Category Archives: Better Worlds
Reviews modern games, illustrates weak points, and what could have been done better
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Ultimate Sith Edition (Action / PC)
Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (FPS / PC)
Introducing the Genre
At the mention of the name Star Wars, any genre of game can come to mind. It’s almost unfair to compare. There have been flight sims, side-scrolling platformers, on-the-rail shooters, a series of FPS games, a Smash Bros fighter, a Tekken style fighter, and pretty much everything short of Jar Jar Teaches Typing. For this article, I’ll be comparing an older Star Wars game, Star Wars: Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast with a modern one to show how graphics and technology do not a game make.
Introducing the Game
I want to start off by saying that I respect what this game was trying to do. I remember watching preview videos and demos showing off the new technology developed just for this game, giving all materials mass and properties so they fly and splinter like wood, or warp and bend like metal. I just didn’t feel what the game was trying to do in a gameplay sense.. It was nothing more than God of War in a Star Wars wrapping. I’m talking about Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.
I’ve just said, it’s God of War in a Star Wars wrapping, full of quick-time events and 10-hit combos. Instead of magic powers like Zeus’s thunderbolt, you have the Force to shoot lightning. By the end of the game, each Starkiller character will be very similar to another. When I went through the game, many of the advanced combos were left unused and unneeded. You’re armed with a lightsabre, and that’s your primary attack weapon. The Force basics such as push, lightning, sabre throw, block, and choke are available.
Throughout Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, you have the lightsabre, three different fighting styles, a variety of blaster weapons like a pistol, storm trooper rifle, repeater, bowcaster, rocket launcher, thermal detonators, an emp weapon, long range disrupter rifle, flak cannon, trip mines, and detpacks, force powers of push, pull, choke, mind trick, throw, block, speed, jump, and heal.
God of War is an action game that depends on spectacle. Jedi Outcast is, too, but with an FPS mode. The much older game has more to it than the modern era. In Outcast, I always had a variety of tools at my disposal. Throughout Force Unleashed, I mostly repeated the same combo over and over and over. The lightsabre was as effective as a glowing whiffle bat. In Outcast, the lightsabre was immediately effective, lopping off limbs and killing biological creatures in one strike. Just having it out, without attacking, it will sear walls, accidentally stab people, or destroy walkers. Outcast was the first time I ever felt in control of The Force and a lightsabre.
The only real customization you have with Unleashed is the type of lightsabre you weild. Each type has a different ability like, more damage to machines, steals life, increase defense. It’s one feature out of many un-seized opportunities
Outcast’s lightsabre combat was more than just a knife fight. Blaster weapons also remain relevant throughout the game.
The story for The Force Unleashed begins with an amazing concept, when Darth Vader tried to recruit Luke to take down the Emperor at the end of Empire Strikes Back, wasn’t the first time Vader had that idea. Before Star Wars Episode IV, Vader tried it again with a secret apprentice named Starkiller. The story for the first game was interesting enough to get a novelization released, which I bought and read before I played through the game. When the second game came around, the story was the weakest part. In both games, Starkiller is an emotionally stunted individual who is lovestruck and as single-minded as Kratos. They’re both all about revenge, and filled with hate. I suppose that’s what it’s supposed to be, the game was emphasizing the dark side of the force, not the light. Even after he grows, he doesn’t grow much. In the second game, he doesn’t grow at all. The second game’s story was partially sold on the fact that Yoda and Boba Fett appear. They both appear for about a minute of screen time. Weak.
In Jedi Outcast, you play as Kyle Katarn, the hero created for Dark Forces. He’s an established character that has already gone through many adventures and grown. The entire story through Outcast is brand new, using some new and returning characters. Kyle is more interesting, has more to lose, and I was able to get invested in him more than Starkiller. It might be unfair to compare since Katarn has had more previous development, but Starkiller, even after two games, I could not care about.
While Starkiller and Katarn’s playable aspects will be very similar after every playthrough, However the amount of character development that Katarn goes through is much more than Starkiller.
While Force Unleashed is the more technically sophisticated with it’s newer engine and higher polycount, the game is filled with quick-time events that leave the player focused on button prompts rather than studying an enemy’s behavior and taking it out manually. There were several walkers and super troopers in Unleashed that were all defeated the same way. In Outcast, I had a different solution each time. Sometimes it was the EMP, sometimes it was the force, sometimes it was another walker. I had my options. I was able to appreciate the spectacle more in Outcast since my eyes were always on it, rather than “zooming out” looking for a giant X button or a Spacebar prompt.
There’s really no comparison. They both use the established Star Wars sound font and sound track. It’s been recreated since the Atari days, MIDI on the SNES, and full orchestras once the CD era began.
I always love being able to identify the voice actors. Unleashed uses the actor from the Ron Moore Battlestar: Galactica who played Crashdown. He actually looks the part. Outcast uses Billy D. Williams reprising his role as Lando. Kyle is a new actor and they use him for the next game, the same voice actor who played Brooklyn in Gargoyles. Based on that alone, I’m more fond of Outcast. But, that’s a pure subjective opinion. In either game, you’ll enjoy listening to the dialogues.
The Force Unleashed gives you a complex combination of super combos that combine Force powers and attacks, like adding lightning to your sabre, or pushing up in the air for an air-juggle combo. All this really does is extend the time it takes to kill an individual. Certain actions are context sensitive and you can only really “Unleash” your power in scripted scenarios, like pulling a Star Destroyer out of orbit. You can’t use that power at any time.
Jedi Outcast lets you do any action at any time. In Unleashed, there are certain rock, paper, scissors effects set up for certain enemies. In Outcast, you can decide how to take out each enemy. Some strategies are more effective than others, but you never feel restricted to one method over another.
Outcast’s lightsabre takes some getting used to, timing the hit with the time it takes to swing is a strategic choice. Unleashed just lets you wing over and over and over.
Force Unleashed has no multiplayer. Force Unleashed 2 has a Smash Bros style of game attached to it, but only on one version.
Outcast comes with the traditional multiplayer modes of the past Jedi Knight modes. You can allocate how you want to spend your force powers, light, dark, or neutral. The rapid pace deathmatches make for classic LAN fodder. If you ever wished Unleashed was multiplayer, Outcast is what you want to boot up.
The Force Unleashed allows you to replay levels over and over, a level grind to build yourself up. There are hidden items that grant special powers, costumes, or points for leveling up. This encourages replay value, but I wasn’t interested. The actual gameplay and repetitiveness of the same combo over and over did not appeal to me.
Jedi Outcast is a long game, at least it took me longer. I’m not likely to play it through again soon, but it’s definitely more appealing than Unleashed. The story is more enjoyable, the gameplay is more dynamic, and you have more combat choices available to you. Outcast has more depth and greater replayaability.
I enjoyed Jedi Outcast greatly. It’s the best Jedi simulator I’ve ever played, better than the Super Star Wars series on the SNES, better than Force Unleashed, and better than the fighting games.
Unleashed was more of a tech demo than anything else. It introduced a console and computer method of using the force. Unleashed 2 had potential, but it wasn’t used. It was more of the same mediocrity.
Boiling it Down
For a great Star Wars game that puts you in control of the Force, for a good story, go for Jedi Outcast.
Dante’s Inferno (Action Brawler / PS3)
Introducing the Genre
Brawlers have been a staple of the arcades and home gaming consoles since the old NES days. I played the early TMNT series, the home TMNT series, Capcom’s Final Fight and sequels, the X-Men arcade game(original and PSN port), even that strange Simpsons’s arcade game. I’ve even got my eye on the new Team Fortress 2 Arcade game in development. It seems like a brawler is a shoe in for possible franchise games. I’m surprised there was never a Star Wars brawler.
As consoles began to increase in capability, the scope of brawlers increased along with it. Sprites were replaced with 3d models, 3d environments and backgrounds. 2D side scrolling brawlers gave way to the 3d environment brawlers like Devil May Cry and God of War. Try to imagine, if Dante and Kratos came out a decade prior to their release, what genre of game would they be?
Introducing the Game
Dante’s Inferno is a game based on, something. It’s obviously not based on the epic poem by Dante Aligheri. However, I wish it were. I think that would make for a much better game. This version was even less faithful in its adaptation than the Mortal Kombat: Annihilation movie. Perhaps adapting works of literature presents its own unique challenges, like adapting video games into movies, and the process needs to mature. However, the amount of material that was disregarded is amazing. The developers stole some proper nouns of people and locations, hired a concept artist, and just ran with it. I doubt anyone really read the book beyond the jacket and the table of contents.
In the game, Dante has a large, heavy scythe of magical shape changing length that must be super strong and weigh, like, an ounce. He uses the scythe to gut, rend, maim, eviscerate and disembowel everything that moves, even some things which don’t move, like the doors. I confess, I had a personal sense of satisfaction in torturing the doors, but that’s just me. He also has a ranged weapon, a holy cross that emits a holy light. Each weapon can be upgraded with experience points gained by either “punishing” or “absolving” enemies. I took the high road and absolved everyone in the mini-game. There is a skill tree for the “punishment” points that mostly gives scythe upgrades and one for the “holy” skill tree that mostly enhances defense, regeneration, and upgrades for the cross. I had plenty of points leftover to fully upgrade the scythe, but I didn’t need to.
The game plays very much like a God of War mod. That God of War development team should just sell the God of War development kit, maybe they have. That would explain the plethora of GoW copies out there. The game is an action brawler and that’s pretty weird. If I were to attempt to bring Dante’s Inferno to life, it would probably take the form of an adventure game or an action/adventure, not a brawler.
There was a very very old NES game called Bible Adventures. For health bonuses, you’d pick up and read pieces of scripture. In order to advance, there were trivia questions at the end of each level. It was educational. It kind of reminds me of Carmen SanDiego how you had to read your almanac after a case, or Mario’s Time Machine(SNES) where you had to do your “homework” and Mario is Missing where you had to learn about geography and answer questions. I would have appreciated some attempt at reading or bringing in material from the poem. It just wasn’t there.
Dante’s Inferno has inspired countless artists over the centuries. A game that truly and accurately reflects it, the language and the scenery and the characters, rather than some action/gore fest game would be wonderful to see. The read/trivia format is an old mechanic, but a good one. It could have worked
The game follows the story of a crusader / rapist, Dante, who comes home from war to find his beloved(???) Beatrice murdered, and is then murdered himself. When Death comes to claim him, Dante kills Death with his own scythe. He finds his beloved Beatrice’s soul and sees her being pulled down into Hell, so he jumps down into Hell after her. Dante carves a bloody trail through each level of hell, all the way down to Cocytus, and fights Lucifer in hand-to-scythe combat. There was a guy named Virgil that pops up from time to time in an Obi-Wan type way, but it’s never explained why. Dante then crawls out of Hell with Satan on piggyback.
In the book, Dante is absolutely head over heels in love with a woman, Beatrice. Tragedy strikes and both Dante and Beatrice fall ill. Though Dante recovers, he is devastated by the loss of his beloved and becomes an empty shell of a man. He wanders aimlessly, cowering away from life. At the midpoint of his life, he comes upon a Dark Wood where three fearsome animals keep him at bay, and keep him penned in the woods. From Paradise, Beatrice sees this and descends to Limbo, picks up Dante’s favorite poet, Virgil, and charges him with bringing Dante to her. Virgil leads Dante out of the Dark Wood, through Limbo, through the depths of Hell, past some historical figures, outwits the Minotaur, escapes the harpies at the gates of Dis, hops past the Bolgae, and down to Cocytus where they must hide from Satan and actually sneak past him to the opening that leads to the mountain of Purgatory.
In the book, Dante was much more afraid, as would anyone if they stared literally into the mouth of Hell. He was scared the entire way through. The game version of Dante was as single-minded and has as much emotional range as Kratos. I think that fear would be a powerful conveyor of emotion. I would have shown Dante and Virgil, talking back and forth, expressing fear, being pursued by the denizens of Hell, like the arch-demons and Cerberus. I wouldn’t give Dante or Virgil any weapons, at least not any very powerful ones. That one-sidedness and being underpowered would enhance the message that the two pilgrims are in so far over their head.
The graphics are up to par with the standards of the day. The art style is completely unified between the different levels of hell. It definitely looks like they were all designed by the same person. While I don’t agree with some of the interpretations by the main art director, they kept the art style unified. Consistency is credit where credit is due.
The creature art design seems to have been guided by “gross out factor” more than anything else. Souls of the damned excrete all kinds of fluids, have exaggerated features, and, well, are just gross. There’s no polite way to describe them. If you’re able to tune it all out and not focus on the visuals, just treat them like any other enemy, the AI behavior has very few variations. Monsters behave similarly, regardless of their type.
One of the bigger departures from the epic poem is the level of gluttony with Cerberus. The entire level is one big intestine, living and oozing. Instead of the very recognizable three-headed dog from Greek lore, Cerberus is a three-headed earthworm with a set of human teeth. The gluttony level isn’t cold, like it is in the book, there aren’t people regrettably eating each other. It’s just another gore fest. The game never focuses why people are here or why the punishment is appropriate. People are just damned and tortured in particular ways.
The music is very forgettable. Music is one of the elements that can make a good game great, or drag a frustrating and difficult game okay. Castlevania, I’m looking at you. But since this game seems to have failed at staying faithful to source material, reproducing the experiences, or even of making me care about any of the characters, the music was ineffective. Music is an experience multiplier. If you don’t care about the game, the music won’t enhance anything.
I pity the sound engineers who had to create all the wailing sounds of the damned, and all the
bodily functions of the creatures and environment. That couldn’t have been pleasant and must have taken its toll. The sound team had a job to do, and regardless of the subject matter, they did their job well. They’re not the writers or the directors and have no control over the corny dialogue or the one-dimensional characters.
Essentially it’s God of War. The scythe has a light or heavy attack, grab, and a ranged attack with the cross. The cross has unlimited charges, so it can be used continuously. But the scythe is where the game becomes ridiculous with 7xhit combos just by pressing the same button over and over. The movement controls are very sharp and responsive, but combat is bland and unimaginative. Certain arbitrary combinations perform outrageous feats. Then there are the quick time events, which you can’t enjoy unless you’re watching someone play because you’re too focused on when the next button prompt will pop up. If I were designing this game, of course, I wouldn’t have much combat at all, it would have been a completely different genre. For a cookie cutter, by the numbers brawler, God of War clone, it sure hits all the points it’s supposed to.
The original game came with a multiplayer DLC pack where one character could take on the role of Dante’s patron saint, St Lucia, to help Dante through some new areas.
Why they never included Virgil as a playable character, I’ll never know. Virgil was more aggressive than Dante. After all, Virgil was already dead. One player could control Dante, the other could control Virgil. That wouldn’t be too difficult.
The game came with a level editor that I didn’t bother to play with. I was just relieved that I finished the game. I didn’t care about the multiplayer. And I usually love the level editors!
The game is a shallow experiences. Cookie cutter and by the numbers that includes every typical element common across all of the modern brawlers. The two weapons, the cross and the scythe, are upgradable, but you don’t need to max yourself out to finish the game. I upgraded the cross tree because it had the most utilitarian abilities. I could have done both, but I just didn’t need to. So not only is every Dante character a copy of one another with no real choice, there’s no reason to make the choices in the first place.
I never bothered to replay the game. There wasn’t a want or a need. The characters weren’t likable, the combat was dull, the entire game is a stab in the eye of the original epic poem. Some games have a cheap “morality” system, like Bioshock or Infamous, where you should replay it twice just to see the “other” path. Well Dante’s Inferno lets you do both paths on the first playthrough. So there’s no need.
I already had a low opinion of this game. Then I came across a “lost soul” that needed absolving or punishing. It was Boudecca. The fact that the developers put Boudecca in Hell really bugs me. I forget if she was in there in the book, but that wouldn’t have sit well with me either way.
Come to think of it, survival horror might be a good genre for a Dante’s Inferno game. Sure, it’s the epitome of the escort quest, Virgil making sure that Dante arrives safely, it would be an interesting mechanic. Virgil is already dead, only Dante can be harmed. Protecting Dante would be a spin on the other, previously only annoying, escort mechanic.
If the game were just renamed Inferno and wasn’t trying to be Dante’s Inferno, I’d have fewer problems with it. Why did they name it after Dante? Were they trying to attract the intelligent and highly literate crowd with a shallow action game?
Boiling it Down
Go read a book. The book is always better.
Kingdom Hearts (Action / Playstation 2, PSP, GBA, DS)
Kingdom Hearts games started off strong, then seemed to lose their way. Kingdom Hearts was a solid action game with a great cliffhanger ending. Chain of Memories was a nice little game, if underappreciated. However, it did get a PS2 remake. Kingdom Hearts 2 had a nice “for those who came in late and missed Chain of Memories” segment to continue the story. The Kingdom Hearts series is a unique mash-up of the Disney and Final Fantasy character library. KH2 branched out and incorporated more characters from both rosters, as well as revisiting the old line-up.
Then we get the side stories. KH: Re: Coded, KH: 358/2 Days, KH: Birth By Sleep, and KH: Electric Bugaloo. Just kidding about that last one. The first game created a universe that enchanted players. It didn’t even have to work at character development, it already had a library full of characters from both sides that don’t need development, and the designers seemed to suddenly abandon them.
Aside from KH1, CoM, and KH2, the Kingdom Hearts games degenerate into a collection of side stories of side stories. Some characters make cameos, brief appearances, but the real story seems to be all about “Organization XIII.”
I forced myself to finish 358/2 Days. It was interesting to see some of the backstory of the Organization XIII members, but it wasn’t told in the best way. The game has you playing day after day in mission after mission to world after world to eliminate heartless after heartless. Halfway through the game, I was fed up. Like Roxas, I was sick of it and I wanted out. The game’s story was incredibly slow going and dull, as was the gameplay. The customization options were incredibly deep and well made, but in the end I ended up equipping the most balanced weapon between speed and damage and went to town jamming on attack like an elevator call button when I really have to use the bathroom
The stories don’t focus on Sora after KH2. That’s part of what grabbed me. When I saw the teaser for KH2 and some mysterious robed figure said, “Where’s Sora?” that hooked me! I hadn’t been that hooked since I saw The Search for Spock, or finishing Chrono Trigger early without reviving Crono, or the end of Pirates of the Caribbean 2 Dead Man’s Chest when the gang all gets together to find Jack.
From what I’ve seen of the gameplay of Birth By Sleep, it looks fantastic. It looks like a great action game. I’m just not convinced that I’ll like it since the story doesn’t focus on Sora. 358/2 Days had a great customization system. Seriously, that was the best part of the game, customizing the character’s skills, equipment, and items. The action was a bit of a letdown compared to Chain of Memories. The series is evolving and coming up with some interesting mechanics, it’s just the story that’s the weak point.
I can’t believe I just typed that. The STORY from a SQUARE game is WEAK. Oh, what kind of sign of the times is that? Square used to be the king of storytelling, what happened?
None of the games after KH2 are introducing any new Disney worlds when there’s so much to choose from. Really, if you have Final Fantasy and Disney to choose from, you should have NO problem coming up with something good. But instead, the games are obsessed with their own mythology and lore about the Organization and the keyblades. There’s no joy in them anymore. The stories are just depressing and trying to add some kind of emphasis or importance on vague events which are never really fully described. That’s not very fun, and it’s what they’ve been doing for a while.
I want to be happy again. I want to enjoy the games again. When I saw TRON was in Kingdom Hearts 2, I was elated! The possibilities of the back catalog are endless. Gargoyles, Darkwing Duck, Tail Spin, Duck Tails, and now that Disney bought Marvel, oh holy cow! But that might be going off the deep end. Final Fantasy 4, 5, 6, take some characters from there. KH2 had a brief appearance of Setzer Gabbiani from FF6, but come on, there can be more, they can DO more. Get a scenario writer and get to it! I’ll help!
Start meddling, start crossing the worlds, let us mix and match characters like Marvel Ultimate Alliance. I’d love to see Goliath, Beast, and Umaro as my wingmen, they’d be as scary as anything else in Halloween Town.
The series had potential, now it’s just bland and bleh. I don’t care for it anymore. I’m not going to pay attention to another Kingdom Hearts advertisement unless I see Sora front and center on the cover for Kingdom Hearts 3.
(…Has anyone ever noticed that Sora fights and controls a lot like Kratos from God of War? Nah, we’ll probably never see that mash-up.)
Better Worlds – Castlevania: Lords ofShadow (Action Brawler / XBOX360, PS3)
Introducing the Genre
I dislike brawlers, or more accurately, I dislike what brawlers have become. I’m specifically looking at Dante’s Inferno, God of War, Kingdom Hearts, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. They’re games you can play a great majority of the time jamming on a single button without even looking at the screen. Visual spectacles are really the majority of what these games have to offer.
Introducing the Game
Castlevania. Just the word brings back so many memories, good and bad. The music of raiding the castle, the intense difficulty, the anxiety of exploring a new area without knowing what to expect, the many times I’ve raided the castle before, the anticipation of seeing an old area remastered, the weapons and sub-weapons, and the familiar bosses. Every time I load up a new Castlevania game, it’s like everything old is new again. Then I saw Lords of Shadow.
The concept videos showed a God of War clone, at least, on the surface. I was sure there would be more, but there wasn’t. It was more like playing a God of War mod, a very very good one, that actually advanced the genre forward a bit, but still a mod. The game was produced by Hideo Kojima, of Metal Gear fame. He loves his cut scenes, he loves his speeches, he loves is drama and twists. I’ve never thought of Castlevania having any of those, but I was willing to give it a try.
I have to give some praise to the depth of the combat system. The gameplay beings with standard “brawler” fare. One button for weak attack, heavy attack, area attack, jump, grab, block, dodge, and it grows from there. There’s a lot of button mashing, but the combo list serves up a nice variety of combat maneuvers. Some combos are good for aerial attacks, stuns, launching, riding, knocking down, dealing straight up damage, or area damage. Learning what to use and when is critical to playing the game.
The monsters are varied enough that they all have different weaknesses to exploit, so you’ll have to use a mix of techniques to deal with them quickly, or maneuver around and wait for an opening. Using just the normal attack will not get you through the game. Some monsters block, some dodge, some are just juggernauts. Dodging, evading, countering, and landing hits becomes an art. After you land a few combos without being hit, you enter a kind of “Combo” mode where every strike releases orbs. Orbs are fuel for your light and shadow magic meters. The light and shadow magic are power enhancers, combat multipliers. They should be used. Not using them is really putting a handicap on yourself. It turns the game from button mashing into playing with style. If you’re in combo mode, you’re doing awesome.
There are only 4 sub-weapons in the game, but once you find them, you always have them. There’s daggers, holy water bottles, a screen clearing attack from a crystal, and faeries. No throwing axes, no stopwatch, no boomerangs. Instead of “hearts” which fuel the sub-weapons, you have a set amount and can find stashes of more, or dropped from enemies. You can only carry so many at one time, but can increase most of their capacities by finding hidden caches. The weapons have some conditional uses to them. For example, werewolves are vulnerable to silver, so using the silver throwing stake against them will work better than the holy water bottles. Young vampires are vulnerable to both. It helps to be aware of these facts.
There are two separate magic bars, a light magic and shadow magic bar. You activate one or the other like an on or off switch. Some combos have different effects when under the influence of one magic or another. The sub-weapons also have different effects when enhanced with light or shadow magic.
Some enemies may require a quick-time event to finish off, especially the bosses. Some of the boss QTEs are instant death if you fail. I’ve never been a fan of them. On one hand, they make the fight that much more cinematic by having the main character do something they normally wouldn’t be able to do. On the other hand, as incredible as it looks, you can’t focus on it since you’re trying to hit the right buttons at the right time. After you’ve been through the QTE seven or eight times though, either through death or replaying the level, you will then have the freedom to appreciate the visuals as you work off of muscle memory.
It’s a solid system that’s evolved slightly from the rest of the action/brawler games out there. It does force the player to think and be aware of what combo they’re performing and button mashing will get you killed.
To make it better and more “Castlevania”-like, there should have been more sub-weapons. The retrieval of each sub-weapon features prominently in the story, so including more would probably derail the story’s train of thought. I don’t think they all need a mystical origin story. Hopefully the sequel will add them without building them up too much.
The Order is terrified, and when the Order is terrified, everyone else should be, too. Someone, somewhere, somehow, had cast an evil spell that separated the Earth from the heavens. Souls had no place to go to after death. The gates of heaven were locked. The Order dispatches Gabriel Belmont to investigate the cause. All clues point to the Lords of Shadow, monstrous creatures that each possess a piece of a mask. When the mask is brought together, stories say that it has the power to revive the dead. Perhaps someone on “the other side” has knowledge of what is happening. Gabriel serves the order faithfully and loyally, but he has his own reasons for acquiring the mask, his beloved wife who recently passed away and is trapped in limbo.
That’s the setup. I don’t want to go into much more, I don’t want to retell the story. It’s a good story and worth experiencing spoiler-free. Kojima is a good storyteller. The Lords of Shadow are more than just throwaway bosses. The twists along the way are good, and I’m honestly looking forward to the next installment. What could have made the story better is hard to say. This is a good game, a strong game with a strong story that stands well on its own. But that’s also it’s problem, it stands well on its own. It’s only linked with the rest of the Castlevania franchise in the tiniest way. It doesn’t draw upon the vast amounts of Castlevania lore that has been established. It’s like playing a Mario game without goombas, or a Star Wars game that doesn’t have lightsabres or space battles. Something is missing.
It’s a good game on its own, but it’s not a good Castlevania game. There is a very short segment that takes place in a castle, Gabriel fights some lesser vampires and a few master vampires, but not Dracula. That was probably the most fun area of the game for me.
The graphics are PS3-worthy. I can’t say anything negative about them. The opening level with the rain and the mud and the darkness and the werewolves creates a nice feeling of creepy dread. Attacking a castle full of vampires at sunset, and advancing through the level while watching the sun go down is magic. So far my only major gripe with the game is that it’s a great game, but not a Castlevania game. As far as graphics, no. This looks like a Castlevania game. It just needs the titular castle to be present within the game and show us the castle gate, entry hall, ballroom, library, underground river, dungeon, clock tower, andthrone room.
Gabriel Belmont’s uniform from The Order looks like Simon’s costume from Castlevania II.
The music is always one of the best parts of Castlevania and Lords of Shadow is an exception, and it isn’t. There is only one returning track from the vast Castlevania soundtrack, and it’s not even a real return, it’s a little melody performed by a music box. The music for the rest of the game is completely original and… it’s good. I hope some of these tracks make it into the next game and the next incarnation of Castlevania. I’m disappointed that there weren’t any more returning tracks, but what we had instead is really good on its own. There’s nothing wrong with the music at all, it’s perfect. It’s just not Castlevania music. I hope the next game has some more returning tunes.
The sound is alright. I have no complaints about it. The whip sounds were satisfyingly “heavy.” It really made me feel like I was dishing out some real punishment with every strike. The voice acting is all top tier. Robert Carlyle as Gabriel is fantastic. Patrick Stewart as Zobek is, Patrick Stewart. He’s a solid choice for any mentor/regal/narrator role.
Though I have to make mention of one thing, something is lost in translation from Japan to here. Japan, as a whole, seems to love doing pantomime, they have to communicate with their bodies more than their voice. I think this comes from all the Super Sentai and Power Ranger series. When Zobeck speaks in a climactic moment at the end, his movements are a bit flamboyant and over-acted. The motion capture doesn’t match up with anything I could ever imagine Patrick Stewart doing. It doesn’t match up with the intensity in his voice. If I had seen this final scene while it was still in production, I’d have asked the animators to just tone it down a notch and be more reserved. Someone somewhere wasn’t collaborating.
The controls are fine. I never had any real problem getting acquainted with them. I don’t play many brawlers, but I adjusted to this game faster than I have others. It just seemed to click with me. It was one of the few times when I thought less about pressing X X O X(hold) and just went with the flow. Combat had a sort of flow to it. If you weren’t flowing, you were probably about to die.
None. It might be interesting to play a brawler multiplayer. Dante’s Inferno’s DLC The Trials of St Lucia is the only time I’ve seen it. Castlevania is usually a lonely experience anyway. However, the X-Box Live Castlevania, Portrait of Ruin, and Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse all have multiple characters to choose from besides just a Belmont. Some games like Symphony of the Night and Aria of Sorrow allow you to replay the game from the beginning with another character. Gabriel’s journey is a solitary one. A few times he has a companion or meets someone, but their relationship is always brief and they’ll have to leave for one reason or another. This would have been an interesting opportunity to throw in another character, even if it was just a pallate swap.
Gee, there’s no morality system, no alternate ending, no separate paths. So why on Earth would I want to replay this game? Answer: It’s fun! Yes, I said it. It’s fun! I’m daring to play a game because it’s fun. I’m not looking for 100% completion, I’m not trying to get a “best” ending, I’m not doing the good/bad versions of a character. The game is fun and encourages replay value on that alone. There seems to be a run of gimmicky games that try to enhance their “replay value” on some cheap tacked-on trick or another. I usually resent those.
Lords of Shadow lets you replay any level at any time. Anytime you finish a level, you go back to a map screen where you can cycle through all the levels and replay them. So that fun awesome level you just finished, you can go back and do it again! That’s lacking in a lot of other games.
Throughout the story, you are reminded that light and shadow are two sides of the same coin, and you must master both. Unfortunately, this game “unlocks” moves and techniques as Gabriel grows stronger. There’s a whole list of light moves and a whole list of shadow techniques. You can pursue both, simultaneously, and only a few moves require pre-requisite purchases. Honestly, out of the dozens of combos that were available, I only found a handful that were useful.
I finished the game with a pretty unrespectable “completion” rate. I missed a lot of hidden gems and item containers. So that actually means I’m a better player. I finished the game on a handicap. I wasn’t as all-powerful as I could be and still managed to beat the game. I even beat the final boss on the first try. (Of course when I tried to show someone else the ending on my 2nd attempt, it proved much more difficult. I wonder why that is.) Still, the item hunt kept me entertained for a while. I didn’t go online to look for a list of all the hidden gems and item pouches. I never did find everything, but I’m still very satisfied.
A good Castlevania games needs the castle, the castle is a main character, as necessary as Belmont and Dracula. Inside the castle are monsters from all sorts of nightmares, ghosts, animated suits of armor, werewolves, bats, spirits, and so many many more. However there weren’t many recurring monsters in Lords of Shadow. No recurring bosses. No recurring music, except for a wink and a nod. It needed more to be a Castlevania game. Instead, it’s just a good action/brawler game that draws on western Europe mythology rather than ancient Greek.
Boiling it Down
Great game… just not a Castlevania game.
Introducing the Genre
This is a very special review that I felt I had to do. It’s quite contrary to my usual theme of reviewing the overlooked, the forgotten, the buried diamonds in the rough of the plethora of electronic entertainment.
Here, in this article, I will highlight a “good” game that was highly praised, that I feel was not worth it. I believe that modern games have much to learn from the games of the past, along with many games that are panned and not fairly reviewed.
Introducing the Game
I first discovered this game by word of mouth. Some younger gamers were talking about this new amazing game that absolutely floored them. I investigated and was not impressed. It looked just like any other FPS with a new gimmick to make it just a little bit different. I admit, it’s this event, seeing the passion and enthusiasm in these gamers is in part why I needed to start this blog as a whole. They couldn’t stop saying good things about it.
The game was Bioshock. In all the gaming magazines, it received high praise as well. That should have been my first warning sign. I will confess I do not like this game, but it does have some praiseworthy elements. I will give credit where credit is due, and I will be honest where it has disappointed me.
At the time when the game first came out, I didn’t have a console, nor did I have a computer good enough to run it on the minimum specs. It wasn’t until shortly before the second game was released that I saw it on Steam at a discounted price and decided to take the plunge into the city of Rapture and see for myself first hand what all the fuss was about. It was about a year later that I actually installed and played it. At that point, there were concept videos of the third game out.
There’s not much special about the gameplay of this FPS. There is a slight dash of RPG and horror in the mix. The first hour or so through Bioshock, the game doesn’t quite know what it’s supposed to be. At first, I think it’s going to be some horror FPS like F.E.A.R. Or Left 4 Dead. The lights flicker and go out, there are sprinting shadows, people that pop up 180 degrees behind you and wait for you to turn around, voices always nearby but unseen. Then, the game stops doing that, and becomes a normal FPS for most of it. Then, near the end, the bad guys start “playing dead” and pop up when you get near them, trying to scare you again.
Like I’ve said in my article on shooters, in order to make a good shooter, you need lots of different guns to shoot with, and not just a dozen different types of the same assault rifle. There’s an element of choice in the game, you have to choose what type of powers you equip at once, you cannot keep them all equipped at all times. That’s the RPG-ness of it.
The game’s story draws heavily on gene manipulation. Scientists have created artificial genes to give human beings extraordinary powers like the power to create ice, fire, and fire lightning bolts. So along with the basic melee weapon, pistol, shotgun, sub-machine gun, grenade launcher, and long range sniper crossbow, there is a bizarre assortment of off the wall abilities for you to use.
Normally, that would be great. But really, I found only the lightning bolt to be useful. There are passages blocked by ice walls that you need the fire power to get through, but other than that, it was a novelty. Out of all the guns, I found that I made most of my kills with the pipe wrench. So, while it’s great to have choices, they all seemed to be less effective than the electricity/wrench combo.
There are genetic vending machines where you purchase gene tonics, that act as passive bonuses, as well as plasmid powers. I never needed to experiment. I never even maxed out my powers bar. There came a time when people were resisting my electric bolt, so I bought “Electric bolt 2” and the status quo was restored. It happened again, I bought “Electric bolt 3” and the problem was solved.
The only real difference between the main offensive powers is the color. The ice plasmid freezes enemies in place so you can walk up to them and bash them over the head with
your pipe wrench. The electric bolt plasmid shocks and stuns them in place so you can walk up to them and bash them over the head with your pipe wrench. The fire plasmid sets them on fire, so they run around not attacking you, trying to put themselves out, so you can chase them around and bash them over the head with your pipe wrench.
The game offers completely conspicuous oil slicks that make me groan, “oh, I guess I’m going to have to light this on fire pretty soon.” And somehow that’s supposed to be a “choice” and allow players to “interact” with the environment. Either set up a firewall for defense, or die. Well here’s a tip, allow players to move the oil, or dump it from a barrel to allow the player to discover or decide when and where to use it instead of having the idea forced upon them in the way that the frozen door “puzzles” are.
When you are killed, and you will be, you instantly reappear in some “Vita-chamber” that spawns you a new body with all your equipment. There is literally no penalty for dying, not even a load time. You can go through bodies like P. B. Winterbottom if you wanted to. It is impossible to get a game over. There is no tension, no risk, nothing on the line. There are health packs you can carry around to refill your health, but when the chamber is right there, why even bother?
The infamous “Big Daddies” shown on all the cover art, a hulk in an underwater pressure suit, are at first, intimidating. But when you realize you can die over and over, and it doesn’t actually matter, they lose all their intimidation value. I died several times after my first encounter with one. They’re very overpowered.
The game was praised for it’s level of interaction that the plasmids could have on your environment. The telekineses power picked up stuff and threw it. That’s about it. The
electricity power could electrify water and kill people who were standing in it. Fire can melt ice and ignite oil spills, and that’s about it. I could never create the freezing walls and seal off doors behind me. I could never teleport like others can. I could never freeze the waterfalls and leaks, I could never use the fire and ice powers to create a fog/smokescreen to hide from security cameras. For being highlighted as one of the main selling points of the game, it was a major letdown. Plasmids act as little more than elemental keycards that open doors, and a different type of gun.
This game was supposed to be very cerebral. Well let me think! Please, allow me to think! The only cerebral aspect of this game is the heavy handed beat-you-over-the-head concept of Rapture and its designer, and the conversation when you meet him. It’s like the entire game was built around that one scene.
The story was interesting at first. I’d heard from other gamers all sorts of references to the works of Ayn Rand. Though I’ve never read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, I’ll leave all that information and analysis to the fans. I just don’t know enough about it.
When you find yourself inside the underwater city of Rapture, it’s clear something devastating has happened. The story is told through audio journals that you pick up along the way. When did this become popular? Dead Space does it, Doom 3 did it, this game has it, Final Fantasy XIII, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect will randomly update your ‘journal’ with information as you come across it, most of it irrelevant. It seems like Doom 3 started the current trend. Though I know John Carpenter’s venture into video games with The Thing was the first time I saw it used.
Your guides through the wonderful city of Rapture will be a pair of voices over a radio receiver you picked up. The two are obviously at odds, one being the founder of the city, and the other trying to bring him down. I couldn’t help but feel like I was stuck in the middle of something that wasn’t any of my business. I kept feeling like I was somebody’s pawn, and that’s not a good experience. I kept thinking back to a particular episode of South Park with the kids looking for their stolen Okama Game Sphere. There is a huge battle going all around them and there are passionate pleas from both sides for them to get involved. But they adamantly don’t care, they just want to get their video game console back. I didn’t care about the city, I didn’t care about the people, I just wanted to get out.
Enemies will never really be defeated. I suppose they must be using those vita-chambers like you. Some are spawned initially or triggered from some event. But if you sit in one area, or backtrack through an area, more will eventually come wandering in. It’s a nice way to add tension, knowing there really could be someone behind every corner.
I love the art deco design. I always have, even before Rapture brought it to the forefront of gamer consciousness in Bioshock. I love the exaggerated and ornate designs on simple everyday items. Everything is a work of art.
The city is very detailed, with little amenities that make it feel like this was once a home. There are fully furnished offices, a mall with trash cans, store front windows, bathrooms. It was a very well built city. From a technical perspective, it’s great. Near the end, when you start getting into the bowels of the city like its power generator area, it begins to feel like an alien environment with no sense of purpose or direction. verything looks like it has a purpose at first, but at the end, much of that feeling is lost. Strange rooms with no discernible purpose become the norm. It’s like the mall turned into a labyrinth for no reason.
What music? There is the occasional background noise from a speaker or jukebox with music from the era. But there’s no “Bioshock theme,” or at least, not a memorable one. Music is one of the great elevators of games, taking a good game and making it great. Or taking a bad game and making it somewhat good. This is essentially a missed opportunity for the developers. They could have done something unique like create a main theme that sounds like it’s being played underwater, or follow the lead of industrial music like Stomp, but use the ocean. Create some signature piece of music that people will think of when they hear or read the word Bioshock.
The sound is completely chaotic. I’ve had to stop and replay the audio journals 3-4 times sometimes because some crazy “splicer” was nearby threating to kill me, and talking over the tape, or a public service announcement starts playing over the city speakers, or one of your two guides on the radio chirps in. It’s all very frustrating when you’re trying to listen, and the game repeatedly won’t let you. There’s actually too much sound in this game! Seriously, just add subtitles for the tape recordings, easy fix. No one seemed to think of that. It’s as if some developers just imagined that everyone is playing games under ideal conditions all the time.
A good shooter has a lot of guns to it. But between all the powers and weapons you can have, you can have too many at once. At first, F1 selected my electric bolt. 1 selected my wrench. But as I gained more powers, the game seemed to decide F1 shouldn’t be electric bolt anymore. I try to rearrange my powers at a vending machine and it still doesn’t work. I died more from not being able to get the right power fast enough more than I did from all the Big Daddies.
There are robots that you can hack. I didn’t know hacking was so widely known in the 1930s, even among the intellectual elite. But the automated turrets and flying drones aren’t always responsive. There’s a mini-game that you have to play and sometimes it’s actually impossible to win. But to first get to that mini-game you have to disable it and press a key. Finding the right distance and angle, the window and range where that prompt appears is too inconsistent and I end up riddled with bullets at point blank range when I pressed the button 4-5 times already at point blank range. Like the overpowered Big Daddies, spawning enemies right behind you, “dead” bodies coming back to life, and the controls changing to whatever the heck they feel like, this hacking issue is just one more way for the game to say, “f___ you” to the player.
None. And that’s actually a shame. There are bad guys that can climb along the ceiling. It would have been interesting to have been able to do that. Or, put on the helmet of a Big Daddy and try to kill all the other players in your overpowered form. Another missed opportunity.
For a city at the bottom of the sea, there’s not much depth to it. There is a major ethical dilemma presented to you. There are possessed little girls that go around extracting something from all the dead bodies. Once you kill their Big Daddy bodyguard, you have the choice of exorcising the little girl and receiving some of that material to buy more powers and improve yourself, or murder her and gain much much more than if you’d just freed her. I played the “nice” way and didn’t murder the innocent young girls, and I didn’t ever find myself running short on power. All I ever needed was the electric bolt and I was happy. The rest of the powers are all wild & crazy, yet inefficient and less effective than what you are given by default. They might have been fun in multiplayer, oh, wait… So, even if I did want to replay it, and be “bad,” I could buy everything, even if I don’t want it, and then not use it. I see no reason to replay it for that.
I could try to replay with certain rules, like limiting my use of the electric bolt, use the wind powers more, don’t use the wrench, force myself to play a different style. But why? If the game were shorter, I might try it. But I don’t want to waste 8-10 hours of putting myself through that kind of punishment.
I don’t like this game. It could have been a great horror game, it got the basics down, but then it stopped. It started out with a great sense of direction and purpose, then got lost. There’s too many revelations and plot twists for me to care. What I “thought” was right gets twisted and turned so I get emotionally numb and detached from anyone, not to be fooled again by someone working for another secret agenda. The ending is dissatisfying and short. I wish it were a bit longer and told you more about what happened to Rapture. Maybe that will be explained later? As it stands, it’s a let down.
The game constantly puts you in conflict with “splicers,” ultra violent residents of Rapture that are gene splicing themselves to a crazy degree to give themselves superhuman powers. Wait a minute, that sounds exactly like the player.
Boiling it Down
Nice atmosphere and art design, nice scary beginning, tense throughout.