One of the most anticipated gaming events of the year, the Los Angeles E3 is less than a week away. As usual, all sorts of rumors are slowly but surely beginning to seep out and today several gaming sites have reported most wonderful news at least for us PS3 gamers. The founder of Quantic Dream, David Cage, is supposed to appear in Sony's press conference to announce not just one but two new mysterious projects under development.
As the studio is responsible for such awesome adventure classics as Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain, I can't help but feel a little excited. Perhaps this time around we don't have to wait until 2015 and perhaps that Kara technology demo from last March could still be a prelude for an actual game. Unlikely, sure, but it packs a wallop of potential and one can always hope, right? For us Finns, Sony's presser starts awkwardly at 4AM next Tuesday but what the heck, one can stay up through one night for a good cause :)
All the recent outstanding projects are now pretty much taken care of. Yakuza: Dead Souls managed to entertain a little over 29 hours but eventually succumbed to battle fatigue and I'm hardly proud of my 44.13% completion rate. While there would still be a whole lot to experience, the game began to taste like bland rice rather than a proper teishoku and thus I just rushed it to its completion. It was okay but these days just plain okay doesn't really cut it.
That's not to say Dead Souls wouldn't be a decent zombie game. It featured the slowly lurching kind of undead to be therapeutically mowed down by the thousand and as for parody, it served quite a few deliciously juicy and genuinely funny moments. Yet, the gameplay is fairly awkward, the story ends up falling flat as a pancake, and while the ruined streets of Kamurocho are at least in theory something new, they're still the exact same blocks filled with the exact same activies as before. Experiencing them the fifth time around simply isn't exciting anymore.
When it comes to game design, Dead Souls stumbles on the hurdle so common for so-called lengthy games. It certainly has tons of stuff to do but as it's mostly quantity over quality, there's not much incentive to check it all out. Oh well, even as-is, it's a decent, snack-sized spin-off and not only is Yakuza 5 already under development, it promises both a new game engine and plenty of new locations. About time, too!
As for shopping, it has been just as quiet as it probably should be around these times. Quite some time ago I had a good enough time with Secret Files: Tunguska on the DS to get it for the Wii as well. Also, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn now goes cheap enough to warrant a go at some suitable point in time. Granted, I still haven't seen even the movie but as I smoothly keep on lying to myself, all in good time...
Once again there have been preciously few posts but then again, the entire week would have been all about just One Piee: Kaizoku Musou. After twelve hours all side character stories were done and I had seen pretty much everything the game has to offer. Although I'm not that much into trophies, at that point only two remained locked. As the game is pretty enjoyable arcade entertainment, I decided to have a go at grabbing them as well.
...22 hours later...
Holy gaming goddess... I'll just say that beating a whopping 100,000 foes (in your face, Seriously...) takes a ridiculous amount of time and that completing the entire collection of coins randomly awarded after each level can take even longer. As a series, One Piece eventually reaches a point where it transforms into vapid, run-of-the-mill entertainment and the same applies to Kaizoku Musou as well. It's brilliant fun for its fair share of time but not for quite that long. Granted, I could've approached the challenge in short bursts over a longer period of time but my terrier personality took over. Oh well, success through tenacity and 12th platinum acquired.
Resilience paid off elsewhere, too. After 21 hours Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai has been perfectly S-class conquered on normal difficulty. Last time I complained about the difficulty of visually perceiving mere four buttons but all it took was persistent practice. As a matter of fact, the buttons themselves, as hardware, ended up causing more problems. They're simply not quite responsive enough in the most complex sections, causing some presses to oddly go unregistered.
Nevertheless, on normal Project Mirai is excellent rhythm gaming with the emphasis on rhythm. The beats are challenging, yet fair and logical. On hard, however, the game becomes more of a schoolyard bully and serves such vicious, incoherent button combos that they no longer have as much to do with rhythm as sheer repetition and memorization. At that point, fun more or less takes a backseat, so I think I'm now done and ready to move onto something else entirely.
The past few gaming days have been a little about old and a little about new. About a year ago I spent a decent but bland evening with Medal of Honor. Now it felt like a good idea to see if I could manage to complete it on its hardest difficulty. I certainly could and it was a surprisingly easy feat, too. Once again, the challenge didn't take even five hours and the poor couple of SEALs stranded behind enemy lines have again been brought back home to enjoy apple pie under the star spangled banner. Hua!
This second round actually made me appreciate the game a bit more. Sure, it's extremely short, overly patriotic, and consists of a mixed bag of practically everything that is (supposed to be) cool in modern warfare. Still, those can also be considered to be its greatest assets. Its length is nigh on perfect for a one evening, non-stop adrenaline blast, and for everyone not that much into first person shooters to begin with, it serves a diverse assortment of tidbits that cover pretty much everything the genre has to offer.
The amount of scripting was more obvious than before, though. Most of the fine and hectic moments of the first time turned out to be nothing more than skillful faking and the game requires very little in actual participation. It's often enough to just follow the group and leisurely pop an enemy here and there, should they not be sending too much lead your way. It's kind of cheap but pleasantly relaxing and nothing prevents the player from going all gung-ho, should that feel more natural.
Medal of Honor is almost a perfect equivalent of any serious bid budget Hollywood action movie. Brains get rest, there's loads of action and things blowing up, the events are suitably dramatic for virtual war entertainment, and it's all over before it outstays its welcome and collapses under its own pretentiousness. I doubt this is the last time I'll come back to it, as it is an effective cure for random fits of wanting to shoot stuff.
This entire weekend has been rather anime flavored. One Piece: Kaizoku Musou has nested itself inside the PS3 and it's just plain brilliant, should one meet a couple of preconditions. In a nutshell, Dynasty Warriors shakes hands with One Piece. In other words, it's all about massive arcade fighting overflowing with special moves and starring Monkey D. Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates. If neither of its ingredients is familiar or fails to evoke excitement, the game remains hollow but those in love with them both are pampered with most awesome fan service!
One Piece started airing back in 1999 and it still keeps on going – now with over 500 episodes – but rather than being standard license game drivel, Kaizoku Musou pays excellent homage to Eiichiro Oda's creation. The game faithfully follows the original story for sixteen action-packed levels, ranging from the very beginning all the way to the events of Marineford, giving the player a chance to actively experience all the unforgettable, epic, dramatic, and even tear-jerking moments (ok, fights) that have taken place during Luffy's grand journey.
Kaizoku Musou definitely plays like a purebred Dynasty Warriors. One gets to run around fairly large maps, conquering individual areas by pummeling hundreds of small fry in order to lure out the bigger and more prominent foes. The gameplay is 100% button mashing with plenty of quick time events thrown on top but if One Piece's pacing, wackiness, humor, and pure anarchy strike a chord then this one is a veritable must-have!
The main story mode can be completed within seven hours or so but aside Luffy, a whopping twelve other playable characters have also been given their own story sequences. Also, playing through the stages is rewarded with random, collectible coins that can be used to unlock new skills. As such, I think this one will keep me entertained for quite some time to come ^^;
Oh yeah, I also think my modem finally bit the dust. After respectable, continuous servitude of nearly eight years my Telewell TW-EA501 began to lose internet connection several times a day. All it took was a reboot but it was still annoying enough to make me pack it and the Buffalo router from last July away into the cupboard and replace them with an A-Link RR24AP-N (who on earth comes up with these model names, anyway?). The newcomer has performed well for a week now, both wired and wireless, and I look forward to not having to bring it up as a topic until, say, 2020 at earliest :P
That's that. After 27 hours Fallout: New Vegas isn't even remotely close to completion. The Mojave desert still has loads of stuff to discover and I haven't even touched the game's four add-ons. Still, the journey has come to a reluctant close. My style has been to nibble the game world from here and there like an eager packrat, save often, and make heavy use of fast travel between already visited locations. This approach, however, seems like the deadliest poison known to the game engine.
I've now managed to drive myself into a position where simply moving around the wasteland can suddenly crash the console bad enough to require a hard reset. I could proceed in shorter stints and save even more often but simply selecting Save from the main menu causes a similar freeze. So does my character dying. Falling back to earlier saves doesn't seem to make any difference, either. After six resets within half an hour, I'm abandonding hope for good.
Even if Fallout 3 has been hands down the buggiest console game I've ever experienced, at least it could be played through with a bit of teeth gritting. I really should have learned my lesson back then as – perplexingly enough – New Vegas manages to be even more fatally broken. Then again, it's again probably not so much about the game itself as it is Bethesda's performance on PS3 architecture. That combination is just plain catastrophically borked. Any game from them on this platform? Absolutely, positively, never ever again, even from the cheapest of bargain bins. Frigging duffers!
So much for regular updates. The past few days have gone here and there, although I've at least managed to get well started on the timesink known as Fallout: New Vegas. Six couriers are given seemingly random items to deliver to New Vegas. Five of them succeed whereas the sixth gets a bullet in the head. Feel free to guess who the playable character is (^_^;) It's not the shortest gaming experience in history, though. In the little backwater town of Goodsprings, an eccentric robot and a skilled doctor manage to save the player's life, after which it's time to venture into the nuclear holocaust ravaged world to figure out just what the heck is going on.
Whereas Fallout 3 was – at least for many console gamers – something new and quite epic, New Vegas instantly feels comfy and familiar. That's not to disparage it by any means. A massive world is once again exceptionally rich in content and the feeling of a grand adventure is ever so tangible. The main storyline immediately takes a backseat as interesting places to explore seem to pop up behind every knoll and plenty of eclectic New Vegas residents can be found and then assisted or tormented, whatever floats your boat.
Character customization is as good as ever. The model is based on six basic attributes, about twenty basic skills, and special perks awarded when leveling up. This allows any kind of playing and character development in the way that feels most comfortable way. I, for example, have begun my journey as a benevolent, attention shy nerd who isn't particularly skilled with weapons but who has, at least so far, enough scientific prowess, spectacular eloquence, and sneaky agility to make progress without bumping into insurmountable problems.
As a new feature, New Vegas features a hardcore mode that it suggests for advanced players only. Nonsense. Everyone should turn it on! It's a mode in which ammo has weight, restoring health takes time, broken limbs aren't exactly a cinch to heal, and as well as radiation, one also has to mind hunger, thirst, and sleep deprivation. This setup is just plain brilliant and much less of a nuisance as it sounds, yet it easily transforms the game into a more tactical, collected, and immersive experience.
This time around, even the black and white setting of good vs. evil seems to have been done away with. The world of New Vegas is inhabited by about a dozen or so factions intertwined with each other in delightfully sprawling and capricious ways. Their attitude towards the player wholly depends on the choices made but as all of them seem to harbor their fair share of secrets and ulterior motives, it's both challenging and extremely intriguing to find a comfortable spot amongst them.
Unfortunately such a perfect ten game is still plagued by a catastrophically buggy game engine. Traveling out in the open is especially susceptible to jerkiness and during the first twenty hours the game has crashed once and slowed down to an unplayable slideshow thrice. I've also managed to back off inside a mountain, witness AI characters strutting three feet in the air, and seen a head roll 360 degree Exorcist style. If past is any proof, those crashes and slowdowns in particular are only going to get worse as I go. First class content makes all this barely tolerable but at least on PS3, the Gamebryo engine performs so shockingly bad that it's not even remotely funny.
Hah! The older the rustier but I still refuse to turn into a stuffy person. Granted, I already played through Hamsterball but its decent looking trophy set allured me to continue. After an additional couple of hours or so, all of them are now in my virtual cabinet, apparently enlargening my virtual peen. That, of course, wasn't my purpose but it's extremely rare for a game to be both entertaining and feature trophies complementing that entertainment. Thus, I was more than happy to take on the challenge.
Those eight isometric stages got to shine once more. They had to be completed within extremely tight, yet perfectly fair time limits. While the runs were just 10-40 seconds in length, they had to be more or less sheer perfection. Constantly resetting each challenge to achieve that reminded me of 360's most awesome Trials HD and in a good way. When any given challenge on whole lasts just a fleeting moment, it's practically an invitation to hone it to perfection, no matter how many retries are required.
My happy mood extended to shopping as well. This slightly retroesque pile of JRPGs was mine for about seven euros each. Divided by the number of potential entertainment hours, that's practically nothing at all. For PS2, there's Phantom Brave and Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer's Call. As for DS, that's pretty much the rest of its Final Fantasy games that I don't yet own; Final Fantasy Tactics A2: Grimoire of the Rift, Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. Top those off with Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride and a soundtrack CD carrying Super Robot Taisen OG Saga: Endless Frontier (gotta love Japanese naming conventions) and I think I'm even set for my pension days ^^;
Sheesh! I can't help but weasel out and consider Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai completed ahead of time. It took mere eight hours to unlock all of its 21 songs (only three old ones and even those were remixes – yay!), to attain the highest (?) S rank on all of them on Easy, and to see the end credits roll. Usually that would be just a prelude for the actual challenge but after moving onto Normal, I was met by a gigantic stumbling block. When it comes to the PlayStation DualShock, its four distinctive colors and shapes have had nearly a couple of centuries to deeply root themselves into muscle memory. On 3DS, I suddenly feel like a nervous first grader.
On Normal, Project Mirai brings all four buttons into play, rather than just two, and the new platform turns out to be pure venom. Nintendo has no shapes, let alone colors. There's just A, B, X, and Y. The game plays like any other rhythm game but as the genre is all about twitch gameplay, the controls would have to be embraced all over again. Not good. I suddenly feel like back in the days when moving from the mouse/keyboard combo to a twin stick pad. That took quite some time, yet now feels like second nature. Still, it's a different matter now that I'm a) considerably older and b) it'd be just for this one game only.
This is not to say I'm about to abandon Project Mirai but it remains to be seen if an old dog can cope with new tricks. Or rather, sure it can but as for whether it's worth the effort, that's another matter entirely.
The rest of today has rolled on, quite literally. The freebies of this month's PS+ included Hamsterball, which turned out to be just as adorable as a little furball enclosed in a plastic ball can be. The idea of the game is to hurtle along narrow, twisting tracks as fast as four paws allow. There are 37 3D stages along the lines of Super Monkey Ball and as a spectacular homage to Marble Madness, eight more isometric ones.
Although Hamsterball isn't exactly original, it takes the points home with its unashamedly classy execution. The 3D stages spin wildly in every imaginable direction, the sheer speed practically forces the player to apply brakes ever so often, and the road constantly branches into alternative routes towards the goal. Strewn across the stages are piggie banks acting as score bonuses as well as icons granting a little bit of extra time. As for balls, there are three; one allows small jumps, another a temporary speed boost, and the third is capable of running over fences on the track. On the isometric side the game is more minimalistic but even better than its core. Just like in its 80's role model, there are no special skills and the routes to the goal are as delightfully original as they are fiendish.
That's not to say Hamsterball would be hard. If any mistake took the player back to the beginning of the stage, cursing beyond belief would ensue. Plummeting into the void, however, results only in rebirth fairly close to where the mishap took place. As the given time limits are more than compassionate, the actual content can be experienced in just two or three hours. Still, those into trophies or improving scores should find themselves busy for far more than that; I'm now six hours in and counting. It's actually amusing to realize that one voluntarely restarts challenges after even the slightest of adversity.
Hamsterball might be a bit of a one night stand but a cute, quality arcade title nonetheless. I won't lose my sleep not having invested the original asking price of ten bucks on it, though.
Entertainment for this weekend has been provided by Saints Row: The Third. This is a series that I've never really gotten into. The first game was a slightly rugged, yet passable GTA clone that served its purpose as there was nothing better to choose from. For some reason (probably Grand Theft Auto IV) the second part failed to entice entirely and I walked away from it after an hour or so. Taking over cities as the Saints gang has always felt a bit too plasticky and unpolished but perhaps that famous third time's the charm?
At least the Saints now have it better than ever before. The town of Stilwater, familiar from the previous installments, is entirely under the gang's control and its members are now superstars. Despite being a criminal organization, Saints has become an insanely popular brand with its own energy drinks, movies, and even plush toys. The player, head of the Saints, has it easy until one day an ordinary bank heist goes awry. The establishment belongs to Syndicate, a criminal conglomerate that operates from the neighboring town of Steelport. They're not pleased with the Saints' coup and would very much like a lion's share of their profit.
The so-called negotiations high in the sky don't go much better. Saints' number two, Johnny Gat, bites a bullet, the entire plane comes crashing down, and after an action-packed freefall the player finds himself in Steelport. As nobody messes with the Saints and as the Syndicate needs to pay, there's no doubt what comes next. Taking over Steelport one district after another, no matter what.
It's not much of a story but then again, The Third focuses solely on being a sandbox in which fun times never stop, the humor is obscene, and exaggeration is everday. Pretty much from the start one can punish Syndicate's gangs with missile strikes or terrorize Steelport's citizens with, for example, a six foot dildo bat. The main missions cater a traditional selection of driving, shooting, and blowing up stuff. There's also dozens of varied side activities, gunning down the streets with a buggy on fire or flinging oneself at traffic for insurance money being some of the more ordinary ones. There's tanks and gunships, of course, and as things heat up, even futuristic VTOL fighters and laser rifles. Ummm... Yeah...
Character customization is incredibly deep. As well as sex, tone of voice, and build, the player is free to choose from a bewildering amount of hair, clothes, tattoos, and even warts that no two Saints heroes probably look alike. This time around, the graphics are even good enough for this creation to blend surprisingly naturally into the game's numerous cinematics.
This sounds like the craziest, most awesome playground ever and for many, that's probably exactly what it is. The problem, though, lies exactly in this all-embracing extravaganza. The game hasn't got a clue about pacing and while Saints' laddish perseverance and attitude can be appreciated, it simply tries too much. The Third feels like one of those super sized candy bags that might seem like a good idea at the time of purchase but that turn slightly nauseating halfway down. The game has practically everything, yet very little to keep it all together.
Still, if one simply wants to wreak creative, often juvenile havoc in a big city, The Third is a pretty solid and content-rich choice. At least I experienced, definitely for the first time ever, a chase involving rickshaws pulled by gimps （＾ワ＾） My playthrough that involved sampling a little bit of everything bar multiplayer took around 18 hours but I don't feel like coming back. It's a decent performance, yet somehow an oddly hollow one. It's probably just a case of too much everything leading to nothing felt at all.
What happened today. It's either heading to Tokyo of 2080 for some Gears-esque third person shooting (Binary Domain) or the sandbox city of Steelport for some totally over-the-top gangsta fun (Saints Row: The Third). Being a grown-up certainly sucks in that no matter how (gaming) efficiently one tries to spend his free time, the line of interesting titles slowly moves but never really shortens. That's what summer vacations are probably for.
PlayStation Plus content of May didn't help solving the dilemma in the slightest, thanks to Sony further opening up its floodgates. It's such an impressive setting that I'll just link to its summary. Nine full-blown arcade titles complemented with Max Payne for PS2 is easily worth a standing ovation. In theory that's closer to a hundred euros worth of content but of course it's not nearly that straightforward in reality. None of the titles allured me to go shopping back when they were released (although fond memories of Max Payne on PC came awfully close) but I'm happy to sample them now... Ummm, soon... Oh, crap...
Amidst all this totally random game surfing of the past few days, I've also managed to get started on the title that sold me the Japanese 3DS; Hatsune Miku and Future Stars: Project Mirai. It doesn't sport more than 21 songs but we Miku fans are easy to please. It's once again all about mashing buttons to an extremely sugary and cute rhythm, unlocking additional costumes, and simply just enjoying the music while steadily improving one's performance. Actually, I think this YouTube trailer does a better job summarizing the experience.
I'm also taking the easy way out when it comes to the contents of the limited edition, as others have done a great job outlining it all. Those whopping 15 AR cards that accompanied the game are an especially awesome way to tap on the 3DS potential. They enable the stars of the game to be summoned on your desk for posing or even performing some of the game's songs as live as augmented reality currently allows. Utterly useless but then again, so damn cool :)
As for the game itself, despite the language barrier everything is straightforward and easy to get into. The gameplay, all about pushing the A/B/X/Y buttons, is simple but honed to perfection, and aiming for better scores is just as addictive as ever. No need to hurry, though. After a bit over three hours I've managed a perfect performance on the first five songs on Easy and that's the way I'm going to keep on tackling them. Of those five, only one has been brought over from the past Miku games, so it seems like Sega has dropped blatant recycling this time around.
As a new feature, one can use the shoulder buttons of the console to snap screenshots in AR mode and while watching the music videos of completed songs. A most welcome functionality at least for us bloggers. I think it's going to see plenty of use as I'll likely end up gabbing about this game for ages in the future. Apologies in advance :P
Instead of healing a May Day eve hangover, I've been entertained with Yakuza: Dead Souls which ups the ante and extends the quarantine area while I... Well, I oogle tits during a fierce ping pong match, sing karaoke, go bowling, or take a hostess girl with me for a bit of informal zombie hunting. Good times, good times (^～^) The Shun Akiyama part has now been wrapped up and the story continues with the series' most lovable psychopath, Goro Majima. For this die-hard fan of zombie flicks, the misfortune of Kamurocho is like candy rain, and the man certainly couldn't have picked a better time to debut as a playable character.
Solving the source of that mysterious zombie invasion has now taken me about 18 hours and closer to five thousand of these suckers have already made their final peace, yet the game still entertains like a proper Yakuza game should. The level of parody is off the scale when a filmmaker suffering from financial issues decides to use Kamurocho's quarantined areas as a cheap way back to fame, or when Majima sings one of the worst, yet most energetic karaoke performances ever. I also headed to the nearby pier for a bit of fishing and while an 18 inch flounder was none too shabby, it was soon topped by a five foot six undead (≧▽≦) That particular catch instantly took off towards Kamurocho for a good time, so I'm not entirely sure if it counts (・_・ヾ
Amidst all this deranged goofing around Dead Souls still manages to remain true to its roots. When the player has to help a detective, bitten by a zombie, to leave that final, touching message to his wife and nine-year-old boy before having to be put to rest by the so-called heroes, the game neatly reminds that it still packs plenty of humanity and a set of values that make the entire Yakuza series so special and unlike any other. As I already noted back in March, the game is hardly impressive tech-wise but as for heart, that it has plenty. Onwards with pleasure!