June 23, 2008

Metal Gear Solid 4 further impressions

I beat the game yesterday.  Some further thoughts.
- Looking back, the first two Acts were probably the best overall, simply because they contained the most actual gameplay.
- Act 3 was practically all cut scenes!  It consists of a pretty cool stealth section at the beginning, then an on-rails shooting sequence, followed by a Boss Battle.  That is it.  The rest is broken up by cinemas.  I'd say 70% of that Act is cut scenes.
- Speaking of the on-rails shooting sequence, the one in Act 3 was phenomenal.  The camera angles, the graphics, it was insanely intense and engaging.  But again, much like the one at the end of Act 2, the game needs to load constantly between sections and that really takes you out of the moment!  This may not bother some, but it really killed those sections for me.
- Like I mentioned, the beginning of Act 4 was simply fantastic.  And the boss battle at the end was just awesome.  Insane fan-service there by Kojima-san.
- I don't want to spoil anything (I'm probably going to do a separate post full of spoilers though) but I was not too fond of the ending.  The second ending I should say, since the game doesn't end right when you think it does.  I actually wish it would have ended there, as it would have made for a better conclusion to this series in my opinion.
- There were some scenes (read: cinemas) in Act 5 and during the ending that were pretty cheesy, dumb, unnecessary, and melodramatic.  Like I said before, Hideo does not know when to reel it when needed.  I'll definitely be going over these in my spoiler post.
Overall, I enjoyed the game.  Technically, it is the most impressive bit of software I have seen to date.  The attention to detail is mind-numbing.  Everything is perfectly modeled.  Even unimportant objects in the background that will only be seen once in a particular cut-scene are modeled with care.  Character faces show a great range of emotion and the lip-syncing is top notch.  The music kicks in when appropriate and gets the pulse racing at the right times.  The story manages to hit a few emotional beats really well too, although when it fumbles in this area its comes off as pretty melodramatic.  The gameplay and controls are refined and will make going back to previous entries in the series a chore.
Ironically, it is the story that is this game's Achilles Heel.  It is unavoidable really.  The storyline set up by the previous games was so convoluted and complex, trying to wrap it all up in a coherent manner would have been impossible.  I will give Hideo credit for answering every question you may have though.
So, as a result of having so much ground to cover, it leads to the game's biggest flaw, which is the length and frequency of the cut scenes.  No matter how amazing they look (and believe me, they look amazing), the cut scenes just become too much.  This is a videogame after all.  I want to play it.  And when the gameplay is this much fun, it makes the times when you are just sitting there watching all the more frustrating.  I understand that the cinematics are needed.  This wouldn't be a MGS game without them.  And I love the cut scenes.  But MGS4 went from being a cinematic game to being an interactive movie.  Since Hideo was apparently making a film here, he should have used that medium's practice of spending some time in the editing room cutting out unnecessary scenes in an effort to streamline everything, cut down on the running time, and make things flow better.  In this case, I would have taken a Theatrical Cut over a Director's Cut.
Reduce the time spent watching by about 30% and turn that percentage into actual gameplay and the end product would have been a much better GAME.
I plan on starting over on a harder difficulty and attempting to play through with no kills.  And to try new tactics.  Expect my spoilerific post where I complain about some of the sillier moments in the story in the near future.

June 20, 2008

MGS 4 Update

For fans of the Metal Gear Solid series dating back to MGS 1 on the original Playstation, wait until you begin Act 4 of MGS4.
Wow.  I did not see that coming.  Hideo pulled that off beautifully.  The combination of what was happening, with the choice to have the music kick in at just the right time, along with the audio ""flashbacks", it all came together to create one of the best videogame experiences I've had in a long time.
Bravo Hideo.  Bravo.

June 19, 2008

Stan Winston

Stan Winston passed away this past Sunday. For those that do not know who he is, Stan was a make-up/special effects man in Hollywood. Well, I should say, he was the make-up/special effects man in Hollywood. Stan's resume is quite impressive. Some highlights include:

The Thing
The Terminator (1,2 & 3)
Batman Returns
Edward Scissor Hands
Jurassic Park (1,2 & 3)
Interview with the Vampire
Iron Man

That is just a small highlight of his amazing career. Stan won 4 Oscars for Visual and Make-up effects and was nominated 10 times.

I first took notice of Stan's work prior to the release of Jurassic Park. I was 16 years old and eagerly aniticpating its release. I had read the novel, absolutely loved it, and followed the movie's devlopment feverishly. I had multiple magazines and promotional books highlighting the making of the movie and I was amazed at what I saw inside of Stan's shop. Once the movie came out, my life was forever changed. Never have I had such an amazing experience in a movie theater. To say I was excited when the credits rolled is an understatement. That movie marked the birth of my intense interest in movie special effects, even contemplating it as a career at one point.

Stan, thank you. Thank you for making Dinosaurs come to life, giving me glimpses of life-forms from other worlds, showing me futuristic robots, both hostile and friendly, taking my comic book heroes from the page to reality, and introducing me to creatures far more terrifying than my imagination could have conjured by itself. Thank you for enhancing my experience in this medium of film that I love so much.

Thank you for the unforgetable memories. You will be missed.

Joblo.com Stan Tribute Video

June 18, 2008

One more thing . . .

I just finished Act 2 in MGS 4.  I have mixed feelings on its finale.  Very mild spoilers ahead.
On one hand, the Act ends on a very exciting, pulse pounding note.  An intense escape, great action sequences,  crazy awesome battle (although only in cinematic form).  But there were numerous load-screens breaking up every few minutes of gameplay, and that REALLY killed a lot of the excitement.  With all the installing the game needs to do, having full blown load screens occurring in the middle of an intense chase really destroyed the flow of the action and took me completely out of the moment.  That could have been a truly memorable section, yet what I remember the most was my disappointment every time the game had to load the next section.  Not good.
Will keep posting impressions as I go.  The beginning of Act 3 is pretty interesting so far.  Very different from previous MGS titles.

June 16, 2008

MGS 4 Impressions

I've played through the first act of MGS4 and put in a few hours into the 2nd.  Some thoughts:
- While the game does have a required 9 minute install, at least it attempts to make those 9 minutes entertaining by having you watch Snake light up a few smokes while interesting (and often funny) messages appear on the screen.  The game also needs to install after every act apparently, although those are a lot shorter (just a couple of minutes).
- No doubt this game is cinematic.  Expect plenty of the MGS "formula".  Play for 5 minutes.  Watch for 5 minutes.  Rinse, repeat.  I just finished watching a cinematic that must have been about 20 minutes long.  I hear there are longer ones towards the end too.  While they look ultra slick, are extremely well directed, and highlight the amazing visuals (all the cinematics are in real-time), I already get the feeling that this is more of a interactive movie than a game.  A lot of really cool things happen in cinemas that I think you should be controlling.  Kojima needs to reel it in a bit.  There is a lot of talking that can be condensed by 75%.  Characters still go into their drawn out monologues way too often.  Thankfully, Codec conversations have been kept to a minimum (those long codec conversations for MGS2 still haunt me).  If I need to sit through a long boring speech, at least let it play it out a cut-scene and not two talking heads with scrolling text.  You can also pause cinematics now, which given their length and frequency, comes in very handy.
- The gameplay itself is the best in the series.  Snake can now walk while crouching (before he would begin to crawl on his stomach if you attempted to move from a crouching position, whoch got annoying).  The camera is extremely manageable.  Gunplay is also much improved.  The new Octocamo is awesome, taking MGS3's camo index and simplifying it (no more menus).  It also makes it a lot more realistic; just how was "Snake" switching camo patterns on the fly in MGS3? (Must be a fast dresser)
- Speaking of realistic (or lack thereof), one of my biggest pet peeves of previous entries - items and weapons that float and spin in the air - have thankfully been removed.  Items and weapons now lay on the ground in a realistic manner.  One thing that boggles my mind though is where Snake keeps that giant oil drum when he is not using it??
- David Hayter, who has voiced Snake since MGS, turns in another raspy performance.  A bit too raspy in my opinion.  Yes, Snake is older and has health issues, but his performance doesn't even sound believable to me anymore.  It just sounds like someone purposely trying to sound as raspy as possible and I found it comical more times than not.
- I just had my first big boss battle and it was a lot of fun.  That is one thing this series has consistently gotten right.
That's it for now.  Will give further impressions as I play (watch?) some more.

The Happening

I consider myself a fan of M. Night Shyamalan.  The Sixth Sense was fantastic.  Signs was great.  I only saw Unbreakable once in theaters and don't remember too much of it so I have to see it again, but many say it is his best film.  The Village was alright, although I ruined it by falling asleep in the theater, missing the entire middle of the movie, waking up and having the "monster" portion spoiled for me, then I figured out the twist at the end before it happened even though I missed half the flick.  But still, it was alright.  Lady in the Water however . . . meh.
I had high hopes for The Happening.  But unfortunately . . . meh.
The movie had a B-movie feel, only it was taking itself seriously, so that did not work in its favor (unlike Grindhouse).  The dialogue was the bad, the performances were weak, and I was not sold on the reason for the "event".  I went in with low expectations and still managed to come away disappointed.
I should have seen The Incredible Hulk instead.
I hope M. Night finds his way.  The Happening has been getting absolutely destroyed by critics and the guy is getting hammered on internet message boards.  I think he has a lot of talent and a great eye as a director.  I find his writing to be his weakest link.  He does have some cool ideas though, so maybe he should team-up with a really talented writer to iron them out before committing them to celluloid.

June 11, 2008

Good old Jack . . .

Game Politics has a transcript of Jack Thompson's latest sanctions hearing.  Read it HERE.
Wow.  Just wow.
Crazy like a fox that one is.

June 09, 2008

Dual Shock 3

I picked up a Dual Shock 3 controller this past weekend in preparation for MGS 4.  The Metal Gear series has always put the rumble feature to great use, often in innovative ways that increase the game's immersion and provides great feedback to the player, so I wanted to make sure I didn't miss out.
The controller feels great!  I was never fond of the Six Axis much.  It was too light and felt cheap as a result.  The DS3 feels very sturdy and the extra weight is very welcomed.  The buttons feel solid and the over feel is just fantastic.  I'm finding it a huge improvement.  All PS3 owners should pick one up.

June 06, 2008

Ninja Gaiden II impressions:

I've played the first few chapters of the game.  Some quick impressions:
- Graphically, it looks similar to Sigma on the PS3 with new animations.  I would have liked a bigger jump for the sequel given the fact that it is jumping from one generation (Xbox) to the next (360).  Don't get me wrong, the game looks far better than the Xbox original, but the graphical style and gameplay are so similar, it comes off as just a high-res/higher polygon upgrade.  The first game set a new level for graphics when it came out.  The sequel does no such thing.
- This game is ultra violent.  Gratuitously so.  All the hacked limbs do work into the gameplay though.  Limbless enemies are especially dangerous, performing devastating suicide bombings on Ryu which pack a wallop of damage.  Taking those wounded enemies out with a press of the Y button is a treat though, since you'll get various killing animations depending on the weapon you are using and the limbs the enemy is missing.
- The controls are basically the same as the previous games.  Combat controls are ultra-refined and feel great.  The rest of the controls, not so much.  Platforming has always felt odd in this series because of Ryu's jumping mechanics and the fact that he clings to walls, making some sections extra annoying when you want to run across a wall but instead run UP the wall and fall down and off a ledge.
- The camera is just awful in this game.  It is even worse than in the original.  Well, I never played the "original", I only played Black and that game gave you a bit more control of the camera.  Still, the camera in Black and Sigma was never this annoying.  You'd think after 2 rehashes they would have improved on the camera.  But you'd be wrong.
- I've already experienced some sections that felt pretty cheap, with enemies hitting me with fire projectiles from what seemed like across the level.  These fire-missiles are unblockable and you can't see them coming.  So damn annoying.  And cheap.
- The combat itself is as solid as ever.  I have only been able to try one new weapon so far, the Wolverine claws.  That is not what they are officially called, but that is what I am calling them.  They are extremely satisfying to yield.
- The quick saving you can do now is great.  Not that saving the game took that long before, but it is even faster now.
I think I have complained more than given praise in these impressions.  Bottom line is that the game is very much Ninja Gaiden.  That might be its biggest negative.  There is not much innovation here.  This feels more like an expansion pack than a true sequel.  The original did such an amazing job of reviving the action genre I guess I was expecting the sequel to do it again.  I wanted something that felt newer, especially after playing through Black and Sigma.
I still have a way to go, so I'll write further impressions later on.  If you're a NG fan, you'll have fun with this one, and have the benefit of not having to go through the learning curve again.  Just jump in and start hacking off those limbs!

June 04, 2008

Ninja Gaiden II; Goodbye Itagaki

Ninja Gaiden II should be out today. I think. I thought it was coming out yesterday, called Gamestop, they told me Friday, then I get a call at night from that Gamestop computer lady telling me it should be arriving tomorrow evening (today). Either way, I can't wait.

And here is a bit of surprising news. Tomonobo Itagaki, the director of Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden II, along with the Dead of Alive series of games, is leaving Tecmo and suing them for unpaid bonuses. Ouch!

I'm not a fan of Dead of ALive, but as you know, I eat Ninja Gaiden up. I wonder what the future of the franchise will be?