Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Path: Game Design Review

The Path is a horror which I recently mentioned in my recent games are art guest post which I found I hadn't yet reviewed!

So here's my impression of The Path. I'm a bit divided over whether to recommend the game. let me explain why.

Design wise the first problem with the game is that it doesn't tell you how to accomplish the 'goal'. Now I had read about the game before hand in the reviews and knew that I had to leave the Path to truly experience the game. The first time I chose a character, I spent about 40 minutes trying to figure out what to do. I knew I had to wander off the path but I didn't realise what to do to trigger the 'bad' endings.

Finally I figured out that to do this you have to go to a location and NOT move for several seconds to interact with your character's personal 'wolf'. Of course, this required lots of unlearning as most games will have an 'action' button to allow you to interact with objects in the environment but the game never explicitly tells you to NOT move. I wasted nearly an hour on this. Once I figured that out, progress was fairly quick.

Every girls losing' story goes like this:
1) You wander off the path
2) You can visit or discover various significant important places (this is optional)
3) You have to meet your personal wolf
4) You awaken just in front of grandma's house tired and go through grandma's house, what you see depends on how many optional places you discovered.
5) The girl meets defeat.

The entire game is metaphorical and atmospheric and well crafted in that respect. However, aside from the annoying 'not moving' learning issue which I think really needs to be explained better, the game part of this game is a bit too easy and not very exciting at all. It feels more like a collection of short horror mini-episodes combined with a bit of item hunting then a proper game. Rather than exploring possibilities, there is really only one 'Path' in the game.

From a gaming critic's point of view the atmosphere is top notch,the sound and graphics convey exactly the way it should be on the other hand I feel that the artistic nature almost feels like a step back in many ways. No real dialogue, implied characterisation, spooky effects and a distinct lack of interaction.

As a gamer, rather than revelling the interactive nature of the game medium it seems to try and live up to the expectations of the 'art world' rather than trying to aspire and utilise the best tools of the medium (interactivity). I think games like Gabriel Knight, American Mcgee's Alice, Grim Fandango, Indigo Prophecy, the Thief series and the Resident Evil service do the genre a better service in this respect.

For me The Path although good in some respects feels like a warning sign to game developers: "Don't try to live up to art for the sake of art". Otherwise, what you get is a game with good animation, good atmosphere but limited shallow gameplay. Weighing your other available games, the normal price of The Path of $10 seems quite expensive for a game you could finish in less than 3 hours compared to other horror games like Amensia: The Dark Descent.

I have also played the other two games by the creators; The Graveyard and Fatale and they pretty much suffer from the same problem as this game. I'll probably go into detail into them in follow up post.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time: Game Design Review

I bought this game because of the rave reviews (some reviewers giving them as high as 80%). On paper the game sounds great but my reality when playing this game was very different. For me the emphasis on the 'physics' of the game ends up just very very very clumsy. I got up to the ice cave level which is half way through the game and I said 'stop, I'm not having fun at all'. Three months later, I tried to play this again and still wasn't having fun and so I reluctantly deleted it.

Let me expand the problem:
The goal of the game is to get your time travelling chair to the end of the level.
You can't stick the chair in your backpack so you you have to create a 'car'. You do this by combining two wheels and the time travelling chair. So far so good. But then you realise the car physics is 'realistic' and the power of the wheels + chair isn't very good at all. This makes climbing even moderate slopes a real challenge.

You can also freely attach and angle any of your items to any other part of another item, so if you think sticking the tyres on the nose of the chair or the back of the chair will improve the way its driven, you can do so. In practice, if position the tyres wrongly you'll find yourself driving on one wheel which creates an extreme imbalance and will cause the entire car to flip eventually or if you just miss attaching the tyre to just a right place you'll end up accidentally attaching the tire to the top of the chair which makes it usless.

Later on you'll have an umbrella, propellars and spring. The propellars allow you to fly, the spring allows you to jump and the umbrella to glide. But once again, you can attach and angle these items pretty much anywhere which in my opinion exacerbates the above problem as you fiddle around with your car. For example you should attach the spring to the bottom of the car or tyre but attach it to the wrong place on the car and you'll sit the spring between the tyre and the ground meaning your car won't drive anywhere as the tyre is no longer in contact with the ground.

Overall almost 80% of my game time was done trying to figure how to flip and then reorganise my car to get through simple slopes and jumps. Not in the fun way but more in the sense of "dammit my car fell apart again and now I have reorganise it".

You have to be careful when repositioning one part, particularly the wheels because meddle too much and the whole damn thing falls apart because the effects of gravity aren't paused when you're building your car!

Very frustrating.

In a normal game, a character that can jump would have easily cleared these areas in under a minute. But because of this emphasis on car building I have to clumsily fumble my way around trying to build something that will clear the platforms trying to fight the inertia of the various parts as they try to fall apart before I make simple modifications.

I can't stress enough how completely unfun the game is despite what other reviews say.

Here's what I think the game makers need to do to fix this game:
a) Increase the 'power' of the wheels. The inability to drive up gentle slopes is terrible!
b) Drop the 'free-form building' and make it a snap-together-to-build game. The body and wheels of the car should be automatically positioned for you. You'll never going to find a use for putting the body underneath the car wheels so why not have it automatically positioned there. Furthermore, reduce the points where you can attach the propellers and umbrella and springs. This will reduce the construction frustration I felt as I continually watched my car fall to pieces every single time because of this adherence to 'realistic' physics where the tyres and chair threatened to collapse all the time!
c) Build the levels around the snap-to-build method as above to ensure gameplay is challenging but completable rather than the 'hit-and-miss' it is currently.
d) Allow the main character to jump.
e) Change the core goal of the mission to something else. The core goal in every mission is to deliver the time machine chair to the end of the level. Due to the above mentioned problems, I just wasn't having fun. I wonder if there could be different missions like 'fix the machine', 'defeat all the robots' or 'defend the house' instead.
f) Make better use of the rewind time mechanic - The time mechanic is pretty much just a straight forward gameplay mechanism which replaces saving and loading during a level. In essence you rewind to any point in the recent past and continue from there. It works but I wonder if there is a better way to use this similar to "Braid".
g) Allow us to build more items - Why not allow us to create some different machines rather than just a car? Maybe a catapult? Maybe a microwave ray gun? Maybe some sort of robotic decoy on wheels?

I try very hard to reveal the positive aspects of each game and provide reasons why they were good examples of game design but despite the funny characters and good cartoonish graphics this simply doesn't have any good game design points. I feel really let down because this could have been "The incredible machine" on wheels with some interesting time travel but instead turns out to be a train wreck of micro-problems.

I really hate to rag on about this especially for a New Zealand game company (since I'm a NZ citizen) but seriously don't buy this game unless you've tried the demo and are absolutely sure you're happy with the short comings.

I do welcome the designers to contact me since they are in NZ. Preferably via Linkedin or Twitter.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Freedom Force Vs The Third Reich: Game Design Review

Released about 3 years after the original Freedom Force, Freedom Force vs The Third Reich is a direct sequel to Freedom force.

Freedom Force 3rd Reich is basically Freedom Force except with a new storyline. Which I think is a real shame. I loved the original Freedom Force and I definitely love this one. But rather expanding on the gameplay, the creators have only created new missions and a couple of new characters. The entire game feels too much like an extended storyline and a couple of new characters thrown in rather than any substantial improvements or mechanics.

From a gameplay mechanics and usability perspective, the Freedom Force series nails everything about a superhero game should nail:
  • You have a team of 4 super heroes with various powers and abilities with all sorts of super hero abilities.
  • All stats and bonuses and attacks are labelled very clearly breaking down you exactly all the information you need about each attack for example, that the attack is ranged attack, takes 2 seconds to complete and does energy damage in addition to normal damage for example and will deal 7 damage to the opponent.
  • When you hold down right over an enemy or terrain you are given a list of possible actions your currently selected Hero can perform
  • A very fun physics engine - You can pick up lamp posts and cars and debris and hurl them at enemies and damage buildings. Some attacks even allow you to hurl enemies upwards or away with great force which is great for deal additional damage when they land.
  • Levelling up is similarly quite easy and straightforward, you level up the previous skill up to level 3, and then you can purchase. Although the upgrade path is linear and you can't alter the superheroes, you can create your character using existing characters models or your own character modesl with all the powers available to you to give to the characeter. This custom character can be quite expensive or cheap depending on many powers or weaknesses you give him or her.
  • There are battle rooms and challenges.
Unfortunately, what I am critical off is the lack of anything truly new or innovate. I thought a sequel would at least mix things up a bit and give some additional ideas in the game. But no, it's a linear campaign from start to finish.

What features could they have included in Freedom Force and the 3rd Reich?
  • A world map maybe with optional quests or storyline to unlock and optional missions depending on your choices in the campaign.
  • Increasing squad size from 4 to 6 maybe?
  • Group move where everyone moves togehter as a group and the same speed hasn't been implemented. Faster characters will travel towards enemies and get that before slower characters.
  • Synergy and bonuses - For example Man O' War and Sea Urchin are a team, so why not have some sort of synergy bonus when you use them in the same mission?
  • Simultaneous attacks - Combo attacks like the ones seen in Chrono Trigger where both characters combine their powers would be cool.
  • More time puzzles or missions? One of my most favourite missions in the game was a time puzzle where your actions in the present would affect the past. Considering the screwing up of time/space/reality was a big part of this game, they could have made even more missions like this. Maybe even have it so that you can play both teams at the same time! For example Chrono Trigger on the Super Nintendo gave you several time periods to travel in freely and your actions in the past could actually change the future!
  • More character options to customise the appearance of your custom characters? You can use existing models but some sort of better customisation utility would have been nice.
  • New Game+ Start the game again except with the stats of your Heroes already at the same level as they were in your old game.
  • Needs more new enemies - There aren't that many new ones.
  • More vehicles - You do get to control the tank for a while. Would be nice to control some sort of Freedom mobile or something or be able to hijack more stuff.
It's more of the same which is a good thing. It hits all the right notes and is still one of the best superhero themed squad based games especially with the custom character option but I am disappointed that a game which came 3 years after originally hasn't matured at all.

It's now available in a collection with the original Freedom Force so do buy it in a collection and play them back to back. If you love squad-based tactical games and superheroes, buy the Freedom Force Collection which contains both games. Now available on various platforms. It won't disappoint.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Why Games are Art

My good friend Shaun (a physicist) started a new blog (mostly about science) and invited me to do a guest blog on why games are art. Check out my post on why Games are Art.

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain Vs Legacy of Kain Defiance

After a long while, I've finally been able to get Blood Omen PC version working on my computer and have just finished Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain (the first game) after playing through Soul Reaver, Soul Reaver 2 and Legacy of Kain: Defiance (the fifth and last game). The only game I haven't played is Blood Omen 2 which seems quite hard to obtain on the PC. I thought I would just run through my thoughts on the design of the games.

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain
My overall impression of Blood Omen has been a positive one despite its age. It's a Zelda-like open world action game in many respects and it deserves its status as one of the best action RPGs. It has a dark unique atomosphere, good storyline, great voice acting and memorable characters. It's level design is quite logical in most cases and some of the puzzles are quite clever as well. Many dungeons have a clear picture at their entrance indicating what power you'll get and most of the dungeon save the last ones are of good playable length (no more 15 minutes between save points). It strikes a good balance between exploration and reward of your next power or ability. There are also a number of secrets and specials you can unlock during the course of the game. I love all the various spells, items and gory ways you can kill opponents and the ability to morph into gaseous form and werewolf form.

There are a couple of issues with the game which I think could have been done better
1) Faster attacks - For some strange reason, enemies just slightly attack faster than you and I have to do that whole run away, wait for enemy to attack, return and attack. This is very frustrating in my opinion as I always feel that you should be moving forward to attack not retreating with your back turned to the enemey. There were some occasions where I ended up being cornered and got killed because I couldn't strike fast enough. He's suppose to be a superhuman vampire yet can't quite swing faster than some of the enemies.
2) Slightly faster movement - I think this might be something to do with the fact that the game requires slowdown utility but Kain walks a bit too slowly and could have used a bit of speedup.
3) Bat shrines which act as teleportation points are often off the main travelling 'track' and its easy to miss them sometimes.
4) Some of the required abilities require you to search - I don't mind searching for optional abilities but the caves or dungeons with the required abilities should be forced to obtain them. There were one or two instances in the game where I was stuck not realising I had missed crucial powers until I read a walkthrough and realised there was a dungeon I had to backtrack to.
5) Some enemies are too powerful - Some of the enemies had way too much health and it was just easier to avoid them altogether diminishing the point of an action combat game.
6) Faster mana regeneration - Mana regeneration too slow in the game and needs to be faster.
7) Moon caves are silly idea - There are secret caves in the game which open only when the moon is full (ie. every 30 days of in game time). I finished the game in about 35 days so this is very bad design choice as it basically means you have to wait around for secrets to happen.
8) Power effects are the same - Some of the powers are the same as earlier except they do more damage or have a longer duration and cost more mana. It would probably have been better if they had simply completely replaced the old power with the new power instead and kept the mana usage the same. It would reduce the difficulty level but as mentioned the game is hard as it is already.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
Played this several years back so my memory isn't too great on this but I do remember that it was really fun because it had a variety of environments and really awesome boss characters with top notch coice acting. The storyline is very dark and is about how you are seeking revenge against your brothers and Kain I also liked the fact it was impossible to die and you merely return back to the spectral realm and when you get killed there you simply return back to the lake of the dead where you first started.

The game also does something very smart with gliding, when you reach a platform, Raziel will automatically drop on to the platform rather than continuing to glide. This is so much better than other games where you might accidentally overglide or overjump a platform.

Things that could have been improved
1) Ducking/crouching is useless in the game
2) Repetitive nature of some the puzzles
3) Story doesn't actually end
4) A bit too open ended in some respects and hard to find some of the powerups
5) Teleportation runes can get confusing
6) Some puzzles required spectral shifting which warps the environment but it wasn't always clear as to when exactly this should happen
7) Combat is okay but could be better, hard to attack multiple enemies and its easier sometimes just to run.
8) Hard to throw enemies into spike
9) Due to the apocalyptic themes, its a bit too grey and brown sometimes. Could have used a bit of cheerful colour now and again.

Soul Reaver 2
I played this about 7 months ago. Continuing the storyline of Soul Reaver, this game had improved graphics and had you playing in a time when Nosgoth was still green and fresh. Areas are much larger and puzzles more varied.

As before, there are several things which bring the game down:
Fighting is better but enemies can still sometimes overwhelm you.
Lack of cool bosses - Soul Reaver had very cool bosses and there are none in this game.
Spells and glyphs have disappeared replaced with Reaver abilities
Storyline is harder to follow as it involves time travel through different time periods.

Overall a worthy entry as Raziel continues to fight destiny and uncover more secrets. The game's improved in many areas and the story has become more complex. The main issue is probably the lack of cool bosses and the combat system could still use more work. It was getting there however.

Legacy of Kain: Defiance
After playing through Soul Reaver one and Soul Reaver. It seems as if they took the good points of what made Blood Omen and Soul Reaver 1 & 2 great and made them mediocre. The only great thing left is the voice acting which is top notch once again. The combat system has been updated and much more responsive but feels they should have done more.

Here are the things which I've found problematic
1) Combat requires more attacks. The basics are all good and there are some special attacks but it needs more variety. It might be unfair to compare to Devil May Cry but I think combat is a bit half heartened, Kain and Raziel behave almost exactly the same in combat. There are subtle differences but not enough.
2) Missing cool special abilities - Once again spell casting abilites for both Kain and Raziel have been removed and replaced with reaver powers again but these can only be activated when the reavers are charged through battle. I don't seem why they couldn't have had a separate mana bar which allows you could unleash other powers. Also the spell casting abilites looks boring. Usually just involving Kain or Raziel swinging the reaver around their heads with colour waves or attacking the ground. Telekinesis is fun but again could have been so much more particularly as Raziel's full telekinesis powers don't quite kick in until later on.
3) No cool boss fights - There are a few but many of the boss fights are very repetitive and there are maybe two or three 'different' boss fights.
4) Repetitive level design and enemies - The game makes you go through the same shrines as both Kain and Raziel which are exactly the same layout. Blood Omen and Soul Reaver had cool boss fights while Soul Reaver 2 had large unique environments. So why couldn't Defiance have both? You fight the exact same bosses everytime you visit a shrine as Raziel.Frankly that's just lazy design.

Overall, the quality of the game seems to have stagnated in Legacy of Kain: Defiance merely wanting to be average. All the required cutscenes and revelations are there including the showdown between Kain and Raziel but feels like an incomplete a game. If anything I think Blood Omen was better than Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Kain could transform into a werewolf cast various spells, eviscerate people and even control their bodies!

If you're a fan of the series then you should get this because its still okay. But if you're not already a fan, nothing in here will convince you its a good game.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Valkyrie Profile Game Design Review

Created by Tri-Ace, Valkyrie was released to much fanfare on the Playstation. It's a unique take on RPG's from a gameplay perspective and one which combines action and RPG fairly well. However I feel that Valkyrie Profile is a flawed classic because of the many bold but awkward gameplay design decisions that in my opinion tend to confuse the player and force the player to make uninformed choices rather than fun mysterious choices.

Keeping this in mind, let's go over the flaws:
Dungeons lack helpful descriptions - Dungeons get unlocked as you progress through the story but you can also revisit them to train. Unfortunately, sometimes its hard to keep track of which dungeons contain what sort of monsters and how you'll need to equip your troops.

Flawed time system - Each time you visit a location such as a town or dungeon it takes up time. When enough time passes you will move to the next chapter. As an RPG this places a real constraint on leveling up your characters appropriately.

Boring towns - Towns are generally places to get story or information about the world or quests or items. In Valkyrie Profile, because you craft items in the game menu the only reason you would visit a town or city is to obtain a character's special weapon and talk to people to learn more about the backstory.

Unfortunately the backstory isn't really fleshed out and you can't for example get side quests from townsfolk so there really isn't a reason to return back to them. Furthermore, visiting towns require precious time periods which could be better spent training giving you even less incentive to return.

Breakable weapons - Weapons that break permenantly are just annoying and they're very expensive as well. Worse, they aren't like items with limited use. Instead there is a 'chance' of them breaking. In the end you really only use them against bosses which I suspect was the intent all along or I would simply reload from my last save. It doesn't add anything to the game and I discourages players from experimenting and finding the best combinations.

Storylines could be interactive, link better and world could be more dynamic - Unfortunately, it seems the world of Midgard doesn't change enough if at all during the course of your travels nor does it seem to be affected in any way shape or form by any of your actions. I was hoping that your actions and level of success would somehow affect the wars between humans and new locations would open up open up. As I found out however, Valkyrie has very little effect on the human world. This is a really missed chance! Why shouldn't you be able to transform towns into cities or do something which actually affects the 'history' of the world or at least open up new side quests? There is from reading a game guide one or two secret side quests but that's about it.

Also once they join your party characters don't really interact too much with the each other or the real world either. Again another missed chance. It would cool to at the very least have a location or town or where you could visit and you could chat with them to gain clues or something. Instead, the only time you find out more about the character is after you send them to Asgard and you read about their exploits and replay conversations of them interacting with the gods and goddesses there as they level up!

Formation System could be better - Combat is blend of turns and action. During your turn, you push the relevant character's action button causing the character to attack. This works really well and is quite engaging. Unfortunately the actual formation system feels a bit limited because of this. The action buttons are mapped to the triangle, square, circle and cross buttons of the Playstation controller. As a result,that's the only formation you can make. This also makes it difficult to have 2 ranged attackers in your group because one of them will always be exposed to attacks and archers and mages take huge amounts of damage. This makes things somewhat unbalanced as a result.

Flawed combat magic system - Unfortunately its way too easy to spam group magic attacks if you have 2 or mages in the group. Usually this is enough to kill an entire enemy group unless they are resistant to magic. For me this created a imbalance in the difficulty where I would breeze through spamming group magic attacks until I hit the magic resistant enemies and find my warriors too week to do anything requiring me to retrain them and not spam magic attacks.

Poor experience system and flawed 'character sacrifice' system - Unfortunately the experience system is your typical 'kill monsters' level up system. You also get experience for performing certain actions or completing certain side quests. You can also purchase special abilities such as the ability to dodge or perform special attacks in combat. All okay so far. However the game has lots of characters and they only level up while in battle with you. When they join is also somewhat randomised so they might actually join in a later chapter where they arrive naturally underpowered. Yes, there are bonus experience points that can be stored and distributed to all party members but unfortunately it still isn't enough. The game therefore does not really provide incentive to experiment or use new characters since they will woefully underpowered when you use them.

One of the unique points of the game is that you need to send characters to Asgard to aid the war in Asgard. Sending experienced characters with the right statistics and abilities to Asgard will result in Freya, one of the other goddesses, praising your performance and granting you items and more points to create items.

As mentioned at the top of the article, the the time limit for each chapter also makes it difficult to train characters since there is only a limited number time periods. The only incentive to train new characters in fact is because you have to send characters to Asgard to help your forces in Asgard in order to get a better evaluation and more points to purchase/craft equipment with. Again, this is where the time system and the character sacrifice system sort of falls down. Because they made the game difficult, give you underpowered units and limited time periods, the game ends of punishing you for if you train up a set of characters too narrowly and neglect to train the other characters but also if you train too broadly. Its just difficult to know when you first play through the game whether you're doing things 'right' or 'wrong'.

Flawed reward system - Whenever you come across a special artifact, you are given a huge warning sign to surrender to Odin (thereby losing the item) or face a drop in evaluation. This is a way of controlling the difficulty in the game. As a gamer there are two problems with this. First the huge warning sign encourages players to think that the trade off between evaluation and item is quite significant and secondly you don't really know what the artifact does until you actually acquire it. Realistically, you should keep the item and then sacrifice it later in the menu if you don't really it need.

No New Game+ - Once you finish the game, that's it. You can't carry over your items and stats or whatever to make your new game easier. Again, hindering the player when they wish to enjoy the game again. Not many people would be happy to relevel up again. Furthermore, the higher the difficulty, the more dungeons you have to explore (note dungeons are NOT randomly generated). This would have been really helpful in encourging players in tackling the higher difficulties.

Bad ending - For a lot of RPGs the end of the Journey should be a powerful evocative one. Valkyrie just doesn't do that. Normal Ending is very strange and doesn't hint at the true story or even how to attain the true story. You practically have to read a walkthrough to realise there are 3 multiple endings.

Overall a game which has hints of greatness, replayability and interesting ideas bogged down by indecisiveness and quirks that discourage experimentation. I can only recommend it because it is so unique and treads new gameplay grounds with a wonderful art style, just don't expect a consistent polished experience.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Deus Ex: Invisible War: Game Design Review

From a gameplay and game design perspective, my overall impression was that Deus Ex: Invisible War is pretty much in the same game as Deus Ex, just improved in a variety of ways such as better graphics and more streamlined gameplay. That's not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion and I did enjoy the game. However there are numerous minor design issues I feel get in the way of the overall game. I suspect many of the problems are because of 'consolitis' having been developed for the Xbox at the same. In my game, I chose to be a African type male character focusing on stealthy non-lethal gameplay since in most other shooting games, you're forced to play a white Caucasian male that solves every thing by riddling it with bullets.

What I liked:
1) Lots of quests you can take which affects people's dialogue
2) Lots of different, weapons, gadgets and biomods
3) Well written dialogue with good voice acting
4) Game interface and inventory is clean and easy to navigate (very important for a game like this)

1) Maps and areas are very small - This may have something to do with the limitations of the console but everything is a bit too claustrophobic and too small compared to how they would probably be in real life and when compared to the original Deus Ex. This has a rather unfortunate effect of ruining my immersion. It's hard to believe that a busy city could be so tiny. During missions I found myself often having problems finding places to hide if spotted and had to resort to turning invisible.

That being said, I do appreciate the fact that it's easy to get from your main location to where your next mission is compared to the long treks I had to make in a game like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. I wonder if there could be a compromise with this. Maybe have the main areas small and relatively packed with mission areas wide and sprawling? Or perhaps have a vehicle which can get you from point to point easily? Or maybe a teleport system?

2) Linear storyline seems stretched- Despite my initial hope that you would be able to play different areas etc depending on your allegiance, it doesn't really matter whose allegiance you follow in the game. You still end up in the same areas following the same major plotline being asked to do almost the same thing. If you succeed, then you move on to the next major area where the main characters will then ask you to again do something to accomplish their goals which coincidentally means doing something in the same exact location. I was hoping to have some faction specific/exclusive missions that would send me into different areas. A real wasted opportunity.

Also the main quest-givers in the game, i.e. The WTO and The Order and the later two factions seem to be a bit too forgiving to the point of being unrealistic. For example, I chose to side with the WTO early on in the game and The Order still kept trying to convince me to join them and sharing me confidential information on my next target etc. and who I should report too. Considering I had continually disobeyed their orders, I'm quite surprised they were only mildly annoyed rather than ordering my assassination except very near the end.

Also, all factions always seem to know exactly where I was and what I was up to and continuously communicated with me directly. In terms of game design, this was required in order to give me the full variety of choices and missions but in terms of storyline purposes didn't really make sense. It's hard to believe that somebody whose actions they can keep track of so well would be such a major threat to their plans. Again, breaking the immersion. Personally I think they should have design it in a way so that you had to initiate contact with the faction and there would be a faction bar indicating how trusted you were by the faction and whether they would accept you finishing a mission.

3) Faction rewards could be better handled - The game advises you to carefully choose a faction's benefits and advantages but the game doesnt' specifically what benefits you can accrue. I don't recall any particular amazing benefits to be honest. Just a couple of credits, an additional biomod and some minor additional information. I don't know, it just didn't feel different enough. I kind of wanted to for example, be able to call for backup or have access to special faction specific biomods.

4) Non-lethal weapons seem pointless - Like the original Deus Ex, it doesn't seem to be any real reward to non-lethal weapons aside from one or two characters complimenting you and the 'feel good factor'. This time round however, at least the non-lethal weapons seem relatively on par with the normal weapons and you can actually stop people fairly easily with them compared to the first game.

Also I discovered a bug where characters who were unconscious regain consciousness when you re-enter a map and then started fighting allies who have entered the scene to secure the area.

5) AI isn't very smart - AI is okay but unfortunately the AI just doesn't seem to work in pairs or groups very well and is almost suicidal which unfortunately tends to affect the game dialogue. For example, the AI often run into grenades their comrades have thrown and failing to take cover when I shoot them. Overall the environments also don't lend themselves well to any real tactical options.

Overall, storyline is good, gameplay is solid even if areas are a bit small. Factions and faction specific benefits could have been handled better. Won't be a game-changer but if you liked Deus Ex, the sequel is still very much an enjoyable story-driven RPG/action hybrid. I'm not sure why people don't like it. It's not ground breaking as the first game and there are some odd design choices at times but nothing too terrible that would make me hate the entire game like other people seem to do.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Shadowgrounds Survivor: Game Review

Overall, I liked the original Shadowgrounds. It offered fun shooting and interesting weapons.

Shadowgrounds Survivor seemed to have fairly good reviews and being a sequel with additional classes, I thought it would be even more fun than the original. From a game design perspective, additional classes means being able to truly draft levels and gameplay to suit a variety of players and that means that you can experiment more with the gameplay and create even more interesting game modes and situations.

What I liked:
  • Overall still fun like Shadowgrounds Survivor
  • Weapons are balanced and feel right as do their new abilities.
  • RPG upgrade system balanced.
What I disliked:
  • Shallow plot which doesn't even explain anything to new players.
  • Grenades seem too slow for any tactical use
  • Characters only have 1 special move - The developers could have easily added even more moves.
  • Seems to lack any new enemies maybe even less than the original Shadowgrounds.
  • No boss battles which Shadowgrounds had.
  • Multiplayer needs better support - You can only play multiplayer on the same computer.
  • Really short and needs more interesting level design
  • Feels more like an expansion pack than a true sequel
  • Ending isn't very exciting, just you defending a computer room from four directions
I originally paid $15 for Shadowgrounds and then bought this on the humble indie bundle. Shadowgrounds and Survivor is probably worth around $5 - $10 as a bundle. I would recommend to go play the free Alien Swarm first however and that's pretty much what you'll get with both except longer.

Overall, a hugely wasted opportunity to something better, bigger and even more explosive. I understand Frozenbyte is a small independent company, but I'm sure they could have done way better with just a little more thought.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Deus Ex Invisible War: Troubleshooting

Like many others, I encountered the menu freeze bug with audio looping. The reason for this is Deus Ex: Invisible War not recognising multiple core CPUs. Alot of advice online says to set Dx2.exe to one CPU core. This didn't work for me when I just set Dx2.exe.

The Solution
What worked was to set both DX2.exe and Ion Launcher.exe to affinity 1 (use just one CPU core ) using a program called Set Affinity from Edgemeal Software here. The website looks a bit dodgy looking but the program works fine. Note you can't play the game and Control+Alt+Delete out. The game doesn't allow you to do that during the startup sequence so you'll need this program or a program which does it before the program starts.

Also if you have an nvidia card, set the Threading Optimisation to 'Off' as well for this particular program. Not sure if this helped but it can't hurt.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Act of War: High Treason Game Design Review

Act of war High Treason is the expansion pack to the original Act of War featuring like the original a near-future RTS with detailed realistic graphics and fast paced action gameplay. You can read my impressions of Act or War here.

Here's what I like about the expansion:
  • AI pathfinding and grouping have been improved so troops travel now travel in a group rather than previously where the faster units would run ahead and get shot.
  • The unit diversity has been improved as well
  • You can hire mercenaries on the battle field which act as hero units

If you've read my previous review on the original Act of War, nearly of my original criticisms still stand but a few couple more that have been introduced. Anyway, here are the points that stuck out for me:

  • Unit size makes units hard to distinguish and the explosions sometimes cover the action.
  • Action is still very paced and most vehicles seem to blow up even faster in this one thanks to the new units. Both land and air units seem to die a bit too quickly and hard to replace them considering the amount of cash you get. That being said, I suspect that part of the gameplay to help balance this is capturing those POW which give you $500 per capture.
  • In my previous review I mentioned healing required too many clicks. In the expansion, healing has been fixed and there is now healing hot button on the interface. All you need to do is click it and then click on the area you want and any available healing or repair units will travel there. This sounds good in theory but unfortunately, now you don't unlimited healing auras around your healing units. Instead when they appear in an area you only heal a limited amount before having to wait to recharge This is really annoying because if you have only one or two ambulances or nanowave centres, you have wait around for 10 to 15 seconds before healing troops again. This is especially a pain especially for Task Force Talon because you have to build an entirely new nanowave healing centre which is quite costly and each time you heal it costs 250! Even more annoyingly, the amount of health healed is often quite small, it's not even to get my Task Force Talon soldiers back on their feet from 'critical' condition!
  • During naval battle Instead of selecting ships when click on them you select the aircraft on the ship instead. You have to carefully select the bow of the ship instead.
  • With maps with naval combat, whenever you move your view back onto land you zoom right in while if you move back out to sea the view zooms right back making it quite annoying when you're wanting to order your ships to attack land targets.
  • Naval combat is very fun and creates a sense of larger scale of the War. That being said it doesn't seem particularly well connected with the main game. Maybe because there's a distinct lack of interaction between land forces and naval forces. Your naval ships can pretty much tear up any land force without fear of retaliation.
  • Missing general powers like in C & C Generals although the new units and mercanries partially make up for that.
  • Keyboard hotkeys remain all over the place like most RTS instead of clustered together
There are two versions of high Treason, one which requires Act of War and a stand-alone version. I would recommend you buy High Treason by itself if you can find the stand-alone version because of High Treason's additional features and you're not really missing too much.

Again, my overall impression is that I was playing a prettier noisier more realistic version of C & C Generals with less special abilities and variety. Its a competent game but it just can't quite compare to Command and Conquer Generals. In fact after finishing the game, I felt like installing and playing C & C Generals again!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Super Meat Boy & Super Meat World Design Review

I've just finished the Light World of Super Meat Boy and just thought I would share my thoughts. It's an extremely polished old-school indie platformer. Well done Team Meat.

From a game control/gameplay perspective. Super Meat Boy feels solid as you control his jumps across the screen. It's not a game for the faint-hearted even if you're playing the normal world. If you don't like your platforming Hard with a capital H, then I recommend you don't waste your money buying this game. It practically requires a gamepad which any self respecting platform gamer should have anyway. It's one of the few games which I actually got hand cramps from all that jumping!

As always however, there always seem to slight interface issues that seem to deliberately annoy me. There are very minor minor details and in no way take away from the main fun gameplay.

1) Cutscenes keep playing - Really strange but each time you enter a world, the intro cutscenes always play and you have press start to skip it. Doesn't seem to be anyway to say "play once only".

2) Warp zones are marked on the main level selection map but not bandages - Whenever you unlock a warp zone, it shows up on the map so you can retry at any time. The optional bandages don't seem to be shown anywhere on the map meaning if you haven't collected them you'll have to remember which leve they appeared in. Most levels don't have bandages to collect so its annoying having to go back and double check levels individually if you haven't played that particular zone for a while.

3) Level selector could be easier to navigate - You can't skip area in the level selector map and have to manually walk Super Meat Boy across each one. E.g. Super Meat Boy is on level 1 and you want to go to level 18 to perfect it. On the level selection screen you have walk Meat Boy across levels 1 to 18 pressing for example right right right right down left left left left left down rather than say take a short cut by just pressing down down down to cut through the map.

4) Super Meat World - This is just released but super Meat World's interface needs to change and incorporate more features. I don't think there's a search function making it hard to search for specifics levels and you can only depend on the filters. It's okay now because there aren't that many levels but I wonder how the system will cope once users start creating more and more levels.

5) Lack of cut-scene playback - I don't recall seeing a function for this. A bit of a shame since it would have been funny to rewatch some of the boss battle endings.

From a gameplay perspective, the only thing I feel was missing was maybe more unique boss battles or maybe additional mini-boss battles.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Far Cry: Game Design Review

Far Cry is an open-level FPS featuring ex-marine Jack Carver, who gets stranded in a bunch of tropical islands and who then has to find his employer and a way out of there.

Released just before Half Life 2 just released, in many ways Far Cry goes the complete opposite direction of Half Life 2. From a game design perspective, instead of linear corridors you have sprawling open areas with vegetation for camouflage and multiple entry points. It isn’t quite ‘open-world’ as there are definite checkpoints and levels but how you approach the enemies in each area is up to you.

Playing the game for a while, I found that the best way to play and indeed the only way to play the game on higher difficulty levels is to do exactly what the box art implies. You have to hide in foliage, in the water or on higher ground and ambush or sneak around enemies where possible. Map awareness and patience is a virtue in this game. I definitely wouldn't call this an action FPS, I would probably call it an ambush FPS. The AI is fairly smart and will flank and search if they hear suspicious noises which makes the game challenging.

The Good:
From a gameplay design perspective, the game designers give you a number of tools to help you sneak around.

1) You have unlimited rocks which you can throw to act as distractions and lure guards away from your position.
2) Your binoculars detects up enemies and marks them on your radar making it and intergral for planning your route in the game. I quite like this method of finding your enemies as opposed to the usual method of having a radar automatically detect opponents. In the game I found myself creeping around carefully scanning, and then carefully creeping around somewhere trying to locate the best vantage point to ensure I scanned all the enemies which is exactly what the game designers intended.
3) The radar picks up sounds and actually shows their origin on the radar (good for deaf players or gamers who don't have good sound systems)
4) The radar is smart enough to zooms in and out depending on how close you are to the enemy. The smart zoom works quite well for me.
5) You have a stealth meter that alerts you to how close you are to getting spotted.
6) Crouching, crawling are integral in the game for hiding yourself.
7) Many large open areas with multiple paths and solutions.
8) You obtain special Cryvision goggles which make enemies in the dark glow brightly which really drives home the message that this is a stealth game.

I really enjoyed 80% the game however I have one major criticism of the game. As a mentioned above the game engine and game style is best as an stealth/ambush FPS and every singe criticism boils down to the fact that designers didn't stick to this concept.

The Bad
1) Certain levels are linear and extremely difficult as a result - This is extremely apparent in one of the beginning levels where you have to climb through an old Japanese ship to try and rescue your employer. At the end of this level, you have to shoot the chains holding a boat at the top of the ship so it falls into the water below. The top level of the ship is only accessible through one small hatchway which is guarded by a helicopter and plenty of mercenaries. I must have died over 40 times before somehow managing to shoot my way through the end.

The boat is suspended far above the water at the top of the boat and its hard to know you have to shoot those chains holding the boat there unless you've already been to the boat and figured out that's the only way to release the boat.

When it comes to the indoor environments. They're harder because there isn't really anywhere to hide, spot enemies and carefully plan how to approach the situation. The binoculars ability to pick up enemies doesn't work through walls so your radar won't help you either. Sometimes there are vents you can hide in and sneak around in, but more often than not, you just have run into a room or run round a corner, run back and then try and kill the guys who follow you, or in my case run in get killed and then reload the save file.

The last few levels and the ending suffers greatly this as well. In the last level there's nowhere to run or hide in the level and there are lots of mutant enemies. I had to cram myself in a corner and cheat by firing just round the corner where the enemies couldn't fit their large bodies in. In essence they were standing there waiting for me to shoot them, unable to reach me.

2) Lack of mines or ambushing tools - It's surprising that the game doesn't have any remote mines, traps or decoys which you can lure the enemy into. It would have made the gameplay much more interesting and help even the odds quite a bit in both outdoor and indoor areas. I understand that the remakes on the consoles have included the ability to lay traps and mines so its obvious the designers realised this was lacking.

3) Lack of melee weapons, melee attacks or special stealth moves. - Your sole melee weapon, the machete takes up one whole weapon slot! You can only carry 3 weapons at a time and having your machete one entire slot makes it hard to recommend when you could be carrying a shotgun or rifle instead which do more damage!

This game would also have benefited from stealth kills similar to say Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones where if you surprise an enemy from behind you can kill them instantly. The ability to drag bodies away would also have been good as well.

Part way through the storyline Jack gets infected with a virus that is suppose to transform him into a mutant. Unfortunately this has no real effect on Jack which is real misseed opportunity because it would be interesting if he could activate some special superhuman powers. Again, the developers realised this and in the Far Cry remake they gave him a a boost of sorts and additional weapons.

4) Lack of quiet weapons/silencers- Only 2 or 3 weapons are silenced in the game so it can be hard to surprise enemies. One of them is a rapid fire machine gun so its okay I guess but its quite hard to kill people further than a room or two away without alerting people to your presence.

5) Gamestyle and atmosphere could be better -Some people have complained about the storyline. Far Cry features a rather cheesy B-grade action story line with extremely cheesey dialogue by mercenaries that is clear parody of all those action movies. All the mercenaries talk about in really evil voices all about how evil they want to be. I think they should have gone even further down this line instead and made turned into a 'GI-Joe Saturday Morning Cartoon' style game similar to Command and Conquer Renegade. I think it could have worked quite well. Its a bit too realistic at this stage.

Should you buy this? The answer is no. Games like Half Life 2 have story and atmosphere and a cinematic feel to it as a result they age fairly well like a well written novel. Far Cry however, like many first person shooters that rely solely on graphics and explosions, is only as good until something with better graphics and explosions comes along. In this case its sequels Crysis and Far Cry 2 has better gameplay and bigger worlds and many of the issues I raised here such as lack of melee attacks and special abilities is addressed in Crysis or Far Cry 2. What Far Cry has done however is change my expectations of shooters and what true 'freedom' in shooter is about.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Wario Land 3: Game Design Review

Before I begin, I stated in my previous review that Wario Land 2 was probably one of the best handheld action platformers ever marred only by some very slight gameplay issues. Each level was closely crafted to provide challenge, there was relatively minimal backtracking and each level could be finished in a relatively short amount of time (taking no more than 10 minutes) making it easy to pick up and play. Perfect for on-the-go travel.

Playing Wario Land 3 which was technically larger, bigger I was surprised to find that Wario Land 3 suffers from poor game level design. Make no mistake. Wario Land 3 is still a good game but the number of gameplay annoyances that cause it fall a significant step behind Wario Land 2.

Primarily the problem is the game designers seemed to have this mind set that more is better. Unfortunately this means plenty of pointless attractions. Here are the major ones I see.
1) The golf games - These are are pointless distractions and exist only to frustrate the player. In this mini game, rather than aiming and carefully selecting your power, you have a slider that moves along the bar for both aiming and power which you have to stop by pressing the A button.

This makes the game not only a measure of skill but also huge luck as the margin for error is very tiny for both power and aiming. And the golf games aren't just a distraction either, its a crucial part of gameplay as some passages are blocked and require you to win one of these as well. You have to pay 10 coins to play but it's also the only thing you actually need coins. As such I question the reason for even having coins.

2) Misleading gameplay cues in non-linear levels - In many games, such as Metroid or Castlevania, you'll usual end up in a blocked area which will mention you need some special ability or key to unlock. There are usually clear indicators of the what you'll need. Games like Metroid will usually have some symbol which will correspond with the power required

In Wario Land 3 each level has 4 keys and 4 treasure chests each a different colour. The grey key is the first key followed by the red, green and finally blue. Whenever you unlock a treasure chest you complete the level and return to the map. The keys however, can be scattered all over the level and because of the open levels its sometimes not very obvious which route to take until you hit a dead end. Its hard to know whether it is a real dead end or simply because you haven't figured out how to clear the path. As mentioned good game designers would make it obvious the direction you should take , perhaps by creating markers or changing the color of the background to let you know you are taking the "Grey Key and grey treasure chest route" or the Green key or if you're actually missing an ability. Unfortunately this is not the case at all in Wario Land 3. This can be very frustrating and I sometimes found myself wandering around trying to figure out whether I was in the right place or not.

It's interesting to note that they have some fairly obvious signage to let you know what's affected by the day/night cycle the game, which makes me question why they couldn't develop something similar for each level to let you know of the keys is a mystery.

The larger levels also mean you could potentially fall too far off a platform and into another area requiring you to backtrack all the way to where you were to try that tricky jump again. Again, causing needless delays.

Another annoying misleading cue is the musical coins scattered across all levels. There are eight in total per level and there are supposed to be collected after you've unlocked most of all abilities. But the fact that they're there acts merely as a distraction your first time finishing a level. As a player I tried to collect one or two along the way thinking they would be saved when I finished the level. i.e. I collect two now and then I can return to collect the remaining six. To my surprise I discovered that you need to collect all eight and find a special exit before you can successful complete the level. A better way to do this would have been to have the coins only appear after you've unlocked all the chests in a level and unlocked the appropriate abilities and present it as an extra hard challenge for the hardcore gamers.

3) World map requires a great deal of backtracking - As you unlock more treasures in the game world, more of the gameworld is revealed but then you have to go back to previous areas and collect treasures. Now the game does actually have in-game guides, in this case the shadowy figure that provides advice and the world map locations that sparkle to let you know which areas to visit next.

Following this advice will ensure that you are suitably equipped to handle whatever the game throws at you. You'll end up with slightly over 50% of the items collected when you finish the game giving you motivation to explore previous areas.

For example, the game will tell you you have to visit a tower and a city which are in different parts of the map and the order you have to visit them in. E.g. Tower first followed by city. Again, I don't see why this couldn't be more linear and as stated above, a simple level selector would have sufficed rather than the confusing world map where levels are scattered all over the place.

Rather than going with the 'open world gameplay concept' Why not structure the game so that the main levels are obvious and every now and then there will be optional levels unlocked whenever you get new powers like so many other action games? This ensures you're channeling the player experience while ensuring every single level they start or treasure they attempt to unlock will be 'winnable' but also giving them the option to skip the optional missions.

Wario Land 3 is still playable but rather than the tight perfection that we got with Wario Land we get something more bloated. It’s still very fun and has the same platforming and invincibility mechanisms which Wario Land 2 had. Having it in an open world might seem like a good idea but sometimes it backfires like in this game.

Still recommended but just not quite the classic Wario Land 2 is from design and usability perspective.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Voyage: Inspired by Jules Verne (Journey to the Moon) Interface Review

Based upon Jules Verne's novels about men travelling to the moon, Voyage is a adventure game which was quite warmly received by the adventure gamers.

Personally, having just finished it, it does top my list of adventure games but doesn't quite make it to classic status because of:
Some crucial puzzles don't have enough clues to the solution
Few areas and short length
Lack of storym locations and developments

Inventory Interface

One thing I would like to discuss from a game design perspective is the inventory interface.

The Good
The game itself uses an engine developed by Kheops for previous including Return to Mysterious Isle and other survival type adventure games. This concept carries over in JOurney to the Moon, in this game, you very often have to combine certain items, chemicals or food items together to jury-rig the required item.

For example, in the game you have combine lunar fruit from lunar plants and cook them to make different receipes which can help enhance your abilities in some ways. The game gives many helpful hints in the description of the items or in the real world. The game also helpfully lists down previous known combinations and results.

One of the better features of the interface is the combination area below the main item area where partially combined items will wait for the other remaining items to be used. For example, if you item 1 or 2, they will be placed there showing you need item 3 to complete the final item.

I also quite like the log which notes down important diagrams and information and the diary of ideograms.
If you know a lunar ideogram, the game will helpfully display that in the real world whenever you mouse over it allowing you to 'read' any message.

The Bad
So what's bad abut the interface? Well the tab and sorting is completely ridiculous for one thing.

Whenever you pick an item up which is then placed in the holding area of the inventory. From there you can either manually shift items to your inventory or you can click auto to automatically have the items depositered.

The game uses a tab system for the inventory so I don't see why they couldn't have created item specific tabs. For example, a tab just for food, or a tab just for supplies or a tab for key items.

And why not have an auto arrange system too? Maybe it's there but couldn't quite find one.

Another problem with the tabs is that they don't let you know if you have items in the slots. So for example, if you accidentally placed an item in tab 8 there's no way of knowing that that tab is holding an item. Although it didn't happen to me players might place an item in one of the lesser known tabs and leave.

This could have easily be solved by placing numbers in the tabs signifying how many slots of that particular tab are used or highlighting the tabs to let people know that there's an item there.

The other big glaring issue with the inventory management system is that you can only carry three items of any one particular item. For example, you can only carry three of each of the lunar fruits. If you use the fruit by eating it or cooking it, then you have to travel all the way back to a fruit tree or fruit pile to recollect another fruit. Annoying to the extreme especially when you're trying to experiment with cooking or combining these 'perishables'.

Why not simply have it 'permanently' as a 'pile of fruit' in your inventory like so many other games do so you can keep experimenting without having to run back to collect it like some action game?

Despite these issues, adventure gamers shouldn't necessarily be put off by the game. As I mentioned, I actually quite like it and its one of the better games around. Just not quite a classic.

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Sunday, 9 January 2011

Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Vs Strange Journey

In my review of Strange Journey, I found a competent but very flawed game trying to emulate the older games a bit too well. It suffered from linearity of storyline, extremely difficult battles, an extremely flawed item crafting system and lacked flexibility to customise your demons.

Although released before Strange journey, Devil Survivor's game design avoids all these problems and has created an enjoyable good game. The game is new territory for Shin Megami Tensei as its a turn based map strategy game rather than your standard combat game.

From a game design point Devil Survivor hits nearly all the right notes. Here's a summary of just what I liked about the gameplay design and and how it contrasted with the gameplay of Strange Journey.

Good Game Design
1) The player chooses when to advance the story- Unlike the very linear dungeons and progression in Strange Journey, the game uses a time based system to advance the story and game. You are given a map of Tokyo and various locations you can visit. Events and people at the location are clearly marked as well as whether the event will cost time. You can also train by entering a 'free battle' area which doesn't take time. This means that if you need to train, you can easily level up or you can push on. Displaying the portrait of the person you will interact with at the location also gives you a rough idea of what story path you'll be heading down as well.

2) Demon Skills are easily changeable- One of the major complaints I had was the lack of ability to change skills or even decide what skills are inherited in Strange Journey, in Strange Journey the skills you inherent are based around affinity of the new demon and are chosen for you. The only way for a demon's skills to change is when they level up where there is a random chance for them to randomly inherit a skill. You can't choose what skill you inherit or even see what the skill will be. You just have to guess. You do also have the demon sources which are crystalised demon skills you can use during fusion. This grants you much more control over this but you only get one shot at this. If you screw up and choose the wrong skills you'll pretty much just have to fuse a new demon. Unfortunately resummoning high level demons can be quite expensive particularly if they're heavily

In this game before you fuse a demon, you choose what skills and abilities to inherent from the previous 'parents'. You can't change most of the innate skills once you fuse but if you perform well in battle as one of the bonus perks you can actually change the offensive skills of your demon if you desire. Overall a much better improvement over. I do think they should have also allowed you to alter the innate inherited abilities for a fee as well but I think the system works well enough in the game as forces the player to choose carefully to ensure they have a carefully balanced team.

3) Party skills are interchangeable- The game doesn't have equipment, rather you can steal the skills of enemy demons and demon tamers and then have your trainers use them provided they meet the minimum requirements for the. These human demon tamer party skills can be reassigned between each battle. For example, you could give yourself a healing spell and a fire spell and then pass them over to someone else instead if you decide you need an ice and wind spell instead. All abilities active and passive are transferrable giving you a wide range of customisability. There is a limit in the sense that only one skill can be assigned to one tamer. I personally think more games need to implement this sort of system!

4) Game difficulty is about right- Devil Survivor is on the easier side and requires less grinding than normal. This is a huge plus for gamers who are short on time but want to finish the story.

5) Demon Fusion Database- One really great feature is the demon database which lists down all possible combinations of demons and the fusion possibilities provided you've possessed that demon or have the demons that can create that particular demon. This is great because it allows you to figure out what demons you need to bid for or sacrifice in order to fuse a more powerful demon and even if you fuse a demon away you can still check how to get it back.

In Strange Journey, you can only see the combinations for demons you currently have only. So its hard to figure out if you need to resummon a previous demon or not particularly if you're like me and like to keep a large well-balanced party. The cost of summoning up modified high level demons is extremely high that you are usually better off trying to persuade them again and refusing them.

Poor Game Design
Here are some issues with gameplay of Devil Survivor which I noted. These are mostly minor issues than any major flaws.
1) No demon interaction/negotiation- Unlike the main games of the series, you purchase and bid for demons through an auction rather than persuading them. This severely limits the demon interaction which is shame because that was one of the strong points of the previous games. The demons do speak to you when you hire them or fuse them but that's about it really.

2) Lack of weapons/equipment- It is debatable whether weapons and equipment are required since you can pretty customise every single main team member with whatever skills you like as long as they meet the status requirements.

3) No alignment- In most of the Shin Megami Tensei games there's a Law, Chaos and Neutral alignment with bonuses for using demons with the same alignment. Unfortunately this was removed from the game. I personally think this would have the game much more interesting. Storywise you do choose between the 3 alignments (Angels, Humans or Demons) but again I couldn't discern any particular bonuses you get from it.

4) Lack of truly significant branching story paths, event rewards and probably requires more optional quests- One of the key themes is around being able to choose your destiny. Surprisingly then, I feel that there is definite lack of truly significant differences in paths. For example, through every single game, you have to defeat all the demon Bel's and each day's major events play out the same. It is only on the last day where your choices really make a difference and you have to choose which faction and ending you want to see. Yes, there are some minor plot changes mid-game and some minor rewards such as whoever accompanies you as a 4th player but I do feel that the game needs to grant even more event rewards and unlocks as a bonus. I can appreciate that the development team probably didn't have time to craft several different major plots in but it is a bit of a shame this 'choose your event' mechanic wasn't better utilised.

5) New Game+ Requires your main characters to re-level up- Its strange that you can keep your demons (including their skills and levels) but can't keep your demon tamers' abilities and level. I appreciate the fact that you can now rejig your main character's stats but since you can't actually customise any of the other demon tamer's that accompan you its seems a bit strange to depower everyone and force you to level up again despite your demons being level 60 and able to deal 3000 damage to level 3 enemies.

6) Needs more pictures, demon encyclopaedia and more unlockables- This is a really petty thing but I think the game could have used a demon encyclopaedia to describe the demons, maybe a glossary or history of each location and also some galleries. Again, really minor but I think it could have gone a long way particular for people who aren't familiar with the Tokyo area and help build the atmosphere. The in game descriptions and pictures aren't enough to convey the feeling of Tokyo quite yet.

7) Needs the passcode or resummoning system of Strange Journey- In Strange Journey you could save your customised demons so you could resummon them again at the cost of macca or give a code away to a friend which allows them to summon that specific demon. Unfortunately the game doesn't actually save your special demon combinations as far as I can tell so once fused away you can't really get them back again. Fortunately as mentioned above the ability to choose skills does reduce this problem quite a bit.

All in I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it over Strange Journey.