Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King (PS2) Demo Preview

Developer: Level 5 | Publisher: Square Enix ||

It’s been a while since a Dragon Quest game has come out. The last Dragon Quest (also known as Dragon Warrior) game to come out was Dragon Warrior VII in 2000 for the original PlayStation. Needless to say, the old Enix canon franchise now sees its latest incarnation under the guise of Square Enix and developer Level 5. Level 5 has already built up a reputation with Sony’s Dark Cloud series, one that I am very fond of, and the same cel-shading style used in Dark Cloud 2 shows through in Dragon Quest VIII.

I had the opportunity to actually play the demo for Dragon Quest VIII because GameCrazy gave me a copy of the demo disc when I finally got one of their cards to get discounts on used games. So, naturally, I decided to play it. I hadn’t had the pleasure of playing any of the previous games in the series, so I started Dragon Quest VIII with a clean slate. I was an avid fan of the Dragon Ball Z series back when it was in its popularity spike in America, so I noticed the art style of Akira Toriyama right off. Coupled with the cel-shaded look of the whole game, it gave a very anime-esque feel to the game that is very similar to Toriyama’s previous works in animation. The environments don’t fare as well from what is shown. Even though it is a demo, the areas available weren’t very impressive or breathtaking to say the least; rather, the environments in the demo were more or less just trying to accomplish what they were trying to do and little more. The areas available were an open field, a cave, and a town.

Like what was mentioned earlier, the field and the cave aren’t all that spectacular. The field had some nice colors with trees and hills, so the features of the field weren’t all that boring. The cave also had some nice colors in certain parts, but most of it was just brown. The town was also colorful, but it just felt like it didn’t have anything special to it. Of course, being a demo, it doesn’t usually reflect on how well the game will look in all instances, and I expect that Level 5 has made some nice-looking areas, and of course, to some extent, utilized the help of Akira Toriyama in that regard. The sound is nothing less than what you should expect from a Square Enix game; simply, it’s a nice fantasy-oriented orchestrated soundtrack. The limited amount of voice acting present was only available during the very important parts of the story mode. The voice acting isn’t half bad either. It should also be said that the automatic stand-out for best voice in the game is the character of Yangus, who sounds like some guy that would be in The Getaway. The main character doesn’t talk, though.

As far as gameplay goes, Dragon Quest VIII is pretty much a run-of-the-mill RPG. There’s not a lot shown in the demo to distinguish it too much from regular RPG gameplay, but there are a couple of unique things to it that go toward making it more than just normal. There are random battles — this is nothing really surprising. But what is different is that there are also extra enemies on the map that you have a choice of fighting on the map as well. Sometimes you can be forced to fight the enemies that appear on the field. So, they could be guarding a treasure or present an extra battle challenge. Battles are also fast-paced and you can get through them relatively fast if need be. What helps this is the use of tactics that you can assign to your other teammates, whether you want them to automate in a certain way or if you want them to follow your orders. So if you had your allies automated (and you can change their tactics mid-battle) you’d only really control the main character and be supported by your allies’ decisions according to the tactics you selected for them.

As for the actual story, it’s a charming adventure they have going. Even though they drop you into the middle of the story (which is probably not even in the real game as it is presented in the demo), it did interest me, and I wanted to find out more about the problem at hand (which was something about a king being transformed into a monster) and who the non-speaking main character really was. The town structure also reminded me of the 16-bit era RPGs; it wasn’t really anything in particular, but there was just something about the way the buildings were laid out, as if we were still in 2D. I also had the same feeling when running around on the field outside of the town. Whether or not the developer tries to keep that feeling through the whole game could be questionable.

The Dragon Quest VIII demo has cemented my decision in definitely getting the full retail version. If you’re able to get your hands on it, take the demo for a spin, as it’ll definitely show off some of the style of Dragon Quest VIII and what’s to be expected from the game. Judging from the demo alone, Dragon Quest VIII is sure to not disappoint.

 

Burnout Legends (PSP) Review

Developer: EA London / Publisher: EA Games || Overall: 9.3/10

The PSP’s first Burnout game isn’t an entirely new title in the Burnout series; rather, it is more like a compilation of all of the best parts of Burnout 1, Burnout 2, and Burnout 3, using the physics and gameplay engine of Burnout 3. Burnout Legends is a perfect arcade racer for the PSP, capturing the feel of its console counterparts amazingly well. Burnout Legends works perfectly for a portable without skimping on what makes the Burnout series great in the first place.

To put it bluntly, Burnout Legends is a great game. Just like every other game in the series, it revolves around high speed racing action full of dodging traffic and crashing into your competitors as you try to place in an event. The basic formula for Burnout is amplified by the sheer amount of modes and things you can do in the game; you’ll never be bored. For PSP owners that haven’t gotten around to buying any of the Burnout games prior to Burnout Revenge, Burnout Legends is a must-have. Even for people that have all the Burnout games, Burnout Legends’ value will come with its portability and its truthfulness to its console roots.

As for the modes and events you’ll see in the game, they should be familiar to any Burnout fan. There are the World Tour, Single Event, and Multiplayer modes with the events of Race, Time Attack, Road Rage, Pursuit, Crash, Eliminator, Grand Prix, Face-Off, and Burning Lap – it’s all here. In World Tour mode there’s also the different car classes of Compact, Muscle, Coupe, Sport, and Super. Each World Tour class has its own set of challenges that includes a mixture of the previously mentioned events, with each class getting more difficult and speeds reaching higher levels.

As for the events: In Race, you’ll go up against three other opponents and try to get in first place. Time Attack is a Single Event mode-specific event in which you just try to get the fastest time you can for a particular track. In Road Rage you’ll attempt to get a certain amount of takedowns before your car is destroyed. In Pursuit, you’ll drive a cop car and attempt to chase and bring down another car within a time limit. For Crash, there are exactly 100 levels in which you try to rack up as much damage as you can, by crashing. In Eliminator, it’s like a regular race except that the racer that places last in each lap is eliminated. Grand-Prix offers a run-of-the-mill tournament mode in which you’ll race through a certain amount of tracks and earn points based on what you placed in each race. Face-Off is a one on one race, and Burning Lap is basically like Time Attack except you’re in a supercharged car with the nitro gauge filled up the whole way. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do in the game.

The PSP’s analog nub isn’t plagued by sensitivity issues, and feels just about perfect control-wise. The only thing that might make a difference, though, is your thumb could start to hurt after a long hour or so of playing. Because of the absence of a second analog stick on the PSP, you’ll have to resort to pressing a button for your gas.

The graphics in Burnout Legends are really some of the best you’ll be seeing at this stage of the PSP’s life. It’s nothing short of eye candy (for a handheld) and looks very similar in terms of graphical quality compared to Burnout 3. The sound also compliments the game very well, on the sound effects and music side. Though there are 21 songs in the soundtrack, it isn’t very diverse after long amounts of playing and you’ll start wanting to hear stuff that is a little bit different than the punk/rock repertoire included. Sound effects overall are very nice as well, but during Crash mode, the sound can get a little bit irritating when you sit there waiting for the end of a Crash event. It is just the long monotonous noises of car horns that can get on your nerves, especially since the volume isn’t decreased in-game while the monetary damage is calculated.

There are a couple of nifty points to the game, such as the amount of cars and game sharing. As a total, there are 89 cars to unlock and if you can find a friend you can challenge them a “Collector Challenge” in which you can win a car they have that you want in your quest to collect all the cars in the game. Game sharing allows you to play with a friend in a one-on-one race or let them play a single-player demo of the game. So, anyone with a PSP (no UMD required) can play a game of Burnout Legends against you.

As for what’s bad about the game, there really aren’t many things to pick out. The game can be buggy at times, the most apparent bug being shaking floor texture panels. Once during a Crash event, I hit a car so hard that I opened up a portal to a void in which my car just kept falling. Even after Crashbreaker (if I had even thought in the first place it would do anything), I wasn’t able to get out of the void until the end of the event. It may have just been a fluke to discover the void, but the floor textures shaking around should have been fixed. What could be seen as a discerning point about the game is that there is no Infrastructure mode present that would allow you to play the game over the Internet.

Burnout Legends is a recommendable game to any PSP owner who likes arcade racers. For what is included in the game and its myriad of challenges, modes, events, and amazing value of gameplay, it really is worth the price. It can’t be stressed any more that Burnout Legends is one of the greatest PSP games on the market right now.

 

Sly Cooper And The Thievius Raccoonus (PS2) Review

Developer: Sucker Punch Productions / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 8.9/10

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is one of those games that remind me why platformers are so great. The game is relatively simple, and while not perfect, it is definitely an enthralling experience that doesn’t take too much of your time. Since 2002, two more sequels to the original have come out, with Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves just being released last month.

The first thing that strikes you about the game is its completely animated style and presentation. You’ll feel like you’re playing through a cartoon movie spliced into “episodes” featuring a variety of beautiful landscapes and some very cinematic elements during Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is one of those games that remind me why platformers are so great. gameplay. As a fan of the classic Looney Tunes cartoons, I enjoyed this style of presentation greatly, as the influence really shows at times. But don’t let the game’s cel-shaded appearance dupe you; there is a spectacular platforming engine that drives Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus.

What could be called more of an “introduction” to the character of Sly Cooper and how he learns his amazing thievery skills is a very involving game on its own. The five different episodes of the game create the feeling, as mentioned before, that you’re playing through a cartoon series/movie hybrid of sorts. Each of the five different episodes will take you through its own unique areas with its different challenges, as should be expected in a game like this. As you acquire more skills through the levels, you’ll increasingly be expected to know how to use the skills masterfully and in conjunction with each other. When you get to the later levels of the game, you’ll have to get your timing perfect and know exactly what you’re about to do to complete the task.

There being only one mode, story mode, you’re plunged right in the middle of a robbery, introducing you to the main characters and the basic mechanics of gameplay. Sly Cooper’s cohorts Murray the hippo (the driver) and Bentley the turtle (the brain) back up Sly when he needs help. Carmelita Fox, the hot Latino fox character, will appear from time to time and chase Sly and attempt to capture him. All the characters, including the bosses, are well voice-acted for, though Sly Cooper’s voice could have been a little bit more unique when it comes to personality in regular speech. With all the platforming fun you’ll be having, it’ll be easy to overlook it.

Gameplay is very much a strong point of the game. I’d call it pretty much a perfect platformer if it weren’t for a couple of things. The first and foremost is the way in which special abilities are used. Instead of having one of the R or L buttons assigned to a special ability, the triangle button becomes the designator of the special ability button. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that there are a couple of abilities that require you to hold the triangle button to use, and to take advantage of it also press another one of the face buttons. Of course, you can use two fingers instead of your thumb to remedy the problem, but it doesn’t feel as natural and rightly so. It seemed like the trigger buttons were wasted, with the L1 and R1 bringing up your “Binoc-u-cam” (which are binoculars) and the L2 and R2 are used to shuffle through the abilities. With a little bit of better planning, the buttons could have been utilized in a better and more natural way, or the abilities becoming user-assigned. The other smaller problem is the camera. Sometimes you aren’t able to move the camera in a way that will really help you out, making you resort to your Binoc-u-cam to look for something (which allows for free look). More than a couple of times the camera actually got caught behind a wall or something and couldn’t follow Sly Cooper around anymore.

Sly Cooper is also a collectathon. You’ll be collecting as many coins as you can, smashing things open and going out of your way to obtain “clues” that lead to gaining new abilities. Sometimes it’s easy to miss the vital “clues” because they could be hidden. Even though there is something you can obtain for each world (which are Blueprints of the area you’re in) which unveil the location of coins and clues when looking through your Binoc-u-cam, it could be a pain when you’re looking for the clues that you need to get the Blueprints, which makes it sort of a Catch 22. Saving and loading throughout the game are so well masked that you practically don’t know it’s going on. After each level or new ability gained, the game will save but won’t stop the game asking for your permission to do it. You’ll go right on not even being asked to do anything and it happens in the background. This is the first game that I’ve seen that doesn’t have a dialog screen up when saving. Loading is also seamless and is barely noticeable as you move between areas. There aren’t even any loading screens to speak of. The loading and saving aspects of the game should be praised and become more widely used if possible.

As said before, the voice acting is quite good. On top of that, the regular sound effects are excellent and satisfying. The graphics and presentation style also push the title to near visual perfection, as most cel-shaded games are. The graphics really couldn’t be made much better for the Playstation 2’s hardware. The movies and “briefing” scenes are also all animated, never taking you out of the experience of feeling like being in a cartoon.

While almost obviously appealing to the younger crowd, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is definitely something a gamer of any age can enjoy. Since it is a pretty aged title, you can probably pick it up for a few dollars used or get it new at the Greatest Hits price or even lower. If you’re in for a relatively short, fun game, Sly Cooper 1 would be a wise decision.

 

FRANTIX (PSP) Review

Developer: Killer Game / Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment || Overall: 7.0/10

FRANTIX is 185 levels of puzzle fun. Taking place in a fantasy land, FRANTIX ends up being a glorified version of Chip’s Challenge, with a distinct challenge presented in each and every level. As one of the three heroes Kaz, Bear, and Uri, as well as the “bonus hero” Meeper (from the short film “The Chubbchubbs”) you’ll go on your frantic race against the clock to complete each puzzle as fast as you can.

In the beginning of the game, you’ll only be allowed to select one hero, Bear. However, once you get through the introduction/tutorial part of the game called Tutorialandia, all the other heroes will be unlocked. Somewhere later on, the “bonus hero” Meeper will become available. First, if you’re wondering why Meeper is even in the game, its because FRANTIX includes the short film “The Chubbchubbs” (made by Sony Imageworks) on the UMD itself. When watching the movie, it isn’t as full featured as the regular movie watching functions available on the PSP, so you can’t exactly pause or fast forward or anything. The short film also gives inspiration for a world called The Chubbchubbs in FRANTIX as well.

FRANTIX, like most puzzle games, has no story. You’re plopped down in a “world” and with your “hero” of choice you go around and collect crystals, completing any challenges presented in the way of you achieving all the crystals in the level. It’s a simple concept, and the game itself is pretty simple when you think about it, but there are a few puzzles that will make you stop and think about how to complete. Sometimes it’ll take downright luck that allows you to finish a level. As an extra challenge and bonus, if you finish a level quick enough, you’ll get a gold gem.

The main things you’ll encounter and have to avoid or manipulate are hazards (like water, quicksand, and lava), creatures (like catdragons and monsters), boxes, bombs, missiles, portals, doors, and walls. The game uses all of these elements to create the challenges involved in playing the game. There’s nothing too out of the ordinary, but the game will keep you busy and manage to not be monotonous in its execution.

Gameplay in itself is very simple. You move on a grid, push things, and collect things. Though you’re able to use the analog stick, it just isn’t as precise as using the D-Pad throughout the game. You’ll have to have fast reactions sometimes and really practice a level before you can finish a level sometimes. Loading is not a problem in the game at all. If you have to restart a level, you can do so instantly without having to load the level again. The only loading to actually be seen is in the middle of levels and even then it only lasts for a few seconds. In the end, the game is definitely geared toward being a perfect handheld game.

The six worlds available for you to play are a nice mix, and definitely the most original of all would be the world of The Chubbchubbs. The detail of the environment is equal to the level of Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade. Or at least it reminded me of it. Basically, that means it’s pretty good, and you’ll see relatively nice sprites and environment. You’re also able to “zoom” in to your character to see the action up close. But the graphics really aren’t anything too special, though nice. The sound is a strong point as well, especially because of the soundtrack which is a sort of mix of electronic and fantasy-ish music. The sound effects aren’t bad either.

Though FRANTIX does have an abundance of levels, nice gameplay features, and good challenges, it’s just not overall a compelling title. While, yes, you can have a lot of fun with the game, it doesn’t give off a special sort of flare to really make it have a better feel. Despite any of the shortcomings, FRANTIX is an original handheld game for the PSP that is worth a look.

 

GripShift (PSP) Review

Developer: Sidhe Interactive / Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment || Overall: 7.5/10

What is GripShift? You tell me. Calling it a racing game alone doesn’t do it justice as it contains a unique mix of platforming and puzzle-type challenges all while in a speed buggy. GripShift isn’t all that amazing, but what it tries to accomplish is bring something new to the table. And while GripShift possibly has the makings of a perfect formula for a handheld game, some gameplay issues hold it back from being as good as it could’ve been.

There’s not much to explain about GripShift; you just pick up the game and start playing. You play through hordes of levels, each with a number of goals needed to be completed, and the difficulty of these levels progressively become more difficult with each level completed. Just by the sheer amount of levels present in the game, it will keep you busy for a long time to come. A total of one-thousand credits are available to earn through challenges, races, and bonus games, and when specific amounts of credits are acquired, new unlockable items make themselves present in the game, including new racers, cars, tracks, bonus games, and things of the like. It is also a prerequisite to earn a certain amount of credits before going to a new “level” of tracks, since they’re separated into their respective difficulties.

To earn credits, you have to complete certain challenges within the level you select. The most common way to earn credits is through the single-player challenge mode, where you can do one of four things to progress. If you simply complete a track within the time that’s given to you, you’re able to unlock the next level, but if you complete a track before a certain time, you can achieve up to three credits, one for a bronze time ranking, one for silver, and one for gold. It’s basically a finish-this-as-fast-as-you-can sort of thing, and you’re awarded accordingly. Each level has its own time limit and goals. The other things you can do in each level are collect all the collectible stars present or a “bonus credit” in the level and end up finishing the level before your time is up. Needless to say, once you get to the harder levels, it can get pretty freakin’ hard. Nitrous boosting is a very important part of completing your tasks because it can help you get over gaps and almost fly around while you have some juice to use.

During race mode, you’re able to race against three other computer opponents and beat them. If you’re able to get into first place, you’ll get three credits. When you play the races in challenge mode, however, you’ll go up against only one opponent, except the difference is that there are stars to collect, and to get the credits for collecting all the stars, you have to obviously collect them all and then beat your opponent. During the races, you’re able to use three types of weapons against your foes, including a homing missile, a box of TNT, and a shield. It’s a skimpy selection, but it does well enough since you won’t really be racing that much during the game. Once you achieve a certain amount of points, you can unlock certain bonus games that are completely different from anything else in the game. You’re able to earn credits by achieving certain goals within each bonus game.

What I personally love about the game are the load times. There are no loading times at all when you restart a level (and that happens quite a bit), or the loading only takes a couple seconds before you go to a new level. It was definitely the right thing to do in a game like this, especially when the PSP has become admonished because of long load times. The lack of any really noticeable loading definitely gives the game a good reason to be played in quick bursts and to keep up at trying to complete a level after multiple failures without becoming frustrated for reasons other than the actual challenge of the level.

What holds GripShift back from being a must-have PSP game is the lack of polish when it comes to actual gameplay. While there are some parts of the game that are good (like level design, challenge, and the sheer amount of levels and things to do), there are three main aspects that I can pick out as worth noting. For one, the sensation of speed is off tremendously relative to the actual mph (or kmph) to what you feel like you’re going in the game. When it feels like you’re going around thirty mph, it says that you’re going something like fifty five. Not that it’s a really big deal (because you’re not really going to be looking at how fast you’re going most of the time), but it reflects on the how well the game is polished. Another aspect is the control. Unfortunately, whether it was the programming or the actual hardware limitations, the PSP’s analog nub makes it hard control especially around the tight bends and fast turns. Another aspect that is quite un-fulfilling is the race mode. GripShift is no Wipeout Pure when it comes to racing, especially with the limited selection of weaponry involved, and due to the sensitivity of the controls being a bit off it can be harder than it should be. But, all of these elements really don’t take a huge toll on the overall feel of the game, as you’ll just have to compensate with the game’s downsides.

When it comes to graphics and sound, it’s a mixed bag. The graphics are nice to say the least, and definitely what should be seen on the PSP at this point of its life. Music and sound effects are a different deal though. I don’t know why, but GripShift has an awfully weird music selection for a driving game, especially one that involves frustrating platforming, time limits, and star collecting. I couldn’t really even tell you what genre of music it is, but it sounds like a hybrid of hip-hop, rock (with a light amount of ska), and a little bit of electronica. Not only that, but I couldn’t even distinguish if there was more than one group/band on the soundtrack just by listening to it. I would have appreciated a little bit more of a regular rock soundtrack as it would have just blended better, but in the end the music really doesn’t take away from the experience. Sound effects are fine, especially the car screeching sounds that your buggy makes at every direction change. Depending on which driver you select for your persona in the game, you’ll hear their sayings as they fall off the level into oblivion or when time is running up. The driver selection is basically a stereotypical cast; the one I use the most is the stoner surfer guy that I think is on the front cover of the game and he says stuff like “Whoaaaaaa” and “duuuuuudeeee” and “hurry up dude!” all the time.

If its one thing that GripShift is good for, it’s wasting time. If you can get past the small control issues and tolerate the music and sound effects, you’ll find one heck of a game that’s loaded with enough challenge to keep any bored person busy. Especially with a thousand credits to collect (which might not seem like a lot, but when you gain only one or two credits every once in a while it will seem like a major feat to accomplish) and quite a few aspects to unlock with the credits gained during play, it’s a game that will take a lot of hours to finish.

 

Zone Of The Enders: The 2nd Runner (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Konami || Overall: 9.5/10

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is the sequel to 2001’s Zone of the Enders. Fans of the original should consider it practice, since ZOE 2 is where the real challenge starts. ZOE 2 has reached new heights of diversity in gameplay compared to the original, and everything (and I mean everything) about the original battle system has been improved. The visuals have also taken a completely different course into the anime/cel shading direction. If there’s one thing to be sure about, almost any fan of the first Zone of the Enders will enjoy its sequel.

If you felt like me when playing the first ZOE, we were kind of left in the dark as to who the enemies really were and what their intents were. Thankfully, a “Previous Story” movie is included on the main menu screen which gives a recap of the whole first game and explains the different plot holes that were left to question. We learn that an evil “army” named BAHRAM, bent on creating all-around destruction, went to the colony where the first game’s hero, Leo, lived to retrieve an orbital frame (which are what the mechs that are in the game are called) named Jehuty. Jehuty would be used to activate a weapon of mass destruction named Aumaan. At the end of the first game, we were given a non-elaborative statement about what Jehuty’s “final” mission would be, which was to go to Mars and self-destruct in Aumaan. So, we were left to wonder what would actually happen to the characters we saw through the first game, as well as what would happen to Jehuty and its AI named ADA.

Many years after the events that happened in Zone of the Enders, the story picks up with a character named Dingo on a Metatron mining mission on one of Jupiter’s moons. Metatron, being the precious energy substance of the future, was very highly valued. While on the mining mission, Dingo finds Jehuty hidden away in a large box on the moon. Unfortunately for Dingo, BAHRAM did as well. Dingo hops into Jehuty and proceeds with kicking the bejeezus out of all the units sent after him. ZOE 2 is a very straightforward game, and progresses more or less like a regular action game. The “world traveling” parts that were present in the first game have been done away with and replaced with cinematic sequences filled with story. But while ZOE 2 loses the “freedom” aspect, it definitely makes up in keeping the challenges diverse.

The primary objective of beating up an endless amount of ambiguously named enemies has been done away with in the transition to the sequel, but there are still plenty of enemies to slaughter. Raptors, Cyclops and Mummies make their way back into the game, but not without friends and some new characteristics. Raptors, while more or less the same as in the first game, are the most common unit you’ll be seeing. The Raptor AI has been immensely improved, and actually poses a challenge at certain times. The Cyclops, which was just a hard-punching version of the Raptor with no long-range attack, has now become a formidable opponent as well. Using some sort of distortion blast for long-range attacks as well as getting an AI upgrade makes the Cyclops not-so generic of an enemy anymore. The Mummy has also had an AI boost, but besides having the usual couple of sub-weapons to use against you, when defeated can sometimes revert into a Raptor and continue fighting. Other enemies making their first appearance in the game are orbital frames such as Spyders (basically mini walking tanks), Leonardo, Mosquitoes, among others. Just about as often as you’ll be fighting against “regular enemies,” you’ll be fighting boss-like enemies. There are so many different boss battles (not to mention they can take a while) included in the game, and they really diversifies the experience as you play. Each boss is extremely unique in how to beat them, almost reminiscent of the way a Metal Gear Solid game treats its bosses.

Nearly all of the sub-weapons from the first game also made the transfer as well as a couple new sub-weapons. Absent sub-weapons that were featured include the Javelin and Bounder, but the Javelin can be seen being used by a Raptor sometimes. New sub-weapons include the Vector Cannon and the ability Zero Shift. The Vector Cannon is a huge cannon that has so much energy it can blow the crap out of battleships many times bigger than Jehuty, but to use it Jehuty’s feet must be on a firm ground. Zero Shift is the ability to travel from one point to another with almost no time spent between traveling. If you can’t grasp the concept, just think of it as teleporting. The new sub-weapons, as well as enhancements to the pre-existing ones, add another layer of gameplay as you’ll have to use sub-weapons intelligently through the game. Many of the sub-weapons now rely on a pressure-sensitive button command, unlike the original ZOE, allowing for more control over your sub-weapons.

While the gameplay experience being extremely revamped is a very important part of what makes ZOE 2 great, the visual aspects also take a very big part. ZOE 2 is easily one of the most visually impressive console games to come out of this generation, let alone for the Playstation 2. The detail used in mech design, environment, and the use of cel shading to give the game an anime feel along with anime cutscenes really gives it a distinct art style. It’s not 100% cel shaded though, it still uses the “realistic” style seen in most games for a majority of what is seen, but the cel shading amplifies the visuals immensely. Music is also very good and fits in exactly as it should be, and even the J-popish theme song the game has fits in. I may not understand the words in the song, but I still feel the emotion they convey…sniff.

While the game only took me eight hours to beat on normal, it is an amazing eight hours at that. After you beat the game, there is a New Game+ sort of thing that allows you to play through the game again with a different version of Jehuty (whether or not you have certain abilities dictates the version, as well as the look). A Versus Mode is included, allowing you to play against a friend or computer using mechs from the game, but until you beat the game once you won’t be able to play with anything but Jehuty. What will take the largest amount of time, though, are the Extra Missions. Throughout the game, you collect items called Ex Missions that allow you to attempt specific challenges, whether they are survival, objective, etc. What it comes down to, is extending the length of the title quite a bit past the ten hours or so you might spend on the single player mode after one go. Also worth mentioning is that there is a level that is basically one huge, epic battle fighting against literally hundreds of orbital frames while being assisted by only a few allies. Needless to say, it’s definitely a weird kind of adrenaline rush to take part in it.

Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is a game that makes me clamor for more ZOE-action. Packed full of high-paced mech action has always been its most appealing aspect, but the story is also another factor in its appeal. ZOE 2 is one of the best games for the Playstation 2, but is unfortunately fairly rare nowadays. If you see the game and it interests you, my advice would be to buy it, you won’t be disappointed. Here’s hoping for a Zone of the Enders 3.

 

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The (PS2) Review

Developer: Radical Games / Publisher: Sierra || Overall: 8.7/10

It’s open to question whether The Incredible Hulk has ever gotten a game worthy of his comic book heritage — that is until VU Games released The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction! And what a game it is. Set in a GTA-style “free roam” world, you are the Hulk and the city is yours to destroy as you please. Filled with enough variety to keep anyone who enjoys the game busy for a while, you’ll encounter experiences that really can not otherwise be had if it weren’t for the fact you are The Hulk.

As one of the few games released based on a comic book character that is not based on a movie, Ultimate Destruction is the best comic book character game I’ve played since Spider-Man for the PlayStation. At The Hulk’s disposal are a myriad of attacks and abilities that will take a lot of practice to master being able to use all of them effectively. As you progress farther and farther the action gets more and more intense as the enemies become harder, faster, and larger forcing you to learn how to use the abilities strategically. The battle system is chock full of so many abilities that you get a feeling of freedom as you control the Hulk. You can do anything from a simple punch to creating a force shockwave in the ground, to swinging a tank around and around, launching it at a foe. Once you reach Critical Mass (the state which The Hulk is at his strongest), all of his attacks become more powerful, as well as having the ability to use special attacks that create huge amounts of damage. After each chapter of the story missions you complete, more abilities will be available for you to buy.

There are a few types of collectibles that are important to say the least. Green orbs (that can come in different sizes) add health to Hulk’s gauge, and is also required to add energy to the Critical Mass gauge as well. At certain points you’ll be able to increase your gauges and increase your power. Yellow orbs give you a certain amount of “Smash Points.” Smash Points are used to buy new moves for Hulk to use, and other than acquiring the yellow orbs, you get them basically by smashing or destroying anything. While very easy to obtain, you’ll need a lot of Smash Points to buy new moves. Green “C”s representing comic books are also floating around. These “comic books” give you extra things such as unlockables in the extras gallery (like enemy renders, Hulk renders, making of movies, etc.), cheats, and Smash Points. There are also green question marks that give you hints about the game play and things you can do. Supposedly if you collect all the hint question marks, something good happens, so it entices you to look around for the hints or at least get them when you see them.

Most of the enemies you’ll encounter are military units from the United States Army. You’ll encounter no mercy as they send tanks, harrier jets, helicopters, rocket launchers, infantry, and developed-just-to-kill-The-Hulk Hulkbusters. The Hulkbusters are simply just mechs, and as you progress through the story missions they will become more and more of a nuisance as they get stronger, faster, bigger, and team up on you. But if you’re good at the game, you’re usually not going to have too much trouble with them. The only times they REALLY get challenging is when you fight a huge robot in a boss battle, which happens quite often. One of the shining aspects of the game is that the boss battles take a long time, not being all too boring at all since they really challenge your skills and are very fast-paced nature.

In addition to the linear story missions, there are “challenges” that put The Hulk into unique situations to have fun in. Some of the challenges include seeing how fast you can get through a predetermined path, kicking field goals with a car, and quite a few that have you destroy as many enemies as possible in a limited amount of time. You’re also able to revisit the challenges (once you complete them the first time after finding them on the map) from the menu screen, which allows you to see the whole list of all the challenges and the records that you hold in each. This feature makes it seem like it’d almost be fun to play with a friend because the challenges are so different and require different skills, and when it comes down to it, they’re really just mini-games.

What is great about the game as a whole is that nearly everything can be interacted with including being picked up and thrown, and weaponized. Weaponization allows you to create weapons out of the things around you, and in conjunction with your other abilities, you can use them to defeat your enemies. For example, you can create “steel fists” out of small cars, “shields” out of larger trucks (that can double as a skateboard-type thing), and huge bowling balls. You can also catch, punch-back, and use missiles to destroy enemies.

The story itself follows Eric Banner in his pursuit of creating a machine that will allow him to be cured of The Hulk before he loses all his sanity. Throughout the adventure, you’ll encounter your arch-nemesis of sorts, called The Abomination, who is basically another Hulk-type mutant of a man named Emil Blonsky. His roots and intentions are explained well, and you’ll be seeing him quite a few times throughout.

Not saying that the game is perfect, there are problems with it that I’d like to point out. While most is nearly flawless in its execution, the biggest problem is the loading. Before each mission/challenge you undertake you’ll have to sit there waiting for the loading to finish, which is obvious, but this wouldn’t have been something to complain about if it wasn’t for the fact that the loading takes a long time, and if you retry a mission/challenge it has to load everything again. Another problem was that I felt the city didn’t look as diverse as it should have been. There aren’t many special landmarks or easily identifiable buildings which would usually be characteristic of a true city.

Any reservations I had about the game when I played the demo have all been forgotten, and I’m glad to have experienced The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction in all its astonishing fun. Just by being able to do things like throw a bus at a helicopter floating above a building, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is definitely the ultimate Hulk game. The world of Ultimate Destruction is yours to rampage through, and it’s pretty incredible.

 

Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PSP) Preview

Developer: Rockstar Leeds/Rockstar North | Publisher: Rockstar Games

The name Grand Theft Auto has stricken fear into the hearts of politicians and conservative moralizers as of late with the aftermath of the Hot Coffee mod. But now they have even more reason to be afraid – Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is coming to the PSP in October. It was worse enough for them that the game was only limited to households, but with the first true incarnation of a full 3D handheld GTA, the possibilities become endless. You could jack a car while jacking a car in real life (though you really shouldn’t do that)!

Those who played through GTA III should remember Toni Cipriani. The reason why, is because he is the main character in GTA: LCS. Taking place a couple years after GTA: San Andreas, in 1998, Liberty City is in the midst of a mafia war for control over the city. Problems galore have washed over Liberty City from political corruption to massive organized crime and drug trafficking. It’s up to Toni to clean up the mess and put the city under Leone’s control.

Probably the reason why there is so much interest behind GTA: LCS is because it is not a throwback to its top down roots like GTA Advance for the GBA is, and is touted to be as immersive as the console versions have been come to be known as, all on a handheld. Not only that, but many of the radio stations from GTA III will make its way back and then some.

Furthermore, in regards to the radio stations and music, GTA: LCS will allow for a “custom” radio station playing music off of your memory stick rather than music included on the disc itself. This adds to the variety of the game and is something yet to be seen, other than in the Xbox versions of the GTA games. While the radio stations will probably not be as diverse in their music selection as the console counterparts, Rockstar will probably have packed the game’s disc to the limit. GTA: LCS will not be “stripped” like many port-downs appear to be.

The game shouldn’t even be called a port as it will feature a whole new story, voice acting, the same (if not, larger) city we saw in GTA III, and the massive amount of things to do that are signature to the series. GTA: LCS should not disappoint, and with the enhancements the series has gone through with Vice City and San Andreas, it’ll be nice to play with those improvements as well as with motorcycles in the city we first visited in the world of GTA.

Developed by Rockstar Leeds and Rockstar North, Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories will be released exclusively for the PlayStation Portable on October 24, 2005.

 

Darwinia (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Introversion Studios || Overall: 9.2/10

It’s not too often that I play an innovative game on the PC. Especially since all the once-innovative games on PC have become old news. This has all changed with Introversion Software’s Darwinia. There isn’t one recently released game that I could name that has achieved the heights of innovation Darwinia has bestowed upon me and others who were fortunate enough to have played it already. In a presentation style that will remind everyone of a “retro” gaming look, you are immersed in a world of polygons and purposefully pixilated sprites, creating the feeling that you’re in a computer-generated world with a large amount of colors to bring it all to life; it’s a completely different approach to the recent trend of being as realistic as possible. Darwinia is made to look like a game. It’s truly a refreshing experience, not to mention it’s also fun.

Currently only released in the UK, Darwinia takes place in a world created by Dr. Sepulveda in which little green inhabitants called Darwinians live in communities, passing down their information into later generations. Dr. Sepulveda has managed to create tens of thousands of generations of Darwinians, allowing them to, in effect, evolve. But all is not well in Darwinia when a virus infects Darwinia, severely decreasing the population of Darwinians to drastic lows. The virus, in the form of bugs, must be exterminated to ensure the survival of Darwinia and its inhabitants. That’s where you come in. Not exactly sure why you’re there in the first place, Dr. Sepulveda asks you to help him as long as you’re there. Since the world of Darwinia is a computer, you’re given many computer-related techniques and weaponry to stop the virus and repopulate the Darwinians from utter extinction. Though the story is sparse, it works well enough to keep you going through the game.

While it is technically classified as a real-time strategy (RTS) game, Darwinia is far from the traditional RTS games you’ll encounter. First of all there is no resource gathering to build troops. You build all of your units (called “programs”) by going into a “task manager” and drawing “gestures.” There is no limit to how many you can make in the long run, but you can only have a limited amount of these programs running at the same time. Two of these important programs include the Squad and the Engineer, which will be used throughout the game. The Squad is your basic unit which allows you to clear out the viruses from Darwinia. Once the individual virus bugs are destroyed, you send in Engineers to gather up “souls” to bring back to an Incubator to give birth to Darwinians out of the information acquired. Engineers also allow you to take control of buildings you previously did not have control of before. As you progress through the game, all of your abilities will get better as Dr. Sepulveda researches/codes better things to do into the already existing programs. Later on your Squads can call in air-strikes, launch rockets and grenades, and your Engineers can gather more souls at the same time to bring back to the Incubator. The technology upgrading aspect is not new to RTS games, but you do not need to pool resources into making certain things better on account that there are no resources. You basically choose which technology to upgrade and play the waiting game. To utilize the different weaponry affinities your Squad can have, you must first have a squad selected on the map, and according to how to draw which kind of weaponry you want them to have, you can give them one of the more advanced abilities to use instead of the default grenades by drawing a gesture in the task manager.

Not only is what you see a throwback into what seems like 1980s-quality graphics in 3D, but you also get to enjoy an electronic-oriented soundtrack with an 8-bit-era flare to it. That’s when the music plays, though, because most of the time you’ll just be listening to the sound effects during the game. The main reason why they did this was probably because you’d be playing levels for a couple hours, and you’d listen to the same track over and over again.

What is unfortunate about the game is that the frame rate takes a dive once you begin going into huge levels with a massive amount of things happening at the same time. My computer well exceeded the recommended requirements to play the game, but I was still getting frame rates of less than ten or if I was lucky nearer to fifteen or twenty for a few seconds at a time. The latest patch available at the time (v1.21) didn’t help to remedy the problem either. This leaves to speculation whether or not the huge levels in the game should have been broken down into smaller stages or certain areas on the map were loaded at any given time rather than the whole map being displayed in real time. Even after putting all the graphics and sound options on their bare minimum and increasing the priority of the task in the Windows Task Manager to “Realtime” I still couldn’t hit the 30+ fps that was achieved in the very early stages of the game. The loss of frame rate impairs the way the game is played, making everything’s difficulty (even a simple click) ten times harder to do.

Just as a side note, if you have the Windows PowerToy that replaces your Alt+Tab switcher (like I do) to one that has a little screenshot of the program you want to switch to, you’ll have to disable it if you want to play Darwinia correctly, since it makes use of the Alt+Tab combination within the game and the PowerToy just messes it up. If you want to disable the PowerToy, you have to run “msconfig” from the “Run” dialog and uncheck the program called “taskswitch.exe.” This will disable the Alt+Tab PowerToy, and you can go back into it at a later time and re-enable it if you so desire. While using the keyboard combination in the first place is questionable to me, to say the least, there’s no way to change it, so you’ll have to adapt to it.

In the end, Darwinia really just is Lemmings on a grander scale. You have to use the Darwinians (which are more or less in a limited supply depending on how many souls you can get to incubate before they fly away after a certain amount of time) to complete certain objectives, and while you can use the programs at your disposal to complete the game, it really comes down to the managing of the Darwinians. If the Nintendo DS were powerful enough, Darwinia would be an almost-perfect game to make use of its touch screen.

I can’t stress this enough: Darwinia is an awesome game not only for the presentation alone, but also how unique the game is on its own. Hopefully developers/publishers will take Darwinia as an example and create games that go in a completely different direction from what is popular now and still make it an excellent game.

 

Dope Game, The (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: 89 Games || Overall: 7.0/10

It’s not too often that an RTS (real-time strategy) game can make a positive impact on the genre, and 89 Games’ Dope Game unfortunately lives up to that expectation. It’s not a game that is good to the innovation of the genre, especially when it brings a skimpy and boring “business management” aspect with it. In Dope Game, you are on a secluded piece of land on another planet. As the lone drug farmer, it is your responsibility to fend off policemen who feel that your entrepreneurial endeavors are ill-intentioned. With laser gun in hand, you’ll show the police that you’re just trying to make an honest living exporting marijuana, opium, hash, morphine, and heroin. Rather than being a theme that is interesting, it’s a theme that is meant to strike controversy rather than genuine interest. Given, there aren’t a lot of games based on drugs, but what you do in the game really doesn’t make it worth playing.

Almost too simplistic for its own good, Dope Game is technically an RTS/Action hybrid game. Unlike traditional RTS games, in which you amass units and send them at your enemies, Dope Game just uses a fairly simple amount of buildings and guard towers to build up a “base,” and when police attack you with laser guns and mechs, its up to (mainly) your defenses to thwart the threat, but until you can really afford to set up defenses, you’ll have to do the dirty work yourself (and later on, help your defenses out).

As soon as a police raid starts, the drug dealer will come out of the Headquarters and it’s up to you and how fast you can click your mouse to ward off the police. So what the game comes down to in the end is: build a base and shoot stuff. Sure there’s a little bit of strategy involved since you’ll have to increase your crops of marijuana and opium to fund your hash, morphine, and heroin production (and there isn’t too much space to actually build on for that matter), but the real challenge comes with how much money you can make in the time allotted to record the score on a high score list.

To really be rolling in the dough, you will have to play it smart, and as any RTS gamer can tell you, how you begin a new game is crucial, and Dope Game is no exception. To ramp up your cash flow, you’ll have to export as many drugs as you can so you can make enough money to make the more expensive drugs like hash, morphine, and especially heroin. All in all, it’s not too hard to get to the point, but the police raids can throw a kink in the system if you’re killed, your Headquarters is blown up, or a very important crop is destroyed in the process. Out of all the drugs available, heroin is the biggest pay off, and once you get two or three heroin production facilities up and supplied with enough opium, the rest will be simple. You can set up as many laser guard towers and missile guard towers to fend off those pesky police, more spaceships for exporting your goods, or even other heroin buildings with more opium plants to achieve money at even greater heights. The more guard towers you place, however, the more “expense” it will be to keep them running, and they will take a bite out of your profits. Of course there’s a simple solution to that, as you can just make more drugs to export each time along with more spaceships.

The goal of the whole game is to achieve the most amount of money you can in the in-game days that are given while minimizing police damage to attain that goal.

So what’s bad about the game? Not much, it’s just not anything more than a mediocre game. It runs well; the fps doesn’t have any noticeable decrease even if you have a ton of missile towers shooting at the same time. The music and sound effects aren’t horrible either, though there are only two songs, and the sound effects sound futuristic enough to believe them to be what they are. Graphics-wise, the game will not push your hardware at all, as long as you have a computer that isn’t horribly outdated.

Dope Game is OK. It’s not something that is going to make you say “wow” by any means, but if you’re in for a bit of what can be called a new experience, then it might be worth to give Dope Game a try. Though the game’s basis is all about drugs and futuristic shooting, I’d go as far as to say a kid might enjoy the shooting sequences, but it’s really nothing to get excited about.

 

Bully (PS2): A Soccer Mom’s Pre-release Review

This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Soccer Mom Dave

This is a satire about the way a certain “parent” would look upon a video game. It’s written as if it was for a site that was run by mothers who denounce controversial video games based on third party information rather than actually experiencing it themselves, and making rash judgments about things they have little knowledge about. Instead of classifying this as a preview, this reviewer comes to the conclusion of whether or not you should get the game before anything has even been released/shown/known about it. The name of this “mother” is Soccer Mom Dave.

Let me tell you right now: I’m disgusted. Have you heard about that game “Bully”? It’s a game that those sick minds at Rockstar Games are going to impose on us. My own son has a bully problem at school, and any chance of him playing this game will only make him realize how much of a weak molested little boy he is (wait until I start emasculating him at his soccer games). Playing tricks on teachers is one thing, but starting fights (even killing!!!!!) students is completely absurd.

While sitting in at the Meaningless Organization of Mothers (MOM for short), I heard all about the game and how you can do everything and more in the game including raping school girls and taking a gun to the school to create one Columbine after another. In this day and age, there are just things you don’t do; this is one of them.

Now, what I also heard at the MOM meeting right before we went into the 56th discussion of Hilary Clinton’s book was that major politicians agree that Bully will harm our society. A large sect of MOM called the MOUTH (Motherly Order of the Uninteresting Tantamount of the Hamiltonian) presented their findings based on extensive research of Bully have said that in their closed experiment, children ages 0-4 who played Bully for 10 hours at a time had extremely violent reactions while starving in their 4’ by 4’ cage, while the ones not playing Bully and eating as many sugary sweet snacks as they wanted were generally calm and passed out peacefully once their sugar highs died down. What does this research show, you might ask? It brings unchallenged proof that the games of today’s society are affecting the behavior of our children at a young age, not because of the way parents raise them.

As parents, we have no responsibility whatsoever in raising our children as schools and day time television programming (minus Janet “Whataslut” Jackson) are the only institutions of which should raise our children. While our children are preoccupied with being shrugged off towards other parties to look for values and beliefs to hold on to, we parents (moms especially) can go to Robinson’s May to look for a new way to spend our neglecting husband’s hard earned money on worthless things to make it feel like he loves us indirectly and to waste our time talking about Hilary Clinton’s book, carrying it around with us wherever we go (as if it was actually compelling enough to carry around in the first place) and avoid any improvement on our reasoning skills to see through the totally biased and uninformed organizations like MOM judge things that haven’t even been released yet, like Bully. But that’s just me.

Bully is a horrible game. I have heard enough about it to pass final judgment on it, and it is to say boycott this game and Rockstar! The game doesn’t even deserve a score because of its horrid nature. There is no score that could even be assigned to reflect my opinion. Maybe we should just put the whole review over a denominator of 10.

 

GTA: San Andreas (PS2): A Soccer Mom’s Review

This entry is part 1 of 3 in the series Soccer Mom Dave

This is a satire about the way a certain “parent” would look upon a video game. It’s written as if it was for a site that was run by mothers who denounce controversial video games based on third party information rather than actually experiencing it themselves, and making rash judgments about things they have little knowledge about. The name of this “mother” is Soccer Mom Dave.

I have never been so appalled in my life. Today, while I was neglecting my children and watching the latest episode of Alias, I came by a news break commercial about a horrible horrible horrible game that had been re-rated by something called the “ESRB.” Upon further research, I had learned that by giving players the option to do whatever they please in a made up world of lust, sex, violence, and drugs, GTA: San Andreas has made its strike on America’s morality, which can never be healed.

How anyone can find this game fun eludes (I used the thesaurus for that one) me. Telling a story about a gangster is absolutely Ludacris (get it?). So, because of the fact that the story offends me, I refused to actually read any more into it. I am abhorrently against anything that may represent true life, and this is definitely something I am against, because gangsters are not real people according to my philosophy. I have heard that Samuel L. Jackson voices a crooked cop in the game, but it only makes me hate it even more because Samuel L. Jackson is a very obscene and RUDE individual. He drops the F bomb more than a can of peas at sunset. Never mind the fact that you can sleep with a prostitute and then kill her to get your money back! This is a completely unforgivable act, and I can’t believe that they would even insert this into the game and force you to do it nonetheless!

As to whether or not I have seen (because I don’t play games – ever. I am a very serious person, except for when it comes to dating) any other games in this “series” (I call it more of a disgrace than a series), I would have to say no. I will easily pass judgment on them and say they offend me as well, even though I don’t even know their names.

As talented as the programmers of the game may think of themselves to be, I believe them all to be felons, and nothing less. They should all be tossed into jail for concocting such a horrible horrible horrible game to release to the masses, even though it’s the consumers’ choice to buy it in the first place.

I had also heard that the Grand Theft Auto games have a good musical selection included in them. I say it’s crap. Any soundtrack that doesn’t have “The Bomb” by The Bucketheads and the whole Barry Manilow album (deservingly titled) “Ultimate Manilow” deserves a big thumbs-down from this van-driving wannabe-soccer-enthusiast.

So, when I had seen the report on this GTA San Andreas game getting re-rated to Adults Only (!!!!!!) from a Mature rating, I was shocked. Not only was the violence off the charts, but there was a hidden mini-game included in the game where you can have sex with your girlfriend! How could they rate a game Mature for having full-on, hardcore, PORNOGRAPHIC content EMBEDDED WITHIN THE GAME AND HAVE IT ONLY HAVE A MATURE RATING!!?!?!?!??!?! THIS IS CRAZY. After hearing the news, I took part in helping the National Parental Warning issued by the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) by calling up Easily-Offended Mom Anthony, Dr. Phil-Addicted Mom Elias, Horribly-Inept Mom Kevin, Irresponsible Mom Dan, Censoring Mom Ian, and 24-Hour-A-Day-Drunk Mom AJ and told them about the uncovered lie told by Rockstar. All were up in arms, and we told the rest of our community in hopes to spark an outrage.

I would never let my son touch this game with a sixty foot pole. Though he has asked for the game, I have vehemently denied him the right to, and threatened to not pay for his college education if he ever asks again. MY nine year old will just have to do with his other games like Manhunt, Killer 7, Killzone, Metal Gear Solid 2, Metal Gear Solid 3, and Madden 2005 (I once had to take it away for two weeks when he called me an I Formation with two Wide Receivers – that language is not tolerated in this house) for the time being until he gets old enough to play a game like GTA: San Andreas.

The overall score for the game is a Ban-And-Squelch-Free-Speech/10.

 

.hack//Mutation (PS2) Review

Developer: CyberConnect 2 Corp / Publisher: Bandai Games || Overall: 8.5/10

As the second part of a four part series, .hack//Mutation continues the story of the .hack//Infection before it. Quite simply, .hack//Mutation is a continuation of the story and little more. In terms of game play, .hack//Mutation is the same game as .hack//Infection. While the length of the game isn’t as long as it feels like it should be, .hack//Mutation is really just the part of the story that adds more mysterious aspects to the world of .hack. If you haven’t played .hack//Infection, .hack//Mutation might not be for you, as you’re not going to understand 90% of the story elements even though there’s a little summary at the beginning of the game. One of the cooler features .hack//Mutation has is the ability to transfer over your game save from the first game so that you are basically playing with the same characters, items, weapons, and levels you acquired during the first game. If you didn’t play the first game, it’ll definitely be harder for you to complete the second game without those much-needed levels. With that said, it is a recommendation of mine to have played through .hack//Infection before playing through .hack//Mutation.

The foreground of the .hack games is quite simply the story. With a very intriguing story that was introduced with .hack//Infection, .hack//Mutation just adds more on to the story, giving you more questions to be answered by the end of the game. .hack//Mutation is more like a second introductory game, to get you even more introduced in the game and immersed deeper into the elements of the woodwork that is the .hack series.

For those who do not know anything about the game series itself, .hack is a game divided up into four parts. Each game in the series is quite literally the same game, except with a different leg of the story to experience. The series takes place in a game-within-a-game world of an MMORPG called The World. With an interesting computer-desktop-like user interface outside of the regular game (complete with parts such as email, news, and forums), you will feel like you are playing as the person playing the game. The feeling itself is definitely unique to any other game. Events that take place within The World have an effect on the “real” world throughout the story of the person you are playing and vice versa. Needless to say, it is very involving, and without ruining the story of the first game, it’s hard to explain how it has evolved in the second. What can be said about the second game in regards to whether it keeps up this unique feeling well, the answer would be yes, and as mentioned before, it adds to the mystery that is to be solved created in .hack//Infection.

Unfortunately for the series itself, it has aged quite a bit in terms of game play mechanics. I constantly compare the game’s action elements to superior games, like God of War and Dark Cloud 2, which are far better executed and obviously more fun to play. While the game play mechanics aren’t totally unbearable to play with, I do find myself wishing the game had done better in the department to enjoy it more. My main inhibitions about the game play is how you can attack, having to be next to an enemy before you can use your regular melee attack as well as not being able to have a “shortcut” of sorts to use a particular kind of special skill. However, what really saves the game from the less-than-spectacular game play mechanics is the story, which I cannot praise enough, as it really has me hooked.

Continuing the quality of .hack//Infection, the voice-overs are on the same level. All the voice actors from the first game are back in the second game, which is of course mandatory for this kind of game. Of course, this also includes the annoying voices for characters that make their appearances through the game that made their debut in the first one. Luckily, you can choose which characters accompany you in your travels through the game, so it’s not that big of a deal. Also carried over is the option to have Japanese or English voice-overs. The music is also relatively the same stuff as was heard in the first game, with a couple of new tracks added for the new areas you visit in the second part. The graphics have all been carried over from the last game, and there aren’t many improvements to the game in that department. Though there are new kinds of areas you can visit, which all look pretty nice, it’s basically what is to be expected of the Playstation 2. The movies they include in the game look very nice, but there aren’t too many to really be seen, as much of the story in the second part is delivered through in-game sequences.

Like the first game, .hack//Mutation’s battles take place in real time in full 3D. During the fights, you can request of your allies to do certain things by telling them to do anything from a general command to using a certain skill on which enemy. Data Drain has also, quite obviously, been carried over from the first game. The Data Drain ability, while being an important story element, is another one of the unique parts of the .hack series. The Data Drain helps tremendously against enemies that are hard to beat, as well as helping to get rare items you need/help you out as you progress through the game. But using the Data Drain too much can do irreparable damage to your character, anywhere from decreasing exp gained, casting a status effect, or even killing your character completely since it is, in effect, a hack, helping spread the virus that has infected The World. Town interaction still takes an important part of the game, as you can trade for weapons and items you need, and it’s almost a must so you can attain better weapons for you and your allies.

The weak point about .hack//Mutation is the length of game play. Not being quite as long as the first part, it took me maybe 10 or 15 hours at most to get through, while the first was closer to 30. But it’s nothing to really get sad about, since after this one there are two more “full” games to play through. Though, it is a sign that you are halfway through with the story and to the explanation of all the happenings. Also included is another episode of .hack//Liminality that may or may not have connections with the actual game as you play more of it. It gives another aspect of what’s happening with the story outside of the game world you play in all the time, which is also something that is unique.

Quite frankly, .hack//Mutation is the same game that .hack//Infection was, and little more. The story progresses to greater heights, forcing you to further delve into the world the series has created, but really nothing noticeable has come about to make the game play experience much better than has been created with .hack//Infection. And from the looks of it, the other two games in the series may share this same characteristic with .hack//Mutation.

 

Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport (PC) Hands-On Preview

Developer: Kylotonn Entertainment | Publisher: Digital Jesters ||

For those of you who have yearned for a game that resembled The Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger, wait no longer, as the futuristic FPS of your dreams is on its way to PC. Unlike The Running Man, however, instead of criminals fighting to the death there are famous mercenaries aiming to achieve victory for their respective corporation out to kill each other in planned matches. I think it’s safe to assume that in the future, war won’t be fought for political gains, but rather for ratings, making money, and all around entertainment for the family to enjoy. In the world of Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport, people make bets on whether or not a favored soldier can defeat another B.O.S. (Bet On Soldier) in a certain amount of time. Mercenaries hired for either side are as loyal to their employers as soldiers of the past had been to governments, and once they insert themselves into the B.O.S. TV show, they are paired off against other famous and experienced mercenaries which are reveled similarly to wrestlers. The winner will earn a sum of money according to who they defeat as well as being compensated for every other mercenary to die by their hands, not including bonuses for giving a more exciting experience by getting a head shot.

The ongoing war has no reason behind it, and is funded solely by the corporations that make money by exploiting the opportunities that arise from war. It may seem like a crappy existence for the world to be in, but it makes a heck of a situation to play a game in. Though the whole world is engrossed in this war, the game will end up taking place only in four places: Alaska, Europe, Nevada, and Cuba. It’s not so much of a loss, since it’s understandable that America and Europe would be the more “interesting” places to fight (lots of buildings and what have you). The preview copy that I played only had three missions available, and as the main character, Nolan Davenport, you proceed to kick the asses of the other Bet On Soldiers in your way. Before each mission, you are allotted with a certain amount of money to spend on equipping Nolan; a nice amount of choices are allowed for each armament. You can choose how thick your armor is, if you have a shield, type of grenades and up to four guns from different classes to carry along, all managing it within your budget (similar to CounterStrike). Instead of picking up the weapons of your enemies that are dropped to reload your stockpile, however, you have to find a reloading terminal that you can buy more ammo and repair your armor at.

Besides having to jump through hoops to get the preview to work on my computer (I had to find a missing DLL online for one), I did enjoy the game in its current state. The build that I was given had sound problems that would result in either the game crashing or the frame rate being severely impaired, and other minor problems with game play. Fortunately for me though, the game worked for the most part, even with the sound rendering on (they had a special way to turn off the sound rendering to prevent the game from crashing), which was supposedly where the problems were coming from. While the game play itself is pretty solid, it definitely needed some polishing to make it as good as the standard FPS, but the potential is definitely there. But what really impressed the heck out of me were the graphics, especially in such an early build. I judge that the graphics will definitely push the limits of your video card at its highest settings. I also predict the game will look even better by the time it’s finalized. Even as is, I’d give it a 9.9/10 for graphics — they’re that impressive. What is also very impressive is the use of lighting, and it all seems very natural. The lighting on your hands and guns will change as you change direction from the light source; “very realistic” is what can be summed up about it. Character models and attention to detail really push the game’s presentation into its amazing look. Faces look fairly real, given that they don’t really have any changing facial features or emotions to really notice, and pieces of armor fly off as they’re damaged.

Containing twenty different campaign missions (with the added bonus of what’s to be a strong story), forty different types of weapons, and forty different B.O.S. champions to challenge, the single player mode of the game should definitely satisfy an FPS fan. A multiplayer mode is also going to be included in the game which will boast for the allowance of up to 32 player games. The Betting system that is used in the single player campaign is definitely going to come into play in the multiplayer mode, as it can provide for a new multiplayer FPS experience. There will also be multiplayer-specific levels, and a lot of choices as to which weaponry to use and type of mercenary soldier you are.

In a market that has been seemingly flooded with FPS games as of late, Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport stands to emerge from the crowd with its more-or-less unique Betting system, solid game play, an interesting story, amazing graphics, and a multiplayer mode to boot. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the end product.

Bet On Soldier: Blood Sport is scheduled to be released in September 2005.

 

Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, The (PS2) Demo Preview

At Comic-Con this year, I was extremely lucky to come by a demo disc from Activision for The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. This yet-to-be-released title is a somewhat new way to play with The Hulk, but from playing the demo it seems all you do is blow stuff up, throw things around and collect little coins in the same enraged manner one would normally expect from The Hulk. It’s really not that exciting otherwise.

The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction is another one of the free-form, wide-open cities that you can run around in and destroy, similar to Activision’s own Spiderman 2, except here you have to collect things to increase your “Smash Points” in a limited amount of time. Since this is a demo, the time limit may not be a part of the final game, since demos in general are usually limited. Regardless, the game is very simple. You collect some stuff, you throw around some cars, you smash gas stations and buses, blowing stuff up with your mighty combos/special attacks, and climb up buildings while ruining the foundation and a couple of windows.

The game does have the potential of becoming fast-paced in your spree of destruction, as your “Threat” level increases more and more enemies come to subdue you. Forces that try to stop you include police, police cars, a trigger-happy helicopter that has no reservations about launching a few missiles in the middle of a city, and a large mechanized robot that seemingly comes out of nowhere. All of this is fun and delightful, but each enemy is relatively easy to defeat. I’m guessing that there are going to be some sort of bosses integrated into the full version for more complex, pulverizing fun by the looks of that randomly tossed-in mechanized robot.

The graphics presented in the Playstation 2 demo are quite stale. While they’re not necessarily PSOne quality, they do give that feeling, and the Playstation 2 could definitely do better (and I hope it looks even better on the other consoles). The sound seems okay, probably because there are explosions every other second, creating the “ultimate destruction” feeling, even if the frame-rate drops when a few happen at once. I basically didn’t notice any music since it was drowned out by so much “ultimate destruction.”

From what is presented in this demo, it seems like The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction won’t be much better than a possible rental, and not really something that should be paid fifty, forty or even thirty dollars for. While the Teen rating attached suggests that it could be more entertaining for the younger crowd who just like to push buttons and play as a super hero, older gamers should probably look elsewhere.