Brut@l: Extended Thoughts

Just last Friday, I made my debut as a DToid staff member with my review of Brut@l. I found it to be rather mediocre, but at least acknowledged the game was well made. I, sadly, did not finish the game before posting the review, but I stood with conviction in my verdict.

Not one to let stones be unturned, I plugged away at reaching the finale to see if my opinion on Brut@l would change; overall, I’d say no. In a few ways, yes, but not for the better.

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The biggest issue with Brut@l is that the camera is just too finicky. Since the game deals with permadeath, failing to make it across a gap results in an instant game over. It feels cheap and out of the players hands when that happens.

Another problem comes from the randomly generated dungeons. Since there aren’t any pre-determined setpiece moments, a lot of the game just blends together. If you speedrun through (skipping all the upgrades, enemies and collectibles), you could finish the game in an hour, but most people won’t be able to do that.

The combat is too simplistic to remain fun for long. The enemies start ramping up in hit points and your weapons fail to get any stronger, unless you’re lucky enough to have the game grant you a tome for a stronger weapon.

You can, eventually, unlock talismans that grant you small buffs, but even that is dependent on the randomizer. Having so many options out of your control just makes for a really frustrating experience.

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I’d be more forgiving if the game had occasional boss battles, but the only such moment occurs on the final floor. When I, eventually, got there, I was a little thrilled. It was finally something different in the game.

Sadly, the joy ended almost immediately upon tackling the boss. He’s pretty easily disposed, but monotony sets in and the game falls into a groove that isn’t very much fun.

You enter a small room with the boss sitting on a perch. He summons a wave of monsters which you then need to dispose of. After that, you collect an ASCII letter (in this case, a special V) and repeat the process.

Once the two waves are down, you can lower a crossbow that then shoots off one of the three heads on the boss. He then destroys the crossbow and flies off. Now you have to repeat that process two more times.

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Or stand like an idiot because your inventory is full and you can’t pick up the damn item to initiate the wave!

I’m fine with the game encouraging more exploration, but why does it take 26 floors to finally have this happen? Why weren’t there more boss battles peppered throughout the game? Having one every five floors may be a bit excessive, but every 10 wouldn’t be so bad.

For that matter, why is 26 the floor limit? Why wasn’t more care put into distinguishing the level design? I know something like The Binding of Isaac is based around randomly generated floors, but the pool that Isaac draws from to create levels is pretty varied. Brut@l’s is not.

Sometimes you can get four levels in a row that all have the same beats. A poisoned floor, bottomless pits and locked chambers that require you to destroy a wave of enemies; it’s just boring after an hour or two.

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As a matter of fact, I almost feel like giving the game a five is being generous. Sure, everything works, but it’s so devoid of creativity that it almost feels insulting. Why would you spend $15 on a game that couldn’t be assed to create fully developed levels?

Again, the concept is sound. I don’t mind tinkering around with core mechanics that can change up on each playthrough, but those mechanics need to be very solid. When combat devolves into just mashing Square and jumping away, your game has failed.

I’m sure Brut@l has fans out there, but I don’t see what they do. The art style is the most realized thing in the entire package; everything else feels like half measures thrown in a big pot and set on low heat.

Still, I did actually finish the game. I won’t let something defeat me. I can’t say the same for others. That’s why I won’t change my original review score. Everything I originally said still stands.

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Without abusing save game backups, most people are not going to finish Brut@l. I guess the game lives up to it’s name, but it could do with a lot more polish.

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Sigy Says – Ridge Racer: Unbounded Review

I’m not quite sure what I expected with Ridge Racer: Unbounded. The title sounded cool and I had heard decent things a few years back, but I never realized that Namco Bandai had tried their hand at a Burnout game. When I first loaded the game, I was delighted that this was taking a more destructive approach to racing.

After I finished the first event, I knew something was very wrong. The previous Ridge Racer games were all about speed. Tight turns, tighter controls and hilariously awful translations; that is what gave Ridge Racer its charm. All of that gets thrown out the window for Unbounded in an attempt to modernize the series.

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Ridge Racer Unbounded (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Release: March 27, 2012
MSRP: $9.99 (on PC), $29.99 (Consoles)

For starters, the graphics are darker and more realistic than ever before; the pace has been slowed a bit and the cars feel far too weighty. Drifting, which is an integral part of the track design, is so fucking busted that I nearly quit in fury a few times. Busted explains a lot of things with Unbounded, but it applies more to the controls then the arenas you’ll be tearing apart.

The newest addition with Unbounded is the destructible environments. I have to give credit where credit is due; Unbounded does offer an impressive amount of course carnage. While the props are basically made of styrofoam, your car can glide through things and not immediately crash. Sadly, that’s about the only decent thing in the tracks.

As for regular buildings, your car typically gravitates towards them. Barely clipping them will usually cause your car to smash up, but sometimes you go flying through the air or spinning in circles. While that should be realistic, the game has an awful tendency to reset your car before your crash site. This causes a tremendous amount of wasted time in Time Attack events and often causes you to lose up to 7 places in race mode.

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As for regular buildings, your car typically gravitates towards them. Barely clipping them will usually cause your car to smash up, but sometimes you go flying through the air or spinning in circles. While that should be realistic, the game has an awful tendency to reset your car before your crash site. This causes a tremendous amount of wasted time in Time Attack events and often causes you to lose up to 7 places in race mode.

These should be fun, but the physics and AI of the game are so borked that I couldn’t wrap my head around them. At times, you fly out of the gate and pass everyone with ease. Other times, the opponents are beyond hard and you’ll hardly catch them. Sometimes you’ll smash through highlighted objects only to immediately crash once the automated cutscene ends. You’ll even make jumps only to see your car barrel rolling through the air, despite not clipping anything.

There is also some horrible graphical glitch that causes constant flickering for upwards of 15 seconds at a time. It obscures some of the track and leads to wiping out or missing turns. It also looks terrible and gives me a headache, but that may be a personal issue.

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What isn’t personal is information about your cars. The stats are shown before you decide on your vehicle, but they aren’t really reliable. Maybe this is more down to individual playstyles, but the car with the highest speed stat should be the fastest one on the track.

There are also some cars that are carbon copies of others (excluding the pointless DLC) and others, still, that have mostly the same stats, but are higher in key areas. It makes certain cars completely worthless after reaching higher driver levels.

Then there is the lack of course diversity and the general sluggishness to the controls. It just doesn’t feel pleasant to play Ridge Racer: Unbounded. I had fun, at times, but not enough for me to recommend this to anyone. The lackluster campaign and hilariously anti-climactic ending just rub salt in the wound.

6

The online portion is completely non-functional. From the sound of what it included, it could have remedied this package. Racers were given the ability to customize events and challenge others worldwide. While it may have been frustrating to deal with the controls, I could see smashing people into walls as being a blast.

Still, that doesn’t work. Namco Bandai shutdown the servers in 2015 and have basically cut the game in half. The price tag, at least, reflects the lack of multiplayer, but it still sours the overall package. Having courses made by other players would be outstanding, even if the game feels rushed and sloppy.

It doesn’t help that there isn’t a split-screen mode at all. I know PC games typically don’t offer split-screen, but even the console ports of Unbounded lacked the feature. In other words, the multiplayer was basically a bulletpoint on features for the game. No one actually cared about molding it into a celebrated feature (something that should be sorely missed upon it’s closure).

Overall, I just wouldn’t bother playing this. Unless you just have a fondness for the Ridge Racer name, there isn’t much here that hasn’t been done better in other racers. Unbounded mostly made me pine for a new Burnout or to return to Burnout: Revenge. Even the crappy portable Burnout games are better than this drivel.

3

Poor

Went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.

Aamaazing: Japan Hasn’t Lost it’s Touch

While gaming is my oldest past time and I’ve become very passionate about it, not many games have drawn me in during our current generation. I’m not sure if it’s the graphical prowess that’s off putting or the gritty, dark and brown worlds, but there are few games that have really gotten me exceptionally involved.

Cue in Sega and their localization of Yakuza 3 for the PS3. Gosh damn, did I feel like a child playing this game. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun with any game in the past 5 years, other than Street Fighter of course.

Takes parts of Shenmue, Streets of Rage, and Virtua Fighter and you’ve got the basic groundwork of the entire Yakuza series (known as Ryu Ga Gotoku in Japan). The basic setup goes cutscene, dialog, fist fight, cutscene and repeat until done.

My first experience with Yakuza 3 came from the demo on the Playstation Network last February. I was finally able to dig into my PS3 for once, so I figured I’d try something out and see how it went. I only tinkered around with the original Yakuza back in 2006, but I wasn’t really impressed with it.

Low and behold, when I was able to run down the street and drop kick some idiot in the face, I was sold. I had no idea what I was getting into, but it felt intense and immensely enjoyable. I immediately began talking about the game to my friends, though no one cared enough to listen.


A nice kick to the face might work.

That is except for my best friend/brother, Jim. Our argument essentially went like this:

“Buy Yakuza 3.
I don’t really know. What is the game?
Buy Yakuza 3.
No.
Buy Yakuza 3!
No!
Buy the game, dammit!
Alright!”

It’s a decision he didn’t regret. Even he was blown away by it. The HEAT action system is probably the best part of the combat. Once you build up a meter to the degree where your character is glowing in flame, you can press triangle and proceed to provide a gruesome beat down to your opponents.

Like this:

My favorite has to be when you’re drunk and you land a flying scissor spin on the opponent. What the fuck?!

Our favorite experience with this system was a battle near a small bridge in Okinawa. I asked my friend, “Can you throw that guy off the bridge?” Sure enough, we saw a body get lunged into the air and our laughter couldn’t be contained.

I, myself, didn’t play the game until this past February, however. I finally decided enough was enough and I moved my PS3 to a different room and borrowed the game from my friend. I was completely blown away by the proceedings.

I know story telling may be overly dramatic in Japan, but they certainly know how to build strong enemies and exceptional protagonists. Kazuma Kiryu is one of the coolest and most bad ass dudes in gaming and his villains are all kinds of scum.

The first boss, Goro Majima, is such an insane psycho that you can’t help but love him. He refers to you as Kazzy, his laugh is overdone and his eye patch is just ridiculous. It’s incredible when you battle him and the guy seems to be like a more rough and gruff version of the Joker.

The whole plot line with Kazuma’s orphanage even allows for great exposition to fill you in on Kazuma’s past. Most modern Western games don’t allow you to really engage with your character, either foregoing development in favor of more gameplay or simply giving a paper thin plot and allowing the mechanics to speak for themselves.

Yakuza has a few low points, but they truly amp you up for the amazing massacres you lay on people at the end. No man should have to see his orphanage in waste, but the feelings and emotions that the kids pour out really make you want to crack some heads.

Crack heads you will. Even when the game is repetitive (and believe me, it is), the awesome music and hugely cinematic battles make up for it. Kazuma literally smacks down around 100 people in one chapter and that’s before the boss battle.

All the while, I’m sitting there believing I’m 12 again. Games used to be ludicrous amounts of fun and work within their limits. Yeah, you don’t get an in-depth combo system or insanely overpowered enemies, but the pure visual aspect of combat makes up for it.

Hell, even all of the shitty extra minigames are hilarious time wasters. Just try playing Karaoke without laughing. You cannot. My sister and I were clapping along and crying in laughter when Kazuma belted out his cheers of, “Oi, Oi, Oi!”

Yakuza 3 is such a great game that I’ve beaten it twice now and wasted around 68 hours and I really don’t mind. This is exactly what I used to do as a child and I couldn’t be happier.

Also, for the record, I really don’t care that Sega cut content from the US release. Yakuza 4 has all the hostess clubs intact and they are ridiculously pointless in a videogame.

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…