Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Five Dollar Gaming: Musashi: Samurai Legend (PS2)

Can Musashi manage to not suck the way most of Square-Enix's games have since 2002? Pop a Viagra and find out!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

SC on Calling (Wii)

(If you're somehow reading this and don't know about it, I did a blind run of this game on my YouTube channel.  Link is relevant.)

Why?  Why why why why WHYYYY?!

Yes.  It's come to this.  I need catharsis goddamnit and you will witness it!

I said at the beginning of the game that I was keeping tabs on Hudson's game quality (or lack thereof).  I was only half-kidding.  With the scars of Bloody Roar 4 that may never heal, I visited Hudson's web site to read yet another "Make Bloody Roar 5" topic and saw them pimping the hell out of this game from last March with ad after ad after ad.  I went into this game with that blind hope I sometimes have that Hudson had learned from their mistakes and that a game will simply be misunderstood or have flown under the radar of critics who were simply meeting a deadline or not paid enough to give the game a positive review.  In related news, I'm an idiot.

Let's play a game: name the last survival horror game Hudson made before Calling.  Answer: <none>.  Strike one!  Now look at the basis for the game: cell phones and ghosts.  Sounds a lot like "One Missed Call" huh?  Only problem is that movie was from 2004, 2008 if you're thinking of the American remake.  Considering as how Hudson is stationed in Japan though, that means they're 6 years behind when this game could have been relevant.  Strike two!  And lastly, let's make sure this game is REALLY scary to American audiences by not translating any of the Japanese that shows up outside of the dialogue so that finding scribbled phrases in lockers or on walls has absolutely no effect on the player.  Strike three!

The Pittsburgh-fucking-Pirates are better than Calling.

Here's the lowdown on Calling's plot.  People have been disappearing after going to this website called The Black Page and talking in the chat room.  How do people find out about this page you might ask?  Simple, it's advertised in an occult magazine.

Two sentences into the story and it's already complete bullshit.  Why is no one investigating the magazine?  Why didn't someone step in the first time people disappeared after going to this site and make the connection?  Who's hosting the web site?  Ghosts?  Do they have ISPs and high-speed servers in whatever void they're in?  Keep in mind there's a counter on the page supposedly showing how many people have died visiting it and after the game's opening cutscene it's at 961 people!  This is stupid beyond stupid.

Actually, let me say all the positive things I can about the game first, just to establish that I'm not entirely against the game.  It controls well.  It takes some getting used to since aiming the Wiimote to the sides of the screen turns, but it works and it works way better than Ju-On the Grudge: Haunted House Simulator ever did.  Running, quick turns, circle-strafing, ducking, looking around rooms, everything controls just great.

There.  Positivity complete.

Where's the sign with an arrow saying "Fuck Off" under it?

It's hard to properly encapsulate just how bad this game really gets, but I'll try.  Remember how, in the great survival horror debate between Silent Hill and Resident Evil, people would talk about how Silent Hill was more about atmosphere and Resident Evil relied too much on jump scares?  Calling is jump scares.  99% jump scares.  You wouldn't necessarily think that about a game where you spend all of your time wandering around dark buildings with and without a flashlight, but that's the case. Jump scares opening doors, jump scares picking up items, even jump scares just from hitting the quick turn button.  Not only that, most of them are painfully predictable.  The ones that's aren't are typically effects that appear at random either while walking around or while quick-turning--small faces appearing for a millisecond, what looks to be some girls hair-covered face falling down one side of the screen--and trust me, this sounds way scarier than it actually is.  Internet screamers, Chris-chan, suicide mouse, and Goosebumps books are all scarier than this.

To "amplify" the effect of these jump scares, most of Calling is played in absolute dead silence.  The only thing you hear for the fair share of the game is your own character's footsteps and a phone ringing now and then.  Now and then there's a clicking sound which I think is the game trying to say "ghosts are doing shit!  Be scared!  WooOOooOOOoOOOOoooo!" but outside of that the only thing close to music is the panic score that plays either when you're caught by a ghost or when a sequence triggers where the character needs to run away for whatever reason.

This picture?  Yeah, it's scarier than Calling.

I keep saying "your character" because it switches over the course of the game.  Four different people are played as: a stupid teenage guy, a stupid girl, an old lady, and Luis Sera... I mean some guy from a newspaper whose friend was stupid, making him stupid by association.  As a result there are four different people and three different stories going on in addition to the overlying idea of The Black Page, meaning plot points get introduced, dropped, picked back up, conflict with other plot points, and get dropped again.  Can you think of anything that would make this design choice worse?

If you said 'Make it so the old lady can't duck, run, or quick turn because we want to be realistic in our game about ghosts in an alternate dimension with teleporting cellphones which is accessed from a chatroom,' you're absolutely right!

I'll be right back.  I need to look up more synonyms for "stupid."

This shirt?  Yeah, it's smarter than anything in Calling.

While typing that last paragraph I accidentally used the word 'innovative' instead of realistic and quickly deleted it.  This was entirely necessary because what was "original" was a cliche mess of a story with mind-numbingly boring gameplay, and what wasn't was borrowed from every Japanese horror movie with a little dead girl in it.  Hair comes out of the wall and holds doors shut on several occasions, and this game is actually reminding me that the Ju-On Wii game also sucked, but I would have finished it much faster which makes it far superior in my book.

Then I get to a house where the game rips off the Ju-On movie.  A long-haired dead pseudo-ghost girl crawls down a staircase while spazzing like Kayako in The Grudge.  This is never explained or mentioned again after it happens.  Suddenly there are not enough expletives in the world to encapsulate how much I hate this game.

Oh, but I've just been dodging the REAL issue so far.  Gameplay!  Or what little there is!  TALLY HO!

Cool Cat getting hammered?  WAY more entertaining than Calling.

 Try this: think of something that you may or may not actually own.  Now get up and look around the house for it.  While doing this, open the same closets and desk drawers several times hoping it magically appears there.  This is the bulk of Calling's gameplay.  The game has random notes, files, and puzzle items scattered around its different locations, several of which are found by looking through drawers and cabinets or exploring dead ends.  For completionists or anyone trying to make sense of the plot, that means going through every drawer, cabinet, locker, and closet to get a slight clue of what's going on or a little backstory about certain people.  Shenmue did the very same thing, and it didn't work well then either.

Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, however, the drawer/locker/cabinet/closet will have the exact same contents as the last twenty drawers/lockers/cabinets/closets.  I lost track of how many brooms there were in the school after finding them in every single goddamn locker I could open.  I still don't know if this is as lazy a design choice as finding absolutely nothing in most of the desk drawers and cabinets.

Oh, and sometimes there will be some untranslated Japanese scribbled neatly inside the drawer/locker/cabinet/closet which means absolutely nothing to anyone who can't read it since none of the characters can examine it to tell us what it means.

OH MY GOD HE THINKS CALLING IS SCARY- oh wait no he's just yawning.

The phone itself, aside from dialing and receiving calls, can record EVPs (ghosts talking) in specific places, take pictures, and receive (but not send) messages.  In the beginning there are a couple different phones that the characters find, but after a few levels everyone seems to find the same bland, off-white cell phone in every location they visit.  I'm chalking this up to laziness because the game clearly states that when a person calls a number to teleport the phone gets left behind and a person can't call their own number.

Wait a minute.  There are a few times when a character gets called by either a ghost or another character.  How come the ghost/character doesn't teleport to them?  And why don't they just call the phone numbers of their friends outside of the abyss they're in?  Whose cell phones are these?  And how come they were brought into the abyss but not the cell phones of the people we saw in the chat r-STUPID!  STUPID!  STUPID!

... Somehow not as stupid as Calling.

 When a ghost DOES show up and grabs whoever the player is, this triggers a "fright event," which is possibly the lamest name they could have given it.  The idea is to shake the Wiimote and enter a button queue to fend off the ghost before it depletes the "horror meter," otherwise known as "Resident Evil health indicator with more wavy lines."  In true Hudson fashion, this doesn't work for a few reasons:

1. It looks like the ghost is groping you to death.
2. The horror meter regenerates.
3. You need to let the ghost attack for a long time for the horror meter to actually go... down? ... up? ... uh... be more wavy and turn red.
4. The ghosts can attack multiple times within a short time span and do absolutely nothing to the horror meter.  They're literally nothing more than a waste of time, and
5. The button queue.  Is always.  The same.  Fucking.  Button.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold your new god!

And just when I think this game can't possibly screw up any more than it already has, I beat the game the first time and find that the game doesn't stop.  It keeps going, but this time it goes back through all the events of the story in order.

I'm going to repeat that.

The first playthrough of the game has the events of the story intentionally out of order.  Playing through it a second time shows everything in order.

Fuck you, Hudson.

No caption necessary.  Oh wait...

What's the logic behind this?  If we confuse the hell out of the player they'll have to play it again to figure out what's happening?  No!  Get it right the first time you morons!  Your extras should not be shit that belongs in the core of the game!  I don't care that some chapters are new.  I don't care that the repeated chapters are skippable.  I don't give two shits about the lady in red or how some jump scares are in slightly different places.  Don't tell me I'm done, then show me the other half of the game like I was just beta-testing your game for the first few hours.

Even then the final revelation STILL doesn't make sense.  You're telling me the little girl is the cause of the void these people are getting trapped in?  How?  How long has this been going on to the point where she's claimed over 900 people?!  Were people disappearing before then and if so why wasn't this explained?  Why does the little girl have cat eyes?  Why is she always carrying around the cat doll?  Why does the ending have to not only make Rin look fucking stupid but the little girl look like a stupid, conniving bitch for continuing to be a stupid, conniving bitch after getting catharsis, making her peace and not doing jack shit about it?

I don't drink... but sometimes I wish I did.

Do I even need to spell out a final verdict on this game?  It's awful.  It's an insult to horror movie and game fans, Wii owners, cell phones, fat people, and Japanese cinema.  Any given episode of Jackass has more thought put into it than this game.  My Wii hates me for having played it at all.  I can tell by the way the wired connection has been acting up and the sudden appearance of a Mii named YDIDUDOIT with long black hair and soulless eyes.

It's official.  My Wii is scarier than Calling now.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

SC on Deadly Premonition (360)

I can't properly put into words my exact motivations for buying this game, but I'll give it a shot.  Deadly Premonition is one of those games that I've heard about since it came out, and when I say I've heard about it I mean I've heard every kind of reaction to the game possible, including some I'd never heard before.  It's the best!  It's the worst!  It's mediocre!  It's a plague upon your houses!  It's Godzilla!  It's a brickhouse, just letting it all hang out!  It's a spicy meatball!  It's the economy, stupid!  It's eating her!  And then it's going to eat me!


I'm one of those people who doesn't trust a word any reviewer says, no matter how credible the person may (not) be.  So when I saw people bashing, standing up for, burning crosses on the front lawn of, and making sandwiches for this game I said "Screw you all, I'm playing this."  It was a budget release too, so in the end it cost me 20 dollars to put everyone else's bullshit aside and see the game for myself.

... Perhaps not "see" so much as "experience."

Deadly Premonition revolves around FBI Agent Francis York Morgan, who has been called in to help solve a case involving the murder of a teenage girl found nearly naked and hanging from a tree by her arms.  Oh, and she's split open from stem to sternum.  And the first people to find the body were two six-year old boys.  Enter our hero!

My scarred face sense is tingling...

Francis is, in all seriousness, one of my favorite video game characters of all time.  I can't begin to count the ways he is awesome, but I'll name a couple while trying to avoid spoilers.

The main selling point on Francis is this: he is clearly either schizophrenic or just plain insane. (You find out why he acts the way he does later.  Like I said, no spoilers.) He constantly has conversations with an unknown and unseen person he calls Zach. (No, it's not who you think it is) These talks range from details of past and present cases to movies like "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" to the Tom and Jerry cartoons.  Not only that, he will sometimes slip up and chat with Zach in front of other people as though only he and Zach were there.  He will even act on clues or "hunches" that he gets from Zach in the middle of a case.
His craziness goes beyond Zach, though.  He has lots of strange habits such as tapping a finger on his tie when he thinks or introducing himself to people with the exact same three-sentence introduction, word-for-word, every time.  He smokes, but he tends to puff on a cigarette a few times, put it out, and stuff it back in the carton.  Perhaps one of his strangest routines is his morning coffee, which to him acts like a fortune teller.

No really, he says "F.K. in the coffee."  I couldn't make that up.

Francis (I'll call him York from now on.  Everyone calls him York, or so he says.) is far from the only person in the game who has odd little quirks.  The old lady running the inn he stays in (where he is the only guest) sets him at the end of a massive table and herself opposite him because she wants to use the whole space of the dining room.  One of the officers at the police station, in addition to being a bit of a neat freak, has a vast amount of knowledge on squirrels and similar rodents and makes biscuits that even York approves highly of, which is no small feat considering how particular he is about biscuits... and coffee.  Everyone in the town of Greenvale has something that makes them truly unique to everyone else (aside from the five or six generic character models that fill the background in various spots), which is something I don't really see a lot of, or at least not done well, in games.

Don't fuck this batch up or so help me God...

And I'll end the character rant on this.  Whoever voiced York deserves an award.  Make one up if you have to because this guy took the role and played it as well as or better than any A-list voice actor could have.  The acting for the rest of the characters runs the gamut from kind of bad to pretty good, but York was amazing to listen to.

Ah, now for the gameplay.  This is where things get a bit muddled for most people.  The gameplay of Deadly Premonition contains a lot of little things that can continually add up and piss off the player.  Here's a list of these little things that can be seen in the game's first cutscene and over-the-shoulder sequence:

-Most of the background graphics are horribly outdated.  The first thing I noticed when the cutscenes started in a forest was that the trees all had flat branches, like something from an N64 game.  Unsurprisingly, when I caved in and looked at the negative reviews this was what reviewers penalized the game for more than anything.  Remember, kids.  It doesn't matter if your game plays well or tells a good story, it just has to look pretty.

Oh, how did this get here?

-Handgun ammo is unlimited and most enemies can be killed in four or five shots to the head.  While the enemies are creepy, they tend to be slow and the left trigger's lock-on makes them easy to hit.
-The enemies can become a bit repetitive, though I'm not expecting El Gigante or the executioner to jump into the story for some bullshit reason
-York will only keep his weapon drawn for about six or seven seconds.  If he doesn't use it or at least aim with it in that time, he puts it away automatically.  This can lead to tapping the aim trigger every five steps just to make sure he doesn't put it away as an enemy spots him.
-There is strafing, but there is no circle-strafing.
-York can only back up in a straight line.  Trying to turn while backing up does nothing.
-The framerate on the enemies, just the enemies, drops when they're at a certain distance.  Actually, just saying it drops is an understatement.
-Aiming is a bit stiff.  It's as though York's arms build momentum as the control stick is moved in one direction and when released they suddenly stop.
-Sometimes the music seems out of place, particularly the more jazzy tracks going on in the middle of a murder investigation.
-York has a ridiculously goofy running animation.  This becomes way more apparent later on when going up and down stairwells.
-Most enemies look a lot like the Joker from "The Dark Knight."

Still, there are little things about the gameplay to like.  York can sidestep while aiming his weapon (take THAT, Resident Evil 5!).  Switching weapons in real time is easy to do by tapping up and down on the D-pad, with the guns and melee weapons each grouped together to avoid one getting mixed with the other.  There's a toolbox extra items and weapons can go to, and both can be sent there the moment they're found.  Enemies not only need headshots to efficiently kill quickly, but move in to attack York in different ways.  Some walk forward with their arms blocking their face, some walk backwards, some turn around, bend back until they're a foot-and-a-half from the ground, and "limbo" their way forward, and some prefer not to move as much because they have guns.  Lock-on only targets the head when enemies do the "limbo" style attack, so the player can't just abuse the lock-on all the time.  By the way, you will want to get headshots because both killing enemies and scoring headshots earns an extra money bonus at the end of each chapter, on top of York's unpaid wages for doing his job.  This money can go to buying guns, food, medicine, coffee and what have you.  Said money can also be lost for doing such unprofessional things as wrecking cars and vandalizing the town.  Money bonuses are everywhere, so don't get too down about getting penalized once or twice.

That and you'll get jumped later on by two or three enemies at a time and need to be efficient about killing or avoiding them.  There's more to this game than a lot of people (and reviewers) are willing to give it credit for.

Speaking of which, here are some things you may not know about Deadly Premonition if you've only heard passing opinions on it.

1. There are driving parts.

 "That launch ramp is enticing.  Don't you agree, Zach?"

I know.  I was shocked, too.

Make no mistake.  Grand Theft Auto this is not.  York mostly drives a cop car from the sheriff and, unless he goes downhill, typically doesn't go faster than 60 miles-per-hour.  In other words, he drives like a sane human being (ironic, huh?), except for where the police siren is on which acts like a turbo boost... to 65 miles-per-hour.  It's more of a way to boost acceleration than speed.  Each car also has indicators for how much gas it has and how much damage it can take.  I didn't understand the latter until I realized there was a statistic in this game for number of cars wrecked.  That on top of stats for cigarettes smoked, number of times York shaved, and time spent peeping make this game... special.  In more ways than one.

Back to the driving, the car's handling tends to be very stiff. Most turning needs to be done either at very low speeds or with the handbrake to avoid crashing into everything, and the handbrake tends to make the car do a 180 regardless of speed or steering.  The handbrake takes a LOT of practice to be able to use properly, but after a few racing sections (yes, they exist too) it becomes easier, if not a little picky about how long to hold the button at certain speeds.

And I might as well mention it now.  The map system sucks.  There's an overworld map in the menu which, instead of always facing one direction, constantly switches direction so that York is facing north.  This caused me to get very lost early on, and I would have noticed it sooner except that the map can't zoom out very far at all.  It also doesn't mark key places like the police station, diners, bars, or the gun shop, but on the in-game "radar" these places show up as marked when York is near them.  At times I found simply trying to find and drive to someone's house in the woods or remembering where the inn or the hospital were to be some of the most frustrating parts of the game.

2. There are chase scenes.

What happens here is the screen splits between one large shot of York and a smaller shot of whoever or whatever is chasing him while button cues appear to run, evade, open doors, or push objects.  There are also times when York needs to hide and hold his breath (that's how some enemies see people).  Running happens the most, and since running tends to be shaking the control stick left and right these can become exhausting.

But that's the idea.  You're being chased by a serial killer!

 I'll never look at Jawas the same again.

These chases tend to last at least a few minutes and, if you do get caught, there's still a chance to escape and keep running.  It's far from unforgivable and adds a level of dread to confronting the killer, even if he does have a fetish for chokeslamming York on sight every single time and there's a small voice in the back of my head saying 'Why doesn't York just shoot the guy?'

The one real issue with these scenes is that the framerate tends to drop.  Noticeably.  Very noticeably.  It doesn't hinder the gameplay, but it doesn't do it any favors either, as I've noticed in the reviews.

3. There are quizzes.

Here is where I argue that this game is a survivor-horror title with the elements of a murder mystery adventure game, like In the 1st Degree and other similar games from that era.  Naming that game just made me realize how old I am.  Goddamn.

Okay, maybe not THAT old.

At a few points in the game York has to type up a report on a Typewriter-brand typewriter (no joke).  As this goes on he recounts all the details and events of the investigation to that point.  This typically happens at the end of an "Episode" which is divided into anywhere from one to seven chapters.  The last couple episodes are the shortest while the first few are the longest, and there are seven episodes in all.

Anyway, while he goes over these events he will randomly ask Zach about certain details, to which the player must select the right answer from three different choices.  I would say what happens when a question is answered wrong, except I've never had that problem.  Even though the first episode took me a little more than a week and a half to finish, I still got all the questions right.  Basically if you pay even a shred of attention to what's going on, you'll ace the quizzes.

By the way, it took me about eight hours of play to finish the first episode.  I've played this game more on the first playthrough than I did going through the Resident Evil remake four times, and I've rarely felt like the game was dragging on.

4. There are side quests.

At several points in Deadly Premonition York needs to go somewhere or meet someone at a certain time of day.  This leaves sizable gaps of time, amplified by the fact that one minute in-game is somewhere between twenty and thirty seconds real-time.  Sure, you COULD just have York go to sleep until it's time to go wherever he needs to-

Oh, right.  There's a rest bar and a hunger bar that indicate how tired or hungry York is, and letting York get too tired reduces his ability to run or hide as long as he could.  Keeping these up isn't particularly difficult as there are plenty of beds, plenty of places selling food, plenty of places to find food (though I'm suspicious of the turkey sandwich and smoked salmon I found in the abandoned lumber mill), and certain foods and drinks that raise the rest bar, hunger bar, or both.

Fully rested!  YATTA!

Side quests.  That's what I was talking about right? Well, throughout the game there are places to go and people to talk to.  Doing so sometimes triggers a side quest which involves finding something, moving objects, playing darts, fishing, or even clearing another "other world" level.  These actually can be fairly important as some not only reveal details about the people in town and their potential involvement with the murder, but at times also yield some important items.  One in particular is the Radio, which allows Yorks to warp to certain places.  Most quests give trading cards of people and things in Greenvale, which isn't so bad considering that each card collected gives a $200 bonus.

My radio > your radio.

Holy shit this is a long entry.  I guess I'll wrap it up by saying this:

Deadly Premonition is a flawed game.  It's far from perfect.  Just looking at it, it's clear to see that it's a budget title.

Possibly the best budget title ever made.

I have not been able to turn away from this game since I started playing it.  The characters, the story, and the variety o gameplay, despite its errors, make it an engaging experience.  This is one of those games that proves that an engaging story can not only save, but make worth while what would otherwise be an average or even crappy game.


I've bought games for $50 or $60 that didn't entertain me nearly as much as Deadly Premonition has, but I finished them out of feeling like, for that price, I had to.  I'm finishing Deadly Premonition because I want to, and to me that says a lot.