Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for Playstation 2 – What a game

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty for Playstation 2 – What a game

There is very little I could tell you about Metal Gear Solid 2 without including spoilers, so consider yourself warned.

MGS 2 Box Cover Art Work

Hideo Kojima, the brains behind this game is a genius. Look at the back of the box art for this game, it includes screen shots with Solid Snake in them. On the front of the box we have a bad ass potrait of Snake too. Everything is geared to make you believe that you are going into this game as the hero protagonist of the previous installment, your character is even referred to as ‘Snake’ during the first few minutes of the opening movie. The aquatic suit mask and respirator hide the true identity of the main character, even after you’re told that your codename is being changed from Snake to Raiden for this mission. And then comes the big reveal: you’re not playing as Solid Snake at all, you’re a rookie by the name of Jack.

The greatest bluff in video games?

The greatest bluff in video games?

The rest of the game is surprise after surprise, I’ve never seen so many plot twists and double-crosses in a game in my life. The storyline is complicated to say the least, and draws heavily from Hollywood movies of the 80s and 90s. This is combined with a charm and sense of surreal humour that you would normally find in JRPGs. Metal Gear Solid 2 will have you single-handedly taking down a mysterious foreign organisation, and along the way you will be urinated on, pooped on by seaguls, have your balls groped by the President of America and fight a Harrier Jump-Jet as a boss battle. This game fuses the two traditions of heroic Hollywood storylines and Japanese video game charm. In fact, the cutscene sections are often so long that it would be fairly accurate to describe MGS 2 as more of video game-movie hybrid.

Just a quick note about this game compared to Zone of the Enders, which I wrote about a few weeks ago and for which Hideo Kojima was producer. Dispite these two games being worlds apart in terms of quality, there is one thing common to both of them: awesome boss fights. Metal Gear Solid 2 and Zone of the Enders do boss fights like how they should be done: frustrating, gruelling battles of wits and timing. From the aformentioned Harrier, to Fatman, Vamp, Solidus and the Metal Gear Rays, MGS 2 has a great line-up of infuriating bosses to get stuck in to. Also if you look closely downstairs inside Strut E you will notice the Z.O.E. insignia on some of the boxes there, a nice touch, but I feel as though that works as a metaphor for the development of the two games: MGS 2 taking centre stage, while Z.O.E. lies forgotten in a box in the basement.

Anyway, I came at Metal Gear Solid 2 as a complete novice, never having played any form of Metal Gear game before. As such, the initial impact of the switch in protagonist was somewhat lost on me. It was only after playing through the after-mission – where you actually do take control of Solid Snake – that the full significance of what they had pulled off hit me.

What had stopped me from playing this game and other games in the series before was the knowledge that I am awful at these games (the fact that I died 78 times during the main campaign on Normal mode can easily testify to my lack of ‘Tactical Espionage Action’ skills). I made the wrong assumption that MGS would be like a run of the mill shooter game: heavy on the action with little in the way of storyline. I could not have been further from the truth, and was pleasantly surprised by the depth of story and enjoyability of gameplay that I found. I became immersed in the lore of the MGS world.

Luckily for me, the game includes an entire novel explaining the backstory of MGS 2. It’s basically the storyline to the first Metal Gear Solid game told from the perspective of Natasha Romanenko – who was apparently one of the supporting characters in the first game – and it’s long. But what a brilliant and brave idea to include something like that in a game. It adds a lot to the mythology that this game works to culitvate, as I am sure the other games do too. It’s addition also meant that I did not feel excluded from some of the finer points of the plot, especially towards the end of the game. For example, whenever someone spoke about Shadow Moses, had I not read the material I would have been like “Who?”

Although still accessible as a stand-alone game, you undoubtedly get more out of it if you have some prior knowledge of the series. However, far from being an excluding factor, the game clearly wants you to know this information, it wants to include you in the world that has been built up around it.

Metal Gear Solid 2 gets a little crazy towards the end. But it does have a clear message: you are able to choose for yourself who you are, it doesn’t matter about what genes you have, or how you were brought up, you can still choose to be the best you can be. Snake was able to escape his genetics, whilst Jack was able to move beyond his uprbringing. And that is what this game does; born a Japenese video game it was brought up on a diet of Hollywood films, but it chose to try and be more than just a game, and more than just a movie, it chose to tell a great and entertaining story, to try and be the best that it can be. Obviously it is neither better than a lot of video games nor better than a lot of movies, but at least it tried.

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

I’m not the best at playing games that are in a series in the correct order. Did you play MGS 2 after having played the first one? Did you feel as though you were conned at all? I think that I probably would have.

Resident…Evil…4! for Wii – A Lonely Game

Resident…Evil…4! for Wii – A Lonely Game

I tend to play a lot of RPGs, I find them comforting. I can take things at my own pace, and I usually have a whole team to back me up when things get real. I’m used to being led by the hand in these sort of games though, “Go here and get this,” a NPC will tell me, “then go there and do that” they will say. Resident Evil 4 was like “Hey! Here’s a gun, the enemy’s that way. Good luck!” And so I spent most of the game alone and bewildered, my only ally a crazy guy in a trench coat with a butt-load of guns – oh, how I rejoiced when I turned a corner to see a blue lamp and that creepy guy stood by it, even the gruff “Hello, Stranger” was somehow soothing to me.

I find games of this genre – survival horror, third person shooter, call it what you will – very daunting, and with Resident Evil 4 I jumped in at the deep end. In an RPG, if you can’t beat a boss you grind and get your level up until you can – with games like this you can’t do that. Nor can you rely on the whole deus ex machina theme that runs through most RPGs whereby someone will come and save you if things get a little hairy. Sure you have Ada who is sort of there, but her motives are far from clear, and Luis…well we all know how long that lasted. What I am trying to convey to you is the intense feeling of being alone at all times that I felt during this game, knowing that no-one was coming to help me and that I had to do all the hard work myself. It was a feeling that I was not used to in video games. To say that I enjoyed feeling like it would not be very accurate, however I did very much enjoy this game. In fact, Resident Evil 4 is probably one of the best games I have ever played.

The cover sleeve for Resident Evil 4, featuring Bag-head

The cover sleeve for Resident Evil 4, featuring Bag-head

The level designs are great, and all very distinct from each other. Each comes with its own terrain and set of baddies that cause you to rethink your strategy. They are also incredibly atmospheric, building upon the feeling of abandonment. I remember the first time that I got my head cut off by one of those chainsaw weilding guys with a bag over their head, I turned off the console and reassessed my life just a little bit. Each level has it’s own Boss who torments you throughout most of the  level. All of them are straight out of a Hammer Horror film: their over-the-top creepiness emphasised by their broad Eastern European accents. But then, I don’t think I was ever actually scared during this game. Yes it’s very atmospheric, and it gets pretty tense at points, but it never actually reaches the level of straight-out scary, everything retains a faint air of the ridiculous. So that tiny guy just turned into a giant monster? Sure. And now I have to fight a cave-troll? Sure. So if I shoot all these wooden cut-outs, I win some bottle caps? Okay.

I wouldn’t have had it any other way though. If this game had tried to take itself too seriously, I would not have enjoyed it a fraction of the amount that I did, and at those times – and there were quite a few of them – when I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to carry on, the tension is killing me’ if it hadn’t been for the charm of the game, its storyline and the characters, I probably would have given up.

But I didn’t give up, I actually mustered enough courage to beat the game (albeit on easy mode). Shooters are not my strong point, and even though the controls for Resident Evil 4 are wonderful, I’m still not that good. The simplicity and ease of the controls is another strong point of this game. Gone is the laser pointer from previous incarnations of this game, to be replaced by a recticle that is controlled by your Wii Remote. Actually holding your Wii Remote like a gun only adds to the immersive quality of this game. Running, shooting and menu controls are all intuitive and easy to learn, in fact I don’t think I would be exaggerating at all if I were to say that this game utilises the Wii controls better than any other game I have played on the system. ‘Paddle waggling’ or whatever it is called is limited to tense near death experiences – for example the knife fight with Krauser – where complex controls would feel false. The frantic waggling of the Wii remote captures perfectly the exact spasmodic reaction I would have if someone tried to stab me: more and more immersive.

For those that don’t know, I should probably explain this game a little bit. I don’t know exactly how – if at all – it fits in with the other Resident Evil games, as I haven’t played them, but in Resident Evil 4 you play as Leon S. Kennedy, an American agent, who has been sent to the Middle of Nowhere, Eastern Europe to rescue the president’s daughter from some kind of cult. You don’t work for Umbrella, however, you seem to know Ada, who does. And so you shoot your way through hordes of creepy creepers trying to find and then rescue Ashley (the president’s daughter) whilst trying not to get yourself or her killed in the process.

Once you complete the main storyline you unlock additional weapons to use on your next playthrough, a shortened version of the game where you play as Ada instead of Leon, and a cool mini-game called the Mercenaries which I find immensely difficult and cannot unlock any of the additional characters – although I have seen them on playthroughs on Youtube and they look pretty cool. I will hang on to this game, and will definitely play through it again, just maybe in  a few years when I am a little bit braver perhaps.

Kind regards,
Lefthumbstick

I’d love to hear about your experiences with this games, so leave a reply if you feel like it.

Bleach The 3rd Phantom for NDS – An Acid Test

Bleach The 3rd Phantom for NDS – An Acid Test
Bleach the 3rd Phantom

Bleach the 3rd Phantom

I love playing games that belong to frachises. Being able to muck around in a world that I am already familiar with makes these kinds of games so much more immersive to me. If I love the franchise, it usually means that I will view games based in it through rose-tinted glasses. That’s not to say that I don’t know a cash-grab when I see it, and there are plenty of those around, but I will be able to overlook some of the shortcomings that would normally hold me back from enjoying a game. That’s not to say either that just because it’s a franchise game it will automatically mean that it is a bad game. The most obvious example of this are games based on Star Wars like Knights of the Old Republic, Republic Commandos and Jedi Outcast, these are all excellent games. Bleach The 3rd Phantom is not an excellent game, but it is an excellent Bleach game.

For those of you unfamiliar with Bleach, it is a manga written by Tite Kubo that has been adapted into an anime. It follows the story of Ichigo Kurosaki, a substitute soul reaper, as he fights against monsters born from the lost souls of humans, called Hollows, and other assorted ‘bad guys’. Soul reapers live in the Spirit World, and it is their job to look after the souls that reside there and also to help assist souls in their transference over to the spirit world. Each of them has a zanpakto, which usually takes the form of a sword. Each soul reaper’s zanpakto is unique and allows its wielder to use different skills, the most powerful of which is their Bankai which is the fully released form of their zanpakto.

Although it is not complex, there is a lot going on in the world of Bleach. There is a fairly large cast of recurrent characters, each with their own baggage and backstories distinct from one another. I don’t think that you would need to know all them in order to play this game, but if you did you would be able to appreciate it on a whole different level.

Bleach The 3rd Phantom is a tactical RPG, similar in design to something like Final Fantasy Tactics, although stripped down. The main differences are that you do not get damage boosts from attacking behind or to the side of enemies like you do in FF Tactics, and in Bleach each time you engage in direct combat the game switches to a 2D fighting style screen – although the characters are not controllable during this. Also, Bleach The Third Phantom uses a system where most characters give a boost to adjacent allies. Usually they assist either with defence or attack, at the selection of which they will pop up in the 2D animated sequences and either bust a move, or block an attack. The map terrains are less challenging than you would find in FF Tactics, however the maps in Bleach The Third Phantom do include lay-lines of reishi, or spirital pressure, that can be drawn into the character by selecting ‘Pressure’. This powers up attack, allows the use of Bankai and other super-moves and even means that you can perform a team attack, which is pretty much two characters that are good friends kicking the butts of the bad guys in unison. Oh yeah, and there is also an affinity mechanic in the game, but more on that later.

The side-on 2D fighting sequences are not the only part of the game where you will be forced to sit back and watch. There are entire chunks of the game where you select various characters to talk to. Whilst these are great for a fan of Bleach – such as myself – I would imagine they could become very tedious for someone who was not acquainted beforehand with the characters featured in them.

In fact, it is precisely my knowledge and love for Bleach that allowed me to enjoy this game so much. As an RPG, you are allowed quite a bit of control over the gameplay elements: you can select which characters you would like to have on your team of eight from over 50 possible characters, and you can choose – to a certain extent – which skills they learn. I say to a certain extent, because the way in which your characters learn skills in this game is by levelling up their zanpakto to a maximum level of 16. Each time a character levels up from battle they earn 5 skill points, but you will need 10 skill points to level up their zanpakto. Each time you level up their zanpakto you are presented with three paths to choose from that teaches techniques of a different variety. The skills available depend on the character, but they are usually things like boosting their Bankai, or teaching kido (basically magical) moves. The level limit means that you will not be able to complete all three of the paths, and at the end of each path there is usually a powerful move, so you have to be careful and check the skill trees when assigning points. Once a zanpakto is maxed out, you can still spend points on boosting stats.

So, for my battles I recruited characters that I liked from the series. It was then fun for me to play the characters as they would normally act in the anime. For example, there is a bald-headed character called Ikkaku who is so secretive about the fact that he has mastered his Bankai, that he will only ever use it when none of his allies are around. Accordingly, Ikkaku, whilst on my team, would never use his Bankai unless he was completely isolated from his allies, even to the point where he would allow himself to be defeated before showing his Bankai to those around him. This is just one example of the kinds of fun that I had with this game, and the type of fun you could only have if you were a Bleach fan already. There are numerous elements of this game – the storyline, for example – that non-fans would likely not get along with.

Taking on the Espada

Taking on the Espada

As a fan of the anime, rather than the manga, I can better tolerate weak storylines thanks to all the filler episodes released – one of the problems when adapting a weekly manga that is still being written is that sometimes your source material runs out and you are forced to make up stories of your own. Even though this game boasts an original storyline by Tite Kubo himself, it’s really not as strong as any of the storylines in the main arcs of the series. At certain points, the story will sort of align itself with the main story of the Arrancar arc of the series, which is nice for myself and other fans of the series, but doesn’t really add anything to the storyline itself. The main character is an underpowered Arrancar called Arturo, recycled from other games in the Bleach series, who we are constantly told is incredibly powerful, although he always seems very easy to beat.

This introduces another down-side of the game. The battles in the main story are really easy. One of the things I love about the series is how every battle comes down the wire, but in this game you can easily breeze through the enemies. I got half-way through the game and thought “Oh no, I’ve put it on the wrong difficulty setting”. So I started up a dummy new game only to find that there are no difficulty settings. Even though once the game is completed you unlock a ‘Battle Tower’ (which supposedly consists of twenty levels, even though I am inexplicably on the thirty-something level now), the game really could have done with the ability to increase the difficulty settings. It’s doubly a shame because this would be a game with good replay value if not for the easy battles, as you are able to choose from two original characters at the start of the game, and then later in the game you also choose the form that your zanpakto will take from three possible designs. On top of that is the ability to make up wholly different teams from the available characters.

As I mentioned before, there is an affinity mechanic to this game which is worth mentioning. Certain characters have pre-set affinities with other characters which usually matches up with the canon of the series. Before going into battle you are able to select certain characters from the ‘friend’s list’ (not the actual term used in-game, by the way, I’ve just got Facebook on the brain) of the guys on your team. This can affect your choice of team members, as certain characters won’t be compatable with others in terms of assists and team attacks. Also, after each battle the affinity of the main character will rise with the other characters on your team – the affinty between characters that are not the main character will not rise, and as far as I know, there is no way of making the affinity level go down. There are also conversations in the ‘free time’ portions of the game that will increase your main characters affinity with other characters – this is also the method by which you can recruit characters to your team, and another factor in the replay value as it is not possible to recruit and befriend all characters within the free time events.

I would highly recommend this game to anyone who is a fan of Bleach. The ability to collect together your favourite characters, govern how they grow and control their actions would please anyone with a love for the characters of the manga or anime. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to someone who was not a fairly big fan of Bleach. Even if someone had watched a few episodes of the anime or read a few chapters of the manga and thought that it was okay, I still wouldn’t recommend this game to them. But that is only because I feel that a great deal of the game would be lost on them. To me, this is a game that has been put together by people with a real love for Bleach and would be most enjoyed by someone with a real love for Bleach, like me!

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

It would be really interesting to hear from anyone that has played this game without any prior knowledge of Bleach – if such a person exists. Am I wrong? Can you enjoy this game without liking Bleach first? Leave a reply.