Monday, 29 June 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Chaos Bleeds (PS2)

Like it or loath it the television series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer should be a good source to make a decent game from, vampires, kung fu, good vs evil and half decent looking women seem like a near infallible combination from which to create an entertaining piece of software. The original Xbox title was decent enough without really being anything truly notable and if you are not a fan of the series there was little to attract you to it, so when the second installment in the all kicking slayer’s gaming adventures fell onto the desk there was a hope that it could actually be ok. Oh dear how wrong we where…

So we have a game which should at least be slightly above average, large levels full of monsters to be hacked and staked, a wide range of weapons and enemies and numerous characters to take control of. Yet despite all of this what emerges is one of the worst games to have ever been made, so let’s begin the postmortem.

First of all, if a developer is making a game closely related to a very popular television show it would seem common sense for you characters to look something like their on screen images, not here though, out of proportion bodies coupled with distorted faces means characters just do not look how they are should. Furthermore, all the voices used are not from the real actors so again instead of Michel Geller you get some strained American half sound alike girl, now this is far from satisfactory when making a title which is predominantly for fans and is lazy and inexcusable.

Let us move onto the next abomination- how the characters play. While each character has a fairly solid, if limited range of punches and kicks there are big gameplay spoiling issues all over the place. First of all every character seems to play almost exactly like every other character which just is not right considering Buffy is a massively strong slayer, Willow is a weak but magically strong witch and when Xanda punching a vampire sends them spinning around in the air it just reinforces the idea that different skins have been placed over the same combat template.

Combat itself has its own set of problems, for a start punches and kicks do not flow very well meaning you are always open to attack after landing your initial strikes and when surrounded by a large amount of opponents you can find yourself being knocked around without ever having a chance to fight back. The title also contains one of the most fascinatingly awful cameras in history. The camera is fully movable by the player but somehow always manages to be right in front of your character so you cannot see a thing and no matter what, enemies will always attack from somewhere you cannot see them, seemingly spinning out of thin air from a place you walked past two seconds before.

So that is bad controls, camera, graphics, sound and combat what’s left?  Level design. Where to start, if you’re not walking around levels that seem completely out of place with the series doing frustratingly dull things that where dull ten years ago then it’s the incredible long levels where you get attacked endlessly by vampires and demons that look exactly the same. It would not be so bad but when a level near enough takes one painful hour of your life to get through it would have been nice to be able to save your game before the end of it. There are continue points but you can only stop the pain and turn the machine off after completing one whole section of shocking boredom.

Buffy: Chaos Bleeds is a shocking game, a turgid stinking pool of primordial ooze that would take millions of years to evolve into anything remotely resembling something that is worth playing. Truly, they just do not make games this bad anymore; in fact they never made games this bad (perhaps with the exception of ET). The only good thing you can say is that it does not contain any ‘bugs’ but then again there is not exactly anything that feels finished about this title to have bugs in.

It’s hard to cannot express how terrible this game is and it is made all the worse due to the fact that it should be near impossible to create just a shocking result from such a rich resource. Avoid it at all costs as you will have more fun sitting in a chair rocking back and forth, strangely the effect this game has had on almost all that have played it.

Overall 2/10

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Hyperdimension Neptunia U: Action Unleashed Review (PS Vita)

Written by Natalie Houghton

This is the latest in a barrage of Hyperdimension Neptunia games that have all been released in a flurry this year. Departing from the usual JRPG format of the previous games, this is a spin off which presents itself in the form of a Musou type action game. The general idea behind the Hyperdimenson games is quite pleasing, however the execution often lets them down. This spin off though is cut from an entirely different cloth, given that it's not developed by the usual creator of these games and is instead developed by Tamsoft who have already established themselves in this genre.

Following suit, all of the main characters who have been available in the previous games are available to play here, including the CPU's (Personified console goddesses) themselves (Neptune & Co) as well as their younger sisters; the CPU candidates (Nepgear & Co). Follow them around the parody filled world of Gamindustri as they embark on a raucous romp where they endeavour to complete all of the quests dealt to them and bash as many monsters on the head as is goddessly possible. They are joined on their adventures by two new playable characters - the journalists Dengekiko and Famitsu who will report on their every move. 

Essentially this is a 'Gotta smash 'em all' type game akin to Dynasty Warriors. To progress in the game our heroines must complete quests - which in all fairness are quite linear. The methodology is as follows: 1. Pick a quest 2. Note the requirements for completion 3. Begin thrashing around like a fish on acid 4. Kick ass! 5. Rinse and repeat. 

The repertoire of quests does not really change that much. There are a few 'special' quests that supposedly have different clear requirements but they aren't really that hard to figure out or that different from the main quests themselves. More variety in the quests would definitely not go amiss.  

Depending on your perspective you'll either love or hate the damage feature of the game which involves half the characters clothes magically flying off and becoming tattered. The result of which is that they therefore expose themselves to the world - exactly the same as in Senran Kagura games. This franchise is no stranger to having slightly ecchi (pervy), tendencies and the dialogue even pokes fun at itself and points out this fact. Love it or hate it though, this fan service is there to stay until you manage to unlock an unbreakable costume later in the game. 

There are a total of 10 characters to pick, each with their own unique weapons and fighting styles, each character has a normal attack and a strong attack which you can mix & match to create various combos with. There are also a couple of special attacks that require SP to use - these can be used to temporarily clear a large number of mobs. As you slaughter enemies, the EXE drive gauge will fill, once it is full enough, the characters have the option to transform into HDD mode which is essentially a stronger version of themselves that resembles the dragoon mode from the Legend of Dragoon (if anyone actually remembers that...). Whilst in this mode, there are a couple of special skills that can be executed which will pretty much mutilate everything in sight.

You can fight solo or play with two characters - the more two characters fight together the higher their lily rank will become, this will unlock special bonuses such as increased EXP gains and eventually a double team combo which is guaranteed to wash away anything that stands in their way - go nakama power!

The combat is fast and fluid with excellent optimisation for the PS Vita, the frame rate is top notch and the cel shaded style works really well along with all of the colours being astoundingly eye popping on the OLED screen. The characters and the art in general are incredibly well drawn and a pure pleasure to look at. The level design itself is fairly generic though, there's a forest level, an ice level and the classic lava level as well as a few levels that pay homage to older games such as Mario Bros and Tetris.

Character stat increases, new weapons and accessories are handled in a slightly different way to normal, whilst characters do level up in the usual way, acquiring upgrades is done by accessing the medal collection. Upon defeating enemies, some of them drop medals. Once a certain amount of medals have been collected you can then unlock stat increases as well as gaining new equipment. This means that you have to keep fighting in order to unlock everything. 

The plot is fairly thin and is more of a background distraction than anything else, it loosely manages to take the characters and general story forward and whilst at times, the banter between characters is interesting and slightly amusing there are other times where it totally misses the mark. The crux of this is that you don’t really care about the plot at all! Both characters Dengekiko and Famitsu are attempting to get the scoop on each of the girls' antics and in order to get these stories, quests need to be completed... and written about, THAT.IS.IT!

The English voice acting is dubious at best and half of the characters virtually sound the same, the Japanese is a notch above and comes as the recommended choice. My only real gripe is that some of the characters dialogue is overly cutesy. The general soundtrack on the other hand blew me away, I really did want to listen to it as I fought my way through endless hordes of slimes, animated flowers and cubes. Like the looks of the game itself, the wide array of tunes on display here is nothing but a joy to listen to. 

The two extra modes which are unlocked after beating Chapter 3 don't really add any further depth to the game. Both the Gamindustri Gauntlet where you can create your own 10 fighter tournaments and battle it out until the end is much more dull than it sounds and the same goes for the Neptral Tower which involves climbing a long tower filled with randomly changing enemies.

Overall, this is an attractive and amusing game that is pleasing on the eye as well as the ear that is great for a fun quick blast in the middle of the day, during your commute or simply whenever you feel like it. It would get repetitive quickly if it were on a console but it suits the nature of time-limited handheld gaming perfectly. If you are a fan of the genre and like crazy button bashing over the top combo-creating anime style games then it is definitely worth a go. It isn't the best game ever but by no means is it the worst either. 

Score: 6/10

Monday, 22 June 2015

Dreamfall Chapters: The Longest Journey Book 2 Review (PC)

The first book in the returning Dreamfall series reintroduced us to dreamer Zoe Castillo and apostle Kian Alvane. Zoe certainly had the more interesting story to begin with and Kian’s sections was both a bit clunky and generally uninteresting. 

Book 2 starts with Kian in the rebel’s base. From here he must decide whether or not to join them and then proceed to carry out various missions to strengthen their resistance in the capital city on the magical side of the coin. On the futuristic side of that same coin Zoe is about to uncover something huge that will change the course of the future.

It’s almost impossible to go into much more detail without beginning to ruin the twists and turns that happen. This is one of the problems for reviewers with episodic content as the plot develops continually and in story based games giving anything away will completely ruin the experience.

What we can look at is the elements of the game. This time around the game mainly gives you fetch quests to do. Most missions boil down to ‘go to here’ or ‘speak to this person’. Luckily the characters and dialogue are strong enough to keep the story moving without turning the player off. Zoe at least gets a new gadget or two to try and hide the wandering around from point to point.

Thankfully, Kian’s side of the adventure is much stronger this time with new characters and plot twists making him seem a more interesting proposition to play. Zoe’s story stays pretty much rolling along on an average level but her world is always interesting and it certainly gives you a payoff at the end.

The choices are also back and in full effect with some that will really have players thinking and some that have a strict countdown before choices are taken away. Most importantly it still works as a story and the intensity has been nicely ramped up since the first book.

Overall, there is nothing really new here that wasn’t in the first game in terms of mechanics but the story is getting stronger and the new characters and excellent voice work continue to draw you into the world. It’s still a bit rough around the edges in terms of controls and mechanics but Dreamfall Chapters continues to work as a story telling device and an interesting one at that.

Overall 7/10

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Final Fantasy VII Review (PS1)

Hype is a tricky thing. No sooner is a game announced than media outlets have mapped out every single detail before your very eyes. It's no new phenomenon either. Final Fantasy VII was no stranger to the effect, yet somehow not one person knew what to expect when it arrived on European shores. Chalk it up to inexperience. Nothing quite like it had been seen before by the masses and for many they simply could not have imagined what awaited them. It was a magical adventure – beyond anything that had preceded it. You did not play Final Fantasy VII, you lived it.

The story built around the central character Cloud Strife and revealed layers of depth defying common notions of what a videogame was. Initially appearing to be a cold hearted mercenary his visage slowly dissolves to expose that he has a far greater purpose to play. The mystery of Cloud's background and purpose becomes the key focus for the journey through this new world. We experience things as Cloud does, drawn ever further into the thickening web of intrigue- punctuated by some highly effective twists along the way.

It soon becomes clear that there is far more at stake than a small group of freedom fighters trying to cripple a domineering corporation. Each encounter drip feeds a new piece of information. Hints of what is to come fuel the fervour to press on without ever fully enlightening players as to what the hell is going on. Cleverly paced and well scripted, you remain on the edge of your seat stretching forward to see what is around the next corner. Many a time we picked up the controller with the intent of only seeing out the next encounter only to find ourselves squinting through eyes grown intolerant to strong light as the sun rose the next morning.

Combat follows the tried and tested turn based RPG format. Characters wait for their timing bar to fill to become active. At that point they can then unleash all manner of destructive forces upon your foes. The most spectacular of these are gargantuan creatures, summoned from the magical 'Materia' that forms around the land to fight by your side. While players were taken aback by the epic summoning of magical creatures, the cut scenes truly stole the show. At the time of its original release in 1997 the graphical artistry and animation blew away everything else.

Everyone who played the game knew this was more than simply something special; this was a historic moment for gaming in the West. It pushed the boundaries to such a degree that at the time it seemed impossible anything else developed for the Playstation could ever surpass it.

This being a story set against a backdrop of a fantastical cyberpunk world, both high-tech weaponry and devastating magic are freely available. Attaching 'materia' to equipment and weapons gives any character access to its magic. Materia has both good and bad effects introducing the need to strike a balance in order to stop characters from becoming weak and easily killed. As a result players form parties built how they want and are not forced to shoehorn characters into a predetermined mould.

Years have passed, and graphically the game will not carry the impressive awe for newcomers it had to those fortunate people who played it in its time. Furthermore, the pace may seem a little slow to the uninitiated. However, give it a few minutes and you find the story suffers not from the ills of aging. You're quickly engrossed and any 'faults' melt away. Its hypnotic grasp remains strong regardless the age of its appearance.

While the graphical wonder of the title may fade, the excellent musical score rings true as ever. Sweeping music completes an epic adventure and Final Fantasy VII has it in abundance. Moving scores accompany every scene perfectly heightening the mood and emotion. Indeed, while walking through the Snow Mountains you may be tempted to turn the heating up a little as the music works so well it drags you down into the icy caves with it, and it is a cold place down there.

Final Fantasy VII represents one of a select group of titles that transcends its existence as simply a 'game'. It started a shift in the gaming tastes of Europe (as it likewise did throughout the western world), it opened our eyes to what was possible with the power of a thirty-two bit console, it made us think what could be achieved in the future. Arguably, no game before it had such an emotional impact on gamers. We fought, we cried, we drove onward for revenge and we remembered every minute of it. Those who were there in that first week when it was released already know why this game is an historic title.

For newcomers the title proves as enjoyable as ever. Alas, it is doubtful the euphoric sense of elation - the almost indescribable feeling that no game had ever created before (Maybe Occarina of Time), can be similarly recaptured. Final Fantasy VII represents a moment in time. Where were you when it happened?

Overall 10/10