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Game Review: InFAMOUS (PS3) July 9, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews, Reviews.
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I’m a bit slow. Just about everyone is finishing off Infamous 2 on the PS3 and I’ve only recently played the original (purchased about 2 years ago when it first came out). I remember seeing previews for the game back in 2009, and they looked so cool that I just had to get it.

The premise was promising. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic world and you are a mean-looking dude by the name of Cole McGrath, a bike messenger who may have started it all with a massive explosion. As a result of that explosion you have gained nasty superpowers, and it’s up to you how to want to use them. Save the world and become a hero, or destroy it and become infamous.

For whatever reason I didn’t get to play the game until now, but I’m glad I finally got around to it. If I were to summarise the essence of the game, I would say that it’s like Grand Theft Auto except your character is like an invincible, ass-kicking Jedi master.

Positives

There are several elements to Infamous that make it a whole lot of fun. The first is that it is a ‘sandbox’ game, which means there is a big open world (much like GTA) which allows you to run around and do whatever you want in it. The finely designed post-apocalyptic world is pretty big (3 districts) and there are train tracks, underground sewers, wharves, warehouses, industrial areas, police stations, hospitals and so forth. You can’t really go indoors but the outside world is big enough for you to explore for hours on end.

When I played GTA, I often wished I could just scale the walls, climb trees, jump from building to building, or even fly. In Infamous, you can do all of that and more. Cole McGrath is like Spiderman in that he can climb just about every object in the game, and he doesn’t even get hurt when he takes a massive fall. For me, this was the best aspect of the game, and kudos to the makers for creating such an interactive environment. The only downside is that Cole can’t drive (he’s one heck of a runner though).

Secondly, like GTA, Infamous has a variety of missions for Cole to tackle. There are the main plot missions, which are longer and more difficult, but progress the overarching story (I’ll get to that in a sec). Then there are the shorter side missions which help you clear specific areas (so they are safe from enemies), including the good/evil missions, the objective of which is either good (like helping the police) or evil (like blowing them up).

That brings me to the third element of Infamous, that is, the Karma meter. In the missions, Cole will often be faced with a decision where he can either choose to do good or do evil. During non-mission periods Cole can also do good or evil, such as healing injured pedestrians or killing them. The repercussions from his choices will push the Karma meter in one way or the other (between the extremes of ‘Hero’ and ‘Infamous’).

How is this relevant to the game (apart from influencing the ending)? That brings me to the fourth element of Infamous — the awesome superpowers. At various points Cole learns new superpowers which he can upgrade with experience points received throughout the game. However, the upgrades of a certain power may only be available if you reach a particular point on the Karma meter — the more extreme the Karma, the more powerful the superpower.

Cole’s superpowers are insanely cool. Some help his movement (such as being able to skid along wires and train tracks and being able to glide through the air), some are defensive (such as creating an electrical shield), but the majority of powers are offensive — from powerful electrical blasts, throwing electrical shock grenades, a sniper blast (for far away enemies), and even massive electrical storms. Collecting these new powers and knowing when and how to use them to your advantage is one of the most fun and rewarding aspects of the game. Most of these powers will use up Cole’s energy gauge, which he can recharge from n assortment of electrical items on the street (such as telephone booths and telegraph poles).

Difficulty and Replay Value

Another thing I should mention is that Infamous does run at a fairly good difficulty level. While the majority of missions are not particularly difficult, many do take more than one attempt, and the good thing about the game is that ‘dying’ has no real consequence, which significantly reduces frustration. One thing you learn quickly in this game is strategy matters — you can’t simply run into enemy territory and expect to blast everybody away. Taking cover and finding high ground are imperative if you want to be successful.

In terms of replay value, Infamous is also relatively decent. The game does take a little while to complete, and can be elongated if you enjoy exploring the city to look for ‘blast shards’ (which lengthen your electric gauage) or ‘dead drops’ (which are recordings of information that feed you bits and pieces of the back story), and try and perform one of the 20 ‘stunts’. And because of the way the game is designed, you must play through it twice if want to experience both endings (the good and the evil).

Negatives

That brings me to some of the shortcomings of the game. First of all, while the Karma meter idea is interesting, its design has a serious flaw — Cole is always better off being either really good or really evil and there is no point being anywhere in between.

Furthermore, being good or evil doesn’t have enough of a bearing on the game. The outcome of each mission is almost always the same regardless of which path you choose, and the only real impact is when doing good missions lock out evil missions, and vice versa.

A second complaint is that some of the missions get a little repetitive. To be fair, I think there is enough variety to keep you going, but several of the main missions are similar and quite a number of the side missions are basically identical.

My main gripe about Infamous, however, is the story itself. Honestly, it is not very well written at all. Despite the promising premise, the progression of the Cole’s story is convoluted, often confusing, and simply not very compelling at all. None of the key supporting characters are very interesting either. Villains suddenly appear and you get a long spiel about their background and life story, but it’s all too crammed and lacks conviction. I tuned out after a while and stopped trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

Some people might disagree, but I also didn’t like the way the cut scenes were designed. Infamous uses ‘comic’ style hand-drawn cut scenes rather than the traditional high quality videos you see in most PS3 games these days. I don’t have a problem with them per se, but they almost always try to tell too much of the story in one go. You might take half an hour to complete a single mission, then all of a sudden the cut scene crams three days of plot progression into thirty seconds. The disparity in pace was disorienting.

Conclusion

In short, notwithstanding a few flaws, Infamous is a very very good game. It looks good and sounds good. It combines many elements of other successful games and adds its own touch to it. There are some weaknesses and it certainly could have been better, but as the first iteration of a fairly fresh concept, you really can’t ask for too much more.

Will be looking forward to getting the sequel when the price comes down a bit more. Anyone know if it is a substantial upgrade on the original?

8.5 out of 10

China DVD Movie Blitz: Part II June 12, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews, Reviews.
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Yes, there is a Part II.  For Part I, click here.

Here are the rest of the DVD movies I acquired in a recent trip to China.

Stone (2010)

Even though I didn’t know what it was about, I really wanted to watch this one when it came out at the cinemas, but I’m glad now that I caught it on DVD instead.

I thought it was going to be a smart, slick thriller, but Stone is essentially a character-driven drama about sexual politics featuring three sensational actors: Edward Norton, Robert De Niro and Milla Jovovich.

It’s a stylish film, an interesting film in many respects, but not exactly what I was expecting or hoping for.

3.25 stars out of 5

I Love You, Phillip Morris (2009)

It seems like the world still isn’t ready for a rom-com about a homosexual couple, because I had never heard of I Love You, Phillip Morris despite the fact that it features two big stars in Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor.

To be fair, apart from the intentionally full on gay jokes, Phillip Morris is not all that different from some of the other slightly farcical, somewhat strange/awkward (The Cable Guy comes to mind) comedies out there.

I did find certain parts quite funny, but there wasn’t anything apart from the unusual premise that made this film stand out.  And it did get a little tedious towards the end.

3 stars out of 5

 

Gulliver’s Travels (2010)

I’ve loved the story since I was a kid, and so I was kind of excited about the Jack Black version, even though to me Black is a bit of a hit and miss comedian.

Unfortunately, Gulliver’s Travels was pretty much all miss.  It had a great cast, including Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet and Billy Connolly, but the jokes were mostly infantile and unfunny.  A fair attempt at a modern retelling with updated pop culture references but even as a children’s film it missed the mark.

2 stars out of 5

 

Season of the Witch (2011)

 

If this film made it to the cinemas then it must have been pulled off pretty quickly, because even though I saw ‘coming soon’ posters months ago, I don’t ever recall seeing the film screening at cinemas.

After watching it, I can kind of understand why this film was a flop (or went straight to DVD).  On the other hand, there are far worse films making it to the cinemas.

This was a Middle-Ages fantasy film (which I usually like) with Nicholas Cage and Ron Perlman as two warriors tasked with escorting a suspected witch to a monastery.  It started off okay but the middle section was a bit of a bore and the final part, as usual, fell apart.  A shame, because as uninspiring as it was, I thought there was some potential.

2 stars out of 5

 

And yes, there will be a Part III, though I haven’t watched them yet.

Game Review: Fight Night Champion (PS3) May 11, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews, Reviews.
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Let me be upfront. You’re going to be reading a lot of complaining in this review.

Fight Night Champion, EA’s follow-up to the popular Fight Night Round 4 (my multi-part review of that game starts here), is a game that can be viewed in two ways. For those who have not played FNR4, the game will probably be the best boxing game you have ever played, whether it’s in terms of graphics, sound, gameplay, game modes or online play. On the other hand, if you already own FNR4, you’ll likely be sorely disappointed. The truth is, while FNC is an undoubted upgrade over FNR4, the improvements are so uninspiring and minor that it makes you wonder why they bothered with it in the first place. Well, apart from the obvious — make more money out of a successful franchise.

FNC Overview

FNC is basically a suped up version of FNR4. The ‘supposed’ improvements included:

  • blood, bruising and swearing;
  • improved gameplay and controls;
  • a new ‘Champion Mode’; and
  • an improved Legacy Mode.

There are still apparently over 50 licensed boxers (I didn’t count, but most of the ones from FNR4 are there, including add-on boxers from puchased updates, plus a couple more, including Tim Bradley and David Haye). Still no Floyd Mayweather Jr, no Juan Manuel Marquez, no Sergio Martinez. Heck, not even Naseem Hamed or Kostya Tszyu. At least you can still create your own or upload ones others have made.

The graphics and sound are, I suppose, also improved. So is the presentation. But they are, by and large, so similar to FNR4 that you won’t really notice them unless you care about minor aesthetic changes or study the game closely.

Let’s take a look at the supposed changes and improvements.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

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Game Review: God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PSP) April 13, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews, Reviews.
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My recent trip to China allowed me to rekindle my long lost relationship with my Sony PSP (which had sadly been relegated to second fiddle after getting an iPad).  I had been playing the same old games and needed something new to bring some spice back into the relationship, so I went with a can’t-miss game — God of War: Ghost of Sparta.

This is the second GOW game on the PSP, the first being the very solid, albeit slightly too short GOW: Chains of Olympus.  Having played the sensational GOWIII on the PS3 last year (review here) — which was probably one of the best games I’ve ever played on the PS3 — I knew it was going to be difficult for the handheld Ghosts of Sparta to compete.

Of course, it is not exactly fair to compare a PS3 game to a PSP game, but in any case my concerns were unfounded.  Ghost of Sparta is a marvellous game, a significant improvement on Chains of Olympus, and when all is said and done, will probably go down as one of the best PSP games of all time.

I believe Ghost of Sparta is set after the original God of War game, and even though I didn’t really follow the story closely, I understand it is about Kratos’s search for his younger brother Deimos.  But let’s be honest here — no one plays GOW for the story.

In keeping up with tradition, Ghost of Sparta is an all out action adventure that is bloody, brutal, exciting and incredibly immersive.  Visually, it is by far the best PSP game I have ever seen, and is at least on par with the PS2, if not better.  The developers of the game have clearly learned something from their creation of GOWIII, as evidenced by the bigger, meaner monster battles and the epic boss fights.

The one thing that always impressed me about the GOW series was the variety in its gameplay.  While other similar games might feel repetitive after a while, Ghost of Sparta keeps gamers engaged by making a conscious effort to mix it up — either by alternating terrain, throwing in a few mini-puzzles or enemies that require different combat styles to overcome.  Rarely does it feel like you are simply doing the same thing over and over.

In all, this was a top-notch production that deserves to be owned by every PSP gamer.  Everything from the graphics, sound (including the voice acting), the gameplay to the replay value (the game itself is longer than Chains of Olympus and there are several post-game challenges to take on which will no doubt keep you tapping away at the buttons long after your first walkthrough), Ghost of Sparta oozes class.

If only they made more games like Ghost of Sparta — I would never leave my PSP behind.

10 out of 10

Game Review: Heavy Rain (PS3) February 2, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews.
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In a nutshell, Heavy Rain is a ‘choose your own adventure’ cinematic experience squeezed into a PS3 game.  It’s a unique and important game, one that relies on a well-written plot, interesting characters, touching drama, moody atmosphere, and plenty of suspenseful action.  While it does have its fair share of faults, Heavy Rain is one of the most immersive and addictive games I’ve played in a long time.

[To read on, click on ‘more’…]

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