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“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game” Demo Impressions

August 14, 2010 Leave a comment

 

It’s rare that a game with the amount of style and fan service as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game comes along. It’s all the more exciting when that game is good enough to be enjoyed on its own merits, regardless of the player’s knowledge of the source material. Incredible music, graphical style, and homages to the Scott Pilgrim comic aside, this game is a very enjoyable River City Ransom-esque brawler.

Now I’m not normally one to praise games in this genre. I found Streets of Rage to be repetitive and boring, and never really cared too much about Castle Crashers. Maybe it’s the personality and pixelated charm of Scott Pilgrim that drew me in and kept me interested, but after two playthroughs of the surprisingly lengthy demo, I still wanted more. Sure, there aren’t a ton of different attacks, and the enemies you encounter are very similar (identical in many cases), but the action is fun nonetheless. Variation comes in the form of new combos that you acquire as you beat XP out of the random attackers you face in the streets of Toronto, Canada, as well as the unique movesets of the four different playable characters.

As with most beat ’em up games, it’s obvious that Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game is meant to be played with others. Four people total can partake in the madness onscreen, although in order for that to happen you’ll have to crowd those four people all around the same TV. Bafflingly, there is no online multiplayer, and in a game like this, that’s a very unfortunate omission.

The graphics mimic the comic book’s art style, but with a detailed pixelated flair. It harkens back to older days of gaming, but the environments and characters are far too detailed and their animations far too smooth to be considered 8-bit or even 16-bit. However many bits they actually are, they are great fun to look at, and they definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the demo.

The music is similarly nostalgic, although it too is too complex to be technically called 16-bit. The chiptune rock band Anamaguchi provided the soundtrack, and I can’t think of a better way they could have handled it. The songs fit the style and mood of the game perfectly.

PSN users can download this game right now, but those who only own Xbox 360’s will have to wait until August 25th before they can get that same opportunity. Being someone in the latter group, I absolutely can’t wait for Scott Pilgrim to make its way over to XBLA. When you can, give the trial a shot and I’m sure you’ll see why.

By Josh60502

“Game Room” Impressions

A new recording on our iTunes podcast feed and a new YouTube video to go along with it have been created! Crazy, right?

This time you can listen to Josh60502 and JustMattPwn3r talk about Game Room, the new virtual arcade available on the Xbox 360. Do the primitive, “classic” games it features stand the test of time? There are three ways to find out:

1. Take a look at our sidebar and click the option that lets you listen to our podcasts in your browser

2. Go to iTunes and listen to The Official Frayed Wire Podcast’s latest episode

3. Watch the YouTube video below

We recorded this on a handheld portable recorder, but in my opinion it sounds better than the laptop we had previously been using. In fact, this portable recorder might become our new recording standard.

By Josh60502

“Just Cause 2” Demo Impressions

March 26, 2010 2 comments

What makes an open-world game good? Is it the variety of things you can do? The size of the world you can explore? The ease of traversing that world? Whatever the special secret is exactly, Just Cause 2 seems to have found it, because I haven’t had this much fun with a sandbox-style game in a long time.

Story in these types of experiences is always expendable, but Just Cause 2 forces you to sit through a couple cutscenes at the beginning of the game nonetheless. They are a little awkward and don’t do much to grab your attention, but you learn that you are a man hired to wreak havoc on the oppressive government of a massive island. From there, you are let loose to run around and do whatever you want. All of this is made an absolute blast with Just Cause 2‘s main “hook” – an extremely versatile grappling hook. Aim it at anything within its range and fire, and you’ll be pulled up to that spot. When I say “anything”, I really mean it. Towers, mountaintops, helicopters… you name it, you can stand on it at the push of a button.

Of course, this great way of traversing the world wouldn’t mean a thing if that world wasn’t interesting, but Just Cause 2 seems to have that covered as well. I say seems because while the area available in the demo was huge on its own, the full game will supposedly have a much greater variety of environments. I know the full island is insanely big – just one trip to the pause menu will show you that – but what I really hope is that the full island would have many different types of places to go to. The demo took place primarily in a desert, but screenshots I have seen of this game reveal snowy places as well as skyscraper-filled cities, among other locations.

Luckily, there is much to do in each singular environment. The map points out government bases that you are expected to destroy, so naturally I headed out to destroy them. Upon arriving in seconds due to either grappling hooking my way up to a mountain above one and then base jumping/parachuting off of it or jacking some random car GTA-style and speeding on over, I found a collection of buildings and people waiting to get blown up. As far as weapons go, you start with a standard pistol, but more powerful machine guns can be picked up from fallen enemies. In addition, there are grenades and your grappling hook, which can either grab and pull people up into the air or be used as a sort of whip if you’re up close. You get a sense that the weapons pack a real punch when each shot sends people catapulting into the air through a shower of blood.

Realistic? Not really, but I’m glad Just Cause 2 didn’t opt for a realistic route. There are already enough Grand Theft Auto clones out there that it’s refreshing to see an open-world game ditch realism and instead go for providing the most fun it possibly can. That’s the feeling I got playing this demo – that the developers just wanted to make the funnest open-world game they possibly could.

For the most part, they have done a fantastic job. The freedom of movement provided by the grappling hook is great, and many of the objectives let you utilize it quite well. Though I must mention that the objectives that restrict your grappling hook usage, mainly ones involving driving, are fun as well thanks to the excellent vehicle mechanics.

If there’s any real annoyance I had with the objectives, it’s how thorough they expect you to be. You can’t check off a base as destroyed until you have gone and shot every last explosive object in it. It’s a little annoying to take down a giant tower or generator in an intense, grappling hook-filled fight and leave the base feeling like you’ve pw3ned it and then realize you have to turn back because you forgot to shoot one red barrel. On the other hand, exploring the island is a very appealing task on its own, so searching around a base a bit more is ultimately probably not all that different from what you were going to do next anyway.

There are a lot of great games coming out around now that will undoubtedly overshadow Just Cause 2, but this is definitely a title that doesn’t deserve to be ignored. If you don’t believe me, go play its fantastic demo. After its 30-minute time limit has expired, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to start it over right away.

By Josh60502

“Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing” Demo Impressions

March 20, 2010 1 comment

Oh, Sonic – always a step behind his eternal rival, Mario. When Nintendo’s lovable mascot made the jump from 2D to 3D, Sega’s blue hedgehog wasn’t quite ready. When Mario starred in an RPG, Sonic took years to catch up. When Mario and co. started playing sports, only then did Sega start to create their own sports game surrounding their mascot. And now, once again, Sonic has entered a gaming sub-genre that Mario pioneered years before – the kart racer. What is surprising, however, is how good Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing really is.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This is not an original game by any means. The wacky antics and smorgasbord of random characters it features have been characteristic of every kart racing game to have come before it. I even found that many of the items that can be used as weapons against other racers correspond to items in Mario Kart. For example, the missiles in Sonic & Sega All-Stars work in much the same way as the shells in the Mario Kart‘s, and the Sonic shoes in this game give you a speed boost much like the mushrooms in the latter title.

The modes available mirror Mario Kart as well. While only a single race was playable in the demo, I saw circuit challenges, a mission mode, time trials, and various battle modes in the multiplayer section (though admittedly there are more of these battle modes than in any Mario Kart game). What this means is that while people who have gotten their kart racing fix on this generation of consoles with Mario Kart Wii won’t see many new ideas put into play here, people who still crave that style of game or who missed that particular title will find a lot to enjoy here. Specifically, I can see kids with either a PS3 or 360 but not a Wii getting into this game the most since there really isn’t already a game quite like this on either of those two systems. Of course there is a Wii edition of the game as well, but unsurprisingly the other two previously mentioned systems hold the definitive version.

The main reason for that is the graphics. The tracks, based on Sega games, look fantastic on the 360 demo that I played. Each one is themed after a particular game from the Sega backlog; most being Sonic-related, but others based on Super Monkey Ball, House of the Dead, and Samba De Amigo, to name a few. The characters are pulled from games such as these as well, sometimes to odd effect. I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s weird to see a very cartoony Tails racing along next to a more realistic-looking Ryo Hazuki (from Shenmue), right?

Impressive as the environments are however, the graphic quality of the game takes a hit from the choppy frame rate. After playing for a few minutes you get used to it, but when I first started the demo, the lackluster frame rate really stood out to me. Even so, there’s so much going on at once that the overall craziness of the game doesn’t feel diminished. Items are flying everywhere, speed lines appear at the borders of the screen before you even realized you got a speed boost, and the tracks often send you through ridiculous jumps or loops. I imagine playing this for a prolonged length of time could leave you with a mild case of ADD for a few hours afterward.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing will probably appeal to kids too young to remember the Dreamcast era where most of the tracks and characters are pulled from, but I doubt they’ll mind much. As far as kart racers go, this a very solid title. As far as Sonic games go, this is surprisingly great. If zany, multiplayer-oriented racing appeals to you, it doesn’t look like you’ll go wrong with the full version of this game.

By Josh60502

“Bayonetta” Demo Impressions

December 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Some games are just so crazy that trying to explain them simply cannot do them justice. Bayonetta, a soon to be released Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 game, falls under that category. The demo has been up on the two systems’ respective online stores for a while now, but it still deserves to be talked about here on Frayed Wire.

Fans of action games in the vein of Devil May Cry or God of War will get the most enjoyment out of this insane title, but I found that even I, one not normally impressed by button-mashing action games, had a great time with the demo. After a short opening cutscene briefly explaining a story involving angels consigning another angel to some sort of eternal punishment for having a child she wasn’t supposed to, the menu opens up. I chose to go through the tutorial simply to learn all the little tricks of the combat system. Games like this tend to involve a somewhat complicated control scheme that takes practice to master. It appears to me that Bayonetta‘s combat is deep and varied enough to keep players busy learning the ins and outs of it, but it is accessible enough to let people jump right into the action. I have read in other publications that Bayonetta offers an easy difficulty where button presses are minimal, and most of the control involves simply pointing one of the analog sticks at enemies in order to execute attacks, but the demo did not allow this control scheme to be played. I wonder why this “casual-friendly” setup would even be in the full game, because this doesn’t seem like the kind of game that is being marketed to the casual crowd, and it certainly would overwhelm all the soccer moms who are challenged enough getting Wii Fit to work.

I chose the “normal” difficulty for my demo playthrough, since that doesn’t hold the player’s hand at all – any and all combos have to be executed with specific button combinations and timing (just like most games would have it). Right away there is another cutscene to watch once the game starts, only this one cannot be skipped. Thankfully, it’s not too long, and even more thankfully, it’s pretty cool. Bayonetta doesn’t waste any time getting insane. The first level of the demo has the titular main character fighting off swarms of enemies while standing on a chunk of a destroyed clock tower falling thousands of feet towards a cliff. To add to the strangeness of the situation, let me describe the main character: Bayonetta is a witch who can shoot guns from not only her hands, but her feet as well. Also, the outfit she is wearing is not a tight leather suit as it appears to be; rather, it is entirely made up of her hair woven rather intricately. Some of Bayonetta’s attacks involve using her hair to create, for example, a giant high heel used for smashing things into the pavement, or a massive dragon-like thing that can chomp screen-filling bosses into bits. Does this make any sense at all? Not really. I really wonder if the character of Bayonetta was thought up off the top of the game designers’ heads, or if a ton of thought was put into this bizarre woman. The bottom line is that once you stop trying to figure out what exactly is going on in the game, you can appreciate it for the insane thrill ride that it is.

While fighting on the broken clock tower hurtling through the sky in the beginning stage of the demo, it’s hard not to notice how impressive the graphics are. The colors and the detail seen in every fact of the visuals is the most delicious kind of eye candy I’ve seen in a while. Contributing to the glorious choas going onscreen by controlling Bayonetta’s attacks is a joy as well. Every once in a while, the action takes a quick break to showcase a “torture attack”. One involves pushing an enemy into an iron maiden that appears out of nowhere and watching it snap shut. Blood spurts. Rings start flying everywhere. Upbeat Japanese pop music is playing in the background. It’s over the top, and it makes no sense. But that’s Bayonetta for you.

The second level of the demo is great as well, although it starts with a peaceful walk through a train station. This lull in the action gives you a chance to breathe from the explosive opening and also to try out some of the many combos on various objects sitting around the station. When things get going later on in the level, the craziness resumes, and the boss battles are as crazy as ever. I’m not going to go through all of them, since they’re better off seen in the gameplay rather than in writing. All I know is that when the demo ended, I was left wanting more, and that’s a good sign. Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu rewarded Bayonetta with an incredibly rare perfect score when it reviewed it, and American publications have been praising the game as well. Without a doubt, Bayonetta will be turning lots of heads when it comes out in North America early next year.

“Painkiller: Resurrection” Demo Impressions

December 4, 2009 1 comment

I have been playing the demos of all the Painkiller games on Steam lately. Why? They looked like the kind of games that focus just on having fun with ridiculous guns and swarms of enemies. And even though they do have some ridiculous guns and swarms of enemies, there were more than enough flaws in each of them to make me want to move on to the next demo. Still, I haven’t been motivated enough to write a demo impressions post on either the first or second mediocre Painkiller games. That’s about to change with Painkiller: Resurrection, a game that’s so bad I can’t help but speak out about it.

Honestly, it didn’t seem like it would be all that terrible at first. There is an opening cutscene for Resurrection, something that was completely absent in the other two demos. Instead of being fully animated, it’s just a bunch of comic book panels that appear as they are narrated. Sounds kind of boring, but the backstory it sets up is kind of interesting. An assassin dies trying to save innocent people but gets sent to Hell… the cutscene takes its time delivering this simple plot, but it stays surprisingly engaging throughout. Once it was finished, I immediately noticed the level selection screen and loading screen were exactly like the other two games. (Really? Is it that hard to change things up a bit?) Unlike the other Painkiller demos, however, this loading screen lasted a ridiculous amount of time. The game finally loaded, and as I began to play I found more similarities between this Painkiller and the other ones. The only weapon I had was the weapon I started off with in the other two demos – a close-range spinning blade type of thing. Also unchanged was the HUD – the arrow at the top pointing to my next goal… the health and ammo count… the laziness of the developers showed through more and more.

Find it hard to tell what’s happening with all these view-obstructing objects? Welcome to Painkiller: Resurrection.

But the most disappointing signs of neglect were yet to come. Let’s start with the environment: the cutscene tells me the main character is in Hell for all the murders that he committed during his life, but he starts the game off in a cathedral. A mysterious voice tells him that he can earn his salvation if he proves himself worthy… by doing more killing. So, the way to earn forgiveness for murder is to murder even more than you did before, in more brutal ways than before (I doubt the protagonist brought a spinning blade to his enemies’ faces while he was alive)? I get that you have to kill demons and such, but still… it all seems a bit inconsistent.

I didn’t come for the story though, so whether or not the game took place in a location that makes sense wasn’t a huge deal. The broken AI and poor level design is, however, a deal breaker. The visuals are nothing special, yet they still chug along at a slow rate. Even after I moved their quality down from high to medium, they still didn’t run quite as smoothly as even the older Painkiller games. The levels themselves are just battlegrounds for the redundant and boring enemies to run after you, only even the game can’t seem to get that right either. I remember more than one occasion where I was walking down a straight line seeing nothing before me when suddenly enemies appeared out of nowhere. But even with the cheap element of surprise that they had, they could not get to me more often than not. I swear, it seems the level designers were purposefully trying to highlight the awful AI in the enemies. The generic demons can’t find their way around obstacles to move forward? Let’s make a room filled with benches! Speaking of these benches that actually were a part of one section of the demo, they could not be destroyed or anything. I spun my little blade thing on them and heard the sound of metal on metal. Are you telling me these are indestructible metal benches painted to look like wood? I would stand at one side of the bench and look at the brutish thing trying to run at me from the other side, but the bench blocked his way even as his running animation continued. If one thing can be said about Painkiller: Resurrection, it’s that it doesn’t feel like a game that came out in 2009. Even if it came out in 2004, a year where its slow frame rate, bad level design, and atrocious AI might be more forgivable, it wouldn’t be very good.

Unfortunately the horrible design was not limited to that bench section. Each and every location I encountered after that had its own annoyance. There were tunnels that were nearly pitch black yet I had no way to light my path. There were low places I had to get through, but with no crouch button I was left to glitch myself through somehow. There were places too high to reach, but with some determined jumping on some awkwardly shaped section of the wall, I could barely make it over. There was a checkpoint that was supposed to save my spot and restore my health, but the first time I passed by it, it didn’t register. There were boxes nearly identical to each other – some had to be walked over, some had to be shot open, and some, if shot, could explode and kill you faster before you could curse out loud at the game’s inability to make simple boxes look different enough from each other. There was a part where I had to climb up a winding staircase that not only required incredibly tricky jumping to different sides of it to pass through, but resulted in a huge fall to the bottom of the staircase if (and believe me, when) you fell. There was a room that had horizontal wooden planks blocking my path – any sane person encountering them in real life would think to crawl under them (which you can’t do) or climb over them (which of course, cannot be done either), but because of their position I could not get directly over them or shoot the suicidal things with bombs strapped to them running right towards me in time. Whoops, I died. Wait for the 90 second load… now it’s time to do the staircase part again.

After dying at that section a second time I exited the demo. So yeah, I just wrote an entire article on a demo that I never actually finished. Am I being unfair? No, the abysmal game was unfair to me by making me go through all that I did just so I would have enough to write about. I think maybe Painkiller: Resurrection could have reached at least the ho-hum level of mediocrity of the previous games’ demos with a few more months of polish and bug-fixing, but without any of that, I think we can count on this franchise experiencing a painful and embarrassing death with this latest iteration. Painkiller: Resurrection deserves to be shown the same astronomical level of neglect that its developers showed it.

By Josh60502

“Left 4 Dead 2” Demo Impressions

November 6, 2009 2 comments

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In recent memory, there has been no other demo that I have anticipated more than that of Left 4 Dead 2. I was (and still am) a fan of the first Left 4 Dead, but for the months after its sequel’s surprising announcement at E3 I have wondered whether number 2 is worth buying. Are there enough differences to justify a full-priced sequel? Well, now that I’ve been able to spend a few hours with the PC demo over Steam, I think I might just have an answer.

It’s worth noting that I said I spent “a few hours” with the demo. Most demos last no more than half an hour for a single playthrough, and while that is true for the Left 4 Dead 2 demo, they aren’t normally something I return to again and again. The fact that I’ve already played this roughly half hour long demo that much should be a testament to its quality. It’s true, Left 4 Dead 2 looks to be a very fun game. The fun, frantic, and intense action from the first game is there, along with the necessity for teamwork if you want to survive. Many other things from the first game are in the sequel as well, but I noticed that many of the changes between Left 4 Dead1 & 2 are simply cosmetic. For example, there are different looking guns, but at the end of the day an SMG is an SMG and a pump shotgun is a pump shotgun.

And a melee weapon is a melee weapon. These close-quarter tools are new to the series, and actually make up a big chunk of the differences between the two games. The problem is, though, that they are all essentially the same. Yes, a machete seems like a better thing to take to a fight, but in the world of Left 4 Dead 2, a frying pan is just as lethal. That aside, the melee weapons are fun to use, providing another way for players to traverse the levels – right there in the center of the zombie horde. They can be a little cheap at times, but they’re enjoyable in the end, so I’m happy.

Picking up a melee weapon makes you drop your pistol(s), and surprisingly, that wasn’t always my favorite choice. There was only one kind of pistol in the first game, and even when you got to wield two of them at once, I never used them unless I absolutely had to. With the much-needed introduction of new pistols in the sequel, I found them sometimes to be a delightful alternative. Accurate and deadly, they are great for picking off zombies from a distance. The magnum in particular is awesome; it fills the role of the amazing one-hit kill pistol that every good first-person shooter has to have.

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A few new items come into play as well, and they are all great additions. The Boomer bile container can be thrown at zombies to make other zombies swarm and attack them. Once you start using it more and more, you’ll find that sometimes the best defense against a Tank is, ironically, the other zombies. Another item, the adrenaline shot, is an alternative to pain pills, as it offers a temporary speed boost and small health increase. One of the most useful items out of all of them in the entire game is the defibrillator, which can resuscitate dead teammates. The worst of the new bunch is probably the adrenaline, but even that is an interesting and useful tool to use.

With Left 4 Dead 2 comes some of the highest levels of carnage I have ever seen in a video game. The twisted minds working at Valve appear to have spent a huge amount of time on the zombie dismemberment effects. Specific body parts are blasted off when shot directly, and huge gashes appear on dead bodies almost exactly where you slice them with a machete. It’s a little unnerving to see how much delight the developers seemed to have with packing in the most violence they possibly could. It only took a few minutes into my first time playing the demo that Left 4 Dead 2 became somewhat of a guilty pleasure for me. It’s a pleasure because of the fun action (not the gore), but it gets pretty awkward having people walk into the room when the screen is filled so many intensely graphic images. When that happens, I just end up putzing around, hoping a horde of zombies won’t swarm me so I won’t have to shoot/hack them down and cover the screen with blood and guts. I thought the first Left 4 Dead was bad enough, but oh boy… don’t let your grandmother watch you play this game or she’ll never look at you the same way again.

The new setting is a nice change of pace from the dark environments of before. The demo features two levels of a campaign that takes place in New Orleans during the daytime. As a result, the special infected zombies can be spotted easier this time around, although they can still pounce on you unexpectedly if you leave yourself open. The three new special infected all add something new and help shake things up, and being attacked by them in the demo actually made me want to play as them in the Versus mode of the real game once it comes out. I know there will also be “uncommon common” zombies in the full game, but the only kind in the demo levels are the police zombies. Decked out with bullet-proof armor, they can be only killed from the back. I found it surprising to see how much of a (welcome) challenge they ended up providing, even if they are cheap against incapacitated players who can only shoot them from the front.

In the end, you could say that a lot of things in Left 4 Dead 2 are just facelifts of things in the original game. The new environment is nice, but the overall design of the two levels doesn’t feel all that different from the stages of Left 4 Dead 1. The regular infected might be bloodier than ever, but they still act the same way. The healing, reviving, and “getting attacked by special infected” animations are identical. Still, there are enough differences in the game to make it worth a look for fans of the original. If you enjoyed Left 4 Dead 1 but clamor for some more things to shoot, in different places to shoot them, with different things to shoot them with, this sequel looks to satisfy. I’m not sure the differences are enough to change the minds of anyone who did not like the first game, but if you haven’t played Left 4 Dead 1, start with this. I’m not convinced I will pick this game up when it releases, as I’ll probably still be knee-deep in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, but it’s definitely something I’d love to play. Now excuse me while I go play this demo some more.

By Josh60502