In Between Posts, August 28, 2011

Well I finally posted my Grandia Xtreme review last week. Honestly I didn’t complete the game though. I made it to the boss before the final boss and it was crazy difficult, so I’m going to grind for a long time until I can over power the end bosses. I’ll focus on other games and try to play Grandia Xtreme every now and then; I’ll probably zone out with a podcast and grind some levels.

Besides that I posted two impressions for some demos. The first was Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine which was an okay third-person shooter. It’s worth noting that it’s my only foray into the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The other demo I played last week was Hamilton’s Great Adventure, which I thought was a stellar puzzle game.

I didn’t have a lot of time for video games last week; school took up the brunt of my time. I did play OutRun Online Arcade and I should post a review of that this week. My girlfriend and I resumed our game in The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure and are making solid progress in that. I also picked up Pokemon HeartGold for the first time in a long time. I played an hour or two of that and took my PokeWalker with me to work for one day, and wound up sending it through the washer; as of now it doesn’t work.

I’ll post my review of OutRun Online Arcade this week, and maybe some demo impressions.

Oh, and I decided to start adding a score to my reviews. Grandia Xtreme is the first game to get a score.

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Hamiton’s Great Adventure – Demo Impressions

Reminiscent of Indiana Jones, Hamilton's Great Adventure is charming puzzle game.

Hamilton’s Great Adventure is a charming puzzle video game. It was released for the PC earlier in the year, but just came out as a PlayStation Network game this week. It was developed and published by Fatshark, one of the teams that emerged after the dissolution of Grin.

I thought the perspective the game was told from was very interesting. The titular character Ernest Hamilton is now a grandfather and he’s babysitting his granddaughter. He tells her of his adventures when he was younger. For the player, this played out as a sepia-toned photograph slideshow, setting up the plot.

Hamilton and his professor friend had built an amazing contraption, but a thief has stolen a valuable part from it: the Fluxatron. The Professor believes he knows who the thief is, and suggests Hamilton should search the jungles of South America.

I controlled a young Hamilton as he traversed stages of platforms attempting to get a key which would unlock the exit. The pathways were linear early on in the demo, forcing me to go a specific route as I learned the ropes. The last couple of stages however were quite challenging. They were much larger and contained many obstacles; figuring these out required a multistep approach. Collecting every pickup enticed me into replaying stages too.

While this stage may seem daunting, you just have to take it one step at a time.

I enjoyed the gameplay and the control I had over Hamilton. He was not alone; I would occasionally have to take control of Sasha, his parrot to flip a switch; this added another element of puzzle solving. As I said earlier, I liked the narrative, it was fun and the characters were comedic. The music really stood out in the demo, it was very relaxing. The few stages the demo showed ranged from easy to challenging and I hope the game has a worthwhile amount of stages. I think Hamilton’s Great Adventure is a charming puzzle game and well worth ten dollars.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine – Demo Impressions

Does anyone remember The Outfit? Relic developed that game too. I kind of liked it...

The tabletop game Warhammer 40,000 is a well known property when it comes to video game culture. I believe it has had a major impact on many games, and the property has spawned a few itself. But I have had no exposure with the property outside of reading previews and reviews for past Warhammer 40,000 games. But the demo for Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine just released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and I thought I’d try it out. It combines third-person shooting with brutal hack and slash gameplay and does so well, but it just wasn’t for me.

There were two missions to undertake in the Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine demo. The first was titled The Inquisitor. I fought a lot of orks in a battle-ridden industrial area as I made my way to a crane, and eventually to an elevator out of the area. There were a ton of enemies and I wasn’t sure if I should use melee attacks or fire my weapons. Using my melee attacks did a lot of damage, but I lost health very quickly and died a few times. On the other hand my weapons were fairly strong, but the orks advanced so fast it seemed like I was always walking or jumping backwards as I fought them.

The second mission was titled Battlements. I very quickly found a jet pack that my character equipped. With it I could launch myself into the air and then come crashing back to earth by doing a ground pound. If any enemies were immediately nearby they would explode in a gory mess, any stragglers that were close enough to be affected were stunned and easy prey; I could perform absolutely brutal executions on stunned enemies.

Orks always seemed to be lurking around the corner, in large groups no less.

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine from the outset played like a very familiar game. In the wake of Gears of War, the third-person shooter genre has come to life. But there are many games that can’t compare and Space Marine is one of them. The characters had a great sense of weight. They were bulky and wore these huge suits of armor, and they moved like it, which is a great quality, but not for me. The design of the game is consistent with the Warhammer 40,000 universe: a blend of futuristic and industrial aesthetics, but it looks like many other video games and didn’t pique my interest. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine seems like an adequate third-person action game, but it didn’t strike a chord with me. Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is developed by Relic Entertainment and is being published by THQ, scheduled to release September 6, 2011 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.

Grandia Xtreme – Review

The manual for this game is thick! It's high quality and really informative.

Developed by Game Arts and published by Enix, Grandia Xtreme was the third game in the series to be released in the United States. It came out in 2002 for the PlayStation 2 and is notable for being a departure from Grandia and Grandia II. Instead of playing like a traditional Japanese role-playing game where players follow a town-dungeon-town format, Grandia Xtreme focuses on dungeon crawling. The dungeons are plentiful and they are challenging. But Grandia Xtreme has an identity crisis. Game Arts tried to get the best of both genres and came up short.

I assumed the role of Evann, a young Ranger who has distaste for the military, especially for one of its commanding officers, Colonel Kroitz. However, they come seeking his skills. After refusing to assist the army, they kidnap him. Once he wakes up he is briefed by the military and eventually agrees to lend them a hand, begrudgingly.

There have been a number of environmental disorders and the military thinks it might have something to do with ancient ruins located nearby, go figure. So Evann, along with a ragtag group of fellow warriors quell the disorders by removing ancient slabs from the heart of these ruins. After the disorders have been taken care of, Kroitz takes these slabs and opens a fifth ruin and it’s apparent he’s up to no good. While this was immediately clear from the first time he spoke, it took the gang forever to figure out he simply wanted to harness Quanlee, the ultimate power.

There are plenty of brutal attacks to witness in Grandia Xtreme.

Remember how I said Grandia Xtreme differs from Grandia and Grandia II? Well, the biggest difference between these three is their format. Grandia and Grandia II stuck with a familiar town-dungeon-town format, and generally speaking the dungeons in these two games weren’t that tough.

Grandia Xtreme instead has a primary town (Locca) that the group works from, although there was a second town to be fair (Escarre). Instead of adventuring around and exploring new areas, I simply warped to the dungeon I needed to go to; and these were tough! In general they were much larger and held tougher enemies than the previous games. Same goes for the boss battles; these guys were tough, requiring level grinding at the end.

The best thing about the Grandia games has always been the combat, and Grandia Xtreme excels here. The battle system is pretty much directly lifted from Grandia II. Throw in the ability to fight more enemies at once and speed it up a little, and it’s the best of the three. Magic and skills function the same way, although mana eggs have slightly changed. This time around, eggs can be combined to form new eggs, and there are a lot of combinations to figure out.

Okay, so besides the format, there are other qualities of Grandia Xtreme that made me say it has an identity crisis. First off, six of the seven companions that join Evann, join him at the same time; and there is really little exposition for them. Throughout the game, I learned a little more about them individually, but they were really flat characters. In comparison, Grandia and Grandia II featured many characters that grew throughout their adventures. The second major aspect that draws my criticism is the item format. I would’ve preferred randomly dropped loot from enemies instead of acquiring gear as I would in a traditional RPG: buying better gear when it’s available from the store.

I don’t usually do this but there were a lot of minor gripes I had with Grandia Xtreme that I’m going to have a complaint dump. There’s not a lot of voice acting in the game, and what’s present is either overacted or just spoken awkwardly. There wasn’t much depth the characters or overarching storyline. Not including an item that could warp me back to town stunk, as did the infrequent save opportunities. The camera moved slowly in dungeons and I would’ve preferred having the camera controls mapped to the right analog stick rather than L1 and R1. Characters crossed paths too often in battle, canceling their turns. On the bright side, load times were practically nonexistent; much better.

I really want to say I enjoyed Grandia Xtreme. Leveling up characters and equipping them with new gear, just to watch their stats incrementally improve is somehow exciting to me and Grandia Xtreme was very pleasing. The dungeons were challenging and fulfilling, and the battle system is top notch. But, I’m glad to be done with the game, and can’t recommend it over Grandia or Grandia II.

2/5

Toy Soldiers: Cold War – Demo Impressions

Is that Rambo?

Developed by Signal Studios and published by Microsoft Studios, Toy Soldiers: Cold War is a charming real-time strategy game for Xbox Live Arcade.

As the title suggests, I oversaw an army of toy soldiers fighting it out against the Soviets. I was tasked with protecting my army’s toy box from the enemy army. To do so I set a variety of weapon emplacements in predefined locations. As the oncoming army would march towards my toy box, my emplacements would take them out. If you’ve played a tower defense game before, you know what’s in store. I had to plan and often times think on my feet when picking out a weapon. Did I want a machine gun effective against infantry, or an anti-tank emplacement, etc?

I could also jump into one of these emplacements and control them directly, gaining bonuses as I got kills. At one point I was able to control a Rambo-inspired soldier who wielded a machine gun and a rocket launcher simultaneously as he spouted off one-liners. I was enamored with the management aspects of the battle however and didn’t take direct control often.

I liked the scenery around the battlefield.

I had a blast picking out emplacements and watching the enemy army advance on my position, only to fall to my army; this was rewarding. Being able to fight as individual units, such as the helicopter, was fun as well, but it didn’t compare to watching a plan come together as I hovered above the battlefield. Besides the gameplay, I just liked the concept of the game. Fighting on top of a table and seeing the room around me created a realistic sense of scale.

I really liked Toy Soldiers: Cold War. That said, some might find the game to be too simple, but I think it’s a great entry for someone who hasn’t played many strategy games. It was also easy, but the demo was set to the easiest difficulty. Besides those gripes, I really liked Toy Soldiers: Cold War and highly recommend it.

In Between Posts, August 21, 2011

Returning to school last week cut into my gaming/writing time so I was only able to pump out one article: my demo impressions of Bodycount. I was also played the demo for Toy Soldiers: Cold War however and should post my demo impressions of that game tomorrow.

Besides those two demos I did play a few other games. I barely played any Grandia Xtreme but I plan on playing it tonight. I played a little bit of Halo 3 online attempting to clean up my achievements in that game. Surprisingly I played a good deal of OutRun Online Arcade. I purchased this game late last year and played a little then. I’m going to write a review for it, but want to play more of it. I’m expecting late this week or next week for that, pending free time that is. Lastly I played a level of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure  with my girlfriend. We’ve played it previously but lost our save file. We definitely want to beat it and I’d like to write about it, but who knows when either will happen.

I’ll post my demo impressions of Toy Soldiers: Cold War tomorrow and we’ll see what else happens this week.

Bodycount – Demo Impressions

The question is, will the game actually keep a bodycount?

Do you remember Black? It was a first-person shooter released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2006, and it attempted to do something different with the genre. The developers behind it were Criterion, known for developing the Burnout games, a series of racing games that emphasized crashing as much as racing. With Black, they put an emphasis on destruction and explosions. For instance, instead of just shooting your enemy, shoot the explosive barrel next to your enemy. Besides that, Criterion lovingly recreated real life guns, eventually labeling the game as gun-porn. Well Black 2 never materialized, but some of the former developers of Black are getting a second chance with Bodycount.

The demo for Bodycount opens up with a brief mission summary for my character. A militia has massacred some army soldiers in a West African city and I’m being sent in to find out why, and take them out if they use force. Naturally they attacked me and I was forced to take them out.

As I meandered through a slum, I occasionally noticed red barrels and other explosive containers, conveniently located next to militia members. I of course decided to shoot these instead of the bad guys and received points for doing so. I believe killing my enemies in special ways built a multiplier, implying that levels can be replayed for higher scores, although the demo wasn’t long enough for me to get a good sense of this.

There weren’t a lot of obvious opportunities for me to take out these militia members in creative ways though. Sure there were explosive barrels scattered around, but there weren’t really a ton of them, at least easily noticeable. I also increased my multiplier by getting headshots and killing enemies through cover, but if I want to play a first-person shooter with a score mechanic, Bulletstorm from earlier in the year seems like a better option.

Prepare for explosions, you'll being seeing them a lot.

The area I played in was very run down with debris and shoddy buildings all around. It looked very nice, but this area seemed like pretty much any other war torn ghetto from a first-person shooter. Same goes for the weapons I used. I had a machine gun and a shotgun and they operated as one would expect them too. However as I killed enemies they dropped pickups that would fill up special skills. The only one available in the demo was incendiary ammo, which I think was more powerful than normal ammo, but I couldn’t really tell.

While the premise of Bodycount is interesting: kill in creative ways and destroy your environment, it’s my belief that there are other games that do it better. I found the other aspects of the game pretty middling. The area I played in was terrible looking (in a good way) but it looks like many other first-person shooters. And it controls like them too, albeit, my character moved around rather slowly, and I just didn’t care for the overall feel of character movement. That said, it’s still seems like a pretty good game, but not a day one purchase for me. Bodycount is to be published by Codemasters and being developed by their Guildford Studio. It’s scheduled to come out on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on August 30, 2011.