Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Godfather II Game Review - Family matters

By Sam Coles:

Back in days of the mid to late 2000’s, there was this strange trend of making video game tie ins of films from 30 plus years ago with games such as The Thing, Scarface and of course the game I’m talking about The Godfather. The Godfather II was released initially in 2009 on the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, it was odd as it was a game that no one really asked for, and so expectations were rather low. However what we got was a mix of Grand Theft Auto and business management elements, what we get is a good blend of intense violence and micromanaging.

The Godfather II is loosely based on events from the second film, where you play as Dominic a low level thug in the Corleone family who is an apprentice of the Aldo who was the protagonist of the first game. You find yourself in Cuba on New Year’s Eve where the rival families have joined together to divided Cuba up with different crime rings, but everything goes south and the revolution happens. You have to flee Cuba, but not everything goes smoothly as your mentor Aldo is gun down by a sniper, you fly home and Michael Corleone wants you to take over Aldo’s businesses. This is where the game begins, you start off in New York and then you venture across Florida and Cuba.

The gameplay as I said earlier is a mix with open world mayhem of Grand Theft Auto and business management you would expect in another Mafioso themed game Omerta, although not as complex. You have a set of business fronts in each city which are covering up criminal operations with aspects such as drugs, prostitution, guns and gambling. How you take over each business is that you first have to intimidate the shop own to make them pay protection money, and then you go into the back room and do the same for the crime ring owner. Intimidation is key in this game, each business owner will have a weak spot, this can range breaking their stuff, threating their customers or the old fashion way kicking seven shades of blue out of them, but don’t push them too far because they won’t pay you.

When you gain all the rackets in the same crime ring you will receive a bonus to help get things done in a more efficient manner, these can range from knuckle dusters, armoured cars and body armour. This is a good incentive to actually go for a hundred percent completion because the game actually rewards, and it’s not just a checklist for busy work I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed.

You’re not alone on your journey to become the Don; you have goons you can enlist where you start your family tree.  You are given a couple of choices to begin with, with one specialising in healing and the other in arson, however as you progress you can recruit people with other skills these can range from demolition, infiltration and safecracking. You can upgrade your family members where they can have multiple skills, which can be very handy as to begin with you find yourself switching out characters a lot due to them having only one skill set.

The combat is where things to start to stumble like a drunkard in the centre of Bristol on a Saturday night; the hand to hand is great, the gunplay on the other hand is as clunky as riding a road bike on grass. The hand to hand combat feels brutal and visceral, you use the two triggers to punch, but when you grab someone it is controlled via right analogue stick where you can head but, knee them in the gonads or you choke them out. It flows really well, plus the blackhand executions return from the first game and they are extremely brutally in this game. When you weaken an enemy you can execute them, this can range from smashing their face in with your fists to more brutal methods where you slam a crowbar in their eye and pull it out with blood flying everywhere.

The gunplay is not great, now The Godfather II has RPG elements which is fine and all, but when the weapon bloom inflates as much as glutton it starts to test my patience. Now I’m not expecting Italian gangsters to have pin point accuracy, but I would expect them to have some competence of using firearms because you know it’s what they do every day.  

Considering this is a game from 2009, this game looks surprisingly good with detail in each city with the beautiful sun soaked beaches of Florida to the slum ridden streets of Cuba. Animations are a bit stilted with cutscenes as it has the deer in the headlights problem of Mass Effect, but they get the job done. The detail with the executions is very graphic and brutal, even today with current technology I still wince at some of them, with examples such as by shoving a baseball bat in someone’s mouth and then slamming it into the ground. The only issue I had with presentation and performance is that the framerate drops during busy gunfights and explosions.

Overall The Godfather II was a sequel that no offense to the game no one asked for, but it defied expectations by packing the game with lots of content and a fun open world experience. It does sadden me that a lot of people don’t talk about this game if you have an Xbox 360 or PS3 pick it up.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Editorial | Call of Duty: why their campaigns are important.

By Sam Coles:

Call of Duty generally gets a lot of flak but that is generally to do with its annual release, naïve people seem to think it is the same studio cranking them out every year when it is various studios. However they have always crafted well told war stories across different fronts and time periods, from the beaches of Normandy in World War 2 to the distant stars in Infinite Warfare. Say what you will they are always well told with great acting and action, so it pains me with the gameplay reveal of Black Ops 4 Treyarch are not producing a singleplayer campaign and this disappointing.

Now I want you to think why do we remember older Call of Duty games so fondly and still talk about them today as if they came out other week. Your thoughts would be the multiplayer right? Wrong! The reason why we talk about games in the series such as Call of Duty 4, World At War, Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 it’s due to their stories, characters and memorable moments that still stick in our minds from 5-10 years ago. When I first owned my copy of Call of Duty 4 on Xbox 360 I didn’t have Xbox Live, so I got acquainted with the campaign where I finished it on Veteran difficulty (many swear words were heard during that time).

Call of Duty 4 really is the gold standard when it comes to campaigns; it starts off normal enough where you are training with fire arms, knives where you then do an obstacle course and then bam! You’re raiding a cargo ship in an SAS squad. It came out of nowhere almost, you go through a cargo ship looking for nukes and then the ship is destroyed by Mig fighters and you go through a daring escape and then opening credits roll through the eyes of a captured president. That’s what Call of Duty nailed with the campaigns they would generally start off fairly tamed and then, it would throw you into the fire.
It’s not only the scenarios it was also the characters that drew me into the series, with Captain Price, Soap, Reznov, Mason and of course my favourite Frank Woods. Captain Price is where it all began with me, I saw him grow from a stiff upper lip by the books SAS captain to a rogue who took know prisoners by doing anything it takes to save the world. The Modern Warfare trilogy is where I grew to love the characters and grew attached to them, so much so when they killed Soap in Modern Warfare 3 I shed a tear, because I saw him go from a rookie in the SAS to an inspiring leader.

When I moved onto Black Ops I was stunned that Treyarch had to gonads to depict the Vietnam War, as most war games don’t really go into it because the United States went in and treated the locals like a wet carpet. They were brutal with their depiction, with torture and mind control which worked extremely well within the Cold War setting. This was the period when the Call of Duty series did not hold back with its dark, mature and brutal subject matter, as this was before all sad lemons took over the internet.

Campaigns are not only good for great storytelling, but they can be used to get use to the gameplay and mechanics of the game. With Call of Duty, each game has a different feel in terms of their movement so it’s great to get used to it in an offline environment. In the past most Call of Duty games would use segments for the singleplayer in the multiplayer for maps, which is great as you can know the ins and outs before you tackle the competitive edge of online play. It’s also a great time to play around with all the weapons and get use to their recoil patters, although sometimes not all of the weapons in the singleplayer will turn up in the multiplayer for various reasons, but mainly for balance purpose for online play.

Call of Duty campaigns are very important, they are great tools for telling a dark and gritty war story while at the same time being fun. I developed attachments to the characters over the last decade and for Treyarch to forgo a campaign saddens me and I’m very disappointed, let’s hope this does not set a trend for other franchises.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Editorial | How cycling improved my gaming abilities.

(Yes that is me in the picture)

By Sam Coles:

Video games is not the only hobby I enjoying doing, 4 years ago I got into long distance road cycling as my Dad introduced me to it and I loved it as I was able to explore for miles upon miles. I now ride between 40 to 60 plus miles a day which it keeps me in great shape, not only that I found that it has improved my skills as video game player, now I know what you’re thinking “How does that work”? Well I want to discuss how cycling and exercise in general can improve your skills.

About 5 years ago I didn’t really do much exercise, yes I would use a bicycle to get around but I would generally only do 10 miles at best I just saw it as a mode of transport and nothing else. I’ve been playing video games for most of my life and I was competent but I wouldn’t say I was amazing at them, I mean all you have to do is look at my kill/death ratio on Modern Warfare 2 compared to later iterations of Call of Duty.   

In 2014 I had to go see my friend a lot in Pucklechurch, which was about 13 miles from my place, at first I was using a mountain bike however it wasn’t long until I got a road bike. My father gave me his old road bike that he built himself when I was a small child with custom parts imported from France; we’re talking about an old school road bike here where we have shifters on the downtube coupled with 700c X 19 tyres. I started to enjoy the speeds I could get out of the bike, within six months I was averaging between 20 to 30 mph on flat roads coupled with 17 mph up hills.

Now you’re wondering what this has to do with improving my skills as a gamer, well what you have to be aware of is there are certain attributes of cycling that you obtain to help you keep going. Cycling improves memorisation, reflexes and general awareness of the space around me, this helped me with gaming especially online games, in games such as Call of Duty I found that I was doing insanely well because my reflexes had improved so much I was racking up triple kills every five minutes.

Memorisation helped me with games as I was able to traverse open worlds without looking at mini maps, not only that I was a lot better at solving puzzles in certain games, so I went back to older Resident Evil games and I was breezing through them. Spatial awareness really helped me with racing games and games like Grand Theft Auto, and in generally just made aware of everything within environments even down to me being able to spot snipers instantly in Battlefield. In games like Grand Theft Auto I found that I crashing less, as I could judge gaps better in between cars in tandem with my sharpened reflexes.

I found this to be more prominent when I revisited Burnout Paradise recently when I reviewed the remaster on Xbox One, I was crashing less compared to 15 year old Sam when I played back in 2008. Now don’t get me wrong I still crash in Burnout Paradise because as you know the game is not exactly slow, but I was crashing less frequently.

Cycling is something that I really enjoy these days and I love the fact that it has helped my gaming ability to a certain extent. I would highly encourage to take up exercise that increases reflexes if you’re gamer, plus just do it anyway to stay in shape and remember do something that you enjoy don’t force yourself to do something you know you’re not going to like.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Hitman Absolution Review - This time it's personal

By Sam Coles:

Hitman is a series I love with it’s fun although be it clunky stealth gameplay, however there is a title that has people split some site it as a downfall for the series where others find a great game due it being a more personal and emotional title for Agent 47. That game is Hitman Absolution, a game that I rather like and this is coming from someone who is a veteran of the series who has been playing them since 2003 with Hitman 2. Yes it is rather linear compared to other titles, but it is the tightest in terms of story and gameplay compared to the other games, with some fun methods of taking out a target.

Hitman Absolution begins with Agent 47 taking a new contract, but this is no normal contract as it is rather personal because he is tasked with assassinating his former handler Diana Burnwood who betrayed the Agency. Agent 47 has a change of heart just as he shoots her, oh the inconvenient timing of the human heart, he is then tasked with protecting a young girl named Victoria as the agency have a special interest in her as she is as deadly as 47. A lot of people don’t seem to like this game due to the more personal story of 47, but I liked how IO Interactive gave 47 an actual character rather than him being as relatable as a slab of tofu.

The gameplay is where it has everyone divided, on one hand the controls are refined and it doesn’t feel like you’re controlling someone with a stiff sheet of plywood jammed up their backside, on other hand people are not pleased with the more linear structure. I like the gameplay as they fixed a lot of the clunky issues that the last three games prior had, Agent 47 can now take cover which is great when you’re sneaking around or if you want to get a quick headshot with his trademark Silver Ballers. Shooting feels more precise and actually feels like you’re playing as an expert marksman, compared to the drunken shooting controls of the older games.

Agent 47 has a focus mode which seemed to be a trend in third person games back in the day with Splinter Cell: Conviction starting the trend. What this entails is that you can slow down time aim at serval targets, and then 47 will gun down serval enemies at once not only is this convenient but it looks amazing with duel pistols and seeing people fly across room in slow motion.

One of the aspects that put veterans of the series off was the fact that you didn’t have access to all the fun gadgets and weapons, however that was intentional due to the fact that 47 is no longer working for The Agency and has to use what he can in the environment. I like this aspect as you have to be more cautious and utilise the environment, which can range from poisoning food, dropping chandeliers on people’s heads or dress up as a scarecrow and strangle people.

The big problem I have with the gameplay is the disguise system, how it works is that you can kill someone and steal their clothes or find them in a locker etc. like other titles in the series. However they botched it in this game, it was already an unreliable system but this game assumes that ever chef, cleaner or police officer know each other, how you avoid people is by utilising the instinct system. Instincts is for when you’re not sure what to do as well as highlighting high value target’s movement, it is also a way to walk past people with the same clothes as you.   

Considering this game is six years old it is still a beautiful game to look at, character models have aged considerably well with Agent 47 being the standout with his blue, cold and intimidating eyes that send fear down his target’s spines. Environments have a lot of detail with huge crowds, with my favourite level being the Chinatown section with crowds of people, as you stand in plain sight watching your target’s every move.

Hitman Absolution was a different direction for the series; however this doesn’t make it a bad game as some would like you to believe. This is a personal journey for Agent 47 where he is more human in this game instead of the stone cold killer that he is in the previous games. I would recommend giving this a playthrough it’s super cheap and if you have an Xbox One it is playable via backwards compatibility.  

Monday, 7 May 2018

Editorial | My parents and video games.

By Sam Coles:

Over the years you have had parents that do not understand the video game medium; however it has lessened over time due to gamers becoming parents themselves or older generations understanding that it is a form of entertainment. My parents use to think that games were terrible, well my Dad did as he didn’t quite grasp why I love the medium especially games with graphic violence. I want to talk about my experience with my parents and video games how they went from skeptical to accepting them.

This journey starts in the late 90’s with my older brothers, I was very young as I was only 5 years old in 1998 my brothers use to sneak games into the house that were not appropriate such as Killer Instinct and the original Grand Theft Auto. These games are crude by today’s standards, but my parents were outraged and took the games away and saw them as nothing more as violence for the sake of violence which I can somewhat understand with the old Grand Theft Auto games.  I have vague memories of the 90’s with video games, but I remember playing mostly Mario and Zelda games, I didn’t really play 15-18+ age rated games until the PlayStation 2 generation when I was around 11/12 years old.

When we got a PlayStation 2 in the house I was exposed to more mature games, even though I was still not quite old to play certain games. However my parents were more lenient with me due to me being the youngest, but they did limit me with certain games so I could play titles such as Grand Theft Auto III- San Andreas but if had Mortal Kombat on the front of the box that was a big no, no. I generally had to explain the game and give them the basic context about the game and make sure to tell them that I understand that things that are in the game are unacceptable in real life, so they would let me play these more graphic titles as they knew it was complete fiction but they still didn’t have an understanding about games. It wasn’t until I got an Xbox 360 they developed an interest in games, not to play them but to watch them as games were maturing with storytelling and visuals.

I first got an Xbox 360 for my 16th birthday in 2009 with two games, those games were Halo 3 and the original Mass Effect, and this was where games were starting to mature with both visuals and storytelling as they moved out of their edgy teen phase. It wasn’t until I picked up a title called Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood where my Mum took an interest in the story, now don’t get me wrong my Mum plays games in a casual capacity hell she use to play the old arcade games back in 1970’s but never really had huge interest in them. It was fascinating because she would watch me play as if she was watching one of her soaps, when I would stop playing she would remark “I can’t wait to see what happens next”. 

The 7th generation of consoles was where my parents generated an interest with games in terms of the storytelling, one time my mother decided to fold laundry in my room for some reason and I was playing Max Payne 3. Max Payne 3 is graphic with the slow motion gunplay, but my Mum loves over the top action and plus I found her smirking at some of the quips that Max was spouting. It all began when I purchased Red Dead Redemption back in 2010, my parents were used to hearing explosions coming from my room as I use to play a lot of Call of Duty, however to their surprise they mostly heard dialogue. They asked “what are you watching”? I would say “I’m not I’m playing” they were surprised due to how well written the dialogue was.

With the current generation of gaming they are very impressed with how games can convey a story, I showed them the latest Red Dead Redemption 2 trailer and they even want to give it a go as they are fans of spaghetti westerns from the 60’s and 70’s. It’s fascinating to see them go from thinking games are mindless wastes of time to an art form that is held in high regard next to films, books and theatre. It took them a while to understand but they have grown an appreciation for the medium as it is a new way of conveying a story to a younger audience.