Thursday, June 18, 2015

Splinter Cell: Blacklist Review

Out of all the different gaming genres out there, the stealth genre is one of the few genres that I have only recently looked into.  While I have played some games that contain elements of stealth like the Batman Arkham games, Splinter Cell: Blacklist is my first official foray into the stealth genre.  With that said, however, is Blacklist a good game?
The story follows series protagonist Sam Fisher and his newly formed team 4th Echelon, as they are in a race against time to stop a terrorist group known as the Engineers.  The Engineers' plan is to initiate a series of attacks known as the Blacklist, and each day, the Engineers will target something different and vital to the U.S.A., until the American government pulls out all American soldiers that have been deployed around the world.  Unfortunately, Blacklist's story isn't that good, and this is because this is a typical story about terrorists who plan to spread chaos, and only one group is able to stop them.  It's formulaic and predictable, plus the main bad guy of the game, Sadiq, isn't that interesting.  Another character in the game, a member of 4th Echelon named Charlie, annoyed me as his many attempts at being funny fell flat.
My final gripe with the story involves a certain level in the game.  At one point, Sam Fisher learns that one of Sadiq's high-ranking men, Nouri, has been captured and sent to Guantonamo Bay, and instead of getting permission from the U.S. government to interrogate Nouri, Sam Fisher, with assistance from fellow member Briggs, infiltrates the prison posing as a prisoner so he can find and interrogate Nouri.  It made me why wonder why Fisher went through all of the trouble of infiltrating Guantonamo Bay, when they could have easily just gotten permission to interrogate the man.
Even though the story of Splinter Cell: Blacklist isn't good, the gameplay greatly makes up for it by being really good, challenging, and rewarding.  Compared to other games in the stealth genre, Blacklist is a lot more active when it comes to pacing, it's a game that encourages players to be mobile, rather than stay in one spot most of the time.  Another way Blacklist differentiates itself from other games in the genre is in its ranking system that awards points for playing the game using one of three different playstyles: Ghost, Panther, and Assault. 
 Ghost involves sneaking by enemies and using non-lethal methods such as stun guns and sleeping gas to take out enemies.  Panther is like Ghost only you're using silenced weapons and lethal takedowns to take out enemies.  Assault speaks for itself, as it's all about causing a ruckus and letting the enemies know that you're here and in the open.  This system encourages experimentation as you can either focus on honing one playstyle or using a combination of the three methods.  However, you may have to shift some tactics during a mission as sometimes there may be certain parameters involving a mission's current objectives, like avoiding enemy detection or causing any casualties.
At the end of a mission, points earned from one of the three playstyles are tallied up, as well as additional points for beating the mission within a certain time limit, finding hidden paths, and hiding bodies.  You'll also earn cash which can be used to purchase new gear and weapons for Sam Fisher, or it can be used to upgrade the Paladin, your flying HQ, and some parts of the plane you upgrade will potentially open up special bonuses for Fisher such as faster health regeneration, more slots to hold gadgets, or new weapons to purchase and unlock.
Besides the main missions, there are also special missions members of 4th Echelon offer that are varied from each other.  For example, missions that the member Grim offers involve completing different objectives, and should you get spotted by a guard, it's an instant mission failure and you have to start from the beginning.  Missions offered by a man named Kobin will have you making your way through a level, eliminating all enemies that are in the current section of a level, and if you get spotted, reinforcements will be called in, increasing the number of enemies to get rid of and also making things more challenging.  Splinter Cell: Blacklist is not an easy game, and there were plenty of "trial and error" moments which often resulted in me reloading from the last checkpoint, but at the same time, though, it felt rewarding once I managed to make my way through a section that was giving me trouble.
Splinter Cell: Blacklist has good visuals, and one of my favorite aspects of the visuals is that any new objectives you receive will often flash up in front of you, either on the side of a wall, or out in the distance.  While the voice acting is good, at times the person who voices Sam Fisher, Eric Johnson, sounds like he's sleepwalking through his performance.  The music, though very subtle, manages to make things more tense as you're sneaking around and taking out bad guys.
As someone that has only recently gotten into the stealth genre, I very much enjoyed playing Splinter Cell: Blacklist.  While the story wasn't anything special, the gameplay makes up for this by being fun and challenging, but also rewarding.
Final Score: 8/10

Sunday, June 14, 2015

E3 & Blog Update

Today is the start of this year's E3, and over the next four days we can expect plenty of new games to be unveiled at the show.  On my old blog I did a top 10 countdown of games that I was looking forward to that were shown at E3.  I'll be doing it again this year but this time I'm doing things slightly differently.  My new process is simple: make a list of all the games that interested me which were at the conference, narrow it down to ten games, write up something in Word, and then post it to the blog.  This process is much easier and beneficial for both me and the reader.
As of right now, you can expect reviews of Splinter Cell Blacklist, Gears of War 2, and Gears of War: Judgement to be posted this month.  Next month, though, in addition to the usual round of game reviews, there's going to be a movie review put up that month (Hint: It's a movie that's celebrating its 30th anniversary and requires some gigawatts in order to watch it).

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

No More Heroes Review

The Nintendo Wii is a system that has a strong collection of titles such as Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl, among many other great games that are available for the system.  It also had its share of games that were hidden gems, games that were overlooked by most people, including Madworld, the remake of Klonoa, and 2008's No More Heroes.
The story follows a man named Travis Touchdown, a nerd who buys a beam katana off the Internet and is convinced into joining a mysterious organization known as the United Assassins Association by a woman named Sylvia, who also runs the organization.  Travis firsts starts out at #11 on the ranking list, but if he manages to eliminate the other ranked assassins, he will become the #1 assassin in the UAA, and Travis will also achieve his personal goal of scoring it with Sylvia, which she promised for Travis if he reached #1.  As you can see, the story for No More Heroes doesn't exactly take itself too seriously, as evidenced by the game's writing and cast of eccentric characters.  All of the assassins Travis fights have their own unique and bizarre personalities; some highlights include Dr. Peace, who we are first introduced to via a song he performs in the middle of a baseball stadium, a high school ninja assassin named Shinobu, and the superhero Destroyman.  Travis Touchdown is also a cool protagonist; he's brash, funny, and he knows how to handle his beam katana in combat.
No More Heroes' gameplay is a mixture of open world exploration and hack and slash combat.  Before Travis can participate in the next ranked fight, he must earn a certain amount of cash that has to be deposited into an ATM once he achieves the required amount.  In order to earn cash, Travis must complete odd jobs and carry out hitman contracts given to him by a local assassination group, though you can also earn cash from killing enemies in combat or from opening up dumpsters scattered around Santa Destroy.  The odd jobs Travis can choose from are rather unique, as they'll have you doing things such as mowing lawns, collecting coconuts, or finding lost cats.  Hitman contracts will have Travis either eliminating a specific target, or fighting enemies under certain parameters like being only able to perform wrestling moves on enemies or only having one bit of health left when starting the fight.
Cash can also be spent on other things as well like new beam katanas, clothes, or to rent tapes from a video store that allow Travis to learn new wrestling moves.  Unfortunately, exploring the town of Santa Destroy isn't that interesting because the town only serves as a means to funnel you to the different important locations you need to go to.  Plus the town feels lifeless as well, with very few pedestrians present onscreen as you travel around town.
Fortunately, the combat in this game fares much better.  Using your beam katana to slice and dice enemies feels fun and satisfying, and there is some strategy involved when fighting enemies.  Travis can shift between a high and low stance with his beam katana when fighting and some enemies can only be attacked by striking at them in a high or low stance.  There's also a dodge roll Travis can use when he is locked onto an enemy, which is useful when dodging attacks that are coming at you or from someone else nearby.  Enemies can also be stunned with a kick when fighting, and if they get dazed it means you can finish off an opponent with a pro-wrestling move.  The boss fights are also fun and varied, and each assassin brings in their own tactics to mix things up, meaning the fights never feel similar to each other.
No More Heroes other big problem, besides the forgettable open world, is that your method of progression through the game is repetitive.  You'll start to realize early on that the game doesn't really stray from its formula of "Earn money, deposit money, and fight the next ranked assassin," because of this, it can feel like a grind at times.  Though the feeling of repetition is offset by the fact that the payoff for getting the right amount of money to pay the entry fee is that you'll be fighting another creative assassin.
The biggest strength of the visuals is the cel-shaded art style the game has, which gives everything a unique feel and look.  Though the game does look bland at times, especially the town of Santa Destroy.  The voice acting is great and it backs up the strong writing of this game, and the game's soundtrack is one of the most catchiest and energetic soundtracks I have heard in a game.
In spite of some design problems, No More Heroes still shines due to its story, writing, fun combat, and its sense of style present throughout the game, making this a unique and interesting experience that should be played.
Final Score: 8/10