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12:55 PM on 05.27.2015

Your Most Memorable Video Game Stages

I've played a lot of games. A lot. Over twenty-odd years I've lost count of the number of titles I've played through. Over that period of time, however, there have been a number of stages or moments in games that have stuck in my mind or really grabbed my attention. I thought I'd take this opportunity to share a few of them with you, the faithful Destructoid blog reader.

Ipsen's Castle - Final Fantasy IX
Back when I was a nipper I loved playing the Final Fantasy titles. I was a latecomer to the series and only really started playing during the PS1 era but FFVII and FFIX were some of my favourite games as a youngster. Back then I found Ipsen's Castle a complete mystery - I remember fleeing from all the battles as I had no idea that equipping your weakest weapons made you hit the most damage! Far too much for my puny kid mind to work out! The confusion as a kid and my future admiration for this unusual design choice make this stage a particularly memorable one for me.

Metroid Prime - Phendrana Drifts
Metroid Prime... What a title. Really helped vindicate my choice to purchase a Gamecube. The game overall was an absolute beauty: moving from fire caverns to lush natural locales to frozen wastelands; watching the insectile blood spatter your visor or the condensation building on the inside of your helmet... Stunning. My favourite part of the game was undoubtedly Phendrana Drifts. I found this entire passage of the game hugely relaxing, from the fantastic backing track to the lazy slalom of the drifting snow. 

Ice Forest - Super Ghouls and Ghosts
I go back to play Super Ghouls and Ghosts today and get my arse kicked by it with ease. When I was a kid I had this game in my back pocket. I've no idea how, looking back! I really enjoyed this game as a kid, despite never actually seeing the true ending. The difficulty of the game was brusing, yet it still drew me back for more, erm, fun and games? Yes, let's say that. No idea why this stage of them all sticks with me but it does. I have a weird fascination for ice and snow levels, I guess!

Axelay - O'Neill Cylinder
Axelay was a chronically underrated game. I loved it all the way through and there were loads of memorable stages - the underwater one loses out here but deserves a special mention - with stage two being the best for me. A combination of creative science fiction ideas (the magnificent failed O'Neill Cylinder cityscape you see in the background), brilliant stage music and a boss lifted right out of Robocop really make this level stick for me. I'm not one for listening to game music outside of playing games but I occasionally pop this track on as I work at home. Classic.

ESWAT - Mad Professor's Lab
I loved ESWAT on the Mega Drive/Genesis. I loved taking down helicopters with handguns and then being upgraded to this kick-ass mechanical suit. Most of all I loved the mad professor's stage - there was nothing more terrifying for me as a kid than trying to outrun that never ending wave of purple goo!

Ikaruga - Ideal
Such an amazing game and a sinkhole for a massive amount of my idle time. I adore the first stage, mostly due to the fact I've played it so many times that I have it down to perfection! Things get a little more difficult from the next stage on and I never managed to master them as much - mistakes creep in and I die repeatedly! - but I can still go back and play Ikaruga whenever I have a spare moment. That soundtrack too - magnificent.

Silent Hill 2 - Approach to Silent Hill
Silent Hill 2 has one of the most amazing storylines in gaming history in my opinion. And the start of the game works wonderfully to set the title in motion. Who wasn't on edge running down that huge, foggy bank on the approach to the town? The fact that you could hear things moving around out of view and were waiting for them to jump out on you on your way down and yet that scare never came made this intro all the more nerve-racking and tense.

Super Castlevania IV - Clock Tower
Who doesn't love Castlevania? My pick of the bunch was Castlevania IV on the SNES and the most memorable stage for me was the clock tower. This is down to two things: the punishing difficulty of this stage in comparison to the rest of the game up to that point and an absolutely amazing backing track. I almost plumped for stage 3 in the limestone caves - I played that stage all the time as a kid - but this level has become more important to me as I grew older.

 

So, dear reader, what are your most memorable stages and why? They don't even have to me anything special, as shown by some of my examples above, just memorable to you. Why do they stick in your mind over all the other levels you've encountered in the past? Is it the stage design? The music? Another particular quirk? I look forward to seeing what other people suggest!

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10:36 AM on 05.19.2015

Can Anyone Help Regarding Hatsune Miku Project Mirai 2 on the DS in the UK?

To the best of my knowledge, Hatsune Miku Project Mirai 2 is set for release in the UK on May 29th on the 2/3DS. However, no matter where I look, I can't seem to find anywhere that is advertising the game for sale yet. Have I missed some news on the game being delayed over here? Or am I just making a boo-boo with the title or something? Can anyone enlighten me as to where I can pick a copy up on release day? It seems that no matter what variations I search for, I can find no results that are of any help to me regarding the game despite it being so close to the stated release date... Would appreciate the assistance of the clued up Dtoid blog network here!

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8:16 AM on 05.03.2015

Nintendo - What keeps them afloat, nostalgia or newbies?

I post this to get people's opinions after a recent discussion with a friend. Often Nintendo get typecast as a company that caters only for kids - we have the bright palettes of the Mario series, the cutesy Toad and Kirby models and the preference to cartoony stylings over the hyper-realistic bent followed by Sony and Microsoft. My friend is strongly of the belief that this point of view is perfectly correct. I, on the other hand, disagree with him. While it's undeniable that on the surface their games appear more kid-friendly than most offerings from their rivals, on the flipside, the majority of their games offer a stern challenge past the first few stages that require some perseverence on the part of the player - not exactly a trait that is prevalent in the young 'uns I know.

I work in a UK school and as such get to hear a lot of youngster's opinions on video games. I teach kids aged from 11-18 and I can count on one hand the number of times kids mention good 'ole Ninty. From what I've experienced - and I often engage the kids in video game chatter during less busier parts of my day - their focus seem mainly to levitate towards the Call of Dutys and FIFAs of the gaming world with the odd mention of more mature games they shouldn't even be playing such as the Last of Us, Dying Light and Left 4 Dead.

So, for all Nintendo gets labelled as 'for kids', who really keeps them afloat? From my perusing of gaming sites across the net it seems, to me at least, that Nintendo get most of their revenue from us older gamers; people who hold the nostalgia of growing up with SNESes and NESes as their main consoles and playing Mario and Zelda titles throughout their formative years close to their hearts. Case in point the amiibo craze. I have yet to notice any mention from the kids at my workplace about any desire to own these highly sought after figurines and from my observations online and in gaming stores in my local city centre, all the furore around them seems to be from adults in or around my age range of 30 years old.

Are we, as nostalgic adults, the main reason Nintendo continue to do well or does some truth lie in the insinutation that all their recent game and console offerings are 'only for kids'? Once our generation (I grew up an avid Nintendo fan and still class the SNES as my favourite ever console) fizzles out will Nintendo begin to lose fan base and struggle? Or are they a timeless brand? There is little doubt they produce games of exceptional quality for the most part and that they have a strong catalogue of franchises that they rely on to keep fans coming back for more, but is that enough to draw in the majority of kids these days who seemingly get their kicks out of headshots and graphic violence?

I'm intrigued to hear people's viewpoints on this so I can take some of the opinions of others into round two of the discussion with my mate!

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3:06 PM on 03.07.2015

The Order 1886 - Looks Great, Kind of Lacking Where it Matters Most

I first played Order 1886 at PAX Prime in Seattle last year. It had been a game that I had been greatly anticipating up until that point but the demo was so poor that it made me question how refined the finished product would be. I usually purchase big, exclusive releases like this the day they come out, but based on the demo I played and the worryingly strict review embargo that was placed on the game I decided to hold fire. When I was offered the game by a friend some weeks later for the reduced price of £30 (the cheapest I could find anywhere else was a whopping £45 second hand) I took the plunge. Although the game has been solidly improved since that horribly patchy demo it is still not without its problems.

The Order is essentially a cover-based third person shooter, much like Gears of War, with the occasional stealth segment thrown in for good measure. Like Gears of War you can carry a small arm, a more beefy weapon (sniper rifle, shotgun, some imaginative but criminally underused scientific weapons), and either smoke or explosive grenades. Each item is assigned to a d-pad button and can be switched at the press of a button. In order to progress through the game, you need to make use of the liberally placed cover items that litter every environment by using the O button. From the safety of cover you must then peep cautiously around corners and take care of wave after wave of enemy before you can progress. Unlike Gears, The Order is wholly single player. As a staunch single-player only gamer, it comes as a breath of fresh air to me that some developers are still brave enough to spend the entirety of their time on the core game instead of allocating time to botching on an ill-conceived multi-player element. I make mention of this fact, however, as I am aware that this single-player only approach could be a massive turn off for players who value online play and might be the reason they decide not to purchase.

The events of the game take place, unsurprisingly, in the year 1886. You take control of Sir Galahad as he and his fellow Knights of the Round Table battle to keep order in an alternate-past London where citizens are threatened by both aggressive rebel uprising and marauding lycan half-breeds. Following a botched undercover mission to the rebel stronghold of Whitechapel a violent story of treachery and double-crossing unfolds. The plot makes use of actual settings and historical figures (Nikola Tesla makes an appearance and Edison is referenced) while taking liberties with other aspects of the age (zeppelins are in widespread use and some nifty gadgets that are well before their time are the brainchild of the aforementioned Tesla).

The above combined elements make for an intriguing setting and there is no denying that this dreary fantasy London is beautifully imagined. The city itself and the fantastically realised lead character design sets a new benchmark for video game graphics that will take some beating. From the very beginning of the game you are in awe of how much detail has been put into every facet of the title's aesthetics: from the fabric of Galahad's clothing, to the lighting effects that play off the marble floors you walk across; from the fabulously detailed cityscape off in the distance, to the fully furnished rooms of the windows you walk by, every effort has been made to make the game as realistic and immersive as possible.

For all the world looks amazing, however, you can't help but feel it to be an empty one. There is very little to interact with in each chapter and very few civilians wandering the streets making the city feel somewhat deserted. To make matters worse, the few interactive items you do encounter have either no relevance to the game or do little to drive the narrative onwards. Sure, there are a handful of newspapers that relate to recent goings on around the capital, but the majority of the other items are either shipping itineraries or patient lists that you can barely make out or needless nods to other games such as LittleBigPlanet.

As well as the astounding visuals, The Order is also very technically impressive. I didn't encounter any noticeable slow-down whilst playing and this takes into account the many moments in the game where there are large numbers of intricately developed enemies crowding the screen at once. I didn't encounter any of the multitude of other glitches that occur in similar titles such as characters passing through the environment or similar and the load times for a title with such detailed graphics are almost non-existent.

Most of my gripes with The Order relate to its most important aspect: gameplay. When I played the PAX demo in September last year, one of my biggest worries was to do with the patchy enemy AI. While improvements have obviously been implemented they were, unfortunately, not extensive enough. The movement and actions of enemies still defy belief; they are routinely either extremely gung-ho or adopt a crouched defensive position is plain sight, begging to be slaughtered. When you off one enemy, another will dart from a hidden position into the exact same spot as his fallen comrade, often meaning you can just leave your crosshairs where they are and down three or four enemies without adjusting your aim. Controls can be problematic too. Galahad has a huge, slow turning circle and breaking cover can be annoyingly finickety - both of these issues will cause you to take unnecessary damage on a frequent basis.

One of the most noticeable problems I found was to do with how lazily implemented battles with the lycans are. You face two different styles of lycan battle - ones with freedom of movement and ones that wholly utilise QTEs. The lycan battles where you have total control over Galahad are embarrassingly simple once you figure out what to do. Basically, you can stand in one spot and fire continuously until you see the prompt to roll away. As the enemy departs the scene you can fill him with lead from behind and repeat until the werewolf goes down. After the initial encounter in this style, once I had fathomed this method, I didn't take a single hit of damage from the similar lycans encounters that followed. The two 'boss' battles in the game are QTE lycan battles which are recycled almost identically. These encounters are just as predictable: make an attack, wait for right analog stick prompt, and repeat until the enemy is dead.

What these gameplay issues amount to, in essence, is an extremely easy game. Even on the hardest setting I found the difficulty level to be a breeze. With the exception of the shotgunner enemies - whose accuracy is nothing less than 100% every time - you'll not find much challenge in The Order 1886.

As you are probably aware, if you've been reading other reviews, The Order 1886 is quite a short game and very heavily reliant on cut-scenes and cinematics. While the length of the title isn't as brief as some outlets would have you imagine you could probably platinum it in 10 to 15 hours. I didn't have much of a problem with the length of the game having paid substantially less than the retail price and knowing I could move the game on to another friend upon completion to recoup my entire outlay, but I would have been much less happy with its length had I paid full price. One of the biggest indicators of the game's brevity comes from some of the descriptions attached to the trophies: kill 7, yes, 7, enemies with stealth; melee kill 15 enemies, etc. To exacerbate things, you'll find little reason to replay the game after finishing it outside of mopping up any missed trophies (took me about an hour) and ogling the sexy outside locales one final time. There are no unlocks that become available after completion and no new difficulty setting to test yourself against.

The story, although just about strong enough to support a game that is based so heavily on cinematics, is nothing new or special. We've seen misunderstood rebel uprisings a million times before and, if you've been gaming for long enough, you'll have come across werewolf driven plot-lines too. The introduction of a new threat late on and the anticlimactic ending might also leave you feeling short-changed as they point towards two things: everything has been set up for a sequel and you've essentially paid a premium for half a game. In addition to this, the inevitable 'twist' at the end of the game was telegraphed so far in advance that I foresaw it coming at around chapter three.

Readyatdawn should take note that the blatant reuse of areas and characters stand out far more obviously in such a splendid-looking title. Some of the areas you encounter can be quite repetitious; for example, you'll traverse a number of underground stations that all look very much alike and pass through boiler rooms that are identical to ones you passed through moments earlier. Additionally, one of the Whitechapel whores must have been busy pumping out identical ginger henchmen as you will glaringly encounter the exact same bristly face on numerous occasions during vitally important cinematics (I counted the same red-headed character model at least three times in different scenarios).

The game is first and foremost a graphical showcase of the PS4s hardware and capabilities - this is evidenced by the frequent prompts to scan the environment for such-and-such or the fact that every item you pick up has to be rotated and observed for a few seconds before it can be put down. In that regard it is a massive triumph, much in the same way Ryse was for the Xbox One. Both look outstanding while flattering to deceive where it matters most: in the gameplay. The Order is by no means a terrible game and, while the story and mechanics are nothing we haven't seen before, it is definitely worth playing to marvel at the stunning visuals alone. If you own a PS4 it is an exclusive worth picking up eventually; however, I'd be hard pushed to recommend such a short title for the current retail prices being offered (£45-50 at the time of writing) so it might be worth holding fire for a few weeks until it drops in cost or until you can pick up a second hand copy somewhere.

Overall, a pleasant enough gaming experience that could have and should have been so much more. Hopefully the sequel will carry on the stunning visuals while also adding more substantial and challenging game time to the package.

Rating: 3/5

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2:25 PM on 01.11.2015

Alien Isolation Review - Pretty Much Every Alien Fan's Wet Dream

Alien Isolation by Creative Assembly is an obvious labour of love. Every effort has been made to ensure they stick faithfully to the source material and as a result they have crafted a tense, nerve-racking and atmospheric experience. From the 70s green-screen computer tech used in the original movie, to characters choked to death with rolled up magazines we have continuous references to Ridley Scott's breathtaking film.

We take control of Amanda Ripley, daughter of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen, as she heads to Sevastopol, a decrepit and dilapidated space port on the edge of space. On the station is the recently discovered flight recorder from the Nostromo, her mother's ship, which was destroyed at the end of the 1979 movie to stop the xenomorph from being acquired by the shady Weyland-Yutani corporation. Looking for closure, Ripley heads to Sevastopol with Nina Taylor and synthetic Christopher Samuels to collect the device.

The game immediately thrusts the player into a tense set piece. On arriving at the station the crew on board the Torrens notice that the structure seems to have taken massive damage. Unable to dock with Sevastopol, Ripley, Taylor and Samuels resolve to space walk there instead. Once out of the ship, their guidance cord is cut and the trio are lucky to make it to the station alive. Separated from her companions, Ripley must make her way through the ruined station avoiding not just the intimidating alien but also crazed androids and hostile human enemies. Thus begins a journey that bears striking resemblances to the original film and is by far one of the most tense I've ever experienced on a home console.

Alien Isolation starts of as pretty much a stealth game. As you make your way around Sevastopol you will begin to find parts that can be used to craft weapons and discover items that are famous to the franchise - the motion tracker and flamethrower eventually make appearances in game. Collecting these tools will eventually allow you to become a little braver - before acquiring that burst of flame being spotted by the alien means certain death. Additionally, Amanda, industrious as her mother, can forge scrap and gathered junk into items far deadlier than the sum of their parts - whether it is an EMP used to stun an android or a smoke bomb used to cover her tracks from human assailants. As an engineer she is also proficient with another Alien favourite, the blowtorch. She must combine all of her numerous skills to even stand a chance of finding her answers and making it off the crippled station in one piece.

We should make one thing clear from the start here - Alien Isolation is a very difficult game. If you like to have everything explained to you by tutorials you will find Alien's spartan instructions baffling. As far as I can remember I can recall only one semi-detailed tutorial pop up in the entire game when you first open a rewire point. Similarly, if you get frustrated by dying often or repeating the same section of a level over and over then you'll probably grow tired of Isolation rather quickly. Like Limbo this game is essentially a 'trial by death' title which requires you to die a lot in order to figure out how to efficiently progress through a stage to your next objective. However, whereas Limbo has scenarios that pan out exactly the same each time, Isolation's randomised enemy patterns make progressing in this title all that more harder. This can be frustrating, and you will come to areas that will have you pulling your hair out, but when you manage to make it to the next chapter mere seconds ahead of the charging xenomorph the overwhelming sense of relief and accomplishment are palpable.

I've seen a number of complaints about the graphics on the XboxOne and PS4 versions but for me, although not on par with the PC version, they were more than passable. The designers have done a sterling job of recreating a similar aesthetic to the Nostromo and any Alien fan will appreciate the low-tech grim corridors, white cushion-padded walls of the sleeping quarters and the over-the-top flashing lights of the huge central processing areas. We revisit some familiar areas and they have been reproduced wonderfully. I did spot a few graphical problems such as infrequent pop in, some low res textures (especially when viewing Sevastopol station from the outside) and some basic steam/dust/electrical effects but overall I though the graphics were fine.

Alien Isolation is, of course, not without its problems. If you play the game before installing a sizeable update you will have issues with jumpy animations and juttery cutscenes. Even with the update applied we have some occasional graphical glitches such as texture pop ins and unnatural character movements. There are a few last gen tropes as well. You'll be having a conversation with a few characters who never move their lips, choosing to throw their voice instead. Early on we will come across huge areas that are blocked off by an insurmountable row of suitcases which really shouldn't be happening in this day and age. When being chased by androids or humans we can often be cut off from safety by nothing more than a foot high rise in the flooring.

As already mentioned the difficulty and repetition might be too great for some - I played on the hardest setting and encountered many troublesome locations that I had to retry over and over but even on the easy setting the challenge level is still steep. Without the flamethrower or a molotov, being spotted by the alien is a guaranteed one hit death on any difficulty. The fact that you are more heavily tooled near the end of the game basically flips the difficulty curve making the game harder at the beginning and less so towards its conclusion. I also found that extreme stealth is just as likely to get you killed as being adventurous. After a great many deaths while crouch-walking through levels I eventually adapted to being more brazen in my approach which I actually found more beneficial. Objectives can be unclear at times and we get the usual stealth game problems such as characters ignoring your obviously noticeable position then later on spotting you inexplicably from a mile off.

You might also find problems with the excessively long load times in game. Often when you enter a new locale you will find a save phone nearby but this is not always the case and the auto-save function is patchy at best. The first thing you should do when moving between areas with load screens is find a save point. If you die before doing so you will have to sit through the load screen again as the previous area is reloaded, make your way to the travel point and sit through the reloading of that next area once again. This happened on more than one occasion with me and I must admit I found it infuriating. I had no problem with the number of save phones like many others (they are actually in great abundance, but if you don't pass close enough to one then it won't pop up on your map) but a guaranteed auto-save would have been beneficial when moving between areas that require long load times.

After all your hard work the ending has to be one of the shortest and weakest of any game ever! It's a good job the journey to get there is fully worth it!

For me, however, the biggest negative is the over reliance on the appearance of the alien. In the first few chapters spotting the horrible thing dropping out of a vent will have your heart in your mouth as you rush to hide in the nearest locker. However, you will find yourself being spotted and killed by the alien so often as you progress that eventually being brutalised by it loses a little of its shock value. Towards the end of the game I felt less fearful when I was in a room with the thing, and if spotted I would just press the option button and load my last save. The alien is still used to good effect overall, but if its appearance was even marginally less frequent I feel the game might have been all the more scary for it.

Overall, any Alien fan should take the plunge and buy this game immediately. This, along with the original Alien vs Predator PC game, is one of the best Alien video games ever made and is as close as you'll ever get to being stalked by the galaxy's ultimate killing machine or the atmosphere of the legendary first film. Any consumers caught in two minds should give it a pop - as long as you aren't weak of heart and scared of a punishing challenge you'll probably find something to enjoy within the game's claustrophobic halls! If you can overlook the highlighted problems and not blow a gasket during the many frustrating moments, Alien Isolation will likely turn out to be a very memorable experience. Never has shaking with anxiety and dripping with cold sweat been so enjoyable!

 

Rating: 5/5

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4:12 AM on 11.21.2014

Hatsune Miku Project Diva F 2nd Review - A Great Vita Sequel

I'll never forget the day I bought the original Project Diva f for my Vita. A lone foreigner wandering into a Japanese movie rental place, picking up a vocaloid game and taking it sheepishly to the counter. One of the most embarrassing video game purchase moments of my lifetime - there's a certain stigma attached to these games in Japan, namely that they are only played by friendless nerds (or so my ex-girlfriend told me!). I guess I have to hold my hands up on that one...

Anyway, after getting it back to my apartment and taking a moment to overcome the shame of what I'd just purchased, I popped the game into my Vita and fired it up. My embarrassment was quickly forgotten as I became engulfed in the simple but addictive world of my first Hatsune Miku rhythm game. I spent hours on that version, despite it being in Japanese and my not being fluent in that tongue, and as soon as I heard of a sequel I grew excited and knew I'd have to have it. Luckily I was able to order this one from the safety of my own home - and in English too!

This game is a rhythm title. It involves you pressing the Vita's face buttons in time with the music. The appropriate button prompts can appear anywhere on the Vita screen and the timing prompts (which must be pressed when the two fully overlap) can float in from off-screen at unusual angles in order to increase difficulty. Further curve balls are thrown at the player including prompts that require the button to be held and released precisely and double button presses (for example, O and the right d-pad button). Also returning from the first Vita release are the much maligned touch-screen scratches only this time a few new additions have been included to expand this dubious design choice including double finger swipes and chained swipes. Luckily in this version you are offered the chance to use the analogue sticks as an alternative input method.

All the songs in-game are performed by a number of computer programmed singers called vocaloids. There are a total of six characters each with their own unique vocal effects. They sing to a variety of genres including rock and roll, ballads, J-Pop and electronic dance. For the most part, the quality of the songs is high, but there are one or two stinkers included. There are a number of really catchy songs that will implant themselves in your head and have you humming the tune long after you quit playing.

The mechanics of the game, just like the original, are extremely tight. making this one of the most polished rhythm titles out there. Buttons presses are registered instantly and I have encountered no evidence of lag affecting performance on the Vita. Sound quality is good from the Vita speakers and much better when a decent set of headphones are used (the game recommends you use earphones for the best possible experience). Graphically the game looks very good although you will be so focused on catching the button prompts that you will barely notice what is going on in the background! You do have the option of watching the videos in a theatre mode and they are produced to a very high standard, each with its own theme, set of characters and dance routines. You even have an AR option which allows you to watch Hatsune Miku perform in your very own front room/bedroom/kitchen!

Difficulty is balanced but much more intense than the first Vita version. Some rhythm games can be brutally punishing, but Project Diva f has a rather more forgiving learning curve. As usual with this type of game, practice makes perfect and with dedication and effort you should be banging out PERFECT stage ratings in no time - if your fingers can keep up with your brain that is!

As you play through the game you will begin to unlock a myriad of hidden items. Gaining high ranks will unlock new tracks that can be played as well as rewarding the player with Diva points which can be used to unlock new costumes for the characters, living pods that can be personalised for each character and specialised tags that can be applied to your online profile. There is a sizeable and challenging trophy list, too, that won't isolate less able players (some rhythm games require players to PERFECT all songs across all difficulties, but thankfully this is not so in this title). These two factors ensure that you will get a massive amount of play time from the game, something that should fall under your consideration if you are considering the RRP in your purchase decision. DLC already released in Japan will also make its way to these shores, adding more songs and outfits to the game should you buy them.

There is also an option for you to create your own patterns for any of the songs in the game and upload them for others to download and play online. This is a great feature, but the edit mode (which is available as a separate 900mb download from the Playstation Store) can be quite complex to navigate around and will take some getting used to. Luckily there is an in-depth guide on how to use it included in the digital manual of the game (this can be accessed on the screen that pops up when you tap the game icon bubble from the Vita home screen). This version also allows the user to import their own MP3 tracks which should allow for extreme creative types to knock out some amazing custom tracks to their favourite songs. Downloading these user made tracks should also add quite a bit of longevity to the game.

I'm really enjoying this game but there are one or two things I must talk about in a less positive light. One of the things that the developers have done to increase the difficulty of this title is to programme in much more complex button patterns and this can cause problems. The prompts that appear sometimes pop up rapidly and in unusual shapes making it difficult (without memorising a song) to figure out which prompt follows another. Another decision I'm not fond of is that occasionally the prompts will appear in the exact same spot, right on top of each other, which never fails to catch me out (it is difficult to decipher how many prompts are hidden beneath each other) and can feel a little cheap and frustrating.

My major gripe is with the touch-screen prompts. They can be very bothersome, forcing you to move your hand from the face buttons at inopportune times to enable you to reach a scratch prompt. Often the Vita touch-screen, which is usually pretty responsive, infuriatingly won't register your finger. This is especially frustrating when you are on your way to a perfect and you miss a beat through no fault of your own. While this was also a noticeable problem in the first game it is much more prominent now due to a heavier reliance on touch-screen interaction. The double swipe that has been added will catch you out at first as you forget to swipe with both fingers but eventually you'll get the hang of it. The chained swipes, however, are terribly annoying. Often they commit the rhythm game sin of changing speed in song. They will approach the prompt location and then speed up or slow down without notice, catching you off guard and completely destroying the rhythm/beat you've been keeping throughout the rest of the tune. Additionally, sometimes when you think you've reached the end of a chain the prompt will shoot back on itself to the previous prompt and you'll miss it, which again feels quite cheap and will anger you at times. I can understand why they were added, to enable bigger and more varied high scores, but their varying speed can be frustrating and they take a lot of memorisation to master. You can switch over to the analogue sticks but I found this didn't really improve things as some of my flicks went unregistered too. Perhaps, just like the game, more practice with this control method will pay dividends.

Despite the aforementioned quibbles this remains an absolutely fantastic title. The Vita is becoming a hotbed for music/rhythm titles and this, coupled with the original Vita Hatsune Miku, DJMAX Technika Tune and digital download Cytus Lambda, should be enough to convince any rhythm game aficionado to take the plunge and get the handheld console. Project Diva F 2nd will keep you busy for weeks and is definitely worth a purchase.

Rating: 5/5

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10:54 AM on 09.18.2014

Theatrhythm Curtain Call - The perfect example of a worthwhile sequel

Theatrhythm is back with Curtain Call, a bigger and better version of its previous release in 2012. This time, instead of a measly 60+ songs and a handful of characters, we have a whopping 220+ songs and a plethora of your favourite Square Enix stars with future DLC promised if you are partial to paying for additional content.

 

The gameplay remains largely untouched from the previous version of the game with the player being required to tap, swipe or hold particular notes as they appear in time with music from the fabled Final Fantasy series.  Songs are again separated into Field, Battle and Emotional categories which, although remaining very similar to one another in gameplay mechanics, change the way the notes approach the player. In Battle (in my opinion the most difficult category) we have four lanes of notes that rush towards the target zones, in Field we have only one line of notes and the mode is more reliant on hold based moves, and in Emotional we have the target zone moving around the screen instead on being fixed to one location. Anyone who found the first edition of the game too easy will be pleased to know that Curtain Call is much more difficult than its predecessor ; some of the Ultimate songs (which in the last version I found myself confident of beating) offer a stern challenge indeed.

 

While gampelay remains largely untouched, the presentation of the game has improved tenfold over the previous iteration. Songs are more easily accessible from the get go, displayed in scrollable lists that can be favourited allowing the player to access their most beloved tunes at the press of a button.  Menu screens and graphics are more artistic than before and there are a  large number of additional enemies and noticeable faces to go up against in game that were missing from the initial version. Playable character designs are as cute and recognisable as ever, only this time round there are far more to choose from and discover. Things also zip along a lot faster now; the EXP screen is much more user friendly and levelling calculations happen in one go instead of tediously counting down over a number of seconds. The same can be said of the rhythmia screen which is much more efficient this time round.

 

Upon firing up the game you will find all but one option on the menu screen blanked out. To begin with you must create a team of characters from a limited list – if you would like to add an additional 10 choice options to the list, then download and install the demo from the eShop before starting up your cart. When you choose your characters you will then unlock the tracks that correspond to their relevant Final Fantasy title; for example, choosing Cloud will unlock all songs from FFVII and choosing Tidus will unlock all FFX content. The game then tasks the player with clearing songs in order to unlock all the additional content associated with the game. Impatient players need not worry, as you'll unlock all available options within the first fifteen to twenty successfully completed songs. The reasoning behind this is essentially a cleverly disguised tutorial mode to help familiarise the player to the game before they rush head first into online battles which, let me warn you, can be rather punishing (especially if you run into any Japanese players!).

 

As the player plays through songs they earn EXP for levelling up characters. Levelling up is important; as character stats increase, the player earn benefits such as higher HP allowing for more missed notes, higher strength for defeating more enemies in Battle mode, and higher stamina for covering more distance in Field battles. Abilities are also unlocked, which allow characters, among other things,  to hit additional damage in game or heal each other. Items can be equipped in a similar fashion, but once used they disappear from your inventory. Upon successful completion of a song, you also earn rhythmia, the total of which varies based upon the player completing a number of preset challenges during any song; for example, having an all male team, completing with all critical hits, playing on consecutive days, and so on. For every 250 rhythmia the player collects, a new unlock is achieved. These unlocks vary from hidden tracks to additional characters and new chime sound effects for your taps, swipes and holds.

 

One problem with the old version of the game was longevity. Unless the player purchased DLC content, the game quickly grew stale – you'd be required to grind the same songs over and over again in order to max out characters and, even if you are a huge fan of the Final Fantasy tracks available, things grew tiresome. The developers have addressed this situation by upping the song count by a staggering amount (all previous DLC from the old game is included and many of the bonus songs from the original now have three difficulties instead of just the one) and introducing a number of additional modes.

 

Quest Medley involves the players moving across a map and completing random tracks from the game. Upon completing all the songs successfully the player must face a boss battle. If the boss is beaten, then rewards can be earned including items for your inventory and crystal shards to unlock new characters. To make this mode even more difficult, all songs must be completed using only one health bar that doesn't regenerate between songs. If you are struggling, you will need to use your stocked items, but you are limited in how many of them you can use per medley. This adds some much needed challenge to the game and will help wring a good few extra few hours out of the game for the completionists among us. Completed maps can then be attached to your profile card and shared with other players you meet online (you can also earn theirs, too).

 

In addition to Quest Medleys, this time round we also get online battles. In this mode you can go online and face off against other players from around the world. I find this to be a fantastic addition, lengthening the time spent with the game a great deal. When playing other human players, you activate EX bursts for successfully hitting targets during songs. These bursts effect your opponent in a number of negative ways from spinning their arrowed swipe notes to speeding up targets to hiding them from view until the very last moment. One of the only negatives I can find in the game thus far is the discrepancies between burst effects. Some make hitting notes successfully almost impossible, while others (HP swap) can go barely noticed. Either way, playing online is easily the most challenging mode in the game and memorisation of songs is required in order to perform competently against real-life opponents. I class myself as a highly skilled rhythm player, yet I have come across opponents who have put me to shame. Even people put off by the tests awaiting them against almost savant-like human challengers are covered, however, by an AI versus mode in which you can take on the computer instead although the early difficulty levels are insultingly easy.

 

There is a multitude of content awaiting anyone who chooses to pick up the game. In the museum section you can check how many in game trophy conditions you have bested (the requirements of which vary from easy-as-pie to mind-bendingly difficult), see how many of the collector cards you have found thus far, listen to a number of the games songs in a jukebox section, and watch a number of movies related to each FF title. Unlocking all of these goodies will take you an absolute age; you can be sure your initial outlay will not be wasted. I have seen some online players who have racked up over 400 hours of game time already!

 

I rate this game highly indeed. Any fan of rhythm games or the music of Final Fantasy will not be disappointed with this purchase. A great number of improvements have been implemented from the last version of the game making the title much more enjoyable and far better value for money. Anyone who found the last version too easy will find a far greater challenge here and will have to dedicate a large amount of time to besting the game in Ultimate mode. Newcomers, however, are also catered for by the Basic and Expert score settings, which can ease a player into the game with far less stress and frustration. Indies 0 have done a fine job of ensuring all levels of skill are catered for here and have lovingly created a game that is better in almost every way from its predecessor.

 

Overall, if you are undecided, I would say give Curtain Call a go. You're getting so much content, challenge, and game time for your not considerable outlay of money here that I doubt you'll regret it.

 

Rating: 5/5

  read


4:34 AM on 03.02.2014

What game would you like to see remade/rebooted?

In recent times we've seen a marked rise in the remaking and rebooting of some fondly remembered classics. Mega Drive title Castle of Illusion found itself on the end of a 21st century makeover as did NES/Game Boy game Duck Tales. Most recently we have seen a remastering of the highly thought of and oft ignored Strider series. Whilst the remakes met with varying degrees of success, I got a sense of satisfaction from revisiting my childhood favourites under a shiny new HD veneer.



We all have our favourite games of yore. So, if you could choose any title from the past to be remade or rebooted, what would it be? 



For me it would have to be ESWAT. Originally released in 1990 on the Mega Drive (or Genesis if you're from across the pond) it allowed you to take control of rookie cop Duke Oda as he worked his way through the Cyber Police ranks. Once you earn his spurs he is rewarded with a kick-ass Ice Combat Suit complete with an arsenal of varied and deadly weapons. The premise of the original game would lend itself perfectly, in my opinion, to a Metroidvania style offering where Oda would navigate his way around the Liberty City map upgrading his suit ready to face a final showdown with the mysterious E.Y.E.. And, let's face it, who wouldn't love to relive that unforgettable moment when Oda takes down a fully-armoured helicopter with a handgun in glorious high definition?



List your suggestions below. I'm intrigued to see what you think!   read


6:56 AM on 02.22.2014

A Destructoid Community Request - Recommend me Some Quality 2DS Games

I've been keeping my eye on the price of the Nintendo 2DS over recent months as I have been craving the opportunity to play Final Fantasy Theathrythm on something other than iOS. Yesterday I managed to pick up a brand new one for £69 which I thought to be a bit of a bargain.

As I've only really had my eye on the single game up until now I was a bit lost as to what other titles I should look at getting, what with the 3DS/DS catalogue being so exhaustive. I would like to check out Bravely Default as I do like a traditional RPG and, of course, I will be looking to pick up the new Zelda game as soon as possible. I'm a massive fan of rhythm games so any suggestions in that field would be greatly welcomed. I also like old-school platformers, shmups and puzzlers (I am ashamed to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the Bejewled title on the DS... make of that what you will!). I'm also open to suggestions of regular DS titles, too. I am not at all interested in Pokemon, so despite it being a huge title on the DS platform, I would request you refrain from suggesting any titles from that IP.

So, kindly and helpful souls of the Destructoid blogging scene, what are the must-have games I should be looking to pick up for my nifty new handheld? Your help is much appreciated.   read


3:43 PM on 02.15.2014

Outlast PS4 - Excruciating... for all the wrong reasons

Well, it was with a sigh of relief that I finally managed to make it to the end of Outlast on the PS4. Was it a sigh of relief after an intense and frightening experience? No, it was, unfortunately, one of relief at having finally completed a gaming experience that I thought was disappointingly weak and grossly lacking in every respect.

When it was announced that Outlast was coming to PS+ as part of the IGC I was, like I'm sure many were, very excited at the prospect. A quick check of the reviews of the PC release hinted at a terrifying, sanity-shredding game that would have you sweating with anxiety and worry. I downloaded with baited breath and a change of underwear at the ready.

I booted the game up and found myself quickly disappointed. I became aware within the first hour of gameplay that the game was lacking on any number of levels. The character models were totally uninspiring, all of the asylum patients are presented as asexual (bar a noticeable pair...) beings with eyes stitched shut and threads running all over their body. The limitations of the Unreal engine quickly became apparent with graphical glitches galore including ghostly blocks that appear as you turn and look suspiciously like collectable items before vanishing as if they were never there and enemies hovering about a foot off the ground as you hide from them under beds. The game is insultingly linear, with locked doors barring progression left right and centre and the dreaded waist high stacks of beds and filing cabinets that demand 'You shall not pass!'. 

I forced myself onwards though my mounting disappointment and grew only further disillusioned with the experience. I found myself screaming, yes. But not through fear. Mostly through frustration. The game is littered with cheap clichéd scares that we've seen a million times before and implemented far more effectively. You'll have things drop from air vents just like we saw numerous times in Dead Space, you'll have windows shatter a.l.a. Resident Evil, you'll have scares pop out of the dark that can only be seen through your camera just like happened in Fatal Frame. You'll be wheeled through the asylum hospital by a madman (Jacob's Ladder) and have sections of your body forcefully removed (Saw). None of the scares in Outlast are original. None of the scares are particularly scary. I can count on one hand the number of times I jumped with fright.

My frustration came mostly from the game's terrible controls, repetitive nature and archaic mechanics. You'll continually be given rudimentary and tiresome tasks throughout the game. Flip two switches to activate the sprinklers. Pull two levers to activate the lifts. Along the way you'll be chased down dark corridors by the same enemies over and over. Excitingly you can sometimes avoid them by climbing into air vents and using them as a means of escape or by hiding in lockers. I love nothing more than crawling through air vents in a game. We've never seen that before, have we? And hiding in lockers? It was my favourite part of Deadly Premonition. I eagerly anticipated those sections... 

Sometimes the enemies will be armed, other times not. If you're playing on higher difficulties the chances of a one hit death are high. One of my biggest gripes with the title was the fact that, no matter how stealthily you evade your pursuers, whenever you flick a switch or pull a lever, the game would drop the enemies directly behind you. The sense of reward for having tiptoed expertly to your task is instantly ripped away from you, forcing you to hide until they wander away. Often, however, they'll wander to the end of the corridor and then head back. You'll be forced to wait (which grows boring very quickly) or dash past them (which destroys the game's tension). I quickly found myself utilising the latter technique just to avoid the tedium of waiting for the randomly wandering enemies to give me some space. Running, however, poses its own problems. The controls of the game are severely lacking. I found myself unintentionally dashing past the same door three, four times in succession as I attempted my escape from our sexless baddies. You'll often find yourself trapped in corners by enemies owing to the game's abysmal collision detection (it's as if every enemy is walking in an invisible rectangle) then be forcefully eviscerated as a reward. Sometimes the passageways are blocked by upturned beds or obstacles which can be vaulted. Vaulting is often a chore in itself. I found that, unless you are running at them in a perfectly straight line, you will often begin doing an Irish Jig in front of the obstacle instead of leaping over it. Then you'd be murdered.

The story is desultory. You are a journalist on a mission to uncover the strange goings on at Mount Massive asylum in Colorado. You don't get much back story but as your progress through the game you'll collect notes and observe scenes that fill in more of the story for you. Our protagonist, despite being shit-scared and whimpering like a scalded child at all times, also takes plenty of opportunities to write sarcasm-drenched notes like a wise-cracking internet troll. It's nothing we haven't seen before and when the big reveal appears (***SPOILERS*** It's evil Nazis! ***SPOILERS) you'll shake your head in disbelief as this particular story element has been done to death and often many times better. All the while you'll find yourself wondering how the only person alerted to the strange goings on at Mount Massive is a hapless journalist. When you discover the madness and danger inside the asylum you'll ask yourself why the military aren't swarming all over it or why it simply hasn't been nuked off the face of the earth. The ending scenes only serve to sully an already dreadful and unoriginal story even further. 

A few other annoyances I encountered were the appearance of intrusive loading screens between sections of the game - a green image with a spinning load symbol. Even Resident Evil, back in 1996, offered us an animation of a door to make the transition less obvious and more bearable. The load times themselves are lengthy. On a number of occasions these load screens hung and I was required to restart the game in order to continue. In one section I got a load screen in the gardens near the end of the game which hung. I replayed the section and didn't even encounter a load screen on the second attempt which I found strange.

To summarise, I was astounded by how bad I found Outlast and find myself baffled by its many positive reviews. Any self-respecting fan of the horror genre will find themselves laughing at the pitiful scares and derogatory storyline. And experienced gamers will find themselves appalled by the poor controls and shamefully implemented and dated game mechanics. Usually I find myself going back through a game to tidy up a few additional trophies but I can't face going through Outlast a second time, so I think I'll leave my percentage at 40. The game might fill in a few hours as we await new releases for our next-gen console but I would find it very difficult to recommend Outlast even though it is currently available for free.

An absolute shambles that I was relieved to finish. The anticipation I felt prior to the game's release quickly dissipated and I am glad as can be that I'm finally done with the game. One to avoid, in my opinion, unless you're absolutely desperate to play something, anything at all. 

Rating: 1/5   read


3:22 AM on 02.10.2014

Oh, Dragon's Crown, how I wish I could have loved thee...

I love Vanillaware. I have played and hugely enjoyed Odin's Sphere and Muramasa and was massively excited when I discovered news about Dragon's Crown. The game had been in development for an age and I was sure that given all that time to tweak the mechanics and the reputation of Vanillaware for producing impressive games with solid gameplay that this title would be a winner. I am saddened to say that I found the game greatly lacking - the first time I have felt let down by George Kamitani and his team.

Let's start with the positives. The game looks amazing, as all Vanillaware games do. Every frame has been painstakingly hand-painted and every sprite is animated perfectly and looks gorgeous. You will encounter a great swathe of fantasy-themed baddies from huge dragons, krakens, skeletons, dinosaurs and many more; all of them look great. The locales are varied and many, from pirate coves to magician's towers to crumbling ruins.

There have been a number of issues raised with the way the females are portrayed in this game (hugely out of proportion breasts and often in suggestive poses) leading to the designers being labelled as sexist and misogynistic. I have never been a fan of games or other media depicting women with obscenely large boobs (see Dead or Alive as another example of this - they even have an option in there to adjust the feminine jiggles, if you can believe that). I find it both unnecessary and juvenile, but the criticism of the art in this game is unwarranted - many of the character artists involved in creating this title are female and, for better or worse, this over-the-top style is often employed in Japanese culture (and this game is distinctively Japanese). This won't be the first or the last game to portray women characters in such a fashion and I don't feel that the sexism debate should be used to judge a game's merits or lack thereof.

People are also citing the price tag as a deterrent for purchasing the game. This is ludicrous also. The game is massive. There are a selection of six character types all with their own strengths and weaknesses allowing for a total of six playthroughs overall. Each playthrough consists of nine stages each with branching paths amounting to, in essence, eighteen levels in total. There are also fifty mini-quests available from the Adventurer's Guild. This accounts for a huge amount of game time for your money - to play through every difficulty with each character will give you in excess of 60 to 70 hours of gameplay. Not to be sniffed at, no? That can be extended even further should you wish to earn all of the trophies on offer and best the randomly generated Chaos Labyrinth upon completing the game.

Unfortunately, for me, the gameplay does not stand up as well as the game's visuals. You will move from left to right in the vein of many of the old-school side-scrollers of yore, fighting enemies and collecting loot. There are three characters who specialise in melee and three who specialise in long-range attacks but regardless of the class you choose you will spend most of your time in-game mashing the square button which is the regular attack button. The square button can be combined with the directional buttons to activate special attacks such as grabs, parries and slides but they are often difficult to use effectively due to how busy the screen gets - more on this later. You also have a powerful special attack that can be utilised with the circle button which unarms your character momentarily and weakens your attacks as you are forced to fight weaponless. I love games such as Streets of Rage and Golden Axe which employ more basic but similar mechanics to Dragon's Crown and still play them regularly. I didn't enjoy this modern offering half as much as these classics - for some reason Dragon's Crown wore thin on me very quickly and I found the combat repetitive and a bit of a chore, if I'm being honest.

Touchscreen controls are utilised in game to loot chests, cast spells and knock collectables from the scenery. This can be frustrating as you have to remove your hand from the face buttons during the heat of battle during some areas in order to use runes that cast beneficial spells that assist your party. Often if you are getting battered (which will happen regularly) you can tap carvings in the wall and combine them with runestones in your possession to damage enemies and cast protective barriers around your characters. However, the runes that appear are tiny and often you will need to tap them more than once to activate them. While you are focusing on this your character will be savagely beaten by your opponents. Often you'll die as a result. Chests can be unlocked with a tap of the screen and you gain rewards and items as a result which can be appraised and either sold for cash or equipped to strengthen your characters at the end of each stage. Fans of Borderlands will love this loot-and-appraise approach but it might not be for everyone.

The multiplayer element of the game, which is advertised as one of the main features on the game box, is locked until halfway through the game. I have no idea why this is the case. As you wait for the feature to unlock, you can collect the bones of dead characters and have the computer control them once you resurrect them at the temple in town. Sounds great, but unfortunately these computer controlled comrades are worse than useless. They will cast spells at random, stand still for no discernible reason and take a beating and die very, very often. You can resurrect them, but each time you do so costs you more and more gold. Their ineptitude will empty your wallet in an instant. When the multiplayer option becomes available, don't expect a plethora of human characters to pop into your game. I have played the game for over twenty hours now and have had very few human partners join my game despite having the connection setting set to worldwide. A recent update has enabled PS3 and PS Vita players to play alongside each other via either platform; hopefully this will improve the number of drop-in players.

At the far end of the town you find yourself in after clearing each stage you use a portal to select the next stage you want to attempt to conquer. Halfway through the game you lose the ability to choose which level you want to play next unless you pay money at the stables to rent a horse. This might not sound like a big deal but if you failed miserably at a stage and are returned to town after spending all your gold bringing the computer controlled characters back to life you may be forced to sell important items or weapons in order to select the area you wish to go to next. If you can't afford a horse, the game picks the level you challenge next totally at random. This might not happen often but when it does it can become annoying - especially when you have only one talisman to collect from a specific stage. This is a design choice, like the locking of the multiplayer, that had me scratching my head. The random level choice would have been a welcome option if it was assigned to a button during the level select screen, but having it thrust on you with no choice in the matter seems strange, to me at least.

In order to progress through the game without pulling your hair out you will be required to grind your levels and improve your equipment by replaying stages over and over. Without doing so you will find your character underpowered and they will be punished mercilessly when you eventually unlock the secondary path of each stage. More often than not you'll get through the stage easily enough, then come to a hugely overpowered boss who will crush you and wipe the floor with your remains. I love a challenge and enjoy difficult games; what I dislike is when a game forces you to boost levels in order to find yourself on even a level pegging with some of the enemies on offer. This might be one of the main reasons I grew disillusioned with the game.

The worst failing of the game, on the Vita at least, is the horrible overcrowding on the screen. There are four allies including your own character on the screen at once, one looter who comes on-screen to collect treasures, a fairy who points things out to you, a multitude of enemies, chests and breakables, and items exploding from the background and dead baddies. This can render your screen an unintelligible blur of action. There will be a dozen times on each and every stage where you won't be able to see your own character through the tangle. This will lead to unavoidable death on a regular basis, especially when facing bosses, as the markers that show where their projectile attacks will land are hidden by secondary characters and enemies assisting the boss. In addition, on the occasions when other humans do join your game, they may be controlling the exact same character as you which only adds to the confusion.

As a massive fan of old-school side-scrollers and Vanillaware I was certain I would love this game. I hate to admit that I am less than impressed with Dragon's Crown overall. It looks great, has a huge amount of replayability but its many frustrations and repetitive nature somewhat killed the game for me. If you love your side-scrolling brawlers by all means give it a go. I'm sure many people will love the game, just for me it feels like there is something missing, that it lacks the character of similar games from the SNES and Mega Drive era.

Rating: 2/5   read


2:50 PM on 02.08.2014

"Zach, shall we revisit an unexpected modern classic?"

What are you getting when you purchase Deadly Premonition? You are getting sub-PS2 graphics, archaic controls, a sparsely populated open-world map and some of the most inappropriate background music of all time. You are also getting a game with a unique soul and character. It is easily one of my favourite games of all time despite everything listed above.

You control Francis York Morgan, a split-personality sufferer, coffee-reading psychic (you'll see) FBI agent with an invisible friend named Zach. He is sent to Greenvale in order to solve the brutal murder of a beautiful (although you wouldn't be able to tell by her character model) young woman called Anna. What follows is a bizarre story littered with intrigue and full to the brim with eccentric characters and set pieces.

The game is essentially an open-world murder mystery. You drive from set piece to set piece across the mostly deserted map finding clues and piecing together the murder. Every now and again you will enter survival horror locations akin to Silent Hill and Resident Evil (from the PS1 era) where you must battle Sadako-from-The-Ring style baddies in order to find clues and progress to the next chapter - you'll also want to avoid going out after midnight if you know what's good for you.

The game starts out in one such situation and this beginning set piece is probably enough to send most gamers running wide-eyed and screaming from the game, never to touch it again. Within the first ten minutes you will realise the graphics are appalling, the game mechanics and controls are seriously lacking and the sound effects are seemingly rehashed from Mega Drive (or earlier) games. Why a five star rating then, you may ask? Because if you stick with the game you will be massively rewarded. Seriously.

The game borrows shamelessly from Twin Peaks. That in itself might be enough to pique the interest of a lot of people. Locations are shamelessly lifted including the waterfall and the red room of Dale Cooper's dreams. Agent York himself bears more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned TP investigator. The story is similar too, lurching from one surreal segment to another with the occasional dream sequence throw in to break things up. The story has a little of everything: humour, shocks, scares. It ends with one of the darkest bombshells in gaming history, transforming a game that is often light-hearted and whimsical on its head. This powerful and varied storytelling is the real winning element of Deadly Premonition, but not the only one.

As the story unfolds you will uncover Greenvale's many eccentric residents as well as the township's darkest secrets. Both range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Character-wise you will meet some of the strangest creations in gaming history. From Harry Stewart, a wheelchair-bound, mask-wearing billionaire who speaks in rhyme via a tidily dressed carer, to 'Roaming' Sigourney, a senile, one-shoed old woman who wanders the map aimlessly complaining that the cooking pot she steadfastly carries is growing cold. They will simultaneously have you laughing heartily and scratching your befuddled head. Most of the town knowledge you uncover is gathered by playing the game's 50 side-quests. Most characters have a special side-quest which upon completion unlocks a reward, a trophy and a (often hilarious) piece of information. You have to drive Sigourney home before her pot grows cold from random locations. You have to tidy the convenience store's back room. You have to collect and return some dog-stolen bones to the rather spectral-looking grave tender. You catch a legendary fish. Honestly.

The map is quite large. Imagine a Grand Theft Auto open-world done on a shoestring budget. You can fish, stop off at a bar and play darts, visit the mountaintop viewing point and take in the (terribly rendered) scenery. The only problem is everything is spaced so far apart that it can often be a chore to get from one place to another. But is it boring? No. Why? Another master-stroke from the developers. York, it turns out, is an avid fan of 80s B-Movies. As you drive you will be prompted to engage in a number of lengthy eulogies including praise and facts about such classics as Jaws and Tremors. Who said games weren't educational? Sadly, you can miss out on these brilliant tidbits by unlocking a special item from Sheriff George's side-quest. Which would certainly be a shame.

The musical side of Deadly Premonition should be a disaster. Often, as York gives a lengthy speech about how one of the characters had her tongue bitten out, or how he dealt with a serial rapist, inexplicably cheery music will play in the background. Laughably bad music. One track is actually whistled. Yes, whistled. But, instead of making you reach for the mute button, the more you hear it, the more it will grow on you. It's strange, you should loathe how bad the tunes are, but such is Deadly Premonition's strange charm and magic, you will find yourself humming them long after you finish playing.

One thing I should mention before closing is how the PS3 version (which this review is based on) differs from the 360 one (yes, I have played both - my friends often call me a sucker for punishment!). There have been a few tweaks here and there: York can now walk whilst attacking with melee weapons and he controls slightly differently from the original Xbox version, too. There are some additional story elements that have been added but I must admit, I don't think they should have been put in there; they only seem to detract slightly from the cracking story that was there before. The port has not been transferred smoothly, either. There are some moments of sounds and music jumping and volume levels in spoken sections changing without warning. The graphics have apparently been tweaked and improved but I honestly think they look marginally worse as a result. In a couple of houses the light shining in from outside was bright green instead of the intended and more realistic white. Not sure if that one was intentional or not, mind you... There is also noticeable slowdown on occasions, most notably when you pick up items and are awarded with a lovingly (if needlessly) rendered image of a rotating onion, donut or can of pickles. When there are a number of characters in one area often their animations will play out strangely; I observed Kaysen undertaking some sort of slow motion floating walk on numerous occasion. More things to add to the 'overlook these problems and you'll love it' list, but hey ho. These quibbles were minor to me and I soon learned to look past them. Still, the QA team should have picked up on these problems and the programmers should have at least attempted to fix them.

Overall, Deadly Premonition is a masterpiece that amounts to far more than the sum of its parts. If you can get past the ancient controls and graphics, past the hit-and-miss voice acting and the shabby port translation, you will find a bizarre diamond in the rough that just begs to be loved. What the designers lacked in funds, they more than made up for in terms of memorable characters, scenes and unforgettable scenarios. I dread to think what Swery65 could achieve with sizeable funding behind him.

Rating: 5/5
A classic in the vein of those memorable B-Movies York adores so much. I urge you to give it a try.   read


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