Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Resident Evil 4


There are a few games in every generation that will be remembered forever. Games that not only surpass the barrier of the humdrum and shovelware, but break it into a million little pieces. These games make us remember why we pick continue to pick up our controllers, and immerse ourselves in a virtual world. They remind us why we loved games in the first place. Resident Evil 4 is one of those games. It is the game that convinced thousands to pick up a Gamecube, and that Nintendo might just have a place in the hardcore market, after all. I won't be answering any questions in this review. You know this game is great, I know this game is great, and everyone else, except Survival Horror genre purists, knows this game is great. I just am going to clarify why.


Gameplay

Resident Evil 4 is a major departure from the first 3 titles in the series, in an innumerable amount of ways. The first being the most noticeable; instead of the fixed perspective found in games 1-3, the camera now was fully adjustable, and allowed for much better control and exploration. While some complain that giving the player more control takes away from the fear in a Survival Horror game; I am going to have to disagree. A genre should not list weaknesses as strengths; while there are some exceptions, universally-accepted categories such as control should not be excluded. Why? Think about this: How many great games have you played that had bad controls? Not many, I bet. Speaking of controls, Resident Evil 4 makes full utilization of the Gamecube's dual analog sticks, and allow for quick, precise movement. This is especially necessary when it comes to weapon aiming. When preparing to fire a weapon, you are given an over-the-shoulder view of the area, along with a [very, very VERY useful] laser aim that pinpoints your bullet's path. You're going to need it, too. RE4 requires you to be very conservative with your munitions, so headshots are necessary to kill enemies as efficiently as possible. This can get quite hectic later on, when enemies are faster, more numerous, and take longer to kill. But, that's all part of the fun. They don't call it Survival Horror for nothing. Throughout the game, you can purchase a variety of weapons with which to dispatch enemies, ranging from simple pistols to shotguns, sniper rifles, Grenades, and even Rocket Launchers and Mine Throwers! But, that's not to say Leon will become a walking tank. You cannot carry an infinite amount of items; everything is managed via a grid-shaped inventory screen, in which you can re-arrange items to fit everything in. Clever packers will be able to make good use of the system to manage weapons, healing items, ammo boxes, and accessories effectively. The game isn't just action, though, but there is more of a focus on it than in other games in the series; there are also numerous logic puzzles to be solved to progress through the story. Some can be solved with a glance, but others present a greater challenge; there is one "Sliding Tile" puzzle in particular that was positively infuriating, but none of them are completely unfair, and they can all be solved with a little brainwork. There was one thing that really stood out to me about the gameplay, though. It is a very rare quality that few games have, but the ones that do are phenomenally better for it: Flow. Allow me to explain. In Resident Evil 4, you are never left in the dark [metaphorically, of course] and wondering what to do next. Your next destination is always either obvious, or marked on the map screen. I didn't have to look at a guide once throughout the game's exploration sections. And that's what flow is; an addictive, perfectly paced element in a game's progression that makes it hard to put down, and RE4 has it in spades. If you're like me, and have a laughably short attention span, and can never bring yourself to finish most games, then this game is definitely for you. Resident Evil 4 is a great example of several new gameplay risks balanced perfectly with rock-solid core gameplay. Whatever complaints I had with the game were minimal, and were drowned out by the overwhelming great aspects of the game. But, for the sake of critique, I think I should say them, anyway. I stated earlier that the camera was a huge improvement from previous games. While that is true, there were still some problems with it. For one, the 3rd-person perspective innately comes with the problem of the character obscuring a portion of the screen, which is not a problem for the most part, but can become annoying in tight passageways and when aiming. Also, the camera sometimes defaults to an awkward position in certain hallways, so I have to keep holding the C-Stick in a certain direction to have a normal camera. But, as I said, these complaints are minimal. RE4 is a triumph.

Gameplay: 10/10


Story

Leon Kennedy, previously seen in Resident Evil 2, is a US government agent sent to a remote Spanish village to rescue Ashley, the president's kidnapped daughter. When he arrives, he finds that the townspeople are violent and hostile, and want him dead. Having no choice but to kill them, he proceeds through the village to look for Ashley, and eventually gets tangled up in a huge mess involving a militant religious cult, an ancient virus called Las Plagas, and even the ominous plans of the series' main villain, Albert Wesker. There is much more to the story, but I don't want to spoil anything. What I do want to talk about are the incredible boss battles in the game. Most of the bosses are horrific experiments conducted using Las Plagas, including a giant fish, ogre-like titans, and many things that are so grotesque, I'm not even sure how to describe them. The game has many cutscenes, and many have such good graphics that you can't be sure if they are FMVs or if they use the game engine. I sure couldn't tell. But, I'll get to that later. A bit of the story is told through various notes and journals that you pick up throughout the game. They are optional, but are interesting, and provide a backstory for the events in the game, and sometimes even provide hints on how to progress through upcoming segments. the story in RE4 is definitely more well-handled than I expected, but it's not mind-blowingly spectacular. There are several Action and Survival Horror games with better stories.

Story: 7/10

resident-evil-4-20041206035724077.jpg image by onthe_linegyrl

Sound

I'm coming to realize that there is a reason that there isn't much music in Survival Horror games. It is a matter of atmosphere, making the player feel alone and scared. While that's all well and good, and I think I understand it a bit better now in the context of the genre, there's still not very many different tracks in Resident Evil 4. But, like Luigi's Mansion, the songs that are in the game are phenomenal, and suit each situation perfectly. There are songs that send chills down your spine, and several that just give an eerie presence. The songs are re-used a bit too often, and it is very common that there is no music at all. But, I have noticed that whenever this happens, there is a very good reason. For example, when you are supposed to pay more attention to the environment around you, or when a boss battle is coming up. The game's dialog is good enough, but Leon seems to have an infinite stockpile of cheesy one-liners, which make some cutscenes cringe-worthy. The voice actors, though, are well-chosen, and speak their lines believably. The sound effects are awesome, like they should be in any game where atmosphere is a primary concern. RE4 uses Dolby Pro Logic II, just like Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes, so every sound in the game can be "heard in the right direction", even if you don't have a specific speaker setup. The surround sound helps quite well when trying to pinpoint the location of a hiding enemy. Overall, RE4's audio is terrific, and stands out when coming through your TV/Speakers.

Audio: 9/10

video

Graphics

Now we come to the biggest part of the game, or at least the most-discussed part of Resident Evil 4; the graphics. And they are impeccable. I seriously had to think if I had ever seen any oXbox games that looked this good! They blow everything else I have seen on the system out of the water, with maybe an exception or two. RE4 uses every trick in the book, and then some, especially the gorgeous 480p resolution. It isn't something I can accurately describe with words; it is something you have to experience to understand. Despite the unmatched graphical prowess, I never once encountered slowdown, and the game always ran at a steady framerate. This is the Gamecube being pushed to its absolute limits. The oXbox was never pushed to such an extent, as far as I know, and even though the PS2 was, it never even came close. I don't think that the 'Cube was ever intended to do graphics like this, but RE4 proves that it is not only possible, but they made it look easy! I cannot stress enough how amazing the visuals are. If for no other reason, the game is worth a playthrough for them alone. "But, there was a PS2 port, wasn't there?", I'm sure you're saying. Well, you would be correct, but I played a bit of the PS2 version, and quickly discovered how noticably inferior it is to the Gamecube version. The loading times are longer, the graphics are much worse, the colors are more washed-out, the controls are more finicky, and it is overall an inferior game. You wan't proof? Check out the video below.

Graphics: 10/10

video

Extras/Value

Capcom always likes to add a little something extra to their Resident Evil games, and the tradition lives on in RE4. Upon completing the game, you are given two new modes: Assignment Ada, where you play a series of short missions starring Ada Wong, a character you meet up with in the second half of the story, and The Mercenaries, an arena survival mode where you must kill as many enemies as you can before your rescue chopper arrives. This mode allows you to play as 6 different people, so you're not restricted to just Leon. Also, upon completing Assignment Ada, you are given another series of Ada missions, entitled Separate Ways. There are also various costumes and new weapons to unlock, so you can be sure that there is plenty to do after you have finished the main story. The extra modes are surprisingly deep; the Ada missions can go on for longer than you would think, and it is fun to play as different characters in The Mercenaries after seeing the back of Leon's head the whole game. There was also a special edition RE4 Gamcube released, but I believe it was exclusive to Europe. Resident Evil 4 currently goes for $15 at Gamestop, so you have no reason not to pick this game up. It is criminal that someone is selling this game for so low; it should be at least $20. Also, another way to tell that the 'Cube version of the game is superior to the PS2 version is that the latter goes for $6 less. Yeah; stay away from that port.

Extras/Value: 10/10

DSC00339.jpg image by bobaloob



Overall

There's no mistaking it; Resident Evil 4 is a classic, and one of the best titles to grace the Gamecube, and as many say, of all time. Capcom put their heart and soul into creating it, and remains as a shining example of what electronic entertainment should be. Everything is polished to a blinding finish; it all comes together to be something that can only be described as a masterpiece. The only reason I had never played it until now was because I never was fond of Survival Horror games, but now I'm giving the genre a second try. So, even if you were like I was, you should still play RE4. Every gamer should at least give it a try, since it is a game with such universal appeal. In short, you MUST play this game.




Overall: 9.5/10

This is Lisalover1, piecing together my Jet Set Radio Halloween costume.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Review: Luigi's Mansion


The Gamecube is an odd console when measured against the other consoles in Nintendo's history. For one, it was the first of their systems to launch without a Mario platformer, a move which some claim was ill-advised, given the competitive state of the market at the time, when the 'Cube seriously needed early adopters. But the Gamecube launch was not completely absent of Big N's star franchise; we got another thing that was very odd and certainly different. A survival horror game featuring Mario's little brother. It was ultimately overshadowed by other launch titles such as Wave Race: Blue Storm and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 2, and was criticized for not being a "true" Mario franchise title. So, were the ignorant hordes right on that claim, or, like Luigi himself, can Luigi's mansion stand on its own? If you couldn't already tell from the previous sentence, the answer is the latter.

Gameplay

In Luigi's Mansion, you obviously play as Luigi, who has to work his way through said mansion, sucking up ghosts in his Poltergust 3000 vacuum. You go through 23 different boss ghosts in the house, along with 50 mini-boss Boos. The combat system is really something unique and fun; to capture a ghost, you must quickly shine it with a flashlight, then suck it up with the Poltergust, holding the control stick in the opposite direction, until the ghost's HP reaches 0. Boss ghosts, however, take a little more cunning; they will usually disappear when you look in their direction, so you must figure out their unique weakness before you have a chance at fighting them. It is a very interesting gameplay mechanic that integrates puzzle gameplay into action gameplay. It never gets old, especially when Luigi acquires fire, ice, and water power-ups later in the game, adding other layers of strategy to the process. It is always satisfying when you defeat a boss, especially some of the later ones. As I said before, there also mini-bosses in the form of Boos, that, while not as difficult to catch as boss ghosts, escape if not caught on the first try. The gameplay is overall just very fun; I would say that this is the closest we will ever get to a good Ghostbusters game, but since a new one was released a while back, I can't say that anymore.

Gameplay: 9.5/10

Luigis Mansion Ghost Hunt Mario: A Retrospective Part 3

Story

In Luigi's Mansion, Luigi is sent a letter saying he has won his own mansion, despite never entering any contest in the first place. Mario gets the letter before Luigi, and finds it suspicious, so he goes to investigate. Luigi is worried when Mario does not return for a while, and finds the letter himself, and also goes to look. Upon arrival, he finds that the mansion is haunted. Inside, he is attacked by some ghosts, and is saved by Professor E. Gadd, who fights off the ghosts using a special vacuum he invented called the Poltergust 3000. They both run back to Gadd's house afterward, where he tells Luigi not only that the mansion only appeared a few days ago, but that Mario is trapped inside. Thus, Luigi volunteers to use the Polturgust to rid the mansion of ghosts, and save his brother. See? The game has a story! But, that's about it; not that it matters in an action game. It does have that distinctive Nintendo charm, which is evident throughout the entire game. The story in Luigi's Mansion is not anything special, but like I have said for all action games, it doesn't need to be. Simplicity is key.

Story: 8/10


Sound

I have good news and bad news here. The bad news is that there really isn't much music in Luigi's Mansion. It is mostly just silence and sound effects. The good news is that when there IS music, it is very well-done, and sets the eerie, yet comical mood quite well. It is certainly creepy, but not in a Resident Evil sort of way; it is certainly a more lighthearted horror game, so the music must reflect that. If only there were a bit more music, though. Maybe I'm missing something, and horror games don't need a lot of music, but I think I'm on the mark. The sound effects, however, are very well-done, and take advantage of the Gamecube's audio capabilities. The fidelity is great, and it really helps immerse you in the game. I know I've said this before, but since the 'Cube was the first Nintendo game console to use discs, audio quality took a huge leap from cartridge audio quality. That's not to say that cartridge audio is bad; quite the opposite, because we all know that it is isn't the quality of the audio file, but the artistic quality of it that matters. Luigi's Mansion succeeds on this front, but like I said, I just wish that there were more songs.

Sound: 7/10


video

Graphics

As one of the launch titles for the Gamecube, Luigi's Mansions had a lot of expectations to meet to show off the potential of the new system, and justify a purchase to potential buyers. Fortunately, Luigi's Mansion looks great. It is an effective tech demo for the 'Cube, showcasing multiple physics, lighting, and smoothing features that makes this game one impressive piece of software. Obviously, one of the most prominent graphical effects in the game is lighting, and the game comes up with some creative methods of using lights in dark places that makes environments feel more natural. Luigi's flashlight is another demonstration of the effect, and it can be used anywhere. Another obvious effect is transparency, for the ghosts. It isn't anything special; the Playstation made a big deal about 3D transparency effects when up against the Saturn, but the effect is greatly improved in this game. Physics also come into play a little bit. You can vacuum up things like sheets from different angles, which is so cool-looking that it seems almost out of place in a Gamecube game. Yes, Luigi's Mansion indeed turned a few heads at launch, if for no other reason than for its graphical prowess.

Graphics: 9/10


Extras/Value:

If you beat Luigi's Mansion once, you can unlock the "Another Mansion" mode, where some minor changes are made to the mansion and boss battles, so it is not a true second quest mode, a la Zelda, but it is still some incentive to play through again. Also, upon completion, you are given a grade, determined by the amount of money you collected while playing. If you get the highest grade, then Luigi gets the real mansion that he was promised! No more living with Mario! One more thing is that you get different award levels depending on how efficiently you capture ghosts; so if you're a completionist, you will want to get the gold award with every boss. Other than that scoring system, there isn't much else to do after completing the game. The game currently goes for $15 at Gamestop; not bad for a 1st-party Gamecube game. I would try and find it cheaper if you're only slightly interested, but otherwise, go for it.

Extras/Value: 7/10





Overall

Luigi's Mansion was a good example of taking one of their existing franchises, and doing something very different with it. Nintendo has always had that sort of bravery with their series. It doesn't always show, but when it does, the result is usually surprisingly good. Metroid: Other M is a fine example. People always accuse The Big N for resting on its laurels, but I think that they are quite open to new ideas. In short, leave them be; they know what they are doing. If you are looking for something different to add to your Halloween survival horror game lineup, give Luigi's Mansion a shot. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.





Overall: 8/10

This is Lisalover1, knowing who to call when there's something strange in the neighborhood.