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the playstation budget games review: part ii

The Sunday Session

This was the second stint of our budget gaming marathon. Jon was absent for this one, so missed out on the below delights.

Swords of Destiny: This made so little impression on John, that when asked for his recap three hours later, he couldn’t remember anything. I was doing the ironing in the kitchen at the time and just from the sounds emitting from the speakers, concluded, “Sounds like a generic scrolling beat-em-up.” I was very close. Leather-clad, sword-wielding, Matrix crossed with samurai affair. Blah.

Samurai Jack: the Shadow of Aku: Being a TV series tie-in, we didn’t have high hopes for this, although the animation style, which we both love, does lend itself well to gaming. We were both pleasantly surprised in the end. The tutorial is pitched well, the controls are generous, the combat involved but not complicated. Levels sprawl pleasingly without getting you lost, the difficulty curve is satisfying and the sounds the villagers make when you rescue them made me giggle every time. On top of this, the game seems to have good replay value – you have to search out relics and villagers to rescue, many of which are not immediately obvious and plenty are hidden well, encouraging you to return to each level.

Goblin Commander: A Real Time Strategy game on a console is rarely going to work. Based on the cover, it looked intriguing with nice art (although possibly Warhammer style rip-off) but without the fine control that comes with with a mouse-driven RTS, we expected it to be frustrating and dull. It turned out to be better than that, although the initially decent tutorial degenerated into large blocks of text. The troop control was simplified to allow you to assign a group to a button and so minimising the frustration but even so, it was ultimately still an uninteresting RTS on a console. Stick with the desktop versions.

Charlotte’s Web: I feel I brought this suffering upon myself. John picked this up because I’d sparked a return (or in Jon’s case an introduction) to E.B. White’s novel earlier this year. If I hadn’t, we might not have had to suffer this insult to one of the greatest children’s books of all time.

Despite predicting that this game-of-the-Dakota-Fanning-starring-movie would be a hideous and soulless experience, neither of us thought it would be quite the travesty it turned out to be. It’s essentially a string of mini-games linked by a vague storyline that I certainly don’t remember from the book. On the semi-upside, considering the market it’s aimed at, the game begins with little preamble but that’s where the up ends. The controls are obtuse, twitchy and lacking in any subtlety; the instruction screens make no sense; the camera, especially indoors, is one of the worst I’ve ever seen in a game; the menus are completely broken; the Farmer lurches about like a zombie. The whole game flickers like a fluorescent light bulb at the end of its lifespan. Plus the grammar and punctuation is all over the place. We cannot believe this game ever made it to release.

We were gamed out by this point and ended up watching BBC Three’s Young Butcher of the Year. Against my will, I enjoyed it (damn you, iPlayer and your way of making me watch things I never intend to!) It was oddly compelling and now I know that sausage skins come from intestines; sweetbreads refer to a lamb’s testicles or thyroid glands; and that sausages burst when they have a high bread content – which is why they’re nicknamed ‘bangers’.

I do have some gripes. The set was weird (what was that backlit wind tunnel thing about?) I resent the current documentary fashion to have so many quick cuts all over the place, it gives me a headache. And I dislike the elimination aspect. We don’t need the dramatic music and that annoying time delay intended to build suspense before announcing the person who’s going out. I would rather they went for a points-based set of tasks instead, if only to get to see what other ‘out of the box’ thinking went into window displays.

All that said, I actually cheered on the announcement of the winner – and then immediately sat back stunned that I had just celebrated a display of butchery. I am a little in awe of the BBC for doing this to me.

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the playstation budget games review: part i

(A quick note: I know my travel blog is only halfway completed and I like to think that one day I’ll finish it but I don’t want my procrastination to stop me writing about other things any more. So while I hope to fill in old entries, in the meanwhile, I’m just going to carry on with more current happenings.)

My flatmates, Jon and John*, both work for Sony Playstation. They had a work sale last week and between them brought home 30, mostly terrible-looking, games. Of course, this meant we had to have a mammoth games testing session (although, not all at once – believe it or not, we do have lives) and I’m here to give you the results.

For those counting, there aren’t 30 games here. They brought home two copies of Kingdom Hearts (because it’s meant to be good and they both wanted their own copies) and two copies of Dragon Sisters. Also, Jon brought home four PSP games, which I’m not going to write about (although apparently The Fast and the Furious is neither fast nor furious – two minutes of load time for every minute of gameplay). Also, Jon picked up Final Fantasy X, which is a genuinely good and popular RPG and doesn’t require covering. Go read a proper games reviewer if you’re interested in that.

Approximately half an hour was spent on each game; less if it was actually painful to play, more if it turned out to be genuinely compelling. With that all said, here we go:

The Saturday Session

Jet Ion GP: We began our night with this Wipeout rip-off. Apart from Mario Kart, which doesn’t count, I’m not a racing game fan, so I watched. The appalling frame rate and horrible colour palette made that a painful experience. John says, “It could have been interesting if it hadn’t been completely unplayable.”

Paparazzi: We expected this to be one of the worst games of the batch. The copy from the back of the box needs quoting – “Models will strike poses at your command! The first videogame that turns you into a real paparazzi!! If you take a really good picture, give it to your favourite model in secret! If she likes it, your influence on her will increase!”

It is, in so many ways, a creepy and disturbing game. You’re an amateur photographer with a fixation on a model, who you pick out of a choice of three. We chose Riho, whose breasts bounce as if they’re made from water balloons – and occasionally out of time with each other. Some of the creep factor might be due to translation issues from the original Japanese (instead of saying “Promise”, Riho enthusiastically says, “I will look out for you. Promised!” and instead of being told your photo sessions were a “Success!”, it says “Successed!”) but the speech tends to make you sound like you’re playing a creepy stalker-type, who’s using the opportunity of a model’s photo session to get closer to her – literally.

The tutorial is appalling. Endless instruction without any chances in between the never-ending text to try out the things you’re being taught. I’d got about a third of the way through before I started just hitting the Circle button** without reading. Once we’d got past all of that though, the gameplay was unexpectedly intriguing. In order to get a good shot, you have to consider, amongst other factors, angle, focus, pose, exposure, other photographers. Depending on how good your photos are, you gain points that allow you to buy new equipment. The three of us did a photo shoot each and we hadn’t come close to working it all out.

Hilariously, if you take an upskirt shot, which John did inadvertently after Riho turned around suddenly and bent over while wearing her ‘school uniform’ (seriously) outfit, you get severely told off. Overall, a game with potential if you could do away with the feeling of sordidness about the whole exercise.

Alpine Racer 3: I should pre-empt this by saying that Jon will pick up all things involving snow; he’s a sucker for anything marginally associated with skiing. This turned out to be a good move in this case. It plays more like a racer than a skiing game but the controls are quite nice, the frame rate decent and overall it was enjoyable to play. Fun intro video too. Although one of the characters, Melina Verlaine, was definitely wearing inappropriate wear for skiing – there is no way she wouldn’t have got hypothermia in the crop-top and stockings she donned for the slopes.

Zombie Attack: “A story of eroticism, violence and horror – can you survive the ZOMBIE ZONE?” We felt a bit let down by the lack of eroticism promised on the back of this game’s box. Mostly the protagonist, Shin Fu Yue under the control of Jon, wandered around, collecting people who needed rescuing, who then panicked whenever a zombie turned up. She would then attack the zombie with either the Soul’s Repose sword, Tiger gun or what looked like a big sneeze but we later learnt was Mochigome rice, until it started smoking, at which point she could finish it off with the Mysterious Warrior seal. It was okay – nothing to particularly recommend it over any other adventure hack’n'slash but nothing especially bad to say about it.

Daemon Summoner: A first person shooter that starts off quite well mainly because it’s set in Victorian England and your character has impressive sideburns and a cigar. However, things start to go downhill on the introduction of the horribly gravelly voice that sounds worse than Christian Bale doing his Batman. The premise is that your wife was turned into a vampire and you have to hunt her down. As she runs away, John attempted to follow, went the wrong way and ran up against the worst invisible wall ever. Not even some artificially placed crates and barrels – just an invisible hold-up. Round about here, I fell asleep. Apparently I missed something really bad: “not even funny bad, just bad bad.” The catacombs entered were just long corridors with zombies shambling towards you, no aiming required. The crossbow was weak-sounding and overall, the whole gameplay felt floaty: it didn’t feel like your character was walking, but more like controlling a disembodied camera attached to a crossbow. Never to be returned to again.

Everblue 2: I was fast asleep for this one. I am told that essentially, it involved diving somewhere around the Bermuda Triangle, looking for artefacts. The village you start in is filled with people who advise you where to go searching. The underwater gameplay looks quite pretty but dense fog means you can’t see any further than about five or ten metres. To explore you use a sonar-type, hotter/colder system. In the sunken ship, the game does quite a good job of conveying a claustrophobic feel and there was the expected oxygen-meter to keep an eye on. Jon declares it, “too much meta-game, not enough game.” Conclusion: pleasant, not very compelling.

Dragon Sisters: Both the Jons bought this, thinking from the box that it was going to be some sort of sprite-based beat-’em-up. They had high hopes. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a soulless 3D affair. It just involved mashing the buttons against enemies that put up no fight. Repetitive and bland. Thankfully by this point, I had made the move to migrate to bed.

Stay tuned for the Sunday Session.

* Who I collectively (and imaginatively) refer to as The Jons.
** An annoyance of the Japanese games is instead of X being the ‘Okay’ type button and Circle having the ‘Back’ type function, they’re reversed. Years of pre-conditioning caused a lot of gaming stress with these.

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