Towards the end of Breakdown, after a protracted fist fight against Solus, the game’s shirtless Sephiroth stand-in and resident antagonist, my amnesiac avatar Derrick Cole lie battered on the floor. Unable to save Earth from encroaching T’lan warriors, Derrick bore witness to humanity’s last best hope: a nuclear bomb to the heart of Site Zero, the very spot he rested. Twenty years later he woke up in someone else’s body, his memories having been transferred. The T’lan have overrun earth but he’s been given another shot. I, too, suffered a bout of amnesia with Breakdown. I played it years ago just up to completion and have always recalled it fondly. My memories failed me. Continue reading Breakdown [Xbox] – Review→
Arguably, video games had their strongest hold on me when I was in high school. It was the middle of the 2000s before the disappearance of practically all video game magazines in the United States. My friends and I were glued to them almost more than the games themselves. For us, it was hard to ignore Advent Rising, even if none of us had an Xbox, nor had the ability or the desire to get one. Particularly, Game Informer’s cover story comes to mind, along with EGM and Play’s coverage. When I finally played it a couple of years ago, I was able to experience the lackluster sci-fi epic myself. The story was undoubtedly the high point, and I did eke some enjoyment out of the combat, but it was a mediocre affair overall. I’m glad to have played it but feel no need to return to it.
Advent Rising was the sole game GlyphX Games developed. It wasn’t their sole output however. Curiously, it appears they also designed many box arts in the late 1990s/early 2000s. When the studio floundered, key personnel went on to form Chair Entertainment and they’ve produced many noteworthy titles since. The game was published by Majesco and is perhaps most infamously known for the million dollar contest that never materialized. It was released on the Xbox and PC in North America on May 31, 2005.
Now here’s a genre that has subsided as the cost of video game development has risen. Thinking back to the period that this game was released, both Microsoft and Nintendo had first party snowboarding games, while Sony had the original SSX exclusively, not to mention a few other third-party snowboarding games. This period also saw the bubble of extreme sports video games, which we don’t see as often anymore. I haven’t played Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding, but I recall it (and its predecessors) being well received. A quick scan of its Wikipedia page reveals that it made use of the Xbox’s built-in hard drive. It allowed for entire mountains to be played on (instead of single courses as in SSX or 1080°) and the ability to create custom soundtracks. I’ve always enjoyed this style of game and look forward to playing Microsoft’s answer to the genre.
Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding was developed by Indie Built. The studio had a long history dating back to the early days of commercial PC video games (then known as Access Software), and are perhaps most known for their Tex Murphy or Links series’ of games. This was a launch title for the Xbox, releasing November 19, 2001 in the U.S. Microsoft purchased the studio in 1999, and thus published this game under their Microsoft Game Studios label.
When you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.
My experience with the Panzer Dragoon series is limited. When my friend purchased a Saturn a year or two ago, Panzer Dragoon was one of the first games he got. We played a small chunk of it and enjoyed it. Other than that, I’ve fawned over Panzer Dragoon Saga on eBay and daydreamed about finding a copy at a garage sale. I’ve always been interested in the series, and when I purchased this game early last year, I finally granted myself the best opportunity to play one of the games. What I remember most about this game was reading the strategy guide in a period Tips & Tricks magazine. It seemed like there was a lot of unlockables and a lot of various requirements. A game I’ll need to check out.
Panzer Dragoon Orta was developed by Smilebit and released exclusively on the Xbox. It was published by Sega; originally on December 19, 2002 in Japan with the North American released happening January 14, 2003. All previous games had been developed by Team Andromeda, which was folded together with a few other companies to form Smilebit. Despite this, it was the first (and last, I suppose) game to feature no involvement from Yukio Futatsugi, the director for the previous games. He has since made Crimson Dragon on the Xbox One.
I could go into excruciating detail about the narrative and highlight all of the major plot points of Shenmue II, but I won’t. Actually, I can’t say that I won’t because I did and I’m just not publishing it. What I wrote was a two page article that read more like a set of game notes. I dove fairly deep into explaining the three major sections of the game and even then, I barely scratched the surface. What you as someone who is unfamiliar with this game needs to know is that Shenmue II is narratively rich, yet ultimately unfulfilling. Narratively speaking, that is. It’s still a joy to play.
In short, the game picks up directly where the original left off. Ryo Hazuki has travelled to Hong Kong to exact revenge on the mysterious Chinese man who murdered his father. Ryo investigates the Wan Chai and Kowloon areas of Hong Kong in a similar manner as he did in Yokosuka. He follows up on leads by asking residents, gets into street fights and other scuffles, and finds odd jobs to pay his bills. All this eventually culminates in a trip to a remote village where an event that has been foreshadowed since the beginning occurs. The beginning of this sequence had my friend and I sit straight up as we knew what would follow was very important. However, eleven years after its original American release, the cliffhanger ending is still unresolved and the current stopping point for this ill-fated trilogy.
As I mentioned, the structure of the game is identical to its predecessor, although elements have been improved. The primary emphasis was still on investigation and completing odd tasks and I found their resolutions very rewarding. Brawls and QTEs were still a large part too, but they seemed less prevalent. I find it peculiar that the fighting system appears to have such depth and yet it was hardly utilized. This made it a little tough for my friend and me towards the end as the rising action and climax consists of dozens of easy and tough fights. Needless to say, we relied very heavily on simple punches and combos.
And what a climax! These last few hours were simultaneously tumultuous to play and epic to witness. Kicked off by a stressful quest to raise money, my friend and I spent a solid hour gambling and resetting the game when things didn’t go our way. This was followed up by a convoluted trek through 18 floors of a massive 40 floor building. The dozens of fights Ryo had provided closure for the events that took place in Kowloon and they eventually led to a climactic scene where Ryo caught up with Lan Di. Although nothing transpired between the two, he now knows that Ryo is after him. Afterwards, the chance encounter that had my friend and I sit at attention was drawn out, torturous, and a great opportunity for two characters to become acquainted before finding out their destinies lie with each other.
I’m doing it again. I’m trying to delve into the narrative and I just need to stop. There’s a reason this series has such a zealous fan base. Shenmue and Shenmue II are fantastic examples of the narrative-driven single player video game. An epic coming of age tale coupled with exploration, investigation, and action. The blend of gameplay elements kept the game fresh and despite a few tumultuous sequences and the occasional camera or control issues, Shenmue II was an overwhelmingly positive experience. The passion of Yu Suzuki and his development team shines through in this game as it did in the original. Now, what about Shenmue III?
Always willing to spend a few extra bucks when it comes to video games, I picked up the limited collector’s edition of Doom 3 when I purchased it way back when.
The first thing you notice about it is its case. Instead of the standard plastic Xbox case, the limited collector’s edition comes in a metal tin. However, unlike the two previous collector’s editions I’ve reviewed, the Doom 3 limited collector’s edition is not a SteelBook package. The package is common among other collector’s editions, but I prefer the SteelBooks; this one seems cheaper.
The Doom 3 logo on the case is raised and that’s cool, but the thing I like most about its overall appearance is the slipcover. The case contains the logo in front of a pentagram and the case is all gray. The slipcover, at least on the front is clear except for the Doom 3 logo; it’s in color and I liked the stark contrast between the gray background and the orange logo.
What about the actual contents? Well the best part of the package is the inclusions of Ultimate Doom and Doom II: Hell on Earth. The inclusion of these two makes this the version of Doom 3 to buy hands down. While Doom3 doesn’t feature split-screen co-op or multiplayer, these two do, so that’s also nice.
There are also some videos with the limited collector’s edition. By far the best is the episode of Icons (an old G4 TV show) covering Doom. It’s about twenty minutes long and it’s a great reference to learn more about Doom and id Software. There are a handful of developer interviews with key people at id Software and these are cool. Lastly there’s concept art and that’s okay, except for the inability to pause the concept art slideshow.
All in all I thought Doom 3 was an excellent game and after searching the internet it appears that the limited collector’s edition goes for a few more dollars than the standard edition, well worth it in my opinion. The previous versions of Doom and Doom II are worth the extra money alone, but the videos are for the most part great, the concept art is good, and the case is cooler than the standard edition. If you’re purchasing the Xbox version of Doom 3, the limited collector’s edition is the way to go.
Released about a decade after the previous installment, Doom 3 reset the series but maintained its place as a forerunner for things to come in terms of technical specs. But it wasn’t just a technical powerhouse in its day; it has solid gameplay with many neat features.
Doom 3 was originally developed by id Software while the Xbox version was ported by Vicarious Visions. It was published by Activision on April 3, 2005, eight months after the initial PC release. Flipping through the manual I also noticed that Raven Software received a credit for additional Xbox development and that Splash Damage was credited for additional multiplayer design; many people worked on this game for sure.
Doom 3 is set on Mars in 2145. The Union Aerospace Corporation has a research facility there and they have been conducting many experiments, and a lot of things have been going wrong. Enter Councilor Elliot Swann. He has been sent in to conduct a review of the UAC, primarily the facility’s head scientist, Dr. Malcolm Betruger. The nameless marine that I played as arrived on Mars with Swann and his bodyguard, Jack Campbell, a beefed up marine. Pretty much as soon as we landed all hell broke loose, literally, and from then on I was always trying to catch up to Swann and Campbell.
As I’m sure you can imagine, Betruger has gone crazy and is behind the strange occurrences happening. He had been working on teleportation technology and in the process opened a portal to hell. After sending marines in to bring back demons to research, Betruger went in himself and lost it. With the UAC facility running wild with demons and zombies, it was up to Swann, Campbell, and me to get to Betruger and close off said portal. This was easier said than done.
I began the game separated from Swann and Campbell and spent the rest of the game playing catch up. I made my way through hallways upon hallways of linear stages attempting to reunite with them. There weren’t any open environments or differing paths to take in Doom 3. I simply followed the path and whenever I reached a locked door or something that hindered my progression, I found the key card or whatever it was I needed and kept on.
The UAC facility wasn’t empty though. I’d run into the random straggler who had somehow survived and they’d usually provide me with important information. But the most common residents of the complex were demons. There were tons of demons throughout the complex, often time hiding in what has since been termed “monster closets”.
The designs for these creatures are absolutely grotesque. The more common Imp was humanoid but had a dirty looking exterior and ten eyes. Worse of all, he could leap at me or throw fireballs. These were all over the place and not that tough, I eventually just shotgun rushed them. There were many more demons however and plenty of them took a lot to take down. I have to mention the final boss and just mention that it was epic and a fairly tough fight.
There were plenty of weapons to choose from and all the staples are accounted for: the pistol, shotgun, machine gun, etc. But the weapons I really loved (although I really loved the shotgun) were the super powerful weapons. A hallmark of the series, the BFG 9000 is present and it’s devastating. It fires a green orb that destroys pretty much everything in the same room. The chainsaw was interesting and fantastic to use against the weaker enemies. Another noteworthy weapon was the Soul Cube. A remnant from a lost civilization, it was super powerful and when used, restored my health completely. But I had to get five kills before I could use it. I do have a complaint about the weapons. I didn’t like the way they felt; it didn’t feel like I was bludgeoning a zombie with my flashlight when I hit them; perhaps this had to do with the otherwise exceptional sound design.
While I mentioned earlier that game is linear, and it is, I still got a minor sense of exploration. As I searched every nook and cranny with my flashlight, I was usually rewarded with extra ammunition or health supplies, very nice. Usually I was also rewarded with a few extra demons to fight too. One moment that sticks out in my mind: I was walking through a server room and I spotted some armor shards in a completely black corner, as I picked them up an Imp appeared in front of me and spooked me. I felt like I was getting rewarded for having a keen eye, while also getting more out of the game in the way of enemies.
Another exploration aspect of Doom 3 was the PDAs. This UAC complex was recently inhabited by many people, what’s left of them, besides zombies, are their belongings, namely their PDAs. Contained on their PDAs are emails and voice recordings filling me in on what happened before I arrived. I was always stoked to find a new PDA because I wanted to see the info it contained.
The flashlight played a major role as I made my way through the complex. As I stated before, I used it to explore every dingy corner of the complex. But usually it was necessary just to make it to the next door. If Doom 3 is remembered for any technical aspect I hope it’s its lighting effects. The lighting system in the game did a great job of creating areas that were completely dark, even in the same hallway or room that had some light in it. When demons spawned from pentagrams, the lights would dim and turn a bloody red. What I found fascinating was how well the flashlight cut through the darkness and how much of a necessity it was. There were a few instances where I had to dredge through pitch black rooms, and it was a spooky experience.
Doom 3 kept me entertained. I was interested watching the plot unfold, and even though its linearity was more apparent than it is in other games, I still enjoyed making progress. The game is very dark, definitely a horror story, but outside of its many jump scares, I didn’t find it too scary. Although playing with the right mindset and the lights out made it a tense experience. I enjoyed the gameplay, but it’s a unique FPS in that the single player is the main draw, which is okay with me. I loved the lighting system and the flashlight (even if it wasn’t attached to a weapon) and special mention should be given to the atmospheric sound design, very creepy. I’ve been to hell and back and I believe Doom 3 is a worthy game in an iconic series.