Wednesday, 2 April 2014

killer7 Review (Playstation 2)

Some time long ago Capcom announced five games that they said would bring back gaming innovation to the industry. First up was the Rhythm action styled shooter P.N.O3, and then came the sublime slice of description defying slow motion brilliance that was Viewtiful Jo. These two gems where followed by what many people feel to be the best game of the generation, Resident Evil 4. Somewhere along the way Phoenix sadly bit the dust and the last instalment of the Capcom five was killer7.

killer7 is set in the year 2003, a terrorist group know as the Heaven Smiles are causing death and destruction across the globe using strange demonically laughing bombs. The only solution to combat them is Harman Smith and his seven highly skilled assassin personalities. It is fair to say that the plot starts out obscure and confusing with the title drip feeding you information about both the killer7 group and the treachery that is going on in the governments of the world. It's only during later sections of the game that things begin to tie up a little more coherently.

The first thing that strikes you about killer7 is the games neo-noir tinged anime style. Truly there has never been a title presented with such gloriously detached visuals. To begin with it can be hard to feel part of the playing experience as the game keeps you at arms length with the obscure visuals meaning many gamers will see nothing to relate the on screen experience to. After a while the killer7 ethos begins to wind its way into the subconscious and once you have become accustomed to it you realise there is actually an interesting game underneath it all.

Separating the visual aspect of the game from the gameplay is impossible. Capcom's title turns what we perceive a game to be on its head. killer7 is as much about what you are taking in visually and sonically as it is about what you are doing. Controls are simple, press one button to move forward along a pre-determined path and another to turn 180 degrees. That’s it. At junctions you can choose which route to take by moving the analogue stick (something that can be awkward). Combat involves holding R1 to move into a first person perspective then pressing L1 to scan for enemies, once discovered they can be shot at. It works like an on-rail light gun game but with a controller and after a while will become second nature to you.

More so than most titles killer7 is a game you have to become accustomed to- mainly due to it being rather obscure. It requires players to re-evaluate how they use their gaming skills and many may become frustrated early on. Really, you need to make it through the first mission before you will truly know if you like the game or not and for a lot of people that will require too much effort. Once the first mission is out the way you should find thinking in the killer7 way is as instinctive as double jumping or duel wielding.

Helping players along is a very useful (if spoiling) map that shows the location of objects, save rooms and where each member of the killer7 will be needed to use their unique abilities in order to proceed. It does take some of the adventure aspect away from the title having everything pretty much laid out for you but there is so much for your senses to take in that most will be glad of it.

Each level varies nicely in terms of location and enemy type so there is always something new to see and explore. Your personalities can also be upgraded with the blood taken from fallen heaven smiles, giving them new skills along with the usual health and power upgrades. Couple this with the excellent cut scenes that appear during and between levels and you may find you just have to know what happens next. The further you go into the twisted world the more interesting it gets and the more accustomed you become to it.

It's fair to say that killer7 has probably turned out pretty much exactly how the developers wanted it to. There are definitely no broken controls or gaping flaws outside of the players inability to gel with the subject matter or not being able to adapt their skills to it. It is hard to imagine any way the game could be changed to make it better, there simply has never been anything like this before. It's testament to the development team that it actually works, when for long periods of time no one could quite work out how on earth there was going to be any actual ‘game’ in there.

With the PS2 version come a few technical problems however. With the PS2 showing its age at an ever increasing rate upon when the game released it was always going to struggle with a title initially designed for the Game Cube. The visuals have not really suffered at all but no doubt due to this there are long loading times. This would not be so bad but every new room or section you enter triggers a four second (at least) loading screen. As you will need to move back and forth a lot to change personalities and use objects this can become annoying. The PS2 version also suffers from bouts of slowdown during combat. The slowdown is both very noticeable and highly off putting. Luckily it only seems to occur after a shot has been fired so at least it will not trouble your aiming when you are under pressure. The best thing we can say about it is that you get used to it and it does not detract from the title too much.Playing on the Game Cube removes all the technical issues.

Overall, Capcom has delivered another unique title that makes us think about gaming in a different way. killer7 represents an original and highly risky concept that could have gone horribly wrong. But due to the skill of the development team we have a highly innovative and visually visceral title that pushes both our senses and the boundaries of what we consider a game to be. We only hope Capcom keep making such wonderfully unique titles long into the future. There is no denying that it takes some getting used to but give killer7 a chance and you just may grow to love it.

Overall 8

Monday, 31 March 2014

Luftrausers Review (PS3/Vita)

We first came across Luftrausers at the Euro gamer Expo where it was set over in a corner with little explanation about how to play it. After attempting a few flights we gave up after dying within seconds. We’re pleased to say that now we have got hold of it on a home system and spent some quality time with it that the game absolutely shines.

The game is quite simple in concept- you launch your little plane and fly around an arena shooting down enemies and blowing up ships in order to build a high score. The top and bottom of arena are bordered by a cloud bank and water and you can infinitely fly left and right. It’s not dissimilar to something like Time Pilot crossed with Defender. To start with you are only dealing with small planes, but the longer you last and the more you shoot down the bigger and more difficult the enemies become.

There are a whole host of planes and ships to take on and each of them have their own characteristics and ways they must be approached. Planes are soon joined by super-fast jets and dog fighting aces, while boats become the side show to missile launching submarines and full on battle ships. Soon you’ll be weaving through inches of space as the screen fills with gun fire. Survive long enough and you might get to see the laser ace or the dreaded blimp.

Controlling your Rauser is easy but a little unconventional. You have your standard fire button but movement is more about momentum than just pushing a direction. Pressing up or the shoulder button propels you forward and you can then use the direction buttons to steer. This allows you to perform stalls and dives and turn the tables quickly on pursuing attackers. It might take a little while to get used to but it works perfectly once you get the hang of it. You’re plane can also take a few hits with releasing the fire button allowing you to heal.

As you progress you will unlock different parts for the plane. Each of these adds different properties such as being able to ram things without taking damage or changing your firing weapon. They all have pros and cons and there is no such thing as a perfect load out. Each part also has a number of different challenges to complete which helps to unlock more parts and raise your Rauser level. Our personal favourite is the part that allows you to dive into the water without taking damage. With some clever use of components you can use this and the battering ram part to turn your plane into a water skimming missile.

What at first seems like it could be a fun five minute game soon reveals the depth and complexity of its scoring system. There are over a hundred different combinations of plane parts and challenges continually unlock as you play and once you take down a blimp it really gets crazy. It’s a high score game at heart so the more friends you have to show up on the leader board the better but even taken on its own merit this a game that every Vita owner should own. It doesn’t seem to fit the PS3 quite so well but that’s mainly down to the Vita proving to be a natural fit.

Overall, Luftrausers has managed to take all the best elements from the early days of arcade shooters and package them into this crazy game. It’s the sort of thing you pick up for five minutes and then put down two hours later and as a pure gaming test of skill there is very little else out there to match it.


Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Kingdom Hearts 2 Review (PS2)

The first Kingdom Hearts was without doubt one of the best adventure games to grace the PS2. The strange mix of Square and Disney characters created a number of lush and interesting worlds for players to explore.  After a long delayed release Kingdom Hearts 2 it finally made its way to Europe, but was it worth the wait?

Right from the start the game throws players off by starting you in the form of Roxas, a young boy who lives in Twighlight town. Never fear, Sora will appear later but first we have a mini adventure. This serves to acquaint the player with the games controls and also sets out the themes of the title.

Presentation as you might expect is of an incredibly high order with striking representations of the Disney creations complete with some excellent voice over work. As before, many final fantasy characters appear throughout and as a nice touch most of the characters that appeared in the  FFVII Advent Children movie have the same voice actors. While the presentation of the game may be as excellent as ever the levels themselves are sadly a little lacking when compared to the first game.

Combat is the emphasis for this title with the many puzzles and platform sections of the original all but a memory. Difficulty has also been dropped a touch, though that is not necessarily a bad thing considering some of the insanity present before. As well as the standard physical and magical attacks available there are now new gauge and limit options. The gauge allows a second keyblade to be brought into action containing a whole new set of skills in a sort Disney version of a Chow Yun-Fat double pistol attack.

Limit attacks bring all the characters together to perform a high impact move on the enemy- often with quick time event style button pushes to prolong it. In certain situations the triangle button can be pressed to initiate a context sensitive attack, in boss battles this is always obvious as a very large and clear ‘Press Triangle’ sign appears over a Triangle shaped button. When fighting normal opponents however the triangle command appears fleetingly at the bottom left of the screen on the command menu and is far too easy to miss.

Although having such a wide range of moves is welcome their execution leaves something to be desired. Combat is so frantic and fast that most of the time it is completely impractical to cycle through a couple of menus in order to find the summon or limit break commands. Luckily they are not really necessary to fight your way to victory but you cannot help feel that the control system could have been a little more streamlined.

With the puzzles removed what we get is relentless combat followed by relentless combat, which if played in long sessions does become repetitive. This feeling is not helped by some uninspired level design and locations on occasion. With all the creations that Disney has license to you have to wonder why certain locations are repeated from the first game. They do have new stories but did we really need to go back to the Hercules level? I think not.

That is not to say there is not inspiration at work as well- the Steamboat Willie and Pirates of the Caribbean levels for example. You can’t help but feel that The developers have missed a few tricks here though with so many Disney movies not appearing in either game so far and that’s not to mention other IP’s such as Duck Tales or Darkwing Duck. What we have here for the most part is a very safe choice of levels.

This is the main feeling you get from the title. There are numbers of good and inspired moments but for each one you can’t help but think of something else that would have been better and players will no doubt end up feeling they have seen it before or that could have been handled with a touch more inspiration. Faults aside the title is highly enjoyable and well presented. For fans of the series there are sections here that are worth the entry fee. However, there is no getting away from the fact that first game simply contains more inspiration, more variety and more magic.


Monday, 24 March 2014

Abe’s Oddysee Review (Playstation)

One thing being said with alarming regularity is that there’s a distinct lack of originality and personality coming to market. Even back in 1997, few companies were willing to take a chance on putting out something completely unique. Oddworld Inhabitants not only created one of the most original and charming titles in the history of gaming, but also alerted us to their ridiculously ambitious Oddworld project.

Briefly, the project was to make a Quintology of games that would allow you to see a completely new world from a number of different perspectives. Each game in the series would have at least one bonus game released to further expand the adventures of the character (or theme) of any particular Quintology title. Abe's Oddysee was the first part of the Quintology – the sequel, Abe's Exoddus, being the bonus game. Unfortunately, this grand vision would never be finished as a frustrated Oddworld Inhabitants would leave the industry after Oddworld: Stranger was treated very badly by its publisher.

Abe's Oddysee follows the story of a Mudokon floor-sweeper named Abe. While working at the meat processing plant one night, he discovers that the Glukkons have decided to make a new type of food. Horrifyingly, it is to be made out of all the Mudokon workers. It is now up to Abe to rescue his ninety-nine colleagues and thus end the evil plans of the factory owners once and for all.

The title is presented as a 2.5-dimensional platformer with the action taking place in the foreground and background. If you can imagine the sort of rotoscoped graphical approach used in Flashback and add to that puzzle elements from Lemmings, you will be somewhere in the right area. Abe must navigate his way out of the factory, avoiding guards and their dogs (Slogs and Sligs), and the many bombs, traps and other nasty things which would turn him into snack food. Along the way you must decided if you want to save other workers. Be warned though, while choosing to save them or not is entirely up to you, the consequences of your actions could leave you in big trouble.

One of the unique things about the game is the use of Abe's voice to communicate with others. By pressing R1 and the correct button, Abe can come out with the phrases "Hello", "Wait", and "Follow me". These phrases must be used to guide the other workers to safety. Abe can also chant which allows him to open portals and possess enemy Slogs. Slogs can then be controlled by the player, allowing them to use (amongst other things), their own set of vocal skills. As you move through the game more skills become available, each essential to solving the puzzles you will come across.

Puzzles start out fairly simply but soon become complex, yet logical (in an Oddworld kind of way), and sections are kept short so frustration is always at a minimum. The thing that makes an already great game even better is the level of detail apparent in both the look and personality. The way the alien world is presented is breathtaking with each area having its own look and feel.

Humour also plays a huge part in making the game seep into your subconscious. There are numerous nasty ways to get rid of enemies, each of which causes Abe to giggle after he has done the deed. Slogs stalk around moaning and screaming "help" when Abe is trying to posses them, and even when you don't quite manage to save a Mudokon, it is hard not to laugh at the often gruesome ways they are dispatched.Throw into the gaming mix some of the best-designed and most amusing cut scenes to have appeared in ages, and you cannot fail to be charmed.

It is obvious the people who developed this took a great deal of care and attention at every turn. The only real fault is that sometimes, because of the graphical style, characters may take that half-second longer to react than you'd like – but this is a small point and rarely interferes with what you are trying to do. Impressively, Abe's Oddysee still seems fresh to this day and it acts to show just how disappointing it is that we may never get another original Oddworld game.