Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Editorial | Stop and smell the roses.

By Sam Coles:

As I have said before, as I get older my gaming choices tend to take a slower pace. Now this is nothing to do with my reflexes being shot, far from it my reflexes are the best they have ever been. I just like to slow down and zone out where I figuratively and literally stop and smell the roses. I want to go other some of the games that have enthralled me over the years, where I can just look around with no particular goal or just games that take a more relaxed approach.

I can hear you all sigh with content and thinking “Oh god he’s talking about Oblivion again”. Yes while I do like to talk about this game a lot, that is because it has had a massive impact on my life even 12 years later I have a sense of wonder when I boot it up. The beauty of Oblivion is that you can take things in your stride; the game doesn’t really force to do a certain thing in a set path, with the exception of the dungeon escape. I always find myself exploring to see what settlements I could uncover and what ruins there are to uncover artefacts and weapons. Not only that Jeremy Soule’s melodic tones really help, with the soothing welcoming tunes as you walk through the market at dawn, to the emotional scores as you are traverse the fields of Cyrodiil. It never gets old and ages better (mostly) as the years go by.

The original Red Dead Redemption (yes I have to say that now), is one that is truly special to me, it got me through a tough time when I found my A-Level studies were weighing on me. When the game came out it consumed my summer in 2010, I could just load the game up and explore the plains of New Austin and Mexico. Like most Rockstar open worlds you can just do anything, but Red Dead took a slower approach which was thematically appropriate given its western setting. It is always a joy to lose oneself in the world of Red Dead, were you can stumble across interesting characters who want to talk, or rob and mutilate your corpse. Again the game doesn’t really force you down a set path, I can’t tell you enough the amount of things I found just going off the beaten path. Where I found camps left for the wildlife, to poor and helpless men and women with broken down stage coaches.

I know it may be a stock standard answer when it comes to The Witcher 3, but you have to recognise an achievement in terms of storytelling and role playing in interactive form. When they first said that The Witcher was going open world, I was hesitant but as I thought about it more it made sense. Every time I boot up The Witcher 3 I tend to just slowly walk around taking things in, whether it be the cobbled streets of Novigrad or the boggy swamps of Velen. It’s the attention to detail which make me to take my time and explore the nooks and crannies of the environments, coupled with the fantastic musical score from the Polish folk band Percival. It’s a game that encourages you to take your time, and almost pokes you saying “do you see that abandoned hut over there? Take a look”. It’s that organic nature of the game that makes it fun to explore.

Now this last example may make you call my gaming credibility into question just hear me out, Two Worlds II has a beautiful environment that makes you want explore its entirety. Yes this game has a lot of issues with animations, voice acting and to put it politely questionable controls. However it has this slow and steady pace to it where I like to look around the varied environments which you don’t often see in medieval style RPGs, you start off in a beautiful African Savanna to a village that resembles Feudal Japan. It’s not the most technically polished game, but it is a true testament of how they managed to produce such a visually pleasing world to explore, it was an apology letter in video game form after the disastrous first game.

Those are just a few examples of games where I just like to slow down and take my time, or smell the roses as it were. The next time you play a game just stop and take the time to appreciate the subtle things, you may find something special that others will not even bat an eyelid at. This is what makes the interactive medium special, that everyone has a different experience.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Editorial | John Marston - Outlaw to Gentleman (spoilers for RDR 2)

By Sam Coles:

Red Dead Redemption II is one of if not my favourite game of 2018; check out my review if you haven’t. It has given me a new outlook on John Marston, he is not the main focus of the game well not in the first three quarters of the game but it does shine a light on the character. I want to go over John’s transformation from a hot headed and blood thirsty outlaw to a gentlemanly cowboy.

When the game begins, you are transporting your gang through snow laden tundra of the mountains after a heist gone wrong, John goes missing and Arthur has to go and find him. Arthur retorts with “He’s gone riding off again” suggesting that this is something quite common with John, Arthur goes and finds him like an obligated father. John is injured which gives me his signature scares that are tattooed into his face, once John is back in good health he is up to no good.  

It’s clear that Arthur has some reservations with John, as he is reluctant to do any jobs with him mostly due to his impulsive nature which leads them to a cordite filled situation. However as the months go on Arthur begins to warm up to John, and Marston begins to realise he can’t keep the criminal life up and starts to doubt Dutch’s words of a life in a tropical paradise as he keeps saying “Just one more time”. John starts to realise that he can’t continue like this, as he has a child and partner and he can’t raise a family with empty promises of paradise. So after one thing after another, he leaves the gang after Dutch goes insane, where he then retires to a normal and mundane life as a ranch hand.

When John leaves the outlaw life he tries to go straight and find a legitimate job, however he has trouble adjusting to normal life at first as his violent tendencies have a habit of surfacing in certain situations. He stumbles on a farm as he is delivering food and supplies to them, he sees that they are being hounded by a small time gang where he then chases them off. He is taken on by the ranch where he and his family can stay on site; he slowly warms up to the ranching life as he is shown the ropes as he slowly falls into a routine.

John’s violent tendencies seep through once again, but it’s not through malicious intent as he is trying to defend the ranch he works for against bandits. His partner Abigale doesn’t see it that way, she sees it as John going back to his old ways and then she leaves. John now alone and broken decides to prove himself, he hears about a piece of land in Beechers Hope and wants to settle there. With some help from his boss he is able to take out a loan, gather materials and build his home where he can settle, what I like about this character development we see Marston mature and shape into the man we know in the original Red Dead Redemption. He truly turns into a man of honour and respect.

With his home built John finally gets his wife back, it’s a touching moment and we see him turn into a sensitive soul as they go and do normal things such as going to the theatre and getting their photo taken. We see the sensitive side of John show, and his violent and outlaw life have finally faded away as he can leave the madness of Dutch behind and live it out with his family, for now anyway.

It was great to see John Marston’s character to shape in Red Dead Redemption II, from a naïve and violent outlaw to an emotional and gentle soul who wants nothing more than to live the rest of his days with his family. It makes it doubly hard to deal with his fate in the original game, and makes me shed a tear more as it shows that he genuinely wants to make a difference in his life.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Editorial | Embracing F.E.A.R

By Sam Coles:

The horror genre can come in predictable forms with jump scares and monsters but there are certain games within the genre that switch gears in an instant. F.E.A.R is one of those games, if you watch reviews on Youtube or on other blogs; people often harp on about the combat and the “advanced” A.I. However that is only one half of the game and I want to go over why F.E.A.R’s atmosphere is totally unique, and will completely catch you off guard.

The game begins with main antagonist Paxton Fettle breaking out of confinement; however he has a unique ability to take control of a clone army known as “Replicas” telepathically. You are then sent in to investigate and bring Fettle in, but it doesn’t go to plan where he knocks you out and taunts you for a bit. It is a typical villain set up, but it’s not the story that captivates in Fear it is the atmosphere where it can juxtapose from high octane action to unnerving horror. There is also a child named Alma stalking you throughout the game, with her intentions unknown.

The game starts off as a gruff military shooter, where you are fast roping out of a helicopter and gunning down Replicas as they rag doll in their as meaty giblets fly in the air as you spray buckshot at them. However in most cases when a firefight finishes, what do you hear? Nothing! This is what always gets to me in Fear, after having a lot of fun in a gunning down soldiers in slow motion it suddenly switches gears and becomes very quiet with nothing more than the sound of your footsteps.

Like Monolith’s other game Condemned which released the same year as Fear, it likes to play with your expectations because when you walk down a corridor and there is a suspicious corner your natural human instincts think there is going to be a jump scare. However when you turn the corner there is nothing there. This is what elevates the atmosphere as you think you know all the tricks that the game has but the game plays with you and almost taunts you, and catches you off guard after a gunfight as most would think that this is a standard action game.

The music or lack thereof is what also increases the tension of the atmosphere, as the game goes for more audio ques instead of a traditional soundtrack. You will mostly here diegetic sounds this can consist of objects falling off shelves, moaning of unnatural entities and just general industrial hums as you traverse in the darkness. It is this oppressive weight you feel in these moments, that I get twitchy and paranoid when I’m playing late at night.

As I said earlier you are stalked by a child named Alma, her back story is dark as she was experimented on by her own father we she has become this godlike figure where she can literally make people explode with her mind. She is always there watching you throughout the game, what I like about this is that you can miss her sometimes as she is in the darker corners of an area, or you see her shadow as she slinks away into the shadows. It creates a paranoia within the player, especially when you clamber down ladders she has a strange fascination with ladders and it still gets me with the audio ques and her playful yet creepy laugh as she taunts you.

F.E.A.R’s tense atmosphere is something that catches you off guard as it uses the downtime in between firefights to play with your expectations. If you haven’t played the 2005 classic I would recommend it, you can play it on 360, PS3 and PC the PC option is probably easiest option.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Editorial | Majora's Mask's dark atmosphere.

By Sam Coles:

There are certain games that take a more unconventional approach to their sequels, I say this because Majora’s Mask is one of those games that stands out in the Zelda series as it only had an 18 month development and doesn’t really feature the titular character. Its dark atmosphere is something that is brought up in gaming discussion 18 years after its release, spawning theories about the subject matter in the game. I want to talk about the game’s atmosphere and Termina’s impending doom!

Majora’s Mask is an unusual start to a Zelda game because it’s a direct sequel to Ocarina of Time, Nintendo don’t often have direct sequels to Zelda games but this is one of the few exceptions. Link is walking through what we presume to be the Kokiri forest in search of Navi (we think); he is then accosted by Skull Kid who is wearing the titular mask. This is where the downward spiral of doom begins, as Link is turned into a Deku Scrub which makes him useless as he is not allowed to leave Clock Town and people are prejudice towards him. He encounters the Happy Mask Salesman who promises Link to return him to his Hylian form; however he will do it in exchange for Majora’s Mask, there is also a catch you have only 72 hours to do said task.

It’s not long to realise that there is an overarching threat to the land of Termina, all you have to do is look up and you see the intense grimace of the moon looming over as it slowly descends towards the sleepy carnival town. What I like about Clock Town is that its inhabitants to begin with are none the wiser to the moon, however as the days progress they become more paranoid to where then realise they are about to die on the third day. It’s the juxtaposition that makes this game work where the people of Termina start off in denial, worried and finally the realisation of their fate, it makes you want to rush to finish the task to save these people.

The point of contention of this game is that there are only four dungeons, which if you look at it with a close mind set it can be perceived as a short game. However that is not the focus as it is all about the citizens of Termina, the side quests are the meat and bones of this game where you help people out with their last wishes or get them out of horrific situations. The most terrifying was the quest when you find a girl’s father as a Gibdo, the deformed face as he contorts is horrific.  

The villain of Majora’s Mask Skull Kid doesn’t really have an overall goal such as taking over the world like Ganondorf, all he wants to see is the world to burn as he wants to smash the moon into Clock Town. There is no motivation all he wants is chaos, and I must at admit this is a good villain with no obscure reasoning behind his plan as he just wants to destroy the world. Skull kid or should I say Majora controlling him is unnatural, as he stands there twisting his head as you hear his body creak as he walks it’s almost like something out of The Ring or The Grudge as he stares at you contemplating his next move.

Compared to Ocarina of Time Majora’s Mask is more colourful with its environments; however that doesn’t mean it is a happy game I like to interpret this as a false sense of security. The game presents the player with these colourful environments, where it then presents you with the first dungeon with its ominous tribal music which use to frighten me as a child.   

That’s what catapulted Majora’s Mask’s atmosphere was the soundtrack, you have jaunty tracks such as Clock Town and the classic Zelda theme for Termina field. However it’s when you enter the four regions of Swamp, Mountains, Ocean and Canyon is where it journeys into creepy and hopelessness. They all share the same track, but what makes them unique is that they are thematically appropriate for each area from the haze and subdued beach music with steel drums to the winter inspired jingles of the desolate tundra of the mountains.  However what all of these areas with the track share is the utter hopelessness of the situation, with the swamps waters poisoned, the Goron’s land frozen coupled with starvation and of course the dead that are restless in the canyons.

Majora’s Mask is an unusual instalment in the Zelda series with its deep and dark atmosphere as you can feel the oppressive nature weigh on you. It is certainly a unique game in the series, and is a must try for any Zelda fan or someone looking for a good story with a dark tone. If you are going to try this game get the 3DS version as the N64 edition has not aged that well, and prepare to journey through the depressing land of Termina.

Friday, 19 October 2018

Shadow Warrior (2013) Review - "Ancient Chinese secret"

By Sam Coles:

After the release of Duke Nukem 3D a couple of games came out using the build engine, we had Monolith’s Blood and of course 3D Realms’ Shadow Warrior. Where Duke had controversy with misogyny with women, Shadow Warrior was being accused of being racist. While I mostly don’t agree as I see it more as a harmless stereotype, I can see why as you play as a Chinese man with a comedy broken English accent running around with a sword cutting demons in two, but racist? No. Nearly two decades later Flying Wild Hog Studios decided to do a reboot to the series in 2013 for the PC, which it then released on the PS4 and Xbox One in 2014.

In Shadow Warrior you play as Lo Wang, and yes he makes that joke many times throughout the game. He has been tasked to acquire an ancient sword for his shady boss from the Yakuza, however things go wrong and Wang has to get things done the bloody way as he clears things up with his sword. The story is interesting as you get further in, with tales about the shadow realm but it is over shadowed when Lo makes a penis joke again. Look I’m all for crude humour as I’m a huge fan of Duke Nukem, but when he shouts “come and taste some wang” for the 50th time, it makes me want to take his sword and commit hara-kiri but no such luck.

Shadow Warrior is one of the revivals of the old school shooters, with a level by level structure where you have to find colour coded keys with a modern flare. It plays more like Serious Sam unlike the original Shadow Warrior, as it puts you in a closed off arena and tells you go nuts and fill you boots with blood until the game gives you an arbitrary 5 star rating which I still can’t figure out. Yes this is one of my first issues with Shadow Warrior is the rating system in combat, it is inconsistent, where you use varied attacks 2 stars to leaning on the fire button in a turret sequence 5 stars which is baffling.

You have a decent selection of weapons with the usual pistols, shotguns and machine guns. However this game has a great focus on sword combat, it’s not exactly the most sophisticated system, but it is great to slice your enemies in half like a surgeon who has finally snapped. You have light attacks where you can chip enemy’s health down which helps with big crowds, or you use heavy attacks to cut enemy’s body parts off like Necromorphs from Dead Space.

You also have access to magical powers where you can cause a shock, a force push and the most useful the healing spell. These can be upgraded, but my problem with this is that there are far too many upgrades where it can be overwhelming and somewhat confusing what to unlock. I’m all for progression systems, but when you have three to four pages worth of upgrades something is wrong here.  

Visually the game looks fine; it’s not the best looking game considering the time it came where we had games such as the Last of Us and GTA V. Those games came out on aging pieces of hardware I may add, but to be fair this game was made by a small team and it aims for a target frame rate of 60 frames per second, keyword being target. I played this on Xbox One and my god does it really stutter when there are lots of explosions and body parts on screen, most of the time in quiet moments the game runs fine but when combat starts it stutters like Porky Pig. Environments do get a tad repetitive, seen one pagoda and arcade machine you’ve seen them all, it does start to weigh on you especially after a long session.

Shadow Warrior (2013) is a largely enjoyable game, but it does get a tad repetitive with its level design and combat encounters, plus there is only so many times I can listen to Lo Wang reference his penis. We get it Lo your name is innuendo for large penis, now stop before I reach into the television and duct tape your mouth shut.  If you’re looking for a cheap and decent old school shooter then I can recommend it overall, it’s available on PS4, Xbox One and PC as well as in a bundle with the excellent sequel.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Half-Life Review - "They're waiting for you Gordon..... in the test chamber".

By Sam Coles:

To say a game had an impact on the industry as a whole may come across as hyperbolic, but Half-Life did have a huge impact on first person narratives where first person shooters tried to replicate its first person storytelling. This game was one of the first introductions to the FPS genre, as I remember my oldest brother bought it around the year 2000 when he was still at secondary school. I remember playing it a lot and yes I know was a bit too young but you know what it’s like being the youngest of four. The game creeped me out as a child with the weird and slender zombie creatures. These days I find them rather comedic because there are not much of a threat, but this game got me into shooters and they are one of my favourite set of games to play.  

The story takes place in a fictional research centre in New Mexico called Black Mesa; you play as 27 year old MIT graduate Gordon Freeman. It is his first day at work and he is running late, they are testing a new material in the test chamber however things go wrong and they accidentally open a portal to another world and aliens pour through. What I like about Half-Life’s story is that it is up to you how much you want to take in; you can choose your own immersion. If you want to get the basic gist and start splitting zombies in two with buckshot then carry on, or you can examine the environment and find that there is far more going on that meets the eye. This type of storytelling is great and the only game I can think of that replicated it is Dark Souls. What is also astounding is that Gordon is completely silent, he lets his crowbar do all the talking, and you never see him with the exception of loading screens and box art.

Gameplay at the time was a departure from other shooters, as most games within the genre followed the formula of Doom where you have to collect colour coded keys and guns floated in the air. Half-Life had a more free flowing structure, as you continue on one continuous path as appose to the level by level and episodic structure.  It’s presented in a more realistic manner, well as realistic it can be as it is filled with mutant zombies, but what I mean is that guns are no longer floating in the air and they are place in believable places the world feels more believable.

Now to the actual firefights you’ll engage in and these are varied and never get tiresome, you start off in a survival horror setting where you are fighting off head crabs with nothing more than a crowbar. Later on you are granted access to a pistol where you fight off zombies, Vortigaunt, Houndeyes and Ball Squids. Then when your arsenal as equal as the Terminator’s, you face the more organised alien forces and the military to wipe out the problem with both aliens and scientists.

What I like about the enemy encounters is that you have think outside the box and take note of enemy attacks, as all of them have different patterns and weaknesses. The Vortigaunts are purely based on line of sight with their attacks, so if you are in front of them that is the only time that their attacks have an effect on you. The human soldiers are more organised and will communicate with each other as they assess the situation, not that they are particularly clever as they are nowhere near as organised as the Replicas in Fear, but there are still formidable.

Visually for 1998 the game doesn’t look bad; it runs on the golden source engine which is a modified Quake II engine. Character models for the time look fine and have decent detail, yes it is rather laughable for me to say that now but put yourself back in late 90’s and you can understand. The atmosphere in general when it comes to visuals is spectacular, as it is not just relentless action as there is a lot of downtime in this game where the horror aspect really kicks into gear with distant industrial hums. 

Are there any issues with Half-Life? Yes there are, for starters this is most definitely a shooter from the 90’s, so you know what that means? First person platforming where you don’t know where your feet are, because you are a floating camera with a gun. The other issue is that your allies have a habit of getting in the way, the amount of times I’ve unintentionally gunned down a scientist because he thought he was made of Kevlar was ridiculous.

Over Half-Life is still a fun game to play 20 years later, yes it has aged visually but the gameplay is still really tight. There is a reason why people still discuss today, with its great gameplay and storytelling that lets the play choose what he or she wants to take in.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Editorial | My strange love with Final Fantasy.

By Sam Coles:

Final Fantasy is a strange love to me, what do I mean by this? Well if you told me to play a Final Fantasy game 5 years ago, I would have more than likely laughed at you, chugged down another cup of coffee and played another round of Battlefield or Call of Duty. However as I have gotten older and with the privilege of being able to try any game I want with my writing, I found I’m open to more genres. Not only that a very close friend of mine got me into them as I witnessed her passion for the series.

It was around 2014/2015 where I first got to know my friend Kim; we would talk about games here and there. This was when my Twitter community was somewhat small where I was only just breaking a thousand followers, I started to notice her deep passion for Final Fantasy and at the time I just shrugged my shoulders at the matter. However as the months passed I began to take more notice of her posts about the games, and I thought maybe I should give them another chance. It was around early 2015 I started to write reviews for 365bristol, which were much bigger than me compared to the infant state my blog was in.

I got the opportunity to check out Final Fantasy Type 0 HD, a bit of an obscure game in the series but I fell in love with it. Why? It was the somewhat dark story in that game, where they are training children to become soldiers and killing machines and the emotional intro cutscene to the game got me hooked. After playing and reviewing that game, I went back and played the older titles and I was enamoured with the world, characters and music especially the music.

The worlds are something to behold even the old original PlayStation titles, there is something appealing about the pre-rendered backgrounds from the old PlayStation games. I went back and played Final Fantasy VII, I know people like to bang on how good the game is but they are right as it has beautiful world to explore with a mix of science fiction and high fantasy. The environments are truly beautiful and yes even in Final Fantasy XIII (more on that game later), with its crystal aesthetic which is thematically appropriate with the story.

The characters are what also drew me into the games to with their goals and flaws. Lightning controversially is one of my favourites, now I know people say she is bland but honestly I disagree. I would say she is reserved and trying stay strong for her sister that she is trying to save, where she is withholding tears to show she is strong.

It’s not just Lightning, Noctis and his friends are another group of characters are people I can relate to. It reminds me of my years doing my A-levels where me and my friends during the hot months, we would pack some things up and just explore and camp sharing stories and experiences around the orange glow of a fire. Final Fantasy XV as unfinished it was, is one of my favourite games of the generation and one of my favourite games in the Final Fantasy series, due to it having a simple yet relatable plot of sticking with your friends until the end.

The music is also something that sticks with me; I don’t think I’m the only one who sits there on the main menus just listening to the calming and sombre tones especially in FF XIII. The music can either be grandiose and epic to really emotional which heightens scenes which can make the most hardened of people shed a little tear.  

Final Fantasy is a series that I would have never thought I would love, but here we are where I have a deep love for the characters, worlds and superb music. I know it’s not for everyone but maybe give it a chance, and perhaps you’ll be swayed like me.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Editorial | The horror of war in video games.

By Sam Coles:

War has been depicted in video games as far back as I can remember, but the usual argument is that it glorifies it which is mostly untrue but I can understand why people think this due to the interactive nature of the medium. War games have shown us the true horrors of war, with harrowing endeavours from the beaches of Normandy to the dark and damp rat tunnels of the Vietnam War. I want to discuss a few examples of how it shows how horrible it was for these men and women that serve in the military.

Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War when it as first announced I was rolling my eyes, because at that point I was feeling the fatigue of World War II shooters as I had been playing them for 10 years almost. However what we got was one of the most unapologetic depictions of the Second World War as they ramped up the gore as well as the tone being really dark.

It throws it in your face at the start of the game, there is no patronising tutorial it starts off you being a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese where your squad mate is being torture where he then has his throat sliced open. It’s a memorable moment as I thought Is this how they actually acted in the war  as I was a naïve 15 year old at the time. Surprisingly the BBFC only gave this game a 15+ probably due to historically context, but even when PEGI rated it they gave it a 16+.

The game also takes the battle tactics of the time with the Japanese, the don’t just sit there plinking at you from cover they Banzai charge you, lay traps and send in Kamikaze pilots. It shows an unapologetic authenticity with the Second World War, because the game doesn’t give a damn about your feelings.

It doesn’t stop there when you play as the Soviets, it focuses on story more as the gameplay is stock and generic as you have the Germans fight more regulated as oppose to the barbaric and guerrilla nature of the Japanese.  You start off in the streets of Stalingrad with your dead comrades surrounding you, you fortunately survive the endeavour and you find Sargent Reznov where he wants revenge for the massacre.
This is truly where the campaign gets dark with the subject matter, because the closer you get to the heart of Berlin the more blood thirsty the Soviets become. They start doing things that just as bad if not worse than what the Nazis are doing, where they execute surrendering soldiers in horrific fashion by throwing Molotov’s at them and mowing them down with machine gun fire. Some of these happen just off screen and you can miss them. The hypocrisy from the Soviets is at a high because they acting are acting in the exact same manner as the Germans did in Stalingrad, acting as if it justified. Call of Duty World at War’s campaign still sticks with me even 10 years later with its tone as I can’t think of one moment of levity.

Halo: Reach

Now I know what you’re thinking “Halo? How is that a good depiction of war”? Well compare to the other games in the series, Halo: Reach’s tone is completely different it doesn’t have an over the top and epic atmosphere. The tone is serious and it shows that Spartans are not unstoppable killing machines, as they are well… human.

The fate of the playable character is sealed at the start of the game as you see your helmet stick out of the ground, after the heat of battle as the ash settles on the ground. Noble team are picked off one by one over the course of the game, and this it’s not built up half the time as sometimes they will be taken out in mid-sentence. It shows a darker side of the conflict between the human race and The Covenant, plus the ending of the game where it is just you and enemy where you have to “Survive” which is impossible and you die fighting for Earth.

The Spartans in this game are not shown as super soldiers in this game, although they have those abilities but they act in a more down to earth and believable manner as there sarcasm is realistic.

Spec Ops: The Line

Now I expect you are sick of me talking about Spec Ops The Line, but this is the ultimate example of showing horror of war where it puts the weight of killing people on your shoulders. The game never backs down and shows you horrific images, where the game starts to berate you for your actions.

As I have said before the scene that still sticks out to me to this day which makes me feel horrible every time I play it is the white phosphorous section. You are tasked of clearing a camp which you think is filled with enemy combatants, however after the dust has settled you are forced to walk through  your destruction as you see soldiers writhing around in pain screaming and moaning. It’s not until you come across a crowd of civilians chard to a crisp, this is where the story of the game flips and the main character snaps, it shows what a soldier goes through in war and how it affects the mind.

War is not easy to depict in a respectful manner in video games, as you have to make the game fun. However these examples deliver dark and horrifying stories where soldiers are trying to survive whether it is physically or mentally.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Shenmue I & II HD Review - I understand the influence but it's tedious.

By Sam Coles:

Nostalgia it’s one powerful drug, I say this as it applies to this game well to those who have played it. I for one have never played these games and I’m sorry they are not very good, now I don’t care how old a game is as I long I can pick it up and enjoy it. Shenmue is clunky and boring to play, plus this is just poor remaster with some technical issues that prevent me from enjoying the story.

You play as Ryo who has returned to find his father is being attack, it’s not long until he is murdered and Ryo is injured during the endeavour. He wakes up and begins an investigation of who attacked and killed his father. It’s a classic revenge tale nothing wrong with that, here is a tip for playing through this story switch the voice acting to Japanese with English subtitles. The English dub is atrocious, now I know it has its charm but when the game tries to convey an emotional scene, it’s like a child’s rendition of Hamlet as the dialogue is wooden and ear grating.

The gameplay is all about exploring and talking to people as well as just taking the world in, all inhabitants have their own schedule which was impressive especially for a console game in 1999. There are combat sequences similar to the Yakuza games, which to no surprise some of the developers who worked on this game moved onto the Yakuza series. They are not great they lack impact and unlike Yakuza you can’t stove someone’s face in with a bicycle, it feels like a rough draft of what is to come. You can also play mini games and iconic Sega arcade games, you can really tell that Yakuza took notes from these games, but unlike Shenmue the Yakuza games are exciting rather than tedious.

To go back to the schedules with the people of the world, you can only visit people or complete tasks at certain times, so far not so bad. However in the first game you cannot fast forward to time, so you find yourself waiting around, loitering in the streets like a hotdog vender. Fortunately they did fix this in Shenmue II and I know they want you to explore and play around with mini games and talk to other characters, but some people just want play the main story and don’t want to waste their time.

I can’t really critique the visuals to today’s standards as these games are from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s, but what I can say is that they are very impressive for a console game from the late 90’s, as the best looking games at the time was Metal Gear Solid or Ocarina of Time. The scope of the open world is really impressive and we had not seen anything like it on console before.

Let’s talk about the technical issues; this has to be one of the poorest remasters I have ever played. First the cinematic scenes run in an aspect ratio of 4:3 even when you choose 16:9 in the main menu, I thought this was a bug when I started the game originally but no the widescreen aspect ratio only applies to the gameplay. It gets really distracting when you’re running around, and suddenly the screen shrinks like automatic doors that stop halfway. The first game also has terrible audio when it comes to dialogue, it is heavily compressed and it crackles all the time where it sounds like they recorded it in a bathroom.

Overall I can understand the framework of what Shenmue established, but as a video game it is tedious and snore inducing. With its technical issues and laziness of the port I can’t recommend this game, while I understand the influence for the future of open world games, which Grand Theft Auto III did better 2 years later it’s just not fun to play with a story that is poorly written and mind numbing gameplay.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Editorial | "Would you kindly" play Bioshock.

(Some spoilers)

By Sam Coles:

Sometimes when I think back to games that I love, I’m always surprised with how old they are due to it still being in the spotlight of gaming conversation. This is the case with Bioshock I remember being intrigued about the game before it came out, but at the time I didn’t have a 360 and PS3 as I made the poor decision of getting a Wii initially. I played Bioshock in 2009 when I first got my Xbox 360, where I bought it off my friend for £5 for the special tin edition he had. When I booted the game up I was introduced to the dark and foreboding atmosphere that is Rapture.

Bioshock’s story is one for the ages; you play as Jack who is on a plane that crashes into the ocean. He lives the endeavour and then finds a mysterious lighthouse which is unlocked where he then enters and is enveloped in darkness before the lights turn on. He is greeted by an ominous statue of Andrew Ryan with banner exclaiming “No gods or kings. Only man”. He then finds a mysterious lift like contraption which takes him to the underwater city of Rapture, where is greeted with the now famous speech from Andrew Ryan.

The reason why this story is remembered is its twist, half way through the game when you confront Andrew Ryan you find out that one simple phrase has been controlling you , “Would you kindly, powerful phrase… familiar phrase”. This revelation shocked players, as it was genius and before you brutally kill Ryan with a golf club he shouts a powerful statement “A man chooses, a slave obeys”.

It’s not just the story that had players hooked in Bioshock it was the fun gameplay, it is a hybrid of first person shooting and light RPG elements as this is a spiritual successor to Systemshock. You have a wide array of weapons from the standard say it with me now pistol, shotgun, machine and rocket launcher to the more unique such as the chemical thrower which can shoot fire or liquid nitrogen and the crossbow which is good for pinning enemies to walls.

You don’t just have guns to help you out during the tense combat, you have Plasmids think of them as magic but they have been genetically inserted into your body. These are really fun to you use, you have your standard lightning bolt and fire balls to the more unique such as being able to throw bees at people which seems rather juvenile now I think about it. These give you an edge in combat where it can be used in tandem with your weapons, such as the one, two punch with the wrench and lightning bolt where you to quote Atlas “Zap ‘em and whack ‘em”.

Gene tonics are also useful, think as these as passive perks which have an effect on yourself, firearms and your wrench. These can range from sending electric bolts every time an enemy hits you, to your wrench freezing enemies where you can smash them into ice cubes for your glass of Scotch later. These came at a cost as you had to use the game’s currency known as ADAM, how you gain this currency is by either saving or harvesting Little Sisters. You get more ADAM if you harvest them but this gives you the bad ending, if you save them you get less but they do give you better items in the later stages of the game.

The main aspect of Bioshock that has stuck with me the past decade is the atmosphere; it is a dark and foreboding place with blood that line the walls. What is scary is that it was once a thriving community, but then it turned into this uncivilised society where ADAM consumed people’s souls. When you walk the corridors of Rapture there is rarely any music, must music is present diegetic manner as you can distant radios play in the distance as well as the tortured moans of Big Daddies.   It is easily one of the best atmospheres from that period of gaming, alongside the original Dead Space.

Bioshock along with other titles from the 7th generation such as Red Dead Redemption will be talked about for the next 20 years. If you haven’t go and experience this masterpiece of a game, there are many ways to play it you can play it on the 360 and PS3 or on current gen hardware such as the PS4, Xbox One or PC. It really stands the test of time and his aged remarkably well.

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