Obscured View

A few chosen words on the world of video games

Archive for April, 2009

20 hours in: Valkyria Chronicles

I’m not done with this game yet, but I thought I’d collect my thoughts on clocking in around 20 hours of play so far.

It’s almost a great game.  It’s really a steal for the $30 you can currently get it for at EBgames / GameStop… but only if you enjoy strategy games to begin with.  If you’re not a strategy game fan, there’s nothing in this game that’s going to convert you to love them.

The game has a bunch of design contradictions in it.  It’s trying to be a “hey, just play it your way” kind of game — a great idea — yet blows that by relying only on speed alone in order to get good mission rankings.  Combined with a radical balance change after you get to elite units, you’re pushed into certain play patterns… if you want to get high rankings.

High rankings aren’t that important… unless you want to level up your units quickly, which seems only semi-important, but turns out actually is rather important.  I’m curious if you got the worst rankings possible through every mission if you could complete the game without diving into a whole lot of skirmish to make up the difference.

The story is melodramatic, but great.  It’s reminiscent of Skies of Arcadia (same team, I believe) in that the world is somewhat grim, but the cast is always optimistic even through some really dark incidents descend on them… and in Valkyria, some of them are particularly dark, for certain.  There’s characters you certainly cheer for as the game goes on, and you hope that a lot of what they’re saying will happen for ’em.

I’ll have a full writeup on the game once I’ve finished it, but it’s as close to a replacement for X-com that I’ve found in recent years, which for me is a big thing.

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Valkyria Chronicles

My god, it’s full of cut-scenes!

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Resident Evil 5: Upholding the Trek film credo?

For most geeks, there’s a general rule / curse that all the even numbered Star Trek movies are the truly good ones.  TBH, I really stopped following them after First Contact, but anyway that’s the supposed rule.  Even = cool, while odd = suck.  II, IV, VI, First Contact… I’m too lazy to check IMDB to see if there was one more even one.

Ok, so maybe “suck” isn’t appropriate for the odd numbered ones, but at least “not as good” seems to stand.

I still believe that RE2 is the best in the series.  RE4 made some great inroads in “rebooting” the core game play of the series, but 2 was just a special kind of awesome in many ways.  Multiple storylines (that overlapped), the 4th Survivor scenario that actually fills you in on how the stupid virus gets out (yet again), tofu, weapon upgrading, etc.  It was also scary, challenging, and rather large for a survival horror game.

And now, we have Resident Evil 5… which seems to say “yes, our series may just be following that Star Trek movie theory”.  It’s great looking, fully co-op (yay!), and… not scary at all.  It’s not much of a survival game either.  It’s more of a zombie action shooter with slightly aggravating controls.  It’s also short.  8 hours or so on first play-through (normal difficulty), getting shorter from there.  The bosses are mostly fun, although not terrifying in the slightest.  I have to admit that the Wesker / Redfield drama was getting old, too.  At least it appears to be over, and we can get back to Leon’s side of things, which is just more interesting.

So where did this one go wrong?  Well, for one, most of the creatures are repeats from RE4, which means there’s not a lot of new things to jump out at you if you’ve played the last one.  El Gigante, the bug / whip head things, the splitting mouth zombie guys, lickers (from RE2 era), head-splitting dogs, etc.  There’s maybe two or three new creatures, not counting a half-dozen unique bosses… although some of them even feel like repeats of RE4 bosses in how the fight pattern works out.

I have real issues with the GPS feature they added.  It’s an always-up map, and aside from maybe two areas, it completely lays out the entire level you’re going through.  It takes a lot of the fun and exploration out of the game, which was always a big part of the RE games.  Maybe this was to appeal to more casual-speed players?  Anyway, on the GPS you can clearly see the room layouts and terrain mapping, giving you a good idea that every time the board opens up a bit, a multi-enemy fight is approaching.  Sure enough, you get there, and there is one.  Wind, get out of my sails!

At least there’s a lot of weapons to upgrade… or at least that seems like a good idea until you start doing it.  Unless you’re replaying each mission several times (why?) before moving on to the next, most of the new weapons will only be available by replaying the game a few times.  Additionally, unlocking the weapon and then the unlimited ammo version are two very different beasts, running off of different accumulators (score vs. “points”) which ends up complicating the issue and forcing more replay.  To be honest, the game’s not worth a second replay, let alone a third or more.

In keeping with how we roll at Jet Set, I can’t just bitch about this stuff without offering constructive feedback, so here goes the list of “what could they have done to make it better?”:

  • Remove the GPS.  Make me explore and discover things without telegraphing what’s coming up in the level.  Remember finding and purchasing maps?  Where’d that go?
  • Make the basic monsters more of a threat.  If I have a real chance at dying in 60% of the combats, that’s about right.  It was realistically more like 10%, not counting the cheap auto-hit attacks that some of them (dogs, fat guys, chainsaw dude, lickers) have, or the quick-time events that could instantly kill you if you weren’t as reflexive as they wanted.
  • Give the player more money during the course of the game so that I can buy more of the weapons to play with and upgrade the ones I have.  It’s not fun that some of the really fun weapons require fully upgrading others, which doesn’t happen on one play-through.
  • Alternately, they could also reduce the number of discreet upgrade steps per weapon and make each more meaningful.
  • Get back to tense encounters / setups, like being locked in a house with zombies flooding in from every angle.  There’s only 2 of those types of setups that appear fairly early in RE5, and that’s it.
  • Add some new creatures.  It’s about time, really.  Make use of flight or ceilings more.  There’s not enough creatures that use ’em by a long shot.
  • Having unlockable characters in Mercenaries mode is nice, but they can’t be played in the main game (I really don’t care if I’m playing Wesker and I’m fighting Wesker), so their appeal is limited, at best.  Allow them to be played in whatever mode I want.
  • Blow out the splitting up mechanic to greater effect.  It’s fun when you get separated from your partner, but it’s only for 30 seconds to maybe a minute at the most.  Just like Gears 2, it’s a letdown in practice here.

Keep in mind I skimmed over a lot of good stuff, such as the NPC AI being decent (tip: give her a machine gun!), good sound, skewing ammo you find to your weapons carried, ease of saving / checkpoints, a great level select / replay mechanic, lots of unlockables, etc.

Worth $60?  Hard to say.  I paid $40 for it (hooray Toys R Us coupons!), which I’d say it’s worth.

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