Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dead Island - A Review

I'll start this off by explaining that it took me some time to get into Dead Island. I remember hearing about it at the time of released, but really didn't give it too much of a look over. There are tons of Zombie titles and I assumed this was yet another shooter trying to make a buck on the idea. Reguardless of their intentions or aspirations, Dead Island is a game I thoroughly enjoyed and still continue to do so.

I didn't get Dead Island until it was super cheap on steam and even then didn't get around to playing it until a friend asked me to play it with her on the PS3. I enjoy gaming with friends when I can, so I sought out and picked up a copy for like $20 and played a bit with her. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun. We played up until part way though the city bit of the story and then it got put on hold. But I've since then decided to make a new character and go about things myself to learn better how to play and to further experience the game. I'm glad I did.

The game is heavily focused on melee combat over that of shooting. Granted, each character has their specialty and one of them even specializes in guns, but you can go through the entire game using very little firearms and even if you happen to go the gun centric route, finding ammo isn't exactly easy for a good 80% of the game. I, myself, stick to sharp blades with my Xian Mei character as that was her specialty. Regardless of your ability or chosen weapon, all of your weapons come from pick ups and modifications you make to those. It's a very cool dynamic, creating weapons with electric, fire and poison attributes, but the weapons degrade so incredibly fast (even with perks to allow you up the durability). What plays out is a juggling of gathering a set up of awesome weapons that'll help you mow through the zombie hoards, collecting crap to sell for cash and spending that cash to repair them once you find a work bench to do so. In that regard there seemed to be a little too much back tracking or searching for repair places, forcing you to leave quests on hold to make sure you didn't run into a situation with no weapons to defend yourself.

Everything is played from the first person perspective and it's quite refreshing to see your character do every action they need, from their own eyes. It gives a better sense of envelopment and makes you feel more like it's you playing the life of the character rather than controlling some would-be hero. Timing also works into that fold as you have to allow time for a character's animation to accomplish and plan attacks. If a zombie is rushing you, make sure you have the distance and time to swing properly; sometimes a nice kick to make the undead stumble sure does help and as you gain levels, unlock new abilities, you'll gain character specific attacks that seem to make things easier. My fav thus far is Xian's head stomp, in which she does a big jump in the air with both feet and lands square on a downed zombie's head, completely crushing it.

It's all about timing. You can survive most any hoard with timing (and a little luck)

There is your typical undead 'walker' that moves quite slowly, intent on gnawing on your flesh, but as you go on in the story, the types of enemies amp up in difficulty. The infected are just like the walkers, but with super speed and devastating arm bashing attacks, you can hear them coming as they scream at the top of their lungs on their way to you. Later on you run into bigger enemies whom will land devastating blows if you get near them, rush you and ram you to the ground, or even vomit poisonous bile on you, leaving you dis-orientated. You'll get accustomed to strategies on how to take each of these types of enemies down, but again, with timing, it can be tricky... and even as you get higher up in levels, it's not hard to have your health bar depleted quickly by a few walkers and some bad decisions on how to deal with them. Human enemies seem to offer much less a threat as they're a bit more predictable and for the most part stick to firearms as their chosen weapons. It's not hard to duck into cover and flank them or flat out put a bullet in their face with a pistol (it's mainly why I carried a pistol with me (just in case), it made clearing out nests of humans easier).

The first location seems quite tame in comparison to the rest of the game; A beach resort on the island of Banoi (a made up location) which is both beautiful and deadly. Zombies lurk everywhere and you get to spend quite a bit of time on the resort before being shifted off to a new location (which takes you through an infested hotel, a city, a jungle area and even a prison). All of which have a huge multitude of main and side quests you must complete for NPCs which help flesh out the story, give you helpful background information and more importantly, give you XP to level up your character. The character progression system is mostly centered around 'Perks' you get to choose at each level advancement. You don't much get to choose character stats, but you have choice of these perks which boost attacks and damage (among other attributes), allowing you to become a more efficient killer of the undead. You're going to need them, as mentioned above, the enemies are relentless.

You'll be spending quite a lot of time checking out these menus

You can enlist a friend (or 3) or some strangers to help you through the quests and they do help when every one is on the same page (friends work best in this regard), but it's kind of a mess when players want nothing more than to screw with you, kick you out of the game (even if you're hosting) or decide to play a later part in the game, which isn't the fault of the game or the developer, but it still sticks as a point of frustration. So.... more often than not, I stuck with my single player mode (which is exactly the same, sans help) which I hear is harder, but I didn't have too much issues with it as I like to take my time anyways and approach things with a bit of a tactical mind rather than rushing hoards in hopes I survive out of luck. Thankfully, Co-op is as easy as setting your player account to allow people to join your game and they can do so dynamically on the fly. It's much better than a separate mode that feels half cooked; especially when you can find decent people to play with.

At the end of the day however, the game has impressed me with it's atmosphere which sucks you in quite well and allows you to experience the terrifying idea of a zombie apocalypse from the eyes of a pretty average character. The game pulls the reins on you with weapon degradation and zombies that level up as you do, attacking you with some pretty powerful attacks so you never feel like a super powered hero whom nothing can touch. I've run into a few glitches that forced me to reset the system, but aside from those and the occasional douche-bag co-op partner, I couldn't be happier with the title. It's held my interest part way though with a friend, through an entire play-through by myself and still as I've started a new game with my finished character. Spectacular game, the likes of which I'm excited to see continue with the upcoming semi-sequel 'Riptide' and the prospects of a new title down the line.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

My top 20 PS2 games

So, I was skimming over Roy's Top 20 PS2 games blog once again and it sparked my interest in doing a similar list, so without further ado, here is the list of games from the PS2 era that meant something to me. (Tried to include pics of gameplay for each, but it's hard to find screenshots for some games).

20. SOCOM: Us Navy Seals

There have been a ton of Socom games, 4 on the PS2, 4 on the PSP and even a couple (much different feeling) titles on the PS3. But the first one really sticks with me. It had a very unique feel to how it controlled and played, felt so fluid and thought out compared to most silly third person shooter titles. Giving orders to your squad mates was pretty awesome at the time too.

19. The Getaway

Ahh, the Getaway. I never beat the title because I couldn't deal with the horrible camera system enough to see it through. That said, it still makes the list because it was such a cool concept which made it fun to drive around London, England (recreated for the game) and had a very dark, cool story to go along with it. Not an easy game by any standard, it made it so much harder when the camera decided to do it's own thing while you were trying to evade or take out a bad guy.

18. Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Ahh, Ghost in the Shell, how I love you. My favorite anime series enjoyed a decent game on each the PS1, PS2 and PSP (sadly it skipped the PS3), this version based around the 'Stand Alone Complex' TV series and kicked a lot of ass. It had a unique feel to it, but was set up as a third person shooter in which you controlled Motoko and Batou from the series in a story that lined up well with the series it's based on. Lovely to delve into fandom like this and it'll always be part of my favs.

17. Time Splitters: Future Perfect

Ahh, Timesplitters. A comical series that shared a lot of the awesome gameplay mechanics of the old Goldeneye and Perfect Dark series on the N64 (the dev team was made up of a lot of those whom worked on those projects). The multiplayer was prob what held me, as I played many hours running around gunning fools with friends and family, but the story was fun to play too. Just an awesome series all around that needs to come back! I would love to see a Timesplitters HD pack :)

16. Transformers

Forget the horrible movie tie ins, this game was THE transformers game before High Moon came out with War for Cybertron. Funny, that I hadn't even heard of it when I bought it on an impulse and I absolutely loved every minute of it. Felt like it drew from most Transformer references for it's world and played out in large levels set with tasks and bosses and pretty much complete freedom to go at it as you pleased with a number of playable characters. Some of the bosses were freaking mammoth!

15. Persona 4

I haven't played any of the others in the series, but Persona 4 really impressed me. It's weird, it's quirky, I don't like the limited day/night cycle (that's just a preference I have in games, don't like feeling rushed to complete stuff) but I really enjoyed being sucked into the weird world in which these school kids live and the nightmare like world they slip into and battle weird looking things in. It's just such an 'out there' idea compared to a lot of games I play and for that, I love it.

14. Primal

Primal had it's rough edges; it's camera wasn't perfect at keeping up to the action nor it's action incredibly fluid, but if you could play past that, you found a lovely story about a girl whom is sent into a comma after an attack on her and her boyfriend; said comma allowing her to enter another realm which needs help in balancing good vs evil in order to straighten out things in her own world. What plays out is a totally unique game with a couple of very endearing characters and a journey that is worth the time put into it.

13. Champions: Return to Arms

Couldn't find a proper screenshot worth using, but this title is easy to picture. Isometric kind of camera view in a fantasy setting not unlike a Diablo or DnD game, should set up a visual nicely. The gameplay is basically the same at the above mentioned titles as well and while I'm not huge on those kinds of adventures; my brother and I latched onto this sucker and destroyed it to the 10th greatness. We started and for 4 solid straight days (minus short bathroom/food breaks and a few hours to sleep) we took our characters (mine a warrior, his a mage) through each of the 4 difficulties (they allowed you to transfer characters from a finished game into a new game + sort of deal). We blew through every quest, side quest and arena challenge the game had and enjoyed the hell out of doing so.

12. Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

I think, initially, I borrowed this from a friend and got hooked, which lead me to buying my own copy. While I didn't seem to click with Ratchet and Clank, I intantly 'clicked' with this game. Not sure exactly why, but I absolutely loved the world, the characters, the humor and the entire adventure. I didn't much care for the guns and focus on making the series more mature that happened in the sequels (though, are still very good games) but the first was pure whimsical platforming fun.

11. Tomb Raider: Legend

Tomb Raider is one of those series that I tried (before Legend) and couldn't really get into. I felt they were clunky and kind of uninteresting. But, Legend changed that. Legend had a fluidity to it that made it fun. Not sure exactly why I decided to give this one a try as I didn't have a great time with other ones, but I'm glad I did. I loved going through out the story and the central hub in miss Croft's manor was really cool, I spent a long time collecting unlockables and challenging myself to the acrobatics in place in the gym part. I think Crystal Dynamics breathed fresh air into the franchise with this title.

10. Killzone

Killzone got a ton of hype around the time for being 'the Halo killer' which probably hurt the game in some gamers eyes, but I loved the style of it and the enemies were instantly iconic. While later games in the series seemed to stick to a more structured format in story progression, the original Killzone really brought you across many different areas which I found refreshing. It also had 4 playable characters, each unique and cool. The heavy controls were a nice change too. The A.I was kind of dumb, but I didn't mind, the game was still fun to play thought a few times :)

09. Beyond Good and Evil

Gasp! Beyond Good and Evil. So refreshing, such a unique feeling game. Also one I commend for such a strong female lead character. BG&E is one of those titles that kind of went somewhat unnoticed by a lot of gamers, but loved by those whom found it. Sporting a wonderfully unique world and an equally unique visual style, the game focused on light third person fighting and first person photography. It's a unique mixture and worked well with it's story of a sort of 'government/big company abuse and deceiving of the people' political take on things which kind of got much more grand as things went on.

08. Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht

Xenosaga was one of the first RPGs that felt like the RPGs of old to me while showing me a fresh new world to explore. I absolutely loved the first one and spent many many hours in it. I even remember spending a ton of time it the card battle mini game which made up a very tiny portion of the game. I remember there being a lipsync problem, but aside from that I had no issues with it. The space setting very much appealed to me, the anime esthetics and characters were charming, the music wonderful and the whole experience one I'll always remember.

07. Burnout 3: Takedown

Burnout 3 was the racer for me in the PS2 generation. The speed, the mix of pure arcady racing, boosting, an entire mode dedicated to destroying your car in spectacular crashes and racking up bonus points for causing mayhem as other cars pile up... pure awesome. The game still looks decent, plays wonderfully and is just much fun. I'd love to see an HD upgrade of the game for download.

06. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

All of the Grand Theft Auto games have a place in my heart as I marveled at GTA 3 for it's scope (that we didn't see so massively in the series before then), the sublime Vice City for it's setting and characters but finally, San Andreas for blowing the rest out of the water. The characters, story, scope, amount of things to do, customization, insane soundtrack, freedom... everything was just on another scale. I beat the title and must of put hundreds more hours into it, exploring, trying to ramp things on bicycles, making my character obesely fat and then annorexily skinny, jumping out of jets in attempts to see how low to the ground I could get before pulling a parachute and surviving, jumping off cliff for the same purpose... the list goes on and on with the amount of stuff you could have fun with. Lovely game.

05. God of War 2

The first God of War surprised me with how much I ended up liking it. GoW2 came very late in the PS2 cycle (compared to how soon after the PS3 came along at least) and boy oh boy did it take advantage of the PS2 to pump out an awesome game that looked spectacular. The story of Kratos continued and added so many new features and weapons that, it again, blew me away. I loved taking down bosses, ripping the wings from Icarus (I think that was GoW 2... lol) and going after Zeus. Love the series and this one really solidified that. Wonderful to look at, fluid control, action packed orchestral soundtrack, brutal gameplay and one bad ass character.

04. Soul Calibur 2

I was introduced to Soul Calibur 2 via one of those PlayStation Magazine Demo discs that accompanied the publication every month. It provided, I think, 1 or 2 levels and 2 or 3 characters, but that was enough for me to put hours of my life into. My sis and I played that vs demo a ton before I actually got a copy of the game (sometime later). Then I made it my task to go through each and every mode and hone my skills, learning each character, loving the game. I remember Kilik being one of my faves, along with Talim and could pull of just about any move they had and counter like it was no ones business. I've been a fan of the series ever since even if none have quite given me the feeling that SC2 did on the PS2.

03. Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts is a series that I kind of lost track of. With 2 PS2 games, a GBA, DS, 3DS, PSP and Mobile games... I'm lost on the story. But the original is one I will always cherish (along with the second one). Funny, that I got the game for Christmas, assuming my sis would dig the idea and it turned out she didn't at all, yet I loved it. The idea is kind of weird one, but one that worked so wonderfully for the team and Square Enix. Fantasy characters thrown into a story that takes them across the Disney universe of worlds and characters in a quest, more or less, for friendship and love. Can't get much better than that. The action, the story, the characters, music, theme, gahh, its all just so wonderful. Such a 'feel good' series.

02. Metal Gear Solid 2

Metal Gear Solid 2 was my first foray into the world of MGS and one of my first purchases after my initial purchased of a PS2 (which I bought with GTA 3 and Turok). It honestly blew my mind. The very cinematic, adult feel to the game, the sneaking around, the situations you get yourself in, the confusing story, the out of this world Metal Gears, the soft moments, the 'OMG Ive been spotted' rushes to safety or the leaving porn for guards to get distracted by - it's all added together to mix up one wonderful title. I've since been a big fan of the series and MGS4 stands as one of my favorite, emotional titles I've ever played. MGS2 comes in strong second to that and will always remind me of the feelings going through it.

01. Shadow of the Colossus

Ahhh, Shadow of the Colossus. Such a unique title. When you really get into the game, it's scary, it's wonderful, its beautiful, its lonely, it's exciting, thrilling, depressing and a ton of other emotions. The fact that I describe a game with emotions should tell that it's one hell of an experience. The premise is simple, you must take down 16 bosses in a giant landscape to gain the power to bring back a love of your life. What unfolds in anything but a simple premise. From the first Colossus you scale (the things a MASSIVE), to the end boss and sequence... it's all a surreal trip that leaves a lot of the messages and meanings to the game in your hands, hinted at with your journey but never spelled out to you completely. Love the idea. Wish more games took this approach.

That concludes my list. I hope you've enjoyed reading it, hope you can relate to at least some of them as I loved going through and thinking back on them.  Thankfully, some of these titles have been brought into the PS3 generation with HD collections (namely: Persona 4 (Vita), Jak& Daxter, Tomb Raider Legend, Killzone, Beyond Good and Evil, God of War 2, Kingdom Hearts (coming soon), Metal Gear Solid 2, Shadow of the colossus) and so a new generation can continue to enjoy them even if they dont own the PS2.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

This is my passion

There are a number of things in this life that I am passionate about; things that excite me, make me wait in anticipation, or ogle at in awe and gaming is by far one of the biggest. From the eyes of a child, I aided Mario in his quest to find the princess, mowed through hoards of Imps and Cyber Demons with the nameless hero of Doom, all until my thumbs and eyes hurt. Each experience being one I had outside of the home, at places where I marveled in the idea of owning one of these systems that could take me to these worlds.

But it wasn't until the SNES that my family was able to experience the world of gaming at home. Through out my life, I've always strived, from that moment I got my hands on the SNES, to own consoles, PCs and any other device that I could game on. Be it the addition of the NES to our ensemble, adding a PC capable of some gaming, the move to the N64 and then the PS2 or the explosion there after as I reached an age where I could work on my own to earn money to buy more systems and games I wanted (both new and old) to broaden my gaming experience. I was hooked by the worlds and adventures that I could explore in each of these systems, each seemingly more complex as the hardware evolved and today (well, the 20th of February, 2013 as I am slow at writing blogs) I got an eye full of what Sony is prepping for their newest foray into gaming, the PS4. I am pleased.

Now, for anyone who knows me, I tend to prefer the Sony brand of products, I very much like the way they spread out their talented developers to create varied experiences and games for their various systems. Franchises from Naughty Dog, Sucker Punch, Guerrilla Games are all titles that I very very much enjoyed and mean a lot more to me than something like Call of Duty or Halo. Which isn't to say that I don't play anything but, as I own systems from every big player in the game and pack a decently powered PC as well for the same purpose. But, for my money, I've got a lot of trust in the way Sony tends to spend their resources and mix things up. So, I tend to get excited when I hear news from them.

That's what we got the other day, news. While some outlets complained that a solid release date was sidestepped, that the actual physical console wasn't show and that there's still some questions about services, price points and the like; I was quite pleased with the showing as it gave us a general look at the system in terms of specs and what the games will be looking like.

As expected, there's a large computational leap with it's new hardware, allowing rendering much more complex visuals and simulations. With a focus on making the hardware powerful, yet geared to be easy to develop for in the eyes of developers themselves; we should be seeing some special products comeing from them as the system comes into it's own. 

Sony really did exactly what I wanted them to do. They showed off bits of games that are in development for the system and deals they have with certain studios/publishers to bring the gamer a good flow of exciting titles to start getting busy with this holiday season. A new inFamous title is being crafted, a new Killzone title, we've got word that Watch Dogs with have a PS4 version, Assassin's Creed IV is rumored to be in the works for next gen along with current gen, the demo Capcom showed off was beautiful, The Witcher3 is going to grace the console, as is Diablo 3.

Everything I've seen looked great and I'm excited to get my hands on the unit. I've started to save already (figure $25/week (or even $25/pay) will add up quick enough to afford one without taking a big chunk out of my finances come time it launches.