Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Editorial | The importance of music in video games.

By Sam Coles:

We have come a long way in gaming with music and sounds, with the bleeps and boops from the late 70’s with the Atari 2600 to now where we have fully composed music by professional composers. Music can be more than a back drop to a game, it can reflect the environment and it can also be used to enhance the overall gameplay experience.

Music started to flourish back in the 80’s with video games, not due to their complexity but it was because of the fact we started to get catchy tunes with Pac-man, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda and of course Super Mario Bros. It wasn’t until the early 90’s where we started to get more complex tracks with the Super Nintendo; I’m not mentioning the Mega Drive because no offense to the system its sound chip wasn’t great. Super Nintendo games started to try and emulating orchestral scores, with titles such as Castlevania IV, Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana just to name a few. They really captured the atmosphere those games where producing, from the dark halls of Dracula’s castle to deep forests of Secret of Mana.

There is a reason why people remember these tracks, it’s because they associate them with certain characters and environments, it wasn’t until the PlayStation and N64 where musical scores began to mature and catch up with the likes of films. When Final Fantasy VII came out, it opened with the iconic them as you see Aeris walking through the streets of Midgard where it starts off subtle then swoops into an epic musical score as you get an establishing shot of the city. Yes it is crude by today’s standards in terms of graphical fidelity, but most ignore that because they can shut their eyes and remember that moment when like they did when they first played it back in the late 90’s all because of the music. Even Zelda Ocarina of Time has the same effect, play the opening score from the title screen and tell someone to close their eyes, they will see Link galloping across Hyrule field.  

Now we have music that is remembered because it builds atmosphere, let’s start off with Dark Souls a game that is both minimalistic with its story and soundtrack. Dark Souls is a good example of that less is more, because as you trudge through the world all you will hear is the crunching of the ground from underneath your feet, the tearing of flesh as you slash with your sword and the distant moans of tortured souls. The only time you hear music in Dark Souls is when you’re at your home base camp or boss fights, when you’re at your base camp you have this music that makes you feel secure but filled with dread at the same time as you know you’ll have to get back out there at some point. Music in boss fights are there to get your blood flowing as you see this towering monstrosity charging at you with its intention of turning you into giblets.

Now we have music that works with the gameplay, what I mean by this is it can move with the rhythm of combat or platforming. The best example of this is the musical score from 2016’s Doom written and composed by Mick Gordon. Mick Gordon didn’t want to just write a hardcore track, he wanted to write a score that would complement the game and would work in tandem rather than being background noise. Mick Gordon’s soundtrack would keep up with the speed and chaos of the soundtrack, where it would even sync up with the glory kill system where it would mute some instruments and then pick back up when the gameplay kicks in again. It’s a good example of music and gameplay working together, rather them being separate entities.

Overall the next time you’re playing a video game take the time to listen to the music and take in the atmosphere that the music co-exists with. Music is a very important aspect of video games, as it can add an extra layer of emotion, tension and even more to the gameplay and I love that developers are emphasising music more in games.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Red Dead Revolver Review - The one that started it all.

By Sam Coles:

Rockstar Games back in the early 2000’s where on top of the industry with the Grand Theft Auto series, both positive with its great gameplay and negative with the wet lemons of the world who don’t understand it is just fiction. However in 2004 there was a small title released by Rockstar San Diego called Red Dead Revolver. Released on the PlayStation 2 and original Xbox, Red Dead Revolver had a troubled development as initially it was a Capcom title as a modern (at the time) reimagining of their classic arcade game Gun Smoke. Rockstar saw the potential of westerns in video game form and then acquired Angel Studios who then became Rockstar San Diego, who went on to make the superb 2010 sequel Redemption and the upcoming 2018 sequel to that game. How does the original 2004 game hold up? Let’s find out.

Red Dead Revolver’s story is about Red Harlow, a young farm boy turned bounty hunter who is on a revenge quest as his father was murdered as a child. When he was a child his father teaches him how to fire a gun and gives him the titular revolver, his home is raided by bandits and his father is gunned down but Red gets a few shots in and manages to blow the head bandits arm clean off and typical Rockstar fashion blood flies everywhere. The story to be honest is rather forgettable, and the voice acting is not good but I expect it was intentional as it seems to be making fun of Spaghetti Westerns as some of those films had terrible dub recording with the actors that didn’t speak English. 

Gameplay is not an open world experience like the sequel, but instead it is a linear third person cover based shooter. You have two weapon slots and a melee, guns have punch to them and the feedback when you hit enemies both visually and audio wise with over the top blood effects and viscerally satisfying blood spirting noises along with A Wilhelm Scream is great. You go through each level, gun down everything you see and then fight a boss, here is the big issue I have with this game is that the bosses are not fun they take an infuriating amount of time to kill and are just bullet sponges and don’t really pose a challenge. This was a game before Gears of War which standardised third person shooters and oh boy does it feel like it, as the controls are incredibly stiff and getting into cover is about as intuitive as opening a door with your hands tied behind your back.

You also have the dead eye mechanic where you can slow time down, paint multiple targets and gun down everyone without breaking a sweat Clint Eastwood style. After each mission you get a results screen where you’ll see how much money you earned, how accurate you were and what weapon you used the most. In between missions you can explore a small town called Brimstone, which is a small open hub where you can talk to the locals, take on bounties and purchase new weapons. This is a small taster of what Rockstar San Diego wanted to do with the I.P and we would get a teaser in 2005 at Sony’s E3.

Visually the game looks severely dated, and I’m not talking about the fact it is a PS2 game as there were games that looked way better than this game with titles such as Metal Gear Solid 3 and Rockstar’s very own Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Character models look very angular and look as if they are made of cardboard. They do use a film grain effect to emulate the look of 1960’s cinema, which is charming at first but can get irritating as it can be hard to see enemies in the later stages of the game.

The sound design and music on the other hand is fantastic, the soundtrack is great as it recaptures the style of spaghetti westerns from the 1960’s/70’s. Sound effects are great as they go for the corny noises of bullets ricocheting off walls coupled with Wilhelm screens as they fall off a saloon roof.

Red Dead Revolver is a largely an enjoyable third person shooter, with a 1960’s western charm, over the top violence and a corny but funny story. You can pick this up for the PS2 and Xbox for a relatively cheap price these so if you see it grab a copy.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Editorial | Infinite Warfare: Two years later.

By Sam Coles:

There are certain games that get received as well as a flesh wound, even when it was just the reveal trailer. This was the case for Call of Duty Infinite Warfare’s reveal trailer, which came out two years ago now to be honest I don’t think it deserved the hate it got because the game was very good and why was it good? Well it’s because they focused on the singleplayer more than the multiplayer this time, it felt like they put effort into the characters and world which we haven’t seen since the original Black Ops.

In May of 2016 Infinity Ward announced their latest game Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, let’s put it into prospective at this point there were two futuristic games and yes I don’t count Ghosts that was a modern warfare game and Black Ops II was the same as it was near future in similar vein of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter (at the time). When Advanced Warfare came out back in 2014 it was a breath of fresh air, this was due to the stale nature of the modern warfare games we have been getting since 2007 with the success of Call of Duty 4.

Sledgehammer Games who had helped with the development of Modern Warfare 3 stepped up to the plate, so they took the COD formula, increased the movement speed and emphasised verticality. I for one enjoyed it as it was the natural evolution of the series, as it was already running on a modded Quake 3 engine and was an arena shooter anyway so to add these new movement options made sense.

Did Infinite Warfare deserve the hate it got? No, I feel that Infinity Ward went back to their routes to craft an excellent singleplayer experience with great set pieces and characters you could relate to unlike Black Ops III where you had cyborgs shooting bees out of their hands.  Although the setting was set in the distant future and in space, the game was still grounded in its own reality because you play as part of the US Navy but in Space. Characters aren’t super human like they were in previous games, they were just that human, people with flaws and people with compassion trying to save their comrades and doing their best to get them home. You felt the weight and emotions of each character as they struggled through conflict that affects the entire Solar System.

Brian Bloom wrote, directed and starred in this game and if you know this actor/voice actor he has been in more roles than Nolan North and Troy Baker combined. He portrayed the main protagonist Nick Reyes, who starts off as a lieutenant and is then promoted to commander due to the actions of the previous captains getting him killed. Nick questioned his actions as he believes it is the captain’s job to get his men home, but he is quickly thrown into his shoes when he gets promoted as he realises that it is not that simple as the captain’s main job is to drive away the enemy even if you get some of your soldiers killed. The game’s narrative questions the morality of commanding officers throughout and it adds to the tension and emotion of the story.

It’s not only the narrative that makes Infinite Warfare’s campaign great, the gameplay ditches the whole one mission gimmicks where you would usual have a unique piece of tech or weapon for one mission and then never see it again. You have Jackals in this game, which are ships you use in dog fights, these aren’t one mission gimmicks they are pivotal to the gameplay as you can upgrade them throughout the campaign. This leads me onto the more open ended structure of the game, yes you will be going through linear corridors and set pieces but you can do side missions which can involve stealth to obtain information or taking down high value targets. You don’t have to do these but they give you upgrades for your Jackal which can be helpful, especially when I finished it on veteran difficulty.

Infinite Warfare is a great Call of Duty game as it goes back to what made the series good, with a strong emphasis on singleplayer, with well written and ground characters and non-linear gameplay. I would say if you ever see it in a shop give it a chance and plus you can pick it up for £5 these days.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Agony Review - It's agony to play (Warning: Nudity and gore)

By Sam Coles:

There are games that gain attention for reasons not for their gameplay or mechanics, but instead their premise. Agony is one of those games that got attention due to its edgy setting of Hell with its erotic context which sparked controversy because of course it did, remember kids graphic violence is A-Okay but a nipple is unacceptable. Who would have thought that Agony’s title would live up to its name, because it is one of the most frustrating and terrible games I have played in 2018. Let’s get into it shall we.

In Agony you play as a tortured soul that has been sent to the blood soaked depths of Hell, you find yourself at the gates of Hell and you must explore and find the Red Goddess to help you with your salvation. I like the concept of the game, as the only game I can really think that has the Hell setting is Doom and there you’re not really vulnerable as you can tear demons in half with your bare hands.  The concept is a good idea, it’s just a shame it stumbles and then falls down a mountain when it comes to gameplay, visuals and performance.

Gameplay is a first person horror stealth game in a similar vein as Alien Isolation, but unlike Alien Isolation it is not clear about how the stealth works, is it sound or is line of sight. I say this because I could walk crouched and the demons still hear me, where then proceed to mount me and then eviscerate me, oh and by the way you die in one hit. Once you die you enter an outer body state, when you are in this state you can inhabit other torture souls to revive yourself, but you can only take control of souls that don’t have bags over their heads as you have to take them off their head which the game never explains that. Your default moving speed is painfully slow, you move at the rate of depleted uranium and you only have a limited amount of stamina for sprinting, which turns this into a painfully slow slog.   

It’s not only a stealth game, there are some light “puzzle” elements and I say puzzles but honestly they are simplistic where you collect skulls or hearts and put them on alters or drawing sigils on walls. In the latter half of the game, puzzles devolve to drawing symbols on walls, how are you supposed to know what shape to draw? With vague clues and where bodies maybe gesturing the shapes, it’s not fun to find these clues as the environments just blur together.

Let’s get into the presentation and performance, this is where the game goes downhill it’s not that it’s all bad but it is inconsistent. The game runs on the Unreal Engine 4, but honestly it looks like an early Unreal Engine 3 game, with some questionable looking character models where it looks like some hit the randomise button in a character creator, and don’t give me the excuse it’s hell they are supposed to look disfigured because they look laughable and not scary. Lighting is also a big issue, now I understand they want to build a dark and brooding atmosphere but it is just ridiculous in this game as I could barely see anything in some areas, where I was guessing where I was going. Performance wise this game runs terribly, it runs at an uncapped frame rate and it darts all over the place mostly dipping to the mid-twenties, coupled with horrendous screen tearing.

Another aspect that completely broke my immersion is that the game has audio issues; character’s dialogue will cut out half way through speaking for them to start their exposition again, or they will finish their lines for them then to repeat themselves. This happened so often that I wanted to slice my ears off with a paper guillotine because the voice acting isn’t that good to begin with.  

Overall Agony is one of the most awful experiences I have had in 2018, with technical issues and gameplay that is tedious and frustrating. It is going take more than monsters with vaginas for heads to keep me playing this radioactive mess.