Friday, August 25, 2006

Quake 4 - Review

I finally finished quake 4 today at Lieutenant level. I never played the default difficulty setting; I played the difficulty setting that was one setting higher straight away, because I've played a lot of shooters and wanted a bit of challenge.

In the end, I came off very impressed. The single player campaign is just nonstop FPS action. ID Software/Raven really delivers an impressive shooter experience for the Xbox 360. I also like how the game ends...the final battle is pretty epic and when you finish it, you get this nice feeling of satisfaction and reward.

While the ending is the usual 'short ending' that most games have, IMO I thought the ending was pretty satisfying. It finishes the story while at the same time leaving everything a bit open-ended:


SPOILER WARNING!







At the end of the game you get all the nice congratulations from all the other soldiers; however, there is a slight hint that, since you yourself are a Strogg, essentially, the Strogg have not yet been defeated, since as long as you exist, the Strogg can still return....Nicely done!







END SPOILER!


Positive comments on Quake 4:
--> As I said, this game is all about the action. Great variety of enemies, great level design....it never gets dull. There are a few scares here and there, but this is definitely not Doom 3.
--> The AI of your allies is superb. They don't get stuck, they don't get lost, they know how to fight and generally get the job done! A surprise, considering most ally AI is pretty stupid in other games.
--> The AI of the monsters at Lieutenant level is pretty good....they're not overpowered at this difficulty level, and at the same time they provide a good enough challenge to keep you on your toes
--> Storytelling and cutscenes throughout the game were a surprise. There is even a level or two where you basically just interact with the other soldiers, which gives the game a bit of character of its own.
--> For the most part, the graphics in the game are beautiful. Note that I played this on a VGA monitor, and this really helped me appreciate all of the details in the graphics and design.

Negative comments on Quake 4
-->The framerate. There are sections in the game where the framerate goes down. The truth is, it doesn't go down enough to affect your aim, so while it is true that sometimes the game enters the sub 15 FPS level....the game is playable. And there are only a few short segments where the framerate takes a hit. The framerate problem is ignorable.
--> Bugs. Two major ones but note that they don't totally destroy the game. I made a thread before about a potentially console killing bug in the game. Also, I found another bug where theres a ladder in the game that you can't climb out of. The ladder leads to a secret area that isn't required for you to beat a certain level, so if ever you find it and get stuck, simply reload an earlier save and dont climb down that ladder.

Overall:
Other than those concerns about the bugs and the framerate, the game is just solid. I still recommend the game because the pacing and the nonstop action is just right. Oh, and the boss fights in the game JUST KICK SO MUCH ASS!!!! The cyborg design is superb, and I recall having a good experience with one or two of the vehicle levels (the mech and the tank levels).

The positives largely outweigh the negatives unless you're a perfectionist with your games. If you have a powerful PC, I'd recommend the PC version a lot more since that one is getting more love from ID Software in the form of patches. But, if you have a 360 and can't afford a good PC, the 360 provides a good platform to play this game on. This game is a great buy for fans of the FPS genre. I give the game an 8/10.

Note: Get this game if you play on an HD set or a VGA Monitor. SDTV doesn't do justice to the graphics in this game.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In-game? Real-time? The sad truth is, nobody cares....

Every other day there's a thread on here about how the 360 is going to win the console war. And thus far, while the 360 is enjoying very good sales, it's difficult to say that the machine has truly hit the mainstream. Like most people on this board, I would want the Xbox 360 to succeed, but the reason why it has yet to really take off isn't because of the power of the machine compared to its main rival, the Playstation 3. It also isn't because of the lack of support from Japanese developers. It's simply because the games need better characters.

The other day, I read this article from next-gen.biz, and one part caught my eye:

http://www.next-gen.biz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3659&Itemid=2

John Carmack Details id's New Direction

id software's John Carmack stated at QuakeCon 2006 that his company is going in new directions, which involves putting content before graphics, creating new IP and refining the development process.

John Carmack can stand and deliver a keynote address that lasts two-and-a-half hours, and still keep people interested. At QuakeCon 2006, which took place earlier this month, he gave such a talk. He spoke with fluency about upcoming parallel-processing units, and he held his audience spell-bound.

Early in the speech, Carmack covered the simpler elements: that Nvidia is sponsoring one of his rockets (he's a serious rocket-builder); that id’s next game will be “visually breathtaking”; and that Carmack has no concourse with the Wii. “id Software has not historically had close ties with Nintendo," he said.

But the subtext of Carmack’s speech reveals that id Software, the quintessential PC developer and pioneer of the first-person shooter genre, is shifting. Graphics aren’t as important, and the design takes precedent.


I find reading the article ironic, considering right now I'm playing Quake 4 and I kinda understand where Carmack is going with his speech. "We've put too much demons and aliens in our games...", essentially.

This goes back to the age-old question: What makes a good game anyway? Sure there's a lot of argument about this and the debate shifts between gameplay and graphics. The other day I invited a friend of mine who is really invested in his Playstation 2. He enjoyed playing on my Xbox 360, but for some reason he didn't seem completely invested in the experience. The funny thing is, every time the much fandangled 'in-game, real time, utterly amazing graphics sequence' pops up in any game (be it Oblivion, Dead or Alive 4, or Dead Rising), the games overall just didn't win his complete attention. While he came off very impressed with the 360, he still didn't feel like buying one because there weren't enough games that caught his interest. "Metal Gear Solid, Devil May Cry, etc...isn't coming out on the 360, is it?" To which I replied, yup, they aren't.

And there's the rub: every Xbox fan thinks that the Xbox needs Japan to succeed. Now we all know that Japanese developers will never, ever, ever really support the Xbox 360 (with Capcom being the only exception, apparently); and even if they did give support to the 360, it's always cautious support, with the odd new franchise here and there which usually lacks that 'mainstream appeal'

But did you ever wonder, why do Japanese made games succeed so much with mainstream console gamers? It isn't because they have the MADE IN JAPAN sticker on them. There are a lot of Japanese entertainment products out there, but they don't all succeed, and they don't all reach that 'mainstream appeal'. I think the better question Xbox gamers should ask themselves is, why do some Japanese games succeed, and why do some fail to succeed?

Why does this work?

Final Fantasy XIII


Devil May Cry


Metal Gear Solid


The answer is simple: It's their characters. Usually characters in the more successful Japanese games have characters with interesting personalities which gamers can relate with. They're also put in interesting situations with other supporting characters, with villains that have interesting motivations for pursuing their evil plans (and sometimes they think that what they're doing is actually good/or sometimes their character makes them difficult to simply label them as good or evil).

Then it hit me. The Xbox 360 doesn't really need Japan to succeed at all....and you know why that is? The West already has a rich source of great storytelling, great characters, great villains and great settings, which go far beyond the usual space-marine-in-a-powersuit-with-a-big-fucking-gun:

Comic books.





Most successful Japanese games are based, or written like Japanese manga, which are essentially, Japanese comic books. If you think about it, western comic books have the same depth and breadth (in terms of interesting characters and settings) as their eastern counterparts. In some cases, western comic books are arguably much deeper in terms of storyline and character development than Japanese manga. (Note the word, arguably, ok...). My point is, why does Microsoft keep looking to the Far East to make the Xbox 360 succeed, when the best chance at success that they have is already right on their shores!?

My simple point: Get Marvel or DC or any of those creative minds in the comics world to create an original IP for the Xbox 360 Make the IP's storyline reside only on the Xbox 360 and nowhere else. Start from there, and you can eventually create a universe of unique characters and worlds that can rival and possibly surpass the characters in Japanese games.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Quake 4 - Extremely late impressions







I haven't finished the game yet, so I can't call this a review.....

Right now I'm playing Quake 4, a game I bought a few months ago but only now have gotten around to playing. Wow, it's actually pretty good. Once you get over the fact that the framerate dips really bad, the game is playable and it has this nice 'Half Life 2' style scripting going on (with characters talking and with a lot of nice 'cutscene-like' sequences). I like the storytelling that ID put into the game....looks like they're getting better at it. I'm sure the PC version has a much better framerate, so if you have a really powerful PC I'd recommend the game. But if you don't have a good PC but have a 360 instead, the 360 version isn't as bad as the reviews make it out to be. The framerate dips (thus far) don't seem to be messing up my aim, and there are lengthy segments of the game where the framerate is very smooth, even with many enemies onscreen.

If you like your games to use the entire color pallete of a rainbow, though, Quake 4 doesn't have that. It's a very dark game both in look and feel. No pastel colors in sight. So anime-fans need not apply. But for fans of heavy action, robots, cyborgs, and guns galore, this game delivers the goods! IMO compared to PDZ, this game feels like a better shooter for single player gamers. (To its credit, PDZ is a great cooperative FPS). And even if it has its framerate problems it does have some strong moments; it has some great, great GREAT cyborg design (some of the Strogg opposition looks amazing).

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ninety Nine Nights - REVIEW


Ok, so I've played through all the characters in Ninety Nine Nights, and have a general idea of the game and its plot. While I haven't finished the quintessentially final mission in the game (Inphyy's Special Stage), I think I have played enough to form an opinion on it.

This game is a hack-and-slash genre game. Keep that in mind. For new gamers, I think it can be a fun experience, since it's relatively easy to learn and play. For gamers who are expecting the game to deliver something new or groundbreaking, it does deliver in one area, and that is in the sheer number of enemies that you face per level. You face literally thousands of enemies, and you have allies at your side to fight with you. While the A.I. isn't stellar, it really is the standard A.I. of most games of this type of genre. A.I. in these types of hack and slash games generally swarm your character and take a swing at you, but aren't that smart and don't really care if they will get hit. That's the idea, because the game's point is getting you to hit them all back. Your character can literally destroy all of them with the right combo attack.

The story in the game is very simple and straightforward. Don't expect a lot of twists and turns in it. If you were looking for story depth, you're in the wrong place, and you shouldn't pick up this game. But if you're looking for something to take out your daily frustrations on, N3 fits the bill quite nicely.

I'd give this game an 8/10. It gets a high score because of the presentation, particularly with the first three characters: Aspharr, Inphyy and Myifee. The rest just aren't as interesting. I'd recommend this game only if you're into hack-and-slash action. If you're expecting an RPG level experience with the story, this game isn't for you. If you're expecting Ninja Gaiden level of action gaming, the game isn't for you either, because combat is fairly straightforward and enemies have simplistic intelligence. If you want a fun romp that has decent longevity, this game fits the bill quite nicely. The Asian version in particular is a great buy since it's only 40 bucks. For gamers in Europe or the US, well, if you have the extra cash, the game is pretty good. If you can rent it, why not?

NOTE: One huge mistake made by the developer is not making Inphyy's Special Stage more obvious when it becomes available. Take note of this: Once you've finished Inphyy's regular campaign, save your game then DO NOT OVERWRITE THAT SAVE when you start on another character. Once you've finished all the characters, reload Inphyy's last save to find the real, last, secret level (called "Another World").

I can imagine a LOT of gamers did not find this 'special stage' at all, since the game doesn't even prompt you that you can access it. You also can't access it unless you reload your last Inphyy save. So remember, do not overwrite your gamesaves for N3....

NOTE 2: If you find the game too frustrating or the bosses too hard, learn to use the BLOCK button when the bosses hit you. The BLOCK button is the left trigger. Also, the 'STATUS' option in the PAUSE menu lets you equip items which should make your life easier.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Today's Game Reviews are Out of Touch

When a reviewer says that a game is 'too hard', he's probably a wimp who's pissed that he can't meet his review deadline because the game won't let him. When a game reviewer says that a game is 'too easy', they probably didn't get beyond the second level of a title, because some other titles have their attention more (case in point, Ridge Racer 6 and Ninety Nine Nights. I bet a lot of reviewers only tried those games in five minutes and decided they were bad.). Reviewers don't really look at games the same way as gamers do, at least not today in 2006. Back in the 90s game reviews were essential, because the number of crappy games and quick-cash-in attempts were insane. While the same holds true today, to some extent a crappy score on a review isn't only because a game is bad; sometimes it's the gamer who reviewed the game that sucks.

As I said earlier, game reviewers today rush through a game to be the first site with the 'world exclusive review'. See 1up's horrid review of KAMEO, which was more a review of RARE than a review of the game itself. Another possibility is the reviewers don't really spend time with a game. Ridge Racer 6 is a victim of this....you can only really enjoy the game online, and because the 360 was really new back then, no decent online play was to be had (because not enough gamers had the title). Reportedly Chrome Hounds is another victim of this.....a lot of online reports say that, online, the game is fantastic, and it lives up to the promise earlier made (and never delivered) by Mech Assault 2. Chrome Hounds received horrid reviews, because most game reviewers only considered the offline mode of the game. Online, the game offers a lot of options which really increase its longevity.

The last problem with game reviews, is simply that game reviewers do their thing because it's their job. They no longer play games to have fun. Sure a lot of them must have started out with all these ideals of changing the way the gaming industry works and having fun while doing it. But over time, I bet, these guys are so sick of the gaming hobby already, that they just do it to get by. They ask fellow game reviewers, what score are you going to give 'X' game, and more or less, by consensus, the scores end up nearly the same. So no one's jadedness is exposed (and no one gets fired).

So what is a gamer to do today, now that game reviews aren't really that reliable? I usually just depend on a few factors to decide whether or not a game is worth getting:

1. Developer reputation - the developer of a certain game has been very successful with past titles.

2. Game premise - the game is of a genre that I am interested in

3. Gamer feedback - Though this can be hit or miss, I find that reading feedback on game messageboards can be useful for more down-to-earth impressions of games.

4. Description/general idea of the gameplay - I usually get this from game previews (which, surprisingly, can be more objective than game reviews...)

So when you read the review for any game, remember that, there are always two sides to every story, inform yourself, get feedback from actual gamers and remember that games are supposed to be fun....

How do you like your games? Over-easy or hard-boiled?

The thing that bugs me about game reviews today is the subjective view on game difficulty. When is a game too easy, and when is it too difficult?

Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting for Xbox Live Arcade got a lot of flack recently because the difficulty of the single player mode at three stars is just too hard---according to some people on forums and on reviews. Some people think the A.I. plays cheesily (relying on instant throws and no-charge moves). I took to task recently and played SF II HF single player a bit more.

Yes, it is true that the A.I. in that game is hard. But I don't think it's unfair. For one thing I am of the firm belief that A.I. just can't be as smart as people can. A.I. just can't predict people that well. So I think that, to some extent, game A.I. has to cheat. Why? Because it just can't be as good as people can.

If you're playing SFII HF and you think the A.I. is cheating on you or reading your moves, think for a second of how you're playing. I found out through a bit more of play time with the game that the A.I. is very keen on countering jump attacks. The best way to fight A.I. in SFII is to stay on the ground. The A.I. doesn't seem to react that well to you if you stay grounded. If you're using one of the 'uppercut brothers', stay on the ground and pull off a series of fireballs and dragon punches, or straight high kicks. A straight jump up and high kick can also confuse the A.I. pretty well.

It doesn't make the A.I. any easier, but playing in a different way will clearly show you that the A.I. isn't cheating. It still is pretty dumb. Combined with a bit of strategic play, SFII HF single player is not impossible. Use the training mode to practice special moves. Try to recall how to properly execute a combo. And remember, you can't air block in this version of SFII HF.

Another game that got a lot of negative press lately is Ninety Nine Nights. Right now I'm playing the game, and I can see why some people could 'hate' this game. It's feels very old school, similar to games like Golden Axe or Streets of Rage, except that it has hundreds of bad guys on screen at once. Some argue that the gameplay is repetitive. To an extent it is, but isn't that the very nature of ground based melee combat? Ever watched a medieval age war film? The fighting doesn't go beyond the loud grunts and swings and clanks of sword and steel. The repetitiveness is the point of N3; to enjoy it, you have to methodically find a way to reduce the enemies numbers quickly and without getting yourself killed. That's where good choice of combos comes in....also, proper positioning is on the battlefield is key. The game isn't that simple; it only seems simple if you overanalyze the fact that combos take only a few clicks of two buttons. Once you're in the carnage of a big battle, you'll be thankful that controlling the game is that easy. A few nicks here and there from the pawn soldiers in the game can make all the difference in the world once faced with a difficult boss character.

Oh, and the boss fights are nice. They're very tough. When I started out with N3, I balked at the idea that I had a BLOCK button in the game.

Later on, with the boss fights, the BLOCK button became my new best friend :)

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting, Xbox Live Arcade, ROCKS!!!







Just got Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting yesterday from Xbox Live Arcade for 800 points. It rocks. It's an arcade perfect port, right down to the difficult A.I. I love it.

It's a great classic to have on the 360, and is fun to play whether offline or online. If you've played SF2 in the past, you know what to expect. This SF2 is a bit older, so a lot of the things that gamers are used to, like air-blocks and insta-combos, aren't in the game...it's as basic as it can get, and in a way, I feel that it's more strategic.

I have lots of respect now for the folks over at Capcom and their Xbox 360 support. Not only did they give the Xbox 360 an amazing port of SF2 HF, they're also sending over Dead Rising and Lost Planet. Capcom just improved their reputation in my book. In the past, they were seen as the 'king of the rehash'. But now, with their much improved online capable version of SF2 HF and their upcoming new franchise titles for the 360, these guys are surely going to be successful again in console gaming.

Great job Capcom on Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting! You've earned this old school fighting game fan's respect with the amazing, arcade perfect Xbox 360 version. A great, classic game to play on the side, along with the other next-gen titles on the Xbox 360.

Rating for SF2 HF: 9/10, Excellent game, Well worth it!