Sunday, November 2, 2008

Recent Video Game Demo Reviews

Yeah, that's right. I'm so freaking slow at playing through video games that I'm going to just review the demoes I've been playing. To put just how slow I am in perspective, I bought Disgaea 3 on the day it came it in late-August. Yeah, I think I'm about 40% of the way through it. And I've put in a good 40-ish hours into it, so it's not like I haven't been playing it. However, I had promised myself I'd put it aside once Dead Space came out. On October 14th. So, I'll admit I've only put about 7 hours into that, but my defense on that one is that I can only play it in chunks of 60-90 minutes. I don't really like being scared shitless for really extended periods of time. It's got to be bad for something or other.

In any case, I'm almost a third of the way through that. And it's supposed to take most people 12-15 hours. So, I'm just a little bit behind. I'm not going to double that, but I'm definitely not going to beat it before the 20 hour mark, either. However, I'm kind of boycotting Dead Space at the moment because it pissed me off. Yes, this is a sidetrack, but I don't care, this post is about video games and everyone knows that gamers have ADD...and besides gamers in general, I think it's pretty clear that I personally have ADD when writing these posts, too. I promise I'll get to my subject before the end of the post (and to wander off that same subject at least one more time before the end of the post as well).

So, I'm stuck on this room in the middle of Chapter 5. Now, in Chapter 4 there's this annoying section that a lot of people have mentioned in reviews as being annoying and making them want to stop. So, I got through that one. It was annoying, but after maybe 3 or 4 tries, I got through it. I'll admit that this section doesn't fit in the game, and requires a skill set not required by the rest of the game (the skill set being aiming at things that are moving towards you, but on a parallel axis, as opposed to things moving directly at you), but it's not that far from the rest of the game, except that it's not presented as horror. Sorry, the context for that part is that you have to man the ship's asteriod defenses and it's annoying.

Anyways, the part that is sort of making me boycott the game is found later on. I'm being chased by this large monster that is semi-invincible. Now, at this point, that's pretty normal. And, I'll be the first to admit that it fits in the game much better than the asteriod thing, but there's a small but key point where the game totally breaks itself. It locks me in a room with this bad guy and then starts filling the room with more bad guys as well. See, when that happens, suddenly the game changes from survival horror into a shooter. But, it's not a shooter, at least not exactly. For example, you can't run and shoot (but you can walk and shoot). When you're locked in a small room that's full of bad guys, running is kind of key (since they can certainly run, walking is of only limited use). Next, since this is survival horror, ammo is kept relatively tight. I'll admit that I could buy more ammo and make that not a concern, since I'm filthy rich, but that's not the way I play.

Yes, I just said that I purposely play the game in such a way as to make it harder for me. Except, it's not so much to make it harder for me as it is to force me to play like it's survival horror. The first advantage to that decision is that it stays scary because every encounter continues to matter and it also forces me to conserve ammo for when I really need it because during the fight my ammo supply is limited.

Anyways, so ammo is kept relatively low, partly through my own action. This works, though, because after killing a bad guy, he typically drops ammo (it's really nice of them, to be honest). Admittedly, the bad guys are rarely kind enough to drop ammo for the gun I actually use (my starting weapon for goodness sake), but at least they drop ammo. However, picking up ammo requires you to walk up to it and press X. Under normal post-battle situations, that's no problem. But, in a room full of bad guys, you need the character to pick up ammo automatically, like in a shooter. Also, you need to be able to heal yourself automatically, like in a shooter (Dead Space has no healing item hot-key, so to actually use your healing items, you have to find a safe spot or stop moving and risk taking damage).

Now, up to this point, it all seems annoying but reasonable. I mean, you just have to enter the room at full life and play like it like shooter, even if it's not meant to be a shooter. And, so, I know that eventually I'll beat it because I don't completely suck at shooters; I just mostly suck at shooters. The final problem that I really run into, though, is that stupid invincible dude. This would be only stupid if it wasn't for him. See, the invincible dude has the power to decide that you've managed to get too far away from him and just jump into the ceiling ventilation shafts and drop down right behind you. That means that, effectively, there is alwasy an invincible bad guy, literally right on your tail and even if you shake him, he can just appear right there again. So, yeah, that sucks. And it's making me not want to play, even though I know if I just iterate the room enough times, I'll beat it. It would help if I knew what activated the doors unlocking, because it seems like killing the bad guys just activates more of them to come, which is undesirable.

Anyways, that's how Dead Space is treating me. I also bought Little Big Planet, but I haven't really had time to play with it much. So, now I'm ready to start talking about the demoes I've gone through recently.

First off, I played through the Eternal Sonata and Bioshock demoes. And, well, I can see why everyone likes Bioshock. It's good. I know, that's not news, but for us Playstation kids, we still had to try it and see for ourselves. That's pretty much a must buy, but I'm kind of amazed that they want to charge 60 dollars for it. I mean, you can find it for less than 30 on the Xbox, so how can they justify 60 on the PS3. I mean, they didn't exactly add content to it (no, really, they didn't, ignore them talking about challenge rooms and trophy support, since the challenges are downloadable, you will probably be able to get them for the Xbox after a little while, and I'm sure the trophies are the same as the achievements on the Xbox, so that's not exactly impressive). Seriously, just drop it down to 40 and be done with it. Until then, I'm just going to have to put off buying it.

Now, Eternal Sonata has the same problem as Bioshock in that you can find it on the Xbox for less than 30 and they want PS3 users to pay 60 for it. Once again, I'm sorry, but that's not going to fly. I will say that I like the graphics on it a lot. They have a very fun, very cute cell-shaded feel to them. Also, the environments are just gorgeous, if totally linear, but it's a JRPG, that's what you have to expect. I kind of wish the demo gave a better feel for the music system stuff that's in the game. Also, the demo was hard. Those bad guys are not easy and trying to time all your blocks is a royal pain, especially when you have very little warning (and punishment means losing a lot more than half your life sometimes). But, yeah, I'll buy it when the price comes down. It should be a fun little 30 hours or so.

So, initially the Valkyria Chronicles demo was only available if you bought Qore or whatever. Now, I might be a stupid Sony fanboy, but I'm not paying money for access to demoes and betas. Sorry, not going to happen. The fact that I have every intention of trying to import a copy of FFVII: Advent Children on Blu-ray so that I can play the demo for FFXIII is completely irrelevent, by the way. Pride is only worth so much. Anyways, I was totally unwilling to pay for the opportunity to download the demo for Valkyria Chronicles because I already knew that I absolutely had to buy that game as soon as it came out. I mean, why pay when my purchase is already assured? Again, ignore the FFVII:Advent Children thing. Things are different when they involve Final Fantasy. Sort of.

Now, the reason my purchase was assured is very simple. The art style. Yeah, that's right. If you've seen any videos of it, you'll understand why. It is gorgeous. Mind bogglingly so. Like, to the point that I think this game is one of the better arguments for the existence of next generation gaming. I'm not being hyperbolic, by the way. There is no way this could have been done on the last generation systems. Cell-shading, while cool, was not at this level yet. I mean, Tales of Symphonia was awesome and cool, but it's graphics can't even come close to holding a candle to what this game showcases. An interview with the game's art director talked about how this is meant to be an emotional story focusing on war and loss and he really wanted the game to be able to visually translate those emotions. I really believe it will. I can't imagine why people would want games to keep trying to look realistic when they can have games look like this instead. This is better than real.

Amazingly, though, I think this game is also going to be one of the deepest and most challenging strategy RPGs I'll have ever played. So, not only is the art style incredible, but the gameplay is looking to be equally impressive. I almost can't imagine how good this game really could be. Just playing through the demo, the level of strategy offered was stunning. The movement and cover system completely trounces the simplistic geometric boards of most strategy RPGs. Playing through it, I really felt the advantages to controlling certain ground and slow, supported advances on a fortified enemy position. I mean, how awesome is that? This game comes out in just a few days, and once I have it, it will be given a lot of priority.

Next, up is Alone in the Dark: Inferno. Now, I really, truly gave this game a fair chance. More than fair, really. I mean, I've read a lot of negative reviews of this game, but I've also read some really passionate positive reviews begging people to take those negative reviews with a grain of salt (arguing that it's become cool to hate this game, even though it's not actually bad). Well, it's actually bad. The demo couldn't hide all the problems with this game. In fact, I think it actually waved them proudly at me.

Now, to be fair, this is the demo and they made the decision to skip some of the tutorials. Like, how to fight and kill stuff, but that's okay. They also skipped tutorials on inventory interaction and management. So, when I say that the inventory is a pain and I couldn't figure out to effectively store things in it, I'll concede that maybe in the real game, they explain this to you. But, seriously, it takes effort to make inventory management hard to understand. Real, concerted effort. For example, you have space in your inventory for 3 large containers (which I imagine you can combine with cloth and alcohol to turn into Molotov cocktails, or fill with healing sprays for health...and I'm sure there's other stuff you can do, too). Now, sometimes it seemed like you could stack multiple of the same type of large container in the same slot, but I couldn't really figure out how many and it didn't seem to work with all types of large containers (I never was sure if I could stack multiple healing sprays on top of each other or not). And for some reason I could only stack 5 pieces of yeah, inventory was weird. That's an impressive failure right there.

Next, fighting. Now, shooting was decently intuitive. You could switch to first person perspective and shoot stuff. No problem there. But, if you wanted to conserve ammo, you could pick stuff up and beat guys with it. But, the controls for beating guys was, just, a mistake. So, while holding your melee weapon, you would pull the right stick back/to the right to prepare for a swing and push it forward/to the left for a swing. Yes, this means you give up camera control when you go into melee. No, that is never a good thing, but I will admit that I never had a problem with the camera during the two fights I had in the demo, so while I'll say that that's bothersome, I won't say that it's a failure.

I will say that the complete counter-intuitiveness of that control strategy is a failure though. Melee battles are like a chore as you bring the right stick back and forth trying to connect your swings. I just can't see any reason to map that as two movements instead of one (preferably a button press, even more preferably, the same button press you'd use to fire a gun, since they are both ATTACKS and so they should be treated as equivalent options, just dependent upon what is actually equipped).

Lastly, disposing of bad guys. Now, apparently, this game is really proud of its fire. I didn't think it was particularly special and I thought trying to put fires out was downright annoying and time consuming and I would definitely not look forward to the eventual chase through a burning something or other while you run away trying to put out the fires in front of you so that you can continue moving forward). But, anyways, you get attacked by zombies. Shooting or hitting them will knock them out, but 5-8 seconds later, they get back up with full health. That's annoying. So, I think to stop them from getting up, you have to burn them. The demo never actually told me how to deal with the zombies, but that worked.

So, I think/hope it's somehow possible to just light them on fire, but I didn't know how to do that. This meant that I would have to drag their knocked out bodies to the nearest fire and drop them in it. Luckily, they can't wake up while you're dragging them. Unluckily, you can only pull their bodies, you can't push them. Now, when you pull something, that means you go first, right? Yes, yes you do. So, now, how might someone pull a body into a fire? Any takers? I'll give you a hint: YOU DON'T BECAUSE IT'S STUPID!!! I would literally have to pull until I was right up against the fire, then turn 90 degrees so that both of us are next to the fire, and then, because technically the zombie is my currently equipped melee weapon, I pull the right stick back and forth trying to get him into the fire by swinging him.

This might come as a surprise, but, that was a royal pain in the ass and completely stupid and ridiculous to boot. The last part of the demo was a car chase scene with massive cracks in the ground chasing us. I never figured out how to beat it since the path seemed to always end inside a shopping mall, which wasn't very useful to me. After maybe ten tries, I realized that I hadn't had any fun while playing the stupid game and that I was more than ready to go do something else. So, I stopped.

Lastly, I played the Mirror's Edge demo. And all I can say is: Wow. Just, wow. This is what Assassin's Creed wishes it felt like when you play it. For that matter, this is what life wishes it felt like to live it. The demo vidoes and stuff like that do not do this game justice at all. There is no way to understand people's excitement over this game until you try it. Until you feel you character barrelling forward, always forward. The game translates the effort it takes to navigate a high speed chase through roof tops excellently, while at the same time doing so in an almost intuitive manner (the controls are not intuitive, at all, but since you basically only press a couple different buttons, it works). This game is like a digital adrenaline rush. And it is highly improvisational as well. I've watched two other people play through the demo and almost none of the sections were done the same way. Everyone had their own signature style of forward motion. I loved it. This game is something way more special than I had thought it would be.

Alright, I think I got through that without too many significant random asides. I'm duly proud of me for that. And now I need to go watch a random Sci-Fi channel made-for-TV movie starring Brea Grant (yes, I kind of have a crush on her right now).

That is all.


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