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Epic Mickey is a fun romp through the forgotten locations of ye olde Disney episodes replete with the characters that were dropped from once popular cartoons. I am a massive Disney fan and know a lot about the history of Disney and their older cartoons, so for me this game was an awesome nostalgia trip, but I'm sure that any fans of Disney unfamiliar with the characters and setting would find it just as amusing.
A young Mickey Mouse, before he finds fame, stumbles into Yen Sid's (the sorcerer from 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice') workshop. There he finds a model of the world Yen Sid has created and the magical paintbrush he used. While playing with the paintbrush Mickey accidentally creates a paint blob monster, he tries to use paint thinner to undo what he has done but in doing so he drops both paint and thinner onto the world model. Seeing Yen Sid approach Mickey runs, leaving the model in ruin and the Shadow Blot disappears into it.
Decades pass and Mickey becomes more and more famous until the Blot returns and pulls him into the model now dubbed 'the wasteland'. The world's original ruler Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (Disney's first main protagonist) has lost his kingdom to the Blot and companion; a mad doctor. They have a plan to kidnap Mickey and steal his heart (echoes of Kingdom Hearts). As forgotten characters they have no hearts and hope that by stealing Mickey's they can leave their wasteland and take over the real world. Despite Oswald's insane jealousy of Mickey's fame he helps him escape and Mickey, paintbrush in hand, goes to try and rectify the damage he did by introducing the Blot into the kingdom.
The game features three types of worlds; hub worlds, action worlds and travel worlds. Hub worlds act as your rest period where you gather information, interact with Disney characters from the old cartoons and buy items. The six hub worlds are based on parallels of Disney locations and rides from Disneyland. Action worlds allow you to progress the storyline, complete the game's quests and fight the bosses. Action worlds take their inspiration from popular Disney films. Finally travel worlds do exactly what it says on the tin, gets you from hub worlds to action worlds. Personally travel worlds are my favourite. They're short, 2D, side scrolling levels that take you through very early black and white Disney cartoons.
Epic Mickey is a platform game combining 3D elements for the main segments and the 2D side scrolling for the mini travel levels. The camera angles leave a lot to be desired and many times it is incredibly frustrating to perform a very simple task just because you can't alter the camera angles. Enemies range from the very easy to the downright nigh impossible to kill without losing a great deal of life in the process and there's nothing worse than being beaten to death because of a rubbish camera angle.
Mickey's only weapon/tool is a paintbrush and you can alternate between using paint and/or thinner. You can use paint to restore canvas and parts of the setting (it's great fun) which aside from making your surroundings all pretty again also allow you to progress (no bridge? Paint a bridge!). Paint can also be used to make some enemies friendly, friendly enough to attack your other enemies! Thinner is used in the same way but to the opposite effect. Where paint restores your surroundings thinner dissolves it (can't pass a wall? Get rid of it!) and you can thin out your enemies. Your choices between using paint or thinner offer you different story choices and quests as well as providing a series of moral choices which affect the way in which the game progresses and how characters relate to you.
=Graphics & Soundtrack=
The game was released on the Wii so while the graphics are not up to the exceptional standard of the Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 they're still pretty decent. The little cut scenes between levels are done in a kind of scratchy film reel effect which sits quite nicely in the general feel of the game. One thing that I thought really did do the graphics justice was the way in which paint drips off Mickey throughout the game and rise in the air.
The soundtrack is excellent and has won many awards in its own right. It's very obviously Disney despite being original for the game and the music for the 2D travel worlds is just brilliant.
The game is a throwback to Mickey's early days taking him away from the modern portrayal of the cheerful character full of goodness and back to his mischevious days in Steamboat Willy.
I really enjoyed this game, but my enjoyment did come from being able to recognise all the old school Disney characters, most of whom my housemates had no idea had ever existed (the point of the game). But I think any fan of Disney would be able to enjoy this game.
The storyline is surprisingly in depth and the fact that you can make moral choices is quite deep for a game aimed at children. What impressed me most though is that there is simply so much to do and the game can appeal to all ages. Too often you see games that are supposedly suitable for all ages but then present gameplay so complex you have to have been born with a controller in your hand to figure it out.
This game is easy to pick up (even with the ridiculous camera angles) and completely suitable for children as the age rating suggests. That is not to say that there isn't much to do for older games and adults. In fact there are simply so many side quests to discover and pins (the game's version of the Xbox 360's achievements) to find it would keep even the most avid completionist busy!
For me though, the absolute best part, was being able to find film reels of actual old Disney cartoons including an early Oswald the Lucky Rabbit segment aired in 1928. (What can I say? The historian part of me loved it.)
1. What is the wallpaper on your computer screen? Why did you choose it?
It's a black and white photo of a woman in a corset in handcuffs (nothing kinky I swear!). I chose it because of the amazing contrast in colour.
2. Mexican food, Chinese food, Italian food, French food or American food?
Mexican! I love it and for some reason whenever I go on all Mexican diets I lose tons of weight!
3. Do you have any tattoos and piercings?
I have 2 tattoos with more to come and my ears pierced, though I've not worn any earrings in them since I had it done.
4. Do you have any siblings?
I do and they are my world
5. Have you ever broken a bone?
Only my wrist
6. Do you believe in superstitious things such as breaking mirrors?
Very yes, I only have to see a lone magpie to get me worried :S
7. Do you like those 'end of the world' movies?
If they're good movies, whether they're about the end of the world or not is largely irrelevant
8. Do you eat more fruits or vegetables? What's your favourite fruit and veggie?
Veg. I love strawberries and onions (preferably not together)
9. Who were you most likely to play during school nativities?
Our school didn't do nativities
10. What's your opinion of the dentist?
I vowed after six years of dentistry to never go back and I haven't yet, despite my crippling need to!
11. Have you ever had a speech impediment?
12. If you had to choose, what is the worst movie you've ever seen?
A Serbian Film. Not because it's edgy or graphic or anything like that, it was just rubbish.
13. Do you like meeting new people?
14. If you could, which celebrity would you date?
15. Who would you take with you on a deserted island?
My best friend, he'd be great!
16. Do you know how wide your hips are in exact inches?
Some inches? I have no idea
17. What would you say is the worst part of high school?
18. How old will you be on your Mother's 68th birthday? Is that 'old' to you?
I have no idea how old my mother is
19. Ever thought you were dying of something you were not even close to having?
20. Have you ever wanted to be a doctor?
21. If you were dying who would you say goodbye to first?
Probably whoever was there at the time
22. Do you like to babysit children?
I love babysitting
23. Do you often forget where you put things?
24. Do you go on a lot of holidays?
25. Have you ever met someone with the same 'biggest fear' as you?
I have no idea, it's not something that comes up in conversation :S
26. Would you rather write with a pen or pencil? Why?
A pen! I hate pencils, pens are so much easier to write with and I don't get that black smudge on the side of my hand using them.
25. What is your favourite number and why?
26. Are you afraid of being kidnapped when you go outside at night time?
No...but I am afraid of being kidnapped on my way to work...in the early hours of the morning...on deserted streets...and I have read 'Room'
27. Where was the best school trip you ever went on?
Our school didn't really do trips either...
28. Are you a controversial person?
29. What would you say your average word per minute count is on a keyboard?
No idea, I type very fast though
30. What was your favourite and least favourite subject in school?
History and P.E. P.E was never about how active you were but about how popular you were which usually equated to how much make up you'd slapped on that day.
31. Do you bite your finger nails?
Not as much as I used to
32. When is the next time you'll go to the library?
When I need a new book to read
33. Do you like fiction or non-fiction books more?
I read a lot of both but at the moment I'm going through a fiction phase
34. Do you treat other's as you'd like to be treated?
35. What type of child were you?
I was pretty much a boy
36. Are you someone who likes to get into arguments and fights a lot?
No, but I can stand my ground
37. Do you swear a lot?
Like an effing trooper
38. If you had to get a tattoo, what would it be of and where would you have it?
Well my next tattoo will be a butterfly done in the Welsh colours and it's going on my foot
39. What's your favourite TV show?
Don't tell the bride!
40. Does personality weigh out the sense of 'good looks'?
41. What is your favourite thing in your bedroom?
My other half :P
42. If you could change 1 thing about you, what would it be?
I'd work more hours
43. Do you have any regrets? If so, what are they?
I don't do regrets, ever seen that scene with Captain Kirk and Sybok in Star Trek V? That's pretty much my entire outlook on life.
44. What colour hair do you have?
It's a kind of ruby colour at the moment
45. What colour eyes do you have?
46. Favourite Sound?
47. Favourite Quote?
'Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever'
I loved Kingdom Hearts so when they released a sequel I was at the front of the queue to get it. Unfortunately I haven't the slightest idea what is going on. Kingdom Hearts II is actually the third game in the series, the second being 'Chain of Memories' released for the Game Boy. Back in the day (a girl my age shouldn't be able to use that phrase) Game Boy games were a means to pass time on a bus and actual RPGs were reserved for consoles (excepting of course Pokemon). So I didn't actually buy 'Chain of Memories' thinking it was a filler game to wet our appetite for the sequel. Much to my dismay upon loading Kingdom Hearts II it starts off exactly where 'Chain of Memories' ends. No problem, I thought. I've played plenty of sequels without playing the former game and managed to pick up the storyline pretty quickly. Not the case here no, and unfortunately, even now on my third play through I am still none the wiser as to who anyone is or what on earth the plot is about.
You actually start playing not as the usual protagonist but as a boy called Roxas. Roxas is enjoying his summer holiday when a bunch of guys in black cloaks show up with white creatures called Nobodies (beings without hearts-the new bad guys) to spoil his fun. As time goes on Roxas realises that something's not right and he doesn't actually belong anywhere. Roxas is actually the Nobody of Sora, created through events in the first game, and he's being kept practically a prisoner until Sora regains his memories (apparently he lost them) and wakes up.
Upon waking up Roxas disappears and Sora realises that all his efforts in the first game were pretty much wasted, the Heartless are attacking again, he still has no idea where his friends are and some guys in black cloaks have decided to invade too. What to do other than jump into the Gummi Ship and seal off all the worlds individually...again?
Once again you can travel between numerous Disney worlds, many reprised from the first game (Agrabah, Halloween Town, Atlantica etc) but there have been some additions. You can now run around as a lion cub in the Pride Lands or sail on the Black Pearl in Port Royal. Twilight Town replaces Traverse Town as the original world and Hollow Bastion remains the chosen haunt of many of the Final Fantasy characters. The worlds and their scenery remain one of the best parts of this game. The images are beautiful and the characters blend perfectly with their changing environments, no easy task considering the difference in style between the Lion King, the Nightmare Before Christmas and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The mini games between worlds remain the same with you piloting your little ship and blasting the enemy ships. That said, the levels are so much harder than the previous game and I still can't get the hang of creating my own ships.
The gameplay has not changed much since the last game. You still control Sora with Donald Duck and Goofy in support. For the Disney worlds you visit you can exchange one of your team with a protagonist from that world (yes, in Port Royal Jack Sparrow joins you *swoon*). Donald and Goofy's support and attack style are defined by what abilities you choose to equip to them so they can concentrate on attack, healing or a balance of the two.
The combat system is extremely fast paced and utilises direct attacks, magic and now features reaction commands (abilities unique to the enemy you're fighting). Unfortunately the action gets a little too fast at times and it is very difficult to use an item during a battle. You can summon particular Disney characters to help you (as in the previous game) though this time there are just a handful and I found it quite difficult to figure out what each one does. Sora is given new clothes, which offer special abilities. With the help of one of your team you can wield an extra weapon, a massive help during boss battles, as the transformation not only increases your strength but also restores health, yay!
=Graphics and Soundtrack=
The FMV scenes have been massively improved and they're beautiful to watch. I didn't actually think there was much improvement in the in-game graphics, but then when you see the flashback sequences (in-game scenes from KH1) that haven't been touched up you really can see the difference!
The soundtrack is brilliant. Once again the action in the various Disney worlds is set to the original soundtracks from those films. Fighting skeleton pirates to the Pirates of the Caribbean music never ever gets boring! I wasn't as impressed with the voice acting as I was in the first game. Though it sees the return of many talented voice actors I thought a few of the characters could have been done a bit better. This is especially true in Port Royal where the stand ins for Kiera Knightly and Geoffrey Rush are, in many parts, cringe-worthy. The replacement for Jeremy Irons as 'Scar' from the Lion King is quite possibly one of the worst impressions I have ever heard.
On one hand the fast paced action is great and the game is very enjoyable, especially if you're a fan of Disney! On the other, even after repeated playthroughs I still have absolutely no idea what is going on or who half the characters are. There is no decent recap of the spin off title that preceded Kingdom Hearts 2 so if you haven't played that then it is very difficult to follow the already somewhat convoluted storyline. A couple of things did annoy me, in Kingdom Hearts to get to 100 Acre Wood you have to search the various worlds for torn pages to complete the storybook. In this game you have to do exactly the same which did annoy me, I'm sure with such a huge production team they could have come up with something slightly more original than rehashing the first game. My only other major criticism is that the game is not as linear as the usual Final Fantasy, which meant I found myself confronting the final boss well before I'd explored some of the worlds, I'd not even visited all of them! When I realised what was going on, I backed out to finish my jaunts only to find that the game carried on as if I'd never gotten as far as I did. The result was I was watching scenes where I was looking for particular characters even though I'd already found them and resolved that part of the plot. If the game was kept linear then this (rather confusing) series of events wouldn't have happened.
That said, I do enjoy this game and I probably will play it again...even though I really don't have the foggiest what is going on or why everyone (including Mickey Mouse) insists on wearing black cloaks.
I'm not much of a Hack N Slash gamer. If I need a Hack N Slash fix I'll just stick Devil May Cry in and bang around on that for a little bit til I get bored and go back to my [insert any other genre here]. So when a friend told me to play Darksiders I was a little dubious but as he bought me a copy (he wanted me to play it THAT much) I didn't have much to lose. I was pleasantly surprised although it did take me a while to get engrossed in it, but once I did I played it right through to the end hardly stopping for breath :)
To preserve the balance between the three worlds; heaven, hell and man the independent 'Council' utilise the four horsemen to create a truce. The council create the seventh seal, in the event that the truce is broken the seal would also be broken thus summoning the four horsemen to basically make both sides sorry they disrupted the balance.
Fast forward to present day. The armies of heaven and hell decide to have at each other using earth as a battleground. One of the horsemen (the playable character) War arrives on earth and starts dispensing judgement i.e death on everyone who comes near him. He comes across the heavenly general Abaddon who during the confrontation reveals that the seventh seal has not been broken and War broke the truce by appearing without his brothers. Abaddon and War both perish at the hands of the demon Straga, but War is saved by the council who mostly just want to know why as a neutral party, he saw fit to start the apocalypse when the seal was not broken. War is suitably narked first of all for being prematurely summoned without his brothers and secondly for being blamed for kicking the whole thing off. Determined to prove his innocence and thus find those responsible for summoning him prematurely War agrees to go back to earth and kick some heavenly and demonic butt and clear his name. Whoot!
Although you occasionally venture into other worldly type locations the vast majority of the game takes place on Earth. But it is an earth that has spent a century being ravaged by the apocalyptical machinations of the armies of heaven and hell. Visually the setting is stunning presenting a semi-post apocalyptical locations where in some cases mother nature has come into her own and tried to take the world back.
As a Hack N Slash game it doesn't introduce anything spectacularly new to the genre in terms of gameplay. You have an array of attacks ranging from light to medium and a variety of weapons with which to perform them. A nifty feature is that the more you use a weapon the more experience it gets and it levels up, doing more damage and allowing you to purchase more moves for it. War sports a number of special 'wrath' attacks that are powered by yellow souls gained when defeating enemies. As a super special attack you can periodically transform into War's 'Chaos' form which basically just makes you a lot bigger and a lot angrier. In this form you can lay waste to any number of enemies with little difficulty.
The puzzles aren't particularly taxing though I found myself consulting a walkthrough on more than one occasion to find some of the harder secret items. Bosses aren't defeated through repeated hitting and instead require some level of either puzzle solving or development of tactics on your part to take down.
As the game progresses certain weapons affect your environment so you can later on re trace your steps and explore new areas using weapons to destroy obstructions. You can double jump and all that jazz and later on in the game you acquire War's horse Fury and can ride around on him rather quickly and deal some serious damage to your opponants. Nothing particularly new here except perhaps later on you get a portal gun, sort of like the one in Portal. Anything that incorporates Portal even vaguely wins in my eyes!
=Graphics and Soundtrack=
The graphics don't push the xbox to it's limits but they're still pretty decent. The environments are sometimes beautiful and the gory finishers you can pull off on the bosses are fantastically bloody. The soundtracks lend a wonderful ambience to the locations and fit the game very well. Perhaps the best use of the graphics is in portraying scope and scale. When you see War next to your average human person he's pretty big, yet the bosses mostly dwarf him which never fails to look impressive.
So what sets this apart from other games then? So far it just sounds like any run of the mill Hack N Slash game. What makes it fantastic and ultimately engrossed me is the compelling story and the mindblowingly good voice acting and cut scenes. The voice acting is simply superb, which is impressive in a game where most of the speaking characters are demons twice the size of your average house. War is just brilliant and the cut scenes show his character off wonderfully. As the story progresses it just becomes more and more intriguing and once you hit half way through you really do want to know what's been happening and who set you up.
What did impress me, though it probably didn't impress anyone else, was that in a game so obviously based in Christian mythology it managed to avoid any outright mention of God or the Devil. Instead God is the 'creator' and the devil is the 'destroyer' neither of which actually feature in the game personally, their armies do the fighting for them. This probably didn't make anyone else go wow, I just thought it was neat for a game that takes its protagonists from the Bible not to feel religious in any way, shape or form.
Also the ending is fabulous. It is worth playing this game for just the last few seconds of this five minute cinematic.
Determined to get me to like Linwood Barclay my mother has now given me three of his books to read and I disliked him a little more after finishing each book. That is not to say his books are terrible, they're actually quite readable. But only if you want a throwaway book that won't leave you thinking too much after it.
The Cutter family is thrown into the deep end of a nightmare when their next door neighbours are brutally murdered. Things get even more terrifying when they discover that they were the intended victims and the killers went to the wrong house. Initially they can't believe it, but as each of them think back on their lives they all discover secrets that they have kept hidden might just mean someone's out to get them.
=The Good Points=
The plot is interesting. I managed to read it from beginning to end and it was certainly better plot wise than one of his other books 'Fear the Worst'.
=The Bad Points=
This part is going to be significantly longer :P
Firstly the plot, while interesting, is in a word mental. It's pretty far fetched in a number of places and the murder of the neighbours seems to fade into the background as the book continues. The twists are certainly suprising but mostly because they're so fantastic some of them border on absurd.
My major issue with the plot comes from a line in the blerb, "What's more frightening than your next door neighbours being murdered? Finding out the killers went to the wrong house..."
From this you'd assume, or at least I assumed that after the murder of their neighbours the Cutters would discover that actually they were the intended victims. But this doesn't actually happen. Two or three times someone makes an observation that their post boxes were easily confused, but at no point do they seem to actually take the notion that they were meant to die seriously. This fact is revealed to them at the end by the killer in a way that makes it seem like we're supposed to be taken aback by it. Except it's written on the blerb in bold red letters, so it's hardly the most startling twist of the book.
Another dissapointing point for me was the characters. The characters and their development are pretty two dimensional. The borderline working/middle class family are the good guys because they're honest and hard working. The richer characters are the bad guys because their money makes them corrupt. Not a bad formula when creating your characters but unfortunately this is applied to ALL of the characters in the book.
The father, Jim Cutter could also have been the guy from 'No Time for Goodbye' or 'Fear the Worst' and the same applies to his wife, Ellen. Although the characters in his books are in different situations, to me they read like the same person, they seem to react to plot twists in the same ways across the board. I also don't understand why Barclay needs to use to much profanity in his dialogue. I'm fine with swearing, but a father telling his son he'd beat the f******g s**t out of him in a not too emotional conversation seems a little odd. All of the characters swear at each other, but as I said in my review of 'No Time for Goodbye' people don't actually talk like that. Swearing is usually used to punctuate emotion not as part of every regular conversation.
I won't be reading any more of Barclay's books. I don't think I need to. The characters are all the same, the dialogue is pretty wooden and full of cussing for what I assume is effect and the twists seem to get more and more bizarre the more books I read of him. If you just want a good story then I would recommend this to you, as the plot doesn't get so surreal it's not enjoyable. If you want something more than a time killer then it's probably not for you.
Kingdom Hearts is a strange one in terms of reception. Disney fans love it, fans of Disney and Final Fantasy enjoy it, but many Final Fantasy fans couldn't stand it, many would not even try it. The mixture of Disney characters and Final Fantasy proving to be a step too far for a video game. I love both genres and thoroughly enjoyed the merging of the two.
Sora and his friends Kairi and Riku dream of leaving their small corner of the world and see if there are other worlds out there to explore. However before they can realise this dream their island is attacked by dark creatures known as the 'Heartless'. Seeing Riku sucked into a dark portal and Kairi nowhere to be found Sora acquires a strange key and is left to drift as the Heartless destroy his home. At the same time King Mickey dissapears from his own world to investigate the rise in Heartless activity. He leaves instructions for his friends Donald and Goofy to seek out a special key to protect their worlds. Donald and Goofy take their gummi ship to Traverse town where Sora has also ended up. The three of them decide to travel together Donald and Goofy to find their king and Sora to find his friends and discover the secret behind the mysterious keyblade he wields.
The game takes place across a number of worlds taken directly from the world of Disney (e.g. Agrabah, Halloween Town) or inspired by Final Fantasy (e.g. Traverse Town). Characters from both franchises frequent the worlds including the more popular characters from the Final Fantasy series. You start the game in the Destiny Islands and after your initial arrival at Traverse Town you then travel between the worlds on a gummi ship. The worlds are beautifully crafted and match the style of the Disney film that they are based on, while the original environments are stunning in their own ways. All in all the scenery is a joy to play through.
While your party will at most times contain Sora, Donald and Goofy, Sora is the only directly controllable character. Donald and Goofy will follow you and in combat can be customised to act in a certain way (offensively, defensively or supportively). In various worlds Donald or Goofy can be switched out in favour of the protagonist of the world you are currently visiting (Aladdin in Agrabah, Ariel in Atlantica and so on).
The combat system is quite fast paced incorporating physical attacks, spells and summons. There are also wide ranging special abilities which you can perform individually or as part of a team.
There aren't a great deal of puzzles to be solved in the game and those that are are solved using your keyblade or simplistic commands rather than any lengthy actions or strategies.
While travelling between worlds you play a different kind of level, almost platformer in nature, where you take your little spaceship and progress through colourful levels while destroying the enemy Heartless ships.
=Graphics & Soundtrack=
One of the hardest things I think that must have faced the makers of this game is how to blend two completely different styles together. Disney is obviously bright colour central while the Final Fantasy look is much darker and realistic. So how do you put a Final Fantasy character next to Donald Duck and not make them look out of place? They managed it quite well. Keeping the Disney characters much the same the Final Fantasy characters are made slightly cartoonish but not overtly. In fact I think they resemble the style of Final Fantasy VII if anything, though obviously looking a lot better for the graphics available.
They also manage to do it by changing the way the characters look depending on what world they're in. While in most of the worlds they retain their original appearance, in order to make them blend in the main team are altered slightly to fit. So when you enter Halloween town instead of a brightly coloured Goofy walking around he is now looks like a Disney zombie with a pumpkin on his nose. (It's a lot cooler than it sounds honest!)
The soundtrack is superb. In a Disney world the music follows the original film soundtrack with some variations for the combat or different areas while the original environments support a wonderful musical score. Now would also be a good time to mention that all star cast they got to do the voice acting. Of course as it is Disney the voices are provided by the original voice actors which is great as you get to hear James Woods continuing to be awesome as Hades. New to the game are the talents of Haley Joel Osment (the creepy kid from 'The Sixth Sense') as Sora, David Boreanez (Angel) as Leon (Squall Leonheart from FFVIII) and Billy Zane as Ansem.
None of my friends were particularly keen on this game. They didn't like the idea of Final Fantasy mixing with something like Disney, but I loved it. I thought the worlds were done to perfection, it was a pleasure to explore them and I enjoyed the fast paced combat. The only thing I think I would have liked to have seen more of is the Final Fantasy characters. There didn't seem to be enough interaction with them (though there is a fair amount) and I would have liked to have known definitely about the backstories surrounding them, rather than what you glean from conversations with various characters.
Kingdom Hearts is a very well made game. Everything about it just clicks together and blends really well, an achievement when bringing two such radically different things together. But everything from the soundtrack to the character appearance just works. I would strongly recommend this game to any gamer!
In a word: frustrating.
This game could have been so good! But it isn't, the voice acting is annoying, the setting is bizarre, the gameplay is infuriating and the amount of wasted potential here is almost painful.
Fourteen year old Alyssa Hamilton receives a letter at her boarding school from her mother inexplicably telling her to run and hide until after her upcoming fifteenth birthday. Disregarding this advice Alyssa hastily returns home to find her mother gone and her house inhabited by a strange man. Delving deeper into the house Alyssa finds herself travelling through time to confront the spirits of various serial killers and put their victims to rest as she discovers a hidden power within herself. But the killers are hell bent on capturing her and handing her over to a far darker power...
The game takes you to a number of locations at different points in time, though the primary environment to which you keep returning is Alyssa's childhood home. The locations vary greatly as you are transported to various points in time. Your first 'mission' begins in 1940s Britain at the height of the blitz before you travel to the 60s, the 80s and locations outside of time itself. The graphics look a little cartoonish, nowadays, the colours a little too bright in the sunshine and the extent to which you can explore a little dissapointing but all in all the locations are somewhat impressive. The only issue I have with the environments is that in some places they seem too big for what is happeneing there. This is especially true of the 1940s Britain where you can initially run through large areas of London, yet there is nothing to do there. You can only interact with the Opera House and Tailor's Shop. Everything else is just filler to run through.
The focus here is on survival and there is no combat until the boss fights. The general formula is solve vague puzzle in house - get transported to point in time - witness murder and poignant item - run away a great deal to retrieve poignant item - fight boss - return to house - repeat process. Alyssa does not fight her enemies instead she must run away and hide. However, unless I was heinously unlucky in my endevours I usually ended up hiding, only to be found moments later by the boss. This is one of the more frustrating aspects of the game, you do spend an extreme amount of time running away and attempting to hide. But it rarely works, the enemy often finds you somehow or will leave the room and then return moments later, after you have vacated your sanctuary, to catch you out. Which of course it invariably does.
Alyssa also has a panic meter, when an enemy surprises her, gets near her in hiding or a loud noise/sudden motion occurs it fills up a bit. Once full Alyssa will enter a state of complete panic and run into her enemies (usually resulting in her death), dart out from hiding places (usually resulting in her death) or becoming completely paralysed with fear (usually resulting in her death).
The only semblance of combat is at the end of a stage where you must take on the boss that has pursued you throughout the level with a mystical bow which for some reason only appears at certain times.
There are many, many negatives to this game. The gameplay is not great. In fact any attempt at atmosphere created by the sudden appearences of enemies is negated by the sheer amount of times they actually do appear. There is no tension created as you approach a room wondering if the enemy is on the other side, there's no point wondering about it, they invariably are always there. Add to this their often uncanny ability to find you while you're hiding and you're left with a very frustrating style of play!
The worst thing for me however is the accents. The main characters, especially Alyssa speak with English accents. Or rather an extremely exaggurated version of the stereotypical 'posh' English voice. It is difficult to engage with a character who annoys you so much with something as simple as poor voice casting. I get that they probably wanted that type of character so they could relate her to some past highborn aristocracy, but put simply nobody really talks like that!
The plot is slightly bizarre even aside from the almost inexplicable time travelling that occurs seemingly without warning. Alyssa receives a letter saying she's been in boarding school to hide and protect her but now she needs to go into hiding. Why not just not write to her and leave her in ...well... hiding in the first place? The first thing Alyssa does of course is disregard this and rush home. Not too much of a problem there, until she finds a strange man in her house claiming her mother won't ever be coming back again. This game is set in the real world, so why on earth would Alyssa not just go and find the police rather than decide to spend more time inside the house with a stranger threatening her life? I know it sounds pinickety but the game isn't good enough to make you think 'ah this doesn't really matter, the rest of it's ok'.
That is not to say there are no positives. In fact I found the enemies great! Each of the enemy bosses is a serial killer. They are each given backstories which lend credence to them being actual serial killers. They sound like they could actually have existed (one of them is based, very loosely, on the infamous Acid Bath Murderer). Piecing together what happened between the murderers and their victims and uncovering these stories was the best part of the game for me.
Unfortunately this was the only thing that particularly engrossed me and it really does not excuse the amount of time I spent screaming at the screen because my enemies were ALWAYS just around the corner.
I wouldn't recommend the game to survival horror gamers (or anyone for that matter). The gameplay is just too clumsy and I have not touched the game since my first and only playthrough, something that very rarely happens between myself and games. If you wanted to play a similar type of game I'd recommend Haunting Grounds in which the same style of gameplay occurs but without the repeated failures of this one.
After playing Clocktower 3 I thought I'd give Haunting Ground a go. I had a lot of issues with Clocktower 3 and hoped that this new game which shares many similarities with it would be a winner. I wasn't that wrong!
Fiona Belli wakes up in a bloodied butcher's room trapped inside a cage with only vague memories of a car crash that killed her parents and no memory of how she got there. Escaping the cage she rescues a white German Shepherd, Hewie but finds herself a captive inside a large castle. Together she and Hewie attempt to escape the castle. Along the way she meets various people who alternate between assisting her before trying to kill her to outright trying to kill her.
As the story progresses Fiona discovers a secret about her parentage, a secret that makes her realise why everyone in the castle is hell bent on capturing/killing/capturing and killing her.
The game takes place entirely in Belli castle and its grounds. Sometimes this can lead to trouble as games in a single location can make the map too small and thus repetative or far too big to be realistically set in a single environment. This is not the case with Belli castle and though the map does become quite large the more you explore, you are introduced to the different areas gradually in almost level format so I never found myself getting lost. The castle itself is very pretty and realistic and the environment certainly adds to the atmosphere and feel of the game.
Haunting Ground belongs to the type of Survival Horror games that place emphasis on survival rather than fighting your way out of monster infested locations. Fiona has no combat abilities. Instead the aim is to escape, elude and hide from your pursuers. Fiona can use tables, wardrobes and such the like to hide from an enemy or she can run and run and run until they get bored and wander off for a short spell, but she cannot end a confrontation through combat. Your faithful dog, Hewie, can be commanded to attack antagonists but this is a means of distraction to enable Fiona to escape or find a hiding place rather than a means of inflicting actual damage on an enemy.
The game relies on puzzles to progress with one enemy assailant pursuing you at any one time. A 'level' culminates in a boss fight during which you must solve a puzzle to defeat them. After that you have a blissful respite before the next person takes offence and gives chase. The puzzles are varied and interesting and indeed the only point of annoyance comes when you need to move between rooms to solve a puzzle and your current antagonist decides to make an appearence causing you to put puzzle on hold in favour of running like mad in the opposite direction.
The enemies can appear at any time and Fiona has a panic meter (so will you by the end of the game). If she gets too scared she'll go into full blown panic mode and start running and stumbling all over the place with you unable to control her. She does calm down after a while though at which point you can resume your frantic tirade of 'oh god where can I hide? Oh god why isn't there a wardrobe when I need it oh god oh god...'
I was pleasantly surprised by this game. When I saw the gameplay I thought oh no it's just another Clocktower during which you spend so much of your time running away from the enemy it is quite difficult to progress. But Fiona is actually capable of eluding her enemies, though this is definately a game for the patient player and not being able to outright confront your enemies can be difficult to get used to. That said the game creates an amazing atmosphere. Although the game is not actually that scary. It has an interesting storyline and the enemies are a little creepy but it is not outright terrifying. Instead the atmosphere creeps up on you. You'll be happily wandering around when you'll think you heard a door click and start worrying that an enemy has entered the area, or you'll stare at a door for ages not wanting to go through it in case something appears on the other side. On one occasion I did this the enemy got bored of waiting for me and just came through the door herself.
The story is different and there are a variety of different endings ranging from happy to sad to downright disturbing giving the game quite a bit of replay value. The endings are based on your actions through the game and your treatment of the various characters. Costumes can also be unlocked and what surprised me was what a massive effect the costumes had on the gameplay. In one of the costumes you have a gun and suddenly you are on a different playing field. No longer limited to running away from your pursuers you can just self righteously shoot them down and it really does give you a sense of power and completely changes the way in which you play the game.
I would thoroughly recommend this game to anyone who wanted a different kind of survival horror but not if you're the type of gamer who goes in guns blazing. Running away constantly is not everyone's cup of tea.
For the first time Legacy of Kain gives us a game where both major protagonists are playable. That's right, both Kain and Raziel playable in one game, surely it doesn't get any better than this?!
Picking up the end of Soul Reaver 2 we rejoin Kain as he tries to figure out what happened to Raziel and Raziel as he tries to figure out what happened to...well himself. As the game switches you between Raziel and Kain after you complete tasks as each, the story naturally follows different directions. Kain is seen to confront Moebius over Raziel's wherabouts and goes in search of him while looking for clues as to how he could restore Nosgoth to its former glory. Raziel on the other hand is stuck, rather unhelpfully, in a different timeline and unaware that Kain is looking for him. So he proceeds to discard Kain's last words from SR2, "Raziel, Janos must STAY dead" (emphasis on the 'stay' there) and tries to find a way to revive him, whilst also finding clues as to his role in Nosgoth's restoration. Separately they discover new truths about themselves and their destinies but when they finally meet they have both come to very different conclusions about what's best for Nosgoth...
Naturally the game takes place in the world of Nosgoth but once again we are shown all new locations while familiar environments from previous games as old as Blood Omen, such as Vorador's mansion and Avernus, are given a massive touch up to bring them into the new generation of graphics in style. The locations are stunning but the annoying camera angles spoil it somewhat and you never get a good view of things you'd like to look at. In one particular moment I wanted to look around some of the finer rooms of Vorador's mansion and instead got a full screen of Raziel's backside. Charming as that is the blue skeletal look never has quite done it for me. That said, the game doesn't discriminate and you get a view full of Kain's fully formed buttocks numerous times throughout the journey.
=Gameplay & Combat=
The combat system is much improved upon although combat does focus somewhat on using the Soul Reavers to tear your enemies apart. As you progress you gain new combat abilities for both characters and they each sport Reaver spells, especially useful as packs of enemies now crowd you in a way they did not before.
As you play as two different characters in this game a challenge for the game makers lies in making the two very similar characters different enough combat wise to not get dull. A shame they didn't quite manage it. But although Raziel and Kain are almost identical in their move sets there are at least advantages to playing as both characters. Kain's spells and attacks are based on hitting things hard and dealing as much devastation as possible while Raziel's are more agility focused. In actual practice, though, Raziel moving a little faster isn't all that big of a difference between the two. Raziel's Reaver spells are also a tad more effective than Kain's probably due to their stronger elemental affinities. The Elemental Reavers remain with the added bonus of earth, water and air. Defiance also gets rid of the temporary forges and instead you can switch between the elements at will. No more losing your affinity every time a puzzle forces you to switch between the spectral and physical realms, huzzah!
In terms of general abilities Raziel has retained almost all of them from the previous games. He can swim, scale walls and phase through gates and barriers. Indeed he has retained all of the abilities he learns from his brothers in Soul Reaver save for Dumah's constrict, which has been omitted from this game. Similarly Kain retains a number of his abilities from Blood Omen. He can also scale walls, become mist to move through grates and transforms into his bat form to cover large distances. Unfortunately he retains his vampiric weaknesses and he cannot swim or touch water.
The long elemental puzzles are gone...only to be replaced by almost as tedious block puzzle type chambers. But on the plus boss fights have returned! Later puzzle chambers pit you against the ghosts of previous guardians which is quite fun as they each require their own strategy to be finally laid to rest. However there is quite a lot of difficult combat against stone statues of all things which just gets annoying after a while. It is also within these chambers that one of the only glitches to affect me appears. In some versions of this game you can slide across the floor, through the walls and into a white oblivion prompting a less than fun game over.
All in all the plot, graphics and setting are absolutely fantastic. The story answers many of the unanswered questions of the series and finally comes together in a brilliant (and suprisingly emotional) ending. The only issue I had with the story was the way in which (ultimately at least) everything sort of gets tied together quite neatly leaving us very nicely open for the next game, which we now know will never come. But this takes away something from the sense of fatality we are left with from Soul Reaver 2 'History abhors a paradox' and all that jazz. This is a minor issue at best though and does not detract from a thoroughly engrossing plot.
Looking at the bad points, the heavy reliance on puzzles is very annoying but the worst part of the game is without a doubt in the latter part when you have to backtrack through much of the map. The puzzle chambers all look the same to me, I cannot tell them apart, so having to literally trek back through every single one of them was the worst part of the game. At this point you have little direction to help you and as they all look the same it is very, very easy to get lost or turned around.
If you have played other games in this series before (Blood Omen 2 notwithstanding :P) and you are genuinely interested in what the story has to give you then you should play this game. If you are new to the Legacy of Kain series do not start here! While you can glean the storyline without prior knowledge the gameplay is quite poor in some regards and is likely to put you off what is otherwise a fine series of games.
3 stars for the sake of the plot!
Did you play through hours and hours and hours of exceedingly difficult boss fights and the lengthy puzzles of Soul Reaver only to practically tear the game apart when met by the least wanted game ending ever... 'To Be Continued?' 'Cos I certainly did. I mean seriously, what game doesn't give you an ending in favour of 'to be continued?!' But good news! It continued! And two years wasn't too much of a wait and it was certainly worth it.
The game picks up exactly where the last game left off. The introductory sequence is the final confrontation from Soul Reaver setting the scene with no interruption at all. You reprise your role as Raziel seeking his nemesis, Kain, across the ravaged land of Nosgoth with the sole intent to destroy him. In Soul Reaver 2 Raziel chases Kain through time, meeting a varied cast of characters trying to discover the truth behind his destiny and finally take his revenge on his former master.
Eidos takes full advantage of the graphics available on the Playstation 2 to present Nosgoth as we have never seen it. Comparatively you see less of the world of Nosgoth than you do in the other Legacy of Kain games thusfar (Blood Omen and Soul Reaver). However in Soul Reaver 2 you experience the location in three different timelines: The corruption of the pillars (slightly before the events of Blood Omen), the wasteland (roughly a hundred years after Kain's refusal at the pillars, some years before he creates Raziel and his brethren) and the age of the Sarafan (Nosgoth's past, during the early vampire purges). Soul Reaver 2 presents the same locations throughout the game but with the effects of three drastically different timelines and the result is visually stunning. As well as this you explore differing environments ranging from temples to swampland to a snow covered village to an underwater citadel. If anything one of the major disadvantages of this game is that the camera angles restrict your views of these stunning landscapes.
=Gameplay and Combat=
Controlling Raziel has not changed much since the last game, indeed he retains all of the abilities gained from defeating his brothers in Soul Reaver. (Possibly even those from the brothers you didn't defeat... ... like anyone bothers with Melchiah on the second play through, cheating is much more fun :P). You still switch between the spectral and physical realms in order to progress and solve puzzles. Weapons can still be taken from your enemies or the walls though as you can expect there is a lot more variety to the available weaponry and each comes with a pleasantly gory killing maneuver. Raziel also seems to have learned a few more hand to hand combatative moves and has distinctive light and heavy attacks for the array of weapons he is able to utilise. Of course all of the weapons are irrelevent when you consider that Raziel wields the Soul Reaver, the most powerful weapon in the game. Except to make sure you cannot rely too much upon this rather mind blowingly powerful sword, it can sap your own health with overuse...which is actually only about four or five swings. This is a bit of a kick in the teeth but a necessary one otherwise you could easily dispatch all of your enemies in a single soul sucking hit.
Impressive is the variety of enemies who come against you. Each timeline sports a different type of enemies. The corruption of the pillars sees you pitted against Moebius' ragtag vampire hunters, the 'future' throws mutants at you while the 'past' matches you against the best of the Sarafan while rather difficult demonic assailants stalk you throughout.
There are however significantly less boss fights than the previous game with the only real bosses appearing at the conclusion of the game.
The puzzles are taken to a new level in this game with the emphasis being on long (very, very long) elemental affinities which you can imbue the Reaver with. While there are some environmental puzzles based around you opening doors using levers and such the like the majority of puzzle take place in environmental temples where you work to gain an element for your Reaver. On the plus side the puzzles are pretty linear and you can't go much wrong with them. On the other hand, dear Lord they're long winded. You can spend upwards of an hour in a single temple, which is just not fun. It's not that it's frustrating either, it is just pure boredom. It really does feel like filler to draw out your time in the various timelines. After the initial tutorial esque level you find the need for the Light Reaver...but to get the Light Reaver you must first obtain the Dark Reaver which involves a trip to two different puzzle buildings, what fun! This is just at the beginning setting the tone for the rest of the game which is frustrating to say the least.
This game is great in terms of graphics, gameplay and storyline. However it does have some major pitfalls. The game is about as linear as you can get, there are virtually no side quests or optional explorations to pursue. Instead the game tells you where to go and you go, solving an excessivly long puzzle or two on the way. This damages the replayability massively and there is little replay value. Frequently I have tried another playthrough but found that once you hit that very first elemental chamber you quickly remember how much time was wasted solving puzzles and promptly turn it off. That said if you are a fan of the series the story will certainly tide you over and the graphics and setting complement it wonderfully. The attention to detail is visible in every location, from the individual stained glass window panes to the crunching sound your feet make when you run through fresh snow (it's the best sound ever!). Also the ending, while another open ended cliff hanger of sorts is nonetheless much better than a 'to be continued' and unlocks you bonus features including some hilarious outtakes from the very funny voice actors.
So...while Soul Reaver 2 is a very good game you may find it better to play once, youtube the scenes when you feel like it and just go play Defiance instead.
Project Zero returns in this, the third installment and excellent sequel. Where Project Zero II: Crimson Butterfly only has the vaguest of connections with the first game, Project Zero III: The Tormented ties the previous games neatly together while still maintaining the incredibly creepy atmosphere of the second game. In a twist from the first two installments the game does not limit itself to a single location or a single playable character.
Rei Kurosawa, the main protagonist, is mourning the loss of her fiance Yuu after a car accident for which she was responsible. During an assignment at an abandoned house Rei captures a picture with Yuu on it. Soon she begins having nightmares every night seeing Yuu at a haunted manor house filled with ghosts, in particular the ghost of a tattooed woman who touches her during her first night in the manor. After waking from her nightmare Rei finds the tattoo still very much with her and growing daily. As her visits to the manor increase, so the line between nightmares and reality blurs and she starts seeing ghosts inside her home.
The game also works in the stories of two other playable characters. Miku Hinasaki, the protagonist from Project Zero, makes her return suffering from the guilt of losing her brother Mafuyu in the Himuro Mansion. (This taken from one of the possible endings to the first game). The game also introduces Kei Amukura, the Uncle of Mio and Mayu of Project Zero 2, who believes his niece Mio is suffering from some form of guilt after her sister dissapears. (Taken from two of the three endings of the second game).
As the game progresses the three become more and more involved in their nightmare manor as they try to escape it and the hold their deceased loved ones have over them.
While the controls remain similar to the first two games the introduction of two extra playable characters makes for some changes. The game remains a third person perspective with a balance between puzzles, riddles and finding items to progress with combat. The game is also split between two locations for the first time. The player switches between Rei's home and the Manor of Sleep. In Rei's home the player is (thankfully) safe from the attacks of ghosts and this time is devoted to researching the events of the night before to discover what is happening to the protagonists. At night one of the three playable characters enters the manor and contends with the horrors within engaging with puzzles and combat.
Each of the three characters have different abilities that allow them to work together within the manor. Rei can use the camera to scare off spirits, Miku can charge the camera at a greater speed and Kei can use his strength to move obstructing objects in the manor. Probably a good thing really as he has no combat abilities and instead has to hide from the ghosts.
The graphics are not much improved from the second game which is something of a dissapointment, but they are still pretty good. The settings are very realistic although Rei's home seems a little too clean to be real :P
As the lines between reality and nightmares blur and the ghosts start to invade Rei's house its stillness is utilised to full effect. You can run around the house doing your everyday tasks and then realise a ghost is standing behind a curtain and has been the entire time. The result is you suddenly become quite scared to go into various rooms in your own house even though you know the ghosts can't attack you here.
All in all this game is terrifying. The blurring of reality results in a very effective atmosphere. Ghosts will appear at random and just watch you perform your tasks, it gives you a sense of paranoia which then follows you into the Manor of Sleep. The major, major problem I have with this game is playing as Kei. He has no combat abilities so you have to hide from the ghosts. Even on the easy difficulty this is no simple feat what with ghosts able to pass through objects. It doesn't really make it a level playing field, made even more difficult by the simple fact that if you move, ghosts find you. Thankfully you encounter fewer hostile ghosts as Kei and only really have to hide from them when you need to remain in that particular room but it still is the worst aspect of this game. Hiding behind a kimono while a ghost looks for you for about ten minutes unable to move does not raise suspense, instead it's just annoying.
Other than that I found it quite refreshing to play as three different characters and having to have them work together within the manor without actually meeting each other. The idea of 'Survivor's Guilt' is explored to some extent and I found it a fascinating concept to watch all these people suffering from it to converge in one place when they realise they can no longer outrun it. I enjoy games so much more when they give you something to think about.
Oh and the ghosts still scare the life out of you.
I may be a girl but I'm not a wuss. I love creepy games, I love creepy films and it takes a LOT to scare me out. But Project Zero 2 is a masterpiece and I usually play it in short bursts because I just get too creeped out by it.
The game follows twin sisters Mio and Mayu Amakura as they visit a woodland area from their childhood. Mayu walks with a pronounced limp after an accident for which Mio feels responsible when they were children. As Mio reflects on her actions and the effect it had on her sister Mayu is drawn into the forest by a crimson butterfly. Mio chases her sister deeper into the forest until they get considerably lost and end up in the Lost Village.
The Lost Village like the name suggests is a village that dissapeared some time ago after an undisclosed event. All you know is that all of the villagers dissapeared, the village itself was overcome by a darkness and sometimes nearby you can hear the village bells ringing and the maniacal laughter of a crazed, young woman.
The butterflies lead Mayu deeper into the village and Mio follows her, but must contend with the ghosts of the villagers that stand between them. Along the way she discovers that the village performed a ritual involving twins to prevent the hellish dimension beneath them overflowing and consuming them. But one year the twins tried to run and the ritual went wrong. Now the villagers think that the twins have returned to fulfil their duty and save the village.
=Gameplay & Combat=
The game is a third person perspective where you control Mayu and direct her through the village. The game strikes a balance between combat and puzzle solving with most of the action sending you to find various keys kept by ghosts to progress.
Unlike many survival horrors Project Zero is lacking in the comfort of melee weapons and big guns to lay waste to your enemies. Instead you play with a camera and you have to snap the ghosts until they decide to leave you alone. Throughout the game you can add attributes to your camera as well as special abilities and quite helpfully, if you complete the game you can start again with your pimped camera from where you left off.
The game follows a rather helpful formula, if ghosts appear, talk to you and then vanish you're on the right track. (Of course you have to not run away and actually listen to what they're saying). If you keep running into hostile ghosts bent on killing you then you are probably heading in the wrong direction. There is also a rather helpful young man, seemingly oblivious to the hell that has broken out around you who gives you helpful hints and will outright tell you where you need to be going. This is quite helpful in such a realistic village where many of the houses look the same.
=Graphics and Soundtrack=
The graphics are fantastic and so very realistic. There is remarkable attention to detail in this game, if you run through a cloth curtain it will brush against you and continue to move until it comes to a natural stop. The village is very realistic with each of the houses representing a different family and their interests. The ghosts appear and dissapear seamlessly throughout the locations so much so that sometimes you don't notice them even there.
The soundtrack contributes considerably to the atmosphere of the game. There is less music and more sound, but very much in the background. What this does is give an added dimension to the build up, you may not even notice the soundtrack but if something happens in the game you are suddenly very aware that the music has stopped giving an impression of absolute silence.
The reason this game is so atmospheric and just plain creepy is solely down to the ghosts. It never ceases to impress me that each ghost is an individual with its own back story and trauma to tell. The inclusion of the Spirit Radio allows you to listen to certain ghosts as they lament their situation. Not all of the ghosts are hostile and that is why this game is so creepy. Some ghosts will just appear before you and make you jump a mile while others will just glide past you continuing with their routine from life. Those are the ghosts that scare me the most. You can walk into a room and not find anything unusual until you notice that there has been a ghost standing in the corner watching you the whole time, or you'll just glimpse some legs walking from behind a cloth or a hand hanging from a window. These sudden realisations create an incredible atmosphere and more often than not drive me to take a break until I'm ready to get freaked out again.
This game is fantastic. Anything that can scare you this much is well worth a play! There is so much extra content to gain on a second or third playthrough (if you can stomach it) as well as a selection of three endings to enjoy. Any game that can make the 'Runaway' ending even more creepy than if you had stayed to face the ghosts deserves a medal!
Silent Hill 2 is the eagerly awaited sequel to the very popular Silent Hill and is the first of many Silent Hill games to be set on the Playstation 2.
Although the game shares a setting with its predecessor and takes place within the tourist resort of Silent Hill, the game is not a direct sequel and does not follow on in terms of storyline and over arching plot. Instead the story follows a new cast of characters and the town of Silent Hill takes on a very different form with the game exploring psychological themes rather those of the occult.
Silent Hill 2 follows the protagonist James Sunderland in his journey to Silent Hill after receiving a letter from his wife, Mary, telling him that she is waiting for him there. Nothing unusual in that. Oh wait! Mary has been dead for three years. Trying to discover the origins of the letter and the truth about his wife (deceased or otherwise) James travels through the eternal fog that plagues the town and confronts the demons that hide there. Along the way he meets a new cast of characters who all have their own stories and reasons for coming to the town. In the town he meets with a woman named Maria, who appears to be the spitting image of Mary but with stark personality differences and she seems to know more than she lets on.
The gameplay remains true to the original with a third person control system allowing you to guide James through the town and examine your surroundings assisted by your ever faithful flashlight and radio. Indeed there is so little difference in the controls that if you are well versed in the Playstation controls you may never get used to the start button now being the pause button. I know I never have. James will helpfully turn his head to look at an item or enemy which is especially useful in either a dark room or when faced with an enemy who looks and acts dead but is really just having you on and will strike when you get close enough.
The game again focuses on solving puzzles, riddles and having to find items to progress rather than combat. You can set the difficulty for both combat and riddles. Unfortunately raising the difficulty for combat just means it takes more bullets to kill your enemies and I did not find any of the boss battles particularly challenging. There is no difference in their strategy on easy or hard, they can just deal more damage and take longer to kill but remain simplistic fights in terms of strategy. The riddles however become considerably more challenging on harder levels, assuming of course you do not remember the answers from your first play through on a less difficult setting.
An added dimension to the gameplay is the inclusion of a second character to protect. At points in the game you will be joined by Maria who you are expected to protect. Maria has no visible health of her own but if she is attacked enough (or you shoot her in the head :P) she will die. I never found her too much of a problem in terms of protection but goodness me she is annoying and managed to get in your way whenever you are trying to run away from something. She also has the abiliy of appearing on the other side of a door before you do and she made me jump many a time by suddenly being before me in a new and unexplored room.
=Graphics & Soundtrack=
When I first played Silent Hill 2 I was taken aback by how good the graphics were. At the time I didn't realise there was no difference between gameplay graphics and cut scene graphics. As a result at the beginning of the game where you see James looking over a stunning view of the Silent Hill landscape I waited for about ten minutes for something to happen before realising I was in control of the character. There are almost no cinematic sequences even in the ending, but the in game graphics accomodate the scenes well.
The soundtrack works well to create suspense and has a number of pieces that are especially moving and beautiful.
=Born From a Wish=
Silent Hill 2: Director's Cut includes a sub scenario 'Born From a Wish'. A short game following Maria shortly before she meets with James in the main game. The gameplay is identical to the main game except it sees you control Maria rather than James. Although I enjoyed the storyline I thought that it did not add much to Maria's character and certainly doesn't explain her origins which I assume is what was intended by its inclusion.
On the whole I love this game, though initially I hated it. I actually preowned it after completing it, I had that little desire to play it again, but since then it has become one of my favourite games. What I love about it is that the storyline is so deep and can be thought about on so many levels. Even the monsters involved are examples of the disturbed psyches of the characters and Silent Hill emerges as a personal hell rather than a physical hellish location. The inclusion of four serious and two joke endings just give you added reasons to play through it again and again.
Final Fantasy X is the first Final Fantasy game to be produced for Playstation 2 and they utilised everything possibly available on this new platform to produce a masterpiece of a game.
The story follows a star blitzball player, Tidus as he is sucked into Spira, a strange new world as his hometown of Zanarkand is destroyed by an entity known to him as Sin. When he wakes in Spira he finds that Sin is also present there and that Zanarkand has been a ruin for a thousand years. Joining a young summoner Yuna and her guardians attempting to defeat Sin, Tidus hopes that once they reach Zanarkand he will be able to find a way home and destroy Sin in the meantime.
The gameplay outside of battle remains similar to previous games where you control your character in an over the shoulder third person style. The stunning graphics make for breathtakingly beautiful locations and unlike previous installments there is no world map, instead you move from one location to the next making you really feel as though you are on a journey.
Instead of levelling up FFX introduces a sphere grid. In place of gaining experience points to level up you gain moves around the sphere grid and use spheres to add attributes and abilities to your characters. On the standard grid your characters have obvious paths to take allowing them to develop according to their roles in the game. However you can also opt for the advanced grid meaning your characters could end up with any number of random abilities.
Like every Final Fantasy there is a mini game and in FFX you can play Blitzball. A sports game set in a huge sphere of water. While a number of the games are related to the plot you also have the option of recruiting fellow Blitzers throughout the world of Spira to create your own team to compete in different leagues and tournaments.
The random battle feature remains but with drastic changes to the combat system. Instead of the ATB system (active time battle) featured in all other Final Fantasies, FFX introduces the CTB (conditional turn based battle) where both players and enemies take their turns to attack each other. The result is you can take a lot more time to plan your battle strategy and with a handy, small chart telling you when each person is going to have their turn it gives you a chance to play out long battles rather than just inflicting as much damage as possible as quickly as possible.
The characters maintain Limit Breaks (this time called 'Overdrives') and one of the best features in my opinion was the ability to change how this gauge filled. A number of options are presented to you allowing you to get the best out of each character, if you have a character specifically geared towards healing then set it to fill every time you heal someone. If you have a character that primarily handles physical attacks set it to fill every time you damage an enemy. It really does make it easy to tailor the combat to your personal preferences.
Another added dimension allows you to switch at will between all seven playable characters (assuming they are with your team and not the other side of the world map). Any character that engages in combat for at least one turn gains xp which is handy if you're like me and usually settle into using 3 or 4 characters only and ignoring the others because it's just too much effort to take them with you.
But perhaps the most innovative change to the battle system is the way in which Espers/Guardian Forces/Materia/Shiva and that lot (whatever you call them) act. Now called Aeons unlike previous game where you would summon them, they appear, perform their ability and leave they are fully playable in a battle context. They have their own attacks, own spells, special moves and overdrives! Your characters retreat when they have been summoned handing thee stage right over to the Aeons, an absolutely fantastic addition!
Everything about this game is brilliant. It's the first Final Fantasy to use voice acting and the casting is wonderful. The musical score, like every Final Fantasy is wonderful and complements the scenery perfectly. The story is interesting with twists throughout and is also emotional, the ending sequences are real tear jerkers culminating in the most emotional ending to a Final Fantasy yet. Play with tissues!
'The Orange Box' is a collection of five games from the Valve Corporation including Half Life 2, Half Life 2: Episode One, Half Life 2: Episode Two, Portal and Team Fortress 2.
=Half Life 2=
Half Life 2 was the one we were waiting for. After years of waiting for a sequel to the much loved original and the many delays it was finally released.
The story is set in 'City 17' in a world enslaved by the alien race the 'Combine' who came through to Earth after your actions in the first game. Reprising your role as the silent Gordon Freeman you are reunited with some of your friends from Black Mesa in the underground resistance movement, intent on overthrowing the Combine and their rule.
The game sports the same game mechanics as the original, the controls are the same, the health and HEV suit readout is the same and the way in which you equip and unequip weapons is the same. The game's puzzle solving abilities have been upgraded from button related riddles to demonstrate your new ability to pick things up and interact with your surroundings. The physics engine that governs the game is truly a wonder adding great realism to the experience. Every object in Half Life 2 has a distinct weight allowing them to be used in different ways and also allowing unique interaction with each, individual piece.
I absolutely loved this game. It captured the essence of the first so well and the inclusion of the realistic physics engine gave it such depth. The story is brilliant and a joy to play through.
=Half Life 2: Episode One and Episode Two=
Episode One is the first of three episodic installments that continue the Half Life series after Half Life Two. The story picks up immediately after the end sequence of Half Life Two following Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance in their continuing struggle against the Combine. Episode Two, as you can imagine, takes the story on from the end of Episode One presenting a continuous, unbroken plot.
The gameplay is exactly the same as Half Life Two except with the addition of Alyx Vance as a companion character who assists you throughout the game in both combat and normal play. However, unlike most games that stick an AI character next to you, Alyx is actually useful. If you don't shoot an enemy, she will and she offers actually helpful advice as well as outright solving some puzzles on her own. The result of this is that for once you don't find yourself screaming obscenities at an utterly useless sidekick who would rather watch you get eaten by monsters than actually picking up their gun and helping you out for a change. What a revelation!
Portal is a puzzle platform game involving similar game mechanics to the Half Life series. Instead of Gordon Freeman you take on the persona of Chell, though she has as much input as Gordon does, remaining completely silent and only visible if you enter portals in a specific way. You do not have health per se, but if you fall into the acidic puddles, get shot repeatedly by turrets, or have something rather heavy fall on your head then you will die.
You play through a series of puzzles in test chambers in the Aperture Science Laboratories with the aid of a portal gun. The portal gun shoots two types of portal which you can use to negotiate your way through the puzzles in a variety of ways. Add to this the physics engine of Half Life Two where every object has a unique weight and you end up with a great number of different solutions to the same puzzles. To reach a higher platform you can create a series of portals to gain momentum, you can place a cube to jump on top of or you can even stack chairs from a nearby office and climb on top of them. Little details like that (as well as the highly amusing antagonist, a deranged AI called GLaDOS) make the game an absolute gem.
The gameplay is short but once you complete it you unlock advanced maps and challenge maps making the levels even harder. The result is you will probably never fully complete the game unless you become exceptionally good at it and capable of finishing rather long levels in ten seconds flat just to get the achievements. That said, the replay value is very high indeed if you just think in portals!
=Team Fortress 2=
Team Fortress is a first person shooter, multiplayer game where you can play with friends or online and take on team based games such as capture the flag or team deathmatch etc. There are nine types of character to play, further categorised into offensive, defensive or support each with a unique cartoon like appearance. Each class has positives and negatives forcing you to work with others in your team to get the best out of the game. Unfortunately this part of the game just wasn't for me. Even though the controls are the same as the others on the Orange Box I couldn't seem to get the knack of them. My experience of multiplayer games is limited as I am quite happy to just pick up a gun in Call of Duty, shoot some people and then turn it off. That said, my friends assure me that Team Fortress is a wonderfully fun game and it's just me that thinks it's a bit naff.