Jeremy's Reviews Blog

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Woohoo! Legend of Heroes III announced for US release...

I think. There's a press release @ Gamebrink, and Gamestop now shows it in their database....only $30, too.


Undercover Hidden Dragon (DVD)

This is a Hong Kong movie which just came out on DVD in the US (at least it just came out on Netflix, where I got it from). I honestly haven't laughed so much in a long time. This is a very funny, very silly, very stupid movie, one that is a parody of various other Hong Kong films (and a few non-HK films as well, like Pulp Fiction and the Transporter).

The main character played by Ronald Cheng, is a slacker of sorts, who suddenly is told by a trio of beautiful women that he is actually an undercover cop, but has apparently lost his memory. He's enlisted to infiltrate the organization of a triad boss, also played by Ronald Cheng (though this isn't obvious, the two characters look a lot different).

He does this for a while, but then apparently in effort to parody a bunch of other movies, it takes some very strange plot twists, basically involving his friendship with his large (somewhat Sammo Hung-esquire character) roommate, who has a crush on one of the lady cops.

But he's then drawn back into working for the police again as an undercover mole in the crime organization, and it starts to again parody a different sort of movie genre (which I don't want to spoil).

It's just really all over the place. It really is like Scary Movie or Airplane where they take a bunch of other movies and sort of make a pastiche out of them. If you haven't seen those movies, you won't get the parody aspect of it, but there are a numerous sight gags and just the main character acting dumb. By no means high brow comedy.

There are some action scenes, but these are parodies as well. While the action scenes are extremely well done and impressive, they are very much over the top and clearly meant to parody action movies. Especially cool is the bullet camera parody.

Don't expect a serious movie out of this, in terms of plot or characters. The plot makes little sense because so many elements are parodies, and the characters similarly are taken from other movies. Check your brain at the door. The opening sight gag making fun of Initial D clearly tells you to. The joke per minute ratio isn't as high as Airplane, nor is it quite as over the top, but it's within spitting distance...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ford Street Racing

Ford Bold Moves Street Racing is yet another iteration in the "Ford Racing" series. There have been I think 4 of them on the PS2 and Xbox (and a couple on the PS1), but this is the first to appear on the PSP. As a Mustang owner ('73 Convertible), I guess I am the target audience for these games. I haven't bought all of them, but I did like Ford Racing 2, and so was hoping for something like that on the PSP. Instead, it's something still fairly fun, but somewhat deeper and more arcade like than that title.

Despite the name of the game, it's not really "Street Racing" in the commonly used sense of the world - that would be illegal racing. This is just normal racing, but on real city streets - apparently based on Los Angeles. (The original name of this game was apparently "Ford Street Racing: L.A. Duel", but the Ford PR people must have stuck that "Bold Moves" silliness in there, as that is the name of their PR campaign to explain how the company is turning around).


Basically there are 3 gameplay modes: Quick Race, which dumps you into a randomly generated race; Career, the meat of the game; and Arcade, where you can pick among car and track types you've unlocked to set up your own race.

Career, the main mode, progresses fairly non-linearly. You start out with one race location unlocked, then win that, and 2 more race locations are unlocked. Each Race location consists of one series or cup race (that is, where you do multiple races and win points, and the winner is the one with the most points), and 2 challenges, which might be races, or other things, like exceeding top speed on a certain part of a track, or passing so many cars in a time period.

While it's no means "Ford Turismo", you do have money and a garage and have to buy new cars. No car modding or anything like that, and you can simply pick from a handful of colors (and change this when you race). Most cars start off locked, so you have to unlock them (usually be doing a challenge) to purchase them.

There's actually two halves to career mode - Solo & Team. Solo is just you racing, while team racing is you and a computer AI driver racing with you. Crew racing is actually sort of the new big thing in racing games, I think Juiced started it, then this had it, and now NFS: Carbon has it as well. It adds a new element in that you can switch control between your cars, and use some special commands - Block (which keeps other cars from passing) and Boost (which make you go faster). In practice though, they really aren't worth the effort using - especially switching cars because even if you are in the lead, the AI will have crashed your old car by the time you take over the other car and you will soon pass your old car.

The driving model is by no means a realistic experience - although cars do seem fairly accurate in terms of how fast they can go, handling is arcade like, that is, very easy to make turns without slowing down. There is a definitely feeling of weight and how it's distributed - for instance, the pickup trucks do feel light in the back, while the larger cars feel somewhat boatlike.

The AI of the computer racers is pretty bad. No, make it the AI is about the worst I've seen in a racer. First off, it clearly uses a "rubberband" system, that is, the AI cars performance is based on how you do. Very obvious - one second you will be way out in front, doing the maximum speed of your car. Then boom, from out of nowhere comes an AI car (of the same model as yours), just blowing past yours.

Normally I hate that, because it seems rather unfair. However, it seems to be the only way to make the AI drivers competitive, because they simply cannot drive. They have trouble just doing straight lines. In races with a lot of cars, this is more like a destruction derby or a Kennedy family reunion than a race. There is actually a damage system in the game, but it seems entirely cosmetic (thankfully, given the AI).

This artificial dumbness may be deliberate though, as a way of setting the difficulty. Later races in the game tend to have AI opponents that can drive in a straight line. But for most of the game they're just amazingly bad. You'll see the AI spin out, tip over, and just veer into a wall while going down a straightaway. And crash into you.

All in all, the racing actually reminds me a lot of the Project Gotham Racing series, minus the Kudos system.

As I mentioned, the tracks are all supposed to be set in L.A. I guess this is nice if you like L.A., but for most of us, it means that the tracks are not very exciting. And some parts seem familiar from other racing games also set in L.A. (Like Street Racing Syndicate, which at least had Free Roam). Most of the tracks are urban, but there are a few highway tracks.


The graphics in this are strange. The polygon count seems high, the car models are impressive (and include damage modeling, complete with flapping trunks and bumpers), but the textures look funny sometimes. Mostly it's when they are in shadows, but sometimes in the daylight, the textures look very grainy. I guess this is dithering, perhaps to save texture memory? I've heard some PSP games do that, but this is the first I've really noticed it.

The lighting is quite nice (though no night races, so hard to judge). One thing I liked is how the gas cap on the back of the older mustangs is nice and shiny. You don't usually see chrome effects like that in games, much less on the PSP.

Also really nice looking are the trees. Sometimes in PS2 games, the trees look like cardboard cutouts. Not these - these almost look like next gen trees.

The frame rate is very smooth, even with 6-7 other cars on the screen, and there is really no perceptible pop-up (just once in the while in the very distance) or texture warping. On the other hand, the sky/landscape backdrop sometimes looks very blurry and low-res (again, to save texture memory?)

The sound is pretty uniformly bad. Cars do not sound anywhere near like they should. Just way too quiet. There is no music at all while racing. You do get some tire squealing noises, but they actually sound more like a crowd "oohing" and "aaahing" than tires.

Loading Times:

Not bad at all. The game itself only takes about 25 seconds to load, and once at the main menu, you don't have to load until you enter a race, which takes about 12 seconds or so. About the least of any PSP racer that I've played.

Final Thoughts:

The basic gameplay is quite fun, although this seems largely in spite of the product as a whole (at least the boring tracks and stupid AI). The Project Gotham Racing-lite gameplay is not what I was expecting or hoping for (I wanted the somewhat realistic Ford Racing 2), but I found myself playing until my hands were sore - it's really quit addictive.

For a budget title, it's a pretty good game. Now that Midnight Club 3 is only $20 (and they've apparently fixed the loading times), that is probably the best budget racer for the PSP. But this is not bad at all. 7/10. Higher if it had more interesting tracks.