Saturday, August 21, 2021

Thank You.


This week, GamerGuy's Reviews hit an important milestone.  We crossed 50,000 views.

Numbers don't lie.

To say I'm excited is an understatement.  I'm ecstatic!

I'm happy with how far the website has come.  When I started doing reviews back in 2015, I didn't know what to expect.  I was a high school senior gearing up for college and I decided to start writing game reviews as a way to practice my writing skills and talk about games.

My first reviews were pretty basic compared to the ones I write now.  Back then, three pages was my maximum length.  Now, the average review takes four to five pages.  As they say, the more you write, the better you get.

I've covered a diverse array of titles.  From shooters to platformers to action adventure experiences, I sometimes surprise myself with what I reviewed back then and what I review now.  Yet, as much as I like reviewing games, there have been challenges.

The biggest challenge, and one I still deal with, is writing on a regular basis.  Look through the archives and you'll notice plenty of instances where there were no reviews at all for a month, or only one article published.  Factors like school and work tended to be the contributing factor, which in turn affected my creative drive.

2017 was the toughest year in particular because the job I worked at the time was terrible and made me feel empty.  If you look at the reviews I published that year, they're more negative and nit-picky than usual.  I was miserable, and I came close to calling it quits, but I didn't.

I persevered and came out on top.  Even last year, when I was unsure whether I wanted to focus on my website or on the train-wreck that was Will and Matt's Excellent Podcast, I decided on the former because I love video games, and I love writing about video games.

Thanks for the support.  I don't plan on stopping anytime soon, but at the same time, I want to evolve what it is that I do into something bigger and better.

I envision GamerGuy's Reviews as a multimedia project, with both the website and YouTube doubling as outlets for my reviews, interviews, and whatever else I decide to come up with.

Now, if you excuse me, the gamer-guy has some games to play!

Friday, August 20, 2021

Goldeneye 007 (Wii) Review


Editor's Note: This game has already been reviewed.  However, that review is outdated and poorly written.  Consider this a "Revisited" on Goldeneye for the Wii.  If you wish to see what 18 year old me had to say about Goldeneye, click here.

It's 1 A.M.  The house is silent except for the sound of gunfire coming from the bedroom.  Inside, four boys are fumbling with boomerang controllers and playing Goldeneye 007 on a rinky-dink TV.  With a deep single-player campaign and hectic split-screen multiplayer, Goldeneye 007 was both a great Bond game and proved making a console FPS could work.  In the years following its release, there were failed cash grabs like Goldeneye: Rogue Agent and planned remasters that never got released due to licensing issues.  In 2010, Activision announced a remake of Goldeneye, one which replaced the blocky head of Pierce Brosnan with the smoothly textured face of Daniel Craig.

James Bond is sent to Russia to sabotage a chemical weapons plant run by General Ouromov.  Joining him is 006, Alec Trevelyan.  Things seem to be running smoothly until Alec is captured and executed before Bond's eyes.  Bond detonates the explosives and narrowly escapes the facility.  Months later, Bond is on the trail of the Janus group, who stole an EMP-resistant helicopter and an EMP satellite codenamed Goldeneye.  Turns out Janus is run by Alec, who wants to steal money from the corporations and banks of England before wiping out all traces of his crime with the satellite.

Goldeneye 007 follows the beats of the 1995 film.  Where the two differ is the tone and setting.  The movie dealt with the fallout of the Cold War and how the past comes back to bite you when you least expect it.  Alec Trevelyan wanted to use the Goldeneye satellite for revenge after England handed over the Cossacks to the Soviet Union at the end of WWII.  Trevelyan himself was a Cossack and narrowly escaped execution, but his parents didn't.  Despite the serious subject matter, the film balanced it with humor, action, and the suave demeanor of Pierce Brosnan.

Forget bungee jumping, Craig's Bond doesn't need one to jump off a dam, because logic is for pansies!

This updated take swaps out Pierce Brosnan with Daniel Craig and the Cold War for the Financial Recession.  Comical characters like CIA agent Jack White and the hacker Boris are cut completely, while Xenia Onatopp is less a sexual hyena and more a tough woman.  These changes work well to make Goldeneye fit in with the grittier Craig films, but some of the charm is lost.  Zukovsky isn't a goofy Russian mob boss; instead, he acts and dresses like a henchman.  Trevelyan is less interesting as a bad guy since his backstory was excised and now, he's only doing it for the money.  Fans might be turned off by the changes, but the campaign itself is fun and exciting.

Despite its namesake, Goldeneye 007 is less a remake and more a reimagining.  There are nods to the N64 title, like the recreation of the sniper tower from the opening level, but the game is more intent on doing its own thing, and for the better, in my opinion.  Goldeneye 007 plays like a modern FPS.  Iron sights?  Check.  Regenerating health?  Check.  Limited sprint?  Check.  Unlike Quantum of Solace, which felt like Call of Duty with a 007 mod, this feels like a genuine Bond game meant for the modern audience.  In an essence, its Eurocom taking what they did with the PS2 port of Quantum of Solace and doing it again with a bigger budget and scope.

Levels are well-designed and give the player freedom of choice to use stealth or go in guns-a-blazing.  However, you're encouraged to do the former than the latter.  Taking out security cameras and monitoring enemy patrols can be a tense experience, and the excellent sound design clearly indicates to the player if they're about to be spotted.  When a guard notices you, the music goes quiet, and in those few seconds, you need to terminate him before he calls in reinforcements.  Most stages feature branching paths and hidden pathways you can use to your advantage, although the stealth system has one caveat that I'll get to later.

The tank level is a bit more explosive than its N64 counterpart.

Additionally, the controls are excellent.  Sure, you can be a boring normie and use a traditional controller, but why do that when you can use the superior Wii remote and nunchuck?  Gunning down enemies by pointing and shooting is incredibly accurate with the Wii remote.  Multiple options are available to help you find that sweet spot, but the default set-up works fine.  My only issue is that trying to look up or down causes the Wii remote to lose its signal.  This can make shooting thugs who are above or below you a hassle, but it's not too big of an issue.

Though the game is rooted deep into modern shooter mechanics, Goldeneye 007 has a few old-school flourishes mixed into the gameplay.  A "007 Classic" difficulty option removes regenerating health and utilizes health and armor pick-ups.  In a nod to the N64 original, playing on higher difficulties gives you more objectives to accomplish.  Failure to complete all them automatically lowers the difficulty.  I like this system because instead of blasting through the levels to reach the end like in most modern shooters, you need to take your time and explore your surroundings.  Plus, secondary objectives aren't too obtuse nor are they hard to find since an indicator tells you when one is close by.

Unfortunately, gadgets are non-existent.  Like in Quantum of Solace, Bond uses a smartphone to take pics, disable alarms, hack sentry guns, etc.  As I said earlier, the stealth is great, but it's also a bit broken.  Enemies disappear after death, so guards never get concerned when their buddies start dropping like flies.  The enemy AI is generally good, but it's during these portions that their ineptitude shines through.  007 Legends attempted to fix this by not making bodies disappear, but the trade-off was the arenas were too large, making it hard to tell where everyone was, plus you couldn't hide bodies.

Natalya is back, but don't worry, she's not a pain to escort.

Beating the game takes seven to eight hours.  Afterwards, there's split-screen and online multiplayer.  Split-screen features fewer modes, but you get access to modifiers like melee only and paintball mode, as well as Bond villains like Oddjob and Baron Samedi.  The online servers for the Wii version are long dead.  However, Goldeneye was ported to HD systems as Goldeneye 007: Reloaded.  It's the same game but with HD visuals and a new challenge mode, but as of this writing, the servers for that version are still up.  Your choice of what version to get boils down to whether you want HD graphics or not.

About graphics, this is one of the best-looking third-party Wii titles.  Character models and environments are detailed, and the game extensively uses motion capture to give the action a cinematic feel.  If you played Dead Space Extraction, the emphasis on the first-person perspective during cut-scenes will feel familiar.  Environments feature plenty of destructibility as bullets rip through furniture and other objects.  I also loved some of the little visual tricks Eurocom employed, like making the dancers in the nightclub level silhouettes and distorting Bond's movement when he's on the dance floor.

Sound is excellent.  Daniel Craig and Judi Dench reprise their roles as Bond and M and do a stellar job, as does the rest of the cast.  Gunfire is loud and enemies make a satisfying "URK!" when you shoot them in the head.  Bullets rain on to the floor as you fire away, and the music is great.

The Archives is one of the highlights of the campaign.

Out of all the Craig-era Bond games, Goldeneye 007 is the best of the bunch.  The reason why this game works so well, in my opinion, is it doesn't try to pay lip-service to the original.  It's more focused on doing its own thing, and I think it succeeds in that regard.  Other Bond games during this time struggled to deliver good gameplay, often focusing too much on action and too little on stealth.  Goldeneye strikes a happy balance between the two play-styles, and the result is a solid shooter.

Final Score: 8/10

Friday, August 13, 2021

007: Quantum of Solace (Xbox 360/PS2) Review

2002's Die Another Day left the 007 series at the crossroads.  The film didn't do well critically and while it was a financial hit, fans didn't appreciate how absurd James Bond had gotten.  Meanwhile, the financial failure of Goldeneye: Rogue Agent and From Russia With Love led to EA losing the rights.  In 2006, James Bond returned to cinemas with Casino Royale, a reboot which focused on a younger, lesser-experienced Bond, and had a grittier tone compared to previous outings.  The same year, Activision picked up the rights to 007, and would release their first title, Quantum of Solace, in 2008.

Loosely based on the film of the same name, the game follows James Bond, who is on the hunt for members of a clandestine organization called Quantum.  His deceased lover, Vesper Lynd, had ties to the group, and he's trying to figure out what they're up to.  Bond's investigation leads him to Dominic Greene, a businessman with ties to Quantum.  Greene has been siphoning Bolivia's water and oil supply with help from the corrupt general Madrano.  Bond teams up with a government agent named Camille to stop Greene and dig up clues on Quantum and its leader, Mr. White.

Despite being called Quantum of Solace, only 25 percent of the game adheres to the movie's story.  The rest is a flashback set around Casino Royale.  It does a competent job recapping the events of the previous movie, but not the movie this game is supposed to be based on.  You're not given much context as to who Dominic Greene is or why Bond wants to know more about Quantum.  The story's biggest weakness is how it's told.  Instead of having actual cut-scenes, the game uses MI-6 video screens where characters discuss what's happening.

License to 360 No-Scope.

It's the laziest form of storytelling possible.  Why bother showing the dogfight between Bond and Madrano when you can have M and Tanner comment on the situation?  It's clear the game was rushed and based on my research, this was a necessity.  Quantum of Solace had a troubled development.  The creative director on the HD version left the project not far into development, and the studio wasn't given much information on Quantum's story, since the movie was plagued with production problems courtesy of the writer's strike.  The makers of the PS2 version had little interaction with the team behind the HD port, so they were left in the cold on a lot of plot information.

Quantum of Solace on 360 and PS2 are both similar and different.  They follow the same story, but where they differ is the gameplay.  While the 360 version is a first-person shooter with elements of third-person combat, the PS2 version is a third-person shooter that emphasizes stealth and platforming.  Additionally, the PS2 version features an extra level based on the Haiti scene from Quantum of Solace, and the stages from the Xbox 360 port are radically different with regards to objectives and level design.

The best way to describe Quantum of Solace on 360 is its Call of Duty with a James Bond skin.  There's a lot of shooting and not a lot of subtlety.  What makes the gameplay unique is its mixture of first and third-person perspectives.  When you take cover, the game switches to a third-person view, but when you're out of cover, it's first-person.  It works great, plus both perspectives have their advantages.  Health regenerates faster when you take cover but in first-person, it's easier to move around your surroundings.

Gunplay is solid.  Bond can carry three weapons, one of which is always his P-99.  There are pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and more.  Scattered across each stage are cell phones, which contain either texts, audio logs, pictures of important objects, or secret weapon locations.  Many shootouts let you use the environment to your advantage.  Enemies will conveniently take cover next to an explosive canister or prop that Bond can shoot, which leads to a Rube Goldberg-like chain of events.  It's incredibly satisfying.  It's not just running and gunning, stealth does crop up from time to time.  Some levels require Bond to sneak by guards and security cameras.  If he is spotted, reinforcements are called in.

Chase scenes have a proper sense of urgency in the PS2 version, whereas in the 360 version, you can take as much time as possible chasing down your target.

On PS2, the combat is more stealth-based and about getting the drop on enemies when they least expect it.  The gameplay puts a bigger emphasis on Bond's resourcefulness, as you'll rely on fire extinguishers and chandeliers to catch thugs off guard.  For example, in the Miami level, Bond can use a forklift to incapacitate some goons standing near a gate.  Doing this opens a way to the rooftops.  You can also carry as many weapons as you like, which is good because ammunition is scarce.  While the enemy count is lower, guns do more damage, so taking cover is essential.

As I mentioned earlier, the PS2 version features most of the same levels from the 360 version, albeit with different layouts.  The opening level set at White's mansion is more subdued than in the 360 version.  The sinkhole level ends with a helicopter boss fight, but instead of just shooting the chopper till it explodes, you need to take out the gunners then the pilot with a sniper rifle.  The last level not only pits you against Dominic Greene but also his right-hand man Elvis, who is absent in the 360 version.

While there are things I like about both games, the biggest problem shared across both versions of Quantum of Solace is a lack of variety.  Previous 007 outings like Agent Under Fire and Everything or Nothing mixed up the shooting with gadgets and vehicle sections.  Quantum of Solace has neither of those.  The game teases you with the possibility of vehicles, but it never happens.  The only gadget in Bond's arsenal is his cellphone, which is used to unlock doors and hack into security cameras.  

This is a problem with all the Craig-era Bond games, Quantum of Solace included.  The realistic take on the character meant you could have him carrying around a laser wristwatch or driving an invisible Aston Martin.  As a result, the gunplay takes center stage.  However, the game does offer plenty of quick-time events.  The 360 version goes a bit overboard with QTE's as even doing takedowns is a QTE, while the PS2 version restricts them to scripted sequences like the part where Bond chases the bomb maker on the cranes.

Quantum of Solace is also incredibly short.  Either version will take you no more than four hours to beat.  On 360, there is online multiplayer for up to 12 players, and according to my research, the servers are still active.  However, I was not able to test the multiplayer.  There are also MI-6 debriefing rooms, which act as mini-museums showing off concept art, character models, and more.  These give you a taste of what could have been, especially when you come across storyboards for unmade cut-scenes based on scenes from Casino and Quantum.  The PS2 version has no bonus content or multiplayer.  Once you beat the campaign, that's it.

Most of the multiplayer modes include standard fare like Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, but there are a couple of unique options, like Golden Gun.

Visually, both versions of Quantum look good.  I was particularly impressed by the PS2 port, which features very detailed character models and environments, which was surprising since this was a late-cycle PS2 release.  The 360 version features destructible environments, and I like some of the little details in this version.  For example, if you shoot car tires, they'll deflate, and locations are packed with all sorts of items to make the levels feel lived in.  It's small stuff, but it gives the levels personality.

Sound design is solid.  Guns sound loud and the voice acting is well-done.  Most of the cast from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace reprise their roles, and they do a good job.  The stand-out is the music, which is fantastic.  It was composed by the same person who did From Russia With Love's game soundtrack, and it sounds great.  It's a classic 007 score that makes extensive use of the 007 theme.

Quantum of Solace is a mixed bag.  The shooting is good, the graphics are solid, and the production values are top-notch.  However, it suffers from a lack of variety, a short campaign, and a jumbled mess of a story. The game often devolves into a shooting gallery where you move from one area to the next, mowing down enemies and taking cover when necessary.  It desperately needed stuff like gadgets and vehicles to keep things interesting.  The closest we get in the 360 version is a level where you control Bond after he's poisoned by Le Chiffre.  The controls are wobbly, his view is distorted, and there's a time limit that adds tension as you try to get him to his car in time.

The PS2 version gets points for trying something different instead of copying Treyarch's work.  It's not perfect, but it's a commendable effort.  Plus, it utilizes proper cut-scenes more than Treyarch's version.  However, it has no extra content beyond the campaign, so the replay value is incredibly low.  If you want lots of shooting and explosions, play the 360 version, but if you want a game that tries to be as Bond as possible, try the PS2 version.

Final Score: 6/10

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Medal of Honor: Infiltrator (GBA) Quick Review

Taking a shooter and putting it on a Nintendo handheld leads to mixed results.  When Call of Duty came to the DS, it attempted to recapture the blockbuster action of its console counterparts, but the games looked like PS1 titles and controlled awkwardly.  The Game Boy Advance saw its share of shooters released on the system, from Doom to Duke Nukem to Medal of Honor.  That last one is important because there were two Medal of Honor games for the GBA, the first was an awful port of Medal of Honor: Underground, while the other was Medal of Honor: Infiltrator.

As Corporal Jake Murphy, you are tasked with stopping Nazi operations in North Africa and Europe.  The plot is minimal to say the least.  Mission details before each stage explain your objectives, while World War II stock footage acts as a segue between levels.  What's most surprising about Medal of Honor: Infiltrator is how it plays.

Instead of a first-person shooter, Infiltrator is a top-down shooter in the vein of classics like Ikari Warriors.  Over the course of 15 levels, you'll shoot Nazis, sabotage their equipment, and infiltrate enemy bases and occupied towns.  The game is subtitled Infiltrator for a reason.  It plays like an arcade shooter, but the old-school gameplay meshes well with the historical setting and it retains that classic Medal of Honor feel.

Enemies are very grenade happy.  Be careful!

Controls are simple.  The d-pad moves, the A button fires, the B button switches weapons, and the left shoulder button reloads your weapon and lets you interact with your surroundings.  Levels are linear but expansive.  They funnel you from one location to the next but feature branching paths to encourage exploration.  Searching houses, bunkers, and camps rewards you with supplies or the location of a bonus objective.  Instead of obtaining weapons from fallen enemies, you switch between pre-determined load outs.

Weapons include the Thompson, the BAR, the M1 Garand, and a pistol.  Each weapon has a sub-weapon.  The Thompson and BAR come with grenades, which you throw by pressing the A button.  The M1 Garand has time bombs, handy if you need to take out a stationary target.  Finally, you get a rocket launcher with your pistol.  Every arsenal has its strengths and weaknesses.  The Thompson isn't powerful, but it has the highest ammo capacity, plus you can carry up to 10 grenades.  The M1 Garand is the strongest rifle, but it has a small ammo count.

Enemies are split between factions, including soldiers, grenadiers, snipers, and troops armed with a Panzerschreck.  Enemy bullets and grenades can knock off a good chunk of health.  If you die, you lose a life and start where you left off.  Lose all lives, and it's game over.  Medal of Honor: Infiltrator is difficult but fair.  Health and ammo is never in short supply as long as you regularly check your surroundings, plus extra lives are earned for completing the mission and all secondary objectives.

As fun as the game is, it's not perfect.  A handful of missions encourage stealth, but the stealth feels like an afterthought.  Enemy patrol patterns are easy to memorize and if you get caught, the alarm is raised.  However, as long as you don't fire your gun, the alarm won't go off.  Often, I found it easier to lure Nazis to one location and pick them off until all of them were dead.  Interspersed between the stages are segments where you pilot a turret and defend the area from invading Nazis.  These sections feel like Duck Hunt but with Germans and are easy to beat.

Explosions abound in Medal of Honor: Infiltrator.

Medal of Honor: Infiltrator is a short game.  The game takes a couple of hours to beat, and the replay value is low.  Beating the campaign unlocks a survival mode and a mode where you must play through the campaign in one sitting.  Multiplayer is a simple one on one mode where you and a buddy fight against each other.  The most unique feature is the inclusion of GBA to Gamecube connectivity.  Connecting your copy of Infiltrator to the Gamecube version of Medal of Honor: Rising Sun lets you use the handheld as a map.  These modes won't hold your interest for long.

Graphically, the game looks great.  The sprite-based characters and war-torn environments are well-designed and it is easy to keep track of your character, even when the action heats up.  The guns sound good, although the compressed remixes of the Medal of Honor tunes do get repetitive.

I went into Medal of Honor: Infiltrator with zero expectations and was pleasantly surprised.  The game could have been a poor-man's emulation of the console titles, but it's not.  Instead, it plays to the GBA's strengths and delivers a fun run and gun shooter that retains what you come to expect from a Medal of Honor experience.  The combat is enjoyable and though the game is lite on content, the experience is fun for what it is.  Those looking for some Nazi-killing action on the go will want to check out Medal of Honor: Infiltrator.

Final Score: 7/10