Archive for the 'Review' Category

Memories of Legend

A masterpiece, a feat in game design, or a work of art. Call it what you will, but I remember Ocarina of Time as a game of memories.

My cousin and I spent long hours playing this game, exploring every nook and cranny of Hyrule, defeating bosses and navigating dungeons. This game represents a period in my life, a period of simplicity and lazy winter days.

The game is often noted as the first 3-D game in the Zelda series, but being new to the land of Nintendo games, I hadn’t played previous 2D Zeldas. And so I approached the game with a brilliant naivety.

I was first introduced to it when my cousin brought it over at our annual New Year’s Eve party. It was the end of 1998, as I recall. He was still in Kokiri Forest. Watching him navigate through the town was amazing. The graphics were beautifully realistic for the time. I knew that this game was something big, and I immediately wanted a copy of my own.

Around this time, my father had been wheeling and dealing with a friend of his at work to buy his old N64 games off of him. I believe he managed to get Ocarina of Time from him. I can’t quite remember how it went, but I do remember the excitement of holding the game in my hands.

And so it began. The days of working together with my cousin to get past dungeons. The jealousy of seeing him as an adult Link while I was still in the child part of the game. It always seemed he got me wherever I wanted to be.

During those days, I was new to the world of complex adventure games. My cousin ended up completing most of the game for me, but I still played it a lot.

Those were the days of gaming I remember the most, and in my mind, no game has ever rivaled the experience I had with Ocarina of Time.

Matt Atkins

Vega Baby – Part 2

card_charlej_small.gifContinuing his review from last time, Charles digs deeper into RainbowSix Vegas..

The AI in the game uses different scenario based voice commands and you get this sinking feeling regarding the yell for reinforcements. And everything is three dimensional. The first time the enemy drops into a room using fast ropes, if you aren’t using tactical overwatch moves, everyone is going to get wiped out. At the very least it has you closely examining every dark corner for a sniper, and every high ceiling casino floor for fastroping terrorists.

vegas2.gifSquad level tactics is a topic I wrote an online manual for another, turn-based play by email game three years ago (ed – Charles is writing an article on Laser Squad Nemesis coming soon). Using this background in a first person shooter with a co-op mode by itself is highly addictive.

Add in a real world friend in the same room, who knows the same basic moves and everything turns into a precision event. Every room sweep is a blast, and we are totally sucked into the experience. My palms sweat as they grip the wireless controller, and seeing a good sized splitscreen with 1080i detail makes it easier to pick off the waves of terrorists that we wade through. One level’s kills – 35 for me, 40 for Ben. That’s after we worked three hours to clear the single stage (Dante’s). Brutal yet somehow strangely relaxing.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Tom Clancy’s second best move was to get into interactive gaming. In the late 1980s, Red Storm Rising was a game that was actually encouraged to be used by aircrewmen as training in both sight recognition of Soviet warships and in basic antisubmarine warfare. With his franchise rights for Rainbow Six going in several different directions, the accuracy and detail payoff tremendously. This is a game with multiple replayability in co-op and single player mode.

And that’s not even covering the XBox Live experience. But after playing with a good, skilled friend, I think the Live with random teammates will pale in comparison.

A New Heaven and Earth

card_rick_small.gifWith gamers pricking up their ears over Halo, Microsoft looked to fully dazzle them as they continued the story in the second edition. Oh yes, and that little bit of spice they call Xbox Live.

You’ll have to forgive me but I can honestly say Halo didn’t do it for me. The Xbox was interesting, but before people across the world discovered Xbox Live it didn’t really draw attention from Sony’s consoles. No, Halo looked very nice and had a great story but I wanted more, the thrill of looking a real opponent in the eye, of judging my skill on a world stage, and of connecting to friends across the globe.

Ironically, when Halo 2 was released on my birthday I did not really give it much of a look. As I said, the original nevber really clicked with me, so I could not see the sequel doing it either. And Top Spin was keeping me busy when-ever the kids slept!

halo3.gifThankfully, some spare birthday money and a slow games month led to a compulsive Halo 2 purchase along with some beers and ice cream. I took it home and popped it in, expecting to be back on TopSpin with an hour. Surfice to say, Topspin didn’t get played that night and not for quite a while after.

So what was it about Halo 2 that took me away from tennis court heaven. As I have already alluded, it was the online play. From the off you could tell it was a product of breeding, which led to a rapidly growing Halo 2 community that I had never see before on such a global scale.

The robustness of lag free online play, seamless matches and ingenious ranking systems soon meant I was playing every night with my family and friends. And every so often we would clan-up and gird ourselves against screaming american teenagers, and win (sometimes).

Then there was the gameplay itself. Balanced weapons, amazingly designed maps and perfectly crafted game types. Graphically it stood head and shoulders above anything else out there, and its sound effects and voice-work were tight and crisp. I still get a shiver when I hear those monks singing the Halo 2 welcome. Everything went together just right.

Now we wait for Halo 3. No longer happy to limp on with poor 360 emulation support of Halo 2. So we are being fed by the bright light of the next-gen games, we flutter from game to game with one question only; will this game fill the void that Halo left empty.digg.gif The only answer can be to hold up and wait for 2007…lets go for a wii.

Numbers Schmumbers

What a pleasant surprise it was when I first found out about Game People. A website with reviewers who actually focus on the actual experience of playing a game. In all of its joys, surprises, and controller throwing mania-there is really only one reason we all play games: for the experience of the game.

psu.gifI recently read a review in a popular video game magazine for a game on the PS2 and Xbox 360 – Phantasy Star Universe. For weeks I had been looking at the screen shots for the game, anxiously anticipating a new online universe to immerse myself in. Then, without warning, one of my favorite video game reviewers brought my world to its knees with a 6.0 out of 10.0 score. Despite my initial excitement, I was discouraged and almost chose not to play it. Thankfully, Game Fly didn’t have my first choice in my queue, and sent my second: Phantasy Star Universe – which turned out to be very entertaining, and an experience like no other.

Now don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything cutting edge about it. There are no bells and whistles, and the music is comparative to tracks I remember from the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis eras. But the imaginative art work, graphics, and character design, coupled with a simple gameplay brought me many hours of fun an excitement.

So, gamers of tomorrow, I will leave you with a question: As the “next gen” systems roll out, will we continue our time honored tradition of cutting edge imagination, creativity, fun, and excitement? Or will we sacrifice the experience of gaming for being overly critical of something that is only supposed to bring us a little fun and laughter?

If you’re looking for the experience, you are right where you should be. Consider yourself a Game Person.

Decision-tris

Sid Meier is often quoted regarding his stance towards an enjoyable game dynamic. For him, the play needs:

“an understandable and enjoyable stream of decisions.”

Reading a recent interview I was reminded again of the wisdom of this statement, proven not least by an impressive catalogue of well recieved games.

tetrisold.gifHowever, I am not so sure it needed to keep him within the turn-based genre typical of the majority of his games. It is possible to engage the play with decisions within a real-time interacting environment.

Back in the day, when Civilisation was a twinkling in Meier’s eye, a little game on the original Gameboy introduced a decision based puzzle game that captured the imagination of many gamers. Together with Nintendo Tennis and Super Mario Land, this formed one part of a killer trilogy in the early days of the platform.

tetris2.gifNintendo’s excellent repackaged and updated version for the DS provides a modern rendering of Meier’s gaming vision, all be it in a very different way. The ever descending blocks provide the player with a stready stream of decision-encounters. Extended play uncovers ever increasing nuances to each decision. As a game deveops each decision affects the other as the simple play mechanic takes hold.

The experience and enjoyment of the game grows as the player needs to learn how to make wiser and quicker decisions. They find themselves honing their ability on many levels to imrpove their chances of survival:

Dead brick technique: How efficiently they can deal with bricks that don’t fit anywhere. They correct decision being the spot where they will case the least dissruption, and hopfully play with the next few bricks to cancel out any detrimental affect.

Start-tris: Key in the mutli-player mode. How quickly can they set-up and trigger a four row clear (tetris), and put the other player on the back foot. This demands both a tidy and quick use of blocks.

Clean up play: How quickly can you elliminate broken lines, after missplaced or dead bricks.

Look ahead: How efficient is their brick management, considering the bricks that are flagged up in the preview tiles.

These together with the already documented, back-to-back and t-spin moves make for a dynamic play experience, that gives Meier’s decision gaming a whole new meaning.

Counter Strike

cs1.gifMaybe because it was a community sponsored mod that Counter Strike had the stones to enter the controversial terrorism arena.

The purity of the game was simple. A first person shooter with two sides: terrorists and counter-terrorists. Each side had their own tactical advantages. But more importantly each had their own particular thrilling and tantalising experience.

Let me set the scene; ! stand with five men in pre-game, our objectives clear and familiar, we choose our weapons from the available arsenal, we grab some body armour, ammo, grenades or flashbangs and we’re set.

This is no random match making but a long standing clan, We all know our purpose and we all have a role. Some hang back for covering fire, some push forward with the heavier weapons. Once we have our positions, we wait. Wait for the other team to make their move, to give away their position or blindly run past. Without headsets the preset voice commands somehow added to the tension, ‘stick together team’ “enemy spotted”.

Whether freeing hostages or diffusing bombs, the whole experience is heightened by how easy it is to die. Body armour can help but still a death in counter strike is a quick one without respawns.

The longer you survive the more of the mission falls in your lap alone. You fight on with the rest of your dead team silently egging you on. The sweetness of a miracle victory is never sweet than when you are watched by five of your fallen team mates.

These are the moments that give counter strike a soul. Pouring time into this game never felt like anything but pure value. I still look back with honour that I was part of the Counter Strike world.

Rainbow Racing

rainbow.gifThis is not an easy cash-in follow up, that would come later with Bubble Memories and Symphony. Rainbow Islands is a full reimagining of its forbears play mechanic with rainbows replacing bubbles.

The game allowed itself a denser and initially more awkward control scheme. Rainbows could be both walked along and broken over enemies, which meant a new player would often struggle just getting around the screen. The experience was not dissimilar to the first few outings with Gran Tourismo, spend pulling unintentional donuts around the track.

gt.gifLike the driving game, with time the simplicity and single minded design of the control mechanism wins out. The player realises that it works this way for a reason, primarily to give them a more open and flexible play experience. After a while many of the familar bubble techniques can be performed with the rainbows and the player can deftly traverse the playfield.

Once this play scheme is proven to be a success Taito have then taken a leaf out of Nintendo’s book and turned their attention to replay-ability. Unseen in the playfield are levels of interaction that, once unearthed, make repeated plays essential to obtain a truely high score.

Bonuses: In addition to bonus items awarded for each kill, the player soon discovers that each level is litterally strewn with hidden items that can be unearthed by dropping rainbows at ground level.

Power-ups: Much like bubble Bobble, there was a whole world of causal pipes delivering a complex hierarchy of power-ups.

Diamonds: The final stroke of genious, playing to the strength of their theme was the ability to collect rainbow coloured diamonds. Moreso once the player realises that the colours awarded can be controlled by a carefully placed kill, and that collecting them in order was the only way to finish the game proper.

These add up to a rich play experience, much as the levels of tuning and driving does in Gran Tourismo. And the genius of it all is that they exist in the background of the play, tempting mini-achievements that can be drawn on at will, but never intrude on the main mechanic of rotund-ex-dragon-hero and his rainbow.

On the Bubble

bubblebobble3.gifThe simplest games can generate complex experiences. So goes the rhetoric behind Halo:

‘find a play mechanic that is enjoyable and then provide a context in which the player has reason to experience this multiple times’

However, long before Halo’s release in 2002, two little dinosaurs were proving the validity of this concept in the fixed screen platform game Bubble Bobble.

The main experience currency of the game was bob and bub’s bubble play. Their main interaction with the game world was by blowing, nundging, jumping on and finally poping bubbles. This simple mechanic enabled them to capture and kill enemies, ride air currents, climb walls and trigger chain reactions. Once understood this made even most basic levels offered interesting space to play and experiment with these moves.

Power-ups: The purity of this dynamic was always repsected even when offering enhancements to these abilities. A limited set of power-ups, much like the restricted weapon set in better modern games, altered the play without breaking it. A yellow sweet meant you could blow more bubbles, a purple sweet mean you could blow them further across the screen and a blue sweet increased their velocity. All the time the focus remained on the action of player and bubble.

Scoring: The scoring system again focused the action back on the player and bubble. Points were awareded for careful popping of multiple enemy bubbles, for jumping on bubbles, for popping bubbles. This meant that even the time between levels became playable, as the players would use different techniques to rack up a few extar points.

Levels: The clean levels, viewed in one screen, quickly became familiar. So much so that strategies could be planned when away from the game ready for the next session. Repeated play also revealed another aspect of these environments, the air currents that could carry your bubbles around. This opened up new possibilities for quick completion by craftly postioned chain of bubbles.

Collectables: In addition to all this, there was then the causal system of collectable items. Your action of dealing with bubbles and enemies triggers a string of power-ups. The realisation that you affect the game on this again makes the detail of how you perform your basic moves all the more important.

halo.gifThe play experience of these two little dinasaurs turns out to be no accident. The joy of a chain reaction, or the perfect bubble jump, or wall climb, or multiplier kill has all been intended from the outset. Evrything that may inhibit this experience has been cleared from its path, while features to enhance and focus the play have been carefully introduced.



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