Haze – Review

Probably been doctored up to look better.
Taking out Mantel soldiers as a rebel.

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.

Again, probably doctored up.
An example of what it looks like when using Nectar.

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.

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Linger in Shadows – Review

A wallpaper available on the PlayStation Store.

Linger in Shadows was my first foray into the demoscene. Prior to “playing” it, I had never heard of the concept. Basically, a small group will make a demo, that isn’t necessarily interactive, and try to squeeze as much out of the hardware as possible. My kneejerk reaction to the demoscene groups was “that’s stupid, why don’t they just work for actual game companies”, but after doing some research I found out how they’ve contributed to actual game development. Being rather large in Europe, many demosceners move onto game development at some point and space saving technologies, like procedural generation, have been tackled by demoscene groups, specifically, .theprodukkt.

Onto Linger in Shadows proper. Firstly, it’s not a game. Essentially it’s a beautiful cutscene that has some interactivity. You act like a director; you are able to pause it at almost any point and at designated spots you can move certain objects around, mess with the camera angle and at some points you may have to solve a puzzle to continue the experience, but you are never told what to do, you just fiddle around with the camera or environment.

There was a lack of narrative and exposition throughout Linger in Shadows short run time, but I liked it, it gave me room to interpret the experience however I wanted. It was very confusing the first time through but having this opaque story allowed me to dwell on it more than I would if they just told me what happened, and I can see how people would call Linger in Shadows art. And boy, is it pretty. Plastic, the demoscene group responsible, wasn’t going for a realistic look and I’m glad. Linger in Shadows is like a moving piece of art and looks hand drawn.

Calling Linger in Shadows a game is a misnomer, while it is available on the PlayStation 3 and you do pay for it, Plastic and others have been very clear that it’s not a game. Then again some people might be caught off guard by it; it’s really up to the end user to decide if it’s worth a couple of bucks and while confusing at first, I found this visually and audibly stunning experience worth a couple of bucks.

Super Stardust HD Bundle – Review

Duking it out against the second boss.

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.

Riviera: The Promised Land – Review

US PSP Box Art
The US PSP box art.

Belonging to the list of games I was interested in when I first heard about them but never managed to play is Riviera: The Promised Land. I was interested in it when it originally came out on the Game Boy Advance solely for the fact it was an RPG. I finally got my hands on a copy, albeit the PSP version, which is probably the superior version but was not impressed by the game. I applaud the fact that the game is different than other RPGs, but I found it repetitive and boring.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; a thousand years ago there was a war between the gods and demons. The gods weren’t able to hold their own and in desperation created Grim Angels to assist them. They were able to seal the demons away and bring peace about for a thousand years; but of course demons are beginning to come back. The main character of the game is Ein, a Grim Angel who throughout the game will learn about himself, betrayal and friendship. I found the characters to be predictable and ultimately ones I’ve played as before. Likewise the story was predictable and didn’t offer any surprises I couldn’t see coming.

Adding to the lack of surprise was the way the game progresses outside of battles. Early on you visit a town, Elendia, and for the rest of the game this becomes your home base. You travel here after each dungeon and work out the next plan of action. The dungeons are influenced by adventure games it would seem. Rather than controlling Ein directly, you enter a room and are given the option to look around, interact with objects by spending Trigger Points which are earned by performing well in battle, or move onto the next room. A set of rooms make up an area and in between each are you are given the chance to save. Looking around was vital in the sense it often netted you new items but it wasn’t always necessary to progress.

The battles are never random; the way the dungeons are laid out there will always be a group of enemies in “that” room and to progress you must fight them. Rather than equip characters with a weapon and armor, you are allowed to bring four items into battle. Not all characters can use all items so you have to plan ahead, for instance Ein is good with swords and direct attacks but if Cierra, a witch, were to use the same sword, she’d do a magic attack. Before the battle you can look at the enemies and pick your characters and items. The items have a limited number of uses, so you must also plan around this fact, however, early on you run into more items than you can hold.

Like the battles, leveling up is also unlike most RPGs. Rather than a character getting experience from enemies and leveling up, they earn experience for the item they’re using. Each time Ein uses a certain item, it gains a point of experience and once it’s maxed out, he’ll learn a special ability with that item and boost his stats. However each character has unique levels with each item, so after maxing out something with Ein, you’ll still need to max it out with another character for them to learn a special ability and get their stats boosted. Since the items have limited uses, gaining experience could be troublesome, but there is a practice mode which allows you to level up without breaking items.

Fia's turn in a fight; notice the four items she can use.

The game is completely voice acted and with the exception of one minor character I found it to be very good. My only major gripe with the VO is that a lot of the characters sound familiar, not simply their voices, but the way they act; if you’ve played a handful of RPGs, you’ve seen them before. I liked the soundtrack as well but didn’t find it particularly mind-blowing; I would recommend playing with headphones though to get the nuances in the music.

After the first few hours of getting used to the way the game is different, it became a very linear experience, completely lacking the sense of exploration and wonder I turn to in RPGs. While they tried to innovate in a few ways outside of the storytelling, it shined a spotlight on the generic tale the game wove.

Pokemon HeartGold – Review

US Box Art
I originally played Gold so I stuck with Ho-Oh for the remakes.

New Pokemon games are out! Kind of; Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver released not too long ago and having played HeartGold a good deal, I feel experienced enough to talk about it. The games are remakes of Pokemon Gold and Silver, which happen to be my favorites in the series. I’d probably say Pokemon Red and Blue are the best since they laid the foundation, but Gold and Silver introduced a lot of things that I thought added to the formula and it was really my first chance to get sucked into the games as soon as everyone else.

You are given the choice of picking one of three Pokemon, which are creatures, like pets, that people fight with in the hopes of becoming the best and/or catching them all. Wait… if you’re reading this I’m going to assume that you know the basic story and mechanics of Pokemon games; these two areas haven’t evolved too much in the main games, and they’re still addictive. If you have tried a Pokemon game and it didn’t click with you, these games won’t convert you and if you’ve been waiting for the next hit, chances are you’ve already picked one of these up.

What I liked a lot about Gold and Silver were them bringing elements of the “real world” into the experience. They ran on a seven day schedule that allowed for special events on certain days and since it also had a 24 hour system, they could happen at specific times. Searching for Pokemon got a little trickier as the ones that seemed like a “night” Pokemon, would appear at night. I remember thinking about the games before they came out originally and was amazed that I’d have to stay up late to play them. Many elements that have been introduced since Gold and Silver have been adapted into HeartGold and SoulSilver like the online battling and online trading, as well as pretty much everything else. I’ve forgotten how the battling and trading worked out in Pokemon Diamond but so far I’ve found it to be halfway simple considering it’s a Nintendo game. I’ll finally be able to catch them all!

US Box Art
Not that Lugia is bad or anything.

Unlike in Diamond, I find that I’m using the touch screen way more, in fact, I’m using it nearly exclusively. Most of the menus seem easier to use, though there are some exceptions like the PC system which I find is not quick to navigate. I love the pop-up book effect that the 3D in the game has but at this point I’m beginning to look less fondly on them not being totally 3D, or at least having the Pokemon be 3D. I could understand that they’d want to save that for the next set of games or, more likely, that having nearly five hundred Pokemon, and hundreds of moves animated and in 3D is too space consuming.

Easily the biggest addition is the Pokewalker. It’s essentially a pedometer that allows you to walk with a Pokemon to level it up and play two minigames that net you items and Pokemon. I’ve been using it ever since I got it and find it to be a fun diversion at work. You can also communicate with other players with it, but overall, it’s too simple to spend more than five or ten minutes with.

You already know if you interested in HeartGold and SoulSilver and I was on the fence since the games were announced but, deep down I knew I was going to get them simply because they’re new Pokemon games and thus far I’ve enjoyed all twenty plus hours I’ve sunk into HeartGold.

Blur Beta – First Impressions

A still from the Blur website.

Blur is a racing game being developed by Bizarre Creations; it will be published by Activision this spring. They gave away beta codes so they could test the multiplayer and see if there are any balancing issues. I received a code and have played through to the level cap in the beta. For an easy summary, the game can be described as Mario Kart plus Project Gotham Racing with Call of Duty influences in the online play.

From the start there are only two modes and a handful of cars to choose from. As you progress, you’ll unlock two additional modes, more cars and modifiers which act like perks from the Call of Duty games. I found little differentiating three of the modes; they were normal races with one for 2-10 players, one for 4-20 players and the third one limited to the fastest class of car. The fourth mode was a battle royale which played like a game of Twisted Metal or a battle in Mario Kart.

The races were fun and there was always a lot going on. I rarely finished in the top three, but even when coming in a lower position the game was exciting just battling it out with the different power ups. The power-ups are creative and not as derivative of Mario Kart as I initially expected. There are around six power ups and most can be used in offensive and defensive ways. You can hold three power ups at a time and cycle through them which allows for unique strategies; I tried to always have a shield on hand just in case. There were a few tracks in the beta and they all had alternate paths which helped in splitting up the sometimes twenty car group. The battle royale mode was nuts; throwing you into an arena left carnage as the only objective. You are ranked according to your points which are received from attacking foes; you are also assigned a rival which will net you bonus points if you attack them.

There were a handful of modifiers available in the beta and there appears to be three sets. One set seemed to net you more fans for your actions, one seemed to affect your defense and the third set seemed offensive. Similar to leveling up weapons in Modern Warfare 2, as you use your power ups in different ways; they’ll level up and unlock rewards. Say you have a shunt which is essentially a homing missile. You could shoot that in front of you and attack someone, or you could save it and when someone shoots one at you, fire it backwards and destroy them both. You also gain fans for using power ups effectively, drifting and finishing. Fans represent your overall level which allows you access to different modes and more. Regardless there will be plenty of unlockables to keep playing the game a long time after you’ve reached the level cap.

People looking to Blur for a straight up racing game might be disappointed. There are a few good ways to progress in the game and strictly trying to finish in top positions looks to be the hardest and least fun. There will be modes that don’t have power ups in the retail game but those won’t be the draw I presume. The element of luck in the game is heavy and will provide for a fun online racing experience. Frankly, I could see getting this game and never touching the single player.

The Thing – Review

I originally wrote this February 2, and intended for it to go on a blog but couldn’t decide if I just wanted to post it to Giant Bomb or create my own blog. Since I’ve created this blog, I’ll go ahead and post it now since I never did. It’s short and little on details, but it’ll fit.

The theatrical poster for The Thing.

So I just beat The Thing and I’d like to talk about it; I don’t want to review it as it is very outdated by today’s standards. I began playing the PS2 version and started on medium. However, about a third of the way into it, I had no health packs and found it too frustrating to continue. I decided to restart and to buy the Xbox version considering it would look nicer (I don’t have a PS3) and in the hopes I’d prefer the position of the analog sticks. I decided to start on easy instead of medium and it was still a toughie but I managed to beat it. I should also note the reason I decided to play it was to play along with Rebel FM’s Game Club of it; now onto the actual game.

The game is a third-person squad based shooter, but a large portion of the game is spent alone. There is a trust/fear mechanic between you and your teammates and I really liked it but found it to be pretty binary in most cases and ultimately not as cool as it could’ve been. Your teammates are useful and in some cases necessary but man, they sure are flaky. They are however very lethal. The enemies can be a hassle, especially the little things (think head crabs), but taking a concept from the movie to destroy the larger things with fire was cool and varied the combat. I found the game to be very frustrating and contemplated quitting it more than once.

Just going back to a game like this after “adapting” to the game’s of recent memory was hard. Much of the game, you need to die to figure out how to progress and then execute whatever must be done near perfectly. Pretty much every one of the bosses was cheap and required multiple attempts just to figure out if what I was doing was working. Finally much of the game I spent with less than half health, just struggling to get by. The story takes place a little bit after the movie; which had an ending perfect for the spirit of the movie, and not necessarily implying any need for continuation. The story in the game was pretty vague and low on details but there were many references to the movie and I really enjoyed them. Overall I found the game to be very frustrating and lost my cool a lot, but found a few things to like in the game.

The internet's source for Mansion of Hidden Souls.

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