5 titles that you might have missed on release but are worth going back to.
Posted on Monday, February 13th, 2012 by Henry Kelly
Vanquish (Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
This 3rd person cover shooter was released in 2010. It suffered commercially when early reviews outed it as having a short campaign. With no multiplayer and a Japanese mecha vibe, it turned off the western audience. The ironic thing was this was Sega trying to “do” a western style shooter. The story is a ham fisted, cliché ridden archetype of the western action genre, complete with terrorists and a chain smoking lead. Vanquishes story is its weakest element. Metal Gear Solid pulls off the eccentric western style in a uniquely Japanese fashion. Vanquishes story attempts Gears of War and comes up being a chore.
On the side that counts however, Vanquish often trumps its western counterpart. The best way to describe it is: Gears of War meets Max Payne, on steroids. You play a mech-suited soldier who can dart about the environments with incredible speed then slow things down to “bullet-time” to obliterate the opposition. It is reminiscent of the Xbox launch game, GUNVALKYRIE. It has that similar idiosyncratic control scheme that is hard to gets to grips with, but once mastered; allows an incredible level of precision. There are few enemy types but the challenge and carnage of the levels brings the adrenalin to the surface.
Going back to Gears is like returning to your Fiat Panda after a ride in a Ferrari. If only the game had the complete package, story and mythology of Gears, it could have been a true classic. As it stands, Vanquish is a hidden gem that won’t be easily forgotten by those that gave it a chance.
Bulletstorm (Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
This game was brave. Trying to redefine the first person shooter is like trying to make a new form of Coca-Cola in your basement. Perhaps it was doomed to fail. The game did have moderate success and some positive reviews but certainly didn’t blow up the charts like intended. A sequel remains questionable.
What I loved about Bulletstorm was that it successfully fused a shooter like Quake with a game like SSX, which funnels you quickly through levels with the incentive to look as good as you can while doing it. While most shooters are simply about killing, Bullestorm was about how you killed. Shoot someone in the head is good but whipping them with a leash into a cactus – that’s a lot better.
I think the story was the biggest let down. It was juvenile, took itself way to seriously and felt a bit to close to Gears of War. What irked me more was the fact you were playing space pirates with a conscience – give me a break. The environments were colourful and visually interesting but the same couldn’t be said about the characters.
I hope Bulletstorm does get a sequel because it’s hard to think of a shooter I had more fun with last year. With a better sense of identity it could be a classic.
Yakuza 3 (Playstation 3)
Anything labelled as a spiritual successor to Shenmue makes my ears stand up but this RPG/Scrolling beat-em up has its own brilliant identity. Yakuza follows Kazuma Kiryu, who after a life as a Yakuza, is trying to settle down and run an orphanage. When shady types try to force him off his land he gets swept up in the violence he wishes he could escape from.
Yakuza’s story is really strong. It is aided, like Shenmue was, by a brilliant living/breathing city that gives the narrative an atmosphere and poignancy – you know what you are fighting for in this game. The early parts of the game were criticised by western critics for being too slow as you help children at the orphanage. What they misunderstand is that Yakuza is trying to tell a story. The opening introduces the children, making you feel more attached to them before launching into the action narrative. It is incredibly rare for a game to take this sophisticiated approach to story telling.
The gameplay is a mixture of RPG fetch/talk to quests with martial arts fighting. The fighting plays a bit like Virtua Fighter. It’s clunky and not a whole lot of fun but is serviceable.
The well animated cut scenes are interrupted with still faces spewing text onto the screen like the designers couldn’t be bothered to animate the whole thing. The game is text heavy and eccentric to a western audience unfamiliar with Japanese fiction. Enemies will often attack you, then apologise afterward.
If you can see past the text heavy dialogue, clunky controls and eastern sensibility you have a game that is brimming with content. From the numerous mini-games to the extensive side quests, Yakuza should be experienced.
This platforming gem was one of the many underplayed classics the PSP brought us.
A platformer where you tilt the environment rather than control your character gave the game a fluid feel, which was aided by beautifully animated environments. Loco-Roco avoids the platform trappings of insanely difficult jumps and precise movements to create a free flowing game that is as good to watch as it is to play.
It is a bit on the easy side but it’s hard to criticise something so inventive and atmospheric. There are mini-games and a Mui-Mui house to design offering further incentives to replay the levels.
I’m sure there will be a new edition on the VITA and with the gyroscope and sharp OLED display it could be a thing of beauty.
Blur (Playstation 3, Xbox 360)
I can’t think of a racer that has been as underappreciated as Blur. It was released in 2010 and quickly found itself sitting in bargain bins across the country. I think the tone of the game was its biggest downfall. The neon styling and boy racer cars made it look amateur and associated with “Chav culture”. Consumers never gave the game the chance it deserved.
Think of it as Mario Kart mixed with Burnout. It has similar power-ups but with a refined balance that rewards skill over random luck. The cars and courses are nicely varied and again balanced. The heavier cars have the advantage off-road and in smashing other cars while the sportier cars are nippy and quicker around the corners.
Blur is one of those games that is always giving you unlocks and achievements making the whole thing meaningful and cohesive. The tracks are different but follow a careful blue print that emphasises the qualities of the driving model.
The online play is brilliant with only one big problem: there aren’t enough players. It’s a shame because the rival’s mode, which compared your times with that of friends, was genuinely innovative and has been stolen by almost every racing game this past year.
Its creator: Bizarre creations have been shutdown meaning a sequel is highly unlikely. This game remains a testament to their skill as developers and will be well appreciated by the players that could see past the blinding Neon lights.