Monday, 30 May 2016

Red Alert 3 Review - Welcome Back Commander!

By Sam Coles:

If you were playing games on PC in the 90’s then you more than likely played the Command & Conquer series. I know what you’re thinking “Sam you’re only 23 years old you would have been too young to play these”. I was very mature for my age and I was playing Red Alert 1 when I was really young and I understood the mechanics then I used that knowledge for the expanded sequel Red Alert 2 in the early 2000’s. We didn’t get a sequel to Red Alert until 2008 which was a huge gap between games.

Red Alert 3’s story starts as the Soviet Union is collapsing, but two Soviet loyalist still have hope and they have been working on a time machine where they go back in time and kill Albert Einstein to alter the future. They come back and the Soviet Union is thriving and one of them becomes the new Premier played by Tim Curry, they find out that they have a new enemy a resurrected Empire of the Rising Sun where the Emperor who is played by George Takei has declared war on Soviet Russia and the Ally forces. They stuck with the live action cutscenes from the early games and they’re cheesy and really entertaining to watch with the wink to camera attitude.

If you couldn’t tell this game has a star studded cast with Tim Curry and Jenny McCarthy playing the beautiful but deadly commando Tanya. If you’ve played you know that they like to flaunt the female characters a bit and why not have something nice to look at in between battles.

The game is split up into three campaigns you have Soviet, Allies and Rising Sun this is great because each faction has unique play styles and tactics when it comes down to their units and structures you can build. Each mission is different and unique because sometimes you have limited units and you have rescue POWs, these situations are tense because you have to manage limited resources and units. You do get missions where have lots of units and you can dominate your enemies with super weapons which will make you feel like a bad ass commander.

If you’ve played any Command & Conquer game you’ll be familiar with the fundamentals where start off with a construction yard and you build up your base with new structures, defences and units. You can earn points when you complete certain objectives and you can open the top secret protocols where you can use ridiculous super weapons like the Soviet’s orbital drop where you dump satellites on buildings.  These super weapons are great for turning a battle around when the enemy have got you on the ropes and you can kick back hard. You have your standard range of units like conscripts and flak troopers etc. then you have you have the more exotic units like Tanya and Natasha who can take down all units with one shot with their fire arms or C4 and airstrikes.

Presentation is great I played this on the Xbox 360 and usually RTS games on consoles have a habit of running poorly due to the high amount of units on screen, but this game rarely has a hiccup with the frame rate. The effects are great with the water and the explosions that look amazing especially when you see the flames of the rockets when they’re launched from the Soviet Dreadnaughts. Graphics are great nothing to complain about and this game came out in 2008 and it still holds and the cutscenes look good with the colour correction and camera angles.

Red Alert 3 is a joy to play with great gameplay with cheesy yet entertaining cutscenes, if you haven’t played this game do it! It’s a blast from start to finish. 

Burnout Paradise Review - Where's the sequel EA?

By Sam Coles:

I don’t know what it was during the period between 2007-2008 but we got some real classics on the Xbox 360 and PS3 with games like Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Metal Gear Solid 4, GTA IV, Fable II and of course Burnout Paradise. This game is a wonderful game and I don’t understand why EA hasn’t produced a sequel to it for nearly 10 years because it’s a solid concept an over the top racing game with lots of crashing at break neck speeds.

It’s from the moment when you boot up the game and get to the title screen and you hear the first few chords of Guns and Roses song Paradise City, from that moment you know you’re in for a treat. You get into the game and you find yourself in a sandbox playground where you can go and do a few races or just drive around and cause chaos for the residents of Paradise City. This was during a time where open world games didn’t over saturate the industry where an open world game was exciting and not the default game like it is now so it felt fresh and new.

The gameplay is simple you drive and crash emphasis on crashing because it’s hard not to as you’ll be driving at ridiculous speeds. There are a variety of modes in this game you have your standard circuit races and sprint races where you have to drive to a set destination with no laps and you can win by taking down other drivers or utilising shortcuts. There are events where you’re a wanted man and you must escape a convoy of SUV’s as they try and slam you off the road, these events get unforgivably hard as you progress through the game but it is fun and tense.

The presentation still shines even after 8 years of its release with great car models and a huge detailed city for you to cause destruction. I’m really surprised how well this game runs because there is a lot of stuff happening on screen and yet it stays at a stable 60 frames per second which I can’t say for many games of today. The detail on the cars when you crash are amazing with bits of shrapnel flying everywhere as your car does a barrel roll off a cliff, it also helps that this game has great sound design! It’s loud and crunchy you really feel the impact of the crash with the audio ques with horns blearing and the scraping of metal.

Burnout Paradise is an example of what triple A gaming should be doing more often and that is blowing stuff up because sometimes you don’t want a complex narrative, you just want to unwind and take your stress out on a game with explosions and destruction. Burnout Paradise is very easy to find on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC I would recommend getting the Ultimate Box because you get all the DLC cars and the motorbike add on.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Lichdom: Battlemage PS4 Review - I'm bleeding from my eyes!

By Sam Coles:

Do you ever play those games and say why am I playing this abysmal mess? Well that was my experience with Lichdom: Battlemage on PS4 where it runs at 15 frames per second at best. Not to say that it couldn’t of been a good experience because under the bad frame rate there is a good game, but I’m not willing to push through it because it makes my eye balls bleed with the slideshow like performance.

The story takes place in the standard generic fantasy medieval period where you can pick from a male or female protagonist. I picked a male who happens to be a black smith, the main villain meets with you and wants to buy the best sword you have made but it’s not for sale. He doesn’t take this statement lightly as he decides to attack you and then murder your wife, which kicks off the over used revenge tale. It’s not long before you’re granted the ability to shoot fire out of your hands which is awesome because you’re not hampered by mana pools or spell cool downs. The story is uninteresting and is there to set up the context as you murder your way through legions of skeleton warriors and other mythical beings.  

The gameplay is from a first person perspective and when I started playing it reminded me of games like Hexen because it takes the first person shooter formula and replaces guns with magic instead. I like this because it’s not used often the last game that I can think of that used this gameplay concept is Dark Messiah of Might and Magic. You unlock Sigils which conjure up different elemental attacks like fire and ice and you can combine the two to create some devastating attacks, so you can freeze an enemy with ice and shot a quick fire ball to make them explode. It changes up play styles in battle and it adds variety to stop it from getting stale.

Graphically the game looks nice with different towns and caverns you traverse but the character models look a bit bland and clean as they don’t have any distinct blemishes. The particle effects with the spells look beautiful with the explosions and the icicles hanging off enemies when you’ve used your ice spell. This is probably what is slowing the game down are the particle effects because there is a lot going happening on screen, however I’ve played games like Ratchet and Clank  and Doom with lot’s particle effects and those games ran smoothly.

Now to address the problem that made me stop playing the game all together is the frame rate. The game runs like an old age pensioner crossing the road as it runs at 15 frames per second. I don’t know who tested this game and thought “Yes this is playable even though my eyes are bleeding” this is unacceptable for a game in 2016 as you have games with better graphics that run at 60 frames per second. It bogles my mind that a game runs like an N64 game in the year 2016 where frame rate shouldn’t be an issue anymore, this game runs worse than the original Two Worlds on the Xbox 360. I hope this problem is addressed because there is a good game under this major problem, but at the time of this review being published it is not playable.

Do not I repeat do not buy this game on console it’s unplayable and is not worth your money at the moment I would suggest playing the PC version if you’re desperate to play it. I’m very disappointed of developer with the fact they thought they could get away with this shame on them. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review - A personal favourite.

By Sam Coles:

We all have those games that are close to are heart where you can revisit it over and over and not get bored of it. The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is one of those games for me which introduced me to a living breathing world that carried on even when I turned the console off. I always get a lot of flak when I say I prefer this game over Skyrim and to be honest Oblivion as an RPG is better with its mechanics and world.

Oblivion takes place in the province of Cyrodiil which is the capital of Tamriel where once again in Elder Scrolls fashion you’ve been arrested for an unknown crime. It’s not long before you’re released by the emperor himself where he leaves the fate of Tamriel in your hands as he gives you the Amulet of Kings which only people who are part of the Septum family can wear.

You start off creating a class and you can pick from readymade classes or you can do the smart thing and create your own because you can tweak skills and attributes to your liking. I like this because you can make the world your own and you feel that you make an impact in the game because you can do anything you want which you don’t get that freedom in Skyrim because they use “play it your way” card which is an illusion of freedom and doesn’t let you customised your character the way you want.

After you’ve created your character you’re released into the world and you can do anything you want. Wanted to completely ignore the main quest and go and explore the local village and grab a beer with the locals while reading books about the region? You can! Want to join a guild such as the Thieves, Mage or Fighters and earn extra coins in the skills you specialise in? You can! That’s what I love about Oblivion it doesn’t lead you on a set path it just goes “Here is a world for you to explore go nuts”. Skyrim did have an element of that but I didn’t feel the epic wonder in Skyrim like I did in the previous game it lacked something. There is so much to do in this game at your own pace and the great thing is your skills will constantly increase even little things like your acrobatic skills will increase because you like jumping a lot which then decreases your fall damage.

This game is beautiful considering that this year the game is 10 years old, the character models look a bit off, but the world itself still shines with varied and mysterious locations coupled with awe inspiring architecture like churches and town halls. It just reminds me when I go cycling in the middle of nowhere and stumble upon small villages with medieval churches where I then go to the local pub and catch my breath with a pint of the local ale.

The music is worth taking note Jeremy Soule came back to do the music for the fourth game as he did the music for Morrowind and the score can be haunting to relaxing the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up.

The only problem that I have with this game is that frame rate can dip here and there I played this on the PS3 and it’s far superior to the Xbox 360 and yes I have both before you start. The PS3 version has better textures, draw distance and frame rate.

Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion is the game I can go back to if I need to cheer myself up or if I want to go exploring in an interactive world. If you haven’t played this I would highly recommend picking it up, but if you can get it on the PC.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Metal Gear Solid 2 Review (Spoilers) - "There's no such thing in the world as absolute reality".

By Sam Coles:

Do you ever play a game that makes you question the nature of reality? Well that was my experience when I first finished Metal Gear Solid 2 this game really messes with your mind near the later stages of the game. When you start though it just seems to be a normal Metal Gear or as normal the series can get, you can hardly call a series normal with characters that are Soviet psychics.

Metal Gear Solid 2’s story is quite a hard story to analyse and not because it’s confusing, but because there is a lot to consume so I will do my best to try and explain it to you. Metal Gear Solid 2 starts two years after the Shadow Moses incident; Snake and Otacon are now branded as war criminals after the incident and now work on their own as a non-governmental organisation which specialises in destroying Metal Gears.

They come across a new Metal Gear code named “Ray” and it’s being stored on a US Marine Corps tanker, however they’re not the only ones interested as Russian Spetsnaz soldiers start to storm the tanker killing the crew guarding it.  Revolver Ocelot is accompanying the Russians but he is not stealing the Metal Gear for the Russians but for the Patriots and it is later revealed that he has Liquid Snake’s arm grafted on the one that the Gray Fox chopped off in the first game. Snake is apparently killed on the tanker as Ocelot steals the Metal Gear and destroys the tanker.

Two years after the tanker event the Big Shell was created to help stop the pollution but it has now been taken over by a terrorist group calling themselves Dead Cell who are led by George Sears the former president of the US, but he is also the third clone of Big Boss with the code name Solidus Snake. Raiden (who you play as for the rest of the game) soon meets up with a Navy Seal called Plisken and yes he is exactly who you think he is Solid Snake. Snake is trying to stop Solidus because he is claiming to be Solid Snake to cover up the incident but that is blown wide open when Snake confronts Solidus.

The game gets darker and weirder with its plot as you progress towards the latter half of the game; you eventually find out that the Big Shell is a cover for a new type of Metal Gear called Arsenal Gear which houses an army of Ray units. You’re eventually captured by Ocelot who strips you of your equipment and clothes and Solidus tells you about your past. It turns out that Raiden is not a rookie soldier after all he was born in Liberia and his parents were killed by Solidus where he then adopts him and puts him through the child soldier program where earns the nickname “Jack the Ripper”.

By the end of the game you realise that Raiden is you, a fan boy of Snake who wanted to live up to his expectations and near the end he starts rejecting your control hence why you get fake game over screens and he sneezes against your will etc. He fights Solidus on top of a crashed Arsenal Gear and then Snake tells that he is no one’s tool and then Raiden proceeds to throw his dog tags away with your name on final releasing himself from your control.

The plot of this game does get really deep but if I were to analyse the entirety of the story I would be here all week because Kojima predicted some scary stuff with digital information for the time and this was back when the internet was still in its infancy.

Now I can finally talk about the gameplay after that, so does it differ from the first game? Not that much no, but it tweaks and adds new tactics and gadgets for you to experiment with. You now have the ability to walk which should have been the standard in a stealth game with the original, but it really helps especially when you’re walking over loud surfaces. You can aim in first person which is good if you want to land critical shots in the head as guards will react in different ways where you are aiming or shooting at. There are pressure sensitive controls which are a god send because you don’t waste a bullet if you start aiming like did in the first game. What they did with this game is that they took the foundations of the first instalment and tweaked everything.

The boss battles are still highly entertaining to fight with people like Fatman an explosives expert who is off his head and speeds around on roller skates while drinking a cocktail or Vamp the “Vampire” like character who seems to be immune to death (Play MGS 4 to find out more). They’re great fun with great personalities with different approaches of defeating them.

The presentation is still pretty good and yes the character models are bit off these days but for the time this was cutting edge. The attention to detail in this game is insane especially the tanker prologue with the rain effects as you see the rain drops hit the deck of the ship. Even the detail with the environments where you can shoot anything and you’ll get a reaction like broken bottles etc.  The animations with the characters in terms of dialogue is laughable, but during cutscenes when they’re performing actions are great because Kojima used motion capture in this game to simulate things like abseiling out of helicopters.

The only problem I have with this game the controls feel dated and clunky especially when you try to hug a wall at specific camera angles because Snake or Raiden will start walking different directions if you don’t have the analogue stick pointed in the right direction. I can’t really fault it that is what happens as technology ages.

Metal Gear Solid 2 makes you question what reality is and defines videos games as art with its philosophical story with twists and turns which scare and delight you. It’s cheap to pick up on PS2 but I would recommend getting the HD collection as it comes with three great games and looks nicer on a modern television. 

Sunday, 8 May 2016

LA Noire Review - Film Noir brought to life.

By Sam Coles:

There are those one off games that you really want a sequel to but unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. L.A Noire is one of those games that got a lot of praise with its fantastic story with a new twist on the point and click adventure genre with action segments to the interrogation scenes as you evaluate the evidence. Due to the expensive production Team Bondi had to close its doors and a sequel doesn’t look hopeful.

L.A Noire takes place during the late 1940’s during the golden age of Hollywood with society trying to rebuild itself after the horrors of the Second World War. You play as Cole Phelps a fresh face in the L.A.P.D he is a war veteran who trying to make a fresh start in society with the classic American dream with his wife and the quite literal white picket fence. He is recognised for his investigation skills and it’s not long before he is promoted to detective and is working in Traffic.

The gameplay is what you would expect in a Rockstar production where you traverse an open world to get to your next missions while completing side activities and looking for secrets. The open world just serves as the aesthetic more than anything you’ll be focusing on the crime scenes you travel to where you are examining evidence whether it is burn out cars or to mangled and deformed corpses. The pacing is great in this game because it is varied with different segments from investigating crime scenes, shootouts with criminals, car chases and crimes in progress it breaks up the game and keeps you invested. In terms of the gunplay it will be very familiar if you have played Red Dead Redemption and GTA IV as it basically has the same control scheme.

The great aspect in this game is that you’re not investigating the same thing all the time because as you progress through the story you’ll be promoted to different branches in the department from Traffic, Homicide, Vice and then you’re demoted to Arson in the story which I will not spoil. This game does stretch across three discs on 360 because the scale of the game and the visuals.

The presentation is amazing! Even for a game that came out on the Xbox 360 and PS3 5 years ago it still holds up with a great recreation of 1940’s Los Angles. They used a great technique called motion scanning where they got the actor and recorded his or her face when he or she were reading their dialogue and at the time it was the most convincing visual performance. You see each detail of their face from a subtle eye brow raise to a grimace. The detail in crime scenes is insane especially with the corpses this game is not for the squeamish because it very graphic with the bodies with detailed lacerations and bruising.

The only problem I have with this game applies to most games from Rockstar from this period and that is controlling someone on foot is a pain because it can feel like you turning a wheelbarrow filled with depleted uranium and you end up getting stuck in doorways a lot.

LA Noire is a dark and grim tale with great investigation gameplay and is a definitely not for children, it shows that video games have evolved to an adult medium with an intelligent and mature story with great gameplay. It’s a shame that there won’t be a sequel anytime soon but the one hit wonders are generally the best.

Batman Arkham Origins Review - A good introduction for Joker and Batman.

By Sam Coles:

The Batman Arkham series showed that not all licenced games are bad when they’re handled with care when the first game came out all the way back in 2009. Rocksteady studios took a back seat with the third and last instalment on the 7th generation of consoles. Arkham Origins got some negative attention and to be honest I don’t understand why? By all means it’s far from perfect but I enjoyed the experience of playing a younger and more aggressive Batman, with the introduction of the Joker.

Arkham Origins takes place during Christmas in Gotham where you play as a young Bruce Wayne who has only been Batman for two years at this point. It’s not long until Blackgate prison is in chaos with Black Mask breaking out while he causes a riot, Batman goes to investigate and at this point you have to remember the police are not friendly with Bats because he is still seen as a criminal. Black Mask gets away and Batman has defeated the cannibalistic psycho Kill Croc and he then returns to the Bat Cave to find out that he has a $50 million bounty on his head and the world’s most deadly assassins are there to claim it.  Batman will be going up against the likes of Deathstroke, Firefly and Dead Shot. The story is intriguing enough to keep you playing through and voice acting is top notch especially Troy Baker as the Joker as Mark Hamil or Kevin Conroy did not for their roles in this game.

If you’ve played Arkham City then you’ll be right at home with this game as the controls and gameplay are very similar, but familiarity isn’t necessarily bad as it sprinkles in some new features to keep it fresh. You’ll travel in the small open world of Gotham completing missions and side quests that can be crimes in progress or Riddler challenges. Unlike previous games you have most of your arsenal at the start as there are more new gadgets for you to unlock like the line grapple, glue grenade and shock gloves. Shock gloves give you an edge in combat as they can knock enemies to ground with one hit stunning them for a bit and it can also knock enemies down who are using riot shields or if they are armoured.

Combat is as tight it will ever be with the fast flowing action as you see Batman bounce around the room which will make you question if he is a man and not a super mutant. You have your standard attacks with counters, but the difficulty does increase as you get further into the game as they introduce different enemy types such as armoured, ninja types you have counter twice and brutes it keeps it engaging and on your toes.

Graphically this is the best looking game out of the 7th generation Arkham games because in the previous two games some of the character models looked a bit weird because Bruce Wayne looked like a Ken doll animated. The character models look human in this game with great animations during cutscenes, there is a lot of polish and effort in this game. The snowy tundra of Gotham looks beautiful with the environment reflecting off screen and making you feel the cold as you glide across the city with your cape.

There are few bugs that I encountered in this game when I played through it such as when I was about to fight Firefly I had to take down some goons first you know standard stuff, but when I was there about the to fight them with them surrounding me I couldn’t attack them they were taunting me but I couldn’t do anything. I had some clipping issues as well when fighting in tight spaces but these didn’t happen too often to sour my experience.

Batman: Arkham Origins is a good game which a lot of people seem to be disappointed with but I rather enjoyed it. Is it perfect? No it’s not but it’s an enjoyable experience which has a good story. You can pick this up for cheap on Xbox 360 and PS3 these days and I would recommend picking this up.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Project Cars: Game of the year edition Review.

By Sam Coles:

There are games sometimes that you play and you don’t expect to like them, well I’m on a quest to play games in genres I wouldn’t usually invest my time and money in and I’ve started to warm up to genres like J-RPGs and of course racing games. It’s nice to play a game where I’m not dispensing lead into someone’s face. Project Cars is a brilliant game which was made for gamers by gamers with a huge selection of cars, events and tracks that will keep you entertained for hours.

Like most racing simulation games you start from the bottom with go karts and can I say that go karts are the most annoying engine sound in all of motorsport it’s like a mix of a lawnmower and a moped. I digress you start off in the go kart leagues and start to gain notoriety with other racing teams and then eventually you can get behind the wheel of a mean machine. You take part in seasons and you can select them via a calendar in the menu and you can choose which ever league you want to participate in, depending on what cars you own and what team you’re a part of. This system keeps everything nice and fresh so it won’t get stale like it does in other racing sims.

The controls do take a bit of time to get use to because I don’t play racing games often and if I do they generally have an arcade control scheme where you can drift around the corner at 90 mph. I eventually got use to the physics and it became immensely satisfying when you nail that corner perfectly, but then the game throws a curve ball at you and changes the weather to a downpour and you then spin out straight into a wall. It keeps you on your toes because you may be familiar how one car handles but then it gives you a super car which can be a challenge drive in torrential rain.

Graphically the game looks superb as it runs at a stunning 60 frames per second, it’s not often that you get a game that is graphically intense with a smooth frame rate, Doom is another example of this case. The fast races really work with the smooth frame rate as you see the rain fly off your windscreen as you wipers are struggling to keep up with the downpour. The car models are beautifully detailed with the glimmer of the sun reflecting off the bonnets of cars to the rain drops rolling off the windscreens.

Overall I was ultimately surprised how much I enjoyed Project Cars as it’s not a genre I tend to seek out but I’m starting to warm up to racing games. If you missed the game last year I would highly recommend picking up this version as it has all the car packs on the disc. It’s available on PS4, Xbox One and PC so get out there and hit the track.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Grand Theft Auto: Lost and the Damned - Sons of Anarchy the video game.

By Sam Coles:

Downloadable content gets a lot of flak these days because it has replaced the more superior expansion pack. In 2009 Rockstar games released their first expansion to Grand Theft Auto IV which was at the time exclusive to the Xbox 360, which was titled The Lost and the Damned. This was eventually released as a standalone product in the form of Episodes from Liberty City with The Ballad of Gay Tony.

The Lost and the Damned is a tale about a biker gang called The Lost; you play as Johnny the vice president of the club who is leading the chapter for the time being as the president Billy Grey in prison. Billy is finally on parole and chaos begins as he is a drug riddled psychopath and begins killing people who he doesn’t like or people who look at him in a funny way. The story of this game is very familiar if you’ve watched any episode of Sons of Anarchy as it has the same conflicts within the motorcycle club coupled with shady deals with third parties.

Gameplay is left mostly unchanged from GTA IV with the same driving action except you’re on a motorcycle most of the time generally when you’re in missions. They have added stats for your fellow gang members, but honestly I didn’t notice any difference in their abilities and performance so it just seems to be there for aesthetic. They’ve added new weapons to the roster like the double barrelled shotgun which can be used for drive by shooting on bikes which causes huge damage to cars, the Striker shotgun which is a fast automatic shotgun which can destroy vehicles in seconds, the auto pistol which isn’t very good in my opinion and the grenade launcher which is self-explanatory.

When you’re riding in a convoy with your fellow biker mates on the way to missions a Lost MC logo will pop on the road, if you ride on that logo for a bit it will give you a bit of armour or health if you’re below 100%. I like this feature because it keeps the game flowing and you don’t have to stop and faff about at a hotdog stand or in the local Burger Shot.  They added in a new race type as well which is super fun where it is in the style of Road Rash where you race on bikes and you’re equipped with baseball bats and you can smash your opponents off their bikes and leave them in the gutter, this mode is a lot of fun which I could play over and over again.

Graphically the game looks far better than the base GTA IV game because they’ve cleared up the visuals and gave an extra bit of polish so the character models don’t look as weird as they did in the original game. The visuals are no longer murky or blurry with the strange depth of field effect removed. The frame rate is much better in this expansion as well as it runs smoother when you’re riding at high speeds, but it does drop when there are a lot of explosions and police cars on screen, but that is a limitation of the technology more than anything. Overall presentation is a big step up from the original base game.

GTA IV Lost and the Damned is a great expansion and shows how to add longevity to a game and players are willing to support a game post release if you give them an incentive to. You can find this in the stand alone pack for cheap or if you don’t own GTA IV get the game of the year edition which comes with everything. 

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