Author - Jennifer Paxton

Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 Review

Oh Koei, when will you ever stop? After, to my best estimate, 438 Dynasty Warriors titles, Koei is bringing giant robot fighting to the table for the third time with the appropriately named Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3. Does this outing prove improve on the franchise? Does it bring anything new and exciting to the world of gaming? Does it make any sense at all? Your answers are no, no, and no.

If you are unfamiliar with the Dynasty Warriors franchise, here’s a bit of a summary. You fill the shoes of a general in a sprawling battlefield, directing a war effort against the enemies of neighboring territories. You move through the map, taking strategic locations, and all around slaughtering countless enemies. After fulfilling certain level specific criteria the game will abruptly stop and announce that you’ve won the battle. Collect your rewards and carry on smartly.

For those unfamiliar with Gundam, here’s the lowdown. In the not too distant future humanity wages war against itself as we are wont to do. But this isn’t any old war… it’s future Japanese war! Giant robots! Bang! Smash! Kapow! Random philosophical musings! Wait… what? You see, Gundams, the aforementioned giant robots, are largely piloted by teenagers who spout more pretentious nonsense than your average asshole “writing” his “screenplay” at your corner coffee shop. If you were wondering how you could make giant robots boring, there you go.

Great! Now that we’re all caught up, where does that leave us? My average Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 3 experience went a little like this. Choose pilot, choose Gundam, choose mission, mash the X button a whole lot for five minutes until I won, listen to teenagers shout psycho-babble at one another, repeat ad infinitum.

Granted there are dozens of pilots to choose from, each with bountiful missions to complete and upgradeable statistics, and countless Gundams to unlock and upgrade. The overwhelming response I gave to the game was a resounding “meh.” There is a ton of content present but none of it is very deep. You can choose to play through various story missions, oftentimes seeing things from both sides of the conflict which end up feeling quite identical to one another. There are memorial missions which retell key points in the various Gundam anime series which all play and feel quite identical to the story missions. There are even friendship missions to help you gain new allies which, you guessed it, are no different from the story missions save for your reward at the end.

This game is a straightforward grinder in the most boring sense of the word. You are doing the same thing over and over and over again with your only rewards being upgrades to your mobile suit or new allies which don’t change the gameplay at all, leaving you wondering why you’re bothering in the first place.

All this adds up to a game that is extremely long, just not very big. On a somewhat more positive note, the game does populate hundreds of enemies onscreen at once and the character models for the Gundam themselves are quite detailed, however none of this matters much when the enemies only AI seems to be “surround player en masse, shoot gun repeatedly.” I can think of far more interesting ways to spend sixty bucks rather than listening to a 12 year old boy hollering stuff about machines, nature, and being a father while I press the X button over and over and over and over again.

Seriously, that’s all you do: press X.

For 100 hours or so…

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review (PS3)

In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the latest title from Blue Moon Studios, you take the wheel as both the Autobots and Decepticons, racing toward the ultimate showdown featured in this summers big budget explosionfest courtesy of Michael Bay. Does the game live up to the thrills of the movie or is it just another in a long line of mediocre tie-in releases? Find out our review!

I’m going to get this out of the way early. Dark of the Moon is not a good game. I’ve said it and I’m not taking it back.

I grew up with the Transformers as a child of the eighties, I’m almost thirty and I still occasionally buy a Transformers toy (ssh! Don’t tell my girlfriend!), and I’ve managed to turn off most of my brain to take enjoyment out of the films. I am a die-hard Transformers fan and that made it so much harder for me to feel disappointed at this title, especially given the pedigree Blue Moon has established with the excellent Transformers: War for Cybertron.

With the roadmap laid out for them courtesy of War for Cybertron, a solid game engine and a full games worth of assets to fall back on, you’d think that Blue Moon would have a solid springboard to make a stand out movie based game. Instead what we are given is little more than the previous game’s engine wrapped up in a lackluster shell.

The story of the game follows the lead up to the events of the film. As the Autobots you are investigating the Decepticons activities on Earth, uncovering relic technology to bring forth an army to enslave humanity. As the  you are charged with tapping into human communications and guarding your plot from the Autobots. While it could have been interesting to choose a side and character to play as, instead you switch characters on a per level basis, each level taking advantage of a particular character’s strengths. Halfway through the game you change sides from Autobot to Decepticon, stripping away any chance one would have of becoming invested in the plot.

The level design is essentially a series of corridors loosely populated with generic enemies. There is little to no variation on the challenges faced which is extremely disappointing. I found myself quite bored an hour or so into the game when I realized this was going to be nothing more than running from room to room spamming enemies with missiles. No challenge, no strategy, no real hook to keep you interested in the gameplay.

It would have been interesting to be able to choose your own character since you can see that there was at least some thought put into differentiating how the different characters would play. For instance, Bumblebee is a very straightforward infantry type while Ironhide plays like a tank and Mirage is suited towards much stealthier gameplay, especially with his cloak and melee combat abilities.

What we get instead is a game that wants you, it seems, to play almost exclusively in your vehicle mode. When you shift to vehicle form you are now able to take much more damage and your unlimited artillery deals out an unbelievable amount of punishment compared to your robot form. With very few instances where you actually need to use your robot form for some mild platforming, I found this to be a game that felt almost like a cheap Twisted Metal rip off.

On top of an already broken gameplay experience, Dark of The Moon adds boring, flat textures, hokey talking head FMV cutscenes and horribly placed mid level load times. The only standout piece to this game is the multiplayer, lifted almost straight from War for Cybertron but adding nothing new to the mix.

Save your sixty dollars here. It is much better spent on taking your significant other to see the movie in some of the best 3D work since Avatar. I hate trashing a game, but there is no excuse for such a short and broken piece of work as Dark of the Moon.

L.A. Noire Review

L.A. Noire, by Australian developer Team Bondi and Rockstar Games is a refreshing breath of air in the current game marketplace. You are Detective Cole Phelps, a military man fresh from WWII, trying to make a difference in the crime ridden streets of late 1940s Los Angeles. Working your way up through four different detective assignments, Traffic, Homicide, Vice, and Arson, you will explore failed relationships, Hollywood sex cartels, the mysteries behind the Black Dahlia, and ultimately a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of Southern California power.

What rocked:

Old Genre, New Package – Much has been made of the core gameplay being focused around the investigation of of crime scenes and subsequent questioning of suspects and witnesses. What we have here is essentially an old school point and click adventure game brought up to meet today’s gaming standards. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The conversation mechanic and inventory come together like peanut butter and chocolate. Finding specific pieces of evidence open up interrogation options. Do you think the suspect is lying? Call him out on it… Just make sure you’ve collected the evidence to back it up. You’ll spend hours searching out every corner of a crime scene for the one missing piece that brings the whole case together and the effort is extremely rewarding when you know you’ve got your perp backed against the wall.

The Visuals – Team Bondi has developed an amazing new performance capture system known as MotionScan. MotionScan afforded the developers the chance to capture not only the broad strokes of facial expressions today’s audiences are used to seeing in special effects laden summer blockbusters, but also every nervous facial twitch, shifting glance, swallowed word, and corner of the mouth smirk. While you get a subtle audio cue when you stumble across a piece of evidence in a crime scene you get no such hint when a witness is withholding the truth. You’ll need to rely on your own personal instincts and ability to read the human face and this may be the first game to allow you that unique opportunity. This game is by no means the best look game on the market, MotionScan transcends animation into the realm of pure acting.

The Cast – The cast list on this game is huge, filled out by a number of faces you’ll instantly recognize from your favorite TV show or movie. There’s not much to say here aside from the gratitude I have that each one of them brought their A game.

Pacing – L.A. Noire is an open world game, that much is (mostly) true. Rather than the typical modern game trappings of finishing a mission, wandering around until you choose to begin the next mission, and exploring along the way, L.A. Noire finds you beginning the next mission the moment the previous one ends. Once you reach the conclusion of the case you are working you are immediately introduced to a cut scene setting up the very next case. In the midst of an investigation you are given the choice of in which order to tackle important locations, but the game makes it a  priority of leading you through the proceedings, keeping you heavily immersed in the story.

What didn’t:

“Open” World – Okay, I know I might sound contradictory given the fondness I have for the game’s pacing. Bear with me. L.A. Noire is an open world in the base sense of the word. Yu have a vast map to explore with collectibles and locations to search out and discover. The problem is that the game never really encourages you to do so. There isn’t so much of a world to explore, as in the living breathing environments of GTA 4’s Liberty City or the vast western countryside of Red Dead Redemption, as there is a whole lot of streets and buildings. There are plenty of opportunities for diversions to be had outside of police work but aside from the twenty or so street crimes that get called in over the radio you’ll mostly find yourself driving from investigation to investigation. This wouldn’t have been so much of a negative had it not been for a case halfway through the game that almost punishes you for not exploring the map as it demands you decipher clues on a scavenger hunt around the greater Los Angeles area.

Repetition – In addition to the lack of a true open world experience with diversions to be had outside of the main storyline, the core gameplay mechanics of investigation and questioning can become quite repetitive, especially during longer gameplay sessions. A few hours into the game I knew that the procedure was going to be a lot of “investigate, question, investigate, question.” The game tries to offset this with car chases and shootouts, but even these start to become telegraphed and predictably within the individual cases. It’s a good thing that the story is immersive enough and gameplay interesting enough that it’s easy to ignore the repetition in favor of seeing where the story will take you next.

Delayed Story – As mentioned above, L.A. Noire sees you working four different desks within the LAPD. This roughly breaks down to five hours per assignment. The meat of the story doesn’t really pick up until you hit the vice desk, at around the halfway point of the game. This means that, while an enjoyable first half to the game, you’ll work through around ten hours of game before beginning the main storyline. You are thrown off this sensation a bit with flashbacks to Phelps’ time in WWII after the conclusion of nearly every case, but until you reach the vice desk nothing truly feels like it matters to Phelps as a character. This is further heightened by the homicide desk almost being its own self contained story and the traffic desk having little to no relation to anything else that happens in the game.

What fell flat:

Odd Choices – There are two choices made in the the game that confused me thoroughly. Platforming and dungeon crawling. You read that right. Platforming. Dungeon crawling. While both segments are extremely brief they do bring an overwhelming sense of “what the fu..?” to the game. One mission has you climbing precariously across the most dangerous parts of Los Angeles landmarks, complete with balance beam segments, only to culminate in the darkest dungeon I have ever explored in a game. I had to turn the games brightness all the way up and even at that, I found myself discharging my firearm and lighting my path via gunshots. Both segments came out of left field to never be seen again throughout the game.

Overall:

With L.A. Noire, Rockstar and Team Bondi have crafted a game that challenges you to experience a completely different style of game. Heavily story driven and saving action for choice moments, it is a refreshing answer to the Call of Duty clones that dominate much of the marketplace. Using a tried and true genre, the point and click adventure, today’s gamers have been introduced to a hallmark of video game acting and animation that demands other developers to make their own advancements in visual storytelling. The few things that fell flat for me are by no means game breaking and given the sales numbers this title is sure to achieve I am positive that Team Bondi will have the chance to improve upon them in the future. The game’s pros far outweigh its cons and it is a step in the right direction for gaming that I cannot recommend highly enough.