I was shocked when Tacoma ended as suddenly as it did. Before it even started I felt like it had ended and wanted to see more. You play as Amy Ferrier. Your job is to go to the space station Tacoma and find out why the crew died and acquire the AI onboard as well. There is zero action in the game, this is an adventure game through and through with story only. All you do is interact with objects and read and listen to dialog play out.
This type of game won’t be for everyone. I love a great story and characters and can enjoy that without any action at all if it’s done right. Tacoma comprises three explorable areas with each having useless interactive objects, but once you get to an area you use the AI to replay what happened in that area via holograms that walk around. You can fast forward and rewind the hologram play and in between, there may be some holograms with HUDs that need to be interacted with, and these are marked as question marks on the timeline of the event you are watching. Finding these holograms and interacting with their display allows you to see some insight into those characters. Honestly, it’s nothing super special or interesting. The issue is the overall story and larger picture doesn’t really sit and integrate well with the characters. They feel like a side story.
Once you get through all three areas by finding hidden passcodes to locked doors and reading various terminals, there’s nothing left to do. You drop off your AI book at the front of each hub into a wall that downloads all the data in that area. This takes around 15-20 minutes to do and in the meantime, you have to explore the area. Once it’s done downloading you grab it and go to the next hub and repeat. Once you get the AI wetware you head back to your ship and the game is over.
I wanted to learn more about this world. The fact that an evil corporation is building homes in space against the law is intriguing and there’s lots of potential here. I felt like I had no idea what was going on most of the time because I kept expecting the plot to move on, but instead, it just ended when most games would consider this the first chapter. I’m not a fan of short incomplete games like this and don’t support them. I’m a fan of short games if they are sweet and memorable and I have played plenty of those. This almost felt like a waste of an hour.
The visuals are decent and the art style is nice albeit forgettable. The voice acting is great and there are some interesting concepts at play that are just barely touched upon and then abandoned. Tacoma doesn’t give the already struggling adventure genre any hope or appeal to gamers who shy away from them either.
It might be common knowledge of the even the most casual fan of Arcade 1Up’s cabinets that mods are needed for quality of life improvements and to make it that much closer to the original that 1UP either had oversight on or just plain refused to include. Thankfully, these cabinets are fully moddable with real arcade parts and require little knowledge or knowhow to do. I’ve included the mods I’ve done to my cabinet to make things better and improve the quality of life and make it more unique and stand out from the crowd. There are plenty of other more involved mods like running a RetroPie which essentially makes the cabinet an arcade emulator (which I feel is pointless when buying a specific machine), LED coin slots (requires a lot of wire splicing and even a brand new control board), various sound mods like adding a subwoofer, new speakers, and amp. But these are more involved and some aren’t worth it in the end as they won’t greatly improve the playing experience.
While the artwork on these cabinets or gorgeous, high quality, and true to the originals, there’s a few things that have been overlooked. Mainly the screws and screwholes are eyesores. Seeing bare wood and silver screws is just plain ugly. This goes for the cabinets and risers on every single unit. Thankfully for a few dollars, or even free, you can change this with some time and attention to detail.
The first thing you want to do is get rid of those unsightly bare screw holes. These can easily be covered up with a black sharpie or a matching color of your panel art. Mine was easy as the MK cabinet is mostly black where the screw holes are.
The silver screws are unsightly silver and stand out against darker artwork. You can either paint your screws to match the artwork around them or buy kits online for a few dollars that include painted screws. If you pain the tops of yours, they must also be treated with an anti corrosive spray so it doesn’t wear off over time.
The buttons are the only major things that need to be swapped and can be the best upgrade and improvement you can do. Casual gamers might not mind them, but anyone familiar with real arcade hardware or fighting games in general might know the difference. This goes for any arcade game. The best option is buying already made kits available on diyretroarcade.com for around $50. This also includes awesome LED buttons, but you can also forgo that if you really want to. These are Happ button as regular Sanwas won’t snap into the wood deck as it’s too thick. The guys at DIY Retro Arcade have already wired everything up for most 1UP cabinets, including power splitters. The kit only requires you to plug stuff in and no changes to the design are required. These new buttons are like night and day, and the LED looks awesome.
If you want to turn the LEDs off without unplugging the machine, you need to buy the optional switch and this requires drilling a 1/4″ (6.5mm) hole in the slanted panel under the control deck to use. If you are too scared to drill, it’s not a big deal and you can practice on small wood squares from a local craft store.
The ones included in the Costco edition of the MK cabinet are actually great clones and most people won’t notice a difference between these and real Sanwas, however, some cabinets have terrible joysticks. Sadly the joysticks used are proprietary and have a smaller hole layout over the Sanwas and require drilling new holes in the deck which also isn’t that scary. DIY Retro Arcade also sells kits with pre-wired harnesses that allow you to plug these up without needing to solder.
Depending on the game you are playing, you need specific restrictor gates. These are plastic plates that go under the joystick to give it a movement pattern. Fighting games should be octagonal, and games like Pac-Man should be square or diamond. Sadly, 1UP didn’t have the foresight to include these for each machine and the MK one comes with a diamond gate which feels off. These are extremely cheap mods to make and super easy to install. They just pop off and on with no extra tools and can make a huge difference.
This is a super cheap mod that makes the joystick stiffer depending on the game you are playing. Fighting games should have stiff joy sticks for more accurate combo execution, but of course it’s down to preference. There are 2lb and 4lb springs as the ones that come with the 1Up arcades are under one pound and allow that floppy joystick feeling.
Let’s face it, we all want full size arcade machines, but they are either too large or too expensive to collect. Most arcade collector’s rent warehouse sized storage rooms or open an actual arcade room. You can collect a select few to keep in a room or basement, but they are very expensive to restore and maintain. They require a lot of knowledge and research and every machine is different. That’s where 1Up Arcade comes in. Some might say they are smearing the sanctity of the arcade scene but I say they are saving it. There are a lot of people who love arcades, but can’t get a hold of them. This allows these people to collect arcades at 3/4 scale and have a room of them without much knowledge. These machines run off emulator boards and are easily put together and are faithful to the originals.
I’ve always wanted a Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet and when I saw this get announced I flipped. It’s my favorite game franchise of all time and I couldn’t be happier with what has been released. The cabinet features the artwork of the Mortal Kombat II cabinet and looks beautiful. The installation process is rather painless, but does require a good 2-3 hours of your time to put together properly, as it’s large and there are a lot of pieces. The price you pay for these cabinets is about 1/4 the cost of a full size arcade minimum. Mine cost $350 from Costco and I will get to why this is a special version later.
When you open the box everything is laid out nice and easy with good enough instructions. You are basically putting one side together with all the center pieces on its side and then you put the other side panel on. There is one ribbon cable that connects the video screen with the control deck and you’re all set. The cabinet may look heavy, but it’s very solid and light enough to move around with only one person. The control deck has an acrylic cover on top and the screen panel has instructions on how to select games. Once it’s plugged in and you’re booted you’re greeted with a 1UpArcade splash screen and the option of all three MK games. These are prefectly emulated arcade ports and you can even access the master options like in a real arcade cabinet to change things around.
Let’s start with the controls. These aren’t the best buttons in the world, but they do for casual users. They do eventually get a little squeky and don’t depress evenly across all buttons. They are concaved and look and feel decent enough. The joystick is actually a pretty good Sanwa clone and comes with nice bat tops, but the restrictor gate is a four sided one underneath despite this being an eight direction game so some mods will need to be made if you really care. Having only four directions feels off and the cabinet should have come with an optional gate. I also think the joystick spring should be a 4lb spring and not a half pound spring that’s included, but it’s all down to preference.
The sound quality is actually quite good and this game gets extremely loud. The single mono speaker has great sound and there are three volume settings. Off, normal, and extra loud. I found the sound was great across all three games and emulation in general is fantastic. There weren’t any glitches, slowdown, pops or crackles in audio. I felt like I was playing in an actual arcade. The screen is also fantastic as it’s a 17″ LCD with a Hor+ aspect ratio so the characters aren’t stretched upwards. The colors are bright and vivid and not pixelated. There are no brightness settings for the monitor, but it looks great at stock settings.
Let’s get into what makes the Costco version so special and superior over the regular MK arcade release. This version comes with a light-up marquee, bar stool, and MK riser as well as a superior speaker and monitor. The original monitor is a Vert- aspect ratio so everything is stetched upwards and the colors are off. There is popping and crackling in the sound and the buttons are a little better here. Overall, the Costco version is the only version I actually recommend for this cabinet.
With that said, 1Up’s MK cabinet is fantastic and a must have for any Mortal Kombat fan. It’s one of my favorite gaming pieces that I own and is a centerpiece for my gaming room. With various mods to the cabinet you can easily make it better and unique, but for the price I feel 1Up should have added some stuff. For one, there should have been real Sanwa buttons and sticks, it doesn’t cost much more. Second, stereo speakers would have been nice. You can add your own regular speakers as there is a 3.5mm jack on the back of the LCD, but something better stock would have been nice. The wood could have been slightly higher quality and black instead of silver screws would have been nice. These changes would cost little to no money and quality of life changes are a must for these cabinets.
It’s not a mystery that developers around the world struggled with the HD era of gaming. Development went from a few dozens to hundreds almost overnight and the advancement of shaders, more complicated lighting effects, higher resolution textures, larger worlds, more dialogue, it was a huge undertaking that put many companies out of business, and Haze is a casualty of this struggle.
You play as a private security mercery named Shane Carpenter who is tasked to eliminate a rebel group for some reason, and it’s never said why. You are a supercharged soldier hopped up on the stimulant known as Nectar, and as the title says, halfway through the game you are an outcast and deemed Code Haze. The Nectar is used to force the soldiers to see the world in a way that the company wants them to see it and in turn your help the rebels take down the Mantel organization. Surprisingly, the story is the only interesting thing going for this game. It had a couple of really good moments, and only if the developers had more time to work on this, Haze could have been one of the best shooters of the HD era of gaming. But, like most games back then, the publishers were pushing for money and time and thus the game fell through.
The shooting, and sadly coming from some masters of FPS games, is awful. There is zero feedback in the gun, the controller, or hit detection so every enemy just feels like a bullet sponge. The guns feel the same and there’s just no satisfaction or character in them such as in a game like Resistance for example. Why there is no rumble function for firing weapons is unknown, but it sucks big time. Aiming and shooting become a chore due to the poorly laid out control scheme which I completely had to change. It doesn’t help that there are very few weapons. A shotgun and an assault rifle were the only weapons I used throughout the entire game outside of a few areas that called for a rocket launcher. There are supposed to be rebel weapons and Mantel weapons, but they are both the exact same with just different ammo counts. They both feel exactly the same which is ludicrous. There are a couple of interesting ideas like being able to create Nectar grenades to confuse soldiers and make them fight each other. Meleeing enemies and taking their weapons is also a good idea, but it’s all executed so poorly and feels half-baked.
The level design is also bland and uninspired. Boring jungles, boring gray buildings, and hallways, and the game just look half-built. Many buildings are void of any furniture or character. I mean, why are there so many buildings in this world without desks or paintings? Does everyone just live on the floor? Then let’s get into vehicle sections. I don’t think these were ever playtested. The vehicles are floaty, too vulnerable, and scripted vehicle sections actually destroy the vehicle and force you on foot. Imagine any other game with a scripted vehicle sequence like Uncharted and having your vehicle blow up and you just walk on foot through that section while the rest of the sequences trigger. It’s broken and awful and should have been cut completely.
Visuals you say? Outside of the boring design, I guess the game looks decent for an early PS3 game. The game runs well at a good framerate, but it could have looked better. The multiplayer servers have long since shut down, but you’re not missing much at all. For the bargain bin price, I can only recommend this to those wishing to fill a PS3 void that they missed or are just curious. Haze is one of the most infamously awful games and left a stain on the video game timeline forever. It’s short-lived, but you’re better off playing one of the other many amazing shooters on PS3.
Fun. This is not a word you will be thinking during your playthrough of Lair. There isn’t a single redeeming value to putting yourself through the torture of Lair unless it’s for novelty or pure curiosity, like myself. I avoided this game like the plague during and after launch. It was quickly thrust into bargain bins just months after launch and no one gave it a second thought. The HD era of gaming was a rough start for most developers and this game put Factor 5 out of business. So what happened?
Well, for Factor 5’s history you can watch plenty of YouTube videos on that, but Lair seems to start out okay, but within 10 minutes you realize you’re going to be in for a rough ride. The game seems okay during the opening pre-rendered cinematic as it looks quite impressive for the time. Once the cut scene ends you are on the ground and you immediately notice the first few issues before you even jump onto your dragon. The framerate. It’s absolutely abysmal and one of the main reasons why the game is nearly unplayable. It never runs above 30FPS and quite often dips down into single digits. Whenever there’s an explosion or the thousands of enemies rendered on-screen in forms of armies far below you, the game just can not keep up. The game from this point already feels half made and like it’s in alpha stage.
The second thing you will notice is how incredibly ugly the game is, even for its time. The textures are horrendously blurry and pixelated and stretched out, the models seem half-done, the animations are broken and skip and jump around to different points, and not to mention the awful controls. The dragon itself controls half-way decent, but without the patch to add analog support this game can not use the precision of the SixAxis motion with this horrible framerate. Nothing feels finely tuned and you’re always doing large gross movements to overcompensate for the framerate. When you finally get the hang of the controls you are to lock on to enemies and shoot then down with fireballs. Pressing circle allows you to magically zoom up to them, or just magically appear next to them for a takedown style button pressing fighting mini-game for health or a QTE animated takedown. You can also bash them on their side by swinging the controller towards them. This entire combat setup seems good on paper but it’s clearly unfinished.
Locking on doesn’t work half of the time as the dragon will stay locked on, face the opposite way of the enemy, yet somehow still shoot fireballs at them and sometimes make it. Usually when you let go of the lock-on button that’s when all hell breaks loose. Nine times out of ten you will slingshot across the map and disorient yourself, hitting objects also slingshots you as well and will just push you straight into the ground. Every single mission is either an escort or takes out X enemies until something happens. The objectives are so vague and it’s so difficult to know who is the enemy and what units to attack. There are no highlighted areas, arrows, or anything to help you out. I restarted missions multiple times because I didn’t realize I was attacking the wrong side or completely missing an enemy that I didn’t see. While swooping down and attacking thousands of enemies at once seems impressive, and it should be, it’s not fun at all in this game. The draw distance is abysmal as animations run at 2 frames until you get right on top of them.
Oh, and the story? Forget it. Two warring factions for no apparent reason and then you switch sides halfway through. No lore, no goal, just a couple of armies fighting because they can. The enemy design is boring, the dragons are boring, and outside of fighting the controls and framerate, the game is just dull and uninteresting. Even if this game worked the underlying gameplay loop just isn’t fun. Sure, the maps look huge and there are tons of enemies on screen, but it’s a jumbled mess of confusion and throws the balancing way off.
Overall, Lair is just an awful game and shouldn’t be experienced by anyone. Unless you want to play an infamously bad PS3 game, just stay away. Thankfully the game is short-lived, but you couldn’t get Gold ratings in missions even if you wanted as the framerate and awful controls prevent you from doing it. There is also no trophy support patched in which is a real bummer.
I’m not the biggest JRPG fan as I don’t like grinding or the typical tropes that go along with them. They usually are extremely bloated with dozens of hours added just in battles alone and this is why I only play them if they have a particular something that stands out albeit the story or the gameplay. Trials of Mana stands out as neither of those, but it does everything in a neatly tightened JRPG package that cuts out the fat and streamlines the genre for the modern world.
The story is nothing to write home about but isn’t bad either. You can choose between 6 different characters with three being in your party. Each character has class specializations and this is important when your class up and balances out your party. It’s recommended to have a fighter, magician, and middle ground class. I chose Reisz, Duncan, and Angela for my playthrough and it worked out perfectly. The overall story revolves around a typical JRPG plot of saving the world from an evil entity. The Goddess of Mana is being targeted by a particular evil force and wants to be the only existing god. There are other evil kingdoms racing to get the Sword of Mana which is said to hold untold powers. Yeah, it’s trite, barely interesting, and towards the end of the game, there aren’t many cut scenes left. The English voice acting, in particular, is incredibly bad so please do yourself a favor and enable the Japanese voice-overs. The characters themselves are very likable with great designs and they stand out and are somewhat memorable, they have typical JRPG hero personalities, but I grew to like them nonetheless.
Let’s dive right into battles. Trials of Mana is a real-time battle system played out in closed-off areas. Once you are in sight of a creature the game surrounds you in a barrier that you can escape from by running toward or just fight it out. There are heavy and light attacks as well as the same while in the air. Once you progress far enough and depending on your class, you will unlock Moves which are class-specific that consume MP and then there are Class Strikes. These strikes use up Stamina that is acquired as crystals that enemies drop when attacked. These strikes are powerful and you get a new one with each new class. These must be strategically timed with boss battles as they are essential to winning and doing massive damage. Battles overall are intense and fun with the ability to adjust your AI mates in the Strategy section of the menu. Here you can adjust how often they use their strikes, moves, items, and how to focus on enemies. This is really important to adjust for later boss fights.
Of course, you can buy most things in towns and the single night market as well as reset your skill points there. Leveling up is a big deal in this game and you can allocate points towards various stats like strength, stamina, intelligence, and so on. I highly recommend leveling up where you want your character to be strong in and save your points once you reach the cap for that class level. Once you class up you will have tons of points to advance your character even further without wasting them on stats you don’t need to focus in. Getting a higher class also grants a new costume and access to higher-level weapons and armor in addition to more ability slots. Leveling up stats grants abilities that add passive stats such as healing after battles, additional damage when entering them, sacrificing HP for additional damage, etc. The great thing is that these abilities are shared amongst all characters once unlocked to really customize your style.
Exploring in Trials of Mana is fine, but not wholly necessary. Exploring only gets you basic items, and the very rare weapon or armor piece and the question mark seeds in Chapter 5 needed to get to class 3. Grinding is also very minimal in this game as you will mostly stay just behind or ahead of the current area demand. I recommend staying above two levels of the next boss and it will make life much easier and you will chew through less healing items. The levels are very linear as well and it’s hard to get lost as a golden star will always lead you to your objective as well as on the map. I have to commend Square for implementing this as one of my biggest issues with JRPGs outside of random battles is never knowing where the hell to go. This allows you to just enjoy the game and not worry about whether or not you’ve been going the wrong way for the last hour.
With all of that said, Trials of Mana also looks fantastic. While not groundbreaking, it has bright visuals, detailed textures, high-poly models, and great animations. The effects are slick and the bosses are very well designed. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of regular enemies as they are just standard JRPG fodder like rabbits, slime, knights, dragons, and various fantasy creatures, they do require strategy as each has different attacks and debuff effects. So with that said, Trials of Mana won’t change the minds of those who don’t like JRPGs, but those who love them will truly enjoy this. I finished the game and even continued to the additional optional chapter that can grant New Game+ if completed. This is one of two Super Bosses and requires a level 75 party. This final dungeon is about an hour long and combines a piece of every area you have visited in the game for one mega-dungeon. It’s a challenge and fun, and I recommend completing it. Trials of Mana is one of my favorite JRPGs in the last decade and I can easily recommend it to most people.
Well, what a treat! Modern Warfare 2 is considered the best game in the earlier series and the campaign was most definitely the best and the most memorable. The game takes place right after the end of the first game with the Russians invading the United States for World War III. You play as various soldiers in this war and bounce back and forth trying to stop the bad guy, Makarov, but the story takes a crazy twist at the last mission.
The question here is there anyone asking for these games to be remastered? Most people usually only stick around for multiplayer and it’s rather strange to only remaster the campaign and release the multiplayer section later. Most Call of Duty players skip the campaign and only bother with multiplayer, and it’s not like the Call of Duty campaigns are anything to write home about. Sure, they’re entertaining and exciting, but they don’t last long and the story is a trite modern military train of nonsense, so who is this game for?
That’s will be hard to answer, but I’m one of the few who play the campaign first and usually go back for seconds later on. I played the original on Xbox 360 and spent more time in this game’s multiplayer than any other in the series. The maps were perfectly created, the balance was fantastic, but it’s long dead now so all we have is this campaign. Thankfully it’s only $20 as you get about 4 hours of gameplay out of it. It’s literally fun for an evening and it’s over. The game does have some crazy scenes like seeing a nuke detonate from space and the battle in Washington DC through the White House is pretty awesome. There are more stealth missions with Captain Price this time around, and overall we get a good range of different types of action. The boots on the ground mowing down enemies type, the special ops missions, then the stealth missions.
What I would have liked to see is more on-rails stuff. There are a couple of chase scenes in the game and one helicopter ride in which you get to snipe enemies, but I wanted more of these. They’re exciting and just a lot of mindless fun. I did find the game’s difficulty poorly balanced as I’d blow through a couple of missions and then die over and over in one spot particularly as Roach in the U.S. Marine levels. There are wide-open areas and they usually have you running around trying to take down vehicles and large waves of enemies. There is never a dull moment however and I had a blast through the whole thing, but it does feel shorter than the first game. The infamous and controversial “No Russian” mission is present but allows players to skip this level entirely. While at the time of release it may not have seemed like such a big deal, but mowing down people in an airport as part of a terrorist attack is all too real these days and there are thousands of people in the US who have fallen victim to shootings or have been near one and it can be a seriously sensitive topic, so good on Beenox for adding this option.
The visuals are amazing using modern techniques to make the game look like it was made and released today. Fantastic lighting, textures, models, and other effects that PC gamers will love. It runs flawlessly without a hitch and everything moment was a blast. I will say that there is no reason to go back however and that’s going to be the deciding factor for people. There’s zero replay value here as Battle.net doesn’t have an achievement system and while you can find 45 different intel laptops…what’s the point? There’s no reward for doing so and there are no extra modes either. There’s a neat little museum mode that lets you see various panoramas of each level, but there’s nothing to do besides pressing a button and having all the character models jump at you and attack. It’s neat but seriously pointless that no one will probably bother exploring.
Overall, Modern Ware 2 Campaign Remastered is a blast while it lasts. It’s only 4 hours long with no replay value, extra modes, or a reason to even go back. It’s a game you go back and play every 5-10 years for nostalgia and that’s it. Newcomers will have a blast and may play through a second time, but that’s all your $20 is going to give you: One fun evening. The visuals are fantastic and look amazing, but that’s about it here. It really is the best campaign of the early trilogy, but what does that mean to anyone? I guess it depends on how much you love linear shooters.
Oh boy, this review has been 22 years in the making. I have been trying to finish this game since I was 8 years old, but just could not do it. I will admit, I’m not the best JRPG player as I don’t have the patience to do insane amounts of grinding and play into the earlier Final Fantasy game’s crazy summon hunting. FF8 eluded me for so many years because of one thing: The Junction system. I absolutely love the characters, art, and story in this game, but the Junction system nearly ruins it for me. And yes, I had to play with cheats/boosters activated and even then, I almost couldn’t finish the game.
I did, however, play the game normally. I collected spells, tried to get Guardians when I could, leveled up a good amount, and finally got past disc 2! The issue lies in the overall complicated nature of FF8‘s systems. You no longer just buy weapons and armor and change them out when you get to the next town. Instead, you collect spell cards that are finite and they can be traded amongst other members. In theory, this sounds fine, but it’s hard to strategize a specific player role when everyone can use magic. Some argue that you can give certain spells to certain characters and break it all up the way you want, but this is flawed because if you don’t collect cards found throughout the world, or stolen from enemies, you don’t get to use any magic.
Weapons are only upgraded this time by using parts found on monsters, but a lot of these parts are hard to find and to upgrade to a new weapon, you must find a magazine to unlock the weapon. This just keeps piling up the frustration as it hinders progress. Characters also have Overdrives which are powerful unique moves, but some characters, like Rinoa and Quistis, can only acquirea new ones but using certain items or finding magazines. FF8 heavily relies on exploration and patience, this is not a game you can just blow through the story mode like previous games. The Junction system also functions as a way to equip Guardians which are bosses found hidden throughout the world. I only found about half, as the other half requires exploring the overworld map and finding their hidden locations. Accompany this with insanely frequent random battles and you will spend 2/3 of your time in the game just battling.
If this doesn’t sound complicated enough there are hidden features not explained in the game such as being able to “Card Mod” only using Quezacotl’s ability. This allows players to turn found enemy cards into items that are then used to turn into weapons, but this is a very obscure out of the way thing for such an important gameplay element. FF8 is riddled with things like this and it made learning the Junction system like learning math. It was boring, not fun, and incredibly frustrating, and just imagine as a kid there’s no way I would have understood any of it. Even after I finished the game I still felt I hadn’t quite grasped it all and I missed something.
Outside of the awful (or good) Junction system the rest of the game is standard Final Fantasy fair. Turn-based battles allow you to do various attacks, use items, and there’s an option for real-time battle or waiting. Players also need to make sure they equip actual functions for each player otherwise you can only attack. GF use, items, and magic are all optional attacks that you can choose, but you can only have 4 menus. Another irritating thing about the Junction system. You must sacrifice GF use if you want to use items and magic for example. FF8 is also standard with an awful overworld map. This map has no camera controls and is horribly designed. It’s a 3D map, but eventually, you get into a ship, then a car, then a giant flying ship to traverse faster. This is when you can explore more and find Guardians.
Let’s finally talk about the story and characters. FF8 has some of the most memorable characters with Seifer, Squall, Rinoa, Quistis, and Selphie just to name a few. They are all well written and designed characters and I cared for them greatly throughout the entire game. There are long written dialog bubbles that go on for dozens of minutes some times, but the mix of pre-rendered cut scenes on with real-time models on top is a trip even to this day. There are some imaginative scenes in this game, and it’s a shame it’s hindered by the disc space of the PS1. The story in itself is one of the most controversial in the series with no real ending being explained and it is open to fan theory. I won’t get into those, but after reading some theories online they made a lot of sense and it’s a good story to talk about long after finishing.
But, also like Final Fantasy games, it’s heavily unbalanced, with the final boss having four whole phases and requiring you to be an insane level towards the end that normal story progression won’t get you towards Even with boosters activated I still got stuck and was required to level up normally and the game could easily take 50+ hours just to finish properly. I can’t bash the game for this as there’s a huge audience for it, but it’s not for me. It’s one of the few things I won’t knock this game for is how much of a hardcore RPG it truly is. This is a game you must play exclusively for days or weeks and just grind out, and some people love this. The story is thankfully rewarding enough, and after finishing a tough boss the satisfaction is exemplary.
Overall, FF8 is a strange game indeed. With an awful or good, Junction system that changes everything you know about the game, but one thing can’t be denied, it’s too complicated. The game looks fantastic with amazing pre-rendered scenes, great enemy design, a superb music score, and classic gameplay. For me, there’s just too much that keeps it from being fun outside of the story. I often gave up on this game for years, and even with boosters, the game is still a grind fest. However, if you like those things, then you will love this game. When it comes to the remastered part of the game it disappoints. The game suffers the same issues as the Final Fantasy IX Remaster with updated character models on upscaled original backgrounds. It’s a lazy remaster with only new music and some boosts added. There’s not widescreen support or anything else.
Grand Theft Auto was an unstoppable juggernaut in the early to mid-2000s. With the rise of the PSP and it’s new near PS2 quality visuals it was a perfect match for the series. Liberty City Stories wasn’t simply a GTA3 port, but a whole new story and set of missions set within the same world. The exact copy of GTA3’s Liberty City is ripped out of the PS2 and copied on the PSP with grace and detail. I felt like I was playing GTA3 the entire time through my 10-hour campaign, but it came with caveats.
When you jump into a car for the first time LCS has that classic GTA feel. Arcadey physics, campy humor, and unrealistic everything else. You can run people over, get 5-star police wanted ratings, jump off cliffs, and everything else you could do in GTA3. It’s a sight to behold on such a small system. Driving is probably the most enjoyable aspect of LCS including the missions that have you driving the most. When you jump out of the car is when things go awry.
Combat is abysmal on in this game and really brings it down. Since there is no right analog stick you must rely on a lock-on system that just doesn’t work. Half of the time if you aren’t facing an enemy shooting at you there will be no lock-on causing cheap deaths. There is no cover system, so missions are tailored toward the console with slightly better controls. It’s impossible to gun down two dozen enemies while also only being able to take 4-5 shots before dying. This is the most infuriating thing about LCS and really brings the score down. I had to use cheats to finish the game. I died maybe 10-15 times on several missions even with cheats! Having only a few enemies is manageable and some missions felt tailored towards the PSP controls and some didn’t. There were missions I really thought were fun, but then I’d be thrown into a multi-part mission and die a dozen times on the last part just to have to restart all over again. It also doesn’t help that you don’t make much money in this game quickly so every time you die or get arrested your weapons are gone. Some missions I was stuck with no money and had to have a weapon so I had to use a weapon cheat. The game’s flow was not thought out very well.
At least the story and characters are entertaining. While not as fleshed out as later games in the series Toni Cipriani and his fellow employers are all classic GTA style characters and I enjoyed seeing them on screen. The radio stations are back and are one of my favorite parts of the game. Driving around listening to the hilarious commentary is gold. Due to the small volume space on the PSP disc, there isn’t much of it. I would start to hear repeated stuff about a quarter of the way through the game which is a shame, but the game supports custom soundtracks which is nice. There is a multiplayer mode, but it’s nothing really special. You and a buddy can basically wreak havoc over ad-hoc. You can participate in races, taxi, and first responder missions, but there’s nothing special here that wasn’t in GTA3 or is PSP exclusive.
The visuals of the game are pretty impressive, but there is a lot of slowdown and pop-up. LCS pushes the system to its limits, and the amount of detail is crazy. There are reflections when it rains, tons of traffic and pedestrians, large buildings loom over the horizon. The sound is great as well as it feels like a living breathing city despite how little interaction there is. But, on the surface, after the story is over there’s no real reason to come back unless you just want to ride around causing mayhem.
Overall, LCS is an incredible technical feat but is brought down by a mission structure not tailored for the handheld’s control system. It’s way too easy to die with missions that require sometimes dozens of enemies firing at you all at once, which leads to dozens of restarts and endless frustration. There’s a lot of slowdown and pop-in, and the radio stations start repeating after only a couple of hours, but that’s just the roughness of the original GTA open-world games. They weren’t perfect but were enjoyable thanks to their sense of freedom and great writing and character design. I recommend playing LCS, but keep the cheat sheet handy as you will need it since there are no difficulty options.
Max Payne 2 was released a little over a year from the original and a surprising amount of fat was cut from the original. It’s the same game, but more refined and updated and feels more tightly woven than its predecessor. A lot of problems were fixed, but new ones arose as well. The narrative continues right after the first game with Max still trying to avenge the death of his wife and child, still trying to get to the bottom of The Inner Circle, and a new love blooms: Mona Sax.
The game starts off similarly to the first game, we get some weird trippy dream sequences, but they aren’t nearly as awful with zero platforming this time. Once you are in control of Max you can instantly feel the difference. He has more weight, his animations are smoother, and gunplay overall just feels punchier and sharper. More weapons were introduced with many old ones coming back. The new M4 and Kolishnokov weapons are a great addition, but unnecessary. One assault rifle is good enough as well as the addition of the HP5, but the Ingrams do just fine for a sub-machine gun. While the older weapons pack more of a punch the new weapons just feel like they were added just to add to the weapon count, less would have been fine. A new dedicated projectile button has been added so you can throw grenades and molotovs without equipping them.
Bullet Time has been refined and fixed as well. Max can now spin around in a 360-degree motion while dodging and the bullets impact harder and there’s less of a delay when you shoot. There is also better feedback on enemies when hit as they stumble more and drop their weapons so you know they’re dead in bullet time. Max can also stay lying down while continuing to empty a clip so the delay in getting up doesn’t make you completely vulnerable as the first game did. The difficulty has been dialed way back and I died a lot less than in the first game. All these great fixes and additions make Max Payne 2 the better of the two games already.
When it comes to level design, Max Payne 2 has more interesting levels like a creepy funhouse, a sprawling mansion, a construction site, and some apartment slums, but there’s a lot of backtracking and I feel the overall scope of the game feels claustrophobic. The variety is better, but you explore those few areas longer and I just feel I wanted to see more of New York inside this noire world Max lives in. Also, gone are the boss fights so the game feels better paced and I felt a tempo of gameplay going that the first didn’t have. However, the game is much shorter clocking in at 4-5 hours. There aren’t any collectibles or anything like that so once you fly through the game it’s over and there’s no reason to ever go back honestly.
Max Payne 2 is a memorable ride. The story is still told in those awesome comic strips, and I feel at the end of the game we get to know Max and Mona well enough to understand their characters and want them on screen more. Their love story is a great centerpiece for this Mafia revenge tale and it makes Max and Mona feel more human. There’s still a cliffhanger at the end of the story, and a third Max Payne game didn’t come until a decade later, but what we get is one of the best single-player shooters of the PS2/Xbox era. It’s tightly compacted and solid and while its short, sometimes that means quality and that is rare even to this day.