Frivolous Waste of Time

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Archive for the tag “sega”

Alpha Protocol for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Ah, that time during the lulls of a new console generation where you can go back and give those games you missed on the last-gen a try. Alpha Protocol really appealed to me in the run up to its release, but its disappointing reviews put me off. Its proper bargain bin stuff now, I bought it for £2.00. Let me put it this way; there are very few things better than this that you can get for £2.00.

Alpha Protocol follows Mike Thornton, an American agent with a backstory chosen by the player. He is recruited by Alpha Protocol, a clandestine organisation working for the US Government. For his first assignment he is sent to Saudi Arabia to investigate the terrorist group Al-Samad and its leader Shaheed. It’s not long before he finds out that things are much more complex than they seem, uncovering a massive global conspiracy involving the weapons dealer Halbech and Alpha Protocol themselves.

The whole ‘evil weapons dealer causes global instability to create sales’ has been overdone a lot, and it can’t really be said that Alpha Protocol tells a particularly original, or even especially interesting story. What it does do well, perhaps even among the best I’ve seen, is react to the player’s choices in meaningful ways. Where Bioware hyped up the branching paths of the Mass Effect series, Obsidian quietly released a game that actually lives up to that promise, with a story which can go in quite different directions based on your choices, although admittedly still ending up in roughly the same place regardless. This element of choice gave me a sense of player agency which has only really been matched in The Walking Dead. Thornton himself is pretty bland, with generally the options for conversation being professional, aggressive or suave, but there’s a colourful supporting cast, which can at times get fairly ridiculous. This isn’t a plot to take particularly seriously, but it is intricate and well put together.

Sadly, where Alpha Protocol falls apart somewhat are its basic mechanics. It’s a third person action RPG, with a bit too much action and not enough RPG. Mass Effect got away with it because the action was actually quite good, but here it just isn’t strong enough to support the light RPG elements. A VATS like system might have worked a lot better. You can invest in different areas to shape your play style, from guns blazing, to stealth to gadget mastery. I went for stealth, and most of the time this worked fine, almost getting enjoyably overpowered towards the end. Where everything fell down is the horrendous boss fights, which much like Deus Ex: Human Revolution before it, throw all choice out the window, and become punishingly difficult if you hadn’t really invested in guns. There’s a noticeable lack of polish to the whole thing; this is a game released six months, maybe even a year too soon.

The game is structured as a series of missions centred in a selection of hubs, which include Saudi Arabia, Moscow, Taipei and Rome. From these hubs you can check your email, buy equipment and intel for your missions and then set out. Some missions are just conversations (which was fine with me because they were my favourite part of the game anyway), with many being much more lengthy, and a handful actually being quite clever. It’s not a truly epic RPG, but considering its messy execution it’s probably the right length. The game ended just before the dodgy gameplay became too much.

The voice acting is a strong point, with performances ranging from nuanced to enjoyably silly. Alpha Protocol has a large a varied cast, well brought to life. The character models are ok, but the environments are pretty ugly, with an overwhelmingly bland visual style. This game runs pretty horribly, with constant texture pop up and regular glitches marring the experience. It’s a shame, because this game actually has plenty of the little details that give it away as a labour of love for a talented team, who likely simply weren’t given the publisher support they needed.

Alpha Protocol is an extremely flawed game, and if I’d paid full price for it perhaps my views on it would be different. As it stands however, I actually quite liked it; it’s certainly worth £2.00.alphaprotocolcovernew580

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Sonic Generations for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC

Despite the infamous ‘Sonic-cycle’ of misery and sadness, the blue hedgehog has been on something of an upswing lately. Sure, his newest games such as Sonic Colours aren’t as good as the originals, and don’t even come close to the recent offerings of his great rival Mario, but things have certainly improved since the miserable says of Sonic Heroes and Sonic ’06. Sonic Generations continues these tentative steps in the right direction, and is probably the best home console Sonic game since Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast and Gamecube.

Sonic Generations begins at Sonic’s birthday party with all of his obnoxious friends, which is mercifully interrupted by an otherworldly being, which captures of all Sonic’s pals and sends him into a white void. Time has been broken down, and the past is mingling with the present, as the Mega Drive-era (and blissfully mute) classic Sonic and the ganglier, wisecracking modern Sonic team up to save their friends and return the world to normal.

There’s an element of self-mockery to Sonic Generations that I enjoyed, but not enough of it, and the story is mostly made up of ultra-sincere dull Sonic fare. Although we’re invited to lightly mock terrible characters like Cream the Rabbit, we’re also sort of expected to like them, which is beyond the pale for me. Cream the Rabbit for crying out loud. At least the Australian raccoon from Sonic Rush Adventure doesn’t show up. Sonic at one point tells his younger counterpart that he has a great future ahead of him, but that’s not really true is it? If Sega had truly bought into the self-awareness that Generations shows glimmers of, we could have had something really entertaining here!

Sonic Generations’ main gimmick is that each level, based on a level from Sonic’s past, can be played both as ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ Sonic. There are only a handful of levels, with classics such as the original Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone, alongside Sonic Adventure 2’s City Escape (follow me, set me free, trust me and we will escape from the city) and even entries from the newer, terrible games such as Sonic 06’s Crisis City. The classic Sonic levels play much like the Mega Drive games, although there’s an element of 2.5D stuff coming through. The modern Sonic levels are a mishmash of basically on rails twitch based running, 2D sections and Sonic Adventure style gameplay. It’s odd, but it manages to generally take the best from those games without the worst. Alongside the main levels are a handful of actually really fun bosses, although the final boss is terrible. There may not be many levels, but the game is extended pretty nicely through challenges within the levels, which unlock collectibles. I was cynical about these, but many of them genuinely do offer an interesting and inventive spin; you may have already played these levels, but it doesn’t feel like you have.

This game is, simply put, a lot of fun. The classic levels are tricky and well designed. Sega never quite matched the tight platforming of Nintendo, and I’ll always prefer Mario to Sonic, but there were some things that Sega did better, chiefly the branching levels. I like that falling doesn’t necessarily mean death, it just means a lesser path with fewer rewards. The modern levels are more about spectacle, and there are some genuinely awesome moments, with the highlight for me coming from the level based on Sonic Unleashed (weirdly enough).

Sonic Generations looks nice enough, although there’s a weird fuzziness during the cut-scenes. The music is a treat, with some nice remixes of classic Sonic themes (City Escape!) that will set those with a huge investment of nostalgia into raptures. The voice acting is, well, Sonic the Hedgehog voice acting. It’s a neat little package, if relatively unambitious in its presentation.

Overall, Sonic Generations is a solid release, entirely worth the now low asking price. It’s not the glorious come back of an icon, but it’s at least good, and in this day and age that’s really the best we can hope for from a new Sonic game. download (8)

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