minutes. Except this isn’t a drama, and no one cares about him cuz his role in the movie is some pointless retired expendable who runs a tattoo parlor and adds nothing to the movie whatsoever.

Thanks to his old age, Stallone suddenly thinks he’s Pulp Fiction era Quentin Tarantino, and has replaced the classic one liner dialogues with long, extended, “complicated” discussions about completely irrelevant subjects. Let’s face it, Stallone was a great action hero, but he couldn’t write good dialogue if his life depended on it. What you get instead are long drawn out conversations about nothing delivered in a tiresome, tedious, and boring manner for 80 minutes.

And yet, I kept watching. Being an action movie of course, there has to be action, and I knew ahead of time from other reviews that this all happens in the last 20 minutes. RottenTomatoes has described it as hard hitting, but should hit harder with the cast. I don’t particularly agree. In fact, the action never hit at all. I even dare say that the atrocious AVP:Requiem had better action than this. At least that movie had decent looking special effects. Like AVP:R, almost all the action is shot by a cameraman suffering from epileptic seizures with a compulsive editor who isn’t satisfied with less than 10 cuts every second. Also like AVP:R, everyone is wearing all black and all the action takes place in the dead of night. The result is that, while there may be a lot of action happening somewhere and it MIGHT even be good, the fact of the matter is the audience can’t see jack shit.

And the special effects, my god. You’ll occasionally see some really cheap looking CGI blood that looks like it came straight out of the SNES port of Street Fighter II, and rarer still you’ll see some even worse CGI gore that makes the Genesis port of Mortal Kombat look like a Saw movie. The CGI explosions make the ones in direct to DVD Steven Seagal flicks look like Avatar. The effects in this look even worse than those in Last Action Hero, and that movie’s 16 years old and was a parody anyways, and it didn’t even work out there. And yet, Stallone somehow managed to delude himself into thinking that he can make crappy special effects work in his movie, and in the end, it’s us viewers who pay the price for it. Fans of this movie will say it’s part of the homage to the 80’s, and that really tells you a lot about what it takes to enjoy this movie, considering that, well, you know, CGI wasn’t prominent yet back in the 80’s. I’m not even sure if it was even invented yet. This is more a homage to Seagal direct to DVD movies if anything.

There’s also the amount of explosions. Yes, explosions are generally fun…just not when you try to fit about 60 of them in 20 minutes. It reminds of this one time a long time ago I asked my parents to buy more veggies, and they bought 5 pounds of it and tried to make me eat it all in one sitting. That’s what the explosions in this feels like. It deprives you of them until you’re begging for something to blow up, but long before the explosions are over, you’re already wishing you’ll never have to see another explosion again as long as you live.

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But enough about its shortcomings. The movie isn’t ALL bad. Like I said, Jet Li’s one liners are actually decent. There’s also 1 or 2 other chuckles lost in this mess somewhere. Surprisingly, Jason Statham’s fight scenes are actually quite entertaining. It’s not so much his awesome moves, mind you, but for some reason, he’s the only one who had fight scenes that don’t take place in the dark with everyone dressed in all black with camera and editing work so spaztastic that it may as well be an ink blot test. But let’s not quibble over merits, I’ve always hated Statham, but I enjoyed his fight scenes in this movie nonetheless.

Sadly, everything else besides that small bit was pretty much unwatchable.

VERDICT: 1.2/10

The Expendables is an 80’s action movie homage bloated with bad testosterone drama, sorely lacking in humor and charisma, and finishes with what is best described as “abstract shadows” served with a side of the crappiest CGI you’ll ever see in your life. The best I can say about this movie is that it’s a cut above your average recent direct to DVD Steven Seagal flick. And, well, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s DVDs are usually at least 2 cuts above…so yeah, this movie is pretty much just marginally better than watching paint peel. Speaking of which, before this movie came out, I questioned JCVD and Vin Diesel’s decisions to not be in this movie. Now that I’ve seen what the movie ended up as, I totally respect their decision. Sure, they could’ve came in to pick up a fairly fat pay check like everyone else, but it would’ve been a pay check they paid for with their dignity.

Don’t get me wrong, I love most of the stars in this movie (except Statham, never liked him…though strangely he was my favorite character in this movie), but honestly, this is easily the worst movie any of them has ever been a part of.

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There’s not much to say here, so I’ll cut to the chase. It is everything you’d expect from a Paul Anderson Resident Evil movie: really bad acting, dialogue that tries to be witty but constantly falls flat, a plot that’s neither interesting nor coherent, utter disdain for this thing called “character development”, and a lot of really cool looking sets, special effects, and fight scenes. There’s an overabundance of slo-mo in this one, but I’d honestly prefer an entire movie in slo-mo than another spazzy, frantic 0.5s cuts-fest like Salt, Pandorum, and Prince of Persia. The action appeals to the little 10 year old boy within us, and that’s all we really want from it. However, the lack of funny one liners and the surprising excess of clothing on the girls keep this from being a complete braindead action movie.

VERDICT: 5.2/10

Overall, this isn’t a great movie, as expected. Any time something/someone isn’t getting blown up or getting their ass kicked, you’re almost definitely going to be bored. Fortunately, there’s a LOT of action, and some of it may even be considered top notch. The Claire and Chris Redfield fight against Wesker alone is almost worth the price of admission. It’s easily the best action sequence in the whole series (though I guess that doesn’t say THAT much). Anyone looking to see great action and visuals needs to look no further. Anyone who wants anything else that goes into a good movie should skip this one. Either way, half the movie is almost guaranteed to strain your attention. If you survive it though, the other half is actually very fun and entertaining.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, no, it still doesn’t have anything to do with the games besides stealing their character names and monster designs.

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Originally, I wasn’t gonna watch this movie. However, Ebert’s review made it sound like the kind of movie I’d love: braindead writing and non-stop over-the-top action. I was sorely disappointed.

What Roger said is accurate. The plot is retarded and full of holes, and the bland dialogue really doesn’t help. Anyone looking for intelligence would find it wise to stay far away from this movie, or anything else Kurt Wimmer writes, for that matter. However, if there’s one thing Kurt does well, it’s that he’s not afraid to come completely over the top with the action, as seen in his other works such as Ultraviolet (Milla Jovovich) and Equilibrium (Christian Bale). All 3 of these movies are similar in the sense that the writing is completely nonsensical and fairly unimaginative. Salt is either a Russian spy or CIA agent, and no one knows which, so the movie just shows her taking turns fighting against the Russians and Americans in a shallow attempt to keep you guessing, but ultimately, you won’t really care due to severe lack of character development.

This was exactly what I was expecting, so so far so good. Disappointment came in the action scenes, unfortunately. While Kurt had no problem having Bale gun down hundreds of fodders by his lonesome, or Milla kicking and slicing up close to 1000 fodders by herself, he seemed quite timid to have Jolie do anything remotely similar. She had her moments, such as building a rocket launcher out of cleaning supplies, or driving a car by tazering the unconscious driver in the head, but mostly she just does physics defying jumps and an occasional very slow kick. It’s stuck in this limbo where it isn’t over the top enough most of the time that you just go “wow, what”, and yet, it’s too over the top to have it be at all believable (all credibility flies out the window the second she jumps off a high speed subway and doesn’t suffer a single scratch, or even roll due to momentum).

Sadly, what she actually does is the best part of the movie. What the movie actually shows is much worse. Like many action movies nowadays, the action scenes cut at least 5 times per second while the cameras shake spaztastically. To make things worse, they’ve hired the worst special effects crew known to man since the days of Citizen Kane. There’s a scene where Jolie jumps down an elevator shaft by jumping side to side, sort of like Jackie Chan in reverse. Apparently, they also have the worst action director in the world, because they decided to show this scene perfectly clear without quick cuts or a shaky camera. The thing is, her fall trajectory is in perfect diagonal lines. I’m not against wirework, but for fucks sake, don’t be so lazy to just attach the back of her shirt to a clothesline and have her slide down when you’re trying to make us believe that she’s jumping. I’ve seen more realistic fall trajectories in old Atari 2600 games. Though to be fair, that scene was consistent with the rest of the movie in the sense that none of the laws of known physics actually apply, so I suppose gravity not causing any acceleration is the least of your worries if you’re still trying to make sense of anything.

That still isn’t the end of the problems though. The other major problem is Jolie herself. She does her own stunts in this movie, and it really shows in a bad way. Quite frankly, I’ve seen Kathy Bates run faster than Jolie. Not even the horrible camera work can hide just how out of shape she is (contrary to what fashion magazines tell you, being incredibly skinny is NOT HEALTHY). She runs slow, punches and kicks slow, jumps slow, and the most impressive physical feat she performs in the entire movie is taking off her panties while standing without lifting her skirt. I don’t have anything against action heroines (I’m a fan of Milla Jovovich, actually), but the point of an action star is kinda for them to be action packed, and you don’t really get that sense of action from Jolie in this movie. Her running for her life in this movie looks like someone trying to beat the “don’t walk” light when crossing the street. She’s terrible.

VERDICT: 3/10

While it does have a few great moments of awesome ridiculousness, it’s essentially a watered down C-level semi-superhero movie. They may as well have named it Ultraviolet 2: Plainpurple in Modern Day Minus Physics (the fact that Jolie wears a wig and clothes that make her look surprisingly similar to Violet makes me wonder if this was the original intention). Ultimately, I don’t feel the 4 or 5 great Wimmer moments make sitting through the mundane and terribly written other 90 minutes of the movie worth your time, let alone the price of admission. Quite frankly, I’d rather watch Ultraviolet again, and that movie was terrible in most of the same ways, but at least Milla can actually kick ass. The only person Jolie can out-action is present day Steven Seagal, and at least he knows his own shortcomings enough to use a stunt double for every action scene now.

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As a completely unrelated note, I’ve removed the “Upcoming Articles” page, as I realize I never actually do what it says anyways.

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Video game movies always gets the worst of reputations, and often justifiably so. I must say I haven’t played this series (outside of a PS2 demo disc), so maybe that contributes to my surprise, but this movie honestly isn’t that bad. As surprisingly good as it is, it still isn’t what I’d call a good movie. However, if you were interested in seeing this for whatever reason, hesitate no more, because what this movie isn’t, is boring.

It does suffer from quite a lot of flaws though. The plot is told almost entirely through exposition from a miscast cast of actors, many of which have heavy British accents for some reason. The fact that it’s based on the premise of a knife that can turn back time kinda nerfs what’s at stake too, though that didn’t stop them from adding copious amounts of pointless melodrama, like Dragonball Z. The dialogue in general is overly simplistic, and the princess’s dialogue is mostly annoying whining. Disney one liners and cliches are also liberally littered throughout. All this gives this movie a very childish cheesy feel to it.

While the special effects look great, the action is a bit hard to follow due to massive inconsistencies, very quick cuts, and a shaky camera. However, I’ve certainly seen much worse, and while not impressive, the action is still quite entertaining to watch. Though simplistically told, the plot does still sport quite a few twists that’ll keep your interest in what happens next. The ending is rather disappointing, and being a Disney movie, quite predictable, but all in all, not enough to ruin the experience of the other hour and a half of the movie.

That all said and done, none of its flaws are that severe that it should impede on anyone’s enjoyment of the movie. It’s better than average, and certainly better than most of the crap that’s been coming out for the past year and a half.

VERDICT: 6/10

While not good enough for me to recommend, I can say with certainty that you shouldn’t hesitate on watching this purely on the bad reputation of video game movies, because this is easily the 2nd best video game movie ever made (Silent Hill taking first, and not counting Advent Children). While it doesn’t follow the game exactly, it has more or less the same feel and roughly the same plot, unlike Resident Evil and Doom, which hardly had anything to do with anything. However, don’t expect to see anything new or impressionable from it. This isn’t Inception, but it still is entertainment, without a doubt.

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