26 April 2017

Review: Motorstorm: Arctic Edge (Playstation Portable)

One of the earliest decisions I made in my PSP career was to pick up a copy of Motorstorm: Arctic Edge. I'd tried it before and was blown away at the graphics and pure quality of the game and the controls were spot on, so it was only a matter of time. Little did I know it'd take me several years before finally getting around to it. Let's just say I tripped over a deal I couldn't resist.

I think most of you are familiar with the Motorstorm formula, so I'll only go over it really quick. It's a racing game with courses that affords different routes that all leads to the same goal. The route you'll want to take depends on which vehicle you're driving, since you often can choose between many different ones, such as rally cars, buggies, motorcycles, trucks and so forth. You are allowed to mess with your opponents and therefore motorcycles should absolutely avoid driving close to angry truck drivers and well you get the picture. It's chaotic fun.

Even today the game holds up great. It looks like something that couldn't even be done on a PS2 and the controls are not cramped at all. Brake and gas on the triggers, boost and handbrake on the face buttons and the stick to go left and right. Nice. The problem this game have as of right now, for me, is that it's offline only. I have a chipped PSP (don't worry, I buy my games, I chipped it for other reasons) so online is out of the question. I doubt there are any games online for Motorstorm: Arctic Edge at this point anyway though. There are about 20 different tracks, many of which are pretty similar. And then you get to repeat these tracks in different variations for 100 challenges, during which you unlock goodies for the garage such as new vehicles and stuff to modify the appearances of said vehicles with. Some may argue that this extends the longevity of the game but I never found the tweaking to be the driving force (pun intended), for me it was the chaotic races and the chaotic races only. By the time I'm closing in on finishing up the pre-set challenges I'm pretty gosh darned fed up with the game. And now they give me pretty stuff to put on my motorcycle? Nah, too late guys. Too late.

It's possible to play your own music in the game if you don't like the soundtrack (which I very much didn't). I followed the instructions as to how the mp3 files should be converted (max 256 kbps, 44.1Hz stereo) and put them in the correct folder (~/PSP/MUSIC/) and sure enough they appeared in the menu available for me to select and play, but as soon as the game started only one track was played and then no music would play at all. Not even the stock music. At all. I had to restart the PSP every time, and remove the mp3's if I wanted to get the soundtrack working again. I tried this with several different files back and forth and the results were identical every time. So, my conclusion in this matter is that it's a flawed function. At least with my hardware. So... back to the default crap music I went. And this didn't help the already monotone feeling of playing the same stages over and over again.

To sum things up, it was absolutely great the first hour or so, then it became stale very quickly and ended up being not even cleared all the way (I still have a few challenges left to do, but I just can't be bothered). It makes me wonder, if I'd bought it back in the day, at full price, would I be disappointed?

10 April 2017

Review: Resistance: Retribution (Playstation Portable)

Resistance: Retribution takes place a few months after the events in the first game, Resistance: Fall of Man. We take on the role as a insufferable douchebag named James Grayson that are making exceptionally bad decisions based on the need to revenge his brothers' death and that he feels let down by the army and his country. When awaiting his execution (yeah, he eventually is sentenced to death) he gets a visit from this french woman named Raine Bouchard who gives him an opportunity to extract said revenge after all. And I guess this also is the seed to what can evolve into the road to redemption, if you will.

Making a third person shooter work well on the PSP isn't the easiest thing in the world concidering that there's only the one thumbstick but Bend Studios (yes, the guys who did Bubsy 3D, the two Uncharted games for Vita and the upcoming Days Gone) came as close as I think it'll get. The thumbstick is used to moving around and the face buttons are used to aim. Specific in game actions are triggered by the d-pad and the shooting is done with the shoulder buttons. Granted, using the face buttons as a way to aim is clonky at best, but they have also included a very generous aim assist that makes up for the lack of precision.

When I had fun I had really fun, and when I was bored or frustrated I was really bored and frustrated. It was never just "meh". Make of that what you want. The game is fairly short all things concidered, but still manages to feel a bit repetetive towards the ending hours though. The gameplay isn't changed up all that much and I obviously didn't care for the main protagonist as he was frustratingly cliché and the voice actor always talked like he needed to go to the bathroom. However the story in Resistance: Retribution is still adding a bit to the main storyline of Resistance and Parker (the voice in the cutscenes) is great as always. All in all it's a decent game to get for the PSP, especially since it's very cheap.

23 February 2017

Review: Silent Hill 2 (Playstation 2)

When I first purchased my Playstation 2 (I worked an entire summer to be able to afford it) I did it because I had heard of the new Grand Theft Auto and that it was in 3D. The thought alone was enough for me to work my butt off and come autumn I had enough to buy a console and a few games. I bought it second hand, so I did not get to choose which games came with it but I was happy as long as Grand Theft Auto 3 was part of the deal. Hiding among the other titles was this mysterious game called Silent Hill 2. I did not care to look closer at it and instead I invited some friends over and fired up GTA 3. We played it for an entire weekend and had a blast. When sunday came one of my friends stayed late to see what this Silent Hill 2 was all about, so we tried it out. Suddenly, the night was over. We played the game through the night and when the sun came up we were done. What. A. Ride.

Silent Hill 2 was the first game to really show me what games can do. What great sound design and the power of suggestion could do together to build up tension I never thought were possible in a game. My friend was equally impressed and we ended up getting Silent Hill 3 when that came out, and during the wait we laid our hands on the first game on Playstation 1. By the time I am writing this I have every Silent Hill game out there. At least that is in the main series. I even have the P.T-thing on my Playstation 4 even though it is pulled from the store. It has become my absolute favorite series of all time and I have several tattoos with Silent Hill artwork.

The other day I figured I would play through Silent Hill 2 again just to see if I was being to nostalgic about it. Is it really that good even today? I have now completed it once again just to be able to say yes, yes it definitely is. It is every bit as great now as it was back then. There is something about masterpieces that makes them age with dignity I guess. The deep psychology behind every area, every enemy, every NPC encounter, every piece of history found... The sheer terror coming from incredibly well thought out mixes of noise and deranged music is awesome. The combat is clumsy at best of course, but that just adds to the stress. Sometimes it might even feel a bit unfair but it never really crosses that border and becomes all out broken. It is a matter of planning your attacks and pay close attention to your surroundings. And this is where I think some people might find the Silent Hill series a bit bland. The ones that do not pay attention to the story. There are plenty of horrifying symbolic events and details to discover, but if you want an action horror game like the later Resident Evil parts then you will be disappointed.

There are several endings to Silent Hill 2 as well, so make sure to play it different each time you come back. Something I can almost guarantee you will do. I have lost count on how many times I have visited the town of Silent Hill - both in this particular game and in the series as a whole. I like it in Silent Hill. We should go there someday.

15 February 2017

Review: Psyvariar Complete Edition (Playstation 2)

Risk and reward. A concept often used in shoot 'em ups. But Psyvariar was one of the titles that brought it to a whole other level. This collection consisting of Psyvariar: Medium Unit and Psyvariar: Revision once upon a time paved the way for me in to loving this genre. Let me tell you about it.

(Medium Unit is the first version of Psyvariar, then they made some revisions to the gameplay and design and put out Revision. Even though they are very different in both pacing, enemy design and, to some extent, gameplay I will be focusing on Revision in this review since it is the only version I am playing.)

I was fresh out of my first shoot 'em up ever, Strikers 1945 II on Playstation, and I was looking for the next step. I found Psyvariar Complete Edition on eBay for practically nothing and picked it up. At the time I still had this vague image in my head where shoot 'em ups were unvaried, shallow and stale. Something to eat quarters at the local pub. I fired Psyvariar up and everything I ever thought I knew washed away.

Psyvariar is a vertical shoot 'em up with colorful enemy bullet patterns like many others. But the famous risk and reward is brought to a point in Psyvariar through two aspects. The first, obvious, way is to choose the harder stages (yes, we can often choose path between stages) and through this get bombarded with more enemies and points to earn. The second is the core mechanic of Psyvariar. The buzzing. Buzzing (also called "grazing", "scratching" and "scraping") is when you fly close to enemy bullets on purpose, to rack up extra points/increase in level. This means that a novice can choose the easier way through the game and avoid buzzing to simply reach the end and then start to push the limits. Personally I started to experiment with the buzzing on the easier stages until I was comfortable with it, then I went for the more difficult stages and my highscore skyrocketed.

During the gameplay the ship goes up in level which means that it transforms into a new shape and more importantly changes attack pattern. My favorite form is where I look like a cone with wings - where I can shoot from the sides as well when not focusing my shot for power. Oh, that is right, I forgot to mention that there also is a focus mode to the attack. If the player wiggles the joystick quickly from side to side the ship starts to spin and the attack becomes more powerful at the cost of ship speed. It is much like the laser attack from the Donpachi games in that way.

If you beat the game on one credit while always going for the hardest stage available at each impasse you unlock a secret final level which I have yet to see because I am not that good yet. But one day I will see it. One day...

So what do I think of the game all in all? In one sentence: It is great fun. Adding a second sentence: If you have a Playstation 2 and like shoot 'em ups then I see no reason not to get this game.

05 February 2017

Review: Ghost Blade (Dreamcast)

I have finally spent some time with the, for me at least, highly anticipated shoot 'em up Ghost Blade. The word beforehand was that the game was too easy but otherwise alright. It seems to be a pretty accurate description of Ghost Blade actually, but it also seems a bit unfair to write it off just as an "easy shoot 'em up". It has a lot more going for it, I would argue.

We get to choose between three ships with different attack modes, and although they are not described as such they are spread, narrow and lastly a compromise between the two. All ships are represented by a hyper sexualized female without any purpose except giving teen boys something to giggle at. Once the game fires up it becomes evident that the controls are spot on, the visuals are great (both enemy- and backdrop design) and the music is fitting. The first track might not be the most exciting thing in the world but it gets better. Waaaay better. In fact, by the time I reached the stage Orgasmic Stride the music together with the beautiful flower overgrown backdrop made me feel like I was playing a golden game. A hidden gem. A great shoot 'em up. But yes, it is a bit on the easy side. At least once you get the hitbox size and placement down. I died plenty in the beginning due to not realizing how far back on the ship my hitbox was. But this is not something I hold against Ghost Blade. I like a shooter here and there to just be great fun with pretty pixels and cool music.

My main problem with this title is the, at times, severe slowdown. And I am not talking about some slowdown to use at your advantage, but unacceptable slowdown to the point where the framerate seemed to be 2 or 3 frames per second. At this speed it becomes really hard to see which way bullets are going since it just looks like a flickering gif of random screenshots. I hope this is a hardware limitation though, and that it gets fixed in the upcoming PS4 port.

Where does this land us? It certainly ends up somewhere in the "okay" area. If it was not for the terrible slowdown I would actually call it great.