Total War: Attila


I reviewed Creative Assembly's Total War: Attila over at Tech-Gaming. It's a good game though it feels more like an expansion than it does a sequel. I know it's been a while since I've updated the blog, sorry about that, been rather busy with work. I still have two more Tech-Gaming reviews incoming before I resume work on my blog.

Blackguards 2 Review

http://www.tech-gaming.com/blackguards-2-review/
My review of Daedalic Entertainment's Blackguards 2 is up. I'm happy to say that after playing it a second time, I enjoyed it much more than I did in my preview. The game is not for everyone, but if you're into hardcore tactical WRPGs, this may be your cup of tea. Link for the review

Predator 2

Developer: Teeny Weeny Games
Publisher: Acclaim/ Arena Entertainment

Movie based games suffer from a poor reputation for almost as long as gaming has existed. Though not the first culprit, E.T. set the standard and public opinion for this sort of game for generations to come. This does not mean there haven't been good or even amazing titles based on motion pictures, in fact, if you avoided the LJN logo there was a decent chance of a movie based title turning out pretty good.

Depending on the system you getting it for, examples of good movie-to-game adaptations include Aladdin, The Lion King, Alien 3, Batman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Toy Story, The Terminator, Robocop and more. Predator 2 for the Master System seems to carry a point of contention, where players either view it as quick, poorly made cash-in while others proclaim it a hidden gem for Sega's 8-bit console.

Predator 2 makes a poor first impression by presenting players with a silent, static screen of L.A.'s skyscrapers. The main menu isn't much of an improvement either, providing no difficulty or sound options. Oddly enough, it features password saving, though its usefulness is limited considering I finished the game on my first playthrough in less than an hour.

At its core, this is a basic run-and-gun title with forced scrolling to keep the main character moving. You control Danny Glover's character mowing down wave after wave of drug lord. Shooting this constant horde is a ton of fun as each downed enemy leaves behind a bag of cocaine (yes, seriously) which can be collected for extra points. Officially all drugs collected are handed to LAPD's drug squad, but it's just so hilarious to see a tiny pixelated Danny Glover gathering enough cocaine to put Scarface out of business.

Killing baddies and collecting drugs aren't your only concern though; there are also hostages that need rescuing. Finally, there's the titular predator which oddly enough, barely makes an appearance throughout the game. Outside of a disappointing final battle, we only see him making an appearance though his arm cannon laser scope which occasionally sweeps through the battlefield. Should the laser scope focus on good ol' Danny, you instantly lose a life regardless of your health bar. Only three hostages are allowed to die throughout the entire game, should that happen, their deaths prompt an instant game over independently of how many lives you amassed.

Unfortunately, as fun as the gameplay initially is, it's not long before Predator 2's problems begin to surface. The first issue lies with its repetition, both visually and in-game mechanics. Enemy variety is paltry at best; you'll find yourself killing the same enemies over and over with little to no variation in their attack patterns. This even extends to the final level, where humans have been replaced by tiny predator-looking creatures, who feature new weapons but still act largely the same as every other bad guy you've killed so far. Littered throughout each stage are weapon pick-ups, but unlike other games in the genre, they are hardly distinguishable from your starting gun. Instead of giving you lasers, flamethrowers or other interesting variations, you receive uzis, shotguns and the like which merely change the rate, power or direction of each basic shot. The shotgun being a very egregious case, creating a three-way shot with an overly long refire rate, making this particular power-up practically useless.

Boss fights make for disappointing challenges, as you only have to shoot stationary targets while being swarmed by the same countless minions you've been killing by the hundreds. Predator 2 only features seven stages, but still manages to recycle background locations. There are three levels set in the streets of L.A. which look nearly identical to one another. The music isn't much better either, sporting a handful of forgettable, barely audible tunes, though the sound effects loud, convincing and generally well done considering this is a Master System game.

It's easy to see why Predator 2 draws such a wide range of opinions, on one hand the fast, unending action poses great entertainment, and spending half the game collecting my own weight in drugs is unintentionally hilarious. On the other hand, the non-existing enemy, weapon and level variety coupled with boring boss battles quickly make for a repetitive experience. One could potentially play for points, but with only seven non-looping stages it doesn't cater to that specific audience as well as it could have. Predator 2 could have been the Master System's answer to Contra, but it lacks in design and sound while recycling too much content.

Pros:
- Fast shooting action is initially very fun and addicting
- Playing a tiny pixelated Danny Glover collecting his weight in cocaine is unintentionally hilarious


Cons:
- Repetitive gameplay further compounded by lack of enemy, weapon and level variety
- Relatively easy and short. Players will likely finish it on their first playthrough in less than an hour

Final Grade: C+

Now THIS is a cover! Master system games are generally not known for appealing box art but Predator 2 is an exception. The ever-boring grid design is still there, but Arena Entertainment really did their best to minimize this.

The image is really just a screen from the movie, but a very good one, showing off the titular Predator. Of course, considering how little we actually get to see of him I'd almost call this false advertising. The image itself is little on the blurry side though, likely taken from a VHS copy.


The manual is more entertaining than most PAL instruction booklets. It features several cheesy "top secret" stamps while providing information on the game and each level. I like how all the text was written in the form of a military/police briefing, sometimes the little things go a long way. It's not all text though, there are a few white and blue screenshots, but they're so small I could barely make anything out. 
Finally, the cartridge comes in a blue font, combining nicely with the rest of packaging. It's a small variation, but it does stand out from the crowd. Master System games don't exactly hold a high standard for me when it comes to good packaging. Predator 2 does not provide any extras like maps or posters, but all the basics are pulled of really well and that's enough to make it stand out from the rest.

Packaging Grade: A-


Yakuza 2 (Christmas Special)

Developer: sega
Publisher: Sega
 
The original Yakuza was something of an unexpected success in Japan despite being released during Sony’s Playstation 2 final years. However, this success did not carry over into its western release where sales were decent if unspectacular. Thankfully, Yakuza managed to sell over a million units worldwide, over half of which stemmed from the Japanese market. This sequel launched in the Japanese homeland merely a year after Yakuza’s release, though westerners would have to wait twice that amount. Despite this time-frame increase, the localization process is noticeably less involving than its predecessor, foregoing its star-studded English dub for a humbler Japanese audio with accompanying subtitles.

Taking place a year after the events of the first game, we discover Kazuma retired and leading a simple life as Haruka’s guardian. At first the Japanese was somewhat disorienting, but every actor performs their part admirably, and while I miss voice-acting legends such as Mark Hamill, the new cast quickly grew on me. Yakuza 2 also offers a lengthy recap feature where players can catch up to all the backstory they either missed, or forgotten. One of my criticisms of the original game was its messy, convoluted plot and while videos and accompanying narrations are of great help, they suffer from information overflow. I can only imagine how confused someone who never played the first game would feel after watching this video.

Once past introductions and recaps, the story quickly begins to unfold itself. A weakened Dojima clan finds itself under siege by a rival Kyoto-based organization, and the foreign Korean mafia. Yakuza 2 expertly manages to convey a heavily romanticized and idealized take on the Japanese mafia. Often characters and plot seem more akin to that of a soap opera with dramatic reveals and overly exaggerated reactions. However, this mostly works to the game’s advantage as it maintains a good flow throughout its narrative. This does not mean Yakuza 2 isn’t susceptible to the same pitfalls of its predecessor, namely how ridiculous it becomes in some parts. At one point Kazuma enters the premises of a mob boss who lives inside a castle that opens up to reveal a second castle made out of solid gold. I’m not sure if this is meant to be intentionally ridiculous, but the tone and mood plays it straight which ruins any depth or gravity of the moment. Thankfully these are mostly relegated to sidetracked plotpoints and hold little weight on the actual narrative, though some manage to considerably hinder an otherwise well told story. The most upsetting case occurs at the ending, I won’t go into spoilers, but I will warn readers that it nearly ruined the experience for me.

The entire main cast from Yakuza makes a return, but sadly most of the appearances can be considered as glorified cameos. It’s a shame the dynamic Detective Date and Kazuma shared in the previous entry is hardly felt this time around. On the other hand, Kazuma is now teamed up with the tough-as-nails female detective, Kaoru who shares a well-executed bond with our main hero. It may take some missteps, and at times vary wildly from cartoonishly unbelievable to overly dramatic and serious, but Yakuza 2’s story is definitely one of its strong points despite the poor ending.

Kamurocho has changed little between entries, most of the shops make a return graphically unchanged and selling the same products. Some new stores and mini-games have been added, but the greatest addition is the all-new Osaka district to explore. It may only be a fraction in size of its Tokyo counterpart, but it offers variations on the already established mini-games. For the most part my thoughts on these remains unchanged from Yakuza; they are enjoyable for a few minutes but quickly become boring. Moreover, the rewards offered are not enough to offset the money and time invested to master them. This time however there are two exceptions to this rule. The first is a spin on the hostess mini-game, where this time, Kazuma is the one who must entertain customers. Dialog in these sections is still mostly guesswork of what works and what doesn’t, but this time players must also ensure customers consume a minimum amount of drinks throughout the conversation. This however, pales in comparison to a game where Kazuma owns and runs his very own Hostess bar. Managing prices, decorations, worker satisfaction and scouting for new hostesses was a very rewarding diversion and a welcome distraction from the main storyline.

While exploring the city, random groups of thugs will often attack Kazuma, triggering battle sections. Combat is another instance in which Yakuza 2 remains unchanged, gameplay-wise from its predecessor. The difficulty level was increased this time around as enemy patterns and movesets actively encourage players to engage them tactically. These random combat instances seem to happen at disparaging intervals between storyline chapters. Some chapters will constantly swarm you with random encounters while others remain relatively hassle free.

Returning players will likely get a case of Déjà vu, most of the audio and graphical assets are recycled from the first one right down to visual glitches. The odd texture warping, seaming and clipping issues all make a return with little if any improvements added.

Yakuza 2 improves the experience where it counts, the story despite flawed is tighter and better woven.
Combat while still largely the same has been slightly tweaked and in doing so became less of a repetitive chore, and a more engaging experience. Finally, the side-content is immense, featuring Yakuza 1’s mini-games while still adding plenty of new things to see and try. Yakuza 2 may have launched during the PS2’s twilight years, but it became one of the finest titles available on Sony’s little black box. Now if only the ending wasn’t so terrible…

Trivia: Did you know that due to the success of the original Yakuza, its sequel featured even more tie-in campaigns? The Matsuya restaurants for example, replace the unlicensed Akagyu chain of the first one. The game has a total of 17 real brand tie-ins.


Pros:
- A greatly improved story
- Combat slightly tweaked for the better
- More and better mini-games

Cons:
- Terrible ending
- Story still gets very silly in places
- Much of content was recycled from the first game

Final Grade: A-


I'm sad to say Yakuza 2's cover does not look good. It's an almost identical copy of Yakuza 1 only this time the appealing color balance gives way to a black and white image and the tattoo design is cropped. Without these, all we have left is an uninspired cover that blends into the background. Maybe this is why the series seems to struggle outside Japan.

Even the DVD looks plain in comparison to its prequel, what happened?

The manual is does fare a little better, in the sense that it's neither an upgrade or a downgrade from Yakuza. It contains a short paragraph briefly glancing at the events of the first game and goes into a pretty good detail on how to play the game. It features plenty of screenshots as visual aids and even a few hint boxes.

The manual is still in black and white and I did prefer the visual layout of the first one better, but overall this a good manual. A shame about the cover though.

Packaging Grade: C+

Christmas cheer rating: 

Yakuza 2, much like its predessor, is a game which takes place on Christmas but barely ever mentions it. Once again you'll see people decked out in Santa outfits and hear a few jingles at some of the shops but that's where it ends. However, it does have a beautiful 'Silent Night' rendition during the credit sequence, so I'll give it that much. One out of five snowmen.

Yakuza (Christmas Special)

Developer: Sega
Publisher:  Sega

I remember reading a magazine preview of Yakuza back in the day labeling it as “Sega’s GTA”. Now considering how I stopped caring for Rockstar’s flagship franchise once the series evolved to 3D I ended up ignoring Yakuza, expecting it to be more of the same. Boy was I wrong!

You play as Kazuma Kyriu, once the most feared yakuza member in the entire Tojo clan, but fell into disgrace after being wrongfully accused of murdering his own boss and spending 10 years in prison. When he’s finally, Kazuma discovers the Tokyo clans are on the brink of civil war due to the disappearance of 20 billion yen from their hidden stash.

As the game begins you’re prompted to explore Tokyo’s fictional Kamurocho district, which is a series of neighborhoods filled with bars, strip clubs, stores, thugs, gangs, yakuza and just about everything else you can imagine. While the general area is relatively small when compared to other sandbox games or even RPGs it makes up for it by being so damn interesting and detailed. Every neighborhood feels different from the last, you can read magazines, watch commercials and have a few drinks, all of which are from real products and brands though most of them are exclusive to Japan. Still, I recognized a few western products like Jack Daniels whisky. You can’t really interact with random NPCs though, nor can you steal or even drive a car, as when exploring Kamurocho, most of the action is relegated to select areas with specific tasks or NPCs to talk to.

There are a ton of shops you can visit, many of them with their own mini-games which can range from baseball batting cages, gambling or even hostess bars where you pay for the time and opportunity to court a woman (wait, what?). These are pretty fun at first, but a lot of them quickly become stale or the rewards are simply not worth the time/money investment especially in regards to the hostesses. I ended up spending nearly 100K on one of them with the ultimate reward being a small animation implying Kazuma slept with her… big whoop.

When you’re not exploring the town it’s likely you’re engaged in combat, this can happen as part of a story/side mission or by random thugs accosting you, which happens way too often. The combat is really fun, playing like a 3D Streets of Rage, you can perform combos, grab your enemies or even use weapons which can be bought or found lying around on the floor and as you beat thug after thug you gain experience points which can be spent on learning new moves or just generally improving your stats. 

Unfortunately as fun as the combat is, it happens way too often to the point of it almost feeling series of random encounters. In one instance I was attacked by three groups in the same street! To make matters worse there’s a loading screen between battles, streets and shops, slowing down the pacing quite a bit. Combat isn’t perfect either as I often ran into camera issues where I couldn’t see myself and/or the enemies, also, it could’ve benefited from a lock-on feature as I often found myself punching the air simply because I was facing the at the wrong angle. 

The story for the most part is pretty good, even if it hinges quite a bit on the soap-opera side. It features plenty of interesting and unique characters, but many of them, as well as the situations themselves are often so over-exaggerated that it feels like I’m watching a Naruto anime (at one point your character punches someone through the floor). My real gripe with its story however lies with the complete lack of self-restraint towards the later chapters, it throws you a bunch of plot twists and everything just keeps escalating to point where it simply becomes a bit too ludicrous for my taste, though I did enjoy the relationship between Kazuma and his friends, especially detective Date.

It even features a pretty impressive cast of well-established voice actors such as Mark Hamill (Batman: TAS) and John DiMaggio (Futurama) but you wouldn’t have guessed it by the performances we got, with the exception of Mark Hamill’s Majima everyone sounds so bored and lifeless. If I had to guess I’d say all of the actors were given zero voice direction, but hey, that’s just my opinion.

Graphically I was pretty impressed with Yakuza, the city is beautiful to look at both artistically and on a technical level with tons of Neon lights, billboards and dozens of NPCs leading their daily lives though at times I did notice some light texture warping and a seaming issues. I’m surprised to see the latter is still an issue considering this is a late PS2 release.

On the sound department is certainly doesn’t win any prizes, apart from the previously mentioned voice acting there are only a handful of songs and I got tired of the battle music way too fast. I also noticed a few ambient sounds looping every 3 seconds or so especially when visiting K-mart, but these were in the minority as almost every other place did a good job at disguising this.

Overall I feel Yakuza is a much better game than I originally thought, While it can be seen as a GTA-style game I would argue it shares just as many differences as it does similarities. The story, combat and exploration are fun, but they’re all poorly balanced, with too much combat, a plot that goes overboard towards the end and an abundance of mini-games where the rewards are hardly ever worth the time invested.

Trivia: Did you know many of the brands and even some of the shops we see in Yakuza exist in real life? Due to the game's expensive development process Sega secured several tie-in campaigns ranging from the Don Quijote discount stores to Jack Daniels adds.

Pros:
- Fun combat
- The city is small but interesting and very detailed
- The story is pretty good for the most part
- Plenty of mini-games to keep you entertained

Cons:
- Gameplay becomes repetitive after a while
- You'll encounter loading screens a bit too often for my taste
- Towards the latter chapters the story jumps the shark
- With so few worthwhile rewards, the mini-games feel meaningless

Final Grade: B-

The box shows our main character with his back turned to the viewer and displaying his Yakuza tattoo. While the idea itself is a bit on the boring side the nice use of color in the tattoo makes up for this turning it into a pretty eye-catchy box art.

When reading the manual I was surprised at the lack of backstory information or character backgrounds, all you get is a short paragraph that sounds more like a tagline than it does an actual backstory. 

On the flip-side the booklet goes into great detail on how to play the game. It gives you a ton of information, screenshots, tips and NPCs to talk to. On the rim of each of each even numbered page is a different Yakuza styled tattoo, while the designs end up repeating themselves they do a good job at making the manual feel unique and part of the experience, unfortunately the entire booklet is in black and white though, so while it makes for a nice read the eye candy is a bit muffled.

Overall this is a pretty nice package, I liked the cover image and while it doesn't come with any extras a lot of effort was put into the manual, a shame that it comes in black and white and lacks backstory information.

Packaging Grade: B+

Christmas cheer rating: 

When it comes to Christmas, the Yakuza series is like the Die Hard of videogames. They may take place during the Holidays, but they sure don't seem to care about it. Yes, occasionally you'll run into a few people dressed as Santa or some shops play a few Christmas-y jingles here and there but these are easy to miss. Rarely, if ever is the Holiday Season mentioned throughout the story. It's a game whose plot happens to take place during Christmas, that's it. Half a snowman.


Yakuza 2

Developer: sega
Publisher: Sega
 
The original Yakuza was something of an unexpected success in Japan despite being released during Sony’s Playstation 2 final years. However, this success did not carry over into its western release where sales were decent if unspectacular. Thankfully, Yakuza managed to sell over a million units worldwide, over half of which stemmed from the Japanese market. This sequel launched in the Japanese homeland merely a year after Yakuza’s release, though westerners would have to wait twice that amount. Despite this time-frame increase, the localization process is noticeably less involving than its predecessor, foregoing its star-studded English dub for a humbler Japanese audio with accompanying subtitles.

Taking place a year after the events of the first game, we discover Kazuma retired and leading a simple life as Haruka’s guardian. At first the Japanese was somewhat disorienting, but every actor performs their part admirably, and while I miss voice-acting legends such as Mark Hamill, the new cast quickly grew on me. Yakuza 2 also offers a lengthy recap feature where players can catch up to all the backstory they either missed, or forgotten. One of my criticisms of the original game was its messy, convoluted plot and while videos and accompanying narrations are of great help, they suffer from information overflow. I can only imagine how confused someone who never played the first game would feel after watching this video.

Once past introductions and recaps, the story quickly begins to unfold itself. A weakened Dojima clan finds itself under siege by a rival Kyoto-based organization, and the foreign Korean mafia. Yakuza 2 expertly manages to convey a heavily romanticized and idealized take on the Japanese mafia. Often characters and plot seem more akin to that of a soap opera with dramatic reveals and overly exaggerated reactions. However, this mostly works to the game’s advantage as it maintains a good flow throughout its narrative. This does not mean Yakuza 2 isn’t susceptible to the same pitfalls of its predecessor, namely how ridiculous it becomes in some parts. At one point Kazuma enters the premises of a mob boss who lives inside a castle that opens up to reveal a second castle made out of solid gold. I’m not sure if this is meant to be intentionally ridiculous, but the tone and mood plays it straight which ruins any depth or gravity of the moment. Thankfully these are mostly relegated to sidetracked plotpoints and hold little weight on the actual narrative, though some manage to considerably hinder an otherwise well told story. The most upsetting case occurs at the ending, I won’t go into spoilers, but I will warn readers that it nearly ruined the experience for me.

The entire main cast from Yakuza makes a return, but sadly most of the appearances can be considered as glorified cameos. It’s a shame the dynamic Detective Date and Kazuma shared in the previous entry is hardly felt this time around. On the other hand, Kazuma is now teamed up with the tough-as-nails female detective, Kaoru who shares a well-executed bond with our main hero. It may take some missteps, and at times vary wildly from cartoonishly unbelievable to overly dramatic and serious, but Yakuza 2’s story is definitely one of its strong points despite the poor ending.

Kamurocho has changed little between entries, most of the shops make a return graphically unchanged and selling the same products. Some new stores and mini-games have been added, but the greatest addition is the all-new Osaka district to explore. It may only be a fraction in size of its Tokyo counterpart, but it offers variations on the already established mini-games. For the most part my thoughts on these remains unchanged from Yakuza; they are enjoyable for a few minutes but quickly become boring. Moreover, the rewards offered are not enough to offset the money and time invested to master them. This time however there are two exceptions to this rule. The first is a spin on the hostess mini-game, where this time, Kazuma is the one who must entertain customers. Dialog in these sections is still mostly guesswork of what works and what doesn’t, but this time players must also ensure customers consume a minimum amount of drinks throughout the conversation. This however, pales in comparison to a game where Kazuma owns and runs his very own Hostess bar. Managing prices, decorations, worker satisfaction and scouting for new hostesses was a very rewarding diversion and a welcome distraction from the main storyline.

While exploring the city, random groups of thugs will often attack Kazuma, triggering battle sections. Combat is another instance in which Yakuza 2 remains unchanged, gameplay-wise from its predecessor. The difficulty level was increased this time around as enemy patterns and movesets actively encourage players to engage them tactically. These random combat instances seem to happen at disparaging intervals between storyline chapters. Some chapters will constantly swarm you with random encounters while others remain relatively hassle free.

Returning players will likely get a case of Déjà vu, most of the audio and graphical assets are recycled from the first one right down to visual glitches. The odd texture warping, seaming and clipping issues all make a return with little if any improvements added.

Yakuza 2 improves the experience where it counts, the story despite flawed is tighter and better woven.
Combat while still largely the same has been slightly tweaked and in doing so became less of a repetitive chore, and a more engaging experience. Finally, the side-content is immense, featuring Yakuza 1’s mini-games while still adding plenty of new things to see and try. Yakuza 2 may have launched during the PS2’s twilight years, but it became one of the finest titles available on Sony’s little black box. Now if only the ending wasn’t so terrible…

Trivia: Did you know that due to the success of the original Yakuza, its sequel featured even more tie-in campaigns? The Matsuya restaurants for example, replace the unlicensed Akagyu chain of the first one. The game has a total of 17 real brand tie-ins.


Pros:
- A greatly improved story
- Combat slightly tweaked for the better
- More and better mini-games

Cons:
- Terrible ending
- Story still gets very silly in places
- Much of content was recycled from the first game

Final Grade: A-


I'm sad to say Yakuza 2's cover does not look good. It's an almost identical copy of Yakuza 1 only this time the appealing color balance gives way to a black and white image and the tattoo design is cropped. Without these, all we have left is an uninspired cover that blends into the background. Maybe this is why the series seems to struggle outside Japan.


Even the DVD looks plain in comparison to its prequel, what happened?

The manual is does fare a little better, in the sense that it's neither an upgrade or a downgrade from Yakuza. It contains a short paragraph briefly glancing at the events of the first game and goes into a pretty good detail on how to play the game. It features plenty of screenshots as visual aids and even a few hint boxes.

The manual is still in black and white and I did prefer the visual layout of the first one better, but overall this a good manual. A shame about the cover though.

Packaging Grade: C+