Sonic Unleashed DLC Reviews

(Thanks to Luchadeer eating the last one, I guess I have to re-write all of this...)

So after I basically got hired to write reviews for TSSZnews.com, I told you guys I'd give you a heads up for every review I wrote for them. I guess these count - I've been tasked with doing write-ups for the Sonic Unleashed DLC packs that have been coming out every two weeks. It started with me just doing text reviews for the Chun-nan Adventure Pack, but as of the Spagonia Adventure Pack and the released-just-this-morning Holoska Adventure Pack, I've been capturing video of all the levels released with the DLC to post simultaneously with my review. For as long as I can afford the 250 microsoft points to buy Sonic Unleashed DLC, I'll be posting reviews like this every two weeks, so be on the look out for that. For the sake of convenience, I will just embed the videos I did for the Holoska Adventure Pack:

  


I've also been re-posting some of my older reviews here. Even if you already read them back on Gamespot all those years ago, I've re-written most of them so in a way, it's sort of like reading a brand-new review all over again.
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S-Video vs. Composite

Bought some new video cables to capture video with today. The difference is pretty striking!

Composite (RCA):


S-Video:


I'd say that now, more than ever, the $15 I spent on my Easycap was well worth it. Of course, to record in that resolution I have to deal with a little bit of ghosting, but for the level of clarity I get, I'd say it's a decent trade-off. Recorded some video of the recently-released Sonic Unleashed DLC with it:

  

Good stuff, I'd say.
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Halo Wars Demo

So I just finished up the campaign part of the Halo Wars demo. I thought about capturing some video of it for this blog, but I'm sure you could just go find some Halo Wars footage and see for yourself. Especially considering the demo is like 30 minutes long and Youtube has that whole 10 minute limit.

So, Halo Wars. After watching one of the recent Video Documentaries, me and Ashuku agreed that Ensemble seemed to be trying to make an RTS game for people who don't play RTS games. They described concepts like building bases and training units as if you were trying to explain fire to a caveman. This carries over in to the actual game, which, while being a real-time strategy game, is very simplified. If you thought Command & Conquer was simplified enough already (with Tiberium being the only resource), then prepare to be amazed: Halo Wars is even more simplistic, as there are no resources to "collect". You yourself manufacture resources at your base (from an infinitely deep well) and you build additional structures to increase the speed in which resources are manufactured.

The unit cap means this is all the soldiers you get.
Speaking of which: buildings can only be constructed on top of predetermined "templates". A base is composed of about six or so "squares" of various sizes. Large buildings go in large squares, medium buildings go in medium squares, so on and so forth. Buildings cannot be placed freely on the map, only built within these templates, which are at set points on the map. I was a little put off by this at first, but really, the possibility exists for this to encourage more strategy, in a way; rather than an ever-encroaching metropolis that spreads across the map, you have to be mindful of how much space you want to dedicate to certain buildings. You can't just turtle up with ten of every building type and flood the map with destruction - one base can have four turrets and six buildings. Period. This point is further driven home by the relatively low unit cap (30 units, where one unit is a single squad of soldiers or one vehicle).

Controls are simplified, as well. If you've ever played any other console RTS, grasping these controls shouldn't be too hard - you can select all units on screen, or you can select individual units. Hold the "select unit" button to select all units within a certain radius. I didn't bother with the tutorial for Halo Wars, but one thing that bothered me is that there doesn't seem to be a way to select an individual unit type - like I can't just select all of my Warthogs. This makes traversing a map somewhat of a grind because everything moves at the speed of the slowest unit.

The maps in the campaign sort of feel like they took Halo 3 campaign maps and pulled the camera out to an RTS perspective. I guess in a way they're a little more open than that, but Halo 3 had some pretty wide-open spaces, as I recall. Regardless, I suppose they nailed the Halo "feel" in this regard. Also, a really small touch I liked: I hate what Halo 2 and 3 did to how Covenant guns sounded, which makes Halo Wars great, because in it stuff sounds the way I always remember Halo sounding - like Halo 1.

I don't like, though, is the story. Halo's story and my feelings about Halo's story are very mixed up and sort of jumbled. Halo, to me, always felt like it was at odds with itself: take the TV commercials for Halo 3 vs. Halo 3 itself. Microsoft was dead-set on portraying Halo 3 from the perspective of a marine; you got to see gritty war footage from the front-lines, and you heard tearful stories from veterans. I have never, never once, felt like Halo was a "war". Maybe it's because war is such a frequent setting for videogames (especially shooters), but the war-like elements of Halo never really registered as such with me. Neither did the concept that I was special - these same war veterans in Halo 3 commercials treat Master Chief like some kind of incredible figure head, and the games themselves never really touched on that very well. Half-Life 2 has a lot of the same themes, but Half-Life 2 does a lot better job of portraying Gordon Freeman in that sort of messianic "this guy can destroy ten thousand soldiers and there's nothing you can do to stop him" light. In Halo, I feel more like a generic shooter guy. When a Marine tells me that I (Master Chief) am awesome, I don't feel awesome, instead I feel more like the Marine telling me this just sucks.

Remember when the Elites used to actually be sort of menacing? So does Ensemble.
Back more on the subject of Halo Wars, though, here is an environment where the war aspect of the Halo universe is unavoidable, and in that context, it feels sort of silly. There's just something about it that doesn't seem like it fits, to me. Maybe it's the CG used in the cutscenes themselves; they definitely look sort of like mannequins - their rendering is certainly detailed and realistic, but it's just not quite right. Some characters look too greasy, or move a little too stiffly every now and then (amusing aside: the AI lady in this one is wears fake clothes, suggesting that Cortana was actually nude for Halo 1, 2 and 3). What I think is really weird about all of this is how the Covenant Elites look. Because this is still back when they were the bad guys, it feels like Ensemble really tried to make them look menacing. There's a definite emphasis on their sharp teeth and beady eyes when they are shown in cutscenes, making them look much scarier than the wimps they eventually become in Halo 2 and 3.

All in all, though, based on the Demo, I don't really know whether what Halo Wars is doing is bad, or not. The RTS as a genre is one of those genres that has been around so long and has sort of drilled itself down to almost a niche level that I think taking a step back and making it a little more user friendly might be a good thing.
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RE5 Demo: Cooperating (Video)

  

This was my first time trying something like this. If and when I do another one of these videos, I will see about getting the audio to mix better.

So I dunno what to think about the RE5 demo. I guess there's a lot of negativity out there currently with regards to it. Me? I'm sort of indifferent. I still haven't finished Resident Evil 4 yet for whatever reason, and the RE5 demo doesn't leave a very big impact on me. I suppose if I had to say something, it's technically and functionally competent? The co-op stuff is interesting but not spectacular.

I just don't know how I should feel about it because I don't even really know how I feel about RE4. Maybe if I played RE4 more than 20 minutes every four months, I'd have a clearer opinion about it.
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Skate 2 doesn't feel "right"

I liked the Tony Hawk games back in the day - but after Tony Hawk 2, I did not get a chance to play a skateboarding game again until Tony Hawk's Project 8. Project 8 was a lesson in frustration for me - As I saw it, the game more or less expected you to be a Tony Hawk master, and playing the game was, right from the start, an up-hill battle. The level of skill the game expected you to have and the amount of stuff you were supposed to "know" about the franchise and how its mechanics worked was pretty overwhelming. I just barely managed to unlock the Fun Park in Project 8, the final area of the game, and I never wanted to touch it ever again.

I played a ton of the Skate demo and tooled around the full version for a little bit. I really liked what they had done and there was a general feeling of, I dunno, "freedom". And now that the Skate 2 demo became available for us Silver users today, I decided to give it a go:

  

(if the video does not work quite yet, come back later )

There is something about the demo that rubs me the wrong way. The worst part is, I can't even really put my finger on it. Maybe it's the fact that the area in the demo is so small - the Skate Park portion is less than half the size of the original demo area for the first Skate, and in general, feels very cramped and tight, like there's not a lot of room to move around. And speaking of moving around, even that's giving me trouble - I seem to be wiping out more than I did in the original Skate and I can't get the air or the momentum going that I used to (WARNING: That is old webcam footage. If there's enough interest, I'll re-download the original Skate demo and record footage of that to better prove my point). There's also a demo timer; the demo for the original Skate let you go on for kind of a long time if I remember right - something like 30 minutes, I think. The demo for Skate 2 gives you five minutes, and you can extend that to around ten minutes if you complete the tutorial and all the challenges quick enough.

The small size and the short time limit don't exactly give you a lot of time to fool around. I always figured the 30 minute limit in the previous demo was to help show off the skate.reel function, where you could upload 30 seconds of footage to the official Skate Website. This demo seemingly retains that functionality, but without much time to really mess with the controls or stretch your legs in the skate park, there's not much use to it, if you ask me. Even worse: You have to sit through the entire introductory scene every single time you boot up the demo. Just the opening monologue is a good two minutes long. That doesn't exactly encourage replayability. I'm sure somebody from the peanut gallery is going to say, "It's a demo, cheapskate! Buy the full game!" - yeah, well, that's the thing. I wanted the original Skate - but I don't really know if I want Skate 2.

In general, the controls feel... tighter. Which should be a good thing, but I can't help but feel that this is a bad thing. They almost feel too rigid, or something, almost like a Tony Hawk game. The trick system has been tightened up so much that it doesn't really feel like the gestures I'm doing are what's pulling off tricks - it feels more like I'm miming a motion on screen and my Skater does something tangentially related. There's a serious disconnect now that wasn't there in the original Skate. The replay editor is also suffering - it has tons more depth, and that's great, and all - more depth for that stuff is nothing but a good thing - but reviewing footage quickly isn't as easy. In the original Skate, popping open the replay editor and reviewing your footage from multiple camera angles was a snap. I'd frequently pop in to the replay editor just to watch a bail I just did in slow motion and that was awesome. In Skate 2, you have to wrestle with several sub-menus, zooming options, panning options, and holding down the bumpers to modify certain button functions. I'm sure some people out there are going to use this new-found depth to create fantastic videos, but in turn, they've actually made me avoid opening the replay editor.

I guess what this boils down to is it feels like they simplified certain elements too much but alternatively they went and made certain elements more complicated than they needed to be.

And, even if there are visible improvements to the game otherwise, I don't think I like it.
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PROTIP

Pour one out for my homie, Scary Larry.
Oh hey, Gamepro picked up that Sega Blog story I wrote. Sure, they are the bottom rung on the "big professional videogame media" ladder, but at least its ON the ladder, right?

Man, thinking about Gamepro reminds me it was them who got me in to reading videogame magazines way back in the day. They had a huge, two-part Sonic the Hedgehog 3 strategy guide a month before the game came out or whatever, and I memorized every level in the game. I knew where every Special Stage entrance was and could have all the Chaos Emeralds by the third level. I never did that with any other game before.

Eventually I was like "oh yeah, there's a whole other magazine in here, maybe I should read it". And then I kinda grew up, and Gamepro didn't. Funny how that works.
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