Monday, 22 July 2019

Rogue Warrior Review - Do you talk to your mother that way?

By Sam Coles:

Sometimes I wonder what board members are thinking when it comes to greenlighting projects in the games industry, which was my thought when I played Rogue Warrior for the first time. This game is so bad that it is amazing, it is entertaining for all the wrong reasons but that is what makes it special. Originally released in 2009, developed by Rebellion and published by Bethesda (yes really). It’s a game that I expect that Bethesda want to eject from their portfolio, now is it a 1 out of 10 like IGN rated it back in the day? No, as I found that rating rather ridiculous and hyperbolic as the game is functional (mostly), but it’s worth it for the dialogue alone. Let’s get into it!

Based loosely on the book of the same name and I will say loosely with the biggest quotations that Microsoft Word will permit. It follows the escapades of real life Navy Seal Richard Marcinko who is called Dick for short, which is rather appropriate considering the game’s tone which I will get into. He is tasked to investigate North Korea, as there are hints of them hiding weapons of mass destruction for the Soviets. Like with most military shooters of the time it is rather stock standard, but that is not the reason to play the game as absurd amount of profanity that is out of context coupled with the performance from Mickey Rourke is what makes this game amazing.

Gameplay is a first person shooter, which is functional for the most part; you point and shoot where they reliably die. It takes ques from the Rainbow Six: Vegas games where it has third person elements, what I mean by this is that you can snap into cover and it will bring the camera out where it turns into a cover based shooter. This system works somewhat, but there were moments where I was clearly in cover and yet I was still taking damage by someone who seemed to be able to curve bullets like an assassin from Wanted. The other issue I have with the gameplay is that you die insanely fast; it only takes a couple of bullets before you resemble a human shaped clarinet. On the other hand you do regenerate health just as fast, so you could look at that as a silver lining.

The game does emphasise stealth, but this is works just as well as trying to eat a bowl of soup with a folk it just doesn’t work. What has clearly had a lot of work put into it are the executions, according to some sources there are 25 of them and I very much believe them. They vary from the usual slicing someone’s throat open, to the more “creative” where he stabs them in the neither regions and the delivers a right hook. The stealth doesn’t work really because as soon as someone spots you there is no way to revert back to a non-alert status; you just end up pulling out an automatic weapon where it is business as usual.

Now what is the saving grace of this game? Well it is the dialogue, which is voiced by none other than Mickey Rourke. He clearly knew what sort dross he was working with so he hammed it up with his performance; it’s so over the top where he uses four letter words like Tic-Tacs. If I had a tally chart counting the amount of times he accused someone sampling male genitalia in a firefight, I would probably go through an entire stationary draw of pens. It’s the absurd amount of profanity is what makes this game so good, it is always out of context and he sounds like a rambling old man sat in the corner of the pub shouting at the youth. If he ran out of ammo I’m sure he could swear the North Koreans to death, which honestly if a bearded man ran in a room and started to shout nonsensical profanity at me I would probably be scared too.

The game is not particularly good looking, and don’t give me the excuse it’s from 2009 because even for 2009 it wasn’t visually impressive. The textures are muddy, blurry and look like they come from a PlayStation 2 game, rubbing excrement in your eyes would be more appealing compared to this visuals of this game. Also the game doesn’t run well, especially on the consoles. I played this on the Xbox 360 and the framerate stutters like a politician dodging a sensitive question, especially at the start of the game where it would almost reach single digits where it almost made me feel sick. Although after the first level the framerate stables out, but not by much as it performs as well as Goldeneye on the N64 which is not acceptable for a 2009 game.

Rogue Warrior is a game that everyone should play at least once; it is unintentionally hilarious with Mickey Rourke’s over the top delivery. The game is not great by any stretch; however it is not a 1 out of 10 as many mainstream outlets would have you believe at the time of its release. Now let me preface in this conclusion that it is not a good game either, but if you want to laugh so hard that water will spray out of your nose, then this is well worth the £1.50. Sometimes all need to do is laugh and Rogue Warrior fulfils that quota, plus it is not that long, it only took me 2 hours to finish and that is as long as it needs to be.

Friday, 19 July 2019

Etherborn Review - The beauty of loneliness.

By Sam Coles:

It is summer time (as of writing) the birds are sing, the sun is out and the current releases are about as baron as my dinner plate after a 40 mile cycle. Anyway this is a time where I get to indulge myself with older games on previous gen consoles as well as indie titles, this time I got to check a game called Etherborn a month in advance and I have to say it is beautiful.

I know platformers are ubiquitous in the indie scene especially pixel art platformers, however Etherborn has an interesting and unique art style coupled with anti-gravity platforming mechanics. It’s a game that one must take their time and examine the environment, there are no time limits the game lets you go at you own pace as you explore the empty abyss you inhabit. The world is empty yet beautiful, but that doesn’t mean it is not treacherous where you can fall to your immediate death, as you hear is the wind intensify and then a thud as you land.

As I said this game is a puzzle platformer which tend to be the norm in the indie scene, but this game puts a different spin with the anti-gravity elements where you can find yourself upside down as you solve the various challenges the game throws at you. Each level is thematically different with music, challenge and just aesthetics in general so you don’t get fatigue as you play each stage. These puzzles aren’t particularly hard, however it can be rather obtuse about where you are supposed to go and what you are meant to do, but you do eventually get those “Ah-ha” moments when you figure it out.

Each stage you have to collect glowing orbs to help you progress, these generally activate platforms to you help you move forward. However just because you have used them that doesn’t mean you won’t need them again, no in later stages you do have to keep shifting them around to gain new access points. This can cause a lot of back tracking in the later levels, which honestly did start to get a tad tedious but it did feel immensely satisfying once everything clicked together.

Presentation wise this game is beautiful yet haunting, it has this other worldly atmosphere that where it has these bright yet desolate landscapes where you are alone with no one to help you. Geometry may come across as simplistic, but it is the lighting that really brings each stage to life with bright colour hues that standout from the washed out abyss. Coupled with that is a beautiful musical score that can evoke relaxation, beauty and sometimes creepy undertones it’s classical music at its finest and I want to own it in my musical collection.

Overall Etherborn was a nice change of pace from the fast and quick action violence I usually review; it’s beautiful, serves up a decent challenge and has an excellent score. It can be rather cryptic at times, but it is all the more satisfying when you finally piece the puzzle together to continue the adventure in the isolated environment. If you are looking for a slow paced puzzle platformer I highly recommend it, it is available on the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Editorial | Mirror's Edge: Run as fast as you can.

By Sam Coles:

2008 was a great year for video games; we had games that were landmark titles such as Grand Theft Auto IV, Metal Gear Solid 4, Devil May Cry 4 and the overlooked title Mirror’s Edge. Before DICE were just used as a well-oiled machine to make Battlefield games, they were allowed to experiment with games. Mirror’s Edge is a wonderful experience, with slick controls and visuals even 11 years later still stands out. I want to talk about it for a few paragraphs and maybe I can persuade you to play it.

Mirror’s Edge takes place in an Orwellian society where you are constantly being watched, and each foot step is monitored. You play as Faith who is a runner; they act as a courier service for the criminal underworld. However her sister Kate, who happens to be a police officer, is framed for murder of a political figure. Honestly the story is not that great, the voice acting is pretty good but there are a few lines where it just sounds as if they are reading off a medication list.

No Mirror’s Edge is not praised for its narrative, as it is known for the gameplay it brought forth in the late 2000’s. The game is a first person platformer primarily, now if you grew up with mid to late 90’s shooters that premise may make you throw up in your mouth a little, as platforming in those games were ubiquitous. However it is the main focus of Mirror’s Edge and executes it flawlessly, as it feels like you are controlling a human being and not a floating camera with a gun for a hand.

Faith feels great to control she has weight to her, where you feel every tap of her feet, the wind coursing through her hair and the thump when she lands a high jump. The parkour controls feel fast and fluid (mostly), where it feels immensely satisfying to string moves together in quick succession without losing momentum. The feeling of drop kicking a door down without losing speed as you flee from your pursuers is so fun and makes you feel unstoppable. The game is all about finishing levels as fast as you can, which is a speedrunner’s wet dream. If you get the chance I implore you to look up speedruns for this game, how they get through levels so quickly is almost inhuman.

There is combat in this game, but let me be honest and say it’s not very good but that is because it is not the main focus. Let’s start with the hand to hand, it can work sometimes but I had moments where my punches just don’t do anything. You can perform disarming grabs, but again the timing is eerily precise with nothing more than the enemy’s gun turning red to guide you. Shooting feels clunky and lacks impact, most of the time when I shoot at someone I’m not sure if I’m hitting them, as there is little visual feedback on their part. Combat is mostly optional; however there are segments where they force you to fight which become cumbersome and frustrating. Fortunately they are not too frequent!

For game that came out in 2008, this is still a visually stunning game and I’m playing this on a PlayStation 3. The vibrant colours really stood out at the time, which you have to remember the industry was dominated by the brown and grey hues of realistic tones. Mirror’s Edge has bright whites, reds, greens and oranges that really make it stand the test of time, although the bloom can get rather absurd at times especially in the final level in the interiors of the shard. However overall visually it still holds up even on the dated hardware of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Mirror’s Edge was game that was long forgotten in the annals of times, however it did get a sequel in 2016 but again that game just went under the radar. If you can take some time out to play this 2008 classic, it’s beautiful with fun platforming mechanics that will have you coming back over and over again!

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Editorial | Minecraft: 10 years of crafting.

By Sam Coles:

People often forget that fame is not an instant thing one must work for it to make a name for oneself; this was the case for Minecraft. It started as a small little project by Notch back in 2009, but thanks to exposure on Youtube it exploded onto the scene where it would expand into a survival game icon with various releases across console and PC. I want to talk about my experience with the game and how even 10 years later I’m still playing it.

In 2009 I had started my A-levels at sixth form and I made lots of friends, it was one morning I saw a friend of mine messing around on his Mac Book playing this blocky looking title. Me being narrow minded at the time said “The graphics are rubbish”, I was foolish back then as I didn’t really play games unless it was triple A, I know stupid if you know me today. It wasn’t until I did a bit more research into the game that I understood what the fuss was about, and it wasn’t until 2012 that I got into the game properly due to the release of the game on the Xbox 360.

Now yes the Xbox 360 version of Minecraft was neutered to put it politely, but I was immediately enraptured with it due to the limitless possibilities with what you could create. When I first played Minecraft I like many was lost with what I was supposed to do, yes even with the console version with the tutorial world it definitely helps to have the Wiki open as this is very much a community driven game. However when I got to grips with the basics, I fell in love with the survival mode where I would craft (no pun intended) my second home in this blocky world.

As simplistic the game may appear it is a beautiful game, there is something wonderful staring into the distance as you see the square shaped sun slowly sink into the horizon. One who is narrow minded may scoff at the visuals, but to be honest they look timeless, coupled with the relaxing piano soundtrack that I can listen to for hours. I think that is one of the reasons why Minecraft stands out to this day, and this due is to its art style the blocky nature screams Lego coupled with the fantastic lighting from crimson sunsets to the dark moon lit nights.

What also caught my attention was the exploration, now there are many open world games on the market these days but Minecraft released when they were not as saturated like people with clipboards in a busy city centre. The game doesn’t tell you to go anywhere specific as it leaves you to your own devices, it tantalises you with a cave where gives you a slight nudge where it almost says to you “there is treasure in there, go in and find it”. It’s this hands off approach that Minecraft has is why people are so in love with it, it’s not just the creative side but to almost craft a second life/schedule is rather engrossing. Managing a farm, smelting iron or gold each day as you clock in may come across as mundane, but it’s a routine that we humans thrive on and that’s the hook of the game.

It’s not just a solo experience, how can I forget to mention that you can play it with friends. I have had some of the best times in gaming playing this game with friends, we would build settlements together, kill monsters and explore to our hearts content. With the extra bonus of multiplayer it doubles the fun and exploration, as you have to coordinate with each other to get things done, that or you act like an idiot and grief your mates and dump lava on them for the 50th time.

Minecraft is truly a wonderful experience with friends or if you want to be on your lonesome, its simple aesthetic is deceiving as there are multiple layers of depth to it. It’s mindboggling to me that this game is 10 years old and people are still talking about it, it is truly a landmark in gaming and is something that is enjoyed by both adults and children where it brings people together.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Editorial | Ezio Auditore: Naive teenager to an old and wise assassin.

By Sam Coles:

There are characters that we form attachments to in video games, where we share the emotions that they go through whether it is sadness, anger or general happiness. Ezio Auditore is one of the best characters from the Assassin’s Creed series, a video game franchise that is generally met with mixed reception these days. However from 2009 to 2011 it was at its best, with a trilogy of games set in Renaissance Italy and 16th century Turkey which tells the story of his life from his teens up to an old man. 

We first see the charismatic Ezio as a teenager, with his wisecracking demeanour as he antagonises a rival family which devolves into a scrap. It’s at this point of his life where he is rather immature, but he has a good life as he is a son to a very powerful and influential man in the city of Florence. Ezio spends most of his days, causing trouble, copulating with various women and drinking much to his father’s disapproval, but he gives him the benefit of the doubt as he can deliver letters for him in a quick manner.  

However it is one pivotal moment where Ezio starts to grow up, and that is unfortunately the death of his two brothers and father. It’s this moment that Ezio finds out that his father was part of the brotherhood of assassin’s, which he then takes on the mantle all in the name of revenge, as well as foiling the Templar’s plans. He trains over the years in Assassin’s Creed II, we see go from na├»ve teenager to a strong young adult as he has to take on the responsibility of taking care of his sister and mother.

In Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood we see Ezio struggling with the fact that he is getting older, as he is not as spritely as he once was when he sees a doctor he says to him “You should be more careful at your age”. This is spawns a motivation for him to form a new branch of the Brotherhood in Rome, for him to oversee everything as well as enlisting help to takedown the Borgia family. It’s in this game we see him start to slow down as he is not getting any younger, plus he keeps losing people who he loves due to his endeavours to stop the Borgias and his quest to secure The Apple of Eden.

Fast forward years later we see Ezio travel back to where the series started, the fortress based in Masyaf. It’s here he is in search for the fabled vault of Altair, which holds secrets about the assassin order. At this point Ezio is an old man, he sees that he can’t keep fighting and that he needs to settle down at some point. Fortunately he does, as he finds a beautiful woman who happens to be Italian in Constantinople. It’s here that Ezio does a bit of soul searching, as he realises that he is getting old and he may not have long left in his life but life can be funny that way and he ends up pushing back Templar oppression in the city. When he finally finds all the keys to Altair’s vault, he can finally rest easy in his old age knowing what happen to the fabled assassin where he then recites his legendary line “Requiescat in pace.

Ezio is a character that I felt I had bonded with as I followed his chronicles of his life from 2009 to 2011. I saw him fulfil his character arch from wisecracking teenager to an old and wise assassin passing his skills on to a new generation. His biography is a tale of happiness, love and tragedy, if you haven’t you owe yourself to experience his life story in Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood and Revelations. Plus it is very easy these days as these games are in one pack on the Xbox One and PS4, so there is no excuse.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Editorial | Yennefer of Vengerberg: Mother, Temptress and Schemer.

By Sam Coles:

The Witcher 3 is a game that I’m still not bored of, and I have been playing it since its release all the way back in 2015. Why? Well it is one of most well-crafted games of this generation, from the world; music, gameplay and the subject of this article the characters. Yennefer of Vengerberg is a character that I grew to love, as she can be cold, loving, funny and just caring overall.

Yennefer has a long standing history with The White Wolf; however those who may have just played the games maybe a tad confused with her importance in the third game. This is because The Witcher 3 is the first appearance of the raven haired temptress, that being said she is mentioned in conversations and flashbacks during The Witcher 2 but besides that this is the first time players have met her. If you read the books you get more of a background why she is so important to Geralt, and if you go back and read them and then play The Witcher 3 again you will form more of an attachment to her.

Yennefer is probably one of the characters that is consistent in both the books and games in terms of personality, unlike Geralt who comes across as a bit of a lunatic in the books compared to the games. Yen tends to be strict and calculating, her methods of sorting a situation out can be morally questionable such as resorting to necromancy in some instances, but this is generally for the greater good. That being said sometimes it can be for her own agenda, but that is a double edge sword because it is all in the name to protect her daughter Ciri and the love of her life Geralt of Riva.

She tends to act as Geralt’s rock and can calm him down in combative situations, but Geralt is also the same with her and that is why they make the perfect couple. Their personalities tend to be chalk and cheese, where Geralt is generally straight to the point with his silver sword, whereas Yen is a bit more methodical and somewhat sneaky with her approach. I think this is why their dynamic tends to work, as they have vastly different approaches to scenarios.

She is not just a schemer though, she can be a bit of a temptress and romantic, she acts almost like a teenager around Geralt with lustful thoughts that flow through her mind. Which lead to some encounters that I won’t spoil, but it does show the overwhelming passion that they have for each other as she truly loves The White Wolf and will do anything to protect the dry witted monster hunter. You can really tell that she cares about him, when you see her violet eye flash with compassion, a stare that is enough to turn any man’s legs to jelly.

Like Geralt she cares about the emerald eyed girl Ciri, who she treats like a daughter. In the books she doesn’t really have that much of an interest in Ciri maternally initially, but she does make sure she has a basic understanding of manners and life in general. It’s through this that Yennefer begins to establish a bond with “ The Little She Devil” to quote Vesemir, and then starts to look at her as a daughter.

Yennefer of Vengerberg is one of my favourite video game characters as well in fictional books, she’s cold, calculating and is also not afraid to show love and compassion for those who she cares about. She is character that will stick in my mind for the next 10 to 20 years; she is a strong person who is willing to do anything to protect those who she loves.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Editorial | The Last of Us 6 Years Later: How it changed storytelling in games.

By Sam Coles:

I’ve been on record saying that I think The Last of Us is good, but not the best games ever and that is like saying you like pineapple on pizza, it’s bound to have a mixed response. However what I cannot deny is the overall influence it has had on interactive storytelling, which has had an impact on games since its initial release in 2013. I want to talk about the game, mostly about the story and characters to celebrate 6 years since its release.

If one is to take a look at The Last of Us with a cynical mind you would probably roll your eyes like a cement mixer, but no this zombie story sorry I mean infected is more unique than one would believe. The premise of the infected is more interesting to start with for one it’s not a virus, no it is based on a real life fungal infection that affects insects, and it is pushed to the extreme where it starts to spread to humans. What’s great about this different take on the genre is that we get more interesting enemy designs, so you have enemies that have just been infected with the tiniest shred of humanity within them, and then you get the terrifying clickers which are blind and rely on sound to find you. Now I haven’t even discussed the story and the game is already interesting, now let’s talk about the aspect of why everyone loves this game.

The first time I played The Last of Us it was Christmas of 2013, I got my PS3 a few months prior and my Mum and Dad got me the game as a gift for Christmas. My expectations were middling when I played the introduction, but it’s the event that transforms Joel when his young daughter Sarah dies. When this moment transpired I had tears rolling down my face, and I thought What is wrong with me, but it shows how powerful the acting and emotions are in this game.

20 years after that tumultuous event Joel is now a smuggler in the world gripped by infection and martial law, he does this to survive on ration cards where he mostly smuggles drugs. However it is one job that completely changes him over time, where he is tasked with escorting a young girl named Ellie, with the reasons at first to be unknown. What I like about this relationship is at first Joel really doesn’t like the idea and resents Ellie, however over time he starts to developer a father like relationship with her, something he hasn’t felt for two decades.

What makes this all the more compelling is the performances from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, they have been in roles in games before this but that has to be their best performance yet. It’s packed with so much emotion and weight, that you feel heartbroken when something happens to them. The father and daughter dynamic between the two is so convincing, you see Joel as a cold and bitter old man to begin with where he sees no replacement for Sarah, but at the story goes on he grows closer and closer to Ellie.
Ellie is almost the same as she doesn’t want to be left alone, but at the same time she doesn’t really know how to interact with other humans in a civilised matter as she was never taught. She was brought up in a world filled with death and destruction, where Joel teachers her the basic tenants of humanity.

Look at me I’ve spent so long on the narrative I forgot to talk about the gameplay; well to be honest the gameplay is serviceable but nothing remarkable. This was the rise of the trend of the “Play it your way” style, where you could take the stealth route which was the most sensible, or blow your cover and be as subtle as an NRA member at a firing range. It’s not bad by any means, it’s weighty and meaty the shotgun packs a mean punch which always gets a thumbs up from me. However it’s not the reason why most remember The Last of Us, or any other Naughty Dog game from the PS3 onwards, it’s generally the writing and acting that pulls them through.

The Last of Us is truly a landmark of interactive storytelling, yes I do criticise it a lot but that is mostly from the gameplay stance. However I cannot deny its overall impact that it has had on the industry, where we started to see other games in this generation mimic its storytelling, from God of War to even Red Dead Redemption 2. Some would argue that it’s not the best way of telling a story in a game, but to be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.