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Review – Saints Row the Third (PC, Xbox360, PS3)

2011 – Volition – 1 Player (Campaign) Multiplayer (Online)
PC, PS3, Xbox360

The Good

  • Loads of fun Gameplay
  • Reminiscent of classic GTA
  • Amazing custom character creation with voices and interactions not just “faceless”

The Bad

  • The missions are kind of just a repetition of a handful of mini games
  • Kooky level may be too much for some people’s taste.

In Depth

Saints Row really has a comeback story behind it. The first game is apparently rather terrible. the second game is better but not great. It’s already saddled with being a “GTA knockoff” by default no matter what it does. Somewhere Volition has managed to get something really right because Saints Row the Third seems to be quite a hit among gamers. So much of a hit that THQ had decided to focus more on games like Saints Row over things like it’s failing Wii Tablet thing (U-Draw).

This thing is pretty long and image heavy, so you’ll have to click through to get the whole thing.

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Review – Fez (PC, PS3, XBox 360, PS4, Vita)

2012 – Polytron Corporation – 1 Player
* Review is based on the PC Release

The Good

  • Neat and well executed 3D rotation Gimmick
  • Interesting and reasonably complex puzzles

The Bad

  • Some of the puzzles are a little too complex and not obvious that they are even there.
  • Drives to be a community experience but the community has kind of dried up.
  • Navigating around the world is tricky and can get confusing.

Review

Fez Fez is a platform game centered around a 3D rotation gimmick. The core game play is simple platform mechanics. Walk around, jump and climb, with moving platforms and such thrown in. There aren’t a lot of enemies to contend with which doesn’t really matter because dying has no consequence anyway. The trick is, that Gomez, your character has been bestowed with the Magic Fez (or whatever) and can rotate the world 90 degrees left and right. This changes the layering of some objects allowing previously inaccessible paths to be accessible. The object is to collect these cube things. There isn’t much of an actual story.

It’s something that kind of has to be seen to really be understood but the general idea is, that say, there is a platform floating off to the right that you can’t jump to. Rotating the world may bring that platform in front of your current platform. You can then jump to it as if it’s in the same 2D plane. You can then rotate the world back and you will have no cross the gap that was previously not crossable.

Fez Keeping track of the 3D environment can be tricky if the player is poor at spacial logic. The other puzzles all tend to revolve around learning (read Googling a key) for the multiple in game alphabets. These are little symbols that show up from time to time. Sometimes they look like Tetris pieces instructing the player to enter a certain button sequence, sometimes they are little riddles that you must answer. They are basically cryptogram puzzles. I probably would have figured it out eventually but I didn’t even know these factors were a “thing” until i went searching for answers online, which is kind of a problem of game design. It’s not a bad idea, it’s just not presented in a way that is overly intuitive to the player.

Fez This is also a problem with the in game map. I went through almost the entire first half of the game before even knowing there was a map. a map that not only makes navigating the 3Dish world much easier but tells me when I have cleared out an area. You might think “how can you blame your own stupidity on the game?” Because it’s, once again, poor design. I played most of this game using a controller with at least a dozen buttons. Not one of the buttons was mapped to the map. Both the right shoulder buttons were mapped the same and both the left shoulder buttons were mapped the same, yet I had to press escape on the keyboard to open the map. In a game with such redundancy in it’s controls I would expect something as almost necessary as a map to at least be on the Start or Select button, it was not. This is likely not an issue on console versions of the game which don’t have a keyboard.

FezThe game itself also has a few bugs, at least one pretty substantial one that I uncovered (though I am sure I am not the first). One of the puzzles involves cubes which only shot up on certain time intervals, the longest of which is every 48 hours. Firstly, any puzzle which requires player intervention at such a specific time period is pretty shoddy to begin with. This can be “circumvented” by futzing with the time settings of your PC (or console). Doing this seemed to screw up my save file though. I ended up resetting my play time. Not a huge deal. I did however seem to reset several cubes that I had collected, sort of. The map showed them uncollected and I could rediscover them, but at some point I had collected “everything” and could still get more cubes. It didn’t increment my cube counter though. and I could complete the game as if I had everything.

Fez I believe in my searching for clue to complete the puzzles I read that you can collect all of the cubes in one play through but finishing the game once unlocks a FPS view mode which is required to see several hidden codes. It also unlocks a flight mode which basically turns the game into “easy mode”.

Completing the game a second time unlocks a Red and Blue 3D view (which can be disabled). I am not real sure how effective this mode is as I don’t have any 3D glasses floating around to test it with.

Anyway, it’s an interesting game. If you like the idea of combining cryptographic text puzzles with a platformer in a slightly confusing 3D environment then by all means give this game a go. Frankly, I probably enjoyed this game less than i should have. I don’t have the time or patience for this sort of puzzler so I ruined half the fun by just looking up the answers. I did find the 3D rotation gimmick enjoyable though.

Review – From Dust (PC, PS3, Xbox360)

2011 – Ubisoft – One Player

The Good

  • Interesting Gimmick where you manipulate the world using literal God Power
  • Eventually there is a sandbox mode, which is neat.

The Bad

  • The gimmick is way more limited than it is made out to be and the world tends to “right” itself
  • The above makes a lot of the levels frustrating since you try to do X but it just sort of fails…
  • By the time you unlock the Sandbox, you’ll hate the game play.

In Depth

Ok, I tried… I really tried. If possible, I try to complete a game before I do a review of it. This means being late to the game most of the time but it also means I get to experience all that the game has to offer, which is the way it should be. There are exceptions for various reasons, some games don’t have a real ending, some are repetitious enough that it’s clear nothing more is going to be gained by continuing onward.

Others become so frustrating and irritating I just can’t being myself to finish it no matter how hard I want to. From Dust is one of the latter set there. (more…)

Review – Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)

2013 – Quantic Dream – 1 Player (ish)

The Good

  • Interesting and ambition idea and gameplay.
  • Impressive graphics.
  • Lots of choices that shape the story a bit.

The Bad

  • Convoluted story that doesn’t leave a ton of questions but it’s super great.
  • Many Sequences are completely pointless and superfluous to the plot.
  • The game’s gimmick is neat but leaves a lot to be desired with it’s limitations.

tl;dr Sterilized Version

Beyond: Two Souls is an interesting narrative game from Quantic Dream and David Cage that is similar to their previous titles such as Heavy Rain and Farenheit. It’s much less a traditional game than it is an interactive movie, it reminds me a bit of the classic Dreamcast title Shenmue. The player controls Jodie and the entity attached to her, Aiden, across a variety of missions throughout Jodie’s life. Most of the game play involves traversing the scenes with the control sticks and interacting with the world either through a “Press X to proceed” and “old Square to complete an action” style of interface. The player can also switch to the spirit Aiden and push objects or control enemies (at times).

It’s honestly not worth a full game $60 purchase but it’s too bad at a $20-$25 level assuming you know what you’re getting into with it. It’s an interesting experience if you don’t mind the lack of “video gamey” elements.

Spoiler Filled Detailed Version

Willem Dafoe This game relies on two primary gimmicks. One, is the Aiden character, and the other is the fancy motion capture graphics, specifically, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, the game’s two main characters and Protagonist and Antagonist respectively. Dafoe is a pretty sympathetic antagonist, and isn’t particularly “evil” for most of the game but he is still the extremely sinister looking and sounding Willem Defoe, so you pretty much spend the entire time wondering “When is he going to turn evil?” Both of these elements have a lot of impact on the gameplay and plot.

I’ll start on the graphics. Quantic Dream went to a lot of work to capture the likeness of it’s two starring actors and present them in an incredible lifelike manner for this game. They did a great job of coming extremely close to the “uncanny valley” without landing right in it. There was even one scene where I was sure I was watching a video of Ellen Page and not a 3D render. Everything still looks like a game, it just looks really good while doing it. There seems to be a few tricks at work here though. Firstly, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are both well known actors. This helps a lot in tricking the brain into filling in the normal “gaps” that create the Uncanny valley. I’d actually be kind of interested to see what someone who doesn’t know who these two are thought of things.

youngjodie Secondly, there seems to be some changes in the quality and density of the rendering (for lack of a better term). when there is a cut scene with just Jodie on screen, everything looks hyper detailed and realistic. When you’re just wandering around looking at Jodie’s back? It may as well be any other 3rd person title. You can break free of Jodie and fly around as Aiden but the view when controlling Aiden is hazed in blue further breaking the need for hyper detailed models. It’s not a bad way of handing things and I’m sure it helps cut down on processing power, but it’s there.

The lack of an uncanny valley also falls apart completely if you ignore the games’ action prompts. The story is fairly compelling when it comes to “make a choice right now” and each action has a bit of a leadout that fills in your reaction time with onscreen content and urgency. If you just ignore the action, this leadout action starts to repeat. Suddenly the super detailed characters and urgent action feels extremely gamey as everyone just sort of stares off into space looking creepy.

Beyond: Two Souls - Dinner Time Though ignoring some actions may not be advisable depending on how you want the story to proceed. Most actions have multiple outcomes for pass/fail. Others just demand you repeat them and try again. This is one aspect that almost hurts the game overall, specifically, there is literally no way to “die” or fail. The story always moves on.

Always.

During one sequence you are being chased down by the police. Manage to elude them, and you get a bonus PS3 Trophy, but getting caught just means you have to use Aiden to escape from the cop car they throw you in. Either way you end up chasing away from them on a motorcycle.

Beyond: Two Souls - Goat.se? During the more action filled sequences, failing to elude or subdue the guards generally results in a Quick Time Combat (QTC) sequence where you fight off the guard. Failing to succeed in the QTC forces you into Aiden Mode where you strangle the guard.

Basically, you can’t ever actually get caught or killed by these guards.

Which brings us to the most annoying hindrance of this title. Aiden’s abilities are great, except the only really work when the game wants you to use them. Just as an example, one of the few and most combat heavy levels involves Soldier Jodie sneaking through this Middle Eastern village to assassinate some nobody political stooge. There are a few different paths through the village, though not nearly as many as you might want. The logical path though would be to send Aiden out ahead and either possess guards to shoot the other guards, or to just start strangling all of the guards. Except you can only possess maybe two of the guards you encounter and you can only strangle a few of them.

Basically, ideally, you could handle the situation as you, the player, saw fit, except instead you end up limited to how the game wants you to handle it.

Beyond: Two Souls - Press Circle to Commit Suicide... As for taking out guards with Jodie, well, that effectively doesn’t happen unless it’s a QTC failure event or sneak attack. This is in no way a Metal Gear stealth mission where Jodie can shoot whomever she wants despite having an entire training episode where you learn to shoot and take down guards. Honestly I don’t remember ever shooting anyone herself in the entire game, in fact the only time I recall Jodie even holding a gun with any intention to shoot was when she tries to suicide herself in desperation (it’s in the trailer above, Press R1 to kill yourself, except you can’t because Aiden and no fail scenarios and reasons…).

Aiden has other limitations beyond what he can do to others. Occasionally you can use Aiden to push or break things, this seems to be his primary communication method. Except at one point he is somehow skilled enough to type a name into a computer, which goes beyond what we’ve been shown.

Beyond: Two SoulsAiden also has an arbitrary range limit. Sometimes Aiden can fly a long long way from Jodie, others he can’t go more then ten feet. This is somewhat explained in the plot as “Jodie gets really stressed the farther Aiden goes”. Except late in the game when Jodie is under extreme duress, Aiden flies farther than he ever has from Jodie. It’s inconsistencies like this that slowly start to grind on your enjoyment.

There are also a lot of inconsistencies in the missions and story. The game is told in chapters spaced throughout Jodie’s life. Some take place when she is a little girl in the lab learning how to control Aiden. Others take place when she is a teenager trying to find herself, later there are a few missions working for the CIA, you end up on the run from the law for a little while and eventually things wrap up and we get a little closure to Dafoe’s motivations and yes, there is eventually an answer to what Aiden is and what his connection to Jodie is.

Beyond: Two Souls These chapters do not occur in chronological order, which feels cheezy on it’s own and there isn’t really a good way to replay them in order. You can replay any chapter but in order to keep any new choices you’ve made you have to completely restart from that point onward.

The core story isn’t too bad, it has a few gaps but nothing awful. The real issue is that half the missions feel completely useless. Many of the missions essentially just fancy tutorials disguised as story. You learn how to control Aiden while controlling Young Jodie in a lab. You learn how to QTC and shoot while training with the CIA, you learn how to read these little flashback scenes during a crisis event. That sort of thing.

Then there are missions which further the plot along. Jodie’s bad childhood, her betrayal by the CIA, she is running from the cops, she has to save the world. These work all right as well and there is some overlap with the tutorial missions.

Beyond: Two Souls - Ellen Page Simulator Then there are the missions that feel completely tacked on. They are some of the more enjoyable game play missions but they ultimately just end up being noise. Jodie spends a lengthy mission running around the desert with some Native Americans; Jodie hangs out with some homeless bums and lives on the street for a while; Jodie tries to murder her classmates Carrie style. These events are not referred to again other than a passing choice in the epilogue, we learn no new abilities or skills, we learn no crucial or important plot points.

They just exist.

Which wouldn’t be a bad thing except this game is trying to be a narrative more than a game, and extraneous subplots are bad for a good narrative.

So I feel like I’ve been a little rough on Beyond: Two Souls, but i also know its a polarizing game. Overall, I did enjoy it. I wish there was more freedom of control and I wish there was a better mechanism to replay missions, but I still enjoyed it. It’s just not something that everyone will enjoy or be interested in.