Sunday, March 22, 2009

Beaten : Deadly Creatures

Two things I like but are rare in the videogame world - refreshingly new ideas, and hardcore games on the Wii - came together last month with the release of Deadly Creatures, a great little action - adventure game where the player guides both a tarantula and a scorpion through one of the most unique gaming experiences seen in this generation.

Arachnophobes stay away, as the realistic, creepy - crawly presentation was enough to make my wife say "Eeeeew!" when she would walk into the living room and catch me playing the game. The creatures (except for the two human characters, voiced by Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper) and environments are lifelike, not cartoony, and the tension is hightened by superbly moody music.

The nunchuck is used to move and everything else is used to fight. This is a combat and exploration game, and there are a ton of moves and abilities to unlock as the player progresses through the it's ten levels. The controls work generally well, but some of the more sophisticed moves are hard to pull off with any consistency. I seemed to revert to more basic moves in the heat of battle and did just fine, and if I pulled off a complex combo move, more the better.

One move that vexed me at first was one for the scorpion where the player twists the Wii remote 180 degrees and the scorpion is supposed to burrow into the ground, and then burst out at enemies above. It took some trial and error to figure out that you had to twist it slow, lest it count as a sideways movement and thus result in a tail swipe.

Fortunately, the moves that players unlock are easily reviewed from the pause menu, so they can stop and look them up at their leisure. There are moves unique to each of the deadly creatures you contol, with the tarantula having some web-spinning and stealth attack skills and the scorpion being more of a tough-guy "tank", usually getting the best head-on attacks and killer combos.

There are finishing moves, too, presented with those old favorites of mine, quicktime events. Press C or Press A or move the Wii remote and nunchuck downwards all of a sudden, in response to onscreen prompts, to get great cinematic finishes on some of your foes. Those crunching sounds can be very satisfying after a long battle.

The foes are great, too - ranging from other spiders and scorpions to beetles, wasps, small lizards, mantises, and rats. Bosses include a gila monster, rattlesnake, and a redneck. There's enough variety in the foes and their attacks to keep it fresh, and they are often quite challenging.

The player has no control over which of the deadly creatures they are playing, which might seen like a bad design decision to some, but makes perfect sense when the big picture is looked at. The story of Deadly Creatures is a concurrent one of a tarantula and a scorpion, both taking mostly different paths to the same conclusion. Their paths cross sometimes, but usually only briefly.

So play alternates between the two for each level played and the story unfolds, very deftly and cleverly crafted. This leads to some backtracking through the same areas a few times in the begining of the game, which may lead some players feeling a degree of tedium, seeing those areas over and over again. Trust me on this - it's totally worth playing through those first six or seven levels to see the last three.

In addition, the design of the levels is very good, with some gravity-twisting, dizzying viewpoints reached in some areas thanks to the ability to climb up walls and ceilings. There were several "which way is up" points that reminded me once again of Super Mario Galaxy, and more recently Prey.

Saves are frequent enough to avoid frustration, and health (gained through eating grubs and crickets) is fairly easy to regenerate. There are collection quests (find all the grubs and green crickets) that are tallied up for each level, hidden areas where these things are stashed, and concept art galleries to unlock. Other bonus features include behind the scenes interviews with Billy Bob Thornton and Dennis Hopper.

Bravo to the folks at Rainbow Studios for creating such a unique and moody game, and kudos to the suits at THQ for taking a chance and publishing it. With this title and ones like Madworld, it seems like the long drought of great Wii games is over, and hopefully these games will do well enough to encourage more innovative and/or hardocre releases for the system.

Twenty Years Ago, A Shift In My Gaming

An important personal gaming anniversary passed almost unnoticed nearly two weeks ago. It was on March 9, 1989, somehow twenty years back, that I made a major gaming shift and purchased a Nintendo Entertainment System. After six years of gaming exclusively on personal computers, I shifted my gaming focus to consoles once again.

Since the summer of 1983, at the height of the Great Videogame Crash (where the Atari - Intellivision - Odyssey - Colecovision console market crashed ), I'd been gaming on Commodore computers. First with the low-powered but great-for-gaming Vic 20, and then with what I consider one of the greatest gaming machines of all time, the Commodore 64.

Although the Nintendo Entertainment System was released in 1985, it took some time to catch on. I had noticed it at Toys-R-Us early on, but dismissed it as a kids' game playing machine when I saw it packaged with that silly-ass robot peripheral. There was a little snobbishness on my part there, I admit. The games coming out for the C64 at that time were state-of-the-art sophisticated, including stuff like Bard's Tale, Skyfox, and Ultima games, so playing one where a toy robot stacks plastic cylinders seemed a bit lowbrow.

I first took notice when a roommate's friend brought one over to our apartment. I wasn't there when it was hooked up, but I looked at some of the games he had sitting there, and again dismissed it. I mean, Goonies II? Hmmmph.

Later, there was a drunk night at another friend's house, where I crashed in his basement rather than drive home. He had shown me a little game called Castlevania, and for the first time, I was impressed. My friend passed out and I stayed awake all night playing that awesome, moody action title.

Most of that era was about adventure games for me, and I had a subscription to a newsletter called Questbusters, which had news, tips, and even walkthroughs for many adventure games out at the time. One article mentioned a game called The Legend of Zelda, and after reading about that game, my course was set.

Money was tight at the time, and the girlfriend I was living with was not very tolerant of my game habits, so it took a tax refund in early 1989 to give me the ability to get my hands on an NES. There was one more obstacle, though, and that was the same one that has been a thorn in the side of many consumers seeking Nintendo's current console, the Wii. NES consoles were flying off the shelves and very hard to find.

I called around town and searched far and wide before finally finding one in, of all places, a local Anderson's General Store. And although Zelda was an immediate purchase, I was also enthralled by the pack-in game, Super Mario Bros.

Buying my first console since my Odyssey 2 didn't put an immediate end to gaming on the Commodore 64, as I picked up many great games and many used/bargain games for years after that. For the next nine years, however, most of my gaming was spread out across that NES and seven more consoles, as well as three handheld systems. In 1998, when I got my modern PC and Ultima Online, things shifted back again.

Currently, with my PC aging and PC gaming mostly relegated to crappy MMOs, consoles are once again my gaming platforms of choice. Will it shift back again? Beats me. Twenty years ago the NES changed everything - what games I was playing and how I played them. My philosophy has always been to go where the games I want to play are, so I really don't have the slightest idea where my focus will be in twenty more years.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Beaten : Resident Evil 5

The old phrase about a book being so good you can't put it down certainly applies to Resident Evil 5, Capcom's latest entry into the legendary game series. A brand new Resident Evil game (not counting remakes, spin-offs, and rail/light gun shooters mind you) is a once-in-a-generation videogame event, and this generations's Resident Evil continues the high standard set by its predecessors.

The gameplay is the same as Resident Evil 4 (Gamecube, PS2, and later Wii), with the over-the-shoulder view of the zombified mayhem coming at the player. What's new is the pairing of returning character Chris Redfield with a new partner, Sheva Alomar, who is the new hotness (sorry, Lara Croft), and is with you throughout the game. She's also a playable character that you unlock after beating the game, and available in both local and online co-op modes, which I've yet to try.

Sheva backs you up, and you control the inventory of both characters. When low on health, she'll come to your rescue, and she'll help with the item gathering (ammo, gold, etc, found in crates and such). Sometimes she'll need rescued, too, and there are lots of puzzles (mostly doors) that require both of you to activate in some fashion. Her AI is pretty good, although certainly not perfect, but not blatantly stupid either.

Resident Evil 5 lags behind the current console generations's big hits in some gameplay areas, like the whole move-and-shoot thing. Yes, you still have to stop to shoot, and if you need to turn around, you do it slowly. They've added a cover mechanism, too, where your player will pin against a wall for protection, but there's no moving left and right once you're doing it. You have to exit cover, move along the wall to the left or right, and re-establish cover.

A funny thing happened to me on the way to cover while playing this game. I had just picked up a rotten egg left behind by a fallen foe, and the option presented itself to eat the egg (press X) or give it to Sheva (press B). I was close to a wall at the time and wanted cover, but instead I ate the egg, and puked. You'd think a modern game would know to prioritize seeking cover in a firefight over eating a rotten egg.

The inventory is kind of clunky, too, but at least four items can be quick-selected using the D-pad. Getting to the other things in your inventory in the heat of battle can be an intractable mess, though, so you'll have to learn to do this cautiously at best, desperately at worst. Saving is done automatically at certain checkpoints, and was never an inconvenience, although I miss the typewriters found in previous games.

The thing is that Resident Evil 5 is so good, and rides in on such a long history of gamer good will and nostalgia, that these gameplay anachronisms can be easily forgiven. The graphics are certainly state-of-the-art, the weapons (and the system of weapon uprgading) are a joy, and the story is decent, too.

The cinematics are so enjoyable that I was contantly unprepared for the "quicktime" events, where players suddenly have to press X to dodge and the like, but didn't mind. I normally loathe games with quicktime events, but this game gets them right and again, it's all good.

Beating the game was quite a challenge for this middle-aged gamer, but I'm betting that those young whippersnappers who comprise the majority of the gaming public might find it to be a short game. I started playing on Friday morning, played a little more Saturday morning, played a lot on Sunday and Monday, and finally finished it off on Tuesday morning before work, just in time to head off some serious pauking from the usual suspect.

It was a helluva ride, though, and a very satisfying conclusion that was years in the making. Beating the game unlocks all sorts of stuff, including Mercenaries mode. There are all sorts of things to spend your accumulated points on, like alternate costumes, figurines, and making your weapons have infinite ammo. There's a great library that's also unlocked with huge entries detailing the history of the game world and its characters.

Resident Evil 5 is just plain fun for players who are willing to overlook some design anachronisms and clunkiness, and offers lots of replay value, too, making the total package well worth the price.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Phoenix Wright Manga

Desperate during this long, dark era where no new Ace Attorney games are on the release schedule, I picked up Phoenix Wright : Ace Attorney Official Casebook Volume 1 : The Phoenix Wright Files Manga. A manga is a Japanese comic book, shrunk in size to that of a regular large paperback book, and read from back to front.

That was the first hurdle for me - figuring out how to read it. You start at the back page and read the panels right to left, top to bottom. Once I figured that out I began pouring through the black and white casebook, hoping to enjoy the complex court intrigue and deep character development the games were known for.

Not so much.

This is a collection of about a dozen short stories, featuring Phoenix Wright and many of the characters from the games in different situations. The stories are mostly lighthearted fare, with the defense lawyer dealing with situations like a stray kitten and a cold. It's not mystery nor crime drama in any sense.

Getting used to the Japanese way of cartooning (and how it's translated into English) has been an interesting process. The art style can change from nomral in one panel to exaggerated features in the next. When a character has an emotional outburst, for example, they often revert to a child-like appearance and it's suddenly Jim Henson's Phoenix Wright Babies.

Thought balloons often appear without an actual balloon, sometimes to show a character's contrasting thoughts on a matter. And to keep the art styles intact through the translation, sound effects are left in Japanese but little English translations are written near them and close attention must be paid.

All in all, this book was less sophisticated than I'd hoped it would be, but since I'm such a fan of the series, I've enjoyed it nonetheless for light reading. A new game in the series is in the works in Japan, so it's still going to be a long wait before we see it on these shores.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Grand Theft Auto IV : The Lost and Damned - That's The Way You Do It

It's been almost a month since I downloaded Grand Theft Auto IV : The Lost and Damned, a twenty-dollar XBox 360 exclusive package that takes the incredible playground of Liberty City and refreshes it with a new character's story and great new gameplay elements. In many ways, it's just more of the same, but when the same is GTA IV, that's a really good thing.

What I like most about these sandbox games is the huge amount of content, and The Lost and Damned dumps more content into an already overflowing package. Players take on the role of Johnny Klebitz, second-in-command of the Lost biker gang, and play through a story mode that deftly weaves concurrently with that of Nico Bellic, the main game's star.

Nico and some of the characters from his tale make cameos here and there, but the Lost and Damned rolls out another great batch of new characters, once again skillfully crafted to make the player actually like and feel for the morally bankrupt psychos. It's wonderful and astonishing that such writing skills go into games these days.

The biker aspect is greatly featured, with some new twists added that make riding motorcycles in a sort-of formation fun. While following the gang's leader, a mechanism is present that rewards staying in formation by boosting health, giving players a chance to get fully healed up en route to the next shootout. Later, as the gang's leader, camera options show the player the whole pack if they so choose to view it.

An improvement of note is a more reasonable checkpoint system that prevents multiple rides to missions in many cases. It's a time-saving, frustration-preventing design choice that makes the gameplay flow more freely.

What makes all of the Lost and Damned such a complete package, though, is that every other aspect of Grand Theft Auto IV gets additions. There are new TV shows (including another hilarious episode of Republican Space Rangers), new internet stuff, and of course lots of great hard rock classics added to the radio that perfectly fit the motorcycle theme - songs from Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, and Motley Crue make cruising on the bike a more immersive expereince.

There are also motorcycle races, and DAMN they're hard. I haven't beaten one yet due largely to what I suspect are sweeping improvements made to the opponent's AI. Where the car races often featured pileups of your foes around corners and other silliness that made taking first place easier, the motorcyclists you face handle corners with skill. On top of that, the races feature combat in the form of a baseball bat that you can swing left and right, and your opponents have that, too.

There's a set of 25 turf war missions where you run down a rival biker gang and fight it out - these seem pretty easy so far but are nonetheless fun. There are new weapons to use including a sawed-off shotgun, and new multiplayer modes to try them out in that I have yet to play.

With your cell phone you can call up your gang brothers for backup at times, and eventually do some side missions for a corrupt politician whose first scene in the game features a little something for the ladies - full frontal male nudity. Rockstar's designers must be laughing their ass off at the inclusion of that, pushing the envelope of what you can do in a game in yet another bold new direction, at the same time making its largely male audience a bit squeamish.

And in my last play session I encountered a new random-character-on-the-street mission, so there must be more of those too. As with the main game, radio newscasts often mention the things you've done recently, and it's always cool to hear them. You hear the reports of Nico's antics as well, which helps you keep a rough idea of the timeline together in your head.

The safehouses of Nico are replaced for Johnny with a solitary gang clubhouse, which features the usual - a place to sleep/save, a TV and computer with internet access, and a safe place to park. Your gang brothers hang out there, too, and you can engage them in a game of pool, or try new challenges such as arm wrestling or the card game High - Low. That game is particularly fun, if just to watch and listen to your gang brothers' reactions to changes of fortune in the cards.

And finally, there's a system of gang member skill and experience that I've yet to fully grasp. All of this makes a far more total package than say - Fable 2 : Knothole Island - which pales in comparison, and in spite of my kind words about it at the time, ended up having some major bugs for which there are no excuses. But I digress.

What The Lost and Damned represents is a move toward something I've always wanted to see in an expansion or sequel. It takes the immense and detailed playground provided by Grand Theft Auto IV and gives players new adventures in it. A city that big must have a million stories to tell, and The Lost and Damned is the way to tell another one.

I'd like to see more games come out and then add new chapters as was done here. The old model of release a game, then a sequel that rarely follows the timeline, characters, mythology, and even locations of the first one (thus creating a dissonance, a detachment, and often continuity issues) has been one I'd like to see go away. Try to string together all the Zeldas and you'll know what I mean.

Imagine a game release where a design like this was planned all along. The team puts out a complete game, and concurrent with the design of that game plans a series of post-completion episodes that take the characters on new adventures. Crafted like a season of a television show, perhaps. If the writing is as good as it was for Grand Theft Auto IV, creating such interesting characters, I'd want to follow their story beyond the main game.

What the Lost and Damned has done is the best step in that direction I've yet seen. In addition, it's the most robust downloadable content package I've encountered. Another new chapter of Grand Theft Auto IV is planned for this fall, and I'll be there. Maybe by then, I've have actually finished The Lost And Damned and be really ready for more.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Multi-Pronged Winter Videogame Attack

Normally, all the great games come out during the holiday season, from September to December, and after that things get quiet for awhile. Players spend those long months sans new releases, catching up on games they originally passed up in the fall.

That was then, this is now. In terms of new releases so far this year I've gotten Deadly Creatures (Wii), Madworld (Wii), Grand Theft Auto IV : The Lost and Damned (XBox 360),and Resident Evil 5 (Xbox 360).

Another thing that occurs after the holidays are price drops on some games, and I've gotten Fracture (XBox 360), plus the three free XBox 360 games I received back in January. On top of that, I encountered a rare copy of Eternal Ring, a Kings Field-like game by (oddly enough) the makers of King's Field at a local flea market for five dollars. I had to get that!

And I've still got Metroid Prime 3 : Corruption (Wii), Okami (Wii), and the first two Castlevania games for the DS left over from Christmas. Left over from last year are the still entertaining online modes for Grand Theft Auto IV, Left 4 Dead, and Farcry 2.

As ever, since I got the XBox 360, it's a problem of too many games and not enough time. I'm not complaining, mind you, because it's a better problem to have than the opposite. This game backlog has created, however, a concurrent backlog of unwritten blog entries - reviews especially.

Soon, I hope to get to the list on my desk of blog articles I need to write. If there's anyone out there still reading - please stand by.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Beaten : Just Cause

Okay, this is my last entry about Just Cause, and XBox 360 game that can be found in the bargain bins of game stores everywhere, got mediocre reviews, and absolutely enthralled me all through its spectacular ending.

Yes, I have beaten Just Cause. Battled my way through dozens of towns, drug cartel mansions, and military bases and liberated them all. Completed the conveniently mapped-out collection quests. Finished all the story missions including the insanely hard ending. I'd like to go into detail about that ending in the next few paragraphs, so SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT read the next few paragraphs if you wish the ending missions to remain a secret.


The ending is a series of three main story missions all strung together. It starts out in the strangest way, with your handlers picking you up in a helicopter and flying you halfway out to the island where the palacial estate of El Presidente is located. You can't take control of the helicopter, nor are you close enough to the island to parachute the rest of the way. All you can do is exit the helicopter and land in the water.

Try to capture a nearby boat and speed to shore with it and you'll be blown away by helicopter gunships. Try to swim the rest of the way and you'll be killed by clusters of explosions that I can only assume are depth charges of some sort. What I ended up doing - and this is madness - was capturing a boat and returning back to the main island shore, calling for an airdrop of my trusty gyrocopter, flying high back out and over the President's island, and free falling into his compound.

The compound is of course protected by multiple tanks, but as I came close to the ground the objective appeared to take out a certain tank. After repeated deaths here I finally got lucky - I think - the time I landed to the side of the palace. I'm not sure if the boss tank took himself out or what, but almost immediately upon landing off to the side of the building, I got a checkpoint and was issued a new objective.

That objective took me deeper into the island, and higher, to another presidential retreat. There are enemy tanks, helicopters, and now jets that buzz by and carpet-bomb your ass back to the checkpoint. I found that staying in the wooded areas on my way up the hill seemed to keep me safer.

Again I got lucky, as I took the long way around the cliff leading up to the retreat and activated the next objective (which has a timer). I was not really near the retreat, but rather running along a steep cliff with part of the building overhanging above me when the new objective appeared. So I might have gotten lucky here, too.

The final objective of part one was to scamper down the cliff to a seaside airstrip, where you finally get a save point, as well as a jet. The jet is used in the second of the three parts of the finale to take down three missiles and then chase down the president's plane and board it. Another save occurs after that.

The third and final part of the story mission involves fighting your way through the elite guards of the president and then facing the man himself. He jumps out of the plane, of course, and the last challenge involves free falling and parachuting to catch up with the deposed tyrant during his own jump, and then attaching an explosive to him. It's a good thing I played around with the parachuting aspect of the game before this mission, or I would have had more trouble with this.

Finishing the game liberates the remaining territory and starts the credits. After the credits, the game world is open and ready for players wishing to finish any side missions or such - I still have about four races I haven't beaten yet, and there are plenty of side missions I could do, should I feel like trying.


What was so great about Just Cause? The massive, lush, tropical game world for starters. I'm sure it dwarfs Liberty City and it's fun to explore. Some players might find the vast, open swaths of jungle lacking in details or points of interest, but I see it as an absolutely necessary part of the package when such a massive world is crafted.

The islands of San Esperito do have details, like winding roads through the mountains, gorgeous beaches, small villages not marked on the map, and so forth. There are offshore oil platforms, big cities with skyscrapers, stunt tracks, and many other details to be uncovered for gamers who can appreciate the depth of design offered here.

The vehicles are also very fun, diverse, and easy to control. From tanks to jet skis, from monster trucks to that awesome gyrocopter, players will find that getting around the vast island chain can be as fun as the missions themselves. The weapons are good, too, but not all that crazy.

Just Cause is another great sandbox game that offers tons of content and an unprecedented virtual world whose size and scope boggles the mind through the end. The good news is that a sequel is slated for later this year. I can't wait to see what the designers of this game pull off this time.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Strategy Session - Just Cause

"Strategy Session" is a new series of articles where I share strategies I've developed from playing specific games. Yes, it's an homage to a column of the same name that appeared in Electronic Games magazine back in the eighties. To start out this series, here's some strategies I've developed for capturing military bases in Just Cause.

In Just Cause for the XBox 360, players liberate towns, cities, drug cartel bases, and military bases in order to progress the story, unlock safehouses, and most importantly capture territories. Generally, the towns and drug cartel bases are easy pickings, but later in the game players will have to take whole cities and military bases, and these are guarded by fierce, one-or-two-hit kill tanks.

The player starts the liberation outside the base by talking to one of the guerillas, who is usually standing near some ammo that will be available once you activate the mission.

For cities, it's a fairly easy matter of killing lots of government troops and destroying their vehicles long enough to activate the flag capture. Once the on-screen prompt appears, head for the flag and press A to capture the city. Small tanks will appear after awhile on the streets of these cities, so a good overall strategy is to head for the alleyways and try to avoid their heavy, concussive gunfire.

Military bases seem to be the toughest things to capture in the later parts of the game because of the multitude of tanks that roll out to defend them. The first part of any town, drug cartel base, or military base liberation is always the same - kill the government troops. Then destroy the first barricade. Repeat the kill troops/blow up blockade offensive two more times, and the flag appears.

The problem is those pesky tanks. They can, from a distance, draw a bead on you and in seconds land two or three blasts, killing you before you can react or even see where the hell the shelling is coming from. After many, many deaths at these installations, I had to develop some strategies that, while not 100% guaranteed to work for every liberation, helped me at least get through them faster.

As stated earlier, almost all of these liberations start at a little ammo depot outside the main gate, with the first objective to kill government soldiers. I started out there with the rocket launcher, and clicked on the right analog stick to go into a better over-the-shoulder aiming mode. Blasting away at the troops, and then the barricade, I often could catch any tanks that showed up early as well. Before heading in, I restocked my rocket launcher ammo one last time.

Sometimes you have to get inside the base before the tanks are rolled out. So assuming this strategy gets you past the first barricade most of the time, once inside it's time to keep an eye out for tanks. Keep in mind that bringing your own tank is futile - it will be destroyed in seconds by rocket fire from the helicopters or other tanks. Bringing your own helicopter gunship is also futile, as it will be taken out by units on the ground with surface-to-air missiles.

Once past the first barricade, and sadly away from that ammo stash where you started the liberation, look for the tanks while killing enemy troops. Often the tanks will be just behind, and sometimes stuck on, the next barricade. If you see a tank there, seek cover immediately, keeping in mind the the concussive blast of the tank is so powerful that you can get hurt even with an indestructable building between the two of you.

Tanks that come rolling out to you, not firing but getting close, can usually be easily captured as they roll by, either by pressing Y or using the grappling gun if the tank is moving by fast. They seemed to often blow past me and outside the base before turning around and firing. Capturing a tank is a great way to neutralize it. The driver will be thrown out and won't return.

Because the other tanks will immediately know that you took over one of their brothers, they'll begin firing immediately, so the best strategy is to capture and immediately exit, unless you know for sure that there are no other tanks in the immediate area. Repeat this as best you can, avoiding enemy fire. Sometimes you'll have to circle around a few buildings to outflank a tank that is positioned behind emeny lines.

Enemy tanks have a higher rate of fire than the ones you capture, so taking them on is not recommended. The one or two shots they get at your tank before you can switch to the cannon and get off one shot is enough to end your liberation.

The grapple is often useful in tank-heavy liberations, too. There are usually helicopter gunships raining bullets down on you and your AI comrades during these battles, which can be ignored as long as you keep moving. If tanks are firing into your area, you can sometimes make a safe exit by grappling onto a helicopter and jumping back down into the battlefield at another place - sometimes even onto a tank or near enough to capture it. Don't capture the helicopter, though, as it will be instantly shot down by the previously mentioned SAMs.

It takes a few good shots with the rocket launcher to take out a tank, and you can only carry 6 at a time, so I rarely ever resorted to using it, except as a backup. Grenades, while plentiful around the battlefield, aren't as useful it seemed when attempting to take out a tank.

The AI in Just Cause is very strange at times. A military base liberation can start out with two tanks barreling right to the front gate and unleashing unholy death to you and your fellow guerillas, and the next time, a solitary jeep might show up first.

Repeated attempts will almost certainly be necessary to capture the military bases in the later parts of Just Cause, but patience and perseverance, in conjunction with these strategies to deal with the tanks, will hopefully lead to your own liberation of San Espirito as they did mine.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

More On Just Cause

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I've been playing Just Cause for the XBox 360. After many more hours of playing, I can safely say that "just cause" it's not Grand Theft Auto IV doesn't mean it's a bad game.

It's certainly bigger than GTA IV, and while it may not have all that much variety in it's immense, open landscape, it's still got plenty to do. The main story missions destabilize regions of the map, which allow the player to go there and help the guerillas capture towns and military bases, which when enough of them are captured will switch the whole province to guerilla control.

In addition to helping the rebels overthrow the government, the player gets to help one drug cartel beat down on its rival by taking over various bases. All of this unlocks more safehouses, weapons, and vehicles. Each place you overrun offers side missions, too, many of which are similar, but they can be fun as well.

Fun is the key component of this game's design. The fighting requires very little effort against human foes, as targeting is essentially automatic. If you're aiming anywhere near your foe you'll be hitting him. Fun also comes into play with the travel and the stunts one can perform. You can parachute out of your helicopter, steer yourself just right, and land on the roof of a moving car, and then take it over. You can use a grappling gun to latch onto a copter and have it drag you into the air. I found myself laughing out loud as I performed insanely silly stunts just to get around.

The save system is fine with safehouses littered about, and even in combat it's fairly easy to stay healed. Another cool gameplay fascilitating design choice - you can call for an air drop of a heavily-armed SUV, a motorcycle, a fast and also fully-armed boat (when you're in the water), and eventually a small one-man gyrocopter.

The ease of gameplay and repetitiveness of the base capture missions may wear thin at first, but patient gamers will find later in the game that their tactics must adapt to tougher situations. I thought I was hot shit once I got ahold of a helicopter gunship, wiping out enemies on the ground with wild abandon, taking many towns and drug mansions - until I tried it at a military base and died instantly to a surface-to-air missile fired from the ground.

Some military bases are guarded by tanks later in the game, too, which again call for a change in the player's strategy when attempting to take them. Sometimes it's just luck, too, such as when a threating tank accidentally sticks itself on a conrete barrier and can't hit the player.

The main story missions are fun, and show brief cut scene glimpses of the characters before and after. In addition to these missions, the base capture missions, and the side missions, there are race missions, too, where players race against the clock to reach checkpoints (rather than race AI controlled cars and the like). The races I've run vary quite nicely, from a cliffside car race to a speedboat race to a motorcycle stunt run.

The music and sounds are also very cool, adding some Latin flavor to the game's setting or some rockin' travelling music to a long helicopter flight. A few minor glitches can occur here and there, but for the most part they are not game-stopping or even annoying.

So Just Cause - it isn't GTA IV or FarCry 2, but it is nonetheless another huge open-world masterpiece. If you're one of those kinds of gamers who gets bored easily or overwhelmed by a large map and total freedom to explore it, this might not be the game for you. For me, it's a lot of fun.