Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Back to the Past #3 - Area 51 and Armored Core 2

Area-51 (Midway Austin/Midway/2005) - Played before, but decided to give it another try.

I remember when this game was released. Who could miss it? Midway spared little expense in plastering ads in magazines and setting up looping video clips in Gamestop. According to my blog, I first played it about 5 years ago and wasn't overly impressed. Part of that was probably due to the poor setup I had for playing PS2 games then, but I suspect it also had something to do with my general dislike for playing FPS games with a controller. With the exception of Halo, I don't think I've ever played an FPS that wouldn't have been better with a mouse and keyboard. But when the only way to play a game is on console, you just have to bite the (haha) bullet and pick up a gamepad. As it turned out, I rather liked the control scheme on the PS2 controller and had little trouble scoring kills without spraying ammo around like a killer lawn sprinkler.

On replaying Area-51, I found it to be surprisingly fun...for awhile at least. It's a very competent shooter where the guns are fun to shoot, bad guys fall down or explode on cue, and the environments are varied enough that you don't feel like you're always running down the same corridor. There's even a couple of hovering UFO's, things you'd expect to find in Area-51.

I'll admit that I have no idea what the story is supposed to be about. Something about me being part of a "Hazmat" Delta team (which means we have guns instead of mops) responding to an incident at Area-51 which caused the first responders to mutate into creatures (who still know how to carry and fire guns, by the way), and finding some Illuminati commandos trying to take over the place to use the alien technology for their own nefarious purposes, and a crazy scientist that's trying to find a link between humans and aliens, and is using my character to study the effects of this alien virus, and...well, you get the idea. Basically it boils down to the usual - shoot everything that moves because it will kill you if you don't.

There were times I felt I was just playing an upgraded version of Doom - find the door, find the key for the door, go back to the door, open the door, hit a switch - but the action was broken up into small chunks with cutscenes which kept it from getting too repetitive, oddly enough. The other thing that made it somewhat unique is that after you get infected by the alien virus you can turn into a mutant yourself, which basically allows you to go into a rampage mode. In this mode you can take out enemies with a single swipe of your claw instead of using a bunch of bullets. There was one room where I realized that this was the only way to clear out the place, having died multiple times using just firearms and grenades.

You do have to wonder about the wisdom of them picking David Duchovny to do the main character voice acting. Yeah, on the one hand it adds all sorts of geek points because he was Fox Mulder on the X-Files and this is a game about aliens. But on the other, somewhat heavier hand, you're playing as a special ops soldier, a one-man killing machine of mutants and ET's alike. If I were casting a movie, Mr. Duchovny would not be on my interview list. He has a soft spoken, almost melancholy voice that most reviewers seemed to just write off as his being uninterested in the part, when in reality he just wasn't the right voice for the job. They would have done much better getting Michael Biehn (Hicks from Aliens). He can at least sound like a soldier.

I actually thought I'd finish Area-51, but I didn't count on the difficulty increasing so quickly! When I reached a room where I kept dying over and over again, I thought I might be near the end. However, after checking Gamefaqs, I found I was only slightly over half way through and it would only get worse from there. Truly a shame since this is a fun game up until it gets so frustrating.

I know publishers don't care about how much a gamer sees of a game - they already have your money from the initial purchase and don't get any more whether or not you finish it. But I do feel for the designers of the later levels. So much of their work will go unseen by gamers because they (like me) were unable to make it that far. It's times like this that more games should have an invincible God Mode just so the whole game can be experienced. (I used a mode like this for an old PS1 game, Fear Effect, and it was the only way I would have made it to the ending.) At this point, I feel like I've got only half a game, the other half being kept behind a wall I cannot climb, a wall to just beat my head against until I get a headache and move on.

Armored Core 2 (From Software/Agetec Inc./2000) - New.

Some of the games in my collection were purchased with little or no real understanding of the franchise from which they came or the circumstances surrounding their release. Armored Core 2 is a perfect example.

Had I known this was a PS2 launch title, I would have checked it out during my 7 day Gamestop trial period and promptly returned it. The developer, From Software, was apparently resistant to even the most basic improvements in controller interfaces and as a result I'd hazard to guess this may be the only PS2 title that exclusively uses the directional buttons for movement. I can understand that layout for a PS1 title as the thumbsticks on the DualShock were not part of the original controller design, but the PS2 shipped with the DualShock 2!

Beyond the primitive control scheme, this is a series aimed at only the serious Otaku-types. The level of customization is mind numbing! This game is a casual game experience in the same way brain surgery is a minor medical procedure. Needless to say, this one went back into the case and onto the shelf again.

Other things: As I progress through my collection of 6th generation gems, I've decided to go a bit more retro and start using a real DualShock 2 controller. Yep, wires and all. While Logitech made a very fine wireless controller, the thumbsticks on it are not the same size and height as the Sony unit. This gives a slightly looser feel to movement and the R3/L3 buttons react differently, as well. And there is the issue of rumble. On wireless controllers, you often want to turn it off as it uses up the batteries faster and it's easy to accidentally deactivate it as the toggle button for it is just north of the Select button. However, rumble can be very important to some games - something like Rez makes it an integral part of the gameplay.

In a way, I wish I still had my old 27" Sony tube TV to play on (it was so cutting edge for it's day!), but I'll admit that there is a line I'm not willing to cross. The output of the PS2, even with component cables, may not be perfect on an LCD TV, but those old TV's were literal monsters; the one I had weighed nearly 100 pounds! For the most part, the PS2 graphics hold up well on 1080p screens with an occasional interlace issue cropping up. And I can't deny that playing on something that's nearly an equivalent of a 32" standard size TV screen is nothing short of glorious!

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