Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Review: Flower

Say what you will about the PSN service but when it comes to original online games there is no denying that its offerings represent some of the most engrossing titles that gaming has to offer. Since its launch it has become home to an assortment of unconventional but quirky titles such as PixelJunk Eden and Flow and has cultivated an environment where developers such as Q-Games and ThatGameCompany can realise their most ‘out their’ concepts and indulge their pretentious and esoteric artistic whims, in some cases, with the backing and encouragement of big name companies such as Sony.

Flower is the latest title from outside-the-box-gaming developers ‘ThatGameCompany’; it retains the same simple and approachable gameplay style previously featured in their first PSN contribution Flow. The player takes control of an ethereal breeze on a predestined mission of rejuvenation, following in the footsteps of Amaterasu of Okami fame and the Prince of Persia the resolute gust of air must soar through six gardens in an effort to reinvigorate them by carrying the petals of other flowers throughout the gardens and in passing injecting life back into the withering life-forms.

Although the objective and gameplay are very simple playing Flower initially can feel like a bit of a struggle, this is because the game is played using the Six-Axis motion control system, although it isn’t the most robust motion control system out there it is well suited to the game, once acclimated with the manoeuvring and acceleration based mechanics of movement controlling the stream of petals becomes second nature, you’ll soon find yourself flying through the gardens with ease.

Flowers greatest accomplishment is how well it sets the mood and atmosphere of each garden, the various facets of the game work symbiotically and meld together to create and maintain immersion, the painstakingly rendered grass and foliage is dripping with vivid colours, the lighting effects compliment the colourful art style by giving the environments the tranquil feel of an idyllic Eden and the music perfectly communicates and enhances the theme and mood of the gardens. Complimenting the music is a humble rhythm game element, each flower makes a sound and together they essentially act as a supplementary botanical orchestra contributing to the overall symphony.

Although it is possible to get a sense of how the game looks from screenshots, in order to truly experience the sense of euphoria the game creates you have to play it, especially since the screenshots aren’t indicative of all the different environments Flower has to offer.

Flower is a unique game, not only in terms of concept and gameplay but also because it is the kind of game where despite how many people write reviews or impressions on it you can never truly get a grasp of what it has to offer or the what the experience is like (way to invalidate everything said so far), it’s a game which everyone should play if only to form a personal opinion on it, in my case I can safely say that the three hours I spent playing Flower were three solid hours of breathtaking gaming.

Close your eyes, go to your happy place, imagine a soothing breeze, grass calmly swaying in the wind, air whistling as it passes through the thousands of delicate blades of grass – now open your eyes, and fly.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

ResiRant Evil

Resident Evil 4 was phenomenal; few games have an impact on the industry as profound as what was felt after RE4, its legacy can still be in games released today with the likes of Dead Space, Gears of War and even Metal Gear Solid clearly drawing inspiration from it. With such grandiose achievements and the uniformly positive critical response in mind it's pretty hard to temper expectations into something realistic and attainable, it would be unfair to expect Resident Evil 5 be as innovative as Resident Evil 4 but it isn’t unreasonable to expect the game to evolve. The demo for RE5 is now available on Live and PSN and for some it serves to further suggest the differences between RE4 and RE5 will be few, sure it's good to see the series taking a step in a different direction with the inclusion of online Co-op but other than that RE5 seems to be fundamentally the same, and honestly -- I'm not complaining.

Resident Evil 4 was born from desperation, with Resident Evil 1,2 and 3 Capcom had taken their particular brand of survival horror as far as it could go on the PlayStation and then even further with the various Gamecube remakes, everything from the tank like character controls, the awkward and unaccommodating camera positioning and the predictable enemy AI had been pushed to its usage limits, they created a new and innovative formula, established genre conventions and then bled them dry to the point that it could be argued that the development team had fallen into a one track mind in relation to game design, they seemed to have turned game design and development for Resident Evil into a standardized routine, this is supported by reports stating that the first Devil May Cry game, another Capcom title that bore unmistakable resemblance to the Resident Evil games and their various quirks , originally started life as Resident Evil 4, Capcom seemed to have backed themselves into a corner, their reliance on what had been established in previous titles in the series made them complacent and to be fair they had the right to be , the formula was more than satisfactory, it was successful enough to firmly position Capcom as the king of the survival horror genre in the eyes of many a game enthusiast, but when it came to Resident Evil 4 I think it was clear they needed something beyond the stagnant formula used in its predecessors, I'm sure that everyone will agree that what it became was nothing short of revolutionary.

This practice of incrementally updating titles for sequels is certainly not something new to the video game industry and I'm not suggesting that Capcom should be condemned for adopting the practice, I am merely drawing attention to the fact that this sort of exercise is something Capcom has used in the past and suggesting that while it is fair to expect new and innovative changes to each new installment in a Capcom series this isn't something that they have a history of doing, past practices suggest that innovations and evolutions such as those seen in Resident Evil 4 are pushed to their absolute limits in terms of usage before being scrapped, with Resident Evil 5 serving as only the second incarnation of the Resident Evil 4 formula the likelihood is that Resident Evil 6 will also stay close to the formula and conventions established in Resident Evil 4 and then recycled in Resident Evil 5.

The recent confusion as to whether Chris will have the ability to shoot while moving in RE 5 has caused some controversy, while some (including myself) are happy to play the game as it has always been, clunky shooting and all, and reason that the restrictive controls contribute to the feeling of pressure and are arguably an essential element to the Resident Evil formula others haven’t taken too kindly to the realisation that former S.T.A.R.S Special Agent and current Bio-terror Assessment Group Agent Chris Redfield doesn't seemed to be trained in the art of firing a weapon while in motion. If my Red Bull fueled, wildly outrageous speculations are used to judge when Resident Evil will makes the jump into the next set of 'series innovations' it may be that the Resident Evil protagonists won't fully overcome the aforementioned inadequacies until Resident Evil 7, only time will tell, but until then we can rest safe in the knowledge that the current formula is still one of the most thrilling and enjoyable experiences video gaming has to offer.