Review: Condemned: Criminal Origins – Monolith – XBox 360 (2005)

As my free time over summer starts to come to an end this year, I’ve played through another game.

So I woke up in a bad mood last Friday morning, and decided that a good, short game was what I needed to do with my time. Perusing a couple of google searches for “good, short 360 games” to see what came up that I also had, Condemned (and its sequel) seemed to make many of those lists, which reminded me that I had this game, tucked away in a shelf. Choice made, then!

Condemned: Criminal Origins, is a game that I had bought shortly after purchasing my XBox 360 back in 2007(?) It had garnered good reviews, but as so often happens with these things – both miniatures and videogames – it’s often easier to buy something with the best of intentions to get around to using them – and then taking years (or worse) to actually do so.

I dimly remember buying the game, one of the games I purchased in my initial frenzy of enthusiasm when I got my 360 back in the day. Even back then it was already in the XBox 360 “Classics” selection. While this meant that the game had sold well, over whatever the minimum was at the time, more importantly the game had garnered positive reviews across the board. At the time I’d done that thing where you put the game on, look at it for 45 seconds/play for 3 minutes and think “Yeah, this looks cool. I’ll get back to it soon!” So now – a decade on from release and 8 years from buying it – I’ve finally actually played it! Does this count as a retro-review?


Condemned was developed by Monolith Productions, who were also the people behind titles I’d enjoyed such as No One Lives Forever (NOLF), NOLF 2, Alien vs Predator 2, Contract J.A.C.K. (essentially NOLF3), F.E.A.R., F.E.A.R. 2 and much more recently – Shadow of Mordor. That’s a pretty good selection of hits over a good selection of years. So far so good!

So how does it look in 2016?

The game is dark and grainy – appropriate for a survival-horror kind of game. The graphics aren’t beautiful 1080p with ultra-detailed models, but I’m not a complete graphics whore, and the game’s setting still looks good enough to me and works well enough to be fit for purpose. Enemies and your weapons are a fair bit less attractive, looking a bit blocky at best. Your character on the other hand, along with those in cutscenes looks pretty bad. I can’t fairly recall what FPS graphics looked like back 10 years ago without rose coloured glasses, but to be blunt, the character and many of the weapon models look like arse today.

Audio fares better. A nice touch are your own heavy footsteps – there are any times you’re not sure if a sound was you, or someone else, stalking you. The audio design overall isn’t bad and is one of the stronger points of the game, even today. The exception to which is the voice acting.

I dub thee: Arseface.

I should mention the story: – only the slightest of spoilers here – You’re a federal agent. Framed for a murder you didn’t commit, you set out on a quest to prove your innocence by wandering through an endless series of dark tunnels, rooms and abandoned buildings, murdering everyone in your path.

Occasionally with firearms, but typically with improvised clubs, shovels, axes and sledgehammers. Does all that sound like a fair enough way to prove your innocence from murder?

Anyhow, there’s some serial killer stuff and the story is pretty bad, even for a video game. I’m usually happy enough to gloss over video game stories if the gameplay is good, and oftentimes for games, less is more. This game attempts to have depth and layers in the story, and while it’s not quite the nonsensical mess as Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was, it’s still pretty bad. The plot and script is like a police/serial killer story – as written by a teenager whose only knowledge of police procedure, serial killers or the way that human people actually interact with one another has come from bad TV shows in those genres.

I state this because it’s terribly written and voice acted. There’s a “twist” at the end, but I’d liken its surprise and impact to looking at the bus timetable, then walking around the corner at the allotted time and watching the bus slowly meander its way down the street towards your bus stop.

Mechanically, I found early on that a few things we take for granted in modern times are a fair bit different in Condemned. There’s no mini-map. Indeed, there is no map of any kind. Nor is there any “guide” through the levels other than the fairly linear nature of the levels. I’m not horrified at the loss of the modern stalwart “Follow”, but when the environment starts to look very much the same where ever you wander in a level…

The game’s pacing is extremely slow as well. I found the controls to be unresponsive and sluggish, right down to it feeling like I needed to press down twice as hard as in other games on the stick to sprint – which is also limited by a stamina bar.

Amazingly (for a videogame), your flashlight seems to (mostly) work like an actual flashlight and the batteries don’t die after a few seconds. Which is handy, since – as mentioned – for the entirety of the game you’re navigating an endless series of (linear) dark hallways and rooms. Credit where credit is due there, though whether you have the flashlight on or off doesn’t seem to make any actual difference in terms of conflict, as enemies spring into existence and are aware of you as soon as you come near, so stealth doesn’t seem to be a thing at all in this game.

You can’t carry two weapons, even when it makes sense – such as a holstered firearm and a melee weapon in hand. Oh, you also have a taser, which gets upgraded partway through the game into pretty much a man-killer. Maybe that’s considered your offhander and therefore the reason you’re unable to carry a pistol in your empty cop-holster?

A man and his piece of conduit.

Similarly, despite the bag that you apparently carry your gear in or you bulky jacket, you can’t carry health packs at all. But that’s okay, since you can use them right off the wall. Yes, 2005-era design, so there’s no regenerating health or any of that guff. Just lots of medical cabinets conveniently located in all manner of decrepit and long-abandoned locales. Seems like a good choice to gulp down some of whatever you find in a pill bottle in places like that, amirite?

The building you start in seems to be an odd combination of old and condemned while also being a construction site. But abandoned and filled with psychotic junkies armed with 2x4s with nails in them, or bits of conduit or pipe. You lose your service pistol pretty early on, though – after having shot a guy or two to death.

Naturally, after killing a man and then having your gun stolen you do what any (videogame) cop would do. Instead of pulling out, calling for backup, or for a coroner’s meat wagon you just keep on going further in, only now armed with a makeshift club you picked up off the floor, gleefully beating perps to death as you go. Even the other cops with you at the time merely throw you a Fire Axe and tell you to pretty much keep going. Because videogame cop logic.

The game is very melee heavy, with firearms making only sporadic appearances throughout the game. As you’d expect, they’re more often seen in the latter stages, but even then still don’t make up the majority of enemies or encounters. There’s a simple block and counterstrike mechanism in place for melee combat, but it seems to be a combination of unresponsively slow while requiring pretty exact timing to effectively parry.

You have choices of various improvised melee weapons that you can rip off walls (conduit, pipe, rebar), furniture (2x4s) and so forth with sightly different stats: damage, speed, block and reach. Looking at a different weapon to the one in your hand will display either + or – with regard to each of the stats – but without numerical values. This lets you make your choices at a glance but in doing so without any way to really know the depth of the various trade-offs. There are also a few tools like the aforementioned fire axe that can be used as melee weapons as well as to open specific doors. Apparently using makeshift weapons scavenged from the nearest wall was supposed to feel visceral. It just feels like nothing.

In terms of movement through the game, there’s no duck, no jump and no climb outside of when the game very specifically tells you that you can climb through a window or up a ladder or jump down a hole. By pressing A. Now. I bumped over a chair and couldn’t get out of a room for 30 seconds. That old videogame trope of impassable chest-high walls is used to the extent of impassable knee-high junk on the floor here.

Most of the game pretty much looks like this.

The game has collectables because of course it does. At the end of the first level, I was informed by the stats page that I’d found/collected 1 of 6 dead birds, and 0 of 3 “metal pieces”. These appear to have no purpose whatsoever aside from achievement hunting and unlocking secret out-of-game dossiers that neither you nor I care about. And frankly – walking around, barely able to see while searching for them (or even doing so with the aid of a walkthrough) seems like a complete waste of time. A few points of gamerscore and a few pretty pointless X-Box achievements that are neither fun to get nor affect gameplay in the slightest really aren’t a worthwhile use of my (or presumably, your) time.

Even more tedious – when I happened to restart the second level to go back and check out an areas I’d missed, I found that the birds you collect in one “playthrough” don’t stay collected – as they often do in other games. So you’ve got to grab all of these collectables in a discrete run of each level. Nice.

Also – head bob. I know this game is a decade old now, but someone really needs to tell the makers of FPS games that HUMAN EYES DON’T WORK THAT WAY GUYS. Seriously. Go walk to the kitchen and tell me if your vision is smooth or bounces around like a yo-yo. We have millions of years of evolution that have taken care of that. You know what does bounce around and give a jerky sense to your vision? Cameras. So unless we’re controlling drone-style robots by remote control or playing Blair Witch: The Game, there’s no need for goddamn head bob in games. This includes you too, Gears of War. At the very least give us the option to turn it off.

Every so often there’s a navigation “puzzle” in the game. This usually equates to you needing to wander around a series of areas where everything looks the same with your flashlight until you find the Fire Axe/Sledgehammer/Crowbar/Shovel (yes, really – shovel) so that you can open a specific door. They each have their own specific doors that they can open, and don’t work on different door types – just like real life, a fire axe or a crowbar is useless when confronted by a padlock because you need a fucking sledgehammer for that shit.

Similarly, sledgehammers are only useful for padlocks and can’t smash their way through doors or wooden barriers. Because that’s what fire axes (and only fire axes) do. Ahem. Anyway, once you’ve found the CORRECT door-opening implement, you then wander around with your torch until you find the macguffin (switch, valve, etc) then you’re done and can move on – which may or may not involve more backtracking. This is invariably about as interesting, fun and exciting as I’ve made it sound here.

So yes, these different types of weapon are essentially a form of “you need the BLUE key” game design, grandfathered in from Quake with a light coat of paint on it.

Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.

There’s some “investigation” throughout the game. This investigation is performed when the game pretty much tells you “INVESTIGATE NOW” and you press a button for the appropriate one of your investigative tools to come out. You’d need a decent sized bag to lug these things around, actually. I’d usually let that go as videogames tend to all give their characters a bag of holding, but it feels a little more odd here in a game that pretty much has you running around with nothing but a flashlight and a 2×4 or piece of electrical conduit as a makeshift weapon for much of the game. So yes, it’s as interesting and “intuitive” as finding the correct “key” for the correct door type.

For those rare-ish times when you do manage to acquire a firearm, you can check the remaining number of rounds in the magazine, but once they’re empty they merely become sub-par makeshift weapons that quickly break. There’s no ammo or reloading in this game. At one point this led to the amusing(?) situation where I had 3 rounds left in my .45, and killed an enemy armed with an identical .45. His pistol also had 3 rounds left, but the game did not allow me in any way to combine those 6 rounds into the one weapon, so I had to leave one on the floor with bullets in it – because one weapon, no carrying. Needless to say – “horror” game or not – this felt very artificial.

Naturally, this led to that classic immersive videogame trope of backtracking for a 3-minute round trip to pick up the gun that was left on the floor once I’d emptied the one I was carrying.

Combat in general can be summed up in one word: Bad. If you’d like some more words, take: Sluggish, Unresponsive, Slow, Unsatisfying, Unfun.

That last one is a pretty good descriptor of the whole game, actually. Unlike something as frustrating and actively annoying as Metal Gear: Revengeance, this game is merely tedious and boring – so I was actually able to finish it. I’m not sure which is worse actually, a bad game that is so bad that you put it down after an hour or so or one that’s bad but not so bad that you can’t make yourself finish it.

You might ask why, if the game is so tedious and boring, did I continue to play it?  A fair question. The answer is a combination of my own bloody-mindedness and the fact that it’s listed as a short game – average of 7-10 hours, so doable in a couple of days of play at my own speed. In practice, I played through 2 levels in one day, and the other 7 in a rather bloody-minded waste of a day split over several sessions of 2-3 levels each time.

Is this what a bloody mind looks like?

While at first the game feels like you’re on a murder-rampage through the oddly-agressive homeless of “Metro City” (yes, really), after awhile it starts to feel more like a zombie game, right down to having several “types” of “zombie” with different attack patterns, etc. Rarely, you’ll come across a bunch of zombies that fight one another. If you hang back in these encounters, you can simply mop up the survivor(s) instead of wade in and take a bunch of damage for no real reason.

Mostly you chase “the suspect” deeper and deeper down into the bowels of the city’s subway system and through a collection of discrete buildings that each level is composed of. Occasionally you’ll stop to “gather evidence” as noted earlier – which you transmit to Rosa, a friendly researcher back at base via your simply adorable 2005-era mobile telephone who is then able to look up DNA results, check databases and create full 3-D models from photos of shoeprints – all in seconds. Remember, this is before modern smartphones, so it’s got buttons and a little screen on top, yet it seems somehow more capable than the latest of 2016’s phones and has no problem whatsoever with a signal about a kilometer underground under a maze of concrete, brickwork and heavy industrial machinery.

Source: Cracked

There’s a complete and utter dearth of interesting weapons in the game – and while fans of the game might argue that it’s somehow realistic, or that the game’s strength is in it’s story or investigation, the fact is that the majority of gameplay is walking in dark rooms with a flashlight, and the next most common part of gameplay is beating the homeless/criminals/zombies to death with clubs and axes.

There’s far more of that than story or investigation.

This game was an interesting experience in one way. I started out impressed and enjoying myself, and you could clearly see the shared DNA between this game and F.E.A.R. in the environments and atmosphere, but the horrible, sluggish controls, tedious gameplay and godawful story led me to go from impressed, to bemused, to bored, to really very unimpressed. As I’ve noted, the game got overall excellent reviews for gameplay and even story back when it was released. I guess time has simply moved on and unlike a bottle of fine wine, this game hasn’t aged well, and in the decade since release has become corked instead.

Verdict: Avoid.

 

Review: Fracture – Day 1 Studios – XBox 360 (2008)

On my Christmas breaks for the last few years, I’ve tended to play a few “fast games” in the interest of a slight cull to my pile of (videogame) shame. Sadly, these games are often not that great, though I do start out hopeful that they might be at least decent. Since I just haven’t been feeling a desire to paint much yet, I’ve started the gaming reviews!

This year, I’m starting out with Fracture, (stylised as Frac\ture on the cover art). The premise of which is that global warming physically divided the east and west coasts of the USA, who then had a bit of a tiff over differing views of genetic modification of humans. The gimmick here, though, is terrain deformation. And killing Californians, apparently. Sorry, “Pacificans”. Who are “no longer fully human”, and more importantly – rebels to the Federal Government, backed by “Asia”. Meanwhile the US Government forces that you play as part of are backed by “Europe”. Uh-huh. Because Asia is east and Europe is west, I guess… This is all told in faux “news reports” from the US Government/East side’s perspective with a really heavy propagandist slant that makes even Fox News sound Fair and Balanced. So maybe all is not as it seems? Not that we get to see or experience any of that

The tutorial is a tiny bit trippy, with flashbacks of Bullfrog’s Populous, and really a bit of a new way of thinking about navigating terrain in a shooter. Until I fired up the game, I had thought that it was a FPS, but it’s instead a 3rd person shooter. Probably worth mentioning that.

Visual design of the main character’s armour is quite reminiscent of Halo and looks decent enough. I like the little thing they’ve done regarding the HUD being a hologram projected outside the suit, but his lack of helmet is more telling than the average Warhammer 40k Space Marine Hero’s lack of same. Your character is the same generic white guy that seemingly all of these games use. I think his name is BaldyStubble McSpacemarine, and as Outside XBox said about him when he appeared in Sniper Elite 3, (because it’s the same bloody character over and over) he “may as well be an animated bag of gravel.” Ha! Better yet, it turns out his name is Brody. No confirmation on whether his first name is Dude.

Dude Brody. Not terrible design, but so, so generic.

The game also comes with a generic black guy who is your immediate superior officer (and shares your haircut!) He’s supposed to be a colonel or general or some such, and he’s clearly supposed to fit into that Sergeant Apone/Black superior officer trope, but without the scenery-chewing or entertainment value of Al Matthews. Instead we get completely forgettable. Much like out protagonist himself.

Visually, the game isn’t bad for something from 2008 (I think?), but it doesn’t hold up in 2015 either. Graphics are a bit too dark which feels like grainy, with too much use of black and (dare I say it?) not enough use of browns, which would make the game less hideously dark. I know, brown games. But there’s colour theory around avoiding or minimising the use of black, and I think that would have been a good move here, since there’s just too much here. Basically, the game looks and feels like a failed “Gears of Halo” kinda game.

The AI is pretty bog standard, with an extra special helping of bog. (A mook just blew himself up with a grenade as I’m playing through this right now). Aaaaaaand another one, 30 seconds later.

Most importantly, though – the shooting is bad. Aiming is poor, you can only hold 2 weapons at a time, and the grenades are pretty useless since the main two that you have for the course of the game don’t explode bad guys, and instead deform terrain – just like your unlimited-charge deform-gun. You get some AI squadmates at certain points, but they’re about as useful as your mooks in an episode of Dynasty Warriors – that is to say that they stand around near the enemy comparing notes with them. Well, they get in the way, so perhaps they’re worse than the useless ones in DW. But yeah, the shooting and aiming in this title is shitful.

How shitful, you ask? Well, let’s put it this way: After less than an hour of gameplay, I found that the “best”/most efficient/least unfun way to kill the endless hordes of generic faceless enemies in this third person shooting game was to melee them to death. Not because the melee is awesome or anything, either. It’s basically an incredibly pissweak little punch. However, given how bad the shooting is, I’m finding that charging in, whacking the mooks a bunch of times, and then hiding behind cover before repeating is the “best” way to get through the combat quickly and easily. That ain’t a real good outcome for a game which is supposed to be a shooter.

Yes. I would have preferred if this game was even Browner.

I was kinda hoping for a game I could play in a day or two and get some satisfying shooting out of, even if the game was short and as bit subpar. I certainly haven’t gotten that….

Cut to a few hours later, and I’ve stumbled onto the final boss fight. I fight him for a good while, before pausing the game to see WTF is up – is he healing, or am I chipping away at him? This is especially relevant, since I don’t have many grenades and only have a shitty gun. I find a walkthrough that recommends that you have a powerful weapon, so that you can kick the shit out of him straight off the bat, since he regenerates every so often, and you’ll also want to be able to destroy the spires that allow him to regenerate. Oh. Good. /eyeroll

So anyway. Game is uninstalled, the disc is back in its case, and the game will probably be an (unpleasant) gift for some poor unsuspecting person in the future. Basically, Fracture isn’t worth the time it’d take to try and grind through that last, bullshit, out of proportion to the rest of the game boss fight. (Reminds me of last year and Heavenly Sword – why do devs pull that kind of shit?) In this instance, I was playing on Easy so I wasn’t in any danger of dying from the final boss – more of developing RSI in my wrist. (I started on normal, then restarted on easy during the first mission when I found the game controlled like shit.)

So anyway. I’ll probably YouTube the ending to see what happened, just for completeness’ sake. The fact that I haven’t actually done it yet is telling with regard to how much/little I actually care about the story. Because it’s a shitty, generic, forgettable story. In a shitty, generic, forgettable game.

Verdict: Avoid.

How Generic? How Forgettable? THIS much.

 

Review: Dark Sector – Digital Extremes, Inc. – PS3

Dark Sector. or darkSectOr, as it wants to be called. Back when it was released there was a bit of a hulabaloo about its violence content, going to far as to being Banz0red in Australia in 2008. This naturally meant i needed to rush out and pick up a copy, a year after it’s release in late 2009 so I did. My next  move was to carefully store it in the backlog. Apparently it got a release in Australia later on, in censored form. Hopefully that’s not what the patch it just installed was about, but I guess I’ll see.

Playing through it I certainly didn’t see anything that struck me as even the slightest of ban-worthy. I’m wondering if the game update/patch I downloaded was a censorship patch. It’s also quite possible – and in fact likely that the bar has very much changed in the past 7 years as well, though.

This screenshot is Strangely Brown.

This game got some pretty reasonable reviews back in the day, with a few that were less enthusiastic. Let’s see how it holds up today. It could be argued that it’s unfair to judge these games I’ve been looking at by today’s standards. While that’s a reasonable point in some ways the fact is that these games are still available to buy and play today – especially on Steam, XBL, PSN, etc – so they’re still very much available for purchase and play. Given that, I feel it’s worthwhile enough to look at them with modern eyes and not through rose-coloured lenses to see what still holds up today and what might have been a good idea back in the day but is past it’s use-by date. I’m making a conscious effort not to be harsh when it comes to graphics, (with the exception of pointing out when a game is a brown-grey smear) but as blunt as I like when it comes to gameplay.

The first thing I noticed was that it’s 3rd person with pretty bad motion bob – not a good start, though I did get used to it after awhile. Graphics are pretty bland and muddy. It kinda-sorta depicts a westerner’s mental image of a delapidated and decaying post-Soviet, post-bio-zombi-pocalypse-infected bit of Russia/ex-Soviet states, but it’s just unrelentingly dark, dim, grainy and shitty looking. I’ve seen enough photographs of Pripyat, ghost towns and similar abandoned areas (and been to a few) to know that the sun does shine there, and the use of light as well as darkness can create an atmosphere of eerie and abandoned stillness. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out only 5 months before and managed to capture this so much more effectively, and that’s a bloody Call of Duty game. (Though to be fair, this was before CoD was the MP-focused-bro-shooter-focused thing that it’s now become).

To be fair, the game looks good in some ways, especially as an early-era PS3 title – but the unrelenting palette of dull browns and blur-greys quickly fatigued my eyes, resulting in it all having the effect of washing together as a muddy dark smear in my memory, even minutes after stepping away from the console. Story-wise. Well, I’m guilty of giving crap to people who complain about the stories of videogames. This one though stands out in it’s …bland nothingness. You play as a Sam-Fisher-wannabe CIA-Black-Ops-type. You infiltrate a Russian castle-base. There’s a virus, evil Russian scientists, you get infected – giving you super powers, a mutant metal arm and a magic glaive which you accept as just fine, and then you slaughter your way through endless zombies (infected civilians) and the Russian troops that are trying to contain the virus (which includes you).

So, yes – you’re an American rampaging your way through the Russian troops trying to maintain a quarantine zone of a mutant virus outbreak. Making them the bad guys – because they’re Russian, after all – and you the good guy – because ‘murica, Fuck Yeah!

Also very popular, you can see the exciting dark blue-grey palette in action.

Actually, I decided before too long into the game that the character I was playing was actually the bad guy for the most part. Like in those Grandoise Theft Automobile games that all the kids are playing these days. But with an even more unlikeable protagonist than Trevor. I can’t believe it… horrible sixaxis aftertouch controls again. Right after I played Heavenly Sword. Still, it’s not as overused as it was in HS, and instead the game just falls into a pattern of blandness.

I found that playing it was pretty straightforward. The ranged combat is bland, and just serviceable – but not fun or tight. The melee combat is just bad. Awful, in fact. Movement is awkward as well, due to both the off-centre 3rd person view, the mapping of run to X rather than L3 (which means if you want to run and change direction – which you need to do at various times – you need to have two thumbs. Was putting run onto R3/RS a gameplay movement that came after 2008? I honestly don’t recall. If it wasn’t, then Digital Extremes have (had?) no excuse. I remember playing MoH back on PS1, but it was so long ago now I don’t recall anything about the controls other than using the dual sticks, which were new-ish at the time.

As I played through, I’m just found it to be so very meh. It lacks both the highs and the lows of Heavenly Sword. It started out like eating a disappointingly bland but inoffensive meal that you don’t really enjoy but isn’t bad enough to not bother finishing, especially since you paid for it – but while you’re eating it you’re thinking of somewhere better you might have gone instead where you’d have really enjoyed it. Still, before I’d finished Chapter 4 (of 10) I was wishing the game would just finish already and by the time I’d started Chapter 5 I was really starting to question myself on whether I was making good use of my holidays by playing tedious games “just to finish them” or if I am just wasting my time. While I’m leaning towards the latter, I do wonder where I should draw the line, as I know some games take a little while to “get going”. I think Dark Sector is pretty well beyond that point, though. Boss fights are a pain in the arse, since they change the mechanic of what you’re supposed to do several times (sometimes mid-fight) with no feedback to the player, and short of checking GameFAQs to figure out WTF you’re supposed to be doing, I can’t see how the designers got a pass on this.

Seriously. The whole fucking game looks like this.

At one point the game mixes things up with a … yes! A vehicle level. You pilot a crab-walker robot with guns that the game manages to make feel not like vicious auto-cannon that will tear things apart, but glorified pop-guns. Seriously, if you’ve played many shooters on any platform, you’ll know the feeling of a game that manages to make the guns “feel” right. Weighty and powerful. These are best described as piddly. Another disappointment to notch up.

Multiplayer looks good on paper. I do like asymmetrical “infection mode” type gameplay. Unfortunately I doubt anyone is still playing MP on this thing 6 and a half years later, and it would be using these gameplay controls that I find so very trying. So I didn’t even bother to look or check it out.

I managed to just finish Chapter 5, which is apparently halfway through the game …aaaand you know what? I’m done with it. This game, taken as a whole – is shit. Every aspect of it, from the graphics to the controls to the shooting mechanics to the aftertouch controls range from awful to subpar to average at the very best. The game isn’t “sticky” in any way, the characters and story are wooden, bland and actively unlikeble. The “endless waves of zombies” that the game throws at you every so often aren’t fun to cut down because the controls are so awful, and the too-common visual noise that the game throws at you (water, fire, vibration, etc) just makes the game even more off-putting.

The game does have a few good concepts – the glaive and various abilities attached to it are nice ideas – unfortunately they’re just ineptly executed, and buried under way too many poor game mechanics. I’ve seen reviews listing this thing as 5-6 hours long, but it seemed quite a lot longer than that to me. I didn’t even die a lot, I just found it long, boring, tedious and frankly un-fun experience – and not one I was willing to waste more time on. I’d rather be doing almost anything else, and so my run through this game is finished, if incomplete.

Verdict: There’s nothing at all to redeem this game in 2015. There are far better ways to spend your time. Avoid.

Review: Resistance: Fall of Man – Insomniac – PS3

Resistance, for those who aren’t familiar with the franchise, is a First Person Shooter set in an alternative post-WW2 1951. I’m not sure if WW2 was supposed to have actually happened. I think it did, since the Aliens of the day, called “Chimera” landed on Earth from behind the Iron Curtain. And of course, you don’t get one of those without Stalin and the Western Allies’ little post-Berlin tiff. You play Nathan Hale, an unsmiling, all-business US soldier (naturally) who gets infected but not turned into a monster by the Chimera virus (aka macguffin so you can regenerate health). As a US soldier (fuck yeah!), you naturally will be single-handedly be liberating occupied Britain, with occasional help from Cannon Fodder, and a couple of Brit minor characters who turn up now and then. But you know, it’s a FPS. So for one of these, the plot is actually okay.

I played on Easy, since it’s a FPS on console and I usually only play these on PC, where KB+M gives you actual accuracy and dexterity without the need for aim assist and so forth. You can reconfigure most of the buttons, which is very much appreciated, compared to many console FPS that only let you choose from a few predetermined control sets. Particularly since the PS3 seems to have it’s own default set of controls while the 360 has a very different one. I also made it through without any trouble – I actually found it pretty easy. Having said this, I wouldn’t play it on anything harder, since I’m a spaz when it comes to console FPS controls. Didn’t play any Multiplayer, though there are some free MP maps available from the PS Store, which is nice at least.

The Charismatic Nathan Hale

Visually, the game is decent. It’s first-gen PS3 so if you take that into consideration there are no issues. There’s a decent amount of detail, though it doesn’t obviously compare well to your modern PC shooters there. Pretty much the entire game though is based on a brownish shade of grey. I guess it’s to give the game a sense of the 1940’s-50’s to our modern eyes, since most of us only ever see those years in B&W documentaries on the Hitler History Channel.

The weapons are all either sci-fi or far closer to modern weapons than their WW2 counterparts, and you can carry all of them at once. I think the sequel goes for more of a CoD-style “carry 2 guns” but this one is older-school “have all the weapons”. There’s shit-tons of spare ammo laying around as well as health top-ups – again, probably because I was playing on Easy.

The gameplay… well, it’s very samey. All the way through. It’s a shooter but it feels very samey rather than like there’s a lot of variety. I say this even considering the tank levels, (where you drive something like a Games Workshop Baneblade), and the spider-walker levels, and the levels where you drive the British Commando around in a jeep. It lacks the cinematics and WOW factor of something like the recent CoD games, and also the sheer fun of something like Bad Company 1 or 2’s SP campaigns. It is pretty long, though. With 30 levels that aren’t individually too long, it’s easy enough to play through 2-4 of them in a sitting, or you can marathon through 10 at once, though it really wears on you to play that many at once. I’d call it “workmanlike”. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, it’s just not that special.

It’s a Brown FPS. Unique, eh?

Lots of crap (intel) to collect, and the game encourages you to play it through multiple times by giving you a shitoad more guns after you’ve played through, as well as the ability to replay any level (to collect the intel) and unlockables – which you unlock by achieving achievements and getting more intel. Since this game predates Trophies, the achievements just unlock concept art and so forth, but since Trophies are even more pointless than Achievements and Gamerscore, YMMV on whether this is any value to you.

I can’t say I enjoyed the entire game, and the last 5 levels felt like they were *cough* heavily inspired *cough* by Half Life 2 and bits of it’s episodes, but it’s a decent game. I reckon it’d be a good game for younger teenagers who don’t have all that much money, since it’s quite cheap to pick up, and is long and has solid replayability and a fair bit of online stuff.

Really though, I bought it because I picked up Resistance 2 cheap, gave it the 5-minute impression test and was impressed enough to go back and pick this up on the supercheap since it got really high reviews. I guess those were from when it first came out, but I still expected a little more from the game, but it’s still solidly decent. I reckon I’d actually have liked it more if it had fewer levels to slog through.

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Rent it, 
Or consider a purchase if you feel like a cheap shooter with a lot of levels and content.

Review: Mafia II – 2K Czech – PC (Steam)

I’d heard good things about Mafia II, especially in terms of story, but I’d also heard that it severely lacked replayability – unlike most open world sandboxes – your Grand Theft Autos, Saints Rows, Red Dead Redemptions, Just Causes and even your Saboteurs and Red Factions that feature lots of side missions and random shit to do while entertaining yourself – Mafia II basically has none. Sure, you can crush cars to make a few bucks, but your purchasing power seems to be limited to buying more guns from a limited range (pointless as all the guns you’ll need are pretty much mostly supplied for free from fallen opponents or given on a mission), upgrading cars (again, pointless since they handle like junk, and again, you’re given what you need as you go for the most part) and clothes (purely cosmetic).

But back to the game itself. Well, it’s well done for a game story. One of the strongest that I’ve played through, in fact. However, despite the game press raving about it, it’s still no Goodfellas or even Casino, but for a game, it’s quite good. On the other hand, there’s the gameplay. And despite enjoying the game, or the experience – to perhaps put it a little better, (as I found the gameplay to be pretty average at best). It’s not exceptionally bad, but it’s not what I’d call good either. There’s some brawl mechanics that are seriously sub-par, not too far off what you’d find taped onto an Ice Hockey game from 10 years ago. (There are also no baseball bats if you enjoyed them from the first game.) Some cover shooting mechanics which are just standard “meh” quality. Not bad, but not exciting. (and the cover button is awkwardly mapped to L-Ctrl for PC). And then there’s bog-standard GTA-alike driving in a series of cars that mostly handle badly.

Drive carefully, or the police will come after you!

Throw in the other annoying GTA-alike trope where every 10th vehicle is a cop car for some reason – and in this game they will chase you down for speeding. After a few high-speed chases, I actually found myself driving like a semi-sensible citizen because these car chases are just annoying timesinks. Though again, like other games in related genres, if you get to a mission checkpoint it doesn’t matter what your wanted level is (was) or how many cops are after your arse, as it’s all instantly wiped. Regardless, Cop cars being seen every 100m or 1/10 of other cars is still fucking annoying and actually immersion breaking, since it constantly reminds you that you’re playing a game. I mean, how often do you see a cop car when you go driving? If you saw one every 40 seconds in real life, you’d think that some serious shit was about to go down, and you’d probably be right as well.  The game also features such wonderful innovations as needing to drive home and manually walk to your bed after completing a mission, I’m surprised that you don’t also have to manually take a shit, too.

So anyway, while the gameplay is honestly not much to get excited about, the game’s story is it’s strong point. I’ve always hated games that rely too much on long cutscenes between the actual gameplay, and Mafia II is a bit like that, but with the interesting twist that I found myself instead wanting to get through the next mostly-tedious patch of exciting “narrative gameplay” (press “E” to clean the floor/Press “E” to wash the window/Press “E” to call Fat Tony/etc) to get to the next bit of pre-rendered CGI story. I played on Medium, since as I mentioned, I find the gameplay to be workmanlike “good enough” but not especially good or fun. So I felt no need to “challenge” myself by making the gameplay more annoying/tedious/difficult/frustrating. I also found that there are quite a few missions where it’s simply down to chance as to whether you survive or not, particularly the car escape with your crew that has the cutscene with “more of them” as you drive past 2 more cars or the pub where you needlessly yack at the Irish before getting down to business. You can get shot and killed purely by chance by the AI with no chance of getting through, then eventually get a lucky run and go through unscathed, despite doing the exact same thing.

Fisticuffs. Less exciting then they look!

I had read about how linear the game is and how there pretty much are no side missions, but just how linear the game is wasn’t apparent until I played it, and I was also disappointed when I realised that I needed to divert from a mission (either before or afterwards) to collect more cars or tune them so they would get saved with the normal “end of day” gameplay.

Visually the game is nice. Really quite nice. Aurally, the it features changing-period music in what feels like a bit of a nod to Scorsese, and the game can be nice just driving along under the speed limit listening to the radio on a rainy night. Atmosphere is something this game does well.

I was waiting for this to drop to AU$30 or less on the 360, since I’d heard good things about the story but that it lacked anything else to do, but with the recent Steam sale, even the US$20 price thet Aussies were expected to pay over the US$12 that the Americans got was enough to swing it in the end, with a bunch of US.99 DLC added which swung it. Apparently the PS3 got the first bit of DLC, as an exclusive freebie, while the other two, apparently more arcade-oriented DLC packs are available on PC and 360. But this isn’t a DLC review, it’s for the core game.

There’s no multiplayer, but there are collectables – Some incredibly-(un)exciting Playboy Magazines that give you a cheesecake pic of a period-approriate centrefold – which feel completely tacked-on, since many of them appear to be hidden in locations within missions that you only get one chance to do or go to per playthrough – and in a game with no reason to play through the game multiple times, since the story is the hook and the gameplay is average at best. It was shortly after I found the Playboy in Derek’s office when I started to think that maybe you had to effectively know where they are in the missions in order to collect them all, and this was confirmed when I found the next one inside the sewers. Methinks that perhaps they were just added as a cross-promotion thing. Mafia gets some press coverage, and some teenagers buy their first Playboy magazines out of curiosity instead of just downloading internet porn.

Character design is quite good, though.

I realise that I may sound overwhelmingly negative about this game, but the fact is that while the story isn’t great when compared to a good Cinema Gangster tale, it is a good story for a game, and the story is good enough to keep me interested enough to play through a couple of a few chapters every day since I picked it up.

If you approach it with low expectations as far as the gameplay goes, but are happy to play for the story – and you can pick it up cheap – the Steam sale price would seem perfect, then I say go for it. If you can rent it, you can probably finish it in a weekend without too much trouble. If you do so, you’ll enjoy it and since there’s no real reason to replay it aside from collecting Playboy pics (you have the internet for that!), you’ll have gotten your money’s worth.

Wasn’t using a gamepad because I prefer PC-aiming controls. KB+M. The lack of save points is annoying, and the game truly does feel as linear as any FPS. The story is better than most games and is in fact the best thing about Mafia, but it’s still pretty predictable, and nothing special compared to a halfway decent gangster film. The missions are quite repetitive, particularly their introductions, which the game itself parodies/acknowledges in one of the last few mission introductions of you getting woken up by the telephone I’d recommend that anyone playing who also owns DLC pimp the shit out of their cars as soon as they can afford to, since they stay with you through the inevitable “reset” the game throws at you, unlike your cash. And there’s nothing else to do with your cash anyway, since you’ll always get enough weapons, and clothing is next to pointless.

My Ride, I am Pimping her.

Definately a Steam Sale game, a mid-price or bargain bin console game, or a rental. it’s a it of fun, but not an especially good game.

I picked up all the DLC with the steam sale. I’ll play through them at some stage and either review them as well or append them to this one. The DLC packs with cars and outfits were somewhat pointless, I only used a few outfits or cars, most never even came out in the course of my playthrough. For 99c each via the Steam Sale I’m not too broken up, though.

Jimmy’s Vendetta and Joe’s Story are the more involved ones. I played a bit of Joe’s story right after finishing the main game but it starts with one of those multi-part missions where you do the first thing then they send you to do “anudder ting” right afterwards, so I quit to take a break. No idea if it saved any of my progress. I’ll get back to it.

Right after playing it, I re-watched Goodfellas. Haven’t seen it for a few years now, so always a good watch. I was wanting to watch it when I was playing through Mafia, but as it happens, my wife picked it out to watch. It really brings home the “good story, for a game” thing and even makes you think about the “games as Art” arguments again. Comparing any game to Goodfellas isn’t exactly fair, but then again they share a genre, and so the “one of the very best in genre” thing can be valid to an extent, and clearly Mafia 2 draws some inspiration from Goodfellas.

Dunno, I’m not here to piss on Mafia. And it certainly does atmosphere reasonably well, though that’s also in large part due to the audio and period music. Story though.. it’s a whole other ballgame.

The PC version is pretty much the same as the 360 or PS3 versions.

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Verdict: Rent it.

Review: 007: Quantum of Solace – Treyarch Invention, LLC – Xbox 360

My wife picked this up for me out of the bargain bin at an opening of a new branch of a well-known Australian Hi-Fi, music, games, computers, etc chain. What I knew about it was that it was built on the COD4 engine, but wasn’t nearly as good.

But hey, it was cheap.

Awhile back, someone asked me why I play trashy games instead of the good stuff, and while what I said then was valid, he did have a valid point. After all, I’ve got a pile of games I know are better than QoS sitting unplayed. I guess it’s in part because I’m “saving” the good/best ones, while the less good ones can be played and disposed of without caring if I really savour them properly. So anyway, I threw this on today since I’ve been in a bit of a Bond mood recently, and, yeah, a short, disposable game was what I felt like playing, since I can probably/hopefully finish it over the weekend, inbetween a couple of DVDs and WoW-dailies.

So anyway. Based on the plots of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. CoD4 engine. Treyarch – before they got good with Black Ops. Slightly-crappy Gears-wannabe cover-shooter mechanic bolted on. Bond plays through a series of vaguely-based on the films scenarios, mostly using a series of various high-powered weapons just like he didn’t use in the films in an odd sequence vaguely related or not to the actual plots of the two films. I guess many of the weapons did cameo in the films while other people were using them. And James has the famous cover shot with the HK UMP-9.

This is what Parkour looks like. Apparently.

I’ve in fact just paused the game after having acquired an M60, and shot up a building with it, while slowly fighting forward while taking cover against waves of heavily-armed goons armed with AKs. You might remember this scene from Casino Royale as the parkour chase from the beginning of the film. Which puts me at the 1/3 of the way through point according to GameFaqs.

There are cell phones scattered about, which fill in little bits of intel. They’re vaguely interesting, but nothing to worry about if you miss any.

Anyway. Is it fun? It’s alright, actually. It’s nothing like the films, of course. But it’s an alright shooter. I’m not even going to bother checking out the multiplayer, since it’s an older game at this point, and let’s face it, every FPS/3PS of the last decade has a half-assed MP shooter aspect tacked onto it, but most people just play one of the better/more popular ones, and anything shy of that tend to be a ghost town.

So, yeah. As I said, CoD4 engine. Treyarch. Slightly-crappy cover system. Still a decent enough game. Not an awesome one to pick up at full price, but perfectly okay as a weekend rental, or something to fish out of the bargain bin and then either inflate your games collection or pass onto a friend.

Gears of Bond.

After another hour of play, including the exciting rooftop helicopter battle and exploding elevator shaft sequence that you may not recall from Casino Royale since they never happened in the film, I do have to reiterate it’s definitely not a bad game. I’m enjoying myself well enough, with of course the bargain-bin price caveat. The cover mechanics aren’t bad either, they just don’t really add anything to the FPS formula or this FPS title. At least they did make an effort to replicate the final section of the parkour chase, and while it wasn’t awesome, it was playable.

Final remarks – finished it. Had fun enough, though the I found the wild deviations from the film(s) to be annoying. It also features one stage where you get to play as drugged-cardiac-arrest-Bond from CR, which is almost as little fun as the Nightmare stages in Max Payne. At least it’s faster and you can see. Overall though, it’s still an ok game. Better as a rental rather than a bargain bin buy, since there’s not much to do with it once you finish it in 10 or so hours, unless you want to play through all the difficulty levels or achievement whore, since the MP is a ghost town.

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Verdict: Rent it. Or buy it cheap. Or don’t – It’s all good.

Review: Wanted: Weapons of Fate – GRIN AB – 360

Another mini-review today. A Micro-review, perhaps. Or even, just a simple warning…?

Watched the movie the other weekend. Played the game tonight (got them in a cheapish bundle months ago after reading reviews of the game).  A bad game of a below-average action film of a ?? comic.

Played it for half an hour? Maybe an hour?

  • Muddy green and brown-tinged graphics with high-contrast thrown over the top of it.
  • Shitty cover-shooter mechanics. As in, not “oh those shitty cover-shooters” but a truly shitty shit shit implementation of cover-shooter mechanics.
  • A muddled jumple of a story that’s even worse than the film’s story. Terrible/laughable attempts at creating dramatic tension. Even for a game.
  • Poor gunplay.
  • Too much pointless juvenile swearing for me to give it away as a gift to one of my students.
  • Looks like an XBox 1 title.
  • Reviews called it “competent” “decent” “7.3/10” “3.5/5”, etc.
  • They lied.

Shitty game tries to use style to hide it’s lack of substance. Fails at both.

I’ll give it another half an hour, or hour in case it magically becomes kind of alright. It won’t of course. Then it’s frisbee time for this piece of trash.

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Verdict: Avoid.

Update:

Had another quick play with it. Awful, awful game. By comparison it makes the movie look like Citizen Kane.

The movie was below average, but somewhat alright in a trashy, watch-once-and-forget action movie kind of way. This is just dire.