Sunday, 29 April 2018

Editorial | Looking back at Grand Theft Auto IV 10 years later.

By Sam Coles:

There are certain games that you won’t believe that are 10 years old and feel as if they came yesterday, Grand Theft Auto IV is one of those games. 29th of April 2018 marks 10 years since the initial release of the game and I’m stunned that the game is that old, I want to talk about my feelings about this game when it first came out as I was a young gamer upon its release and probably shouldn’t have been playing it.

The year was 2007 and I was 14 years old studying at Monks Park (Orchard School now) and I was sitting there in ICT, I got a tap on my shoulder from a fellow classmate, who said to me “Have you seen the trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV”? I thought there is a new GTA game, because at the time I didn’t really use the internet and Youtube was in its infancy so viewing trailers wasn’t that simple. He pulled up the trailer and I was flawed by the graphics and how realistic they look, and yes it is laughable to look back at them today but in 2007 it was a big deal and innovation with visual fidelity. I couldn’t wait for it to come out, however in typical Rockstar Games fashion the game was delayed and delayed until it finally landed on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 on the 29th of April 2008.

At the time I did not own an Xbox 360 or PS3 as I made the somewhat poor choice by getting a Wii for my 15th birthday, but fortunately I was able to experience the game with my friend who got a 360 with the game. When I first booted the game up, I was conflicted because it wasn’t colourful or goofy like the titles prior but when I got through the intro I found myself falling in love with the protagonist Niko Bellic. He is the most grounded in the series, it’s not that he is always serious as he as a great sense of humour, but he has a very dry wit when it comes to delivering quips and jokes. He is a refreshing character in the series because he was trying to escape his violent past, but ends up being trapped in this violent circle as he is trying to protect those who he loves.

The reason Grand Theft Auto IV still sticks in mind 10 years later is because of the world itself, it felt alive with dense traffic and a huge population of pedestrians that was not possible on the PlayStation 2. People reacted in a dynamic way from nudging them when you walk past as they shout profanity to shooting them in certain parts of their body. Yes, pedestrians would react in different ways if you shot them in certain places, shot them in the leg they will limp away, shot them in the hand if they’re armed they will drop their weapon as they are unable to operate the gun anymore with that hand. It was this level of detail that was not seen before; Grand Theft Auto V doesn’t even replicate this detail.

Car physics took a more realistic approach which split fans, some loved it as it gave the vehicles weight and impact and others hated it because they felt it was like controlling an old age pensioner pushing a trolley. I loved the driving in this game because it had more of an impact when you decided to repurpose your car as a bulldozer, as the damage physics has a lot of detail with bent bumpers, shatter windows and sparks flying everywhere.

The graphics have aged in some departments, the character models like chimpanzees but, the world and cars still look wonderful with detail buildings and water that still looks great as you glide across it with a speed boat. Explosions look amazing as you obliterate traffic with an RPG as you replicate a twisted version of Chinese New Year with high impact explosives.  

Grand Theft Auto IV was a stepping stone for the gaming industry, as it showcased that a series could grow up and tell a more mature and dark story with a grounded but fun setting of Liberty City. This is a game I will remember for another 10 years, Rockstar Games have continued to craft beautiful worlds, with great characters and gameplay and still do to this day, if you haven’t give this game a go and you may fall in love it like I did 10 years ago.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Editorial | Why The Elder Scrolls is special to me.

By Sam Coles:

I often tend to fall back on games when there are few releases or in between reviews and the series I often revisit are The Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Skyrim. Why would I constantly go back to those games? I hear you ask, well they are games that I can zone out and do whatever I want discovering new things.

The stories in The Elder Scrolls don’t really draw me, because since Morrowind Bethesda have fallen on a strange trope of you being a prisoner and being this almighty chosen one figure head. I’m not saying the stories are bad as I do like Skyrim’s with the Dragonborn, where you discover the history towards the end of the game where you team up with ghosts of previous Dragonborn warriors to fight Alduin.

What draws me to The Elder Scrolls games for the 10 plus years of playing the series are the worlds, the inhabitants and the history of said worlds. Oblivion was my first flirtation with the series as I remember experiencing it at a friend’s house who was playing it on his PlayStation 3, I was 14 years old at the time and I wanted it, but unfortunately I didn’t have an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. I had what was a beefy PC at the time and picked it up second hand on PC, yes you could buy second hand PC games back in those days. I remember being very excited installing the game, starting the game and being unleash into the world of Cyrodiil with a sense of wide eyed wonder.

Oblivion was my first exposure to a world that felt alive, now I know what you’re thinking that I must have played the Grand Theft Auto series before, and yes this is true but honestly I never felt the GTA games at the time felt alive as this was before the first HD game came out. Cyrodiil is a world I can explore for hours upon hours and find something new, to this day I can boot the game up and find something new that has been untouched for over a decade. I can explore each town, village and city and watch the NPC’s go about their business to then shut the game down and I think that those characters are still living their lives even when the game is off.

I remember the announcement of Skyrim back in 2011, I was super excited I didn’t get the game on the day of release as I picked it up when it went on sale in December of 2011. I got it for my Xbox 360 and put it into my console and I remember my excitement when I head the opening percussion of the musical score kicking in, and that is what got me first with this game was the soundtrack. The soundtrack is another aspect that is very special to me about the series, as it can be grand and epic to subtle, relaxing and sombre when you walk around the world and towns.

To this day I still play Skyrim, since I bought the remaster on my PS4 last year it has never left my hard drive. Although it is not my favourite Elder Scrolls game that goes to Oblivion, but Skyrim is a beautiful game that holds a special place in my heart as I can explore and with no particular goal and find something new, whether that is a new location or new weapons and armour.

At the end of the day The Elder Scrolls series is a franchise that I will go back to for years to come, they have these beautiful worlds to explore and live in that have aged surprisingly well if you ignore the character models. It’s a series that I will always revisit 10 years later or hell 30 years later which I can share with the younger generation.

Friday, 20 April 2018

DMC: Devil May Cry Review - An underappreciated reboot

By Sam Coles:

There are certain reactions I don’t understand from online communities as it can resemble a child in a supermarket who has been refused Haribo from their mother. DMC: Devil May Cry is a game that a lot of people don’t like and the only reason why, is that Ninja Theory had the audacity of changing the look of Dante. Instead of Dante sporting long white locks he has short black hair, let’s be honest guys Dante was never a likable character he has always had a cocky and irritating personality that make me want to slap him with a fly swatter. I play these games for the gameplay, plus I like the set up with the story in this game.

The story of DMC is about Dante who can’t remember his past; he is rudely awakened after a night of heavy drinking and love making with a pair of strippers who happen to be demons. A young woman named Kat warns him that the hunter demon is after him to kill the last of Sparda’s bloodline, at the time Dante is not aware that Sparda is his father. He meets up with his brother Virgil who unveils his past to him, which he then finds out he is half demon and half angel which grant him wolverine like regenerating powers. 
The story is decent we get more of an understanding of Dante’s character; yes it is as basic as it gets but it’s something.

Gameplay is where a lot of people had issues with the game due to its apparent simplification, but honestly it does pose a meaty challenge not Devil May Cry 3 levels of challenge but it is still tough in parts and will test you. Like the other titles in the series the game grades your combat skills higher and higher depending on how varied your moves are, which are then graded at D, C, B, A and eventually SSS. Unlike the other games it is very easy to get a SSS ranking with the combat as I managed to get it just by mashing quick attack and dodging, it’s not to say the combat isn’t fun it’s just that ranking system is a bit broken.

Considering that this is an Xbox 360 and PS3 game originally, the game looks fantastic with great detail with the character models and environments. When you traverse the normal world it has a boring and grey hue, which was the standard during that generation, but when you get pulled into limbo everything becomes vibrant and colourful with demons trying to kill you. Character models look great considering this is a five year old game it still holds up, facial animations are on point coupled with the crippling amount of detail with Dante’s jacket.

The only issues I had with the game is that like with most Capcom games during the Xbox 360 and PS3 era it has a lot of screen tearing, so every time you swing the camera around the screen will tear in a horrendous manner. Besides that there is not anything that stands out being objectively bad.

DMC: Devil May Cry is a great game, yes they changed the look of Dante but look at this way it is a soft reboot and a different interruption from a different studio, honestly I like the story in this game as they flesh out Dante’s character more compared to other games. This game is available for a cheap price on the Xbox 360 and PS3, or if you want to play it at a higher resolution and frame rate you can grab it on the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Snes Classic Mini Review - A bundle of nostalgia

By Sam Coles:

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion something that Nintendo have capitalise the past two years, first with the NES Mini and of course the piece of hardware I’m talking about in this review the SNES Mini. The SNES Mini is a great package for those who are not hardcore collectors, as you know the Super Nintendo is an insanely expensive console to collect for, the SNES Mini has 21 games in one package, so the question is, is it worth it? In short yes. I’ll be covering the system itself and not the individual games, as I’ll review one at a time over time because otherwise I’ll be here forever.

Let’s start off with showing what games are included in this mini collection of nostalgia:

Contra III: The Alien Wars
Donkey Kong Country
Final Fantasy III (Final Fantasy 6)
Kirby Super Star
Kirby’s Dream Course
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Mega Man X
Secret of Mana
Star Fox
Star Fox 2
Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting
Super Castlevania IV
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Super Mario World
Super Metroid
Super Punch-Out!!
Yoshi’s Island

You get a good amount of games with hours of entertainment, plus it comes with the previously unreleased Star Fox 2, which is not that great in my opinion but that is a review for another day. The system is small about the same size as a drink coaster, which can fit nicely in the palm of your hand, and it is adorable how small it is. The system comes with two controllers, a HDMI cable and a USB cable, it does not come with an AC adaptor to power the system, but you can power it via USB, which is what I did via a port on my television.

Let’s talk about what you are presented with when you boot up the system, you are shown a quaint menu with some bouncy music which is what you would expect with a Nintendo console. You have the list of games laid out with their box arts which are really authentic, plus you can read the original manuals too with all the original art work.

How does the emulation stack up? Very well all the games run like their original releases, which can be seen as a negative as a lot of Super Nintendo games had slow down and frame rate issues especially Star Fox. Overall though games like Super Mario World, F-Zero, Yoshi’s Island all run smoothly with no hiccups. There is one thing that annoys me that you can only play the games in a 4:3 aspect ratio, but I realise that is asking Nintendo to go back to original code and altering it completely, which at that point they might as well remaster the games. There are also different screen modes, pixel perfect which makes the sprites nice and smooth and scan lines if you want to remember how terrible CRT monitors and TVs are.

What I like also is that you have four save states for each game, so if you need to do something but are far from a save point or if a game uses a password system, hit the reset button and then hit Y button and you can save in that exact location. This is fantastic because say if you’re in a gruelling dungeon in Zelda you can save in that spot and not have to worry about walking all the way back to dungeon when you start the game up again.

Are there any issues with the Snes Mini? Well there are some notable games missing from the collection, such as Pilot Wings and Sim City as they were launch titles for the system, but I expect Nintendo could not persuade EA with Sim City, but there is no excuse with Pilot Wings.

Overall the Snes Mini is a great bundle of nostalgia, with an excellent selection of games to keep you occupied for hours alone or with friends. If you’re not a hardcore collector this is great way to play some old school Snes games as collecting for the Super Nintendo is rather expensive. Unlike the Nes Mini it is easier to get hold of one at the recommended retail price as Nintendo made more of them with demand, so go out and get one.  

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Editorial | My favourite video game characters

By Sam Coles:

We often form bonds and attachments with video game characters whether it be the one game or an entire series as we see them grow both physically and mentally. I wanted to go over some of my favourite characters that I love and explain why I have formed a bond with them. This list is in no particular order and remember it is my opinion if you disagree that is fine let me know your favourite characters in the comments or tweet at me.

John Marston – Red Dead Redemption

A somewhat obvious choice, but John Marston is someone who is trying to repent for his sins of being an outlaw by killing his former gang members something he is not enthused to do but it is the only way to get his family back where he can live in peace on his farm.

Unlike most Rockstar protagonists John won’t kill someone because they look at him funny, he generally tries to stay out of trouble, however when his confronted he gives his opponents all the chances to walk away before he guns them down. Marston is a gentleman helping those in need and tries to solve most situations diplomatically, his gun is generally his last option as he wants to get through things quick and clean.

Lightning – Final Fantasy XIII

Now I know this is probably a controversial choice as a lot of people don’t like this game or the character, but I would have to disagree with criticisms that people throw towards Lightning saying she is a bland character.  

Lightning is not a bland character, I find that she is a calm and collective person who is always in control of the situation she never panics not matter how bad the predicament is. She does lash out at people but it is very rare and when she does get angry you don’t want to be in the same room as her as she will obliterate you. Her persistence of wanting to protect her sister is wonderful and she will go to hell and back to save her, and will kill those who mean her harm.

Niko Bellic –Grand Theft Auto IV

I know I said earlier that Rockstar tend to make characters that are morally bankrupt, but that doesn’t mean they can’t make sympathetic characters. Niko Bellic from Grand Theft Auto IV was an interesting character, as we didn’t really have a character like this in the series, he is an Eastern European immigrant trying to pursue the “American Dream” to escape his past of being a mercenary.

Nike arrives in Liberty City hoping to make a fresh start with his cousin Roman, however he finds out his cousin’s letters were lies and he didn’t own a mansion or fast sports cars. Niko wanting to make it to the top gets dragged into the seedy criminal underworld, working for Russian, Italian and Irish gangsters. What I like about Niko is that he genuinely wanted to escape his violent past but his cousin drags him back down as he is in debt with Russian gangsters so he does what does best gunning down anyone that gets in his way.

Geralt of Riva – The Witcher
I fell in love with The Witcher series back in 2012 when I picked up the Xbox 360 version of The Witcher 2 when it launched, I was immediately hooked by the story and characters and I love the main protagonist Geralt of Riva.

Geralt in the games is a humble and calm character compared to the novels; he is always going out of his way to help others whether they are strangers or people that he loves. In the books he tended to act more like a rabid dog if someone looked at him in a strange way, such as in first chapter of The Last Wish he slices someone’s throat open for poking fun at him. In the games he is a kind and generous man, who wants to help people but is saddened because people shun him due to his mutations and profession.

Kazuma Kiyru – Yakuza

The Yakuza series is another set of games I have fallen in love with over the past year because Sega gave me the opportunity to review Yakuza 0 and Kiwami. After reviewing those games I grew an attachment to the protagonist Kazuma Kiyru, who I’ve loved watching his character arch from hardened gangster to a loving father figure for his adopted daughter.

What I like about Kiryu is at first he is presented as this thug with no feelings, but it’s not long until he stumbles across a young girl called Haruka where his human side emerges, he goes to any length to protect her and eventually takes her under his wing. It also helps that Kiyru is funny and he knows how to laugh when the situation calls for it.

Big Boss – Metal Gear Solid

I was going to put Solid Snake in this list, but after thinking about it I ultimately went with Big Boss because he is the legendary soldier that Snake’s genes are based on.

Big Boss is truly a sympathetic character because of all the things he has been through over the decades, back in the 60’s he was sent to hunt down and kill his mentor and mother figure the Boss which I got really emotional at the end of Metal Gear Solid 3. I found myself growing with him as he carried on and split off to form a military where no one is left behind and they get the respect they deserve. Big Boss has been through it all he lost his mentor, had his eye shot out, tortured with electricity and had his based destroyed by a fake UN inspection team yet he still carries on and fights.

That was my list of favourite characters; let me know who are your favourite characters in video games either in the comments or on Twitter.  

Monday, 2 April 2018

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City Review - A flawed action game.

By Sam Coles:

The Resident Evil series has had a revival recently with the excellent Resident Evil VII, which released in early 2017 however it was in a bad spot in 2012 with the abysmal Resident Evil 6 to the better received Revelations on 3DS. Resident Evil Operation Racoon City was a game that was not well received, to be honest I don’t see why sure it is not a good Resident Evil game, but it is a fun co-op action shooter which still has a decent online community today.

Resident Evil Operation Racoon City takes place during the events of Resident Evil 2 and 3, where you play as a Special Forces unit that are working for the Umbrella Corporation. You are sent in to clear up the infection that has plagued the city, but you are also tasked with securing the G-Virus which you will know the outcome of that if you have played Resident Evil 2. To be honest the story is not great, which the Resident Evil stories have never been great until Resident Evil VII when they got someone to write it.

The gameplay is not a survival horror but instead is a third person co-op shooter, this was the popular craze at the time due to the success of the third person action of Gears of War and the hugely popular cooperative gameplay of Left 4 Dead.  You have a vast array of characters you can pick from, these are the standard classes you would expect from a military style shooter with assault, scout, recon and medic it is not original but it gets the job done as you can get through a scenario by just shooting everything that moves.

The gameplay can get a tad repetitive but fortunately the missions are not too long and end when things start to lose steam. My biggest issue is that I found myself constantly running out of ammo during fire fights, look I know they had to acknowledge that it is a Resident Evil game but it gets a tad annoying when you’re holding down the trigger only to realise your gun is clicking like a jazz dancer. You won’t only be fighting biological weapons such as zombies, Lickers and of course Mr X you’ll have human opponents to face which turn it into a standard third person shooter.

Visually the game is up and down, character models looks serviceable however the zombies look like something from the PlayStation 2 with blurry textures but if you are a normal gamer you’ll probably won’t notice them in the carnage. Environments are very bland consisting of dark corridors and grey and blue hued streets, I know it’s to be expected with a setting like this but that doesn’t mean you can’t have variety. I noticed that there was a lot of screen tearing and this is something I noticed a lot with Capcom games during this generation of gaming, I have similar issues in Resident Evil 5, 6 and DMC: Devil May Cry. The framerate does struggle but to be fair there are a lot of enemies on screen, it doesn’t drop to unplayable numbers but it does stutter like Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day.

Overall Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City is an average shooter, which you can get some enjoyment if you play with friends but on your own it becomes rather tedious and somewhat frustrating in later levels.