Thursday, 7 November 2013

Sonic Adventure 2 (PC)

Sonic Adventure 2 title screen logo PC
Today I've been forced (well, asked nicely) to take a look at Sonic Adventure 2, which is something like the 30th of the Sonic games if you count the spin-offs, but the very last to be released on a Sega console. Not that I'll be playing the Dreamcast version; I'm actually going to be checking out the Windows port released a mere 11 years later.

Even before its started it's already proven to be a massive disappointment to me: it didn't have the 'say-gah' jingle at the start.

DLC is required to unlock the menu screen theme? I know the Dreamcast was pretty revolutionary when it came to internet features, but this is ridiculous.

Amazingly this option was apparently present in the original game and it let you download the themes individually from the official site (or at least download the code to unlock the data already on the disc). In the PC port though the DLC I need here is actually an upgrade from the original Dreamcast version of Sonic Adventure 2 to the slightly more feature packed GameCube port retitled Sonic Adventure 2 Battle. I think I'll pass.

I still can't believe a Dreamcast game had on disc DLC.

That's interesting, it seems that I get two separate stories to play through, one for the heroes and one for... the evil Sonic clones I guess. I didn't play the Sonic Adventure games at the time and I'd struggle to name any Sonic characters newer than Knuckles (the angsty looking red guy in the Hero box), so I'll stick with team 'People I've Heard Of' for now.

The game begins in medias res with realtime 3D polygon Sonic breaking out of a military helicopter a few thousand feet above a city. This didn't initially seems like a great plan to me, but Sonic apparently has a plan here. He grabs onto one of the missile racks on the side and tears off a piece of the wing to use as a board.

So now he's a few thousand feet above the city with a board stuck to his feet, not a great improvement to the situation you might think; but Sonic then uses his 'go fast' superpowers to spin the board like rotor-blades to slow his descent and glide gently to the city below.

Not that he had much to worry about now that I think about it, seeing as the guy doesn't take falling damage.

Sonic Magic Hands special technique loading hint. It turns enemies into small balls.
...what?

This flashed on screen so fast for me that it was almost subliminal and now that I've had a chance to read it properly I'm even more confused. Sonic games have apparently changed a bit since the 2D era.

Alright, now I'm steering Sonic left and right as he descends a weirdly realistic looking hill on his piece of stolen helicopter wing. You know, I think someone forgot to tell the art department that Sonic exists in an exaggerated cartoon world.

The game's reminding me a lot of classic soft-drink promoting action game Pepsiman right now, though this game's cheesy music is way more tolerable. Every Sonic game I've played has had an insanely catchy level one theme and this one isn't the exception.

Holy shit Sonic, that car had people in it! Where's the button to stop grinding down the hill and check if they're okay?

This wasn't even a struggle for him, he just brushed against it gently and that was all it took to send a full sized SUV bouncing comically down the street. I always assumed that Sonic's animosity towards Dr Robotnik was like a Superman vs. Lex Luthor thing and that the hedgehog generally liked the rest of humanity, but I guess now I know better. It seems that Sonic doesn't care who he tramples over when he builds up speed and no normal human stands a chance against him. No wonder the military are out to catch him.

A few corners later Sonic lost his board mid-jump, but the level's still going. I suppose now I have to make a run for his safe house so he can lay low until the heat's died down.

I've got full freedom to run around at my own pace now, though they've only given me one narrow route for me to go down; the game hasn't suddenly turned into GTA: Green Hill Zone City. Though that's probably for the best actually. Can you imagine Sonic jacking a car built for humans, then trying to drive the thing wearing those giant clown shoes?

Dreamcast
Here's a slice of what the original game looks like on the Dreamcast. The resizing and jpeg compression has killed some of the details, but to my eyes it seems to have pretty much the exact same textures as the higher res PC port.

I suppose they've stopped getting ad money from Soap though, so all their billboards have been replaced. In fact even the made up ads are different for whatever reason. There's also an suspicious extra palm tree up on the right in the PC screenshot, which could be a clue that I'm actually playing the tweaked version of the level from Sonic Adventure 2: Battle.

Okay it seems that trying to double jump sends Sonic flying forward towards an enemy. Though I'm going to have to work on his aim if we're intending to actually hit anything this way. Fortunately these robots seem fairly rubbish and I have plenty of rings on me, so I can keep trying until I get it right.

Well maybe 3 rings is a little less than 'plenty', but like in the original games I only need to be holding one to survive a hit and though they all spill out across the floor I can always pick them back up again afterwards if I'm quick about it.

Crap! I need to get it etched into my mind that double jump is actually a homing attack in this. I only wanted a little extra height, but instead he boosted forward straight over to the nearest bottomless pit.

Who the hell puts a bottomless pit in a city anyway? And what's with all the moving hexagonal columns for that matter? This place started getting very weird around the point I had to run around a giant loop that led me straight down the side of skyscraper.


1 MINUTE AND 15 SECONDS SPENT THROWING MYSELF DOWN THE SAME HOLE LATER.


HOLY FUCK...

... that is such a totally unnecessary use of headlights. It's the middle of the day, man!

You know it might seem like overkill for the G.U.N. armed forces to have a truck that big on hand just in case they need to chase a hedgehog, but to be fair the thing probably doubles as a land based aircraft carrier. It's also doing serious damage to my self-esteem, as it's somehow keeping up with me at my top speed!

This is reminding me of Pepsiman again, though with even less space in front of me to see where I'm going. In fact it's basically just a 'slide over to the line of rings when then you see some appear' mini-game, as dodging anything here would be impossible with Sonic's face right up to the camera like this.

Sonic Adventure 2 stage select PC
With the truck successfully... evaded, I ran into the goal and completed the level. RANK E! It's what I deserve really for throwing all my lives away down a bottomless pit.

Fortunately I can replay the level any time I want with this handy stage select screen! Well okay I could've replayed it any time anyway, it's level one, but I'll no doubt appreciate this map screen more as I get further into the game.

Uh... what just happened? I think I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere, because I was running through streets last time I checked, not strolling around in this little garden area, watching the cute little animals bounce around.

Here you go kid, have one of these... red... things I found lying around. I think it may be vial of the G-Virus.

Well it boosted his power by 2 points, so that worked out well in the end. There's still something bothering me a little though: where the fuck am I? What happened to the the race to escape the city? Why am I looking after these little blue creatures? Why is there a giant CHAO Departure Machine in the background I can drop them into? What is going on?

I... I think Sonic might have gotten killed by that truck guys.

Oh no, hang on, we're back. Normal service has resumed.

Though it's night time now all of a sudden and we're being chased around this car park by an F-6t BIG FOOT ground/air combat walker while it strafes us with its M-32A1 22m Gatling gun. I'm supposed to jump on the cockpit when it lands, but I need to be quick about it or else I get a face full of 8 AIM-120C Advanced Medium-Range air-to-surface Missiles and that would be less than ideal with 2 rings and no lives left.

I love it when games have made up vehicle specs scrolling up in a little text box on screen to make them seem more serious and realistic, especially when they're about cartoon hedgehogs.


SOME PRECISE MECH-STOMPING LATER.


Well the mech is finally down, but what is this? Another hedgehog?

It turns out that Sonic's dark doppelgänger is called Shadow the Hedgehog, he's the world's ultimate life form, and he doesn't have time for games. Though he does apparently have time to pose on top of robots and buildings and wave his green gem at me for no reason.

Okay I got it, you only came here to be irritating and mysterious, can you fuck off now? I'm kind of busy trying to evade the world's military right now.

Aw crap.

Well at least we've solved one mystery: the military are after Sonic because they think he's Shadow.
Is Sonic supposed to be the only one of his kind or something? Because other than being the same species, he and Shadow don't actually look all that similar.

I'm being serious! Shadow has his spines sticking up and is an entirely different colour.

Though on the other hand Sonic can transform and turn yellow if he collects enough Chaos Emeralds or whatever, so for all anyone knows he actually can turn black as well. I mean for all I know he actually IS Shadow and doesn't realise it yet. So I guess I'll shut up.

Meanwhile, somewhere entirely different, Dr Robotnik is trying to steal the Master Emerald because, well he was in the area basically. He's sure he'll probably find a use for it later.

Though Knuckles the Echidna and some bat creature were busy fighting over the Emerald at the time and neither are too happy about this. With a mighty leap, Knuckles takes to the air and shatters the gem with a single punch.

Bat lady isn't too happy about this either and she slowly chokes the life out of Knuckles until he lies dead at her feet.

Actually she just shakes him around for a bit and then vanishes.

So now I'm playing as Knuckles then, trying to recover the pieces of the Emerald he just broke. He's pretty different to play as than Sonic as he has the ability to climb walls and glide, and he's able to explore his level freely, instead of being channelled down a narrow path.

He's also a little different in that his background music is him rapping his inner monologue!
Ain't nobody gonna come here and eat my plate, no!
Yo what happened, my Emerald's gone!
Somebody gonna get theirs quick, my word is bond,
Who could'a did this, that stitch named Rouge!
When I catch her, I'ma get her with these tools,
There you are, come here little thief!
Think you gon' fly and get away quick? Uh, uh!
Give up the Emerald or die, I don't love you!
 That is amazing.

Why did characters rapping never catch on? Imagine how awesome Metal Gear Solid 4 could've been if Snake was laying down a verse about nanomachines in the background. Or how Half-Life 2 would've been immeasurably enhanced with Gordon Freeman spitting some lyrics about how he gets away with straight up ignoring the leaders of the human resistance when they talk to him.

You know what I'm glad didn't catch on? Hunting for emerald fragments in a big wide open canyon level. I've got a proximity sensor so I've got a vague idea when I'm getting closer, but this is still dragging on way longer than my interest in playing it did.

Oh shit, it's happening again. Where am I this time, some kind of school?

"This is a classroom"?

This is a nightmare, more like. I foolishly neglected to bring a 'Chao' with me, so there's not much I can do here, so I'll leave and see if I can find my way back to the game.

Meanwhile, Sonic's sidekick Tails is on his way in a fighter jet to rescue him from the military... because he doesn't believe that his friend would destroy military property. Oh well, the kid's only eight, he doesn't know any better. Incidentally the character really does sound like he's voiced by an eight year old to me, which is really distracting when he's in a conversation with experienced voice talent.

But Dr Robotnik's here as well? Why? Is he waiting for Sonic to break out so he can ambush him at the end of the level?

Anyway Tails transforms his plane into a walker and then beats the evil scientist at his own game by locking on and shooting him a few times. It wasn't a huge struggle. Robotnik counters with the "I'll get you next time" speech.

Tails seems real concerned.

Miles the Fox's level seems to be mostly about holding down the attack button until all the targets in the room have numbers above them, then letting go to make them explode. Then I go to the next area and repeat. It's also a little bit about accidentally falling down holes because jumping isn't this walker's strong point.

Then I get another fast moving Sonic level, with lots of moving forward down a narrow path. Though I'd be moving faster if the game was a little better at explaining concepts like the "Light Dash"

"Have you tried using the Light Dash to collect all of the rings suspended in the air?" says the helpful Omochao creature nearby.

No I haven't good sir, as I don't know what that is, but I'll certainly try jumping at these rings in the air and seeing what happens. SPLASH.

Then it turned out that I needed to collect a nearby upgrade before I could even perform the move. Thankfully there are a reasonable number of checkpoints along the way, so I was able to get right back into the action, grab the pick up, and then screw up the Light Dash a second time through good honest ineptitude.


LATER.


Robotnik's broadcasting on TV now? I wonder what he's going to announce; that he went looking for a crystal, found the wrong one, and then had it broken anyway before he could steal it? Or that he just got his ass handed to him by an eight year old in a fair fight?

Incidentally the Japanese text scrolling by in the background says "Eggman" while the English text says "Robotnik." It also says "I am genius. I am great. I am brilliant. I am smart. I am wise. I am an emperor."

Wait, 'emperor'? I hope he's going to elaborate on that one.

Whoa, it's a Nic Cage cameo.

This art style mismatch was bad enough when it was just Sonic boarding through a city, but cutting straight from a cartoon caricature human to relatively normal humans just makes it obvious how wrong these people look by comparison.

Oh I see, Robotnik's got himself a orbital battle station that looks like his face and he's gonna start shooting things if the people of Earth don't make him their emperor. A cunning scheme.

But first of course a warning shot.

The... fuck? We needed that moon you dumb bastard, what were you thinking? Have fun ruling over a world with weakened tides and extreme weather problems. Not to mention the dust in the atmosphere kicked up when a few billion tons of moon rock finds its way down here.

He hasn't even issued a demand yet! What, is he planning to make the planet such a shithole that everyone else packs up and moves off somewhere else making him ruler by default or something?

Out of curiosity I switched over to the Dark story levels here and found that they do fill in a few blanks in the story. Like the fact that Shadow was actually released from the military base by Robotnik, who had broken in to investigate his grandfather's work.

This level is actually very similar to Tails' first level, except there's a lot more shooting of door locks. And yet that never gets any more fun, weirdly. As far as gameplay goes Robotnik is Tails with a different model, there's no other noticeable difference.

But then I switch to Shadow at the end of the first level to fight... the same boss from Sonic's first level! Actually he's a B-3x Hot Shot combat walker, equipped with a charge shot instead of a machine gun. Still takes the same trick to take down though: wait for him to land, jump on his head.

I think this would be a good place to stop showing off screenshots.


My initial assessment of Sonic Adventure 2 is this: it's a game about going fast that shines its brightest when it embraces this, though more because of spectacle than gameplay. The 3D platforming is a bit awkward, the shooting is lacklustre, the 'getting lost in a huge area looking for tiny green gems' bit is less fun then it sounds and I don't even know what to think about the creature training bit. But the bit where I got to race around a bizarre roller-coaster track looping around a fleet of aircraft carriers surrounded by gigantic missiles while jet fighters carried out bombing runs on me was cool because... doing things like that is cool, even if my part of the process mostly involved a lot of pressing up on the analogue stick and trying not to throw myself into the water.

The story... man I'm not even going to talk about the story. I'll just say that so far it justifies the decision made for the earlier games to keep it safely confined to the manual. Also the characters are animated in a way that make them look like people wearing giant mascot outfits in the cutscenes, they're really off-putting. Not because of that specifically, they're just off-putting in general.

All the way though these first few chapters I felt like I was just on the verge of coming across a level I couldn't stand; that the next stage would be the one that was finally frustrating enough to drive me to rage quit and declare with absolute conviction that the game's 'not for me'. But no such luck, so I suppose I'll have to give it a gold star.


But don't get too attached to your shiny new badge Sonic Adventure 2. I'm sure I'll remember something about you that pissed me off eventually and then I'll open up the editor again and snatch it right back off your page.

That's all the words you're getting out of me today. Feel free to leave some of your own though.

1 comment:

  1. I still don't understand why Sega thought it'd be a good idea to stick their mascot in a semi-realistic militaristic setting. It's like if Mario had a game set in a post-apocalyptic future, it's just dumb.
    Although now that I think about it...

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