Devil May Cry 4 Demo Impressions

24 01 2008

Developer: Capcom
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: God of War Clone

DMC4 Logo

Let’s get one thing straight, I am by no means a fan of this series, largely due to me not being very good at these games in the slightest. I’ve only played the original DMC on the PS2, and didn’t get past level 8 or something hilariously pathetic. If you are interested in the opinions of a seasoned DMC player, I would strongly advise you to go somewhere else.

The demo is divided into two sections: “Mission: Executioner” which a straight fight against some enemies and a boss, and the totally different sounding “Mission: Exterminator” which a timed 10 minutes mode where you are searching for a thesaurus. Sorry, not that. It’s just a level that you can play for 10 minutes.

Mission Exterminator

Dante… Okay I’ll stop here. Is it Dante? I deliberately never research for these reviews, and only report on what the demo tells me, so I have no idea. It probably isn’t Dante seeing as his jacked isn’t red, but it might as well be. He’s got a gun, a sword, a jacket albeit not red, and white hair. So yeah, Dante.

Anyway, Dante seems to of found himself in a gothic castle place thing again, and he must run around killing what I will inaccurately describe as marionettes even though they aren’t (they are sort of more like sock puppets), with guns and swords. Being a Devil May Cry game, the level is laid out like a series of corridors and courtyards that you can’t really explore too much because it won’t let you go anywhere off the beaten track. This leads to situations where it looks like you can get places, but can’t just because it’s scenery rather than level stuff.

As you wander around sometimes a red wall will block you path and some enemies will spawn, so you have to kill them to get rid of it. Regarding controls, the four face button are a button for slicing, shooting, grappling and jumping which I advise you just sort of mash in some order until the enemies die. You can also lock on with the right bumper which is probably useful in some respect.

In classic Japanese tradition, the guns look cool but very ineffective, and it’s basically not worth bothering with them as the sword will kill whatever it is a precisely five trillionty times faster. Just for a test, I loaded up the game again and tried to kill the first enemy just using the gun. He took 98 bullets to kill, or 98 presses of the X button. Doesn’t anyone else see a problem with this or is it just me?

DMC4 - Guns suck
…78…79…80…

In the ten minutes I had, I ran through some courtyards, a church thing where Dante got a grappling hook hand-crystal thing like it was the most normal thing in the world. After that the sock puppet things were having a rave on some flaming busses  down in the street for some reason, so I had to use my new grapple hand to bypass them like a pussy by flying over their heads. After that was a fruit stall that I destroyed, then a docks area, then the demo ended. I spent about 3 of the 10 minutes trying to work out where to go, so there’s probably a bunch more for those who are faster than I, which is probably a lot of people.

Mission: Executioner

In this mode Dante starts in a frozen wasteland. You run through for about 2 minutes admiring the scenery, then some weird ice monsters attack. After deftly defeating them (Hint: Mash the grapple, jump and melee buttons with your thumb), you are whisked away to a desolate village area where a Balrog pops out of the ground and starts bellowing exposition at you. Dante decides to kill him before he gives too much away.

Okay, so confession time. I didn’t actually manage to kill this boss. “Only one run through of each mode” I told myself and that’s what I did. I got about two-thirds of his life down, but then I got stuck against the wall that the camera wasn’t showing me, and he wailed on me till I died.

DMC - Balrog
SILENCE MORTAL! FACE THE WRATH OF MY DEADLY CAMERA ISSUES!

As not to pointlessly drag out this article, the rest of my thoughts will be in list form.

Positive and Negatives

+ Looks fantastic. The detail on the environments is great, the enemy design is beautiful especially the Balrog.
+ Runs at about 100FPS and never dips even for a second.
+ Controls are very responsive, absolutely no delay.
+ It’s totally Devil May Cry
+ Pressing ‘Back’ makes Dante say ‘Come on!’, ‘Shall we Dance?’ or ‘Whatdya Say?’ to no-one in particular.
+ Sometimes the right stick controls the camera.

– Cramped levels design make exploring impossible or frustrating.
– Jumping around the environments feels really crappy. The jump is really supposed to be a combat move rather than an environment move, but when they put a red orb somewhere that needs some fancy jumping its just painful.
– Guns might as well be firing harsh language.
– I was killed by a bad camera angle.
– Dante doesn’t seem to have a reflection. Maybe it’s because he’s a vampire or something. Or was he a demon? I have no idea. As I said, he’s probably not even Dante, but regardless, no reflection. Bad.
– Sometimes the right stick does not control the camera.

I think I just don’t get on with Devil May Cry games at the end of the day. I can see that it’s technically impressive, and definitely succeeds in being a Devil May Cry game, it’s just I don’t necessarily want to play one. So, to fans of these games: Hooray! You’ll love it! But this demo probably isn’t going to convince anyone who doesn’t get on with them that it’s suddenly become much more accessible to any degree.

Arbitrary Rating: Who cares what I think. Based on the demo it’ll get around a 9 average in reviews, you’ll see!

Advertisements




Turning Point: Fall of Liberty Demo Impressions

23 01 2008

Developer: Spark Unlimited
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: FPS/Nazi Shooting Simulator

Turning Point Logo

Nazis, is there any better enemy than Nazis? Sure North Koreans are quite evil, and aliens? Yeah they can be pretty darn evil too. But Nazis… there’s just something about them. They are like actual non-fiction ‘bad guys’ who did exist and are just begging to be shot. You just can’t beat authenticity like that.

Anyway, Jerry is at it again in Spark Unlimited’s new FPS game Turning Point: Fall of Liberty. The demo opens with some text that ponders what would happen if Winston Churchill had for some reason had not existed ever. Presumably if that scenario were to occur, this particular game would of had a different premise. That’s all I can think of really. Maybe bowler hats wouldn’t of had a brief resurgence of popularity back in the 50s? Nope, can’t think of anything more.

Fortunately, Spark Unlimited (I will keep using this name, because it’s retarded) are more imaginative that I, so what apparently happens is war would come to New York and mess it the hell up! You seem to play a nameless mute construction worker, who is busy hanging around precariously on a bunch of girders at the top of a skyscraper under construction, as was the style at the time. This isn’t necessarily the best place to be if hundreds of Nazi’s were to descend out of the sky in fighter planes, and zeppelins. After blowing up the Statue of Liberty, they proceed to bomb the shit out of let’s say Manhattan, my knowledge of New York is rather limited so let’s just assume it’s Manhattan.

Turning Poing - Olde Time Photo
I think the whole demo area was based on this photo.

Your first task is to navigate the girders as they collapse, and all your friends die. Then you navigate through a building, push a Nazi to his doom and take his gun, kill some of his friends, and onwards down to the street. Despite his current occupation, this unnamed construction worker is much better at killing Nazis than Nazis are at killing him. Oh yeah, he has regenerative powers as well, which come handy in a nazi invasion. At this point, the game just sort of turns into Call of Duty set in New York, and a few minutes later the game does an impression of 9/11 which ends the demo.

Turning Point Screen shot
If the actual Nazis had had a fleet of Zepplins that could somehow make it over the Atlantic, this is totally what they would of done.

Here are some positive and negative things that occurred to me while I was playing it.

+ Overall the graphic design is pretty decent. Some textures look a bit blurry if you stop and look, but it doesn’t ruin the overall effect.
+ Frame-rate was largely solid, with a few slight dips when things got busy.
+ Shooting felt okay, nothing special. I have an aversion to iron sights, but was plenty still able to kill Nazis with my random bullet sprays.
+ Scripted sequences look great, and I think I caught most of them which mean they were well directed. I wasn’t looking down while on the elevator though, so I missed that one. (Hint: look down while you are on the elevator)
+ Nazis.
+ There’s a brief moment inside a building that gave me a Bioshock flashback because of some art deco. More of that would be great. Actually, I should just play through Bioshock again.

– The AI seems to be a bit thick. I found a Nazi blind firing over a wall while I stood right next to him and bullet a bullet in his ear.
– Would it kill them to not make the view leave the character’s head so much? It kills the immersion for me. Note to Spark Unlimited: If you want to know how mantling can be done from first person, play Thief: The Dark Project. If you want to know how ladders can be done without it, play Fear. Go on, I’ll wait…you done yet? Good, now put it in the final version chop chop.
– Medium sensitivity is slightly too insensitive, High sensitivity is slightly too sensitive. Maybe they could just make a 1-10 slider?
– No sign of robot Hitler in demo. Any self respecting Nazi game needs robot Hitler.

There’s not really much more to say about this given the length of the demo. I went into expecting it to be rubbish, as I hadn’t even heard the name before which usually isn’t a good sign. Release seems to be scheduled for Q1 2008, so my advice the devs would be to polish the hell out of it, and release it during a quiet period, like not the same exact same day GTA 4 comes out or something, and it’ll do okay.

Arbitrary Rating: 7.5 – Nazis.





Winter Anime Season ’08 Roundup

21 01 2008

The winter season is roughly two episodes in now, and I have to make the choices of which shows to watch, and which to ignore. Here is a list of the shows that I am currently watching that started this season. Not a very good season I am afraid, and I’ve ended up watching far more Renai shows than could probably be considered healthy.

Shigofumi ~Stories of Last Letter~
Production: J.C. Staff
Genre: Drama, Supernatural

anime-winter-shigofumi.jpg

There are some things that can only be said after death.

Shigofumi is one of the most promising shows of the season. It is the tale of a girl named Fumika who is a postal worker… of the dead… and her talking staff. I’ll admit that it probably sounds dumb at this point, but trust me it works excellently. Fumika is the bearer of the titular ‘Shigofumi’, which are letters containing the last words of someone who has died, addressed to an earthly recipient. The format of the show appears to be arcs regarding a specific group of characters and the effect the Shigofumi has on them, and only Fumika and Mayama (the staff) remain as regular characters. The tone of the show is light and comedic in places, but overall is quite dark, and occasionally slips into Higurashi levels of darkness.

The animation and visual quality is very high, not like Gundam 00 level or anything but still exceedingly good. Unlike most anime, this show has a very strong opening episode and is very much worth watching if the concept interests you even a little. The first episode has a decent twist towards the end, and shows that it’s willing to go far enough for the show to be actually interesting. I am a little concerned that the show won’t be able to keep going at such a high quality after this great start. All in all, this is definitely a show to keep an eye on, and it would certainly win an award in the ‘Most Promising New Show’ category if there was some sort of award ceremony, which there isn’t.


Zoku Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei
Production: SHAFT
Genre: Comedy

zoku

Continuing from where the excellent first series left off, SHAFT continues to bring their excellent art, directional and writing styles to a show with a great base concept. The concept being, for those not in the know, a man who can only see the bad things in the world which often drives him to suicide, is the teacher of a class of people with huge personality quirks. Most episodes are based around exploring one of the characters quirks. These include, girl who can only see things in a positive light, a stalker, a hikikomori, a girl who is exactly as bad as she looks, an illegal Chinese immigrant, and a male student with such little presences that he frequently disappears.

The format seems to have changed a bit from the previous season, as at least for the first 2 episodes, the opening act has been totally off the wall weird. For example, the first episode the entire opening act is a gag based on a summary from the jacket of the manga’s first volume. In the first act of the second episode, the class is visited by Commadore Perry in a bizarre sequence where the characters only speak gibberish which is helpfully translated into Japanese by subtitles. The rest of the acts have been more normal episodes of the show. The first episode deals with the girl who is constantl being labelled as overly normal, despite her trying to convince people her quirk is being a truant.

One of the main selling points of this show is certainly the art, which if anything has improved in this season. They still cut to super-flat shots, and censor things using the Director Shinbo’s grinning face. The new OP is enormously catchy, and has been going around in my head for days. A perhaps overlooked aspect of the show if the voice-acting cast, which as of episode 2 includes Takehito Koyasu or Ilpalazzo for Excel Saga fans, who seems to only be able to do the voice of characters who wear glasses. I really can’t recommend this show enough, but you should probably start with the first season if you are going to.


Spice and Wolf
Production: IMAGIN
Genre: Sort of Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, a bit of everything really.

Spice and Wolf

Set in what seems to be medieval Europe, a travelling merchant named Lawrence Craft finds that one of his trade villages are a bunch of filthy pagans rather than the more common religion which is presumably Christianity. During a vist in the middle of the pagan harvest festival, he accidentally picks up their local god of the harvest, who takes the form of a wolf-girl named Horo. Due to the march of technology, the villagers no longer need her godly powers so much, so out of boredom decides to accompany Lawrence.

While I’ve probably made the show sound totally out-there fantastical, it’s remarkably down to earth and Horo very rarely does anything supernatural. The show appears to be going to concentrate on the trading aspect more than I would of expected given the premise. A lot of the show is the simple interaction between Lawrence and Horo as they ride around beautifully well realised medieval locations. Lawrence is quick-witted and thoroughly likable, and Horo is adorable and quite unpredictable.

The animation and direction is fine, as are all other product aspects that I could mention. The opening is really nice, and the ending has some hilarious Engrish which is always fun. This show interests me because I really have no idea where it’s going, and how the fact that one of the characters is a nature-god is going to affect anything. Based on the first two episodes this show is already on my ‘watch immediately’ list, hopefully it can keep it up.


True Tears
Production: P.A. Works
Genre: Drama, Romance

True Tears

Here we have yet another Renai show and this time not based on a Key game. The main character is a student who has a talent for art named Shinichirō who lives with an orphan girl that he fancies. There’s also this weird girl Isurugi Noe who is a weirdo, who does weirdo things. The theme of the show seems to be about tears but it’s unclear in what sense, I can tell it’s probably going to be mostly abstract though.

I really haven’t got that much to say about the show at this point to be honest. It’s sort of vaguely entertaining, and Noe is amusing to watch. The production values are fine, with the odd exception of the crowd scenes. They have for some reason decided to use 3d characters for crowds which stick out like a sore face and don’t work in the slightest with the rest of the show. I don’t know where it’s going, and almost don’t care. I’ll give it one more episode to impress me.


H20 ~footprints in the sand~
Production: ZEXCS
Genre: Drama, Romance

H20

Another damn Renai based show. This one is about a blind guy Hirose who’s moved into a remote Japanese mountain village, and his interactions with the other students at the local school. One of students a girl called Kohinata seems to be hated by everyone in the village, and I mean they really really hate her. In the first two episode she gets repeatedly punched, kicked and generally beaten. Of course Hirose wants to know why everyone hates her, but no-one will tell him, presumably just to really drag things out. The whole show feels like a bit of a Higurashi wannabe with a worse setting and less likeable characters. I’m gonna spoil things in the next paragraph, so please don’t read it if you care about spoilers.

From what I just said you might imagine the show is slow paced, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. They seem to have crammed a whole season of plot development into two episodes. Hirose stopped being blind when a mysterious girl who only Hirose can see or hear called Otoha gives him his sight back. This is done without any fanfare whatsoever, and just comes across in about the same as if he were making a cup of tea. Hirose also manages to befriend the beaten Kohinata far more quickly as you’d expect. I’m half expecting them to reveal the whole mystery in Episode 3, and just end it there. If this show doesn’t do something right in the next episode, I’m probably going to drop it.


Rosario + Vampire
Production: Gonzo
Genre: Fanservice, Romance

Rosario

If there’s one thing Gonzo can do its produce a good looking show, but unfortunately for the most part their shows are largely mediocre. They seem to have one A team, and about five B or worse teams. Ever since Gankutsuou finished, I have been waiting for something from them to at least give me a glimmer of the genius went into that show. Last season they gave us the godawful Dragonaut: The Resonance a show I gave up after 5 episodes, and this season they give us a fanservice packed show that seems to just be an excuse for lots of tits and butts. Not that there’s anything wrong with tits and butts of course.

The show is about Tsukune Aono who is so bad at school he can’t get into a high school, but his parents manage to get him a place at ‘Yokai Academy’ which turns out to be a school for supernatural monsters like Vampires, Orcs, and other less defined monsters with tentacles and things. He’s currently stuck there for a month because the bus only goes by once a month for some reason (He could probably walk though if he thought about it). Fortunately, he befriends a vampire girl named Moka who likes pressing her breasts into him. Things could definitely be worse for Tsukune, as a Succubus named Kurumu is also after him. Oh yeah, Moka also turns into an eviler and fightier version of herself whenever she takes off her Rosary (Rosario?), which she does towards the end of each episode.

So, this show isn’t really very good, but it’s not exactly trying to be highbrow in the least. It is just a fanservice show, so if you want some ‘service there is there is more here than you could possibly stomach. Being a Gonzo show it looks amazing, pay special attention to the trees. Wow, damn good trees.


Minami-Ke Okawari
Production: Asread
Genre: Slice of life, Comedy

minami-ke okawari

This show is unfortunately not currently being subbed, as the sub group from the previous show are being retarded in a way that only subbers can be (They are subbing Rosario + Vampire, and Spice and Wolf which are both being done by one or more other groups as well). Should anyone start subbing it, I will do another post about it I guess.





Turok Demo Impressions

19 01 2008

Developer: Propaganda Games
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: FPS/Dinosaur Stabbing Simulator

The only time I have played a Turok game before this demo. was a demo of the first game Turok: Dinosaur Hunter that came with my first ever 3d graphics card. I can pretty much only remember two things about it;  It had probably the worst draw distance of any game ever made, and you were a dude who shot dinosaurs with a bow. Fortunately, of these two things, they’ve have managed to keep the right one.

Turok!

(Please note I haven’t read up on any of this, this is purely based on what I experienced in the demo)
In this reimagined Turok, you are John Turok, Space Marine, or maybe Jack Turok… something badass sounding no doubt. You are on an alien planet which just happens to be covered in dinosaurs from Earth’s past, like it’s some sort of original series Star Trek episode or something. You seem to be with a squad of mercenaries who hate you for some reason, maybe you are a jerk. You still seem to be Native American, because you have a flashback which conveniently sets up that part of the character. Maybe there will be a flashback to explain why you are having flashbacks. I blame too many dinosaur-blows to the brain.

The demo comprises about 20-30 minutes of gameplay, has you shooting a bunch of dinosaurs and some humans, and you get 4 weapons to try out. It throws you in at a probably early level, and doesn’t really bother to set up what’s going on to any degree.

Here is a brief list of positive and negative things about the demo.

+ Melee attacks are fucking awesome. Turok stabs dinosaurs in the eyes, slashes their throats, leaps on to their backs and wrestles them, and generally fucks them the hell up. This is all animated amazingly, and with gallons of dino blood sloshing around.
+ The dinosaurs look great up close, especially the non hostile ones. Though when they walk around it sort of spoils the illusions, and start giving me Trespasser flashbacks.
+ Controls feel good. They are sharp as they need to be to do the job, and don’t deviate massively from established FPS controls.
+ They remembered to include Invert view axis in the demo (Hint: Dark Messiah team).
+ Environment graphics look great for the most part.
+ It’s always fun to shoot dinosaurs, unless it’s Gunman Chronicles, of course.

– The game makes a horrible first impression, as the first 10 minute or so are in an ugly ugly cave. This improves a lot when you get out of the cave though.
– Frame rate isn’t entirely perfect, with some noticeable slow-down during larger fights.
– Demo seems to be set to “Can’t Die” mode. Your health recovery is almost instant, and all enemies drop in a few hits.
– The bow seems to be a tad overpowered, and pretty much kills anything in one hit.
– Your merc friend (who hates you) asks you to follow him far too often. Hey developers, no-one likes being nagged. Valve figured this out in Episode 1. Please take out all the nagging lines from the merc’s dialogue. We all play games at our own pace, please stop hurrying us along.
– While the knife kills look great, it seems to work like an ‘I win’ button. Just have knife selected, wait for icon to appear and hit the trigger, and you automatically kill the enemy.
– Was it just me, or were the sound-effects super quiet? I was wearing headphones, but my guns sounded like the rustling of carrier bags in the wind, and I couldn’t hear dinosaurs coming at all so they often got the jump on me.
– Your merc friends keep saying they are heading for the smoke in the distance, but there was no damn smoke in the distance! Sure enough there was eventually a bit of smoke when you got there, but not nearly enough to be seen from any distance.
– Do ladder-roots have to be bright orange? We aren’t thick you know. We could probably find them alright if they just looked like regular brown ladder-roots. The climbing animation is also hilarious. Pro-Tip, while climbing, allow the right stick to control the camera! Amazing!
– The water looks shit. I think we can have real reflections at this point, do it. Make it happen.

Arbitrary Rating; 7 – Hmm, yeah s’pretty good.





Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent Review

7 01 2008

Double Agent logo

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent
Platform: Xbox 360
Genre: Stealth-Action

I’ll get this out of the way up front, Tom Clancy has sold out so much that “Tom Clancy’s” is now a brand with it’s own logo. Look here it is taken off my TV using a rubbish digital camera. It exists, at least in my mind, purely to be made fun of.

Tom Clancy’s
Tom Clancy’s what, anyway? Tom Clancy’s a big sell-out. Haha, I funny.

That aside, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Double Agent, is the 4th Splinter Cell for those of you who are counting. This game had a slightly unusual development cycle which resulted in two almost entirely different games being created by two different development teams, but which shared the same name and many common elements. Ubisoft Montreal (who developed the original Splinter Cell, and SC: Chaos Theory) developed a version of the game for the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox, and Ubiosoft Shanghai (who produced Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow) developed another version for the PC, 360 and PS3. The best way to describe effect of this would to imagine what would happen if two different developers had been given the same initial design document, then made their own game without communicating. The premise, rough plot/level outline, characters and voice actors are the same, but the level design, story, dialogue, and game mechanics are totally different.

I have played the PS2 version and the 360 version which I am reviewing here. I tried to play PC version but it’s so shockingly broken that it couldn’t actually be played as far as I could tell. For those interested; 1) The game wouldn’t even install without looking up a work-around on a forum. 2) The graphics were so glitchy it looked like I was stuck in the big brother logo. 3) They had removed a lot of the keyboard customisation options, so I couldn’t set it up like the previous Splinter Cell games I’d played on the PC.

So as you are hopefully aware, in Splinter Cell you are Sam Fisher and you spend most of your time sneaking around places and being shouted at by someone named Lambert every time you don’t sneak quite sneakily enough. In this outing, Sam has for various reasons volunteered to be a Double Agent to infiltrate a terrorist organisation called John Brown’s Army or JBA. The members of JBA are such evil bastards I’m surprised they get anything done as they are all too busy being evil bastards to each other. Sam Fisher effortlessly gains their trust by breaking one of their members out of prison. Sam is so confident in his abilities as a double agent that he doesn’t even feel the need to change his name. Presumably, Third Echelon is so secret that they’ve actually managed to erase all mention of him from everywhere, so they couldn’t just Google ‘Sam Fisher’ or something.

Sam has always been a fairly amiable fellow and a rare example of a protagonist older than the age of 20, but he’s never managed to quite shake the stigma of being a sort of poor man’s Solid Snake. His character is slightly diminished by the fact that his design changes so massively between the games that you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a totally different person. In many ways he only really becomes Sam Fisher when he puts on his signature goggles, which he often forgets to bring with him in this game. In one mission you do get sunglasses which you can take off and on to alter the amount of eye-melting bloom you are subjected to.

Sam Fisher
The classic Fisher is on the left. Fisher from Double Agent in the middle, where he looks so much like Lincoln Burrows from Prison Break that it’s suspicious, especially considering one of the levels feels like it was lifted right out of an aborted Prison Break game. On the right is his new design for Splinter Cell Conviction, where he looks like a sort of hobo version of Brian Ekberg from Gamespot.com.

The main part of any Splinter Cell game is the sneaking, and while playing it I couldn’t help but feel that at some point during the game’s development, the designers had started throwing the word ‘steamline’ around with reckless abandon. What they tried to do here was streamline, what they actually did was dumb it down. Rather than the normal analogue slider style visibility meter, what we get this time is a big traffic signal on your back which shows Green if you are in shadow, Yellow if you aren’t, and Red if someone’s shooting bullets at you. Noticeably absent is the Sound meter, in fact I’m not sure noise is even factored into this stealth model this time. Because of this boolean state of visible/invisible, you never know how close you are to becoming visible, which is so very important in a game of this type.

The normal way for me to player Splinter Cell games is to sneak up behind people, grab them, take them somewhere dark and knock them out. This time round, you really aren’t given enough information about how effectively you are sneaking up on someone, and half the time you end up alerting them somehow which means a reload. Fortunately the game has quick-save which is quite actually reasonably quick I suppose. These two things lead to a rather high reload count while playing. You can fuck up so easily and without warning that you’ll probably find your self saving after you do almost anything successfully, even if it’s just walking down an empty corridor.

When you are sneaking and get close enough, a ‘grab dude’ icon appears and you are meant to jab A at that point, but it only seems to work some of the time, and if it doesn’t work you get promptly shot. The bonus for grabbing dudes is that you get to interrogate them which is often vaguely amusing and sometimes actually helpful. Eventually I realised it was more hassle than it’s worth, and just used the ‘knock out’ trigger to getting rid of them. Amusingly Sam’s way of knocking people out is to punch them incredibly hard in the back of the head. This leads to some absolutely hilarious sequences where you smash people’s faces into toilets, vending machines and computer monitors. My enjoyment of the game skyrocketed with the discovery of this move.

Shang-Hai
Look, it’s the place the game was developed!

The graphics and environments in this game are absolutely wonderful. The stand out sequence (which was oddly missing from the version that wasn’t developed in Shanghai) is an area which beautifully models the view from the roof of a skyscraper hotel in Shanghai of all places. The developers have a real knack for making realistic looking environments; they were the geniuses responsible for the train sequence in Pandora Tomorrow as well. Another level models a cruise-ship with such loving attention to detail that it looks almost real, dammit! Not so good is the bloody JBA headquarters which looks incredibly dreary in comparison and it’s a damn shame because you spend over half the game in it, but I’ll get on to that later.

Actually, I’ll get on to it now. Perhaps the most ‘new’ and ‘innovate’ thing in the game that isn’t actually new or innovative even though everyone said it is, are the undercover sequences. The undercover concept was originally done in Thief: The Dark Project, in a mission actually called ‘Undercover’. During three agonising levels, your JBA buddies leave you unsupervised for precisely 25 minutes, during which you have to sneak into the countless secure areas of base, which is an entire block of New York they seem to have taken over without anyone noticing (even though they intend to blow the city up). You walk around pretending to be a normal JBA member, but when no-one is looking you go of riffling through filing cabinets and getting spotted doing so through walls by apparently psychic guards. These missions are an immense chore, and virtually impossible to beat fully without using a FAQ as the timing is so tight it’s like planning a bank robbery. I think that the most annoying thing is that all three times its essentially the same mission, and it all just seems like a rather half baked ploy to make the game seem longer than it really is.

Occasionally, if you are anything like me, you’ll probably feel like using your guns to shoot actual bullets, rather than weird washer things that apparently knock people out, and you’ll be pleased to hear that the guns are quite effective this time. You can kill people with a single burst of fire but you’ll be punished harshly in the mission stats, and they don’t give you enough ammo for extended murder sprees. The game employs a halo-style recharge based health system, rather than the breaking-into-a-bathroom-cabinet-and-steal-some-paracetamol system of the previous games. I guess it works okay, but you mostly won’t take damage that doesn’t kill you instantly, except when Sam doesn’t feel like grabbing a ladder you are attempting to descend and just sort of plummets off the edge. Enemies themselves are deadly with thier guns, and you aren’t exactly wearing Gears of War variety body armour, so you’ll drop quicker than you’d probably expect.

All in all I find it hard to recommend this game to anyone, except for seasoned Splinter Cell players who have no doubt finished this game months ago. If you don’t already like stealth-based games then this game is certainly not going to convince you that they’re great, as stealth has been handled much better many times before. To the Splinter Cell veteran, what you are getting is a shiny but stripped down experience, but not stripped down to a point that makes it terrible per say, it’s just sort of confusing. Why are features like the sound meter, wall-split-jump, and the swat turn missing? Why does half the game take place in one dreary building? What the hell was up with that Matrix-guff training sequence? And so on.

You may have noticed I didn’t talk about multiplayer at all, that’s because I don’t care. It may well be excellent, but I still don’t care. So there.

Arbitrary Rating: 7 – Yeah, Pretty Good.





Minami-Ke Review

5 01 2008

Minami-Ke Logo

Genre: Slice of Life, Comedy

Main Studio: Doumu

Episodes: 12

Minami-Ke begins each episode with the instruction not to expect very much from it, because it claims that the premise is uninteresting. In their words it is ‘a plain depiction of the everyday lives of the three Minami sisters’. Yeah, doesn’t sound that compelling does it? The sisters are not vampires who kill other vampires, they don’t have some brown-haired idiot male protagonist to fawn over, they aren’t angels from the future, and they don’t save the world at any point. The slice of like genre is like this, and this show follows in the footsteps great shows like Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, and uh…that nauseating Honey and Clover show I gave up on. I am going to make no attempt to keep the comparisons to Azumanga low, because it’s a comparison that should be made. They are just very similar, hell even the logo looks similar.

Minami-Ke Sisters Running
Kana, Chiaki and Haruka from the intro.

The Minami sisters all go to different schools which are the rough equivalents of primary, middle and secondary schools in the baffling Japanese school system. The youngest sister Chiaki is very serious and rarely acts her age, the eldest Haruka is motherly and runs the family. The middle sister Kana is the star of the show, and is a hyperactive Tomboy, like a cross between Kagura and Tomo from Azumanga. If the show had just been Kana on screen doing stuff for 22 minutes it would have been just as entertaining. I’m not sure what happened to their parents, presumably they died in a fire sometime before the show takes place. This sort of thing is common in Japan, or so anime would have me believe.

I think the most important thing to emphasise before continuing is quite how funny this show is. It would be quite difficult to convince you of this without painfully describing scenes in laborious detail, so I guess you’d just better trust me on this. It’s damn funny and regularly caused me minor injuries through the laughter. Anime comedy I admit is probably not a very sure sell. When most people think of Japanese humour, they probably start thinking of the WarioWare or Katamari ‘Ha Ha Ha, Oh Japan, you so wacky’ style of humour. This isn’t what this show is about by any stretch, it’s situational, character based and occasional physical, you know like normal humour. Anyone who appreciated the antics of Osaka and Tomo from Azumanga will be right at home here.

There is an extended cast of minor characters, including a different sets of classmates for each sister, the odd friend and relative, and another Minami Family who live nearby. These are the usual range of clichés, bearable but ultimately forgettable people who serve as comic setups for the sisters. For example, there’s a guy who for various reasons always has to dress as a girl when he visits the sisters house, and a tomboy girl from the other Minami family who always dresses like a boy and no-one believes she’s a girl. Lot’s of cross dressing in this show now that I think about it, which I guess is okay as it’s a British comedy staple.

The real standout character from the extended cast is a male student at Haruka’s school named Hosaka. Hosaka is about as bishōnen as it gets, so much so that he comes across as nauseating rather than attractive to other girls in the show. He constantly undoes buttons on his shirt, and thinks up incredibly elaborate romantic fantasies. He has a stilted laugh that seems to be an exaggerated impersonation of other irritating bishōnen characters, or possibly the infamous laughing scene from Final Fantasy 10, christ don’t even think of watching that unless you want to know why I hate dubs.

Minami-Ke Hosaka conducting Minami-Ke Hosaka1
Here is Hosaka doing typical Hosaka things. Imagining to conduct an orchestra from the top of a sky-scraper under construction after having dyed all the worlds crows white on the instruction of his lover. Also, imaging cooking pasta for his lover in a very theatrical manner and freaking out his classmates.

I guess I should talk about the art. A lot of people found the oddly shaped mouths of the characters designs distracting, but I honestly had no problem with it. The animation is good, and largely consistent. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as excellent as the amazing first episode leads you to believe, but it settles down into a pretty decent standard and certainly doesn’t become poor at any point. It doesn’t even have a ‘bad art’ episode which usually happens at some point in a run.

This season of Minami-Ke is over now, and while the plot didn’t exactly go anywhere, it really didn’t need to. You might want to criticise it for dropping certain plots, but this is really missing the point of the show. There are no plots per say, only sketches which sometimes have a common theme. The show ended with an absolutely hilarious sequence with Hosaka that will make me fondly remember the show for years, or maybe just months, more than weeks certainly.

Minami-Ke was based on a manga by some guy and, here’s the weird part, is being adapted by two separate studios. The second studio is airing their 12 episodes starting in this winter season, and is called ‘Minami-Ke Okawari‘, Okawari roughly means ‘Second Helping’. As far as anyone understands, this is technically not a continuation, but rather just a second attempt to adapt the show. Of course, as people are now used to the designs from the first show, the art from the seconds show is getting mixed reactions. It just looks like they get in a slightly worse artist and changed everyone’s hair colour around. This feeling of slightly negativity isn’t helped by the fact that the trailer shown appears to be an onsen episode, a cliche which they had managed to avoid up until this point. At least they are using the same voice actors.

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – Great!





The words begin

5 01 2008

I have many things to say about both Games and Anime. As the internet is a primarily textual medium, these things will take the form of words for you to read. These words will form reviews, and perhaps things which aren’t reviews. Hopefully they will appear regularly, but past precendence indicates that this is unlikely.

 We’ll see about that.