Wednesday, 28 December 2011

ParasiteMas Eve

First of all yes I know Christmas has been and yes I know the title would have worked better on Christmas Eve but shut up.
The last week has been a tiring week, I just want to take a break because the year as a whole has left me burnt out. Unfortunately I found myself sharing a child's bunk bed while family stayed over. Christmas is over now so things are returning to how they once were.
I think I have put myself in a pickle with this blog. I want to make sure it is updated every week without fail but I also need something to talk about, I don't watch many films nor do I get through a lot of books, The Lord of the Rings doesn't read itself you know. Of course I have other interests but even then I can only do so much with them. So here I am stuck doing video game reviews while I conjure up something new and exciting.

Parasite Eve II is the sequel to Parasite Eve, a Squaresoft made Action Horror RPG with the misfortune to never be released in Europe. You play as Aya Brea, a cop turned FBI Monster Hunter following the events of the original Parasite Eve, these events are never fully explained to the new player, how does Aya set people on fire with her mind? What are these monsters you fight and how are they created? What happened in the New York incident 3 years prior?
This hinders the game, for example at the start you are thrown into a sky scraper full of monsters, out of the monsters only a few of them are given a proper introduction with many of them appearing with no fanfare what so ever, again this is a game where you are expected to play the first except no one played Parasite Eve because it was NEVER RELEASED IN EUROPE!
So the narrative structure falls flat, the same can be said about the other aspects of Parasite Eve II. The horror element of the game falls on its arse and this is mostly down to how Squresoft made games back in the PS1 era, every time you encounter a monster you go into “battle mode” when this happens the game pauses for a second and the screen turns negative, think the vortex effect from Final Fantasy but less annoying. The design decisions made by the developers ruins most of the horror, there is next to no feeling of suspense as the monsters appear in full view looking for screen time, not to mention you can see them on the map screen.

Also they aren't very scary as monsters go.

Parasite Eve is another horror game to adapt the Resident Evil control method but I'm willing to forgive this because it is still better than the turn based combat seen in most Japanese RPG's. Unfortunately the Resident Evil controls don't add any points to the horror aspect, any feeling of vulnerability is erased by the action being broken up, ammo is also plentiful and by the end of the game I was just ploughing though everything with grenades.
Graphically the game is one of the nicest looking games on the PS1, but this is partly down to the pre-rendered CGI backgrounds, a sign of the time more than anything as the PS1 certainly had limits when it came to rendering 3D environments in detail. Not to take anything away from the game though the character models are well rendered and look better than some of the stuff I have seen done on the N64.

It also features a shower scene if you are into that stuff.

Parasite Eve II isn't a terrible game but it is mediocre, it is still playable and the story does pick up once the plot starts moving but I still can't really recommend Parasite Eve II, as a game it peaks in the middle and becomes incredibly repetitive later on with the combat boiling down to grenade gunning everything in sight, the difficulty is also unbalanced with the game becoming easy half way through only for it to take a difficulty right angle towards the end.
In all Parasite Eve II fails as a horror and is inadequate in all other areas.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Silent Hill Unholy Night

Though the title suggests otherwise I have actually had a decent week, I've sold all my unwanted items on ebay, I'm done with college for Christmas and I now have enough time and freedom to do whatever I want.
Nothing fascinating has happened this last week but I did find a copy of Silent Hill 2 in a charity shop. Silent Hill 2 is a game I have had on my to do list for a long time, even though I can easily borrow games off people I only tend to play them when I buy them. The only positive I can take from buying a game I can get for free is the belief I will be more invested in it. I didn't feel inclined to play Banjo-Kazooie when I borrowed it but when I bought it myself I couldn't get enough of the game.

The “game” aspect of Silent Hill 2 is lacking, it uses the awkward “Resident Evil” control system where your character controls like a shopping trolley, the camera often pans in front of you so you cannot see what was ahead and the combat is very fiddly when fighting more than one enemy. The game provides a series of challenging riddles but many suffer from adventure game logic where you have mash unrelated items together to solve puzzles.

Lacking it may be but the gameplay in Silent Hill 2 won't distract a player from the overall experience. The plot focuses on protagonist James Sunderland who travels to Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife who he hasn't seen in 3 years on the account of her being dead. James soon arrives in Silent Hill with his welcoming party consisting of thick fog, hideous monsters and people who act in incredibly quirky and kooky ways.

The original Silent Hill is an example of a game being improved by limitations, when Silent Hill was in development for the PS1 fog was used to get around the poor draw distance provided by the limited hardware. The original Silent Hill games were very good at building atmosphere, not knowing what is ahead is an effective way to make the player hesitate. The hesitation comes from the fear of what may be ahead, the games horror element relies on the players imagination. The concept may sound odd on paper but horror fans are accustomed to jump scares to the point of being able to predict them, killing the effect. With slow building atmospheric horror it is hard to predict when something is going to happen, this leaves players constantly on edge, in such a state even the smallest thing can provoke a reaction. My experience was a lot like this, there would be times where I would stand in front of a door for a few minutes because I expected something big and scary on the other side, even when I found nothing I still had the same expectations. When playing Silent Hill 2 I often asked “Where are the monsters?”, I never have to ask this with other games because the monsters are everywhere, it is like they are fighting over screen time. The more you see of something the less scary it becomes, zombies are a perfect example of this rule, a lot of zombie horror is becoming less about surviving and more about killing zombies for fun.

Silent Hill 2 earns points for its horror, the game scared me. I'm something of a coward at heart, easily scared by games like Silent Hill 2 so I need a motivation to push on. Silent Hill makes good use of its story and narrative, the mystery surrounding the latter James received from his dead wife expands throughout the game and you begin to wonder if there is more to the story than James is letting on. A lot of the narrative is represented though the use of symbolism and metaphors, the monsters aren't so much the towns creation but the creations of the characters themselves, you could say each character is battling the skeletons in their closet in an attempt to put their own minds at ease.

Silent Hill 2 is a compelling experience with enough replay value to provide several plays, it is unlikely you will find everything on your first go. The gameplay design may be a little off but the graphical and sound design elevates the experience though the use of realistic lighting and sound effects. In terms of story and narrative you will be hard pressed to find something on the level of Silent Hill 2.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Grand Theft Paypal

I have recently been made to experience a period of great suffering followed by great joy. Last April I was suspended from Paypal for breaking the terms and conditions for age, for months I suffered the horror of a countdown to nowhere believing Paypal would one day give me the freedom to use their service again. Last month I reached the legal age required to use Paypal, I was optimistic in my hopes of being able to sell on eBay again, selling all my unwanted items.. My optimism was almost completely crushed following a saga where I learned to never trust male telephone operators. I phoned Paypal on three different occasions, the first helpline operator told me to just open a new Paypal account, the second helpline operator gave me a stern telling off after I was suspended for a second time telling me I was banned forever. I went for one last attempt after my bank had upgraded me to a new account, perhaps this is what the first telephone helpline assistant was referring too. Well plan B ended up being a failure too and with a third suspended account I was ready to give up for good. I phoned Paypal one last time, ready to get on my knees and beg for a second chance. This is why I love women, they are more forgiving than men, unlike moron and twat little miss helpful actually wanted to see my problem resolved. I recently read an internet article about how small things like good customer service can be great sources of joy and happiness. The article was no exaggeration, as I type this I am using eBay to sell a years worth of unwanted junk and you know what? I couldn't be any happier.

While the Paypal debacle was ongoing I passed the time by playing though the games I purchased from the recent steam sales. I decided to play a game I had grown up with but never completed, a game currently celebrating its tenth anniversary. Can you believe it has been ten years since the release of Grand Theft Auto 3?

GTA 3 follows the story of a criminal who after being betrayed in a bank hist finds himself having to work his way back up the food chain by taking jobs from various crime lords ruling over Liberty City, the self proclaimed worst city in America. The narrative of the game is straight forward and has good pacing, within the first 3 hours of the game I had gone to war with the Chinese Triads, burned my bridges with the Italian Mafia, opened the second island and joined the Yakuza.
The core game is still incredibly enjoyable and will make you over look some of the more glaring flaws in the game. By today's standards the combat in GTA 3 is a mess with hopeless lock on system leaving the deck strongly stacked against you when it comes to anything involving guns, I gave up on the combat and just ran people over with a Jeep. By the end of the game I found myself forced into using guns giving me no hope of ever completing the game. In the end I switched to a mouse and keyboard set up which at first felt alien, almost unnatural. I grew up only knowing how to play GTA 3 with a controller, it didn't feel right playing with anything else.. Then of course I played the game using the mouse and keyboard and realised how mind blowingly stupid I had been this whole time, had I switched sooner the game would have been ten times easier and twice as fun.

Once you rectify the control issues you begin to see how well GTA 3 has aged, the graphics weren't great even by 2001 standards but it works for this game, it gives the violence a cartoon appeal making the game not come off as too serious. As a sandbox game GTA 3 is very small compared to more recent sandbox titles ,bear in mind though the PC version doesn't provide a map on the pause screen so consider the smaller game world a positive.
In all Grand Theft Auto 3 is still a great game by modern standards, it finds the right balance between the main game and the sandbox never feeling padded out or over bearing.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Issues with my PC .feat Bethesda and Fallout 3

Last month I finally decided it was time to do something about my computer, for the last year it has been giving me constant low memory warnings and it got to the point where using firefox was enough to almost brick my machine. I should have seen the warning lights sooner, when ever I gave the PC a tap I'd find myself greeted by a cloud of dust. The PCs memory was wiped and the insides cleaned. You should have seen the dust it when the shell was opened, it was like emptying a hoover, a hoover used every day for 5 years without ever being cleaned or emptied. The experience made me think of an archaeological dig and how it must feel brush down a 5,000 year old slab to see if it could be restored to its former glory.
Amazingly the computer works better now than it did when it was new, I don't know what the manufacturer put on the hard drive but whatever it was is now wiped out of existence, never to mess up my system again.

Not mine but you get the idea.

Anyway the work on my computer means it will be a long time before I start seeing performance issues again. Now would be the ideal time to take advantage of my box and what better way to test my rig than a Bethesda game.

To get the obvious out of the way. Fallout 3 does look better on PC than it does on a console, even on medium it was easy to see the quality gap in graphics. A mouse and keyboard suits the game better than a control pad. Whenever I tried to scroll between targets using the V.A.T.S targeting system on a pad I could never get the game to aim where I wanted it to, I'd be aiming for the head but the game would keep scrolling between the arms and legs. On PC I'd just point, click and kill.

There is some truth in what people say about Fallout 3 being an Elder Scrolls game with guns. The two games are practically brothers when put side by side. They are both open world action role playing games, playable in a 1st and 3rd person perspective, they both run on the same engine using a similar interface, both games use moral systems and so on.
Do not think bad of this, Oblivion was a great game but it does bring up issues regarding repetition, how many times will Bethesda be able to get away with making all their games the same? This probably won't be an issue when you consider the video game industry sees yearly updates of big titles.

All this is irrelevant though and doesn't really reflect on Fallout 3 now does it? I've put 50 hours into Fallout 3, 75 if you count the time I spent on the 360 version, it would be fair to assume I was taken by the game. But assumptions are not recommendations nor do they give out answers, if they did I wouldn't be writing this blog post.

The game revolves around you, the lone wanderer, a lowly vault dweller who is sent out into the open, post-war, nuclear wasteland, a most unpleasant place with a look of death about it. Out in the open you have a choice to make, you can help all those in need and become the savour of the wastes, you can go the other way and become a raging god of war killing and taking whatever he wants or you can play it down the middle and have no strong feelings.
What ever path you take don't expect any major differences in the game, by the end of it all you will still be king of the wasteland with more weapons, ammo, money and items than you could ever need.

I've been to worse places.

This brings us to the issue of balance, the game expects you to tackle quests in a set order but it is easy to skip half of them. This approach can make the game harder as you didn't spend 20 hours building your character up by taking side quests like the game expected you too. This can leave you with an underdeveloped character with little in terms of weaponry and supplies. Even with this small blip in the road it is always possible to turn the difficulty down so the radioactive monsters become less spongy.

When it came to freedom of choice the combat was probably my number one in Fallout 3, while there are multiple ways to go about combat I found my suited style was to run in recklessly and shoot everything until it exploded into a massive pile of gore. Truth be told I didn't choose to play like this I'm just terrible at stealth. The stealth itself isn't anything fancy or on the level of a game like Thief but it does have one big feature I adore, the ability to put a live explosive in an characters pocket and watch them panic as the grenade blows their legs off.
As a story experience I can't criticise Fallout 3 for being too spread out, the main game only requires you to visit what accounts to 1/5 of the capital wasteland which is fine but and this is a big but, did half these areas really need to be underground ruins? I am glad we had the side quests as a distraction from the repetitive boredom associated with sewer levels and I am also glad the game lets the player take the long way around to landmarks skipping the sewers and tunnels entirely.

The gore can get a bit nasty at times.

Fallout 3 Game of the Year Edition also features the 5 downloadable content expansion packs.

Broken Steel – An expansion of the main game, if you had to pick a DLC this would be the first one to get, not because it is the best but because it raises the maximum level cap from 20 to 30 while also introducing new items, features and enemies. You also need this DLC in order to play the game past the ending.

Operation: Anchorage – This was actually the first downloadable content package released for Fallout 3. The add-on takes place inside a computer simulation of the war between America and China responsible for the apocalyptic nuclear fallout. This may have been my favourite add-on, it takes the game in a completely different direction, making it interesting again.

The Pitt – This add-on opens up new areas in the game world and makes the player feel vulnerable by making them work their way back up in order to regain their weapons and amour. The moral system is also more balanced in The Pitt with morals being more grey zone as oppose to the Capital Wastelands Black & White moral system.

Point Lookout – This expansion takes place on a swamp island and is gigantic, the map is about 1/3 the size of the capital wasteland. It is here where the enemies start to get incredibly spongy, the foes in point lookout are much stronger and require a great deal of damage before they go down. This is another strong content pack with some very interesting areas and enemies.

Mothership Zeta – This was the final downloadable adventure for Fallout 3 and it is by far the weakest of the set. The enemies require an even harder kicking than those at point lookout, don't bother with your wasteland weapons they are more or less ineffective against the Aliens who patrol Mothership Zeta. The entire quest consists of fighting through corridors while fighting off hordes upon hordes of Aliens. If you only want a few expansions then make sure you do not get this one.

When it comes to big open games very few do it better than Fallout 3, just be sure to save often so a glitch gremlin doesn't ruin hours worth of progress like it did to me.