SOCOM: US Navy SEALs

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SOCOM: US Navy SEALs (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is a third person shooter released for the Playstation 2 in 2002, and was a massive success for Sony’s initial foray into online gaming. Using the new network adapter, you could play online with or against friends and complete strangers – this was nothing new in the PC world, but for consoles this was uncharted territory. Unfortunately, the online services for this game were shut down in 2012, so I was unable to try that out. What’s left is the single player campaign – a realistic-ish third person shooter that’s simply middle of the road.

Gameplay revolves around completing objectives in a given mission, which in the first mission involve boarding a freighter and securing it (AKA kill all the guards without being detected), disable communications, gather intel, and finally scuttle the ship. Before each mission you can review the objectives, change your team’s load-out, and review maps of the mission. This reminds me of the planning phase of old Rainbow Six missions, but is not as deep. During the mission you are fairly fragile, and so are your enemies – take one or two hits and you’ll die and need to restart from the beginning. There is some pretty generous auto-aim and if you keep to the shadows you should have no issue eliminating threats before they see you. If you make a lot of noise or get spotted and allow an enemy to call out, you will have a harder time surviving – stealth is the name of the game. You can also move bodies to hide them from being discovered, which is a nice touch. You can give orders to your teammates and they seemed to follow them fairly well – even if they were a bit robotic. For instance, I accidentally ordered a squadmate to throw a frag grenade in a small room – which he did. Then he stood there motionless until it exploded about 2 feet in front of him. While it was pretty funny at the time, I imagine that in later missions you will rely on your squad for certain objectives, and the brainless behavior could be frustrating.

Sound was good, but there was barely any music other than in menus – this is to help immerse the player in the world and also let’s you hear if enemies are coming. While there is a good reason for it, it is a bit disappointing considering that the composer is Jeremy Soule, who is better known for composing the Elder Scrolls series. I would have loved to hear more of his music since what little is there is excellent. That said, sound effects were good and directional audio was for the most part excellent.

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Visuals are fairly good for a 2002 PS2 game, but there was some serious frame rate drops in certain spots. The level I played wasn’t very large, so I can’t speak to how big the environments get. Characters animated well, and the effects were more on the realistic side (grenades flashed and there was a cloud of smoke – no fireballs).

Verdict: Back on the shelf. While SOCOM isn’t a bad game in any way, the gameplay didn’t grab me and the lack of multiplayer servers sealed it’s fate. This was a revolutionary game when it released, but time has not been kind.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Gargoyles

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I was born in the mid 80s, and while I love that decade and some of the media that came out during that time, if I’m honest, the 90s are more familiar. The early years I vividly remember all start with 199x, and wow do I have nostalgia for that time period. We had tons of great consoles (like the Genesis), games, cartoons, toys, movies and every conceivable cross promotion between them. This era is what created the Gargoyles TV series and ultimately the game for the Sega Genesis. Gargoyles (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) was released in 1995, which means it was a fairly late release for the Genesis – its successor the Sega Saturn had just released the week before. Gargoyles is an action platformer – a genre that was over saturated at that time and at first glance it appears to be a typical licensed game cash in on a property. Thankfully, while not perfect, this game does not fall into that all too common trap.

You play the game as Goliath, leader of the gargoyles. The year is 968 AD and vikings are attacking your castle – you’ve got to defend it. That’s the basis for the story, and in between levels you are given some additional story bits – but it’s far from a complicated narrative. Basic gameplay has you running, climbing, and killing enemies with your claws (you only have one attack as far as I can tell). Here is where some ugliness crops up – this game is HARD. Really hard. And there are no saves, limited continues, and no password system. I couldn’t even beat the first level. The controls can be a bit strange at times, but the real difficulty is in the levels themselves – you have a ton of enemies thrown at you and you don’t take many hits before you die. There is a nice checkpoint system that actually feels like a modern game, but that is the only reprieve from the oppressive difficulty.

Sound was good overall – the music was fitting and sounded good coming from the Genesis (confession time: I had a Genesis growing up and I’m one of those weirdos that actually likes the way it sounds). Sound effects were also good. There was a sound test in the options menu, which is always something I love.

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Graphics are good and remind me of Aladdin. Animations were fluid and backgrounds scrolled as you would expect. I have no complaints with the graphics at all, but they didn’t blow me away either.

Overall, Gargoyles is a game that brings me back to my childhood, but it is unfortunately way too difficult for it’s own good.

Verdict: Back on the shelf.

Author’s note: Source code for this game can be found on the original programmer’s personal site here: http://shrigley.com/. I think this is fantastic and it is a good way to not only preserve the game, but teach budding programmers (or experienced ones) what it takes to make a game for the Genesis.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

 

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2

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Sometimes when I go to select a game to play, I find a sequel in which I haven’t played the first installment. Normally, this doesn’t cause any issues – most sequels give you a brief overview of the relevant story bits from the previous entry in order to get you up to speed. Unfortunately, that was not the case with this week’s entry, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia).

You begin with a cutscene that seems like a continuation of another – but this is the first one in the game. I’m assuming that if you’ve played the first, this lines up perfectly. Unfortunately, I did not and was a bit lost. In my brief time with the game, I noticed that it was extremely heavy on story and exposition – lots of haughty dialog delivered with pretentious British accents. I don’t know if the story will pay off in the end, but they are sure trying to sell that it’ll be an epic of betrayal and retribution.

The graphics look nice – not bad for a 2001 PS2 title, but they didn’t blow me away. The frame rate was nice and solid with no slow downs. The cutscenes were mostly prerendered and looked as you would expect from a game of this vintage. The style of the game is distinctive, and from looking through screen capture galleries on Giant Bomb, the environments seem to be varied.

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Sound was middle of the road, none of the music stood out to me, but it was all fitting. Sound effects were good in general, and I did notice that your footsteps sounded differently depending on the surface you were walking on, which is a nice touch. There is a lot of dialog, and the voice actors are decent, but the script is a bit full of itself and a little cheesy.

Gameplay was similar to the PS1 era Tomb Raider games – some combat but the primary focus is on exploration and puzzle solving. This is good, because the combat is not great – you lock onto an enemy then hack them until they die. They can counter attack, and have some predictable animations, but the combat doesn’t feel particularly satisfying. Exploration is another focus, but I wasn’t able to fully experience it with my time with the game.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver 2 is a game that I wished I had both played the previous entry, and had more time to play for evaluation – but the point of this series is to spend some time with each game and move on. I’m sure I’ll be back.

Verdict: Play again. Preferably after I’ve played Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb

Marvel Ultimate Alliance

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I’ve previously posted an entry on X-Men Legends, which is an excellent action RPG based on the Marvel property. That game was developed by one of my favorite developers Raven Software. So when I saw another entry in their 4 title series of action RPGs on the PS2, I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Marvel Ultimate Alliance (Giant Bomb|Wikipedia) is the first entry by title, but spiritually the third game after X-Men Legends 2.

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Just like the other entries, you are given control of 4 super heroes with the ability to switch between them at will. As you fight, the characters gain experience, level up, and unlock new abilities and costumes. The game has a fairly large cast of playable characters, each with their own voice acting. I also noticed that there were several in game cutscenes where the characters in your party mattered – if you didn’t have Daredevil for instance, Bullseye would lament that he wasn’t there to see your destruction. These are nice touches, and while the voice acting is spotty in terms of quality, the sheer volume of it and the ambition to include it all is commendable.

Visuals have aged very well, and I think the game looks great  – especially considering it’s running on the PS2. I will say that I noticed the occasional severe frame rate drop. I’m talking spikes down to sub 10 FPS. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment, but if you are particularly sensitive to frame rate you may want to keep this in mind.

I’ve already mentioned the voice acting, but otherwise the sound is good – music is fitting and sound effects are appropriate. I will say that some of the background music sounded a little muddy and compressed. It wasn’t distracting – but I imagine this has to do with fitting everything on the DVD.

Overall, the game plays great and is definitely fun. The enemies, at least in the beginning, show that there will be some variety and the 4 player local coop is the icing on the cake. If you enjoy action RPGs on the PS2 like Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance or Champions of Norrath like I do, I think you will like Marvel Ultimate Alliance quite a bit.

Verdict: Play again – all of the games in this series are seriously fun, I can’t believe I missed out on them when they were first released.

Images courtesy of Giant Bomb