Monday, 20 September 2010

Rental Review Roundup

A couple of months ago, I started an account with LoveFilm with the sole purpose of renting out various video gaming titles that I have missed out on, partly through financial frugality, but also because of the sheer awesome torrent of activity that modern life forces upon me in spite of gaming. In short, renting is great. You don’t have to commit anything, if a game is rubbish, you can send it back in the mail and get the next title. You also get a serious boost to your gamer score. An apt metaphor would be presented as a happy marriage between prostitution and penis enlargement basically.

 Heavenly Sword.

This is a man's world

Originally released in 2007 and exclusive to the PS3, Ninja Theory’s Heavenly Sword has been on my list for a while because I am always interested in a Sony exclusive, being a playstation kid at heart. Ninja Theory are back in recent news, with new game Enslaved: Odyssey of the West coming out in early October and a reboot of Devil May Cry currently in development. The studio have built strong ties with actor Andy Serkis, who leant his acting experience with motion capture technology to both Heavenly Sword and their next game Enslaved: Odyssey of the West, which he not only directed but starred in, as a beefcake version of himself.
You play as Nariko, a red haired Amazonian woman voiced by Anna Torv who finds herself wielding the heavenly sword, a weapon of great power that is prophesised to rid the world of great evil, though in so doing, it corrupts the mind of the warrior using it, lord of the rings style. Sought after by Andy Serkis’s big bad emperor, King Boham and his colourful axis of evil, Nariko must protect the heavenly sword whilst battling evil constantly. This all takes place in a colourful fantasy world that is influenced by Eastern oriental imagery.

Nariko has the potential of being one of those rare things in gaming, a balanced heroine that is not overly sexualised like Lara Croft or characteristically mute like Samus Arran. Most crucially she is a woman in a man’s world. The back story of the game reveals that Nariko is identified by this, a disappointment to her father for being born a woman, her birth resulting in the death of her mother. The heavenly sword itself is a weapon to be wielded by a man. The feminist gamer could read into the opening of the game, a flash forward sequence in which Nariko fights a losing battle against a horde of enemies, all men.

Gameplay wise, combat is the name of the game. Essentially, Heavenly Sword is an action/combat game that uses the popular God of War template of accessible combat, quick time events and ‘brutal’ finishers. The combat is effective though predictable, you use light/heavy attacks interlaced with acrobatic evades and the odd finishing move which usually sees her thighs breaking his neck. The sword you wield essentially functions as three different weapons, fast attacks, ranged attacks and heavy attacks, different enemies require different strategies and the controls of the game keep the combat relatively easy to fight, whilst giving a degree of depth and development as you fight harder enemies. Simply it works.

Unfortunately, In the style of most of the early PS3 exclusives the game places much emphasis on using the six axis controls where ever necessary. Thusly you get these annoying sections where you take control of Nariko’s sidekick Kai who fires arrows which you control individually with the sixaxis. It is certainly not a broken mechanic but it becomes tedious and is really the only deviation from the more conventional combat that comprises the bulk of the game.

One of the game’s saving graces is Andy Serkis, who really adds character and humour to the game. Though Nariko’s quest is formulaic and overtly serious, some cut scenes centres upon King Boham and his plotting with his axis of evil. These scenes are genuinely funny, a bit like those scenes with Doctor Evil in the Austin Powers movies. These cut scenes are well acted and wittifully written and are even worth playing through the lacklustre levels just to watch. Though you could just Youtube them...

Heavenly Sword is a functional brawler to be sure. Combat is tight and satisfying. Cosmetically the game even after three years still holds up well. In the end however, I felt the game was a bit too shallow in gameplay. Ninja Theory went to great lengths to create this big bright world and all these remarkable vistas, but the controls do not even grant you a jump button. The game, world and story could have benefited from explorative elements. Even God of War grants you a certain degree of freedom between each choke point, in which you battle against enemies. Heavenly Sword is too linear for its own good, going from arena to arena via one of the terrible six axis ventures leading finally up to a boss fight.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin znamy wymagania minimalne
I had played the first FEAR a couple of years ago, but was put off by the game’s sterile environments and tacked on scare tactics. Regardless the fire fights were impressive and there was a certain satisfaction slow-mo kicking some hapless goon in the face. With this in mind, I tried FEAR 2 with an open mind and suddenly realised just how competent an FPS it really is.

This is an amazing feat particularly when there is nothing in FEAR 2 that strikes me as unconventional of the genre. We have seen the same settings: deserted offices, apocalyptic urban environments and dark pipe lined sewer tunnels in hundreds of other games, the first FEAR being a good example in itself. We have seen the same mechanics, a slow motion bullet-time ability that gives you an edge over your enemies. We have fought against the same enemies, a faceless mercenary bunch and the odd monster or two. What makes FEAR2 brilliant is its combat, its frenetic and visceral fire fights. The developer clearly realise which elements go into a great shooter. The guns all feel powerful, there is a technique to using each. The enemies are controlled by a decent AI system, which has them run for cover and throw grenades. On hard difficulty, these enemies pose a significant challenge and you constantly feel blessed when you have the ability to go slo-mo and see each of your shots landing. Killing said enemies is a gory business particularly if you fire a shotgun at close range for example. Then there are the environments, which all react realistically in the middle of a fire fight. Glass shatters, paper flies, and bullet holes puncture the walls. Of course when guns fail there is possibly no better feeling than roundhouse kicking a guy to the face.

The game is let down by the horror elements which try in earnest to scare you at every possible moment. The game is called FEAR, so I guess the developers thought that this is the direction they were supposed to go in but it is all so woefully contrived. I paid no attention to the plot or the various bits of information you pick up throughout the game, but you are followed by Alma, a supernatural entity that is basically the girl from the Ring. Essentially she covets you, messes with your mind, floating objects in front of you, whilst killing off other people for the sheer hell of it. Sometimes she grabs you from out of nowhere and you have to rapidly press the B button just to get her off. Along with Alma, you will also be tasked with fighting off other supernatural entities including puppet master beings who bring the corpses of the dead to life and ghost like beings that are almost invisible save from the faint flicker of their form. Fighting these enemies offers a different experience but is nowhere near as good as fighting the generic soldiers.

In conclusion, FEAR 2 offers a challenging and engaging shooter experience, that works brilliantly at conveying John Woo style shoot outs. It caught me completely by surprise and easily stands up against Halo, Modern Warfare and Killzone 2 in the heavily populated FPS arena. Combat is satisfying and endlessly replayable. It is let down only by the tacked on 'horror' sequences but I'd still recommend any shooter fan to check this game out.

50 Cent’s Blood on the Sand
Mr Cent shows the US Army how its really done.

I rented this game after laughing about it and then hearing several favourable reviews. I am no fan of 50 Cent's music, and the game didn't make me any more partial. I am white, with a capital ‘why’. In fact what I ended up doing was playing classical music through my xbox hard drive and thusly playing the game accompanied by Canon in D minor.
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a third person shooter starring Mr 50 Cent, various members of G-unit and even Lance Reddick from Lost and The Wire! The game takes place in some anonymous war torn middle eastern country, where 50 is performing a gig through which he is paid by means of a priceless diamond encrusted skull. Of course things do not run smoothly, 50 is ambushed, and some strange woman runs off with his skull, to which 50 responds with the immortal line - 'Bitch stole my skull!' This puts in motion an epic quest through city streets, and ancient ruins fighting off waves and waves of bad guys and no less than five helicopter gunship boss fights.

As a third person shooter the game works remarkably well. Shooting is satisfying and addictive as the game throws many mini-challenges throughout each of the levels, boosting your score. The game is let down by a dodgy cover system which often feels transparent to bullets and perhaps a lack of commitment to the cause. The game’s saving grace is that it does not take itself seriously, the game is so obviously tongue in cheek. Seeing 50 cent finish a bandanna wearing bad guy with a knife to the chest is hilarious rather than grim. 50 Cent and his accompanying G-unit sidekick fire off various insults (insults you can UNLOCK through points!) whilst spewing out all the conventional military verbatum. You begin to wonder where 50 Cent and G-unit received all this military training. Life on the streets must have been tough, and though Mr Cent was famously shot nine times you still question his involvement in Middle Eastern affairs.

In conclusion, this game is well worth a rental at least. It has co-op so you can enjoy the gangsta rap lunacy of it all with a friend and a degree of replayablility as you rack up more and more ‘ice’ to get the gold medal for each level. It pushes all the right buttons and if you do actually like 50 Cent then this will probably be the best game ever made.

Dante’s Inferno
I'm absolving him.  Honest...

In keeping with the winning formula of God of War series, Dante's Inferno seeks to emulate a piece of classical literature through ultra violence and minor titillation. Visceral Games, the makers of Dantes’ Inferno also made Dead Space, which used the conventional survival horror formula to great effect and actually bettered Resident Evil 5. Unfortunately, in emulating the God of War formula, playing Dante's Inferno only reminds you how good those games were in comparison. It isn’t just the combat and the green health orbs, the entire story is told in the exact same way as the original God of War. Of course what Dante’s Inferno also adds to the mix is actual shit. Not just through shoddy level and tasteless monster design but some of the enemies do actually attack you with their own excrement...

In a nutshell, you play as Dante, a knight fighting through the crusades, who may or may not be guilty of one or two of the seven deadly sins. His beloved Beatrice is killed and taken to hell, thus Dante must battle through the nine circles of Hell and come out on top against serial wanker Lucifer. You are made to fight various monsters and demons ranging from the usual undead footsoldiers, siren like entities that shoot scythed tentacles out of their vaginas and these gluttonous worms that are essentially penises with teeth, a concept which people are naturally supposed to find fearful at a deep psychological level. The boss for the lust level also produces attack babies out of her breasts. Yeah, it is that kind of game... Dante’s Inferno’s problem is that it tries too hard to shock the player. Whilst God of War is violent in a gleeful way, Dante’s Inferno just tries too hard. In attempt to deepen the combat, Dante’s Inferno gives the player the choice over whether to punish or absolve your enemies. The former being the way to the dark side whilst the latter is effectively a stairway to heaven, giving you points which unlock more powerful moves. Ramping up the difficulty only increases the amount of hits it takes to bring down an enemy. Effectively, the various demons begin to feel like super absorbent sponges rather than an actual challenge.

Though rated as an 18, Dante's Inferno feels inherently juvenile. If there is a hell, it is probably being made to play Dante's Inferno for all eternity. There are so many better God of War clones to play now. If the God of War trilogy didn’t satisfy you, there is Wolverine’s Revenge, Force Unleashed and the actually really good Darksiders by Vigil games. I’ve talked too much about this game. Let’s talk about something else...

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