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15 New from
I found this book interesting enough to read through, but I found it to be a bit too much 'candy sci-fi', as I like to put it. There's just a wee bit too much tech stuff, much of which in real life seems way too alien to be so relatively close in future, or so easily obtainable. The different alien races are entertaining, but as a whole very cliche, aside from perhaps the puppeteers.
Might give the sequels a try sometime, but I wasn't left with a craving for more at the time being. I can definitely recommend this to anyone who likes Star Trek and Star Wars type stuff though.
15 New from
I don't generally read a lot of books, and only just accidentally happened to come across this one while I was shopping for something to spend time with on slow days at work. I bought the book without even knowing it's an old classic, nor was I familiar with the author. Turns out it was a good purchase, and I actually ended up reading the latter half at home, mostly. The book tells the story of mankind's fate after a race of aliens starts controlling humanity's progress, in a very interesting way, jumping the focus and human generation every few chapters, slowly revealing the reason behind the aliens' arrival, and what fate each side holds in the times ahead. Seemingly sci-fi at first, there's plenty of paranormal leading the story to its conlusion. I'm definitely going to check out some of the author's other works too!
Saints Row 2 (Classics)
10 New from
Fun story and dialogue, and plenty of activities to do. The main story is worth playing at least. Ok radio stations and music.
Everything else is rubbish. Controls are often irresponsive, sensitivity scaling makes no sense, Framerates crawl to a slideshow at busiest times, vehicles and people disappear to thin air when you're not looking at them (like chasing down a specific type of car to hijack, you look away from it for a split second and it's vanished. This happened to me like 90% of the time in such situations.) Checkpoints in missions are placed non-sensibly, forcing you to replay boring long sections again just to reach the point that actually offers any challenge (like driving through half the city, then facing enemies at a stronghold. If you die at the stronghold, you might need to drive through the city again, even though no enemies or challenges or anything provide any reason why the player needs to replay the driving section again.) Many of the activities' features are poorly explained, some features not at all.
I could go on with the bad sides, but I'll just summarize that this is the worst open world game I've played on the 360, mechanics and controls wise. However, if you can forgive the outrageous and frustrating parts of the gameplay, this game can be fun too. The dialogue is delightfully cheesy, the radio station commercials occasionally funny and so forth. Overall still a disappointment though.
Star Ocean: The Last Hope
5 New from
I rated this four stars, but I'd say it's really more like three and half. What I'd like to mention first is that overall I think the previous Star Ocean: Till the End of Time did better with nearly everything.
So, let's start with the good stuff. Graphics are pretty awesome, and the characters are nicely detailed, though I did find the character designs (clothing etc) a little weird. The main characters are supposed to be from future Earth, and yet their clothing looks like from your average Final Fantasy world. I couldn't really relate to that world. Overall there are some nice designs in the mix though. The only thing that looked rather crappy were some of the non-cg space battle cutscenes.
Music is fine. The usual Motoi Sakuraba fare, though I think the overall soundtrack was slightly better and more emotional in the previous Star Ocean.
Battles are fairly interesting as they are, but there's just simply too much of it. You could go an hour or two through a dungeon to get to the next savepoint, constantly doing 20-50 second long battles along the way. You can avoid enemy encounters if you want to, but you'll just miss on EXP, items and Monster Jewel bonuses (kill enough of each type and you can add bonus effects to an equippable jewel). Some areas are not accessible again once you finish them. I can think of at least two such areas. In addition to normal EXP and loot, you can increase bonuses to each by satisfying certain conditions in battle. There's also a feature called Blindsides, which is basically a move that allows surprising an enemy from behind, immobilizing them for a few seconds. Looks nice, but the novelty fades soon.
Voice acting is definitely a mixed bag. Not quite as horrible as the ones in Star Ocean 3 (like Farleen, ugh...). Voices are rather fitting, but the acting varies from decent to emotionless, even when the character's face is clearly showing otherwise.
Battles now have four characters battling at once, which makes the action ever more hectic. Keeping an eye on party members' health is basically only possible by looking at the HP numbers, unlike in Star Ocean 3, where things were more compact and you could simply see when someone is taking damage. Now the battlefields are bigger, and you can't have everyone on the screen at once. Not a biggie, but I'd rather look at characters than numbers. Another thing that's slightly broken is the targeting system. The tutorial says that you always target the nearest enemy when you attack. This is false. If you hit an enemy, and run to another, then press attack, it's almost guaranteed that you'll still attack the previous enemy. The target switches only after a few seconds. Considering the fast pace of the battle, those few seconds are worth a ton of damage you could've dealt, had you had the correct enemy targeted. Fairly annoying.
The story starts really interesting, but falls flat as a pancake once you're a couple of hours to the game. Once things start getting interesting again, the game ends. That's not to say this is a short one. Took me about 50 hours to finish, with good bunch of sidequests done along the way. There aren't nearly as many locations as in Star Ocean 3, and the variety isn't too great either. Interesting places are substituted with even more battles. Sidequests are usually fetching things or even more battles.
Item creation is much more straightforward compared to Star Ocean 3, and you can easily invent and create majority of the items during a normal playthrough.
Oh, right, and you have switch disc to visit some old locations on other planets. Like fetching items or doing a sidequest. Sigh...
Overall, a decent JRPG, but offers very little new compared to Star Ocean 3.
5 New from
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.
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (Classics)
5 New from
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.
3 New from
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.
4 New from
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.
Midnight Club: Los Angeles
2 New from
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 wasn't 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€ though, I suppose.