Demo Impressions – Dragon Age 2 & Yakuza 4

Dragon Age: Origins was a troublesome game for me. I’m a big fan of BioWare and I’ve always had a blast with their games (well, excluding MDK2. That game aggravated me), but nothing about Dragon Age drew me in. I think I ended my playthrough after 7 hours and I was only in the first town (where you have to pay a toll or kill the bastards at the bridge to get in).

I’m not quite sure what turned me off, but I think it was the lack of polish or the awfully generic storyline (which I hear has a satisfying conclusion). Nothing seemed very new to me and the technology powering the game was terrible to look at. Yeah, it had a grand scale, but it looked worse than Neverwinter Nights (a game that launched seven years prior!).

Still, there were certain aspects that I enjoyed and wished to see fleshed out in an expansion or sequel. When I heard BioWare wasn’t keen on letting their new IP die, I did get excited for the possibilities. Maybe some more action, a better art style, less filler.

While I can’t answer if 2 has any filler or not, I can say that my first few complaints have been rectified. The demo for Dragon Age 2 definitely showcases a much more action packed and engaging opening. The story is still a bit dull, but the demo begins with a bang and keeps going for a good half an hour without losing any intensity.

Much like the PC version of Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age 2 is better optimized on the platform. The menus are slick, if a bit console oriented, and the inventory/skill tree screens are nicely done. While I’m not a fan of the black backgrounds, I do like the text displays and important information being available all at once.

The biggest change is the pacing, though. Combat was a bit boring in the original, but the skill trees seem a bit more thought out this game. I had chosen a generic barbarian type character and his attacks made sense. Shield Bash, Whirlwind and Smash were all accounted for and helped clear out more than one enemy at a time.


All action, all the time!

Switching between characters was simple and worked without much of a hitch. Simply pressing F1, 2, 3 or 4 changed between available party members and the transition wasn’t as jarring as in the first game. The camera quickly focused on the party member and the skill bar updated without a problem.
The only thing I will note is that the lack of the overhead, Icewind Dale style view does make me a little sad. I enjoyed exploring the environments with an old school style, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as far as gameplay is concerned.

The art direction does deserve some commendation. It’s a lot more bright and colorful this time around. The level that the demo gives you is a bit generic in terms of location, but it does feel a lot like the opening to “Fellowship of the Ring,” and recreating something like that is impressive. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun to rip through orcs and grunts.

As for plot, I’m not too sure what to think. The voice acting has improved marginally, but the game is still a bit bland for my tastes. We’ve all heard tales of some mystical and powerful evil invading some secluded land and it still doesn’t feel any more compelling this time. I will admit that I skipped most of the cutscenes after the first, though.

To sum it up, though, Dragon Age 2 is shaping up nicely. I may force myself to finish the first just so I can fully enjoy the sequel, but I’d say that those kinds of measures aren’t required for most gamers. The sequel has definitely been improved in all the right categories to let new fans jump in and feel welcome.

In more console related news, I was going to write a nice blog about the demo for Yakuza 4, but Sega didn’t see fit to really make much of a demo. So my thoughts on that will be limited to a paragraph or two. Yakuza 4 is the continuation of the Yakuza series and follows the plot of not just one character, but four!

As for what the game is about, I have no idea. The demo boots up and you’re given the option to start, which puts you directly in the shoes of the first character and makes you fight. After you finish the battle, you change to the next character and continue until you’re finished with Kazuma Kiryu’s battle (Kazuma being the main character of the previous three games).

It’s nice that the different characters have different styles, but I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to take out of this demo. I already loved the battles from the third game and I was eager to get some insight as to what the story might be about. Hell, I would have even liked to see some of the changes to the game’s fictionalized Tokyo.

As it stands, if you haven’t been introduced to the Yakuza series, don’t bother giving this demo a try. It will do nothing for you as it literally does nothing. It lasts about 10 minutes and just occupies 650 mb on your PS3. If you want a real taste of what Yakuza is about, give the demo for 3 a try. That gives you some story and a few substories to complete, as well as letting you walk around a small portion of Tokyo.


Until next time…

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DEMOlition – Katamari Forever

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Katamari Forever is a game that a lot of fans have been eagerly waiting for. While already out in Japan, Forever promises to deliver all kinds of nonsensical awesome mixed with the requisite Katamari flair.

Sony has kindly released a playable demo on PSN today and though I have already beaten most of the Japanese import (That’s right, I’m awesome……), I decided to give this demo a try to see what Sony has in store.

The demo has a generic title screen that is essentially the logo and “Press Start,” (along with some strange Notice about taking breaks and not using projection televisions). Once you skip that, you are taken to the main map that looks sort of like a pop-up book. It’s pretty neat, but it definitely gets annoying to navigate. You only have one option (other than Vibration settings) to play with, so once you click there, the mission select screen appears.

Thankfully Sony decided to include levels exclusive to Forever in the demo, so everything you play is brand new content (if you didn’t know, Katamari Forever works like a “Best Of” collection with levels from the first two games mixed with new things). The main level is a generic roll everything until you reach the goal and it definitely isn’t challenging. The goal they set for you is something that the first game had you doing in the 2nd level, meaning a Veteran of the series should have no problem.

The second level is where some of the unique charm of the series comes in (and is sort of inspired by We Love Katamari). You are tasked with rolling your Katamari into some water and then rolling across a desert to water up the place. While it’s not the most difficult thing you will ever do, it’s definitely a fun diversion from just rolling over stuff like a monster.

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The grass is always greener and Katamari proves that.

This desert level, in particular, brings out the best of the 1080p graphics. There is definitely some slow down (which doesn’t hurt as much as you would think), but the textures have a nice filter over them that makes everything seem like watercolor. Now, the final version features 4 different graphical filters, but the demo only lets you tinker with one.

The game’s controls have been literally unchanged from the previous Katamari titles, except that now you can jump. You jump by either using SIXAXIS or just pressing R2 (which definitely makes more sense). It can let you get to higher places in levels so that you can roll more and it even lets you clear some obstacles in your path (allowing you to soar over a pesky zebra or human).

The musical selection for the demo is a little lacking, but you can rest assured that the final title provides enough tracks to keep you satisfied. The demo has remixes for “Katamari on the Rocks” and the main theme, but neither one is really that outstanding. It kind of hinders the experience of Katamari when the songs are a little subpar.

In the end, though, Katamari Forever is definitely a fun little title. I may not be able to call it a classic like the first two, but the demo does give you something to bite into until the game comes out.

If you’re wondering what else the final game has, I will enlighten you a bit. There are about 24 levels of rolling madness that is composed primarily of We Love Katamari. Along with that you get a neat co-op mode that only has 6 levels, though it kind of wears thin after a bit.

The other graphical filters are things like a Wood finish and a Comic Book style and they definitely are a sight to behold in HD. The musical selection takes most of the tracks from We Love Katamari and gives those 2 or 3 remixes each (making for a colossal amount of music).

You also have the different cousins to change between, though there are really not any more than in We Love Katamari (the demo also lets you change, but you get about 7 of them). Along with the cousins, the presents return and let you change your character on 3 different levels (Head, Body and Feet).

So even though the demo is extremely short and lacking in much of a first impression, the final game will provide for fans clamoring for more. Give the demo a shot just to see how Katamari HD looks and maybe to get yourself acquainted if you’ve never tried a Katamari game before.

DEMOlition – F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn

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Today’s game is F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn. To give some background, Monolith released F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin last year to lukewarm critical response and not much fan reaction (at least from what I heard of the game). F.E.A.R. 2 was a follow-up to their critically acclaimed F.E.A.R. from 2005 (which also happens to be one of my favorite PC shooters).

My personal opinion on F.E.A.R. 2 (God I hate acronyms) was simple: Hate. I found the game too dumbed down and easy for my tastes. The level design was too bright to illicit any kind of frightening reaction other than a gut response to something randomly popping in your face. The A.I. was so stupid (compared to the first game which has some of the best A.I. around), the guns lost their visceral edge (they no longer produced all the intense smoke effects from the first game) and the level design was just the generic scare tactic style that Monolith overused in the first game (where random things pop out at you).

Well, wouldn’t you be surprised to hear that I actually enjoyed this demo of the new DLC expansion? Before I start delving into the good stuff (gameplay), let me set up how the demo starts. The game begins with an extremely grainy and otherwise unimpressive intro that looks almost exactly like the intro to the first game (making me think this was a remake).

This demo shows the main villain of the first game (he may also be in the second, I never cared to beat it) spouting out some nonsense about how you can free him. After about a minute (and a short little clip of your character doing some cool things), your character stands up from some explosion (possibly the end of F.E.A.R. 2).

This is where I immediately began to feel the presence of F.E.A.R (no pun intended). The first game had such a dark and atmospheric setting about the game that you always wondered what would happen around each corner. This DLC pack seems to fall back on that design and makes your awareness limited to what you can see with your flashlight (which, thankfully, doesn’t die on you).

The surroundings are laid out in a manner similar to the first game, which means they are built like an office building. It was definitely good to feel like I was playing a direct continuation of the first game instead of a sequel that forgot where its roots were.

Soon after moving a bit, you fall down through the ceiling and are confronted with your first enemy. Being without weapon, you have to melee him and take his crappy pistol. I was a little confused as far as button placement went, but melee ended up being mapped to B (just like Halo), so it wasn’t hard to set myself to one control scheme.

The only problem with melee being B is that the rest of the controls don’t follow Halo standards (or even Call of Duty or Battlefield, for that matter). When you pick up the pistol, you know RT is fire, but switching weapons is relegated to LB, with RB being grenade and LT being iron-sights (zoom). This is one of the places where I felt a bit disappointed in the demo. There is no option to bind your own controls, so you are left with a scheme that seems to be esoteric to Monolith games.

Even so, when you fire off a round with the pistol, the guns instantly feel familiar. F.E.A.R. 2 forgot about making their gunplay as impressive looking as it was handling, but Reborn doesn’t make the same mistake. Bullets impact with a splash of blood and the walls will crater when shot. Everything is definitely great looking in terms of technical value, so your guns feel heavy and realistic (just like in the first game). Sometimes your shots don’t seem to connect, though, so that does feel strange when you are missing your mark, but have a dead reticule on the enemy.

When you kill your next soldier and round another corner, the game pops-up to remind you of F.E.A.R.’s patented slow-mo ability. This ability never seemed to bother me in the original (often getting me out of ridiculous jams), but it definitely makes the combat extremely easy in this demo. Even on hardest, popping on slow-mo for 10 seconds can allow you to clear a room of 5 people.

The recharge timer for this slow-mo has been changed from the first game (probably in the second, I just can’t remember). It seems to charge a bit faster, meaning you will always have it in a rough spot. It’s just too bad the A.I. still can’t match the quality of the first. It outpaces vanilla F.E.A.R. 2, though. While I was sitting in a corner and picking off guys, I started dying randomly and turned to see a soldier behind me. Me somehow worked his way out of the scuffle and began to take me out, which is definitely neat.

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A.I. Tactics like cover were missing in F.E.A.R. 2, but are back in Reborn.

As for how to deal with sneaky soldiers, this demo gives you a small bit of the arsenal available in the final DLC. Along to the pistol, you are given a rather simple SMG, 3 grenade types (being proximity, frag and flame), a shotgun and a nail-gun. Yes, a freakin nail-gun. Plugging enemies in the head is so intensely satisfying that I just relied solely on this for the rest of the demo (though it does come a bit towards the end).

As for the rest of the A.I., they just kind of sit around and take your bullets. It’s not like killing them isn’t fun (especially with particle effects flying about), but challenge is not something F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn offers. What it lacks in difficulty, it makes up for with its set pieces.

After killing a few generic grunts, you jump down another level to a sniper waiting (which is easily killed by slow-mo shots) and some tank like people. These tanks don’t pose much of a threat, but waiting for them to turn corners is pointless. You are in a small area that is made of wooden walls, so the tanks just kind of bust through them. It definitely leads to some, “OH S@&^!” moments and the game feels more like it is trying to set up impressive battles like the first game.

The demo closes with you sliding down an office building, but making careful jumps from desk to ceiling pillar so as not to die. It’s very hectic and the camera is never straight, so you are always being cautious with your jumps. This also hints back to the first game, where most of the puzzles were based on moving your character instead of trying to flip a switch and press-on.

In the end, I felt rather amused and happy with the demo. F.E.A.R. 2 put a bad taste in my mouth, but this DLC seems to be correcting a lot of the issues the original title had. While the A.I. might not be up to F.E.A.R.’s level and the guns still aren’t perfect, at least Monolith realized that their level design was lacking. Simply darkening the game and going back to basics has done a lot in making me get sucked into the game world, so I commend them for that.

If you played F.E.A.R. 2 and enjoyed it, you will definitely be pleased with Reborn. The DLC should be releasing on September 3rd (Source), though no price is announced (I say expect 800 MS Points/$10 PSN). While the pack only comes with 4 levels, having them as good as the demo was would make for an amazing little download. I may actually want to finish F.E.A.R. 2 and get this pack, myself, that how much I enjoyed it.