Tag Archives: sony

Killzone 3 Review

28 Feb

The latest in a series better known for its graphical prowess than its gameplay, Killzone 3 is one of Sony’s system shifters. It’s a first person shooter, the bad guys wear gas masks and clothes with red trim and it has an action style somewhere between Call of Duty and Halo. This is the kind of thing that sells in the millions with a little marketing, and Sony have put a lot of resources into making sure everyone knows that KZ3 is playable in 3D and has eye-wateringly good visuals.

The problem with telling the world that Guerrilla Games have made the best graphics since time began is that it makes otherwise forgivable flaws seem exaggerated. While the characters are chunky and detailed, environments look good and boring details like explosions are excruciatingly well animated, there are plenty of little errors that catch the eye. If you’ve played the demo you’ll have seen how pretty all the snow looks in that ice level, but what really stood out was the two dimensional water hitting the sides of rocks and boats. It looked pitifully lacklustre, as if the developers had either forgotten to finish it, or decided no one would care. If I was buying KZ3 for graphics I’d be thoroughly disappointed. Attention to detail is important when visuals are such a selling point and this kind of thing should be eliminated.

Detailed, but hardly interesting

Other than the few minor flaws, which are only magnified by the visual quality of the rest of the game, I will concede that the graphics are very good. That’s not particularly unique anymore, but they are some of the best on any console, which I suppose is an achievement. The problem is that this is the game’s focus. It’s so obvious that the developers want me to be impressed, that at times I have no idea what’s going on around me. Reloading is dangerous not only because the gun is unusable, but also because the animation is unnecessarily long and takes up almost the entire screen. As always with newer shooters, being shot or taking damage leads to the screen being obscured by a blood effect, but when the game is so graphically detailed, it’s hard to see enemies who wear camouflage as it is. Even the great particle effects just get in the way, with explosions making dust clouds that make seeing enemies impossible.

All the graphical power is wasted really, as it was in KZ2, which had incredibly bland environments. This game tries to do a little better, but inevitably the plot means that most locales are varying shades of grey. The art design is generic, with enemies having no personality and the same being true of the player characters. It’s as if they were pitched as a cross between the awful, jingoistic heroes of Modern Warfare, and the muscle-bound brutes of Gears of War, but with nothing to make them exciting or unique. At least Marcus Fenix et al had some personality, even if it was all a bit over-the-top. KZ3 just doesn’t know what it wants to be. It lacks the pseudo-seriousness of Infinity Ward’s efforts, but seems to want to emulate it, but in space, with big guns and the Empire from Star Wars.

Snow is Guerrilla's one attempt to liven up the environments

The plot is equally bland, a hollow re-imagination of Halo, but with more ‘grit’ and ‘realism’ and human enemies. The characters are not only boring, but mind-numbingly irritating. They chatter as in Modern Warfare, but it’s mostly grunts rather than words. The voice actors sound as if they’re straining to maintain the gruffness in the voices of ‘Sev’ and ‘Rico’ and enemies just shout the same things over and over. Cut-scenes are over-elaborate messes, that never seem to focus on telling a story, rather on the pretty incidental detail that the developers think will impress. The whole thing plays out as little more than Modern Warfare rebranded and set in space, same glorification of war, same irritatingly unoriginal characterisation and same failed effort to turn meat headed morons into compelling characters. Even Master Chief had more personality.

I could forgive much of Killzone 3’s faults if the gameplay was good enough, but it just isn’t. Killzone 2 had exactly the same flaws and its sequel does nothing to address them. The cover system, for example, is awkward, requiring a shoulder button to be held down in order to stay hidden. Unfortunately this is one of the most poorly implemented elements of the game. Instead of, as in other cover-based games, snapping quickly to cover, Killzone is somewhat erratic in when the cover system works. I suppose this is to make things seem more ‘realistic’ but I’m in space shooting Stormtroopers cosplaying as Nazis and frankly, I want to be able to just press the button and hide. The game is hard in the sense that trying to make it fun by shooting as dumbly as one presumes the characters you play as would means certain death. Playing it tactically though, is impossibly dull, and since the cover mechanic is flawed the ‘cover, shoot, move, repeat’ gameplay can’t stand up to continued play. The single player campaign is mercifully short at least, but if you were to like the game enough to continue playing, this would be a negative, so no one wins.

Is that a robot wearing kneepads?

There are further gameplay issues. Iron sights is present and correct (Sir!) and even more frustrating and counter intuitive than ever. While CoD managed to both make iron sights work (though I can’t say I’m a fan) and make it suit the context, Killzone makes it one of the most exasperating aspects of the game in one simple control choice. You have to click the right stick once to enter iron sights and click again to exit. There’s no quick snapping to a target, and it just feels awkward. On top of that, I’m part of a civilisation that’s invading another planet, surely they’ve made some guns that shoot lasers like it’s a light show of infinite destruction by now? The guns are stupidly underpowered for that matter, and useless unless iron sights is used. It all adds up to a frustrating and boring experience that sacrifices fun for strained realism and graphical grunt.

Killzone 3 will no doubt sell in the millions, which is a depressing thought. With a story and characters that fail to do anything other than irritate, a focus on realistic war in a setting which has no place for it and some astonishingly poor design choices, this is a game so mired in mediocrity that it should appeal to no one. I honestly can’t understand why anyone would want to play a game where the characters could only be relatable to someone with the imagination of an earthworm. It somehow glorifies war, yet makes it seem boring. There’s just no imagination here whatsoever. This does nothing the previous game in the series doesn’t do, and steals all its ideas from other sources, on top of implementing them poorly. With no reason to find out what happens next in the world’s least interesting storyline, grinding through the turgid gameplay is only for the most masochistic of souls. Even that one remaining selling point, the graphics, either falls flat due to mistakes, or because the visuals get in the way of the gameplay.

Bland, uninspired, mindless and utterly derivative, Killzone 3 is the poster child for everything that is currently wrong with the games industry. If you want a big dumb shooter, go get Gears of War or BulletStorm. If you want to feel like an imperialist soldier intent on destroying the country/planet of another race, buy Modern Warfare 2 and hum ‘Star Spangled Banner’. If you want great graphics and good cover mechanics, try Uncharted 2. There is nothing about Killzone 3 which hasn’t been done better elsewhere.

Mad Blocker Alpha Review

13 Feb

Open Emotion Studios, based in Limerick, Ireland, have been making quirky and entertaining flash games since early 2010. The first of these games was an addictive puzzler called ‘Mad Blocker’ The game proved popular enough to warrant a sequel, and after making several more flash games, for Mad Blocker Alpha: Revenge of the Fluzzles, Open Emotion moved onto Sony’s ‘Minis’ – a platform for simple, accessible games that can be played on PSP and PS3. This is a real indication of the success of Open Emotion with Mad Blocker. Ireland may be home to some high-profile international studios, but for an Irish indie developer to release a game for a major console is extremely impressive, and a real testament to the work Open Emotion have put into MBA.

The game itself is familiar, yet has a style all of its own, both in gameplay and visually. Certainly there are strong influences from other puzzle games so it’s instantly accessible to anyone who enjoys the genre. Gameplay feels something like a cross between Columns and Dr. Mario, with a little Super Puzzle Fighter in the mix too. Blocks fall horizontally in sets of three, the order of which can be changed as they fall. They can’t be rotated however, so it plays like columns on a vertical plane in this sense. The gameplay is a fantastic risk/reward trade off, as the more blocks eliminated at once, the more points scored, but the screen can become clogged quickly and the best laid plans turn to defeat. The score attack gameplay is very addictive, every bit as much as the classic puzzlers the game draws from.

The hand drawn visuals are a delight

In addition to the simple gameplay of the original flash version, Open Emotion have added more than just a few new blocks and power-ups. There is a story mode which, while simple, has a lot of charm. Much like Puzzle Bobble, the story mode adds impetus to keep playing, not just to get to the next level, but to see the next piece of gorgeous art. The hand-drawn style visuals are one of the best things about the game, giving it a look that stands out in a crowded genre. A lot of effort clearly went into crafting stimulating backgrounds, and offering the player a reward for their continued play. The blocks themselves have different faces, with the happy pink block looking like ‘company mascot’ material from the off. The others, from angry red to terrified yellow, are equally charming and full of personality. The music is also high-quality, catchy and jovial. It scores the experience perfectly and between sound and visuals it’s a delight to play. The design is really excellent and in adding a story mode for this full-featured release there are more than enough reasons to justify buying, rather than just playing the flash version.

A puzzle game though, lives and dies by its gameplay. MBA doesn’t disappoint, it’s perfect for PSP players in particular, offering an addictive and compelling portable experience which suits short stints of play. PS3 owners shouldn’t be put off though, as the story mode adds just enough depth. Attempting to beat high scores encourages repeat play, and the level of challenge is pitch-perfect for this type of gameplay. It’s definitely a throwback, but that’s no bad thing. The familiarity only adds to the experience and the combination of nostalgic gameplay with modern visuals keeps things fresh. The only real criticisms are that the visuals may not appeal to everyone. They’re odd, to say the least, and some may be turned off by them. In terms of gameplay the columns influence is a tad strong, but again, not a bad thing really. Unique power ups and blocks and an original style mean it’s not derivative, more of a tribute to classic puzzle games than anything.

Story mode adds some real depth

It really is great to see an indie developer from Ireland get a game released on a home console. Not only because it shows just how far indie games have come, but that Irish developers have a chance to compete in the industry. Open Emotion are blazing a trail and already have another mini due for release – Ninjamurai, due May of this year. The Sega influence is clear as they describe it as ‘Shinobi meets Sonic’. If it’s as unique and interesting as Mad Blocker Alpha, and retains Open Emotion’s sense of style it could be another winner. If Mad Blocker Alpha is anything to go by, it should be.