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.