Monday, 15 October 2018

Half-Life Review - "They're waiting for you Gordon..... in the test chamber".

By Sam Coles:

To say a game had an impact on the industry as a whole may come across as hyperbolic, but Half-Life did have a huge impact on first person narratives where first person shooters tried to replicate its first person storytelling. This game was one of the first introductions to the FPS genre, as I remember my oldest brother bought it around the year 2000 when he was still at secondary school. I remember playing it a lot and yes I know was a bit too young but you know what it’s like being the youngest of four. The game creeped me out as a child with the weird and slender zombie creatures. These days I find them rather comedic because there are not much of a threat, but this game got me into shooters and they are one of my favourite set of games to play.  

The story takes place in a fictional research centre in New Mexico called Black Mesa; you play as 27 year old MIT graduate Gordon Freeman. It is his first day at work and he is running late, they are testing a new material in the test chamber however things go wrong and they accidentally open a portal to another world and aliens pour through. What I like about Half-Life’s story is that it is up to you how much you want to take in; you can choose your own immersion. If you want to get the basic gist and start splitting zombies in two with buckshot then carry on, or you can examine the environment and find that there is far more going on that meets the eye. This type of storytelling is great and the only game I can think of that replicated it is Dark Souls. What is also astounding is that Gordon is completely silent, he lets his crowbar do all the talking, and you never see him with the exception of loading screens and box art.

Gameplay at the time was a departure from other shooters, as most games within the genre followed the formula of Doom where you have to collect colour coded keys and guns floated in the air. Half-Life had a more free flowing structure, as you continue on one continuous path as appose to the level by level and episodic structure.  It’s presented in a more realistic manner, well as realistic it can be as it is filled with mutant zombies, but what I mean is that guns are no longer floating in the air and they are place in believable places the world feels more believable.

Now to the actual firefights you’ll engage in and these are varied and never get tiresome, you start off in a survival horror setting where you are fighting off head crabs with nothing more than a crowbar. Later on you are granted access to a pistol where you fight off zombies, Vortigaunt, Houndeyes and Ball Squids. Then when your arsenal as equal as the Terminator’s, you face the more organised alien forces and the military to wipe out the problem with both aliens and scientists.

What I like about the enemy encounters is that you have think outside the box and take note of enemy attacks, as all of them have different patterns and weaknesses. The Vortigaunts are purely based on line of sight with their attacks, so if you are in front of them that is the only time that their attacks have an effect on you. The human soldiers are more organised and will communicate with each other as they assess the situation, not that they are particularly clever as they are nowhere near as organised as the Replicas in Fear, but there are still formidable.

Visually for 1998 the game doesn’t look bad; it runs on the golden source engine which is a modified Quake II engine. Character models for the time look fine and have decent detail, yes it is rather laughable for me to say that now but put yourself back in late 90’s and you can understand. The atmosphere in general when it comes to visuals is spectacular, as it is not just relentless action as there is a lot of downtime in this game where the horror aspect really kicks into gear with distant industrial hums. 

Are there any issues with Half-Life? Yes there are, for starters this is most definitely a shooter from the 90’s, so you know what that means? First person platforming where you don’t know where your feet are, because you are a floating camera with a gun. The other issue is that your allies have a habit of getting in the way, the amount of times I’ve unintentionally gunned down a scientist because he thought he was made of Kevlar was ridiculous.

Over Half-Life is still a fun game to play 20 years later, yes it has aged visually but the gameplay is still really tight. There is a reason why people still discuss today, with its great gameplay and storytelling that lets the play choose what he or she wants to take in.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Editorial | My strange love with Final Fantasy.

By Sam Coles:

Final Fantasy is a strange love to me, what do I mean by this? Well if you told me to play a Final Fantasy game 5 years ago, I would have more than likely laughed at you, chugged down another cup of coffee and played another round of Battlefield or Call of Duty. However as I have gotten older and with the privilege of being able to try any game I want with my writing, I found I’m open to more genres. Not only that a very close friend of mine got me into them as I witnessed her passion for the series.

It was around 2014/2015 where I first got to know my friend Kim; we would talk about games here and there. This was when my Twitter community was somewhat small where I was only just breaking a thousand followers, I started to notice her deep passion for Final Fantasy and at the time I just shrugged my shoulders at the matter. However as the months passed I began to take more notice of her posts about the games, and I thought maybe I should give them another chance. It was around early 2015 I started to write reviews for 365bristol, which were much bigger than me compared to the infant state my blog was in.

I got the opportunity to check out Final Fantasy Type 0 HD, a bit of an obscure game in the series but I fell in love with it. Why? It was the somewhat dark story in that game, where they are training children to become soldiers and killing machines and the emotional intro cutscene to the game got me hooked. After playing and reviewing that game, I went back and played the older titles and I was enamoured with the world, characters and music especially the music.

The worlds are something to behold even the old original PlayStation titles, there is something appealing about the pre-rendered backgrounds from the old PlayStation games. I went back and played Final Fantasy VII, I know people like to bang on how good the game is but they are right as it has beautiful world to explore with a mix of science fiction and high fantasy. The environments are truly beautiful and yes even in Final Fantasy XIII (more on that game later), with its crystal aesthetic which is thematically appropriate with the story.

The characters are what also drew me into the games to with their goals and flaws. Lightning controversially is one of my favourites, now I know people say she is bland but honestly I disagree. I would say she is reserved and trying stay strong for her sister that she is trying to save, where she is withholding tears to show she is strong.

It’s not just Lightning, Noctis and his friends are another group of characters are people I can relate to. It reminds me of my years doing my A-levels where me and my friends during the hot months, we would pack some things up and just explore and camp sharing stories and experiences around the orange glow of a fire. Final Fantasy XV as unfinished it was, is one of my favourite games of the generation and one of my favourite games in the Final Fantasy series, due to it having a simple yet relatable plot of sticking with your friends until the end.

The music is also something that sticks with me; I don’t think I’m the only one who sits there on the main menus just listening to the calming and sombre tones especially in FF XIII. The music can either be grandiose and epic to really emotional which heightens scenes which can make the most hardened of people shed a little tear.  

Final Fantasy is a series that I would have never thought I would love, but here we are where I have a deep love for the characters, worlds and superb music. I know it’s not for everyone but maybe give it a chance, and perhaps you’ll be swayed like me.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Editorial | The horror of war in video games.

By Sam Coles:

War has been depicted in video games as far back as I can remember, but the usual argument is that it glorifies it which is mostly untrue but I can understand why people think this due to the interactive nature of the medium. War games have shown us the true horrors of war, with harrowing endeavours from the beaches of Normandy to the dark and damp rat tunnels of the Vietnam War. I want to discuss a few examples of how it shows how horrible it was for these men and women that serve in the military.

Call of Duty: World at War

Call of Duty: World at War when it as first announced I was rolling my eyes, because at that point I was feeling the fatigue of World War II shooters as I had been playing them for 10 years almost. However what we got was one of the most unapologetic depictions of the Second World War as they ramped up the gore as well as the tone being really dark.

It throws it in your face at the start of the game, there is no patronising tutorial it starts off you being a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese where your squad mate is being torture where he then has his throat sliced open. It’s a memorable moment as I thought Is this how they actually acted in the war  as I was a na├»ve 15 year old at the time. Surprisingly the BBFC only gave this game a 15+ probably due to historically context, but even when PEGI rated it they gave it a 16+.

The game also takes the battle tactics of the time with the Japanese, the don’t just sit there plinking at you from cover they Banzai charge you, lay traps and send in Kamikaze pilots. It shows an unapologetic authenticity with the Second World War, because the game doesn’t give a damn about your feelings.

It doesn’t stop there when you play as the Soviets, it focuses on story more as the gameplay is stock and generic as you have the Germans fight more regulated as oppose to the barbaric and guerrilla nature of the Japanese.  You start off in the streets of Stalingrad with your dead comrades surrounding you, you fortunately survive the endeavour and you find Sargent Reznov where he wants revenge for the massacre.
This is truly where the campaign gets dark with the subject matter, because the closer you get to the heart of Berlin the more blood thirsty the Soviets become. They start doing things that just as bad if not worse than what the Nazis are doing, where they execute surrendering soldiers in horrific fashion by throwing Molotov’s at them and mowing them down with machine gun fire. Some of these happen just off screen and you can miss them. The hypocrisy from the Soviets is at a high because they acting are acting in the exact same manner as the Germans did in Stalingrad, acting as if it justified. Call of Duty World at War’s campaign still sticks with me even 10 years later with its tone as I can’t think of one moment of levity.

Halo: Reach

Now I know what you’re thinking “Halo? How is that a good depiction of war”? Well compare to the other games in the series, Halo: Reach’s tone is completely different it doesn’t have an over the top and epic atmosphere. The tone is serious and it shows that Spartans are not unstoppable killing machines, as they are well… human.

The fate of the playable character is sealed at the start of the game as you see your helmet stick out of the ground, after the heat of battle as the ash settles on the ground. Noble team are picked off one by one over the course of the game, and this it’s not built up half the time as sometimes they will be taken out in mid-sentence. It shows a darker side of the conflict between the human race and The Covenant, plus the ending of the game where it is just you and enemy where you have to “Survive” which is impossible and you die fighting for Earth.

The Spartans in this game are not shown as super soldiers in this game, although they have those abilities but they act in a more down to earth and believable manner as there sarcasm is realistic.

Spec Ops: The Line

Now I expect you are sick of me talking about Spec Ops The Line, but this is the ultimate example of showing horror of war where it puts the weight of killing people on your shoulders. The game never backs down and shows you horrific images, where the game starts to berate you for your actions.

As I have said before the scene that still sticks out to me to this day which makes me feel horrible every time I play it is the white phosphorous section. You are tasked of clearing a camp which you think is filled with enemy combatants, however after the dust has settled you are forced to walk through  your destruction as you see soldiers writhing around in pain screaming and moaning. It’s not until you come across a crowd of civilians chard to a crisp, this is where the story of the game flips and the main character snaps, it shows what a soldier goes through in war and how it affects the mind.

War is not easy to depict in a respectful manner in video games, as you have to make the game fun. However these examples deliver dark and horrifying stories where soldiers are trying to survive whether it is physically or mentally.