Category Archives: first-person shooter

007: Agent Under Fire stars a boy and his toys

007-agent-under-fire-gd-impressions

I’m pretty sure that I owned a James Bond game for the PlayStation 2 way back when, but I don’t think it was 007: Agent Under Fire. Might have been 007: Nightfire. This probably explains why there’s no entry for it in the Games I Regret Parting With tag. My memory on this is fuzzy, which I don’t think is surprising for a series that is constantly changing who portrays the main hero every few installments. In case you were wondering, I’m all about Idris Elba playing the next 007. Or Rosamund Pike. Either works great for me though I think Daniel Craig is more than perfunctory. All I really remember about this blurry action game from my past collection is crawling through ventilation shafts and using a technical watch-like gizmo to shoot laser beams at locked doors. So far, in 007: Agent Under Fire, Bond uses a cell phone to do this.

Anyways, I ended up getting a copy of 007: Agent Under Fire for real cheap back in February 2015. Now that I have taken out Final Fantasy IX‘s fourth and final disc from my PlayStation 1, I needed something to fill the void. By void I mean the empty space inside my console, not my heart. I wanted something ideally much shorter than another of my desperately lonely yet time-consuming JRPGs–sorry, Atelier Iris 2: The Azoth of Destiny, Radiata Stories, and Star Ocean: Till the End of Time, you’ll just have to wait a big longer–and figured this was a good fit, featuring a numbered set of levels, a multiplayer mode that I suspect I won’t be able to play at all due to a severe lack of IRL friends (unless bots are allowed), and nothing else. Let’s start bonding.

007: Agent Under Fire‘s plot is classic international espionage, to the point that, without writing any more words, you could probably guess it wholly. Need some help? Okay, I’ll budge. A major corporation has stolen data that will enable it to clone people, with grander plans of taking over the world by replacing those in important positions. Naturally, this can’t and shouldn’t happen, and in comes Bond–James Bond, that is–to nearly single-handedly destroy the threat of everyone looking the same. He does get some help from series staples Q and M, as well as CIA agent Zoe Nightshade. Don’t get her confused with one of Atlas’ daughters from Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series like I initially did.

I immediately struggled with the controls. Remember, this came out in late 2001, a time when every game from the first-person shooter genre was not created from a recognizable and well-accepted blueprint. I imagine that if I went back to things like Killzone or Red Faction, I’d also have the same problem. Thankfully, you can pick from a bunch of different controller schemes, and I found one that was much more in sync with modern layouts. Still, I stumbled here and there when trying to switch between a weapon and a tool, which are separate from each other, kind of like in the Metal Gear Solid series. I tried looking online to find a scan of the PS2 manual (my purchase was just the disc), but only came upon the ones for the original Xbox and GameCube releases; please trust me when I say that the default setup is more evil than Auric Goldfinger, Francisco Scaramanga, and Sir Hugo Drax combined.

Okay, okay, a part of me couldn’t let this issue rest, so I snapped some high quality photographs last night with my cell phone so everyone can see the difference I’m talking about. Here is the default setting, with, yup, “alt fire” on the select button and “crouch” using a trigger:

wp_20170302_23_41_47_pro

And here is what I went with instead to have it line up more with a modern first-person shooter, though it is a far cry from perfect:

wp_20170302_23_41_15_pro

Unlike many other videogames constructed around our titular leading man, 007: Agent Under Fire doesn’t correspond to a movie of the same name. It is its own thing, and that’s fine. It does try a little too hard to be mistaken for something of a similar quality, but I can ignore its attempts to throw a heavily polygonal woman at Bond to up the sexiness because the action is quite fun, as well as forgiving. Also, Bond is clearly modeled after Pierce Brosnan, but missing his voice. Aiming is tricky, but this isn’t Call of Duty multiplayer, so you can take your time to set the gun’s cursor just right before pulling the trigger, and it helps that enemies don’t mind standing still for all of this. Many might not enjoy the moderately mindless combat, wanting more strategy and challenge, but I’m mostly concerned with having fun and looking cool while doing it. Speaking of that…

Bond Moves. Besides being the title of 007’s eventual book of pick-up lines and dance regimes, these are specific moments in every level that has Bond doing something cool, followed by the classic bah-dah-ba-bum zinger we have all come to know and love and a 007 symbol in the corner of the screen. EA clearly paid a premium for this bit of music, to the point that your ears will be bleeding by the end of any session from a bombardment of Bond music. It’s good and bad, and some of the Bond Moves are laughable in executive. Imagine lowering a crane to hop across a gap and hearing that iconic tune. These things, as well as other stats, like damage taken or secrets found, go into a final rating score at the end of each level: bronze, silver, or gold. A gold rating will reward the player with a perk/weapon for the campaign or multiplayer mode, as well as place 007 tokens throughout. To get a platinum rating, you must now earn the gold rating again, as well as collect all the tokens. I acquired a couple gold ratings for the early levels, which earned me things like the Golden Gun and Golden Accuracy.

007: Agent Under Fire is not a great or even good game, sitting somewhere between mediocre and slightly better than mediocre, but it’s exactly what I want right now. A more determined player could plow through all the levels–some of which are driving sequences or on rails–in a single evening, but I’m nibbling away at this sub-par linear action game, making it last longer than necessary. I do believe a haiku is right around the corner as I only have four more campaign levels left to see unfold. For now, I’ll end this post with a Die Another Day quote–“I’m checking out. Thanks for the Kiss of Life.”

Doom’s demo proves one glorious, gory point

gd-impressions-doom-demo-first-level

This might come as a shock, but I first experienced Doom via its Super Nintendo Entertainment System port back in late 1995, at a neighbor’s house. I remember its red casing well, as well as my friend’s father being the sort of lawn fanatic that concerned me even at the virtuous age of twelve. This game and my copy of The Offspring’s “Smash” on cassette were items we hid whenever this man walked by his kid’s bedroom, but perhaps the topic of keeping things with parental warnings on them secret is best saved for another post.

Regardless, I am one hundred percent certain that this is not the version the developers over at id Software intended for people to play first. The SNES edition was published by Williams Entertainment and featured a custom engine programmed by Randy Linden. Naturally, this meant there were some stark differences between the PC and console versions, though I didn’t know about them back then, only years later upon reading about it via the Interwebz. One element that stands out is that, due to animation issues, there could be no enemies fighting other enemies, something that I found deeply amusing in the original first-person shooter where you fight demons from Hell.

Anyways, that’s not the Doom I am talking about for the rest of this post. That Doom is the new Doom–still just called plain ol’ Doom–from Bethesda and id Software and released back in May. I watched the Internet go all bug-eyed crazy over it and moved on with my life as, when it comes to shooters from Bethesda, I prefer the ones that let you slow down time and stuff your inventory full of coffee mugs. Well, to probably everyone’s surprise, the company kicked off E3 2016 by releasing a free demo of Doom‘s first level for all to taste, and here I am, some number of months later, ready to talk about it. Such is how my summers now go.

Let me give you some deep narrative setup so you understand why the ultra violent, ultra faceless character you are playing as is so invested in shooting demons from Hell into bloody bits with a supply of deadly firearms. As the lone DOOM Marine, it’s up to you to obliterate the relentless demon hordes invading the UAC facility on Mars. Mmm. Okay, there, now that’s done, and the guitar-ripping action can begin, and it does, oh so fast. I’m sure it is blindingly speedy on PC, but I was still charmed to see how quick and smooth everything moved on the Xbox One. There’s running, there’s gunning, there’s clambering, and there’s glory killing, all of which is happening simultaneously as a hard rock soundtrack plucked from some forgotten album collection in Satan’s attic pumps you onward.

Doom‘s demo is the entire first level of its single-player campaign, and it wastes no time getting into the thick of things. The DOOM Marine wakes up on a slab in some room of worship, grabs some armor and a gun, and begins blasting Possessed and Cacodemons in their faces. From there, it’s all forward momentum. You’ll push ahead and kill everything in your way, eventually ending up in arena-esque areas where you will have to keep moving to keep breathing. Performing a glory kill–a cinematic take-down you can activate after damaging an enemy enough–will provide you with some health pickups, so there’s more to do here than simply destroy all evil things. I also liked combo-ing one glory kill to another, feeling like a true powerhouse. You can also find collectibles in the environment, as well as take key cards off dead dudes that turned out to not be true powerhouses.

If anything, this demo worked as intended. It gave me a taste of how new Doom plays and feels without restricting the player or holding their hand through the entire experience. That first level is the first level. There’s also no strange Nintendo-like restrictions that say you can only play the demo X number of times or within a specific amount of time. I liked what I played, but I’m not ready to commit just yet, with too much still in my backlog to get through, but at least I know that when I get to this, I’ll have a bloody good time. I promise not to play this Doom‘s SNES port either…unless the rumors of cartridges making a return to the NX prove true.

Upgrading ED-E and my Xbox 360 in time for Fallout 4

ed-ecated achievement fallout nv

It’s crazy to write this, but Fallout 4 comes out this week. I’m under no embargo, so I can totally say that out loud without fear of retribution. In fact, on Wednesday, I’ll be joining the next generation of gamers–a.k.a. the current gen–with an Xbox One and a retail copy of Bethesda’s post-apocalyptic take on Boston. Yeah, I know the game releases to the public a day prior, but my bundle won’t arrive until Hump Day. That all said, I’m totes excited.

I fired up Fallout: New Vegas over the weekend because the reality is this: once I can deep-dive into Fallout 4, it’s going to be hard to return to any of the prior games. That’s fine when it comes to Fallout 3 because I saw and did nearly everything possible, but there’s still a handful of things to do and Achievements to pop left in Fallout: New Vegas, and it seems like I haven’t touched my console copy of the game in about three years. A couple of them still seem too much for my waning heart, like completing an entire run on the “hardcore” difficulty or getting banned from all the strip’s casinos. However, I noticed that there were two left unpopped from the Deathclaw- and radiation-heavy DLC Lonesome Road. Hmm. Off to the Divide!

My first focus was on upgrading everyone’s favorite floating eye-bot equipped with battle theme music ED-E with all five performance enhancements. I guess I missed one or two the only other time I played the DLC, which meant I opted to have a guide open next to me as I both meandered through the irradiated land and listened to Dave Lang coin future Giant Bomb phrases like “get monked” during his Extra Life 2015 stream. I was able to get four of the five upgrades for ED-E, which do stick in the robot permanently when you return to the Mojave Desert, but one required a Science skill level of 75 or up to hack a terminal and open a locked door. I’m guessing I didn’t have the skill high enough before. Well, as luck has it, I did not have a great Science skill with this character either, so I grinded out some XP and used a magazine to hit 75 on the dot. Check it out:

634358
ED-Ecated
(20G): Find all of ED-E’s upgrades in the Divide.

The other Achievement that I was juggling progress towards as I outfitted ED-E for the future is Warhead Hunter, which tasks the Courier with detonating all of the warheads in the Divide. There are thirty in total, and by the time I had spoken Ulysses down from unnecessary violence–thank you, 100 Speech skill level–I had twenty-four taken care of. Then I hit up the Courier’s Mile for two more, which is a really tough section full of radiation and Deathclaws; I kind of zipped in, used the laser detonator, and got out faster than you can say wasteland omelet. That means I have four left, and I’m not sure exactly where they are, nor do I feel like retracing every step I took to unearth them. Kind of a bummer, but my fault for not following a step-by-step guide.

If anything, this brief return to Fallout: New Vegas has reminded me of what I’d like to see greatly improved in Fallout 4. Combat can still be chaotic and clunky, and sometimes you can mash on the Pip-Boy button only for your character to never bring it up, leaving you open to the deadly swipe of a Deathclaw. The menus themselves continue to be a struggle to get through. That standard Bethesda jank will never go away, seeing as I had enemies doing cartwheels through walls during slow-mo V.A.T.S. moments, but I’d like to see less of it on an enhanced engine.

Considering my Xbox One bundle comes with a digital version of a backwards compatible version of Fallout 3, there’s hope down the road of Fallout: New Vegas also getting the same treatment. If so, cool. Perhaps by then I might be in the mood to return to Brown Town and finish up the remaining six Achievements. Until then, I have Fallout 4‘s ruined Boston to explore, which is doubly interesting to me seeing as I visited the real-life city back in August and expect to recognize several locations. Hopefully one of them is the fake Cheers bar. It’s gonna be wicked.

Hunting the West’s most notorious outlaws and making it up as I go

call of juarez gd impressions screenshot

Sixes and sevens! Did I really beat Call of Juarez: Gunslinger over a month ago and have still not officially written more than a haiku about it? Grrr. That’s summer for you, when I can only keep my head down, power through games, scribble a slimsey attempt at Japanese poetry, and move on to my next conquest. Makes me wonder when I’ll get around to finishing that post on The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, but enough of that–today is all about one cowboy’s quest for revenge after his life became a cropper. Yes, I looked up a bunch of Western slang for this intro post; did you know folk used to call onions skunk eggs? Makes sense to me.

Fortuitously, Call of Juarez: Gunslinger arrived in my PlayStation Plus library a day or two after I rewatched Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which is not necessarily a Western, but does star some bounty hunters and pistols being quickly drawn. Plus intense and over-the-top violence. The big difference between those two properties is not just that one is a game and one is a film, but rather Tarantino’s work is a train-driven narrative, and Call of Juarez: Gunslinger openly and playfully skirts the edge of a reliable narrator and plot. Without that uncertainty, it would be another ho-hum first-person shooter with little to it, as other entries have dabbled in similar mechanics and visual styles.

The story is as so: legendary old bounty hunter Silas Greaves enters a saloon in Abilene, Kansas, in 1910 and regales the patrons with tales of his adventures in exchange for free drinks. The patrons–Steve, Jack, and a teenager named Dwight–are amazed at first, but grow increasingly incredulous as the ludicrous stories go on and on and on, in which Greaves takes credit for the killings of numerous legendary outlaws, including Butch Cassidy and Newman Haynes Clanton. See, Greaves likes to embellish where and when he can, and this plays into the gameplay, where scenarios and events will change on the fly based on what is being told and what is being questioned. The first time it happens, mid-action, I couldn’t help but smile at the swift change of course.

I’ve never touched any of the other Call of Juarez titles–namely the first one, Bound in Blood, and The Cartel–but they sound like they share similar elements. Gameplay in Gunslinger consists of completing linear objectives to progress, and these usually involve shooting dudes who are shooting at you until they stop shooting at you because you shot them down. Occasionally, you’ll have to dodge bullets via a quick time event or act honorably–but deadly–in a traditional gunslinger duel. Those duels are a ton of fun, as you have to pay attention to multiple aspects and timers, like heartbeats and the location of your hand, and not draw too early or else you’ll be labeled a dastardly varmint. Thankfully, all villains were shot down honorably in my playthrough.

Other than that, there are collectibles called “Nuggets of Truth” to find, of which many are easy to spy as they sparkle in-game. If that’s not enough, you can unlock a perk to have them play a jingle and vibrate your controller when nearby. Still, I missed a few, but they offer some interesting tidbits about the multiple characters and legends of the Wild West. In an action-driven game, I found it difficult to steer off the main path in search for shiny doodads and playing cards.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger does a fantastic job at dumping you into an ever-changing world and giving you all the abilities to be an unstoppable force–without actually making you unstoppable. Even on the standard difficulty, I ran into some trouble, though most had to do with the few boss fights and figuring out the best way to approach them over a handful of tries. The game’s tone is outlandish in all the right ways, keeping the action frenetic and unpredictable, and my only complaint is that I wish the ending had been more profound instead of simply a twist, one played far too straight for a man like Silas Greaves.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #34 – Call of Juarez: Gunslinger

gd 2015 games completed call of juarez gunslinger

Story of Silas
And the bad men he’s hunting
Listen up, Old West

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #29 – Tower of Guns

2015 gd games completed tower of guns

This tower of guns
Is out to kill you, bullets
Fly, story is dry

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.

Ascend the tower of guns with the power of guns

tower of guns early impressions

I do not believe I’m passionate enough about Tower of Guns just yet to confirm whether or not I already have a copy on Steam thanks to some bundle or giveaway, but it matters not for PlayStation Plus subscribers get it for free this month. On both PS3 and PS4, I believe. Incidentally, I keep mistyping it as Tower of Funs more times than I’d like to admit. In between prepping for East Coast Comic Con this weekend, I’ve run the tower a handful of times, improving with each go.

What is Tower of Guns, you ask? And you don’t mean metaphorically? Well, it is a single-player first-person shooter with rogue-like elements developed by Terrible Posture Games. Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Let me see if I can come up with something better. It’s a bit like Borderlands meets The Binding of Isaac, with each enemy-filled room randomly generated and a par time set for the entire level. You can perform specific tasks while you play to unlock new perks or guns, as well as collect experience point orbs to level up your currently equipped weapon. Oh, and it’s also quite a lot of fun, more than I expected when dipping my hairy toe in.

Strangely, there’s a story, but one could completely ignore it or even turn it off in the options, which I’ve not actually done yet. It’s pretty easy to not pay attention to. It’s also immensely difficult to pay attention to at other times. Basically, as you move from room to room, some dialogue boxes will appear on the screen, but nothing anyone says seems to be important, and some of it comes across as randomized. The fourth wall will break, with you occasionally addressed as gamer, which I was not a fan of, as that word continues to sour in my mind thanks to the atrocities of GamerGate supporters. Your goal is to get as far as you can, ideally to the end, the tippy top, in a single run. You will first have to survive a number of standard enemy-filled rooms and then battle a boss before moving on to the next tier of the tower.

Tower of Guns is both a fast and short game, with the strategy for just about every enemy you encounter being shooting while strafing. A few bosses will require some extra planning, especially the finaler boss, who I could not take down on my first try. The difficulty, which can be raised or lowered via pick-ups and perks, really stems more from the level design. Some rooms are shockingly dull–imagine just four walls, maybe a staircase, and little to no decorations–while other rooms have teleporting pads and high platforms to maneuver around, plus a bunch of flying tanks and turrets shooting at you non-stop. You never know what you’re going to get once you shoot a door to open it Metroid-style.

Now, I’ve run into two walls so far. Not literally, though there are plenty of walls in this game. First, the game froze on a loading screen, though I think it might’ve been more my cat Timmy’s fault, since he knocked the controller out of my hand as Tower of Guns was loading the next area, forcing it to lock up. This was extremely unfortunate as I was on my ninth run and doing really well in terms of health and progress and taking down bosses–and all that was nonexistent when I loaded the game back up. Secondly, for a bullet hell-themed game, some of the rooms where the bullets are plentiful and hellish cause the frame rate to drop immensely, stuttering away at an unplayable clip. You’d think with the less-than-taxing art style and new hardware that this sort of issue wouldn’t ever pop up, but it does.

I’m definitely going to keep at Tower of Guns until I unlock the majority of the guns and perks, but unlike other rogue-likes, such as Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac, this one doesn’t feel like it’s going to last forever. Eventually the repetition will outweigh the randomness, and the tower will crumble, but not before I’ve wrung every bit of fun from it. Until then, may you always start each run with the ability to triple jump.