Category Archives: XBox 360

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: Syberia II

Unlike the previous adventure game series I just concluded, I actually remember exactly what happened when I played the first Syberia years ago.  In comparison to the Still Life series, Syberia’s story is pretty self-contained, which can certainly be to a game’s favor.  Even if I don’t remember every single character’s name, I remember what happened &, most importantly, where the game left off.

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Syberia II picks up almost immediately after the events of Syberia.  In the first game, we played as Kate Walker, an attorney from New York, who travels to Europe to finalize the takeover of a toy factory, only to learn that the owner has just died, & that a brother no one knew she had is now heir, meaning Kate must track him down to go through with the deal.  Thus begins Kate’s strange journey through automatons and half of Europe as she follows Hans’ trail.  At the end of the first game, Kate meets Hans, now an old man, & they begin the final leg of their journey to find Syberia, a mystical land far to the north where mammoths still live.  Thus their journey concludes by the end of the game.

As with Microids other games, Syberia 2 is a point-&-click adventure game with a few puzzles thrown in for good measure.  As one might expect, traveling through the frozen wastes of Russia is no easy task, & numerous obstacles arise that only Kate seems inclined to solve, either by collecting the right item to unlock progress or reading clues in the area to solve some mild puzzles.


20170909121948_1Narrative: Although the first Syberia already had a pretty tightly focused story, Syberia 2’s narrative is even more self-contained, which I appreciated.  The story, settings, & events that unfold are more cohesive & coherent.  I remember in the last game a strange interlude with a creepy guy who made us bring him a retired singer because he was obsessed with her, resulting in Kate blowing up the factory for them to escape, only to return to her train to find Hans.  Talk about a series of unfortunate events.  But Syberia 2’s plot is more focused, & the problems that arise during it make sense, & seem very natural.  For example, the game starts with Kate’s train having to stop for coal, & she ends up tricking some local thugs for gas to power the coal shoot generator.  Given that these thugs seemed a little too interested in her train, it doesn’t come as a surprise later when they steal it & Kate has to chase after them.  Similarly, it’s not a surprise when Hans gets sick (because he’s an old man in the arctic), so it makes sense that Kate has to seek medical aid from the local monastery.  This also means that the few characters we interact with have a real presence in the game.

The only odd thing is a little subplot involving Kate’s boss in New York sending a private detective to track her down, hoping to bring her home, because they clearly think she’s crazy.  It’s implied this happens because Kate’s mom is hounding her boss, which any proper mother probably would do.  My problem with this subplot, however, is that it goes nowhere.  We never see the detective.  He has no point in the story other than relaying what we already know to the family.  He even gives up the chase half-way through, thus having absolutely no impact on the story.  I feel like the developers were trying to build tension, like we’re supposed to be concerned Kate’s being pursued.  The cutscenes certainly look foreboding, with everyone standing shadowed & faceless.  But we know she’s not in any danger because they just want her to come home, being naturally concerned about the physical & mental well-being of a New Yorker running off with a crazy old man in search of a place that might not exist into the arctic.  So the entire thread feels pointless.  I feel like they either should’ve had the detective actually be an obstacle, or not tell us who he works for & just leave us paranoid about a guy following us around.

But, overall, Syberia 2 has a tight story that never loses sight of its goal & the story it wants to tell.  I know a third game came out earlier this year, but personally, I feel this entry did a good job of wrapping up the story.

Score: 4


20170907182755_1Mechanics: I’m running out of ways to describe point-&-click controls.  They work.  I appreciated the run mechanic, as there is quite a bit of backtracking.  I liked that items leave your inventory when they’re no longer useful.  And I appreciated that the icon would indicate when a selected item wouldn’t work for a particular puzzle.  It really saved a lot of time from randomly trying everything.  I would just see the interact icon crossed out & move on.  I also never felt there was a time when I didn’t know what I was doing.  Even if I didn’t have the items I needed to progress, I usually knew what my goal was.  And there were no great leaps in logic, meaning I generally knew what an item would be used for, & everything made sense.

That being said, I did have one, at times, significant problem.  While generally what you can interact with is obvious due to subtle visual cues, there were a few times when I had to pixel hunt because nothing stood out.  And most frustratingly, at one point I had to look up a video because I knew what I was looking for but couldn’t find it.  Turned out the item in question had a very small hitbox, & looked completely like the rest of the background.  That did annoy me, but that only happened maybe twice in the entire game.

Overall, besides a few irritating pixel hunts, I thought Syberia is the perfect example of point-&-click puzzle solving done right.

Score: 4


20170909122314_1Aesthetics: Syberia 2 originally came out in 2004, so the character models are a bit dated & jankey, but not distractingly so.  The cutscenes fare bit better, although I couldn’t help laughing at times at their stretchy faces.  There were a few uncanny valley moments, especially with more bombastic expressions.  The backgrounds have an appealingly soft watercolor look to them, making me think of the paintings on postcards.

The voiceacting was decent, although there were a few suspect accents, & the actually acting felt reasonably natural.  The music all had the same soft quality as the backgrounds, subtly adding to the slower pace of the story.

Score: 3


Replay Value: Low.  I can’t see a point in playing the game more than once, as there’s nothing new to be seen on a second playthrough.  And you can watch the cutscenes after you’ve unlocked them if you really want to experience the story again.

Score: 3


Breakdown

Untitled

Overall Score: 3

Final Word: With its focused story, reasonable logic & streamlined mechanics, I think all but the most jaded gamers will find some enjoyment in this slower-paced adventure game.  It’s not long, & will leave players satisfied in the end.

– GamerDame

[youtube+https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA64GHJNyuc]

Title: Syberia 2
Console: PC, PS2, XBox, Android, iOS, PS3, 360, Switch
Rating: T
Developer: Microids
Publisher: Microids
Release Date: March 30, 2004

 

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Filed under 3, Adventure, Mobile, PC, PS2, PS3, Reviews, Switch, xbox, XBox 360