Thursday, December 12, 2002

Game Review: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

The story of Metal Gear Solid 2: SoL begins high above the Hudson River on the upper level of the GWB, a shadowy figure walks along in the pouring rain as cars zip by, they're lights casting a red and white haze illuminating the bridge. Suddenly the figure breaks into a sprint and disappears as the poncho he was wearing is cast aside. Thermoptic camouflage warps his surroundings as he leaps over the side and plummets to the tanker passing below....
The bungee cord slows the mysterious figure as he descends towards the tanker, he cuts the cord and lands on the forward most section of the ship, lightning crackles and breaks the darkness of the rainy night. The man gets to his feet and we see that it's Solid Snake, hero of the Shadow Moses incident.
After a short communique with Otacon on familiarizing him with his weapons and gear (smokes) you embark on your mission. To locate and document the existence of a new type of Metal Gear constructed by the US Marines. An amazing beginning to the sequel to one of the best PS1 games, the whole mission on the tanker really shows the power of the PS2, Snake looks even better even sporting a mullet and scruff and the movements much more fluid that in MGS1.
The game retains all the familiarities of the series like the radar, enemy field of vision,camera angle, the codec and frequencies, weapons and items are accessed via the L2/R2 buttons. The first person view mode is now entered by holding R1 button and now you can shoot, fight H2H, put the enemy in a choke hold, lean left or right and sidestep.
The enemy AI in MGS2 is more intuitive also, they work as a team once once they spot you or a downed comrade, they'll sweep an entire room...including the lockers and air ducts!
Your first boss fight is against Olga Gurlukovich, daughter of Colonel Sergei Gurlukovich of the GRU, armed with only an M9 tranquilizer gun. MGS2 challenges the player to find non lethal ways of neutralizing your enemies and rewards you for not killing.Kudos to Hideo Kojima.
MGS2 is split into two separate chapters, the first being the mission aboard the tanker, trying to get photographic evidence of the existence of a new Metal Gear. Things take a turn for the worse when Revolver Ocelot shows up and betrays Col. Gurlukovich and steals (takes back) Metal Gear Ray. As the cut scene continues we discover Revolver Ocelot or Shalashaska has had a new hand grafted onto his arm. This was the first sign that MGS2 was going to be.......different.
The first chapter ends with Liquid Ocelot stealing Metal Gear Ray and the destruction of the tanker in the Hudson river. Were the Internet rumors true? Did Hideo Kojima Kill Snake?
The second chapter of MGS2 begins two years after the tanker tragedy. A large refinery,Big Shell, has been built where the tanker sank to contain the oil spill. Snake enters the Big Shell using FoxHound's skull suit. While communicating to Colonel Cambell via codec we discover the Big Shell has been taken over by the seal anti terrorist group Dead Cell, now known as the Sons of Liberty and they are holding President James Johnson (former Vice President under George Sears) hostage, and that their leader is non other than Solid Snake! So if Snake is the leader of the Sons of Liberty who is this New Foxhound agent?
Get ready for one of the biggest mind screws in video game history...
The main character isn't Solid Snake, it's Jack, code name Raiden. Raiden is as green as they get, he has hundreds of hours in VR training and has completed the Shadow Moses Incident in VR.....kinda like YOU, holding the controller. Better strap yourself in and put on your thinking caps because MGS2 is gonna take you on one of the most mind screwing rollercoaster rides ever.
Once Raiden begins the operation he is introduced to his support team that consists of Colonel Campbell and Rosemary a data analyst for the US army and....Raidens girlfriend. A Navy Seal team has also been sent in to rescue the President but they are unaware of Raidens presence on Big Shell. Soon after Raiden reaches Big Shell he meets up with Lt. J.G Plisken, the sole survivor of seal team Alpha. Throughout the mission Plisken assists Raiden, but he also gets help from some other familiar faces like Hal Emerich (Otacon), and a mysterious ninja cyborg codename Mr. X that is very reminisent of grey fox.
The story unfolds in a similar fashion as MGS1, a rogue black ops team takes over a facility and holds hostages demanding a ransom. This turns out to be one of the intertwined story archs in MGS2:SoL, the S3, more on that later....
Along with that basic storyline there is actually a very intelligent, subplot that conspiracy theorists will really sink their teeth into, the secret society of The Patriots. Many things are revealed to Raiden when he finally finds President Johnson, the truth about the Big Shell, the the AI super computer code named GW, and the Patriots a shadowy organization that is the true power of the United States.
There is alot more going on than Raiden was aware of! After failing his primary objective Raiden and Solid Snake focus on stopping Solidus Snake (ex president George Sears), and the secret 3rd child of the 1972 Les Enfants Terribles project, leader of Dead Cell and the latest weapon of mass destruction Arsenal Gear created by The Patriots.
Meet the Snakes....
If you thought that was alot of information to absorb, hold onto your thinking caps! MGS3 comes to a screaching cresendo when all the players are face to face on Arsenal Gear as it is headed on a collision course with lower manhattan! Ex Presidents George Sears mastermined the whole Shadow Moses incident with help from Revolver Ocelot to get Metal Gear REX so he could destroy the Patriots, the Patriots were the ones who put George Sears in office and were the ones who forced him to resign. George Sears aka Solidus Snake planned on destoying the AI super computer onboard Arsenal Gear to "free" Americans from the Patriots manipulation of all information and thus the manipulation of "free" will, otherwise known as "Selection for Societal Sanity", or "S3 Plan".
But Solidus is betrayed by Ocelot, who reveals himself to be a Patriot operative, but Ocelot (son of the Sorrow & the Boss) begins to loose himself to Liquid Snake via the grafted forearm. Before Ocelot is completely over taken he reveals that Raidens entire mission was orcestrated by the Patriots S3 Plan otherwise known as the Solid Snake Simulation which was an intricately controlled test to reenact the events of the Shadow Moses Incident and see if Raiden could be made into a "clone" of Solid Snake.
And Solid Snake aka Iroqois Plisken finally about to stop Ocelot and Metal Gear Ray once again finds himself face to face or should I say Face to hand with Liquid Snake once he overtakes Ocelot...on some genetic level. Liquid boards Metal Gear Ray on a mission to destroy the Patriots and Solid Snake follows Liquid into Manhattan harbor.
Hideo Kojima took an awefull risk making the main character someone other than the hero of MGS, did it pay off? Yes and no, the MGS lore was able to expand via Raiden, but most people found Raiden to be almost the polar opposite to Snakes mojo and found it difficult to connect with him.
The story of MGS2 was a handful and I didn't like it that much....AT FIRST. But in retrospect and much thought it was fascinating and deeper than any previous MGS storyline.
Now on to my biggest gripe...
The cast of MGS2: SOL were so 1 dimensional compared to every single character in MGS! Liquid Snake vs Solidus Snake: winner Liquid Snake
Psycho Mantis vs Vamp: winner Psycho Mantis
Sniper Wolf vs Fortune: winner Sniper Wolf
Vulcan Raven vs Fatman: winner Vulcan Raven
Solid Snake vs Raiden: winner Raiden.....just kidding!
Meryl Silverburgh vs E.E.: winner Meryl
Mei Ling vs Rosemary: winner Mei Ling
Naomi Hunter vs Colonel Cambell (A.I.): Naomi Hunter....just live
MGS Otacon vs MGS2 Otacon: winner MGS Otacon
Grey Fox vs Olga Gurlukovich: Grey Fox!

Sunday, October 20, 2002

Game Review: Robotech: Battlecry

Change or die.
Robotech Battlecry will have fans of the HG anime feeling a bit nostalgic. I'll admit I bought this title simply because I grew up watching the show and the idea of piloting a veritech, fighting the Zentradi was exciting. The games cell shading art style seemed appropriate and was relatively fresh, only a handful of other games, including Sly Cooper used it.
I soon realized my nostalgic feelings were misplaced, what held true for the anime held true here as well. Robotech is not Macross, the story of Macross is what I really enjoyed....and later when I learned about the "reimagining" of Macross by HG I learned there was a major difference.
There is a lead character, Jack Archer and his wing man Izzy Randal. Battlecry also has the occasional cameo by Minmay, Lisa or Roy, which is nice fan service. The game is broken down into 5 chapters each with plenty of missions, the first chapter is straight from H.G. Macross with the missions named after the episodes of the show, "Booby Trap", "Countdown", "Bursting Point", and "Force of Arms". After that though Battlecry goes off on it's own timeline which takes place at the same time as Space War I.
There was more than just flying around in a Valkyrie (veritech) that made the show such a cult classic, there was the human element of love, loss, music that brought emotion.
Robotech Battlecry kinda skims the surface as far as that's concerned and puts most of it's focus on a flight sim that allows the player to "transform" into 3 modes while escorting, scouting or defending members of the RDF all while blowing up Zentradi. Each configuration of the veritech offers unique advantages/disadvantages over the other and each are almost specific to the type of mission you're on. The developers, Vicious Cycle, did a commendable job with the Veritech animations, and the overall look and feel is true to the series. The game does suffer from the feeling of repetitiveness but yet it offers plenty of reply value to collect all the RDF metals which unlock maps in two player, different paint schemes, armored veritech and cast interviews. The cast interviews are pathetic compared to the extras on games such as Lunar Silver Star Story Complete. It feels like a total afterthought, there's one with Rebecca Forstadt (voice of HG Minmay) where she's sitting in a patio chair in the back of some building and you have to struggle to hear her over the passing public bus! AWFUL!!! Another thing that the game really needed was a controllable camera, some missions really suffered from not being able to move the camera, it becomes very annoying being shot at from a blind spot and having to change to a more maneuverable mode to manipulate the camera so you can find the enemy shooting at you. The story itself isn't very gripping either, nor was the main antagonists Gorian, Skardde and Zeraal.
And your reward for beating the final boss and finishing the game.....I won't tell ya but it's gotta be a first in video game history. I understand what they were trying to do, but I don't think it worked and was totally anti climatic.
I think only fans that grew up with Robotech will stick with this title till the end...

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Game Review: Zenosaga: Episode I: Der Wille zur Mact

Synopsis: Thousands ofyears into the future, mankind has abandoned Earth and exists only in deep space. Having used their advanced technologyto unlock the secets of the universe, humanity hopes to do the same with the Zohar, a powerful and mysterious artifact reputedly existing since the dawn of time. But a hostile alien life form, the Gnosis, brutally attack at every turn.Why? Unbeknownst to mankind, the race to unlock the final mystery, and to embrace an uncertain destiny, has begun.
Namco brings us the first of a six part saga with Zenosaga Episode I, more of a prequel to the evnts of Zenogears from Square soft on the PS1. This first episode does a fantastic job of introducing us to the main cast, KOS MOS the cyborg uber-weapon to fight off the Gnosis, Shion the chief engineer of the KOS MOS project, Ziggy the combat cyborg hired to retrieve MOMO, the prototype 100 series Observational Realian (synthetic human) created by Joachim Mizrahi, Jr the 12 year old looking person who is one of the directors of the Kukai Foundation, a special organization based on Second Miltia.Ok there's more characters but you get the point, Zenosaga is attempting to tell a much bigger story, touching on so many different philisophical discussions, such as the value of life, human and otherwise, God vs Science, etc..Zenosaga boasts some of the most beautiful cutscenes ever in an RPG, rivaling the Final Fantasy series! And this game has quite a bit of cinemas, over three hours, but they realy help flesh out the story and the many different characters.Unlike the Final Fantasy series Zenosaga has an ongoing story with the same cast ISO each episode being a completely new story and new characters with repeating themes and items. The story is gripping and the characters fascinating, and Namco did a masterful job not revealing everything in this first episode, which makes you want to discover what will happen next. Unlike some games (soul reaver) there is an individual story within this episode that propels the larger epic....and it is concluded within itself, or is it?My only real gripe with the game is the oragami looking monsters and the AGWS weren't really necessary. I finished the game never using my AGWS once! The mini games were fun ZenoCard IS Tetra Master in space, and gambling in space rocks!I can't wait for Episode II! Oh KOS MOS is a cyborg HOTY!


Friday, February 22, 2002

Game Review: Final Fantasy X

Welcome to the booming Metropolis of Zanarkand! Home of the Zanarkand Abes Blitzball team, and their all star player Tidus, son of the former superstar blitzer Ject. For Squares 10th game (X) in the Final Fantasy series they really veered off in a completely different direction from your traditional RPG. In fact you can pretty much set any preconcieved notions for Final Fantasy to the side, in FFX there are no kingdoms in far far away lands, brave knights, magic crystals, princesses being kidnapped, time warping Sorceresses, or spikey haired guys w/ amnesia blowing up reactors, or crazy clowns killing summons and stuff. This game is much more personal with a likeable cast of characters that are (finally) well fleshed out.This game flows very much like Star Wars A New Hope. We start out with Tidus, a bright eyed adolescent boy who is suddenly whisked off on an adventure by a mysterious older man, Auron, who's been watching over him since he was a boy.Tidus awakens in an unfamiliar land, after being abuducted by a group that he can't understand on a salvage ship and escaping he washes up on the shore of a tropical paradise quite different from the city's of Zanarkand. This is where Tidus meets up with Yuna, daughter of High Summoner Braska who defeated Sin 10 years earlier with his guardians Auron and.....Ject, "the circle is now complete" This is where the story begins, Yuna is about to set out on her pilgrimage to become a summoner, accompanying her is Lulu who acts as Yuna's older sister, Kamahri Yuna's version of Chewbacca, and Wakka a Blitzball player who is the first to find Tidus. Thru Yuna's pilgrimage you learn about the religion of Yu Yevon, and the relationship between Yuna and Tidus blooms. Unlike FFVIII the romance between Yuna and Tidus seemed more genuine, perhaps because Tidus, aside from his choice in clothes, seemed more......normal.Right from the start you realize this isn't your traditional Final Fantasy, aside from the brighter pallet seen throughout the game and the rock music that fully utilizes your home theater's surround sound system. Other significant alterations to the FF engine are the good ol level system which is is enhanced by the sphere grid. The sphere grid resembles a constellation map, each of the party members starts in a different location on the map, after defeating creatures each member who participated in the fight gains Sphere points which can be used to advance thru the sphere grid (connect the dots). When plotting your course on the grid it is important to plan ahead, do you want the MP bonus or the new ability? Because you may find a fork in the grid and you don't have enough sphere points to get one then double back for the other. The idea is a nice way of making the leveling process more in your control in a more interactive way than watching numbers tally up. With more focus on individual leveling and sphere grid advancement per participating party members FFX allows manual swapping of active members during battle. That way each member can attain GP (grid points).In order to keep your party balanced it is important to ensure each member advances on the grid at an even pace, to do this FFX allows you to do something you could never do in any previous FF's, swap out party memebers mid fight, so in theory each member can contribute to the fight and recieve grid points. Final Fantasy X is a much more linear title than previous versions and much more personal. Instead of saving the whole planet from utter annihilation Tidus, LuLu, Wakka and Kamahri band together and set out on Yuna's pilgrimage, along the way they each must overcome their own personal challenges. Square delivers another gorgeous game, the most obvious change is the color pallet used throughout the game, the colors are vibrant and a nice change from the earth tones we're used to seeing in RPG's. The music is a far cry from the traditional Final Fantasy soundtrack, the hard rock theme of Zanarkand from the games begining screams "THIS AIN'T YOUR OLDER BROTHERS FF!"The sphere grid is a nice change from the traditional "reach a level and gain a new ability automatically. Now you have to make the choice of either going for that next spell/ability or grabbing the HP/MP boost instead. And one of the boldest changes to the series FFX is the first in the series to have total voice acting throughout the game. No text boxs with poorly localized translations here.The only aspect I was pretty let down about was the mini game, Blitzball. For Final Fantasy Fans a sports mini game in an RPG is like oil and water. I really enjoyed the card games of FFVIII and FFIX. Try as I did I just couldn't get into the game.FFX is another chocobo feather in Squares pointy hat! A quality story with drama, that touchs on topics of faith and religion, love, the relationship between a father and son, pride and prejudice, and multi culturism. WOW all that in a game and it's still enjoyable!


Thursday, February 14, 2002

Game Review: Capcom vs. SNK 2: Mark of the Millennium

If you're a fan of 2D fighting games CVS2 is a gift from the gods! More over if you're from the Street Fighter or King of Fighters fandome now you can put some muscle behind your claims of superiority over the other. CVS2 has an impressive collection of fighters, 44 in total! 21 Capcom characters from Street Fighter, Rival Schools and Dark Stalkers. Most of the Street Fighter cast are ported sprites from the Alpha series, Yun/Yang is from Street Fighter III and M. Bison gets a much needed face lift from his "cubby" alpha series sprite to look more like the original SFII M. Bison. CVS2 also brings back Eagle from SFI.
Before playing this game I never played any KoF games but the SNK roster had some unique characters, Hibiki is clearly inspired by the anime Blood. Haohmaru is a curious fighter as her pet hawk also attacks and acts as an arial projectile. Mai is SNK's equivalent to Chun Li and she was more than just eye candy. Athena was from a NES title I had back in the day and Ultra Rugal has to be as cheap/difficult as Shin Akuma from SFA2.

CVS2 has as many features as characters. Arcade mode has 3 options, your traditional 1p vs comp, 3 vs 3, and ratio where you distribute a set amount of points towards a team of 3 or less.

Survival Mode has: traditional survival and infinity survival. Training Mode. Replay Mode...see my fight below against CJ (Ken). Color Edit Mode...want to give Chun Li that orange outfit? now you can. Groove Edit Mode to tweak the different grooves (more on that later) and Versus Mode.

Grooves replace SFA3's ISMs C-groove is your basic alpha super meter with 3 levels, A-groove is the equivalent of SFA's custom combo P-groove is the equivalent of SSFIIT super meter.

The graphics seem a bit rough around the edges and could use some serious anti-alizing. The controls feel right, if a bit forgiving compared to the controls for SFIII.

The character map selection is lacking considering there are 44 characters I'd be happy with 22 different locations, CVS2 has about 12. I wanted to choke the in game announcer, his voice was as annoying as a hokey radio DJ's, but I guess it fits the whole World Warrior Network WWN.

Other little issues of mine are Sagat's Tiger shot is identical to Ryu & Kens Hadoken, that's just lazy programming.

Overall there's enough variety to keep fighting game enthusiasts occupied for a long time.