maanantai 31. lokakuuta 2011

REVIEW - Guitar Hero (2005)

GENRE(S): Rhythm
RELEASED: November 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Harmonix Music Systems
PUBLISHER(S): RedOctane, MTV Games

What was originally a one-off, low-budget experiment, became the most widely popular mainstream video game franchise of the 21st century. Guitar Hero was born in a time the popularity of adult-oriented video games was at its all-time peak; it was a moderately rare example of a game suitable for all ages by an absolute. The game inspired kids and teenagers to exploit their previously unrealized musical aptitude in real life, and gave older players a chance to relive the dream of being a rock star, which I guess just about everyone has had at some point. Guitar Hero was one of a kind, the most unique and revolutionary game of its time. The franchise, as well as the whole rhythm game genre, may have faded, but it will never be forgotten. It's time to go back to the roots with the game that started it all.

The spirit lives on

I began playing guitar at the age of 13, as inspired by a classmate of mine. I joined a band a year later, and in just a few weeks I had to admit to myself that my skills weren't nearly enough to play the thing full time, so I settled with being a lead vocalist as long as the whole band thing lasted. I had to sell my guitar and related equipment when I moved out on my own several years later, but I never really quit playing, or at least trying to play. I still have a semi-acoustic piece of shit I like to take every advantage of every once in a while. I can't count the times our band rocked through Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and Black Sabbath's "Iron Man". At the time, none of us would've believed if someone had said that one day, both of these songs could be rocked out to in a single video game.

I began playing Guitar Hero in 2007. It had been a long time coming, I didn't know what to expect out of the game at all. All I knew about the game is what my friend and neighbour had told me about it. I had just read a review of the third game in the main series, and everything I had heard about the Guitar Hero standard sounded like a rocker wannabe's dream come true. Well, my first game was Guitar Hero Rocks the 80s, the first spin-off game in the series, and at first, I sucked at it - I mean, I SUCKED at it, royally. However, the game's nature, soundtrack, and unforgiving ways of making one an addict guaranteed I would learn how to play the game in record time. And I did. Back in the day, I would've been lucky to beat "Bark at the Moon" on Medium. Not only did I finally beat the song on Expert a few days ago, I five-starred it. I'm beside myself. This is exactly what makes the old Guitar Hero games so good, and somewhat better than the more recent outings; it poses true challenge, conquering which creates some amazing spirit. Nowadays, you can switch the difficulty level on the go and suffer no penalty for it, or switch instruments. Also, the game tolerates a hefty amount of mistakes. The first game doesn't have any of these traits. Sure, it's got stiff mechanics - but they're also more real.

The graphics are awful. Also, totally irrelevant, yes, but they've got to be mentioned in accordance to my own standards. The band animations during the songs - I guess Harmonix thought no-one has time to watch them in the slightest (and they were mostly right!) - are very generic, I guess by far the only detail is the switch to a female lead vocalist each time there's a song sung by a woman. A vocalist's there even during instrumentals, doing the exact same moves he would do during his actual performance. Oh, and his mouth does not move. At all. In recent years, Guitar Hero has become a more visual game, especially with the release of Guitar Hero: Metallica (go figure...). In these times of "classic rock", I guess the only important thing was that there was _something_ happening back there while you were hacking through the impressive list of songs. In a more practical tone, the note highway looks confusing. Regardless of the size and definition of your monitor, the notes are flat and kind of colourless, hard to make out against the background.

Before I'm stormed by varying opinions on the issue, let me elaborate that the "impressive" part in "impressive track list" only applies to the artificial quality of the songs; none of the songs on the main tracklist are originals, and there are only 30 of them. Some of WaveGroup Sound's covers sound extremely real and original, as close to the originals as they can possibly get, while in some songs the difference is spotted immediately, sometimes even if you're not a fan of the original artist. In addition, there are 17 "bonus tracks", unlockable via the Store. Black Label Society - one of my favourite bands - contributes with "Fire It Up". Apparently Zakk Wylde was so taken by the game's concept that he personally requested Harmonix to include this song on the tracklist. Well, since the main tracklist was already done and the game was scheduled for completion in just a few weeks, Harmonix threw the song in as a bonus track. It's fine, but the rest of the songs suck and I think it's quite preposterous to classify BLS' song as a bonus track in this company. All of the other bonus tracks are songs by the developers' bands, included for promotion and, simply, extra fun for people who can't get enough of playing the game. They don't really affect the game's quality in any way, and you certainly do not have to beat these awful songs in order to beat the game.

I bet there's not a person alive who hasn't seen
something like this before.
At the time, Guitar Hero was a whole new, weird concept, by an indie company, so what it needed to succeed was not a good, but an AMAZING list of songs - songs that have rock stardom written all over them, at least one song that makes a fan of rock music of all ages go "OMGWTF ROOOOOOOOCCCCKKK!!!" at every most important breakpoint of the game. So, here we go: "Thunder Kiss '65". "I Wanna Be Sedated". "Smoke on the Water". "You've Got Another Thing Comin'". "Killer Queen". "Symphony of Destruction". "Ziggy Stardust". "Spanish Castle Magic". "No One Knows". "Higher Ground". "Godzilla". "Frankenstein". As the cherry on top, versions of Pantera's "Cowboys from Hell" and Ozzy Osbourne's "Bark at the Moon" that will smash your daydream of owning at this game to little pieces... but beating which will also bring this game to a complete halt. Yes, it certainly feels like the game ends a bit too early, but if you're a beginner, you're guaranteed some long time fun with it. Nothing prevents you from going at it at a higher difficulty level, or going for better scores. The 30-song tracklist, as short as it is, is a magnificent example of Harmonix Music Systems' great judgement of acknowledging various tastes in rock. There's punk, metal, classic rock, modern rock, grunge, even blues, in a tasteful balance I am very grateful for. There's nothing that really stands out as a song that simply doesn't belong, unlike in the more recent games.

Those of you who might still not have a clue of what Guitar Hero is about, let me enlighten you. In Guitar Hero, you start a virtual band, name it and choose a character that matches your taste in music. Your mission is to make it from a lowly garage rocker into the one great rock god of the rock universe. You start off at a Battle of the Bands, from which you slowly make your way to the grandest stage of them all, The Garden, by playing six sets of five songs each, at different venues; the difficulty level of the songs gradually increases, from simple, straightforward chord-based tunes, into total facemelters that not only require a sharp sense of rhythm, but also, some extremely physical finger work. Like it says in the golden rulebook of rock 'n' roll: mistakes are allowed. Totally sucking is not. So, you're having trouble with a single song? You have two options: you either find some way to nail it, even if takes up hours of practice, or forget about rock stardom. It's as simple as that.

People who criticize Guitar Hero say it's got nothing to do with real guitar playing. That only applies to how the songs are played. What Guitar Hero does, especially on Expert, is teach rhythm and efficient finger work everyone needs whenever they take up playing guitar or bass. And, besides, in the end, it's such an easy, accessible and fun game - an essential party title - that it brings joy regardless of whether the player ever even wanted to play a real instrument or not. Don't mock it 'til you've tried it.

The guitar controller is your tool of destruction. The original one's not perfect, it's not very ergonomic, nor does playing it for prolonged periods of time do wonders to your physical health, but it is one of the greatest innovations in video game history. It is the only way to go at this game - people who can't afford it can always buy the game and play it with a regular PS2 controller, but personally, I don't see any reason why someone would even consider something like that. The guitar controller has Select and Start buttons standing in for knobs, and a whammy bar which is used as an optional tool for boosting scores and simply having fun. The most important buttons on the controller are the five fret buttons, and the strum.

All you need to do to actually survive Guitar Hero, is be able to BEAT the songs. Even if you absolutely suck at the game and can't play any of the songs good enough to make them sound tolerable to the human ear, having just a few lucky streaks or a good eye of when to use Star Power to your advantage might carry you through a less demanding song, or even a challenging one, as long as its got a reasonable tempo. Each note you play correctly makes your Rock Meter twitch one step closer to the highest level of green. When the Rock Meter hits the deepest depths of red, you're toast.

Riffs that take advantage of the whole
fretboard are usually the most fun to play.
The easiest difficulty setting only requires you to use the first three fret buttons. There are a whole lot fewer notes, and they come at you at a slow pace. Medium adds in the fourth one, and it is a recommendable difficulty level to begin playing on, 'cause it already shows some signs of what the game is truly all about. The game is not fun to play on Easy - it's boring, and it's mockery towards the songs themselves. It's like you're not even playing the songs, you're just jamming along to them, with some random filler notes, like you did whenever you tried to learn to play a song on real guitar and completely froze whenever a solo turned up. At least this happened to me back in the day, numerous times.

To me, on a personal level, Expert is the only way to go. It took me a long time to be able to make the decisive move from Hard to Expert, because Hard was already giving me a lot of hell, and Expert was simply intimidating. All of the frets are used just like in Hard, but Expert throws every single note of the song at you, at a realistic - read: fast - pace, and requires you to learn some extremely difficult fret and chord shifts in even the easiest songs, if you wish to go for the highest possible scores.

How to go for the highest possible scores? Well, in the most non-brainer fashion, I could say: by not sucking at songs. Against common misconception, getting the full five stars from a single song is dependent on one single thing: the score. A star is rewarded each time you pass a certain score limit, which is unique to each song - of course it is, since the songs vary in length and structure. Chords are worth more points than regular notes. A song that has only a few random streaks of notes here and there - for example, "Killer Queen" - has a five-star score limit of about 90,000, while in a monster mix of chords, rapid notes and solos of life and death like "Bark at the Moon", the five-star score limit is around 233,000.

Nailing 100% of the notes in a single song pretty much guarantees a five-star outcome 'cause if you do that, you'll very likely have a 4x score multiplier for the most of its duration; if you play extra notes, or as some avid players call them, phantom notes, your note and score streak are broken just as they would be broken if you made an actual mistake, so in that case the guaranteed five-star outcome does not stand.

Introducing Star Power - something you just can't live without. Star Power is gained by hitting notes with a star icon on them. Also, you can boost up your Star Power meter by flipping the whammy bar through sustained Star Power notes. To rockers, Star Power means higher scores - the multiplier is doubled, the best-case scenario being an 8x score multiplier; even if you make a mistake, the multiplier remains at 2x as long as the Star Power meter has juice. For suckers, Star Power is, as the game itself proclaims, a life saver - playing just one note correctly while Star Power is active keeps the Rock Meter in check and practically prevents you from failing a song. A good strategy to use Star Power varies between players' skill levels.

Learning the basics, as well as the efficient use of the whammy bar and Star Power, is just the beginning. Before long, you might want to go and take a shot at advanced techniques. The slide board did not show up for three more years, but the first game already had hammer-ons and pull-offs. Hammer-on means that you can play some notes on a higher fret by simply landing your finger on the fret button at the exact right time after playing a note on a lower fret. Pull-off is the opposite of that. Neither of them doesn't work nearly as well as in later games, and the bad mechanics make some late-career Expert solos wholly based on the art of the HO/PO almost impossible to play, but on paper, they were a great idea to make the game seem one step more realistic.

This is where I usually say "thank God".
Once you're done with the Career Mode, you're free to take on any unlocked song in Quickplay and go for high scores and those only - the Quickplay has no other meaning, but for once, going for high scores is fun in a game released well after the golden era of arcade. You can also play any song against a friend in a still very limited and generic multiplayer mode; there's not a trace of how addictive and diverse the game was to become as a multiplayer title sooner than anyone expected.

Beating songs during the Career naturally results in money. The better scores you get, the more money you get. This money is meant to be spent - at any time - at the Store. The Store sells new guitars, guitar finishes - including Zakk Wylde's extremely cool, signature finish for the Les Paul - new songs, videos on the making of the game, and finally, two extra characters are available. It takes a lot of money and time to unlock everything - unfortunately, you'll have to be more than a die-hard fan of the game to be able to enjoy it after scrounging up all the money the unlockables require. There are just so few songs, and only a small handful of ones that never grow old; since we got to the subject, "Crossroads" (as made famous) by Cream might not be my favourite song to listen to, but it just might be my favourite song to play in this game.

Guitar Hero is a true classic when it comes to simply being an innovation, a totally fresh and unique concept, but there's simply no way around the simple fact that the game itself has seen better days. First of all, it lacks options in every sense. There are very few tracks, and the main tracklist consists of covers of varying quality, some of which will surely upset fans of the respective original artists. The promising gameplay mechanics are far from being honed to perfection. The bright side of that is that the game demands high precision and pushes players to their limits, unlike the current-gen sequels that have consistently provided the players with more and more ways to ease the game up on the go and still end up with the same rewards as more skilled rockers.

SOUND : 8.8


GameRankings: 92.01%

The game was supposed to be released on the Xbox as well, but developers Mad Catz had to pull out at an early phase. The sequel Guitar Hero II wasn't only released on the Xbox, but the Xbox version also got exclusive songs.

The guitar amps in the game go up to 11 instead of 10, as a tribute to Spinal Tap.

Zakk Wylde has remained a loyal contributor to the series. His likeness was used in Guitar Hero World Tour in 2008, for which he also contributed a Black Label Society song ("Stillborn"), and appeared as a boss, meaning he also made an exclusive "boss track" for the game. He played lead guitar in the 2009 remix of Public Enemy's crossover hit "Bring the Noise", which was exclusively featured in Guitar Hero 5.

perjantai 28. lokakuuta 2011

Happy Halloween!

I guess it's time for me to accept that I'm way faster than I think I am, and put an end to this edition of Monster Mash, as well as wish you all a happy Halloween. I'm taking a few days' break to (unofficially) celebrate Halloween with a bunch of choice friends and also, some new acquaintances, and I will return early next week. I've already got the next seven games to be reviewed lined up; it will be another marathon, it's one I've been asked to do for a long time, and which I actually began doing at one point - before the blog was created - until severe hardware problems struck and swept away the first three reviews. Loose ends have been taken care of to my liking for now, I will probably tie some more up before the end of the year.

I have received awesome feedback - quality over quantity - for the Resident Evil reviews via e-mail, and I thank you few people for that. Once again, I've been asked to create a Facebook page for the blog, but I won't do it before I find some real reason to. Of course, it would bring all the folk who read the stuff together better than Blogger and give 'em a chance to share their thoughts and all that, and it would give me a chance to update stuff in real time, but personally, I'm just fine by updating everything there is to update right here on the blog. If the feedback's strong enough, I promise to consider it, though.

Also, to further thank you people for your support and nothing but positive feedback so far, over the course of the last year, I'd like to thank you by letting you issue straight-up wishes or wishlists of which games you'd like me to review in the nearest possible future. I'm absolutely not running out of material here, not by the longest possible shot, but I'd like you to tell me what you would like to read my ever-so-juvenile and smart-ass opinions on. Don't be modest, just let it out, I'll see what I can do to be able to review just about anything you throw at me.

'Til next week. I'll let the almighty King Diamond see you off.

REVIEW - Warlock (1994)

GENRE(S): Action
DEVELOPER(S): Realtime Associates

In 1989, director Steve Miner, the director most known for the first two sequels to Friday the 13th, directed the horror fantasy flick Warlock, which starred Julian Sands as an evil 17th century wizard, who came to the modern day to look for an opportunity to destroy the world. The movie was successful enough to spawn a couple of really rotten sequels, but it was never a critics' favourite itself. Just recently, I found out the movie was actually successful enough to spawn a video game for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System; oddly enough, five years after it premiered. Take one good guess which company was responsible for the game's release! I've just GOT to see this.

Be wewy, wewy quiet - I'm huntin' wawocks

Six ancient runestones hold the power to undo the world's creation. The Warlock is after these stones on his father's behalf. As a descendant of the druids, your mission is to reach the stones before the Warlock does, and end him once and for all.

I'll tell you right now I never liked the Warlock movies. I've only seen the first two, I didn't even bother with Warlock III; even if they replaced Julian Sands, who I have always loathed, the premises of the franchise alone never did it for me. So, why did I bother with the game? To tell you the truth, I simply couldn't imagine LJN making a game out of a horror movie I never liked in the least. They did it, and that's a deal for a bad game if there ever was one, a game so bad I simply could not resist reviewing it. Besides, it sat in well with the current Halloween theme. "Unfortunately", it ain't as bad as I thought. Just boring.

It's Sands! HA-DOU-KEN!!!
Since you're expecting it from me, anyway, I'll compare the game to the movie for ya. It has nothing to do with it; in fact, it's very loosely based on the second movie, which came out in 1993, and which isn't linked to the first one in any way except having Sands in the namesake role. His characters in each movie are totally unrelated to each other. That's why it's even more amusing that the apparently nameless lead character actually bears a strong resemblance to Richard E. Grant's character in the first movie, but possesses the magical talent of the lead protagonist in the second one. It's really confusing - I guess they mixed elements from both of the movies that had come out so far to find some way to blur out all references to Satan. Why did they make the game in the first place?!

The game looks decent enough, albeit as generic as a SNES game could possibly get in '94. The soundtrack is just what you'd expect; just some simple, sustained organ notes in MIDI, not very memorable stuff. The worst part of the game's audio bank is Julian Sands' digitized voice insulting you each time you die. God, I hate that guy. One of my favourite scenes in the whole of 24 was when Jack Bauer broke Sands' neck. I can't even pinpoint the reason I hate him so much, he's just a damn nuisance. Kind of like Arnold Vosloo - who ALSO played a lead villain in another season of 24! But, this is not a review of 24 - The Game, this is a review of Warlock. It's gonna be short, though, so sidetracking doesn't really matter.

Warlock is a very typical action platformer with one "special" feature of the main character being able to carry seven different spells to fight against the Warlock and his minions with. These seven different spells are items, just like any items in any other game. Touching. This game's lack of originality and such a pathetic attempt to disguise it with something that sounds so fresh move me. When I read that the game has some spells in it, I thought they would be some sort of permanent upgrades that would perhaps have their own mana meter or something, that would've been quite cool in a platformer considering the times and LJN's lousy standing in the video game scene. But no, they're just consumable items with a fancy name.

Fuckin' Sands.
Your basic attack is a bolt of lightning shooting out of your John Doe's hands, but there's also an orb floating slightly above and behind your head all the time. It might take a while to figure out that it's actually also a weapon, and due to its range, very essential against the Warlock, who you will meet a little too often. After gathering six runestones and dealing with the Warlock one final time, you're done with the game, in less than an hour, if you are able to overcome its extremely boring and typical being.

Of course, just being so boring and typical doesn't make Warlock a _bad_ game. There's just simply no special attraction to it whatsoever. It has boring levels taken straight from the most elementary ABC of platformer design, and to make matters worse, these levels are stretched to eternity. The controls stink. It has all the basic flaws of any licensed LJN game out there, they didn't learn anything through the years. As a pure game, all opinions on the (pseudo-)source material or the generic gameplay's non-existent lasting appeal aside, I must say that Warlock is one of LJN's more tolerable outings, and it's almost on par with the SNES version of Alien 3 - but, always at the end, I must note that game had a pixelated Weaver. This one has a pixelated Sands.

SOUND : 5.3


GameRankings: 30.00% (GEN)

REVIEW - Ghoul School (1992)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: March 1992
DEVELOPER(S): Imagineering
PUBLISHER(S): Electro Brain

From first to sixth grade, I did great in school. When I went to seventh grade, teenage angst set in, girls and social status became much more important than knowledge of all things civilized. Like in the eyes of many at that age, teachers became ghouls and demons, slowly but surely devising some plot for world domination under direct orders from Satan. Well, in a rather obscure 8-bit video game from 1992, most of this actually happened. It's called Ghoul School, and I guess it could be praised for having been quite ahead of its time... if it was half decent.

Gee, my history teacher really IS a zombie

Cool School High Senior Spike O'Hara finds a glowing skull from a cemetary near the school and brings it to his teacher for research on Hallows Eve. The glow turns out to be a message for the demons in the realm of the dead to awaken and take over the school. Besides turning the teachers and the school's football team into monsters, the demons kidnap cheerleader Samantha Pompom. It's time for Spike to put things right.

You know, this would be a little more challenging
if you actually did something to me.
Ghoul School's plot is exactly like a nightmare of a mid-80's teen horror flick, or like most teen horror flicks were at that time, a comedy with a horror-based theme (like Teen Wolf). Actually, for a while I was under the impression that the game would be based on some most obscure teen horror flick in history, judging from the developer's usually licensed works, but it's very clear that such a movie does not exist. It's a purely original, very trippy and campy game from the very same developer that brought us the first few Simpsons games, as well as... are you ready? Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Now this is where it gets interesting...

Well, it doesn't need a keen eyed genius to figure out the same guys made Bart vs. The Space Mutants. The most common enemies look exactly like the most common space mutants in that game, only bigger and uglier. Also, the main character is like a remodelled and rescaled version of Bart Simpson in that game. However, Space Mutants sported great graphics, especially when it comes to background design; Ghoul School looks the same throughout. Only the colours of the corridor walls change - occasionally. The specific rooms and areas have "copy/paste" written all over them. The manual boasts that the game has more than 200 different rooms in it. That's partly true - I find it hard to agree with the "different" part, though.

The music does change - once again, occasionally. The same damn theme plays throughout the main corridors of the school and even though I'm not a surgeon general, I must warn you of long sessions with the game. That tune will stick to your head, as annoying as it is; I'm actually humming it while I'm writing this, and unfortunately, I think I'm going to be humming it right up 'til the review's end, and beyond. Good thing I'm seeing a doctor in a few hours anyway. It's the only tune I remember from the game, the music really ain't too good or memorable.

Don't worry about the corpse, he's been there
for years. He's like family.
Imagineering made the game, but the now long defunct Electro Brain published it. I've always called Electro Brain "Elec No Brain", since they never did one decent game. If they had been as productive (in terms of quantity) as LJN or some other company I have bashed in the past, I would probably mention them a lot more often. They didn't publish any games that would really appeal to me to begin with, anyway. Ghoul School is not a much more proud entry in Electro Brain's catalogue than any other one of their titles, but in its time, it was quite unique, I'll give it that. Some might say this is exactly what is nowadays known as survival horror.

Your objective as the Senior Spike O'Hara - who looks more like a twelve-year old punk than a Senior - is to explore Cool School High (oh, Lord...), find shoe upgrades (...) and ridiculous weapons (such as a towel) to be able to make progress through certain corridors and rooms filled with generic obstacles, and finally confront the head demon in the school's boiler room (sounds familiar...) to save Samantha fuckin' Pompom from becoming his undead bride or something. I don't rightly know, because the half baked plot is never really explained within the game. What makes this game's purpose reek even more of a repulsive teen flick is the fact that a grunt like Spike would never have a chance with a girl like Samantha - that only happens in those movies, just about every teen movie ever made.

Free exploration is fun... in a game that changes every once in a while. Each room and corridor is numbered between 001 and 200, and if it wasn't for that number when you're passing through a standard area, you'd be lost as fuck 'cause they all look the same. This might be the first and only NES game in which beaten enemies don't respawn, at all, not even after a Game Over. The amount of enemies in a room might therefore also help you navigate and successfully backtrack through this repetitive maze of a high school. Backtracking does not only happen a lot, it's this game's very stale salt. Oh, and "Game Over" does not actually mean "Game Over". It just means you have to restart this son of a bitch from the very first screen, regardless of where you kicked the bucket. Well, at least you get to keep all the upgrades you've collected, but you still have to beat this one in one sitting, without falling asleep while once again navigating through the very same, and now completely empty, corridors.

Pretty much the ugliest nurse I've ever seen.
The controls are horrible. If you hated the stiff, slow and slightly delayed basic control in The Simpsons, you're definitely not going to love Ghoul School - it's even worse. Before gaining the first projectile weapon in the game, you're going to have a lot of trouble in finding an exact safe range, from which you are able to hit the enemy, but he won't be able to hit you. Also, Spike can't crouch down, which means that those little annoying buggers running across the floor like their asses were on fire are practically undefeatable. The basic jump's pathetic and inadjustable, and apparently Castlevania - blessed be - gave the developers the idea that having the main character jump several feet backwards whenever they're hit is essential, even in 1992.

Ghoul School's not the worst game I've ever played; that one was made by the same company, but at the very least its kind of unique style of gameplay prevents it from stooping nearly as low. Even if it was just for a few minutes, the game might even be described as "addictive" by some odd measure. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if the developers had worked on the game a lot more than an apparent week or two, they might've had a surprise hit, even a somewhat revolutionary title under their belts when it was all said and done. But no, they settled with yet another good idea with left-handed production.

SOUND : 4.8


The game was officially released only in the U.S..

torstai 27. lokakuuta 2011

REVIEW - Zombie Nation (1990)

GENRE(S): Shooter
RELEASED: December 1990

KAZe and Meldac are two software houses that "made name for themselves" in the mid-90's by producing unrelated pinball titles for different platforms. In 1990, they worked together on a Game Boy title by the name of Mercenary Force. Later that year, they brought us a cult NES game called Zombie Nation. Sporting one of the coolest titles of the era, Zombie Nation is one of those games that pretty much promises fun times with its name alone. Some truths are better left unknown.

What the hell, man?!

In 1999, a meteorite falls into the Nevada desert. In reality, this meteorite is an ancient evil known as Darc Seed. He shoots magnetic rays, turning the citizens of the United States into mindless zombies and even bending the Statue of Liberty to his will. Darc Seed is in possession of several deadly weapons, the deadliest of which is Shura, a legendary samurai sword. Namakubi, a spirit of a legendary samurai in the form of a floating head, travels to the United States to free the people of Darc Seed's tyranny and reclaim the legacy of his kin.

The real 9/11.
What the hell? Seriously, what the hell? The title of the game - Zombie Nation, how cool is that, especially for a game released in the early 90's? - prompted me to check out what it's all about and review it right now, rain or shine. After all, I just reviewed a whole bunch of games in the biggest zombie-related video game franchise in history, it was time to check out a more obscure title. In all seriousness, I knew Zombie Nation was going to suck, royally - there simply was no alternative to that. It was produced by two derelict companies, for the NES, and somehow, it was obvious from the beginning that the game would not have much to do with zombies. Well, the truth is that Zombie Nation doesn't have much to do with anything.

Zombie Nation is a damn ugly game with even uglier design. I don't know who came up with the whole plot, especially with the main character being a floating head, but I want to have some of the stuff they had. By the extremely basic NES standards, the music ain't that bad... for intro music. There's really not a tune that could carry a whole level; they all sound like intros, which some Castlevania games have, for example. They loop at a pace that makes them sound like they last five seconds a piece.

To put it simply, Zombie Nation (or is it Samurai Zombie Nation?) is a very basic shoot 'em up game with a less basic, should I say acid-induced plot, in which you control Namakubi, a floating, angry-looking face on his quest to free the (apparently) zombified nation of the United States of America from an evil... hmmm, being... known as Darc Seed. Apparently, Namakubi doesn't actually give a shit about the megapower of the world being reduced to a zombie nation (I just have to repeat the title, all the time), he's just after the samurai sword in Darc Seed's possession. Oh, well, whatever prompts him to take flight, and spit and vomit on a lot of people. Seriously.

Look at me, I'm a head on a mission!
No matter how stupid the game's presentation is, the most important key to any game's attraction and longevity is still its playability. If you're an ABSOLUTE arcade shoot 'em up fanatic, you might ACCEPT Zombie Nation as the somewhat of a cult title it is, but it's shit which you will not actually enjoy, I can tell you that right now. I don't even know what deals damage to Namakubi and what doesn't, because there's all kinds of debris flying on the screen all the time, and mostly, he seems unharmed by it, but then, his health might start draining all of a sudden even if nothing's actually happening to him. I passed one of the four levels of the game to the halfway mark with flying colours, taking shots from all kinds of shit that flew around, but I only lost two or three ticks of health; next, I was flying through practically empty space, and my health started to drain for a cause I was unable to point right away. It's safe to assume that everything MIGHT hurt you.

You cannot turn around, which makes shooting enemies behind you perfectly impossible... or anything that's behind you. Yeah, I saved the weirdest point for last; you pretty much have to shoot everything in this game, including buildings. It seems like a cool idea, but what's strange about it is that I really don't know how intentionally leveling New York City will help Namakubi in either one of his missions. This is more like helping in destroying a nation instead of saving it. The plot's just chocked with contradiction.

It's useless to prolong such a short story. Zombie Nation is a game I just had to see for myself. Now I've done it, I had a few laughs with it, especially the plot, and it's perfectly safe to say it doesn't have anything else to offer me. Not even decent gameplay - we've all seen much better games of its kind, released much earlier. It's for the most relentless shoot 'em up and cult game fanatics only. 

SOUND : 5.0


a.k.a. Abarenbō Tengu (JAP), Samurai Zombie Nation

Halloween continues before it begins...

Apparently I've had a lot of spare time on my hands in the last seven days, since I finished up with my planned Halloween special days before the event. I'm FINALLY done with the Resident Evil franchise, at least for now, after promising a conclusion for nearly a year... but again, I finished with the reviews a bit too quick. That's why I came up with a last minute Plan B.

I have picked three more games from THE LIST to be reviewed in the next few days, as a kind of a "Halloween bonus". We don't (officially) celebrate Halloween here in Finland, but I'm personally fascinated with its concept and it gives me good reason to go on a Monster Mash, especially considering how many of you readers seem to be from the States.

So, without further due, let's wait and see what creeps from under my bed next.

REVIEW - Resident Evil 5 (2009)

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror
RELEASED: March 2009

Capcom announced Resident Evil 5 only six months after the release of Resident Evil 4. The game's development lasted for four years, and long-time fans of the franchise - me included - were losing hope of the game ever being released. Franchise creator Shinji Mikami was no longer around to oversee the project, and his former co-workers, all the way from the very first game were trying perhaps a bit too hard to prove themselves and create the perfect Resident Evil game - that would not only beat its predecessor(s) in every way, but also implement elements from each game in the series, and finally bring closure to the story. They ended up with a game very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, but with a lot of twists, both good and bad ones. In some ways, it's even better than its masterpiece of a predecessor, but in the end, the general gameplay lacks similar comfort and the game is really not that much of a step forward Resident Evil 4 was. What was the question, again? Is it great? It IS great. Especially if you've got a friend to back you up.

Maybe the plague's down in Africa

Roger Craig Smith : Chris Redfield
Karen Dyer : Sheva Alomar
D.C. Douglas : Albert Wesker
Patricia Ja Lee : Jill Valentine
T.J. Storm : Josh Stone
Nina Fehren : Excella Gionne
Allan Groves : Ricardo Irving
Adam Clark : Ozwell E. Spencer
Jim Sonzero : Daniel DeChant
Chris Mala : Kirk Mathison

Bioterrorism has skyrocketed after the fall of Umbrella. At the request of the U.S. Government and with official support from the U.N., the Global Pharmaceutical Consortium has founded the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance (B.S.A.A.). Over a decade after the destruction of Raccoon City, which brought Umbrella's secret bioweapon research to light, Chris Redfield - now an agent for the B.S.A.A. - travels to Africa to investigate a lead on a black market deal involving a new global threat, as well as his arch nemesis.

I didn't pre-order Resident Evil 5, instead it was the first game for which I actually set the alarm clock to wake me up at 5 A.M., so I could get to the nearest video game store by eight, with a tank full of coffee and a keen mind to start blasting right when I got home. Four years prior, Resident Evil 4 had completely blown me away, and all I had heard about Resident Evil 5 didn't really get me all fired up about the game, but I knew it was going to be great, at the very least - even if Mikami passed on all involvement with this game, probably still irate about Resident Evil 4 being released on other platforms than the GameCube against his wishes, I trusted the team of Evil veterans to do one hell of a job. Also, Resident Evil 5 marks the return of my favourite Resident Evil protagonist; yes, even if his portrayal in the original game was nothing to tell your children about. Also, it finally brings the story I started following when I was twelve years old to its much anticipated, but inevitably sad end.

When it comes to the storyline, Resident Evil 5 is perhaps the best stand-alone story in the bunch and it's highly cinematic - its cutscenes make it feel like a part of the Resident Evil movie series (the animated one!), although more Hollywood-ish. However, the pacing's somewhat off. It starts with a huge, yet surprisingly subtle bombshell that will leave many long-time fans gasping for air and going "nooooo...", but that bomb is disarmed way too fast, and the game continues on quite stale for quite some time, having just a few climactic moments, until it suddenly blasts into full, non-stop motion during the last four hours or so. Surprisingly, the awkward pacing applies to the game itself as well. During the first 20 minutes of the game, there's not one, but TWO epic shootouts (one's optional, though), and even some seasoned players of the game still have trouble with the second one, like me and my friend. During the first hour, there's a boss fight that has a simple strategy, but it's almost as challenging to play as some of the later boss fights in the previous game. This is all OK, Capcom shows no mercy to beginners, that's good... but then, the game gets all breezy and remains so for the duration of several chapters, until switching to hard mode again, occasionally really hard, and remaining so until the end of the game. Chapter 5-3 is not fun on Professional, I can tell you; there are two boss fights, and one sequence that's worse than any of the boss fights in the game.

I think we got 'em.
Stylistically, Resident Evil 5 is a very cruel game that holds nothing back, but it might take some time, even some complete playthroughs from the player to see what's really going on in the game. In Resident Evil 4, we had a whole countryside full of already religious freaks who followed the wrong guy; it was like Guyana, but in this version the ones who drank the proverbial Kool-Aid survived, to serve as their master's deadly puppets. In Resident Evil 5, the prime evil is more of a real virus, rapidly spread to innocent, vulnerable people by its crazed carriers - its real origin is unknown for the longest time, in the beginning we're just after the people who are sick and twisted enough to sell or otherwise push the product, were they responsible for the actual production or not. Teenagers living on the street, soldiers tasked with peace preservation, natives, tourists... no one is safe from the plague. Sadly, the only way to cure their disease is death, and even more sadly, we're the doctors. It's a cruel and tragic story... but one hell of a synopsis for one hell of a video game.

After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to practically review the Gold Edition of the game, which includes two extra mission packs, the Versus pack, Mercenaries Reunion, as well as other minor extras. I do not own the Gold Edition, but the only feature exclusive to it is PlayStation Move support; I bought and downloaded all of the other stuff from the PlayStation Network before the Gold Edition's release, and I just couldn't bear not reviewing the two extra missions by some length. So, this review will be a little different from every review that I've written before.

Resident Evil 5 might not be the most beautiful and graphically refined game of the current generation, as it seems Uncharted is the standard of pure visual satisfaction when it comes to action games - but make no mistake about it, it looks very good. The worst part in my opinion is that it's a little "bloodless" - imagine that - I mean, headshots don't pack the kind of yowza I expected from the game, and the death animations are child's play compared to ones in Dead Space, while already in Resident Evil 4 there were some really gruesome ones, like those damn acid-spitting insects melting Leon's face off - and we got a good close-up of his burnt mug to boot. Character design is good; it's good to see Chris in such a buffed up state even at the age of 35, Sheva's butt is absolutely magnifico, and the whole army of plagued African misfits looks even more intimidating than Los Illuminados in the previous game, not to mention the non-human (or once human) enemies encountered on this little field trip. The level design is also superb; I thought this game would be all about wandering on a desert. Glad I was wrong about that, very wrong.

When it comes to voice acting, we've come a long way in 13 years; it's still not perfect as there are a few bad apples that are way over the top, but in general the voiceover work is so many lightyears ahead of the work in the first few games, that it has to be lauded. Roger Craig Smith butts in as the new voice of Chris Redfield in his first starring role, and as you might know, the very same guy went on to voice one of the top characters in video game history, Ezio Auditore da Firenze of the Assassin's Creed series, as well as Sonic the Hedgehog. A promising lead to the show, to say the least. He makes Scott McCulloch from the first game sound even more of an ass than he did. That's an awful lot. The musical score is like it's taken straight out of an action thriller. It reminds me of some of my favourite TV shows like 24 and Prison Break, some better war flicks, and games like Uncharted and Metal Gear, with a more serious and aggressive tone, though. I like it.

Sorry, man. It was your seven-foot spear up my
ass, or a ton of lead in your gut.
Resident Evil 5 is what happens when you slam elements from EVERY Resident Evil game that came before it - including the spin-offs, most of which sucked by themselves - in a bowl, stir it all up a little, and then pour in cartons upon cartons of Gears of War. Considering the fine quality of the final dish, let's say Gears of War 2. Resident Evil 5 is by all means optimized to be a captivating co-op experience - of course, player two controls Sheva. After beating the game once, you (both) may choose your character(s). Judging by my latest playthrough, the game simply does not feel the same as a single-player experience after you've conquered it with a friend, either by playing on split screen, or online. It's got good level design, it's a fun and addictive single-player experience from all standpoints, but once you have had a taste of the co-operative game, you'll notice just how damn dumb your partner is. Without any exaggeration, combat sequences that might've taken you three minutes in co-op, might take up to 30 when you're playing alone.

You see, your partner can't even run straight. Regardless of which tactic out of the potential two (Attack / Cover) they're using, they run in circles. There's a door with a lever on each side, both of them need to be pulled at the same time in order for the door to open. You're already at your lever, while your partner is out somewhere, collecting some damn random Red Herbs (s)he can't even use, or running in even more pointless circles, making you wait. It's like asking a cat or a dog what's so damn interesting when they start staring or chasing a random object. In the single-player mode, you can call for your partner to come over, but very often, his/her response is something along the lines of "you've got to be kidding me". Look who's talking.

Secondly, there are many enemies with specific weak spots, just like the Regenerators in Resident Evil 4 - the seemingly immortal, heavily breathing guys with the growths that were invisible to the naked eye. Your partner just won't shoot at them, not without you pinpointing the weak spot to them by using your crosshair. Even if you do that, there's one more problem: even if your partner is fully loaded with superior firepower, whenever there's ammo for the handgun available, they pick it up, they use the handgun and that ONLY, as long as a handgun is in their inventory. They NEVER use grenades or proximity mines, nothing out of the ordinary; even if they have a hundred grenades cluttered up in their pockets, they yell for more ammo. In tactical boss fights, friends going at the game in co-op always know their responsibilities and most of the boss fights simply won't take long because of that. In the single-player mode, it's extremely hard to command your partner to take care of their responsibilities, and even harder to make them do that at the appropriate time. So much in this game is based on teamwork - which is a word the central processing unit simply does not understand as well as a human player. One thing the A.I. partner does better and moreover, executes faster than a human player, is healing. When your partner's loaded with health items, you can be quite the kamikaze squirrel you want to be. When you're on the brink of death, your partner usually abandons everything else to save your life... assuming they're not inside a building or on a higher ground level than you. That just makes them run in circles again.

I'm glad I returned to the single-player mode to pick up these flaws, 'cause up until I took on and completed Resident Evil 5 (and the DLC) together with a trusted friend, and afterwards went back to the single-player mode again, I pretty much thought the game was right on par with its predecessor. It's still one hell of a trip, even for those who haven't got friends, but the biggest thrill just isn't there once you've beaten the game by yourself something like four times, then once with a friend, and then return for a sixth round, alone, to come up with a conclusive review of the sumbitch. That being said, I'd be glad to take another co-op round of Resident Evil 5 any time, even if I've seen everything there is to see, several times at that.

Wesker's back, and he sports some killer
I said general gameplay in Resident Evil 5 lacks comfort, but it's not the A.I. of your non-human partner - their general behaviour just demands tolerance and adjustment. If you've played Resident Evil 4, you can adapt quite quickly, since the gameplay's so similar. The main differences are the button scheme, which is updated to the current-gen standard, and the fact that at least your partner's doing SOMETHING, unlike Ashley who just stood there absorbing swings from axes and power tools, and was practically begging for some guy in a hood to show up and carry her away. You wouldn't survive this game without your partner, as dumb as they are, and even if they can't shoot at the right targets OR use proper weapons, they do have good aim, and they're irreplaceable when it comes to regular shootouts, which there are a-plenty, all due to their aim and constant readiness to heal your reckless ass. Love your retard of a partner. It should come as no surprise to regular Evil-holics, that the worst part of the game is item management.

Grabbing Mikami's torch, Kenichi Ueda and Yasuhiro Anpo, both experienced contributors to the series ever since the beginning tried to come up with a whole new, real-time and teamwork-based item management system that would dwell on the tension of the gameplay, and at the same time, borrow something from every Resident Evil game that came before. They succeeded in their attempt, but I guess they failed to visualize how the system would actually work. Active item management is simply a fucking chore, in both the single-player and co-op modes. Here's how it "works": you both have nine inventory slots. Four of the slots can be accessed by simply pressing a button on the directional pad, so those slots are best reserved for weapons. The others are (very quickly) filled with ammo, and health items, and nearing the end of the game, if you're smart enough to buy one, even your protective vest takes up its own slot - which is just ridiculous. Like in Resident Evil 4, ammo stacks only up until a certain point. If you're in a hurry, like you usually are, you might accidentally pick up ammo for a weapon you don't have. If your partner has a suitable weapon (which, again, they never use in the single-player mode), you can give 'em the ammo, through a real-time menu toggle. Since all item management is done in REAL TIME (caps on purpose), adding a million options of what to do with an item obviously makes you the duck in Duck Hunt, and your annoying partner the dog.

In single-player, the practical problems in item management come in numbers as huge as the plagued bastards in this game. You see, it really bothers the A.I. partner to have a full inventory on their hands. If you're both full, and you downright discard something - any item - to make some space for something more useful you stumble on to in the field, be sure to be away from your partner, because they will very likely force an item from their inventory into yours, to replace the item you just discarded. In a combat situation, you simply cannot stop to think things through, and you will very likely miss a lot of useful items. Also, if your partner needs something like ammo, they're usually very close to one or more enemies. Just try to avoid being hit yourself while running up to your partner and navigating through the options to give 'em the ammo they need. Which, once more, is handgun ammo, if you're playing alone. Everything else is out of their grasp, something they will use only if they absolutely have to. Sometimes, the damn retard picks up everything that is meant to be picked up by you, for example herbs; although they're great healers, they know nothing of mixing herbs. That's always your responsibility.

In co-op, it's very essential for both players to seek out their own vantage points and remain near each other, but still at a distance that allows for a quick sweep of the whole wide area. It's tedious to have to reunite every 20 seconds, when the game suddenly decides to not have fallen enemies yield any useful items - it happens, very often, and lasts for lengthy periods of time. It's not very smart to overload your character with weapons just in case, since the inventory limit is so unforgiving. There are over 20 portable weapons in this game, and you can certainly own them all at the same time - if you're going for Trophies, it's even recommendable to have them all in your inventory. Well, how is that possible with such a limit? Issue a warm welcome to the returning item chest - the only thing about the item management system that truly works.

Taking it to the road. And off it.
Your equipment, items and all other stats are carried over from playthrough to playthrough, but you can certainly collect every treasure, item and piece of equipment on each one if you want, with the sole purpose of selling this excessive loot and getting one step closer to unlocking everything in this game. The item chest is there to conceal everything you don't need during active gameplay, and you can access it from the main menu, each time you load your saved game, each time you finish a chapter, and even after each time you die - the main purpose of this being that if your strategy doesn't work, you can browse through the chest for a more suitable weapon for the situation. You can also reorganize all of your and your partner's items in peace, reload your weapons, mix herbs, whatever you can think of. You can also visit the store to buy weapons and items - this store never runs out of First Aid Sprays like the merchant very often did in Resident Evil 4, and they sell for a reasonable price. Too bad the treasures aren't as valuable as they were in the previous game, and they can't be combined with each other for higher value. They're tougher to find, though, and finding them all results in a fair amount of money, a Trophy/Achievement, and good spirit.

Now that we got to the system-specific achievements, it's good to point out that what Resident Evil 5 lacks in terms of gameplay, it compensates for a whole lot of it with incredible lifespan. Like I said, the single-player experience changes for the worse when you've completed the game in co-op mode just once, but if you're a Resident Evil fan and you've got, say, a room mate or a domestic partner who's seriously into gaming, you're in for prolonged periods of walking on clouds. This game is incredibly rewarding and replayable, and it has tons of stuff to unlock, not just the Trophies or Achievements for your friends on the network to be jealous of, but also, within the game itself, ranging from harmless extras such as graphical filters and hilarious alternative outfits for both Chris and Sheva, to more characters to use in the multiplayer modes, and figurines, which are equivalent to Resident Evil 4's bottle caps; only these require some real challenges to be conquered instead of just being consistently great with a gun.

Your performance in each chapter is rated, with S being the highest rank, as in the games of the classic franchise. Your conclusive ranking for a chapter is based on four things: shooting accuracy, enemies killed, character deaths, and the new factor, clear time - which is extremely difficult to nail in any chapter on the higher difficulty levels. The rankings aren't just for show; you gain a certain amount of points from each finished chapter. The higher the rank, the higher your points. Also, the higher the difficulty level of the game, the higher your points. You can return to any single chapter - on any difficulty - after beating the game once on any of them, to take care of loose ends, whether you're doing it for a better rank, some treasure you missed, or one of the 30 B.S.A.A. Emblems hidden all over the game. Why should you go for any of this stuff, you ask? It's simple, these points work as currency for buying stuff unlocked by some other criteria, like getting all those Emblems and beating the game on a certain difficulty level. If you were looking for the famous "bang for your buck", Resident Evil 5's got it. Again, it's just too bad it isn't QUITE as comfortable to play as its predecessor.

I saved further information on the Trophies and Achievements up until now, for a reason. Many people have complained about multiplayer exclusives. It's good to complain about them, it's just that the original retail version doesn't have any - the multiplayer exclusives don't have any effect on your hunt for the Platinum Trophy... which ain't gonna be easy, and Professional Mode will show you why. The multiplayer exclusives came along with the downloadable multiplayer deathmatch pack dubbed Versus. By the time I tried Versus for the first time, there was already a whole gang of campers and Trophy Whores who had the audacity of sending me PM's and calling ME a pussy if I left a game in midway, 'cause I could not stand their pussy ways of playing a game, OR some Russian dudes with headphones that could not stick it to their numb skulls that I could not understand shit of what they were saying, or that I didn't have any way to talk back to them anyway. So, I can't really comment on Versus or how addictive it is. When it comes to minigames, I'll stick with Mercenaries, especially Mercenaries Reunion, and brought in some old pals. There are no Trophies to be had from Mercenaries, though - what a pity.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love sniping?
There's one Trophy exclusive to single players, and one Trophy exclusive to co-ops, which is very fair and reasonable if you ask me. A lot of the Trophies are based on simply making progress, but there are a lot of tricky challenges in there - some are random and I think they were just thrown in for the game to offer up the standard amount of Trophies, but there are cool, amusing challenges even among the random ones, for example trying to block an enemy arrow with your knife, or trying to kill an enemy by throwing a rotten egg in his face.

I can safely say that in all my years as a critic, whether I was reviewing music, movies or video games, I've never been this torn in half about giving a single item in review a conclusive rating. When it comes to smooth gameplay, Resident Evil 5 does not stand up to its predecessor, or at least it fails to exceed it like every good sequel should, and even the satisfaction brought on by new, convenient elements, such as the ability to strafe and having the option of sticking a minimap on your HUD, is nearly anulled by the hardly tolerable real-time item management system, and the occasional sheer idiotism and trolling tendency of your computer-controlled partner. In turn, Resident Evil 5 is among the best, most addictive co-op games ever made, and it packs more in terms of sheer lifespan than 95% of games of its kind. Yes, including Resident Evil 4. This contrast leaves me just one choice: the absolute average between all of the game's rated qualities. 

SOUND : 9.0


Lost in Nightmares was the first downloadable mission pack for Resident Evil 5, and it was released in February, 2010. Besides the extra chapter, the pack includes two extra characters for free use in Mercenaries Reunion.

Three years prior to the viral outbreak in Africa, Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine break into the mansion of Umbrella founder Ozwell E. Spencer to question him of Albert Wesker's whereabouts. They are faced with eerily familiar challenges.

Lost in Nightmares gives a long-time fan a juicy taste of what the first Resident Evil game would look like if it ran on the MT Framework engine. It's a puzzle-driven piece, with very few enemies - their exact amount depends on the difficulty level - and one boss fight. Even one of the fights is a puzzle in itself, since you have no access to weapons during the sequence. The Spencer's mansion interior is almost an exact replica - in storyline, it's the other way around - of the mansion in the Resident Evil remake.

The mission pack comes complete with a set of five additional Trophies/Achievements, which are very similar as some of those in the retail - the same completion criteria, etc. Completing the mission takes from just a couple of tens of minutes to an hour, depending on the player's skill level.

Since this downloadable chapter strictly focuses on doing long-time fans of the Resident Evil franchise some serious service, and makes the player fetch stuff and solve simple puzzles, it might not satisfy a customer just recently gotten acquainted with the series; I've heard of plenty of people that never played the games of the first generation, and not because they might have not been there to actually see them emerge, but because they don't like zombie games.

I, on the other hand, enjoyed Lost in Nightmares quite a bit on the first time around. It has a very cool atmosphere and there are some truly eerie moments in it that remind us all what 60-70% of true survival horror used to consist of back in the day. But, after one more playthrough, perhaps with a friend, mostly just for missing Trophies, it hasn't got much left to offer. It's a nice, nostalgic experience with tons of easter eggs for someone who was there to witness the beginning to giggle at, and well worth its former price.

RATING : 8.0


Desperate Escape was the second downloadable mission pack for Resident Evil 5, and it was released in March, 2010. Besides the extra chapter, the pack includes two extra characters for free use in Mercenaries Reunion.

The story begins after Chris and Sheva succeed in removing Jill's mind control device. After Chris and Sheva depart to give chase to Wesker, Josh finds Jill collapsed from where they left her. Josh tells Jill he's got a helicopter on the other side of the mountain range, and convinces her to join him in his escape from Kijuju.

Desperate Escape is interesting because it provides a similar alternative perspective on things as Separate Ways did for Resident Evil 4; it's basically the last three chapters of the game from Jill's point of view. Gameplay-wise, it's the polar opposite of Lost in Nightmares. While the first add-on's main focus was on fetching things and fitting them together, Desperate Escape is ALL about killing. Serious fans of action in the style of the retail will love it.

Regardless of whether you're going at it alone or in co-op, Desperate Escape is quite hard, especially if you're going for all five Trophies/Achievements that come with it. Desperate Escape on Professional Mode is the toughest Resident Evil challenge ever issued, and surely the most frustrating one. Me and my friend were almost literally at each other's throats during the last few big shootouts, and we were playing on Normal! Completing the wretched thing takes about an hour.

The fanbase of Resident Evil is surely divided into equal halves when it comes to which add-on's their favourite one, with a lot of more recent fans turning to this one due to its abundance of straightforward action. I think they both serve their purpose in their own ways, and balance each other out, but if I'd have to pick a personal favourite, I'd have to go with the first one. This is like an ultra-charged version of the retail instead of something completely different.

RATING : 7.7



a.k.a. Biohazard 5 (JAP)

Resident Evil 5: 86.29% (PC), 87.11% (PS3), 86.19% (X360)
Resident Evil 5 - Gold Edition: 85.67% (PS3), 87.00% (X360)
Lost in Nightmares: 78.90% (PS3), 78.95% (X360)
Desperate Escape: 74.50% (PS3), 77.58% (X360)

None of the downloadable content was released for the PC, except for the costume packs, which were originally exclusive to it.

The new character model of Jill Valentine is based on that of Fiona Belli, the young protagonist of Demento, Capcom's experimental and obscure survival horror game from 2005.

tiistai 25. lokakuuta 2011

REVIEW - Resident Evil 4 (2005)

GENRE(S): Action / Survival horror
RELEASED: January 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Capcom, Sourcenext (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Capcom, Nintendo (GCN), Ubisoft (PC)

Resident Evil was a revolutionary action game in its time, but after nearly a decade and four games with nearly identical gameplay, it was time for the series to evolve. The development of Resident Evil 4 was first announced, or rather, mentioned, in late 1999. During the course of six years, a total of four possible drafts for the game were made and ultimately discarded - one of these drafts ended up being rewritten into the PlayStation 2 classic Devil May Cry. Not only did Shinji Mikami want to change the game, he wanted to utterly reinvent Resident Evil, even if it meant abandoning the franchise's survival horror roots and focusing on tense, fast-paced action. The game was originally released exclusively on the Nintendo GameCube as the most anticipated title of the "Capcom Five", and it was received as a new golden standard of video gaming, even without zombies or most of the scares that used to define the franchise. About nine months later, formerly outraged PlayStation 2 owners got a reason to smile when Resident Evil 4 was ported to their beloved console. Those PlayStation 2 owners included yours truly. Resident Evil 4 was one of the best and most influential games of the last decade, and it rocks not much less than it did six years ago.

No trespassing, I presume? 

Paul Mercier : Leon S. Kennedy / Merchant
Carolyn Lawrence : Ashley Graham
Rino Romano : Luis Sera
Sally Cahill : Ada Wong
Salli Saffioti : Ingrid Hunnigan
Rene Mujica : Ramon Salazar
Jim Ward : Jack Krauser
Jesse Corti : Bitores Mendez
Michael Gough : Osmund Saddler
Richard Waugh : Albert Wesker

Six years have passed since the destruction of Raccoon City, and Umbrella Inc. has been put out of business for good. Former police officer Leon S. Kennedy, who was in the heart of the events, has since become a federal agent working directly for the President of the United States. When the President's daughter Ashley goes missing, Leon is assigned for a search and rescue mission. He follows Ashley's trail to a rural village in Spain, and is overwhelmed by hostile locals who will stop at nothing to prevent Leon from accomplishing his task, or leaving the village alive.

Like I mentioned before, just hearing about Resident Evil 4 being in development revived my interest in a franchise that I used to be downright obsessed with, back in Resident Evil 2's time. When the first screenshots of the final draft started popping up, my bro had just recently bought us the PlayStation 2 - I was ecstatic, the game looked awesome. I just assumed the game was going to be released on the biggest console of that era, but I was wrong - they were going to make Resident Evil 4 a GameCube exclusive. I was furious, especially since the remake of the first game was already (and will always be) exclusive to the GameCube, but at the same time, I kinda applauded Nintendo for going against all odds and nailing exclusive rights to perhaps the sequel of the decade. Well, just a while before the game's release, Capcom revealed that the Resident Evil franchise was not part of their and Nintendo's deal for exclusive rights, and that a port of Resident Evil 4 was already being developed for the PlayStation 2. Nine months later, the dream became reality - my pre-ordered copy of Resident Evil 4 for the PlayStation 2 arrived. I spent the next few weeks hacking through the game over and over again, busting my ass trying to outdo myself in the minigames, and enjoying the alternate game modes on the side. I have spent a ridiculous amount of time on this game, and after six years, I'm still very much into it. Outdated? Not in the least! That's exactly why ports of the game are still popping up, and still getting good reviews. Resident Evil 4 is a timeless game.

It feels good from the beginning, but when you
realize you can somersault through second-story
windows... :)))))
Let's get right to the point 'cause we've got a lot of ground to cover here. First off, let me profess my love for this game's excellent level, character and enemy design. It's simply magnificent, not to mention consistent. Then, the actual graphics. I've heard people who've played way too much Resident Evil 5 suddenly call this game ugly, especially in the aftermath of the most recent version's release, but the truth is that the game was one of the finest looking games of its time. The PS2 version's not quite as polished as the GameCube version, though - and playing on 60 Hz on a state-of-the-art TV results in a really blurry image, but that's not the game's fault. Just thought I'd give you one more good reason to invest in the most recent, graphically upscaled version of the game.

Considering there were two composers working on the soundtrack (Misao Senbongi and Shusaku Uchiyama), there really isn't that much music in this game. Sound effects are a very important part of the gameplay experience, 'cause unlike you might've figured out, there are still quite a bit of survival horror elements in Resident Evil 4 - they're just presented differently. The Jill sandwich finally reached its expiration date with this one; the voiceover work has most definitely improved, by a whole lot - whoever wrote the dialogue still has a lot to be ashamed of, but the actors do their jobs good. I especially dig Leon's new "tough guy" swag. A couple of certain characters linger on the threshold of sounding simply ridiculous - mostly due to thick, fake accents - but they never really cross it. Is there anything wrong with this game?! Sure, a couple of things, but audiovisually the game is the most radically advanced Resident Evil game to date.

The game is split into several chapters, which take place within three totally different areas. Your primary mission - as Leon - is to find the President's daughter, deal with her kidnappers, who are just about the craziest bunch of European rednecks you've ever seen, and find means to escape. After all, this is a Resident Evil game; the way you came in is never the way out. Otherwise, Resident Evil 4 can't really be compared to the previous games. Many elements are intact, but the gameplay experience is wholly different.

First of all, you control Leon from an over-the-shoulder perspective used in most "third-person shooters" (I still hate that term) nowadays, such as Gears of War and Dead Space. All actions besides walking/running and shooting show up as button prompts at the proper hotspots. Your enemies are not mindless zombies - most of them are living, breathing human beings with the ability to strategize and organize. You can learn their patterns quite easily, that is why the game throws new kinds of enemies at you at a rapid pace. For example, there are guys with steel masks that protect them from headshots, large blind dudes that are made a little more intimidating by giant, razor sharp claws that would put Wolverine to shame, and of course, the famous chainsaw wielders seen in most of the game's promotional art - it's funny that they aren't seen so often in the game, though, nor do they have any special significance when it comes to the plot.

Moby Dick. The Loch Ness monster. Jaws.
To say it like Barry Burton in his "prime", "your weapons are your best weapons". The game's action sequences are all about dealing with massive hordes of enemies - talking isn't going to help, the only language these guys understand besides their very angry form of Spanish is the common language of firepower. Mastering precision in shooting is the most important key to your success in this game - there is no auto-aim, don't even dream of it. You can move the crosshair freely, and of course, you should usually go for headshots; you can also shoot enemies' legs to keep them from moving for a while, and their arms to disarm them. These sort of tricks only apply to human opponents, though; make no mistake about it, you're going to see monsters on this trip, nasty ones. No classic ones, though, this is all about the new kids on the block. By pressing L1, you switch to a melee knife. As always, the knife isn't worth shit in combat, but it's a good weapon to vandalize the environment, as there are a lot of crates and barrels to break and loot. At long last, you can reload the weapon when you want to, on the go, and won't have to go to the inventory to be able to time it well - actually, you can't reload your weapon in the inventory at all.

Nearly every weapon in this game can be upgraded way past their default settings with the proper amount of money at the workbench of a mysterious merchant that first appears in the early goings of the game. The merchant also relieves you of your precious loot for precious amounts of money, that you can use to perhaps buy new weapons instead of tuning your old ones up to the max. The more you upgrade a weapon, the more it gains monetary value - so practically, you could buy a pistol, crank it up to the max, sell it, and buy the next pistol and all its upgrades at once with the shitload of money you get for selling the old one. It's all very cool. Besides traditional weapons such as handguns and shotguns, the new free-aim interface also allows the inclusion of three different types of hand grenades, which do impressive splash damage on a tight bunch of enemies. This game packs some serious firepower.

Firepower is truly the way to go, not only in combat, but there are also some "puzzles" to which the only solution is a keen aim. Sometimes, you might want to try alternative solutions to wasting your bullets on enemies, such as searching the environment for some leverage; nitrogen tanks, barrels of fuel, etc. Also, you can run up to most standard enemies when they're staggered and deliver a swift karate kick to their noggins. When there are a gazillion enemies ganging up on you at the same time, the kick serves even better purpose, as the surrounding enemies might be knocked down by the impact. Fighting huge swarms of enemies might be a tad frustrating at first, but once you get used to it, you can't get enough of it. You might want to listen to some CKY or Disturbed to double the effect.

What a magnificent chamber of death you have
You also won't need to go to the inventory just to check your health, as your health meter is part of the formerly absent HUD. You start off with a very pathetic amount of maximum health, but you can increase it with Yellow Herbs, which replace the always so utterly useless Blue Herbs. Red Herbs are commonly found in the field, while Green Herbs and First Aid Sprays, as all standard consumable items, are also gained from looting fallen enemies. Extra ammo and health items come in huge abundances. In other words, the game can hardly end in an unwinnable state; you must be quite a lousy shot to run out of ammo... but unfortunately, it's still possible that your inventory might run out of space.

The inventory system used in Resident Evil 4 is a one-off system better than in any other Resident Evil game, but it's still annoyingly limited. You carry all your stuff in an attache case, which you can expand by buying extra capacity from the merchant at ridiculous prices (but it's well worth it). You can organize all the stuff yourself, which means that even if your inventory does not have enough extra space for a single item, it might have if you organize the stuff differently. You don't need to worry about key items or loot taking up space, they're in their own categories; the attache case is fully dedicated to guns, ammo and consumables. You can also discard any item you don't need. So, basically it's great, but ammo for each weapon only stacks to a certain point, you cannot reload your weapons to free up space, and when you really start stocking up on guns and their additional parts, you'll notice that even having the largest attache case available isn't too much to your advantage - all weapons take up realistic, therefore insane amounts of space. It's funny - now that the item chest is finally gone from the fray, I find myself missing it.

Resident Evil 4 isn't wholly devoid of real puzzles, but there are very few of them, and they're not very challenging; even the tougher ones can easily be conquered in just a minute by engaging in a little, unpunished trial and error. In the previous games, failing a puzzle often resulted in poison gas starting to leak into the room or something, there's nothing like that here. You can try all the pseudo-puzzles just as long as it takes from you to get to the right solution. Also, you no longer have to think which item to use in which location in the slightest bit; if you need an item such as a certain type of emblem to open a door, you just need to go to this door, and if you've already got the proper emblem in your possession, you're automatically taken to the key item menu and downright prompted to use the emblem on the door. Resident Evil 4 is more brawn than brains, I admit that.

Shades of Predator. Again!
Now that we got to the lamer parts of the game, we have to note Ashley's presence. Ashley's a spoiled brat in a video game, which tells everything about her as a character even before we start up the game (hard to believe her voice actress was almost 40 at the time) - but what she is like as a character is really not the point. About a year before Resident Evil 4, came Silent Hill 4, in which we had to bear the delusional Eileen Galvin's company. Since Eileen did nothing but slowed you down, and couldn't do shit to enemies, I thought having Ashley tag along would be exactly the same and do irreversible harm to the game. Well, luckily that's not true. Ashley has good A.I., she can often be hidden out of harm's way, and she's gone during the truly toughest parts of the game, such as boss fights. However, although she's very capable of dodging your crosshair, don't go believing she's immortal, which she truly isn't. One rifle shot gone wrong when she's carried away by one of those hicks or even just a tiny slice from the knife into the wrong direction when you're looting a breakable barrel, she's dead, quicker than you can say "ass". Her boney butt takes a wallop of damage from the least impressive bump, and it's really annoying to be forced to spend your valuable health items on her, not to mention your Yellow Herbs to increase her maximum health in addition to your own. Well, after you get used to her, her constant yelling's the worst part. That's not so bad, we've all dated.

Back to the good parts before I wrap this up. Although typewriters are still used to save the game as homage to the past, Ink Ribbons and limited opportunities to save the game are both things of the past, finally. If they were part of an environment that was this "alive" and surprising (in other words, filled with potential of sudden death), the game would not be challenging, it would be unplayable. There are also plenty of checkpoints in the game - the sense in them varies - so you only need to save the game when you quit playing. Or, should I say, when you are finally able to quit... I can tell you this one's pretty darn addictive.

Boss fights have always been a solid part of Resident Evil, but I've never really felt the ones in the earlier games in my bones quite like this. The games were never really about them, and final bosses in the earlier games were always somewhat anti-climactic since your last task in each game was to escape. Well, it is in Resident Evil 4 as well, but the boss fights definitely count here, and they start amazing the hell out of the player from the very beginning. Not only are most of the bosses HUGE in size - as in God damn - they always manage to intimidate you even if you know for certain that you can beat them in under 30 seconds without suffering any damage. Their entrances are that impressive, time and time again, and the Quick Time Events featured in most boss fights - in addition to some interactive cutscenes - are damn tense and do wonders to your heartrate.

"Time and time again" is a good sentiment to describe Resident Evil 4. It's amazingly addictive. Even before Trophies and Achievements came along, Resident Evil 4 put me in an endless spiral of trying to outdo my previous final ranking. After each chapter, your performance is rated based on three things - your hit ratio, enemies killed, and your untimely occurrences of death. In the end of the game, all of your results from all chapters are tallied up to a definitive ranking. Going for a better hit ratio is awesome, although not quite as awesome than killing people in this game, and trying to make it through with zero lives lost - which is pretty much impossible, by the way. But fun to try.

The woman who just doesn't know how to die
is back... but why? See for yourself.
Completing the game takes around 17 to 20 hours, so just one trip into "Hellview" ain't going to be a short walk. The amount of unlockable stuff - most of which was originally exclusive to the PlayStation 2, as Capcom's apology for the PS2 port's late release - is just insane. Just by beating the game once, you unlock not one, but two alternate game modes starring Ada. Assignment Ada is a kind of a survival mode with a kind of a dumb plot, while Separate Ways tells the main game's story from Ada's perspective. Although Separate Ways is notably shorter than the main game, it provides the game with a lot of extra bang in my opinion; I love it. Beating Assignment Ada unlocks an extra weapon to be used in Separate Ways, and beating Separate Ways unlocks an interesting document entitled Ada's Report, which details her connection to Wesker. There are a couple of special costumes to unlock for both Leon and Ashley, and of course, a couple of extra weapons you could kill an elephant with - the most powerful weapon is unlocked after beating Professional Mode, which in turn is unlocked after beating the game once on the Normal setting. There's also a movie browser for all the cutscenes in the game, and finally, the most addictive form of Mercenaries ever seen. ...Finally? Uh-uh. There's still the shooting gallery for all the gun crazies out there. The shooting gallery's a minigame within the main game, in which you're placed in increasingly tricky shooting challenges. You occasionally gain a lot of money from high scores, as well as special collectable bottle caps with figurines for your viewing pleasure. It's not over 'til it's over.

Although I'm reviewing the PlayStation 2 version here, I felt I should take a look what the latest version of the game offers to the player in terms of extra lifespan - of course, I'm speaking of Trophies for the PlayStation 3 and Achievements for the Xbox 360. The "HD version" of the game - I hear the HD part's bullshit - is a tad on the expensive side as it sells for twenty. Not saying it's not worth it, though. Double that if you've never owned the game, and triple that if you've never played the game. What it offers to those who have is a set of 12 system-specific rewards. Nine of them are automatically acquired via simply making progress. The only Gold Trophy in the game is awarded for beating the game on Professional Mode. Collecting all extra costumes, and all of the bottle caps in the game result in one Trophy each. The list is somewhat incomplete, I would've expected a lot more from whoever designed the Trophies - in both quantity and quality. Perhaps even a Platinum with that price. Again, the original game is not to blame.

Resident Evil 4 is a lasting masterpiece in the action genre. Even though it has some flaws and Resident Evil 5 went on to correct some of them - but also present new ones itself - it is honestly one of the most still playable games from its era. Its influence can be seen in just about every action game that has emerged since. Even though it's radically different from its predecessors and lacks the distinct horror elements that made them great, it is most definitely the total package, with whole new inventions that make it stick by the exact same, if not even more impressive, force. This last playthrough only worked as further proof of its greatness. 

SOUND : 8.9


a.k.a. Biohazard 4 (JAP)

GameRankings: 95.75% (GCN), 74.24% (PC), 95.77% (PS2)

Nintendo Power ranks Resident Evil 4 #2 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time. 

Resident Evil 4 has been re-released on home consoles twice. Resident Evil 4 - Wii Edition was released on the Wii in June 2007; although nearly identical to the original game, it's notable for supporting the Wiimote and for having motion sensitive Quick Time Events. Resident Evil 4 HD was released as part of the Biohazard Revival Selection (together with Resident Evil Code: Veronica X HD) in September 2011.

Although the game takes place in Spain, all Spanish in the game is spoken in Mexican dialect. All of the voice actors of the Spanish characters are, in fact, Mexican.

The Killer 7 handgun is named after Killer7, another game Shinji Mikami was working on in conjunction with Resident Evil 4. The Matilda handgun is named after Natalie Portman's character in the movie Leon (a.k.a. The Professional). Professional Mode, the hardest difficulty setting of the game, was apparently named after the same movie.

The movie Resident Evil: Apocalypse featured a scene very much influenced by the intro of Resident Evil Code: Veronica. Perhaps to return the favour to the film makers, and because the dynamic gameplay allowed it, the memorable "hallway with lasers" scene heavily reminiscent of the one in the first movie was added into the game.