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.

 

Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam (PS2) Review

Developer/Publisher: Bandai Games || Overall: 7.2/10

Gundam video games have the potential of being some of the most fun around. This is simply due to the fact that the games feature giant robots with big guns blowing the crap out of each other and their surroundings. I sort of feel sorry for those who do not find this type of stuff entertaining, because if you haven’t guessed already, I love these types of games. The Front Mission and Zone of the Enders series are two of my favorites and there’s definitely room for more of these type of games for me to love. However, Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam lacks many things needed in vital areas thus making it not as fun as it could’ve been, but its still fun nonetheless. Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam features over fifty mobile suits to pilot, thirty-one of which are completely new.

Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam mirrors the anime series of the same name. While the plot of the anime is the basis of the whole game (in terms of characters, mobile suits, and situations), the actual story is not represented well at all. Most of the story is delivered through objective summaries, character sound effects, and events during gameplay. Scenes from the anime or even a simple voiceover could’ve worked wonders and made things make more sense, but they aren’t featured anywhere in the game. Of course, someone who is a follower of the series will understand everything that is happening and as a consequence for those who have not seen the anime, like me, I have a feeling that I could’ve enjoyed the game more if I even knew what the heck was going on. After a little bit of research, though, I found that the Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam anime takes place after the original Mobile Suit Gundam (which represented the One Year War), which I did watch semi-frequently. Lending some knowledge I had from watching the original anime, I understood a little bit more about the things that were happening in the storyline of the game, since it took place in the same universe. Mobile Suit: Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam features a few of the characters from the original series in addition to new ones. Assuming that the whole Gundam Vs. Zeta Gundam anime series is represented in it, someone that is a fan of the series will definitely enjoy the game, reliving and fully interacting with the experiences. It just won’t come off as well to someone who doesn’t know much about it.

A major strong point of the title is that it is not short at all. Even just restricted to the single-player modes, you will be playing for a long time. The main modes, being Arcade and Universal Century Mode, will take the majority of the time you spend on the game and while there are multiplayer features, none are online. In Arcade mode, you basically pick which mobile suits you want to use for Ground and Space and then off you go. You chose the difficulty level and everything, and once you get through it, you want to have as many points as you can so you can get on the high score board.

Universal Century Mode is where the real game begins. The mode chronicles the series from the demise of the Earth Federation in which rival factions clash for control of Earth and its space colonies. Being a stricter adaptation of the anime than Arcade mode is, you’ll play as the “influential” pilots that had made their way in the series, and learn little parts of their story, such as why and how they joined the faction they’re a part of. You will play all sides of the battle from different perspectives of the respective pilots; however, the different “perspectives” aren’t very apparent except for the character voices being played and which side you are on in the conflict. So, you’ll end up being able to play as many different pilots for one faction as you follow their independent (but sparse) story. If you don’t pay attention to this story element, it will seem like you’re playing the same battles continuously over and over, since many pilots participate in the same particular battles (albeit, like the anime, probably). On top of that, there are three factions you can chose from (the AEUG, Titans or Axis), each having their own repertoire of different pilots, so you’ll be able to, as mentioned before, play on all sides of each conflict. The game is truly loaded with gameplay, and may seem a little daunting to get through all of the missions. However, the immense amount of playability comes mostly due to playing the same levels over and over with different pilots and under different storyline-circumstances, and it can get very repetitive. The way the mode works is by following events on a timeline, as you follow the pilot’s sequence of events. Sometimes, though, when a character is technically supposed to die in the anime, you can change their fate by not dying during the mission they were supposed to die in. This results in a splintering of the main timeline for that character, and shows what would have happened had they survived. Sometimes when a character lives instead of dies, it can splinter off an alternate path for another pilot as well. While this concept is interesting, it really doesn’t accomplish much except attaining more chances to replay the same battles again except this time with another partner who does nothing differently and does nothing in a unique way that would make it seem like it was worth having the person survive. To top it all off, when you complete a certain pilot’s storyline, the ending sequence says what happens to the character, but says something to the effect of “there could have been other choices, play through the character’s timeline again!” I don’t think anyone will be that obsessed with the title to replay every level in a person’s timeline due to the extreme repetitiveness of battles. Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam’s gameplay can be fun, but only in short strides.

While the controls don’t feel as natural as they should, they can get the job done once you get used to them. However, when in a space battle, which is by far the most frustrating part of the game, the controls become very difficult to use due to some funky moving issues that don’t allow you to move as well as you should in a full 3D arena. Granted, the machines that are flying through space are supposed to be clunky because of their nature, and mobile suit pilots in the animes have trouble commandeering their robots quite frequently, it ends up being more of a frustrating control issue than any sort of homage to the anime. Also, maybe it’s supposed to be gravity or something, but it is really hard to simply move around in space. Having no way to control the camera does not help the cause either. Sometimes when you’re doing nothing, you will slide away to a point away from where you were, drawing farther away from where you were, forcing you to almost struggle to boost away from where you were sliding so you can re-enter the battle. The biggest downside to the whole fighting system is how you’re not allowed to hurt your enemy unless the target on them is red. They will usually turn to yellow after hitting them a certain amount of times. If you try to attack them while the target is yellow, your attacks will very unrealistically (and stupidly, I might add) go right through them; whether it was a rocket or a freakin’ beam sword. This will force you to hold back on your attacks until the target is red again, stopping any chances of relentless combinations and attacks on a particular enemy – a far cry from the sword-slicing-in-half action I’m accustomed to seeing in a Gundam anime. What Universal Century Mode ultimately comes down to is a lot of play time, and that is definitely the game’s main strong point, especially if you enjoy the gameplay or playing with different mobile suits. Containing over 200 missions isn’t too shabby either, even if many of them are repeats. The structure of the game is based on battles rather than being adventure oriented; they basically give you an arena to fight in and send mobile suits to kill you or be killed by you.

The Gallery mode in the game persuades the player to play through it and all its different modes to unlock gallery items, allowing you to learn more about the mobile suits that can be played, as well as viewing illustrations, hearing character speech, and looking at all the different parts of the game. The information about the Mobile Suits in the Gallery mode really should have been put into the main part of the game so you would better understanding of them before you chose them, but at least it exists in some way, even if you do have to unlock it first. The mobile suits are more or less unique in what they do, and each has a relatively unique experience while piloting them. Different combinations of weaponry, speed, strength, armor, and special abilities (if available) can influence one to try out each mobile suit and find one you like the most.

The sound is pretty good. The music, character speech, and sound effects are all ripped straight from the anime. The use of the old sounds from the show gives Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam a cool feeling, making it feel more like the anime. However, a main problem with the game is how the sound effects and background music totally overcome the limited amount of character speech that is used during missions, often making it inaudible, even when you turn down the sound effects and background music to a level you still want to be able to hear them at. Regardless, the character speech really should have been integrated better, because it’s also hard to understand what they even say sometimes. The graphics are pretty good for a PlayStation 2 game, definitely being at the level that most games at this point in the life of the PlayStation 2 should look like. Attention to detail is really what makes the mobile suits look cool.

While Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam can be a quite enjoyable game to play in short bursts, it really cannot be played for hours on end because of the repetitiveness of its mission structure. Although, if you like the anime series or the other Mobile Suit Gundam games, this game will definitely be right up your alley. If you’re not in the Gundam vs. Zeta Gundam anime crowd, unfortunately it may not garner the interest needed to really enjoy the game.

 

Wipeout Pure (PSP) Review

Developer: Studio Liverpool / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 9.0/10

As one of Sony’s PlayStation Portable launch games, Wipeout Pure is an all-new made-just-for-the-PSP Wipeout game. With controls adjusted to compensate for the difference in the PSP to a traditional console controller, the transition appears to be a very well conducted one. Coming from a background of not playing too many of the futuristic racing games like the notable F-Zero series or even any other of the Wipeout games, I found myself amazed by how fun Wipeout Pure is. In all of its impressive beauty, Wipeout Pure is one of the most fun and addicting games I have played for quite some time, especially for a handheld.

Wipeout Pure is one of the sustaining reasons to own a PSP. Not only does it really show what the PSP is capable of in terms of graphics, but also shows how well the PSP does with franchises carried over from the console market, obviously allowing you to take games in your favorite series’ wherever you go. And because it’s not a direct port of any other Wipeout game, unique ships and weapons have been created for the PSP version, giving it a different feel than other games than the previous games in the franchise. With eight different teams (more simply, ships) to choose from, each ship has its advantages and disadvantages. Depending on the situations you face and how well you can maneuver your hover ships through race tracks, certain stats in ship performance will become a major factor in choosing which team you go with.

Wipeout Pure’s first impressions are that it’s a beautiful game, and can even compete with the graphics of games being released on the PS2. A pleasant part of the graphics and presentation Wipeout Pure emits is the attention to detail. Even while going upwards of 400 km/h on your hover ship, you can take some time and pay attention to the scenery around you as you blast by it. The frame rate stays at a good level for the most part, but if there are a lot of explosions and things happening at the same time on the screen (which can happen at times), the frame rate can go down a bit, but its nothing that really shouldn’t be expected for that kind of action happening. Of course, what enhances the graphics and the look of the game even further is the PSP’s beautiful LCD screen.

When starting the game for the first time, there isn’t a story sequence or back-story to read; you dive right into the game. While it’s not at all important, there is a small piece of background story given in the instruction booklet, mostly to explain where Wipeout Pure fits in with the rest of the Wipeout games. Most of your time will be spent in the single player mode, which gives you five different modes to play: Single Race, Time Trial, Free Play, Zone and Tournament. Single Race is a regular race in which you race against other racers for one race only. Time Trial allows for you to race the track and get the best time you can without any other racers in the way. Free Play is similar to Time Trial, but instead of having an amount of tracks to race through, you just keep going on the same track for as long as you want. Free Play will allow anyone to brush up on their skills and memorize each of the tracks included in the game to better compete against other racers. Zone is a somewhat out-of-place mode, in which you go as fast as you can in curiously bright white tracks in a unique hover ship. Zone is a different approach to racing, and can be most analogized to a Survival mode in a fighting game, basically going as long as you can and getting points along the way. More tracks in the Zone mode are unlocked when you achieve enough points in your trials. Tournament is obviously the biggest part of the game, allowing you to pit yourself against the seven other teams and their racers in an assortment of leagues. Beginner-level leagues allow for you to get used to the controls and the speed of the game. The real challenge doesn’t start until the more advanced levels, where you go faster and more laps are added to the requirement of completing the particular race. During the beginning leagues, each race seemed to be too short, but this is solved (and you even get a feeling that races can be TOO long, mostly because of the challenge of the other racers) as you get to the increasingly harder leagues. The game covers all the aspects of difficulty throughout playing the game, and it is really a good way to do it. Rather than having an overall difficulty, you can keep racing in the league that you most prefer for speed and lap amount, but that won’t allow you to unlock more things in the game. After getting so used to the faster leagues, it can be hard to race in the lesser advanced leagues because it is so slow in comparison. With each increasing level of difficulty, you have to adjust to the new conditions of speed and the amount of laps. Typically, it will take a few times to defeat a class tournament, just because of the different feeling of speed and reaction time that the game demands in the more advanced leagues. As you race through more and more of the leagues, more tracks and other leagues are unlocked for you to race in, giving an incentive to place in the top three by the end of a particular tournament so you can repeat the same process on a harder level.

When actually racing in a game, a big part of how you try and place is how many Jump Pads you can drive over as well as how you use the weapons that are given when running over Weapon Pads. Jump Pads are vital to winning a race, as they can increase your speed with a burst of energy and propel you forward, helping you inch (or centimeter if you want me to stay consistent) forward closer to your opponents. Weapon Pads also help a tremendous amount, because if you use your weapon with precision you can gain the upper hand over your opponents and slow them down. However, as the amount of speed increases in each of the leagues, hitting a wall or getting clobbered by one of your opponent’s weaponry can take a healthy chunk out of your ship’s health. Instead of using weapons only as a weapon, you can absorb them to charge up your ship’s shields, and avoid being disqualified by blowing up. This brings the possibility of having to make a quick decision about what you should use your weapon for most likely; whether or not it’s more worth it to possibly get in front of your opponent or to use the weapon to charge up your shields. The actual arsenal of weapons includes Auto Pilot, Shield, Turbo, Mines, Bomb, Rockets, Missile, Disruption Bolt, Plasma, and Quake. Auto Pilot, like its name suggests, allows the computer to take over your racer for a few seconds. Shield is a temporary energy field that takes place around your ship for a few seconds, making it impervious to damage. Turbo is a very valuable item because it can boost your racer to very high speeds for a few seconds. Mines and Bombs are backwards weaponry that stays on the race track to hopefully be hit by an opponent that is close on your tail or something of that sort. It can be annoying sometimes because you might hit a Mine or Bomb you left behind on the last go around. Rockets, Missile, Disruption Bolt, and Plasma are all forward shooting weapons that help in slowing down or disabling an opponent. Quake is a very powerful weapon, as it sends a shockwave through the track and slows down all the racers in front of the one that used it. The variety of weaponry included in the game is enough to keep the game interesting, but not too much to make any of them seem really unneeded or give the feeling that it is the main focus of the game. Sometimes when you launch into the air, you can have time to do a barrel roll, and while taking a risk of getting damaged if it isn’t executed by the time you land, it gives a boost of speed after you land.

There are a bunch of random things to mention about the game as well, some good and some not so good. Each league has its own time records because of the difference in speeds that are allowed in each class, so it gives a slight incentive to go and race in different leagues to try and get the best time possible. In Time Trial mode, you can save “ghosts” of yourself for you to race against at a later time. However, each race will take up its own save slot for a ghost, making it almost a requirement to have a larger memory stick handy to utilize the ghost feature to its full capabilities. During tournaments, there is always one or two racers that will always place in first or second, making it hard for you to win tournaments, many of these coming down to the wire and barely passing up your opponent for the win or having them pass you up at the last second for a lower placing. This obviously gets very frustrating when they pass you by less than .001 of a second. Also, sometimes you will have enough speed to fly completely off the track. Instead of flying into a blank void when taking your amusing detour, you can see more of the city or area that you are racing in, making it seem more like you’re actually racing through something rather than a floating road in the middle of nowhere. An autosave function is present in the game as well, which constantly saves your progress after each race, saving quite a bit of time from having to do it manually, and since it only takes a couple seconds immediately after a race, it doesn’t get in the way at all. Load times are also not horrible, only taking around fifteen seconds to load for each new race you’re about to undertake.

The sound quality in the game is excellent. All the weapons sound futuristic, just like they should. But the best part of the sound in Wipeout Pure is obviously the music. The music takes an electronic-oriented approach, with a quite impressive selection to choose from. You’re also allowed to customize your music preferences, whether or not you want to listen to it down to which songs you don’t want to play, though it is hard to get sick of them if you like the kind of music included in the game. Most of the time, however, you won’t notice the music because you’ll be so concentrated on the racing at hand. Downloadable content is available if you have a wireless connection point. At the time of the writing, there are Gamma Pack 1, 2, and 3 are available for download. Supposedly there are five to be released altogether, and they add various items to enhance the game from its retail version, most notably included new tracks to race on. The files are kind of big, though, depending on what is in them. Again, you’ll most likely have to have a big memory stick on hand to have enough space for all of your game saves, and the downloadable content that will eventually be released in Gamma Packs 4 and 5.

Wipeout Pure is a solid arcade racer that can be taken just about anywhere on a PSP, making it a very valuable game in its launch lineup, as well as part of its increasingly expanding game library. With its fun game play and beautiful presentation, Wipeout Pure is definitely a game that shouldn’t be passed up when being considered for purchase with a new PSP or even down the line.

 

Killzone (PS2) Review

Developer: Guerilla Games / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment || Overall: 8.8/10

Killzone, known to some as the “Halo-killer,” for the PS2 is a first-person shooter (FPS) that aims to fill a large gap in the amount of games in its genre for Sony’s current console, the PS2. It isn’t too often that an FPS for PS2 comes along, let alone one that can compete with games such as Halo and Halo 2 on the Xbox. While Killzone didn’t do as well in sales or overall ratings by critics to live up to the name of “Halo-killer,” Killzone is still an impressive FPS that does what it sets out to do very well: allow you to shoot enemies and have fun at it. On its own merits, Killzone is probably the best FPS on the PS2, rivaled only by Red Faction.

Probably the thing that is thought about most when the name “Killzone” is mentioned is the graphics. Especially since the tech demo for Killzone PS3, the name Killzone has sparked a lot of interest. With that said the graphics in Killzone for the PS2 are very impressive, especially for a PS2 game. However, you might not get this feeling until later in the game when you see the different environments you venture through. Part of what makes the graphics in Killzone so nice is the cool reloading animations, the sprinting animation (which looks as good as a CG movie with the effects used), and the faces of characters that look practically realistic, among other things. Faces show emotions and change face patters during cutscenes, adding to the realism of the game. In-game, the faces look just about as good, but don’t really move as much as during a cutscene. Other than that, there isn’t really much you can point out in saying “that looked really good,” because Killzone focuses more on an overall visual experience that comes off very nicely. The colors used in the game usually revolve a lot around browns and grays, and the video quality effect (at least I hope it is an intentional effect) used makes it seem like it’s a futuristic-looking atmosphere.

The campaign’s story is fairly interesting. The story starts when a group of invading sub-humans named the Helghast from the planet Helghan attack the ruling human faction, the ISA. The Helghast were a group of humans whom settled on a planet with very harsh conditions, like breathing in heavy gasses, resulting in an evolved sub-race. They did what any separated groups of humans do when they think badly about the current government; they nationalized, and declared war on their former relatives. The emphasis on the story is on a smaller scope, however. Rather than concentrating on the whole war, it focuses on a major conflict on one of the planets that was pre-emptively stricken by the Helghast in which a Space Defense satellite is taken over by a traitorous general in charge of it. The four main playable characters that you can play with in the campaign are Templar, Luger, Rico, and Hakha. All the characters in the game are voiced very well, really giving personality to the main characters in the story. However, non-cutscene voice work isn’t as charming. Most of the sounds used by characters are usually the same ones being heard over and over, making it feel as if the in-game voice sound effects were shortchanged when it came to its variety. You’ll often hear commands from your party members that don’t make sense toward the immediate situation, having to take what they say with a grain of salt. The actual character’s characterization is fairly vague, and while you don’t exactly know who the main characters really are (in terms of their personal histories) their personalities really shine through in the voice-overs. Through the story, you will learn small portions of a character’s past, most not being explained thoroughly at all by the end of the campaign. I guess you just have to fill in the blanks when it comes to the things they didn’t explain. On a side note, there are swear words used somewhat freely in the game, which adds to the reality of the intense situation being portrayed. Not much music is actually in the game except for cutscenes, but it isn’t something that is missed during regular game play, because there’ll be a lot of shooting and you’ll want to hear every gunshot you can so you know where it’s coming from.

The campaign takes a while to complete, and obviously leaves it open-ended for a sequel. Whether or not any sequels for the game will have the characters introduced in Killzone is sort of hinted at, but it is certainly left to question whether or not they will make an appearance again. When beginning a mission, you’re allowed to pick a character to use. Each character has a perk or two that will make playing with them a somewhat unique experience. Choosing a different character changes some things in the missions you play, but the biggest difference is in the main weapon they use. Regardless of which character you choose, you’re able to hold three weapons for use through the mission. At the end of each mission, your weapons reset to the default weaponry for your character, but you keep the weapons you have until you complete a mission. While the guns you find on the floor aren’t of a very wide variety, there are quite a few different kinds of guns that will be used through the game. Some guns have alternate fire, but some don’t. Alternate fire usually takes a longer time to use due to having to usually reload right after its use, but it depends on what weapon you’re using, of course. Because ammo for your default weaponry is hard to come by, you’ll be using your enemy’s weaponry, allowing you to keep bullets being fed into your stockpile.

The typical mission is divided up into three parts. Eleven missions are included in the campaign mode, and each one is pretty long. In the end, it does give a satisfying amount of play time. Interestingly enough, it says on the time counter that I’ve been playing for nearly fifty hours, but it really didn’t feel like it. Either way, you’ll be playing for a pretty long time. The typical mission isn’t extremely imaginative, but the tactics you have to use during each of the different parts make the game interesting enough for you to have a good time playing. The game also forces you to be a little tactical in how you go about attacking a situation, often times having to die and try again. But really, the game doesn’t get all that fun until a third of the way through when the story really gets going. Most of the enemies you encounter will either charge you head on, wait for you to come, or pop out of nowhere and shoot at you. It’s basically normal FPS stuff, so it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before. The missions do become challenging at times though. Even on easy, you can have a hard time, taking two or three tries at a certain situation before you can get through it alive. The main challenge in it though is because checkpoints (where you resume the game after you die) are few and far between, making you go back to a farther-than-needed point in the mission and making you do the same things you had just gone through until you get to the point you had trouble at. All of this takes a bit of chance, skill, and frustration to complete and can get redundant because you play through parts you’ve already completed again. There are enough unique challenges to confront throughout missions to keep the interest fountain flowing, though you just might have to take a little rest between tries.

There are a few minor annoyances found through the game. Only a couple times have I had the frame rate decrease below thirty frames per second, and that was because there was a lot of action going on at the same time. Most of the game runs very well though. Also, it gets sort of annoying going up and down ladders. Sometimes when you want to get on a ladder and then press a direction to go, you’ll get off the ladder instead of going where you want to go. Whether it’s a bug or a control issue, I’m not sure. Thankfully ladders aren’t a big part of the game; they only take importance in a couple of places.

Adding to the game’s difficulty is actually taking doing Helghast, because they are very hard to kill at times. You could get a few headshots on a certain Helghast and they still wouldn’t go down. It can take a lot more ammo than what would really be worth it in the long distance firefights, mostly because the weaponry you have isn’t usually good at long distance (unless you just happen to have a sniper rifle handy). As the game goes on, the Helghast become harder and harder to kill, and use bigger guns and grenade launchers in more frequency rather than only using the basic Helghast gun most Helghast you encounter will have.

There’s a nice multiplayer mode that allows for single player games offline playing with bots. Online is also supported for the multiplayer mode. There are all of your usual FPS multiplayer games such as Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Assault, and a couple of others. The multiplayer arenas are mimicked after certain parts of the campaign. The online multiplayer mode definitely extends the life of the title, and the fairly-realistic-yet-futuristic weaponry used in the game does have a little bit of an appeal to it. No vehicles can be used at all in the game, though.

There isn’t that much that is bad about Killzone. Being a more traditional FPS, focusing more on actual shooting game play rather than vehicle game play, Killzone sets up a very cool universe for which subsequent games may take place in. I, for one, am definitely looking forward to more installments in what will happen in the war between the ISA and Helghast.

 

Battleground Europe: World War II Online (PC) Hands-On Preview

Developer: Cornered Rat Software Studios | Publisher: Matrix Games

Where else is there to go with the first person shooter? EA’s Battlefield series touched upon the Massively Multiplayer Online direction that first person shooters could go in; cooperative teamwork is a major part of winning. World War II Online takes the idea of the MMOFPS further by introducing a world where a constant war wages on – at all times of the day. Everyday you can check the home page of the World War II Online website, and a new article will be displayed about the progress of the Allies or Axis, and other somewhat historical events that happened in the game world.

Although it’s still in beta, Battleground Europe boasts hordes of different vehicles and occupations to take on and help the cause of your team. With so many different objects, cities, and towns, plus the ability to travel pretty much anywhere you want around the world (which spans over 354,000 square miles), Battleground Europe seems like it could be the best MMOFPS ever created. Though right now it certainly seems that it could achieve that title, the game is still in beta, and is far from complete.

While the game seems to be coming along according to plan, the graphics are very skimpy; textures barely represent what they’re really supposed to look like. There are also aspects of the gameplay that sorely need to be improved by the time the final product comes out. First of all, the swaying action of the arms and guns really need to be toned down. Subtle motions, even if they’re unrealistic, are generally better and less distracting to the eye. Currently it seems exaggerated rather than realistic.

When it comes to vehicles, it’s hard to understand how to really even use them. You can’t just push forward; you have to switch gears or something along those lines. I couldn’t figure it out, however, because there are no help files or instructions that I could find. I see it as needlessly complicated. You also can’t get out of the vehicle you are assigned to without despawning and respawning as whatever you want; you basically are who you spawn as and nothing more.

You have to rely on others to commandeer vehicles and weaponry on the vehicles to go to the different parts of the battle, otherwise you’ll be running for quite some time without seeing any action. I also couldn’t figure out how to look at the vehicle in third person, which would make driving a lot easier.

What Battleground Europe aims to accomplish is quite possibly its strong point. If the end product ends up being as good as it seems like it could be, Battleground Europe could quite possibly be the best FPS (based in World War II at least) to come out for quite some time, moving the genre into new regions. The game could definitely appeal to those that can’t get enough of FPS games, and have an interest in how MMOGs work.

 

Absolute Blue (PC) Review

Developer/Publisher: Intermedia Ware || Overall: 5.5/10

Absolute Blue, seemingly a part of a recent movement by independent developers to bring back the side-scrolling space shooters, is just that: a side-scrolling space shooter made by an independent developer. Even though the game looks pretty, that doesn’t save it from the deplorable aspects of game play and absent improvements on the genre itself. While not touting the title of being a horrible game, Absolute Blue is just plain not good. Especially when there are superior space shooter-type games, like Jets’n’Guns, which is also made by an independent developer, Absolute Blue pales in comparison to the feats accomplished by such games.

For being an independent game, Absolute Blue looks excellent. However, while the screenshots for the game may give a false first impression about how good the game’s “fun factor” might be, what makes the game ultimately very frustrating and very tedious (and ultimately not very fun) is the game play and the basic controls. Maybe I was spoiled by the amazing game play and almost-flawless controls of Jets’n’Guns, but Absolute Blue really is a snore-fest to me. For the most part, there is nothing imaginative or “innovative” about the game to even consider it being anything more than an average game. The game is ridiculously linear, and in the fashion of the older games of this type from the 80s, once you die you start all over. While there is a save game function, you’re only allowed to save once you clear a full area (which contains separate levels within it), if you even get that far. Needless to say, if you have a hard time getting past the first area, you’re going to become very frustrated, as you will most likely die many-a-time, and then be forced to replay through the areas you had just gone through so that you can get to the point you had just died at before to try it again. Hopefully you won’t forget what you were supposed to do or die again, being forced to start the whole area yet again. When it gets really frustrating is if you keep dying in the first area; it seems like no progress has been done at all, as you basically restart the whole game constantly.

There’s no story. The game plops you in the middle of space, and off you go. There isn’t even any acknowledgement about what you’re supposed to do, collect, kill, or save. But, as always, it’s probably something to do with saving the universe from an evil alien race and you being the last hope. Why is it always up to us to save the universe? That’s a heavy burden to undertake if you think about it. And there are never any other aliens to help out, now that I think about it. I guess the goal of the whole game is to obtain enough parts of crystals to add up to three crystals, all done by visiting all these areas and blowing stuff up in the process (but its ridiculously easy to just not shoot everything and still get pretty far in a level). And then you use the crystals to save the universe. Maybe.

There are four areas to the game, each with their own set of levels. While you’re not able to select any of the levels to play that each area has (or even see how many there are), you must complete the levels in a linear fashion to get to the progressively harder levels, ultimately beating an area to go to another area. Only one area is available at the start, which is not necessarily bad, but it’s not good either. The selection of levels come in the form of a deep space/asteroid place, a weird black log (what I can only assume to be a spaceship), a brown planet, and one white planet. That sure is a scenic tour, considering the aliens who are attacking are attacking the whole universe. Of course, you can see the reason behind the aliens’ interest in each of the areas you fight them in, especially the deep space void that has a bunch of random spiked walls and floors randomly floating around or a big black log in the middle of space. Yes, I know it’s not supposed to be realistic, but I can’t help not thinking about it.

As I said before, the graphics are nice. However, the enemies you encounter aren’t very imaginative or interesting. The enemy’s projectiles, most being small red balls, can also be too hard to see since they are usually very small and blend in with the background too much. Even your enemies are hard to see because they blend in too well with the background.

The Dearth of Good Things

So, what else besides the graphics are actually good about this game? Well, they do get some things right when it comes to the game.

There are the usual things, such as a health bar, lives, and the purpose of the game being to obtain points. While you get points for just destroying an enemy, more often than not, they will release a floating orb with a number on it that, when collected, gives you extra points. There are obstacles in the game that utilize timing and the scrolling of the screen, or what I like to call “screen crunchers.” As levels progress, the scrolling speeds up, forcing you to think fast, or slows down, allowing you to deal with an obstacle/problem.

On the ship enhancement side of things, there are your standard power ups and speed ups. There are also power down and speed downs, so there are certain decisions you have to make (whether or not it’s worth it) to try and get a power up or if you should sacrifice one of your power levels to get through an area easier. There are also satellites that have different kinds of firing characteristics that can be found through levels so that you can kick ass easier. When holding down the firing command for the satellites, you can’t use your ship’s regular weaponry because they’re only used once for every fire key press. Unless you press the fire key a lot, you’re basically using one or the other, depending on the type of satellite, however.

The soundtrack is also a good part of the game, as it is very electronica-oriented, and goes well with the space setting, as well as the levels you’re in. Though there are crappy-sounding voices used in the game at random times, they sort of fit with the songs, almost sounding as if they are part of the song that is playing since they have a little bit of a European accent to them.

A nice part about the game is that it gives you the freedom of using a keyboard, a mouse, a joystick, or even a joystick with force feedback. But these good control preference choices quickly turn into bad things.

The Abundance of Bad Things

Let’s start at the beginning. When you boot up the game, there’s a long start-up time. You’ll be sitting there for a while watching the load bar slowly fill up. There’s a lot of “decrunching,” whatever that means. Besides that, once you start up the game you’re not able to adjust volume while you’re in the game or it will crash. If your speakers have a volume adjustment, you can do it from there with no problem, but if you’re doing it from your keyboard and not in the options for the game, then it will most certainly crash. But, it could just be a problem that arises from the kind of computer I have and not necessarily so for others. The fact of the matter is that it happens, and that’s not good. Another slight annoyance is that there isn’t a quick exit from the game. The only way to exit is if you go to the title screen and select exit game. It can take up to around a minute to get to depending on what screen you’re at in the game. They also disabled the use of Alt-F4 for the sake of forcing you to go to the title screen to exit. How convenient is that? You can always go to the Ctrl-Alt-Delete box and end the program if it really comes down to it, I suppose. Aside from all of those issues, is the fact that the frame rate drops when a lot of explosions or actions happen on the screen.

First and foremost, however, the control issues drag this game down from being as good as it could (and should) be. Even on easy mode, the game can be challenging, mostly due to the control issues, not because of the difficulty of the game. Though you are given a wide array of options to chose to control your ship with, those of us without a joystick are left with either the keyboard or mouse control options. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The keyboard is harder to use than the mouse for shooting because of the simple fact that each time you push down the fire key, one shot comes out. That means you’ll be hitting your space bar or ctrl key a lot. However, switching the control preference over to your mouse brings up another problem, as it becomes very hard to move your ship fast enough and far enough to really warrant its use. This mostly happens because there is no mouse sensitivity gauge in the options. Unfortunately, there are no keyboard/mouse hybrid controls either, so you’re either stuck with one or the other, which will most likely be the keyboard because moving is a very important part of the game. This also leaves another problem, because even the keyboard isn’t perfect when it comes to controlling your ship, as one millisecond longer of holding the key could mean certain death for your ship. Even if you have full health, if you accidentally miscalculate and graze the floor or a spiked wall, your ship will blow up instantly, only adding to the frustration of the game, since there are many times where they have “screen cruncher” obstacles that will result in your instant death.

I also found it interesting that as you progressively got higher levels of weaponry, your back fire weapons seem to have more power than the front ones. The front weaponry itself isn’t very strong (unless you have a satellite with you, but that’s not very often) because the lasers shoot in almost all the directions you can think of except for what’s most useful: forward. Most of your shots will hit a wall rather than an enemy, making power ups not really as valuable as how fast you can hit the fire key. It leaves to the imagination why someone would make a ship that fired stronger, more concentrated blasts behind instead of through the front. It also left to the imagination why the programmers thought that was a good enough idea to put in the game.

Absolute Blue has no real redeeming qualities to it, and with a similarly priced game, which outclasses it in every way already out there (namely Jets’n’Guns), you shouldn’t waste your time with Absolute Blue, unless you’re really up for a frustrating challenge.

 

.hack//G.U. Vol. 1: Rebirth (PS2) Preview

If you’re one of the many fans of the .hack series that was released in four parts (Infection, Mutation, Outbreak, and Quarantine), you’ll be pleased to know that there is a new .hack game being developed for a 2006 release. Named .hack//G.U. (the G.U. standing for “Grown Up,” and also having 12 different meanings in the game itself), you can instantly see from the trailer on CyberConnect2’s web site that the game has a more mature look, feel, and mood. What is instantly noticeable is that the game takes on a truer anime style than its predecessors.

For those who haven’t played the aforementioned games in the .hack series, the .hack games revolved around a popular MMORPG called The World, and the weird occurrences happening within and outside as a direct result of what happens inside the game. By creating a fake online world, the .hack games capture the feel of an MMORPG, while blending it with storyline often utilized in single player RPGs. The experience is very unique, to say the least.

Announced at E3, .hack//G.U. takes place in 2017 (seven years after the previous four-part series). Being inserted into an all-new story where The World becomes a place where Player Killers (known as PK’ers) and warring guilds are constantly causing disruption in The World creates an interestingly new atmosphere to play in. The game of The World has been upgraded to have new areas, monsters, and jobs; however, with the constant pandemonium of players fighting each other, it causes The World to be a lawless virtual reality that the system administrators can’t control.

In .hack//G.U., you play as Haseo, a gray-haired male known as the Terror of Death. Wielding an awesome weapon which seems to be a Sword and Chainsaw hybrid, Haseo earned his nickname by hunting down PK’ers. Other characters that were named in the trailer were: Atoli/The Mirage of Deceit, Kuhn/The Propagation, Yata/The Prophet, Sakubo/The Machinator, Endrance/The Temptress, Pai/The Avenger, Ovan/The Rebirth, and what seems to be Kite (supposedly being named as Tri-Edge), except he has a seemingly zombified expression on his face coupled with amazing powers and abilities.

While not many actual story elements were revealed from the trailer, you can tell that something happens that involves places and possibly some characters from .hack parts 1-4. Kite, the main character of the first four parts of .hack, is a given, as there is a one minute fight scene between Kite and Haseo. It’s left to the imagination whether or not others will take a place in the story, and it’d actually be surprising if they weren’t mentioned.

Fans of the series won’t have to wait as long as 2006 to re-enter the .hack universe with .hack//G.U., as there is another .hack game in the works and is being released before .hack//G.U. Even less information is known about it, but from browsing CyberConnect2’s web site, it seems to be named .hack//Another Birth. Whether or not .hack//Another Birth is going to be Part 5, or a kind of extra game to link the first four parts to G.U. remains to be seen at this point.

 

Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity (PS2) Review

Developer: Pinegrow / Publisher: Atlus || Overall: 7.8/10

Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity is Atlus’ new strategy RPG for the PlayStation 2. Taking place in a world where all the regular enemies you see fall into around 15 different classes (each class having only one sprite model so you’ll know what they are), you’re in for many long hours of strategy “fun.” Well, not really “fun.” Between instances of unfulfilling storyline full of bad voice acting, you’ll find yourself having to level up for about an hour, which definitely becomes a chore at times.

I’m not going to lie; I really thought the setup of the world and story in Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity was actually very interesting. Unfortunately, the game didn’t live up to my expectations. Maybe it was the bad voice acting or the excessive use of dialogue devices that annoyed me (including, but not limited to, just saying a name and having to guess what they mean by just saying someone’s name or trailing off in their speech and not completing it). It seemed like at times the story was written in a way that I had to read the storyteller’s mind to understand what they were trying to imply in the context of the events. However, the main fault of the story is that it took too many predictable turns, making the game seem more run-of-the-mill than it really should have been.

The graphical style used in the game more closely resembles Japanese anime than cel-shading found in most games that try to achieve a “drawn” look to them. While I didn’t have any real complaints about how the game looked like in this regard, my roommate gave his generous opinion and basically said it looked like crap, as if “some kid finger-painted that ****.” I can see how the art style might not appeal to everyone, but I personally think that the graphics are more or less nice to look at; however, you can tell the colors are kind of bland, and nothing really jumps out at you. Dedicated story scenes are most of the time delivered in still shots of characters with backdrops behind them. There are different pictures depicting interesting interpretations of emotions as well, for example, bugging out of the eyes when mad/disgusted. The character art is fairly well drawn, but you will never see more than one (if there is one displayed) character in a story scene at the same time, as the pictures will jump back and forth between the conversing parties. Not that this is necessarily bad — it just leaves out certain characters’ appearances through parts of the story and you’ll begin to wonder if they’re even there. Sometimes they’ll leave a character out of a whole conversation and then insert a part where that character pops in and has “…….” as what they say, just to give you the feeling that they are there and listening, I suppose. Sometimes you’ll see story delivered in in-game animations. There are practically no Full Motion Videos (FMVs), either.

When it comes to actual game play, Stella Deus doesn’t get much more generic. All the basic principles of strategy RPGs are there and not much more to build upon. Typically, you gain Exp and SP after each action you make in battle. Depending on your level and whatever formula the game has, you’ll gain a number amount anywhere from one or more Exp/SP for each action. Exp is used to increase levels and SP is used to increase abilities or gain skills. To achieve the next level for a character, one needs to gain 100 Exp, and it doesn’t matter what level you are. The amount of Exp you gain correlates with what level you are, meaning an action you gained ten Exp for at level five only gets you one Exp at level 10. A fault (or maybe it was on purpose) of the Exp system becomes apparent when you get closer to the 100-Exp-threshold. For example, if a character has 98 Exp and you defeat an enemy, gaining 62 Exp for doing so, you’ll in effect lose 60 Exp points, because once you get to 100 or more, you start at zero instead of having the Exp rollover and start at 60 exp. This is annoying to say the least. SP is gained in a similar fashion, but instead of the problem you have with Exp, you never have enough SP, making it a potential chore to have to battle a bunch of times, outside the course of the main story, to get enough SP to do whatever you wanted. SP is used to learn new skills, and to gain more base stats (if you ever wanted to waste them like that).

There are a couple of unique things that Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity brings to the table, however. The most unique, dare I say innovative, aspect of the game is how you are able to control your characters during battle. You have two choices in the options menu, one is “Command” and the other is “Direct” for your controlling preference. Command is the usual menu-based control scheme in strategy games that list all the possible things you can do (like Move, Attack, Item, etc.). The control scheme known as Direct takes these commands and assigns them to particular buttons on your controller, allowing you to conveniently accelerate the pace of the battle. Cutting down the time of each turn you have your characters take makes the game less boring, in a way. Other interesting aspects of the game are Team Attacks and Zone Skills. Team Attacks allow you to combine forces with another character in your party to deal some serious damage on your enemies. The game almost forces you to take advantage of Team Attacks, because the levels get progressively harder faster than your characters develop (without practicing in battles a lot). Depending on who is in the Team Attack (which seems like it could be up to five at a time), they do different types of attacks. Zone Skills are also an interesting part of the game, as you can affect the status of your characters or the status of your enemies depending on the skill you use. Possible skills include Healing (for your characters) or a chance of inflicting the status of Fear on your enemies, and as long as either is in your character’s “zone” they may take effect.

There are also some side-quests available in the town portion of the game. Seemingly, each town you go to is an exact copy of all the other towns in the world you visit, and every person looks the same, too. Actually, the “town” is just the same “town” you go to each time you go to the “town,” meaning there are no unique towns in the game. The side-quests break up the linearity of the story, and gives you something else to do than go to the Catacombs (where you practice your battling to gain Exp and SP, going to increasingly deeper levels with harder battles). You’ll find different quests that simply make you go somewhere with an item, have a battle somewhere, or do something that’s pretty much stupid. You can acquire interesting items and new party members (although they stem from the enemy sprite pool, but at least you’ll only get one character for each class of enemy) for doing the mini side-quests, and since they really don’t take that long, it may be worth your trouble.

When it comes to sound, it’s not the game’s strong point. While the music is OK to listen to, it can get kind of monotonous, especially when you constantly have to listen to the same song during battles, and you’re in battle 90% of the game; basically, not much to choose from. The sound effects are average at best. All of your enemies use the same set of voice-overs for their cheesy quips they say before and after an attack, and all the unique characters in the game (who don’t share the same character model as one of your enemies) have their own voice-overs that are equally as cheese-filled. When it comes to regular story voice-overs, the voice-overs are bad. There are a couple of main characters that have moderate or even good voice-overs, like the characters of Viper and Grey. It gets to the point where you can tell which characters have the same person doing the voice-over because they sound almost the same, or you can tell by their abilities as a voice-over actor/actress. While they do get the job done, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth sometimes. It also doesn’t help that a line of speech randomly has lower volume than the other lines being spoken. Though it doesn’t happen often, it happens enough to mention.

To veterans of RPGs and strategy RPGs, Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity may be an underwhelming experience, but it doesn’t go as far as to completely disappoint. Most of the elements that have made strategy games good in the past are present, and if you’re looking for a game to feed your strategy RPG yearning, Stella Deus: Gate of Eternity wouldn’t be a bad choice. The game can get rather involving to a point, and could spark interest as to where the game’s story will lead, but all in all, you’re not going to find anything else that is very different from most other strategy RPGs.