Thursday, 23 November 2017

Hand of Fate 2 Review - An interesting card game mixed with hack and slash gameplay.

By Sam Coles:

There are few games that stand out in the industry, but if you delve into the indie market you’ll find some that stand out. That is what Hand of Fate 2 does with its interesting concepts; think of it as a mixture of a tarot card reading, Dungeons and Dragons and a sprinkle of Arkham Asylum’s combat. What we get is something truly unique and deeply engaging which will keep you hooked with each scenario.  

Hand of Fate 2 doesn’t really have a primary focus when it comes to a story as you are making your own story with the card system. How it works is that you are thrown into an area and presented with a scenario which you can either tackle it head one with combat or you can take the passive route and avoid violence entirely. When you are presented with the situation the dealer will give you several cards which tip the altercation in your favour or cripple your abilities. This system is great as it keeps things fresh and unpredictable as well as making you feel weak because it can negatively affect you and have to work around these tweaks. What I like about this system is that it’s not about violence because you can negotiate with characters you encounter on your travels, whether that is paying them off or using your sharp conversation skills to worm your way out of a tense situation.

Not to say it’s all about staring at a card dealer throughout your play time, if you thirst for blood you’ll be thrown into hack and slash combat scenarios which are good and serviceable if not by the numbers if you’ve played and hand to hand combat game *cough* *cough* Batman. Combat is very much like the Arkham games where you’re in an arena where you’re surrounded by enemies and have your light and heavy attacks coupled with a counter which you can use when enemies telegraph their attacks. It’s not bad by any means and it gets the job done, but it is the same attack engine we have seen time after time since Batman Arkham Asylum released all the back in 2009.

Visually the game looks pretty good; it runs on the Unreal 4 Engine which looks fantastic with decent looking environments and beautiful lighting. However the same cannot be said for the character models which look very goofy with their eyes and body proportions that look like two rolled up carpets leaning on petrol pump, plus their faces are too clean lacking blemishes.

Overall Hand of Fate 2 is a fantastic game with a unique hook with the tarot card system that will keep you guessing with each encounter. If you have a gaming PC or PS4 get this game as it is not terribly expensive and you’ll have hours of gameplay to keep you occupied with this unique gameplay style, yes the combat is by the numbers but that is just a fraction of what this game has to offer.   

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Rayman Review - This game is harder than I remembered.

By Sam Coles:

When you think back to the early days of the original PlayStation what games do you think of? Crash Bandicoot, Sypro, how about Rayman? Although this game was not exclusive to the original PlayStation as it came out on the Atari Jaguar first but no one bought the system and the game was more at home on the PS1 with both visuals and audio with the extra storage of CDs. The game is one of my favourite games on the PlayStation, but I forgot how unfair and challenging some of the levels are. Let’s get into more detail.  

Rayman begins with a beautiful animation introducing you to the world of Rayman, where a villain with a name that sums up his character Mr Dark causes chaos in the world by stealing the great Protoon which keeps the peace and balance in the world. Rayman must stop Mr Dark by venturing throughout the weird and wonderful world, which starts off safe by having you traverse through a forest to the more bizarre where you have anamorphic musical instruments. The story is a simple set up that all games did back in the 90’s because people didn’t really care that much about stories in video games, it gives you a brief cutscene and then you’re in the game.

Rayman is a 2D platformer in the same vein as Super Mario and I know what you’re thinking why release a 2D game on a system that is capable of 3D games. Well it was early days when it came to developing games in 3D and plus the game’s creator didn’t know how to make a 3D platformer at the time until he made the game’s sequel. The game starts off simple enough letting you get a grasp of the game’s controls then you’re granted the ability to punch which will help you deal with enemies. There is a good sense of progression in this game and it trickles new abilities slowly, where it then proceeds to give you a level to use said ability. This may come across as predictable similar to old Zelda games where you find an item and you have to use it on the boss, but I think it is fitting as it makes you get use to the ability.

Rayman is not perfect because when you get to the later stages the game becomes insanely hard and unfair as there is a slight delay with the controls and the game expects you to have the reflexes of a god. It doesn’t help that there are obstacles that you cannot see coming and you have no way of avoiding them, don’t get me wrong I love this game but later levels are ridiculous and are trial and error where you have to analyse the patterns and that is not fun.

What can I say about the visuals? They’re beautiful! You thought Cuphead did the whole cartoon style, nope Rayman did it 22 years prior and the game still holds up considering its age. Animations are fantastic Ubisoft hired professional cartoonist to draw and animate the enemies and Rayman to give them a unique look. Rayman stands out and that is saying a lot because the background can be a bit busy in some levels with dancing flowers in the forest to pencils falling in Picture City. The game still looks great considering it came out 22 years ago.

Rayman is a great game and is a must have in your collection, the game did start to aggravate me in later levels, but the beautiful visuals, fun gameplay and fantastic soundtrack pulled me through. You can pick this up on PS1 which will play on a PS2 and PS3 or you can get it on PC and Atari Jaguar, but I would not recommend the Jaguar version as the audio is not very good.  

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Star Wars The Force Unleashed Review - Become the ultimate Jedi.

By Sam Coles:

Star Wars has always been a mix bag when it comes to its video games some are great and some are bad, but there tend to be more good than bad games. Star Wars The Force Unleashed was a game I followed when I was 15 with all the marketing, at the time I only had a Nintendo Wii and that was the version I first played, however I got an Xbox 360 for my 16th birthday a year later and picked it up for that system. I love this game with a strong opening where you get to devastate everything as Darth Vader, to a really good story that ties into the Star Wars mythos.

Star Wars The Force Unleashed takes place in between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, it begins with Darth Vader invading the Wookie home world Kashyyyk where he is hunting a Jedi in hiding. He finds the Jedi and kills him, but Vader senses someone more powerful, which turns out to be the dead Jedi’s son, Vader adopts the child and trains him as his secret apprentice. Years later you take control of Star Killer the child Vader trained, who is now an assassin who is tasked with taking down any remaining Jedi in the galaxy. The story in this game is very good and it can get dark in parts, but that’s not to say there are no humorous moments because there are, but it has a very dark tone throughout. The game has an explosive opening which is fantastic where you play as Darth Vader killing and destroying anything that gets in your way, you really feel the power of the dark side with the opening level.

Gameplay is a hack and slash game which were very popular at the time because of the success of games such as Devil May Cry and God of War, where Yahtzee coined the phrase “Like God of War but”. You go around stages battling cannon fodder enemies, with a few boss fights spliced in which consist of AT walkers, Rancors and even a Star Destroyer. There are light platforming elements which can frustrate because Star Killer feels rather floaty in these parts as his movement are designed for combat rather than precise platforming.

There are one on one fights with other Jedi’s or The Emperors Elite guards, these are a lot of fun as they are faster and smarter than standard enemies, so you need to be quick and the fight with Vader and Palapitine at the end of the game is challenging.  

Visually the game looks pretty good still considering it came out nearly a decade ago, that is if you’re playing on the 360 and PS3, the Wii and PS2 version on the other hand are not so good, but that is to be expected with the weaker hardware. Character models look very good with a surprising amount of detail, but the animation is very odd you can tell that motion capture was not used for cutscenes because it looks very stiff and robotic.

Star Wars The Force Unleashed is a fun game which lets you cause chaos with a vast array of force powers. I would recommend getting this game on the 360 and PS3, as the PS2 and Wii versions are lacking. 

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Dragon Age II Review - The abused step child of the series.

By Sam Coles:

Dragon Age is a series that has a special place in my heart with Origins being my favourite in the series; however a lot of people seem to hate the sequel Dragon Age II. In my opinion the game is really good, but I understand people’s criticisms of the game where it is only set in one city, with a few dungeons and outsider areas. Does it make it a bad game? No absolutely not, because with the tighter focus you have a narrative that has is easy to follow with political intrigue between the Templars and Mages.

Dragon Age II begins during the events of Origins where you step into the shoes of Hawk, where you find yourself and your family fleeing Ferelden when the blight is taking over the region. After a tough battle against the savage beasts known as the Darkspawn, you end up sailing to the city of Kirkwall a big city situated on a remote island. All is not easy as the city has become overwhelmed due to the massive influx of refugees who are fleeing the blight, not only that there is political tension between the Templars and Mages a theme that is explore throughout the series, but is explore further in this game. I like the story in this game, yes it does have a rather slow start but the political undertones in the latter half of the game are really interesting and you end up having to choose a side.

Gameplay was a big split for fans due to the fact they ditch the tactical gameplay, which is not true but they did streamline it a bit. You can now fight in real time which is a nice change if you thought the tactical combat was overwhelming, but if you still favour that other system you can still zoom the camera out and strategically place your party members around the map. You are still able to tweak your party members such as being able to make them selfheal if they are at a certain amount of health which I do recommend as they have a tendency of getting themselves killed.

The other aspect that people were disappointed with was the fact you could not pick another race as you could only pick a human that was either male or female and you could only pick from warrior, rogue and mage classes. People missed the “Origins” aspect from the original game, but this game was written about a singular character so it makes sense to make the character one race as the story is written to fit that agenda. The game doesn’t lack customisation as you can mould your character as you see fit when it comes to the faces and armour sets. I do certainly agree that the game does not really feel like Dragon Age in terms of its mechanics as it feels more like Mass Effect, but to be honest influences from that game were bound to bleed on Dragon Age.   

Visually the game looks pretty good compared to the original which has aged as gracefully as a sack a bricks falling from a tall building. Characters have almost a cell shaded look to them; I’m not sure if it is but they do look more cartoonish compared to the first game. Environments look okay, nothing mind blowing as some areas can look really drab and too clean with no blemishes on the landscape. The blood effects look really good and have more of a moist look to them rather than it looking like tomato ketchup being spilt on a napkin.

The only negative I have with Dragon age II is on the technical side and that is the frame rate when you’re engaged in conversation. The frame like the original has a habit of dropping when you’re in conversation, but I think this is only when you have certain status effects with your characters.

Dragon Age II does not deserve the negative attention it gets, yes it is smaller than the first game, but this provides the player with a tighter narrative and focus. If you have a PS3 or 360 knocking about still I would recommend picking this game up it’s really cheap or you can get it very cheap on Steam.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

The Getaway Black Monday Review - Grand Theft Auto meets Snatch.

By Sam Coles:

A series that Sony has let fall by the way side is The Getaway series, for those who don’t know or if you’re too young The Getaway games are what would happen if you were to take Grand Theft Auto and mix with a Guy Richie movie like Snatch. What we get is a fun although clunky open world game set in the criminal underworld of modern day (at the time) London. I’ll be covering the sequel Black Monday as it is the game I’m most familiar with and the first game in the series I played.

The Getaway Black Monday swaps between multiple protagonists, but the main focus is on an armed response police officer named Mitchel. Mitchel is a dry and grumpy person, but we figure out why, during one of his assignments he was chasing down a suspect who turned out to be a kid, he tells him to drop the gun but the suspect resists and he ends up shooting him in the back when he flees. The story is very good with some dark moments, but also moments where the cast has a bit of fun with some humorous moments and the great voice acting helps too.

The main meat of the game is a linear story where you drive around the streets of London and getting into firefights with some tailing missions the worst aspect of any open world game. The driving can take a while to get to grips, plus it doesn’t help with the traffic density, you will crash a lot in this game and it feels like your car is made of rubber when it bounces off the walls. What is unique about this game is that there is no HUD, so when you’re driving around you have no mini-map, the game utilises the car’s indicators to tell you when to turn and when the indicator blinks faster the closer you are to your objective. This was used to give the game a cinematic flare which goes for the shoot outs, but this is rather annoying when you get into the gun fights because you’re unsure of how much ammo you have, let’s talk about more about the shooting.

The shooting unfortunately is not very good, it’s stiff and clunky with an auto aiming feature that seems to do whatever it wants coupled with a free aim system that is laughable. This is one of the first set of games with a regenerating health system as I do believe this game came out the same year as Call of Duty 2 which was notorious and controversial with that system. How it works is that when you’re injured you’ll see blood spots on your character how you recover health is by leaning on a wall. Again this is done via visual feedback in gameplay rather than a traditional HUD, but it is rather laughable to see you character lean on a wall do some heavy breathing and hey presto he is back to normal.

Visually the game looks really good for a PS2 game, bear in mind that this game was released in the later stages of the console’s life cycle so people knew what they were doing with console at this point. Character models have a surprising amount of detail and look good (for the time) even the facial expressions look quite good. The game had access to licenced cars so expect to Renaults, Fords and Vauxhalls cruising the streets, these cars look fantastic for the hardware too. The only issue I had was that the frame rate had a habit of tanking in sections where things got busy, this was apparent during fire fights and car chases with the high traffic density, where it would dip to unplayable levels.

The Getaway Black Monday was a good game for its time but unfortunately has aged as well as a week old pot of hummus left out on the side. It’s not expensive you can pick it up for a pound, just be warned it is very clunky, let’s hope Sony revives the series at some point. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Editorial | Are singleplayer games disappearing?

By Sam Coles:

With the recent closure of Visceral Games by EA, a lot of people seem to think that singleplayer experiences are in jeopardy. Are they? No I don’t think so, yes multiplayer games are talked about more, but that has always been the case as they can evolve and have more longevity compared to a solo experience.
The current generation of gaming has been given a label of being a multiplayer environment; yes there have been a lot of games that are purely multiplayer with varying degrees of success, such as Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege.

Where did all of this start? Well if we look further back to the 7th generation of consoles with the launch of the Xbox 360 we saw a shift with multiplayer in general with couch co-op and competitive being push to the way side for online. Games like Halo 3, Gears of War and the big one Call of Duty 4 showed that consoles could do online multiplayer, after Call of Duty 4 we saw a lot of companies shoving cookies cutter online modes in games that were singleplayer experiences first and foremost. Games like Uncharted, GTA IV and the Tomb Raider (2013) had these forgettable modes that were overshadowed by the solo experience. Call of Duty started to stray away from their campaigns and started to focus their efforts on the multiplayer as it was aspect that was marketed the most as the singleplayer generally got brief trailers.

When the Xbox One and PS4 launched it was clear that the online environment was the future even for games that were solo, but most people pushed back at this notion because reasonably why should you be connected to the net even with a solo experience. Sony and Microsoft have backpedalled to a certain extent with the online constant connection for solo games with a few exceptions. However what shifted the focus on multiplayer was due to the controversial business practise of micro transaction loot boxes/micro DLCs. These can be shortcuts for weapons, gear and power ups for those who are too lazy to you know play the game like you had to back in the day, but sometimes they can be harmless like cosmetic stuff for your character. This isn’t the problem, the other issue is that they are bleeding into singleplayer games, a recent example is Shadow of War, which lots of gamers and critics have pointed out that the game grinds to a halt in the later stages in the game unless you spend real money on the game.

However there have been a lot of good singleplayer games the past two years that I have been reviewing on the Xbox One and PS4. We have had games like The Witcher 3 one of the best games of the generation with a superb story and beautiful world to explore, plus I am a huge fan of the series books and games. 2017 alone has been a great year for solo experiences with games such as, Horizon Zero Dawn, Yakuza 0 and Kiwami, The Evil Within 2, Nioh and the list goes on.

The statement of “Singleplayer games are dying” is absolute cobblers because there will always be an audience for both it has been like that for over a decade. Think about the games that are still widely discussed today, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4(campaign), Halo 3, Oblivion and Resident Evil 4. Those games came out over a decade ago and people are still talking about them, singleplayer games have more staying power because they can have replayablity, beautiful and immersive worlds to explore and characters that you have genuinely got to know throughout a series and grow to love them as if they are your real friends.

We all need to calm down and look at the future with the solo experiences that publishers are giving us such as Yakuza 6, Death Stranding, Detroit: Becoming Human and hell even Far Cry 5. So no singleplayer games are not going anywhere that is an absolute absurd statement, there is always room for both audiences who are competitive and those who want to get lost in a world and go at their own pace.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Wolfenstein (2009) Review - A hidden gem?

By Sam Coles:

Wolfenstein! Now there is a name that stems back to the early 80’s with the Apple II era of computers, but if you familiar with video games you’ll be more at home with Wolfenstein 3D and its successors. Wolfenstein is an important name in the industry of gaming as it paved the way for first person shooters for years to come, Doom did it better but Wolfenstein started it all. Until The New Order Wolfenstein was hit or miss with its games, the 2009 release simply named Wolfenstein is often discarded as cookie cutter, but it’s not yes it shares control schemes with Call of Duty, but is that necessarily a bad thing. The game was in production for a while and was given to Raven Software to develop who have a close relationship with id Software since the early 90’s, as they worked closely id’s engines they also made Quake 4 so they know what they are doing.

Wolfenstein is a direct sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, where you once again step into the shoes of the square jawed hero B.J Blazkowicz who is tasked to investigate the Nazi’s paranormal division where they are experimenting with ancient medallions. B.J finds one of these medallions and has the ability to jump from reality and another world called the Vale, what this does is makes B.J run faster and have several abilities which I’ll get into in the gameplay section. The story is nothing mind blowing, but for the first time B.J has more character compared to the last game, with some humorous moments, but if you’re expecting anything meaningful with the narrative you’re not going to find it here.

Gameplay is not open world in the traditional sense, but like Deus Ex where you have an open hub area where you travel to each mission where the level starts. When you’re moving through the hub area you can find secrets such as documents and gold, gold helps you upgrade your weapons with the standard increase damage etc. If you’re really bored in the hub area you can get into skirmishes with enemy patrols, which is a lot of fun because as you progress through the story the enemy threat increases as you have created a name for yourself.

B.J has several powers he can utilise from his medallion, first one is speed when it is activated this is great if you need to move from cover to cover to get out of stick situations. You have bullet time which does what says on the tin where it slows down time, there is a shield which blocks all weapons and a fury mode which ups your damage. These can be upgraded but again they are the standard increase the time of use.

There is a decent selection of weapons in this game; you have the period accurate weapons such as Kar98, STG44 and my favourite the MP40. They all look and sound great with the terrifying chatter of the MP40 to the thunderous thud of the MG42. In the later parts of the game you get more exotic weapons like the particle cannon which will shoot out a beam and disintegrates anything that is stupid enough to stand in your way.  You also have my favourite the Tesla Gun which chains a bolt of lightning when soldiers are grouped together and it never stops being funny watching Nazi soldiers doing the dance of death.

The game runs on a modified version of the Doom 3 engine and it looks really good, with great environments, character models and visceral feedback when it comes to the violence. The gore and violence is really satisfying and has a lot of detail as soldiers will react to where you shoot them, so if you land a well-placed rifle shot in their throat they will cling to their neck as blood spirts everywhere, it is great attention to detail.

Wolfenstein is not a bad game I don’t understand why it has so much negative attention surrounding it. It has great and satisfying combat with a corny and pulpy story with a mix of Inglorious Basterds and Indiana Jones. If you have a PS3 or 360 knocking around still give it a go.