Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Zero Punctuation Reviews: Resident Evil 5

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Zero Punctuation Reviews: 50 Cent - Blood on the Sand

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Zero Punctuation Reviews: House of the Dead - Overkill (and kinda Killzone 2, too)

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Saturday, March 07, 2009

Review: Necrovision

The premise of Necrovision is that an allied soldier in World War 1 happens finds that not only must he fight Germans, but that vampires and zombies and all manner of supernatural creatures are suddenly and inexplicably attacking him. Thus he must descend into the bowels of no-man's land to hunt the undead and save his soul. If you thought this was the short description of the shittiest game in existence, you were right. I'm sorry, usually I try to make my opening paragraph a teaser, but the absolute awfulness of this game makes it impossible to contain my bile entirely below the jump.

Graphics -

Never has current gen graphics (not to mention the havok physics engine) been abused to no good purpose. Most of the models are well done, the textures are high res, but the models you see most in cutscenes must have been done in a hurry at the last minute because they bend and twist their polygons in odd fashion and make you think you're watching something from 10 years ago only in higher res. Throw into the mix that half the game is too dark and cluttered for you to see what the hell you're supposed to be shooting at, much less appreciate any of the artistry that has gone into any of the game material.

Sound -
It's really hard to screw up the sound portion. Usually the worst I can say about a game is "there is sound, but it is not especially noteworthy." Well, Necrovision takes us to new lows. Even from a technical standpoint. The loud portions are too loud, the soft portions are too soft, there is no way to independently adjust these separate portions, and for some reason the game decides to disable my ability to adjust my computer's volume via the volume controls at the top of my keyboard. Even getting past that, the dialogue is some of the worst gobbledygook that has ever assaulted my ears in either game, tv show, or movie. And that's saying a lot, because I've watched A Polish Vampire in Burbank. Every other line uttered by the protagonist left me audibly asking "...whuh?" He's supposed to be American, but I can't imagine an American (even in 1916) saying the things he says. It makes me think he's using some kind of slavic turns of phrase that don't translate well. I shot somebody with a rifle, and my guy said "Now you're well cooked, and easy on the onions!" ...What? Half the time it also sounds like the wrong dialog files got put in my character's audio folder. Between shouts of "Yee haw! Take that sucker!" and "Screw this!" in an accent that can't decide whether it's midwestern or texan, suddenly my guy will bellow "Respect my skills!" like some kind of poorly translated samurai movie. The germans are not immune to silly phrases either. Often, one of them will shout "I am defending!" as if he thinks this is not patently obvious, or perhaps he expects a medal for shooting back at attackers.

Control -
Usually I don't need to put in a section on Control any more. Most First Person Shooters have the same controls. WASD to move, click to shoot, some minor variations after that, but usually it's not something you have to write about. But I have to bring it up here because the controls are unresponsive and clunky. Your character is also completely incapable of stepping over the lowest of obstacles (such as a corpse) without you using the jump key... and for some reason early 20th century Americans seem to be able to jump higher than Super Mario. That's right, I can clear entire barbed wire walls in a single bound, but I can't step over a two-by-four lying in my path. The "Crouch" key is also near worthless since your guy ducks about a grand total of eight inches. The scheme for weapon selection is nigh-unforgivable. Sure, you've got 3 for rifle, 4 for shotgun, 5 for machine gun... but then you have about 8 different weapon combinations that you can cycle through by hitting "1." And that's where things you need like dynamite to blow open closed passages or grenades to throw at enemies in cover are. Sure, you're just cruising along, blowing away creatures of the night and the kaiser's finest, and oop, you need to throw a grenade. 1. 1. 1. 1. 1. click. Oh look, they moved. Of course they moved. They saw you switch to pistol, then take out a bayonet, then a second pistol, then a shovel, and it doesn't take them a lot to guess the grenade is coming soon. Oy.

Story -
Look, you read the first paragraph. I don't know what more to say. The story exposition does not improve on the initial premise. Not only that but it contradicts itself. After the first level, a cinematic shows your character fighting some kind of undead creature that uses barbed wire for deadly tentacles, armed only with some kind of claw-sprouting metal gauntlet (which, I'm sorry, looks to be completely lifted right out of Witchblade lock stock and barrel). But when the cinematic is over, you don't have the gauntlet, you're not even in the same place where the fight took place, and you don't make any references that lead the audience to believe that the preceding situation even happened at all. Not only that, but often the germans can't seem to decide whether they want to shoot you or talk to you for hours at a stretch. Very early in the game you are put behind their lines, and sometimes they notice you but don't seem to care, and sometimes they talk with you in a cutscene to explain vital plot points (which will then be entirely lost upon you because they make no sense). The whole thing is intolerable. It pries at your sanity like a crowbar forged of madness and heat-tempered in a septic tank. It's like the game was written by the same person who wrote Doom: Repercussions of Evil.

Gameplay -
So far, there has not been a section of this review that has not shown Necrovision to be an abject failure in each category. This category shall be no different. Even if you overlook the terrible visual direction, the abysmal dialog, the insane story exposition and all the rest, is there at least a fun to play game under all the detritus? No. Good lord, but no. The game is a neverending exercise in irritation.

First of all, as reference earlier, everything is too dark, too foggy, too reflective, too cluttered and too dynamic for you to be able to reliably tell what is a random pile of crap and what is an enemy shooting at you. Second of all, because a large number of the game's enemies are zombies, they have an annoying tendency to climb up out of the ground, literally materializing behind you with only the faintest of audio cues which are then of course buried in the noise of combat and awkward english. Third of all, the game delights in giving you lots of ammo and weapons and then dropping enemies around you on which your pitiful mortal weapons have no effect. All dressed up and nowhere to go. Fourth, it seems the developers couldn't decide whether they wanted your health to regenerate or to make you hunt down health packs to heal... so they decided to do both. You will regenerate to 50% health, but to get higher requires a med kit. 50% health is about enough to take 2 hits, the third killing you. However, any time you find a med kit, you'll find 3 or 4, meaning most of them will go to waste and you won't be able to get back to them when you need them later. Also, after healing to full, you will invariably be mobbed and be hacked back down under 50% again within seconds.

Fifth: The boss battle. Let me just clue you developers in - Boss battles are for console tards, not FPS games. If your game has a sequence in which something the player is to fight needs to display a health bar across the entire top of the screen, you've already done something terribly wrong. Furthermore, the boss battles in this game are stupid beyond belief. Take the first boss for example. The helpful UI tells you to "Defeat the wizard." But actually attacking the wizard doesn't even enter into the fight. Instead, how you lower his health bar is by killing the undead things he summons and sends to fight you. The same exact undead things you've been fighting all along thus far, except now you have a robed asshole teleporting from roof to roof shooting fire at you at the same time. When you kill enough them, another disjointed, confusing cinematic will attempt to convey to you the death of the wizard, which has no visible cause, before a door opens near you and a german hits you in the head, knocking you out. I just killed 50 things way tougher than a german with a blunt object. I apparently just murdered a wizard with supernatural powers. And now some kind of idiotic reverse-deus ex machina is my reward, and what is needed to bridge one level to the next? Really?!

What am I on now, item six? It doesn't matter. There's too many to bother numbering. There are sections where inexhaustible numbers of enemies will continue to flood the room you are in until you do something special (which is naturally almost never explained to you), there's plenty of "instant enemies" popping up all around you, some of which are in places you can't even get to. The game never really seems to worry about explaining what is going on or how you even came to find yourself in whatever your current situation is. Your character has ever increasingly stupid things to say about said circumstances. Really, the only way I was able to not think myself into a nosebleed during this game was to convince myself that it was supposed to be the artistic first-person perspective presentation of the inner workings of the mind of a soldier who has suffered shell shock or PTSD or combat fatigue or all three with a healthy dose of hallucinogenic drugs to boot. But even that couldn't keep me playing it for long. It's just. That. Awful. Just... Awful.

Conclusion -

This is probably the worst game I have played since... well, quite a while. I am slightly reminded of Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, but in many ways this game is worse. At least I could laugh at TP:FoL. Here?... Unwatchable. Unlistenable. Unplayable. Unenjoyable. Un-freaking-believable.

Grade: F. Usually a game has to be bugged to unplayability to garner this grade, but in Necrovision, the unplayability is entirely by design. I hope that every employee of this dev house loses their fingers to frostbite so they can never code such an abomination again.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Zero Punctuation Reviews: SpiderMan: Web of Shadows

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Review: Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason

Another game that snuck up on me. The FPS/Survival horror hybrid "Cryostasis" had little fanfare or hype preceding it. I'm never sure whether this biases me for or against a title. On the one hand, I hate how crappy shovelware games are overhyped to make them sound so much better than they are, but on the other hand, being completely off my radar until launch often also means there's nothing to recommend a game... so is Cryostasis another foreign-made sleeper hit, a-la Serious Sam, or just another low budget stinker from a small foreign dev house? Read on.

Graphics -
Clearly these guys were going for the brass ring here, and you'll need some heavy duty hardware to pull it off properly. The minimum specs for an Nvidia 7800, but it recommends an 8800. The game is very high poly count(though some of the textures are a teensy low res), and there's a whole lot of post production filters and aftereffects being applied to assist with the visuals. The game is also the first to use PhysX water effects (as seen in engine tech demo footage here). Overall they did a very good job of creating a gloomy, rotten, oppressive atmosphere full of quasi-human monstrosities. There is a minor irritation in that your character often chooses the oddest moments to randomly lift up his gun for inspection, obstructing the center of your viewing area. But this is quickly remedied with a right click.

Audio -
The sound effects are good quality, and the ambient noise adds to the atmosphere and suspense. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the voice acting and how few awkward translations were in the dialogue. The hollow clunking and groaning of a gigantic derelict ship locked in a glacier makes for a very eerie setting. I can't help shake the feeling though that the noises made by the enemy creatures are snagged from another game... I want to say MDK or possibly Everquest. It's a small nit to pick though.

Cryostasis, as mentioned earlier, is an FPS with a strong bias for the Survival Horror genre. It is 1981, and your character has been sent to investigate a stranded nuclear icebreaker ship. It immediately becomes apparent that most of the crew has either died or fled the ship (to die in the arctic ice), and those that have not (and perhaps even some that did) have somehow been changed into what I came to call "Creatures of the Cold."

See, temperature is the central focus of this game. Your core body temperature is your health meter, and it gradually lowers or raises depending on the ambient temperature of your surroundings. When a Creature of the Cold attacks you, the damage comes in the form of your internal body temperature plummeting a few degrees. If you are in an extremely cold environment (such as outside during a full blown arctic snowstorm with winds around 60mph and visibility of about arm's length) you periodically take "damage," and if you do something egregiously dumb like go for a swim without thermal scuba gear, you can be frozen to death instantly.

So the game quickly becomes a quest to survive from one heat source to the next. You heal yourself by warming up at something hot, such as a fire, a running engine, even a desk lamp if you're really in a pinch (and you often will be). Every heat source will not be enough to raise you to full (particularly not desk lamps), but the game is pretty good about giving you good heat sources when it thinks you're going to need to take a lot of damage in the near future. Of course, once you figure this out, this has the side effect of making you feel the least nervous when your temperature is almost zero and there's no heat sources around, because you know the game won't drop a creature on you until you come to a part of the level that has a heat source in it, so ironically you feel safest when you are closest to dying.

The weaponry in the game consists of three melee weapons and a variety of firearms. The first weapon you improvise by wrapping a lock and chain around one fist and punching with it. The second is a waterpipe valve you happen to rip from its place and use like brass knuckles. At a fairly early point you will come upon a fire axe and start doing some respectable damage; three hits from the fire axe kills most creatures, though it does have a slightly disorienting effect on your point of view since you "put your back into it" so to speak and your viewpoint reflects the realistic movement of your head in the swing... IE, you see your arms, then you see the floor, then you stand up again. There's a bolt action rifle, the same rifle with a sniper scope, a semi auto rifle, a SMG and even a flare gun which is supposed to be able to distract enemies with its heat in addition to damaging them. Your life is complicated by the fact that there is no targeting reticle... if you aren't right clicking to aim down the barrel, you literally are having to "eyeball it" which means you'll probably miss a lot.

The creatures themselves also follow a similar progression, and range from your standard frozen zombie looking guy to nightmare fuel not of this earth. There's the regular unarmed zombie guy (fat and thin versions), the zombie guy with an axe, the zombie guy with welder's gear, the zombie guy with a rifle, the zombie guy with the semi auto rifle, the zombie guy with a machine gun whose HEAD has been scooped out from the front with a fist sized melon-baller and had a blue light put in the cavity with a metal grate over it, the guy who's mutated into some kind of flying insect... all immune to cold and bearing limitless hostility toward anything exothermic. One particular "boss" type mob I find particularly perplexing... because he basically looks like a guy in a raincoat and a metal hat who has secured SMGs to each elbow with leather belts because his hands are too busy holding flashlights and being bolted through the wrists, secured to his helmet. The result is almost comical with a dash of "wtf" and an aftertaste of "yecch." The brig section also introduces "guy with goggles wrapped up like a mummy holding jail keys between his fingers clawing you up like he thinks he's wolverine." Uh. Ok.

But that's not all... apparently your character is some manner of psychic, though it may just be a side effect of whatever the hell is going on in this creaky old boat at the north pole. Often you will come across the frozen corpse of a crewman, usually in such an arrangement that it is part of some obstacle to your progress. For instance, you may find a corpsicle half sticking out of a block of ice and snow protruding from a door that was forced open by a deluge and the accumulation of frozen water is now blocking your path onward. Your character has some kind of psych ability that is part vulcan mind meld, part quantum leap. By touching the corpse, you will then experience the past through the eyes of the dead man, but you can have him behave differently so that history is changed and he does not die. To continue the above example, you could touch the corpse half-sticking out of the ice and snow buildup, and relive his final moments in the boat's accident, but instead of dying when the door bursts open and the frigid water overwhelms him, you might find a wrench on the ground and quickly use it to open a nearby valve, draining the adjacent room of the water threatening to overwhelm the bulkhead, thus saving the crewman's life. When you return to your own body, you'll find the corpse no longer there, the ice and snow absent, and the door undamaged, allowing you to continue on your way.

Pity I can't seem to find the captain's corpse, or I could have just quantum leaped into him and had him turn the boat straight south and sail away from the arctic. But then, I guess we wouldn't have a game, then, would we?

Now, it does have a bug here and there. There's been a few times that I loaded a saved game only to crash in the middle of the load, or when the load completed found that some bug has rendered progress impossible. For example, there's a part where you first get a rifle and ammo, and you need it to shoot a ladder so it falls to where you can climb it... the game autosaved when I picked up the rifle, then I picked up the ammo and shot the ladder. I climbed up and died shortly after to a Creature... the autosave put me back down after having gotten the rifle but the ammo was not there, thus I could not shoot the ladder. I had to go to an earlier save to get past that. Save early, save often, and don't always overwrite your save. There was also a part in the ship's brig (I swear there was something like 40 people in this brig, this is one hell of a ship) where I shot what I thought was a Creature of the Cold, but for some reason shooting THIS creature killed me instantly as if I had shot myself in the head. Oh, that was a nice surprise, I guess I'm not allowed to shoot certain monsters. Fortunately that only happens in that one part of the game, it seems. Sometimes the pathing on the Creatures hiccups somewhat, and they can get stuck on a corner or in a door. One boss gunner I actually got to walk back and forth in and out of the same door while I shot him with impunity.

Also, the game's puzzles of progression can sometimes get infuriatingly obscure. "What the hell do you want me to DO here, game?!" is a thought that often starts to find voice in the second half of the game. The game taciturnly refuses to offer any answers, or even any hints, and you are forced to operate by trial and error, enduring a loading sequence every time an error kills you. By the 15th level or so, you'll also get tired of "jack in the box" style attacks by creatures of the cold popping up in every room in just perfect places to kill you before you can react, and you start making 2 runs at each room, the first intentionally suicidal to trigger all the enemy spawns so you'll know where they are when you do it the second time for real.

Despite a few irritations, the game is engrossing. The atmosphere does make for palpable tension, and the exposition of the narrative compels you to continue through the game to find out what the hell happened, why, and who is behind it. Despite stretching the suspension of disbelief to its limit, the psychic do-overs do add an interesting wrinkle to the game as well. To get the true benefit of the game's experience though, you'll need at least an Nvidia 8800.

Verdict: B.

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