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2 Dawn

Review: Corpse Party: Book of Shadows

Jan 25 // Kyle MacGregor
Corpse Party: Book of Shadows (PlayStation Portable)Developer: Team GrisGris, 5pb.Publisher: XSEEDReleased: January 15, 2013MSRP: 19.99 The main reason this is not a friendly jumping off point for newcomers is that, unlike most games, the story is the main draw here. Like its predecessor, Book of Shadows starts off on a cheerful note by introducing the player to a likable cast of characters in a safe and friendly environment. Once the game has its hooks dug under the player's skin, however, all of that comfort is ripped away as the story plunges headlong into some of the darkest material explored in videogames.  Book of Shadows opens with the mother of one of the survivors attempting to help her emotionally distressed daughter. Naomi may have escaped Heavenly Host Elementary with her life, but she isn't well at all. Nobody seems to remember those that perished in the alternate dimension, least of all Naomi's best friend, Seiko, and that's tearing the poor girl apart.  [embed]237210:45516[/embed] The initial chapters take place in an alternate timeline, but turn back the clock so that the player can experience the events before the horror begins. Following a cultural festival at school, several students decide to partake in a charm to sendoff a friend that is transferring to a new school. Nobody is aware of the events that are about to unfold, save one boy, but for all his knowledge he's unable to stop history from repeating itself. I'd hate to spoil much more than that, but rest assured, this is an emotionally-gripping, at times humorous, and deeply unsettling tale.   The sound design is excellent and plays perfectly to just about every situation. The soundtrack is at times catchy and cloyingly cheerful at others. As you might expect though, more often than not the music is atmospheric and eerie. Accompanying the tunes is expert Japanese voice work, which was recorded binaurally. Headphones are strongly recommended, as the simulated three-dimensional sound makes for a truly chilling auditory experience. Though Book of Shadows shines in a number of areas, being a "game" certainly isn't one of them. This is a visual novel first and foremost, so there isn't a great deal of gameplay to speak of, but it does feign an attempt to be something more. Unfortunately, that effort isn't a very good one and as a result the interactive aspect of the experience falls flat on its face.   Binary choices are about as good as it gets in Book of Shadows. Oftentimes there are right answers, but given that the player is allowed to save at any moment, players might find themselves intentionally going down an incorrect path to see one of the title's many "wrong ends." Though these amount to Game Over screens, the gruesome descriptions that accompany them make doing the wrong thing all the more enjoyable. Well, maybe that's not the best word choice. On one occasion a particularly unsettling sound effect left my stomach churning. While that wasn't particularly enjoyable, it does show how truly effective Corpse Party can be.   It's a pity though that a large portion of Book of Shadows is wasted aimlessly wandering through Heavenly Host's halls. Prepare to spend plenty of time moving from room to room, scouring for objects to help move the story forward. Sometimes, however, it's not an object at all that needs looking for. Rather, the player will need to wander past a particular area (sometimes several times) to trigger an event. It's monotonous, frustrating, and not fun in the slightest. Worst of all, it's rare that the game gives the player any direction.  The sprite art from the first Corpse Party has been replaced with a first-person perspective. And while I found this less pleasing from an aesthetic standpoint, it makes for a less frustrating gaming experience. Book of Shadows employs a point-and-click mechanic and objects that can be interacted with are highlighted with a blue hue. It's still tedious, but at least the days of mashing the X button over every pixel in a Where's Waldo-esque fashion are over.  Fans of Corpse Party would do well to pick up the second installment. The first game left a lot of unanswered questions and Book of Shadows does an admirable job at filling in the gaps. I've enjoyed spending time with these characters, even if it is the worst day of their lives. As for the uninitiated, well, play the first before tackling this one. It's not like PlayStation Portable or Vita owners have been spoiled for choice when it comes to quality software as of late. Visual novels may be niche, but just about anyone can enjoy a good horror story. If you can get past the insipid gameplay, Corpse Party: Book of Shadows provides a pleasurable and haunting narrative that's well worth experiencing.
Review: Corpse Party  photo
You would cry too...
The original Corpse Party follows a group of children's descent into hell. After performing a ritual, these students are unexpectedly transported to an alternate dimension and trapped in a cursed elementary school. Malevolent...

Review: Ravaged

Nov 02 // mrandydixon
Ravaged (PC)Developer: 2 Dawn StudiosPublisher: Reverb PublishingReleased: October 17, 2012MSRP: $24.99 If that bit of exposition in the intro got you all hot and heavy for an epic tale of survival in a brutal, post-apocalyptic wasteland, you'd best curb your enthusiasm now; not one iota of that is referenced in the game, and any information I did gleam was thanks to the game's official Steam forum. Still, Ravaged is a multiplayer-only FPS, so even if there was a story you probably wouldn't be paying attention to it. And though the dirty, Mad Max-inspired setting of the game's world may seem a bit tired after last year's RAGE and the recently-released Borderlands 2, it's actually the perfect setup for what this game does so well: frenetic, explosive, vehicular mayhem. Sadly, the overall package is held back due to merely adequate gunplay and an overall lack of focus and polish. [embed]237146:45533[/embed] Players of Ravaged can expect to take on the role of one of five standard classes -- soldier, recon, sniper, demolition, and heavy -- as they duke it out in a variety of vehicles across the game's often massive maps. The carnage is split into two game modes: a basic capture the flag-style mode called "Resource Control", where flags are replaced with gas cans (because Mad Max), and a control point-style mode called "Thrust", where the two teams vie for control of territory in the classic "spinning plates" manner. The classes are, for the most part, visually unique, though their abilities on the battlefield vary only in their choice of weapon loadout. Even the term "loadout" may be a bit disingenuous, despite the fact that the game calls them that. In what many will see as a welcome move, Ravaged eschews the current-gen infatuation with perks, weapon unlocks, and character customization, and instead opts for the more basic formula of days past. I myself fall into the "welcome" camp, as it puts the focus back on jumping straight into the fight as opposed to staring at the character screen in between every death and wondering what you're going to upgrade/unlock next. Each class gets to choose between one or two primary weapons (all available at the outset), a sidearm, a grenade, and a melee weapon. The weapon design ranges from the "Hey, neat!" novelties like bouncing tennis ball grenades and butcher's cleavers to the "Really, again?" mainstays like assault rifles, SMGs, sniper rifles, and pistols. (At least the boring weapons are made to look like they belong in the game's setting, I'll give them that.) Unfortunately, no information is given at the loadout screen as to what any of these weapons actually do. Does the gray assault rifle have a bigger clip than the brown one? Does the baseball bat with nails pounded in it swing faster than the sledgehammer? Is that a heavy machine gun or a flamethrower? A few text notes about each weapon (or hell, even a weapon name) would have gone a long way toward remedying this. Likewise, each of the five classes has only a picture and a name to clue you into its characteristics. If the heavy has more health and moves slower than the sniper as its picture would suggest, there's no way of knowing without taking them both into the game and figuring it out for yourself. On the plus side, the available maps are almost all top-notch, covering a wide range of post-apocalyptic themes; hell, half of them aren't even brown! From the busted up Statue of Liberty napping in the sand in "Liberty" to the snow-covered Eiffel Tower viewable in the distance of "Rooftops", almost every one of the game's vehicle stages is unique, creative, and a blast to romp around in. The two non-vehicle maps lag behind, unfortunately, though this is due more to the game's lackluster combat than the map design itself. Getting into gunfights and being on foot in general simply isn't very satisfying in Ravaged, and it also exposes some of its biggest flaws. Crouching too close to certain objects will sometimes leave you stuck on them indefinitely, for example, making traversal of varying terrain to find a good sniping spot almost impossible. Likewise, unpredictable fall damage means sometimes you can plummet 50 feet without a scratch so long as you land on a steep enough incline, while other times you'll trip and stumble only a few inches and find yourself dead in a heap. That said, the guns themselves all "feel" the way you'd expect them to for the most part, they just aren't very interesting or exciting to shoot. Thankfully, there are ten very different cars, trucks and gyro-copters to tool around in, so you won't be left on foot very often. Do you make a beeline for the other team's resources at the start of a match atop a high-speed-but-unarmored quad or trike? Hop in a chopper and defend your base while raining rockets from above? Or would you rather jump on a turret or hang out the window while hitching a ride with two other players in one of the game's various buggies, jeeps or 4x4s? Regardless of your preferred playstyle, the vehicles all control superbly and are a blast to zoom around in. That fun is reliant on having a decent team to play with, of course. Luckily, this is one of the things 2 Dawn got right. You can spawn into any teammate's vehicle so long as there's a free seat, or next to any of your three squadmates no matter where they are on the battlefield. There are also numerous bases that can be captured by your team throughout the round, which then serve as player, vehicle, and ammo spawn points for whatever team controls them. Unluckily, almost nobody is playing this game. The first time I logged on there were exactly 78 people online -- shocking, given the game's 1200-plus Kickstarter backers -- and almost all of them were demo users, limited to playing the game's "Canyon" map. In the time since its release, I've never once seen more than about 120 people online at any given time (and again, most of those were still demo users). While I have a hard time faulting a game for its lack of players, it doesn't instill any confidence that the community so desperately needed to make a game like this last is all but nonexistent. I can't help but think this is due to the game's $25 price point; with so many free-to-play shooters on the market that do pretty much the same things as Ravaged, and often do it better, something closer to $10 would have been a much more attractive option for the impulse-buyers and indie-minded gamers Steam seems to attract these days. Ravaged is a decent game that suffers from an overall lack of polish and too high a price point. When it works -- when you're barreling across the battlefield with one teammate hanging out the window firing a submachine gun and another on the rooftop grenade launcher, swerving in and out of the exploding wreckage of your enemy's vehicles and making your way toward their base -- it's glorious. It's just too bad it doesn't work all that often.
A bumpy road in need of some warriors
In the very near future, the Earth will pass through the ominous "Dark Rift" gravitational plane and superheat from the inside out. In the ensuing chaos -- complete with tectonic plate shifts, super storms, volcanoe...

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