Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars: playing online

For something old, with a much-improved sequel, SARPBC has an active online community.  I hosted a game, and found five people joining me very quickly - and just as with Rocket League, playing online multiplies the fun several times.

While recording gameplay on the PS3 is still tricky, SARPBC does allow you to save replays.  I scored the overtime goal in this match - after many close calls.

Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars: evolution of a masterpiece

I was surprised to learn that Rocket League was actually a sequel to a PS3 game by Psyonix called  Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars.  With such a catchy title, it's hard to see why it never took off to the same extent as Rocket League did.  Having said that, apparently it was downloaded on PSN over two million times, so if anything it just goes to show how I don't keep up with trends any more.

Anyway, when I found this out I saw it was on sale on PSN for £1.99, and since I got Rocket League for 'free' via PS+ I thought I would try it out.  It was only after I had bought it that I discovered that there's an extensive trial version which I could have tried for free, since the way PS3 games are sold on the store is ludicrously complicated.

It's ... not bad.  The essence of Rocket League is there, and many of the pitches and arenas are recognisable from the sequel.  There is a single-player mode which is different from the standard tournament I played through in Rocket League - here there are minigames and a tournament of varying rules and opponents, which I have already played through once but am likely to do so again.  As with Rocket League, the game comes into its own with the online side, which is great fun but finding a match is a pretty bare bones experience, reminding me of Half Life deathmatch servers from 2002.

But the cars feel less weighty and solid, it's slower and less precise, and there's either awful screen tear or quite a poor (and varying) framerate.  The controls feel a bit untidy, and aerials are much harder to pull off.  It is a great demonstration on how controls can make or break a game.

I'll probably complete the single-player game and play a few more online matches, but other than that it'll be back to Rocket League.

Just Cause: just about playable

I have had Just Cause sitting in a variety of places for a while - in the PS2 games box in the loft, in my Steam library on my PC, and on my Xbox 360 shelves - but despite the fact that I've heard it to be great fun and the sequel is an amazing sandbox experience, I've never played it.  Until now.

I decided to play the PS2 version, since my PS3 (which is backwards-compatible) was set up and my 360 wasn't (due to the Wii being plugged in to the component inputs for Luigi's Mansion; yes, it's complicated).  The opening cinematics looked pretty awful, but once I got control of my character I was quite impressed by the scale of the game and its vision.  Parachuting down to the island was a pretty spectacular start, and once I transitioned into running along the beach and stealing a car, I could see that there were clear open-world GTA influences at play.

Unfortunately, the PS2 was a bit underpowered for such a grand vision.  The framerate was, at times, awful - to the extent that I actually had to run away and stand still for the console to catch up.  This was not helped by the controls which were not nearly customisable enough, and felt very imprecise.

That's not to say I didn't have fun.  After a while I was given a grappling hook, with which I could grab onto cars and paraglide behind them.  That was good fun for a while, and useful on a mission where I had to destroy a car and take the place of the now-dead dignitary.  The main issue with the game was a lack of a sense of urgency; you are going to kill a dictator and free the island, sure, but there was little spurring you on to do this, and the game was almost too non-linear with no clear sense of direction.

If I go back to it it would be on the 360, but I may skip to the sequel.

Heavy Rain: completed!

Started in 2011, continued in 2013, and completed in 2015.  Heavy Rain is a game that I've always wanted to see the end of, and had admired from a storytelling perspective, but the first couple of chapters in particular didn't enamour me to the game itself.  In the last update I posted, I talked about how the switching characters felt a bit jarring, and made the game feel quite disjointed.  It's not a huge surprise that it's taken me until now to finish it off, then.

Now, part of what I want to talk about is the story, and that's an integral part of the game experience.  If you've not played the game, and intend to do so, I recommend that you don't read any more.

A problem that all story-based games have is that you, as the player, are often obliged to do something that you ordinarily wouldn't.  This happened many times in this game - shooting a drug dealer dead, cutting off your own finger - and what makes it worse is that in this game you can theoretically reach the end of the game without doing these things, but if you don't do them, you know that you'll end up with a bad ending.  The game's too long to play through many times, so you want to see the end properly, so you end up doing stuff that distances you from the characters.  The game gives you the perception of choice but you are aware that some choices are better than others.

So I played through the game not the way I wanted to but rather the way I assumed the developers wanted me to.  I slowly grew comfortable with each of the characters - understanding the desperation of Ethan, the weariness and honesty of Scott, the panic of Madison, and the angst of Norman.  Even though they were doing stuff that I wouldn't, I could empathise with their searches for the killer.

However, half way through the game, after a lot of character switching, it was starting to become obvious that one of the characters was going to be responsible for the murders.  This was a huge disappointment.  When playing the game, you assume that you are the character - even if you have to do things that you ordinarily wouldn't, you are doing things that the character would do.

Really, don't read further if you've not completed the game.

So, when it turns out that Shelby is the killer, I felt cheated.  All those chapters where I was controlling him, the information that he was the killer was being withheld.  Nothing in his behaviour indicated who he was.  Why was he investigating the killings if he knew he was the killer?

Maybe things would make more sense if I were to replay the game.  If I could replay chapters, and fill in a flowchart in a chapter select menu, I might do that.  As it is, I was left suitably downhearted to  make such a replay unlikely.

Ico: completed!

No more opportunities for Dido lyrics.  There are big plot spoilers here, so don't click onto the post if you're the one person who's not completed this but intends to do so - I wouldn't normally worry for a twelve-year-old game, but the end of the story is pretty affecting so shouldn't be spoilt.

I did indeed have to complete the game in one go.  Yorda was dead - or at least, petrified to stone, and statuesque.  I fell from the bridge and had to make my way across hanging platforms to get to a cave under the castle.  At least, that was the plan.  I had to watch the cutscene of losing Yorda three times before finally making it into the cave due to the inaccuracy of the Dual Shock 3.  It lost a bit of the emotion due to that.

Working up through the basements, falling into the water a number of times, I finally found a lift which took me up the rooms in which I (re)stated the game, a year and a half ago.  That's where I found Yorda again, or at least her lifeless body.  I fought off what felt like hundreds of shadow creatures with my new all-powerful sword, and went to meet the Queen.

The final encounter was a little incongruous, as it was unlike any battle throughout the game and was much more action than puzzle based.  I was very worried that dying here would send me back to the bridge again, but luckily I was able to hide from her attacks and stick my sword in.  The Queen died, the castle collapsed, and Yorda's spirit was released ... as a shadow being?

The end sequences were beautiful, with amazing music.  The very end scene was confusing, with Yorda seemingly alive.  Maybe not; maybe Ico never made it out of the castle and they are reunited in the afterlife.

But it was a powerful story, and a lovely game.  It shows its age in some areas, but I would rather have a histrical record of gameplay evolution than bring everything to today's gameplay standards.  But Ico remains a stunning game.

Ico: I’ll always be alone

I cleared the watertower a few days ago, and saved just after entering the West Tower.  Given the difficulty I had with the East Tower - well, less the difficulty, more the length of time it took to get through it - I was expecting the West Tower to take an absolute age to complete.  In fact, it was pretty simple and disappointingly similar to the East Tower (though the route through was significantly shorter).

After opening the main gate, massive plot things occurred.  I am guessing that I won't be able to save the game after this point, so I'll have to complete it in one go.

Ico: give your trust to me

More than once every two months?  Oops.

So, a recap.  I have managed to lead Yorda to the main gate, from where we should be able to escape.  However, her mother - or at least someone pretending to be - has appeared, and closed the gate in front of us.  I have battled many shadow beasts, and worked out that the most effective way of doing this is to go and stand by the portal they drag Yorda off to whenever they capture her.  In fact, the combat, which previously annoyed me and I felt wasn't needed in the game, isn't much of an issue any more, although its presence still worried me and stops me spending too long when exploring.  If you leave Yorda for too long, the shadows come back, and then it's a race back to save her.

After the gate shut, I traversed through a number of stunning locations - including one with a huge windmill which I had to climb - until I was able to run along the castle walls to the East Tower.  In this tower were a number of large circular windows, and I quickly worked out that the aim was to open each of these by lighting torches underneath them.  Working out what I had to do was the easy part; working out how to do it took a lot longer.  I had to pull Yorda through the doorways and around the walkways, finally finding myself out the back of the tower with some stunning views across the chasm to freedom.  I managed to finally open all the windows, sending a beam of light across to the main gate, causing half of it to light up.  A pretty big indication that I need to do the same on the other side.

Getting to the other side was pretty difficult though.  Much of the effort was spent around a huge waterfall area, where I had to jump on and off a turning waterwheel in order to close the sluice gate.  Yorda was no use at all during this part, with her slow running and refusal to jump up to ledges even with me extending my hand down to her - the game couldn't position her correctly.

I managed to get through this section, playing basketball on the way, and am now at 'the watertower', which appears to be named after a very small ornamental part of the level.  I think once I'm cleared of this, I'll be able to go to the West Tower and make the main gate open up again ... but that may take a while.

Walking Dead – Season 2 – Completed

Took me a while to find the last episode the game kept on saying coming soon for Episode 5 & a search for Walking Dead on the console store could not find the latest episode. In the end I had to use the laptop to use the web storefront and add the latest episode to download.

No spoilers on the ending but I have no idea how Season 3 is going to start with the very different endings you can play out.

I'll most likely will end up jumping platform again, going to the PS4 for Season 3 so not sure how the save file can be moved over? Will probably have to roll the start a few times to get the season 2 ending I want.

I don't think I will be returning to Zelda Wind Waker (possible Shredder) anytime soon with Destiny arriving next week.

Gaming Moments: J

Jaguar XJ220 (Mega CD)

It wasn't as good as Lotus Turbo Challenge on the Mega Drive.  Sure, it looked better, but I still remember the first time I tried to control it.  I couldn't.

Jet Set Radio (Dreamcast)
Jet Set Radio HD (Xbox 360)

I spent hours just trying to get off the tutorial, doing an endless grind around the central bus station.  Made all the worse since I did it twice, once on each console - but there was an achievement for the 360 version so I felt I had to do it again.

Journey (PS3)

A game filled with moments, but I think my pick comes early in the game, at the bridge.  The structures tower above you, and it took me (and my companion) a while to work out that our path wasn't just across the base but we had to somehow get up there.  Learning the floating mechanic in that way together was amazing.

Then there's the snow, but I can't put the words together to describe that.

Jungle Strike (Mega Drive)

Mainly played via the PSP, to be honest, since that added save states.  The last level is set at the White House.  Just as you think you've completed the game, tanks roll in and you have to protect the president's helicopter as he escapes.

Gaming moments: I

Ico (PS2, PS3)

I even remember writing about this on my blog.  I'll paste some text from the previous post:

Ico starts off slowly, with a long cutscene. You get thrown into a murky world and have to work out the controls. The world's not actually murky, but playing it on my HD TV certainly made it look so. I worked my way through the castle, until I found the girl in white. I knocked the cage down the tower, and rescued her from the shadow monsters. I then couldn't find a way out of the room. Huh.

Never mind, I thought, I'll come back to that later. I'd been playing for 40 minutes or so. I turned the console off, and then thought ... hmm, I wonder if the game does save at checkpoints?

Evidently not.

Ikaruga (GameCube)
I have only ever played this for five minutes, and it made my head hurt.