Man, I’m kind of a flake. I have a lot of opinions about games and the game industry, but I don’t seem to have the fortitude to put any of it in to words. My mind works at a million miles an hour and by the time I get done writing a couple paragraphs, I blank on where I was headed with it. In any case, VIDEO GAMES, right guys?! Let’s talk about them! How ’bout them 2011 releases and that Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands review I promised and never delivered?
Alright, so this game isn’t… bad. It’s just also not very good. Poptfs is probably one of the most blatant cash ins I’ve ever experienced, though also probably one of the most relatively enjoyable, as cash ins usually blow. While the game may not have been designed to be an adaption of the new (at the time) Sands of Time movie, it was clearly designed to coincide with the release in the hopes that either someone would play it and see the movie, or see the movie and play it. As far as story goes, it’s probably the weakest of the series. This didn’t have to happen; the seven year gap between Sands of Time and Warrior Within left a lot of room for a more engaging storyline than HEY HERE’S YOUR BROTHER YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF BEFORE AND WILL NEVER MENTION AGAIN NOW SAVE HIS CASTLE FROM GIANT MONSTERS.
I was personally hoping for a story chronicling the Prince’s decline from good natured, cocky hero to I. STAND ALOOOONE. INSIDE I. STAND ALOOONE (stand aloooone.). This was not what I got, and it feels kind of like a waste.
Mechanically, the game takes cues from both its predecessors and its sister franchise, Assassins Creed. This is no surprise, since the game was built off the AC framework. This is probably the best part of the game, however, as it maintains that old PoP free running puzzle feel, while having the fluidity of Assassins Creed traversal. If they were to, say, remake the entire SOT trilogy with this technology, I probably wouldn’t argue.
Visually, the game is a mishmash of environments that look like suped up remakes of Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and Two Thrones locations. One room is almost literally a twin to the mechanical gear room puzzle in Warrior Within. It was a nice bit of nostalgia, but it felt kind of hollow, like the developers couldn’t be assed to make a new and interesting environment for this game. Then again, a castle is pretty much a castle, so what are you gonna do?
Lastly, at least the game wasn’t difficult. I breezed through it without dying more than maybe three times, and those deaths were all due to faulty attempts at puzzleforming (my word for puzzle platforming that I just made up right now.). The combat flows well, and once you significantly power up the Prince, he pretty much rips through most enemies. So, while the game wasn’t particularly engaging, it was breezy enough for me to bother finishing it.
So this has been kind of a crappy write up, but I’ve had about four hours of sleep and I’m not really going for professional grade quality here. Plus, if you wanted to play this game, you already have. I just wanted to get my thoughts down.
- The Age of Dragons. Again.
This year holds two dragon related sequels that are probably going to occupy my time and own my soul. First, and most directly relevant, is Dragon Age 2. Excuse me… Dragon Age II. Oooooh lordy. Dragon Age: Origins single handedly stole away about 60 hours of my life; 40 for one playthrough and 20 between all the others I’ve started and never finished. Recently, I borrowed my friend’s 360 copy of Dragon Age to get a save file in there to carry over to DA2, since I played the original on a woefully underpowered laptop and I want to play DA2 without worrying about my graphics card melting. After watching me play it for a couple hours, though, he was immediately sucked back in and jacked the game back from me. Who was I to argue? That’s the power of Dragon Age. I had almost forgotten just how the early days of that game were. Everyone talked about the things they did and no two people seemed to have the same experience. I can’t wait to have that experience all over again. Some people seem to be throwing pot shots at the mechanics, the story, the writing, the new dialogue system, etc. I say shut up and have some faith, this is Bioware we’re talking about. The only time they’ve even come close to producing a bad game was that Sonic RPG from a few years back. Just be glad they aren’t outsourcing DA2 to Obsidian, then we’d get a half finished, broken game that’s nearly a carbon copy of the first. Here’s lookin’ at you, KOTOR 2.
Oh right, Dragons. So there’s this little franchise that started out on the PC years ago. Elder Scrolls, you may have heard of it. Well, after five years and two fallout titles of patiently waiting, TES V is coming, and it looks amazing. Now, people love to knock Oblivion these days for its faults, but hey, fuck you, Oblivion was incredible when it came out. It’s still fun to take a romp trough Cyrodil occasionally, if only to kill -everyone-.
I could talk about this game for paragraphs, but I don’t want to right now. I wonder how a Skyrim anticipation podcast would work out… Point is, I’m fucking hyped for this game.
- Supremacy MMA
This game looks siiiiick. No, just kidding, this game looks like absolute dog shit and I hope it fails commercially. Way to set the sport back like ten years, guys. Jesus.
Till next poorly writting, sleep deprived blog,
Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1 (Yes, the fourth Sonic The Hedgehog game, at last. There have been no others. Ever.) comes at a strange and somewhat appropriate time in games history. In the past couple of years, there’s been a strong nineties resurgence with titles like Street Fighter 4, Megaman 9 and 10, New Super Mario Bros, and the upcoming Mortal Kombat game, all hearkening back to their early-90s ancestry. Sonic The Hedgehog continues this trend with Sonic 4, and not a moment too soon. It’s no secret that the Sonic franchise has been in the gutter for the past decade or so, with the amount of time and the number of games featuring Sonic that have been panned now outnumbering the hallowed classics. Sonic 4 stands as what could be the last chance for the franchise to earn back some respect among the video game populace, and have a breath of fresh air amongst all the waste the brand has been excreting, but is it enough? Does it live up to its golden (Or should I say royal blue) forefathers?
The story of Sonic games since the late 90s has been a bit of a laughing point for any self respecting human being over the age of 13. The games have slowly taken on more and more ridiculously self serious tones, culminating in 2006’s Sonic The Hedgehog, in which Sonic died. Not permanently, mind you, but the fact remains that Sonic fucking dies. Sonic 4, thankfully, does away with any trace of a plot past the mid 90s and graces us with a very simple narrative: Eggman (hereby referred to as Robotnik, because I am a giant retrofag.) is up to no good. Make him cut it out. The game itself doesn’t even really touch on the story, and sends you right in to the first zone when you pick ‘start’. Just the way I like it.
From the get-go, the fact that this is an attempt to hearken back to the days of 16 bit, 2-D sidescrollers is immediately apparent. You’re treated to an old school level title card, some midi-sounding music (None of which is very memorable, I have to add, as a side-note), and a landscape very reminiscent of Sonic 1’s Green Hill Zone. Including that motobug, right there. And those piranha things… And that spring… Wait a second, you might think, feeling utterly duped; This is Green Hill Zone.
Well, yes and no. See, that’s kind of Sonic 4: Episode 1’s shtick. The story that wasn’t touched on earlier? It’s basically “Robotnik is recycling his old creations, ’cause he’s out of ideas”, and it echoes in the zones. Every single one of them, save for the final zone, is extremely reminiscent of an earlier, 16 bit counterpart. Namely; Green Hill Zone and Labyrinth Zone from Sonic 1, and Casino Night Zone and Metropolis Zone from Sonic 2. That’s not to say these levels are carbon copies. Though the level art evokes the feeling of “What you remember this level looking like”, there are new elements to the re-imagined 3D art, and new gimmicks in the zones themselves. That said, there are also some old gimmicks, so all and all these end up feeling more or less like remixed locations that you’ve already tread if you’ve played either of the first two games of the series.
The level design itself isn’t bad, especially in comparison to other recent entries in the series, offering the branching paths and speedy venues that made the original Sonics so fun to explore and tool around in, whether you like to see how blisteringly fast you can make it through each stage, or poke around at a more methodical pace to see what secret items and areas you can find. The most offensive lapse in good level design is a liberal smattering of chains of enemies to homing attack in order to reach the upper-most areas of a level. These are almost never necessary to actually traverse a stage, but it would be nice to be able to reach these higher paths without spending most of your time airborne, pressing Jump.
On that note, (rough segue!) the physics in Sonic 4 all-together feel a little ‘off’. Now, I’m not gonna go in to anal-retentive recitals of algorithms and slope angles like some of the more obsessive Sonic fans out there, but it doesn’t take a hardcore fan to notice things feel a little floaty. Sonic’s movement lacks any sort of momentum or weight, to the point where often times it is possible to stop on a dime by jumping, which seems to completely cancel out any existing movement if you’re not holding a direction down. While this can be a live saver on particularly perilous platforming parts (Quadruple alliteration. I’m quite proud.), it feels clunky everywhere else. When you’re in the air, or moving at high speeds, the game flows quite well, but the problem is that spending half your time with your feet off solid ground, chaining homing attacks just isn’t fun after a while.
Despite some rough areas that could use a loving touch and some polish to bring out what I feel could truly be a good game beneath its flaws, Sonic 4 still manages to exude some of the charm present in its predecessors, due in no small part to Sonic’s reduction to a small character that communicated entirely with motion and doesn’t spout forced one liners and “YEAH. WAHOO” every three and a half seconds. It’s also nice to see the good Doctor as a main antagonist again, instead of a catalyst for a bigger, likely supernatural baddy to come and take the spotlight, as has been the formula for the last ten or so years. The nostalgia comes at a cost, though, ending up making S4E1 feel more like Sonic 1&2: Homing Attack Edition than anything else at times.
Outside of the linear story progression, there is time attack mode that can be accessed at any time after the first stage that acts as a fun distraction for anyone wanting to test their twitch reflexes in speed runs of Sonic 4’s levels. It’s not exactly a game maker or breaker, but it’s a plus.
All in all, Sonic 4 isn’t the glorious return to form some people were hoping for, no. It’s not anything particularly revolutionary, either. The game is, in short, average. If you’re a long time Sonic fan, you’ll eat it up. If you’re not, you probably won’t find anything to convert you in this game. It won’t break your heart, but it won’t make you fall in love again, either. There is an ending teasing Episode 2 if you get all the Chaos Emeralds that leaves me personally excited for the next chapter, though, and hopefully with that next chapter will come some changes to make the game more accessible. Until then, it’s not a terrible product by any stretch… but it’s just not quite enough to restore any permanent faith in the series.
So, despite the fact that this blog has been more or less inactive for the last two years, I’m still averaging 65 hits a day. Why do you guys do it? I’m not quite sure. That said, it makes a good case for me to get back on the horse and keep doing my thing. In fact, I’m better equipped now to do my thing more than I ever was, thanks to a recent acquisition. That’s right, I finally have a 360. I can, you know, play games.
Laptop still sucks, though. The more things change, huh?
So, what better way to get back on the saddle than to talk about the latest thing to punch the gaming world straight in the damn face: Halo Reach (Cue inspiring chorus chanting).
Guess what, guys? It’s Halo! My god, is it Halo! This is not a bad thing by any means, though. In fact, I would say Reach (Which I firmly believe Bungie would have simply titled this game were there not a need for brand recognition) is more Halo than any Halo since Halo:CE has been. Dual wielding? Scrap it. Playing as elites in normal multiplayer? Gone, for the most part. Convoluted storylines and somehow discovering ANOTHER Halo? Forget it, we’re not about that. No, this is Halo like you haven’t experienced since some ten years ago, and it is delicious.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Before I talk about what you’re all really here for, I want to give credit where credit is due: Halo Reach has an outstanding single player campaign that completely outshines anything that the last four Halo related titles (2, 3, ODST, and Wars) have thrown at us. You’re Noble Six, the newest member in an elite team of Spartans, which is saying something, since even the lowest Spartan is an elite in the overall military. You’ve been stationed on Reach, where you’re told straight from the get go that “You picked a hell of a day to join up”.
And so you did. What starts as a routine mission that is presumed to just be some anti-rebellion crowd control turns in to a battle for the very fate of the military fortress world of Reach; which, if you haven’t kept up on your Halo lore, is the last stronghold between the alien forces of The Covenant, and our home world of Earth. Spoilers, Reach falls. You will lose. This is something that, again, you already know if you’re on the up and up on your Halo mythology. What’s intriguing about the plot of this game is not the fact that Reach falls, it’s how you and the rest of Noble Team tie in to the events that occur, and how the perspective paints the climactic Fall of Reach.
One of the best early moments of the campaign
On the note of Noble Team, that’s part of what’s really incredible about this game’s story. In past Halos, you were the Master Chief, but you never really cared about the Master Chief as a character, or anyone else for that matter; at least not beyond a passing way. In Reach, you truly find yourself caring about the fate of your five fellow Noble units, as well as the fate of your Noble Six. I say your Noble Six because, unlike Master Chief, you truly define Noble Six. His or Her gender, armor type, color, and emblem all carry over from your Multiplayer spartan, contributing to a true sense of personal connection with the soldier whose eyes you see the events of the campaign unfold from. Ultimately, the story is satisfying, albeit a bit depressing. The depression is quickly lifted, though, when you remember that the game’s climax takes place mere weeks before the opening of Halo: Combat Evolved, and the smack down that the Master Chief is about to unleash unto the Covenant hordes on the titular Halo.
If I had any complaints, it would be that in the back half of the game, things do start to become a little drag-y. There’s a point where you’ll really want to start just running through anything in your way to get to the next story point, though I’m not sure if that speaks to how compelling the story is, or how monotonous the fight formula eventually gets. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that eventually Bungie just throws ridiculous amounts of dudes at you. Either way, it’s a bit of a slog, but well worth it in the end. Speaking of having dudes thrown at you…
I’ll make no bones about it: This is not an easy game. Bungie has ramped up the difficulty significantly since the three core Halos. Normal was kicking my ass in the back half, and I’m no slouch at shooters. Heroic is a true test of mettle (and described directly as “The way Halo is meant to be played” in the difficulty selection screen.), and Legendary is nothing short of a trial in the limits of patience. It says something about the difficulty level that the largest and hardest achievement in Reach is for completing Legendary in a solo game. Anyone who does this has both my applause, and my eternal doubt as to their sanity. My recommendation? If you’re a veteran of the Halo series and you know your way around an assault rifle, go ahead and dive right in to Heroic, where even a single Elite is a worthy and frightening adversary. If you want to experience pre-mature hair-loss, go for Legendary.
Alright, so the single player is good. Half of you (if not more) couldn’t care less. Is it still the Halo you know and love online?
Yes. A resounding yes. For the most part, at least. There have been some changes to the formula, but I feel that they help more than hurt, for the most part. As I mentioned, dual wielding has been thankfully done away with, meaning every weapon feels a bit beefier than it has in recent iterations. Some weapons (such as the SMG) have been done away with all together. Most of us won’t miss them. For every weapon missing in action, however, there is a brand new toy waiting for your eager hands. I’ll leave you to discover those, if you haven’t already.
Taking the place of Halo 3’s deploy-able equipment are armor abilities. These come in the form of things like sprinting, jet packs, and the bubble shield, among other things, that you choose for your spartan in the initial load out (!!!) screen when you spawn in. Aside from sprinting, most of these abilities vary in usage by situation. The jet pack isn’t terribly useful in a map that doesn’t involve a lot of verticality, as it’s actually quite slow and leaves you a sitting duck for snipers, while the bubble shield has received an overhaul in the fact that your health now regenerates while you’re inside of it. Oh yeah, in case I’d forgotten to mention- health and health packs are back. Again, Halo hasn’t been this Halo since Halo.
Playlists and matchmaking have been robustly revamped as well. New variants like Headhunter and Invasion have been added to the repertoire of gametypes, while things like campaign and the ODST pioneered Firefight have become their own multiplayer playlist options, That’s right, you can now play the campaign with complete strangers, racial epithets included.
But wait, not necessarily! Another addition to the multiplayer component is the long needed addition of psyche profiles. This is basically a set of options to single out the type of player you are and want to play with, so you can find games with like minded individuals. Want to play some team slayer with guys that actually like to work as a team? Choose Team Player over Lone Wolf. Want to avoid ten year olds that have just discovered the word “Faggot”? Choose Polite over Trash Talkers, or hell, just choose Quiet over Chatty. So far, this system has worked well in keeping things pleasant for the people who don’t want to be subjected to the stereotypical “Halo crowd”, though fears have surfaced of this eventually being used as a trolling tool. It’s not hard to imagine someone choosing “Polite” and then calling everyone in the game a different racist term before you’ve even spawned in to the map. Hopefully there will be some solution for that eventuality, like a way to go “HEY THEY GUY IS A DICKBAG”. For the moment, all we have are Xbox Live player reviews, and hey, that seems to work alright.
Frankly, I could go on and on about what Reach has done right, eventually pumping out a 3000 word post (I’m already just short of half-way there!), but I think you get the picture. With an engaging single player, and robust multi player suite, Reach is good. Reach is really, really good. If you’ve written off Halo in the past few years because of lackluster performances in 2 and 3, or have just never really had a reason to give Bungie’s mega-franchise a spin, I highly recommend you give this game a shot. It’s an homage to the Halo Franchise, a worthy farewell to the series from Bungie, and a massive loveletter to the fans all wrapped into one, incredible package.
Fuck it, just go buy it already.
4.5/5 (I know people are gonna bitch, so I’ll spell it out here: That last third or so of the campaign did nearly have me quitting. The pacing is really not so good, even if the story remains incredible. Some of the battles really feel like they’re just padding out time. It could have been a much more streamlined sequence of events. For this, I dock a half point. That’s a 90 out of 100, if you want to do the math. It’s not a bad score. It would be enough to pass a college class.)
So that’s Halo Reach in a very large nut shell, and I didn’t even touch on things like Forge and the additions and improvements to Firefight and Theater mode. Maybe I’ll do that in a future post, but I felt this review was running a little too long. So look for Halo Reach: The Review: The Addendum in the next few days, I guess? As well as some screenshots and maybe video of a map I’ve created in Forge, just to drive the point home, and also because I’m a humongous show off.
Also coming soon: My thoughts on Ninja Theory’s Creative Director May Self Insert And Make Us Cry (DMC), and why Hideki Kamiya needs to stop breaking our hearts with hints of Megaman Legends 3. Basically, TGS 2010 in retrospect.
Till then, catchy sign out phrase.
Intro: I’ve been following this project for a long time, it’s pretty damn ambitious. A small (and varying over time) team of people are making the amazing effort to bring a blend of old and new school Sonic the Hedgehog gameplay together to do what Sega can’t seem to: Make a Sonic game with fun gameplay, and an engaging story. Eight or nine months ago, they released their first public demo after nearly three years of development. So does the proof of concept deliver a feeling of blissful nostalgia, or make me want to go back to Sonic Heroes for a 3D Sonic fix?
I have to be nice here for two reasons:
A) This mod is based on Unreal Engine 2, last gen, and therefore I can’t expect a bunch of fancy pants effects and
B) It’s a tech demo, meant to show the concept off more than the graphics.
Though, I don’t have that many negative things to say about the game’s graphics. The characters are either minimally or completely untextured (hence the washed out colours on Sonic.), but other than that, the environments look and feel like Sonic fare. The demo takes place primarily on a tropical island that looks a lot like Sonic 3’s Angel Island zone meets Far Cry, but it works. Rings, star posts, springs, and speed boosters all work to bring this level from run-of-the-mill to Blue Blur worthy.
The art style itself in some screen shots released of environments not shown in the demo feel extremely at home in the Sonicverse, too, with checkered terrain and exaggerated cartoony structures, whereas other places look like the belong in the 360/PS3 Sonic game. Hopefully these contrasting styles will balance out somehow.
From a technical standpoint, this game is a testament to how much life Unreal Engine 2 still has in it. Even without bump mapping and bloom, the game looks gorgeous. Earlier on in their development, the team showed off a multiplayer map based on Sonic and Knuckles’ Sky Sanctuary zone, and I swear to god it almost looked like it was from a current-gen game. The ADR team is clearly pulling out all the stops to squeeze every last ounce of graphical prowess from the dated engine.
Score: 4/5 (1 point off for untextured characters. You’d hope after three years of development they’d at least have a final texture on their main character.)
This is where the tech demo sadly falls a bit flat. For the most part, everything works, and somethings even succeed in trumping Sonic Team by a longshot (unscripted loops ftw. You actually control where Sonic is going when he starts defying gravity, and if you really wanted to, you could just stop in the middle of a loop), physics aren’t too wonky, the spindash and homing attack work like a charm most of the time, and when you run for long enough you get this really cool motion blur slipstream effect. However, the big crux for the entire thing falls in the camera and controls category, and trust me when I say they go hand-in-hand.
First of all, the controls just feel sloppy and loose, and it’s mostly thanks to the camera. This is a little forgivable, because trying to turn what’s meant to be an FPS into a full blown 3D platformer is hard work, but after three years I expect more. The biggest flaw here is Sonic and the camera move independently. In other words, yes, you can control Sonic entirely with the ASWD keys, the the camera will remain facing the same way, so you’ll have no clue where you’re going. This would be easy to fix, simply by having the camera fixed behind Sonic as all times, otherwise in this demo you’re forced to move the mouse as you move sonic, and that just takes away from it feeling like a Sonic game. Because of this dysfunction, spindashing and homing in on enemies can be particularly annoying, because even if you’re right next to an enemy, if the camera isn’t facing that direction, your homing attack will just send you flying aimlessly forward. The sloppy controls have killed me many a time in the second half of the demo, where I get stuck in places, repeatedly barraged by multiple enemies, and then killed.
The game has potential, but until the controls are tightened up, it will stop just short of bad.
Score: 3/5 For technical proficiency, but poor execution.
You can’t hear anything in that video but a track from Sonic Adventure 2, I assume because the sound didn’t capture properly for the guy who recorded it, but the sound design is mostly a good deal. Proper classic sounds are where they should be, enemies explode instead of simply going pop, which is one thing I can live with changing from the classic formula, and Sonic has a decent voice actor. Not the best i’ve heard, but it could be much worse. the only thing I could possibly complain about is the music, which is a more ambient track that I think takes away significantly from the Sonic feel. Give the level something more… Angel Island-esque, and maybe something a bit darker for the swamp half of the demo, and I’ll be happy. Overall though, the sounds feel right on.
Verdict: Potential, and lots of it. If nothing else, these guys have done something revolutionary with Utk4, defying gravity and giving it a platform-y feel I haven’t seen any mod of the game pull off otherwise. Soon as those controls are tightened up, this would be a worthy entry in to the franchise.
Total Score: 4/5