Wednesday, 22 June 2011

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

            I hope you’re ready for about 1000 words of gushing praise because that is pretty much exactly what you’re going to get this week. I have previously mentioned that the original version of this game is one of my favourite games of all time so part of me just wants to use this re-release as an excuse to review it, so I shall.
            The very first thing you will notice is how amazing this game looks on the 3DS. The colours are bright and bold and, for those of us used to the original, everything is very smooth. The faces of characters are less angular and the whole thing is far crisper and cleaner. I must admit I was slightly worried about it being a direct port without doing much if anything to the visuals but all those worries have been put to rest. I assure you the game is stunning. The 3D works remarkably well for the most part; it adds depth to the game and genuinely enhances the visual appeal which I was, if I’m honest, not really expecting.
            The music is simply divine from start to finish as well, the backing tracks are well suited to their individual environments and the melodies you play on the ocarina are great. Given that there is a musical instrument in the title this seems somewhat fitting and I cannot think of a game I would put forward as a contender for having a better soundtrack…well at a push Chrono Trigger but I still think this one edges it. The nostalgic value of stepping out onto Hyrule field for the first time in too many years is an amazing one for those of you lucky enough to have been there before.
            Right on to the game itself. The plot is a fairly normal one, young boy thrust into a huge adventure and needs to go on a quest to save the world, going through dungeon by dungeon gathering new equipment as you go allowing you to progress. That said the game will take you a good chunk of hours to complete and is not at all linear in that you can wander Hyrule and search for extra Heart Containers to increase your health or Great Fairy Fountains to gain new magic spells so you never feel forced down the story path.
            The gameplay is sound and remains mainly unchanged from the origins but the introduction of the touch screen has led to some interesting and beneficial changes into how it works. Where before you would have to pause the game and hit L or R until you got to the right menu screen now you simply touch the tab on the bottom screen and that’s that. This makes switching out your assigned items much quicker and less irritating which was one of the only complaints I have about this classic. This is further aided by having 4 active items at once, 2 mapped to X and Y and 2 on touch buttons as well as the Ocarina having its own dedicated button so there’s never a need to have it take up an item slot. Also now when you select the ocarina you can open a tab which has all the songs you have learnt there for you so you can read it off and play. This is a vast improvement on the old way which meant that if you forgot the song you had to quit playing, pause the game, rotate the menu to the correct screen, find the song you wanted and then attempt to memorise it. Not a great method if your short term memory is a s bad as mine!
            Possibly the biggest change in how the game works is in the first person viewing mode and the aiming for ranged weapons. You can still use the circle pad as you would an analogue stick and aim around as you normally would but there is now another way. Once you have the weapon drawn or have zoomed into first person you can physically point and move the 3DS around and the screen moves as if you were actually looking around in the game world. This is great except for a few small issues. First among these is that if you are playing with the 3D on the image splits horribly if you don’t move your whole upper body around to keep the head on view the 3D image requires. This coupled with the fact that, at least in my handheld gaming posture, you don’t get that much of an arc to move in, it made me feel like one of the guards from Metal Gear Solid who can only ever see in a cone shaped spot directly in front of them.
That is one of only two complaints I have about this game, the other is so minor I feel it’s hardly worth mentioning but I will in an attempt to bring some semblance of balance to this fan boy fuelled rambling. Once while I was riding around Hyrule Field I attempted to jump a fence and glitched on top of it, unable to get off at all. This however was easily sorted by saving the game, quitting and reloading since unless you are in a dungeon when you restart after you quit you go to either the Temple of Time or your House in the starting village.
To conclude, I adore this game. I have done ever since I was much younger than I am now and will continue to do so into the future. The story, although somewhat basic, is charming and the game itself is a fantastic example of a near perfect adventure game. As an added bonus the Mater Quest option is available after you have finished the game which is mostly the same game but with more challenging dungeons. There is also a boss challenge mode which does exactly what it says on the tin and requires no explanation. In all with the slight 3D niggles involved in aiming aside I genuinely feel that with this re-release Nintendo have improved on the near perfection that this game already was, if I had the option to play it on big screen with the DS acting as a bottom screen (Wii U compatibility may be a possibility for this in the future…) I would be even worse than I have been in terms of praise. As it stands though there are a few things that could be tweaked to make it better, just a little bit better but not a lot. Thank you Nintendo for bringing this game back into our lives for those of us with fond memories, and for bringing it to the new generation of gamers to experience greatness for possibly the very first time.


Saturday, 4 June 2011

L.A. Noire

Here we have the latest release from the creators of one of the triumvirate of most over-rated games of all time and as such everyone’s in quite a stir about it. Of course I’m talking about Rockstar and their new offering of L.A. Noire. Now if you couldn’t tell from the above I’m not their biggest fan but Red Dead Redemption was outstanding and Noire looked promising from the previews so I picked it up with quite a degree of anticipation. I was not disappointed, so keep hold of your fedora because you’re in for one hell of a ride.
L.A. Noire puts you in the shoes of ex-military now police officer Cole Phelps, beginning as a humble patrol cop and working up through the LAPD. The Patrol section serves as a tutorial and is quickly followed by a brief stint in Traffic before being promoted to Homicide, Vice and finally Arson in that order. Sort of weird as I was expecting to end in Homicide or Vice but it works with the story so it’s not too bad.
The cases are split up into a few sections, there’s the crime scene investigations, interrogations and open world driving/running to be done in between, with the odd bit of witness stalking and chase sequence thrown in. The chases and tailing sequences are lifted straight from GTA IV and either involve catching up and incapacitating or keeping up and remaining unseen by your target but it’s the investigating and interrogating where the game is most concerned and comes into it’s own.
Investigation sections have you walking around the crime scenes looking for and inspecting clues. The controller will vibrate when you get close to an item you can interact with and upon pressing action Cole picks it up so you can turn it about and see if there’s anything relevant, if it is you can sometimes investigate further by opening the item or some other such action. My only real gripe with these sections, and it is a small one, is that there are items you can pick up that are useless and Cole will say so. Now obviously they had to put things in that weren’t clues to avoid Cole being some kind of super cop with magic vision but there are times when you look at, say, a shelf and not one of the items on it will be relevant. Couple that with the slow animations for picking up and moving items and it’s slightly frustrating. Luckily once you have all the clues the game subtly lets you know by playing a sound effect that is totally fitting with the backing music and then slowly fading said music out.
While I’m on the subject I feel I have to say a brief something about the music in this game. Simply put it’s brilliant. The investigation music is spot on and is never obtrusive but creates a great atmosphere. The songs the radio plays on in the car are very fitting and set the game very firmly in the time period it is emulating. Right tangent over, back we go!
The interrogation sections involve interviewing witnesses, suspects or other such people and asking them questions from your trusty notebook. Each question gives a short scene where you ask it and they answer, as you may expect, however it’s after the question has been asked where the game makes use of its trump card. If you’ve read about, seen or played the game then you will know about the lengths that they have gone to recreate realistic facial expressions during these interviews. The technology is superb and is an absolute triumph in what it does, the characters faces do move incredibly accurately. Unfortunately it is never difficult to spot if someone is lying to you because the lie animations are very obvious. This was probably always going to be a side effect of what they were trying to do so it is forgivable, just a touch anti-climactic.
So anyway, once you’ve asked the question and listened to the answer you choose whether you think they are telling the truth, lying to you because you have evidence to the contrary or think they are lying but have no evidence which is labelled ‘doubt’ in game. Now the problem comes when you know the person is lying from the animation and you have to choose between lie and doubt. What happens occasionally is you will think the answer is doubt but they are in fact lying, it’s just that the small piece of speech after you have picked lie is the bit where the evidence becomes apparent. Obviously this point is too late because you have already picked doubt and scratching your head wondering what you did wrong. To avoid this you can always say it’s a lie first because you can back out of an accusation and change to doubt if it turns out you don’t have the necessary evidence but this shouldn’t have to be the strategy. The other thing with these sections which is far more immersion breaking is that you have to follow the logic of the script even if you have a legitimate point yourself. To give a few examples from early cases, I found a broken pair of glasses at the crime scene and when interviewing a woman about her husband’s involvement she said he’d just bought new glasses. ‘BAM’ I thought, ‘got you!’ I say lie, present the glasses and Cole yells like a psychopath at the poor woman and it turns out that wasn’t actually what I should have said. A second was a little further on where I found a pair of muddy boots and a wet coat as two separate clues. The witness said ‘How can you prove I was out last night?’ and I had a 50/50 choice between two pieces of evidence that both would prove it. For the record the jacket is the wrong answer, I chose it and promptly rage quit cursing the game for not letting me be logical about it.
             These issues in mind the game is still very good it’s just got a few irritations that could be ironed out in the inevitable sequel. What really needs fixing though is the general gameplay mechanics. They are pretty much taken straight from GTA IV and as such the driving is terrible, cars don’t handle well and handbrake turns are not at all useful. Also the AI drivers would never have got licences in real life; they will plough right into you as you turn at intersections and make no attempts to get out of the way if you’re forced into the oncoming lane. Perhaps even more stupidly if you have the siren on cars going the same direction of you will pull over to the right as you come up behind them. Useful if you’re in the left hand lane but useless when you’re in the right hand land and cars to your left pull out of the way right into you.
            The on foot controls aren’t perfect but aren’t horrible either and not having to tap A to run is a breath of fresh air. The cover based shooting sections do work nicely and luckily are minimal since they would ruin the feel of the game if they were more frequent. There are the odd stupid ‘action’ sequences that ruin the flow quite well though, apparently Rockstar think people will just stop playing without the odd set-piece regardless of how ridiculous they might be.
            Something I find unforgivable though is the horrible rain effects in this game. Now in a film noire inspired setting one of the first and most important things to get right should have been the rain. It’s necessary for pathetic fallacy and setting of atmosphere and in this game it seems like they just stuck a rain filter in the foreground. It’s rubbish and will need to be sorted out if/when a sequel is done.
            Don’t get the wrong impression; this is a fantastic game that’s well worth playing. The story is interesting and well written and the investigations and interrogations and fun despite the odd annoyance. The game successfully emulates the film noire style as it set out to do and it feels good to piece together the evidence and work out what happened. The face animation is no doubt the future of games and it’s very pleasing to get this new style on a classic point and click adventure on the map. If you like the Ace Attorney series (and if you haven’t played those you definitely should) you should feel very much at home with this too as it’s the closest thing I can compare it to. Even if you didn’t then there’s still enjoyment to be had here, but you should seek help because there’s clearly something wrong with you!