Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

October 27, 2005

Review Round-Up (10/27/05) - Ten calibur artistry...


Review: Shadow of the Colossus (Ps2) - Some mountains are climbed, others are slain...

VGP Score


10


You don't often come across the likes of Shadow of Colossus. There are many people and games before it that have tried to make 'art' with videogames. If you were privaleged enough to play Team ICO's seminal title ICO, you were treated to some great visuals. The entire game played out like an active, living painting. Every brush stroke mirrored by the input of the controller, and every colour change as transient as the artists pallette. The game was just beatiful. It unfortunately remained rather similar throughout the whole adventure. The game played intuitively, but it was a lot of the same. Team ICO now has their chance to continue on towards the goal they set out to accomplish with Shadow of the Colossus. The team has grabbed a hold of that beauty and artistry, and held onto it maternally throughout the development of Shadow. That thing is what the games industry has desperately needed, and in heavy doses. Shadow, being the spiritual successor to ICO, has retained the quality of looking like art, but also boasts the ability to play like art. The game takes the idea of sim, and truly immerses you in it. Perhaps not as traditional as Will Wright wrote it, but there's definitely art mimicking life, and life mimicking art here. The story begins quaintly: a lone man - a Wanderer - riding in by horseback to a barren land, devoid of significant life, and empty of civilized impedimenta. An impossibly high bridge, bare backing into a shrine where 16 colossal monuments watch, as the Wanderer - someone we lovingly call Wander - places the body of his deceased loved one Mononoke, on the alter. Wander's goal is to find a way to bring her back from the dead and return her soul - at any cost. The Dormin, the omnipotent voice from somewhere offers you the restoration of Mononoke's life in exchange for defeating the 16 colossi that roam freely in the cursed land. Using the sacred sword - which you stole away as you fled from your native kingdom - find and defeat them. No how, or why, just do it and you'll see the lungs of your loved one inflate with a breath of life. Love does crazy things to a man, and this time is no different. No reason necessary, no cost is too high, and no mountain too live...

The game starts the player off with a bow and enchanted sword, his trusty steed and impeccable ambition. The thing to note as the introduction reels through it's 10 odd minute cut-scene, is that the only way in or out of this barren landscape is the impossibly built bridge, which you ride in on. So any life roaming through the flora and fauna of the land, can only escape over this bridge, which is a feat in and of itself to reach. The feeling of isolation and desolation are emphasized, just by this point alone. That same point is reemphasized time and time again, as you head-to-head it with a colossus the realization dawns that it's only you, the colossi and your only friend, Agro the horse. Agro's place in this epic story is not fully realized until the final act plays through. There's great emotional attachment to the characters here, and it's done with so little effort. The idea that the player knows whats going on is tossed, right until the final chapter comes to a close. By the time the credits roll, you'll be taken a back by just how much punch was packed into about an hour of story in a 10 hour game. The emotions invoked here are deep and in some cases painful. During one or two moments this reviewer felt the urge to shed a tear (however, did not). The relationship between Wander and Agro will tug at your heart strings, and there's nary a game that can boast the same thing.

But how does it play? Really, the game is art in every sense of the word, but there's still a game beneath that canvased disposition. The entire premise of the game is to hunt down these colossi and take them down. Is that it, you ask? For the first playthrough, yes definitely. However I'm going to veto the negative connotation attched to that statement. There are games that impliment half finished ideas, and only those ideas. Shadow is far from a half finished idea. It's a fully honed and tweaked idea, that gives the game something most other one trick ponies don't have: focus. The game never loses track of what it wants you to do, and never distracts you with filler. The enemy is the colossus, and no one else. There are other things to do and collect, like find fruit tees and white tailed lizards to increase health and strength, but those are fairly secondary. The focus never shifts to those things. To cement the point I'm trying to make: the fact that all you do is fight colossi is not a slight against the game. It's 100% in it's favour.

In order to reach each colossus, there's some lengthy travel times and exploration that need to be done first. By holding your sword up in brightly lit areas you can reflect sunlight, which will narrow into a singular beam when you're pointing in the direction of your target colossus. Making your way there will require you to trot through some rough terrains of varying nature, such as scaling mountains, crossing barren deserts, navigating through forest thicket, and breast stroking across lakes of water. Truly sights to be seen. The sheer size of the land is enough to make any Grand Theft Auto or Spider Man 2 fan jealous. The sqaure mileage of this game equates to about twice as much as any of the aforementioned games. Draw distances and texturing (even some of the first vertex shading I've seen on the Playstation 2) are all of the highest calibre. Although, the land is the furthest thing from most impressive in this title. The most impressive features in Shadow are the colossi themselves. Tens to even a hundred times larger than our lonely hero, these beasts represent a technical marvel in videogame design and presentation.

This a great time to take a dive into the waters of ravenous graphics whores. The colossi are huge, the grand scale is immeasurably large, and the number of polygons and textures on these monstrosities number in the tens of thousands. There's no shortage of ambition on the visual front here. Suffice to say, Shadow boasts the best sculpted graphics engine ever seen on the Playstation 2, or even the rival power houses Gamecube and Xbox. That said, there are those who would piss and moan with framerate diatribe, and admittedly, it isn't always perfect. But we're not talking significant drops here. The game for the most part consistently runs at a smooth 30 FPS, and on occasion will drop to around 28. On very rare occassions, it will drop lower then that, but never during any crucial event and it's never detrimental to the experience. The framerte drops happen the least during the colossi fights, and given the ambitious architectural precedence here, these slight drops are more than forgivable. In fact, they're expected. The overwhelming beauty here is more than enough for any hardcore gamer. There's absolutely no disappointment from any angle.

Onwards and forwards as they say. Scaling the colossi require some quick thinking, and active puzzle solving. These monsters are walking, living, breathing puzzles, each with their own criteria for revealing crucial weak points, or places where a greivous wound can be inflicted to knock them over. These weak points can be located using the sunlight via enchanted sword, but getting to them and taking down the colossus is another story. Unlike most reviewers, I have no problem spoiling some of the game to exemplify this point. There are 16 colossi in total, and explaining the ins and outs of one or two won't ruin any of the experience. One colossus, about the size of a small mountain, covered from snout to claw in stone armour, needs to be tipped over with the pressure of a water geyser. Afterward, you climb the fur of it's belly, and up to the top of his shell. To do this the player must mount Agro, and lure him over the geyser and take out his ankles, to weaken his support. Another example, and my personal favourite being colossus 5 known as Avion, requires that you lure a flying colossus to swoop down at you, and as he rears into the final stretch of the attack, you jump and grab hold of his wing. From here you take out the tail and wings to bring the bird out of the sky. Some truly remarkable gameplay here. Rest assured that every colossus requires a new strategy. There's nothing reused from colossus to colossus, and that makes each and every new monster a fresh and inventive experience. I suppose there's even a bit of innovation that accompanies Shadow, as no game has ever come close to so much as attempt combat on a scale as large as there is here. The entire process is fun and inviting, and exhilerating to the very bittersweet end.

The epitome of grandiose arrangements are in the soundtrack that plays before, during and after each fight. When trying to mount the colossus, a thunderous and ominous ballad echoes over and over until you begin the colossal ascension, but when you begin scaling them and going on the offensive, the victorious fanfare begins pounding, and rhythmically gets the blood pumping. It's an equilibrium of both the fantastic soundtrack and epic gameplay that creates this feeling, this aura that you're not only playing the game, but living it. It's a fantastic thing to embrace, and a wonderful experience, because that's what this game ends up being, an experience. Not just a game, but something you explore, you breathe in and you become a part of. I've never experienced anything like this game before during my tenure as a gamer. On top of a 10 hour experience during the first playthrough, the game warrants at a minimum 4 playthroughs, as doing so and completing all modes unlocks a total of 16 items, weapons and armour,that enhance your successive playthroughs; daring and efficient explorers will find some fabulously rewarding secrets and easter eggs as well, especially for fans of ICO.

What it simply comes down to is this: no game touches Shadow of the Colossus. No game in existence has ever reached such a lofty height as this. While I don't expect everyone to resonate with the opinion that Shadow is the best game ever, I would expect that everyone acknowledge that it does many things so radically different, and does them so well, that it is easily a contender for the game of the year. It's by and large an adventure on par with Resident Evil 4, God of War, and Killer 7. Very rarely would I throw around the phrase: "among the best games ever", and even more rare, as in almost never, would I call a game the greatest ever made. This is one of those rare times. Expect great things from this title. When you can do so much with so little, it wets the pallette just to imagine what Team ICO will do with the power of the Playstation 3. While a direct sequel to Shadow would be utterly fantastic, it's all too obvious and not a likely project for Team ICO. I do however have great expectations for their next title, as this game has proven, it's not how much you have, but what you do with it. A masterpiece has been painted, and the regal colours of Shadow of the Colossus articulate a world of unparalleled beauty.

October 26, 2005

Structuring...

VGPundit is going under a massive internal restructuring. Instead of sporadic updates, there's going to a much more structured update system. All reviews for any given week will be posted on Fridays and only Fridays. Editorials will be posted on either Monday's or Wednesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for writing and obtaining the content, or posting guest columns.

This week will see reviews for Sly 3, Budokai Tenkaichi, Shadow of the Colossus, and a special review for Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow...and yes, it's that good. That's all guaranteed for Friday's update, so please stay tuned for that.

October 09, 2005

Review Run

Here starts an onslaught of reviews. This list will be updated periodically throughout the week. The reviews for Advance Wars DS, We Love Katamari, Ultimate Spider Man, and a couple others are done. All thats left is some careful editing and they'll be posted on this list soon enough. The first of the items is Katamari Damacy, in anticipation for the We Love Katamari review which will be the next thing to come...UPDATE: We Love Katamari, added (10/11/05). UPDATE: The long requested Advance Wars DS review added (10/12/05). UPDATE: Ultimate Spider Man added (10/13/05).

In anticipation of the new Ratchet: Deadlocked, I've ripped three older (with a clear older writing style) Ratchet reviews from my archives. Enjoy!

Ratchet and Clank -- 9.2
Going Commando -- 9.5
Up Your Arsenal -- 9.8

Ultimate Spider-Man


8.0


Read the review


Katamari Damacy


9.1


Read the review


We Love Katamari


9.5


Read the review


Advance Wars: Dual Strike


8.8


Read the review


God Speed

October 06, 2005

Review: Final Fantasy VII Advent Children - Crank up the AC, 'cause it's burning up!

VGP Score


9.8



WARNING: Advent Children may contain scenes that will blow your mind.

The better sooner-than-later Advent Children has reached the eastern shores of Japan, and to no suprise, the DVD and UMD versions have been gobbled up by the masses of gamers and Final Fantasy fanboys everywhere. The movie has been in development for well over 4 years, as I still have archived on my hard drive, a trailer from early 2003 stating a Summer 2004 release date for the picture. Several delays later, and Advent Children is finally market ready. From the trailers shown, there would certainly have to be a great deal more excitement and razzle dazzle than was displayed in order for Advent Children to be a critical hit, as most of the "cool" factor wore off after the same footage was shown, cut in varying sequences, for each new trailer to hit the net. With no ego or interfering FF-fanboyism, that all bets are off and that Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children contains the sweetest action scenes in movie history, and makes up for the lackluster previews we've been given. This is the kind of stuff that topples what the Matrix did for modern kung-fu, and it even makes the uppity antics of Dante from Devil May Cry fame, look like a complete wuss; and that's only scratching the surface. Beneath the layers of nostalgia and f**king amazing fight scenes, there's a very subtle plot that may or may not intrigue you. You're definitely going to want to dust off a copy of FFVII for Playstation if you're not literate on the happenings of Cloud and his posse, and if you're not an FFVII fan, you probably won't digest a heck of a lot of what's going on. Advent children is fanservice, and not much more, but it takes fan service and sets new standards of what is lame, and what is totally fucking amazing.

The movie runs at about 1 hour and 40 minutes, which isn't short-changed by any means, and the cinematic quality is top notch. The movie runs at an extremely fast pace, switching from scene to scene with few transitions, but it works rather well. Square Enix can get away with it since the fanbase watching the film doesn't need many explanations, as the background work has been layed out by the predecessing game's 50+ hour journey. The movie focuses on Cloud and the confliction within himself, still mourning Aeris(th), and coming to terms with the death of both her and his deceased best friend Zack. That's putting it nicely. The main "crisis" in the movie a Sephiroth/Jenova revival theme, which has been played out before, but it's done with more flare this time around. The plot is almost an afterthought in Advent Children though, but it's safe to say that it's appropriate, since it doesn't try to stretch the pedigree of FFVII too thin by diluting it with more convoluted back story. In essence, Advent Children plays out like a 2 hour FMV Epilogue taking place 2 years after FFVII. It's not meant to create a whole new story, but play out as an extension of the previous. As a film critic, this is seen as some what of a minimalist approach to film making, but to the Final Fantasy fan in me, that's more than par for the course.

Voice acting is great, and if you can't get your hands on a few subs, then perhaps you should take up Japanese, as most cuts are without sub titles (depending on the legality of your acquisition). Parallel to that, are the life like qualities of the environments and non-lifeform things, like fabric, wood, and the things that make up what is not "people". It's almost mistakable for the real thing. The character models for our rag tag team of worldly heroes goes back to a still cartoony look, yet retaining the life-likeness of real people. It's just a work of art to be quite honest. There's no equivalent to this movie, or at least none that could hold a candle. Soundtrack is classic FFVII, with a few new twists on everyone's favourite ballads like One Winged Angel and the Forest of the Ancients theme. Great stuff all around, at least for any self respecting FFVII fan.

The best part of Advent Children though, is the action. In my mind, it's easy to justify watching this movie, even if you're ignorant on everything Final Fantasy, since the combat sequences require no previous investment, and just sitting back and watching the choreography be executed is mind boggling. Abso-freakin'-lutely incredible. Limit Breaks galore as you watch Cloud, Tifa, Red, Cid, Barret, Vincent, Yuffie, and Cait Sith kick materia-listic butt. As I mentioned earlier the action tops every standard set by conventional film making. Some would call it cheating since CG characters can do anything you want them to, but sit back and watch just how complex the actual fighting is, trying to ignore the fact that the combatants are flying 200 feet into the air, never seeming to be caught by the descending hand of gravity. You'll find some high quality stuff to be sure. Once you've experienced just how much the combat enthralls the viewer, you'll understand how Square Enix could justify delay after delay. I would have waited 3 more years for this kind of work. If this is what Square Enix calls "fan service", I'm eccstatic about the possibilities for Crisis Core on the PSP, and FFIII on the DS.

Where Advent Children succeeds is delivering a clear and concise follow up to Final Fantasy VII, in just about every aspect. The whole team is back - yes that includes Cait Sith - and they all kick major ass. Cloud redefines the definition of bad ass, while the rest of the team picks up the slack, and out-badassing everyone in the long line of bad asses, other than Cloud himself. As a fan of the series, I've reviewed and scored the movie as such, just be warned that if you aren't interested in seeing the biggest, baddest, most earth shattering fight scenes ever (you better believe level 99 means something), and you aren't a fan, then there's very little here that you'll enjoy, or even understand. Advent Children is the best movie based on a game to date, and while I wouldn't normally consider that to be of much consequence, understand that FFVII:AC takes the concept of fan service and runs with it. There's very little to whine about, and to eschew the unneccessary confusion, yes I am a fanboy of Final Fantasy VII, and this movie is a masterpiece. God Speed.




The reason behind the lack of updates for September was due to a bunch of scheduling conflicts with my chemical physics department, and troubles with some domain hosting. The server that I tried to obtain ended up being totally bogus, and that's why the domain VGPundit.com isn't working right now. Only the blogspot domain is operating, but this should be ironed out within the next two weeks. I'm hopin to have 4 (yes, four) reviews posted this weekend, so keep an eye out for that.

On the horizon is Shadow of the Collosus and Castlevania DS, so it's going to a pretty swank holiday season come this winter.