Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2) Review

Developer: Rockstar North / Publisher: Rockstar Games || Overall: 9.6/10

It’s arguable that no gaming series in recent history has had an effect on the gaming world as much as Grand Theft Auto. By giving players the option to do a number of different things outside of the linearity of the game’s story, there’s just an incredible sense of freedom found in GTA. This carries over to the newest game in the series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, maybe more so than any previous game. It expands on things to do and the realism of it all by an incredible amount.

The story of the game itself starts when the main character CJ comes back into San Andreas from Liberty City because his mother died. He gets in a taxi to go home, but is pulled over by Officer Tenpenney (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) and his team of corrupt cops the moment he gets back into Los Santos. When he finally gets back to his home neighborhood, CJ (voiced by rapper Young Maylay) finds out the streets his gang once ruled have been lost, and the gang itself in shambles. His crew shows distrust towards him since he went to Liberty City instead of staying in Los Santos. Once part of the gang, he is viewed as an outsider since he doesn’t fully understand what happened before his return.

Jacking Cars and Living Life as a Criminal Has Never Been So Fun
San Andreas introduces an amazing amount of new terrains to a huge world containing three massive cities. In the game, you’ll see country sides, dirt tracks, woodlands/forests, and deserts. However, these are just among the many additions the game includes. Gameplay features such as gang wars, pimping, burglary, physical conditioning, and having abilities improve in a (more or less) traditional RPG style are just some of the many things that have improved and expanded in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. The enhancements and additions seem to make a list a mile long. It is truly amazing to experience how many new things have been added.

The main cities in the game all mimic actual places in real life and how they look. Los Santos is the equivalent of Los Angeles, San Fierro is the equivalent of San Francisco, and Las Venturas is the equivalent of Las Vegas (complete with casinos of all types). Being from California, I’ve been to all three real cities and live near Los Angeles. First hand, I can say that everything is closely replicated to the styles of housing and how things actually look. There are even some noticeable structures that may not be important to someone who doesn’t live in the area, but is easily recognizable to someone who does. The same holds true for the other GTA games, as people who live in or around the city(s) copied will notice those minute details.

Through the first part of the game, most of the missions you do will exhibit one new improvement or addition Rockstar has made to GTA: San Andreas. Some missions teach you basic skills that have already been introduced in the series, like when they show you how to drive a car while doing a drive-by. More often than not, however you will learn something new that has been added to the game. A difference that is immediately noticed is as you travel around town, rival gang members will all of a sudden start shooting you. This forces you to find a different way around to your destination, since you’re trying to avoid them, thus adding to the difficulty of the game. If you’re in a car, they could possibly pop one of your tires during the attack.

Though everyone knows who CJ is already, if you want to attract even more attention from your rival gangs you can wear your gang’s colors. This increases the respect you have among your gang as well, though it’s a trade off. In the long run, respect is a lot more important among your gang than worrying about heat from other gangs.

The game play itself has been tweaked just enough to make it better than its forerunners. Using some of the ideas from Rockstar’s Manhunt, the targeting system has been improved. Also, some techniques that have never been used in this series before, like stealth, are used throughout the game.

Instead of just being thrown into the game with a basic set abilities and no way to improve them (like previous game’s in the series), San Andreas features an “RPG-like” level up trait increases your stats as you gain more experience from actually performing many of the game’s actions.. For example, the more you drive, the higher your skill gets, and your lung capacity skill will increase as you dive underwater more. The same method applies for muscle, weapon skills, respect, cycling skill, motorcycle skill, stamina, and a few others. It isn’t very expansive, but it is a nice addition to the game, and you will begin to notice slight changes in how well you handle your car or beat someone’s ass using your bare fists with fewer strikes than before.

To build up your muscle, stamina, and learn some new abilities to use in melee fighting, there is a gym in each city that you can use. As you advance to new cities, you are able to train at the more advanced facilities in each progressing city. Eventually, when you kick the “master” of the gym’s ass, they will teach you their fighting style, thus learning newer advanced fighting styles that you can use when you’re locked onto someone in addition to another style of melee attacks. This is a new addition to the series, as before, you only had one set of melee moves. Of the possible fighting styles you can train to learn, there is boxing, karate, and “dirty.” You don’t switch between the styles on the fly, but you are able to use the fighting ability of the master you had last won against, so you’re able to keep your favorite style.

Some Improvements Become Problems

There are only a few nuisances that I’ve noticed throughout the game, but they’ve appeared in the other GTA games as well. There are only one or two new problems I have noticed that are unique to San Andreas. It’s hard to see how much ammo you have left for the particular gun you have equipped, because the font for the counter is so small. You can estimate how much ammo you may have by counting how many digits you have in your reserve, in regards to whether there are two, three, or four digits for your reserve count. If you have four, you probably don’t have to worry about the count. When this actually affects the game play, is when you’re down to your last few shots, and you don’t know how much you have to conserve.

The load times experienced in other GTA games had as you traveled to different cities have been totally done away with. The game will continuously load any new area you go to as you are going there. The only problem with this however, is that you may notice that the details of particular buildings will not load that fast, especially if you’re going into a new area. This makes it seem less realistic. Sometimes if you look off into the distance, you will see nothing, and then a building pop in out of nowhere. This can also affect the game play at times, like when you’re trying to follow someone that is far away. They’ll disappear and you can’t see where they go. There’s also the annoyance of having the game pause for a few seconds to load a new area you’re going into if you get there too fast (like if you’re driving really fast in a car). There are other times where there is slowdown, but not very often. For the most part, the game loads well, and shows improvement over the other GTA games. The only “real” load times are before missions.

Gangsta’s Paradise (Not the Coolio Song.)
The music featured in the game is made up of 90’s music, as well as a few classic tunes from before that period. Most genres are covered, including alternative rock, classic rock, 90’s rap/hip-hop, classic hip-hop/rap, house, funk, country, dub/reggae, soul, and the ever-popular talk radio. The music makes the game feel as if you’re really in the 90’s.

The game’s voice acting has a quality comparable to Vice City’s, though by no means is this bad. The dialogue stays true to the atmosphere of the game, so players should be sure to expect a load of swearing. It’s safe to say that this game isn’t for those offended by language, as San Andreas uses swearing a lot more freely than any of the other Grand Theft Auto games. Also, the cast of celebrities providing the voiceovers is the series’ most prolific to date, including the already mentioned Samuel L. Jackson and Young Maylay, as well as others like comedian David Cross, Ice T, James Woods, amongst a few others. The auditory in San Andreas is exactly what should be expected from the series, a game with an awesome soundtrack and high profile celebrity voice acting.

More of the Same, Visually
Visually, San Andreas doesn’t look that much different than Vice City, but a few things do look noticeably better. The most obvious enhancement visually is the improvement of how the cars look. The cars can now be modded to fit your likes, from nitrous to hydraulics to having a different style hood. Nothing is better than driving a pink taxi with a spoiler, nitrous boost and hydraulics that is taking people to their destination in the Taxi Mission game.

There are other visual effect changes that have been made in San Andreas, as well. For instance, the rain that had once been very visible in Vice City is now more like a light drizzle. Granted, it doesn’t rain nearly as heavy in San Andreas as it does in Vice City, but it can be hard to tell if it’s even raining. Having the effect of rain splattering against the screen in Vice City has been dropped in San Andreas, since it actually impaired your vision while playing. There is now fog/smog depending on what city you’re in. This adds to the realism of GTA: San Andreas, as real weather conditions are replicated more accurately. Similar to arcade racing games, when you’re driving very fast, the area around you becomes blurred, adding to the feeling that you’re going fast.

Final Thoughts
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is without a doubt the best GTA to date. New challenges are exhibited in nearly every mission, and with a huge quantity of new improvements, additions, and challenges involving all the skills they provide you, this is one hell of a game. There is also a very involving story that keeps the game moving along, as it keeps you wondering how things will turn out and why things are happening. While the other Grand Theft Auto games still hold their own by being set in different cities and having distinctively different atmospheres (from being a mercenary in GTA3, to a part of the mob in Vice City), GTA: San Andreas manages to be unique, having the whole aura of the main character being completely different, making itself a definite must-have.

 

What I Should Write About?

This entry is part 1 of 26 in the series The Retail Report

This was originally written on nearly 40 sheets of quarter-sized paper. I wrote this while I was at work, because I had absolutely nothing to do. At all.

What should I write about? How about how my crappy job is today and tomorrow? So, today is a part of Thanksgiving vacation, as we get the whole week off. I work today for 6 hours and tomorrow for 8. If that isn’t shitty enough already, I have to be cashier today and do inventory tomorrow. I can’t even stand 3.5 hours of cashiering; let alone thinking I can survive 6. And they’re going to throw me at doing inventory for 8 hours, too? I don’t even know how to do it or what it is. I guess you just have to count all the shit in the store no one is going to buy this week. No one is going to fucking come today, everyone is out enjoying their families while mine go out on an RV trip (which I have no interest in going on anyhow) and won’t actually see them until Thanksgiving (which is somewhat good, since they’re all annoying in their own stupid ways). You will never find anyone as stupid as them, frankly.

I’m amazed I came out the way I did, given the circumstances. I know I’m already pretty messed up because of them, but I think I’m a’right. At least I’m not as ignorant as some other people in the world, but I know I’m probably still just an ignorant American who will become stereotyped for being an idiot that voted for Bush (I voted for Kerry). Damn foreigners, think that we’re ignorant, when they’re just as much.

Well, anyway, here I am writing and griping about the world now, and it all started with my job. There is literally nothing to do but write this, and look pleasant when one of the supervisors walk by. This is a shitty establishment, I must say. They definitely need a total reorganization of the store, their rules, their everything, from the ground up. Any “improvements” or new rules they make up just break down in the end.

I’m going to get fired anyway, and it wasn’t even my fault. Let me start at the beginning since I have exactly 5 hours and 11 minutes to go. We had this meeting about a month ago, which the main purpose of these meetings is to gather around in a big circle with all the other cashiers in the department, listen to Chuck, my boss, “remind” us about some particular rules such as fire safety, sexual harassment, the like. But the main purpose of this particular meeting was to show all the things we did wrong. It was funny at times, but it was pretty bad. There were credit slips not signed (the only truly bad thing that was shown, as the rest were just byproducts of their stupid procedures unique only to this store and no other). Oh God, they’re playing Locomotion now on the PA system, and someone else sang with it a little as they passed by me. The infection melody is making me tap my feet!

Well, anyway, one of the credit slips not signed was mine. It was for 212.59, the second highest quantity not signed. When I looked at the date that was on the receipt, it was from August, the day before the first day of school. It was basically my first day on the job not training. So, I didn’t blame myself, as I was trying to get used to the system. Since then I hadn’t had any other mistakes. I should be “Employee of the Period of Time Between After the First Day of Non-Training and Eternity,” but I wasn’t. So, after the meeting, he told everyone to talk to him about the status of their employment the next week. When I went in, he told me I hadn’t been late ever, and I hadn’t missed a day of work. The only thing that tarnished my record was the stupid credit slip. So, I was put on PROBATION, which sounds worse than it actually is. You don’t get a parole officer or anything, you just have to sign a piece of paper saying you acknowledge you fucked up, and if you fuck up again, they’ll fire you, take your first born, as well as your soul, and any copies of Death Race 2000 (co-starring Sylvester Stallone) you may have. Oh look a customer. She walked past me…well, she asked me a question, if we had disposable cameras, and then if we had any with flash. Who needs flash anyway? If you’re in bad light anyway, its not going to come out well anyway. The flash is used to soften the light. Well, I sent her to the other end of the store, saying we might have some with flash over there. Hopefully she won’t come back and give me a smug look for sending her into the wrong area. Teeheehee. Well, on to the reason I’m getting fired.

After getting on probation, about 30 days in (after 90 days, you get out of probation), a guy came with his daughter to buy a visor and a shot glass. His daughter was about 3 or 4 years old, and after the purchase, he said to her “yeah, daddy’s going to go take some shots when he gets home.” Instantly, I thought “this guy is a jackass, talking about taking shots to his daughter.” I wonder how many times he molested her when he was drunk. Well, after he left, I found that he never gave back the credit slip he signed. “Oh FUCK” I thought. “Now I’m going to lose my shitty minimum wage job with no benefits with shitty break times.” Speaking of which, we only get 10 min. breaks and 30 min. lunches. That’s what happens when the store isn’t unionized. I won’t talk about unions just yet, but they’ll be dealt with in due time.

So, now its 10:35. I started writing at 10:09 a.m. Only 2 transactions the whole time. Well, I just had 5 more transactions since I wrote that. Kinda funny really. Unions are ghey. There, I dealt with them. In alterance to unions, I propose Alliances, which will work for the betterment of its workers while not trying to tell them what to think/vote. Who says you have to go on a strike or vote no on a particular proposition just because your union says so?

Most people are stupid. When I finally realize this, analyze this, accept it as fact, do I become a better person myself? No, it doesn’t it makes me something different. Something…else. It’s the kind of people that ask where something in particular is when they’re standing right next to it, or they want a big honking bag for some item they can hold with no problem, or they want to give the EXACT change and hold up the line just so they can get rid of a dime and get 4 pennies (what’s the use in that?) back, or shop after they bought something, or ask if I’m “open” when I’m standing next to the cash register doing nothing.

“Are you open?”

“No, I’m not, I just like to stand by this fucking cash register like a jackass and watching paint peel off the ceiling that has no paint on it.”

That’s what I would love to say to them. They also ask if they “can pay for this here.” No, you can’t, you have to suck dick for it here.

I guess I can’t TOTALLY blame them for the infectious confusion that rampages in this store. There are registers spread out throughout the place, and the different sections make it sort of imply you have to buy things in that section at that register, which you don’t. I blame the store for the shitty placement of its registers. If they just put registers AT the exits instead of sort of near them, it would work better.

10:57. The time just keeps rolling by, don’t it? I hope I have enough paper to write on. I don’t think I could go on more than 20 minutes without it right now. Another shitty thing about this store is the hours. They usually only give about 4 to 8 hours a week to me. I don’t know if they’re trying to slowly ween me off because I’m going to get fired after they need me to cover for Thanksgiving. Maybe they won’t fire me. Its been about 3 weeks since then.

There’s this weird 25 year old “janitor” guy with this huge afro. He’s not even wearing a Cal State Fullerton uniform. Who is he? He’s been here for like an hour. He might be plotting…to steal from the registers…or kill me because I’ve got the power to see things clearly and how they are. Therefore, these may be my dying thoughts. If this makes it on Squackle, I guess I’ll be fine, unless someone assumes my name as successor to my creation and not announce my true demise.

11:06 now. What else do I have to write? I started out not knowing at all, but I got this far didn’t I? Man, I really have to blow my nose. They don’t have anything here I can use. If I were to go to the bathroom, chances are, with my luck, someone will be looking for me so they can buy their stupid shit. NO ONE IF FUCKING HERE! I CAN ACTUALLY HEAR THE MUSIC THEY PUT ON EVERYDAY, the same EXACT ones, from the same genre: classic rock. And its stuff from the 60s, 70s and very early 80s. Nothing too spectacular.

I am the almighty. I am the successor to the world’s throne. Bow down to me! Can you even understand this? Do you speak English or is English the language they made to contain me here in this world they created to keep me down? Is this why I don’t travel ever? Not because I don’t want to, but because they trained me to not want to go anywhere but a few miles away from home? Is that why I’m going to a local college? Are people even people? Or are they video cameras watching my every move.

11:17. Wow, that was deep for only 11 minutes. I wonder what other crazy shit I’ll think of…

11:18 I think I may run out of paper. I only have about 30 other pieces. I’ve already used 13 in less than 2 hours. 2 freaking hours, GOD DAMMIT. The time of the year that shows our colors more than the 4th of July, the Holiday season is nigh. Its not even Thanksgiving, and its all about Christmas/whatever people buy things for, as always. This time of year shows what we value the most: Gluttony, materialism, and the empowerment of corporations. One day government and corporation will be the same, I believe. Whether either turns into the other or not.

Corporations care nothing more than making money. If they had a billion dollar profit after expenditures each day, they would still want more. The reason why the media is so nice to the government is because the FCC is about to deregulate the media’s owning limits and unleash their terror across the world. They’re nicer to the Bush administration than they should be because Colin Powell is in the administration, and his son heads the FCC. But now that Powell resigned, who knows what’ll happen? I hadn’t deducted that myself, however. I have to give credit for it to (BOY CRIED IRAQ LINK). Its something that everyone should read. It took me a good 2 hours to read, and is definitely worth it to see what path we are going down. However, it makes assumptions that there were actually terrorists behind 9/11 and Osama did it. I have my reservations about this, but I’m not very likely to side with Osama, since he clearly wouldn’t care if I had these thoughts. At first, he was saying he didn’t conduct 9/11, and then took responsibility. Why would he do that? He would be too proud of what did to say he didn’t do it. But, how am I supposed to know how he thinks? He may have just as well done it. Or maybe Bush did it so he could take our rights away. Maybe gun control is a bad thing, as according to this page (NWO THING), it talks about how in the New World Order, ruled by rich white asshole fascists who would love nothing more than having everyone do as they say and never say anything against them, have the agenda of creating the world into hell.

12:23 Well, I came back from my shitty break. I was watching some of Laguna Beach, while I was in the break room. This show is complete bullshit, I’ll tell you flat out. It is NOTHING like reality at all. How can any of those rich kids act normal when there are cameras around them all the time, and cars with the filming crew following them everywhere. How does it even make sense?

I’m writing this with a small, very expensive pen right now. I shouldn’t be writing with it, but I am. What are they gonna make me do? Buy it? No. This proves that any pen you buy may have been used by someone else already, and you wouldn’t even ever know it. It could amost be out of ink, but what are you gonna do? Nothing.

12:28 I stopped writing with that pen. It hurt me. Why would anyone make that pen? Must be for people with no bones in their hands or really small bones.

12:29 Why do I even need this freakin job? Its not like I work enough to make it worth my while. Inventory tomorrow is going to be a bitch. Speaking of bitches, this devil girl who complains to no end, and has her eyebrows pointing directly up at the ends, like a vampire, was talking about how they were sending people home early when they were inventorying, where I’m going to be tomorrow. She was screaming about how she wanted to go home and shit. Maybe they’ll send me home early so I can jack off. Or something of that sort.

12:33 This is my 18th page. Aren’t you happy for me? What else is there to talk about? I’ve been to the world and back again with this rant. Another thing I hate about cashiering is people who don’t have their wallets out already to pay. Its like they think they’re going to get what they want for free. Its not that its just in their back pocket, I have no problem with that. Its when its buried in the portal to Hell they call their backpack, purse, satchel, or fannypack. They watch me ringing everything up and don’t get their wallet out. And when they look for it, they can’t find it, so I’m waiting 5 minutes and they still can’t produce. Also another thing is how people store their money. 85% have wallets, which is good. The other 15% have it crumpled up in their pocket or in an envelope (like they just came from the bank and couldn’t exert the energy it takes to crumple it up or put it into a wallet) and then insist on finding some change to take even longer. If they want to get rid of their change so badly, why don’t they just dump it all out and then pay the rest off with a bill? That’s the only way you can get rid of change efficiently.

12:42. I guess its working, its been 3 hours so far, and I haven’t died yet. What’s working, you may ask? Well, that’s the beauty of it. It is.

12:44. I’m ashamed to admit it, but whenever I work, I have to wear an apron. Yes, an apron. I have to wear it, because I “work at a book store, and book store employees wear aprons.” Bullshit. Just because other book stores have their employees wear aprons, doesn’t mean we have to. We are more than just a bookstore, we sell clothing and supplies, too. Granted, the books are the biggest and most important part, we’re not solely a bookstore. Fuck this store.

12:46. Nose and Elias are coming back tomorrow. I haven’t seen them for a while, so it’ll be interesting to see how they’ve been. Can’t find too many bigoted, movie and music loving, food appreciating friends such as them.

12:49. had another transaction. The guy used a credit card for a 2 dollar purchase. Sometimes it makes me kind of mad that someone doesn’t have 2 dollars to buy eraser refills. They have to use a card for it. …………

If my boss were to find this 21 page rant, I’d probably get fired on the spot. Maybe I should leave it on his desk. Mwahahahahahahaaaa.

12:52. I’m not going to give this to my boss. They’ll probably send me to the psychiatrist again. They’ll never take me back! NEVER! I was never there to being with…

12:55. There are only 14 possible more pages of this before I go onto the colorful pages. When someone is looking for scratch paper, they’ll be screwed. Haha. Hallelujah, I found 3 more pages, and a stack a mile high of pink pages. I’m set for the oncoming hours.

12:57. Wasn’t it Halloween just last week?

1:01. One o’clock hooray! Only 2.5 hours!

1:02 Does having a baby when you’re 60 constitute creating an old baby? I feel sorry for this kid sucking on a big saggy tit and not knowing the difference between sour breast milk and good breast milk. Anyway…

1:04. its amazing how much I’ve written. I could publish this as a book, sell it with the gimmick being some sort of new philosophy and make a profound impact enough as to make me famous, have a wealthy sum of money and have people analyze my work in-depth when there is nothing more than the face value I present. Should I try it? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t think anyone would care, they’re too into Plato and Descarte, those losers.

1:09. Geez, reading back, I can’t believe what I wrote. Talkinga bout the world being ignorant all the way to how my family sucks. And I will gain nothing by the end of the day.

1:10. I have decided this is now an endurance contest, to see how much I can write and for how long, time-wise. I commend you. You actually want to see if this will go anywhere. I won’t lie to you, I hope it does, too. I doubt it will though. Why are they even open today? No one is buying anything! I get like one person every 30 min. Borrrringggg.

1:13. Borrrrrrrrrrrringggggggg….

1:14. I just let one rip. It was smelly. Luckily NO ONE IS HERE….pew…smelly…

1:16 That guy with the afro is back…he went into the bathroom. Probably to get his AK-47 out of the urinal. He picked the wrong day to rob the store, none of the cash registers even have that much money in it.

1:18. I started to put bags away because it was fun for about 30 seconds. Then there wasn’t any left, and I got bored of putting bags away.

1:19. I don’t like it when people make money jokes or “signing credit slip/agreement” jokes. They’re all the same, stupid, and shows me even more that people are stupid. Earlier, someone was wearing a Christmas sweater and you could hear bells every time they walked. WHO THE FUCK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? Asian Santa Claus’s wife? MAN!

1:22. None of the stupid supply reps are even talking to me. This is horrible. I think its finally coming. I’m going crazy and I’m getting tired of writing. Why meeeee?

1:27. Wel, I got over my little breakdown, I think… I have to pull myself together…I think that the supply reps are onto me about what I think about them…them being stupid…

1:30. I think I have figured out the hierarchy here. There is the head honcho, Jerry. Then, in each department, there is a manager. Each manager has their own stooge/bitch that initiates all the things that need to be done in each department. The biggest and most powerful out of the departments are the cashiers, which I am part of. The stooge under the cashier manager (Chuck) is Jerry B (a different Jerry). He has a group of bitches called “receptionists” which are basically the Elite Cashiers. That’s it.

1:34. There is a hollow part in the wall I usually lean against. Rather, a whole jut of the wall is hollow. When I look on the opposite side, there is no use for this hollow part of the wall. Its use eludes me. It must have been to bury someone behind the wall. Why they didn’t make it a real wall, I couldn’t say. They must have gotten cheap.

1:38. I just found an open bag of a ‘trail mix” type of snack combination called a “yogurt mix.” I do not know how long it has been there, or if it is anyone’s here.

1:39. How stupid can you be to still be selling a Windows 95/98 keyboard? Very. Well, that’s what we’re doing. When it becomes vintage and sold for $5, maybe it’ll be sold, but not in this decade. Weird thing is, is that Memorex made it. I don’t know how they think since they make good blank CDs/DVDs they know how to make a good keyboard.

1:48. I now know how to get a free iPod that can do photos, too. Its simple, its brilliant, its amazing. All you have to do is say you already paid for it, when you bought “your iBook.” You don’t even have to prove it!

1:53. Well, I sold something to a jackass, and I forgot to demagnetize it, so the gate went off on him. Hahaha! I have exumed my terror! My revenge!

1:55. We sell these big pencils. They are RALLY big pencils. They’re about the size of your arm and as thick as your wrist. Oh, the things people always ask about is:

Q: Does it actually write?

A: Yes

Q: Wow, really?

A; Yes

Q: How do you sharpen it?

A; You bite it.

Q: How do you sharpen it?

A: You can bite it…

Q: You sell sharpeners for it?

A: Not “you can BUY it,” jackass. BITE it.

2:02. 2 o’clock! 1.5 hours left! 1 hour of torture, .5 of fun fun counting out the register. I’m going to end up helping only 20 people by the end of the day. What a waste of time. What kind of a job is this? I wrote this whole thing in there!

2:08. I can’t even remember most of the stuff I wrote. I know when I type this stuff up, I’ll be like “what the hell?” the whole time, but still acknowledge the wisdom of my past self. By the way, hello future me. Get a girlfriend, loser.

2:12. I have concocted a plan to freak out everyone in the store. To get the P.A. system in the store, you have to dial ext. 6599 for. What I’m thinking is that if I were to call it from an external source, I could exert some hate towards everyone in the words consisting of the following: fuck.

2:14. I just had a bitch dig through her purse for her change wallet and say “I forgot my glasses. I’m blind…but I can see!” Bitch.

2:20. Waiting for this day to end during the last stretch of time is the worst. It seems like an hour becomes 5 hours, and 20 minutes becomes an hour. My hands are stained with cash long forgotten, passed to the stupid people whom I will never see again. The security guy spooks me out a bit. He just walked by for no apparent reason. Him and his kind are all scary. Those security police-in-training officers…they use the computer for hours on end, and you don’t know what for. I’m trying to be cryptic here in case you didn’t know.

2:24. I am afraid. Afraid of losing my sanity. I haven’t sat down since lunch break. I’m so tired, physically and mentally. This is very mentally hard on me. Its difficult for me to just do nothing. That’s why I’m writing so much. Do I have ADD?

2:28. I’m in my quiet place now. It’s the dark little nook created by the fake wall. Its comfortable if I lean against it, and hide from the world…

2:30. Only have an hour of boring Hell, and 30 min. of “fun”

2:31. I have seven piece of paper to write on now, including this one. I’m amazed by how much I’ve written. The security guards watching me might think I’m planning a terrorist attack. I must be cautious…

2:33. If you asked me who I’m more afraid of in the security guard force, the guy sor the girls, I would have to say the girls. There’s just something about how they go after people who steal stuff, their biceps pumping, and their walkie-talkie sticking out of their back ocket of their tight jeans. It intimidates me that they could probably kick my ass, and basically have that weird, demeaning look to their faces as they chase someone down, like they enjoy it. “The chase is on!” They must scream as their war yell. Sitting down for most of the day and then seeing some guy bolt out the door. I don’t want to be in that position. Ever. Being the one chased down, that is…

2.39. I hate this horrible apron. The papers I wrote on sum up into being a stack. Its werid seeing all my writing on so many pages.

2.40. I think I want to hang myself with the apron tying tails…

Alas, it is 2:41. I have decided not to kill myself, as I believe in at least trying at life instead of just dying. Oh God, its Kansas on the P.A. I’m killing myself now.

2:43. The only part of this store they should keep are the escalators

2:45. Bookstore will close in 15 minutes. Someone passed by me, and said “I’m going to be back.” Like I fucking care, you idiot.

2:46. I wrote a short novel today, it seems. Funny ain’t it?

2:55. As much as I have truly enjoyed this experience, it is time for its end. Maybe I’ll do this whenever I work if I don’t get fired. Good day to you, and everyone else who has read this the whole way through. Bonswa, arirverderci, chao, bye, bon voyage, later, peace out the guy that said he’d be back came back. What a faggot, we’re CLOSING!

11/23/04. The next day I had planned to do something like I had done the day before because it helped passed the time.

8:40 Well, it looks like I’m cashier today after all. They’re playing stupid Christmas music for a change. Lucky me?

8:41 They’re playing the Charlie Brown theme song. How is this Christmas?

8:42 When I originally thought I was supposed to do inventory, they told me I was supposed to. But they changed jobs on me! Why the fuck am I here at 8:30 when the store opens at 10:00?

8:43 It was a challenge to find paper this time, as I had to use secret ops skills to find some in the next drawer.

8:44 How many versions of the same song do they HAVE?

8:46 Santa Claus is the conspiracy created by parents so they can keep their kids quiet for a month, so they can fuck.

8:47 Some girl is probably going to work next to me. Hooray. She hopefully won’t be annoying as fuck.

8:50 They put me upstairs. I just saw the Afro Guy. We have a cockroach problem with the magazines…

9:55 Well they replaced that girl with a guy. I still have oh 6.5 hours…

9:56 I had no breakfast today. So I ate 2 of the mini candy canes they have out here for customers. They’re not gonna do anything.

3:32 Almost time to go. Had a friend for about 5 hours. We bonded, but we’ll never talk again.

 

Jets’n’Guns (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rake In Grass || Overall: 9.0/10

Jets’n’Guns is a side-scrolling shooter, very similar to games like R-Type. Everything in the game, including its gameplay, graphics, music and nifty little innovations, make Jets’n’Guns one of the best space shooters I’ve ever played.

If you took World War II planes, equipped them with homing rockets, megaton bombs, and lots of other flashy weaponry and put them in outer space, you have Jets’n’Guns. This game is all about saving a professor named von Hamburger, and killing a huge force of Pirates (called the Xoxx), and occasional bug-type aliens (for about two levels), to save him.

Von Hamburger is more than just a scientist that makes a mean Teriyaki Hamburger. He helped the Xoxx’ Pirate leader/captain guy to create a huge cannon that has the potential to destroy the universe. Of course, it’s up to you to save the professor, kill the pirates, and kill the Pirate leader.

When you start out the game, you have a dinky little ship that has one gun on it. You don’t start out with much money to fool around with, as this is one ridiculously hard game. After losing about ten times on the normal difficulty setting, I set it down to the “easy” setting. Even though it was easier, it was still pretty damn hard.

Every level you progress to presents new challenges, different enemies, different areas, more weapons, and much more and as you advance, things get more frantic, forcing you to invest your money wisely. Luckily for the player, when we buy and then sell weapons back, we lose no money. This allows the player to experiment with weaponry and whether or not it’s better to buy a new weapon or upgrade an existing one. Once you get the better ship in the second level, you’re able to have three “front” weapons, one “bomb” weapon, one “missile” weapon, and one “rear” weapon. Jets’n’Guns is all about playing your cards right, and if you do so well enough, you’ll get through the game in good enough time and relative ease (unless you increase the difficulty).

When you actually play the game, you’re able to use your mouse or keyboard to control your jet. Until you upgrade your engine and wings, it will be much wiser to use the keyboard, as it will respond to your commands much better. The primary shooting button is the space bar, and will shoot all of your weapons except the bombs. Pressing the B key will unleash the weapon you have in your bombs slot to wreak havoc on those bastard pirates. The only thing that is confusing about these basic controls is that there is no tutorial of any kind to help you out with actually figuring out the basic controls. Later on, other keys are used (such as Shift, Z, and X) to utilize your other abilities.

Innovations that can be seen in this game come in a few ways.These are mostly put in affect when you buy special abilities. Purchasing an item called the “Rotary Cage” allows players to change the angle of your front weapons to shoot in about five different angles. This is very useful when enemies are at an angle and you otherwise can’t shoot at them. Another innovation comes with something called “RemCon.” During the game you can take control of special objects (like gates and trucks) and work them to your advantage. Most of the time, they’re done automatically, and you don’t have to do anything physically yourself except for being able to send your signal long enough to the particular object so you can hack into it and take control of it.

Graphics are nothing short of a spectacular light show you can enjoyably indulge yourself in. This game features some very polished off 3D animations, diverse weaponry, and hundreds of explosions every minute of play-time. Nothing in the game graphic-wise needs to be polished any more than it already is, as it shows that a lot of effort and creativity went into the process of making it. Especially for an independent company with a small budget, the graphics really impressed me. Even though they aren’t the absolute best in PC gaming nowadays, by any means, the graphics and enemy designs (which the game boasts to have more than 200 enemies) make this for one hell of an experience.

As if great gameplay, great graphics, and new innovations weren’t enough, a heavy metal band named Machinae Supremacy conducted the whole soundtrack. This makes for some really entertaining killing music as you mercilessly destroy hundreds of thousands of Pirates flying out of their spaceships after you blow it up, only to shoot them with your huge guns and have their blood and guts spray out across the screen. Each of the 21 levels have their own song, making for absolutely no redundancy in music choice, except when it came to the title screen, setup screen, and the game over screen. One mission that you invade a Pirate concert to kick some ass for no better reason other than because they were Pirates, the background music had vocals in it. It made it seem like you were at an actual concert.

The few faults this game actually has come with its story. The story itself is unimportant, as you could skip through it without any repercussions. Even though it was fleetingly interesting, it could have been better. Before each mission, you got a new set of “contacts” from which could be the annoying daughter of Von Hamburger, a six-eyed alien, or your general that seems to like to send you on solo missions all the time. If you ask me, there is no “force” of any type that the general has command over. You also get “bulletins” about convicts that can be turned in for a bounty. Another problem with the story came with the actual wording. Too often did I see simple words misspelled or grammar errors that could have been picked out by a fifth grader. However, where it loses ground in story definitely makes up for in random humor. I don’t know how they did it, but they made this game have at least one ridiculous joke per level, and weapon pictures as if they were advertisements in a magazine. You can get “25% off” on bombs or get a “free popular game” when you bought a plasma weapon. Through one of the levels I even saw a disk floating in the middle of ceiling, and next to it says “Universe Boot Up Disk – Use If Universe Needs to Be Rebooted” and integrated in the description, there was a Microsoft joke. It’s not that hard to find the random jokes, but they are easy to overlook. Even though the game is supposed to have at least some sort of seriousness to it, the random jokes don’t detract from this, as you will still feel inclined to kill as many stupid Pirates as you can. When you beat the game, you float through an asteroid field, similar to the ending of “The Neverending Story.” It’s hilarious, because you see the Crystal Palace floating in the background, and then you see the dog creature guy (his name escapes me at this moment) flying across the bottom of the screen with Bastian on his back.

Even though Jets’n’Guns is another game in a seemingly worn-out genre, it definitely breathes new life into side-scrolling-space-ship-shooting-an-endless-amount-of-oncoming-enemies type of games. The game becomes fairly addicting, as I have spent the past few days playing this until two o’clock in the morning because it’s that fun. When it comes to price I was actually surprised that it was only $19.95 (for download only) or $24.95 if you bought the CD to get shipped to your house (including download). I can think of equally priced games that are nowhere near as amazing as Jets’n’Guns, which is truly an enthralling experience.

 

Halo: Combat Evolved (PC) Review

Developer: Bungie Games / Publisher: Microsoft Games Studio || Overall: 9.1/10

As an exclusive to the Xbox for about two years, Halo has found its way to the PC, and boy does it absolutely rule. Everything has made the transition from the Xbox title seamlessly, if not, better. With the PC version, there came the much wanted, needed, and not included in Halo for the Xbox…online multiplayer.

The online multiplayer Halo (PC) offers all the modes of regular multiplayer with the exception of the “Co-operative” mode for the campaign. If that’s what you love about Halo, then keep playing it on the XBOX, because, in all honesty, Co-Operative mode kind of sucks if you’re not in the same room with the person you’re playing with. There wouldn’t even be that much Co-Operativeness with someone you’re playing with online anyhow.

However, if you’ve never played Halo for the Xbox, and are very interested in buying it for the PC, you’ll probably not even understand too much of what I was talking about. Halo is a first person shooter. Within this game, you play the role of the character only referred to as the Master Chief. The Master Chief is the super elite commando guy that they keep in some freezer when they don’t need him. He’s probably best described as a cyborg. And he’s green.

So what do you do in Halo? Well, other than dying a million times by sniper shots from other people in multiplayer and trying to shoot back before you die, you kill aliens. So, what’s the big deal, you may ask? You can do that with pretty much any other science fiction first person shooting game can’t you? Well, the features that set Halo far apart from any of its counterparts are: advanced artificial intelligence, vehicles, and levels that usually have big mazes ending with equally-sized battles. Everything rolled into one makes for a very challenging, and fun, game.

The story in the single player campaign revolves mainly around the war between humans, the Covenant, a big object floating in space (aptly named Halo, where most of the game takes place), and a mysterious species called the Flood. Insanity and many many dead aliens ensue in this all-around amazing experience.

Graphics:
The graphics in Halo are going to push your computer’s hardware to the limit. Even if you put everything on the worst settings, you’d be lucky (unless you have a computer good enough for Halo to run well, by all means go crazy…) if it doesn’t lag during the really high action parts. The graphics in Halo look so good, it makes me want to cry. From the Xbox version, they’ve been touched up and smoothed out. However, since Halo is fairly aged, it does not look as good as Doom 3, and will have almost no comparison to its successor, Halo 2, in terms of graphics.

All the environments from single-player maps to multiplayer maps are beautiful. The designs of all the different locations you visit on Halo are very elaborate, and look very realistic (had those places actually existed). The weapons and explosions also look spectacular. The way they’re designed and animated makes it enjoyable to fill an alien full of lead or knock one out with the butt of your assault rifle.

Sound:
Everything sounds the same as the Xbox version. The dialogue scenes have been improved a little, because in the Xbox version, there were parts of the dialogue that was hard to hear, not being able to understand what they were saying. For the most part, this has been fixed. There are a lot of different sounds that help create the atmosphere of Halo. From machine guns and plasma guns to marines shouting in pain as they fly into the air, you’re going to feel almost overwhelmed trying to keep up with what’s going on.

Gameplay:
The game actually plays just like a normal first-person shooter game. There’s little that is actually different in terms of control. However, there are grenades, which add extra depth to the strategy you may use in the game. Two types of grenades are available for use – the normal “fragmentation” grenades, and the notoriously shiny blue “sticky” plasma grenades. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and can help during some very tight situations.

The single-player game takes a lot of different skills to get through successfully. During the first part of the game, you don’t usually come in and start blasting everything you see. You have to take thought in your actions, and remember where you’ve been, as well as try to figure out puzzles that are presented to you throughout the game. This changes around the half-way point of the game, however. When that comes around, there’s more action and fighting rather than trying to figure out puzzles along the way from Point A to Point B. The single player mode is very story driven, and as major events happen, it adds more to the “mystery” that is the structure called Halo.

The huge maps in the single player mode also provide for some very long levels, so you’re going to have to conserve your ammo, and try to get the least amount of hits as you can, as you don’t know when the next time you’ll be able to get more ammo or health packs to recover health. You’ll experience many varying terrains, such as mountains, islands, huge underground complexes, and snowed-in valleys. Every one of the different kinds of terrains is very detailed, such as the mountain levels, which are full of trees, rivers, and large boulders. Sometimes a level may start out as a mountain level, but feed into a large underground complex full of tunnels and caverns underneath the ground.

Other than Halo’s massive single player campaign, a very important part of the game is its multiplayer, more specifically, online multiplayer. There are many different types of multiplayer games you can play. Among the many game modes are:

Slayer – Normal multiplayer, in which you kill other players in a free-for-all.
Capture the Flag – Team based; you try to get the other teams flag and bring it back to your own base.
Race – Race around the multiplayer map…hooray…

An addition to Halo for the PC from the Xbox version is the Warthog with a Rocket Launcher on it. In the original, there was only a machine gun-mounted Warthog. Other vehicles making their comeback are the Scorpion Tank, the Ghost, and the now-playable Banshee.

Overall:
If you’ve played Halo for the Xbox, or any other FPS game, you’ll feel right at home with the PC Halo. Halo is an all around great game, and it’s all that Halo for the Xbox is and more, save the co-op mode. But if you’re one of those people who are going to complain about it, stay with your Xbox version; I don’t want to hear your complaining during a Slayer game. Otherwise, the online multiplayer/the fact that you don’t have an Xbox is really what you’re going to go for when you get Halo for the PC.

 

Void War (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Rampant Games || Overall: 3.0/10

Nothing short of unoriginal, Void War is a space shooter in which you command a ship to go around and shoot things, and marvel at how hard it is to control a ship in a gravity barrier. This game sucks, unconditionally. How about we start with the basics?

Controlling your ship seems to be easy enough. You control your ship in one of three ways: keyboard, mouse, or joystick. Since I don’t have a joystick, I had to use the mouse controls. Now, the way you control your ship isn’t bad, it’s just how it is executed. When you click the left mouse button, you shoot some lasers, and when you right-click, you use your boosters to go fast. When you let those bad boys go, there’s a stream of flame behind you, and you go super fast through space!!!! This is all fine and dandy until you try and get one of those great power ups like the “hardened defense” or the “stealth generator” or the “missiles.” It is literally impossible to not get frustrated trying to get to a certain spot to get one of these power-ups. Even though you can generally get to the place you want to go with the controls, the accuracy in which you’d like to have to get one of these power-ups (which are really small, and the game should actually give them to you if you were in the general area of the power-up) is abysmal. The power-ups aren’t very important, but it’ll make the game a lot easier, especially with the missiles, because I suck at using the lasers to kill the other ships.

When you get one of these power-ups, like a missile, you’re able to use them right away. Its usually better to get one of the missiles, because then you’re able to shoot them at a ship that you’re trying to kill. And, of course, this isn’t too easy either. First of all the AI can control their ships better than you can, without a doubt. So they’re dodging and flying around asteroids and flying around a huge space station that just appears out of nowhere, so you can barely even shoot them with your lasers even if you had a clear shot. That’s why I use missiles and blow them away, but the missiles suck because they don’t even damage them past their shields, so then you’re outta luck again. And what’s even better is that your enemies are also going for the power-ups, so they can become even more annoying.

When you use your boosters or use your lasers, you also use energy for that particular ability. For example, when you use your lasers, you can only shoot so many before it gets down to zero and you can’t shoot anymore. The energy recovers fairly quickly, but when you’re in a dogfight, or have the enemy’s ship flying around in a somersault around you, it’s not fast enough. The same general thing happens to your shield, and as you get hit, your shields deplete, but then recover when you don’t use any lasers or rockets.

The developer tries to toss in a little bit of strategy by being able to “order” your energies in a fashion that whatever is the first one is the one that is most supplied with energy, making it either stronger, recover faster, or something like that. I’m not too sure what it ACTUALLY does, as it really doesn’t make too much of a difference that I can see, except that whatever is in the first position will (or implies that it will) have better improvements than the others. At random times your boosters or lasers may stop recovering altogether, so you have to put either one of them in the first spot to start recovering again. I also see that at random times the energy stops depleting from lasers/boosters even though you’re using them. This may or may not be a glitch in the game; I just don’t know.

Nothing about this game makes me more disappointed than the pathetic excuse for an unmotivated story they use for their campaign/single player mode. This is the story in a nutshell for the first four levels:

Level 1:
Lance: Look at me, I’m just out in the middle of space, near some planet in some galaxy somewhere in the universe. Hey what happened to my girlfriend? I better get some missiles, knowing the kind of trouble SHE gets in!!! (laughter from the peanut gallery) There’re always missiles cached near asteroids, so I’m going to go look for them. I better watch out for the gravity barriers though!!!!

Level 2:
(a drone ship comes out of freakin nowhere)

Lance: Oh look at that, there’s a drone ship that they used during the big nameless war we had a few years ago. They used to be used as decoys, and they did a pretty good job of it. I think I’ll shoot it down, ‘cause I need some target practice, even though I was supposed to use my missiles to save my girlfriend.

Level 3:
Lance: I’ve got enough missiles hooray, now I’m going to go find my girlfriend. Hey buddy, have you seen my girlfriend, her name is Bimbo Whatserface.

Pirate Guy: Bimbo Whatserface? You mean the FAMOUS space heroine? You know her?

Lance: Yeah, you could say that.

Pirate Guy: No I haven’t seen her. I’ve just been doing random acts of piracy over here!

Lance: Oh…uh…good luck with that…

Pirate Guy: You think you’re gonna get off that easy? I’m not stupid! YOU’RE MY NEXT VICTIM!!!

Lance: I was kind of hoping that you were…!

Level 4:
No story scene, you just all of a sudden start fighting another ship that comes outta nowhere, and a big space station suddenly appears.

And then later on in the story, you find some guy that is working for a corporation spread out among galaxies. The guy tells you stupid crap about the corporation you don’t need to know, says an area is off-limits, but the main character says “screw this, I’m breaking through.”

Now you may find this story kind of farfetched, but this isn’t far from the truth. I was exaggerating in some places, but the basic premise really is in the game. There is NO character development, NO reason why people just all of a sudden attack you, except for the fact that they’re retarded. There is also some crappy artwork for still images to go with your character text displays.

Even though this game sucks horribly, there are some okay aspects to it. First of all, is the music. The music is cool, because it sounds like metal opera or metal ballad songs. There are only a couple of songs though, so they get played over and over and over. Then there’s the graphics. The graphics are alright, but they don’t look terrible either. It’s just that this game is not very good. They just drop you in the middle of space, and hope you have fun killing random AI-driven enemies while rocking out to metal opera. There is a multiplayer mode, but in all seriousness WHO are you going to find to play with? Not me, that’s for sure.

And just in case you didn’t know what game you were playing, the developers graciously put a big “Void War” logo at the top right of your screen so you can look at it at all times.

 

Grand Theft Auto Advance (GBA) Preview

Developer: Backbone Entertainment/Digital Eclipse Software | Publisher: Rockstar Games

Ever since Grand Theft Auto 3 came out, I know everyone has been pining relentlessly for a new, top-down Grand Theft Auto game. Well, everyone’s wishes have been granted, with the upcoming Grand Theft Auto game for the Game Boy Advance, Grand Theft Auto Advance.

GTA Advance takes place in Liberty City, during the same time period as GTA3. You play as Mike, a member of the mob, who is about to leave the crime world behind. However, his friend Vinnie had a few more jobs for him to do before they could get enough cash to leave for good. That’s when Vinnie dies in a car explosion (with all the cash), and Mike is suspected for Vinnie’s murder. It’s up to Mike to figure out who killed Vinnie, while all the cops in the city are after him. As more missions are completed, more of the storyline is opened up. Story scenes are also drawn in the GTA-style of art that was introduced with GTA3.

Even though GTA Advance goes back to GTA’s roots as a top-down game, GTA Advance keeps the improvements that have been done to the series, to make it seem almost like you’re playing one of the 3D games, of which are:

• Explore and exploit a sprawling, handheld Liberty City that’s over twice as large as Grand Theft Auto 3.
• Dozens of vehicles to find and drive – compacts, sports cars, delivery trucks, taxis, SWAT vans, tanks, and more.
• Take time off from the task at hand with hundreds of side missions: taxi driver, paramedic, fire fighter, street racing, vigilante, and rampages.
• The freedom and open-ended game play that is synonymous with the Grand Theft Auto franchise provides countless hours of portable entertainment.

If you liked the classic GTA games, then this should be a definite addition to your game arsenal.

GTA Advance is set for a simultaneous release with the upcoming GTA: San Andreas in October 2004.

 

Dark Cloud 2 (PS2) Review

Developer: Level 5 / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.3/10

The original Dark Cloud is known as one of the best adventure RPGs for the PlayStation 2. Thus, players clamored for a sequel, and with listening ears Sony has brought us Dark Cloud 2. If you’re a Dark Cloud fan, you will be thoroughly impressed with the effort by Sony to make this sequel truly all that it should be and more. Everything in Dark Cloud (including the translation) has been greatly improved.

Dark Cloud 2 is about a young boy, named Maximillian (or Max for short), and a young princess from the future, Monica. The story starts when Monica goes to the past from the future to stop an evil guy, only known as Griffin, from destroying the past, therefore destroying the future. Don’t ask why this makes sense, because if Griffin was going to destroy the past, how would the future be able to know he was going to if they were destroyed? Just take it for what it is, and you’ll have a fun time playing this game.

The Georama system that made the first Dark Cloud so original, (which is the aspect of the game in which you can build your own towns for people to live in) has been revamped and loaded with new features that make your towns more customizable. Not only did the Georama system get a major improvement, but the battle system, storyline, interactivity, and user interface had all been greatly improved. Dark Cloud 2 is everything Dark Cloud was, should have been, and so much more.

The similarities between Dark Cloud and Dark Cloud 2 are the same as the similarities between any of the Final Fantasy games. All that is in common between the two Dark Cloud games is the concept of using Georama to rebuild the world, and go through a merciless amount of dungeons to do so. And let me tell you right now, the best part of the game is going through the dungeons (and that’s a good thing).

Somewhat of a new aspect to the game is the ability to freely travel to and fro from the future to the past.

Graphics:
The only improvement that some may see as a turn-away from this game is that instead of the generic computer-graphic-look, the game is cel-shaded. Let me say this again, the game is cel-shaded. Even though some may see this as a bad thing, I see it as a good thing. The game looks amazing, and I believe that the cel-shading makes the game what it is.
Compared to games using the conventional computer-graphic look, every aspect of this game, visually, is amazing. The cel-shading mixed with a right amount of regular computer graphics make for a very pleasant experience. Just because it may look cartoony, doesn’t mean it doesn’t look good.

Sound:
The sound in this game is great. Every part of the game has good music. After 90+ hours of playing this game, I still have not gotten sick of any of the songs. The music makes you feel like you’re in the area you’re in, whether it be a volcano, a tower, or the future.
When the story is advancing, there is voice acting. However, the voice acting makes the game seem more kid-like, because there are a few weird voices that seem to have been made to entertain younger children, even if the game is not really made for them.

Game Play:
There are two main aspects of the game. There is the battle system and the town interaction/Georama system, as well as a few extras tossed into the gaming mix.

The battle system has improved so much since the last Dark Cloud, that it makes it easier for you to be efficient with your battle tactics. Instead of having six playable characters with different abilities (as in the first one), you have only two characters, whom each have two weapons (close and long ranged weapons) at their disposal in addition to an “alternative” mode of fighting. Max is equipped with huge wrench-like weapons (because he’s an inventor), and a gun. Max also has a huge robot named Steve. You may remember “Steve” as the talking slingshot from Dark Cloud. Well, now he’s a powerful robot that can be fairly annoying if you choose to equip him with a voice box. Steve is almost a character by himself, as he has his own hit points, weapons, and uses. Steve becomes especially useful farther along in the game, when the enemies become extremely hard. Monica is equipped with the conventional sword, and a bracelet that can shoot magic. That’s not the interesting part about her though. She’s able to transform into particular enemies you encounter throughout the game. This is fairly useful, as each of the different monsters have skills that are needed to complete tasks in the game.

The main part of the game is the dungeon-exploring. Going through dungeon after dungeon was the whole purpose of Dark Cloud, and the same goes for Dark Cloud 2. The main point is that you go to a part of a dungeon, find the key to go to the next level, and go to the next part of the dungeon. As you venture through the seemingly endless amount of dungeons, you improve your characters mainly by improving the weapons they carry. You do this by “synthesizing” or basically adding a particular item’s ability-gaining-potential to the weapon.

Synthesizing has been tweaked a bit from the first Dark Cloud. At every “level” the weapon gains from use (and depending on how advanced the weapon is), it will gain a certain amount of “synthesize points” instead of just putting a bunch of different things in slots and having them join with the weapon. The battle system is very deep, and to explain it here would take too long.

The other part of the game that you’ll be spending time with is the town interaction/Georama system. Town interaction plays a big part in the beginning, but declines as you make the towns through the Georama system. The first town, which is made by the developer, is obviously more grandiose and interesting than any of the ones you make. An interesting part of town interaction is the camera. The camera is used to document certain types of items, which is used for other purposes. However, this provides for some pretty fun photo shoots. When you first get the camera, you’ll be taking pictures of everything you see, trying to get every single item (which there are a few hundred of).

Like I said before, the Georama system had been greatly improved, and makes for some very nice customization of the towns you have to rebuild. Instead of having the actual items being provided for you to right away place on the map, you must actually CREATE them with the building materials you acquire. This makes for a less far-fetched reason for being able to make a town by yourself, out of nothing. In Dark Cloud you didn’t have to meet the conditions of the original town, except to get prizes for doing so. In Dark Cloud 2, however, you have to do 100% of what the town is supposed to have in it. An example would be “Place trees around the Elven house.” This would complete a certain condition you had to do to restore the future, because in the future’s past, the Elven house had trees around it. Also, you must have a certain amount of “culture points” which almost forces you decorate the town with certain things, to make it seem like a more believable town.

Some extra aspects to the game are the invention system, Spheda, and fish raising/racing.

The invention system comes in play when you take pictures of certain items. These pictures supply Max with ideas to be able to make a certain invention, for instance a bomb or a weapon. The way it works, is if you put three ideas together, you may or may not be able to create a “complete” idea that will allow you to create a particular object.

Spheda in this game is basically an advanced form of golf. The explanation behind Spheda is that there are space/time distortion thing, in which a blue or red sphere falls out of a blue or red distortion. The goal of Spheda is simply to put the sphere of glowing space/time back into the portal. You may ask now “why don’t the just pick it up and put it back in.” You idiot! Don’t you know if you pick up a piece of space/time you’re going to possibly change the future (as if hitting it with a golf club makes it any better…)!?! Anyhow, to win at a particular game of Spheda, you must defeat all the enemies in a dungeon, after which, the distortion and the sphere will appear at random places on the map. The dungeons are all randomly generated, so it makes for some very frustrating times. Basically, you have to get the sphere an opposite color of the distortion to make it go in (Red sphere -> blue distortion, blue sphere -> red distortion). This adds for some difficulty, as you may be able to hit the sphere into the distortion, but it doesn’t go in because it is the same color as the distortion (which is bad). Have fun with this one. Even though it isn’t a required part of the game, its still very useful getting the item out of the treasure box that falls out of the distortion after it is repaired.

Fishing. Fish raising. Fish racing. This all seems kind of boring, and let me tell you it pretty much is. But if you play your cards right, you’ll be able to get some very good items and weapons. I think its sort of self-explanatory as to what you do with the fish.

Overall:
Well, after all that we’ve been through with each other, I’m afraid it won’t even come close to how long you will play this game. I haven’t said one bad thing about this game, but there is a factor of the game becoming rather boring at times, as well as getting an “oh yay you finished an area, now go to the next one and do the same thing you did before” feeling about midway through the game. Nothing really happens during the middle part of the game, as it is really just gets you prepared for the unloading of the story, and mess of difficult enemies and bosses near the end of the game.

There are about seven different areas, all corresponding with a particular element. Such as, fire, water, wind, earth, air, and a couple of extra areas. The reason it becomes so boring, is that when you go through the dungeons, there usually isn’t any story sequences at each part. The only reason they become boring is if you’re trying to play all the way through a bunch of the dungeons at the same time. If you give it a little break in between every few dungeons, it’d be less of a bore. But to break up the monotony of the dungeons, the developers have tossed in many, many extra mini games and side quests to have fun with.

 

Creative Spam? You’ve Got To Be Kidding Me…

Its the year 2004, and after nearly 10 years of the existence of the Internet, we STILL haven’t been able to stop spam. Well, there has been a good effort though, the major ISPs of the Internet are fighting the good fight against Spammers, while raising prices of Internet access for their efforts. More specifically, AOL, MSN, and Earthlink (among others) are putting immense pressure on the spammers to create new tactics and things that will be able to get past their spam blockers. There is also some nifty programs like McAfee’s SpamKiller. Even though SpamKiller sucks, it still filters out all the mail that is absolutely shit, and gives me the chance to catch mail that I actually wanted to receive. By the way, I get about 200 spam mails a day, and more often than not, I don’t get any mail that is actually what I wanted.

However, even with all the technology, skills, and millions of dollars poured into killing off spam companies, it isn’t solving the problem, rather its making it evolve into an even more annoying one. Barely ever do you even get any COHERENT spam mail. It used to be that you’d get a subject that said “Look at these MILFs go at it!” but now its “M-I*L-F pr0n, ci+y poli+ics v/ote Ge*9orge W. Bu1sh” or something along the lines of that. Of course there is no reasonable way to block this overloading of complete and utter CRAP. One spam mail I had received (which also sparked this rant), contained a picture of a woman finger banging herself, made out of symbols on the keyboard.

I mean, you’ve gotta be KIDDING me. What the FUCK is with this shit? How long did it take this person to actually draw this thing out of dashes, dots, perentheses and one red o for the tit? Spam is seriously going too far and E-mail is doomed.

 

Xenosaga Episode I (PS2) Review

Developer: Monolith Games / Publisher: Namco || Overall: 8.5/10


Overview:
What do you get when you mix an incredible space adventure full of drama, action, explosions, and robots with hot chicks? You get Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht. Xenosaga Part I is the first of eight games, and they’re all a part of the Xenogears story in one way or another (prequels and sequels, and I’m assuming a possible remake of Xenogears). Xenogears was made by Squaresoft, and Xenosaga is being made by Namco (which has a team of developers who left Squaresoft).

Boasting an immense and involving story, Xenosaga Part I takes place in the future, where humans only live in space, co-existing with cyborg counterparts, called the Realians. Though the story doesn’t revolve totally around the Realians, the events happen all because of a war that had been fought between humans and Realians. There is a whole history that the game presents for you, and trying to remember all this information to understand the rest of the game will actually revolve around the events that happened before you start playing the game. The real conflict in the game is the war between humans and aliens no one knows anything about, and a mysterious object called the Zohar.

Even though this game is an RPG, when it starts out, there isn’t much of a game to actually be played because there are so many cinematic movies. There’s more actual playing time as you get farther in the story, but this might lose some gamers early on in the game. It was like watching a really long porn movie, except there was no sex. Or there was some sex but it cut off before anyone was actually naked. (Sex in this reference would be equal to playing the game.)

Graphics:
The graphics in this game are nothing short of amazing. Everything is very polished, and looks about as real as computer graphics can look in this generation. However, there are some annoyances involving hands, and them not having moving fingers. Still, the cinematic movies are ones to really be amazed by. During action scenes, you may actually say “wow” because they are pretty intense at times.

Later on in the game, there is an integration of CG movies in actual battles.

Sound:
The sound category as a whole is definitely below average at best. Now don’t get me wrong, the voice acting in this game is top notch, and the musical score is really good, but there is an EXTREME lack of music during regular game play, more specifically map movement. There is nothing that will help you get into the mood when you’re traveling from Point A to Point B, fighting monsters along the way. And if you’ve played RPGs, this is what happens ALL the time. The lack of music here is really a sad thing, as it makes the game feel empty and less involving when the actual events of the story so far have gotten you to that point.

I don’t know if anyone else cares this much about music, but I honestly do think that music is a very important part of any RPG, to always feel like you’re involved in the game, and not just hearing footsteps on different surfaces.

Game Play:
The game is similar to most RPGs, except in battles; there are a number of different attacks you can string together to make each turn at least seem like it’s more realistic (because in other RPGs, when you say “attack” the character always attacks the same way every time). You can also make the decisions of what to actually hit your enemy with, whether it be a physical attack, or Ether (magic) type of attack. The same sort of “choosing your attack” feature is used when you’re in mechs called A.G.W.S (pronounced ay-ggs). So any Xenogears fan who doesn’t have Xenosaga will be wondering what the hell an A.G.W.S is and what happened to the Gear which was in XenoGEARS. Well, supposedly A.G.W.S are the smaller type of Gear used in the time before Xenogears (since Xenosaga Part I is a prequel). Instead of the gigantic Gear from Xenogears, the A.G.W.S. in Xenosaga are about four times bigger than humans, and can have a range of weapon types, including Melee, Guns, and Rockets/Grenades.

Now, you’re probably wondering how the backend system is. I’ll tell you right now that it is one of the most complicated ones I’ve ever seen, except it can help you out in making your character very strong, and skills-and-abilities-filled. There are several types of points you gain at the end of a battle, and you use three of the types of points to gain more Ether attacks (magic attacks), Skills (skills are extracted from actual items that can be equipped), and Techs (which are points you use to upgrade the skills you use in regular battle).

The stand-out point of this game is with no doubt its storyline. There are barely any games that will even come close to having such an elaborate storyline as Xenosaga (when all eight parts come out) will have. I’m no psychic, but if each game will be as packed with events and as much story development as the first, this gaming series will be any serious RPG-player’s dream. Or at least mine.

Another important part of the game is the Internet-like feature you can use, called the U.M.N. The U.M.N. is basically the Internet for the whole universe, and contains all the useful information you’ve been told through the game, as well as emails that contain weapons you can download as an attachment occasionally. Don’t ask me why that should make sense, it’s the future, they can do that. You can also visit areas you’ve been to before, even if they’re destroyed, or inside someone’s head. Instead of allowing you to physically travel to these places again, the areas are “saved” in the main character’s computer that is hooked up to the U.M.N. and is somehow inside of her or something.

Even though I’m saying such great things about the gameplay, there is the factor of the battles becoming very boring. Even though you can mix it up by using different attacks, the enemies you fight usually require a sort of “formula” of attacks to best defeat them. Not only this, but it usually takes a long time to defeat your enemies. Too often are there three enemies who have high HP AND can heal themselves (not that I’m saying it’s too hard – this just drags out the battles), and sometimes you have five of the same enemy to kill, and they usually take two characters attacking them before they die. Every time you go into another random battle, it becomes more laborious than actually having fun killing some stupid aliens no one knows about.

Overall:
Though it is a very good game, I am actually really disappointed in the lack of music during regular regular map movement and the use of the A.G.W.S. (compared to their use in Xenogears). Though the mechs are a major root point of the original game itself, they don’t play such a huge role in Xenosaga Part I from what I’ve seen. Perhaps their use will be more important than just retreating into them when you’re fighting a hard boss in the next game.

 

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2) Preview

Developer: Rockstar North | Publisher: Rockstar Games

No game has more hype, controversy and rewarding pedestrian killing than the Grand Theft Auto series. With the success of the GTA3, the transition to full 3D game play was the best thing to happen to this game series. And if GTA3 couldn’t be any better, GTA: Vice City blew every other game in the series out of the water. One can only imagine how the 5th installment of the GTA series, GTA: San Andreas will completely rule over all its predecessors, this October 2004.

Five years before the game starts off, Carl Johnson, the main character in this GTA, escaped from the pressures of life in Los Santos, San Andreas. The city was tearing itself apart with gang trouble, drugs and corruption. It was also a place where film stars and millionaires do their best to avoid the dealers and gangbangers. From the poor to the rich, Los Santos was not a very happy, or safe, place to live.

In the early 90s, Carl is forced to go back home, because his mother has been murdered. When he comes back to Los Santos, he finds that his family has fallen apart and his childhood friends are all heading towards disaster. However, on his return to the neighborhood, a couple of corrupt cops frame him for homicide. CJ is forced on a journey that takes him across the entire state of San Andreas, to save his family and to take control of the streets.

Some of the newest innovations in the GTA: San Andreas are in how you make and spend your money. There’s a lot to spend money on, and to get around a whole state, you’ll need plenty of cash. Like in previous GTAs, you will sometimes earn money by completing missions, but not always. That’s why side missions will take a new level of importance. One of the new ways you can get hold of cash, is by stealing other people’s stuff.

Burglary is another crime added to the repertoire of other crimes you’re able to commit in the GTA series freely. To begin the actual burglary side mission, you have to carjack a moving truck and then press the R3 button. There are dozens of places in San Andreas to burglarize, for example residential homes and businesses. Most can contain a variety of goods that you can make off with and sell.

If you don’t know how to burglarize well, you’re going to get caught. First of all, you can only rob places at night. You’re going to have to get something to hide your identity, like a ski mask or balaclava. You’re also going to have to bring a weapon or two, just in case someone is home, and they try to alert the police. But that’s only if you make enough noise to wake up the inhabitants, if any. People will be sleeping, because its night. If you’re able to slip in quietly, you may be able to make off with a VCR, TV, or the home stereo system. It’d do you well to check every room in the house, because making off with a 13 inch TV wouldn’t be better than making off with something with way more value.

Once you’re able to make off with your haul, you’re able to sell your goods, and make sure you get your money’s (and effort’s) worth out of it. The money you make can be put forward to buy items, food, clothes, guns, properties, and even businesses.

The way you spend your money influences the way you play the game. In San Andreas, the way you dress and take care of yourself tells a lot about who you are. As a result, your clothes and haircut affect the way others respect you. There are many barbershops throughout San Andreas, and with enough cash, CJ can get whatever cut he wants. The sharper CJ looks, the more respected he is. Rivals will take notice to him, and be more wary of him, as well as women noticing how good looking CJ is, and gaining more authority within his own gang, the Orange Grove Families. You can choose from many different cuts, including bald, afro, jheri curl, and cornrows.

Clothing affects the game as well. Through the game, if you dawn your gang’s colors, rival gangs and police will take notice to your allegiances easier, while gaining more respect in his own gang for doing so. Some missions will even require CJ wearing a particular outfit. Some of the places that you can choose clothing from are Binco, SubUrban, and ProLaps. Binco is a discount clothes store which sells cheap and utilitarian clothing. SubUrban has a bigger selection than Binco, and also targets a customer base that has a higher budget to spend on clothing, favoring brand-name apparel. ProLaps is an athletic gear outlet store, selling jerseys, shorts, hats and other sport related items. Prices at ProLaps are a bit more expensive, and CJ will have to earn a lot more money.

CJ will keep all the clothing he buys, so you won’t have to go back to the clothing store and buy clothes every time you want to change your look. All you have to do is walk into your safe house and look in the closet to see every piece of clothing CJ has earned/purchased at that point in the game. This adds a collecting mission to the game, and also a huge amount of customization for you character, for mixing and matching the clothing you have.

The game itself will be five times as big as GTA: Vice City, featuring three cities. Los Santos (the capital, and a mirror of Los Angeles), San Fierro (a mirror of San Francisco), and Las Venturas (a mirror of Las Vegas).

GTA: San Andreas will also feature a new type of transportation, the BMX bike. To me, nothing would seem more fun than riding a BMX bike to another city clear across the state. Now it just leaves to wonder if there’s going to be a paper route you can do (been hoping for that one since GTA 3). Among other improvements, there are also motorcycle cops, citizens who will not give up their cars so easily (when you’re carjacking), improved police AI and even more troublesome police.

If you’re wondering about the game’s musical score, Rockstar has not released too many details about what is actually going to be in the game, other than the fact that there will be music from many genres of the early 90’s. Since there are three different cities, there is a possibility that each city could have its own list of unique radio stations and music.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas hits the PlayStation 2 on October 18, 2004.

 

.hack//Infection (PS2) Review

Publisher: Bandai Games / Developer: CyberConnect2 Corp. || Overall: 9/10


Overview:
Part one in a series of four games, .hack // INFECTION takes place in a simulated MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) called The World. What .hack manages to accomplish, is give the feel of playing online, with the ability to trade with other players, explore many different areas, and go on assortments of different quests, in addition to plenty more. Your allies even act as their own independent player (for the most part), like they were being controlled by another player, playing alongside you somewhere else in the world. The main difference from .hack and an MMORPG is that there is a structured story, with characters in the game that you’ll encounter repeatedly throughout its tenure.

If you don’t like complicated games that take a long time to get into, this is probably not your game/gaming series. There is a lot to learn about .hack: weapons, shops, and areas in the World, Altimit (your simulated computer’s operating system), and more. As you progress through the game, more is added on, and that’s only half the game. A big part of the game is the story. The whole time you’re trying to figure out what the heck is going on, and just when you think you understand what’s going on, a bunch of random occurrences are tossed at you, confusing you even more, as well as enticing you to buy the next game in the series.

Graphics:
The graphics are great. There’s nothing to say bad about this game graphic-wise. For the most part, you can easily define something that is of interest from the scenery, and it’s easy to tell whether or not something is an enemy. There is constantly a myriad of colors for you to submerge yourself into. During battles, there are different colors flashing, things coming out of the ground, and things flying out of the air, all summing up to be a nice blend. The game’s frame rate almost never slows down, unless you have a horde of enemies unleashed at the same time.

The only unfortunate thing is how there aren’t any CG movies. There are movies, but they are usually done with an in-game sort of feel to them, not looking any different than what it does in-game.

Sound:
Something you don’t see in 99% of the games out there is that there are two different language settings. Some people don’t like to hear their games in English, so they can switch it to Japanese. I don’t like to hear the Japanese banter and having to read the text boxes in order to understand what’s going on, so I leave it on English. This will appease some of the whiners out there who wish that all their games are in Japanese instead of English, I suppose. Practically every time you talk with another character, there is a voice that accompanies it. The only time you’re not going to get voices are when you talk to the people in towns you trade with.

So, I guess by this time you’re asking “how good is the actual voice acting?” Well, it’s some of the best that I’ve ever heard. There are some annoying voices I’d rather not listen to, but I just don’t use those characters, and that basically solves the problem.

The musical score is definitely a well made one. Certain songs do get redundant because you visit certain areas which use the same music over and over. Certain examples would be dungeons, and root towns. You spend almost the whole game in either one of them, so you’ll begin to know the music by heart.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is superb. Yes, superb. If you don’t understand what it means, just take the “b” out of “superb”, and it’ll all make sense. There are three parts of the game I would like to discuss, gameplay wise, and they are:

The Battle System
All the fighting is done in real-time, and in full 3D. You can pause the game to request abilities that your allies have, or to use one of your abilities, but its basically non-stop action once you get into a battle.

An interesting part of the game is called Data Drain. Throughout playing .hack, it will keep reminding you that The World is a game inside your game, and this is one of the reminders. Data Drain is the ability/virus that rewrites an enemy’s data, and makes them into a weaker enemy. Every time you use Data Drain, you also obtain a rare item. It’s a great help at times, but if you use Data Drain too much you run the risk of having the viral infection in your character to spread enough that it can take away experience points, give status problems, or even kill you. Don’t ask me how that happens, it just does. The reason you have the ability in the first place, is because you have a bracelet that no one can really see. The bracelet was given to you by some girl named Aura at the beginning of the game, and when you complete this game, you still wonder who she is. I’m not expecting to find out who she is till Part Four.

Allies are a big and very essential part of the game. When you defeat an enemy, experience is not divided between allies, so you may as well have allies going along with you when you’re out in an area. Allies can help you out with healing, fighting, and special abilities. They even take care of themselves, buying items they’ve used during battle when they go back to town. The only downfall is that your allies have to be sort of babied. You have to constantly look out for them, and hope they’ll heal themselves before they die, resulting in the use of an expensive resurrection item. In addition, you also have to give them weapons, armor, and accessories so that they can actually help you in battle when you get to the higher levels. You have to be very careful, because if you give them an item you didn’t want to give them, there’s no way to get it back.

Town Interaction
Interacting with people, roaming the towns, and using the shops is a big part of the game. You usually can’t get very high levelled weapons at the shops, so that’s why you need to trade with the other players of The World. It’s a shot in the dark whether or not someone is going to have something you want, but when they have a weapon or a piece of armor that is obviously better than one you or an ally has, you’re going to want to trade for it. Most of the time it’s definitely in your favor when it comes to trading, but to get some of the very highly leveled weapons/armor, you won’t get them unless you trade rare items (or fairly hard to obtain items) for them. There is only one town per “server,” so you get to spend a while at each town before you get to go to the next one.

A portal, called the Chaos Gate, is in every town. The Chaos Gate is used to send you and your allies to an area in The World. Each area is made up of three different keywords, each influencing the kind of area it will be. This gives the possibility for a seemingly endless amount of areas to go to, and going to the same keywords on a different server is going to be different as well. There’s a long list of keywords as well, and if you wanted to go to an area to level up, you can choose to put together random keywords.

The Backend System
The backend system is useful and very easy to understand. You can get used to it in almost no time at all, but there are certain restrictions you’re just going to have to live with.

Like other MMORPGs, you have a limited number of items you can carry at any one time. So, the makers of The World have generously given you ninety-nine extra slots for distinct items (not multiples) at a place easily accessible in the root town. You aren’t able to use these in battle, however. You’re only allowed to have thirty distinct items at your disposal. It’s a good idea to keep it to the bare minimum, because when you go to an area through the Chaos Gate, and go through a dungeon, you’re going to get a lot of items.

Skills and abilities are fairly important as well. Unlike most RPGs, you don’t keep obtaining more and more skills to have all the time. The skills you have depend on what weapons and armor you have equipped. In general, it is simple to figure out what weapons/armor are generally better than others, because each has a Level designation. Sometimes a Lvl: 27 armor may be more useful to you than a Lvl: 32 armor, because of the abilities the Lvl: 27 weapon has. If you don’t care to have that certain ability, and would rather have the higher attack, you’d most likely go with the Lvl: 32.

Another part of the backend system, which is indirect, is the operating system Altimit. Everybody in the “real” world of .hack uses Altimit. With Altimit, you can read email and read news about what’s happening away from The World (because The World is just a game, after all). You find out a lot about how The World has made a few cases of seizures and comas through the news site (basically the whole reason why you’re playing this game, is because your friend Orca was one of these victims). There’s also a “bulletin board” type feature for The World, which answers questions people would actually ask on a help board for a game. This is basically the developer’s clever way of integrating an FAQ into the game. Parts of the story unfold on the bulletin board as well, and you find out areas that require your visiting to progress the story, or just to obtain rare items/allies.

Overall:
.hack Part 1 is a fairly short game, clocking in at around thirty hours. Personally, I beat the gane within two weeks. It’s a fairly aged game, so it was only $19.99 when I bought it, not $49.99 like Part 4 is currently. Even though its thirty hours, there ARE 4 parts to this game series. If each game is at least thirty hours, that’s 120+ hours of .hack fun. If you’re interested in this series, it’s probably a good idea to start with Part 1, as you’ll be able to understand the story, how to play, and be at a sufficient level to be able to play the other parts.

In addition to a great game, you get a free 45 minute DVD of .hack // LIMINALITY, which is exclusive to the video games. It gives another insight into the world of .hack, and how it influences people outside of The World. Stop reading and go get .hack // INFECTION.

 

Front Mission 4 (PS2) Preview

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix ||

Square’s Front Mission series isn’t one that many will recognize… The first game in the series, simply titled Front Mission, had been a strategy game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, and the second a unique side-scroller where mechs called Wanzers jumped around and shot at each other. These first two Front Mission games had only been released in Japan, and were average games at best. However, the third Front Mission succeeded where its predecessors could not, with the PlayStation’s Front Mission 3.

Front Mission 3 is an amazing game. It has huge mechs blowing the crap out of other mechs (called Wanzers), the ability to elaborately customize your own Wanzer (or even create one from spare parts), and a story that is actually good enough to keep you playing. On top of that, there are two different stories you can go through. A huge part of Front Mission 3 is an “internet” type of feature in which you could go to different “web sites” that are in-game, and an email system. Unlike any other game, the vast in-game history of the world (and a little bit of actual world history) is a big part of understanding the game and why things happen.

Front Mission 4, also a strategy game, looks spectacular. It is set in 2096, and takes place in Germany and South America six years after the original Front Mission’s Second Huffman Conflict. Front Mission 4 intertwines the stories of two Wanzer pilots Elsa and Damil. In the world of 2096, there are 3 main economic powers: the OCU (which is made up of the countries between Japan and Australia, along the coast), the UCS (the U.S., Canada, and South America), and the EC (basically all the countries in Europe).

The game starts with Elsa’s story in Europe. Elsa is formerly a wanzer pilot in the French army, and is now in an EC team that tests and researches wanzers, called the Durandal. When an EC German base is attacked by an unknown force of wanzers, the Durandal is sent to investigate the attack, and uncovers a dark plot. The story switches over to Damil in South America. The UCS Venezuelan governor declares independence from the UCS, and deploys troops to blockade the country. UCS troops are sent in to repress the Venezuelan forces. Damil and his unit are among those deployed, but they have no interest in war. Damil’s story starts when he and his unit witness a plane crash in a Venezuelan jungle. What they find inside the cargo plane shapes their destiny.

The battle system in FM4 has been changed a bit from FM3. The main addition for actual battles is a new system called the Link System. Utilizing the new Link System allows you and your team members to use particular maneuvers against your enemies, whether they are Attack or Defense Links. With the Link System, you can have more than one friendly unit attack an enemy unit at the same time, obviously giving more damage to that enemy unit, or decrease the amount of damage given to a friendly unit.

Another noticeable change is in the Pilot System. Instead of having skills randomly become obtained like in FM3, it appears that you can get skills more freely by using “Enhancement Points” your pilots earn after a battle. The skills you are able to obtain increase with your computer’s rank. When you upgrade your computer, you can choose from more abilities to acquire. There are three types of skills that give you advantages during the game. There are Battle Skills (randomly activated during battles), Passive Skills (in effect as long as they are equipped), and Command Skills (available from a pilot’s list of commands).

Front Mission 4 is set for a release on June 15, 2004.

 

 

Unlimited SaGa (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Square Enix || Overall: 3.0/10


Overview:
Unlimited SaGa is the latest in the underrated SaGa series. Let me tell you right now, you’re in for a big disappointment. This game seems like it’s an experimental mending of 3 games: SaGa Frontier 2, Legend of Mana, and Final Fantasy Tactics. The best way to explain each aspect is to put them in a numbered list.

1. The vastly different character choices and their journeys (from SaGa Frontier 2) is the basic formula for Unlimited Saga. Seems interesting right? Of course it is. That’s why I liked SaGa Frontier 2 so much (and still trying to beat it).

2. Remember the adventure stuff you always sent your allies on in Final Fantasy Tactics? Well, you get to do them now! Hooray! The only good thing it takes from Final Fantasy Tactics are those adventures, but the bad things it takes from it make this one good thing bad. This game also has the same basic towns, meaning they’re just pictures, and you don’t get to roam around. The whole game you don’t get to roam around at all. There’s no actual moving of a character in a conventional sense, like in any regular Final Fantasy (or really any) game. You hop around like it’s a board game. This is sort of like FFT, in that you just tell the person where to go and they go, and you don’t actually move them.

3. Most have probably not played Legend of Mana, but it was a pretty fun game. Unlimited Saga takes from this game the kind of towns there are, meaning the different places you can choose to go to in the city itself, but then mixed with the FFT towns. You don’t actually move anywhere, you just select the place you want to go and a picture comes up for the place. Legend of Mana was just one big game of different adventures you had to do for people, sort of like this game.

Now, take a game that mixes that interactivity you had in Legend of Mana for those missions (which you actually play), and the adventures you sent your allies on in FFT (which you didn’t play at all). You get something of a 50% interactivity game. That game is Unlimited SaGa. Oh, and you don’t get to see any of the places you’re traveling except for a little random picture in the top left corner.

The people in the bars that you can converse with are about as dumb as the main characters are flat (and that’s pretty bad). I’ve only played one out of the 7 characters you can choose from so far for about an hour, and I can say that there are some interesting aspects to this game. However, after a while these “interesting” things don’t become so interesting anymore.

Graphics:
The strongest point about this game is the graphics. Everything about this game graphic-wise is beautiful, because I actually really like hand-drawn-looking graphics. The only bad thing is, is that there is no animation except in battles, and the animations aren’t very good. Enemies look better than your characters actually do. Half the time you’re playing a board game, and the other half you’re battling. This gets kind of boring, because when there are some story scenes (which are rare) the only things that you see are the cut-outs of characters talking about stupid things.

Sound:
The music is good. It definitely sets a mood, depending on which adventure you’re in. But the game itself is not executed well, so the music becomes sort of useless to listen to because you don’t really even see what kind of a place you’re in. For example, there’s creepy music in an abandoned castle. But you don’t see this castle at all, so it takes away from the experience of enjoying the music.

Gameplay:
The gameplay is executed well FOR WHAT IT IS. In the beginning, I couldn’t figure out how to move my character across the board-game part of the game, until I accidentally hit my left analog stick. A weird circle thing popped up, and pointed towards the ????? box. OHHHH so that’s how you move. And the first time I saw my character move I was horrified to see that all it was, was a still black and white image of my character jumping around. “Isn’t that terribly fun?” you might ask. No, it isn’t.

Now, you have to say, “The battle system is good, isn’t it? That’s what you come to expect of the SaGa series!” Yes that’s what you are expecting, but you are let down and then shot in the head like a lame horse in the backyard. The battle system makes no sense. Let me start at the beginning. Ok, you enter a battle. Like in other SaGa games, you have HP and LP. Your attacks actually use HP, and in no time you’re down to 0 HP. Supposedly, HP is a wall “protecting your LP.” But since HP is depleted so fast, I see no real reason why HP even exists in this game. Sometimes, when you even have HP, your LP is decreased for no real reason. When you lose all of your LP that character dies, and doesn’t come back till you go back to a town.

There is also a “combo ’system’” (notice how I put system in double quotes, because this game really doesn’t have a system of anything). The combos are helpful, yet not helpful during battles. Moreover, it just doesn’t make sense. When you attack, you have 2 options. To either “Go!” or “Hold.” If you go, you just attack. If you hold, then you get the chance to string together multiple attacks by your allies, or the one character. Yet, you also run the risk of having an enemy get into your combo and deal more damage to you than you did to him. That happens almost every time, and makes you not want to use combos at all. The whole battle system is a mess, and there is nothing really going for you. You can’t even heal your freaking health, LP, or get rid of status problems without going back to town. It’s confusing what actually happens in a battle.

The backend system is even more confusing. There are these things that are called growth panels, but nothing (not even the instruction booklet) explains the functions of these panels and how you can increase your abilities using them. After every adventure you complete, you are forced to put abilities on to the growth panel whether you want to or not. That means when your growth panel is full, you’re going to have to replace one skill with another. So, it’s almost impossible to actually get ahead in this game. The rest of the backend system is just a cluttered mess that makes even less sense than the growth panel. After actually looking through it, you say to yourself “what’s the point of any of this?”

You won’t see yourself going to the main status menu very often anyway. It’s not like any of it is useful.

Crappiest Part:
The crappiest part is how this game does not get you into playing the game at all. The game does not tell you why you are playing, and it feels like its holding back on the actual story of the game. The rest of the game wouldn’t be so horrible if it only had some sort of a good story to keep you going on. After a while, the only reason I was playing this game was because I spent money on it. Fortunately, it wasn’t that much, so I’m going to see if I can get some cash off of it. Well, I came back from 2 places, and I couldn’t get anything more than 5 bucks for it. I bought the game off of EBay for 10 bucks. I may as well keep it…

Overall:
This was a horrible execution of so many good ideas. This game would have been good, if it were more interactive, and if it were an actual GAME. This game is just a bunch of commands that you don’t have any fun in doing. The only thing you actually get to do is when a random spinning wheel comes up and you hope you succeed in what you’re trying to do.

Don’t get fooled by the box, when it says to “embark on … quests and encounter completely new battle systems, [and] open-ended stories.” There are only crappy quests, new crappy battle systems and anything but open-ended stories. Unless open-ended means you make up your own story in your mind…

Unlimited SaGa isn’t a game I would suggest to anyone, not even to those who were fans of the previous games in the series. The game lacks interactivity and isn’t too appealing. Perhaps if you’re looking to waste some time, Unlimited SaGa would be worth looking in to, but it would be wise to search elsewhere.

 

Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal (PS2) Preview

Developer: Insomniac Games | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Ratchet and Clank are back for another go around, and from what I’ve seen in the past, it’s going to be one heck of a game.

Ratchet and Clank is a 3D action game in which you control the characters Ratchet and Clank. Ratchet has at his disposal a vicious set of weaponry, ranging from flamethrowers to rockets to strong magnets. Clank assists Ratchet along the journey, and is most of the time on Ratchet’s back, occasionally becoming a helicopter, talking in a British accent when the story needs to be moved along, and more. Clank can also be used as his own independent character. The series seems to get better with each game.

Already packed with enough weapons to raze a small country, the addition of more weapons will make for an even more action-filled experience than its predecessors. Also with an online mode included, this game will be an awesome experience. Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal is set to come out in Fall 2004.

 

Dream #23035: The Dream at a Mall

I wrote this on April 13, 2002.

This dream was especially weird, but I can’t remember all the details. I remember I was just there, in the middle of a mall. I look in front of me, and the Wherehouse that I worked at (which wasn’t in a mall) was there.

Since I hadn’t worked there because of Spring Break, I decided to go inside and see what was happening in there.

It was Saturday, and the people I saw working there, I didn’t know, even though I worked on Saturdays. I waved to this guy I saw working there before, and he waved back. The whole store was different than before, it had stereos, satellites, and speakers, kind of like a Good Guys, on one side, and just a couple racks of CDs on the other side.  It seemed like they did it all in one day.

The manager saw me and came over, saying, “hey, what are you doing here?” I said, “nothing, just checkin’ up on ya guys, what’s going on with all this stuff?” The manager said, “you like? We moved around the whole store!”

The manager went away, and I was just kinda looking at the stuff there for a long time, feeling ignored because nobody that was working there was talking to me.

I finally left, and went into the crowd of people outside the store. I started walking towards another place, like I needed to go there or something bad would happen. Or something.

Then I woke up. Later on today, a dog I had for 7 ½ years, since I was 9, died of cancer.