Tuesday, January 12, 2010

PS2 look: Tsukiyo Ni Saraba(10,000 Bullets)

While the PS2 has had no shortage of great action games I can't remember much in the way of great 3rd person shooters(aside from Resident Evil 4). These days it's one of those dime-a-dozen genres but I guess it's fair in a way since last generation it was action games that were all too prevalent. I'm not sure why I brought this up as 10k Bullets is not a great shooter but eh I guess I needed an intro.

The storyline is your average tale of Hitmen, crime lords, betrayal, and occassional wackiness. The star of the show is a man named Crow. He's in dire need of some charisma and possibly revenge against the man that killed his lady and ruined his life. He's joined up by Alice(the typical cutie), Dragon(the typical karate master), and Boris(the typical Russian badass who is also a woman). Through Crow's mastery of his dual pistols and the occassional assistance of his partners thousands of thugs and a few bosses are going to meet their untimely death.

This game is a very arcade-style of 3D shooter. As the player runs through linear environments they will be accosted by groups of bad guys that spawn out of nowhere or via the many doors placed throughout. Foes typically arrange themselves in formations where they can be easily taken down with style and to keep combos going. At the end of each stage the player is given points depending on how well they use their character, how fast they complete the stage, their remaining health, and so on. This is the kind of stuff one has grown to expect from the genre and with a talented developer like Taito everything is handled quite well.

As a hitman Crow is quite effective with his pistols. He can quickly lock-on to any near-by enemy or if the need arises a explosive barrel(which is always placed near a crowd of enemies). He also has the standard tools for evasion like a jump and a dodge which is necessary for all of the bullets flying around. Further rounding him out are special attacks that make him an even more effective killer. One of his most important tools is his critical shot. When locked onto an enemy the crosshair changes in shape every other second. By timing the shot properly this leads to a critical hit and usually kills an enemy instantly. This is also the only way to effectively take down the bosses.

The thing is though is that since everyone Crow faces is capable of using guns that means a lot of bullets are going to fly his way. Most of the time the only way to dodge them is through bullet-time. Activating this ability slows down everything to the point where bullets crawl at a snail's pace and bad guys stay in the air long enough to have entire clips shot into their fresh corpses. This tool is very necessary since otherwise the bullets fly so fast Crow will be dead in less than a minute.

The other playable characters have similar roles although Boris differs in that she's very slow and relies on a shadow-step to get around quickly. Dragon is oddly enough a melee-only fighter. His karater mastery makes up for it though and thanks to bullet-time he can handle entire groups of thugs with ease. These other characters aren't really a factor in the first playthrough since Crow ends up doing most of the work himself(thankfully in subsequent playthroughs everyone is playable from the outset).

While the level designs never really manage to get past long hallways or large rooms with bad guys in them there's usually enough of a variety in enemies to go around. Mobsters with guns are common-place but expect to see sword-wielding dudes, typical strong-men, rocket-launcher guys, and so on. Much of the diversity is found in the bosses as they cover the gamut of what one could expect from a shooter. There's the guitar case wielding Desperado, the Chinese woman who blocks bullets with a fan, some guy who dresses like a J-pop star and attacks with lightning, and a very annoying Crime Boss that is apparently near immortal because he recovers his life several times over the fight. These bosses showcase a lot of great attacks though they have the annoying tendency to get knocked down after taking so much damage. I guess this is to give the impression of each boss having multiple phases where they gain in power and use new attacks. Unfortunately more often than not this just tends to break up the pacing.

The biggest flaw with this game is on the technical side. Simply put the framerate is terrible. For a game that relies on bullet-time one can expect to play much of the game in slow-motion. This isn't too bad on its own but a number of stages rely heavily on particle effects(like a bar that has no shortage of bottles to break) and this kills the framerate(which tries to stay at 60 fps). Between the slow-motion and the horrid framerate the slowdown simply becomes agonising and can potentially induce headaches. Graphically it isn't much to look at anyway so maybe if there was a way to turn off certain filters or special effects it probably would have helped the framerate immensely.

The other big problem with this game is that today there's more than enough 3rd person shooters to go around. The only real quality that helps Tsukiyo separate itself from the pack is that it's Japanese-developed. It's pretty bog-standard otherwise and the frame-rate does it no favors. I guess if I had played this game when it came out it would have been something special due to the genre being relatively un-touched at the time but today there's not much I can say that makes it worthwhile. But hey if you're like me and have to play everything just go for it. It's really a harmless game and the music is pretty good, shame about the absolutely dreadful cutscenes though.

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