Friday, 18 April 2014

[GameCube Game Review] StarFox Adventures

Reviewed for GameCube/Wii by Alyxx Thorne

Star Fox Adventures was one of the first titles for the Nintendo GameCube and the sequel to Star Fox 64 aka Lylat Wars on the Nintendo 64, itself the sequel to the groundbreaking Super FX shooter Star Fox aka Starwing on the SNES. Although originally planned as an original IP by Rare, called Dinosaur Planet, Shigeru Miyamoto came in during development and realized that there was potential here to make it a Star Fox game since the hero had a resemblence to Nintendo's furry space pilot. Rare immediately redesigned the assets to make the game an official Star Fox game and thus Star Fox Adventures was born. It is sort of the odd ball in the franchise, not really fitting in with the rest of the games that well and thus while it has a cult fanbase, there are a lot of fans who don't consider it a true Star Fox game due to its nature, it is an action/adventure game more in the vein of Legend of Zelda rather than a rail shooter after all, and due to the fact it wasn't developed as a Star Fox game from the get-go. So where do I stand on this odd game? Let's find out.

Eight years after the events of Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars, with the evil Andross defeated and peace brought back to the galaxy, the Star Fox team find themselves rather bored and without much to do. Falco left the team without a trace, Slippy has become an inventor and Peppy has retired from active duty to concentrate on being a navigator and advisor. But it isn't long before they receive a message from General Pepper. It seems that the once tranquil Dinosaur Planet has fallen under distress as General Scales has amassed an army and caused pieces of the planet to float into space, separating the tribes from each other and keeping the Krazoa spirits locked in their shrines, unable to bring the pieces of the planet back together. His minions have also taken the four spell stones, also needed to bring the planet back together. It doesn't help that Krystal, the lone survivor of her doomed planet Cerinia, gets caught when attempting to save the planet and it is up to Fox McCloud and his team to save the planet with the help of Krystal's magic staff.

The transitions between planet regions gives a nice throwback to the previous StarFox games.
The story is pretty simple and remains largely a big fetch quest for different items. I don't mind this though as it gives a context for the gameplay and what you need to do in the game. I just wish there was a bit more to it than that, though for a Nintendo game I guess it's to be expected. The setting is pretty unique for the game too and you get to spend the entire game exploring Dinosaur Planet and all its different environments. The game plays mostly as an action/adventure game in the vein of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, though there are some minigames and events during the game that offer different styles of gameplay. For instance, when you travel between parts of the planet with your Arwing you get to do a railshooter sequence reminiscent of Star Fox 64 and there are also other similar sequences during the game though I won't spoil them for you. Fox can use the magic staff to attack enemies, shoot magic missiles, open doors and a variety of other functions, and you also get aid by Tricky, a young dinosaur who serves as your partner during most of the game. While he can get a bit annoying during the game, especially with his constant lines, for the most part I enjoyed solving puzzles with him and he gives the game a lot of personality.

The combat is pretty intuitive and feels pretty satisfying.
The levels themselves did tend to get a bit confusing though. I often got stuck not knowing how to progress or what to do and had to do some substantial exploration and often the solutions were not very obvious at all, at least not to me. For me it did get in the way of my enjoyment of the game but it did feel very rewarding to finally progress after being stuck on a level for a long time. Usually your goal throughout the game remains largely the same, gathering spell stones and Krazoa spirits, and solving puzzles and mastering challenges that come in your way. The challenges and puzzles are pretty varied though and I never once felt like the game became too repetitive or boring as a new challenge or puzzle would come along and spice it up. Some of the events near the end especially had me on my seat, such as the infamous Test of Fear or the railshooter segments which were some of my favourite parts of the game.

Fox' face is beautifully animated during cutscenes.
The graphics are really good for an early GameCube title. I especially liked the lighting effects and depth of field effect during combat and cutscenes. The variety in levels also means the game has a lot of different settings and moods to offer and each level felt very unique and memorable. I also liked that the game would subtly change from day to night as you were playing and small details like NPC's falling asleep during the night were very nice to notice. In fact the game is chocked full of small details you might not pick up on at first but notice as you play and I loved them. The only bad thing I have to say is that some of the NPC animations were a bit lacking and stiff. I even encountered times when the NPC's wouldn't even animate at all which felt a bit lazy. The animation on Fox is amazing though, especially his facial expressions and like Link in Windwaker he is extremely emotive and this is easily one of the main reasons I love playing the game since he is a very appealing character to play as. Krystal remains largely unplayable though for most of the game which is a shame as I would love to see a game where you could play Krystal and Fox co-op. Idea for StarFox Adventures 2 here, Nintendo...

The music is extremely good. Ranging from beautiful chants and sweeping orchestral scores to a badass 80's rock theme during the ending credits, the score is varied and very high quality for the game and never gets boring. It did remind me a lot of Disney scores now and then which is never a bad thing. The voice acting was largely enjoyable, especially Krystal and Fox had very pleasant voices, though Peppy sounds like he's been a chainsmoker all his life, Slippy's voice makes me wanna put him out of his misery as usual and some of the NPC's voices were a bit grating (the Shopkeeper... good god...) but overall the cast was very enjoyable. The sound effects do their job pretty well, some of them very obviously stock sound effects, though that didn't bother me much.

Fans of this game will cringe at this screenshot...
All in all, StarFox Adventures is an absolutely fun and solid action/adventure game and highly underrated. Don't pass it up just because it plays differently from other StarFox games as it had me really excited and on the edge of my seat a few times, which I did not expect at all. While some of it might seem a bit unpolished and lacking, overall this game is definitely one of Rare's finest and a worthy addition to the StarFox franchise.

STORY: 7/10
SOUND: 7/10


Friday, 11 April 2014

[PC Game Review] Deus Ex: The Fall

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2014
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: nFusion
Publisher: Square Enix
Buy on Steam

I'm a pretty huge fan of the Deus Ex franchise. I think the franchise is very unique in terms of gameplay style and Human Revolution was easily one of my favourite games of 2011 and the recently released Director's Cut of it was an amazing experience that I finally 100%'d on Steam recently. So naturally when the previously mobile exclusive game "The Fall" was finally ported to PC, I pretty much bought it on release. I've only played the first episode so far but think it gives a pretty good idea of how the rest of the game will play out once the rest of it is released from a gameplay perspective

As a game I think The Fall is pretty good. The story is set some time before Human Revolution and acts as a sort of prequel to that game that focuses on a character, Ben Saxon, who used to be with the group of mercs, the Tyrants lead by Jaron Namir, that you end up hunting down in Human Revolution. After departing from the group they pretty much want you dead and while they are hunting you down, you and your partner, Anna Kelso, are suffering from augmentation rejection and are in desperate need of Neuropozyne to deal with the symptoms. Most of the first episode centers around this dilemma of securing a steady NuPoz supply though you quickly get caught up in a bit of a web as you realize the mercs you escaped are on to you. I really loved the story in The Fall as it gave a unique opportunity to explore the characters of these mercs and their group and you get a lot of background info on it and what their original goal was. I loved all the emails and story bits that even offered a little extra for the long time fans as it mentioned them talking to some of the characters from Deus Ex 1 and the story was definitely the biggest reason I played through the first episode and can see myself playing through it several times. The only bad thing is that so far the first episode is really short and ends before you feel the game really begins and I really hope the second episode comes out soon.

Environments look really good for the most part. This is the Tyrant airliner.
The gameplay is pretty much what you can expect from a Deus Ex title and I am happy to say that some aspects about it are improved in relation to Human Revolution. For instance, you can buy weapons, upgrades, ammo and items at any time through the menu as long as you have the cash for it which makes the game feel a lot more streamlined and free as you're not restricted to only getting items from shops at certain points. The inventory has also been much more streamlined and obviously suited to a mobile device but I find it very easy to use and makes the game a lot of fun to play. While there are not as many weapons as in Human Revolution, especially if you compare it to the Director's Cut, there are more variations on weapons here with unique abilities that you can buy at any time, which is a nice touch that I liked.

The controls are also fairly easy to get used to if you've played Human Revolution on PC, though I disliked that there was no option to customize your keys and there is no jump button, making the game feel a bit like playing Deus Ex as if it was Doom. Of course being a mobile title, this makes perfect sense so I wasn't all too bothered by it. The one big issue I came upon though was that the mouse for some reason gets really glitchy after playing for a while and mouse clicks didn't even register properly, making the menus unnecessarily difficult to navigate. I really sincerely hope they patch this issue quickly because it IS a huge issue for me as the only fix for it seems to be restarting the game which is very tedious to do.

Many familiar enemies from DXHR make a return, such as the infamous boxguard robot.
Graphically the game looks very scaled down, especially compared to other PC titles. I really wish the animations and texture detail had been improved for the PC port but you sort of get used to it. The style from Human Revolution is very intact though and the game looks really good for a mobile game even if it doesn't in any conceivable way shape or form hold up to PC standards. Some of the models do look a bit bad though and the stiff animations made the game definitely feel a lot cheaper than it should. The environments also feel a bit cramped and small compared to Human Revolution so the game, again, does tend to feeling a bit like playing Deus Ex in Doom, though I quickly got used to it. The frequent loading between areas does make the game feel a bit tedious though as the areas are quite small.

Sound-wise the game pretty much re-uses music and sound effects from Human Revolution with no original music tracks or much original sound design to speak of which I found a bit boring. It makes the game feel more like a spinoff title than its own game, which it pretty much is. I really wish the game had its own unique soundtrack but the tracks from Human Revolution are still really good and it's hard to imagine the game without them. The voice acting ranges from tolerable to absolutely horrendous. The accents feel laughably fake and I almost fell off my chair several times listening to the NPC's talking, it was an absolute disaster. Some of the voice acting wasn't even enjoyably bad, just really tedious and ear-raping. I especially remember one NPC that gave me a mission and I kept skipping the dialogue because her voice literally felt like it was raping my ears. Thankfully most of the voice acting isn't that bad and it was nice hearing some of the cast from Human Revolution again.

Doing takedowns. Like a boss.
All in all, Deus Ex: The Fall as a game is not as bad as people are making it out to be, but it definitely feels like a mobile port and feels by all means more like a spinoff title than its own game. As a mobile game this is a pretty decent game and I can see it being perfectly tolerable on a mobile platform as you only pick it up and play it now and then and it offers you a portable Deus Ex experience. As a PC game though it fails utterly to live up to Human Revolution. The voice acting, scaled down graphics and sometimes annoying mouse clicking issues makes it feel like a chore to play at times which is a shame as there are some genuinely fun elements here such as the story and gameplay. If you're a big Deus Ex fan like me, I definitely recommend it but if you only have a casual interest in Deus Ex, it's probably not worth it, at least not on PC as I can imagine this being much more playable on its original platform. Judging this as a PC game it's not in any way holding up to PC standards, especially compared to Human Revolution. I personally really enjoy the game, I do not at all regret buying it, but objectively, it isn't a very good port and an average game experience at best.

STORY: 10/10
SOUND: 3/10


I normally don't do this but it's come to my attention that there's an easy way of working around the mouse clicks not registering properly. If you don't move your mouse at all when clicking it should work just fine. It has something to do with the touch screen emulation registering moving the mouse as swiping the screen, not touching it. If you can get used to this, the game becomes perfectly playable.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Thrift Store Catch 09.04.2014

So yesterday I went thrift shopping and this is what I hauled in:

A complete collection of the "Quest" games. King's Quest, Space Quest and Police Quest respectively on 3 CD-ROM sets. Bargain bin versions under Sierra's "Best Seller" series but not complaining. Also picked up a complete copy of GTA San Andreas and Contra: Shattered Soldier for PS2, as well as a CD with the Norwegian dance group Reset (totally unrelated to the games but a cool pickup).

Paid about 6$ for the whole thing and I am very happy with it.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

[PC Game Review] Titanfall

Platform: PC (Origin)
Released: 2014
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: EA
Buy on Origin

Titanfall is without a doubt one of the most anticipated games in a while. Not only is it made by the people who made some of the most renowned Call of Duty games, it's also seemingly a truly unique shooter that brings the genre forward and away from the Call of Duty style we've seen so far. Is it truly a game changer or is this a titanic fall?

Already having played the beta, I could tell Titanfall would be a pretty unique shooter that firmly establishes itself within the multiplayer shooter genre. The thing I looked forward to was to see how the full version would handle the story mode and how it would integrate the story into the multiplayer and how this would work out. The answer is that it simply doesn't. Rather quickly the story takes second stage to the action and the only story we get are brief map introductions and some radio chatter that is quite easily drowned out by battle noise and you're often too immersed in the action to pay attention to the paper thin story. Honestly, if you are looking for a game with a good story, look elsewhere. Titanfall in a way feels rather oldschool in how it handles it story mode and brings to mind such classic multiplayer shooters as Unreal Tournament and how its campaign similarly were just a series of multiplayer maps you played in succession. In Titanfall you can play these maps twice as both sides to unlock new Titans for the multiplayer mode and that is pretty much your only reason to play the story mode.

One good thing about titans, they explode. :P
However the multiplayer itself is definitely where Titanfall shines. I can wholeheartedly say I have never played any game like this and in an era of copycat Call of Duty inspired shooters, that's a tough claim to make. What sets Titanfall apart from its competition as far as gameplay goes is how seamless it blends mech combat and fast-paced on-foot sections. While other games like Blackout Retribution and Hawken have tried focusing on mech combat for a while and doing it well, Titanfall more or less perfects the transition between pilot and mech.

As a pilot you have much more freedom of movement and agility than ever before, and you're basically a special type of elite soldier on the field who can use your jetpack to get to higher places on the map as well as run on walls Mirror's Edge style. This freedom of movement frees you from being locked to the ground like in most other FPS's of today and makes the game feel almost oldschool in its movement style. It brings to mind classics like Quake and Unreal Tournament with their more vertical gameplay. While most shooters today have become almost entirely horizontal and locked to the ground, especially Call of Duty where vertical gameplay has been restricted to running into a building and finding a sniper spot, Titanfall is almost entirely vertical and the levels are designed to accommodate this.

The freedom of movement of course becomes restricted once you enter your titan which you can call in during a match after a certain cooldown period. Entering the titan is dead simple and thankfully, your mech is YOURS and nobody else can like come and snag it or anything as it has a protective shield. This makes you feel a lot more connected to your titan. When you're out of the titan, the AI takes over and you can use it like a partner on the field that helps you take out enemies, or you can enter it and control it yourself which also is a ton of fun. The controls for the titan are identical to your pilot controls in most ways and the titan feels deliciously agile as well. I was fearing it would feel clunky and kind of disorienting but Respawn has done a perfect job here making it feel like your pilot is ONE with the machine. On the battlefield you also have AI opponents known as grunts and spectres. While these pose little to no actual harm to you as they are mere fodder for your guns and don't really support you all that much, they add flair to the battle and make for good target practice for new players and makes it easier for them to get into the game.

The multiplayer features several game modes. You have regular Team Deathmatch (Attrition) where the goal is to get the most kills over the enemy team in the allotted time. Once the time runs out you get a special ending mode where the losing team has to reach an evacuation shuttle before the enemy team wipes them out completely. This is easily the most fun thing about Titanfall and adds a unique flair to the battles. The feeling when you successfully manage to evacuate a battle is amazing. I recommend most people to start out with Attrition if you have never played Titanfall before as it offers a very good introduction in a familiar and dead simple game mode. You also have Last Titan Standing which is a mode where you spawn in a Titan and the goal is to eliminate all Titans on the enemy team. Pretty simple and with no respawns, it is still a pretty fun mode to play. Hardpoint is pretty straightforward. Capture and hold 3 hardpoints on a map. The more hardpoints held, the faster your team wins. Capture the Flag is what it says on the tin. Go into the enemy base, get their flag and take it back to yours. Pilot Hunter is all about eliminating the enemy team pilots to reach the score limit. And finally Variety Pack is a mosh pit of all the different game modes, perfect if you want to play for a while and want some variety.

Pilots can still be pretty dangerous to titans. Especially if they have satchel charges.
As a pilot, in addition to the standard loadouts you start out with, you can customize your own Pilot and Titan loadouts after a while as you level up, giving you full reign over how you want to play since the more you unlock, the more freedom you have. I also love that you can choose which gender to make your pilot, something I've wanted in multiplayer shooters for a while. Another addition are Burn Cards. These are basically like the perks in Call of Duty except they are only good for one use and you can choose up to 3 cards to have for each match. They add a bit of extra to the gameplay and as you play you earn more of them so you never run out. They modify your abilities and weapons in various ways, some giving you unlimited cloaking, some giving you more powerful weapon variants, and it's always random which ones you get, making it a lot of fun to play just to see which cards you'll get. You get tactical abilities such as cloaking (making you somewhat invisible to other pilots and titans) and stims (enhancing your running speed), and a good variety of weapons, ranging from Assault Rifles, SMGs, Snipers and Shotguns to the very fun and unique smart pistol that automatically targets your enemies. You also have special anti-titan weapons specifically designed to make your pilot a real force to be reckoned with. The titan weapons range from Chainguns to rocket launchers and they also have tactical abilities like deflector shields and electric smoke.

Worth noting is how the game deals with hackers and cheaters. If you are caught cheating you can technically continue playing the game, however you are restricted to lobbies with other cheaters only in what the developers describe as the "Wimbledon of aimbots". In my opinion this is a really cool way of dealing with cheaters.

The graphics are really good and high res, and I actually went ahead and upgraded my PC graphics card just for this game since they require a bit of a strong gaming rig to fully experience the game how it's meant to be played. They have a bit of a Call of Duty style to them except a bit more futuristic and sci-fi. The sounds are also pretty good though the music is mostly forgetable and I usually have it muted.

The epilogue is often the most intense part of the battle as the losing team has to reach a dropship in time to evacuate while being hunted by the winning team.
All in all, Titanfall is a really good multiplayer shooter, in fact it's one of the best I've played in a long time. There was no problems with it on launch, the servers have always worked fine for me and the game is always fun to pick up and play and in a lot of ways I prefer it over Call of Duty. However, the downside is, well, this is all you get. There is little to no story and it takes a clear backseat to the gameplay, there's no DLC to speak of yet and so for a full price I find it hard to recommend this game due to the small amount of content you get. You get a variety of game modes and several good maps to play on sure, but that's all you get. If you can find it at around 20-30$ I would say definitely pick it up. Do I regret paying full price for it though? No, not really. The game is rock solid and a ton of fun and I don't mind paying full price for it at all, but I can see some people on a limited budget not wanting to pay full price for a kind of stripped down experience.

STORY: 4/10
SOUND: 5/10