Saturday, 19 August 2017

Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee Review - What an odd world.


By Sam Coles:

It was a great time to be alive during the 90’s if you’re were a gamer because it was the golden age of gaming, as we had the Super Nintendo, Mega Drive, PS1 and N64 to name a few consoles. It was during a time where game publishers and developers were more experimental with their games and took more risks when it came to mechanics, gameplay and even story. Abe’s Oddysee was one of those games as it continued what Another World and Flashback laid the foundation for in the form of the cinematic platformer. Released on the Sony PlayStation in 1997 this game was a standout title with the setting and the graphics which in my opinion still shine today with the pre-rendered nature which help the game hold up even 20 years later.

Abe’s Oddysee takes place in the fictional world of Oddworld, where you see yourself in the shoes of Abe who is part of the Mudokon race that are an enslaved and are working at a meat factory called Rupture Farms. You play as the titular Abe, who is working late at Rupture Farms and he happens to overhear a meeting with the heads of the company, it turns out that they have killed off most of the wildlife in Oddworld and they have devised a new plan. To Abe’s horror it turns out that they want to turn Mudokons into tasty snacks, so Abe goes on the run where he traverses the world of Oddworld where he is at the bottom of the food chain and he must be cautious and save his fellow Mudokons.  

The gameplay is a cinematic platformer similar to games such as Flashback, Another World and Prince of Persia; however unlike those games I would say Oddworld nailed it. Abe has real weight to him, you feel every jump and strain as he pulls himself up onto a ledge coupled with his momentum when sprints, the feel of Abe is fantastic.

You’ll not only be doing platforming you’ll get a chance to take control of the trigger happy Sligs with your mind, how this works is that Abe can do a chant which them takes control of the Sligs. You can’t do this is all areas because there will be counter measures to stop you from chanting which makes you think outside of the box.

You have the main task of saving your follow Mudokons, how you do this is using the game speak where you can communicate with them with various commands. You start off by saying hello and then say follow me but you will have to command them to stop in the more precarious areas as they have a habit of walking off edges. The major issue I have with this system is that you can only command one Mudokon at one time, this is something that they fixed in the sequel but here it slows down the pace as you have to run back and forth to get others to follow, this brings the game’s pace to a halt.

For an Original PlayStation game it has aged rather well in terms of its presentation I think it was a good decision to go for a pre-rendered look as it has stand the test of time. Even the FMV cutscenes still look good which was the big sticking point of PS1 games as most FMV scenes from PS1 games look absolutely terrifying but Abe’s Oddysee got the animation down, which with the fact the creators worked in animation in TV and film.


Oddworld Abe’s Oddysee is a fantastic game and is a must play if you own an original PlayStation but they did remake the game on the PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, Vita and the Wii U so there are plenty of options.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age - An underrated gem in the Final Fantasy series.


By Sam Coles:

It’s hard to believe that Final Fantasy XII came out on the legendary PS2 all the way back in 2006. It’s odd that this game came out on the PS2 as the Xbox 360 had been out for a year and the PS3 was a fresh piece of hardware on the market. Final Fantasy XII was the last main line game to be exclusive to the PlayStation as the next iterations in the series would release on Microsoft’s console. Square Enix after a decade have decided to clear up the game and re-release it on the PS4, with some new features that were not present in the PS2 release. Does it stack up to modern role playing games? In short yes.

Final Fantasy XII takes place during a time where magic was common place and airships littered the skies, however it is a time of war between two empires that want nothing but total control of a central continent. You play as Vaan a young orphan boy who does odd jobs in the city of Dalmasca from the standard delivery jobs to the more morally questionable ones such as stealing from people’s houses. He wants to make enough money so he can flee the city and buy an airship so he can go on a swash buckling adventure as a sky pirate. What I like about this game’s story is that it goes back to a lighter tone of Final Fantasy XI on the original PlayStation which took influence from the NES games. Not to say that the story doesn’t have any dark moments because it does, with political conspiracies and shocking twists with betrayal and murder.

The gameplay is what separated it from other games in the series at the time, as it ditched the standard turn based combat and mixed it with real time movement. How this works is that you have control of your characters movement when you’re engaged in a fight, however your attacks are on a cool down evoking the turn based routes.

If you’ve played games like World of Warcraft or Dragon Age: Origins it will be very familiar, but it still retains the menu system from old Final Fantasy titles where you select different enemies, attacks and items whether they are offensive or healing abilities. It’s good because it makes you feel more involved rather than a glorified version chess which the older titles felt like, not to say that’s bad but that sort of gameplay is rather dated and this revamped system appeases to both old fans and new fans.

The new feature of this game is in the title and that is the Zodiac job system, how this works is that you can select a class for each of your party members with the standard Warrior, Mage, and Rogue etc. You’re then presented with a grid system, each time you level up you gain points and you can sink those points into specific items and abilities. These can range from crafting a new weapon, a new shield to help with defence or just increasing your damage output and quantity of health for your party member. This is great because it gives you more flexibility of how you want to customise your party and it can make the difference of life and death in certain boss battles.

The presentation has been given a significant boost since the PS2 version, textures look sharper with the environments and characters look less blurry compared to the original release, I loaded up my PS2 copy to compare and contrast and it’s a huge difference. However they did not up the frame rate which is a real shame as it still runs at 30 frames per second, don’t get me wrong it’s a consistent frame rate but the game is not that visually demanding to not warrant a frame rate of 60. Another issue with the presentation is that the animations and lip synching are not great in some areas. You can really tell this was before the time when motion capture was common place in game development, as the animations are stiff and awkward and the lip syncing does not match the dialogue in gameplay scenes.


Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a great re-release as it is an underappreciated gem in the PS2 library which you should pick up if you’re a long-time fan or some who is just getting into the series. I hope Square Enix bring more of their Final Fantasy titles in an HD format hopefully some of their PS1 iterations, but this will tie us over until the next instalment in the franchise and the Final Fantasy VII Remake. 

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 Review - Tactical shooting at its finest.


By Sam Coles:

It’s hard to believe that back in the day we got sequels fairly quickly to critically acclaimed franchises, such as Rainbow Six Vegas 2 which the sequel came out a year later. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter was no different as the second game came out in 2007 one year after the original game, and the quality is leaps in bounds compared to the first from the gameplay, visuals and content.

Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 takes place directly after the original where Captain Mitchel saved the Vice President of the US, it’s not long until he is redeployed in Mexico as Mexican rebels are trying to smuggle nukes across US border. What transpires is a nuclear catastrophe that almost wipes out all of El Paso Texas and Mitchel and his Ghost Team have to go in and take down the rebel leader while keeping a quiet presence. Again the story is not the best because it’s a Tom Clancy game where all the characters are militaristic clichés such as the angry general shouting at you down a radio.

The gameplay is where they tend to focus on in Tom Clancy games as the story is generally a side line, well it use to be the side line. Once again you take control of Captain Mitchel and his Ghost Team where you can give them basic orders such as move forward, regroup, attack, go quiet or you can tell them to shoot certain enemies or blow up vehicles. You’ll need your team especially on elevated risk difficulty which is the setting I would highly recommend you play on to get the full experience as it encourages you to use all your squad commands.

You don’t only get command of a squad of soldiers, but you also have access to airstrikes, APCs, tanks and helicopters to even the playing field and these can really help you get out of stick situations especially in the latter half of the game where it throws everything it’s got at you.

As said early I recommend that you play the game on the hardest difficulty that is because it really feels as if this game was catered for this difficulty, as it encourages you to utilise all the assets you have in your command rather than playing it as a generic third person shooter.

The visuals are fantastic for a 10 year old game with great effects from incoming fire from enemies, to the explosions which shake the screen every time one happens. Gun models look great however the animations for reloading are rather anaemic as you don’t see the magazine being removed, you just see Mitchel fiddle with his gun for a bit and presto the gun is reloaded. I know what you’re going to say “it was 2007 what do you expect”. Which I would then retort with Rainbow Six Vegas came out around the same time with decent reload animations where you actually see them take the magazine out of the gun.


Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is a fantastic sequel and considering it came out one year later after the original game it managed to improve everything from the original. This game is insanely cheap these days as you can find it for around 50p to about £1 so it’s not going to dent your wallet that much.   

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Call of Duty Black Ops Review - The mind can play tricks.


By Sam Coles:

2010 was a great year for gaming as we got the superb Red Dead Redemption, but it was good year to be a Call of Duty fan as we got the excellent Call of Duty Black Ops. The game strayed away from the contemporary setting and instead told a story in the height of the Cold War during the 1960’s. It explores some controversial events from that era, such as The Bay of Pigs Invasion to the Vietnam War which isn’t explored often due to the unethical nature, but Treyarch don’t pull any punches with the subjects as it is a deep look into mind control and PTSD.

Call of Duty Black Ops takes place during the 1960’s at the height of the Cold War, where you play as Alex Mason who is in the SOG unit under the command of Frank Woods. Mason is being questioned by the CIA due to a string of mysterious numbers Mason keeps hearing inside his head, Mason recollects his past missions to get to the bottom of the situation. The game starts in 1961 during The Bay of Pigs Invasion which was a CIA operation to go in and eliminate Castro, they end up killing a double and Mason gets capture and ends up in a Russian prison camp.

Mason ends up bumping into an old man and if you have played World at War you’ll know Reznov. Reznov devises a plan to escape and Mason is successful but Reznov is not and is sent back to the prison camp or so you we think. In 1968 Mason is transferred to Vietnam with his best friend and commanding officer Frank Woods where they are investigating Soviet activity in Laos and Cambodia. They end up finding the Soviets and everything goes to hell. What I like about the story is that it doesn’t shy away from the subject matter, it goes really dark with torture, political conspiracies, mind control and just gory images as you go through the rat tunnels of Vietnam.

Gameplay is what you would expect from a Call of Duty game you point and you shoot, but it takes a raw and guerrilla approach with the warfare because it’s all about deniability, so you’ll be using different weapons like tomahawks, ballistic knives and my favourite explosive tipped crossbows. It feels excellent when you nail a direct hit with the crossbow because you start to see the enemy panic as the beeps get faster and more intense until it explodes and you see body parts fly everywhere. There are different vehicle sections in this campaign where you take control of a boat with machine guns on it, a Hind Helicopter with missiles and minigun and an SR-71 Blackbird where you command a platoon of soldiers in extreme weather conditions. It keeps the game fresh and breaks up the monotony of the shooting galleries.  

Multiplayer was a big shift after the mess that was Modern Warfare 2, for starters they got rid of all the broken perks such Stopping Power as well as getting rid of the stupid deathstreaks. You could also customise your characters at your own pace as you could spend points on weapons and attachments with COD points. How you earned COD points is by doing challenges, or the more fun way is to play Wager Matches this is a lot of fun as you could double down your bet and there was actually something on the line rather than just a match loss.

Presentation is something you can’t complain about when it comes to the Call of Duty series as they seem to hit out of the park every time and this game is no exception. The detail in this game is fantastic with beautiful animations from faces and movement from each main character, the animation is superb for a game that came out in 2010 this felt like developers from this point had a good grip with what they could do with the 360 and PS3. Environments look amazing from the frost laden mountains of Russia to the muggy and sweltering jungles of Vietnam with mud soaked with blood from the previous battle.


Call of Duty Black Ops is a great game and kicked off an excellent trilogy, you should pick this up it is fairly cheap although the 360 version is slightly more expensive due to the fact it is playable on Xbox One via backwards compatibility. If you have the chance pick this game up for the campaign alone as it is a deep psychological thriller that will mess with your mind. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Super Mario 64 Review - A landmark title, but it has aged terribly.


By Sam Coles:

Nintendo in the past have been known to release some fantastic games when they launch a console featuring the portly plumber Mario, with titles such as Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. Super Mario 64 is regarded as one of the best Mario games and is touted to be a game that has aged well, although I disagree with that statement I understand what it did for 3D platformers at the time. However it has aged poorly with terrible camera angles and awkward platforming compared to today’s standards. Is it a bad game? Yes and no.

Super Mario 64 was one of the first 3D platfomers of the time and it really shows within the graphical and gameplay department, now I understand the game is old but I don’t understand how people can say that this game still holds up. How the game works is that you start off in a hub world which is Princess Peach’s castle, where you have various doors you can go through that is if you have enough power stars.

In each door there is a painting you can jump through where you then start the game and play through a level, before you start the level you have to choose what power star you want to collect. However you don’t have to go for that start because Super Mario 64 is fairly open to what approach you want to take, so if you don’t want to fight King Thwomp you don’t have to and instead go collect the 8 red coins.

Mario controls were tuned to suit a 3D plain, so he is a lot more acrobatic compared to the other games, but I expect they took notes from the Donkey Kong game that was released on the Game Boy back in 1994. There is no longer a run button like there was in older Mario titles, but instead he builds up momentum over time gradually getting faster. He can jump higher if you perform a succession of jumps with the final jump resulting in a back flip; this is great if you want to get around faster in larger areas. He can also perform the long jump which is extremely fun to use as well as a great way to traverse large gaps.

The controls are great in open areas; however when you get the later stages of the game it decides to throw you in cramped environments and this can get very aggravating with the controls and the camera, oh lord the camera. The camera is a nightmare in this game especially when you’re in enclosed spaces as it refuses to move in the direction you want it to go some times and it will be positioned where your screen is filled with a blurry brick wall texture. I don’t understand how Nintendo fan boys can completely disregard this terrible camera system and still say that this game holds up, the camera ultimately holds the game back and Nintendo themselves fixed it in the next Mario game Sunshine.

Visually the game looks awful, most games on the N64 have not aged well in the graphical department they tend to be a blurry and muddy mess. Although Mario 64 is brighter it doesn’t have the muddy textures like some games on the system, but the textures are flat and polygonal and Mario looks like an inflatable doll that has been deflated and inflated several times. There is nothing appealing about the presentation in this game.


Super Mario 64 is a game that has aged poorly it’s like the cheap wine of the video game world, the older it gets the more like vinegar it will taste like compared to other games from the 90’s that are like a fine vintage wine. The controls and camera get very frustrating in the later levels in the tight and enclosed spaces coupled with the horrendous presentation, there are better Mario games out there on the NES, SNES, GameCube  and Wii. 

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception Review - A lukewarm reception, but why?


By Sam Coles:

Uncharted started with humble beginnings with the original game, as it was tad clunky in the platforming department and with the somewhat questionable hit detection with the combat. Uncharted 2 fixed everything that was wrong with the first game coupled with the fantastic, bombastic and swash buckling story you embarked on with the charismatic Nathan Drake. However when I speak to fans of the series there seems to be a lot of contention about Uncharted 3 Drakes Deception and I honestly don’t understand why. Maybe I’m a bit bias as it was the first Uncharted game I played as it was one of the first PS3 games I got when I bought the system. Maybe it’s the virgin effect with games where you love the first game you play more than any other in the series no matter the flaws. Is it bad? No absolutely not.

Uncharted 3 starts off in the city of London where we see our heroes Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan on their way to a deal to sell Sir Francis Drake’s ring. The deal starts off smoothly where they are about to exchange the ring, however Nathan examines the bank notes and finds out that they are counterfeit. A disagreement happens and they find themselves in a bar fight until they are mortally wounded by gunfire.

We then see a flashback when Nathan was a young orphan boy in Latin America, this is where we find out how Sully and Drake first meet and it’s because they both share a similar talent of thievery. The story is excellent with as it takes elements of Lawrence of Arabia as it is highly influenced from his writing, coupled with the Middle Eastern and Arabian score which make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when it starts to play.  

Gameplay is more or less unchanged from the previous game with a few minor tweaks, such as being able to throw grenades back which can turn the tables in gunfights and is super satisfying when you take down a huge group of enemies. Climbing has been given a slight adjustment but I still have trouble with what he will grab or not grab onto resulting in me falling to my death. Shooting is the best in the series with tight and responsive controls, coupled with great recoil patterns from assault rifles and pistols, it doesn’t feel stiff like the other games.

The presentation is fantastic considering the game came out six years ago, this was the same year that Skyrim came out which hasn’t aged well compared to Uncharted 3 in the visual department. The environments look absolutely stunning from the rain soak cobbles of London town to the dry desolate deserts of Arabia; these areas have an astounding amount of detail put into them considering they released this game two years later after the second game.

The only real issue I have with this game is that the cover mechanics are a bit fiddly, Drake has a habit of sliding into the wrong cover, but this is the nature of third person games and you have to be eerily precise where you’re aiming.


Uncharted 3 Drakes Deception is a fantastic game, I don’t understand why this game gets the negative attention it gets. Yes it does re-use things from Uncharted 2, but that’s not a bad thing as it puts a new twist on those situations. If you have a PS3 knocking about buy it or if you have a PS4 get the Nathan Drake Collection which comes with all three games that are on the PS3. 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Ghost Recon Future Soldier - The last traditional Ghost Recon game.


By Sam Coles:

I don’t know what it was about the Tom Clancy games during the Xbox 360 and PS3 period, but I use to sink hours into them especially the Ghost Recon games. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 is my favourite game from that era and it was a while before we got a sequel in the series. Ghost Recon Future Soldier was an interesting game as it went through a lot of changes in its development; it was first announced in 2009 and was presented as a futuristic shooter where Ghost Team had shoulder mounted rockets which was a bit odd.
 
When the game got another trailer in late 2011 it was clear that they scraped the whole distant future concept and instead went with a more traditional military setting with more advanced tech. The game eventually came out on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in mid-2012 and it got decent reviews, but a lot of fans did not like the game because it was “streamlined”.

Ghost Recon Future Soldier takes place in the not too distant future, where the Ghost Team is tasked to intercept South American military forces that are transporting a nuclear device. They succeed however it was too late and the nuke is activated and they are killed in the explosion despite their attempts to flee. A new Ghost Team is briefed and the must find out who supplied them the nuke and avenge their fallen comrades. To be honest the story is your standard Tom Clancy narrative with cliché characters, but the cast is well voice with the deep and glorious voice of Brian Bloom.

The game is a third person tactical shooter where you can choose your approach whether you want to go loud or quiet, although there are few sections where they force you to go quiet. You can choose what weapons you want to take on a mission before you head out, and this system is great as you can go into the weapon smith. The weapon smith lets you customise pretty much any aspect of your gun; it’s a gun enthusiast’s wet dream as the gun breaks apart showing the new attachment you’re putting on your gun. It is absolutely insane how much detail was put into the gunsmith as that must have taken years to animate.

Once you’re in the game the controls feel very tight and responsive, shooting feels a lot more responsive compared to Advanced Warfighter which felt a tad stiff and sluggish, the controls feel very snappy. You can give basic commands to your squad mates, but they have streamlined this as the tactical map is now gone and you can’t take control of UAVs to scout the coming areas as the levels are now very linear rather than the wide open ones from the previous games. You do have access to various gadgets to scout the area, however these are mostly situational and you don’t really use them outside of a few scripted moments.

This game came out in 2012 so the presentation still holds up, although the character models do like a bit odd but most of the time the main character’s faces are covered up and they look good when they’re in their full armour. What is especially beautiful are the environments, they really reflect back on you from the sweltering heat in the African desert with the heat waves rising, to the Artic tundra’s cold grasp infiltrating your body. The sound design is excellent the weapons sound as if they do actual damage, coupled with the thunderous noises that are the hand grenades when they explode.

The only problem I really have with this game are the forced stealth sections as they strip away what makes the Ghost Recon series good, as the whole point of the game is to approach the combat situation your way whether it is guns blazing or taking a silent route.


Ghost Recon Future Soldier is mostly an enjoyable game in the series and was the last traditional game in the series before Ubisoft decided to turn the series into an open world game because it’s Ubisoft. You can get it for a cheap price on Xbox 360 and PS3 for around £1-£1.50 so you get more than your money’s worth.