Tag Archives: PlayStation
The shadows of the past linger. They appear as silhouettes on crumbling walls each time lightning bolts slash across the sky. They haunt you as you journey across annihilated cityscapes once teeming with life and love. Metro: Last Light is an exceptionally well-crafted first-person adventure that fills your mind with the regrets of time gone by, and understands the fear and uncertainty that arise from silence and stillness. The game’s predecessor, Metro 2033, established this series’ penchant for mystery and supernatural drama, but Last Light is in a class all its own. It’s not just another frightening trek through the dark corridors of the metro, but a rhythmic symphony of surging dread and emerging hope.
Last Light returns you to a Moscow devastated by nuclear war. Humanity, hoping to avoid the dangerous radiation and hideous mutants plaguing the surface, has banded together in the underground metro system. Depending on how you played, Metro 2033 might have allowed you to make an important choice at the game’s conclusion.Last Light assumes you chose to destroy the creatures known as The Dark Ones, scorching their home with missiles and scouring them from the face of the Earth. But a creature remains, and as returning protagonist Artyom, you must find this remnant of a race thought extinct, this remnant of a decimated species, though it’s unclear whether the right decision is to destroy it or to try to communicate with it. Your Ranger allies certainly desire its annihilation, but Artyom’s unique connection to the Dark Ones gives him pause and he is nagged by guilt about the devastation he has wrought.
Artyom’s dilemma brings a sense of personal struggle to a game fraught with brooding emotion. Metro: Last Light punctuates your adventure with moments of dread and shock, as well as with occult visions that make the past come alive before your very eyes. Supernatural themes intertwine with conflicts between underground factions, the horrors of each element providing two equally macabre sides to a single coin. In the confines of the metro, betrayal is common and trust is a commodity. Here, your greatest enemies are your fellow humans, who are unafraid to cheat and steal if it means gaining favor from the right people. On the brutal surface, the beasts are your primary concern; at any moment, a wailing winged demon might snatch you with its talons, soar into the air, and drop you into the murky water, far from where your horrific flight began.
Yet fear isn’t the only emotion Last Light stirs. The final moving hours raise the emotional stakes and test your allegiances by forcing you to confront the consequences of your own choices. Story sequences are absorbing, and typically occur within the game engine and in first-person view, keeping you strongly connected to the events unfolding before you. The most enthralling scenes, however, are those that occur within the context of gameplay. Many interactive sequences–a hypnagogic walk down a blood-red hallway, a survey of an airplane’s nightmarish wreckage–relate vital events without removing you from the moment, which makes them hellishly palpable.
There is mirth amid the madness, however. Characters react to each other in authentic ways, responding to one Ranger’s pedantic soliloquies with jokes and insults, likely mirroring your own thoughts on the matter. The inhabitants of the underground are colorful and individual. They move about with purpose, speaking at length to each other about war and family, about love and lust. Men gone stir crazy seek the company of prostitutes, and so might you, should you desire a lengthy lap dance. Nudity occurs multiple times, and though it’s certainly explicit, it doesn’t seem superfluous or exploitative. Rather, Last Light’s erotic themes emerge naturally from the despair, and sex in the underground has an air of desperation and urgency. If you prefer tamer pleasures, you may take in a lengthy and detailed variety show, where can-can dancers and an accordion act bring some joy to the melancholy populace. This is life in the metro. And it’s an amazing display of narrative craftsmanship.
Exquisite craftsmanship is also on display as you seek the remaining known Dark One on the irradiated surface, and as you avoid the wandering eye of your enemies in the depths beneath. Last Light is not a power shooter. You are not out to murder hundreds of nameless grunts without breaking a sweat, and in fact, the early hours are remarkably light on action. Instead, tension is carefully built in the conversations you have with your comrades, and in the cautious steps you take into the irradiated ruins above the tunnels. You feel the danger. Gnarled trees are twisted into vaguely humanoid shapes, and when you seek refuge from the rain, you hear the drops hammering on the flimsy tin roof above, mimicking the sounds of mutants’ skittering claws. Your calling brings you here, but you know it’s not a place anyone should be.
A number of creatures menace your journey across the surface. Amphibious freaks move from water to land, threatening you two or three at a time. As you manuever away from their clammy assaults, you must be ever mindful of the squalid pools that surround you, lest you fall in and get dragged to your death by a mutant lurking beneath. Fierce predators pounce towards you, keeping you on the move while you avoid the harsh siren calls of the creatures that cling to nearby walls. You use a number of weapons to fend them off, all of which look and sound appropriately powerful, but none of which turn your adventure into a cakewalk.
Of these great firearms, it’s easiest to become enamored with the shotgun. It fires with a loud report and allows you to discharge multiple shells at once, making it a great standby if you’re willing to get close to these beasts. But the long reload time can be a killer if you miss a shot, given how creatures can descend upon you and take multiple swipes in a row. Ammo isn’t plentiful in the wastes, though you can get your fill from vendors in the metro’s safe havens. Yet the military-grade ammo used as currency is scarce, and you’re often faced with a choice to grab more ammo, purchase more grenades, or upgrade that meaty revolver you favor. It’s best to scavenge for supplies and ammo in every nook and cranny. Otherwise, you can’t take for granted that you’ll have everything you need to thrive, particularly on the harder difficulty levels, which are satisfyingly harsh.
It’s breakfast. FBI agent Francis York Morgan sits at one end of an impossibly long table. The octogenarian hotel proprietor Polly Oxford sits at the other. “It might help to hear you better if I could sit closer,” calls out Francis. Polly thinks it’s a come-on. “I think I’m a little old for you,” she says, invoking the memory of her dearly departed husband as she winces with embarrassment.
In the small Pacific Northwestern town of Greenvale, this event isn’t that peculiar. After all, Greenvale is home to a lady who totes a cooking pot around with her all day, a physician who delights in the various ways he can eat potato chips, and a wheelchair-bound eccentric who speaks in rhyming couplets by way of his manservant’s translation. Francis York Morgan doesn’t make his home here–he has come to solve the murder of a local beauty–but he’s just as zany as the locals. As he drives down the highway, he engages his unseen companion, Zach, in light conversation, discussing director Richard Donner’s filmography and describing the relationship between cartoon cat-and-mouse team Tom and Jerry as though they are a gay couple locked in a slave/master relationship. “He does terrible things to Tom. Nasty, even sadistic things. But that’s fine, as long as that’s what Tom wants.”
In 2010, Xbox 360 owners had their initial chance to absorb every detail of this surreal, Twin Peaks-inspired adventure. Now that Deadly Premonition is on the PlayStation 3, new players get to delight in this so-called director’s cut, though there’s nothing dramatically improved in this upscaled port. You get a higher resolution and some additional cutscenes that are part of a new framing device, but the game’s clear flaws remain intact. Deadly Premonition is still ugly to look at by most standards, yet this version cannot maintain a comfortable frame rate, even when displaying a simple jar of pickles on the screen. Its sound effects are so primitive, it sounds like you’re kicking a tin can when you drive into a hedge. The main map’s insanely close zoom level and the inability to set your own waypoints make getting around a frustrating chore. If you look at Deadly Premonition simply as a piece of software, it doesn’t have much going for it.
But Deadly Premonition isn’t just software: it’s an eccentric narrative and a display of remarkably authentic artificial behavior. As you explore Greenvale and its rural surroundings, the citizens go about their lives, and their behavior isn’t nearly as artificial as you might see in other games. When it’s time for lunch, a suspect might leave her home and drive to the local inn, where she sits with Polly during the meal; you might even join them if you’re so inclined. The sheriff gets in his car, does his rounds, and drives back to the police station. These people have lives, homes, and jobs. And because they move through the world with their own purposes, their own passions, and their own behaviors, you don’t feel like this town was created just for you. You truly are an interloper, disrupting their lives on your search for the truth.
That truth is far from mundane. It’s clear from the first 30 minutes that something’s amiss, and not just because your first glimpse of Agent Morgan has him standing in the center of a red-hued forest, chatting to two dead-eyed twins seated in opulent chairs. No, it’s because there are ghostly beings moaning and groaning in the halls of museums and on woodland paths. You can bash on them or shoot them, and at least the Director’s Cut improves upon the original’s mechanics in two important ways. First, you move around as you do in most third-person action games, rather than like a bottom-heavy tank. Second, enemies are no longer bullet sponges and go down fairly quickly. In fact, it’s worth noting that there are no longer any difficulty level options, leaving the lone difficulty level as, essentially, “easy.”
But that’s just fine. There’s nothing particularly compelling about the shooting, which takes a cue from Resident Evil 4, forcing you to stand in place and aim before you can defend yourself. Luckily, the confrontations with freaky wall-crawling, demonic girls (the kind you might see in a number of Japanese horror films) are better for the difficulty adjustment. What makes interacting with Deadly Premonition such a pleasure is that it’s constantly changing up the gameplay, and changing up the tone in the process.
Some sequences, such as dual-picture chases that have you escaping a killer’s clutches, are terrifying–and a good example of how quick-time events can be used in effective ways. (The QTEs are awkwardly implemented, but they’ll have you on the edge of your seat.) Other sections have you running around a junkyard, searching for parts that can be used to upgrade your clunky vehicles to something slightly less clunky. You answer anatomy questions for an overly saccharine nurse, and send your suits out for cleaning lest a swarm of flies pester you.
The final hours deliver one narrative and gameplay shock after another, which is quite an achievement, considering how well the game establishes from the beginning that you should expect only the unexpected. What comes is, well, unexpected-er. The mood often shifts dramatically from scary to campy, but the brilliant soundtrack does an amazing job of unifying the atmosphere. The audio design has plenty of problems, often allowing the soundtrack to almost overwhelm spoken dialogue. But you won’t mind the trouble when you’re listening to the jaunty whistling theme that has a tendency to get stuck in your head, or the folksy guitar tune that emphasizes Greenvale’s down-home attitude.
Deadly Premonition: The Director’s Cut isn’t a dramatic overhaul, and while improvements like better controls are welcome, the frame rate stutters were not invited guests. Regardless, Deadly Premonition is utterly engrossing. It’s a mess by any objective standard: the visuals and audio effects are decrepit, combat mechanics are functional at best, and simple activities like driving and navigating are awkward and obtuse. But Deadly Premonition is absolutely divine all the same, making up its own rules for what it means to be a good game as it goes along, and leaving you happily stupefied by the time you’ve reached its eye-opening finale.
Many games require decision making, but Soul Sacrifice emphasizes choice more than most. Everything, from the abilities you possess to the monsters you battle, is subject to choice: to save or to sacrifice? This notion is ingrained in both story and character progression, presenting you with limitations and dilemmas that make this grim monster-hunting game very appealing. Decision making alone isn’t the only reason to give Soul Sacrifice a try. It’s rich with evocative characters, has creatively fiendish enemy designs, and is coated with an effective layer of gloom and doom. Pleasingly, the captivating presentation and narration overshadow the game’s repetitive tendencies, and the weight of every decision makes the otherwise straightforward action a truly thought-provoking affair.
Before your journey begins, you’re locked away in a cage made from flesh and bone, awaiting sacrifice at the hand of the ultimate sorcerer, Magusar. A mysterious book, the chatty Librom, emerges from the remains of the sorcerer’s last victim. Part necronomicon and part snarky companion, Librom is your portal to the past of Magusar’s former partner, and through it, you experience Magusar’s rise to power. As the game’s quest hub, customization menu, and glossary, it’s an inventive approach that suits a portable game quite well. The lack of an overworld is odd at first, but since you’re a prisoner, it makes sense in context.
While reliving the life of a sorcerer once sworn to hunt possessed humans and animals, your primary charge is simple: defeat and sacrifice your enemies in order to rid the land of foul beasts. You trudge through rotten wastelands to frozen caves, casting spells, pummeling enemies, and dodging incoming attacks while managing your limited pool of resources. Every mission has clear-cut conditions; you must defeat a set number of common enemies, locate hidden items, or topple horrific archfiend juggernauts. In order to surmount the often difficult campaign missions, you’re often forced to beef up your character by undertaking optional Avalon Pact missions. This is unfortunate, since most Avalon Pact missions lack challenge or variety, especially in the first half of the game. It’s a blessing, then, that there are so many interesting side stories peppered throughout to distract you from the repetition at hand.
You head into every mission with a set of six abilities, or offerings, ranging from melee weapons to summon spells. You start with a small selection, but every mission rewards victory with new offerings based on your performance. An offering can turn your arm to stone, heal your party, trap your enemy, and even stop time. Without a stock of offerings, all you can do is run. Offerings can be used only a certain number of times during the course of a single quest, though sacrificing enemies and tapping into one-time-use environmental pools lets you replenish an individual offering’s cast count. If, however, you get sloppy and sacrifice all of a particular offering during the course of a mission, you must wait until the end before replenishing your ability to use it.
Coordinating the relationship between your various offerings is critical during the challenging archfiend battles, and losing access to just one is often enough to tip the scales in your enemies’ favor. You could carry more than one of a particular offering into battle, but it’s better to diversify your capabilities. Thankfully when you possess multiples of a single offering, you can sacrifice the extras to boost the cast count of another. Like most actions in Soul Sacrifice, this action carries ramifications. The decision to boost an offering’s cast count diminishes your resources for fusion, a process that lets you create completely new and advanced offerings. Fusing offerings isn’t critical to success, but it gives you a chance to delve a little deeper into the elemental variations for most of your existing inventory.
Once an enemy is defeated, it’s up to you to choose whether to save or sacrifice its soul, permanently boosting either your stamina or strength stat, respectively. Souls also act as replenishments during battle: sacrifices refill some of your offerings, and saved souls restore a bit of health. The decision usually comes down to your needs at the time, but the smart player will take the time to coordinate their decisions. Since your choices effect skill levels, you may find that too many snap decisions shape your character’s traits in ways you never intended. However, outside of a few pivotal instances, your decision bears little weight on the story at large.
While you don’t have equipment in the traditional sense, you can equip sigils, which are symbols carved into your right arm. When you defeat enemies and absorb their soul shards, new sigils are unlocked. Each sigil has two conditions attached, but the second becomes active only when you’ve struck the proper balance between sacrificing and saving your enemies, reflected by the affinity of your arm, and determined by your tendency to save or sacrifice.
Like gathering new offerings for fusion, you may find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to grind through old missions to acquire the right ingredients to produce a new sigil. That’s not so bad, but limiting certain abilities to your arm’s affinity seems unfair given how it’s managed. You have to spend resources on lowering your life or magic levels, and then replay missions in order level up the opposite levels. Sacrificing items and resources is one thing, but asking the player to sacrifice hours of hard work takes the notion of sacrifice a bit too far for the game’s own good, especially when you consider the repetitive nature of most missions.
Great 1980s movie montages featured plucky underdogs, perhaps played by Sylvester Stallone, or maybe Ralph Macchio, demonstrating their determination to triumph over the forces of communism, bullying, or stodgy adults who don’t believe in the power of young love. They were accompanied by properly cheesy pop hits, possibly performed by Joe Esposito, or maybe Deniece Williams, creating a wonderful audiovisual time capsule that could have only originated in that fabulous decade. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon understands the power of the ’80s. When its inevitable montage comes, you probably won’t know the music, but you’ll know the type. It’s the kind that would have been sung by Michael Sembello, or Kenny Loggins, or Foreigner. If you’re a child of the decade, you’ll be glad that Blood Dragon knows you so well.
Don’t worry, though: if the 1980s are before your time, or if you don’t retain any nostalgia for the decade of parachute pants and the Brat Pack, Blood Dragon stands on its own without relying on references, though it packs in plenty of them. This downloadable spin-off of 2012′s Far Cry 3 is a fantastically entertaining first-person shooter with more clever dialogue and action-packed hours than most full-priced games. At $ 15, it’s a better deal than every Cabbage Patch Kid you ever loved, every Tears for Fears record you ever spun, and every Muppet Babies episode you ever viewed. Combined.
Well, perhaps Blood Dragon isn’t quite that valuable. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be charmed from the moment it begins. Low-resolution cutscenes introduce you to Rex Colt, cybercommando. Rex is voiced by ’80s mainstay Michael Biehn, better known for appearing in films like The Terminator (as Kyle Reese) and Aliens (as Dwayne Hicks). Biehn’s forced rasp is the perfect complement to Rex’s nationalist badassery, and his sincere line delivery makes several scenes all the more hysterical. Consider this dialogue: “I swore an oath to a special lady. Lady Liberty. She taught me that winners don’t use drugs.” It’s a corny line right out of a War on Drugs-era public service announcement, but in the context of an offer to have dragon blood injected into Rex’s veins. Meanwhile, you “rent” (that is, collect) VHS tapes of movies with titles like Bourne to Dance; this particular film features a special teacher showing his student “the kind of love he’s never known before…the love of dance.”
You don’t need to know the ’80s to get Rex’s repeated oral sex gags, of which there are far too many. Nor do you need to know the past to understand that calls of “no” during a consensual sex scene would have been inappropriate in any decade. Luckily, most of the jokes aren’t so juvenile, including video game cracks that make fun of red exploding barrels, game-violence controversies, and even Ubisoft’s own games, like Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed. (Listen for bits of throwaway dialogue about girls with tribal tattoos and feather collecting.) The tutorial sets the tone straight away, telling you to press a button “to demonstrate your ability to read,” and loading screens helpfully inform you that if you need a hint, perhaps the next loading screen will have one for you. Not every joke is so obvious–you may not notice or get nods to erotic artists and prison documentaries–but the gags are there, making Blood Dragon one of the funniest games in recent memory.
Of course, an ’80s-focused game wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t look the part, and Blood Dragon certainly makes proper homage to its inspiration. Cutscenes look as if they could have been ripped right out of the original Metal Gear, or Shadow of the Beast, complete with the muddy reds, purples, and blues that characterized them. The same color scheme, in turn, infuses the first-person gameplay, as if you’re traversing the game’s medium-size island while wearing dark magenta sunglasses. Small audiovisual touches, such as the way Rex sometimes takes a blowtorch to his cybernetic arm when healing, and buzzing sounds to indicate Rex’s part-mechanical nature, enthusiastically sell the roboapocalyptic setting. And by the final hour, which lends a sly twist to common action-game power trips, you’ll appreciate how Blood Dragon uses nostalgia and humor to say something about the state of modern shooters.
Blood Dragon isn’t just an homage to great memories, however, but a terrific game in its own right. If you played Far Cry 3, you will recognize the structure. Enemy bases are strewn about the island you explore, and by annihilating all of the enemies that patrol them, either silently or forcefully, you convert them to your cybernetic cause. Meanwhile, you move from mission to mission, infiltrating dams and rescuing endangered trash-talking scientists, using semi-futuristic variants of familiar weapons–a sniper rifle, an assault rifle, a bow, and so forth–that handle like their standard Far Cry 3 counterparts. In time, you upgrade most of these weapons; your sniper rifle’s bullets gain an explosive charge, your shotgun gets a flaming kick, and so on. You earn access to weapon upgrades by finding collectibles and performing side missions, and you earn other enhancements, such as the ability to perform silent takedowns on heavies wielding flamethrowers, by leveling up. There is no skill tree or anything like that: when you cross the necessary level threshold, you gain new skills automatically.
Human beings suffer from loneliness far too frequently. But whereas such a feeling is all too common for the average person, it’s a profound development when it surfaces in Thomas Was Alone. Artificial intelligence isn’t supposed to exhibit human emotions, so when Thomas is stricken with these desperate pangs, he proves there’s much more to him than lifeless 1s and 0s.This charming adventure heads to the PlayStation Network after debuting on the PC last year, and the puzzling journey of colorful quadrilaterals remains just as fresh and poignant as before.
Everything starts with Thomas. A rogue artificial intelligence in a program gone awry, Thomas unexpectedly gains consciousness in a foreign land. Slowly, he becomes cognizant of his abilities. He can slide across the ground, fall dizzying heights without taking a scratch, and hop over moderate obstacles. It’s not much, but the stages he finds himself in gradually grow more complex, forcing him to jump with more precision or worm his way up foreboding passageways. Once he orients himself with his surroundings, he happens upon a friend, and Thomas is no longer alone.
Every new character you meet in the adventure is either a square or a rectangle, each sporting different abilities you have to harness. Chris is not much use early on. The other characters have to form makeshift bridges, ladders, and barges to get him safely to the exit, but he eventually makes his worth known. That small passage, a mere sliver in a rock face, is too narrow for anyone to fit in but Chris. You might have cursed him earlier for slowing the group down, but you find that he’s indispensable at times. Even the less-abled characters have a purpose, and you want to help them not only to usher them to the next stage, but because you grow attached to them.
Strong writing creates strong bonds. Narration plays out during the action, so you listen to a voice-over explaining the mind-set of one or more of the characters as you jump up platforms and avoid spikes. At times you laugh, such as when the deluded Claire believes her ability to float makes her a superhero, but mostly you get absorbed in their stories. The shapes who yearn for companionship make you appreciate their humanity while the ones who want to be alone have a quiet strength. At certain points, a character is lost in a portal and the desperate cries from his or her companions resonate. There’s a strong narrative foundation that meshes wonderfully with the action, creating a gripping adventure that continually draws you deeper into the tale.
Characters join and leave your party without so much as a goodbye. But you can’t lament their loss for long; you must carry on. Switching between characters is necessary to complete stages because even the surest jumper cannot complete this journey alone. You may have to stack blocks to give a boost to a less athletic character, or pile the whole group on the back of the lone swimmer in your group. Different characters and obstacles do a great job of giving variety to the challenges that stand before you. Eventually, gravity becomes a suggestion rather than a law, spikes become as dangerous as the acidic water, and jet streams prove that blocks are not the slightest bit aerodynamic. If squares had toes, the characters would surely be kept on them.
The inventiveness is always welcomed, but ideas aren’t fully realized before a new one is introduced. Because of that quick transition and the smooth difficulty curve that comes with every new obstacle, there is rarely any genuine challenge to force you to pause and reflect. Thomas Was Alone is a puzzle platformer where you’re rarely stumped. The character traits are so straightforward, and the obstacles present danger in only one way, so you almost always know exactly what you need to do to progress, and it’s just a matter of rounding up the cubes and setting off. This easiness doesn’t detract from the experience while you’re playing, because you care about getting your friends to safety, but their victorious shouts don’t resonate quite as strongly given that it took such little effort to complete these tasks.
The singular focus of Thomas Was Alone is admirable. Every element ties wonderfully together, creating a cohesive experience that never stumbles. The incisive narration successfully covers a wide range of emotions. From sarcasm to desperation and anger to hopefulness, these diminutive blocks embody a strikingly complex array of personalities. A dynamic musical score further complements this refreshing adventure. The songs effortlessly drift from somber to uplifting, matching the tone set by the steadfast narrator. There is so much life breathed into this simple-looking adventure that you forget that you’ve befriended a group of rectangles rather than fully realized humans.
Thomas Was Alone is a modest adventure that makes great use of its sparse elements to draw you in. In the transition to the Vita, touchscreen functionality has been added that makes swapping between characters much easier. Furthermore, there’s downloadable content for those who don’t want this journey to end. For $ 2 more, you get 20 new levels, along with new narration and music that’s just as exquisite as what accompanied the main adventure. Dexterity rather than ingenuity is needed to progress, which gives these new levels a more action-heavy slant than Thomas’ cerebral story. Short and sweet without any filler, Thomas Was Alone is a worthwhile experience that rises above its basic mechanics to prove heartfelt and engaging in unexpected ways.