Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

PS3 game reviews

Yesterday I was running a fever, so work was a no go. I can't think of a better day to stay inside and recuperate. After getting over a foot of snow dumped on BOCO over night, I certainly wasn't going to face a long (and, considering the condition of my vehicle, potentially perilous) commute while feeling like shit. On the plus side, after sleeping in til Noon-30 (MWAAAHAA), I was able to spend some extra time with my new toys.

As I mentioned Tuesday, I got 3 games with my system (God of War III, Uncharted 2, and Heavy Rain). Interestingly enough, with the ever-increasing trend of making open-world games, the three are all linear (and I wouldn't have them any other way). Over the past week, with extended sessions Sunday and yesterday, I have had a chance to play them all, and here are my impressions:

Heavy Rain: Maybe the most unusual gaming experience of my life, Heavy Rain harkens back to Film Noir style mysteries. Under constant pouring rain, you take the part of 4 characters tracking the "Origami Killer." But unlike previous takes on the mystery genre (notably pint-and-click adventures) you are more active in the game. Through a series of button presses, stick swirls, and controller tilts (taking advantage of the 6-axis nature of the PS3 Controller) you guide the characters through the story, performing actions from the mundane (setting the table) to the vital (dodging a knife, or breaking through a wall to escape a fire). I don't use the word performing lightly; the game feels as if you are performing the actions themselves, as in a movie, rather than just button mashing.
(Hit the button (Represented by the circle on the screen) correctly, and you defend yourself, fail, and get hit)

Additionally, as opposed to other games with puzzles (like the other two I'm about to cover) the in-game puzzles don't drastically jerk your senses out of the games immersive world. Often times puzzles become contemplative moments, points where your thinking happens "outside the game world" (if that makes any sense). Because the world of Heavy Rain is so well crafted, tense moments with puzzle solving make you think on your feet "in the game." I felt genuine tension as I tried to save my characters at different points from certain death.
(While a tad bit gloomy, the game provides a great game-play experience)

The story is incredible (minus some retrospective plot holes), and the graphics are top notch (I almost think they didn't decide on a killer til later on in development). While there are a few moments of glitch, for the most part quality motion-capture ensures a quasi-realistic feel. One complaint I have is the voice acting. The game was made in France using mostly European actors. However, the game is set in Pennsylvania. All I know is no Pennsylvanians have the accents that the actors used. The children voice actors are especially jarring. This is the only real drawback to the game, as I wish they had used American voices to portray Americans.

There is a surprisingly high level of re-playability for a game that is so dependent on story and set-pieces. Whith multiple endings and ways to play out scenes, along with multiple difficulty levels which change required inputs, the game stays fresh through a few play-through. Heavy Rain is an excellent experience, and I highly recommend it, specifically because of its unique way of handling the genre.

God of War III: The God of War series has long been one of my favorites. Building on the Action-adventure genre, the series is well known amongst PS2 owners for its non-stop action, hard core violence, outrageous story, and great controls. The series, in its 3rd and potentially final main console installment, focuses on Kratos, a fallen solder in the Spartan army, and his ceaseless search for revenge against essentially the entirety of existence (mortals, gods, titans: you name it, he'll try to kill it). Tricked by Aries into killing your wife and children, the 1st game involves killing the Greek God of War and installing yourself as his replacement. Betrayed by Zeus, the 2nd is all about finding a way to destroy Olympus itself. The 3rd game is all about putting that plan into action.

I can't stress the violence portion enough. Within an hour of game play, I had ripped the head off of a Greek God (Poseidon), disemboweled a centaur, and burned a helpless captive alive. Kratos is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a nice man. Game play focuses on multiple ways to brutalize your even increasing number of enemies. The controls are well engineered (if not a little over engineered), and allow you to flow easily between moves. The resultant game play is a mix between traditional adventure games (like Zelda) and fighting games (like Street Fighter). Power-ups and new weapons abound as you attempt to stunt the entirety of the forces of Olympus, and you can learn numerous tricks and combos to keep the hordes at bay.

(Look away children)

I had been waiting for this game for a while, dreading my potential inability to purchase it because of my previous lack of a PS3. I must say it looks stunning. Attacks look smooth, and the surroundings are awe-inspiring. Played on an HD television, GoW3 blows you away in terms of graphics, taking the brutal nature of Kratos up a notch. Entire levels take place on large, moving, creatures, adding in a sense of the massive scale of battle.

There are a number of drawbacks, however. After two titanic games, the novelty of the experience is starting to wear thin. There's only so many ways to skin a cat (literally in this case), and the ceaseless blood-letting is honestly getting a little tiresome. I'm just looking for a more fulfilling adventure. At this point, I'm not even sure if I'm on Kratos' side of the whole thing (maybe that's the point?). Don't get me wrong, I love the game, and the series as a whole, but I'm really hoping that this is the final installment on the major console. If you haven't played a GoW game before, I would recommend playing the original. The original, not without its own faults (lack of major bosses), provides an inventive experience, setting the tone for the next generation of video game advancements. The resultant follow-ups have basically been the same, plus more graphics and blood. The series is essentially a Michael Bay movie franchise at this point, and needs to end (sorry).

(Don't be mad Kratos, it was still fun)

Uncharted 2: Wow is this game awesome! Playing as Nathan Drake, you trek across the globe as some mix of Indiana Jones and John McClane. Drake takes the role of Indy as he consults his notebook and wits to solve archeological puzzles and traps (there's even the stereotypical spiked ceiling coming down on you scene). All he's missing is a hat. He then takes on the role of McClane as he shoots down baddies and is constantly getting himself into worsening states of injury. Essentially, this is what Indiana Jones 4 should've been, packaged in video game form.

The adventure is based on an epic search for the mythical lost city of Shambala, which houses your typical set of treasures and ancient artifacts. Along the way, the game plays out like a movie. The cut scenes are dramatic, and the voice acting pitch perfect. The story sucks you in, keeping you glued to your controller. More than that, the lush surrounding visuals and setting drop you into a perfectly crafted world. Believable in almost every sense, the visuals are a crowning achievement, besting either of the two previously discussed games.

(There is almost no difference between game play and cut scene graphics)

Game play combines 3rd-person shooter action (like, say, Gears of War) with platforming adventure (Assassins Creed-ish), and does both near flawlessly. I'm not typically a fan of shooter games, but the action in this game is more than accessible, and kept me engaged. The platforming and puzzles, while not the best I've ever seen, are well executed, and there were few moments of frustration. Add to that a good multi-player system to maintain re-playability, this game hits all the spots.

(Blowing up tanks is cool, especially when half the trick is finding ammunition)

If I could only have one PS3 game, this would be the one I'd pick; I can't recommend this game enough. While not necessarily revolutionary in any one aspect, the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and Uncharted 2 is top rate. Even people sitting on the couch next to you will get a kick out of this one, as the story is more than entertaining enough to suck passer-byes in. Developer Naughty Dog deserves high praise for this one.

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