maanantai 30. tammikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (2011)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 2011
AVAILABLE ON: PS3
DEVELOPER(S): Naughty Dog
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment
PLAYERS: 1-12

The way I see it nowadays, receiving a perfect first sequel to an excellent game ain't so surprising, but the third game can go both ways. Of course, that's not the way game developers see it. They make the game all full of themselves, driven by the first sequel's success, striving to make everything about the third game even better, flashier and more epic. Stumbling is not a possibility in their omnipotent world. Naughty Dog was in quite a predicament when they announced Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, even if they didn't realize it. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves raised the bar to unbelievable heights, and while the most optimistic critics were at the game's side throughout its quick development, realists knew from pure experience that all the hype would turn against the game by at least some degree. Drake's Deception was released in October 2011, and the initial reviews of the highest profile bore no reservations at all; perfect tens floated around the net freely. Later reviews of the game were a little bit more reserved, and finally, even the most positive critics began to second-guess their own takes on the game. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is undoubtedly a great game with some huge cinematic climaxes that shame the hell out of its predecessors, but in my honest overall opinion, it's the weakest game in the ultra-strong franchise thus far.

Hardly the last crusade, look at the numbers

Drake, Sully and their trusted team are after Sir Francis Drake's best-kept secret, clues to which are chronicled in T.E. Lawrence's (a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia) secret notebook - now in the possession of Drake and Sully's long-time arch nemesis, the devious Katherine Marlowe. In Drake's most dangerous and potentially deadly adventure yet, his and Sully's 20-year friendship is put to a true test.

Ooh, yoo gonna geddit nao.
I, for one, believed in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, one hundred per cent. I believed it would leave Uncharted 2: Among Thieves dead on its tracks, as perfect in its own category as the previous game was. Then came the tens. Tens are never good, that's why I don't use them, or at least I don't hand them out like critics handed them out to Uncharted 3. Despite having huge reservations towards the game, I swear I almost fainted a couple of times during the game's first 20 minutes - the game starts out better than I ever could've imagined. The intro sequence demonstrates how melee combat has been improved and made a more important part of the gameplay, with Naughty Dog borrowing some bits from Batman's playbook politely enough. As scripted as the whole sequence seems to be, hot spots work. You can push a guy against a bar counter and break a beer bottle on his head, if one happens to be within arm's reach. The fight against "supermuscle" in the john crowns the whole thing.

We don't rightly know why he does everything
the hard way, but we still like it.
Then, the game smacks us with a bombshell of a plot turn that will leave fans of the franchise sweating and almost breaking down. Then, we go to a little flashback sequence that tells us how Nate and Sully found each other. It's obvious that this is going to be kind of like a buddy movie, and that's fine by me, since Sully was so underutilized in the second game. What's not fine by me, is that this indeed is more of a buddy MOVIE than a buddy GAME, and as if that wasn't enough, its scripted sequences (such as Drake's infamous, desperate hike over the desert, hinted at by many of the game's promotional trailers) last way too long, make that double since you cannot run, and as much as Naughty Dog invested in a real captivating story... that real captivating story hits a brick wall. The best single word to describe Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is "incomplete". Its length? Well, the first four chapters out of the total of 22 are over in under 30 minutes, before the actual game has even begun - what can you gather?

The story is indeed very good, the most solid stand-alone story in the series thus far - although calling it "stand-alone" is politically incorrect, since you'd have to play the first two games to understand Nate's occasionally uneasy relationships with his cohorts. The exchange between Nate (Nolan North) and Sully (Richard McGonagle) is just fantastic; I must honestly say it's the best voice acting I've ever heard. Chloe (Claudia Black) and Elena (Emily Rose) return to give Nate some feminine hell, and the newcomer Charlie Cutter (Graham McTavish, who played the lead villain Lazarevic in the last game) is a striking addition to the team. As if all of these guys weren't enough to create one great ensemble cast, we have perhaps the greatest female villain of all time in the snobby, grade A bitch Katherine Marlowe (Rosalind Ayres).

Never felt this seasick due to a video game.
The level design is magnificent - but, after Uncharted 2, it falls short on true surprises. While it's fun and exciting to ride a horse in a desert storm and do battle with heavily armed guys on trucks, escape guys in suits in the sneakers of a clumsy, 14-year old Nathan Drake across Colombian rooftops, trying to maintain some degree of sanity in several hallucinative states, and be caught in the melee fight of your life in a falling plane of all settings, the shock value of all these situations and the rest ain't so high or lasting anymore. Generally, the game might just be the best-looking game on the PlayStation 3. Great acclaim to sand and water effects has definitely been invested in the right spot - they look ridiculously awesome, and the characters' faces have had yet another fancy makeover.

Also, Greg Edmonson's score keeps getting better, and more and more memorable. I think I already said all there is to say about the voice acting, it's the one quality in this game worth a perfect 10. There's simply no sign of "acting" here, it feels like the actors are that completely devoted to their characters - even the new fish in the bowl. North's ad-libbing makes the dialogue sound even more spontaneous, real and altogether spot-on. I just can't praise the cast enough. A special mention and thanks go to Billy Unger, the 16-year old actor who does the voice of young Nathan Drake; this kid totally nails the spirit of his more mature counterpart.

You guys belong together, think it's time to
face it already?
I've bashed some aspects of the game, praised some of them - let's take the tween road then, and shift over to the core gameplay. On a more positive note, general controls are better. In the ever-changing environments this game throws at you at a rapid pace, missed steps and jumps are still very likely to occur often, but on the other hand, the checkpoints make more sense. On a less positive note, there are not enough changes for the better to draw a line between the game and the previous ones. The only real new trick in the book besides improved and way more essential melee is being able to do a return-to-sender on an enemy grenade - which is a very cool trick, at that, as you no longer have to jump out of cover and run around like a retard every time you're greeted with a live grenade. As good as another adventure of the same flesh as Uncharted 2 looks on paper, I expected more of almost every truly important element of the game.

Like the previous game, Uncharted 3 sees Drake take most of the challenges on together with a friend or a few of them. The A.I. of your companions, not to mention their aim, is better, and there are a few virtual co-op sequences - you no longer have to go clean up an area and get your buddy when the coast is clear. They're right behind you most of the time, and if they are unable to perform the stunts needed to make progress, you can help them out on the spot with an alternative solution, instead of searching for that alternative solution the usual "Drake way". That of course means climbing up a wall, then sideways, then falling down, climbing up again, swinging on a few thin poles and making it back to your friend from the other direction about 20 minutes later. Oh, but there'll be a lot of climbing, though - make no mistake about it. What was it Drake said in Uncharted 2? "I'm sick and tired of climbing shit!" Not apparently.

Red Dead Redemption 2: Arabian Outlaws?
The treasures are still there for the explorers to search and find, no more or no less than in Uncharted 2, but the in-game awards are completely flushed, which means there's not a whole lot of unlockables, either. Some random, completely optional nonsense which served as criteria for some of Uncharted 2's in-game awards has been moved over to the Trophies, which are generally the same as they ever were - most of them are based on using different weapons and finding hidden treasures. I've always enjoyed purchasing unlockables, even if I didn't have any use for them at all. Just being able to purchase them is a reward in itself, and Uncharted 3 completely misses out on that reward. The game has no real boss fights as you've learned to know them; some choice sequences near the end of the game could be categorized as pseudo-boss fights, though. While I certainly didn't want Katherine Marlowe to suddenly turn into some bulletproof mutant like Lazarevic was in the end of Uncharted 2, the bitch met an embarrassing end unworthy of her awesome malice.

Some call Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Naughty Dog's counterpart to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - which kind of rings true in the sense that Sully and Drake are much like father and son, and of course, this is the third game in the series. But, I'd say Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is more like Naughty Dog's counterpart to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom - a great game just like the rest of 'em, no doubt, but one that is missing a decisive spark and perhaps even a little bit of that true spirit.

UPS
- Nathan Drake, Nathan Drake, Nathan Drake, and a tasty dose of Victor "God Damn!" Sullivan
- The audiovisuals of the franchise just keep getting better by several steps, as unbelievable as it is
- The best story and cast of characters in the series thus far
- Melee combat is fun
- The grenade trick is even more fun
- It's full of nasty predicaments and explosions... 

DOWNS
- ...The thing is avid players of Uncharted 2 are difficult to truly surprise
- The game feels incomplete, all the way from the gameplay refinement to the otherwise stellar story; there are interesting plot threads that are left wide open
- LONG, purely cinematic sequences, that will drive everyone except for the blindest fan out of their minds
- Some exceptionally enfuriating combat scenes that feel endless to boot
- No in-game awards, very few unlockable items

< 8.7 >

sunnuntai 29. tammikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 2009
AVAILABLE ON: PS3
DEVELOPER(S): Naughty Dog
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment
PLAYERS: 1-10

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune might not have helped the PlayStation 3's sales figures increase a whole lot, but when those figures did finally skyrocket, the PS3 exclusive was truly taken note of, and received as a promising start to something big by a wider, enthusiastic audience. In the end of 2008, Naughty Dog officially announced a sequel to the previous year's sleeper - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Somewhat unexpectedly, the game was named the most anticipated game of 2009 by several gaming medias. The game was finally released in late 2009 - and thus the true legend of Uncharted was born. Not only is Uncharted 2 better than the first installment in every possible way, it is also one of the best third-person action games of all time.

Temple of awesomeness

When a game begins with the lead character
bleeding like a stuck pig and being forced to climb
a train car that could fall off a cliff any second,
you just know you've hit pay dirt.
Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer, a couple of Nathan Drake's old acquaintances, present Drake with an opportunity to find the mythical Cintamani Stone, misplaced by Marco Polo himself back in 1292. After breaking into a museum in Istanbul to find the most important lead to the treasure, Drake is betrayed by Flynn - who actually works for a Serbian warlord obsessed with the stone - and left at the mercy of the local authorities. Months later, Chloe returns to Drake and convinces him to race Flynn and his boss for the Cintamani Stone.

Although I loved Uncharted, I wasn't really going that apeshit for Uncharted 2. I was in no rush to play the game at the time of its release, and I still don't own the game. At some point, I began avoiding to buy the same games as my friend, 'cause he's always ready to borrow me his games - even new ones, since he completes games like this even quicker than I do... well, not quite, but almost. Just weeks before Uncharted 2's release, he bought the original Uncharted. He didn't really know anything about the franchise, but he was convinced by previews that Uncharted 2 was going to be a great game, previews which I didn't watch or read myself. He called me after beating the game, and said he liked it a lot, we were pretty much unanimous on everything about it for once. Then, Uncharted 2 came. He finished it, then called me just like he did before and was like "Dude... you've got to try this game. The first one was good, but this... this is a fuckin' masterpiece." Still, I didn't believe him. He was right about one thing, I had to try it. So, I did. Initially, I didn't like it. The game looked phenomenal, but there was just something that bothered me about it. I must have been slapped around by the great god of reason in my sleep, 'cause the very next day it became clear to me - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves IS a masterpiece. But, is it a masterpiece in digital cinema or video game design? That's what those people not really familiar with the Uncharted experience keep asking. It is both.

Where's Solid Snake when we need him?
Once again, there's a story to be experienced in Uncharted 2. Even a classic love triangle in the midst of this crazy, chaotic treasure hunt. Yet, it is still the constant series of crazy mishaps that keep haunting our beloved main character - more loveable than ever - which steals the show. It doesn't matter what the story's about; OK, perhaps we need to know why we're doing this, and we need to know what our goal is, but twists in the mysterious, historic side of the plot are secondary to what situation Nate finds himself in next. Whether he's lying wounded in a train car just inches away from falling off a cliff, fighting for his life against Serbian soldiers in a building that's literally crumbling down from under them, trying to save a helpless guy's life out of the sheer kindness of his heart in a deadly crossfire, or scaling the walls of a moving train - to which he jumps in from a moving car. Yep, all of this, and much more happens in Uncharted 2. The ridiculously awesome, epic misadventures of one Nathan Drake came a long way in just two years - this game was made to bust jaws. Anyone who thought the level design in Drake's Fortune was a little flat, is in for a huge, positive surprise. In fact, Among Thieves is a prime example of modern level design at its very best.

The graphics... well, let me put it this way: Drake's Fortune is still a visually stunning game, and Among Thieves makes it look ugly. Everything about it is just seamless. Drake's Fortune had one problem: ugly close-ups of characters, complete with weird facial expressions. This problem is completely harvested. Not only is general facial modelling better, this game set a standard to the element which was not really toppled before L.A. Noire came along with MotionScan. The expressions on the characters' faces are just so damn real - doubled with the phenomenal voiceover work, watching Uncharted 2 unfold is like watching an insane version of Indiana Jones, with a body count that would make Rambo blush. It's just like a good movie... but, luckily, it has more than enough tense gameplay to count as a game instead of a movie, and actually, it can get quite damn challenging by modern standards on higher difficulty levels.

I smell a love triangle brewin'.
Greg Edmonson's score is louder, more constant and more epic than before. The music in this game represents the best and particularly, most memorable of this generation, just as the voiceover work. Nolan North lets it rip - I mean totally - as Nathan Drake ("Eh heh heh, aww, that's cute."), and the pairing of Steve Valentine and Claudia Black take this road to head into their mega-tasty rivalry in Dragon Age: Origins. Of course, Emily Rose reprises her role as the dreamy Elena, and Richard McGonagle reprises his as Sully - although his part in this game's events is unforgivably small. We want more Sully! The Scottish actor Graham McTavish makes one fine impression as the main villain, the psychopathic Lazarevic, who plays the lead role in the game's most awkward boss fight, but as far as storytelling goes, he's one mean mother - a great villain.

Basic gameplay hasn't changed a lot. It's just the daring level design which separates Among Thieves from Drake's Fortune by a long shot. Taking cover is a bit comfier and easier to manage, and general controls are better, although as you will surely see, occasionally oversensitive. Surfaces which you can climb are highlighted a bit better, without disturbing the game's perfect visuals. Stealth kills (or knockouts) are perfectly possible to execute, even recommendable at times, and the game rewards you for most of them by having enemies defeated silently yield extra ammo or grenades... as well as Trophies, as you probably expected me to say. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same. If you found Drake's Fortune an easy game to learn and a fun one to play, you're going to find Among Thieves just as easy to learn, and even more fun to play.

One of the toughest face-offs in the game.
What's funny is that when the first previews of Uncharted 3 emerged, critics were all over the idea of having a partner with you at all times, like it was a new feature. "Ooh, excellent, Uncharted goes virtual co-op!" "Never seen before!" and all that, although Uncharted 2 is almost wholly based on Nate working together as a team with two or three companions at a time. About 90% of the time, there's someone he can throw punchlines at, and share a body count with - and it's great. Friendly fire isn't possible - if it was, the game would be a nightmare. The companions never steal your cover, they gladly move out of the way each time they're in a spot reserved for you, and they're completely immortal. Of course, it's kinda funny that a grenade blowing up in their faces merely makes them fall over like they tripped or something, but just think about what the game would be like if you'd have to run up to them and heal them all the time, as if you hadn't got enough on your plate already. The gunfights in this game are SICK. There are turrets, tanks, choppers, and whatnot on the enemy's side. Gunning down a few mercenaries and blood-hungry ancient mutants in Drake's Fortune was child's play compared to what Among Thieves has in store for you.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an endless rollercoaster ride that doesn't really miss anything, nor does it have any sequences that have a one-time flame to them, as both Drake's Fortune and the next title Drake's Deception do. It's the perfect Uncharted adventure... with the exception of the final boss fight. I'm glad they added in occasional boss fights, to shoot the game even fuller of climaxes than it already is, but there's just something that rubs me the wrong way about the last crunch with Lazarevic. I can't really explain it, but it feels like it doesn't belong here, or that it should've been at least completely different in some way. It ends the game - almost, that is - on a bit of a sour note. Even if I could tell you what's wrong with it, I'm not eager to spoil the whole thing. Just needed to get that off my chest. Whatever it is, I guess Naughty Dog saw it too and decided to remove boss fights altogether from the next game.

Takin' the fight to the road!
The in-game awards are still very much intact, but each one does not count for a Trophy this time around, the simple reason being that there are so much more of them; the total number of hidden treasures alone is 101, while there were 61 of them in the first game. There are also several new weapons. There's piles of useless - yet cool - novelties to unlock with the points you get from gaining those in-game awards, so don't go thinking Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is some sort of a fling. You WILL go at it again, and do it gladly. If you're into multiplayer, Uncharted 2 has that, too... and way too many DLC multiplayer Trophies to go with the different modes. The retail version only has two easy multiplayer Trophies, which makes the Platinum Trophy a worthy goal. I can assure you, though - it's not an easy one to nail. Crushing Mode lives up to its name, and then a whole lot of some.

LittleBigPlanet 2 takes a certain kind of player to truly reveal its greatness. Metal Gear Solid 4 takes a Metal Gear fan. This is why I would name Uncharted 2: Among Thieves the most recommendable PlayStation 3 exclusive to a PS3 skeptic. It's highly cinematic, but packed to the brim with tense, simple gameplay to balance the scale to a gamer's favour. It is a masterpiece that you have to experience once... and I highly doubt you'll leave Nathan Drake's greatest adventure to date to that one run. 

UPS
- Nathan Drake, Nathan Drake - double that
- The accessible core gameplay of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is very much intact
- Even the most minor of flaws have been taken note of, and mostly scratched from the fray
- Stunning graphics, great music, one of the best voiceover casts there is
- Highly improved level design
- You literally never know what luck has in store for Nathan Drake; the game is consistently surprising, entertaining, and exciting 

DOWNS
- Not enough Victor "God Damn!" Sullivan
- Oversensitive controls occasionally lead into fateful steps over cliffsides and missed jumps...
- ...Which, in turn, might lead you back to some extremely awkward checkpoints
- The ending's a bit lame, mostly due to a strangely disturbing final boss fight
- The non-English subtitles are now completely retarded, and you cannot change the language without changing the PS3 operating system's language

< 9.5 >

REVIEW - Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: November 2007
AVAILABLE ON: PS3
DEVELOPER(S): Naughty Dog
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment
PLAYERS: 1

By 1996, Naughty Dog had been around in some shape or form for 12 years, but their first true hit was released around that time - Crash Bandicoot for the Sony PlayStation. A platformer with a titular character that was somewhat of a mascot for Sony as Sonic the Hedgehog was for Sega, and as Mario was for Nintendo. I believe you all know the story. After giving up on their involvement with Crash, Naughty Dog went on to create the successful Jak and Daxter series. At some point, Naughty Dog became driven by a new ambition; to break out of their overtly family-friendly mold. They wanted to create a bombastic action game that wouldn't be shunned by older players as just another kids' game. When the PlayStation 3 came out in 2006, Naughty Dog announced Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Not much was known about this game, except that it was to be a highly cinematic action game deeply influenced by the adventures of Indiana Jones. As the release date of November 2007 drew closer, the hype grew stronger. Up 'til that point, the PlayStation 3 hadn't been doing too well when it came to exclusive titles. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was greeted by universal acclaim, and it was the beginning of one of today's biggest and most popular action franchises. Since it's so accessible and easy to play, many of my friends have asked me what's so special about Uncharted. My answer: a lot of things. After five years, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is still one of the best PlayStation 3 exclusives out there... not to mention one of the best looking ones.

Raiders of the lost art of simple gameplay

Nathan Drake - perhaps a little overambitious, but multi-skilled and extremely resourceful treasure hunter with an amazing wit - is out to find El Dorado, the lost city of gold, using a diary left behind by his supposed ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. Accompanied by his best friend and mentor Victor "Sully" Sullivan and the beautiful reporter Elena Fisher, Nate embarks on an epic adventure involving a rival band of treasure hunters, as well as the deadly, unearthly guardians of El Dorado.

Our amazing male leads...
So, it's a quiet afternoon in early 2009. I'm extremely depressed and I think to myself: I have a very strict, tight budget, and I need some new game to keep me going. Well, I march into the local GameStop as I always do in this situation, and check out if there's anything cheap I could sink my fangs into. There's this game called Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I know absolutely squat about it; I've just heard the name. I go back home, scout the net a little bit, and find nothing but rave reviews of the game. A sequel's in the works, actually... interesting. So, I download the demo from the PlayStation Network. I love it. I return to GameStop the next day and buy the game, it's only 25 euros and then some. I return home, insert the disc into my PS3, and the next thing I remember is beating the game... and wanting to go at it again... after watching the whole of my Indiana Jones DVD collection first. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is an amazing game, and also a rare first installment, 'cause it hasn't been outdated by its sequels all that much.

The story's good, but if you're being honest to yourself, the story of Uncharted doesn't really matter. I mean, you don't necessarily have to know the purpose behind each twist and turn in the storyline - you don't have to really squint and struggle to keep up with what's happening. Nathan Drake gets thrown in such epic stipulations you don't really care what's going on, as long as it keeps going on... as well as Nate's hilarious monologue. Nathan Drake is one of this generation's greatest action heroes; although he's clearly an exaggerated character when it comes to his ridiculously amazing ability to scale walls - like Spider-Man on steroids - everything else on the side shows that he's human. He curses at sticky situations and constantly rants to himself, or to his companion if he happens to have one, he stumbles while running, sweats and breathes heavily, and truly fears for his life in most of the game's situations. I guess he could carry the game all by himself, but he's backed up by some of the greatest supporting characters in the history of cinematic gaming, the greatest of which is Victor Sullivan - kind of underutilized until the third game in the series.

...And the girl of my dreams, all in the same game.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was one of the first games that truly demonstrated what the PS3 is graphically capable of at its best, and seriously, after five years, it still looks awesome, especially to one who's not yet acquainted with the more recent installments. It's held back, the level design ain't nearly as adventureous as it was to become, and although much good work was done on the facial modelling, all the way to detailed expression, there are some horrid instances of the characters' eyes looking like they're gonna pop out, with their eye sockets widening well out of proportion. If you can get over some really weird faces and "stale" (how can I say that?) level design for a little shy of a half of the game, you're going to love how Uncharted: Drake's Fortune looks. It's artificially stunning, dynamic, and full of details.

This was Greg Edmonson's first video game. Being most famous for composing music for the TV shows King of the Hill and Firefly, there were no realistic expectations towards the guy's work at all, especially since Uncharted was a new franchise. From the beginning, it's made clear where this score's influences spawn from and how great and epic it's gonna be; the Uncharted theme is one of the most recognizable theme songs today, and when I think about it, Uncharted is also one of the only modern game franchises that HAS a theme song. Musical cues are right on the spot, great sound effects take care of the rest... as well as remarkably good voice acting.

In November 2007, two games came out with Nolan North in a starring role - both ended up being the first installments in soon-to-be best-selling franchises. The other was Assassin's Creed, the other was of course Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It's no wonder Nolan North's been in just about every game released since - the guy's phenomenal. He uses ad-libbing for Nate, which is totally unheard of in this business, and makes the character seem 100% real. Emily Rose does a fine job as my polygonal daydream Elena Fisher, and one must never forget to mention Richard McGonagle as Sully. As a lifelong fan of Simon Templeman's work, I must also mention him, but his performance left me surprisingly cold in this game. He's less the root of all evil, and more of an annoying bastard.

Nate doesn't know how to use a doorknob.
Explaining how Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - or any Uncharted game - works, is easy, but it's not so easy to explain what's so great about it, since people have so varying tastes and high tendencies to doubt. Think of any old school, 2D action game, in which you made your way from the beginning of the level to the end, collecting weapons on the way - Contra. Contra's a prime example. You just shot anyone that dared step or fly or crawl in your way, and ran for the goal. Uncharted is exactly the same - with fancy 3D cinematics, but it's exactly the same. No fancy weapon upgrades to be bought from some virtual store and installed with a lot of hard currency involved, no bonus objectives to be completed (except for Trophies, of course... one of the earliest games to have them patched in), no complex menus, nothing you've busted your balls to learn in every action game released during the decade. It's just ACTION - as visual and bombastic as it comes. You have three weapon slots, each of which is assigned to a direction on the D-Pad. One's for one-handed weapons, one's for two-handed weapons, and one's for grenades - which are easier to aim and throw than in most 3D games released before, including the almighty Resident Evil 4. The PlayStation 3 control scheme makes weapon switching easy, all you need to really worry about is getting to decent cover in time and hope that your aim's good - 'cause the firefights can get pretty sticky, especially on higher difficulty levels.

It ain't all about headshots, though. A great deal of the game is about puzzles - which are way too easy since the game has no patience at all when it comes to hints you cannot turn off - and Nathan's tendency (I refuse to call it an actual need) to scale walls and whatever's in the environment instead of looking for a way to bust open a more obvious and safe path to his destination. This game was not made for people scared of heights - or maybe it was made for them in particular, I don't know. Anyway, seeing Nathan hang from a flimsy rope and swing along a partly corrupted castle wall to make it to a window on the opposite side of the stronghold with a hundred feet of air beneath him makes you wish for people to just leave their doors open.

The sweeter side of vehicular combat in this game.
Straightforward action and some of the most epic spelunking sessions you've ever seen leave room for a couple of more elements. Uncharted was made with taking full advantage of the PS3's features in mind, that's why there are a few Quick Time Events - melee combat is based on good timing and reflexes, as well - as well as perhaps one five-second lapse of Sixaxis use during the whole game, which is just pointless filler. It's like "oh, look, we have this fancy-ass Sixaxis which is totally lame and has got no use at all in any game, perhaps we could fit in one brief sequence 'cause we feel sorry for the damn thing!" It's not a flaw, it's kind of an amusing distraction from a time game developers really didn't know what to do with the Sixaxis.

What are the flaws of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune? They do exist. The game has awkward pacing. The intro sequence is all about combat basics, but it'll take hours for the next combat sequence to turn up. There's a lot of those easy-as-hell puzzles and in-depth introduction of the main characters in between. It's great at first, but not that great on subsequent playthroughs. The second half of the game is almost all about combat. It feels like you're thrown from one ridiculous situation to another, and both the puzzles and the spot-on dialogue, even the climbing, take a backseat. I'm also not a huge fan of the vehicle levels in the middle of the game - sometimes it feels like the chemistry between Nate and his companions is the only thing keeping me going for something better. Last, we have the lack of boss fights - which is actually a good thing, they don't really belong here, but the only real boss fight in the game, the final battle, could be better. They had all the opportunity to make the fight count for all the missing boss fights, but it's actually just a run-of-the-mill "catch the bad guy" type of fight, which can easily be over in two minutes if you rule at the game. At least this is what I felt when I first completed the game - having a real fight for your life in the end of Uncharted 2 against a superhuman kind of made me miss this more realistic battle.

Back off, Mr. T. This fool's got a gun.
I mentioned before that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was one of the first games to have Trophies patched in - PS3 Trophies were invented nine months after the game's initial release - and it shows. The criteria for each Trophy is quite generic, and actually each Trophy is based on an award within the game. They mostly involve kills with a certain weapon type, beating the game on each difficulty level, and finding all of the hidden treasures, searching for which is damn fun and made even better by the fact that there's a counter for the treasures for each individual chapter in the game. You don't have to replay the whole game to go after the missing treasures, you can pick any incomplete chapter from the main menu. The awards (all of which directly yield Trophies) give you points, which you can use to purchase unlockable bonuses, such as concept art and alternate attires for Nate (which don't show in cutscenes, mind you). Even though the game is so cinematic in nature, it packs a gratuitous amount of replay value. It even packs it just BECAUSE it is so cinematic in nature; it's like a great action-adventure you love to watch over and over again. Kind of like Raiders of the Lost Ark; now why did I immediately think of that flick?

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is what I'd call a true modern classic, a beautiful start to a beautiful franchise. Assuming you've never gotten familiar with the Uncharted series and want to start from the beginning, you're going to find one damn great game in Drake's Fortune. It's a little outdated, but like I said, not much - it's still an amazing experience, which paved the way for a not only even better, but more daring game.

UPS
- Nathan Drake
- Nate, Sully and Elena form one of the greatest teams in video game history as the game progresses
- The game is simple to play, very accessible and easy to learn
- The game looks and sounds nearly flawless, even after five years on the market; extremely high production values for a new franchise
- Lots of unlockables for the most enthusiastic players, last of which are left for those worthy enough to beat Crushing Mode (haven't been able to, myself) 

DOWNS
- The pacing's off when it comes to fair division between combat and adventure
- The puzzles are too easy, and even if you turn the hint system off, there's usually something or someone in the environment just blurting out the solution before you can even think things through
- The controls are occasionally clumsy; taking cover is unnecessarily hard in all the wrong situations, and trick jumping in certain areas can certainly spell your downfall
- Non-English versions of the game have crappy subtitles, which are based on the written script instead of what's actually happening in the game; lots of misinterpretations, which annoy and amuse the player at the same time

< 9.1 >

perjantai 27. tammikuuta 2012

Stand by for 4.0

Enough jabbering, the first real review(s) of the year will be published during this weekend, and all is finally going to slide back into the right track. It's been a while since I wrote one single review, so I've been studying my old reviews on the side. It's fun and encouraging to see how I've made progress as a writer during a couple of years, but there's always the next level. I've made a lot of mistakes and I'll probably go on making them, but that's part of this line of "work". I can still keep on trying to get better, though, and that is why VGMania is going 4.0.

Replaying it. Again. Why? Because it rules.
The general look of the blog will not change, for the time being. I personally like the logo and the colour scheme, and I've had positive feedback for the latter. I can't even imagine going back to black; hell, I can't even remember what the blog looked like when it was all black. I've made some subtle changes during the last couple of months which you might or might not have noticed: each screenshot has a white, shredded picture frame which kind of welds them to the background, it's a stylistic choice. Also, I've added a "Now Playing" gadget to the side, a short list of games that I'm actively playing. You can make your own assumptions of what's going to be reviewed next by checking it out each time there's a silent period. As I'm writing this, Trine 2 is the only game on the list that has not already been reviewed, and I can tell you this much when it comes to this weekend's subject: it's not it. The Now Playing list will be updated weekly, on Mondays or Tuesdays.

To go back to the mistakes I mentioned, a couple of choice games will be re-reviewed some time in the future - not because I'd like to re-evaluate them, that's lame because first impressions are what matter most. I must admit there are a couple of games which I have not experienced thoroughly enough to review them fairly; I've been in a hurry and it has showed in the reviews, perhaps not to you but to me. I don't think the ratings will change by a lot, but the content and tone of the written reviews might. If this gets done some day - I have a lot of more important business on my plate - the old reviews of those games will of course be deleted, forever.

Finally, to the most important subject and the actual purpose of going 4.0. After new year's, I toyed around with the idea of totally renovating the layout and style of my reviews. Thoroughly going through all those bits of ideas in my head is a part of the reason why it has taken me so long to start reviewing games again - imagining some single ideas becoming reality has practically rendered my old style garbage, however I've not come up with the perfect total layout. Tomorrow, the Ratings page will change, and starting tomorrow, I'll adapt a whole new rating system that I think is better than the one I've had thus far, and which I think will not have much of a hard effect on the existing Top/Bottom lists.

The cover of a fairly recent issue
of Pelit. So much is lost... but their
system's still good. Good enough
for me to take advantage of.
The very original rating system - never seen on the live blog, just bits of it - was influenced by a long-defunct Finnish video game magazine called Super Power. There was - and still is - another Finnish magazine called Pelit (Games). Just to stay alive, they took on console games in their later years, but back when I read the magazine, it solely focused on PC (and other home computer) games. Although I was never a PC gamer, the magazine was ultra-stylish, its old editors were true, passionate professionals and therefore the magazine was a fun read. They had a very neat rating system back in the day, and it has carried over to the new generation, however the reviews of the newer, younger editors are simply not interesting to read. Sometimes they're even downright ridiculous in their tone.

I'm not here to tell you about the magazine. Remember when I thought about adapting Game Revolution's +/- system? The idea has plagued my mind ever since, and while I've read some of my old reviews, I've thought to myself, many times, how great that system would work in game X... but I don't want to change the actual ratings! ...Now where did I get the idea that I'd have to do that? I stumbled on an old issue of Pelit and the perfect answer to my problems was right there. For years, they've used a +/- system, BUT given the game a numerical rating similar to mine (0-100). I don't have to pour all of my old reviews through some filter. The only thing I have to be prepared for, is perhaps some _small_ adjustment to the Top/Bottom lists, or perhaps making whole new lists, which is not a very hard or time-consuming project at all - I've been thinking of expanding them anyway.

I know this is all kind of confusing, but I think tomorrow's (or Sunday's) review will explain how the reviews will look from now on in itself. I also think the game franchise I've picked is perfect for demonstrating the new system. I hope you'll check the first review of the year out, and if you've got no comment on the game itself, I hope you'll smash a brick of feedback on my face about the new system.

keskiviikko 25. tammikuuta 2012

Alan Wake DLC Guide

Ilkka Villi as Alan Wake.
In the last DLC guide I'll be doing for an extended while, I'll return to the disturbing (and disturbed) world of Alan Wake.

If you're from Finland, it doesn't matter whether you loved or hated Remedy Entertainment's Alan Wake. It was one of the most internationally anticipated games of the last decade, and the best-promoted Finnish video game in history. Although the game didn't quite cash in on the huge expectations that were piled up during its whopping seven-year developmental period, this psychological action thriller inspired by the cinematic works of David Lynch and the literature of Stephen King has retained the status of a cultural phenomenon in my home country.

Those of you who haven't read my review of Alan Wake from July 2011, or have been living under a rock for the past few years, let me recap the plot for you in the most mean, spoiler-rich way I can possibly muster up in just a couple of paragraphs - you see, you have no sense of reading this guide if you don't know the plot thus far. So, if you haven't seen Alan Wake through, and are planning to (it's coming to the PC next month), I strongly advise you to just check the conclusive ratings and let the content be.

Alan Wake is a best-selling author, who's been suffering from a writer's block for a few years. He also has some problems with anger management and has a history of substance abuse. His loving wife Alice takes Alan to a vacation to the small town of Bright Falls, located somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, supposedly to somewhat repair their marriage. In reality, Alice smuggles a typewriter along, imagining Bright Falls as the perfect setting to get Alan's creative juices flowing again. Alan doesn't like being tricked and runs out on his wife, who then mysteriously disappears, apparently drowning in Cauldron Lake, which surrounds the Wakes' cabin on Divers' Isle. Alan dives into the dark waters to rescue his wife. A week later, Alan comes to in a crashed car with a bandage on his head, with no recollection of the last seven days. The already strange town of Bright Falls is turning into hell on Earth before Alan's eyes, exactly like a nightmarish horror story he's been playing around with since his last book. In the dark, anything is possible. Alan desperately searches for Alice while on the run from the law... and worse.

In the end, it is revealed that Alice has been captured by an entity Alan only knows as "the Dark Presence", and everything that has been happening is based on a manuscript Alan wrote in a trance-like state in the week between Alice's disappearance and the car crash, manipulated by the Dark Presence. Alan realizes that the only way to save Alice is to defeat the Dark Presence, and write an ending to the story... an ending in which the protagonist would save the damsel in distress, but be lost forever in the Dark Place between reality and fiction, with a dark reflection of himself named Mr. Scratch taking his place in the real world.

Although the mystery that carried Alan Wake well over a half of the game was revealed within the confines of the game, the story hit what Alan himself would call a sudden stop, with good Alan being trapped and bad Alan making his way into the real world to steal his identity. The game ended just like the show Twin Peaks, in which the real Dale Cooper was trapped inside the Black Lodge, and his identity was stolen in the real world by the evil spirit known as Bob. Unlike David Lynch, Remedy refused to end the story in such a depressing (yet awesome) cliffhanger.

The story of Alan Wake was continued with two downloadable episodes retaining the game's TV mystery-like nature; the first one continued straight where the game left off, and the second was a "sequel" to the first; the whole bundle's kind of like a double episode. So, basically, you can't have one without the other, they're two halves of the same apple. So, are they any good? How much does this downloadable content pack in terms of storytelling? The short answer is that if you're a serious fan of Alan Wake, you can't live without 'em. Too vague? Well, here's the long story.

----------

THE SIGNAL
RELEASED: July 2010
COST: 560 Microsoft Points

Alan finds himself caught in the events that took place right when he and Alice first came to Bright Falls, only everything's distorted. The world around Alan seems to change all the time, as if someone's observing and perhaps even dictating his every move with the desperate intent of getting him killed. Somehow Alan manages to contact Thomas Zane, who gives him a GPS signal to follow, attempting to pull him out of the surreal nightmare which Alan cannot possibly control.

First, I replayed Alan Wake, which I recently bought, just to bring myself up to speed with what's been going on. Since I didn't have Achievements for the game synced up, and there was the choice of going at the game on a harder difficulty level, the replay started out very nicely, but nearing the end of the game, I was begging for it to end. Alan Wake is seriously a game to experience, but like I said way back when I wrote the review, the game really isn't from the most replayable end. Even the Achievements or a more formidable challenge didn't help, I was extremely bored of the game when I finally bested that tornado and sunk to the bottom of Cauldron Lake. It wasn't the most graceful way to head into the DLC, but I guess I was pretty stoked. I was angry at the game and its mechanics, but I couldn't wait what fate had in store for Alan Wake. How would the story continue? Would we break out of the Dark Place and go after Mr. Scratch? Would Alan finally reunite with Alice? Would we finally see Zane out of that stupid, oversized diver suit? No, no and no. Neither one of the episodes really carries the story forward - what Remedy did here was that they took threads that were already laid out in the open, and gave us two episodes to demonstrate how Alan's doing in the aftermath of the game's ending. Both episodes are part of the same ongoing subplot. If you want any form of closure to the story of the creepy Mr. Scratch, you'll have to wait for American Nightmare. If you simply want to entertain yourself with two hours of the most surreal adventuring in Alan Wake's loafers you've seen, you might want to check out both The Signal and The Writer.

In this case, being the first one sucks. The Signal has a few climaxes of its own, including one hell of a unique boss fight in the end, but it's much more of a brainless tube run than The Writer. You know, just run forward, don't care about the world that changes shape around you all of the time - just "follow the signal", shoot a lot of dudes, and type a lot of words to help you through it all. Yeah, that's right, they incorporated the system from the end of Alan Wake to this whole package; you have to light up different simple commands or substantives with your flashlight to "type" them, and they become reality. For example, "pump" results in the spawning of a pump-action shotgun, and "Boom!" results in a devastating, spontaneous explosion. I think they went a bit too far with this - it was a great idea to be included as a surreal sequence in the game, not the basis of gameplay in the DLC in my opinion. The actual flaws in gameplay are explained by what's been obvious since the game was released: trick jumping and dodges with perfect precision do not go hand in hand with Alan Wake. I think this one proves a point, and The Writer went on to prove it further - yet, The Writer is the more interesting episode to play from every aspect.

The thing that clearly separates the two episodes is the difference in collectable items. TV sets that constantly stream Alan's descent into madness and some manuscript pages are still in, but only as plot items. There are alarm clocks and cardboard cutouts of Alan's friends and family hidden all over the terrain in The Signal, but honestly, it takes a lot of patience to really explore, there are Taken on your ass everywhere. There's a total of eight Achievements for you to bust an artery with. You can't choose a difficulty level, and I must say The Signal is quite hard compared to the only moderately challenging content on the game disc, even if you choose not to explore for collectables.

In a nutshell, The Signal is essential because you wouldn't get a minute of the better episode to come if it weren't for it. It's a bit boring, but it does belong. I'm giving it a little extra for the song choice - "No, I Don't Remember" by Anna Ternheim - which fits the atmosphere like a glove.

RATING : 7.9

----------

THE WRITER
RELEASED: October 2010
COST: 560 Microsoft Points

Alan figures out the truth behind his desperate fight for survival; "he" is actually a half of his true personality, the one who wants to return to the real world and see Alice again, while his other, self-destructive half is constantly imagining a story in which Alan would surely die. With Thomas' help, Alan makes his way through the nightmare of his own imagination to where it all started, the cabin on Cauldron Lake, and attempts to become whole again.

The Writer pulls some serious Silent Hill 2 moves on us grateful players. If you thought The Signal was weird, The Writer will take you on a cerebral rollercoaster ride. At times, it feels like Remedy's grip on the story is slipping, and they're being weird for the sake of being weird, but those feelings will come to pass, eventually. The Writer is near excellent in its twists and turns, and it has better climaxes than the last 20 minutes of the game itself. The "typing" system and the usual core problems of Alan Wake rear head a few times in quite ugly occurrences, but the plot has power. Again, it doesn't really lead us anywhere when it comes to the unsolved mysteries of the universe or Alan's personal redemption, but it serves as a quite good ending to the game, and gives us one serious cliffhanger to chew on until the next installment, which is now obviously on the way.

Since I explained the most important stuff already in The Signal's case and the gameplay hasn't really changed here, I'll wrap this up quick. Copies of "Night Springs - The Video Game" for the Xbox 360 are up for grabs - can't even imagine what that would be all about in real life - and they're the only collectables within this episode, perfectly enough. However, there are more Achievements to be had here, and they're just as frustrating as in the game itself and The Signal; how about getting through the final boss fight without dropping to critical health? ...How about shoving a whole pineapple up your ass? They're not impossible, not even difficult, but very, very frustrating to get. They seriously entice you to replay the episode at a better date, which is still not a very fun task. That much still hasn't changed. Here's to hoping Remedy will pay a little more attention to replay value with future Alan Wake titles.

Nevertheless, The Writer is just as much of an experience (one-time or not) as any episode in the game Alan Wake, and it needs The Signal for a counterpart - it made The Signal worthy, if you will. The song choice here's not quite as good, though; I love Depeche Mode, but this song "Darkest Star" isn't one of their best tunes.

RATING : 8.4

torstai 19. tammikuuta 2012

Mass Effect 2 DLC Guide

Mass Effect 2 is one of my favourite video games of all time... BUT it simply wouldn't be the same without the story of the first game backing it up, or the altogether fantastic character development of Commander Shepard throughout. How BioWare handled importing a Mass Effect save file to Mass Effect 2 totally changed people's perspective on role-playing. Every major decision you made in Mass Effect had consequences in Mass Effect 2, even while the games were so different, and it's the damndest thing that every major decision you made in both games will have consequences in the upcoming Mass Effect 3. How to get the most out of the experience? There's a LOT of DLC available for Mass Effect 2 to make your Shepard's story EVEN deeper while you're heading into Mass Effect 3. This isn't your basic, run-of-the-mill downloadable content - most of it is very essential, totally belonging content that will do what most DLC fails to do... it makes the game even better than it originally was.

Since the PlayStation 3 retail includes most of this stuff by default, it's been called the greatest version of Mass Effect 2 there is - however, the PlayStation 3 version lacks one of the most important spices of the Mass Effect franchise, the option to import the very same Shepard you played as in the first game. The original Mass Effect was never released on the PS3, and it never will, since it was published by Microsoft and they never passed the rights to the game to the current publisher EA. Why? 'Cause they're bastards, that's why. When have you last seen Microsoft willingly sacrifice something except for user comfort?

This stuff is way more essential for the PC and Xbox 360 versions... but it is also very expensive. Getting every story-driven add-on for the game costs 3680 Microsoft Points, which converts to $46 and €42.80. It's quite sick - I paid €6.80 for the pre-owned retail at GameStop. However, I gotta love stupid people. The previous owner hadn't used his redeem code for the Cerberus Network bundle, so I took advantage of their ignorance and used it to end up with free stuff worth of no less than 1200 Microsoft Points. I saved almost 14 euros, and got some very essential DLC that made me love Mass Effect 2 even more than I did before, for absolutely free.

No DLC is perfect. There's always something to bitch about, and that's one of the reasons I feel obligated to take on the enormous pile of Mass Effect 2 DLC and tell you PC and Xbox 360 owners what you should definitely get, and what you should reflect on a little first. Let's start with Cerberus Network, and at least try to explain what it's all about.

---------- 

"The name's Zaeed, and this is what you'll get
for downloading the God damn Cerberus
Network
!"
CERBERUS NETWORK
Released: January 2010
Cost: 1200 BioWare Points (PC), €14.95 (PS3), 1200 Microsoft Points (Xbox 360)

To put it simply, Cerberus Network is a DLC and news client for Mass Effect 2. To put it less simply, Cerberus Network comes with free, exclusive DLC you can't get without installing the client. Needless to say that despite of its salty price, Cerberus Network is a must-have for any true Mass Effect fan. Every new retail copy of Mass Effect 2 comes with a code for the bundle, and as I said, also some used copies that have had ignorant / stupid / uncaring people for previous owners. I was lucky enough to nail this sort of used copy, and got more free stuff than I could have ever asked for in a case concerning a game on the Xbox 360. The only question remains: would I pay 1200 Points (€14) for the content the Cerberus Network comes complete with by default? I'm not so sure about that.

The Cerberus Network first presents itself as a news channel in the main menu of the game. Take a look at the list of downloadable content after installing the client, and you will notice a lot of free, exclusive stuff will turn up. First up, is Normandy Crash Site - a small assignment that only involves Shepard investigating the remains of his ill-fated ship, collecting his dead crew's dog tags and having flashbacks that were made with some serious service for fans of the first game in mind. The actual goal of the assignment is to place an Alliance monument to the site, in memory of those who lost their lives in the intro sequence of the game. A quite cool little sidequest, all in all. No action at all, but deep dramatic value.

Zaeed - The Price of Revenge is more like it. Not only does this add-on come complete with an extra Achievement, but also one hell of an extra character for your squad - a horribly scarred, gloomy, cynical no-bullshit mercenary by the name of Zaeed Massani. The only possible problem I have with the character is that the only times you can actually communicate with him through traditional dialogue are when you recruit him, and when you take on his loyalty mission. He just utters some random comment when you try to talk to him aboard the Normandy. I'm hoping for a little more depth to his ultra-awesome character in Mass Effect 3.

The Firewalker pack was probably made with those fans of Mass Effect that loved the Mako sequences in the original game to bits in mind. Firewalker does not bring any new Achievements to the table, but several assignments involving a hover tank by the name of M-44 Hammerhead, which is like a more controllable and comfortable, lighter and airborne version of the Mako. Some of the missions are quite OK, but they're easy and boring, since most of them deal with the simple high speed navigation of multi-layered levels rather than any straight-on action. You can't save while you're flying the Hammerhead (this might turn out a problem in the Overlord DLC), and you can fail at least one of the assignments without a chance to try it again. I wouldn't pay for a stand-alone version.

PlayStation 3 owners have exclusive access to the interactive comic book Mass Effect: Genesis via the Cerberus Network, which serves as a virtual PS3 version of the original Mass Effect. They are able to make the most major decisions of the original game in Genesis, which makes it quite essential for PS3 owners... however, Genesis does not come for free for PC and Xbox 360 owners, and we have no actual use for it, it's for the most serious completists only.

Finally, the Cerberus Network naturally comes with exclusive equipment, including equipment standard for Cerberus officers and a devastating heavy weapon called an Arc Projector - don't leave home without it! In addition, there's a whole bunch of equipment that can be accessed via the Cerberus Network, once you have additional codes for them, or you've met some other criteria to gain the rights to purchase them; for example, a futuristic version of the Blood Dragon Armor for Dragon Age: Origins is available if you've got a copy of Dragon Age: Origins registered for ANY platform. I was ecstatic about this, but it's kinda stupid that you can't strip Shepard of his helmet if you equip him with the Blood Dragon Armor.

Cerberus Network is a brilliant concept... business-wise. The bundle does manage to nudge Mass Effect 2 into a slightly better, deeper direction, but a price that's the same as that of many full-length Arcade games available on LIVE is way too high.

RATING : 8.0

----------

Now you see her... now you don't. And now
you're dead.
KASUMI - STOLEN MEMORY
Released: April 2010
Cost: 560 BioWare Points (PC), 560 Microsoft Points (Xbox 360)

Cerberus has procured the services of one Kasumi Goto, a master thief from the shadows of the Citadel. In return for her help, Kasumi wants Shepard's aid in the heist of a lifetime, which she has planned for years to avenge her partner's death and retrieve a VR device which contains his memories.

Kasumi - Stolen Memory is exactly like Mark of the Assassin for Dragon Age II. The storyline is similar, it advances similarly, and it introduces a great character whose appearance is way too limited. Kasumi certainly is a member of your squad throughout the game once you've recruited her, unlike Tallis whose appearance was limited to the add-on, but just like you cannot truly converse with Zaeed, you cannot engage in dialogue with her either. However, you'll see that she's far from hollow once you get to her loyalty mission, which might just be one of the best single assignments in the whole game. It's different from all standard missions, actually it's kind of James Bond-ish; it's like a whole new side to the Mass Effect experience, and I like it a lot.

This one-hour mission is well over a half of smart espionage with just a hidden pistol at your side. The last 20 minutes comprise of some explosive gunfights in the traditional style of Mass Effect 2, complete with a boss fight straight out of Metal Gear in which Kasumi truly shows her worth. The plot is quite good, and although Kasumi's made out to be such a hollow character by her limited presence in the rest of the game, the dramatic conclusion proves BioWare could've went to places with her. What I said about Zaeed rings true for Kasumi as well: I hope BioWare "fixes" her in the next game... IF she'll be in it. I bet she will, she's that popular, and Zaeed has already been confirmed for Mass Effect 3, so...

So! 560 Points - that's a pretty reasonable price for a good, not to mention unique character for your squad, who has an entertaining loyalty mission to boot. The only possible flaws I can come up with here is the assignment's short length, Kasumi's reluctance for some real dialogue, and our somewhat limited control over Shepard's actions. Stolen Memory is a prime example of classy, minor DLC.

RATING : 9.0

----------

Creepy.
OVERLORD
Released: June 2010
Cost: 560 BioWare Points (PC), 560 Microsoft Points (Xbox 360)

An experimental VI goes rogue on the planet Aite, silencing all communications in a local Cerberus research base. The sole survivor of the base informs Shepard what he is actually dealing with: an "Overlord", Cerberus' attempt to fuse a human being with a virtual intelligence.

Let's break down some facts, first. Overlord comes with two new Achievements for your whoring pleasure, and rights to use the M-44 Hammerhead, if you don't already have the Firewalker add-on - the Hammerhead's a very important part of the mission. The mission is over two hours long; its length alone makes it a good purchase for just 560 Points. That doesn't mean it's the best DLC available for Mass Effect 2, though.

The plot reminds me a lot of Brett Leonard's movie adaptation of Stephen King's The Lawnmower Man. In the movie, a scientist attempts to enhance his gardener's low intelligence with drugs and virtual reality. Eventually the gardener becomes so intelligent and virtually omnipotent that he attempts to take over the whole research. In this plot, we need to stop a man who's been fused with a VI and has become a conduit for a kind of a computer virus. He's autistic and therefore has no standard human control over his mischeavous actions.

Running through Overlord is a bit boring. The plot's OK, but the Hammerhead sequences are forced into it and they're not too entertaining this time around, and all in all, it could end sooner altogether to save some face. The boss fight against the "VI Man" is simply enfuriating. Overlord has no space of its own in the whole plot of Mass Effect like the others of its kind and size have. Finally, Overlord comes complete with some dastardly sound effects; the VI is constantly yelling at you, throughout interior areas, in some really high-pitched computerized voice.

Overlord's a good buy for Achievement completists - one of the new Achievements is automatic upon completion, one takes perhaps ten additional minutes of your time to unlock. It's also a good buy if you've already done everything else in the game, and are looking for a good way to pass a couple of more hours in the Mass Effect 2 galaxy. Otherwise, it's by far the least interesting content the Mass Effect 2 DLC library has to offer. There are people who couldn't disagree more, it seems.

RATING : 7.5

----------

The hottest blue chick in the history of science
fiction returns to bring us DLC perfection.
LAIR OF THE SHADOW BROKER
Released: September 2010
Cost: 800 BioWare Points (PC), 800 Microsoft Points (Xbox 360)

Cerberus comes across some information that might help Liara T'Soni to finally track down the mysterious information dealer known as the Shadow Broker, who has captured her drell partner, Feron. Shepard brings this information to Liara and the asari prepares for a search and rescue mission, only to have her plans thwarted by an assassin. Shepard and Liara team up once more to take down the assassin, venture deep into the lair of the Shadow Broker, discover his well kept identity and save Feron.

It's been called the biggest and best piece of DLC in the history of DLC... and it is exactly that. Is 800 Points a bit steep to you? It would usually be very steep to me, too... but after finishing Lair of the Shadow Broker, I must say I would've gladly paid more for it just to experience it. You can safely expect a lot of jabs at the original Mass Effect, all the way from gameplay elements to the plot - I bet you can get the most out of this add-on by having a romantic history with Liara. This time around, I didn't, but I still had a lot of fun, every single moment. Lair of the Shadow Broker is a mandatory purchase if you care about half of the whole story. Those who buy the game for the PlayStation 3 get this one for free on the game disc - this is the one single time I have to silently bow to those people. Well played, sirs.

I couldn't even imagine replaying Mass Effect 2 without Lair of the Shadow Broker installed. Here's the deal: they introduced this "Shadow Broker" in Mass Effect via early dialogue, and I instantly found the mysterious entity very intriguing. I was expecting to have my own dealings with the Shadow Broker later on in the game, as he/she/they was mentioned a few more times nearing the end, but the Shadow Broker was never seen or heard from again before Mass Effect 2. It was disappointing. What was even more disappointing was Liara's rant regarding the Shadow Broker in the Mass Effect 2 retail; once again we never saw the Shadow Broker. It felt like we're given a taste of a good plot, and then just slammed face first to the floor with the fact that we're probably never going to actually find out who or what the Shadow Broker actually is. Secondly, even though my first Shepard used to have a thing with Liara, the dialogue between them written for the original Mass Effect 2 left me very cold. It was hostile, distant, and it didn't go anywhere. The Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC fixes these problems. The Shadow Broker's identity is finally revealed, and Shepard and Liara's past friendship - or romantic relationship - is seriously revisited. It took me four hours to beat this baby, and like I said, I enjoyed every damn passing minute of it.

Yeah, so storywise, Lair of the Shadow Broker is simply incredible, and it's perhaps closest to the original Mass Effect style of writing you can get without copying some old idea and modifying it a little. But, it also has amazing level design on its side. A burning office building smack in the middle of the Illium metropolis, a ship exterior on a planet famous for its constant thunderstorms, that very same ship's interior, a five-star hotel, some crime scene investigation in the style of poor man's L.A. Noire and finally, a cab chase in the style of futuristic Grand Theft Auto (!) across Illium. Those who found Mass Effect 2 a tad too repetitive in the long run will be happy to know that this action-packed monster of downloadable content will constantly surprise and amaze you. It comes with a total of five new Achievements. I nailed four of them on my first run, and I'll be damn glad to take it on again with my alterna-Shepard to nail the last one, just to see the story unfold again. It's simply that good. Finally (?), the most enthusiastic players gain access to some of the Shadow Broker's files on the most important people in the galaxy, including your very own squad, as well as an alternate base of operations upon completion of the DLC pack. It packs a punch, that's for sure.

Not only is it more than essential content for Mass Effect 2; I'm guessing playing and completing Lair of the Shadow Broker will have quite an effect on different plot outcomes in Mass Effect 3, as well. It doesn't just belong here, it fills an actual gap; it's the best mission in Mass Effect 2, bar none, and simply, thus far, the best downloadable content for any game money can buy. This is why I'm giving it the first, albeit unofficial, 10 of the blog. Its actual quality is of course determined by the quality of the game itself, but I doubt I'll ever get this much out of downloadable content again.

RATING : 10 
 
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Who's arriving? And where to? Take a look.
ARRIVAL
Released: March 2011
Cost: 560 BioWare Points (PC), €6.99 (PS3), 560 Microsoft Points (Xbox 360)

Dr. Amanda Kenson, a deep cover agent in the Alliance's service, goes missing in batarian airspace while investigating a potential Reaper threat. Admiral Steven Hackett (once again voiced by cult favourite Lance Henriksen) contacts Shepard personally and asks him to travel to the far edge of the galaxy, solo, infiltrate the prison the doctor's kept in and rescue her, whatever her intentions might be.

Arrival was more of a business move by BioWare than anything else. Arrival was set to be the stop-gap between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, a Mass Effect 2.5 if you will. The story begins as a pretty standard search and rescue mission, but ends in an ominous cliffhanger sequence which obviously paves the way for a big change in Mass Effect 3... it was later revealed that recapping the events in Arrival are what the first 10 to 15 minutes of Mass Effect 3 will be all about.

Arrival has a great story and three new Achievements for its strongest hooks, but many flaws on the side. First, it makes no sense that you can play it at any time after completing Horizon, which is pretty much the midway mark of the game. Although BioWare did their best to maintain the time setting's neutrality - for example, by removing all squadmates due to their potential deaths in the end of the game (oops, spoiler?) - there's just something oddly wrong about Arrival the whole time if you don't take it on after finishing Mass Effect 2 to the hilt first. It's out of place and context. Those who don't know what Arrival is all about might be in for a bigger disappointment than the rest...

...Who are disappointed because Arrival came after Lair of the Shadow Broker, an amazing standard. Well over a year after the original game, in fact. Gone are the twists and turns of Shadow Broker, as well as most of the interesting new insight on the A's and B's of the whole saga. It's a great teaser for Mass Effect 3, but not the best DLC for Mass Effect 2 you could imagine. Although it has some amazing twists as a stand-alone story, and at least one totally fresh (yet brief) gameplay sequence, it doesn't really stand out as a mission like Shadow Broker did. It's just like any other tunnel run of a mission in Mass Effect 2, only much longer. It's about as lengthy as Shadow Broker, it just doesn't have as much diverse content.

Pricing's definitely on Arrival's side. Those who love the story as much as I do and want to know some details of what happens next, are definitely investing their 560 Points on the right subject. Those looking for another Shadow Broker should make reservations. (NOTE: Xbox 360 owners who still haven't got Arrival installed, this is the perfect time to get it - it's on promotional sale on LIVE.)

RATING : 7.7

maanantai 16. tammikuuta 2012

Details on what's to come

Kasumi's coming to
get ya.
The last week has been one hell of a rollercoaster for me. Haven't had much time to play or write, but now things look a bit more settled and I'll be getting back to business soon enough. My game collection keeps growing almost every day - I've been scooping up arcade classics from the Xbox LIVE Arcade, and my best friend has promised to stop by later today and leave a bunch of games for me to analyze and measure for the purpose of eventual purchase. I even broke my principle of getting games of a certain franchise for a certain platform - for example, I'm getting Skyrim for the Xbox 360 because I have Oblivion on the Xbox 360 - by purchasing Trine 2 for the Xbox 360 instead of the PlayStation 3, on which I have the first game. I've been waiting for the game a long time, and the PlayStation 3 version's European release date is still not out in the open. I got tired of waiting.

So, you probably already know what's coming next, and that's the logical choice of a Mass Effect 2 DLC Guide. I'm about halfway through it. There's maybe one more "DLC Guide" coming before I move on to "real" reviews, the first ones of the year and the first ones altogether since the massive Fallout 3 review last month. My decision still stands, I have a perfect vision of what I'll be reviewing first. Other reviews which you'll be seeing in the next six months relate to my video game collection, as it was by the end of last year, as I also promised before. Mass Effect 3 will be thoroughly reviewed in March, or April, if the game turns out surprisingly lengthy - I'm pretty sure BioWare won't break the 40-hour tradition, though. Anyway, let it be known right now that I'll review that game as close to its release date as possible.

Some apparently misinterpreted one of my previous entries - I said that I won't do any lengthy marathons this year, I've put a ban on them for now, but that doesn't mean I won't take on single franchises just as always. It just means, for example, that there'll be no Warner marathon (which I've been asked about ever since the Disney marathon), or anything that resembles a Monster Mash - however, Halloween's different. On Halloween week, I'll probably take on yet another Mini-Mash, but that's still a long way off. The subject of the next few games will be a franchise, a quite huge one at that, and I have a few franchises in mind that I'd be glad to take on in the coming months.

Also, taking care of loose ends will continue at some point, perhaps sooner than I myself think. There are still plenty of franchises just waiting for closure; Mega Man has been in line the longest. We'll just have to see when I'll find the time to shift back to retro. From more recent games, Assassin's Creed: Revelations is certainly going to be reviewed as soon as possible. A review of the game was supposed to coincide with my first "anniversary" with the Assassin's Creed series, but I still haven't gotten my hands on it. That's quite OK, since I probably wouldn't have found the time to play it anyway.

For now, those who are interested, stick around for the Mass Effect 2 DLC Guide, which is going to be the biggest DLC Guide thus far. If my calculations are correct, I should be done with it before the end of the week.