Monday, April 25, 2011

Portal 2: Another kind of rabbit hole


Suffice to say that’s the exact word that I would use for one of the rare sequels that didn’t make me regret buying.

Back in 2005 an amazing little game originally made by DigiPen students came into light. Their original creation called Narbacular Drop saw the team hired by Valve. Thus Portal was born. Presentation was the key to the original and it still is with its polished puzzles, dual portal system and well scripted story of a passive-aggressive computer whose only love in life is using you for science.

Now Portal 2 has finally graced our consoles and the PC. The first thing I noticed to my elated surprise is in my PS3 copy has a code that gives me a PC copy which can also share my saved game between the two thanks to the Cloud system via Steam. Well, as long as the Playstation Network is running at the time anyways. Second thing I noticed is your character waking up back in the Aperture Science Lab. *STORY SPOILER* Now didn’t I escape from it in the first one? *END* Which is what I would think if I didn’t see the free webcomic Valve released which explained a few things and set the story a bit
for the sequel. You can find the comic here:

Now Portal 2 hasn’t really brought anything really new to the table. Same kind of puzzles, get from here to there, bring cube to button, avoid turrets, get ridiculed by the AI as it tries to kill you. Adding new elements like the various propulsion gels, launch pads and laser direction cubes keeps things fresh. Though I must admit, I am slightly dismayed at the puzzles. When you stop to think about how you solved it, it is very simple, like /facepalm simple. The real challenge is how the game trains your mind to think in certain ways so you don’t see the answer right away. You then forget the basic tricks the game teaches you abd instead your mind looks for a more complicated way to solve it.

What really set things apart and kept my mood high was the story development and the scenery. Valve’s graphic engine and the atmosphere are amazing as always as you really do feel “alone” in the larger than thought Aperture buildings. It starts off with our silent protagonist, Chell, who recently woke up from a long sleep, though there’s no idea of what year it is. Her environment which is normally pristine is now in shambles with no clue as to why. Thankfully a chatty and happy-go-lucky British bot named Wheatly (apropos no?) “helps” you out and tries to find a way out. Though honestly any Portal fan knows the best part is when GlaDos comes in and, my god, does she deliver the sarcasm in spades. *clap clap clap* Many questions are answered in this sequel as you progress and discovery the true story of what happened behind the scenes and what this science company is all about. That should satisfy many curious gamers who were left with a cliff-hanger and many unanswered questions from the first game.

Gone are the extra levels and time trials from the first game. Yet happily it is replaced with a co-op mode where you and a friend next to you or online can solve unique puzzles together much to GlaDos’ amusement. Quick button markers and set gestures help you communicate with each other and helps things from getting frustrating, especially if your online companion chooses not to use a mic.

Overall this is a must buy and if you’ve never played the first then I highly suggest getting both to appreciate the full offering that is Portal. The graphics are amazing, story and text is well done, lots of humour to be found from the random signs, environment and the script. The fun and challenging puzzles will keep you busy. On top of all, by no means is the game as short as the first one is. My only gripe, if any, is the lack of more sophisticated puzzles, special challenges and a "create a puzzle" function. That would amp the replay value through the roof as the fans of the series would jump on it like a companion cube on cake.

I’d give this game a 9.5/10

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Dynasty Warriors 7: KOEI's 7th iteration of a "diverse" dynasty

Dynasty is definitely the best word to describe KOEI's and Omega Force's long running hack and slash series that dates back to 1997.  Little known fact about Dynasty Warriors 1 is it was a one-on-one fighting game similar to Tekken. Only in the second version which was the first in North America did they change it to the 3rd-person rts hack and slash that we?ve known throughout the years and I use the term rts loosely. 

The newest version boasts many new improvements, such as the graphics that are now crisper, the cutscenes are amazing to look at, the attacks more fluid and eye catching, more characters can be loaded upon the screen at the same time without disappearing and proper pronunciation of the characters names. 

One of them that I`ve been enjoying the most is the new weapon and skill aka seal system where each character are not limited to one but two that can be switched during battle (which was features in DW: Strikeforce) and exchanged for other ones if you`re not liking them, which is great except that each characters are proficient with a handful of the 10 types of weapons on a 1 to 3 star rating. Each weapon also contains a seal for you to unlock by defeating numerous enemies that can later be equipped upon each weapon you hold, for example: Attack +, Defence +, Movement speed, Officer Assasin which raises atk and def against officers and Seal Master which helps you unlock other seals faster. Basically it replaces the item equipping you`ve had in previous versions. Each character as well has their own skill set that you can unlock by spending skill points that you collect from defeating enemy officers.

Story wise they`ve changed little, Story Mode allows you to choose one of the four sides of Wu, Wei, Shu and the new Jin which is led by the cunning Sima Yi who`s well known as Wei`s famous strategist. Once you pick a kingdom you go through the clan`s entire story from one character to the next and back depending on which battle you`re in so you get the chance to unlock all of the related characters along with keeping the repetition low compared to DW 5 where you play one character`s story at a time where you ended up playing the same battles over and over again. This also keeps the storyline prevalent as you`ll not play characters that historically didn`t appear in certain battles.

Lu Bu: The Chuck Norris of the Chinese dynasty

Once after playing through a dynasty or two you can jump into Conquest mode where you select only one character and go on a rampage throughout China by unlocking stages on a hex grid which is great for those who wish to unlock everything and for the hardcore players who want to gain extra stats and weapons to grow their favourite characters that will help them endure hard and chaos mode which is the best way to do so as the gap between normal and hard can be astronomical in difficulty. You can also participate in various quests, buy new mounts which every character has one that can be summoned at any time by pressing a single button which makes things much easier compared to previous version, grow bonds between other DW characters and answer historical Romance of the Three Kingdoms questions which the game is based upon.

Overall the game is great but not amazing and nothing really new to the series. Despite some terrible English voice acting and the removal of the optional Chinese voices, the repetition is thankfully low, the maps and character designs were re-done so you won`t feel like you`ve seen it all yet remain familiar and the conquest mode will keep the replay high enough for fans of the series to keep going and unlock the higher end weapons and for the challenge. For newcomers be warned, it is a button masher, you may not know the series and the history behind it but it is fun, fairly easy to get into and if you`re looking for an excuse to cut down thousands of enemies per battle then this is your game but I`d suggest two things, try Dynasty Warriors 5 first on the PS2 as it was one of the best in my opinion and for god?s sake, stay AWAY from Lu Bu until you`re ready, he is a badass for a reason, who else rides a fire horse (besides Guan Yu who`s also a badass, just look at that beard) and lives?

*side notes: For those who don`t want to read the long Romance of the Three Kingdoms book can also check out the turn-based strategy game of the same name that`s been out for years and also the movie Red Cliff to get info and your fix on Chinese history.