Heavy Rain Review

Heavy-Rain-window1

The ability of video games to elicit strong emotion from its audience has long been discussed since Final Fantasy VII started tugging the heartstrings of gamers everywhere. Heavy Rain seeks to do the same with its brand of “interactive cinema”, which hopes to change how we play games. This change Heavy Rain is aiming for isn’t limited to the way the story unfurls; developer Quantic Dream has also devised a novel control scheme to complement its unique dramatic thriller.

Because of its ambition, Heavy Rain faces several  difficult and exceptional challenges: Does it succeed in engaging its audience emotionally? Does Heavy Rain avoid being a mere story-driven, quick time event-type of game and instead provide compelling and substantial gameplay?
(more…)

Hulu-Plus-PS31

Hulu Plus to be available to all PS3 users

According to the PlayStation Blog, Hulu Plus will lift the invitation-only availability of its ad-supported streaming video service. Hulu Plus was originally exclusive to “select” PlayStation Plus subscribers, but beginning this week, the service and its application will be accessible to all PlayStation Network subscribers.

Hulu Plus’ subscription service covers full season runs of popular TV shows from NBC, Fox, ABC, and several other networks and studios. The catch: To use the application, you need to subscribe to Hulu Plus by shelling out $9.99 per month. Users paying for this premium are not exempt from advertisements.

Next Resident Evil to be made by SOCOM’s developer?

There has been speculation that Six Slant Games, the current developer of the PlayStation-only SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs franchise, is working on the next Resident Evil game. The reasons for its speculation, says Kotaku, are the following:

  • A document forwarded to Kotaku indicates that a new team-based Resident Evil game titled or code named “Resident Evil: Raccoon City” is currently in development at Slant Six Games.
  • According to the Six Slant website, the developer is at work on “an amazing new project” that is yet to be announced. The site further states that Six Slant Games is working with “a new publishing partner on a world-class franchise.”
  • Several Six Slant employees (current and former) have listed an unannounced “multiplayer action game” for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Last March, Six Slant looked to hire a “Japanese translator/interpreter”.
  • Of late, Capcom has been outsourcing development duties for several of its franchises to game studios outside Japan. Examples include GRIN, who worked on Bionic Commando; Blue Castle Games, who developed Dead Rising 2; and Ninja Theory, who is currently making the Devil May Cry reboot.

What does this mean to the average gamer?
Aside from being handed to a developer known for its tactical shooters, the description of the (presumably) next Resident Evil game says it all: it’s going to be team-based. This rumor is also consistent with how Resident Evil 5 turned out to be: more action, more shooter than survival horror.

Here’s another idea to consider: Would Capcom hand over one of its most popular franchises to a popular developer only to produce a “lesser” (read: subtitled) iteration of Resident Evil? If this rumor is true, there’s a possibility that “Resident Evil: Raccoon City” is actually a numbered installment.

Madworld11

Madworld Review

Madworld11There’s nothing quite like Madworld. It may be considered unique when compared to the other games in the Wii where everything is typically colorful, wholesome and kid-friendly. However, Madworld is still exceptional even when compared with other games in the two HD consoles. The streets of Madworld are painted black, white and red, while every word uttered contains either an expletive or intent to butcher. Madworld thrusts you in the thick-heeled boots of Jack, who must survive a quarantined city-turned-twisted game show. At its core, Madworld is an old-school brawler whose violence is more akin to Itchy & Scratchy instead of Rockstar Games’ Manhunt. Forget what the “mature” rating says, there’s absolutely nothing grown-up about Madworld, and that is what’s so great about it.

Gems

The Unique Aesthetic
In the fictional Varrigan City, everything is in black and white with some shades of gray in between. The only real color is red and it’s shown whenever blood is shed—which is often. Beyond the color (or lack of it), Madworld’s art style looks exactly like a comic in motion, with each level having its own distinct charm. Surprisingly, this unique Sin City-like style is never difficult on the eyes. The lack of color works to great effect, providing Madworld with a distinct visual punch.

The Satisfying Combat
Madworld seeks to overwhelm players with waves and waves of enemies, which learn new tricks as you progress through the game. Your job, as the protagonist, is to grind and smash each foe in the most gruesome way possible. The more creative your methods, the more points you get. The basic fighting moves do get old a bit fast, but the satisfaction lies in using the environment to lay the smackdown. You can stab enemies on the face with signposts, thrust them repeatedly on huge spikes, hurl them against rotating fans and fling them into speeding trains, among others. What makes the combat fun is its variety—throughout Madworld, you’ll keep on running into new weapons, deadly environments and Bloodbath Challenges that would provide you new ways and opportunities to obliterate your foes.

The Humor
What’s especially charming about Madworld is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. The comical onscreen violence itself is so outrageous that it’s hilarious. The humor isn’t limited to the carnage, however, as the running commentary is juvenile, coarse and tongue-in-cheek. The initial shock of Madworld’s brutality might eventually wear off, but the humor somehow persists. It’s hard not to laugh at the absurdness of it all.

The Motion Controls
It’s possible to overlook Madworld’s well-implemented motion controls with all the craziness happening onscreen. Wagging the nunchuk and Wii remote may get tiring when the game requires you to go full-swing ahead in certain sequences, but it feels consistently responsive. The control layout feels intuitive as well.

Germs

The Difficult Camera
Cramped areas can be a problem in Madworld, thanks to the bothersome camera. The least concern it would likely cause is not provide a good view of the surroundings. However, it gets worse: when you’re in a tight space, you might not be able to see where the foes are. There’s also a chance it could go out of control in the worst possible time, like while fighting a level boss.

Madworld21Occasionally Tedious
How could Madworld be varied and occasionally tedious at the same time? Consider that there are a limited number of lives and you have to earn them. The game may save your progress, but it also saves the number of lives you have left. If you lose your last life during a boss fight, which could happen more often than you think, you have to restart the entire level. That means you have to fight the same enemies, earn the same amount of points to unlock the same Bloodbath Challenges, hear the same crude jokes, and outlast the same stage boss all over again.

Vague Objectives
Here’s another odd design decision that puts Madworld dangerously close to becoming tedious: For some reason, developer Platinum Games left out cues telling players what to do next. Without the proper direction, there’s no way to know why nothing seems to be happening after fighting off the umpteenth respawning foe, even if all you had to do was score a certain number of points.

Verdict
One can plow through Madworld in six or so hours. The encounter may be rather short, but it’s time well spent. Beneath Madworld’s unflinching gore, coarse dialogue and stylized, Sin City-like visuals is a visceral, engaging and enjoyable old-school brawler that provides a viable option to core gamers looking for something other than Mario on the Wii. We can’t say it’s a terrific purchase at full price though, considering its short length.

Then again, don’t sell Madworld short by merely renting it; we think the game deserves a permanent spot in your shelf so get it during a sale. Either way, one thing is certain: Madworld must be experienced.

Arkham-Asylum11

Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

Video games based on movies are common, especially when talking about superhero flicks. But as publishers make the most of a film’s popularity, it’s the gamers who get the short end of the stick. Remember clunkers like Superman Returns and Iron Man for consoles?

When The Dark Knight came out in theaters last 2008, gamers were half-expecting a mediocre film-based game to follow. Instead, it was Batman: Arkham Asylum that was released an entire year later and it had nothing to do with The Dark Knight movie. Is Batman: Arkham Asylum worthy of the Batman name, or is it merely another casualty in the countless other b-rated Batman titles that came before it?

Gems

The Structure
Like any game with a plot, Batman: Arkham Asylum progresses linearly, meaning there’s a beginning, an end and a lot of in-between. However, the game is structured like Metroid—you unlock more and more portions of the game world as you accomplish objectives. These portions are made accessible by introducing Bat gadgets, which are conveniently key to solving obstacles that you will face in the newly unlocked areas. This combination of structure and just the right amount of freedom to explore makes for a compelling experience.

The Gadgets
Speaking of Batman’s toys, Arkham Asylum arms you with gadgets that aren’t just useful for reaching new areas, but can also be applied in laying the hurt. The Batclaw, for instance, is not only for pulling grates from a distance. It can also make combos more satisfying, thanks to its ability to grab and stun foes. The line launcher isn’t just for reaching areas where the grappling gun can’t take you. You can also launch Batman headlong into a group of thugs, mowing anyone in the way. Bottom line: The gadgets are well-implemented and give you an edge against your foes, but they don’t make you overpowered.

The Combat
Hand-to-hand fighting is another activity in Batman: Arkham Asylum that would take up much of your time and keep you entertained. At your disposal are a range of punches and kicks that are easy to execute. If you manage to pull off a good combo as a thug is knocked out cold, you’d be rewarded with a zoomed-in slo-mo of the final blow with extra experience to boot. The game rewards you for adding variety to your moves, resulting in longer combos and more experience points. However, the combos themselves are easy to pull off—maybe too easy to the point of button mashing—but this is somewhat offset by the ridiculous number of foes you’ll be fighting simultaneously later in the game, which has the potential to frustrate less experienced players.

Visuals and Audio
Arkham Asylum just screams quality in every little detail. Each screenshot looks as good as they do because the game looks breathtaking in motion. The cutscenes are beautiful to behold; and while it uses computer graphics—not in-game visuals—to render its slick presentation, the difference between the two is almost seamless that they practically look one and the same. Even the art style is impressive, combining a mix of comic book charm and realism; it’s dark and gritty with just enough color variety.

The star of the presentation is Batman, whose details are so striking that his renders look like artwork. Despite his odd-looking spindly arms, the Joker looks pretty good in a scruffy sort of way.

Audio is just as capable of making any jaded gamer swoon. Consider the voice acting cast, led by Mark Hamill, who plays the Joker. You’ll be hearing a lot from Batman’s archenemy throughout the game, thanks to the asylum’s PA system. Hamill’s delivery of each Joker line is golden. There are smatterings of self-deprecating jokes, barbs directed at Batman, and the occasional livid threat that betrays the Joker’s true nature. Let’s not forget Kevin Conroy, who has played Batman in every Batman or Batman-related animated show since early 90s. Conroy’s chops is perfect for the role. The rest of the voice actors are convincing as well, but we don’t want to spoil the characters you’ll encounter.

The Plot
Arkham Asylum2Despite the convenient setting, which could justify a larger, improbable roster of enemies, Rocksteady Studios decided to take the high road and keep Batman: Arkham Asylum’s plot more cohesive by showing more restraint in the lineup. The result is a believable Batman tale that’s heavy on action, but isn’t short on details.

The Riddler Challenges
It’s not required, but solving the puzzles that the Riddler has scattered throughout the asylum feels immensely satisfying. Why? Because there’s a bit of exploration, good perception and thinking involved in cracking them. By itself, finding and solving all of the Riddler’s puzzles is a convincing case for a second playthrough.

Germs

The Camera
In many instances, Batman needs to fight in enclosed spaces and it can be frustrating because of the uncooperative camera, which in itself could be considered one of the games’ adversaries that you have to survive. Unfortunately, unlike the other bosses which have to be beaten only once by studying its patterns, you have to deal with an unpredictable camera over and over again.

The Detective Mode
While incredibly useful, the much-vaunted Detective Mode is a double-edged blade. Turn it on and you get vital information like a thug’s location even behind walls, or visual indications that a wall can be blown up. However, you miss out on the slick visuals. It’s good to leave the Detective Mode on, but it’s not something you want to see the entire game.

Batman’s Occasionally Clunky One-Liners
Has any villain, real-life or fictional, ever fallen for the line: “You have one chance to surrender”? Did you groan when you heard Batman say, “It’s over, Joker”? Upon hearing these atrocious bits of dialogue, one can’t help but wonder why Batman writer Paul Dini put those there.

Verdict
When all is said and done, pointing out the flaws in Batman: Arkham Asylum devolves into nitpicking because of the game’s overall excellence. What Batman: Arkham Asylum does best is make you feel like Batman through combat, sleuthing and Bat gadgets.

But even if we remove the Batman name, the game is very capable of standing on its own merits. Not only is Batman: Arkham Asylum is the best Batman game so far, but it is arguably the best superhero game as well. Buy it now.

Undead Nightmare to get retail disc

Undead NightmareSimilar to Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City, Rockstar Games is releasing all the downloadable content for Red Dead Redemption in a single disc. Undead Nightmare, the upcoming disc, bundles together the Outlaws to the End cooperative mission pack, the Legends and Killers pack, the Liars and Cheats extensions, all multiplayer Free Roam modes released to date, and the upcoming Undead Nightmare pack.

The best part about Undead Nightmare: you don’t need a copy of Red Dead Redemption to play it. Having new single player missions and multiplayer content certainly doesn’t hurt either.

Undead Nightmare will cost $29.99 in the U.S. and 24.99/€29.99 in Europe. Unfortunately, no additional details were provided on the disc’s retail release in the Rockstar website, other than ‘soon’.

If you’re interested only in the Undead Nightmare pack, you can download it in Xbox Live for 800 Microsoft Points or PlayStation Network for $9.99. This requires a copy of Red Dead Redemption to play.