Monday, June 30, 2014

Month Overview: June

Games completed in June:
 Samurai Warriors Chronicles                                                                           8.0
 Dark Cloud 2                                                                                                  9.0
 Bleach - Heat the Soul 7                                                                                 7.5
 Vanquish                                                                                                         8.0
 Assassin's Creed                                                                                             6.5
 Assassin's Creed 2                                                                                          9.0
 Assassin's Creed Brotherhood                                                                         7.5

 Taking into account the amount of free time I had this month... it's kinda impressive how much I managed to play, and the latter three were kinda long games. It was a fairly good month, many good and great games, I can't complain!

 Game of June:
 It was a huge game and a huge improvement from Assassin's Creed 1. It was better than Brotherhood, and at the moment, even better than Revelations! I spent a lot of time playing AC II, I found myself trying to find the time to play this one, I loved AC II, that I did, it was a no brainer that it was gonna make it here.

 It's sad how Dark Cloud 2 was so easily forgotten by people, you never see it pop up in PS2 "Top X" lists or what have you. Dark Cloud 2 was phenomenal and deserves better, it's surprising how it never made the jump to HD, either in a sequel or a HD Port.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Quickie: Uncharted - Eye of Indra

 I've had this installed since last year!
 Eye of Indra is a short 4-part motion comic that serves as a prequel to Uncharted 1. While it's supposed to explain the beef between Eddie Raja and Nate... this is actually their second encounter, and their first quarrel is quickly handwaved with "He wanted to screw me, but I beat him to the punch", in other words, the main selling point is kind of a lie. As for the story itself, it jumps between the present, where Nate and Eddie are being tortured, and the past, slowly piecing together what happened before they got caught. The set-up is not as smart as it thinks, and the story itself is rather plain and one of the plans a bit of a stretch(What if the torturing took place in another room?).

 The art is very average, with varying degrees of quality. Nate's face isn't very consistent, and at times he looks more like a gruff, square-jawed action hero than the "everyman" Naughty Dog envisioned. Being a motion comic, they employed some dull looking movements every now and then, nothing particularly exciting. On the flipside, voice acting is a highpoint of the product, with the series' voice actors reprising their roles, even though sometimes the tones used don't match the art very well.

 Uncharted: Eye of Indra feels like a rather short and unexciting 24-36 self-contained comic book, with nothing interesting to look forward to. Fans of the series might even feel disappointed seeing how it's supposed to explain why Eddie and Nate hated each other, but this isn't even supposed to be their first encounter.
 3.5 out of 10

Now Playing: Assassin's Creed - Revelations

 Time to.... finish the fight(That Halo tag-line sure has stuck!)
 Only with a male character could they get away by making him grow old AND making him the lead character. Regardless, first thing you notice: Another graphical upgrade, while ACB's was pretty minor, Revelations looks a whole lot different, Desmond doesn't look like Desmond anymore and his scar is missing!

 Most of the gameplay remains the same, but combat seems to have been tightened a bit with how subweapons operate, and seeing how I'm looting dozens of "Bomb materials" I'm guess this game's gimmick will be bombs. Speaking of the game, the first sequence sure was odd, for an AC game, with the carriage section.

 Obviously it's too early to judge, but it's looking promising, although I'm not looking forward to Altair's memories, who cares about Altair?!

Review #124: Assassin's Creed - Brotherhood

 Another year, another Assassin's Creed. Or maybe another week?
 After Assassin's Creed 2 Ubisoft realized that they had a hit on their hands, so there was only one choice left for them... Milk it as hard as they can. Released about a year after Assassin's Creed 2, does Brotherhood manages to top it or is it just a shameful cash in?

 Both for Desmond and Ezio, the game continues their stories right where we left them off, Desmond and his pals on the run in a van, and Ezio escaping from the vault he had just discovered. Remember the Villa the first game had you funding? Well, as a consequence for letting the Pope live, he retaliates by having his son, Cesare, destroy the villa and murder Ezio's uncle in the process, yes, this is another revenge story for Ezio. For the first time in the series, what little of Desmond's story we get is actually more interesting than Ezio's story, AC 2 did a good job at fleshing out the present-day cast, but AC:B does it even better, by allowing you to exit the Animus at any time, you get new little scenes with Lucy, Rebecca and Shaun every new chapter, plus, you can read their e-mails for further insight into their shenanigans. As for Ezio, many familiar faces return, but Ezio himself doesn't evolve too much and his story relies on many cliched tropes, you'll see the twists coming from a mile away, and the second to last chapter feels very rushed, which takes away some of the punch from outcome.
 Gameplay remains mostly the same, but with some new additions. Firstly, the game now takes place almost entirely in Rome, with a few excursions for some sidequests. It's a bit disappointing seeing how AC 2 had at least three big cities, but Rome does have a lot of variety and is pretty extensive. While it is technically a sidequest, you'll make it your first priority to rid the land of Borgia influence, which is done by assassinating a commanding officer and then climbing the nearby tower adorned by Borgia flags. You must do this in order to open up brotherhood slots and allow for you to renovate neighboring buildings. Remember how you used to spend your money to renovate the villa? This mechanic returns, albeit in a less convenient way. You must now renovate each building individually and you actually have to physically move to its location, rather than talking to an architect. In this way the game can grow a bit tedious, there's a lot of Borgia Towers to burn, and while the location of the officer changes, they all play out the same.

 As for the biggest new mechanic, and the best one, is recruiting assassins for the Brotherhood. By saving citizens from Borgia soldiers, you can then recruit them into your brotherhood, and then serve two purposes: Sending them away on missions or calling them out for help. While sending them away on missions is helpful to your purse, having them help you against a enemy squad is incredibly useful and satisfying, and after you get about 8 Assassins you can use the massively overpowered Arrow Storm that kills every enemy on the vicinity. After this game, abandoning this mechanic would be extremely disappointing. Not only is it an useful and fun mechanic, seeing Assassins fighting alongside Ezio is really cool, and having Ezio work as a sort of... mentor to these Assassins helps further his character.
 Fighting has received a couple of tweaks, now enemies can grab you, just like in AC 1, but you mostly get tools to make your job even easier. After assassinating an enemy, tapping square and moving the analog stick against an enemy will make Ezio instantly assassinate that target, this is called "Kill Streak" and unless an enemy hits you and you don't press counter(While in the murdering animation), it won't break. Killing huge groups of enemies has never been this easy. Another fun tweak is "special attacks", holding the attack button will usually result in Ezio aiming the wrist-gun, although it depends on your weapon, allowing you to use your projectile attacks in conjunction with your melee weapons, without having to switch weapons. Then there's also the kick which allows you to break an enemy's guard. Basically, you got a ton of tools to massacre your enemies with little effort.

 Sadly, a lot of the game is just getting back the stuff that you lost from the second game. There's a couple of new tools, like the incredibly useful parachute and the crossbow(Which is a glorified wrist-gun), and the introduction of heavy-type weapons, but 80% of your tools(Don't quote me on that number) return from AC2. I was also not particularly fond of the pacing, the rate at which new weapons, armors or items are available isn't very consistent or rewarding, the same goes for the rate at which the map opens up and the sidequests pop up, on some chapters you'll be swimming on sidequests and new areas to explore, while others will have nothing, there's a chapter in particular(Memory Sequence 2) that actually blocks off areas you've already been to. It's especially noticeable coming directly from AC2, which had a fairly consistent pace.
 The main story is noticeably shorter than AC2's, but the game offers sidequests in spades. There's 10 feathers to collect, 101 flags(Like AC1!), Glyphs and chests to uncover, coupled with the Assassination, Courtesan and Thief's sidequests. Speaking of sidequests, there's a wide variety of objectives, from Leonardo's War Machines(They managed to include a Tank and a Turret sequence on Assassin's Creed, I'm not even joking) to some interesting ones, like robbing a letter from a courier, fabricating a forgery and placing the forgery on him without him noticing. Then there are the "Virtual Training" challenges that consist on races, finding objects or killstreaks with varying conditions and handicaps. New to this game are "Synchronization Bonuses", by finishing missions(This applies to some side missions as well) while fulfilling certain conditions you will earn a synchronization bonus, maxing the synchronization on each level might unlock some rather funny extras. New to this game as well are the Store Quests, there are about 6 of them which makes them feel like a really annoying afterthought, you simply must collect a certain amount of items(Found on chests or Bandits) and go to a specific store and turn them in for a reward, it would've been nice of the game to tell you sooner about these, as I sold a rather rare one, thinking that these were just to sell at different prices through the different stores, which meant I couldn't get the last purchasable armor pieces(And finishing all the Thieve's Guild missions will stop all Bandit attacks, so no more chances for a random drop).

 Brotherhood is the first game in the series to introduce Multiplayer Mode, which is probably why the main story felt so short, and while it offers three variations... this mode will probably be either hit or miss among the players. I, for instance, didn't find much fun in it, as you must try to assassinate a target while another player hunts you, it has a bit of a slow pace, which is why I didn't like it a whole lot.

 As for the presentation, the character models look noticeably better and Rome is bursting with color and details.... but the amount of screen tearing has increased noticeably, alongside pop in, you'll notice details popping out of nowhere while moving, which is why as a whole, I'd say it's a step back. The music, most of it returns from AC2, and what few tracks are new, are rather forgettable, luckily AC2 had some great music. Voice Acting remains strong for all major characters, but some of the secondary characters are laughable at worst.

 Assassin's Creed 2 was a huge leap from Assassin's Creed 1. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is but a sidestep from AC2, as far as the gameplay is concerned, all the additions are great and fun to use... but make the game even easier than before. It also happens to have a rather wonky pace, a more structured flow to how activities and items became available would've worked wonders.
 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Now Playing: Assassin's Creed - Brotherhood

 Because it's not over until we are done with Ezio's trilogy.
 The jump to AC 2 after AC 1 was huge. But from AC2 to Brotherhood it feels like a tiny step. Combat has been refined, a couple of new moves, execution streaks(Which makes combat even easier) and I think the weapon wheel has spots for new weapons? Know what isn't cool? How the game removes most of Ezio's equipment at the start, which I wouldn't mind, but I grew so attached to the double Hidden Blades, that going back to one is depressing.

 I'm barely a couple of hours into the game, and I'm already swimming in money, renovated a ton of shops everywhere, got a Butcher's Knife and I'm making over 5200 florins every 20 minutes, I think I just broke the game's economy.

 One thing I noticed is that the segment with Desmond and Lucy felt very Uncharted-like, both characters joking around and talking while performing athletic feats? Plus, Drake was voiced by the same guy that voices Desmond, it's impossible not to notice!

 All in all, I'm having quite a bit of fun, Ezio looks much more badass now, and while the gameplay is basically the same, I love having a new town to explore.... but I fear it might be a tad small? Only 23 viewpoints while the last game had 73? I noticed that the game has a couple of throwbacks to AC 1 as well, now on the loading screen you can use your weapons, like AC1, and the collectible banners return.

Review #123: Assassin's Creed II

 It makes Assassin's Creed 1 look like one ugly beta.
 Assassin's Creed was a good game, it wasn't anything special and had lots of little flaws that took away from it. Assassin's Creed 2 polished every single aspect from Assassin's Creed, resulting in a vastly superior, and more entertaining game.

 The game picks up almost exactly where the last one left off, with Lucy and Vidic leaving the room, and Desmond developing the Eagle Vision. Desmond escapes with the aid of the Assassins from Abstergo, and vows to help the Assassins defeat the Templars, doing what he does best: Strapping to the Animus chair. While in the Animus, this time Desmond goes back to his paternal ascendants, in the form of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, an Italian Assassin living in Florence during the late 1400s. This time around, characters are much more engaging than in Assassin's Creed 1, even though the present-day scenes are but a fraction of the game(A change I most welcome), Desmond and Lucy have received a bit more personality, as well as the rest of the supporting cast. The cast featured in Ezio's time is even more appealing, Ezio himself being everything that Altair wasn't: Funny, charming, emotive and above all, likeable. Story wasn't particularly bad in AC 1, but AC 2's story is much more involved, intriguing and better written, dialogue is more refined, with a couple of jokes that were more funny than they should've!
 Gameplay follows the same print from Assassin's Creed 1, but polished and expanded upon. Parkour was a great idea, but it wasn't as good as it could've been, AC 2 makes parkour flow much smoother, Ezio doesn't stop on his tracks while climbing, and does everything much more swiftly. There's the occasional jump when you didn't want to jump, or dropping to a haystack instead of a ledge, but they are infrequent enough as not to be too annoying. There's a fair amount of new mechanics, like looting dead bodies for money, medicine or knives, or even stealing money from passersby. Among people Ezio may come around Courtesans that can be hired to distract guards, mercenaries or thieves that can fight for Ezio, signaling them to do their works is pretty easy and they rarely get stuck on the environment. When it comes to stealth, Assassin's Creed was never a stealth game, but it did have some elements, and they were expanded upon in this one, blending with crowds is now a matter of walking with them, Ezio will turn grey if done correctly, you can now carry dead bodies and drop them to focus attention on them and using the Hidden Blade is much more fun, now that Ezio can kill while hanging from ledges, while falling, while hiding or even perform dual assassinations when he gets a second Hidden Blade!

 New to the series is the monetary system, instead of earning weapons as he killed enemies, like Altair, Ezio now can buy his weapons or armors from Blacksmiths. You can also buy bigger pouches to carry medicine, knives or poison, or even dye his white robes! The best part about all this is that the changes reflect on Ezio himself. Health doesn't restore over time, so visiting doctors to heal or using medicine is a necessity, even though the game is nice enough to heal you completely whenever you start a new mission. Early in the game, Ezio will enter the Villa, a town that can be upgraded by investing money in it, the more it grows, the more money it makes every 20 minutes. Investing as much as you can early on will end up with Ezio swimming in money later in the game, so it's a good idea to upgrade it as early as possible. AC 1 quickly got very repetitive, once again AC 2 tops it by offering more missions types: Assassination, Races, Courier and Beatings. Main Story missions also vary quite widely, you'll go from tailing people to flying on Leonardo's flying machine, competing in a carnival for a golden mask or protecting a boat from bowmen. There's also a slew of sidequests: Gathering all 100 hidden feathers, finding all 20 glyphs(each one rewards you with a very odd puzzle unlike anything else on the game), finding all 73 viewpoints and the 6 Assassin's tombs, each one possessing a platforming challenge that reward you with items to unlock Altair's armor. AC 2 is a very long game, but repetition won't sink in until much later in the game.
 To offset the removal of the regenerating hit points, combat was made easier. The window for parrying was widened and most counterattacks now outright kill. Continuously attacking blocking enemies will also damage them, so you could potentially win every encounter by just mashing on the attack button. The tools for combat have also increased, with the addition of smoke bombs, a gun on the Hidden Blade, poison on the Hidden Blade and barehanded beatings now actually packing a punch. As easy as combat is, there's a new Notoriety system implemented, killing in public or doing outrageous actions like pushing people in front of wards will raise your notoriety, which translates into how fast will guards realize that you are an enemy on sight, you can lower it by ripping posters off walls, killing certain officials or bribing spokesmen.

 Assassin's Creed 1 had some rather large cities, but they seem so small in front of Assassin's Creed 2's Italy. The player can now swim and ride boats, which comes very useful when traversing the watery city of Venice. Each of the game's town(Tuscany, Romania, Forli and Florence(And I'm sure I probably spelt two of them wrong)) are huge and very different from one another, with broadly different flavors making exploring them a joy.
 Character models definitely look better than in AC 1, but they are still a bit on the ugly side, with a couple of scenes in which they just look off as they talk or move onscreen. Animation is still a looker, even if there are a couple of odd ones(Just look at Desmond's neck when he punches while the game is loading!). Cities are still the high point of the game's presentation, every city portrayed in the game is downright beautiful with a ton unique landmarks. The game does suffer from a ton of pop in and a bit of clipping, frame rate does take a hit every now and then, the close-range draw distance is terrible, with flowers popping out of nowhere, but when it comes to distances you can see, very, very far away, and it looks glorious. While AC 1 wasn't big on the music department, AC 2 has some rather grandiose-sounding pieces, a particular favorite of mine being the one that plays on the race missions. Voice acting is very good when it comes to primary characters, although a few of the NPCs are fairly unconvincing, still a step up from AC 1!

 Assassin's Creed 2 is an awesome game, I'd go as far as to say that it makes AC 1 obsolete. Ubisoft did polish a diamond out of a stone, AC 2 is among my favorite games of the last generation, and while the game could use a bit of touching up, to make the framerate steadier for example, polishing certain glitches(Like freezing, which happened to me once but seems to be a rather frequent occurrence, or how certain cutscenes may desynch leaving characters to stab the ground or what have you), it's a great game.
 9.0 out of 10

Friday, June 20, 2014

Now Playing: Assassin's Creed 2

 I was ready to hate Ezio, I mean, Ubisoft created a sub-trilogy focused on him, I already found him annoying... but man, is Ezio hard to hate. The game is better than Assassin's Creed 1 in every way: Better graphics, better cast(The modern-day characters are engaging, Ezio's supporting cast is interesting and Ezio himself is completely different from Altair who was as unlikeable as it go), movement and fighting flows much much better, the game has already shown more variety in missions, and now there's even a currency system implemented. I played up to the "betrayal", and I can already say that this game is gonna be much, much better than the first one.

 Surprisingly, Jim Sterling gave it a 2, I usually agree with Jim, so I'm gonna wait until I finish it to re-read his review and see the whys, but so far I am thoroughly impressed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review #122: Assassin's Creed

 7 years too late, but here I am!
 Assassin's Creed is, at the moment, Ubisoft biggest cash cow, it quickly became a yearly franchise after the first one, the one I'm writing about today. Rough around the edges, Assassin's Creed was the first entry in the series, so it's only fair that we start off from here.

 The game is set in two different eras: Present day, with Desmond Miles, and during the Third Crusade as Desmond's ancestor Altair. Desmond is captured, before the game's beginning, by Abstergo and is now strapped to the Animus, a machine that puts him in the place of his ancestors, in this case, Altair. Turns out Desmond is a descendant from a long line of Assassins, and by relieving Altair's crusade against the Templars, Abstergo aims to obtain something. Desmond's short sequences are easily the most boring, but they are a bit interesting, Altair's story is much more interesting. The story itself is alright, and while the dialogue is nothing special, it does have a couple of shining lines. Furthermore, the whole lore surrounding the Assassins and Templars is very interesting. Oh, and the game ends with one of the biggest cliff hangers ever conceived, not cool Ubisoft!
 First things first, Desmond is the means to tie up subsequent sequels, his sequences consist of him walking around and asking questions... now, the meat of the game lies on Altair. The game features an open world with three huge towns, an "overworld" that connects the towns and a smaller village where the Assassin's guild resides. The game employs a functional parkour system, while holding R1 and X, Altair will try to climb or jump his way through buldings, walls, stands, windows or what have you. It works well most of the time, but occasionally Altair will stop dead on his tracks, requiring you to let go and then press the buttons again, and sometimes while trying to run in a direction, he will try to climb a wall. Luckily, most of the time it works well, but it clearly needs refinement. As an Assassin, Altair should kill without alerting anyone, should he be found out, he'll enter alert mode, not unlike Metal Gear Solid's, while in this mode you can either kill all the guards that spawn or avoid their line of sight and hide in a haystack, or bend with walking erudites or civilians sitting on benches. It's more fun than it sounds.

 Combat is fairly simple, and Altair packs a couple of weapons to make his job easier. The Hidden Blade is useless in battle, but it can be used to kill unsuspecting or fallen enemies, but when it comes to fighting he wields a sword and a small knife. The knife doubles as the projectile weapon, according to the distance, Altair will shoot a knife or try to hit his enemies with it. Fighting with the sword or the knife, at close quarters, is virtually the same, you can mash on the attack button to attack, time a Counter Attack(Which may or may not kill, which means its usefulness can vary!) or sidestep. To be honest, combat is dead simple and easy, only a couple of enemies can perform counterattacks and most of the time mashing on the attack button is all you really need.
 The game is fairly formulaic once it gets going. Very early in the game, Altair gets his arrogance get the best of him and gets demoted to the lowest rank, and must now prove himself to the brotherhood. The game is divided in chapters("Memory sections"), each chapter has up to three assassinations for Altair to perform, quite conveniently, each assassination takes place in a different section of each of the three towns. Before each Assassination, you must obtain at least three pieces of information, which is done by performing sidequests. Sidequests come in a few forms: Climbing vantage points, races, eavesdropping, pick pocketing, assassinating some targets without alerting guards or saving citizens from guard abuse. It's easy to tell that the game can get quite repetitive. Fulfilling sidequests has the added benefit of increasing your hit points("Synchronization rate") so it's in your best interest to do as many of them as possible. Regardless, after you get the information you need, you are off to Assassinate your target, each of this major Assassinations are the highlight of the game, and while they usually go down the same, the set up is entirely different, as well as their last words. After each assassination Altair will also go up in rank, regaining a weapon alongside a skill.

 The game also offers some optional quests in the form of hidden flags throughout the towns and 60 hidden Templars for Altair to defeat, but since the PS3 version has no trophies, they are not worth it. One thing that really irked me is that you can't manually save the game, you must rely on the autosave system. The game autosaves every time you find a collectible or clear a side quest, but it would've been nice to be able to save at will. Another annoyance, albeit much minor, is that when you are selecting a Memory Section, the nice Abstergo scientist will nag on Desmond, it quickly grows annoying when you are just checking stuff out.
  Graphics are a mixed bag. Most textures are fairly muddy, and character models aren't very pretty. Hilariously enough, Altair is the only Assassin missing a finger, which is supposed to be a trait shared by the brotherhood, not even Altair's Mentor is missing his finger! Also, secondary NPCs share heads, even with the Mentor who is a rather important character, or the Assassin Knights in the Assassin's HQ having 20 fingers(I'm not kidding!)... yeah, characters don't look very good. On the flip side, the world itself is beautiful, towns are a joy to see from above, and having the screen filled with NPCs walking around is really nice. Music is used very sparingly, but it's nothing special, and the voice acting is just passable. Altair in particular was fairly unimpressive.

  Assassin's Creed was a very decent first game, but it clearly needed a lot of polishing, and as repetitive as it got, I found myself having more fun than I expected.
 6.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Now Playing: Assasin's Creed

 It's time to begin the Assasin's Creed.
 It is time. I've never been too interested in the series, until Assassin's Creed III, set in a time period I love. Then IV got announced, and while I didn't care for it as much as I did three, the interest had set in, so now here I am, ready to play all six of them.

 First impressions? "This game looks ugly!". It does! Models look a bit shaggy, textures are muddy and movements are a bit off, and there's a tiny bit of framerate drops every now and then. The city, however, looks fantastic. Altair's voice actor doesn't manage to impress me either, the rest of the cast is as unimpressive. The gameplay is fairly alright, the parkour is really fun, but it definitely could use a little bit of polishing and Combat is dead simple. There also seem to be collectibles, but I am oblivious to their use, specially since this game doesn't support trophies.

 I may sound overly negative, but despite everything, I'm having fun with it.

Review #121: Vanquish

 It's all about them Space Marines.
 About four years ago, Sega released the Platinum Games' developed game Vanquish, a game that was touted as being the evolution of the third person shooter genre. While time has proven that statement overblown, how well does the game fare today?

 The game takes place far into the future, where Rusia has invaded and taken control of a North American Satellite that doubles as a weapon of mass destruction. As Sam Gideon, an ex-quarterback turned space-marine, you are equipped with the ARS(Augment Reaction Suit), an armor that allows for fast movement and enhanced reflexes(AKA Slo-mo), you are tasked to save Dr. Francois Candide from the Russians. The story is pretty cliched, with twists that you'll see coming a mile away, and the dialogue is downright terrible, typical action-movie stuff. The game is surprisingly cinematic, with a ton of cutscenes between and during chapters, they look fairly cool for the most time.
 Luckily, story is the last thing you'd play Vanquish for, its gameplay is where it's at. At its core, it's a third-person action shooter set in space, a dime a dozen, but it introduces a couple of gimmicks that make it unique. The ARS allows Sam to slide at frenetic speeds through the battlefield, how long you can slide is determined by a gauge on the bottom right corner of the screen, deplete it and the suit will over heat. There are two other actions that deplete the gauge, entering slo-mo, by dodging and then holding down the aim button, or using a powerful melee attack. The gauge also acts as a safety net of sorts, you don't get a health bar, instead the game uses the now obligatory regenerative health, if you take lethal damage, the game will slow down for as long as you have energy left, allowing you to easily dispatch of the aggressors or run into cover, as soon as the slo-mo ends you'll be in Overheat status. Overheat is something that you want to avoid, as you won't be able to dash, use melee attacks or slow down time, even worse, if you receive too much damage while Overheated, you will die. While the controls are extremely responsive, sometimes when slowing down time when aiming, soldiers, objects from the stage or even Sam himself will stand over your aiming reticule, making it hard to aim. It didn't happen too often, but enough to be worth mentioning. All in all, it's a very engaging mechanic, as you will want to make the most of your suit while being careful of when to push it.

 You can take with you up to three different weapons, from a total of 8(11 if you purchase the DLC), they all fill very gratifying to use, and you can upgrade them as you go through the game. Dying actually resets back one level every weapon, it only happens upon your first death on a chapter, but it actually encourages to play carefully if you want to keep them! Almost every stage has you allied with some space-marines, they are not a huge asset, but they can draw enemy fire, and if you revive them before they fully die, they will drop a weapon refill for you. Interestingly, while the game encourages you to zip around your enemies with the slide mechanic, the game offers a very functional cover system, if you so wanted to, you could play this game as you would any other third person shooter. Regardless, the game feels very arcadey, with a score based grading, which I really liked.
 On the Normal difficulty the game packs a decent challenge, but the unlockable God Hard difficulty will test even the most hardcore third person shooter enthusiast. While the game is a bit short, 7 or so hours on your first playthrough, not skipping cutscenes and figuring stuff out for the first time(Like those annoying enemies that have one hit kills!), further playthroughs will probably slim down to 2-4 hours depending on how good you are, although 4 hours will be impossible on God Hard mode! After each chapter you unlock Challenge missions, there's 6 of them, and they are all pretty challenging, but pretty fun as you must destroy waves upon waves of enemies, these fights are more intense than the skirmishes you'll face on the main game.

 The graphics are fairly good on a technical level, but characters look extremely generic. Space-marines look like any other game's space-marines, there's not a whole lot of enemy variety, the common robots you face also lack personality, even if they are colored according to their behavior(Reds are common grunts, oranges tend to stay back and blues will dash towards you). On the other hand, Sam and his ARS look extremely cool and do stand out amidst the other characters. The futuristic satellite the game takes place on also looks very neat, even if it doesn't stand out too much. The soundtrack is comprised mostly of techno tracks, very fitting for the game, and while I won't be humming any track any time soon, they are not bad. Voice acting was very good, even if Sam and the rest of the marines try their hardest to sound gruff.

 Vanquish didn't sell very well, probably had to do with reviews mentioning how short it was, despite getting mostly glowing reviews. Despite its length, Challenge mode does make up for it, and the mechanics are very solid, with just a little issue that sometimes popped up when aiming. While it wasn't the future of the genre, it does stand out against the others when i.
 8.0 out of 10.

Archile's Grab bag: Fabulous Murderous Tuesday Edition

 It smells... like a new box has arrived.
 Cut cut cut.
 Borderlands 2 - Game of the Year Edition: It's no secret that I loved Borderlands 1, and it seems Gearbox found their cash cow, as they created loads upon loads of DLC for it. At least it was made after the game was finished.
 Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4: I needed Tony Hawk in my life, and this was probably my favorite one. Now I need Underground 2 and maybe, MAYBE, Tony Hawk 3.
 JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Ah, the PS1 JoJo game, it was really good at a non-competitive level.
 Assassin's Creed: It's time to play the Assassin's Creed saga. The first one is the one I'm the least excited about!
 Assassin's Creed - Ezio Trilogy: The Ezio Trilogy, I wonder if Ezio is as good a protagonist as they make him out to be, heck, Ubisoft managed to create a Trilogy inside the first Trilogy. Trilogy Inception.
Assassin's Creed III: I've read that this was one of the least liked entries, but ever since the first trailers, this was the Assassin's Creed that got me interested in the series, I just love the time epoch it takes place in.
Assassin's Creed IV - Black Flag: Second only to the third one in how excited I am about an AC game!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Now Playing: Vanquish

 About damn time.
 Vanquish is a game that I've always wanted to play ever since trying out the demo, but for one reason or another, never got around doing it. That changed today.

 The game is right up my alley, it's fast, frenetic and very arcadey, even if it does embrace the cover mechanics that third person shooters must have nowadays. Still, I'm having a blast, I just cleared Act 1 and defeated Bogey. I should also admit that I'm quite terrible at the game, but I'm getting better by the minute!.
One thing that surprised me was just how cinematic the game is. The story isn't engaging, the dialogue is terrible, but there's a lot of cutscenes and cool looking stunts.

 And now, I must slide away into Robogeddon.

Review #120: Bleach - Heat the Soul 7

 I wish we got Versus Crusade overseas...
 While we get Naruto games almost every year, Bleach hasn't been as lucky. While even in Japan, the slew of Bleach games have slowed down, they still got a lot of games that we didn't. Case in point, the Heat the Soul series, developed by Eighting, of the Naruto Clash of the Ninja fame, guess Western countries just want nothing to do with Eighting's fighters!

 Heat the Soul series was a 1 on 1 fighting game series up to the seventh installment, but this one added various mods for up to 4 fighters. You get tag battles, free for all or team battles. The game not only boasts a decent amount of types of battle, but also modes. There's a unnecessarily lengthy Story Mode made up of 25 battles, then you unlock an extra fight, and then another 25 battles which are the same battles from before but now you play as the villain. The story mode covers from Ichigo's duel with Ulquiorra to the Vizards arrival to Karakura town to help the Shinigami against the Espada, and fights are preceded by short cut-scenes reenacting dialogue from the series. Then there's Hueco Mundo Conquest, a challenge mode of sorts made up of over 100 challenges. There's a rather underwhelming Arcade Mode, in which you pick routes(VS humans, VS Shinigami, VS Vizard, VS Espada), it would've been nice to have a more randomized ladder, but it's alright. Rounding up the options there's VS CPU, VS Player, Training Mode and Gallery. All in all, there's a decent amount of stuff to do, even if not all of it is as engaging as it could've been.
 My biggest issue with the game is that it feels just like every other recent fighter by Eighting, like Naruto Clash of the Ninja and Kamen Rider: Hero Climax. If you played any game of those other two, you'll feel right at home with this one. Battles take place on a 3D plane, on a 2D angle, and it plays like a 3D fighter as well. You have sidestepping and free 8 way movement, and combos are executed by linking strings rather than command specials. That's not to say that the game lacks projectiles, there's plenty of characters that specialize on ranged combat. As for the more unique mechanics, the Square button charges energy, and letting go of the button unleashes a wave around your character, if the enemy doesn't block it, he or she will get stunned for a while. The energy bar serves a few purposes: Cancelling combos by tapping the R button or unleashing special attacks. If you charge both stocks of the bar, tapping L+R will make your character go into his or her next form, if available, or grant them unlimited uses of the energy bar for a few seconds. Disappointingly, forms and energy bars revert to 0 after each round, so there's no point of hogging the energy, and since you can't pick individual forms of a character in 1 vs 1 mods, it makes transforming a but disappointing.

 The game has a huge 83 character roster(Counting transformations), and all play different from each other, characters with alternate forms usually play very different on each form as well, except a couple of Vizards who only get stat boosts. Sadly, characters don't have very extensive movesets, but at least they are fairly unique from each other. One thing to keep in mind, if you have the UMD version, loading times can be a bit on the long side, so installing the game is definitely recommended.
 Visually, the game is very colorful, even if the backgrounds feel a bit simple at times, at least they are from the show. Models are not very detailed, but they look good enough, however, certain animations feel a bit off. It's easy to see that not every character had the same amount of care put into, some have some very awkward looking attacks, while others get some smooth and good looking animations, it's a bit jarring at times. Ulquiorra's basic Strong attack string, and a most moves from Grimmjow are good examples of this. The soundtrack is alrightish, but it would've been nice to get music from the show. Every voice actor from the show voices their characters on the game, as per usual on Japanese licensed games.

 Bleach: Heat the Soul 7 is a very decent fighter, and if you are a fan of Bleach, there's no reason not to get it. It's a bit disappointing how every Eighting fighter feels so similar to each other, but at least they use a solid engine. If you don't care about Bleach, there are a dozen better fighters on the PSP, so unless you are a fan, there's no reason to get it.
 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review #119: Dark Cloud 2

 Over 50 hours to finish this one!
 Dark Cloud 2 is one of the PS2's most criminally forgotten gems. While most people mistake this game for an RPG, this is a Rogue-like through and through, but a bit more forgiving than most!

 As Max, son of the wealthiest man in Palm Springs, you are to traverse 8 different dungeons, 1 per chapter, as you right the time-line that is being destroyed by Griffon, an evil being that aims for world destruction. Pretty early on his adventure, Max comes across Monica, a girl from the future who's father was killed by one of Griffon's henchmen. The story is fairly cliched at times, but it's told fairly well, even if there were some characters that were too easily forgiven....
 Each of the eight Chapter features one dungeon, usually, alongside a town that you must rebuild. While it sounds short, the game is quite extensive. Each dungeon is fairly long(Except the first one, which is quite short, and the bonus one from the eight chapter that it's the longest dungeon in the game) featuring a decent amount of floors. While the game is a Rogue like, it's a bit easier than most, for instance, you don't go from floor to floor, instead, after clearing a floor you can exit the dungeon, do your business, and when you return you can pick up from where you left, or just go back to any of the previous floors.

 When you play, you take both Max and Monica, but you only take control of one at a time. You can switch at the touch of a button, or when one of them dies. Max can also pilot Steve, a fully customizable Robot, however, in order to expand the mount of Capacity points it has, you must earn experience for it(Which means neglecting experience for Monica or Max), while Monica can transform into monsters by acquiring their "Monster Coins". Both Monica and Max have different weapons and movesets, Max wields a Gun(That can be evolved into a laser gun, Grenade Launcher or a Machine gun) and a Wrench(That can be turned into a Hammer or, well, a bigger Wrench) and Monica gets a Sword(That can be turned into a heavy sword or a lighter, faster sword) and a Bracelet.
 Each floor is randomly generated each time you visit it, and each one possesses enemies and chests, sometimes trapped, and if you are lucky enough, a healing fountain with unlimited uses. Defeating enemies makes them drop experience gems for the weapon that dealt the last blow, when you level up you weapon, it earns points that are used to evolve them. Keep in mind that weapons break, so taking Repair powder in your inventory is a must! Enemies will also, sometimes, drop items, these can be healing or weapon repairing items, but most of the time, they will be either Georama Items or elemental items. Elemental Items can be "spectrumized" and then fused to a weapon  to raise its stats. Depending on how you raise your weapon is how it will evolve(The game shows you all the evolution branches that your weapon can take, and on which stats you must raise in order to take that branch). You can spectrumize any item in the game, but it's the elemental orbs that will give you the most point on each stat, at least until you find the very rare precious stones.

 Now then, what are Georama items? These are items that are used to build Georama Parts in order to reconstruct towns. Reconstructing towns consists of creating buildings, trying to achieve certain goals(Like "X amount of Y placed") in order to rebuild these towns in the future. While you can take your time to rebuild each town, you will need to do it in order to advance through the game, triggering certain scenes in the future are usually a necessity to get the item needed to reach the chapter's boss. If you don't like these construction aspect of the game, you are out of luck, but at least they are not too involved. Items are also used in order to build items(Projectile tools, healing items, Robot parts, weapons), but you need to photograph ideas first, and then mix these ideas in order to find out what items you need to build it. There's also some NPCs that can be recruited on Palm Springs, by doing small sidequests, and you can then move them into each town(Many a times, having a specific NPC on a Town is one of the Town's goals). These NPCs can also be taken with you on each dungeon for various passive effects, or even allowing you to repair your weapons or baking bread for you. Finally, there's an Spheda minigame on each of the randomly generated floors, Spheda is basically golf with a color twist, Portals(Holes) are either blue or red, and in order to clear it, you must hit it with a ball of the other color, in order to change the color of the ball, you must hit it against something... but you must also keep in mind that you only get a limited amount of swings!
 I found the combat to be quite simple, but it's fairly fun. You also need to keep in mind that the game can get quite challenging, and it's usually advisable to keep both Max's and Monica's weapons up to date. The optional boss requires a set amount of damage to be done by both characters. And if you want your robot not to be a hindrance, you'll have to spend time on it as well. Basically, this is a game that demands a lot of your time, you have to grind for money if you need to buy items in order to rebuild towns(What you find in dungeons will not be enough most of the time) or upgrade your weapons or even to buy healing items, and you also need to at least keep both character with updated weapons. If both characters die, it's game over, no continues, and if the one that had all the upgrades died, you are screwed unless you can find the key to the next floor, and then find the exit.

 It's also not without its flaws, the lock on mechanic will sometimes have trouble with some enemies, getting the camera to try to jerk its way to the enemy, usually failing, so you are better of cancelling the lock, moving the camera yourself, and then locking on again. Another issue is with the items that upgrade Max and Monica's Health and Defense, these spawn after certain floors are cleared, but you are never told when they spawn, or when on the future timeline they are, and even then, they spawn on very small chests that are easy to miss. These are a must-have or enemies will destroy you very easily, so it's a bit annoying, you are better of finding a guide of when and where they spawn. Then there's also the fact that each Floor of each respective dungeon shares a common tileset with the other floors of the dungeon, so every dungeon looks exactly the same, even if the layout and enemies are different, coupled with the fact that you may need to grind for experience or gold, repetition can set in pretty soon.
 I dare say that Dark Cloud 2 is one of the better looking PS2 games out there. The animation is a bit lacking, but the overall visual style is gorgeous. It's a colorful game, with equally colorful and often times weird NPCs. Monster design is also fairly creative, even if there are more palette swaps than I would've liked. Music is excellent, very whimsical or dark according to the moment. There's a particularly peppy song that plays on every second-to-last floor that's really, really good. I would compare the quality of the soundtrack to a Nintendo game, and that's a good thing. Voice acting is really good for the most part, but there's a couple that aren't quite up to snuff.

 Dark Cloud 2 is a game that is not for everyone. You must be willing to dedicate time to it, you'll have to tough up to the challenge. But in the end, it will be worth it.
 9.0 out of 10.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Now Playing: Bleach - Heat the Soul 7

 This is... my Bankai!
 I used to be a huge Bleach fan, the Soul Society/Rescue Rukia arcs remains one of my favorite story arcs in Shonen manga... sadly, the manga has fallen from grace, ever since the last parts of Las Noches. It has now become a trite, cliched, dumb and baffling shadow of what it used to be. Bleach, what happened to you? During the DS/PSP era, I was a DS owner and I was graced with some amazing 2D fighters, the first one that remains a fantastic fighting game and a fantastic Bleach game(The second one is plagued with glitches and joke characters which makes it suffer a lot). But as much as I loved the DS games, I always kept an eye on the Heat the Soul Series, and while the DS games stopped at the early stages of the Arrancar saga, the PSP games kept on going, needless to say, I've longed for this game for so long!

 I'm up to the 10th stage of the Story Mode, and I've mixed feelings about it. The combat system gets a while to get used to, but it plays akin to the Naruto: Clash of the Ninja series, not surprisingly since it was developed by the same people! Character roster is huge, there's a nice amount of modes, but there's something, a certain something that I can't quite put my finger on that is missing. I suppose after logging a bit more play time I'll be able to pinpoint it or get fully accustomed to the gameplay.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Archile's Grab Bag: Bleached edition

  Mandatory package photo.
 Bleach - Heat the Soul 7: While I was pretty happy with the DS Bleach games, they were great fighters(Especially the first one), but Heat the Soul always piqued my curiosity. Particularly because while the DS Fighters stopped at Soul Society(with Ikkaku's Bankai for good measure), the PSP fighters kept on going. While the Bleach manga has worsened into a steaming pile of junk, I still like the characters, and most of Las Noches was pretty decent... until after Grimmjow VS Ichigo anyways.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Review #118: Samurai Warriors - Chronicles

 It was high time I got another Samurai Warriors into my blog.
 Samurai Warriors Chronicles was Koei's first, and in America's case only, Warriors game on the 3DS. Since I've gone over how Warriors games work over and over in my blog, I'll just get into the differences and its unique mechanics.

 As with the rest of the Samurai Warriors games, it follows the story behind Japan's unification, from the early wars between Hojo, Takeda and Uesugi clans and goes beyond Hideyasu's unification. For this installment, they opted to do away with individual story modes, instead, you now take control of a Mercenary that goes from faction to faction waging war and winning battles. It's a very different take, and I actually liked the new angle a whole lot. It's kinda funny how your character switches sides just because, but it's nice to get the canonical development of the story. Actually, there are 5 different chapters, the first three are very straight forward, but the fourth one allows you to play on either side at will. The fifth chapter is reserved for miscellaneous battles and downloadable spot-pass levels(Which can still be gotten to this day!). The "Free Mode" that most Warriors games contain is now "included" in Story Mode(Which is the only mode in the game), as you can just replay stages by selecting them on the list.
 Character customization is fairly limited, at first you can only pick either a female or a male warrior, but as you go through Chapters you unlock a few customization options for the costume. While very few in number, your character will look like a badass regardless of how you outfit him or her! The game uses a very similar, and annoying, friendship system to Dynasty Warriors Gundam 2. By battling alongside generals, your friendship with them will increase, and after each battle you can choose to speak to certain generals to increase, or decrease if you chose the wrong answers, your friendship with them. You must also keep in mind that defeating them in battle will decrease your friendship with them. And you want to increase your friendship with them to unlock them for use when replaying stages and to unlock their weapon styles for your character to use.

 The game borrows a lot from Samurai Warriors 3, characters use their SW 3 renditions and most movesets are identical. A lot of stages are borrowed as well. Basic gameplay is the same, but with a few, and very interesting, new mechanics. For instance, you can now take up to four Generals to each stage, and can issue them to move by tapping on the touch screen. You can also freely change between all four of them, and when you are not in control, the CPU takes over them. This is something that could only be done this smoothly with the Touch screen, and it's a very fun and engaging new mechanics. The Mission system from SW 3 was altered, for worse, missions now pop up during gameplay, and now a window pops up telling you of what to do. It's not as intrusive as it sounds, but it's a bit disappointing how it brings the game to a halt. Completing missions is not mandatory, but succeeding in them lowers enemy morale, but failing them raises it. Morale affects certain areas of the map, when the morale is high, enemies get buffs while on red terrain. As great as I think the touch screen mechanics were, the mission system is more of a pain than anything.
 Samurai Warriors Chronicles looks fairly good for the amount of characters that can be on screen at the same time. The framerate is fairly consistent, even with the 3D turned on, there are instances when the Framerate will suffer a bit, but it's not too bad. Music is taken straight from SW 3, I didn't like it too much but it does fit the game. The English dub was ignored altogether, so we get the Japanese voice overs, while much higher in quality, you gotta love the campiness that English dubbed Warriors games bring us! Rounding up the presentation we have the introductory sequences before each stage, in which you get some very dull and dry looking cut-scenes which narrates the context for each battle. These get old very soon, are annoyingly long, and you can't skip them until you have beaten the stages! If they had more flavor maybe they wouldn't have been such a hindrance, but at the end of the day, they get in the way of the player bashing skulls!

 For an early 3DS game, and the first installment on the console, Samurai Warriors Chronicles fared admirably. The use they gave the touch-screen was a fantastic addition that wouldn't have worked so well on the consoles, and it's nice that they tried something different with the Story Mode, and it's a very interesting take as well. My grips with the game are few, I had fun with it, much more than I expected.
 8.0 out of 10.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Month Overview: May

Games completed in May:
 Hexyz Force                                                                                                   7.5
 Mobile Suit Gundam: Gundam VS Gundam Next Plus                                      9.5
 Dexter's Laboratory  Robot Rampage                                                              6.0
 Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: All Star Battle                                                           8.0

 Very, very slow month, I was busy with mid-terms and other academic-related stuff, which seriously cut-off my game time. At least, the few games I played were great.

Game of March:
 Not my highest rated game this month, but the one I had the most fun with. I wish I could've rated it higher, but it barely has any modes, Campaign Mode is terrible(Microtransactions on a game with a $50 entry fee!?) and the story mode was so bare bones.... But the gameplay made up for everything, the attention to detail was glorious, there simply isn't a better JoJo game out there.

 You know how awesome would it be to have Extreme Vs on the go? This is the next best thing. Next Plus plays a bit more like the older VS games, like Federation VS Zeon, which means it's a bit slower, it's not a bad thing, but it does feel different. Regardless, there's a rather different roster(Even if each update to Extreme Vs adds more and more returning Mobile Suits from Next Plus) and some play pretty different, so it's worth it.