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.

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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.

Zone of the Enders for Playstation 2 – A Beautiful Ending

Zone of the Enders for Playstation 2 – A Beautiful Ending

On the face of it, Zone of the Enders for Playstation 2 seemed awesome. I was like, “So you mean I can be a robot? And I can fight other robots? And I’m in space!? I’m sold.” This enthusiasm stayed with me all through the opening montage of the game and actually increased in magnitude once I reached the title screen and heard this song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdznoXlO5s0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

I sat listening to it, not even wanting to select New Game, that’s how beautiful it was.

I should have stayed at the title screen. The opening movie was actually pretty cool, right up to the point where Leo, the main character, finds Jehuty, the robot (or Orbital Frame, to use the game’s lingo), and climbs into what I can only describe as the genital region of the robot. Why the game designers thought that it would be a good idea to make the pilot’s seat in the penis of the robot I will never know, especially considering how the main character is a young boy. But I suppose it does bring a new meaning to the word cockpit.

From there, the game rapidly declined. The attacks are limited to two defaults for each long range and close up engagements, plus two additional burst attacks. Even the addition of secondary weapons falls flat as I often found myself opting for the default attacks which were both quicker and more powerful. The enemy robots have only two types, one skinny and one fat, which means that before long the battles become very formulaic.

The basic premise of the game is that you, Leo, seek refuge in a giant robot whilst your home colony in orbit around Jupiter is attacked by more giant robots. You quickly come ot terms with the controls of the robot with the help of ADA, an artificial intelligence designed to help the pilot of Jehuty, and then spend the rest of the game trying to reunite Jehuty with its rightful owners. The ‘world map’ (it’s pretty small) consists of numerous battle environments which you need to descend into and, once there, fulfill various mission objectives.

The battle environments are mostly uninteresting and very limited. What’s worse is that you are forced to travel back to several of them in order to complete your mission objectives. The environments do not become more exciting the second time around. There were some optional S.O.S. missions that you could engage in between mission objectives, during which you are supposed to clear the environment of enemy robots who are intent upon destroying the occupied buildings there. After getting a couple of 80% fatality rates in these, I decided it would probably be better for everyone if I didn’t do those missions anymore. I think at one point Leo’s girlfriend Celvice – whom we rescue at a point early in the game from outside of a church in a scene that for some reason gave me flashbacks of Final Fantasy VII – even says “Let’s not go to the towns anymore, okay Leo”.

But I stuck with the game, traipsing back and forth between uninteresting environments looking for weapons or passcodes or whatever I needed to get me past a certain objective. I’m glad that I did though, because during the last hour or so of the game it really steps up a gear and becomes the game that I wanted it to be from the very start.

Even though the combat system is very limited, the boss battles are pretty good. There’s only a few of them, and most of them are in the final hour of the game, but once you get to them Zone of the Enders becomes very fun, very quickly. Unlike the rest of the battles, the boss battles require strategy, skill and timing. Often you are facing up against enemies many times your size with huge arrays of long range weapons. Because of this you will have to clear yourself enough space to launch off a charged attack. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but I found these battles to be very long requiring patience and testing endurance – which is what good boss battles are about, right? During these battles, I would have to find small windows of opportunity in which to chip-away at the huge health of these giant robots, before being rewarded with a lightshow as they exploded into a thousand pieces.  In the final hour or so, there are three of these boss-battles pretty much back-to-back.

Up until the final hour of the game there is very little storyline. There is some character development, but not really enough to hold your interest during the first five hours. Then, all of a sudden, the storyline of the game becomes very dramatic, and as the moral structures out of which both Leo and the main enemy Viola are laid bare the story culminates in a climatic sequence that was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed in a video game. I won’t tell you exactly what happens, but I’ll just say that both Leo and Viola have had a lot of pain in their pasts, and they have become very different people because of it. Their distinct beliefs, although equally valid, are incompatible and it is within this gap between these two systems that the drama of the story unfolds.

And then the game ends. After nothing really happening for almost the entire length of the game, loads happens all at once, and then the game ends. Strangest of all, another villain is introduced right at the very end which leads to nothing. Because of this, I was left with the feeling that this game was almost like a intro, or even a demo, to a bigger and better game. Like the choice of location for the pilot seat in Jehuty, it seems as though some wrong decisions were made in putting this game together. There is a great game in there and we glimpse it only at the very end, but the rest of the game seemed like a wasted time. For example, I would have liked to have seen more character interactions, more boss battles, and a levelling system where you can actually upgrade things, perhaps. The feeling I take away from Zone of the Enders is that it was rushed, perhaps the guys at Konami had other things to do, I see on the back of the box that some game called ‘Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty’ was released at around the same time, I wonder what that’s like?

Zone of the Enders - Case (Back)

Kind regards,

Lefthumbstick

Oh, and one final thing, is it just me or is the design for Viola’s Orbital Frame, Neith, very similar to that of Face Nemesis from Xenoblade Chronicles?
See what you think and maybe leave a reply below:
Neith - Zone of the Enders
Neith from Zone of the Enders

Face Nemesis - Xenoblade Chronicles
Face Nemesis from Xenoblade Chronicles

Heroes of Order and Chaos for iOS – First Impressions

Heroes of Order and Chaos for iOS – First Impressions

When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek he thought that in the future we would all be playing Tri-Dimensional Chess instead of normal chess, he was wrong. MOBAs (Multiplater Online Battle Arenas) like League of Legends, Dota 2 and this game, Heroes of Order and Chaos, are the real spiritual successors of chess. They have the pieces with their own individual skills, the strategic gameplay and, of course, the square shaped board.

I haven’t actually played League of Legends or Dota 2, so I can’t vouch for their quality, nor can I tell you how this game matches up to those. I have watched lots of videos of Dota 2 though, as TotalBiscuit of Youtube fame will often have them as the backdrop to some of his videos, and it was these that actually prompted me to get this game. And so, it is on this meagre foundation of understanding that I shall build my argument that these games are in fact what will be played aboard the starship Enterprise when they actually get around to building it.

Heroes of Order and Chaos has two modes, 3 versus 3, and 5 versus 5. 3 versus 3 sucks, so I’m going to tell you about 5 versus 5. In this game mode you are presented with a further four options: PvP, where all the heroes in the game are controlled by actual people in real-time over the internet; Co-op, where only your team is controlled by real people and the opposing team is controlled by a mysterious entity called ‘CPU’; Solo, where all but your own hero is controlled by the almighty CPU; and, Custom, which I don’t know anything about having never clicked on it.
HOC game mode
From this point you are invited to pick a hero from a line-up to use during the battle. Heroes are divided into four types: fighter, guardian, support and magic, and you can pick one from either the roster of free heroes for that particular week or from any heroes you have elected to buy from the game. Not only does each character class have a different way of being used, but each individual character plays differently. As you level you can assign points to the different classes that strengthen whatever character class you may be opting to use.

It’s all pretty daunting at first and there is a whole bunch more that I could tell you about skills, inscriptions and tablets, but that’s not where the fun is at. The fun is in playing the game.

HOC gameplay

In chess you have pawns, in Heroes of Order and Chaos you have soldiers. These soldiers are controlled by nobody, they have lives of their own running ever forward and attacking any enemies they see. Unfortunately, these soldiers are about as useful as pawns are and so they get killed, lots. But that’s part of the game. As a hero (my hero is the fish guy with the trident in the picture above) it is part of your job to kill as many of the soldiers from the opposing team as you can, doing so will allow you to level in the match (not to be confused with leveling generally – damn this game can get confusing). But there’s a catch, you will only get the experience and extra gold from an enemy soldier if you land the last hit on it – a trickier feat then it sounds, especially if your hero has a relatively weak attack power and/or speed. This is where skill starts to come into the game.

Heroes of Order and Chaos is free to get, although you can pay real money for extra boosts and stronger characters. However, I don’t think that it’s a case of pay-to-win as there is a lot of skill involved. Maybe I haven’t been playing long enough to know for sure, but I would have thought that the worst player of this game could not beat the best player even if the worst player had payed for all the extra boosts and bonuses.

In the top right hand corner of the above picture you can see the mini-map that shows the battlefield. There are three lanes that you can choose from with each teams’ base being in the corners diagonal from each other. It is along these routes that the blindly courageous soldiers run, and it is also where the towers are. Busting down the tower of an opposing team allows you to progress further along the lane towards their base. The game is won by destroying the opposing team’s base. That all sounds pretty simple, but when you consider that the heroes on both yours and the opposite team are controlled by people, and given the fact that people can often be pretty crazy, winning a game becomes a lot more difficult prospect.

I’ll hold my hands up and admit it right now, I have yet to win a PvP game. I try my hardest to get last-hits and not die at the hands the opposing team, but it never seems to be good enough, and that is what is so great/infuriating about this game. I’m no good at chess either, however if I am playing chess with someone who is better than me I am invariably going to lose, with this game though, I can suck and yet still have a fighting chance of winning a game.

Obviously it helps that  you can play the game well, but there are so many other factors that contribute to the game being a win or a loss, that it doesn’t really matter how well you play. There’s something philosophical in that, like a life lesson or something. Doing the best you can, and knowing you are doing the best you can is all that really matters and a loss when you know you have played your best is worth more than a win where you have played awfully.

This is where Heroes of Order and Chaos and other games like it actually surpass chess in my opinion, and will continue to do so until they invent a game of chess where each of the back-row pieces is controlled by a separate person. And even then, games like this will still be better, as chess pieces don’t miraculously spawn at the back-row whenever they die like the heroes in this game do.

I’m not sure if I’m explaining this game all that well, but anyway what I am trying to convey is the general spirit of this game. So too surmise, games like this take skill, patience, timing and a thick skin. But you are rewarded for your time and efforts, every defeat helps you to learn how to play the game better, and, best of all, no matter how much you know and how powerful your character is you can still end up losing to a team of newbies. That is why the idea and spirit of games like Heroes of Order and Chaos and so great. Sure there’s no storyline, and the touch-screen controls are pretty awful, but what’s the storyline behind chess? If you take only one thing away from this spiel, make it that question ‘what is the storyline behind chess?’

Kind regards,

Lefthumb

Have you played this game?
What did you think and how does it compare to LoL and Dota 2?
Think chess is better?
Leave a reply below.