Monday, April 30, 2012

Monthly Poll Discussion and Consequences

Hello again (wow two posts in one day after nearly a month of nothingness!),

I'm here to talk about the results of my first poll which is :

What game series do you like reading about in this blog?

Resident Evil - killing zombies is great!
  1 (6%)
The Legend of Zelda - green elves rule!
  4 (26%)
The Legacy of Kain - A less known series that deserves attention
  2 (13%)
I don't care, I like reading about all three.
  4 (26%)
None of them, you should change fast!
  4 (26%)

So I'm afraid I have to think about what this means for the future of this blog.

First of all, victory of the Zelda series is no real surprise, I know it's by far the most popular out there. I'm glad too that 4 other people don't really care about the series in themselves but must like my approach to chronoblogging, so it's a good thing to keep me working on it.

However, I think a big 26% of people who don't care about any of the franchises I'm tackling here is no good news.

So the result is simple and goes for another monthly poll, which will have only three simple answers :

Should the Resident Evil series be abandoned or should I keep playing it?

I'm trying everything I can to keep readers interested about this blog, so if it means dropping the whole series to play something else, I won't hesitate to do it. After all, this franchise is a very long one, and I'd hate to see a part of my readers just patiently waiting for me to come back to games they care about.

No worry, though, there is a lot of other franchises I'd love to play (such as Metroid and Silent Hill) so should you all vote for the death of the Resident Evil franchise, we'll do another poll to see what I should play next.

I eagerly wait for your feedback!

Come-back and introducing the PICASO system

Hello everybody,

so I've said in my last post, I've been drowning quite a bit in "real life" work and personal mess. I've been out of town for a while for my job, which means no Wii for the time being. I'll get back to Resident Evil 2 eventually, but in the meantime, I'll try to get working on a few posts I have to tackle for a while.

The first one, and probably the most important one, is the COWARD system modification. Considering Trick's advices, I'll try something which is a bit more obvious concerning the categories. I'll drop the Originality grade too, which doesn't hold a lot of interest considering I'm playing game series, and I'll introduce another grade based on Side Missions and Optional Stuff, which is quite important for me. I always like a game rewarding exploration and personal path instead of a long corridor (FFXIII, I'm still looking at you).

So here goes my new notation scale, the PICASO System :

P goes for Pleasure/Enjoyment, replacing the Delicacy grade.
I goes for Intelligence, replacing the Cleverness grade.
C goes for Controls/Inventory, replacing the Reactivity grade.
A goes for Appeal, stays as it is.
S goes for Storytelling, replacing the Writing grade.
O goes for Optional Stuff, a new category replacing the Originality grade.

Considering this new scale, I've used it on the three first games I've explored so far in this blog :

-Resident Evil gets a 4 in Optional Stuff. The possibility to explore the game as two different characters is interesting and adds to the replay value. However, there is not a lot of optional things to reward exploration and the "new costumes" you unlock for your characters when finishing the game is, IMHO, not a huge incentive to play through it again.
Resident Evil PICASO Rating : 40 (instead of 42)

Yep, red is better, but it still doesn't make you an interesting character...
-The Legend of Zelda grabs a 8 in Optional Stuff. This is a game that definitely rewards exploration, with a lot of secret places to find (especially when you consider how old the game is), and Nintendo really went the extra mile with the "second quest" idea. Granted, the new layout of dungeons is simpler and difficulty mainly comes from extra enemies everywhere, but it's a great way to extend game length. They could have gotten away with the same dungeon layouts, and just make enemies harder to kill, but they didn't, so it's definitely a thing I have to reward.
The Legend of Zelda PICASO Rating : 57 (same score)

Wow... really?
-It still hurts to think about my Blood Omen experience, but I'll do it for you, guys. This game has a lot Optional Stuff to search for, especially if you want to max out your character's stats. There is always a new item to find, or even new and interesting powers to get that are not mandatory to finish the game. I'll go for a 7, because backtracking is rewarding and it's great to search every nook and cranny giving the whole experience a "Metroidania" feeling when you constantly unlock new areas to explore with your new powers.
Legacy of Kain Blood Omen PICASO Rating : 47 (same score)

Not a great use when you can't finish the game, though...
Well it didn't change a lot, but I hope you find the new system clearer than the first one. Please let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I'm not dead!!!

Hey guys, I'm really sorry about the fact that this blog is currently dead. I didn't want to write a post about it, just try to make some progress on Resident Evil 2 and keep on blogging, but I have to accept the fact that it's currently impossible for me to find enough time to do this right now.

I'm drowning in my real-work life and I'm moving from my current apartment to another one at the same time, so I really didn't have any possibility to grab my controller and play killing zombies, let alone write about it.

I promise to you that I'll come back to blogging as soon as possible, especially because there is a lot of work to be done : finish RE2, comment about the post and what its consequences could be, and work on the new Rating System...

I'll go back to you all really soon, sorry again about that long absence, but sometimes life gets suddenly faster for a period of time.

Keep you posted.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Game A2 : Resident Evil 2 - Zapping System

Leon Kennedy journal entry 1 : I was on my way to my first day as a Police Officer in Racoon City when I discovered something dreadful : the entire city has been overrun by zombies! I met another survivor, Claire, who claims to search for her brother, but we've been separated. We gained access to the RPD Building, which is full of zombies and other monsters. There is a particularly creepy one which is bigger and stronger than all the others who seems to chase me all around the place! I've met a second person, Ada Wong, who is searching for her boyfriend. Thanks to her help, I was able to gather the four chess pieces used to unlock a strange door in the building basement. It's supposed to lead to an Abandoned factory of some kind, I sure hope it's our ticket out of here!

Déjà vu?

Leon's path :
Time played : 2h30 - "You Died" screens : 0

So what does this game look like from Leon's point of view? Well first of all, it starts even faster. Leon gains access to the RPD Building much sooner. A few seconds after his arrival, a helicopter crashes (which explains why it was burning on the roof in Claire's story) and another one drops a huge Terminator lookalike guy (Too bad he doesn't speak, I'm pretty sure he has a german accent) that starts chasing Leon in the corridors. It's a first take on the "Nemesis" template that will be used in the third game of the franchise. The simple fact to have a recurring enemy, who doesn't seem to be stoppable (or at least, considering it's the beginning of the game, you don't want to spend all your ammo on him), does a lot to add to the pressure. Even if his appearances are heavily scripted, it gives you the feeling that he could chase you in all the building.

I need your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle.
Once again, that beginning is another leap in rhythm. Even if you know about the building, it doesn't prepare you for this guy, and it's another great thought on how to keep the player on edge. Leon gains access to the first three keys really quickly too, and the building opens itself much faster than in Claire's story. Of course, a few spots which were perfectly safe during the first playthrough are now dangerous, just to let you know you can't expect to play the same game twice. I notably think about the room where you have to put the rubies in the statues (yeah, much of the puzzles are the same though, but more about that later). This time, a Licker drops through the window when you're in the room, giving you a good scare, considering it never happened the first time.

Not long after the beginning of your exploration, you gain access to the underground of the building where you meet Ada Wong. Ada is the "Sherry Birkin" of Leon's side of the story. However, she's not nearly as annoying as Sherry, because of a few factors. She runs faster, she has a gun, and, well, she's hot. She wanders around the place in a classy dress like it's a clever outfit to go shoot zombies (granted, Claire wears a minishort, once again proving that character design are made by men). She claims she's searching for her boyfriend, John, who works for Umbrella. Of course, if my memory is right, it's not that simple, and she hides a secret (who doesn't in these games?).

I understand. When I saw your outfit, I thought you were a hooker.
Leon's arsenal, lacking the Rocket Launcher, consists mainly of the gun (which is a different model from Claire's one, having more bullets in the chamber. It doesn't change a lot, but it's a nice touch) and the shotgun. I also have found the always loved Magnum (which I haven't used yet, I'm saving it for the boss battles) and the Machine Gun I didn't take when I was playing Claire's path. The Machine Gun uses two inventory spaces, but holds quite a lot of ammo and is good for dispatching zombies and Lickers (much more useful than Claire's Spark Shot, who also uses two spaces). All of this adds up to make battle a little different than when you're playing Claire.

Now, I have a Machine Gun. Oh. Oh. Oh.

This time, you don't collect stones for the painting behind Irons' desk, you collect chess pieces for an elaborated lock in the sewers, but the places for these pieces are basically the same. And that's with that clever transition (I know, nobody saw that coming) that I'm going to talk about the highly advertised "Zapping System". It's the system that's supposed to give you the feeling that you're making progress at the same time than Claire, and trying to make you believe you're not playing the same game for the second time.

Well, it's an interesting try, but it's obviously not been thought through. I understand the technical limitations of such a system. Making Leon's adventure much different than Claire's would have been too much of a hassle, especially considering the locked doors (Both characters have to find the same keys that open the same doors). However, there are a few times where it's just plain silly. Both have to find a valve and go burst the water tower in order to clear the fire from the helicopter crash. Both have to start the power generator using the exact same puzzle. Both have to put the rubies in the statues to get a key, and so forth... Granted, the storylines highly differ, mainly because of the inclusion of Ada instead of Sherry (who still lurks around the place, so you're not totally done with her), and there is a few places where it's genuinely interesting. The idea of leaving the machine gun for Leon to find it is worth it, and there is a moment where Claire contacts you with the radio to tell you she's blown up a wall in the building, opening a new path (something you did when playing as Claire). But come on, Capcom, you didn't need to give me the exact same puzzle (pushing crates) in the little part where you play as Ada, which happens to be in the exact same place than the little part where you played as Sherry in Claire's path.

Weird. I'm pretty sure I've seen the same item some place else...

Well, enough babbling. The game feels different enough to keep me going. I've cleared the RPD Building and found the four chess pieces I needed to unlock the basement door. It's time to progress to the Abandoned Factory, then the Laboratory. I've not died once yet, and I intend to keep it this way to the end (hoarding Magnum bullets will help me achieve this, I think). Let's kick some more putrefied arses.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Game A2 : Resident Evil 2 - Won! (well, one half)

Claire Redfield journal entry 3 : The door in the office of Chief Irons led to an underground passageway, then to the sewers. Irons was punished for his treachery when he met a horrible death at the hands of a gigantic mutant monster. One of these horrors crawled out of his chest! I managed to kill it, but it was a close call. These things reproduce! From the sewers, we were able to gain access to an Abandoned Factory, where I met Annette Birkin, the mother of Sherry. She told me her husband, Sherry's father, was a researcher for Umbrella, the creator of the G-Virus. Umbrella troops betrayed and shot him a few days ago, leading him to inoculate himself with the virus. William Birkin was the huge monster that killed Irons! Sherry and I were then separated once again, and she got infected by the G-Virus! I had to find an antidote real quick... We arrived at the Umbrella underground laboratory, where I was able to synthesize a vaccine and, with the help of Leon, get rid of the monster who once was William Birkin once and for all. Leon switched on the self-destruct sequence and we managed to escape the facility right before everything blew off... It was a close escape, but the three of us managed to get out of there alive!

Time played : 3h (5h30 total) - "You Died" screens : 3 (3 total)

I have to apologize if the journal entry is a big mess, but it happened a LOT of things during these three hours. Once you exit the RPD Building, the rest of the game moves really fast. You meet William Birkin, who is now the Tyrant, a huge Bio-Organic Weapon that wants to get his hands on his daughter in order to inoculate her with the virus. (considering how annoying she is, I'd give her to the beast with a lot of pleasure if the game allowed me)

And good luck with the zombies, you little prick!
Then you get into the sewers, then the abandoned factory, then the laboratory, then the game is over! Poof! You're taken into a maelstrom of running around, shooting a lot of things (including a giant crocodile you can take down with one nicely-placed bullet, John Mc Clane style), going from cutscenes to cutscenes (including one really excellent one showing Birkin's death, who still surprisingly hold today). To put it simply, the last hours of this game kick ass! Bobbyloathesyou warned me about it, and I have to admit he was right with this one. It manages to attain a perfect blend of action-packed sequences with little elements of exploration and light puzzles to avoid monotony.

Irons is about to make his best "John Hurt in Alien" impersonation.
Of course, there are still a few issues there. First of all, you spend quite some time with Sherry in the sewers, and she managed to mix all the bad aspects of "video game escort mission" in one character. She is slow, she curls up in foetal position every time you wander more than 5 feet away, and her voice makes Zelda's Navi sound like Barry White. It's almost a relief when she finally gets infected and has to lie down (who said I'm cruel?).

Next, the inventory is still a major problem, especially when the game drops a bomb like "you need the valve or the lighter you forgot in the safe in order to progress". You then have to backtrack through three corridors which are still crawling with monsters because you chose the "avoid" strategy instead of the "kill everything" one in order to keep some ammo.

Except from these boring backtracking moments, the flow of the game is really good during those hours. You now have quite an arsenal to kill zombies, with classic, acid and flame grenades for your launcher, a few more arrows for your Bow Gun, and some kind of huge electric gun which is cool to use (even if it's pretty useless).

Because "Cattle prod" was not cool enough.

The tale of the Birkin family is quite sad and nicely told. Annette is completely crazy and tries to protect her husband's work, totally oblivious that he has now turned into a blood-thirsty monster (and he eventually kills her in order to thank her properly). The writing is still not the best thing ever, still a bit "over the top", but it's definitely a nice try in the tragedy direction, which I think has not been attained by the series since. The log entries you find scattered around tell you how everything went bad into the Umbrella Laboratory, then lead to the Virus outbreak. The whole mess is quite clear and makes for a nice distraction to the monster-killing.

The video of Birkin's death and mutation is better paced and directed than the majority of the RE movies.
I've finished the whole thing in 5h30, which is significantly shorter than the duration of the first game, but it doesn't feel short. I think much of the 10h I spent on the first game were backtracking and doing the same things two or three times because I died without being able to save. I think the two games have about the same length, but RE2 is a bit easier, or just better organized, I don't know, and backtracking and deaths were kept to a strict minimum, compared to the first game.

William Birkin : Who's your daddy?
So now I have to play through the Leon story, to see if the second half of the game brings something to the mix and explains everything, instead of being a rehash of the first playthrough with little differences. I'll go through it again. I think it's gonna go faster too, now that I'm acquainted with the places layout and game system, we'll see about that. Maybe I'll understand why the stupid guy felt that setting off the self-destruct sequence without telling anyone was a smart move.

Wow, I've not seen this one coming...
And I died three times. Two of these deaths were at the hands of the final boss and were quite justified, but I'm ashamed to admit the first of my failures was maybe the most humiliating one ever. I killed the "Irons' spawn" boss and proudly left my couch to go pour myself a cup of coffee, only to see it was spawning a few little leeches after its death. I didn't press the stupid pause button and when I came back, I saw Claire die in front of my eyes because I wasn't quick enough to grab the controller and get her out of the leeches grasp. I think it might be the most stupid way I died in a Resident Evil game ever. My pride still hurts today.

Okay, let's go for the Leon side of the story! We'll see if the side of the game where you don't have to babysit the little girl is good enough to ask for a second playthrough!

Kill her! Kill her! She's infected!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Side-Game : Banjo-Tooie (N64, 2000) - Completionist dream or nightmare?

I have to be honest with you guys : I don't always play video games which are related to this blog. I usually play to two or three different games at once. I try, though, to play as much Resident Evil and Zelda games, in order to post as often as possible, and I try to keep the blogging around two updates a week, minimum.

But I wanted to share my thoughts on another game I'm currently playing. That's why I'm proudly launching the "Side-Game" feature of my blog, in order to tell you about what I think about totally unrelated games. I'm not sure if it's gonna hold any interest for you (let me know in the comments!) but, considering we're all video games passionates here (if not, we wouldn't be reading/writing about it), I think it could.

Because "Bear & Bird & Weird creepy skeleton guy are back!" wouldn't fit on the box.

So I've finally bought a remake on the Xbox Live Arcade of a game that I had never played before : Banjo-Kazooie 2 (or Banjo-Tooie) from the "we made the Nintendo 64 avoid the dumpster" british company Rare. The first Banjo-Kazooie is one of my all-time favorite games on the N64 (and one my all-time favorite platform games, period) and I've been wanting to tackle the sequel for a long time. The series would then evolve to a so-so platform game on the GBA, and to a weird platform/vehicle constructing thingy called Banjo-Kazooie : Nuts and Bolts, which, IMHO is nowhere near the quality of the first game.

Green pastures, check. Pastel colors, check. Cute enemies, check. Ok, let's jump everywhere!
I don't know if any of you guys have played this game, but it asks a question : Can a 3D platforms game be TOO complicated? Let me explain : I finished the first game with 100% completion in about 16 hours (which is still quite a lengthy game for the genre). I've poured nearly 27 hours in this one, and I'm around 70% completion. It may be the biggest 3D platforms game ever, putting Mario and all the other ones to shame concerning length of the game. The problem with that is that I think most of the difficulty comes from really complicated level design and a hell lot of options/new moves/possibilities to cover.

I give you an example. In the first game, in order to gather puzzle pieces (BK's equivalent of Mario's stars), you had to help NPC characters or complete a challenge, which were varied between 5 minutes of play (in the first levels) to a whole 20 minutes for the more complex ones in the later levels, using all the moves at your disposal and gathering stuff all around the level. In this one, I had to spend nearly an hour on a puzzle piece, because it implied going back and forth previously completed levels, and thoroughly explore the actual one, find a really well hidden move for my duo, switch to a dinosaur form (yeah you can find 8 different forms in the game, which are only for the level you're in), make it bigger with the help of creepy-skeleton-guy (see box cover), to open a passageway, then go to another place, unlock something, and on, and on, and on...

Before you call me a sissy, know that I'm an absolute lover of this kind of games, and I've completed all the Mario/Sly/Ratchet/Jak games I could get my hands on, so I usually love this kind of complexity, as it generally adds to the sense of achievement when you succeed. Before that, I never found a star/puzzle piece/music note/other random generic gizmo too difficult to  obtain. But this game is just pure evil...

Pictured : pure evil
Altogether, Banjo-Tooie is inferior to the first game. The first Banjo-Kazooie had just enough moves/levels/puzzles to give a sense of variety and length, coupled with a difficulty/reward scale perfectly balanced. However, when Rare tackled the sequel, they just had to add forty new moves, new playable characters, new puzzles and a really labyrinthine level-design, leading to a somewhat "bloated" sequel, with just too much stuff in it not to find yourself lost at times.

So if you're a hardcore 3D platforming fan, this one is an excellent value for your money as it will keep you busy for a loooong time, especially if you're a completionist freak as I am. Playing the first one before is mandatory, though, because the sequel keeps all the moves and just build on it, instead of going for an amnesia/flash-back idea to justify the fact that the hero forgot everything between the two games, like in a vast majority of games. But be warned : the difficulty and complexity of the beast can be relentless at times, making Super Mario Galaxy look like Cooking Mama.

Any of you has played it? Please let me know if you felt the same way, or if I'm just getting "too old for this shit"...

So after this small deviation, I'm back to killing zombies, and I'll post something about Resident Evil 2 really soon, I promise!