Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crackdown (360) - part 2

More thoughts from my almost obsessive playing of Crackdown. (It's one of those games that when I'm not playing it, I'm thinking about playing it, and the hours just melt away while I'm running around its slightly gaudily-coloured city. I haven't been this engrossed in a game since Oblivion.)

I think I actually enjoy unfocussed co-op in this more than doing the missions in co-op. Just two superhero cops messing about and occasionally pausing in their stunting japes to shoot the bad men who are inconsiderately hassling them.

I finally managed to get my driving skill up to 4 (the maximum), which was a feat in itself given that vehicles are by far the least interesting thing it has - they really should have made this skill increase more quickly, or allowed the agency vehicles toned down special abilities at lower skill levels.

The fully leveled agency cars are a bit disappointing overall - they're even bigger, so they have more trouble fitting into narrow places. The batmobile (supercar) has a very low ground clearance so it gets stuck on ramps, and the guns are very dangerous to use - they don't seem to aim properly so I ended up killing lots of civilians by accident. The SUV's wall climbing isn't as fun as it sounds, and I haven't managed to work out the truck's ability yet (so far I've got that it makes a sort of whooshing noise, but I imagine there may be more to it) - but the accleration and turning circle are so bad it's no fun to drive at all.

Overall, cars in Crackdown are a wasted opportunity.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Games I wish someone would do a new version of ... G-Police

(The first in what will probably be an irregular series.)

G-Police suffered from an unnecessarily complicated control scheme, and from trying to push the PlayStation too far (a console game with frame-rate / draw distance settings?) On modern hardware, with a simplified flight model, it could be great. They might want to mix the missions up a bit too make them more interesting though, maybe steal a few bits and pieces from Zeewolf (a very nice Amiga helicopter game, also hampered by the target hardware).

There aren't enough free-roaming city games with helicopters in these days - an Airwolf-style agency chopper would fit nicely into Crackdown's already very 3d city, for example - which is a shame.

And that concludes today's "Games I wish someone would do a new version of".

Monday, February 26, 2007

You wouldn't steal a car, you wouldn't steal a handbag...

Marketplace content on the Xbox 360 comes complete with its own digital rights management (DRM) in place. The content knows which user profile downloaded it, and also - this is the important bit - which Xbox it was downloaded to. The content will work fine for any user profile on that Xbox, but will only work for the original user profile on a different console, if you take your harddrive around to a friend's house, for example.

This system works fine until your console decides it's had enough of playing Gears of War and gives you the fabled red ring of doom - telling you that you'll need to send it to Microsoft to be replaced (or buy a new one if it's out of warranty). Apparently this is quite a likely event for a 360 user (my own anecdotal evidence seems to point to something like a 30% failure rate), and it's at this point you'll realise that any marketplace content you bought is now restricted to just the original user profile that download it - since the console you'll get back from Microsoft won't be the one you sent them.

If you have other profiles on your console who play the content then your options are either to suck it down and buy it again, or phone support and try and argue them into giving you marketplace points or vouchers.

Sony has obviously been regarding this whole situation, and has come up with its own clever solution (the obvious one of 'make your hardware unlikely to die' is too much of a pain, it would seem). Any premium content or electronic distribution (eDist) games you download on to your PS3 come with 5 're-downloads' for free - which do exactly what you would expect and allow you to get the full content for free again in the event of something going horribly wrong.

Except in their eagerness to please it would seem they've overlooked the ingenuity (read: greed) of gamers.

By sharing some of your account details (though nothing too unsafe, like credit card numbers) you can allow other trusted gamers access to your five free copies, giving them premium content and eDist games for nothing but a 'thank you' to the original buyer. That's full content, not time or content limited demos.

Which means that any developers of this content can expect their sales to be up to a fifth of what they otherwise could be.

Now, this way of copying games isn't exactly easy - the need to share some details will obviously put off a lot of users from trying, and it needs a fair amount of co-ordination - and people will always grab freebies they weren't otherwise planning on buying, just because they're free.

Because of these factors I don't think that you should assume to multiply up all sales figures by five to get a 'true' rating, but I do find it rather worrying that it's possible at all, and that it doesn't require any software hack or trickery to activate. As it's a feature that the manufacturer themselves has put in place, it seems to be in a bit of a grey area of DRM piracy which allows it to go unchecked in communities that usually don't allow discussion of such things (I first heard about this on the SomethingAwful forums, where the thread still exists).

Overall, while it's a nice present from Sony to gamers, it may be a bit of a nipple-twisting to developers.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Crackdown (360)

I really wasn't sure if I'd buy Crackdown, up until about two days before release. I'd played the demo a few times, and enjoyed it once my character built up to a suitably super-hero level of ability, but I'd always had the nagging feeling that maybe I'd already seen everything the game had to offer.

Unlike with Call of Duty 3, this time I was sort of right.

It's a game designed with Halo's "30 seconds of fun repeated" mantra firmly in mind. The little things keep you amused: seeing an agility orb and working out how to get to it; throwing objects (or maybe even their own cars) at attackers; dropping down on an unsuspecting enemy and kicking them off the building they're guarding; even jumping towards a building and just falling short then plummeting to the floor is fun.

My main pre-release worry was that, in the demo you're able to increase your abilities quickly, and can end up with many of your skills at level 4 by the end of the 30 minute cap. With slowed-down progression, would the game be as much fun? Thankfully the skill system seems to be weighted almost perfectly for me - within a couple of hours I was at level 2 (moderately-superhero, if you like) on all skills, and reaching levels 3 and 4 takes more dedicated carnage.

The actual content of the game is a bit less interesting, though. Once you've fought your way to one gang warlord, you'll realise that most are the same thing just in different locations. Occasionally you'll have to perform another task (such as destroying some switches) before the target will present themselves, but it's never anything too far out of the norm. Successful tactics for assaulting their fortresses are quickly established too - go around the back and then jump in, avoiding the bulk of their guards as you make a bee-line straight for them, then kick them until they die (while being kicked they can only rarely fight back). Each encounter quickly melts into the next.

There are a few side missions in the game - on-foot and in-vehicle checkpoint races, and some stunt markers to drive a vehicle through - but they seem fairly poorly thought out, especially in the case of the on-foot races it's possible to undertake a race that you simply don't have the agility to complete, so you're left minutes into your endeavour getting frustrated at a checkpoint that's out of your reach while the race slowly times out.

Co-op seems like a bit of a mixed bag, too. I'd read somewhere that it was drop-in, drop-out, but that seems not to be the case, which is a shame. The host's city is used for both players where gang targets are concerned, and any killed will also only register in their world. So the benefits for the client are just that they get to keep any weapons or skill upgrades earned during the jaunt.

The few times I've tried it both me and my friend experienced very bad lag too, with the game often pausing for 5 - 10 seconds to resynchronise, which made precision jumping quite frustrating. Edit: On further attempts it seems that this was down to the internet being busy on a Saturday morning. The next day it was smooth and very playable, which is even more impressive when you think of the amount of information it must be throwing about - players can be very far from each other, and the world keeps working as in single player.

The thing is, for all its shortcomings, you forgive it because the basic actions are just great fun to do, both in single player and with a friend. I hope for the promised downloadable content they come up with some truly unique missions, though - using your superhuman abilities to dash across town, pick up a missile truck just before it hits town hall, and then throwing it into the sea, is the sort of memorable moment that right now you have to invent for yourself.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"Or you could target stupid hardcore gamers and Japanophiles..."

...who'll play anything as long as it has kanji on the box and they can drone away on every internet forum they can find about what an awesome and overlooked game it is, and isn't it some kind of crime against humanity that the moron public bought Fifa instead?

Point 1.3 is a marketing strategy I could really get behind!

Still, is it just me or does that seems like one hell of a complicated puzzle game for something advertising itself as "easy to play"?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Very Mercenary

The worst-kept secret in the games industry is finally announced - Mercenaries 2 is multi-format.

I have mixed feelings about this sequel, on the one hand, I really like sandbox type games (no, really - I enjoyed Godfather enough that I keep looking out for a cheap 360 copy). On the other hand, I thought Mercenaries was a terrible execution of a good idea.

The vehicles felt too floaty (especially in collisions, they seemed to flop about in a very strange way); I always felt it was trying to restrict my use of big explosives (the game's killer usp) by making the really cool ones so expensive that you didn't want to waste them on a target that would just respawn again when you re-entered the area; it had an annoying habit of spawning enemy tanks behind me while I was on foot, and then made them shoot any vehicle I tried to jack the exact second I started the (admittedly ace) jacking animation with scant regard for their fellow soldiers; and the world felt completely lifeless and dull with the only scene-setting set-piece battles spawning in exactly the same places over and over again.

I played through the first two suits of cards, then gave up. And writing that reminded me that I didn't like the structure either - having the targets and their entourages only spawn once you'd activated them felt very artificial. Will this next-gen sequel take a page out of Crackdown's book, making all of the target enemies exist from the start and relying on the player character's abilities and equipment to restrict access?

I'll be very interested to see how it turns out.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Call of Duty 3 (360)

You might not remember from my update about CoD2, but I'm not really into the WW2 thing. I played CoD2 because lots of people had said it was good, and I enjoyed it enough that I thought I'd give this a try too (even though it's by a different developer I figured they would keep enough the same that I'd enjoy it).

I was sort of wrong. Like FEAR, I go through periods of liking it, and periods of hating it, often within sections of the same level, and overall I just can't tell if I think it's any good or not.

The main thing it has going for it over CoD2 (and I say this having absolutely no intention of playing the multiplayer of either, so maybe a lot of work went into making that deeply awesome), is that it's a lot prettier. The effects are nicer, the levels have more detail, and there are some swanky visual tricks like dynamic god rays (though those can often cock-up and look a bit silly). The tank levels are much improved too, thanks to the setting they aren't in featureless deserts with ambiguous 'minefields' all around - you're in nice French countryside villages. Methodically crushing a whole field's worth of crops took up a pleasant couple of minutes.

The setting does have it's downside, though. Since the whole game this time is based in one 'theatre' (as I believe the war nuts call it) you get much less variation of scenery. It's all French villages, towns and supply depots. You still swap between different nationalities throughout, but you lose the interest of seeing where you'll end up next.

There are other noticeable differences between this and Call of Duty 2, and to save on typing and having to construct proper paragraphs, I shall present them in list form:

  • This game is buggy. I've seen flying Germans and Germans flying backwards as well), hovering crates all over the place, and invisible collision that looked like a walls were meant to be there. The game uses the same 'infinite Nazi' engine as CoD2 as well, which allowed me to pass a few difficult sections because the enemies got stuck on each other, blocking up the exit to their respawn point.
  • It's full of boring non-interactive unskippable cutscenes. My mind might be playing tricks, but I remember CoD2 not having too many places where control was removed. It also had nice classy level intros. CoD3 has horrible accents and loads of places you're forced to stand and watch people slowly arguing. Its worst cutscene crime is that whenever you load a saved game you have to watch the intro to that level again (presumably while it loads). Except I'd rather watch a short loading screen than a long (bad) cutscene again, no matter how much it might break immersion.
  • There are masses of sections with you in a jeep, either driving or on the turret. The driving controls are horrible, and although the sections are filled with explosions and tanks chasing you, they just never feel exciting.
  • They've added quick time events (cutscenes where you have to press the right series of buttons or repeat and action to get the right outcome), which are shit. Planting charges isn't just a case of holding one button for a while, you have to perform a series of simple actions instead. But since they're so simple it feels like you shouldn't have to bother. The events involving a Nazi grappling with you just don't fit with the rest of the game - a melee hit in normal play is a one-shot kill, but these guys need an elaborate fight scene.
  • They've put red barrels everywhere. That explode when you shoot them. The design of this game is actually going backwards through first person history!
Still, it's not all bad though - it retains the excellent "holy shit I'm in a war with a lot of people and there's a lot of stuff going on" feeling of the previous game, with lots of set-piece things going on around you. And they've done a great job with the achievements - you get a steady stream just from completing the single player missions, and it has some not-entirely-impossible-to-do ones for playing levels using subsets of weapons, or not taking too much damage.

But overall I'd recommend anyone interested gets Call of Duty 2 instead of this. It's probably a lot cheaper too.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Woah there - I can jump on their heads to kill them?

Ben Schneider has recently had an article published on Gamasutra, on scripting player defeat into gameplay.

It's an interesting read, but I don't agree with his idea that "we need to invent a language of game drama ... we need to teach gamers to speak it fluently", since that sounds to me like anyone who doesn't play games often won't have a clue what's going on.

Surely as gaming strives to expand to new markets we should be moving away from these sorts of arbitrary conventions?

I once watched someone play their first FPS - Half-Life. They didn't realise that creates were smashable and would provide consumables, and they didn't realise they could use the health & armour stations to recharge (it seems the innate desire to run around and click 'use' on every piece of scenery is a very gamer thing to do). Consequently they died often, because the game assumed they would understand the conventions that would allow them to regain lost health.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Important Research News!

Moving about will burn calories, or so say boffins at Liverpool John Moores University. Good work, eggheads - now that these pressing issues have been resolved, maybe you can move on to that 'cancer' thing.

Would you like to know more?

US troops finishing their stint in Iraq are being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder using some kind of fancy computer game. I could be flippant and suggest they just sit them down with an Xbox and a copy of Ghost Recon to save themselves a bit of cash, but obviously this game is much more advanced.

"the system pumps in smells such as gunpowder, burning rubber and body odour"
My 360 makes 2 of these during any 4-hour playing session. And I make the other. So maybe my jokey suggestion is a possibility after all.

Or so I thought, until I read this:
"Speakers provide the sound"
Truly, the next generation of immersion is upon us.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What do you mean "they don't own all of Clover Studios' games?"

The entire Eurogamer comments thread for the recently release Little Britain game is a prize trainwreck.

Aside from the 'everyone who has ever liked LB is a moron and not clever like me with my refined sense of humour' crowd, and one poor chap almost being stoned because he dared to buy a 12 rated game for his 10 year old kid, there are far too many people crowing about how the sales of this apparently toss game spell the end of the games industry.

I mean, it's not like people have been making shitty TV and film licensed games that have sold well for decades now - clearly the next two years is going to trigger some form of gaming reckoning where everybody who owns a copy of the Sims is going to be made to pay for their casual gaming crimes.

And comments like

'Besides, if people dont buy great games... they will no longer get made' would be more accurate.
are just stupid. People do still buy great games: Gears of War, Lost Planet, Twilight Princess, Lego Star Wars, New Super Mario Bros, the list of good selling great games goes on. But Okami and Psychonauts didn't sell so obviously we're all doomed to playing Crazy Frog Racer until the end of time.

I've got to lie down now, my blood pressure's getting dangerous.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Kojima decides Metal Gear series is still a bit too interactive

Good grief. Paying to watch your character from different angles? It's like a less interactive Big Brother, with uglier contestants.

Hot Bi-Curious Sexy Teen Action

It's a very strange feeling when you see a game coming out that you worked on a failed pitch for. Though that's not quite what's happened just now with the new Zorro game, I was involved in an attempt to do a tie in for the film sequel.

In both cases it's happened to me there are fairly obvious visual similarities between our demo and what ends up being released, and the trick to avoid tinfoil hat wearing is in remembering that both versions were trying to do the same thing. Both have the same references to work with, both are pitching to the same company who owns the IP, and both are (probably) made by talented people who know what they're doing.

Still though, eh? IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN US!

(The real disappointment in this case is that visually it's the same quality as a PS2 demo from two and a half years ago. Hey, like I've admitted before - I'm a graphics whore.)

I would also like to take this opportunity to apologise to the individual from Serbia And Montenegro who arrived at my site yesterday after searching Blogger for 'sexy'. I'll try and ensure this sort of confusion will not arise again, and I hope you eventually found what you were looking for.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Sexy Cities

Introversion have made a very pretty procedural city generator that churns out fairly realistic results. I can see the lure of procedural content, especially for smaller studios, I'm just not convinced that it's going to create the kind of results that people expect for certain genres.

Although real world big cities are just as cut-n-pasted as the landscapes in the link, game cities suffer for it.

It's the difference between Saints Row's Stillwater and the LA of True Crime. Stillwater had interesting road layouts, landmark buildings all over the place, and neighbourhoods with individual character. LA had miles and miles of characterless roads.

As well as making for a play area that looks interesting, it makes it much easier to navigate, and allows the missions to utilise the varying landscape to make repetative tasks feel fresher (which in turn means you actually need less unique gameplay content).

A street race around the affluent housing neighbourhood (winding roads, lawns and picket fences) is a different experience, both visually and in gameplay, to the exact same mission placed in the slums area (90 degree corners, tall buildings right on the pavement, narrow alleyways), or the docks (very wide roads with poor quality surfaces, water with no barriers, cargo being moved around).

And that's what I think a procedural city will miss, unless a lot of work is subsequently done by the artists to tart it up. But if you're going to do that, why not have someone spend a week blocking out the layout in the first place?

Of course, knowing Introversion's style, this is probably for a larger scale RTS or something, in which case individual character is less important. Make sure you watch the video, it's great!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Yes actually, I would actually like to buy some seeds

News is out that there's almost certainly going to be a sequel to Viva Pinata - which is nice, since it's a good game that seems to have sold like very cold stale cakes.

I really hope they look hard at their interface this time though. For a game that claimed to be kid friendly it needed a lot of button presses and pointless pauses in the game to do even simple actions, and managed to confuse me more than once.

Things that I thought were piss about VP's interface:

  • Lots of movies kept popping up and interrupting whatever it was I was doing at the time. I don't care that the pinatas are happy I'm at level 38, especially not if the only reward is they're going to show me a movie I've already seen 4 other times, I was in the middle of beating a sour pinata to stop it shitting out poison.
  • The shops. Oh God, the shops. If I want to buy some seeds I need to: go to the village menu; select the shop; wait for the shop to load and the woman to start saying her horribly repetitive soundbite; wait for the items in the store to load; select seeds (which is up a level, so I get to hear the shopkeeper humping their sales board); wait for the shop items to load; navigate to the seed I want (cue more humping noises); and then I get to place them in my garden. If I want to fertilise them I need to go through most of the process again. Utter piss. Why not have the option for a shop interface that's just a transparent window over the garden, or allow me to assign common shop items to a 'quick buy' button selection?
  • The little messages that pile up on the bottom of the screen are often useless. 'A pinata is about to be eaten' happens at the point your pinata has just exploded. Great, thanks for the advance warning, chum. And when you select a message, and then 'view target' you can't go back to the garden at this point - you have to cancel out, returning you to your previous view, and then track down the location you've just been shown.
  • The encyclopedia seemed to take too long to load and navigate through, and unless my memory fails me (it often does) often didn't link things like being able to shortcut to your awards for a Pinata from that Pinata's main entry.

That's enough for now. I know there's other stuff that annoyed me enough to give up long before I got all of the awards for all of the Pinata (which was another thing I found a bit odd really - in a game like this I'd expect at least one achievement for the 100%, but the only one I didn't get was the 50 hours, and that's just because it only seems to count time in your garden when I spent half of my play time in the shitting shop interface). I just can't remember what it was.

And yes, I am irrationally angry about that stupid shop.

Monday, February 12, 2007

You spin me right round

I won't bore you with the reasons why, all you need to know is that I've ended up spending a couple of hours this evening watching the Dead or Alive movie. And since that's kind of to do with games, I thought I may as well try and scrape an update out of it.

So let's begin, shall we?

Kasumi looks a bit funny, and has managed to sneak a backpack-cum-handglider into the palace on top of a very large cliff. The Ayane actress looks familiar (I hope it doesn't turn out she's been in porn now I've typed that). If you're a big fan of Earl's wife then there's plenty of bikini action to keep you happy.

The next scene with Holly Valance as Christie was a bit corrupted on my rental DVD. I'm not suggesting that's because it's the bit most likely to have been watched over and over in agonising slo-mo, frame stepping along to try and catch a peak of nipple (and that's certainly not what I did and you can't prove otherwise) but the only other bit of the DVD that messed up was a later fight with Christie in the rain.

Group shot on a plane - your first glimpse at most of the fighters. Helena doesn't look right at all and apparently now rollerblades everywhere in a bikini, but I suppose a ball gown doesn't offer the t & a shots required. Bass looks smaller than I expected. Zack is spot on. Gen Fu looks like an 18 year old in an old man's clothes and wig. The two Russians are there - they look okay.

Who the hell is Max? Have they taken to inventing male characters? It turns out that yes, they have invented a load of male non-fighters to pad out the story, which is a bit odd considering how side-lined some of the existing men are. I think they were just embarassed about their Gen Fu casting.

Nice visual nod to the games with a building with hundreds of floors. They seem to have done away with the ninjas being able to teleport. Lots of the 3 main girls grunting as they climb this. Oh, and they've decided they need teamwork to get their task done in time - it's a film with a moral, nice.

The format for at least half of the film appears to be lots of bikini shots broken up with comedy Zack moments. If it continues like this it's a sure-fire 5 out of 5.

The DoA organisation, like so many companies in films, use a propriatory format for recording to media - tsch, haven't they learnt anything from Sony? See I felt it would be more relevant if I put games industry jokes into my write-up. Sorry.

Brad Wong is now very short and not drunk. No wonder he lost his only fight so quickly. The DoA tournament seems to be some kind of Big Brother-esque affair, with fights breaking out anywhere against anyone. None of the characters have shouted any racist insults yet though - that must happen later.

Hyabusa looks about 12. Oh God, and now they're trying to do story. Some guff about Hayate going missing the previous year. Isn't this DoA 3's story? It turns out the main baddy has absorbed everyone's fighting moves into some sunglasses. He seems to have overlooked the obvious flaw which proves to be his downfall, as is only proper for a villain in this sort of thing.

If I could be a character from DoA (apart from one of the women, obviously, since then all I'd do is stare at my bikini-clad self in the mirror all day) I'd be Zack. He's the only one who isn't a boring arsehole who takes his badly written lines too seriously.

I think that there was a deliberate Commando homage, which is interesting and unexpected. Unless there other films where someone is thrown through a wall onto a bed where a couple are having sex?

Genuinely funny moment with Bass thinking Tina and Christie are 'special friends'. So Zack isn't the only comedy character, then! If you do ever end up with this DVD then make sure you watch the extras, since they cut out a load of decent comedy scenes along with some of the boring obvious plot exposition.

Oh hey look they play volleyball when they're relaxing - I wonder where on earth they got the idea for that from? - and I think Hayabusa's just come. This film certainly treats some of the characters badly - there's a good chance your favourite is a really shitty fighter, looks like a child in a cheap Halloween costume, or both.

Skip to the end...

So to summarise, not as bad as I was expecting actually, and top of the heap of fighting game movies I've seen. Just the right amount of not taking itself too seriously, just the right amount of fighting, and just the right amout of lovely girls. I wouldn't buy the DVD, but I would probably watch it again if it was on telly.

Oh okay, I probably will buy the DVD.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Punch him - punch him in the face now!

Okay, now you can start slagging off Def Jam: Icon.

Was it so hard? All they needed to do was take the great srapping engine of Fight for New York (it felt fast, weighty and brutal in just the right way that left you winching and going 'ooh, that must have hurt' when you smashed Elephant Man's allegedly racist head into a speakerbox) and add suitably 'next gen' poly counts. They could have even slapped in their silly turntables & Mr Softy bouncing buildings and no-one would have objected too much.

But instead they decided to turn it into Fight night: Round Oh Dear. It feels slow, it fells unresponsive, the camera likes to sit in places that make distances difficult to judge, and when you do connect with a move, or throw your opponent into the gas tank, it just doesn't feel like any damage is being done.

Oh yeah, and they seem to have removed the nice variety of mix-n-match fighting moves, to go for something that looks a bit more like what you'd expect to see when two grown men start punching each other on a petrol station forecourt. Which just seems stupid when the buildings are dancing along next to you.

Oh well.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Important Halo 3 News!

Halo 3 will have lasers in it.

On a lighter note, it's another slow news day at Eurogamer.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hotel Dusk (DS)

Generally speaking I'm happy to be classed as a graphics whore. Yeah, gameplay is important too, but when I'm playing something I tend to look at it a lot, so I like things that look nice. Because of this I'm not really too much into the whole retro gaming thing - since most old games look god-awful these days. Every now and again, though, you come across and old game that has really nicely drawn sprites and it still looks gorgeous.

Which kind of brings me around to the point - this is a game where the 2d bits will still look fantastic in 10 years' time. I'd go so far as to say they should have scrapped the 3d altogether, since it looks like muddy crap next to the lovely sprites (especially when you see the characters in the 3d view).

At its heart it's basically a point-and-click game - you move around, talk to people, look at stuff, and indulge your klepto side. All of the characters I've met so far are very well realised (the protagonist in particular is great - just exactly the right amount of jaded ex-cop being a dick to people because he doesn't really care), and the game keeps feeding you just enough of the backstories to keep you wanting more.

The conversation system is nice - highlighting questions as you chat, and allowing you to decide when to butt in and focus on something that's just been said. Which can sometimes be a bad thing - keep picking at a sore point, and the person you're talking to can get pretty pissed off. It's even possible to annoy someone so much that they complain about you to the hotel manager, resulting in you being kicked out - game over. When that happens the game is kind enough to give you a hint as to which bit of dialogue you messed up on, and then lets you retry from just before that conversation happened (and it always seems to fail you shortly after the conversation, so you don't carry on for ages unaware you're already doomed).

It also has a very nice jotter that you can scribble down your own notes in, which is a great feature for an adventure game.

Final note - if you do buy it, don't read the backstory of your character that's in the manual. It doesn't tell you anything that's not already mentioned in the game, and the in-game version tells it with way more style.

If you're one of those people who wishes more good adventure games were being made these days, you should get this.