Saturday, 17 October 2009

Video Game Reviews

Dead Space: Extraction

Review by Blake Harmer

Back when this game was first announced, I would admit that I was highly sceptical as to it being any good. At E3, Nintendo announced the game amongst its new line up of games that would be tailored towards hardcore gamers, and I found myself laughing at the fact that it was an on-rails shooter, which is not the best genre to impress hardcore gamers with. However, upon my play test I found myself eating my words, this is a very impressive game. The game grips you with it’s spiky tentacle death and never lets go… and it’s better than that sounds.

For those of you that are unaware of what Dead Space is, I will fill you in. The original game, which was released on the PS3 and XBOX 360 last year, was set on a derelict spaceship called the Ishimura and you’re sent to find out what went wrong and repair the ship. It is only then that you find it covered with aliens that occupy dead body’s and turn them into disgusting monstrosities reminiscent of those found in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Dead Space: Extraction is a prequel to last year’s game and shows events leading up to why the ship came to be as it was. You play as Detective McNeil as he is investigating why an excavator on a colony went mad and killed half of his crew. Little does the main protagonist know is that things are going to get a lot worse…

The reason the game is great is for several reasons. Firstly, unlike several other on-rails light gun games before, this game is more story driven and chooses to deal out an in depth story which feels akin to the likes of Hollywood sci-fi horror movies such as Event Horizon or Aliens, and provides scares just as equally as it does the monster slaughter. This is a welcome change to the likes of games such as House of the dead which chooses to go:

“Hey there are hundreds of monsters over there, lets shoot thousands of them!”
“Why do you want to do that?”
*Shrugs* “I don’t know, I’m sure I’ll come up with a paper thin excuse for a plot when I get to the end.”

It also feels refreshing as it uses the franchises main appeal with the way you are meant to dispatch enemies. Rather than the typical head shot that you are encouraged to do in most games, you have to kill the aliens by severing their many limbs. The game also makes great use of the Wii’s capabilities, with great graphics (considering the machine’s technical limitations) chilling sound using the TV speakers for the main sound but using the Wiimote’s speaker for audio logs you find in the game as well as general gunfire. Chuck in some nice puzzles and other features that make good use of the Wii’s controls and you have a very accomplished shooter, that could only be made on the Wii.

There are a couple of downsides to the game, such as it is fairly short when compared to other games, and that includes the bonus material and challenge modes that were put in the game in an obvious attempt to rectify this problem. I was also disappointed that I didn’t face the aliens from Omicron Persei 8 to have them bellow “Bring us McNeil!” But that might be because I’m too much of a Futurama geek.

This is a great shoot-em-up and I fully recommend it to fans of the original Dead Space, as well as those who want a light gun game with depth. But with few hardcore gamers with a Wii, I am concerned that there won’t be enough people to experience and appreciate this thoroughly enjoyable blaster. 8/10

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2
Tecmo Koei

Review by Blake Harmer

As a writer for E14 I get to write about a lot of cool stuff, from zombies and other monsters in films and games to samurai and soldiers in anime cutting and blowing each other to bits. However, I think one epiphany of awesomeness that very seldom graces this website is that of ninjas. If you’ve never played the popular Ninja Gaiden games on Microsoft’s consoles, or the HD la-di-da remake of the first Ninja Gaiden game on the PS3 (Ninja Gaiden Sigma 1) then you are in for a treat, as it chucks in ninja’s by the barrel load, not to mention mythical demons and other creatures of the night to battle to boot.

If you’ve never even heard of the Ninja Gaiden series, which actually dates back to the late 80’s when it first appeared in the arcades, and later on the NES and master system, then I will fill you in. Ninja Gaiden tells the story of the dragon ninja known as Ryu Hayabusa and his quests to restore peace to the world by defeating demons and lots of ninjas all whilst protecting his beloved dragon ninja clan. In Ninja Gaiden Sigma II (which is set a year on from the previous instalment), Ryu is trying to stop the evil Archfiend from being resurrected by the Black spider ninja clan, and he does this by cutting lots of people into bread in lots of cool ways with a large variety of weapons and spells.

The game is a remake of Ninja Gaiden II, which was released on the Xbox 360 last year but with a variety of extras that are exclusive to PS3 owners, this is mainly in the form of extra missions and the abilities to play as 3 other characters aside from Ryu. There is Momiji, who wields a halberd and is able to do a double jump. Rachel who appeared as a playable character in the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma with her large hammer and a machine gun and is more a powerhouse in terms of using her as a fighter, and there is Ayane with her dual knives who is very agile but not very damaging. The combat is as fast and fluid as ever and everything is super polished from the execution of moves with the controls feeling super responsive, and the ace camera. Also, there is nothing cooler than being a ninja and diving through an army of ninjas and decapitating every single one of them without taking a hit, especially as the series is renowned for it’s difficulty and being much more “hardcore” than other competitors such as Devil May Cry and God of War.

The game does have a couple of minor flaws, such as the dumbing down of blood in the game and making the loss of limbs come out as plumes of green and blue flame where there should have been piles of gore. The developers said this was to put the emphasis on looking cool but the end result just makes things look slightly silly and less realistic when you are fighting human opponents. Another concern is that whilst the new characters are welcome, they are nowhere near as fun to play as Ryu and they feel more like nice distractions rather than being truly fleshed out characters in their own right. However, this is a well accomplished game and these flaws can be easily overlooked.

To conclude, Ninja Gaiden Sigma II is an outstanding game and I would recommend it to fans of the first Ninja Gaiden Sigma, fans of combat games such as Devil May Cry, and general ninja lovers alike. However, whilst there are some nice improvements and extras chucked into this version of the game, there isn’t enough here for me to recommend 360 owners to re buy the game over the original Ninja Gaiden II, especially as you can also pick it up a lot cheaper than Ninja Gaiden Sigma II. However, what you get here is the complete package and it’s a near perfect slice of ninja slicing fun. 9/10

Spore Hero
Wii (Version Tested), DS

Review by Blake Harmer

As a hardcore gamer, I did think it was rather unfair of me to review a Wii game, especially as it is a console aimed at casual gamers. So I thought I would try and get the best review result possible by asking a semi-casual gamer to play it (in this case my fiancée Katherine) and get her thoughts on it as well as giving my own personal play test.

The premise of the game is simple, based on the fully customisable god sim on the PC Spore, Spore Hero is about a world inhabited with lots of alien creatures which has just had a huge meteor shower comprising of red and blue meteors. The Red Meteors seem to make creatures crazy and evil, whilst the blue crystals seem to bestow benevolent gifts to creatures and evolve them. It is from an egg found in one of these blue meteors that you are born, and as you are the only one on the planet that is immune to the red meteors, it is up to you to set the world right and destroy them all. This is normally done by evolving your creature so it has arms and a mouth etc, and then wandering the world performing quests for characters (normally in the form of mini games (surprise surprise)), fighting other creatures, and generally searching the world for more body parts and items.

The Casual Gamer’s opinion:

My Casual gamer guinea pig seemed to thoroughly enjoy the game and was immediately immersed in the game world by the numerous cute characters and loved the games main hook which was the customisation of your own character and especially liked the way a lot of the body parts were adjustable in length and size and that you gradually looked more impressive as your skills grew. She was also impressed by the sheer wealth of parts on offer and spent large amounts of time getting the best look. This personally didn’t surprise me as Maxis, who also made the original Spore as well as the Sims games that are both infamous for their own in-game customisation tools, made this game. As for gameplay, she liked exploring and searching for more parts to add to her customisation and enjoyed the other mini game quests especially the ones that involved customising other creatures so that they get the look that they want so they are happier.

On the downside, she wasn’t keen on the fighting elements of the game as she thought that the controls were unresponsive and were therefore overly difficult. These control issues were also noticed in some of the other mini games. All in all, she liked the exploration side of the game and she thought she could get lost in the world for hours. 8/10

The Hardcore Gamer’s opinion:

Upon my play test of Spore Hero I found myself impressed by the graphics, which are very good for what the system can do. I also found myself intrigued by an adventure game with customisable elements and also liked finding that certain body parts made you better at certain things such being able fight better or jump higher, to get these RPG like stat bonuses, I found myself cramming the best body parts onto my creature without any thought about it’s appearance which did lead to me having a much more disgusting monstrosity than Katherine’s creature, although it would kick her butt in a duel. Upon playing through the quests, I found the mini game style quests to be an ok distraction from the exploring although these mini-games did feel to be rather lightweight. I could see that the game was definitely aimed at a younger target audience but without the decent game mechanics that can be found in the likes of the Ratchet and Clank series or Mario games. I also agreed with Katherine that the controls were clunky at times and the combat was pretty atrocious which is a shame as it does make up a large part of the game.

In conclusion, there is fun to be had in this game but it is not for proper gamers. Younger audiences or more casual gamers will enjoy it for what it is and get a fair few hours of enjoyment out of it before becoming bored. However, there are a lot better games on the Wii that can bring fun the whole family (including the hardcore gamers in the house) and provide even more joy than Spore: Hero could even dream of. 6/10

Plants Vs. Zombies
Popcap Games - PC
Review by Rob Wade

Those who are into the casual game market will know that Popcap Games are the people behind such tea-break classics as Bejewelled, Peggle, Bookworm and Zuma. I myself would not be able to estimate how much time I've spent on Popcap products in the past, but I can safely say it's a considerable amount. When the review came in, therefore, for Plants Vs. Zombies, I jumped at the chance to get some time in with their latest offering.

Plants Vs. Zombies puts you in the role of a suburban homeowner whose property is severely attractive to the walking dead for some unknown reason (maybe you've got juicy brains or something, who knows?). All you have to defend your homestead from the roving hordes of zombies is a garden and a set of seed packets with various plants inside. Some have offensive properties, some have defensive, some have resource gathering properties. It's then up to you to use these units in order to successfully defend your homestead by placing these units in smart locations around the garden.

The game is pretty simple to pick up, thanks to a tutorial character named "Crazy Dave", who wears a saucepan on his head. Isn't that wonderful? Anyway, the game is explained to you at a sufficiently absorbable pace to allow you to immerse yourself fairly quickly and be up to speed with what's going on in the game world and deal with the zombies approaching you. Incidentally, there are plenty of those before too long.

Like all good strategy games, Plants Vs. Zombies strikes a good balance between resource gathering (sunlight being your resource for the game) and actual unit placement, with a sufficient amount of sunlight being dropped to allow you to create some bollocking awesome garden setups, because like all good strategy games, this one also allows you to play it in pretty much any way you want. You can play defensively by setting up walls and stuff, offensively by setting up more turrets and a mixture of two by putting mines behind walls (good fun when you meet the pole-vaulting zombies as well, by the way). The CPU has twenty-six different zombie types to throw at you over the course of the game, and you see a definite attempt by the developers to make you think about how your strategy will best be employed.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics : Colourful and sharp graphics, very much aimed at the younger audience but sufficiently high quality to keep us adults interested.
Sound/Music : Good eerie score, with plenty of over the top sound effects to keep you engaged as well.
Gameplay : Very similar to a "Tower Defense" game, but with the obvious twist being the subject matter. Engaging and addictive, but also fun at the same time.
Lasting Appeal : A 50-level adventure mode, plus minigames and puzzle levels. Plenty of stuff here for someone looking for a game with some lifespan.
Summary : A tremendously fun game that takes the "Tower Defense" genre and adds a refreshing twist. Colourful, fun with plenty to do and plenty of variety in gameplay. Highly recommended 9/10

1 comment:

  1. Is it my imagination or have I woken up this morning in a parallel universe where E14 gives positive reviews to Wii games? Brrr...