'Budget Price' Review: Project Sylpheed (X360)

"Project Sylpheed is a space shooter/sim, and it surprised me"

I wasn't honestly expecting much from this game, and at first the controls felt awful and way too arcade-y for my tastes, but after couple of evenings, I really started to enjoy the game. Yes, it does get repetitive, as the only thing you really do is shoot down spacecraft of basically four variety: fighters, attackers (think of bombers), small spaceships and large spaceships, with a few special ones mixed in. However, it's no more repetitive than any average shooter, like quake or unreal tournament against AI opponents. If you're fine with battling against AI, then that's not a problem with this game.

The story is fairly short and simple, cliché but entertaining. You're playing as Katana, a cadet flying a new type of special fighter on a training mission, when some rebel forces attack, and the whole affair turns into a galaxy-wide war. I hated the last mission, but everything else until then is great fun.

The flying physics are semi-realistic. You can float around on inertia alone, but there are some special moves that break this rule, like a 180 degree sharp turn, which is pretty much the only way to avoid collission if you're heading towards a giant ship while on afterburners. You also slow down quickly after using afterburner, rather than retain the gained speed. There's also quick side-rolling to dodge fire or collissions. Fighters can't seem to collide in each other though, but rather go through each other. Such occasions are quite rare though.

The thing about the weaponry in this game is that it favors targeting multiple fighters at once, as well as very heavy weaponry that can take out huge battleships in couple of attack runs. It's more arcade than dogfight. I learned to adapt though, even though I'm more fan of space sims like Conflict: Freespace (on PC). Special maneuvers allow firing with multiple weapons at once, slow motion aiming and quick ramming attack. There's a good variety of weapons, but many of the new ones you gain are just improved versions of the old ones.

Missions consist of basically attacking, defending or escorting, but the difference is simply just where and when you apply your attacks. For most of the game you also have a wingman, and 2nd flight consisting of two fighters, which you can give a few different kinds of commands. Nothing genuinely effective though, as even such a simple command as 'defend that target' doesn't exist. The commands don't make much difference except if you send your buddies in the center of an enemy fleet. Then they can get shot down. Normally they all survive. The only thing that really sucks about missions is that they have a time limit. Even if you've just eradicated 99 out of 100 enemies, and the time runs out, it's game over. Very frustrating artificial difficulty factor until you've learned the controls well enough to not run into the limit so easily.

It took me about 4 or 5 evenings to finish the game, but I enjoyed playing it over for a second time, to collect the remaining weaponry. Achievements in this game are medals granted after missions if certain objectives were met. They're pretty easy to gain on the second playthrough at latest.

Music is decent, sometimes even great. Voice acting varies. Announcers in battles are good, but some plot characters sound shallow.

All in all, doesn't last for very long, but is a surprisingly fun space shooter/sim.


Visuals: 8/10
Audio: 8/10
Gameplay: 8/10
Lasting value: 7/10

Overall: 8/10


Review: LEGO Indiana Jones (Xbox 360)

"Quite fun platforming and puzzle solving."

Got this bundled with my 360. Thought it'd be too childish for me, but I actually enjoyed it once I bothered trying it. It's the first LEGO game I've tried, so I didn't really know what to expect.

Basically, what you do in this game is control one character at a time (out of 2-4), to jump and climb around, solving fairly straightforward puzzles (I never got stuck for more than a few minutes at worst), consisting of mostly fetching an item to operate another, to build something out of LEGO blocks to be used in a variety of ways, or to destroy something by smashing or throwing something at it. Occasionally you get areas with bad guys, which you punch and kick around, or you can pick one of their weapons (if they were carrying some) and use them. Since it's a LEGO game, you got no blood, just people and things turning into heaps of LEGO blocks.

You can switch between the available characters, to take advantage of their special skills to reach certain places, like women jumping higher or smaller character crawling through tunnels. The problem with this is that oftentimes the characters you are not controlling, are doing either nothing, or something completely stupid. They can hardly even fight back when surrounded by baddies. It's really annoying to be chased by a bad guy, wanting the other characters take care of it, while you concentrate on some more important task... but it never happens. You gotta get rid of the bad guy yourself, and usually by then another bunch of baddies appears. It gets annoying pretty fast. Luckily, you don't have lives in this game. When you 'die', you only lose some money you've collected during the current stage. And there's tons of money, so die as much as you like.

With the money you collect, you can unlock special characters to be used in freeplay mode (once you've completed a stage, you can play it again with any of the characters you've unlocked), to fetch treasures you couldn't find or reach in the story mode. The treasure only counts towards completion percentage of the game, so all that is optional, if you're not planning to complete the game to 100%. It's not a big challenge though, so why not. I played the game for less than a week and got about 85% completion, plus over half of the achievements unlocked for the game. It's easy Gamerscore points at least.

The story part of the game is split to three stories, each loosely based on the original Indiana Jones movies. The cutscenes are fairly funny, though it helps a lot to understand them if you've seen the movies. You just might wonder why that one guy suddenly runs for a cup of water and drinks from it near the end of the Last Crusade, if you haven't seen the movie.

Things get a bit repetitive, but the stages aren't very long, the puzzles are easy-ish and you can't die, or have to start over the entire stage, so it's good fun for a week or two of casual gaming.


Visuals: 9/10
Audio: 9/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Lasting value: 7/10

Overall: 8/10


Review: Midnight Club: Los Angeles (Xbox 360)

Midnight Club: LA is street racing with great ideas but bad execution.

(I originally wrote this review while being completely fed up with some things in the game. I don't want to give off the impression that the game is totally bad, because it's not. It just takes more patience and tolerance than average to play through it.)

I really really wanted to like this game, but the things that would've made it fun have been totally ruined. Learning the map and the positions where civilian vehicles appear as obstacles has a much greater impact on your performance than learning to drive the vehicles. And even if you do learn the maps, the game cheats. In addition to the classic AI cheating, which makes AI drive faster and more intelligently if you're in the first place, and slower and worse if you're in last place, the game amplifies your penalties depending on your position in race. Crash in the first place, and your vehicle is often gonna flip twenty times around, wasting 10-20 seconds of time at worst, while such effects never happen if you're in the last place (at least not during my 30-40 hours with the game). Difficulty isn't flexible at all. Buy a better car for a tournament you lost last time, the AI drivers will have better cars too. Upgrading the vehicle doesn't improve your results in the end. I really got sick of these fake and artificial difficulty factors.

So, how about going online then? Sure, against other players with nothing but the best tuned up to the max. You gotta finish half the offline game just to get a vehicle good enough to compete. That, plus there was hardly any civilian/npc cars online. It's purely a matter or knowing the map and about how fast your vehicle is.

What I found great in the game were the visuals and city map itself. It's fun to just drive around exploring every now and then. The weather effects look great (loved driving in rain, despite the added difficulty), it's fun to play hide'n seek with the cops, listening to their radio chatter, etc. Music was ok, though required turning off third of the tracks to be enjoyable. (Sorry, ain't a fan of rap and such).

Basically everything about the game is good enough, except the racing itself. Instead of making the game easier for the player if they get stuck, the little progress you make is hindered with even worse penalties than before. Not even halfway to the game and most races require you to not mess up a single time. It's just simply not fun, and definitely not challenging the way a challenge should be presented.

I would've liked the game better if the AI raced with a fixed pace, so that if you learn to drive faster than how they perform, you can go past them just as much as your performance is better, without the AI closing that gap instantly with ridiculously maximized performance. I know I'm not the best with racing games, but I've played my fair share. I'm just wondering how horrible experience this is for someone new to racing games. Definitely NOT recommended for beginners!

To summarize: Basically, driving is fun, racing is not. Not a totally horrible purchase at under 25€, which I bought it for, though, I suppose.

An expansion for this game is due for online release next week, and despite not exactly loving this game, I'll probably give it a try. Maybe I'll enjoy some of the new content. Might post a review later on.


Visuals: 9/10
Audio: 8/10
Gameplay: 6/10
Lasting value: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

'Budget price' review: Blue Dragon (Xbox 360)

Blue Dragon is a very traditional JRPG.

This is the first RPG I played on my 360. After a few hours of playing, the first impression I got was that the game felt a lot like Final Fantasy V, as to how the character development works. Just like in FF5, where you assign jobs for the characters to learn skills that you can equip for the character, in Blue Dragon you assign classes for the Shadow creature of each character, and can then equip certain number of skills learned from them at a time. The difference is that in Blue Dragon you can ultimately equip more skills, and many of the attack skills have a large area of effect, meaning that in later parts of the game, battles consist of nothing but attacks on all or half of the enemies. Basically, if you don't avoid random encounters, the characters will become so powerful that there's no challenge in the battles at all, down to the last bosses.

Another thing lacking a bit is the story. With the toy-ish and silly character and villain designs, the story doesn't feel serious until the latter half of the game. The monster designs are imaginative, but not very interesting.

Music is a mixed bag. Definitely not one of Uematsu's best compositions. Piano tunes were nice in the few places they happened.

Graphics look ok, though a bit too simple in some places for the current generation of consoles. Framerates dropped quite heavily in many battles too, probably because of the shadow creatures. Too much small detail in such simple designs, I guess.

Not an easy game to score gamer points in either. I finished the game with level 70 characters and had gotten less than 100 points. I sure hope maxing out some levels or shadow ranks will grant a lot more, because I doubt I'll be playing the game much more than that.

With the current low prices though, this is an ok purchase if you're not tired of JRPG's yet. Just be prepared for a very retro, old-school game, which feels like something from early 90's, with modern graphics.


Visuals: 8/10
Audio: 7/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Lasting value: 7/10

Overall: 7/10

'Budget price' review: Eternal Sonata (Xbox 360)

Eternal Sonata is a JRPG, about a fantasy world the famous composer Chopin dreams of on his deathbed.

I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much out of the game, but it managed to surprise me a little. I can understand that some people can't stomach this stuff, mainly because it has its share of clichés, like repetitive battles and very linear story progression.

The game plays very much like for example Star Ocean games, except in battles the characters move one at a time, for a few seconds, hitting and slashing the enemies, performing special attacks or using items from a limited item bag. It's a shame that the battles are turned into a button mashing event after about 1/3 of the game. Until then, you can spend time planning your moves before executing them. Later on you have to act right away. What could have been a tactical battle system with emphasis on character positioning and approach, is actually just a pure action fighting system. Quite repetitive, but satisfying if you're used to this stuff. For a challenging experience, I recommend skipping some battles, so you fight with lower level characters. In many JRPG's that would be a suicide. In this one, it's actually possible.

What I loved about the game is the music. I'm a big fan of Motoi Sakuraba's works. It's not overly epic, but still gives this grand feeling to everything that is supposed to seem big and meaningful.

I played with Japanese voices, which were quite nice. Can't comment on English voices. I always choose Japanese over English if there's a choice. I've got too many bad experiences with English dubs, so yes, I'm biased.

Graphics are a mixed bag. I really loved the graphics throughout the first half of the game, but later on you get some repetitive corridors and psychedelic stuff. I guess it's supposed to go together with Chopin's feelings as he progresses through the world he's dreaming of on his deathbed, or something like that. It's not horrible, but I liked the first few locations better.

Characters are shown in a somewhat cel-shaded type look, with outlines of the body and items in a pencil-like way, and strong shading for surfaces that are not lit. Works ok, I think. Character and enemy designs are mostly cutesy stuff, so don't expect terrifying monsters or stuff like that. There is no blood, even when people die of wounds.

Each chapter of the game has a moment where the story is quite crudely set aside, and a brief slideshow of photos with Chopin's life story start playing, along with his compositions playing on the background. I actually went through with all these slideshows, but couple of times I thought they broke the story a bit. Like playing right after a dramatic event.

Almost everything in the game seems to be named after instruments or musical terms or styles of music. In a way it seems a bit cheap solution, but hey, it's supposedly a musical genious' dream. I think it fits ok. The whole JRPG world approach actually works nicely when it's a dream world. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn't find treasure chests littered all over the place, but in someone's dream... it's at least a bit more credible.

The game is of average length. Playing through the main story takes about 30 hours. There's at least some extra to explore though. I doubt I'll be playing this again anytime soon, but with the low price it's sold at right now, it's a bargain if you like JRPG's even a little bit.


Visuals: 9/10
Audio: 10/10
Gameplay: 7/10
Lasting value: 7/10

Overall: 8/10

Reviving the blog

I hardly updated my blog in 2008, but now I have a little more reason to. I acquired an Xbox360 last christmas, and have been playing some games with it. So, in addition to PC and PS2 game reviews, expect some for 360 games as well.

The reviews will also be shorter from now on. I've been writing some reviews on games at Play.com, and will probably copy-paste those here as well. I'm going to start with reviews of Eternal Sonata, Blue Dragon and Midnight Club: LA, all for the 360.

I hope my opinions will be of use to you.


'Budget price' review: Star Wolves (PC)

I've been doing a lot of bargain bin scavenging lately, and have been purchasing games that look interesting, but have not heard of before. Purchasing games developed by independent small studios has taught me that sometimes you can find awesome games that rival even the latest of popular releases in depth or innovation. Star Wolves is one such title. I had not heard of it before, but picked it up from a bargain bin, and managed to have a good time with it for a good couple of weeks.

If I'm not mistaken, the developer is from Russia, which wouldn't be surprising, since some other good Russian sci-fi titles have been released in recent times as well. Space Rangers 2, to name one. Star Wolves is not a perfect game, but for its price it's excellent. Now to the actual review.

Star Wolves
The game itself can be classified as a real-time strategy game (or RTS), but it has much bigger emphasis on tactics than your average title. However, it's hard to put the game under just one genre, because it also has elements of roleplaying games and adventure in it.

If you haven't guessed from the name of the game, everything takes place in space. The player commands a large mercenary spaceship called Star Wolf, and up to six fighters that can be deployed or docked at the Star Wolf (usually referred to as 'Mothership').

"War in space. Are you ready to pay its real price?"
Star Wolves takes place somewhere couple of centuries in feature (I forgot the actual year, but I think it was 23rd century). Mankind has colonized many star systems, and everything is governed by an Emperor. In turn, everything in space belongs to three corporations, each with their own agenda. For example, one of the corporations (The Triad) is basically mafia. The whole concept of mankind separated in such simple factions is a bit silly, but it provides a good base for conspiracies and alliances. At the beginning of the game, there are two additional hostile factions that are mostly at war with the corporations. Pirates, and Berserks. Berserk's are basically the same as Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. Artificial Intelligence, created by humans, gone rogue. The latter parts of the story introduce additional enemies, but I don't want to spoil anything.

The player's story starts at the newly-established mercenary unit Star Wolves. There's no deep history preceding the beginning. All you really need to know is that the main character (referred to as 'Hero'), and his good friend Ace are the founders of the Star Wolves, and currently looking for jobs to take on. The game progresses mission by mission, so there's no free flying from system to system. It feels restrictive at first, but most missions provide alternate paths and bonus objectives, so you'll always feel like you're playing at a brand new sandbox. There's normally 1-3 missions to choose from. Sometimes you can only choose to accept one, and it has a slight impact on the progress of the story. For example, you may choose to assist the mafia or to defend another corporation from the mafia's attacks. Everyone wants to hire the Star Wolves at some point though.

Along the journey you'll meet several characters that you can choose to recruit in your team. Some join automatically. Up to six characters can join, so opting to not recruit a character can allow another character to join later on, that you otherwise wouldn't be able to recruit. This provides a little replayability, as you can form a slightly different team each time.

While on a mission, every character can pilot a fighter. Each fighter has a certain amount of armor and shield capacity. Naturally, when taking damage, shields are depleted first, then armor. Once armor hits zero, the fighter is destroyed. If a fighter from the player's team is downed by enemy fire, the character doesn't die. Instead they float in the space in an escape pod, and can be picked up by the Mothership and be deployed with another fighter (provided that you have spare ones). Losing a fighter is not a big deal in the early stages of the game, but later on ships become special, and it's extremely hard to get good ships sometimes, because of their price and availability on the market. The Mothership on the other hand is vital. Its destruction means 'Game Over', and can happen fairly easily too. Even with additional equipment, the shields and armor are limited, so it's a good idea to keep the Mothership away from large battles, and only bring it in to assist in decisive attacks.

Weapons are divided in four types. Small guns (basically rapid-firing), Large Guns (Lasers, Plasma, Heavy cannons, etc), Missiles (guided) and Rockets (dumbfire). Each fighter can house a number of weapons, but only either small guns or large guns. Each character has a weapon speciality, which often dictates the choice of ship and weaponry, but with good tactics it is possible to neglect the speciality in favor of having more of a certain weapon type.

Fighters and Mothership can also have additional modules on them, with various effects, such as shield boosters, anti-missile systems, emergency and active repair systems, etc. Some roles in battle require certain systems to be fitted on a fighter in order to be performed.

Battles in Star Wolves can be extremely hard at times. How well your characters perform in battle largely depends on their fighter configuration and the correct usage of special skills. Each character has a set of special skills that can be enabled for a set amount of time, for certain number of times during each mission. It is extremely important to not waste skills when not necessary, because they often win battles. Most skills either temporarily boost the fighter's capabilities (ie. higher accuracy, faster fire rate, more damage..) or mess with the systems of either friendly or enemy fighters (shield restoration or depletion, for example). Some skills almost completely nullify damage for a period of time, or completely disable an enemy fighter for a short moment.

In addition to skills, the characters can form teams, also referred to as wings. Being a leader of a wing, or a wingman can increase the wing's performance if the characters have learned proper skills. For instance, it is a good idea to have an anti-missile specialist in a wing. Some tasks, like anti-missile defense and repair on-the-fly prevent a fighter from firing weapons at the same time though, but are necessary to survive under special conditions.

All characters have a traditional skill tree, from which they can learn skills after they've gained enough experience in battles. Some characters have multiple roles available, so specializing can be most effective.

The loot
After a succesful mission, the team receives a reward, and can sell or keep the leftovers from enemy ships. Selling the loot is usually much more profitable than the mission reward itself. You can also purchase new fighters and equipment between missions. It is a good idea to keep the fighters up-to-date, but it's just as important to still rely on the old ones if needed. Sometimes a battle goes horribly wrong, and the only thing you have left is that old fighter you used early in the game, and that fighter can be your ticket to completing the mission.

The space
Graphics in Star Wolves are quite nice for its price range and age. You can zoom in on the action, pause the game at any point and gaze at the battles from different angles. You won't probably find yourself doing this much though, since every second can count in a battle, and activating a skill or changing the battle plan at just the right time can make a huge difference in the outcome. Background look really pretty though. The space feels deep enough, even though the maps are fairly small in size, and moving from a location to another takes often less than a minute in average game speed.

The quality of the music is debatable. It's a combination of rock and light trance/techno. Gets a little repetitive at times, but if you like this type of music, then you'll feel at home. I rather enjoyed some of the tracks.

Sounds are pretty subtle, and you don't hear them much when you're zoomed out on the map, viewing the battle from a manageable distance.

Voice acting is... quite horrible, to tell the truth. There isn't much of it though, so it's not a big issue. And the grammar can be silly sometimes. The translations were not paid much attention to, but it didn't ruin the experience. Just sounds a bit silly sometimes.

The good and the bad
Now that I have explained the game in fair detail, it's time to evaluate it as a whole. Star Wolves is first and foremost a fairly slowpaced game, and can be extremely difficult at times. For a casual gamer this can be a huge problem in the beginning of the game, but as soon as you learn the correct pacing and usage of skills and equipment, the game can become a real treat. Missions are often full of surprises, and it can be tons of fun to react to changes and observe the outcome. Game can be saved at any point, allowing safe step-by-step progression through missions, if you don't like being under constant pressure. It is not necessary to keep all fighters intact through missions though, so I recommend accepting the losses if you manage to complete a mission. It can make things harder for the next mission, but it also adds a level of challenge that can still be overcome, which I haven't seen in any other game in quite a while.

The game is also relatively stable. During the entire two weeks I played, the game crashed only twice, and I came across only one bug (broken saved game file).

Visuals: 8/10
For the game's price, the graphics are very nice, especially backgrounds. Ships at close range can look a bit blocky and weird.

Audio: 7/10
Horrible voice acting for the most part, rather subtle sound effects at normal viewing distance, decent music.

Gameplay: 8/10
Challenging game. Maybe even too much at times, as correct usage of tactics, skills and equipment can make a huge difference. If you're up to it though, the game offers lots of interesting scenarios.

Lasting value: 8/10
It is possible to get frustrated with the game at times, and the mission-by-mission progression of the game can feel repetitive at times, but overall the game is worthy of being played to the very end at least once. Alternate story paths and team member selection also provide some replayability.

Overall: 8/10
A solid strategy-RPG title. Provides a unique take on tactical space battles.