Friday, 4 February 2011

I’m affected by mass

I had it coming. I've owned an Xbox 360 for a few years but never took the step on to the Mass Effect series. Mainly because of it being a RPG type of game and sci-fi. However both of these elements have picked up my interest in the last years. Thanks to RPG games like Fallout 3, Final Fantasy 13 and experience point levelling in various non-rpg genres, I've picked up the interest. The fantastic Halo games on Xbox 360 have really triggered my interest for sci-fi too.

I figured I should start with Mass Effect 1 naturally, and since Mass Effect 3 was announced not long ago, I'm set for a playtrough of a whole trilogy of games this year!

Mass Effect

In ME1 you take on the role as Commander Shepard on board the SS Normandy, you can choose gender, name and what you character should look like. The details of the faces in ME are incredible and they've done a great job on facial expressions and movement during dialogue and cutscenes. The different alien races look really cool too and the voiceacting is great.

The main plot behind the ME series is that the galaxy is trapped in a cycle of extinction. Every 50,000 years an ancient machine race wipes out all organic civilisation and leaves no trace of doing so. Very few believe in this legend, you however know it to be true, and so starts the long journey in the fight for keeping up the peace in the galaxy and convince people about this unknown race.

The first game centres around the galaxy’s Council (this council consists of various alien races on the board, humans have yet to prove themselves worthy to be on the board) which you receive orders from and work under. You establish a team, receive a spaceship and must travel through various solar systems to find clues to this ancient race and defeat the Geth which are threatening the Council.

The game is played through a third person view and lets you cover behind environment obstacles in firefights. You can choose what path your character should follow, be it ordinary shooting skills or special abilities. ME1’s controls feel a little clumsy today and the cover mechanic does not work as well as say the Gears of War games. There are also far less things to hide behind. The game plays fine though, and the levelling and xp you earn to put into the skills of your choice really gives you reason to continue playing and engage in fights. You pick up weapons and armour after fights, and actually I picked up so much of this that my inventory went full all the time, leaving me no need to ever buy items. Weapons are a pistol, assault rifle, sniper rifle and a shot gun. You can quick shift between two of these in combat. Each weapon can be upgraded with ammo types and abilities like fast cool-down, less recoil or added aim.

What really sets ME apart from a lot of the competition are the constant choices you make in dialogue. You have the opportunity to be good and bad, and this affects everything. In fact your decisions continue over into ME2 and even further into ME3. You also have the possiblilty to put xp into dialogue skills, either being good at negotiating or being convincing and aggressive. You realize during the game that decisions should be taken wisely, you need to be on your toes, because things you said and did early on affect things later on. This gives the story a great immersion and real depth. You actually feel the story changing around what you decide. It begs for a second playthrough to see the variations.

ME1 is a very good game all in all, but it fades somewhat in comparison to ME2. The framerate is bad and hits slowdowns often, it gets very apparent and annoying in heavy firefights. The menus are a little clumsy and all the armour, weapons upgrades and abilities you pick up end up in a huge mess in your inventory. This game is a must if you plan to play the greatness of its sequel. You simply should understand the deeper meaning of choices you make that get moved into ME2.



Mass Effect 2

Mass Effect 2 then. It takes all the good things about ME1 and greatly improves the gameplay. ME1 had a great story, but shortcomings in the gameplay. ME2 is not so, it perfects both. The story has even more twists, really interesting characters and much more depth when you choose your crew. You get to know and take part in their back story and choose who you will take on board the Normandy.

ME2 begins with the SS Normandy from ME1 being attacked by an unknown alien ship, Shepard gets blown up and rebuilt at a Cerberus lab two years later. You get the option to import your character from ME1 or make a new character. You can even alter how you looked, but be the same person. Shortly after this you meet the Illusive Man for the first time. A mysterious man with glowing eyes whom you only meet in a hologram room, where he sits in front of you in suit smoking and drinking whiskey. He is the head of the Cerberus company, during the game you must decide to serve the Council or Cerberus, making decisions even more difficult.

Technically ME2 is a marvel. The environments look stunning and a really varied. Everything from tropical planets to icy and volcanic terrain. The size and variation is amazing. The gameplay is incredible and the firefights are intense. It right up there with the best third person shooters in gameplay, the cover system is greatly improved and works really good. The weapons types are very different and feel heavy and awesome to shoot with. The fights never rush you, and you can take time and plan each shot, especially fun is using abilities to let us say lift an enemy from cover into the air then shooting them helplessly in this state. You can also flank, snipe or go for close and intense combat.

The feeling of building up your crew, getting to know them, scan and then explore planets together, fight many types of enemies in open or closed surroundings and getting the variation of action in some, loneliness and creepiness in others is fantastic. ME2 gets you very attached to the Normandy. Here you can research upgrades, talk to the crew (like in ME1 you can even start a love relationship with one on the crew!), scan planets for minerals and even reside to your captain’s cabin. It feels like “home” after a while, and it’s a relief to return to this ship and it’s calm interiors after intense battles down on planet surfaces. I also love the fact that this time around you get new dialogue options determined by how your personality has been through the game and not through putting xp points into them. Being harsh and unforgiving in dialogues and situations results in new dialogues options reflecting this and vice versa if you choose a path of forgiveness and righteous.

Everything in ME2 is perfected, the story is incredible, the gameplay is really fun and the feeling of altering the story with decisions rather than just follow a predetermined plot makes ME2 one of this generations best games. The scale of the game is amazing and offers so much, you will never grow bored. It’s a true masterpiece.



See you around for more reviews and gaming soon! :) 

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Mario time!

I grate my teeth just saying that; I got the annoying as hell Mario voice in my head when I read it. I really don't care for the Mario character and I wonder what weird person would even think that an overweight, big-nosed, Italian plumber is even a remotely good or humorous character? I never really liked him as a child either, growing up on the NES! Looking back through the years at least Sonic the Hedgehog was hip and “awesome” in the mid-nineties (the new version of him is disgusting though) and Donkey Kong had some comic charm, but Mario? Just no.

Every time I hear Nintendo being shouted down the loudspeakers in Mario’s voice I just want to turn off whichever Nintendo console I'm sitting in front of, before even entering the game. But here I am reviewing two Mario games I have recently played! And enjoying them!

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

The first is a sort of reinvention of the old 2D Mario games and is a Wii version of a DS game. A great idea to take trip back to before Mario went 3D. My favourite Mario game of all time is Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES, and this game sort of takes me down memory lane and recaptures some of the glory SMB3 deserves. In fact the feeling and physics of New Super Marios Bros. Wii is probably closest to SMB3 of all the 2D Mario games.

There is a lot of visual variety in each game world in NSMB and each level within offers some sort of new element; be it a new type of enemy, obstacle or gameplay style. Every level feels unique and you never get the feeling of a copy-paste function being used during the development. You’ll play through all the levels without repetition or boredom. The challenge of getting through each level progresses in a perfect learning curve too.

I played this game coop and it is indeed a game that is developed with coop in mind. It actually supports up to four players simultaneously. Playing cooperatively adds an element of trying to work together to help each other out (this of course depends on who you are playing with) and is very entertaining. I would actually really recommend people to play this game at least with one other friend.

All in all NSMB is a very good game, it doesn’t reinvent anything new and has some small nuisances (like the lag each time a player dies or gets a power-up in coop), but it will give a great 2D gaming time. The colourful graphics, the varied level design combined with perfect controls definitely warrants this game as a must-but for any platformer fan.



Mario Kart Wii

The other Mario game I played recently is Mario Kart on the Wii. I have fond memories of Mario Kart 64 on the Nintendo 64 (must have clocked up tens of hours on it) and the entertaining double karts and coop fun in Mario Kart Double Dash on the Gamecube. In other words, a series I have liked and so my expectations for this one were high.

First the controller, a plastic steering wheel with tilt control. Well it’s shit and you should play the game with a Wii remote and nunchuck or better still a Gamecube controller. The precision with an analog stick far surpasses anything tilt controls ever will do. Once you play with this setup and put the game to manual drifting is where Mario Kart really gets going. The serious amount of boost you can gain with manually drifting adds en extra element to the gameplay and lets you really challenge your competitors.

There is a generous amount of tracks in the game, in fact over 30. The design of them vary, and while environment elements such as a pirate ship firing grenades onto the track or minecarts running freely add a real challenge, they all are a bit random and end up annoying you more than actually serving any addition to the gameplay. The tracks are a bit too crowded with stuff going on and the results of the races become even more random than they did in Mario Kart 64. None of the laps really matter until the last one.

More comparisons with MK64 and MKDD are to be made and thus more negativity becomes more apparent. When me and a friend discover that the double kart element from the Gamecube game is abandoned, we ask ourselves; why?! This continues into the battle mode, where it’s overcrowded with AI you can’t remove and split into teams which you cannot alter. You can’t simply have a free-for-all battle against only human players. I stress the question again; why? The new powerups are too many and they serve only to annoy the hell out of you rather than add anything to the gameplay. Mario Kart 64 had the kind of perfect setup for the amount of powerups, MK Wii has too many variations only to confuse more. The powerups that literally fuck every one of the track are just annoying and should never have been in the game. Even the combination of characters and the special power-up idea from MKDD is abandoned.

Can I recommend this game? Well it is entertaining enough to play through, but MK64 is available for download on the Wii and a far better game. Even MKDD can be bought and played on the console. The online part should be mentioned, it works smoothly and ends up being a nice relief from playing against the cheating and annoyingly rubberbanded AI. MK Wii needs to stop cutting out features from previous games, tighten up the power up system and focus more on player skills rather than random encounters and far too many racers on each track. Casual gaming doesn’t need to abandon fans by making the games simpler. Add a quick game mode for casuals and a more in-depth mode for fans.



Back next time with a sci-fi special, where I review Mass Effect 1 & 2!