Category Archives: PS3

F.E.A.R. the Classics

As I was downloading this game from Steam, I kept trying to remember the last time I played a first-person shooter.  And for the life of me, I can’t quite place it.  I know it hasn’t been anything during the modern console cycle.  I guess it would be Half-Life 2 & it’s continuations from The Orange Box back on the 360.  I did have a brief foray with E.Y.E. Divine Cybermancy a few months back, but everything outside shooting guns was so incomprehensible that I put it down before finishing the “tutorial” level.  Shooters have just never really been my thing.  I’ve enjoyed a few in my time, certainly.  Half-Life 2 was fun, as was Doom 3.  Though to be fair, I typically play Doom by running around with the chainsaw, so calling it a “shooter” might not be fair.

(Post script, I think technically the last FPS I played was Spec Ops: The Line.  But that game was so anti-shooter that my brain didn’t store it as such.)

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F.E.A.R. (FPS’s just love their acronyms, don’t they?) is a game released way back in 2007 & spawned several successful sequels.  In its initial outing, players take on the role of a character referred to as the Point Man, a new recruit to the First Encounter Assault Recon team.  In possibly the worst first day on the job, Point Man’s team is sent to retrieve an escaped psychic commander, but quickly finds themselves embroiled in a plot centering around the worst corporate ethics since the Umbrella Corp.  All the while, Point Man keeps having strange hallucinations about a little girl in red who seems to have a massive chip on her shoulders.

Although many games have since taken inspiration from F.E.A.R.’s unique selling points, it initially touted three key features to jazz up the standard shooting.  The first was actually intelligent enemy AI, making for a more challenging shooting experience.  The second was what we now call “bullet-time,” but which the game refers to as “reflexes.”  Essentially, Point Man’s can mentally slow down time, allowing for better strategies for taking on the AI.  And finally, it billed itself as a horror FPS, meaning from time to time scary things will happen.


20180724162013_1Narrative: It’s difficult to judge a game’s story over a decade after the fact, because it’s hard to say if things were clichéd back then, or if the game in question was merely one of the pioneers of the trope.  That being said, I feel like I can say that the concept of ethically questionable super soldiers running amuck was nothing new even back when F.E.A.R. first came out.  Monolith at least tried to do something interesting with it, & I have to say I think this was my first time hearing this particular combination of ethically & scientifically dubious plot points.  Armacham, the company behind such decisions, is only slightly beat out by Umbrella Corp in that at least they were smart enough to merely bury their bad decisions instead of trying to infect the entire city to cover it up.  And looking back, the game does do a good job of pacing out the revelations of just how f-ed up the experiments actually were.  We begin merely knowing that they lost control of their clone soldiers because the commander who psychically controlled them went mad & started eating people.  We already know they probably deserve their fate for their stupidity, & this feeling only increases as the game progresses.

There isn’t much in the way of characters to speak of.  Point Man is your classic silent protagonist, & everyone else is merely a voice in your ear.  I will say that it’s nice to play a shooter where everyone on my team is unequivocally the good guy.  No ham-fisted betrayals, not even counting that one guy who turned the security system on me, because he worked for Armacham so I automatically expected it.  And despite the constant contrivance of getting Point Man separated from the rest of his team, it always fits with character.  He is the Point Man after all, meaning he’s meant to be on the front line.  I also enjoyed having characters & enemies acknowledge my capabilities rather than treating me like some rookie that has to prove myself.

Overall, while clichéd now, the story in F.E.A.R. is competently strung together.  And I have to give Monolith credit for just going balls to the wall with how insane the evilness of Armacham was.

Score: 3


Gameplay: I really had to change my mindset to get into F.E.A.R.’s combat.  Initially, I was annoyed by the shooting.  Being used to playing more narrative-focused games, I tend to view combat as an obstacle impeding me from what I really want in a game.  At first I found it boring.  Run down some hallways, enter an open room to have a firefight, rinse & repeat.  And while this pattern does persist throughout most of the runtime, I found something interesting happening about halfway through.  Something in my brain switched, & I realized that the entire purpose of a shooter is the combat.  Sounds obvious, I know.  But that merely shows how unaccustomed I am to the genre.

36210_full_2Once I realized that, & accepted that the combat was in big part the point of the game, I actually began to enjoy it.  No longer was it something to slog through, but relish.  And I have to say, despite being an older game, the combat in F.E.A.R. is still quite fun.  Two of the unique selling points I mentioned before play a huge part in that.  I haven’t played enough FPS’s to say definitively, but the AI did feel quite competent.  They don’t just sit behind cover, popping out occasionally for you to pick off.  They run around, try to get behind you, even toss grenades to flush you out.  It’s not perfect, & sometimes they’d still do stupid things like run around the corner to meet my shotgun.  But it made each encounter a little different.

Aiding in this, the bullet-time added an extra layer of fun & strategy to counter the AI.  Enemies too hard to flush out?  Pop into bullet-time & run out of cover to bring the shotgun blasting to them.  Or wait to line up a shot when they pop out.  Or detonate the grenade right over their heads.  The arsenal provided also lent to the enjoyment.  Of course you have your standard pistols & submachine guns.  But you’ve also got a gun called the Penetrator, a glorified nailgun that had the wonderful habit of pinning enemies to walls.  But my favorite, by far & away, was the laser gun that liquefied all the flesh off the target, leaving just a burnt skeleton, & had ridiculous sniping range.

But what about the third selling-point?  The horror.  Eh… I’ve heard other people describe it as it feeling like two separate games, & to some extent that’s true.  There’s almost an audible thud as the tone suddenly changes from shooter to horror.  In an open space with lots of pillars?  Get read for a shootout.  In abandoned offices with blood on the floor?  Expect something spooky.  It becomes predictable, & usually I didn’t find most of it scary.  Usually because I was looking the wrong way.

That being said, there were times when the atmosphere got to me.  Heavily influenced by Japanese horror, the game does understand the potency of quiet dread.  One standout moment was in one of the offices where I heard the phone ringing.  Having been conditioned at that point that voicemail is how the story moves along its plot, I followed the sound.  But rather than coming from any of the phones on the desk, it was coming from the ceiling.  Shooting at the tile sent a corpse falling on me.  Another good moment was after activating some control panel, the monitor showed the clone soldiers fighting before Alma (the creepy grudge girl) slowly rose into the camera’s view before it shut off.

20180730210343_1Thinking back on it, I feel that’s F.E.A.R.’s greatest strength.  It understands how to weave these moments into what you’re doing.  Both of those moments I just mentioned happened later in the game, & depended on you doing what you’d been programmed by the game to do.  And then they never happen again.  That monitor scene only happens once, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t stop to watch each camera feed to see if something similar would happen.  Another example is when there are two scares on a ladder back-to-back.  It never happened before, & it never happens again, but you keep expecting it.  Tension is the essence of good horror, & in knowing that, I realize just how much thought Monolith gave to this game.

Overall, while at times predictable & repetitive, F.E.A.R. can be an enjoyable experience if you give yourself to the moment.  It knows what it wants to be, & shows more understanding of what makes a good experience than most.

Score: 4


Aesthetics: At the time, F.E.A.R. was touted as having an impressive game engine.  While the models themselves are slightly aged, I will say that overall it’s held up quite well.  In particular, the physics.  Combat feels appropriately chaotic at times thanks to dust flying up, making it hard to see.  And there was more than a few times I startled myself by knocking over some bottle, or was mesmerized by the lighting changing because I bumped a lamp.  Sound design is pretty good as well.  Nothing spectacular, but it did help lend to the atmosphere.

Score: 3


Replay Value: Low.  As much fun as it was, I consider F.E.A.R. a one-&-done game.  There is some type of multiplayer with it, but I haven’t tested it out to say if it has any staying power.

Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 3

Last Word: Despite its age, F.E.A.R. is at least a competently made game.  Although it won’t leave much of a last impression, it’s fun while it lasts.

– GamerDame

Title: F.E.A.R.
Console: PC, 360, PS3
Rating: M
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games, Warner Bros. Games
Release Date: October 17, 2005

 

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Filed under 3, PC, PS3, Reviews, Shooter, XBox 360

Game Review: Okami HD

Readers from the earliest days of this blog might recall a rare rant post on how the Wii’s motion controls sucked & clearly weren’t intended for calligraphy writing.  The game in question was the Wii version of Okami.  Thanks to the HD re-release on current consoles, including an upcoming release on the Switch, I purchased an entirely new copy in the hopes that using a regular controller would make the game easier.  And shock of shocks, it actually did, thus continuing to prove motion controls are little more than a gimmick to entice new gamers.  Not only did I breeze through levels that had previously given me trouble, but I was able to complete the game.

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In Okami, you take the role of Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess, incarnated as a wolf.  Your job is to vanquish the darkness that has taken control of the land of Nippon with the help of your Celestial Brush, allowing you to literally draw on the canvas of the world.  Initially your task focus’ on slaying the eight-headed dragon Orochi, who was mysteriously released from his prison & demanding human sacrifices.  But later you uncover that Orochi was the just a pawn to something much darker.

Okami’s game style is very much inspired by The Legend of Zelda games, where you travel through various locations & dungeons earning new ways to advance.  But whereas Link picks up new weapons & items, Amaterasu unlocks new brush techniques.  The Celestial Brush is your primary tool in the game, allowing you to pause the world to draw various designs, resulting in different effects.  For example, you can slash foes by making a short, straight line across them, or you can creating a massive fireball by drawing an infinity sign.  As you travel, you’ll bring light & life to the dying world, earning Praise by creating miracles & leveling up your Godhood.


Narrative: Despite being heavily rooted in Shintoism, foreknowledge isn’t required to understand & enjoy Okami.  The game does a good job at building its world, so even if you don’t know a thing about Japan it won’t matter.  It essentially functions as any other fantasy realm.

okamiI’ve heard many claim that the game feels twice as long as it needs to be, & while I do understand where they’re coming from, I felt that the actual ending of the game is much more satisfying.  You defeat Orochi about half way through the game, only to learn there’s something bigger on the horizon.  Some people might find that frustrating, as up until that point there’s been no indication that there was something more, but the further you progress, the more you realize there are answers to questions you didn’t realize were there.  The closest thing I can compare it to is in the first Mass Effect game when you spend most of the game chasing after Saren, only to realize that he wasn’t the most dangerous threat.  Only Okami finishes its story in a single game.  In the end, all the characters have a proper conclusion.  And the ending nicely concludes the overarching themes of vanquishing darkness & restoring humanity’s faith in the gods, which was ultimately what lead to the problems in the first place.

All the characters are nicely quirky & memorable, & I felt the plot, for all its bouncing around, paced itself very nicely.  It felt like things unfolded at a nice pace.  And while Amaterasu is a classic silent protagonist (being a dog & all), I have to give Clover Studios credit for managing to give her a personality despite literally not being able to speak.

Overall, while a bit it may seem needlessly long to some, I felt the story was very engaging, characters were interesting, & the conclusion was satisfying.

Score: 5


90a30a48860806e141f3c2c1dba0716b1510147048_full-1Mechanics: The biggest unique selling point of Okami is the Celestial Brush.  Back when I played the game on the Wii, I found the controls a bit frustrating given that the brushstrokes need to be fairly accurate to accomplish what you want.  And while I did still experience some issues with the game registering my strokes, I am happy to report that it worked a million times better using the traditional PS4 controller than the Wii-mote.  On paper you’d think the Wii would be better, but using a regular joystick worked sufficiently well.  The process is actually simpler than it sounds, as bringing up the canvas pauses anything going on in the world to give you time to find the right angle.  It’s a lot of fun to see basic shapes create massive changes in the world or damage enemies.

Combat as a whole is pretty fun & fast-paced, & best of all sometimes avoidable.  Some encounters you can’t escape, typically when they’re introducing a new type, but in most of the overworld encounters are indicated by “demon carpets” floating around the level that you can just avoid if you’re not in the mood.  You can also attack with weapons, as your ink isn’t unlimited, & while there are only three styles of weapons, you’ll find yourself using all of them depending on the encounter.  That leads to another aspect I enjoyed, which was the boss fights.  I liked that they all played out differently, with specific strategies revolving around the brush strokes you have at the time.  Just learned how to create wind?  Here’s a flaming skeleton cow that you can only hit once you’ve put the fire out.  Just learned how to harness lightning?  Here’s a boss who will obligingly hold a metal sword in their mouth while storm clouds dot the sky.

However, I did have two main gripes about the combat.  One is that, for a lot of the bosses later in the game, fighting them is a waiting game.  You end up just dodging their attacks until they do the one thing that leaves them vulnerable.  I know this is how a lot of bosses work in these Zelda-style games, & usually this only applies for the first stage of the boss fight, but it’s still a little frustrating.  Secondly, the combat only really works when you’re facing a few enemies at a time.  Generally this isn’t a problem because most fights are one-on-one or up to three.  But the demon gates… oh the bane of my Okami existence.  The Demon Gate Trials are an option side mission where you must defeat several ways of ramped-up enemies in a succession of fights.  It gets very chaotic very quickly, especially in the later levels when most enemies have only specific weaknesses.  Or, y’know, they pit you against multiple ramped-up versions of a boss.  Granted, these fights are entirely optional, but you have to complete them to earn stray beads to get an item for New Game+ that’s essentially turning on God Mode.  I guess I would say it’s less a problem with the combat itself, & more just hating the trials.  They get ridiculously hard, & you can’t leave the arena to get more supplies or you’ll have to start from the beginning again.

Other than that, I enjoyed most of what the game had to offer.  I liked how you level up your Godhood by earning Praise by helping out people & creating miracles.  The side missions are varied enough, though I disliked the races & digging champ minigames, though with some strategy (& eliminating the Wii-mote) they were tolerable, optional, & not numerous enough to be more than a momentary annoyance.

Overall, while later enemies can be a bit cheap & tedious, & Demon Gates are suitably demonic, I found Okami’s gameplay to be a refreshing take on an old formula.

Score: 4


Okami_HD_ScreenshotAesthetics: I really, really love the style of this game.  The art direction in phenomenal.  The art style is a unique mix of woodcut, watercolor & cell-shading.  It looks like a moving ink painting, which fits the themes of the game perfectly.  Personally, I’d rather use a game like Okami to showcase what HD should be rather than something more realistic.  It’s an absolute treat to watch the world turn vibrant with each bit of progress you make, truly making you feel like your restoring beauty into the world.

The music is also very nice, fitting the Japanese themes.  I liked that all of the main characters you interact with have their own themes, which all fit their personalities perfectly.  And while I can’t speak to any voiceacting, as everyone speaks in meaningless noises, the animations do a good job of showcasing what the character is tying to emote.

Score: 5


Replay Value: Moderate.  It’s entirely possible to see everything there is to see in Okami in a single run, but it’s definitely the sort of game that can be enjoyed multiple times.  Once you beat the game the first time, you unlock New Game+ which brings over all your experience & most of your items.  There’s also the challenge of finding all the stray beads to earn the String of Beads, which when equipped grants invulnerability, unlimited ink & 10x damage, meaning I’m going to have a lot of fun stomping enemies the next time around.

Score: 4


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 4

Final Word: Although there are a few annoyances later in the game that prevent it from being perfect, Okami is a tragically underrated game that shines as an example of being uniquely beautiful & compelling.  Hopefully with all the HD re-releases, adventure game fans will give this one a shot, though preferrably without motion controls.

– GamerDame

Title: Okami HD
Console: PS2, PS3, PS4, Wii, Switch, PC, XBox One
Rating: T
Developer: Clover Studios
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: April 20, 2006

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Filed under 4, Action, Adventure, PC, PS2, PS3, PS4, Reviews, Switch, Wii, XBox One