Month: June 2011

Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (PS3) Review 1

Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition (PS3) Review

The changes made to Super Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition are minuscule. The addition of Evil Ryu and Oni as well as Yun and Yang, who first appeared in Street Fighter III, are the major differences between the versions. The roster of 39 characters is absolutely huge and tournament players are shivering at the army of Yuns that is likely headed their way. Just take a look at Daigo “The God of 2D fighting games” Umehara’s tier list that has both Yun and Yang in his second spots right behind Fei-Long. Yun’s divekick and fireball shattering EX shoulder charge are deadly, and anyone in the tournament circuit will likely be seeing him as a character of choice along with his twin brother.

I’ll be honest, I’ve always been terrible at Street Fighter. In Street Fighter II, I can get to Guile then my button mashing stops having its intended effect. One of the major changes to the Arcade Edition is the ability to record online matches. While reviewing the game, I gave the online another chance and dove in with a combination of the new characters and old favourites. It’s frustrating one, to be beaten senseless by someone else, and two, to know that they’ve recorded you being thrashed. There’s no reason why any player could hold the replay function against the experience as a whole. It just feels as though my failures are out there for the world to see and it makes me a little sad on the inside. I can just see Dan Hibiki getting smashed again and again at my expense, it brings a tear to my eye. In all seriousness though, the recording feature is an interesting but small innovation brought to the online play. The “Elite” replay function that allows you to see the best players in action is interesting, but it only made me feel slightly more inadequate.

Overall the game plays – for at least this average fan – the same. Somewhere online there is a list of changes that have been made to the characters’ movesets and frames. The differences here mean the difference between winning a match in a tournament to being put in second standing. The major differences come in the form of changing the characters’ hit box sizes and tweaking the recovery period between attacks. For instance, Ken now has less recovery time for his crouching medium punch and an improved the hit box for crouching light punch. You can find an entire list of changes at Event, which you can easily find online.

The small changes to the game are really what matter. There’s an entire Street Fighter tournament circuit that deals in the hit boxes, frame data and input leniency. While it may seem like there’s more old than new, the Arcade Edition contains some game changing differences that could easily influence a match’s turnout.  There were one or two issues I had with the game itself.

When I first put the disk in, I received an odd error message when attempting to switch between versions of the game. It took at least 15 minutes to switch between versions and then the game stalled when going into a match. In order to fix the issue, I had to install the game onto my system, insert the my original copy of Super Street Fighter IV and then re-insert the Arcade Edition before I could get into a match. The issue solved itself, but these kinds of bugs are kind of disruptive. Ok, it’s a bit of a stretch, but a bug is a bug and when you’re dealing with a $39.99 DLC you want it to be a fluid experience. From what has been reported online, there have been no issues downloading the game via the PSN or Xbox Live. The Arcade Edition is also available for PC users.

While the $39.99 prices tag is considerably less expensive than SSF4’s price on release, is the arcade edition really that worth it? If you can buy a used copy of Super Street Fighter IV and then buy the DLC pack for $15 go for that option – well – if you don’t have the PC version. You’ll be saving a few bucks on a game that only adds a few new characters to the game, a replay channel for online and nigh imperceptible balancing tweaks. If you’re new to the series and if you want to try it out, buy this version. If you are like the many veterans who constantly beat me down online, save some money by getting the digital copy.

Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D (3DS) Review 2

Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D (3DS) Review

First things first, Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D is not a full Resident Evil game. 3DS owners can expect that sometime in the next 12 months when RE: Revelations drops and brings pants-wetting survival horror to Nintendo’s newest handheld. For now, we get this action-based spin off of sorts. It’s an adaptation of the Mercenaries mini-games that console gamers got along with Resident Evil 4 and 5.  The mini-game compilation won’t deliver the immersive storytelling experience of creaky doors, ominous hallways, and shriek-inducing jump scares that RE fans crave. However, that in no way means that Mercenaries 3D should be ignored. This is one of the most visually impressive and addictive experiences that the small 3DS library offers and one of the few true M-rated experiences on the 3Ds, splashing buckets of blood around in glorious gasses-free 3D. Later on in the system’s life cycle this might look like a disposable sidedish, but right now this is a must own for early system supports.

The run of 3DS software currently stocking store shelves feels like a collection of beta test programs with developers trotting out remakes and minigames to see what this new little system can do. With a full on Resident Evil experience already in the works, Mercenaries 3D was probably Capcom’s trial run at bringing the series to the 3DS. It’s a streamlined and simplified action title that ports over character models and levels from previous franchise entries. However, unlike Ubisoft’s underwhelming Splinter Cell 3DS port, Capcom has found a near perfect way of bringing the console RE gameplay experience to this new handheld. The controls are tight, the graphics are gorgeous, the 3D is well integrated, and you’ll be surprised by how quickly a dozen hours or so will disappear into what is essentially a collection of mini-games.

Players control their professional zombie killer with the thumbpad, which feels good. Holding down the right shoulder button allows you to aim your gun of choice in POV face buttons are responsible for shooting and reloading. It can be a little tricky to have to aim just to reload, but what would a Resident Evil game be without your palms sweating as a character slowly reloads while a chainsaw wielding zombie sprints towards you? You can also get extra character movement while aiming (a nice new touch) by holding down the left shoulder button while aiming. The in-game camera can be manipulated by touching the map on the touch screen (sounds tricky, but works surprising well). Your weapons can also be selected on the touch screen, which is a great design and works fast in a pinch. Overall, the control scheme is rock solid. You’ll feel as free to move around and shoot as if you were playing Resident Evil 4 and achieving that with the relatively small button layout on the 3DS can’t have been easy.

The game itself is barebones. Like previous Mercenaries mini-games you get plopped into an area filled with enemies and have to kill as many as possible within the time limit without dying. Pretty basic stuff, but there’s a surprising amount of variance within that structure. There are eight playable characters of Resident Evil lore, Chris is available right off the bat then completing levels will unlock the likes of Jill Valentine, Claire Redfield, and Wesker. Each character has their own unique gun collection, which can make a huge difference depending on the level. The locations are classic spots from past RE outings, but there are only a half dozen or so with slight variations. Zombies, monsters, and bosses also come from other games and there aren’t many, but the programmers did a good job of changing up the cast in every level. The levels themselves vary from mind-numbingly easy to system-smashingly difficult. You get rankings for every character in each level and given how different each level feels depending on which character and weapons you use, it can be pretty addictive to try every conceivable match up. 50 unlockable achievements are also available to keep completists coming back (including a double barreled grenade launcher). Then on top of all that there’s local and online co-op play. The online mode was a little finicky for me, mainly because there are so few people online at the moment. But, I have to say that revisiting levels in multiplayer definitely provided yet another addictive and slightly different gameplay experience. There’s nothing earth shattering on the cartridge, but the game can still be practically impossible to put down at times.

The best thing that RE: Mercenaries 3D has going for it is the visual presentation. It looks like you’re holding Resident Evil 4 in the palm of your hands and some characters even look as good as they did in their HD Resident Evil 5 glory. Sure, if you examine some of the object textures closely you’ll see some cracks in the sheen and there can be an occasional frame-rate drop on character animations in the distance, but for the most part you’ll be moving around the levels so fast that it’ll be impossible to notice. Simply put, this is the best looking 3DS game I’ve seen so far, taking full advantage of the almost current generation console worthy power of the pint-sized system. The 3D effect is also well implemented, particularly while aiming the sniper rifle, which offers a nice bit of depth between the aiming sight and the head you’re about to blow off. If you don’t like the 3D, you can always turn it off, but this is one title where it really adds to the experience.

For a collection of mini-games that doesn’t really add anything to the established series, Resident Evil Mercenaries 3D is a damn good game. It may only offer a few minutes of competitive shoot em’ up action at a time, but does it so well that you’ll drain the 3DS battery in no time. Hardcore RE fans may claim it’s not a full experience and they’re right. However, the brief RE: Revelations demo included on Mercenaries confirms that not only is that experience coming to the 3DS, it’s going to be an old school survival horror throwback. For now, Mercenaries is a fantastic addition to the 3DS lineup. This is a handheld system after all, and short blasts of action are probably more suited to the format that long-form storytelling anyways. Personally, I take great comfort in knowing that any commute I face from now on can be broken up by massacring waves of zombies in 3D. Capcom might not have delivered a full Resident Evil experience, but what they did release trumps almost everything else available on the 3DS right now. If you own a 3DS and like killing zombies (and really, who doesn’t?), this is a must own.

Dino D-Day (PC) Review 2

Dino D-Day (PC) Review

Setting a game during World War II has been a cliché for many years now. The setting has been done time and time again and usually very little changes, but lately things are feeling different. Over the past little while I’ve noticed a lot of game designers and film directors setting their story during the time of Axis v. Allies, but they tend to give their own versions of history rather than sticking to historic accounts. All you need to do is play Wolfenstein by Raven Software or watch Quentin Tarentino’s Inglorious Basterds to see how the war could have ended. But rather than showing you how the war could have ended, the folks at 800 North and Digital Ranch have decided to turn the entire conflict around by giving the Axis one hell of an advantage. An advantage that will eat your face, let out a mighty roar, and then suddenly wonder why they exist after 65 million years of extinction. If you fight for the Axis you will be fighting as and alongside dinosaurs.

Der Führer has gone all Jurassic Park and the Allies are the only ones who can stop the army of thundering beasts. Led by Army Cpt./ Paleontologist Jack Hardgrave, the Allies have many tools at their disposal in this class-based shooter–tools such as “Freedom Fists”, perfect for punching dinos in the face, and dead jack rabbits to keep those pesky Velociraptors busy. The Axis, on the other hand, who only have three human classes make up for their lack of diversity with dinosaurs. On the Axis team, players can go the traditional route and select one of the three soldiers who boil down to, essentially, a soldier, a sniper, and a medic, but if flinging goats or eating faces is more your style you can select one of the three dinosaurs available. There’s the quick and agile Velociraptor, the walking tank known as the Desmatosuchus, and finally the charging, goat- and Allies-tossing, headbutting Dilophosaurus.

When I first started playing Dino D-Day I could tell that this was a new game but there was something  very familiar about it. This familiar feeling is most likely due to the game being powered by Valve Software’s Source game engine. This is the very same engine that powers multiplayer smash hits like Team Fortress 2 or Counter Strike: Source, but Dino D-Day’s most accurate comparison would be to Day of Defeat: Source (DoD:S), another Source-powered shooter. Not only do DoD:S and Dino D-Day share an engine and setting, but they also have a very similar pedigree. Both games started as mods, which are typically fan made alterations or “mods” to existing game code. Dino D-Day, like DoD:S, cut its teeth in the mod community before becoming a retail release.

Even though Dino D-Day has an interesting setting, great presentation, and unique mechanics, the game still seems to be in the very early stages of its existence. However, the potential is there. In fact, when it comes to potential, this game has it in spades. The initial release of Dino D-Day is worth playing but it won’t take you long to experience everything what this game has to offer—which is why my biggest complaint is that there is almost nobody playing this game online. This could be fixed by a sizable content update (which is rumored to be in development) and a free play weekend (complete speculation). In spite of the small player base, Dino D-Day is incredibly fun and satisfying to play. I dare you to pick up an Allied soldier in your mighty Dilophosaur jaws and throw him at a teammate without laughing. Also, I’m sure that once you’ve punched a Velociraptor in the face you won’t want to do anything else. I urge all PC enthusiasts to give Dino D-Day a first look

FEAR 3 (PS3) Review 1

FEAR 3 (PS3) Review

F.3.A.R. is a first-person horror shooter developed by Day 1 Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive. While the shooting is competent and being able to play as the Point Man’s brother, Paxton Fettel, adds variety to the experience, F.3.A.R. does little in the way to elicit any actual fear in the player. The series has always been about tactical shooting, and it’s something that this game does well. The series has also had a focus on story, on building an environment that’s not only scary, but enigmatic. F.3.A.R. fails to build a narrative and instead provides a quick gaunt into co-op multiplayer with heavily emphasized online play. The latter being the one caveat to the experience, F.3.A.R. feels like a missed opportunity to explore the deeper aspects of the Point Man and his existence.

Fucking Run is Fucking Fun, and pretty intense. In the online mode, you and a squad of three other players have to traverse a level while fighting for your lives. If one of the team members succumbs to their wounds or is left behind the entire team loses. Most of the time, you’ll have players who will look out for you since they want to – well – win. Twice, I had someone fall behind and, apparently annoyed, run into the wall of death right as we were nearing the end of the level. The online aspects of F.3.A.R. quickly become the game’s focus. The co-op campaign lets you and friend take turns playing as the Point Man or Paxton Fettle. Throughout the co-op, you and your partner keeps scores to become the “favourite son”, which determines what character ending you get. This competition breathes a little more life into the 4-hour campaign, but not much. The campaigns are identical save a few perspective changes. You’re better off playing the multiplayer modes.

The major problem with F.3.A.R. is the story and the perspective from which it is told. It makes sense in a game like Dragon Age, where the character is basically a representation of you, to have a silent protagonist. In F.E.A.R., the Point Man was like any of these silent protagonists. Without an identity, he was a conduit through which the player interacted with the game’s narrative. In F.3.A.R., the Point Man has a brother, he has a face, he has a motive and he has character. You keep asking, why the hell aren’t you saying anything? In the first game there was this ambiguity surrounding Paxton and the Point Man, and now in this instalment, where they are both advertised as main character, why leave one of the brothers without any definition at all?

It’s mind boggling when you have an interesting set of characters and you see almost no development in them. You feel as though the story was more or less throwaway when you have these mini achievements popping up every 10 seconds. The game is saying, hey we’re about the co-op multiplayer and that’s where you can find depth. To me the experience felt like a rather shallow grave.

Claustrophobia is scary. F.E.A.R. placed us into situations where you actually had to sneak across the room to kill the enemy soldiers. You had to flank, you had to misdirect the enemy, you had the use covering fire, you had to throw grenades and you had to use your enhanced reflexes. The Replica Forces would do the same to you pushing you back into corners and overwhelming your positions. In F.3.A.R., the player is given kill room after kill room without the need to utilise all of the aforementioned tactics. These are only a few of the problems with the game structure, what about the design? Why would you give a soldier an explosive backpack that – when shot – regularly explodes? How do the enemies “touched” by Alma lose the ability to communicate, but retain the ability to make high explosives they can strap to their chests? Why do soldiers amble about alone allowing you to take them down one-by-one? What is up with the design of the shotgun? The original F.E.A.R. wasn’t this haphazardly made.

When you attach a director like John Carpenter to a video game, the player should expect to at least see – even briefly – his influence. A veiled reference to In the Mouth of Madness is not enough. There’s a steep decline in the number of scares in F.3.A.R. compared to the first game of the series. The cramped environments of the first game allowed you to be directed towards the scary parts. You go down a ladder and Alma is there standing at the top looking at you. That’s scary in more of a disconcerting kind of way rather than an outright, “Boo! Check me out!” kind of way. F.3.A.R. suffers from a lack of a structure and direction that, if corrected, could have given the player an actually scary experience.

For example, in the Suburbs level there’s a television that proudly displays the words, “I Hate You” on its screen. Scary, in the right circumstances sure, but only if you see it. In F.E.A.R., the game’s lighting was used to not only obscure the scares, but also to enhance them. There was a point in the game where you’re travelling through a sewer, and Alma’s small shadow flickers in front of you. When you turned, the player saw only the tail end of her dress disappearing around a corner. You F.E.A.R.E.D. Alma, get the title now? Now that’s scary. Having waves of enemies popping out and running at you with explosives strapped to their chests isn’t scary, it’s just kind of pointless. Without the proper direction, the scares in F.3.A.R. are about as lost as it’s story, which brings me to my next point.

F.E.A.R. was scary. It had the small, cramped environments filled with horror after horror filled room, and Norton Mapes. There was a mystery surrounding the appearance of the small girl in the red dress, and each time you thought there would be a lull in the action she would appear increasing the tension the player felt. What made F.E.A.R. unique was its unsuccessful blend of horror and first-person shooting, and the word over there is not a spelling error. F.E.A.R. is not a horror film, nor is it truly scary, but it tried something new that titles in its generation had only attempted a few times previously. F.3.A.R. feels like a step backwards. It feels like Day 1 Studios saw all that made Monolith’s game fun and exciting, and decided that it was their project now. But F.3.A.R. if you are looking for fun and not scares.

Superboy #8 Review

Superboy #8 Review

A dramatic western back-story focused on the somber origin of Smallville and its early settlers. Seems things have always been strange in America’s picturesque town, even before heros were raised there. The Kent family values have always played their part in the shaping of it, with Nate Kent at the sheriff’s helm. There is no mention of the Luthor family, but my guess is they are affiliated with Eben Took in some deplorable manner.

The broken silo holds answers to questions that even Nate Kent feared to speak of. His descendant Conner, may be impacted similarly through the sharing of these visions as he descends to meet the Hollow Men, and end what the Took family started generations before.


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Red Johnson’s Chronicles Review 1

Red Johnson’s Chronicles Review

An Adventure Detective Game

With other titles like Phoenix Wright, Professor Layton and even Telltale’s Puzzle Agent, it’s become pretty obvious that when you want to present the audience with a mystery of some kind, an adventure or puzzle game is the best way to do it. Until recently, the best bet for PS3 owners to get their fix in this area was The Blue Toad Murder Files. Puzzle Agent also landed on the PS3 recently, but now there’s a new king in town for overall gameplay and presentation, and amazingly, it’s French.

Someone’s Dead. Find The Killer.

Unsurprisingly, Red Johnson’s Chronicles are about the chronicles of… Red Johnson. He’s a private investigator working in an American city known only as “Metropolis” with a city map that strongly resembles the iconic radioactive hazard symbol we’ve grown to know and fear. A bumbling cop comes into his office with Yet Another Case, this one about a murder victim shot on a bridge and the killer still on the loose. The game, as Sherlock Holmes would say, is afoot from that point on. The characters and story draw upon well worn clichés, though they’re not as richly developed as the disc based extravaganza L.A. Noire. Johnson himself is the private dick who goes through the usual menagerie of hookers with hearts of gold, smooth criminals and long suffering wives to get to the bottom of the mystery. There’s nothing original here, but nothing badly executed either.

One pleasant surprise comes in the form of the game’s presentation. Quite honestly, it’s fantastic. The French have a flair for environmental design, and particularly light, that’s been clearly demonstrated in another French murder mystery, Heavy Rain. Although Quantic Dream wasn’t involved in this title, these French interpretations of seedy American cities are something they excel at. The urban decay, delicate light and phenomenal attention to detail in every day apartment settings raise the quality of this DLC title far above its budget roots. Of course, because it’s a point and click adventure, visuals are largely static, so there are no frame rates, pop in, draw in or other performance issues to comment on.

The audio side of things is interesting, and decidedly mixed in nature. The main character, Red Johnson is voiced by David Gasman, who does an unintentionally good job of sounding like Nolan “Nathan Drake” North. The rest of the cast do a decent of job of delivering dialog on their various character clichés, always sounding like they’re from New York even if the city is clearly labelled as Metropolis. Sound effects are fairly minimal, relegated mostly to audio cues to signify user actions. Music is decidedly eclectic, not necessarily the brooding jazz one expects from an urban mystery, but not exactly contemporary either, having an almost buoyant, 60s/70s vibe. It’s an unusual choice, but it works, possibly another result of one of those things that would only occur to French mind.

A Detecting We Will Go

Red Johnson’s Chronicles is a strange, hybrid game, borrowing some QTE elements from Heavy Rain for its action, taking witness/suspect interrogation from L.A. Noire and Phoenix Wright, while borrowing puzzles from Professor Layton and combining it all with the deductive reasoning and multiple suspects of old Infocom text mystery games like The Witness and Deadline. At its heart, this is a point and click adventure through and through, but it’s borrowing—quite successfully—from a lot of sources. In many ways, the most surprising thing about the game is that it’s more of the game that L.A. Noire was expected to be. Where L.A. Noire focuses largely on detective work through suspect interrogation, private investigator Johnson actually gathers clues, finds fingerprints, uses ballistic analysis to trace murder weapons, and confronts suspects with method, motive and opportunity.

The game is not always successful at everything that it tries to do. For example, the Quick Time Events occasionally peppered through the game for action lack the same drama of Heavy Rain. These are not particularly lengthy or well choreographed action sequences, so while the change of pace is appreciated, it feels out of place in an otherwise largely cerebral experience. Another area that occasionally puzzles is the reliance on memory, something that the Blue Toad Murder Files also did with regularity, suddenly bringing up a “pop quiz” of sorts to quickly run through the facts and see whether players are paying attention. Failing these doesn’t end the game, thankfully, but they do affect the final rating of the player, who is “graded” on how well they do at every activity in the game, and assigned an average at the end.

These are minor quibbles however, because where the game does work is in its surprisingly lengthy and involving murder case. As a point and click adventure, inventory management and “pixel hunting” through an environments are taken as practically foundation elements of the genre. This is elevated to greater, more relevant importance in a murder mystery, where any environment could hide evidence, and every object could be a vital clue. Players visit a small but beautifully rendered set of locales, and can do everything from gather clues, to interrogating people to solving puzzles that are integrated into the story, like connecting circuits on a panel to defuse an alarm, or figuring out the PIN number of a cellular phone to gain access to its messages. There’s a large variety of activities for players to do in this little downloadable title, and quite a lot of them are diabolically hard. The game rewards players with cash for accomplishing tasks and that money can be used to buy hints for helping to solve the various obstacles that present themselves, but for the stubborn and honest, who insist on doing it on their own, this game can easily span 8-10 hours, possibly more depending on how clever you are.

In the end, Red Johnson’s Chronicles is an easy game to recommend for adventure fans. It’s a quality title with some surprising production values, a decent mystery, and a broad range of detective activities for players to take part in. It’s also competitively priced at only $13 in North America, which is a pretty good deal for a quality DLC title and arguably one of the better adventure games on the PS3, managing to hold its own in the detective department with both Heavy Rain and L.A. Noire even if it’s not as dark or serious as those titles. If you’re looking for a fun murder mystery to test your deductive reasoning with, you should definitely pick this up.

Shadows of the Damned (PS3) Review 1

Shadows of the Damned (PS3) Review

I usually try to avoid unnecessary profanity while writing reviews, but there’s only so much I can do when the protagonist’s full name is Garcia Fucking Hotspur. Then again, that should tell you everything you need to know about Shadows of the Damned. The new game from Suda51 and Shinji Mikami is essentially one long penis joke wrapped in an Umbrella Corporation prophylactic and if you’re disgusted at the mere thought of this sentence, then Shadows of the Damned probably isn’t for you.

If you are in the target audience – and if you’re familiar with the work of Suda51, you’re likely in the target audience – then Shadows of the Damned is definitely worth a look. As relentlessly juvenile as it is, the lowbrow humor seldom misfires and the game is frequently laugh-out-loud funny in a way that’s far more self-aware than the average R-Rated frat comedy. It’s also halfway decent as a game, with highly functional gameplay ripped straight out of Mikami’s Resident Evil handbook.

The setting, meanwhile, is pulled from southwestern grindhouse films like Planet Terror and From Dusk Till Dawn. You play as the aforementioned Garcia Hotspur, an extravagantly tattooed Mexican demon hunter who’s a little too good at his job. He’s killed so many demons that Fleming, the many-eyed Lord of the Underworld, decides to kidnap Garcia’s girlfriend Paula. Garcia subsequently chases Fleming into hell and makes his way to Fleming’s castle with the help of Johnson, a floating demon skull/sidekick who can turn into a variety of different weapons.

So yes, Garcia’s gun is called Johnson, and the game plays that gag for everything it’s worth. Checkpoints are provided courtesy of a defecating demon named One-Eyed William, drinking alcohol restores your vitality, and your pistol is dubbed the HotBoner, although the sexuality isn’t particularly threatening despite the unapologetic lewdness. The heroes (and even the villain) are overcompensating caricatures more than characters, and they’re all willing to mock those adolescent obsessions and imperfections.

The core creative concepts are otherwise fantastic. The demons are bloody and grotesque, the levels are eccentric (there’s a wonderful homage to Evil Dead), and the Spanish guitar soundtrack from Silent Hill veteran Akira Yamaoka perfectly captures the tone of the game. There aren’t any particularly haunting images – this is slasher horror, not psychological horror – but the game is undeniably deranged, as evidenced when Paula gets ripped to shreds and resurrected at the start of seemingly every chapter. There are also some pulse-pounding moments made possible thanks to the claustrophobic level design that isn’t afraid to stuff powerful demons into narrow rooms and corridors.

Next to that insanity the control scheme seems relatively unremarkable, but it is competent and boasts all of the over-the-shoulder third person features you’d expect from Shinji Mikami. Shadows is more action-oriented than some of Mikami’s survival horror work – you can move while aiming, you have to know how to dodge, and there’s more than enough health and ammo to go around – but the combat emphasizes accuracy and skill even if the cone of effect for the shotgun is always narrower than you think it should be.

With that in mind, Shadows of the Damned is not a game for novices. The difficulty curve can be brutal, and many of the tougher enemies – including most bosses – will only expose their glowing red weak spots for a few of brief seconds before retreating into their armor. You need to be able to act (and aim) incredibly quickly, especially once darkness descends and saddles you with a de facto timer in the middle of a fight.

That darkness is one of the game’s other gimmicks. The world occasionally becomes shrouded in a malicious black cloud that consumes human flesh, so you’ll either need to escape or find some way to illuminate the terrain. The most frequent solution is a goat head – they’re a source of light in the underworld – although fireworks displays can provide a temporary reprieve. Monsters are invulnerable while they’re in the darkness, and they’ll be coated in the stuff even after you shine some light on the environment.

You’ll need to hit enemies with bursts of light to dispel the darkness, and the ability to stun victims adds another dimension to combat. The same cannot be said of the largely token upgrade system for the three main weapons. You need to make a major investment before you’ll start seeing any gameplay benefits and the most challenging/irritating set pieces expose you to one-hit kills that completely negate anything in your arsenal.

Of course, that’s always been the trouble with Suda51. For every brilliant design idea, there’s at least one perplexing decision that seriously tests your patience. A 2D shoot-em-up interlude with aggravating enemy spawn points gets needlessly repeated three times and the game develops a hard-on for the final shotgun upgrade later in the game. You’re forced you to play pointless carnival games reminiscent of Skee-Ball with explosives, and it’s not much fun when you have to do something half a dozen times.

You simply have to be willing to take with the bad with the good in order to appreciate Shadows of the Damned, which defies description with Suda51’s unique brand of weirdness. No other game director so fearlessly juxtaposes mutilated demons with the brightly colored neon of a Vegas strip lined with brothels and when Garcia’s blasting giants with a six-foot cannon while screaming, “Taste my Big Boner,” you know you’re getting a sequence that will not appear in any other game this year.

Unfortunately, the niggling grievances pile up and eventually make the game feel like a bit of a letdown. It’s not as consistently frenetic as No More Heroes or as well paced as Resident Evil 4, and the mundane task of survival often overshadows the creative chaos while long loading times and poorly explained puzzles distance you from the experience.

Numerous technical issues further compound those problems. The game chugs whenever it tries to load or auto-save – Garcia sometimes waits a few seconds before popping into a new locale – and I even encountered a strange bug after beating the game when I inexplicably lost the ability to navigate menu screens with the analog stick. The game noticeably lacks polish, and that’s what makes Shadows of the Damned so frustrating. It has all of the elements of a game that I should love, but the pieces never quite come together, like fragmented jigsaw puzzle depicting a nude version of the Mona Lisa.

So while Shadows of the Damned doesn’t feel like anyone’s best work, it’s still good work and that’s worthy of attention when you’re dealing with singular talents like Shinji Mikami and Suda51. If those two names pique your interest – or maybe if you’ve got an insatiable appetite for penis jokes – you just might find yourself enjoying Shadows of the Damned.

C&G Interview - Infamous 2 - 2015-02-01 16:06:08

C&G Interview – Infamous 2

Wayne from C&G Monthly got some time to talk to Joe Ishikura, Game Designer at Sucker Punch about Infamous 2. He learns what makes this new entry in the series so special, what you can expect when you play and why it is a must play for all super hero fans out there.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) Review 1

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D (3DS) Review

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D proves that there’s a place for history in the current gaming landscape, primarily because it’s everything a remake should be. It introduces modern updates that make the game palatable for a new generation without alienating fans with fond memories of the original, and is consequently tied to the past, present, and future of gaming.

At it’s core, Ocarina of Time 3D is nothing less than what you’d expect. The puzzles, bosses, and dungeons are almost exactly what they were when the game first came out, and while some of the mechanics feel a little dated – you forget how annoying mid-dungeon backtracking can be – Nintendo has nonetheless stayed true to the original design and the gameplay holds up well enough to be relevant today.

The game also looks better than it ever has before. The assets unquestionably belong to the N64 era, but everything has been optimized with a new polish that’s incredibly crisp in both two and three dimensions. The blocky polygons have been smoothed over with more rounded textures and while the 3D doesn’t add anything directly to gameplay, it is stable enough to be enjoyable.

However, the best way to explain the game’s visual appeal is in relation to other relics from the nineties. Whether it’s Resident Evil or Final Fantasy VII, revisiting old games can be a little jarring because graphics that once served as the foundation for breathtaking FMVs are now painfully dated artifacts from a bygone age. Ocarina of Time 3D, on the other hand, is a classic title that matches the unreasonable demands of nostalgia. It basically looks just as good as you remember, so even though it doesn’t seem ‘modern,’ it doesn’t suffer in comparison to more recent HD releases.

Beyond the purely aesthetic, Ocarina of Time 3D introduces a few other updates that make for a more immersive experience. It’s the small details that make the difference. Some of that is visual – the shadows that drop from the ceiling now take the shape of the encroaching hand monsters – and some of that is tied to gameplay. For instance, you can map items to the X and Y buttons to make it easier to use weapons like the Hookshot, and those subtle improvements are evident throughout the cartridge.

Indeed, the entire control scheme is remarkably tight and intuitive, with virtually none of the frustrations I’ve come to associate with portable gaming. You’ll have to account for the inherent limitations of the format – smaller screen, awkward shoulder buttons, and etc. – but those are minor concerns and the touch screen really does make a difference. The icons you’ll need to use are all conveniently located in the corners of the screen, and it’s surprisingly easy to switch from one item to another on the fly.

The 3DS is just a step beyond the N64 when it comes to inventory. The original Ocarina of Time only provided you with three item slots, one of which was often reserved for the ever-necessary ocarina. In the remake, the ocarina has its own permanent spot on the touch screen, and you’ve also been provided with four additional slots for other items. The extra utility reduces menu clutter and improves the flow of gameplay, allowing you to engage with the puzzles instead of the inventory.

The benefits are particularly evident once you make it to the Water Temple, which is now relatively painless even though Nintendo hasn’t altered the structure or the difficulty. Boots are classified as items instead of Gear, so you can place the Iron Boots in one of your designated item slots and equip them with one press of a button.

There are simply far fewer interruptions here than there were with the N64. Some of the later temples still require a bit of management – the Hover Boots, for instance, are likely to be ignored unless absolutely necessary – but the point-and-click touch screen makes the process much faster than it was with a console.

The 3DS motion features, meanwhile, are incorporated with projectile weapons like the Bow and Arrow and the ability to use the console as a targeting window ultimately adds to the overall experience. It’s a bit gimmicky, but it’s a helpful feature if you’re trying to make slight adjustments while firing (the shooting galleries are a good example), and it doesn’t disturb the natural flow of gameplay as long as you’re not trying to do a full 180. You can also turn the feature off, so it’s not as if you have to put up with it if you’re not interested.

As for the new stuff rolled out for the remake, the Boss Challenge Mode is a welcome if unexciting addition that’s there if you suddenly feel the urge to battle Bongo Bongo, while strategy can be gleaned from the new Sheikah Stones that are essentially tiny movie theatres that provide short video montages in lieu of written hints. The well-constructed sequences point you in the right direction without giving too much away in terms of context and the story, although the clues are quite explicit so you’ll want to avoid the guides if you want the satisfaction of do-it-yourself.

Unfortunately, the Sheikah Stones may not accessible for the players who need them the most. They’re in obvious locations, but they’re not available mid-dungeon and the detours may be more aggravating than the puzzles. Even if that is a deliberate design decision, it defeats the purpose of hints if newer players can’t get advice in a timely fashion.

Considering that the 3DS drains batteries faster than a jet engine drains gasoline, an auto-save function would also have been greatly appreciated. I learned that lesson the hard way. I only had to replay the relatively brief Dodongo’s Cavern, but it’s nonetheless a glaring omission given the growth of the industry during the past ten years and it’s the one thing that truly makes Ocarina of Time 3D feel like a game from yesteryear.

Finally, there’s the Master Quest, which is unlocked once you’ve finished the original version of the game. The Master Quest offers a mirror image of Hyrule and all of the associated dungeons, and it’s more than a mere reflection. Many of the puzzles have been completely reworked with new solutions and the dungeons are packed with more (and more powerful) enemies. There are enough differences to justify the second play through, and veterans will enjoy the added gameplay value.

So while I wouldn’t necessarily say Ocarina of Time 3D is a must-buy if you’re familiar with the original – it is a port of a game that came out more than a decade ago – it’s easily the best thing currently available for the 3DS and you definitely won’t regret picking it up. If you haven’t played Ocarina of Time, it’s an even simpler recommendation. Buy this game, and take the time to appreciate a genuine classic.

Alice: Madness Returns (PS3) Review 1

Alice: Madness Returns (PS3) Review

Alice: Madness Returns takes place eleven years after the events of American McGee’s original Alice, and the titular heroine is now out of the asylum and working in an orphanage for similarly wayward youth in London. However, she’s still in therapy and her job is as much a charity as it is a responsibility. Her wards all make snide comments behind her back and most everyone else regards her with the same observational pity that you’d normally reserve for a leper or a dog with three legs.

So yes, Alice is still unmistakably mad, and the main story begins with a relapse once she starts having flashbacks about the fire that claimed her family’s lives. She’s realized that the inferno may not have been an accident and uncovering the truth may be the key that allows her to cling to sanity. It’s a retcon of the original game, but it makes sense in context and – perhaps more importantly – it helps make the sequel more accessible eleven years after the original. This game is about Alice and her madness, so while The Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle, and the Queen of Hearts are all present and accounted for, they’re largely relegated to cameo appearances.

Unfortunately, Alice can’t really afford another bout of insanity and that’s what makes Madness Returns so engaging. Unlike most video game protagonists, Alice is truly vulnerable. Her condition has made her a victim in an unforgiving London and she carries with her a lifetime of abuse that frequently crosses over into outright exploitation. If she doesn’t remember what happened during the fire, she’ll be sectioned, lobotomized, and forgotten, and as a former asylum inmate, an orphan, and a woman, Alice’s independence depends entirely on the continued charity of others.

The game is divided into six massive chapters that each start out in London before heading off to Wonderland and the retreats are escapes for Alice as much as they are for the player. In Wonderland, Alice isn’t necessarily in control – there’s a runaway train threatening to run roughshod over whatever’s left of her sanity – but she does have power, and she can use that power to recover her memories and set things right within her mind.

Turning to the more technical aspects of the review, Alice: Madness Returns is a third-person action-platformer and you’ll appropriately spend the majority of the game jumping from one ledge to another. The controls stick to the well-practiced conventions of the genre, but they’re perfectly serviceable and there’s generally not too much to complain about. Alice can use her dress to glide along air currents and shrink to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

Alice can also utilize her Shrink Sense to reveal invisible paths and messages throughout all areas of Wonderland, so her diminutive stature becomes one of the primary elements of the gameplay. There are essentially two versions of Wonderland – the seen and the unseen – and there’s a real joy to exploration that gives you the incentive and the opportunity to go sightseeing as you search for hidden memories, health upgrades, and other collectibles.

The rest of the game is spent in combat, which is both surprisingly challenging and surprisingly competent. Your main weapon is the Vorpal Blade (it’s a big kitchen knife), although you’ll eventually pick up a Pepper Grinder, a Hobbyhorse, a Teapot Cannon, and some clockwork bombs that are more useful as literal paperweights during the games many puzzle segments. The Teapot Cannon makes most of the other weapons obsolete, but evading your opponent’s attacks still requires a considerable amount of skill and everything in the inventory has numerous uses outside of combat.

Even so, the battlefield has nonetheless been stripped of many of the more complex features associated with modern gaming. Alice doesn’t have anything in the way of combos, so encounters are often about choosing the right weapon instead of rhythm and timing. The dodge button, meanwhile, has an irritating habit of dodging you straight into the line of fire against the larger baddies that have protracted attacks that are extremely difficult to evade.

There are also some slight issues with the camera (at least during combat). If you’re locked onto an enemy, the camera pans to place you on opposite ends of the screen in a way that makes it tough to track the movements of your selected foe, to say nothing of the dozen other creatures in the room.

Fortunately, none of the problems obscure the core design and there’s a certain uncomplicated elegance that keeps your focus on the things the game does well. The visuals are absolutely fantastic – there’s no need for photorealism when the concept art is this good – and it’s all backed up with immersive levels, colorful monsters, and a compelling story. I played Madness Returns for nearly twenty consecutive hours (minus breaks for food and sleep), and it’s so well paced that it’s easy to overlook the many minor imperfections.

So while Alice: Madness Returns doesn’t do anything wrong, it is the sort of game that suffers slightly as a result of limited resources. The game simply doesn’t have the shimmering polish of more expensive AAA titles and the controls aren’t quite as tight as you might hope. Similarly, the gameplay and the story are occasionally isolated from one another and the excursions in Wonderland go on so long that you might forget about the over world structure that’s ostensibly holding everything together. American McGee’s Victorian London is just as interesting as anything in Wonderland, so it would have been nice to get some more time to explore the run-down streets of the city.

Again, however, these are insignificant quibbles that shouldn’t negatively color your impressions of the game. Madness Returns is above all else a serviceable platformer with enough regular game stuff to keep action fans occupied. The puzzles aren’t particularly strenuous, but the game never repeats itself and you’re not going to get bored while playing through the levels.

My critiques consequently aren’t complaints as much as they’re musings on the things that might have been. Alice is so well realized as a character that you’ll wish the game would probe even deeper as it does during the London moments where Alice shows flashes of her Wonderland strength. You’re always keenly aware that Alice is at once a pauper in London and a princess in Wonderland, and while it’s that dichotomy that makes her such a tragic and compelling figure, it feels like there’s the potential for a more completely realized experience.

Yet the fact that Alice is genuinely thought provoking is ultimately high praise in and of itself. Alice: Madness Returns is the rare game that demands actual criticism because it actually has something to say, and that alone makes it well worth a few hours of your time.

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