Saturday, July 3, 2010

Alpha Protocol: trying to keep it nice.

RATING: 3/ 10
PS3, XBOX 360
Action RPG
Pass up (unless its on the bargain rack)

SUMMARY: I have the privilege of working in the game industry so I know first hand how hard it is to make a successful game. With that said I am going to try and be nice on Alpha Protocol. Alpha Protocol is a collection of great ideas wrapped in clunky gameplay and poor execution.

THE GOOD: Everyone enjoys being a spy so who would not enjoy playing a spy. Alpha Protocol places you in a typical spy situation with typical weapons and skills. At first typical might seem like a bad thing but in reality it helps with the immersion of the game. This combine with the amazing dialogue selection system leaves you really feeling like a spy during conversations. The satisfaction of being able to make choices that directly effect gameplay in a meaningful way is simply delightful. Also when the melee combat worked as designed it was loads of fun.

THE BAD: Bugs oh so many bugs. Ultimately I shipped the game back to gamefly after the game full on crashed my Ps3 for the second time in 30 minutes. I am not completely sure if Obsidian needed more time or what but overall the game simply was not ready to hit the market. Gameplay did not stand up to the concept of being a spy. With a poor camera and slow responding controls I felt like an average guy out of place not a super spy in his element. Enemies constantly got the jump on me and absorbed to many shoots. Name the last James Bond movie in which an average grunt got the jump on Bond or lasted beyond one shot. Alpha Protocol levels take everything away from customizing your character and making the game an actual RPG. If you are going to make a game that encourages customization in combat strategy you better make levels that support all possible strategies. Alpha Protocol forces stealth combatants to deal with alarms that are always trigger and brute combatants often must sneak around to stand a chance. In short Alpha Protocol just confuses the player by not being consistent in what they promised.

THE CONCLUSION: I give props to obsidian for creating an original IP that had potential. Unfortunately they just did not make the cut and with original IPs you rarely get a second chance. The main lesson to learn from Alpha Protocol is that level design must incorporate and follow your game philosophy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Dark Void: A game full of empty

RATING: 4/ 10

GENRE: Third Person Shooter
PURCHASE RECOMMENDATION: Pass up (unless its on the bargain rack)

SUMMARY: My only guess is that CAPCOM ran out of money and/or time for this game. Slight moments of greatness are surrounded by sheer horribleness. My only hope is that someone will take the amazing rocket pack combat and place it in a deserving game.

THE GOOD: Rocket pack combat is a fun original gameplay experience. There are really only three phase of the rocket pack combat, on the ground, hovering or flying. While on the ground you have your basic 3rd person shooter but add in the hovering and the fun begins. Cover is no longer enough for your enemies as you can hover above them or to the sides flanking them. By adding the vertical dimension combat is that much more engaging. Now what make things even better is when you can come flying in from the open air full speed and then hover to take out your opponent. Like wise you can be hovering to take out a generator and then quickly switch to flying to avoid the massive explosion. The simplistic and freedom of this combat is hopefully something that we will see again in the future.

THE BAD: The first two hours of the game really shows how poor the game is. Without your rocket pack you find yourself in the middle of a B picture game. Combat is only ok at best, story is all but missing, and the visual look makes you think the game was made five years ago. As the game progress you realize you do not care for the game's characters or story. I got the most informational story segments from loading screens and the plot line is that of a 5th grader (an I do not mean the smart ones you see on TV). Soon enough you do not really care about any except you rocket pack and think to yourself hmmm maybe if everyone had ones of these and all we did was fly around all day fighting each other this might actually be fun.

THE CONCLUSION: Yes the economy is a mess and yes Dark Void failures were probably due to that but it was it is. Game developers these days have to work simple, small and push their game's strength. If your game's selling point is rocket combat you do not need to try and surround it by an epic story. You need to make the best rocket combat game ever and if your game for a moment stops you from rocket combat you are doing it wrong.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dragon Age Origins: The Origin of a new franchise

RATING: 8/ 10

RATED: Mature

SUMMARY: BioWare has done it again. Dragon Age fits nicely into the long line of well done story driven RPGs produced by BioWare. If you like BioWare’s take on RPG you will love Dragon Age. Dragon Age places you in the shoes of the epic hero and then lets you play the story how you like from there. This games content is off the charts so expect an average play through to take about 50 hours. Minus some blatant art issues this game strives close too perfection. Good luck finding a game that has a more in depth story then Dragon Age. Unless you have completely unreal expectations this game is going to amaze you.

GAMEPLAY: Dragon Age follows the tradition of the past BioWare RPGs by creating a very flexible gameplay mechanic to meet a variety of play styles. Players can choose to pause the battle at any time and issues command to there party or players can simply issues command on the fly mid battle. This flexibility gives you a wide range of playing the game as slow as a turn by turn RPG similar to old school final fantasy or dungeons and dragons all the way to playing as a real-time RPG similar to WOW. Normally I would advise against the variety of play styles as it leads to no focus on one particular style by the developer. However since BioWare is simply allowing you to control in game time the end gameplay is essentially the same. So Dragon Age has only three classes Rouge, Mage and Warrior. At first I was disappointed about only three classes because I made the assumption that tailoring ability sets would be limited. The opposite is actually what happen by reducing the base classes to only three allowed for a wider range of ability sets. For example a Mage could cover all or specialized in all the following typical classes; healer, warlock, elemental, combatant. So in essence I could be a max buff healing mage that can summon undead warrior to fight along side them. It is these small details that bring great satisfaction to players. Gameplay wise Dragon Age only really disappointed when it came to having progressive difficulty. All too often would I get easily defeated by random mercenaries after just easily defeating a much more worthy and difficult boss. An open ended game like Dragon Age must take special care when it comes to difficulty since there is no linear gameplay. The high flux in difficulty at in appropriate times just broke the immersion of the game. I expect the crazy demon boss to be a longer and more difficult battle then unnamed pick pocket I face around the next corner.

Dragon Age and BioWare also still have a way to go with AI. AI heroes in Dragon Age were sometimes not only useless but they were counter productive. I think the addition of more in depth formation controls would have easily fixed many of the AI combat issues. Playing on the PC gave you some of these features but for console players you are out of luck. The biggest issue however was the final boss battle which is becoming an all too common disappointment in big AAA games. The Final boss battle should be the climax point of the gameplay. If not the most memorable battle it better at least be extremely engaging. Dragon Age’s final battle was an over drawn out stick poking contest. There was no challenging just me sending countless AI’s off to there doom while my character pulled up a lawn chair, pull out a chilled beverage and attack from a safe distance. There was no threat no excitement no trying to fight for my life.

STORY: Dragon Age does a great job of sticking to high fantasy roots, humans, elves, orcs and dwarves, yet adding a fresh new out look to the world and its inhabitants. The World of Dragon Age is completely morally gray. This makes the world a lot more interesting because you have to make tough choices that matter. Minus the main evil threat of the story no one person or race is either completely good or bad. Your choice will greatly affect the entire game story which means your actually writing you own story. Many times pass choice will pop up in way you never expected and that’s satisfying. There are six different beginnings in Dragon Age each of them are uniquely different and each gets revisited no matter weather you choose them or not. I played through all the beginnings and I can see how each one greatly affects the overall story in its own way. It is pretty much impossible for two individuals to have the same exact experience because of all the choices and storylines. This really hits home the point that Dragon Age is your story and no one else.

The Story elements of Dragon Age however are not without flaws. Towards the end of the game many of the characters personalities seem to be wedge to fit the ending. In many cases it felt like shoot we need to fill this hole in the story so let’s do this quick dirty fix. After so many hours of Dragon Age not doing that it was all too disappointing to have the unnatural quick fixes in the stories climax and ending.

ART: Normally I don’t cover game art in these blogs because lets face it art is opinionated. What I think is a genius you might think is crap and vice a versa. However Dragon Age forced me to bring art up because they screwed up. So first to be fair Dragon Age overall is artistically amazing, some times I would forget that this was a game and not a movie. Multiple times while playing people walked in saw the screen and ask what movie I was watching. However character model bugs and glitches were so shockingly bad I have no idea how they let the game release with them. We are talking about blatant cropping of armor into skin textures, hands going right through forearms, visible texture boxes. Really come on BioWare Dragon Age is a AAA game project not your senior project you put together the night before it was due. Honestly these blatant art issues is just like taking a beautiful piece of art and dipping it in a pile of crap. Anyways it is what is.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2: Expect more got less

RATING: 7/ 10
GENRE: Arcade Style Adventure Game

SUMMARY: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was suppose to be the sequel that allowed you to play all your favorite heroes and villains. Well they lied if anything Marvel Alliance 2 makes you mad by all the in game characters you can't play as. Marvel Alliance 2 also "slims" down on move selection and the fusions attacks are less then advertised. However putting that all aside Marvel Alliance 2 has a lot of the original game's enjoyments and a handful of cool new characters.

GAMEPLAY: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 gameplay is pretty much the same as the original with the addition of the fusion attacks. You and your team of super hero friends run around the map clearing swarms of enemies with button mashing combos. While you kill enemies you build up your fusion attack. Fusion attacks are superpower attacks that any two heroes can join up for. Fusion attacks are in abundance and should be used often as they reward you with bonus revive tokens. Unfortunately many character just combine for a generic fusion attack which though effective is really boring and lame. You really have to build your team around fusion attacks in order to get everyone involved. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 has so many characters you will interact with on both sides but can not play. Marvel Alliance 2 why do you tease us so you did all the work to make these characters except making them playable. Marvel Alliance 2 is also very buggy to the point that is not acceptable. Falling through ramps and getting stuck on the games art assets is to common and annoying. Marvel Alliance 2 also slims down the game in ways not need. Customizing your attacks were nonexistent and characters costume were limited to only two each. Why features like these got cut I do not know.

STORY: So the main advertisement of this game was what side would you choose. Would you be a prick and go pro registration or would you be a rebel and fight registration. This game was advertised as two games in one and again they miss lead us all. Without spoiling the story, in actuality the game really only splits for the middle third the beginning and the end are the exact game no matter which side you choose. As for the middle both sides are cookie cutters of the other so if you have played you basically have played both sides. This all an all added to the I was expecting more and got less frustration of the game. On the bright side you do get to fight against some of your favorite heroes which can definitely be rewarding.

CONTENT: So to make it simple paying extra money for download content that should of came with the original game is simple robbery. Do not expect me to pay $50 for your game to then pay another $20-$40 to really get the full game. Marvel Alliance 2 from the get go fell short on promises of a large playable character list and then now charge extra per additional character to make up for it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Mini Ninjas: Fun in bite sizes

RATING: 6.5/ 10
GENRE: Adventure Game
RATED: Everyone

SUMMARY: Mini Ninjas is a cute kids version of the classic Adventure game. Mini Ninjas does not really do anything amazing or unique but it also does very little wrong. However Mini Ninjas does not do anything exciting or challenging it is the vanilla ice cream. Kids like vanilla ice cream and kids will enjoy Mini Ninjas.

GAMEPLAY: In Mini Ninjas you must defeat the evil samurai that have invaded the land using a crew Ninjas. Every Ninja has certain benefits and personal traits for example the Big Ninja of the crew is slow but does the best physical damage. This gameplay of switching Ninjas however takes to long and is not nearly as stratgeic as it should it be. Of course this is a kids game so the easy gameplay encourages that aduience.

STORY: My first impression of this game is that the story and theme would carry the game. Mini Ninjas has a great theme but does not use it. There is little interaction between the variety of ninja characters. I expected more and overall that lead me to my disappointment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Batman: The Dark Night done right.

RATING: 9.5/ 10
GENRE: Movie based Adventure Game
PURCHASE RECOMMENDATION: Buy / Rent (only cause its a short game)

SUMMARY: May I say best video game ever made based of a Movie franchise. Batman Arkham Asylum does everything right making a fun, entertaining, and all around flawless performance. I don't care who you are pick us this game and play it. Only reason this game does not get a perfect score is because the game is really short.

STORY: Batman Arkham Asylum story is the perfect example of how to tell a story through a video game. I am not going to talk about story plotlines in particular because you need to play this game and experience in yourself but what I am going to do is explain what Batman did right. This is what I call the 5 golden rules of gaming story:

1.) Thou shall not take control away from the player.

Too many games get stuck on story telling and not entertaining. If your player is force to listen to dialogue or read instead of playing your doing it wrong. Batman from the opening credits tell story through the world of Arkham. Never is a player unable to move around you are constantly playing the game as the story is told to you. This is how you immerse a player into a world and make a great story.

2.) Thou shall not force story on the player.

Yes some people love lore and a novel of story to go with their game but many don’t. Forcing too much story down someone throat is just going to piss them off and bore them. This also almost always occurs while violating rule 1. So how do you please both sides, you use selective reading. Selective reading is where the player can choose to enjoy or pass up on the extra back story / lore. Batman does this through little goodies you find throughout the world. These goodies are not required to beat the game and can be completely ignored. At the same time a player can choose to collect all these and get the entire story. See everyone wins.

3.) Thou shall only show awesome cinema scenes.

The age of how many cinema scene my game has bragging is over. Technology now allows normally gameplay to look like the movies. With that said only a truly awesome cinema scene should be in your game because a cinema scene violates rules 1 and 2. Also less is more in this category as cinema scenes should be intermission breaks for your fingers. Batman had a few cinema scenes and they were amazing not only in quality but in story.

4.) Thou shall be unpredictable.

Like any good story you shouldn’t be able to predict what is going to happen next. The moment a player realizes your using a cookie cutter story line and how it is going to end the interest is gone. Keep the player guessing excited and on their toes. Batman story was filled with enough mystery that you did not know what is going to happen next.

5.) Thou character shall be meaningful.

Players do not want to baby sit characters they could less about. If the player is not attached to a character that character better be a standard grunt. If your character has a unique image they better have unique story and personality. Villains we must hate Heroes we must love and comrades we better want to protect. Batman characters were not only classic but each of them served a purpose. Even some of the scientist and security guards who were important had names, faces and story.

GAMEPLAY: Batman Arkham Asylum designed a fluent gameplay experience around being Batman. Gameplay can be broken up into three categories, combat, exploration and investigation. Combat is the bulk of game as you must fight your way through the Asylums many goons and villains. Combat in this game is not about direct contact but stealth Batman style. You quickly learn that Batman can take a beating but will not run in to a room full of guards armed with machine guns. Batman is smarter then that and so must you your wide range of gadgets to grapple, climb, and crawl your way to ambush your opponents. After all you are the dark knight and your specialty his taking out enemies before they know what hit them. There is really no one way to take out an enemy be it an inverted takedown or an explosive mine the world is your play ground. When Batman does encounter some foes in hand to hand combat you can't help but to fell if you are really Batman. Batman combos his way threw enemies keeping them off balanced and eating Bat-a-rangs for breakfast. Exploration is also tided directly into combat as you must explore your surroundings for points of exploit. Gargoyles, ledges, and vents will help batman avoid many obstacles in the world and add a very unique feel to level exploration. Batman doesn’t need doors. Arkham Island is a great world to explore and is littered with extra goodies for the completist. Investigation is a much smaller gameplay aspect of the game but still serves an important role. A few times during your journey will you need to play Sherlock Holmes and find clues to track people down. This investigation gameplay is a good addition and provides a tribute to Batman's detective qualities. I really only have two complaints about gameplay. One Batman’s detective view, can see through wall and important things highlighted, is obviously better then a normal view so from a strategic point the game gives no reason to turn it off. The only reason a player turns it off is because they want to enjoy the games artistic beauty. Second though the boss battles were good and fun they were not climax points in difficulty or combat. Your final boss should be the pinnacle of combat gameplay.

CONTENT: Batman’s only weak point is that the game is very short. Now having a short game is not bad but it helps to get more bang for your buck. Batman is loaded with lots of extra content that helps make up for its short length. The many collectible items give you a scavenger hunt replay value and if you are into lore and story they are very rewarding. Batman also has a series of challenge modes that can be very addicting. These challenge modes are short scenarios they capture the best part of the gameplay.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ghostbusters: Making a game work out of a movie

RATING: 7/ 10
GENRE: Movie based Adventure Game

SUMMARY: Ghostbusters is a successful Movie franchise that has been made into a successful game. Gameplay though slow at first does pick up to an entertaining paced half way through the game. If you have never seen the movies you probably will not know whats going on but the game's story is really not that important. Capture ghost and save the day is basically all you need to know. Ghostbusters had some flaws in it but the very cool looking characters and environments (sorry wii players you miss out on this) make up for a lot.

GAMEPLAY: Ghostbusters takes a small portion of the movie, the actual use of the guns, and creates a whole gameplay around it which is very impressive. At the beginning you only have one option for your type of gun stream which leads to very slow pace gaming (Its like fishing action is slow). However the gameplay grows on you as you have encounter more enemies and earn different choices for attacks. At the end though the game designer just punted and you quickly learn only two of the four types of gun streams are really necessary. Also the clue searching tool, basically a hot and cold game for finding stuff, often leads to you missing the action or getting ambushed by a ghost. Why use a tool that makes life more annoying and harder to reach your goal. To sum it up overall decent success but much room for improvement.

STORY: So Ghostbusters brilliantly does not try to redo any of the movies but simply continues on with the same IP. All the important characters are their and you as the new recruit makes sense. Ghostbuster however makes two major mistakes with the story. First a lot of the story is done in boring talking cut scenes where you have lost all game control. Second the plot is never really explained there are names, people and places your suppose to know about but really have no clue and just go along on the ride. In short your unattached. The dialogue all tends to drag the game down more character interaction is needed.

CONTENT: Ghostbusters does the now traditional amount of content (Story mode, Achievements, online play, video footage and gallery). Story mode is what it is and is the expected length of about 15 hours. Achievements are your standard group with a few chuckles here and there. Online play is entertaining for friends but lacks the competition on competitiveness to really shine on its own. Video footage is a given as this game has about 12 cut scenes you might want to replay. Gallery is probably the most interesting as it gives hardcore fan lots of collectible to find and funny haha moments.