Archive for February, 2009
Saturday, February 28th, 2009
We’ve all had a moment in our lives when we wished that we had a “Wayback Machine.” For you it might have been for a bet you lost on the last Superbowl; for me it obviously included a girl. However, for Rockstar Games it was around the time that they released Grand Theft Auto 4 (a.k.a. – GTA4). Sadly though, Wayback Machines haven’t made it past their beta testing yet, so for now Rockstar is stuck (like the rest of us) with hindsight.; and that brings us to Grand Theft Auto 4: The Lost and Damned (a.k.a. – LAD). The game that in hindsight Rockstar should have released in place of GTA4.
Believe it or not there was a time when I thought that GTA4 was the pinnacle of the current generation of gaming. However, half a year later Saints Row 2 was released and I realized that GTA 4 is actually a really depressing game that took itself way to seriously. Sure GTA 4 was visually amazing, had top-notched acting, and a well written story with a lot of depth; but, that story was also unbelievably sad and depressing. The wacky and silliness that we’ve come to expect from the Grand Theft Auto series was replaced by the overly serious Nico Bellic.
That doesn’t mean that GTA4 was not a good game. Heck no! In fact, I would call it 1 of the top 5 games of 2008, but I’ve always played games to have fun, and GTA4 depressed me so much that I wasn’t looking forward to taking another trip down that rabbit hole.
So you can imagine my surprised and delight to find out that the LAD expansion never takes itself too seriously. It took every chance it had to remind us that this is not a game for children, but it pulls back on the heart-wrenching drama and gave us a nice relaxing day of running over innocent bystanders with stolen ambulances (but that’s enough about how I spend my free time).
Let’s get down to business.
To start off I would like to say that I am pleased that the story of the LAD expansion is mercifully simple. In it you play as Johnny Klebitz; the second-in-command of the Liberty City chapter of The Lost biker gang. The game starts off with the release of your gang leader from the slammer. While he was on the inside, the world past him by, but now that he’s back he wants to do things the “old way”. So obviously the two of you can’t seem to see eye to eye on how things should be done, and internal conflicts begins. That’s as deep as I will get into the story at this point. I am afraid that if I go any deeper I may spoil something for you.
On top of the great new story Rockstar took this chance to fix a number of problems people had with GTA4. My personal favourite fix is that your videogame “play-dates” are gone. Nico’s needy cousin Roman will no longer call you over and over again to go play pool or go drinking. This, in my opinion, is the greatest change that Rockstar could have made; but I should balance that opinion against my personal belief that every character in GTA 4 was annoying, depressing, or had co-dependency issues. However, it might just be me who thinks that. If you actually enjoyed these “play-dates” than you will have the best of both worlds. You still have the option of playing pool, darts, et cetera with the brothers of The Lost, but this time around it is YOU and ONLY YOU who can initiate 1 of these “play-dates.” Or if you are like me, you can focus on the LAD’s story, and not have to go on a single one.
Another problem I had with GTA4 was that if you died during a mission you’d have to start it over again from the beginning. This, as with all sandbox games, usually involved a lot of driving across the whole map in an attempt to artificially lengthen the game. In the LAD expansion, Rockstar decided to divide these missions up into different stages. For example, once you complete a stage (like driving to a bar that you are going to blow up) than your progress is saved to that point. If you die trying to blow that bar sky high, then you will just re-start the mission outside that very bar (instead of across the city like in GTA4). This is a great new feature because few things were as frustrating in GTA4 as having to drive around the city for 5 because you died. This new way of breaking missions up into stages will make LAD much more fun for anyone who plays it.
The price is also amazing for what you get. I didn’t complain about the price of GTA4, because 60 + dollars is a fine price for what you got in that game. However, for $20 (1600 Microsoft points) you will get as much new content in the LAD expansion as you would in some stand alone games that go for 60 + dollars. The campaign will be about 8 – 12 hours long depending on how you play the game, and on top of that, this game even comes with a whole new selection of vehicles, guns, and multiplayer modes:
Lonewolf Biker – is like a multiplayer mode where you play a game of schoolyard tag in reverse. In this game, one player is the Lonewolf, and everyone else has to chase him/her around the map. If you tag the Lonewolf than you take his place and everyone has to chase you.
Club Business – will remind anyone who has played GTA 4 of the Mafia mode where you travel around as a group committing crimes. The real differences between Club Business and the Mafia mode is that now you have 8 players on a single team that goes around completing a wider selection of tasks.
Witness Protection - is basically the Cops and Robbers mode from GTA 4, but this time around the Robbers are chasing the Cops.
Chopper vs. Chopper – is a 1 on 1 game mode where one player is on a bike racing around the city, and the other is chasing the biker around in a helicopter.
Race – Bike racing is not a new mode, but it has been tweaked a bit to be more fun. The biggest change is that every biker is given a baseball bat to club opponents with; this alone has caused countless people to compare this mode with the old Sega game Road Rash.
Actually now that I think about it I only had 1 problem with the LAD expansion, and that is that it comes with some bugs that shouldn’t be found in any game. The strangest 1 that I found was that the game is a little slow to place people and cars along the streets you ride along. Every once and a while, I will come around a street corner and see the game still putting cars and people into position. Other times you will find that your gun has magically developed the capability to fire continuously without reloading. However, I should say that none of these bugs really affected my gameplay (actually they all helped me), but they also took away from that all important entertainment tool: emersion.
In the end, I highly recommend that you play this game provided that you have an Xbox360, and are old enough to play it. Trust me when I say that this game easily earned a Mature (17+) rating from the ESRB for violence, blood, swearing, and cut scenes that will give you Full Monty flashbacks. It also pulled a bit of a Full Monty on the gamers of the world by being an Xbox360 exclusive. I don’t feel that is fair for PS3 owners who barely have anything to play on their systems as it is, but that is a choice made by the people of Rockstar. I may not agree with it, but Rockstar has the right to do whatever they want with their property. If you have an Xbox360 though, then you will realize that this is an amazing amount of content for an extremely reasonable price, and that alone should make buying this expansion worthwhile to you. However, if you need more convincing then just remember that they fixed all the problems that plagued GTA4. You really have no excuse; go on the Xbox Live Marketplace right now and get it. Trust me, you will love it.
Also, just before I end this, let me tell you one last, and very important thing about the LAD expansion. When you first meet Congressman Thomas Stubbs don’t look directly at him. Just close your eyes, or look away. Whatever you do, just avert your eyes from him. Just trust me on this, and if you don’t look away… well don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Friday, February 20th, 2009
I have to admit that when I first picked up F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin I was looking forward to being scared to death by the finesse of a fine Japanese horror film. Instead, I felt bludgeoned over the head by something with all the finesse of a tank (but then again, perhaps all the women I have ever dated were right, and the problem really does lay with me.) You see F.E.A.R. 2 may not have been the game I wanted it to be, but it can still be something great. It really just depends on what you are willing to overlook, and what you won’t budge on.
This time around your character is given a name and rank, as you’re dropped into the body of Michael Becket, a Delta Force sergeant on a mission to arrest Genvieve Aristide. You may remember Aristide from the conversations you overheard at the start and end of the first F.E.A.R. game and as you have also probably guessed, the storylines of F.E.A.R. 1 and 2 overlap at points. For example, this game begins right where F.E.A.R. 1 left off. At the end of the first game you caused a building to explode, and that same explosion is experienced at the start of F.E.A.R. 2. This time however it knocks you unconscious, but do not F.E.A.R. (yes I made a pun); because you’ll soon get back up, and as an added bonus, all of your powers from the first game will have been returned to you. It doesn’t make much sense at that point I know, but why are you complaining? You now have all the skills you need to fulfill your life-long dream of being a Ghostbuster. Things are looking up for you.
So by now you’ve probably guessed that I really did enjoy this game, and to make things better it only left me with a few small gripes. My biggest would be how F.E.A.R. 2 tried to scare me. The subtle Japanese mind unravelling was unfortunately replaced by the more North American style of startling monsters that jump out of closets or the dark corners of a room. At points this game gave me flashbacks Doom 3, and you’d think that would be a good thing, but the problem with games like these is that they can easily become predictable. It really does not take that long to catalogue what objects the monsters can jump out of, and thus the startles can become the stuff of B-Movies as you can successful predict what object the monsters will jump out of next.
Although you must take the good with the bad I guess. Sure the scaring no longer feels like an art form, but if you can look past that you will see that the environments in this game are more than enough to make up for anything predictable. In the original F.E.A.R. you spent the whole game fighting the same 3 bad guys over and over again throughout the same warehouse for hours on end. F.E.A.R. 2 however brings a far greater selection of both maps and enemy AI to the table. There is an elementary school full of ghosts, destroyed city streets populated by ashed corpses, secret government laboratories full of mutants, and that only names a few. Add in a far more diverse selection of opponents to “ventilate” with you gun, and you’ve created a game that feels far more like the real world than its predecessor ever did(and that was my biggest problem with the original F.E.A.R.)
The soundtrack and sound effects are just as amazing as ever, and they really do create an extremely scary atmosphere. If you didn’t know, I work with sound on a daily basis, so I know the affect that certain sounds can have on a person; but I was still truly amazed to see how much of this game’s experience is created with sound alone. To prove this to myself I turned off every piece of audio (except for the voices of the characters); I then proceeded to play the game this way for a few hours, and I found the game to be almost comedic without the rest of the audio creating atmosphere. All I ever heard was one cheesy death cry after another as the enemy clones tossed themselves into the path of my bullets.
Bonus points also need to be given to Monolith Productions, and Warner Brothers Entertainment for assembling an amazing voice cast that includes the omni-talented Cortana from the Halo games (the people at Monolith do know how to pick them).
At this point I F.E.A.R. (yeah I punned again) that this whole article is becoming some sort of F.E.A.R. love fest, but I really can’t come up with anything that bad to say about this game. The only bones of contention I have are the choice of scare tactics(like I mentioned above), and the controls.
The controls bugged me because they just felt too loose. I also found that my character had a tendency to sway left and right for no reason at all. Because of this (and on more than one occasion) I found my character drunkingly grinding against the walls of a hallway like he had knocked back one too many beers before coming into work that morning. While playing the single player campaign I didn’t find it to be that much of a problem because it’s pretty easy to turn on Bullet-Time, and just take out an entire room of clones while standing still. It was a little different in multiplayer when everyone is running around so rapidly that I found it hard to keep up sometimes. Although even in multiplayer it felt like a barely noticeable annoyance.
And like I just mentioned the Matrix style bullet-time makes its triumphant return in this game, and to be honest I missed it. However, if you can’t stand it, you do have the option to turn it off for the whole game.
The multiplayer in this game is ok, but I found it to be out of place. This game is all about a creepy little girl trying to scare you to death. The multiplayer however is just a standard assortment of team battles and objective games that could just as easily have been counter strike. You can certainly have fun playing it, but it just felt completely tacked on, and out of place in this game.
In the end, F.E.A.R. 2 is not the F.E.A.R. game we remembered or were looking forward too. It drops the finesse of the first game to beat you over the head with scares that primarily come in the form of monsters jumping out of closets. However, it improved so much on everything else that I have no problem overlooking the choice of scare tactics. That being said, I would suggest that you only rent this game (if you are old enough and can handle being scared). The campaign is good (“scary good” as Rick Jeanneret would say), but I do not feel that it offers much in the way of replayability. On top of that the multiplayer feels too out of place and generic for this game, and I honestly would have had more fun playing HALO again. So, if you think you can finish off the single player campaign in a week or two than I highly suggest renting it, enjoy it, beating the game, and moving on.
Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009
I have a lot of great memories of playing video games, but just like my social life a lot of it is completely forgettable. However, unlike my social life, Fracture (available for the PS3 and Xbox360) actually had a chance to be something great. You see, Fracture is a classic example of trying to do way too much and winding up with nothing.
When I first heard of its development I was praying for another unique action/puzzle game that could rival Portal’s portals for greatness, but that fantasy was quickly pushed aside for shiny graphics and driving levels that gave me Halo flashbacks.
Fracture moved even further away from Portal by being a 3rd person shooter published by (George) LucasArts. It drops you into the body of Jet Brody (I will just leave that one alone and let you insert your own joke here) who is a member of the American military during a dystopic version of the future.
Anyone else notice that the future always seems to be a dystopia in video games?
Anyhow, in this future the States have been divided into two groups over the question of what is better for humanity: technological enhancement or genetic engineering? At the same time global warming has run amuck, creating a physical barrier in the form of a giant body of water that conveniently divides these two groups. In the end, the Divided States of America eventually declare themselves to be two separate nations, and a war breaks out.
At this point I can only guess that the people of the future believe airplanes, boats, bridges, telephones, and the internet are beneath them somehow. It is the only explanation I can figure out for water causing the isolation/separation of these two nation states. This is actually the type of multi-nation disaster that even I would expect to bring people closer together; and I lost my faith in my fellow man years ago. However, in the end it does work well to drive the story forward, so I suggest that we just accept that it happened and move on.
Especially, when there are far more important things to sink our teeth into.
To start off with the AI seems to be a bit forgetful at times. At least I hope that is it; if not I think I have the right to feel a little hurt considering they seem to forget about me the second I am out of direct eye contact. This actually happens a lot during the game, but the most bizarre instance happened when I decided to charge an enemy position on one of the levels. It was basically 5 enemy AIs hidden behind a row of waist high walls. They were taking cover behind it on one side, so I decided to take cover behind it on the other just for kicks. At this point I was a quarter of a meter away from them, and for some reason the second that I crouched down (and was out of direct eye contact) they stopped firing. They then began to walk around casually and a few of them even tried to walk off like they didn’t have a care in the world. It wasn’t until I began to fire again that they remembered I was there.
That was also one of the few times that I actually fired my gun. The guns of Fracture are either underpowered or extremely limited when it comes to ammo. So more often than not I would just use a melee attack. I actually found it to be easier because:
The enemies are all the exact same frustrating colour as the background, so it is usually impossible to tell what is dirt and what is a bad guy until you are right on top of them anyways; and
It is usually faster to just run up to the enemy and smack them in the face until they lay down.
The only gun I found useful was a grenade launcher that fired remote-detonated land mines. It allowed me to blanket some area with mines, lure the enemy AI in, and then blow up an entire section of the map (and a few of the bad guys with it).
However, these are all minor annoyances when compared to the truly aggravating fact that Fracture’s terrain controlling abilities were extremely underutilized. I said it before, but this game really reminded me of Portal in a way. Portal is a great game that many have argued could be the greatest game ever created. It focused on its core game play of action/puzzling, and it found a place in our hearts forever because of it. It proved a game can be short and unique and still become the greatest game ever published. Fractured on the other hand made a very unique terrain manipulation program, and then almost completely obscured it with unnecessary combat and pointless driving levels. I don’t know if Fractured would have rivalled Portal if it focused on its core hook of terrain manipulation, but it would have been a far greater game if it was simply a terrain based puzzler.
One small note; at this point I wanted to write a quick paragraph on Fracture’s multiplayer, but I couldn’t find anyone on it during the three separate times (across the 2 separate week nights) that I tried to play it.
In the end, I think Fracture is way too short to buy. It could have also been a far better game, but a few production choices turned it into a completely average 3rd person shooter that I will never think about again after I have finished this review. If you really need to play a game and this is the only thing you can find to rent then I guess you could go ahead and play it. I mean it will successfully kill off a few hours of your life, but just keep in mind that watching paint dry can also fulfill that function.
On an unrelated note the Resident Evil 5 demo is now out for the PS3 and Xbox360.