Sunday, December 28, 2014

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3) Review


Uncharted seems to be the PlayStation 3's crown jewel, so I made this my first target in setting out with the system. I'm a fan of Indiana Jones and the bits I've seen of the Uncharted games seemed to follow in that vein. The game certainly looks the part (and does its best to be), but it doesn't quite meet those aspirations.

I remember Uncharted being that game. The killer app that was supposed to turn a console's fortunes around. It does a pretty good job of coming close to that. The graphics are still impressive, even for a game from 2007.



The character models aren't as good as anything we have now, but the environments still hold up well. In playing this and some other PlayStation 3 games I've noticed that a lot of games use pretty low texture resolution with the lighting sort of pre-applied to the textures. This isn't as much of an issue in Uncharted since you're never really close enough to many objects to see this, so it all works very convincingly.

The story for Uncharted focuses on Nathan Drake, the self proclaimed descendent of Sir Francis Drake. When the game opens Drake has tracked down Francis Drake's coffin, which contains a diary seemingly pointing towards El Dorado, the lost city of gold. Instead, Drake learns that El Dorado is actually a gold statue which was hauled away by the Spaniards to an island in the pacific. Drake heads to the island with a reporter named Elena who is trying to film a documentary.

Unfortunately, the characters never really feel fleshed out. They have enough personality to stand on their own, but you'd always like to know a bit more. Uncharted hurtles forward like a Hollywood blockbuster, so there's never really any time for that. Naughty Dog did their best to make Nathan Drake a ringer for Indiana Jones, but he never quite has the qualities to pull of the arrogance in a charming way. Elena is about as interesting as a wet rag and unfortunately, our villains are as well. The story never really rises above serviceable, but the lore surrounding El Dorado that the game creates is an interesting twist.


Uncharted plays out as a third person adventure game. There's a fair amount of platforming here, which works very well. You'll be scaling walls, swinging on vines, doing... adventurer stuff, I suppose. It would've been nice to have a bit more platforming, actually. There's also a puzzle element to the game. These are very poorly designed. They're not bad, they just make you feel like an idiot. I'm not a fan of games constantly pandering, but there are certain things that are sort of expected with puzzles in games. Some kind of indication of what exactly you should be doing.

You're right, idol. I probably shouldn't have sex. Shia LaBoeuf be damned.

Let me explain; early in the game, a character (Sully) who is helping you lights a sort of giant torch on fire with a cigar. This in turn causes a lantern on the ceiling to light as well. In front of you is a giant pile of wood that it appears you can move out of the way somehow. The lantern on the ceiling is chained; logically, you can't shoot it down. Uncharted doesn't really give you hints or a clear solution. Sully makes some kind of a statement about burning the wood pile to get through. I immediately start looking for something to light off of the main torch thing. There's a lot of different objects in the environment, so the lantern is not the immediate choice. I wandered aimlessly for a few minutes until Sully says "try shooting the lantern." So, I shoot it. It doesn't break or fall down, it just sort of drops a bit of burning wood and it sets the pile on fire. Not only was this not intuitive, you made me feel stupid. I spent a fair amount of time looking for another way, then you just insult me with the answer.

Not all of the puzzles have the same absent-mindedness to their design, but there are a few. I think the key to making a good puzzle is to make it just obscure enough, but also just obvious enough. Then you feel clever, you're getting something done. That just wasted my time and made me feel stupid in the end.


The rest of the game plays out as a third person shooter. There's a fun variety of weapons, but ammo can seem a bit scarce. For the most part, you'll be hugging cover and popping out to take shots. The shooting mechanics aren't the best. Your targeting reticule is a bit large and touchy, and it can be hard to get a good shot on an enemy. In addition, they take a lot of shots to take down. Some real bullet sponge business. This wouldn't be as glaring of an issue, but Uncharted isn't really a long game. It took me about 7 hours to finish. Moving through the levels doesn't take long, the only real hold up is the enemies. Once you're in an area where you're being attacked, it's wave after wave after wave of enemies. You're likely to die once or twice just because of the volume of enemies and the fact that they never stop coming. They just kind of upped the enemy count to pad out the game. It's sort of weird. With all of the bodies laying around at the end of some segments I think Nathan Drake may be a more prolific killer than Max Payne.

That difficulty padding applies heavily to the final boss as well. For the most part, he's an average shot. However, if you're popped out at a specific time he will shoot you in the head without fail, every time. It feels cheap and it's very annoying. It's especially odd as there's really nothing else in the game resembling a boss.

Forced motion controls!? NO WAY!

The controls can occasionally be frustrating. Using the Sixaxis control to balance on logs is annoying but it doesn't come up too often. This is also one of those games were buttons are context sensitive. There were a few times where I ended up hopping over a ledge to my death inadvertently. Surprisingly, the platforming goes off without a hitch. Everything with the game comes together when you're scaling walls. There are some odd design choices; in particular, a scene where you're riding with Elena on a jet ski. If you want to fire, you have to come to a complete stop to use your weapon. This obviously opens you up to being immediately fucking ruined with a rocket launcher.

It sounds like I have pretty heavy criticism for this game, but I did end up enjoying it quite a bit. It's just brainless enough that it's enjoyable to come back to and it's just clever enough to make you want to come back. This is one of those games where you know the sequel will rectify every single nitpick and make it all better. Time proved that to be right as Uncharted 2 was a blockbuster when it came out. I've got it sitting on the shelf, and I'm working my way to it. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune can be had for very cheap, and it's worth the 7 hours.

The Score: 8/10

Monday, December 15, 2014

Repairing the PlayStation 2's PS1 Fuse with a Resettable Fuse

First things first... this isn't a PlayStation 1 fuse. It's a PS1 fuse. That's what it's labeled as on the motherboard.

This sucker is also the destroyer of worlds if you anger it.

The PS1 fuse is there for the power and eject buttons. If you've never opened a PS2, these are a nightmare. They're attached by a ~8 inch ribbon cable to the motherboard. The actual power and eject buttons are connected to the top of the case, meaning you have to walk on eggshells every time you open the PS2.

This fuse blows at the slightest disturbance. I blew mine out just doing some routine maintenance. I found that I had a V4 PS2 and not a V3 as I thought, so I bought a KHS-400C laser since they're reputed to be more reliable (it does seem to be). Anyways, while I was closing up the system I didn't have this ribbon cable seated well. It was slightly off, which shorted the cable and blew the PS1 fuse.

Shitty. Without the PS1 fuse functioning, there is no way to turn on the PS2 and use it. I don't like how easily this fuse blows, so I wanted to negate any future issues. I considered bridging the fuse, but if it blows that easily, this seemed like a bad idea. Enter resettable fuses. They don't blow like traditional fuses, and they're widely used in modern electronics. Opening any recent game console, you'll see resettable fuses everywhere. As always, Wikipedia has the rundown.

The PS1 fuse for a V4 PlayStation 2 is a 400 miliamp (or .4 amps) fuse rated at 12 volts. I couldn't find a 400mA 12v resettable fuse, so I bought a 400mA 60v fuse. The voltage really doesn't matter here, the amps do.

Pre-Installation

There's not enough clearance on the board for the resettable fuse to stand, so I trimmed the legs quite a bit and laid it down. Since the fuse is blown, you don't need to remove it; the current isn't moving through the fuse, so soldering either end of the fuse to the other will bypass the blown fuse. I left the original PS1 fuse in and soldered the resettable fuse to the sides of the fuse. This made life considerably easier since the original fuses are surface mount components.


There it is all installed. I trimmed the legs down to where they bend inwards. It was the perfect size to fit right against the edges of the original fuse. I had concerns about this working even though it was completely sound in theory. I reassembled everything and...


Perfect!

Now I can get back to Final Fantasy XII. I did have a working PS2 slim, but I really hate that thing. Plus I'm very attached to my HDD mod now. I'll do a post on setting all of that up soon.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Xbox Mod Adventure: Part 3

Now that the difficult things are out of the way, on to the easy stuff (depending on skill level).

First is putting on a more user friendly dash. I prefer an older version of XBMC with the MC360 skin. I think the newer versions of XBMC are a bit more style over substance.

Fantasy football team name + The Sacko for some smack talk.

There's a few different ways to get XBMC as your main dash. A more popular option is to set it up with a shortcut XBE that will change boot priority for dashes, but I just deleted UnleashX and dropped XBMC in. I figure this leaves less room for error and I felt ballsy enough to do it since I had XboxHDM running anyways. If you don't have XboxHDM and your EEPROM, you probably shouldn't do that just because you'll be screwed if you mess it up.

I left UnleashX on the Xbox and put it in the applications folder. UnleashX is a good way to rip games, so it's a useful dash to keep around. Honestly, there's not a whole lot UnleashX can do that XBMC can't if your Xbox is only softmodded. So, I ripped all of my Xbox games with UnleashX which did not take too long (probably averaged out to about 12 minutes per game, much better than ripping games to the PS2 HDD), and added about 30 more games which I downloaded.

If you're downloading games, you'll need to FTP them to the Xbox. Filezilla is a wonderful option for this. If you don't have a crossover cable then you can share your wi-fi connection through your ethernet port and connect your Xbox to your computer that way. You'll then be able to check the IP address in XBMC (or on the main screen in UnleashX) and start moving your games over.


I ended up putting 82 games on the Xbox. There was still a fair amount of free space as well, but I think I covered most of the Xbox essentials. I also put on quite a few emulators. This is a pretty good list of what's available


These were the emulators I ended up putting on. There's a few MAME games, a full NeoGeo set, full Gameboy/Color/Advance sets, full SNES set, full NES set, full Genesis set and full 32X set. The Nintendo 64 emulator has about 100 of the games that work best with the emulator. After all of the games went on, there was still over 200gb left. Plenty of space to add more MAME games and get a healthy collection going for a PlayStation emulator, too. The NeoGenesis emulator is actually pretty cool, as it will run genuine Sega CD games from the Xbox's drive. Sort of a novelty thing, but I tried it out.

I also added DLC for all of the original Xbox games that had it and applied title updates as well. You can no longer download the title updates or the DLC since the original Xbox Live servers went offline, but some kind souls created installers with all of the content that you can download and run. They'll install the DLC and sign it to your console.

A lot of that content is multiplayer only... but all is not lost. Most multiplayer Xbox games had LAN options... which you can tunnel over the internet and play with other people. Enter XLink Kai and XBConnect. These let you tunnel that connection and play online. I use XLink Kai semi-frequently for Halo 2. This is the most common game people play, but I've managed to get people together to play some Tony Hawk 2x as well (awesome). I prefer XLink Kai's interface and the fact that it has a native OS X client. XBConnect has a much more serious crowd, which can sort of interrupt the fun of just getting online to play.

Anyways, this Xbox is done.


It needs to be cleaned though. A lot of consoles seem to favor these ridges in their design for some reason. Dust likes to sit in those ridges but it's not a problem.

I take a paper towel, wet it and then use a credit card to run it along the inside of the ridges to get the dust out.



Now it looks brand new and it's better than ever with a 500gb HDD and tons of games.

I traded this Xbox to my friend for a 120gb PlayStation 3 slim, Max Payne 3, Uncharted 3, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Sports Champions, two DualShock 3 controllers, two Move controllers and the PS3 camera. He was having issues with data becoming corrupted on the hard drive and didn't want to mess with fixing it, so he bought a PS4 and wanted a way to play some older games.

This Xbox was actually finished and the exchange was made a couple of weeks ago, so I'll have some PlayStation 3 stuff up soon.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Xbox Mod Adventure: Part 2

Just because everything has to be a debacle whenever I want to do anything, let's jump right in. Get that transistor replaced, a new DVD drive put in and a new faceplate.



Since the transistor is so damn small, I went ahead and bought a 4.5 watt battery powered soldering iron. I have to say I'm in love with this thing. You'd have to leave it on until the batteries drained to lift a pad or fuck anything up severely. As much as I solder things, it's just not my strong point. It's usually an exercise in frustration, and this iron is pretty idiot proof. I'm down.


It was surprisingly easy. This soldering iron wasn't heating up enough to get the transistor removed easily, so I actually ended up cutting the legs with an exacto knife and then just removing the legs from the pads afterwards. The transistor is tiny enough that I had to hold it in place with tweezers. I couldn't steady my hand enough to set it down on the board and do the soldering. It actually went in incredibly easily.


Aaand here's our current faceplate. Nice scuffs. The power button was shot off with an airsoft gun by my friend who originally sold me the Xbox that was in this case for $5. There's a couple of spots around the buttons on the glossy spot where he missed the button and there are airsoft BB size indents. The faceplate I got to replace it was "Microsoft recertified."


Surprisingly it actually does seem to be either new or refurbished. Even has some plastic covering the glossy bit to prevent scratches. Nice.

Now for the DVD drive. This has a Thompson in it currently. They are fucking horrible. I bought a Samsung drive to replace it. Thankfully the Xbox drives can work with any console, they aren't locked to the motherboard like Xbox 360 DVD drives.


You can see that the Samsung drive doesn't have the Xbox bezel. That's not a problem, as the bezel actually just slides up vertically and it can be switched to another drive.

So, moment of truth... was the transistor the problem?


Yes it was! This is the only thing that will go right from here on out.

Also, in case you were curious..


That's the transistor that was removed from the Xbox. It's that fucking small.

Anyways, let's get this shit rolling. Back to loading up Agent Under Fire with the Ndure exploit copied over to the HDD. Start up Agent Under Fire, load the game and...


We have softmod! Create an MS backup, install the softmod, install UnleashX, patch the stock dash and we're (allegedly) good to go. Now, if this worked from this point, you would need to have some way to power the secondary HDD that you're going to be installing into the Xbox.


Here's our subject, a 500gb Hitachi Deskstar. While it's not made by Apple, we're going to say that we're putting some Apple into this Xbox. So, I got the HDD running on external power, swapped out the IDE cable for the DVD drive, FTP'd Chimp over to the Xbox, started Chimp... except Chimp wouldn't start. I checked the file layout I had a million times. Everything was right. Well, it turns out this is a 1.6b Xbox. Chimp was re-done to have compatibility with 1.6 Xboxes, so this should work right?

I talked it over with some online pals who are also into Xbox modding. One of them had no idea. The other had no idea too... until he remembered that he had a 1.6b Xbox at one point that Chimp just refused to run on. So, something about the 1.6b Xbox prevents Chimp from running correctly. Now we're going full old school in order to get this fucker working.

I forgot to mention with that whole softmod thing, back your motherfucking EEPROM up. The Xbox's HDD is keyed to the motherboard using the EEPROM. If your HDD dies? Your Xbox is dead, unless you've got your EEPROM. Fuck something up on your softmod and the Xbox won't work? Your Xbox is dead. Unless you get an EEPROM reader. Anywho, we're going to take that EEPROM and format the HDD manually.


Here's my old shitty HP piece of shit with IDE connections. We'll be using a Linux boot disc that runs something called XboxHDM. XboxHDM can install original MS Dash files, format the drive correctly, install a softmod and finally lock the HDD with a copy of the EEPROM that was backed up in the softmod process.


Nice and simple. It's actually very easy to use and faster than you'd expect, too. There's a few different tutorials out there, and a lot of them don't seem to be fully correct. I couldn't get the drive to launch in the Xbox until I came across this post

You're not totally done after this though. You'll need to FTP XbPartitioner to the HDD and run it to get the full HDD size available. After all that...


UnleashX and a nice 500gb HDD.

Next: adding games, a different dashboard and emulators.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Killzone (PlayStation 2) Review


Back in November of 2004, two apparent titans of gaming were about to be unleashed. Halo 2 and the Halo killing Killzone. Fanboys on both sides unleashed a cacophony of insults. Keyboards snapped under the pressure. Nokia cell phones rang nonstop. Gamecube owners were confused.

Then.. The dust suddenly settled. Everyone just sort of forgot about Killzone (until the infamous PlayStation 3 tech demo). Halo 2 was the undisputed victor. It changed the way people thought about console games online. It brought Xbox Live the attention it always deserved. 

But what of Killzone? Was it good? Was it bad? I don't think most ever even knew. I tried out Killzone: Liberation on PSP and found it to be less than spectacular. Its fully featured predecessor is thankfully a much better game. 

One important thing to note is that Microsoft brought a grenade to a slap fight with the Xbox. Its specs made the Gamecube and PS2 look out of place towards the end of the console generation. The PS2 had been looking old for quite a while, and Killzone looked to be a graphical powerhouse on the aging system. Unfortunately, it impacts the game in a negative way. They really tried to make Killzone look great and for the most part, they succeeded. The PS2 just can't handle the game. The Xbox had twice as much RAM and much faster processors and later life Xbox games were a sight to behold. Killzone does manage to look quite nice, particularly the snowy level later in the game:


This isn't a great screenshot, but you can see some of the background and some nice details like the ice around the guard tower. It obviously doesn't look great but PS2 games just usually weren't detailed to this extent. 

The game suffers from massive frame rate issues. They're not bad when you're inside of a building or on a smaller level, but when the game attempts an open environment it slows to a crawl. It's almost embarrassing how the developers attempt to hide the fact that some levels aren't open environments. Do you remember that old trick from N64 and PS1 games where if you were in a jungle or a forest, they would try to hide that you were in a hallway by making the walls basically solid trees? They do that here.

This screenshot is from the HD version but you can see the effect here.

It's not a surprise that this game didn't fulfill its destiny as a Halo killer. The shooting mechanics are fundamentally flawed. Any automatic gun in the game is incapable of firing a single straight shot. A tap of the fire button with your crosshairs complete still will result in a shot way off to the left or right. The only guns that fire straight are the sniper rifle or the pistol. Obviously an automatic gun is not going to be the most accurate thing in the game, but your first shot should at least be on target. Is everything in the game on a slope or something? I played some multiplayer with bots and I wasn't impressed with how the game feels in a multiplayer situation. It's not a game breaker for single player but it does change the multiplayer aspect.

The other thing is that the enemies behave as bullet sponges. You can see two or three bloodsprays from the head of an enemy before they go down. On the other hand, you're pretty weak. I can see now what they were trying to capture with the PSP version. You'll frequently be hunkered down behind cover and pop out to make a couple of shots. This works in first person, it's pretty boring from a top down perspective.

As far as the story goes, it's really no more interesting than the PSP version that I discussed before. The Helghast have decided that Vetka is a pretty nice place and they'd like to live there even though they can't survive in the atmosphere. Or something. The most surprising aspect of the game to me was the fact that there are 4 playable characters. Two are essentially identical and the others are the stereotypical heavy and the stereotypical ranged character. For the most part, the other characters will be tagging along on the missions and helping out.

Yet another issue is that aside from the frame rate issues, it's buggy. I had a couple of instances where restarting from a checkpoint wouldn't fix a bug and I actually had to restart the game. In particular, when I was playing the last mission I kept hearing my teammates yelling things out but I couldn't see them and they weren't firing. This happened every time I died and had to restart. Then, about midway through the mission the time that I actually beat it they all just literally fell out of the ceiling. I'm really not sure if this was a glitch or what. It helped me out so I'm not complaining, but I will always wonder.

My favorite part of the game? The grenade cooking. When you throw a grenade you can hold down the button to cook the grenade before you throw it. In Killzone, the grenades have LEDs on the side that light up showing how close you are to detonation. It lets you get the throw just right.


Overall, Killzone is a slightly above average game. If it hadn't come out on PS2, it probably would've had a lot more hype and been a much better game. As it stands, Killzone seems to be something forever in the shadows of other major FPS franchises. It's an interesting idea, but the execution suffers. I had a lot of fun with it, but there are also a lot of frustrations.

The Score: 7.8/10

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Xbox Mod Adventure: Part 1

I used to do some more technical writing here (not necessarily technical, but at least an overview of things I worked on) and I'm going to try to get back to that a bit. I finally did a backlit GBA mod a while ago so I'll go over that soon, but we're going to take a look at the original Xbox first.



I've mentioned briefly before that the original Xbox was a pretty big turning point in my fandom of games. It's probably my favorite gaming console of all time. Like most, my first experience with the console was with Halo. When Halo 2 came out though? It was love. Then next year? It abruptly ended when the 360 came out. My torrid affair with the original Xbox lasted about a year and a half. I bought my first Xbox off of a good friend. He sold it to me for $5 in early 2005 because the DVD drive was shitty and he decided to shoot the power button off with an airsoft gun.

I went ahead and bought a new drive, and I was off to the races. The first two games I bought were the DOOM 3 collector's edition and Genma Onimusha. Up until I got a 360 for Christmas in 2006 I did little other than play Xbox. I got to be pretty fierce at Halo 2 and I bought and plowed through around 40 Xbox games in that time period. Xbox prices tanked fast since Microsoft dropped the console as quickly as they could when the 360 came out. Eventually, my Xbox ended up with an ex girlfriend some time in 2008 and wasn't seen again until 2011.

I made that awkward text requesting it back when I found a copy of Beyond Good & Evil. I didn't end up caring for the game, but it did reignite my love for the Xbox. All of my official controllers were gone and my HDD was filled with saves for Medal of Honor (I'm guessing her uncle had the system..). I purged the saves that weren't mine and comforted her. The DVD drive however, was bad again.

There are three common Xbox DVD drives and a fourth which possibly only shows up in refurb units. The one that this Xbox had was a Thompson. When my friend sold it to me, it had a Thompson as well. These drives are absolute shit. I replaced it with a Thompson because at the time, I believed you needed to replace it with the same drive. Not true. Thompsons are basically guaranteed to fail after a few years and investing in one is a bad choice. So, the Xbox went into what was (mostly) a state of rest.

About a year later, I came upon an Xbox in Goodwill for about $12, so I snagged it. The case was in good condition (no power button shot off with an airsoft gun) and I figured I could pull the DVD drive. Turns out I came upon a sort of uncommon drive.

Awh yeah baby, quote me more..

Before proceeding, let me discuss why we've come to this point of modding an Xbox. A friend of mine was looking for an N64, so I told him I'd keep an eye out. I didn't come across anything, then I had the thought of softmodding an extra Xbox I had and putting emulators on it for him. He found out his PS3's HDD was going out, so he offered to trade it for the Xbox. I sweetened the deal by saying I'd get a better DVD drive and pop a 500gb HDD in it. Great deal for me since I enjoy doing this kind of thing and there's honestly not a whole lot in the PS3 library that I'm dying to play. Today, that 500GB HDD got here so I wanted to get started.

That Xbox I got at Goodwill? I didn't use the motherboard because of how the hard drives are tied to the motherboard and all of my saves were on my old HDD. I simply swapped my old board into the new case and switched out the DVD drives. No problem, right?

Wrong.


That link up there with information about the Xbox goes into detail about the different motherboard revisions. The one my friend sold me is a 1.0 and the one I bought at Goodwill is a 1.6. So what, right?

Well that 1.6 motherboard that went into my 1.0 case, I just forgot about it. I never had another reason to plug it in or use it, so I didn't. I had no idea I colossally shot myself in the foot. I fired up my Xbox, made sure the Agent Under Fire Ndure exploit was on my memory card and pulled out the Xbox to be modded.

Speaking of which, praises be to Agent Under Fire.

Isis gon' be mad

Seriously, who the fuck coded this game so incompetently and how are they not blacklisted from the industry? Agent Under Fire is not only a game that's exploitable to softmod an Xbox, the PS2 version is exploitable as well to set up Free McBoot. Sort of a crappy game, but goddamn. Thank you likely unpaid EA intern for your hard work.

So, I plugged in the Xbox and hit the power button... nothing. Nothing at all. I thought maybe I just stuffed the components into the case and didn't hook everything up since I wouldn't need to use it.

Nothing.

Then I started thinking maybe there was something wrong with the power button. I tear apart my Xbox, hook the power button up to the other one.

Nothing.

Time to Google.

Well, it turns out that Xbox motherboard revisions 1.0-1.5 use the exact same case. Switch those fuckers out freely. 1.6 though? This is the only case that's different.

I fucked up a transistor because while the two cases are mostly the same, there's one critical difference that you would never even know about. That tiny piece of tin has fucked my shit up.

So, now I need to replace that transistor. It's all good though, I bought one for $1. Now I just have to wait and get ready to solder something really small.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (Game Boy Advance) Review


Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance is the entry in the GBA Castlevania trilogy that's out in third place. Even people who don't like Circle of the Moon for the reason that "it's not in Iga's timeline" still like CotM better than HoD. I came into this game expecting another somewhat hollow and uninspired Igarashi helmed Castlevania. I was surprisingly wrong.

If you've been around the Castlevania series for a while, you're pretty familiar with the recycled sprites and the fact that there are maybe one or two new enemies each game. Harmony of Dissonance actually goes out of its way to bring in new enemies. I was surprised at the constant stream of them, and it gave me a drive to continue that I hadn't felt with an Igarashi game for a long time. The game is much darker in tone as well, with the enemy designs intentionally being more... horror-esque. Another step up in this game is the backgrounds. They're intricate and very detailed which leads the castle to feel like it really does have unique areas.

The background designs are very well done.

While the graphics are inspired, the music is kind of weird. Where CotM had a surprisingly lush soundtrack with some pretty high quality samples, HoD could be mistaken for an NES game with some added sound channels. Take a listen:



The music that is here is good, but it seems like a hugely missed opportunity. It's really hard to overlook the fact that this is just a gross misuse of the hardware. If this were a different series then I think it would be possible to overlook, but Castlevania has always been noted for its music. To have such a great and intense soundtrack rendered in such a way detracts from it when so much more was possible. Hell, maybe it could've been overlooked if CotM hadn't bettered it a year before..

Harmony of Dissonance's plot is actually somewhat interesting. Our Belmont this time is Juste, Simon's (from the original Castlevania) grandson. Juste is... weird. This was actually Igarashi's first crack at creating a Belmont. Excluding remakes, Igarashi's eight full-fledged Castlevania games only featured a Belmont as the main playable character three times. That's sort of weird. I mean... do you like Castlevania? Ayami Kojima's art works well for some characters, but as far as Juste is concerned it's a weird look. 

Juste's friend Maxim decided to gather up the remains of Dracula (much like Simon's Quest) to destroy them, but ended up being possessed by Dracula. The castle has two layers, one reflecting Maxim's "good" personality, and the other his "evil" personality, influenced by Dracula. You have to move between the different layers in order to navigate the entire castle. This is sort of a drag on the game.

A cool new enemy, this one jumps out of a mirror

You don't actually learn that you're going between the two layers until about 3/4ths of the way through the game. Then you're given a map for each layer and one map that shows your overall progress by different colors. The castle layout is identical for each layer, though the backgrounds and obstacles will differ. If this game were on the DS, then the layers would be a different story. Some kind of map annotation like in The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass would've been transformative for this game. Unfortunately, you'll be left to wander through the castles seemingly endlessly trying to find exactly what to trigger to progress. 

If the way forward were more obvious, this would be a very short game. It almost seems as though the game is laid out this way just to pad the length. The castle is not large and it doesn't take a huge amount of time to traverse. Similarly, the difficulty is not very high. Save rooms are relatively sparse until you get the whole castle mapped out, which can make early explorations challenging. This is not real difficulty though, this is difficulty by circumstance.

Harmony of Dissonance is a really mixed bag. It's a step above other Igarashi produced Castlevanias and it's a mile behind others. It's not a bad game, but it's not a good game. It's not quite a great game... it just is. Everything adds together to become average.

The Score: 7.5/10

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Resident Evil 6: Leon's Campaign (Xbox 360) Review


It's October, the month of Halloween and scary things. I was planning on reviewing a few horror games this month, but the games that I chose turned out to be a bit longer than I expected. As a result, I decided to break up my review of Resident Evil 6 into each individual campaign.

First, I want to talk about the Resident Evil 6 Archives set pictured up there. The 360 version isn't as impressive as the PS3 one (which contains almost all of the RE games), but it's still a nice value. I picked it up on eBay for $15. If you decide to try to grab this, make sure you're getting a new copy. Everything aside from the movie and RE6 comes in the form of a download code.

CODE: Veronica is probably my favorite RE game (next to Nemesis), and I wanted to play the HD version. Unfortunately, this HD version is definitely not the best way to experience the game, but that's another review. I actually already had Resident Evil: Degeneration on Blu-Ray, and while I'm not much of a fan of 4, I did always want to check out the DLC for 5 (even though I had a violently negative reaction to the game). So, overall, I got what I wanted for a less than I would've paid for the two story DLCs for RE5 alone.

Right off the bat, I'll say that I really don't like where the RE series has gone. I've never liked 4 and I think 5 is an atrocious game. It's unplayable without someone playing the game co-op with you. I heard nearly nothing positive about Resident Evil 6. I didn't want to like the game. I wanted to hate it. I want those tank controls and pre-rendered backgrounds again. I want Chris Redfield's bicep to be smaller than his head. I want zombies in my Resident Evil. 

Then Conan didn't raise my expectations for this game any.

 

As I put the game in, I remembered Jim Sterling's scathing review. The start of the game seemed to confirm my desire to hate everything about it as correct. It's a half speed slog through a dark alleyway littered with QTEs as you drag your injured partner to safety. I turned the game off in boredom about midway through the intro.

A few days later, I tried again. I made it through the intro. I was wholly unimpressed by the first chapter. Another half speed slog through a college campus with some irrelevant tertiary characters who would clearly be dead within 20 minutes. A trip through a subway and some city streets which demonstrated a lack of ammo. The end of the chapter presented a boss that took me about 20 minutes to kill because I kept having to kill zombies to get ammo. Through all of this though, I found myself enjoying the game. The return to a more urban area seemed to bring something back to the series that it has been missing. No longer are we in some bizarre vaguely eastern European area (Resident Evil 4), or brightly lit Africa (Resident Evil 5) with some (not so) subtle racism sprinkled throughout. We're back to the city, where an outbreak would wreak the most havoc.

Let's discuss the mechanics a bit before continuing. The greatest improvement to the game from RE5 comes to the partner system. You don't need to pay a damn bit of attention to the AI partner in this game. They take care of themselves. They don't leech your ammo. They have their own inventory and their inventory has gloriously unlimited ammo. They don't seem to die, either. Of course there are segments where you'll need to protect your partner, or you'll need their help opening a door but these sections don't seem like a chore. The AI's competency lessens the stress of these, and they go by painlessly. 

The biggest failing of the game is probably the physics system. Character movement can be outright awkward. Your biggest obstacle in this game is a dead body on the floor. Have you ever been playing a game and walked over a body on the floor and thought "I shouldn't just clip through the body, there should be some physical reaction?" Well, that is a horrible idea and this game proves it. If there's a body on the floor, you'll trip over it. The first time it happens you will be wildly confused and it took me a while to figure out exactly what was happening. This was just a poor design choice. It doesn't really hamper you, but it is annoying.

Another thing... zombie wrestling.

GOOD GAWD ALMIGHTY!!!
AS GAWD IS MY WITNESS HE IS BROKEN IN HALF!!!!!

I'm not really sure where the fuck this came from, but you can seriously just go around kicking zombies in the face and doing wrestling moves and shit on them. I'm not really sure how I feel about this. It's ridiculous...but it's fun? It feels so out of place but goddammit I can't help but like it. I mean, how many times do you some slow ass lumbering zombie in a game or movie and thought "why don't you just kick it and beat the shit out of it?" RE6 lets you do just that.

THAT'S LEON'S MUSIC!!

As far as the story goes, I'm not entirely sure what's going on. The campaign is definitely designed to have you piece events together after playing through all of them. Leon's campaign crossed paths with all of the other campaigns, so I'm assuming everything will be filled in. Then again, it's an RE game. It may make no sense at the end anyways.

Let's be clear, this game is far from the survival horror-type RE games that I love, but I can accept it this time because it's designed to be this way. Resident Evil 4 and Resident Evil 5 control exactly the same as the earlier Resident Evil games. Seriously, play one of the "tank control" games and play 4 or 5. The controls work exactly the same, just with a third person camera. I found that it killed the momentum of the games since those games were meant to be action games but had the controls of a slow, deliberate survival-horror game. This game was designed as an action game and the controls work for it. The pace is fast and even though the physics are off, everything is responsive.

Honestly, I found that the more bombastic sections work well. If there was some kind of viral zombie outbreak, it would be chaotic and RE6 captures this well. This has been a point of criticism from other reviews, but at least for Leon's campaign I thought it worked.

I will concede that the final boss battle of the campaign is a bit too ridiculous. You'll find yourself scaling a massive building with everything burning and an ominous Umbrella logo on the ground that totally isn't supposed to be obvious until the end. It totally is obvious though.

I'm breaking these reviews up because I've read that the campaigns in this game vary wildly in quality. Taken on its own, I found Leon's campaign to be the best Resident Evil content since the Resident Evil remake on Gamecube. The urban areas recall Raccoon City in the best way possible and the chaotic scenes portray the sense of panic that would surely follow an outbreak event. There are highs and there are lows, but I had a whole lot of fun playing through this.

Leon's Campaign: 8.5/10

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Game Journalism is Broken and #GamerGate Isn't to Blame

I started writing about all of this #GamerGate shit yesterday because I got all fired up about it. I get passionate about things that are happening. This is hardly even something that you can write about right now because the narrative seems to shift every day. I think that someone turned up the smoking gun, though.

Take a look.

When I started writing yesterday, my scorn was equally pointed towards everyone. Zoe Quinn, the game media and gamers themselves. That was unfair. While I may feel at odds and even alienated from the "core" gaming audience a lot of the time, nothing compares to this. Game journalists aren't reporting on the news; they're actively trying to shape it.

Who's to say what's true now? Who can be trusted?

A game journalist mailing list discussing what to be covered. How many things that should've been bigger outcries have been buried over the years? How many things that should've been nothing have become something?

So, now we have #GamerGate. Let's be clear; no one deserves to be incessantly harassed. But I don't believe that sexism or misogyny is the root cause, here. We know that Zoe Quinn had some form of relationship that went beyond friendly with one or more journalists. The issue isn't that gamers hate her for being a woman, the issue is that they hate the situation. I'd like to think that the same reaction would happen if a female writer had close ties to a male developer, but I sort of doubt it.

Before I continue much further, I sort of want to take this argument out of the equation. This doesn't stem from a gamer-specific behavior of sexism. This is a failing of society as a whole. We should be just as mad at the men in this scenario, but for the most part I don't think people are. People have focused on Zoe Quinn, and she has been just as much of a shitty person in this situation as the writers she was allegedly involved with have been.

I don't think I really have anything to continue on, though.

The real issue here is that we've all been systematically lied to.

I'm sort of crushed by this and I think all of us should be. Gamers aren't always looked upon favorably, and the people that we look to for news on our hobby don't feel any better about us. All the scorn bubbling up here isn't a hatred towards women, it's a hatred towards being looked down upon that finally reached its breaking point.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Killzone: Liberation (PlayStation Portable) Review


Killzone: Liberation is a bland, joyless affair. Nothing in this game hints that anyone involved in its development ever had fun, or ever considered what they were doing to be fun. It is bleak, serious and gray as though it has some grave point it's trying to make. It doesn't. You could mistake this game for being in black and white.

I've never played any of the full-fledged Killzone games, but this doesn't make a good intro to the series. I'm assuming it starts after the events of the first game, and leads into the second. I can't really speak to its impact on or placement in the overall story, but what's here is incredibly lame. It seems as if the developer was told to make a sci-fi game, and they said "okay." From some good old Wiki research, I determined that the enemies in this game are just humans who moved off of the home planet and are now coming to take it back. Or something. It doesn't matter. There's some obvious plot twists, betrayal.. whatever. Everything about this game can be punctuated with "whatever" or "or something." 

The game plays out from an isometric perspective, in contrast to the FPS stylings of the full-fledged titles. It tries to kind of be a stealth game, I think. Or maybe it's trying to be a cover based shooter. I honestly don't know.

Okay, I lied. Gray and orange.

A huge issue with this game is the difficulty. You can have one gun at a time. You're never prepared for the situation you're about to get into with one gun. Your best bet is usually the standard assault rifle. It doesn't have a huge amount of stopping power, it fires in bursts and it sucks. The only way to get different weapons is to get them at resupply boxes spread around the map. You can get a shotgun, but it's only going to stop the guys close to you. It's obviously useless at long range. You can get a sniper rifle, but it's mostly just useless since you're entirely at the mercy of the game's auto aim. There's a few other weapons you can get, but they're all pretty much useless. Later in the game you can get a chaingun with unlimited ammo that only needs to cool down, which is a bit of a lifesaver.

So, you're dealing with your one gun. The next problem is that the enemies seem to have literally the exact same amount of health that you do. Now we come back to... is it a cover based shooter or a stealth game? There are areas where the game clearly wants you to be sneaky. It's pointless, though. You can sneak as much as you want but you don't have any kind of a stealth takedown. You can sneak up behind any enemy you want and melee them, but they'll just turn around like nothing happened and melee you. Which knocks you down and nearly kills you. What? These are humans too. Why the fuck are they so much stronger?

Okay, so let's approach it like a cover based shooter. This is about the only way to play it, and it is fucking boring. Enemies will cling to cover just like you do. You can grenade them, but you get two grenades. They are essential, too. You can get more grenades by playing challenge mini-games, but whoever would be enough of a sadist to go out of their way to do this probably has a few dead animals buried around their yard and will soon be moving on to humans. At times the cover based approach collapses, too. There's some areas where you're clearly supposed to be playing it guns blazing. You can't win here, though. Enemies literally have as much health as you. You can't stop three of them fast enough.

Oooh, red.

This game wants to be tactical. Occasionally you'll get a teammate who you can give some pretty inconsequential orders. You can tell them to attack something or take cover somewhere, but it's generally best to just let the AI do its thing. This comes to another problem with the game. When you're in that tactical menu, it doesn't pause. That's okay, we're not going to use that. Instead of pausing, the game goes into this super slow motion type of thing. It does this when you're opening the supply boxes too. This is where it gets to be an issue because it prevents you from switching weapons effectively. It's already hard to run back to the box to get a different gun, then the game slows down instead of pausing and through the translucent item selection menu you can see a bullet fly towards yourself in slow motion and kill you.

I mentioned the story earlier, but this game seems to have gone to the stores unfinished. Why? There's free DLC for the game which adds an extra chapter (set of four missions) and online multiplayer to the game. I used the DLC, and without it the game's plot would've just ended completely unresolved. It's not on PSN (I don't think it ever was, I think it downloaded from a browser link within the game), but you can get it from the developer's website and install it to your memory stick. Not only this, the game just doesn't fucking have music. It's dead silent while you're running around doing your thing, which only makes the game even more bleak and un-fun. 

OMG YELLOWISH

I made it to the mission before the last and was just miserable with the game. I decided to try changing the difficulty level to see if that helped with the fun any... it didn't. Easy mode just halves the enemies' health. Nothing else changes. There's no extra ammo, there's not fewer enemies. It just takes "half" the hits to kill those enemies. It doesn't help.

Strangely, this game was pretty widely acclaimed when it released. I can't imagine having any more fun playing this game in 2006. Maybe it was just because the PSP didn't have many other games at the time? Killzone: Liberation is the worst kind of handheld game. It's a handheld game because someone felt there should be a handheld game. It's not an extension or modification of the other game's play-style. It's something else entirely with a brand name stuck on it.

The Score: 5/10

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Deadpool (Xbox 360) Review


Deadpool is probably more popular than Wolverine right now. He's everywhere. This is sort of unfortunate, because Deadpool seems to be an especially difficult character to write. Too much Deadpool is a bad thing. Take a look at Deadpool Corps. Don't get me wrong, there are some funny bits in there but overall, it's not great. A lot of writers seem to interpret Deadpool as Family Guy humor, which is the absolute worst incarnation of Deadpool. The best is easily in Cable and Deadpool. This was written by one of the creators of Deadpool, Fabian Nicieza. I cannot recommend the series enough. Cable's messiah complex balances out Deadpool's insanity and the series manages to have some incredibly poignant moments. We're not here to talk comic books, though.

You could say Deadpool has a bit of a rocky track record in comics. The game doesn't veer from that much. It follows the basic beat 'em up formula that I've mentioned before. Strong attack, weak attack. Deadpool adds guns to the mix, and I think it's probably the best integration of guns into a primarily weapon based game. Devil May Cry has this as well, but it never seems to go into the mix very well. They're just too weak and break the flow of the action. Guns are effective in Deadpool, and easy to use.


Combat feels appropriately hectic; there's a lot of action but you'll never feel too overwhelmed or swarmed. The problem here is that the difficulty level is very uneven. Sometimes you'll breeze through enemies, other times you'll die in seconds. A big part of this problem seems to be in the larger enemies sprinkled through the game. It's hard to stay away from them as they usually still move quickly, and they do huge amounts of damage. These enemies are mostly just annoying, and they're used pretty liberally. It seems to be there to artificially pad the length of the game. 

This is another problem with this game. This is the type of game that should have been about 4 or 5 hours long. Of course that brings up the debate of what a game is worth and if that's worth a $59.99 brand new price point, but this game just shouldn't have been as long as it is. It's about an 8 hour game, which doesn't seem much longer (and it's not) but the game just sort of drags. It has some serious pacing issues. I didn't sit down and play this through a weekend, either. I came back to it every so often over the course of a couple of months. Spacing it out like that didn't help either, the game just does not flow well. I'd feel the same fatigue coming back to it weeks or months later.

Definitely a PC screenshot.

The plot is sort of weak and doesn't do much to drive the game forward. Deadpool is just doing what he's doing because the game script says so, and then Cable needs his help to stop Mr. Sinister. I was overjoyed when Cable showed up, but there's not really any Cable and Deadpool-type moments here. Deadpool gets bored with Cable's bullshit and decides to kill himself, which is one of the funnier moments of the game. Since I mentioned it earlier, this is a good time to talk about the Deadpool characterization of the game. Overall, it's okay. The plot seems to come from self-indulgent Family Guy style Deadpool; the bad. The humor doesn't follow this type of self-indulgence, but it's never as clever as Nicieza writes it. It's not bad, it's not great.

Not a Nicieza moment, but excellent nonetheless.

I'm not much of a graphics person (I'm not going to complain as long as they're competent and work for the game), but they're worth pointing out here. I'm really not sure what's up with the graphics here. They're just... not that good. They look unfinished. They look like they're half cel-shaded or something. It's not an attractive game. I'm not going to knock it for that, but they're distracting.


This game is a mixed bag, and there's no better way to put it. It's an okay interpretation of Deadpool, the combat is okay with some good gunplay, the plot is okay, the humor is okay. There's nothing here that rises above and makes it impressive. It's worth a pickup if you see it cheap, but it's nothing to freak out over.

The Score: 7/10

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mega Man: Maverick Hunter X (PlayStation Portable) Review


Everyone has played a Mega Man game. It doesn't matter who you are. This is one of the most prolific franchises around, even if Capcom has almost ignored it to extinction lately. Sure, most of the games are ridiculously copy and paste similar but that didn't make most of them any less enjoyable. While everyone has played a Mega Man game, I'll go ahead and freely admit that this is the first one I actually finished. The weird name hides the fact that this is a remake of Mega Man X, but it is.


I don't know why but I always loved that box art. It also has that weird trend of the 90s where they just arbitrarily add bullets coming out of a gun that's in the picture. Does that make any sense? He's just jumping and shooting at the ground....sort of..chest bumping the air.. Some advertising dick got the artwork and just went "well... airbrush some bullets on it," then he shook his head in dismay and punched his secretary.

Anyway, Mega Man X is probably the Mega Man game I've spent the most time with (probably Mega Man Xtreme 2, really) so it seemed like a pretty logical purchase when I came across it. I'll say that I haven't played the original version of X in some time, but the PSP version feels a bit slower. Maybe it's just my memory, but I remember X being a relatively quickly paced game. Being slower doesn't harm the game in any way, but it takes the excitement down a notch.

The other thing that I have mixed feelings about is the graphics. They're re-done in 3D, completely replacing the sprite art of the SNES version.



There's nothing wrong with the graphics at all. They accurately recreate thede4 sprite art and manage to maintain a very similar art style, I guess I just prefer the sprite art. The 3D art appears a bit more cartoon-y in some way, which I think is the turn-off for me. It's ignorable for the SNES art because everything had a cartoony style, but Mega Man X managed to be a more serious looking game.

Having said that this was the first Mega Man game I actually finished (aside from Battle Network, which doesn't really count), I was surprised at the difficulty curve. The first robot master you decide to beat is an absolute bitch, but once you've beaten him and got his weapon the game gets considerably easier since you have a weapon that one boss will have a weakness to. Each level seems to get easier as you collect power-ups and other upgrades.

Once you've finished the game you can replay it as Sigma, X's nemesis. This is...not so fun. It's a very different play style, but it just doesn't seem to work out so well. I get that it's meant to be more challenging and very different, but Sigma just doesn't seem to fit into the game. It's not enough of an incentive to do a replay while overcoming the difficulty that the difference brings.

The difference probably wouldn't be as glaring if it weren't for how good the level design is. Usually there's a level or area of a game that is just horrible and annoying enough that it has the potential to kill replays. There's not really any part of Mega Man X that I would think of that way. All of the levels have the same fair challenge that you can learn how to overcome by replaying. There's nothing particularly standout about any of the levels, but they all work incredibly well.


The storyline is a bit more fleshed out in this version and.. there's voice acting. It sucks.

Overall, this is an excellent game. It can be had on the cheap, and it's worth it.

The Score: 9/10