We don't always like being nonplussed

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Demo Review: Carnage Heart EXA (PSP) Conclusion!

And in the time between Part 1 and now, I caught That Guy's cold. Hooray! Unlike That Guy who gets comically incoherent when set upon by plague germs, I get cranky and judgmental. Just so you know. Punch it, Chewie:

Yesterday, a young, possibly-disabled creep named Kairu (me, the player. Hooray.) has hired a girl named Chirin to tutor him in the ways of programming robots (Overkill Engines or OKEs, if you want to keep up on the jargon). When they met, he was struck dumb by Chirin's enchanting unremarkable mousiness. I mean, seriously, she's plain. Not even "plain" in that teen drama "Oh my god I pulled her glasses off and she's a freaking goddess" kind of way. She's average. In the real world she might be on the high side of average, since the real world allows fat people like myself in capacities other than comic relief. But for a world where impossible anatomy and hair colors exist and body fat does not? She is double average.

What followed was what felt like several decades' worth of dating sim-style conversation and dull-but-actually-helpful (even to a non-speaker of Japanese) tutorials administered by Chirin, and later by Partita, Kairu's "assistant." Exactly what she assists him with is up for debate, as she's a robot designed to look like a young woman wearing a maid costume. To reiterate: Japan. Kairu is a bit scruffy but I don't see why he'd have a problem meeting women... he doesn't seem to type to suddenly exclaim "Hoyvin Glavin!" (Or, en Espanol, "Hoibin Maibin") He'd do okay, provided he left the robot maid home. And women in Carnage Heart-verse seem pretty forgiving, as Chirin was merely surprised by the fact that he lived alone with an animate Real Doll, and not utterly repulsed as I'd think any self-respecting woman would be. Maybe there's no stigma attached to this in this world. Perhaps she's got one at home, and she's hoping she can set him up on a date with Partita. I don't know how these fictional people think, man.

Anyway, when we left off, Chirin had left for the night, and Kairu was getting private lessons from his robot maid. In robot programming. For now. Japan. After getting into some chips whose uses I don't fully understand, the night ends and we're off to chapter 3.

In which we're introduced to Venetta, who seems to be a friend of Chirin's. In addition to looking half-asleep, she's got a voice so squeaky she sounds five. I think she's accusing Kairu of being an otaku, which is a good bit more derogatory in Japan than it is here. In other words, she's accusing him of being an antisocial shutin fanboy who probably disguises his creepy sex doll as his "assistant" when people come over. Wellll...

But I think she figured out Chirin likes him, because...

...whatever she said, Chirin's approaching the color of her jacket. I came here to program robots to kill other robots, not watch Dawson's Fucking Creek!

But after the federally-mandated "OMG I'm a lovable ditz who's late for something!" exit, it's back to lectures and test-runs. I have direct control of the OKE's movement now, including advancing and strafing. It manuvers like a 20-ton sack of wet ham, but I suspect better OKEs and better chips will likely remedy that later on. Up next is the coloring tutorial (really) which lets me adjust the OKE's color scheme, rename it, and even make the paintjob glossier.

Here's the Agrios- the name they gave me in katakana -adjusted for maximum garish shininess. The next tutorials begin to ease me into the hardware side of the game, which probably owes a lot to Battletech. You have to choose parts that don't make your OKE overweight or cause it to overheat. The armor system is kind of neat in that you get to choose exactly how thick the machine's armor can be, balancing defense against performance. I don't care about these characters or their interpersonal relationships, I want to play this game! The game that's actually lurking under the bullshit!

The programming for the next tutorial is kind of neat as it's designed to illustrate button combos- as such, it won't actually let you move unless you're pressing at least two buttons in the next test mission. After that a long conversation wherein Chirin seems to conclude that Venetta was right and Kairu's kind of a sad creep... and then is mortified because her stomach is growling, which is a Japanese etiquette thing. Kairu calls Partita and tells her to make Chirin something to eat.

Cut to a lavish dining room. And hey, she seems to be thinking, maybe the sad otaku creep who owns Stately Creephat Manor isn't all that poorbad... And now we get internal ditz-monologue about how to eat with a fork and knife and other matters of table manners. The food is delicious, and she muses on how awesome Partita and her series of Droid can be. So Kairu's ruse has worked, it seems. We have some more awkward convo on OKEs, and we're off to Chapter 4!

The next test is tricky in that I had to switch up to the biggest CPU or the sample program it wanted me to use made no sense. One thing that's neat is that there's a display on your HUD where you can watch the flow of the commands as you press buttons, which makes it easy to identify dead-ends and other problems. I wish the original game had that.

For the novelty of it, here's a rare shot of the robots in our robot programming game.

...oh lord. You even have to program the CAMERA controls into the damn thing.

And after that tutorial, I get a mission against something that fights BACK. Which kicks my ass about five times before I finish it off.

(Somewhere in here I discover the PSP can take its own screenshots for this game. Cute!)

After I win that, more talky talking talk. As Partita escorts Chirin out, Kairu has a vision of...

...his sister? A friend? His first girlfriend? ...probably not the last one. Her name was apparently Weirun. Or maybe Waylon.

Apparently Partita is showing Chirin to a room for the night. But Chirin heads back and tries to say something to Kairu, who responds with nothing but ellipses and won't even show his character image. Maybe if we're lucky he's slipped into a coma.

...apparently I'm not far off because Partita and Chirin have to help him to bed. Before you break your electric guitars and wah-wah pedals out and start the `70s porno music, he still seems to be completely unconscious. Apparently a whole day's tutorials have had a bad effect on him. Aw, poor guy! He's not a creep who lives alone with a robot maid! He's a SICKLY creep who lives alone with a robot maid!

And then Chirin spots a photo of Waylon on the nightstand, and is creeped out anew. Or made curious. Or something. Anyway, we're neck-deep in a bog-standard anime plot, and I don't care anymore.

Chapter 5, back to business. We can now affix emblems to our OKE. I'm not gonna draw something by hand for a demo, so let's check the presets.

Bullet Bill it is!

Fuck yeah, live-fire exercises! Enough of this running up to a robot and clubbing it to death. The next lesson is on programming a targeting system for your OKE, which allows you to plant your feet and aim more carefully. After that comes target lock. Then there's something about Comments- is there an online portion of this, or can you make notes on each design? -and then back to the talky talking talk. Kairu wants to move on to learning beam guns and missiles- me too! -and Chirin is objecting. He's pushing himself too hard and she's concerned or some shit, I don't know. And so I think he tells her to fuck off. That's pretty much how Anime Plot #5308-21C would go here.

And of course after she leaves she's sitting in her car thinking "Kairu-san... what kind of terrible secret resides in your sickly, creepy soul?" And onto Chapter 6. As will probably not shock players of Battletech at all, Beam guns and missiles generate heat and have to be watched so as they don't overheat your mech. Next are some kind of drone/bit/bomb things. Then shotguns and missiles. Then talky talkative talking goddamn TALK.

Chirin decides to try and cook, borrows Partita for the task and STILL hurts herself. Kairu runs in, has a flash of Waylon in a pool of blood so fast I can't screencap it, and gets pissed and scared. Partita is apparently also a medical tricorder and checks Chirin out, applying what I presume to be some stinging kind of disinfectant. I wish I could say "hornet," but it's disinfectant. Sorry for letting y'all down.

Chapter SEVEN. Of TUTORIALS. Interrupted by BAD SOAP OPERA.

Okay, I think I've seen enough. There is a really neat mech game under here. Something that could capture the best of the original Carnage Heart and Mechwarrior. Unfortunately, it's buried beneath pages torn out of the Anime Screenwriter's First Paint-By-Numbers Workbook. I even went back and played into Chapter 8 and we finally start getting into tutorials about automatic OKEs. Those were the point of the first game, you might remember me saying. It's the very last tutorial in the demo. Now, I think the tutorials would be handy if I could read them. They definitely made the game playable here- if you want to call being led around by the nose playing.

Assuming the finished game has a Free Play mode where I don't have to worry about Kairu's childhood trauma or whatever the fuck, I'd say give it a try. Just be prepared, as with the original Carnage Heart, for LOADS of trial and error. The best I ever managed in that game was an OKE that hopped to the left whenever it was fired on, and that would, eventually, turn and shoot the target. Assuming it didn't get stuck hopping against a wall somewhere. The fact that there are real manual controls now are nice- especially if, like I said, better chips and better OKEs result in a better, more responsive control scheme later. All told, the original US Carnage Heart is $40 on eBay and apparently cheaper still on Amazon, both cheaper than the full version of this game, and if you were going to go for one of those, go for the one in English. If you like robots and puzzles, it's fun, and it'll play on a PS1, PS2, or PS3.

Tomorrow: More Dragon Quest! Next Weekend: More Demos!

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