July 14, 2012
The most notable aspect of Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is that it marked a first for the Batman franchise: the first time a major character was debuted in a video game. It has been nine years since the game’s release though, and I’m not aware of the villain Sin Tzu gaining much traction; I mean, I’ve only ever heard of him in the context of this video game, albeit, I’m not especially well versed in the Batman universe. Debuting in a mediocre beat ‘em up probably didn’t help his chances at stardom though.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is an Ubisoft Montreal developed, Ubisoft published beat ‘em up from 2003. It was released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, and Game Boy Advance, and while I only played the GameCube version, I’m sure the PS2 and Xbox versions are identical. My friend and I played through what I believe constitutes the first quarter of the game, and I speak for both us when I say Rise of Sin Tzu was underwhelming.
The game revolves around on the eponymous hero defending Gotham City from the eponymous villain. Sin Tzu has formed an alliance with Scarecrow, Clayface, and Bane and they’re wreaking havoc. With the assistance of Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing, Batman sets out to defend Gotham City from these baddies. Although there are four heroes, the game only supports co-operative play for two, a glaring omission. On the bright side, those two extra players won’t be subjected to the tepid gameplay.
Each hero had slightly different stats and had a wealth of combos to execute, yet I was content to just mash the punch or kick button. The combos were differentiated by timed button presses, although they weren’t starkly different. Special moves could be unlocked using earned points which could also be spent on bonus features like toys or comic book covers. My friend and I played through the first quarter of the game, toppling Scarecrow, and besides the lame combat, the bland level design and poor camera left us unfulfilled.
Stages lasted about ten minutes and tasked us with fighting through groups of Scarecrow’s henchmen. Opposition was light early on but they eventually began using Scarecrow’s gas on us. It affected the camera, making it very wavy, but not problematic like the occasional event of the camera getting hung up on a corner. Still the biggest detriment to our enjoyment was the bland level design. We’d plod down unchanging Gotham City streets, encountering groups of henchmen, but no real excitement. This was compounded by the weak combat and the drab graphics.
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is a mediocre beat ‘em up that will likely only be remembered for debuting a character into the franchise.
September 21, 2011
Have you ever wanted to be a god? Have dominion over creatures and wield unimaginable control? Well From Dust satiates a few god-like desires. Developed by Ubisoft Montpellier and published by Ubisoft, From Dust is a downloadable video game where players take control of the breath, a visual representation of their influence. Appearing like a cursor, I was able to move it around the stages, highlight people or things, and most importantly, manipulate the environment.
The demo opened with astounding visuals and sounds, showing me the people I would assist. They were tribal, resembling African Bushmen or Australian aborigines. A narrator got me up to speed as to what’s going on and my task. These tribal people needed to get somewhere; traveling through portals and I had to get them there.
The stages I played consisted of a few islands spread about in clear blue water, very tropical and desolate. Before the portals would activate, the people had to build small villages. I led them to totems were they performed a ceremony and a village popped up around them. This also brought fauna and animals.
More totems were located on separate islands. To transport the people to these islands, I had to use my powers. I could absorb certain types of terrain, sand or water for instance, and then disperse the terrain wherever I wanted. I had to link islands together by absorbing sand and dropping it to create land bridges. Spreading the sand was a little difficult for me, at least spreading it evenly.
Helping these tribal people out could be rewarding and I’m intrigued by the game, but the few stages I played in the demo had me doing the same thing: leading the people to totems and finally to a portal. The final stage saw a tsunami come, but all I had to do was lead one of the people to a rock and they learned a song to avoid it. It looked great and the concept was fun, but I’m fine with playing as much of From Dust as I did especially if the gameplay doesn’t change a lot throughout the game. From Dust was released at the end of July on Xbox Live Arcade, at the end of August on the PC, and it was just released this past week for PlayStation Network.
August 10, 2011
The demo for Driver: San Francisco was just released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and I had the chance to play through it today. It’s not my first exposure to the series though; I played some of Driver 2 way back when on the PlayStation. Driver: San Francisco had me resuming the role of Tanner, but this time with a bizarre ability.
Tanner and his partner Jones have pursued long-time bad guy Jericho to San Francisco. While attempting to catch him Tanner gets in a wreck and enters a coma. Upon waking from this coma Tanner realizes he has the ability to shift into other people’s bodies. So even though everything else in the game is attempting to purvey something similar to the real world, Tanner has this unrealistic, albeit fun, ability.
The demo has three missions, the first titled Prove It. In it Tanner explains to Jones his ability. Rightfully so Jones thinks he’s full of it, so, Tanner proves it. As Tanner I had to get close enough to someone driving and shift into them. After pressing the shift button the game slowed down and I moved a cursor to select the car I wished to shift to. I then did a few stunts that Tanner told his Jones he would do.
The second mission was Team Colors. Tanner was assisting a father-daughter racing team, helping them to finish in first and second place. Early on it seemed like it would be difficult to get a one-two finish because the person I wasn’t controlling drove noticeably slower. However, in the back half of the race, my opposition had wrecked, each at least once, making it easier than I thought.
The final mission, I believe Escapist, had me possessing a driver working for Jericho. Tanner’s plan was to have this driver progress up Jericho’s chain of drivers, aiming to gain knowledge from the passengers this driver was transporting. I pretty much had to outrun the police and get to a rendezvous point within a time limit here. I failed the first time I attempted it, but found a few cheap methods of losing the police the second time around. During the mission Tanner chatted up the passenger, who wasn’t interested. The dialogue between the two became annoying since Tanner kept prodding, and the passenger kept getting annoyed.
While I have no knowledge of the streets of San Francisco, I can attest that the city and the game for that matter looked fantastic. The different vehicles I drove seemed to handle differently, and they were all modeled nicely, and for the first time in the series, after real vehicles. I thought the concept of shifting was ridiculous especially in a game attempting to recreate the real world, but it was fun and could be put good use when Driver: San Francisco comes out on September 6, 2011.
December 3, 2010
With Grandia II, Game Arts took the formula they implemented in Grandia, simply iterated upon it, which works with me, I loved Grandia and it creates another fantastic Japanese role-playing game with a fun battle system and compelling story. Grandia II, as with Grandia, is set in a, mostly, bright and colorful world.
If I were to condense the themes presented in Grandia, I’d say it focused on adventure and discovery, of exploring unknown territories and learning about new cultures. Grandia II on the other hand focuses more on our spiritual relationships and the role and impact of religion in the world. Grandia II is the story of Ryudo, a gun-for-hire and Elena, a songstress in the Church of Granas. Ryudo is hired to be her bodyguard, but things go awry early on and they soon learn that Valmar (the evil god and Granas’ opposite) could reawaken and bring destruction to their world, what’s more, Elena is possessed by a piece of Valmar, which manifests itself occasionally, and transforms Elena into Millenia. This shape shifting element is interesting and provides for a character that is the polar opposite of Elena, like Granas to Valmar. Throughout the game they meet new party members who give a taste of the different regions in the game and are generally likeable. This wasn’t the case with Ryudo; at first he was a prick and very ignorant of others; the way he responded to peoples questions and concerns was off-putting, but as the game progressed, he became more comfortable with the people around him and as the on-going situations evolved, he revealed more about himself and became a more likeable character. Like, Grandia, Grandia II is light-hearted for the most part, with plenty of humor and fun gameplay, although the progression appears very formulaic, town, dungeon, town dungeon, etc.
Throughout the game, the story unraveled more and more, finally reaching a crescendo of understanding and going pass that crescendo into a surprising twist in lore. Grandia II is a more succinct adventure than Grandia with the game lacking in extra content. There isn’t any reason to go back and play more when done , there isn’t a new game plus mode, and the way the game ends it’s sort of hard to anyways, which is a shame because as with Grandia, I would still go back and battle more If I could.
The battle system, originating in Grandia takes turn-based battles, and added an element of real-time choice to it, creating a satisfying blend of action, which hit a spot in my psyche that loves being in control. The battle system has changed very little from Grandia. There are only a few things off the top of my head that I can think of that changed from Grandia to Grandia II. Instead of leveling up magic and special skills through use, you now attribute points to the individual moves. I thought it very clever in Grandia that special moves and magic leveled up and became stronger through use, thus, I used stat boosting/reducing spells more than I normally would in another JRPG. Also, instead of learning new magic spells by reaching certain requirements with certain elements of magic, in Grandia II you receive eggs which contain 18 preselected spells. There are more eggs than party members so there is always ample choice.
Noriyuki Iwadare returns as the composer and I enjoy his soundtracks a great deal. They are lighthearted and fun, which matches the general tone of Grandia II. Although there are, darker sections of the game, his compositions match the feeling, often, if not always. Familiar tonal themes are repeated throughout the game, with the actual compositions changing up slightly. I can see many people listening to the soundtrack and thinking it is quite cheesy with his ample use of electrical guitar, but I find it befitting the action and look of the game. The appearance, like in Grandia, is very appealing to me; the game is very bright, set in a, mostly, colorful world, with anime-like character designs–this is from Japan after all. The voice acting is fine, although what bugs me is that it isn’t totally voice-acted, barely any is, and this inconsistency always bothers me. The CG is also infrequent, and in most cases, very poor. The CG for cutscenes is almost laughably bad and strangely grainy, but when it is implemented into the higher level magic and special moves, the blend of normal graphics and CG or animation provides a unique clash that, at first seemed off putting, but quickly grew on me.
Grandia II was initially released on the Dreamcast in 2000, and then later ported to the PlayStation 2 and PC in 2002. I completed the Dreamcast version, played a bit of the PS2 version, and didn’t play the PC version. The Dreamcast version comes with a soundtrack CD that has twelve tracks of Grandia II related music, and I say related only because there are two remixes not present in the game. I enjoyed the selections and thought they provided a good cross section of Noriyuki Iwadare’s work here. The PS2 version included new CG cutscenes which take advantage of the hardware better, but still have the aspect of clashing with other aspects of the game. I played the PS2 version on a PlayStation 3 and due to this the game looked much crisper; this would probably be the way to play it. The PS2 version didn’t come with anything extra although the manual is very detailed. One of the main complaints against the PS2 version at its release was a poor port job, with the game hitching at times, I didn’t play very much of it, but did notice the game slowed down at points, but never when it mattered.
Grandia II is one of the finest games on the Dreamcast, and a fine Japanese role-playing game. With a well paced story and an incredible battle system, it’s worth seeking out if you’re a fan of JRPGs.
June 18, 2010
XIII is a first-person shooter based on a Belgian comic book series started in the mid eighties that took inspiration from Robert Ludlam’s The Bourne Identity. I have never read the comic books so that isn’t what initially drew me to the game when it first came out; XIII was originally released in November of 2003. I was in love with FPSes and cel-shaded games at that time and this was a godsend. I played it probably six months after it came out and I remember liking it, but not loving it. Recently I’ve had the urge to play it again and since it’s a pretty short game I decided to go ahead and play it.
The game is centered on Steve Rowland, aka XIII, who suffers from amnesia. Apparently he has assassinated the president! Things aren’t what they initially seem as XIII globe trots to figure out if he really is the president’s assassin. Along the way he learns of The XX, a group that has ties to the assassination and which he is a member. It’s worth noting that David Duchovny does the voice work for XIII; Adam West and Eve also do voice work for key characters in the game. It’s also worth noting that they don’t do that great of a job. Adam West gives a performance that seems… like an Adam West performance, the downside of that is that I don’t view him as a serious actor, it’s simply my frame of reference for him, every time he speaks, I hear his dialogue as sarcastic. Eve’s performance wasn’t terrible but David Duchovny’s was, he doesn’t sound committed early on. My biggest problem is there isn’t a ton of exposition that these characters are involved in. Most of XIII’s dialogue consists of one-off questions or statements until the end of the game when he becomes more aware of his past, which is fine for his character but did they really need to get David Duchovny to voice him? I’m sure investing in the game would’ve been better but attaching these “high profile” celebrities probably helped sales in the short term.
Well anyways, the game is an FPS and a competent, if not boring one at that. There isn’t anything I can think of gameplay-wise that it excels at as compared to other FPSes. Nothing in particular was bad about the gunplay and action, but seeing a group of bad guys didn’t excite me, nor did I have different strategies for taking them down. This could be due to the heavy emphasis on sneaking around and a general sense of espionage. Much of the game’s levels require you to remain unseen and this sets it apart from being another “run and gun” shooter, but there is much trial and error and after a while, failing due to something minor gets old. A problem I had later on was hiding bodies. Throughout the game you have the ability to pick up and hide dead bodies, but early on you don’t need to, so towards the end when hiding bodies is a necessity, I found it hard to reprogram the way I had been playing the game up until that point. And with missions that required sneaking, it seems there were varying degrees of AI attentiveness which made it frustrating when something that worked previously, all of a sudden did not.
In gunfights the enemies never seemed lethal and I never felt that I died because they outsmarted me, only ever because they outnumbered me. Whenever I saw an enemy, I just stood in place and shot until he was dead, this method was helped by the abundance of medkits but playing on a harder difficulty would potentially require a change in strategy.
My favorite part of the game without a doubt was the art-style which was brilliant. The game holds up visually and I attribute this to the cel-shading. While nothing in the game is very detailed, the art-style helps offset this and lets everything pop. The graphics weren’t the only thing inspired by the comic book though. Whenever you get a headshot, a three part comic book panel pops up showing in detail the projectile entering the targets head; similar to this, if an enemy falls from a high location another panel comes up showing their descent. In parts that require stealth you’ll need to sneak up on enemies and when you move slowly or stop, you can see their footsteps as indicated by comic book onomatopoeias.
The last thing worth noting is the multiplayer and the exclusive modes depending on which console you purchase the game for. Anyone purchasing XIII this long after it’s come out, I imagine isn’t purchasing it for the multiplayer. It’s competent but not high on my list with friends over, but the game has bots and plenty of maps so it’s worth trying out alone. One big concern of mine is the lack of a dedicated grenade button. Throwing a grenade requires switching from a gun proper to the grenade, and this creates a different dynamic that I found unappealing for a multiplayer match.
The Xbox version (which is backwards compatible with the Xbox 360) has an exclusive mode titled Sabotage. This is a class based mode where one team plants bombs on three bases and the other team defends. The GameCube has The Hunt, which has everyone chasing around Death and shooting him to get points. With each shot he gets smaller and faster and if he touches you you’re instantly killed. The PlayStation 2 has Power Up, as well as The Hunt. Power Up plays out like a normal deathmatch except crates throughout the levels hold everything, from weapons and health to random power ups like invisibility and invulnerability. Although I didn’t play the PC version, it includes all three “exclusive” modes. Overall I found The Hunt to be the most fun and it’s something different from other games; unlike the rest of the multiplayer, this is something I want to try with friends.
XIII was a short and overall mediocre game. It ended with a sense of satisfaction although it does have a cliffhanger ending that leaves many questions unanswered, but for those dedicated enough to want closure, there’s the comic book. The art style was fantastic and while the gameplay isn’t the best, it’s competent enough to stick with it to see the end.
April 19, 2010
My first impressions of Haze were disappointing: after the initial setup for the game I get thrown into the main menu which looked like something from a last-gen game and once I’m into the actual game, I’m introduced to some stereotypical characters. Thinking about these and other lows early on upset me; I grew up with loving TimeSplitters 2 and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect and to think that Free Radical (the developers) had fallen this far since then was depressing. However, as I got farther into game, I enjoyed it more.
I’m not sure why I began enjoying it more though. An hour or so in you defect to the rebels, but the mechanics didn’t change very much, at least enough for me to think “wow, now it’s better.” I think I just lowered my expectations by then. I think a big problem with the game were the expectations for it prior to its release; they were out of proportion. When it was announced that it was a PlayStation 3 exclusive, people began to latch onto it and want it to be great, like with most console exclusive games. Once I lost the mentality that this game had to be great because it was a console exclusive, I enjoyed it more, but that’s a backhanded compliment and not to say the game isn’t good.
The gameplay, like the game overall, is decent. I thought the controls were too stiff, especially for vehicles. I do like that the game doesn’t feel super arcadey like TimeSplitters games do; even something as minor as that adds weight to the story, after all, it seems like Free Radical wanted to make a more serious game, but that’s part of why I think this game is just decent. It seems like Free Radical wanted to make a game that told a story, but the characters weren’t believable and the majority of them feel like cheap jokes on played out stereotypes. Even the main character is hard to like; Shane Carpenter rarely seems like someone who should be in the position he’s in. Throughout the game he consults everybody but himself on what to do next, all the while asking himself who he should be fighting for.
I interpreted the game as being about the Iraq War. You initially fight for Mantel, a large corporation that produces Nectar, a drug that enhances their soldiers’ abilities in battle. Through some errors you begin seeing that Nectar might not be so great while learning later on that you’re in this country because the natives have begun harvesting a key ingredient in Nectar and this would be bad for Mantel’s bottom line. Taking into account that some believe the Iraq War started in part over oil, we can replace all instances of Nectar with oil and it seems close, or perhaps I’m looking too deep into it. The game does touch on some other topics: free will in a very small way, anti-drug sentiments and that people, no matter their differences, are alike.
I found Haze very enjoyable a few hours in, whether this is due to me lowering my expectations or just playing for another side I’m not sure. I only played a few minutes of the multiplayer and thought it was great that they melded it into the fiction but at this point, there aren’t enough people to make the game exciting for me to put any serious time into. Haze was a disappointment compared to the TimeSplitters games, but as an FPS, it gets the job done.