Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Review: Time Crisis: Razing Storm

There was once a time when arcade lightgun games were some of the most popular gaming experiences around, and some of the most graphically impressive. You only have to go back seven or eight years with the likes of Time Crisis II and 3 to see the impact such titles had. And the latter even managed to showcase some decidedly lovely PS2 visuals. Obviously, these days things are a little different. In fact, they are very different indeed. The day of the lightgun blaster is long gone, and in its place a barrage of first and third-person shooters, and western-influenced Japanese arcade titles.

Time Crisis: Razing Storm does nothing to stop the decline, being stuck firmly into the past with regards to production values, voice acting, and repetitive mediocrity as the core shooting mechanic fails to sustain your attention. It’s not a case of gaming having moved on, but rather, that most lightgun games are pale imitations of their former selves – something that is apparent right away when you play this collection.

On the Blu-Ray Disc, Razing Storm contains not one, not two, but three separate arcade releases. You’ve obviously got the new Razing Storm Time Crisis game, alongside of which we find another recent arcade shooter, Deadstorm Pirates, and the older, previously released Time Crisis 4. Out of these three games, two are machinegun based titles, whilst the other (TC4) is more traditional affair, but with a few added gameplay changes.

Razing Storm isn’t so much a sequel to Time Crisis 4, but a spin-off from the series. Instead the game looks like a follow up to Namco’s Crisis Zone - a machinegun, play and spray instalment in the franchise. While keeping the series familiar duck and reload mechanics in hand, the game sees you with your finger almost constantly down on the trigger, blasting away at dozens of enemies at a time, and rarely using anything other than a weapon capable of firing hundreds of rounds per minute. That is to say, that Razing Storm is more OTT rather than presenting you with a skilful shooting gallery as found in Virtua Cop.

Balancing out the game’s approach of near-constant shooting, enemies all have small health bars that must be depleted, and subsequently lots of bullets are required to take them down. On the upside, you won’t be getting shot all of the time. Instead, enemies become surrounded by a red or blue cursor that bleeps when an attack is immanent. The result: that you’ll only have to duck and defend either to reload, or when those bleeping markets appear on screen.

Other than the enemies themselves, you can shoot at almost anything in Razing Storm, and most of it is completely destructible. Tables and chairs can be blasted into pieces; windows can be shattered; and even large chunks of buildings and other solid objects can be damaged - the range of destruction is pretty impressive. At one point I was able to blow up nearly an entire row of buildings in sea of trigger-happy melodrama. Although lacking the full scale devastation that Battlefield Bad Company and its sequel has to offer, it is far from being just superficial.

However, the suitably destructive scenery does come at a cost to the visuals, which are pretty basic to say the least. Static lighting, poor texturing, and blocky environments are hardly an adequate concoction for a current-gen game, least of all a full price one. Given the low popularity of such a title, and the ongoing decline of the arcade industry in general, such a lack of polish, and indeed production values, is all but guaranteed. I would say that what we have here is merely satisfactory, though bland and un-inspired at the same time – the bloom lighting, though overdone is rather nice. Loading up TC4 once again shows that some of the artistic vibrancy found in similar titles made just a few years prior, is largely absent here in Razing Storm.

On top of the standard lightgun shooting Arcade Mode, and Razing Storm also adds an additionally fleshed out Story Mode too. This is basically like a FPS of sorts, with you having to move around whilst aiming and shooting. The control set up using the Move works very similarly to that powering most Wii first-person shooters, but is worse in execution. Even more so than with the main Arcade Mode, you’ll find loads of poor voice acting, terrible AI, and some of the blandest gameplay in existence.

Moving and turning is rather awkward regardless of how much you have adjusted the controls, and the action is decidedly pedestrian. Suffice to say, I didn’t bother to even finish this mode. It isn’t what Time Crisis is all about, and quite frankly, it would have been far more beneficial to have some additional stages tacked onto the regular arcade mode instead.

So Razing Storm itself isn’t all that great, although it is backed up by two other rather average lightgun games. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is Time Crisis 4 that is still the best of the bunch. It features a reasonable blend of precision shooting, whilst taking the time to implement some of the more OTT concepts found in Crisis Zone, and other action titles. Deadstorm Pirates on the other hand, like with Razing Storm, is a far more mundane affair, which only serves to highlight the drop in quality games like this are facing.

Overall, it is Time Crisis 4 which is by far the best this collection has to offer. It balances out skilful shooting with a few spray and play machine gun sessions, and has by far the most replay value of the trio. Sadly, neither Deadstorm Pirates nor TC 4 features their original arcade intro sequences. In fact, there is no intros whatsoever.

Outside of the games themselves, it was the promise of Move support which had me most intrigued. Doing away with the painfully ugly set-up that was the G-Con seemed like a perfect idea, especially as the Move has the capability for even greater precision, but without the hassle. Sadly, even here Namco have missed the boat somewhat. In terms of actual aiming and shooting, the Move performs brilliantly - there’s no mis-firing in which to speak off, and latency was inline with the G-Con.

However, Time Crisis has always required the use of an additional button outside the trigger on the gun itself: the use of a duck/reload button. Now while this was always well catered for on all three versions of the G-Con (with the G-Con 2 being the best), using one of the available buttons on the Move itself feels distinctly clumsy, or really uncomfortable at worst. There’s no option to use a Move plus Navigation Controller set-up, thus allowing for comfortable aiming and easy reloading – something which is already available while using the standard G-Con 3.

Ultimately, the result is that Sony’s Shooting Attachment for the Move is completely redundant. It’s borderline useless for Time Crisis as you don’t have access to a more comfortable reload/ducking set-up. In any case, for pure comfort and overall performance reasons, using the archaic, ‘wires everywhere’ set-up of the G-Con 3 is by far the best option.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to recommend Time Crisis Razing Storm to anyone, including hardcore fans of the series. At full price (it’s £39.99) it neither represents good value, nor a great retro themed experience. You would in effect, be better served by tracking down a copy of TC4 and the G-Con 3 - both of which are sure to cost less second hand – than invest in this poorly put together compilation of decidedly average lightgun games.

Perhaps Namco should provide a Time Crisis 1,2 and 3 HD collection instead. Or even have another stab at the main series with a Time Crisis 5. Either way, lord knows why they bothered with this when there are far, far better alternatives out there. Some people may well enjoy the overtly cheesy nature of Razing Storm and Deadside Pirates, and find them reason enough to dust off that ghastly orange monstrosity that is the G-Con 3, although even they, I think, will feel slightly short changed.


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