And so did L.A. Noire come to an end, after an effort of 22 hours. It turned out to be a pleasantly lengthy experience that wove seemingly disconnected sub-plots into a thoughtful, well-written story. The last few hours packed a healthy dose of brusque typical to the genre, and the events began unfolding in a much more straightforward manner. After a few, perhaps overly convoluted cases, that was actually a welcome change of pace.
The game didn't leave me cold but a bit lukewarm it certainly was. The 40's Los Angeles has been recreated with obvious care and passion but during the seven year development period, I'm somewhat surprised nobody seemed to focus on how the players are kept entertained over there. In the end, it's a big area that ends up looking the same wherever you look and where the same routines are repeated over and over again. There are 21 cases in the game but I have to admit, none of them really left a lasting impression of any kind.
Sure, hard-boiled detective stories don't give much room to maneuver without breaking the illusion but that's when one should consider whether, say, a tightly knit third person action-adventure would have been a better choice than a vast, open sandbox. I have no qualms giving high points for the story and attention to detail but the chosen implementation method probably wasn't the best possible.
Still, finish one and two just join the backlog. Cursed, blessed sales ^^; Amazon.co.uk still has its free shipping Super Saver Delivery deal here in Finland, so their selection is constantly worth checking. This time, I walked away with PS3 copies of Shift 2: Unleashed, desperately trying to lose its Need for Speed branding, and the cutesy and colorful platformer De Blob 2. Let's see if they're any good, hopefully by the end of this summer.
First impressions can be misleading. After fifteen hours and about two thirds completed, L.A. Noire is starting to show some promise. Individual cases expand into pleasantly large and content rich ordeals, and every now and then it even shows glimpses of genuine film noir atmosphere. There could be a whole lot more variety or challenge, though. Action scenes are really easy and the aural and visual hints while investigating crime scenes are better turned off altogether. When on, they rob the game of all the little challenge it still packs.
The side missions are still short and lame but thankfully spotting famous landmarks and hunting down various vehicles to drive have proven to be amusing little side activities to spruce up the main story. Also, in between cases the game sheds some light into Phelps' past in the army via grim cutscenes. They give his character a welcome boost of additional depth. Yet there doesn't seem to be any moral challenges in the game, so it's pure goody two-shoes action all the way.
Even if L.A. Noire feels better than it did yesterday, I still wouldn't rate it nearly as high as most reviewers. Its cases might be vast and winding but they have all been composed of just a small handful of gaming elements that quickly start repeating themselves. Sprinting after a fleeing suspect, gunning down a couple of bad guys, or spotting ridiculously straightforward evidence at crime scenes for the umpteenth time just isn't exciting anymore. Sure, I'm still seeing this one through and I'm still having a moderately good time but progress is perhaps overshadowed by slight "well, yeah, I guess it's okay" kind of general numbness.
Here in Finland, the eve of Midsummer Day is upon us and that means every average Finn uncorks something. Personally, I settled for a cup of L.A. Noire but sadly, it tastes a tad insipid. Taking place in late 40's post-WWII Los Angeles, the game puts the player into the shoes of Cole Phelps; a morally upstanding war hero making a name for himself in LAPD. Rising fast through the ranks, Phelps quickly loses his patrol uniform and fights crime as an eagle-eyed detective.
As much as I hoped it would, after about five hours L.A. Noire doesn't convince in the slightest. Rockstar's latest offering promised hard-hitting, high quality storytelling accompanied by a suitably slow, adventurish pace. In principle, it cashes in on its promises but the journey so far has been awfully disappointing.
Cole and a bunch of his throaway partners travel from crime scene to another by first investigating the surroundings, interviewing various persons of interest, and then busting the culprit. There's gunfights, chases on foot, car chases, brawls, etc. but it all feels horribly superficial and halfhearted.
The game's biggest selling point is its motion capture technology that promises unparalleled facial animation. In theory, that should make all interrogations an exciting battle of wits, i.e. spotting lies not based on words alone but involuntary facial gestures as well. A noble idea that just doesn't work. Whenever Phelps talks with someone, he can react to what they say by believing them, doubting them, or accusing them of lying backed up with suitable evidence.
Yet, it's all smoke and mirrors. You react to witness statements with three possible choices and doubting, which could be a way to press people to give up a bit more information isn't doubting at all. Instead, it sends Cole off to wild accusation sprees that more often than not feel totally out of place. The dialogue in L.A. Noire definitely isn't dialogue. It's just a mini-game of having to guess a correct response from three choices without even knowing what your character is going to say. Pitiful.
The sandbox world isn't much better. It's large, sure, but just like in Mafia II, the player is constantly pushed towards the next storyline goal. There are a total of 40 side missions delivered via police radio but both their content and delivery are pathetic. You're heading towards your next crime scene, discussing about it with your partner when suddenly, the police radio comes alive. You accept an urgent assistance call but does this sway you and your partner at all? Hell no! The discussion continues uninterrupted, you simply get a new waypoint on the map, head over there, gun down a few bad guys or chase someone down, and that's it. Totally irrelevant, totally straightforward, and totally unsatisfactory. Why 40 "scripted" events like these when they could just as well be randomly generated throughout the game for all eternity?
L.A. Noire does pack the expected Rockstar level of quality but so far, that's the only merit that keeps me playing. Perhaps it gets better later on but as for now, I'm disappointed.
Mostly a reminder for my absentminded self but perhaps someone else out there almost forgot about it, too. I am, of course, talking about Top Gear and its commendable 17th season kicking off next Sunday! Sadly, it's yet another mini-season of just six episodes but not only is it entertaining no matter what, judging by the season trailer the boys could very well be buying – or at least admiring – cheap, questionably rubbish cars once again ^^; Floor it, Jeremy, Richard, and James! We're ready!
Finally! Today marks the beginning of my 2011 summer of gaming! No particular plans, responsibilities, or anything to stress about, and I even got a couple more titles to bolster my PS3 collection. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit returns from its PS2 hiatus to serve more cops and robbers highway races whereas Homefront wages for in the near futured United States occupied by North Korea. Both are likely nothing more than lightweight froth but at least I got them cheap as second-hand copies.
Despite loads of games already, I have even more expectations towards the end of July! That's when the ever-so-wonderful Atlus graces both 360 and PS3 with its erotic horror puzzle-platformer adventure (well, I'll be!) called Catherine. The game's protagonist Vincent is stuck between two women and based on the above trailer, he won't find it enjoyable at all :) I'm not expecting much of a game but if the mature storytelling is as good as they say, it's going to be a great ride! The disc probably won't include original Japanese audio but I think I can live with the dub just this once.
Ah! A one month vacation is just around the corner, so added a couple more entries to the entertainment arsenal. Cheapskate shopping, as usual, Zavvi as the source, as usual, and my shelf (or rather, now just a worrisomely unstable pile) welcomes new PS3/PSP stuff. I'm still not crazy about the FPS genre but let's give kicking some glowy eye Helghast butt a chance, just the same. The game in question, of course, Killzone 3.
As for genuine time sinks, though, a much more prominent candidate would be the turn-based strategy JRPG Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. They say it's mighty challenging and unforgiving, and its 50+ page manual certainly looks genuinely worth reading through. Still, as long as I can just find a long enough stretch of time for this one, waging war on the isles of Valeria sounds like a wonderful idea.
If I last time lamented about Gran Turismo 5's eagerness to get patched with massive packages, today was way worse. While enjoying the remaining Seasonal events, I popped into the tuning shop for some parts for my newly purchased Lambo. I never got back to the main menu as the game got stuck in the loading screen. Oh well, nothing a restart wouldn't cure except I was no longer even able to launch the game at all.
Fearing for a corrupted save file I removed almost eight gigabytes worth of game install data and gave it another go. Naturally, deleting game data also wipes out each and every one of its patches, so I was stuck downloading about 1,5GB worth of files. Of course, my modem decided to join the misery and the first 600MB patch was corrupted from the get-go. Reboot the damn thing, start all over again, and about an hour later I had finally managed to download and install everything.
Much to my surprise, that actually did the trick and even my save file had remained safe and sound. Definitely have to start backing them up somewhere. Needless to say, I wouldn't have been happy to restart the career mode from scratch...
Thanks to the generous rewards of the Seasonal challenges, I ended up with a little over ten million in game cash. Half of that I instantly splurged to improve my car collection. The other half remains to wait for a wiser investment plan than just "buy whatever you see that isn't in your garage yet."
As for the career mode, I'm only left with nauseous supercar races for 800-1000BHP beasts. Gritting my teeth, I instead ventured back to the Endurance races. A four hour race did sound fairly long and sure enough, it was. Still, managed to see it through and after 220 laps, I think I now know both the Tsukuba track and the small and nimble Mazda Roadster inside out :) I also learned I'm too old for any shit longer than that :D
Statistics did get a small boost, though. Now at 51 hours played, A-spec 30, B-spec 6, 201 cars in garage, and 2,798 miles driven. Slow is good :P
Despite positive press, Finland's Housemarque's very own Outland has left at least one household cold. This verdict is based on about six hours of playing and currently being very much stuck on the fourth of the game's five bosses. The journey itself has been fluent 2D platforming that borrows plenty of good things from the likes of Prince of Persia, Canabalt, and Ikaruga. Yet, when the charm is missing, it just... Isn't there.
A hero harnessing the powers of both light and dark is apparently out there to save the world but since the story is nothing but a hoarse voice reading out loud a few pitiful lines of fantasy drivel, all there is left is gameplay. That department Outland handles well; a nimble character jumping and sprinting around the game world is smooth, and polarity plays a key role in everything.
Hopping between forms of red and blue, the player is challenged with beating adversaries of equally colored foes under the principle of opposites attracting each other. In other words, attack blue stuff while red, and vice versa. Traditional platforming is also mixed with several two colored bullet hell segments, where projectiles of your own color don't harm you at all whereas the opposite color does.
Along the trip a handful of special moves are taught and the vast areas with their hidden pathways are delightfully big both horizontally and vertically. The entire package on whole, however, is very much lacking. The five distinctive worlds are distinctive mostly by their color scheme and level design is mostly woeful. Proceeding onwards constantly feels like a forced effort and degenerates into countless deaths from one checkpoint to the next one. It's not exactly hard or anything. You just die a lot.
One could tip his hat to traditional, pleasantly epic boss fights but they're completely devoid of checkpoints. At least boss three and the currently undergoing boss four are beset with the age old cardinal sin of repetition. First a couple of minutes of pure piece of cake, then a sound defeat, and then back to the very beginning. In this age and time, having to yawn through those simple, trite parts over and over again just to give another go at the actual hard part should be bad game design history by now. Apparently, it isn't.
Still, even if I had completed the game by now, it wouldn't get much merit. On terms of gameplay it's most solid but the rest is missing. No proper story whatsoever, nothing to remember it by, "neat" graphics and sounds, yet very little else... That's it. Pretty and plays OK, yet totally lifeless and soulless. Sure, it was only a tenner but I'm already undergoing buyer's remorse.
Somewhat surprisingly, Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box temporarily stole the spotlight. The reason was the game's platinum trophy which, for months, has only required inviting a friend to an online session and getting all eight players to meet up in the stadium of the game's sandbox world. Since the game is more than two years old by now, the latter challenge in particular is rather tricky. Not because there wouldn't be enough players to achieve it but because getting eight totally random players to work together for a common goal is just plain pointless.
A typical party consists of one third of people figuring out what the deal is. Another third doesn't give a flying f**k about any sort of teamwork, and the remaining third usually knows what needs to be done but get their kicks from doing everything else instead, effectively sabotaging the whole, originally pitiful deal for sure, just for the lulz.
Yet, it only takes a minuscule amount of communality to turn that scenario upside down. After finding a bunch of gamers with the same dilemma from local forums, all it took was a little bit of organizing and teamwork got its chance to shine brightly! Participants arrived on time, honored the commmon goal, helped each other, stuck around for latecomers, and in general displayed remarkable team spirit! What could have been nothing more than a five minute meeting expanded into a session of nearly four hours, giving ample time to goof around Paradise City.
I left the game with 37 hours on the game clock, my tenth platinum, and while playing with totally random people online remains something I'll avoid like plague, this kind of semi-random encounter was most enjoyable. Once again, thank you, fellow racers!
Ample storage space seems to mean a lot when it comes to digital shopping. Thanks to a roomy PS3 and the return of the PSN store, I ended up gawking at digital goods and even walked away with stuff. The primary reason for going shopping in the first place was, naturally, the recent release of Beyond Good & Evil HD. Sure, I still have the PS2 original but an enhanced version of such a brilliant action-adventure was a must-have from the get-go.
DeathSpank: Thongs of Virtue was worth a glance but since I still remember being pissed off last August and since it wasn't currently on sale, I left it on its virtual shelf. Instead, my shopping basket was further filled by Good Old PS1 Metal Gear Solid. I used to own it but ever since cashing in on my entire PS1 collection, I always felt a twinge of regret. At least I once again own a piece of gaming history, even if it's just digital, and the upcoming Metal Gear Solid HD Collection will cover the rest.
Rooting for games of Finnish origin, I also decided to support Outland. It's apparently some sort of 2D platformer paying homage to Prince of Persia while toying around with the concept of light and shadows. Sounds kinda neat even on principle and since it has been praised by quite a few critics, off to the games queue it goes.
Ha! It took awhile but the first completion in June is reality! Hatsune Miku: Project Diva has now reached a commendable age of ten hours. Although its end credits already rolled a couple of hours earlier, score improvements have kept me busy. All songs are now unlocked, all but six have been performed on Normal difficulty with a grade of Great, and I even managed one 220+ note Perfect performance on Normal.
Even the dreaded Hard difficulty turned out to be quite compassionate. Instead of two buttons it requires all four but the number of notes compared to Normal is roughly the same. As a result, there have been some Greats-on-Hard moments, too, at least on songs that I feel most comfortable with (＾▽＾) As for Miku's costumes, though, only a pathetic 26% unlocked, meaning I still have a ways to go.
As for complaints, the song selection "only" featured about half a dozen songs that got stuck in my head. Towards the end, the avalanche of button presses got a bit too extreme, and the music videos for five of the later songs were merely a bunch of still shots. Also, the action on screen was occasionally so hectic that spotting the actual notes got excessively challenging.
Still, can't help it – it's a game that made me grin like a lunatic! The difficulty level, for a rhythm game in particular, seems spot on. It's not so much about penalizing poor performance as it is about encouraging to aim higher. I can understand why this hasn't seen daylight outside Japan but then again, I'm once again forever grateful for region free gaming! A must have for jpop-oriented otakus and even as an ordinary PSP rhythm game (genre representatives counted with the remaining fingers of a sloppy circular saw worker), it's just plain brilliant (≧∇≦)/
After a break of nearly four months, Gran Turismo 5 returned to the disc drive. Changes had taken place, equating to three updates totaling up to half a gigabyte. Thus, it took a sweet 15 minutes of downloading and installing to actually play anything. If there's anything wrong with current generation console games, this is it. Oh well, at least I acquired a shedload of bug fixes, a new song, and the ability to buy racing suits and helmets. Yay...
That's not to say the game wouldn't have surprised me in a positive manner, too. Unlike I thought, the regularly released Seasonal Events don't overwrite each other. As a result, my long pause meant a good five hours worth of brand new challenges with still more left to experience. The bugger of a game even remembered my birthday! Even if its gift card only unlocked a drab, black Golf I GTI '76, the gesture itself was quite charming!
Also, my return was apparently accompanied by Lady Luck due to scoring the elusive Human Stopwatch trophy. Three consecutive laps with times within 0.2 seconds of the Best Lap Time. I grabbed that one totally out of the blue while racing a Corvette ZR-1 around Tsukuba. I suppose even us Sunday drivers get unexpectedly blessed every now and then (^_^*)
Since that regular extra content stole my attention almost entirely, my statistics haven't really changed that much over the last time. 44 hours played, A-spec 29, B-spec 6, 141 cars, and 2,420 miles. If anything, my virtual wallet got a healthy boost and I'm soon off for a bit of virtual car shopping.
I've now tripled my rhythm game time in the lively Hatsune Miku: Project Diva to six hours and it keeps on being loads of fun. I still have a couple of songs left to unlock but easy difficulty has been left behind. Great performances on normal aren't that hard to achieve, at least with a bit of practice, and thus I've managed to unlock a handful of new clothes for Miku. Clearing a song in normal also unlocks its hard mode, although my survival instincts have kept me from venturing there quite yet.
The gameplay of Project Diva is most solid. Points are scored in the usual manner by hitting notes well and keeping up long combos doing so. Little mistakes here and there are, however, not fatal. It's not until the end of each song that a Chance Time section kicks in, offering humongous cumulative points for each properly hit note.
Playing every song flawlessly from start to finish is preferable, of course, but at least in theory you're given most of the song just to get into proper groove and then nail its CT section perfectly. Or fail miserably just before the finish line. For a noob like myself, both fates have been served fairly equally.
Also, as a Finn, I was amused to spot a bit of local heritage in the game in the form of Ievan polkka. I'm quite sure that Eino Kettunen, back in the 30's, didn't foresee his little tune to play on the background of a chibi Miku spinning a leek 80 years later (＾▽＾)
The E3 of 2011 is coming to a close and its coverage on various gaming sites has been most extravagant. As for myself, just a quick analysis of the performances of the three key players in the market. Just like last year, Microsoft kicked everything in motion on Monday but their show was – and I'm reluctant to admit it – seriously half-baked. Of its 90 minutes one fifth was dedicated to traditional shooters (Call of Duty, Gears of War, and Halo, which is in for another trilogy) and the rest was all about Kinect. Plenty of content for children and as for the more "mature" stuff, loads of on-rails titles looking incredibly awkward and boring.
There were child gamers pretending to have fun, loads of gameplay pretending to be realtime, and general discomfort up the wazoo. The 360 dashboard is apparently getting yet another new coat of paint, searching the web is now possible via Bing, YouTube clips can be viewed, and... Well, that's that. For anyone not worshipping Halo or Kinect, the show provided nothing at all. Still, there was something personally interesting behind the scenes, courtesy of Konami. Otomedius Excellent is going to be released in the US:
That's a small-scale miracle in its own right and thanks to 360's utterly random region locking policy, it's not yet clear whether the US version works here in Europe. If it does, I have a feeling I'm going to give this dismal piece of hardware a second chance :)
On Tuesday, Sony did a solid run. There was plenty of drumming up both 3D and Move but plenty of varied, Genuine Games were shown as well. As expected, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception stole the whole show and sure enough, I'm drooling over it already. As for other games, the highest point was to see a half a decade old platform series rejuvinated:
So there. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will see daylight some time next year and I, for one, am going to be all over it! As for hardware, I was pleasantly surprised by Sony's next generation handheld, PlayStation Vita formerly known as NGP. It's going to feature beefy specs, touch screen(s), double analog sticks, and its own Uncharted. Available by the end of the year for $249 (or $299 with 3G and GPS) which more or less translates to SalarymanDaishi going shopping.
The last to make an appearance was Nintendo and unlike last year, this time they more or less botched it. First a handful of traditional Nintendo game franchises (yet another reincarnation of Mario Kart) and then the Biggest Thing Ever; the next generation console formerly known as Project Café, now known as Wii U. The console itself wasn't present at all. The only thing displayed was its touchscreen-equipped controller which looked a bit like an iPad but mostly a cheap FisherPrice toy. Sure, compared to Wii there's going to loads of juice in the new piece of hardware and sure, third party developers are in seventh heaven but when many shown clips turned out to be direct 360/PS3 footage, it was obvious Nintendo rushed the whole unveiling. No specs, no release date, no price... No need for any hype whatsoever. Another go at E3 2012, perchance?
Yet, I prefer to find something good about all three, so here's Nintendo's share; the trailer of Paper Mario 3DS:
3DS has been such a barren wasteland of games that I'm almost disappointed getting one. Still, that looks like a brilliant start to a beautiful story ^^; Anyway, it goes without saying that this year's E3 was a bit of a letdown on all fronts. None of the three managed a brilliant show and while I'd say Sony performed the best, the lack of genuine surprises was a bit of a letdown. I do bow for the return of Sly and a tolerable Vita price tag, though.
At last this household decided to lose some weight via PS3 hardware. The trusty old 60Gb workhorse has performed just fine but its bulky size, high energy consumption, irritatingly loud cooling fan, and especially its way too small hard drive requiring constant housekeeping have bothered me to no end for quite some time. Thus, in with the small, perky, Move equipped 320Gb Slim ヾ(＾∇＾)
My experience with Wii has been amusing but in the long run, mostly woefully cumbersome. As such, I'm still more than reserved about Move but I suppose the demo disc is at least worth a glance. Most importantly, though, I no longer have to worry about any given game having enough space available (^o^)/
Also, I turned 35 today. Yay! Bring on the midlife crisis; I fart in your general direction! Also x2, this year's E3 is in full swing already! By tomorrow, it's time to analyze what the Big Three have in store for us console gamers.
Recuperating from the journey, unpacking the backbag, and doing laundry is slowly but surely giving way to enjoying games again. The overseas haul was considerable and the first title to get its chance was the 18 months old Hatsune Miku: Project Diva. After a couple of hours I've only scratched its surface but it's already obvious that I should've grabbed it ages ago! Miku with her turquoise hair and nails is a bona fide virtual idol if I ever saw one Ｏ(≧∇≦)Ｏ Her positive delivery and slick dance moves are fantastic to follow in the game's 36 songs (32, if not counting a couple of variations), even if they also distract the player from the actual gameplay elements.
The above YouTube clip summarizes gameplay quite nicely. Button commands fly in from all around the screen and the player does his best to keep up with the rhythm. It's a nice and original user interface, although some of the music videos are so hectic that spotting the buttons to press occasionally gets a little too challenging. Fortunately the game is, especially for a rhythm title, exceptionally lenient. Mistakes are only reflected in the final score. This gives even subpar gamers a chance to enjoy the game's songs to their full extent.
As well as aiming for a higher score, gamers are tempted with unlocking new costumes for Miku. It seems there are a whopping 53 of them, although I'm still stuck with her default costume. The better you play, the bigger the wardrobe gets. Each song can be played on three difficulty levels, although the hardest isn't even available in the beginning. On the easiest level, only new songs are unlocked and – if performing well enough – chances to see the music videos without gameplay.
There's also a bunch of virtual rooms for Miku, where she spends time as she pleases. New rooms and interior items for them are unlocked randomly during playing. For the background music of this "virtual aquarium" the player can choose not just playable songs but 15 other bonus songs as well. In other words, there's plenty of content to enjoy!
The song selection is fairly lightweight. Fluffy and summery pop music, some amusingly humorous medleys, and a few touching ballads but preciously little in the harder, cooler, jamming tune department. I might need to sample the sequel for those. Still, even as-is, the game is most enjoyable. I think I'll call it played through once I've unlocked and completed each song on normal difficulty. It'll probably take quite a few more hours than I've spent so far (^_^;)
The day of return was fairly bland. Around 7AM back to T-CAT and from there on bus to Narita Terminal 2. The departure lobby was big but I had no trouble finding Finnair's check-in counter where I temporarily got rid of my backbag. After some tax-free shopping and last minute souvenirs all there was left to do was to endure another grueling ten hour flight back to Helsinki.
In Finland I was surprised by very warm weather that was almost like what I had just left behind. Sweating profusely, it still took a good three hours to make it back home. The trip was finally over and oddly enough, I suffered from no jetlag at all. My body instantly adjusted itself to local time and for the past couple of days I've been just unpacking my bags and writing this diary.
That's it. Despite some lousy weather, the trip was utterly brilliant and I'm definitely going back there in the future! ＼（＾ ＾）／