bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Serious Sam 2 (XBox)

The title of the game is a bit misleading, don’t misunderstand this game, in fact the back of the box spells out exactly what this game is like “Bigger Guns! Weirder Enemies! Pick up where Sam “Serious” Stone left off as he battles the hordes of minions of Mental, the biggest, most evil guy in the Universe. Get ready to grab a gun and blow $#!%up…..again!” So how is the games title misleading? Well Serious Sam 2 is far from being a serious game.

Heck in the opening of the game it makes a joke of itself when Sam notices NETRISKA (a computer implant in his head) suddenly has a voice, to which it responds “We have a bigger gaming budget now” But not only does it have a dig itself but at other games too. In one particular section early on, a tribe leader refers to Sam as Samus, which appears to annoy big Sam a little.

The game itself is very on rails, aside from a few small secrets, it really is how the original Doom would be gameplay wise if it was released this generation, well minus the Mars setting and hellspawn. Theres no thinking about your surroundings, you don’t have to worry too much about ammo, theres not much chance that you’ll get lost or come across a dead end in any of the levels. Croteam have made Serious Sam 2 as simple as a modern day FPS can be in order to make it fun, and its this simplicity that is also Serious Sam 2’s downfall.

You see, because Croteam have made the game so simple, Serious Sam 2 becomes very repetitive very quickly, all it involves is moving from one location to another shooting everything in site as fast as you can, sometimes you get to use turrets or vehicles but its the same idea still and its only the games weirdly ingenious creature designs that keep you entertained. You find yourself working through each area just to see what new weird looking thing will attack you next, but even this wears thin.

Overall if your looking for something thats not as serious as Half Life 2 or Quake 4 and more macho than Master Chief (amazingly thats actually possible!) then Serious Sam is for you.

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: Phantasy Star Online

I often use these #ThrowBackThursday posts to reminisce about some of my favourite games that I’ve played since I first picked up a controller, occasionally I’ll cover something old that I’ve been playing recently (usually if its something I’ve picked up cheap on PSP or its one of the Retro Game Club games, which I’ve not actually joined in with this month). So far though the only one that I’ve written about that had any long-term impact on me is Metal Gear Solid, but even that game didn’t have as much an impact on my life, for better or worse, than Sonic Team’s Phantasy Star Online.

Like many games of its era, I came to learn of Phantasy Star Online through a friend, most of the time it was Aaron and this time was no different. He was properly hyped about the Dreamcast prior to its release and would obsess over every image and article he could get his hands on. I remember him showing me screenshots of PSO in some magazine whilst on the bus one day, I don’t recall where we were going but I thought it looked pretty cool. There were two legged bear wolf things (I later learned these were called Booma’s), lightsabers, massive rifles and scantily dressed girls casting magic, what more could an adolescent boy want?

Now, obviously Aaron was first to get a copy, I think he must have used money he got for Christmas to get it. I didn’t have the cash initially, so I bought a VMU (the Dreamcasts answer to the Memory Card) and made a character at his, not knowing that it would be tied to that console/copy of the game and thus I wouldn’t be able to use it elsewhere, and it would take a couple of months doing my five hour a week supermarket job to be able to actually buy a Dreamcast and a copy of the game, at which point Aaron was miles ahead and already has made friends with a group online so wasn’t massively interested in running round with a level 1 character.

So once I had the console and game for myself I decided to start a different type of character. Gone was the purple haired, Disco Stu inspired HUmar (Hunter Male Human) I called Dibley, and in his place (until I had enough VMU’s to have too many characters) was a RAcast (Ranger Male Robot) titled Mumunk 2001, I designed it in such a way that the sliders were at their maximum.

I chipped away in the offline mode, a little afraid to go online, not because of other people, that bit excited me, but it took a while to wear my Mum down to allow me to take the Dreamcast online as at the time we’d have to pay for every minute I spent online. Plus I only had a 50hz TV in my bedroom and the game would ask you upon boot up what refresh rate required and if you went online you’d only be able to play on servers with players of the same. Anyway, she succumbed, I’d be allowed an hour every other night where I could go online using the “big telly” (the one in the living room, a big wide screen Panasonic with surround sound) once my Step Dad had gone to bed.

She was right to be apprehensive though, as I soon started to push my boundaries and ran up huge phone bills, often forcing us to be cut off and her scrambling round to pay the bill before my Step Dad notice and flipped his lid. You see, I’d made my own friends on the game by this point, most of them older or on the other side of the pond (as I was normally playing later at night than my local friends would have been), and wanted to spend as much time as them as possible. When I wasn’t on the Dreamcast with them, keyboard on lap and Feeder, Muse, System of a Down or Linkin Park playing over headphone, I’d be on forums with them discussing more about the game, among other things.

Eventually our tariff changed, I can’t remember if we changed suppliers or if the supplier changed how they handled the internet. I cant remember if we were on BT to begin with and then changed to NTL or if NTL changed things up, but eventually the internet would be free for an hour and then you’d be charged for any time you were still online after that, but there was a way around the restriction. If you disconnected before the hour was up you could immediately reconnected and go online for another hour and so on for as long as you could keep going. Soon enough I’d be using chat shortcuts to signal when I’d have to do this and as many of us were on the same provider we’d often all disconnect and reconnect then meet in our regular lobby for a chat, see who wanted to run what quest (rooms were limited to four players, whilst lobbies could hold many more) and then break off, sometimes communicating with the others individually via the games in-game mailing system.

Eventually the community became fragmented, SEGA released Version 2 of the game which had additional modes, equipment, and additional difficulty level with new bosses and a raised level cap (although it took as long to get to level 101 as it did to get from level 1 to 100), and again I was left behind. I could still communicate with my group of friends but some moved on to other things and some moved onto Version 2 whilst I was still on the original game and they, rightfully, wanted to explore the new content. I made other friends and it was here that I truly became addicted. I’d be up all night, the moment my Step Dad went to bed I’d turn the Dreamcast on and then I’d be on all night, most of the time not even actually playing the game, just chatting in the lobbies, before sneaking upstairs when I knew my Mum’s alarm was about to go off. I started missing college due to lack of sleep and before long was on anti-depressants.

Other problems arose, I started to really enjoy spending time with one particular person on there, and yes it was a girl. She asked if she could phone me one day, so I gave her my number and she called and we spoke for an hour or so, and she made me promise that I’d not tell the rest of our group, thing was I knew she’d done this with almost everyone, and most of them spoke about it via the private messaging system. I happened to mention it to the wrong guy, who seemed to take on a role as her protector, and after that I was ostracised from the group as she got them to close ranks (and none of them admitted to her they’d also told each other about her phone calls). That was bad enough, and I struggled with it for ages, trying to get her to talk to me, either one to one (I wanted her attention and I wanted to apologise for breaking her trust) or with others around it didn’t really matter, but I begun to give up, and chat with a different group, mostly people from an American forum I was also a member of. Occasionally I’d see people who I knew were part of her clique appear in the same lobby, run past my character and then warp to another lobby. This went on for a while, then she would appear, hang round in the lobby, try and chat to the people I was talking to then disappear. I’d tried to say hi the first few times but received no reply and gave up, it was all a bit weird.

As time went on, and even when I eventually got Version 2, I grew tired of doing this routine and moved onto chat rooms and MSN Messenger on the PC instead, which is where I met my partner who I’m still with nearly 17 years later. We have three children together and now I look back on those moments and laugh both at myself and the behaviour of those around me within the game. I played other versions as they were released, the Gamecube one in splitscreen with my partner and the XBox version via XBox Live with a few people I was on a different forum with. I’d played the PC demo SEGA released around the time of Version 2 coming out, although that was mostly to get screenshots and the like to cut up for fan wallpapers I’d then stick on Deviantart or fansites, and ultimately I had a blast at Blue Burst when that came out but was reluctant to buy into SEGA’s subscription model at the time but have since dipped in and out of private servers such as SCHTHACK or Ephinea over the years, often having to restart when the mood takes me to give it a go again as my character would have been wiped due to inactivity.

I even once went through the convoluted process to play PSO2 on PC when that came out in Japan, but there was no translation file then and my PC wasn’t upto snuff for it anyway so I soon stopped playing, but now SEGA and Microsoft have announced PSO2 is to be released on PC and XBox One outside of Japan for the first time and I was genuinely excited, unfortunately there’s nothing on the cards regarding a European release at this time. But when there is I’ll definitely be there!

Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday Panzer Dragoon Orta

Back when I first bought my original XBox, sometime in 2003, there were two games I wanted for it more than any others, the first was Jet Set Radio Future, the other was Panzer Dragoon Orta. I’d only ever played a tiny little bit of the original Panzer Dragoon on the Saturn (it may have even been Zwei) and I barely remember any of what I played, but the feeling of riding a dragon and shooting stuff out of the sky stayed with me, as did the games visual design, in particular that of the dragons which (apart from the wings and tail) don’t really look anything like what you or I would describe if asked what a dragon looked like.

The XBox was the second of that generations consoles that I owned, I got a Gamecube of my own a little later when everywhere was selling it off really cheap, and whilst most people bought the system for Halo, I was interested in SEGA’s output coming off the back of the Dreamcast bombing. With titles like the two already mentioned, plus SEGA GT and Crazy Taxi 3, Microsofts (then) humongous console felt like the perfect console for me. That it later got other key SEGA games was further proof of that.

Onto Panzer Dragoon Orta though, as mentioned, I’d had a very brief play of a previous title in the series and knew of the rarity of SEGA’s RPG entry into the series. I’d also played alot of Rez via the PS2 version (because the Dreamcast version was hard to get for someone who’d recently left a big city and moved to a medium sized town). All that magazines were saying how stunning it was visually, so after being payed one day, I left work out the back door and headed to the independent games shop that was on the road behind the shop I worked in at the time. Handed over my cash and walked out with a very heavy bag containing an XBox, Jet Set Radio Future and Panzer Dragoon Orta.

I played the latter through until completion and loved it at the time, but never really returned to it. That is until SEGA unveiled they were remastering the original Panzer Dragoon for Switch at this years E3. I checked the XBox One backwards compatability list, saw that Orta would work on my One S and got the ladders out to go search the loft and soon came down with my copy.

Straight away I’m genuinely blown away by just how good it looks, it was a looker at the time and I was expecting it to have aged a little in that time but it really has stood up to the test of time. Okay, its not of the quality of a AAA game released today but its still a stunning looking game. Which it doesn’t have any rights to be. Panzer Dragoon Orta was released between December 2002 and March 2003 depending upon where in the world you live. Thats roughly the same time frame as Devil May Cry 2 and The Getaway were released on PlayStation 2 which haven’t aged well at all, and whilst yes, I understand the XBox was more powerful than the PlayStation 2, there’s a certain level of fidelity, not to mention design choices, that really make Panzer Dragoon Orta really stand out.

It’s not worth much if it only looks good though, so thankfully Smilebit knocked it out of the park with the gameplay too. What we have here is an on-rails shooter, like Rez, Afterburner, Space Harrier and Lylat Wars. You follow a pre-determined route and move the player character, in this case the titular Orta riding a dragon who breaks her out of prison cell, around the screen, dodging parts of the environment and enemy fire whilst unleashing plasmoid hell on anything that gets in your way. You can move the camera through four different viewpoints (forwards, backwards and each side) much like in Rez and have a few different attacks available to you.

One thing is for certain, its not as easy as Rez. The two share alot of similarities, but Mizuguhi’s shooter is very definetly about the combined experience of the visuals and creation of music. Panzer Dragoon Orta is very old-skool in its styling, a near perfect evolution of some of those 80’s arcade games that have become synonymous with the SEGA name and thus its aged incredibly well as a game, the visuals just add to that.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Half-Life 2 (XBox)

For many Half Life was the greatest FPS ever made, the way scenes were played out in real-time in front of your eyes without the game having to switch back and forth between cut-scenes and gameplay hadn’t ever been done that well before, and the way it all worked added a great atmosphere to the game that made you feel as though you really were stuck in a scientific research facility where a dimension warp had occurred and this made you feel genuinely worried about what was around the next corner, scientists would be dragged into air ducts and you could do nothing but watch as they screamed.

Then Half Life 2 came along and PC owners were having to upgrade their machines all over again thanks to the games fantastic graphics and physics engine. It was the first truly “next generation” game we’d seen, so how ironic that the same month that the first of the next-gen consoles, the XBox 360, is released, its predecessor receives its own port of the FPS to own a PC for. And to look at it you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a first generation XBox 360 title, minus all the Mr Sheen that those games seem to be covered in. This is proof, if needed, that developers are only just getting the most from the 128-bit systems and that the next-gen has come a little bit too early.

The biggest issue with PC to Console conversions seems to be in the controls department, but with the sheer amount of FPS titles that are on the XBox this should never be a problem for any developer, in fact the only real problem most have faced is getting the sensitivity of the controls right, and Half Life 2 seems to hit the nail on the head here, although when you switch from running around to driving one of the games vehicles it does feel a little odd at first, but this was reportedly a problem some had with the PC version of the game, and in all honesty it might have been done on purpose as looking at the vehicles, they appear to be made of scrap and wouldn’t handle too well in real life so its been made this way within the game. The controls in the vehicles too, add to the games tension, especially when your in battle with creatures, helicopters or anything else the game may throw at you. For instance at the end of the hover bike section of the game, you have to take on a helicopter and due to the handling of the vehicle you really are the underdog in this battle, but once you do overcome this particular section, the sense of achievement is so worthwhile that you feel the game cannot challenge you anymore.

But its not just in terms of difficult sections that the game challenges you with, one particular area will have your nerves on edge so much you’ll question through it, it really is that scary and is where you are introduced to some new creatures.

This particular area is Ravenholm, and for me personally it was scarier than any Resident Evil, Silent Hill or Project Zero game created is farm and this isn’t even a survival horror title. The Poison Headcrabs and Fast Zombies in particular are what make this area especially scary, especially when they come at you at the time. But theres some fun to be had here too, although in a sadistic way, said fun involves throwing circular saw discs with your gravity gun and, my particular favourite, setting alight the gas tank traps while zombies are chasing after you.

This is one of the areas where you notice the quality of the sound, with the zombies moans transferring to the screams of those trapped beneath the headcrabs as they burn alive.

I could really go on forever about what makes Half Life 2 so great, from the physics (you can play on a roundabout in a park near the beginning) to the lighting of the areas and how natural the controls and how they respond feel. But I’d end up giving too much away, and probably boring you to death. I will say, however, that Valves only mistake was to not include any Multiplayer modes, offline or on. But considering what they’ve achieved here anyway, its really not needed.

Half Life 2 receives a 10 purely because it is the XBox’s most complete single player experience, it also scores higher than its PC equivalent because of the fete that Valve have achieved in transferring the game to the XBox in such good form. If your after a game to play on your own, without having Live there to distract you, look no further, I really can’t recommend this game enough.

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

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.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Advent Rising (XBox)

Why do poor games get released? Especially those that haven’t got some sort of license attached. This is what Advent Rising is, its not going to win any awards for its quality, no is it going to recieve sales due to being tied to a lucrative franchise like Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects, so it beggers belief as to why Majesco would release it.

So where do these problems lie? Well where do we even beging to start? Controlling you character is extremely clumsy, with multiple actions assigned to the same button, the right analogue stick is used for targetting enemies rather than controlling the camera as is the norm, leavin the controls feeling muddled, broken and confusing. The powers you learn throughout the game cannot be used effectly while your using a weapon, leaving you to choose one or the other, leading to problems when a number of enemies are thrown at you by the games seemingly random spawn rate. Not to mention the poor camera and animation that often leaves your character looking like someone with a severe case of epilepsy.

The colour pallette of the game is so reminiscent of Halo, that Bungie should look into filing a lawsuit, which, I suppose, is one way to say that Advent Rising offers nothing original from the rest of the Sci-Fi games that can be found on store shelves.

The biggest problem with Advent Rising is that it didn’t have to be this poor, the opening sequence alone promises something alot better than what is really on offer. You are docked into a space station with ab great orchestral score puimping out of the speakers. The ideas behind the game and a small portion of the games content show some potential, and the musical score is fantastic. But the way in which everything is executed is just horribly broken, plsus the gameis truly one of the ugliest to have appeared on Microsofts console and the fact the physics engine seems to have been removed will me
an any sort of excitement generated by the games opening is quickly diminished.

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Destroy All Humans 2 (XBox)

Destroy All Humans! gained popularity for its B-Movie inspired setting coupled with its Grand Theft Auto style sandbox gameplay and its foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed extra-terrestrial lead character, who went by the name of Crypto. Destroy All Humans! 2 should surely gain some fans then as its basically the same game, just set during a different era in human life, the 60’s rather than the 50’s, but it tries too much to stick to its original formula.

Is this the games failing though? It’s hard to say, Pandemic deserve credit for just how well they create these open-environment games, the previous Destroy All Humans! was perfectly enjoyable, as were Mercenaries and the Star Wars Battlefront games (which arguably aren;t as open environment as others but you’re still pretty much left to your own devices), and Destroy All Humans! 2 is no exception, as a stand alone game, rather than a sequel, it would be receiving the same sort of praise as the original game did, but again, as a sequel, it can feel a little forced and tired at times.

One way in which DAH!2 differs to its predecessor is that this time round Crypto is going on a bit of a World Tour, taking in the sights and sounds of Tokyo and London among others. This gives Pandemic alot of room to play with stereotypical humour based on the natives of each location and does lead to some genuine smile raising moments, if not a slight snigger on the odd occasion. Unfortunately, many of the scripted-responses are repeated time and time again, there really isn’t alot of jokes on offer this time round from your prey, the Human race. Due to this, it feels like DAH!2 was a quick cash-in on the success of the original and it hasn’t had the same amount of love and dedication from the developers that DAH! had.

Fortunately for Pandemic, these errors in the games humour doesn’t detract from the fun that can be had from the games actual gameplay, although due to very limited graphical improvements and pretty much the same structure to how the game pans out, it can feel a little confused at times, Destroy All Humans! 1.5 if you will.

Destroy All Humans! 2 then is a bit like those tins of Chocolates you get around Christmas, there are parts of it that you could class as the Hazelnut in Caramels (Purple ones) that everyone will enjoy, bland ones that tend to go when all the best ones are gone, and then the Orange Creams that tend to go last and leave a funny taste in your mouth that is only enjoyed by a minority. While playing it, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that if Pandemic had made this a XBox360 title, complete with online play and a longer development time, it would of been on par with the original game, if not better than it, but as it stands its a moderately enjoyable Swingin’ Sixities, World Travelling Hippy Abduscting Alien Romp.