Tag Archives: PS2

Play Manchester 2016

The beginning of October marked the fifth year of the Play Manchester gaming expo held at Event City venue. With it’s usual and varied blend of retro gaming cabinets, upcoming indie titles on display, and a wider array of new upcoming mainstream releases than last year’s proceedings, Play Manchester 2016 was even more exciting and diverse than in 2015, and just are star-studded in addition with a special panel present that I shall be covering further in the article. First, I perused the various indie games that were on show at the event, and I was impressed with the amount of range of different gameplay ideas and conceptual designs that the new up and coming developers had to showcase.

Snake Pass

snake-pass

The first indie game I came across was a 3D platformer unlike any other. Developed by Sumo Digital, Snake Pass is a game in which the player controls a snake in order to slither around a series of levels and hunting collectible items throughout. Players must learn to take full advantage of the game’s insanely unique control mechanics to reach high places, overcome imposing obstacles and puzzles, and leave no stone unturned, as there are plenty of items to collect through each level, it seemed. What impressed me most about this game, in addition to it’s impressive-looking visuals, was the game’s style of play. With a completely different take on getting around levels and uncovering secrets, it plays out like no other 3D platformer I’ve ever come across. The developer also explained to me various ways that players could choose to play the game, ranging from emphasis on speed, elegance or thoroughness. I personally believe if the developers plan to integrate this idea into the game further, it would most probably add even more replayability to it, but in the state that it was in at the time, it still impressed me very much.

http://www.sumo-digital.com/snakepass/#

@SumoDigitalLtd

Dragon Bros

dragon-bros

Having discovered a greater fondness for side scrolling shooters since I first started blogging, having played more games like Contra and Metal Slug, I was also particularly amazed by another indie game made largely in the same vein, but with a very interesting twist on conceptual design. Dragon Bros, developed by the aptly named Space Lizard Studios, the game is insanely action-packed, filled with breathtaking pixel art and seemed a lot more accessible than the like of Contra; especially the first three games in the series. For me, Dragon Bros was my pick for the best indie title on display at this year’s proceedings; it was the most fun and addictive game, as well as the most interesting in terms of conceptual design. Though comparisons can be drawn between it and Bubble Bobble, since the main characters are two dragons coloured both green and blue, it takes place in a much different kind of world reminiscent of science fiction rather than the cutesy fantasy settings of the former.

http://spacelizardstudio.com/work/dragon-bros/

@SpaceLizardSt

Mao Mao Castle

img_0475

Another game on display I become insanely addicted to, and have been playing frequently ever since the show, is Mao Mao Castle. Created by Asobi Tech, the game is an on-rail free-to-play browser game requiring the player to take advantage of various different mechanics to rack up as many points as possible to attain the highest score possible. The story centres around a cat with supernatural abilities trying to find a way home to a levitating castle in the skies. Reminiscent of the 8-BIT era, it takes influence in terms of conceptual design largely from the varied works of Studio Ghibli; made even more obvious by the fact that the developers had a plushy of the Cat Bus from My Neighbour Totoro perched on top of the projector used to display the game. Usually the game is controlled using a PC mouse, but the version on display at the show used motion controls, and plushies were up for grabs for anyone who could rack up exceptionally high scores. I managed to win one of the three available plushies, and have been racking up higher scores ever since. I highly recommend this game, as it excels in gameplay above even many mainstream releases, as well as it stands out amongst indie games. The link to play is below:

http://aso.bi/maomao/

Unbox

unbox

Another 3D platformer with a difference came in form of Unbox developed by Prospect Games. The player must customize and control their own box-shaped character, and have a wide range of different gameplay modes to choose from, include four-way multiplayer competitive modes, challenge modes, an adventure mode, and even a kart-racing mode; all of which can played to unlock new outfits for their box character, and to attain a wide range of collectibles like in Snake Pass, or most 3D platformers meeting industry standards. Just as unique as the former, it provides an extremely different take on the genre compared to games such as Super Mario 64, Jak & Daxter and Banjo-Kazooie, but also coming with possibly an even greater amount of variety in gameplay and potentially more replayability. Though it may not be as revolutionary as any of the aforementioned titles were at the time of their respective releases, it’s certainly an evolutionary title, and did stand out os one of the better games on display at the event.

http://www.unboxgame.com/

@ProspectGames

Sub Level Zero

sub-level-zero

Another one of my favourite games on display at this year’s Play Manchester was Sub Level Zero; a lovingly crafted Roguelike shooter reminiscent of the classic game Descent developed some of it’s devout fans at Sigtrap Games. Procedurally generated, and with a map system heavily influenced by the Metroid Prime series, which I found to be particularly impressive, as well as surprisingly easy to interface with, Sub Level Zero also has a heavy influence on player character development, with upgrades for grabs, as well as a wide variety of different weapons to use during combat. In lieu of Roguelike tradition, it also offers a fair bit of legitimate challenge, like the likes of Rogue Legacy and Ziggurat. One of many games in display taking advantage of Virtual Reality Headset technology, this game also did extremely well to further alleviate what scepticisms I previously had with the idea back when I first tried the Oculus Rift last year at Play Blackpool. I found that it was a great deal of fun with the addition of VR technology, and made me believe to a greater extent that the concept will be able take off in time.

http://www.sigtrapgames.com/sublevelzero/

@SIGTRAPgames

Hyper Sentinel

hyper-sentinel

The last indie title I tried out was another space-based shooter reminiscent of the arcade classic Defender. Hyper Sentinel, developed by Ian Hewson, son of industry legend Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants who appeared on a panel at last year’s Play Blackpool show, it centres on not only shooting down various enemies that appear on-screen, but also collecting power-ups and defeating a boss at each level; normally in the form of a giant spaceship, somewhat reminiscent of Bosconian. Though it may not have been the most unique title on display at the event, with it’s influences blatantly obvious, it does o well to stand out from the game of it’s inspiration in terms of conceptual design, and was also quite fun to play too. It certainly presents as much of a challenge as the arcade classic, and is a must-try for any fan of the arcade era.

http://www.hypersentinel.com/

@HewsonJoystick

Tekken 7: First Impressions

tekken-7

One of many different upcoming AAA titles that were available to try out at Play Manchester this year was Tekken 7. After being sorely disappointed by the previous game, with it’s less than impressive conceptual design, many characters coming across as far too generic, and it’s almost impossible difficulty level at times, I was quite relieved to see how much the seventh game improved on the sixth in every aspect. I was also impressed to see how fluently it plays out in comparison to even the original trilogy of Tekken games, with moves being much easier and less frustrating to pull off. Also, like what Capcom have done with the advent of Street Fighter V, and what NetherRealm studios did with Mortal Kombat X, the developers have seemed to branch out conceptually in terms of character design, but in a way that still makes the game feel like it belongs to the series without them being too generic in design. Akuma from Street Fighter is also a welcome addition following relatively recent crossovers between the two series’. It also makes me excited for what additional characters Capcom may decide to add for when they will inevitably update Street Fighter V.

WWE 2K17: First Impressions

wwe-2k17

The main attraction on show in terms of AAA releases however, as officially announced by Paul Heyman of the WWE, was WWE 2K17. Boasting new wrestlers, a new submission system and the inclusion of Goldberg on pre-order, it marks the fourth WWE released since the publishing rights were acquired by 2K Games, and features all the usual gameplay modes synonymous with WWE games, such as the Triple Threat match, Fatal 4 Way, Royal Rumble and of course, the career mode; as well as the facility to create wrestlers. It is without a doubt the best looking WWE game ever developed, but in terms of gameplay, it did take me a little bit of getting used to; especially since I haven’t played a WWE game since the sixth generation, about the time when I grew out of it as a kid. Regardless, especially after getting used to the submission system, and being able to thoroughly enjoy the game for what it is, I was pretty satisfied with how the newer developers have managed gameplay in comparison to classic WWE games like War Zone, Attitude and Wrestlemania 2000. Though the Attitude era remains my favourite time of the company’s history, it was good to see how the WWE video game formula has been worked upon and handled in a way that works extremely well after so long.

The Tomb Raider Panel

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In terms of guest speakers, however, the main attraction was the assembly of and talk with many of the developers of the original Tomb Raider from Core Design to commemorate the franchise’s 20-year anniversary; many of the panel not having seen each other in as many years. The panel consisted of Jeremy Heath-Smith, the game’s executive producer and co-founder of Core Design, Natalie Cook, who was the original character model for Lara Croft, Richard Morton, who was the lead game, level and environment designer for every game up to Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, Gavin Rummery, who was the lead programmer for Angel of Darkness, Heather Gibson, another level designer for the first two games, Andy Sandham, who designed levels and wrote the scripts for the third game, as well as The Last Revelation and Tomb Raider: Chronicles, Murti Schofield, who wrote the story of Angel of Darkness, Nathan McCree, who composed the original soundtrack for the first two games, and finally Stuart Atkinson, who worked as an artist on the second game. The panel were also to be joined by former Eidos Interactive CEO and industry legend Ian Livingstone, but he unfortunately had to pull out due to ill health. Regardless, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr. Livingstone a full recovery.

The panel proceeded to provide an in-depth analysis of how and why Lara Croft was designed the way she was, and how the games themselves were designed the way they were and in what manner, and how both Lara Croft and Tomb Raider gradually went from a unique video gaming idea into a cultural phenomenon, and how it has managed to have such a profound effect on the industry as it has. Questioned were also raised by the audience concerning the reboot of the Tomb Raider series from Crystal Dynamics, and also about the degree of influence Naughty Dog took from Tomb Raider to develop their own Uncharted series. The team responded quite sternly in their answer to the Uncharted question in particular, commenting how many of the various gameplay features were heavily inspired by Tomb Raider, and the long-time Tomb Raider fans in the audience responded fittingly with an astonishing round of applause. Though I may personally prefer Uncharted to Tomb Raider, mostly due to the better start that Uncharted had in terms of controls, credit is due where it is due, and the team deserve props for helping to pioneer one of the most memorable video game series of all time, and so there response was justified in my opinion. Uncharted may have homed the great gameplay concept, but Tomb Raider established it, and has contributed a great deal to the popularity that gaming garnishes today. Especially with the recent release of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PlayStation 4, the talk with the panel was an appropriate reflection on where Tomb Raider has gone, where it is going now, and where it could go in the future. It was extremely exciting to sit in on an extremely insightful presentation, and the made 2016’s Play Expo proceedings all the better for it.

Overall, Play Manchester 2016 was a thrilling experience, and would like to take the opportunity to thank the organisers at Replay Events for the making it the best event it could possibly be, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing them next year.

 

Pierhead Arcade: First Impressions

pierhead-arcade

As a bonus, before I headed out to Manchester, Mechabit Games, a Liverpool-based developer, also invited me to try out the latest game they have been working on. Mechabit, who developed the RTS game Kaiju Panic, which was on display at Play Manchester 2015, and won my personal choice for best indie game of that year (shameless plug is shameless), have been working on a virtual reality game called Pierhead Arcade; a collection of interactive fairground games based in a virtual reality amusement arcade. After only having limited experience with VR gaming beforehand, I saw as an excellent opportunity to finally get hands on with the technology involved, so to speak. I wasn’t disappointed.

As I outlined in my Play Blackpool 2015 article, ever since I first heard about plans from of the industry incorporating virtual reality into gaming, I had a great deal of scepticism following the ill-fated release of such platforms as the Nintendo Virtual Boy, and early examples of motion controls before the Wii, such as the Nintendo Power Glove. Since first trying it, and going on to briefly trying it again at different expos, my scepticisms were gradually becoming all the lesser, as I slowly learned to understand how it could work if problems I would encounter would be fixed, such as blurry screens etc, and if there was adequate developer support for these platforms. But now after having seen games such as Battle Zone, and then having seen how much indie developers are beginning to support the platform along with mainstream developers, I now believe this may very well could be a future of gaming that could establish itself as here to stay; provided that developer support will continue, as what is looking increasingly likely, since the technology was on display at other major gaming expos this year, such as E3, Gamescom and EGX.

Pierhead Arcade itself not only takes advantage of this potentially successful technology, but presents players with an astonishing amount of variety, with games like Whack-A-Mole, Shuffleboard, Binary Dash and Skeeball to name but a few. The objective is to earn as many tickets as possible that can be cashed in for prizes, much like in most amusement arcades. There are also a couple of extras in the game, such as a claw machine, and a reception desk with various toys that can be played with, such as building blocks. Overall, the variety is staggering, and the game will make for hours of fun. I may do a full review of this game in the future, I would recommend that VR gamers try it out. Following up Kaiju Panic was always going to be a challenge for Mechabit in my opinion, but with this title, I’d say they’ve done a particularly good job of doing so.

In summation, I would like to again thank the organisers at Replay Events for providing me, as well as countless gamers across the country, with truly memorable experiences at the various Play Expo events this year, and I hope that you guys enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Game on,

Scouse Gamer 88

XIII (PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Mac & PC)

Developer(s) – Ubisoft Paris, Southend Interactive (Xbox) & Feral Interactive (Mac)

Publisher(s) – Ubisoft, Marvelous Entertainment & Feral Interactive

Director – Elisabeth Pellen

Producer – Julien Barés

XIII was a game based on the comic book of the same name written by Belgian novelist Jean Van Hamme. According to then Ubisoft president Laurent Detoc, the game would create “a world so unique and enthralling that gamers will become instantly engaged”. Even with a very new form of visual presentation in video games, I wouldn’t entirely agree with this.

Graphics – 7/10

The graphics were fairly well done for the time. This was, after all, the first ever comic book style first-person shooter. Its visual style is indeed the best thing about the game not only that, but it is also very well polished. I couldn’t see any glitches or anything like that whilst I was playing through it. I think the weak point about the game’s style is that the settings are extremely similar to that of games like Perfect Dark and Goldeneye 007, which would suggest that influences were somewhat too obvious. For example, the level whereby rooftops have to be traversed in order to elude police recapture was very similar to the opening level of Perfect Dark in conceptual design.

Gameplay – 5/10

Although this game was revolutionary for its time in terms of visuals, it wasn’t in terms of gameplay. Even for the time, this is a first-person shooter, which plays out pretty typically for most games in the genre. Any element of challenge in the game is presented through the stealth mechanics, which again, are not as elaborated on as those found in games like Metal Gear Solid, or the first Sly Cooper. The game also has a small amount of incentive and variety, as the more the player progresses, the more the main character’s memory is regained, thus yielding more skills as the game progresses. But even so, this game can become very boring very quickly, in my opinion.

Controls – 7/10

The movement in this game is also particularly stiff. It can become an unnecessary chore to aim at times, and the auto-aim system can be particularly confusing, as the crosshair doesn’t fix itself onto targets properly. Also, the grapple hook used to traverse buildings or mountains can be difficult to get to grips with at first. But other than that, the game plays out fine in terms of controls.

Lifespan – 5.5/10

Typical of any standard first-person shooter, XIII can be finished within 6 hours. Visuals alone are never enough to keep people playing a video game. At the end of the day, it’s all about the gameplay, and there wasn’t enough of it in XIII to make it last as long as it may have been able to. The problem with developing linear first-person shooters, or even linear games in general, is that very few of them have side quests and therefore contain next to no replay value apart from playing through it on a harder difficulty.

Storyline – 7/10

The game’s story is about a man named XIII, who wakes up on a beach with amnesia to find out he is the prime suspect of the president’s recent assassination, and he must fight his way through the FBI, the CIA and the criminal underworld in order to uncover his identity and clear his name in the process. The game’s story is actually not bad, to be fair. There are a few decent twists and turns to it but the voice acting is a bit off. The standout performances in my opinion are that of both David Duchovny and Adam West, who play XIII and General Carrington respectively. This was based on a fairly popular comic book series, so it was always bound to have some depth in story, at least. But overall, I think the developers chose to concentrate more on that and visual style than on gameplay.

Originality – 7/10

Obviously, the most significant features of this game are the stylised visuals, which would become a stable part of game franchises in the future, and the pretty compelling story. But as I keep pointing out, it’s all about gameplay ultimately, and there wasn’t enough innovation in that department to keep it enthralling in my opinion.

Niiutral

Niiutral

Overall, I think first-person shooting fans should play through this game at least once, but I think it should probably be left at that. It’s terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but I think the novelty wares off after a while, as there doesn’t seem to be enough substance in gameplay to keep it entertaining throughout.

Score

38.5/60

6/10 (Average)

Warriors Orochi (PlayStation 2, Xbox 360, PC & PlayStation Portable)

Developer(s) – Koei & Omega Force

Publisher(s) – Koei

Designer – Atsushi Ichiynangi

An early seventh generation title, as well as an extremely late sixth generation title released on PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360, Warriors Orochi was yet another hack and slash tactical action game released by Koei Tecmo following their success with both the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series. It introduced a level of variety that I’ve personally rarely seen in a video game of it’s kind and whilst I did find a handful of issues, I ended up having a lot of fun with it at the same time.

Graphics – 6/10

Conceptually, I found the visuals to be quite impressive. Unlike many other games of its kind, enemies seem to have a fair bit of uniqueness about them, as opposed to simply being recycled throughout the course of the game. The variety in main character design is also unprecedented, with each one flawlessly standing out from the other. A lot of what I found wrong with the graphics, however, is in the fact that some enemies can actually glitch out from time to time; especially in the first level. Whenever they flee in terror, some actually end up disappearing into thin air, which I found to be quite a big design flaw.

Gameplay – 7/10

Although at its core, it’s easy to look upon this game as simply being a button masher, the amount of characters and mission also afford players a massive amount of variety, since each character also has their own style of combat and range of weapons, with many more to unlock as the game progresses. On top of that, there are also learnable abilities to unlock, giving the game an almost RPG feel to it, which I was even further pleasantly surprised to find. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between this game and Hyrule Warriors, and whilst I find Hyrule Warriors to be the better game, largely by default since I am a huge fan of the Legend of Zelda series, and that it contained about as much variety, but in a much more creative way, Warriors Orochi still turned out to be a much more entertaining game than I initially anticipated.

Controls – 8/10

The worst thing I found with the controls was that they could be a little bit unresponsive at times; especially when playing with characters that use heavier weapons. It can sometimes be quite easy to come across some awkward camera angles when playing through levels that are set in buildings, such as the first level. But otherwise, I found no other issues with the controls. Apart from these few issues, it plays out as fluently as any other game that Koei Tecmo have developed employing the same style of play.

Lifespan – 8/10

As well as there being great abundance in gameplay variety, there is also great abundance in lifespan, with the game being able to last at least 30 hours. Replay value can be had in levelling up each individual character to the max, as well as playing through it with several different factions, in turn offering different perspectives on the plot of the game; similar to Sonic Adventures, but on an even bigger scale. It’s impressive to me how Koei Tecmo have been able to attach such longevity to a type of game that can be largely seen as repetitive. I’ve seen it in Hyrule Warriors, and I saw it again in Warriors Orochi.

Storyline – 6/10

The story of the game follows several different warring states of both China and Japan as the serpent king Orochi creates a rift in time and space, which brings warriors from both sides together. Orochi wishes to simply test their might, as characters from each faction eventually band together to finally confront the serpent king. The concept of the story is very exciting, as well as different to that of many other game like it that Koei Tecmo have released, but a big problem, at least to me, was how terrible the voice acting is. Some would argue that this adds to the game’s charm, but I’ve always found bad voice acting in video games in general does nothing more than mar down the entire experience. Given the choice, I would much prefer to read dialogue, similar to classic Final Fantasy games, than to have to listen to sup-bar voiceover work.

Originality – 6/10

This type of game had been replicated many times beforehand by Koei Tecmo, and has been replicated many times again ever since, with Warriors Orochi alone spawning two sequels, but the increased variety in gameplay, as well as the story concept, served to at least keep it fresh in comparison with every other game of it’s own kind. Although in Japan, this style of play has seemed to become as popular in the same sense that Call of Duty is popular, how the developers can simply release more of the same without much innovation, it’s easy to see how the idea has caught on, and why Nintendo would want to have implemented it for themselves with Hyrule Warriors; it’s addictive and can make for something special when put into the right hands.

Happii

Happii

In summation, Warriors Orochi, while having it’s fair share of flaws, is a particularly enjoyable game. Although the voice acting is by no means up to scratch, I need to commend Koei Tecmo for focusing on the aspect that truly matters; the gameplay.

Score

42/60

7/10 (Fair)

Vexx (GameCube, PlayStation 2 & Xbox)

Developer(s) – Acclaim Studios Austin

Publisher(s) – Acclaim Entertainment

Being the last original IP published by Acclaim Studios before filing for bankruptcy in late 2004, Vexx was a 3D platformer released to mixed critical success, and low sales figures leading to the cancellation of a planned port to the Game Boy Advance. Personally, I did find that the game had more than it’s fair of issues, but It’s certainly not the worst 3D platformer I’ve played, and not one of the worst 3D platformers released throughout the sixth generation. The game also has it’s finer points that are certainly worth highlighting.

Graphics – 6.5/10

One of these finer points is that the game’s visuals are about as wonderfully varied as many other more successful 3D platformers featuring a wide variety of different locations ranging from forests to volcanoes to dream worlds. The boss and enemy designs were also fairly well executed for the most part, suiting he tableau of each of their respective levels. My biggest concerns about the graphics were focused on the technical side of things. The game looks somewhat outdated for the time compared to a lot of games released prior, such as Luigi’s Mansion and Metroid Prime, and the lighting is also pretty inconsistent which will leave players struggling to navigate through levels when the night comes. It can be an especially annoying problem when players need to climb certain wall surfaces to reach higher ground, as the poor lighting can make it difficult for players to differentiate between walls that are traversable and walls that are not.

Gameplay – 7/10

The object of the game is largely reminiscent of that of some of the best 3D platformers ever developed, such as Super Mario 64 and the original Jak & Daxter; completing specific objectives to collect items needed to advance. In this case, it’s the hearts of dead wraiths, which gives Vexx a much darker undertone than either one of the aforementioned games. There is also an emphasis on combat and stringing combos together, which for the most part keeps things interesting. I did enjoy how tasks to complete in order to collect the hearts were surprisingly varied, and how there are a fair few hearts to collect in each level, giving players plenty to do. Interestingly, some of the hidden locations in the game that can be found relatively early on involve warping into and traversing through wall paintings, which are mechanics extremely reminiscent of the game Contrast, which involve players having to traverse shadow in order to get around. I can’t help but wonder if this game influenced Contrast.

Controls – 8/10

For the most part, the controls are fairly simple to cope with, like most other 3D platformer that require the use if an analogue stick for movement, but I did find a couple of flaws. For example, the swimming mechanics weren’t handled particularly well, handled in a manner reminiscent of the swimming mechanics in Majora’s Mask. I also wished that combat could have been handled a little bit better. I thin that having a targeting system reminiscent of Ocarina of Time or Dark Cloud would have helped to significantly improve the experience and add a lot more fluency to it.

Lifespan – 6.5/10

Vexx can be made to last around 7 to 8 hours, which whilst may be much lower than the average lifespan of a 3D platformer, is still a length of time in which gamers will be kept busy by a lack of cutscenes and a fair abundance in gameplay. There are around ten wraith hearts to collect in each level, and a lot of the objectives required to get some of them are fairly demanding in terms of both time investment and challenge, making it longer than may other games released on the system. Although Luigi’s Mansion is ultimately the superior of the two games, Vexx can be made to seem much longer in comparison.

Storyline – 7.5/10

The story of the game follows a young villager named Vexx, who after being forced into slavery along with his grandfather Vargas by the evil wraith lord Yabu, escapes captivity, and vows revenge against him and his army after Yabu kills Vargas following an attempt by the latter to save Vexx from being killed by Yabu himself. I was surprised by everything about the game’s story, from how the tone is set to how the lot unfolds, and then right up to how it ends. Compared to many of the other games that this game was undoubtedly influenced by, there is a surprisingly dark and gritty aspect to it.

Originality – 7/10

Undoubtedly, the most unique aspect of the game is how mature and sinister the story is compared to many other games in the genre, and how the supposed hero isn’t always triumphant. For how innocent the game looks on the surface, players will inevitably be very surprised when and if they come to pick it up and play it. Better and more unique gameplay mechanics were pioneered in the sixth generation than what was seen within this title, and there are mistakes present that make it stand out for the wrong reasons, but for the most part, I found that it did the things it needed to do fairly well, making it worthy of at least one playthrough.

Happii

Happii

In summation, Vexx is a pretty enjoyable and wonderfully dark gaming experience. The gameplay is pretty well executed, the story is shocking well told, albeit with a few examples of bad voice acting, and even though the visuals were somewhat outdated for the time, the world of Astara is immersing and varied enough to be enjoyable for the most part.

Score

42.5/60

7/10 (Fair)

The Hobbit (Xbox, PC, PlayStation 2, GameCube & Game Boy Advance)

Developer(s) – Inevitable Entertainment, The Fizz Factor & Saffire

Publisher(s) – Sierra Entertainment

Designer – Chuck Lupher

Producer(s) – Jaime Grieves

Amidst the newfound popularity of the Tolkien mythos surround the Lord of the Rings film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, and amidst an ongoing dispute regarding the rights to the Tolkien license, with multiple games based on the books and films being developed at the time, The Hobbit was released to mixed reviews from critics, who cited the gameplay as being uninspiring, and it’s failure to appeal to younger gamers. In the industry, licensed games have for the most part been generally frowned upon, and seen as simply being a modern form of shovelware, with the owners of their respective licenses simply releasing games to coincide with films for the moat part. However, there are a elect few license games, which go above and beyond what is expected of them, and end up offering some legitimately enjoyable gaming experiences. In my opinion, whilst The Hobbit may not be among the best, it’s certainly not among the worst, I find.

Graphics – 6.5/10

On aspect that the game falls short on somewhat, is the visuals. Whilst they may have looked fairly impressive at the time, they don’t hold up nearly as well on a technical level as many other games of it’s kind do, such as Final Fantasy X and Metal Gear Solid 2 to name but a few. Like the game based on the first volume of The Lord of the Rings trilogy developed by WPX Games & Surreal Software, it largely conforms to the same conceptual design as in the films, but there are a couple of standout elements that did fairly well to separate it from both the initial Peter Jackson film trilogy and the aforementioned game at the time of it’s release at least (before the Hobbit film trilogy came out years later as well as Lego The Hobbit), such as locations like Lake Town, Mirkwood and Erebor.

Gameplay – 7/10

For the most playing out like a traditional 3D platformer, the game also has a few little side quests thrown in for good measure during the first half of it; like the previously mentioned Lord of the Rings game. Most notably involving completing the tasks for the dwarves before the party departs for The Lonely Mountain. There is also a small stealth aspect, which fits in fairly well with the tableau of the story of Bilbo Baggins being hired as a thief, and which I moderately enjoyed. Stealth can be quite a tricky aspect to pull off in games, as it can eliminate fluency if it requires players to play through the same area a certain amount of times, but for the most part, it’s done fairly well in this title in my opinion.

Controls – 10/10

As far as 3D platforming in this game goes, I had no gripes with it whatsoever; which in all fairness was to be expected I think, as the genre had well and truly took prominence at this time following the release of games such as Super Mario 64 and Jak & Daxter. Combat and stealth are also both handled adequately well, and there are no unnecessary complications with the game’s control scheme present to add any kind of unwarranted level of frustration.

Lifespan – 6/10

The game can be made to last an average of 8 hours even taking in the completion of side quests throughout the course of the game, which whilst isn’t great by any means, is still fractionally longer than the game based on The Lord of the Rings license, which can be made to last around 6 to 7 hours. As the game conforms to a very linear progression, it wasn’t expected to have a great lifespan in any case, but I cant help but think that with a little bit more imagination on the developer’s part, it could have been made to last at least a little while longer; certainly the first part of the game set in the Shire.

Storyline – 8/10

Depicting the events of the classic children’s novel written by JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit follows the exploits of Bilbo Baggins of the Shire, who is persuaded by the wizard Gandalf and his band of 13 dwarves to accompany them on an adventure to retake the dwarven city of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. The story itself isn’t an issue at all, since It’s enjoyable in any form that it’s told; be that through a game, a film, or most notably of course, the classic book. The biggest problem I had with it, however, is the voice acting is quite lacklustre, even by video game standards at that time, and thus, it’s much more difficult to take seriously than in other forms of media the story has, or would be told in.

Originality – 6/10

The game does retain a slight element of uniqueness, as it incorporates the aforementioned stealth element, which at this point was only really seen in the Sly Cooper games. However, for the most part, it plays out like most other 3D platformers that were released before its time, and consequentially, I don’t think it can be considered either evolutionary or revolutionary. The stealth mechanics in the Sly Cooper games were much more sophisticated than in this title, and in terms of normal 3D platforming mechanics, it fails to stand out amidst many of the classics in the genre that had been released prior.

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In summation, despite it’s lack of originality and less than satisfactory voice acting, The Hobbit is nevertheless a fairly enjoyable gaming experience, and shouldn’t be entirely overlooked. Whilst the visuals may not hold up to this day on a technical level, and whilst more could have been added to increase the game’s longevity, the developers did a good job for the most part, and it’s certainly worth at least one playthrough; for both fans of the Tolkien mythos and the 3D platforming genre.

Score

43.5/60

7/10 (Fair)

Tekken 3 (Arcade, PlayStation & PlayStation 2)

Developer(s) – Namco

Publisher(s) – Namco

Director – Katsuhiro Harada

Tekken 3 is not only considered to be one of the greatest fighting games of all time, but many so regard it as one of the greatest games of all time. Receiving almost perfect scores from most publications at the time, citing its inclusion of a more diverse character roster, and its improved soundtrack and graphics over its predecessors. Overall, I think Tekken 2 is the better instalment out of the original trilogy, but this is a more than worthy sequel in my opinion.

Graphics – 8/10

The most noteworthy aspect of Tekken 3 is the dramatic change in artistic direction. Some classic characters are swapped out for new ones, and the appearances of many classic characters left in were also re-imagined; especially Yoshimitsu. It reminds me very much of how Midway tried to drastically branch out in terms of visuals whilst developing Mortal Kombat 3, when most of the palette-swapped ninja characters were either re-tooled or swapped out for more original looking characters. The arena designs in the third game are also massively improved on, and the FMV cutscenes featured in each characters arcade mode ending are also very well done. Tekken 3’s graphics were among some of the best that the PlayStation had to offer; comparable to the likes of Final Fantasies VII, VIII and IX, and it is made very apparent.

Gameplay – 7.5/10

What I like about Tekken 3 is that it is extremely accessible in the sense that it is patently open to both amateurs and professional fighting game players, and both sets of players can enjoy it regardless of experience. Tekken 3 has a good few game modes, including the Tekken Force mode, which presents a 2.5D side-scrolling form of gameplay very similar to Streets of Rage. But what I like most about paying through Tekken 3 is the plethora of unlockable characters available to obtain. It’s extremely satisfying to play through the arcade mode with each of these characters and see how their stories end. But I think that if the Tekken Force mode was built on much more than it was, then Tekken 3 could have potentially been a lot more addictive than it is. It was actually one of the first examples of 2.5D side-scrolling gameplay, and it could have done with having some more emphasis being put onto it to make the game much more interesting.

Controls – 10/10

My opinion of this game’s control scheme is identical to that of Injustice: Gods Among Us, or most other fighting game; there are no problems, and its all down to either how fast players can mash buttons, or how effectively they can execute combos.

Lifespan – 10/10

I would estimate that it would take even inexperienced payers a maximum of 3 hours to unlock every character, and complete the arcade mode with every character. But after that, it simply becomes a game that can be picked up and played at player’s leisure, without the worry of making conformist progress.

Storyline – 5/10

The story of Tekken 3 revolves around a young fighter called Jin, who enters the third King of Iron Fist Tournament announced by his mentor Heihachi, in order to take revenge on the creature Ogre, who had presumably killed his mother. Although the basic premise is easy enough to understand, and each character has their own unique ending, apart from this, the game’s story is not elaborated on any further than that. People don’t generally play fighting games for their story, but the fact of the matter is that the story is present, but there isn’t very much depth to it. But still, it makes a lot more sense than the story of Injustice: Gods Among Us, and its much easier to follow.

Originality – 7.5/10

Of course, with the inclusion of the Tekken Force mode, Tekken 3 stands out among more or less every other fighting game of its time, and the developer’s expression of desire to branch out from an artistic point of view is more than apparent, as when I first played this game back in the day, whilst I knew I was playing an instalment of Tekken, I was quick to notice the amount of change that was implemented.

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To sum up, Tekken 3 is indeed one of the greatest fighting games I have ever played, and I would recommend it to not only hardcore fighting game fans who may not have played it, but I would especially recommend it as a starting point to people who haven’t tried playing fighting games yet, as they will be able to make progress without throwing their controllers across their living rooms.

Score

48/60

8/10 (Very Good)

Street Fighter III (Xbox, Xbox 360, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Arcade & Dreamcast)

Developer(s) – Capcom

Publisher(s) – Capcom

Designer(s) – Yasuhiro Seto, Tomonori Ohmura & Obata Shinichiro

Producer – Tomoshi Sadamoto

First released for Japanese arcades in 1997, and brought overseas in 1999 on the Dreamcast, Street Fighter III received critical acclaim upon release; albeit to a much lesser extent of commercial success than the universally influential Street Fighter II, but enough of an effort for many long-time fans of the series to go so far as to hail it as the perfect fighting game, due to the fluidity of it’s controls compared to every other fighting game around at that time, as well as previous entries in the series. Curious, I approached it with fairly high expectations, and whilst I didn’t find it to be my favourite fighting game of all time, by far that honour would go to SoulCalibur IV, I wasn’t disappointed for the most part, and had a lot of fun playing it.

Graphics – 7.5/10

Instead of incorporating 3D graphics into the franchise, like most other gaming franchises were doing at this time, Street Fighter stuck with the more traditional 2D visuals, as well the more traditional 2D style of play, and even against many fighting games released at the time, it still look looked particularly impressive. What I was most enticed by personally was how detailed, varied and visually striking the backdrops to each stage are, and the amount of effort that went into the conceptual design in general. Although I found the character roster to not be the strongest of the series (my personal favourite being Ultra Street Fighter IV), Capcom tried to branch out in different directions in terms of character design, and some unfortunately work better than others. I personally would have liked to see one or two more classic characters than what was present in III, but overall, the roster is fairly solid, and the visuals did well to make the game stand out.

Gameplay – 8/10

The third game is essentially a carbon copy of the second, but with added features thrown in for good measure, as well as of course new characters and move sets. The main addition to the series that came with Street Fighter III was the ability to parry opponent’s attacks, and to also string together more elaborate and powerful combos; the bars for which are charged up every time the player lands a hit on their opponents. They made for robust and welcome new features to the series that built upon that which made Street Fighter II undisputedly the most influential fighting game of all time, which is in turn part of the reason why many fans consider it to even be superior to the second game. Whilst fighting isn’t my favourite genre of video game, I’ve had fun with a fair few of them, and Street Fighter III is no exception.

Controls – 10/10

As I alluded to earlier, despite the fact that there were many fighting game series’ that were able to implement 3D movement relatively well, including my favourite fighting game of all time, I’ve always favoured 2D movement for it’s simplicity and lack of additional complication. It’s because of this that Street Fighter III, like almost every other entry in the series bar the original game, poses no problems in terms of controls. It’s certainly very satisfying to witness how far Capcom have come after creating one of the worst fighting games of all time to some of the greatest.

Originality – 6/10

Both the game’s visuals and general style of traditional fighting gameplay are the key elements that make the third instalment standout among others. Though I may not have like every new character implemented, Capcom did reasonably well to keep things fresh in this respect. However, I was surprised at the lack of game modes in Street Fighter III, since by this time every other major fighting game franchise had implemented new game modes, such as survival, time trial etc. The only thing closest to an additional game mode in Street Fighter III is the return of the Crush the Car mini game from Street Fighter II. Otherwise, there’s nothing beyond either arcade mode or multiplayer (online or offline) that makes it stand out from the point of view of variety in gameplay.

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However, despite my qualm I have about the lack of gameplay modes in comparison with most other fighting games released at the time, Street Fighter III still remains an extremely enjoyable fighting game, and one coming highly recommended from me. It has excellent and fluent controls, as well as challenge and a great feeling of intensity in it’s gameplay, and the hand-drawn visuals make for a 2D feast for the eyes that whilst may have been more or less fazed out during the sixth generation, have since inspired many current developers, both indie and mainstream, to create more games throughout the seventh and eighth generations using the same rendering methods; and the industry is all the better for it in my opinion.

Score

31.5/40

7.5/10 (Good)

Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves (PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3 & PlayStation Vita)

Developer(s) – Sucker Punch Productions

Publisher(s) – Sony Computer Entertainment

Taking place some time after the events of Sly 2: Band of Thieves, the third Sly game kept to the core mechanics of the previous instalment, but also presented a few changes to it as well. In my opinion, those changes were made for the worse, since it took away much of what made the second game as exceptional as it was, and I was left pretty disappointed by it.

Graphics – 8.5/10

The one thing the developers didn’t take away at least was the exceptionally great cel-shaded style of the visuals, and outlandish conceptual take on the modern world filled with plenty of anthropomorphic animals. The settings are also as wonderfully diverse as they were in the previous game, taking place in various different parts of the world ranging from Venice to Yuendumu to Kinderdijk. It also features an interesting blend of old and new supporting characters from both the first and the second game at add more to the story element.

Gameplay – 4/10

As I mentioned, Sly 3 sticks to the same core concept as Sly 2; the player must travel from city to city advancing the plot and using stealth mechanics and a range of different abilities to overcome a multitude of different perilous situations the characters find themselves in everywhere they go; with the added feature of some new characters to control. The problem being is that many of the side quests that made the second game as immersing as it was were substituted for side quests, which have the player redoing certain challenges found throughout the story, but having to fulfil additional criteria, such as doing them in a certain amount of time etc. To me, whilst many there consider it to be better than the second game, it was a massive step down in my opinion. It demonstrated a lack of imagination on the developer’s part; especially when I think of all the imagination that went into Sly 2, and how much it was a genuine improvement on the first game.

Controls – 10/10

Since the game runs on the same core principles as both the first and the second, the control scheme hasn’t changed, and thus the developers didn’t took it upon themselves to try and fix something that wasn’t broken. The controls are as wonderfully fluent as many of the greatest 3D platformers to have ever been developed over the years, and regardless of what instalment may be coming under review, the stealth mechanics make them stand out greatly.

Lifespan – 3/10

Clocking in at a mere 9 hours on average, this is yet another reason why I view this game as being a drastic step down from its predecessor. The second game could easily be made to last around 20 to 25 hours with everything that there was to do outside the main story quests, but since the side quests are different, I think many gamers will have inevitably disinclined to undertake the side quests upon discovery of what they are; as indeed I was.

Storyline – 8/10

Set one year after Sly 2, Sly Cooper, along with his colleagues Bentley and Murray, as well as a plethora of new allies, venture out to seek the fabled Cooper Vault reputed to hold a vast amount of heirlooms collected by Sly’s descendants over the years. Personally, the ending of Sly 2 blew me away, but Sly 3 continued that level of character development, and built upon it even further. For a game series that started by relying on a strong element of comedy, I never thought I would be able to take it as seriously as I ended up being able to.

Originality – 4/10

To me, because the developers took away a lot of the elements that helped to take the Sly series to the next level, there is considerably less originality about the third game. They did try something new with the inclusion of more than three playable characters, a concept that would carry on into the fourth game, but to me, it meant considerably less than what it could have potentially meant if the developers had chosen to handle the side quests in a fashion more reminiscent of Sly 2. I think Sanzaru took this on board whilst developing Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, and I’m glad they changed as much from this game as they did.

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In summation, Sly 3, in my opinion, is so much less than what it could have been had the developers not decide to make as many negative changes as they did following Sly 2. Even though the original game had less substance, I think the developers misused what substance they added to the third, making it worse; a classic case of quantity over quality.

Score

37.5/60

6/10 (Average)

Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2 & PlayStation 3)

Developer – Sucker Punch Productions

Publisher – Sony Computer Entertainment

The Sly Cooper series first appeared in 2002 on the PlayStation 2; around the time when Sony started to find much greater success with developing 3D platforming games than they had done previously with the original PlayStation; having released games such as Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank. Whilst sales of the game were pretty poor during the time of its release, the game has become a cult classic among gamers and has warranted the development of three sequels. Though I don’t believe the first to be the best (Indeed, I believe that honour goes to Sly 2: Band of thieves), I don’t think it’s a terrible game; it just needed an extra push, and I think the developers saved that for the sequel.

Graphics – 8/10

Relating to Week 4’s unique article, Sly Cooper was released at a time when cel-shading was first being established as a popular form of visual representation in video games; so consequently, this game was always going to stand out. At the time, it was an extremely significant change from the norm, and it also made for a number of compelling level designs as well as character designs. Although some of the bosses look a little bit bland, the last boss in particular was very well designed, and the main character cast equally so. Looking at some of the levels, which are set on rooftops, it’s also plain to see where the developers took inspiration from when they were creating InFamous. Though this would become even more evident in the sequel and onwards, the opening level of the first game alone is enough for players to make this assumption.

Gameplay – 5.5/10

Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus is a 3D platforming game with stealth elements reminiscent of games like Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell. But even with this somewhat unique aspect of gameplay, I still felt playing it left a lot to be desired. There are so little side quests that completing the game to 100% can simply be done as the player goes along as normal, and there’s not much call for re-visiting levels, save for completing the time trial challenges. In this respect, it reminds me a lot of the third Crash Bandicoot game, Warped; only with less content and fewer side quests. There is a bit of incentive to playing the game to 100%, however, in the form of additional abilities, such as running faster or invisibility. The game also has a bit of variety in that respect too.

Controls – 10/10

At least in terms of controls, there are no problems. Sucker Punch had found critical success before Sly Cooper with their first game; another debatably unfairly obscure game for the Nintendo 64 called Rocket: Robot on Wheels. So that there’d be no problems with the controls would have been expected; especially taking into account the elaborately challenging nature of Sucker Punch’s first game, released back in 1999.

Lifespan – 4/10

Unfortunately, even completing the game to 100% can take players less than 10 hours, which compared with other platformers, especially at the time, is nothing. With games like Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank came more content and substance in gameplay, and I found that the original Sly Cooper game severely lacked that, and by that token, it would seem to me no wonder why the first game couldn’t compete with games such as the two aforementioned examples.

Storyline – 7.5/10

The game’s story is just about as simple in general concept, and as crazy in design as many other video gaming franchises before it; but I found that it wouldn’t really be greatly expanded on or elaborated on until the next game. The plot follows an anthropomorphic raccoon thief called Sly Cooper, who along with his two closest friends, a turtle called Bentley and a hippo called Murray, set out to recover missing pages from the book passed down from generation to generation of Sly’s family; the Thievius Raccoonus. Overall, the game’s story is okay, but it only starts to get most interesting towards the end, and I don’t think there was enough added to keep it overly compelling. At least the story is simple enough to not create any confusion, I guess. I believe it to be the worst-case scenario when games or films become so convoluted that they become nigh on impossible to follow.

Originality – 5/10

Although the game would inevitably be considered unique in terms of visuals, it’s by little means unique in terms of gameplay. The only unique gameplay mechanics was the stealth element, which would again, be more elaborated on with future instalments.

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Overall, the original Sly Cooper game isn’t an overly terrible game; it was a simple case of trial and error. Only compared to future games in the series, as well as other games around at the time, it seems to me that it was extremely obvious that it was a case of trial and error.

Score

40/60

6.5/10 (Above Average)  

Silent Hill 2 (PlayStation 2, Xbox, Windows, PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360)

Developer(s) – Konami Computer & Entertainment Tokyo

Publisher(s) – Konami

Director – Masashi Tsuboyama

Producer – Akahiro Imamura

After the success of the first Silent Hill game, the sequel did not disappoint overall. It was met with positive reviews and huge sales figures, selling over one million copies worldwide in its first month. I, however, wasn’t overly impressed after playing through it, although I think it is better than a lot of other survival horrors to have come out before it. What I like about it is that it’s a psychological horror game, which differentiates it from most other games in the genre in an extremely positive way.

Graphics – 9/10

Although there is a protagonist, an established antagonist for the franchise and several supporting characters in this game, there’s no doubt in my mind that the town of Silent Hill itself is, in many ways, the star of the show. The atmosphere of the place is absolutely horrific, with most scares in the games coming not from a massive amount of jump scares, bloodstains throughout or a staggeringly high body count, but in its constant build-up of tension and the sense of gritty realism in the settings and lack of light throughout the game. The thought that anything could jump out of either the darkness in the numerous buildings the player has to traverse or from out of the outdoor fog is enough to keep players constantly on edge.

Gameplay – 4.5/10

I find that the gameplay is only fractionally more enjoyable than that of Outlast for exmaple, since there are means of self-defence in addition to a few alternative endings to unlock. But ultimately, it again felt more like I was watching a film than playing a game, as the only objective seemed to simply uncover the story; and the alternative endings and a few unlockable weapons are the only two forms of incentive that come with playing through the game multiple times. Reviewers have commented on how they think that the second game is the highest point in the franchise, and that doesn’t really make me want to try any of the other entries.

Controls – 10/10

Although reviewers have criticized this game for its controls, I didn’t really find any problems with it. The best thing about this game’s control scheme is the excellent use of camera angles, which, in a way, adds more to the atmosphere and overall feel of the game. They were very well done.

Lifespan – 6/10

Depending on how much exploration is done throughout a single playthrough, the game can last up to about twelve hours, which is about the average lifespan of a typical survival horror. This and the scarcely satisfying gameplay just give testament that there is a massive imbalance of focus on both horror and gameplay. It makes me wonder why there are so many developers who can’t seem to get the balance right. Even if this game lasted longer, the gameplay would be drawn out and repetition would definitely be over-emphasized, so there wouldn’t be much point to making it last any longer than it does anyway without further substance in gameplay.

Storyline – 8/10

For what this game lacks in more important aspects, whilst not making up for what it lacks, it certainly delivers in terms of story. A psychological thriller with elements of the supernatural, it will leave players feeling enthralled and emotionally drained throughout, with its coverage of taboo subjects, such as incest and domestic violence, and with the mystery of what is true and not true or what is real and not real. The protagonist, James Sunderland, is drawn to the town of Silent Hill by a message that he recently received from his wife, Maria, saying she was there waiting for him, despite the fact that she’s been dead for three years prior to the start of the game. As James explores further into the town, he enters a battle with his own personal demons and subconscious desires in order to realize a horrifying truth and understand the errors of his ways. So as you may imagine, there are a few twists and turns before the end, which make for an extremely compelling plot. The voice acting can seem a bit laughable at times, but ultimately, the characters in Silent Hill 2 are very well conceived and how they develop throughout the course of the game makes for an excellent tale. Another interesting thing is that whilst the character Pyramid Head steals the shows as the game’s primary antagonist, he’s not even the scariest character the way I see it. By far, that honour would go to Eddie, and I will go further into why I think that later on.

Originality – 7/10

With it relying on tension as the source of it’s horror, and with a story and concepts that defy convention, the Silent Hill genre is particularly unique in its own right; not just the second game. But where it lacks originality is in gameplay. It ultimately plays out like most games in its genre, and it seems as if the developers didn’t event try to defy convention in that respect

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In summary, Silent Hill 2, whilst it severely lacks in gameplay, has a lot to experience in terms of story, and I suppose it is worth playing through once, because stories that compelling don’t come round often. But the way I see it, whilst certain elements do save it from being a terrible game, even saving it from being an average one, I don’t think it’s one that should be considered a classic.

Score

44.5/60

7/10 (Fair)