Killzone

Gamestyle Archive Intro: if you ever wanted proof that GS stood by its approach and ethics then here’s the perfect example. Whilst the mainstream media were falling over themselves to praise Killzone the reality of the gaming experience was somewhat different. You can never win reviewing these games – you’ll have PR companies moaning you only scored it a 9 when it deserved a 10. We never bowed to such pressure and on the flipside these more realistic scores pushed down the game on ranking websites, much to the fanboys annoyance. Oh yes, a review such as this I’m sure in November 2004 did receive criticism from the Killzone-fans and it wasn’t the first, nor is it the last. I can recall another PlayStation exclusive in the shape of Gran Turismo prompting a similar backlash.

This review comes from Chris Pickering and overall proves that taking your time with the gaming experience and summing up the package stands the test of time. Too many sites tried to be first out of the blocks with a hashed review, not Gamestyle.

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So, it’s here – the Halo beater is finally here. The game that’s set to propel Sony’s PS2 to the next level (and urinate from a great height upon Bungie’s Halo series). The game that truly defines the FPS genre and takes games, and gamers, to that dizzying new level we’d never thought possible. Why, even Edge harped on about Killzone’s immense potential – so how could it be any different?

Well, it is. It’s quite difficult to calculate just how many superlatives had been whipped up prior to the game’s release; proclaiming Killzone to be ‘heir apparent’ to the FPS throne (well, at least on consoles). And, let’s be honest, many of those utterances would’ve been made after witnessing early clips of the in-game action. However, drawing a line in the sand, we here at Gamestyle expect a little more substance to accompany our gaming hype. It all starts reasonably enough: an attractive introductory sequence clearly shows you how the game will play out.

Killzone is yet another homage to the ‘bloody war’ scenario (somewhat akin to the Medal Of Honor series, but set in the ‘near-future’ rather than the past). The Helghast – the masked enemies you’ll have seen all too often in the previews – are the baddies of the piece. They wish to take over, and obliterate anyone who isn’t part of their super-race. As is usual for this type of action-FPS, the storyline isn’t particularly interesting – but it does at least get you mildly intrigued for what is to come. Things take a slight turn for the worse when the game ‘proper’ actually begins. Unfortunately, playing on the normal difficulty or below, the enemy displays some mightily-unimpressive AI. On these lower settings, it’s something of a throwback to simpler times – when bitmapped sprites proceeded to run full-pelt towards you without a second thought to their existence on the spectral plane. However, to Guerrilla’s credit, if you wish to take on the game at its most difficult, enemy intelligence does ramp up; foes often come at you in a semi-realistic manner (even to the point of overwhelming you with some impressive routines). Of course, at the end of the day, it’s ‘artificially’ hard for the simple fact that it wants you to lose.

Killzone’s enemies (or should that be clones?) become something of a detriment to the title overall. After the first hour or so of play, you’ll be screaming out for a little variety as far your opponents are concerned. Your screams go mercilessly unanswered, of course, as wave upon wave of identikit soldiers come tearing towards you. Don’t get us wrong, Gamestyle is partial to the Guerrilla style – but the FPS fashion stakes could’ve been upped considerably with a dash of spice on the playing-field. Even worse ‘fashions’ are yet to come, however, with the design of the levels. After witnessing and playing through some of the most exhilarating and incredibly-vast levels in Halo 2, there’s nothing but disappointment laying in Killzone’s wake.

Half-Life 2 showed us that levels need not be overly-simplified and obvious to stave off frustration; but here, there’s very little sense of actually being able to shape your own destiny – and more of a feeling that you’re being forced against your will through channels of hardness. Matters aren’t helped one tiny bit by the aesthetic design; these are some of the most drab and lifeless stages that Gamestyle has ever visited. The endless collage of browns and murky greys are quite depressing in fact, almost to the point of despair. Okay, so it does support the ‘warzone’ motif quite well – but there’s no excuse for inactivity outside of immediate battles. Guerrilla needs to remind players that the rest of their world is actually alive.

Despite the overly critical tone we’ve taken with Killzone, it’s not a game that can’t yield the occasional highpoint. When we say highpoint, we don’t mean to imply that it reaches the heights of multiplayer Halo 2 (although Killzone is fully playable online) – perhaps ‘highpoint of relief’ is the better expression. Relief that arrives in the aftermath of a bad purchase; knowledge and the implicit hope that someday Guerrilla will rise above the ruins of a dismal and overhyped package.

In the meantime, media interest which at first raised the game up to unreachable levels looks almost certain to implode – killing off Killzone in the process. The potential for Guerrilla to develop a truly impressive FPS title on the PS2 is obviously there, but it’s a learning curve that players won’t be scaling anytime soon. The PS2’s answer to Halo? Don’t make us laugh.

Gamestyle Score: 5/10

Rumble Roses

Gamestyle Archive Intro: there was a time in the very earliest versions of the website where Dean would like to put up a picture of a woman to enhance the visual appeal of the page. Why I’m mentioning this I don’t know other than whilst putting this review back together the memory reappeared. This review is from JJ and dates from February 2005.

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Scantily-clad women wresting in obscene outfits (not to mention the obligatory mud wrestling). For some this sounds like a winning recipe, but for others the least politically-correct release of the year (outside of Rockstar’s own schedule) ticks every possible wish-list of teenage gamers.

You have the nurse character; a femme fatale; busty blondes; a schoolgirl and many more besides. It would be easy to dismiss Konami’s Rumble Roses as a flagrant attempt to pick up the reigns from Tecmo’s Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball, but to do so would be missing the point of the whole game: by looking beyond the flesh festival, the outrageous oeuvre, you’ll moreover find yourself having fun with yourself (ahem) – and many a time at that. Because, if nothing else, this politically-charged game is indeed a guilty pleasure.

Rumble Roses is ‘filled out’ like a typical beat ’em up, but in wrestler’s clothing. You have your standard versus mode and the main challenge arriving via story mode. Here you must take each character through their paces, fighting bitter rivals in your quest to become the wrestling champion. In so doing, additional characters and costumes are made available; the gallery function allows you to hear dialogue and zoom in on your favourite wrestler. Like Tekken’s Iron Fist tournament, Rumble Roses is the ultimate wrestling event that every wannabe wants to compete in. Each of the wrestlers has their own reasons for doing so – ranging from finding a lost relative, to covert government investigations, or simply proving they are the best. The character stories are driven by cut sequences that only heighten your awareness of the clothing available. The stories themselves are so imbecilic that they eventually become endearing, but thankfully, take a backseat to the ‘action’ itself.

It’s somewhat ironic that Konami – relative newcomers to the wrestling genre – can produce a game which is superior to most Smackdown! releases of late. Of course, this isn’t saying much as the ‘next generation’ competition hasn’t exactly broken free of its PSone shackles. The qualitative difference here is Konami taking their arcade experience and pinning it firmly on the ‘breast’ of a wrestling-cum-beat ’em up hybrid. Speaking of which, the flesh festival will no doubt prove alluring to some, but in addition the familiarity of known fighting regimes will attract others who might normally be dismissive of the wrestling-cum-pantomime experience. The real selling-point (as opposed to the fairground attraction of mud wrestling) is the visuals – which clearly allow for successful interpretation of moves. You can also sit back and soak up the scenery if you wish, as two CPU characters will go head to head. The camera is well-behaved and the focus on killer moves really brings a television dynamic to fights, despite the fact there is (thankfully) no overriding commentary.

Characters are convincingly-detailed (Konami has claimed 10,000 polygons per model), animate fluidly and overall have a ‘replay’ quality that has technically become the norm. However, there is no accidental loss of accessories – perhaps these girls ‘superglue’ their sunglasses? The sound is a mixed bag, with hysterics and sound effects coming across well as each girl dishes out (and receives) heavy punishment. Those fans of Ferrari F355’s particular blend of J-Pop will be well-catered for with the generic selection of tunes on offer. The fighting system has been streamlined for accessibility, and goes hand in hand with the arcade feel. There is no training mode to speak of; instead you’re left to find a wrestler that matches your own style. For instance, the judo wrestler is extremely adept with grappling and submission moves, while the loudmouthed cowgirl packs a brutal wallop (and mulekick, for that matter).

Nevertheless, there is some degree of thought required (especially on the higher difficulty), as it’s simply not a case of building up momentum before unleashing the killer move. Submission moves work extremely well if you react quickly and counter any attempt to escape. Yet the AI is a little unpredictable at times, as it will often fail to follow up a decent combo with a killing move when it has the initiative. One common occurrence is when you are on the ground and the CPU character will be grappling for (what seems like) an eternity. It’s almost as if it were catching its breath before resuming. Despite the political rough and tumble, Rumble Roses should prove popular enough. Beyond the jaw-dropping visuals there’s actually a fun and entertaining piece of ‘soft’ ware to be held, er… had. So what if it raises a few eyebrows? It’s only a game.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Daniel takes us back to the successful realm of Prince of Persia as Ubisoft unleashed the Warrior Within. This review dates from November 2004.

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If you’ve not played Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, do so now. Seriously, stop reading this review, hunt down a copy of the game on any format (it’ll be pretty cheap now) and lose yourself in one of the best games this generation has to offer. For those remaining, you’ll know what to expect – but you might not expect that Gamestyle is disappointed with what Ubisoft has done. Sands of Time was a game for a mature and appreciative audience; it was a game for those of us who cared that thought and consideration (for the player) had been lovingly invested. Warrior Within, on the other hand, is a game that has been driven by pubescent angst and lust for gritty ‘attitude’… oh, and blood. Lots of blood.

After releasing the ‘Sands of Time’ from its hourglass, the Prince is now on the run, destined to die. Pursued by a shadowy creature known as the Dahaka – who is attempting to seal his fate – the Prince must travel to the castle where the Sands were originally created, thus stopping them and undoing his fate in the process. Once again, the game makes exemplary use of the third dimension: the agile Prince can precisely time and execute his jumps, grabs, swings and wall-runs. Once again, the game’s environments are perfectly configured for these specific abilities, and allow you to scan ahead for the correct path. Once again, the controls are perfectly in-sync with your commands, allowing the Prince to do exactly what you want him to do; and once again you can rewind time and undo your death should your jump miss, your grip slip or your body become impaled by spiky booby-traps. No amount of falling foul could possibly ruin these steady foundations, but by the gods, Ubisoft has tried.

Although graphically astounding (Warrior Within looks slightly better than its predecessor), the stage is slightly mired by murky brown and grey dungeons. The Prince is no longer colourfully-attired, but instead dons armour plates and ‘leathery’ disposition; in fact, the misty, almost surreal, ambience of the first game has been replaced with a ‘gritty’ style that is wholly uninspired. And the music? Repetitive heavy-metal riffs kick in whenever combat initiates, and are punctuated by horrible one-liners that attempt to sound all ‘grown-up’ by cussing inappropriately. The Prince is royally pissed – and this makes him instantly unlikable; his originally sweet, charismatic (and sometimes sarcastic) persona buried beneath a facade of scar tissue and a suspiciously American-sounding accent. But a style is just a style; and although a game’s style (wink) is important for drawing you in, the way it plays is what truly matters. So, let’s take a look at how Ubisoft has messed things up… The first thing you’ll notice is the emphasis on combat.

The intro/tutorial literally throws you into a fracas with several demonic foes (presumably unrelated to the creatures from the first game). Whilst Gamestyle rather liked the original bust-ups, we nonetheless came to the conclusion that less would be more for the sequel. Ubisoft didn’t listen. Instead, combat has been tweaked, rebuilt, made more advanced… and even more frequent. Using one main weapon and a secondary weapon (which can be thrown for instant kills and replaced as new weapons are found), you can pull off an impressive range of combos: foist yourself into the air, swing around pillars, jump off walls, thrust your blade forward… block, parry, and what-have-you. It’s all very balletic, but there’s very little need to do much of this, as button-bashing will inevitably whittle down foes.

Unlike the previous game, there’s no need for a ‘deathblow’ either, as enemies will perish after enough hits. We rather miss the simplistic elegance of the original combat – although we can’t deny the tremendous flourish of lobbing your sword fifty-feet hence and chopping somebody’s head off. The second major change is the removal of ‘premonition’ scenes. For those unaware, these gave a glimpse of the (linear) path ahead; not having them in the sequel is a major omission because they were almost irresistible before – entreating you to play ‘just a little bit farther’ until you’d reached the next one. Instead, Warrior Within gives you ordinary save points that are poorly-placed… as frequent combat will cause many annoying deaths and makes you restart sometimes large sections again. But it isn’t all bad. As mentioned, the combat is very satisfying, and although it occurs far too often is well-integrated into the levels; and the gradual learning of new moves just about keeps things interesting. Also new are the boss fights – but these aren’t anything special, they’re just long and tedious battles.

So, is there anything Prince of Persia: Warrior Within adds to the original template that’s actually an improvement? Duration might be one thing (given the criminally-short length of its predecessor). There are also ‘time portals’, which cleverly split the castle into two timelines; one an exuberant past, the other a desolate present. This makes the game less linear and offers a small amount of exploration. Environmentally, there are sights to behold that hearken back to the very best of original settings… fabulous, well-rendered sections that are a joy to negotiate, but these aren’t quite as numerous as we’d have liked.

What’s most saddening is that Warrior Within has to seemingly resort to showboating to generate interest. Instead of well-written dialogue, we have semi-naked female characters with implausible breasts; instead of any sort of well-rounded lead character, we have a dislikeable chap with ‘attitude’; instead of complex, beautifully-designed puzzles that continually flow from room to room, we have combat and decapitations at every corner. To truly appreciate the genius of Prince of Persia, you have to dig a lot deeper than you really ought to. It’s definitely there, and it’s definitely brilliant, but you’ll likely cringe more times than you’ll applaud.

Gamestyle Score: 7/10

Nightshade

Gamestyle Archive Intro: Tom takes us back to a classic potential reviving of a Sega franchise that didn’t exactly take off. Better luck next time. This review dates from 2004.

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Sega have been slow to take advantage of their illustrious back catalogue, with many well-loved characters skipping entire hardware generations before re-entering the fray. One such classic was Shinobi – arcade and console hit of the ’80s and early ’90s – who in 2003 made a welcome return to Sony’s Playstation 2 and is now graced with a sequel: Nightshade.

In a potential marketing blunder, Sega have opted to strip Nightshade of its historic pedigree and remove any direct reference to Shinobi. Only by reading the blurb on the backside of the box will those familiar with the story of Hotsuma and the destruction of Hakujiki realise that it is in fact a sequel; Nightshade is set a few short months after the final battle of Shinobi. Naming conventions aside, Nightshade plays and feels exactly like its forebear. At its simplest, Kunoichi’s adventure is a straight-up arcade hack ‘n’ slash fest complete with enormous and challenging boss encounters. A smattering of moves are all that’s required to slice and shuriken your way through the challenges ahead. Despite the addition of special moves and a kick, Kunoichi’s female ninja maintains the modest approach of Hotsuma who came before: the challenge and also the bulk of the enjoyment comes from a need for style – not just to compete but to excel. Lifting Kunoichi, literally, above the standard fare is her ability to seamlessly, flowingly, and downright beautifully dispose of every enemy on screen.

Airborne attacks and stealth dashes allow Kunoichi to combo her way through all demons on screen, and the player is treated to a ‘Tate’ scene showing the simultaneous demise of her foes. Flowing from one enemy to the next, without breaking pattern and accompanied by a sometimes surreal soundtrack, is where this game excels. An almost dreamlike quality takes over – a trance of stylised killing – where one is mesmerised by the dancing scarf of the ninja avatar and the drum ‘n’ bass beats. End-of-level boss encounters, in keeping with the arcade styling, are huge and challenging. Often preceded by an introductory cut-scene, these gargantuan foes make up for the shortcomings of the smaller demons encountered throughout the levels. Careful use of the smaller demons is in fact the key to defeating their towering brethren.

Powering up her Tate ability on the underlings, Kunoichi increases the amount of damage she can do to the main adversary – throwing a welcome element of strategy into the mix. At the level’s end the player is graded alphabetically for performance: tate killings are high-scoring, as is the tactical use of special moves (retries and taking damage subtract points). Dependent on your score are the prizes you will unlock. In an improvement over Shinobi, Nightshade offers quite a range of alternate modes and unlockable extras to keep you coming back for more. In terms of difficulty, Nightshade has the potential to offend the hardcore fraternity. Whereas death in Shinobi would place you right back at the beginning of a level, Nightshade offers a mid-point resurrection (depending on where you’d saved throughout the levels). The ability to wall-walk has also been extended to include almost all surfaces, making those bottomless chasm leaps just a bit more user-friendly. Gone too is the hunger of ‘Akujiki’ – meaning that players can quite happily neglect to kill all enemies on screen and progress to the next area. Of course, a certain quota must be met to open up the next portion, but it’s not nearly the same as having the compulsion to engage the evil sword. It is as challenging as ever, though, to achieve ‘A’ grades throughout and the three difficulty levels should provide enough tweaking for the masochist. Unfortunately, the praise must end there.

Overworks has not improved on the graphical shortcomings of Shinobi by one iota. The visuals would not have turned heads on the Dreamcast and certainly deserve to be noticed on Sony’s more powerful machine. Character models lurch around unconvincingly and do little to excite the imagination; the player-model particularly annoys as she is unable to respond to further commands until the current animation has been completed. Indeed, after swinging her trusty katana, Kunoichi is left prone for just long enough to receive punishment from her opportunistic enemies – most frustrating. And not aided at all by lacklustre environments which so often default to generic passageways and streets – only underground do the levels hold together with something approaching cohesion; the shimmering Tokyo of the cut-scenes is nowhere to be seen once into the game.

Amputating the retro-cool tunes of Shinobi and grafting on a mixed bag of dance and ambient ditties was not an entirely successful operation, and has left much of the game limping as a result. The occasional track does get it right, and as previously mentioned contributes greatly to the on-screen synergy, but sadly this is all too rare. The largely acceptable voice-acting is also marred by the irritating Americanised whine of the schoolgirl heroine; when subtitles are provided throughout it is something of a mystery as to why the original Japanese audio was not retained. Perhaps this is yet another example of how the atmosphere of Shinobi has been tweaked and ever so slightly spoiled.

Neither an outright improvement nor a disappointment (when compared with Shinobi), it comes down to this: if you are satisfied with a ‘C’ grade for completion, it will be hard to look beyond Nightshade’s extremely modest presentation in order to unlock the scintillating challenge that lies beneath. If you have the yearning, however, it may be advisable to seek out another of Sega’s recent offerings – the lavishly-presented, highly-atmospheric originality of Otogi.

Gamestyle Score: 6/10