Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Fahrenheit Xbox Review

In the last two decades there has been a noticeable trend in video games, one that most people would have noticed. Video games are starting to grow up, and I don't mean like Manhunts gore or Call of Duty's realism, I am talking about something that is trying to find its place in the world and become its own thing. I have a belief that video games are currently going through a trend that other forms of mediums have gone through before.
I will start at the beginning, when plays were invented the idea was to just act out a piece of writing and in all fairness it is still just that. Then film came along which tried to be the same thing, but soon people started to realise that film wasn't going to catch on if it tried to be something else but thanks to many innovative minds film has become one of the world biggest mediums and it still entertains millions of people to this day.
But what about gaming? Well in the last 20 years video games have started to become inspired by the idea of interactive media, games are not games anymore they are interactive entertainment where you can live out things that you could not in real life which is why it has become the fastest growing medium on the planet today. But even with that in mind it is only like this because games have set to become the next film, I suppose an interactive movie would be the idea in many modern cases, but that is not to say that all games are like that. There are different types of games, most noticeably those that try to be like movies by using a mixture of action and story but those are often let down by the fact that the story is very flawed and when you tear it down to the bear bones it's just a game.
Then you have games that are interactive movies, most noticeably in the adventure genre. Back in the early days there were what we would call a text adventure, a game that was entirely text and nothing else, no images, scenery or anything like that, I would go as far as to call them the first true interactive book. Modern adventures are like that but in movie form, most noticeably games like Fahrenheit.
Created by Quantic Dream, Fahrenheit is a paranormal thriller that grips you in the same way as a film with its well written plot, characters and story.
The game is set in New York, January 2009 and begins with a scene showing Lucas Kane (the games protagonist), in a possessed trance stabbing a man to death in the restroom of a diner. After the murder Lucas wakes from his trance to find the horrible thing he has done and flees from the scene. He did not know the man he killed and he had no idea why he killed him, all he does know is that it wasn't his fault. Now a wanted man Lucas must clear his name or face a life of imprisonment.
Lucas isn't the only character you control, throughout the game you get to control all of the games main characters most noticeably the games other two heroes detectives Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles who have been assigned to find and arrest Kane.
Because of the multiple characters the game has a story that can branch depending on what you do, the actions of one character directly effects another character. An example of this is if you instantly flee from the diner at the start of the game after you commit the murder you will make it easy for the police who will find all clues with ease, but if you try and cover up your actions and hide the evidence then you could end up with the police missing a few clues. Either way your actions will change the games story in some way. That is not to say the game game will not lose the plot, not matter what your actions are the game will stay within the plot.
The story is not the only thing that is affected by your actions, the game also has a physiological theme to it. The main characters all have a mental health meter that ranges from full ("Neutral") to empty ("Wrecked") and is there to show you the condition of the characters mental health. Many of the games events (such as Lucas seeing the body of his victim) subtract points from the mental health meter (until it goes down from neutral to stressed, tense and so on) but everyday actions such as sleep, food, drink and using the toilet will add points to it, same is said for events where the character makes a discovery or action that helps them in some way (the best example of this is a moral choice early in the game where Lucas can either rescue a drowning child and risk being caught by the police or he can simply walk away from it all and pretend that nothing had happened). An empty sanity meter will end the game depending on the character, Carla and Tyler will hand in their badges and quit the force while Lucas will either turn himself in or commit suicide.
The characters themselves are all very well developed and three dimensional, they all have a personality, back story and morals. The characters are not perfect and they all have problems, before the murder Lucas was dealing with a split between him and his girlfriend, Tyler is nagged about which is more important to him his job or his lover Sam, and Carla is claustrophobic.
The gameplay mechanics are not very solid, the games controls can be confusing because of the camera, it is one of those games where your direction might change with the camera angle, not that it is a problem it doesn't ruin what is a story driven experience.
At the start of the game you are told by the games director David Cage that Fahrenheit is a "interactive film" which is what the developer Quantic Dream had intended for it to be. To demonstrate this point the game contains action scenes where you do not directly control the characters of the game, instead you are made to preform quick time events (or QTEs), when this happens the game becomes reminiscent of the old electronic toy Simon where four lights would flash and you had to press them in that order, get it right and you will continue, get it wrong and you could get a game over. Many people hate QTEs because they break up the gameplay but I don't mind them because they let you do things that would normally be impossible in the game. Another type of QTE featured in the game is where the player had to rapidly hit the shoulder buttons, this is suppose to tire the player and is normally featured in scenes that involve actions like running. The idea is that the player is immense in the game.
Graphically the game isn't bad but it could be better for a game that was released in 2005. The games sound track is really impressive and it comes in two types, you have the background music, this normally happens during events to help to create a sense of suspense or urgency, the other type of music is the music you can play in the game, for example when at home the character you are playing as can turn their stereo and listen to some music this music is good too because it gives you an insight into the characters tastes in music, their likes and dislikes.
In all it may not be perfect but Fahrenheit is one of the best examples of an interactive movie out there, the only thing that is more movie than it are interactive Full Motion Video games like Wing Commander (a sci-fi game that sees you take control of a character who is played by Mark Hammil), besides that there isn't much out there like it.
If you are a fan of adventure games or thrillers buy this game, if you want more buy its sequel Heavy Rain.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Space Channel 5 Dreamcast Review

In the last few years music games have seen a big rise in popularity thanks to the likes of Dancing Stage, Singstar, Guitar hero and Rock Band. While the genre has reached its peak in terms of popularity it would be wrong to forget the games that built up one of the biggest money makers in gaming today.
Released for SEGA's Dreamcast in 2000, Space channel 5 can best be described as the video game equivalent of 1970's memory game Simon were you had to remember a sequence and repeat it after it finished, it is a "listen and repeat" game that has you listen to actions and copy them with the correct timing.
The game is set at the end of the 25th century, a race of alines known as Morolians have suddenly invaded earth, taken its people hostage and are forcing them to daaaaance. Space Channel 5 reporter Ulala is sent in to shoot aliens, rescue hostages and find out why they invaded in the first place.
Space channel 5 is unique to say the least, the game has a futuristic theme but it also has this dated feel to it, the game is a bit Austin Powers to say the least. Not to say that is a bad thing I love the idea of getting into the grove with Ulala in what may be one of the most charming games I have ever played.
The music is the games most important aspect and I have to say it is that it is phenomenal, the music is just really strong and it gets you in the perfect mood for the game with its Jazz and Bass.
For what the gameplay is it's pretty flawless. It is like Simon, the sounds play in a order and you repeat them, only here you have 6 buttons instead of 4. The sync between the gameplay and music is spot on. The game itself is memorable thanks to that charm alone it has this campness to it that you just can't help but like, at the same time it is also what keeps you going. Space Channel 5 is a game that requires your full attention, mistakes are very costly in this game, if you mess up the routine you will lose a life and will have no way to recover from that mistake until the next commands are made. The games goal is to try and get to the end of the stage with a high view rating, Ulala's report show will be taken of air if it does not meet expected view ratings. Your rating is affected by how well you are doing, do well and people become interested in your TV show, do badly and you will be taken off air (you will also be taken off air if you lose all of your lives in a boss fight). The music is like this to, do well and the music stays upbeat and in tune, do badly and the music goes completely out of tune and Ulala just limps off to the next section.
Each stage has an order of events, most of the stage will see you fighting off aliens and saving earthlings, near the end of the stage you will be faced with a sub-boss where you have a dance off, at the end of each stage you fight the boss by dancing and shooting. Throughout the game you will also save hostages, depending on who you save they will either just follow and mimic Ulala or preform a special action, a good example of this is late in the game when you save Space Michael Jackson (yeah, I forgot to mention Michael Jackson worked on this game with sega) and everyone starts copying his actions. Some of the rescued hostages change the music, for example if you rescue a guitarist the music then has an electric guitar to go with its mix or jazz and bass, even though these things are temporary you sure do appreciate it.
Between each stage you see some full motion video cutscenes but these are uninteresting and break up the gameplay so you are just best off skipping them and going straight to the next stage. While the game seems all well and good there are some areas that ruin the experience slightly, along with the cutscenes there is also the length, Space channel 5 has only four stages and takes an hour to complete the first time, thankfully after you complete the game you unlock the extra mode which see's you doing all 4 stages again only this time the stages have new areas, again this takes roughtly an hour and it isn't much harder than the regular game, so in all Space Channel 5 takes less than 3 hours to complete so I can't recommend paying a lot of money for it, the game offers replay value in the form of saving all earthlings but besides that once the novelty has worn off there isn't anything else to make you continue playing.
Graphically the the game is good for Dreamcast standards but there is one thing that bothers me, all the character models are 3D but everything else like the backgrounds are pre-rendered or full motion video which does create some problems at times, I dislike how there are sometimes enemies or things that are placed in really awkward looking postitions because the back grounds are all pre-rendered, I know games like Resident Evil were all pre-rendered backgrounds but with them there was still some sense of interaction, Ulala could be dancing on a white background for all I care and the game would still play exactly the same, that may not be much of a bad thing but it does make the backgrounds feel "fake".
Space Channel 5 is a really enjoyable game, SEGA was put up with a hard task when having to make a game that appealed to both male games and women who didn't really play games. With bags of charm, great gameplay and a groovy soundtrack Space Channel 5 is a game that should be in most Dreamcast collections.