Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-29 00:52:00

Tokyo Gore Police

110 minutes

Blood, blood, gallons of the stuff, give them all that they can drink and it will never be enough

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: in the far-off year of 20XX, the police force has been privatized, and they now run around with tactical samurai armour and Steyr Augs. At the same time, a new threat to mankind has arisen: the Engineers. Engineers are modified humans who can form weapons out of any wounds they suffer. As the film opens, our heroine, Ruka, hacks at her arm with a blade, before being called out to deal with the latest Engineer, a man swinging around a chainsaw. After the police shoot the weapon out of his hand (and the hand still holding it for that matter), it swiftly sprouts a new chainsaw, covered in gore and muscle, that’s also attached to another chain, allowing him to swing it around and launch it. Ten seconds later, he’s the only one left standing. That’s when Ruka shows up, and after a short battle, slices the Engineer in two, vertically, blood spraying from the wounds like a fire hose.

Now, did you, at any point, stop me there? No, of course you didn’t. That’s because Tokyo Gore Police isn’t like anything you’ve seen before.

In terms of themes and style, this is pretty close to the Tetsuo movies (Tetsuo: The Iron Man and its sequel, Bodyhammer). But while those were very dark, the cinematic equivalent of a panic attack in a car crusher, this is… well, calling it ‘light-hearted’ or saying its ‘played for laughs’ doesn’t work so well. It’s not a film that takes itself seriously, by any measure, which is probably why it can even remotely get away with anything it does. The Tetsuo movies were good, but way too hard going, grinding the viewer down as they watched. This is a film with its tongue so far in its cheek, it bursts out the other side and becomes a shotgun, maiming a family of three.

How weird does it get? Well, let’s see, remember Robocop or Starship Troopers? The fake TV ads? They’re in here, ranging from ads encouraging people to join the police, to the stylish and cute ‘Wrist Cutter G’ (‘makes the blood taste sweeter’, apparently), to the most violent Wiimote attachment ever, to… It’s difficult to tell if they’re trying to make some statement on Japanese culture and law enforcement, or if they just sat around drinking one afternoon going “You know what’d be cool?” Then again, even in Robocop, half the ads seemed more like one-shot gags, so if you’re going to steal, steal from the best.

Then there’s the mutations. Remember, this is a film where wounds = weapons. The guy with the chainsaw at the beginning? He’s smalltime. During one fight between Ruka and the big bad, she scores him across the face with her sword. So, he does what you’d expect anyone to do in this film and… no, I’m not spoiling that one for you, but the resulting weapon is definitely going to linger in your mind for a while. The body modification club/brothel, on the other hand, contains a dancer with a line of carpet staples across her breasts, another who’s become a snail woman, and a third who has altered her body so much, she’s become a chair. You read that right. It’s impressive in a way that, after all the tactical weirdness strikes assaulting you every other minute, seeing someone lactating acid barely even raises an eyebrow.

And then we have the violence. Hands up who’s seen Fist of the North Star? Any version will do. Or Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-Chan? Or Kill Bill, or Brain-Dead or anything like that? You know those moments where someone suffers a papercut, then, 5 seconds later (because there’s always a delayed reaction) the streets are running red and the wound’s spewing blood about a hundred feet in the air? That’s this film in a nutshell. If there’s even the slightest injury, it’ll bleed like a broken dam, to the point where Ruka’s actually pushed down a corridor by the force of one character’s injuries. Such high-pressure bleeding is even taken to its logical extreme in the final and oddly impressive moments of the film. As for the gore, well, imagine if the Power Rangers decided to go for an 18 cert with about half the budget. If papier mache and latex sprayed red gets your stomach churning, you might want to give this a miss. Otherwise, you’re probably going to be too busy laughing or rolling your eyes to notice.

In the end, Tokyo Gore Police is definitely a movie that lives up to its name. While other movies run on the Rule of Cool to get away with their more ludicrous stunts, TGP runs on the Rule of Sure Why Not. The police chief walks around everywhere with a pet gimp? Sure, why not. Random fight between a policewoman with a naginata and a schoolgirl with a boxcutter for an arm, neither of whom have had any significant screentime til now? Sure, why not. Woman turns herself into a chair? Sure, why not. After a while, it’s easier to just throw your hands up and say ‘y’know what, fine’ in an exasperated manner than call bullshit on anything. Tokyo Gore Police isn’t a film you watch for plot or story or anything mundane like that: you watch it, people explode, you go away wondering what the hell you just saw. Everyone needs to see something like that once in a while, and for that reason alone, this is probably mandatory viewing for most.

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Urban brawl – prequel to Action Doom

Contra style gameplay in a doom style game with the graphical look of a comic book with celshaded graphics and Sin City style plot development cutscenes

A cool indie game from mancubus games, try it out for free and buy the registered version if you want to support them

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0 AD going open source

0 A.D. is a free, cross-platform, under-development, 3D, historically-based, real-time strategy game.

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Recently the dev team has decided to take the step to become an open source project. Making the code available as GPL and the art content available as CC-BY-SA, and encouraging external contributions.

“We’ve been working on 0 A.D. in our free time for years, and now we want to show what we’ve achieved and make it easier for more people to get involved.” says the project’s website,  wildfire games.

If this looks like something you’d like to be involved in, check them out!

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-20 10:33:00

Clive Barker – Cabal

268 Pages

He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man

Clive Barker’s had some terrible luck when it comes to movie adaptations. Sure, he’s got Hellraiser 1&2 under his belt, two of the finest horror movies of all time, and Candyman was fairly decent, but aside from that, by and large, he’s gotten the shaft each and every time. The Hellraiser sequels have ranged from ‘surprisingly good’ to ‘oh sweet lord, no’, Lord of Illusions was either hilarious or pitiful, depending on who you asked, and the most recent adaptation, Midnight Meat Train, was, in a word, abysmal, being related to the original short story in name and basic concept alone. Which would’ve been perfectly acceptable if the movie hadn’t committed the cardinal sin of being terrible. Of all the adaptations, however, Nightbreed holds a special place for many. Helraiser aside, it demonstrates arguably the greatest breadth of Barker’s vision, the freaks and monsters that populate his mind. The quality of the film itself is debatable, but for sheer visual impact, it’s definitely a keeper.

Cabal is the book it was based on, and with a few deviations, the two are remarkably close to each other. Our main character is Boone, a man with some serious mental issues, to put it mildly. While being treated by his doctor, Deckard, he comes to realise that he may be a serial killer, responsible for the deaths of dozens. One unsuccessful suicide attempt later, he has a purpose: he heads to Midian, a necropolis of the lost and damned, where monsters like him can find respite and absolution. But upon arrival, he’s attacked and told that, despite his beliefs, he’s actually innocent. Running from his assailants, he’s discovered by the police and shot down on the spot.

Of course, the story doesn’t end there.

Cabal is arguably Clive Barker by numbers. All his typical themes and obsessions are here: transformation, both overt and otherwise, the sacred and the profane, the thin line between the mundane and the magical and, of course, his obsession with the flesh. Midian is filled with the Nightbreed, monsters of all shapes and sizes that have banded together for mutual protection. The breed are a true phantasmagoria of the weird, grotesque and bizarre, from the dog-headed painter to the man made of a flock of birds. Most of them are just mentioned in passing, but it gives a fascinating view of the larger world.

Less impressive is the main central theme. So let me get this straight: the Breed are the ones who look all scary and weird, but the ignorant hicks that want to stomp them out immediately upon discovery are the real monsters here, you don’t say, do go on. It’s a tired, hackneyed theme and, unfortunately, it’s not one that’s particularly dealt with well. The only character from the town that comes across as having any real decency is the priest, held over a barrel by the arrogant sherrif for being a transvestite, and even he’s unfairly treated throughout the story, his only real role being to show how not everyone is a complete bastard while simultaniously having the literal and metaphorical crap kicked out of him. He also seems to be setting up a plot hook for a sequel, which would explain a lot more, but it’s been over 20 years and we’ve not seen much more since, so who knows.

Worse are the two sex scenes which… well, Barker came out as being gay some years after this book was published, and in retrospect, it’s not entirely surprising. You ever seen that episode of South Park where Mr. Garrison tries to write a book, and everything ends up having a fixation with wangs? It’s like that. Each scene basically boils down to “Penis penis penis, penis is awesome, penis penis, did I put enough detail into describing the penis? Alsonakedgirlmasturbatingonabed, okay, back to the freaks!” Without that knowledge, it seems a little suspect, and with, comes across as outright hilarious. More so especially if that South Park episode happens to pop in your head at the time.

If you’re looking to get into some Clive Barker, this, along with the Books of Blood collections, is a great place to start. Yes, as I said, it’s somewhat formulaic, but it covers everything you’d probably want to know about the man’s work, and it’s easier to get into than something like, say, Weaveworld or Imajica. It’s short, reasonably to the point and filled wth some nice moments of action and horror, with some occasional moments and lines that shine wonderfully. Consider it the literary equivilent of a ‘Best Of’ album and be done with it.

The story of the Nightbreed was continued in a series of comics, published in the early 90s by Marvel’s Epic Comics imprint, alongside a Hellraiser anthology. The comics primarily take the canon of the film with elements of the book added to fill out the gaps. The Hellraiser comics have been reprinted recently, so there’s every chance the Breed will rise again. For now, we, like the characters at the end of the tale, will need to wait and see.

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The Best Game Ever (Pt.2)

Persona 3

PS2, 2008

And I swear that I don’t have a gun…

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. Proceed at your own risk

Persona 3, for many, is a game of mixed blessings. On the one hand, it arguably revitalised the Shin Megami Tensei franchise in a way nothing else had. After its release, the level of interest in the series simply exploded, resulting in more games being announced and localised in the space of 12 months than we’d seen in the last few years. Of course, this was not without its drawbacks, according to some. Upon first look at the game’s revamped artstyle, people were quick to react, largely with horror. The designs were being handled by Shigenori Soejima, who did some minor work on Persona 2 and Trauma Centre, rather than series mainstay Kazuma Kaneko. The game would be set primarily around a school, and deal with day to day life to a strict time limit, rather than cheerfully allowing you to set your own pace. And, as people were so very quick to point out, you just know that where there’s a fandom, there’s people ready to write really messed up fanfics where they grab the characters and smoosh them together like dolls, making kissy noises as they do so (you know exactly who you are, don’t try to deny it!). But this article is called “The Best Game Ever” and not “Reasons Why People On Both Sides Of Fandoms Suck”, so we’ll move on for the moment.

Behold the main character, saviour of us all! He has an official name in the canon, but I can’t remember it right now, so for the purposes of this article, his name is Kazuma. Kazuma Tenryu. Kazuma’s transferring to a new school this year, and is moving to the local student boarding house. On his way there, however, things get kinda… weird. Weird as in the sky turning a queasy green colour, all liquid turning to blood and, oh yeah, everyone around him spontaneously transmogrifying into coffins. And as he arrives, he’s immediately confronted by a creepy kid who has him sign a contract of some sort. And then he has a gun pointed at him. It turns out the girl on the other end of the gun, Yukari, is one of his classmates in his new school, and the event is waived off as part of the school club she’s a part of. Of course, that doesn’t entirely explain the massive control room in the upper part of the dorms. Or the fact that they seem to be spying on him as he sleeps. Or the weird visions that he’s having as he sleeps. Or the fact that everyone turns into a goddamn coffin on the stroke of midnight every night!

His suspicions that something is amiss are proved a few days later when the boarding house is attacked by a gelatinous blob monster wielding a mask and too many hands. Yukari drags him out of bed, hands him a sword and tells him to follow her. Unfortunately, they make it as far as the roof before the monster catches up to them. As a last-ditch effort, Yukari pulls out her gun… and turns it on herself? The monster, known as a Shadow, knocks the gun out of her hand, the weapon landing at Kazuma’s feet. Instinctively, he picks it up, puts it to his own head, and pulls the trigger…

“Per… so… na…”

And thus, the game begins.

Persona 3 takes place over the course of a year, and can be neatly split into two parts: day time and night time. During the day, you’ll go to school. This is far more important than you’d believe, since this is where you’ll build up your Social Links. In gameplay terms, Links are required for the enhancement and evolution of your Personas. As its explained in-game, a Persona is a facet of your inner self that can only be released with an Evoker – the gun-like item Yukari tried to use at the start. Everyone has it within themselves to be, at turns, a wise mentor or a cruel bully, a crusader for justice or a vicious destroyer. These take the form of beings of myth and legend, gods and monsters and everything in between. The Social Links themselves all correspond loosely to cards of the tarot, as do the Personas themselves, and the stories that unfold are oddly compelling. There’s the friendly rivalry you encounter with a fellow athlete (The Star), the girl you meet in the online RPG (The Hermit), the shady businessman who offers to take you under his wing (The Devil) the shy treasurer of the student council (Justice)… all of these stories are woven into the bigger picture, and as the Links develop, you find yourself warming to them. You find yourself making time for them, not just because it has a practical effect on the game, but because you actually like these people, and seeing them work out their problems and dilemmas gives you a small sense of pride at having helped them. Your influence, as they point out, has changed them, and your friendship has made them stronger. Of course, as each rank of each Link grants bonus experience to a Persona during fusion, their friendship has an arguably greater effect on you.

The night time part is where the majority of the game takes place. On the stroke of midnight, we enter the Dark Hour, a secret time between 12:00:00 and 12:00:01. During that period, the game’s only dungeon, Tartarus opens up. Tartarus is a 260+ floor randomly-generated dungeon that, chances are, you’ll rapidly grow to hate. You won’t be able to tackle it all at once, thank god, as new areas are only opened after certain events, mostly boss fights. Added to that, is the fact that your characters will suffer from fatigue the longer you stay in the dungeon, potentially rendering them unusable for the next few days. This only really affects you at the beginning of the game, and past the halfway mark, probably won’t even factor in to your decision-making, but it’s at the beginning of the game that you’ll want to spend as much time as you can in there, not only to gain money and experience, but also to get a feel for the combat, and limiting you in such a way is frustrating.

More than that, the dungeon designs are, frankly, poor. The decor only changes when you complete a full block of the dungeon. There are a total of about five or six blocks in the whole game. The game takes place over a year or so. Get used to seeing the same bleeding floors quickly, because they’re not going to be changing any time soon. Of course, when they do change, it’s not always for the better. The progression of the first couple of areas is nice, leading on from one area to the other visually, keeping the same motifs, but towards the end… come on, who thought it was a good idea to have an area that’s best described as ‘blacklight disco party freakout’? And then decided this was a good area to put black enemies in? Don’t be surprised if you spend most of your time watching the radar in the corner of the screen than the game itself, because otherwise, you ain’t seeing shit, buddy. Then the block after that goes even more into whiplash by apparently being made entirely of crystal. It’s like the designers went “Yeah, I know we’ve been trying to have each area thematically consistent with each other, but we’re, what, three weeks away from deadline, let’s just throw in some wacky crap and be done with it!” Smooth move there, guys, doesn’t show at all, really.

Of course, the Tartarus music isn’t that much better. It starts off low-key, subdued, but, as with the level designs, it only changes with each block. And when I say ‘changes’, I mean ‘gains an extra instrument’. It’s horribly repetitive and droning, and it was only with the aid of an mp3 player at my side constantly, that I was able to tolerate it. Of course, that leads in to the main battle theme, Mass Destruction. The Megaten series has a reputation for some of the best boss and battle themes in gaming – Hunting: Comrades from Digital Devil Saga and Battle For Survival from its sequel, the boss theme from Nocturne and so on – and as a piece of music by itself, it’s great. Seriously, can’t fault it, I love it. However, those of you out there reading this, quick question: how quickly did you come to dread the words “Baby baby baby baby”? Like I said, it’s a great song, but they always play the track from the very beginning each and every time. When the intro rapidly acquires the Pavlovian response of your hand hitting the mute button, it’s probably a sign that you should rethink putting lyrics in a battle theme (or not, since Persona 4 did the exact same thing, albeit with a slightly less irritating song intro).

Actually, much of the music in the game suffers from this problem, as anyone who ever felt like da da-da-da-dah can attest. It’s not that its bad, its just that it’s repetitive, and it has to start from the very beginning of the track each and every time you enter a new area. And trust me, you’re going to be doing that a lot. As I’ve said before, lyrical themes are a great idea, but only if they’re used sparingly, otherwise you’re going to be driving a lot of people hopelessly mad on a scale your average Elder God could only dream of.

And then we get to the combat itself. The Press Turn system from Nocturne is reused here, but with a minor difference: any character who scores a critical attack, or exploits a weakness gains an automatic chance to attack again. If they do the same thing again, this time on a different enemy, they get to attack again, and so on until they miss or run out of enemies. If they manage to do this, the enemy (or character, as it can happen to you as well) is knocked down and has to waste a turn getting back up, assuming they’re not hit with a physical attack in the meantime. If all enemies are down, you get the option for an All-Out Attack, where everyone bum-rushes the enemy dealing massive physical damage to everything. Needless to say, exploiting weaknesses is arguably more important in this game than others in the series. Unfortunately, that’s not particularly easy with the AI exhibited here.

If you know anything about the game, it’s probably this: you only directly control the main character throughout the game. You can issue orders to the others, which they will follow, but it’s mostly broad suggestions like ‘support the group’ or ‘hit the enemy with everything you’ve got’, and its up to the game how they choose to interpret that. For example, if you get someone to act in support, they’ll immediately heal any and all damage or status affects. Great in theory, but that means they’ll heal all damage, no matter how insignificant, effectively meaning they’ll never heal otherwise. Tell them to cut loose? Enjoy watching Mitsuru use Mind Charge or Ice Break, thus wasting a turn that could’ve been used just stabbing the damn thing! Of course, if your character is incapacitated for whatever reason – status effect, knocked down, whatever – you’ll be incapable of ordering them at all, further flirting with death. And, in proud Megaten tradition, if you die, it’s all over. Your milate may vary, of course: some have found the system perfectly agreeable, and have never had the computer make stupid mistakes on their behalf. Personally, I prefer direct input as to what happens. Call me a control freak if you will, but I like to know any deaths are the result of my screwups, not anyone else’s.

The only other main flaw comes in the voice actresses for two of the main characters, Fuuka and Ken – Ken starts off bratty, before becoming dull, and I’m sorry, but no high schooler should sound like a 30-year-old housewife. Of course, this is balanced by an otherwise phenomenal cast. You’ll recognise most of the characters from other previous roles (the cast has credits from series such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Bleach, Digimon and Disgaea to their names), but after a while, you’ll be hard pressed to imagine anyone else in their roles, the voices are that perfect. Special mention has to go to Derek Stephen Prince, voice of Takaya, who manages to straddle the line between controlled madness and charismatic evil. In a game filled with a stellar cast, the fact that he’s able to outshine them all tells you all you need to know. The man knows how to play a charming villain on a par with Crispin “I’m Allucard, y’know” Freeman, and that’s a hell of a compliment to both.

The characters are, without a doubt, what makes this game. Most of you will probably find yourself liking Junpei most quickly, because, when you get down to it, he’s the easiest to relate to. He likes games, he’s fairly laid back, in a lot of ways, he’s a lot like us. When he finds out that sealing the Dark Hour means the loss of his Persona, he goes into a slump. In his mind, his powers make him a hero, and if he gives that up, he’s back to being a nobody. In that, it’s hard not to feel even the merest twinge of sympathy for him. He doesn’t want fame or recognition. He just wants to be somebody, something more than he is, and who hasn’t wanted that? Then there’s Akihiko, who initially comes across as brash and imposing. As you start to learn about him, you realise he’s not such a bad guy after all. Then, a close friend, practically a brother, is murdered in front of him. Rather than running off wildly for revenge, however, he uses this to drive himself further onward to try and live up to his friend’s memory. Honestly, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone do that in a game, standard protocol is to charge head on, screaming like a lunatic.

And then… then there’s Ikutsuki, and here, the game plays its cruellest trick. Y’see, in the previous games, there was a character called Philemon, a benevolent (sort of) deity (kinda) who gave the characters their powers, known for wearing a camel-coloured suit and a porcelain mask adorned with a butterfly. You never had much contact with him, but, by and large, Philemon was on the level. Philemon himself isn’t in this game, but here’s Shuji Ikutsuki, head of the team and, by and large, a guy who’s seemingly on the level. He’s dressed in a similar outfit, and while he didn’t expressly give you your powers, armed with this prior knowledge, you’re probably more inclined to trust the guy than someone unfamiliar with the series. And then events unfold, and you realise how much of a fool you were to believe him. The game told you he was okay, but while everyone playing it was fooled, series veterans would’ve been fooled that much harder. You went the extra mile. No one else did. It’s heartless and messes directly with the player. I loved it.

Persona 3, more than anything is a story about stories. Everyone has one, from the main characters, to the social links, to even the people standing around doing nothing. Everyone has a tale to tell that unfolds slowly as the game progresses. And at the tale’s close, when you find out exactly how much you meant to everyone, even the people who didn’t know what you were doing at midnight every night, it’s hard not to sit up that little bit straighter. You’re no longer playing a game. You’re fighting for these people. You’re fighting to ensure the sun rises tomorrow. The effect it has will vary from person to person, but if you’ve made it this far, it’s impossible not to get swept up in the story by now. And with the ending… I can’t spoil that here, not even a little, but if you didn’t find your eyes just a little moist, you have no soul. Even now, writing this, the throat’s tightening just a little, and at the time… let’s just say I lost a little of my manly composure and be done with it, huh? The end is played beautifully – another five minutes and those final moments would’ve been positively heartbreaking. As it is… there’s no way I could see it as sad. It doesn’t end badly. It ends exactly the way it was intended to. The way it had to.

There was an updated re-release, FES, with an extra 30+ hour epilogue that caps the whole saga off. I haven’t played it yet, so I can’t comment on it. In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure I want to. It’s not that the extra content is bad or anything, more that… I liked the way it ended. It was a subdued ending, the likes of which you don’t often see in games these days. A quiet, melancholy finale that lets the game wind down to a natural stop. No. Better to leave Kazuma, sitting on that bench, enjoying the warm Spring morning, as a hand strokes his hair softly. He’s earned his rest.

To Kazuma Tenryu. The young man who fought a god to a standstill. Twice. I can think of no better tribute, than starring in a game such as this.

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The Best Game Ever (Pt.1)

Devil May Cry 3

Capcom, 2005

PS2

The adventures of a narcissist with OCD on a quest to beat up his brother.

When you were a kid, someone – probably a well-meaning elderly relative or aunt or something – told you that no one likes a show-off. It’s one of those things everyone had to go through at least once. Well, Grandma Hilde, I’m afraid to say you were so horribly wrong. Showing off may not be big, and it may not be clever, but it is awesome and it makes you awesome. This is Scientific fact, and trying to say otherwise makes you a fool. Just look at Dante.

Dante, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is the walking personification of Awesome incarnate. Everything he does and says has to be as OTT as possible, no matter how mundane, and, as a result, he winds up reeking of the Awesome, and possibly pizza. Or strawberry sundaes, if the anime’s to be believed (which we’re all hoping it isn’t). Devil May Cry 3 is a prequel to the series as a whole, detailing the events some time prior to the first game. While setting up his titular (as yet unnamed) agency, Dante receives an invitation of sorts from his long-missing twin brother, Vergil. Seems he’s planning some shenanigans, and wants Dante to come along with party favours for all his friends! Except by ‘shenanigans’ he means ‘summoning a demonic tower in the middle of the city’, by ‘friends’ he means ‘demons’ and by ‘party favours’ he means ‘violence’. So, Dante, never one to miss a shindig, ventures forth to figure out what in the hell his brother is up to. And, I dunno, stop another demonic incursion into our world if possible, or something.

This is the intro to the very first stage:

That tells you just about all you need to know about the game. Over the top acrobatics? Check. A cocky main character just the right side of obnoxious? Check. A fantastically thumping soundtrack? Check. Riding enemies like the devil’s own skateboard, firing and whooping like a lunatic all the while? Oh hell yeah, check! Of course, if the game were all improbable sword-slinging and nothing else, it’d be a pretty piss-poor show. Thankfully, the DMC3 has the chops to back up its boasts, with chutzpah to spare.

So, after the intro, and once you’ve stopped laughing at how insane that opening is, you finally get to take control of Dante himself. And it’s good. The controls are as fluid as you could ask for, and while they do take some getting used to at first, once you have them down, pulling off the myriad combos will be child’s play. It’s okay if you start feeling every bit as cocky as Dante when you start facing down the legions of enemies ahead of you, we all do it ourselves from time to time. Even better though, showing off actually has a practical application in the game. The style meter, trademark of the game, makes a return appearance. As you beat up on demons, the bar fills. The more impressive the combo, the more red orbs, the game’s currency, you get after they die. In the grand scheme of things, you don’t have to invest much in the combo system: it makes things easier for upgrading and the like, but, other than investing in a couple of key moves and some extra health, you can easily murder your way through the underworld with the same basic attacks. The very existence of the bar, however, almost guarantees that, like it or not, you’ll be driving yourself to reach the upper ranks as often as possible, for no other reason than the fact that you can. After all, you’re Dante! No way in hell he’d do anything less than the craziest moves known to man or demon!

The soundtrack is similarly fantastic. The ambient music that makes up the majority of it is inoffensive and fits into the background easily. Not that you’ll really be hearing it that often, as the game’s main battle theme, Taste The Blood kicks in each and every time you encounter an enemy. And there’s a hell of a lot of enemies. If you’ve played games like, say, Persona 3 and 4, you’ll know it’s hard to have a battle theme with lyrics in it. It’s a nice idea in theory, but it all falls apart when you remember that your average player’s going to be hearing it several hundred times during the course of a normal game. More so if they’re grinding for whatever reason. Thankfully, unlike the Persona games, Taste The Blood and its variants work well as both a stand-alone piece of music and as a battle theme, probably due to the emphasis being on the music rather than the voice (and due to it fading in, rather than crashing in with the same repetitive intro every time). The boss battle themes are, likewise, of a high calibre, being, at turns, dark foreboding pieces, as in the case of the Cerberus fight, or frantic electronica when you’re fighting the succubus Nevan. The game’s overall theme, Devils Never Cry is easily the standout piece. It accounts for what seems like half the tracklist by itself, showing up in various remixes and rearrangements and as a piano version on several occasions. Give the song its due though, it’s a fantastic track, and while your mileage may vary, it’s not a bad piece of music to riff on.

Devil May Cry 3 was eventually re-released as a budget-priced special edition. While there were a few extra modes – Bloody Palace, a 9999 level endurance mode, extra costumes and art and so forth – two spring to the forefront most clearly. First off is the ability to play as Vergil. While this is touted as a separate storymode, that’s actually something of a lie. There’s a few extra cutscenes as Vergil, mostly at the start and end, but between stages, there’s nothing. There’s not even any difference between the stages or the order you tackle them in – the first stage takes place in Dante’s office, note for note, for God’s sake! Vergil mode basically amounts to little more than a palette-swap with a new set of moves and no story, rather than a ‘true’ new gameplay mode, and while it’s a nice addition, it’s really nothing to get excited about.

What’s more interesting is the re-jigged difficulty levels. We all know how crushingly hard the game gets on account of the difficulty levels being moved up a notch during the translation to Western Shores – our ‘Normal’ is the Japanese ‘Hard’, our Dante Must Die mode doesn’t even technically exist over there, and so on. With the release of DMC3SE, they decided to throw us a bone and moved the settings closer to the original Japanese settings. The end result is a game that’s not exactly easier, as much as it is less frustrating. Lots of people out there wanted to like the original, but were put off by the monumental challenge it offered, even on the sarcastically offered Easy Mode (to unlock: die. That’s it). With this, and a few refinements and tweaks here and there, the game is finally within the reach of even the less than godly of us out there.

DMC3, if you haven’t already guessed, is a phenomenal game, and easily one of the best ever seen in the action genre. The cutscenes are wonderfully overblown, and there’s a healthy vein of self-mocking humour running through it from end to end – anytime Dante does something cool, and takes a moment to congratulate himself on it, events never fail to remind him that he’s still an utter goofball. The controls, the gameplay, the graphics, voice acting and characters all come together to produce an absolutely amazing finished product. It’s even more amazing considering it came out after the second game in the series, an offering so laughably poor, even Capcom themselves are doing their best to distance themselves from it. When a company is more ready to consider a cameo in another company’s game (see Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne) more canon than an actual instalment of the series itself, it gives you some indication of just how dire that offering must be. DMC3 puts you in the boots of a qualified badass and lets you go wild with some of the most demented attacks and weapons you’re ever likely to see – if you can find a weapon more spectacular than an electric guitar that doubles up as a scythe that also fires electrically charged bats with every riff that, fyi, was also originally a virtually naked succubus not ten minutes ago, for the love of all that is holy, keep it to yourself, less its magnificence tear the very fabric of the universe asunder!

Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening is, without a doubt, the craziest party you’re ever likely to visit. Let’s rock!

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-13 03:34:00

Baroque

PS2

RPGs are a weird breed. For all the crowing made about pushing the boundaries of gameplay forward, by and large, the settings are inevitably the same: the same cod-Tolkein medieval landscape, the same large expanses of nothing with the same few hamlets and forests, and the obligatory village of ninjas and samurai, despite the rest of the world ostensibly taking place in 14th century Europe. And on the few occasions when they take place in a more modern or futuristic setting, there will always be, without fail, one person, more than likely the hero, running around with a sword. Or a laser sword.

In any case, it’s rare that anyone actually tries to do something different with the setting. There has never been, to the best of my knowledge, an RPG set in the Renaissance. I’ve never seen a film noir strategy game, and if you want something in a recognisable modern day setting, if you don’t like the Shin Megami Tensei series, you’re pretty much boned.

Baroque is something different. Following a catastrophe that nearly destroyed the world, known as The Blaze, the land is left in a twisted state. Twisted abominations known as ‘meta-beings’ roam the earth. The only semblance of order and authority comes from the False Angels of the Order of Malkuth. Their leader, the Archangel, claims to have God trapped at the bottom of their former headquarters, the Neuro Tower, and charges the main character with purifying her. If he does so, he will receive absolution for the terrible sins he has committed – sins he has trouble even remembering.

Right from the off, you’re thrust into a landscape charitably described as ‘hellish’. The sky is a painful crimson, the buildings crumbling down to girders and rusted metal gratings and beyond that, blasted sand as far as the eye can see. The only building of any real worth in the area is the Neuro Tower, home to the game’s main quest. The area’s not completely devoid of inhabitants: there are several people in the area you can talk to who will offer help and advice, after a fashion. The Bagged One will hold items for you, the Coffin Man talks about building the world’s greatest dungeon (goddamnit), while the Baroquemonger will read any Idea Sephirah, glowing pearls that contain the thoughts and feelings of its former owner, that you’ve found. Other characters, like the neurotic Longneck, the cryptic Horned Girl, and the worryingly pleasant Bagged One offer up interesting tidbits of background and advice depending on your actions. Eventually, you head towards the tower. As you near it, a vision of the Archangel appears and hands you the Angelic Rifle, reminding you of your mission to purify God. Picking it up, you enter the tower, and the game proper begins.

Baroque is a Roguelike, a modern-day version of the classic dungeon-crawlers of yore, exemplified by games like Diablo 2, Azure Dreams, Nethack, and, to a lesser extent, games like the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, and that means one thing: crushing difficulty. If you haven’t already noticed by this point, you have two main meters onscreen: the first is your health, which is pretty self-explanatory. If you take damage, it recharges itself over time as long as you avoid more hits. The other is your vitality meter. No matter what you do, this is always ticking down. When it empties, it starts draining your life meter at the same rate until you die, so its in your best interests to keep it topped up as much as possible. There’s a few ways to do this, but the main way should clue you in to what kind of game this really is:

You eat the hearts of your fallen enemies.

Yes, for all it’s RPG trappings, Baroque is really closer to the survival horror genre. The environments are lifted right out of Silent Hill, the atmosphere out of a David Lynch movie and the enemies right out of that unsettling dream you could never quite remember. They start off reasonably enough – mutant fish, hopping bugs that are easier to step on than hit with your sword – but before long, you’re encountering wicker and mesh manikins that fire balls of dark electricity at you, fake walls with grotesque faces that try to consume you, and floating monstrosities with more appendages and status effect attacks than is strictly necessary. This is a game that manages to put the creatures of Silent Hill, long a World Leader in the export of Freaky Shit to shame, though they’re usually less outright horrifying, and the sense of isolation is easily on a par with it. You never really get to a point where you feel capable of taking on everything with ease: in the back of your mind, you always know there’s a trap or a group of enemies that will shut you down for good, so you’re always on your toes. And all the while, you’re eating the hearts, flesh and bones of your foes. No one said this was a happy game, after all.

Eventually, after some probable mishaps, you will encounter the God of the Order of Malkuth, and more than likely do as instructed by the Archangel. One confusing cutscene later, you’ll be dumped back outside the tower with none of your equipment or levels, and even less of an idea of what’s going on. Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the two core mechanics of the game. The first is that you’re going to be assaulting the tower. A lot. Be prepared to restart from nothing repeatedly, because that’s the only way to unlock the story and further floors of the tower. Woe betide anyone who forgot to give Eliza their Idea Sephirah on the 15th floor, because you’re going to have to do the entire thing aaaaall over again. Granted, while the tower itself is always randomized, the NPCs that appear on each floor are almost always on the same floors, so if you screw up, really the only one at fault is you. Thankfully, you’ll level up fairly rapidly just by killing enemies as they appear, and items are always plentiful, so a lot of the time, restarting is more of a hinderance than a game-breaking flaw.

Of course, you’ll want to repeat the tower, because this is the only way you’ll uncover the other main draw of the game: the storyline. It’s drip-fed to you in the most agonizing way possible. At the start, all you’ll know is that the world is ruined, and that, somehow, you were the one responsible for this. As you continue to assault the tower, you start piecing together the background to the story. You’re told fairly early on that the Archangel knows more than he’s letting on, which even the least attentive of players will have worked out, but then you begin to start understanding how much he’s not telling you. Then you find out exactly what happened. To the game’s credit, no matter what you thought was going on, somehow, it’s even more twisted than you ever dared imagine. It’s almost a shame that Baroque isn’t a more traditional RPG as the darkness of the story is easily one of the most intriguing I’ve ever encountered. It’s so hideously warped, and it’s a wonder that it manages to surpass even the darkest of expectations, and if I could recommend a game based solely on its premise alone, this would be getting the highest marks imaginable.

Unfortunately, I can’t and I have to judge it on gameplay, and there’s several gaping flaws here, first and foremost being the difficulty. It’s a Roguelike, so you expect there to be a steep learning curve attached, but somehow the game manages to outdo itself at every turn. It’s hard to feel like you’re making any progress at first, and when you finally start gaining some ground, you’re inevitably dumped back outside with no equipment again. Characters will eventually start dropping hints as to what to do to – how anyone would work out what ‘pure water’ actually means without a gigantic leap of logic is beyond me – but the going is slow, and the majority of players will drop out long before they uncover the good stuff.

Secondly, for all the items the game throws at you, it’s oddly stingy in some respects. Good weapons and armour are maddeningly difficult to acquire, and wandering around with a Puny coat and Junk sword does nothing for morale. That wouldn’t be so bad if, like in other Roguelikes, items to power up your equipment were plentiful, but here, you’ll be lucky to encounter a single stat-up item every half-dozen tower runs. Of course, that doesn’t stop certain enemies tossing around weapon-degrading attacks like confetti at a funeral. Keeping items from run to run is also needlessly hard. On certain floors, you’ll encounter a fixture known as a Consciousness Orb. As well as being an important plot element, any one item, and one item only, thrown in will appear in the item collector’s inventory back in the town. You’re guaranteed to encounter at least two on the final (enemy-free) floor of the dungeon, allowing you to keep your sword and armour between runs. Unfortunately, you’re not likely to encounter many more than that. So if you also happen to find a really awesome item the level before that you’d like to keep for the next journey, tough noogies, it ain’t happening. It adds a maddening degree of unfairness to an already hard game. Surely letting us keep anything equipped, and using the orbs to send back extra goodies would be a far better idea, with the bonus of making the game that little less masochistically hard.

It’s a shame that the difficulty and repetition will put of just about everyone who plays Baroque, because in every other way, this really is a fantastic game. The levels are nicely atmospheric, the music is fantastic, a heavy industrial influence underscoring the journey well, the enemy designs are gleefully grotesque, even the swords are fascinating, being less sharp bits of iron, more borderline organic slabs of metal. There’s also a ton to unlock, with every voice clip and cutscene going into a gigantic directory, and an extensive list of every character and enemy in the game. If you have a high tolerance for basically restarting a game over and over again, or a lot of patience in the face of ludicrous difficulty, this is well worth a look. If, however, you’re like me, and just want to try something different, you could do a lot worse, and if you can get through the difficulty barrier, you’re in for a real treat. A shame then, that that single barrier will put off most everyone who’ll play it – even the ones who’d enjoy it most.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-13 03:07:00

I’ve always been disdainful at best of Dreamworks’ CGI output, but if this is in any way, shape, or form true, their movies just dropped from ‘shallow’ to ‘outright soulless’.

Depressingly, it also explains a hell of a lot.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-07-11 01:06:00

Akira Psychoball

PS2

Little known fact: I love pinball. Seriously, love it to bits. While other kids were dreaming of full-size arcade cabinets in their bedrooms, I would’ve offered up any number of bodyparts for a decent pinball cab. Of all the arcade games out there, pinball arguably requires the most skill: crane games and the like are hideously rigged, and you can brute force your way through virtually every arcade game available – SNK fighting games infamously aside – if you have the credits available. No chance of doing that with pinball, either you’ve got the moves, or you don’t, simple as that.

Slightly more well-known is my love of all things Akira. The manga is one of the best I’ve ever read, and over 20 years on, the film still manages to outclass virtually everything since in terms of animation and design. Condensing a 2000+ page manga into a two hour movie may not have been the best idea, but for my money, it’s still one of the most visually stunning films ever. On the games front, however, it’s been poorly serviced, with some of the worst titles ever to appear on any format bearing its name. In order to be classified as the Best Akira Game Ever, it would simply have to have the sole virtue of not being atrocious.

Akira Psychoball is an attempt to retell the epic and complex story of the film through the medium of pinball. Yes, you read that right.

Released in time to cash in on the Remastered edition of the film in 2002, the game is liberally peppered with clips from the movie. While they do look pretty, they’re pretty much devoid of any context, so good luck trying to follow the plot. Though if you’re playing a pinball game for the story, you have no idea how wrong you’re doing it, and you’re probably having more fun making up the story yourself so, y’know, go wild!

First thing you’ll probably notice is that yes, this is actually a pinball game. Somehow, it’s actually a surprise starting it up and seeing all the ramps and bumpers, but no, this really is pinball and we’re actually going through with this. You’re given a couple of main options to choose from: Story Mode, where you work your way through the tables, clearing targets and goals as you go; Stage Select, where you pick a table and play as you want; and a help mode, which gives you info on what each of the targets on the various boards do, as well as background info on the characters and the vague plot of the film. Thinking about it, that’s pretty superfluous, since anyone with any actual interest in this game probably knows who the angsty kid in the cape is and why he’s turning into monstrous silly putty, but, again, we’ll ignore that and carry on.

So, to the game’s Story Mode, a description skirting with the Trade Descriptions Act at best. Each board consists of two parts, a top half and a bottom half, and there are three of each, themed off various set-pieces from the movie. As you hit targets and complete mini-games, you’ll progress to the next table. Here’s where it gets tricky though: rather than moving tables wholesale, the top part of the table will remain, while the bottom half will be ‘switched in’. Once you’ve gone through all three bottom halves, the top half will change and you’ll have to do the same thing again until you’ve run through all three. Once you’ve done that, congratulation! You win at pinball!

The pinballing itself is pretty solid, if mostly unremarkable. Once you get the timing right, it’s possible to make any and all shots with reasonable regularity. Thing is, on a console, you kinda expect a little more. Consider games like the Crush series – Alien Crush, Devil Crush and Jaki Crush, all popular mainstays of the 16-bit era. These took the viewpoint that on a console, you were never beholden to such boring concepts as, gravity, physics or even reality, and spiced the gameplay up with moving targets, boards that changed physically depending on what you hit, and little monsters that would wander around, giving you points and extra bonuses if you hit them. Hell, they even included bosses if you were any good at the game! Here, there’s a few extra cutaway bonus stages, where you have to take down flying platforms, crack open the Akira capsule or destroy SOL, but they’re still sadly limited. As for board invasions, I saw a teddy bear wander across the screen all of twice, and in the final stages, you have to dodge blasts from the SOL laser satellite which do approximately bugger all to you, seeing as they tend to fire at the other end of the map from you. And as for actual proper bosses, other than SOL, there are none. How hard would it’ve been to include a final fight against Tetsuo’s monstrous form at the very end of the film, with you trying to ricochet shots off of him?

The other main mode is the Versus mode: two players with two sets of flippers sit side by side with their boards joined in the upper middle. They try to fire balls over to the other person and score when a ball drops through their flippers. First to whatever arbitrary number wins. Really, there’s not much more to say than that, the game’s simplistic as it gets. No doubt it’d be a hell of a lot of fun with friends while drunk, but as I was annoyingly sober and alone while playing it, it gets a resounding ‘meh’ from me.

More worthy of note is the music: while they’ve managed to get the rights to the characters and scenes from the movie, someone somewhere forgot to license the soundtrack. So if you’re hoping to listen to all the iconic themes from the movie, tough noogies, original music for you! Actually, that’s unfair, the new music is actually pretty good on the whole. Surprisingly so, some of it actually being borderline excellent. There’s a few musical nods to the original, so subtle you’d barely even notice, but on the whole, probably the best thing on offer here.

The options are fairly limited: there’s no option to switch to the original Japanese voices, surprisingly, and as the game’s based on the Remastered edition, you’re stuck with Johnny Yong Bosch screaming TETSUOOOOO at the top of his lungs, rather than Cam Clarke. The game also lacks a sound test, which is a disappointment considering the excellent music on offer. There’s also absolutely nothing in the way of unlockables: what you see when you start up the game is all you’re ever going to get, so no concept art, no way to view the clips, not even a chance to get a look at the artwork on each table. An extra challenge mode – a few dozen tasks of the ‘score X points in Y minutes, make Z number of shots, etc.’ variety – would’ve added to the replay value of the game substantially, but as it is, once you’ve finished the main mode, there’s practically nothing else for you to do, and for just about everyone out there, that’s the point where it gets buried beneath other, more interesting games.

Psychoball is a remarkably solid pinball game that, as a physical machine, would probably be one of the best around. As a game on a console, however, it’s not that great, and as an overall package, lacking. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun game: the gameplay is never anything short of smooth, and the tables are nicely realised. Just that there are things that make a physical pinball table fun, and there are things that make a pinball game fun, and the two are drastically different. If you like collecting Akira-related stuff… well, you’ve probably already got a copy. If you’re looking for something different from the norm, give it a shot. Just don’t go in expecting more than pinball.

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Ant City

Ever wanted to use a giant magnifying glass to burn people alive like ants?

If you answer yes then there’s probably something very wrong with you, but in any case, you’re in luck since that’s exactly the premise of this little flash minigame, Ant city

antcity

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