16 April, 2012

This Week in Gaming 9 April 2012 - 16 April, 2012

Top Three Games:
The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion (PC)
MGS HD Collection: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS3)
Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
MGS HD Collection: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

Star Trek Online

13 April, 2012

Final Fantasy XIII-2

So, I wanted to wait a little while to do my Final Fantasy XIII-2 review so that I could go through a little bit of the DLC that was promised to us. Now that that has occurred, I'll proceed. First of all, because I wanted to get XIII-2 on the PS3, I got XIII on the PS3 & traded in my 360 copy. This pained me a little as I only had two more achievements to get in the 360 version to get 1000/1000, but I knew I wouldn't be going back to that game. The PS3 version of the game is much nicer, more beautiful, and seems to run better, but it just might be that I hadn't played it in over a year when I got the PS3 version. As an added bonus, a save file from XIII got me some extra things in XIII-2.

The graphics have not failed to impress me and even though they aren't too incredibly different from XIII, they seem crisper and more fluid. Blu-ray also makes it even more lovely and I can appreciate the difference. The scenery, however, is where it really shines. Although the characters look mostly the same, the graphics of weather, flora, and fauna are so much nicer. I was very impressed at the weather in particular. There is one place that you can control four different types of weather and it's just amazing. It seems like a small thing, but I really enjoyed it when it rained, or when the thunder cracked. Oh man, it was great. Along with the crackling thunder were the other sounds of the game, obviously. Done well, as usual; I can't really see them screwing that up, but I am really torn with the music in XIII-2. Some of it is exceptional and some of it is just the worst ever. Whereas the majority of the voice acting was splendiferous, I really, really hated Chocolina's god damn voice. Every time I had to talk to her I just wanted to brick her. Serah's voice was all right... annoying, but well delivered. Noel, Hope, and Caius were my favourite voice work in 
What is Serah looking at?
this one. Just so precise and wonderful to listen to. And footsteps? Nope! I'm going to diverge from my normal procession for a minute and mention the interface of the game. XIII had an OK interface, but it was hard to see at times. XIII-2 has corrected this and made it a lot easier to read and what's even better is they included an option to magnify whatever your selecting. Making the text bigger is so nice since I have a lot of issues see shit at a distance. It really helps. Well now, XIII was much criticised for its very linear game play. The linear story is still there, but it does a good job at masking that, which is fine. All games are eventually linear, but the story needs to hide that. It's done with a lot of time travelling to get to where you need to go, find the pieces that you need to open the next time gate, and new time lines to explore in order to see alternate realities. All these eventually come together in getting to the end, so whereas you might decide to do one area before the other or make some choices different, you get the same ending either way. It's not a bad thing; I did enjoy going through the worlds and seeing all the different realities the game had to offer.

Fascinating windmills...
Another part of the game play, which is also part of the combat, is the monster taming aspect. Some relate it to Pokémon in that you capture monsters, then level them up to use in battle. OK, this is true, but I didn't really find it much like Pokémon. At the end of a fight, you have a chance to get the crystal of the monster you fought and then you can level them up with monster food items you find/buy in the world. There are monsters for all classes in the game and they fill the slot of the third person in the party. It's not a bad system. I didn't revel in the glory of it, but it was actually nicer than having to manage another stupid character I didn't care about (the other being Serah as Noel was great). You can make up your own Paradigm packs to whatever combination you want if you have the monster crystals, but really I used Rav/Rav/Rav and Rav/Rav/Com the most with Med/Sen/Med on the side. You can only have three monsters equipped so unless you want to put a load of stupid time into levelling up one of each monsters and switching constantly with your packs, just stick to the three monsters you'll use. While I'm here, the combat system has been so very much improved upon and I was elated to see that. Switching Paradigms is instant and as soon as you click on your new set up, everything is instantly usable. And the best thing? When the main character you are controlling dies, it switching to your other. You don't die! I'm so very happy they changed this issue as it was the worst thing possible in XIII and made no sense at all. You can change your party leader between Noel and Serah to utilize their specific 
Finally the Paradigm system works!
abilities or to just have a change up in battle. The classes were tweaked a little, though more so through the changes to the Crystarium. Instead of learning the classes and specific ability tiers, you just have one Crystarium per character which diverges onto the other class paths. At certain points in it you can choose one bonus out of a few (though you choose them all eventually). It's a more linear way to do it and I thought it was way better than the previous, bulky process. I had a really good time in the different time lines. The story was engaging and the characters were pretty awesome, except for a few retards, one of which was my female party member. Ugh. It was still better than having to listen to Vanille cackle all the time or Lightning whine like a five year old. I was sad that Hope couldn't be a team member, but thrilled at his part in the game. He was my favourite character in XIII and I was very happy to see him back. Noel's story was incredible and really made me feel for him and his plight. It was so well done, bravo. There is so much to do in the game, including mini games and all the awesome trophies/achievements you can get. The end times in the game is fantastic. The ending fights, the ending cinematic, and even the song was pretty cool. It was worth it for the time I put in.  

Noel Auditore da Firenze?
The post game was good too. When you beat the game you are given an item which allows you to view paradox endings and those are really sweet. You can also unlock a few new battle additions like the choco stopper (I think that's the name, it's 2am and I don't have the game turned on) which speeds or slows your battle. I sped up my battles and they go by so quick its awesome. Grinding is a lot better, but the thing is that it also speeds up the cut scenes, which is annoying. I wish there was just a battle speed up and a leave the cut scenes the fuck alone setting. Ah, well, I know what went on in the cut scenes anyway, but still. I got a lot of the trophies done, though I can't remember how many at my first beating of it, but it was a great amount. And now the topic which I hardly ever write about: DLC. Usually I will write a review before any DLC comes out, but the DLC was so hyped for XIII-2 that I wanted to wait a bit. Promises of DLC had been around since XIII-2 was announced and boy have they laid it out. Colosseum battles, costumes, weapons... they have a lot to offer and even more on the way. I bought a few of the weapons, some of the outfits, and some of the Colosseum battles expecting joy and for the most part, that's what I got. I like the outfits I downloaded and the battles in the Colosseum are great. I still haven't been able to beat Ultros/Typhoon, but I am slowly getting them down every time. The Assassin's Creed costume for Noel is the absolute best and the N7 costume for Serah is my favourite for her. I don't see myself getting any other costumes, but the Colosseum battles are awesome and, except for Sazh and Jill, I 
Commander Serah Shepard?
have got them all. Sazh and Jill I didn't get because I hated their characters in XIII and have no desire to acquire them. Because of the eventual linearity of the game, there is no replay value, but I guess they got around this with the post game and DLC. There is really a lot to do and I'm not even done with it all yet. I was sad to not see any Espers (Eidolons), but I guess they aren't needed due to all the other things in the game. Weapons and armour were a lot like XIII in that you upgraded what you got to make a more powerful weapon, though you did have to find materials to make most of the items. That was a pain sometimes, but in the end it wasn't too much of a trial. I was also happy to see that the weapons you made in game were more powerful than the DLC weapons, overall. Of course, it all depends on what you want to do with your character as to the weapons you used; different attributes and abilities.

Final Fantasy is a huge series and full of many games with their own spin off, but that being said, it's not for everyone. A lot of people are also sick of the series and that's their right, but I would still recommend playing this game, at least once through. It surprised me, I admit it. I wasn't going to play the game, but in the end, how could I not. It's Final Fantasy. Give it a go if you're interested in JRPG's. It's worth some time :)

At least someone got an awesome haircut

03 April, 2012

Silent Hill: Downpour

At the time of this writing I've almost completed my second play through of Silent Hill: Downpour on the PS3. I'd heard that it got bad reviews & negative feedback, but that doesn't add up to feedback I've personally got from it. People I know who've played it really enjoyed it & I'm no different. Silent Hill: Downpour has now replaced Silent Hill: Homecoming as my favourite game in the series. A big claim, I'm sure, & it comes from having played all the Silent Hill games there are, excluding Arcade, which I can't find for the life in me. So what makes this game so incredible? Let's move on to the review with a warning that I'll be including some spoilers here & there, but I don't think anything massive. The game play of Silent Hill has always been one which manages to suck me into it & Downpour is no different. It took me a little while to realise that as you got hit, the amount of blood on your outfit showed how damaged you were. You can check on the Statistics screen about your health %, but I found that just paying attention to the state of my clothes was easier. I didn't realise it at first because I automatically assumed that my clothes would always be drenched in blood or tattered.. this is a Silent Hill game after all. Moving around Silent Hill is a chilling experience which is only heightened 
Creepy fog & unnerving drizzle
by the dismal weather; rain & fog. If it's not foggy & wet, it's drizzling or even a full on thunder storm with bizarre lilac lightning, reminiscent of a screaming ladies scream, but we'll get to that in a few. One thing that usually annoys me in games is being able to hear your own footsteps, but I didn't mind it too much in Downpour. It sort of fit & the footsteps made sense. Like on grating, it would sound like walking/running on grating, & puddles splashed. It became natural & part of the background noise, which is nice. Doing tasks & moving through inventory was also done well as I never felt aggravated at a move I had to do or something I needed to get from my pockets. It was handled really well.

I'll move right into the combat now & say that it was miles better than Homecoming. Whereas Homecoming has good combat ideas, they came off a bit awkward at times; especially with jumping back up or dodging. Downpour doesn't let you dodge or jump back up, but it does let you block & something I found awesome about that is your block is dependant about what item you have as a weapon. Like if you block with just your hands/arms, you take damage, as you're blocking with your body, but it's less. If you block with a frying pan or something, then you can block a little damage, but it will probably break. Blocking with things like chairs or harpoons or fire extinguishers will prevent damage for several blocks. The monsters have patterns you can follow if you pay attention & that is a key factor in beating them. You need to keep your eyes open & sometimes it's better to just run. Seriously. You need to run from some battles or you will die. This is a great thing they pulled over from Shattered Memories. All the monsters have names you can find at the awesome Silent Hill Wiki, but since I don't check anything the first time I go through a 
Beware the screams of the damned
game, I had to come up with names for them all & they sort of stuck lol. It will be easy to determine what I'm talking about though; the names are rather descriptive. You can use loads of things to attack with from guns as melee to rocks on the ground to rakes & shovels. One part which also belongs in the combat section is the Otherworld. In Downpour your trek through the watery Otherworld will, primarily, involve you fleeing from the Void, which I nicknamed Wtfisthatthingomgrunrunrunrun. It involves quick thinking, paying attention to your surrounding, & using every second in the best possible way as you run down halls & through obstacles without getting sucked into its disintegrating grasp. It's a little harrowing, actually.

Following the combat system is going to have to be the graphics. They are not the best graphics to have ever been & the monsters are the best graphics in the game. That isn't saying that the graphics are shit; they are quite good, but not the best of games out there. Silent Hill has never had the best graphics available to the gaming community, but it hasn't needed to. The only real issue I have in the game is the FPS issues that are hindering it as you progress through the game; I actually attribute it to all the save files you can have as the game auto saves & doesn't delete the auto saves, but makes new ones, creating huge caches of auto saves that it searches through constantly. 
Puzzles have varying difficulty
We've seen this in other games & they will probably patch it, but for now, the graphics suffer a bit. That's more performance, than graphics, however. As I said, things look nice, not holy shit real, but nice. The water looks so real & the monsters are truly ghastly to look at sometimes. Especially the second to last boss you fight... wow, impressive in a very real way. The ambiance & dreary world permeates every move you make & it draws you in. This is also brought in by the sound & music. Together with the ambient tracks, & also the actual OST by Daniel Licht, Silent Hill eats your sanity away. The giggling, the echoing, the screams, the strange little noises here & there... together with imagery & sometimes lack of anything, unnerves you in a big way. Some of the buildings you head into are further creepified by the music that plays & it's not all original music... there are old songs, like Born Free by Andy Williams & Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen by Louis Armstrong, & some more modern sounding ones too that start playing & give the world a surreal aspect. I'll make a list at the end of all the licensed music, which I recognised, used in the game as I don't think there is a list out there that I can find. The music is amazing & I got the OST before I was even done with the first play of the game.

The story & side quests. I'll start off by saying that the side quests are a truly amazing addition to the world of Silent Hill. No more are we guided from start to finish, wondering about the town or wishing we could see more. These quests give you the chance to stray from the path & explore the town of Silent Hill. It takes you into the lives of people who lived there & lets you find out more about the inhabitants. It's often been said that the world of Silent Hill
that we see, is not the world that anyone else sees. Not only is it the world of our characters only, but it might be completely different than the inhabitants even. There is a part in Silent Hill 3 where Heather is speaking to Vincent Smith & she mentions the monsters she's facing & Vincent says 'Monsters? They look like... monsters to you? ' Even though he says he's just joking when Heather gets worried, he really isn't. The monsters being fought in the game are not monsters, they are people. Silent Hill bends reality, as Bobby says in Downpour, it does 'strange things' to reality. This is actually reinforced a little by the unseen scoring system in Downpour that determines your ending... if you kill monsters, your score gets worse, but if you just incapacitate them & go, then your score actually goes up; it gets better. I could talk forever about the theories around Silent Hill, but I'll stick to this game of course. This all comes into the side quest situation in that you can see how people are slowly going mad from Silent Hills invisible punishment system. As the people, who live in Silent Hill, become more obsessed with guilt or passion, or whatever, the town begins distorting their world & how they see life & it's amazing to go through the quests & take that journey into oblivion with them. The quests are done really well & give you a genuine creepy feeling. There are also quite a number of awesome Easter eggs pertaining to the other Silent Hill games; pictures of previous characters & locations, & also a room that looks exactly like Henry's from The Room. One quest in particular, The Gramophone, was so unnerving that even though I was in a well lit room with my nephew sitting next to me playing Halo multi-player loudly (this was my second run so I didn't mind the non Silent Hill noise), it was still so freaky that even he stopped his game, dying several times, his eyes glued to my screen as I controlled the slow, inevitable death that was occurring. It was all encompassing.
Henry's room from Silent Hill 4: The Room
The main storyline is not obvious at first. You're thrown into the game with blood on your hands almost immediately & you don't know why. You're told to do something that is much like skewering a pig, but to a person & the game wants you do to it for no known reason, brutally & without remorse. This sets a rather dark stage that ends up following you through the entire game. As you move through the story, you meet a few other characters, a few of them are not explained in the game, & their fate is unknown in every ending, with resolution only coming to two characters, & even then, it's left a little weird. I didn't figure out the entire canon story until close to the end & that's a good job on the game for keeping me guessing that long. It's a creepy story that opens you up to guilt & self delusion, & how that can become reality & the world you live in. You create your world by your actions & what you do effects how you see things. Living inside yourself is a big theme & the need to come to terms with that & accept truth instead of delusion is a driving point.

What is real?
In the end of all things, this game is not worth the disservice it was given. You can choose your difficulty for both gameplay & puzzles, each has its own setting. Silent Hill is a series that holds the award for being the only series that can seriously freak me the fuck out. It is entrancing, beautiful, creepy, & haunting, & if you're a fan of the genre of horror/survival horror, then you should pick it up. If it's not your style, then nothing I'm saying will really make you want to play it, & that's fine. I'll rank this game mighty high in my favourite games ever. 

Edit: 05 April, 2012: Silent Hill: Downpour is now my first platinum trophy. I love this game & the amazing ambience, voice acting, & story therein. I hope that the voice actors will return in other games, especially Murphy's voice actor. Amazing work on this fantastic game.

Now I will place the licensed music that I heard so you can check it out. Also, be sure to listen to the OST from Daniel Licht (he also did the music for Dexter).

Andy Williams – Born Free
Louis Armstrong – Nobody Knows The Trouble
James Vincent McMorrow – If I Had A Boat
Doves – Willow’s Song (Bury Version)
Anna Ternheim – Words of Love
Ed Harcourt – Here Be Monsters
Jonathan Singleton & The Grove – I’m Afraid of Storms
Highwaymen – Silver Stallion
The Coals – I Wanted A Lover, I Needed A Friend
Kris Kristofferson – Why Me Lord
Ed Harcourt – From Every Sphere
Anna Ternheim – Off the Road

Welcome to Silent Hill