Monday, September 1, 2014

Stuff That's Just Okay, Maybe

You know, I've been racking my brain the last couple months trying to figure out what to talk about.  I'd say to myself, "these games seem interesting enough to talk about" when I start them, but then turned in "I'm not really feeling it" as I played them.  And by that, I don't mean "bad", but rather just "uninteresting" and/or "did not click with me".

LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters

So, a couple months back, LEGO released a few kits of miniature Star Wars kits:  X-Wing, Millennium Falcon, TIE Interceptor, Star Destroyer, Trade Federation Hover Tank, and the Clone Turbo Tank.  Don't quote me on this, but I think they were part of a cross promotion for this, their new-ish (when I played it a couple months ago, anyways) mobile game.
Basically, its a vertical-scrolling shooter, and thankfully not of the "schmup"/"bullet-hell" style.  You pick a the Light Side or Dark Side, which is largely a cosmetic choice, then progress through a handful of stages based on a handful of major battles from the Star Wars movies.  You control your ship via touch controls: pressing the screen fires weapons and dragging moves the ship, with a few onscreen buttons for pausing and activating a super weapon.  In each stage, you destroy enemies that consist of various LEGO Star Wars models, most of the miniature versions of the ones available to buy, but a a few that are the full size versions of the models.  Destroying enemies nets you studs, weapon power-ups, and the elusive red bricks  Stage completions net gold bricks.  Red bricks unlock various boosts that, before each stage, can be bought with accumulated studs, while the gold bricks unlock the more powerful ships (Millennium Falcon and Star Destroyer).

Really, there simply isn't that much to this game.  The graphics are nice and bricky, actual Star Wars music is used, but the level backgrounds are static for each area.  The levels themselves seem to move slow, and feel overlong.  The gameplay itself is rather simple.  Enemy waves are small and predictable, and some enemies occasionally feel like damage sponges.  The few enemies that do attack, most of the time their attacks either don't stand out against the backgrounds, or they're fast and easily obscured by your own shots.  Only the bosses actually require any kind of skill to defeat, because by the time the stages actually start to become difficult the game is just about over.  Most of the difficulty comes from the game, like most scrolling shooters, being stingy with the weapon powerups.  But unlike most shooters, where you can at least tell what enemies hold powerups, here they don't tell you at all.  Similarly, the red brick in each stage seems to drop from a defeated enemy almost at random.  Most of the difficulty I had with the game was not from what the developers programmed in, but rather from the simple fact that this is a game made for touchscreen devices.  Though movement works anywhere on the screen, touching anywhere on the screen has the issue of covering up areas of the play field that you might need to see at any given time.

I know if sounds like I'm being overly harsh about it, so please understand that most of my gripes are basically nit-picking.  Its simple and fun, but it was almost certainly made for a younger age group than the one I inhabit.  Younger people need something that isn't as complex or crazy as most of the modern scrolling shooters, but that doesn't mean I'm going to gloss over shortcomings that could have made even a children's game better.  There is a good game in here, but it could be better.  And hey, it does have LEGO's and Star Wars, both of which are pluses in my book.

Disclosure:  LEGO Star Wars: Microfighters is available on iOS and Android.  The version I played was the Android version on a Nexus 7 (2013).


There's a castle on the hill, and you're part of a group of adventurers, maybe you should go check it out.  Sure, there are probably loads of monsters and deadly traps, but what about all that loot and gold?  It could be worth it.

Hammerwatch is an overhead view dungeon crawler in the vein of Gauntlet.  You pick a class, and wander through a set of dungeons of increasing complexity killing hordes of monsters (and a few bosses), avoiding traps, finding hidden rooms, grabbing keys to open doors, and breaking lots and lots of breakable objects for the cash monies.  Money buys upgrades to health, magic, damage, and other useful things, eventually.  If you have friends you can even do it with online multiplayer.  I have no friends, and thus did not try this, though I'd hazard to guess that it probably makes this a bit funner.

To progress you need to activate 4 sets of switches that located around each level to open a portal to a boss, then the next level.  Each level is broken up into several floors connected by staircases, with all the aforementioned stuff happening in between, and the level layouts tend to be somewhere between too big and too big.

Graphically, it uses a nice, pixel art style that's easy to decode, and use some minor light and shadows for effects.  Enemies range from bugs to skeletons, elementals to giant eyes, all the things that are regularly associated with high fantasy.  It does have controller support, but getting it to work can be a minor annoyance if, like me, you don't always keep one plugged into the PC.  Music is, well, I don't have the proper vocabulary to really talk about music on anything more than a cursory level.  So, the music fits well with game, and is generally unobtrusive.  It uses a hard save, checkpoint save, and a lives system.  Its very save-scum-able in single-player, but bad luck on the checkpointing can make it difficult to progress, and I don't do regular saves as often as I should.

The crux of the issues I've been having in the time I've played: everything seems to happen eventually, but that "eventually" feels like it takes longer than it should.  The individual levels are large and labyrinthine and take a long time to go through, and movement speed still seemed slow after buying several upgrades.  Finding the various merchants that sell upgrades can be an exercise in itself, sometimes easy to find, and sometimes hidden, sometimes early in the stage and sometimes later.  And woe be to you if you finally get enough gold to afford an upgrade and where was the one merchant I have to find again?  All the way over there through two specific staircases and the over half of the floors I traversed between them and how do I read this map anyways?

I mentioned that I thought the levels were too big and the map can be hard to navigate.  The switches needed to progress, sometimes there's a semblance of path between them, sometimes not, and the size of the levels make it worse.  Personal opinion and all, if the levels were smaller, even if there were still directly connected, but there were more of them, and the merchants were a little more evenly spaced, I'd be happier.  The only way I felt like I'm making progress is the massive swaths of the map I've cleared of enemies, and trying to figure out where to go next sends me putzing along at my character's slow speed through these empty areas, and it breaks the pacing.

I'll say it again, there's nothing specifically wrong with Hammerwatch, but there are definitely things that could have been done better.  As it is, I feel like the pacing is really weird, and not in a good way.  So I'll say, multi-player its probably fun, but single-player, I just wasn't feeling it.  Everything else is just gripes with how the game was built: nothing really wrong, just things that I feel could have been done better.

Disclosure:  Hammerwatch is available on PC via Steam, GoG, and the Humble Bundle Store.  My copy was obtained via a Humble Bundle sale, my play time was as the Archer class, I did not play any co-op.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Evoland Review: Hero Of 1000 Generations?

He is known by many names, over many times, over many generations.  He is The Hero, who has come before, and will come after, to save the world from Evil.  And on his journey The Hero will meet new people, including The Girl, traverse dangerous dungeons, face heartache and suffering, and finally realize his true destiny before finally facing off against The Villain.
Its the hero’s journey narrative that has been perpetuated throughout modern culture, from books, to movies, and video games in some form or another.  And while the basics often remain the same, the way the stories are told change as the writers and readers change.  Evoland, an independant game developed by Shiro Games,  is an attempt to show how this type of story has changed and evolved over the course of the videogame history through the lens of the venerable JRPG genre.
You are The Hero.  Last in a line knights protecting the kingdom from Evil, you must journey through the generations to defeat The Villain.  And journey through the generations you do, starting with the ability to move right in a monochrome strip, all the way up to moving and fighting in a fully 3D environment, from attacking enemies in a The Legend of Zelda style dungeons to Final Fantasy style turn-based battle.
Evoland hits all the proper beats, displays a large number of styles in its attempt to pay homage to many ways the RPG genre has changed from the mid-1980's on.  Yet, aside from a brief jaunt into Diablo style action-RPGs, it seems to stop having something to say around the year 2000.  Actually, Evoland kinda doesn't have anything to say at all.  For all the changes the game makes throughout its length, most of them are showing how the genre, and games in general, have changed and improved graphically.
Gameplay wise, it only has two actual styles:  Legend of Zelda style action-RPG, and Final Fantasy style turn-based RPG.  The turn-based stuff does not change at all, never moving beyond the beginning level attack/heal dichotomy.  The action style goes from original LoZ style movement and attacking, to a style like its successor: A Link to the Past by adding a Bow and Arrow and Bombs, while seemingly adding in 8-way attacking, and a basic combo as a concession to the move from 2D to 3D.  In the end, the game is still a one-button combat game.  In fact, the most interesting part of the game is the forest that acts as a big LoZ:LttP style puzzle dungeon involving using the bow and arrow to light torches.
Graphically, Evoland goes through several graphical styles that at least manage to portray the various changes the improving technology allowed.  It starts out on grey-scale with blocky rounded pixels, to color and 8-bit, 16-bit, 3D with flat colors, then with low-res textures, high-res textures, dynamic lighting, and even a Final Fantasy 7 style pre-rendered town.  It all looks very good, and evocative of their eras, the art style is largely uninspired.  The Hero and Girl are stock anime characters, the enemies almost rip-offs of enemies from LoZ and FF, and the environments almost don’t rise above the most basic of tileset construction.  Its starts off being the loving homage, but slowly turns into an unintentional parody along the lines of “This is how games used to be, isn’t it funny and cool?”
Musically, Evoland follows a similar route.  Starting out at the most basic of chiptune music and sound effects, gaining more sound channels and fidelity, eventually going full synth, and even (an approximation anyways) full orchestral near the end.  Its short enough that it doesn’t need that many pieces of music, but the few there are repetitive enough to be annoying.
And really, that’s the breaks.  Evoland starts with a good premise.  A game about the changes that have happened to videogames (and the JRPG subgenre specifically) over the various generations of videogames.  But then if gets bogged down in the specifics of improving graphics and music, only giving the barest of lip-service to the other ways they have changed.  True, the JRPG subgenre is not known for the being the most forward thinking in its evolution, but its done more growing up than Evoland seems to think it has.  Instead of trying to talk at length about game design, it ends up pointing and laughing at some of the old style anachronisms that still exist in the genre today.
My bottom line:  Its functional and works, and looks and sounds nice across the many changes in graphical and audio styles it showcases, but the game itself is not terribly long or deep.  Its a few hours of diversion, and not much more.

Disclosure:  Evoland is game for Windows PC and Mac, and available from Steam, GoG, and the developer’s website.

Writer's Note: I wanted to include my own screen captures, but PC issues forced a complete HDD wipe and Windows reinstall before I could get this written.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"Bleed" Review: All Bad Heroes Deserve To Die

Bleed is a fast-paced 2D pixel-art twin-stick shooter style action-platformer.  Wow, that is a whole bunch of loaded words.  But its also all true.  Bleed is an independent game from one-man developer BootDisk Revolution.
Bleed stars Wryn, a plucky, pink-haired girl action girl determined to become the next great hero.  How will she do itaaa?  Simple: kill the old heroes.  Why?  Because they’re not good anymore.  The best heroes of the world have gone bad in their old age, living off the proceeds of their earlier heroics, and remaining in power due to their reputations preceding them.  Its Wryn’s dream to become the next great hero, and how better to do that than to go and make all those old heroes dead?
Not a hero anymore.
To take her place as the newest hero, Wryn traverses several platforming stages, wielding various amounts of high powered weaponry, acrobatics, and bullet-time to defeat the former heroes and their minions.
Wryn controls with precision, and she needs to to beat the odds.  She moves at a quick pace, with excellent air control when she jumps.  While in the air, she can dash up to three times with complete air control, including the ability to make arcs and change direction.
Not a hero either.
When Wryn fights, well its a twin-stick shooter through and through.  She starts with trusty dual pistols and a rocket launcher, but can unlock more, including a laser, flamethrower, and a badass, bullet deflecting katana.  Press the right control-stick in a direction, Wryn shoots, not much else to know.  And then, of course, is Wryn’s other tool of heroism: BULLET-TIME!  Or rather, slow-motion.  She can slow down time for a short period of time, allowing more fine control over her moving, shooting, and dashing, and its needed to survive.
Wryn fights against exploding cats, giant worms, robot eyes, the insides of a giant dragon.  Each stage is punctuated by a by mid-boss battle against a giant robotic Core, and the gone-bad hero Wryn is there to kill.  These bosses are the real meat of the game.  Each one has its own patterns and tests Wryn's skills and reactions to avoiding their attacks while keeping up the pressure and beating them as quickly as possible.
In your base, opening your doors.
Wryn, she's also a bit self-aware as well.  She knows she's a character being controlled by the player.  She seems pretty okay with that, as long as that player isn't entirely bad at playing, and she'll let them know, on the continue screen, if she thinks you did bad, or it was bad luck.
Bleed also contains other options.  Stages are scored based on difficulty level, deaths, and a combo meter affected by making and taking hits.  A portion of that score is given to Wryn to use on upgrades to her health and slow-motion, and unlocking other weapons.  There's an arcade mode to play through the entire game on a single life.  Multiple unlockable characters give different weapons and slow-motion effects.
Or just running away.
Difficulty levels affect enemy numbers, placement, and aggressiveness.  Thankfully, higher difficulty doesn't affect how much damage Wryn gives or takes, which is often the method used to make things difficult for lesser heroes.  They don't hit harder, there are simply more of them.

But my bottom line, this is a good, short game.  The platforming itself is not terribly difficult, with the primary difficulty coming from dealing with enemies while performing the platforming, and going against the more complex bosses.  And the overall difficulty itself doesn't feel unfair, requiring performance over luck.  Its only a few dollars to buy, and worth the handful of hours it'll take to complete.

A Winner Is You!

Disclosure:  Bleed is available for PC on Steam, Desura, the developer's website, and  Xbox 360 Indies.  This review was written based on the PC Steam release version.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Next Top List! Or Possibly Just A List...

Wow, its been awhile, and while I have been around, I haven't been doing anything here.  And that's a shame.

I need to rectify that.

So what did I miss?  Well, its a long list, some of which I probably should talk about at some point...

Note:  This list is not all encompassing or in any particular order, and only includes games that:

  1. I have played since the last time I posted here (which appears to be in early 2011)
  2. Games that I currently own physically on the appropriate medium of that system, EXCEPT for the Xbox 360 list, since that information (and shame) is readily accessible thanks to MS's cross-platform integration.
  3. Does not include PC games, or downloadable games (again, except for Xbox 360)

Videogames (things you play with your hands on a telephoto infotainment square)
-XBox 360 (Clippy tested and approved)

  • Comic Jumper
  • Alpha Protocol
  • Battlefield: Bad Company 2
  • Tron: Evolution (don't judge me!)
  • Beyond Good & Evil HD
  • Stacking
  • X-MEN Arcade
  • Dead Space Ignition (didn't pay for this one)
  • LEGO Star Wars III
  • Dragon Age II
  • Hard Corps: Uprising
  • Bulletstorm
  • Warriors Orochi 2
  • Portal 2
  • Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts
  • Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon
  • From Dust
  • Bastion
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine
  • Orcs Must Die!
  • Enslaved
  • Rage
  • Renegade Ops
  • Nier
  • Alice: Madness Returns
  • Darksiders
  • Iron Brigade (formerly Trenched)
  • Final Fantasy XIII
  • Rayman Origins
  • Halo CE: Anniversary
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings
  • L.A. Noire
  • Final Fantasy XIII-2
  • Skylanders:  Spyro's Adventure
  • Torchlight
  • Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
  • Syndicate
  • Saints Row: The Third
  • Asura's Wrath
  • Borderlands
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution
  • Child of Eden
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail
  • Assassin's Creed III
  • Dishonered
  • Sleeping Dogs
  • Metal Gear Solid HD
  • Anarchy Reigns
  • Lollipop Chainsaw
  • Halo 4
  • Retro City Rampage
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
  • Dead Space 3
  • Tomb Raider (2012)
  • Metro: Last Light
  • LEGO Lord of the Rings
  • Lord of the Rings: War in the North
  • Remember Me
  • Minecraft
  • Far Cry 3
  • Deadpool (I demand tacos!!!)
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Dungeons and Dragons" Chronicles of Mystara
  • Mass Effect 3
  • Battlefield 3
  • Charlie Murder
  • Resident Evil 5 
  • Borderlands 2
  • Shadows of the Damned
  • Saints Row IV
  • Bioshock Infinite
  • Dark Souls
  • Dark Souls II
  • Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13
  • South Park:  The Stick of Truth
-Playstation 3 (surprise, I actually do have one of these)
  • Mod Nation Racers
  • No More Heroes: Heroes' Paradise
  • Disgaea 4:  A Promise Unforgotten
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch
  • Dragon's Crown (I chose the elf, thank you very much)
  • Tales of Xillia
  • Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness
  • Kingdom Hearts: HD 1.5 ReMIX
  • Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD
-Nintendo Wii (I regret nothing)
  • Sin and Punishment: Star Successor
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
  • Xenoblade Chronicles (PAL)
  • Xenoblade Chronicles (NA)
  • The Last Story
  • Pandora's Tower
Nintendo Wii U (I own all of these)
  • Nintendo Land
  • New Super Mario Brothers U
  • ZombiU
  • Need For Speed: Most Wanted U (this is actually a really good port)
  • LEGO City Undercover
  • Batman: Arkham City: Armored Edition
  • The Wonderful 101
  • Rayman Legends
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
  • Deus Ex: Human Revolution: Director's Cut
  • Super Mario 3D World
Nintendo DS (I don't remember most of what I had for this thing)
  • Sands of Destruction
  • Infinite Space
  • Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier
  • Radiant Historia
Nintendo 3DS (as if this list wasn't long enough already)
  • Dead Or Alive Dimensions
  • Pilotwings Resort
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D
  • Kid Icarus: Uprising
  • Super Mario 3D Land
  • Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy
  • Bravely Default

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

CR-48 Impressions

(Writer’s note:  These impressions are based on my experiences at the time of writing.  The device and its OS are in-progress.  The hardware is non-release, and there is no guarantee that the OS itself will ever see an actual public consumer release.)

Okay, so I wanted to have this up sooner, but while writing I ended up getting sidetracked by various things that I would prefer not to get into.  But ohwell, here it is.

So a few months back, Google opened up applications for one of their pilot programs.  This one was a little different because it wasn’t simply a “Hey, download our new program!”  Instead, it was a “Hey, we’re doing a test market of a netbook OS that may not ever make it to public use.  Sign up and you might get a free netbook running said OS!”  The pitch was made that they wanted these devices to go, primarily, to students and businessmen, with a few lucky public users being put into the mix.  Well, I’m not a student or a businessman, so that makes me one of the lucky public users.

And so here before me I have the Google Chrome OS netbook, codenamed the Cr-48.  Now, I’m not a professional technology user or reviewer, and only actually built one PC, and that was several years ago.  So yeah, I’m an amateur at best.  The specifics of device are well documented on other, better sites.  Instead, what I’m here to do is talk about my first one or two weeks with this device.

The Cr48 is intended for people that live on the internet.  While offline modes for certain applications are supposed to be forthcoming, right now an internet connection is needed for this thing to be something other than a paperweight.  But that’s okay, as my wifi router is less than 10 feet from the thing.  Now, I already have a netbook, an MSI Wind12 U-230 running Windows7, that I bought for sitting on the table for TV browsing and when travelling.  While I haven’t had any significant travel time, beyond the standard day-to-day where I wouldn’t even be able to use it anyways, it has effectively usurped it for TV browsing.

As a device for web browsing, this thing is basically running a version of the Chrome browser.  And that’s a good thing.  While not without its problems, Chrome has been my favorite browser since finding out about it almost 2 years ago.  Google has always made Chrome about open web standards and javascript rendering, and render javascript it does.  Alot of pages use javascript and Chrome renders it faster than most other things.  Web pages continue to pop up quickly, though not nearly as quickly as on a full power PC.  This is more noticeable on sites with alot of Flash.

The downside is still Flash.  While Google has removed native support, the Adobe Flash plug-ins still exist, but they’re not that good.  On my regular PC, Flash runs alot better, but Chrome’s biggest problem has always been that the Flash plug-in crashes, not regularly, but often enough to be annoying with the number of tabs I usually keep open.  Most of the websites I use that have videos typically use Flashplayer, though one of them does have an option for HTML5 video.  That’s a good thing, since HTML5 video is one of those open web standards that Google seems to be choosing to support natively.  So the HTML5 versions of the videos on that site run very well on the Cr48.  Well, I guess it helps that HTML5 videos are progressive instead of streaming.  One thing that I noticed about Flash is not only that it doesn’t run well, but that moving into and out of full screen on Flashplayer seems to completely crash the video playback and player controls.  Audio plays back as normal though.  And it doesn’t help that Flash has always been one of Chrome’s issues anyways.

This thing doesn’t, at current, support MS Silverlight, so Netflix streaming is out too.  But that’s what the XBox, PS3, Wii, desktop PC, and netbook PC are for, so oh well.  And if I do take a trip, I doubt that I’ll be thinking about using instant streaming anyways.

What I really like about this unit though, is the design.  Matte finish that has a simulated rubberized finish.  Its simple and unadorned, and looks rather stylish in its simplicity.  The screen is anti-glare, and while that lowers the brightness a little, it helps because I have one of my primary lights right behind my futon, and my netbook’s screen is that shiny, reflective kind seen on most laptops.  Regardless of anything, I really wish the case on the MSI netbook was like this one.  If I could, which I won’t (I’m not that kind of tech geek or anything), I’d rip the guts out of it and put them in the Cr48 case.  The touchpad and chiklet style keyboard are nice, if a little unresponsive at times, though that’s probably as much to do with software as the hardware.

All in all, this an interesting choice for an OS.  It has some potential for people that just want to go online, but at the same time is up against some steep opposition.  Tablets are, and have become a big thing rather quickly.  If Google is smart, I think they should try selling this OS as an alternative to the basic webtop, quickboot OSes that some motherboard manufacturers build into them.  Or, they should try to merge it with Android in the future, and try to make a MacBook Air sized notebook that can flip into a tablet and make a dual-booting system.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dead Space 2 Review

This reviewer is not the biggest fan of horror, let alone the survival-horror videogame genre.  So it is rather strange that Alien is one of the few films of this type that this reviewer likes, and the original Dead Space managed to hit all of the same notes that made the film so haunting and memorable.  And now, just a short time ago, EA and Visceral Games released the first official sequel, and only made things better.

Dead Space 2 begins 3 years after the events that took place on the USG Ishimura during Dead Space.  The protagonist, Isaac Clarke wakes up in a mental institution on The Sprawl, a massive space station located in the mined out remains of Saturn’s moon Titan, with no recollection of the intervening years.  Things are not as they seem, of course, as just as he is about to be rescued by some supposed friends, a new necromorph outbreak is beginning on the station.  The story follows as Isaac tries in vain to escape the station and in the process uncovers more of the continuing machinations and conflict between the Earth Government and the Unitology Church over the alien Marker.

Now, the original Dead Space was already impressive on a visual and audio level.  It had some of the most impressive visuals for the year it was released, and is still one of the best implementations of 5.1 positional/directional audio in any game, even now.  The style was that of an homage to Riddley Scott’s Alien, with the claustrophobic, techno-industrial interiors with low, sometimes no, lighting, and lots of sound to keep the player jumping, even when there are no enemies around.  Gameplay was very much about using weapons to dismember your opponents and survive to escape the ship.  Its only real problems were that the overall objectives were rather samey throughout, and that most of the enemies spawned from rather obvious monster closets.

So if Dead Space is Alien, then Dead Space 2 would definitely be James Cameron’s Aliens.  By all accounts bigger, louder, and often just as harrowing and tense as the first.  Dead Space 2 takes the same basic formula and improves on it without breaking anything in the process.

The first and most obvious improvements are on the graphical fidelity.  In the original Dead Space, no character was ever shown close-up in frame, even main character Isaac.  Lighting helped obscure creatures on the rare occasions when they managed to get into full frame.  So even though the models were all impressive, the player could never be quite that sure about the appearances of the few human characters.  This time, there is no question, as the first things the player sees are Isaac close-up from the side, followed shortly by another character (from a related title) being turned into a necromorph, also close-up in frame, which is meant to be both shocking and disturbing.

But simple polygons and texture maps are not everything.  What really provides the kind of visual atmosphere the game requires is the lighting.  One place where many modern generation games have furthered is dynamic lighting: multiple lightsources, usually moving, capable of casting shadows of varying degrees across multiple surfaces.  Some games do it well, but Dead Space 2 does it phenomenally.  Every area, no matter how intricate or simple, contains large numbers of lights of varying colors and intensity.  Many areas are dark, with a small number in spots designed to let the player see just enough to know something is there, and not much else.

What sets the Sprawl further apart is the sets themselves.  While the Ishimura did include some some sections in the crew quarters, most of the areas were utilitarian industrial corridors and complexes.  Though they did have some special touches, they could become rather samey as they went on.  While the Sprawl does have its own industrial sections, there is a greater variety areas.  The developers pull no punches by putting Isaac in civilian areas straight away after the opening section.  Areas that look old, lived in, and fragile compared to the Ishimura.  Areas that include family apartments, shopping areas, a rather unsettling trip through a children’s school and a Unitology Church (that looks largely untouched by most of the chaos).

But all the graphics in the world would not mean anything without sound and music to go along with it.  Again, like the original, Dead Space 2 has probably the best 5.1 directional audio mixing of anything this reviewer has ever played.  Necromorphs howl and roar in the background, always making the player feel uneasy, though the beginnings of the more bombastic cues that signal actual attacks can be a little obvious at times.

When there are no enemies around, every sound is there to accentuate the quiet.  The fact that this is a place where there should be alot of noise from all the people that live there, and yet those people are no longer there.  Instead in its place are the advertisements, the hum of ventilation and electricity, and even on occasion a children’s toy.  It is all intended to make the player feel uneasy with all the sounds that should be there, but are not.

The voice acting top notch as well.  All of the characters are well written, with very few wallbanger moments.  The big change from Dead Space here is that Isaac is no longer a silent protagonist.  Alot of the story is about Isaac trying to deal with the events on the Ishimura, as well as the guilt over the death of his girlfriend, who was only there do to his insistence.  He is given a significant amount of character development.  While his voice-acting is occasionally a bit flat, but it is obvious that he is trying, and the writers thankfully avoid giving him any witty one-liners.  Everything is played completely straight.

When paired with the graphics, everything just comes together with the atmosphere and style.  That hallway is just a little darker, the flashlight does not illuminate far enough.  Was that a necromorph skittering across that doorway, or is that howling close or far away?  You know you saw something there, behind the crates, almost cackling as it peeks out, before another screams and rushes from the opposite direction you never expected.

The controls are largely the same from Dead Space, and those are themselves a modern generation refinement of the Resident Evil 4 control scheme.  Players have full control of  movement and camera.  Regardless of movement or not, pressing the key to aim the weapon immediately faces the player in the direction of the camera, with only a loss in movement speed, instead of being rooted in place.  Players can switch weapons, pull up the inventory quickly, though inventory management is lessened here than previous.  The 3d map has been removed in favor of the objective marker also showing paths to the nearest shops and save stations.  All of the game’s HUD elements exist within the world somewhere, instead of on the player’s screen, from health to ammo.  Even the inventory and communications are represented as holograms that appear within the game world instead of simply on the screen.

The Kinesis ability is still a glorified Gravity Gun, but its ability to throw weapon-like objects is emphasised early on, as most players do not seem to have thought of it in the original game.  An early section even requires the player to survive a small attack with nothing but Kinesis and  some rod-like objects.  The Stasis ability, at first, seems to be only semi-useful, but becomes more useful as the game goes on, as it now splashes to hit multiple objects instead of just what it actually hits.  As well, Stasis now automatically regenerates, the timer can be upgraded, but the initial timer is rather long.

One rather noticeable, though welcome change, is that the game actually plays faster.  Its not terribly noticeable at first.  Here, Isaac simply moves faster in every way.  Walking and running no longer feel plodding, and the difference in setting gives his movement a different weighteness.  The melee attacks are even faster, and that is definitely helpful.  The basic melee swing is faster, and no longer has the tendency to clip into and be blocked by scenery.  The curbstomp happens faster and now moves Isaac forward instead of standing in place, as proper distance to use it is not always easy to judge, and it can be chained together quickly.

More weapons have been added to the mix as well.  While the trusty Plasma Cutter is still the go-to weapon in a pinch, the returning weapons are more useful.  The new weapons also have a more real weapon feel, as opposed to the improvised tools-as-weapons approach of the original.  Also, the Flamethrower is no longer useless before upgrading.

If there is anything that can be said about Dead Space 2, it is that it is one of those few sequels that improves on original without doing anything worse than the original.  It is an incredible audio and visual presentation in equal respects.  Dead Space 2 is a phenomenal addition to this relatively new franchise, as well as to the collection of any gamer that likes Resident Evil 4 style survival-horror/action games.

Score: 10/10

Pros:  Incredible visual design.
Great sound effects, music, and acting.
Well written story.

Cons:  Can potentially get repetitious.
Spawn points for enemies still rather obvious.

Weird:  There’s a reason I refer to Resident Evil 4, and not Resident Evil 5
Not demonic babies, but rather “exploding” babies.  Literally.
You made me go to a Unitology Church and back the Ishimura.  Visceral, you guys are fucking bastards. :P
This is really my kind of horror game, so it was very effective for me.
Seriously though, this is the first true GotY contendor of the year.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Picks of the Year: 2010: Movies

(author's note: My picks of the year are taking longer than anticipated to write, so this post is only my movies of the year, videogames and miscellaneous things are coming later.)

Well, here we are with 2010 over, and 2011 just beginning.  2011 has yet to tease many things of interest beyond the upcoming Marvel movies, but 2010 was definitely a bumper year.  There were alot of things worth seeing, playing, reading, and listening too.  I myself saw, played, read, and listened to many things, though not everything.  Like everyone, I have my own personal tastes.  Sometimes they coincide with other people’s, sometimes not.  And if they don’t, then I’ll tell you that that doesn’t matter.  This is my work, not theirs.

So now that that’s out of the way, here are my picks of 2010.  There WILL BE some obvious omissions, and I will note ahead of time that those omissions are because I haven’t seen, played, read, or listened to it.  In fact, nothing I listened to will make this list because I didn’t listen to much new music, and even if I did, I simply don’t have the vocabulary to speak about it.  These are my personal favorites for 2010, and nothing more.


Despicable Me:  Straight up, this is sort of tied with How To Train Your Dragon as my favorite animated film of the year.  Yes yes, Pixar had a tour de force with Toy Story 3, and yes it was an incredibly well made film.  BUT, it did not make me want to go back into the theater and watch it a second time, or even buy it on DVD when it came out.  Despicable Me and HTTYD did that for me.  The story of a supervillain who learns that there’s more to life than supervillainy, while at the same time not using it as an excuse to turn him into a hero.  At the end, he’s still a supervillain, just one with a bit of a soft spot.  The characters are all well written, and well acted, and was an incredible suprise to me.  Oh, and the Minions are awesome. XD

How To Train Your Dragon:  Like Despicable Me, a genuine suprise this year, especially considering that it bucks the trend that Dreamworks Animation has continued to do since Shrek 2, IE, crappy writing.  My thoughts have always been exactly that.  That Dreamworks can match Pixar on a technical level, but are seriously in need of better writers.  Based off a book that I am probably doing to have to read now, its the story a young, weak Viking that learns to talk to dragons, something no other Viking has done.  Everything about it is, like Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda, well written and realized beyond almost all of their other films.My only real issue was the dragons were a little too cartoony for my tastes.

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World:  Where was this comic and why hadn’t I heard of it before?  This is pure, right up my alley, geekery, and I loved every minute.  With a little time, and extra cash, I’ll read the comic its based on too.  The movie, as well as the books, play with the imagined battles any kid who ever played 8 and 16-bit videogames ever dreamed of.  A guy who has to fight off his new GF’s exes while learning to be less of a douche, who’d have thought?

Kick-Ass:  Geeky kid wants to become a hero, gets his ass beat for it, so he tries harder the next time around.  But even then, he still sucks, and gets in over his head.  Like Scott Pilgrim, this is very much about the nerd fantasy come true, though in a different way.  Rather than being a crazy way of dealing with personal inadequacies in mind-bending ways, this one is more about someone with no power trying to take control in a physical sense, and finding out things are much harder than he thought.  As for Hit-Girl, she’s the most unrealistic thing in the movie, but she adds alot of fun to the proceedings.  A little girl like that doing parkour and gun-kata?  Seriously fun, and just as crazy.

Honorable Mentions (IE, stuff I want to mention but can’t come up with anything to say about):
The Social Network
Iron Man 2
Shutter Island
Toy Story 3