GRAND THEFT AUTO IV
In 300 Yards, Turn Left – Driving is far easier in GTA4 than in previous versions. Your accelerator is now the right trigger, which makes it easier to pick a speed other than “stop” and “full throttle”. This by itself makes the cars easier to drive; I noticed I was sideswiping and dinging a lot less than I used to. You can also look at your map and drop a waypoint anywhere that the computer will dutifully guide you to with a helpful yellow or green line on your minimap. These two features by themselves were worth the price of admission to me.
Superior Cap Popping – Shooting is far better in this game than in previous versions. Locking on is much easier, and the bug in previous GTAs that had you shooting straight into the air when targets were very close appears to be fixed. I’ve made it clear in previous posts that I despise having to aim a reticle with a thumbstick; GTA4 allows you to lock on to do body shots and then tweak your aim with the thumbstick to go for specialty shots like headshots. I love it. This feature by itself was worth the price of admission to me.
Oh, Wow, That’s Pretty – Holy crap this game looks good. When you’re driving around Liberty City it can easily look like a movie. I’ve had several moments already where I had to just stop and look around because the graphics were so pretty. (I’ve even failed missions because of this. “Come on, Niko, Darden’s getting away!” “Yeah, but Roman – we’re driving by the bay and the sun is setting!”)
And You Thought San Andreas Had A Lot To Do – There’s even more optional content in this game than in San Andreas, and I never came close to exhausting that game. Now you have TV stations. You have a carnival full of minigames and rides. Plus there’s the “standard” compliment of radio stations, dating games, collection quests, etc, etc, etc, etc. Frankly, I don’t understand how they managed to fit all this on a DVD with only slightly more storage capacity than the one GTA: San Andreas came on (7 GBs versus the PS2’s 4.7 GBs).
Two Days in the Valley – All of the characters faces are right smack-dab in the middle of the Uncanny Valley. CJ and Sweet from GTA: San Andreas were more convincing actors than these characters. I know I’ll get used to it, but right now it’s hard to take Vlad’s ragings seriously when he looks like a damn plasticine doll.
I’m RUBBERMAN! – The ragdoll physics engine GTA4 uses can produce some very interesting results; getting hit by a car usually results in Niko doing some spontaneous yoga. Frankly, I hate ragdoll physics and was very disappointed when practically every game gave up the concept of gibs in lieu of them. I was very, very happy when Team Fortress 2 brought back the gibs in spades. I guess Rockstar hasn’t gotten the memo yet: gibs > ragdolls.
Realistic Cellphone Mechanics – A lot of the functionality of the game is now accessed through your cellphone, which is just as confusing to use as most are in real life. The first time I tried changing radio stations I got the cellphone instead, and I accidentally initiated a multiplayer game when I just wanted to listen to Lazlow.
Who Am I? – In GTA you played a nameless bank robber. In GTA: Vice City you played Tommy Vercetti, a mobster. In GTA: San Andreas you played Carl Johnson, a gangbanger. What do these people have in common? They are all self-professed career criminals. Thus, controlling them as they committed crimes felt very natural.
In Grand Theft Auto IV you play Niko Bellic, an immigrant from an unspecified Eastern European country. He fought in the Cold War and ran afoul of some loan sharks back in the Old Country and fled to Liberty City to get away from all that. He is not a self-professed career criminal, thus it felt kind of weird when the very first thing I did when I got control of him was jack a car. Weird, but interesting – I definitely want to see where this storyline goes.
Overall: This is the game that convinced me that it was time to get a 360 and so far I’m very, very glad I did.
NARUTO: RISE OF A NINJA
Konoha Never Looked So Good – Seriously. It looks better than the show. It’s another jaw-dropping 360 game.
Konoha Never Felt So Free – You can go just about anywhere in Konoha you want at any time. Frankly I don’t know why people still make linear, level-based action-adventure games when sandbox games just feel and play so much better.
Surprisingly Deep Combat – There are four basic moves in melee combat – vertical attacks, which try to keep the enemy close, horizontal attacks, which try to push the enemy away, throws and blocks. But out of these four moves the designers have developed a deep combat system. Chaining moves in certain ways causes some hits to become unblockable and can also cause hits to do knockback, setting up your opponent for a jutsu. It’s much deeper than the previous Naruto fighters I’ve played on the GameCube.
Kage Bunshin No Jutsu! – There really is nothing like being able to do the Shadow Clone Jutsu or the Sexy Jutsu yourself. And the mechanic the game provides for doing them really makes it feel like you are doing them yourself – you push both thumbsticks in different directions to do the different hand signs necessary to start the jutsu. If you’re doing this in combat you can be knocked out of your jutsu attempt by an attack or a thrown kunai, so it’s best to hit your opponent with a normal combo first and knock them down, then attempt the jutsu while they are getting up.
This Sounds Familiar – The only beef I’ve got with Rise of a Ninja is the fact that the storyline covers the first couple seasons of the Naruto anime, starting with his failing the Genin exam and ending with his fight with Gaara. This is stuff that is going to be very, very familiar to any Naruto fan so it’s kind of disappointing to hear it again. A new storyline would have been much more welcome.
Overall: I’d been hearing that this game was winning over converts who actually hate Naruto with its great combat and open-ended gameplay, so I wasn’t surprised when I ended up loving it.
Whoa, Look – ACTING! – After seeing so many games (including GTA4) completely fail to render realistic characters convincingly enough, it was nice to see a game that does it right. The characters in Mass Effect both look and move very well, and have nice lipsynching. The overall effect is great, and it’s a good thing too, considering how much dialog this game has.
Conversation System Designed By God – Mass Effect has the best conversation system ever created for an RPG. Not only does it quickly and easily let you direct the flow of the conversation so that they happen in a realistic manner, the wheel setup also lets you easily see which options will move the conversation to a close and which wont, as well as which options will get you Paragon points and which ones will get you Renegade points. It’s so good that I immediately invested points into maxing out my Charm skill so that my character would have more dialog options in conversations.
Pretty Is Now Standard – Once again I was blown away by the visuals produced by the Xbox 360. It’s all so shiny! I want to live there!
Look, Mommy! An Alien! – I am very impressed by how well the different facial/body structures of the aliens in Mass Effect work. Early in the game Nihlus, a Turien, sees a transmission showing that a human colony is under attack by the Geth, an evil alien race that hasn’t been seen in 200 years. He doesn’t say anything and his mouth does not open, but the flaps of his cheeks widen in surprise – and even though he’s an alien, you can tell that it’s surprise he’s feeling because of how well it’s blocked. Excellent stuff, and there’s even more later in the game.
Way To Go, Mass Effect, You Hit My Number-One Pet Peeve – Class, what’s my number-one pet peeve on consoles? That’s right – aiming a targeting reticle with a thumbstick! Mass Effect’s combat is real-time action-adventure-style combat, but with no targeting lock-on. Yes, you must aim your weapons manually, and yes, I have had so much trouble with that. Fortunately you can set the level of tolerance in the options, so that your aim can be a little off and still hit (raising your weapon skill helps with this too). So it’s not going to be fatal like it was for Resident Evil 4…but man it’s annoying to see such a good game make such a huge mistake.
ding – This is the first RPG I’ve ever played that didn’t make a big deal out of you levelling up. If there’s a level-up indicator I’ve never noticed it, only discovering when I went into the options menu that I’ve gained two levels and have skill points to distribute. The game also doesn’t do a good job of letting you know that you have to allocate skill points for your other party members as well.
Smaller Than Advertised – After struggling through the first combat sequence on Eden Prime the game presented me with the Citadel, a huge, beautiful futuristic city. My first thought was, “Mass Effect, if you will let me run around that entire city at ground level then all is forgiven.” But that’s not what happened, of course. While the area to explore isn’t small, it is limited to only the locations where Plot can happen. That’s kind of disappointing.
Overall: I will struggle through the combat because the rest of the package is soooo good, but I wish that weren’t necessary.