Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More purchases

Yes I should be playing Littlebigplanet 2 but oh well I'm only human.

Resident Evil 5 - Never played it, liked part 4, heard part 5 wasn't quite as good, why not give it a go?

Lost Planet: Colonies - I bought this before, regretted that I didn't spend more time with the additional singleplayer modes. Maybe I'll get lucky and one person will be playing online.

Dark Messiah of Might & Magic: Elements - Yeesh what a title. Oh well it can't be too bad I imagine. Only $5ish to boot.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Plans for the future

First off yes I know the ads are back. Nobody said anything one way or the other so I figured what the hey.

The review output is going through some bumps for the next several weeks. I'm planning on putting a stop to downloadable game reviews. It's not like I've stopped playing them or anything but I am conversing with a couple other sites to put my talent to work elsewhere. These plans will also likely have an adverse effect on the time it takes to get reviews for other types of games on this blog.

As I said in the last update I feel that it's time I step up and start working to prove my ability as a reviewer. I've written quite a bit for this blog and yet I'm nowhere close to producing my best work, and I believe even if I do write something of admirable quality it'll get ignored if it's left here. On the bright side I'll still have the freedom to try new styles and ideas with this blog without the worry of a filter. Besides the loss of downloadables will most likely not affect my retail game reviews.

So that's the current situation and I'll update again when plans have been finalized.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Thinking about trying to go Pro...

In the last week I've signed up for an account at gamespress.com and posted in the forums that I was looking for voluntary work. Somehow over the course of over two years of reviewing I've gotten the idea in my head that maybe I could make it at a professional level.

PepsimanVsJoe? A Pro? The problem with PepsimanVsJoe is that he can't even stop calling himself PepsimanVsJoe. The main reason I've stuck with this name for so long is because there's only one PepsimanVsJoe. Once upon a time I thought Gabriel Jones was a unique name but everyone from comic book characters to photographers to artists use it. On the other hand PepsimanVsJoe has gotten old, nobody cares about Pepsiman and nobody knows who the heck Joe is supposed to be. Still this blog is very young and I've yet to get PvJ established so there's little chance Gabriel Jones will ever work out.

The bigger problem is that if most of the reviews I've read are any indication, going pro would require sacrificing the identity I've attempted to create through my writing. Sure anyone can point to a handful of reviewers who manage to do their own thing and be successful but I think I'll be stifled by having to play it safe every-time I review a game, no matter how thoroughly mediocre it may be. On the other the exposure I'd get would be unparalleled. Fans of being depressed should read my google analytical stats sometime. I'm lucky to get more than 10 views a day. These views aren't even the good kind either usually. It's either bots or people who click just to scroll down to see whatever meaningless score I gave the game. At least by writing for a larger site there's a larger pool to draw from.

More important than all of that however is how it affects me personally. Writing is probably the only real talent I have and I'd hate to see it wasted. I believe that I can reach a point where I could actually get paid to review. Currently however I'm so far away from that point my blog doesn't even have ads. I have received an offer to do some sort of voluntary reviewing for what looks to be a newer site. I haven't really thought about it but it sounds like a nice idea. I think having newer game reviews here takes away from the focus as most of my reviews for this blog are for older games as well as the niche and the arcade stuff. It's possible for me to do both though I'm starting to wonder how much time I actually have. I'm kind of spoiled for free time due to the lack of children but I really want to get a second source of income from somewhere.

Anyway don't mind all this. I'm just thinking aloud and trying to put something together.

For those of you who bothered to get this far I've updated my page on XBLAratings.com with some new reviews. Currently I'm messing around with Dragon Quest 9 and Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 1 though don't expect a review of the former anytime soon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

AA Look - Spider-man: The Videogame

With the re-release of X-men on XBLA and PSN I figure it'd be kind of nice to look at some other Superhero-themed beatemups. Sega produced this game back in 1991, around the same time as the Genesis Spiderman game Return of the Kingpin. While the Genesis game was a bit different with its emphasis on conserving powers as well as time-management the arcade game is a beatemup. The beatemup has always been a humble genre in that there's really not a whole lot that can be done to change things up.

Spider-man tries to avoid that route somewhat by splitting the game into both standard beatemup action and side-scrolling action-platforming. It's an interesting idea as the side-view sections of the game feature different bosses that are fundamentally different compared to their beatemup brethren. These sections also tend to contain more health power-ups and that sort of thing is necessary because health goes quickly. Aside from taking damage with every attack our heroes also suffer an affliction that causes their health to drain slowly. However as long as you can avoid that one hit you can run around potentially forever with just one point of health.

Spider-man is joined by three of his super-buddies. There's the Black-Cat and her trusty grappling hook, Hawkeye and his mastery of the bow, and Namor who shoots lightning. I never understood Namor, he's probably King of the Oceans but he looks like Aquaman in his underwear, I can't think of anyone less threatening. Since this is a beatemup a rogue's gallery of villains is required. Kingpin, Green Goblin, Venom, The Sandman, and a host of other bad dudes represent the side of evil.

For the most part the bosses are actually really easy. A number of them fall into pretty basic patterns as the heroes can punch them out, knock them down, move just out of the way, and the bosses will walk right into the heroes next punch without fail. Thankfully most of the bosses are backed by henchmen which help keep the fight interesting as the player can't just abuse openings constantly. Still if a friend or three were to join along they could take care of the other enemies while someone pounds the boss into submission. The final boss is especially embarrassing as Dr. Doom doesn't even pull a counter-attack when he gets off the ground. I beat him down with a one hit-point Namor. This is especially sad because Namor makes a "bloop bloop" sound whenever he swings his fists.

Unfortunately punching is really about all the heroes can do. There are a handful of other attacks to choose from but they're mostly useful in their ability to manage crowds. Jump-kicks as well as a more useful flying kick are handy because they knock enemies down and give a brief second of rest but they're too weak to be much use on bosses(and for the most part the Green Goblin can only be hit by jumping attacks). The Heroes have access to their powers but it drains a bit of energy when they're used. These aren't the standard "invincible-attacks to clear space" either as an enemy can come from another direction and hit the player out of it. This really limits the usefulness of such attacks and turns the beatemup side of the game into more of a "regular guy beatemup". In fact it seems kind of ridiculous because I'm starting to picture a handful of normal people dressed like superheroes but with no powers taking the fight to Dr. Doom and his henchmen. At least in the side-view sections the heroes get their powers back so they can hit enemies from a distance but I don't know it seems like a wasted opportunity.

Overall the game is alright. At least it knows when it's starting to get old and game itself takes maybe 20 minutes to complete. In that short time I managed to continue eight times which is actually really pathetic so it's not like I can claim I'm done with the game. Besides it's a four-player beatemup and everything is more fun with others. Still it's a bit lacking in terms of enemy variety and while the mechanics are there this game could have really been something with a nice selection of moves for each character. I guess I shouldn't be expecting so much from a game that predates Streets of Rage 2.

Game Rating - 2.5 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 2.5 out of 5 stars

Oh and here's a funny Spiderman video I saw on the internet.

Friday, January 14, 2011

AA Look - Gunforce 1

Usually when I review games I try to look at the original first and then the sequels. I've never been one to try very hard though so it's expected that most of the time I'll just review what's currently available to me. I've had both Gunforce games for awhile and yet only the sequel had been reviewed for the longest time. Quite frankly I guess it's because the first game sucks.

Since we're on a downward spiral already let's keep tumbling while I do my explanation of the game's story. There's an enemy army with many fortifications and they are planning to play host to an alien armada, you're some dork who is the only hope for humanity. That just kills it right there for me. The hero looks like Carmine, the running-joke of the Gears of War franchise. He's dolled up in all of this armor yet he can only take one hit. He probably wears the suit to hide his shameful body and the fact that he has not a single hair on his chest.

If the hero can only take one hit then the character-design should have just said whatever and dressed the hero up like the dudes from Contra. Sure the guys from Neo Contra were fully armored but that entire game was a parody of the series(which is confusing because Contra in itself is a bit of a parody). The developers of GunForce 1 apparently didn't understand the meaning of fun so we're left with a couple of nobodies and game that's about as dull as one could imagine.

The structure of the game wants to be Contra with its running and blasting action yet somehow it also wants to be Shinobi with its emphasis on finesse and timing. It's a very disjointed piece of work and becomes frustrating when most of the bosses are just really tight bullet patterns with nothing resembling a satisfying encounter. Sure similar games don't exactly focus on the crazy bullet-patterns but at least one tends to fight something cool like a massive tank with spider legs or whatever. Here it's just cannons, maybe some enemy soldiers, and a door that has to be destroyed, fantastic. The level-designs also tend to be very plain and they show none of the ingenuity found in Irem's other games. There's no fun in climbing ladders and riding moving platforms in this genre. It can be a more entertaining game for those who put forth the effort to beat it without continuing but the same could be said about any arcade title. Why not put forth the effort to play a game that actually wakes up in the morning and goes to work?

Judging by the complete 180 the sequel does I think the developers understood where they went wrong and delivered the perfect lead-in to what they're most well-known today for, the Metal Slug series. Many of the best entries in the Run&Gun genre have one thing in common, a sense of humor. When an entire game is based around one or two soldiers blowing up an entire army it's such an improbable concept that a laugh has to be had every now and then to keep things together. GunForce 1 is such a bland affair that it makes me want to ignore its good qualities and while I can admit it's unfair there's really nothing at all I want to do to change that.

Game Rating - 2 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 1 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The retail games of 2011

It looks to be another year filled with games and that's just fantastic. What I'm going to do here is talk about games that I'm interested in. While I can say that I plan on buying all of them I definitely won't say that I'm paying full-price for most. Honestly this is little more than a reference so whatever.

LittleBigPlanet 2 - I love the original so it's a sure bet that this game is getting bought.

Mindjack - Aside from releasing the same day as LBP2 this game is also $60. It's too bad really because I think the concept is interesting and the game looks to have a very Japanese (aka wacky) take on the concept.

Dead Space 2 - I should probably give the first game another attempt before I start getting excited about this one. Still it'll be something nice to consider during the typically slow Summer.

Two Worlds II - The first game was trash but I still played through it which says a lot of unfortunate things about my standards. Apparently this game is much better so that's a bonus. I still never got around to picking up Risen, Divinity 2, and a handful of other similar RPGs though so eh well.

Lord of Arcana - So far it looks like the inferior cousin of Monster Hunter but I'll still give it a shot eventually.

Test Drive Unlimited 2 - The first game was an interesting piece of work that I had a lot of fun with. Still I'm not quite sure if I want to go the full-price route here.

Dragon Quest 6 - Admittedly the only DQ game I've ever actually beaten was the 4th one. I doubt this game will rectify things and considered I've yet to even crack DQ9 I probably should hold off. Still if it's the will of destiny this game will end up on my shelf one day.

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together - While I have played FFT and for that matter way too many other SRPGs I've never played a Tactics Ogre game. I probably could alleviate this now by grabbing the N64 game off the Virtual Console but it looks more likely that I'll just hold off and grab what looks to be the ultimately stupendous release.

Radiant Historia - As far as DS RPGs go I hear this is one to look out for. I haven't bothered to read up on why exactly that is so chances are low that I'll be picking this up anytime soon.

Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon - I love EDF2 and to a lesser extent EDF 2017. Unfortunately this game isn't being handled by Sandlot(the original devs) and D3 sort of killed the hype by announcing the real EDF4 for sometime in the future. Still I'm willing to take a chance because it's not an impossible concept to figure out. Still I'd much prefer a Sandlot EDF because they have their own unique methods which give the series a lot of identity.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - The original was a tough act to follow and I my idea of fun with the sequel was exploiting the various bugs. Still this is a game I'm excited about if it can carry over what the first game great while improving upon it with good shooting mechanics.

Yakuza 4 - I'm still far from done with the third game but a full-priced purchase of this sequel is guaranteed.

God Eater Burst - If I'm going to buy Lord of Arcana I guess I have to buy this game as well.

Crysis 2 - Since I've never owned a competent PC I've been very curious about Crysis. I'm not sure what to think as far as this sequel is concerned because this time around it's multiplatform and a number of concessions were probably made.

Ratchet & Clank All 4 One - After playing the two PS3 games I can definitely say I'm a fan of the series. The emphasis on cooperative play could turn out to be something really awesome and I'm confident Insomniac can pull it off. I'm really looking forward to this.

Otomedius Excellent - While the Japanese version's release date was just announced a little awhile ago I'm still sort-of confident that Konami will get this out in the US eventually.

Batman: Arkham City - The first game was good, the sequel looks to be better, simple as that.

Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim - I'll be shocked if this game actually makes 2011 and it's all but guaranteed that there will be bugs but I'm sure that this game will eat away hundreds of hours all the same. I can't get enough open-world RPGs no matter their issues and even the disappointing Oblivion was a nearly 200-hour endeavor.

Tomb Raider - While I can't imagine this game is nearly as hardcore in its survival aspects as something like Robinson's Requiem I imagine this style is still going to make for something really fresh and entertaining.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

X360 Look - Resonance of Fate

If my body and mind were anywhere near one to one with each other I would be asleep right now. At one time or another the proverbial strings were yanked and I being a mere puppet to inspiration had no choice but to rise and write something about the game that has been dominating my free-time for quite awhile. Resonance of Fate is a near-impossible game to put down because even if I can drag myself away from the excellent battle-system there are the little things I love about games like watching numbers rise, emptying/filling bars, and for crying out loud there's even the ability to play dress-up.

Beneath all of that however there is something else, some sort of deeper meaning. Resonance of Fate is based in the post-apocalyptic far future but its visual style is like a multi-car pileup of the 20th century. I guess it's just as well seeing as how the world has become some tower where everyone at the bottom digs in mines and salvages for scraps of Earth's history while everyone at the top obsesses with creationism and art. Somewhere along the lines we expect to hear something profound that leaves us questioning our beliefs or heck at least something absurdly pretentious.

This is a Tri-ace RPG though so we are more likely to expect a goofy scene involving the female protagonist in a bath. For a team that has been around since the days of the Super Famicom one would think they could write a story that wasn't completely ridiculous but here we are once again. A better writer may have been able to successfully pull of the storyline but instead we spend a good thirty to forty hours in the dark and merely take in the sights and the game itself until someone feels it necessary to tell us what exactly is going on. In fact even at fifty-five hours and just shy of the end of the game I still can't tell you what the deal is with everyone.

The design of the world is some sort of geometric fantasy. The overworld is handled somewhat like the Shin Megami Tensei games where the player moves a cursor around to various locations. Though rather than showing semblance of a living, breathing world, Tri-ace chose to have every bit of land represented in the shape of a hexagon. Nearly the entire overworld is locked away and the player progresses by finding hexel-pieces which serve as keys. It's a different approach and I like it because many pieces of land happen to have treasure buried along with them. It's not uncommon to find some glasses, maybe some hair-dye, or something really useful like a bezel shard. Through the usage of terminals the player can also add extra effects that may give them the edge like double-fire damage or higher drop-rates. These require colored-hexes to work properly and due to the way the game-world is structured not all of them can be used at once. Still it is unique and that's worth a bit of credit.

The other shape that this game obsesses over is the triangle. The player's party is introduced in the first few minutes and keeping them together is an integral aspect of the battle system. Vashyron is the standard protector of justice, older man, and pervert of the Japanese RPG. Zephyr is the young man with the dark past. Finally there's Leanne who is the young lady of mystery. From the beginning the party has nearly all of the tools that will last them the rest of the game. Nobody is left behind in this game since if one character dies in battle the game immediately ends. Furthermore while their roles can be shifted easily they are all essential to mastering the battle-system.

The first thing anyone should do when starting this game is immediately head to the tutorial arena. The battle-system is a sheer cliff wall compared to many of the RPGs we've been seeing lately and the penalties for even the simplest mistakes can be huge. To start with our three heroes depend on the hero gauge for survival. This meter is featured prominently in the battle-screen and at the start everyone must make do with a mere three bezels. Since our heroes come equipped with guns the obvious idea is to run up to something and shoot it. What's obvious isn't what's effective in this case though since as the player runs enemies will be moving as well and preparing for attack. The player-characters are given only so much room to run with and will be left at the mercy of the enemy if they don't have a plan. Furthermore weapons are several times more effective when the player is close to an enemy so aggressive behavior is encouraged.

Getting aggressive in this game requires an extra surge of energy, something that allows us to perform heroic actions when naturally we should be unable to. That's right it's all about the hero gauge. With the push of a button the player can decide what location they can run to whether its the safety of cover, away from a major attack, or to simply ruin some creature's day. Performing this command costs a bezel but these can be replenished easily by a number of factors. Since the heroes of Fate are effectively extending themselves beyond their boundaries using up all of their bezels reduces them to quivering, weak, and most unfortunately frail chumps who will be killed off unless something miraculous happens.

As expected the enemies aren't going to be content with sitting around waiting for the player to show up. Damage is handled in a different fashion as most damage done by enemies is called "scratch-damage". Scratch damage is sort of like when the player gets shot in a modern first-person-shooter. Health is lost but it can be recovered over time(or in Fate's case, healed with a medkit). However when the party goes into critical mode or someone gets poisoned the scratch damage converts to real damage and that isn't easily recovered. The old adage of picking one's battles has rarely been more important as knowing which enemies to keep from attacking is necessary for survival.

Since everyone is capable of using every tool at their disposal winning battles is all about effective placement, knowing weaknesses, and offering a balanced party-build. Machine-guns are the damage-dealers in this game though like the enemies they can only do scratch-damage. The player can also choose to carry a magazine box that houses all sorts of different ammo-types to work with whether the enemy needs to be frozen, shocked, or blown up just a little bit quicker. Hand-guns make for the perfect follow-up as while they are weak they can finish enemies off and perform a handful of other tasks. Grenades offer a bit of both in that they can do the direct-damage while offering status effects like fire which adds bonus scratch damage or poison. The medkit is the basic catch-all for every possible healing or status-effecting item around. The things to keep in mind here however is that each party-member can only hold two of these tools at any time and only one person can be a grenade-tosser, healer, or magazine-holder. They can also choose to be a dual wielder. Sure someone can't uses a machine-gun and a hand-gun at the same time but they can alternate or just focus on one or the other for more damage or greater versatility. All of the weapons can be leveled up which adds to the player's health, allows them to carry more weight, and gives weapon-specific skills that trigger via charge-time. So rather than just shooting the enemy a bunch of times with weak attacks the player can hero-run by until they build up to an especially powerful attack with a lot of bonus modifiers like extra damage or piercing effects to get through enemies with a lot of armor.

Above-all winning is about team-work. By using the hero gauge effectively the party can build up a little something called Resonance. This is done simply by hero-running in-between two other party-members. Sometimes it takes a bit of work as the battlegrounds tend to be a lot more than just flat-surfaces and Resonance is lost as simply as walking but with at least three charges magic can be made. When Resonance is prepped the party can perform a tri-attack where the three of them move in a triangle and attack at about the same time. This means the heavy machine-gun damage can be capitalized on immediately and over time this can either turn tables or just completely ruin the enemy party. It takes time to master but it gets results.

It's a lot to absorb like any good Tri-ace game the results are always worth it. Special abilities like the bonus-shot allow the player to do huge amounts of damage to helpless foes while smackdown attacks shake up the enemies with lots of extraneous parts. There are also many situations where effective positioning can lead to players taking multiple enemies out of commission with one attack or even going entire battles without so much as a scratch. As a bonus fans of enemy-parts and money will find tons of both through effective playing. This game has perhaps one of the best battle systems real-time or turn-based. There aren't hundreds of skills or dozens of playable characters and there certainly aren't shotguns or rocket launchers but somehow it's just so effective with the basic functions it's consistently satisfying.

Still let's talk about the sort of stuff I like to see in games. Shooting enemies is great and all but when it comes down to it I for whatever reason just love to mess with numbers and junk. All of the guns are fully-customizable and this opens up one of the sillier systems I've seen in an RPG. Each gun has various spots where attachments can be snapped on and there are many parts to find as well as build from scraps. The only real limits are that the pieces fit. There's really nothing stopping the player from tacking five barrels, four scopes, and a few hand-guards on their gun. Some people may question the usefulness of this but eh it adds to the weapon's strength and that is what matters most.

More important to myself however is the dress-up mode. Like I said way back in the in the beginning every one up top is obsessed with art and by extension fashion. With each new chapter the possibility exists that more clothes will be unlocked. For the most part these fall under one of two types of outfits but that's enough for me since I just love color-coordinating and wearing something different every couple hours. This is probably due to my real-life consisting of wearing a pizza-delivery uniform everyday to work so I have to live vicariously through videogames to get my fix of being able to wear different clothes.

Despite being near the end of the game it's still far from over. In the great Tri-ace tradition there is a bonus dungeon and additional difficulties to tackle. Although as with other traditions the harder difficulties just seem to be dramatic stat-boosts for the enemy. This game has also triggered that sort of addiction to a game that's either really good or really terrible. I love this game and everything but there are those nights I try to fall asleep and all I can think about is scratch-damage, wondering why I can't finish off some bad-guys, and so on. In fact I had just recovered from some all-nighter session that is making me question my sensibilities. I should probably quit this game while I'm behind but it's just too darn good and I still have so far to go.

So really I can't guarantee you'll take to this game like I do. It's for the best anyway since you could die or something from playing the game so much instead of sleeping. If I'm going to die in the middle of something it had better be something impressive and worth dying over, not playing some RPG with a nonsensical storyline but an absolutely perfect battle-system. Going further I'd say that this review shouldn't even exist because I should be asleep. There's really nothing else I can say so here's the score and I'm out of here.

Game rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars
My rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thursday, January 6, 2011

PS3 Look - Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time

I'll make this simple for once. If you liked Tools of Destruction you should have already bought this game. If you didn't care for that game or never played it well then you should check this game out anyway because it's that damn good. It's everything anyone could ask for out of a good sequel and for me it's one of the better games on the Playstation 3.

Game Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Unfortunately life as we know it is never about simplicity and I can't seem to write a review under five-hundred words so let's just face the facts and roll right along. Crack in Time follows directly after the events of Tools of Destruction. It seems our robo-backpack buddy Clank is more than just circuitry and an annoying laugh and is actually set to inherit some great destiny. While best friend Ratchet would like nothing more than to find Clank he has problems of his own and they involve one Dr. Nefarious. I missed the PS2 games so I can only assume that Nefarious is a recurring villain who got sent to the scrap heap in the past and revenge is best served by robots. The Nefarious' big plan is to capture the power of time held within the center of the universe. Throw in a mystery Lombax who wishes to use this power as well and one has to wonder if time is up for Ratchet and friends.

The key word in any sequel is improvement. It's not exactly a one to one ratio but usually when more effort is put in, better ideas are thought up, and criticisms are accounted for, a better game is created. Sequels aren't exactly anything new to Ratchet & Clank but somehow even with my limited exposure to the series I think that this entry is the best yet. The storyline is predictable yet well-done, the weapon-selection feels especially balanced, all of the levels are highly entertaining with rarely a hint of wasted space, and the fat has for the most part been trimmed accordingly.

Progression is handled in much the same manner as the previous game. Ratchet explores the cosmos, blows up everything that gets in his way, and finds some clue or plot-device that will carry him to the next phase of the game. Clank is tasked with exploring his luxury palace of time which involves a bit of slowing down time, repairing anomalies in the continuum, and even completing some clever puzzles that involve manipulating multiple versions of himself. Apparently crates are hard to come by so it's easier to just have Clank use time pads so his other selves can hold down switches to open doors. It's quite a bit more clever than it sounds and it is part of what makes the puzzles in this game actually work. For those who are confused by this sort of nonsense the game retains the simple pleasures like destroying robots with rockets and a full-on arena level that rewards unrelenting slaughter with cash and prizes.

Ratchet explores each galaxy via his space-ship and this leads to a very neat method of exploration. Aside from the major planets that progress the story there are also about a dozen minor areas that combine some mix of platforming and shooting to reach precious treasures. The space-sections falter somewhat as they involve a number of enemy-ships that need blasting and yet there's hardly much of anything to differentiate the first wave of attackers with the last wave. Still they're all minor speed-bumps in the end and the encounters tend to be pretty painless.

One of the things I never touched on when I reviewed the last Ratchet & Clank were the boss-battles. They were really mediocre and the final boss in particular was just a big disappointment. This game rights that wrong and then some by delivering some of the well-designed and creative bosses . This is really important because by the end of the last game it felt like all I was doing was running in circles while using up all of the ammo on my strongest weapons. With Crack in Time a real effort is made to get away from that and it shows with some really good boss-battles. There is still a ways to go in this regard I think but admittedly I have been spoiled by what some other developers have been doing in said department. There are other nice additions and changes like customization for some weapons, the hover-boots for getting around quickly, and that awful six-axis junk being relegated to a completely optional weapon that I hardly used.

Due to a number of factors I actually started playing this game first and only moved to Tools of Destruction when I got it at a cheap price. Generally when I played the earlier game all I could think about was how it failed in comparison to Crack in Time. No way am I saying that it's comparable to the differences between Street Fighter 1 and Street Fighter 2 but the improvements that Crack In Time brings are too obvious to ignore. It's just a flat-out more polished and better playing game that avoids the pacing and balance issues that severely hurt Tools of Destruction while adding in other features and making changes that make it truly exceptional. This is a must-play for any PS3 owner I think.

Game Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars
My Rating - 4.5 out of 5 stars

Yep...it's the same score from the beginning of the review. But hey if you made it this far you have my appreciation.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

PS3 Look - Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction

Here we have another game in a long-running series. I'm really not sure what else to say here as I haven't the faintest idea on how to give this review a proper intro. I mean somebody help me out here. I don't know what the heck Ratchet is even supposed to be. Yes, yes he is a Lombax that much is certain but what's the deal? Is he a cat? A rat? A rat-cat? I'll never understand aliens. Somehow this didn't stop me from playing through a flawed but enjoyable game.

The game starts off from an emergency message from one Captain Quark. He's one of those Super Zero types who tends to be all talk but every now and then he comes through and does something heroic. Anyway it turns out the city is getting pretty well wrecked by some little jerk named Tachyon who despite being puny and just all around terrible he managed to put together a vast army to take over and/or destroy the universe. It's up to Ratchet and his robo-backpack Clank to figure out what he's after and then shoot him with a bunch of guns.

One of the selling points of this game is the animation and characters. It's like Insomniac was inspired by the works of Pixar and wanted to do something in a similar vein. For the most part it works because even when the jokes are unoriginal the delivery is great and the characters tend to be really well-designed. Quark for example is perhaps my favorite character, dunno why he isn't playable. It probably wouldn't be the same if he was just a reskin or something and didn't have any of his own lines. Although with Ratchet I guess I should have played some of the PS2 games because this game seems to play it like I'm already a fan of his and don't need much of anything in terms of background to gain any sort of attachment to him. Maybe he's just supposed to play straight-man or furball to all of the weirdness going on in this universe.

The game itself is an interesting blend of shooter & platformer. There's lots of the jumping around and using special tools to traverse stages and then there is the finding and buying of many weapons that are used to kill things in many different ways. For the most part it's a solid blend though I think more of an effort could have been made to create encounters that mix the shooting & platforming aspects. Most of the time when it comes to fights they're in these open arena-like areas and while it's still fun it feels like more could have been done to create something really memorable.

Weapons and armor are required for Lombax survival and Insomniac did a heck of job providing them. There are many weapons to collect and they all offer different methods of attack and level-up with use. It's a really good system as it gives incentive for players to try everything. As a bonus there are special skill-points that are unlocked by getting kills in different ways and these can unlock bonuses. Where the weapons falter however is that they all have their own damage output and as the game progresses this number can climb quite high. This is unfortunate because late-game weapons are essentially the only ones that are viable as the early weapons are just far too weak to do much of anything. As far as the armor is concerned it's nice to have and all but I question if it actually works. This game uses some sort of scaling/rank system as Ratchet takes more damage over time but if he dies the damage lessens a bit. Unfortunately it gets to a point where towards the end of the game even with the best armor I could still die in maybe three or four hits. This is especially odd considering there's an experience system that raises maximum hit-points.

The pacing is broken up pretty poorly by a number of mini-games and repeated sections that lose their appeal before long. For example hacking gets incredibly old after awhile as it's all about using the sixaxis-support to lead a ball around that connects circuits and unlock a door or something. There are also these pirate-doors which require doing a little jig to open. It's cute the first time but it really feels like they had nowhere to go with it so it's just a waste of time. And then there are these parts of the game where Ratchet free-falls while dodging rockets. This is the sort of thing that's great in the first level but it's used maybe every few levels and again it's just tiring. All in all it's content that feels padded and just doesn't work out.

In fact just about every section where Ratchet isn't shooting or jumping on something didn't gel with me. Some areas involve Clank going solo and they involve finding these strange creatures called Zoni and having them move objects around to progress. I'd say these stages were more puzzle-oriented if there was anything in terms of actual puzzles. Instead it's more leading these guys around, occasionally punching a creature, and using way too much of a slow-time mechanic to get past obstacles. There are some sections that I really enjoyed as they all involve flying a ship and blasting enemies. It's similar to the likes of Starfox and Panzer Dragoon and I really enjoy them. Unfortunately there are only a few of them and I guess that's because they required the most effort to design.

Thankfully these flaws aren't too detrimental to the game. I guess it's because in the end it's still a fun title that doesn't take itself too seriously or pushes things so much that the flaws have a very negative effect on my enjoyment. Still there is room for improvement and the direct sequel Crack in Time does just about everything better.

Game Rating - 2.5 out of 5
My Rating - 3.5 out of 5

Monday, January 3, 2011

PS3 Look - Just Cause 2

Thankfully the spirit of classic brain-melting action games has not quite died. I think it was at the start of this generation I assumed that with the rise of franchises like Call of Duty and the like that games where the entire goal is to shoot people and/or blow them up would lead to some sort of intelligence revolution with lots of discussion about the nature of war, philosophy, and other...errh...smarty-thingies. Gaming is not about excuses, apologies, or even reason and Just Cause 2 is just the sort of the game we need to keep our brains thoroughly liquefied and smiles permanently etched on our faces like somebody took a bowie knife to them.

The plot to this game is...oh my God. I'm usually pretty successful at not taking these story-lines seriously but somehow I goofed up here. The game takes place in the fictional nation of Panau, which most closely resembled Southeast Asia. The "hero" of the first game is a one-man war machine by the name of Rico Rodriguez who is backed by the good old US of A to take down a corrupt government, establish somebody a bit more US friendly, and maybe grab a hold of the world's largest supply of oil. Not all of this guaranteed but who cares? The story-mode takes maybe two hours to complete and it goes down about as quickly as a rotten burrito. A handful of things to keep in mind however: Ninjas are involved at one point, there's a nuclear submarine out of nowhere, and characters are introduced just to be killed off in spectacular fashion.

The entire point of this game is Chaos. It's kind of like a simulation or one of these boring statistics programs that you ignore when you buy your next gaming PC. If for some sick reason you want to progress the storyline you have to invest in chaos. Chaos is gained from the destruction of enemy property, such as fuel lines, gas-stations, radars, and well anything that could potentially explode. There are well over three hundred locations to visit in this game and they all have their fair share of objects that must be destroyed or collected. Fans of bar-filling and emptying will find a lot to like here as most anything of importance tends to have a health meter shown when a gun is pointed at it. It's sort of like investing as you trade bullets for chaos and in some roundabout way fun is achieved as objects blow up, enemy corpses soar through the air, and our man Rico takes off in his parachute for the next location.

Next to the explosion, the grappling hook is the biggest star of this game. The idea behind it is that it's not just some tool for getting around as with a bit of creativity the player can annoy the enemy with it, tether objects to vehicles to create a wrecking ball, and yank those pitiful bad-guys off of ledges to a horrible death. The getting around stuff is cool too though as Rico can do something as banal as make a quick getaway or they can hitch a ride on a passing jet-fighter. The sky is most likely the limit here and even after the beating the game I haven't really tested all of the ways the grappling hook can work. Rico also has an infinite supply of parachutes which is pretty important as extensive use of the hook tends to leave him hundreds of feet in the air.

Fans of vehicles have access to everything on land, sea, and in the air. As with the last game players are free to do their best action-movie impressions and hop out of vehicles at the last possible moment to cause glorious explosions. Military vehicles also tend to come with weaponry so it's quite easy to snatch a piece from the enemy and turn things around. The handling is about what anyone should expect from an open-world action game. There is a bit of a curve to handling some vehicles (especially planes) but it's nothing like Gran Turismo meets Microsoft Flight Simulator or something similarly dull. Besides you gotta be able to do things like attach a bus to a helicopter and we don't need some realistic handling system mucking up the fun for us.

The biggest concern for me is money. Sure chaos is the real currency of this game but a lot of the paper tends to end up in the player's pockets as they progress. The problem is aside from some serious emergency like when something absolutely has to be blown up there's nothing to spend money on. Sure weapons and vehicles are readily available through an airborne supplier but they're basically one-time uses and there's nothing in the way of permanent upgrades or abilities that can be bought. There are other ways of upgrading at least though it involves a lot of scouring around for parts. I guess some kind of home-base that could be upgraded through use of money would have been nice. There are a number of strongholds that are unlocked throughout the game and maybe having access to any purchased vehicles and weapons through them would have been nice. On the other hand this is the kind of game where the player really has little reason to return to a place after it's been completed. The idea is to keep moving until everything is sufficiently destroyed and maybe start again on a new difficulty setting.

Since I was spoiled by the likes of Red Faction: Guerrilla I'm also a bit miffed by the lack of destructible buildings. It just doesn't feel complete to me when I raid an enemy encampment because I bet their barracks are still standing, some bunkers are left, and generally there's probably an untold number of survivors waiting for me to get bored and go away. I would love nothing more than to nuke them all and bathe in shrapnel but I guess the engine isn't quite ready for that sort of thing. It would have been a lot worse if for example any buildings I destroyed somehow magically re-appeared if I turned my back or walked away for awhile. Sure the chances of coming back are slim but what if I wanted to grab a plane and just admire my handiwork from above? I guess I shouldn't be disappointed about things I can only imagine.

The missions also tend to be pretty bland. The climatic moments in the story tend to involve guys with a lot of health who eat bullets like corn-flakes and most other situations boil down to blowing something up, getting away with valuable or intel, or even *ugh* protection services. There are a lot of missions to this game and they can't all be clever or unique but the story-mode could have at least gotten a few points that make it worthwhile to bother with. Unless you're an achievement/trophy hunter there is absolutely no appeal in shooting through the story and since everything worthwhile can still be unlocked through exploring the island there's hardly a reason to bother with finding out why the heck everyone cares about Panau. It's just as well that I gave away the plot of the game in the second paragraph of this review.

In all fairness however my complaints about the mission-design is just nitpicking. Sure something like that would be an imperative aspect to most other games but here it's just another something that can be done. What makes this game work is the freedom to do any number of things to cause destruction or simply goof around. If some soldier gives you lip about swiping their jeep feel free to hang them from a low-ceiling and power-slide into them like a piƱata. Uncle Sam really doesn't care if you happen to drive a tank into a peaceful neighborhood and do what comes naturally. If all else fails you can always grab a plane, fly as far into the air as possible, jump out, and then land directly on your head. I really hate to say this but sometimes you gotta play a game just 'cause.

Game Rating - 4 out of 5
My Rating - 5 out of 5

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Years youtube recommendation

ReplayBurners are all about beating games without dying(or nomiss as it's known in the arcades).

I highly recommend giving it a look if you're in need of strats or just want to see some good game playing. They even have a video of Arabian Fight for some godforsaken reason.