Nut Load. Mini reviews of games old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional shock face.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

flOw (2006)

Genre: Relaxing | Players: 1 - 4 | Developer: thatgamecompany

In flOw you play as a wormlike thing, some kind of early multi-celled organism(?) and have to guide he/she/it through a series of top down levels as he (I'm calling it a he) grows and transforms into a larger wormlike thing. Thatgamecompany sure do make it tough to review their games.

Each level is a layer in an aquatic environment. Picture a dozen layers of glass vertically atop each other, each time you move up or down a layer you’re moving to a new pane of glass. There are no menus or instructions to tell you what to do, so you’re left to simply swim around and try to figure it out through trial and error. After a while you’ll realise what is required of you to progress, but I won’t spoil that process by detailing it here.

Controlling your worm (*chuckle) is an art in itself. You tilt the controller in the direction you want him to go, but it’s not merely left and right, you’re on a pseudo 2D plane, so in order to turn him back on himself you have to tilt in 3D. Yup, that makes about as much sense as I thought it would when I was writing it. It needs to be played to be understood, and while it’s initially confusing it soon becomes an extension of your hand; you’ll soon be zipping your little worm in and out of tight spots, avoiding danger like a pro.

flOw’s appeal is limited, as is the gameplay element; in fact, it’s not really a game in the traditional sense, it’s more like an extended and interactive artwork/tech-demo, but if you've enjoyed the subsequent 'non-game' releases from the same developer (flower and Journey) then it’s an interesting insight into their origins and the thought process of the designer Jenova Chan, as well as being a relaxing and occasionally engaging experience. When the “are games art?” argument is raised among gamers, flOw will feature heavily.

The PS3 version has multiplayer for up to four players.

Buyer's Guide:
Available for PS3 and PSP but can only be bought from the online store. There's also an earlier flash version, but I can't imagine how that would work without the tilt mechanism.

3 growth spurts out of 5

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005)

Genre: Platformer, Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Ubisoft

The closing chapter in the Sands of Time series is a return to form after the glitchy, emo disaster that was Warrior Within. It is a nice hybrid of the 2 previous games with the less moody atmosphere of Sands of Time and the improved combat and platforming tweaks of Warrior Within. Returning to the role of the Prince is Yuri Lowenthal which is most welcome as his snarky, slightly naive Prince is a much more likeable character as he returns home from his adventures to find his kingdom under siege.

The dual blade combat is back from WW almost unchanged, but it is improved in that enemies are much better at fighting so now trying different combos yields results instead of just memorizing what combos work and using them ad nauseam (though you can still do that some) and the targeting is much more inclined to listen to the player this time around. The biggest change to the combat are the speed kills which are a series of quick-time events that the player can activate if they can sneak up on enemies that if performed correctly give a quick and silent death to the enemy. It's a nice reward if you play stealthily or if you perform well at the platforming, but if you don't like it it's not necessary for the majority of the game.

There is also the addition of the Dark Prince which is a split personality that gives the Prince new abilities at the cost of constantly draining life. Taking sand in this form is essential as it refills the life meter as well as the sand tanks. This form also grants the use of the daggertail weapon which is a chain-like whip that the player can use for new combos. Water returns the Prince to normal and the timed nature of the transformations adds one more gameplay addition to the formula without hampering the rest. The Dark Prince is quite the smartass too. There are a few chariot race sections that aren't bad, but seem really out of place in this game.

Improved platforming and combat, new gameplay additions and a better art direction make this one a great end to the saga. A few bugs and a lackluster soundtrack hamper it a bit, but it's not nearly as bad as Warrior Within.

Buyer's Guide:
Can be had for cheap on several platforms. There is also a PSP and Wii port under the name Rival Swords and an HD remastered version for PSN.

4 Spring-loaded window shutters in ancient Persia? out of 5

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Silent Hill 3 (2003)

Genre: Survival-Horror / Action | Players: 1
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo

For a game that presents practically nothing different in terms of gameplay and design from its immediate predecessor, Silent Hill 3 sure accomplishes a lot. It manages to adeptly continue the narrative thread running through the original game, while also wrapping the second game into the fabric of the franchise through its joke, UFO ending. Verily, it proves that the characters of the franchise are not only loosely strung together in terms of emotional resonance, but that they can also be laughed at and adored in spite of their gravity.

Heather takes the promise shown by her father’s prowess with a katana and parlays it into becoming the first entirely effective melee combatant of the series. That isn’t to say she is lacking in the firepower department, however. Indeed, a good balance of special weapons are on display here for those who only want to complete the game, and for those seeking to unlock its full, glorious arsenal. Weapons aren’t the only unlockables, though. A robust wardrobe is at Heather’s disposal, as designed by numerous gaming publications and Konami itself. One of the required codes is available in the game, and you can unlock certain others, but a trip to the interwebs is required to properly fill out her closet.

The standard course of logic and environmental puzzles will lead you to disturbing, creepsome, and bizarre set pieces as well as the best nightmare transistions of the entire series. A staggering amount of care was put into the selection and execution of the environments that house these and ferry Heather along her path. While easy to take for granted, the voice acting conveys with subtle nuance just how simultaneously meek, strong, and human all of the characters can be. Appropriately, 3 delivers on the promise and build-up of the original, while emphasizing character in a manner similar to 2. Even if the chassis is the same, what’s under the hood is entirely unique and demands a play from anyone who claims to be a Silent Hill fan.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PS2, PC, and PS3 as part of the Silent Hill HD Collection. This version, however, includes new voices without the option to use the originals, unlike 2, which is part of the same collection. There exists a PS2 release which packages in the OST, as well. It includes everything from the stand-alone release, save the 3 Voices Edit of Rain of Brass Petals. Definitely the version to grab if you find it in a used bin.

5 Stinking-Mouth Bitches out of 5

Nutted by NEG

House of the Dead: Overkill (2009)

Genre: On-rails shooter | Players: 2 | Developer: Headstrong Games

Do you like grind house films? Do you like whacked out shit and curse-laden humor? Then, House of the Dead: Overkill is for you, brother. If you’re looking for an on-rails shooter with laughs, gore, and challenge to spare, Overkill will definitely scratch that itch for you. The situations Agent G and Detective Isaac Washington are put into are delightfully (yet somewhat comfortably) over the top, and do stand up to many repeat experiences. This is mainly due to the spot-on light-gun gameplay afforded by the Wii-remote, but also because of the collection system and the hard mode.

What’s in the collection system isn’t too much to write home about, aside from being able to listen to the great tunes featured in the game. Character models and art panels are worthless, sure, but the challenge of destroying the golden brains in every level is honestly its own reward. At least in the normal mode. I found that the various “achievements” only helped me earn money in that mode and completing everything again in the “Director’s Cut” would have required getting incrimentally higher scores to grind for money to rebuild my arsenal. On normal, you should have no problem maxing out the stock array of weaponry, ranging from pistols, to shotguns, semi-automatics, and even an automatic shotgun. Another gun is found as part of the narrative, as well. These systematically increase the fun you can have blowing away enemies as you improve them.

There are also a few extra challenges that have you defeating ever-increasing waves of “infected,” and protecting survivors. Appropriately, a carnival style shooting gallery is even included. I only found these to be momentary distractions, but they tend to be popular mini-games in this genre and they are not unwelcome as they are completely seperated from the game itself. Additionally, two players can play the entire game simultaneously. This works perfectly fine, as both can use whatever weapons are currently available. A variant of this, in the form of dual-wielding, can be unlocked for both modes.

As long as you aren’t anal enough to want to collect every extra in hard mode, this game shouldn’t wear out its welcome over many playthroughs. Simply put, this stands as a relatively complete (main) package of gore-y, adult-oriented entertainment.

Buyer’s Guide:
Originally a Wii exclusive, Overkill found its way onto the PS3 last year with Move support, 3D visuals, two new levels and two playable characters, as House of the Dead: Overkill -- Extended Cut

If for some reason you actually have a Move, I’d say get that version. It should only be able to help justify your purchase. Otherwise, go used bin hunting for an original copy.

3½ Goregasms out of 5

Nutted by NEG

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004)

Genre: Platformer, Action | Players: 1 | Developer: Ubisoft

The 2nd game in the Sands of Time trilogy eschews the lighthearted aesthetic of the first game in favor of grimy, dark subject matter. It reeks of some marketing douche forcing in titties and blood because he thinks it will sell better. Really blatant too given the 2 bitches skintastic outfits which is confusing since it is made to appeal to preteen boys while upping the rating to Mature .

Along with the new art direction is improved combat, but improved does not mean good. There are more attack options, but only about 3 are needed as the same moves always work against certain enemies while others never work. The targeting is also made worse from the 1st game as it must be forced to attack the enemy you want. Left to its own devices, it is not uncommon for it to pick the furthest enemy from you instead of the one on his back in front of you awaiting the finishing blow. Mercifully not all battles must be fought and you need only do so when you need more sand or it is needed for progression. There is weapon degradation too where one long combo can destroy your secondary weapon, but as every enemy has a new one it is just a minor annoyance. A bigger annoyance is the ninja bitches that hop around endlessly while repeating the same overtly sado-masochistic one-liners at the Prince. Fuck those cunts. Also the Ravages of Time ability wasn't nearly as stylish as the Mega Freeze from the 1st game.

The platforming sections are as great as they should be, thank Cthulu, with a few new additions that don't break the flow and some nice environments in which to perform the Prince parkour. The wall runs, jumps, swings and now riding tapestries are as fun as ever hampered only slightly by some minor bugs. More than once I found myself stuck in a falling animation while on the ground, music that started up late and stretches where audio cut out entirely which wasn't too bad as the music sucks anyway. Add in some backtracking that can be confusing and a worthless map and it's a wonder the game is as playable as it is.

Buyer's Guide:
Can be found on the cheap for numerous platforms including an HD remastered version on PSN and a PSP port with new content.

2 The platforming saved it from a one out of 5

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Silent Hill 4: The Room (2004)

Genre: Survival-Horror / Action | Players: 1
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Tokyo

If anything can be said for 4, it’s that games actually can justify their place in franchises they weren't originally meant to be part of. Further, this should be judged for oneself, on the merits of the finished product. Do not let your feelings about it be determined by popular opinion or initial impressions. Akin to Hibiki of Kamen Rider fame, The Room more than earns its spot in the Silent Hill series. However, know that the differences inherent are what both define it, and make it a less than perfect entry.

The limited inventory system, while weakly validated, will not present you with extreme troubles. You will have no need of the scarce firearms and their space-hogging ammo stacks once you’ve tried out the Rusty Axe and its brethren. Indeed, 4 stands with 3 and Homecoming as an entry with a satisfying, varied, and effective melee system. Aside from weapons and health and puzzle items, you are also tasked with collecting spirit-warding artifacts to use in your apartment. Said apartment acts as a hub-world between various sub-spaces, and houses set pieces such as hauntings that must be dealt with if you are to achieve the 'better' endings. This area is experienced in first-person and is effective in how it goes from being a safe-haven to just another part of the nightmare as the game progresses. It also further ties into what becomes an interconnected game world. At first, you will explore individual, discrete areas. Over time, however, you will end up revisiting each of them in a series of threaded experiences. As you do so, you will be escorting someone who can actually fend for themselves to a degree. Ultimately, their biggest impact is that they slightly slow your movement, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The final unique feature of 4 is how the lead, Henry, is hands-down the least interesting character in the game. This, however, can be attributed to what he’s experienced and affords us a (nearly) silent protagonist with which to witness the twisted story of one of Silent Hill’s most compelling denizens: Walter Sullivan. If you have the patience and inclination to try something different, I can absolutely recommend giving this a spin. It can be a bit stilted, but I think it is ultimately rewarding because of its 'ancillary' characters, unique take on the structure of Silent Hill, and loose association with 2.

If you'd be interested in some of my more recent (more positive) thoughts, you can find them here.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on PS2, Xbox, and PC. While you can occasionally find it in used bins, I would recommend hunting around online for a good deal, as it is usually pretty pricey, in all its incarnations. Borrowing it from a Silent Hill-obsessed friend is honestly your best course of action.

3½ Abandoned Umbilical Cords out of 5

Nutted by NEG

Journey (2012)

Genre: Adventure | Players: 1 or Co-op | Developer: thatgamecompany

You awake alone in a desert. In the distance is the tallest landmark. It seems the obvious place to go, because logic says the higher up you are the more you can see, and the more you can see the more you can understand your environment.

Along the way you’ll encounter other players, but they won’t be identifiable with a username and text/voice chat is impossible. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth accompanying them or for them to accompany you. Your only means of communication is a button press that draws their attention, if they even notice you to begin with. You can go solo, or meet someone else, or you may meet the same person; there's a way to know if you pay attention. There's a definite advantage in having a companion, sharing the journey, having someone walk where you walk; what that is you can discover for yourself.

Find a piece of cloth and you can fly for a short time. You can extend the time allotted by collecting something else, but you’ll have to go exploring for that.

Stylistically. Journey's a weird hybrid of cell shading, realistic sand and gradient textures. It manages to vary the landscape so it never gets dull. Like the developers previous game, flower, there's no map or instructions to guide you, no visible HUD to annoy you. It forces you to experiment and rely on your wits and emotional responses. The director claims the initial concept was to create something that didn't involve the egotistical “defeat/kill/win mentality" of most video games. I applaud that, but I'm biased.

It’s very short, you’ll finish it in one sitting, so you'll have to ask: is it worth the money? That depends on the individual. You’re paying for an experience filled with wonder and joy. Can you put a price on joy? It’s like being in love: it’s magical the first time you go through it; the second time it’s less engaging, but you can be guide for someone having their first play-through. If that’s worth more than money to you, then it’s worth it. Everyone else, wait for it to be on offer.

Buyers Guide:
Available from PSN only. Price: £9.99 / $14.99

5 meaningful climbs out of 5

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010)

Genre: Action / Adventure | Players: 1 / Multi | Developer: Ubisoft

Ezio Auditore from Ass Creed II (2009) is back.  Ezio is even more of a dick this time and the game struggles to continue his story.  It even makes some of your hard work in the previous game redundant to try and add drama, but the emotional attachment wasn't there for me, so I really didn't care that Ezio’s day had turned to shit.  Fuck him and his 'incognito' clothes.

It fixes none of the problems of previous games.  It even adds new ones.  It succumbs to the belief that if you can't make it better you make it bigger.  Bigger means more open space, which means pop-up is an issue.
You can now take your horse into town which is nothing short of useless.
Towns are badly designed compared to previous games, with too many dead ends.
You can still go 'invisible' by standing in a 'crowd' of four people but can no longer easily hide in hay, because the enemy will poke it with their swords.  A sword in the fruit stand will cause you to jump out and back into battle.
The voice acting is lifeless and stale, if you thought it was bad before and couldn't get any worse, then you’re in for an unpleasant surprise.

I'm disappointed in the decision to extend the trilogy in a way that only serves to highlight flaws and cripple any hope of rescuing the story from the pit they wrote themselves into.  The ending is abysmal and unsatisfying.

It's not all bad.  There's fun to be had; most of mine was attained outside of the core missions.  It includes a mini-management side mission that I really liked.  The parkour elements are still the best I've ever seen.  Hunting for treasure and killing troubadours was quality.  Pretending I was playing Prince of Persia helped.

It brought multiplayer to the series for the first time but I can’t comment on it. I've not played it.  I don't enjoy that kind of online shambles.

3 acrobats punched in the balls for jollies out of 5

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)

Genre: Platformer | Players: 1 | Developer: Ubisoft

The Sands of Time is the first in a trilogy of games following a nameless Prince as he struggles to undo the damage caused when he was tricked by a traitorous vizier into releasing the titular sands with the Dagger of Time he acquired in battle. With the help of Farah; the daughter of the conquered maharajah the sands were taken from; the Prince must return the sands to the hourglass they were released from.

Using the Dagger of Time, the Prince can manipulate time to his advantage in both traversing the environment and in combat. The Prince can use rewind to undo falling off a ledge or being struck by an enemy, slow time to gain advantage in combat or against a time sensitive puzzle or just freeze things in their tracks. Using these abilities uses up a sand tank which can be replenished by defeating enemies and absorbing the sand from their bodies or from scattered sand clouds. Absorbing enough sand will not only replenish empty tanks but also create new ones to allow for more time manipulation. Combat can be repetitive with the limited number of enemies and effective moves, but if you put some effort into it the Prince can be just as graceful with his sword as he is with his acrobatics keeping in line with the almost unbroken flow of the game.

In between fights and puzzles is some decent character growth as the Prince and Farah bicker and banter back and forth. The game is also quite good looking with smooth animations, detailed architecture that complements the level design and some good cut-scenes. There are also some decent unlockables like ports of the original games, but not really a whole lot of replay value. The game is fantastic only being held back by limited combat options and lack of replay incentives, but it is well worth your time.

Buyer's Guide:
Available on a multitude of platforms including an HD remastered version on PSN.

4 ½ Who built this dungeon with convenient switches for acrobatic trespassers? out of 5

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (2010)

Genre: Adventure / Mystery | Players: 1 | Developer: Cing

In this sequel to the cult-hit NDS adventure game Hotel Dusk: Room 215 you play as the no-nonsense underachiever Kyle Hyde. An ex-New York cop who has recently been fired from his salesman job, Hyde discovers and unfolds a 25 year old mystery within the confines of the Cape West apartment building.

Last Window really is tailor-made for fans of the previous title, as the game plays exactly as its predecessor. Story progresses mostly through conversations and enquiries with characters, learning their secrets and solving their plights. Touch screen puzzles are innovative and varied. Characters are artfully sketched in B&W though some designs have been altered.  Music is top notch with a variety of emotions conveyed through jazzy, soulful tunes.

Last Window: The Secret of Cape West is a true masterpiece of the adventure / mystery genre and it is a true tragedy this game was never released in the U.S.

Buyers Guide:
For those interested, the title can still be ordered on Amazon from select sellers. It is no-region and plays on all NDS systems.

5 pages from Rachel out of 5

Nutted by Borderline