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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Game Review - Hotel Dusk:Room 215

The DS has been reviving the point-and-click genre recently, with the previous game being Touch Detective. The latest one to hit the store shelves is Hotel Dusk: Room 215, a game where the controls are entirely stylus-based and where the DS is held vertically in order to play the game. Is Hotel Dusk: Room 215 any fun then? Read on to find out.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 puts you in the shoes of Kyle Hyde, an ex-police officer, who is currently looking for his long-lost partner, Bradley. It seems that Bradley had betrayed the police force years ago and Kyle had tracked him down and shot him. The problem is: Kyle wants to know why his partner turned his back on the police force and as such, Kyle is now attempting to find Bradley. Of course, the story in Hotel Dusk isn’t as simple as that. As you progress further into the game, there will be unexpected, wicked twists and turns in the plot, making the story more convoluted. Fortunately, there will be a summary for every chapter after you completed each in your notebook, for which you can refer to if you are feeling confused. All the action and thrill is contained within Hotel Dusk and I am surprised by how the developers have managed to squeeze so much mystery into that building alone. Every guest in the hotel has a story to tell.

However, it must be noted that Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is not a game for everyone. In fact, Hotel Dusk plays out more like a fiction book than a game. There will be dialogue after dialogue after dialogue and lots of interaction, as well as exploration, needs to be done. Conversations trees help keep things interesting, though. There will be some points where you will be required to choose your replies or even questions to ask. The challenging thing is that you need to select the correct answers, or else it may be game over for you. I must admit that in the first 3 chapters (there are 10 chapters in all) of the game, the pace of the game may be a little slow because some of the dialogues are nothing but merely artificial lengtheners to the game. And no, if you are thinking of skipping the dialogues, you can’t; the game does not allow you to do so. The true colors of the game start showing themselves only from the fourth chapter onwards, where more mysteries start piling up on you and interaction becomes more important than those in the first 3 chapters, not to mention the pace of the game being faster.

One of the things I like about Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is the beautiful hand-drawn artworks. Instead of choosing a graphics-intensive approach that has mostly been used on the PSP, the developers, Cing, opted for a more comic book-style presentation. I have to agree that it suits the DS well and playing the game does not become an eyesore. Now, you may ask, what about the sound in the game? For one, it is disappointing that Cing does not include spoken voice with the dialogue, but that minor fact can be overlooked. Every situation in the game has its own kind of music. There is a soothing andante music when you are just loitering around in the hotel, another really ambient one when you are in the restaurant and the tune changes to an intense one when you are confronting a person and trying to drag the truth out of him/her.

Another gameplay element of a mystery-adventure game is puzzle-solving, and Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is not lacking any of that. From outright irrelevant ones to the real crucial ones later on in the game, Hotel Dusk is strewn with puzzles. Some of the puzzles even require you to use the DS in innovative ways like flipping it close and open again so that you can see the back of a puzzle piece or revive a person. Sadly, through the entire game, none utilizes the microphone.

For all the time Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is worth, it does have its shortcomings too. I feel that some parts of the game are illogical. For example, you have to show a person his student ID twice. Or that the person calmly lets you into his room after you have confronted him aggressively just moments ago. Or that the person suddenly stops and chides you when on the verge of breaking down and revealing everything. There is also the possibility of getting stuck often in the later chapters of the game, but the game does well to offer you hints occasionally. These 2 minor errors ruin what otherwise would have been a perfect game.

Final Comments
Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a masterpiece. It has got a good plot (hey, you’ve got to play it through yourself to feel the brilliance of the story), nice hand-drawn artworks, appropriate music, and the game is filled with suspense from chapter 4 onwards to the end. It just grips you and never lets go. If you are the type who likes reading mystery novels, all the better; you will find more enjoyment in this game. The game is extremely long, though, so expect to spend quite a while to finish it. That was why I took so long before writing this game review (this review has been updated before).

Overall score: 9.7/10

Friday, January 19, 2007

Game Review - Lost Planet:Extreme Condition

Since Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was announced for the Xbox 360, I have been anticipating it, thinking what a great game it would be when it is released. With huge monsters for you to slaughter and several futuristic weapons up for grabs, Lost Planet cannot be straying too far from a winning formula, right? Read on to uncover the answer.

Firstly, Lost Planet is a fairly unique game by the fact that you need to gather thermal energy (known as T-ENG in the game) in order to survive – it even helps fill your life-bar if it has been drained! Your constantly depleting supply of T-ENG can be replenished by killing enemies and destroying fuel tanks. Although I must admit that this certainly adds a bit of a challenge to the overall game, I find it to be more of a hindrance. Yes, it forces you to move forward and continue killing enemies instead of waiting around – in that way, yes, the gathering of T-ENG is meant to include additional action to the game. However, in boss fights, where you will most probably concentrate only on the beast in your foreground, the gathering of T-ENG becomes an irritating affair.

Lost Planet takes place on the planet known as E.D.N III, which is infested by an insect-like alien life form called the Akrid. There is a huge variety of them to go around. From small little harmless flying Akrids to the magnificent, yet enormous and intimidating spider Akrid, Lost Planet has almost anything you can think of. The game does a good job of introducing new Akrid types as you progress further into the game. Of course, several cool weapons make their appearance in this game as well. Ranging from the common ones like shotgun and machine gun to interesting ones like the plasma gun and plasma rifles, Lost Planet has a large arsenal of weapons for you to wield. And that is not forgetting the vital suits (VSs), robots that the humans have manufactured to counter the Akird. The VSs, I must agree, definitely adds a whole lot of action into the game.

What I like about Lost Planet is that it offers numerous ways to tackle a given situation. For example, you can either hop into a VS to battle Akrids or do the job on foot. Or you could totally ignore the menace and run past the enemy. The pacing of the game is also spot-on. The first three missions could seem a little dull and enemies may put up little resistance, but hang on, and Lost Planet could be showing its true colors as the game progresses. I like the way missions grow more difficult and the action intensifying towards the end of the game.

Cut scenes are generously littered through the entire Lost Planet single-player campaign, and they are absolutely stunning. Although widely criticized by other game reviews on other gaming websites like IGN and Gamespot for being sense-less, I do not find the cut scenes, together with the storyline, to have no sense. In fact, they are one of the most intriguing, albeit convoluted, all the while attempting to dig you deeper into the game. Yes, it may be confusing to some, but just try to analyze the story a little further and you will get what Lost Planet is trying to tell you. It is a brilliant story, by the way.

Ending this game review without mentioning the smoke effects would be a sin. Almost every other game has pretty visuals, and so does Lost Planet, but few games could compare with Lost Planet when it comes to the smoke effects. It adds a good bit of intensity to the game. The smoke effects, beyond a shadow of doubt, are beautiful and they add realism to the game by conquering the entire screen just after a rocket or a missile or a grenade has been thrown as you. Explosions are nice to watch as well. Perhaps the only bad thing about this is that you cannot see where you are aiming at after the smoke rises.

However, it must be noted that Lost Planet has flaws too. It is known that Wayne can employ a grappling hook to climb surfaces, and that your aiming reticule will turn green if it touches an area that Wayne can hook on. What I loathe is that at times, the aiming reticule does not turn green even if the area can be hooked on. One assault from the enemy can also break the grappling hook, making it as a means of escape relatively useless.

Next, come the several consistencies in A.I. in Lost Planet. It is in part intelligent and challenging, in part simply stupid. While boss encounters offer quite a lot of challenge and some fights can be really frustrating, smaller Akrids you encounter throughout the entire single-player campaign are just plain stupid, offering little resistance and letting you shoot them to their graves. Human enemies also seem to be screaming “Target Practice!” Some stay rooted to their spot even when you are shooting at them! At other times, they may be running away from a grenade you threw at them. So is the A.I. smart or dumb? Well, the answer is both, and there you go – the problem of several inconsistencies in A.I. pops out. Lost Planet would have received a better score without it.

Nevertheless, Lost Planet, despite its shortcomings, is one great game that you MUST get. It is fun and being the first game for the Xbox 360 in 2007, it is unexpectedly awesome. The single-player campaign is going to last you a good 12 hours or so, and the multiplayer sessions are going to extend its replayability. Many achievements, including the shooting of target marks in each mission, are there for you to chase as well. Go get this game.

Overall score: 9.3/10

What’s good: Huge variety of enemies and weapons, numerous ways to tackle a situation, pacing of game is perfect, cut scenes are amazing and story intriguing, beautiful smoke effects

What’s not: Gathering of T-ENG is a hindrance, limited usage of the cool grappling hook, several inconsistencies in A.I.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Game Review:Dead or Alive 4

I have exhausted all my current available games while waiting for the much-anticipated Lost Planet: Extreme Condition and Dead or Alive 4 arrived in my home as a temporary entertainment package (sorry for the late review as I did not intend to get it in the first place). Having mentioned that, I did not expect much from it. So, did Dead or Alive 4 give me a surprise and impress me? Well, a little.

A rehash of Dead or Alive 3 the game is, but only to a certain extent. You will find all your favorite modes there: Survival, Time Attack, Versus, Story, Team Battle, Sparring and Watch. At the same time, you now have the ability to record battles and take screenshots in Watch mode, all of which can be accessed later from their respective icons on the menu.

Perhaps the second change that you will notice about Dead or Alive 4 are the visuals, which have been vastly improved from Dead or Alive 3. There are more destructible objects and additional platforms in each environment. Colors are generally vibrant and everything looks more realistic than in Dead or Alive 3.

Of course, it would not be Dead or Alive 4 without new moves for the characters, not forgetting new characters, which do well to add new fighting styles into the game. Surprisingly, I find piecing attacks together in this game much easier than before. To top it off, Dead or Alive 4 is filled with tons of unlockables and it is recommended of you to play through the story mode with each character including lockable character Helena. The story ending cut scenes are simply stunning and some of them are hilarious as well, not to mention satisfying and rewarding. The story ending cut scene for Helena pieces some of the other cut scenes from other characters together and provides an exciting closure to the Dead or Alive 4 story. This is the best part of Dead or Alive 4.

However, it takes only 3 to 4 hours to complete the story mode for each character in Dead or Alive 4 and beyond that, Dead or Alive 4 has little to sustain your attention for any longer. You would not find yourself playing for hours (unless you are chasing the online achievements). In fact, saying Dead or Alive 4 is a game that can only be played in short bursts would be more appropriate. It is unfortunate that Dead or Alive 4 does not provide any new modes of play besides the said ones in the second paragraph. Otherwise, Dead or Alive 4 is one fun game that any fighting fan should get.

Overall score: 8.7/10

What’s good: Stunning, rewarding, satisfying and some hilarious story ending cut scenes, ability to record battles and take screenshots, new characters and new moves, several unlockables, improved visuals
What’s bad: Story mode takes only 3 to 4 hours to complete, not enough content to sustain attention for long, suitable for playing in short bursts, no new modes of play

Also try: Soul Calibur games and Tekken games

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