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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sun Jan 19, '14, 7:25 pm 
First review of the new year, may as well make it a Phantasy Star.

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Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium
Developer: Sega Enterprises
Release Date: 1993 (JP) 1995 (NA)
Platform: Sega Genesis
Genre: RPG
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Phantasy Star IV is the fourth and final entry in the classic Phantasy Star tetralogy. Originally one of two Phantasy Star games being developed at the same time, it became the de facto Phantasy Star IV after the RPG intended for the Sega CD, Phantasy Star IV: The Return of Alis was scrapped due to the poor performance of the Sega CD at home and abroad. During its own development, The End of the Millennium underwent other revisions, such as going from a 12 megabit cartridge all the ay up to a 24-megabit cartridge, making it one of the largest on the system. Phantasy Star IV saw its release near the end of the Genesis's life cycle in both countries- the Genesis was never an especially popular console in Japan, and was only localized for English release some one and a half years later. The game was released to enormous critical acclaim, being one of the most praised games not only on its home platform, but also garnering intense praise when it was re-released on Virtual Console and elsewhere.

The game's story itself is something of a direct sequel to Phantasy Star II- and in keeping with Rolf's usual heroic mode, his last good deed did not go unpunished. The destruction of the Mother Brain computer system caused a massive breakdown in the various systems that sustained Algolian civilization. The sudden, apocalyptic collapse of all the systems that made survival possible for the great majority of the people of the Algo system, combined with the destruction of the planet Palma, meant, in the end, that 90% of the system's population was lost as a result of Mother Brain's attempt to destroy the people of Algo and Rolf's struggle to thwart it. As the centuries passed, the people of Algo began to recover their civilization, but even that was being threatened by new outbreaks of monsters, which were resisted by an organization of Hunters. Now, one thousand years have passed since the collapse, and now veteran hunter Alys Brangwin is about to take her junior partner, Chaz Ashley along for his first real job at the Motavia academy.

The gameplay follows the same general mode as Phantasy Star II, though the game no longer requires you to interrupt combat to give commands, and instead automatically allows you to enter new commands each round. The game also allows you to set up a number of macros in order to automatically execute a set of favored actions rather than have to re-enter each command individually. Combat is turn-based with a third-person perspective, and characters can act with defending, attacking, item use, techniques, and a new form of special actions called Skills, which are used to represent more exotic or idiosyncratic maneuvers used by the various playable characters. While techniques have fixed costs that draw from a common pool, Skills each have their own individual number of uses, meaning the use of one Skill does not deplete the uses of the others. Perhaps one of the rarities that this game possesses are instant-death and status-inflicting techniques that actually work on a somewhat reliable basis. The game also has a number of hidden combination attacks that can involve anywhere from two to all five of your party members.

The handling of characters is somewhat different as well- for starters, this is the first and only game in the series where there is a common inventory pool, though the total inventory space still is not much greater than the combined inventory space of the previous game. The largest change is that androids now actually operate by separate rules from more biological adventurers, as they have different healing requirements and even different resistances and weaknesses. The adventurers themselves tend towards being strong generalists, and the game's specialists being extremely good at what they do. The reward structure has also been greatly overhauled since previous games. The sometimes (and for Phantasy Star II, replace "sometimes" with "almost always") onerous grinding has been reduced to a far more manageable level, ironically making a far more suitable game to have a customizable party in than the Phantasy Star game that actually had one. The game has other quality-of-game features that were removed from previous games, such as the ability to save anywhere but dungeons, as well as new ones, such as a greatly increased walking speed that makes even the larger dungeons at the very least tolerable to navigate. The most curious feature is the Talk command, which is rarely used even in contemporary RPGs- its purpose is to bring the player up to date on recent plot beats and the party's current objective, useful after long beaks.

Despite having more capable party members, the game's difficulty still has something of an old-school sting. Defensive buffs are mandatory for all practical purposes when facing most of the game's bosses, and mass-healing skills and techniques are rare and costly, respectively. There is no way to restore technique points outside of a single skill possessed by a single character in the game, and later on, certain normal enemies throw around instant-kill abilities a bit freely. Certain normal enemies are also capable of performing combination attacks, and even combining together to form sometimes vastly more powerful monsters. Any normal attack from a boss will almost certainly be a critical hit as well, as the game's critical damage formula takes into account the difference between the attacker's level and the level of the defender. As the game isn't nearly as exploitable as other, contemporary RPGs, boss and enemy challenges cannot be easily circumvented through unintended gaps in the game design, thanks to the game's solid design. The most well-known glitch actually isn't- the stat reduction at the extremely high levels was intended as an an anti-grinding feature, and even the average player will not need to reach anywhere near those levels in order to finish the game. The new reward structure combined with the lack of breakability plus the challenges posed to the player mean the Phantasy Star IV is one of the best RPGs of ts era on the design level.

It is perhaps unfortunate that the main story of Phantasy Star IV doesn't quite have the ambition of Phantasy Star II and III. However, that ambition was directed elsewhere, as it is the first game in the series to actually attempt to develop its characters, to one degree or another, since Squaresoft popularized storytelling through character interaction in RPGs a couple of years earlier in Final Fantasy IV. the game also includes a far more cosmopolitan cast than previous games in he series, surpassed in its variety perhaps only by the Breath of Fire and Shining Force games. Apart from dialogue that establishes archetypes, the characterization is also carried out in subtler ways. The only person who freaks out about an emergency landing is someone who has no knowledge or experience with space travel. The Dezolisians treat Raja as though he is the actual leader of your party rather than the actual main character. The archetypes that the game chooses to use are often handled better here than they are in other games: Chaz may appear to be the typical hot-blooded hero, but unlike others of his ilk, he is neither socially oblivious nor does he lack the faculties to put two and two together.

And yes, Lutz was always a jerk.

The story's presentation projects an air that things have broken down in a fundamental way, almost to the reality level- things that were commonplace to the player in previous game are now the province of speculation, rumor, and even outright legend, and Phantasy Star's long arc of history means that this game is one of the few RPGs where the ancient, advanced civilization whose ruins one explores in the game was actually explored when it was whole in the previous games. The presence of doomsday cults and the dire predictions of scientists lend credence to the idea that doom was only barely averted, and even now civilization may still only be living on borrowed time. This is expressed in more subtle touches associated with the game mechanics- this is the only game in the classic series, and possibly the franchise itself, where it is impossible for the player to buy gun-type weapons, for example. It is a game that is intensely aware of its own history, and the expected call-backs to previous games are present, due to this game's billing as the finale of the classic series.

The game cartridge has four times the capacity of the previous two games in the series, and it's fairly obvious that all of it was used. Monster and character design and animation is once again superb, with some of the character animations built on the already good animations of Phantasy Star II, and once again a single monster may have different animations for different kinds of attacks or abilities. The environment design is also very good- on Motavia, almost all of the external signs of the old world have been destroyed by the ravages of Motavia's natural climate reasserting itself. On Dezolis, the only remains of the Skure mining complex is the massive excavation crater. The game continues with the Phantasy Star tradition of lavish encounter backgrounds, with some unique ones for certain bosses (though in some cases, the bosses are so imposingly massive as to practically be the background). The music is of generally high quality, but a couple of the dungeon themes introduced in the very late game are disappointing at perhaps the most inappropriate time of the game for such themes to be so- Phantasy Star II's Noah is still the best final dungeon theme in the classic series. The game presents key story moments in manga-style sequential panel-based cutscenes, allowing the designers to also display the full design of each character without also having to resort to space-costly animation.

Phantasy Star IV would be well worth playing even on its own merits, but it is a worthy conclusion to the classic series. It is one of the best-designed of the 16-bit era RPGs in its mechanics, has an excellent story presentation, and overall is probably one of the absolute top RPGs of its gaming generation.
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Normally I have screenshots here, but I did a full video playthrough of the game. Findable here.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Mar 24, '14, 9:58 pm 
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Strike Suit Zero
Developer: Born Ready games
Release Date: 2013
Platform: PC
Genre: Space combat
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While the mission-based space-combat genre has had a dearth of titles in recent years, developers have been working to make up the difference, and this particular entry came about as the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Strike suit sero was successfully funded in 2012, and saw release early in the following year. Drawing its inspirations from Freespace 2 and Macross/Robotech, the game was staffed by an unlikely collection of partners, such as composer Paul Ruskay (Homeworld), mechanical designer Junji Okubo (Steel Battalion, Infinite Space, Appleseed Ex Machina), and the singer/songwriter KOKIA. The first release of the game was considered somewhat rough, but a series of patches have molded the game into something that has earned a far more positive reception of late, in a genre very much in need of quality titles.

The game's setup is as follows. Earth's ability to reach the stars game from without, as in the 21st century, Earth received a signal that carried with it the instructions to build the fold drive, a method of quickly traversing the vast distances of interstellar space. Mankind took of from Earth, colonizing numerous worlds in their search for the source of the signal. The source was eventually found on a distant colony world. The colonials would allow Earth to investigate the source unmolested- if Earth was to grant them their much-desired independence. The investigators found something that spooked the Colonials, who expelled Earth's research team, and in response, Earth revoked their grant of independence. The war that followed proved to be highly expensive to wage over the vastness of space, and the Colonials chose a desperate way to bring it to its conclusion. The unearthed a powerful alien superweapon, capable of destroying planets, and have set it on a course for Earth- a weapon that destroyed a fair chunk of Earth's fleet in a surprise attack. Aided by the perfect strategic A.I. known as Control, you must pilot the powerful Strike Suit in defense of the United Nations carrier Arcadia and her attempt to rally the remaining ships of Earth, defeat the Colonial Navy, and find some way to destroy the superweapon before Earth is reduced to rubble.

The gameplay of Strike Suit Zero is fairly standard on the base level. SSZ is a free-flight space combat game, and your fighter is equipped with regenerating shields, afterburners, an EMP system that can disable nearby enemy missiles hat have locked on to you, and a somewhat customizable loadout of guns and missiles. Most craft are equipped with two kinds of guns- plasma guns, which are your primary weapons but generally better against hulls than shields, and machineguns, which are easy to hit with but have a shorter range, and are much better against shields than hulls. There is a fairly wide variety of missiles that can be equipped, from the standard lock-ons to swarmers, fire and forget, and even unguided rockets, plus torpedoes if you happen to fly a bomber for one mission. The centerpiece of the game, though, is the Strike Suit transformation. There is a third type of energy called Flux, which you gain from destroying enemy ships and turrets, and this serves as energy for the suit's Strike mode. This mode packs powerful guns, but also a multi-lock on mode where you can target everything in sight with powerful homing missiles, which regenerate to full capacity each time you transform into Strike mode. However, this mode isn't as swift as fighter mode, so you are actually somewhat more vulnerable to attack- so the game encourages attacking swiftly and efficiently in order to avoid getting destroyed, a trade-off which is handled fairly well in the play of the game. Used properly, the strike mode allows you to handle a mind-boggling about of opposition, and the controls are strong enough to help you make that happen.

The game is also not shy about providing that amount of opposition- while the game is divided into only 13 missions, many of these are so lengthy and consist of so many phases that they would likely be split up into two or three smaller missions in other space-combat games. The scale of many fights can be quite large, and the game will push you to use all of the capabilities at hand. Strike Suit Zero is not an easy game by any means. Thankfully, there are in-mission checkpoints, but making use of these carries other penalties. The game carries the usual variety of space-combat mission objectives, but even the Strike suit isn't generally capable of destroying the larger Colonial ships on its own, so there's a great deal of emphasis on protecting and assisting allied vessels that are more capable of doing that job, whether it be by destroying torpedoes and heavy beam turrets, or destroying enemy defenses. Anyone familiar with Freespace 2 will find that large warships put up roughly the same amount of resistance to you, as they are festooned with missile and flak turrets in addition to the more standard AA guns, so attacking larger ships can be a risky venture on one's own. The game does have a rather strong friendly AI, so one can count on allied help to do its job, to some degree. Each mission also has an upgrade that can be unlocked through fulfilling bonus objectives, and these can boost various parameters of your craft, whether through improving engines, weapon energy, shields, handling, or the duration of strike mode. Some of these require craft you will not have on the first time through, but you can replay missions with weapons and other ships than the default in order to retrieve them. It is practically imperative that you do this, as later missions can be significantly more difficult without them. The difficulty involved in these missions is a bit higher than is usual because the game does not possess the sort of radar system that is usually common to these sorts of games, so while the game does generally do a good job of pointing the player to important objectives and other enemies through direction indicators on the HUD, this game places a greater burden of battlefield awareness on the player than most games in the genre, which can be difficult to adjust to.

At the end of each mission, the game scores you based on the number of fighters, torpedoes, turrets and other ships you destroyed or helped destroy, with a time bonus based on how long it took you to complete the mission and adjusted by how many times you died. High enough scores give you medals, from bronze all the way to Platinum, and the number and quality of these medals does influence one half of the ending, with the other half influenced by what choice you make in the final mission of the game,for a total of four possible endings. Due to how destructive the Strike Suit is, this may very well be the only place where you get idea of how much stuff you wrecked in the course of the mission.

The story is somewhat more present than it is in other entries in the genre, as the player has to constantly find his way through the orders of sometimes overzealous allied commanders and the dictates of a brilliant but callous strategic A.I. whose course for victory sometimes demands abandoning allies or making seemingly impossible attacks. However, the Colonials are not given any representation at all in the game's script, so their only real role in the story is as opposition for the player. In addition, the game rather clumsily dumps a heap of important exposition on the player all at once during the final mission of the game. The story is not an especially strong point in Strike Suit Zero's favor.

The aesthetics, however, are quite strong. Paul Ruskay exercises almost the same amount of mastery here as he did with the soundtrack of Homeworld, with mention going to the Strike Suit's theme itself. Junji Okubo's designs for the Earth and Colonial craft manage to be both functional and distinct, with the sleek lines of Earth's warships contrasting nicely with the rugged but almost cobbled-together look of the large Colonial craft. Explosions are bright and substantial, and fighters are given bright and differently colored engine trails to help their player distinguish friend from foe even in the most distant dogfights. The game also pays an unusual amount of attention to backgrounds that one doesn't find in too many games of this type.

Overall, Strike Suit Zero is a strong contender in a currently small field. While it won't scratch the itch of those who are looking for a space combat game with detailed simulation aspects (fuel, energy distribution, etc.), it otherwise does its job quite well at providing a challenging, exsplosion-filled space battlefield. It is a bit of a demanding game to run, so do check your hardware against requirements.

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Since I thought screenshots wouldn't do the game justice, I quickly prepped a gameplay vid of mission 3.



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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, '14, 11:14 pm 
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L.A. Noire
Developer: Team Bondi
Publisher: Rockstar Games
Release Date: 2011
Platform: PC, Xbox360, Playstation 3
Genre: Adventure game
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This review is based on the PC complete edition.

L.A. Noire was developed over the course of roughly seven years by the Australian development company Team Bondi, and the length of development has been attributed to two factors. The first being the technology that had to be developed for some of the game's key features, and the second being the company's poor leadership, sometimes described as "tyrannical". Rockstar did back the game to its completion, but Team Bondi collapsed shortly thereafter. The game itself received universal and worldwide critical acclaim as a superior new IP from Rockstar, as well as for the innovative use of facial-recognition and capture technology.

The game sets things up like this. Cole Phelps, an ex-marine who won't talk about how he came to be decorated during World War 2, slips back into civilian life as a patrolman for the Los Angeles Police Department. However, he finds himself the hero of the hour when he solves a murder on his own initiative, and gets promoted to the post of Detective, putting him in far more direct contact with the seedy underside of the glitz and glamor of L.A. and Hollywood itself. And in true noir fashion, Cole finds that it's not just the criminal underworld he has to worry about.

The gameplay in L.A. Noire is controlled from the common third-person perspective, but the actual process of the game has a fair bit in common with older adventure games than it does with most action titles. As you are a police detective, a fair part of the game's playtime is spent gathering evidence, and using that to carefully navigate conversations with witnesses, suspects, and other persons. Piecing together evidence does place some weight on the player's thoroughness, as the player is allowed and even required to manually examine objects for signs or details that connect them to the case, but Cole does halpfully give hints that certain objects may not be relevant. The interview system deserves special notice, because that's where the technology developed specifically for this game kicks in. Whenever Cole asks a subject a question, they will give their answer, and Cole will have three options to branch the conversation: Truth, where Cole believes the subject, Doubt, where Cole pushes harder on the assumption that the subject is lying, and Lie, where Cole believes that the subject is lying and you can choose to present evidence that you have collected that contradicts the subject's statement. The key to doing this is actually in observing the subject after they have made their initial response- as each person has certain "tells" through their behavior and facial expressions that might show that they are being less than honest. While these can be quite exaggerated early on, they so get more subtle as the game progresses. you are also helped that if you choose to prove that the subject is lying, Cole will, in his retort, give a hint at to what clue you might need to expose the lie- however, since it's possible to progress through a case without finding all of the clues, some branches or even entire lines of questioning might be closed off if the player is not sufficiently thorough, leading to poorer handling of the case, and thus, a lower rating at the end. The trickier parts of the game involve deciding between Doubt or Lie, and that some evidence that the player might find a reasonable proof isn't exactly what the game is looking for. Correctly navigating conversations gives you experience, which, at certain break points, unlocks new vehicles to find, new outfits, and Intuition Points, which are used to reveal clues and eliminate wrong answers during interview sequences.

The action parts of the game are competent, but not spectacular- fitting, as these tend not to be the primary play focus of the game. Shootouts are handled via a cover-based shooting system commonly found in other third-person action games, Brawls have very basic mechanics for blocking, punching and grabbing. Stealth segments involve tailing a suspect and not getting close enough to be seen. None of these have a huge amount of depth, but are quite functional and playable, and the game does allow the player to skip these sequences if they fail too often, without affecting the player's rating for the case or the progression of the story- a good thing, too because the sequences where one has to follow suspects on foot can be a combination of lengthy and unforgiving, and are probably the weakest type of action sequence that the game provides. The driving controls are well-handled, sharp and responsive even on a mouse & keyboard setup, and of special note is that the game heavily discourages driving like one would in other Rockstar games- damaging city property, other cars, and the people of Los Angeles can adversely affect your case ratings in serious ways. A low case rating isn't a permanent blemish, as you can go back and replay cases at any times- and as cases can play out differently depending on how and even when you do things, there is some replaybility present in the game. Not an enormous amount, but some.

In addition to the main cases that you play in the story, there are other hidden collectibles to be found on the city map and at case locations, such as vehicles, badges, and newspapers, the latter of which reveal certain goings-on in the background. While these may not seem connected at first, these papers tire more and more closely to the story as one gets towards the end. One of the more involved bits are incidents of street crime, which are minature sequences dealing in more common crime than the larger cases that the player is involved with in the main stories. These tend to be simply action sequences, and do also deliver experience- and like anything else in the game, get more involved and difficult as the game goes on, with some that will almost certainly require multiple tries. There is a free-roam mode that allows you to deal with all of these outside of the main game's normal play structure, which moves linearly from one case to the next.

Rockstar and their close affiliates have gotten notice for their writing in recent years, and L.A. Noire is no exception to current trends. It's a combination of noir sensibilities with a somewhat less romantic look at the post-war United States than one might be immediately used to. the game wears its influences on its sleeve, and the player's descent into uncovering the most seedy aspects of Los Angeles is shadowed with the possibility that Cole himself may not be above it all himself, and each department has its own character- the head of the Homicide department, for example, is a fire-and-brimstone almost preacher-like character who pushes Cole to get convictions as early and often as possible, because the police are under pressure due to the (historically unsolved) Black Dahlia killings. While each of your partners serve the same mechanical role, they are their own distinct sorts of people. The game's ending is not entirely tidy and is a bit abrupt, but this should come as little surprise. After all, films like Chinatown were on Rockstar's own "recommended viewing" list released alongside the release of the game itself. The additional cases in the DLC do not lack for memorable moments and setups of their own, either.

The aesthetics are strong. 1947 Los Angeles is very well-realized, and includes things that are not necessarily common knowledge, like the Hollywoodland sign (which only had the -land part removed in 1949). In windows one can still see signs urging folks to buy war bonds, Cole has to pass every call through a switchboard operator, the city still has its active streetcar lines, and so on. In addition to the original music composed for the game in period style, the car radio plays excerpts from actual period radio programs, like the Jack Benny and Charlie McCarthy shows, as well as the latest news from the House Unamerican Activities Committee (1947 is when HUAC investigated the Hollywood motion picture industry, resulting in the blacklisting of the "Hollywood Ten" and around 300 other writers, actors, and other artists). While there are a few anachronisms, such as the presence of turn-signal lights on cars, there is nothing glaring enough to subtract attention from the rest of the game. The facial expression engine sees plenty of good use outside of the questioning system.

The one proper disclaimer that ought to be mentioned is that the game uses its graphical fidelity to deploy some rather unusually graphic imagery throughout the game, most notably in the homicide and arson cases, in ways that are somewhat above and beyond what is normally used in most games but are not so gratuitous and over-the-top as to ever be described as comical- it's a more realistic depiction of criminal violence than is usually expected.

L.A. Noire is both recognizable as a product of Rockstar and as a throwback to the old adventure-game style of gameplay, and the mix does actually work well, despite the game's troubled and lengthy development. It works well as a detective story and has competent action, and is a game very much worth playing. The DLC cases are also recommended, as they not only give the game some well-deserved heft, they are interesting exercises in their own right.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Mar 31, '14, 2:49 pm 
Good review. I think you treated it pretty fairly and thoroughly (though in your colorful characters section, I'm a bit surprised you didn't mention your homicide partner…I thought he was a riot!) When I look at this game, there's a lot of things it gets some flak for, but there there's also a "yeah, but-" aspect to those. Basically, a lot of things about this game set up issues where the developers had pick their poison. A lot of criticism is directed at how you can advance the case/story even when you perform VERY poorly or miss a key piece of evidence. While I get that, there's a "yeah, but-" in the fact that if that wasn't the case, people would probably criticize how it's unforgiving and you have to replay sections if you do one thing wrong. I think you mentioned that within its proper context.

I think after I finish one of the games I'm currently on, I'm revisiting this game, as I still have not touched the DLC I got a while back.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Mon Mar 31, '14, 4:31 pm 
Wolf Bird wrote:Good review. I think you treated it pretty fairly and thoroughly (though in your colorful characters section, I'm a bit surprised you didn't mention your homicide partner…I thought he was a riot!) When I look at this game, there's a lot of things it gets some flak for, but there there's also a "yeah, but-" aspect to those. Basically, a lot of things about this game set up issues where the developers had pick their poison. A lot of criticism is directed at how you can advance the case/story even when you perform VERY poorly or miss a key piece of evidence. While I get that, there's a "yeah, but-" in the fact that if that wasn't the case, people would probably criticize how it's unforgiving and you have to replay sections if you do one thing wrong. I think you mentioned that within its proper context.

I think after I finish one of the games I'm currently on, I'm revisiting this game, as I still have not touched the DLC I got a while back.



I know exactly why they went the way they did- as LA Noire is in part a throwback to older adventure games, I can see why they'd want to avoid many of the problems of the same. There were a fair number of cases where defeating puzzles required some very bizzare leaps of logic or even counterintuitive steps (such as in one game where you had to construct yourself a fake moustache in order to impersonate someone who not only doesn't have one, but never had ever). Even aside from that, there were also a number of games where it was easily possible, either by accident or by design, to save the game in an unwinnable state through the misuse of items, and the player would not know they had made the game unwinnable until many hours later.

My only complaint about the DLC cases is one so minor that I didn't feel the need to include it in the review- they didn't make the case titled "Reefer Madness" about investigating the events of that film, because I have no doubt that Rockstar and Bondi could make it the most hilarious thing they had ever done. :)


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Tue Apr 8, '14, 11:47 pm 
It's interesting how the best games using the American Wild West in recent years have come from a British Studio and a Polish studio.
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Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Developer: Techland games
Publisher: Ubisoft
Release Date: 2013
Platforms: PC, Xbox360, Playstation 3
Genre: First person shooter
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This review is based on the PC version.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is the fourth game in the Call of Juarez franchise by the Poland-based development studio, Techland. It is a return to the game's Wild West roots, and was considered something of a welcome return to form ofter the lackluster (at best) third outing of the series, Call of Juarez: The Cartel. Bringing back a number of elements form the earlier games in the series, as well as making it something of a side-story so that new players could easily jump in, plus a strong and not-often-used framing device. Gunslinger managed to gain a much higher degree of critical praise, equal to the original Call of Juarez and its prequel, Bound in Blood.

The story begins in Abilene, Kansas in 1910. A dusty old gunslinger has come to town, and makes his stop at the first bar he can find. He introduces himself as Silas Greaves, just a man passing through to handle a little business. However, someone at one of the tables recognizes that name as one of the legendary bounty hunters of the wild west, and offers him a drink if he'll tell his story. He soon has an audience in the saloon consisting of Ben, the bartender, Molly, the saloon girl, Dwight, a wide-eyed young man who grew up on the fantastic tales of the Wild West as related through dime novels, Steve, a crusty old prospector, and Jack, a skeptical local. In exchange for drinks, Silas begins to spin the yarn of his 40-year hunt for revenge against the outlaws who did a horrible wrong to his family, with little indication as to what's true, what's half true, and what may just be all made up.

The gameplay consists of a fairly competent but conventional modern first-person shooter action with a couple of twists. The game is played from the first-person perspective, with accuracy increased by aiming down the ironsights. Being that there are no steampunk shenanigans in this game, the player is generally limited to more authentic weapons of the time. The three basic types are- revolvers, which can be used singly or in pairs, and are good for mid-range shooting, plus also come in two general varieties- regular revolvers, which are stronger and more accurate, and quickshooters, which fire very quickly and reload much faster than the heavier variety. Then there are rifles, which are best for aimed, long range shooting, and then shotguns, which are amazingly powerful but have very limited ammo capacity (As many of the game's events take place before the invention of the pump-action shotgun). The player also has access to bundles of dynamite, which serve the same purpose as grenades. However, the player can trigger an early explosion by shooting the dynamite in mid-air, which also applies to dynamite thrown by enemies. Silas is not amazingly durable, but he does have regenerating health, which is easily tracked through visual and audio cues- every time Silas is hit, a tear appears in the screen, which closes up over time. To prevent the player from instantly dying from unwittingly stepping into a bad spot, there is also the "Sense of Death" mechanic- if the player is about to receive a fatal bullet, this ability slows down time and allows the player the chance to dodge it in a quick time event and regain all of their lost health. This ability is on a cooldown, and doesn't work against dynamite or gatling guns, so it is not infinitely abusable. The player also has access to "Concentration", an ability that temporarily greatly slows down time and also highlights enemies, allowing the player the time and perception to pick off enemies much more easily than normal, and is refilled by killing enemies. There are also scripted quicktime events where the character can quickly dispose of a group of enemies, however passing those is never required to advance during the normal play of the game. In addition to the story mode, there's an Arcade mode, which is about going through a map and getting the highest score possible, and there is also a showdown mode, which is a set of duels with all of the game's major antagonists.

There is an experience and skill system in the game, and the player earns XP mainly by shooting the bad guys. There is combo chaining, and more XP is given for trickier kills, like headshots, shooting opponents through certain kinds of cover, hitting enemies that are running, and stacking these conditions together gives a commensurate bonus as well. As the character levels up, the player can choose skills from three trees- Gunslinger, which focuses on pistols and concentration, Ranger, which focuses on rifles and improving long-range shooting in general, and Trapper, which focuses on improving the player's toughness, shotguns, and dynamite. While these are usually passive improvements to damage, reloading, and so on, they also affect how certain skills or weapons even behave. For example, one of the skills in the Trapper progression allows the player who has dodged a bullet with Sense of Death to immediately headshot the assailant right after. The player can also gain experience through finding collectibles throughout maps called "Nuggets of Truth", which are actually short articles about the real history about the persons, things, and events in the Wild West- a welcome inclusion, considering how much mythology has grown up around the era.

The game's level design is functional, though linear- however, it is also occasionally subject to change as Silas remembers details about that particular part of his adventures that he didn't mention earlier, with the level geography often reshaping itself, or even new pieces of scenery just falling out of the skybox as Silas goes through new parts of his recollections- there is even one level of the game, the Coffeyville shootout of 1892, that is played from three different perspectives- Ben's perspective, as he took up arms against the Dalton gang, Dwight who tells the (overblown) dime novel version of Silas's role, and then Silas's own account of his role in fighting the Daltons. The player's situation can be immediately and suddenly changed by Silas's narration, such as when you hear one of his audience starting to fall asleep, Silas shouts that he was suddenly attacked by Natives- so the player has to fight indians for a little while until Silas says he was only doing that to see if Steve was paying attention. The game's framing device and narrative intersect with the gameplay on a concrete level not usually seen in most games.

As there are no steampunk shenanigans, however, the enemy variety is somewhat limited, usually to outlaws (and occasionally natives) sporting different kinds of guns. There are a couple of special enemy types, like gunmen using improvised shields, and armored shotgunners, no doubt inspired by Ned Kelly's improvised boiler-plate armor, but overall the selection is somewhat sparse. Some of the major outlaws are fought as traditional FPS boss encounters (including Emmett Dalton, who actually has an excuse to be a bullet sponge in this game, as he survived the 23 gunshot wounds he received in the 1892 Coffeyville heist), but most of the top outlaws are fought in quickdraw showdowns. In these, the player uses their mouse to keep a reticle on their opponent to focus and improve their aim, while they use the keys to move their hand into a position where they can improve their draw speed. When the opponent goes for his gun, the player can draw and attempt to shoot the opponent, gaining XP based on how quickly they were able to score the hit. The player can draw early, but will receive almost no XP for fighting dirty. While the showdowns are an interesting mechanic, the reticle does sometimes seem too floaty for its own good. However, no boss requires the character to use mechanics that aren't practiced throughout the whole of the game, so there are no unwelcome gameplay shifts. The game's story mode is relatively short- however, the fact that there is a difficulty level that only unlocks after you've finished the game, plus the existence of a New Game Plus mode means that there is possible replayability to be had.

The story progression is perhaps the most interesting subject, because of how it intersects so heavily with the gameplay and aesthetics. The game's story is not so much a story as it is a yarn spun out by a narrator who is not entirely reliable and at some points is blatantly telling tall tales. The way Silas tells things he worked with or had a shootout against pretty much anybody who was somebody in the Wild West, like Billy the Kid, Johnny Ringo (whose death was actually historically unsolved), Newman Haynes "Old Man" Clanton, Jesse and Frank James, John Wesley Hardin, and many more. His stories even get more over-the-top and improbable and likely to go into tangents and self-reflection as he gets more inebriated from the free drinks he receives over the course of his storytelling. The levels are carried by Silas's narration and are subject to change based on the details that Silas manages to recall- for example, there's a point where the player has to play through a bad plan and its eventual, lethal results- until Silas reveals that the plan was so stupid that he never tried it, and the game rewinds (with the proper effect) to the point before that and you take an entirely different path through the level to the end. At one point the game even goes into super-slow motion because Silas is off having a bathroom break. In-between levels the story is told in stills that look straight out of a slightly hard-edged graphic novel, but overall the game has a proper balance of grit and humor that all good westerns have- Silas is a refreshing change from the crop of dour, no-nonsense protagonists by being a character who might well be full of nonsense, depending on how much of his story the player chooses to believe. Silas's audience is also given a fair bit of personality on their own based on how they choose to challenge or accept Silas's version of events. The fact that there seem to be at least two competing versions of Silas's life means that the fact that the player gets to choose how the story ends seems only natural. While the story is a bit short, gameplay-wise, it's also as long as it probably needs to be.

While the game is not the graphical powerhouse that other modern PC games are, on account of it being something of a budget title, it has a very strong stylistic focus and direction that means its presentation choices will likely hold up better over time. While the game does have a fair helping of the dusty brown that the genre is known for, the other colors are also very bright and bold in keeping with the game's semi-hard edged, graphic novel style of presentation. All of the important outlaws (and Bob Ollinger's shotgun) get their own special introduction rendered in three graphic novel-esque panels. While the game is stylized, it's not quite as outlandish as, say, the Borderlands series. All of the stills are very well-drawn. The soundtrack is also very well constructed, calling back to the classics of the Western film genre. All in all the presentation of the game was handled by people who obviously love westerns.

While the game is not an especially long experience, it is still a well-constructed and complete one. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is a very good buy that uses its story's framing device in ways that are very rarely seen in video games. Combined with being backed up by competent gameplay, the game does provide an enjoyable experience that is worth its price tag.

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A small sample that should illustrate things (a bit of language, though)


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Apr 9, '14, 2:23 am 
Hmm. Interesting review. Now, I can't say I've played this game. But I've heard some good reviews of this, but a lot qualify it by saying that in terms of using the 'Western' genre, it still doesn't quite measure up to Red Dead Redemption (which, I will admit, I really hope you review sometime :yaknow: ). But after reading this review, I may have to give this game a look in the future.


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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Apr 9, '14, 6:27 pm 
Wolf Bird wrote:Hmm. Interesting review. Now, I can't say I've played this game. But I've heard some good reviews of this, but a lot qualify it by saying that in terms of using the 'Western' genre, it still doesn't quite measure up to Red Dead Redemption (which, I will admit, I really hope you review sometime :yaknow: ). But after reading this review, I may have to give this game a look in the future.


I haven't actually played RDR myself, but I have a feeling that the two games are aiming for rather different things.

Of course, I'm also a big fan of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the theme of separating the legend from the truth is something that's important on a real life level when dealing with the real history of the outlaws of the Wild West, whose reputations have often been inflated by themselves, their friends and sympathizers, or in the cases of Billy the Kid and Henry Plummer, their enemies.

Edit: Aaaaand, it looks like RDR probably isn't going to happen- it was never ported to PC, and that's unlikely to change.


Last edited by R-90-2 on Wed Apr 9, '14, 6:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Apr 9, '14, 7:43 pm 
Very interesting review and video. Thank You. I wouldn't mind giving this one a try. Will have to see if I can find it somewhere. I love western moves, but haven't thought much about western themed / shooter video games before this. You mentioned "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"...is there a video game with that title???


Last edited by Silver_Surfer1 on Wed Apr 9, '14, 7:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: R-90-2's Review node.
PostPosted: Wed Apr 9, '14, 7:49 pm 
Silver_Surfer1 wrote:Very interesting review and video. Thank You. I wouldn't mind giving this one a try. Will have to see if I can find it somewhere. I love western moves, but haven't thought much about western themed / shooter video games before this. You mentioned "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"...is there a video game with that title???


Nah, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of the great classic Western films directed by John Ford- you should probably check it out.


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