bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War (PlayStation 2)

Ever since the mid-90’s and the original PlayStation, console owners wanting a fix of aerial combat have turned to the Ace Combat series, simply because theres been nothing good enough to knock it off its throne. It’s helped, of course, that with each installment, the series has gone from strength to strength. Sure it’s not a flight simulation, as PC gamers will always point out, but its never meant to be seen that way.

So, Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War then, is the sixth game in the series, but contrary to its name, its not where it all began, instead its a prequel to the story told in Ace Combat 5. Visually, theres barely any difference, those that aren’t die-hard fans of the series certainly wont be able to tell the difference. The similarities aren’t just in the visuals though, this is good and bad, fans will be pleased as it means their much loved series hasn’t been messed with, but some people may just be waiting for that one big advancement to the series that will give them the kick they need to get airborne for the first time.

There are very slight modifications to the engine, but it still plays the same as Ace Combat always has, no bad thing thats for sure. Advanced moves like rolls, banking, reverse loops and such are easy to pull off, even for a complete novice, but the game still remains a challenge. With the weather affecting your vision meaning you can be pushed right to your dog fighting abilities limits in order to complete just one more mission.

Missions can vary greatly, at times you can be taking on numerous other aircraft in dogfights that look impressive on the games replay function, other times you’ll have to systematically take out ground units, meaning the skies are always full of something that could potentially harm you, although some weapons feel a bit too out of place, such as laser towers, considering the games 1995 setting.

The Ace Combat series has always had a pretty impressive story and narrative, and The Belkan War is no different. Missions never feel pointless and you really want to achieve the goals your set in order to gain your side another footing in the war.

Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan war is a fine addition to the series, but rather than following the established template, Namco have moulded a new one. Almost like car designers enhancing their original design year after year. In addition to the normal missions you undertake, you occasionally come across groups of pilots known as Aces, there are several different groups, who are all mercernaries in the same manner you are, but happened to have chosen the opposing side. These aerial battles can take upto half an hour just to even land 1 missile on target, never mind if your trying to take them down with your guns instead! This increases the difficulty of Ace Combat Zero by quite a bit, but not in the frustrating way it sounds as these particular dogfights never get boring.

So, for fans of the series, Ace Combat Zero is everything you’ve followed the series for all these years, possibly more. For those who are waiting, why? This is by far the best installment yet, I’d go as far as to say its easily the best aerial combat game available, better than anything the over-serious PC market has to offer.

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Movies

The Fans Awanken

 

By the time this is posted to Bar Harukiya it will have been over two weeks since the teaser trailer for the ninth main installment of the Star Wars franchise (titled The Rise of Skywalker) has been released. Here’s the trailer:

Here are my tweets immediately following seeing it:

 

Now you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m not excited, but I genuinely am. But I’m also disappointed. Why? Because it feels like the Fans who cried “Not my Star Wars”, the “Fans” who forced Kelly Marie Tran off her social media accounts, the Fans who originally forced George Lucas to sell the rights to Disney who then did a heel-turn and declared that he was the only one who could “save” Star Wars (despite Lucas only directing two good films in his career (that’ll be American Graffiti and Star Wars), those “Fans” have won. Disney have given in to a vocal group of people who decided that they knew better, that they should control the franchise as a whole and went on a campaign to destroy anything and everything related to The Last Jedi, those people were more important than actually telling a good story.

I love Star Wars, despite my above comments I actually do like the Prequels, despite all their faults, the biggest of which being Lucas himself, if he had written them and had someone else direct, as he did Empire and RotJ, I think we could have had 3 really good movies. But thats the past, this is now. I loved The Force Awakens, I adored its nostalgia trip and its high tempo, but I loved The Last Jedi too, I found its chase through space fascinating, that the Resistance being on its last legs, trying to escape and survive was an excellent arc to tell. It didn’t get everything right, but it never was going to and I felt despite all of the “Mystery Boxes” JJ opened up in The Force Awakens, Rhian Johnson did a commendable job of continuing the story. I liked that it continued right after the events of TFA, where we were left with hope, and that that hope was quashed as the might of the First Order showed that despite their grand plan Starkiller base being destroyed, they were a force to be reckoned with. It was a very good, in my opinion, middle to a three part story.

So I find it disappointing that, from the evidence shown so far, The Rise of Skywalker is more focused on remembering the past in the shape of Lando returning to the Falcon once again, that Rei now performs Darth Maul-esque acrobatics and that its confirmed that Palpatine will return in some form thanks to him laughing over the title of the film and Ian McDermind being in attendance at the reveal of the trailer.

Before I close though, I’ll repeat, despite my disappointment at the trailer and what I feel it represents, I’m still excited, because its Star Wars, and I love Star Wars.

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: King of Fighters ’94

Beat-em ups and I don’t generally get on, its definitely a genre I’ve struggled to be good at over the years despite me actually quite liking them. I did get good enough at Soul Calibur, Tekken 3 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2 to win bouts amongst friends, but taking the latter online I was always absolutely steam rollered. Games like those by Capcom and SNK have always left me struggling to even do the most basic of moves consistently, but games like Street Fighter are always used as a barometer for how much of a gamer one is, not that I buy into such things nor care about carrying the title of “gamer”, especially in the now toxic, post GamerGate world we are in today.

So why have I done a #ThrowBackThursday for an old-skool 2D fighter by one of the masters of the genre? Well, because I decided to have a play of it via the SNK Arcade Classics Vol. 1 release on PSP. I’d never played an SNK fighter until I bought an import Dreamcast back in 2006 or something and it had a copy of King of Fighters 99 Dream Match bundled with it. But ’94 is where it all began after SNK had decided to launch a new series featuring characters from their other fighting games, thus King of Fighters.

Unlike other fighters where you pick one brawler to fight through a series of one-on-one until you reach the end credits, KoF’94 tasks you with picking a themed team of three, seperated into countries. I always went with Team UK which features Mai Shiranui (Fatal Fury), Yuri Sakazaki (Art of Fighting) and King (also Art of Fighting). You pick the order they then appear. When one is defeated the next joins the fight, and likewise for your opponent, in a winner stays on manner, health is slightly replenished at the end of a round and you go again.

As I’ve said before I’ve always struggled with these sorts of games, doing quarter circles and the like have always been a challenge for me, I’m not entirely sure why when others find it so easy, and I can do them, just historically not on a consistent basis and thus I’ve nearly always abandoned the fighter of the moment. Now this version of KoF’94 doesnt make things easy by locking away its commands list as an unlockable but thankfully we all have search engines available at our finger tips and after laying out the light and heavy punches and kicks in a way that felt more natural to me (which I think is similar to Tekkens layout (however Tekken uses left and right kick/punch rather than Light and Heavy)) I was able to start pulling off 2 moves each for Mai and Yuri, although King I’m less accurate with. I’ve since begun to be able to use the dodge button (located on the left shoulder button) but quite often forget its there and have learnt how to fill the Power gauge but I’m yet to know how to use it.

That being said, I’m still pretty awful. Normally I can make it through a few stages in single player Arcade Modes on these games without loads of practice, and with Soul Calibur and Tekken I’d regularly see the end credits and unlock more things, but here its rare I get beyond Stage 1 and I’v’e not made it out of Stage 2 despite spending all weekend jumping on the game for a quick bout when my eyes would need a rest from my current book.

bitparade, Gaming, Uncategorized

bitparade: FIFA 07 (XBox)

FIFA 07 has always been the poor mans option when it comes to football games, its the glory fans dream, its the cash rich Chelsea compared Pro Evolution Soccers rest of the Premiership, you know it plays well, but you cant bare to like it.

Unlike FIFA 07 on Xbox 360, which has been completely rebuilt from the ground up, the improvements current-gen FIFA 07 has to offer are more a case evolution than revolution, with the latest in the series building on the elements of FIFA 06 that worked well rather than starting from scratch. As result all of the positives that in the past have made FIFA the best-selling football game on the planet – the hundreds of officially licensed clubs and players, intuitive controls, superb presentation and killer soundtrack – are all present and correct. But it’s the fine-tuned gameplay and new ball physics that really stand out and make FIFA 07 a great game rather than just a good one.

FIFA 07 is the closest to playing the real game that the series has ever been before. This is mainly thanks to the ball physics, in previous version, the physics were incredibly basic, more or less just bouncing round the pitch. Now, the ball feels more like it would if you were really kicking it yourself, goalies have the potential to fumble a shot, deflections can be unpredictable, and all of them happen randomly rather than being activated by a pre-determined animation. Although you may get that lucky goal from a deflection, just like in real life, the game is more based on skill, skill=goals, something thats been severely lacking from previous FIFA titles where the game was more of a punt the ball to the fastest player, get him to run the length of the pitch before passing it to the guy who plays upfront and has the best chance of scoring, both in game and going by his stats.

FIFA has always been about authenticity, real players, real leagues, real shirts, and this year is no different. FIFA 07 boasts an impressive 500 teams from 27 leagues from all over the world. With most players in their proper squads. You see, not all the players have their transfers finalised, one of note is Ashley Cole, hes still at Arsenal, although this can easily be fixed if you have access to XBox Live or PS2’s Online Network as a squad update will automatically download. This is a great feature, and one I hope EA Sports support even when they’re about to release the next game in the series, although this could actually be the last on the current gen systems so its not actually that important that they do.

The games only major flaw is the clumsiness of the goalkeepers on the default settings. They don’t position themselves as well as you would expect for long range shots, and Free-Kicks can leave them far too easily stumped. If you crank up the difficulty however, this problem is more or less alleviated, but even then FIFA 07 is still a game that features alot of high final scores, 4-4 between Arsenal and Manchester United rings a bell. Games are also unpredictable, and morale doesn’t seem to affect players, on opening day, playing as Arsenal, I lose to Blackburn Rovers 4-0 at the Emirates Stadium, second game was away to Chelsea, which I won 3-0, third game was the 4 all draw against Arsenal, it just feels like too much of a rollercoaster, and much of this carried on through out the season, although I did manage to go on a 10 game unbeaten run near the end which won me the title.

Compared to previous games in the series though, FIFA 07 is a huge improvement, and going on this performance, Konami are going to have to put pout all the stops this year to produce the better football game. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 has its work cut out, and this is going to be the closest “season” in terms of football games in history. FIFA is on the up, and is well worth a purchase for any football fan.F

Books, Movies

The Killing Joke

This week we were given a glimpse of what is in store for us in the new Joaquin Phoenix led “Joker”, an origin of the titular Batman villain. The film is set in 1981 and shows us failed stand-up comedian Arthur Fleck who through a variety of events becomes the Joker. Here’s the trailer in case you haven’t seen it already

 

And so it was, after watching the above, I decided to re-read The Killing Joke, the Alan Moore penned comic that gave us a glimpse of an origin story, among other things, for Batman’s most infamous villain.

Despite it being a slim book Moore gives us two tales, the meat of the book is taken up by the Joker trying to drive Commissioner Gordon insane by paralyzing his daughter Barbara Gordon and subjecting him to photographs of her naked body as a part of some horrific Ghost Train ride. It doesn’t really work as intended and leads Gordon to command Batman to “bring him in by the book” to “show him our way works”.

The other part of the book, is as mentioned, an origin story. the reader is introduced to unnamed former employee of a chemical plant who has decided to try his hand on the comedy circuit and is finding he’s not as funny as he or his pregnant wife, Jeannie, think. He is coaxed into helping two criminals attempt to rob his former employers, but on the night of the break in his wife is killed in an unfortunate accident. Still, his new employers demand he goes through with the job and disguise him as the Red Hood (a known criminal), but it all goes wrong, he falls into a vat of chemicals after Batman tries to intervene and he becomes the Joker.

Or thats what the Joker wants us to believe, he wants to push an agenda that all it takes to become as crazy as others perceive him to be is “one bad day”, although he say himself: “Something like that happened to me, you know. I… I’m not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, somestimes another…” “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice! Ha Ha Ha!”. Thats the Joker right there, there never will be a true origin story for him. There will be no mugging, no radioactive spider, no failed experiment. Because the Joker will always tell the tale that best suits his agenda at any given time, Heath Ledger’s “Why so serious?” speech encapsulated why the Joker is so fascinating, Batman, Gordon, Gotham, the reader, the movie-goer, the videogamer, everyone wants to know where he came from, it would make us understand his motives, but the Joker doesn’t really want that.

So we come full circle to Warner Bros’ new Joker movie, its another tale. It’s being sold as a stand-alone character piece, much like The Killing Joke was a standalone graphic novel, but its yet another addition to the mystery that is the Joker.

 

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Street Riders

Does it really count as a #ThrowBackThursday if you’ve never actually played a particular game before? Doesn’t really matter, its an older title on an unsupported platform, thats enough for me.

I actually picked up Street Riders thinking it was something else. I got it confused with Street Supremacy is a part of the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series/genre, Street Riders, whilst featuring cars and streets is a very different game all together.

Street Riders has more in common with the Twisted Metal series than it does a street racer like Tokyo Xtreme Racer. The player is tasked with taking part in a series of races and arena battles with pick ups dotted around the environment. Events are split into 4 types, Race is self explanatory, as is Elimination, Arena (I forget the games actual term) is a cordoned off series of streets or multi-story car park where you compete to be the last one standing and the last mode I’ve come across is another race type but all the pick ups are mines.

Generally speaking, aside from that last event type, pick ups are your standard guns; Uzi’s, Assault Rifles, Shotguns etc, that the stories main character uses by hanging out the passenger seat of the car whilst his female driver races. You control both simultaneously, racing using the standard controls and then firing forwards or backwards using the shoulder buttons. It’s a decent set up and overall the game controls well. The only real difficulty spikes come in during the events where you only have mines available to you, its far too easy for the opponent AI to get into the lead and stay there untouched (you have a handgun as standard but it doesn’t do much in the way of damage, it can slow your opponents down enough to catch them though), however the rubber banding if you get in the lead means you never really shake them and due to the majority of the corners being right angled (thanks to America’s use of the grid system for their cities) its far too easy to lose time and thus lose places. This isn’t as much of an issue in the standard or elimination races as you have a multitude of weapons that can be fired in either direction and thus used to slow down those around you (or blow them up requiring them to be reset to the circuit and losing time) but it makes the mine based races much much more difficult than the rest of the game.

Visually its not actually a bad looking game, its not the best looking racer on the system, but the locations, whilst samey looking, have just enough about them that they aren’t dull and it all moves along at a respectable rate with no noticeable drop in performance.

Street Riders plays out against a West Coast Gangsta Rap kind of setting, with the races and events being the backdrop for turf wars, unfortunately its also an excuse for some awful stereotypes, language and misogyny that litters the game and leaves a bad impression. Driving along and hearing the main character Bucky call out something along the lines of “Damn girl, mind my whip” or the shots of one particular characters cleavage in cutscenes, plus disparaging remarks aimed at her, left me cringing and hitting the volume down button on the PSP, and its ultimately these design choices that harm the game in 2019, some thirteen years after its release when gaming was still obsessed with GTA: San Andreas and being “Street”.

This makes it difficult to recommend Street Riders, the game itself, stripped of its themes and setting, isn’t quite good enough to stand on its own two feet, the setting and sexism, which whilst evident in other similar media such as San Andreas or movies like Boyz in the Hood, isn’t handled with enough skill from the creators which ultimately drags Street Riders down further.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (XBox)

I’ll admit something before going further with this review, I didn’t know at all what to expect from Battlefield 2: Modern Combat, I’d been told plenty about Battlefield 2 on the PC by an old friend and in all honesty it didn’t sound like my sort of thing, I was expecting something overly serious and complicated, and maybe the PC version is, but I was so wrong to think this of a EA console game, and now I can see the series for the masterpiece DICE have made of it.

The biggest difference between the PC and console versions of the game, and something thats being marketed as one of the main reasons to own this version of the series, is the inclusion of a proper Single player game, instead of it being basically like the original TimeSplitters’ single player mode (the same as multilplayer but with bots) DICE have worked very hard, even delaying the game a bit, to get a proper single player experience embedded into the game for those who do not have their PS2 or XBox online.

Tha campaign mode follows a basic structure of you having to achieve certain goals within a mission, with situations changing as the particular battle goes on.The missions involve such things as having to protect an oil rig out to sea from being taken over by enemy troops, you think you’ve achieved it when suddenly the attacks aimed at HQ on a small island in the distance, forcing you to take advantage of the single players unique revolutionary new feature, the Hot Swap.

This feature is activated by aiming your cross hair in the direction of one of your squads AI members and hitting the Hot Swap button if they’re class indicator is highlighted in white, this will fling you across the screen, leaving your old body behind an forcing the screen into a bullet time flying effect as you hurtle across the landscape to take over your new body in a similar way to the Agents in the Matrix films. This allows you to defend various points on a map or take control of a different character class at the switch of a button, giving you huge scope for finishing missions, if you also Hot Swap over certain distances you can earn points which in turn earn stars and Offline Ranks.

Obviously though, the Multiplayer mode is where Battlefield series’ heart always lies, and Modern Combat stands head and shoulders above anything else on XBox Live or PS2 Online for squad based combat. Games take the form of capture the flag, or the more popular Conquest mode (in which you still capture flag points but the longer you hold this posts the more points you earn and the more the opposing team loses), and with the ability for the serves to hold up to 24 players at once, battles can become all out warfare on maps that include helicopters, tanks and jeeps.

My only disappointment with Battlefield 2: Modern Combat doesn’t lie with the game itself, more with the publishers insistence on using its own servers on XBox Live, Microsofts Live servers are among the most reliable online gaming servers, but EA’s just aren’t and they dont seem able to fix them, this could potentially ruin a fantastic game, as the game often freezes when trying to even log you in to your account, but once you do get into a good online game with plenty of people who play fairly (and this game has a better online community than Halo 2 I might add) then you will forgive EA for using their own servers and relish in the fun and manic war that is Battlefield 2: Modern Combat.

Gaming, review

Dangerous Driving

I recently discussed my love of racing games when I did a #ThrowBackThursday for OutRun 2006 and I’ve done some race reports for my attempts at racing online in GTSport. Now I have a brand new racing game to discuss, Three Field Entertainments Dangerous Driving which released earlier this week on PlayStation 4, PC and XBox One.

Dangerous Driving is one of those games thats not shy about its influences, its a pure arcade racer where racing lines and braking points are further down the list than just being outrageously fun. For those that know nothing about it, Dangerous Driving is the latest racing game by Burnout creator Alex Ward, and the pedigree shows. This is Burnout in all but name, albeit it pre-Paradise. Which isn’t a bad thing, not that Burnout Paradise was bad, it was anything but. But like Burnout was prior to Paradise, Dangerous Driving is an incredibly focused piece of adrenaline fueled gaming.

You’ll notice from the very start there’s little in the way of menu’s and options, theres a number of different events ranging from standard races, through takedown events to, my personal favourite, Heatwave mode wherein you chain boosts by using up the full boost bar up without letting go of the controller button. Whilst there’s also a number of different racing class, from Sedans,  SUV’s, Coupe’s and ultimately “Formula DD” or F1 to you and I.

The reason for this stripped back approach is that Three Fields are a tiny team of seven and they’ve put this together in a similar small space of time. Even so, ignoring the lack of polish on the front end, not to mention that theres a distinct lack of in-game music, you can see where all their efforts have gone as the gameplay is pure “in the zone” gaming, and when you are managing to dodge traffic and the persistent wrecks (every Takedown you perform leaves your opponents carcass on the road waiting to take you out on the following lap) you’ll be right on the edge of your seat, not daring to blink as chaos ensues around you.

Things aren’t perfect though. It’ll take a while to get used to the camera position and the sun glare, apparently the team had a discussion over what construes as “dangerous driving” and driving fast whilst blinded by the sun was one of the things that came up which they’ve seen fit to include here. And for what its worth, their goal of making the driving dangerous by including it has been achieved, whether or not it was a good idea is open to debate, after a while its easy to ignore most of the time but sometimes wrecking feels a little unfair due to being blinded. Likewise the chase camera is low to the ground and close to your rear bumper, it does pull back a bit when you’re boosting but its still closer than most games, again, this is a design choice based upon giving the player that sensation of speed. The front bumper cam is even lower. Cars can feel a little unpredictable at times, in particular the SUV’s. Now I’m not a rage gamer, I’ll generally turn a game off through frustration before I’m swearing at it, but Dangerous Driving has driven me close a number of times, especially when in the SUV’s and unfortunately you can progress to a different class without completing the prior one first. Which, whilst being standard progression for this sort of game historically, I can see it frustrating some. Lastly the steering sensitivity is a little high, you can turn it down in the options but at the time of writing the game doesn’t save these changes so you have to change it every time you start the game up.

These are only minor niggles though, and some are definetly done on purpose to provide a challenge for the player and set Dangerous Driving aside from the faux-arcade racers like Forza Horizon. What we have here is an excellent addition to the genre, it may or may not be the case that I’ve given it an easier time due to a lack of anything similar on current hardware, its pedigree and the developers cashing in on nostalgia, but provided this leads to Three Fields bringing us more Dangerous Driving in the future, I’m really happy to recommend that anyone looking for some balls out fun gives this a go.

 

Formats: PlayStation 4 (Version Tested), PC, XBox One
Release Date: 9th April 2019
Publisher: Three Fields Entertainment
Developer: Three Fields Entertainment

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday – Monster Hunter Freedom 2

I’ve quite liked Capcom’s Monster Hunter series for a while now, the one I got into the most was 2018s Monster Hunter World which was the original inspiration for me running a blog, prior to that it was Tri on the Wii. I’ve mostly bounced off the PSP releases even though I can see their merit (and they’re very similar to Tri) but having recently bought a new PSP I’ve gone back to Monster Hunter Freedom 2.

Whats amazing to me is just how different it all feels going back to the “old style” Monster Hunter after spending a good chunk of last year playing World. I found the PS4 game to still be quite difficult but now I see just how much more streamlined it is and how much it holds the players hands. Freedom 2 expects you to find everything for yourself.  For the first hour I was accepting quests from the Gathering Hub and then wondering why I was having my arse handed to me, it then clicked this was the multiplayer area of the game and I’d have to find the single player stuff elsewhere so left the Gathering Hub and found the village Elder outside whom sent me to gather Mountain Herbs and a few other bits (I decided to skip the Training School). I’ve now gotten onto the 2 star quests and discovered the Pokke Farm etc, its weird not having the floating green bug from World point EVERYTHING you can gather out to you and its weird having to have items in your inventory before you can combine them rather than being able to do so from your Item Box (and having to remember the recipes yourself). But I’m getting there and am enjoying having a Monster Hunter I can carry with me, on a rather lovely screen (I tried the demo of one of the 3DS games and found it all a bit too cramped).

Most of all though I’m enjoying the challenge of the combat, whilst I still wouldn’t say World is an easy game (I know some would) I’m finding that having to time my attacks and knowing when I can go all out on a combo attack, knowing that one false move will leave me completely exposed and put me on the back foot. I do miss World’s tracking though, following footprints, checking scrapings, dung etc to lead me to the bigger beasts in that game, and I am wondering if there will be moments where bigger creatures fight each other and I’m hoping beyond hope that there isn’t anything like Tri’s Qurupeco in this as I abhorred that creature!