Friday, 29 August 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 68 - Choplifter

Released on: Apple II, Atari 5200/7800, Colecovision, Commodore 64, MSX, NES, Master System and many more
Played on: Sega Master System
Release date: 1985

After my venture into popular modern gaming last blog, I'm back to some traditional retro goodness here, and I do believe this is the first Master System game I've reviewed...

*Checks back over the list*

Oops, I was wrong! I totally forgot about Castle of Illusion!

Anyway, it feels like ages since I've played on the Master System, so I was looking forward to this - although, it has to be said, I was unsure about Choplifter. I got it recently when I bought a few games from a flash sale the wonderful Vintage Gamer had on Facebook - and I bought five games from them - four of which I really wanted, but Choplifter was kind of an impulse buy.

I remember playing a version of this game many MANY years ago when I was young and we had a BBC Micro (back in the days when you could just rip off other games and no-one really cared) and I remember enjoying it then, but I've been disappointed before with 80s arcade games when I try them out in the modern day.

So I fired up the Master System, took the pad, pressed the start button and.... spent five minutes trying to figure out how to turn the helicopter around!

But once I'd figured that out, I set out on my mission to shoot down planes, collect stranded soliders and get them back to base. And after getting over the fact that the game is quite hard (which is the normal state of affairs with older arcade conversions) I really got into it, and enjoyed my time with it.

It does have it's negative points (just like any game) - the sound design is pretty non-existent and very repetitive, and while I do enjoy a challenge, the difficulty level did mean that I didn't even make it past the first stage. The graphics suffer occasionally from trying to fit too much on screen at once, although it is a remarkably good job - whoever programmed this conversion really knew what they were doing!

In regards to the difficulty level, although it was hard, the game never felt unfair. In comparison to games I've spoken about recently, it felt more like Ghouls'N'Ghosts than Super Star Wars - death was common, but never malicious or unavoidable. Instead, thanks to the good game design, I felt like I was getting somewhere slightly further or learning something new every time I tried the level.

And I know this is going to sound strange, but the thing that affected me most about the game, and really reeled me in, was this innocent little box in the top-right corner:

That's right, the box shows you how many men are DEAD - whether by your chopper being shot down, or by them being shelled while you were ferrying their friends back to base, or (and this is the embarassing part) by you accidentally LANDING THE CHOPPER ON THEM AND KILLING THEM!


I may be mocking it slightly, but this ticking clock of death really made me worry about the people I was trying to save! And it kept me going back, over and over again.....

In short, it's a fun arcade game that will entertain you for a short time - is it a game designed for constant hours of play? No, but if you've got a spare half-hour, you could do a lot worse than to slot it into your system and enjoy the retro fun

Rating - 7.5/10
Time Played - 45 Minutes
Would I play it again? Definitely!

Monday, 4 August 2014

The Great Playthrough - Bonus Round: Uncharted 2 and Heavy Rain

It's time for a break in the normal playthrough for another Bonus Round! This time it's a discussion about two popular modern games that were lent to me by the ever lovely Andy Isaacs. So let me begin:

Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves
Released on: PS3
Played on: PS3
Release date: 2009

Heavy Rain
Released on: PS3
Played on: PS3
Release date: 2010

When I started to play these two, I actually began with Heavy Rain - but I'm going to talk about Uncharted 2 first. This may appear to make absolutely no sense to you at the moment, but bear with me, and hopefully by the end you'll realise why.

These are both PS3 exclusive games, and for ages I didn't have a PS3, as we had an Xbox 360. Just to clarify, I'm not a Microsoft lover or a Sony hater or anything like that - it's just that the vast majority of games that came out for that generation were multi-platform (certainly the ones I wanted to play) - and therefore we picked an Xbox 360 because we got a better deal on one.

Also, the controller is better. There, I said it!

But I finally got a PS3 recently, so it's time to start looking at what I missed...

So, Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves. The Uncharted series is one of the most popular series' of the current generation...

Oh wait. The PS3 is a LAST generation console now, isn't it? It's officially old news.... well there's going to be an Uncharted for the PS4, so the game series is still current, right?

*Watches Tumbleweed roll past as I realise I'm the only person who cares about the definition. Smiles and carries on*

Uncharted is one of those games that is described as "Action-Adventure" which is brilliantly non-specific. However, in my experience of games, it is quite like Batman: Arkham Asylum with extra guns. Or Resident Evil 5 with fewer zombies. Or...

You get the idea. It's like most current popular games that aren't a first person shooter. You take control of Nathan Drake - an Indiana Jones-wannabe with less scruples than Dr Jones but the same awful taste in sidekicks who you know will betray you - and you run around, jump, solve puzzles, sneak and get into gunfights in pursuit of a treasure of some kind.

Make sense? Good. Because that's about all I can tell you about the plot! The game starts with you injured and climbing up a train that is half-off a cliff in some snowy mountains, and then slowly but surely you see some flashbacks before jumping back in time four months for the second level.

Most importantly, however, it's fun. Lots of fun. Don't get me wrong, I'm not the best at modern games, so I found it quite hard going, but it's forgiving and if you die, you just automatically restart at the start of the section you were doing, which is great for me.

However, this had something in common with my previous blog - there are cutscenes galore. Lots of cutscenes in which vital parts of the plot are stated... but it turns out, I just stop listening. And that's the problem you get with cutscenes - if I don't know or care about the characters, then I just stop listening - and I found myself doing that more with Uncharted 2 than with Kingdom Hearts 2.

Maybe it's different for those people who played Uncharted (the original) - maybe you are more invested in the characters we see - but for me this highlights the problem with starting mid-adventure and telling your story non-linearly - you need to make sure the audience care, and it just doesn't quite pull it off for me here.

Discussion of cut-scenes leads us neatly to Heavy Rain - a game that is almost entirely made of cutscenes and quicktime events.

*Sees you all getting up to leave*

No wait! It's not like that! It's not a bad game. Although I'm not entirely sure game is the right word...

For those of you who don't know, Heavy Rain is an interactive drama that feels more like a film than a game. The graphics are gorgeous, and the plot is intriguing (if really rather depressing). You play as four different characters and it's all tied into a serial killer known as the origami killer...

"What the hell is an interactive drama?" I hear you all ask

It's a game that is more interested in telling it's story than giving you lots of gaming mechanics to master, and that should be one of my worst nightmares. But it isn't. The big selling point is that what you do early in the game affects the results of the story later in the game and that sort of thing is hugely intriguing for me.

As a game, it's really quite clunky. The controls for moving the characters are the modern-day equivalent of Resident Evil's notorious "tank" controls, and the "action-packed" sequences that involve quick button pushes would be fine, if my brain would remember which button was where on a playstation controller!

So to sum it up, I don't know why I enjoy Heavy Rain, but I do, quite a lot. It's not a game, but it is interactive entertainment, and I don't know how better to describe it than that.

Unfortunately my experiences with both of these games has been affected by the nightmare that is a Playstation 3.

Now I know many of you out there have a PS3 and use it as a primary gaming console, and I've got no problem with that. In fact, when I got mine I was excited. And then I discovered how often it downloads updates, then installs stuff, and then crashes and demolishes it's file system! It seems to be more sensitive than ... *searches desperately for a metaphor, before failing* - basically it's just ridiculously sensitive.

I've had to recover the hard drive three times in a month since I got the PS3, and I've now taken to backing up my save data on a memory stick every time I play. Sadly, I didn't do this for Heavy Rain, so I've played the opening twice, and then lost the save file both times... which means I am much less excited about playing it again to see where it goes!!

Uncharted 2: Amongst Thieves

Rating: 7/10
Time played: 1 hour 10 minutes
Would I play it again? Yes, I think I will . The story may be dodgy, but the gameplay is very solid.

Heavy Rain

Rating: 7/10
Time played: 1 hour 30 minutes (roughly)
Would I play it again? Yes, if I can stomach playing the opening for a THIRD time (Damn you PS3!)

Next time - We're going back to the 80s and to the 8-bit era....

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Great Playthrough: Game 67 - Kingdom Hearts 2

Wow, it's been about two months since I last did one of these! Sorry about that - it's not that playing games has lessened in the Braunton household, it's just that my computer broke and it's taken me a long time to get back to this blog.

But I'm here now! And this next game is a member of a very popular franchise...

Kingdom Hearts 2
Released on: PS2
Played on: PS2
Release date: 2005 

Kingdom Hearts is one of my darling wife's favourite computer game franchises of all time, and this sequel stands up as one of the best (or so I am told).

(Before we go any further, if you are a fan of my darling wife (and who isn't), you might like to know she's started a new gaming blog HERE)

Now I was slightly wary going into it, as I have seen her play it before, and it does look like a lot of fun, but it's also an RPG, and I've discussed many times my problems / worries with those.

Having said that, this is an action RPG, so at least battles are in real time, not the strange turn-based antics that a lot of RPG's utilise that I cannot get on with at all.

The game starts with a ridiculously long cutscene, which I am told basically tells the (very condensed) story of the plot up to this point, with no dialogue, set entirely to music. I had to be told that this was the story of what had previously happened, as I wouldn't have had a clue otherwise! This is not a newbie-friendly opening...

And then, the game finally starts and I am playing as a new character. One who didn't appear in ANY of that previous cutscene! Nice one Square Enix, thanks for confusing me even further.

At the start of this game you play as Roxas, a guy who looks suspiciously similar to Sora - the protaganist of Kingdom Hearts (the original) - and as the mythology of these games introduces lots of different versions of the same people (Real People, Nobodies, Heartless... hell for all I know, everyone has a pink and blue dinosaur version of themselves in the Kingdom Hearts-verse!) it is a bit of a foregone conclusion that... SPOILER ALERT!

Roxas will turn out to be Sora, and then you will begin the quest proper.

However, I only know this from conversations with my wife, as I didn't get that far. This opening section (which apparently acts as some kind of prologue) took me over an hour and I still didn't even complete it!

But that's enough complaining about the somewhat confusing nature of the plot. What's the actual game like?

You know what, dear reader? I enjoyed it.

Don't get me wrong, it's not perfect, as it has flaws - slightly wonky camerawork, an over-reliance on repetitive tasks (although that may just be this early section) and due to the non-linearity (which I know is supposed to be an advantage in games like this) - if you don't walk into the right area to trigger a cutscene, you can be running around for ages with no clue what to do next...

However, it has a very good control system, the graphics are pretty nice for a PS2 game, and most importantly of all, I was having fun - and it's rare that I say that about an RPG! Mind you, with this and A Link to the Past, maybe I'm going to have to re-evalute whether I enjoy RPGs, it seems like I'm starting to enjoy them more and more...

The only other flaws in this game come about due to the rules of this playthrough, rather than the game itself. After playing for just over an hour, I felt like I had achieved absolutely nothing, and had absolutely no idea what was going on.... plus it felt like I'd spent an inordinate percentage of my time watching cutscenes.

But I'll play it again (although, on the basis that I'm sure we'll buy the HD re-release for PS3, I may continue it on that), because, as I said earlier, I had fun playing it - I just want to get past this stupid opening sequence and get into the meat of it with the Disney worlds etc!

Rating: 7/10 
Time played: 1 hour 5 Minutes
Would I play it again: I already said that I would! Jeez, stop picking on me! 

So, from now on, I intend to (try and) get these blogs much more regular again. Spread the love people, send the readers back to me, and I shall make sure you get new blogs on a regular basis (I'm halfway through another one already!)

Next time, we'll have a bit of a different blog - why not come back and see?