Friday, 14 September 2018

Gears of War 2 Review - "I have a rendezvous with death".

By Sam Coles:

The Gears of War series has been going for 12 years now, I remember when the first came out and my 13 year old mind could not believe the visuals being shown. Although crude by today’s standards, you can’t deny the visual spectacle that the Xbox 360 was pushing with the original Gears of War. Two years later Epic would follow up with a sequel, and I have to say it’s probably one of the darkest games in the series in terms of subject matter. What stood out to me when the game was announced was the trailer with a voiceover, and one of the lines that sticks in my head to this day is “I have a rendezvous with death”. This line is rather fitting as you see your squad mates and comrades in general dying around you.

Gears of War 2 takes place after the events of the first, where it turns out their attempt to wipe out the Locust Horde was unsuccessful as the light mass bomb only killed a sizeable chunk. The leader of the Locust Queen Mira reveals herself along with her chainsaw wield general, who is more agile and flexible compared to the hulking behemoth that was General Raam. It turns out that the Locust are kidnapping humans, processing them and torturing them, this part of the story is very grim and dark as you see people wasting away or ending it all due to the sadistic acts that the Locust conduct. The story is really good, but leaves me feeling a bit cold due to some the dark moments compared to the first game due to the subject matter.

Gameplay has been tweaked compared to the first, I feel that Epic Games got a real feel for the gunplay in Gears of War 2 as everything feels snappy and fluid compared to the first where it felt stiff. They added a few new weapons such as the Grinder Minigun, Boomshield and the Gorgon Pistol which fires three bullets with each use. Squad commands are now gone, but to be honest I never used them in the original games as my A.I teammates would never listen to me. 

This was also the introduction of Horde Mode, where you face 50 waves of Locust as it climbs in difficulty. This was a period where all games were either trying to copy four player co-op like Left 4 Dead, imitate Modern Warfare and of course the Horde Mode in Gears of War. It’s not a bad mode, however it does start to get a tad repetitive and boring after a while.

The only real issues I had with the gameplay is that A.I squad mates would run in with the tactics of a suicide bomber and be in a downed state, that is something they did not fix with the first game. The other issue is the camera when you sprint, it is like someone who is drunk behind you filming who has kneecaps made of elastic, where it is almost headache inducing when it bobs up, down and side to side.

Presentation is still superb considering the game came out a decade ago it still holds up in the visual deparement, even the character models look pretty good still. What I like about the visuals in this game are the Locust structures, there is a gothic like look to them similar to Warhammer 40k, which Gears borrows from heavily. The only really issue I had was performance, this was 2008 and games were shooting for good graphics (at the time) and unfortunately sacrificed framerate, Gears of War 2 is no exception and the game stutters like a bicycle rear derailleur that hasn’t be indexed correctly in certain parts of the game.

Gears of War 2 is still a great game to play a decade after its release, it does have framerate problems and questionable friendly A.I but it has a dark and interesting story coupled with intense and gory gameplay. You can pick this game for insanely cheap these days, I see it going for 50p in a lot shops and if you own an Xbox One it is playable on that via backwards capability and is also Xbox One X Enhanced. 

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Battlefield V Open Beta Thoughts.

By Sam Coles:

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 4 months, you have known the controversy about Battlefield V where it features women in the multiplayer. A lot of people cried inaccuracy but come on guys you can suspend your disbelief in a multiplayer setting, as it is a community and women play these games too, if it were singleplayer on the other hand then I would have somewhat of a problem. At the end of the day it’s a video game and if you want to learn about World War II go and read a book. Anyway I want to give my thoughts about the open beta; unfortunately the game has technical issues as well some questionable gameplay elements. Let’s get into it.

I got a chance to play three modes conquest which has been in Battlefield since its inception, Grand Operations where you push forward and take objectives and Tides of War where a battle take place in days at a time with different scenarios.  Conquest is your standard Battlefield mode that has been in the series for over a decade where you hold flags in an area until one of the team tickets are depleted. Grand Operations/Tides of War are the new modes, where you go through various war scenarios that are stretched across several in game days. I like this as it really makes you feel like as if you are in a war, where your tactical decisions have an impact on the battle the next day where you will only have a certain amount of forces.

Now let’s talk gameplay and this has to be very questionable, don’t get me wrong the gunplay is great although the auto aim on console is bizarre where I found I was aiming just outside of the enemies hitbox. Let’s start with co-operation or lack thereof, I found that team work was thrown out the window and into the next continent in this beta as I found no one in my squad including medics would not pick me up even when it was clear and they are right next to me.

This leads into the next problem which stems from team work the scarcity of ammunition, when you deploy you only get two clips for your primary weapon.. This is ridiculous as I found that I ran out of ammo far too quickly running around with a pistol for majority of matches, yes you can replenish ammo from enemies and depos but they don’t give you enough and my support teammates never gave me ammo when I asked. Talking about pistols I have to say they are a bit over powered, especially the P38 where it has basically no recoil and it can fire as fast as your index finger can twitch. I found that I was going on insane killstreaks with the P38, plus they give you lots of ammo for your pistol compared to your primary weapon which is baffling.

Let’s talk about performance and presentation, this game is a train wreck with its performance on the base PlayStation 4, it tries to run at 60 frames per second but it stutters like me when a pretty woman tries to talk to me. This is either an un-optimised mess or maybe the base hardware is severely out of date, I’m going to say both. Visually the game looks great, this is what I expect when it comes to a DICE game with big wide open spaces with buildings collapsing around me coupled with beautiful weather effects. The menus are a cluttered mess, is this a theme with multiplayer shooters where they make menus as intuitive as Microsoft Access. Another problem with presentation stems from visablilty, I have had major issues of seeing who is shooting at me as character models blend in with the levels, now I’m for concealing yourself but when other players match the brick they are standing next to that is an issue.

Overall Battlefield V in its current state feels very rough, which is rather worrying considering it is set for a November release. There are some solid aspects but at the moment there are too many issues that drag it down in its current state.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Editorial | The beauty of The Witcher 3.

By Sam Coles:

You know a game has had an impact when we are still talking about it years later, which is the case of The Witcher 3 a game that came out in 2015 which we are still talking about now. My love of The Witcher stems back to 2012 when I played the second game when it was ported to the Xbox 360, as well as reading The Last Wish as that was the only book to be translated into English at the time. I want to look back at The Witcher 3 and why people are still talking about it, now I know what you’re thinking it is only 3 years old. Yes that is true but it gives me an excuse to talk about this game as I have a deep love for the series.    

Let’s start with Geralt of Riva, he is fantastic character I felt I connected with him more in this game, because in the second game he was rather stilted and that may have been intentional due to his amnesia but he is more relatable in this game. I think it has to do with the voice actor having a better range and where he feels more comfortable within the role, he cracks more quips and loves having a good time as well as being emotional in some scenes. His determination to find Ciri is truly beautiful, as he is willing to do anything he can to find his adopted daughter, even if that involves defying the orders of the Emperor.

The main quest is good, but what I like about in this game is that they bother to put more focus on side quests. In most RPGs side quests are generally tedious fetch quests, but in The Witcher 3 they can be just as important as the main quest with their own cinematic angles with dialogue exchanges. These can range from hunting terrifying and interesting monsters to quests that poke fun at RPG fetch quest tropes, where you have to find a sauce pan for an old woman. It truly is amazing with how much effort CD Projekt Red put into the side quests, most developers would have put meaningless collectables or climb towers *cough* *cough* Ubisoft.

Most open world games players will want to use fast travel to cut down the journey, but I found in the Witcher 3 I never used the fast travel system, to this day I still don’t use it because the world is a joy to explore. The northern kingdoms and region of Toussaint are beautiful; they are exactly how I imagined them from the books. From the slum streets of Novigrad where racial tension are at an all-time high, to the academic institutes of Oxenfurt where the intellectual thrives.

When I first stepped into the sun soaked region of Toussaint I was awe stricken, it truly is a wonderful place to explore with its Mediterranean Italy inspired landscape, coupled with the locales French inspired accents and yes that does come with a passion of food and wine.  Think of Toussaint as a medieval fair, but it is everyday where you have daily jousting and duelling tournaments, it’s funny because the locals do it with a straight face as they deliver lines with weight and in a grandiose manner.

Even the gameplay is a step from the second game, the second game as much as I love it had its issues during combat as the hit detection was rather questionable, to put it politely. The Witcher 3 fixes most of the issues with the combat, as Geralt’s movement are fast and fluid and more akin to how his sword fighting are described in the books with his pirouettes being dancelike.

The Witcher 3 is a game that will be held in the same regard as Bioshock, Red Dead Redemption and Skyrim with its impact, as well as showing Polish culture to the rest of the world. The series is truly a beautiful multimedia art, if you haven’t read the books and play the games, and you may fall in love like I have.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Ninjin Clash of Carrots Review - Surprisingly addictive.

By Sam Coles:

There times that I question the contents of my inbox when PRs and publishers send me games, where I have to check the email twice thinking it is spam. This was the case with Ninjin Clash of Carrots where I questioned the quality of the game before playing it, however surprisingly the game is really fun and addictive with its gameplay coupled with a beautiful and colourful art style. Plus it’s nice to play something that doesn’t involve a lobotomy with a 12 gauge.

What I like about the story of this game is that evokes the days of gaming that were simple, where it gives you a thin layer of context and tells you go on your bike and get on with. You play as a ninja rabbit, where his village is raided and all of his carrots are stolen, it’s like Donkey Kong Country but you are a rabbit and instead of your banana horde gone your carrots have been taken. It’s not deep but what did I expect with a game where you play as an anthropomorphic rabbit that dresses like a ninja.

The gameplay is a wave based brawler, but you don’t stand in one place and beat up enemies in the vicinity you are constantly running as a relentless horde of foes come at you. It does take a bit of skill and reflexes because it does start off easy, but when you get further into the game it throws more enemies at you that need to be taken down in certain ways. These could be enemies that explode on impact where you have to throw ninja star at them which will cause an area of effect explosion taking down other enemies to enemies blocking your way where you have to dash behind them. You have a few abilities very basic, but it gets the job done, you have a standard attack with your sword, a dash which can get around enemies that are blocking your way and throwing weapon to deal with enemies that explode.

These all few great when you use them in tandem, where you are dodging at lightning speed cutting through a legion of enemies as they explode into carrots. The controls are very tight and responsive; I did not notice any input lag it was overall a joy to control. You go through levels on an over world map similar to Mario, I like this because mainly it is a joy to look at with how much colour there is.

Visually the game looks fantastic, this is probably one of the most colourful games I have played this year, it’s like playing through a rainbow with the spectrum of colours there are within this game. The game runs well too, it runs at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second and it never drops and that is maybe due to its simplistic art style.

Was there anything particularly wrong with this game? Not really, but I suppose I could say that it does get repetitive after a while, but to be fair I find if you play the game in bursts it is fine.

Overall I was rather surprised with Ninjin Clash of Carrots; it was a game I had no expectation to enjoy. However its charming art style and fun and tight gameplay had me hooked on the game, plus I was enthralled with how much colour there is in this game.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Editorial | Returning to the wasteland.

By Sam Coles:

As I get older I find that I tend to steer towards games of a slower pace, not that my reflexes are shot quite the opposite they are better than they were when I was 16 due to my cycling. However I just find satisfaction through RPGs or open world games where I can both figuratively and literally stop and smell the roses. Fallout was never a series that I got into initially because I was more infatuated with The Elder Scrolls series when it came to Bethesda RPGs, but I’ve warmed up to Fallout over the years and recently had a sudden surge of passion for it.

Back in 2009 I got my Xbox 360 for my 16th birthday, the only reason I really wanted one was so I could play Oblivion until my eyes bled with glee. One afternoon at school a friend of mine was asking me about Oblivion and was checking if I was enjoying it etc. He then went to ask me have I ever heard of Fallout 3, I retorted with “no”, which led him to explain it was from the creators of Oblivion and said to me it was like that game but with guns. While that is somewhat true, it is more than just Oblivion with assault rifles, it is a deep experience with nothing but you, your rifle and the desolate radiation soaked wasteland.

At first I was not impressed with Fallout 3, I think it was due to me coming from the colourful landscapes of Cyrodiil in Oblivion to the brown and puke stained look of D.C in Fallout. I eventually got over this stylistic choice as I realised it was intentional with the wasteland after a nuclear holocaust, and I found myself really enjoying Fallout 3. I was super excited in 2015 when Bethesda announced Fallout 4, but when I reviewed it in its initial state I hated it. This was mostly to do with technical issues, as the frame rate (on Xbox anyway) was terrible, and the game would constantly crash. What made me buy it physically on PS4 and give it another chance? Well for one I had some spare vouchers for Sainsbury’s and it was on sale for £9.99 so I thought let’s give it another chance, and wouldn’t you know I fell in love.    

Let’s start with the plot which has a lot of contention with players due to its simplicity, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as it has thin context of find your son. The reason why this is effective is because it is relatable, to add to that context you spend time with your family before the nukes drop and this fuels your quest more when you emerge from the vault.

The gameplay is another aspect that some have issues with due to its simplicity, but again I have no problem with it, yes the dialogue tree is rather vague with how you are going respond but I think that is a caveat of having a voiced protagonist. I think having a voiced main character in this game is fine; it was always my biggest issue in Bethesda RPGs because you are this pre-destined hero who is a mute minus a few grunts and gargles. There was always this disconnect when it came to Fallout or Elder Scrolls due to the main protagonist being a mute. Yes there is a pre-written response from the main character, but it doesn’t feel natural when the person you are talking to reacts in an emotional manner and you have the personality of a piece of cardboard.

The combat was a big step forward when it came to the gunplay, the game actually plays like a competent first person shooter compared to 3 or New Vegas, now I know the shooting is not the primary focus but it was the least enjoyable part in the older games. Guns no longer break which is great, now I know I have praised these types of systems like in Far Cry 2, but in that game there are guns everywhere compared to Fallout’s intentional scarcity. Plus it never gets old shooting someone’s head and watching their jaw bone fly off in eight directions. The crafting system is fun too which I thought I would never say as I’m sick of crafting, I love the additions you can attach to your weapons where you make them look absolutely ridiculous. 

What got me the most when revisiting Fallout was the atmosphere, Bethesda seem to have this talent of building an immersive atmosphere with wide open landscapes where if you can see it you can travel to it. What I like about Fallout 4 is that they managed to inject some colour into the world, while at the same time keeping the oppressive nature of the wasteland as you tread careful before you get mauled by a Deathclaw. Their worlds are organic, similar to what I said in my Red Dead editorial it doesn’t feel like you’re going down a checklist obliterating mundane task, but instead the world gradually opens up where you can find and explore random things.

It was nice to revisit Fallout 4 with an open mind instead of my usual critical outlook, I ended up falling in love and I look forward to my adventures within the commonwealth.  

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Book Review: The Godfather By Mario Puzo.

(Some Spoilers)

By Sam Coles:

A bit of a different post this time around, if you follow me on Twitter you would know I’m a bit of a book worm. So I’m going to give my overall thoughts of my new favourite book that I read over the summer and that book is The Godfather. Most people remember The Godfather for the film trilogy which started all way the back in 1972 which was directed by Francis Ford Coppola. However it was based on a book written by Mario Puzo which was first published in 1969, and I have to say the book is better as we get more of an insight into certain characters, coupled with some spin chilling moments.

The Godfather follows the exploits of the Corleone Family; they are a mafia family based in New York under the guise of an “olive oil company”. Don Vito Corleone is a respected man throughout the criminal underworld, he is a man who is known for helping people and not a man for violence, not to say he doesn’t solve issues with physical violence but that is generally last minute. The book chronicles the family throughout the years from Vito’s daughter’s wedding all the way up, to when the torch is passed to his youngest son Michael.

What I like about the book compared to the film, is that it goes into more detail about characters that were side characters in the film, and we get more of a back story of Johnny Fontane where Puzo goes into his downfall as a singer which is merely teased in the film. Johnny Fontane’s story is interesting because to begin with he is presented as a broken man, with a singing career going down the tubes with a wife that mocks him constantly until he snaps and beats her. It’s not until he visits the Don at the wedding where he begs for help, which leads him to picking himself back up and getting on with his life as a film producer.

This added detail adds an extra layer of the overall story, but it can drag sometimes as it can add padding to the book as he goes into back stories where it is not needed. An example of this is Michael’s bodyguard Neri, this goes into his backstory when he has only one major input of the narrative by assassinating one of the Dons, but besides that he has no real input to justify that backstory.

The extra back story that was good and was necessary was Luca Brasi, this man had maybe a few scenes in the film but in the book he is built up to be this almost supernatural entity as he is cold and shows little human emotion. His back story is told to Michael when he flees to Sicily as he has to go into hiding, and is taken under the wing of Don Thomasino. He is told by a maid on the Don’s estate, where she use to be a midwife in New York, she tells Michael about how she was called out by Luca as he had impregnated an Irish woman. He pays her a high price to deliver the baby, not only that he wants her to “dispose” of the child, this leads to a chilling moment of where he throws the child into a furnace. It was a horrifying moment, and actually gave me nightmares that night of how someone could do that without flinching and just carry on as if it were normal.

The character arc of Michael Corleone is fantastic, as we see him go from an innocent young man who has little to do with his father’s organisation to hardened gangster with a cold demeanour.  It’s great character development because when he flees to Italy, he realises that he can’t rely on the law to help all the time, as the mafia act as an unestablished enforcer for the downtrodden.

Puzo has an unflinching approach when it comes to detail especially when it comes to violence, it’s amazing and yet disturbing how he can describe someone being gunned down in different ways and I found it rather of putting with the crippling detail.

Overall The Godfather is an excellent read, it is a fast paced, engaging and brutal tale that will have you hooked from start to finish, there are moments of unnecessary padding but these are far and few. I highly recommend reading this book.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Editorial | Grand Theft Auto V 5 years later

By Sam Coles:

It’s hard to believe that Grand Theft Auto V came out 5 years ago; I remember the anticipation of the game back in 2013 with the lead up to its release as we have been waiting for the game for a long time. It was first announced all the way back in 2011 with a short teaser trailer and to say people were excited would be an understatement; it became one of the most view videos on Youtube in 2011.  When the game finally released on the 360 and PS3 in 2013 at the tail end of the generation of those consoles, I was astonished how this game was possible on aging hardware, as those systems where puffing out dust by that point. What made the game special? Why are gamers still playing and talking about it to this day where it is still in the top 10 gaming charts in the UK.

I think the first thing that really captivated people when this game came out were the three characters you play as, yes Rockstar Games were bold by having three protagonist which you could switch on the fly at any point of the game (unless the story dictates). The events that transpire for this three characters to meet are fantastic, you start off as Franklin a thug living in the rough area of Los Santos, Michael a retired bank robber who lives in luxury and Trevor an amoral psychotic who represents every player’s mind set when playing GTA by shooting and hitting any person he sees. 

The characters are well written (for the most part), but the standout is the performance from Steven Ogg where he plays the unhinged madman with a funny yet disturbing performance. You never know in some scenes if Trevor is going to laugh with fellow characters or if he is going to get angry and blow that character’s head off with a 12 gauge, it is really convincing with each line he delivers.

The world of Los Santos is one of the most beautiful open worlds within the genre, and considering the hardware it initially released on it is amazing the crippling amount of detail there is. They have recreated a condense version of Los Angeles with all the famous landmarks there, from the Hollywood sign or Vinewood as it is called in this game, to the Chinese Theatre. Not only that they included rural areas for players to explore with the meth fuelled deserts, dense forests and of course mount Chiliad where you can hurl yourself off with a motorcycle and parachute.

It never gets old driving to the top of the hill where the Vinewood sign is and witness the sunset, as the orange glow of the sun slow fades away into darkness and the street and neon lights of Los Santos light up as the nightlife begins to thrive. I can’t praise Rockstar enough of how beautiful GTA V’s world is, it is something they have shown time and time again with their games and as I said about Red Dead with my last editorial the worlds are organic and don’t feel like a video game.

After the somewhat anaemic offering of content with Grand Theft Auto IV, V took what they had with San Andreas and put a modern twist on it. You could once again customise cars with huge selection of aesthetic choices, from different bonnets (hoods for US readers), bullet proof glass, and armour to protect you from gunfire the list goes on. You can customise each character to a certain extent with clothing and tattoos, plus there are minor stat upgrades but they don’t make a massive difference minus the fact you can carry more ammo when you improve your shooting.

Let’s address the elephant in the room that is GTA Online, this was the other aspect that was heavily marketed which had to be delayed 2 weeks after the initial release. When it did finally drop it was a complete and utter mess as many players try to log in at once, which led to servers crashing and players losing their characters. I have a feeling that this mode was too ambitious for the Xbox 360 and PS3 due to the aging hardware, the promised heists where not implemented until we were two years into the life cycle of the PS4 and Xbox One. GTA Online was and still is an unbalanced mess, yes it is fun to cause chaos with your friends but it is a frustrating mess based purely on how much real money other players can spend.

Grand Theft Auto V is a landmark achievement within the video game industry, it is astounding that people are still playing and talking about it today 5 years later for better or worse. This is a game that we will still be talked about 20 years from now.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Beta Thoughts

By Sam Coles:

When Call of Duty Black Ops 4 was announced back in May I was rather disappointed, this was because Treyarch decided to not to include a story mode in this year’s game which they are known for producing well written campaigns. This year’s Call of Duty will be a multiplayer experience only, which is fine as long as it can stand on its own legs and compete with other games within the genre. Activision was kind enough to grant me access to the private beta on PS4, I got to play around with a few modes, specialists and select weapons. Just as a disclaimer, this game is not finished yet so certain features, modes and weapons are subject to change so keep that in mind.

I got access to several game modes such as Domination, Hardpoint, Chaos Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy and a new mode called Heist. Most of the modes are staples of Call of Duty and have been in the series for the last 10 years, Heist is the mode which is interesting as it is not a new idea because if you have played Counter Strike you have played this mode. How it works is that you start off with a small amount of money with nothing more than a pistol, you gain more money by killing other players or reviving and helping team mates. What you have to do is steal cash to take back to your base, which is similar to the blood money mode from Battlefield Hardline expect you have one life. It’s an interesting addition but it’s not new as I have had the same experience from Counter Strike and Battlefield Hardline.

Specialists make a return from Black Ops 3, all the familiar characters are back although you can no longer run on walls or jump seven feet in the air as advanced movement has been scrapped.  They all have their uses and I what I do like is that their special abilities are not all offensive tactics, they have support roles such as healing team mates, granting extra protection via body armour and setting up barbwire barriers to slow down and kill enemies. It really encourages team work instead of the old ways of Call of Duty where players run like chickens with their heads cut off, plus you can no longer have players pick the same specialist as this creates tactical variation on a team.

Gameplay has been changed up and some of it good and some of it questionable, for starters you no longer have regenerating health as you have to heal yourself with a  syringe. I do like this as it adds an extra layer of depth and tension to firefights because you and your opponent are on equal ground in terms of vulnerability; you have to make decisions of when you are going to heal. You now start off with 150 hit points and this fine, but the problem is that the time to kill which is how long it takes to kill an opponent is too high, I found myself in situations where it took more than half a magazine to kill another player.

Other issues I had with this game was and bear in mind that this game is not finished, the framerate is all over the place, it targets 60 frames per second but it struggles when things get busy with explosions and gunfire and it gets rather jittery.  Visually at the moment the game seems to look worse than Black Ops 3, which I may remind you came out in 2015 and was also shoehorned onto the Xbox 360 and PS3, character models like rather low in quality hopefully it can be fixed.

The main menu and user interface is also rather cluttered, now this may seem to be rather nit-picky, but when your main menu is a chore to navigate then there is something fundamentally wrong. I found during gameplay that there is too much on screen, with icons and status of your character etc. cluttering the screen where it almost distracted me from engagements.

One last gripe I had is that the spawning system is botched as I found myself spawning next to enemy players during matches as well, as enemy players spawning behind me. This lead to me dying in a continuous loop, where wanted to repurpose my controller as a boomerang.

Overall I’m left feeling confused, Call of Duty Black Ops 4 in its current state is trying to be Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege and Counter Strike it is trying to be everything but a Call of Duty game. Now I’m all for change and innovation but this is a mess, it currently does not have a focus as it seems to be taking what is currently popular. I remember a time from 2007-2012 Call of Duty were setting the trends not following them, what is here is interesting but it lacks the soul of a Call of Duty game. Let’s hope all the issues that I have are fixed by time the game releases on the 12th of October on Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Editorial | Why is Red Dead Redemption special.

By Sam Coles:

As of time of writing this Red Dead Redemption came out 8 years ago, I was a na├»ve 17 year old at the time studying my A-levels. At the time I didn’t really follow the industry, but I would check the Xbox Live store for up and coming games, I remember Red Dead Redemption being on the store for a couple of years and I wondered when it was coming out. It wasn’t until early 2010 when Rockstar kicked the marketing into overdrive, and in May of 2010 I received my copy in the post and what I play was one of the most beautiful pieces of art. Why is this game so special? Why do people still talk about it nearly a decade later? Well with the upcoming release of the sequel I want to talk about the magic that is Red Dead Redemption.

The intro is a great way to start the game, as the main protagonist John Marston doesn’t speak for about 10-15 minutes as he is escorted onto a train and then takes in the politics from different people from various stages of life. This is very much a trope from westerns during the 1960’s as the main character will barely speak, this is usually to build an intimidating profile, but in Red Dead this is to build more of a mysterious fog around John until he first confronts Bill Williamson. The introduction of the game does  a fantastic job of establishing the world, as John sits there on the train listening to people, where they discuss the wild west dying as a more civilised age is coming to take over, where they discuss automobiles and even people flying as this game is set in 1911.

Once you’re unleashed into the world Red Dead Redemption doesn’t hold your hand or shut you off from certain areas (Mexico being the exception until later), you can do… well anything you want. You wanted to ride across the deserts of New Austin and look for treasure and rob stage coaches? Go ahead! Want to get drunk and get into inebriated bar brawls with your fists or six shooter? Fill your boots and go nuts! It’s a classic Rockstar open world where it opens up in an organic manner, compared to other games where you’re going down a checklist list where you obliterate tasks rather than complete them (I’m looking at you Ubisoft).

The world in general is a joy to explore because you never know what you are going to run into, you could come across an abandoned stage coach with nothing more than dying embers of a camp fire, blood and shrivelled upped corpses. You can think about what happened here, then you are ambushed by a wild animal or bandits trying to rob for everything you have, where you then gun them down in a spectacular fashion. It’s the organic nature of the world is what is so appealing to explore, I remember the first time I found a gang hideout and thought I didn’t see that coming and looked into every nook and cranny where I started find the more bizarre “strangers and freaks” missions.

Like Oblivion this is one of those worlds I feel the life within it, where people go by their everyday activities and routines. I almost get to know the locals and know the world better than my own city, where it still carries on even when I switch the game off and go on with my day.

Considering the game came out 8 years ago graphically it is still a joy to look at and I can’t say that for many titles from 2010, yes some textures look a tad rough on and character models look like a processed vegetarian sausage although that maybe the entire point given the time period. It’s the environments that really stand out to this day, from the thirst inducing deserts to the more civilised cities.

The main reason why Red Dead Redemption is special is because of John Marston, he is one of the best video game protagonists from the past 20 years of video games. He is a man who is trying to leave his blood soaked past, but gets dragged back into it when the government kidnaps his wife and son. Unlike his past self, John is calm and collective as he handles most situations like a gentleman where he gives you the warnings to walk away before he pulls his revolver from his holster with lightning speed. When he is finally allowed to live his normal life, it is cut short when Edgar Ross decides to double cross him and cut him down like an animal, it proves his point of how the government is no better than the bandits they hunt.

Red Dead Redemption is a piece of art that will be held in high regard for the next 20 plus years, perhaps the sequel can recapture that magic with current generation technology and make an even more convincing world to explore. We only have to wait until the 26th of October find out.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Halo 4 Review - A personal tale for the Master Chief.

By Sam Coles:

Since the Halo series was taken over by 343 Industries, people often say they have “ruined” Halo which honestly these people need to look up the word hyperbole as that is not the case with 343. However they have done some questionable design decisions when it comes to the gameplay, and Halo 4 is no exception but what we got with the campaign in terms of story is rather good as we get a more of a look into the personal relationship between Cortana and Chief.

Halo 4 takes place 5 years after the events of the third game, where Master Chief and Cortana are still drifting through space on the Dawn. Cortana is awakened by a mysterious scan of a ship, where it turns out that they are in orbit of a Forerunner planet as well as being boarded by a Covenant armada. Things go smoothly and they land on the planet, but all is not well as Cortana is acting strangely, it turns out that she was put into service 8 years ago where she reveals that A.Is start to malfunction after 7. Chief being attached to her for many years begins to panic, as she has been the only one that he has really cared about and wants to get her back to Dr Halsey to fix her. I love the story in this game because we start to see Chief breakdown as he has not really had proper human interaction, as he has always relied on Cortana to comfort him and to see him panic as she slowly fades away is heart breaking.

Gameplay is where Halo 4 starts to falter a bit as the changes they have made to A.I behaviour makes me want cough up blood, as Covenant and Promethean encounters are arduous and frustrating especially on higher difficulties. Let’s start with Covenant behaviour with how the Grunts and Jackals use Plasma Pistols and Neddlers. In prior Halo games, they were projectile based and they still are but the tracking of both weapons are insanely strong where you have to take cover like you are in a Call of Duty game as you can’t dodge them. Elites frames of animation have been changed too when they perform melee attacks, these again have been sped up where you can no longer dodge and they kill you in one hit on Legendary.

Let’s talk about the Prometheans, they are almost worse than the Flood because encounters as they play out in a random manner (not in a good way) and take far too long to kill as they can regenerate their shield and can be revived by Seekers. These are the majority of encounters and it becomes a slog, as you will run into another problem the lack of ammunition. The amount of times I ran out of ammo is ridiculous, now I’m not expecting a dragon’s horde load of ammo but this is Halo and not Resident Evil, I feel like I’m playing a survival horror with amount of ammo there is or should I say lack thereof.

It’s not all bad what I like are the updated UNSC weapon models as well as the updated sounds, which give the weapons more of a beefy grunt instead of sounding like a playing card attached to a bicycle wheel (I’m looking at you Halo 3 assault rifle). However you barely get the chance to use these weapons, which as I discussed earlier there is a lack of ammo and you’re stuck using the terrible Promethean weapons, which have as much impact as a wet sponge.

Visually the game looks fantastic; it’s hard to believe that this was released on the Xbox 360 as it looks like it could have been an early Xbox One game. The detail is staggering with the details on Chief’s armour where you see the wear and tear from battle. The environments are big and impressive, with beautiful Forerunner architecture to the cold and industrial corridors. The animation is stunning from the characters; this was all done via motion capture which makes scenes more convincing.

Halo 4 has a great story, but the gameplay can be frustrating and tedious especially on higher difficulties. I’m all for the introduction of new enemy types, but when you make them more frustrating to fight compared to The Flood then you have done something wrong. If you are going to play this game for the story I would highly recommend playing it on normal, as it is not worth the hassle on higher difficulties.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Editorial | The portrayal of mental health in video games.

By Sam Coles:

Mental health is never an easy task to talk about especially within video games, but there are times where it can show the struggles of people that are affected by such stigmas in life and it can be disturbing and emotional. I want to cover a few examples that got it right with the portrayal of mental health. Now I will be talking about some heavy subject matters, so you are warned if you do not wish to go in depth about the subject. I’m going over a couple of examples that I thought portrayed it in a respectable manner.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice  

When I first heard of Hellblade I was not expecting much, but after seeing the coverage when it initially released on PS4 and PC it had my curiosity. It was until May of 2018 when the folks at Ninja Theory were kind enough to send me a code for the Xbox One version, I booted the game up and what I played was dark and disturbing and emotionally got to me that no piece of media has for a very long time.
Hellblade delves into the mind of Senua a Nordic warrior who is trying to resurrect the soul of her dead lover by travelling to the underworld, the setting is perfect with the mythology and folk lore with the monsters and runes she sees as she questions what is real or figment of her imagination. The game has a lot of moments where it is quiet where all you can hear is the ambient track and the whispers in Senua’s head, they constantly taunt her saying she is weak that she cannot do it and must turn back, but she perseveres with her quest.

The portrayal of this condition stems from the performance of Melina Juergens, she nails the twitches and the way she looks directly at the player in some cutscenes is unsettling as she almost has an angry and savage look on her face, you really feel her struggle. Throughout the adventure her psychosis is used both as a hindrance and a gameplay feature, when you’re exploring or in combat the whispers and voices in her head guide her and tell her when something is attacking from behind or hint at certain puzzles. It is also a hindrance because she is constantly told she is worthless and she has no chance of pursuing her goal.

There was one powerful sequence where Senua can’t take it anymore with the voices and she explodes in anger and they stop. What transpires is that she becomes more paranoid and alone, as she has been used to having them around we she then breaks down. It is a powerful moment and one that got to me where she was already alone with nothing but her thoughts, to then go to complete and utter silence.

Hellblade is an excellent example of the struggles of those who suffer with psychosis, and they utilise the setting of Norse mythology perfectly. It’s an emotional tale and I would recommend experiencing it for yourself if you haven’t.

Spec Ops: The Line

Now I know Spec Ops: The line was more of a critique of the modern military shooters of the time, but what Captain Walker goes through in this scenario shows symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Walker is tasked with finding his former commanding officer Joseph Conrad and yes that is a reference to author of The Heart of Darkness. As you get further into the game, Walker starts to break but still soldiers on.

There is one scene where Walker finally breaks and this is when they are tasked with clearing out a camp full of enemy combatants or so we think. They use white phosphorous to clear out the camp, which if you don’t know this weapon essentially sticks to your skin and burns it off which is no longer allowed in combat. When the dust settles Walker, Lugo and Adams slowly walk through seeing the suffering soldiers in extreme pain as what was once their skin replicates the last embers of a wood fire. Then he see what they were really housing in the camp and Walker finally snaps, as he is confronted with a pile of civilian bodies with a chard corpse of a mother cradling her child trying to hide them from incoming death. This is when Walker realises what he has done but he carries on thinking nothing of it.

Walker gets worse and worse so much so he starts to blame Conrad, which if you would know he’s dead. Lugo and Adams act as his mental psyche, Lugo is his biggest critic always questioning what he is doing when it comes to morality to certain situations and Adams somewhat takes issue with him but ultimately follows and agrees with Walker as he thinks there is no choice in the matter.

Towards the end of the game, Walker is confronted with what he has done as Conrad has been nothing more than a manifestation in his mind and has been dead all along. He realises what he has done and does not know what to do, as he thinks that he was helping people or to quote him “What happen was out of my control”. It really shows how war can shape a person’s mind, with the player and Walker both come out of this with blood on their hands.

It’s a story that still sticks with me to this day, where it is again where a piece of media really got to me.

Those are my examples I wanted to cover about mental health in video games, this editorial was rather draining emotionally as I had to replay these games and they get to me every time. I do recommend these games, but prepare yourself for the emotional roller-coaster that they will take you on.

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