Thursday, October 22, 2009

Blu-ray Review: Devil May Cry The Complete Series

These days it seems that if anything becomes popular in one medium it's going to appear in another. Movies turn into games, anime turns into movies, anime turns into games, and games turn into anime. That last one is what we're looking at today with the release of Devil May Cry: The Animated Series Complete Collection by FUNimation. Originally a part of the ADV Films brand back in the day, this one jumped ship and has found its way onto Blu-ray thanks to the good folks over at FUNimation. With the high definition anime market being slim pickings it's always a good thing to see a publisher support the format. With that in mind, is Devil May Cry really worth the plunge?

If you've played any of the four Devil May Cry games then I'm sure you're probably very interested in this title. The short answer to the question proposed above is "Yes, it's worth checking out", but it's not a resounding recommendation. The show has its flaws and it's not as solid of an interpretation of the franchise as one might hope. Sure it still kicks a lot of ass and many of the characters are familiar. There's just a sense that it doesn't quite live up to its fullest potential, and that's ultimately what keeps it from excelling.

The show opens up and introduces us to a crazy mixed up world where demons and humans seem to coexist for better or worse. There are demons that prey on humans, demons who love humans, and demons who pretend to be humans. Unfortunately that's really the only explanation we get regarding the plot of the series and if you're not too familiar with the franchise some things will be lost on you. Basically it's all set in the human world, there just happen to be devils living in it. Then again, it's not like there was much exposition about the world in the game series either, but I digress. Right from the get-go we're introduced to all around bad ass, Dante. He's a stylish to a fault machismo demon hunter whose tools of the trade are a sick looking sword and a pair of pistols. It's his personality that arguably sets the tone for the anime (and game as well).

Dante is the byproduct of an interspecies romance between a demon and a human female. He retains the best of both worlds and uses his abilities to help those in need, for a price. He attempts to run a legitimate business of being a monster slaying mercenary, but in all fairness it hardly pays the bills. Or, at least it might, but he isn't very good with money. He relies on a virtually useless agent and some acquaintances to find work, but in the meantime he has to baby sit some kid he rescued. This becomes a source of humor of sorts as the girl, Patty, is quite the polar opposite of Dante in every way.

More interesting than Patty is the introduction of Trish and Lady early on. Lady is a fellow devil hunter who is more or less Dante's equal in many regards, though most of the time she seems to have her own agenda. Trish on the other hand is essentially a physical clone of Dante's mother and is played off as such many times here. She is basically his age but nags him every now and then about his living habits. These two characters play nicely off Dante, but their relationship isn't enough to drive the series. What does keep this show going? Filler. Lots and lots of filler.

Aside from the occasional blip of a larger story scattered about, the entirety of Devil May Cry's twelve episodes is comprised of episodic stories. Something goes down, Dante is hired, and some demon winds up getting its ass kicked in the process. I'm not going to deny that it's fun for short bursts of action-oriented anime, but the story simply feels too shallow for its own good some times. With that being said I must admit that the show is incredibly sexy. The art direction is phenomenal and some of the fights here are truly brutal. Because of that I'd say this is a fun diversion if you appreciated the game series, but not nearly the full-blown, standalone anime it could have been.

Devil May Cry gets 3 stylish, sexy points out of 5.

For a full dissection of the quality of video and audio, as well as what this boxed set includes for bonus features, please check out my full review at DVD Talk.

Xbox 360 Review: Wolfenstein

There's no denying that Wolfenstein is one of the oldest first person shooting franchise on the market today. It's been around since the early days of 3-D gaming and has seen many installments across several consoles since then. The last time we stepped foot inside the supernatural world where Nazis have made contact with a demonic dimension was back on the original Xbox in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. That game offered all around solid FPS action for the single player and a decent multiplayer component that was rather fresh for its day and age. Now that we're into the next generation it would seem that Wolfenstein still has more ghoulish stories to tell, but the real question is whether or not this classic series can still hold its own in today's market.

The story in Wolfenstein is rather straightforward and very hit or miss much of the time while you're playing through the single player campaign. Basically you follow the exploits of a spy known as B.J. (tee-hee) who is deep behind enemy territory and in the middle of some serious X-files-like happenings. Basically B.J. (tee-hee) gets involved with a Nazi plot that opens up a portal and lets all kinds of unnatural things into our world. Queue up an amulet that allows B.J. (tee-hee) to gain powers from the dimension known as the Veil, and you have a nice little romp through World War II with supernatural powers at your fingertips. The story doesn't really do much to draw you in, but rather it's more of an atmospheric setting that gets the premise going and lets the world around you tell its tale. It's minimalist and not very effective, but there are some cool moments scattered throughout.

Thankfully the single play component is rather meaty in terms of depth and scope. You start out on a rather linear mission and are given the gist of what you need to accomplish, what's going on, etc. From there the game opens up a bit and allows you the chance to develop your powers, accept new missions, and upgrade your equipment. It's set up in a quasi-Grand Theft Auto kind of deal and there are different waypoint markets on a map that indicate objectives as well as people and places of interest. It's not incredibly immersive by any stretch of the imagination, but it's different enough for an FPS title that it feels somewhat fresh, if not clumsily integrated.

The single player will undoubtedly take up most of your time in Wolfenstein. Thankfully the campaign lasts a decent amount of time and the flow of gameplay varies enough to keep the pacing from getting too dry. There are a few difficulty modes to choose from and the challenge certainly scales and varies as you're introduced to new enemy types and given better abilities. You're also forced to think on your feet quite a bit. For instance you'll be slowing down time in the midst of shootouts to allow yourself to dodge bullets, using the Veil powers to show hidden enemies, and trying to find the best ways to get around obstacles all at the same time. It can be a little busy at points, but that's part of the charm really. It keeps you on your toes and you'll get the feeling that you're being pushed along.

Adding to the sense that things continually build in the single player game is the weaponry that becomes available to you. Sure you'll get a basic set of goods at the start, but slowly other more unique armaments are dropped on your lap. There's some top level stuff here that is an absolutely blast to use.

With all of that being said, the single player is easily the highlight of this game. It's a well-polished machine that stays fun from start to finish and it shows that a fair amount of ingenuity went into it. Sure there are the occasional glitches, but the gameplay feels right and the campaign feels fresh by many standards. Of course with that being said we're killing Nazis here and we've been doing that for far too long. Some of the punches feel desensitized and because of that, aspects of the single player game can feel underwhelming.

Speaking of under-whelming things in Wolfenstein; the multiplayer component feels like a tacked on afterthought. It's riddled with problems from the ground up and doesn't even look or play the same as the single player campaign. What you have here is a very basic set of gameplay types ranging from objectives to team Deathmatch. Beyond the modes of multiplayer there really are no options to fiddle with aside from turning friendly fire on and off, selecting a stage, and determining how long matches will last.

There is a decent set of maps to pick from, but in all honesty they all feel very similar. With a few exceptions you'll really find it hard to decide whether or not one map is better than another. They're all kind of bland and ultimately boring. Actually, that's really how the gameplay is anyways. There's precious little added to Wolfenstein to give it legs to stand on, though some additions do help ease the pain.

There are three character classes: Engineer, Medic, and Soldier. Each has a basic weapon set, though the Soldier has access to other armaments such as Panzer and Flamethrower. All three classes has a specific responsibility such as the Medic's need to heal, Engineer's ability to supply ammo, and Soldier's penchant for killing. Adding to that is the fact that there are different Veil powers and the ability to upgrade aspects of your avatar. The unfortunate part here is that new players are at a total disadvantage when going up against higher ranked ones. Until you get some upgrades your bullets will basically bounce off anyone who is ranked 30 or higher and it will only take about 2 bullets to knock you out. Sounds fun, right? Thing again!

The unfortunate part is that even once you play enough to upgrade your weapons, get some armor, and power up your Veil abilities it still won't matter. The game is plagued by lag issues and it's incredibly unstable. In just about every match you'll experience lag or network errors of some kind and it can be extremely frustrating. Adding to that is the fact that even if you play enough to win money and buy upgrades, sometimes the network will forget all of that and reset you to zero. It's a killer to say the least.

Graphically Wolfenstein has two different styles. The single player game looks great with some nice textures, solid animation, and a dramatic use of lighting which all comes together to help create an impressive atmosphere. The multiplayer, however, is the exact opposite. It's ugly. Real ugly. Seriously, it's almost like the game was developed with two different engines and the one used for multiplayer is the red-headed stepchild. Generic character models, muddy textures, boring weapons, and weak effects ruin the experience. At least the single player campaign is nice to look at!

As far as the audio is concerned things don't get much better. The voice acting is pretty bad, the music is cliché, and the sound effects don't exactly do much to improve the experience. On top of all that, the volume controls out of the box are horrifically flat and loud. I had to drop my system's volume by more than twenty points in order to have it at the same level every other game in my collection at. There are also some rather obnoxious pitches in the volume as well as other glitches such as voices that cut out, static, and missing effects.

Ultimately Wolfenstein isn't a game worth running out and buying. We've been killing Nazis, zombie Nazis, and demon Nazis for so long that what Wolfenstein brings to the table feels terribly cliché. The adding of supernatural powers to play with is a plus and I really appreciated the dynamic weapons brought to the table in the single player campaign. If you're just in it for the single player then I'd say this one is a very worthwhile rental. It's not the best at what it does, but it's fun and diverse enough to keep FPS fans happy until the credits role. If you do happen to check the game out, though, don't bother with the multiplayer aspect. It's painful to experience sometimes and it just sucks the fun right out of the room.

Wolfenstein gets 3.5 dead Nazis out of 5.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

DVD Review: Transformers 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition

Back in July, Shout! Factory released a boxed set of one of the most iconic cartoon television series of all time. With sixteen DVDs, all 98 episodes, cool pack-ins, and hours of bonus content, the Transformers: 25th Anniversary "Matrix of Leadership" Edition was a force to be reckoned with. It was available through Shout! exclusively for a short time and will be hitting other retailers this week. At an MSRP of $169.99 the price tag is kind of hefty, especially for fans who own the original Rhino release, but the cost of admission is oh so worth it. This is one of the most revered shows from the 80's and it is one of the cartoon franchises that actually withstood the test of time.

Due to the fact that I spent a greater part of my childhood watching Transformers and playing with the toys (I still have all of them somewhere), it's only natural that I look fondly on those memories. Over the past few years we've all had the opportunity to take a look at things we used to enjoy when we were younger. Whether they were TV shows, cartoons, or films, several classics have hit DVD recently. For better or worse these are all just what we remember them being. Sometimes we may shake our heads in disbelief that we used to watch a particular program, or just chuckle at the ridiculousness of it all, but I have to say Transformers has remained as awesomely entertaining as I recall. Sure there may be bits that defy logic and seem corny, but we're talking about sentient robots from another planet who can transform into cars. Logic be damned.

Transformers originally came out in 1984 after Hasbro was looking for a new toy-line to capitalize on. Their attention turned to Japan and soon enough the idea for Transformers was born. Though several series have come out over the years (and we all know about the live-action movie franchise), the one that is revered the most is the original (sometimes referred to as "Generation 1"), which is what we have in hand today.

Transformers' original series ran from 1984 to 1987 and wrapped up with four seasons, 98 episodes, and an animated movie (which is not included here unfortunately). The show, like many others, featured episodic adventures from week to week with the occasional overarching plotline to give things a more thematic feel to them. The quality of the episodes ranged dramatically as you'd expect and there was something of a decline towards the latter half of the series. Still, no matter how bad the episodes got they were entertaining and worth celebrating for the sake of nostalgia.

The series begins on a planet far away called Cybertron. This high-tech world is in the midst of chaos as its two entities; the Autobots and Decepticons, are locked in battle for control of the world. The key here is energy and in order to find new sources of it the Autobots leave Cybertron, only to be pursued by their foes. They make their way through an asteroid field and crash on a seemingly uninhabited planet. Every robot is more or less destroyed in an instant, and it's not until four million years have passed that suitable technology has been created on the planet to initiate repairs. The Autobots and Decepticons are brought back to life and I'm sure you can guess by this point that the planet in question is Earth.

Soon after their revival, the Decepticons begin plundering Earth's resources to construct a shuttle that will take them back home. In the mind of their leader, Megatron, the Autobots are history and now there's nothing standing before him in his quest to rule the universe. Fortunately for us the Autobots survived as well and their leader, Optimus Prime, heads the charge and organizes his troops to protect our planet and stop Megatron in the process. This is the basic story found in the three part episode "More Than Meets the Eye" that sets up Transformers, introduces the core characters, and gets the ball rolling for things to come.

After the premier, the first few episodes of the series feature some formulaic one-shot stories that depict Megatron concocting ways to destroy the Autobots, or endanger Earth. Naturally the good guys prevail in the end in just about every episode. This is typical for something of the 80's Saturday morning variety, but things get interesting as more characters are introduced. In the episodes that follow, Skyfire and the Dinobots (Grimlock, Slag, and Sludge) are brought into the fold and shake things up a bit. This is followed by another solid three-parter entitled, "The Ultimate Doom", which sees Megatron gaining control of humanity via mind-control and working on bring Cybertron into Earths' orbit. Let's just say he dreams big and has the resources to pull something like this off.

After those episodes more characters are introduced such as the Insecticons and Constructicons. These episodes all lead up to the anticlimactic conclusion of the first season, though to be fair the transition into the second season is virtually seamless. This second season is where the bulk of Transformers' episodes came from and will undoubtedly be what you recall the most.

There are a couple of interesting episodes to kick the season off here and then things get silly with "Dinobot Island". I say silly because Prime sends the Dinobots to an island full of temporal rifts, which leads to the Decepticons unlocking some of its power and unleashing cowboys and pirates across the globe. From there some standout episodes such as "Changing Gears", "A Prime Problem", and "Attack of the Autobots" come through. There are a few mediocre ones in between and a couple of two-part episodes as well. Right up through to the end, the second season is a blast and the good far outweighs the bad.

It's at this point that the animated movie came out (you can find DVDTalk's review here) and brought about a certain climax that I won't discuss. All I'm going to say is that Optimus Prime takes his leave of the series for now and things are left in the hands of Rodimus Prime. The third season picks up with a five-part story called "The Five Faces of Darkness". This was really good and introduced a whole bunch of new faces, both good and evil. From here the show kind of meanders around for a bit up until the end, with the noteworthy "Return of Optimus Prime" making the journey worthwhile.

Now, as entertaining as Transformers is, there's no denying that the idea for the show and its characters were born out of the desire to sell a toy product to kids. We saw it with G.I. Joe, He-Man, and several other cartoons from the time period. Out of all of them though, I truly feel that Transformers was the only one to successfully withstand the test of time. Again, there are several cheesy bits to be found within the 98 episodes found in this boxed set, but the bulk of the collection is every bit as good as you remember it being. That's something truly special.

To read the rest of the review including a dissection of the Packaging, Video, Audio, and Supplemental Features please continue to the full review at DVD Talk.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Xbox 360 Impressions: Magna Carta 2

So, Magna Carta 2 just showed up on my doorstep complete with 360 Faceplate, Art book, and, um, a bigger art book. Before cracking the game open my initial impressions were, "Hey! Bewbs! Sexy legs!" I mean, just look at the art direction by Kim Hyung Tae...

Unfortunately the game's graphics don't actually match the perverse finesse that Tae can bring through his illustrations. Still, the graphics don't seem to be all that bad. A little bland, some choppy animations, and it's a little soft on the details, but it's not "bad" looking. The cut scenes are rather underwhelming though, and I can't help shake the feeling that this game was in gestation for a while. Things just seem kind of dated from a visual standpoint. The audio, however, is pretty solid. With a dub that's holding up pretty well (full of English anime dub vets such as Steve Blum, Laura Bailey, and Travis Willingham) and a decent RPG soundtrack, this piece of the puzzle fits just fine.

Now, this is a long haul kind of RPG, I'd imagine. Considering I'm only a couple of hours in please keep in mind these are just my initial impressions of the game. And those initial impressions are... it's kind of boring.

Some games just grab you right out of the gate and others are a slow burn that take their time drawing you in. Magna Carta 2 is the latter.

You start off as an amnesiac named Juto living on an island. The big mystery is you have some fear of real swords and resign yourself to weilding a stick (it's not that big though, and Juto doesn't talk softly). Shortly after the game picks up and you kill some crabs with your wooden sword (generally you need medication to get rid of crabs, but I guess a piece of wood works as well) all hell breaks loose. It would seem that the island is smack dab in the middle of two opposing military forces, originally named North and South. Seriously, whoever came up with that one is a genius. Well, the island has something on it known as a Guardian that the North wants, and the South wants to prevent them from having.

From the South area a princess with a name that eludes me right now (she's the sexy girl above) and a massive beastly guy named Argo come to town for some directions. One thing leads to another and Juto is playing tourguide for these two. It would appear that his friend Melissa has headed off to the caves where the Guardian is, and that's where the Northerners are, so yeah... Well, Junto tweaks during a fight against the Guardian and gives us a hint at the past he can't remember. Queue up some dry conversations, another battle, and the death of someone close to Juto (I'll give you a hint, it's not Santa Claus), and the game sets you on the path to confront the North as a part of the South. Like I said I'm only a couple of hours into the game and none of the story is really popping yet.

The gameplay is pretty straightforward, action-RPG fair as well. You run around a world map and take on quests similar to what you would do in an MMORPG. You can also enter and exit combat at any point when you come across an enemy. This is fine as well, but nothing original really. You also have standard attacks that fill up a guage which allows you to use special attacks. If you use too many attacks without giving your character much of a break then you'll enter something known as Overdrive, which increases power, quickly followed by Overheat, which freezes the character for a time. This can be exploited once you use other party members and you can string together attacks and increase damage. There seems to be some potential here, so I look forward to getting into that some more (after 2 hours I JUST got to a point where I have other party members to use).

I'm really just barely scratching the surface of what this game has to offer, but right now I have to say that I'm not really feeling it. I mean, it's not bad, but it's not exactly something that's making me feel the pull to go back and play. Hopefully that opinion will change as I get further into it and explore more of the world, see the combat system more, and some of the story unfolds. Until then, leave this one on your radar if you enjoyed the first game on the PS2, or if you're just looking for a new RPG. Then again, with Dragon Age: Origins just around the corner Magna Carta 2 may not really take off with the populous.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Xbox 360 Review: Dark Sector

Okay, okay, I realize that Dark Sector actually came out in March of 2008. You know what though? I just picked it up for a measely seven bucks on eBay. I figured what the hell. For the cost of a super-sized Big Mac meal at McD's I'd give the game a shot. Turns out I liked it quite a bit!

In Dark Sector you play as...okay, I didn't actually pay attention to the cut scenes, they were pretty bad. Let's just say you play as a super-secret spy sent to some place full of people with bad Russian accents. Some type of virus, or something, has been released that is turning the populous into zombie-like creatures of varying degrees of insanity. Some are little more than bloated farmers with shovels while others are gray-skinned alien-looking-things with...shovels. There are also some guys with guns who like to shoot at you and these shovel-packing zombies.

The gameplay more or less feels like a hybrid of other, more popular titles. The shooting and exploring feels very similar to Resident Evil 4, but the cover mechanic and simulated roadie-run give Dark Sector a definite Gears of War feeling. There's also a nice survival horror tint to everything and there are plenty of puzzles to rack your brain over as well.

The game infects you with this virus early on. So instead of being a random spy with a gun, you're given a bitchin glaive that acts like a boomerang. You can throw it to your heart's content and as the game progresses it even powers up. You can remote control it, power up the shot, or infuse it with elements such as fire, electricity, and ice. On top of that you can also use pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles. Further powers bestowed upon you include a shield that deflects projectiles and the ability to become invisible for a short period of time. The only problem with some of the latter powers is that you don't really get them until past the halfway point. You'll feel like "oh cool! I can turn invisible now!" just before the game ends so that's kind of disappointing.

Dark Sector is made up of 10 Chapters and most all of those Chapters ends with a slick boss fight. There's a massive guy you have to take down in a church, an invisible monster you have to outsmart, and a slightly more powerful nemesis infected with the same strand of the virus as you. All in all there's some nice variety here with regards to the bosses, though I must admit that I was let down due to the "rinse, wash, and repeat" strategy it took to beat most of them. The same can be said for the regular enemies of the game. While they offer a nice challenge at points, the AI isn't the brightest and each firefight is approached in the same manner. The only thing that changes is the amount of enemies thrown at you at a time. Despite that, the powers the game gives you makes each battle feel rewarding in its own way.

Now, let's just make it clear that Dark Sector is a fun game to play. The powers are a blast to exploit and the overall action the game promotes is quite solid. The campaign actually takes roughly 7 to 8 hours and offers up a nice bit of challenge even on the normal difficulty setting. With that being said there are the aforementioned flaws that stand out, but a few others as well. The game glitches frequently and you'll often get shot through walls by enemies, see bodies floating in mid air, and even watch as enemies walk right through explosions almost as if they didn't even happen. It's kind of frustrating to say the least and the game definitely could have used some more polish.

If you have a few bucks kicking around you could do far, far worse than Dark Sector. Sure nobody plays online anymore, but the single player campaign is a pretty good time and the achievements are easy to get. I'm glad I picked this one up and really got a kick out of the vision the development team brought to the game. Granted the "vision" was more or less to copy what other games have done, but the setting is interesting and I rather enjoyed the powers the protagonist is packing.

Dark Sector gets 3 decapitated heads out of 5.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This past week

Okay, so this past week has been kind of insane at my real job. My choice for the week was either to talk about games or play them.... I think you can guess which way I went.

Just wrapped up Halo 3: ODST with 1,000 out of 1,000. Woo hoo! In case you're having a hard time with the audio files I wanted to pass along a link that helped me out significantly. That was the last achievement I had to get and with this map in hand, er, on my laptop, I was able to pull it together in about an hour. Oh, and if you're trying for the achievements Deja Vu and Endure are every bit as difficult as you'd think they would be. Classic is relatively simple though. Just do the Uplift Reserve mission and drive past everything.

What's next for me? Well, I'm thinking about going through some of the backlog titles again. However, there are several games on the way in October that will simply/hopefully be too good to pass up.

Uncharted 2 looks sick and I can't wait to get my hands on that one. I loved the first game and definitely will see what Naughty Dog has cooked up for the sequel. I mean, this is what Indiana Jones games should be, but aren't. Hopefully Drake won't nuke the fridge.

MagnaCarta 2. This follow up to the PlayStation 2 RPG features some awesome art design by Korean artist Hyung-Tae Kim. The first game was a decent adventure and the second looks to be on par with expectations. What are the expectations you ask? How about efeminate heroes and ridonkulously busty heroines in skimpy attire?

Borderlands. This one has had a fascinating development cycle and I love the new art style. The whole apocalyptic vibe from the atmosphere looks really cool as well. This is definitely one I'll be checking out.

Oh, and Forza 3, DJ Hero, and some game called Tekken 6 will be out as well by the time Halloween roles around. Looks like it's going to be a good month! Personally I can't wait for November though. Bring on Modern Warfare 2 and Dragon Age!

Toad out.