Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Devil May Cry 4

+++ Adds a new, unique feeling character to the series
++ Moderately Difficult
++ Harder difficulties throw in a variety of different enemies at you much earlier in the game (applies to every game in this set actually)
++ The main fight with Dante is superb
++ Against all odds most of the “elemental” boss fights are genuinely entertaining
+ Secret Missions are actually findable without a guide!
+ Weapon Balance is fairly good
+ Solid Environmental Variety
+ Fairly Impressive Graphics
-- Halfway through the game you go back and repeat several levels and bosses you’ve already fought, just with a different character. No new and unique bosses and the best 2 boss fights aren’t repeated
-- Blitzes are the second hardest enemy in the game
- The game is much more difficult with Dante than it is with Nero
- Secret Missions remain a gigantic pain in the ass, perhaps the worst idea in the series
- Rips off God of War, minus the gore
- Excessive Fanservice
- Only a few new weapons for Dante
- Dodging without Airhike or Trickster is quite poor

This game is pretty good, though I’ve heard several people say it’s their favorite current generation game and I have to question that as there are several games in the same exact genre type that are better. Still, Nero is a fun, interesting character and I really wouldn’t have had a problem if the whole game was nothing but him (perhaps Dante as an unlockable character who you could then play through the whole game with). I appreciate the depth of the combat system and the theoretical skill ceiling that I could reach if I bothered trying.

However, this game does have it’s share of problems. We’ll begin with difficulty. The first portion of the game is you playing with Nero and I had a faira mount of trouble for the first few missions. Then I discovered Charge Shot 3 and bought Air Hike and lo! I was an amazing killing machine with routine S ranks on everything but the hardest boss in the game. I understand there is an instant rev system in the game to power up Nero’s sword but it is completely and utterly unnecessary, you could get really good with it and do even more damage but it’s quite possible (sometimes easy) to S Rank every fight in the game without ever touching the Exceed system, regardless of difficulty.

The way I fight is to kill one enemy via air combo’s and grab spam whilst simultaneously using charge shot 3 to negate any other enemy that comes close to me, this is mildly difficult to do at first (Hint: Bind shoot to a shoulder button) but quickly becomes second nature and just annihilates everything aside from Blitzes and Dante. Even Dante Must Die mode isn’t really that difficult aside from bosses (and all you really have to do there is learn their patterns that you could for the most part ignore previously).
But, halfway through the game you’re handed old familiar Dante, that legendary demon killing machine. Except he’s vastly inferior to Nero even if you’re amazing at the previous games. The only thing Dante really has going for him is his Devil Trigger is slightly better using a few specific moves, but no Snatch, Devil Buster, or useful Charge Shot sort of makes him a second class citizen next to the omnipotent Nero. Now, all of that said Dante is still definitely skill based and the game becomes much more interesting when you’re using him assuming you’ve already half-mastered Nero.

My first instinct here is to say Nero is plain and simple overpowered but I don’t really think that’s it. Devil May Cry is a very awkward game the first time you play it but it grows on you over time and there is a quite a bit of depth to the combat system. God of War is a fucking awesome game the first time you play it and also has a surprising amount of depth to it, Nero is simply a hybrid of the two systems. Now ordinarily I’d praise this sort of thing but it kind of calls into question the nature of the whole series, as excepting the fantastic Vergil fights in 1 and 3 there really is nothing that it has to offer over a clearly superior game. The only thing that DMC kind of has going for it is it came out much earlier (originally) than God of War, and having an older, clunkier combat system is forgivable, but that doesn’t do much to enhance its somewhat gilded reputation in my mind.

Now for an ode to Secret Missions. Secret Rooms/Missions began in the first Devil May Cry. Generally a really ugly texture in some obscure as hell spot that’s impossible to find for any sane person holds a portion of a health upgrade for your character. However you have to trial and error your way through some bullshit to get it. Some of this bullshit is actually based around solid ideas that have the potential to be fun, others are just annoying in concept and execution, but in general even if they could have been fun they turn out to be an enormous irritation that takes about a half hour to beat. These also tend to wind up offering you little to no real skill improving challenge as well.

I have no idea why but these have persisted and invaded other games as well, despite how retarded they are. Example from DMC4: As Dante there’s a fairly difficult Secret Mission where you have to perform 5 consecutive Royal Blocks, which basically requires perfect timing down to around a tenth of a second. This involves a great deal of luck as you can imagine and only really gets you better at blocking that one particular enemy who you could otherwise decimate just by shooting him a lot with your shotgun. Accentuating this annoying as hell challenge is that if you die you have to continue from several screens back and fight through 2 gauntlets of terribly designed enemies (Chimera infested Assaults and Scarecrows) just to try again. Eventually I just brought along about 5 of each type of Vital Star and healed repeatedly there so I wouldn’t have to make it through the 10 minutes of fighting to fail again. Good job Capcom.

This last section will be devoted to our friend Dante and his good buddy Mr Blitz. Dante is by far the best fight in the game but he’s also really fucking hard, so hard in fact that he feels completely out of place within this otherwise only moderately challenging game. If they wanted to make a whole game to his difficulty that’d be fine but just tossing this magnificent force from another universe at you to beat the shit out of you is bizarre to say the least. It’s like if you put Flamelurker in some random Action RPG midway through and said “have fun.” That said I do like the fight tremendously (though it’s still at the end of a fairly long chapter instead of being a chapter unto itself). I don’t know if it’s possible to beat him without using Snatch but it’s fun to theorize about it. I suppose it’d just make the fight take forever as you dodged everything and waited for Pandora Revenge shots to happen and grabbed when he was in Royal Guard, but trying to outduel him with your sword is fairly fun.

The Blitz is basically a Lightning Frost/Assault from the first game, except it doesn’t fight like either of those. Figuring out just when to dodge takes oh about 30 tries before you finally don’t take much damage from him (practically every hit he does takes at least a third of your life bar on DMD mode). You only fight Blitzes a couple of times in the actual normal difficulty so it doesn’t matter much there but on hard and DMD you fight at least a dozen. This is standard practice for the series but Blitzes, like Dante, don’t really belong in this game. They are immensely more difficult than every other regular enemy and much harder than every boss in the game aside from Dante.

Just a basic example: You fight two blitzes in Mission 4 prior to fighting a Frost Toad with fanservice appendages, those two blitzes killed me about 15 times on DMD mode and I killed the Frost Toad on the first try without taking ANY damage whatsoever. In fact I could clear the entire level reliably taking no damage, except for the blitzes. I acknowledge I am not the most superb player against these wondrous enemies but I think it’s fair to say I’m at least somewhat competent at these games in general. I can tell you they’re just murderous monsters on anything but normal difficulty.

Final Score: 8/10

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Action Game Roundup

Lately I’ve been playing a shitload of hyper difficult action games and I’ll be reviewing a few of them shortly, I can’t promise each of these reviews will be super in depth but I will at least review the best of them (Bayonetta, which despite some irritating features I’m now addicted to) to a lengthy degree. These games are: Devil May Cry 3 SE, 4, Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, Batman Arkham Asylum (might not review this for a bit, sort of a corollary; obviously not as hard as the other games in the list), and Bayonetta.

Just to give you a general idea of forthcoming opinions I will summarize what I think of each game here. In terms of action games in general I tend to think God of War II is the best and the original isn’t far behind, they have a pretty solid difficulty without being overly oppressive and ripping off lots of dudes heads is just superbly satisfying. Resident Evil 4 is probably better still but I’ll leave that out of the discussion and label it as a “Shooter” instead. Super Metroid is also better and possibly the best game ever made (at least according to EGM circa 2000, one of the best top games lists I’ve ever seen) but again it’s kind of an exploration game to go with the action. What I mean by “action game” in this context is 3 dimensional platformer/murderfest where melee attacks tend to be the most powerful thing and there’s probably at least some QTEs involved.

DMC 3 Special Edition is a very good game, though it’s still a very odd feel when you first try it out, despite starting out much better than every other game in the series. Once you get used to it it feels very natural though as is the same with every DMC and Bayonetta there’s a little too much button mashing. The fights with Vergil remain the best Human vs. Human fights in any action game out there, it’s just a shame not all of the bosses are that good.

DMC 4 is sort of like a hybrid clone of God of War (with the “Fuck you button”) and original DMC, as the new character uses super grab moves to do ridiculous amounts of damage. You’re still not fighting humanoid looking creatures and their heads don’t explode (or become magic spells for you) so it falls well short of GoW but I guess it was a nice attempt. The game is easy to play with Nero and relatively difficult with Dante, despite having Dante as an absurdly hard boss fight that you pretty much have to cheese in some way to win (though thinking about theoretically beating it without snatch is always fun).

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 Black Edition Special Edition Totally Not Ninja Gaiden 1 Theta Omega Blah is a fairly difficult game at first but having played the original (original) I gradually figured out how to murder everything with relative ease on normal difficulty. If anything the hardest parts of this game are right near the start when you have crappy weapons and a low health bar, as you go on you get better weapons and learn how to use them much better and get much better at dodging. Everything sort of just falls over at that point assuming you’re using the right set-ups, I murdered almost every boss on the first try after about the midway point (though it took me 20 times to beat one particular early boss). This makes harder difficulties more an extreme annoyance as you’re forced to use cheap moves repeatedly to survive against hordes of regular enemies and still have a pretty good feel for boss fights. It remains the “smoothest” feeling action game around, if there’s one thing Team Ninja provides aside from voyeuristic boob jiggles it is smooth gameplay.

Arkham Asylum doesn’t exactly fit in this list plus I haven’t played it in quite some time but just for comparison’s sake I bring it up. This game is the only action game I’ve ever played where the combat system is absolutely flawless and there is *always* a right and wrong choice to make in the midst of a heated battle. There’s no button mashing unless you want to get massacred and just before every punch time slows for a few tenths of a second and gives you a perfect view of your surroundings to determine the next move. It feels odd at first but once you get the hang of it you’ll start having awesome combo chains and fights with otherwise bland enemies become quite entertaining. The only big issue with this game is that most of the bosses are very easy, however the storyline easily annihilates every other game on this list so I think that’s okay.

Bayonetta is arguably the hardest game of this bunch, though only because of Alfheim portals and the utter lack of health drops. Alfheim portals are basically secret missions and are really fucking annoying the first time around, though instead of having to be perfect doing something for 30 seconds it’s being almost perfect for 2-5 minutes with very few gimmicks involved (mostly just fight under certain conditions). The game basically stresses being flawless or near flawless in every chapter and shits on you for using items (though I used plenty for the first go around, stone awards be damned), though ultimately you’ll mostly continue from insanely fast instadeath QTEs that take quite a while to get used to.

However, having played it for another 25 hours past the first playthrough I am now enamored by the combat system, even though there are occasional camera issues and the harder difficulty Alfheim Portals will still take 50+ tries sometimes. It has humorous characters to go with a silly storyline, basically a DMC storyline except better, nothing compared to Arkham Asylum but enjoyable enough that I sometimes rewatch cutscenes.

Aside from that Dark Souls is coming out on October 4th and I will be playing it online for around a month and will post weekly impressions. I may also do a preview post suggesting what could or could not happen with it to make it better (fine line between extremely difficult yet still fair and straight up bullshit deaths). I must say this trailer is easily the best one I’ve ever seen for a game though.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens

Cowboys and Aliens is the best film of the summer and easily one of the best of the past 10 years. They could have done poorly in any number of ways to cause it to deteriorate to a mediocre or even merely good film but pretty much everything in the movie works great. It is immeasurably difficult to blend two polar opposite genres so perfectly but this film does it and holds up quite well compared to both exclusively Western and exclusively Science Fiction movies.

Previews for this film were all relatively good but none too informative and it is pretty much better than I ever expected it to be. Almost the entirety of the preview footage comes from the first half hour or so, that first half hour is pretty good and contains only a little exposition. The rest of the movie is spectacular, every action scene is great, the cinematography is outstanding, it has all the excellent atmosphere of a western meshed with the “cool” effects that you’ll see in any good Sci-Fi movie. Though the titular plot should be incongruous the aliens actually blend quite well with the scenery and hopefully a badass genre arises wherein Cowboys do battle with their mortal enemy. If any film could kickstart such a bizarre genre, this is it.

There are several things about the film that I questioned near the start, both Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford are sort of undersold in their acting performances. Bond is still a supreme badass but he retains his style of bluntness as well. Harrison Ford is supposed to be a legendary warrior but he sort of just seems like a haggard old man. But that’s kind of the beauty of the film, there’s no huge gap between the characters and every time a major character dies (which the film is not at all bashful about) you feel a great deal of empathy for them. There are multiple death scenes but none of them are overdone in the least, it simply adds to the realistic, gritty atmosphere one comes to expect from the Old West/Extraterrestrial classics.

This film actually lives up to that awesome title and maybe even outshines it. At best I thought this was going to be a good action movie but it turned out to be one of the premier action titles in history. It is simultaneously the best Western since Unforgiven and the best Alien movie since Aliens. It compares very favorably to Aliens (probably the only vaguely comparable movie ever made) which would make it a top 50 film all time. It should get a Best Picture nomination but likely won’t, but that doesn’t stop it from being of the same quality as the Dark Knight. By all means go see this movie 5-10 times to make up for the Potter fanboys and make this fucking awesome film some money.

For Reference True Grit and District 9 would both be 3 Stars.

Note: I wrote this before looking at RT (net was down when I first tried to post as well hence the relative lateness of this post) and simply assumed it would get universal praise. I stand by what I wrote, though I'm troubled that Captain America, a phenomenally mediocre movie outscored this somehow. This is still easily the best film of the summer unless you ignore the crappy part of X Men or something (45 minutes of Magneto is great, rest is nothing special).