Field Commander (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment || Overall: 9.3/10

The PSP has proven to be my favorite way to play strategy games. With games like Metal Gear Acid, Metal Gear Acid 2, and now Field Commander, it’s shown me that playing turn-based strategy games on a handheld can be a lot more enjoyable than on a home console. What sets Field Commander apart from the other strategy games I’ve mentioned is that it’s more of a regular strategy game, which prides itself on its gameplay rather than its story. Containing a challenging campaign mode along with online multiplayer play and a random battle mode, Field Commander is the strategy game to have on the PSP.

Field Commander is a very full featured game with a roughly thirty-mission campaign mode that will train you from being a green CO (Commanding Officer) to the savior of the world. The campaign mode’s story starts out with a terrorist organization called Shadow Nation, and through the skirmishes you undertake against their multiple COs, you’ll slowly learn about their fanatical plan that they aim to put in place to destroy the world. The campaign is cleverly designed but overall is not that hard for seasoned strategy gamers. There are a couple of annoying missions sprinkled throughout the game, but they can easily be completed once you figure out what needs to be done.

The game is played with all types of units. Ground, sea, and air units allow for all kinds of strategy to take place. To give you an idea of what units there actually are, there are snipers, tanks, helicopters, stealth fighters, submarines, and battleships to name a few.

Each unit has a weakness and a strength that if you utilize effectively will make you a formidable force on the battlefield. Stealth units are also a major strategic advantage (and disadvantage if used against you). The units that can go into a “stealth mode” are the snipers, concealed tanks, stealth fighters, and submarines. For the snipers and concealed tanks, their range of fire is increased greatly, which allows for major damage of an enemy unit with no counterattack. For stealth fighters and submarines, they are able to creep up on enemy units that normally would be able to destroy them if they weren’t in stealth mode. The major disadvantage for stealth units are their movement speeds – they can only move one square at a time, which not only results in them moving slow but uses up a lot of their fuel.

Fuel and ammo are a very important part of a unit’s upkeep – if they run out of fuel, the unit literally blows up and dies. Without ammo, the unit becomes practically useless. Units can re-supply at towns or if supply trucks are nearby, they can get a more local servicing. Every unit in the game has a maximum of ten HP. If a unit is damaged, they must either go back to a town and heal for a few turns or join with another damaged unit of the same type so the HP can be added on top of whatever unit is being joined. Other times, it might be beneficial to destroy a unit and reacquire a percentage of the funds you spent on creating it and use it on building a new unit at a Factory, Airport, or Seaport.

As you play through missions, you will unlock new COs, divisions, maps, and units to use as you progress through the campaign as well as in the other modes the game has to offer. Which CO you choose doesn’t matter as much as which division you chose. There are a huge amount of unique divisions to choose through, and each have two of their own Division Powers. Division Powers vary but basically fall into three different kinds of categories: unit spawning, attack/defense increase, or damaging an enemy unit. Every time you activate a division’s special power a description will pop up allowing you to understand how to use it effectively.

The battle system for the game is almost perfect. Its fun to play, easy to get a hang of, and doesn’t have horrible load times either. The only bad parts about the game are the times when the enemy takes anywhere from ten to twenty seconds to think about what it should do. Though it doesn’t happen all that often, its still a problem since you’ll just be sitting there looking at a bar constantly fill up and empty to show that the computer is “thinking” about its next moves. Occasionally, you do hit a small load time when you put your cursor over a unit or even when you press the start button, but once it loads the first time, it doesn’t usually require another “loading” pause. Unfortunately the game does have some freezing issues as well. I encountered two freezes later on in the campaign mode, on the more advanced levels, which aren’t particularly that easy, especially when you have to do it again due to the game freezing. The game does offer the ability to save a battle (as long as it’s your turn) so that you can go back to it later, which not only allows you to (hopefully) circumvent any huge damage resulting from a possible freeze but allows you to come back later and play the game from where you left off without having to put the PSP in sleep mode.

The online capabilities for the game are enticing for those who want more after beating the campaign mode. You can check your leaderboard status and see how you compare to other people who play online, in single and multiplayer. Also, you can download a ton of custom missions made by other people on your PC and download them to your PSP. If you’re done with the campaign mode and want to play some more missions, hop onto the Field Commander site and check out all the extra content there is to play.

Field Commander is an awesome PSP game. Though the campaign is a bit short, the alternative modes allow for more game time to be put in. The game packs a lot of value for a portable game, and is well worth a look for any strategy game fan.

 

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.

 

Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade (PSP) Review

Developer/Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment || Overall: 8.2/10

Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade is one in the batch of launch games for Sony’s new handheld. If the PSP were a piece of bread, Untold Legends is like the butter spread on top of it. Being a purely hack and slash RPG developed by Sony Online Entertainment, you can tell right off the game is like their other series Champions of Norrath and Everquest, but still has some imperfections. However, the formula of being assigned a quest and going to a dungeon to defeat a bunch of monsters transitions almost perfectly for handheld gaming, as many of the quests can be completed fairly quickly. Since handheld gaming usually consists of short bursts of playing (unlike console/PC gaming), this formula works out very well. Untold Legends serves up an enjoyable experience for many new PSP owners.

When you first insert the game, there is a little bit of loading before you see a Prologue scroll on the screen, telling a little bit of the background of the city of Aven and the character that you will play as. The story in Untold Legends is fairly simple, as it is obvious that the game was not to be played for the story. However, while the story isn’t that great, it does spark a little interest in where they do lead you with it as you play through the game, dungeon after dungeon, thus making the game more enjoyable. Most of the quests that you get through the game boil down to a few categories with different variations, such as get-that-item, kill-that-guy, or save-that-person. While it isn’t all that creative, the particular situations are unique enough (and the story interesting enough) for you to complete the quest and see what happens afterwards.

When you actually start the game, you’re given the choice to play as one of four different races: Knight, Berserker, Druid, and Alchemists. When you first create your character, you’re given some customization (such as hair type, that kind of thing) as to how your character looks like, but it’s not really anything special. Each have different abilities that can be used during the game, and are fairly unique in terms of how you will play the game, and most of all, battling. The shining star of all the parts of Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade is definitely the battle system. The game’s battle system is surprisingly very fun, as there are many different enemies to kill, with hundreds of weapons, armor and accessories to gather and improve your character with and use during your hacking and slashing. The many types of items you can gather makes a big difference when you play the game, because, depending on the type of character you chose in the beginning of the game, as some items you pick up can only be used by a particular race, and also dictate particular battle abilities. You’re also only able to hold a certain amount of “weight” of items, as each of the items have their own unique weight, and you can only hold as much as the weight allows you, so you’re going to want to go in with a light pack when you enter a new dungeon.

Taking your journey through caves, tombs, underground tunnels and the like will be a challenge, as there are many different types of enemies to stop you along the way. You won’t have too much of a tough time as long as you have good enough equipment, but what you should be prepared for is the boss you will ultimately encounter at the end of each level. I recall only a few boss battles that were “out of the ordinary” in terms of what you actually do. For most of the bosses, all you have to do is smack them enough times with your main weapon to kill them. It isn’t too often you see a boss that you have to do something unique (or semi-unique) to defeat them. An example of one boss that doesn’t require you just hitting your “X” button as fast as you can is when you go against a giant spider that climbs up and attacks you for a few seconds, then climbs back down. There is a little bit of strategy involved in it (with timing, mostly) to make the boss a little bit more challenging, but for the most part you won’t run into too many of those. One thing you can be thankful for is that when you defeat a boss deep inside a dungeon, you can easily return to the city of Aven by selecting the command from the Start menu. If they hadn’t added this to the game, it would have made quests twice as long, as you’d have to backtrack through the whole dungeon you had just gone through, but fortunately don’t have to. When you return to Aven, you basically have to talk to the people who sent you on the quest to get some rewards for completing it, and then continue in looking for another quest to go on. If you’re ever not sure about what to do for a particular quest, a helpful quest journal is in the status screen that helps you remember or direct you where to go.

Another great part about the game is the amazing visuals and sound, albeit because of the PSP’s own abilities. Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade displays more or less smoothed out PlayStation-quality graphics, and amazing stereo surround sound (with the headphones). Adding onto the visual aspect of the game, the 16:9 LCD screen of the PSP makes the game look better than it actually is. Considering this kind of visual experience is coming from a handheld, it makes it all the more better and really one of the forerunners in graphical abilities for the platform. There isn’t much to complain about the graphics, as they are beautiful and very detailed, but an annoyance that I’ve found through playing the game comes when you zoom into the character. The annoyance is not because the game doesn’t look good – it’s because when you are zoomed in, you are at a weird angle, and not able to actually see any enemies coming at you. Though it is nice they have the option for you to zoom into your character and feel as if you’re right in the action as you slay monsters one after the other, being at the weird angle puts you at too much of a disability in playing the game to really warrant its use. As for the sound, the game has good sound effects and a nice soundtrack. While the soundtrack pretty much sounds the same, and there isn’t much change in the mood as you go from area to area, it’s still a good accompaniment to the journey you’re on. Unfortunately, the sound is not actually implemented in the game all that well. I’ve noticed through playing that once a song ends, it will take a while for it to actually go back and loop the song, leaving you in silence and listening to the sound effects. This problem is more overtly seen (or heard, rather) when you’re walking through the forests outside of the city of Aven (and where most of the dungeons of the beginning part of the game are). Another nice aspect of the sound is that it’s in surround. When you come closer to an enemy, you can hear its noisemaking in the general direction of where it is, as well as listening to environmental factors in the general direction they come from as well. Yet again, the surround sound does not get pulled off seamlessly. While in dungeons, you will hear a lot of environmental sounds, which sound fine at first, as you can hear it in both ears, and it slowly fading in one ear faster than another as you get away from it, but too often does the sound cut off abruptly, making it fairly annoying, as most dungeons are full of these environmental sound effects. And if you were wondering, there are no voice-overs for characters as they talk.

If there was one thing that I’d pick out to be the biggest displeasure of the game, it would be the loading times. There’s quite a bit of loading as you jump from dungeon to dungeon and back to the city, about twenty or thirty seconds worth as you travel to a new area. As you’re traveling through the world, you will run into a loading screen a little more often than one would like, but it is sort of tolerable, considering that Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade is an earlier title and they haven’t yet perfected the art of loading on the PSP yet. There is also a little bit of character concept art that you can look at while there is loading. I usually take that time to give my fingers a rest from using the buttons and analog stick. You also confront some loading time when you go to your menu screen to look at the items you have. The control scheme of the game is fairly straightforward, and is quite easy to learn. You’ll basically be hacking and slashing within a few minutes. Movement in the game is dedicated to using the PSP’s analog stick. While the stick isn’t as great as the PlayStation 2’s analog stick, it does take some getting used to before you won’t give the fact a second thought. Personally, I think it is really cool that they included an analog stick on the PSP for controlling movement, and gets the job done very well.

While the game has its advantages and disadvantages, for a launch game, it is a very well executed one. While you’re able to play by yourself, there is a way to “hook up” with your friends through a Wireless LAN connection (known as Ad Hoc) to allow interaction in the game with up to four other friends (who have a PSP and a copy of the game) to play with each other in the same world. If there’s one thing to say about Untold Legends as a whole, it’s an extremely good time waster. If you’ve got an hour or two to burn once in a while, this game is really for you, as you will be sucked into the game play and not even notice how fast time goes by. For a launch game, I am very impressed with the outcome, and as a part of a grip of other launch games debuted for the PSP, Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade is a definite candidate for your first game as a PSP owner.