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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

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

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews, Reviews.
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3 comments

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: 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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Game Review: Heavenly Sword (PS3) April 19, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Game Reviews.
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I am finally getting around to playing a bunch of PS3 games that I bought almost a year ago but haven’t even opened.

The first one of these I tried was the 2007 Heavenly Sword, a kind of tamer version of God of War mixed in with a little Devil May Cry, Lord of the Rings and Dynasty Warriors, and featuring a sultry female protagonist.

After not expecting a great deal from the game, I came away pleasantly surprised.  The game features a basic but well-executed storyline, a mixture of proven and newly innovative battle techniques, a steady assortment of different levels, and as a bonus, excellent dramatic direction and motion capturing from “Gollum” himself, Mr Andy Serkis, as well as a stellar voice cast including Serkis and the distinctive voice of Anna Torv (from Fringe fame).

I would recommend Heavenly Sword to people who like this sort of stuff (ie action-adventure), don’t have a lot of time to on their hands (I finished the entire game over a long weekend), and want a good bargain (since the game is now heavily discounted).

(click on ‘more’ to read the full review)

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Review: Fight Night Round 4 (Part I – Features) August 2, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Boxing, Game Reviews.
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[Note: only PS3 version played]

My first video game review!

Overview

Few boxing fans would disagree that when it comes to boxing video games, it often feels like the makers have no idea about the sport.  Games on other popular sports, such as basketball, football and hockey have made leaps and bounds over the years to the point where they can be said to be realistic simulations – but for some reason realistic boxing has been stuck in the mud.

The eagerly anticipated Fight Night Round 4 (FNR4) set out to remedy the perceived problems of the hugely successful Fight Night Round 3 (FNR3), which was revolutionary in terms of graphics but still relied too much on button mashing rather than the sweet science.  To some extent it succeeds, especially in terms of the gameplay and the increased realism of the visuals, but it still fails when it comes to being a standout boxing simulation.  The so-called biggest selling point, the new Legacy Mode, is also ultimately a huge disappointment (reviewed in Part III).

Features

Physics System

The greatest contribution FNR4 brings to the table is this ‘physics’ system that was hyped to the max before the game was released.  Back in the old days, boxers looked like 2 robots going at it mechanically.  Each fighter had a very limited set of movements, each of which looked exactly the same every time.

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The new ‘physics’ system is said to revolutionize the boxing game by applying real-world physics.  Punches are longer just ‘hit’ and ‘miss’.  You’ve now got glancing blows (which do less damage) and partially blocked punches that slip through the defense (that can still do damage).  Your punching arm can get tangled up in your opponent’s.  A jab that fully extends will do more damage than one that connects with a bent elbow.  You get the point.

Another related feature is improved inside fighting.  Before, there always seemed to be an invisible barrier between boxers, never allowing them to truly get on the inside to stick it to their opponent with close range shots.  Well, you can now in FNR4.  Fighters can sometimes look like they are leaning against each other at close range, much like their real-life counterparts.

In short, the result is fighting action that is a lot more fluid.  Bobbing and weaving becomes very important.  A boxer’s height and reach becomes more relevant than before.  Styles really do make fights in FNR4.  You can choose to box your way to victory by staying on the outside and peppering your opponent with jabs (which can be as boring as hell), or go for the knockout by sticking close to your opponent and rocking them with jolting uppercuts.

While I wouldn’t go as far as calling the new system perfect, it is a substantial upgrade on what we had before.

Total punch control

FNR4 gets rid of button-mashing completely by implementing what it calls ‘total punch control’ (TPC).  Punches can now ONLY be thrown using the right analog stick.  For an orthodox boxer, a jab is a flick of the stick towards the upper left, a straight towards the upper right.  A hook is a quarter-circle, an uppercut a half-circle.  You CANNOT alter the button settings to go back to the more traditional style of allocating buttons for specific punches (not yet anyway).

Personally, I like the IDEA of this punch control system, but I can fully understand why it would seriously irk many gamers.  Flicking a stick is about as close to throwing a real punch as you can possibly get, so I understand why EA would endorse this control system.  However, the system is HARD and FRUSTRATING.  In the heat of battle, the last thing you would want is to throw the wrong punch, but with TPC (ironically) it happens all the time.  You get better with experience and practice, but you never feel like you have 100% control of every punch you throw because some punches are executed so similarly to others that it’s very easy to mess them up.  It becomes particularly frustrating when playing the training mini-games which I elaborate on below.

As I said, I don’t mind the system, but EA should have at least allocated a traditional button configuration for those that can’t stand it.  Apparently this will be available soon via DLC (downloadable content), which will be downloadable online from EA Sport World.

Health, Stamina, Damage

I’ve never been a fan of having stamina/health bars at the top/bottom of the screen for the players to see.  I’d much rather want to know that my opponent is in trouble from their movements and the look on their face rather than judge it from a couple of bars on the screen.  For me, it takes away the realism and often reduces games to a mechanical exercise of trying to lower the health bar to zero.

However, FNR4 still endorses this system, and I guess it’s acceptable.  Boxers have a health bar (which will result in a knockdown when it reaches zero), a stamina bar (which gives you the energy to throw punches) and a block bar (which, when reduced to zero, makes you unable to block).

Note you can still get flash knockdowns, which instantly reduces the health bar to zero (unless you get back up), and there’s also the old concept of ‘stunning’ your opponent – which can be attained by reducing the health bar close to zero or scoring a critical punch.  Your opponent will wobble around with his health bar on red and be unable to replenish his health or block bar for a given period of time.  Step in with a few solid combinations and you’ll score a knockdown.

In between rounds, you get to see a damage bar.  When the damage bar is full, the doctor will stop the fight.

Gone from FNR3 are the mini-games of reducing swelling and sealing cuts between rounds.  It was an interesting idea but got too tedious after a while.  The new system allocates points to a boxer depending on how they performed in the previous round (eg extra points for scoring a certain punch percentage, stunning the opponent or getting a knockdown).  These points can then be distributed to increase health or stamina or reduce damage.  It’s a good system in the way that it rewards boxers for boxing smartly, but it’s not realistic and it’s not fun.  And since the AI does a good job of allocating the points for you automatically, I generally tend to skip it.

Knockdowns

To get up from a knockdown, you have to shift the left analog stick until the indicator is in the middle of the balance bar, then push up on the right analog stick to stand up.

I suppose that is also an attempt at a realistic simulation of a boxer who has just been knocked down, but it doesn’t depend enough on skill – if you have enough ‘Heart’ (rating), you should be able to get up easily from the first knockdown (say at the count of 3) and struggle to get up if you are knocked down for a second time.  But your ability to get up seems to be heavily reliant on your Heart rating.  If you don’t have enough Heart, all the skill with the analog sticks won’t be able to get you back up again.

AI

The computer AI in FNR4 is pretty good.  You don’t get the feeling that you’re constantly fighting the same opponent because the computer will tend to utilize the physical strengths of the boxer and adjust to your style mid-fight, so you can’t keep using the same strategy.   There are those who like to attack, and others who like to stay back and counterpunch.  There are orthodox boxers and plenty of southpaws.  You’ll have taller and shorter fighters in the same division.  Some are more susceptible to uppercuts, others hooks.  It’s not perfect – you still want a bit more variety and adaptability from your opponent, but it’s already a substantial upgrade from FNR3 and most other boxing games.

Boxers

One of the biggest selling points of FNR4 is the number of licensed boxers in the game (around 50!).  Many gamers will buy the game for the inclusion of Mike Tyson alone, but it’s good to see they’ve also got many boxers from the lower weight divisions and a good mix of current and former boxers, legends and lesser-known fighters (they’ve even got Anthony Mundine!).  The full list can be found here.

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Iron Mike Tyson is back!

The obvious ones missing from the list are guys like Floyd Mayweather Jr (who reportedly wanted more money than all 50 other boxers combined!), Oscar De La Hoya and Juan Manuel Marquez (just to name a few), but you can create your own versions of them using the ‘Create Boxer’ feature.  However, unless you use a photo and tweak with the sliders a fair bit, you’re unlikely to create one that closely resembles the real life counterpart.  Even if you do use a photo, there are still some difficulties, especially with the choice of hairstyles, which are simply too limited.

If you want a realistic version of a boxer not in the game, your best chance is to go to EA Sports World and grab one uploaded by someone else (who obviously has more time on their hands than you).  And from what I can see fans have not stopped at real-life boxers, creating guys like Rocky Balboa, Bruce Lee and even Barack Obama and Michael Jackson!

Unfortunately, there is a limit on the number of boxers you can have on your roster overall, so you can’t download them all.

Graphics and sound

FNR3 was revolutionary in terms of its graphics and sound for a boxing game.  FNR4 makes minor improvements, but I don’t think you can say it made great leaps.  That said, it’s still one of the most visually and aurally impressive sports games I’ve ever see – the sweat running down the skin, the lights and shadows,  the movement of the ripped muscles on the back and arms; even little things such as the crowds and the speckles of blood on the glove tape as the fight goes on.

What I liked the most personally were the slow-motion replays of knockdowns, coupled with the bone-crushing sound effects.  Sure, the buckets of sweat that fly off the bodies from each connected punch are a bit over the top, but it’s there for added effect.

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Check out the muscle movement

Oh, and the game features some awesome music, extremely addictive.  You’ll soon find yourself singing along.

Cut-scenes

One of the weaker elements of FNR4 is its fixed animations and cut-scenes.  I’m talking about the ring entrances and introductions, the between-round instructions, the ‘getting up from knockdown’ sequences and the post-fight celebrations.  It’s not that they are done badly, but there is so little variety that you feel like you’ve seen everything if you just see it once.

The ring introductions are generally pretty cool, especially if you are a belt-holder (or multiple belt-holder).  But they are always the same.  If you create a boxer, you get a couple of options in customizing your ring entrance, but there’s not a whole lot of variance.

The ring introductions are similar.  And it seems you’re always fighting under the same couple of referees.

In between rounds, your corner doesn’t have much to say except a few mumbles.  That’s rather disappointing because it would be good if they could give you some constructive feedback.  I suppose the focus is on the new point distribution system, so they’ve kind of forgotten all about it.

Another sequence lacking in variety is when boxers get knocked down and are trying to get back up.  It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of them and they don’t seem to correspond with the force of the knockdown.  A boxer can get clobbered in the head with a vicious shot (and pounded with 3 or 4 power shots on the way down) and yet still get up at the count of 5 as though it was a flash knockdown.  On the other hand, a boxer can get dropped by a seemingly light combination and stagger around the ring like Zab Judah.

The most disappointing of all are the end-of-fight sequences.  Whether it’s a knockout win, a decision or a loss, the cut-scenes always feel exactly the same, just with different boxers.

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Commentary

The in-fight commentary is provided by Joe Tessitore and the colour commentary by Teddy Atlas.  Both are adequate, and at times what they say hit the mark.  It’s unreasonable to expect never to hear the same thing twice, but I tend to hear the same comments in every fight my created boxer participates it.  On occasion I even hear the same conversation in different rounds of the same fight.  I’m not sure if it’s attributable to my fighting style, but it does get a little repetitive.  A minor complaint but in general I think it’s good enough.

Online

I haven’t really explored the full capabilities of online play in FNR4.  As I already mentioned, you can download boxers created by other users, but of course you can also play against others in online bouts and tournaments.

But perhaps the best part about having online capabilities is the DLC (downloadable content).  The first package is coming out in early August 2009, and details of what will be included can be found here.  The main change is the ability to use the traditional punch system that utilizes the buttons on the control pad.  This change undoubtedly comes from the complaints that EA has received regarding the arbitrary use of the right analog stick, so it’s good to see they’re at least listening.

Next up: Part II: Gameplay!

Part III: Legacy Mode

Lastly: Fight Night Round 5 Wishlist!

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