Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Aliens vs. Predator Review

Aliens vs Predator
I want you to imagine a strapping young lad. A man in prime physical condition. A man who shows exceptional leadership skills. A man who, given the opportunity, could well become one of the great officers of the air combat regime. Now I want you to imagine that this man has been slathered in steak sauce and thrown into a pit with 15 starving, crazed Bengal tigers. That, my friends, is Aliens vs. Predator. Like our unfortunate young officer, Aliens vs. Predator has a lot of potential and looks fantastic, but when forced to act, well, it just didn't really stand a chance. And that, my friends, is a tad pathetic to admit for a game released in 2010, especially the glorious wake of its predecessors.

I will admit, I was rather excited to see this next installment in such a fantastically ridiculous science fiction franchise. I appreciated the previous games because they were fun, somewhat original, and didn't take themselves too seriously. However, there is a fine line between not taking oneself seriously and simply not giving an elephant's saggy buttocks about what kind of impression your giving on gamers, 'ere wot.

Plot and characters? Even a dim-witted dog born with half a brain and an eye for communism could hash out the basic premise of Aliens vs. Predator. I will concede that the game's writers did give it something of a story, albeit a slapdash one even for the world of science fiction. The game attempts to follow along with the movie's theme in that the Aliens are regarded the ultimate prey in the eyes of the Predators race. Naturally, ancient human civilizations constructed elaborate temples and mazes to provide the Predators with joyous and challenging hunts of their adversary. Now, bring this compelling plot towards the future, throw in some scientists who went too far in the name of science (though I say at least they had the stones to act as men of science, eh?), a few squads of space marines, and you've got wacky yet frightening hijinks of a deadly nature ahead.

The player begins the game as either a Predator, an Alien (yes, I am well aware they are referred to as Xenomorphs but everyone knows them as the Aliens so I'm sticking with that thankyouverymuch), or a Marine, each having its own story and gameplay style. As you progress through the game, you unfold a banal and predictable story only to be metaphorically slapped in the kisser with a checkpoint and requirement to choose to continue said story as a different race. Thus, the player must play as all three characters in order to achieve the story's conclusion. But wait! What if you find the Predators to be pansies and would rather continue to play more as an Alien? I'm sorry old boy but tough luck! Traditionally I would expect to be able to choose a race, play through the entire game as said race, then complete the game with the option to play again from the beginning as another. However, this is not necessarily a negative thing, as I personally enjoyed being able to experience a single plot through different points of view, rather than having to repeat the same story two more times. An option to play the game as either style would've been perfect but so would an everlasting bottle of 21 year old single-malt Scotch. Dare to dream.

In regards to controls, I found the Marines to be the easiest to maneuver with his weapon relatively responsive to my actions. The Predator and Alien controls, on the other hand? Nightmare. An absolute and utter nightmare. For one thing, they were slow. And by that I do mean I have seen faster reactions from tea leaves steeping in hot water. I can't begin to tell you how many times I would press an attack or counter-attack button only to have to wait for the daft game to display the animations of the Alien's tale waving ahead menacingly or the Predator's claw-ridden arm retracting before the character finally responded. Yes, I'm certain this was deliberate as the attacks do an increased percentage of damage as compared to the rifle of the Marine. However, I am confident that even the most feeble-minded of Marines would eventually learn that multiple rounds could be fired into an Alien occupied by its stage show of an attack. My theory was quickly proven accurate as I frequently found my Alien carapace riddled with ammunition before I was able to pop off a single jab of my tail. "Hold on just a tick!", you say. "Couldn't this be compensated for by the stealth element of the game?" It is true that Aliens blend in to the dark background and Predators can become invisible. But what's this? Unless you're standing perfectly still and aren't within a 20-ft radius of the marines, you're still found? Bravo game! Bra-bloody-vo for your amazing stealth element! Good show!

Most often this frustration would arise while playing multiplayer, as slow controls in combination with human controlled opponents is a recipe for yelling, cursing, and table flipping tendencies. If one did manage to determine some form of timing against an adversary that landed you a kill, chances are you'll be dead within three seconds anyway. While your Alien was busy slowly picking up a man and thrusting its razor-tail through his spinal column, another player was behind you enjoying the show and preparing to do you in. So really it's less about skill and more about sheer dumb luck. The player is then rewarded for his luck with glamorous new skins for your character. Skins I'd like to point out that no one but you will see or appreciate because other players far too busy mashing buttons in hopes of landing a kill. Cue yet another rousing round shouting!

The Colonel’s Conclusion:

Overall this game had the potential for greatness, but aside from the visually stupendous graphics, it's as if the creators stopped giving a royal flatulence about it. Yes I know the pulse rifles, Alien screams and Predator purrs sound just as they did in the films, but you just can't substitute easy to obtain sound-clips with absolutely necessary gameplay and control scheme! The predictable story, heinous controls, and a general lack of attention to the multiplayer story leads me to understand why I feel I could have gotten along fine having never played this game. I have to say, I was initially entertained by this game simply because it presented me with this opportunity to quickly creep about walls and ceiling as an Alien. Upon reflection though, I now understand why I would take weeks between sessions playing Aliens vs. Predators due to my quitting in frustration after 10 minutes of play. I suppose I need a reminder why I stopped, though perhaps my reluctance to give up completely is because I hold out a glimmer of hope that someday a game will come along that does this franchise justice. Until such a glorious day, I will recommend you not waste a single shilling on this game.

~The Colonel

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Last Window Review

J. Wellington here with another enthralling review! This week’s installment is about a game with quite an interesting tale. Hotel Dusk was a game for the Nintendo DS that was released four some-odd years ago. I played and enjoyed the noir-style detective game, so imagine my delight when a sequel was announced; I very nearly hopped out of my spats! Alas, my joy was short-lived as I soon heard the crushing news of its release in only the Japanese and European markets. My mustache drooped in despair. This sequel, Last Window, would seemingly never be mine. I had all but forgotten about the game as months passed until a dear chum mentioned it in conversation. He informed me that I could import it via post all the way from Europe because of the Nintendo DSs wonderful lack of region-lock. At first I was apprehensive about a language barrier; however these feelings soon fled as I learned the European version of the game was completely in English. Only a few days later, I was able to dive back in to the world of Kyle Hyde. Would I find my import worthwhile, or was there a reason Mr. Hyde’s latest adventures were never destined for American soil?

At its core, Last Window is a puzzle game. Much like Phoenix Wright, the player takes on the role of a central character whose relentless pursuit of the truth lands him in hot water. Kyle Hyde is a gruff ex-detective turned salesman who “finds things that don’t want to be found” for the Red Crown company. His character development and the back stories of those around him create a world rich with content, but not dauntingly so. Having completed the game, I feel like I could recount each character’s history simply because I found myself fond enough of them to learn their tales. In this gentleman’s opinion, the depiction of characters in Last Window was top notch.

In addition to the well refined characters, the story’s beauty was striking. Just when you believe you’ve got a character pinned, another personal tidbit about them is revealed. Someone who may have seemed like a saint mere moments ago is now revealed to be a wormy buttersnoffer! Having a strong, character driven story goes far with me, and Last Window is not lacking.

Even a seasoned problem-solver such as me couldn’t help but find the puzzle mechanics compelling. Most often, the game lobs small riddles at you, but occasionally, quite the whopper is hurled. Only after twenty minutes of clicking around with the stylus do you realize the puzzle calls for you to close the lid of the DS, or blow into the microphone.

Dispelling the monotony of pointing and clicking by requiring an unconventional solution is much appreciated, and does a splendid job of keeping the player engrossed.

The game’s triumphs can also be a source of annoyance. Not unlike the Ace Attorney series, Last Window is frustratingly linear. If unable to find the developers’ pre-determined path, the player may find himself on a wild goose chase in which there was never any goose. The linearity’s confoundedness is only compounded by the lengthy dialog exchanges between characters. If you are speaking with a fellow and happen to run afoul of his NPC sensibilities, you may find yourself resetting the game to give it another go. This practice is perfectly acceptable; however, the exorbitant amount of time required to make up the lost work is unacceptable. By not including an option to hurry the text, the player is forced to keep tapping away at the screen until he’s back where he started. Occasionally, I would have to put the game down and come back to it after having a bit of cheese to calm my disposition. A feature as simple as fast forwarding would have made this game much more enjoyable. 

The lengthy conversations and threat of lost work also inspires a near-manic saving reflex in the player. Critical conversations often happen without warning in this game; a feature that adds suspense to the game, but not in an enjoyable way. A player may complete a 30 minute conversation and puzzle solving stint, only to find him himself beset upon by a chatty but innocuous enough character who suddenly finds it necessary to reveal crucial plot details only if asked the right questions. One false move or errant tap and a reset and 30 minute replay are in order.

This problem too could have been remedied by an automatic save before every conversation and perhaps a retry button of some sort. I admit that these options would take away from the permanence of a player’s decisions and may decrease how seriously the game is taken; however, Last Window is riddled with enough player annoyances that having second chance features like that would make the game appeal to a broader audience.

Overall, Last Window is a gangbusters sequel to Hotel Dusk. The puzzles are more interesting, there are fewer frustration pitfalls, and the story is still top notch. I would recommend this game, with a cautionary note about how frustrating it can be at times. Last Window is not unlike my Model T – it may be a painfully perplexing experience at times, but with a little coaxing and patience, you’ll have a first-class ride.
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