First Impression: Driver - Parallel Lines

Driver 2 was one of my favorite PS1 games and should be noted that they were doing the GTA car jacking thing in a wide city setting before GTA3 came around. I liked Driv3r, but I never got around to finishing it due to losing interest after getting stuck repeating the same mission over and over that I could't beat due to the clunky controls of the on foot missions (I could swim in the water if I fell out of my boat, but for some reason my character was incapable of pulling himself out of water!)

Now comes the latest installment in the Driver game series from Atari, with the added gimmick of playing in 2 different timelines (the '70s and '90s), to which you will notice the difference in details of the city and the vehicles you can drive in these two time frames. I'm still playing through the '70s part of the game, but there are already a few small problems I have with the overall gameplay experiace that I expect won't change when I enter the '90s era bit of the game.
For example, while you have the option to jump from one garage to another to help you move around the city faster, there's always a bit of driving you have to do from the garage to the mission location, and just getting there can be frustrating as you have to deal with traffic that moves at an unforgivingly slow pace that your forced to jump lanes and cut past everyone and risk getting chased by the cops.
You'd also think that since the story of the game is that you do these missions to make money that they'd actually give you some money when you complete a mission! Instead, your left to wander the city looking for odd jobs like street racing, loan shark debt collecting and others to make a buck so you can upgrade your vehicles.
The on foot missions still haven't improved much either as your faced with enemy gunmen who NEVER miss and you find yourself running back and forth from where you left off to back to where you found your last unused health kit as a shoot out with just 1 person is likely to drain a huge amount of your health.

All these problems aside, I still find myself compelled to play through some more, so expect my full review of the game soon.


Shadow Hearts: From the New World

Shadow Hearts: Covenant was my favorite game of 2004 thanks mostly in part to the awesome storyline of the game that kept you sucked in to carry on to see what happens next. So how does the third game in the series compare to the second? Pretty damn well, that’s how!
From the New World takes place in more western locales compared to the Asian and European setting of Covenant. You start out as Johnny Garland, a 16yr old detective looking for that one case that will help him make a name for himself and his agency. HE gets more than he expects when he finally gets a serious case that involves finding a missing person, and he gets pulled into one heck on an adventure where he meets up with a colorful bunch of characters as well as discovering the truth about his past.
It might be your common “boy meets girl, boy goes on big adventure” RPG story, but it’s in the telling of the story that gets you hooked. I really liked the way they meshed and twisted around history to make for a great and often funny story, like Brazilian ninjas and a big talking cat who’s also master of drunken fist martial arts! You’ll also run into pirates, red Indians, and even legendary mobster Al Capone! Sometimes you even forget your main objective of tracking down the main villains, Lady and Killer.
Gameplay wise, things really haven’t changed much from Covenant, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it. Battles are still fought out with the Judgment Ring system, and you can change stellar charts of your characters to give them more abilities and range of their attack types. You can now also upgrade your stellar char abilities so you can use more powerful magic attacks. And each character also has their own unique special attacks that can be powered up as you play through the game.
There’s also a bit of challenge to the game as it’s possible to find yourself losing battles to common enemies, not just the bosses! But like all RPGs, sooner or later you’ll find yourself in a situation where your characters a powered up to a degree where common enemies stand little chance against your characters though.
I think the only flaw I could find with the game is that it was rather short, even if I did play through the side-quests for all the characters. Some of the puzzles can be a little tough, but it’s nothing a little trial-and-error won’t get you through. You could finish the game in about 50 hours of total playing time.
If you liked the previous Shadow Hearts games, you easily love this one as well with it’s fun storyline and easy to get into gameplay. The big RPG everyone is talking about this year is Final Fantasy XII, but I seriously recommend giving this one a look as well.

Graphics – 10
Sound – 10
Gameplay – 8
Lifespan – 8
Overall – 8


Birthday Haul

Yup, it's my birthday today, so what better way to celebrate than with a stash of new games? Here's what I got and hope to play through and review soon:

Hitman: Blood Money
The latest installment of the Hitman games, promising a more grittier storyline along with all the silent and stealthy ways to kill that we've come to love from the series.

Driver: Parallel Lines
I never finished Driv3r due to the clunky controls, hopefully this one is better control-wise, as the story of playing in two different time periods is an interesting gimmick.

Art of Fighting: Ten Chi Jin
With all the popular "best of" series and remakes coming out, I didn't think they were going to release a collection of Art of Fighting games! Now I get to play the classic Neo Geo fighters in all it's glory.

Urban Chaos: Riot Response
An interesting FPS game where you play as a member of an elite police force who are given the means to keep the peace at any means necessary. Ragdoll physics and an you get to make a reputation for yourself on the streets should make for an interesting run and gunner.


King of Fighters: Maximum Impact 2

A lot of controversy surrounding SNK’s second attempt at bringing the famed King of Fighters franchise to the 3D gaming world, mostly to do with fashion designer Falcoon designing the characters for the game. You either love the bizarrely dressed and hair-styled new fighters he’s come up with compared to the original grittier looking fighters, or you don’t.
One look through the roster and you can easily see how Falcoon’s work sticks out like a sore thumb as all the characters he created have odd color schemes and clothing. And their alternate attires are even more bizarre, like Nagase’s frog suit, and the original KOF cast aren’t spared in those regards as some characters are given a complete overhaul to look completely different from their original form. You don’t even feel like playing as some of them because of these, and that’s never a good thing to have a truckload of characters no one wants to play as.
Audio-wise, this is probably the first game I’ve played where the Japanese voices sound like they are reading off a really bad script. And the background music is just forgettable.
As far as the gameplay goes, some will take the time to learn all the complex combos in the game to dish out massive damage, which the CPU isn’t shy about doing itself with certain characters (be wary of Alba!), but you can also get away with just button mashing and cheap strategies like continuous sweeping attacks can get you far in CPU battles. At least they were smart enough to automatically cut off certain combos that could have scored infinite hits until the opponent is defeated.
They also added a “parry” button so you can dodge attacks and break certain combos, but the timing is really hard to get down so most players will probably overlook it altogether.
And then there are the fun little mini-games you can play to beat the clock and test your skills, and also acts as a quick way to unlock the alternate outfits for your fighters. You have to play through the main story mode to unlock the hidden fighters.
Overall, while the game is much improved over the original Maximum Impact, it still seems to be lacking something to keep your attention for long. If you don’t have someone to play against or on-line play, you might not stick around long after unlocking all the extras. I think it would have been cool if they tried for the team battle system that the series was known for.

Graphics – 8
Sound – 6
Gameplay – 7
Lifespan – 6
Overall – 7

Samurai Spirits : Tenkaichi Kankakuden

The latest installment of the Samurai Showdown series brings a breath of fresh air to the series, as they’ve made some good improvements as well as expanding the roster of playable characters to over 40, including in characters from every game in the series as well as bringing back a few old favorites, and a few dopplegangers with different color schemes.
The first thing you’ll notice when playing the game is the decidedly old-school Neo Geo look of the graphics. I really wish SNK would move forward and improve on it’s game sprites as they look really aged compared to current 2D fighters like Guilty Gear or even Street Fighter Alpha 3. It looks like they just lazily cut and pasted the characters from the old games onto the new backgrounds in this one, including the new characters. A little more polish for the characters would have been nice as pixels stick out making them look blocky. And is it just me or have they shrunk down Earthquake quite a bit?
Audio-wise, it’s the same feudal Japanese score we’ve heard in every game with the same announcer and the same voices for the characters.
Gameplay wise, I’ve always had problems with pulling off the special attacks on 2D fighters with the PS2 controller, and this one feels no different. Definitely recommend getting an arcade style joystick for this one as you’ll find yourself hitting your special moves one minute and mashing away trying to get it to work again the next. It also doesn’t feel balanced at times when an opponent can hack off huge chunks of your health bar with a few heavy hitting strikes, where as a big combo from you will barely do any damage. The gameplay would also probably benefit from a little more speed in my opinion.
At least the final boss of the game isn’t impossible to beat like the one in Samurai Showdown Zero. I’m not sure what the requirements are, but there are 4 possible bosses you could face off with before the final actual one.
Fans of the series will instantly want to pick this one up. 2D fight fans might be hesitant after playing the train wreck that the previous game in the series was, but I can safely say this is more enjoyable and the difficulty is fair to say the least. Definitely worth a rental to check out.

Game Ratings:
Graphics – 7
Sound – 6
Gameplay – 6
Lifespan – 7
Overall – 7