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Sony PSP game reviews
(To jump straight to the games list, click here.)
On 20 July 2007 i got a Sony PSP and several games for it. This page documents my impressions of the device and its content...
Brief overview of the PSPThe PSP is a beautiful piece of work, technically years in advance of the capabilities of its closest competitor, the Nintendo DS. i got my PSP in July, 2007, about 2 years after i got my Nintendo DS, and when i turned it on for the first time it blew my socks of. The graphics are absolutely lovely - far beyond anything the DS is capable of. Unlike the DS, the PS has only a single screen, but that one screen looks ten times better than both screens of the DS combined.
Some pros and cons of the PSP, compared to the DS:
Ultra-mini HOWTO: converting videos for playback on the PSPTry PSPVC, a GTK application to convert videos to a PSP-compatible format. It provides only a very basic interface but it gets the job done.
Game reviewsTo try to put the following mini-reviews and ratings in perspective, one must understand my play style: i am NOT a "power gamer". i play for relaxation and entertainment. i enjoy looking around the content in a game and moving along at my own pace. i like to play through each level once or twice, and get extremely frustrated if a game is so difficult that it requires you to fully master each level (via 3+ playings) before continuing to the next. As a software developer, i am fairly tolerant of bugs in software, but not at all tolerant of major bugs in console games because once the ROM ships the game cannot be fixed. Thus, console games which exhibit more than the most minor of bugs immediately get added to my shit-list.
Below is my list of games. Click on one to see my rating (on a scale of 1 to 5) and any comments:
The games...Aliens Vs. Predator: Survival of the Fittest, Rating: 3.5
This game *almost* had me. The graphics and sound are absolutely fantastic, but i just can't get over how awkward the controls are. They are essentially the same as those from Monster Hunter Freedom, with the addition of a target-lock feature (which is the same button combination as "straffe", meaning that once a target is in sight you cannot straffe without locking on to the target). Whereas Monster Hunter's lack of a lock-on feature makes the whole game too tedious to play, this game's use of the same controls as Monster Hunter is what ruins it for me. That is, the controls are so far from conventional that they're just too awkward. Perhaps if you're still young and able to learn new tricks, having to use the L and R buttons to rotate the camera (while the analog stick moves you in a complete different direction) is something you can get used to. But not me. Call me an old fart, but that's just how it is. Aaarrrggg, this game could have really been great had it stuck to a move conventional button layout!
PS: the lack of a Jump ability is also terribly annoying, especially considering how the Predators from film history have no problem jumping great heights.
Astonishia Story, Rating: 3
i bought this game because it looked to be a game along the lines of Final Fantasy Tactics, one of my all-time two favourite Gameboy Advance games. In fact it is fundamentally similar, but not as endearing or replayable as FFT. The graphics are nice and there are lots of environmental details, but the game lacks "that certain something" which draws the player in. Maybe it's the campy music (which, luckily, has independently adjustable volume).
i was immediately annoyed by the absolute lack of tutorial/informative data when setting out on the first adventure. Someone says, "guard the staff!" but then doesn't tell us where to go, how to do it, etc. After playing the game for 40 minutes i finally stumbled across the first significant story element, and from there the game continues in a manner conventional to this type of game - get quests from helpless villagers and fullfill them, all the while working towards some end goal. After solving the first quest, though, i was again left with no clues about what the next goal was... so, again, wander aimlessly until something interesting happens.
Aside from the lack of info, another thing which annoys me, but is admittedly rather minor, is the movement - if you bump into something it will assume you want to go around it and will immediately veer your character off to the left or right. This is philosophically wrong and deeply disturbing, and it sometimes leads to entering villages or battles when you really don't want/mean to. Apropos battles - unlike most games of this type, which have random monsters showing up every 1-4 seconds while travelling on the world map, in this game you can see the monsters roaming around and can avoid or attack them as you like (avoiding them isn't always that easy, though).
The UI is quite rich, but this richness would be enhanced by a short tutorial on how to navigate it. Instead, the developers simply assumed that anyone who's going to play it will figure it out or will RTFM. Unfortunately, the menu system has a rather generic look to it, and doesn't seem to fit in (graphically speaking) with the rest of the game. It looks like it would be more suitable for a desktop application than a game.
For fans of games like Final Fantasy and Golden Sun, this is another addition to the library, but not a great one. Not an instant classic, but playable nonetheless. It also seems to lack the flexibility which gives games like Final Fantasy Tactics their high replay value.
Beowulf, Rating: 2.5
Beowulf is almost your typical hack-n-slash adventure, but the developers decided to go a bit crazy and add some features to it which end up making it tedious to play. First and foremost, your hero is accompanied by underlings who follow him around. They're supposed to fight for him, but don't do a very good job of it. They tend to wander around and swing their swords once every 10 seconds or so unless you explicitly command them to do something. Since there are many of them (up to 12, according to the box), this is amazingly tedious (especially when you're also having to fight the bad guys at the same time). Secondly, weapons deteriorate with usage - very quickly. Every 1-2 minutes you're sword/hammer/whatever will break and you have to pick up another from a fallen foe. Tedious in the extreme. Thirdly, and this really pissed me off, when you knock down a foe without killing him, you cannot attack him while he's laying no the ground or trying to stand up. You've got to wait until he stands up before attacks against him can succeed. Not only is that tedious, but extremely unfulfilling - i want to bash the hell out of them while they're laying on the ground.
Graphically and whatnot this game is okay, but the extra pains one has to go through to command his troops, renew his weaponry, and wait on fallen foes to finish standing up ruins for me.
Breath of Fire 3, Rating: 2.5
i was a little hesitant to buy this title because i had the first version on the Gameboy Advance some years ago and hated it (in short, because the story was so disjointed and wandering monsters were enountered every 3.5 seconds). After buying this game, i can honestly say that this is probably the last game of this genre i will ever buy. Like so many games in the "role playing" genre, they are "all roll and no play." Like its direct ancestor, this one suffers from a disjoint story. From a confusing begining, being left with no clue what to do other than walk around (a very large area) until you find something (and no tutorial-level information to assist), to the conventional wandering monsters, this game just grates on the nerves. For every six seconds of walking around on the world map there's two minutes of fighting, and i simply don't have the attention span for that. i want to follow a story (of which i am given little hint during the first hour of play), and i can't focus on a story when i'm spending literally more than 80% of the playing time fighting off wandering monsters.
The general philosophy behind this type of game, i think, is "force the player to level up. This achieves (1) a longer game experience and (2) we can include more powerful monsters." i am strongly of the opinion, however, that the game is about the story and not about wandering monsters. Wandering monsters are no substitute for content. Some games of this genre, such as Golden Sun, achieve an acceptable balance, but most fall flat here, depending 90% on wandering monsters to fill the play time. (The Final Fantasy series of games is also a great example of monster-mania.)
To stop complaining for a moment... the graphics in this game are nicely done and the music is "okay". Apropos music and sound: another strong annoyance are the sound effects. Specifically, when in "campsite mode" (which is where you rest up and save), there is a repetative high-pitched sound which is supposed to be a cricket chirping, and it literally hurts my ears, forcing me to mute the device every time i go into camping mode.
Die-hard fans of "roll playing" will certainly enjoy this game, but people who want a cohesive story probably won't. Maybe the story grows stronger after the first hour of play, but i won't play it long enough to find out.
Brothers in Arms: D-Day, Rating: 3
WW1/WW2/Viet Nam-genre games are probably my overall favourite type of video game, or at least they tie with the sci-fi genre. While i am not so impressed with Brothers in Arms for the Nintendo DS, this variant has a much better presentation, better controls, and richer game play (that is, there is more you can do during play than run around and shoot the closest enemy). In my opinion it is inherently difficult to get a first-person shooter working 100% well on a handheld because controlling the character can be so awkward (curiously, this is even more so on via DS touchscreen than via conventional cross-pads or analog sticks). However, the developers did a fairly good job of making the character controlable (well, more or less), and the ability to take an active part in controlling your squad members is a big plus (e.g. you can tell them to lay down supressing fire, blow up a fence, follow you, etc.).
i guess this game doesn't enthrall me as much as it could simply because i find the motion controls to be too awkward (but see above), and moving around just doesn't feel natural enough. Trying to get a bead on an enemy requires too much concentration on tapping the controls just right, and this detracts notably from play. The mental process should be "aim at the enemy and shoot," but instead it becomes, "tap up, tap up, no back down a bit, now left a tad, no, not that much... and now tap the R button." In other words, the time is spent concentrating on the controls and not the content. In all likelyhood, the Nintendo Wii's approach to aiming FPS games is the best we're going to see for the foreseeable future, and once you've been spoiled by it, trying to move a character around and aim with an analog stick just seems barbaric by comparison.
Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded, Rating: 4
This title is a collection of 19 "classic" (also known as "legacy") arcade-style games. While that's not something i would normally be interested in, i picked it up primarily because it has the game 1942, which is an arcade classic i used to kick ass at in my childhood (more often than not getting the high score, with 100k-120k points :). Not only are all of the games intact (in their original forms), most also come with one or two optional hacks (e.g. to turn on high-speed shooting). Most (all?) also allow unlimited Continues (as in "insert coin in the next 10 seconds to continue"), the only down-side being that most of the games reset your score to 0 when you continue. Playing any games earns you "coins" which you can use in a slot machine game where the prizes are various "bonuses", like music tracks or additional cheats. While some of the games are impossibly difficult (and to think that people used to play 25 cents to play them!), several of them are endearing classics which will certainly bring hours of entertainment. My favourite is still 1942, but i can get nowhere near the scores i used to get in the arcade (my current top score is 42k, compared to the 100k+ i used to regularly hit as a kid).
Dungeon Siege: Throne of Agony, Rating: 3.5 (but see review)
There's just something satisfying about playing the role of a huge lug who bashes anything standing in front of him. i bought this game because i played the original Dungeon Siege on a PC some years ago and really enjoyed it. The Gameboy DS has a notable lack of dungeoneering games, and i was happy to finally get my hands on a console-based dungeon-hacking game. The graphics and audio are awesome. Equiping different gear (of which there is no shortage) changes the appearance of your character, which is a nice touch. It also offers a "sidekick", a computer-controlled character who follows you around to provide fire support (though late in the game i found myself disabling my sidekicks because they just got in the way and required a resurrection every few minutes).
My main annoyances with this game are that transfering between zones takes so long (there is a really long "Loading..." pause) and that there is absolutely no in-game tutorial info, e.g. what buttons to use to activate abilities, how to upgrade your sidekick's abilities, etc. Because of the lack of tutorial info, i kept wasting my healing potions while trying to figure out the buttons. (What? Read the book?) If the load/transition times weren't so long, i would rate this game at 4 or 4.5, but the horrible load times really detract from play. e.g. when you want to quickly teleport to town to sell off your loot, the transition times take longer than the actual time spent finding the merchant and selling the items (and then, upon returning, you teleport to the start of the level you teleported out of!). Even turning on the high-level map view takes way too long (28 seconds by my count), and activating one of the teleporter artefacts takes about 80 seconds(!), from the first tap of the button until final arrival. Thus, teleporting to town to sell of your loot requires almost 3 minutes of wait time during which you can do nothing but stare at the "loading" screen.
This game allows you to play through it with 3 different character classes, each of which has multiple "upgrade paths" later in the game, so it has a relatively high replay value. Once you've played through the game you can continue with your high-level character and play through it a second time in "Elite Mode", which essentialy means that the monsters are 50 levels higher than they are in normal mode.
Aside from the horrendous wait times, which get exceedingly annoying, this game is recommended for all fantasy-genre fans.
Final Fantasy Tactics, Rating: 3
Final Fantasy Tactics for the Gameboy Advance is, without a doubt, my most-played game of all time. If i've ever had an all-around "favourite game", that would be the one. Thus i jumped at this rendition when it came out. That said, i'm not nearly as happy with this one as i am with its forefather.
This game is much more difficult than the older rendition of the game. Unlike the GBA version, you cannot simply play through the story line - you must spend absurd amounts of time fighting random monsters in order to level up, so that you can be strong enough to take on the encounters in the main storyline. (This is an annoyingly common feature of games in the Final Fantasy franchise.) This leveling up becomes quite tedious after a short while - at 10-15 minutes per fight, the tedium sets in really quickly. Since the older version of the game had no random monsters, i wasn't expecting them in this version and was quite disappointed when i got to the 2nd or 3rd major story element (i.e. battle) and found that the opponents were all much, much too powerful for my party. After googling up on it, it became apparent that there are indeed random monsters... so the leveling up began. Only to find that the wandering monsters are not only more powerful than my PCs, but all seem to have the Counter ability, which essentially means that they get to attack twice as often as my characters do. This "feature" changes the monsters from a mere annoyance to annoyingly difficult.
My second complaint is how the party's starting positions are selected when a battle starts. You are presented with a small irregularly-shaped grid and asked to choose which characters should go on which square of the grid. While this mini-grid represents part of the map, you cannot see the map at all during the setup phase. This is particularly annoying because some of the grid cells end up being physically separated (e.g. by large rocks) from the others, which means that any character you place in them is cut off from the party at the start of the battle. Aside from that annoyance, tapping the button to bring a given character into play will sometimes instead select the previously-placed character and move him to that position. Aarrgghh.
My third complaint is that this game seems to move so slowly, detracting considerably from the story line. So much time is spent leveling up, that one forgets what the hell the story is even about. My game has been running about two hours and i've only been through two story-line battles. The rest of that time has been leveling up, which is not a fast process by any means. Many of the in-play animations are annoyingly long, which only adds to the feeling that the game moves slowly. Healing a group of characters, for example, takes approximately 4 seconds per target character (and up to 5 can be grouped together). Likewise, some monster animations are annoyingly long (e.g. the chocobo often sits there for 3 seconds or so before pecking with his beak).
Enough bitching, though. Graphically, the game is nice but breaks no new ground. Ditto for the audio. The 3D battle maps can be rotated, a nice touch over the strict isometric view of the GBA variant. The character class system is rich and offers considerable replay value. While i will certainly never put as much time into this game as i did its predecessor on the GBA (i played through that 5 or 6 times), i am hoping to be able to play through this game at least once without becoming too frustrated at its slow pace and overly-difficult monster encounters. That said, my patience may not last that long.
Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2, Rating: 3.5
This game is fundamentally similar to SOCOM, and if you like that style of game then this one is certain to entertain you. The graphics are, in a word, superb. The controls are a tiny bit awkward, but i don't have any specific ideas about how they might be significantly improved. There are three different layouts to choose from, yet i find myself yearning for specific elements of two of the layouts, and don't feel quite 100% comfortable with either of them. The one missing feature which would have made this a Killer Game is online multi-player support (though it does have 2-player cooperative support). Another improvement would have been to steal the "dynamic missions" idea from SOCOM, as that adds significantly to the replay value of SOCOM. A minor improvement would be to add checkpoints more often, so that so much of a level doesn't need to be repeated when you get killed.
i was all ready to rate this game at 4+ when i found out just how annoyingly difficult it can be. Few things frustrate me more in games than to have an Easy setting which kicks my ass. The end of the second mission required 6 or 7 attempts to complete and the following mission... screw it. i don't have the patience to endure that type of ass kicking over and over. i wouldn't complain if i had it set to Normal or Hard difficulty, but on Easy the game should be a piece of cake, and instead it's stomping me left and right.
God of War: Chains of Olympus, Rating: 4.75
In this fantasy adventure we play the role of a hero on his quest for redemption. The graphics are arguably the best to ever appear on a handheld console game, out-doing even beautiful games like Dungeon Siege. The game play is easy to learn, fast-paced, and exciting. I have only good things to say about this game. Chains of Olympus is just plain "sweet" (to use the parlance of our times). The beautifully detailed graphics, the subtle environmental effects, the range of sight (far further than in most console games), the scope of the levels, the theatrical music. It's all impressively done.
One immediately noticable nice feature of the game is the seamlessness with which the character moves betwees scenes within a given level. There is no "walk though the door, wait 10-30 seconds for the next zone to load," ad nauseum. The levels each feel as if they are one unit.
All in all, this is a must-have for anyone who enjoys fantasy-genre games.
History Channel: Great Battles of Rome, Rating: 2
i'm a huge fan of the Total War series of PC games, and this game seems to be more or less a little brother to those games. Wargames are, in any case, a hobby of mine, and this type of game generally interests me. That said: this game seems to be pretty lame. The battles themselves are actually fine, presentation-wise. The user interface is awkward, uninformative, confusing to use, and the game has very little tutorial-level information to tell us how to use the confusing interface. (It starts with, "here are your units. When you're happy, click on the Fight button to start the battle," as if you're supposed to somehow know what there is to be happy about.) It appears that one has very little control over a battle once it has started, which makes the game mostly a process of setting up soldiers and pressing the Go button. You can scroll around the field using a free-floating camera, but aside from a couple very general commands, like "rally" and "charge", a battle goes by so quickly that there is little chance to personally move any of the units around. It would seem that the outcome of a battle is more or less a function of how many units you have, where you place your units during setup, and what upgrades they have (surviving units can be upgraded with various abilities). Maybe it's deeper than that, but if it is, it's not terribly obvious. If i wasn't such a big wargaming fan i would probably rate this as a 1.
A big improvement on this game would be the ability to pause a battle, give a unit some orders ("go attack THAT unit"), and then un-pause it. The Total War series of games do this and it makes the battle much more enjoyable and a lot less hectic. As it is, though, once the battle is started you can move units around (individually) but cannot tell them precisely what to do. Presumably they know that when you walk them into an enemy they need to start attacking, but this is not obvious and the game provides no information about it. It is not possible to tell a unit "go attack THAT unit," or "move to THAT location." Instead, you've got to select the unit and control it manually until it reaches the desired point. By the time that happens, the battle is likely to be over. Thus it is not possible to play an active part with more than one or two units in a given battle. Maybe that's realistic, but it doesn't make for good gaming.
KillZone: Liberation, Rating: 4
Since i'm not much of a "twitch gamer", this probably is not a game i would have bought, but it came bundled with my PSP. After a few minutes of playing it i was hooked. It's great fun. The graphics and audio are truly fantastic, with far more atmospheric/environmental effects than one can expect in handheld console game. The perspective is isomorphic, but it's isomorphic on steroids. The game has several online features, such as downloading updates, getting new content, and multi-player support (inter-PSP or over the internet). The multi-player game is a blast and supports a headset, so you can talk to your team-mates.
It has a nice train-as-you-go tutorial mode, which i always consider to be a nice feature of games. Another thing i really like is that once you complete a level you can re-play it to go pick up any items you missed on the first try (e.g. you can upgrade your weapons by picking up boxes of cash hidden on each level). The game is not simply run-and-shoot. It has a rich set of context-sensitive commands, like several different ways to command a cohort (available in missions when you have a so-called "buddy").
You can see a flash-animated demo of the game at killzone.com. Yes, the game really looks as good as that demo implies (and their game programmers are infinitely better than their website programmers!).
My only notable complaint about this game is that when it's set on "Easy", it can still be quite difficult at times. If you find it too difficult to play through, you can swipe a save-game file (13k) i picked up off the net which activates all available power-ups and opens all chapters for play. It is only usable for the EU variant of the game (US variants can be found by googling around). To install it, simply connect to your PSP using USB, find the directory containing your KillZone game files, and replace them with those from this zip file. You will need to re-enter your online login info (assuming you play online) after doing so.
Medieval: Resurrection, Rating: 3
This comedy adventure has some things going for it: humor, beautifully animated cutscenes, and a unique storyline. However, while the game seems to be missing nothing when it comes to game play (aside from a hotkey sequence to swap between melee and ranged weapons), it fails to capture my attention all that much. i cannot quite put my finger on what it is, though - it has everything i could expect from such a game. It's just missing "that indefinable something." At 20 Euros, though, there's little reason to not pick it up, as the per-hour-of-entertainment costs are reasonable. There's really not much to say other than that.
Monster Hunter Freedom, Rating: 3
This game has the seemingly interesting premise of an open-ended environment with no particular end goal in sight. The goal is simply to go on quests hunting down monsters and collecting items. Starting out it piqued my curiousity, but certain details of the gameplay made the game unenjoyable after only a short time (a couple of hours).
First the good parts ...
The fact that the game is open-ended is very interesting. We're not aiming to level up to defeat some Dark Master at a final confrontation. Instead we're slowly raising out abilities so we can fight more and more powerful monsters and exploring the elaborate items-related features (e.g. creating new items by combining items in various ways). The graphics are lovely and the game has an overall nice feel to it.
Now the negatives...
Two minor annoyances come up in the first few minutes of play. The first is that all on-screen text is annoyingly blurry and difficult to read. Certainly the game's testers must have noticed that, and certainly it isn't "as designed"??? The second minor annoyance is the "jumpiness" when moving from one hunting zone to another - one moment we're walking along in a field and the next we see an annoying "loading" screen with childish-looking graphics and exceedingly out-of-place music. Such music seems to be deeply-seated in the game, too. For example, when cooking steaks (which one collects by carving up monster corpses), the music literally sounds like it should be the theme song for a group of clowns. It's almost Jack-in-the-box in nature, and doesn't at all fit with the general feel of the game.
Granted, the music thing and the general abruptness of the loading things are minor annoyances. The most significant annoyance with the game is the way the camera works. In combat it is impossible to "track" (or "lock on") to a target, and this makes it increasingly difficult to engage more advanced creatures. As they get faster, combat becomes as much about turning the camera as it does about actually trying to hit the enemy. This honestly detracts from play enough to make me not enjoy playing it. The game becomes an excercise in camera tracking, and that's not the type of game i want to play.
While the game could have been good for 20 or 30 hours of play, the downright broken camera behaviour is enough to turn me off of it completely. After a couple hours of play, i found it simply too distracting to have to spend so much effort forcing the camera to keep my opponent in view.
PoPoLoCrois, Rating: 3
This oddly-named RPG adventure game is a mixed bag. It got a wide range of reviews around the internet, from "fantastic/awesome" to "pitiful/horrible". It really depends on what features you give/take points for...
First, the things which annoy me: 1) you can only save the game from certain points (namely, Inns). Important buildings (e.g. inns and shops) are not marked in any way, meaning you have to through every building in town (sometimes you have to even climb up to the second floor) to find out which building is which. Then you've got to remember that on a town-by-town basis. 2) The world map is quite confusing to use. It's hard to describe, and nothing like a conventional world map. 3) The graphics are quite "kiddy." While detailed, they look like they came from a children's book. Likewise, the sprites are a bit "jumpy" (not enough frames of animation). 4) The combat system does not offer a "move" option - only attacking and using skills. To move without attacking is apparently impossible, and using a skill or item means forgoing any movement. While the box clearly states that the combat system is "intuitive", i can't say that it is. 5) The music is quite cheesy and grates on the nerves pretty quickly. Luckily, it can be disabled. 6) When following the story line, it's not always clear (err... almost never clear) where one has to go, nor is it clear how to get there (see above about the world map being far from intuitive). 7) As in almost all games of this type, random monster encounters simply happen way too often. Not as often as in Final Fantasy I or II (i.e. every 0.6-0.9 seconds), but still annoyingly often.
All that said, most of those are relatively minor annoyances. The environment graphics are quite detailed, even though they are not stunningly beautiful. The characters are cute, as are some of the monsters (e.g. the "Acornholio"). One of the nicest features of the game is the ability to toggle on AI control of characters for combat. This can be set on a per-PC basic (the party starts with 1 PC but eventually expands to 4). Each PC can have a generic strategy assigned to them, like Attack (simply use weapons), Assault (use most powerful weapons and skills/magic), or Defensive (try to keep the HP has high as possible). Alternately, you can of course take manual control of any given PC. (Note, however, if all PCs are set to automatic/AI then there is no way to toggle this once a fight starts.) While the game lacks a "save anywhere" feature, it does have a "save and quit" feature, which is basically a "one-time save" which gets deleted if you don't load it on your next restart.
Despite the relatively long list of (relatively minor) annoyances, the game is quite enjoyable. Not a classic, but i will probably spend some time attempting to play through it. It does not appear to have any sort of flexible character growth path, however, which essentially eliminates any replay value (but the campaign reportedly takes about 30 hours to play through).
[A couple weeks after having written the above text, i tried to play the game after not having touched it for a few weeks. The "hard to figure out where to go" problem is 10x worse now, since i cannot remember the events which led me to where i am. This makes the game nearly impossible to continue after taking a break from it.]
Resistance Retribution, Rating: Not quite sure
This game has amazing graphics, even better than God of War. They're sharp, detailed, and fluid. After a very long introduction sequence (with lovely graphics and high-quality voice-overs), you're thrust into combat, and that's where the game breaks down. i will never again buy a shooter game for a handheld console. As is the case for Brothers in Arms, trying to move, aim, and shoot, takes up all of one's concentration - mostly the aiming part. i have become so used to the point-and-shoot interface of Wii games, that the approach taken by handheld consoles seems exceedingly tedious and non-fluid, distracting me the whole time from the game itself. It becomes a series of "move around until the cross-hairs almost line up, then tap the up/down/left/right buttons until the cross-hairs are on the target, then fire." Then the target ducks or moves a couple millimeters to the side and the process starts over. About 90% of my concentration is on those damned up/down/left/right movements to get my targeting cursor in place, and this completely ruins the experience for me. i would love to play this game on a full-fledged console, where the targeting is certainly more natural, but a handheld console simply isn't agile enough to handle a game as action-rich as this one.
Sid Meier's Pirates, Rating: 4+
This game has been a favourite of mine since the 1980's, when i first played it on a Commodore C64 computer. While i never was dazzling good at the game, i always loved it for its open-endedness. Most games have a linear (or nearly linear) story, and Pirates always allowed you to explore the whole world, providing optional quests along the way to give it some form of coherent story.
This rendition is almost a 1-to-1 port of the PC variant of the game released in the early 21st century, differing only in a few details (most notably the handling of ship-to-ship combat). The graphics are every bit as good as they were on my PC when i played it a few years ago. Newcomers to the game might find it monotonous after a while, but long-time fans will find this rendition up to par and in good form. To be absolutely honest, this game is the only reason i considered buying a PSP in the first place - i wanted to be able to play my old favourite and had no other way to do so.
There is one thing which bugs me about this game: the "path to revenge" concept that it uses is a series of 15 (or so) goals you must achieve if you want to capture the main Bad Guy (which is optional, in any case). The goals are apparently randomly determined, and have very little relation to your current capabilities or the stage of the game. e.g. in one game my second goal was to sack the city of Maracaibo. Sacking a city is not something a beginning character should be doing. Likewise, in one game the second goal was "marry the daughter of a governor." That process takes a long time (years of game time), during which one can normally accomplish 3 or 4 of the other goals (e.g. "capture a Trade Galley", which takes only a few minutes to achieve). Thus such a goal has no place being at the start of the list (instead, it should be later, since you are likely working towards that goal all along). While i like the idea (and it is new in this rendition of Pirates), the seemingly arbitrary order of the goals is poorly conceived. So far i have been unable to get through more than half of the list before my character is forced to retire due to old age, and this is because the items on the list are often so poorly matched to a character's current state. (Ah - it once gave me the goal of defeating one of the top 10 pirates after i had already defeated them all, so i could no longer advance along my "path to revenge.")
Silverfall, Rating: Starts out at 4+, then drops to 2
Silverfall is a more or less conventional fantasy RPG, along the lines of Diablo or Dungeon Siege, with a commendable level of flexibility in character creation and advancement. The graphics are nice, the controls are simple enough to get used to (and largely customizable), and the game is filled with quests to keep the player busy. One part of this game which continually bugs me is that it often has to pause at inopportune times to access the disk. Most games only do this when meeting new characters, changing equipment or levels, or some such, but Silverfall often does it in the middle of a sword swing when attacking a foe. The mysterious, and ever-more-frequent, 2-3 second pauses distract and frustrate, taking away from an otherwise enjoyable hack and slash experience.
[Some time later...] After getting about 20% of the way through it (after 4-5 hours of play), i've given up. At that point, the difficulty jumps from easy to f***-me-hard in one giant step. You are continually outnumbered and outgunned, facing 4-5 enemies at a time who are every bit as tough as you are, a third of them pelting you with ranged weapons. When it gets to that point, it really fails to be fun any more. You cannot defeat them all face-to-face, and the only way to whittle them down is to run around in circles and wait for the stray shots from the ranged attackers to kill off the melee combatants who are following you. However, your PC gains no experience points for defeating foes that way, so it's not a useful strategy for advancing. Not that the PC needs to advance - the monsters he faces will always be about the same level as the character, even when returning to lower-level areas which originally had weak monsters.
In any case, Silverfall is good for a few hours, if one can tolerate the continual in-play pauses while it accesses the disk, but its beauty turns to fugly rather quickly.
SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals: Fireteam Bravo 2, Rating: 4+
i bought this game partially because it was bundled with a headset/microphone, which the game supports in network play. HOWEVER, this bundle is quite misleading: to use the microphone you have to have a so-called "remote control" attachment, a detail that is first revealed in a small pamphlet inside the game packaging. SOME models of PSP (the so-called Value Bundle) come with this remote control, but many (including mine) do not. Not only that, but the remote is next to impossible to find in Europe (or at least in Germany), making the bundled microphone absolutely useless unless one can order it from another country (in which case one might have to pay import taxes). That complaint aside...
This first-person-shooter/military simulation is nicely done. The graphics are commendable, but not amazing, and the audio is nice. The 3D engine has an occasional quirk (e.g. enemies get caught inside an object and cannot be shot or captured), but this rarely happens. Also, the logic engine has a bug or two - occasionally it does not recognize when a mission objective is accomplished, and this sometimes forces the player to restart the mission.
The gameplay is relatively complex (lots of button combinations to remember) but also well done. This game has an online mode, which i have not yet played (still waiting on my headset) but which i am quite certain is at least as entertaining as the single-player mode. Always a plus in a game, this one's first mission contains informative pop-up tips on how to use the controls. The sheer number of controls meant that i had to play through the first level a few times before i got comfortable enough with them to move on to the next levels. The game has several different difficulty settings, and on Easy it is indeed easy enough to play at your own pace without too much stress (i really like that in a game).
Mission types include information gathering, securing hostages, capturing individuals, and simply "securing the area" (killing all the bad guys). A nice aspect is that, aside from the limited number of campaign missions, there are so-called "dynamic missions", which are basically semi-random mini-missions based in the mission areas you've already played through.
One of the things which sometimes makes FPS games difficult to play on a console is that aiming using a zoom feature (e.g. sniper rifles) is often exceedingly difficult due to the sensitivity of the controls. For example, in StarWars Battlefront 2 using a sniper effectively is nearly impossible because of this. This game, however, has a slick feature called "steady aim": while you're zoomed in you can hold down the 'R' button to drastically alter the sensitivity of the aiming controls, making zoomed-in shoots feasible.
The misleading headset/microphone marketing aside, this title is highly recommended for any fan of FPS or military simulations.
Star Wars Battlefront 2, Rating: 4
Several years ago i had a roommate with a PS2. i bought Battlefront for it and played the hell out of it. i got pretty damned good at it, too, often taking out more than half of the enemy forces on my own, while my 19+ comrades sat around and picked their noses. It was one of those rare games for which i would buy a gaming console. When i saw Battlefront 2 for the PSP i snatched it up. i must admit at being a bit disappointed at the smaller scale of the game, but must also agree that for current handheld consoles, it's not possible for the game to have 40+ independent soldiers in play at one time. After playing it for some time i am of the opinion that so many soldiers in play on such a small screen would just get in the way.
It has a moderately useful, but not great, set of tutorial information, and offers several different setups for the controls, so you can find one which suits your playing style. While not a big bonus, those are both nice to have.
The graphics are certainly acceptable, and sometimes even impressive, and the motion is remarkably smooth. The space combat modes are surprisingly detailed - moreso than i would have expected for a handheld console. And flying the ships is easier than i thought it would be, given the controls on the PSP. (But i will never understand how come so many space flight sims swap the Y axis (up/down movement) by default. Luckily, you can swap it back.)
While i will certainly play this game now and then, i won't obsess over it like i did its predecessor. Certainly the versions for the "full" consoles are much more addictive.
Star Wars Battlefront Renegade Squadron, Rating: 4+
This member of the Battlefront series is an improvement over Battlefront 2 (detailed above). Not only are the graphics notably nicer, but it includes a campaign mode and online multiplayer mode (yes!). A nice touch is the ability to customize your character. You can, for example, create a wookie wearing pink if you like, and outfit him with your choice of weapons. There are a number of various powerups, abilities, and weapons which you can outfit your character with. During play you can re-equip your character at any of your command posts, which effectively makes the older "class" system obsolete. The nasty side-effect of this is, however, that the special features of the various robot classes (e.g. droidekas and super battle droids) no longer exist. While you can play out battles set in the Clone Wars erra, there are no more droidekas. Also, while the Galactic Conquest strategy game has been notably improved, you can only play it in the Galactic Civil War era (i.e. episodes 4-6) and not in the Clone Wars era (episodes 1-3).
If you've played Battlefront 2 on the PSP and were annoyed by how difficult it is to track and shoot down enemy fighter ships and how impossible it is to properly aim with a sniper rifle, you will be pleasantly surprised with changes to this edition. Ship-to-ship dogfights in space are now fun, with an autopilot feature which can fly you to your target (and even follow him around while you're shooting). Just be sure not to use the autopilot when targeting a capital ship, because it will ram you into the bigger ship. Also, occasionally the autopilot will attempt to fly through a capital ship when you're targeting a distant enemy who's on the other side of the capital ship. The sniper rifle, too, has been improved, though in a rather unrealistic manner - simply aim somewhere near your target and shoot, and he'll go down. A more realistic solution would have been to take the solution from SOCOM, which is to have a "steady aim" button which changes the movement sensitivity when in aiming mode. Nonetheless, this is a big improvement over Battlefront 2, where the sniper rifle is essentially useless because of the aiming sensitivity.
My only significant complaints lie in the controls. They changed the controls since Battlefront 2, making it difficult to switch between Battlefront 2 and this game without taking some time to adjust to the different buttons. It is significantly more difficult to cycle between multiple targets in the new button scheme, which upsets me to no end (and the "cycle target" button doesn't work 4 times out of 5). For example, your character will, more often than not, annoyingly track an AT-AT's head when he'd really prefer to target the soldiers around the base of the AT-AT. The straffe and target buttons are now the same (for reasons i can't fathom), which means that your straffing and targeting are now explicitly tied to each other. Also, the button to use the "secondary weapon" (e.g. toss a grenade) doesn't always respond. Sometimes if find myself tapping it 5 or 6 times before it will do what i've asked.
All things considered, though, this game is a blast and highly recommended for any Star Wars fans.
Star Wars Lethal Alliance, Rating: 3
Being a huge Star Wars fan, i had to pick this up. i wasn't expecting much because i had read reviews for the Gameboy DS version of the game, and none said anything good about it. But it was priced at 20 Euro, so i got it. The game is "okay." One thing i really like is that on the Easy setting the enemies are no challenge at all - you can simply walk through them because their attacks only scratch you a tiny bit. This lets you walk through the game to get a good feel for it. What i don't like, though, is that so many of the non-combat areas as insta-kill if you screw up at all. Who builds floating platforms which have only one purpose - to activate only when triggered from some obscure place, and then require the rider to jump on to it from high up above, off of a bridge, after scrambling (with tight time limits) to get to the bridge? i mean, come on... Star Wars is not a "platforming" universe - give us something which fits in the Star Wars universe! And how many work environments have deadly ledges all over the place? Any place where Storm Troopers work, apparently.
The graphics and audio and such are all fine in this game. What bugs me is simply the fact that so many of the levels attempt to turn the Star Wars universe into something more suitable for a Mario Brothers games. And that some of the levels impose time limits really pisses me off... time limits in games just piss me off, without exception. After playing about 50% of the way through the Mustafar level, i got sick of the platform-hopping (or, more correctly, got sick of falling into the lava) and the time limits, and i probably won't play this game beyond that point.
If you really enjoy jump and run games, then this game might just be for you. i only find hopping across platforms (invariably with some toxic substance or endless space beneath them) to be really annoying (probably because i never was any good at it).
Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, Rating: 3.5
This game is the first of a series for the PSP in the Untold Legends product line. In terms of play and feel, it is remarkably similar to Dungeon Siege - they could be brothers. The most notable difference is that the load times for transfering between zones are much shorter than in Dungeon Siege - on average around 20-30 seconds, whereas a minute or so is normal in DS. The 3D engine is not quite as pretty as the one from Dungeon Siege or Untold Legends: the Warrior's Code, and makes very little use of changing elevations (common in DS), but it is certainly acceptable. My only minor complaint with the 3D graphics is that the main character looks more like a stiff plastic action figure than a computer-animated one.
The game is large, by any standards, with 100 levels and over 40 quests. The save feature is much better than Dungeon Siege or the UL sequel in that you can save anywhere you like and loading will take you back to that point. Also, a big tedium reducer is that you can teleport back to the main city at any time and teleport back where you came from without the use of any special scrolls or whatnot. When you find a teleportation artefact (which can only be used to teleport between similar artefacts), selecting a teleportation destination is instantaneous, whereas the equivalent action in Dungeon Siege takes almost half a minute (plus another 60 seconds for the actual teleportation!).
Like its sequel, the music for this game is a bit campy. Luckily, it can be turned down (or off) independently of the other sounds. The volume levels for combat, speech, footsteps, music, and even weather, can be independently set.
The game has an interesting approach to enchanting weapons and armor. During your adventures you will collect various totems and gems. By combining these with armor and weapons you can get different effects (e.g. increased attributes or special types of damage).
Any dungeon-hacking fan will certainly get a kick out of this game. (i actually enjoy it a bit more than i enjoy the sequel.)
PS: if you're looking for a walkthrough, there's a good one at IGN.
Untold Legends: the Warrior's Code, Rating: 3.5
i bought this game because i've had a craving for a console-based dungeon-hacking game for some years and the Gameboy DS still doesn't have one. One of the things which is immediately noticeable about this game is that it has a helpful tutorial tool (by walking into floating question marks placed around the level), whereas Dungeon Siege does not. Perhaps the most annoying thing is that saving the game (which it lets you do at arbitrary times), does not actually save the game as it stands at the moment. Instead, it saves at the previous checkpoint, where checkpoints are scattered fairly liberally around the map. That seems to be the norm for many games, so i won't complain too much about it, except to say that for a device which has essentially unlimited saving capacity, this mis-feature really sucks.
The graphics are not as lovely as those in Dungeon Siege, but they are of course of decent quality. The background music has a bit of a childish feel to it, however, and doesn't even come close to the dramatic feeling the Dungeon Siege music conveys. On the good side, though, the level-transition wait times are much shorter than those of Dungeon Siege - they've been about 30 seconds for the transitions i've timed, whereas Dungeon Siege transitions can take up to a minute (and teleportation can take up to 90 seconds!).
All in all, the game is not a classic, but enjoyable nonetheless.