Saturday, December 21, 2013

TAG's Game of the Year 2013

I'm working on it, ok?

I'm going to take a moment to talk about my personal game of the year, which I feel has been greatly unappreciated amid the AAA giants like Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us.

DMC is the ugly duckling of Capcom's Devil May Cry series - everybody hated it for the most whiny and pathetic of reasons (his hair changed colour), yet there was a beautifully designed swan waiting underneath.

That was a terrible use of that metaphor, I'm sorry.

I was blown away by just about every facet of the game. The visuals and level design are beautiful and creative (with some minor texture pop-in in the last quarter of the game), the characters and dialog are well written (I especially like the exchange between Dante and the Succubus), the soundtrack is incredible, and the combat is some of the most fast paced and fun action I've played in any game.
DMC's best feature is its fast paced combat. The controls are responsive, allowing Dante to string together combos quickly and effectively. Weapons and abilities are introduced at a steady pace, which gives the player plenty of time to practice with each one. And enemies attack in great hordes and variety, and telegraph attacks quickly enough for the player to dodge out of the way seamlessly - or else punish you appropriately for not being attentive to your surroundings. DMC is one of the few modern games I love to replay over and over again.

DMC also has some surprisingly well written characters. Dante is stubborn and free spirited, but ultimately selfless and humorous (even if the jokes are few and far between). Vergil is his polar opposite - fighting for a greater good but selfish and emotionless at times. And finally Kat, who is reserved - with good reason - and doesn't devolve into a generic love interest (though sadly her design doesn't reflect this). Kat might not be the best example of a strong female character, but she is a great example of a well written one - she has fears and doubts whilst also being intelligent and competent.

That said, DMC has some glaring flaws, of which the biggest has to be the ending. Had the game ended five minutes before it did (or better yet had set up the twist far earlier), it would have ended on a much stronger note. Even so, I think DMC: Devil May Cry is a truly under-appreciated gem, which is why I'm naming it my Game of the Year for 2013.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Deadly Premonition - Director's Cut review

Deadly Premonition – The Director’s Cut review

Developer: Rising Star Games
Platform: PS3

Note: the reviewer has not played the original Xbox 360 version of Deadly Premonition, and so this review is the result of a first-time playthrough of the updated Director’s Cut. Clearly the reviewer is a jerk.

The world's creepiest damn smile.
Deadly Premonition is atrocious, suffering from ugly visuals, shoddy animation and a soundtrack that utterly defies logic.

And I loved every single minute of it.

Deadly Premonition follows FBI Agent Francis York Morgan (just call him York, everyone does that) investigating a string of brutal murders across America (referred to as the Red Seed Murders, as red seeds have been uncovered at each crime scene), finally arriving in the sleepy town Greenvale to investigate the most recent casualty. However, what begins as an ordinary homicide investigation gradually becomes a desperate game of cat-and-mouse with the supernatural evils –both psychological and literal- that haunt the once peaceful town.

The first thing you will notice about Deadly Premonition is the graphical quality. It’s terrible. Characters are animated with over the top cartoonish flourishes (good god, York’s smile scares me), and these are reused many times across the game. Environments incorporate repeatable tiles of ground and poorly modelled vegetation. Visually, this looks like a game that should’ve been made for a PS2 rather than current-generation consoles. Furthermore, while the soundtrack isn’t inherently terrible, and can be used to make some truly scary or emotional moments, Deadly Premonition has a habit of reusing songs in all the wrong places. Don’t believe me? Imagine being at a crime scene of a bloody and horrific murder while this is playing:

By all accounts, Deadly Premonition should be a terrible excuse for a game. And yet, the final product is immensely enjoyable, with both an involving crime story and an excellent example of Survival Horror done right.

Narrative-wise, Deadly Premonition is full of mystery and surprise twists. The game keeps you guessing as you attempt to discover the culprit behind the Red Seed Murders – incorporating characters and story threads that will completely throw you off the trail, then bringing you back with an unsuspecting – yet absolutely logical – revelation near the game’s end. Then the story concludes with yet another turn – again, surprising but not ridiculously illogical – before ending with a melancholic and yet utterly satisfying ending. The first few hours of the plot comes off as ridiculous and nonsensical at times, but successfully wraps up all story threads concisely.

Furthermore, Deadly Premonition’s combat and gameplay creates one of the best examples of classic Survival Horror this generation. In Greenvale’s hallucinatory Otherworld, York can either utilise various melee weapons that degrade with each hit, or else a selection of firearms and scavenged ammunition. The downside to using guns is that York must stand still to aim and fire - a feature borrowed from the Resident Evil series – which can result in harrowing and claustrophobic fights if you don’t remain vigilant. There are even some downright terrifying moments where you must find a hiding place or else flee for your life from Greenvale’s infamous Raincoat Killer. The game can be too generous with supplies and money, and combat isn’t particularly difficult, so you’ll likely have very little difficulty playing through these segments. In an age where major horror games are losing sight of what made them great in the first place, Deadly Premonition is one of the few examples of a genuine Survival Horror experience.

Greenvale is home to a large cast of bizarre and comedically stereotypical characters: Thomas is a camp and slightly effeminate police officer with a talent for baking, Keith is the rock and roll loving owner of the Milk Bar, and Harry is an eccentric gas-masked millionaire with a butler who speaks in rhyme. Many of these characters provide various fetch quests that may yield information on the case, but you can just as easily pass on these without any detrimental impact on the story – and still clock in about 16+ hours of gameplay.

The playable area of Deadly Premonition is surprisingly large, with multiple activities and quests to occupy yourself with. Furthermore, the game also features a real-time day and night cycle - one 24-hour cycle lasting about 8 real-time hours. Certain shops and missions only operate at specific times of the day, so time can easily be accelerated by smoking cigarettes if you’re in a hurry to complete a story segment or quest.

When free-roaming the real-world Greenvale, York must also maintain both his hunger and tiredness levels, managed by consuming food/beverages and finding time to sleep. Generally, these replenish during story missions, so this rarely obstructs gameplay if you’re focused primarily on the main quest.

Despite looking and sounding utterly awful, Deadly Premonition’s immersive plot and rich gameplay make this game absolutely worth playing - even if only to laugh at how poorly it was made. This game only gets a 6/10 from me, but if you’re willing to look past these glaring imperfections, there is a brilliant game here absolutely worth giving a go.

The Verdict

Immersion: 1.5
Give Deadly Premonition a chance, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a surprisingly engaging whodunit crime drama that will constantly keep you guessing. Comedy is generally hit-and-miss, but the game can be genuinely terrifying when it wants to be.

Gameplay: 1.5
Combat is shoddy enough that the game feels like a true survival-horror, even if a little generous with supplies and money. Hunger, tiredness, side missions and a real-time clock compliment the experience without burdening it.

Visuals: 0.5
York’s smile is the most terrifying thing ever animated by human hands. Character animations and models are sub-par, and the environment looks like something out of a PS2 era game.

Audio: 1.0
Mostly sub-par acting, with a handful of standout performances. Soundtrack is ok, but is used in all of the wrong places with humorous results.

Longevity: 1.5
One playthrough can last about 16 hours, not including side-missions and exploration.

Final Score: 6.0/10.0


Bonus Review: Sinner’s Sandwich

One humorous scene in Deadly Premonition involves the Sinner’s Sandwich: “self-inflicted punishment to atone for past sins” involving turkey meat, strawberry jam and cereal on a white bread sandwich. Naturally, I couldn’t resist trying it out.

We cooked up chopped slices of turkey meat (not turkey loaf, that’s gross) and put it on a sandwich with Special K and Raspberry Jam (strawberry wasn’t available). The result? Not half bad. The jam overpowered the turkey somewhat, so it pretty much tasted like a really crunchy jam sandwich.

8/10, would try again.