Thursday, December 27, 2007

Metapost: I'm still alive... again

I know... I know!

It says "every weekday" right up there, and yet I've barely done a half dozen posts this month. Chalk it up to extra paying work, holiday travel/socializing and more time spent with games that last significantly longer than an hour (Rock Band rocks my world).

Rest assured, though, that I am not dead, and neither is the Games For Lunch project. In fact, there ware some big plans in the works for this entire enterprise that should be coming to fruition next week. Watch this space for more.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Milon's Secret Castle

Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 1988
Systems: NES, Wii Virtual Console (reviewed)
ESRB Rating: E
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Frustrating platforming puzzling at it's finest least fine.

0:01 So I'm bending my own rule a little here because I have played this game before, during a short rental back in 1989. Since that was about 18 years ago, I feel like I can play it again today with fresh eyes. The title screen shows the top of a castle and a blue sky background. GAME START!

0:02 Running along outside the castle, there are three doors I can go in. If I lolly-gag too long bolts of lightnings start following me.

0:03 Controls are simple enough. A jumps, B shoots little bubbles that go forward and up slightly, (or down slightly if you hold the down button). Walk long enough in one direction and you start running, which makes your jump farther.

0:04 I get hit by one enemy four times in rapid succession and it's game over. What the hell! I know games were harder back then, but DAMN!

0:05 Starting over, I kill an enemy and he turns into an umbrella that floats away before I can grab it. Now that's good design. Also, shooting random bricks turns them into money signs. I've got $10 so far. This must have seemed impressive when I was eight, now it seems kind of laughably small.

0:06 Whoo. I find an energy-restoring/expanding item hidden in a block! Good thing too, 'cause I was down to one health unit again. I like the little "doot-dootle-doo" music that goes with it.

0:08 So I've got a key and $16, but I can't buy my way out of this room. HELP!

0:09 Hmm... apparently shooting a bubble in JUST the right spot in the upper right corner uncovers a door out. Intuitive! Back outside, I try door No. 2. It's a shop. I buy some sort of potion for $5. "Shrink when you touch the glove." What? I also get some free hints. "Find a saw" and "Crystal has Mysterious Powers." Words to live by if I ever heard them.

0:11 This time I got the umbrella! I have no idea what it did, but still, I got it!

0:12 This room has a lot of climbing. I can't make the apparent jump, but I can destroy a portion of the upper wall and jump through it. I think this is where I always got stuck as a kid.

0:15 So I find some holes in a staircase, but I can't get to the money hidden within. Suddenly, I'm dead, hit by the same monster about five times in rapid succession. Whoever made this game never heard of temporary invincibility? Oh well... time to start over... AGAIN!

0:16 I find a Hudson bee that gives me a bubble shield! Woohoo!

0:17 Things are going a bit faster now that I know what I'm doing. I find the key and get out of room No. 2. OK... now what.

0:19 This game is a travesty of design. There's absolutely no indication of what you're supposed to do or where secrets might be hidden. It's just guess and check fest. Ugh.

0:21 Wow... that's tricky. The only way to advance involves jumping, turning midair, hitting some bricks with bubbles, then jumping into the small gap you made, then doing it all over again. No wonder I got stuck as an eight-year-old.

0:23 Upon further exploration, all that trick did was get me access to a dollar. Whoo?

0:25 I keep accidentally going out through the door out of the room as I explore. Why yes, that is annoying, thank you for asking.

0:26 Still no freaking clue what these umbrellas do. Nor do I know how to use that potion I bought. On the plus side, I've destroyed this same green dragon thing about 50 times now.

0:27 I've hollowed out a good portion of this stairway, but still nothing I can get to. Annoyingly, the blocks only seems to disappear if you hit them JUST RIGHT, so I'm never quite sure if I missed something or not.

0:30 I reached a new platform! By running down the stairs and jumping just right, I've now gotten a bit higher. Yes, this is an achievement in this game. Unfortunately, I'm still equally stuck. Just higher.

0:31 Dead again. I've been playing for 15 minutes since my last restart, but I've probably lost only five minutes of "progress."

0:32 I believe I may kill myself if I have to listen to this calliope music anymore. Dah, dah dah, dah dah dah DAH dah.

0:35 Back to exactly the point where I was stuck. Yup, five minutes.

0:36 Desperate, I turn to the on-screen "operations guide" to see if I'm missing something obvious. If I find a crystal ball, I can continue by holding left when I press start. Again, intuitive!

0:37 "Be sure to search everywhere!" Thanks instructions. What do you think I've been doing?!

0:38 The parasol increases your rate of fire! There! Now I'll be able to sleep tonight. Also, the medicine I get makes Milon small when touched by "Bog (the green glove)." Uh huh... so where do I find that exactly?

0:40 I see something that looks kind of like a green glove just out of reach at the top of the right side of the screen. There's got to be a way up there, right? It just stands to reason.

0:45 I think I have now shot a bubble at literally every square inch of this room, and turned up nothing.

0:47 I go back to the shop. "FIND A SAW" IS NOT A HINT!

0:49 This music is going to haunt my dreams all week.

0:52 I have no more words. Part of me wants to use a guide for help, but a larger part of me doesn't want to give this game the satisfaction. I've played my fair share of games, and I feel if I need a guide within the first hour, it's the game's fault, not mine. I bet Milon veterans are laughing at me right now for missing something, but I don't care... this should not be this hard!

0:55 I'm beginning to think that maybe this game shipped with a fatal bug that makes the second room impossible to pass. Is this the "Secret" of Milon's Secret Castle? This idea seems more and more credible the more I play.

0:56 Not that anyone cares but I died again.

1:01 Has it been an hour already? Sorry, lost track of my sanity the time.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? If I wanted to be trapped in a room all day I'd commit a crime and go to prison.

This review based on a Virtual Console gift copy given to me as a joke by my friend Bruce. No, really.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Killer 7

Developer: Grasshopper
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: July 7, 2005
Systems: GameCube (reviewed), PS2
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Cel-shaded carnage.

0:01 "This game contains mature subject matter and graphic violence." Now there's an understatement. Someone is shooting at the Capcom and Grasshopper logos. Seems a bit gratuitous, as does the maniacal laughter as I choose "options."

0:02 Difficulty options are "Normal" and "Deadly." Whatever happened to "Easy?" I guess Normal is the new Easy. "Target:00 Angel" is the first chapter.

0:03 A laser pointer target hovers on a black silhouette. I can move the target around. A head shot turns the silhouette into some bloody kanji. Trippy.

0:04 The moon is beating in time to music. Was that the loading screen? Now a white-suited guy (Garcian Smith, as the credits call him) walks down an urban tableau. He has a tense moment passing a guy named Christopher Mills. There's no music, and stark black and white backgrounds with some blue gradients. Very stylish... like a movie intro. I like it.

0:05 Garcian gets a call about his mission. "May the lord smile." "And the devil have mercy." Smooth. My first task is "A free-for-all fight in the multipurpose Celtic building." A lot of this seems to lose something in the translation.

0:06 "Do you wish to learn the controls?" YES! Weird... the control stick doesn't control movement. The A button runs, and B changes direction (there are only two ways to go). Hold R to enter shooting mode. Somehow it works ... the system is very streamlined and promotes smooth, continuous motion. The low to the ground camera is very nice.

0:09 Cut scene time again. I'm on a surveillance camera when I (as Garcian) somehow change into a lanky white guy. "You don't want to go any further... My friends were all murdered" says a passing crazy person. Dan Smith (me): "Shit, there's more than 14. Those bastards are breeding." I'm so confused.

0:10 A gimp-like guy clad head to toe in red leather is my servant, apparently. His name is Iwazaru and he tells me where to find my room. "Let the bloodbath begin... in the name of Harman." What?

0:11 OK, apparently I'm Harman because my room is called "Harman's room." On the TV I can pick out personalities and try them on like clothes. There's Garcian, and Dan Smith, and a woman named Kaede Smith, and a whole bunch of others, some of whom are locked out currently. Weird.

0:13 I come to Iwazaru again. He has a bunch of info. about all sorts of game-related stuff. "About multiple personalities: They're not just normal multiple personalities ...[they're] multiple personalities, but with multiple bodies." So, uh multiple distinct people then?

0:17 Iwazaru's voice is incredibly unsettling, like he's whispering through a voice-changed. It's kind of grating, and the subtitles go by very slowly.

0:19 "The blood in the beaker is pure. Give it to the doctor in the television." In any other game that would be by far the weirdest line. In here it's one of the sanest.

0:20 OK, I could probably sit here reading about esoterica for another 10 minutes, but let's get back to the real game.

0:21 As I run down the hallway, Iwazaru suggests I turn back, because the enemies will "bomb rush" me. And they do. I can barely see the transparent things. Am I missing something?

0:23 I run into Travis, sitting in an open elevator. He speaks in a freaky, breathy whisper. "I'm the killer who got killed on the job ... you think I'm a real pain in the ass don't you... I ain't letting you go nowhere." Oh come on, just get out of the way. Or at least let me shoot you. Freaking ghost.

0:25 Iwazaru: "This guy is a true freak." Yeah, like you're one to talk, you gimp.

0:26 My first real battle, with a freaky looking something called "Camellia Smile." She goes down in three shots... running away all the while. Lots of blood everywhere. Then I run into an invisible wall. What do I do now? Guess I'll backtrack a bit.

0:30 At the halfway mark for the hour and I'm totally at a loss for what to do. Part of me is really intrigued by the presentation, another part of me is really peeved at being thrown in with so little guidance as to what the hell's going on. Give and take, I guess.

0:33 Back to my room to get more info. from Iwazaru, since I can't figure out what else to do. So according to Iwazaru, the Camellia Smile thing I killed might have been a traitor that wanted to defect to my side. NOW he tells me. Maybe this would've been nice to know earlier?

0:34 "Decadent murder makes the blood boil." Does Jack Thompson know about this game? "It's a world of sin. Have you met the sinner." Creeeepy.

0:37 Still stuck. My best clue is that I hear someone laughing when I go in the parking lot, but it's no one I can see.

0:39 In my pause menu, there's a memo that says "pigeon." When I choose it, there's a pigeon against a striped background. Wow. Just when you think this game can't get weirder.

0:44 So apparently I was supposed to use L to scan for enemies at that wall I was stuck at. This reveals a hanging monster that occasionally drops eggs with enemies. Part of me is mad at myself for not realizing this (it was part of the control tutorial, but I thought it was an optional part). Part of me is mad at the game for not telling me explicitly what to do when I got stuck. Have I gotten too coddled by games that lead me by the hand early on?

0:46 Apparently, scanning for enemies makes the transparent things suicide bombers apparent and killable. The game suddenly makes a bit more sense (but just a bit).

0:47 After taking out it's shambling spawn, I shoot the hanging thing in its shiny weakpoint. It explodes in a shower of white light. Whee!

0:49 Travis (now in the parking lot) tells me how the egg-laying Duplicator I just killed "pumped out the countless duplicates that took this country down." He gives me a "soul shell" bullet to take down the queen "gatekeeper." That's all well and good, but where do I go next?

0:51 Despite helping me in the parking garage, Travis is still in the elevator. And he STILL won't move to let me pass. Sigh.

0:52 So now, for no apparent reason, I have the option to go down a part of the hallway that I couldn't before. I've heard of linear game design, but this is a bit much.

0:54 A guy in a hooded sweatshirt gets blown to pieces by one of the transparent suicide bombers in a somewhat gratuitous cut scene.

0:59 After dying a few times to shambling suicide ghosts, I realize I'm way too tired to aim well. I'll come back when I'm less beat and less freaked out.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes
Why? It's incredibly unique and intriguing. I feel I've barely scratched the surface of an impressive, if badly translated, world.

This review based on a retail copy rented from GameFly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck

Developer: WayForward Technologies
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Release Date: Oct. 9, 2007
Systems: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: E

In a nutshell: Just Watch This

0:01 An extremely tinny, Looney Tunes-style musical number plays over the title screen. "Well look who's back. You sure took your sweet time getting here. Let's get started!" says Daffy. But... this is my first time playing. That's what happens when you rent from Gamefly, I guess.

0:02 Daffy talks about what type of game it should be. A "strategy quest game"? A "3D games with lots of polygons"? Or maybe one of those mind improvement games. Before I can type this up and react, he's asleep against the stark white background again. Oh well... waiting...

0:03 Tapping Daffy makes him react with some jumpy animation. Eventually, he tells me to "Knock it off, screwball" and brings out some cans of paint. I choose the red bucket, and he becomes a cowboy, complete with desert background. I draw the worst horse ever imagined and he jumps on and bounces towards town.

0:04 Daffy spouts a bunch of Western catch phrases in a saloon and gets ignored. Then he says "Anyone for tennis" and gets corralled into a card game. O...K. The pause menu tells me to deal the cards correctly before time runs out. This involves tapping the deck and slinging the card to whichever of the two players is pictured on the card. Pretty easy.

0:06 Now there's three players and three sections to deal to. This is kind of fun, if a little simple.

0:07 Five levels of this repetitive cruft and we're done. "Tough room," Daffy says as he dumps bullets out of his hat. Back to the stark white background... Daffy's temperature goes up, as shown via a giant cartoon thermometer. Now there's a light slider at the top of the screen. Daffy complains when I turn out the lights, but not much.

0:09 He complains more when I turn the lights real bright. This unlocks a new mini-game... Daffy holds a candle and I have to blow it out before he reaches the top of the stairs. Then he holds TNT and I have to... not do anything. Gripping! This whole concept was done better in WarioWare: Touched.

0:11 Five levels of this crap... most of them just involve watching Daffy and DOING NOTHING as he carries TNT. In level five I have to blow softly to slow him down. Yeah...that makes sense. The slight load time between animations really takes away from the whole thing. Bleh.

0:12 "I wonder whose idea it was to put two screens on this thing. That's using the old coconut." Yay self-referential humor.

0:14 I choose yellow paint this time... Daffy become Robin Hood! He's gonna steal the gold and "return it to the less fortunate... namely me." Heh.

0:15 Another freaking blowing game? This time I have to blow to keep Daffy up as he flies through the air like an arrow. First time out I blow too hard and he hits the top of the screen and falls down. Er, what?

0:16 Second try, I go over the king I was aiming for. It's hard to watch the screen when you have to put your face right up to it to blow. It hurts my eyes. Also, I'm getting spittle all over the screens.

0:17 Three failures and Daffy's temperature goes down. "So what's next on the menu." Maybe something that doesn't hurt my eyes so much?

0:18 Heh. Daffy starts blabbing egotistically about his central role in the game, when a volume knob appears. I turn off his speechifying and he drags out a typewriter to formally request his voice back. Then I get to record something... Wait, was that a mini-game? There was no game there...

0:19 So apparently if I click the light bulbs during Daffy's "What Type of Game" speech (see 0:02 above) I can get new mini-games. The adventure quest is "Diamond Mine! Mine!," a pixelated "low-rent game from the 70s" as Daffy puts it. Shades of Adventure on the 2600. I have to guide the diamond away from Daffy using the stylus.

0:22 I feel really stupid but I can't figure out how to get the diamond by a brick wall. Daffy says I stink, but that's why he loves playing games with me. Gee... thanks.

0:25 After playing around in the options, I choose blue paint this time. Duck Dodgers! My favorite cartoon ever! "That was some of my best work you know." I do, I do!

0:28 This is quite the weird game. I have to make a path for the electricity using green arrows, then crank this tiny crank to get the juice flowing, then pull a switch to transport Daffy so Marvin can incinerate him. It's a bit hard to figure out, even with instructions, thanks to the unfriendly interface. Also, the crank is VERY hard to turn in super-small circles.

0:31 The later Duck Dodger levels get a little interesting, with stuff in the way, but still kind of confusing. When I win, Daffy says "You're disgustable" What! Doesn't he mean "You're despicable!"? Someone dropped the ball there.

0:34 "How is it that I can look so good after so many years, you may ask. Can you keep a secret? Well so can I" The writing ain't half bad.

0:35 I'm not sure how, but by tapping around I somehow activate a game where I have to cut Daffy in half, creating multiple, smaller Daffys, until they finally disintegrate into nothingness. Surreal.

0:37 This has some potential for fun, but the cutting controls are so imprecise and hard to use that it becomes more of a chore. Ugh.

0:41 After failing quite a few times, I finally manage to win by tapping ans slashing like a madman. Overall: Frustrating.

0:42 I try the Adventure clone again and figure out that I can destroy the brick walls with a few taps of the stylus. Me = idiot.

0:45 This Adventure game is actually kind of fun now that I know what I'm doing. But Daffy is so slow that it isn't really challenging. Hopefully there's a master quest later or something.

0:46 So I somehow unlock the recording mini-game again. I have no idea why it's even a game. You record your voice and then... you win? What?

0:50 I tear a hole in the background and then, apropos of nothing, Daffy demands I draw him a new body. I draw him a big green bulbous thing just in time for a tortoise and hare style hurdle race. Wait... that was a Bugs Bunny cartoon. There weren't enough Daffy moments to swipe from?

0:52 This is actually a lot easier if I turn the DS sideways, like a book. Up and down swipes are a lot easier than left to right, for me. I win all five races easily, despite some tough, unresponsive controls.

0:56 "I should be one of those new-fangled 3D characters. That's where the money is." Heh. 3D Daffy has like ten polygons total. "This is next-gen?" Heh x 2.

0:58 I fail Level 1 twice before I realize I'm SUPPOSED to make Daffy hit the bombs. It's hard to remember sometimes that my goal is to make Daffy's life a living hell.

1:01 Making Daffy die is actually kind of tough by level 5. "So much for the latest and greatest. Give me pixels over polys any day." Amen. Also, "Did you know there are 49,152 pixels on this screen. I known because I've counted them all waiting for you to do something.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.
Why? There are some inventive ideas here, but the execution leaves something to be desired. I'm glad I played for an hour though.

This review based on a retail copy rented from Gamefly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Mass Effect

Developer: Bioware
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2007
Systems: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Knights of the Old Republic minus Star Wars

0:01 No discernible loading time before the BioWare and Microsoft logos, complete with LOUD sound effects. A stock shot of a planet from space with some ethereal background music accompany the title screen.

0:03 "Welcome to Alliance Military Database. Classified information requested." Weird way to start a game. I choose the pre-created John Shepard instead of creating my own character.

0:04 There's a big ship with a rotating, glowing energy core. Oh, that was just the loading screen? "Well, what about Shepard. Earthborn, but no record of his family." ... "Is that the kind of person we want protecting the galaxy." "It's the only kind of person who can protect the galaxy." Gag. It's the year 2148. Something about Mars... I can't read the backstory quickly enough while typing. Seems like generic sci-fi cheese to me so far.

0:06 Still a cut scene: Shepard walks through a spaceship hallway as some radio voice goes on with techno-babble. A sweeping violin score completes the cheesiness.

0:07 The glowing thing on the ship launches us into hyperspace, or something. The pilot and an alien boss don't get along very well. The voice acting is a little hollow, but generally convincing. Oh, it's my turn to talk. Some guy named Nihlus is here, and this is important, for some reason. I can't follow what's going on at all. "Is it me or does the captain always sound pissed off?" "Only when he's talking to you, joker." Heh.

0:09 All right, I can move. I don't go 20 steps, though, before talking to someone else, a Navigator Pressly. This conversation actually reveals more about the backstory in a comprehensible way. Nihlus is a Turian Spectre, whatever that means, and he's on board for mysterious reasons. Pressly thinks they're covering something up. On Captain Anderson: "If he melted down all his medals he could make a life size statue of himself." Heh.

0:10 The conversation system lets you choose a generalized response before the person is done talking. This works pretty well in practice.

0:12 Rumor around the ship is that Spectres don't answer to anyone and can kill without question. Intriguing.

0:13 We're making a overt pickup on Eden Prime. Nihlus, obviously not human, seems... overly interested in it's beauty. There's a Prothean beacon there from 50,000 years ago... incredibly valuable for its technology. I like the natural flow of the conversations, but I keep wondering what the other discussion options would have led too. What can I say, I'm a completist.

0:16 They're testing me out as a "candidate for the Spectres." I'd be the first human on the elite squad. The writing and voice acting are picking up, but the eerily misshapen faces and bad lip-synching hurt the presentation. Captain Anderson is especially hard to look at. And while all this backstory is interesting, would it kill them to have some more action early on?

0:19 The last two minutes or so were spent conversing about more of the universe's backstory. Apparently finding Prothean technology on Mars catapulted the humans into this futuristic space world. Good info. to have, and nice that it's not forced on you.

0:20 A video message shows a gun battle on Eden Prime. Heavy Casualties. "This mission just got a lot more complicated." Enough talk, time for ACTION! Let me in there!

0:21 Actually, a bit more talking, as Nihlus strikes off ahead and we have to back him up

0:23 All right, on the ground and moving 'round. LT zooms and RT fires. You need to lead your shots a little. There are some floating white things to shoot at ... nothing too interesting yet.

0:26 There are a bunch of weapons to choose for each of my squadmates. Not that I know what any of them are. I try to pick a good mix of big and small, I guess...

0:27 Well that was quick. No more than 30 seconds into the first firefight and I'm down. "Critical Mission Failure" the screen reads. I don't like whatever weapon I selected... too much kickback and too hard to aim.

0:29 Ah... the floating white things are harmless "gas bags." I would've found that out if I hadn't killed them so quickly last time. Also, thank god for subtitles. I can barely hear what my squadmates say most of the time.

0:30 Annoyance #1: I can't skip the 15 second, pre-battle cut scene that I already saw before I died? That's going to get annoying fast. Armed with a faster weapon, the fight is pretty easy. One of my squadmates is done for though. I can't tell if this is a scripted story element or if I just didn't defend him well enough.

0:32 The shooting controls are pretty nice. The auto-targeting helps immensely for an FPS noob like me. But the frame rate's hiccuping a bit as I run through the over-detailed environments.

0:33 Wow, the pause screen is chock full of information on my squad and their equipment. Lots of things to spend level points on... I could be here all day. Luckily, there's an "auto level up" option that just puts points wherever they fit best.

0:36 A summary of the last 15 minutes or so: Walk walk walk, shoot a group of three drones, walk walk, more drones, walk, drones, walk.

0:37 Cut scene of a woman running from some drones. She quickly turns and makes garbage out of them. Er, why didn't she do that earlier. Suddenly, she spies a human getting impaled (!) by a pair of humanoid-ish robots. She runs for cover. Back to controlling Shepard ... I run to her and help her take them out, no questions asked. Nice flow here.

0:39 She's "Gunnery Chief Ashley Williams of the 212." She thinks the enemies are "Geth" which haven't been seen for over 200 years. "They must have come for the beacon." NO SHIT SHERLOCK! I ask her along on my team.

0:43 So during the conversation I got turned around and spent a minute running the wrong way before figuring it out. Partly this is my fault for having no sense of direction, but would it have killed the developers to put some sort of subtle hint about where to go next on the radar or something?

0:46 OK, that was entirely awesome. I crouched behind some cover and popped out to take out two enemies, threw a grenade at a third, then used a brief burst of super-speed to ram into two more. Of course the tutorial guided me through each step, but still it was relatively seamless. Can't wait to pull this stuff out in real battles.

0:49 Seems those impaled soldiers are now GETH ZOMBIE ENEMIES! AIEEEE!

0:50 Door unlocking mini-game time. I have to press buttons as they light up. In this case... Y three times. Wow... tough...

0:51 Dr. Warren was hiding behind the door. "They must have come for the beacon," she says. WE KNOW, WE KNOW. But it's not here anymore. Oh. Dr. Manuel, her assistant, seems to have gone a bit batty. "Genius and madness are two sides of the same coin." Warren says. Manuel insists he's "the only sane one left." Uhhhh... sure.

0:53 Damn. I choose the "I can shut him up" option for our conversation and Shphard goes ahead and knocks Manuel out with a single punch! That's hardcore! Dr. Warren is remarkably amenable to the idea, after a quick explanation from Shepard that "he's better off." What is this, Die Hard: Space Edition?

0:55 Jump cut to Nihlus. He comes across someone he knows... another Turian named Saren. "The council thought you could use some help on this one." The creepy music means we should be worried. Saren pulls a gun on Nihlus and the scene cuts back to Shepard just in time to hear a far off gunshot. Nice.

0:57 A quick firefight and we find Nihlus' body on the ground. A human named Powell is conveniently hiding and tells us what happened. Hooray for plot device characters. Apparently he took a nap there before the attack started. He sounds a bit ashamed about it. We lay into him,basically calling him a coward. It's actually surprisingthey flesh out such a minor character to this extent.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Despite a confusing start, the story and characters are developing nicely, and combat is simple but thrilling.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Microsoft.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: No. 19, 2007
Systems: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Prince of Persia meets Indiana Jones

0:01 This minute was spent watching a blank loading screen and a title screen with sweeping violins.

After a brief title screen and playing around with options, yet more loading!

0:03 "There must be a beginning to any great matter..." We're in Panama, watching shaky-cam footage of the coffin of Sir Francis Drake, buried at sea 400 years ago. "Are you sure you want to be defiling your ancestors remains like that?" the female camera holder asks. There's some real chemistry between her and the guy defiling the coffin. Nice voice acting and character animation makes it work.

0:04 The coffin holds a book, but he doesn't want to share its contents with the camera-woman. Pirates are coming. "Shouldn't we call the authorities or something." "That'd be great except we don't exactly have a permit to be here..." She doesn't really know how use a gun. "It's like a camera... point and shoot, right?" Heh.

0:05 Into the gameplay. L1 to aim, R1 to shoot, O to take cover behind objects. You need to stand still to aim, which leaves you painfully open. Feels a bit lame to me. I do like how the well-written dialogue continues through the firefight.

0:07 Pirates are on the ship now. "Press square, square, square, square, square for a furious combo." Really? Square five times is "furious"? Booooring.

0:08 "Enemies killed by a brutal combo leave more ammo." How does that even begin to make sense? Are they hiding some ammo in a special compartment that only a "brutal" combo can break open?

0:10 Sully responds to our earlier radio for help by flying in on an old fashioned propeller plane to save the day. Just then a rocket launcher blows up the ship. "I had everything under control until they blew up the boat." "Nothing a few years of therapy won't fix" says Elena Fisher (the girl). Sully is the cigar-chomping Victor Sullivan. Nate (the guy) thinks Drake faked his death. Elena overhears, and wants to see the diary when they land.

0:12 When Sully cuts Nate off, Nate calls him, "a man only interested in the climax. You must be a real hit with the ladies." Heh. So Drake was looking for El Dorado, the lost city of gold. The last page is torn out. "This is it. This is finally it." But Elena is "a little problem," according to Sully. He wants to cut her loose. She doesn't trust either of them. Great characterization here ... some believable motivations and conflict, for once.

0:15 It still looks like a cut scene, but it turns out I can move about the jungle as the men chatter about past conquests. The lighting effects really capture the forest. Nice blur when the camera moves.

0:16 I'm loving the character animation on Nate ... he leans into turns, rolls after long falls, jumps and climbs realistically over complex rocks ... very nice. Now if there was only something to do ...

0:17 Another cut scene. They find nothing but empty space where the city is supposed to be. "This is like trying to find a bride in a brothel." Oh Sully. You're incredibly offensive.

0:19 Well well well... run through a little passage and we find some ruins that Drake somehow knows are 2,000 years old.

0:21 Two minutes walking around before I find the one ledge I can climb. A Prince of Persia style leap and I'm across to another platform. The environments are incredibly organic, which is nice, but makes it hard to find where to go next. This is both good and bad.

0:23 Our first puzzle. There's some hollow ground, and we have to figure out how to smash through... my first thought, jumping from up high, doesn't seem to work.

0:25 Hanging off ledges and sliding along ... Prince of Persia much? I come across a boulder that I push over to break on through to the other side.

0:26 I love the little touches that make the world seem alive (even though there's no one else alive around). Bats that react to the flashlights ... bits of stone that slip unstably as you run on them ... the way Drake's stance changes when he walks down stairs. The little things matter!

0:28 "This place was picked clean centuries ago," by the Spanish. Sully is "up to my eyeballs in debt." Sully thinks Nate's into Elena. "All's fair in love and war, kid." "And what if you can't tell the difference." "Then, well, you're in trouble." I love this dialogue!

0:30 I come across a huge pit. Luckily there's an explosive barrel across the way that knocks down a big inca-style head. "Ha, that'll work."

0:33 Sully: "We gotta figure a way to clear this debris. ... This wood's pretty dry. I bet we could burn it. ... Try shooting one of those lamps down." Thank you Captain Game Objective! Also, is there anything in this game a gun can't solve?

0:35 Ouch... one false step and I'm in the drink ... then I'm right back where I was almost instantly. Low risk ... encourages exploration ... nice.

0:37 Note to self... be farther away from barrels before making them explode.

0:38 So 2,000 years ago people apparently had the technology to make a five-ton stone door move just by lighting a lamp? Whatever.

0:44 A pretty simple puzzle, based on a journal entry that has four symbols in a certain order. The hardest part is finding the buttons around a massive room, but it's so much fun running around the spookily lit caves and watching/making Nate jump around, it's hard to complain.

0:47 Nate, upon getting out of the water. "I am really wet." The voice acting makes it work, surprisingly.

0:48 This "shooting at explosive barrels thing" is getting old already. This is the third time in less than an hour! Aren't there any other ways to get stuff done?

0:49 Wow. Walking on a shaky wooden platform, it quickly starts to collapse, starting a run-into-the-screen action sequence. Shades of Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot, appropriately enough. In a good way.

0:51 During certain sections Nate is forced into a walk. One the one hand, this is annoying because I want to get there sooner. On the other, it's realistic, in that no one can run that long, or would want to.

0:55 We come across a beautiful waterfall with ... something big sticking out of it. A ship's hull? Yet another cut scene. They're pretty frequent, but so good I don't really mind. It's a German U-boat. Sully is worried. Nate gives him the diary and jumps in the drink.

More wall-crawling. Now there's vines to let me swing along. It's hard to see what to jump to next in the crowded environments, but blind leaping tends to work OK.

Finishing out the hour with a save, the game tells me I'm 11% complete for 44 minutes of actual "play." So a seven hour game, at this pace. Kind of short, but about how long I can see putting into this, actually.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Why? Great controls, animation and, possibly most importantly, writing and voice acting, make for some very convincing world building. Well done.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.