May 22, 2013
I had a handful of issues with Resistance: Fall of Man. I’d have to say many others did to, despite its release to critical acclaim. I say this because Resistance 2 rectifies every issue I had with Fall of Man and does so on a much more epic scale. Nathan Hale speaks more in the first few minutes than he did in the entirety of the first game. Even so, it’s apparent he’s not the star of the game – the locales and boss battles are. More importantly, the campaign difficulty is balanced much better. Every decision Insomniac Games made culminated in a more entertaining first-person shooter compared to the original.
While Resistance 2 picks up immediately where Fall of Man left off, most of the game takes place two years after the events of the first game. It’s 1953 and the Chimera have practically overrun the United States – the last bastion for humanity. Salvation rests in the hands of a few U.S. soldiers who were infected with the Chimeran virus during government studies. Sentinels, as they’re referred to, possess superhuman abilities and regenerative health. They’re not immune to the virus living within them though, and must take injections frequently to inhibit the spread of the virus.
The U.S. studies which created the Sentinels were carried out by Fyodor Malikov, a Russian scientist seeking a way to combat the Chimeran forces and cure the virus that transforms humans into the alien scourge. One of his failed test subjects has since become known as Daedalus. Formerly known as Jordan Shepherd, Daedalus is a hovering blob of Chimera that operates as a hive mind commanding the Chimera. The game begins with his escape from a secret base in Iceland at which point he begins putting a hurting on the remnants of America. Nathan and his new Sentinel buddies know what needs to be done and set out to kill Daedalus.
The forward momentum in Resistance 2 was always the destruction of Daedalus. However, with Malikov’s presence came much back-story and in retrospect, it seems like the game was most concerned with filling the player in than topping off the Chimeran threat for good. Whether it was in regards to the Chimera and their origin or the experiments that Malikov did, I never felt like the overarching conflict was moving towards closure with Nathan’s actions. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most series’ seem to be trilogies nowadays so even if major story beats happen in the middle games, it usually doesn’t represent a major amount of finality for the series. I’m not too bummed because I was consistently mesmerized by the locations and set piece battles I encountered.
Nathan’s journey saw him traveling across America, through both scenic settings like redwood forests and southern swamplands and notable cities like San Francisco and California. Each level felt unique thanks to the vastly different settings and the varied enemy types. These two facets were major improvements over Fall of Man. It was the boss fights that truly shined though. These end-level nuisances were hulking mammoths, the scale of which I don’t think I’ve seen in another first-person shooter, were unbelievable to see and fun to conquer. I especially like how they were foreshadowed throughout the levels. Catching glimpses of the skyscraper-sized Leviathan in Chicago set the mood for the remainder of that level.
The stages and bosses were very cool, but thankfully the campaign difficulty was balanced so much better than the original. First off, the health system was slightly revamped. Recharging health was still in effect but instead of a tiered health bar, damage was indicated by the amount of blood splatter on the screen. I prefer this shift from the tiered health bar because it saw me getting in less binds where I had a sliver of health; I could regenerate Nathan’s health fully by taking cover instead of only up to a point. The biggest improvement in my eyes was the less stringent checkpointing. After every battle or story event, I was greeted with a checkpoint. No longer was I forced to battle dozens of enemies again if I was killed after a few minutes of progression. This was such a relief and helped me enjoy this game much more than the original.
One of the bigger gameplay changes between these two games was Nathan’s ability to carry weapons. In the original, I had access to each weapon I came across; the game adopted an old-school approach, favoring a personal armory. This game opted for the now common two weapon limit. At any point, Nathan could only carry two weapons, meaning I had to make decisions as to what I wanted. My decision was usually influenced by Insomniac’s weapon staging. Weapons were placed in key points along the linear pathway, and like the boss battles, usually foreshadowed an impending battle. I really thought they did a great job at this since it got me alternating weapons and going outside my comfort zone.
It might be cliché to say, but Resistance 2 was a roller-coaster ride. Nathan’s travels took him throughout America at a break-neck pace, and usually I didn’t quite understand why. It all seemed to be in service of exploiting the locales for interesting settings and epic boss battles. I’m cool with that though because Insomniac played with a scale unseen in first-person shooters. Best of all though, the game was actually enjoyable to play. With the revisions to campaign difficulty, this game was challenging – not brutal. For these reasons, and the shocking ending, I was jazzed for Resistance 3.
May 18, 2013
Resistance: Fall of Man is a game of banal hues. Whether I’m referring to the grayish picture it paints of Great Britain circa 1951 amidst the invasion of alien forces, the grim outlook for humanity, or the game’s stiff difficulty, it’s not in high spirits. It was a game that I had a hard time getting drawn into. Sgt. Nathan Hale, the game’s protagonist was unrelatable as he was mostly silent, uttering a handful of words throughout the four days covered. The third-person “past-tense” storytelling also didn’t help draw me in, although it was unique and fitting. Lastly, I just didn’t think the campaign was balanced well.
What’s initially distinguishing about the game is its alternate historical setting. Presumably, World War II never happened as the alien Chimera were ravaging the Soviet Union for decades. The rest of Europe was most likely wary of what was happening behind the Iron Curtain and preparing for the worst, as Great Britain had done. After overtaking Europe, the Chimera crossed the English Channel and all preparations went out the window as the country was lost in a matter of months. Afterwards, the United States sent in a large task force to seek out a secret weapon the Brits claim will save humanity; enter Nathan Hale.
For most of the introductory sequences I was under the impression that Nathan was a silent protagonist. He might well have been as he spoke, like, three times throughout the ten hour campaign. Instead, most of the story was told by Captain Rachel Parker, a British soldier who determined there was something amiss with Nathan immediately – he had been infected by the Chimera. It was of little consequence in the game ultimately, although it was always a pressing concern for her. With Nathan hardly speaking, he really wasn’t characterized, he was little more than the player’s avatar. But through Rachel’s recounting, he was given a story, at the very least.
The narrative cutscenes had Rachel talking about the game’s events in the past-tense, as though they had happened only a few days ago. As she was the one narrating the story, all references to Nathan were in the third-person. I thought these two storytelling mechanics distanced me from Nathan even more than him being a (near) silent protagonist. Nathan’s survival took him all over Britain, but I found the campaign to be relatively event-free and ultimately forgettable.
Gameplay was standard fare for a first-person shooter and it encompassed sequences common across the genre. There was a driving sequence or two including an expletive-inducing tank sequence that had me banging my head against a proverbial wall for countless attempts. What set it apart the most from other similar games was its armory, which makes sense as Insomniac earns high praise for their innovative weaponry. Many staples were present although I felt the game was at its best when I was utilizing a secondary feature or dispatching enemies with a weapon unlike anything I had used before.
Bringing down the enjoyment I had with the game was its difficulty. I’ll start with the health system. Nathan had four chunks of rechargeable health. When one was depleted, I was no longer able to regenerate it. This is highly prevalent nowadays (and it was seven years ago too (I can’t believe this generation is that old!)) but I’ve never played a game where recharging health took so long! On the other hand, the enemies are bullet sponges. I love that the M5A2 Folsom Carbine, the standard human assault rifle, has a 50 round magazine, but dumping into enemies yields a few kills before needing reloaded. Finally, the biggest offender was the checkpoints. I found them so infrequent; I’d have to do battle with dozens of enemies multiple times thanks to a single mistake. Between the three difficulty levels available to me, I chose normal but in many parts, it felt more like hard. This probably earns kudos from some hardcore shooter fans out there, but for someone just wanting to enjoy the game and have a decent amount of challenge, it was off-putting.
The game’s difficulty had me frustrated on many occasions, but I persisted and still think Resistance: Fall of Man was a solid FPS. The story and characterization did very little for me, although the alternate historical setting was plenty enough to start me off. I remember very little astonishing moments or set pieces, but the core gameplay, excluding the difficulty, was really good. I even jumped into the multiplayer for a few matches and had fun, despite a losing streak. I wasn’t exactly raring to jump into Resistance 2 after completing it, but I’d take the plunge anyways.
March 28, 2012
Lauded by many as a purveyor of the intellectual evolution of video games, thatgamecompany has received high praises in recent years for developing minimalistic video games that leave an emotional impact. Released just a few weeks ago for the PlayStation 3 via the PlayStation Network, Journey continues this trend.
Journey, is about just that, a journey. The journeyer in question travels through harsh environments on an unspecified quest. Lacking dialogue and an overt narrative, Journey is open to interpretation, which is what the bulk of this review will encompass – my interpretation of Journey. Before that, I’d like to briefly discuss the game.
Controlling the journeyer I navigated deserts, ruins, and mountains, all the while figuring out how to get around the occasional impediment, usually by jumping. When connected to the internet, people would randomly join my game and we’d attempt working together. Groups never exceeded two players, although I met three or four throughout the length of the game. These few players were never a hindrance but cooperation was tough due to the inability to directly communicate with each other, more on that in my interpretation. Speaking of which, let’s dive into it.
Set in the far-flung future, the journeyer I controlled was on a mission of enlightenment. The world he lives in might at one point have been described as the pinnacle of civilization. But the people eventually turned against each other and nearly destroyed the world in a process of unending war. Now, remaining humanity is in search of a reason; a reason for the past, a reason for the future, a reason to continue living in a harsh, unforgiving world.
Believing the enlightened one residing high atop a mountain at the peak of the world would have an answer to his questions, the journeyer set out. He didn’t get to skip down a yellow brick road either; his quest led him through an unforgiving desert that never seemed to end. Blanketed throughout this near-infinite desert were the ruins of the long destroyed ancient civilization. Their murals contained descriptions of similar journeys from ages ago. The wall paintings mirrored the journeyer’s travels with uncanny precision, and helped lead him to his destination while reminding him that he was no different from those who lived generations before him.
Along the way, the journeyer occasionally met contemporaries who also sought enlightenment. Lacking a common language but sharing a common destination, the journeyer aided the fellow travelers he met and developed an emotional bond with them. Even though communication was difficult because of the absence of a shared language, the journeyers were able to cooperate by studying body movement and using simplistic noises. The journey was tough and those he met did not always make it. The journeyer missed their presence, but knew he had to continue.
Obstacles in the journeyer’s way became ever more prevalent as he continued. Getting past them required thinking through straightforward puzzles, executing tricky jumps, and navigating around enormous enemies.
It wasn’t long until the journeyer reached the foot of the mountain. It was there that the red-orange of the desert ended and the white of the mountain began. Snow pelted the journeyer as he made his ascent. Fortunately he was not alone in this stretch of his journey. A fellow journeyer also reached the foot of the mountain and they inched forward, body against body, fighting with all their might to push forward against the howling snow. At points the winds were so strong that all they could do was brace onto windbreakers sticking out of the ground to not get blown off the mountain, no doubt placed there by journeyers before them. This part of the journey was tougher than anything previously encountered, but the journeyer prevailed, albeit alone.
When he crossed into the summit, the journeyer met with the figure that he’d seen scrawled onto the ruins, the figure that he’d been seeking, the enlightened one. Though he made noises that the journeyer was unfamiliar with, he could somehow understand the enlightened one. He said little, but what he said left a major impact on the journeyer.
“The civilizations before your time destroyed each other because they focused on their differences rather than their similarities. You may think you and the journeyers you met on your way here are far different, but you share more than you think. Without cooperation, you never would have reached me.”
“I can’t tell you what the future holds, you decide that. You pushed forward, now reflect on all that you’ve done. You sought enlightenment and you achieved it. It wasn’t the destination that you needed, it was the journey. Now shut up about Mass Effect 3’s ending.”
So that’s one way I interpret Journey. Pretty bleak huh? Civilization, reaches a pinnacle and then freefalls into a rapid decline through never-ending war culminating in the near destruction of EVERYTHING. So, does this interpretation reflect my inner lack of faith in humanity? Personally, I’d say yes and no. I’m an optimistic person, but I can foresee a future where humanity eventually destroys everything (although I imagine everyone can picture that). I’d also say my interpretation of Journey is derived from similar stories in entertainment. The story I envisioned is in no way a new idea and I know I’ve encountered it in multiple formats, such as books, movies, and other video games.
Although my interpretation also has positive messages too, namely that we can overcome any differences we perceive in each other. Cooperation eased the journeyer’s travels, even though he worked with journeyers far different than he, they couldn’t even speak the same language! Yet, the journeyers found a way to understand each other and overcame many obstacles.
The minimalistic nature of Journey has left me ruminating on it more so than any other game I’ve played. It was a brief, however enjoyable experience that is very open to interpretation. I’d recommend Journey, especially if you’re able to experience it with someone else.
If anyone else has played Journey, what’s your interpretation?
January 24, 2012
UmJammer Lammy is a simple music game that was published by Sony for the PlayStation in 1999. It was developed by NanaOn-Sha, a Japanese studio headed up by Masaya Matsuura. They’re most known for PaRappa the Rapper, to which UmJammer Lammy serves as a spinoff. The game features a striking art style courtesy of Rodney Greenblat. Matching the bizarre art design is a similarly weird story and funny songs. While the non-interactive parts of UmJammer Lammy are laudable, the gameplay was simple yet tough and unclear.
Lammy is a guitarist in an all girl rock band called MilkCan. Rocking out is what she does, but rocking out in front of a crowd in a traditional venue just isn’t wacky enough for the art style. I only made it to the second level, but it seemed to promise grand stages. In that level Lammy had to help put out a burning building. To do so she imagined that a fire house was her guitar and she began rocking out. When Lammy is without her guitar she isn’t very confident, but with it she’s unstoppable; unless I’m playing in which case it’s constant failure.
As a guitarist, Lammy’s job is to play rock ‘n’ roll and perform well so this responsibility falls on me as the player. Fortunately for me, Lammy had teachers who would show me the buttons I’d have to press moments before I’d have to press them. Sounds simple enough but the game is ridiculously demanding.
When playing a song I’d be graded in real-time. It seemed way too easy to have my grade drop fast. I wasn’t sure if the timing of my button presses was off because there wasn’t any indication telling me otherwise. Even when I’d perform well, I’d reach the end of the song and fail for no good reason. Besides my grade I’d also have a point total so perhaps I needed to get this above a certain amount to succeed?
Another aspect to the gameplay was the ability to freestyle. Like in PaRappa the Rapper, UmJammer Lammy encourages players to freestyle. The manual encouraged me to press buttons other than the ones I should be pressing to rack up much higher scores and reach the ultimate grade of cool. When I reached this grade, Lammy’s teacher would leave her side and I was able to press whatever buttons I felt like, as long as I stuck to the rhythm of the song. Alas I was never able to progress beyond the second stage.
I bought UmJammer Lammy with anticipation. It looked like a fun game and I hoped to see what craziness the game had to offer. Unfortunately I found the simple gameplay very tough. It never provided me feedback on why I was doing poorly and that disappointed me. Maybe I don’t have rhythm, but I couldn’t get into the game.
July 8, 2010
That Grandia was released recently on the PlayStation Network is a coincidence to my play through of the game. I had purchased it earlier in the year and finally got around to playing it, coincidentally it was released on the PSN a week or so later so this review is relatively timely. Prior to my play through of Grandia, my only other experience with the series was a play through of Grandia II on the Dreamcast which I remember loving, but I’m unsure if I finished it. Personally I’m a fan of more action-orientated RPGs and Grandia is one of, if not the best.
Grandia opens up in a somewhat bustling port town and quickly introduces the player to Justin and Sue, two young kids who are playful and not very serious. Nevertheless Justin is intent on becoming an adventurer like his father and Sue would follow Justin anywhere so she’s up for it as well. While the initial premise for the game is one that is often used, the game’s story gets deeper as Justin and crew learn of a mysterious ancient civilization that once perished. As they search for this ancient civilization they run into trouble with an army lead by a power monger and go through a few non-permanent party members. The story is very light and comedic, with an overarching sense of seriousness.
Like I said earlier, Grandia is more action-orientated than a traditional turn-based RPG; however this element of control is kind of a façade as the battles are ultimately a turn-based affair. In a dungeon you can see any enemy before battling, as opposed to random encounters; once you’ve run into an enemy or vice versa, you’re shifted into a battle scene. Along the bottom of the screen is a meter that shows icons representing your party members and all enemies; the icons move from left to right until one hits the command point. Here the battle will pause and you can tell that party member what to do. There is still a bit of time before they enact whatever you told them to do and this allows for strategy and planning as you can delay and cancel enemy moves based on when and what attack you hit them with.
There are many options when in battle: normal attacks, critical attacks which delay or potentially cancel depending on when landed, special moves, magic and items. One of the more interesting, and addicting, elements of battling is that every special move and magic attack has its own level that increases as you use it. The characters level relatively slowly but having all of these moves that are going up frequently gave a good sense of progression and feeling of accomplishment. Of course with any RPG that has magic there are elements of strengths and weaknesses but I never paid attention to this facet, probably due to my want to just level up everything, and this worked for me. The battles were fast-paced and fun, I looked forward to battling every enemy and leveling up many different things made me not want to skip out on fights.
The soundtrack, like the story, was lighthearted; many of the tracks were quirky, with unusual sounds and upbeat tempos, matching the game’s tone. There were a few standout tracks that I really enjoyed listening to and I can’t say there were any I disliked. The voice acting on the other hand was quite poor. The voice acting was infrequent throughout the game and when there was any, what the characters said, would never seem to match the tone of the situation at that moment. Grandia is set a 3D world, with characters, buildings and other objects being made of 2D sprites. This mixture of old and new (at the time) graphics give it a feeling reminiscent of the “golden age” of the JRPG, while still progressing technologically. I’ve already mentioned that the game’s story and soundtrack were lighthearted and fun, and the look of the game matches. Grandia is set in a colorful world with interesting character designs and locales.
Grandia cost me fifteen dollars and I put fifty-plus hours into it, and had fun the majority of the time. If you’re someone like me, who likes owning a physical copy of your games and having the chance to look through the manual, I’d recommend seeking out a copy of Grandia rather than purchasing it off of the PSN, but maybe do that as well to support it! Grandia’s manual is robust, and while much of it is explaining relatively basic mechanics of the game, which if you haven’t played a Grandia title will be very beneficial, I did get stuck on a boss and consulting it did help me.
I loved Grandia. It’s quickly become one of my favorite JRPGs and even after I beat it, I can imagine wanting to play more to level up the rest of my party’s stats. It’s a long game with rare feelings of tediousness and overall, it was a lighthearted, adventurous romp through a colorful world, which is a great escape from the current market of more adult, serious games.
April 23, 2010
When I left off yesterday I thought I was getting ready to fight a boss and that’s kind of true. Justin has a Spirit Stone from his father; it’s an ancient artifact and it opened a door that no one else managed to iin the Sult Ruins. Inside were two psychedelic rooms where I met Liete of Alent. She took Justin and Sue into outer space, or perhaps it was just an illusion. She convinced Justin to travel to the new continent to meet her. Upon exiting the area Colonel Mullen tried to capture Justin and Sue but they got away. Colonel Mullen doesn’t seem like a bad person as afterwards he burst into laughter and was happy Justin was so daring.
To get to the new continent I needed a passport; Justin and Sue learned they could get one from a partly crazy, old adventurer. I took a train to the Leck Mines, south of Parm. Once there Java, the adventurer, required they pass a test to get his passport. I traveled into the mines and explored it until I met an orc king who I subsequently defeated. Java gave them the passport and I headed back to Parm. To get to the new continent the group had to travel by ship but Justin thought Sue should stay in Parm. Justin sailed away the next day alone and without telling his mother, but she left him a note saying that she knew. After exploring the ship I found out that Sue had snuck on! Justin and Sue were back together and since she is considered a stow-away, they are required to do some manual labor.
TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 04:41:36
April 22, 2010
Today I experienced the battle system for the first time. I left Parm and was heading to the Sult Ruins. Prior to this I received an invitation to visit the ruins from a curator at the Baal Museum whom Justin is friends with. To get to the Sult Ruins I had to pass through Marna Road which was full of a few bug type enemies.
The combat is very fast; most matches seemed to be over with thirty seconds. The hallmark of the Grandia series is its real-time battles. There is a meter that shows everyone in the battle, enemies included. The representative icons progress until the command point when you enter in what you want to do and then it a progresses a little more until the action point. Another staple of the series is the lack of random battles; you can see all enemies on the map.
I found a few items in Marna Road and eventually got to the Sult Ruins. Outside were the army’s equipment and a lot of soldiers, some working and some slacking. I viewed a cutscene with three female leaders who act very childish. I explored the area outside and then set foot into the ruins. I was surrounded by ancient artifacts and enemies. I proceeded two levels in to what appears to be the entrance to a boss and stopped there.
TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 02:18:42
April 21, 2010
Similar to what I did with Seaman, which you can find here, I’m going to do a journal of my time playing Grandia. They won’t be that similar though; the nature of Seaman allowed each player to add a lot and ruminate on what was happening whereas Grandia is telling a story and I expect to add less and communicate more like an actual blog.
The game opened up in what I consider to be quite cinematic for the time. The intro cutscenes didn’t explain much but showed that the game had good production values. After the beginning cutscenes I got to control Justin and Sue, the main character and his cousin. They are early teens and most of the intro consists of me looking for objects to show up a bully/rival. The game looks pretty good, it’s in 3D and it isn’t a fixed camera game; it looks very good. The controls feel good; movement feels loose and fast, how I like it.
I explored Parm, the starting city, and learned a lot about the game and my surroundings. Justin’s family is full of explorers and that’s what he wants to do, coincidentally many ruins nearby have recently been found. The game appears to be pretty traditional story wise; this’ll be another RPG where I play as a young adventurer, following in his families footsteps. I played for a little more than an hour and was just getting ready to leave the town; haven’t fought a battle yet, which is why I’m playing Grandia. I love action RPGs and I loved Grandia II.
TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 01:13:26
April 7, 2010
At first Super Stardust HD seems like just another dual stick shooter, and it is, but it is also a very, very solid game that is as addicting as Geometry Wars. The game has multiple modes and I started off playing the arcade mode, which has you playing through the game’s five planets. At first only one is unlocked but the rest will come as you complete them. The planets are populated with asteroids and enemies will appear in waves. There are a few types of asteroids and these different varieties add a strength/weakness element to you weapons. As you destroy the asteroids, some will drop power ups that can upgrade your weapons, add shields, ships or just points. The longer you survive, the higher your multiplier.
Endless mode and survival mode are similar in that they have you competing until you’re out of lives; the only difference is that survival mode takes place on a planet with indestructible space probes. Bomber mode takes away your weapons and leaves you with only your bombs and time attack has you completing a single planet as fast as you can. There are also a few multiplayer modes, both competitive and cooperative, and these change the formula a great deal. They are limited to local only and while I definitely prefer couch co-op to online co-op, having the competitive mode be online would’ve been nice.
It took me a few hours to play through everything and if it wasn’t for trophies and having a friend’s score to shoot for on the leader boards, I would probably be done with it, not to say the game isn’t good. But I know that as soon as my high score is toppled I will enjoy coming back and trying to retake it. This review was written with both of the game’s DLC packs, without them the game loses nearly all modes, but you can get the game and both DLC packs for fifteen dollars.