Showing posts with label review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label review. Show all posts

Saturday, December 21, 2013

TAG's Game of the Year 2013

I'm working on it, ok?

I'm going to take a moment to talk about my personal game of the year, which I feel has been greatly unappreciated amid the AAA giants like Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us.

DMC is the ugly duckling of Capcom's Devil May Cry series - everybody hated it for the most whiny and pathetic of reasons (his hair changed colour), yet there was a beautifully designed swan waiting underneath.

That was a terrible use of that metaphor, I'm sorry.

I was blown away by just about every facet of the game. The visuals and level design are beautiful and creative (with some minor texture pop-in in the last quarter of the game), the characters and dialog are well written (I especially like the exchange between Dante and the Succubus), the soundtrack is incredible, and the combat is some of the most fast paced and fun action I've played in any game.
DMC's best feature is its fast paced combat. The controls are responsive, allowing Dante to string together combos quickly and effectively. Weapons and abilities are introduced at a steady pace, which gives the player plenty of time to practice with each one. And enemies attack in great hordes and variety, and telegraph attacks quickly enough for the player to dodge out of the way seamlessly - or else punish you appropriately for not being attentive to your surroundings. DMC is one of the few modern games I love to replay over and over again.

DMC also has some surprisingly well written characters. Dante is stubborn and free spirited, but ultimately selfless and humorous (even if the jokes are few and far between). Vergil is his polar opposite - fighting for a greater good but selfish and emotionless at times. And finally Kat, who is reserved - with good reason - and doesn't devolve into a generic love interest (though sadly her design doesn't reflect this). Kat might not be the best example of a strong female character, but she is a great example of a well written one - she has fears and doubts whilst also being intelligent and competent.

That said, DMC has some glaring flaws, of which the biggest has to be the ending. Had the game ended five minutes before it did (or better yet had set up the twist far earlier), it would have ended on a much stronger note. Even so, I think DMC: Devil May Cry is a truly under-appreciated gem, which is why I'm naming it my Game of the Year for 2013.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Deadly Premonition - Director's Cut review

Deadly Premonition – The Director’s Cut review

Developer: Rising Star Games
Platform: PS3

Note: the reviewer has not played the original Xbox 360 version of Deadly Premonition, and so this review is the result of a first-time playthrough of the updated Director’s Cut. Clearly the reviewer is a jerk.

The world's creepiest damn smile.
Deadly Premonition is atrocious, suffering from ugly visuals, shoddy animation and a soundtrack that utterly defies logic.

And I loved every single minute of it.

Deadly Premonition follows FBI Agent Francis York Morgan (just call him York, everyone does that) investigating a string of brutal murders across America (referred to as the Red Seed Murders, as red seeds have been uncovered at each crime scene), finally arriving in the sleepy town Greenvale to investigate the most recent casualty. However, what begins as an ordinary homicide investigation gradually becomes a desperate game of cat-and-mouse with the supernatural evils –both psychological and literal- that haunt the once peaceful town.

The first thing you will notice about Deadly Premonition is the graphical quality. It’s terrible. Characters are animated with over the top cartoonish flourishes (good god, York’s smile scares me), and these are reused many times across the game. Environments incorporate repeatable tiles of ground and poorly modelled vegetation. Visually, this looks like a game that should’ve been made for a PS2 rather than current-generation consoles. Furthermore, while the soundtrack isn’t inherently terrible, and can be used to make some truly scary or emotional moments, Deadly Premonition has a habit of reusing songs in all the wrong places. Don’t believe me? Imagine being at a crime scene of a bloody and horrific murder while this is playing:

By all accounts, Deadly Premonition should be a terrible excuse for a game. And yet, the final product is immensely enjoyable, with both an involving crime story and an excellent example of Survival Horror done right.

Narrative-wise, Deadly Premonition is full of mystery and surprise twists. The game keeps you guessing as you attempt to discover the culprit behind the Red Seed Murders – incorporating characters and story threads that will completely throw you off the trail, then bringing you back with an unsuspecting – yet absolutely logical – revelation near the game’s end. Then the story concludes with yet another turn – again, surprising but not ridiculously illogical – before ending with a melancholic and yet utterly satisfying ending. The first few hours of the plot comes off as ridiculous and nonsensical at times, but successfully wraps up all story threads concisely.

Furthermore, Deadly Premonition’s combat and gameplay creates one of the best examples of classic Survival Horror this generation. In Greenvale’s hallucinatory Otherworld, York can either utilise various melee weapons that degrade with each hit, or else a selection of firearms and scavenged ammunition. The downside to using guns is that York must stand still to aim and fire - a feature borrowed from the Resident Evil series – which can result in harrowing and claustrophobic fights if you don’t remain vigilant. There are even some downright terrifying moments where you must find a hiding place or else flee for your life from Greenvale’s infamous Raincoat Killer. The game can be too generous with supplies and money, and combat isn’t particularly difficult, so you’ll likely have very little difficulty playing through these segments. In an age where major horror games are losing sight of what made them great in the first place, Deadly Premonition is one of the few examples of a genuine Survival Horror experience.

Greenvale is home to a large cast of bizarre and comedically stereotypical characters: Thomas is a camp and slightly effeminate police officer with a talent for baking, Keith is the rock and roll loving owner of the Milk Bar, and Harry is an eccentric gas-masked millionaire with a butler who speaks in rhyme. Many of these characters provide various fetch quests that may yield information on the case, but you can just as easily pass on these without any detrimental impact on the story – and still clock in about 16+ hours of gameplay.

The playable area of Deadly Premonition is surprisingly large, with multiple activities and quests to occupy yourself with. Furthermore, the game also features a real-time day and night cycle - one 24-hour cycle lasting about 8 real-time hours. Certain shops and missions only operate at specific times of the day, so time can easily be accelerated by smoking cigarettes if you’re in a hurry to complete a story segment or quest.

When free-roaming the real-world Greenvale, York must also maintain both his hunger and tiredness levels, managed by consuming food/beverages and finding time to sleep. Generally, these replenish during story missions, so this rarely obstructs gameplay if you’re focused primarily on the main quest.

Despite looking and sounding utterly awful, Deadly Premonition’s immersive plot and rich gameplay make this game absolutely worth playing - even if only to laugh at how poorly it was made. This game only gets a 6/10 from me, but if you’re willing to look past these glaring imperfections, there is a brilliant game here absolutely worth giving a go.

The Verdict

Immersion: 1.5
Give Deadly Premonition a chance, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a surprisingly engaging whodunit crime drama that will constantly keep you guessing. Comedy is generally hit-and-miss, but the game can be genuinely terrifying when it wants to be.

Gameplay: 1.5
Combat is shoddy enough that the game feels like a true survival-horror, even if a little generous with supplies and money. Hunger, tiredness, side missions and a real-time clock compliment the experience without burdening it.

Visuals: 0.5
York’s smile is the most terrifying thing ever animated by human hands. Character animations and models are sub-par, and the environment looks like something out of a PS2 era game.

Audio: 1.0
Mostly sub-par acting, with a handful of standout performances. Soundtrack is ok, but is used in all of the wrong places with humorous results.

Longevity: 1.5
One playthrough can last about 16 hours, not including side-missions and exploration.

Final Score: 6.0/10.0


Bonus Review: Sinner’s Sandwich

One humorous scene in Deadly Premonition involves the Sinner’s Sandwich: “self-inflicted punishment to atone for past sins” involving turkey meat, strawberry jam and cereal on a white bread sandwich. Naturally, I couldn’t resist trying it out.

We cooked up chopped slices of turkey meat (not turkey loaf, that’s gross) and put it on a sandwich with Special K and Raspberry Jam (strawberry wasn’t available). The result? Not half bad. The jam overpowered the turkey somewhat, so it pretty much tasted like a really crunchy jam sandwich.

8/10, would try again.

Don't Starve review

Note: this review does not account for Don’t Starve’s Adventure Mode

Developer: Klei Entertainment
Reviewed Platform: Mac OSX

How about for once I review an indie game? No, not an indie game with a big name corporation like Microsoft backing it up, just the regular, self-published kind of indie game: Don’t Starve.
This review is kinda-sorta spoiler-ish, so if you don’t want to find out what evil things are trying to kill you in this game, skip to The Verdict bit.

The title ‘Don’t Starve’ immediately gives away what this game is about – not starving. Your character has been dropped in the wilderness by a vaguely satanic being, and your task is to survive for as long as possible by gathering food and constructing tools to hunt animals and survive the night.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Don’t Starve is a point-and-click approximation of Minecraft. You need to stop thinking that. Certainly you are required to gather supplies such as Flint and Twigs to build Axes, Shovels etc., which in turn are used to gather and construct more and better constructions. You can even build structures like fences and farms to better defend yourself against the monsters that haunt the landscape. However: where Minecraft’s survival gameplay gradually builds to a point where feeding and sheltering yourself is easy, surviving in Don’t Starve never seems to get any easier. The beauty of this being that this seemingly cruel level of difficulty becomes the reason you get addicted to it - the multiple trials and tribulation merely fuelling that addiction.

Don’t Starve is a game that is trying to kill you. Constantly. Your primary concern is to find food, but berry bushes and fodder are widespread across the randomly generated land and can go stale if left for too long in your inventory. Berries need time to grow once they’re picked, and birds and rabbits flee when you get too close, so you’ll need to lure or trap them if you want a supply of meat. The game utilises a day and night cycle, and you’ll be required to gather firewood and build campfires to scare away the unseen monsters haunting the night. If you don’t find time to sleep, your character’s sanity gradually drains and their hallucinations start attacking them. On top of this, tribes of hostile robots, lightning strikes, territorial tentacles and food-stealing Turkeys all aim to hamper your progress. Even if you happen to survive all of that, Winter rolls in and plants stop growing, and you run the risk of freezing to death. The game rarely gives you a break, and that’s the exact reason it becomes so addictive – unlike Minecraft, which can unfortunately become too easy over time, so you’ll likely get bored and start from scratch.

No, I don’t hate Minecraft.

The game has eight playable characters – unlocked a reward for progress and time spent on playing the game – and each come with their own set of abilities. By default you play as Wilson: a well-rounded ‘Gentleman Scientist’ who can also grow and harvest a beard. ‘The Strongman’ Wolfgang has more health and attack damage - but requires more food to survive - and Willow (The Pyromaniac) has a convenient immunity to fire damage. Each character has their own unique dialogue and personality; all will a memorable black comedy twist.

Except for the robot. The robot is boring.

The world of Don’t Starve is populated with grim and bizarre wildlife, all perfectly complimenting the sketchy, sepia-toned and gothic visuals. You’ll find rabbits with antenna (particularly tricky to catch but by far the best source of meat), timid and muscular pig-people (who can be enlisted as bodyguards), swarms of spiders that attack when you get too close to their nests, and gigantic eyes on legs (called Tallbirds) that chase you down if you get too close to their nests. Some of these creatures will evolve into even stranger creatures if your sanity gets too low: remember those Rabbits? They become walking beards. Yeah.

On the surface, Don’t Starve immediately seems like a game trying to be an alternative Minecraft, but once you dive into it the game becomes a desperate and addictive struggle to survive. I’ve seen people last as long as 200+ in-game days playing this, and it blows my mind. Furthermore, development for Don’t Starve is still ongoing, with new updates making the game harder and adding creative new tools, such as a custom character importer (Video Game Samurai anyone?). Most importantly: Don’t Starve is difficult, but never becomes unnecessarily cruel. You’ll probably find yourself playing and replaying this title time and time again.

Plus it’s only $15. So that’s awesome.

The Verdict (scores add up to 10.0)

Immersion: 1.5/2.0
·      A simple premise gets the game going, and a plethora of strange characters and bizarre animals will keep your interest. Except for the robot.

Gameplay: 1.5/2.0
·      Don’t Starve never gets easy and there’s always something else you’ll have to do to stay alive. Character abilities always vary the experience.

Visuals: 2.0/2.0
·      Gothic, hallucinogenic and sketchy, Don’t Starve is visually mesmerising and intriguing.

Sound: 1.5/2.0
·      A simple soundtrack of horns and string instruments, which double as voices for the characters. Appropriately cartoony and startling.

Longevity: 1.5/20
·      This game is cruel, and that’s exactly why you’ll keep playing it.

Final Score: 8/10

Monday, February 25, 2013

Dead Space 3 Review

Panel 1 wins the award for 'Worst Looking Bench on the Internet'

This is by no means a fair review. I was in a rush to finish Dead Space 3, so I played it solo in the space of two days. Therefore, this review doesn’t take into account the new cooperative narrative or gameplay added to Dead Space’s third instalment.
Nonetheless, it was pretty damn good.

Set three years after the events of Dead Space 2, protagonist Isaac Clarke has been in hiding after destroying The Sprawl in order to stop an infestation of Necromorphs – dead bodies reanimated by the mysterious Marker artefacts, central to the series’ plot. However, Government soldiers track down Isaac and shoehorn him into helping them investigate what appears to be the source of the Necromorph threat – an abandoned planet where a previous Necromorph infection was successfully stopped 200 years prior, and may represent humanity’s only hope against the threat.

Dead Space 3 relies on well-established character tropes more than previous Dead Space games. While this would appear to be a flaw in the game’s writing, the situations these characters find themselves in, the quality of the voice acting, as well as the writers finding ample opportunities for characterization, means that they are generally unique enough to compel its audience.

One of the major fears leading up to DS3’s release was that the game would abandon its survival horror atmosphere for a more action oriented one. There certainly are far more Quick Time Events and action sequences involved this time around and some jump scare tactics have been abandoned as a result, but the game can still at times terrify and even stress the player (in a good way). DS3 feels more difficult than previous instalments, as there seems to be far more Necromorphs crowded in every enemy encounter - and with limited supplies available these quickly become claustrophobic and terrifying without ever becoming utterly impossible to defeat. And whilst the classic high-strung violins return to warn of a Necromorph attack, enemies are more than capable of creeping up behind the player with no warning whatsoever.

Unfortunately, whilst limited supplies are great for harrowing the audience, Dead Space 3 also suffers a fatal flaw in its design. For the first time in the series, DS3 utilises an auto-save system rather than the standard save point system used in previous titles. However, whilst there are adequate checkpoints available, saving and quitting the game will not return you to these checkpoints when restarting the game, but instead to arranged auto-save positions. Furthermore, quitting the game saves your inventory as well, meaning that precious resources can be lost after difficult fights, and can thus make segments of the game much harder than before. For the first time in a game, I’ve been crippled by an auto-save rather than helped.

Dead Space offers a wide variety of options to attack and dismember enemies. Most weapons are specialised enough to sever the specific limbs of incoming threats – with basic Assault Rifles also available for general crowd control and frantic fights. Furthermore, the games also provides a Stasis ability to temporarily slow groups of enemies, as well as a Kinesis ability for impaling enemies with sharp objects or for puzzle solving. Finally, a basic melee swing can be used when cornered or running low on ammunition. Thanks to options like these, Dead Space never falls into the trap of becoming utterly impossible to finish.

An all-new weapon crafting system has been introduced in DS3, whereby a player can assemble weapons from parts collected in the environment. For example, it is possible to build a standard submachine gun with an electrified Ripper blade underslung, or a standard Plasma Cutter that fires acidic bullets with an underslung melee blade. Furthermore, these weapons can be upgraded with bonuses to damage, reload time, etc. using circuits found or crafted in the Bench. Almost any combination of weapons is available, though you’ll likely find yourself relying on only a handful of crafted weapons (or even a single one if you utilise the correct parts).

EA provides a micro-transaction service to buy weapon parts and supplies with real-world money, but honestly you’ll never need it. Seriously, don’t do it.

Dead Space 3 experiments with new types of Necromorph enemies that rely on new tactics to defeat. Feeders attack with a pack-like mentality, but their poor vision and hearing encourages players to sneak past them rather than attacking the whole pack directly. Unitology soldiers also arrive periodically with Assault Rifles and explosives that behave in the same fashion as standard shooter enemies. Dividers return from previous Dead Space games, but with the added ability to reanimate dead soldiers and utilise whatever weapons they carry. Whilst most enemies still rely on Dead Space’s iconic dismemberment system to overcome, there is enough variation in enemy types that this same system doesn’t become overused and boring. Gameplay quirks like Zero Gravity and Vacuum areas return in DS3 - though much less frequent than before - as well as a brief section where players must seek heat sources their internal body temperature to prevent themselves from freezing to death. Dead Space never becomes monotonous as a result.

On a visual standpoint, Dead Space suits its survival horror premise well. Half of the game is spent inside dark, cramped and abandoned ships, whilst the second half alternates between abandoned military stations and snowy outdoor spaces. Any source light becomes eerily foreboding and blinding. On occasion, it can be difficult to discern in-game environments and creatures because of their bizarre appendages and in-game lighting, but the lack of visibility makes for a foreboding and confined experience. Dead Space 3’s musical score – now handled by two composers (Jason Graves and James Hannigan) – alternates Grave’s usual unsettling, jumping violins with Hannigan’s orchestral melodies during key cinematics – the slightly different tones of music come about as a result of Graves and Hannigan choosing to work separately.

Finally, The Dead Space series offers a New Game+ feature – whereby character and weapon upgrades are carried over from a completed save file into a new one – and Dead Space 3 adds several extra game modes for returning players, such as ‘Classic Mode’ – a version of the campaign that utilises Dead Space’s original aiming system and removes weapon crafting to replicate the original titles’ gameplay. Even if you’ve completed the game in full, there’s incentive to start the campaign again or simply load a particular chapter, with the added bonus of all of your previous upgrades, meaning that a player is free to explore and enjoy the game with or without the difficulty of the first playthrough.

While it’s easy to dismiss the Dead Space series (I know I have in the past), the fact is that it is one of the most original games released this console generation, and in this regard Dead Space 3 does not disappoint. Whilst there is certainly a stronger focus on action, the game hasn’t sacrificed its claustrophobic fights and limits on resources as a result. I’d recommend completing the solo campaign first before jumping into co-op for the best Dead Space experience. Not for the faint of heart, but absolutely worth playing through.

The Verdict

Story: 1.5

Even if it relies on some well-established character tropes, DS3’s characters are unique enough not to get boring.

Gameplay: 1.5

Even if DS3 is far more action based, it still knows when to be cruel without being impossible…except where checkpoints are concerned.

Visuals: 1.5
The game’s indoor environments feel dark and foreboding, but some details become hard to make out.

Sound: 1.5
The game’s well-established violin strings are back, but DS3 is just as good at restricting sound in order to scare. Musical score both scares and depresses.

Longevity: 1.5
Multiple New Game + options are available, and the game becomes more enjoyable when you can leisurely replay a second time.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10.0

Anyway, I'm going to try and publish a new comic at least every Monday from now on, plus Fridays if I'm feeling charitable. See you then.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Halo 4 Review

There are a certain two sentences that will always get bandied about with every release of a Halo game: “This is the best Halo yet” and “this is just Halo x with a few new guns and irrelevant gameplay gimmicks”.

Well it seems 343 Industries was listening to that last sentence. Despite being their first attempt at making a Halo game (no, Combat Evolved: Anniversary doesn’t count), Halo 4 is one of the most experimental Halo shooters since Combat Evolved, and that comes with both advantages and stumbles.

Halo 4 is set four and a half years after the events of Halo 3. Having been left drifting in space, John-117 (a.k.a: The Master Chief) wakes from his artificially induced slumber by his faithful A.I. companion Cortana and finds their ruined ship has come under attack by a rogue Covenant fleet. Before long however, Master Chief and Cortana find themselves dragged into a massive artificial planet called Requiem, built by the long-extinct creators of the Halo Rings - The Forerunners. It is here that Master Chief encounters a whole new antagonistic force to the Halo franchise: an army of semi-robotic Forerunner machines called Prometheans.

I could say more, but that would spoil the game for the three of you readers that haven’t played, finished and moved on from the game.

The inclusion of these new Forerunner enemies are a bold step forward for the Halo franchise, especially when said franchise’s story is so impenetrable that any new inclusions risks angering its dedicated fanbase. Perhaps this is why the Halo franchise has been so hesitant in its latest entries to add new enemies and gameplay additions. What the Promethean enemies provide is a new and refreshing gameplay experience - one that Halo has needed for a long time.

Unfortunately, a wealth of back-story information is required in order to flesh out these new enemies to the series’ already large mythos. Halo 4 attempts a form of trans-media approach to this by providing new information in both the Kilo-Five and Forerunner Saga trilogies of novels (written by Karen Travis and Greg Bear respectfully). This is thankfully not a requirement in order to understand the game, but as a result some key story details either get left out (I got several messages from friends asking me to explain why The Covenant were still at war with humanity) or elaborated on much too quickly (a lot of new information on The Forerunners is dropped on the player in a single five minute cinematic).  Perhaps further novels or games will help elaborate upon this, but The Forerunner threat could have been better written somewhat: their reasons for going to war against the UNSC appears to merely be out of jealousy and spite – racism, for lack of a better term - rather than the well-established political motivations driving The Covenant’s hatred for humanity (though to be fair, this also required a book to understand, and was not elaborated on in the games themselves).

However, all of this is overshadowed by the deeply personal story between Master Chief and Cortana. Having aged well beyond the operational life cycle of conventional A.I., Cortana is beginning to malfunction and is perilously close to dying. Whilst Requiem and the Forerunner threat provide context and goals for the player to achieve, Halo 4’s focus is, arguably, centred on the now jeopardised relationship between these two pivotal characters. The result is some of the best writing seen in any of the Halo games, even if at the cost of some of Cortana’s well-loved personality, or the deeper literary allusion used in previous Halo instalments (Halo: Reach doesn’t count).

Halo’s recognisable gameplay is still present in Halo 4 alongside some much-needed additions to the formula. Alongside conventional Covenant enemies (who have been drastically cut down to their bare essentials) the new Promethean enemies add a new, variable and unpredictable threat. Prometheans come in three types: Crawlers (who act as cannon-fodder and suppression), Watchers (a support class who defend and bolster other enemies types) and Knights (who act as the primary attack force, and are further divided into classes depending on their respective weapons and abilities). Some players will love fighting these new enemies, and some will hate it: whilst Promethean enemies are generally tougher than Covenant enemies, Knights behave very similar to Elites in many ways. Furthermore, the Watcher class enemies seem to have way more health than is necessary (for me at least, others may disagree).

The new Promethean enemies also provide new weapons to play with. Visually, the Forerunner weapons are fantastic (forming themselves in your hands when picked up), and several weapons also provide multiple firing modes; the Light Rifle for example can either fire a three burst round when fired from the hip, or combine these into a single powerful shot, making it useful for either faster-paced gun duels or as a long range deterrent. Despite this, they also act essentially the same as their human or Covenant equivalents, and none of the Promethean weapons act any different than a conventional Assault Rifle or Rocket Launcher (etc.). Contrastingly, each of Halo: Reach’s weapons had different purposes and uses (e.g.: the conventional Sniper Rifle compared to the Covenant’s Focus Rifle, the latter of which could be used as a suppression weapon), and each felt unique enough that they could benefit various situations. Contrastingly, Halo 4 ‘s weapons feel only incidentally different others in a similar class.

This is in service of Halo 4’s new multiplayer system. Taking cues from the Call of Duty franchise (as every shooter game seems to do nowadays), Halo 4’s ‘Infinity’ multiplayer introduces a new load out system that provides several variations of the same basic weapon - with variations in range, fire rate, accuracy and power depending on player preference (e.g.: the Covenant Carbine provides superior fire rate to the DMR, but each shot is weaker and less accurate), and power weapons are rewarded in-game once a certain amount of points are accumulated. Furthermore, as players level up they gain access to unlockable weapons, passive abilities and powers. You’ll likely find that the first few hours of multiplayer are the most addictive as you purchase your preferred weapons and abilities, but it doesn’t take long to gain access to your favourite unlocks, and you may well find yourself with leftover points you won’t have anything to do with. Challenges and Commendations return from Halo: Reach, and players are rewarded multiplayer experience for completing each one.

Multiplayer also provides a new Specializations system: once players progress to level 50, they are given the option to choose a class that will subtly alter how your multiplayer SPARTAN plays. For example, the Wetwork class is used for Stealth oriented players, being able assassinate players faster and appear almost invisible to players using Promethean Vision (a version of X-ray vision), whereas Operator class players benefit from using vehicles, as they can recover from the effects of EMPs faster. A great idea in theory, but the Specializations may be unattainable by recreational players who only play online for an hour (or less) a day.

Purely cooperative multiplayer also returns in Halo 4, but not as expected. Instead of conventional Firefight, 343 Industries have introduced the new Spartan Ops mode. Combining elements from Campaign, competitive multiplayer and Firefight, players bring their customised characters into short story based missions set 6 months after the events of the Campaign. Spartan Ops Season 1 proves ten episodes (one per week), each with five playable levels and a five-minute cinematic, totalling fifty levels per Season. Because of the sheer amount of content required for this approach, Spartan Ops borrows level designs from campaign and multiplayer, and must reuse these levels regularly, thus becoming repetitive quickly. Additionally, the cinematics rarely connect with the gameplay content of an episode, save for a handful of dialogue lines. Whilst admirable, Spartan Ops’ repetitive gameplay and awkward storyline isn’t an adequate replacement for Halo’s popular Firefight mode.

Visually, Halo 4 looks fantastic, benefitting from cutting edge technology and superb motion captured performances. Characters are amazingly lifelike and articulate, and the attention to detain in the various environments is stunning. Unfortunately, this attention to detail becomes a hindrance when playing split-screen multiplayer, as even in HD textures must pop in and the detail can become blinding (especially during that final level). Despite this hiccup, Halo 4 proves that the Xbox 360 still has plenty of life in it yet.

Finally, Halo 4’s new musical composer, Neil Davidge, experiments with the well loved musical formula of the Halo franchise. Without sacrificing Halo’s unique musical heritage, Davidge adds a much stronger electronic influence and heavily edited songs. Recordings of military firearms are used to provide the various sounds of human weaponry, adding a satisfying – if not a little muted – sonic landscape to the battles in Halo 4. Voice acting is superb, and coupled with the motion captured performances of real-world actors, creates a fantastic looking and sounding Halo game.

Taking the reins from acclaimed developer Bungie, 343 Industries has experimented more with their first Halo game than any of its predecessors, and it both benefits and suffers because of this. Fans of the series will enjoy some of these changes, and likely condemn others. Halo 4 is a great start to the new trilogy of games, but more importantly proves that 343 Industries is more than worthy to take the reins of the Halo franchise.

The Verdict

Story: 1.5/2.0
The new Forerunner back-story can get confusing, but the story of Master Chief and Cortana steals the show. Meanwhile, Spartan Ops cinematics and gameplay barely intertwine.

Gameplay: 1.5/2.0
New Promethean enemies add much needed variation to the Halo sandbox, even if their new weapons do not. Multiplayer takes cues from the Call of Duty franchise to refresh what has previously been a stagnant experience.

Visuals: 1.5/2.0
Amazing motion capture creates realistic and emotional characters, and stunning visuals prove the Xbox 360 still has some life in it. Unfortunately, the attention to detail can be blinding when playing split-screen co-op.

Sound: 2.0/2.0
Neil Davidge’s new direction is unique without throwing out what makes Halo’s music loved. The guns sound fantastic, even if a little muted.

Longevity: 1.5/2.0
A lack of Firefight reduces the game’s lasting value, especially for offline audiences. The new loadout reward system strengthens the addictive experience of multiplayer, but the Specializations may be unattainable for the recreational player.

Final Score: 8.0/10.0

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mass Effect 3 review

(Comic coming soon...ish)

I’m going on record here and saying; I actually liked the ending of Mass Effect 3. Undeniably, it has its problems (all the endings are basically the same video with minor changes and a different color scheme) and left me scratching my head afterwards putting all of the pieces together. Yet that’s what made the ending (for me) absolutely unforgettable. Having now had the time to contemplate said ending, it’s an unexpected, yet absolutely fitting ending that is well worth playing the game to see for yourself.

Perhaps I’ll write you a post one day about why exactly I like said ending. But that’s for another time. Here’s my review of the full game. In some ways, this review is more of an analysis of the entire trilogy rather than just the third installment. Chances are, you’ve heard what I have to say elsewhere. However, the game play, visual and sound sections will all focus on Mass Effect 3 only, whereas the Story and Longevity sections will critique Mass Effect 3 as part of the entire trilogy rather than on it’s own merit. Sit back, there’s a lot of reading to do.

Side note: I’ve played very little of Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, so for the sake of this review, said multiplayer mode and the Galaxy At War system is excluded.

Mass Effect 3 is the concluding game in the story of protagonist Commander Shepherd. After discovering their existence in ME1, then being ignored and discredited by the galactic community in ME2, the Reapers-an ancient race of gigantic machines who reproduce by harvesting all intelligent life in the Galaxy every 50,000 years-have finally made their long awaited and dreaded return, and have begun their invasion of the galaxy. The full weight of this moment is hard to appreciate unless you’ve played the Mass Effect trilogy from the beginning, but the Reaper’s arrival is nonetheless a terrifying moment-within minutes of playing the game for the first time, the Reapers have already conquered Earth, leaving you to make your escape and set out on a mission to unite the various races of the galaxy together to mount a resistance against the invading Reaper forces.

One of the things that makes Mass Effect so unique is how the trilogy utilizes and relies upon your experience in previous installments to shape the story. The decisions made throughout the previous games (including DLC material) are used to determine events and alliances made during Mass Effect 3 and will affect major plot points during the story. The various species and characters throughout the series-whether alien or otherwise-are generally well written (who here can forget Garrus?), and it can truly feel like you’ve gotten to know them as people rather than NPCs or Squad Members that act as a tool to drive the plot forward. Yet undeniably, the overwhelming Reaper invasion brings death and destruction that will rarely end positively for you-count this as a spoiler or not, but this is the end of a trilogy, and characters will die, and only some can be saved by your actions in the game. Yet your experiences with them throughout the first two games adds weight to these moments that most games cannot achieve through simple scripted dialogue and set pieces. Mass Effect is a game that is truly best experienced as a trilogy, and diving into Mass Effect 3 on it’s own won’t be nearly as rewarding as experiencing it from the very beginning.

Just as vital to the series is the integration of your own character into the story. The first Mass Effect allowed you not only to create your own face and gender for Commander Shepherd, but also to import that same character into Mass Effect 2. Sadly, Mass Effect 3’s new facial rendering system means that most character faces cannot be imported to Mass Effect 3, but if you’re willing to ignore this and start your face from scratch, this is a minor hiccup. Mass Effect’s signature radial dialogue menu allows your character to take either a ‘Paragon’ (nice guy) or ‘Renegade’ (dickish) approach to in-game conversations, and some moments actually require that your character has a high reputation in either of these to achieve the best possible outcome to a situation. The ‘rash decision’ quick time events (pulling a trigger to commit a Paragon or Renegade option), introduced into Mass Effect 2, further enhance this (Renegades; get ready to punch a lot of people). The result is that you can literally become yourself as you see fit in the story and interact as you yourself would in such situations.

Game play wise, Mass Effect 3 plays generally the same as Mass Effect 2, but with a handful of new (but less than perfect) improvements. The cover system has been greatly improved (but still runs into problems on occasion), and a broader range of enemy types are available (the result of Reapers being able to indoctrinate and convert various races into soldiers for their own armies), which will force you out of cover on occasion and improvise new strategies to overcome them. A new melee system makes close quarter combat far more viable option than previous games-however, the Heavy Melee option takes a good few seconds to use, and there is no option to cancel if you’ve missed your target.

Classes generally have the same powers and abilities as Mass Effect 2, but they no longer determine what weapons your character uses/excels at. Carrying all five weapons into combat does have its drawbacks (slower recharging of your various class powers), requiring you to either modify your weapons to compensate, or choosing for yourself what weapons to prioritize or remove to best suit your play style. The result of these changes provides greater flexibility and freedom for you to choose how you want to play the game-for example, close quarters oriented players may benefit from choosing a Vanguard class with Shotguns and Assault Rifles, or a player more accustomed to stealth may go with an Infiltrator class with Sniper Rifles/Shotguns and SMGs.

One of the issues that all three Mass Effect games have run into is the task of resource gathering. The vehicle sections were unpopular in the first game, and Planet Scanning became a grueling and repetitive chore in Mass Effect 2. The third game now greatly simplifies the Planet Scanning mini-game by allowing you to scan sections of a star system to track down War Assets and survivors on various planets, then performing a one-time planet scan to track down said asset. However, doing this alerts nearby Reapers to your presence, and they will attack en-masse if you aren’t careful with your scanning. This new method, whist still time consuming, cuts down the sheer amount of hours needed to gather all of the resources with a system, and there were several hair-raising moments when I was being chased by four Reaper ships at a time whilst trying to escape a system. The flaw in this system however makes this too simple; if you’re captured by a Reaper ship, the game reverts to the last auto-save (when you first entered the system), and all the challenge is taken out once you know exactly where to find all of the resources.

The visuals of Mass Effect 3 are at times awe-inspiring and terrifying; seeing a full sized Reaper stride past you (during game play!) and decimate a dreadnought in front of you is absolutely stunning. The lighting for much of the game is much darker than before, creating a new atmosphere of despair and resolve. The music and sound effects for these moments are equally as amazing and fits the tragic and terrifying moments throughout the game (the result of Bioware hiring a new composer for the game). Relying less on electronic/techno music, piano solos are used to create a sense of sadness and foreboding at times, contrasted by heavy electronic sounds to add terror. For these reasons, the opening level is (for me) one of the most unforgettable moments in any game I’ve played, particularly the end cinematic (I could describe it or link it to a video, but this moment is best witnessed by playing the game. Download the free game demo if you’d rather wait to buy the game and see for yourself. Turn the volume up nice and high too). Asides from some minor texture pop-in and dialogue occasionally being cut off, the visuals and sounds of the game go together perfectly for the game.

The Mass Effect series, being an RPG, takes a great deal of time to complete (I spent 50+ hours on the third game alone), but well worth experiencing as a whole. Plus the utilization of the game’s dialogue system and it’s effects on the entire story means that the whole trilogy is worth playing multiple times to get a different story each time.

Say what you want about the ending, but Mass Effect 3 is an unforgettable game that perfectly caps off the series. Few game series can achieve the level of player investment and dedication that this series has. I walked away from the game with a melancholic feeling that I may never return to the universe of Mass Effect and it’s characters (I still owe Garrus a few drinks at the bar), but satisfied with the conclusion, even if there is an uncertain future waiting for them. If you haven’t played the Mass Effect series, it is absolutely worth picking up the first game and seeing for yourself.

The Verdict

Story: 2.0
  • Asides from a troublesome ending, Mass Effect 3 is an emotional ride from beginning to end with memorable characters and moments of triumph and despair. Best experienced by playing the previous games.
Gameplay: 1.5
  • Retains most of the features of ME2, but more flexible cover options and greater enemy variety improves the game. Melee is now useful, even if occasionally problematic to use.
Visuals: 2.0
  • Seeing a full-sized Reaper stride past is unforgettable. Varied and breathtaking environments, with only minor texture pop-in.
Sound: 2.0
  • New composer Clint Mansell introduces more orchestral music than previous Mass Effect games, to great effect.
  • Sound effects (lasers, explosions, etc) all sound amazing. Absolutely worth turning up the sound nice and high.
Longevity: 1.5
  • A single playthrough could take up to 40 or more hours to finish, but there’s always incentive to play again-either a single game or the entire trilogy.

Final score: 9.0/10

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution review

Apologies for the appalling picture quality; this comic was a rush job, and I still haven't gotten used to using a Mac yet.
Name: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Players: 1
Type: Shooter/Role Play
Genre: Sci-Fi
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/Windows PC/Mac

Despite the game coming out in August, I only just got the new Deus Ex game two weeks ago. Before then, I had barely heard of the Deus Ex series, my knowledge of the series limited to last year’s E3 trailer and a handful of reviews. Having just defeated the game, I can say that I’ve been immediately hooked, and for good reason.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the previous installments in the Deus Ex series-set approximately 25 years ahead of the first game-and sees you playing as Adam Jenson, an ex-SWAT officer and current Head of Security at Sarif Industries. By the year 2027, human Augmentation has become a dominating and unregulated business; whether to benefit crippled patients or to get a competitive edge in the industry, human beings are having prosthetic limbs and organs installed. This industry, however, also runs into opposition: anti-augmentation groups such as the Humanity Front and Purity First desperately protest against unregulated human augmentation-sometimes with violent results.

The game opens with Adam Jensen and girlfriend Megan Reed working at Sarif Industries. Megan is on the verge of making a breakthrough in Augmentation technology, having discovered a method of preventing Augmentations from being rejected from the human body (thus removing patient dependency on Neuropozyne, a drug that prevents this rejection). Only minutes later, the building comes under attack from a group of heavily augmented mercenaries, and Adam Jenson, attempting to rescue Megan, is severely injured by the merc leader Jaron Namir.

Six months later, Adam Jenson, now heavily augmented by Sarif in order to save his life, returns to work to deal with an attack on one of Sarif Industries manufacturing plants. Throughout the course of the game, Adam is sent around the globe, chasing down leads and becoming ever-increasingly immersed in a conspiracy surrounding the human augmentation movement and uncovers the truth behind the attack on Sarif Industries.

Consequently, it’s easy to find yourself becoming more and more involved in the story and it’s overarching mystery. Though occasionally predictable, the story takes several twists and turns that immerses you in the experience, and I found myself unable to pull away from the game right up to its satisfying conclusion, craving to learn more and more with each mission. There are also multiple side missions to carry out in the Detroit and Hengsha city hubs that add to a long yet addictive experience, and several have multiple outcomes for you to choose from. Assuming you play through these side missions, a single playthrough can easily take a week to complete, and there’s good reason to come back and play a second time round. The main story has multiple endings, though a well-timed save beforehand means you can see each without necessarily having to play the game again. The final act has several literary allusions (a rare trait to find in video games) that compares the plot to both Greek mythology and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, cleverly written even though they only show themselves near the end of the game. After defeating the main story, I found myself eagerly looking up the previous installments of the Deus Ex story and discovering multiple and surprising references scattered throughout Human Revolution’s story arc. Even so, Human Revolution can be enjoyed whether or not you’ve played any of the previous Deus Ex games.

The concept of what it means to be human in the face of technological advancement is raised throughout the story, and both sides of the augmentation argument have convincing ideas as to what the answer is. It can be hard to choose one side or the other, and at times it feels like you’ve been caught in the middle of this intellectual conflict. This isn’t a bad thing either; much of the game is about choice, and Human Revolution gives you equal opportunity to make your own judgement about the issue.

Adam Jenson has multiple powers (Augmentations) for you to choose from, and it’s near-impossible to acquire them all during a single playthrough. Thus, it is up to you to choose which powers to prioritise and use to build your own character; perhaps you prefer a stealthier character as opposed to a more physically powerful one? Maybe you’ll specialize in computer hacking to turn turrets and robots against your enemies? The choice is yours to make, and rarely will any two players choose the same loadout of Augmentations.

Combat has its few hits and misses; cover is utilized by holding down the left trigger against a wall and you lean out of this cover with the left stick. Furthermore, moving across or around cover is handled by pressing or holding the A button, and I occasionally found this system frustrating to learn. Still, cover is essential to a stealth-based player and I eventually got the hand of cover-based combat. Jenson has the opportunity to become either a lethal or non-lethal combatant, and it is entirely possible to complete the game without killing any of the enemies (excluding boss fights). Either approach rewards you similarly, but slightly changes the game’s final outcome. Hacking is handled by a mini-game that at times can be either incredibly easy or frustratingly hard (depending of course on how much experience you’ve invested in the Hacking Augmentations), but rewards you with either pieces of back story, access to enemy security devices, or else codes to access other computers, doors or safes.

There are a handful of moments where you interact with the defining characters on both sides of the augmentation conflict, and your choices of dialogue can either sway them to your cause and avoid conflict or else make some missions more difficult for you. These moments test your intelligence in a way few games accomplish.

I had a bizarre experience with the game’s Boss fights. The first fight took a couple of tries to understand, but was otherwise surprisingly easy. The second fight suffered a glitch which left my adversary frozen in place whilst I pummeled her with chaingun fire, and the fourth and final boss fight, though a challenge, only took a single try to defeat thanks to the Augmentations I happened to have invested in. Only the third fight proved to be particularly difficult, and this was thanks to a bad decision (against my better judgement) during my second visit to Hengsha. Otherwise, assuming you’ve invested in your health point augmentations, boss fights are relatively simple; pummel the target with enough bullets until the boss dies, the only major difference being the abilities your adversary has.

The world of Human Revolution has it’s own distinct appearance. Pro-augmentation citizens commonly wear Renaissance-esque collars and suits, whilst their anti-augmentation counterparts wear clothes more akin to our present day (usually, these individuals also represent the lower-class members of society). Character faces and lip-synching are handled well, even if some character models and movements are recycled across the game. Much of the game is set during nighttime hours-a style retained from previous Deus Ex games-and city hubs are lit by a myriad of neon lights and advertisements. There are a handful of moments when the cityscape can be seen below you and the sheer size and scope of the manmade environment can be seen in full view, well worth taking a moment to admire before returning to gameplay. The game’s soundtrack combines haunting orchestral tones and vocalists with synthetic, techo-like music that accompanies the theme of humanity and technological advancement well.

Though not necessarily be a groundbreaking game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is intelligently written to an extent I’ve rarely ever encountered in a game. The story is well-worth getting involved with, gameplay can be approached in multiple ways, and there’s usually good incentive to come back and give the game a second or even a third playthrough. Overall, the game is a satisfying and addictive experience, whether you’re a fan of the series or a newcomer to the franchise.

The Verdict (marked out of 2, added towards final score)

Story: 2.0
Gameplay: 1.5
Visuals: 1.5
Sound: 1.5
Replayability: 1.5

Final Score: 8.0/10