[Review] Dragon Age II

Qunari now have horns.
Dragon Age II
 is an average game. Let's get that out of the way first. Normally I wouldn't go out of my way to rag on an average game, but DA2 systematically strips out all the promise, mystery and depth that Dragon Age: Origins went to great lengths to establish. In every way but one this is an inferior title to its predecessor and it's just baffling. Clearly there were budget and timing issues at work but the drop in quality and quantity in this sequel is so brazen and so staggering it leaves me little choice but to chalk up this mess as possibly the biggest disappointment of 2011. And it's only March.

Looking at the large scale of the game, the overarching narrative blows. Is 15 hours enough time to make a fair judgement of something like this? If not, it should be. There is nothing driving the momentum of DA2's plot and characters are shifted up so often that it's hard to establish any real camaraderie. There were many significant plot threads and narrative cliffhangers that Origins and Awakening left us with, and, while I may be wrong, this game has no apparent desire to address them in any meaningful way. Thedas was positioned as an epic world with a rich history and the bulk of its mysteries yet to be discovered. It's probably less charitable than the game deserves to say this, but DA2 essentially pisses all over the mythology that was built up for all those years that DAO was incubating in development.

The much talked-up 'frame narrative' is also a concession on the writers' part. As far in as I am I feel confident in saying it doesn't add anything except the ability for the developer to jump around a timeline recklessly and relieve themselves of a lot of expositional and continuity concerns. It also offers a get-out-of-jail-free card in the sense that any detail in DA2 can be written off as exaggeration or discarded Usual Suspects-style as an en masse fabrication and pave the way for future retcons that might be necessary. Also a talking player character and shift in visual style? Gives me the feeling that this may have been originally intended as a further expansion or spinoff, rather than a full sequel, but more on that later.

On the small scale of things the dialogue and witty banter between teammates that I loved so much in Origins is gone. Well, not gone, but certainly stripped down to a bare minimum. And even then it's never as witty as the lines written for Alistair or Anders. They were gold. Nothing approaches that quality in DA2 and while it's never an overt shortcoming, it does detract something that series veterans are in their rights to expect.

Although it's not all bad. For those decrying DA2's new take on RPG combat, I rather like it. I found the implementation in DA:O mired in its supposed reverence to Baldur's Gate and not nearly fluid enough for the year in which it was released. That said, I would never have wanted them to take out all the tactics and actual thought that went into surviving one of the chaotic brawls in Origins, but that's exactly what happened. Skill trees are stripped bare and outfitting and AI behaviour has been taken down a notch in complexity. Surely between the two approaches there's a happy medium, but DA2 just goes too far.

The worrying thing about DA2 is that it seemed crafted in a such a way that it could cut corners from the beginning, not as a last-minute ditch effort to get the game out on time. Being centred around a single city? Being told through its 'frame narrative'? These are all conscious core design choices made with the apparent intention of getting a sequel to DAO out the door as soon as possible. Promises of 2 years' DLC support for that game be damned! Or could this all be a hint? Could the game now known as Dragon Age II originally been a DLC release for DAO? Although the hackneyed new combat system suggests otherwise, the production's deliberately narrow scope suggests so. Otherwise could it have been some manner of spinoff? The new combat supports this theory and its decidedly console-esque stylings suggest this could have been a console-only affair at one point. Both disc size and the subsequent hi-res download for PC both point in this direction...

But this is all idle speculation. The harsh reality is that we have an RPG that's not bad but is an utter letdown considering what came before it. I just gave up on the appalling Infinite Undiscovery - which was magnitudes worse than DA2 - but it was a new franchise and the dirth of shocking titles Square-Enix likes to publish didn't exactly temper expectations for much more. I wouldn't waste the time condemning that garbage. DA2's difference is that its predecessor setup a game and a world with so much potential that 2 years ago there were few things I was anticipating more than a sequel. Now that sequel is here and it doesn't even maintain the set standard; it falls short. It's unacceptable for a great game's sequel to be anything less than greater, and to be categorically worse is unconscionable.

I've tried not to let this be a knee-jerk reaction to all the changes and really don't want to jump on the Dragon Age 2 hate bandwagon but I have no motivation to pick up the game at this point and press forward. Comparing this to the all night DAO marathons from 2009 it's just sad. I don't know what was happening at Bioware when this was being made but they have a lot of work to do if they hope to kindle any interest for a Dragon Age III.

Grade: C


[Review] Resident Evil: Dead Aim - Dead on the Money

Resident Evil: Dead Aim - Dead on the Money 

Game: Resident Evil: Dead Aim (PAL/NTSC-U) / Gun Survivor 4: Biohazard – Heroes Never Die (NTSC-J)

System: PlayStation 2 DVD-ROM

Emulators: None

 Light-gun games have a sketchy history on the PlayStation 2. Capcom’s efforts in particular have been met with everything from mild indifference to outright derision by the gaming public. Luckily, in most ways, Resident Evil: Dead Aim succeeds where its predecessors have failed. It effortlessly combines patented Resident Evil-style 3-person survival horror with 1-person light-gun action and the result is an experience far more satisfying than similar games to date have been. The storyline is ludicrous, the voice acting is just plain terrible and while slightly on the short side, Dead Aim is a very recommendable light-gun game, easily on par with any of its rivals on the PS2. 

Dead Aim handles, without exaggeration, marvellously. Resident Evil, the franchise that put survival horror on the map, branched out into action with Resident Evil: Survivor - essentially a free roaming 1-person shooter – to little fanfare. Maybe this was in part due to the Columbine shootings nixing light-gun support for the title in the United States, but really it was down to the mechanic driving the game being clunky, and unrefined. For aiming and shooting, things were fun, but navigating a 3d world riddled with hidden with hidden items and teeming with enemies, while only looking left and right is bound to go wrong somewhere. Dead Aim avoids these pitfalls by throwing those ideas out entirely, and using the tried and tested Resident Evil gameplay for exploration, and shifting to a point-of-view interface for combat. 

The game allows you to either use both a Dual Shock 2 controller in tandem with a G-con45 / Guncon or G-con2 / Guncon2, or just a G-con2 by itself. The former is more comfortable to my tempered hands, but either configuration is a matter of preference. The d-pad and analogue stick control characters’ movement, and all buttons are mapped to confirm / interact. This allows a controller to be easily held in the left hand, with a thumb on the stick, a finger positioned above L1, and with a gun in the right, providing complete control over the game while doing so. Pulling the trigger on the G-con will shift from 3- to 1-person perspective, while shooting off-screen reloads. Lurching zombies can usually be dispatched by drawing a weapon and scoring a clean headshot, while others, such as the frog-like Hunters, will require some moving around in-between taking shots. None of this is cumbersome, but while the game can be played solely with the Dual Shock 2, it is not recommended. Overall, the control scheme in Dead Aim is remarkably simple, but effective, and allows the player a great deal more agency in the gameworld than in any of the previous Gun Survivor games so far. 

Dead Aim’s polished presentation extends to its graphics. Not in the same league as Resident Evil 0 for the GameCube, or Resident Evil 4, the game’s graphics are clean and clear, and almost consistently running at a silk-smooth 60 frames. Almost no slowdown bogged the game at any point, and there are instances where veritable legions of zombies will obstruct the player’s quick exit. The interior of the Umbrella cruiser is especially well realised, as much of the architecture above deck, as well as the engine rooms below, bear strong familiarity to their often-seen film and TV counterparts. Without any doubt though, the full-motion-video sequences in the game are almost without peer on the PlayStation 2. Consider this game’s age, and the stiff competition on the platform, this is not a statement that can be made in passing. 

Although in some ways a throwback to the old Resident Evils, Dead Aim is completely separate from them in terms of plot. Set in 2002, years after the Racoon City events of the first three games, it follows a CIA agent, Bruce McGivern, who has to reclaim a hijacked Umbrella Corp. cruise ship from renegade scientist Morpheus Duvall. Unbeknownst to Umbrella, however, is that Morpheus has secretly stolen a new hybrid G/T-Virus, and infected everyone on board the liner. This conveniently sets the stage for wanton zombie-shooting mayhem, as the player fights their way through the ship, searching for keys and unlocking their way to Morpheus. Eventually the fight is taken to an abandoned Umbrella facility where the plot reaches its unspectacular climax. In truth, the story is pathetically contrived, but is most disadvantaged by its voice-acting. While the narcissistic Morpheus is suitably effeminate sounding, Raj Ramayya, the voice of the protagonist, oscillates equally between a heavy-south accent, and something more mainstream. Claire O’Connor, who plays Chinese agent Fong Ling, puts forth, without exception, the worst bunged on Chinese accent I have ever heard. As if the already painful-to-watch cutscenes needed any more help sucking, the subtitles never match the spoken dialogue. Obviously one follows a more literal Japanese translation, but the combination of the two actually manages to further obscure what is already a poorly thought out sequence of events.

There isn’t that long of a story to suffer through, fortunately, as the game is as short as its story is poorly conceived. All up a run through can take less than an hour, but there are more serious content-related grievances than that. While there is a standard survival horror fare of weapons and items, including pistols, shotguns, assault rifles, as well as herbs and sprays, there is not a huge roster of enemies. The vast majority of time will be spent wasting the run of the mill zombie, but there are only really hunters, ‘torpedo kids’ and three bosses to deal with other than that. Once you can easily get off three running headshots on the zombies, you are pretty much set for the rest of the game. Crimson heads, lickers and Mr.X were nowhere to be found, which was quite disheartening. Rewards for completing the game are sparse too. Depending on difficulty and rank achieved, a clear save will allow access to either all weapons from the start, or infinite ammo. The ability to control Fong Ling, who is no more than an alternate model, is little incentive to play through a second time. She plays through the same story as Bruce in any case. 

On the whole, Resident Evil: Dead Aim is the first game to successfully blend free-movement and explorative elements with a light-gun shooting mechanic. Admittedly it doesn’t stand shoulder to shoulder with the masterpiece that is Resident Evil 4, but Dead Aim is easily the best game in the Gun Survivor series, and one of the best light-gun games available for the PlayStation 2, if not the best off-rails light-gun game ever made. Its short length is a pity, considering how well the it plays, and the script could use a lot of work. Nevertheless Dead Aim is a very capable title that all G-con owners should consider, if only as an excuse to clear off all the dust that has settled on it over the months of disuse. Of course, you could just play the game with a Dual Shock in tow... but where’s the fun in that? 

Control: 10/10

Gameplay: 8/10

Graphics: 8/10

Extras: 1/10

Overall: 7/10

Grade: B     


About Me

Media planner, gaming connoisseur, aspirant tech critic and Street Fighter. I main E.Honda. どすこい!