Stuntman: Ignition (360) – Initial Impressions

I already had tried and stated some of the things about the demo that make this game about ten times better than the original Stuntman game.  Notably: there’s a couple ways that you can play through the stunt completely (not quite sandboxing it, but close enough) either by switching to easy mode which gives you the opportunity to miss more stunts, or as long as you don’t miss a critical jump or the like, you can continue even knowing that you failed.  In order to clear a stunt, you still have to play through the entire stunt without missing 5 required stunts, but getting there is much less of a pain than it was in the first game.  Playing through a few more levels, the timing feels a bit more comfortable as the game encourages you more to score more via chaining stunts instead of just finishing a stunt and moving on.  They add motorcycles that can wheelie and also slide under low obstacles.  You can still put together your own stunt courses as well as a challenge mode where you have to meet certain requirements with the course you built (similar to TrackMania’s Puzzle modes).  There seems to be a lot more ‘pick and go’ options as well.

The only concern I have presently is that there’s a total of 6 movies with 6 scenes in the game, so I’m hoping its not too short.  It does look like you can’t just wimp through all the stunts; movies don’t get unlocked until you achieve a certain ranking and that can only be improved by gaining better score ratings on individual scenes.  I haven’t had this problem yet of having to go back to do better, as I only got through the first movie last night, but I don’t expect this to be a critical show stopper (eg I doubt its the case that you can’t do the last movie if you haven’t 5-starred all the previous stunts).

So far, so good…

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Wii) – Initial Impressions

I played through about the first hour of this yesterday (that is, up though the first boss); the trouble with those Wii games that actively engage both hands that if you’re not used to it, it’s hard to jump in and do long doses at the start (had the same problem with Zelda for example).

However, I have to say that the word about the control scheme being near perfect holds true – yes, I’m still at the stages of trying to get used to all the controls, but they feel tons more natural than Red Steel’s version.  The lock-on with side aiming is a very nice feature.  My only nit is that the “pull-twist-push” actions for door seals seem difficult to pull off, the same issue I had with Elebits’ door handles, because of the in/out motion with the remote seeming to not be registering well.  I believe there’s a setting on the Wii main menu that might help that, so I’ll check that again.  The only nit is the scan visor activation process which requires a bit more finger movement to hit the “-” key, then to select the visor, THEN to aim and target the scan area.  Again, haven’t gotten far enough to determine if this could have been mapped any differently.

I’m trying to figure out if the graphics look any better than the GC Prime games — certainly after playing lots of 360 games at 1080i and coming back to 480p, jaggies are very notable, but ignoring that, it doesn’t seem like the engine pushing too much beyond what Prime was doing before on the GC — not that this wasn’t bad or the like.

BioShock (360) – Review

BioShock - CoverBioShock, developed by 2K Games Boston/Australia (previously known as Irrational Games) has been stated as a spiritual sequel of System Shock 2, likely one of the best strategic FPS games of past generations. BioShock does an excellent job in capturing many of the elements that made System Shock 2 what it was: using the environment against foes, hacking security systems to your side, choices on what powers to develop further, and the like, while adding in new features to complete the gameplay. While the game is outstanding in both story, visuals, and audio, there are a few gameplay decisions that I question that detract from the difficulty of the game, notably how the player is allowed to take the path of least resistance and is not encouraged or forced to alter a gameplay style learned early in the game in order to complete the game, and which could have been easily tweaked without significant alteration of the game.

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BioShock (360) – Mid-game Thoughts

I’ve gotten about 8 hours under my belt with BioShock, and while I posted some comments over at Shacknews, I think I’ve got a few more things nailed down about something that pokes me the wrong way about this game.

First, the game itself is visually stunning and beautiful.  Graphics are just fine, but the architecture and details of Rapture are just amazing.  The environmental immersion is excellently done.  From this standpoint, there’s no question about why this game works.

Now that I have opened up some more of the features (eg. the camera to do research to gain bonuses, the Gene Swap machines, buying extra slots for plasmids), the game play is very deep.  There is no one way to take down foes between physical weapons and your enhanced powers, alongside the security systems you can play with.  I’ve not hit the machines that allow you to use junk collected to make new things, but I am pretty sure that that only helpens to deepen the gameplay.  And it’s not too much stuff either: as the game has to be playable on a console, the number of input functions has to remain small, and to have too many deep gameplay features would have made this more difficult.  From this aspect, the game is super great.

However, here’s my list of nits that I haven’t seen too many others pick up on, if any:

– To this point, I feel like I’m playing a standard FPS “on a rail” game, in that while I’m open-ended in how I use my various powers and equipment to take down foes, at the end, I’m still getting the key from a boss to open the door to the next area.   I realize the game is trying to tell a story, and so railing the player is needed, but many of the reviews I read spoke of the game being more open-ended in the exploration.   Yes, I realize that I will be able to return to areas using the transit system later in the game, but I’m more speaking of having maybe two routes to a destination, one that may be filled with Splicers, another that requires dealing with security systsems, and allow me to pick which way I want to go.   There’s little beyond the rail that you ride on that if you did take away the deep gameplay provided by the various powers and equipment you get, you get a pretty but bland FPS.  I was hoping for a bit more in this aspect.

– I’m surprised there is no inventory limit.  While a bitch to deal with in System Shock 2, it was one of the more strategic elements of the game.  Now, here, I can button mash through boxes to pick up anything and everything they contain, and while a couple of items have a counterbalancing effect (liquid that improves EVE while nixing health, for example), the effects are so small that all I know is that I want to collect anything.  With SS2, you had to decide on weapons, ammo, and other details to carry around that made the gameplay much more tactile.  Now, I would argue also that this may have been omitted because dealing with inventory in this game on the 360 would have not been easy to do: all the buttons are already mapped, so it would have to be a screen accessed by the back button, and knowing how much fun dealing with that in Oblivion was, I can see where they omitted it.  But, it would have been nice to have some limitation.

– I would have liked stealth to be more useful and necessary to the game.  Yes, you can sneak around and do more damage to opponents if they are unaware, and there’s security cameras to avoid, but again, compared to System Shock 2, the need of stealth is very low.  Camera tripping is very forgiven (Medium difficulty, natch), you can make a lot of noise and Splicers won’t notice you until you are really close, and the like.   More specifically, I haven’t seen the rewards of being stealthy verses being brash beyond taking a little bit less damage (which the Vita-Chamber regeneration system nixes somewhat).   I don’t want something like Thief (all stealth), but something closer to both System Shock 2 and Deus Ex, a good mix of action and stealth.

– I guess what hits me the most is that there’s a shock value for this game: how to deal with Little Sisters, the results of the downfall of Rapture, and so forth.   I know I willing subjected myself to pre-press about the game, but I wonder how much the gaming magazines pushed this game because when I started playing, I didn’t feel the shock value that I was expecting.  Knowing the connection between Little Sisters and Big Daddies, and a few other such details, caused me to take the first sight of such a pairing for granted instead of being in awe, as the press seemed to suggest you would be.   I don’t know if the high praise for the game combined with this raised my expectations too high, or if I did ruin it for myself by reading too much, but I feel that something beyond the game’s control in the press did not help to keep the details of the game sufficiently quiet so that there would still be that shock value when playing.

I’m certainly not saying this is a bad game.  And while I know PC owners are fuming over the widescreen and activation issues, I’m not letting that cloud my judgment (note the 360 in the title of my comments here).  It’s definitely one of the better games I’ve played in a long time, but I wonder if the press is treating this game just a bit too special – of what I played, it’s not yet deserving of the near perfect grades, as there’s just enough “off” within the game that could have been added without changing too much else to really tighten the game up.

skate (360) – Demo Impressions

I know that right now Tony Hawk’s skating games are trying to work their way back from the THUG and THAW titles, and Project 8 was pretty decent.  But at the end of the day, it’s still a Tony Hawk game and its very obvious that the usual methods aren’t going to go away soon — Project 8’s only major interesting addition was the create-a-trick aspect of skating but even then, that took a lot more work.

skate takes a different approach to the skate games.  The first major difference is that instead of pressing a button to ollie and jump or land a grind, you have to use the right thumbstick to initiate most of these.  A quick down and up flip gives a short ollie; a long movement gives a bigger jump , and depending which way you flick the stick back will give you a flip trick or the like.  Landing a grind is actually a matter of landing a jump onto a rail, instead of being 4 feet away from it and being rewarded for it.  Buttons, for what I’ve played in the demo, are mostly to build up speed (which includes which specific foot you use to do so).   It’s definitely different, but feels a bit more in control of your skateboarding.

The levels, within the demo, don’t feel as artificial as  many Tony Hawk levels.  I’ve yet to find an infinite grind line, for example.  Here’s a game where bloom looks like it helps as it takes the hard edge off everything.  Of course, the demo seems limited to the skate park, but the (UNQUITTABLE) movie when you quit the demo shows some pretty interesting other areas.

Persona 3 (PS2) – Midgame Thoughts

With a tad under 20 hrs under my belt for this game, I’ve got a better feel for it.

The game is closer to a roguelike random dungeon crawl game (like Nethack or Angband) than your typical RPG – basically, you’re not wandering a large overworld, and there’s only one dungeon with about 200+ floors which you need to tackle progressively as your party gains levels, and the like.  A handful of levels have minibosses and special teleports to allow you to move to those levels quickly if needed (eg saving before the minibosses), but progression in the tower is limited by events that happen with the game timeline.  Specifically, each full moon within the game brings a major attack (larger boss battle) which plays more like a traditional RPG and once that’s cleared a barrier in the dungeon opens to allow further exploration.  Between that and the ability for your party to become tired and thus less effective in battle keeps the pacing of moving through the dungeon at a limited pace.  The major nit I have so far is that between these tiers (separated by these barriers) the difficulty of the monsters takes a noticable jump instead of the smoother change within a tier.  I had about 5 or 6 times where I was progressing past this tier for the first time and hit a stack of monsters that had insta-death spells or multiple opponent attacks and died (annoying, if your character dies, that’s Game Over, even though you can revive dead players).   I found that it’s necessary to delve about as far as you can feel comfortable, even if that doesn’t get you to one of the trigger points, and then go back, save, rest up, regroup, collect recovery items, and all the usual bookkeeping needed in the game before trying to delve again.  This approach, it took me 3 tries to get to the next teleport point, and I gained a good deal of leveling for it.

Then outside of the dungeon, you have to go around and make friendships with fellow classmates and other people in the town.  Each of them represent one of the major arcana in the tarot, and for each social link level, you gain access to another Persona of that arcana.  Thing is, you start to have the same problems you have with The Sims in balancing which relation you develop, but fortunately, at least as far as I can tell, these can’t go backwards, so it’s just a matter of finding the time do a bit of something with everyone.

The Personas ALMOST work like Materia from FF7 – the one active at the end of battle gains experience which can give them new powers, and a special room allows you to create new ones by fusing 2 or more together – though of course you need to be of sufficient level and have the right arcana to hold it.  These use up the existing personas but there’s a registry that you save Personas and then spend cash to pull them out after they’ve been exhausted by fusion.  You also are limited in the number of Personas you have equipped, so the game encourages you to keep making new ones as you go along.

The game mechanics are definitely interesting, but they do allow the game to fall into a bit of a rut as between dungeon diving and dealing with friends, it’s pretty much the same.  The overarcing plot isn’t very deep (as yet) which at least makes the game easy to digest in small chunks, so I’m not worried about rushing to finish this one  before some of the big games start coming out this week – it’s a title I’ll be able to step back to after I finish those.  (Normally, I like to finish an RPG all the way through, but I don’t believe I need to worry too much about this this time.)

Persona 3 (PS2) – Initial Impressions

This…is a weird game.

I’ve watched some screwed up anime before (Lain, Neon Genesis Evangelion)  and the story of this game is already there, only after the first hour of play.  Unlike a traditional RPG, the combat side is a bit less emphasized (it took 45 minutes to get to a battle), and inbetween is a mix of Bully like elements (improving your performance at school) and Japanese dating-sim parts, as your friendships with the characters will affect your combat.

I get a very Killer 7 vibe from this game as well – it’s not so much in stat-building (yet) as it is making sure to play out scenes to completion.