Sunday, 30 September 2018

Shenmue I & II HD Review - I understand the influence but it's tedious.

By Sam Coles:

Nostalgia it’s one powerful drug, I say this as it applies to this game well to those who have played it. I for one have never played these games and I’m sorry they are not very good, now I don’t care how old a game is as I long I can pick it up and enjoy it. Shenmue is clunky and boring to play, plus this is just poor remaster with some technical issues that prevent me from enjoying the story.

You play as Ryo who has returned to find his father is being attack, it’s not long until he is murdered and Ryo is injured during the endeavour. He wakes up and begins an investigation of who attacked and killed his father. It’s a classic revenge tale nothing wrong with that, here is a tip for playing through this story switch the voice acting to Japanese with English subtitles. The English dub is atrocious, now I know it has its charm but when the game tries to convey an emotional scene, it’s like a child’s rendition of Hamlet as the dialogue is wooden and ear grating.

The gameplay is all about exploring and talking to people as well as just taking the world in, all inhabitants have their own schedule which was impressive especially for a console game in 1999. There are combat sequences similar to the Yakuza games, which to no surprise some of the developers who worked on this game moved onto the Yakuza series. They are not great they lack impact and unlike Yakuza you can’t stove someone’s face in with a bicycle, it feels like a rough draft of what is to come. You can also play mini games and iconic Sega arcade games, you can really tell that Yakuza took notes from these games, but unlike Shenmue the Yakuza games are exciting rather than tedious.

To go back to the schedules with the people of the world, you can only visit people or complete tasks at certain times, so far not so bad. However in the first game you cannot fast forward to time, so you find yourself waiting around, loitering in the streets like a hotdog vender. Fortunately they did fix this in Shenmue II and I know they want you to explore and play around with mini games and talk to other characters, but some people just want play the main story and don’t want to waste their time.

I can’t really critique the visuals to today’s standards as these games are from the late 90’s to the early 2000’s, but what I can say is that they are very impressive for a console game from the late 90’s, as the best looking games at the time was Metal Gear Solid or Ocarina of Time. The scope of the open world is really impressive and we had not seen anything like it on console before.

Let’s talk about the technical issues; this has to be one of the poorest remasters I have ever played. First the cinematic scenes run in an aspect ratio of 4:3 even when you choose 16:9 in the main menu, I thought this was a bug when I started the game originally but no the widescreen aspect ratio only applies to the gameplay. It gets really distracting when you’re running around, and suddenly the screen shrinks like automatic doors that stop halfway. The first game also has terrible audio when it comes to dialogue, it is heavily compressed and it crackles all the time where it sounds like they recorded it in a bathroom.

Overall I can understand the framework of what Shenmue established, but as a video game it is tedious and snore inducing. With its technical issues and laziness of the port I can’t recommend this game, while I understand the influence for the future of open world games, which Grand Theft Auto III did better 2 years later it’s just not fun to play with a story that is poorly written and mind numbing gameplay.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Editorial | "Would you kindly" play Bioshock.

(Some spoilers)

By Sam Coles:

Sometimes when I think back to games that I love, I’m always surprised with how old they are due to it still being in the spotlight of gaming conversation. This is the case with Bioshock I remember being intrigued about the game before it came out, but at the time I didn’t have a 360 and PS3 as I made the poor decision of getting a Wii initially. I played Bioshock in 2009 when I first got my Xbox 360, where I bought it off my friend for £5 for the special tin edition he had. When I booted the game up I was introduced to the dark and foreboding atmosphere that is Rapture.

Bioshock’s story is one for the ages; you play as Jack who is on a plane that crashes into the ocean. He lives the endeavour and then finds a mysterious lighthouse which is unlocked where he then enters and is enveloped in darkness before the lights turn on. He is greeted by an ominous statue of Andrew Ryan with banner exclaiming “No gods or kings. Only man”. He then finds a mysterious lift like contraption which takes him to the underwater city of Rapture, where is greeted with the now famous speech from Andrew Ryan.

The reason why this story is remembered is its twist, half way through the game when you confront Andrew Ryan you find out that one simple phrase has been controlling you , “Would you kindly, powerful phrase… familiar phrase”. This revelation shocked players, as it was genius and before you brutally kill Ryan with a golf club he shouts a powerful statement “A man chooses, a slave obeys”.

It’s not just the story that had players hooked in Bioshock it was the fun gameplay, it is a hybrid of first person shooting and light RPG elements as this is a spiritual successor to Systemshock. You have a wide array of weapons from the standard say it with me now pistol, shotgun, machine and rocket launcher to the more unique such as the chemical thrower which can shoot fire or liquid nitrogen and the crossbow which is good for pinning enemies to walls.

You don’t just have guns to help you out during the tense combat, you have Plasmids think of them as magic but they have been genetically inserted into your body. These are really fun to you use, you have your standard lightning bolt and fire balls to the more unique such as being able to throw bees at people which seems rather juvenile now I think about it. These give you an edge in combat where it can be used in tandem with your weapons, such as the one, two punch with the wrench and lightning bolt where you to quote Atlas “Zap ‘em and whack ‘em”.

Gene tonics are also useful, think as these as passive perks which have an effect on yourself, firearms and your wrench. These can range from sending electric bolts every time an enemy hits you, to your wrench freezing enemies where you can smash them into ice cubes for your glass of Scotch later. These came at a cost as you had to use the game’s currency known as ADAM, how you gain this currency is by either saving or harvesting Little Sisters. You get more ADAM if you harvest them but this gives you the bad ending, if you save them you get less but they do give you better items in the later stages of the game.

The main aspect of Bioshock that has stuck with me the past decade is the atmosphere; it is a dark and foreboding place with blood that line the walls. What is scary is that it was once a thriving community, but then it turned into this uncivilised society where ADAM consumed people’s souls. When you walk the corridors of Rapture there is rarely any music, must music is present diegetic manner as you can distant radios play in the distance as well as the tortured moans of Big Daddies.   It is easily one of the best atmospheres from that period of gaming, alongside the original Dead Space.

Bioshock along with other titles from the 7th generation such as Red Dead Redemption will be talked about for the next 20 years. If you haven’t go and experience this masterpiece of a game, there are many ways to play it you can play it on the 360 and PS3 or on current gen hardware such as the PS4, Xbox One or PC. It really stands the test of time and his aged remarkably well.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Editorial | Metal Gear Solid 20 years later.

By Sam Coles:

1998 was one hell of a year for video games, we got titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, F-Zero X and of course the game I’m going to be discussing Metal Gear Solid. The first time I saw Metal Gear Solid I was five years old, it blew my mind how good it looked visually, now I know you can look at that statement and grin with how stupid it may come across these days but it was a technical show piece for the PS1 back in the day.

Metal Gear Solid had a huge impact on how linear games are made; even today you can feel the game’s routes with cinematic storytelling. Not to say it was the first of its kind when it comes to storytelling, as Final Fantasy VII had cinematic scenes. However Metal Gear Solid stood out as it had voice acting that didn’t sound like someone’s first rendition of Shakespeare or someone in a pornography film trying to persuade someone to perform sexual favours to pay for their pizza. No Metal Gear Solid’s voice acting actually has weight and emotion, yes it can have awkward pauses in some places, but overall you get invested in the story due to the dialogue being performed extremely well.

Gameplay was a standout too, now stealth was not anything new as the superb Thief was released the same year, but Metal Gear Solid relied more on line of sight as oppose to lighting. Stealth gameplay was tight where you can run and crawl or if the guards don’t notice you can flip them over your shoulders like a lumberjack, however the problem is you can’t walk slowly which is something they fortunately fixed in the sequel.

You have a huge inventory of weapons and gadgets; these can range from standard fire arms like a Socom pistol, assault rifle to more explosive offerings like homing missiles. You have gadgets and items to help you with sneaking around, such as inferred goggles to see laser trip wires, to the absolute ridiculous scenario where enemies are fooled by a cardboard box. Just because you are armed to the teeth it does not mean you can run around gunning down guards like the Doom marine, as the enemies will surround and you can take as many hits as an asthmatic bong user.  

The A.I was rather smart (at the time) as well, now I know it may sound hyperbolic to say that it was shocking when they would see your footprints and say “Who’s footprints are these”. But it was mind blowing for 1998; we had not seen anything like it before then.

Not to say that it is purely stealth as there are boss fights, which are completely ridiculous where you’ll be fighting mind controlling Soviet commandos, to a minigun wielding shaman. They are all unique and have different tactics to take them down, and of course this wouldn’t be a Metal Gear Solid article if I did not talk about Psycho Mantis. He starts off by reading your mind which is your memory card, where then proceeds to talk about the Konami games on your card as well as critiquing how often you save. He can read your every move during the fight where he seems to be invulnerable, however if you plug your controller into the second port he can be attacked. This is why this game is remembered to this day is because of its self-awareness, where it would even print important in game information on the back of CD case.   

Now this may sound silly in today’s climate, but visually it is an impressive game as it was a full 3D game with both characters and environments. What generally was the trend with PlayStation games was that only the characters and certain objects were in 3D, and the environments were generally pre-rendered backgrounds, this was not the case for Metal Gear. Character models were very impressive for the time, and yes these days the faces look like potatoes on a pike bobbing up and down and their motions look like something from a Gerry Anderson production. You have to be in the mind of 1998, where most games went for a cartoonish look which honestly has aged better than most games that shot for realism, but it was a breath fresh air with its grounded setting.

Metal Gear Solid is truly a wonderful game, which influenced the industry of how they make singleplayer games with its cinematic flare. If you have any means of playing this game I would recommend it, as its storytelling is wonderful, the gameplay can take a while to get use to but it is fantastic nonetheless.

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.