Spec Ops: The Line Review

Title:  Spec Ops:  The Line
Maker: Yager
Publisher: 2K Games
System: PS3
Cost: $50

White Phosphorus – This stuff is grizzly

I certainly wouldn’t have picked up Spec Ops if I wasn’t aware of it’s concept.  But it was billed as Heart of Darkness set in Dubai.  Ok, I can get into that.  And it’s reference to the source material aren’t subtle, but they’re appropriate.  You’re on the hunt for a man named Konrad, pronounced the same as Joseph Conrad.  And as you push deeper into Dubai, things unravel further and further.

The setting is cool.  But ironically, you rarely feel that you’re marching through Dubai except when you’re out in the open sands.  The buildings, what you assume would make for the most interesting environments, are usually the most forgettable.  The indoor settings are extravagant but seem to also conjure up colors from the 60s-70s, just in case you were to miss the Heart of Darkness references, they can hit you with Apocalypse Now.  And maybe that’s the biggest complaint you can make against the game:  that with the occasional fourth-wall breaking, and the Vietnam War style radio stations, all in an effort to show callousness, they sometimes push so hard that it pulls you out of the game.

But this is a small complaint to make. Many things about it are spot-on.  The voice acting is solid, from the Dennis Hopper radio DJ (an Apocalypse Now reference that hits the mark), the main characters, and especially Konrad.  Konrad’s look and sound is about as perfect as you can hope for.  The charters repeat phrases in fire fights, but it doesn’t detract as they usually reaffirm the players mental state.

As a game it plays acceptably.  A little too much stop-and-pop, and lacking some polish (trying to run from a grenade is way more difficult than it should be), but as you continue to play things meld together and on a second play through you’ll find yourself covering huge parts of the game rapidly.

And that’s really the thing about it.  The initial experience is a solid three stars.  But it demands a another play-through.  The second time is better than the first.  The pace of the story makes it difficult to appreciate everything the first time.  On the second you find things more enjoyable, it moves briskly, and all the implications bear themselves out.  Foreboding hangs over everything, and you realize it from the very beginning.  One scene in particular is amazing, and having missed it the first time, that alone validated the return.  The second play-through is enough to make the game worth another star.

Review:  4 stars

Memory:  Difficult because most memories are spoilers.  A safe one- Viciously beating someone to death with a rifle butt when they startle you.

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer Review

Title:  Mystery Dungeon:  Shiren the Wanderer
Maker: Chunsoft
Publisher: Sega
System: DS
Cost: $10

This shows after you KO.  You’ll be seeing this a few times…

I wondered how long it would be before I used the term rogue-like in my review.  The answer: 13 words.  But it’s hard to describe the game without that adjective, and if you had a rogue type experience, you’ll probably (but maybe not) hate this.  And that’s why Shiren is a really enjoyable game.  Because at their heart any rogue-like experience is basically a puzzle.  You can take as much or as little time as you want, it rewards patience and methodicalness.  What Shiren does better, is it also gives the game life.  You have characters, and even though you’re dying, this story continues to push develop.  2 parts rogue, 1 part ground-hog day.

Considering it’s strengths, I would even make the strange leap and say that people who like Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls would find enjoyment in Shiren.  The gameplay is fundamentally different, but it has the same type of risk and reward, and both leave you with a sense of responsibility when you perish.

It also has a lot of content, and they’re not tacked on grind-fests.  Even after the finish, entirely new branches of the story open up.  They introduce new play mechanics, and keeping you playing as you continue to interact with the world and it’s characters.  Not the highest budget game, but just a fun time.

Review: 4 Stars

Memory:  Being accidentally punched and killed by your “brother” in the middle of a quest.

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 – It’s No Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne (aka, The Longest Review Title Ever)

Title:  Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
Company: Atlus
System: DS
Cost: $29

Yeah… High School Sucks

You know why I liked Nocturne?  Because it didn’t make me cringe.  It’s certainly a flawed game (the possibility of getting killed in a random preemptive enemy attack after 30 minutes of progress coming to mind).  But the darkness of the game felt very real.  The true demon ending being the darkest surprise I’ve ever had in a video game.  Persona 4 on the other hand, had me groaning all over the place.  But despite being embarrassing, Persona 4 is still a good game.

Devil Summoner 2 feels infinetely more like Persona 4 than Nocturne.  It stars a group of (mostly) Japanese high school students in a demon infested Japan.  You need to make “social links” with your friends to improve battle effectiveness.  The only real difference is that Survivor 2, well isn’t that interesting.  As a strategy game it’s weak, and the few strong ideas (demon auctions, designating learnable techniques at the beginning of battle) are overshadowed.  It’s another grind, just this time with a weak story and transparent characters.  It still has the benefits of the Shin Megami universe though, and the adult (or perhaps teen is more appropriate) pokemon characteristics can entertain for awhile.

Review: 2 Stars

Memory:  Creepster scene where the high-school girls compare breast sizes (in text).  This is the kind of shit that can be cut from a US release.

Dragon’s Dogma Review (or why I’m returning my first game)

Title:  Dragon’s Dogma
Company: Capcom
System: PS3
Cost: $55

I’ve never actually returned a game before.  Usually when the shop keeper describes the 7 day window to return a used game it glosses over me because I know I’ll hardly take the time to go back and claim $15.  But after six days I’ve decided to return Dragon’s Dogma.  Why you ask?  Well a long list of reasons, but at least partly because it was the rare game that I bought at release price and so it seems like a waste to let it sit on the shelf.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve played enough of the game to give an unbiased review.  I haven’t, but that’s because I have a small feeling of revulsion whenever I start it up.  First the bad, everything is voiced.  Why is this bad?  Because the dialogue and the voice acting are unmitigated disasters.  They will suck you out of the story at every turn.  The graphics aren’t rough, but that’s also the problem.  They’re shinny and artificial, like an iOS game.   And you realize not only are the graphics ugly, they completely run against the tone of the story.  And finally the grind.  There’s a story here, but it’s lost behind relentless asinine quests that also constantly pull you from the story.

But I would be lying if I said there are things here that I really enjoy.  The pawn system is flawed, but it’s not the huge determent that people make it out to be.  It can be enjoyable playing ring-leader to a party of powered up morons.  But the things I really respect are the details.  For missing the mark so far on the big things, it follows through with intricate care on the small things.  The way you design your character matters, the way you assemble your party matters.  The amount of items you carry and what they are also matters.  And the biggest strength is the combat.  While the graphics aren’t pretty, at least during combat everything is amazingly fluid.  The moves your perform, the animations, it all works well.  It’s simple yet strategic, and taking down the large beasts is really the only reason to play Dragon’s Dogma.  In combat, the game accomplishes everything that it set out to be.

Dragon’s Dogma is not your average game, but it deserves an average rating at best.  That being said, Dragon’s Dogma 2 could be something special.

Score:  2 stars
Memory:  The horrible J-Rock song at the main menu screen (sort of endearing, because it encapsulates everything that’s wrong with the game)

Armored Core: Project Phantasma Review

Armored Core:  Project Phantasma

Platform:  PSX
Distribution: Disc
Company: From Software
Publisher: ASCII
Cost: AC1 + $5

 

Project Phantasma- gibberish title, that sounds even worse when you say it out-loud.  If you want to see the graphics for the game, just look at AC1, they’re the exact same.

Positives:  There’s a more complete story this time, with actual characters and dialogue.  The voice acting is still a joke, but it sets the stage for more interesting missions, like kidnapping VIPs.  It’s a testament to the mission design, that very few missions have the typical “destroy all enemies” objective.  There also is an arena, as they realized one of the best parts of the first game was squaring off against other Ravens.

Negatives: But the Arena also upsets the balance of the game by offering more access to cash early on, allowing a player to plow through early levels with a top-of-the-line AC.  It’s also a short game, much shorter than the first Armored Core.  And the story, while appreciated, is amateurish.  There is the feeling of a quick turnaround throughout the repackaging.  For example, AC1 had the occasional FMV, while Phantasma renders everything with in-game graphics.

The end result is a game that’s clearly a cash-in, but in many ways is better and more enjoyable than the original.  It’s a gradual step, but nearly everything is an improvement.

Rating:  3 stars
Memory: Your ally pilots a pink AC

Armored Core Review

Armored Core

Platform:  PSX
Format: Disc
Developer: From Software
Publisher: SCEA
Cost: Like $5

Alright, let’s talk about Mechs.

I enjoyed my time with Armored Core.  The vast majority of it is a well designed game.  There are flaws.  From Software has a pattern of needlessly complicating their brilliant worlds, and Armored Core is more convoluted than most.  If the email function was supposed to explain something to me… Well, I can’t even remember a single message.

The positives:  There’s still a lot to love about the game, things I wished were still implemented in games today.  The difficulty curve is about perfect.  When you die you feel it’s your fault.  It’ll cost you, but you can usually bypass levels you’ve failed (preventing the fatigue that sets in from playing a single level over and over).  Dig yourself into too deep of a hole, and the game lets you start over with your current mech and an “alteration”.  Very clever design.  The graphics are even charming in a blocky way (like when you set square shaped white robot bugs free).

The negatives:  So all is going great until the last level.  Then, because it’s a 32 bit game, they give you the obligatory jumping level.  And the jumping sucks, think Turok.  But this isn’t some random level, it’s the last level, and right before you fight the end boss.  Die against him, which you will, and you get to do it all over again.  You waste so much time your guilt starts thinking of productive things you should be doings. Those dishes could be washed…

It should be a four star game, but they choked at the end.  And the ending, what the hell was that?  Well let’s push on…

Rating: 3 stars
Memory:  Nine-Ball

Armored Core

With the launch of Armored Core V, and since I enjoyed Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls so much, I went back and looked at From Software’s game lineup.  There were a couple choices: King’s Field, Tenchu, Otogi, but I ended up going to back to Armored Core, as I have a soft spot for mechs.  My only experience with the series was a few hours with Armored Core 2 on the PS2.  It seemed fun, but I also don’t have any distinct memories (which isn’t a good sign).

With over a dozen titles in the series, I thought it clever to go back to the roots before trying one of the newest entries.  So I picked up copies of the psx titles, and will hopefully be reviewing them in the coming weeks.  The title and cover of “Master of Arena” is so bland I put it off until last.  “2 Disc Game!”

The Reviews Explained

So I spoke a little about how the rating system will work.  It’s a critical system, but because there will be more 2s and 3s than usual, I thought I would explain the stars in greater detail.

It’s really a four-star system, with a fifth star reserved for rare situations.

The stars:

★  Bad Game.  Not redeemable.

★★ Average Game.  In the same way that a “C” in school is supposed to be average, but no one ever wants to get one.  Leaves little or no reason to play it.

★★★ Above-Average Game.  They’re good but you can’t put your finger on what’s hollow about the experience.  Many big-budget sequels would fall into this category.

★★★★ Great Game.  An undeniably positive experience.  It falls short of being a masterpiece, but it’s well worth your time.

★★★★★  One of the best of a generation.  Succeeds in both execution and originality.  The kind of game you still think about years later.

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII Review

Crisis Core:  Final Fantasy VII

Platform:  PSP
Price I Paid:  Gift

Image              Image

If I’m being completely honest, I probably wouldn’t have played this game if it wasn’t a gift.  I already know way to much about the FF7 universe, for someone who claims not to care about it, and I was sure I couldn’t lie with a straight face after playing another game in the controversial series.  My desire to waste time got the best of me and I did jump into it. 

The positives: It’s gorgeous (like most Square games), complete, and the story is more redeemable than expected.  Zach is a fucking idiot, but somehow endearing.

The negatives:  There is zero challenge, zero.  Literally, zero.  It might take a little effort to collect all the extras, but it hardly feels like it would give any sense of accomplishment.  The battle system is simple, and the story is not really THAT interesting, just simply better told than you would expect.

Rating: 3 stars

Jikandia Review

Jikandia: The Timeless Land

Platform (Format): PSP (UMD)

It looks pretty cute, right?  The outside is charming enough I bought the game for $10 before a flight to Europe.  As an iOS game I would still consider it quite unpolished.  The characters and story are generic, but have the potential to bring the whole thing together into something worthwhile, but sadly they are the most unbearable part.  The fact that the translation was run through something like babelfish acts as a constant reminder while playing how much of your time you’re wasting (much like an iOS game).

The gameplay is enough of a grind that you develop a routine after the first few levels (go in for a few minutes, die, reequip and gain bonuses from meeting goals, go back in for longer and beat the boss).  Even on an Atlantic plane ride I couldn’t bring myself to play it longer than a couple hours.  Although I can’t help but feel it might have been pretty funny in it’s original Japanese.

Rating: 1 star