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The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)
I thought Oblivion was dissatisfying, but this one is a tremendous load of crap. Bethesda Shovelworks should continue outsourcing their game design, because it's apparently something they can't do anymore. There was a time that Bethesda loved game design more than profits, but now that they've turned that on it's head, they should use those profits to hire a company that hasn't been eaten up by a corporate culture that is self-defeating to game production.
In terse: Shallow gameplay. Painfully poor story. Voices slightly less lackadaisical than Oblivion but nowhere near the enthusiasm of Shivering Isles. Bethesda used to have a stable of fine, developing talent; do they realize there's a problem that they couldn't get those voice actors back? Did they even notice the decline in their performance between Morrowind and Oblivion? This game may be rescued by the talented and dedicated mod community, but Bethesda doesn't deserve a cent it received for this lemon.
Carnival Phantasm (2011)
One for the Type Lunatics
It's really better than I rated it, but it's so heavy on the fan-pandering that I'm disgusted with myself for enjoying it -- this is a guilty pleasure for the Type Moon fans, but anyone not familiar with their franchises would probably be quickly turned off by it.
The comedy vacillates between esoteric and sophomoric, gags are hit-or-miss, the ones that hit rely on experience with the characters, and the ones that miss...are all too often. But the level of self-parody is a healing respite for actors who deal with the emotional intensity of the Fate and Tsukihime stories -- Kara no Kyoukai characters could probably use that, but they're absent from this series.
It's nice to hear the Melty Blood cast performing well, it sounds like they're ready for a Tsukihime remake, and I'm looking forward to it.
prepare for letdown
When you wind up dramatic tension in a scene, it has to pay off, in either action or plot revelation. But it's possible to spend so long on the wind-up that no pay-off will be worth it, and all your get for the effort is viewer apathy. This series does this a lot.
Every action is preceded with 5 minutes of internalizing the obvious, and followed with 5 minutes of predictable reaction. It's as if this was written to be accessible an audience too dense to grasp a situation within the first 30 frames -- an audience not mature enough for this level of graphic violence and sex in the first place.
The illustration and sound were very fine, but not enough to make this less grueling to watch. But if you happen to be studying Japanese, this is pretty basic material to listen to, so it won't be a complete waste of your time. The characters aren't much for observation, or any thought that isn't self-involved and too rudimentary for the capacity for real self-consciousness.
However, if you wanted to watch a pack of animal-order personalities get horribly mutilated -- no, forget that, they still don't die quick enough to sustain interest.
merits a remake
As an anti-fan of the entire Visual Novel format, maybe I'm not qualified to review this. But Fate/Stay Night had stunningly hooked me and didn't let go, so I gave this a try.
But it was lacking the combination of elements that kept me completely involved; the art was bland, the characters didn't spring to life as boldly, the music was lacking, and the remaining sound was downright annoying. I just couldn't tolerate it for more than 1/10th of the story.
HOWEVER -- I've gotten the story through secondary sources, and it is such a very good story to tell that I regret not being able to stay with it. The anime has failed to do it justice, so all I can do is await the remake with the same anticipation as other Lunatics.
spectacular, but not very accessible
I've followed Fate/Stay Night through the visual novel and Fate/Zero sequel, so I had no difficulty following this, -- it kept me in fangasm! The animation, color and shadow was as bold and beautiful as the VN artwork, and far superior to the previous anime, and the powerful music expertly finished the work. These are all the features that kept me involved in the only Visual Novel I've ever completely read, and this was just as satisfying.
The romance between Shirou and Rin was unfortunately overshadowed by the clash between Shirou and Archer -- but it's Archer, so I can't complain (got GAR?) Punches were pulled with Ilya, toning down her scene which still managed to remain appropriately disturbing (enough to leave even Ilya-haters in shock.)
However I was occasionally distracted by how confused someone would be if not familiar with Fate/Stay Night, or who had only watched the anime. It's still engaging to watch, but so much of the meaning was sped past or glossed over that it would leave most bewildered through it. It was also littered with continuity nods that would please the fans but be lost on the unversed viewer.
So the rating I give this is only representative of my own enjoyment of it, but isn't likely to apply to anyone who isn't a Type-Moon fan.
The Bard's Tale (2004)
So-so gameplay, but loaded with character
The Bard is the kind of a genre-savvy snarker that could only be created with the cynical insight of a brilliant games industry and gaming veteran. This one of the most hilarious games around; the 'Memorable Quotes' section represents just the tip of the monumental iceberg of wit. All voice acting is wonderful, and the characters are filled with charm, though the anti-heroic hero of the Tale has the best delivery; fortunate, since his voice is heard most often, and hearing his next comment makes the most compelling reward for gameplay.
Whether you've played the original games or not, this title stands well enough alone. Though the gameplay doesn't shine, it also doesn't take nearly as many hours as the original games. The full retail price is perhaps more than the duration is worth, but now that the game has settled into the discount bin, it's cost is nearer to it's value. The game doesn't have much replay value though, so you may just as well rent-and-return.
A whole lot of commotion
The first time I saw the title sequence cured me of all hype aversion I had for this, and I was hooked on the series. Watching and hearing the opening credits still never gets old for me.
It's hard to describe without spoilers, so I'll be brief. Unforgettable characters. Brilliant dialog. Gripping action scenes. Intelligent premises, with a little bit of the fantastic but not enough to feel inauthentic in the 30's prohibition underworld setting.
At first it's difficult to follow because of the anachronistic order and sheer loads of characters, but as you get used to the pacing and familiar with the faces, the pieces begin to fit together. The storytelling is genius, and the reveals are a lot more rewarding exposed in this way than if time were shown sequentially.
English dub: I just finished watching this, and it's a fair localization that kept to the spirit of the original, and included more appropriate accents. It's somewhat lacking in that Isaac and Miria, two of the more watchable characters, just aren't as funny, though the actors are decent they don't have the same chemistry as the original Japanese.
It's not...ALL bad...
I'm giving this a higher rating than most fans because I first saw it before playing any of the games, and actually enjoyed it. Not because it was good, but because it featured everything I'd missed from 80's B-movie fantasy; lots of swordplay with brazen gore and bloodshed, T&A, and a requisite bondage scene. So the lighting and effects were low-budget, the fantasy period trappings plastic, story implausible, drama ineffectual and dialog, if not poor enough on its own, delivered even worse. So what if an all-star cast of excellent veteran actors put on the most flaccid performances of their lives -- with the notable exception of Billy Zane, who appeared to really get into the fantasy spirit of it, and enjoyed playing his character.
I imagined it would encourage more (and hopefully more talented) directors to reconstruct the fantasy genre and bring it out of the Disney ghetto, even if they have to steer it into another ghetto -- it's certainly no more gratuitously sexual and violent than contemporary set films by directors who deserve more respect than to be mentioned in this review.
If it weren't for this movie, I probably wouldn't have played the games and discovered how inadequate the film was. So Rayne was visually reproduced in live-action, with an amateur cosplay outfit that we can all recognize, but not much else about the character survived the adaptation. Boll decided to trade in Rayne's stabbing wit and black humor for outraged glares and berserk tantrums, leaving a character that lives up to Rayne about as much as Uma Thurman lives up to Emma Peel -- basically a bimbo posturing unconvincingly.
Boll also took great liberties with continuity to history and character, which would've been a fair trade for good story, if that's what he delivered. Instead it showed how little respect he had for the original text he was 'adapting', and the result in comparison shows how little qualified Boll is to produce for video game, since he can't even entertain a captive audience before a passive medium.
Unreal Tournament III (2007)
Excellent everything..except story
Now is a good time to get this; the price is down and the value keeps going up as more mods are produced and more players are getting online. Epic has already released a few free add-ons for it, and the UT modding community has always been pretty active in generating new content. Mods also make up for this game's greatest weakness -- the single player story.
The story has gotten hit the hardest in any reviews, and I have to say, it's pretty horrible. Story in multiplayer deathmatch games is really just a thinly veiled excuse for the action, but here it's bad enough to distract from the gameplay. The previous Unreal Tournaments had only back-story, short info-blurbs that added personality to the opponents and arenas, this one attempts to tell a campaign length single-player story.
At least they're trying? Well, they tried a little too hard to work gameplay elements into the story itself, but not hard enough; a little more time and creative effort may have produced less glaringly shoddy justifications and inconsistencies. If they really wanted us to believe in resurrecting machines, flag-critical power junctions, and armored energy spheres that can be assembled with ray guns spontaneously building vehicles from thin air, if they wanted us to believe this, they would have to do much work on the interface. Suspending disbelief in gameplay mechanics for the sake of a good game was far more acceptable when they weren't making back-breaking attempts to keep the characters, and players, conscious of them.
To be fair, the dialog and acting are no part of the flaw; the characters manage to be likable and believable in spite of the cliché revenge premise of the story and awkward patching of gameplay mechanics into sci-fi elements. Though no performances particularly stood out as spectacular, they also weren't jarringly poor.
But UT3 deserves better marks for what it does have: beautiful visuals and stunning sound, and most important, great gameplay. Considering Unreal Tournament games are really just elaborate technical demos for potential Unreal engine licensees, at least the storyline does showcase the power of Unreal's in-engine cinematics, with realistic animation and natural-looking expressions and lip-sync. If single player story is important to you, then perhaps you should wait until a third-party developer releases their own Unreal-based game.
Not a game for Clive Barker or horror fans to look forward to.
A great many readers enjoy Clive Barker's novels much more than his comics, and most of those who play games also enjoyed Undying. (What, you've never heard of his comics? That's because they weren't successful, for reasons that will become apparent shortly after you pick one up.) This game seems to have been written more in the spirit of the comic books, but not quite the Vertigo-series quality that have been struggling to give the medium credibility. Rather, this shoot-em-up mix of occult and soldiering gives so little respect of the authenticity of either and mashes together so many contrived character and gameplay elements that it should've sought market appeal in the puberty-age range rather than in a 'Mature' title.
The gameplay is rather unique in a few ways, it is fun in switching characters and their respective skillsets and play styles, each with their own graces. The lack of any pick-ups means that any weapons the player gets are the weapons they begin with, and any new powers appear spontaneously and without justification whenever the plot calls for it. The lack of pick-ups also means that exploration off the shallow sidetrails is never rewarded, making the rail-shooter nature of the game more transparent.
The interface somewhat mars the gameplay, but it does even fewer favors for immersion. The lack of consistency in how they're used makes sense when comparing powers that are fired once and those that are sustained, but puzzling when comparing sustained powers that are toggled with those that are sustained by holding the appropriate button while trying to maneuver...especially frustrating for those with long start-up animations. Where immersion really gets ripped away is the push-button cinematics, the type that designers whose experience with 'video games' consist of the digital trinket called 'Simon Says' think is a good idea. I'll say it again -- Simon says can NEVER be associated with action, and only spoils a good cutscene. If you want the player to face a survival challenge rather than a cinematic, you first have to give them the means to do that with the same interface and controls available to them at all times, and then trust the player enough to do it.
A good rail-shooter leaves player control as much as possible, and gives the impression that their forward momentum is under their own will. Seizing control even for dramatic purpose is to be avoided, and especially if control is taken from the player in order to give the characters plot-induced stupidity. This is even less reasonable when there are a total of 6 characters, only one of which the player can control at any given time, so couldn't you give any of the other five temporary retardation? Plot-induced stupidity is a discredited horror convention even in films, so it's especially disappointing to see a veteran of the genre continuing to use it, especially in a medium where success or failure should be up to the player's efforts.
Another poor reason to seize character control is for extended infodumps filled with melodramatic phrasing and often repeated or obvious information. While forgivable in mission briefing exposition, the designers seem to forget that this is an interactive medium, and the same words aren't received as well as they would delivered as prose. Another quality of a good rail-shooter is to parcel out information in the environment and encourage the player to hunt it down themselves, and then it becomes another reward for hands-on investigation rather than, as it is in this rail-shooter, an obligatory 'sit and listen to storytime, children' session.
I'd give this game a 6 for gameplay, 10 for visuals and sound, 4 for immersion. But the storytelling is poor enough to be insulting to intelligence, so instead of scoring it, I'd simply drop the two best scores and leave the average at 5. That's almost as unfair as developers who get paid for crap games if they just dress it up in enough glitter.