Thursday, 29 March 2018

Halo 3: ODST Review - Lost and alone.

By Sam Coles:

Halo is a franchise that a lot of people like to throw shade at these days, but honestly I don’t understand the negative comments about the newer games as the gameplay is tight and fun, but I do share the comments about Halo 5’s campaign. Halo 3 ODST was a rather controversial release when it first debuted back in 2009, this was due to the fact it was nothing more than a glorified expansion pack, which could be forgiven if they had not charged full price for it. Me being a naïve 16 year old at the time I bought it, mainly for the early access for the Halo Reach multiplayer beta, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Does it still hold up after nearly 9 years after its release? Yes absolutely.

Halo 3: ODST takes place in between Halo 2 and 3 where you are not a Spartan this time, but instead you are a normal soldier, in this game’s case you are part of the Orbital Drop Shock Trooper unit. You play as a character simply named “Rookie”, you are given different orders and one thing leads to another and you are separated from your squad on the dark, cold and wet streets of New Mombasa. I like the story telling this game, because unlike other Halo games this game does not shoot for an over the top and bombastic approach, it goes for a more sombre and subtle approach, this comes across in both its soundtrack and atmosphere.  

Gameplay is largely the same, they took the current engine that ran Halo 3 and tweaked it to be faster and tighter in the controls department, and as much as I love Halo 3 it was very slow and sluggish. ODST is not sluggish, you will run faster than the Master Chief and the vehicles seem to drive faster too. You mostly play as the Rookie traversing an open hub in the darkness; the atmosphere is mostly quiet as it is night time where you’ll only get into small skirmishes with Covenant patrols. You have to find clues to see what happened to each member of your squad, you’ll find specific objects relating to a squad members such as helmets and weapons etc. This will then cut to a flashback to their perspective until you get to a moment where they lose said possession.

Gameplay is a more fluid compared to other games, but you have to remember you are no longer a super soldier as you can’t soak damage from high falls etc. plus the fixed health bar returns but you do regenerate a bit of health so you don’t die that easily, but you do have to restore overall health with medical kits.

Ignoring the character models this is a beautiful game still; considering it came out nearly 9 years ago the environments look beautiful with the neon lit streets of New Mombasa to the open fields of battle in the flashbacks. The character models do looks severely dated with them somewhat resembling their actors, but you can tell it’s a 360 game released in 2009 as developers were still getting to grips with the system.
The soundtrack is what also stands out in this game, I love how calm, collective and mysterious it is when you skulk around the streets of New Mombasa, it’s peaceful and sometimes creepy as you hear the distant moans of the Engineers in the background.

The only issue I can think of is the length of the game, don’t get me wrong it doesn’t matter these days but back in the day they charged full price for what was basically an expansion to Halo 3. You can finish the game in less than 4 hours if you know what you’re doing, but honestly it doesn’t matter now as it cost pennies, but I picked this up day one back in the day which was made up for the fact they gave you a multiplayer disc with all the Halo 3 DLC maps.

Halo 3: ODST is a game I feel not a lot of people talk about; maybe it’s due to its more sombre approach with its atmosphere and storytelling as it lacks the epic and bombastic approach of other Halo games. It’s worth a play these days as you can pick it up for super cheap on 360 or you can download it on the Master Chief Collection if you want to play it at 60 frames per second and at  a 1080p resolution.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Soldier of Fortune: Payback Review - This is not Soldier of Fortune.

By Sam Coles:

The Soldier of Fortune series was notorious for its graphic violence where you could quite literally blow your foes into the chunks. However they were not just a show case of gore and violence, they were excellent first person shooters made by Raven Software who are now relegated to making Call of Duty games. Soldier of Fortune: Payback is known for being one of the worst games ever, again I feel this statement has lost meaning and has become redundant these days because it’s thrown around a lot on the internet. Is this game the worst game ever? No, but it is not a good game either.

You take control of Mason a “bad ass” mercenary who embarks on a mission to protect a diplomat in the Middle East, his colleague Miller betrays him and kills said diplomat. Manson ends up killing Miller and goes on a revenge journey to take down the shady organisation behind the betrayal. The plot is terrible and it does not help that the dialogue is poorly written with terrible voice delivery; the person playing Mason comes across as a maniac. Maybe the gameplay can save the overall package.

If you’re familiar with the series you’ll know that Soldier of Fortune is a first person shooter, however this game doesn’t function well and lacks any of the finesse or charm that the first two games had. This game is your bog standard by the numbers first person shooter, trying to copy the success of Call of Duty 4 but with gore, ironically this game was also published by Activision.

Unlike most first person shooters of the time, this game controls like an old age pensioner who turns and walks as if they are wondering if they left the stove on. The camera controls are sometimes stiff and sluggish, but other times it fast and fluid I’m not sure why this is but it maybe something to do with the auto targeting system on console and it is a pain. Shooting lacks impact with practically no recoil from weapons, I’ve used super soakers with more impact than these far arms.

So let’s get into the main gimmick of the game the blood and gore, it’s not as bad as some games of today but to be honest it’s not believable like it was in the first two games. When you shoot someone in this game they fall apart like papier-mâché, and when you shoot someone in the head their cranium just magically evaporates. As over the top the gore system was in the first two games, it was believable especially in Soldier of Fortune II, as you could blow them apart piece by piece, in this game parts just fall off.

Visually the game looks horrible; it looks like someone has slapped Vaseline on the camera lens with too much bloom in some scenes. The textures are muddy and blurry, it looks like a game from the PlayStation 2, and may I remind you that this was released the same year as Call of Duty 4 and Crysis. The game runs poorly as well, once the gore kicks in the framerate quite literally tears its own arms, which becomes unplayable. The only thing that is good about the visuals are the gun models, each weapon represents their real life counterpart with good detail from AK47s, M16s to Colt 1911 and Sigg P226s.

Soldier of Fortune: Payback is an absolutely awful game and does not deserve the Soldier of Fortune moniker; it has terrible controls, abysmal dialogue and graphics that look like my toilet after a high fibre meal. I paid £5 for this game and that was way too much.  

Monday, 12 March 2018

Call of Juarez Review - A former outlaw turned priest picking his guns up.... Wait this is Pale Rider.

By Sam Coles:

The western genre in the interactive form is a rarity, since Red Dead Redemption Rockstar Games scared everyone out of the genre. However Red Dead is not the only game within the genre, Call of Juarez is a first person shooter that released on PC in 2006 and the Xbox 360 in 2007 which is the version I’ll be talking about. I was first introduced to the series with Bound in Blood back in 2009, however this game is good but it certainly shows some cracks with its design which was fixed in later instalments.

Call of Juarez is about two protagonists Billy who is a half Mexican and Native American and his step uncle Ray McCall a former outlaw turned priest. Billy is framed for the murder of his mother and step father, where Ray finds him at the scene of the crime it’s not long until the small mining town falls into chaos and Ray picks up his rusted revolvers one last time but this time in the lord’s name. At first when I played through the first two chapters, something in the back of mind was poking me and I thought wait a minute this is Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider. However the story drops that moniker as you venture further through the plot, what I like about the narrative it switches perspective from Billy and Ray, with situations where Ray catches up with Billy it will switch to Billy’s point of view it’s a nice touch.

Gameplay is largely a first person shooter, but it does emphasise platforming which I will get into shortly. You can tell that the shooting in this game is a rough draft, not to say it is bad but animations for shooting can be rather anaemic with little recoil so you don’t get a sense of feedback. However this is remedied with excellent sound design from the weapons with a thunderous boom of the Winchester rifle to fast crack of the quick shooter revolver.  As Ray you have access to concentration mode where he goes into slow motion where two crosshairs scroll across the screen, this is not great because it’s hard to see if you’ve hit your targets as well knowing if they are dead or not due to the slow motion.

Let’s get into Billy’s gameplay, it is easily the worst parts of the game because it relies on platforming, which I will still champion that it does not work in a first person perspective with some exceptions and stealth. When I think about a western game I think of running around like a mad man with duel revolvers, not stealth or precise platforming. The stealth mechanics barely exist because it is hard to judge when enemies have line of sight on you, this can be a pain in the mandatory stealth sections where you are not allowed to be seen.

Visually the game doesn’t look bad for a 360 game that launched in 2007, the environments look beautiful at first they are very enclosed but as you progress through the story the areas start to open up with forests and canyons. Character models haven’t aged well, they look like something from the PS2 era especially NPC’s but this game was initially released on the PC in 2006, and games during that period were more or less PS2 games in a higher resolution. The game runs at an uncapped frame rate which can range from 30 to 60 frames per second depending what is happening on screen, it is rather jarring however it never drops below 30 frames per second.   

Despite some of weak elements such as the stealth and platforming sections Call of Juarez is a great western game before Red Dead Redemption came in and scared everyone off. It is easy to find on Xbox 360 and is super cheap so if you see it pick up it, it will keep you busy for 8 hours.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Editorial | Don't blame violent games, blame the individual.

By Sam Coles:

I thought I wouldn’t have to write an editorial in 2018 about a subject that has been proven to be false, but that there are still some out of touch fools within the United States government who blame media that they do not understand rather than blaming the individual of a horrific event. I am of course talking about the recent shooting in a high school in Florida where a young man went in with a semi-automatic weapon and proceeded to gun down students and staff. The current US President Donald Trump, instead of address the individual’s mental state, he instead goes after violent media in the case of this editorial video games.

Video games have been around for over 40 years depending on your opinion of when mainstream gaming started, but for arguments sake mainstream video games first came around in 1972 with early arcade machines and Pong sets. The first moral panic about video games was the release of the arcade game Death Race back in 1976, like the film it is based on Death Race awarded you with points when you hit a pedestrian with your car. By today’s standards Death Race is crude with its depiction of vehicular murder, but it sparked discussion about if these games could affect the mental psyche.

It wasn’t until the early 90’s with the release of the original Mortal Kombat in arcades and the corny B-Movie point and click adventure Night Trap, where the US government wanted to step in and take control as they gave the industry an offer regulate yourself or risk government control. This of course of was the birth of the ESRB, where video games started to have clear age ratings on games for the US starting at E for everyone to A for adults only.

You would think after all that the government would leave the industry alone… Right? No, in the late 90’s two individuals shot up a school in Columbine, you would think logical people would assess the mental state of them, but no instead they blamed Doom a game that is 6 years old at this point was blamed because the two liked playing the first person shooter.

After the 90’s the game industry became more mainstream, with creditable voice actors playing roles in games starting with Grand Theft Auto III, but the scapegoating never stopped as GTA III was targeted (Not the first time for the series) because of its open ended nature. Parents and senators of the day commenting about how it will corrupt their children, despite the game being rated M for mature in the US and 18+ here in the UK, at this point video games was a form of entertainment not only for kids, as it also catered to adults. I remember when GTA III, Vice City and San Andreas came out with the controversy that came along side it; my parents were very sensible and did not let me play these games until they deemed me mature enough, not by age but mentality. They weren’t worried about what these games would do to me because like most normal people they saw it as a different form of entertainment that is fictional.

Now we get onto the point of do violent video games cause real life violent behaviour? The short answer is no, which have been proven by countless studies that have shown playing video games have more positives than negatives. In January of 2018 the University of York did a study with 3000 participants to try and find a correlation between violent video games and real life behaviour, surprise, surprise there were no links. Dr David Zendle stated with his research “The findings suggest that there is no link between these kinds of realism in games and the kind of effects that video games are commonly thought to have on their players”. This shows that the normal mind can deter the difference between fiction and realism; people are focusing on the wrong thing and are trying to cover the main issue up with something else, if you want to read the full article from the University of York click here.

What is the problem we need to address? Well the United States needs to start taking mental health seriously, they need to address the individual and what was going through their mind, it’s not the media he or she consumes it’s about what is going on in their mind. I’m getting fed up with out of touch buffoons telling me that my preferred hobby and art form is corrupting people when countless studies say otherwise. Maybe the reason you keep having these shootings within your country Mr President is because you’re allowing people the ease of access to fire arms they don’t need, as well as you’re medical departments not taking mental health seriously. Stop scapegoating and making pathetic excuses because you haven’t got the gonads to address the actual problem.

I can’t believe that there are some people that attack video games in the year 2018, when there are real forms of art and encourage social interaction with online video games. If you think a game is not appropriate for a child it’s not the video game industry’s problem it’s the parents problem. With the shootings in America it’s terrible, but where we keep having them over and over again, where it doesn’t really happen anywhere else in the world you need to reassess the problem.  

Overall do I think there is going to be more regulation of video games in the United States? No, I think at the end of the day this will blow over, but US government needs to stop scapegoating and take the problem head on.

Monday, 5 March 2018

007: Agent Under Fire Review - A hidden gem of Bond games?

By Sam Coles:

James Bond has been around for over 60 years, it took a while before 007 appeared in video game form with the hugely successful Goldeneye. There were other good Bond games but most of them failed to live up to the expectations of Goldeneye, however there is one game that was released in 2001 known as Agent Under Fire an early first person shooter for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Is this Bond game any good? It has its ups and downs, mostly ups.

This game has its own unique story and does not follow any of the films of the time; it’s your standard James Bond plot with an over the top evil villain with an outrageous scheme, this time involving clones. The story is fun as you would expect from a Bond plot with the voice actor playing Bond giving a great performance with innuendo and double entendre comments throughout that kept me laughing.

This is a console first person shooter from the early 2000’s, and oh boy does it feel like an early console shooter from the early 2000’s. It’s not bad by any means, but it does feel a bit stiff it has similar controls to the early Medal of Honor games such as Frontline, where you don’t run and gun, but instead run, stop and shoot. How it works is that you can shoot with an auto aim system, but it doesn’t always works properly as sometimes it will not shoot at the target you intended to kill.

You have a manual aim system like Goldeneye but it is more responsive because the PS2 analogue stick is much better than the N64, but it feels like Medal of Honor the aiming system and even the enemies react similarly that might have something to do with it being published by EA. The shooting is good for an early console shooter, but the controls can take a few minutes to get used to, but once you have a grasp it is very satisfying to gun down goons by the dozens.

There are vehicle sections that give you an open map to complete objectives in, and these are very fun when you screech around corners blasting bad guys mounted machine guns and rockets. The car controls are not realistic but have an arcade feel to them as you can accelerate into a corner and not brake.

Visually the game looks fine, not great but it’s not a bad looking game, I give the visuals some slack because the game came out in 2001. The character model of Bond doesn’t seem to be replicating any specific actor it seems like a mix of Brosnan and Dolton. The weapons look great as they are model after their real life counter parts from Bonds Walther p99 to Spaz 12’s and AK47s. The game targets 60 frames per second, but most of the time it sits at 30 when things get a bit busy when the explosions take up the screen, it’s not unplayable but it is a noticeable jump.

Is there anything wrong with Agent Under Fire? Well the big problem I have with this game is that it is really short; the game has about 12 missions which can take you 10 to 30 minutes to finish if you know what you’re doing. Another aspect I had problems with are the controls, they are very clunky and you can tell that this was the early days of console shooters, but they are fine once you get use to them.

007: Agent Under Fire is a fun first person shooter for the PlayStation 2, yes it does have a few quirks that date the game in terms of controls but it is still enjoyable once you get use to the controls and throw your mind back to 2001. This game is insanely cheap these days I found a copy in my local CEX for 50p, so grab it if you have a PS2.