quinta-feira, 27 de março de 2008

This one is for gnome...

This, dear gnome, is King Diamond, here in a tribute video that features footage from the rather great movie Clerks II. Appropriate, since this very song was featured in said movies soundtrack and two of the central characters, Jay and Silent Bob, love the guy. Whether you like his music or not (I have a feeling that you won't...), you got to admire his awesome voice and efficient use of falsetto.

quarta-feira, 26 de março de 2008

It's battle time, biatch!!!

As a fan of everything Viking related, I can't help but get excited whenever a new game that features those brave Nordic fighters is announced, which sadly doesn't happen often. In fact, now that I think of it, probably the last game I've played about vikings was Rune for the pc (awesome, game by the way)...

Anyway, on to Viking, the new game by Creative Assembly, the same team that brought us the rather excellent Total War series for the pc and the...hum..."interesting" Spartan: Total Warrior for the consoles. Don't get me wrong, that game is a great hack 'n' slash, but after the amazing historical accuracy that those guys revealed with the Total War series, all the mythological elements of Spartan were a huge let-down for me, who was looking for a more realistic, authentic experience.

Because of this I wasn't too excited about Viking. I was curious, sure, but I still prepared for the worst. Well, it turns out that the game indeed features a lot of mythological aspects, with the enemies being beasts from the underworld, weapons that can be powered up with magical runes, giant stones that act as teleporters and all that mystical crap. Still, there's a lot of authenticity when it comes to the weapons themselves, the design of the villages, the overall behaviour of the npc's, all little things that really help bringing a little feeling of authenticity to the game. Everything that involves Nordic mythology is also relatively accurate, so instead of being a real "viking simulator", this game is more of a portrayal of the world the Norsemen themselves pictured with all their gods and beasts.

On to the gameplay. Instead of being a linear and straight-forward action game, this is actually a free-roaming adventure! Think of it like a medieval GTA or an hack 'n' slash Oblivion. You don't have the whole world at your feet though, there is not a single continuous land but 3 big islands. Still, these pieces of land are simply huge (according to CA, the first one is over 1 km square and the 2nd one is more than twice the size of that), and there are no visible loading times when exploring each one, so that is a pretty solid graphics engine they got there.

So far the gameplay is very simple. You have your tipical quick attack, charged attack, you can jump, you can defend and you can also evade your opponents attacks. When you press the attack button your character automatically charges toward the closest foe, so there's no slicing the air when the fuckers are more distant than you fought. Also, your character automatically runs is a lower stance whenever there are enemies nearby, which not only alerts you to their presence, but also prevents you from alerting them to yours.

As I've said before, the graphics are really good. Everything, from the enemies to your allies or even the surroundings, is heavy in detail and it's really impressive how they managed to pull this off without having constant loading times interrupting the action. There's one thing I hate, though. As you all probably know by know, if there's something I hate in most game of today is over-the-top lighting effects. Reflections that leave you blind, multi-coloured light-sources that paint the world around you and make you feel like your tripping or even just that visual effect that looks like there's a silk curtain between you and your tv (hard to explain, hope you get my point).

This game has it all, and the most annoying thing is a medallion that we get right from the beginning that illuminates everything around us like a giant blue lamp. It's no surprise that everything wants to kill us, since prolonged exposure to our character surely must leave anyone blind!

Ok, jokes aside, I've just started this game, so this is not a review yet. There are other things I want to talk about in the future, like the runes or the allied soldiers, but give me time to explore those features. For now all I have to say is that so far this looks like one of the best games of the year, specially if you're into the viking theme, so all action fans out there should keep an eye out for this game.

terça-feira, 25 de março de 2008

Army of Two

Or Army of Three, to be more precise, those guys would be nothing without me controlling them. Ok, jokes aside, me and this game have a curious story. As I've said a lot of times before, this was one of those cases where, in theory, the game sounded great! Two guys who can stand for a whole army, doing missions together, looking out for each other and wearing freaking cool masks! How can an action game get any better?

Then the first gameplay videos came out and, for some reason, it all looked much less impressive. The middle-eastern scenarios were all but refreshing or appealing, there seemed to be little feedback from shooting the guns, and the overall gameplay seemed dull and unattractive, with too much emphasis on an aggro system were your characters literally became transparent or start to glow red.

Still, for some odd reason, I decided to give the game a shot. Hey, how bad could it be? Certainly not any more disappointing than Sega Rally Revo, right? Well, let me tell you, as soon as I started playing Army of Two, I suddenly couldn't stop without finishing the damn game. Yeah, it was that addictive! I remember that the digipak edition of Cathedral's latest album, The Garden of Unheartly Delights, came with an apple scented disc that let off a fragrance from the warmth of the cd player. Well, I'm pretty sure that EA did the same with Army of Two, but with amphetamines or some shit to keep us playing!

Ok, let's analyse this objectively, what exactly makes this such a great game? For a start the story is pretty compelling, not at the same level of, let's say, Kane & Lynch, but it's definitely interesting to see (or better, play) the daily lives of these two mercenaries. In fact, I actually have one complaint about the story and that's because there's too much of it, I would prefer to see more of Rios and Salem's lives before it all going down the "conspiracy theory" path.

On to the gameplay, anyway. I have to admit, as dull as the shooting may seem on videos, when you actually play the game it gets pretty enjoyable. I still hate the way it's hard to shoot someone up close (but no so close that you can do a melee attack), and the enemies who can only be shoot from behind look like a pathetic excuse to create some mid-level mini-bosses, make the game slightly harder and force you to use the aggro system. Still, it's pretty fun when you shoot a guy in the back and he flies off in an exaggerated manner or when you nail that headshot, and the cover system works pretty well, so overall the gameplay is really good.

Story, check. Gameplay, check. What's left? Oh, graphics, of course. This game uses Unreal Engine 3, 'nuff said. Ok, not quite, but trust me, this game makes a really good use of that engines capabilities. Like I've said already, at first the middle-eastern levels let me down, because not only they're uninteresting (houses and sand, duh...) but also they're used in every action game nowadays and I'm starting to get sick of them. Fortunately they're not the only ones, and when you're suddenly parachuting over a giant aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean, things start to look really good! But wait, there's more, for when you reach the last levels you'll see some pretty original and interesting scenarios (I won't spoil it for you, of course...).

So, to sum it up, if my experience taught me something it was to not always judge a game without playing it myself. If you, like me, also crossed it off your "to buy" list because you weren't impressed by the videos, do yourself a favour and play it. Who knows, maybe you'll have a pleasant surprise...

sábado, 22 de março de 2008

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men

This is a game that I've followed with a lot of interest from the moment it was announced, not only because the first informations left the idea of a great game on the making, but also because it was made from the same guys behind the Hitman franchise and the hidden gem called Freedom Fighters. When it was finally released, most reviews were pretty harsh with it, not to mention all the Jeff Gerstmann scandal, but I just ignored all that and kept my interest in it, willing to try it out and see for myself whether if it's a misunderstood game or if it deserves all the critics.

I finally decided to do it after finishing Army of Two (more on that later), since I was already in the mood for 3rd-person, cooperative shooters, and I'm really glad I did it, for despite all its flaws, this is still a great game. The bad parts are not that bad, actually. For once many complained about the graphics, but honestly, not only I didn't find them offensive to my eyes, I actually liked the sober look and the lack of shiny special effects. In an era of advanced lighting systems that leave you blind at times, with reflections everyone, to the point were the quality of the textures are irrelevant since you just can't see them behind the curtain of light that stands before them, it was really refreshing to play a game were you can always see what's surrounding you without any shiny shit distracting your vision. Not only that, but there's also a lot of interactivity with the scenarios, not at the same level of Stranglehold but definitely a lot better than with almost every other game out there.

Also, the level design and art direction really make up for the lack of a photo-realistic graphics engine, so in the end the presentation is definitely one thing the game does right, at least in my book. For me the real flaws are the bugs, the limited IA of our buddies and the excessive difficulty of some parts. Other than that, what the game does it usually does good, and the sound of the guns is way better than in Army of Two, for example. Here you really feel like you're shooting guns instead of pea-shooters.

Talking about Ao2, both games are similar in the way that they're both 3rd-person games based on a duo of characters. The main difference is that here you some times have other allies that you can command besides your "fixed" partner (Lynch) and that the main characters are not exactly as friendly as Salem and Rios from Army of Two. It's quite the opposite, since they're forced to work together and they hate that. This takes me to the plot of the game, and let me tell you, the story was probably what kept me most motivated to finish the game, because it's one of those cases were you simply have to know what will happen next.

It's quite a solid story for an action-game, and it's pretty dramatic. From the start you know that in the end your character (Kane) is not supposed to survive, and although your actions later on will determine the ending of the game, from two possible situations, this involves choosing between which lives to save, and you simply can't save everyone... Also, the canon ending is, in my opinion, the sadder, which from the start sets the tone for the future sequel. Despite the dark tone, this is definitely a story that deserves to be told, and I can't wait for the sequel to see how it ends.

So, in the end, despite all the critics and negativism that surrounded Kane & Lynch, this is definitely a game worth playing. It may not be a Triple-A title at the same level of some Hitman games (Contracts sucked...) or the masterpiece called Freedom Fighters, but look at it as a rough diamond. It may look flawed, but in it's core this is a very solid game, with a really engaging plot, that deserves to be played by every action fan.

segunda-feira, 17 de março de 2008

Eluveitie - Inis Mona

Just a quickie here. The video you can see above represents my latest musical find, Eluveitie. Suggested by a friend, they quickly catch my attention with this most awesome song called Inis Mona. I immediately got hold of their last album, Slania, and let me tell you that it'ss full of AWESOME! If you like their unique blend of folk metal and melodic death metal, that is.

Here, listen to some more:

quinta-feira, 13 de março de 2008

Senser - The Key

Don't think that I forgot about Senser, Father :) In fact I liked them so much that right now I'm listening to their first cd, Stacked Up. It's good to take a break from other things I've been listening recently like Dimmu Borgir, Sepultura or Soulfly (I really recommend everybody to check out these links). Also, recently I've been listening to Ill Ninõ, specifically the album One Nation Underground. You should check them out, Father. They're a nu metal band, but with a pretty unique sound to them, with some tribal influences and interesting lyrics who mix English and Spanish, sometimes even in the same chorus. My favourite music from that cd:

Zero Gunner 2

After the blast I had while playing Zero Gunner, I couldn't wait to try out its sequel, now on a real console instead of an emulator, so I popped the game in, turned on the Dreamcast, and...well, I liked some things but there's also some stuff that I really hate, so in the end I guess I have mixed feelings about this one.

To start with the good things, this game is beautiful. Really. Sometimes I end up forgetting just how powerful the Dreamcast is, and when I see it in action it blows me away. The textures are very detailed, the models have a great design to them, in that arcade fashion that only the Dreamcast seems to show, and the stages are really unique and impressive.

The gameplay is also very enjoyable for the most part, but the rotation system just fucks it all up. Unlike in the original ZG, where you would first lock onto an enemy and then rotate around him, here there's no lock-on system and you freely rotate your choopper. So far, so good. The problem is in the way this is done. To rotate you have to hold a button (thus stop firing) and then use the d-pad to rotate your ship. Now imagine doing this when all hell is broking loose around you! It's confusing, unintuitive and worse, it will most certainly make you loose lives, because you'll get so disoriented you'll loose any sense of direction and invariably run into enemy fire.

Unfortunately this is necessary, since enemies (and sometimes bosses) come from all directions, and sometimes the screen moves sideways or down instead of up. Shit... To make things worse, although this game offers many difficulty options, even the easiest setting is hard as hell. After two unsuccessful tries where I would always end up running out of credits in the last level, I thought "fuck it" and resorted to my life-saver, the Code Breaker cheat disc. With unlimited lives I eventually was able to beat the fucking game, but I immediately put it back in the shelter, since there's no extra modes to keep you busy, only a replay mode where you watch a previously saved game.

I may seem angry at this game for being so hard, but that's not the case. Hey, Under Defeat it fucking hard, I was never able to beat it, and I still love it. My problem with Zero Gunner 2 is that it's not only hard due to unforgiving enemies, but also due to a fucking control scheme that makes no sense! You don't loose because you suck, you loose because the control scheme to rotate the damn chopper is insanely unintuitive and impractical, and that's basically my major complaint about this game. Of course you can eventually get the hang of it you practice enough, but I doubt it's worth it when the Dreamcast as such an awesome library of shooters.

I would still recommend it to shmup fans, but be prepared for a challenge.

quarta-feira, 12 de março de 2008

Arcade goodness

After sometime of almost exclusive dedication to my beloved 360, I thought it was time to go back, to simpler, more direct experiences. Yup, old-school arcade action was what I needed. And what are the best places to get it? That's right, Dreamcast and arcade emulators. Starting with the little white box of wonders, I decided to wipe out the dust that was already covering it's exterior and give the machine a little run. The game? Cannon Spike.

Featuring several well-know characters from various Capcom titles (only one character was created exclusively for this game), this is pure arcade goodness that plays somewhat like the cult hit Smash TV. Using an overhead camera, you're put in levels that basically consists of just a small area filled with bad guys. After you wipe them out, the "semi-boss" comes and after him the real boss of the stage shows up. You beat the fucker and move on, simple as that. The downside is that the game is painfully short, ending in (depending on your skills and difficulty level) 20 minutes/half an hour, if not less.

Once you beat it for the first time, an artwork gallery shows up, but that's about it. There's no secret characters (actually there is, but they don't need to be unlocked, you just have to figure out how to play with them, and it's worth since we're talking about Megaman and Bulleta from the Darkstalkers series), secret stages or additional play modes. There's a 2-player mode and nothing else, all you have left to do is beat records or play with all the characters (they play somewhat different, specially when it comes to the special attacks).

But despite that this is a great game. The gameplay is solid and as fun as an arcade game gets. It would be better with a dual analog controller, but still the Dreamcast pad gets the job done. Also the graphics are really great, I wonder how this game looks when hooked up to an HDTV through a VGA cable... Overall this is a great game that I recommend to all you arcade action fans out there.

After beating this game (several times), I thought it was time for a more traditional shmup experience, and the first game that came to my mind (don't know exactly why) was Zero Gunner 2, also on the Dreamcast. But wait, that's 2, what about ZG1? The bad thing is, 1 was an arcade game only, there's no console port. The good thing is, it runs almost perfectly using the Model 2 emulator I talked about sometime ago in the Saturn Junkyard!

It actually runs even better, since you can play it in full screen mode at a maximum resolution of 1280x1024. That's as much as my monitor can handle! Talking about gameplay, it plays mostly like any other vertical smhup, the bullet hell variety, except for the fact that you can lock-on to enemies and then move freely around them, even to the point of turning your chooper 180º and shooting down instead of up!

This really contributes to differentiate it from the countless other shmups we see and play everyday and it was probably the idea behind the most excellent Under Defeat, one of the last official Dreamcast releases. Other than that, the progression is also interesting. From the main menu you can choose to play every single level in a row, but you can also select from the Europe, Asia and USA "campaigns", each with their own set of 5 levels to beat. This is great for an arcade game, since you can try the 3 different scenarios at your own will, without having to beat one to have access to the other.

The downside is it's difficulty. Yes, it's an arcade game, and at least using an emulator you won't end up broke, but still it could be a little easier at times. Anyway, as long as you're patient and don't forget to add more credits, this is a pretty good shooter to spend an hour or so with. Not to mention you can get both the game and the emulator on the web for free! What are you waiting for? Go grab it now! As always, if anyone needs links or help configuring the emulator, just ask.

PS: I just found out that both Cannon Spike and Zero Gunner were developed by the same company, Psikyo. Funny, uh?

terça-feira, 11 de março de 2008

Movie round-up

When I talked about a movie, in Father K's blog, that gave me the shivers even though it wasn't an horror movie, I was talking about Grizzly Man. This is basically a documentary about the life of Timothy Treadwell, a bear enthusiast that, after spending 13 summers with the bears of the Katmai National Park (Alaska), eventually got killed and eaten, along with his girlfriend, by one.

The reason it sometimes made me feel somewhat uncomfortable is pretty obvious, the entire film is about a person that we know from the start that gets killed in the end. This is relevant because the majority of the film consists in footage shot by Tim himself, with the remainder being interviews with people who knew him, so eventually we get kind of attached to him.

He is not the kind of person you like easily, though, being the odd-ball he is, and most of you will probably think that he was plain crazy, but I can actually relate to him, due to the fact that apparently we share some points of view. I have a less romantic vision of animals, though.

Don't get me wrong, as I've said in the post about I Am Legend, I fucking love animals, more than I love a lot of people, actually, but I don't fool myself. Tim, on the other hand, actually believed the bears liked him and wouldn't hurt him. Anyway, I don't judge him. He lived, and ultimately died, doing what he loved the most, and that's something that not all of us can say.

Whether you think he was a genius or a madman, I recommend you to see this movie. It's not something to watch light-hearted, and at times it can make you think, but overall, for me at least, it was a good way to spend a couple of hours.

On the other hand, if you prefer a lighter experience, The Simpsons Movie is for you! As a big fan of The Simpsons, I really didn't know what to expect. Would it be a worthy addition to the license or just an easy way to make more cash off this franchise? Well, I'm very happy to say that, simply put, I couldn't imagine a better movie based on The Simpsons. It seems like they picked up the absolute best parts of 20 episodes or so and put them together to make a movie. Forget all the dispensable stuff every episode usually has, this is a fucking laughing riot from start to end!

I really don't know what more to say without spoiling the movie, but believe me, if you're a fan of The Simpsons (who's not?), this is a must see. All the major characters are there, the animation is simply superb and overall this is definitely one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

Homer salutes you:

(believe it or not, this is actually a scene in the movie)

sexta-feira, 7 de março de 2008

Catch up - part 2

Another "part 2" post, how original... Well, lately my imagination's been running low, so bear with these god-awful titles...

Anyway, this time I'm just going to talk about games, since I haven't seen any new movies recently (maybe I'll see the Simpsons Movie this weekend). For some reason I don't feel like writing much lately, so I'm just going to resume my gaming experiences. Don't expect full reviews.

Medal of Honor: Airborne

The MoH series has quite a past. It started as a couple of pretty decent FPS's on the original Playstation, and then made the jump to the PC with the classic MOH: Allied Assault, a game that was an instant hit partly due to the simply amazing Omaha Beach level. It was if the movie Saving Private Ryan had come alive or something, and you could play it! Fucking awesome... Then the development team ran away to make the Call of Duty franchise and probably all of you know the rest. Poor, uninspired games, both for the PC and 128bit consoles flooded the market just to put more money in EA's pockets and put the MoH name to shame...

But wait, for all was not lost! In fact, after playing the demo, I had high expectations about Airborne, the first next-gen MoH game. The possibility of landing anywhere on the battlefield and the upgradeable weapons sounded like awesome additions to a, otherwise, stagnant series. Unfortunately, as usual, it all turned out to be less impressive than it sounded...

Yes, you can land almost anywhere, but that's not so awesome as one might think. The fact that you can see the whole level right from the start somehow takes that sense of discovery away, and after you're on the ground it's pretty much like the CoD levels where you have multiple objectives. It's a good addiction, don't get me wrong, but it's not the next big thing.

And the upgradable weapons... There are awesome, useful, upgrades, like scopes and bigger magazines, but I was fucking disappointed when I killed dozens of Nazi soldiers just to get a fucking bayonet for my shotgun (it's useless to go melee, anyway, since just a hit from those fuckers takes away more energy than a whole clip of bullets) or a grenade launcher for my rifle.

About the structure of the game and the gameplay itself, there are other things I don't like. For instance, unlike in pretty much every CoD, and specially CoD 4 (yeah, I know, different setting, but they're still similar games), where your partners play a big role, here it looks like you're winning the war alone.. We usually have a handful of allies by our side, but they're fucking useless since they are barely able to kill anything and we end up doing all the dirty work by ourselves. Yeah, I know, this is a game, we are the stars, but fuck it, this is not a one-man war, it was the biggest fucking conflict in history!

Also, what the fuck where they thinking when they made the last levels of the game? Putting you against Nazi super-soldiers wearing gas-masks (to scare us? Because there's no smoke or gas grenades or anything), armed with MG 42's. Oh yeah, that's right, the fuckers shoot MG 42's! Not, not mounted ones, they shoot them just like that, like they're holding regular machine-guns. And not only that, they take 20 or more bullets to die, depending on your gun. OMFG! Are they, like, genetically altered or something? Is this Return to Castle Wolfenstein all over again? And what kind of idea was that, making "super soldiers"? Aren't the regular ones good enough? After seeing this I wondered why Hitler himself wasn't the last boss, maybe controlling a giant robot or something...

My final verdict is, buy if if you're a nut about WWII. Otherwise, just go play CoD4, Turok or, maybe, Halo 3.


Great game. Of course I have more to say, but this is pretty much what I think of this game. An hack 'n' slash that plays a lot like God of War, the best thing I can say about it is that it's very faithful to the whole Conan universe and mythology. The barbarian is brutal, relentless and doesn't miss the chance to save imprisoned (and almost naked, including perfectly visible, and well modelled, breasts) women. Don't expect sex mini-games like in GoW, though. Talking about GoW, I dare say that Conan takes it's gameplay a step forward, with much more tactical combat.

While in Sony's game we can pretty much beat the whole thing using the same combo (or just button mashing), in Conan, somewhere around the middle of the game the enemies start to block and prevent us from grabbing them, requiring some specific and well-timed attacks to be beaten.
We can also grab the weapons of our enemies, allowing for 3 very different styles of fighting: one weapon, 2 weapons or two-handed weapons.

To sum it up, if you like GoW or just this type of action games in general, give Conan a try. It's a solid, entertaining and pretty long game that should satisfy your need for action and violence (almost forgot to mention that, this game is definitely not for kids).

Sega Rally

I wasn't planning on talking about this game, but what the heck, since I'm already at it, here it goes. Like the Nerd says: "It fucking sucks, it sucking fucks and I don't like it!". Ok, now seriously, the game is not exactly bad. In fact it's pretty good...if you can handle its gameplay, that is. The graphics are amazing, with that arcade vibe that only Sega can do; there are plenty of cars and courses to keep you entertained, and then there's the online mode, a first for the series. The only thing that could make it better would be Sega Rally 95 HD for a bonus. That and decent handling for the cars...

I won't make a huge fuss about this because it's apparently not a defect of the game, but mine instead. I say this because our dear Father K (and millions of gamers throughout the world apparently) happens to like it, but I for an instance can't seem to enjoy it. It's just not the game for me, I guess...

Anyway, lately I've been playing the most excellent Colin McRae: DiRT and let me tell ya, that's my shit! That's the kind of rally for me! The almost perfect blend between arcade and simulator, the almost photo-realistic graphics, the superb damage system of the cars, it all comes together to make what is one of the few games that I really enjoyed on my 360. One thing is to like a game, another is to genuinely feel good while playing it. Having actual fun, not just passing time. But more on that later, cause I'm not even half through it yet...

terça-feira, 4 de março de 2008

Da Weasel - round 2

Since my dear Father K apparently liked my post about the Portuguese collective Da Weasel, I decided to post some more of they stuff. Not exactly what I wanted, since youtube's offer is more limited that I expected, but still there's good stuff to be found. Above is God Bless Johnny, a song from their very first EP, their only work in English (at least this one you'll understand).

Outro Nível (another level) is another of their earlier works, while Força (uma página de história) [Strenght (a page of history)] is much more recent, from their 2004 album Re-Definições (re-definitions). About the latter, the final part of the song is actually a different song in the album, but for some reason they decided to put the two together for the video. Hope you like since one of the comments says " Totally lovin this song even tho i deh understand a word of it...catchy tune tho n his voice sounds well gid".

As an extra, here is a (rather nice, considering the source) video of Toda a Gente (everybody) played live at one of the gigs I went. Yup, I'm there in the crowd, somewhere...