Friday, August 08, 2014

Vanquish review

Platinum Games were born from the ashes of Clover, a short lived yet very highly regarded development studio that was part of Capcom for a brief period of time.  They managed to release several games in the Viewtiful Joe series, the amazing Okami and God Hand before they were disbanded. Platinum have carried on Clovers reputation for highly polished and original action games, with their most famous title being BayonettaVanquish was released in 2010 to a generally positive reception from the media, yet it doesn't seem to have made a huge lasting impact in the minds of gamers. I have a few ideas why that may be so - let's take a look at the game and break things down shall we?

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Personally I think Vanquish looks pretty darn good for a 4 year old game.  The space colony that the game is set on is nice and detailed, there is very little slowdown during combat, and there are some great robot designs.  The huge bosses that you will encounter during the five acts of the game are a particular highlight, with some of them towering over the player.  Also of note is the main DARPA robot suit belonging to the player character Sam Gideon - it brings to mind the designs of Yoji Shinkawa (of Metal Gear Solid and Zone of the Enders fame) as well as the suit from the Gamecube game P.N.O. 3.  My only minor gripe is that the design of the colony itself could have benefited from a bit more variety.  Apart from a brief section in a park, most of the action takes place in similar looking corridors.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
The music of Vanquish is perfectly decent and helps add to the excitement of battle, yet it is not particularly memorable outside of the theme that plays over the end credits.  This is partly because it can get drowned out a bit by the noise of battle, as bullets, rockets, and robot shrapnel flies all over the place.  The dialogue can be a little bit on the corny side, and also tends to bit a bit overacted, despite having a cast made up of experienced voice actors like Gideon Emery and Steve Blum.  As far as the sound design is concerned, there's not much here that stands out, apart from the noise when you switch weapons, and the way everything is slowed down when you go into bullet time.

I for one would like to see a Vanquish 2 one day - how about you?
Gameplay Mechanics: 8 out of 10
Yes, Vanquish is yet another title in a long line of games that have incorporated bullet time into the gameplay, but it really works well here and is a fundamental part of combat.  Though the levels do offer opportunities for cover, it can be destroyed fairly easily by the bigger enemies in the game, and the play is even penalised for the amount of time spent cowering behind crates and the like. You are actively encouraged to use your suits slide boost or a roll to navigate the battlefield and get yourself out of trouble, and while doing so you can hold down LT to enter bullet time and take down your enemies. This bullet time doesn't last forever though - there is a meter in the bottom right of the screen that depletes while time is slowed, and if it empties completely then your suit overheats.  While you're waiting for the suit to cool down again you are extremely vulnerable to enemy fire, so what I tend to do is drop out of bullet just before the meter runs out, so I'm not left without shields at a crucial moment.

You can equip up to three different weapons at a time as well as EMP and traditional grenades.  The weaponry varies from your standard assault rifles, sniper rifles and rocket launchers to some more interesting fare like disk launchers and lock on lasers.  My load out was usually a combo of the normal assault rifle because of its high ammo count, the heavy version of it for taking down the larger "RI" robots quickly, and then something a bit more interesting in the third slot depending on the situation.  There are quite a few times throughout the campaign that calls for a sniper rifle for example, yet I'm not that keen on them so I would swap this out for a rocket launcher of shotgun given the opportunity.  Sometimes downed enemies will drop upgrade cubes as well, and picking these up with a particular weapon selected will improve that weapon in some way - be it a higher ammo capacity or more damaging rounds.  Dying on the Normal difficulty or above will downgrade your weapons by one level though, so be careful!

Innovation & Cleverness: 5 out of 10
The main thing that Vanquish brings to the third person shooter genre is the slide boost mechanic, and it is a very fun thing indeed.  In all other aspects though, it's quite a clich├ęd game, from the setting, to the story and the weapons on offer.

Value & Replayability: 4 out of 10
Here we come to perhaps the biggest flaw of the game - its length.  My completion time of the entire campaign came in at under 5 hours, which is incredibly short for a full retail release.  Even now, when the game can be picked up for £10 less, that's still a little on the lean side, but I still think the overall quality of the game means that you should check it out.  Sometimes it can be good to play through a game in a single weekend, instead of it taking weeks or months.  If you have a friend who can lend you their copy though, I would still recommend that over buying it yourself - or maybe hold out for it to appear as part of Games with Gold or the PS Plus Instant Game Collection.

Overall: 8 out of 10
Throughout the majority of the first act I wasn't really feeling it, but after doing battle with the huge boss of that act I was along for the ride. Vanquish may be a little rough in certain aspects such as the story and the acting, and it's an all too brief experience, but at least that meant I was left wanting more. Sadly I don't think the sales were strong enough to make a sequel worthwhile - but then again I thought the same about Okami and we still got Okamiden quite a long time later!  If you know someone who can pass you their copy of Vanquish for a weekend, or you spot a copy cheap somewhere, then I recommend you give it a try.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Wii Hidden Gems #6 - Deadly Creatures

Deadly Creatures sees you take control of a Tarantula and a Scorpion as they navigate their way through various treacherous environments within the Sonoran desert. Throughout the game they will cross paths with each other, as well as rattlesnakes, gila monsters and two humans voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper who are on the hunt for some buried gold.

The game was published by the now defunct THQ and developed by Rainbow Studios, probably most well known for their work on racing franchises such as ATV Off Road Fury and Splashdown. It was released in 2009, and has gained a small fan base over the year, but remains overlooked by many.  Hopefully this review will persuade you to check it out!

Graphics: 8 out of 10
First of all the animation of the two lead arachnids is superb, with your spider and scorpion skittering around the environments in an incredibly realistic fashion.  This also extends to the other creatures that you will face throughout the course of the game.  The scorpion has access to a range of finishing moves too, some of which are extremely brutal to watch (I am thinking of the one for the rat in particular, which ends with the scorpions stinger embedded right in the poor rats brain).

I do have a minor issue with the graphics in some of the stages, in that things can get extremely dark, making them hard to navigate.  This is even with the gamma settings properly adjusted for my TV. There's also a bit of a problem where things look like you'd be able to walk on them, but in fact there are invisible walls blocking your path.  This is mitigated somewhat by a guide arrow that can be displayed by pressing the 2 button on your Wii remote.

Sound and Music: 7 out of 10
The music in Deadly Creatures is mainly in the background and there to help maintain the menacing atmosphere.  In this game, pretty much everything is out to kill you and the score is oppressive and dark.  Backing this up is a variety of snarls, barks and squeaks that the various other insects, arachnids, lizards and mammals make.  The spiders sound suitably disgusting and just playing this game makes my skin crawl - the presentation is that realistic.

Capping off the sound is the voice performance of Billy Bob Thornton as Wade and Dennis Hopper as Struggs.  They aren't in the game a huge amount - you get to see their story at the beginning and end of the game, and cross paths with them several times throughout the game.  They do a solid job of portraying a couple of very nasty individuals, and their presence elevates the game overall as well as adding a bit of mystery to the whole thing.  You will want to keep playing to find out what they're up to and what fate has in store for them.

A creature, looking pretty deadly.
Gameplay Mechanics: 7 out of 10
I've already mentioned the issues I had with the dark levels and getting lost from time to time.  Well, this is more of an issue with the spider than with the scorpion, because the spider levels are typically much harder to navigate around to begin with.  A few stages into the game, your spider friend will gain the ability to jump to webs that are handily positioned around the level.  Finding them can be a bit of a chore sometimes, and once you jump from one to another it can be easy to get turned around.  The guide arrow does help a lot with this though.

Sadly, the scorpion is not without its own gameplay issues.  The early levels are fine really, but as you progress you will first get the ability to dig up dirt, and then the ability to chop down foliage with your pincers. Combined with the finishing moves that I've already mentioned, what this adds up to is a whole lot of wagging, which gets pretty tiresome after a while.  Generally the motion controls are actually very cleverly thought out and implemented - there's just a bit too much of it during the later scorpion stages.  Luckily you alternate between the spider and the scorpion throughout the game, giving your poor old elbows the chance for a rest.

Innovation and Cleverness: 8 out of 10
Deadly Creatures deserves a pretty high score here - firstly for the rather novel idea of letting you take control of a pair of killer bugs, then for the way that it brings in the story of Wade and Struggs with their celebrity voice overs, and then finally with the clever motion controls.  Swinging the remote and nunchuk to deal out death to poor rodents is extremely satisfying (if a little tiring).  The final level is also very clever if a little infuriating to beat. I'm not going to spoil exactly what it entails here though.

Value and Replayability: 6 out of 10
If I were reviewing a brand new, full priced game then I would have awarded a much lower score here.  Deadly Creatures can easily be found for around the £5 mark though, which a good price for a game that takes around 10 hours in total to beat.  The replay value is questionable - there are over 400 optional grubs to find hidden throughout the levels, but all that they unlock are art galleries so I don't feel the need to go back and play the game again.   This is a "one and done" experience really.

Overall: 7 out of 10
Deadly Creatures is a flawed game, there's no doubt about it, but it's clever enough and cheap enough for me to recommend it everyone.  There aren't very many games out there that are like it, and the fans are hoping that one day we will see a Deadly Creatures 2.  That may not happen, but at least we have the original - just one of many such unique and clever games on the way if you can be bothered to look hard enough.