Archive for March, 2010

MotoGP Demo to Hit PSN and XBL on March 4

MotoGP has a long history of creating a very exciting motorcycle racing experience though in the recent generation the franchise has struggled. The previous title lacked any sort of depth and gamers were left with wanting much more. With MotoGP 09/10 developers Milestone look to change that. The upcoming racing title will feature a very robust career mode unlike any seen in the MotoGP franchise. Players will take control of everything on and off the track. With the game only a few weeks away, Capcom has announced that gamers will be able to test drive MotoGP 09/10 this Thursday March 4 when the demo goes live on the PSN and XBLA. You’ll be able to check out three modes- Championship mode, Time Trial and the all new Arcade mode.

Here are some features you can expect to see in MotoGP 09/10:

  • Brand new exciting gameplay modes that deliver the ultimate GP racing experience
  • 17 official circuits and all the bikes and riders from the 2009 GP season plus the ability to update the game with content from the 2010 championship as the season unfolds
  • Gain Rider Reputation points through your achievements on the track and use these to progress your career with new offers of contracts, manufacturers, staff and sponsorship deals
  • Dynamic racing objectives challenge riders during racing sessions
  • Compete against riders across the globe in online multiplayer mode in races with up to 20 players
  • Two player split screen allows you to compete against your friends locally
  • Select from 125cc, 250cc and 800cc championships with each class delivering its own exciting and unique bike handling set up.
  • Realistic AI which emulates a true racing pack with different rider styles and pace.
  • Accessible handling for players of all levels to create an enjoyable racing experience

MotoGP 09/10 will be available at retailers across North America starting March 16. Fans will be able to compete in the most up-to-date racing experience earlier than ever before with the 2010 season content available to download free of charge shortly after launch. While you wait for the demo check out the new gameplay screens.

Review Crime Scene

If youve played Unsolved Crimes for DS, then Crime Scene will instantly feel familiar. So familiar, in fact, that at first I thought they were developed by the same team. Basically, you play as a rookie investigator and must use your evidence collecting and analytical skills to help solve various cases from murders to terrorist attacks.

The gameplay is a point-and-click at heart, but the spin here is a huge focus on evidence-based mini games, for lack of a better term. In other words, you must dust for fingerprints, swab for blood and compare ballistics information to identify what gun shot which bullet, and so on. Although some of these games can be a little silly (you use a laser to destroy unwanted cells in your microscope, for example), overall the entire process is engaging and fun. That is, when the controls work.

And as Hamlet says, Aye, theres the rub, The first major problem Crime Scene has is the fact that there really isnt a tutorial level to get you used to the controls. For example, the menu system isnt completely intuitive, and you may find yourself fumbling a bit. But that could be forgiven. The real issue is that you arent given any chance to practice with the various evidence collection mini games before youre thrust into the real world, so to speak. Youre shoved into the deep end and you have to figure things out as you go along. This would be fine, except for the fact that you are penalized very severely every time you get something wrong. This is made worse by the fact that the only instructions youre given for the various steps of say, taking a blood swab, are given during the timed interval when youre supposed to be doing those steps. Meaning 1) you cant possibly read all the instructions in the given time and 2) you will fail because youre spending time trying to see what you have to do in order to succeed. Add to the fact that the controls arent as responsive as they could be and you may find yourself with a Game Over before youve even begun (I know I did). Certainly, this is not the most encouraging way to introduce the player to the game.

Once youve managed to figure out what you need to do, you would think that things would move more smoothly. Sadly, this isnt true. Try as you may, the game wont always read your stylus gestures correctly, so you will often find yourself failing the swab test, for example, because you arent swabbing in the right area even when youve been rubbing your stylus right over the blood spot. Each time you make a mistake, you lose credibility (a blue thermometer-like meter). When it drops all the way, your game is over, and you have to start over from your last save. Thankfully, the game does auto save at key points, but you still want to make sure you save often, otherwise youll have to re-do a lot of (what then becomes) tedious data collection and analysis, not to mention tons of dialogue to weed through (theres no skip option).

By far the most vicious offender is the tweezers, which command you to follow a certain path with your stylus a certain number of times in order successfully pick up the item. The problem is, these gestures are only recognized about 10% of the time, and if the game thinks youve picked up your stylus, you drop the tweezers and have to start again. Add to the fact that you might have to repeat the same pattern 9 or 10 times before the meter expires, and youll often find yourself ready to throw your DS across the room and give up. No, Ive decided the scalpel is actually worse since whenever you try to use it to cut something, following the prompt, it either tells you the area cant be cut or for some reason takes the scalpel away from you and you have to start over in a never ending cycle.

Magnifying the problem is the control design: rather than sticking to a primarily stylus-only control system, you have to use the L and/or R buttons while using your stylus to perform various maneuvers. In principle, this seems fine, but in practice, its awful. Its very uncomfortable to hold the DS that way, especially for long-stretches and for extended periods. I know my hands were really hurting after only the first case.

When everything is working smoothly, however, the game is enjoyable. Its an interesting take on the genre, especially since the mini-games dont feel tacked on the way they did in Unsolved Crimes, and its exciting to see the pieces of the puzzle reveal themselves. You really do feel like youre the one solving the case, instead of being lead through it step by step the way you are in many other games of this nature. I also like that you will occasionally find dead ends such as clues that you cant identify in the database, or clues that end up being a false lead, which force you to rethink the situation. Youll also often have to revisit the scenes to look at things in a new light and discover new clues that may help crack the case. I also liked that you must build your case in order to apply for a warrant by selecting the best evidence to include in your file. This was just another way the game made you feel like you were really the one solving this case rather than just hanging along for the ride.

Crime Scene does have other flaws, but these seem minor in comparison to the huge control issue. For example, the translation isnt always the best (I believe this was a Spanish-language game originally), and sometimes you might struggle to figure out how the game wants you to respond. Also, you arent able to fully explore the scenes the way you can in other games of this genre, and you can only zoom in to look at something more closely when the game allows you to. Still, these are negligible and dont harm the gameplay in the same way that the unforgiving controls do.

The pattern of the gameplay is basically as such: youll be briefed on a case, comb the scenes, collect evidence, analyze the evidence, and then build your case. Youll often have to revisit the scene and may get new suspects to interview, but that is generally the way the game goes. Your evidence collection tools are basically a swab for blood and other fluids, a duster and tape for fingerprints and footprints, a scalpel, as well as a reagent spray and UV light to discover hidden blood and fluids, plus tweezers to collect small evidence or bullets. Back at the station, you analyze this info using a scanner, camera, microscope and computer database. So you may scan in the fingerprint you collected at the scene and then compare it to the various fingerprints in the system to try and find a match. Many of the tests do mimic real life evidence analysis and this is where the game is truly in its element, especially since the analysis tools work much better than the collection ones do, control-wise.

The sad thing about Crime Scene is it may have earned as high as a 7/10 if the controls werent so brutally unforgiving. I honestly dont know how the game got past testing, as broken as the controls can be most times. And the reality is the fix could have been as simple as removing the fail state from the data collection process and making it so you only lose credibility for misinterpreting the evidence. As it is, however, I cant recommend this game, because the controls really do break it. You will undoubtedly find sections that you cannot get past because the game will not read your tweezers movements, or unfairly think youre rubbing the swab in the wrong area. Save yourself the aggravation and look elsewhere for your CSI needs.

Review: Ragnarok DS

Ragnarok DS is what you could consider the portable version of the MMO Ragnarok Online, of which, I can confess I am not very familiar with.  However, I think that may be one of the reasons this baby brother was released for the DS: to introduce potential new players into the Ragnarok universe.

The game is basically a dungeon-crawling action RPG, and follows the story of Ales, a young man whose dream is to be an adventurer and eventually start his own guild.  He immediately finds an amnesiac young girl named Sierra, who he agrees to bring along with him on his adventures.  Naturally, as the story progresses, more people join his party in the constant search for adventure: pretty typical RPG-faire here.

Although some buttons are mapped (i.e. You can use the D-pad to move your character and the face buttons to pull up menus), youll find yourself using the stylus almost exclusively, since the button integration isnt complete.  For example, you cant press a button to continue in dialogue or go back in a menu, which can be a bit annoying.  So expect a very Zelda DS experience here, control-wise.

Dragging your stylus will move your character around, and tapping on a monster will initiate his attack.  Unless you change the settings, your character will keep attacking that enemy until its defeated.  You also have access to a shortcut bar at the top of the touch screen, where you can set frequently used skills and items for easy access.  To use a skill, you must click on it and then perform the action indicated on the top screen, like drawing a swift line through an enemy or a circle through a group of them.  You also have limited control of your party members.  You can set their tactics, such as telling them to act freely, or commanding them to heal, and you can click on their picture in the taskbar to direct them to attack a particular enemy.  However, you cant directly tell them what skills or spells to use, which is a little frustrating at times.

Exploration is interesting.  Towns remind me a bit of Suikoden Tierkreis in which you are presented with a menu (shops, save, etc.), but when you pick an option (i.e. Tavern), you can walk around and interact with people in that location.  Towns are the only place you can make a permanent save (with two save slots available), although you can make a temporary save any time.  The biggest gripe I had with this system is with no quick travel (more on that later), you may find your quests dragging out for long periods of time, and if you choose to do a temporary save (so you dont risk losing all your progress), the game will automatically return you to the title screen instead of asking if you want to continue.  Its not a big deal, but it is irksome.

The game does have an interesting dual-leveling system.  You have your base level, or what you would be most familiar with in every RPG, and then you have your job level.  Each time your base level goes up, youre given points you can use to improve your characters attributes, such as dexterity, luck, intelligence, etc.  The higher that attribute is the more points it will take to increase it, giving a bit of strategy in how you distribute your points.  When your job level goes up, youre given skill points to spend on learning and improving skills based on what job you are.

Everyone starts the game as a novice job class with two basic skills, but once your job level reaches 10, you can go to the job guild and apply for a more advanced job, such as a swordsman.  Each job has its own equipment and skills, and whenever you change jobs you must start over: all your equipment is removed (but not lost), and your job level goes back to zero.  You also must start from scratch with your new skills.  As you level up, you can also try for an even higher level job (such as a knight), which has its own requirements and skills, but which will enable you to use equipment you otherwise could not.  In some ways, this is the most interesting aspect of the game, as there are even higher secret jobs you can acquire if your character becomes powerful enough.

Although there is a story and plenty of (very. slow. moving.) dialogue, the heart of the game is fetch quest dungeon crawling.  Generally, you are told to find some random object, you go on your trek, fight your way through to the very end of a dungeon, kill the boss monster, collect the item, and then trudge all the way back.  Thats right. Theres no quick travel, even after you complete a dungeon.  Its a little ironic, considering you use warp gates (instead of doors) for everything, yet you cant just warp to places (i.e. from a town) that youve already visited.  It also means you will have to go through the dungeon to the exit every time, plus passing through all the forest or whatnot you had to travel through to get there in the first place.  Even though dungeons arent very big (no more than a few floors or sections), this gets old pretty fast, as it is completely unnecessary. This is made worse by the fact that there is usually only one laborious path from point A to point B, which would be fine one or two times, but certainly not more than that. Add to the fact that you must find the map for the area whenever you enter a new locale (think the original Zelda dungeons), and it all can get old pretty fast. Later in the game, youre able to purchase some items that give you limited quick travel abilities, but the fact that this is done so late and doesnt solve all the repetition is still disappointing.

Dont get me wrong, Ragnarok can be fun at times, but overall, I found the frustration usually outweighed any levity.  For example, you can only take on one tavern quest at a time, and I found it could take many hours of battling the same monsters before you ever got them to drop what you needed for your quest.  Also, quests are only partially recorded in your menu.  Let me explain Only the main quests and tavern quests will be listed, but often details wont be, and some sub-quests of the main quests will not be included at all.  This often means you have to trek back to whomever it was that gave you the quest to find out the details (i.e., what items did they want you to collect for them again?), which is completely poor design.

Muliplayer. For a game thats based off of an MMO, you would expect the multiplayer experience to be a high priority to be developed well, but this doesnt seem to be the case.  For instance, you cant jump into multiplayer directly from the main menu the way you can in most DS RPGs that offer it.  Instead, you have to travel the long distance through the game world until you get to the Mirage Tower, a tower filled with various floors and enemies that you can tackle as either a single player or with others in multiplayer.  The game never tells you this at any point.  It isnt mentioned in the otherwise very thorough manual, either.  So its very possible someone could play through the game and never even realize that multiplayer exists, or at least never figure out how to access it.  This is the first flaw.  The second is that you can only play with others in this tower.  Thats it.  You would expect that you could have friends join you once you finish the main story to help you fulfill the thousands of side quests available (which make up most of the gameplay), but youd be wrong.  Although I dabbled in the multiplayer for the sake of this review, I think in general you would find the tower more fulfilling as a single player experience.

Basically, once you arrive at the tower you have the option to make a save and customize your characters look along with a few messages you can trigger with the face buttons.  Then you can enter the tower as either a single player, or choose multiplayer.  The game will then ask if you want to do this locally or over WiFi, and if you choose WiFi, then you have the option of entering (or choosing, if you already registered them) your friends.  Otherwise, it will randomly search for Allys (yes, thats how its spelled in the game) to join you.  You have no customization in this at all, which is a little disappointing, as you could very easily end up with a rather unbalanced party.

The first few times I tried to get matched up, my allies decided to jump right into the very top of the tower, as they were obviously more experienced than me.  Luckily for me (or my character, perhaps), my connection got broken almost immediately as we arrived in the tower, and I was sent back to the matchmaking screen.  When I finally was able to enter the tower (on floor 1), I had only one other ally with me.  This was fine for these early floors, but I could see this system being problematic for higher levels.

Basically the tower is just a series of rooms per floor that (thankfully) are pre-mapped.  You must defeat a certain number of monsters per floor to either A) make the warp appear that will take you to the next level or B) make the special monster appear that you must defeat to make that warp appear.  Just do this over and over and there you have the tower.  After you pass a certain number of floors (i.e., five), you will fight a boss monster.  Then you will go to a screen that lets you and your allies bid on various items, such as weapons, potions, and cards.  You can pass or bid, although I found the system a bit confusing.  After the time limit passes, you win whatever items you had the highest bid on.  Then you have the option to continue in the tower or end your session.

I would imagine that playing locally with friends might have some potential for fun, but as it stands, I feel like the multiplayer was a tacked-on experience and doesnt really add much to the game as a whole.

I was hopeful that the game simply got off to a slow/poor start, but even once you successfully open your own guild, the gameplay remains basically the same: flawed, repetitive, and with a low challenge level. However, if you like dungeon-crawling action-RPGs, you may want to give this one a try anyway. It can have a very Diabolo-esque feel to it at times (you will be picking up a lot of loot, which you much decide to keep or sell to maintain your limited inventory).  The card system (which I havent mentioned) allows you to customize certain weapons and gear to improve their stats (think of them as the runes or gems you might have experienced in other RPGs), which does add a bit of strategy.  Once you finish the story, which is pretty short by RPG standards, about 20 hours, with only about 10 of that being actual content and the rest filler, you have hours and hours of gameplay if you choose to complete all the side quests available or take on the tower (either alone or in multiplayer). Still, there are better DS RPGs on the market, so you may be better off spending your money elsewhere.  Or, if youre really interested, you may want to try the more robust MMO experience that Raganarok Online offers on the PC.

Everything You Need to Know About MLB 10: The Show

With only one more day to go, the follow up to last year’s best baseball title, MLB 10 The Show looks to once again provide gamers with the most realistic baseball game in the market. For those who haven’t been closely following the upcoming title or if you just missed something, we created a one stop shop for everything you need to know about The Show. What you’ll find in this preview are some highlights of key features and additions to MLB 10 The Show and all the videos released, and yes that includes the “Dear Playstation” commercial that we all love.

If you haven’t seen it already or even if you have, the commercial for MLB 10 The Show is hilarious. Check it out.

The realism that Kevin Butler is talking about in The Show comes from all the little subtleties in the game.  Last year I was blown away by how accurately they were able to capture certain player’s rituals or mannerisms at the plate or on the mound.  This year’s version will include all of that and will also bring a more realistic environment. MLB 10 will have real-time players in the dugouts and bullpens, fireworks, rally towels/tundersticks, working clocks and home run counters like the one seen in San Francisco. Of course you can’t bring a game to life without fans and this year crowd detail has also been improved. They will be much more active this year, reaching over the wall for foul balls, scrambling for home run balls and making more noise in pressure situations. This might seem like very small additions but brought together it helps bring the real game to into the virtual one.  Here’s the trailer showing off some of these features.

Road to The Show (RTTS) is one of the best modes of the MLB The Show franchise. It has been the leading sports title in creating a realistic and engaging “create a player” mode. This year in RTTS you’ll have much more control over what your player looks like and his accessories. Once you create your player you’ll be sent right to the Double-A season. While last year’s version had you start in spring training, starting in Double-A will give you a more realistic approach to working your way to the majors as most players don’t receive an invite to spring training until after their first year. Before you get into a game you now have the option to participate in pre-game batting practice or when you get called from the bullpen you’ll get some time to throw practice pitches. Just like batting practice and your time warming up on the mound, it doesn’t help you gain experience, but it will help you get ready for the game or at-bat. Once you are in a game you have full control of what you want to experience. You can play out every pitch/play in the game, only the last pitch in the at-bat, or just plays that involve you. Whether you are on the field or in the batters box there is a bigger emphasize on fundamental baseball. Throwing to the wrong bag, stealing when you shouldn’t be or failing to cover a base will put you in a bad spot with the manager. Lastly a huge emphasis went into gaining skill points and the flow of the game. New training modes have been added for both hitters and pitchers, and goals throughout the game will be shown in way as to not break from the pace of the game. You can also hit the D-pad to show the goals of the game in case you missed it, which is really nice.

To go along with RTTS you now have the full control as the catcher in the new Catcher Calling the Game mode. You’ll be calling for pitches and locations which includes 9 zones inside the strike zone or 8 zones outside. Just like in real life it is your responsibility to know the batters and your pitchers strengths and weaknesses. The pitcher might shake you off so you can pick another pitch but sometimes the catcher knows best and he’ll throw that pitch if you keep asking for it. You’ll have to also watch out for wild pitches and base runners, which adds to the difficulty of being a catcher. It’s a really cool mode and I’m excited to get a chance to call a game but then again, playing every game as a catcher might take it’s toll.

Making it’s return to the series is the Home Run Derby. Fans have been asking for this to be added to the game for some time now and we finally have it. You won’t only get the Home Run Derby, you’ll be getting the entire All-Star experience. During your franchise or RTTS season you’ll get a chance to play in the All-Star Futures Game along with the Derby and the regular All-Star game. Check out this trailer that showcases the new All-Star experience.

MLB 09 The Show suffered from very poor online play, mainly due to lag. Sony has been saying they have worked very hard on fixing that issue for MLB 10 and if they can then I think fans will enjoy the improvements to the Online Leagues. In addition to added customization when creating the league, people can now drop in and out of leagues during the season. If someone can’t handle the season and needs to back out, the commissioner can find a replacement to take over that team. Fatigue is also another factor managers will have to deal with as you will no longer be able to use your ace for every game. Here are some of the key features of the new online leagues:

·    Additional Commissioner Slot (6 total leagues now)
·    NEW Auto-resolve feature. Set to On/Off when creating a league and helps keep leagues progressing
·    Ability to Drop and Replace players within an In-progress league
·    Apply a Custom Slider to a league
·    League Invitation system upgrade
·    New My Complete Leagues list, showing a summary of all completed leagues, the winner and playoff participants
·    New League Round-up and League History tabs in Gamer Card
·    More emails and communication on league changes
·    Players Needing Leagues upgrade. Commissioner can now send invites directly from that screen
·    Additional information about users for a commissioner resolving a game
·    Quit a league at any time (commissioner or league member). No more being held hostage

Finally Real Time Presentation Mode is one of the brand new features to this year’s game. The new presentation mode should give gamers a further sense of realism by attempting to capture the camera angles and shots seen while watching a game on TV. Instead of going in-depth on how this new system works here is a short video displaying the Real Time Presentation.

There is a lot of detail put into every offering of The Show and I don’t expect MLB 10 to be any different. If you want to learn more about the game you can read the full preview here. I am extremely excited about the upcoming title and I hope that all of these new features can come together to bring us the realism that we have come to know and love from this franchise.