Friday, 22 March 2019

God of War (2018) Review - The trials of fatherhood.

By Sam Coles:

We return to another instalment of how the gaming industry annoys Sam with naming conventions, I already have a game called God of War it’s on the best console conceived by man, the PlayStation 2! Anyway God of War, no not that one the “soft reboot” for the PS4 as it acknowledges God of War 3 but tries to take the series in a new direction. Back in 2016 when the game was announced at E3, I was very unsure about the new direction of the series, as I thought it took away its unique nature. However now I have played God of War, I can safely say it is a fantastic experience (for the most part), and is one of the main reasons to own a PS4.

God of War sees Kratos hiding out in the Nine Realms in Nordic mythology, after his rampage in Ancient Greece in God of War 3. He is once again a father, but this time to his son Atreus where he is struggling to bond with him. Kratos has to scatter his wife’s ashes from the highest point in the Nine Realms; he uses this opportunity to test Atreus’ strength. What transpires is a tale of Kratos struggling with fatherhood, but eventually you see their relationship blossom where Kratos eventually tells him of his dark past and his routes as a God. The story is well told and the voice acting is superb, it had me hooked from beginning to end to see Kratos become a loving father is very touching.

Now we get into the gameplay and combat, and for the most part I found it enjoyable. When I first saw the new camera angle back in 2016 I was worried about the pace of the combat, but now I have played it is just as fast as the older games and requires skill to survive these endeavours. As I said it requires skill as button mashing will result getting yourself killed, you have to be aware of your surroundings as enemies will have windups and cooldowns which you have to dodge and counter.

Kratos starts off with an axe which fits the Nordic theme where he then gains his signature Blades of Chaos later on in the story. What I like about having both the axe and Blades of Chaos, is that it encourages you to experiment where in some situations you have to use certain weapons as other means of attacks won’t work on colour coded enemies.

The game does sprinkle in RPG elements coupled with an open ended world to explore, it’s not an open world per say but you can go back to areas after you are done with them and find armour and weapon upgrades. As you progress through the story you can upgrade your axe, Blades of Chaos and Atreus’ bow, these will be simple things such as stronger damage output etc. However you can equip runes that will do special attacks, my favourite is an area of effect attack with the axe that freezes everyone in the near vicinity.

You can also deck Kratos and Atreus out in armour, these can have effects on your vitality and your defence. However it does have effects on cooldowns with your special attacks, which is showcased in the stats. This can be a double edge sword with this aspect because you would think a higher level piece of amour may be better, but it could have lower vitality or lower cooldown time, it’s this balance that adds another layer of depth to the combat and customisation.

Now I can hear you asking “Sam what’s wrong with the combat”? Well it’s the small things such as the somewhat questionable hit detection, there were moments where I thought that I had dodged an attack where an enemy would home in onto my position, stick a spear up my backside and repurpose me as a windscreen wiper. This resulted in some frustrating deaths, but fortunately it didn’t happen too often. Another issue were the specific enemy types where they were A. really annoying and B. they used them too often as boss fights.

Let’s start off with the annoying enemies the Dark Elves, these are extremely irritating to fight they dart all over the place where you can barely land a hit and hold back shooting projectiles at you. It really killed the pace for me as all I did was exploit it a bit by constantly throwing my axe. Another aspect that got a bit old by the end of the game were the troll boss fights. Yes they were thrilling at first, but it is going to take more than a different shade of orange to change the fact you are fighting the same enemy with the same execution animation every time you beat one.

What can I say about the presentation that hasn’t been said already, this is one of the best games I seen from Sony this generation. The environments are gorgeous and varied, from the frost laden forest where Kratos’ cabin resides to the beautiful and colourful garden where the witch Freya calls home. The graphics almost had me in tears of joy with how beautiful they are, if there wasn’t already an example of video games being art this would be it. The only really issues that stem from the presentation was the framerate, it would dip here and there but then again I’m playing on a PlayStation 4 that I got in 2014.

God of War was a surprise for me, yes the combat has its issues, but the weighty and satisfying nature of it when you deliver each blow slowly quashed my issues. If you have a PS4 and haven’t played this I highly recommend it, what Santa Monica Studios have craft is truly a beautiful piece of art.

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Editorial | Ocarina of Time: A link to my past.

By Sam Coles:

There are games that people form attachments to over the years, some games may age as technology progresses but some will swear by its legacy. This is always the case whenever I hear people talking about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and I understand why, even nearly 21 years later the game is still being talked about in high regards. I want to take the time to talk about the game and reflect upon why this game is so special.

What stands out to me to this day is when I boot the game up with the intro sequence where we see Link ride his horse across Hyrule Field; every time I play this game I can’t help but watch the entirety of this intro. You just hear the clops of Epona’s feet then that beautiful piano piece kicks in before the titular ocarina seeps through, as we see Link traverse the beautiful (at the time) field from night time to dawn. It sets up what is to come with the journey and it is very emotional, with the music and the landscape ahead. To this day I adore this intro sequence, and honestly no Zelda game has captured this, with the only close exception being Twilight Princess’ introduction.

The story is something that was nothing new as it was basically a 3D interpretation of Link to the Past, but how it was presented was cinematic with beautifully directed scenes. You may laugh now as the character models are crude as well as there being no voice work, but for 1998 this was a big deal. What carried it was the well written dialogue with various grunts and moans coming from characters from time to time, I can imagine what these characters sound like just by reading the text, from the wise Deku Tree to the maniacal Ganondorf.

Gameplay was somewhat of departure, yes you still did the usual Zelda stuff by adventuring and raiding dungeons, but to take from Egoraptor’s video from a few years back, the combat and exploration have been separated as oppose to being one cohesive experience. I don’t take that much issue with this as Egoraptor does, as to be honest it makes sense to have it this way due to the extra dimensions. Exploring does feel slower as Link’s movement speed goes for a more realistic approach, but the areas that you explore aren’t too big so it’s a nonissue.

Combat on the other hand is simple, but satisfying due to the feedback through visuals and sound design, with Link’s yells and explosions of parts of enemies makes for an exciting combat encounter. The only aspect of the gameplay that gets stretched to its limits is the inventory management; this is most prevalent in the Water Temple where you constantly have to swap from your normal boots and iron boots. Fortunately this issue was remedied in the 3DS version, as you had extra inventory spaces on the touch screen where you could put your boots.

How can I talk about Ocarina of Time and not talk about the music, the score is one of the most memorable in the series that is constantly referenced across the internet. From the whimsical melody of the Kokiri Forest to the dark and brooding tones of the Shadow Temple. All have their thematically appropriate themes, and there is not a single track that is forgettable.

Ocarina of Time is still a timeless classic, has it aged as well as some nostalgia quivering fanboys would let you believe? No of course not, but I still fully understand why most including myself still love it. It’s a world with childlike wonder, with a beautiful soundtrack and interesting and unique locales to explore! Do I recommend it today? Yes, but the 3DS port is the way to go, as the original N64 version makes my eyes bleed as it runs at 20 frames per second for the most part. It’s still a wonderful game, and it should be experienced by every generation in the gaming community!

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Editorial | Exploring Skyrim's beauty.

By Sam Coles:

Skyrim, a name that everyone knows even if you don’t play video games. It’s hard to believe it has been nearly a decade since its release, and also doubly unbelievable is the fact that people are still talking about it. Skyrim was a game that I was anticipating back in 2011, this was due to my undying love for Oblivion that I first played when I was 13 years old. When Skyrim released in 2011 when I was 18 years old, I was enamoured with the game and explored the frost laden land of the Nords. 8 years later I’m still finding new places to explore, and find the game beautiful as I capture it on my PS4 and share my experience with others. As a disclaimer, with the exception of the title card all screenshots were captured by me on my PS4.

Skyrim opens in a linear fashion like Oblivion where it drags you by the nose via a meat hook, but once you get past that part the game opens the world up to you and it is awe inspiring. You have this sprawling and mountainous world ahead of you, it’s a nice breather after the intense dragon attack which helped your daring escape. When I looked across the horizon I thought to myself, I can go there? The game waggling its eyebrows at me almost telling me “Damn right you can”, it was here where my love affair for Skyrim flourished.

The world itself is something that grabbed my attention immediately, back when I heard the game was going to be set in Skyrim I was sceptical as I thought Great nothing but snow but the landscape is more varied than I thought. You still have the frost laden mountains to the north, but you also have lush pine forests that have god rays soak through as you traverse the dangerous yet beautiful land. You have bustling towns, cities and quiet out of the way villages that may greet your or perceive you as a threat.

It’s this level of detail within Skyrim is why people come back to it over and over again, it also stems to the wilderness too not just towns. I always find small things or big things such as a lonely hermit sitting down fishing while reading a book, to the more grandiose with Azura’s statue looming over on top of a mountain which gauges one’s curiosity.

When exploring Skyrim I was get this sense of wonder that I haven’t had since I was child, where you are in awe in realm that is so beautiful that you can’t believe it exists. This sense of childlike wonder is glorious, and it takes me back to when I was five years old when I’d played Spyro the Dragon for the first time. That maybe a strange comparison, but they both have a high fantasy setting with beautiful and open ended worlds, which to a child is limitless. That is what Skyrim almost is, limitless, with endless opportunities to form your own stories where you can share said stories with friends, family and colleagues of what adventures you have had in the Nordic realm.

Skyrim has always been an emotional bond for me, as it has got me through some tough times where I would load the game up and explore the world with no particular goal in mind as I hear the godly tones of Jeremy Soule. Speaking of the soundtrack, it is amazing in this game. As much as I love the Oblivion musical score it felt like it was just there, Skyrim’s feels more diegetic and is a part of the world rather than it playing a certain track when you are here. It takes a more atmospheric approach, where sometimes you won’t notice it but in a good way as it blends perfectly as you hear the omniums tones gently play in the background.

Skyrim is a place I can just forget about all of my worries, and just explore to my heart’s content. It’s hard to believe it is pushing nearly a decade ago since its release, but it honestly doesn’t feel like that long ago. Its world has stood the test of time, where I still find new things to this day, with magnificent architecture, statues and towns folk that go on about their business. If you are one of the few people who haven’t played Skyrim, I urge you to because is truly a great piece of art.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Editorial | Far Cry 2: Alone and outgunned.

By Sam Coles:

It’s often strange yet amazing how we look back on a certain video games as time goes on; we show more of an appreciation compared our young hot blooded selves that always craved action. That was my attitude with Far Cry 2 back in 2008, I never really got into it back in the day but over the years it has become my favourite instalment in the series. I thought after playing and reviewing Far Cry: New Dawn recently, I would go back and examine it over a decade later.

Far Cry 2’s story is minimalistic intentionally so as it has this fog of ambiguity, all you have to go on is that you are sent in to kill an arms dealer simply called “The Jackal”. However as you go deeper through the journey The Jackal is not the villain, it’s the war itself that is the ultimate evil. Yes he is playing both sides by selling weapons to them, but he is actually trying to end the conflict, which he eventually does at the end of the game when you help him.

If you take the time to explore both open ended maps you’ll find tapes in areas that have been devastated by conflict, where The Jackal talks about horrendous scenarios. There is one that got to me where there is an abandoned and rusted school bus; it shows how desperate they are in this war where it details seeing a child sat there with an AK-47 his lap. I think the narrative in Far Cry 2 is often overlooked as it doesn’t shove it in your face; it takes a page out of Half-Life’s book with its hands-off approach where you choose your level of immersion.

What really stands out in Far Cry 2 nearly 11 years later is the world, it’s an oppressive yet beautiful with it sun kissed deserts and humid jungles where anything is ready to gun you down. For a game that came out in 2008, this game has aged really well visually and I’m playing this on an Xbox 360 and I don’t say that often about games from that period. The beauty doesn’t stop there, to awake from ones slumber to see the glowing hot fireball that is sun rise over the horizon as it paints the open desert is truly spectacular.

The gameplay is a contentious part as Far Cry 2 from its marketing looks like an over the top shooter, but that very far from the truth as it is more like a survival horror. Your resources are finite in terms of medical supplies, ammunition and the condition of your weapons, well initially. You have to juggle with the fact that your weapons may explode in your hand due your over use of them, this makes exploration and combat precarious as going in head first will leave you with more holes than the average flute.

Let’s address the standout feature of the game weapon degradation, over time your guns will start to jam the more you use them and I’ve heard a lot of people say this is an annoying feature. I would however disagree and say it adds an extra layer of atmosphere to the game, you see when you are in a gunfight and this happens it adds tension which makes you panic as you scramble to take a gun off a fresh warm corpse. It adds to the oppressive and the quite literal third world atmosphere, as you are in a country that is deprived of basic needs such as clean water and food, so it thematically makes sense.

Another aspect that seems to ruffle gamer’s jimmies was the malaria mechanic. Shortly after starting the game you contract the disease and have to keep on top of it with medication, however it only happens a few times in the game and most of the time it’s scripted and your buddies can rescue you and it doesn’t really effect the game at all.

Far Cry 2 is often a game that is regarded as the black sheep of the series and is often forgotten, I understand some of the mechanics are a bit quirky however it is a tense game that even nearly 11 years later holds up. This game was a standout back in 2008 and is still great now, this was before Ubisoft turned it into a tower climbing simulator as if you were working for British Telecom. It’s tense, oppressive and beautiful, you are doing yourself a disservice by not playing this game and I would highly recommend it!

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Editorial | Arthur Morgan: Loyalty turned to doubt (spoilers).

By Sam Coles:

Arthur Morgan was a character that I thought I wasn’t going to like as much as John Marston; however I grew to love him throughout the long journey in Red Dead Redemption II. As the game goes on, Van Der Linde’s senior gun goes from a loyal comrade to someone who starts to doubt him, but he doesn’t know any other way of life. I want to talk about Arthur’s character and his transition, plus it gives me an excuse to talk about Red Dead Redemption II more, oh there will be spoilers.

When Red Dead Redemption II begins we see Arthur as this brother to Dutch, where he is loyal no matter what happens. To begin with Dutch as I discussed in my other editorial acts like a father figure to his fellow gang members, this is before he turns insane. Arthur is his right hand man and acts like a brother rather than a son; he does questions and debates with Dutch regularly when he thinks a plan is a bad idea.

Arthur has a cynical outlook on life as he sees what he does is his only way of life as it is all he knows, but he is not na├»ve and understands that the world is evolving as the world enters the 20th century where civilisation is gripping the wild west. He understands that the world needs to move on and to quote him “We’re thieves… in a world that don’t want us no more”, but at the same time he doesn’t know any other way of life so he carries on to make as much money as he can.

It’s one pivotal moment in the story Arthur starts to realise Dutch’s “plan” is nothing more than smoke and mirrors, it’s when he contracts tuberculous he has nothing to lose and starts to doubt Dutch as he slowly descends into madness. Towards the final stages of the game, Arthur realises that Dutch doesn’t care about anything but money so he does what he can for John Marston, his family and others who want to flee his tyranny.

As his illness grips him throughout the game, Arthur takes John under his wing and puts his rivalry aside as he wants to see him to live a normal life with his wife and child. It’s after a train robbery towards the end of the game where Arthur loses complete faith in Dutch, where he is betrayed by his former brother due to influence from the conniving Micha. Dutch starts to care more about money than the gang itself, where he makes the decision to leave Abigale to hang at the hands of the Pinkerton’s. Arthur with one last breath goes out of his way to save Abigale, where he then confronts Dutch and Micha where he then helps John flee. He takes one last stand against the Pinkerton’s, where he confronts Micha but unfortunately meets his demise as we watch the sun rise where his illness final gets the better of him.

Arthur Morgan is a character with flaws, but he ultimately upholds his integrity. He can be cold in one light, and then the next moment he can be this caring and endearing person to protect those who he loves. To see him slowly lose faith and start to doubt the man who brought him is both heart breaking and understandable, as the man he once knew is no longer there. Arthur’s realisation that the world is better off without people like him is tragic, as he goes out suffering, but he passes the torch onto the younger generation with John.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Pode Review - An adorable adventure.

By Sam Coles:

There are times were I like to switch gears and review games where I’m not killing someone or something, where I’m not sending someone’s jaw bone in eight directions. Pode is a beautiful puzzle platformer and I feel it deserves more recognition, with its somewhat brain taxing puzzles, great soundtrack and beautiful visual art style.

Pode’s story is minimalistic with exposition, as there is no dialogue at all and that is the strength of a great video game narrative where you have to piece the story together for yourself. Of what I can tell two entities meet, one made of stone and the other made of some sort of star matter, the entity made of star matter falls out of the sky and they journey together to send it back to the depths of space. Right off the bat the game is truly adorable with how they communicate cat with low and high pitch noises.

Gameplay is simple but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it is a puzzle platformer where you can either play solo or in co-op I would recommend playing the latter as it makes for a smoother experience but solo play is not necessarily bad. You take control of each character to solve precarious platforming puzzles; these can range from simple to somewhat obtuse as it can be somewhat unclear of what you are supposed to do. However most of the time it is rather straight forward and can be a bit tricky, this can range from raising platforms, jumping on each other’s head to get to higher ground, weighing down switches or just memorising basic patterns.

Each character has a special power trait that is thematically appropriate to them, one is a star so they can emit light to make plants and wildlife flourishes, whereas the other is made of stone which can make rocks sprout out of the walls… look don’t question the logic just go with it. These abilities are used to solve certain puzzles, such as being able to create ledges to climb or holding down specific buttons. It keeps things varied and does present some unique and intriguing scenarios, but after a few hours it can start to feel a bit samey.

The visual presentation is beautiful; especially the opening scene when the two characters first meet and they walk into the distance with the warm glow of dusk setting upon them. When you start off the game may look bland, but as you traverse these dark caverns it starts to open up with rich flora, with plants escaping the cracks of the caves. Character design of the main protagonists is wonderful, they juxtapose from each other where one is bright and the other dark, and it is the perfect yin and yang.

The soundtrack is something that stuck with me throughout the adventure; it is relaxing which goes with the tone of this slow paced journey. It has nice violin pieces that almost echo throughout the caves, which accompany you on the journey, I hope there is somewhere I can get this soundtrack officially.   

Overall Pode was a pleasant surprise, it was nice to take a break from the over the top and violent games that I have been covering recently. It was truly anadorable adventure, and something that I can recommend to anyone. You can get it on Switch but it recently came to the PS4 recently if that is more your cup of tea.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Editorial | A Fable retrospective: "And so are story begins"

By Sam Coles:

Microsoft tends to be the punchline for jokes these days due to their lack of exclusives, which honestly I sigh with despair due to its juvenile attitude but I digress. Fable was almost a strange addition to the Xbox library back in 2004, because most of the games on the Xbox were generally shooters, racing games and sports game etc. Fable was like a Disney production if Monty Python got their hands on it, which is funny when I say that as John Cleese is in the third game. I want to look at the games and talk about why people thought they were so special, and why we want a current generation instalment.

Fable was first released in 2004 for the original Xbox, and it was an RPG that we didn’t really see before, I’m talking more about its setting and themes as it goes for a Disney aesthetic, but with naughty undertones. The game’s story wasn’t anything particularly special, as it was the bog standard destined hero saving the kingdom which was the story with all the games, but with different motivations. It was how the story is delivered with great and fun performances throughout, although I’m not sure if I should laugh or be offended with the exaggerated West Country accents, as I am a native of the region. It had fun combat mechanics which feel a bit rough now, but they were fixed in the sequel 4 years later.

Fable II expanded on everything from the first, it had a bigger world, more weapons and fleshed out combat options, more activities, a larger cast of well-known British actors and the list goes on. It was my introduction to the series, as years prior I had a PS2 and when I bought the game in 2009 I was enthralled with the beautiful world coupled with the wonderful soundtrack.

The first time I step into the world of Fable II, I was excited to explore every nook and cranny. A lot of people like to see Fable as a shallow RPG, but I think they are looking at it in the wrong light as I see it as an open ended action adventure with role playing elements and not something as a kin to Oblivion.

Fable II elaborated on everything that the original did, combat was improved greatly, you still have melee, firearms in the form of crossbows and flintlock guns and magic. What is great is that you are rewarded XP in different categories, this depended on what type of combat you used to slay your foes which were labelled by different colour orbs. Green was for melee and general skills, blue for range combat and firearms and red was for magic. This was great as it encouraged you to mix up your combat skills, which also added variety to encounters.

I’ve always had a lot of fun deviating from the main quest and getting into trouble in towns, where I would become a terrible person and smack someone in the face that would look at me funny. It’s this level of freedom of morality that it gives is what makes it fun. Yeah this may seem trivial by today’s standards, but this was somewhat of a big deal with a console game in 2008 as a lot of console games were still somewhat restrictive with their design.

Fable II made me fall in love with this series when I was 16 years old, and it made excited in anticipation for a third game. Fortunately I would only have to wait 2 years for the next in instalment; however it was a bit of a disappointment.

Released in 2010 I remember the marketing for Fable 3 as it was really pushing it to be the next great instalment, to say the hype train was in overload would be an understatement. Honestly the game’s premise was great, where you are starting a revolution to overthrow a tyrannical dictator where you become king and are burdened with difficult political choices.

The design choices were somewhat questionable, mostly stemming from the user interface with the pause menu. How it worked is that the inventory and pause menu was like a wardrobe you could walk around in, sounds like a novel concept right? It was a fun idea, however it is rather fiddly when you wanted to check your clothes go to a different room, check your treasury go to the next room and so one, it added faffing about where they didn’t to be any.

When you became king in the game that is where it started to standout, because your choices actually had weight to the overall world. Well it would if there wasn’t an exploit of buying all the expensive properties, jacking the rent up and leaving the console on overnight where you could fund your political goals yourself. I know it’s a mechanic, but it kind makes the weight of your decisions falter a bit. Fable 3 wasn’t necessarily a bad title, but it did feel a bit rushed and that was due it being released 2 years after Fable 2, but I do still recommend it.

Fable is a series I want to see again, it is truly one of Microsoft’s most unique games, with beautiful worlds to explore, fun combat and a fun stories that do not take themselves seriously. If you have to time go back and play these titles I would recommend it. If you have an Xbox One it is easier than ever to start your story and leave a mark in the land of Albion.