Mass Effect 2: Kasumi – Stolen Memory – Review

Kasumi Goto, not the most famous thief, but the best, is seeking Shepard's help to retrieve some of her past.

Kasumi Goto is an interesting character. She’s a thief, not the most famous, but the best, as she says it, and like the rest of Shepard’s squad in Mass Effect 2, she is interesting and a little different from everyone else. As Kasumi’s Stolen Memory unfolds I learned about her past and why we needed each other’s help; Shepard could obviously use all the help he can get and she needed use of his talents.

Kasumi’s Stolen Memory is basically her loyalty mission. It’s a fun mission and for the most part different from what I’d experienced in Mass Effect 2. Gunplay didn’t play a large part until the latter half, at which point it became a rather tedious shootout. The beginning had me undercover at a party and looking for clues to help her break into the vault of a dubious man, who had something very dear to her. Of course, they get discovered and it’s a series of shootouts to freedom. The ending was a little difficult, but it was a welcome change, up until then, it was monotonous filling guards with lead, or whatever Mass Effect guns use for ammo, until they keeled over.

Besides Kasumi, there is a small amount of loot and a new submachine gun. Kasumi was talkative back on the Normandy, but as was the case with Zaeed, she lacks a conversation wheel so she just spouts info when prompted. She has a unique ability that is both effective and fun to use, but I can’t see her being more useful than anyone of the current squad.

Kasumi’s Stolen Memory was a short play through, but an interesting one, and I not only got a new character from it, but a decent amount of loot. I think seven dollars was a little too much to charge, but I still enjoyed what I played.

Vanquish – Review

Stylish, fast, and fun, I loved Vanquish.

When Clover Studio shut down, I was sad. I loved the games the studio developed for Capcom. Nearly everything they did was critically successful, but not always commercially successful. A little while after they shut down, many of the former employees went on to form Platinum Games, who have made a name for themselves in the past couple of years. Heck, one of the first games I wrote about here (MadWorld) was developed by them. With Vanquish, released in 2010 and published by Sega, they created a spectacular action game. Packed with an unraveling plot, fast gameplay, and variations on the genre, Vanquish is a game I highly recommend.

One of the more interesting weapons was the lock-on laser.

There’s a lot going on with the plot of Vanquish. On the surface, I was just playing as Sam Gideon, DARPA researcher ordered to rescue a kidnapped scientist. But the deeper I got into Vanquish, the more I learned about the true intentions of everyone and their interconnectedness.

Set in the future, Vanquish takes place on a massive space station, the United States’ 51st state. Seeing it’s cityscape in the background of missions was remarkable. It was fantastic to look at and did a great job of giving scale to my surroundings. The Order of the Russian Star has invaded the space station and taken over. After gaining control they attacked San Francisco with a laser and stated that unless the United States surrenders, New York City is next. Not wanting to do that, the President sends in the Marines to quell the threat, along with Sam Gideon.

Sam is a researcher at DARPA, or the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Interestingly enough, DARPA is a real agency in the United States’ Department of Defense that has made many notable developments, such as the foundations of the Internet. DARPA sees this as the perfect opportunity to test out their Augmented Reaction Suit, or ARS. This suit is quite awesome, less so is the Battlefield Logic Adaptable Electronic Weapons System, or BLADE; I‘ll talk about those acronyms and their features shortly.

The ability to boost made Vanquish feel different from other third-person shooters.

I really liked Sam. He had a very casual attitude; even with the multitude of near death experiences he had he usually remained calm. He also showed signs of altruism, frequently rescuing his ally Marines when they needed rescued. Contrasting him was Robert Burns, the leader of the Marines. He was more concerned on finishing the mission he was assigned, no matter the cost. Throughout the game the two had much back and forth banter and it was fun listening to them.

So Vanquish is a third-person cover-based shooter. But because Sam is equipped with the ARS, the game is fast-paced, something most of the games in this genre can’t cop to. You might think I’m a little masochistic when I say I liked the game the most when the odds were stacked against me, but the gameplay really excelled in these situations. In battles I was either facing a lot of normal enemies, or a few really big ones. Using the features of the ARS made these shootouts challenging and entertaining.

The first cool feature of the ARS is the boosters attached to it. At the push of a button I had Sam boosting around the battlefield at a fast clip. I could quickly flank enemies or boost into cover when need be. I was limited on how much I could do this however; overdoing it would overheat the ARS. Boosting was easy to do and thrilling in the heat of battle.

Robert Burns acts as the commanding officer of the Marines for the mission they've been assigned. Him and Sam butt heads often.

The most notable feature of the ARS however is the AR Mode, aka Augmented Reaction Mode. With a simple button combo I entered this slow motion mode, allowing me greater control of my actions and more precision. Like boosting, I was limited by the same overheating gauge on the ARS. Regulating the AR Mode and boost was necessary to overcoming the enemy threat. By the end, I had become very accustomed to triggering the AR Mode, popping off headshots, and getting back into cover without overheating the ARS.

The last acronym at Sam’s disposal was BLADE, but it’s not that great actually. I basically had one weapon, but by scanning weapons I’d find on the battlefield, Sam’s BLADE would replicate them. He can only hold three weapons at a time (plus grenades) so it’s not like I could scan everything willy-nilly and have a stacked arsenal. Personally, I preferred sticking with a machine gun and the heavy machine gun, rotating my third spot out to experiment with the other weapons. The usual suspects were present but there were plenty of weapons that had interesting effects.

An interesting mechanic involving the weapons was the ability to upgrade them. Every now and then an enemy would drop an upgrade that I could pick up. But the most frequent way I leveled up my weapons was picking up ammunition. If a specific weapon had full ammo, and I picked up ammo for that weapon, a bar would appear next to that weapon. After doing this a few times the weapon would increase a level, eventually maxing out at ten. This had an interesting effect on my strategy. I really liked the machine gun, but I would refrain from using, hoping to find ammo to level it up. As weapons leveled up, they could hold more ammo and did more damage.

I was hooked on Vanquish from the start. Watching the plot unravel kept me motivated to play. As did the chemistry between Sam and Burns; they always bickered, but worked together; it was like a buddy film. Boosting around the battlefield was a blast and differentiated the game from its peers. The AR Mode was vital to success, as was managing the ARS’ temperature, which became second nature. Weapons felt good and upgrading them also set Vanquish apart from other games. Vanquish feels like a complete package; it’s well designed and a blast that I’m going to replay as soon as I’m done writing.

In Between Posts, June 27, 2011

I completed Vanquish last week. I wrote a review for it and that’ll go up tomorrow morning. I really liked the game. It took me about seven hours to complete. Some might say that is short, but I’m perfectly okay with it’s length. I didn’t play anything else last week, in fact I started a second play through of Vanquish. It shouldn’t take me that long. At the moment I’m undecided about what I’ll play next.

After purchasing the stack of Nintendo Power magazines, I’ve had the urge to resume work on my video game magazine database. I decided to trash what I had worked on and start anew. I wanted to do it in Microsoft Access, but I couldn’t get it setup just the way I wanted it. Instead, I’m doing it in Microsoft Excel, which isn’t the prettiest, but it will serve my purpose.

Vanquish review tomorrow!

Oklahoma Video Game Expo 2011

Okay. So I have been to the Oklahoma Video Game Expo before, but that was a couple of years ago. The OVGE 2011 was held on June 18, 2011 (last Saturday) and I attended it with a pal. It ran from 9 AM to 5 PM, but I had to work at 11 AM so I didn’t get to stay long, but I experienced a lot that was there. The thing I enjoyed most about the expo was the atmosphere. The passion for video games had brought us all there, and the few conversations I did have, were just great.

Admission was five dollars and the first table we checked out was a retailer from St. Louis. He had some harder to find games for an array of consoles. Vendors were in the majority at the OVGE 2011, and vendors specializing in older, harder to find games more specifically. The next table was a vendor as well. But after that was a table run by a very enthusiastic gentleman. He was hosting the “Bad Game Beatdown”, displaying his collection of notoriously bad video games.

Proceeding along we walked along a wall filled with about twenty arcade and pinball machines. My friend and I played game of Street Fighter II: Champion Edition, I lost. We checked out a table with many old computers and I played a little bit of Zork I. We checked out some more vendors, among them some local favorites, Vintage Stock and GameXChange.

In between that however, we had a good chat with the dudes who run Nintendo Okie. They were asking trivia questions to anyone who wanted a shot at winning a free game. We both attempted and lost. We definitely enjoyed it though.

And the most important conversation for me was getting to talk to Brett Weiss, basically asking him many questions. He has written a couple of books dedicated to describing every North American video game release for specific consoles. For instance his book Classic Home Video Games: 1985-1988 covers every North American release for the Atari 7800, Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Master System, all released within that time frame. The books in this series are basically reference guides, and they’re right up my alley. I really enjoyed talking with him.

That pretty much sums up my experience with the OVGE 2011. There was of course much more going on throughout the day, but I wasn’t fortunate enough to stay. There were also many more vendors and exhibitors that I didn’t mention. I refrained from making any purchases, although I was tempted by many items. I’m looking forward to attending next year’s expo, hopefully staying much longer, getting to experience many classic video games and have plenty of conversations.

Oklahoma Video Game Expo 2011

In Between Posts, June 20, 2011

I completed the third and fourth acts in Vanquish this past week. I didn’t have a lot of time to play video games this week but yesterday I was able to knock out the third and fourth acts, which means I might be able to complete Vanquish this week.

And that’s all I played, but there are two other things of note I did last week.

I attended the Oklahoma Video Game Expo on Saturday (June 18, 2011). It was held in Bixby, Oklahoma at the SpiritBank Event Center. I went with a friend and couldn’t stay that long as I also had to work that day, but for the short amount of time I was there I could tell the atmosphere was very friendly. It wasn’t that large but there was enough there to merit a post about. I will talk about it more in-depth this week.

I also purchased a stack of thirty-four Nintendo Power magazines from the late eighties and early nineties, so yeah. I picked them up at an estate sale and was ecstatic to see the first issue of Nintendo Power was there.

Anyways I’ll keep trucking in Vanquish, post my thoughts about the OVGE this week, maybe along with another article.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – Review

As was the case with The Legend of Zelda, there is a little cutout to show the golden NES cart.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is drastically different from its predecessor. With a sword and shield equipped, Link still travels Hyrule’s reaches in an effort to save princess Zelda, but the way I did it as a player was different.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link was developed and published by Nintendo, and released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988. The Adventure of Link takes place a few years after The Legend of Zelda. One day, Link notices a Triforce appear on the back of his hand. He seeks out Impa who shows him that princess Zelda has fallen into a slumber. Impa tells Link why this is, and that to wake Zelda, he must retrieve the Triforce of Courage from the Great Palace. Entry to the Great Palace cannot be gained until six magical crystals are placed in six palaces spread throughout Hyrule.

As I left Zelda's bedside and ventured into Hyrule, I saw that the overworld is presented quite differently.

With my objective known, I left princess Zelda’s castle and ventured out into Hyrule. Like The Legend of Zelda, I controlled Link on the overworld and saw Hyrule via a top-down perspective, looking down on him. Unlike The Legend of Zelda however, I did not move from screen to screen. Instead of moving around the overworld one screen at a time, I was free to move about as I pleased, or so I thought.

After walking around for a little bit, enemy silhouettes appeared. I could try and avoid them, but if I wasn’t successful a battle would start. My view of Link changed in the battle. Instead of being above him as on the overworld, I now saw him from the side; The Adventure of Link became a side-scrolling game when I saw him from the side. To return to the overworld, I had to walk to either end of the battle scene. I do call these battle scenes for a reason however, there are enemies hindering my exit, but defeating them earns experience points. Once I had enough experience points, I was able to level up an attribute: strength, health, or magic. Leveling up strength made my attacks stronger, leveling up health allowed me to take more damage, and leveling up magic made my spells use less magic.

Battles took place on the terrain I was on when I touched the enemy silhouette. If I was in a swamp, I would have a harder time moving about the battle scene. If I had touched an enemy on a road I wouldn’t have to fight them at all. Knowing this I was able to avoid battles if I was near a road. Depending on where I was the enemies would be different as well. As I got farther into the game, the enemies became tougher but were worth more experience. If I lost all my health, I would lose a life. I began with three lives each time I played and if I lost all three, it was game over.

Following the road from Zelda’s castle led me to a town. One of my complaints about The Legend of Zeldawas the lack of human life, so I was happy to see a town. Entering the town again shifted my view of Link to the side. Throughout the game there were many more towns. In towns I talked with residents and learned more about Hyrule and my next objective. After completing side quests, I was also able to learn new magic spells, vital to the completion of the game.

With the exception of the overworld, The Adventure of Link is a side-scrolling game.

After exploring more of Hyrule I eventually ran into a palace. It was in palaces that I needed to set the six crystals I had, necessary to opening the Great Palace. Undertaking palaces was also a side-scrolling affair. I navigated my way through each palace’s myriad of rooms, eventually coming across an item vital to my progression. These items were usually related to navigating the overworld and reaching new areas. Searching palaces thoroughly would bring me to the boss of the palace. Boss fights were tough; if I was lucky I wouldn’t lose all my lives, having to restart at Zelda’s castle, but this wasn’t always the case.

Once I had ventured through all of Hyrule, found every item, learned every magic spell, it was finally time for me to attempt the Great Palace. It was an endeavor that took me a few hours and much rage. Getting to the Great Palace was almost as tough as the palace itself. I had to make my way through many forced battles, battles I could not avoid, but I was able to overcome this obstacle relatively easily.

The Great Palace was bigger than any of the previous palaces, in fact, it was probably twice as big as any other palace, and its layout was much more confusing. The enemies inside were the toughest in the game, but I evaded as many as I could, saving my health and lives for the boss battle. I knew I was getting closer when I came across a fairy (restores all of Link’s health) and an extra life.

And there it was a giant red bird, a third of the screen or larger, shooting fireballs everywhere. It took me a few lives before I realized that I had to cast the strongest magic spell in Link’s arsenal, and only then was the bird vulnerable. Even then I still had to restart a couple of times, but luckily I restarted at the entrance of the Great Palace and not at Zelda’s castle. I conquered it and walked down the hallway to find the Triforce of Courage, but then it disappeared and Link’s shadow began attacking me! I had to defeat Shadow Link, which was also quite difficult. But I prevailed; I completed Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, one of the toughest games I’ve managed to beat.

Classic.

Like I did with The Legend of Zelda, I also made a collection of maps to go along with The Adventure of Link. There are some spots in the game where it is necessary to make a map. The maze of Death Mountain and the Great Palace come to mind. Mapping the palaces was a tad difficult, but the overworld was as easy as or easier than mapping it in The Legend of Zelda. It lengthened the time it took me to complete The Adventure of Link, but it helped me out in the end. I was able to max out each of Link’s attributes and I found every heart and magic container hidden in Hyrule.

And here is my completed overworld map for the game. I might fill in the ocean at some point, but I'm pleased with it for now.

So, I’ve talked a lot about the game now and I hope whoever reads this knows a lot more about how the game plays, but what do I think about it? I liked a lot about Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Having way more NPCs and actual towns made Hyrule feel more alive, something I didn’t like about The Legend of Zelda. The Adventure of Link retained a strong emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving, while still maintaining a lot of action. The combat is where the game falls apart for me. My actions didn’t seem as precise as they needed to be to defeat some enemies, and a lot of enemies were frustrating because what I did wasn’t effective or they took a lot of damage. Having to restart at Zelda’s castle was frustrating, especially when I was trying to get on the other side of Hyrule. It was a difficult game, especially in the end. If someone was interested in playing it, I’d recommend until they reached the Great Palace. It was very difficult and required a lot of motivation, but then again being able to say I completed Zelda II: The Adventure of Link is pretty awesome.

In Between Posts, June 13, 2011

I knew towards the middle of the week last week I wasn’t going to complete either Zelda II: The Adventure of Link or Vanquish in time to post something. Because of this I was able to write my first accessory review, for Acclaim’s Double Player System. It was interesting to tackle an accessory instead of a game and I’ll do it again in the future.

I was able to complete Zelda II: The Adventure of Link since last week however. I completed it on Sunday and boy, the final palace was tough! I don’t know exactly when I’ll get a review of it posted, but I’m already working on it. After getting a couple missions into the second act of Vanquish, I decided to focus my attention on Zelda II and complete it.

So I’ll post a review of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link this week and continue to play Vanquish.