Psychonauts

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Psychonauts

The other day I was looking back through the games I’ve covered so far on the blog, and it dawned on me that I have a very odd taste in games. Loads of people have been asking me when I’m going to cover classics like Sonic the Hedgehogand Sensible Soccer, but to be honest I’m more interested in writing about oddities like Doshin the Giant and Emergency Call Ambulance.

Psychonauts

 

That’s partly because odd games are a bit easier to write about of course. One of the most difficult posts to write so far was the one on Super Mario Kart – it’s clearly a fantastic game that had to be included on the blog, but how do you write something new and interesting about a game that everyone already knows everything about? I ended up going with the whole ‘which version of Mario Kartis the best’ angle, but I think I rewrote the whole post about three times before I was reasonably assured that it wasn’t incredibly boring.

psychonauts

But the main reason that I tend to pick odd games to write about is that I genuinely like them. Give me the choice between playing Katamari Damacy andHalo 3, and Katamari would win hands down. That’s not to say I don’t like the Halo games of course,  but in the end they’re just a more refined version of a genre that’s been around for nearly 20 years, whereas there’s just nothing like Katamari Damacy out there (except for its sequels of course).

But it’s not just originality that attracts me – a good story is a plus too. I’m not one of those people who just keeps playing the same games again and again (I’m looking at you Ian) – I generally just play through a game once and then move onto something else. But the game has to make me want to see what’s around the next corner to keep me playing, and story is a big part of that.

psychonauts

Dark Sector is a good example of a game that doesn’t quite get it right – the story is all over the place, to the point where the game would probably have been better off without a story at all (watching the developers painstakingly try to explain why some young man has ended up with an organic, psychically controlled throwing blade for an arm is excruciating at times). Not only that, the limited story available is delivered through incredibly dull, poorly scripted cut scenes that actually leave you even more confused about what the hell is going on rather than illuminating the finer details of the hackneyed plot (which mostly centres around the usual mad scientist/femme fatale/betrayed friend gubbins). Thankfully, the game was saved from utter mediocrity by the small spark of originality that is the glaive – the amusement to be had from lopping people’s heads off from a distance was just about enough to keep me playing to the end.

psychonauts

The wonderful Psychonauts, on the other hand, has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to originality and story. In fact, it almost goes too far in the opposite direction – basic things, like the controls (which are ridiculously floaty), seem to have been added in almost as an afterthought, such is the focus on telling the sublimely ridiculous story. I won’t go into the details of the plot here (you can read the Wikipedia entry for that), suffice to say that at one point you get trapped inside the mind of a giant mutated lungfish and lay waste to an imaginary city – populated by tiny little mutated lungfish.

Graphically too, the game is exploding with imagination, and the stylized characters and landscapes are totally unlike anything I’ve seen before in a game (think The Nightmare Before Christmas, but set in a psychic summer camp). Not only that, in a welcome change from the norm, the voice acting is absolutely fantastic, and the deadpan one-liners often had me (genuinely) laughing out loud.

psychonauts

Most importantly, the game kept me playing not because I was trying to collect 100 of this, that and the other, or because I was desperately trying to get some obscure, yet utterly meaningless ‘Achievement’ – I kept playing just because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Which is the way all games should be.

Halo 2

 

halo 2

I never really played Halo 1 that much since I didn’t have a good PC at the time it came out for that version (really bad trust me), and never had the friends at home locally to enjoy the first game.

halo 2

Halo 2 was a big jump up in graphics from the first game, and they did add a lot of new stuff like dual wielding and energy swords now. The single player was enjoyable but kinda left you half empty. I liked playing as Master Chief, I thought Arbiter’s bad guy turned good story-line was uninteresting and stupid. If I’m going to play as a alien you killed a ton of in the last game, then I want to kill humans not other aliens.
halo 2
The multiplayer is why I was hooked on Halo 2 for so long. So many maps by the time I got to it, and so much fun. Slayer, CTF, all kinds of modes, and some of the best maps in Halo history. I really sucked at the game at first, but it eventually made me a decent Halo player and I can hold my own in Halo 3 and Reach.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

knights-of-the-old-republic
The 2000’s were a disappointing decade for Star Wars fans. The old movies were just getting more old, the books were doing a little good, but the prequel movies failed to impress many fans of the older movies. However there was one shining light that might have been as good as the first time you got to see Empire Strikes Back. That game was Knights of the Old Republic.
knights-of-the-old-republic

The combat was probably the weakest thing about KOTOR, which isn’t probably a bad thing when the quest was so long, the characters so memorable, and a story that dragged on you for the ride. Republic solider Carth, Jedi Bastila, alien teenager Mission, her wookie Zaalbar, weird cat lady Juhani, and the evil droid HK-47 all have their deep but interesting back-stories, and provide memorable parts to the main plot. The Sith Lord Dark Malak made the first really great Star Wars villain since Darth Vader.

Star Wars - Knights of the Old Republic - xbox - gameplay screenshot - 2
You’re looking at a game they could easily give you 30-50 hours of gameplay without boredom or parts that you have to stomach so you can get to the goodness. That alone warrants itself a place on my list. However not only that, it helped revive the quality in the Star Wars franchise, put Bioware in the spotlight, and was so good that we couldn’t stand much of the 2nd game developed by Obsidian Entertainment even though it was a good game in itself but not compared to the original.

Ninja Gaiden

 ninja-gaiden-xbox
I never cared for Devil May Cry nor God of War, so I wasn’t exactly sure how well I was going to love Ninja Gaiden which rebooted the NES series on Xbox. After about ten minutes I was hooked, and I have loved the series ever since and I even went back and enjoyed the first two NES games.
ninja-gaiden
I think my main deal with GoW or DMC is really just the combat. I think they are a bit too slow and sluggish and the enemies seem to take too much of a punch for no reason. With Ninja Gaiden, enemies take long to defeat only when you’re not skilled enough to take them out effienctly. The bosses were excellent, the combat smooth, and their was a little RPG-ish shop system that made the game a little easier after the game gets much harder.


Though Tecmo gave us this weird monster lady boss, and even though it was a good fight, Tecmo is pathetically trying to put a thong on anything female. Works with Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden… not so much. Joking aside, I think this is the best game in the series, and even though Ninja Gaiden II sucked monkey balls. I think Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword on the DS was fantastic and a much truer sequel than the 360 train-wreck.

Jade Empire

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Bioware had a lot to live up to after they quit the KOTOR series. They said they were going to make a more original game cause apparently stupid shit like making sure every stupid alien having the right eye color is very important to George Lucas and fanboys. The result was a similar yet different game based on the old days of China.

I say that the move was a good choice, though you kinda do wished they stayed and made another KOTOR game. But the plot choices in the KOTOR games are almost the same as they are in Jade Empire, and the story is enjoyable even though I didn’t like the plot twist near the end.
 jadeempire
The combat is much different than KOTOR giving it more an action kind of feel. It’s good, but it had it’s flaws, though if they did make a sequel I think they could of fixed and tweaked all their mistakes. The quest is also quite a bit shorter than the KOTOR games, but nevertheless, this is one of Bioware’s finest games and if you’re a fan you need to play this.

Fable

 Fable
Fable was released with some of the biggest hype any game has ever received. It was apparently the deepest and longest game on the Xbox from what people were hoping. Then they found out it could easily be beat in 10 hours or so.
Fable
Despite falling from the near-perfect tier of first party games, Fable is still one of my favorite games on the Xbox. Not too overly complicated, and the choice system was impressive for the time. I was kinda good from what I remember but didn’t look like gandalf or satan by the end. The combat had a few problems, but this was probably the closest thing the Xbox had to the Zelda series, which had almost no puzzles, but more action and lots of little side-quests.
Fable
I know this game gets a lot of hate, but I personally thought the story and setting were charming, and despite unworthy bragging rights, it still was a good game. I just wish Peter Molyneux would just move on from the Fable series and start fresh, since I doubt he’s going to perfect it like he wants to.

Half-Life 2

 Half-life-2
Half-Life 2 was a smash hit on the PC, however you needed a pretty good graphics card back in the day to run the damn thing good. So many were hoping for a watered down port for the consoles, and even though it took a bit of time, Valve delivered that on Xbox like they did for the first game on PS2.
Half-life-2
I did play 1 on PS2 (I don’t play PC games), and really thought it was one of the worst shooters that I put my hands on. Most of that might of been aging, and the crumminess of the PS2 port (from what I hear), so I decided to give 2 a try and the Xbox version does the series justice. The graphical framerate can be a problem for nickpicky people, but the load-times are defiantly the thorn in this game’s paw. Long and frequent, get used to it.
Half-life-2
Half-life 2 is a fun and impressive game, with such variety and diversity in the enemies and levels. I think my favorite level was Ravenholm since it had that perfect Halloween spooky feel to it, and was really the only spot I really thought the gravity gun got it’s full use. I do wish I kinda waited until I bought the Orange Box though since the port on that one is much much better than this version. However even a crappy port of great game, can sometimes be a great game if you can tolerate imperfections.

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath

 Oddworld - Stranger's Wrath
I never got into the Oddworld series on PS1 (friend had one of them and I thought it was awful), and the first Xbox game looked kinda dumb, so Stranger’s Wrath was actually the first and only entry I truly gave a shot. You play some kind of weird monster bounty hunter who can run like a leopard, and shoot like a marine.
 Oddworld - Stranger's Wrath

Except marines never had weapons as cool as this game’s arsenal. Each ammo type providing a different way to kill an enemy. Some worked better on others, some were traps, etc. You had plenty to play with so you never felt bored when it came right down to it.

Oddworld - Stranger's Wrath

I think one of my favorite things is the different approaches to defeating a level or boss. This level right here I believe is from the earlier parts of the game where you have to sneak past guards near this fort, so you can sneak up on your bounty kill. Took me many tries, but finally found a strategy that worked for me.
Oddworld - Stranger's Wrath
I think the game’s only big fault is that the difficulty is a bit bi-polar. It doesn’t gradually goes up, one moment its okay, and then bam you get hit with an almost impossible challenge. I would probably rank OSW higher, but I got stuck on a boss that you couldn’t hurt unless you knocked him off a platform, and you had a whole bunch of shit thrown at you before you could capture him or kill him. A bit of a fuck up I think on their part. Heard it’s coming to PSN though, which gives PS3 owners a chance to play one of the best Xbox games ever crafted.

Star Wars: Battlefront II

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As a fan of Star Wars, there was no way I couldn’t get this game. It was like that Battlefield1942 game I heard about but with light-sabers and shit.  Basically that was the concept and it worked well. You could play as low level storm troopers, Jedi, Sith, even Wookies were fair play. Some more balanced than others, but lots of fan service especially the Jedi and Sith characters to play as. The single player mode was a decent affair. Lots of action, good variety in missions, and probably the better of the two modes when it came to ship combat.
The multi-player had it’s problems, but it was a blast. Being a Jedi, or Sith made you feel over-powered, but you had to earn it, and it was a real challenge to beat one of the juggernauts.  The connection speeds could’ve been a bit faster, and even after the game was super-old you still had to pay for a map pack that would kick you out of certain matchmaking’s  I’m sad to see that they haven’t made a real sequel yet I don’t believe, it could defiantly use some HD returning  tweaks, and improvements.

Call of Duty: Finest Hour

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Though it may be overshadowed by it’s Modern Warfare and Black Ops big brothers, I still regard it as one of the better WWII shooters out there and fine addition to the Call of Duty series.
 call of duty-finest-hour
I think my favorite catch to this game, is that it goes to all major sides to the Eastern front. You take control of Soviet, American, and British troops. All them have their memorable moments, weapons, and areas such as Germany, Stalingrad, and North Africa. I think my favorite mission is the one with the Russian sniper lady with all the Nazis coming to attack the building she was in.
call of duty-finest-hour
I suppose it might get a little lost in the WWII crowd, and wasn’t greatly reviewed, but it was one of the first enjoyable WWII shooters for me. Though I do have to say the multi-player was crap, though only available through the PS2 and Xbox version which I’m sure have been shut-down.

Panzer Dragoon Orta

 Panzer Dragoon Orta
After giving Sega fans the few bones they could get with the Saturn, Panzer Dragoon stayed dead during the Dreamcast days. However the long awaited sequel did hit the Xbox, and although it didn’t become a RPG like Saga might have left fans thinking where the series might head, it was arguably the best in the series.
Panzer Dragoon Orta
With little question or doubt either. It was easily the best looking PD so far, and it expanded the gameplay with 3 wing forms which could make you faster, or stronger, better shots, etc. The bosses were rather lamely designed visually, but were unique in a Japanese version of Tim Burton on crack kind of way. Despite my criticism, the boss fights were pretty fun, and the levels were like going on a visual roller coaster ride that used your mind and reflexes.
 Panzer Dragoon Orta
Granted it is a bit short, and I really couldn’t care less for the story or characters. Something about a girl and her dragon, blah blah, evil empire, blah blah. Kinda left me with melancholic feeling honestly. I guess the story doesn’t matter, but it did rub me the wrong way.
Panzer Dragoon Orta
A nice bonus in Orta, is that it came with a free version of the original Panzer Dragoon, just in-case you were one of billions of people who didn’t own a Sega Saturn. It holds up rather decently, though the graphics do show their age. Starfox 64 defiantly whoops the original Panzer Dragoon in all aspects.
 Panzer Dragoon Orta
It might be a tiny gem in a great pile of Xbox games, but you can find it rather easily and quite cheap. If you like Starfox, Panzer Dragoon, rail shooters, or good games in general and you have an Xbox (I guess the 360 plays it too) then you are truly missing out of one of Sega’s best efforts in recent memory which is pretty sad since the game came out in December of 2002.

Fable

Fable

I do love RPG’s, but when Fable was originally released I didn’t jump on it. First off, I’ve acknowledged that I’m a cheap gamer and I like the bargain bins, and secondly, I was getting geared up for Halo 2 (which would take most of my time). Third, I have a buddy who loves playing all 3 games and other similar RPG’s, like the Elder Scrolls run. Over the years, he would tell me of his gaming exploits, which were usually something like, “Yeah, this game is awesome! I have a bunch of wives, but they were coming after me for child support, so I had to take them out into the woods and kill them.” and “I played as a chick this time, and got VD and pregnant.”……This was enough to keep me away for a while. But, I knew I’d get around to it sooner or later.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

Before the game was released, there was enough hype surrounding the game to assure it would never live up to all the expectations. I don’t care about that. All I care about is having fun. It doesn’t matter to me if a game is delayed for years, or if it fails to deliver what it promised. After I insert the disc into my Xbox…”How does it look?” “How does it control?” “How much fun am I having?” These are the questions I ask myself. Having said all that, let me get into Peter Molyneux/Big Blue Box/Lionhead Studio’s Fable.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

All RPG’s have a story, some better than others. With Fable, the main story is pretty standard: Little boy’s village raided by bandits, father killed, mother and sister taken, strange man takes in boy so he can grow up and get revenge.
You play a short time as a boy, and then as a teenager, basically to get used to the controls. A little more than a tutorial, but that’s really what it is. When you reach manhood, the main quest starts. I know people who have put 40-50 hours (maybe more) into Fable, but I did 13. Here’s why: I’ve also never been a huge fan of “sandbox” games. I prefer linear. I understand I’m probably in the minority, but I like having a goal/quest/mission, then accomplishing it.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

In Fable, there is the main quest that will be fleshed out in increments by your mentor(s), but also a crapload of side quests. Most gamers want to get more for their money, and you’ll get this with Fable, because there is always something to do. But, nothing drives me crazier in a game than given my main quest with a “Time is of the essence! You must rescue ‘so-and-so’!”, then also having the option of romancing women, escorting traders, and stopping to smell the flowers, with no consequences after doing so.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

Sometimes, there’s so much going on that the main story is forgotten, and that should never be the case. I would have skipped the side quests completely, but for a couple of reasons: One, I wanted to see for myself so I could write about it, and two, I wanted to do just enough to level-up properly so I wouldn’t be under-powered against bosses when I finally reached them. But come on, there are just so many escort missions I can do before I was bored silly.
Having said all that, Albion itself is a beautiful place. From the water, to the woods, to the villages…..they spent a lot of time making everything look unique. Except for the people, who all look the same…. I think I married sisters. There is plenty of world to explore, and loading times aside, it was worth it to wander from section to section to see what the next part of the country looked like.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

The music was cute and very ‘fairy-tale’ like, the score was spot-on what I want to hear in the background when I’m playing a game like this. It was a very welcome addition to the game.
Combat is also an important part of an RPG, and this is done in real-time. You have your close-combat weapons (and there are plenty from which to choose), your long-range, and your spells. One of the cool things about your character is he doesn’t have a ‘class’ so to speak, meaning no fighter/wizard/whatever.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

He can do all of these things. As you kill enemies, you get experience and can take those XP to build up your character pretty much the way you want. You can make him extremely strong, very fast, or proficient with spell-casting. If you play the game long enough, you’ll eventually max out all. One of the really cool things I found was when I came across a huge sword that my character had a hard time carrying/using, but after I ‘strengthened’ my character, he was waving it around with no problem.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot
There are also the typical spells, with the fire/lightning strikes which I mostly used, along with a spell that gave me double attacks. Again, everything looked pretty cool, but the ‘lock-on’ targeting system was a major pain in the ass, with a lot of innocents getting fried on accident. And there were many times where it stayed on when I was trying to run for cover, which left me a bit defenseless. The enemies are many in number, but sparse in variety, and they look cool. Mainly bandits, huge wasps, some werewolf types, and a couple of others. There are some small bosses before the big ones at the end…. I just called Rock Monsters ‘small’, for some reason. The final bosses were way too easy, and I considered myself underpowered.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

Another huge aspect of the game is what I call the “The Sims”, which I didn’t really want to do. This is the interaction with the townsfolk. Now, every game has you talking to people for info, that’s pretty standard. Fable wants you to spend valuable questing time literally flexing my muscles, flirting, showing my trophy-kills, and giving gifts to impress people, as well as showing a scary face or giving the middle finger to people I don’t like. There’s a lot more of this than I just mentioned, and there are reasons for doing so, I just had zero interest in this. If I want to play The Sims, I will buy those games.

Fable - Xbox - Gameplay Screenshot

I appreciate what they tried to do here, by making the game unique and ‘more real’ (I guess), but I think it takes away from the core gameplay. I did take a couple of wives, just so I could say that I did it, but it was empty gameplay…and oh yeah, my mother was being tortured during all this…sorry, ma. A man has needs.

I could go on, but by now you pretty much have my take:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXjXVRgT39o[/youtube]

Beautiful-looking, slow load times, wonky combat, good main quest story, unnecessary side quests, Sims stuff that doesn’t interest me, and easy bosses.
If I rate the game so just the main story, I recommend it. On the whole package…not so much. But, I know there are plenty of you out there that want to get that great hours to price ratio…and this game will do it for you.